The Greek's Virgin Bride Julia James Ëèòàãåíò HarperCollins EUR As the illegitimate granddaughter of a famous Greek billionaire, Andrea Fraser was disowned at birth and grew up in poverty. Now, at the age of twenty-five, she is unexpectedly called to Greece, where shocking news awaits her…. Andrea's grandfather has found her a husband!She's promised to tycoon Nikos Vassilis as part of a business deal. But Andrea is strongly independent and has no intention of meekly accepting a marriage of convenience. Nikos may be the most sophisticated man she's ever met, but she'll be leaving him the first chance she gets…won't she? “Well, since now we both know where we stand, we can begin.” She looked up at him, uncertain suddenly. “Begin what?” He flashed a smile. It had no humor in it. “Our official betrothal.” He reached down and took her hand, drawing her to her feet. His kiss was deep and sensuous, slow and possessive. His mouth moved over hers lazily…making absolutely free with her. He let her go, casually unwinding her hand from his, and letting it drop nervously to her side. Then he took her chin in his fingers and tilted it up. Her mouth was stung, lips red and swollen. Aroused. “You are an acquisition, Andrea,” he said softly, gazing down at her with gleaming possession in his eyes, “that I shall very much enjoy making.” They’re the men who have everything—except a bride… Wealth, power, charm—what else could a handsome tycoon need? In THE GREEK TYCOONS miniseries you have already met some gorgeous Greek multimillionaires who are in need of wives. Now it’s the turn of talented Presents author Julia James, with her warm and sensuous romance The Greek’s Virgin Bride. This tycoon has met his match, and he’s decided he has to have her…whatever that takes! Prepare to meet some more Greek tycoons soon: The Mistress Purchase by Penny Jordan #2386 The Stephanides Pregnancy by Lynne Graham #2392 Available only in Harlequin Presents The Greek’s Virgin Bride Julia James www.millsandboon.co.uk (http://www.millsandboon.co.uk) CONTENTS PROLOGUE CHAPTER ONE CHAPTER TWO CHAPTER THREE CHAPTER FOUR CHAPTER FIVE CHAPTER SIX CHAPTER SEVEN CHAPTER EIGHT CHAPTER NINE CHAPTER TEN CHAPTER ELEVEN EPILOGUE PROLOGUE ‘YOU want me to do what?’ Nikos Vassilis stared at the old man seated at the desk. Yiorgos Coustakis looked back with a level gaze. At seventy-eight he was still a formidable figure of a man. His eyes were still as piercing as they had been when he was young. They were the eyes of a man who knew the price of everything. Especially human souls. ‘You heard me.’ His voice was unemotional. ‘Marry my granddaughter and you can go ahead with the merger.’ ‘Maybe,’ replied the younger man slowly. ‘I just didn’t believe you.’ A twisted smile pulled at Yiorgos Coustakis’s mouth. ‘You should,’ he advised. ‘It’s the only deal on the table. And a deal, after all,’ he said, ‘is what you’ve flown four thousand miles for, ne?’ His visitor kept his hard, handsome face expressionless. Revealing anything in front of Old Man Coustakis was a major error in any kind of negotiation with him. Certainly he did not reveal the exasperation he had felt when the head of the Coustakis empire had phoned him at three a.m. in his Manhattan apartment the night before last to tell him that if he wanted a deal he’d better be in Athens this morning to sign it. If it had been any one else phoning him Nikos would have given him short shrift. He’d had Esme Vandersee with him in bed, and sleeping was not what they’d been doing. But Yiorgos Coustakis had attractions that even the spectacular Esme, queen of the catwalk, could not compete with. The Coustakis empire was a prize worth forgoing any woman for. But was it a prize worth marrying a woman for? Giving up his freedom? For a woman he’d never met? Never laid eyes on? Nikos shifted his gaze past the penetrating dark eyes and out through the plate-glass window. Athens lay below—crowded, polluted, unique. One of the most ancient cities of Europe, the cradle of western civilisation. Nikos knew it as a child knew its parent—he had been raised on its streets, toughened in its alleyways, tempered in its unforgiving crucible. He’d clawed his way up off the streets, fighting tooth and nail, pushing poverty behind him deal by nerve-racking deal, until now, at thirty-four, it was as if he had never been that unwanted, fatherless boy running wild in the alleyways. The journey had been long, and tough, but he had made it—and the fruits of his triumph were sweet indeed. Now he stood poised on the edge of his greatest triumph—getting hold of the mighty Coustakis Industries. ‘I was thinking,’ he said, keeping his face blank, ‘of a share-swap.’ He had it all planned. He would reverse Vassilis Inc into the far larger Coustakis empire, and take the lot in a cashless exchange of shares. Oh, Old Man Coustakis would need a lot of personal financial sweeteners, he knew that, but Nikos had that covered too. He knew the old man wanted out, that his health—deny it officially as he would—was not good. But he knew Yiorgos Coustakis would never cede control of his business without a top-dollar face-saving deal—he’d go out like a lion, with a final roar, not like an old wolf driven from the pack. That didn’t bother Nikos—when his time came to quit he’d drive a hard bargain too, just to keep his successor on his toes. But what Coustakis had just thrown at him had winded him like a blow to the gut. Marry his granddaughter to get hold of the company? Nikos hadn’t even known the old man had a granddaughter! Inside, behind the mask that was the carefully schooled expression on his face, Nikos had to tip his hat to the old man. He could still catch his rivals out—even a rival who was posing as a friendly merger partner. ‘You can have the share-swap—on your wedding day.’ Yiorgos’s reply was flat. Nikos kept his silence. Behind his composed appearance his mind was teeming. Racing. ‘Well?’ Yiorgos prompted him. ‘I’ll think about it,’ returned Nikos. His voice was cool. He turned to go. ‘Walk out the door and the deal is off. Permanently.’ Nikos stopped. He rested his eyes on the man seated at the desk. He wasn’t bluffing. Nikos knew that. Everyone knew Old Man Coustakis never bluffed. ‘You sign now, or not at all.’ Nikos’s slate-grey eyes—a legacy from his unknown father, as was his un-Greek height of well over six feet—met with Coustakis’s black ones. For a long, timeless moment, they held. Then slowly, unflinchingly, Nikos Vassilis walked back to the desk, picked up the gold pen Yiorgos Coustakis silently handed him, and signed the document lying there. Without a word, he set down the pen and walked out. On his brief journey down to ground level in the plush executive lift in the Coustakis HQ, Nikos tried in vain to rein in his thoughts. Exultation ran side by side with anger—exultation that his longed-for goal was now within his grasp, anger that he had been outmanoeuvred by the wiliest fox he knew. He straightened his shoulders. Who cared if Coustakis had driven a bargain he hadn’t even seen coming? No one could have. The man played his cards closer to his chest than anyone Nikos knew—himself included. And if he could suddenly produce a granddaughter out of thin air that no one had ever heard of till now, well, what did it matter to him, Nikos Vassilis, who was going to get what he’d wanted all his life—a safe, secure, glittering place at the very top of the greasy pole he’d been climbing all his life? That the unknown granddaughter fated to be his wife was a complete stranger was an irrelevance compared with taking over the Coustakis empire. He knew what mattered in his life. What had always mattered. And Old Man Coustakis—and his granddaughter—held the key to his dreams. Nikos was not about to turn it down. CHAPTER ONE ANDREA could hear her mother coughing wheezily in the kitchen as she made breakfast. Her face tensed. It was getting worse, that cough. Kim had been asthmatic all her life, Andrea knew, but for the last eighteen months the bronchitis she’d got the winter before had never been shaken off, and her lungs were weaker than ever. The doctor had been sympathetic but, apart from keeping Kim on her medication, all he’d advised was spending the winter in a warmer, drier climate. Andrea had smiled with grim politeness, and not bothered to tell him that he might as well have said she should take her mother to the moon. They barely had enough to cover their living expenses as it was, let alone to go gallivanting off abroad. A clunk through the letterbox of the council flat she’d lived in all her life told Andrea that the post had arrived. She hurried off to get it before her mother could get to the door. The post only brought bills, and every bill brought more worries. Already her mother was fretting about how they would be able to pay for heating in the coming winter. Andrea glanced at the post as she scooped it off the worn carpet by the front door. Two bills, some junk mail, and a thick cream-coloured envelope with her name typed on it. She frowned. Now what? An eviction order? A debt reminder? Something unpleasant from the council? Or the bank? She ripped her thumbnail down the back and yanked open the paper inside, unfolding it. She caught a glimpse of some ornate heading, and a neatly typed paragraph—‘Dear Ms Fraser….’ As she read, Andrea’s body slowly froze. Twice she re-read the brief missive. Then, with a contortion of blind rage on her face, she screwed the letter into a ball and hurled it with all her force at the door. It bounced, and lay on the carpet. Andrea had heard the phrase ‘red-misting’—now she knew first-hand what it meant. Bastard! She felt her hands fist in anger at her side. Then, with a deep, controlling breath, she made herself open her palms, bend down, and pick up the letter. She must not let Kim find it. All that day the contents of the letter, jammed into the bottom of her bag, burned at her, the terse paragraph it contained repeating itself over and over again in Andrea’s head. You are required to attend Mr Coustakis at the end of next week. Your airline ticket will be at Heathrow for you to collect on Friday morning. Consult the enclosed itinerary for your check-in time. You will be met at Athens airport. You should phone the number below to acknowledge receipt of this communication by five p.m. tomorrow. It was simply signed ‘For Mr Coustakis’. Dark emotions flowed through Andrea. ‘Mr Coustakis’s.’ Aka Yiorgos Coustakis. Founder and owner of Coustakis Industries, worth hundreds of millions of pounds. A man Andrea loathed with every atom of her being. Her grandfather. Not that Yiorgos Coustakis had ever acknowledged the relationship. Memory of another letter leapt in Andrea’s mind. That one had been written directly to her mother. It had been brief, too, and to the point. It had informed Kim Fraser, in a single, damning sentence, that any further attempt to communicate with Mr Coustakis would result in legal action being taken against her. That had been ten years ago. Yiorgos Coustakis had made it damningly clear that his granddaughter simply didn’t exist as far as he was concerned. Now, out of the blue, she had been summoned to his presence. Andrea’s mouth tightened. Did he really think she would meekly pack her bags and check in for a flight to Athens next Friday? Darkness shadowed her eyes. Yiorgos Coustakis could drop dead before she showed up! A second letter arrived the next day, again from the London office of Coustakis Industries. Its contents were even terser. Dear Ms Fraser, You failed to communicate your receipt of the letter dated two days ago. Please do so immediately. Like the first letter, Andrea took it into work—Kim must definitely not see it. She had suffered far too much from the father of the man she had loved so desperately—so briefly. A sick feeling sloshed in Andrea’s stomach. How could anyone have treated her gentle, sensitive mother so brutally? But Yiorgos Coustakis had—and had relished it. Andrea typed a suitable reply, keeping it as barely civil as the letters she had received. She owed nothing to the sender. Not even civility. Nothing but hatred. With reference to your recent correspondence, you should note that any further letters to me will continue to be ignored. She printed it out and signed it with her bare name—hard and uncompromising. Like the stock she came from. Nikos Vassilis swirled the fine vintage wine consideringly in his glass. ‘So, when will my bride arrive, Yiorgos?’ he enquired of his host. He was dining with his grandfather-in-law-to-be in the vast, over-decorated house on the outskirts of Athens that Yiorgos Coustakis considered suitable to his wealth and position. ‘At the end of the week,’ his host answered tersely. He didn’t look well, Nikos noted. His colour was high, and there was a pinched look around his mouth. ‘And the wedding?’ His host gave a harsh laugh. ‘So eager? You don’t even know what she looks like!’ Nikos’s mobile mouth curled cynically. ‘Her looks, or lack of them, are not going to be a deal-breaker, Yiorgos,’ he observed sardonically. Yiorgos gave another laugh. Less harsh this time. Coarser. ‘Bed her in the dark, if you must! I had to do that with her grandmother!’ A sliver of distaste filtered through Nikos. Though no one would dare say it to his face, the world knew that Yiorgos Coustakis had won his richly dowered, well-born wife by dint of getting the poor girl so besotted with him that she’d agreed to meet him in his apartment one afternoon. Yiorgos, as ambitious as he was ruthless, had made sure the information leaked to Marina’s father, who had arrived in time to prevent Yiorgos having to undergo the ordeal of sex with a plain, drab dab of a girl in daylight, but not in time to save her reputation. ‘Who will believe she left my apartment a virgin?’ Yiorgos had challenged her father callously—and won his bride. Nikos flicked his mind back to the present. Was he insane, going through with this? Marrying a woman he hadn’t set eyes on just because she happened to have a quarter of Yiorgos Coustakis’s DNA? Idly he found himself wondering if the girl felt the same way about marrying a complete stranger. Then he shrugged mentally—in the world of the very rich, dynastic marriages were commonplace. The Coustakis girl would have been reared from birth to know that she was destined to be a pawn in her grandfather’s machinations. She would be pampered and doll-like, her primary skill that of spending money in huge amounts on clothes, jewellery and anything else she took a fancy to. Well, Nick acknowledged silently, glancing around the opulent dining room, she would certainly have money to spare as his wife! Once he’d taken over Coustakis Industries his income would be ten times what it already was—she could squander it on anything she wanted! Spending money would keep her busy, and keep her happy. He paused momentarily. With a wife in the background he would obviously have to keep his personal life more low-profile. He would not be one of those husbands, all too familiar in the circles he now moved in, who thought nothing of flaunting their mistresses in front of their families. Nevertheless, he had no intention of altering the very enjoyable private life he indulged himself in, even if he would have to be more discreet about it once he was married. Oh, he was well aware that as a rich man he could have been as old as Methuselah and as ugly as sin and beautiful women would still have fawned on him. Wealth was the most powerful aphrodisiac to those kind of women. Of course even when he’d been dirt-poor women had always come easily to him—another legacy from his philandering father, no doubt. One of Esme’s many predecessors had said to his face, as she lay exhausted and sated beneath him, that if he ever ran out of money he could make a fortune hiring himself out as a stud. Nikos had laughed, his mouth widening wolfishly, and turned her over… He shifted in his uncomfortably ornate chair. Thinking about sex was not a good idea right now. His razor-sharp mind might not have objected to kow-towing to Old Man Coustakis’s summons that night, but his body was reminding him that it had been deprived of its customary satiation. Even though he’d put in extra time these last few days at the gym and on the squash courts in the exclusive health club he belonged to, Nikos could feel a familiar tightening that presaged sexual desire. As soon as he decently could he’d take his leave tonight and phone Xanthe Palloupis. She was an extremely complaisant mistress—always welcoming, always responsive to his physical needs. Even though it had been three months since he’d last visited her—Esme Vandersee had replaced her over two months ago—he knew she would greet him warmly at her discreetly located but very expensive apartment, confident that he would tell her in the morning she could go to her favourite jeweller’s and order something to remember his visit by. Would he keep her on when he had married this unknown granddaughter of Yiorgos Coustakis? She had other lovers, he knew, and it did not trouble him. Esme, too, right this moment was doubtless consoling her wounded—and highly developed!—ego by letting another of her crowded court do the honours by her. As a top model she always had men slavering after her, but for all that Nikos knew perfectly well that he would only have to snap his fingers and she would come instantly to his heel—and other parts of his anatomy. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat again. He definitely needed some energetic physical release before his wedding night! The Coustakis girl would be a virgin, of course, and bedding her would be more of a duty, not a pleasure, though he would be as careful with her as was possible. He’d never taken a virgin—he would have to make totally sure he was not sexually frustrated on his wedding night or she’d be the one to suffer from it, however plain she was. Just how plain was she? Nikos wondered, his mind running on. He had a pretty shrewd idea that from the tinge of open malice in Yiorgos’s expression when he’d made that coarse comment about bedding her in the dark she had no looks at all. The old man probably thought it amusing that a man who was never seen without a beautiful woman hanging on his arm should now be hog-tied to a female whose sole attraction was as the gateway to control and eventual ownership of Coustakis Industries. Another thought flitted through his mind. Just who exactly was this unknown granddaughter of Yiorgos Coustakis? One of the main attractions of taking over Coustakis Industries was that Yiorgos had no offspring to fight him for control. His only son had been killed in a smash-up years ago. Marina Coustakis had had some kind of seizure, so the gossip went, and had become a permanent invalid—though not managing to die until a few years ago. That meant that Yiorgos had not been free to marry again and beget more heirs. But then, mused Nikos, if the son had indeed been married when he died, and the granddaughter already born, maybe that hadn’t mattered too much to Yiorgos. The son’s widow had presumably married again and was out of the picture, apart from having dutifully reared the Coustakis granddaughter to be a docile, well-behaved, well-bred Greek wife. Her docility would certainly make things easier for him, Nikos thought. Oh, he wouldn’t flaunt his sex-life in her face, but obviously her mother would have taught her that husbands strayed, that it was in their nature, and that her role was to be a dutiful spouse, immaculate social hostess and attentive mother. Nikos’s hand stilled a moment as he raised his wine glass to his mouth. Yiorgos was retelling the drama of some coup he’d pulled off years ago, clearly relishing the memory of having beaten off a rival, bankrupting him in the process, and Nikos was only paying attention with a quarter of his mind. Three-quarters of it was considering what it would be like to be a father. Because that, he knew, was what all this was about. Yiorgos was approaching the end of his life—he wanted to know his DNA would continue. He wanted an heir. And Nikos? Strange feelings pricked at him. What did he know about fatherhood? His own father didn’t even know he existed—he’d impregnated his mother and sailed with the tide at dawn. He could even be alive somewhere, Nikos knew. It meant nothing to him. His mother had scarcely mentioned him—she’d worked in a bar, when she’d worked at all, and her maternal instincts had not been well developed. Her son’s existence hadn’t been important to her, and when he’d left home as a teenager she’d hardly noticed. As he had slowly, painfully, begun to make money, she’d accepted his hand-outs without question, let alone interest, and hadn’t lived to see him make real money. She’d been knocked down by a taxi twelve years ago, when he was twenty-two. Nikos had given her an expensive funeral. He lifted the wine glass to his mouth and drank. It was a rare, costly vintage, he knew—learning about wines and all the other fine things of life was information he’d gathered along the way. He relished all fine things, and once he ran Coustakis Industries the finest things in the world would be his for the taking. He would have taken his place not just amongst the wealthy, as he now was, but amongst the super-rich. And if Coustakis wanted him to impregnate his granddaughter and give him a great-grandson—well, he could do that. Whatever she looked like. Andrea stood by the front door of the flat, staring at the opened letter. It was not from Coustakis Industries. It was from one of London’s most prestigious department stores, and informed her that enclosed was a gold store card with an immediate credit limit of five thousand pounds. It further stated her that all invoices incurred by her to that limit would be forwarded to the private office of Yiorgos Coustakis for payment. A second opened letter underlaid the one from the store. That one was from Coustakis Industries, and it instructed her to make use of the store card that would be sent under separate cover in order to provide herself with a suitable wardrobe for when she attended Mr Coustakis at the end of the following week. It finished with a reminder to phone the London office to confirm receipt of these instructions. Andrea’s dark eyes narrowed dangerously. What the hell was the old bastard playing at? What did he want? What was going on? Her scalp prickled with unease. She didn’t like this—she didn’t like it at all! Her brain was in turmoil. What would happen if she did what she wanted to do and cut the store card in half and sent it back to her grandfather with orders to stick it where it hurt? Would he get the message? Somehow she didn’t think so. Yiorgos Coustakis wanted something from her. He’d never acknowledged her existence before. But he was a rich man—very rich. And rich men had power. And they used it to get their own way. Her face set. What could Yiorgos Coustakis do to them if he wanted to? Kim had debts—Andrea hated to think of them, let alone the reason for those debts, but they were there, like a millstone round their necks. Both of them, mother and daughter, worked endlessly, repaying them little by little, and given another five years or so they finally would be clear. But that was a long way off. And Kim’s health was getting worse. Anguish crushed Andrea’s heart like a vice. Her mother had suffered so much—she’d had such a rotten life. A brief, tiny glimpse of happiness when she was twenty, a few golden weeks in her youth, and then it had been destroyed. Totally destroyed. And she’d spent the next twenty-four years of her life being the most devoted, caring, loving mother than anyone could ask for. I just wish we could get out, Andrea thought for the millionth time. The high-rise block they lived in was overdue for repairs, though she could understand the council’s reluctance to spend good money on doing up an estate when half its population would simply start to trash it the moment the paint was dry. The flats themselves had a list as long as your arm of repairs needed—the worst was that the damp in the kitchen and bathroom was dire, which did no good at all for Kim’s asthma. The lift was usually broken, and anyway usually served as a late-night public convenience, not to mention a place for scoring drugs. For a brief, fleeting second Andrea thought of the immense wealth of Yiorgos Coustakis. Then put it behind her. She would have nothing to do with such a man. Nothing. Whatever he planned for her. CHAPTER TWO NIKOS pushed the sleeve of his suit jacket back and glanced at the slim gold watch circling his lean wrist. What had Old Man Coustakis called him here for? He’d been cooling his heels on the shaded terrace for over ten minutes—and ten minutes was a long time for a man as busy as Nikos Vassilis. He did not like waiting patiently—he was a man in a hurry. Always had been. The manservant approached again, from the large double doors leading into the opulent drawing room beyond, and deferentially asked him if he would like another drink. Curtly, Nikos shook his head, and asked—again—when Mr Coustakis would be ready to see him. The manservant replied that he would enquire, and padded off silently. Irritated, Nikos turned and stared out over the gardens spread below. They were highly ornate, clearly designed to impress, not to provide a pleasant place to stroll around. Nikos had a sudden vision of a small boy trying to play out there and finding nothing but expensive specimen plants, and fussy paths and over-planted borders. His mouth tightened unconsciously. If he were to become a father he would need a decent place to raise his family… His mind sheered away. The reality of what he was about to do—marry Yiorgos Coustakis’s plain, pampered granddaughter, a female he’d never met—was starting to hit him. Could he really go through with it? Even to get hold of Coustakis Industries? He shook the doubts from his mind. Of course he would go through with it! Anyway, it wasn’t as if he were signing his life away. Old Man Coustakis would not live for ever. In half a dozen years he would probably be dead, and then Nikos and the unknown granddaughter could come to some sort of civilised divorce, go their separate ways, and that would be that. And what about your son? What will he think about your ‘civilised divorce’? He pushed that thought from his mind as well. Who knew? Maybe the granddaughter would turn out to be barren, as well as plain as sin. A footfall behind him made him turn. And freeze. Nikos’s eyes narrowed as he saw the unfamiliar woman step onto the wide sweeping terrace where he stood. The cloud of dark bronze hair rustled on her shoulders, making him take notice of her long, slender neck. Then, as if a brief glance were tribute enough for that particular feature, his eyes clamped back to her face. Theos, but she was a stunner! Her skin was paler than a Greek’s, but still tanned. She had a short, delicate nose, sculpted cheeks, and a wide, generous mouth. Her eyes were like rich chestnut, the lashes ridiculously long and smoky. He felt his body kick with pleasure at looking at her. As of their own volition, his eyes wandered downwards again, past that slender neck framed by that glorious hair, down over full, swelling breasts, superbly moulded by the tight-fitting jacket she wore, nipping in to a deliciously spannable waist, and then ripening outwards to softly rounded hips, before descending down long, long legs. He frowned. She was wearing trousers. The sight offended him. With legs that long she should be wearing a short, tight skirt that hugged those splendid thighs and clung lovingly to the lush, rounded bottom he felt sure a woman like that must have… Who the hell was she? His brain interrupted his body’s visceral contemplation of the female’s physical attributes. What was a woman this lush, this drop-dead gorgeous, this damn sexy, doing here in Yiorgos Coustakis’s house? The answer came like a blow to the gut. There was only one reason a woman who looked like this would be swanning around Old Man Coustakis’s private residence, and that was because she was a private guest. Very private. All of Athens knew that Yiorgos Coustakis liked to keep a stable of women. He was renowned for it, even from long before his wife became an invalid. And they’d always been young women—even as he’d got older. Even now, apparently. Distaste filled Nikos’s mouth. OK, so maybe the old man was still up for it, even at his age, but the idea of the man of seventy-eight keeping a woman who couldn’t be more than twenty-five, if that, as his mistress was repugnant in the extreme. Andrea blinked, momentarily blinded by the bright light after the dim shade of the interior of the huge house she had been deposited at barely five minutes ago by the lush limo that had met her at the airport. Then, as her vision cleared, she saw someone was already on the terrace. She took in an impression of height, and darkness. Black hair, a sleek, powerful-looking business suit, an immaculately knotted tie—and a face that made her stop dead. The skin tone was Mediterranean; there was no doubt about that. But what struck her incongruously was the pair of piercing steel-grey eyes that blazed at her. She felt her stomach lurch, and blinked again. She went on staring, taking in, once she could drag her eyes away from those penetrating grey ones, a strong, straight nose, high cheekbones and a wide, firm mouth. She shook her head slightly, as if to make sure the man she was staring at was really there. Suddenly Andrea saw the man’s expression change. Harden with disapproval. And something more than disapproval. Disdain. Something flared inside her—and it was nothing to do with the unmistakable frisson that had sizzled through her like a jolt of electricity in the face of the blatant appraisal this startlingly breath-catching man had just subjected her to. She would have been blind not to have registered the look of outright sexual attraction in the man’s face when he’d first set eyes on her a handful of seconds ago. She was used to that reaction in men. For the most part it was annoying more than anything, and over the years she had learnt to dress down, concealing the ripeness of her figure beneath loose, baggy clothes, confining her glowing hair into a subdued plait, and seldom bothering with make-up. Besides—a familiar shaft of bitterness stabbed at her—she knew all too well that any initial sexual attraction men showed in her would not last—not when they saw the rest of her… She pulled her mind away, washing out bitterness with an even more familiar upsurge of raw, desperate gratitude—to her mother, to fate, to any providential power, to everyone who had helped her along her faltering way in the long, painful years until she had emerged to take her place as a functioning adult in the world. Considering what the alternatives might have been, she had no cause for bitterness—none at all. And if she felt bitter about the man who was her father’s father—well, that was not on her own behalf, only her mother’s. For her mother’s sake only she was here, now, standing on this terrace, over a thousand miles from home—being looked at disdainfully by a man she could not drag her eyes from. It had been a hard decision to make. It had been her friends Tony and Linda who had helped her make it. ‘But why is he doing this?’ she’d asked them, for the dozenth time. ‘He’s up to something and I don’t know what—and that worries me!’ ‘Maybe he just wants to get to know you, Andy,’ said Linda peaceably. ‘Maybe he’s old, and ill, and wants to make up for how he treated you.’ ‘Oh, so that’s why I’ve been getting letters just about ordering me to go and dance attendance on him! And not a dickey-bird about Mum, either! No, if he’d really wanted to make up he’d have written more politely—and to Mum, not me.’ ‘If you want my advice I think you should go out there,’ said Linda’s husband, Tony. ‘Like Linda said, he might be after a reconciliation, but even if he isn’t, suppose he wants to use you for his own nefarious ends in some way? That, you know, puts you in a strong position. Have you thought of that?’ Andrea frowned. Tony went on. ‘Look, if he does want you for something, then if he doesn’t want you to refuse he’s going to have to do something you want.’ ‘Like what?’ Andrea snorted. ‘He doesn’t have a thing I want!’ ‘He’s got money, Andy,’ Tony said quietly. ‘Shed-loads of it.’ Andrea’s eyes narrowed to angry slits. ‘He can choke on it for all I care! I don’t want a penny from him!’ ‘But what about your mum, Andy?’ said Tony, even more quietly. Andrea stilled. Tony pressed on, leaning forward. ‘What if he forked out enough for her to clear her debts—and move to Spain?’ Andrea’s breath seemed tight in her chest. As tight as her mother’s breath was, day in, day out. Instantly in her mind she heard her mother’s dry, asthmatic cough, saw her pause by the sink, breathing slowly and painfully, her frail body hunched. ‘I can’t,’ she answered faintly. ‘I can’t take that man’s money!’ ‘Think it through,’ urged Tony. ‘You wouldn’t be taking his money for yourself, but for your mum. He owes her—you’ve always said that and it’s true! She’s raised you single-handed with nothing from him except insults and abuse! He lives in the lap of luxury, worth hundreds of millions, and his granddaughter lives in a council flat. Do it for her, Andy.’ And that, in the end, had been the decider. Though every fibre of her being wanted never, ever to have anything to do with the man who had treated her mother so callously, the moment Tony had said ‘Spain’ a vista had opened up in Andrea’s mind so wonderful she knew she could not refuse. If she could just get her grandfather to buy her mother a small apartment somewhere it was warm and dry all year round… It was for that very reason that Andrea was now standing on the terrace of her grandfather’s palatial property in Athens. She would get her mother the dues owed her. She gave a smile as she looked again at the impressive man who stood before her. A small, tight, defiant—dismissive—smile. So, he knew who she was, did he, Mr Mega-Cool? He looked so sleek, screaming ‘money’ in his superbly tailored suit, with his immaculately cut dark hair, the gleam of gold at his wrist as he paused in the action of checking his watch—oh, he must be one of her grandfather’s entourage. No doubt. One of his business associates, partners—whatever rich men called each other in their gilded world where the price of electricity was an irrelevance and there was never green mould on the bathroom walls… So much, she thought with self-mocking acknowledgement, for the shopping spree she’d been on with Linda and Tony in that ultra-posh London department store, courtesy of its gold store card! She’d thought the outrageously priced trouser suit she’d bought, shouting its designer label, would do the trick—fool anyone who saw her that the last thing she could possibly be was a common-as-muck London girl off a housing estate! And Linda had even done her hair and make-up that morning, before she’d set out for the airport, making her look svelte and expensive to go with the fantastic new outfit she’d travelled in. Obviously she need not have bothered! The man looking at her so disdainfully out of those cold steel-grey eyes knew perfectly well what she was—who she was. Yiorgos Coustakis’s cheap-and-nasty bastard granddaughter! Her chin went up. Well, what did she care? She had her own opinions of Yiorgos Coustakis—and they were not generous. So if this man standing here on her grandfather’s mile-long terrace, looking down his strong, straight nose at her, his mouth tight with disdain, thought she wasn’t fit for a palatial place like this, what was it to her? Zilch. Just as Yiorgos Coustakis was nothing to her—nothing except the price of some small, modest reparation to the woman he had treated like dirt… Her eyes hardened. Nikos saw their expression change, saw the derisive smile, the insolent tilt of the woman’s chin. Clearly the female was shameless about her trade! The distaste he felt about Old Man Coustakis keeping a mistress at his age filtered into distaste for the woman herself. It checked the stirring of his own body, busy responding the way nature liked it to do when in the presence of a sexually alluring female. So when the woman strolled towards him, the smile on her face unable to compensate for the hardness in her eyes, he responded in kind. Andrea saw the withdrawal in his eyes, and suddenly, like a cloud passing in front of the sun, she felt a chill emanate from him. Suddenly he wasn’t just a breath-catchingly, heart-stoppingly handsome man, looking a million dollars, tall and lean—he was an icily formidable, hard-eyed, patrician-born captain of industry who looked on the rest of humanity as his inferior minions… Well, tough! She tilted her head, almost coquettishly, letting her glorious hair riot over her shoulders. An intense desire to annoy him came over her. ‘Hi,’ she breathed huskily. ‘We haven’t met, have we? I’d remember, I know!’ She let a gleam of appreciation enter her glowing eyes. That would annoy him even more; she instinctively knew. She held her hand out. It was looking beautiful—Linda had given her a manicure the night before, smoothing the work-roughened skin and putting on nail extensions and a rich nail-varnish whose colour matched her hair. Nikos ignored the hand. A revulsion against touching flesh that had caressed, for money, a rich old man, filled him. It didn’t matter that half his body was registering renewed arousal at the sound of that breathy voice, the heady fragrance of her body as she approached him. He subdued it ruthlessly. Besides, it had just registered with him that the woman was English. That would account for the auburn colouring. Presumably, he found himself thinking, for a woman of her profession hair that colour would command a premium in lands where dark hair was the norm. The man’s rejection of her outstretched hand made Andrea falter. She let her hand fall to her side. But still, despite the shut-out, she refused to be intimidated. After all, if she failed at the first test—being sneered at by a complete stranger for being the bastard Coustakis granddaughter—then she would be doomed to fail in her mission. Intimidation was, she knew from the painfully extracted reminiscences of her mother’s abrupt expulsion from Greece twenty-four years ago, the forte of the man who had summoned her here like a servant. She must not, above all, be intimidated by Yiorgos Coustakis as her mother had been. She must stand up to him—give him as good as she got. Tony’s words echoed in her mind—if he had summoned her here, he wanted something. And that made her position powerful. She had to remember that. Must remember that. She was in enemy territory. Confidence was everything. So now, in the face of the obvious disdain of this stunning stranger, she refused to be cowed. Instead, she gave that derisive little smile again, deliberately tossed her head and, shooting him a mocking glance, strolled right past him to take in the view over the grounds. She leant her palms on the stone balustrade, taking some of the weight off her legs. They were aching slightly, probably tension more than anything, because she’d been sitting down most of the day—first in the luxurious airline seat and then in the luxurious chauffeur-driven car. Still, she must do her exercises tonight—right after she’d phoned Tony, as they’d arranged. Her mind raced, thinking about all the safety nets that she and Tony had planned out. The man behind her was totally forgotten. However good-looking he was—however scornful of the Coustakis bastard granddaughter—he was not important. What was important was going through, for the thousandth time, everything she and Tony had done to make sure that her grandfather could not outmanoeuvre her. Had they left any holes? Left anything uncovered? Working on the premise that Yiorgos Coustakis was totally ruthless in getting what he wanted, she and Tony had planned elaborate measures to make sure that Andrea always had an escape route if she needed one. The first was to ensure that every evening of her stay in Greece she would phone Tony on the mobile he had lent her. If he did not hear from her by eleven p.m., he was to alert the British consul in Athens and tell them a British citizen was being forcibly held against her will. And if that did not do the trick—her mouth tightened—then Tony’s second phone call would be to a popular British tabloid, spilling the whole story of how the granddaughter of one of the richest men in Europe came to be living on a council estate. Yiorgos Coustakis might be immune to bad publicity, but she wondered whether his shareholders would be as sanguine about the stink she could raise if she wanted… And then, if her grandfather still didn’t want to let her go, she had left her passport, together with seven hundred euros, plus her return ticket, in a secure locker at Athens airport—the key to which was in her make-up bag. She had also, not trusting her grandfather an inch, purchased a second, open-dated ticket to London while she was still at Heathrow, which she had not yet collected from the airline. She had paid for that one herself. Andrea smiled grimly as she stared out over the ornate, fussily designed gardens. Though she hadn’t been able to afford to buy the full-price ticket from her own meagre funds, she had come up with a brilliant idea for how to pay for it. The day that she and Tony and Linda had gone into the West End to buy her outfit, they had also visited the store’s jewellery department. The balance from the five thousand pounds after buying the trouser suit and accessories had purchased a very nice pearl necklace—so nice that they had immediately taken it to another jewellery shop and sold it for cash. With the money they had bought the airline ticket, a wad of traveller’s cheques, and split the rest into a combination of sterling, US dollars and euros. That, surely, she thought, her eyes quite unseeing of the view in front of her, should be enough to ensure that she could simply leave whenever she wanted. Behind her, Nikos Vassilis had stiffened. The woman had simply walked past him as if he were no one! And that derisive little smile and mocking look of hers sent a shaft of anger through him! No woman did that to him! Certainly not one who stooped to earn her living in such a way. He stared after her, eyes narrowing. Then a discreet cough a little way to his side caught his attention, as it was designed to do. The manservant was back, murmuring politely that Mr Coustakis would see him now, if he would care to come this way. With a last, ireful glance at the woman now leaning carelessly on the balustrade, totally ignoring him, her hair a glorious sunset cloud around her shoulders, Nikos stalked off into the house. CHAPTER THREE AN HOUR later, as she was shown into the dim, shaded room, Andrea straightened her shoulders, ready for battle. At first it seemed the room was empty. Then a voice startled her. ‘Come here.’ The voice was harsh, speaking in English. Clearly issuing an order. She walked forward. She seemed to be in a sort of library, judging from the shelves of books layering every wall. Her heels sounded loud on the parquet flooring. She could see, now, that a large desk was positioned at the far end of the room, and behind it a man was sitting. It seemed to take a long time to reach him. One part of her brain realised why—it was a deliberate ploy to put anyone entering the room at a disadvantage to the man already sitting at the desk. As she walked forward she glanced around her, quite deliberately letting her head crane around, taking in her surroundings, as if the man at the desk were of no interest to her. Her heels clicked loudly. She reached the front of the desk, and only then did she deign to look at the man who had summoned her. It was the eyes she noticed first. They were deepset, in sunken sockets. His whole face was craggy and wrinkled, very old, but the eyes were alight. They were dark, almost black in this dim light, but they scoured her face. ‘So,’ said Yiorgos Coustakis to his granddaughter, whom he had never set eyes on till now, ‘you are that slut’s brat.’ He nodded. ‘Well, no matter. You’ll do. You’ll have to.’ His eyes went on scouring her face. Inside, as the frail bud of hope that maybe Yiorgos Coustakis had softened his hard heart died a swift, instant death, Andrea fought to quell the upsurge of blind rage as she heard him refer to her mother in such a way. With a struggle, she won the battle. Losing her temper and storming out now would get her nowhere except back to London empty-handed. Instead, she opted for silence. She went on standing there, being inspected from head to toe. ‘Turn around.’ The order was harsh. She obeyed it. ‘You walk perfectly well.’ The brief sentence was an accusation. Andrea said nothing. ‘Have you a tongue in your head?’ Yiorgos Coustakis demanded. She went on looking at him. Was a man’s soul in his eyes, as the proverb said? she wondered. If so, then Yiorgos Coustakis’s soul was in dire condition. The black eyes that rested on her were the most terrifying she had ever seen. They seemed to bore right into her—and, search as she would, she could see nothing in them to reassure her. Not a glimmer of kindness, of affection, even of humour, showed in them. A feeling of profound sadness filled her, and she realised that, despite all the evidence, something inside her had been hoping against hope that the man she had grown up hating and despising was not such a man after all. But he was proving exactly the callous monster she had always thought him. ‘Why did you bring me here?’ The question fell from her lips without her thinking. But instinctively she knew she had done the right thing in taking the battle—for this was a battle, no doubt about that now, none at all—to her grandfather. He saw it, and the dark eyes darkened even more. ‘Do not speak to me in that tone,’ he snapped, throwing his head back. Her chin lifted in response. ‘I have come over a thousand miles at your bidding. I am entitled to know why.’ Her voice was as steady as she could make it, though in her breast she could feel her heart beating wildly. His laugh came harsh, scornful. ‘You are entitled to nothing! Nothing! Oh, I know why you came! The moment you caught a glimpse of the kind of money you could spend if you came here you changed your tune! Why do you think I sent you that store card? I knew that would flush you out!’ He leant forward, his once-powerful arms leaning on the surface of the polished mahogany desk. ‘But understand this, and understand it well! You will be on the first plane back to London unless you do exactly, exactly what I want you to do! Understand me?’ His eyes flashed at her. She held his gaze, though it was like a heavy weight on her. So, she thought, Tony had been right—he did want something from her. But what? She needed to know. Only when she knew what the man sitting there, who by a vile accident of fate just happened to be her grandfather, wanted of her could she start to bargain for the money she wanted from him. Play it cool, girl…play it cool… She lifted an interrogative eyebrow. ‘And what is it, exactly, that you want me to do?’ His brows snapped together at the sarcastic emphasis she gave to echo his. ‘You’ll find out—when I want you to.’ He held up a hand, silencing her. ‘I’ve had enough of you for now. You will go to your room and prepare yourself for dinner. We will have a guest. With your upbringing you obviously won’t know how to comport yourself, so I shall tell you now that you had better change your attitude! In this country a woman knows how to behave—see that you do not shame me in my own house! Now, go!’ Andrea turned and left. The walk back to the door seemed much further than it had in the opposite direction. Her heart was pounding. It went on pounding all the way back upstairs to her room. She shut the door and leant against it. So, that was her grandfather! That was the man whose son had had a brief, whirlwind romance with her mother, who had thrown her, pregnant and penniless, out of the country, and left her to bear and raise his grandchild in poverty, refusing to acknowledge her existence. She owed such a man nothing. Nothing! Not duty, nor respect—and certainly not loyalty or affection. What does he want of me? The question went round and round, unanswered. Fretting at her. In the end, to calm herself down and pass the time, she decided to make use of the opulent bathroom. Inside its lavish, overdone interior she could not but help revel in the luxury it offered. The bath was vast, and it had, she discovered, sinking into its deep scented depths, whirling jets that massaged her body, easing the aching muscles in her tense legs. Blissfully, she gave herself to the wonderful sensation. Towering bubbles from the half a bottle of bath foam she’d emptied in veiled her whole body, from breasts to feet. You walk perfectly well… She heard the harsh accusation ring in her head again, and her mouth tightened. When she emerged from the bathroom, entering her lavishly decorated bedroom suite, swathed in a floor-length towel, it was to see a maid at the open door of her closet, hanging up clothes. The girl turned, bobbing a brief curtsey, and hesitantly informed Andrea that she was here to help her dress. ‘I don’t need any help,’ said Andrea tersely. The girl looked subdued, and Andrea immediately regretted her tone of voice. ‘Please,’ she said temporisingly, ‘it’s quite unnecessary.’ She walked past the huge bed, covered in a heavy gold and white patterned bedspread, and across to the room-sized closet. Whatever Yiorgos Coustakis had imagined she’d bought with her gleaming gold store card, all she was going to appear for dinner wearing was a chainstore skirt and blouse. But suddenly she stopped dead. The racks were full, weighed down with plastic-swathed clothes. ‘What—?’ ‘Kyrios Coustakis ordered them to be purchased for you, kyria. They were delivered just now by a personal shopper. There are accessories and lingerie as well,’ said the maid’s softly accented voice behind her. ‘Which dress would you like to wear tonight?’ ‘None of them,’ said Andrea tightly. She reached for the hanger carrying her own humble skirt and blouse. The maid looked aghast. ‘But…but it is a formal dinner, tonight, kyria,’ she stammered. ‘Kyrios Coustakis would be very angry if you did not dress appropriately…’ Andrea looked at the maid. The expression on the girl’s face made her pause. There was only one word for the expression, and it was fear. She gave in. She could defy her grandfather’s anger, but she was damned if he would get the chance to terrorise one of his own staff on her account. ‘Very well. Choose something for me.’ She went and sat back on the bed while the girl leafed through the clothes hanging from the rail. After a few moments she emerged with two, deftly removing the protective wrapping from them and laying them carefully across the foot of the bed. Andrea inspected them. Both were clearly very expensive, and although it was the short but high-necked cocktail length one that she preferred for style, she nodded at the other one, a full-length gown. ‘That one,’ she said. It was emerald-green, cut on the bias, with a soft, folding bodice and a long, slinky skirt. Andrea found her hand reaching out to touch the silky folds. ‘It is very beautiful, ne?’ said the maid, and sounded wistful as well as admiring. ‘Very,’ agreed Andrea. She glanced at the girl. ‘I don’t know your name,’ she said. ‘Zoe, kyria,’ said the girl. ‘Andrea,’ she replied. ‘And I don’t believe in servants.’ Some twenty minutes later, staring at herself in the long mirror set into the door of the closet, Andrea was stunned. She looked—fantastic! That was the only word for it. The dress was a miracle of the couturier’s art, its soft folds contrasting with the rich vividness of its colour. True, the bodice, held up by tiny shoestring straps, was draped dangerously low over her full breasts, encased in a fragile, strapless bra, but she had to admit the effect was very…well, effective! It gave the dress the finishing touch to the ‘wow’ impact it made. She had scooped her hair up into a knot on her head, with tendrils loosening around the nape of her neck and gracing her cheeks and forehead, and she’d redone her make-up to match the impact of the dress. With a final look at her reflection, she turned and headed towards the door, where the manservant who had come to summon her stood waiting. Staff though he was, she could see the admiration in his eyes. For an instant, in her mind’s eye, it was not one of the house staff who stood there, but the man she had encountered on the terrace that afternoon, looking at her with those powerful grey eyes, making her stomach give a little skip… She bestowed a slight, polite smile on the manservant, and headed towards the curving marble staircase. It was time to go into battle once more… Nikos Vassilis stepped on the accelerator, changed gear and heard the powerful note of the engine of the Ferrari change pitch. He was not in a good mood. Twice in one day now he’d made the journey out of Athens at the behest of Yiorgos Coustakis. Tonight was not a good night to be dining with the old man. He’d planned a leisurely evening with Xanthe, whose petite, curvaceous body was, he had discovered, a pleasant alternative to Esme Vandersee’s greyhound leanness. Xanthe was proving very attentive—she was clearly keen to take his mind off Esme Vandersee, and was now pulling out all the stops to renew Nikos’s interest. Which meant, he mused, that she was coming up with some very interesting ideas indeed to do so… A smile indented his mouth. Last night with Xanthe had been very enjoyable—she had seen to that. Ah, he thought pleasurably, there was nothing like a Greek woman for making a man feel good! Yes, Esme Vandersee might be eager for him, he was certainly a catch for her, but as an American she suffered that infernal affliction of thinking that a woman had a right to give a man a hard time if she chose! Usually, of course, any petulance that Esme displayed he disposed of very swiftly—she was as sexy as a cat and getting her horizontal soon improved her mood… But even so, he mused, Xanthe understood what it was that a man wanted a woman to be. And she made it obvious that she was keen to be so very attentive to his every need…. His smile vanished. Well, he’d be kept waiting tonight before availing himself of Xanthe’s rediscovered charms! Yiorgos Coustakis was obviously taking considerable pleasure in jerking his strings—just for the hell of it, it seemed. Their meeting that afternoon, ostensibly to discus the technicalities of reversing Vassilis Inc into Coustakis Industries, had hardly been urgent, and could have been left to their respective finance directors to sort out. But obviously Old Man Coustakis had relished getting Nikos Vassilis to come traipsing out of Athens to that overblown villa of his whenever he snapped his fingers. Thinking about the afternoon meeting brought another image vividly to mind—that of Yiorgos Coustakis’s flame-haired mistress. Nikos’s mouth tightened. The woman had been so blatant, and so unashamed of what she was doing at the Coustakis villa. Not to mention eyeing him up and trying her wiles out on him to boot! Mind you, Nikos thought, had the woman not been tainted by her distasteful association with a man old enough to be her grandfather, then her approach to him might well have got a warmer welcome. Considerably warmer, in fact… An image of her dark auburn hair floating around that perfect face, the way her breasts had thrust against the material of her jacket, played in his memory. Oh, yes, she was worth remembering, all right! Her beauty was so flamboyant, so eye-catching, that almost—almost he had been tempted to overlook just for whose benefit it had been paraded that afternoon. Not for him—for a seventy-eight-year-old man. He thrust her memory from him. However alluring the woman, she was beyond the pale so far as he was concerned. He revved the engine again, enjoying the superb handling of the extortionately expensive car beneath his hands. Driving a high-performance car like this was like having sex with a high-performance woman…they were both so extraordinarily responsive to his touch… His mind snapped away from the analogy. For the next few hours, until the ordeal of a tedious, overlong dinner with Yiorgos Coustakis was done with, he had better keep his libido under control. Think of your bride, Nikos! That sobered him all right. It was about time Old Man Coustakis brought the girl out from wherever he had her stashed. She would know all about her intended bridegroom by now, no doubt, and she and her mother were probably already waist-deep in wedding plans. Presumably the girl wanted a lavish society wedding. Well, he didn’t care one way or the other, and, since the whole purpose of marrying her was to seal his acquisition of Coustakis Industries, the more high-profile the better! After all, he had nothing against the girl—let her have her extravagant wedding if she wanted. Once she was his wife it would be her who would have to fit herself around what he wanted—that was what Greek wives did. Oh, he would be generous, of course, and considerate to her position—he had no intention of making a bad husband—but he did not envisage changing his life a great deal on account of the Coustakis heiress. Pity she was obviously so plain… The thought of having a sexually desirable, docile and attentive wife had its attractions, now he came to think of it. He braked the Ferrari in front of the security-guarded gates of the Coustakis villa, presented his credentials, and moved on down the drive at a speed greater than he would normally. He wanted this evening over and done with. CHAPTER FOUR NIKOS stood in the ornate salon, itching for dinner to be announced. His host seemed to be in no hurry. He was regaling his guest with a lengthy description of his latest toy—a one-hundred-and-fifty-foot yacht which he had just taken delivery of. It was, by all accounts, an opulent vessel, and Yiorgos was telling him in great detail about the splendour of the dåcor of its interior—and how much it had all cost. The telling seemed to be putting him in a good humour. His colour was high, but his eyes were snapping with satisfaction. ‘And you, my friend,’ he said, slapping Nikos on the back with a still powerful hand, ‘will be the first to try her out! You will spend your honeymoon on it! What do you think of that, eh?’ Nikos smiled briefly. Again, a honeymoon spent on board Yiorgos Coustakis’s new yacht would send just the message to the world he wanted. ‘Good, good,’ said his grandfather-in-law-to-be, and slapped him once more on the back. Then his head snapped round. Automatically Nikos followed his gaze. A servant had opened the double doors to the salon. A figure stepped through. It was the flame-haired temptress! Nikos felt a kick to his gut that was as powerful as it was unwelcome. What the hell was she doing here? The woman had paused for a moment in the doorway—making sure all eyes were on her, Nikos thought—and now started to glide forward towards them. Her head was held high—that glorious dark auburn hair twisted up into a topknot that revealed the perfect bone structure of her stunning face. As for the rest of her… Nikos felt his breath catch again. The dress was simply breathtaking on her, revealing the lushness of her figure even more generously than the close-fitting jacket had that afternoon. Now, instead of only being able to imagine the rich creaminess of her skin, he could see acres of it displayed for him, from her swan-like neck down across the sculpted beauty of her shoulders, the graceful curve of her bare arms and, best of all, towards the swell of her ripe breasts… He felt himself ache to caress them… Like a chill breath on the back of his neck, he felt Yiorgos Coustakis watching him. Watching him lust after his mistress. Disgust flooded through him. Whatever the hell the old man was playing at, bringing his mistress to dinner, taking pleasure in seeing his guest responding to her lavish charms, he would have none of it! His face hardened. For Andrea, walking in through the doors and then freezing to a stupefied halt at seeing the very man she had been trying not to think about all evening standing there beside her grandfather, it was like dåj?-vu all over again. Just as the first sight of her had brought instant sexual appreciation into the man’s eyes, so, an instant later, that had been replaced by disdain—all over again. And, just as she had on the terrace, she reacted instinctively. Her chin went up; her eyes glinted dangerously. She was glad of her anger—it took her mind off the fact that her heart was racing like a rocket and that her eyes were glued to his face. She stopped, resting her hand on the back of an antique sofa beside her. Her eyes met those of the stranger, defiant and glittering. ‘Well,’ said Yiorgos Coustakis to the man he had chosen to be his son-in-law, ‘what do you think of her?’ What the hell do I say? thought Nikos savagely. He said the only thing he could. ‘As ever, Yiorgos, you have impeccable taste. She is…outstanding.’ They were speaking Greek, Andrea registered. Well, of course they would be! Her eyes flew from one to another. ‘You are to be envied,’ Nikos went on, with gritted politeness, wondering what the hell to say to the old man about the woman he was warming his bed with. Disgust was filling his veins. He wanted out of here—fast. Yiorgos Coustakis smiled. ‘I give her to you,’ he said. He made a gesture of presentation with his hand. The satisfaction in his voice was blatant. Nikos froze. What the hell was this? Was this supposed to be some kind of sweetener that the old man imagined he might want in order to bed his plain, sexless granddaughter? If so, he had better extricate himself from the delusion. ‘Your generosity is…overwhelming, Yiorgos,’ he managed to get out. ‘But I cannot accept.’ A look of deliberate astonishment lit Yiorgos Coustakis’s face. ‘How is this?’ he demanded. ‘I thought…’ He paused infinitesimally, milking the pleasure he was getting from the situation to its utmost, watching this arrogant, ambitious pup squirm for one moment longer. ‘That you wanted my granddaughter? That you were impatient to meet her…’ He gave a short laugh, his eyes snapping with malicious pleasure as he watched Nikos’s face change expression as the truth dawned. ‘She is my granddaughter, Nikos—what did you imagine, eh?’ he asked softly. Only Nikos’s years of self-discipline enabled him to keep his expression steady. Inside, it felt as if the floor had given way beneath him. ‘This is your granddaughter?’ he heard himself say, as if seeking confirmation of the unbelievable. Yiorgos laughed again, still highly pleased with the joke he had played on the younger man. He knew perfectly well what conclusions he had jumped to when, just as Yiorgos had planned, he had first set eyes on the girl that afternoon, sublimely unaware that the plain-faced fiancåe he had been led to expect was no such thing at all. He glanced across at the girl and beckoned imperiously. ‘Come here,’ he commanded in English. Andrea walked forward. Her heart was pounding again. She could feel it thrilling in every vein. The man with the steel-grey eyes was looking at her full on, and she was all but knocked senseless by the way he was looking at her—either that or jolted by a million volts of electricity scorching through her. If she’d thought he’d looked a knock-out that afternoon, in his hand-made business suit, the way he looked now, in his tuxedo, simply took her breath away! She swallowed. This was ridiculous! No man should have such an effect on her! She’d seen good-looking blokes before, been eyed up by them—even kissed some in her time—but never, never had any man made her feel like this. Breathless, terrified—enthralled. Excited! Beside the man, her grandfather ceased to exist. She took in a vague impression of a stockily built figure, shoulders bowing with age, and that craggy, heavy-featured face she had registered as he’d sat at his desk that afternoon. But right now she had no eyes for him. She was simply drinking in the man at his side—she wanted to stare and stare and stare. ‘My granddaughter,’ said Yiorgos. Nikos hardly heard him. The entire focus of his attention was on the woman in front of him. Theos, but she was fantastic! Was she really the Coustakis girl? It couldn’t be possible. Then, with a fraction of his brain that worked, he realised that the old man had set him up deliberately—leading him on to think that he was going to be shackled to a plain wife, when all along… He smiled. Oh, what the hell—so the old man had set him up! He didn’t care! Hell, he could even share the joke! A sense of relief had flooded through him, he realised, and something more—exultation. Yes! That woman, that fantastic flame-haired temptress, was not out of bounds after all. In fact—his smile deepened—she was very, very within bounds… Andrea saw the smile, brilliant, wolfish, and felt her stomach lurch. Oh, good grief, but he was something all right! She felt the breath squeeze from her body. Nikos reached and took the girl’s hand. He lifted it to his mouth. Andrea watched the dark head bend as if in slow motion. She still couldn’t breathe, her lungs frozen as she felt the long, strong fingers take hers. Then even more sensation laced through her. He was brushing her fingers with his lips. Lightly, oh, so lightly! But oh, oh, so devastatingly. A million nerve endings fired within her, like the whoosh of a rocket cascading stars down upon her head. As he raised his head he smiled down at her. ‘Nikos Vassilis,’ he said, and looked right into her eyes. His voice was low—the tone intimate. She stared up at him, lips parted. She could say, or do, nothing. ‘Andrea—’ The word breathed from her. She could hardly speak, she found. ‘Andrea…’ His voice echoed her name, deeper than her husky contralto. ‘It is good to meet you.’ He let his eyes linger on her one last, endless moment, then, tucking her hand into the crook of his arm, he turned to his host. ‘You’re an old devil, Yiorgos,’ he said with grating acknowledgement. ‘But in this instance the joke was worth it.’ Andrea’s eyes flew between them—the language was back to Greek. What was going on? Then, suddenly, Nikos turned back to her. ‘Come, let me take you through to dinner.’ His voice was warm, and the caress in it made her nerve-endings fire all over again. That and the over-powering closeness of him, her hand caught in his arm. She felt she ought to pull away from him—but for the life of her she could not. As if in a dream she let herself be escorted from the room, across the vast entrance hall, and into a grandiose dining room. With the utmost attentiveness this most devastating man, Nikos Vassilis—Who is he? she found herself wondering urgently—drew back her chair, waving away the manservant who came forward to perform the task, and settled her in her seat. She wanted to glance up and smile her thanks politely, but she could not. Shyness suddenly overwhelmed her. This was like something out of a fairytale—she dressed like a princess, and he, oh, he like a dark prince! Instead she mumbled a thank-you into her place-setting. As he took his place opposite her—only one end of the long mahogany table was occupied, with Yiorgos taking the head and his granddaughter and her fiancå on either hand—Nikos felt a deep sense of well-being filling him. He couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful bride! Old Man Coustakis was doing him proud. Oh, he would never have been unkind, even to a plain wife, but having that flame-haired beauty at his side, in his bed, was going to make married life a whole, whole lot sweeter for him! He glanced across at her. She was still staring at her place-setting as if it was the most interesting thing in the room, but she was aware of him all right. Every male instinct told him that. But if she were behaving as a well-brought-up young girl should—showing a proper shyness in the face of the man she was to marry—well, who was he to complain? A memory of the way she had boldly walked up to him on the terrace, her voice husky as she sought to introduce herself, intruded, conflicting with the image of the meekly downturned head opposite him. A frown flickered in his eyes. Then it cleared. She must have seen the look he had given her then and been angered by it—and rightfully so! No gently reared female would care to be taken for such a one as he had first thought her. Well, now that misunderstanding was out of the way it would not trouble them again. Another frown flickered in his eyes. The girl was English, that was obvious—both by her colouring and her use of the language, quite unaccented. As the manservant drew forward to start serving dinner Nikos glanced at his host. ‘You did not tell me that your granddaughter was half-English, Yiorgos,’ he opened. He spoke in Greek, and as he did he noticed Andrea’s head lift, her eyes focus intently on him, concentrating. Yiorgos leant back in his chair. ‘A little surprise for you,’ he answered. His eyes gleamed. Nikos let his mouth twist. ‘Another one,’ he acknowledged. Then he turned his attention to Andrea. ‘You live in England? With your English mother?’ he asked politely, in Greek. That must be the reason she had addressed him in English this afternoon. Andrea looked at him. She made as if to open her mouth, but her grandfather forestalled her. ‘She does not speak Greek,’ he said bluntly. He spoke in English. Nikos’s eyes snapped together. ‘How is this?’ he demanded, sticking with English. ‘Let us say her mother had her own ideas about her upbringing,’ said Yiorgos. Andrea stared at her grandfather—just stared. Then, as if knowing exactly why she was staring, he caught her eye. Dark, intent. Warning. His words echoed in her mind from the afternoon. You will be on the first plane back to London unless you do exactly, exactly, what I want you to do! She felt her blood chill. Was going along with some fairy story he wanted to tell this guest of his about her upbringing part of that imprecation? What do I do? she thought wildly. Open my mouth and set the record straight right away? And achieve what, precisely? She knew the answer. Get herself thrown out of her grandfather’s house and sent back to London without a penny for her mother. And she wouldn’t go home empty-handed; she wouldn’t! She would get Kim the money she deserved, whatever it took. Even if it meant colluding with Yiorgos Coustakis’s attempt to whitewash his behaviour. So she buttoned her lip and stayed silent. From across the table Nikos saw her expression, saw the mutinous gleam in those lustrous chestnut eyes. So, the girl had been brought up in England, by a mother who had her own ideas, had she? Ideas that included depriving the Coustakis heiress of her natural heritage—the language of her father, the household of her grandfather. What kind of mother had she been? he wondered. An image presented itself in his mind—one of those sharp-tongued, upper-class, arrogant Englishwomen, expensively dressed, enjoying a social round of polo and house-parties at one stately home after another. He frowned. Why had she married Andreas Coustakis in the first place? he wondered. Doubtless the marriage would not have lasted, even if Yiorgos’s son had not been killed so young. He found himself wondering why Yiorgos had so uncharacteristically let the widow take his granddaughter back to England with her, instead of keeping her in his household. Well, his generosity had been ill-paid! Now he had a granddaughter who could not even speak his own language! I could teach her… Another image swept into his mind. That of this flame-haired beauty lying in his arms as he taught her some of the more essential things that a Greek bride needed to be able to tell her husband—such as her desire for him… He let his imagination dwell pleasantly on the prospect as they began to dine. Through his long lashes, Nikos watched with amusement as Andrea began to eat appreciatively. Though he was pleased to see her take evident sensuous delight in fine food—Esme’s gruelling diet had always irritated him, and Xanthe was picky about what she ate as well—he would have to keep an eye on his bride’s appetite. At the moment she could get away with hearty eating—her figure was lush and queenly, and she carried no surplus pounds at all, he could tell—but if she continued to put food away like that for the next twenty years she would be fat by forty! A thought struck him. How old was she, exactly? When he’d first set eyes on her he’d taken her for twenty-five or so, but surely Yiorgos would not have kept her unmarried for so long? She must be younger. Probably her English mother and that sophisticated aristocratic society she doubtless enjoyed had served to make her appear more mature than she really was. Yet another thought struck him, less pleasant. If she’d been brought up in England just how sure could he be that she was coming to him unsullied? English girls were notoriously free with their favours—every Greek male knew that, and most of them took advantage of it if they got the chance! Upper-class English girls were no longer pure as the driven snow—some of them started their sexual lives at a shamefully early age. Could she still be a virgin? He thought of asking Yiorgos outright, but knew what the answer would be—Do you care enough to walk away from Coustakis Industries, my friend? And he knew what his own answer to that would be. Virgin or no, he would marry Andrea Coustakis and get Coustakis Industries as her dowry. Eating the delicious dinner—there seemed to be an endless array of courses—served to take Andrea’s mind a fraction off the man opposite her. But only by a minute amount. Then, just as she was beginning to calm, he started talking to her. ‘What part of England do you live in, Andrea?’ he asked her civilly, clearly making conversation. ‘London,’ she replied, daring to glance across at him briefly. ‘A favourite city of mine. Your life there must be pretty hectic, I guess?’ ‘Yes,’ said, thinking of the two jobs she held down, working weekends as well as evenings, putting aside every penny she could to help pay off those debts hanging over her mother. Kim worked too, in the local late-night-opening supermarket—neither of them got much time off. ‘So what are the best clubs in London at the moment, do you think?’ Nikos went on, naming a couple of fashionable hot-spots that Andrea vaguely recognised from glossy magazines. ‘Clubbing really isn’t my scene,’ she answered. Not only did she get little free time to go out, but the kind of nightlife available in her part of London was not the kind to feature in glossy magazines. Anyway, dancing was out for her, and Kim had brought her up to appreciate classical music best. ‘Oh,’ replied Nikos, realising he felt pleased with her answer. Clubbing was strongly associated with sexual promiscuity, and he found himself reassured by her answer. ‘What is your “scene”, then, Andrea?’ She looked at him. Presumably he was just making polite conversation to his host’s granddaughter. ‘I like the theatre,’ she said. It was true—the biggest treat she could give Kim, and herself, was to see the Royal Shakespeare Company, visit the National Theatre, or go to any of the great wealth of other theatres London had to offer. But tickets were expensive, so it was something they did not indulge themselves in often. Nikos named a couple of spectacular musicals running in the West End currently—obviously he was no stranger to London, Andrea thought. She shook her head. Tickets for such extravaganzas were even more expensive than for ordinary theatre. ‘I prefer Shakespeare,’ she said. She could tell, immediately, she had given the wrong answer. She glanced warily at her grandfather. His eyes had altered somehow, and she could sense his disapproval focussing on her. Now what? she wondered. Wasn’t it OK for her to like Shakespeare, for heaven’s sake? She got her answer a moment later. ‘No man likes a woman who is intellectually pretentious,’ the old man said brusquely. Andrea blinked. Liking Shakespeare was intellectually pretentious? ‘Shakespeare wrote popular plays for mass audiences,’ she pointed out mildly. ‘There’s nothing intellectually ålite about his work, if it isn’t treated as such. Of course there are huge depths to his writing, which can keep academics happy for years dissecting it, but the plays can be enjoyed on many levels. They’re very accessible, especially in modern productions which make every effort to draw in those who, like you, are put off by the aura surrounding Shakespeare.’ Yiorgos set down his knife and fork. His eyes snapped with anger. ‘Stop babbling like an imbecile, girl! Hold your tongue if you’ve nothing useful to say! No man likes a woman trying to show off!’ Astonishment was the emotion uppermost in Andrea’s reaction. She simply couldn’t believe that she was being criticised for defending her enjoyment of Shakespeare. Automatically, she found herself glancing across at Nikos Vassilis. Did he share her grandfather’s antediluvian views on women and their ‘intellectual pretensions’? Êîíåö îçíàêîìèòåëüíîãî ôðàãìåíòà. Òåêñò ïðåäîñòàâëåí ÎÎÎ «ËèòÐåñ». Ïðî÷èòàéòå ýòó êíèãó öåëèêîì, êóïèâ ïîëíóþ ëåãàëüíóþ âåðñèþ (https://www.litres.ru/pages/biblio_book/?art=39919338&lfrom=390579938) íà ËèòÐåñ. Áåçîïàñíî îïëàòèòü êíèãó ìîæíî áàíêîâñêîé êàðòîé Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, ñî ñ÷åòà ìîáèëüíîãî òåëåôîíà, ñ ïëàòåæíîãî òåðìèíàëà, â ñàëîíå ÌÒÑ èëè Ñâÿçíîé, ÷åðåç PayPal, WebMoney, ßíäåêñ.Äåíüãè, QIWI Êîøåëåê, áîíóñíûìè êàðòàìè èëè äðóãèì óäîáíûì Âàì ñïîñîáîì.