A Billion-Dollar Heir For Christmas
One unforgettable night…
An heir claimed by Christmas!
When Tiago Villela discovers Lillie Merton is expecting, a wedding is non-negotiable. To protect the Villela billions, his child must be legitimate. But his plan for a purely pragmatic arrangement is soon threatened by a dangerously insatiable desire…
Whisked away to Tiago’s Portuguese estate, Lillie agrees to his request for the sake of their child—or so she tells herself. Tiago might imagine he can marry her and ignore their incendiary chemistry, but Lillie can’t. And as the holidays approach, she has every intention of breaking down her husband’s iron control!
A Billion-Dollar Heir For Christmas
Lillie Merton almost missed the fateful newscast entirely.
She’d been faffing about in the kitchen of the shared house she’d lived in since university, washing the usual mess of dishes left in the sink no matter how many times she asked her housemates to tidy up after themselves, cleaning the surfaces because no one else could manage it—apparently—and fixing herself a bit of beans on toast as if that might take away the deep chill of a November in Aberdeen, Scotland. And once her meal was ready, she hadn’t intended to go and eat it in the shared lounge, because the reality was that she hadn’t been the least bit comfortable with her housemates since her pregnancy had started to show.
There had been house meetings without her and then house meetings with her, but in the end, everyone had agreed. Regretfully, or so they claimed, but the house was comprised of merry singletons. They were all much younger than Lillie, who had moved in here with her best mates from uni and had watched each and every one of them move out again as the years passed. To better jobs elsewhere, partners, marriages, madcap adventures abroad, and so on. Only Lillie remained, the decrepit thirty-year-old spinster who the newer housemates increasingly viewed as the de facto house mother.
Or had done until it was clear she was actually going to be a mother.
It was decided that the house was for young professionals who worked hard by day and liked a bit of a laugh by night. It was certainly no place for a baby. That was the verdict that had been delivered to her at the last house meeting with great solemnity, as if Lillie hadn’t personally accepted each and every one of them into the house in the first place since hers was the name that had been on the lease the longest.
It wasn’t as if she’d imagined she’d stay here in a house share with a wee bairn, thank you very much. She had as little desire to bung a cot and a changing table into her tiny bedroom as they did for her to parade an infant about through one of their Friday night drinking sessions before they went out to the city center bars and clubs. The same drinking sessions she always ended up cleaning up after even though she hadn’t drunk herself legless in ages.
But no one liked to be told to leave, did they? Much less given an eviction date, and not very subtle threats that she would be chucked out if she didn’t vacate on time—mostly because the ringleader of the younger set was dead set on having her best mate move in at the new year.
Needless to say, relationships had cooled all around.
Lillie was no longer cooking family-style meals for the lot of them or providing endless cups of tea and a sympathetic ear as needed. She rather thought they all regretted it. She’d seen more than one of the housemates mooning about, making big eyes in her direction while she—by far the best cook in the house, not that it was a distinction to be unduly proud of with this lot—made herself food for one and left them to their ready meals and boil-in-the-bag curries.
True, she was lonelier than she cared to admit, but at least she knew it was only going to be that way for a few more months. Then she would have a child to care for. She liked to tell herself living in this house with all these grown children was excellent preparation.
But that didn’t make sitting in her bedroom and worrying over her fast-approaching future feel any better.
She didn’t know why she stopped in the door of the lounge with her plate in hand, all that being the case. She meant to go straight on back to her room while it was still hers and settle in to watch videos on her mobile, while having a bit of the usual fret about her options.
Because she had options. It was just that Lillie wasn’t sure she could face moving home with her parents in their quiet village. Lovely as they were, it had always been hard to live in the shadow of their grand, life-long love story—and she expected it would be doubly hard now that she’d gone and made it clear she would not be enjoying the same great passion as a single mum. She knew there was an extra room with her name on it in her cousin’s place down in Glasgow, but she was trying to get her head around what it might be like not only to live with her very particular cousin Catriona, but what her child’s life would be like under such a regime. In Glasgow, which was, according to everyone, including Lillie, far more metropolitan than home. Catriona called weekly to remind her the room was on offer, with babysitting on tap, and Lillie had always adored her persnickety cousin. That wasn’t the issue. The issue was that this wasn’t quite how Lillie had seen her life going.
Shouldn’t have gone and gotten yourself up the duff then, auld lassie, she told herself stoutly.
And by that point she’d accidentally roamed far enough into the lounge that she could see the news program playing on the telly. Her housemate Martin fancied himself a man of the world when he was all of two and twenty, and his primary way of showing this was watching a bit of news every evening when no one else bothered.
Maybe later she would think about the series of tiny events and happenstance that led her to be standing there—beans and toast in hand, a little bit flushed of cheek from both the heat of the kitchen and her own enduring indignation at her ungrateful housemates—at the precise right moment to see the next segment as it began. A little bit of chatter from the anchor, and then there he was.
And even though he was on the screen of the communal telly in the same old house in Aberdeen where Lillie had lived for some eight years now, not even in person, it was the same as it had been five months ago in Spain.
She felt…transfixed. Rooted straight to the spot, but not by concrete or the like. It was as if electricity coursed through her, connecting her to the ground below, the sky above, and yet centering like one ongoing lightning strike inside her.
Lillie forgot to breathe. She forgot to do anything at all but stare—though at least this time he wasn’t watching her do it.
There was only fresh-faced Martin as witness, turning around from his place on the sofa to frown at her.
“Why are you lurking about?” he asked crossly, because he had always been fond of Lillie and was covering his embarrassment at her visible pregnancy with bluster. It didn’t help that she knew why. It was still a lot of blustering. “You know it does my head in to have people stood about behind me.”
As if the path from the front hall to the kitchen wasn’t directly behind the sofa he liked to sit in.
“Wouldn’t want to do your head in, Martin,” Lillie had the presence of mind to reply, dryly enough so that she felt slightly less despairing of herself when she turned and left the room with no explanation.
She had no memory of moving through the house, hefting her pregnant bulk up the narrow stairs to her room and then locking herself in. So that she could stand there, back to the door, for far too long. Panting less from the exertion than her emotional response to seeing him after all this time.
When she had given up on the notion that she might ever see him again.
And then, plunking her little plate down on her desk and then forgetting all about it, she snatched up her mobile to look up the name she’d seen flashed across the screen.
She might have stopped to think. She might have paused to breathe, even, but she didn’t have that option because typing his name auto-populated her screen without her even having to hit the search button.
It was like her bones shifted inside her. And everything else along with them.
Her eyes had not been deceiving her, there in the lounge.
It was him. It was really and truly him.
And he was not, as she’d come to tell herself over time, a pool boy who’d wandered into that particular part of the resort and found her there by the pool bar. Credulous and overwhelmed enough at a glance to take him at face value when he’d said there was no need to exchange anything more than the attraction they both felt so keenly.
She had tried to get the resort to help her once she’d faced the truth about the odd stomach issues and malaise she’d been battling as summer turned to fall, but all she could tell them was that he was dark and tall, almost supernaturally compelling, and had swept her off her feet.
“I am afraid you have described approximately ninety-seven percent of the gentlemen in Spain, madam,” the resort’s front desk had replied at last. Sniffily.
They had even gone back to her room, not his, so she didn’t even have any potential context clues to go on. She’d had to face the fact that she possessed no possible way of identifying him, much less dutifully informing him that he was the father of the baby she was carrying.
He’d been gone before she’d woken up that next morning and Lillie might not have done anything like that before in her life, but she’d told herself she was delighted that he wasn’t there for any awkward conversations that might make him seem as human as anyone. That way it had felt as if he was simply part and parcel of the Spanish adventure she’d never expected to have. She’d assured herself that she was thrilled that it was her happy little secret to keep.
She’d intended to keep it forever. Hoard it and hide it away, so she could enjoy all those blazing hot memories in the cold of Scotland that waited for her.
Five months ago, she’d been set to have her usual chilly summer holiday. She normally spent a few days with her parents, wishing she could find that kind of love and life’s purpose, then visited Catriona in Glasgow for a taste of the high life for a day or two. But as she’d been beginning to make her actual plans instead of daydreaming about, say, a flash holiday to New York City or the like that she would never really do, her longtime supervisor, the sleek and ferocious Patricia, had called her in all of a sudden one Tuesday morning.
Lillie had obviously assumed she was being summarily sacked.
Instead, Patricia had informed her that the company retreat had been moved at the last minute and Patricia had sadly already booked a week’s holiday in Spain for the very same span of days. Lillie had then assumed that she’d be sent down to the dreary so-called retreat in Swindon in her boss’s place because she couldn’t imagine Patricia—shaped like a gazelle’s front leg and sporting that jet black, always perfectly sleek hair—going without one of her precious weeks in the sun. Because Lillie had been Patricia’s assistant for going on four years now and she’d shown up in her place before, if not at the same high executive level.
But that day Patricia had sighed and said that, sadly, her actual presence was required at Swindon and her assistant would not be able to fill in for her. She’d asked. What she wondered, she’d said then, was if Lillie might like to take her place in the pre-booked accommodation that Patricia would simply lose if she didn’t use it?
“I would love to,” Lillie had said frankly, “but I can’t possibly pay for it.”
Patricia had smiled in her usual way, a bit of a quirk of a closed mouth, nothing more. Her head had inclined slightly.
“You can consider it a bonus for your dedication these last years,” she said. “One of us might as well have fun.”
In the months since, Lillie had wondered what her boss’s life—so seemingly glamorous from the outside—was actually like if her assistant was the only one she could think of to offer such a gift. Then again, the friends she knew of that Patricia had were as sharp and brittle as she was. She could see all too easily how Patricia might not wish to offer any of the lot of them any kind of gift of all.
For her part, Lillie didn’t need to be asked twice. That was how she found herself in a flash resort in Spain for the most outrageous week of her life.
She hadn’t meant to assume Patricia’s identity. It was only that when she’d checked in, the staff had made that mistake and she hadn’t corrected them. And then it had seemed as if pretending to be Patricia made everything that much more magical. Because while Lillie might not have gone ahead and taken part in the various activities offered of her own volition, she reckoned Patricia certainly would have.
So she did.
There were daytime excursions to Spanish sites, pools to visit, and boats to set sail on. There was dancing with strangers beneath the stars. There were yoga classes and massages, and Lillie indulged in them all. Because she was certain Patricia would have if she’d been there.
That was how she found herself slinking about in a bikini and a sarong on her last night there, as if she was the sort of person who wore such things, with her usually wild and unmanageable curly hair in a state of epic disarray that she’d decided was a statement. It had been one final and glorious evening in paradise. She’d gone to a cocktail hour gathering at the adults-only resort’s prettiest poolside bar, so she could sip on the resort sangria that had helped keep her delightfully happy the whole week through.
One last night of glory, she’d told herself.
And that was where she’d met him.
Tiago Villela, who hadn’t given her his name.
She stopped this little trip down memory lane, thanks to all the pictures of him on her mobile screen, because she needed a bit of reminding that she was still there in her same old bedroom in the same shared house in Aberdeen. Not in Spain again. Not sunburnt everywhere with freckles she’d never seen in the weak Scottish sun, her hair a mess of snarls and salt, more drunk on the sea air and soft breezes than the all-inclusive drinks.
Lillie wasn’t surprised to find herself breathing a bit too quickly, her head going a little funny. That was how she’d felt then, too.
She went and sank down on her bed. And because she was alone, locked away from prying eyes and not required to make the best of anything, she let the full scope of the emotions that buffeted her take hold.
Because she’d pretended all this time that it had all been a bit of fun. Once she’d gotten the test results and had fully accepted that they were real, she’d understood at once that she would be keeping the baby. She had never considered any other path.
People would think whatever they would think, she’d told herself. And mostly it turned out that they thought she was seizing the only chance she’d ever have to be a mother—which was insulting—but then, so was the clear speculation on the part of every person she knew that she might have ditched the Spanish holiday altogether and got herself a turkey baster baby at a clinic. So impossible was it, her meanest housemate informed her, to imagine Lillie actually naked and having it off with a man.
“You’re not really the sort, are you?” she’d asked pityingly, as if Lillie was making up stories. “It’s horrible to think of it.”
“Then perhaps don’t strain yourself thinking about it,” Lillie had replied, half laughing at the affront of it all from this girl whose hair she’d held back while she was sick after too many Saturday nights out to count. “If it’s so horrible. Heaven forfend.”
But she alone knew that her desire to be a mother had nothing to do with the spinsterhood that seemed top of mind to all and sundry. It was that it was his baby.
That they had made the child together on the most magical night of Lillie’s life.
And once she understood that there would be no locating him, as if he been some kind of phantom she’d made up as the last, best part of her Spanish daydream, the baby she carried became that much more precious to her.
Because it was all she had left of him. All she would ever have.
She hoarded the truth to her like the treasure it was.
What did it matter to her if everyone thought she’d gone and got paralytic one night abroad to end up this way? Or that she’d forgone the notion of finding a man entirely and had visited a doctor’s office to get herself pregnant, something her younger housemates clearly thought was shameful. She knew better.
Oh, how she knew better.
And when she was alone, she liked to go over the facts of that night. One moment after the next, committing each and every one of them to memory. Because every single second she’d spent with that man was like spun gold, each moment its own bright coin, and all of it was hers now to do with what she liked.
Mine, she thought, with a protective hand over her swollen belly.
“Mine and yours,” she said out loud to the bairn within, because this was where she could be honest about Spain. Here in the safety of her room, though, she’d be giving even that up soon for the false smiles and forced laughter about her supposed behavior at her parents’ or her cousin’s.
Though she knew she was lucky to have choices, and hated neither one of them, she still wanted to hold on to these moments as long as she could. When it was just her and her memories and the baby they’d made tucked up safe and sound inside her. Healthy as could be, according to the doctor.
The truth was, Lillie had never made it to the bar that night because the moment she’d laid eyes on him, alcohol would have been superfluous at best.
He had been far more intoxicating, even at a glance.
And this was the truth that she could never tell a soul. Because no one would believe her. They would think her a sad cow, at best. They would imagine she was telling tales to preserve her pride, or some such thing. She could see it in her mind’s eye, the way they would pity her. And it wasn’t that she would have minded that too much, really, because she wasn’t so dim that she didn’t realize that far too many people in her life already pitied her.
It was more that what had happened that night felt sacred.
Because it was as simple and as complicated as this: she had looked up, and he had been there before her. There had been one split second before he saw her, when she had very nearly formed the dazed sort of thought that he was astonishing—
That rumpled, too-long dark hair. Those eyes, not green and yet not blue, like a sea too pretty to name. That face of his, an angel gone dark, with the fierce blade of a nose like some kind of ancient gladiator, God help her—
But then he had clapped his startled gaze to hers and it was as if everything that followed had been inevitable.
More than that, magical.
Lillie could no more have stopped it than she could flown over the moon with her own two arms as wings, and anyway, she didn’t regret a bit of it.
She’d almost rather that everyone she knew dismissed the whole thing as a drunken shag with some stranger, as tawdry and shameful and uncharacteristic as they could imagine. Better that than attempt to explain to them the unvarnished truth.
The weight of what had flared there between them had been almost too much to bear.
It still felt like that now.
It had exploded in that single glance, so suddenly, that she knew without a shred of doubt that both of their lives had changed forever in that moment. And more, that both of them had known that, right then, in the same flashing instant.
As if the world was divided into before and after.
Here in her bedroom, she replayed it in her mind the way she always did, as if it were new. As if it were happening all over again.
“Who are you?” he’d demanded, coming to her side and looking at her with an impassioned sort of vividness that had shaken her. She could feel it inside her now, as much a part of her as her own blood. Even then, when it was new, it had felt right. That he should frown down at her as if she was an apparition. As if he had found something he hadn’t known he had been searching for. And as he came to stand before her, his closeness had felt like a gift.
Because he was there at last and though she had only seen him for the first time a moment ago, she felt as if he was still not close enough when she had waited forever for him.
“Who are you?” she had asked in return.
But neither one of them had answered that question.
They’d stood there, frozen in place, while people moved all around them. They stood there, rapt and amazed, breathing the same air that smelled of flowers and sweet salt.
Together at last, Lillie had thought, though that made no sense.
Lillie had known even then that she would never be able to explain the thing that bloomed between them, that feeling that her whole life had led her to this moment where they finally clapped eyes on each other. As if it had all been preordained. As if they’d been born for this, to find each other and hold on tight.
If she’d been swept up by the breeze itself and lost high above in the Spanish skies, forever, she would not have been at all surprised.
And in a way, that was precisely what had happened.
They didn’t speak. They didn’t laugh and get to know each other, flirt and dance and take part in the usual rituals of such evenings, according to every book she’d ever read and television show she’d ever watched. All of that would have made sense.
But nothing about that man made any sense.
It had been as if they had both been struck by the same lightning and had to stand there at the side of the pool in that resort, staring at each other in wonder, fascination, and a kind of panic, as they each tried to make sense of the way they burned.
Lillie could have stood there for lifetimes on end. It was possible she did, but didn’t notice, because all she could see was him.
Until finally he had reached over, as if he did not quite trust his own hand, and had fit it gently to her cheek.
And then they’d both made the same sort of sound, a kind of sharp inhalation, and yet another bolt of that same electricity had shot through them both.
“I think,” he said quietly, that voice of his dark and deep and tinged with flavors she could not identify, “we should take this somewhere private, benzinho. Yes?”
“Yes,” Lillie had breathed.
And she had said that again and again and again that night. Yes.
Yes, yes, yes.
And now, lying on her bed, she felt a great sob work its way through her, though it wasn’t quite grief. Or a darker sort of joy. It wasn’t even sorrow. It was all of those things and none of them, because she knew his name now.
She knew his name.
The next day at work, she put together the latest presentation so that Patricia could take charge of her noon meeting with her usual ferocious competence that made the men she managed call her the dragon lady, not quite behind her back.
And while Patricia held court in the boardroom, Lillie did a bit of a deep dive on Tiago Villela.
Last night it had been enough to look at pictures of him, confirm that she had not been drunk on sangria, and get a general sense of the man. That he was no pool boy. He was powerful. He was enormously, almost absurdly wealthy. She had believed those things on the night, but as time passed and he had been unidentifiable, she’d tried to convince herself that she’d made it all up.
If anything, she had underestimated exactly how wealthy and powerful he really was.
But she wasn’t interested in his net worth. She was far more interested in his location.
Because, she told herself piously, he deserved to know that he had a child on the way.
It had nothing at all to do with the fact that she wanted—desperately—to see him again.
Or so she tried to convince herself as she sat at her desk, pretending to be thinking only of her unborn child.
It took a little digging and a few carefully placed phone calls, once again pretending to be people she was not—namely, the secretary of a specific, higher-placed woman in her organization, because she doubted very much that a man like Tiago Villela could be found by anyone socially if he didn’t wish it.
And that was how, in the space of an hour and a half, she discovered not only that Tiago Villela was currently at his London headquarters but that he would remain there for the remainder of the week.
Once she knew that, it wasn’t terribly hard to ring down to London and manage to set an informational meeting with him—and the woman she was not—to take place the following afternoon. Because Tiago Villela was apparently well known for taking meetings that would normally go to his underlings. He liked to hear some cold calls and pitches himself—but only on select Wednesday afternoons when he was in the office and had no raging fires to put out elsewhere. That had been the point of the news segment on him. His surprising accessibility.
And once she’d secured the meeting, she found herself looking, almost regretfully, for the next cheap flight south because the sleeper train would take far too long.
“I beg your pardon?” Patricia asked in astonishment when Lillie informed her of this upon her return from the meeting. “You’re leaving in the morning? Are you mad?”
“Not mad as such,” Lillie replied. “Though I am pregnant.”
And maybe there was something wrong with her that she found it amusing, the way Patricia let her gaze travel down the length of her body to her bump, then back up.
“I just thought you’d gotten fat,” Patricia said, with her usual directness that Lillie had come to find refreshing. It was such a pleasant change from her housemates’ typical passive-aggressiveness.
“I have,” Lillie agreed, tapping her round belly with a laugh. “But not from too many sweets, I’m afraid.” But there was no time to laugh. She had a plane to catch in the morning.
Because it was the right thing to do, as she kept telling herself. That was all.
“I finally tracked down the father, you see. And this is my chance to let him know. So he can be involved in his child’s life, if he wishes.”
Patricia had eyed her for a moment, looking almost wise—and far kinder than usual. It put a lump in Lillie’s throat.
“I certainly hope he’s someone you can stomach having in your life, then,” Patricia said, almost gently. “And the child’s life, for that matter. I’ve personally never met a man who would be worth the bother. You could also…not trouble yourself with a bloke at all, surely? In this day and age?”
“It’s the right thing to do,” Lillie said.
Patricia only looked at her, for a moment that stretched on far too long. “Right. Well. Better you than me, my girl.”
Lillie thought about that a lot as she boarded the plane, with only a measly carry-on bag she still had to pay extra for. She thought about that when she landed in Heathrow Airport, heaving with people, and had to work out how to get herself where she needed to go on the legendary Tube.
It was all a bit much for someone who had taken precisely one school trip to London, long ago.
She turned it all this way and that inside of her, the way she’d been doing for months, as she walked down gray, cold streets and got turned around, then had to retrace her steps. And when she finally reached the right building and went inside, it wasn’t much better.
Because this was a different sort of before-and-after moment, she knew. She explained to the security guards that she had been sent to step into a meeting for her boss at the last moment, showed her work identification, and was directed to the gold-edged lift that offered only one stop—the very top floor.
As the elevator rose, taking her closer and closer to a lightning strike once again—or, maybe, no lightning at all, and she could admit she wasn’t sure how she’d handle that if it happened—she slid her hand down over her belly, held on tight, and tried to get her pulse to settle.
“I think this is the best thing,” she said aloud, and pretended she was talking to the baby inside her instead of to herself. “I really do. It’s the right thing to do no matter what happens now.”
And when the lift doors slid open, she walked out into a marble lobby and felt nothing short of dizzy at all the understated—and not so understated—opulence.
It took every scrap of willpower she had not to turn around and leg it back to Aberdeen as fast as she could. She didn’t belong here. She didn’t know what to do with all this obvious wealth beaming down from chandeliers better suited to castles, by her reckoning, marble for miles, and everything gilt-edged and gleaming.
But she was to be a mother soon enough and so it didn’t matter if she, personally, was brave. She couldn’t let that matter. What mattered was what she did to make her child think he or she could be, too, and it started here.
So she took a deep breath, fixed a smile on her face as she announced herself to reception, and prepared herself for another lightning storm.
One way or another.
End of excerpt
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A Billion-Dollar Heir For Christmas
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