He’d make her pay…between the sheets!
Already haunted by a youth of illegitimacy and poverty, Valente Lorenzatto never forgave Caroline Hales’ abandonment of him at the altar. But now he’s made millions and claimed his aristocratic Venetian birthright – and he’s poised to get his revenge. He’ll ruin Caroline’s family by buying out their company and throwing them out of their mansion…unless she agrees to give him the wedding night she denied him five years ago…
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‘IT’S all yours, signed, sealed and delivered…the business and the house and land,’ the lawyer confirmed.
When Valente Lorenzatto smiled, his enemies took cover. Even his employees had learned to fear the rough passage that might lie ahead. Darkness invariably shadowed that smile and lent it a wolfish quality of threat. While he contemplated the documents set before him, the set of his wide, sensual mouth gave his breathtakingly handsome face a distinctly chilling quality. ‘Excellent work, Umberto.’
‘It is your own work,’ the older man pointed out. ‘Your acquisition plan was a triumph.’
Umberto would have given more than his annual bonus, however, to learn exactly why his fabulously wealthy employer had devoted so much time and energy to the planned downfall and purchase of an English transport firm and a piece of private property, neither of which appeared to be of sufficient financial or strategic value to justify his interest. Umberto doubted the wild rumour that Valente might once have worked there in the days before his first big deal. It was only after the high point of the latter that the haughty Barbieri family had finally chosen to recognise Valente as Count Ettore Barbieri’s illegitimate grandson.
That particular revelation had caused a public sensation, very much in keeping with Valente’s colourful lifestyle and his even more spectacular rise to prominence with a series of bold takeovers. Valente was exceptionally clever, and extraordinarily successful in business, but he was even more renowned for his ruthlessness. The Barbieri clan had been very lucky to find a golden goose like him in the family tree at a time when their fortunes had been in need of restoration. Valente’s success in that field had proved to be of little comfort to his long-lost relatives, however, when Old Man Barbieri had begun to idolise his grandchild for his dazzling achievements. The Count had ultimately disinherited his other descendents so that he could leave everything he owned, bar his title, to Valente instead.
That development had provided months of tabloid coverage about Valente, who had been asked to take the family name to qualify for his massive inheritance. And, Valente being Valente—a rebel who did not stand for being told to do anything—had gone to court with the argument that he was very proud of his late mother’s unremarkable surname, Lorenzatto, and that it would be an offence to her memory and all she had done for him to discard it. Mothers across Italy had lauded him for his attitude. He had won his case to become one of the most illustrious billionaires in the land, regularly consulted for his opinion by the great and good, with his pronouncements quoted in every part of the media. He was, of course, extremely photogenic and media savvy.
Having dismissed Umberto, and other members of his personal staff, Valente took the air on one of the splendid stone balconies that overlooked the busy thoroughfare of Venice’s Grand Canal. The Barbieri family had been hugely shocked when he’d taken the ancient Palazzo Barbieri back to its medieval merchant roots and renovated it to act as his business headquarters, just as it had been originally used in the fourteenth century. He had retained only part of the vast, imposing property for accommodation. Valente was a Venetian born and bred, before he was an Italian, and he had kept faith with his late grandfather, Ettore, in doing what had to be done to preserve the palazzo for future generations when money might not be in such liberal supply.
Valente drank his black coffee and savoured the moment for which he’d had to work five long years to bring it about. Now he owned Hales Transport, which had finally been brought to its knees by the toxic effect of Matthew Bailey’s fraudulent and incompetent management. Valente had also become the owner of a crumbling old house called Winterwood. It was a deeply personal moment of boundless satisfaction for him. As a rule he was neither a patient man nor a vengeful one. After all, he had not sought revenge on his own family, who had left his ailing mother to work as a maid in order to feed and clothe her son. Indeed, if asked, Valente, who generally lived very much in the present, would have said that acts of revenge were a waste of time, and that it was better to move on and forget the past, for the future should hold a more exciting and worthwhile challenge.
Unhappily, however, Valente deliberated, with a harsh expression etched on his bronzed features, even after five years he had yet to meet a woman who excited him anything like as much as his former English bride-to-be, Caroline Hales, once had. His tiny artist, with her pale hair and mist-coloured eyes, who had wept inconsolably when anyone had been cruel to animals but who had, without apparent hesitation or apology, jilted him at the altar for a richer man from a more socially acceptable background.
Just five short years earlier Valente had been an ordinary working man, a truck driver, who’d worked long hours while struggling to complete a business degree in what time was left over. Life had been tough but good—until he’d made the very great mistake of falling head over heels in love with the daughter of the owner of Hales Transport. And Caro, as her adoring family called her, had played him for a fool from the outset, he acknowledged bitterly. She had strung Matthew Bailey and Valente along. And had, regardless of her claims to love Valente, ultimately married Matthew at a big, showy wedding.