The Price of a Bride

By: Michelle Reid

January had arrived with an absolute vengeance. Standing in the window behind her father's desk, Mia watched the way the wind was hurling the rain against the glass in fiercely gusting squalls—while behind her a different kind of storm was raging, one where two very powerful men pitched angry insults at each other.

Not that she was taking much notice of what they were actually fighting about. She knew it all already, so her pres­ence here was really quite incidental.

Merely a silent prop to use as leverage.

'Look, that's the deal, Doumas!' she heard her father state with a brittle grasp on what was left of his patience. 'I'm not into haggling so either take what's on offer or damn well leave it!'

'But what you are proposing is positively barbaric!' the other man hit back furiously. 'I am a businessman, not a trader in white slavery! If you have difficulty finding a hus­band for your daughter try a marriage agency,' he sca­thingly suggested, 'for I am not for sale!'

No? Way beyond the point of being insulted by remarks like that one, Mia's startlingly feminine mouth twitched in a cross between bitter appreciation for the clever answer Alexander Doumas had tossed back at her father and a gri­mace of scorn. Did he truly believe he would be standing here at all if Jack Frazier thought he couldn't be bought?

Jack Frazier dealt only in absolute certainties. He was a rough, tough, self-made man who, having spent most of his life clawing his way up from nothing to become the cor­porate giant he was today, had learned very early on that attention to fine detail before he went in for the kill was the key to success.

He left nothing whatsoever to chance.

Alexander Doumas, on the other hand, was the complete antithesis of Jack. He was smooth, sleek and beautifully polished by a top-drawer Greek pedigree which could be traced back so far into history it made the average mind boggle, only, while the Frazier fortunes had been rising like some brand new star in the galaxy during the last thirty odd years, the Doumas fortunes had been steadily sinking—un­til this man had come on the scene.

To be fair, Alexander Doumas had not only stopped the rot in his great family's financial affairs but had spent the last ten years of his life repairing that rot, and so success­fully that he had almost completely reversed the deterio­ration—except for one final goal.

And he was having the rank misfortune of coming up against Jack Frazier in his efforts to achieve that one goal.

Poor devil, Mia thought with a grim kind of sympathy, because, ruthless and unswerving though he was in his own way, Alexander Doumas didn't stand a chance of getting what he wanted from her father, without paying the price Jack Frazier was demanding for it.

'Is that your final answer?' Jack Frazier grimly chal­lenged, as if to confirm his daughter's prediction. 'If so, then you can get out for I have nothing left to say to you.'

'But I am willing to pay double the market price here!'

'The door, Mr Doumas, is over there...'

Mia's spine began to tingle, the fine muscles lining its long, slender length tensing as she waited to discover what Alexander Doumas was going to do next.

He had a straight choice, the way she saw it. He could walk out of here with his arrogant head held high and his monumental pride still firmly intact, but put aside for ever the one special dream that had brought him to this point in the first place, or he could relinquish his pride, let his own principles sink to Jack Frazier's appalling level and pay the price being asked for that dream.

"There has to be some other way we can resolve this,' he muttered.

No there isn't, Mia countered silently. For the simple reason that her father did not need another way. The Greek had called Jack Frazier barbaric, but barbarism only half covered what her father really was. As she, of all people, should know.

Jack Frazier didn't even bother to answer. He just sat there behind his desk and waited for the other man to give in to him or leave as suggested.

'Damn you to hell for bringing me down to this,' Alexander Doumas grated roughly. It was the driven sound of a grudging surrender.

The next sound Mia heard was the creak of old leather as her father came to his feet. It was a familiar sound, one she had grown to recognise with dread when she was younger, and even now, at the reasonably mature age of twenty-five, she was still able to experience the same stom­ach-clutching response as she had in childhood.

Jack Frazier was a brute and a bully. He always had been and always would be. Man or woman. Friend or foe. Adult or child. His need to dominate made no exceptions.

"Then I'll leave you to discuss the finer details with my daughter,' he concluded. 'Get in touch with my lawyer to­morrow. He will iron out any questions you may have, then get a contract drawn up.'