Classic Romance

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When business and pleasure collide

The consequences are life changing…

Powerful tycoon Brando Ricci cannot imagine raising his child anywhere but in Tuscany, surrounded by family. So when PR executive Charlotte Parks shows up at his door and tells him she’s pregnant, he has the only solution. They must marry pronto.

Charlotte already broke her biggest rule by giving in to temptation with Brando. He’s a former client—and impossibly skilled in bed! But a marriage of duty? No, thank you. Unless Brando can break his own number one rule: keeping his heart off-limits.

Classic Romance

The Price of a Dangerous Passion

read an excerpt →

When business and pleasure collide

The consequences are life changing…

Powerful tycoon Brando Ricci cannot imagine raising his child anywhere but in Tuscany, surrounded by family. So when PR executive Charlotte Parks shows up at his door and tells him she’s pregnant, he has the only solution. They must marry pronto.

Charlotte already broke her biggest rule by giving in to temptation with Brando. He’s a former client—and impossibly skilled in bed! But a marriage of duty? No, thank you. Unless Brando can break his own number one rule: keeping his heart off-limits.

The Price of a Dangerous Passion

Classic Romance

Themes & Archetypes

Badboys, Italians, Tycoons

Harlequin Presents

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The Price of a Dangerous Passion

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Prologue
New Year’s Eve

She had rules. Rules she never broke. There were no exceptions. Charlotte never mixed business and pleasure, never. She wasn’t ever tempted, either…regardless of the value of her clients. All her clients were VIPs to her, clients who came to her for her sterling reputation. They trusted her to make the best possible decisions for them. They came to her because they needed her expertise in sorting out image issues, public relation snafus and social media nightmares. How could they trust her judgment, if her judgment was faulty?

If her judgment lost sight of the objective?

If she forgot why she was there in the first place?

Charlotte Parks knew all these things, and yet Brando Ricci was making it almost impossible to remember why these—her—rules were so important. She’d wrapped up business weeks ago, well before Christmas. All conversations and concerns with the Ricci-Baldi family had been handled, settled, put to bed. She was here at the Ricci family’s grand New Year’s Eve party because they loved to throw lavish parties and loved to include everyone who had helped them. And Charlotte had helped them, having spent the entire autumn in Florence, working to smooth tensions following intense, negative media attention arising from the family’s struggles with power, and issues from succession.

Not all issues were completely settled, but much of the tension was gone, and the family had come together to present a unified face to the public once again. Tonight’s party was part of that unified face.

She shouldn’t have come tonight. Her part was done. She’d been paid—well paid, too. There was no justifiable reason to have returned to Florence for a party.

The music changed, slowed, and Brando pulled her closer, his hand settling low on her back, her breasts crushed to his tuxedo-covered chest. “You’re overthinking,” he murmured, his breath warm against her ear.

“I am,” she agreed. “Or perhaps I should say, I’m thinking. And I should be thinking. You are dangerous.”

“I would never hurt you. That is a promise.”

And she knew that. She knew he’d be amazing—in bed, out of bed. The chemistry between them was electric and had been there from the moment they’d met last September. But the chemistry is what also troubled her, because she’d never felt a pull like this… She’d never even considered throwing caution to the wind. And yet here she was, a half hour from midnight, wrestling with her conscience, wrestling with desire.

“I shouldn’t be here,” she whispered, fingers curling around his, her heart thumping too hard, her body warm, sensitive, exquisitely aware…aroused. She hadn’t made love in over a year…perhaps two years… She hadn’t felt this attracted to anyone…ever. Part of her was so tempted to give in to the heat, while the logical, disciplined part warned that it was a mistake, a mistake that could jeopardize her career, her reputation…

Her heart.

She looked up into his handsome face again. He was gorgeous…truly handsome, but it wasn’t just beautiful bone structure. He was smart, fascinating, compelling. During the months of working with the Ricci family, Brando was the one who drew her, time and again. Even though he was the youngest in his family, he had the most wisdom and insight, and she’d come to trust and respect his point of view, even going to him when Enzo, Marcello and Livia couldn’t agree on anything, hoping Brando could find a diplomatic way to bring his fractious siblings together. And he had. And he did.

She’d returned tonight to Florence for him.

For this…

Whatever this was.

“What are you afraid of?” he asked now, his narrowed gaze sweeping her face.

His scrutiny made her face tingle, setting countless nerve endings alight. “Losing my head. Losing control.”

The corner of his mouth lifted ever so slightly. His hand slid lower on her back, nearly cupping the curve of her butt. “We’re two consenting adults.”

She could feel his sinewy strength pressed against the length of her. His hard chest, his waist, the powerful thighs. “Yes, but business and pleasure should always be kept separate—”

“We’re no longer working together,” he reminded, his head dropping, his lips brushing the side of her neck.

She shuddered, and closed her eyes, trying to ignore how her breasts tightened, nipples pebbling, desire coiling within her. It was becoming increasingly difficult to keep a clear head. All she wanted was his mouth on hers, his hands teasing, exploring the length of her. It had been so long since she’d been with anyone and yet she wanted him…wanted his weight on her, wanted his body filling hers, wanted the pleasure she knew he’d give. The pleasure she craved…not from just anyone, but him. Brando Ricci. Vintner. Entrepreneur. Billionaire.

Lover.

No, not her lover, not yet.

“We shouldn’t do this,” she whispered, air catching in her throat as his thumb stroked the side of her neck, lighting little tongues of fires just beneath the surface of her skin.

“We’ve done nothing wrong,” he murmured. “We’re simply dancing.”

Done nothing wrong yet, she silently corrected, with yet being the operative word.

Charlotte tipped her head back to look up into Brando’s mesmerizing silver eyes that were anything but cool, or cold. The heat in them scorched her now and she felt a shiver race through her. She’d fought this attraction for months, fought the sizzling awareness, suppressed the hunger, but tonight she was losing the battle. Just being in his arms was making her breathless and dizzy. Her body hummed, aching with awareness. Hunger.

“It’s nearly midnight,” she said, glancing over his shoulder at the enormous clock that had been mounted on the wall of the palace ballroom for tonight’s New Year’s countdown.

He glanced at the clock, too. “Ten minutes.”

Her gaze took in the orchestra on the stage playing everyone’s favorites, and the throng of beautiful people filling the dance floor. The seventeenth-century ballroom was packed with some of Europe’s most glamorous, wealthy people. They were having a wonderful time, laughing, dancing, drinking, celebrating. When the clock struck midnight, the celebration would become deafening.

She’d always hated crowds, and normally avoided parties, but when the invitation came to attend the Riccis’ party, she didn’t say no. She couldn’t say no.

“What are you thinking, cara?” Brando’s deep voice was a caress.

Cara, darling. She felt another helpless shiver race through her.

She’d come tonight for him.

She wanted only him.

And yet, her rules. Her stupid rules.

She dampened her lips with the tip of her tongue. “I don’t mix—”

“Business and pleasure,” he completed for her. “I know. But tonight is not business. We’re done with business, done with the family, done doing what others want us to do.”

His lips brushed hers, a fleeting kiss that felt as if he’d set a thousand butterflies free inside her heart and mind. Wings of hope. Flutters of possibilities.

She always lived so alone, so controlled, so contained, but tonight… Tonight she felt as if maybe, just maybe, she belonged somewhere, to someone. Even if it were for one night only.

“Just tonight,” she said hoarsely. “You must agree this is just one night, and nothing more than that. Promise me, Brando.”

His lips brushed hers again. “Fine. Tonight is ours. Tonight belongs to us.”

“And tomorrow—”

“We won’t worry about. It’s not here.”


Chapter 1

Charlotte Parks tucked her long pale hair behind an ear, straightened the lapel on her fashionable coat and rang the doorbell on the tall, handsome seventeenth-century building in the heart of Florence, just steps from Ponte Vecchio. Originally constructed as a palace, the building had been turned into several private homes, including the town house for Italian tycoon Brando Ricci.

She’d been here twice before, once for business last October, and once for—well, not business—New Year’s Eve. It was a large, lavish town house with three separate floors and the sheer size of it meant that it’d take a moment for someone to come to the door, and so she waited calmly, expression serene.

Charlotte was skilled at serene. She’d mastered stress and pressure, having learned how to adjust to instability and conflict early in life, as the next to youngest in a big, rather famous British family, her affluent, aristocratic parents marrying and divorcing with rather joyous abandon, giving her a dozen siblings, half siblings and stepsiblings. She’d been born in England, then hauled to Los Angeles for ten years with her mother when she married the roguish film director Heath Hughes, and then bounced back to Europe at fifteen for finishing school in Switzerland.

Charlotte’s siblings and stepsiblings were quite famous in their own right—models, actresses, race car drivers, as well as beautiful, envied English socialites. The ParksThorpe family even had their own reality TV show for a bit, before certain members of the family decried it as too common, too crass, too American. It didn’t help that nearly half of the family was now American, and full of plans and ambition. Charlotte, having spent twelve years in America, the ten with her mom, and now the past two on her own with a lovely house in the Hollywood Hills, had come to appreciate American bluntness and the efficiency with which Americans tackled problems. Well, maybe that was overstating things. Affluent Americans, inevitably image conscious, were very good at hiring help for damage control, and Charlotte was very good at damage control, so good, she had her own little company that had become a very successful PR company with global clientele.

Her ability to solve problems is what brought her to Florence. She’d met Brando Ricci nine months ago when she was hired to sort out a public relations nightmare involving the legendary Ricci family, one of Italy’s most famous families, known for their wine, their leather goods, as well as their modern fashion house.

The Ricci family business dated back to the turn of the century, when making a great Chianti was their claim to fame. Following World War II, the family expanded, adding fashion and luxury leather goods to their business. The three Ricci brothers, grandsons to the founder, grew and nurtured the business until they ran into a rather common problem—how would succession work in a family where the three brothers had been almost equals, and yet each brother had two or three children each? It was one thing to share leadership among three, but a corporation couldn’t have eight leaders. She’d stepped in late last August to smooth over some of the negative publicity stemming from the internal family struggles, generating new media coverage that focused on the family’s cohesiveness, but behind the scenes, the family was still rather fractious as succession hadn’t yet been truly addressed. But she’d done her part. The Ricci family was out of the tabloids, and she’d been given a very generous payment for services, and that should have been that.

Except it wasn’t.

Charlotte, who rarely made mistakes, made a critical tactical error on New Year’s Eve. She shouldn’t have spent a night with Brando Ricci. Yes, it had been an extraordinary night, but letting down one’s guard, and breaking one’s rules, had staggering consequences.

Now she was here, but she dreaded the moment she’d be face-to-face with him. Brando was brilliant, powerful, perceptive, exciting. He’d made her feel all kinds of things she’d never felt before, and that was while still on the dance floor.

Returning here, being carried up to his bedroom, had been earth-shattering. She wasn’t a virgin but she’d never felt anything as exquisite as what she felt in his arms, in his bed. It was without a doubt the most amazing night of her life. The sex had been so good, so unbelievably good, that she’d flown home dazed and dazzled and completely swept away.

Thank goodness there was a huge distance between them—6,188 miles to be precise—a trip that required at least one or two stops, depending on the airline and route, so it wasn’t easy, or convenient to jet over to say hello. She returned home determined to focus on the future, not the past, or the bliss of being with a man who knew how to make a woman feel like the most glorious thing in the world.

There would be no reunions, no weekend escapes. They’d had their fling, and yes, it’d been the most exciting, sensual thing she’d ever experienced, but she wasn’t going to lose her head over incredible sex with the sexiest, most sensual, most overwhelming man she’d ever met. That would be plain foolish, and she might be slightly, slightly, secretly besotted with Brando, but she was no fool. He was completely out of her league, and she’d told him so when he’d phoned to say he’d be in Los Angeles and hoped they could get together.

Just hearing his voice on the phone slammed her back to the night she’d spent in his bed in Florence. She felt his heat and strength again, and could picture his head between her thighs, his mouth on her where she was oh, so sensitive, his tongue finding every delicate nerve so that when she came, she came hard, and completely fell apart, dissolving into tears because he made her feel, so very much, and it was actually too much. She might live in California now but underneath she was still quite British and didn’t enjoy being flooded with quite so much emotion. Emotion was wonderful in tidy bites and measured doses, but the emotion Brando made her feel, well… Really, there was no place for it, and no room in her life for dazed, dazzled and befuddled.

Which brought her to this exact moment, where she waited on Brando’s doorstep, her elegant swing coat hiding her secret, a secret she had to share, because there was no hiding it any longer. It was one thing to keep a secret when there was no physical evidence, but her bump was impossible to hide now, so here she was, steeling herself for a conversation she did not think she’d ever have. Because she’d been on the pill, and he’d used a condom, and yet…

And yet…

Charlotte’s heart staggered and she exhaled hard, before drawing in a slower calming breath and ringing the doorbell again, pressing on the bell a little longer, and more insistently, than before.

The last time she was here Brando had almost made her believe in miracles. But there were no miracles, just bruised principles, and broken rules, and heart-wrenching consequences.

The front door suddenly swung open, revealing a tall slender young woman with long, dark tousled hair, red lips, her naked body barely covered by a white silk robe, the fabric so sheer, her dusky nipples shone through.

Charlotte recognized the model immediately. She was an Argentinean beauty taking the fashion world by storm.

“Si?” Louisa drawled as her robe slid off her shoulder and down her slender arm, fabric no longer covering one jutting breast.

Charlotte ignored the nipple. “Brando è disponibile?” she asked, utilizing the Italian she’d learned at her Swiss finishing school.

Louisa looked her up and down, a sly smile curving her full lips. “È un po legato.”

He’s a little tied up, Louisa had said, and from the model’s smug smile, Charlotte had a feeling the words were literal.

“Would you be so kind as to untie him?” she said politely in Italian. “Let him know Charlotte Parks is here. I’ll be waiting for him in the grand salon,” she added, stepping into the house and heading for the formal room halfway down the white marble hall.

Charlotte heard the door close hard, and then footsteps on the curving staircase that led to the second floor. Brando’s bedroom was up there. Charlotte knew, because she’d been there, during that second visit to this house when he’d stripped her naked and turned her into a mass of quivering need. She’d been far too intrigued by him, and she’d been far too confident in her ability to manage him, just the way she managed everything else in the world. But one didn’t easily manage Brando Ricci. He was a force to be reckoned with.

That force, all six foot two inches of him, entered the salon, dressed, thankfully, and looking casually handsome in faded denims that wrapped his muscular thighs, and a silver-gray cashmere V-neck sweater that hugged the hard planes of his chest. The cashmere sweater perfectly matched the color of his silver-gray eyes and paired a little too well with the espresso black of his hair.

He was tall, lean, honed and even more beautiful than she remembered. Her heart jumped, a quick staccato that did nothing for her sense of calm. Just that little glimpse of skin at his throat made her remember what it had felt like to be naked against him. His body didn’t just look magnificent, he knew how to move it, and when he’d been inside her, she’d felt satisfied, more satisfied, more…everything…than she’d ever felt in her life.

Being intimate with him hadn’t been just physical pleasure. She’d experienced a feeling of peace and wholeness, which made no sense since Brando had a history of breaking hearts. He didn’t do long relationships. He didn’t want commitments.

Which was why he should be fine with her proposal, relieved to hear that she would handle everything.

“Charlotte,” he said, approaching her, and leaning down to kiss each of her cheeks. “What brings you to Florence?”

“You do.” She smiled up at him. “I hope I haven’t interrupted anything.”

He gave her an amused smile, indicating he was aware that she was aware she’d obviously interrupted something.

“Shall we sit?” he suggested, gesturing to the chic armchairs in the white room with red and coral accents.

“Yes, thank you.” She took the chair opposite his, the chairs a little closer together than she preferred, but it felt good to be off her feet as her heart had begun to race and all her cool, calm confidence deserted her now that he was here. Brando was larger than life, humming with an energy that she found potent and strangely addictive. Her family was filled with beautiful people, but Brando exuded a physicality and a virility that was all his own.

He’d more than impressed her with his virility six months ago in this very house.

New Year’s Eve. What a life-changing night…

Heat rushed through her at the memory, and her stomach did a wobbly flip. The last thing she wanted to do was relive those intense memories now, here, with Brando within arm’s length and his lover upstairs waiting for him in bed. “I imagine Louisa must be growing impatient,” she said.

He smiled, a lazy, almost indulgent smile. “Louisa is good at entertaining herself.” He was still smiling, but his silver gaze narrowed, expression sharpening. “When did you arrive in Italy?”

“Today actually. I’ve left my bags at the hotel, but haven’t yet checked in.”

“That eager to see me?”

“I wasn’t sure if you’d be here, or at the country house. If you were in the countryside already, I was going to rent a car and drive out to meet you.”

“I’m heading to the villa tomorrow.” His gaze skimmed over her, studying her intently. “You look well.”

“Thank you. I feel well.” She hesitated, struggling for words, her carefully rehearsed speech forgotten. She’d convinced herself that he wouldn’t care about her news. She’d convinced herself that he’d be relieved she was going to handle everything and do everything. Suddenly she wasn’t so sure and her heart had begun to race, anxiety pulsing just below the surface. “Do you mind if I take off my coat? It’s very warm.”

“Yes, your cheeks are quite flushed.”

The moment her coat came off, he’d see. He’d know. She hesitated, hands no longer steady, her confidence shaken.

What if it didn’t play out the way she anticipated? What if he—

She stopped herself there, unable to imagine any other scenario than the one she’d planned on. He was a bachelor. A playboy. He wasn’t father material. He wouldn’t be interested in the domestic details.

“Charlotte, are you all right?” he asked.

Tell him. Just tell him now.

Instead, mouth dry, heart racing, she slowly, carefully eased her arms from the sleeves and then allowed the coat to slide off her shoulders and fall back onto the chair.

Her emerald dress was slim fitting, the soft knit clinging to her small frame, highlighting her bump. The baby gave a hard kick just then and she touched her bump, not sure if she was soothing the baby, or herself.

“I’m six months,” she said quietly, steadily. “It’s been an easy pregnancy, and there have been no complications. I didn’t want to say anything until I’d made it out of the first trimester—” She broke off, took a quick breath and plunged on. “I wasn’t showing until recently and then I just popped. I couldn’t hide it any longer, and I didn’t think I should.”

“Should I be offering my congratulations?”

“If you’d like to include yourself in the congratulations.”

There was a beat of silence. “Is this your way of saying it’s mine?”

“Yes.”

“And you’re sure it’s mine?”

“Yes.”

His gaze held hers, the silver gray piercing. There was no judgment in his eyes, no censure, no shock, not even disappointment. “We took precautions, both of us.”

“It seems we have a child that very much wants to be part of the world,” she answered, sitting tall, shoulders straight.

“A child with determination,” he replied.

She smiled, her most charming smile, aware that they were now both playing the same game. “It’s an admirable trait.”

“Agreed.” He hesitated. “You never considered an abortion?”

“No.” She eyed him cautiously. “Would you have preferred me to end the pregnancy?”

“I’m Italian. Catholic. So, no.”

“I’m neither, but it was never an option.”

His gaze held hers. “And now you’re here.”

“Yes.” Her chin lifted, and yet she kept her voice even. As long as she maintained control, she’d be fine, and he’d be fine. Really, it was just a matter of needing time to work through the shock that he must be feeling. “It seemed best to tell you in person. I knew you would want to know, and you deserve to know. It didn’t seem fair to just make all the decisions without consulting you.”

Brando arched a brow. “And yet you haven’t consulted me.”

“I am now. That’s why I’ve come.”

Silence stretched and the silence made her pulse do an odd, uncomfortable thudding in her veins, a thudding she felt all the way through her. This was not the Brando she’d last seen. In fact, this was not a Brando she recognized. They were like strangers, and yet the last time she’d been with him they’d been incredibly intimate. She’d given herself all of him and had never regretted it…not until she discovered there were consequences for that night of passion.

“The pregnancy stunned me,” she said after a moment. “It wasn’t part of my plan, and it took me a few weeks to sort through all my feelings, but I’m actually now very much looking forward to motherhood.”

“This consultation… What is your goal? You want money? Financial support?”

“No.”

“What, then?”

Her plan was to offer him exactly what he didn’t want—a chance to be a father. She’d give him the opportunity to co-parent, an opportunity she knew he wouldn’t want, and when he balked, she’d gently offer to do it all herself, and he’d be relieved, and accept. Brando was handsome and brilliant but not ready to settle down. His sister had said so more than once. Brando was the least committed to family. Brando was the rebel and valued his independence. She understood that, though. Charlotte valued hers.

“I want you to be this child’s father,” she said quietly, “if you want to be his or her father, and if not, I am sure one day I will fall in love and marry a man who will raise this child as his. In the meantime, I recognize your rights, and I respect your rights, and would like to include you in the decision-making, should you want to be included.”

“You were pregnant when I was in Los Angeles earlier in the year.”

“Yes.”

“Why didn’t you tell me then?”

“It was early in my pregnancy, and I wasn’t sure that the pregnancy was viable. My sisters have miscarried in the first trimester, and they warned me that it could happen to me.”

“Your family knows, then?”

“No. I’ve managed to hide the pregnancy so far, but it’s impossible now. I’m obviously expecting.”

“Why haven’t you told your family?”

“It’s none of their business.” She put a hand to her bump again, feeling another fluttery shift inside. “And if I was going to share the news with anyone, it should be you.”

end of excerpt

The Price of a Dangerous Passion is available in the following formats:

Harlequin Presents

ISBN: 978-1335148773

Print: July 21, 2020
Digital: August 1, 2020

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