So this happened over at the Mills & Boon site this week:
The above is the UK cover for this one:
I dropped by to see if it was available on the Mills & Boon site and was stoked to discover it sitting in the #1 spot! Of course, look at Sandro! So sexy, right? (In both versions! Wait until you read him!)
The Marriage He Must Claim is Book One in my baby swap duet called The Wrong Heirs. If you belong to my newsletter, you have probably already downloaded the first two chapters for this and the second book, The Consequence He Must Claim. (Membership has its benefits! Join here!) You get a free ebook just for signing up!
For those of you who haven't joined, the first chapter of Book One is here.
First, the blurb:
Claiming his heir…
When Alessandro Ferrante dutifully married shy heiress Octavia it was a pleasant surprise to discover that his convenient bride was as sweetly sensual as she was beautiful. But when their newborn baby was swapped at the hospital their fragile marriage reached crisis point
…and his wife!
Now, with her baby safely back in her arms, the revelation that Alessandro’s family was involved leaves Octavia wanting nothing more to do with him. But Alessandro won’t take no for an answer – after all, in the bedroom she always said yes! He will seduce his wife again and ensure that Octavia – and his child – are his for ever!
Here's CHAPTER ONE
~ * ~
ANOTHER KNIFING PAIN speared into her lower back, radiating like a spiked belt around her middle and clenching her torso in a merciless fist that stole her breath.
“Please call Alessandro,” Octavia Ferrante begged in a pant, knotting her fists in the blanket beneath her as she braced herself for the next contraction. She was starting to fear that something would happen and she would never hear his voice again.
Her husband’s cousin, Primo Ferrante, only sighed. His hold on the curtain dropped with disinterest as he turned away from the window. “I told you. He said he would come if the baby is born alive. Otherwise he’s not going to put himself out.”
She didn’t want to believe it. Primo seemed to draw more enjoyment daily from tormenting her. She no longer trusted him and was sure this was more of his games.
But after this many months of being exiled to London by her husband, she was beginning to believe at least some of what Primo said. He was certainly correct in labeling her soft in the head. She’d let her life spiral beyond her grip. Pregnancy was an odd state, making you feel vulnerable in tiny degrees so you didn’t realize how defenseless you were until the need to fight arose and there was nothing to draw on. She had insulated herself here, licking her wounds over Alessandro’s rejection, and suddenly she had no resources. No one to help her.
Rebellion had backfired on her in the past so she rarely dissented, but she’d never been weak. At one time she’d been confident in herself, at least, if not truly assertive. She’d even felt a certain pride in those first few weeks of her marriage—
Another pain tore through her, making her grit her teeth to hold back a scream.
Alessandro, she silently begged, as a fresh wave of perspiration rose to ice her skin. But she knew all about men who wanted live births of their sons. Maybe Primo was telling the truth about her husband’s lack of concern.
Call my mother then, she almost said as another pain gripped her, but her mother was also in Italy and would have even less sympathy. Eight times she’d gone through this. Seven of them fruitless labors. Eight, really, since Octavia was hardly counted as a valid heir.
Female. Only good for one thing. This.
Octavia had lived in fear all her life that she would suffer as her mother had, losing babies before she could deliver them. For good reason, apparently. This was not the idealistic, natural process the books promised. This was torture. The baby was coming a month too early, and the pain was terrifying. Something was wrong. She knew it.
“Where is the ambulance?” she cried as the pain throttled back enough that she could catch her breath and speak. “The clinic said to call one as soon as I went into labor. Did you do it?”
“You’re being hysterical. These things take hours. You know that,” Primo muttered. He had said he would, but she would bet her life that he hadn’t.
“Give me the phone,” she demanded, holding out her hand. Why was he even here? Why wasn’t her husband?
Her pains were coming on top of themselves. She had to wrap her arm across her swollen middle, fearful her skin would split under the stress.
“Please, Primo. I’m begging you. Take me to the hospital.”
“You’re an embarrassment to our family name,” he said, sneering at her rumpled, sweaty form and tear-streaked face. “Where is all this pride in duty you once told me you had? Show some dignity.”
His cruel words, delivered by a cruel man whom she hated with all her being, still had the power to wound. Because Alessandro had left her to this. Each time Primo verbally flayed her, she felt it as an uncaring swipe from Alessandro, like batting a fly. She had been his toy, perhaps, because he’d seemed so taken with her in those early days, but now she was nothing to him. Utterly forgotten. His indifference was a body blow every time she confronted it.
As anguished and defeated as that made her feel, she wasn’t about to give birth on her bed, risking her baby’s life and her own. Inching to the edge of the mattress, she braced herself on the night table, begging her knees to hold her. She’d crawl out of this room if she had to. Primo might wish her dead, but she wasn’t going quietly.
“Is that blood?” Primo demanded sharply. His hawk-like gaze swooped from her tense face to the spotted blanket and back. His complexion grayed.
As she looked at the small mark, what little body heat remained in her drained from her face and chest and limbs. This was it, then. Like her mother, she was doomed to lose her baby. If she survived, this would happen again and again as she tried to live up to her side of the marital contract. Why, oh, why had she thought going through with an arranged marriage would finally earn her some respect from her father? Why had she let herself begin to care for her husband, hoping to earn his affection?
Why had she opened her heart and taken this unborn infant deep inside it, believing that finally there would be a human on this earth who loved her back?
No one was ever going to love her. She was the only person she could rely on. It was time to face that.
With a sob, she staggered across to where he’d left her phone on the windowsill and snatched it up. Bowing her head against the wall, silently praying, she dialed the number for emergency services and told them to send an ambulance.
Alessandro Ferrante saw his wife was calling and his pulse tripped. He immediately tamped down on the involuntary reaction, ruthlessly regaining control over himself and annoyed that he let her catch him so easily, even when she was on the other side of the continent.
But some measure of surprise was legitimate. She never called him anymore.
Which he was trying not to let bother him.
“Cara,” he answered, ears straining for clues as to why she was calling now. It was late in London, even later here in Naples, but apparently they were both still up. Perhaps the baby was kicking. She had said a few times that she had trouble sleeping through that. It had made him feel the distance between them quite keenly…
He ignored the stab of something that might have been regret. The separation was necessary. He wouldn’t give in to weak yearnings and wind up putting her in danger. That would be irresponsible.
“Sono io,” Primo said into his ear. It’s me.
Not Octavia then. Disappointment fell through him before he could deflect it. He habitually fought extreme degrees of emotion, never allowing them to rule his actions, but this marriage was becoming so very much not a marriage and it was beginning to frustrate him. It had started with such promise. They had had a remarkable compatibility, particularly in bed, but it had disintegrated into something he didn’t know what to do with anymore.
Not for the first time, he questioned his decision to leave her in London, but all the facts remained the same: she was pregnant and at risk. Her mother had a history of losing babies. His mother’s house in London was in the same city as a world-class specialist clinic, one that had been monitoring her closely. She was also safe from the threats here in Naples. His refusal to bring her home was absolutely the best thing for her and their unborn child.
His wife had taken to avoiding his calls, however. His cousin made all her reports, which was an intrusion Alessandro didn’t appreciate. Why was Primo even still at his mother’s house? How long did it take to get an apartment painted these days?
“Si?” Alessandro prompted his cousin now, tone sharpening with dismay.
“She’s gone into labor,” Primo said bluntly.
Alessandro sat up, arteries stinging with an immediate shot of adrenaline, the desk full of work before him forgotten. This was too early. Almost a month before her due date. He had planned to fly out next week. He reached for his tablet, already tapping out a message to his driver and pilot.
“It all happened very quickly or I would have called you sooner,” Primo continued. “The ambulance was delayed and—well, there have been complications.”
A knife of dread went through him, impossible to dodge. Primo liked to frame things in as much drama as possible. Sandro had talked to him about it more than once, told him that it only exacerbated situations, but Primo loved to grab and hold attention.
This wasn’t the time.
Unless Primo was truly reluctant to deliver bad news.
Alessandro could hear the ticking of the clock that had been in his family for generations—tick, tick, tick. Like a bomb. He couldn’t breathe. He was paralyzed, completely devoid of feeling and his mind was empty as he held off what he feared would be a repeat of another moment when tragedy unfolded. When tires screeched and—
“Yes?” he prompted, throat raspy and thick.
“They had to take her to the nearest hospital, not the one where she was scheduled to deliver. It’s inundated with a bus crash, but they’re taking her for surgery right now.”
His nerves exploded with a rush of urgency, barely rational.
“Which hospital?” Alessandro demanded, fighting a ferocious grip of emotion that wanted to overstep reason and break down doors and walls and laws of man and nature to reach London. He grappled to stay calm, forcing himself to speak clearly even as his mind and heart raced. “I’m leaving now. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
~ * ~
What do you think? I'm really excited about both of these books! I hope you enjoy them!
And remember, Book Two is up for grabs if you're on Goodreads!
On the writing front, I'm so far behind I think I'm out in front! I'm kind of angry with myself because I had planned to have a lot of December free, but one thing and another has happened. In some ways it's a question of my own priorities, so I really have no one to blame but myself. I like to get revisions done as soon as they arrive so that's what I'm doing, pushing the writing of a fresh project into the middle of December.
Of course, my horoscope is fine with waiting until the 11th to start something new. That's supposed to be a really friendly New Moon so if you have something new to start, you might want to make note of that date yourself!
I'm cutting this short. I have plans to crawl out of my Fortress Of Literature and blink at the sunny smiles of my family today. I hope you have a great weekend. I'll be back next week with more from The Marriage He Must Keep.