Danica pursed her lips into a kissable heart shape. “Wait. Did he say those exact words? Out loud? Because if the deal makes as much sense for both companies as you say it does, how can he justify that to his board of directors?” She launched into a respectable Australian accent. “Oi, I’m acquiring a company because I was jilted thirty years ago. Good on me?”

He took another swig of beer to wash down the memory of the meeting with Nestor, the anger burning hotter than any salsa could. “Funny you say that. Nestor said his board of directors insisted on a morals clause in the deal. If I don’t meet the board’s standards within sixty days, then either the Stavros Group can pull out of the deal or I will be removed from the company. My reputation for, as Nestor put it, ‘loving and leaving’ means I’m too unstable, too incapable of commitment for the Stavros Group to bring me onboard.”

“Unsteady?” Her gaze widened in disbelief. “Luke Dalek?”

He toasted her with his beer for using his nickname. “When I protested, he brought in Irene. She backed him up, listing the times I supposedly used her and then walked away. She failed to mention our relationship, such as it was, had been mutual, including the breakups.”

Danica squinted at him. “That sounds like she was upset you ended it. Are you sure this is about your mother’s relationship with Nestor? Or is it really about you and Irene?”

His gut twisted. He dismissed it. He knew what he knew. “I’m positive this is retaliation for the past. But I’m not giving up Ruby Hawk. I’m running it, and that’s nonnegotiable.”

Visions of unpaid bills, the result of ordering equipment before the deal closed, danced before his eyes. He’d never be able to find another investor or potential buyer in time to make payroll. Hundreds of people depended on him for their livelihoods. He had a responsibility to them. He couldn’t cause the deal to fail.

But if he didn’t meet the Stavros Group’s conditions, then he would be removed from the company he founded. The company into which he poured sweat and toil and sleepless nights. The legacy he hoped to leave, taken away. His best chance of proving he was more than his family’s name and his inherited wealth.

He slammed down the empty bottle, causing Danica to jump. At least he didn’t break the bottle. He wanted to. He wanted to smash it, then grind the pieces into dust.

She reached out a hand and briefly brushed the back of his. “Everyone knows Ruby Hawk is a success because of you.”

He took a deep breath, his emotions settling back into their usual, well-ordered positions. “My lawyers and I did a thorough reading of the clause,” he said. “In short, if I do not quote ‘curtail my libidinous lifestyle’ end quote, by the end of sixty days, then either the Stavros Group can pull out of the deal or the acquisition will go through but I will be removed. The only surefire way to fulfill the terms of the clause is to be married. A real marriage, not a pretend fiancée for a few months.”

Danica blinked. “Wow. That’s extreme.”

“That’s Nestor. Therefore, if I have to be married, I need a wife who is equipped to deal with the pressures that come with my world. That’s where you come in.”

Danica leaned back in her chair, her gaze fixed on the ceiling. He couldn’t help but notice how her posture caused her silky blouse to drape tightly over her breasts. The fabric strained against the high, round globes, just the right size to fill his palms—no. Not his. He liked her, yes. But she was not the solution the situation required, but the means to the solution. His company and its future came ahead of any momentary personal pleasure.

“So,” she said slowly, as if thinking through a problem, “if you’re willing to go to the trouble of hiring me to find you a stranger to marry so the acquisition will go through, why not marry Irene?”

The beer in his stomach roiled. “I asked. She laughed in my face. This is about taking my company away, period.” He crumbled his napkin and threw it into the now-empty plastic basket. “You now have the background. Let’s discuss how you will find the right candidates. There are fifty-two days remaining.”


Tags: Susannah Erwin Billionaire Romance
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