Bride Behind the Billion-Dollar Veil
How to redeem the world’s richest playboy? Marry him!
Extremely wealthy Thanos almost has it all. One last company will complete his empire. To acquire it he must repair his scandalous reputation – with a wife! And his respectable assistant Alice is perfect for the role.
Thanos is the last man Alice should say ‘I do’ to – she knows men like him cause only pain. But her family is in dire need of financial support so she agrees, knowing their vows are purely for appearances. Until Thanos lifts her veil and their intense, electrifying kiss complicates everything…
Twelve years ago
‘LISTEN TO ME.’
Thanos looked up at his brother, barely able to see him through the fog of rage and disbelief that shrouded his every thought and feeling.
‘We will get it back.’
Thanos gripped the pen in his hand, returning his attention to the imperious black line at the bottom of the contract. A contract for the sale of Petó, the company their grandfather, Nicholas Stathakis, had built from the ground up. The company Thanos had learned to operate at his grandfather’s knee. The company that meant everything to him.
‘No.’ He dropped the pen to the boardroom table, extending to his full six and a half feet, striding across the room with a ramrod-straight back.
He knew his half-brother was watching him, and he knew Leonidas was feeling the same sense of outrage and disbelief. Only Leonidas was somehow better at processing this. He was calm, outwardly, even as their world crumbled around them, whereas Thanos wanted to torch the building on his way out.
He braced his palms on the floor-to-ceiling glass, looking out on downtown Athens. All of this they had once commanded.
All of this, their father had destroyed.
‘We will get it back, Thanos,’ Leo repeated, with urgency. ‘But we must sell it for now.’
Nausea split Thanos’s side. Sell it? Sell the jewel in their grandfather’s business empire? Because their father had tied the company to the mafia?
Thanos ground his teeth together, locking his jaw intently. He wanted to say there was another way. He wanted to fix this. To make it better. And suddenly he was eight years old again, watching his mother walk away. He was eight years old and knowing himself to be the instrument of a family’s breakdown. He was eight years old and everything in this world was his fault. But this was so much worse.
Nicholas had trusted Thanos with Petó, and he’d been careless. He’d trusted Dion Stathakis—their father—when he should have seen what was happening right beneath his nose.
What could he do now?
‘I cannot bear to think of someone else running his business.’ Thanos’s voice cracked with the strength of his emotions.
‘Do you think I can?’ Leonidas growled, and Thanos turned to face his brother then, their eyes meeting with complete understanding. This situation was wrong. Wrong in every way.
Leonidas softened his expression a little. ‘But this is the best possibility we could have hoped for. Kosta Carinedes wants Petó. His plan to fold it into his own logistics empire are sound, so too the rebranding he envisages. Petó will live on, Thanos, and it will continue to prosper.’
Thanos’s stomach clenched. ‘But not by our hands.’
‘No.’ Leonidas’s eyes glittered in acknowledgement of that.
‘I will not live in a world where this company is not mine, Leonidas. One day, one way or another, Petó will be ours again.’
Leonidas nodded slowly but Thanos wasn’t satisfied. ‘Swear it to me, Leo. Swear to me now that we will right this wrong—and all our father’s wrongs—even if it takes us the rest of our lives.’
Leonidas expelled a soft, low breath. ‘I swear it. But you must sign the contract now.’
Thanos nodded, knowing his brother to be correct. Still, he glared at the paper as though it were a writhing tangle of snakes at his feet. He lifted the pen with difficulty and hovered it over the page, his perennial tan paled to straw in that moment.
He scrawled his name on the page and silently swore to himself, once more, that this wasn’t the end.
This wasn’t over—not by a long shot. Petó was a part of his blood and his DNA, and it always would be.
ALICE TOOK A full ten seconds to remember who she was and what she was doing. For a moment, the appearance of one man had managed to skittle everything from her mind: her job, her responsibilities; the mountain of medical bills she had in her handbag waiting for her to wade through at lunch time; the credit card that was almost maxed, and the fact this temp position would be finishing in two weeks, meaning she’d yet again need to find a job; her mother’s worsening condition and Alice’s inability to find a proper long-term solution for her care. Every second of every day those considerations pursued her, but for a moment, with the sound of the elevator doors opening to the top floor of the glass and steel monolith that was Stathakis Towers, she found the chatter of her mind was silenced and all she could do was stare.
Her almond-shaped brown eyes tracked his progress across the office, her pulse hammering her body from the inside out, the closer he came to her desk.
Thanos Stathakis was here. In his office. In Manhattan.
Despite the fact she’d temped for the man for five months, she hadn’t once laid eyes on him, outside the endless stream of photos that littered the Internet. Photos of him invariably in a state of undress, relaxed, surrounded by a bevy of supermodels and actresses, partying, drinking, living the kind of life Alice could barely imagine.
The kind of life her father had also adored. The thought should have been sobering, but it wasn’t. She was almost mesmerised by the sight of him in the flesh.
Thanos Stathakis wasn’t just a man.
He was a legend.
His success in business was renowned—alongside his brother, he’d turned a crumbling business into an empire once more, like a powerful phoenix rising from the ashes of scandal and failure. But it was more than that. Thanos Stathakis was unlike anyone she’d ever known—in person, it was easy to see why the world’s media was obsessed with him.
If there was a mould for tall, dark and handsome then Thanos had certainly broken it. He was broad-shouldered, slim-hipped, with strength and charisma in every long stride of his powerful legs. Unlike the photographs she’d seen of him, he wore a suit now, navy blue with a crisp white shirt that only served to emphasise the depth of his tan. His eyes were caramel-coloured and rimmed in thick, curling black lashes, so he looked almost as though he’d worked overtime with a mascara wand. He was the very image of the billionaire magnate she knew him to be, with the exception of his hair, which was somehow wild and untamed, as though he’d stepped straight off a speedboat on the Riviera and into the doors of this Manhattan monolith.
She stared at him because she couldn’t help it, and even when his eyes jerked to hers, she didn’t look away. Not for several long, compelling seconds.
His lips curled in what could have been a smile, or could have been derision, and then he stopped close enough to her desk for Alice to hold her breath.
‘You’re the temp?’
It was enough to jolt her back into the present—and who she was to him. The temp! As if she hadn’t been keeping his life running seamlessly these past five months, since his regular assistant had been on leave.
‘Alice.’ He nodded, as if it didn’t matter, and in a way that made her absolutely certain he’d have forgotten her name again in an instant.
Except he didn’t turn and walk away. He continued to stare at her in a way that set her pulse racing, so she had to forcibly remind herself that he generally occupied himself with glamorous models, that there would be nothing in her somewhat plain face to cause him to stare like this. No, he must have another reason for looking into her eyes as though he’d seen her before.
He blinked then, like severing a thread, his dark lashes closing against his cheeks, forming perfect fans for the briefest of seconds before he opened his eyes and speared her with his intent gaze.
‘Print the file on P & A Industries. I have a meeting in ten minutes.’
He spun on his heel and stalked towards the office to her left—an office she’d only been into once or twice since taking up this role. It was his office, and he hadn’t been in New York the whole time she’d been at Stathakis Corp.
It was the final straw in rousing Alice back to reality.
Years ago, she’d looked at another man with that same deer-in-the-headlights sense of drowning and she’d come to regret it hugely. She’d fallen for Clinton’s practised flirtation, hook, line, and sinker, and learned a valuable lesson—she wouldn’t fall for another man’s easy charms, ever again. And Thanos Stathakis was not in the realm of Clinton. Thanos was…bigger and somehow more dangerous.
She had no business staring at him as though he were the second coming.
She pushed back from her desk, following behind him. ‘A meeting, sir?’
He opened the door, moving into the enormous space without turning the lights on, so it was Alice who flicked the switch and brought the overheads to life.
Like the rest of the building, this large room had a Scandinavian feel, with light timber furniture, pale walls and a cream carpet. The artwork was minimalist, the light fittings modern and striking. His desk sat against one wall with a state-of-the-art computer atop it and a piece of expensive art behind it; across the room, framed perfectly by floor-to-ceiling windows that showcased an incredible view of Manhattan, was a boardroom table large enough to accommodate twenty-two people.
‘Mmm…’ He made a noise of agreement, shrugging out of his jacket and placing it carelessly across the back of his chair. The movement only served to highlight the breadth of his shoulders and arms that looked to have been sculpted by God’s own hand. Her lips parted and she stared—she knew she was staring but almost for the first time in Alice’s life her self-control was nowhere to be seen.
‘You know,’ he drawled with a sinful smile pulling at those impossibly strong lips. ‘That thing where people come to the same place at the same time to discuss a prearranged schedule of topics?’
She blinked, embarrassment shifting through her, and she was glad then that she didn’t blush easily. ‘I know what a meeting is,’ she said softly, the fact he was teasing her setting off a thousand fires in the depth of her soul. ‘I just meant it’s not in your diary.’
Something flashed in his expression—triumph? Wariness?—and then he nodded curtly. ‘It was arranged this morning. Kosta Carinedes happens to be in New York so I thought it was a good opportunity to…see him.’
Alice nodded. ‘Fine. How many people will be at the meeting?’ She was already slipping back into her professional groove, thinking of how quickly she could alert the catering team to send up refreshments, how many copies of documents she’d need to print.
‘Just him and me. And you,’ he added, as an afterthought. ‘In case I need anything throughout.’
She nodded. ‘I’ll have the kitchen send up some sandwiches—’
‘That won’t be necessary. Just coffee. Strong and black.’
Alice nodded again. She remembered the handover notes that had been left for her, which described in detail how Thanos Stathakis liked to take his coffee.
‘You’ll print the file?’
She nodded. ‘Yes, sir.’
She was almost at the door when his voice stilled her. ‘Alice?’
She spun around to face him once more, catching a slight frown on those sculpted lips. ‘I don’t like being called “sir”.’
‘I’m sorry, si—’
‘Thanos,’ he insisted.
‘Thanos.’ His name was bewitching on her lips. She said it and immediately wanted to say it again and again. She said it mentally as she printed the files he’d requested, and as she made a pot of Greek coffee, carrying it carefully into his office. He was on the phone when she entered. She busied herself arranging the documents in place, trying to ignore the sensation of heat that travelled the length of her spine as he hurled words in his native Greek, the words like a sunset after a storm, impossibly bright and intriguing.
She retreated from his office without noticing the way his eyes followed her, scooping up her laptop and a bottle of water, before making her way to the boardroom table.
When she entered this time, he was no longer on the phone. ‘My brother sometimes thinks I cannot tie my shoes without him,’ he said, but the words were tinged with amusement. He stood, stretching his arms over his head, yawning and smothering it with his hand.
This was a man who was supremely confident. How Alice envied him that! She had worked hard to appear strong and put-together, to look as though she’d outgrown the wounds of her past, but she knew she came across as cold and aloof most of the time, even when that strength came out of a need to protect a too vulnerable heart.
It seemed unlikely Thanos had ever felt a hint of self-doubt in his life.
Except it wasn’t just confidence that oozed out of him. It was determination. She felt it emanating from him in waves and it held her in her spot for a moment, even as she knew she should go back to her own desk, to be waiting for Kosta Carinedes when he arrived.
‘Is there anything I should know before this meeting?’ she heard herself asking instead, reluctant to take herself from his office.
‘No. It is a simple matter. He has something I want; I intend to buy it back today.’
The words were clipped, his expression business-like.
‘I anticipate the meeting will conclude quickly enough.’
‘Fine.’ Alice checked everything was in order and without looking in Thanos’s direction—perhaps out of fear that she might not easily be able to look away again—she returned to her own desk.
Not five minutes later, the lift doors pinged open and a man emerged. Older than Alice had expected, with a lined face and a kind smile, his hair was greying, his body a little stooped, dressed in a suit that looked bespoke with expensive leather shoes.
‘Stathakis?’ he said as he approached Alice’s desk.
‘This way, sir.’ She stood, gesturing towards Thanos’s office. At the door, she knocked twice and then pushed it inwards, stepping back to allow the older Greek man to precede her.
From her vantage point, she saw the way Thanos’s body momentarily tensed and the determination she’d observed moments earlier was back, a palpable force in the room.
Kosta spoke first, in Greek, and Thanos returned the greeting in their native tongue before switching to English.
‘Alice, my assistant, doesn’t speak Greek.’
Kosta threw a look over his shoulder and then shrugged. ‘Perhaps you can tell me why I have been summoned here?’
Even that was a telling statement. Thanos Stathakis had the power to summon just about anyone to his office, and it was a power he had flexed this morning.
‘You don’t know?’
Kosta shrugged his shoulders. ‘I presume it has something to do with P & A?’
Thanos’s stare was direct. ‘Yes.’ He gestured towards the table. ‘Please, take a seat.’
The old man hesitated for a moment and then did as he’d been bid, moving to a chair on one side of the table and settling himself into it. Alice watched as he lifted the coffee to his lips, sipping it, then returning the cup to the saucer at the same time Thanos took a seat at the head of the table.
‘You’ve received my offer?’ That confidence was back, brimming and blinding. Alice stared covertly at Thanos as she settled herself at the end of the boardroom table, flipping her laptop open and pulling up a blank Word document to take notes.
‘My lawyer advised me of it,’ the older man remarked with another shrug of his shoulders, in what Alice was recognising as a trademark gesture.
Kosta expelled a soft breath. ‘Did my silence not answer your question?’
Alice jerked her gaze to Thanos on autopilot. He didn’t visibly react to Kosta’s question. ‘Silence can mean many things.’
Kosta’s lips compressed. ‘Not in this instance.’
‘You want to sell.’ It was a question and yet Thanos delivered it more as a statement, one that was laced with iron.
‘To the right buyer, yes.’ Kosta took another sip of his coffee.
Alice hovered her hands over the keyboard.
‘You are aware that your business contains part of my business?’
Kosta’s eyes narrowed. ‘I bought Petó from you and your brother many years ago. Whatever claim you had to it transferred to me on that day.’
From where Alice was sitting, she had a full view of the table. She saw the way Thanos moved his hand to beneath the table, and the way he squeezed his fist so tight his knuckles glowed white.
‘But you must dispose of your business,’ Thanos said slowly, carefully, with no hint of emotion in the words.
‘Why must I?’
‘Because you are not married, you have no children, no grandchildren, and because P & A is a family company. You will not list it publicly, nor would you wish it to be broken up and sold off after your death.’
Alice bit down on her lip, sympathy for the older man rushing through her. How strange it must be to have someone refer to your mortality in such a cavalier fashion!
‘The fate of my company is not your concern.’
Thanos’s eyes narrowed and Alice’s heart gave a little lurch. As handsome as he was at any time, like this—formidable and businesslike—he was impossibly fascinating.
Thanos held Kosta’s gaze for a long moment, a muscle jerking in his jaw that only Alice was in a position to see. ‘Your profit has been down these past two years.’
‘It’s a tough economy.’
‘No, it isn’t,’ Thanos pushed ruthlessly. ‘You’re losing market share and you don’t know how to get it back.’
Kosta’s eyes glinted. ‘You think I came here to be lectured?’
Thanos didn’t apologise, nor did he back down. ‘I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. If you do not act now, your once great business will fade away into insignificance. Thousands of people will lose their jobs. All because you are too stubborn to see what you must do.’
Kosta’s rejection of that assertion was obvious. ‘My business. My problem.’
At this, Thanos straightened in his chair, his expression like flint. ‘I might have agreed to sell Petó to you, but I never stopped thinking of it as mine. You rolled it into your business, which means I care about your business too. Sell me P & A and I will ensure your legacy is safe.’
Kosta let out a laugh of disbelief that had Alice slipping her gaze to focus on the older man’s face. ‘You think I would trust you with my company?’
‘Why should you not?’ It was a banal enough question, but Alice heard the undertone of steel and looked to Thanos once more. A tight smile was cracking his face but waves of anger were shifting off his frame.
‘Because you are your father’s son, and I will not have my family’s legacy dragged through the mud.’
Alice sucked in a sharp breath, surprised at how offended she was by the scathing indictment. Thanos turned to face her, the noise apparently drawing his attention, and when their eyes locked, sympathy exploded inside her.
‘I know you are not like him,’ Kosta hastened to add, an apology inherent in the words. ‘You are different. But the potential for scandal is the same.’
Thanos dipped his head forward, so Alice couldn’t see how he reacted to this explanation.
‘I cannot open my paper without seeing your photo,’ Kosta continued. ‘You drink too much, party too much, sleep with any woman who moves. Your reputation as the playboy prince of Europe is almost too mild for your excessive lifestyle.’
Thanos lifted his head, his face like a mask of iron. ‘And what is my lifestyle to do with this? Do you think it affects my ability to run your company?’
‘I think there is no one better than you,’ Kosta contradicted. ‘You have a head for business that I have always admired. Even when you were still a boy, following after your grandfather, watching him as though he were an idol brought to life, you had more nous than he and I in our little fingers.’
Alice wondered if Thanos felt pride then, if the compliment did anything to soften his response.
‘I learned from the best,’ Thanos conceded, finally.
‘Yes. Nicholas was one of the best men I have ever known.’ Kosta leaned forward, bracing his elbows on the table. ‘I always respected him. Liked him. What your father did—’
That same muscle twisted in Thanos’s cheek as he ground his teeth together. ‘Is not relevant. I made my peace with it a long time ago.’
‘Did you?’ Kosta’s look showed disbelief, but he didn’t pursue that line of questioning. He sipped his coffee.
‘Your grandfather and I were from a different generation. Things were different. Our parents, and us, we valued family. Old-fashioned morals. We liked things to be respectable. A handshake was as good as a contract.’ Kosta shook his head and Alice saw a spark of longing in his eyes. ‘The world is different now. Perhaps I am a relic, with no place in it.’ His eyes narrowed. ‘But if you think I’m going to see my company fall into the hands of a man who regards womanising as a sport, then you know nothing about what this business means.’
Thanos held Kosta’s gaze across the table. Neither man faltered and Alice felt as if she was intruding on a deeply personal moment.
‘No one will work harder for P & A than I will,’ Thanos promised, at length.
‘That may be so,’ Kosta agreed. ‘But I will not sell it to you.’
Alice swept her eyes shut for a moment, more invested in the outcome of this meeting than she would have thought possible.
‘I don’t intend to take no for an answer.’
‘You don’t like to hear no from anyone. It’s part of why you’ve been so successful in repairing the damage your father did. But that does not change my answer. I will not sell P & A to a man like you, Thanos Stathakis. Not for twice what you’re offering; not for anything. Not until you’ve grown up.’
Alice flicked through the pile of bills, a half-eaten sandwich to her left. Her credit card had very little available cash on it—it wouldn’t come close to paying off her mother’s latest hospitalisation.
Her heart squeezed as she remembered the sight of her mother being rushed through the corridors, the blood clot threatening her life, panic surging through Alice as she knew how close they were to the end.
But Jane Smart had defied all odds and survived—she remained in a coma, but she remained.
Alice flipped over to another bill, nausea filling her. It was too much. How could she ever manage to cover this?
She was so engrossed in her finances that she didn’t hear the door to Thanos’s office click open, nor did she hear his approach until he was practically on top of her.
Self-consciously, she laid her hand over the bills, aware that it barely covered the bright red paper demanding immediate payment.
‘Did you need something, sir?’
He didn’t correct her use of the formal title now. He was brooding. Thinking. Even more determined since Kosta had walked out of the office. ‘What did you think of Kosta Carinedes?’
Alice was surprised by the question. She sat back in her chair a little, momentarily forgetting about her bills, and her lunch. ‘In what way?’
‘In any way. Did you perceive he was serious in his reasons for not wanting to sell to me?’
Alice captured her lower lip with her teeth, gnawing on it thoughtfully. ‘I can’t see why he would lie,’ she said finally.
‘No, nor can I. After all, the price I’ve offered is above the market rate of the company. He’s a fool to walk away from it.’
‘Perhaps he doesn’t really want to sell?’
‘He knows he must.’ He shook his head, dragging a hand through his hair, throwing it into even greater disarray. ‘He’s just being stubborn.’
Alice nodded, turning back to her desk thoughtfully. After all, the older man had raised a valid point. Thanos had a reputation for seducing women left, right and centre. He was rarely without a date on his arm, and it didn’t seem to be the same woman for long. He partied non-stop, but what did that matter? Everything he touched in a commercial sense turned to gold. Surely that was more important when it came to handing a business over?
‘Maybe he’ll change his mind,’ she offered, lifting her gaze back to his face. He was staring out of the window, his expression unreadable.
‘I don’t think so.’
‘Then you’ll just have to change it for him,’ she said quietly, turning back to the bills, flicking to the next one with a frown on her face, unaware of the way his eyes swivelled to follow her.
Thanos regarded this mild-mannered assistant thoughtfully. She was plain-spoken and unaffected. Unlike most of the women he dealt with, she wasn’t going out of her way to flatter and please him. She was acting as though she barely noticed he was a man. It was unusual for him to come across a woman who didn’t respond in a certain way.
And it was fascinating.
She was pretty, he supposed, in an understated way—though she also went to very little effort with her appearance. Her suit was old and boxy, hiding any curves she might have beneath too much fabric. Her hair was silky and luscious, long, he suspected, though it was impossible to know as she wore it pinned in a sensible, low bun at the nape of her neck. In fact, everything about her was sensible. Plain. Businesslike.
His eyes dropped lower, to hands that were sorting through a pile of papers—red, with OVERDUE marked at the top. And despite his own monumental problems, curiosity lifted inside him.
‘What are you doing?’ he asked.
She looked at him with a slight frown on her face, almost as though she thought he might have left.
‘I’m catching up on some personal business. It’s my lunch break.’
He looked at his watch. ‘It’s the end of the day.’
‘I didn’t have time to have it any earlier.’ She said it as though she was worried he might be cross with her, as if she feared recriminations. That was unnecessary. Though she was only a temp, and he hadn’t been to the New York office for almost a year, Thanos knew that Alice worked harder than most of the permanent executive support team. Her security card was frequently the last one swiped out at the end of the evening, and oftentimes the first one to appear on the staff list.
She worked long hours and, though his workload was nothing if not exhausting, she’d somehow managed to keep his business and personal life running like a well-oiled machine.
If he needed his jet fuelled up, he emailed Alice. Gifts organised, Alice. Anything done with his apartments? Alice. She oversaw all aspects of his life and yet they were only today meeting for the first time.
And he knew nothing about her.
Why did that bother him? He couldn’t have said. Stathakis Corp employed thirty thousand people globally. One woman shouldn’t have interested him like this.
And yet, he found himself propping his hip on the edge of her desk, and looking at the bills with more interest. She shuffled them self-consciously.
So he knew one thing about her.
She was a poor money manager. She had to be, given what the temp rates were for an executive assistant at this level. Sure, there was agency commission to come out of her salary packet, but regardless of that, her rate was generous.
‘Did you need anything else, sir?’
She spoke without looking at him, but he detected a faint tremble in her fingertips as she filed the bills under some other papers, pointedly reaching for her sandwich.
He straightened, with a frown. ‘No.’ As he moved towards the door, his frown didn’t ease.
‘How long do you expect to be in New York?’
Her question caught him off-guard. Thanos never liked to be anywhere for long. He’d arrived in Manhattan a day earlier anticipating his business here would be wrapped up within twenty-four hours. Now he paused, with no idea when he’d be able to get out of town.
‘I have no idea.’
Silence for a moment and then, ‘So I’ll see you tomorrow?’
He turned back to face her, and there was no warmth in her expression. In fact, he couldn’t have said if she’d asked the question with curiosity or apprehension, but both sparked a ridiculous urge to laugh.
Instead, he nodded stiffly. ‘Yes. Goodnight, Alice.’
Available in-store and online from the 21st of October 2019