The Secret of Their Billion-Dollar Baby

BOOK 2 in the Bound by a Surrogate Baby Duet
Early from Harlequin:
Mar 1, 2024
Other Retailers:
Mar 26, 2024

They’re having a baby, but will it save their marriage…?

A good Greek marriage needs an heir
Only this baby comes at a price!

Sasha married billionaire Rafael Zamos to escape her stepfather’s control. But is the gilded cage of her convenient union any better? Lost within their marital facade, Sasha fiercely protects her heart while surrendering to her husband’s intoxicating touch…

Might a child bring them closer? Sasha knows they’d both dote on a baby, yet heartbreakingly they’re unable to conceive. She finds her and Rafael a surrogate from the dark shadows of her past. Yet a secret threatens to destroy the very foundations of Sasha’s carefully curated world…

Read all the Bound by a Surrogate Baby books:

Book 1: The Baby His Secretary Carries
Book 2: The Secret of Their Billion-Dollar Baby

The Secret of Their Billion-Dollar Baby

BOOK 2 in the Bound by a Surrogate Baby Duet
Passionate Worldwide Romance

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The direct-from-Harlequin edition of this book is available on March 1, 2024.
The other editions are available on March 26, 2024.
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The Secret of Their Billion-Dollar Baby

is BOOK 2 in the Bound by a Surrogate Baby Duet
The full series reading order is as follows:
“You remember everything? You’ve been lying to me all this time?”
— Rafael, The Secret of Their Billion-dollar Baby

After writing the first story in this duet, The Baby His Secretary Carries, I had worked out all of Sasha’s backstory and most of her front story with Rafael. He was still a bit of a mystery, but he was chasing business with the hero from the first book, Gio, so I knew a lot about him.

It made this one of the quickest books I’ve every written and, honestly, it could have been about thirty thousand words longer. There is so much story here. They are such a wonderful couple with so much more I could have explored. I really hurt for Sasha and I adore how Rafael learns to see her and care for her and love her.

After he gets over how mad he is that she fakes amnesia.

Yeah, I went all the way over the top with writing The Secret of Their Billion-dollar Baby and loved every second of it. I hope you get a kick out of reading it.

You don’t have to read The Baby His Secretary Carries before you read this one, but you’ll probably want to.

The Secret of Their Billion-Dollar Baby

Excerpt

Prologue

Her hand felt as though her bones were being crushed against themselves. The pain was acute enough to drag Alexandra Zamos toward consciousness, but she didn’t want to come back through the door into reality. That’s all reality was: pain.

She fluttered her eyes open and saw her stepfather. He was the one crushing her hand. Typical. One way or another, he was always trying to maintain a cruel hold on her.

A sob of repulsion rose weakly in her throat as she tried to pull away from his grip.

“She’s awake! Nurse!” Her mother’s voice grew distant as her heels clicked away.

That was also typical. Winnifred Humbolt always turned her back when Sasha was at her most vulnerable. She hated her for that.

She hated both of them and had gone so far as to sell herself into a new life to escape them, but had found herself imprisoned in a different type of torture.

Where was Rafael? Why wasn’t he here to shield her from them?

Her heart lurched as she realized she was in a hospital. Stark fear of what she might face had her longing to sink back into oblivion, where nothing could hurt her ever again, but she heard his voice.

“Let me see her.” The grit in his tone, carrying from a nearby room, made her heart swerve again.

Relief washed over her, especially because Humbolt finally released her hand. She never, ever called her stepfather by his first name, Anson. Why would she when it annoyed him so intensely to be referred to like a butler?

But now she was forced to gather up her defenses against her husband. Rafael was a formidable man. She didn’t dread seeing him the way she loathed her stepfather, but she feared how easily Rafael could destroy her in other ways. He already had.

“Do you love me?”

“That was never part of our agreement.”

It wasn’t. For a long time, she had been able to keep her guard up around him, but over time her defenses had eroded. He’d crept under her skin like a splinter. Every tiny remark, no matter how gently delivered or kindly meant, became a stiletto to the heart.

Then she had gone and revealed how vulnerable she was to him. What a mistake! Her husband drank power like a protein shake every morning. He loved it more than he could ever love her. She should have realized that before she bared her heart to him.

She couldn’t live this way anymore. She really couldn’t.

“Signora Zamos?” A nurse smiled and leaned over her. “I’m going to shine this light in your eye— Sorry.”

Signora? Were they still in Rome? She had assumed America, since her parents were here. How had they arrived so quickly?

Confused, Sasha tried to flinch away, but the nurse was relentless, forcing a peek into her other eye.

“What happened?” Her voice was as scuffed as a flake of skin.

“A car crash, I’m afraid. You have a concussion. Can you tell me your birthday?”

A car crash? When? After the gala?

“I don’t remember it.” She meant the crash. The last thing she remembered was taking that tiny chance at being honest, really honest, with her husband. She had thought that maybe, if he loved her, he might accept all she’d done.

Love had never been part of their agreement, though. And learning he didn’t even love her like this, when she worked so hard to be the wife he wanted, destroyed her. She hadn’t dared reveal the rest.

“You don’t remember your birthday?” her mother was asking with alarm, looming on the other side of the bed so suddenly that Sasha recoiled.

“Please.” The nurse motioned for Sasha’s mother to give her space.

Winnie refused to budge, leaning closer to urge loudly, “You remember me, don’t you? I’m your mother, Alexandra.”

All Sasha could think was, No, you’re not. Not in the ways that counted. She knew how a real mother behaved and she had been robbed on that front.

“Can you tell me your mother’s name, Signora Zamos?” the nurse asked gently. “Do you know where you are?”

The nurse’s English held an accent that was a mix of Italian and Tagalog, if Sasha wasn’t mistaken. She presumed they were still in Rome, but the path to escape her parents for good unrolled like a red carpet in her mind. If she didn’t acknowledge their place in her life, they wouldn’t have one, would they?

“No.” Driven by years of mistrust and manipulation, she claimed, “No. I don’t know who they are.”

“What about me?” The tense, masculine voice prompted the nurse to step aside, revealing Rafael.

He sat in a wheelchair. The side of his swarthy, gorgeous face was bruised. His eye was swollen and his lip cut. His arm was bandaged from elbow to wrist, his leg was in a cast, sticking straight out.

Sasha was struck dumb by horror. Hot tears pressed against the backs of her eyes. She was furious with him. She was so hurt she kind of hated him. But she also loved him, which meant that his injuries devastated her. She had nearly lost him!

But love was never part of their agreement.

He needed an heiress and an heir. He was obsessed with securing his empire. He didn’t need her. He had her money and his successor was on its way, hopefully still safe in the belly of their surrogate.

Molly hadn’t been with them, had she?

Sasha looked around with anxious confusion, panicked that she couldn’t remember when or where the crash had happened.

“What day is it?” She had texted Molly yesterday that she would call her in the morning. Was this the morning after the gala?

Oh, God. If something had happened to the baby—

She couldn’t take that thought. It was a last straw of anguish. She draped her forearm over her eyes, hiding from all of this, unwilling to hear what might come next.

“Alexandra,” Rafael growled. “Look at me.”

Someone must have pushed him closer to the bed. He took her limp hand. Her fingers felt bruised and sensitive after withstanding Humbolt’s clammy crush, but Rafael’s warm grip was careful if not actually tender. He guided her arm to rest their linked hands in the middle of her chest.

She couldn’t help looking at him and grew worried when she realized the way he was angled to reach her hand was causing him to grimace in pain.

She withdrew her hand so he wouldn’t have to extend himself.

His irises were such a dark brown they often seemed black, but they flashed with fire as he sat back and brought his hand into his lap. His mouth tightened in dismay.

His lashes were too long and thick and pretty for a man. That had always annoyed her, that he possessed such natural beauty while she had to visit salons for extensions. But she noted with distress that his jaw was stubbled with what had to be two or three days’ worth of beard. His cheeks were gaunt beneath his bladelike cheekbones. His face was lined with strain, his eyes sunken from lack of sleep.

And those compelling dark eyes were trying to consume her soul.

“Do you know who I am?” he asked.

Was that a real question?

No. She gave a small shake of her head. She had never really known who he was. They were honest with each other, mostly, but never open. Never revealing.

Something tortured flashed across his expression. He reached again for her hand and rubbed his thumb restlessly into the V between her thumb and finger.

They were both battered and in pain, but there was still that tingle of energy between them. Of life.

“I’m your husband. Rafael.” He waited a beat, watching for recognition to dawn.

Her feeble desire to protect herself from him grasped onto the charade of lost memory. It was a strong, serviceable shield that would brace her against everyone who was asking too much of her right now. She mustered a deliberately blank look.

Maybe there was wary curiosity behind it, though, because for the first time in the longest time, she felt she had stolen back a little power for herself. She had drawn a wild card, one that she could hold against her chest until it was the right time to play it.

She hadn’t held a card this explosive since—

She veered from touching that raw, exposed nerve.

Take your hand from his, she told herself, but she loved his hands on her.

That had always been her downfall. From their earliest days, she had thought their physical connection would be enough to sustain her, but it wasn’t. Not when her past and present were being stretched and wrapped like an elastic band around her, coiling and coiling upon itself, growing tight enough to cut off her breathing while threatening to snap altogether.

“I’m glad you’re awake. I was worried.” Rafael sounded sincere, but she didn’t put much store into that. Let’s give the people the show they came to see, he often said. “When can we go home?” he asked the nurse.

Sasha pulled her hand from his, earning another sharp glace from Rafael.

“She’ll come home with us,” her mother said. “Won’t she, Daddy?”

Sasha nearly threw up.

“Yes. She’s confused and needs her mother,” Humbolt said firmly.

Sasha locked eyes with the nurse. “Surely there’s a—”

Clinic, she was going to say, but Rafael was talking over her, staring down Humbolt.

“Alexandra is my wife. She’ll come back to our home in Athens. With me.”

“You can’t look after her like that.” Humbolt sent a condescending wave at Rafael’s condition.

“It will be a day or two before either of them are well enough to travel,” the nurse hurried to interject, trying to defuse the confrontation. “Decisions don’t have to be made right this moment. The doctor will want to assess both patients and run more tests. Let’s let them rest.” She ushered Sasha’s parents from the room.

Rafael hovered beside her, but Sasha closed her eyes and turned her face away.

He swore under his breath and she heard the orderly wheel him away.

Chapter One

Three years ago…

Rafael Zamos had become a chameleon capable of blending into whichever surrounding would provide him the best chance of survival.

Tonight, he’d put on his bespoke tuxedo and walked into a New York ballroom where old money elites were gathered. A young woman in a short black dress tried to check his name off a list on her tablet, but he gave her his most dispassionate, reptilian stare.

“Have a nice evening, sir,” she stammered and allowed him to pass without having to say a word.

That was the funny thing about power. A lot of the time, it was something other people gave you, especially if you created the impression that you already had an abundance of it.

He didn’t have as much as he wanted. He doubted he ever would. He’d been on the wrong side of power often enough in his childhood that he had an insatiable thirst for it now, to ensure he was never at anyone’s mercy ever again.

That resistance and thirst had drawn him here tonight. Competitors back in Greece were beginning to see him as a threat and were flexing their muscles against him. Yet again, he was being pressured to quit rising above his station.

Rafael was beyond literal fights that left him bleeding on the ground. No, he understood that tailored suits were a type of armor and the right connections could be an impermeable shield. He hated being beholden to anyone, but strategic partnerships would reinforce the place he was carving for himself as a global player in international trade. No one closer to home was willing to align with him, but an American pillar would do nicely for now.

These snobbish circles were notoriously hard to penetrate, though. They could smell an imposter a mile off. He was already receiving the side-eye as he accepted champagne and scoped out the roomful of balding, heavyset men with bejeweled, middle-aged wives. The few youthful women were likely trophies. This wasn’t an event for mistresses. It was a political fundraiser of some kind. The power behind the power.

But who the hell was she?

Rafael’s abdomen tightened as though taking a punch while his gaze fixated on a blonde woman of midtwenties who floated to the center of the ballroom in a risqué gown of diaphanous purple. The fabric twisted from one shoulder across her breasts and around her torso before it fell in mostly see-through panels around her naked legs. Well-placed spangles on the underlay covered her nipples and mound, but it was barely decent. He could see her ass.

Which was a joy to behold. All of her was mouthwatering.

He was not the only person who noticed. Everyone turned their heads and goggled their eyes. Even the music faltered briefly, just long enough for a curse to be heard from some distant corner of the room.

A fiftyish woman in a blue gown with a skirt like a church bell bore down on the newcomer. She had to press her skirt down to lean close enough to scorch the blonde’s ear.

The blonde, much to his everlasting respect, maintained a bland smile of disinterest, barely acknowledging whatever was being said as she scanned the room and landed on making eye contact with him.

Another blow struck his midsection, radiating heat into his chest and low into his groin.

Mine, he thought. It wasn’t a conscious thought. It was far more primitive than that. It was a basic claiming that resounded in the most atavistic parts of him. Lizard brain, gut, testes.

While everyone was exchanging looks and straining to hear whatever was passing between the women, Rafael strolled over to them, eating up all those well-displayed curves and the way her aloof expression narrowed to interest in him.

“Hello, darling. I was waiting for you.” He loved using phrases like that. They suggested he’d been invited and caused people like the older woman to trip into courtesy as they tried to welcome him while also trying to place him.

His accent always threw them, too. His mother had been Romanian and he had spoken Greek since childhood, then was taught English by an Australian-Indian, so there were subtle undertones that always had people blinking in confusion.

“You look beautiful. Shall we dance?” he asked his new obsession.

The blonde used her thick lashes to screen, then reveal aquamarine eyes that were likely contacts, but he found her whole package of unapologetic sexuality irresistible.

“The dancing starts after dinner, sir,” the older woman said in a corrective tone.

Rafael immediately despised her for it. He would not be thwarted.

Fortunately, the blonde seemed to feel the same. She offered him fingers that were taloned with long, dark purple nails. “I thought you’d never ask.”

If Rafael had been a man who believed in such things, he would have called this love at first sight. In reality, it was animal attraction and like finding like, but it was heady. This woman not only knew how to command attention, she wielded her influence with fascinating ruthlessness.

He steered her through the formally set tables and the murmuring crowd until they reached the dance floor. It was occupied by a raised dais and a podium that would presumably be removed after the speeches. Behind it, the orchestra was working through a mix-and-mingle set with a subdued, lazy tempo that didn’t require proper steps.

Rafael slid his hand from the woman’s hip to her lower back, liking that she wore such tall heels because it put her nearly at eye level with him. She pressed closer and twined her arms around his neck, allowing him to fold his arms all the way around her narrow waist, securing her pelvis to his. She offered an amused smile at the stir they provoked.

“Your gown is making an impression.”

“On you?” She arched a hairbreadth closer, well aware she was causing a specific stir in him.

“On everyone,” he clarified. But yes. Absolutely on him. She was pure nitroglycerin. He would have to be very careful, but he wanted to bottle her and keep her forever.

“It’s not just the gown. It’s who’s wearing it.” Her fingertips traced a line along the back of his collar. Her tickling touch caused his scalp to tighten along with every muscle in his body.

“Are you not supposed to be here?” he asked idly. “Welcome to the club, angel.”

“Did you crash this party?” she asked, pretending to be scandalized. “I think I just fell in love.” She knew how to use her lashes to best effect, sweeping them down so her gaze traversed his shoulders and chest in a way that felt like a caress. A claiming.

He firmed his hold on her, enjoying the small hitch in her breath and the way her gaze flashed back to his, filled with startled heat.

She didn’t know what to do with the fact that he was having the same effect on her that she was having on him. He liked that. He liked it very much.

“You don’t know who I am?” She seemed skeptical of that.

“A goddess, I presume.”

“A demon, more like. But I was not only invited, I was given strict orders to wear something appropriate, since I’m expected to stand with my mother behind my stepfather as he accepts his participation ribbon for being a good political donor.” The corners of her mouth curled with bitter satisfaction at how mercilessly she’d clapped back.

Her rebellious spirit was both a draw and a warning, one he didn’t let deter him.

“And who is the man looking like he wishes he was holding dueling pistols instead of champagne glasses?” Rafael had been a target from his earliest years. He clocked any threat, even lightweights like that privileged crash test dummy glaring daggers at them. The man was roughly Rafael’s age, approaching thirty, well-dressed. Rafael was certain the man was richer and better connected, but Rafael could take him if it came to it.

“Do we call him a man if he agrees to marry the woman his father picks out for him?” She tilted her head in mock curiosity. “His mother still buys his underwear.”

“You’re his fiancée?” That was news he didn’t care for. His hands unconsciously tightened on her.

“Not yet.” Her fingertips moved to the hollow at the base of his skull. She caressed and explored. Pressed with invitation. “You should kiss me now, while I’m still unattached.”

She was toying with him for her own purpose—he knew that, but he was willing to take the kiss she offered purely for the thrill of it.

It was more than thrilling. As he met her parted lips with his own, electric heat shot through him. He would typically be a gentleman and allow her to set the pace, but with her, he tilted his head to capture her soft lips more thoroughly. He stopped dancing and cupped her head and took. He learned the shape of her pouted lips and the texture of her tongue and the erotic taste of her mouth.

He did everything he could to imprint himself on her.

Take me. Have all of me. Everything.

That willingness to give up all of himself rang bells of alarm within him, but the receptive tag of her tongue sent pure lightning into his groin, emptying his brain. He reacted in a borderline barbarian way, excited by how eager she was.

Yes, she was a potent and dangerous woman. She could strip him of all his hard gains, but in this moment of carnal greed, he didn’t care. Her nails curled into his jacket as she dragged him closer, demanding more of him. He was beyond willing to let her drain him dry.

Hell, he was ready to have sex with her right here in the middle of the dance floor with her parents and the rest of the world watching.

Was that all this was for her, though? A show?

He dragged his head up, mouth burning, gaze on the lipstick smudged across her mouth.

“You’re using me.” It wasn’t an accusation. It was a statement of fact, but he kept her hips pinned to his, both to hide and soothe his raging erection.

“Not entirely,” she breathed against his chin. Her curves pressed willingly against him. She blinked in a way that suggested she was as blown away by their kiss as he was. “I wanted to know how that would feel. Making a scene while we did it was icing on the cake.”

He wasn’t sure he believed her, but his focus had narrowed to a very basic, libidinous desire to mate with her. Right now.

“Come with me.” It was a command, but it was also a question. A test. Was she really as carried away as he was? Would she quit showboating for these pearl-clutchers and take this to its next steps?

“I thought you’d never ask.” She slid her hand down his sleeve to clasp his hand, then led him from the ballroom, ignoring the gasps they left in their wake.

He was likely nuking any chance he had at finding a business partner among them, but he didn’t care, not when she had become his entire reason for existing.

Thankfully, he was staying in the hotel’s penthouse. It was an extravagant move, given how overleveraged he was, but it had been another means of reducing friction when he entered the ballroom. He tapped his card to the elevator mechanism and they shot upward.

“Who are you?” he asked her.

“Do you really want to talk?” She slid into his arms.

He did not. He had never had a blind hookup in his life, always careful he wasn’t leaving a flank unprotected, but as he succumbed to the urge to kiss her, he understood how Troy had fallen. Power and lust were two sides of the same coin. Spend one, lose the other.

He fought allowing lust to win, but she was taut against him again, and this barely there dress of hers was almost like stroking her naked skin. Everything in him wanted to claim her. If he’d had a condom on him, he would have had her in the elevator.

The doors slid open with a ping and he dragged her down the hall and into his suite, prepared to shout, “Get out!” if he saw a single maid, but it was empty.

He pressed her to the wall and discovered exactly how well matched they were as they both gave in to this devastating passion. His body ignited, prompting him to yank at the buttons of his new jacket, possibly tearing them as he fought to free himself.

She pushed the jacket off his shoulders, then began searching for the buttons between the pleats of his shirt.

Her skin was much easier to access. He dragged up the cobweb of her skirt. There were yards and yards of the stuff, but it was deliciously cool and soft. Almost as delicious as the smooth thigh he eventually found.

She broke away from their kiss to gasp for breath.

“No?” He would die.

“No. I mean, yes. Touch me,” she said in a voice that shuddered with want.

He couldn’t help the rumble of an animalistic growl that resounded in his chest. She was so soft, so smooth, warm and undeniably feminine. He found the thin line of a flesh-toned thong at her hip and watched his hand as he followed it.

The sheer purple of her skirt bunched against his wrist as he arrived at the crease next to her mound, so warm and smooth. So sensitive and responsive her breath shook as he drew light patterns there. She bit her bottom lip, eyes heavy lidded.

“You want this?” His voice was lost in the well of his chest.

“I want everything,” she whispered. “Except talking.”

He snorted. “Tell me if you need me to stop, then. Otherwise, I’m taking us all the way.”

He barely gave her the chance to exhale a potent, “Yes,” before he swooped to capture her mouth again. At the same time, he broke the band on the miniscule triangle of silk and claimed what he found behind it.

She jolted and moaned into his mouth, whimpering as he pressed his palm over her mound, waiting for her to press back before he began to explore. The abundant moisture he discovered nearly blinded him with excitement. The way she trembled and moaned nearly undid him.

He was so aroused, he could have taken her to the floor and lost himself in her right here, but he was determined to keep hold of some trace of control. If she wanted all the lust in him, she could have it. She would not steal his power over himself, though. No, he would have the upper hand here, not her.

To that end, he deepened his caress, sliding his fingertip around and across the swollen knot that made delicious sounds pang in her throat. Around and around and around until she was arched and bunching his shirt in her fists and moaning with abandon into his mouth.

Oh, that was lovely. He pressed his wide palm over the soaked heat of her again, holding it steady for the rock of her hips as she rode out a shuddering climax. Her pulses and throbs were so intense, he felt them like a hammer strike in the tip of his erection, but he didn’t allow himself to fall over the edge. Not yet.


You’re using me,” this stranger had accused her and, yes, Alexandra had been using him to scandalize her mother.

But once he had kissed her? Now?

She was using him all right, but it was purely for a type of pleasure she hadn’t known was possible for her. She had gone into that ballroom feeling so trapped, she might as well have been a genie compressed into a bottle. She’d barely been able to breathe, but now she was panting and flying. Soaring.

She was free in a way she hadn’t expected to ever feel. Not with all the hang-ups she had around sex. Her beauty and sexuality were weapons she had learned to use to disconcert and humiliate, so they couldn’t be turned on her. They had never been sources of pleasure.

Until now.

Until this stranger showed her what her body was capable of.

With charged kisses and languid caresses, he was teaching her to not only embrace her sensuality, but express it with abandon. She stroked her hands over his bared chest and delicately sucked his tongue.

In some ways, it was terrifying to let him take these liberties and pull forth such a wild response, but it was a step forward that she grasped with both hands. This was only for the one night anyway. It’s not like he would toy with her this way forever.

He took her at her word about not talking. As her body wilted in the aftermath of a life-altering orgasm, he scooped her up and carried her to the bedroom. He stood her beside the bed, then stepped into the bathroom to retrieve a box of condoms that he threw onto the mattress.

In a kind of haze, she turned to offer her zip, lifting her hair out of the way.

He obliged by lowering it, slowly, setting kisses along her spine and leaving a hot pool of breath against her skin, all the way to her lower back.

Shivering, she dropped the gown and stepped out of her shoes. Her thong was already gone. She slipped onto the bed and turned to face him.

He was stripping without taking his eyes off her, skimming away trousers and boxers in one move, revealing he was very aroused. His erection was steely and dark, his expression barely civilized.

As he set a hand and a knee on the mattress, starting to loom over her, she retreated slightly, daunted. Her hand instinctually pressed at his chest.

He froze. “Changing your mind?”

“I’m not sure.” She wanted this. She did. But she had forgotten how physical sex was. How overwhelming. How vulnerable it made her feel.

“That’s fine.” His expression grew shuttered. “I’m disappointed, but not angry.” He shifted to the side so she could rise off the bed if she wanted to.

Ironically, the fact that he was so willing to stop this late in the game made her trust him more than she had a split second ago.

What was she supposed to do? Go the rest of her life without ever having sex again? It had already been eight years. Here was a man who was not only respectful enough to stop but who turned her on like no one else ever had.

“Will you—” she cleared her throat “—let me be on top?”

He dropped onto his back and folded his arms behind his head. “Help yourself.”

“I might stop again if I get nervous,” she warned, eyeing the banquet of tanned skin stretched firmly across the sort of muscles that belonged on an athlete. A swimmer, maybe. He had wide shoulders and well-defined abs. A light pattern of hair lay flat against his skin, thicker against his breastbone and thinning as it extended to his navel.

His thighs were equally tanned and well-built, but she only noticed that in the periphery. She was studying his erection, hesitantly reaching out to draw a shy line down the length with her fingertip, both amused and intimidated by the way the thick muscle twitched under her touch.

“Are you a virgin?” he asked with puzzlement.

“No.” She choked on a harsh laugh. If he only knew her history, he’d swallow his tongue before suggesting that. “No, it’s just been a long time for me.”

She slid closer and he gathered her atop him. He was a hot beach that felt like pure decadence to lie upon. Shifting against him produced sensations that were as erotic as the caress of a tropical surf. The satin-covered muscles beneath her called to the most primitive woman in her, teasing her to braid her legs with his so the damp tip of his erection sat in the crease of her mound. Her loins throbbed with awareness as she lowered her head to kiss him.

She knew she wouldn’t hesitate again. This was too good. She rocked her mouth against his in deep, unhurried kisses.

She might have made a mistake, however, in allowing him to have both hands free. He took full advantage, skimming his fingertips over her back and buttocks, sensitizing her to his touch before he erased all those tickles with a firmer stroke that ironed her onto his front.

Then he became even more deliberate, palming her backside in a way designed to reignite her passion. When one hand cruised up her waist and sought her breast, she angled so he could cup the swell and toy with her nipple.

She moaned, subtly writhing with a need for more. More friction. More of those wicked caresses of his thumb against her nipple. More intimacy and intention and sinful attention where she longed to feel it most.

She brought her knees up so she straddled his thighs, rising to reach for the box of condoms. She offered one to him.

“Sure?”

She nodded.

He held her gaze as he took it, bit the corner, and ripped it open. As he rolled it on, old ghosts swirled through her psyche, but he moved his hand to the seam of her sex and all other thoughts disappeared. Her eyes fluttered closed and the only thing she was aware of was the way his thumb lightly traced a tantalizing line of sensations that made her feel like a flower blossoming open.

As need coiled through her, her hips rocked, seeking a deeper touch and the fulfillment she knew he could offer.

“Take me when you’re ready.” His smoky command was so husky and mesmerizing, she couldn’t do anything but obey.

He held himself for her and she guided herself onto his length, letting out a soft cry of ecstasy as she sank down, stretched and caressed and connected to him in a way that left her wordless. Dazzled.

She braced her hands on his chest and stared into his eyes. They’d been all pupils a moment ago and were now glittering slits behind the tangle of his thick lashes. He was inordinately handsome, with clean-shaven cheeks beneath high cheekbones, a hawkish nose, and a mouth that could spawn a thousand fantasies. His brows were heavy, his jaw strong, his rakish hair rumpled by her fingers.

She could look at this face for the rest of her life, she thought whimsically.

His hands were drawing absent patterns on her thighs, but climbed to her hips, skimmed along her waist, then cupped her breasts. He circled her nipples with the pads of his thumbs.

Her body reacted by shivering and tightening around him. She leaned into his touch, then bent the rest of the way down to seal her mouth to his.

That seemed to be his undoing. He rolled her beneath him and began to thrust, pausing when she gasped in awe at the joyous pleasure that crashed through her.

“Don’t stop!” she cried with anguish.

That was it. His body gathered and he became her whole world, seeming determined to create a memory she would never forget. Determined to claim her in every way—with his mouth, with his touch, with his sex. With the sound of his voice and the smell of his skin.

She couldn’t track all the sensations or all the ways she was losing herself to him in those heated moments. She only knew later that that’s what had happened to her. He destroyed her in the most sensual way possible. She welcomed it. By the end, when he dared to slow his strokes, holding her on the precipice of culmination, she was utterly at his mercy.

“Please,” she whispered.

His fingers tangled in her hair. He held her for a long, drugging kiss, holding them both in this magical place of pure sensation. She felt like a single, exposed nerve, the very air almost too much on her hot, damp skin.

He withdrew and returned with a powerful flex of his hips, propelling her into such a powerful orgasm, she screamed.

His hips crashed into hers again and again, increasing the power of her release. He was off the leash and it was glorious.

Ecstasy was her new home. It gripped her and imbued her and emanated from her as he lost his rhythm and melded their flesh. He shouted with triumph and the pulses within her echoed the slam of her heart.

Chapter Two

After his orgasm turned him inside out, and Rafael was exhausted on the bed beside her, he had a disturbing moment of feeling vanquished. Beaten.

But when he turned his head on the pillow, she was looking at the ceiling with an expression that reflected what he was feeling. Awe?

She slid him a look from the corner of her eye and immediately rearranged her features into smug amusement.

“Well, that was something, wasn’t it?” She pulled the edge of the bedspread across her middle and curled toward him. “Thank you.”

“It was very much my pleasure.” He discarded the condom into the wastebasket and fell back onto the bed beside her, too sated to move more than that.

“I should leave.” She sat up and her hair fell forward to hide most of her profile.

He studied her curved spine and couldn’t resist setting his thumb and middle fingertip against the dimples at the top of her backside.

“You don’t have to,” he heard himself say. “Unless you need to get back to your party?”

“Can you imagine?” She kept the bedspread secured to her breasts, but braced a hand behind herself so she twisted to face him. “What do I look like right now? A ghoul from the crypt? A drunken clown?”

He likely wore more of her lipstick than she did. Her eyes were smudged and smoky and heavy lidded.

“You’re sexy as hell.” It was only the truth, but saying it caused a strange tremor in his chest. “I’m sure you know that.”

“It’s still nice to hear it. When it’s sincere.” Her pensive gaze lifted to the closed drapes.

He was equally disturbed. This had been the best sex of his life, which made it a purgatory of sorts. It was a memory that could imprison him for eternity.

He dismissed that melodramatic thought, attributing the heightened eroticism to their being strangers, and reminded himself she had only slept with him to irritate her parents.

Which didn’t bother him, but didn’t not bother him.

“I’ll stay long enough for a shower, if you don’t mind.” Whatever blue mood had started to take hold in her was discarded with a careless smile. She threw off the bedspread and rose to walk into the bathroom.

He heard the toilet and the tap and imagined she was using the complementary makeup remover pads. When the shower started, he quit pretending he wasn’t going to join her.

“Oh, hello,” she said when he opened the glass door and joined her inside the marble-tiled enclosure. It was more than big enough for both of them with nozzles and sprays from all directions.

“Hello to you. Blue eyes.” He cupped her face, looking into irises that were now the color of a clear sky over a mountain lake.

She reacted to his touch with a grasp of his wrists and a dazzling sparkle inside those pretty eyes. Her lips parted in invitation.

“I’m Rafael,” he told her.

“Alexandra.” The minx guided one of his hands down to shake hers. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Isn’t it?”

It really was. For the next seventy-two hours, they barely left each other’s sight. They shared the bed and the robes, the shower and meals and bottles of wine.

The concierge delivered more condoms and a handful of other necessities, but housekeeping was turned away and all calls ignored. Occasionally, Alexandra shrugged on one of his shirts, but more often than not, they were naked on the wrecked bed, dozing, talking about innocuous topics—movies and travel and whether horoscopes had any basis in reality, but mostly, they made love.

He learned that her feet were ticklish and she was not only the stepdaughter of a Very Rich Man, she was rich in her own right. Her father’s family had amassed a fortune in publishing over several generations. Her mother’s family were also Old Money with ties to industrial age railway tycoons.

“My father died when I was young. I don’t remember him,” she said with a philosophical shrug. “Humbolt pounced on Mother like a hyena on a wounded wildebeest and took control of her, her fortune, and my trust. That money he was being lauded for donating? Mine. What a paragon.” Her lip curled in contempt.

“But he doesn’t control you.”

“Not for lack of trying, believe me.” She quit tracing the pattern in the headboard and rolled onto her stomach so the sheet twisted around her. “What about you? What will I learn when I stalk you online after this?”

“I was born in Romania. My mother brought me to Greece to find my father who was Greek. We never found him. She passed away when I was five. I went into foster care, bounced through some group homes, then landed with a Greek couple who chose to adopt me. I grew up on the outskirts of Athens.”

“Were they nice? Your adoptive parents?” She was giving him doe eyes, which made him uncomfortable.

“Yes.” They’d tried to be, not that he’d known what to do with it. He’d had many a hard knock by then. His mother had barely scraped by, then died overnight. He’d been teased at school and scrapped his way through it. His adoptive parents had been withdrawn for their own reasons so Rafael had never fully seen himself as their son.

“My father died when I was seventeen. Heart attack.” Rafael couldn’t help the bitterness that invaded his voice and quickly averted his thoughts from that day. “I took over the family business, but there were vultures who wanted it for themselves. They tried to use the fact I was adopted against me, saying I wasn’t legitimately my father’s son, that I wasn’t Greek, or not Greek enough. So I keep that information in my bio online, next to my brief arrest for breaking and entering.”

“Oh.” Her brows went up. “You are colorful.”

“It was a misunderstanding. Or, I should say, another attempt to keep me from taking over the business. It was soon cleared up.”

“What kind of business?” She cocked her head.

“At that time, a marine service operation for small and midrange vessels. There was always potential for more, but my father was never able to maximize it. There was a cartel who kept him in his place. When he died, they thought they wanted the company more than I did. They were wrong.”

Her eyes widened. “What did you do?”

Whatever he had to. He deliberately sidestepped that question, trotting out the patter he gave any reporter who asked a similar question.

“Thankfully, like any adolescent, I was into gaming. When I wasn’t working at the shop under my father, or going to school, I made videos. I’d become an influencer of sorts. I was making decent money, enough to help with my parents’ mortgage. My father didn’t know that. My mother handled all the books at the business and at home. She also knew that if these enforcers realized we were getting ahead, they’d put more pressure on us so she kept it under her hat. My father didn’t live to see it, but having the house paid for gave me something to leverage when I took over the business. I was able to hire security and modernize. That set us up for growth.”

He didn’t mention the particularly ugly knife fight that had served as a warning that he was not the pushover his father had been.

“Recently, we expanded into larger ships and shipping beyond the Med. Zamos International? Heard of it?”

She wrinkled her nose in apology. “I have now.”

“I’m still seen as an upstart,” he admitted. “I’ve ceased to be a minnow that can easily be swallowed, but that makes me a genuine rival to the bigger players. I crashed your stepfather’s party looking for American connections into the Eastern Seaboard, to shore up my position.”

“Oh, dear. I have to be honest, Rafael. Stealing me away like this?” She drew a circle to indicate their love palace. “It has screwed your chances with everyone in that room. Pun intended. Humbolt can’t disown me for misbehaving, but he can punish my friends by blacklisting them.”

“I knew what I was risking when I approached you.” Did he, though? He wasn’t angry at her, per se, but he was angry he had allowed his libido to rule him. The longer he stayed here with her, the more opportunities he was allowing to slip away.

“Let me make it up to you,” she purred and sprawled across him while she began kissing her way south.

Carnal hunger dug its claws into him, dimming his ability to think.

Last time, he promised himself, and crooked his legs open so she could kneel between his thighs.


“For you,” Rafael said while she was dozing off their morning lovemaking.

Sasha thought he had risen to let in their breakfast, but he set a gorgeous bouquet of orchids and bird-of-paradise onto the night table.

She sat up, stomach lurching sickly, but hid her humiliation behind a bland smile. “I’ve overstayed my welcome. You should have said.”

“Not at all. They’re not from me.” When his flinty gaze met hers, her heart stalled. Was he jealous? Suspicious?

He plucked the card with two fingers and offered it to her.

Her nerveless fingers didn’t want to work. She wound up tearing the tiny envelope to withdraw the card that read, Call your mother.

“Mother.” She flicked the card off the bed. “Took her long enough to find me. You weren’t on the guest list, though. Were you?” She dragged the sheet across her breasts and bunched the pillows behind her so she could slouch into them with a sigh and a wry smile. “That must have annoyed her, having to ask around to find out who you were. Now everyone knows you were an interloper. She’ll use that against you. Sorry.” She wrinkled her nose at him.

He made a noise of acknowledgment that also rang with discontent. “Coffee?”

“There you go seducing me again.” She was trying to return to their easy banter, but seriously, everything about him seduced her. The belt of his robe was negligently tied at his waist, leaving the lapels gaping to reveal his tanned chest.

He countered with, “I can’t seem to help myself,” but his tone wasn’t as light as it had been. Reality was permeating the air like the perfume of the orchids.

She watched him amble from the room and even his silhouette of wide shoulders and the laconic slap of his bare feet made her ache with longing. She knew she ought to leave, but couldn’t seem to make herself.

“It’s hot,” he said when he returned and set the two cups of coffee beside the bouquet.

Sasha wanted to knock the flowers to the floor, but they were only a symbol of the thing she really didn’t want—to speak to her mother. She didn’t want to leave this bubble of intimacy and pleasure. To leave him.

He didn’t walk around and climb into the bed beside her, the way he’d done most other times he returned to this bed. He sat on the edge of the mattress facing her.

“Exactly how will your mother try to make me uncomfortable?” he asked.

Oh. They were facing reality, were they? How disappointing.

“Socially,” she replied. “She’ll have you cut from invite lists to galas and events.”

“I’ll go anyway.” He dismissed her reply with a shrug.

A sunny ball of hope broke open in her chest, then a shadow moved across it.

“Humbolt is the greater threat. He’s spent twenty years using my father’s money to curry business connections and political favors. He has a lot of sway when he wants to use it. God, I hate him.” She shoved her legs out straight as though she could kick that man out of her life once and for all. And now he was trying to marry her off to that insipid—

She sucked in a breath of realization and sat up, curling her legs beneath her so she knelt as she faced Rafael. She set her hand on the white velvet of the robe that coated his strong shoulder.

His cheek ticked in awareness that she had let the sheet drop and was naked before him, but his gaze remained locked with hers.

“Yes?”

“You and I should marry.” She was shocked that such words spilled from her lips, but they felt right.

“Oh?” He used the excuse of leaning to pick up his mug to force her hand to fall away. “I was planning to wait until after I turned thirty-five.”

“How old are you now?”

“Twenty-nine. But I have hundreds of goals ahead of me before I settle down. Thousands. Billions to acquire,” he added with dry significance.

“I don’t want to marry, either.” She dragged the sheet in front of her, but stayed kneeling on the bed, gaze turned inward while she spoke her thoughts aloud. “When Humbolt realized I was coming up to twenty-four, he also realized that puts me a year away from taking control of my trust. I could have taken the reins sooner by marrying anytime, but I couldn’t stand the idea of a husband. I still don’t want one, but Humbolt has handpicked this son of his crony. He thinks this dolt will keep me in line and allow him continued access to my fortune. Mother wants everything done properly, of course. A year-long engagement and all that nonsense.”

“This isn’t the Dark Ages. Tell them no and wait it out,” Rafael suggested as though it was just that easy.

“I was planning to, but Humbolt holds the purse strings and uses them to bring me to heel. I’ve put aside a nest egg,” she confided, proud of the way she’d embezzled from her own funds. “It’s a hoard of jewelry in a safe-deposit box. I’m like a dragon,” she said on a chuckle, then sobered. “It’s enough to keep me going for a while, but it’s insurance for something else.” She veered from letting herself worry about publicity and legal fees. It wouldn’t happen. She was always really careful to keep her secret very much a secret. “Mostly I hate the idea of walking away and allowing him to keep my money. So I have to fight for it. But the last time I outright defied him, he had me placed on a psych hold so—”

Rafael swore. “Are you serious?”

“Yes. I was still a teenager. I was supposed to go back to boarding school in Switzerland, but instead I went to Ibiza for six months.” That was the cover story she always told when referring to that time of her life. “I don’t think he would go to such an extreme length now, given he’s trying to marry me off, but he’ll find some other way to make my life miserable. I refuse to let him win, though. It’s my money. And he’s been using it—and me—for his own gain for almost twenty years. I don’t want to put up with another year of him and Mother holding me at gunpoint.”

“How much money?” he asked curiously.

“A hundred and fifty million. I get the balance when I have a baby or turn thirty. Five hundred million, give or take. I imagine that sort of asset would be helpful to you, if you had access to it?” She fluttered her lashes at him, knowing it damned well would.

He was impervious to her flirting, though. Her lover was gone. Rafael might as well be wearing a three-piece suit and a fresh shave. He was all business.

“It would,” he acknowledged with an unreadable expression.

“My sense is that you’d like to continue having sex with me? At least for a while? Am I wrong about that?”

“I was going to suggest we continue this affair.” His cheek ticked again.

“Then here’s what I propose. I’ll tell Mother this was a final fling and I’m ready to play ball. That will distract them long enough for you and I to negotiate our prenup.”

His brows went up, but she wasn’t an idiot. She’d had to look after herself once before and knew how to do it.

“We’ll marry in secret then, bam!” She punched into her own palm. “We’ll hit them with it in a few weeks.” She was already laughing at the shock on their faces.

“That seems like a lot of unnecessary drama and subterfuge.”

“Would you rather announce our engagement and watch Humbolt use my money to try to destroy you?”

“Is that a threat?”

No. I’m telling you what kind of man I’m dealing with. But if you don’t want to marry me, that’s fine.” His rebuff stung, though. It really did. “I’ll find another way,” she decided. “Another man. I had made up my mind not to marry so I didn’t even consider this avenue, but now that I have, I’ll shop for my own docile but useful idiot…” She threw off the sheet and scooted to the edge of the mattress.

Rafael stuck out his arm to stop her, then leaned across to set his coffee back on the night table. “I didn’t say I don’t want to. Tell me why you’re so averse to marriage.”

“Because I don’t want to be controlled by anyone.” She looked pointedly at the arm barring her exit from the bed. “Least of all a husband.”

“I’m capable of reason. And I’ll need an heir eventually. It sounds as though you will, too.”

Her heart contracted along with her pupils, turning the room blurry at the edges. Pure adrenaline stung her veins, the kind that urged flight. She fought revealing the panic that quickened her breath and jerked her gaze free of his. She plucked at the sleeve of his robe, silently requesting he remove his arm.

He drew back and she rose to pick up the shirt he had discarded across the back of a chair. She shrugged herself into it, frantically thinking while she buttoned it.

“Having a baby purely to take control of my fortune is wrong. Let’s see how we get on,” she suggested, noticing the tremble in her hands as she rolled the cuffs up to expose her wrists. “If we’re still married in a few years, we’ll discuss children. There’s every chance we won’t be. I’m a rebellious spirit. Some would call me a hellion.”

“I noticed,” he assured her with a brief glint of amusement. “But I appreciate your candor. In fact—” he narrowed his eyes “—this would only work if we are completely honest with each other. You can’t play any of these bait and switch games with me. We need to be able to trust each other. You understand that, don’t you?” His tone was still light, but she heard the warning in it.

A shiver of premonition chased down her spine.

She trusted him. Physically. She would do some digging to be sure she could trust him with her money. With her heart, though? With her secrets? She doubted she would ever fully trust a man again.

“There’s a difference between being honest and being transparent,” she said. “I can promise to be honest with you. Faithful, definitely.” She had a bleak sense that she would never feel this same desire for any other man, so that was an easy promise to make. “But I will choose how much of myself and my past I want to share with you. By the same token, it will be your choice how much of yourself you share with me.”

“You’re starting to sound too good to be true, Alexandra.” He was still sitting on the bed and leaned back on his hands, robe gaping to expose his inner thighs. He was barely decent and so sexy, her mouth dried.

“‘Good’ is the last word people would use to describe me,” she assured him.

“I happen to know you’re very good. Come here and show me how good. Seal the deal,” he coaxed.

“I just got dressed.”

In his shirt and nothing else.

Get used to it, she thought. She was about to use him and his trappings as a shield, but she would have little protection against him.

Nevertheless, even though her heart was pounding in apprehension, her feet took her to the bed.

“You really want to do this? Marry?” She set her hands on his shoulders and her knees on the mattress, straddling his lap.

“I do.” His wide palms immediately climbed beneath the crisp cotton of the shirt, claiming her naked skin.

It’s worth it, she told herself. Whatever happens, it will be worth it for this.

*

Two weeks later, Rafael walked with his new bride into a Manhattan mansion.

Had he had reservations about marrying her? Probably not as many as he ought to. When they had parted after their three-day sex fest, he had promised to call her, but had thought about getting on a plane straight back to Greece. He had a lot to protect and could have made any excuse to go home and guard it.

The minute she was out of his sight, however, he wanted her back. That was the uncomfortable truth that he kept to himself as he lingered in New York.

They’d seen each other intermittently as they met with lawyers and stole a few passionate interludes. Each time, he had grown more fascinated with her. More eager to have her with him all day, every day. Every night.

There were crude expressions for this level of desire-related impulsiveness. A distant part of himself understood he was operating on pheromones and ego. She was rich and beautiful and alluring. Any man would want her, but she was clearly capable of acting in a calculated fashion to get what she wanted.

That side of her was equally fascinating to him, though. She knew how to direct her lawyers so they were very thorough in how well they protected her, ensuring she had several avenues out of this marriage that wouldn’t break her financially. This wasn’t her first rodeo, as the Americans said, which prompted him to say, “You seem to know what you’re doing in a boardroom. Why have you never put your lawyers onto your stepfather?”

“So he could spend my money fighting me? And use it to run a smear campaign against me?” She combed square nails, which were now a bubblegum pink, through her loose blonde hair.

Rafael wasn’t oblivious to the sort of things men said about women, especially when they were trying to crush them in court, but she seemed to embrace the reputation of a scarlet woman, so what else could intimidate her badly enough that she would rather avoid it?

“Putting you on him will be much more effective,” she said, smoothing his lapel. “I’ve done my homework, you know. Once Humbolt realizes who he’s dealing with, he’ll start to mind his manners. Did you really steal a boat from a mafia don?”

“That is a colorful way for the press to spin my exercising a contract clause. I took possession of a ship when the repairs went unpaid.” Had he also set the man up for arrest, thereby making it impossible for him to make his payments? Perhaps. But that was between him and his very unbothered conscience.

“Hmm, well, I can’t wait to see how Humbolt reacts when he realizes this particular ship has been commandeered by a pirate.” Her mauve-colored lips tilted into a smirk.

Oddly, the fact she made no bones about using him against her stepfather reassured him. He knew exactly where they both stood.

He had also done his homework and was pleased to learn that, along with the financial advantage of leveraging against her trust fund, he was marrying a woman who had connections to aristocracy, heiresses, and socialites around the globe. Alexandra might be named in more than one celebrity clickbait story, or wear scanty outfits to upper-crust galas, but her scandals were deliberate. She knew exactly what was expected in every setting and would help him blend seamlessly into those places himself.

He was quite satisfied with this arrangement of theirs, even when she said at the courthouse before they spoke their vows, “I will promise to honor you, but I can’t promise to obey. Also, I’m growing fond of you, but I will probably never love you.”

Perhaps he should have asked her why not, but that would risk her telling him that she could see through his tailored morning suit to the gutter rat he’d once been.

“Good,” he said instead, meaning it. Love was a liability. People you loved could be used against you. Love made you helpless. “I need someone who is self-sufficient and won’t ask me for things I’m incapable of offering. You are the yin to my yang, Alexandra.”

Their vows had seemed moot at that point. They understood each other perfectly, right down to their mutual enjoyment of the commotion they created as they arrived in the sitting room of the mansion, where well-dressed couples were gathered for what was supposed to be Alexandra’s engagement brunch.

Along with Alexandra’s parents, her pseudo fiancé was there along with a handful of other middle-aged and older couples.

Alexandra’s hand tightened in his, sending a frisson of warning through Rafael. He followed her startled glance to a man in his late forties, but she was already looking elsewhere, smiling with vicious joy at the way everyone had frozen in shock.

Their audience was taking in their joined hands and the swallowtail jacket that Rafael wore with an ivory vest and striped trousers. Alexandra wore a demure, figure-hugging dress in oyster white that ended below her knees. A short cape topped it, falling from her shoulders to her elbows.

She was classy and willowy and unabashedly smug as she stated, “There’s been a misunderstanding. When I said I was ready to marry, I meant that I had found the husband I want.” She smoothed her free hand along the sleeve of his jacket.

“No,” Winnie Humbolt said in a gust of appalled disbelief. “I won’t allow it.”

“It’s done.” Rafael looked with suitable adoration at his entrancing bride. He could see she was having the time of her life dropping this bomb, and he couldn’t help the rush of pride that he could give her this. “We’ve come from the courthouse.”

Her mother raked in a gasp and looked as though she wanted to faint like a Victorian dowager onto the nearest couch. Humbolt was turning crimson, flapping his lips, nearly apoplectic.

“We’ll have it annulled,” Humbolt stammered. He shook with rage as he waggled his finger. “You’re not in your right mind. You have a history.”

“Try it.” Rafael snapped his head around to skewer the man with his most lethal glower. “Try to take my wife from me. Try to harm her. See what happens.” He had never been so sincere in his readiness to kill a man.

Humbolt’s color drained. “Don’t come into my home and threaten me.”

“But it’s not yours, is it?” Alexandra said in mock apology for having to correct him. “My name is on every piece of real estate that you live in. Now that I’m married, I’ve sent the paperwork to the various institutions, letting them know that I will control my assets from now on.”

“You can’t—” Humbolt started to bluster, but Rafael overrode him.

“I’ve put my own team onto performing a full audit,” Rafael warned. “Don’t bother trying to squirrel anything away. If Alexandra wishes to let you continue living here, that is her choice, but do be careful how you treat her going forward. I protect what’s mine.” He switched to a much sweeter tone when he asked her, “Do you need to pack anything for our honeymoon, darling?”

“I don’t need anything but you from now on.” She was gushing for their audience’s sake, but he lapped it up all the same. “We’ll be in the Maldives, but we won’t be taking calls. Newlyweds.” She sent a squinched smile at the group of slack-jawed faces.

“Alexandra!” her mother cried as they started to turn away. “Are you pregnant? Is that why you’ve married him?”

Alexandra jolted as though a spear had landed in her back.

“No,” she choked out as she turned. “I married him to get away from you, Mother. I thought that was obvious. Also, because he’s good in bed.” She put on a moue of affection as she gazed up at Rafael. “That’s more than she can say about her husband.”

“I’ll fight this,” Humbolt warned. “You’ll be sorry.”

“I’m sure you can make all of us very sorry if you start muckraking.” Alexandra shot that at him with a blast of ice from her eyes. “I suggest you cool off and think about whether it’s worth it before you do anything rash.”

Did she flash a look toward that fortyish man? Or was that Rafael’s imagination?

He would never know. Alexandra tugged on his hand, saying facetiously over her shoulder, “Thank you for your warm and sincere congratulations. Goodbye!”

The Secret of Their Billion-Dollar Baby

is available for pre-order in the following formats:
The Secret of Their Billion-Dollar Baby
Harlequin
Early from Harlequin: Mar 1, 2024
Other Retailers: Mar 26, 2024
ISBN-13: 9781335593344
The Secret of Their Billion-Dollar Baby
Harlequin
Early from Harlequin: Mar 1, 2024
Other Retailers: Mar 26, 2024
ISBN-13: 9781335593344
Pages: 210

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