1001 Dark Nights: The Marriage Arrangement by Jennifer Probst

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1001 Dark Nights: The Marriage Arrangement

by Jennifer Probst


She had run from her demons…

Caterina Victoria Windsor fled her family winery after a humiliating broken engagement, and spent the past year in Italy rebuilding her world. But when Ripley Savage shows up with a plan to bring her back home, and an outrageous demand for her to marry him, she has no choice but to return to face her past. But when simple attraction begins to run deeper, Cat has to decide if she’s strong enough to trust again…and strong enough to stay…

He vowed to bring her back home to be his wife…

Rip Savage saved Windsor Winery, but the only way to make it truly his is to marry into the family. He’s not about to walk away from the only thing he’s ever wanted, even if he has to tame the spoiled brat who left her legacy and her father behind without a care. When he convinces her to agree to a marriage arrangement and return home, he never counted on the fierce sexual attraction between them to grow into something more. But when deeper emotions emerge, Rip has to fight for something he wants even more than Winsor Winery: his future wife.

**Every 1001 Dark Nights novella is a standalone story. For new readers, it’s an introduction to an author’s world. And for fans, it’s a bonus book in the author’s series. We hope you'll enjoy each one as much as we do.**

 

Excerpt

1001 Dark Nights: The Marriage Arrangement

Jennifer Probst

 

"All endings are also beginnings. We just don't know it at the time." -Mitch Albom

 

"You have to marry her."

Rip Savage stared at the man who'd been like a father to him over the past year. Even now, with worry lines bracketing his eyes and mouth, the older man retained a sense of elegance and grace befitting someone of English descent, even royalty. With his thinning silver hair, thick black framed glasses, and penchant for designer black suits, he cut an intimidating figure, even before one stared into those pale blue eyes that could turn steel grey with stubborn defiance. Of course, Edward Winsor had a reputation to live up to. Within the cliques of vineyards and winery owners in the Hudson Valley, he was well -known for his quality vintage, and a tightly knit family-run business that competed with Brotherhood Winery for the oldest run winery in the state. His estate was small but mighty, and one of the sought- after blue-bloods that many admired.

Rip had been the only one to know Winsor Winery had been almost bankrupt. Beneath the flawless surface, something rotten had flourished. When Rip was hired to pull the business from ruin, he'd been focused on success no matter what the cost. He hadn't expected to develop such affection for Edward, or be treated like a son, rather than a hired associate.

Therefore, instead of panic, he regarded the older man from across his cherry wood desk with a frown. "I don't understand. What does Caterina have to do with the winery?"

Edward gave a long sigh, tapping his elegant finger against the etched crystal high ball glass that contained his usual two fingers of Scotch. He shifted his weight in his chair, causing the leather to squeak slightly. They were in Rip's favorite room-the library/study-decorated in bold, rich wines with a hint of Tuscan gold. The fabrics were decadent, from the expensive dark leathers, to the Oriental tapestry rugs, and burgundy velvet couches. Bookshelves lined the wall, the scents of old paper and leather bindings with a touch of wood polish drifting in the air. The large bay windows overlooked the acres of rolling property with the view of the spectacular Shawangunk Mountains.

Usually, the view alone soothed him. Reminded him of his success and how far he'd come in a world he'd fought to break into. But his nerves were edged with a fine tension that matched his gut. Something bad was going down, and he had a terrible idea he wouldn't be able to stop it.

"I'm sorry to be so mysterious, Rip. The bottom line is, I'm ready to retire. My health is deteriorating, and the doctor advised if I don't get to a warmer climate, I'll be pushing my odds. I love this life but it's time to move on."

Rip nodded. "You warned me about this months ago. I'm ready for the challenge. I've proved I can run Winsor Winery successfully. We can sign the contracts immediately and I'll help settle you wherever you choose."

Regret flashed in the man's blue eyes. "You saved my business, and deserve to inherit control. But I can't do it, Rip. Winsor Winery can only be given to a family member.  No matter how much I love you like my son, you're not blood."

His body numbed. The past reared up-ugly and telling-reminding him once again he'd always be an outsider. There was no such thing as a reward for hard work, or fairness. There was only the same lesson he'd learned time and time again.

He belonged to no one.

He was alone.

"You can do anything you want," Rip said. "You're choosing to deny me my rights, even after I was promised full control after your daughter ran out on you."

Edward took off his glasses and rubbed his nose. "I know. I made a mistake. I contacted my lawyer when I realized I'd need to step down, and was reminded that part of the clause from generations ago was that the winery and land stays in the family. It can't be sold outside the Winsor name."

"And if you had no children to inherit?" Rip asked.

"Control reverts to a sibling, and the oldest niece or nephew."

A curse blistered past his lips. He jammed his hands in his pockets and tried to make sense of the mess unfolding. "Your daughter wants nothing to do with the business. She ran away to play in Italy, not caring you were near financial disaster. How can you leave it to her to be destroyed?"

Edward raised his head. Steely resolve glowed in his blue eyes. "I've been thinking about this a long time, Rip. You're like a son to me. You deserve to be part of Winsor Winery. And from the time my daughter was an infant, I've raised her with one goal in mind: to eventually run the family business. But perhaps I pushed too hard." The older man's shoulders sagged. "After she lost her fiancée, she swore to carve out a new life for herself. But it's time for her to stop running. This land is part of her blood. You're a good man, and Caterina is your perfect match. With you both at the helm, you would make an incredible team."

A humorless laugh escaped Rip. He shook his head and began pacing. "You're suggesting an arranged marriage in order to gain a business? I'm either trapped in the middle Middle Ages, or caught in an awful Hollywood chick flick. This is insane. We've never even met. She'd never agree."

"I think this business means more to her than she thinks. If it's a matter of losing her home and inheritance, she may agree to the terms."

He narrowed his gaze. "You'd allow your daughter to marry someone she doesn't love? Force her into an arrangement in order to satisfy some ancient clause that can probably be broken, or challenged?"

"There is no negotiation on the clause-I've already checked. I'm not about to force my daughter to do anything. But I think you would be good for Cat," he added softly. "You're a man with a rare quality that is integral to her happiness."

Bitterness tinged his tone. "What's that?"

"Loyalty. Honor."

The words singed him like flames. He got up, pacing the room like a caged, pissed-off tiger. "And me? You have no problem sacrificing my wants or happiness for this end game?"

The man's sigh drifted to his ears. "I knew you'd be pissed off. Feel betrayed. You may not believe me right now, but I love both of you. I'm simply looking for a way where everyone wins. You get the winery, I get to retire, and you both get the opportunity to win something bigger. Love."

"Love? Forgive me, Edward, but the only thing your daughter and I have in common is this winery. There will be no love between us. Just responsibility. Is that what you want?"

"I want something more for both of you. I've watched you this past year, Rip. You're thirty-five years old with no ties to this world. You deserve more than this type of life you pretend is enough, and Cat may be exactly what you're missing. She's spirited, and intelligent, and though she swore she was done with the winery, she still has a deep love for this place. It's time to bring her home and for a new generation to begin. That's my hope for all this. And though it may appear ruthless, and you may never forgive me, I'm willing to take that risk."

He threw out his final challenge. "And if she disagrees? If I fail to convince her marriage to a stranger is the only solution?"

Edward's jaw clenched. "Then I'll continue to work here even if my doctor disapproves. When I die, it will be automatically willed to her as in the terms of the agreement."

Silence fell.

Rip spun away. His lungs emptied of air as he struggled to understand the betrayal of a man he'd trusted. The late afternoon sunlight streamed through the oversized bay windows, wrapping the room in golden light. He watched the effect the sunbeams had on the office. Swirling tendrils of pain and emptiness ripped at his insides, fighting to get out, but he forced them back, his many years of discipline winning over his temptation to let the emotions run rampant.

Odd, that as angry as he was, he felt the bitterness more intently; that the past year as Edward's right- hand man and friend meant nothing. Rip couldn't take over the family business because he wasn't family.  All his work, care, and sacrifice to bring the winery back from bankruptcy didn't matter. Blood mattered.

Once again, Rip found himself chasing a prize that danced just out of reach, like the shadow chased the elusive light of the sun.

And once again, he found himself back in the darkness.

So be it.

He swiveled on his heel and schooled his face to show no emotion. The ending was clear to him, and there was no doubt he'd win. He'd learned the lesson early, trapped in an abusive home, craving a life that was bigger and better and beyond reach. Sometimes, he believed he'd gotten there, only to realize it had only been a mirage-like now.

None of it mattered. He wanted Winsor Winery for himself. If the only way to do it was to marry a rich, spoiled heiress, he'd do it. If he had to make her fall in love with him, he would. If he had to lie, or deceive, he would. And by God, he'd have no blood on his hands because it was her own father who'd forced his hand.

"Where is she?"

"In Milan. I'll give you her address."

He gave a curt nod. "Don't let her know I'm coming. I'd prefer to do this on my own, without any interference."

Edward looked torn. "She deserves to hear the truth from me."

"Then give me at least a week. Give me some time to get to know her before you bring up the idea of marriage. I'd like to see if we can even make this work between us."

Slowly, the older man nodded. "One week. Then I'll call and explain everything. If you both feel you can't go through with it, I'll accept your resignation."

"Fine. I'll go make the arrangements." He swiveled on his heel but the sound of his name made him pause. "Yes?"

"I know you don't believe me now, but I'm doing what I believe is best. For both of you."

A thousand different responses rose to his lips, but Rip bit them all back, leaving Edward Winsor alone in silence.

It was time to go meet his future wife.


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