The Andreou Marriage Arrangement

By: Helen Bianchin


CHAPTER ONE




ALESHA sat in stunned silence as the lawyer finished reading her late father’s will.

Surprise didn’t even begin to cut it.

What had Dimitri Karsouli been thinking in selling a twenty-five-per-cent share in the Karsouli Corporation to Loukas Andreou?

Worse…gifting Loukas a further twenty-five-per-cent share. Representing several hundred million dollars on today’s market.

Subject to marriage.

The breath caught in her throat as realization hit. Dear heaven. Her father had bought her a husband?

It was beyond comprehension.

Yet she was all too aware how her father’s mind worked; it didn’t take much to do the maths.

A year ago Alesha’s disastrous short-lived marriage had formally ended in divorce from a man who had professed to love her…only for her to discover to her cost that Seth Armitage’s main goal had been a stake in her father’s fortune and a free ride on the gravy train. It had devastated her and angered her father…more than she had known.

Dimitri, out of a sense of parental devotion, had clearly conspired to arrange what he perceived to be a fail-safe liaison for his daughter via marriage to a man who had his total approval. A man of integrity, trust, possessed of astute business nous, and a worthy companion.

Loukas Andreou, the inflexible omnipotent head of the Athens branch of the Andreou Corporation, whose financial interests included shipping and considerable ancillary assets worldwide.

Loukas, whose father Constantine had been Dimitri’s lifelong friend and associate…a man whose powerful image sprang so readily to Alesha’s mind, it was almost as if his presence became a tangible entity in the room.

In his late thirties, attractive, if one admired masculine warrior features, with the height, breadth of shoulder and facial bone structure that comprised angles and planes. Loukas had brilliant dark eyes and a mouth that promised much.

Sophisticated apparel did little to diminish an innate ruthlessness resting beneath the surface of his control.

It was utterly devastating for Alesha to even begin to imagine what had possessed Dimitri to revise his will to include a clause stipulating his bequest of the remaining fifty-per-cent share in the Karsouli Corporation to his only child, Alesha Eleni Karsouli. This bequest was conditional on a marriage taking place to Loukas Andreou within a month of Dimitri’s demise, thus ensuring a one-hundred-per-cent joint family ownership, thereby securing the corporation and ensuring it would continue into another generation.

‘A court of law could rule the marriage stipulation as invalid,’ Alesha voiced.

The lawyer regarded her thoughtfully. ‘While there would be a degree of sympathy regarding that specific clause, your father’s instructions were very clearly defined. I counselled him to reconsider, but he was adamant that clause should stand.’

Alesha stifled a startled curse beneath her breath.

Dimitri had known how much Karsouli meant to her, how she’d lived and breathed it for as long as she could remember. Absorbing every aspect, studying for degrees at university to ensure she acquired the relevant knowledge, the edge…aware the word nepotism didn’t exist in her father’s vocabulary.

He knew too the pride she’d taken in working her way from the ground up to her current position of authority.

It had been a foregone conclusion his only child would assume control upon Dimitri’s demise.

And he had, Alesha conceded, gifted her that…with strings attached. Conditions aimed to protect Karsouli, and her. Especially her.

To attempt to force her into a marriage she didn’t want was the ultimate manipulative act, and in that moment she could almost hate him for it.

Two days ago she’d weathered the funeral service at the chapel. Walked behind the hearse to the grave site. Stood in silent despair and grieved as the ritual played out.

Aware of Loukas Andreou’s presence…imagining he’d flown in from Athens to attend Dimitri’s funeral as a mark of respect. And totally unaware of any subterfuge.

She could walk away; ignore the marriage clause, resign from the Karsouli Corporation and seek a position in a rival firm.

Except she was a Karsouli, born and bred, legally reverting to her maiden name after her failed marriage. Hadn’t her father groomed her to rise to her current position? Conditioning her to believe it didn’t matter she was female; women in the twenty-first century held positions of power, and he’d given her no reason to suppose otherwise.

Dimitri Karsouli had ruled his life and his business interests with an iron fist in a velvet glove, earning him a corporation now worth a fortune.

His father before him had come from humble beginnings in Athens, and, fostering an idea presented to the right person at the right time, initiated the founding office in Athens of the Karsouli Corporation. Dimitri, his only son, had followed in hallowed footsteps, living and breathing the business and injecting it with new ideas, broadening its scope and extending it onto a global market.

Dimitri had married and moved to Sydney and had sought to have his own son continue, except his marriage had gifted him a daughter, born in difficult circumstances that had rendered his wife unable to produce another child.

A beloved daughter, Alesha, who had become her father’s pride and joy, especially when she proved she’d inherited his business acumen and sharp mind.

Privately educated and exclusively schooled, Alesha had graduated from university with honours in a business degree, and had entered Karsouli in a lowly position, rising in the ranks through hard work and dedication.

Her one error in judgement had been to marry in haste, against her father’s wishes, a man who, while playing a part to perfection during their brief courtship, had revealed his true persona within hours of leaving the wedding reception.

A painful time, when divorce and a handsome pay-out had been the only option. Especially so, as it was compounded by her mother’s losing battle with a virulent form of cancer.

Alesha’s adamant refusal to consider marriage at any future stage became a bone of contention between father and daughter. Now, by a conditional clause in his will, Dimitri was bent on manipulating her into matrimony with a man of whom he approved. A man of Greek descent. Someone who had his utmost trust…to take the reins of Karsouli and lead his daughter into the marriage bed.

Dimitri had to be smiling in his grave, assured Alesha would never concede to losing what she loved most in life…the family firm.

In that respect she’d inherited her father’s genes. His blood-line was so strong, the desire to achieve, to succeed, to prove her worth beyond doubt, irrespective of gender.

‘This…scheme has Loukas Andreou’s approval?’

The lawyer spread his hands in a telling gesture. ‘I understand he has indicated his consent.’

‘It’s outrageous,’ Alesha uttered with considerable heat. ‘Impossible,’ she added for good measure. ‘I don’t want to marry anyone.’

Loukas Andreou had been welcomed into her parents’ home on the few occasions he’d visited Sydney. She’d dined in his company, and met up with him in Athens on the occasional trip to Greece with her parents. Combining business with pleasure…or so she’d thought at the time.

Now, she wasn’t so sure. Even then, had Dimitri sown the seeds of a possible future marriage?

Loukas Andreou. The man was a force to be reckoned with in the business arena…and the bedroom, if rumour had any basis in fact.

Old money. His great-grandfather, so the Andreou biographical details depicted on record revealed, had made his fortune in shipping. A fortune added to by each succeeding generation.

The Andreou consortium owned two Greek Islands, property, residences in most European cities, and there was the private cruiser, the Lear jet, the expensive cars…the women.

The media followed and tabled Loukas’ every move, embellishing the smallest fact with gossip.

Tall, well-built frame, dark hair, ruggedly attractive facial features…he unsettled her. Almost as if he saw far more than she wanted anyone to see.

There were some secrets she’d buried so deep, no one would uncover them. Ever.

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