Xenakis's Convenient Bride

By: Dani Collins

Sebastien eyed him across the table, no doubt trying to determine if he was bluffing.

“How’s your wife?” Stavros asked, more as a deflection, but also trying to divine how Sebastien could be happily married.

“Better company than you. Why are you so surly tonight?”

Was it obvious? He grimaced. “I haven’t won yet.” He was among friends so he admitted the rest. “And my grandfather is threatening to disinherit me if I don’t marry soon. I’d tell him to go to hell, but...”

“Your mother,” Alejandro said.

“Exactly.” They all knew his situation. He played ball with his grandfather for the sake of his mother and sisters. He couldn’t walk away from his own inheritance when it would cost them theirs.

But “settle down?” His grandfather had been trying to fit Stavros into a box from the time he was twelve. Lately it had become a push toward picket fences. Demands he produce an heir and a spare.

Stavros couldn’t buy into any of that so, yet again, he was in a power struggle with the old man. He usually got around being whipped down a particular path, but he hadn’t yet found his alternate route. It chewed and chewed at him, especially when his grandfather was holding control of the family’s pharmaceutical conglomerate hostage.

Stavros might be a hell-raiser, but his rogue personality had produced some of the biggest gains for Dýnami. He was more than ready to steer the ship. A wife and children were cargo he didn’t need, but his grandfather seemed to think it would prove he was “mature” and “responsible.”

Where his grandfather got the idea he wasn’t either of those things, Stavros couldn’t say. He upped his ante to a full hundred thousand, despite the fact his hand had not improved. He promptly lost it.

They played a little longer, then Sebastien asked, “Do you ever get the feeling we spend too much of our lives counting our money and chasing superficial thrills at the expense of something more meaningful?”

“You called it,” Antonio said to Alejandro, tossing over a handful of chips. “Four drinks and he’s philosophizing.”

Sebastien gave Stavros a look of disgust as he also pushed some chips toward Alejandro’s pile.

“I said three.” Stavros shrugged without apology. “My losing streak continues.”

“I’m serious.” Sebastien was the only self-made billionaire among them, raised by a single mother on the dole in a country where bloodlines and titles were still more valuable than a bank balance. His few extra years of age and experience gave him the right to act as mentor. He wasn’t afraid to offer his opinion and he was seldom wrong. They all listened when he spoke, but he did get flowery when he was in his cups. “At our level, it’s numbers on a page. Points on a scoreboard. What does it contribute to our lives? Money doesn’t buy happiness.”

“It buys some nice substitutes.” Antonio smirked.

Sebastien’s mouth twisted. “Like your cars?” he mused, then flicked his glance to Alejandro. “Your private island? You don’t even use that boat you’re so proud of,” he said, moving on to Stavros. “We buy expensive toys and play dangerous games, but does it enrich our lives? Feed our souls?”

“What are you suggesting?” Alejandro drawled, discarding a card and motioning for it to be replaced. “We go live with the Buddhists in the mountains? Learn the meaning of life? Renounce our worldly possessions to find inner clarity?”

Sebastien made a scoffing noise. “You three couldn’t go two weeks without your wealth and family names to support you. Your gilded existence makes you blind to reality.”

“Could you?” Stavros challenged, throwing away three cards. “Try telling us you would go back to when you were broke, before you made your fortune. Hungry isn’t happy. That’s why you’re such a rich bastard now.”

“As it happens, I’ve been thinking of donating half my fortune to charity, to start a global search-and-rescue fund. Not everyone has friends who will dig him out of an avalanche with their bare hands.” Sebastien smiled, but the rest of them didn’t.

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