High Fantasy + Emotional Intensity = Harlequin Presents
Tara loved Harlequin Presents since she was a teenager. She used to smuggle them into the house hidden in mathematics tomes, sometimes hiding them in her unsuspecting younger cousin's bag.
Warning: Arrogant Alpha Heroes, Feisty Heroines and Sizzling Passion ahead!
Sicilian's Bride for a Price
Sicilian's Bride for a Price
Kindle | Nook | iBooks | HQN | BooksAMillion
She’ll be his wife…
But at what cost?
Billionaire Dante Vittori spent years building his impeccable reputation—no easy feat following his father’s incarceration. To counter a business threat, ruthless Dante must do the unthinkable—get married!
Free-spirited heiress Alisha will do anything to save her mother’s charity—even marry the man she hates. But neither expects the intense heat between them! Suddenly the price of their marriage is more than they bargained for…
Dante Vittori stared at the legal document that had been delivered an hour ago. The floor to ceiling glass windows that made up three whole sides of his office on the 46th floor of Matta Towers in Central London cast the luxurious space in an orange glow, thanks to the setting sun behind him.
Vikram Matta - his mentor Neel Matta’s son and Dante's best friend was now legally dead.
He felt a twinge in his chest for exactly one minute.
He'd learned that grief - like regret, was a useless emotion at the age of thirteen when his father had killed himself instead of facing lifelong incarceration for his Ponzi scheme that had fleeced the livelihood of hundreds. When his mother had simply changed her name back to her Sicilian father's and married a man he approved of within an year of his father's death.
Giving into his emotions would have crushed Dante back then. Vikram was gone, he'd made his peace with it a long time ago.
Quickly, he rifled through the documents, to ensure he hadn't missed anything.
He was almost to the last couple of pages when he stilled.
Voting Shares of the Deceased.
The hairs at the back of his neck prickled. His mind instantly rewound back to the conversation he and Vikram had had with Neel when he'd found he hadn't much time to live.
Neel Matta had started Matta Steel - a small steel manufacturing business almost forty years ago, but it was Dante that had grown it into the billion dollar conglomerate it was now. Against his own brother Nitin’s wishes, for the first time in the history of the company, Neel had granted his own voting shares to Dante, an outsider.
Had made Dante a part of his family. Matta Steel was the blood in his veins, his mistress, his everything.
Instead of wasting time grieving after Neel's death and Vikram's horrific plane crash, Dante had taken the company from strength to strength, cemented his position as the CEO.
But with Vikram's voting shares being up for grabs now -
His secretary Izzy came into the office without knocking. Being another alum of Neel Matta's generosity - Izzy took for granted a certain personal privilege with Dante that he didn't allow anyone else. Neither did he doubt that she'd interrupted him for a good reason.
The redhead's gaze flew to the papers in front of him -clear distress in those green eyes for a moment. But when she met his eyes, she was the complete professional.
Of course Vikram's death had touched her too but like him, Izzy was nothing but practical.
Pushing his chair back, he laced his fingers at the back of his neck and said, "Spill it."
"I heard from his secretary Norma that Nitin is thinking of calling an emergency board meeting with special counsel present."
Neel’s brother was nothing but predictable in his greed and deception. "I was expecting that."
"I wasn't sure if you had realized it has to do with Vicky's voting shares being up for grabs now."
"I did." Izzy was both competent and brilliant. And utterly loyal to him. The one quality he knew he couldn't buy even with his billions. "Tell me your thoughts."
She took the seat and opened her notebook. "I pressed a little on Norma and learned that he means to go over the by-laws in front of the board and direct the conclusion that Vikram's shares," an infinitesimal catch in her throat again, "should go to him, since they state that the voting shares are to be kept in the family - "
"Except when Neel modified them to grant me his shares." A gift when Dante had made a big business win. And Neel paving a way into retirement, wanting to…instead his heart disease had killed him in a matter of months.
"He means to quote that an aberration on Neel’s part due to his ailing health."
Dante smiled. "An allegation he's continued to make for nigh on ten years now, even though I have held the controlling stake in the company."
"Also, he's conveniently forgotten Ali."
For the first time in years, Dante found his thoughts in sudden disarray.
His mentor’s rebel daughter had always been the one thorn in his rise to success. The one piece of trouble in Neel’s life that Dante hadn’t solved for the man he’d worshipped. The one element he’d never quite figured out properly.
"No, he hasn't." Alisha’s scorn for her father’s company wasn’t a secret.
He stood up from his seat. London's night was glittering into life all around them. “Nitin’s counting on Ali simply refusing to have anything to do with the company, as always. Which means he can inherit all of Vikram's shares."
"Can't you contest that?"
“I can, but if he gets the board on his side and they rule that the shares go to him, there’s not a lot I can do. He’d own the majority. Unless I got…” he trailed off an idea occurring to him. “Nitin needs to be taught the lesson that I own Matta Steel. Irrevocably.”
“I’m assuming you’ve already come up with a plan for that.”
He had. A brilliant one. He hadn't put his heart and blood and soul into Matta Steel just so he'd have to defend it every other year.
Again, that twinge of doubt came at his chest. He flicked it away. There was no room for emotions in his decision. The only thing he would never violate was Neel’s trust in him. Keeping control of Matta Steel did not equate that.
Alisha had never wanted to be a part of her papa's legacy. She had turned her back on everything to do with the company and Neel and even Vikram when he’d been alive.
She’d had nothing but resentment for Dante, for as long as he could remember. And he would feel no compunction in taking the things he wanted - and she scorned anyway, off her hands, forever.
All he needed was leverage.
Everyone had a price and he just needed to find Ali’s. "Find out which hole in which continent she’s cozied up in now.”
Izzy jerked her head up, shock dancing in her green eyes. "Ali?"
There was reluctance, maybe even unwillingness in her stare.
“Yes. Find Alisha,” he said, simply dismissing the unasked question in Izzy’s eyes. He pulled his jacket on and checked his phone. No reason for him to miss out on his date with the latest Broadway actress touring London.
He reached the door and then turned. “Oh, also, call that PI for me, won’t you? I want to have a little chat with him.”
“The one I keep on my payroll to keep track of Alisha’s movements.”
“But you never look at his reports.” Izzy’s accusation was clear. He’d never given a damn about Alisha except to have someone keep an eye on her. Just for the purpose of extricating her if she got herself into trouble.
For Neel’s sake.
“I didn’t need to, until now. She’s been safe, mostly, si?” A miracle in itself, since she traveled through the all the hellholes of the world in the name of her little hobby. Izzy didn’t need to know he read every single one of those reports. On any given day, she’d known how and where Alisha was. “Now, however, I need a little bit more info on her.”
“Dante - ”
“None of your business, Isabel,” he cut her off smoothly and closed the door behind him.
Izzy had been the one constant person in his life for so long, from the moment he had come to live with Neel after all those years ago, yes. But it didn’t mean he invited her into his thoughts or that he considered her a personal friend.
Dante Vittori didn’t do relationships, of any kind.
“There’s someone here to see you, Ali.”
Alisha Matta looked up from her crouch on the floor of the Grand Empire Palace restaurant. Her shoulders were tight from supporting the weight of the camera and her thighs burned at her continued position. Ignoring her friend Mak’s voice, she kept clicking.
She’d been waiting all morning in the small kitchen of the crowded restaurant, waiting for Kiki to come home. And finally, the dancer had come home.
The pop of the flash of her Nikon sang through her nerves. The few moments of clarity and purpose making the wait of the last three months utterly worth it. “To your right, look into the camera. No, jut your left hip out, you’re gorgeous, Kiki,” she continued the words of encouragement. She’d managed to learn a little Thai in the last year but her stuttering accent had only made Kiki laugh.
The neon lights and the cheap pink linoleum floors became the perfect background as Kiki shed her jeans and shirt in a move that was both efficient and sensual as hell. Her lithe dancer’s body singing for the camera.
But even the perfection of the shot couldn’t stop the distraction of Mak hovering.
“If it’s John, tell him we’re done,” she whispered.
“It’s an Italian gentleman. In a three piece Tom Ford suit that I’m pretty sure is custom designed and black handmade Italian loafers. Gucci, I think.”
Ali fell back onto her haunches with a soft thud, hanging onto her expensive camera for dear life. Mak was crazy about designer duds. There was only one Italian gentleman she knew. Except if it was who she thought it was, he shouldn’t be called a gentleman. More a ruthless soul in the garb of one.
“Said his name was…”
Ali’s heart thudded in tune with the loud blare of the boom box. “What, Mak?”
Mak scrunched his brow. “You know the guy who wrote about all those circles of hell, that one.”
“Dante.” Ali whispered the word softly. How appropriate that Mak would mention Dante and hell in the same sentence.
Because that’s what her papa’s protégé represented to her.
The very devil from hell.
Princesses in glass castles shouldn’t throw stones, bella.
Okay, yes, devil was a bit overboard because he hadn’t actually ever harmed Ali, but still, Ali hated him.
So what was the devil whose playground was London doing all the way in Bangkok?
The last time they had laid eyes on each other had been when she’d learned of Vikram’s plane crash. She closed her eyes, fighting the memory of the disastrous night but it came anyway.
She’d been so full of rage, so vulnerable, and so vicious towards Dante. For no reason except that he was alive while her brother was gone. Gone before she could reconnect with him.
“He doesn’t look like he’s happy to be kept waiting,” Mak interrupted her trip down horrible memory lane.
Ali pulled up herself.
No, super busy billionaire Dante Vittori wouldn’t like waiting in the ramshackle hotel. How impatient he must be to get back to his empire. To his billions.
How dare Ali keep him waiting while each minute of his time could mean another deal he could broker, another billion he could add to his pile, another company he… She smiled wide.
She’d make him wait.
Because Dante being here meant only one thing - he needed something from her.
And she would jump through those nine circles of hell before she did anything that made his life easier. Or calmer. Or richer.
Slowly, with shaking fingers, she packed up her camera. Pulled the strap of the bag over her shoulder, picked up her other paraphernalia, kissed Kiki’s cheek and pushed the back door open.
The late September evening was balmy, noisy and full of delicious smells emanating from all the restaurants that lined up the street.
Her stomach growled. And she promised herself some authentic Pad Thai and a cold can of Coke as soon as she got to her flat. Thwarting Dante and a well-earned dinner, suddenly her evening - which of late had been poring over the financial papers of The Lonely Hearts Foundation, seemed better.
Just as she took another step into the busy street, a black chauffeur driven Mercedes pulled up, blocking her. Ali blinked at her reflection in the polished glass of the window when the door opened. Out stepped Dante.
In his crisp white shirt that did wonders to his olive complexion and tailored black pants, he looked like he’d stepped out of a GQ issue and casually strolled into the colorful street.
His Patek Phillippe watch - a gift from her father when he’d welcomed Dante onto the board of Matta Steel, one more thing papa had given Dante and not her, gleamed on his wrist as he stood leaning carelessly against the door, a silky smile curving that sculpted mouth. “Running away again, Alisha?”
He was the only one who insisted on calling her Alisha. Somehow managed to fill it with reprimand and contempt.
All thoughts of Pad Thai were replaced with the cold burn of resentment as that penetrating gaze took in her white spaghetti strap top and forest green shorts. To her feet in flip-flops to her hair bunched into a messy bun on top of her head. Dismissive and yet so thorough that her skin prickled.
Chin tilted, Ali stared right back. She coated it in defiance but after so long, she was greedy for the sight of him. Shouts from street vendors and the evening bustle faded out.
A careless heat filled her veins as she noted the aristocratic nose - broken in his adolescence and fixed, the dark stubble coated line of his jaw and deep-set eyes that always mocked her, the broad set of his shoulders, the careless arrogance that filled every pore. That masculine confidence that announced him the top of the chain in the boardroom and out of it.
And the mouth…the upper lip thin and carved and the lower - fuller and lush - the only hint of softness in that face and body. A soft whisper about the sensuality he buried under that ruthlessness.
Her heart was now booming in her chest, not unlike Mak’s boom box. Heat flushed her from within. She jerked her gaze to meet his, saw the slight flare of his nostrils.
Christ, what was she doing? What was she imagining?
Ali moved her tongue around in her dry mouth, somehow managed to say, “I have nothing to say or do with you.”
Do with you…
The words mocked her, the adolescent infatuation she’d nursed for him, and hated, morphing into something much worse. Everything she despised about him also attracted her to him. If that weren’t a red flag…
He halted her dignified exit - she would keep her dignity if it were her last breath, with his fingers on her wrist, the calloused pads of his fingers playing on her over-sensitized skin.
She jerked her arm out of his grip like a scalded cat. His mouth tightened, but whatever emotion she had incited smoothed out until that controlled mask remained. “I have a proposal that I’m sure you would like to hear.”
God, how she wanted to do or say something that made that mask shatter completely, how she wished she could be the one who brought the arrogant bastard to his knees…her bloodthirstiness shocked even her.
She’d always liked coloring outside the lines, yes, but not to the point of self-destruction. And that’s what Dante made her choose. Always.
At some point, hating him had become more important than trying to build a bridge to her father, than reconnecting with Vikram.
No playing to his point by doing something he would hate. No trying to stir up that smooth facade and burning her bridges.
You’re a necessary nuisance, Alisha. I put up with your mind games for his sake. Only for his.
A calm filled her at her resolution. “What do you want from me?”
A brow raised in the too-angular face. That tightness to his mouth again. In a parallel universe, Ali would’ve concluded that that assumption pricked him. In this one where she knew Dante Vittori had no emotions, she didn’t.
“Why are you so sure that I want something from you?”
“You’re thousands of miles away from your empire. From everything I know, there’s no steel plant in this area, nor a lot of demand for it. Unless you’re scouting the area to build a new plant with cheap labor. You’re not here to check up on me.”
“I’ve always known where you’ve been, Alisha.”
“However much you like to pretend that there’s no ties between us, however far you run in pursuit of your little hobby, you are, at the end of the day, his daughter.”
His statement put paid to any emotional extrapolation she was still stupid enough to make from his previous one. As if he worried she might see too much or even a little into his keeping tabs on her.
He had always been loyal to her father - would always be. Keeping track of her fell somewhere under that umbrella. Nothing at all to do with the woman she was.
“I’m not interested in trading insults with you,” she said, unable to stop her voice from almost cracking. “I’m not…I’m not that impulsive, destructive Ali anymore.”
“That would be a nice change of pace for us, si? So we’ll have dinner and not trade insults tonight.”
“I said no insults. That doesn’t mean I want to be anywhere near you for more than five minutes.” It was her own confused emotions and this…blasted attraction that made her want to avoid him even now.
“Ahhh…” With a graceful flick of his wrist, he made a big show of checking his watch. “That lasted about thirty seconds.” His gaze caught hers. “I’m not and have never been your enemy, Alisha.”
And just like that, her attraction to him became a near-tangible thing in the air. Her hating him became the only weapon in her armor. “Eating out is a pleasure for me and somehow I don’t see that being the primary emotion if we’re forced together for too long.”
A calculating glint appeared in his eyes. “There’s something you want in my grasp. When will you learn to act guided by your goals and not by your emotions?”
She could feel herself shaking. “Not everyone is an ambitious, heartless bastard like you are.” There went her resolution to be polite. “Just tell me what your proposal is. Now.”
“It has to do with your mother’s charity. That’s all you’ll get now. My chauffeur will pick you up at six for dinner. And Alisha, dress appropriately. We won’t be eating hunched over a street vendor. Neither will I appreciate the half-naked, wrapped-around-a-has-been rock-star look you sported the last time around for my benefit.”
How she wished she could say it hadn’t been for his benefit, but they both knew it had been. Her eighteenth and his twenty eighth birthday party, would be etched on her memory forever.
“Arrogant, ruthless, manipulative, controlling, yes, but I never thought you were a snob,” she threw back at him.
“Because I want to have a civilized dinner at a place where you won’t throw things at me?”
Another bad night. Another bad memory.
No, it was time to rewrite how Dante saw her. Time to stop expecting things from him from some unwritten script in her own head. “One dinner. No more.”
She’d almost walked away.
“Why does it bother you so much to be around me?”
Her face burned and it had nothing to do with the last of the day’s heat. “It doesn’t.”
“Non? Isn’t that why you avoid your family home, even London like it were the plague? You avoid your extended family, your old friends, you move from place to place like a nomad.”
You took everything that should have been mine, she wanted to say like she’d done once. But it wouldn’t be the truth.
Dante hadn’t taken anything her father hadn’t been more than happy and willing to give him. Dante hadn’t shattered her family. Her father had.
But when it came to him…she was still that morass of anger and attraction and something more she was even terrified to discover. “That mansion, even London, they haven’t been home to me in a long time.”
That silky, slick smile tugged up the corners of his mouth again. “It’s a relief to know then that your life’s not revolved around avoiding me then, si. See you tonight, Alisha.”
He was gone before she could blink, before she could counter the arrogant assumption. As she went home, Ali couldn’t shake off the sense of dread that settled in her gut.
Dante and she couldn’t stand each other. So why the hell was he insisting on an intimate dinner?