In that moment, Chloe realized one player in this drama was very much changed.
She knew what she was agreeing to. Period. And this time around she wasn’t doing it for her family, nor even for her own naive belief that somehow, some way her billionaire husband was going to fall in love with her.
She was doing it because she loved him and even if he wanted to believe otherwise, Ariston had a heart and if anyone was getting a crack at it, that person was going to be her.
She might not get everything she wanted from this marriage, but she would get more than a lifetime of loneliness in love with a man forever lost to her. Another woman might see that as a deal breaker, but then what another woman might do wasn’t important to Chloe.
She knew what she was willing to do to pursue her own happiness and she wasn’t a coward to shy away from the risks involved. That was something her mother had taught her.
Her parents hadn’t had an ideal marriage, but her mom had never expressed a desire to be anywhere than where she was. Chloe hadn’t understood that. She’d thought her father should have been a better husband, and even he acknowledged that now, but ultimately her mother had been strong enough to go after what she wanted.
Ariston was right about one thing—Chloe was, too.
Today might not be the joyous occasion of two people deeply in love pledging their lives together, but it wasn’t a funeral either.
It was a chance at the future—a chance Ariston had invited her to take and one she knew was necessary.
Necessary for Ariston to please the one person on this earth he held any true love for. For Takis to find contentment in his waning years, knowing his family would go into the next generation. A requirement for the survival of Dioletis Industries. Necessary for the renewal of her sister’s love-based marriage.
But definitely, and most important to her decision to go through with it, this marriage was necessary for Chloe’s best hope at a future.
Her mother had once told her that just as only some were born to greatness, not all were meant to have common domestic bliss. She’d been talking about her own marriage, Chloe had realized as she’d gotten older.
Her mother had accepted that she would never have a husband who put her first, but she had not railed against her fate. She’d accepted it with a grace Chloe was determined to emulate. Because she finally realized that in her own way, her mother had also been quite happy.
Yes, marriage to a man like Eber couldn’t have been easy, but Chloe now knew that her mother had been a strong woman. And if that marriage wasn’t what she wanted, she would have walked away from it.
“Chloe.” A hand landed on her shoulder, her sister’s concerned gaze fixed on Chloe. “Are you all right? Ariston’s been trying to get your attention.”
She looked past Rhea to Ariston. “I’m sorry, did you say something? I was thinking.”
“His Honor is ready to begin,” Ariston said, his tone questioning, his expression almost grim.
Chloe ignored both and nodded her understanding.
The judge indicated where they should stand and Chloe went to take her place beside Ariston. With hands like ice, Chloe spoke her vows with conviction if not a surplus of emotion.
Ariston wasn’t interested in her love, and right now she wasn’t offering it to him on a plate either.
As Ariston had said, this was no great romantic moment. But it was a necessary moment.
Her beautiful Chanel dress was a prop, not a tender gift from an eager groom. Still, it would look good in the photos that would no doubt be released later to specific newspapers and glossy magazines.
She’d learned the smile she would wear in them, for the world to see, in her early childhood when her father had paraded his family for the sake of his public image and that of his business.
She chatted adroitly with their guests over lunch and managed in every way not to let herself down over the next hours.
Later, when everyone but Takis had left, Chloe allowed herself a modicum of relaxing in her guard.
The old man looked over-the-top pleased with the outcome of the day.
Ariston had disappeared into his office to make some calls, once again wearing his enigmatic tycoon mask. Not that Chloe had expected anything different. Today was about a business deal for him.
She turned to the old man. “It looks like it’s just you and me. Would you like to play a game of checkers?”
She’d found a fellow lover of the simple game soon after meeting Takis five years ago. They had whiled away many an hour in his home in Greece similarly occupied.
“Now, that is a pleasure I have not had in two years.”
“Only maybe I should change out of my wedding finery,” she said with an ironic twist of her lips.