The Wealthy Greek's Contract Wife

By: Penny Jordan

Prologue



ILIOS MANOS looked out across the land that had belonged to his family for almost five centuries.

It was here on this rocky promontory, stretching out into the Aegean Sea in the north east of Greece, that Alexandros Manos had built for himself a copy of one of Palladio’s most famous creations. Villa Emo.

Manos family folklore said that Alexandros Manos, a wealthy Greek merchant with his own fleet trading between Constantinople and Venice, had done business with the Emo family, and had been seized with envy for the new Emo mansion. He had secretly copied Palladio’s drawings for the villa, taking them home to Greece with him, where he had had his own villa built, naming it Villa Manos and declaring that both it and the land on which it stood were a sacred trust, to be passed down from generation to generation, and must be owned by no man who was not of his blood.

It was here that Alexandros Manos had created what was in effect a personal fiefdom—a small kingdom of which he was absolute ruler.

Ilios knew that this promontory of land, surrounded on three sides by the Aegean Sea and with the mountains of northern Greece at its back, had meant everything to his grandfather, and Ilios’s own father had given his life to keep it—just as his grandfather had forfeited his wealth to protect it. To protect it. But he hadn’t protected the sons he had fathered, sacrificing them in order to keep his covenant with both the past and the future.

Ilios had learned a lot from his grandfather. He had learned that when you carried the hereditary responsibility of being descended from Alexandros Manos you had a duty to look beyond your own emotions—even to deny them if you had to—in order to ensure that the sacred living torch that was their family duty to the villa was passed on. The hand that carried that torch might be mortal, but the torch itself was for ever. Ilios had grown up listening to his grandfather’s stories of what it meant to carry the blood of Alexandros Manos in your veins, and what it meant to be prepared to sacrifice anything and anyone to ensure that torch was passed on safely.

His was the duty to carry it now. And his too was the duty to do what his grandfather had not been able to do—and that was to restore their family’s fortunes and its greatness.

As a boy, when Ilios had promised his grandfather that he would find a way to restore that greatness, his cousin Tino had laughed at him. Tino had laughed again when Ilios had told him that the only way he would pay off Tino’s debts was if Tino sold him his half-share of their grandfather’s estate to him.

Ilios looked at the building in front of him, the handsome face imprinted with the human history of so many generations of powerful self-willed men. It was set as though carved in marble by the same hands that had sculpted images of the Greek heroes of mythology. The golden eyes were a legacy of the wife Alexandros had brought back with him from northern lands, and they were fixed unwaveringly on the horizon.

Tino wasn’t laughing any more. But he would be plotting to get his revenge, just as he had since their childhood. Tino had always wanted what little his cousin had, and would not take this humiliation lightly. As far as Tino was concerned, being born the son of a younger son was to labour under a disadvantage—something he blamed Ilios for.

Ilios knew the reputation he had amongst other men for striking a hard deal, and driving a hard bargain, for demanding the impossible from those who worked for him in order to create the impossible for those who paid him to do exactly that.

There was no black magic, no dark art, as some seemed to suppose in the means by which he had made his fortune in the construction business—other than that of determination and hard work, of endurance and driving himself to succeed. The graft that Ilios employed was not oiled by back-handers or grubby deals done in shadowed rooms, but by sheer hard work. By knowing his business inside out and from the bottom up—because that was where he himself had started. Even now, no commission that bore the name of Manos Construction did so until he had examined and passed every smallest detail. The pride and the sense of honour he took from his work, which he had inherited from his grandfather, saw to that.

Ilios knew that the journey he had made from the poverty of his childhood to the wealth that was now his filled other men with resentment and envy. It was said that no man could rise from penury to the wealth that Ilios possessed—counted in billions, not mere millions—by honest means alone, and he knew that few men envied him more, or would take more pleasure in his downfall, than his own cousin.

The rising sun struck across his profile, momentarily bathing it in bright gold reminiscent of the mask of the most famous of all of Greek Macedonians—Alexander the Great. He had been born in this part of Greece, and according to family lore had walked this very peninsula with his own forebears.

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