‘Whatever you wear will be fine. You’re my wife and you don’t have anyone to impress within our home.’
Molly was touched by that assurance, but he had been born to life in a castle and she was apprehensive about meeting his family and did not want to make a bad first impression. ‘It’s not that simple.’
Leandro closed firm hands over her restless ones to force her to look up at him. ‘It is.’
When she redid her make-up, she thought that her flattened, somewhat messy curls and swollen mouth were dead giveaways to the fact that she might just have got out of bed with her husband. Her dress was very casual and in no way impressive. Before they boarded the helicopter she studied Leandro in the act of turning his handsome face up in welcome to the heat of the Spanish sunshine. Well-cut black silk hair in faultless order, he looked infuriatingly immaculate in appearance.
And even though she had told herself that she was prepared for a castle, she was certainly not in any way prepared for the vast building that filled her view as the helicopter swooped in low to land. Leandro’s castle was the genuine article, complete with turrets, towers and medieval walls. It sat on a hill surrounded by extensive landscaped gardens and overlooked a fertile valley covered with woods and olive groves.
‘No wonder you think the sun rises and sets on you,’ Molly breathed, no longer marvelling at the level of his self-assurance. ‘Who on earth are all those people waiting at the entrance?’
‘Our staff. Our marriage is a major event for the household and everyone will want to welcome you to your new home and wish you well.’
Molly was convinced that she could only be a disappointment. Conscious of the barrage of curious eyes nailed to her, she curled herself in by Leandro’s side. ‘They’re all staring,’ she hissed behind teeth arranged into a fixed smile.
‘Probably because they think I robbed the cradle for you,’ Leandro breathed wryly.
But that was the least of the hurdles Molly was about to face. A few steps in through the very grand entrance hall hung with giant paintings and life-size pieces of marble sculpture, she was greeted by Leandro’s mother, a tall, older woman with silvering dark hair and cold eyes. Wearing a formal suit, she was accompanied by two younger women, dressed rather like her clones. Introductions were performed and the atmosphere grew no warmer. Doña Maria and her daughters, Estefania and Julieta, simply stared woodenly at Molly while she struggled to voice friendly words of greeting and behave as though she hadn’t noticed that anything was lacking in her welcome. Goodness, she certainly hoped they were not all going to be sharing the same roof.
Leandro was astonished when he strode into the crowded salon where a formal reception appeared to be in full swing. He saw faces he hadn’t seen in ten or twenty years. His mother had assembled every relation they possessed right down to distant cousins to provide an intimidating line up for his bride.
‘Is this the party you mentioned?’ Molly whispered, feeling horrendously underdressed when she compared the other women’s elegant formal wear and glittering jewellery to her own casual appearance.
‘No, this is only the extended family circle. I’m sorry. I had no idea this was planned.’
Viewing the packed room, Molly swallowed hard, but tilted her chin. She had to ask, she simply had to. ‘Does your mother live with you?’
‘No, she bases herself in Seville these days and makes occasional visits.’ Leandro rested an arm at her spine and guided her round to perform introductions. Many of the guests spoke English, but few had a strong enough grasp of the language for a relaxing conversation. Molly realised that if she intended to fit in, she needed to acquire a working knowledge of Spanish as quickly as possible.
‘I have to learn Spanish fast,’ she informed Leandro in a lull between the excruciatingly polite conversations. ‘Obviously you’re not always going to be around to act as my interpreter. Do you know anyone who would be willing to teach me?’
‘I’ll organise it. Learning even a little Spanish would make it easier for you to settle in.’ Leandro looked down at her and smiled in appreciation. As his lean, darkly handsome face shed all cool and reserve she was spellbound by the change in him and her luminous green eyes locked to him.
His sister Julieta came up and said something to him. ‘A phone call,’ he told Molly. ‘I’ll try not to be long, querida.’
‘Dios mio!’ the pretty brunette murmured, treating Molly’s absorbed face to an assessing appraisal and then laughing. ‘The way you look at Leandro! You’re actually in love with my brother.’