Allesandro di Vincenzo is a perfect male specimen. There's no woman he can't have--until Laura Stowe crosses his path.
Laura is plain, poor and hides behind her homely appearance to avoid getting close to people.
But Allesandro needs her family connections to open the door to ultimate corporate power. So he must woo the ugly duckling into his bed--where she will learn what it is to be a beautiful, desired swan.
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March 31, 2008
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Excerpt from The Italian's Rags-to-Riches Wife by Julia James
Laura braced her shoulders and lifted the handles of the overladen wheelbarrow. The tower of damp kindling she had gathered wobbled a moment, but did not fall. Blinking the rain from her eyelashes, she set off over the bumpy ground of the orchard towards the gate that led into the back yard. Her rubber boots swished through the long, wet grass, and her worn corduroy trousers were damp, as was her baggy jacket and hood, but it didn't bother her. She was used to the rain. It rained a lot in the West Country. Gaining the Tarmacked surface of the back yard made her progress easier, and she headed for the woodshed. Firewood was valuable, and helped cut down on expensive oil and electricity bills.
She needed to save every penny she could.
Not just for the essential repairs to the house which, even when her grandparents had been alive, had become increasingly neglected due to shortage of cash, but also, now that she had inherited Wharton, to pay off the death duties that the taxman had imposed on her.
Anxiety bit at her. Even as her head told her that selling Wharton was the most sensible course of action, her heart rebelled vehemently. She couldn't just sell it like a pair of old shoes!
It was the only home she could remember--her haven from the world. She had been brought up in its sheltering protection by her grandparents after the sorry and shameful tragedy that had befallen their only daughter. A daughter who had died, unmarried, and left behind an illegitimate baby...with a father who had refused to acknowledge her.
But there was no income to go with Wharton. Laura's only hope of keeping it was to convert it to an upmarket holiday let--but that required a new kitchen, en suite bathrooms, extensive repairs and redecorating. All far too expensive.
Worse, the first tranche of tax was due imminently, and her only means of paying it was by selling the last few paintings and antiques she had in the house. Laura hated the idea of selling them, but was faced with no other option.
Anxiety pressed her again, a constant companion.
As she emptied her barrowload of kindling into the woodshed to dry off, and set off back towards the orchard to gather yet more, she halted suddenly. A car was approaching down the long drive from the road.
Few people ever called. Her grandparents had kept themselves very much to themselves, and Laura did likewise. As she listened, she heard the car take the fork to the seldom-used front drive. Abandoning the wheelbarrow, she set off around the side of the house.
A gleaming silver saloon car was pulled up outside the front door, its sides flecked with mud but still looking as sleek and expensive and as out of place as if it had been a spaceship.
And looking even more out of place was the man who was getting out of it.
Laura's mouth fell open, and she stared gormlessly, blinking in the rain.
Allesandro stepped out of the car, his expression taut, barely suppressing his black mood. Even with SatNav the narrow, winding lanes had been almost impossible to navigate. And now that he was finally here the place seemed deserted. The stone surface of the old house was as damp and sodden as the landscape that surrounded him. Broken, dirty shutters blanked out the downstairs windows and the drive was green with weeds. The flowerbeds looked windswept and unkempt, and the ancient rhododendrons crowded the sides of the overgrown lawn. There was a piece of guttering hanging loose and spilling rainwater onto the porch, which was crumbling.
Ducking through the rain, he gained the relative cover of the entrance. It had been raining solidly ever since his landing at Exeter, and showed no signs of stopping. Allesandro's dark eyes flashed disparagingly as he took in the dilapidated state of the house. Was it really as deserted as it looked?
The crunch of trodden gravel made him swivel his head.
No, not deserted.
Some kind of outdoor hand, he assumed, was approaching him, clumping in heavy boots, the bulky figure enveloped in a worn waxed coat and concealing hood.
'Is Miss Stowe in?' he demanded, raising his voice through the rain.
Laura Stowe. That was the name of Stefano's daughter. Her mother, so Allesandro's investigations had uncovered, had been Susan Stowe, and Stefano had met her while she had been an art student visiting Italy. Apparently Susan had been pretty, and naive, and the results had been predictable. Allesandro had also discovered that Susan Stowe had died when her daughter was three, and the child had been raised by her maternal grandparents, here in this house.
At least, Allesandro thought grimly, the girl would be overjoyed to discover she had a rich grandfather wanting to take her in. This place was a derelict dump.
His mood was bad. He didn't want to be here, practically as Tomaso's gofer, but Tomaso had indicated that once he had met his granddaughter, he would want to retire, to have more time with her. That suited Allesandro perfectly.