Harlequin Presents #2547
Originally published: 05/01/06
Principe Claudio Scorsolini’s future wife must make a suitable figurehead for his people and provide him with an heir. Claudio’s convenient union with Therese is hailed a success: his subjects have fallen in love with her and she’s performed her duties in the bedroom — to Claudio’s immense satisfaction.
However, Therese has secretly fallen in love with her husband. How can their marriage survive when she knows she can never give Claudio a child?
“I was not able to put down The Scorsolini Marriage Bargain until I
completed the book. I really hated to have to say good-bye to the
characters, not only in this book but the series too.” 5 Stars – Theresa, A Romance Review
This is a satisfying conclusion to this romantic family saga. Claudio and Therese are a charming, well-matched couple whose obvious loved for one another shines through heartache and misunderstandings. 4 Stars – Romantic Times
Ms. Monroe has that magic touch that gives us alpha males with a heart and heroines that know how to love them. 5 Stars – Donna Zapf, CataRomance Reviews
THE SCORSOLINI MARRIAGE BARGAIN is an outstanding conclusion to an excellent trilogy. I’ll miss Isole dei Re and the sexy, alpha men of the royal family. – Alane Coppinger, Blue Ribbon Reviews
Their journey into finding love and happiness is one you won’t want to miss. 10 out of 10 – Contemporary Romance Reviews
THE SCORSOLINI MARRIAGE BARGAIN is the final book about the princes from the Isole dei Re trilogy, and the best. This book was worth the wait, and a fitting end to the series. – Nickole Yarbrough, Romance Reviews Today
Ms. Monroe has once again written a winner that will have you turning the pages quickly to find out what happens. So by royal command pickup a copy of The Scorsolini Marriage Bargain and visit the Scorsolini family this last time to see if love can over come a family curse. – Helen Slifer, Writers Unlimited
“I was completely transported reading the Royal Brides, because you wrote incredibly compelling, believable emotional conflict. I literally couldn’t turn the pages fast enough, thank you!”
Angela James – Samhein Editor
“Dear Lucy – I had been enjoying the Therese/Claudio buildup throughout the first two books, so I could hardly wait for the final book in the trilogy…and it even exceeded my admittedly high expectations. You made me cry and that leaves distressing specks on my glasses which is very inconvenient at work – I was reading during my lunch break because I had started the book at home that morning like a twit, knowing I wouldn’t want to put it down before I was finished. It was worth the wait, though. I especially enjoyed wanting to smack Claudio upside his unobservant, duty-riddled brain, but he transformed himself wonderfully.”- Lee Ann Daugherty, Romance Specialist for Waldenbooks
“Hi Lucy – I LOVED The Scorsolini Marriage Bargain! I’ve already read the end 5 times. It’s my current “read the last chapter of a romance before I go to bed” book. Can’t wait until your UK titles come out in the US! Thanks!” – Ellen Higuchi, Borders Express Valley Fair
“Hello again I just read another one of your books (The Scorsolini marriage Bargain). I just wanted to let you know it was wonderful as well. Can’t wait to read more of your wonderful work.” ~ Amber
“Hi Lucy! I just wanted to drop you a line and tell you how much I enjoyed reading The Scorsolini Marriage Bargain. You know how to write such emotional books that are educational.” ~ Patti
“Lucy, I just picked up The Scorsolini Marriage Bargain at the grocery store the other night. I just did what I thought would be a quick dip into it, the next thing I knew I was halfway through the book. Yes, I finished it in one sitting, just could not put it down – absolutely fabulous book! I enjoyed the first two books in the series, but this one was the best. Thanks again, Lucy, for some really great books!” ~ Lorraine
“Dear Lucy, I am one of your new fans. I just finished reading The Royal Brides series, and I loved it! The three books are wonderful, and the following even better than the one before.” ~ Paula G
“I finished TSMB! Very powerfully written. It was an intensly emotional book! You’ve done it again, Lucy! You havent written a book yet that I dont absolutely love.” ~ Kelley
“The Scorsolini Marriage Bargain is brilliant! Passion, Pride, Pain and Persistence all rolled into one making the ending bittersweet to this spectacular “The Royal Brides” series. I cried and cried……it was just wonderful. Incredible, really. My favorite of the series, not because of the dedication but because of Claudio and how he learned what was always in his heart.” ~ Marilyn
“I just wanted you to know that I always enjoy your novels. I read a lot of Harlequin Presents and while some of them are very “cookie cutter” or “formula” driven, your’s don’t seem to be that way at all. I have enjoyed reading the four connecting stories in the “royal brides” series and was wondering in Hawk was
going to have his own story sometime in the future.” ~ Angela S
“WOW!!! What an enjoyable story. A clueless prince. A silently suffering princess. Honest to goodness fighting. A medical problem that so many, many women suffer so frankly discussed, so honestly handled. I especially loved the ending, the fact that the ending went so far beyond the usual kiss and makeup sort of ending. This was so much more.” ~ Barbara
“Some days, being a princess is right up there with long term incarceration on Alcatraz .” Therese muttered the words as she pulled up the zip on her favorite mint green sheath dress while preparing for yet another formal dinner in the Palazzo di Scorsolini.
It wasn’t the prospect of one more dinner eaten with King Vincente and the dignitaries who had come to visit him that made her cranky though. It was frustration with a day spent in her own version of purgatory. She loved the king of Isole dei Re and was closer to him than her own father.
But there were still times she wished she and Claudio had their own home, not just a set of apartments in the royal palace of Lo Paradiso . No matter how beautiful, the suite afforded little privacy when she and Claudio were expected to eat most meals in the formal dining room. The fact that her duties as princess ruled even her personal time could be a major drawback. Especially tonight, when she was jittery with the need to share the news she’d received from her doctor in Miami . She’d gone to the States for this particular examination in order to guarantee absolute discretion.
She almost wished she hadn’t now. Because if the press had gotten hold of the story, at least she would be saved from having to impart the news to Claudio.
It was a craven thought and she was no coward.
But even she, with years of training as a diplomat’s daughter, could not look on the end of her marriage with equanimity. Unlike her parents, she did not see life as a series of political and social moves and counter moves. For her… real life hurt.
Claudio finished putting on his second cufflink and pulled both sleeves straight with precise, familiar movements that made her heart ache at the prospect of losing that familiarity. His lips twisted, giving his gorgeous face a cynical cast. “I will be sure and tell your mother you think so.”
Therese stopped on her way to the table where she had left the jewelry she planned to wear tonight. “Don’t you dare.”
Claudio found her mother’s social climbing tendencies a source of amusement, but Therese was not so sanguine. She, after all, was the ladder her mother expected to climb up on.
“I have no desire to listen to Lecture 101 from Mother on how lucky I am to be a princess, or how privileged my life is.” Not to mention the bit about how amazing it was that Claudio had chosen Therese from amongst all of the eligible women in the world. She really didn’t want to hear that particular treatise, right now.
“Perhaps she will be able to understand your apparent disenchantment with you lot in life better than I can.” The edge in Claudio’s voice said he was only partially kidding and his dark gaze was serious and probing.
“I’m not disenchanted with my lot.” Merely devastated by it, but now was not the time to tell him so.
And she couldn’t help feeling her charmed life had been cursed…probably from the beginning, but she’d been too blind to see it. She’d bought into the fairytale only to discover that love on one side brought pain, not pleasure. The happily ever after was only for princesses in storybook land…or those who were loved for themselves, like the two women married to the other Scorsolini princes.
“Then what is this comparing being my wife to that of a convict incarcerated in prison?” Claudio towered over her with his six-foot, four-inch frame, his scent surrounding her and reminding her just how much she would miss the physical reality of his presence when it was gone.
He was every woman’s dream, the kind of prince that fairytales really were made of. She had woven enough fantasies around him to know. He had black hair, rich brown eyes and the dark skin tone of his Sicilian forefathers, but the height of a professional athlete. His body was muscular, without an ounce of fat anywhere and his face could have been that of an American film star…perhaps of a different era though. No pretty boy looks, but rugged angles and a cleft chin that bespoke a strength of character that she had come to rely on completely.
She had to swallow twice before speaking. “I did not say being your wife was like that.”
“You said the life of a princess, which you would not be if you were not married to me.”
“True.” She sighed. “But I didn’t mean to offend you.”
He cupped her cheek in a move guaranteed to send her nerve endings rioting. He so rarely touched her when they were not in bed that when he did so, she didn’t know how to handle it.
“I am not offended, merely concerned.” She could hear that concern in his voice and it made her feel guilty.
He had done nothing wrong…except choose the incorrect woman to be his princess. “It has been a rough day, that’s all.”
His second hand joined the first and he tilted her face up so she could not hope to avoid his discerning gaze. “Why?”
She licked her lips, wishing again they were not going downstairs for dinner with his father. She wished even more that the twinges of pain in her pelvis were just the regular pre-period cramps she had believed them to be when she first went off the pill so they could try for a baby. “I spent the whole morning with representatives of Isole dei Re’s foremost women’s organization discussing the need for daycare services and preschools on the islands.”
He frowned as if he couldn’t understand what bothered her about that. She’d had many such meetings and they had all gone rather well. However, all he said was, “I thought Tomasso’s wife was spearheading that.”
“The helicopter flight between the islands exacerbates Maggie’s morning sickness, but she didn’t want to put the meeting off. I convinced her to let me take her place. Looking back, I should have had the delegates flown to Diamante to meet with her instead.”
His hands dropped from her face and she felt an immediate chill from the withdrawal, though she was sure he hadn’t meant it that way. “Why? You and Maggie share views on this subject. You have certainly discussed it enough to cover all the points adequately.”
“Not according to the delegates.” She grimaced. “They felt that a woman without children, moreover one who had never been forced to work for her living, could not comprehend the challenges faced by working mothers. They believe that Maggie is ideal for this endeavor and that I should keep right out of it.”
“They said this to you?” He didn’t sound offended on her behalf, merely curious. He could have no idea how much the other women’s disapproval had hurt.
She felt both exhausted and savaged, especially after the phone call from her doctor in Miami . “Yes.”
“It is a good thing that you grew up learning political diplomacy then.”
“Meaning it might have upset you if I had told them all to take a flying leap?”
Claudio gave a masculine chuckle as if he could not imagine such a thing. “As if you would.”
“Maybe I did.”
But he just shook his head. “I know you. No chance.”
“Maybe you don’t know me as well as you think you do.” In fact, she knew he didn’t. After all, he’d never once latched onto the fact that she’d married him because she loved him. The marriage of convenience aspect had been a plan hatched in his and her mother’s more mercenary brains.
“Did you?” he asked with a sardonic brow raised.
She wanted to say yes just to prove him wrong, but told the truth instead. “No, but I wanted to.”
“What we want and what we allow ourselves to do are rarely the same thing. And it is a testament to your suitability to your position that you live by this stricture.”
She turned away from him and started putting on her jewelry. “And you wonder why I compared being a princess to being a prisoner?”
“Are you unhappy Therese?”
“No more than most people,” she admitted. She’d been raised from the time she was a tiny child to hide her true emotion, but she was so tired of pretending.
“You are unhappy?” he demanded in a voice laced with unmistakable shock.
The man so well known in diplomatic circles for his perspicacity was thick as a brick where she was concerned.
“Two of the delegates were less than subtle in expressing their belief it was past time I gave you an heir,” she said instead of answering.
“And this upset you?” Again the shocked surprise.
“But it should not. Soon you will be able to share happy news on that score.”
She winced as his words sprinkled salt into wounds left open and bleeding by the doctor’s phone call.
“And if I can’t?” she asked, testing waters she was not ready to tread into.
His big, warm hands landed on her shoulders and he turned her to face him with inexorable movements. “You are not bothered that you have not yet conceived? You should not be. We have only been trying for a few months. The doctor said that women who have been on the pill for a prolonged time can take longer to get pregnant, but it will happen soon enough. After all, we know everything is in working order.”
Worse than salt on wounds, those words were like the lashing of a cruelly wielded whip. Prior to marrying three years ago, he had required they go through several tests including blood type and the compatibility of his sperm with the mucus on her cervix. He had also requested she have her fertility cycles tested, just to be sure.
Knowing that a big part of why he was marrying her was so that she could provide heirs for the Scorsolini throne, she had agreed without argument. Everything had come back normal. They were compatible for pregnancy and she was as fertile as any other woman her age.
The biggest surprise for her had been his desire to wait to have children for a while. She hadn’t understood it, still wasn’t sure why he had requested they wait, but knew that whatever chance they had of making babies together was over.
Unable to stand any level of intimacy in the face of what she knew was to come, even such a simple touch, she turned away from him.
Helpless anger filled Claudio as Therese moved from him, her womanly curves taunting a libido that ached for her night and day. He wanted to grab her back and demand to know why after three years his touch was no longer acceptable, but that would be the act of a primitive man and the Crown Prince of Isole dei Re was in no way primitive.
Besides, physical rejection from her was not a new thing. It had been happening for months now, but each time she turned away from a physical connection, it still shocked him. After two years of receiving an incredibly passionate response on every occasion when he touched her, he could be forgiven for finding it nearly impossible to reconcile to her sudden change of heart.
Prior to the last few months, he would have sworn that Therese loved him. She’d never said so, but for the first two years of their marriage, she had shown in many subtle and not so subtle ways that she felt more for him than the mercenary satisfaction of a woman for a marriage well contracted. Her love had not been one of his requirements, so he had not refined on it too much…until it was gone.
It was not that he needed the emotion from her, but he could not help wondering where it had gone and why she no longer seemed to want him with the latent passion that had drawn him to her in the first place.
Her physical rejections had started a month or so after she went off the pill so they could try for a baby. At first, he had thought that maybe her hormones had been at fault. After all, he’d read about that sort of thing happening, but in the intervening months it had gotten worse, not better.
Then sometimes she would make love with him the way she used to and all his concerns on that score would disappear. Only to reappear when she turned him down again. He was not a man who had suffered much rejection in his life, particularly from a woman that he desired physically. For it to come from his own wife was totally unacceptable.
And it had been happening more and more lately.
He’d begun to wonder if deep down, she did not want to get pregnant. “Do you not want my baby? Are you frightened of what will happen?”
She flinched as if he’d slapped her, her face going unnaturally pale. “Yes, I want your baby. More than anything. I don’t know how you could believe anything else.”
She was so fervent he could not doubt her. “Then there is nothing about this situation that should upset you.”
The look she gave him from her green eyes was not encouraging, but he forged on, certain of his own conclusions. “Soon enough you will be able to silence busybodies with the reality of a pregnancy. As for today, you will simply play the scenario differently next time and send the delegates to meet with Maggie.”
She spun to face the mirror and pulled her silky, long brown hair up into a twist on the back of her head with deft fingers, securing it with a clip. “And that makes it all okay, does it?”
“It should,” he said with some exasperation. “I do not understand why you are reacting so strongly to this. You have dealt with far more annoying people than these women.”
Therese shrugged her delicate shoulders and headed toward the door. She was so beautiful, almost ethereal in her appearance despite curves that proclaimed her one-hundred percent woman. And times like this he felt as if she was as untouchable as a spirit. But she was his wife, it was his right to touch her.
He did it, taking her arm as she walked by.
She stopped and looked up at him, her beautiful green gaze filled with a vulnerability he did not understand and liked even less. It implied an unhappiness he did not want her to feel.
“What?” she demanded.
“I do not like to see you like this.”
“I know. You expect everything in your life to go smoothly, every person to fulfill their role without question. Your schedule is regimented to the nth degree and surprises are few and far between.”
“I take great pains to make it so.”
“Even to the point of marrying a woman with all the proper qualifications. You had me investigated, tested and then tested me yourself to be sure of my fit as your principessa and future queen. I am certain you never expected me to be a source of frustration for you.”
She was right, but he didn’t understand the bitter undertone in her voice. She had not seemed to mind his endeavors to make sure of her suitability at the time. “You are everything I wanted in a wife. Naturally in my position, I would make every effort to make certain our future was assured, but you were and are perfect for me, cara.”
She flinched at the endearment, much as she frequently flinched from his touch anymore. As if any allusion to intimacy between the two of them hurt her. But they were intimate. They were husband and wife. There was no relationship more intimate than that.
So why did he feel like they existed in completely different hemisphere’s at the moment?
He pulled her close, ignoring the subtle stiffening of her body. “We do not have to go down to dinner, you know.”
Her eyes widened in surprise. “Your father is entertaining dignitaries from Venezuela .”
“They are his fishing buddies.”
“They are official diplomats.”
“He will not care if we send word we are not coming. And there are far more interesting ways for us to spend the evening than listening to fishing stories.”
“That is not what I had in mind.”
Her face set, she pulled away, her rejection as obvious as it was final. “That would be rude.”
Had Therese found someone else who engaged her affectionate nature? Perhaps she had even taken a lover. Rage poured through him at the thought, but he could think of nothing else that would explain the way she rejected him physically. Add that to the fact that at times she acted like her mind was definitely not in the here and now, and he had a compelling argument for believing she had found someone else.
So compelling he was not sure he could control the fury his reasoning evoked. He hated feeling like that. He had married her in order to avoid this kind of emotional upheaval in his life.
Which was the primary reason he had never voiced his suspicion. He knew Therese better than most men knew their wives. He’s made sure of it and everything he knew of her character said she would never, under any circumstances act so dishonorably as to have an affair. That was one of the reasons he had married her. She was a woman of fierce integrity, but she had also used to be a woman of intense passions.
If the one could change…could the other? Did some unknown man have claim on her secret sensuality that used to delight Claudio so much? He could not believe it of her, but as unlikely as it might seem, he had to know the truth.
He would call the detective agency Tomasso had used to trace and investigate Maggie and order an investigation of Therese’s present activities and past movements for the last year. Hawke, the owner of the international detective agency, was wholly discreet and the very best at what he did.
One way, or another, Claudio was going to get to the bottom of the mystery of his wife’s behavior. If another man was involved, he would find out and deal with the situation accordingly.
The thought brought a surge of primitive anger he had no intention of giving into.