Classic Romance

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December in the brooding Sicilian’s castle…

Spending the holidays with the man who broke her heart is Monet’s worst nightmare. But when commanding Marcu’s children urgently need a nanny, she can’t refuse. Landing back in his aristocratic world, where free-spirited Monet never belonged, is bittersweet torture…

Marcu doesn’t anticipate his overly ordered life being disrupted by the enchanting woman Monet’s become. Duty has always dictated his actions, making Monet, with her infamous family history, strictly forbidden. But when their long-simmering passion burns intensely enough to melt the snow, will Marcu finally claim his Christmas Cinderella…?

Classic Romance

Christmas Contract for His Cinderella

read an excerpt →

December in the brooding Sicilian’s castle…

Spending the holidays with the man who broke her heart is Monet’s worst nightmare. But when commanding Marcu’s children urgently need a nanny, she can’t refuse. Landing back in his aristocratic world, where free-spirited Monet never belonged, is bittersweet torture…

Marcu doesn’t anticipate his overly ordered life being disrupted by the enchanting woman Monet’s become. Duty has always dictated his actions, making Monet, with her infamous family history, strictly forbidden. But when their long-simmering passion burns intensely enough to melt the snow, will Marcu finally claim his Christmas Cinderella…?

Christmas Contract for His Cinderella

Classic Romance

Harlequin Presents

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Christmas Contract for His Cinderella

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Chapter 1

Monet Wilde was in the back room on the fifth floor of Bernard Department Store, searching for a customer’s missing gown, which she was sure had gone to alterations but apparently had never actually arrived there, when one of her salesgirls appeared, informing her that a gentleman was waiting for her, and while he was brusque, he was not as irritable as Mrs. Wilkerson, who couldn’t understand how her daughter’s bridal gown could just disappear.

Monet sighed and reached up to smooth a dark tendril that had come loose from her neat chignon, aware that she dressed more matronly than most matrons, but as the manager of the bridal department it was important to maintain a sense of decorum. “Did he say what he wants?” she asked with a glance at the clock on the stockroom wall. Fifteen minutes until closing. Fifteen minutes to find a very expensive gown for a very irate mother of the bride.

“You.” The salesgirl’s expression turned rueful. “Well, he asked for you. By name.”

Monet’s heart fell. “Tell me we haven’t misplaced another gown.”

“He didn’t say. He just asked for you.”

Monet’s frown deepened. It had been a maddeningly busy day at Bernard’s, the kind of busy that characterized Christmas shopping on a weekend in December. The customers had descended in hordes the moment the department-store doors opened this morning at nine, and the queues and demands had been endless. Apparently everyone had decided that an impromptu wedding was in order, and what could be more festive than getting married on Christmas, or a destination wedding for New Year’s? Monet had spent hours already on the phone calling designers, other stores, seamstresses, trying to find out what was available, and what could be done with gowns that might be available, and she still had a dozen things to do before closing.

“Does he have a name?” Monet asked.

“Marcus Oberto, or something like that. He’s Italian.”

Monet froze, even as she silently corrected the girl. Marcu Uberto was the name, and Marcu wasn’t Italian, but Sicilian.

“I told him you were quite busy,” the girl added. “But he said he’d wait. He said to take your time and there was no rush.”

Monet didn’t believe that for a second. Marcu was not a man to be kept waiting.

And yet what was he doing here? And why now?

Those two questions circled her brain, creating unwanted anxiety. She hadn’t seen Marcu in eight years, and the last time she’d heard from him had been almost three years ago to the day. What could he possibly want this close to Christmas?

“Shall I give him a message?” the salesgirl asked with a cheeky smile. “I don’t mind. He’s seriously sexy. But then I adore Italians, don’t you?”

Sicilian, Monet again silently corrected.

Marcu was Sicilian to the bone.

“Thank you for the offer,” Monet said, “but I’ll need to handle Signor Uberto. However, you could help me by phoning Mrs. Wilkerson and let her know we haven’t forgotten her, and we should have news about the missing bridal gown first thing in the morning.”

“Will we?” the girl replied, wrinkling her brow.

Monet couldn’t even imagine the fallout if they didn’t have good news. “We had better,” Monet said firmly, squaring her shoulders and heading from the stockroom to face Marcu.

She spotted him immediately as she emerged through the silver-and-gray curtains. He stood in the center of the marbled floor, commanding the space, which was something since the fifth floor of Bernard’s was topped by a glass dome and there was nothing but airy space on the bridal floor.

Tall, and broad through the shoulders, Marcu looked every inch the powerful wealthy aristocrat. Sophisticated and impeccably dressed in a charcoal suit and crisp white shirt—a suit and shirt she was certain from the tailoring had been made just for him. He’d paired the severe suit with a brilliant blue tie to set off his glossy black hair and piercing blue eyes. Eight years ago he’d worn his thick black hair long, but now it was cropped short and combed severely back from his brow while a hint of a shadow darkened his strong, angled jaw.

Monet’s pulse pounded, and her mouth dried as she fought back a wave of memories—memories she couldn’t bear to deal with on a night like this. Fortunately, he hadn’t yet seen her, and she was grateful for small mercies as she fought to control her breathing, and center herself. She’d worked so hard to block the past that she felt wildly unprepared for dealing with Marcu Uberto in her present.

“Courage and calm,” she whispered to herself. “You can do this.”

“Marcu,” she said politely, approaching him. “What brings you to Bernard’s? Is there a gift, or purchase I can help you with?”


Monet. A streak of icy hot sensation raced through him at the sudden sound of her voice, a voice he’d know anywhere. It wasn’t low or high, but there was a warmth to her tone, a sweetness, that matched her warm, sweet personality.

He turned to face her, half expecting the girl he’d last seen—petite, laughing, unassuming—but that wasn’t the woman before him. The Monet he’d known in Palermo had a quick smile and bright golden-brown eyes, but this Monet was incredibly slender with a guarded gaze and firm full lips that looked as if they rarely smiled. She certainly wasn’t smiling now, and with her hair drawn back, and dressed in a matronly lavender and gray tweed knit sheath dress with a matching knit jacket, she looked older than her twenty-six years.

“Hello, Monet,” he said, moving forward to kiss her on each cheek.

She barely tolerated his cheek grazing hers before stepping quickly away. “Marcu,” she replied quietly, unemotionally.

No, she wasn’t happy to see him in her workspace, but then he hadn’t expected her to welcome him with open arms.

“I’ve come to see you on a personal matter,” he said, matching her detached tone. “I’d hoped that by coming here near to closing time, I would be able to steal you away afterward so we could talk without distractions.”

Her already guarded expression shuttered completely, leaving her pretty features utterly blank. Once he’d known her so well that he could read all of her thoughts. He could read nothing now.

“The store might be closing soon,” she answered with a small, stiff smile, “but unfortunately I’ll be here for another hour. I still have orders to process and missing items to be found. Perhaps next time you’re in London—with advance notice—we could have that visit?”

“The last time I was in London you refused to see me.”

“Our schedules prevented it.”

“No, Monet, you prevented it.” His eyes met hers and held. “I won’t be put off this time. I’m here, and happy to wait until you’ve finished.”

“You won’t be allowed to remain in the building after we close.”

“Then I’ll wait in my car.” He glanced around the floor with its sleek silver Christmas trees and elegant decorations. “But why will it take you an hour to wrap things up? There’s no one here. Everyone but your colleague has gone.”

“I’m the manager and this is my department, so it falls to me to take care of all the pieces.” She paused, her gaze lifting to meet his. “Surely you don’t really want me to explain all the details of my job to you? I can’t imagine you’re that interested in bridal retail.”

“I’m not surprised you opened and closed.”

“It was an unusual day. We’re short-staffed.” She hesitated. “How did you know I opened?”

“I was here this morning. You were extremely busy so I left, and returned four hours ago. You were also very busy then, so here I am now.”

She’d held his gaze the entire time, and while her features remained neutral, her brown eyes burned with intensity. “Has something happened?” she asked, her husky voice dropping even lower.

“There has been no accident, no tragedy.”

“I don’t understand then why you’re here.”

“I need your help.”

“Mine?”

“Yes. You might recall that you owe me, and I’ve come to collect on that favor.”

She seemed to stop breathing then, and he watched the heat fade from her eyes until they were glacier-cool. “I have much to do tonight, Marcu. This is not a good night.”

He gestured to the pair of charcoal velvet armchairs near the platform and the tall trio of gilt-framed mirrors. “Would it be easier to just speak now?”

He saw her indecision and then she gave a curt nod. “Yes. Fine. Let’s talk now,” she said before walking to the chairs and sitting down on the edge of one, ankles crossing neatly under the chair.


Monet’s heart hammered as Marcu followed her to the chairs backed by huge framed mirrors, and then took his time sitting down. The trio of mirrors gave her views of him from all angles as he first unbuttoned his dark jacket, and then sat down, all fluid grace and strength, before adjusting the cuff of his shirt, making sure it fit just so.

This was her workplace, and her floor, and yet he managed to make her feel as if she was the outsider…the imposter. Just as she’d been as a girl, living in the Uberto palazzo, supported by his father. Monet hated remembering. She hated being dependent on anyone. And she very much resented Marcu’s appearance and reminder that she owed him.

She did owe him, too.

Years ago Marcu had come to her aid, providing an airline ticket and a loan when she needed to escape a difficult situation. He must have known there would be questions, and consequences, but he’d bought the airline ticket to London for her, anyway, and sent her with cash in her pocket, allowing her to escape Palermo, which is where the Uberto family lived, as did Monet’s mother, who was Marcu’s father’s mistress.

Marcu had warned her as he’d dropped her off at the airport in Palermo that one day he would call in the favor. Monet was so desperate to escape that she’d blindly agreed. It had been eight years since that flight out of Palermo. It had been eight years since Marcu had told her that one day he would settle the score. It seemed that day was now. He had finally called in the favor.

“I need you for the next four weeks,” he said, extending long legs. “I know you were once a nanny, and you were always good with my brother and sisters. Now I need you to take care of my three.”

She hadn’t heard from him in years. She’d avoided all mention of the aristocratic Sicilian Uberto family in years, the Uberto palazzo was one of the oldest and most luxurious in Palermo, and yet now he was here, asking her to drop everything to take care of his children. It would be laughable if it had been anyone else making such demands, but this was Marcu and that changed everything.

Monet drew a quick breath and shaped her smile, wanting to appear sympathetic. “As much as I’d like to help you, I really can’t. This is a terrible time for me to take leave from my work here, as retail depends on Christmas, and then there are my own clients. I’m quite protective of my anxious Christmas and New Year’s brides.”

“I’m more protective of my children.”

“As you should be, but you’re asking the impossible of me. I won’t be permitted to take any leave now.”

“Then give notice.”

“I can’t do that. I love my work here, and I’ve fought hard for this position.”

“I need you.”

“You don’t need me. You need a caregiver, a professional nanny. Hire a proper, skilled child-minder. There are dozens of agencies that cater to exclusive clientele—”

“I will not trust my children with just anyone. But I will trust them with you.”

She wasn’t flattered. The very last thing she wanted to do was to take care of Marcu’s children. She and Marcu had not parted on good terms. Yes, he’d helped finance her escape from Palermo, but he was the reason she’d had to leave Sicily in the first place. He’d broken her eighteen-year-old heart, and shattered her confidence. It had taken her years to build up her self-esteem again.

“I appreciate the vote of confidence,” she retorted calmly. “But I can’t leave Bernard’s at this time of year. I have an entire department that depends on me.”

“I’m calling in my favor.”

Marcu.”

He simply looked at her, saying no more, but then, nothing else needed to be said on his part. They both knew she had agreed to return the favor. It was the only condition he’d made when he’d helped her leave Palermo. That one day he’d call in the favor, and when he did, she needed to help, and she’d agreed. As the years passed, Monet had come to hope—believe—that he would never need her. She’d hoped—believed—that he was so successful and comfortable that he’d forget the promise he’d extracted from her as he drove her to the airport. She’d grown so hopeful that he’d forgotten, that she herself had almost forgotten, that such a promise had even been made.

But clearly he hadn’t, and that’s all that mattered now. “This is not a good time to call in the favor,” she murmured huskily.

“I wouldn’t be here if it was a good time.”

She looked away, brow knitting as she looked toward the huge Palladian-style window that dominated the fifth floor, adding to the department’s restrained elegance. A few fat white flakes seemed to be floating past the glass. It wasn’t snowing, was it?

“I promise to put in a good word with Charles Bernard,” Marcu added. “I know him quite well, and I’m confident he will hold your position for you, and if not, I promise to help you find another job in January, after the wedding.”

The wedding?

That caught her attention and she turned from the window and the snow to look at Marcu. His blue gaze met hers and held.

Marcu was still Marcu—brilliant, confident, arrogant, self-contained—and for a moment she was that eighteen-year-old girl again, desperate to be in his arms, in his life, in his heart. And then she collected herself, reminding herself that she wasn’t eighteen; years had passed and thankfully they weren’t the same people. At least, she wasn’t the same girl. She wasn’t attracted to him. She felt nothing for him.

So why the sudden frisson of awareness shooting through her, warming her from the inside out?

“I’m afraid you lost me,” she said huskily. “What wedding?”

“Mine.” He hesitated for a moment, then added, “Perhaps you didn’t know that my wife died shortly after my youngest was born.”

Monet had known, but she’d blocked that from her mind, too.

“I’m sorry,” she said, fixing her gaze on the sharp knot of his blue tie, the silk gleaming in the soft overhead light. Of course he was exquisitely tailored. Marcu looked sleek and polished, Italian style and sophistication personified. Perhaps if she kept her attention fixed to the crisp white points of his collar, and the smooth lapels of his jacket, she could keep from seeing the face she’d once loved. It had taken her forever to get over him, and she would not allow herself to feel any attraction, or interest, or concern or affection.

“I need help with the children until after the wedding, and then it will get easier,” he said. “I won’t need your assistance longer than four weeks. Five, if it’s really rough going.”

Four or five weeks, working with him? Minding his children while he married again? “Does that include the honeymoon?” she asked drily.

He shrugged. “I have a conference mid-January in Singapore. I’m speaking so it depends on Vittoria if she’d like to make that our honeymoon.”

Monet was appalled but it was none of her business. She wasn’t going to get involved. “I can’t do it. I’m sorry, but I’ve already paid you back the cost of the airline ticket, and the cash you lent me, with interest. Our debt should be settled.”

“The debt is settled, the favor is not.”

“They are one and the same.”

“No, they are not one and the same. You do not owe me financially, but you owe me for the position you put me in when you left the palazzo, and the speculation you created by abruptly departing without saying goodbye to your mother, my father, my brother and sisters. You put me in a most difficult position, and that is the score that is to be settled now as once again I am in a difficult position and this time you can help me.”

It crossed her mind that she could argue this point forever with him, but he would never change his stance. Marcu was fixed. He was absolutely immovable. Even at twenty-five he’d been mentally strong, physically strong, a force to be reckoned with. Perhaps that had been his appeal. Monet had been raised by a woman who couldn’t put down permanent roots, and didn’t know how to make a home, or even make responsible decisions. Monet’s mother, Candie, was impulsive and irrational. Marcu was the opposite. He was analytical, cautious, risk-averse. He was reason personified.

The only time he’d ever surprised her was the night he’d kissed her, and made love to her, only stopping short of taking her virginity. And then his regret, and his scorn, had scarred her. In mere minutes he’d gone from passionate and sensual, to callous and cold.

Monet had left less than fourteen hours later, flying out of Palermo with nothing but the smallest knapsack of clothing. She owned very little. She and her mother had lived off the generosity of Marcu’s father and Monet was not about to take any of the gifts he’d bestowed on her.

It proved easy to leave Palermo, and yet once she’d arrived in London, far too hard to forget Palermo. Not because she missed her mother, but Monet missed everything else—the busy life at the historic sprawling palazzo, Marcu’s younger brother and sisters, and then there was Marcu himself…

In that first year in London Monet spent far too many nights sleepless, agonizing over the evening in Marcu’s arms. It hurt to remember his kisses and his touch, and yet they were the most potent, powerful emotions and sensations she had ever felt. She had felt like a flame—flickering, hot, radiant. He had woken something inside of her that she hadn’t known existed. And his harsh rejection of her had been confusing…shattering.

She’d worked to forget Sicily. She’d tried to put the entire Uberto family from her mind, and yet she missed the children. They had become the only family she’d ever really known.

She had also been in desperate need of a job, and her father, a man she’d only seen a handful of times in her life, had introduced her to a family in need of a nanny while the children were out of school for the summer holiday. She’d performed the job so well that the family had kept her on for the coming school year. She helped with the children, and their schoolwork, and ferrying them from one after-school activity to another. She’d stayed with that family until the parents divorced and could no longer keep her on, but she’d found another job right away, and then another until she’d realized that she couldn’t continue in child care—all the goodbyes were too hard on her heart—and she went to work in retail.

She’d started downstairs at the register in hats and gloves, and then when they were short-staffed in bridal, went to the fifth floor to fill in, and had never left the bridal department. If others thought she was too young to be the manager of the department at twenty-six, no one said so, because despite her age, she had style and flair and an eye for quality. Monet wasn’t entirely surprised. She was her mother’s daughter after all.

“I know this is a lot to take in so I propose we postpone further conversation until you’ve finished here, and we can go to dinner and relax and have a civilized discussion.” Marcu gave her an encouraging smile. “It will give you an opportunity to ask the questions that I’m sure will come to you—”

“But I have no questions,” she interrupted, refusing to fall for his charm, painfully aware that in the past she’d found Marcu nearly irresistible—and he knew it, too. He knew exactly how to play her, just as he’d successfully played her eight years ago. She had no wish to fall in with his plans again and rose, indicating she was finished with the conversation.

“Marcu, I have no interest in this position. It’s pointless to continue as I have no wish to waste your time, nor do I wish to waste my own. I’m to return here early tomorrow morning and I still need to find a missing gown before Mrs. Wilkerson descends on us again.” She drew another short, tight breath. “I wish I could say it was good to see you, but that would be a lie, and after all these years there is no point in either of us lying to the other.”

“I never imagined you to be vindictive.”

“Vindictive? Not at all. Just because I can’t fall in line with your plans doesn’t mean I harbor you ill will. You were important to me once. But that was years and years ago.”

He rose as well, and he towered over her now. “You made me a promise, Monet. I’m afraid you can’t say no…at least not yet, not until you have heard me out, and you haven’t. You don’t know the details. You don’t know the time frame. You don’t know the salary, or the benefits.”

She threw up her hands. “There are no benefits to working for you!”

“You once loved us. You used to say that we were the family you never had.”

“I was young and naive. I know better now.”

“Did something happen after you left Palermo? Did something occur that I do not know about?”

“No. You know everything.”

“Then why so much scorn and hatred for my family? How did they hurt you?”

She couldn’t immediately answer, not when her emotions bubbled up, her chest too hot and tender. She had once loved them all. She had once dreamed of being part of them, a cherished member of the family. But that wasn’t to be. She wasn’t one of them. She hadn’t any hope of being one of them. Her eyes stung, and her throat ached. Monet fought to speak. “It was good of your family to tolerate me for so many years, especially in light of who I was. So no, I do not hate your entire family. I do not speak of your brother and sisters with scorn.”

“So your anger is with me, and my father, then?”

This is precisely what she didn’t want to do. Dredge up the past. Relive the old pain. She dug her nails into her palms, fighting for control. “It doesn’t matter. I don’t wish to discuss it. I don’t live in the past, and neither should you.”

“Unfortunately, it does matter to me, and unfortunately you are in my debt, so we will discuss it later, over dinner. I shall leave you now to finish up here. My car will be downstairs waiting for you. I look forward to continuing our discussion then.” He nodded at her and walked away, heading for the gleaming elevators against the distant wall.

She stood there watching him until the elevators opened and he stepped in. He never once turned around until he was inside the elevator and then, and only then, did he turn and look back to find her still standing where he’d left her. Their gazes met and held, a fierce silent challenge that was only broken by the closing of the doors.

end of excerpt

Christmas Contract for His Cinderella is available in the following formats:

Harlequin Presents

ISBN: 978-1335478863

Print: November 19, 2019
Digital: December 1, 2019

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