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The Greek's Christmas Bride

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SPLUTTERING AND GASPING for breath, Pixie waved a silencing hand and rushed out of her room to the bathroom. There she got control of the coughing and rinsed her mouth with water taken from her cupped hand. In the mirror over the sink she saw her sad, watering panda eyes and groaned out loud. She looked dreadful. Her eyeliner was rubbed all round her eyes and there was even a smear across one cheek. She did her best with what little there was in the bathroom to tidy herself up.

Apollo Metraxis was offering to rescue Patrick from the debts he was drowning in if she married him in a pretend marriage. And had a child with him. Don’t forget the child, she told herself while she clutched the sink to keep herself upright. She was blown away entirely by the crazy prospect of having a child with Apollo, having sex with Apollo... Swallowing hard, she breathed in deep. It was the most insane idea she had ever heard and she couldn’t work out how or why he had decided to approach her with it.

Was he nuts? Temporarily off his rocker after the death of his father? Grounded again, she returned to her room and stared at him.

‘That has to be the most ridiculous idea I’ve ever heard and I can’t believe you’re serious. I mean...’ Pixie paused ‘ don’t even know me.’

‘I’m not suggesting a normal marriage. I know what I need to know about you.’

‘Little more than an hour ago you accused me of stealing your wallet!’ Pixie fired back at him unimpressed.

‘Because I know how desperate you have to be for money. You know that if your brother fails to make a payment or doesn’t pay what he’s supposed to pay his life could be on the line. He owes that money to a thug, who rules with fear and intimidation,’ Apollo countered levelly. ‘He could choose to make an example of your brother to deter others from making the same mistake.’

Apollo did indeed know exactly how precarious her brother’s position was. Her tummy churned sickly at his confirmation that Patrick’s creditor was a violent man because regardless of the beating Patrick had received she had hoped that that was the worst that would be done to him. She paled. ‘But that still doesn’t explain why you would approach someone like me!’ she gasped.

‘I told you that I prefer to choose a woman I can pay to marry me. I also want to be in control of the whole arrangement and the way I would set this up would mean that you had to follow the rules until our arrangement ends. That feels safer to me. It wouldn’t be in your interests or your brother’s to cross me or to admit to anyone that our marriage was phony,’ he pointed out with assurance. ‘Were you to admit that to the wrong person I could be challenged in a courtroom and I could lose my father’s estate for ever. If you did betray me, you would be breaking the terms of our agreement and you would land you and your brother straight back into the same trouble that you’re in right now.’

It was quite a speech, a sobering and intimidating speech that told her a lot she would rather not have known about exactly how Apollo’s mind worked. He wanted a woman over whom he had total control, a woman who had to strictly adhere to his conditions or lose all benefits from the arrangement.

‘I hear what you’re saying,’ Pixie breathed tautly, ‘but I think it’s twisted. You want a wife you can blackmail into doing what you want her to do, someone powerless. I could not be that woman.’

‘Oh, don’t underestimate yourself. I think you’re gutsy enough to take me on,’ Apollo told her with grudging amusement in his gaze. ‘Did you or did you not grasp the fact that I am offering to save you and your brother from the consequences of his stupidity?’

Pixie reddened. Silence fell. In the interim, Apollo made use of his cell phone and spoke in what she assumed was rapid Greek.

‘You’re serious about this.

..?’ she almost whispered in sheer bewilderment. ‘But you said you need to have a child as well, and—’

‘If you fail to conceive the marriage would end in divorce within eighteen months. I can’t afford to waste more time than that,’ Apollo imparted without hesitation. ‘However, you would still get the same financial payoff. In that way, whether you have a child or not, you would still benefit from a debt-free future. ‘

A knock came on the door again. This time it was Pixie who rushed to answer it because she desperately needed a breathing space to get her thoughts in order and was thinking of diving for the bathroom again. Two men entered and deftly cleared away the dishes, leaving behind only the wine and the glasses.

‘There’s no way on earth I could go to bed with you!’ Pixie spluttered out bluntly without meaning to as soon as the door had shut on the men’s exit.

Apollo studied her in open astonishment and then he flung his handsome dark head back and roared with unfettered amusement. In fact he laughed so hard he almost tipped the chair back while she stared at him in disbelief.

‘I really don’t understand how you can find that so funny,’ Pixie snapped when he had regained control of himself. ‘You’re talking about me having sex with a stranger and that may be something you do on a fairly regular basis but it’s not something I would do! You’re also talking about having an awful lot of sex,’ she told him half an octave higher, her voice thinning with extreme stress and embarrassment. ‘Because it could take months and months to conceive a child. I couldn’t do it. There’s absolutely no way I could do that with you!’

‘You sound a little hysterical and I’m surprised,’ Apollo admitted. ‘Holly’s the starry-eyed type but you struck me as more sensible. Marry me and try to have a child and you won’t be struggling in a dump like this to save your brother and make a decent life. All the bad things will go away... I can make that happen. You won’t get a better offer.’

Mortification had claimed Pixie because she knew she had sounded panic-stricken. Face hot, she retreated to the bed and sank down on the edge of the mattress. In truth the thought of having sex with Apollo drove every sensible thought from her mind and only provoked a giant ‘no’ from every corner of her being. A long, long time ago she had promised herself that sex would only ever be combined with love in her life. She hadn’t saved her virginity simply to throw it away in some immoral arrangement with Apollo Metraxis intended to conceive a child and moreover a child he didn’t really want.

Apollo studied her in frustration. He didn’t understand what was wrong. A woman had never found him unattractive before. He knew she didn’t like him but he didn’t consider liking necessary to a successful sexual liaison. Sex was like food in Apollo’s life, something he enjoyed on a frequent basis and wasted little time thinking about. He was amazed that she had concentrated her objections on the need for a sexual relationship. Head down bent, she sat on the side of the bed in a rigid position with one arm stretched down in an unavailing attempt to lure the terrified dog out from underneath the bed. But the dog was too wary of Apollo’s presence to emerge. He could see its beady little eyes gleaming watchfully from deep under the mattress.

‘Tell me what the problem is...’ he invited impatiently.

‘I don’t want to have a baby with someone who doesn’t love me or my child,’ Pixie muttered in a rush. ‘That’s way too like what I had growing up with the parents from hell!’

Apollo was taken aback. ‘I don’t want a woman who loves me because she might well want to stay married to me and I will want my freedom back as soon as I have fulfilled the terms of the will. Rejecting a wife who loved me could well lead to her breaking our agreement and telling someone that the marriage was a fake created to circumvent the will and allow me to inherit. And speaking for myself, I can’t put love on the table for any woman. But, I would hope and expect to love my child.’

That admission soothed only one of Pixie’s concerns because her brain could not surmount the unimaginable challenge of going to bed with Apollo again and again and again.

A trickle of heat sidled through her slender frame as she lifted her head a few inches higher and focussed on her tormentor. He was gorgeous and he knew it but that did not mean he would be kind or considerate in bed. What did she feel like? A medieval maiden being auctioned off for a good price? That was nonsense because the choice, the decision was hers alone. And women had been marrying men for reasons far removed from love for centuries. Some women married to have children, some for money, some for security and some to please their families. She was making too much of a fuss over the sexual component. Sex was a physical pastime, not a mental one.

So, did that mean that she was actually considering Apollo’s ridiculous proposition? She took a mental look at her life as it was. She was drowning in her brother’s debt. She didn’t have a life. She couldn’t afford to have a life. She went to work, she came home, ate as cheaply as she could and saved every possible penny. Aside from Hector, whom she adored, it was a pretty miserable life for a young woman but sixth sense warned her that Apollo, if displeased, probably had the power to make even the life of a rich wife a great deal more miserable. Even so, when Holly visited the UK, Pixie went to meet her and they would have a meal and a couple of drinks and for a few sunny hours Pixie would forget her worries and enjoy being with her friend again. If she married Apollo, she would surely see much more of Holly, wouldn’t she?

But then nothing could make marrying Apollo for money the right or decent thing to do, she reasoned unhappily. It would be akin to renting out her womb. And although she loved children and very much missed her friend Holly’s adorable son, Angelo, from when they had both lived with her, she had never planned to have a child so young or to raise one alone. To plan to do that would be wrong, she thought with a shudder of distaste. And Apollo had also reminded her that circumventing his father’s will would be breaking the law and she refused to be involved in anything of that nature.

‘I can’t believe you are willing to go to such lengths just for money...but then I’ve never had enough money to miss,’ Pixie admitted wryly. ‘I guess it’s different for you.’

‘I’m already a very rich man in my own right,’ Apollo contradicted drily. ‘But there is more to this than money. There is my family home on the island where all my relatives are buried. There are the businesses originally founded by my grandfather and my great-grandfather, the very roots of my family. It took my father’s death for me to appreciate that I’m much more attached to those roots than I was ever willing to admit even to myself.’

His obvious sincerity disconcerted Pixie. She understood that he had taken those things for granted until he was forced to confront the threat of losing them.

‘Lying and pretending wouldn’t come naturally to me,’ she told him flatly. ‘And faking the marriage would also be breaking the law, which I couldn’t do. I don’t even have a traffic violation on my record,’ she told him truthfully. ‘Because of my experiences growing up I won’t do anything that breaks the law.’

‘But we would be faithfully following the terms of the will, which specifies that I must marry and produce a child—boy or girl—within the space of five years. My intent to eventually go for a divorce is not barred by the will. If the marriage is consummated and we have a child it will be, to all intents and purposes, a normal legal marriage,’ Apollo told her forcefully.

Pixie hovered, her small heart-shaped face pale and stiff. ‘I don’t want to be involved. I realise that you think I’m an easy mark but I couldn’t do it. I won’t discuss this with anyone either. I should think anyone I told would threaten to lock me up and throw away the key because they’d think I was crazy!’

Apollo rose slowly to his feet, dominating the room with his height and breadth. ‘You’re not thinking this through.’ Reaching into his pocket, he withdrew a card and set it down on the table. ‘My private number if you change your mind.’

‘I’m not going to change my mind,’ Pixie told him stonily.

Apollo said nothing. He paused at the door, looking at that soft ripe mouth of hers, his body hardening in response to the imagery flashing through his inventive mind. ‘It would’ve been good in bed. I find you surprisingly attractive.’

‘Can’t say the same,’ Pixie retorted as she yanked open the door with a shaking hand. ‘I don’t like you. You’re arrogant and insensitive and completely ruthless when it comes to getting what you want.’

‘But I still make you hot, which infuriates you,’ Apollo murmured huskily. ‘You’re not very good at faking disinterest.’

Her grey eyes sparkled with anger. ‘You’re not irresistible, Apollo!’

He lifted a lean-fingered hand and tilted up her chin. ‘Are you sure of that?’ he asked thickly, a Greek accent he rarely revealed roughening and lowering his dark drawl to a pitch that vibrated like a storm warning down her stiff spine.

‘One hundred per cent certain,’ she was mumbling as his breath fanned her cheek and the scent of him flared her nostrils and her mouth ran dry while her heartbeat raced into the danger zone.


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