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Marco spent another restless night. Ever since he had laid eyes on Leila, he seemed to be behaving completely out of character. He asked her to marry him! Marco Vincenzi, confirmed bachelor, had asked a woman he’d met just days ago, but craved to be near with such intensity that he was appalled at his lack finesse, to accept his commitment of marriage. He paced the cool marble tiles that surrounded the indoor pool of his London home. With the precision of a skilled diver he bounded into the heated pool. Pointless. Swimming countless laps hoping to escape thoughts of Leila Brown, was indeed pointless.
Leila felt the contents of her stomach churn. The unpleasant feeling had begun the night he’d asked her to marry him. And it had not stopped. Even when she had made her decision. Now on her way to meet him at his home, one of many according to Bismah, the churning intensified, she was going to be sick.
She expected his home to be extravagant and she was not disappointed. The immense driveway spoke volumes of the size of the estate. Bismah sat with Leila in the back of the hired hotel car service. Each was silent, lost in their thoughts. Leila was certain that she was making the best decision for all concerned. Bismah had tried to convince her to think more on it. But Leila had made up her mind and was adamant that she keep to Marco’s deadline.
‘This is a business deal, nothing more,’ she stated with finality. When they finally arrived outside the house, Leila took a deep breath and prepared to disembark. The driver held open the door, but before she could leave, Bismah placed his hand on Leila’s sleeve, ‘Are you sure about this, Princess?’ he asked.
‘Yes, I am,’ she stated simply.
Bismah accompanied her to the door. It was opened by a man with shocking white hair and kind blue eyes. ‘Princess Leila,’ he bowed down low. And Leila waited patiently as the man straightened himself with some difficulty. ‘Mr Vincenzi has been awaiting your arrival,’ he continued, ‘Please follow me.’ They entered a beautiful hall and were led down marbled floors toward double mahogany doors that opened into a lovely room with large bay windows which overlooked the sprawling landscaped gardens. ‘Mr. Vincenzi will be with you shortly.’ After offering them refreshments, the ancient man shuffled away.
Somehow the opulence of Marco’s home initiated a sliver of doubt. He was used to getting whatever he wanted, she reminded herself again. Before she could dwell further on her thoughts; before she could call the whole thing off, Marco made his entrance. He took her breath away. His wet hair was sleeked back and he was clad in just jeans and an open shirt. His bare chest still had droplets of water that had yet to dry off. She heard a sharp intake of breath and prayed it was not hers. Without removing her eyes from the impressive stature of the man, she became aware that it was Bismah that exclaimed offence.
‘Mr Vincenzi, I do not approve of your attire in the presence of the Princess. It is most inappropriate.’
Marco glanced down at himself, slightly amused by Bismah’s disapproval. He looked over at Leila and saw the amusement sparkle in her large brown eyes too, but resolved to rectify his non-attire. ‘You’re absolutely right; I will return dressed fit to be in the company of a lovely princess.’ He made a show of his departure.
Later Marco and Leila sat outside on the stone terrace. ‘I assume you are here to give me your decision, Princess.’ At the deep sensuous sound of his voice, Leila felt a frisson of unwanted desire run up and down her body. She tried to mentally shake of the feel of his lips and the deep probing of his mouth that had assailed her dreams, day and night. This was crazy. This man had the arrogance to kiss her and make all sorts of untrue suggestions after he had ‘proposed’ to her. This has got to stop, she told herself. Composure, she reminded herself, was what she needed in order to see this through.
‘Yes,’ she stated matter-of-factly, ‘This decision was difficult; however it is the only decision I can make under the circumstances.’
At this remark Marco seemed slightly disturbed. Good, thought Leila, that should cut him down to size, let him know that I don’t like it, not at all.
‘I will accept your offer but…’
Marco’s eyebrow lifted in expectation. Why did she find that attractive?
‘I have certain conditions that would need to be agreed upon before I give my full acceptance.’ Leila tried to induce haughtiness in her tone. Keep it professional, she told herself.
Marco chuckled completely displacing her fragile confidence.
‘You are in no position to dictate terms and conditions, Princess.’
Arrogant man! No, that eyebrow thing was anything but attractive, she amended her thoughts.
‘Actually I can. You would not be proposing such an outrageous plan if you were not to benefit in some way. Whatever it is, I am sure I will soon find out. But right now if you want me to accept, you will listen and consider my conditions. This is business, is it not?’
Without waiting for him to respond, Leila continued, ‘Between two parties I believe there is negotiation, isn’t that how business should be conducted?’
Marco sat across an unassumingly astute businesswoman. She was not about to just give in. In that moment he knew why he had wanted her so desperately. She was unlike any other woman he had ever met. God, she was beautiful!
‘What are those conditions, Princess.’ She hated the way he said princess. Maybe that should be one of the conditions: Stop patronising me! Choose your battles, she reminded herself.
‘I need to take the ruby to Oudh without delay.’ She hesitated at Marco’s raised eyebrow. That eyebrow again.
‘Well then we need to be married without delay. I suppose I could arrange the licence and wedding in a week. Is that fast enough for you?’ Leila tried to ignore the mocking tone. She did not expect that their marriage would be pushed forward. She assumed… oh what did she assume? Marco was not going to give her the ruby until they were married.
‘Since I am now the princess of Oudh, there are traditions that I will need to uphold. My grandmother will insist on a traditional Oudhian wedding.’ Leila hesitated and then continued. ‘We will need to have a second wedding when we reach Oudh.’
‘I don’t see a problem in that. In fact I am quite knowledgeable about Oudhian practices. I have desired that ruby for so long that I have become quite an expert on its land of origin.’
When Leila did not mention the third condition, Marco prompted, ‘What is the third condition Princess?’ His voice was all business now. He sensed, perhaps the third would be the clincher. It increased the discomfort especially since Leila wanted to address his comment of the night he’d boldly made his proposal. What was it he said? They would be husband and wife in every sense? She was hoping that they would discuss the expectations of this marriage…
‘I … I am sure that this marriage will be one in name only and that…” Marco interrupted before Leila was finished.
‘No! Our marriage will not be in name only. I will expect you to fulfil all the duties of a loving wife as I will as your husband.’ His voice was clipped and formal.
Leila’s anger was incited. ‘A loving wife! We barely know each other. Don’t bring love into this situation as it is far from the truth.’
Marco was not unsettled by Leila’s quick temper; he had come to expect it. However, he wondered if he would ever be able to tame her or if he ever wanted to.
‘Well that is my condition princess. You will be my wife, lover and companion.’ Leila looked away, unsure of how to proceed next. ‘There is no way I am going to negotiate that condition. You forget that…’
‘…you are the one calling the shots? Yes Marco. You have made that abundantly clear.’