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Will their business deal…
…give them more than they bargained for?
To appease her overbearing father, Carla told him that she’s engaged. She doesn’t, however, have a fiancé…yet! That’s where Franco comes in—if they marry temporarily, she’ll ensure that both of their companies will mutually benefit. Since neither wants a relationship, saying “I do” is strictly for business. But with their undeniable chemistry, can they keep it that way?
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She was in charge.
It hadn’t been her goal. She had been satisfied with working in the background.
Still, Carla Falco now sat in the CEO’s chair, and it was time to sign off on the payroll for the Falco Fresco Ristorante empire. Her gaze moved down over the sizable disbursement requisition, making sure everything looked in order—
The office door burst open. She glanced up to see her father stride into the room with a frown on his face. For a man who’d had two heart attacks in less than a year with the most recent one barely two weeks ago, he certainly didn’t look feeble. In fact, he reminded her of a charging bull with steam emanating from his nostrils.
He wasn’t supposed to be here. He was supposed to be at home, following the doctor’s orders of modest exercise and a lean, wholesome diet. More importantly, he was supposed to be relaxing instead of stressing over the family business. That was her job now.
“How could you do it?” His voice boomed through the large office.
She stood and moved to the door. She caught her assistant, Rosa’s, surprised look and sent her a reassuring smile before closing the door so they could have this conversation in private instead of having the whole office hear them. Then she turned to him. “I suppose you’re referring to halting the expansion into Sicily.”
“Yes! We talked about this. I told you I wanted to build there.”
“And after looking at the numbers, as well as consulting with department heads, I have to disagree with you. We need to focus on our current properties. Many are now older and in need of updating.”
His face filled with color. He was so worked up he couldn’t speak. She’d known he wouldn’t be happy about the decision, but she was hoping he wouldn’t hear about it for a while. In fact, she’d gone to great lengths to keep this information under wraps, but it appeared her father had a mole in the company. Why didn’t that surprise her?
She moved to his side and then gestured to one of the two black leather armchairs facing her desk. “Sit down.”
He didn’t say anything for a moment. Then he moved to the other side of the desk and sat down in her chair. “I think sitting down is exactly what I should do.”
“Papa, what are you doing?”
“I’m taking over my position as CEO once more. Your services are no longer needed.”
Her mouth gaped as her mind struggled to make sense of what had just happened. “You’re firing me?”
His gaze narrowed in on her. “I’m giving you time to concentrate on your life.”
“This is my life.”
“No. This is my life. You need to go find your own.” His voice was firm.
“But you’re in no condition to return to work. You should be at home resting.”
“I’ve rested. All I do is rest. I’m done resting.”
His definition of rest and hers were two different things. He showed up at the office every day, looking over her shoulder and questioning everything. If she didn’t do something quickly to change things, she would never win the respect of the employees now reporting to her. She would be ineffectual as the CEO, and her father’s beloved company would flounder.
Not to mention that every time her father visited the office, he got worked up over something. These were the details he didn’t need to concern himself with at the moment. His focus should be on his precarious health and how to strengthen his body.
Her mind raced for a way to fix the situation. She knew what her father wanted more than anything—for her to marry. It was an idea she’d been toying with lately. Maybe she could make a deal of sorts.
“What would you say if I was willing to make you a deal?” She knew her father thrived on wheeling and dealing—the higher the stakes, the more he enjoyed it.
He paused for a moment as though he was trying to figure out her angle. Then, in a more normal tone of voice, he asked, “What sort of deal?”
“What if I agree to get married?”
His eyes lit up with interest. “I’d say it was about time. Who is it? Fernando from dinner last night?” He rubbed his chin. “Or perhaps it is Edwardo that caught your eye.”
“You’re rushing ahead.” She had him on the hook. Now she just had to keep him there.
His gaze narrowed. “I know that look in your eyes. You’re up to something.”
“I’m just being a businesswoman.”
He grunted. “Leave the business up to me. You have other matters to worry about.”
“Ah, yes, marriage. What are you willing to sacrifice in order to see me married?”
“Sacrifice?” His shocked tone reverberated off the tall walls with their floor-to-ceiling windows and various watercolor paintings of Italian life. “What is it you want in exchange?”
“I want you to hand over the reins of the company for—” she rushed to think of an appropriate length of time “—a year.”
He didn’t move. He didn’t even blink. He just stared at her. Though she knew him well enough to know the wheels in his mind were turning. He was trying to figure out how to work this in his favor—how he could get everything he wanted. But it wouldn’t work. Not this time.
He shook his head. “Not a year. A month.”
She pressed her hands to her hips. She could be just as stubborn as him. “A month isn’t enough time to rearrange the furniture in this office.”
His silver brows rose high on his forehead. “You’re going to change the office? But I love it the way it is—”
“No, I’m not.” She sighed. “That was just a figure of speech. But you know exactly what I mean. I need more than a month. You need more time to recuperate.”
He shook his head. “When you get married, you’re supposed to concentrate on your husband. Not spend all your time in the office.”
“You let me worry about my marriage and my office hours. But since you aren’t interested in negotiating, let’s forget it. I have work to do in my office. It’s time you went home.” She turned for the door, all the while hoping he would stop her. “After all, the doctor hasn’t released you for work.”
She took slow, measured steps to the door. She thought of stopping and speaking to him, but she knew her father was a shrewd poker player. He would see a bluff from a long way off if she wasn’t careful. And it wasn’t truly a bluff. If he went for this deal, she would be getting married. The thought sent dread skittering down her spine. But she would deal with that if or when the time came.
“Okay.” The resigned tone of his voice said that she had won. “Three months.”
She didn’t immediately turn; she hesitated just for a second or two, just like any good negotiator would do. Because he might be her father, but he was a businessman first, last and always.
She needed time to implement her plan to modernize the restaurant chain. She’d already been in talks with various department heads. But it was going to take a long time to give hundreds of restaurants makeovers.
When she faced him, she said, “Six months.” It would give her enough time to firm up a plan and start the renovations on a couple of restaurants—enough to show her father what a difference it would make to their patrons and eventually their bottom line. When he went to negotiate further, she cut him off. “Six months, not a day less, or the deal is null and void. And I want this in writing.”
And then her father smiled. “You do have your father in you. Nicely played. Now who is the man you’ve chosen to marry?”
“All in due time. First, we have a contract to draw up. The rest will follow.”
It was only then that she let the reality of this deal sink in. She was getting married. She was about to marry someone she didn’t love. She was in so much trouble.
Two weeks later
Seated in a little out-of-the-way café on the outskirts of Verona, Franco Marchello wordlessly opened his mouth. He immediately forgot what he’d been about to say. Surely he hadn’t heard correctly. Because there was absolutely no way Carla Falco had proposed to him.
Still, he’d seen her glossy red lips move. The words she’d spoken, he must have gotten them mixed up. That was it. His mind raced to come up with an alternative: Carry me? Bury me? None of the alternatives made a bit of sense.
Franco swallowed hard. “Excuse me, what did you say?”
Carla didn’t smile. In fact, she looked quite serious, the way he imagined seeing her at the head of the table in a boardroom. “I asked you to marry me.”
That’s what he thought she’d said. And yet he had no idea why she’d propose to him.
Sure, they might have had a good time at his brother’s wedding two weeks ago at Lake Como. She had been the maid of honor and he’d been the best man, but that had been one evening of laughter and dancing. Maybe he hadn’t wanted the evening to end so soon, but Carla had avoided his attempts to turn the evening into something more intimate. So what had changed her mind?
The following week, he’d invited her to dinner. She’d been hesitant until he assured her that it would be a proper business dinner. After all, she’d rebuffed him once. He wasn’t about to subject himself to being rejected twice—no matter how beautiful he found her or how her glossy lips tempted him. He made it abundantly clear that the only thing on his mind was a mutually beneficial business arrangement.
Even though it’d been dinner for two, as promised, he’d kept it all aboveboard. He’d pitched her the reason she should consider putting Marchello Spices back in all her family’s restaurants. She’d told him she didn’t have the authority to make it happen. Her father was still controlling every aspect of the company. But she had been curious enough to agree to review the projections. He knew if she saw the same potential that he’d seen in those numbers, she wouldn’t be able to ignore them. At last, he had an in with her father, who’d refused numerous times to meet with him—all because of an old grudge between him and Franco’s grandfather.
And that’s where things had ended—on the sidewalk outside the café. Had there been something in his drink that evening? Had he blacked out and totally forgotten about some torrid romantic night together—anything to explain this most unexpected proposal?
Because he didn’t do marriage—no way. He was a Marchello. Marchellos were notoriously bad at marriage.
Happy Release Day! I’m looking forward to reading this.
Thank you!!! 😊
This sounds good.
Thank you. 😊 I hope you enjoy it.
Happy Book Release Day!
Thanks so much!!! 😊
Happy Release Day ! !