Charlotte left Alastair standing at the altar, but the ruthless billionaire still wants to marry her, and if it takes blackmail to make that happen? So be it.
On the eve of her wedding, Charlotte realizes that the Greek tycoon she loves and plans to spend the rest of her life with doesn’t know her at all. Worse, he expects her to be something she’s not. He doesn’t just want a wife, he wants a society hostess and for this introvert, that sounds more like torture than wedded bliss.
Alastair doesn’t understand why Charlotte called off the wedding and he’s still smarting from the humiliation of being the center of the media frenzy and the butt of his family’s jokes. A powerful billionaire tycoon, he isn’t used to anyone laughing at him. He’s determined to marry the woman that got away and just like any good takeover, he’s stacked the deck in his favor.
The intense passion between these two adds spice to marriage that is far more than a business contract, but it will take love and honesty to make it last.
The shock of what she’d done still numbing her senses, Charlotte looked around the small room she’d taken at the coastal hotel.
After sending a text to her parents telling them the wedding was off, she’d turned off her phone, but had known if she stayed in town, they’d track her down. Her father wasn’t losing the potential family connection to the Papadakis billions without a fight.
So, she’d packed a bag, taken a taxi to the airport and bought a ticket on the first flight out of Boston she could get. It had been going to Portland. The one in Oregon, not Maine.
On the descent, she’d looked out the window of the plane and seen city lights interspersed with lines of white and red from streams of traffic. In that moment, she’d known she didn’t want to stay in another busy city.
The thought of being surrounded by a crush of strangers made her nauseated. Charlotte needed quiet and solitude to grieve the loss of love and her hopes for the future.
She’d rented a car and started driving, following signs that led her to the beach. The tiny town she’d ended up in felt right somehow. Her hotel room was nothing like the luxury she was used to, but she didn’t care. It was clean.
No one knew her here. That was what mattered.
She’d paid with cash and put down a false last name on the registration. She didn’t want her family tracking her down right now.
Alastair wouldn’t even try. Would he?
Not after she’d jilted him practically at the altar.
The Greek billionaire was too proud to come chasing after her. Maybe if he loved her, it would be different.
He didn’t. He’d made that clear enough.
He didn’t even know her.
The last time they’d spoken, made that too obvious for even her dreamy view of him to ignore.
“Forget this job of yours. You will not be returning to it after our marriage.” Alastair’s gorgeous features were set and stern, like this was his decision to make.
Her heart stuttering with shock, Charlotte stared up at him. “That’s not what we agreed.”
Although to point of fact, they had never actually discussed whether she would continue working. They talked about her job though and he’d always seemed interested.
“Naturally, you will not continue to work when we are married.” He stared at her like he could not believe he had to point out such an obvious fact.
“But my job is important to me.” She liked working at the library.
Her time among the books, without having to interact with people helped her to handle the rest of life and human interaction.
While there was some contact with the public, Charlotte spent most of her day surrounded by books and answering research queries made via their library services contact form.
“Being the wife of a man in my position is in itself a job. Surely, you realize that.”
She hadn’t actually. “You’ve never said anything like that.”
“Because I did not think it needed to be said. You will be fully occupied with organizing and hosting necessary social engagements, as well as participating in charity work that benefits the image of the family’s enterprises.”
“No. That’s not…” He had to know how much she hated social gatherings. Charlotte had always stayed in the background at her parents’ parties and dinners. She’d found a place for herself behind the scenes, making sure things ran smoothly and that the venue was always as it should be. Whether that was their family mansion, or a rented space.
Yes, that’s where her parents made it obvious they preferred Charlotte to stay, pulling Mallory and Payton into the limelight. However, it was also where she wanted to be.
She hated being the center of attention and found socializing painfully difficult most of the time.
“Do you know me at all?” she asked Alastair now, pain blossoming inside her.
“Of course I know you.” He gave her that look, the one that said he knew her very well indeed.
“Not that way. Yes, you probably know my body better than I do.” She’d been a twenty-four year old virgin when they met and he’d taught her a lot about how much pleasure her body could experience. Even now, sensual need burned steady inside her just being this close to him.
But sex wasn’t everything.
It wasn’t anything if it meant being miserable all the other hours of her waking day.
“But you don’t know me. I thought you did, that I was more than a body to you, but I was wrong, wasn’t I?”
“What is this?” he demanded. “Pre-wedding jitters?”
Grief washing over her in painful waves, Charlotte shook her head. “No. It’s me realizing that I’ve made a mistake.”
“What mistake?” he demanded, but then his phone rang.
And though they were in the midst of an important discussion, he took it without pausing.
She listened to the Greek back and forth, understanding more than she would have six months ago.
As a surprise for her husband to be, Charlotte had enrolled in deep immersion Greek language classes. She’d taken time off from work to attend the necessary all day seminars because she wanted to become fluent as quickly as possible.
She’d no idea how to read or write the language, but she was coming along quickly in her conversational skills.
Which was how she knew the call he’d taken could easily have been put off.
And that reinforced her knowledge that her feelings, what she wanted and needed were not important to him.
When she said as much after he hung up, Alastair had gone all icy disapproval, telling her she couldn’t expect him to ignore important business for her emotional outbursts.
That’s when he (and she) learned she was actually capable of a real outburst and she’d told him the wedding was off.
He’d refused the ring and tried to kiss her out of her anger, which for once had not triggered a sexual response from her, but more anger.
Charlotte tore herself from his arms, her breathing coming out in angry pants. “Sex is not the answer to everything, but especially not this. I’m not going to marry you, Alastair.”
Tears filled her eyes, burning with both her fury and pain at this loss.
He reached toward her, but she jumped back, unwilling to be touched by him.
After a flash of what looked like hurt, the expression on his handsome features went stoic. “These pre-wedding jitters are common, or so I am told. Go, have a talk with your mother. I will see you at the church.”
With that, he turned to leave.
Charlotte stood for long minutes, not moving. The pain of where the diamond cut into her hand from clutching her engagement ring so tightly finally registered, and she too left.
After a night of tossing and turning, replaying her final confrontation with Alastair in her head over and over, Charlotte rose early the next morning and went for a walk on the beach.
The salty smell of sea air helped revive her as the sound of waves and seagulls soothed her battered soul.
She walked on the hardpacked wet sand near the shoreline, the beach all but empty this early in the morning.
She still hadn’t turned her phone back on and that made her feel guilty. She shouldn’t have cut herself off from everyone so irrevocably, but she couldn’t cope with her family’s recriminations.
Neither did she want to do a replay of her ex-fiancé’s dismissal of her concerns, or worse refusal to acknowledge her calling off the wedding.
She’d spent a lifetime being ignored.
Why she thought it would be any different with the dynamic Greek tycoon, she did not know.
Except for a while, she really thought it had been.
She’d been absolutely blindsided by the way he’d made assumptions about the kind of life she would be living as his wife. That she would want to, or be capable of doing the things he expected.
She wasn’t like that. Charlotte wasn’t just different in appearance from her mom and sisters, she shared none of their social butterfly natures.
Charlotte and Alastair had met at a business function for her father. Charlotte had been there overseeing the catering and serving staff and making sure the house maintained its pristine appearance throughout the party.
It wasn’t a new role for her.
The way Alastair Papadakis zeroed in on her was. He’d come after her with all the European charm at his disposal. When her father noticed the younger man’s interest in Charlotte, he had not been happy. Later, she’d realized he’d intended her older sister to be the woman who caught Alastair’s eye.
Only Alastair had looked at Mallory with none of the interest or heat he turned on Charlotte.
Seeing the way the wind blew, her father had quickly brought someone else in to do what Charlotte usually did, pretending to dote on her like he did her two sisters, and playing up to Alastair big time.
It had been odd and felt slightly dishonest, but she’d liked that feeling of being doted on, and she’d seen Alastair as the source of this new fatherly affection and approval.
It had actually played into her willingness to go out with the Greek, who would have otherwise sent her warning bells jangling. The guy was leagues ahead of her in experience and sophistication, despite her being raised in a relatively wealthy home.
Somehow, he’d convinced her that he was interested in her and they had started dating. He’d seduced her pretty quickly and he had been far from angry when he discovered she was a virgin. In fact, he’d seemed pretty pleased.
She’d thought that was sweet. Now, she thought maybe he was just that basic.
For the entire time they dated, and especially after they got engaged, her parents and siblings had treated Charlotte like she had finally become a real part of the family.
She was under no illusions now. Now that her dad knew that Charlotte had jilted Alastair, he would probably disown her completely.
Charlotte spent what should have been her wedding day avoiding all news and social media.
It was only that evening, when she realized it was the time the wedding planner had designated for the newly married couple’s first dance that Charlotte let herself really think about what she was doing.
Instinct honed by years of being deemed unworthy to be a real part of the family, no matter what the paperwork said.
The paperwork might say that Charlotte was legally her parents’ daughter, but she’d never forgotten she was in their home on sufferance.
The result of one of her father’s affairs, her birth mother had basically sold Charlotte to him and his wife in exchange for her silence. Everyone thought Berkeley and Easton Campbell were Charlotte’s birth parents, but that was only half true. And neither parent had ever let her forget that secret fact.
With her above average height, generous curves, red hair and green eyes, Charlotte looked too much like her birth mother, serving as a continual reminder of a past indiscretion both her father and his wife would prefer to forget.
She remembered overhearing her grandmother talking to her aunt. “It would be so much easier on everyone if Charlotte had taken after our side of the family, but she looks too much like her mother.”
Like that was a bad thing, a thing for which a child should be ashamed. Like it was her fault her parents treated her differently than her sisters.
Charlotte had been getting blonde highlights added to her red hair since she was an adolescent. Her mom had paid for them, so Charlotte thought she approved. Her older sister had told her more than once that Charlotte would never look like she fit with the natural blondes of the rest of the family.
Charlotte had even tried contacts to change the color of her green eyes to blue. She’d gotten nothing but criticism for her efforts on that score, told the contacts looked unnatural. When she’d gotten an eye infection from them, the criticism had turned vitriolic for the trouble she caused and Charlotte had stopped wearing the contacts.
Her eyes were green and there was no helping that. At five-feet-eight inches, she was taller than the other women in her family and there was no helping that either.
Alastair hadn’t seemed to mind though. He’d said it was nice not to have to stoop so far to kiss her. Since he was a muscular six-foot-four, that had made sense to her.
He’d complimented her green eyes too.
Why she’d thought that meant he accepted Charlotte as she was, she now could not understand.
How naïve could a woman be? How desperate for acceptance?
Charlotte had been so hungry for approval and the sense of actually belonging to a family, she’d blinded herself to all the warning signals along the way in their relationship.
Like when she’d said flat out that she couldn’t marry him and he’d done what? Told her to have a mother-daughter chat with her mom.
Right. Like that would ever happen, or be affirming if it did.
He was judging her family by his own and assuming the same kinds of relationships existed, when in truth the only member of her family that loved her with certainty was her younger sister, Payton.
Payton who was supposed to be her maid of honor.
Charlotte hadn’t even texted her to tell her about the called-off wedding. She knew her parents would waste no time telling the rest of the family of her failure. That is how they would see it.
They would never understand how destroyed she’d been by the realization that Alastair didn’t want her, he wanted a version of her that did not exist and never would.
Unable to face the questions, Charlotte had simply cut off all communication with everybody.
But now she finally asked if that had been the right path? Should she have tried to talk this out with Alastair before running for the hills?
She couldn’t believe she’d waited until now to ask herself that, because darn it, the answer was yes, of course, she should have.
She loved him. Desperately.
Whatever he felt for her, she knew with everything in her heart that she wanted to spend the rest of her life with Alastair Papadakis.
How could she have let her dysfunctional upbringing get in the way of her future happiness? She’d made all of her decisions in the past two days based on the sense of inadequacy she’d always felt as a not fully accepted member of her family.
Tears burned Charlotte’s eyes.
She’d let her fear of rejection push her into doing the rejecting, herself. Why hadn’t she just told Alastair, “No?” She wasn’t quitting her job and she wasn’t going to become an overnight socialite.
There had to be compromises they both could have made to make a marriage between them work.
Had her Greek tycoon been right? Had her fears been nothing more than prewedding jitters?
She needed to talk to Alastair. Now.
Charlotte turned her phone back and ignoring all the notifications pings, she called him.
He answered on the second ring.
“You call me now?” he demanded, his tone ice cold. “To gloat?”
“No, no, of course not! I just…you might have been right. I’m not sure. I was afraid of never being what you wanted, but now I think maybe I was just afraid of getting married, of the changes coming.”
He said a word in Greek that she only knew because she’d looked it up after he’d said it once before. It was not a nice word and she winced. “Alastair, I am sorry.”
“You are sorry? You make a mockery of me before my family, you make me the butt of the worst kind of media attention and you apologize? Like one sorry can make this better?” He said that word again. “It cannot.”
His words sounded final, like there was no going back for them. But there had to be.
“I don’t know what you mean. I didn’t do all that.” Had she? “We can find a compromise.”
“There is no we. There is no compromise. You told me you would not marry me, but I did not believe you. Foolish man that I am, I trusted you to keep your word. Even this morning, after all the media attention, I thought you would not do it. You would not stand me up.”
“You went to the church,” she breathed, horror filling her as pain constricted her chest.
Because he’d trusted her to show up.
“You did not.”
“I…” She didn’t know what to say.
“Goodbye, Charlotte. Do not contact me again.”
“No, don’t—” But the call ended. She tried immediately to connect again, but this time her call rang and rang and rang, like it did when someone blocked your number.
She tried texting him, begging him to return her call, but her text changed color, showing he really had blocked her number.
It was only then that she realized how many text messages she had. Some were from her parents, mostly recriminations and demands. Her oldest sister had only texted once:
Trust you to screw this up! I knew you could never actually snag your prince. Everything that is happening is all on you.
Her younger sister was kinder, but clearly confused as to how Charlotte could have disappeared like she’d done, with no word to anyone. Why had she jilted him, when she loved Alastair?
Charlotte herself had no answer for that.
There were texts from Alastair too.
Did you see social media? Do not let it worry you.
Everything will blow over while we are on our honeymoon.
More in that vein and then the last text said:
See you at the church. With a heart emoji.
A heart emoji! He’d never said he loved her, not even when he’d proposed. He called her agapi mou, but that only really meant darling. Even though the word literally translated as love, that wasn’t how it was taken most often.
Her Greek teacher had told her so.
But the morning she stands him up at the altar, he sent her a red heart emoji.
Charlotte’s chest went tight so it was hard to breathe.
But his reference to social media and later ones to tabloids and entertainment shows had her scrambling to figure out what he meant.
Someone in her family had to have leaked that she’d called off the wedding because the news had hit social media within an hour of her text to her parents. That was bad enough, but Mallory had been quoted referring to her as a modern day Cinderella. Unwanted, trying to make a place for herself through taking on chores best left to the housekeeper.
Her sister had said stuff like that before, when they were growing up, to her friends. In fact, it could have been those old, dismissive statements being quoted now. By a friend, or an old social media post being dredged up.
Charlotte still went hot with shame about the post her sister had made when they were in high school. Mallory had sneakily taken a picture of Charlotte cleaning the toilet in the guest bathroom and created a meme out of it with text that said: This Cinderella will never manage to snag a prince.
The words were so similar to Mallory’s recent text Charlotte had no doubts who had blabbed about her calling off the wedding.
It wasn’t just social media though.
When Charlotte did a search on her and Alastair’s names, Internet stories for national and international tabloids popped up with lurid headlines. Some mocked her, some mocked Alastair.
The implication that there was something wrong with Alastair was bad enough, but the tabloid journalists had done their best to dig up dirt on him.
There were stories that postulated he’d been abusive, or had other women on the side, or wanted to use her as a brood mare while keeping up his jet set lifestyle.
What jet set lifestyle?
One of the things she loved about Alastair was that he didn’t need to be on the go all the time. Sure, he attended necessary functions, but he was happy to stay home with her on some very memorable and wonderful occasions.
What had Mallory done? What had Charlotte done? She’d made the man she loved the butt of the worst sort of speculation and journalism.
It was all horrible. And yet, he’d still shown up at the altar.
He had to love her. Or had done.
How could he forgive this?
The next week was awful. It was a slow news cycle and the stories ran over and over again. They became the butts of late night comedians’ jokes, but mostly it was Alastair.
Everyone assumed that there had to be something really wrong with him, or something terrible about his behavior for her to have stood the billionaire up at the altar.
She tried setting the record straight, but no one wanted to hear that it had all just been prewedding jitters. She’d made the mistake of mentioning her unease about giving up her job. After that, he’d been labeled a control freak and a throwback.
Alastair kept Charlotte’s number blocked. He blocked her emails. His administrative assistant wouldn’t even take messages from her for him to please call. The woman was very protective of her employer.
But the worst happened five days after the wedding that didn’t happen. Alastair’s father had a heart attack from the stress, as her own father was happy to point out to her, letting Charlotte know that everyone blamed her for the senior Papadakis’s ill health.
She tried contacting Alastair again, even calling his younger brother, but the walls had been erected and there was no way to get through. She sent a card and flowers. She wrote letters to Alastair, filled with apology, telling him that they could work things out, that she was sorrier than she could ever say.
The letters were returned unopened, no doubt the flowers and card and simply been tossed.
No one in his family would speak to her. Her own family treated Charlotte like the plague, everyone but her younger sister, who thought it was all a lot of fuss over nothing. But then at 15, Charlotte hadn’t had much truck with romance and weddings either.
She was twenty-five now, though. Old enough to know better.
Yet, she’d reacted with less maturity than a teenager. She’d chucked everything she wanted away with no way to get it back.
Mateo Papadakis was in hospital for several weeks and Charlotte worried the whole time, but he made it through, having had a triple bypass on his heart. After he went home, it was announced that he was retiring and that Alastair would be taking over the Papadakis holdings in their entirety.
Because of the recent news cycle and a lack of confidence from investors, the company’s stock took a nosedive. All of this was laid at Charlotte’s door by her parents.
Complete strangers asked her if she still cleaned the family home.
Mallory’s malicious pleasure was curtailed when she was cast as the wicked stepsister in the Cinderella scenario.
Charlotte felt no joy in the tiny comeuppance. Her whole life was imploding.
She wasn’t surprised when her father came to her and offered to finance her move to a different state, but it still hurt. She was getting grief from the head librarian, who was under pressure from the City Council, because Charlotte had brought negative publicity to the library.
Which wasn’t fair because her job had only been mentioned briefly in the articles. The focus had been on Alastair and Charlotte, but only insomuch as she was deemed the perfect modern day Cinderella.
Then pictures of Alastair with one of his more glamorous exes were splashed all over the media. It was clear the two were dating and the woman was quoted as saying, she couldn’t speak for the Cinderella’s of the world, but she found nothing lacking in Alastair Papadakis.
Charlotte agreed to her father’s offer.