Their temporary arrangement…has a permanent consequence!
Shy hotel maid Alana Davison is desperate to clear a family debt. So desperate that, when she discovers Greek tycoon Ares Sarris urgently needs a wife, she blurts out a scandalous suggestion: in exchange for his help, she’ll become his emergency bride! To fiercely controlled Ares, Alana is a convenient solution; their marriage will allow him to secure the inheritance his illegitimacy denied him. What’s inconvenient is the chemistry blazing like a wildfire between them! And Alana’s shock announcement that in nine months’ time, Ares’s well-ordered life will be disrupted further—by a baby!
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THE GREEK TYCOON Ares Sarris was a billionaire loner. He had shed his team of bodyguards for the occasion of the Durante wedding because they kept everyone at arm’s length and he did not like to lend truth to the rumour that he was antisocial…even if he was. His unusual silver-blond hair glittered below the lights, his dark eyes very serious, his lean, strong face taut.
HE HAD HAD a long hard road to the remarkable triumphs that were now his. Born in the back streets of Athens, he was the child of a drug-addicted mother and a rich man, averse to taking responsibility for his blunders. Furthermore, his earliest memory was of his mother calling him a mistake and abandoning him. He didn’t look back to those days very often because his childhood had been a nightmare.
Yes, he acknowledged with the grudging aspect of an intellectual man who refused to dwell on the past, his life was very much better now. People didn’t tell him what to do any more. They didn’t denigrate him or hit him. They didn’t act as though his genius level IQ were either some hellish annoying fault or a blessing he didn’t deserve. Why? He was much too rich now to be that vulnerable and that made him smile because he had only first set out to make money at the age of eighteen to feel safe.
His immense wealth, nonetheless, had failed to protect Ares from being coerced by an old, bitter, snobbish woman he had never met into doing what he didn’t want to do. To inherit the Sarris ancestral home as the bastard that he was, he had to be married. Married! As desirable a prospect to a male as private and reserved as Ares as sticking his hand into an open fire and the vindictive old witch had known it too! Why else had his grandmother imposed that clause in her will? By law, prevented from leaving the property to anyone other than the last living Sarris, she had contrived to slip in, ‘Ares and his wife’.
Katarina Sarris had been well aware that Ares, foolishly frank in the only press interview he had ever given at the age of nineteen, on the acquisition of his first billion, had sworn never to marry. Although he had never met the woman who had been his late father’s mother, and only a disastrous plane crash killing both his father and his half-brothers in adolescence had finally allowed him to be publicly recognised as a Sarris, Ares longed to possess that firm family foundation of history that had eluded him all his life.
His birth father’s denial of his existence when he was a child had broken something in him while also warning him that his bone-deep need for validation was a dangerous weakness. Through DNA tests done at the time, the family lawyers, however, had acknowledged that Ares was a Sarris and had ensured that his educational needs were met. His grandmother, appalled by his background and antecedents as only a very snobbish woman could be, had refused to meet him even after the rest of her family had died. That the sudden death of his father and legitimate half-brothers had immediately given Ares recognition as a Sarris had been a tragic truth. But sadly, no warm welcome had awaited Ares in the bosom of his long-lost family when he’d finally arrived.
Ares had long told himself that he did not need that welcome now that he was an adult. But that house, the home of his paternal ancestry, could not, should not be denied to him by some petty clause in a will. Of course, he could have gone to court and easily overturned his grandmother’s will but Ares refused to allow his sordid background to be exposed in an open court. As a child and teenager, he had undergone deep humiliation on that score. He would never subject himself to that anguish and embarrassment again. No, marrying a stranger simply to meet the exact terms of the will was, by far, the wiser option and a quick, clean solution to a thorny problem.
And that recollection brought Ares straight back to this evening’s idiocy. He groaned, pacing restlessly in the well-lit boarded seating area by the side of the hotel’s ornamental lake. His future bride, Verena Coleman, very much a paid role-player in his determination to inherit that property, had demanded this private meeting with him. That the woman should demand anything set Ares’s even white teeth on edge. Until that evening, he had never actually met the lady in the flesh although she would become his wife at the end of the month. His lawyers had dealt with her. She had signed the watertight complex contract and for a very handsome price she would show up at the altar and start acting as his fake wife.
For a split second, Ares thought that he saw an odd shimmer of movement in the darkness below the trees and he spoke in Greek to ask if anyone was there, and then in Italian. After all, he was in Italy. Silence rewarded him and he shrugged a shoulder, reckoning that nobody but him was chilling down by the lake unless they were a smoker and, for very good reasons, he would never belong to that tribe.
At last, he heard the sound of feminine heels tap-tapping down the path to the beach and he frowned. Verena had pushed her way into his presence during the wedding reception and thoroughly exasperated him. She was provocatively dressed in a style he viewed as vulgar and everything he disliked in a woman but, for all that, she would still be his wife come the end of the month. She swam into view, all smiles and heaving cleavage on display. She was a curvy brunette from a minor English aristocratic family but if there was a hint of refined blue blood in her it definitely didn’t show on the surface. His lawyers had not done well in choosing her.
‘Ares!’ she carolled, hurrying towards him as if they were friends when they were not even acquaintances. It had been an unpleasant surprise to meet her at the wedding, which he guessed she had only gained entrance to by accompanying the glitzy wedding planner.
‘You were directed to address any enquiries to my lawyers,’ he reminded her. ‘Why would you need to speak to me in person?’
‘This is something that only you can deal with,’ she announced importantly.’ I’m in a bit of a pickle, I’m afraid. I’m pregnant.’
‘Pregnant?’ Ares exclaimed in disbelief, and as quickly added, ‘That means you’ve broken our marriage contract—’
‘But why should it matter?’ Verena demanded angrily. ‘It’s not as though sex is included in our arrangement. It’s not as if you’re even planning to share the same house.’
‘If I marry you when you’re pregnant, the child will be assumed to be mine and that is a legal maze of complication which I have no intention of touching in these circumstances. I do not want your child approaching me in the future believing that I may be his parent. I do not want the squalid rumours that would engulf us all over time either.’
‘So, you’re asking me to terminate my pregnancy?’ Verena assumed.
Ares lifted his proud fair head high. ‘I would not dream of making such a request of any woman, nor would I wish such a sacrifice to be made and laid at my door. No, it is much simpler than that: you’ve broken the contract. Our arrangement is now at an end.’
‘You can’t do this to me! I was depending on that money!’ Verena flashed back at him furiously.
Ares said nothing because he truly had nothing more to say. Verena had after all already received a substantial payment for merely signing the contract.
‘But you need a wife by the end of the month!’ Verena reminded him.
‘You are not the only woman who would be willing to enter a marriage of convenience for a price,’ Ares retorted with precision.
Verena slung a handful of filthy curse words at him and stalked off. Ares was appalled and he swung away to look out over the moonlit lake. It had been an error not to request a personal meeting with her before he signed that contract. His legal reps had certainly not done him proud with her selection, he reflected grimly. She was too ignorant. She might only have been a fake bride-to-be, but naturally he did not want a boorish woman carrying his name or potentially figuring in the media as his wife. The binding NDA she had signed would keep her quiet though. He dug out his phone and texted his chief lawyer to warn him that the search was back on for a bride.
As he spun back round, intending to leave, he was taken aback to find a blonde in a long green dress that shimmered standing barefoot in the sand only a few feet away, her shoes clutched in one hand. It was, to his astonishment, the bridesmaid who had caught his attention earlier that day. Why? She was downright stunning from her sheet of natural blonde hair to those bright aqua-green eyes framed in her heart-shaped face with skin so flawless her complexion glowed. He had watched the men queuing up to take her onto the dance floor, all of them desperate to impress her, and he had noticed her seeming indifference to their efforts with detached amusement. Had he thought of approaching her on his own behalf? No…she was far too young for him, barely out of her teens, in his estimation.
‘Can I help you with something?’ he asked politely in English because he was aware that the sole bridesmaid was the bride’s sister.
Nervousness made her twitch, and her extraordinary clear eyes evaded his. ‘I was rather h-hoping I could help you,’ she stammered in a rush. ‘If you need a fake wife in a hurry for a price, I’d like to put myself forward as a candidate.’
And Ares, who was very rarely surprised by any development in life, was totally astounded by that proposition. It was a dazzlingly inappropriate offer as well and he rather thought that her new distinctly rich brother-in-law, Lorenzo Durante, would be shocked to the core by a member of his family approaching any wealthy stranger with such an offer.