‘No?’ he challenged her coldly. ‘So it is just as I thought. All that you have said to me about your desire to protect your sisters—your family—is nothing more than lies and total fiction.’ He paused. A man of action and powerful determination, Ilios did not waste time analysing his decisions once he had made them, or asking himself what might have motivated them—even when they involved the kind of turnaround that had taken place inside his head since that very morning. He had decided Lizzie would be his wife.

He also hated not winning; once he had decided upon a course of action he stuck to it, no matter what obstacles lay in his way. Obstacles could be crushed and then removed. It was simply a matter of finding the right method to do so, with speed and efficiency, and Ilios thought he knew exactly the right method to shift the obstacle to his plans that was Lizzie’s ‘no’.

‘I was about to say—before you were so quick to refuse me—that I am also prepared to pay you a bonus of one hundred thousand pounds, on the understanding that for your part you conduct yourself in public at all times during our enforced relationship as you would were that relationship real. In other words I expect you, in your role as my fiancée and then my wife, to behave.’

A bonus? What he meant was a bribe, Lizzie acknowledged, feeling sickened as much by her awareness of how little she could now afford to refuse as by her personal feelings swirling through her at the thought of being married to him.

‘To behave as though I’m in love with you?’ Lizzie supplied lightly, determined not to let him see how humiliated she felt. The thought of having to act as though she loved him filled her with an immediate and self-defensive need to refuse.

It was bad enough that he was humiliating her by offering her money, without her own painful awareness of her fear that the physical longing he aroused in her so easily might overwhelm her.

A truly brave person did not turn and flee from their own fear and danger, Lizzie reminded herself. A truly brave person stood their ground and fought to overcome it, to make themselves even stronger. And besides, how could she turn down the money he was prepared to offer her when she knew what it would mean at home. It would clear the mortgage, for one thing, and leave nearly ten thousand pounds’ much needed ‘rainy day money’.

It meant that she would be quite literally selling herself to him—a man she already knew affected her as no man ever had. But she had to accept his offer for the sake of her family. How could she live with herself if she didn’t, knowing the huge difference it would make to their lives?

‘To behave as though our relationship is genuine and desired by both of us,’ Ilios told her. ‘Very, well, then.’ he continued, when Lizzie remained silent. ‘If you prefer to have your family stripped of the roof over their heads—’

What kind of fool was she to dare to try and refuse him? What was she expecting? That he would turn into some kind of white knight in shining armour? Some kind of saviour who would generously let her off any kind of payment? It was time she grew up and learned as he had had to learn that saviours didn’t exist. The only way to escape from the burdens life presented you with was to dig your own way out from under them—with your bare hands, if necessary, as he had. No doubt she expected him to feel sorry for her, with her tale of how her family had suffered and how she believed it was her duty to protect them. Why should he? Who had ever protected him when he had needed protection? No one. Hardship made a person stronger, unless they were so weak in the first place that they went to the wall. She must know that herself, since she had strength.

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