Maybe she’d revealed too much about her family? She didn’t speak much about her brother or her parents’ flight to the United States to escape a war determined to tear them apart. Her family long learned words of sympathy came quickly, but soon faded and disappeared—or even turned to annoyance—while problems lingered. So they stayed quiet and smiled as if they didn’t have a care when asked, leaning only on each other.
Or maybe she was the problem. The few times she trusted someone enough to let them in, they left. Tom, her college boyfriend, hadn’t wanted a partner whose family couldn’t help support them. He’d discarded her for a fellow law student, whose biggest concern had been choosing which white-shoe firm to work for after graduation. Her former boss Johanna took off as soon as something shiny was dangled in front of her, heedless of the employee she knew was counting on the promotion. It was only par for the course, now that the acquisition was almost a reality, that Luke would be eager to finish this pretend marriage as soon as possible.
She pushed open the door to her tiny supply closet. Then she stopped short, her hand still on the doorknob. Her office was already occupied.
Irene Stavros leaned against a corner of Danica’s desk, reading something tucked in a manila folder. “Hi!” she said with a cheerful smile. “I couldn’t concentrate in the engineering bullpen, and my father is in Luke’s office.”
“Hi,” Danica responded automatically. Irene looked spectacular. Her teal jersey dress clung in all the right spots, the color complementing her glowing olive complexion. If she wore any makeup to enhance her skin’s flawlessness, Danica couldn’t detect it. “Make yourself at home.”
Irene beamed. “Thanks.” She hopped off the desk and took the guest chair in front of Danica’s desk. As soon as Danica sat down behind it, Irene began to speak. “I have so many things I need to discuss with you.”
Danica switched on her computer, holding her sigh inside. Small talk with Irene was nowhere near her list of top ten things to do. “I’m all ears.”
Irene clapped her hands and rubbed them together as if they were coconspirators. “Brilliant.” She handed Danica the folder. “Let’s start with what to say to the media.”
Danica put it down on her desk without looking at it. “The corporate-communications department handles the press.”
Irene shook her head, her shiny black tresses tossing as if they starred in a shampoo commercial. “We need to talk about Cinco Jackson and the story he is chasing.” She raised an impeccably groomed eyebrow. “You’re a big part of it.”
The amorphous dread that had started to gather when Danica first spotted Irene coalesced into a hard, painful ball in Danica’s stomach. “What story?”
Irene tapped the folder. “The one about Luke hiring you to be his wife to secure the acquisition, of course.”
* * *
Luke greeted Nestor Stavros and ushered him to the conference table occupying the corner of Luke’s office. “I hope you had a good flight?” he asked, taking the chair opposite him.
Nestor smiled and adjusted the cufflinks on his white linen French-cuff shirt. In contrast to Luke, who wore his usual work uniform of khaki trousers and a blue-checked button-down shirt, Nestor had on a fine wool Italian suit, custom tailored to make the heavily muscled man seem even more imposing. One would be hard pressed to tell Nestor had thirty years on Luke if it weren’t for the liberal sprinkling of silver hairs at Nestor’s temples and the deep creases at the corners of his dark eyes.
“Comfortable but long.” His accent was a surprisingly harmonious combination of his native Greece and his adopted country, Australia. “It gave me time to review the documents. Impressive, the work you’ve accomplished.”
“Good to hear.” Luke leaned back in his chair. The welcome rush of adrenaline that accompanied a business negotiation hummed in his veins. The dance had begun, and they both knew the steps. “All is in order?”
“Mostly.” Nestor did his own leaning. “Irene told me about your marriage. I am impressed. I didn’t think you would go through with it.”