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Marry Me at Dawn

Marry Me at Dawn

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  • 231 Pages
  • 5-6 Hours
  • 71K Words
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He’s afraid of commitment. She yearns for a family of her own. How can they turn an arranged marriage into happily-ever-after?

To Damian Vaughn, image is everything. As CEO of the family business and heir to a fortune, he lives his life above reproach, not wanting to repeat his father’s mistakes that almost brought the company to ruin.

Gabriela Romano has discovered she’ll never be able to bear children. Distraught and still recovering from surgery, she leaves for an extended vacation in the Azores Islands, far away from her family’s prying eyes and the constant reminders of what she’ll never have.

When social services drop off a baby they say legally belongs to Damian, he knows it’s not true, but the media will be quick to judge if the news leaks. Desperate to avoid a disaster, he takes his lawyer’s drastic suggestion and proposes to Gabriela, a woman he’s just met. She has her own reasons for accepting, and as long as she guards her heart, she’s confident she’ll be fine.

But as sparks start to fly, Gabriela begins to wonder—how can she turn this marriage of convenience into her happily-ever-after?

If you like sweet romance stories with a marriage of convenience trope, a billionaire single dad, and an adorable baby, you'll love this fresh take with a twist! Unforgettable stories of family, love, and learning where you belong. Discover Northern Portugal with the Romano cousins as they fall in love when they least expect it! Perfect for fans of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Virgin River, and Chesapeake Shores!

Main Tropes

  • marriage of convenience
  • billionaire
  • forced proximity

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Synopsis

He’s afraid of commitment. She yearns for a family of her own. How can they turn an arranged marriage into happily-ever-after?

To Damian Vaughn, image is everything. As CEO of the family business and heir to a fortune, he lives his life above reproach, not wanting to repeat his father’s mistakes that almost brought the company to ruin.

Gabriela Romano has discovered she’ll never be able to bear children. Distraught and still recovering from surgery, she leaves for an extended vacation in the Azores Islands, far away from her family’s prying eyes and the constant reminders of what she’ll never have.

When social services drop off a baby they say legally belongs to Damian, he knows it’s not true, but the media will be quick to judge if the news leaks. Desperate to avoid a disaster, he takes his lawyer’s drastic suggestion and proposes to Gabriela, a woman he’s just met. She has her own reasons for accepting, and as long as she guards her heart, she’s confident she’ll be fine.

But as sparks start to fly, Gabriela begins to wonder—how can she turn this marriage of convenience into her happily-ever-after?

If you like sweet romance stories with a marriage of convenience trope, a billionaire single dad, and an adorable baby, you'll love this fresh take with a twist! Unforgettable stories of family, love, and learning where you belong. Discover Northern Portugal with the Romano cousins as they fall in love when they least expect it! Perfect for fans of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Virgin River, and Chesapeake Shores!

Intro into Chapter One

Island of Faial, Azores
Mid May


Gabriela Romano stretched her legs on the chaise lounge and relaxed her body against the cushioned back.
In the past two weeks, she’d taught herself how to calm her body, soothe her mind, and ignore her heart. Not through yoga or meditation. Not through therapy or reading self-help books. Not even with the help and support of her family and friends.
She hadn’t told anyone what had truly happened. As she didn’t have a husband, a fiancé, or even a boyfriend to worry about her physical health and mental well-being, there had been no one to accompany her, no one to offer explanations to.
One moment she’d been at home reading a book before going to bed and the next she was on her way to the hospital, the ambulance screeching and speeding as she writhed in the most excruciating pain she’d ever experienced. When she woke up from surgery, an emergency hysterectomy, she couldn’t even remember dialing the emergency number.
Gabriela had arrived at the Hydrangea Manor five days earlier, the unassuming name not doing justice to the five-star resort. It was exclusive and small, a private paradise to recover and recharge both body and mind. Gratitude filled her again that her cousin Filipe had arranged for her stay, for as long as she needed, as he’d assured her repeatedly. Her body was mending, every day a little better. As for her mind and heart—it was better to not spend time thinking about them.
The view from the patio spread unfettered before her, the blue of the sea blending with the blue of the sky in the not-so-far distance.
This was the place where all the colors of nature lived in riotous harmony. In late May, the small island of Faial, in the Archipelago of the Azores, was nothing but flowers and trees in bloom, contrasting against the black of serpentine roads and verdant hills so bright.
Everywhere she looked, hydrangeas abounded. Mostly blue, in different shades, each outdoing its neighbor, some pink and even light green. In round bushes and linear hedges of varied heights. With mild temperatures and a peaceful sea on the horizon, could it be any more of a perfect day? If only she could absorb the weather and the setting to get over her depressing thoughts.
After spending the last three days of her stay in her suite—mostly sleeping, sometimes crying—Gabriela had finally emerged from her lethargy yesterday. She’d opened her eyes to the beauty of the place and couldn’t get enough of the surroundings and view. For the briefest moment, she even forgot about the circumstances that had sent her here.
Had she even thanked Filipe and his wife Celeste? She hoped she had. They had offered to have her come stay with them, to take care of her, and help her recover. Their house was large and located by the beach, and it would have been a great place to spend some time.
But they were still in the newlywed-bliss phase of their relationship and being around a happily married couple was not what she needed to mend her broken heart.
So they had put her on an airplane in Lisbon, someone had picked her up at the small regional airport of Horta and driven her to the manor. Her every need was filled and she didn’t have to worry about cleaning, cooking, or laundry and wardrobe—the highly efficient, discreet staff provided everything. It wasn’t even required of her to interact with anyone, if she so wished.
She’d made a small effort on the first day after arriving, not knowing what to expect from the resort, or how she was supposed to behave. When was the last time she’d gone on vacation? Never. Her career in advertising had taken so much of her time for so long, she could hardly remember what her life had been before that. Other than a few weekends with her family and extended family, she hadn’t gone anywhere.
Yesterday she’d traded the comfort and shelter of her suite for the common area at the manor, an elegant lounging room with floor-to-ceiling glass windows overlooking the southern view to the ocean. Despite her plans to be more social, Gabriela hadn’t encountered many other guests, and the few she’d seen had mostly kept to themselves, like the middle-aged German couple. Out on the south patio, away from the building, a young couple with a baby had been oblivious to anything else around them, keeping their attention on the precious little one bundled inside the pram. The father hovered awkwardly and the mother smiled serenely and, although he looked familiar, Gabriela couldn’t quite place him.
What would it be like, to be married and have a baby, a family of her own? A husband and child to love?
Her heart hiccupped at the memory of that young family and she breathed in deeply. She hadn’t actually seen the baby, not from her chair positioned by the French doors. Her imagination had been enough to fill in what her eyes had missed, and she couldn’t decide what was worse—wanting a baby that wasn’t hers, or imagining one she’d never have.
It would never happen. What man would want to marry her when she couldn’t have children?
After the couple continued on their walk, Gabriela returned to her suite, not wanting to risk another glimpse of them and their happiness.
But today she felt restless from so much inactivity and in the mood to explore, willing to face whatever—and whoever—she might encounter in the lounge and on the grounds. She was now three weeks post-surgery. The doctors had told her to take it easy for six weeks, and she intended to follow their directions; ending up in the hospital for being careless with her recovery was the last thing she wanted. Even though her life had taken a 180° turn, some things were hard to let go of, and, after leading such a busy professional life, there was only so much sitting around she could put up with.
After a fortifying breath, she swung her legs to the side and straightened her back. On the small tabletop near the chair, a glass bottle of spring water and her sunglasses sat beside each other, along with a book about the island’s history from the resort’s small media room. For a moment, she looked around for her smart phone and then remembered she’d turned it off when she’d arrived at the Hydrangea Manor.
Part of the holistic approach at the resort included depending less on phones and tablets, and for such, the Internet available to the guests was turned on for only two hours a day, one in the morning and one in the evening. It suited Gabriela just fine. She’d told her immediate family she was on vacation and would talk to them when she returned to Porto. Other than Filipe and Celeste, nobody knew she was recovering from surgery, and even they believed it was from an emergency appendectomy, not a hysterectomy. Only her doctor in Lisbon had that information and she intended to keep it that way.
She didn’t dare tell her parents. As much as she loved her mother, Adelina Romano was the smothering type and she’d try to get the truth out of Gabriela.
Gabriela glanced at her wristwatch. Dinner was still an hour away, which gave her plenty of time for a walk around the gardens and grounds. Each suite had a private outdoor area and access to the whole property as well. When she’d arrived, her lack of curiosity toward the resort and the island hadn’t prodded any explorations, but the feeling to discover more had been steadily growing. Maybe she’d find a way to visit Horta, the small capital of the island, by the end of the week. For now, exploring the property on foot was enough to satisfy her interest.
As she rounded the western side of the resort, a stone brick footpath led her to a small copse of flowering trees. A tall gate swung open from a partially hidden fence and, beyond it, the vegetation thickened in purposeful patterns of native plants on both sides of the path. Gabriela walked through it, the sound of babbling water growing louder until she came to an alcove fountain flanked by benches.
She slowed down. The calmness in the air infused her, lending a measure of the peace and serenity she so desperately craved. She slid into the nearest bench, tipped her face to the dappled sun, and closed her eyes, taking a deep breath. What she would give to stay in this paradise, away from the realities of life, from the weights and chains that dragged her new existence. Escape was what she needed.
The sound of a mewling animal broke the air. Maybe a cat, though she hadn’t seen any around. When the cry came louder a few seconds later, Gabriela rose from the bench and followed the sound, arriving at another brick patio situated at the back of a large house. In the center, a man paced back and forth with a young baby crying lustily.
Gabriela stopped and watched them. It was the man from the day before, holding the angriest baby she’d ever seen. The child looked to be about two to three months, red faced and with her back arched, as her father tried to calm her down with a bottle. He hadn’t noticed Gabriela yet, but it would have been hard to, with all the noise and flailing.
Something twisted inside Gabriela’s chest at the baby’s distress. It didn’t help that the child’s father looked almost as strained. Where was the mother? As the father offered the bottle full of formula again, the baby threw her little head back, startling the man. His other hand flew to support her better and the bottle fell to the ground. The crying intensified and the man said something under his breath, his discomfort obvious.
Against her better judgment, Gabriela raised her voice, hoping he could hear her, wondering if she’d come to regret getting involved. “Do you need a hand?”
The man looked at her, momentarily speechless and surprised.
Gabriela stepped forward and picked up the bottle, then handed it to him, but he didn’t take it.
The baby continued crying, quite inconsolable.
“How did you get in here?” he finally said in English.
He was American. That explained his height. Gabriela repeated her question in his language.
He frowned as he looked at her, then his expression relaxed. “I’ve seen you before. You’re related to Filipe Romano, aren’t you?” He kept the baby firmly in his arms and talked loudly over the noise.
At his words, she remembered where she’d seen him before. “Yes, I am. I saw you at his wedding last year. I’m Gabriela, one of Filipe’s cousins.” She gestured behind her back. “And the gate was open.”
“Right. I stopped by to congratulate him, but couldn’t stay for the ceremony.” He glanced at his daughter and frowned again. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s wrong with her. It’s quite impossible to keep talking like this.”
She held up the bottle again.
“I’ll have to go wash it.” He looked between the baby and the bottle full of milk, then turned his attention back to Gabriela. “I’m Damian, by the way.”
“And your baby?”
His expression blanked. “My baby?”
Gabriela gave him a small smile. “What’s your baby’s name?”
“Uh, Claire,” he replied with a hint of uncertainty. “This is Claire. She’s not very happy today.”
“Poor thing,” Gabriela said, her heart squeezing again. “Is your wife not around?”
Damian’s expression furrowed in confusion. “My wife?”
“I saw you three taking a walk yesterday.”
Little Claire wailed again.
“You know what,” Damian said abruptly, “I’m going to take your offer.”
Before she knew what was happening, he passed the baby to her and took the bottle from her hands, then turned in the direction of the house.
Gabriela stilled for a brief moment, then raised the baby to her shoulder and supported the small body against hers, cuddling her against the crook of her neck, patting Claire’s back in slow circles. Gabriela inhaled the baby’s sweet scent, wishing she could commit it to memory and remember this moment forever.
Immediately, Claire calmed down. After a minute, she let out a burp, the rumbling volume taking Gabriela by surprise.
Damian stopped at the French doors and looked back.
“That was her, not me,” Gabriela said.
“How is someone so small able to burp like a grown man?”
Gabriela shrugged lightly, not knowing what to say.
He motioned to the house. “Come in, please. I’m going to wash this.”
She followed slowly, afraid to jostle Claire into crying again.
Once inside, a large room with a soaring ceiling took her by surprise. A kitchen and dining area took half of the space and an informal living room the other half. The predominant style was casual, comfortable, with an understated elegance peeking through in small bursts.
Damian stood at the sink, rinsing the outside of the bottle. He looked over his shoulder. “How did you get her to stop crying?”
“It wasn’t me. I think the burp did it.” She eased Claire away from her shoulder. Although she wasn’t crying, the baby gnawed fiercely on her fist. “Maybe she’ll take that bottle now.”
Damian approached and handed her the bottle. When Gabriela brought the silicone nipple to Claire’s mouth, the baby eagerly took it as Gabriela and Damian watched.
Elation followed quickly by despair collided within Gabriela. What was she doing, feeding a baby, holding this infant in her arms as if she had some right to be here or even did this on a regular basis? This was the last thing she should be doing right now.
“I was beginning to think she would never stop crying,” Damian said quietly. He indicated a stuffed chair and Gabriela took it gingerly, perching at the edge.
“How long was she crying for?”
“It feels like all day, but it was probably only an hour,” he said in a quiet voice, so different from the man she’d seen just a few minutes before outside.
Gabriela turned to look at Damian. She now remembered her impression of him when she’d seen him talking to Filipe. Back then he’d been impeccably dressed in a dark blue suit, the color enhancing his eyes, his dark blond hair styled to perfection.
Just like then, a prick of attraction flicked inside her. Today, he wore jeans and a simple T-shirt. His hair stuck in all directions, and a light scruff covered his face, as if he hadn’t been able to shave that morning. Despite the more casual look, he was still as attractive as before, and he was probably one of those people who always looked good in whatever he wore.
He took a seat across from her on the sofa and scrubbed his face wearily, then leaned against the sidearm as if contemplating a short nap.
Little Claire finished her bottle with a sigh and Gabriela returned her attention to the baby. She scolded herself for having such thoughts about a married man, and one who was a father as well. What was wrong with her? She could only think it was the bizarre situation she found herself in, so unlike the normal days at home.
After burping the baby again, she moved her from her shoulder to holding her in her arms. Now serene and satisfied, baby Claire drifted off to sleep.
Gabriela didn’t dare move. The sweetness of the moment grew and expanded until she felt a warmth where Claire’s little body snuggled against hers. As the warmth turned wet, Gabriela gasped.
Damian roused from his chair. “What happened? What’s wrong with the baby?”
“I think her diaper leaked,” Gabriela replied.

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