Billionaire Bachelors:Stone

By: Anne Marie Winston

"Smythe Corp. will be yours…on one condition." Eliza Smythe's eyes narrowed as she studied her only son.

Stone Lachlan stood with one arm negligently braced on the mantel above the marble fireplace in his mother's Park Avenue apartment in New York City . Not even the flicker of an eyelash betrayed any emotion. He wasn't about to let his mother know what her offer meant to him. Not until it was his and she couldn't take it away.

"And what might that condition be?" He lifted the crystal highball glass to his lips and drank, keeping the movement slow and lazy. Disinterested.

"You get married—"

"Married!" Stone nearly choked on the fine Scotch malt whiskey.

"And settle down," his mother added. "I want grandchildren one of these days while I'm still young enough to enjoy them."

He set his glass on a nearby marble-topped table with a snap. It took him a moment to push away the hurtful memories of a small boy whose mother had been too busy to bother with him. His mouth twisted cynically. "If you plan to devote yourself to grandchildren as totally as you did me, why are you planning to retire? It doesn't take much time to give a nanny instructions once a week or so."

His mother flinched. "If it's any consolation to you, I regret the way you were raised," she said, and he could hear pain in her voice. "If I had it to do over…"

"If you had it to do over, you'd do exactly the same thing," Stone interrupted her. The last thing he needed was to have his mother pretending she cared. "You'd immerse yourself in your family's company until you'd dragged it back from the brink of bankruptcy. And you'd keep on running it because you were the only one left."

His mother bowed her head, acknowledging the truth of his words. "Perhaps." Then she squared her shoulders and he could see her shaking off the moment of emotion. Just as she'd shaken him off so many times. "So what's your decision? Do you accept my offer?"

"I'm thinking," he said coolly. "You drive a hard bargain. Why the wife?"

"It's time for you to think about heirs," his mother said. "You're nearly thirty years old. You'll have responsibilities to both Smythe Corp. and Lach-lan International and you should have children to follow in your footsteps."

God, he wished she was kidding but he doubted his mother had ever seen the point of a joke in her entire life. A wife…? He didn't want to get married. Hadn't ever really been tempted, even. A shrink would have a field day with that sentiment, would probably pronounce him scarred by his childhood. But the truth, as Stone saw it, was simply that he didn't want to have to answer to anyone other than himself.

Where in hell was he going to get a wife, anyway? Oh, finding a woman to marry him would be easy. There were dozens of fresh young debutantes around looking for Mr. Rich and Right. The problem would be finding one he could stand for more than five minutes, one that wouldn't attempt to take him to the cleaners when the marriage ended. When the marriage ended…that was it! He'd make a temporary marriage, pay some willing woman a lump sum for the job of acting as his wife for a few weeks.

"Draw .up the papers, Mother." His voice was clipped. "I'll find a wife."

"Which is why it's conditional."

That got his attention. "Conditional? What—you want final approval?" Another thought occurred to him. "Or you're giving me some time limit by which I have to tie the knot?"

Eliza shook her head. "The last thing I want you to do is rush into marriage. I'd rather you wait until you find the right woman. But at least now I know you'll be thinking about it. The condition is that once you marry, the marriage has to last for one year— with both of you living under the same roof—before the company becomes yours."

One year … His agile mind immediately saw the fine print. He would find a bride, all right. And the minute the ink was dry oh the contract with his mother, there would be a quiet annulment. A twinge of guilt pricked at his conscience but he shrugged it off. He didn't owe his mother anything . And it would serve her right for thinking she could manipulate his life this way. '