It didn’t matter which way she added the numbers. Zero plus zero was always going to amount to a whole lot of nothing. Sighing as she was once again confronted with the sorry state of her finances, Sadie dropped the calculator into her desk drawer. She slammed it closed as if that would somehow make her money worries go away. It was time to admit she was in the midst of a crisis. Her business, her one shot at independence, was failing.
The problem wasn’t location. Occupying a prime spot on the banks of the Arno, the gallery was ideally placed to attract tourists. In fact, plenty of people did walk in through the doors. Unfortunately, she just didn’t have it in her to push them to buy anything. She was friendly, chatting with everyone who came in, but when it came to making that sale, she always faltered.
Everything was falling apart, and it was about to get worse. In less than a week, the men she’d borrowed money from were coming to collect the first repayment and she had nothing to give. They weren’t the type to accept excuses. She’d come to Florence to show her big brother she could survive on her own and now she was going to have to ask him for money to get out of this hole she’d dug herself into. He’d give it in a heartbeat, but there’d be strings attached. He would insist she come home and that was the last thing she wanted.
It wasn’t that she didn’t love her family. She adored each and every one of the domineering wolf-shifters, but they were protective to the point of suffocating her. In the last three days alone, her cousin Ross had left dozens of messages for her to call. Perhaps he’d found out about her money situation, that she was in debt to unsavory characters. The thought made her cringe.
She glanced at the clock and realized it was eight-thirty, a whole hour later than she usually closed up. Grabbing her keys and her purse, she got up and headed through to the front of the store. She froze in shock. A man stood staring at one of the paintings. It wasn’t like her to be so lax about security. She hadn’t even heard the door.
Laying her things on the sales counter, she studied him carefully. Tall and broad-shouldered, his dark hair was tousled, as though he’d just tumbled out of bed. In contrast, his clothing was immaculate. His suit looked expensive and she was sure his leather shoes were handmade. Could he be a debt collector? Did roughing people up for cash pay that well? She dismissed the idea. Perhaps he was just a customer. Her heart soared at the prospect that he might actually buy something.
She crossed the floor toward him and frowned as she detected something familiar in the air. It was a scent too subtle for most people to pick up on, but she knew it well. After all, she’d grown up around men like him. Her customer was a shifter. Perhaps his being here was a coincidence, but her gut told her there was no such thing. She might not possess the ability to transform into a wolf, but her instincts were usually right.
“What is this supposed to be?” He addressed her in English with an underlying hint of an Italian accent.
She ignored her suspicion about how he knew which language to speak with her and answered the question.
“The artist calls it hope in despair.”
“Hmmm.” He leaned a little closer to the painting. “I see the despair, but where is the hope?”
To the untrained eye, it looked like there was nothing but black paint. Sadie pointed to the center of the canvas where the artist had used a dark grey.
“There’s nothing,” the man protested. “It’s just a wash of black paint and you want five thousand euro for it?”
“This sort of art isn’t for everyone.” Sadie didn’t want to admit she wasn’t entirely convinced by it either. “But I have a couple of very nice landscapes if that’s more your thing.”
“I prefer portraits, preferably of the female form.”
Sadie’s cheeks flushed red and she shuffled from one foot to the other. Something about this man had her senses on high alert.
“Ah, I don’t have anything like that in stock right now.”
“Then it is as well I did not come to purchase art, isn’t it, Sadie?”
How did he know her name? He turned to her and hit her with the full force of a mega-watt smile. If it was possible to call a man such a thing, he was radiant. His eyes were deep, dark… but those lips. What she wouldn’t do to feel those lips trailing kisses down her spine.
Sadie shrugged off her ridiculous reaction and fixed him with a determined glare. “Did my brother send you?”
“Do I strike you as the sort of man who runs errands?”
No, he didn’t. He reeked of dominance. This was a man who gave orders and expected people to obey with question. He’d probably never been told what to do in his life. He had the air of an alpha about him.
Sadie narrowed her eyes in suspicion. “Who are you, then?”
“I am Marco di Angelo.”
He spoke as though she should know exactly who he was and, in fact Sadie did. Her stomach somersaulted. The head of the most powerful wolf-shifter pack in Europe was standing in her little gallery. Instinct told her he wasn’t here by accident.
“What do you want?” There was a degree of challenge in her tone.
“Civility would be nice,” he replied silkily. “I am here to offer you my protection.”
“I don’t need protection.”
“Your cousin thinks otherwise.”
“So my family did send you?”
His eyes darkened. “I am here as a favor, one I expect to be returned at some point in the future.”
The thought of her family owing this man anything made Sadie nervous. Her brother, Finn, held a lot of power, but the MacDonald pack’s numbers were dangerously low. In fact, they were on the verge of extinction. Getting on the wrong side of someone like Marco di Angelo could be fatal. If they went to war, her brother’s pack would be wiped out. She had no idea why Ross would risk being indebted to him.
“Will you excuse me, please?” she asked. “I need to verify a few things.”
“Of course,” Marco replied smoothly. “I’ll just… browse.”
Sadie took her cellphone from her bag and hurried back through to her office. She dialed Ross’s number. He picked up after a few rings.
He didn’t sound too thrilled to hear from her, which was a bit rich considering how many messages he’d left demanding she call him. Well, fine, if he wanted to be unfriendly, she could match that.
“Did you send some arsehole werewolf after me?”
Irritated as she was at Ross, she kept her voice down in case Marco heard her.
“I asked an acquaintance to look out for you.”
She’d been here for months, surviving just fine on her own. Ross must know something about her financial problems.
“Why? What’s going on? Why now?”
“If you ever answered your bloody phone, you’d know what’s happening.”
Boy, he sounded really mad. She moderated her tone to try to placate him.
“I’m sorry I haven’t spoken to you. I’ve been busy. We’ve had a lot of new customers lately.”
There was no point telling him it was no longer we. She’d had to let Valeria go weeks ago. With bills mounting up she’d not been able to pay her anymore. It was a pity since the girl had been teaching her Italian.
“That’s good, but you need to answer when I call.”
Sadie rolled her eyes as he used his disappointed father tone on her. He had a cheek when he was only a couple of years older than her.
“Okay, I get it. So what’s up?”
“Finn met his mate.”
It was the last thing she’d expected him to say. A squeal of delight burst out of her at the thought of her big brother finding the woman who’d stand by his side and help rebuild the pack. “What’s she like? When can I meet her?”
“You can’t. She left him.”
“What? Trust Ross to give her good news with one hand and snatch it back with the other. “But if she’s his mate, they’re bound together, aren’t they?”
“He didn’t claim her and now she’s gone.”
There was a hint of disapproval in Ross’s tone. Sadie wondered if it was directed at Finn or the woman who’d left him.
“How’s he taking it?”
Of course he was. If Finn had pinned his hopes for the future on this woman, he’d be crushed it hadn’t worked out. Sadie felt a weight pressing on her. Would Finn now expect her to provide the pack with its heirs? She couldn’t shift, none of the females in their family did, but any children she bore might. Irritation swelled in her at the thought Ross might be calling to use emotional blackmail to persuade her to step up.
“So you called me to come home? What do you expect me to do, Ross? Dish up tea and sympathy?”
“No, Sadie, I want you to stay where you are, but I need you to let Marco look out for you. There are some seriously bad guys out there who may use you to strike a blow at Finn.”
“Bad guys?” How dare he speak to her as though she was a child? “I’m not five years old. Tell me who’s after us.”
Ross huffed out a breath.
“The Knights of St. Francis.”
Shit. She’d heard stories about the shadowy organization that sought to exterminate shifters.
“They tried to get to Finn’s mate,” Ross continued. “They attacked the house.”
Nobody had ever tried something like that before. Glenlogie Lodge was miles from anywhere and it was well protected.
“They’re fine. We dealt with it.”
“So why do I need a bodyguard all of a sudden?”
And Marco di Angelo, of all people.
“Because Finn needs to know you’re safe, Sadie. He’s got a ton of crap to deal with right now. If he thinks you’re in danger, he’ll turn himself inside out worrying about you. We all will.”
Ross knew just where to hit her to make her toe the line. She hated the thought of her family worrying about her.
“Okay, I’ll let this thug look after me.”
She had no intention of doing any such thing. The minute she hung up, she was going to give him his marching orders.
“Marco’s not a thug, Sadie, and I’d watch my attitude around him if I were you.”
Sadie grumbled incoherently in response to the warning and disconnected the call. She plastered a smile on her face and returned to the shop floor to find Marco standing in the center of the room waiting for her.
“Your offer of protection is very kind, signore, but I have no need of it.”
“You are a woman alone in a foreign country, far from the loving embrace of her family. You are too pale, too tired-looking. I think you are very much in need of someone to take care of you.”
Sadie’s eyes flashed with anger. “I am perfectly capable of looking after myself.”
As if trying to contradict her bold assertion, her stomach rumbled loudly. Sadie groaned as Marco raised an elegant eyebrow and grinned. Now it seemed as though she couldn’t even manage to feed herself.
“I was just on my way to get something to eat when you barged in,” she grumbled irritably.
“Then let us go.” Marco gestured toward the door. He held up a hand to forestall her objections. “Allow me to buy you dinner, Sadie. I will satisfy myself that you will be alright and then I can go without feeling I have failed in my duty to your family. I might even be able to impart a few useful tips on personal safety.”
Sadie scowled but he was being so reasonable it was hard to argue against him. Besides, he’d offered to buy her dinner when she’d have headed home to reheat some of yesterday’s bland beef stew. She could listen to his advice on spotting psychopaths at forty paces while she ate and then they’d part ways. It would all be perfectly civilized.
“Very well, I will have dinner with you,” she agreed, “but I want to choose the restaurant.”
“As you wish.”
Sadie hid a smirk as she ushered him from the store and locked the door behind them. She knew just the place for dinner, a tourist spot a real Italian like him wouldn’t want to be seen dead in.
As they made their way along the banks of the River Arno, a cool breeze teased her hair back from her face and Marco tugged at the sleeve of her blouse.
“You’re not wearing a coat.”
“I don’t feel cold.” Sometimes she wore a jacket just so people wouldn’t comment. “I think it comes from growing up in Scotland. Italy always seems warm to me.”
Marco inclined his head as though that impressed him for some reason. Sadie wasn’t sure why. It wasn’t as if it was a great achievement on her part to not need a coat in November.
As they made their way along the river to the Ponte Vecchio every woman they passed seemed to flirt with Marco. They batted their eyelashes, smiled seductively, or forced their lips into unnatural pouts that they apparently thought were sexy.
“Doesn’t that get annoying?” Sadie sniped.
“The way women drool over you.”
Marco shrugged indolently. Of course it didn’t irritate him to have fawning admirers wherever he went. He was no doubt aware he was a good-looking man. He was probably so used to receiving adoration he didn’t even notice anymore.
They weaved their way through the crowds of tourists on the bridge. No matter how often she crossed the Ponte Vecchio, Sadie didn’t think she’d ever tire of it. She loved the medieval stone structure and the little jewelry shops dotted along it.
“Have you ever been up there?” Marco pointed to the Vasari corridor that led from the Uffizi Gallery and across the bridge to eventually reach the Pitti Palace.
Sadie shook her head. “It’s closed to the public until next year.”
“I could get you access,” Marco offered.
“I’m sure you could, and I might take you up on that if we were ever going to meet again after tonight.”
That displeased him. The mask slipped and a dark scowl crossed his face. Ignoring the chill in the atmosphere, Sadie turned left as they came off the bridge. She walked along a quiet side street to the restaurant she’d chosen.
“Here we are.”
Now he really couldn’t hide his displeasure as he took in the red and white checked tablecloths and heard the cheesy Italian crooning the restaurant played on a loop.
“Tavolo per due,” Sadie said brightly as a waiter approached, “alla finestra per favore.”
She spoke pretty good Italian but suddenly, with Marco standing right behind her, she felt as though her accent was off. He made her incredibly self-conscious, probably because he reeked of disapproval. As he trailed behind her to the table by the window, she could almost hear him judging their surroundings and finding them wanting. Well, good. She’d chosen this place because she knew he wouldn’t like it.
“So, what do you think?”
“There’s a nice view.”
Sadie wasn’t sure if he was talking about her or the Ponte Vecchio which was perfectly framed in the window behind her.
“Come for the view, stay for the pizza.”
“It’s a pizza joint?” Marco sneered.
“They serve other things, but their pizza is to die for. Or do you only eat live chickens?”
“I’ve been known to indulge in other delicacies.”
Sadie’s eyes widened as his gaze slid down her face and came to rest on her breasts. Her cheeks heated and she concentrated on the menu she already knew by heart.
“So, where do you live?” she asked once she’d regained her composure. “Here in Florence?”
“That wouldn’t be ideal for a man like me.”
“A shifter, you mean?”
“Si.” It hadn’t been explicitly mentioned until now and Marco inclined his head in agreement. “I need room to roam. My family has an estate near San Gimignano.”
Sadie’s eyes lit up at the mention of a town she planned to visit one day.
“Oh, I’ve always wanted to see the towers.”
“You haven’t been?”
“No, I don’t have a car here and I never got around to checking out the buses.”
The waiter returned at that moment and Sadie ordered a Margherita pizza, more because she thought it would annoy Marco than anything. He cast a disdainful look over the menu before ordering the veal.
“And a bottle of whatever passes for vino rosso in this place.”
As the waiter hurried off, Sadie looked at Marco with open curiosity.
“You spoke to him in English.”
“I wouldn’t taint my native tongue ordering food in this tourist trap.”
Sadie snorted as she held back a laugh. “You’re a snob. Is it really so bad in here?”
“It’s an insult to my heritage. Tell me, cara, do you enjoy eating in establishments with tartan carpets that serve haggis and play bagpipe music?”
It was a fair point but not one she was prepared to let him score. “As a matter of fact, I do. Whatever makes the tourists happy is fine by me.”
His expression signaled loud and clear he didn’t share her sentiment. In that instant, she realized the type of man she was dealing with. He was master of his universe and he merely tolerated everyone else in it. Oh, there were undoubtedly the chosen few he deemed worthy of sharing his orbit, but even they might find themselves cast out if they failed to live up to his expectations.
Sadie was relieved when the waiter delivered their food to them a few minutes later. He brought with him a bottle of cabernet sauvignon. It was perfectly nice—she’d drunk it before—but the waiter had to have a screw loose if he thought he could serve a French wine to a man so obviously imbued with a sense of Italian superiority.
“Take it away,” Marco snarled.
“Leave it,” Sadie said. She glared at Marco. “It’s already open.”
Another cardinal sin, of course, but she didn’t want to see this little family-run trattoria out of pocket just because her dining companion was an insufferable elitist.
“Remove it and bring us a bottle of water.”
“Of course, signore.” The poor waiter looked flustered as he hurried off.
“He’d better not come back with Evian,” Marco muttered.
Sadie bit her bottom lip to stop herself laughing at the Italian hunk’s petulance. Thankfully when the waiter returned to them moments later he brought a bottle of San Pellegrino.
“Be sure to add the wine to the bill,” Sadie said, waiting until the young man had left before responding to Marco’s glare. “They opened it for us. We’re paying for it. You look like you can afford it.”
Actually, he looked like he could buy the vineyard if he wanted. He rolled his eyes dramatically and started to eat his dinner. Sadie braced herself for the criticism, but none came.
“This is good.” To say he sounded reluctant to offer such praise was an understatement.
“There,” Sadie said, “you found something nice to say and it didn’t kill you.”
“Oh, there are many nice things I could say right now, but they wouldn’t be about this dump, cara.”
Her gaze burned into her and heat rose to her cheeks. “Are you flirting with me?”
“Of course. I’m a hot-blooded male and you’re a very beautiful woman. What man wouldn’t kill to possess a creature like you?”
Even if she could have thought of a response, Sadie would never have managed to utter it. Struck dumb by his words, the intensity in his gaze as he’d delivered them, she concentrated on eating her pizza. It was like chewing through cardboard. There was nothing wrong with the food, but she was too shocked to register anything but the fluttering between her legs Marco had set off.
“Dessert?” Marco asked as she somehow finished her pizza and pushed the empty plate away.
“No, thank you.”
She had to get out of here, away from this man who’d somehow sparked her arousal with mere words and a heated gaze. She picked up her purse and raked about for some money.
Marco shook his head. “Dinner’s on me, cara.”
Sadie tried not to exhale in relief. Paying for dinner would have wiped her out and she still had hope that if she clung on a few more days, something good would come her way. Her eyes widened as Marco casually took several high denomination bills from his wallet and dropped them on the table.
“That’s very generous,” she remarked.
“They can put it toward improving their décor.”
Sadie practically had to jog to keep up with Marco as he headed for the door. When they stepped out onto the sidewalk, he was texting someone on his cellphone.
“Well, I guess this is where we part ways.” Sadie thrust her hand out toward him, but he didn’t shake it.
“What do you mean, cara? Did you imagine I would let you walk home alone?”
She wasn’t sure how he knew her poky little apartment was within easy walking distance of here and he didn’t give her a chance to ask. He put his hand at the small of her back and began to steer her along the street. Sadie was too busy bristling at his presumption to notice the SUV pulling up to block their path. Her heart beat rapidly as a sudden awareness of danger made the hairs at the back of her neck prickle.
Realizing Marco was steering her toward the car, she spun around, ready to drive the heel of her palm up into his nose. Unfortunately, he moved too fast, grabbing her wrist and twisting her around. The car door opened, and he bundled her into the back seat. She scrambled across to the other door, but it was locked. Marco slid onto the seat beside her and curved his hand around the back of her head. He pulled her close and whispered menacingly in her ear.
“I promised you some safety tips, cara, so here they are. Number one, never trust a strange man to walk you home. Number two, never get into a stranger’s vehicle and number three, never try to hit me again.”
Sadie was bristling like a cornered wildcat, her outrage at being manhandled into the back of the vehicle palpable. Marco sat back and watched as she struggled to regain her composure. She was visibly rattled, and he couldn’t help but think she deserved to feel a little shaken. From the moment he first introduced himself, she’d had an attitude. She’d been foolish to spurn his offer of protection and he knew exactly what she’d been playing at when she took him to that shitty trattoria. Clearly, she was trying to get under his skin. What she didn’t realize was she’d been there like a persistent itch from the moment her cute little Scottish ass arrived in Italy. He made it his business to know what was going on around him. Another alpha’s sister choosing to set up shop in Florence had immediately piqued his interest. When he first laid eyes on her, he knew he had to have her. Little Sadie MacDonald didn’t know it yet, but she was his.
He took his phone out and sent a message to her cousin Ross, letting him know he’d picked her up safely. That she hadn’t come willingly didn’t matter. He just wanted the MacDonalds to know she was safe. The last thing Marco needed was a foreign pack coming into his territory to try to retrieve one of their females.
“Where are you taking me?”
Ah, it had taken a while, but she finally found her tongue. She was in the mood for a fight if her tone was any indication.
“To my home.”
“Why? For how long?”
“Because I want you there and for as long as I choose.”
She scowled and he had to applaud her ferocity. A lesser man might be intimidated into giving way. Unfortunately for the beautiful Signorina MacDonald, he was not a man who backed down so easily.
“I need to stay in Florence,” she protested. “I have a business to run.”
“You’ve run it into the ground by all accounts.” He regretted the hurt evident in the drooping of her mouth, but he couldn’t soothe her pride. Some hard truths needed to be delivered. “You are in a great deal of debt, no? Almost a hundred thousand.”
“How do you know that?” Her voice was tinged with suspicion.
“Enzo,” Marco called out to the man who sat stiff-backed in the passenger seat. Enzo turned around and Sadie couldn’t contain her surprise.
“He’s the man I took the loan from.”
“Enzo, have you been lending your money to unsuspecting females?” he asked in feigned shock.
“No, boss, I have no money to lend.”
Marco turned to Sadie, whose face was slowly showing signs of recognition of the position she was in.
“He has no money, Sadie. Do you think perhaps it was my money he gave you?”
If he’d struck her, she wouldn’t look as horrified. She obviously didn’t understand how lucky she was he’d been keeping an eye on her. When he heard she was asking around about borrowing a large sum of money, he’d put Enzo in her path. He couldn’t believe she’d trusted the big brute, but he was glad she had. If one of the local Mafioso had given the loan, she’d be in dire straits.
“I owe you,” she said quietly. “You didn’t come to me as a favor to my family. You were coming for me anyway.”
As he lifted a shoulder lazily in response, Sadie sagged against the seat. For a moment, she looked deflated. Then she sat bolt upright, already over the sense of defeat. “I can get you the money,” she said. “I just have to ask Finn.”
Marco shook his head. “I don’t want your brother’s money.”
Apparently, she found that confusing. She frowned deeply and suspicion formed on her face. “Then what do you want?”
“What does that mean? You want to sleep with me, is that it?”
“That would be a start.”
For a moment, she looked completely stunned. Her face froze in an expression trapped somewhere between horror and fascination. Then she blinked and her eyes turned wild. Sadie launched herself at him, claws at the ready to attack his face.
Marco caught her easily and used her own momentum to force her down over his lap. He drew her wrists together and held them in the iron grip of one hand. With minimal effort, he dragged her hideous floral skirt up around her waist and hooked a leg over hers. She bucked furiously against him, putting up an admirable fight. If he was honest, her struggles only stoked his lust for her. If he had all night, he would simply sit back and enjoy the show as she gradually tired herself out. But he didn’t have the time for her tantrum right now. He couldn’t be seen to let her assault on him slide when his men were present. To keep his unruly pack in order, he required their respect.
Drawing his hand back, he delivered five rapid swats to her peachy bottom. She shrieked in indignation and wriggled as though trying to slide from his grasp. He tightened his hold on her wrists.
“Lie still and take five more,” he instructed, “or I’ll remove my belt and thrash you until you beg for mercy.”
She gasped indignantly but ceased struggling. It seemed she could be sensible when she chose to be. Sadie went limp over his lap, her softness melting right into him. To test her willingness to obey, he let go of her hands. She moved, placing her palms flat on the seat. She raised her head and glanced around, weighing her options. Marco readied a response to her attempting to escape, but she lay back down, quiet as a lamb.
“Good decision, cara.”
Although he looked forward to a time when her beautiful skin would bear the marks of her belt, he didn’t want to chastise her severely right now. They’d only just become acquainted and the boundaries of their relationship had not yet been set. She didn’t know the rules. Still, she should have heeded his warning about never hitting him again.
He smacked his hand down hard on her right butt cheek and almost hummed in pleasure at the squeak she emitted. He struck again on the opposite side of her bottom and she hissed.
“That fucking hurt!”
“Language, cara,” he warned. “I don’t want to have to gag that beautiful mouth.”
He slapped her delicious derriere three more times and she whimpered quietly. When he delivered the eleventh stroke, she twisted around and looked at him accusingly.
“Five more for cursing.”
She glowered at him for several long seconds and then settled over his lap. He had to admire her ability to act in her best interests even when it was clear her first instinct was to rebel.
He rained four more slaps down on her bottom. She whined and wriggled her hips. He hadn’t hit her as hard as he might and wondered if it was humiliation rather than pain that upset her.
“Your father never spanked you, cara?” he asked. “Or your brother?”
She glared at him through glassy eyes.
“Of course not. That’s perverted!”
Interesting. He asked her about spanking and her mind instantly associated it with a sexual act.
“What about a boyfriend, then?”
“But you wanted him to?” Marco was sure he’d heard the echo of disappointment in her monosyllabic response. “You’re curious, aren’t you? You want to be held down and punished?”
Sadie shook her head.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she denied. “Please, let me up.”
There was no point pushing her while she was in an obstinate frame of mind. In time, her innermost desires would work their way to the fore and he would indulge every single one of them with her.
“Well, since you said please.”
Marco helped her up and deposited her on the seat beside him. She immediately scrabbled away, getting as far from him as she could. Letting her sulk for now, he opened his phone and started dealing with his emails. More and more, he delegated the running of the family business to his younger brothers, but he retained overall control and it still made great demands on his time. Now he had Sadie, he intended to cut back a bit. She was going to need a lot of attention until she got used to the new life he had planned for her.
As he scanned through the usual list of reports from his staff and appointment requests forwarded by his secretary, one subject line caught his attention, so he opened the email. It was an invitation to the wedding of a business partner, one of the few men outside of the pack whose company he truly enjoyed. Despite being organized with unseemly haste, the wedding would be a huge affair. The marriage of a man like Sandro Revello would draw the great and the good from across Europe. It was the ideal opportunity to introduce Sadie to his world.
He dialed his secretary and deliberately spoke English, so Sadie was certain to catch every word.
“Aimee, Sandro Revello is marrying next Saturday. My fiancée will need a dress. Engage the services of Signora Valencia.”
Ignoring his secretary’s flurry of questions, he hung up and put his cellphone away. He anticipated an argument with Sadie that would require his full concentration. When he turned to her, he received immediate confirmation she’d heard what he said. Looking aghast, she practically had steam coming out of her ears.
“Something wrong, piccola mia?”
“First of all, I’m not your baby, and second, you have a fiancée?”
“Si, a beautiful, feisty lass with big brown eyes and hair the color of the sun. An unusual combination, don’t you think?”
He smiled and gave her a pointed look as he waited for the penny to drop. Her eyebrows drew down into a sharp V as she glared at him.
“You’re talking about me.”
“Si, Sadie, you.” He enjoyed the look of bewilderment on her face. “As of this evening, to the outside world, you are my fiancée, soon to be my wife. Within the pack, you will be my mate and in time, the mother of my pups.”
Her eyes widened. “Pups?”
“Naturalmente. I need an heir and a spare as you Brits say. You may also have a girl if you want one.”
“Wow, that’s incredibly generous of you.”
Marco ignored her sarcasm. “I can be very generous when I want to be. You’ll find that out.”
Her lips pursed into a tight pout as her body tensed, radiating displeasure. “You’ve only just met me. How can you possibly want to marry me?”
“I may only have spoken to you for the first time tonight, but I’ve been watching you for a long time. I have been waiting for the right moment to introduce myself.”
Incredulity swept across her face and she shook her head. “Why me? Why would you do this to me?”
Now she was pissing him off. He might have taken her by surprise but being his mate was hardly the worst thing that could happen to her.
“You are beautiful, intelligent, if not somewhat too trusting at times, and you belong to a proud and ancient bloodline.”
“Ah, you need to inject new blood into your family. What’s the matter, Marco? Pack tainted by too much inbreeding?”
Her carefully targeted comment struck too close to home. The pool of potential mates was getting smaller with each generation. His pack wasn’t in the desperate state the MacDonalds found themselves in, but he needed to look outside of Italy if he wanted a mate with shifter blood to secure the future. He tried not to let Sadie see she’d landed a blow.
“Not at all, cara, and you do yourself a disservice to think I care only about what you can bring to the gene pool.”
“You do realize the females in my family don’t shift?”
From the way her eyes gleamed, it was clear she thought she’d got him there, but he was already aware of that little tidbit.
“They do in my family, but it is of no consequence if our daughters do not have that ability. They don’t need it. The men run things in my world, cara. That is something you will have to get used to.”
A snarl curled her lip but instead of throwing some insult at him as he expected, she turned away and burrowed into the seat as though settling down to sleep.
“Conceding defeat so easily, cara?”
He really hoped she wasn’t. Spirited Sadie was much more fun.
“Regrouping.” She looked over her shoulder, eyes flashing with a defiance he found exhilarating. “I run things in my world, Signore di Angelo. That is something you will have to get used to.”
Loving the way she threw his words back at him, Marco clapped his hands together. He saw her spine stiffen and grinned. Taming this little wildcat was going to be more fulfilling than he’d imagined.