Married for His Secret Heir
From secret heir to secret vows…
Elena Ricci has always had a crush on Earl Luca DiSalvo—with his dark and stormy eyes, his protective nature and his royal bearing, who wouldn’t? But she believed they were destined to only ever be friends, until one magical evening in Paris…that has dramatic consequences.
Luca is reluctant to marry…but a baby changes everything. So when beautiful Elena reveals her secret, his royal duty means he has no choice—he must make her his wife!
HEAT LEVEL: closed door love scene
Read an Excerpt
IT SHOULD HAVE been the most amazing night of her life.
Elena Ricci swept her long blond tresses over her shoulder as she stepped backstage at the Paris fashion show that had just concluded. She should be on cloud nine, but instead worries brought her feet back down to earth. With a borrowed diamond necklace and matching earrings now returned to the jeweler and her crystal-embellished gown returned to the designer, she was ready to call it a night.
“Are you heading straight to the party?” a female voice called out behind her.
Elena turned to find a young woman smiling at her. Try as she might, Elena couldn’t put a name to the face. “No. I’m going to pass on it.”
“But you have to go,” the beautiful young woman with flowing black hair said. “As the face of the line, you’re like the guest of honor. Tonight is your night.”
“I’m sure you’ll all have fun without me. I’m just not up for a party.”
“Ah, I bet you have other plans.” The young woman flashed her an I-know-what-you’re-up-to smile. “I’m sure he’ll be worth it.”
He? There was no he. The last guy she’d had the misfortune of dating had been a liar and a cheat. Elena had sworn off men after that debacle. Who needed the hassle?
“There is no guy,” Elena clarified.
“Really? Then who’s the man waiting for you at your station?”
Elena didn’t bother answering. She just started walking. If it was Steven, she was having security escort him out. She’d told him in no uncertain terms to get out of her life. And she’d meant it.
When Elena neared her station, the man had his back to her. “I told you I didn’t want to see you again.”
The man turned. “Is that the way you greet all your friends?”
Heat rushed to Elena’s face. Before her stood the Earl of Halencia, Luca DiSalvo, her childhood friend. “I’m sorry. I, uh, thought you were someone else.”
“I think I feel bad for the other guy.”
“Don’t. He doesn’t deserve anyone’s sympathy.” She rushed forward and gave Luca a hug, finding comfort in his strong arms. And there was something else—a warm sensation that set her stomach aflutter. But she refused to examine the reason for her elated reaction.
The truth of the matter was, she’d grown used to shoving aside her emotions when it came to Luca. Their friendship meant the world to her, and she wouldn’t do anything to risk it—even if it meant they would never be more than friends.
He pulled back and smiled. “That’s better.”
She looked deep into his tired eyes. There was something bothering him. This wasn’t just a casual visit. Luca didn’t do those. For him to come here unannounced, it meant something had happened—something big.
“What is it?” she asked. “Is it your father?”
Luca shook his head. “It’s my mother.”
Luca drew in a deep breath. “They caught her murderer. Actually, my sister did. Can you believe it? After all these years, it’s finally over.”
Elena wasn’t sure how to react. On one hand, she was relieved they’d solved the crime, but she also knew how tough the years following the heinous crime had been on Luca and his estranged family. She couldn’t imagine how he must be feeling at this point.
After the murder, Luca had withdrawn from everyone around him—including her. When he’d finished high school, he’d moved away. Soon after, she’d done the same and moved to Paris. Their friendship dwindled to an occasional phone call or an annual visit over coffee at a small café when Luca was in Paris on business.
Over the years, she’d told herself not to take the distance personally. It was Luca’s way of dealing with the unimaginable grief. But she couldn’t deny that losing the close connection with her best friend had hurt—a lot.
A million questions bubbled up within her. And yet she remained quiet as he gave her the highlights of how Annabelle had caught the murderer. The story was truly stunning.
“Annabelle just phoned me.” His gaze didn’t quite reach Elena’s. “And I just needed to tell you.” He paused as though considering his words. “I guess if I’d been thinking straight, I should have realized your mother would tell you.”
Elena reached out and briefly squeezed his hand. “I’m glad you’re the one who told me.”
She nodded. “I’m so sorry this happened to you and your family. I hope the murderer’s capture will help in some small way.”
There was something different about him. Instead of the usual cool aloofness that he wore like armor, he was uneasy, and there was a glimmer of vulnerability in his blue-gray eyes. Had he come here for yet another reason?
Refusing to let herself imagine that Luca was ready to become a part of her life again, Elena busied herself. She bent over and slipped on a pair of bright white tennis shoes with pink laces. Now that her makeup had been wiped away and the glittery, gauzy creations had been returned to the clothes rack, she felt like herself. Plain old Elena.
When she straightened, she found Luca staring at her. Her heart thump-thumped. She swallowed hard. “What is it?”
“Nothing. I was just looking at you.”
Worried that she’d missed removing some of the sparkly blue eye makeup they used to make her up as a fairy for the new magical fashion line, Elena turned to the mirror. She didn’t see anything but her own complexion. Her cheeks were a little rosy from the cleanser, but it was all her in the reflection. So why had Luca been looking at her so strangely? She shrugged it off.
“Can I persuade you to stay long enough to eat?” She hadn’t eaten a bite all day. She’d been a nervous wreck about the show, and now that it was over, she was ravenous. “Or we could get one of your favorite pizzas from Pierre’s and take it back to my flat.”
“Your flat?” Luca shook his head. “Not going to happen. I hear you have some exciting news.” He moved to the end of her makeup table and retrieved a champagne bottle. “We have to celebrate. It’s nonnegotiable.”
Elena wasn’t sure either of them was up for celebrating. Before she could vocalize her protest, Luca popped the cork and Elena watched as pink bubbles rushed down the side of the bottle. Luca reached for a champagne flute and filled it up.
“For you.” He held the glass out to her.
She accepted it. Luca was certainly acting out of character. Her gaze lowered to the glass as the pink bubbles rose and popped. If Luca and the designer of the line Elena now represented only knew of the mess she’d made of her private life, they wouldn’t help her celebrate being chosen as the new face of the Lauren Renard line.
Elena felt like a fraud. They all thought she was so good—so deserving. But she was none of those things. Her judgment was way off where men were concerned. She’d been too trusting—too open—and in the end, she’d been lied to in the worst way. Now she didn’t trust herself or men.
She glanced up. Her gaze met Luca’s. Tears suddenly rushed to her eyes. She blinked repeatedly, refusing to unleash the turbulent emotions that had been threatening all day.
“Hey, none of that.” Luca raised his glass. “This is a moment for celebrating.”
Elena forced a smile to her lips and lifted her glass.
Luca held his glass close to hers. “To the most amazing, wonderful tomboy I’ve ever known. And I might add that you clean up pretty good, too.”
Her mouth gaped as their glasses clinked together. “That’s not fair. I haven’t been a tomboy since we were kids.”
His eyes studied her. “I have one question for you.”
“You can ask it, but I reserve the right not to answer.” A nervous shiver rolled through her stomach. Had he heard about her romantic debacle? She groaned inwardly before taking another drink of champagne—a much bigger drink.
“When did you become so beautiful?” Luca’s gaze caressed her, leaving her insides aflutter.
Heat rushed to Elena’s cheeks. “Be careful, Luca. If I didn’t know better, I might think you were flirting with me.”
Her heart lodged in her throat. What had come over him? Luca was a constant flirt, but always with every other woman in the room. And now she didn’t know how to react to him.
Luca grabbed the champagne and refilled their glasses. “Drink up. I’m taking you out on the town tonight. I’m going to show off the hottest lady in Paris.”
He thought she was hot?
Maybe he was referring to the blush that had engulfed her face. She resisted the urge to fan herself. Instead, she gulped another mouthful of bubbly.
Luca was far too sexy, and he was saying all the right things to sneak right past her meticulously laid defenses. If she wasn’t careful, this evening was going to blow up in her face.
She swallowed hard. “But I’m tired—”
“Trust me. What I have in mind will wake you right up.” He winked at her.
Her heart skipped a beat. She didn’t know what to say. Instead she busied herself with another sip of champagne. As the alcohol hit her empty stomach, she realized that it wasn’t her wisest idea and set aside the glass. “It’s not that big of a deal.”
“Of course it’s a big deal. It’s a huge deal.” He smiled at her like he had something in mind. He’d been giving her that look since they were kids playing in the fields of wildflowers on the palace grounds in Mirraccino, and she knew it meant he had mischief on his mind. “We have to celebrate. And I have the perfect idea.”
Why did it suddenly feel like Luca’s reaction to her new role for the world-renowned Lauren Renard line was over the top? After all, Luca was an earl. He was royalty, for goodness’ sake. His father was the Duke of Halencia. And Luca’s mother had been the sister of the King of Mirraccino. Elena knew that her accomplishments didn’t come close to stacking up to Luca’s impressive lineage.
“Luca, it’s really not that big of a deal.” Heat rushed to Elena’s cheeks.
“Quit being so modest. You worked hard for this.” Luca walked over to her and put his arm over her shoulders. “I’m proud of you. Just wait until my sister hears about this. In fact, she was just asking about you.”
“She was?” When he nodded, Elena said, “Tell her I said hi.”
“I will. Right after I tell her about you being world famous and the face of her favorite clothing line.”
In truth, being the face of such a renowned line was truly a turning point in Elena’s career. She wouldn’t just have her face on the middle pages of a magazine. She would now dominate the covers. Her calendar would be filled with photo sessions. Finally, she was no longer just the daughter of the King of Mirraccino’s secretary or the tomboy who followed Luca all around the palace grounds and played football with him until long after the sun set. She was now a successful international model—for however long it lasted.
“But after your news, I’d really understand if you didn’t want to make a big deal of it.”
“Indulge me,” Luca said.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means while you were taking your final stroll down the catwalk, I was on the phone.”
“And? You were finding out the location of the next hot party?” She had no doubt there were parties with so many notable people in town this week for the line reveal, but that just wasn’t her scene.
“There’s only one party on my mind.” He looked at her rather intently.
Her heart raced. “Luca, when did you become so mysterious?”
“Mysterious?” There was a glint of mischievousness reflected in his eyes. “I’ve been accused of a lot of things, but never that.”
“Well, then out with it. What plans did you make?”
“Trust me. You’ll find out soon enough.”