When the something borrowed…
Is the bride!
About to walk down the aisle of her Manhattan wedding, determined Priya realises it’s impossible. After the news Greek playboy Eros has just shared about her convenient groom, she can’t go through with it. To save her father’s business she flees in her white dress…and weds Eros instead!
To beat his brother to the family inheritance, Eros must stay married for one year. Stealing Priya as his wife was the first step. Then, he discovers her deepest secrets – and a burning mutual desire. What started as convenient suddenly got very complicated…
27th May 2021
Eros Theodorou raised the single glass of ouzo into the air and made a silent toast to the night sky above his Athens penthouse. His mother stood by his side, a haunted darkness in her eyes as she stared out into nothing.
‘I didn’t expect you to play the grieving widow.’ He placed his glass down on the ledge with unnecessary force, not bothering to mask his irritation.
‘I may not legally be his widow…but I loved him.’ Arista sighed, turning to face him with a hint of steel in her pale grey eyes. ‘I was with him until the end.’
The thought of his formidable mother playing nursemaid, kneeling once again to the whims of such a man…it was enough to make Eros see red. The world knew Arista Theodorou for two things, her powerful career as legal adviser to the global elite and her disastrous on-again-off-again relationship with Zeus Mytikas.
‘The bastard always knew how to manipulate you.’ Eros cursed swiftly under his breath and felt his fists tighten as an old darkness threatened to resurface—the resentment and hatred that he’d long ago learned to keep buried.
‘You didn’t come to the memorial.’ Arista said, her tone laced with disapproval.
Still pulling strings from beyond the grave, the old man had arranged for his body to be returned to his home country. Over the past week, it seemed the entire capital city had turned out in mourning for their most powerful ex-citizen. Eros felt his lip curl in revulsion. ‘If I wished to attend a public spectacle, I’d go to the circus.’
‘He was your father.’
Her cool hand touched his forearm, a rare show of affection. He allowed himself a moment to savour the novelty before calmly removing it.
‘No. He wasn’t.’
The taut syllables seemed to sit in the air between them, silently daring his mother to contest his words. As he expected she averted her eyes. Eros had long ago learned that the title of father was one that needed to be earned. The blood that connected him to Zeus was only that. A genetic link that could not be erased, no matter how much money or power he amassed.
‘Why are you here, mother?’
‘Our schedules never seem to have us in the same city at the same time…’ she said quickly, avoiding his eyes as she touched the small briefcase at her feet. ‘I thought we might have dinner… Talk.’
‘The truth.’ Eros rolled his eyes, despising the use of niceties to conceal hidden motives. With Arista, there was always a hidden motive.
‘Fine.’ All traces of kindness vanished from her eyes. ‘There are some urgent matters that we must discuss.’
‘Make it quick, I have a date in half an hour.’
‘Of course you do.’ His mother’s expression tightened. ‘You talk of his philandering ways, and yet—’
‘If you finish that sentence you can show yourself out,’ Eros warned.
‘I didn’t mean to touch a nerve.’ Arista shrugged, her tone flat and lacking it’s usual bite.
‘If you must know, unlike your darling Zeus, I actually respect the women I entertain. They are quite aware that I am not in the habit of long-term arrangements, so there are no misunderstandings or accusations. It’s called communication, Mother, you should try it.’
‘Are you really so arrogant as to believe you haven’t broken women’s hearts simply because you told them not to give them to you?’ Arista scoffed, lifting a slim black folder from the depths of her designer handbag.
Any retort to her words was lost as Eros eyed the official documents, a dull roar building in his ears. ‘What is this?’
‘Zeus’s last will and testament.’
He remained deathly still, controlling the violent reaction that boiled in his veins. ‘You have got to be joking.’
He leaned against the balcony edge, a harsh bellow of laughter escaping his chest. ‘After he tried to ruin my businesses, after the threats and reminders that I walked away from leading his empire…’
Disbelief warred with rage within him as he tried to focus on the sweeping view over the city that stretched all the way to the Acropolis. He was vaguely aware of his mother as she heaved a sigh and took a seat beside him. Her dark blonde hair was identical to his own, a feature he’d always been grateful for as it put him another step away from the sleek black darkness of the powerful Mytikas family. He was not easily recognised as one of them, even if his cerulean blue eyes were a permanent reminder of the man who’d done the bare minimum in contributing to his birth.
Eros sat back, kicking his heels up onto the table in front of him. ‘Let me guess, he had a change of heart and decided to leave everything to me and nothing to his other by-blows.’
Arista stiffened at the reminder that she was not the only woman to produce an illegitimate child by one of the wealthiest men in the world.
‘It’s not quite that simple.’ She shook her head. ‘There are stipulations…’
‘Look around.’ He gestured to the penthouse suite that sat atop the high-rise tower he owned in the centre of Athens’ financial district. ‘Why would I want to take his poisonous empire when I’ve built one of my own? I have no need jump through his hoops.’
He was merely the second born of three bastard sons that Zeus had chosen to acknowledge in his lifetime. The image of Xander’s face came unbidden into his mind and he pushed it away. His traitorous half-brother had made it clear where his loyalties stood the moment he took Zeus’s name and stepped into the role of prodigal son.
As for the third and youngest of their merry trio, a reclusive member of one of the oldest dynasties in Italy, Nysio Bacchetti had made it impossible for anyone to connect his powerful family name with that of his hidden paternal link.
‘This stipulation…it applies to all three of us?’ Eros fought to keep his tone even. ‘What have the others had to say on the matter?’
Arista shook her head. ‘The Italian didn’t even answer my calls. He will not risk the link being made public. But Xander has long known what he stood to lose if Zeus changed his mind…mainly his majority shareholder position and his place as acting CEO.’
He took the documents from his mother’s hands and read through the highlighted text. Silence descended upon them and he could feel his mother’s anxious gaze.
The first to remain in a valid marriage for one year, inherits all.
The words settled like lead in his gut. Marriage? He had walked away from Zeus’s fiercely traditional values and control, but he had to admit that attempting to enforce matrimony from beyond the grave was an impressive feat.
‘So Xander knows about this?’
‘He knows…and he is already engaged. No announcement in the paper, no engagement party, it’s all been kept completely under wraps.’
‘Very convenient,’ Eros murmured, still skimming down the legal pages spread out before him. Sure enough, the document made clear that of the three illegitimate sons Zeus had fathered, whoever married first and completed the terms would take everything. He sat back in his seat, tension building in his temples.
‘Eros, don’t you see…he’s already acting like he has won. Our last board meeting was dominated by talk of his plans to purge the company of excess.’ Arista’s voice turned cold. ‘He made it clear that my position in the company would fall under that category.’
He turned to his mother, fire in his veins and all thoughts of his date firmly forgotten. ‘This conversation is futile. You know that I will never marry.’
‘Not even to spite Xander?’ Her voice raised an octave as she continued. ‘I need to retain control at Mytikas and the only way I can achieve that is with my own son at the helm. Please, Eros.’
He saw her expression soften and knew this was a part of her act. It was always this way with Arista. For such a powerhouse of a woman, he had often seen her reduce herself to theatrics to achieve her goals. She would promise the stars, only to walk away once she had got what she needed.
He thought of his childhood spent watching her manipulate the one man who had loved her for the one who never would. His stepfather, a proud man who’d craved a simple family life, had died expecting her to change. Once upon a time, Eros had expected her to change too.
He turned to stare out at the starlit sky, his mind struggling to remain on track, as it often did with sudden shifts of information. Decades overcoming an embarrassingly inconvenient childhood stammer made him hyperaware of moments that might trigger a relapse. His jaw tightened and he carefully inhaled and exhaled a breath before speaking, just in case.
‘What do you expect me to do? Barge into the church and object? Surely you can do that yourself.’
‘I can’t risk my position, you know that. Plus…If we want to make sure this marriage doesn’t go ahead, it’s not just the ceremony that needs to be ruined.’
‘Ah…I see.’ He forced his tone to remain calm, not belying the flash of anger that seethed in his veins. ‘You don’t just need my help, Mother. You need my reputation.’
‘I need this bride to become suddenly, irrevocably unmarriageable. At the very least, it will give me time to contest the will. If you are determined not to fulfil it yourself.’
‘I must admit, the thought of ruining Xander’s perfectly laid plans is quite tempting.’ Eros mused, running a hand along his jaw.
‘Will you do it or not?’ Arista snapped, her loss of patience sudden and sharp against the stillness of the night air. ‘I just…want your brother to pay for how he betrayed you. I don’t want him to win.’
Eros felt his fists tighten at her impatience, knowing that his mother had never once tried to stand up for her only son in the past. She had remained at Zeus’s beck and call while Eros had gone out into the world, using nothing but rage and bitterness to forge his way alone.
The memories remained under the surface of his control but he drew upon the emotion they evoked as he stood up and took his mother’s hands in his own. He saw her eyes light up with barely restrained hope.
It was rather poetic that her fatal error would so perfectly mirror that of the man she’d loved so much. Arista believed him weak, just as Zeus had, but now she was unwittingly inviting a ravenous wolf into the hencoop.
‘Rest easy. I will stop the wedding.’
‘You will?’ she said hopefully. ‘And the bride?’
‘Consider her already taken care of.’ He kept his features neutral. ‘You just focus on contesting the will. I will do the rest.’
‘This deal remains confidential between us?’ she said sharply. ‘If I succeed, the house in the Hamptons and the seat on the board will be mine but everything else is yours for the taking.’
‘Of course,’ he said silkily. ‘Have I ever given you a reason not to trust me?’
Her expression softened, her objective met, and she sipped on her own ouzo like a cat who had just got the proverbial cream.
It was only once she had gone and Eros was alone with the stars once more that he allowed the ghost of a smile to touch his lips. Using his phone, he searched for the name of the woman his mother had given him before she’d left. His brother’s bride.
He had long imagined what he might do if he ever got the opportunity to seek revenge on those who had wronged him…but he had never considered there might be collateral damage. He would go to New York and he would destroy his brother’s plot and ensure that in a matter of weeks there would be no Mytikas Holdings for them to fight over.
He would destroy everything. Divide it up and sell it off piece by piece.
He looked at the photo on his phone once again, running his finger across the image. His big brother had chosen a pretty bride. He wondered if the beauty knew of the world she was entering into. Even if she didn’t, he could not allow himself to feel guilt. It wasn’t his fault if his brother had drawn an innocent into the crossfire.
In this family…all was fair in love and war.
‘What do you think you’re doing?’
Priya Davidson Khan jolted upright in her seat at the sound of her best friend’s voice in the doorway of the office, her surprise causing her to knock over the neat stack of documents she’d been studying. ‘I had a few things that needed my attention.’
‘On a Sunday?’ Aria strode into the room and stopped to glare down at her with obvious disdain. ‘Don’t you have somewhere rather important to be?’
‘Money never sleeps,’ Priya grumbled, furiously gathering the scrambled pile of pages. After another sleepless night, she’d come into the deserted office to calm herself by double-checking the most up-to-date figures for the company she would soon own. She’d set her plan in motion, lining up all the various parts she required until her inheritance finally became her own. She just needed to survive the next few hours first…
‘Step away from the spreadsheets.’ Her friend’s feet appeared in her peripheral vision as she scooped up more of the errant papers under the vast mahogany desk.
Priya looked up, properly taking in the extravagant dusty pink bridesmaid’s gown that Aria wore and the long white garment bag in her hands.
Her stomach sank as she took in the elegant black script on the front that read ‘Bride’.
‘Sweetheart…if you were planning to run from a wedding again, you could have chosen somewhere a little more glamorous.’ Aria smiled good-naturedly.
Priya swallowed hard, feeling her anxiety peak at that single word.
Her best friend wasn’t trying to be cruel. They often joked of her disastrous first engagement and the society scandal that had come from her abrupt departure mere hours before the ceremony. But that had been in the past, when she’d believed herself free of this world with all its expectations and power plays. She pushed away the sinking feeling of dread and stood up, wiping down her moist palms on her tailored black suit trousers.
‘What time is it?’
‘Just past two.’ Aria’s expression softened as she stepped into the office suite and closed the double doors softly behind her. Frustration she could have dealt with, but the look of kind concern on Aria’s pretty face was too much.
‘Are you sure you want to go through with this? With…him?’
Priya thought of the him her friend referred to and felt the urge to growl that of course she wasn’t sure. Xander Mytikas had been a last-minute choice, a deal brokered by her uncle as part of their family’s desperate bid to avoid ruin. Where else was she going to find a temporary husband willing to walk away from a woman of her fortune without demanding a pay-out?
She had met the powerful financier for dinner a few times over the week before, and he had his own reasons for their arrangement, which suited her just fine. There was no attraction between them, no risk of complications. So why did she still feel this stifling sense of suffocation every time she thought of their agreement?
Perhaps it was the two-page newspaper spread he had already ordered to announce their union once it was made public, a small voice whispered inside her. She pushed the thoughts of the media away, feeling her anxiety climb. Of course the news of his wishes for a public marriage had come as a shock. Who wanted to take part in a society marriage after publicly proclaiming their lifelong spinsterhood to the world? She could already imagine the headlines.
Let them call her a social climber, let them focus on the scandal…no one could know the truth behind her hasty nuptials.
‘Just help me get this on, please?’ Priya exhaled a long breath and took the garment bag from her friend’s hands, avoiding her questioning gaze as she undid the zip and revealed the extravagant white gown that had been selected by a top stylist in charge of the event. That was how she’d thought of it in her head until this moment, a nameless event to tick off on her weekly agenda. Only now, feeling the silk under her fingertips, she felt the first rumblings of panic under the smooth façade of her infamous ice-queen composure.
The closure of tiny hooks and buttons threatened to cut off her circulation and she’d barely caught a glimpse of her reflection smothered in expensive white silk before she forced herself to look away.
‘Could you go ahead to the ceremony and tell them I’m running late?’ Priya avoided her friend’s eyes. ‘I just…need a moment.’
Aria embraced her in a quick hug, her mouth opening but then closing on whatever words she had wished to say. With one last frown, she closed the doors behind her and Priya let out a shuddering breath. On unsteady feet, she looked around her at what had once been Arun Davidson Khan’s domain. The last piece left of her father’s legacy.
The New York headquarters of Davidson Khan Financial was all that remained of what had once been an international empire. The building was a slice of gilded history and had always been a favourite haunt of hers with its grand vaulted ceilings and unrivalled views of the Hudson in the distance through the sash windows.
Remembering what she’d always done as a girl, she placed her hands on the cool glass and listened to the hum of the city, trying to draw the white noise into herself to block out the chaos of her thoughts. All too soon she forced herself to move backwards, back towards the private elevator that would take her down to her fate.
Like a woman on her way to the gallows, she clamped her hands by her sides, mentally preparing to take the first step back into the flames she’d spent seven years escaping.
New York society was vicious at the best of times, but to the heiress who had publicly spurned it… She would never know true peace again.
As a young girl growing up among Long Island’s elite, Priya remembered planning her fairy-tale wedding day with her friends. With a silk scarf for a veil and an illicitly obtained bouquet from Mama’s prized rose garden, she would imagine herself to be a grand society bride just like her perfectly polished mother had been.
But it turned out her mother had been far from perfect, and her love had only ever been conditional upon Priya doing as she was told and following the rules expected of an upper-class heiress.
For seven years, she had taken time to just be herself. But once she got married…she would be a billionaire.
Closing her eyes tightly, she fought to inhale, but every attempt seemed to only serve to tighten the bands forming around her ribcage.
The private elevator came to a stop far too quickly for her liking and as the doors opened into the empty executive atrium, her path was blocked by a broad figure in a sleek black suit. She was momentarily transfixed by a pair of cerulean blue eyes framed by the kind of angular bone structure and full lips that were usually reserved for the catwalk.
For a long, ridiculous moment all she could do was stare. Beauty was not a word often used to describe men…but there was no other word to accurately encompass the force of viewing such a face. His dark blond hair was pulled back into a neat style, but she could tell that it would fall almost to his shoulders unbound. Coupled with the perfectly groomed shadow of stubble along his jawline, the overall effect gave him a rather dangerous quality that seemed quite at odds with the serene smile on his lips. As though he’d heard her thoughts, that smile tilted up to one side and his features were transformed anew.
‘You must be the bride.’ His voice was deep and slightly accented.
Priya’s heart thumped against her breastbone and she swallowed hard, her throat suddenly parched even as she pressed her lips flat and reminded herself that she was not a swooning teenager. She was the bride and she was currently late to her own wedding.
‘Did the white dress give me away?’ she asked tartly.
‘I think it was the overwhelming aura of excitement,’ he replied, copying her tone.
A dimple appeared in one of his cheeks and she studiously ignored it, focusing on the slim white access card in his hands, a card that was only given to security guards or drivers.
‘I didn’t order a car.’ She frowned, she hadn’t even thought of it. ‘Xander really did think of everything.’
Something briefly darkened in his gaze but the smile on his face remained intact as he opened the doors that led to the rear street access of the building. He turned, tipping his head to one side. ‘Do you need assistance with the gown?’
‘I’ll manage,’ she said stiffly, not knowing why his innocent attention felt discomfiting, and not entirely appropriate. He was handsome, but she had met countless handsome men during the years she had worked abroad in foreign investment firms. She had never exactly gravitated to any of them but, still, she noticed.
She was about to get married to one of the most powerful men in New York and she was being distracted by some very inappropriate thoughts for her chauffeur.
They emerged into the gloomy autumn drizzle and she was suddenly grateful for the broad male shoulders that shielded her from view of curious pedestrians as they passed under the canopy to where a long silver limousine waited.
Huffing out a breath, she tried to slide gracefully onto the butter-soft leather seat but only succeeded in falling in very slowly. How women were expected to move freely in these ridiculous haute couture creations was completely beyond her. If it had been up to her, she’d be saying her vows in something far more functional.
Without comment, the driver leaned down and rearranged the silk, which had been trailing towards the wet ground, carefully around her feet. The angle of his head made her stiffen, her body tingling with what she hoped was just nerves. When he finally straightened and closed the door, she could breathe. What on earth had got into her?
She may not be in an actual romantic relationship with her groom but she had promised that she would play the perfect society bride. That meant maintaining the appearance of a blissfully married couple for the next year. She had no need for such a lengthy time frame, but Xander had insisted. There could be no scandal, no accusations of a staged union. It needed to look real.
Twelve months was a small price to pay to unlock her inheritance. As much as she hated it, she had grown up a part of this world so she could easily play the part of the blushing bride for a time. It was no big deal, really…
Closing her eyes tightly, she focused on her breathing and the sound of the engine being brought to life, so much so that she missed the sound of the opposite door opening and closing quickly, before the car began to move.
Her thoughts interrupted by that smooth accented voice, her eyes snapped open to find she was not alone and she jolted back in her seat.
‘Who on earth is driving the car?’ She shook her head, feeling the very definite sensation of the vehicle beginning to move.
‘The driver, of course.’
Priya felt her mouth slacken with dismay as her surprise guest nonchalantly pressed a button to reveal two chilled flutes and a bottle of expensive champagne.
‘You…you deliberately misled me.’ She sat up straighter in her seat, realising with a sharp tug of horror that she’d been so distracted she’d left without alerting the security guard that had been assigned to her.
‘I never said that I was your driver.’ His eyes had that same amused glow again, as though he found the situation highly entertaining.
‘Who are you and why are you here?’ She narrowed her gaze.
‘I’m here to talk to you, of course.’ Strong golden-skinned hands carefully popped the stopper and poured. ‘I’ve been told I resemble a fallen angel. Maybe today I’m yours.’
She deliberately ignored the glass he offered her.
‘That’s not an answer.’ She slipped her phone out of her small handbag and gave him her best glare. ‘You have ten seconds to tell me your purpose here before I call the police.’
‘What will you tell them, Priya?’ he said silkily, his exotic accent seeming to caress each syllable as they passed his lips. ‘What kind of terrible things are you imagining I might do to you? I’m curious.’
Her skin instantly prickled with gooseflesh. Who on earth was this man and why did everything he say sound like a lover’s bedroom whispers? Tightening her fists, she tried and failed to conceal the sudden tremor in her body.
‘Relax, princess. You are not in danger from me.’ He exhaled sharply, as though her reaction had deeply irritated him. Without breaking eye contact, he reached across to press a small button on the side panel. ‘You recognise Ennio, yes?’
The screen behind him was lowered and Priya felt her chest ease slightly as she took in the kind face of the man who had chauffeured her around the city many times in the past weeks. His smile held a hint of guilt as he waved once and raised the screen again, leaving her alone with her mystery guest once more.
‘Did you bribe my driver?’ she asked.
‘“Bribe” is such an ugly word, don’t you think?’ He slung one powerful arm along the back of the seat, surveying her over the rim of his glass. ‘I prefer to think of it as…offering a preferable incentive.’
‘Who are you?’ she repeated with as much steel as she could muster, considering the thousand butterflies currently using her stomach as a cage.
‘You mean he didn’t tell you about me?’ He feigned being wounded in the centre of his chest, tutting softly. ‘Seems my brother is hiding more from you than just his true motive behind this marriage. You’re lucky I’m here to set the balance right before you make it down the aisle.’
His brother. Priya felt her mouth open slightly before she closed it again. Being part of New York society, it was impossible not to know about her groom’s powerful father and his infamous indiscretions but nothing about the man in front of her was anything like her finely polished and serious fiancé. Xander was dark and lean where this man was golden skinned and had shoulders that seemed to fill the entire seat. His collar was open and his long golden hair brushed back in the kind of effortless style that only looked good on a man of his calibre. He practically oozed sex appeal and vitality, so much so that she forced herself to look away from his knowing gaze and remind herself of what was at stake.
She knew that Xander had ulterior motives that he hadn’t revealed but she had ensured that their pre-nuptial agreement was iron clad. She’d read through the papers herself, their arrangement was crystal clear. Everything was under control.
‘You’re clearly here to make a revelation of some sort, so kindly get to it. I’m already running late.’ She smoothed her hands down flat in her lap, gathering her expression into a cool mask.
‘Do you love him?’
‘That’s…none of your business,’ she responded tautly, her jaw tightening with barely restrained irritation. As though he hadn’t got the answer he wanted, her mysterious guest simply frowned and took another slow sip of champagne.
‘I’ve seen the prenuptial agreement…you certainly have a routine mapped out. Dinners in public, social events… You seem quite eager to bolster your reputation now that you’ve returned to society.’
‘You don’t know me.’ Priya spoke through clenched teeth.
‘I know enough.’ He downed the remnants of his champagne in one movement, the golden liquid glittering for a moment on his lips. ‘I know that one sordid photograph with me would be all it takes for my brother to discard you and whatever deal you’ve made.’
Priya fought past the sudden dryness in her throat, hardly able to process such a scandalous threat. ‘What benefit could possibly come from ruining this wedding in such a dramatic way?’
‘Oh, no, princess… I’m not just here to ruin the wedding.’ He leaned forward, his full lips stretching into a sinful smirk. ‘I’m here to ruin you.’