Authors: Caro LaFever
etos Zenos wants
nothing more than to be left alone to make money. A new acquisition, one he’s worked to obtain for years, has finally fallen into his hands and his entire focus needs to be on business. Not a woman.
Natalie Globenko wants only to escape. Escape from the mob who’s after her non-existent money and escape from this angry male who found her hiding in his Upper East Side mansion. Yet he won’t let her go and she has no other choice but to fall in with his demands.
Both of them find themselves surrounded by a Greek past filled with tragedy and a Greek family intent on drawing them closer. While Aetos finds himself falling under the spell of a siren, Natalie finds herself falling in love with a man who doesn’t
Poor men have grown to be rich men,
And rich men grown to be poor again,
And I am running to Paradise.
e had the perfect wife
Aetos Zenos smiled into the mirror as he straightened his tie. Today was going to be one of the best days of his life and he had his wife to thank for it. Without her presence in his life, old man Tucker would never have agreed to the deal he’d proposed. A deal worth millions.
. His wife deserved a hell of a lot of credit.
He turned around to his walk-in closet and chose the steel-blue Armani jacket that matched his pants. Slipping it on, he adjusted the sleeves and the gold, eagle-encrusted cufflinks. He smiled at his image once more, a sly twinkle in his eye.
Not only had his perfect wife secured this contract for him, she also had many other sterling qualities to admire. She never nagged. She never quarreled.
She was never disappointed in him, demanding of him.
She didn’t require his time or emotions or attention.
She never spent a penny of his vast fortune.
What more could a man want in a woman?
There was the issue of sex. In this one area, she fell short. Not that he cared. He’d found other avenues to take care of that particular need. He didn’t blame his wife for not providing him satisfaction. He knew going into the marriage sex wasn’t in the cards. She wasn’t capable of it. And really, what was the saying?
Variety was the spice of life.
He chuckled. Looking down at his left hand, he eyed the plain gold band on his ring finger. He hadn’t taken it off since he’d put it on two years ago. The ring had saved him countless hassles. When confronted by a determined woman, all he had to do was wave the thing in her face and tell her no. He liked variety, true, but he was the one to choose and chase. When he did indicate interest, each woman he picked invariably came to his bed.
The ring was never mentioned. Neither was marriage or commitment.
A wife was very useful to have in many situations.
Glancing at his watch, he walked out of his bedroom, across the Persian rugs blanketing the long hall, and down the wide stairs to the foyer of his elegant, Upper East Side brownstone. He’d purchased the property right before his marriage. No longer had he wanted to project the image of a man-about-town. The image had been fine and well when he’d first started building his business seventeen years ago. It had garnered him attention, brought him connections, solidified his presence as a mover and shaker. The image the world saw had served his purpose as he rose in stature.
But two years ago? Well, let’s just say Tucker had been only one catalyst for his marriage. The existence of a wife had been important to show he was a solid, established citizen. However, the marriage had provided him more than a business deal.
The marriage had provided him cover.
Slipping on his black leather jacket while opening the front door, he nodded to his chauffeur. “Let’s go.”
He spent the ride into Manhattan fielding several calls from his PA. Scrolling through a dozen text messages and emails from his bond traders in London and Singapore, he jotted down a couple of notes on new acquisitions. Not until he was mere minutes from his meeting with the old man did he have a chance to open his laptop and review his final proposal. The review truly wasn’t needed. The proposal had played in his head for years.
He knew what he had to do. He always did.
The limo door opened and Aetos stepped out into a biting November wind. Looking at the imposing stone building he was about to acquire, he smiled one more time. Who would have dreamed a young kid from Athens would ever accomplish so much and come so far? Who could have imagined that one Aetos Zenos—a nobody, a nothing—with not a penny to his name when he landed on America’s shores, would soon own one of the best properties in New York City? Who would have predicted the rejected heir of one of Greece’s most prominent families would now be the proud owner of more businesses, land, and power than the Zenos clan had accumulated over hundreds of years?
Certainly not his father. Certainly none of the aristocratic Zenos family.
They’d been wrong. All wrong.
He’d dreamed of this at the tender age of nine when he’d been discarded. He’d imagined this when he’d left his father’s home at the age of fifteen. This need for success had been branded into him with every sneer and every putdown.
Now, here he was. Making it all come true.
Nodding to the doorman, he walked through the open door into his future.
The future his wife had helped him obtain.
His perfect, pretend wife.
atalie Globenko sat
in the darkest corner of the bar. She’d chosen the place specifically because it was in the Upper East Side, far from her own Brooklyn neighborhood, as far as one could get without falling off Manhattan Island. The place was as shadowy and nondescript as a person could hope. The dusky oak paneling and dark-red paint created a sense of safety. A cave cocooning her in its dark embrace.
Of course, this was an illusion.
Danger lurked and waited.
She held her cup with shaking hands. The warmth of the coffee had long ago dissipated and the waitress hadn’t come back with a refill. But this was the least of her worries.
She was in deep trouble.
How could Nathan have done such a thing? How had she not realized her brother was neck-deep in a scam that would eventually lead to his death? Eventually leave her holding the bag?
The familiar tightness in her throat welled. At least the tears no longer came. During the past three months, she’d cried every single tear she had. They hadn’t done any good. The tears hadn’t brought her kid brother back from the grave. And they hadn’t miraculously solved all her problems, either. Especially her one gigantic problem.
Fifty thousand dollars.
How was she going to find fifty thousand dollars?
The front door of the bar flew open, bringing a strong gust of cold wind and two men into the room. Natalie shrunk back into her seat. As she eyed them, though, she relaxed. The wintery sun shone behind them making it hard to see any details, yet she knew. She knew the hulking outlines of those who pursued her. These men weren’t looking for her. They weren’t the men she feared.
One of the men, the taller one, laughed as he patted the other’s shoulder. “We did it, Hank.”
“You did it.” The balding man looked around and then indicated the empty booth next to hers. “Come on. I’ll buy the first round.”
Her gaze moved over the men with disinterest. Since she now realized they weren’t a threat, she had no use for them. She had no use for men in general, but the situation she found herself in had banished everything from her concentration other than survival.
The tall man smiled as he slipped into the booth. The dim light caught the gold of his hair, the flash of straight white teeth. “I’ll take you up on the offer.”
She watched with grim amusement as the waitress made a beeline for the men. There were only two other patrons seated at the long wooden bar and they were being served by the bartender. The waitress couldn’t be bothered with refilling her coffee, but she showed a lively interest in the new customers. Within a few seconds, with much cooing and batting of eyelashes, the men had their beers and shots. Natalie watched as the woman reluctantly took her leave.
“The Greek consistently comes out in you when you’ve achieved another goal.”
“I am American.” The deep voice took on an edge.
“Yes, I know.” Nervousness tinged the response.
“Never forget that, my friend.”
The sudden tension eased between the men as they continued to talk. She absently listened as they heartily congratulated themselves about some business deal. Her mind swirled around her problem and her stomach churned. She needed a hideout. Somewhere they couldn’t find her for a few weeks. This might give her enough time to put in place a plan to get the money they demanded. The money Nathan owed them when he died.
The money they thought she had.
Her brother had told the mob about the sale of their mother’s home after she died. Had let the gang’s boss believe there was inherited money. Nathan had intimated that his older sister held the keys to the treasure and when Natalie had received the first threatening phone call, she’d realized exactly where her younger brother had left her.
In a hellhole she couldn’t get out of.
There’d been little left after burying her mother. Certainly not fifty thousand dollars.
How could she have not seen the signs her brother had fallen into the same trouble her father and uncles had fallen into years ago? What was it about the Globenko men and their avid need for money and power? Even more, how could Nathan have compounded this travesty by taking one step farther down the rathole by embezzling? She’d thought the family troubles were in the distant past. Put to rest along with her father’s and uncles’ bodies.
Her brother’s body now lay beside them. And if she didn’t find the cash soon, her own body might well be the next one in the ground.
A shiver of fear ran down her spine.
“To Aetos Zenos and his growing empire.”
The name caught her attention. In her previous life, before hell had broken lose three months ago, she’d spent her days copy-editing the pages of the
New York News
. Aetos Zenos was a name she’d seen many times. A business dynamo. A ladies’ man.
The kind of man she despised.
“I have to tell you, I didn’t think you’d ever get old man Tucker to sign the contract.”
“My patience is infinite when the goal is worth achieving.”
“What’s it been? Two years since you first approached him?”
“Almost three, actually.”
“At first he wouldn’t even give you the time of day.”
Zenos chuckled. “He told me to my face I wasn’t the kind of man he’d do business with.”
She could sympathize with old man Tucker’s point of view. Watching her dad and his brothers destroy their lives trying to play the money game had taught her well. Money corrupted. Money turned men into cheaters and con-men. Money destroyed families. She’d assumed Nathan had learned the same hard lesson.
She’d been wrong.
“So you went about changing his perceptions.”
“It took several years, but I succeeded.”
“Your marriage to Natalie was a brilliant stroke.”
Poor woman. She had a bit more sympathy than usual, if only because they shared the same name. Who would want to marry such a man? A man consumed with getting ahead. A man who surely cheated to climb the ladder of success so quickly. He was what? She frowned. If she remembered correctly, he couldn’t be much over thirty-five years of age. To rise so fast, he had to have cut corners, lied, deceived. Hell, look at her own father. He hadn’t succeeded until he’d swindled and stolen. Lived a life that ultimately killed him and his family.
Poor Natalie Zenos. Married to such a man would destroy her sooner or later.
Exactly as it had destroyed Elina Globenko, her own mother.
“The best thing I ever did was take the trip to Las Vegas. My marriage let Tucker know I was a settled man. A man he could now do business with.”
She’d read about this, too, as she thought back. The surprise marriage in Las Vegas. The reclusive bride who never wanted her picture taken. The newly purchased estate in the Connecticut countryside, complete with a pool and tennis courts, where the wife lived. While the husband spent most of his time in New York City.
Right. Definitely. The man cheated. In more than one way. She’d lay money on it.
If she had any.
“I was honored to be your best man.”
Both men roared with laughter.
What was the joke? She’d missed something. Natalie cocked her head in confusion while the men kept laughing.
“You’re the man who gave me the idea, Hank. It was only right you were there when I went ahead with it.”
“Someone had to be there. You couldn’t be alone when you got married. Plus, Jill was happy to stand in for the blushing bride.”
The men chortled. The waitress sashayed over to them and they ordered another round.
Who was Jill? And what did they mean by standing in?
Nat shook herself. What did it matter? She had far bigger problems than trying to figure out what had happened at a Las Vegas marriage two years ago. Sipping the last dregs of her coffee, she pulled her mind back to her other problem. Another very big problem.
Where was she going to stay tonight?
She’d stored her few remaining possessions in a locker at Grand Central Station since she had to check out of the grimy hotel she’d been staying in. She had precisely fifty bucks left to her name. She couldn’t use her credit cards and chance them tracing her location. She no longer had a cell to call any friends; she’d ditched the phone as soon as she suspected they were using it to find her. Any contact with her remaining relatives was problematic. Years had gone by since she’d seen her aunts and cousins, plus she couldn’t risk the thugs going after them, too, for the family debt.
“I have to recommend marriage to you, Hank.”
“Not a chance.”
“You only have to find the perfect wife like I did.”
The other man snorted.
“Really,” Zenos continued. “There are many perks. For example, family members lay off you completely. A wife provides an excellent cover for any demands to marry a nice Greek girl from home.”
“Your grandparents were rather persistent, weren’t they?”
She found it hard to envision this man having relatives. He’d seemed to have come out of nowhere onto the New York City scene. One day no one knew he existed. The next day, he was buying every building he could find, his picture was plastered on every gossip page, and his name opened every door.
“You can’t imagine the amount of money I still spend on the collect calls from Greece.”
“At least they won’t arrive on your doorstep.”
“That would be inconvenient.”
The men chuckled again.
Weren’t we the cheerful crowd
She grimaced at her cynicism. Usually, she was cheerful herself. It was only because she was in a situation that was no laughing matter. Hearing others laugh only made it seem worse.