The Spanish Duke's Virgin BrideBy: Chantelle Shaw
‘I assume this is some sort of joke?’
Duque Javier Alejandro Diego Herrera swung away from the castle window that afforded stunning views of the Andalucian countryside and glared at the elderly man in front of him.
‘I assure you I would not make a joke of such a serious matter,’ Ramon Aguilar replied stiffly. His silver moustache bristled with indignation, but the nervous shuffling of the documents in his hands betrayed his tension. ‘The terms of your grandfather’s will are most specific. If you do not marry before your thirty-sixth birthday, control of El Banco de Herrera will be awarded to your cousin Lorenzo.’
Javier swore succinctly, his dark brows drawn together and his olive skin stretched taut over his sharp cheekbones. ‘Dios!’ he spat. ‘As my grandfather so often commented, Lorenzo is as feeble as a small child. He has no drive, no ambition. Tell me, what does he have that led Carlos to believe he would make a more credible successor as president of the bank than me?’ Incredulity and disbelief were giving way to a level fury that emanated in waves from his lean, whipcord body. In his anger the new Duque was a truly awesome sight and Señor Aguilar cleared his throat nervously.
‘He has a wife,’ he murmured.
The quiet, almost apologetic comment dropped into the silent room like a pebble thrown into still waters. Javier had been prowling the room like a caged tiger but now he stopped abruptly, every fibre of his concentration directed at the hapless lawyer who had been Carlos Herrera’s oldest and most trusted confidant.
‘Since I was ten years old my grandfather groomed me to take his place as head of the Herrera family, and more importantly as president of El Banco de Herrera,’ Javier hissed, his jaw rigid with the effort of containing his temper. ‘Why would he suddenly change his mind?’
The Duque is dead; long live the Duque, he thought cynically. His aristocratic title was of little importance to him; his overriding interest was in taking control of the Herrera family’s banking business. Carlos’s son—Javier’s father—was also dead, although Fernando had been cast out of the family long before a drug overdose had ended his life. As the next male heir, Javier had taken his rightful place as the new Duque de Herrera when Carlos died, but it seemed that control of the bank—the golden grail—was still beyond his grasp.
‘Are you saying that I have been denied what should be mine because my cousin is married and I am not? That’s the only reason?’ he demanded grimly, his amber eyes flashing fire for a second before he imposed iron self-control over his emotions and his face resumed its mask of haughty arrogance.
‘Your grandfather’s dying wish was to leave the bank in the hands of a man who he felt confident would ensure its continued success.’
‘And I am that man,’ Javier growled impatiently.
Ramon Aguilar continued as if Javier had not spoken. ‘There have been concerns among the board in recent months. Carlos was aware of, and even shared, many of those concerns,’ he added. As he spoke he scattered a number of photographs onto the desk—all featured Javier in the company of a different woman, although it was notable that each of his companions shared similar attributes of blonde hair and an eye-catching cleavage.
Javier glanced briefly at the photos and shrugged his shoulders to indicate his supreme indifference. The women were no more than arm candy—he couldn’t even remember most of their names although undoubtedly they had all shared his appetite for mutually enjoyable sex, free from the complication of messy emotions. ‘I did not realise that my grandfather expected me to take a vow of celibacy,’ he snapped, drawing himself up to his full six-feet-four to pierce Carlos’s legal advisor with a disdainful stare.
‘He does not. Under the terms of his will he expects you to find a wife.’ Ramon Aguilar’s nerve held, just, and he returned Javier’s gaze steadily. ‘And by my estimation you have two months in which to do so—or lose control of the bank to Lorenzo. El Banco de Herrera is an old-fashioned, traditional bank…’
‘Which I intend to drag kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century,’ Javier finished darkly.
‘Carlos approved of your innovation, and it is true the bank is in need of modernisation and fresh ideas, but you will not push those ideas through without the support of your board,’ Ramon advised. ‘The directors are cautious and wary of change. They want a president who shares their values of decency and morality and who embraces family life—they do not enjoy seeing pictures of you and your latest mistress spread across the pages of the gutter press.’