Vin looked at her incredulously. “You mean, instead of living in the lap of luxury as my wife, you’d pursue a career as a common cook?”
“You’re such a snob! Fried chicken makes the world a better place. Can you say that about what you do?”
“Owning a billion-dollar airline?”
“Yeah, stuffing passengers like cattle into economy class, in seats the size of a postage stamp!”
He ground his teeth, letting her insult slide. “I have great appreciation for fine meals and for the talented chefs who prepare them. But according to Wilhelmina Stone, that’s definitely not you.”
“So I’ll learn.” Scarlett folded her arms. “I worked my way through a year of community college to become a nursing assistant, studying at night after working all day. I can handle it. All it takes is hard work and a willingness to do without sleep, and fortunately I’ve had experience with both.”
Vin’s dark eyes glinted so dangerously, she was almost surprised she didn’t burst into flames beneath the force of his glare. “So you don’t want my name, you don’t want my money and you won’t marry me. You prefer for our child to have no father at all while you aspire to low-paying jobs and try to survive.”
Scarlett looked at him uneasily. When he put it like that, he made her sound like an idiot.
* * *
Vin looked into her beautiful eyes and a realization chilled him to the bone.
He had no leverage.
No way to force Scarlett’s compliance, at least not one he felt comfortable with. This wasn’t the business world, where he could offer a higher price or blackmail shareholders over their secrets in order to make them comply with his requests. The standard rules of mergers and acquisitions didn’t apply.
Or did they?
He’d learned enough from his investigator to realize how little Scarlett had going for her. No family. No savings. Her savings account held the same amount one might spend for a business dinner with a few bottles of wine. She had no bachelor’s degree, and worst of all, thanks to Blaise Falkner, she’d have no job recommendation.
But Falkner would suffer for that. Vin’s lips lifted. He’d regret treating Scarlett so badly. He’d regret threatening Vin’s future wife and child.
If Scarlett ever actually became his wife.
He didn’t understand why this was so hard. Why shouldn’t he be able to just buy her? He’d be willing to pay quite a bit, as long as it didn’t cost something he actually cared about. Like his time. Or control. Or any requirement for him to be vulnerable.
But money? He had more than he could spend. Money was confetti to him. A way to keep score. A way to buy toys. And he wanted Scarlett Ravenwood more than any toy.
Shifting his strategy, he lifted an eyebrow. “What if I sweetened the pre-nup with a million-dollar payout for every year of our marriage?”
He frowned. “Two million?”
“Vin, you can’t buy me.”
“Everyone says that. But everyone has a price. Ten,” he said. “My final offer. Ten million dollars for every year we stay married. Think about that.”
Her eyes widened. For a moment he thought he had her. Then her chin lifted. “I told you. Not for any price.” Her green eyes glittered furiously. “I’m not giving you the right to order me around like a slave—and permanent custody of our baby if I ever try to fight back. Freedom is worth more than some stupid money.”
Vin stared at her, then regretfully decided he believed her. Damn it. Everything about her body language spoke of stubborn sincerity. He was dealing with an idealist, with a heart as stubborn as his own.
He had mixed feelings about it. That made her different from his own mother, which would be good for his son’s happiness.
But it made Scarlett a more challenging adversary for Vin. How could he gain his objective, if money wasn’t enough to sway her?
Standing on the grassy hillside behind the clinic, Vin looked at the sunlight flickering across Lake Geneva.
He wanted Scarlett as his wife, as his lover. In his bed, at his beck and call.
He also wanted his son to be safe and secure and loved, raised in the same home, with the same name. He wanted his son to have siblings. Vin wanted to know exactly where his family was and that everyone was protected, and provided for, at all times.