Always the life of the party, Luca Vasilakis needs to prove he’s capable of taking over his father’s billion-dollar corporation. The perfect opportunity falls in his arms in the form of the reserved but sexy social worker Constance McMurty. What better way to improve his reputation than to get engaged to a do-gooder who is raising six orphans?
Constance wants nothing to do with Luca. But a poorly timed paparazzi photo lands her in the middle of a media nightmare, and Luca is her only way out. He proposes an idea that will help them both—be his fiancée to gain him some respectability and he’ll make a huge donation to her organization…and save her reputation.
But when their lie starts feeling like the truth, and the chemistry just won’t stop, they have a hard time separating what’s real and what’s fantasy…
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|Publisher:||Entangled Publishing, LLC|
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Pretending with the Greek Billionaire
By Kira Archer, Alethea Spiridon
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 Kira Archer
All rights reserved.
Luca Vasilakis stirred, sensing someone's presence near his ear. He really should open his eyes and see who it was, but the pounding already starting in his head made him rethink that decision. The faint aroma of garlic wafted over him and he grimaced, his stomach churning. It had to be Joseph, his personal assistant. The man put garlic in everything.
Before Luca could shoo Joseph away, he heard a quick intake of breath and then the word "Sir!" was shouted so loudly in his ear he was certain his head would explode.
Luca reared up from the chaise, his eyes squinting against the sun that seared his corneas. He brandished the champagne bottle in his hand like a weapon, hoping he'd get lucky and make contact with some part of Joseph's anatomy. Unfortunately, Joseph, pristinely put together as always in an impeccably tailored suit, his graying hair gelled into submission, stood out of range, waiting for Luca to pull himself together enough to remember where he was.
"What the hell are you doing, Joe?"
"We need to discuss the meeting with your father, sir."
Luca waved him off and took a swig of the champagne, grimacing when he swallowed it. "Cancel it."
"I did that moments before waking you, sir. You didn't look up to it. It has been rescheduled. But I was only able to buy you a few hours, I'm afraid."
He gave Joseph a wry smile. "I knew there was a reason I keep you around. Get someone to clean this up, will you?"
"Already done, sir."
Luca surveyed the utter destruction around him. Servants picked their way through the mess with garbage bags, rousing his guests and setting things back to rights. He let out a long, slow breath. Looked like last night had gotten a little out of hand. The raven-haired beauty who'd curled herself around him on the chaise stretched, the movement shifting her bikini in what should have been a tantalizing fashion. Luca barely noticed. He couldn't remember her name or anything else much about her. The only thing he was certain of was that they hadn't had sex.
He didn't do public displays of affection. Any displays of affection, really, and certainly not where some hidden paparazzi lens might capture it. He ran a hand through the unruly mane on his head, frowning when his fingers snagged. Apparently, someone had braided several clumps of his shoulder-length hair. He glanced down at one and swore under his breath at the bright blue ribbon threaded through the black strands.
"You have got to be kidding," he muttered. He made a new resolution — no more getting so drunk that someone could braid his hair with pretty ribbons without him noticing.
"Sir," Joseph said, picking his way through empty bottles and passed-out partygoers. "This can't continue. Your father is quite determined. You will lose everything if you keep on this way."
Luca waved him off, knowing he spoke the truth but not wanting to hear it at the moment.
"Sir," Joseph persisted. "The meeting with your father was rescheduled for later this afternoon. He also asked me to remind you ..."
"I'm aware of my father's ultimatum, Joe. I shape up, grow up, find a nice girl, and settle down, or I'm out of a job, family, money ... did I leave anything out?"
Joseph smiled. "No sir, that about sums it up."
"Well, then, let's save the rest of the dire threats for my father then. Wouldn't want to leave him with nothing to say."
Luca rubbed his hand over his face. He'd better get cleaned up and over to his father's office. Keeping the old man waiting had never improved his temper. And while he'd made these threats before, something was different this time. His father seemed ... fed up. Sad, even. This time, he might actually follow through.
Not that Luca had a damn clue what to do about it. He'd tried to curb his partying. Well, he could try harder in that department, but he certainly wasn't going to find himself a wife and settle down just to make his father happy. The last thing in the world he wanted was to be tied down to some nagging harpy determined to make his life hell. Time enough for that when he was past his prime and too old to have any more fun. For now, he'd say what he needed to appease his father and get on with his life.
Easier said than done.
Within moments of walking into his father's office he knew he was screwed. Augustine Vasilakis wasted no time on pleasantries. Not even a hello. He leaned back against his desk, his hands tucked with deceptive casualness in his pockets, and gave Luca the barest nod when he entered the office.
"Father, I already know —"
"I'm aware of what you know. Now, let me tell you what I know. I know that despite all the advantages you've been given in your life, you've done absolutely nothing with them. I know if I don't do anything, you'll continue to waste that life on frivolous nonsense. And I know if I were irresponsible enough to hand this company over to you, you'd squander it away as well. So now let me tell you something you don't know."
Luca sat in silence. He'd never seen his father like this before. Oh, there had been the lectures on his poor life choices. More than he could count. But never had his father had such a cold, determined anger about him. Anxiety took a leisurely stroll through Luca's veins and set up camp somewhere in the vicinity of his sinking stomach.
"A meeting with the board has been scheduled for one month from now to announce the completion of our new locations in New York and Madrid. During that meeting, I am expected to formally give you control of our New York offices. I have no intention of doing so as things stand."
"What?" Luca nearly jumped from his chair, his stomach bottoming out. "You can't do that!"
His father's frown deepened. "I can, and I will." He sighed, his shoulders slumping a bit. "Luca, I did not come to this decision lightly. You are my son, but I will not allow you to destroy the company I spent my life building. I started from nothing and now I run one of the most successful international real estate firms in the world. The opening of our new offices could triple our holdings. New York is especially critical and with the right management should do very well, hopefully beyond our expectations, but not with you in charge. I can't jeopardize the future of this company."
"I wouldn't do that. I can run New York. Well."
"And why should I believe that? You've done nothing since your mother died but party and drink and whore around the Mediterranean with an ever-increasing string of gold-digging party girls. Getting your face plastered all over the damned tabloids, and for what? I don't even know what it is you're supposed to be famous for. Dating some actress? Partying with musicians? Throwing your money around to impress people who don't care about you? If you want the fame, you should at least do something for it! Make something of yourself. Be successful at something other than managing to make a career out of being stalked by paparazzi."
"I don't encourage them. They just follow me."
"They'd stop if you'd stop giving them dirt to smear. I know it's too much to hope that you'll find some nice girl somewhere who will tame your wild ways, but it would be good if you'd try to find someone who won't make your mother roll over in her grave."
Luca took a deep breath, anger burning through him with such intensity he couldn't speak. Sitting there being reprimanded like a misbehaving child rankled worse than he'd thought possible, but beneath the anger, a thread of shame smoldered. He didn't like what his father was saying, but he wasn't wrong. And there was nothing worse than being called out on your shit when you knew you deserved it.
"I know I haven't always made choices you agree with ..." His father snorted but Luca ignored it. "But I'm your son. I've been preparing for this my whole life. I know I haven't been around much lately, but I do keep up with things. I read all the reports, follow everything that's going on. I know this business inside and out."
His father sighed and walked back around his desk to slump into his chair. "Like I said, you've got one month to prove to me that it wouldn't be a mistake to hand you my life's work. I won't stand by any longer and watch you drink yourself to death. I'll fire you if I have to, if it means not financing your destructive lifestyle. You can live on your trust fund and whatever you've got left from your mother, for as long as that might last. You're almost thirty years old. You either pull your life together, or the job will go to someone else, and so will the company when I'm gone. Now get out."
Luca didn't argue. He didn't even open his mouth for fear of what he'd say. He simply stood and marched from the office, his father's words ringing in his ears.
Joseph drove him home in silence, Luca's mind too much in turmoil for conversation. When they arrived, Joseph opened his door. "You have a dinner tonight with Miss Lexington at eight o'clock and drinks and ... entertainment following at Club Phoenix, then —"
Luca stalked into the house, waving him off. "Cancel everything. I'm staying in tonight."
"Sir?" Joseph said, his brow furrowed.
Luca almost laughed at his confusion. It was probably the first time he'd ever been told cancel plans. Luca, however, was in no mood for the frivolous company of his friends at the moment. And the beautiful Tiffany would have no trouble finding someone else to escort her to dinner. In fact, he wouldn't be surprised if she'd been meeting someone else later that night anyway.
"You heard me, Joe. Cancel everything."
Luca tossed his sunglasses onto a table as he headed toward the back. With his so-called friends gone and the house peaceful and quiet, he could actually relax and think for a change, not something he generally liked to do, but he needed to come up with some way to get his father off his back that didn't entail changing his entire life. Maybe a few minutes soaking up the sun and staring at the amazing ocean view he paid through the nose for would spark a few ideas.
His shirt and shoes followed his glasses and his pants were halfway unbuttoned when a shriek of laughter stopped him.
"Joe! I thought you got rid of everyone this morning."
"I did, sir," Joseph said, his forehead crinkling as the party-like sounds floated in from the backyard.
"Then what the hell ..."
The nearer he got to the door, the more the shrieks and laughter filtered to him. Luca stepped off his back deck and down to the lower deck where the infinity pool looked out over the turquoise ocean and pristine white sand of his private beach. He stood, completely dumbfounded by the scene before him.
Half a dozen children splashed about in his pool while a woman in a white T-shirt and knee-length khaki shorts, wearing insanely ugly Velcro-strapped sandals, tried to haul them one at a time out of the water. She seemed to be succeeding more at soaking herself with water than she was getting the little heathens out of his pool.
"What is going on here?" he shouted.
The woman's head whipped toward him, the movement loosening the bun that held her dark red hair atop her head. She tucked the escaping tendrils behind her ear.
"Out of the pool, girls, now," she said, her voice brooking no argument.
The girls immediately obeyed, filing one by one from the water to stand behind their caretaker. Six pairs of young, terrified eyes looked up at him, a few pairs of lips quivering in the process. One little girl with a thick braid of black hair peeked out from behind the woman to stare at him. His eyes narrowed and she darted quickly back under cover.
The woman patted the girl on the head and whispered something to her as she pried the little one off her leg and handed her to one of the older girls. Then she straightened like she was off to face a firing squad and marched, chin in the air, toward him.
A grudging respect mixed with the anger coursing through him. There weren't many women who could stare him down when he was angry. He crossed his arms and waited.
"I'm very sorry," she said, her voice with its American accent somehow firm and soft all at the same time. "I realize we are probably trespassing ..."
"Probably? How did you even get in here? Do you make a habit of sneaking onto other people's property and — you! Get out of there!" He pointed at one child who was hip deep in his bushes, several flowers clutched in her hands. "Joseph, do something."
"What did you have in mind, sir?" Joseph asked, eyebrows raised.
"I don't know. Just ..." He waved his hands like he could make the whole scene disappear. It didn't work.
"Elena, get down from there! Put those down right now," the woman said, hands on her hips like some anal-retentive schoolteacher.
"Look, I don't know who you are ..." Luca said.
"Constance McMurty," she said, sticking her hand out like she was at some job interview.
He shook it automatically before he realized what he was doing. Her fingers were warm and soft against his own, but she shook his hand with a firm grip, no nonsense. Exactly two pumps and then she let go.
She looked at him expectantly with deep sapphire blue eyes that gazed directly into his. Those eyes narrowed and he realized she'd asked him something, but he hadn't a clue what.
"This is Mr. Vasilakis," Joseph said, reliable as always. "This is his property."
"Luca Vasilakis?" Constance said before taking a slow, deep breath.
Good, she'd heard of him. Well, maybe not so good. None of the stories that circulated about him were entirely true. Most were grossly exaggerated if not downright fabrications, and none of them were flattering. Luca frowned, wondering where the sudden urge to put his best foot forward was coming from. What did he care what this woman thought of him?
"I'm so sorry," she said. "One of the kids wandered in and I ..."
"Thought you'd bring the others in for a dip in the pool?"
"No, of course not."
He raised an eyebrow, taking in the six dripping wet children gathered behind her.
"Well, they did go in the pool, but they weren't supposed to. Elena wandered in," she said, pointing to the smallest child, the little girl with a dark braid running down her back who had been digging up his flowers. "I had to come in after her, and I couldn't leave the other children outside the gates by themselves. So ... well, I ... we came in and then they saw the pool and they were hot and one of them went in and then the others ... well ..."
"How did you even get in? Climb the gate?"
Her mouth dropped open with a gasp of outrage. "Of course not! I would never. The gate was open."
Luca shot a glance to Joseph, his anger spiking. It was hard enough keeping the paparazzi and curious tourists at bay. The last thing he needed was for his gates to be opened wide and welcoming them in.
Joseph frowned. "I will check on it, sir."
Luca glanced back at the girls, his frown deepening. He didn't like being around children. It wasn't that he disliked them especially. They were just so small, and messy, and noisy. And destructive, he thought, looking at the one who'd torn up his flowerbeds.
"Well," he said, clearing his throat, unnerved a bit by all the feminine eyes staring at him. The bright, blue pair belonging to the crazy mother hen of the group in particular. "If you all have finished with your swimming for the afternoon, perhaps you could ..."
Before he could finish, the buzzing noise he'd heard faintly in the background grew to a roar.
"What the fu —"
"Mr. Vasilakis, watch your language, please!"
Luca stared down at Constance in astonishment. Had she really just chastised him for swearing, in his own home, where she was trespassing? His lips cracked into a grin, despite himself. It had been a long time since anyone had surprised him.
The roar grew louder as a helicopter rose from behind the rock hills his house nestled against, close enough the blades sent gusts of wind tearing through the backyard. The girls all shrieked, some scattering toward the house, the others tackling Miss McMurty's legs. Knocked off balance, she threw out her arms and he reached to catch her. She landed neatly in his embrace, clutching at his biceps for support.
Excerpted from Pretending with the Greek Billionaire by Kira Archer, Alethea Spiridon. Copyright © 2016 Kira Archer. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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