‘If you feel that strongly about it, you can change your name to Mondelli.’

 ‘That is out of the question.’

 ‘Why? Because you’re a man? I never took you for a caveman.’

 ‘It’s the tradition of marriage.’

 ‘We’re not marrying for traditional reasons. As I pointed out last night, we’re living in the twenty-first century. Plenty of couples marry without taking each other’s surnames. I’m sorry if this disappoints you but I’m not changing my name. It’s non-negotiable.’

 ‘Our child will take my name.’ He stared at her, the fire in his blue eyes, normally so warm and full of vitality, now turned icy cold. ‘That is non-negotiable.’

 ‘I can agree to that,’ she said, matching his cool tone. It was one thing refusing to take his name for herself— refusing to let their child take his name too would feel as if she was being cruel for cruelty’s sake.

 ‘Good.’ The coldness in his eyes thawed a fraction. ‘Does this mean—finally—that you will agree to our marriage?’

 ‘After all this you still want to marry me?’ she asked, a tiny bubble of amusement breaking through the tension. If Christian wanted a wife he could walk all over, she was certain she’d just proved she wouldn’t be that woman. She didn’t want to be a harridan but she knew she needed to establish the ground rules first. She’d worked too hard to build a life that was all her own to give it up without a fight. For her baby it was easy, but for a man? No.

 ‘All I want is what’s best for our baby.’

 ‘As do I.’ If that meant marrying Christian, then so be it. Rocco had always described him as a man of his word—if she didn’t agree, he would refuse to confirm paternity until after the birth. In the meantime, her name would be dragged through the mud again. She would have to cope with swarms of paparazzi hounding her; read the lies that would follow as speculation grew over who her baby’s father was; listen to the taunts that would surely rain down on her. She would have to suffer it alone, just as she had the first time.

 And it wasn’t just she who would suffer. Rocco would too and God alone knew her brother had suffered enough at her hands.

 But, above and beyond all that, her baby could be the one to suffer the most. Imagining—knowing—what people were thinking of her, were saying about her... It would contaminate her, just like it had the first time. She didn’t want that bitterness and despair to infect her innocent baby.

 No, whichever way she looked at it, marrying Christian was the obvious, practical thing to do. Her head knew it. Soon enough her twisted guts would believe it too.

 ‘How will our marriage work on a practical level?’ she asked, stalling the moment when she would have to say aloud the words agreeing to tie her life to this man beside her.

 ‘We will lead our own lives.’ His gaze bore into her. ‘Our marriage will be private. We can keep separate rooms and lead independent lives so long as we show unity in public.’

 ‘I can accept that,’ she agreed.

 ‘But on our wedding night and honeymoon we will need to share a bed.’ Christian stared at her without blinking, making sure she understood. Alessandra’s approach, blunt as it was, was for the best—neither of them wanted there to be any misunderstandings. They would both enter matrimony with their eyes open but their hearts closed.

 Colour tinged her cheeks. ‘Surely we don’t need to go that far?’

 ‘I want our marriage to be seen as legal in every respect. To protect our child from undue scandal and speculation, people must believe we’re in love.’ He tried to think about their marriage with his business head, consider it as just another merger between two companies. In essence, that was what it would be—a merger. The profit would come from the child they would raise together.

 He’d craved isolation since he’d been a small child sharing cramped living space with his mother. His homes were his sanctuary, his space. Even his live-in staff had separate quarters.

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