Ravelli's Defiant BrideBy: Lynne Graham
His unexpected wife!
Cristo Ravelli paces the floor of his father’s Irish country estate, ruing the day he heard the Brophy name. That his father died and left a brood of illegitimate children is hardly surprising, but to silence this scandal Cristo must bring their guardian, the enchanting Belle, in line with his plans!
Belle Brophy’s only concern is her half siblings. She’ll do anything to provide them with the security she never had. So when this gorgeous Italian offers marriage, she won’t say no. But once the ring is on her finger Belle quickly discovers there’s more to a marriage than saying “I do”!
“And what about us? Where are we supposed to go?” Belle demanded heatedly, her temper rising. “It takes time to relocate.”
“You’ll have at least a month to find somewhere else,” Cristo fielded without perceptible sympathy while he watched the breeze push the soft clinging cotton of her top against her breasts. He clenched his teeth together, willing back his arousal.
“That’s not very long. Five children take up a lot of space…they’re your brothers and sisters, too, so you should care about what happens to them!” Belle launched back at him in furious condemnation.
“Which is why I’m here to suggest that we get married and make a home for them together,” Cristo countered.
“Married?” Belle repeated aghast, wondering if she’d missed a line or two in the conversation. “What on earth are you talking about?”
“You said that you wanted your siblings to enjoy the Ravelli name and lifestyle. I can only make that happen by marrying you and adopting them.”
Frowning in confusion, Belle fell back a step, in too much shock to immediately respond. “Is this a joke?” she asked when she had finally found her voice again.
“It is not,” Cristo replied levelly, a stray shard of sunlight breaking through the clouds to slant across his lean, strong face.
All over again, Belle studied him in wonder, because he had the smoldering dark beauty of a fallen angel. His brilliant dark eyes were nothing short of stunning below the thick screen of his lashes, and suddenly she felt breathless.
CRISTO RAVELLI SURVEYED the family lawyer in disbelief. ‘Is this an April fool joke falling out of season?’ he enquired with a frown.
Robert Ludlow, senior partner of Ludlow and Ludlow, did not react with amusement. Cristo, a leading investment banker specialising in venture capital, and richer than Croesus, was not a man to be teased. Indeed, if he had a sense of humour Robert had yet to see it. Cristo, unlike his late and most probably unlamented father, Gaetano Ravelli, took life very seriously.
‘I’m afraid it’s not a joke,’ Robert confirmed. ‘Your father had five children with a woman in Ireland—’
Cristo was stunned by the concept. ‘You mean, all those years he went on his fishing trips to his Irish estate—?’
‘I’m afraid so. I believe the eldest child is fifteen years old—’
‘Fifteen? But that means...’ Cristo compressed his wide sensual mouth, dark eyes flaring with anger, before he could make an indiscreet comment unsuited to the ears of anyone but his brothers. He wondered why he was even surprised by yet another revelation of his father’s notorious womanising. After all, throughout his irresponsible life Gaetano had left a trail of distraught and angry ex-wives and three legitimate sons in his wake, so why shouldn’t there have been a less regular relationship also embellished with children?
Cristo, of course, could not answer that question because he would never ever have risked having an illegitimate child and was shaken that his father could have done so five times over. Particularly when he had never bothered to take the slightest interest in the sons he already had. Cristo’s adult brothers, Nik and Zarif, would be equally astonished and appalled, but Cristo knew that the problem would fall heaviest on his own shoulders. Nik’s marriage breakdown had hit him hard and his own part in that debacle still gave Cristo sleepless nights. As for their youngest sibling, as the new ruler of a country in the Middle East Zarif scarcely deserved the huge public scandal that Gaetano’s immoral doings could unleash if the easily shocked media there got hold of the story.