The Accidental Accardi Heir
Book 2 in the Outrageous Accardi Brothers Series
The consequences neither of them expected… USA TODAY bestselling author Caitlin Crews thrills with this dramatic pregnancy romance!
An unforgettable encounter…
To bind her to the billionaire!
When Ago Accardi’s brother jilts business-deal bride Victoria Cameron, proud, dutiful Ago is quick to make amends. But he intended only to apologize, not to take the beautiful heiress to bed!
All her life, Victoria’s virginity has been used as a bargaining chip by her domineering father. Her glorious night with Ago meant freedom, even if he clearly wanted nothing more to do with her. Now, months later she must face the uncompromising Italian’s reaction to her shocking news… She’s having his child!
Read all The Outrageous Accardi Brothers books:
Book 1: The Christmas He Claimed the Secretary
Book 2: The Accidental Accardi Heir
The Accidental Accardi Heir
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The Accidental Accardi Heir
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The last person Ago Accardi ever wanted to see again was Victoria Cameron.
Particularly not clad in a simple white gown, clutching a bouquet of flowers, and walking down the aisle of the ancient chapel on his family’s ancient estate in the rolling hills of Tuscany.
Heading for the groom standing at the altar, however reluctantly.
That groom being—quite literally for his sins—Ago himself.
He clenched his teeth as she approached in a serene fashion that he could only call insulting, given the circumstances of this wedding. He was somewhat shocked that his jaw did not shatter at the impact.
For this was not at all how Ago Accardi, known far and wide for his commitment to his duty, his uncompromising commitment to his responsibilities, and his upright moral code, had intended to take a bride.
While no one was holding an actual shotgun, here in this lovely stone chapel his ancestors had built during the Renaissance, the threat remained all the same. Because there was only one reason this ceremony was taking place at all.
His gaze moved over Victoria’s admittedly lovely face—damn the woman. The dress she wore was simple, but then, she needed no adornment. By any measure, she was a beautiful woman. Tall like a willow and with golden hair she wore pulled back today, so the cheerful innocence she wore was visible to all and took the place of any intricate veil or dramatic lace.
But then he dropped his eyes to the unmistakably round and high and obviously pregnant belly that preceded her up the short aisle, making a mockery of her innocent expression.
That belly that had altered the course of his meticulously plotted and carefully constructed life.
That belly was the reason this wedding was taking place in a secluded chapel, hidden away on the grounds of the vast Accardi estate, rather than in the cathedral Ago’s consequence, wealth, and aristocratic lineage would normally have demanded. To say nothing of hers.
She and her belly and her irate father had been presented to him a mere fortnight before. They had paraded into his London offices as if they wanted all the world to see that the belly attached to the famously virginal Victoria Cameron, daughter of one of Accardi Industries’ best clients, was inarguably that of a pregnant woman.
And, therefore, their presence in the Accardi Industries headquarters could only mean one thing.
For a year ago, Victoria had been engaged—well, nearly engaged, to be precise—to Ago’s younger brother, who had not had the slightest intention of marrying her despite knowing it was Ago’s wish that he do so. This was something Ago had intended to ignore, because to his way of thinking it was high time that the famously disgraceful Tiziano settle down. That he actually did something for the family, did his part, did more—in other words—than simply tomcat about the globe, notching bedposts everywhere he roamed.
Ago should have known that his little brother could not be told a thing.
For instead of following directions, Tiziano had chosen to fall dramatically and publicly in love. With a woman Ago would never have chosen for him.
Not least because the woman in question had been, before her relationship with Tiziano—or so Ago chose to believe, having decided not to question his brother’s timing too closely—a secretary. At Accardi Industries.
The entire thing had been a nightmare, because Ago had gone to the trouble not only of insisting that Tiziano married, but of picking out Victoria Cameron and arranging the match with her father. As if it was still the Renaissance.
And he already knew the whispers. His brother had called him last week, laughing at the tabloid reports that Everard Cameron’s daughter—the paragon of virtue who was too saintly to succumb to temptation, according to Tiziano—had gone and turned up pregnant.
Proving herself as unholy as anyone else.
They are certain to think it’s mine, Tiziano had said with a great big laugh.
Ago had not laughed.
He was not laughing now.
Especially as Victoria drew closer.
Her father stood like a thundercloud in the nearest pew, watching Ago like a hawk, as if Ago was likely to make a break for it. Ago’s side was empty. Who should he invite, he had asked himself, with all attendant scorn? Who did he wish to take part in this demonstration of his own distasteful fallibility and irredeemable disgrace?
It was bad enough that it was happening. Ago saw no reason why he should compound the issue by issuing invitations to his own sordid downfall.
That choice had made the past several days markedly unpleasant. For Everard Cameron was the kind of man who never vented his spleen once when he could do so consistently, and with increasing venom each time.
When he had first marched his daughter into Ago’s office, he, as Tiziano no doubt would have suspected, had not suspected Ago himself of any perfidy.
Indeed, who would dare?
Look at the state of my daughter! Everard had thundered. Look at what your unsavory cretin of a brother has done!
Ago had looked. Victoria was tall and slender, an immaculate golden blonde who radiated a serene and implacable contentment—no matter what she might or might not have been feeling inside. As he knew to his cost. The fact that she’d sported that obvious belly that she had not possessed the last time he’d seen her had in no way been concealed by the dress she wore. She had stood there in his office, her hands propped up on the belly in question and her eyes demurely lowered to the floor.
He had felt his pulse beat in the hinge of his clenched jaw, hard. Then harder still.
My brother is quite famously besotted, Ago had replied, faintly surprised that he’d been able to push words out at all.
As if that matters for a wastrel like him! Everard Cameron had cried.
Has Victoria indicated that Tiziano got her in this state? Ago had asked, his voice an icy scrape across the length of his office, as if he, personally was ushering in a winter of snowstorms and icicles with his words alone. As if he possessed such magic.
Everard did not glance at his daughter. He never did, Ago had noticed. To him, Victoria was nothing but a pawn in the game the older man had been playing his whole life—that being, how to gather as much wealth as possible before he died. And knowing him, find a way to take it with him when he quit this mortal coil.
Needless to say, an unplanned pregnancy did not permit Everard to hawk his daughter’s virtue in the way he was accustomed to doing. The way he had been doing all this time. Having jealously guarded her virginity, surrounding her with guards after she graduated from a long series of dreary convent schools, he had presented her to the wealthy men of his acquaintance as the perfect broodmare.
For a hefty price.
And for a certain kind of man, who was focused on his dynasty above all else, Victoria Cameron was a prize indeed.
A prize that Tiziano had long said Ago should claim for himself, more than once, since he appeared so enamored of her.
But Ago had been focused on sorting out his brother’s notoriety, not his own dynastic requirements. Because he was Ago Accardi, blameless and beyond reproach. He had been toying with the dossiers of no less than five different spotless heiresses at this time last year and confidently expected that any one of them would leap at the chance to become the next Accardi matriarch.
He had intended that he should marry only once the Tiziano problem was solved, and he had been making good on that intention now that Tiziano had made it clear he would never part from his mistress. And, indeed, intended to marry her.
Which was, Ago supposed, better than never intending to marry at all.
But the perfect bloodlines the Accardi legacy required were down to him, as ever. Thus, in this past year, Ago had painstakingly narrowed his list of selections down to only two remaining spotless young things, each of them overawed by him.
To an exasperating degree, he could admit.
Only now, here, where their fawning and fidgeting was no longer something he need concern himself with.
Victoria Cameron, who too many were aware had been intended for Tiziano and then summarily jilted by him—the scandalous tabloid articles all but wrote themselves and Ago made it a point to never, ever feed the tabloids—had never been on his list.
Yet here they were.
The only thing my daughter has said in her defense, Everard Cameron had growled a fortnight ago, was Accardi Industries. You and I both know what that must mean.
It was clear that the man meant Tiziano and his well-known whoring about.
And it had only been then, as her father’s implication hung thick in the air, that Victoria had finally raised her clear blue gaze from the floor. Just enough to meet Ago’s for a swift instant, then fall again.
But he had seen all he needed to see.
And worse still, he had—once again—found himself in a crisis of temptation thanks to this woman.
It was unendurable.
Six months ago, Ago had been confronted by that temptation, and he had failed. In every possible way.
And a fortnight ago, he had understood that she was giving him a way out. Ago could blame his brother. It would be easy, especially as Cameron already assumed Tiziano was the one to blame. Ago could neatly sidestep his responsibility where she was concerned and blame the man that most would assume had gotten her with child anyway.
But somehow, looking at her rounded belly and knowing precisely how she had come to find herself in that condition, Ago had not been able to do it.
He had not been able to force the words to his tongue.
Even attempting to do so had made him feel something like ill.
He had willed her silently to look at him again, but she did not. Because Victoria Cameron was many things, as he had discovered that night six months ago, but overawed was not one of them.
So instead, Ago had looked at her father.
Your daughter and I will be wed as quickly as possible, he had said coldly.
Then he’d strode from the room to order his staff to make the arrangements—and to put off having to field Everard Cameron’s outraged sputtering.
And in those two weeks, he had not found himself alone with his soon-to-be bride. He had made certain he was never left on his own in her presence, in fact, as no good could possibly come of that.
No good had already come of it.
Her father, on the other hand, could only be put off so long. There had been great deal of yelling, in two countries so far. Ago had been obliged to put in an appearance at the older man’s stately pile in Wiltshire on no less than three separate occasions. He had been half hoping that Cameron would come to his senses and remember that this was not, in fact, medieval times. Maybe then he would simply…not turn up on the celebrated Accardi lands, sprawling across numerous acres in the idyllic Tuscan countryside.
Though even if that had occurred, Ago knew himself well enough to know that he was not the sort of man who was all that interested in the trappings of modernity. Medieval Italy lived in his blood, his bones.
And the fact of the matter was that Victoria Cameron was carrying his heir.
As such, no matter what her father did or did not do, there had only ever been one solution.
Something he’d repeated to her father only last night as the older man had seethed and shouted down his study in the stately old villa, demanding more concessions from Ago.
As a matter of honor, Ago had told him, standing with his back to the room so Cameron could not see how truly finished with this discussion he was, I am refusing any gesture toward a dowry, Everard. But do not presume to press my goodwill any further. I do not think you will like where we end up.
Here in the chapel, Ago caught the eye of the priest—who was some or other Accardi cousin, according to local lore. Then he returned his gaze to Victoria, who was gliding to a stop before him.
Ago did not know if her father had not walked her down the aisle because he was punishing her in some way, or if she had refused his arm. If he had to guess, he would suspect the latter. For he knew better than most, did he not, that Victoria Cameron was not at all as under her father’s control as he might imagine she was.
Something in him seemed to thunder, and rage, though he knew well not a hint of it appeared his face. That same storm and clamor roared as he took her hand. He held it as he nodded curtly to her father, seething in his pew, and then turned to the priest before them.
Victoria’s hand gripped his, tight, and that did not help matters any. It made that storm in him grow teeth, even as it howled all the louder. He wanted to drop her hand as if it was on fire. He wanted to toss it aside—
And then somehow turn back time and prevent himself from ever holding onto her in the first place.
But Ago had been a man of duty his whole life. He might not like what this woman represented. He might resent, with every particle of his being, that she had proven to him, in no uncertain terms, that he was nothing more than a man. And an unworthy man, at that.
Yet that did not mean he was not prepared to do his duty.
He thought of his own difficult father as the family priest began the ceremony, and he repeated the age-old words when necessary. He thought of his grandfather, even more uncompromisingly stern in his day, as Victoria sweetly repeated her own words back.
Ago knew well that both his father and grandfather would despair of the choices he had made, and the dishonor he had brought upon the family name—and yet both would applaud, in the end, that Ago was facing up to his actions and responsibilities so squarely.
Especially because Victoria was carrying his child.
The next Accardi heir.
All potential scandal and personal disgrace aside, that was the only thing that truly mattered, as both his father and grandfather had impressed upon him. At length. It was Ago’s responsibility to make certain that the Accardi legacy continued well into the future. And more, that his own son followed in his footsteps, not his brother’s—living a life of service to his august name when it was his turn.
As Ago himself had always done, before Victoria.
He told himself that this was what fueled him as the priest waved his hands over Ago and Victoria at last, pronouncing them man and wife.
Ago leaned closer, pressing an impatient kiss on his new bride’s mouth. It was swift. Peremptory at best. He told himself he was imagining the wave of heat within him.
Once it was done he turned abruptly, ushering her toward the chapel door whether she wished to go or not.
Though she did not resist. Instead, she matched her long-legged stride to his, moving swiftly with him in a kind of concert he chose not to focus on too closely. For reasons he did not intend to dig into.
Once outside, he marched her halfway down the lane of stately cypress trees that led back to the main house before he remembered it was not necessary for him to keep holding her hand.
He dropped it.
As if it really was on fire.
“That’s that, then, isn’t it?” Victoria said, rather too brightly. With what sounded like laughter in her voice, when this was obviously no occasion for levity of any kind. “We’re married.”
And then, to his astonishment, she actually let out a laugh. As if she couldn’t quite believe it. As if something magical and wondrous had occurred here today.
Ago looked back toward the chapel and saw that Everard had been caught up by the priest on the front step. The two looked to be deep in conversation.
No doubt debating the state of Ago’s immortal soul. Or lack thereof.
But Ago took advantage of this moment. The first time he’d been alone with Victoria since that fateful night six months back.
“Is this what you had planned all along?” he demanded, his words like bullets, and for once he did not concern himself with how they might land. “Were you planning it six months ago? Was it a trap from the very start?”
He expected her denial. Perhaps some tears.
But instead, Victoria Cameron—Victoria Accardi, now, he corrected himself with no little bleakness and fury—fixed him with a solemn stare.
“Yes,” she said, without blinking. “And no.”
He glared down at her, and even though his temper was a black thing that wrapped him up tight, he was not immune to the sheer perfection of her form. The blue of her eyes, a far lighter shade than his. Her spun gold hair, pulled back at the crown and then left to flow down around her shoulders. The fine, aristocratic line of her nose. Her elegant mouth that could be, as he knew to his cost, deliciously wicked.
And he could not tell if he had always found her this tempting, even when he thought that his own brother ought to marry her. Or if this was a more recent affliction.
“I suppose I should be grateful that you actually dare admit it to my face.” Ago did not feel grateful and he doubted very much that he sounded it.
Victoria, unlike his trembling heiress selections, did not look even remotely undone by his tone or likely fierce expression.
“It never occurred to me that you would look twice at me,” she replied matter-of-factly. “So in that sense, there was no plan. I also never expected to run into you at that party. Even if I could have imagined that I wouldn’t have assumed that you would wish to talk to me as much as you did. So again, I had no plans on that score.”
It was a sunny November day in Tuscany today, though cool. And still it was far warmer than the fragile British day at the end of May when he’d run into her in a grand old home on the southern coast to do a bit of business.
He had not expected to find Victoria there. Or, having found her, that she should also be wholly unsupervised, when he had never encountered her previously without a phalanx of chaperones. But the house belonged to her father’s brother, and was considered safe for his daughter’s virtue. Her usual guards had not been watching her as closely as they normally did.
So it was that he had been able to walk with her in the garden on that not-quite-warm evening. Worse, he had been able to offer his apologies for what had occurred between her and his brother—or hadn’t, rather—the previous Christmas.
He had not expected to find her fascinating.
And Ago was not a man who found much in this life unexpected.
He didn’t much like that she’d managed to surprise him again now.
“You said yes first,” he growled at her.
Victoria lifted a shoulder, then dropped it, and he could not help but notice that the look on her face was wholly unrepentant. If anything, she looked…smug?
“I couldn’t have planned any of that,” she reassured him. He remained wholly un-reassured. “But once it happened, I’ll admit, I was hoping it would turn out like this.”
“Because it is every girl’s dream, is it not?” His voice was low, a silken fury, and it took more self-control than it should have to keep from wrapping his hands around her shoulders and hauling her toward him. To emphasize his outrage, he assured himself. “A shotgun wedding in a mad rush to legitimize a child before its appearance.”
“My father didn’t actually have a shotgun,” Victoria said with another laugh that made that storm in him rage anew. Her gaze moved over his face, and, somehow, she laughed yet again at whatever she saw there. When he knew oligarchs and heiresses alike who would cower at the sight. “I’m sorry if this wasn’t what you wanted.”
“How can you doubt it?”
“I’m finally free, Ago. So if you must hate me, I accept that.” Victoria shrugged again, as if to suggest the impossible. That his wishes did not matter. That he could hate her and she would not care at all. “It’s a reasonable consequence.”
End of excerpt
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The Accidental Accardi Heir
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