The Pryce Family, Book 6
Billionaire Iain Pryce is marrying the love of his life, Jane Connolly, on Christmas Eve. So what happens when Jane’s father insists on paying for the wedding, Salazar and Ceinlys butt heads over how the ceremony should go, and Dane tries to get Sophia to accept his proposal and give him the forever he so desperately wants?
Note 1: The Billionaire’s Holiday Bride takes place between Chapters Forty-Five and Forty-Six from The Billionaire’s Forbidden Desire. Therefore, all the events in The Billionaire’s Holiday Bride occur before Sophia accepts Dane’s marriage proposal.
Note 2: This is a holiday reunion story with an ensemble cast to catch up on your favorite couple(s). Watch Iain and Jane pledge their lives to each other, and Salazar and Ceinlys settle their differences once and for all. Get this title only after you’ve read other books in the Pryce Family series.
Welcome to another installment of The Pryce Family Series. This is a holiday reunion story featuring all your favorite couples — and of course Ceinlys and Salazar post-divorce.
The story takes place between Chapters Forty-Five and Forty-Six from The Billionaire’s Forbidden Desire. Therefore, all the events in The Billionaire’s Holiday Bride occur before Sophia accepts Dane’s marriage proposal.
Please note that this book shouldn’t be read without having read the others in the series first, as otherwise you may not be able to follow some of the plot threads.
I hope you enjoy this story as much as I loved writing it.
Ceinlys Glazier wrapped her slim hands around the cup of macchiato. She’d fallen in love with this particular brew on her honeymoon, when Salazar had taken her to Italy. The whole trip had been perfect, but what she remembered most was sitting together in a small café near their hotel as the afternoon sun slanted over Florence, changing the city’s yellow walls and red roofs to amber and russet, the three dusty lines of hills fading into ever more pastel shades of ocher in the distance. The coffee there had tasted like liquid gold, and had an incredible zing. Since then macchiato had been her favorite.
Her life was peaceful now. Or so she told herself as she sipped the dark java and listened to Debussy, her favorite composer. She’d never particularly liked classical music, but Clair de Lune had a soothing melody.
She closed her eyes. No matter how she thought things through, it was for the best that she was divorced. At least she didn’t have to stay up late wondering where Salazar was…who he was with or what sort of…activities he was engaging in.
But a small part of her hurt anyway.
She took another long swallow. It was none of her business what — or who — he was doing. They were divorced — the outcome she’d wanted. After hearing her son Iain’s confession about how deeply her dysfunctional marriage had impacted him, she hadn’t been able to stay with Salazar. Even though Iain was the only one who’d told her, she suspected the rest of her children had felt it too. And the hurt it had caused her oldest, Dane…
A breath shuddered out of her.
The intercom at the door buzzed, and she arched an eyebrow. Who could it be? She rarely had visitors, which was how she liked it.
She went to the door. “Yes?”
“Hi, Ceinlys. It’s me. Jane.”
Iain’s fiancée. What could the girl want?
Ceinlys unlocked the door and looked at the petite brunette with bright brown eyes and a big smile. She wore a simple sleeveless dress in the shade of a cloudless summer sky and a pair of ballet slippers. Her long hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and her only make-up was a bit of lip gloss.
What would it be like to be out and about so casually? Ceinlys couldn’t remember the last time she hadn’t put on full makeup and the most fashionable outfit before leaving home. And while she was out, she’d check her makeup constantly to make sure it stayed flawless. That had been expected of Salazar Pryce’s wife.
“What a surprise,” Ceinlys said, her tone neutral. The girl had had a lot to do with Ceinlys’s reconciliation with Iain, but that meant she also had the capacity to create a huge, irreparable rift between her and her son. Ceinlys didn’t trust people with that much power over her. “Do come in.”
Ceinlys let the door close behind her and led the girl to the living room. “Anything to drink? I just made myself some macchiato, if you want some.”
“Um. I already had coffee. Maybe some juice, if you have any?” Then Jane hastily added, “Or water.”
Ceinlys went to the kitchen, poured a glass of OJ and handed it to Jane.
The younger woman looked around. “This is really nice.”
“Thank you.” Ceinlys took a seat in her curved white leather chaise longue. The couch was one of the first things she’d bought when she’d moved out of the Pryce family mansion. The piece was the perfect size, both for her and the room, and it had been liberating to purchase it without having to consider whether it would please anyone else, especially Salazar. Liberating, but oddly hollow at the same time.
She gestured at Jane to sit. “So. To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?”
Jane flushed. “Is it that obvious?” When Ceinlys arched an eyebrow, she squirmed. “That I need something?”
“You’ve never visited me socially, so it wasn’t difficult to guess.” Ceinlys kept her diction precise and crisp, the way Shirley Pryce had insisted. When Salazar’s mother Shirley had wanted something, she almost always got it, and Ceinlys had changed the way she spoke to suit her late mother-in-law.
“Oh.” Jane shifted, then placed her juice on the table. “I, uh… Well. Iain and I set the date for the wedding, and we thought maybe it’d be best if we asked for your help planning it and all. I know Hilary and Mark had to delay their ceremony.”
Ceinlys tilted her head, doing her best to hide her surprise at the girl’s request. “Hilary was busy, and there were…logistical challenges,” she said carefully. Her third son had wanted a June wedding. Madness, when he knew so many people and had wanted to give his bride a fairytale wedding. If either of them had thought things through, they would’ve realized June was entirely unrealistic. “When do you plan to get married?”
“Well, you don’t need me, my dear. There’s plenty of time still.”
Jane shook her head. “Iain doesn’t want to wait that long. We’re talking this Christmas.”
Ceinlys blinked once. “It’s already October.”
“I know.” Jane bit her lower lip. “It’s my fault, because I kept pushing back on making the decision. I wanted a special date, and then…” She sighed. “It sounds bad, but I was busy with my career, and testifying at the trial and all.”
That was true. Jane had had to testify at the trial of the lowlife who’d tried to kill her and Iain. Thank god he could take care of himself. For the first time in her life, Ceinlys had actually been glad her son knew how to conduct himself in a fight. Still, her mouth thinned. “It’s not going to happen this year, my dear. Why don’t you try for a different date? You’ll need at least eight to nine months to plan something that befits Iain’s social standing.” As the words left her mouth, she winced inwardly. But it was too late to take them back.
Jane flinched and looked away for a moment. When she met Ceinlys’s eyes again, it was as though somebody had kicked her puppy. “You think so?”
“Yes,” Ceinlys said, hating that she was making the young girl feel bad. But there was no way to sugarcoat the situation. Iain was a Pryce, and simply couldn’t have a plebian, run-of-the-mill wedding. “Unless you want to elope.”
Ceinlys sipped her coffee. “Why Christmas Eve?”
“My brothers sent me my mom’s journal. I didn’t know she’d kept one, but it had entries about her wedding to my dad. They got married on Christmas Eve, surrounded by close friends and family, and it was an event full of hope and love and festivities — everything that’s right about the occasion and time of year. So Iain and I thought it would be really nice to recreate it for ourselves.” Jane twisted her hands together, fingers tangling like sailors’ knots.
Knowing how Iain felt about holidays, Ceinlys doubted he cared that much about the season. But her son did love Jane, so he would agree to whatever she wanted to make her happy. Still, that love didn’t extend to waiting another fourteen months to make her his wife.
Love was indeed blind…to logistics.
“I know it’s not a lot of time,” Jane continued. “And I know I’m imposing, but I don’t know who else to ask for help. My mom passed away when I was five…and my best friend’s in West Virginia, and she can’t take much time off.”
Ceinlys hesitated. She’d been intending to move to the south of France before Thanksgiving, but those plans would need to be put in abeyance if she agreed to help Jane. “Have you considered hiring a professional wedding planner?”
Jane nodded. “Most of ’em said it would be impossible. They didn’t even want to try!”
“Does your father intend to pay for the wedding?” Ceinlys asked, her tone not unkind. The Connollys weren’t destitute, but they didn’t have much money either. Jane’s father might not have the budget for a rush wedding that would be considered grand enough. On the other hand, men had their pride.
Ceinlys’s own father had fought with Shirley over who should pay for the wedding. Since Shirley was determined not to have a “penniless social climber” get in the way of a grand society wedding for her son, she had plowed over Ceinlys’s father’s objections. And since the only thing Ceinlys had cared about was marrying Salazar, she’d looked the other way, then asked her father to just go along with whatever Shirley wanted instead of letting his pride get in the way of her happiness.
She suppressed a small sigh. Things had gone wrong from very early on, even before the ceremony.
Jane dropped her gaze, staring at her hands. “Well… I think he’d like to. I’m sure we can work within what he can afford.”
“Of course.” Ceinlys pressed her lips together in thought, then said, “What if your family pays for the wedding, and we pay for the reception? That would be equitable — after all, it is Iain’s wedding too. I don’t hold with the antiquated notion that the bride’s family must bear the full burden, do you?”
“Um. I don’t mind, but is it really okay?”
“This is the twenty-first century, my dear. Just like we no longer ask for proof of virginity from the bride, we shouldn’t ask that the family beggar themselves either. Weddings are expensive.” She patted Jane’s hand. “Talk to your father and see what he says. Or, if you’d like, I can speak with him myself…”
Jane jerked as though she’d been shocked. “That won’t be necessary. I’ll talk to him. Thank you.” She sighed. “Iain has been adamant about…you know.” She fidgeted. “And I didn’t want to fight.”
“Iain can be stubborn. As I’m fairly certain you know by now.”
“Yeah.” Jane cleared her throat. “I thought you might side with him on this.”
“Well, you’re his mother. You want the best for him, don’t you?”
“The best doesn’t always mean the most expensive.” Ceinlys tilted her head and studied the girl. She looked so young…like she was barely out of college. “I can help you with the wedding, but it’ll force me to change my plans.”
Jane’s face didn’t register surprise.
“You know, don’t you?”
She nodded. “I heard you were moving. To Provence, right?”
“Yes. I was planning to go before Thanksgiving.”
“The arrangements don’t take that long when you put your mind to it. But I can postpone things a bit.”
“Thank you.” Her tone was heart-felt.
Ceinlys laid a hand on Jane’s thin shoulder. “Promise me something.”
Ceinlys almost smiled at the eagerness. Jane had no clue, did she? Of course not. She wasn’t like Hilary, who was older and headstrong enough to be able to stand up for herself. Otherwise Mark would’ve never made such a spectacle of himself. And Ginger…Well. She and Shane had been together for a long time. She knew a lot of his flaws, probably better than Ceinlys, and the reverse was likely true. As for Sophia, the girl had serious grit combined with mule-headedness — she had to be in order to be a world-class athlete…and to deal with Dane’s icy personality. Besides, Ceinlys had never seen her oldest son react that way to anyone before. She’d been certain he would end up cold and alone forever.
But Jane…she was different. She was from a small town, young and idealistic. Without her wide-eyed enthusiasm, she would’ve never been able to break through the wall around Iain. At the same time, it was her naïveté that Ceinlys worried about the most. It reminded her of her younger self — of a time when she’d thought love could conquer anything.
In reality, love conquered very little.
“Don’t agree before you know what I’m asking for,” Ceinlys said coolly. “This is not going to be an easy promise to keep.”
Jane’s throat worked.
“Promise me you will always be honest with my son, even if it means you may have to give up your pride or humble yourself.”
“If you can’t, don’t proceed with the wedding.”
Jane gaped at her. “Do you want me to call it off?”
“Do you want to call it off, my dear?”
“Of course not!”
“I’m not asking you to be honest with everyone. Not even me. But I don’t want you to lie to Iain. About anything.” I don’t want your marriage to end up like mine.
But it’s my own fault, Ceinlys thought, staring into her future daughter-in-law’s eyes. She should’ve never told Olivia Fairchild that she’d married Salazar for money, no matter how snide and passive-aggressive Olivia had been.
Money, of course. What else?
Ceinlys pulled her hand away from Jane’s shoulder. “It doesn’t matter what you think you have with my son. If there is no truth between the two of you, there will be nothing. So promise me.” She watched the girl.
Eyes clear and steady, Jane nodded. “I promise.”
“Excellent.” Ceinlys took the final few sips of her macchiato. The girl thought she knew what she was promising, but life had yet to teach her much. “Do you have some time?”
“Sure.” Jane checked her watch. “I don’t have to see Sophia until lunch.”
“Very well. Let’s see what we can manage between now and Christmas Eve, shall we?”
* * * * *
Salazar Pryce watched as his housekeeper placed the plate in front of him — a three-egg omelet cooked to perfection, with cheese and diced bell peppers, crispy bacon strips on the side. A basket sat to his left, full of warm croissants and rolls ready for buttering. Steam rose from hot coffee, and all was as it should be as she moved aside, leaving him alone in the sunny room.
Another typical morning.
Except it wasn’t.
There was an emptiness to the vast mansion that gnawed at him, and the table felt entirely too large for a single person. He dismissed both feelings as he sipped the coffee. He and Ceinlys hadn’t eaten breakfast together in a while, even when they’d been married and living together. And on the infrequent occasions they had, they’d remained silent, pointedly ignoring each other.
The Pryce family butler, Al, put a copy of the Wall Street Journal on the table, and he glanced down at the gray sheets, barely noticing the headlines.
Your money was never a consideration. I would’ve married you even if you had nothing.
She’d looked at him like he’d gutted her.
And he couldn’t get her words or the pain on her face out of his head.
Al cleared his throat diffidently. “Pardon the interruption,” he began, “But I understand your ex-wife is moving to Provence.”
Salazar’s coffee cup paused mid-air as a cold panic clutched his chest. “That’s right,” he said, keeping his voice steady. “What about it?”
“Nothing special, sir. I was merely wondering if you’d been made aware.”
Salazar snorted. “Of course I knew about it.”
“Very good, sir.” Al made a slight bow and retreated to stand beside the door.
Salazar sat for some moments, staring at nothing. Provence. What the hell had been the point of the big house-warming party then? Or even the divorce, if all she wanted was to move to another country?
France isn’t that far. Not even eleven hours.
He stabbed the omelet, then stared at the quivering mass of egg on his fork. He’d never expected Ceinlys to move to another continent. And that bothered him almost as much as her decision to divorce him.