Bound to the Tuscan Billionaire

By: Susan Stephens

CHAPTER ONE

PLUNGING HER SPADE into the rich moist earth of Tuscany, Cass smiled as she reflected on her good luck in landing the job in Italy. She loved nothing more than being outdoors, using her body to the full. And where better than here, to an accompaniment of birdsong and the gurgle of a crystal-clear river. Her job was to help out at a grand estate over the planting season.

The staff had a day off on Wednesdays to break up the week, so she had the place to herself, making it all too easy to imagine that she was the chatelaine in charge of the glorious grounds—though perhaps not kitted out in mud-caked boots, braless in a skimpy vest she’d ripped on some barbed wire, topped off with a baseball cap that was as frayed and faded as her shorts!

The estate was miles from anywhere and the solitude was bliss, especially after the clamour of the supermarket where she worked back home, and being on her own was better than facing the owner of the estate. Marco di Fivizzano, an Italian industrialist, hadn’t been near the place since she’d arrived. She was in no hurry to meet a man who, according to the press, was as bloodless and cold as the Cararra marble he mined.

She didn’t need to worry about him, Cass mused as she stabbed her spade into the ground. She couldn’t imagine a man like Marco di Fivizzano taking time out of his busy schedule to drive down from Rome to his country estate in the middle of the week. When she’d asked Maria and Giuseppe—housekeeper and handyman, respectively—if and when she was likely to meet her boss, they’d just looked at each other and shrugged.

Which was probably as well, Cass reflected as she returned to vigorously prepping the ground for the seedlings she was planting. She had no problem with hard work. Tugging her forelock was something else.

She’d always been a rebel, though a quiet one, all the rebellion being in her head. Dumb insolence, her headmistress had called it, when Cass, at seven, had refused to cry on the day she’d been made to stand on the school stage as all the pupils had trooped past. That had been the headmistress’s idea to shame her on the day Cass’s parents’ had been arrested for drug offences. Young as she had been, she had determined never to be bullied again.

One thing still perplexed her. If her parents hadn’t been the type of people the headmistress had wanted to encourage, why had the school been so keen to take their money?

She couldn’t stand snobbery either. Her late father, better known as the infamous rock star Jackson Rich, could easily afford the school’s extortionate fees, but that hadn’t stopped the staff resenting him, his beautiful wife and Cass, his quiet, plain daughter.

Leave the past in the past where it belongs, and enjoy the Tuscan sunshine...

It was easy to do that, Cass reflected happily. Dappled sunlight sifting through the trees warmed her skin, and the scent of wild oregano was intoxicating. It was unseasonably warm for springtime in Italy, and how much better was this than her old job, squashed up in a stall, bashing the life out of a till at the local supermarket?

Closing her eyes, she smiled as she weighed up her choices: a nylon uniform that gave her static and stifled her; or the comfortable outfit she was wearing today?

No contest.

She loved working with plants, and had begged the store manager to allow her to work in the garden section, promising him that his plants would never droop again if she were in charge. He’d given her this weird look and said he liked his women clean and free from mud. She’d handed in her notice the same day.

Wiping the back of her arm across her face, she turned full circle with her arms outstretched as if sunlight were something she could touch. Birds were singing, bees were buzzing, and she could already see the fruits of her labours in fresh green shoots. On an impulse she reached for her phone to take a selfie to send to the godmother she adored and had lived with since her parents’ death. When she’d taken this job she’d had it in mind to save money to buy a plane ticket for her godmother to visit her son in Australia. It would have been nice to be able buy it in time for his birthday, but that was a dream too far.

After emailing the shot, she received a reply from her godmother almost at once:

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