The Wealthy Greek's Contract Wife(15)

By: Penny Jordan

It was bad enough that he was humiliating her by offering her money, without her own painful awareness of her fear that the physical longing he aroused in her so easily might overwhelm her.

A truly brave person did not turn and flee from their own fear and danger, Lizzie reminded herself. A truly brave person stood their ground and fought to overcome it, to make themselves even stronger. And besides, how could she turn down the money he was prepared to offer her when she knew what it would mean at home. It would clear the mortgage, for one thing, and leave nearly ten thousand pounds’ much needed ‘rainy day money’.

It meant that she would be quite literally selling herself to him—a man she already knew affected her as no man ever had. But she had to accept his offer for the sake of her family. How could she live with herself if she didn’t, knowing the huge difference it would make to their lives?

‘To behave as though our relationship is genuine and desired by both of us,’ Ilios told her. ‘Very, well, then.’ he continued, when Lizzie remained silent. ‘If you prefer to have your family stripped of the roof over their heads—’

What kind of fool was she to dare to try and refuse him? What was she expecting? That he would turn into some kind of white knight in shining armour? Some kind of saviour who would generously let her off any kind of payment? It was time she grew up and learned as he had had to learn that saviours didn’t exist. The only way to escape from the burdens life presented you with was to dig your own way out from under them—with your bare hands, if necessary, as he had. No doubt she expected him to feel sorry for her, with her tale of how her family had suffered and how she believed it was her duty to protect them. Why should he? Who had ever protected him when he had needed protection? No one. Hardship made a person stronger, unless they were so weak in the first place that they went to the wall. She must know that herself, since she had strength.

Ilios frowned. When and how had he decided, without knowing more about her, that Lizzie Wareham had strength? Strength was something he admired and respected, after all. Especially when that strength was hardwon.

‘No, of course I don’t,’ Lizzie told Ilios fiercely, immediately tormented by the horrific images his callous words had conjured up. ‘I just don’t understand why you should want to marry me.’

It was the wrong thing to have said.

‘I don’t,’ Ilios assured her, and the look he gave her sliced her pride to the bone. ‘It is my lawyers who believe that the best way for me to protect what is rightfully mine from my cousin’s greedy machinations is for me to marry. Tino needs money. He thinks he can blackmail me into giving him that money by threatening to challenge my right of inheritance under our grandfather’s will. He knows that I will never give up what is in effect a sacred charge on me, a duty to both the history of our name and its future, so he thinks I will give in to him. But I shall not. He claims that the fact that I am known to have sworn never to marry and do not have a wife means I have broken an unwritten article of faith—namely that Villa Manos must be passed down through the male line of our family. Villa Manos and its lands are a sacred trust. They have been in our family for over five hundred years. They are the essence of what we are. Manos blood, my father’s blood, was sacrificed for them. There is nothing I will not do to hold my duty and to meet it. Nothing!’

His fury, and the pride that went with it, filled the air around her so that she could almost feel and taste them, Lizzie recognized.

‘Tino believes that he has backed me into a corner,’ he continued angrily. ‘That I will be prepared to buy him off in order to keep Villa Manos. My solicitors advise me that the best and only guaranteed way to block Tino’s plans is for me to marry. After all, with blackmail one payment is never the end, it is merely the beginning. If I were to give in to him now—which I have no intention of doing—Tino would think that he has me in his power.’

Privately Lizzie found it impossible to imagine that anyone, male or female, would be foolish enough to think they could control a man like Ilios Manos.

‘Why don’t you simply find someone you genuinely want to marry?’ she suggested. ‘After all, a man with your—’

‘With my what?’ Ilios stopped her. ‘With my wealth? That is exactly why I am not married and why I never intend to marry. Only a fool voluntarily puts himself in a position where a woman can enjoy a rich man’s money both in marriage and then out of it, after they both discover that they no longer want one another. The curse of wealth is that it has the same attraction for sharks as fresh blood. My marriage to you will be different. You will already have been paid to wear my name and my ring. My cousin does not have the temperament for a long fight. Once he sees that I am married he will lose interest and the marriage can be annulled.’