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A Ring to Secure His Heir

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«A Ring to Secure His Heir» - Линн Грэхем

An unexpected glitch in his plan…Working late is nothing new for tycoon Alex – and it’s the perfect excuse to get close to office-cleaner Rosie Gray. He’s promised his ailing godfather he’ll discover whether his long-lost granddaughter is a worthy heir. Intoxicated by the after-hours attention of this mysterious, suave businessman, Rosie finds her dreams destroyed with the slamming of the bedroom door on their one-night stand. Discovering she’s pregnant, she goes to confront him – but no one at work has heard of Alex Kolovos… They do, however, know Alexius Stavroulakis, the CEO, and he has a glittering proposal for her! ‘How does she create such incredible characters time after time? Always a compelling read!’ – Chrissie, Personal Trainer, Manchester
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About the Author

‘I’m just as shocked as you are about the baby, but we don’t have to get married to do the right thing—for a start, I couldn’t fit into your world. Your friends would laugh at me. I’d embarrass you. I’m a cleaner, for goodness’ sake!’

‘Nobody would laugh at you while I was around,’ Alexius ground out forcefully, sending a quiver of awareness running down Rosie’s spine. ‘And I would make a real effort to be a good husband and father.’

‘But you don’t love me … and to have you trying all the time would be very hard on my self-esteem,’ Rosie protested.

Alexius threw her a derisive look that stung. ‘Love is lust, nothing more, and I can assure you that in that department I’m unlikely to disappoint you.’

About the Author

LYNNE GRAHAM was born in Northern Ireland and has been a keen Mills & Boon® reader since her teens. She is very happily married, with an understanding husband who has learned to cook since she started to write! Her five children keep her on her toes. She has a very large dog, which knocks everything over, a very small terrier, which barks a lot, and two cats. When time allows, Lynne is a keen gardener.

Recent titles by the same author:


  (Marriage by Command)


  (Marriage by Command)

Did you know these are also available as eBooks? Visit www.millsandboon.co.uk

A Ring to

Secure His Heir

Lynne Graham



‘I NEED a favour,’ Socrates Seferis had said and his godson, Alexius Stavroulakis, had dropped everything to fly thousands of miles to come to his aid. Socrates had been strangely mysterious about the nature of the favour, declaring that it was a highly confidential matter that he couldn’t discuss on the phone.

Alexius, six feet one in bare feet and built like a professional athlete, was a very newsworthy billionaire of only thirty-one years of age with a fleet of bodyguards, limousines, properties and private jets at his disposal. Famed for his tough tactics in business and a naturally aggressive nature, Alexius never danced to anyone else’s tune, but Socrates Seferis, although he was almost seventy-five years old, was a special case. For many years he had been the only visitor Alexius had had while at boarding school in the UK.

A self-made businessman, Socrates was a hardworking multimillionaire with a string of tourist hotels round the world. Alexius’s godfather, however, had not been so fortunate in his private life. The wife Socrates adored had died during the birth of their third child and the old man’s kids had grown into adult horrors, who were spoiled, lazy and extravagant and who had on many occasions shamed their kind-hearted, honourable father beyond bearing. Alexius considered Socrates an excellent example of why no sensible man should have children. Children were often disloyal, distressing and difficult and he had no idea why some of his friends were so keen to have the little blighters cluttering up lives that, childfree, could have remained blessedly smooth and civilised. It was not a mistake that Alexius planned to make.

Socrates greeted Alexius from his armchair on the terrace of his luxurious home on the outskirts of Athens. Refreshments arrived before the younger man even got seated.

‘So,’ Alexius prompted, his lean, darkly handsome features serious, the silvery-grey eyes that made women melt shrewd and cool as always. ‘What’s wrong?’

‘You never did learn patience, did you?’ the old man quipped, his bright dark eyes sparkling with humour in his weather-beaten face. ‘Have a drink, read the file first …’

Impatience bubbling through his big powerful frame, Alexius scooped up the slim file on the table and opened it, ignoring the drink. The head and shoulders photo of a pale, nondescript girl who looked barely out of her teens was uppermost. ‘Who is she?’

‘Read,’ Socrates reminded his godson doggedly.

His breath escaping in a slow hiss of exasperation, Alexius flipped through the thin file. The name Rosie Gray meant nothing to him and the more he read the less he understood the relevance of the information.

‘She calls herself Rosie,’ Socrates mused abstractedly. ‘My late wife was English too. She was christened Rose as well.’

Alexius was baffled by what he had gleaned from the file. Rosie Gray was an English girl who had grown up in care in London and worked as a humble cleaner, living, on the face of it, a very ordinary life. He could see no possible reason for his godfather’s interest in her.

‘She’s my granddaughter,’ Socrates supplied as though Alexius had spoken.

Alexius shot him an incredulous look. ‘Since when? Is this woman trying to con you or something?’

‘You’re definitely the right man for the job,’ Socrates informed his godson with satisfaction. ‘No, she’s not trying to con me, Alexius. As far as I’m aware, she doesn’t even know I exist. I’m curious about her … that’s why I asked you here to talk to me.’

Alexius’s eyes skimmed back to the photo: a plain Jane if ever he saw one, with pale hair, big empty eyes and no visible personality. ‘Why do you think she’s your granddaughter?’

‘I know it for a fact. I’ve known she existed for more than fifteen years and she was DNA tested then,’ Socrates admitted grudgingly. ‘She’s Troy’s child, conceived while he was working for me in London—not that he did much work while he was over there,’ he added with a humourless laugh. ‘He didn’t marry the girl’s mother either. In fact, he had already abandoned them before he died. The woman contacted me looking for financial support and I made a substantial settlement on her and the little girl, but for whatever reasons the girl herself saw none of that money and the mother left her to grow up in foster homes.’

‘Unfortunate,’ Alexius remarked.

‘Worse than unfortunate. The girl has grown up with every possible disadvantage and I feel very guilty about that,’ the older man admitted heavily. ‘She is family and she could be my heir—’

Alexius was alarmed by that staggering declaration. ‘Your heir? A girl you’ve never even met? What about the family you already have?’

‘My daughter has no children and a spending habit that none of her three rich husbands have been able to afford,’ Socrates responded flatly. ‘My surviving son is a drug addict, as you know, and he has been in rehab repeatedly without success—’

‘But you do have a couple of grandsons.’

‘As spendthrift and unreliable as their parents. My grandsons are, as we speak, under suspicion of having committed fraud in one of my hotels. I don’t intend to leave any of them out of my will,’ Socrates volunteered heavily, ‘but if this granddaughter is a suitable person I will leave her the bulk of my money.’

‘What do you mean by a “suitable person”?’ Alexius asked with a frown.

‘If she’s a decent girl with her heart in the right place, she’ll be welcome to make her home here with me. You’re a man of honour and restraint and I trust you to judge her character for me—’

Me? What have I got to do with this business? Why can’t you fly over there and meet the girl for yourself?’ Alexius demanded, his black brows drawing together in confusion.

‘I have decided against doing that. Anyone can put up a convincing front for a couple of days. She’d soon see that it would be in her own best interests to impress me.’ The old man sighed heavily, a lifetime of cynicism and too many disappointments etched in his troubled face. ‘I’ve too much at stake to trust my own judgement—I desperately want her to be different from the rest of my family. My children have lied to me and betrayed me over money and other matters too many times to count, Alexius. I don’t want to get my hopes up about this girl and run the risk of being fooled again. Nor do I need another scrounger hanging on to my coat-tails.’

‘I’m afraid I still don’t understand quite what you expect me to do about the situation,’ Alexius admitted levelly.

‘I want you to check Rosie out for me before I take the chance of getting involved with her.’

‘Check her out?’ Alexius leapt on the phrase. ‘You want me to have her investigated again?’

‘No, I want you to meet her, get to know her, size her up for me,’ Socrates confided with a hopeful look in his steady gaze. ‘This means a lot to me, Alex.’

‘You can’t be serious? You’re asking me to get to know … a cleaner?’ Alexius prompted in flaring disbelief.

The old man looked grave. ‘I have never thought of you as a snob.’

Alexius stiffened and wondered how he could possibly be anything else with his background. After all, generations of very wealthy blue-blooded Greeks filled out his now much diminished family tree. ‘What could we possibly have in common? And how could I set up such a meeting without her guessing that something strange lay behind my interest?’

‘Hire the cleaning firm she works for … I’m sure if you think about it, you’ll come up with other ideas,’ Socrates Seferis asserted confidently. ‘I know it’s a big favour and that you’re very busy but I don’t have anyone else I could ask or trust. Do I approach my son—her uncle—or one of her untrustworthy cousins to take care of this for me?’

‘No, that would not be fair. They would view another family member coming out of the woodwork as competition.’

‘Exactly.’ Socrates looked relieved by the younger man’s quick understanding. ‘I will be deeply in your debt if you take care of this matter for me.

If Rose’s namesake turns out to be greedy or dishonest you need never tell me the unsavoury details. I only need to know if she’s a worthwhile risk.’

‘I’ll consider it,’ Alexius pronounced grudgingly.

‘Don’t take too long—I’m not getting any younger,’ Socrates warned him.

‘Is there something I should know about?’ Alexius prompted tautly, worried that Socrates had health concerns that he was keeping secret. Alexius was touched by the faith the older man had in his judgement but he still didn’t want the job, which sixth sense warned him would be a solid gold poisoned chalice. ‘You have other friends—’

‘None as shrewd or experienced as you are with women,’ Socrates countered gravely. ‘You will know her for what she is. I’m convinced she won’t succeed in pulling the wool over your eyes.’

Alexius finally lifted his drink and sighed, ‘I’ll think this over. Are you well?’

The old man gave him a stubborn appraisal. ‘There is nothing that you need worry about.’

Nonetheless, Alexius was filled with concern, but the closed look of obstinacy on Socrates’s face kept him from demanding answers to that laden assurance. He was already disconcerted by Socrates’s abnormally frank speech. His godfather had buried his pride and virtually bared his soul when he openly admitted for the first time what a disappointment his three adult children had proved to be. Alexius perfectly understood that the old man did not want to add another idle freeloader to his family circle, but he could not approve of his devious approach to the problem.

‘Suppose this girl is the good granddaughter that you want?’ Alexius prompted uneasily. ‘How will she feel when she finds out about your relationship and realises that I’m your godson? She’ll know then that she was set up—’

‘And she’ll understand why if she ever meets the rest of my family,’ Socrates fielded without anxiety. ‘It’s not a perfect plan, Alexius, but it’s the only way I can face the possibility of letting her into my life.’

Having dined with his godfather, Alexius flew straight back to London in an unusually troubled state of mind. He lived for the challenge of business, the action of staying one step ahead of his closest competitors and the thrill of ensuring that his enemies fell by the wayside. What the hell did he know about working out whether or not his godfather’s long-lost granddaughter was a fit person to become the old man’s heir? It was a huge responsibility and an unwelcome challenge when Alexius did not consider himself to be ‘a people person’.

Indeed, his own private life was as regimented as his public life. He didn’t like ties and he gave his trust to very few. He had no family of his own to consider and believed that lack had simply made him tougher. His relationships were never complicated and, with women, were generally so basic that sometimes they filled even him with distaste. He had always avoided the ones who wanted commitment, and the other ones, the habitually shallow beauties who shared his bed, often put a price on their bodies that would have shamed a hooker. But he was a not a hypocrite even if he was aware that on one level he did pay for their services with the heady allure of the publicity being seen in his company offered and with the designer clothes, diamonds and the luxurious lifestyle he supplied. All such women had a natural talent for feathering their own nests and their greed was no worse, to his own mind, than his body’s natural need for sexual release.

‘So what’s so special about this job?’ Zoe demanded impatiently. ‘Why do we have to move here?’

Rosie suppressed a sigh as the two young women wheeled the cleaning trolley through the almost silent foyer into the lift, having shown their identification to the security staff on the doors. ‘STA Industries is part of a much bigger concern and this may only be a small contract but this is their headquarters. Vanessa is convinced that if we provide an efficient service here it could lead to more work and she chose us because she says we’re her best workers.’

The attractive brunette by Rosie’s side grimaced, unimpressed by the compliment. ‘We may be her best workers but she doesn’t pay us on that basis and it’ll cost me more to travel here.’

Rosie was no more enamoured of the change in her routine, but in the current economic climate she was relieved to still have regular employment, not to mention the invaluable accommodation that went with the job. After all, only a week ago Rosie had found herself unexpectedly and scarily homeless and only Vanessa’s offer of a room had saved Rosie and her pet dog, Baskerville, from ending up on the street with their possessions. It would be quite some time before she stopped being grateful for her reasonably priced bedsit in a building rented by her employer and shared with other staff.

Vanessa Jansen’s office-cleaning business was small and she only got contracts by severely undercutting her competitors, which meant that the profits were minimal and the contents of Rosie’s pay packet never seemed to increase. Times were tight in the business world, with non-essential services being cut, and Vanessa had recently lost a couple of regular clients.

‘You never call in sick and you’re never late. I always know that I can rely on you and that’s rare,’ her boss had told her warmly. ‘If we can get more work out of this contract I’ll up your pay … I promise.’

Although Rosie was used to such promises being broken by Vanessa, she had smiled appreciatively out of politeness. She was a cleaner because the hours suited and allowed her to study during the day, not because she enjoyed it. She also could have told Vanessa some very practical ways in which she could improve her business prospects. Well aware, though, that the advice would be resented, she said nothing when she saw lazy co-workers being retained and slapdash work done through lack of adequate supervision. Vanessa was great at juggling figures and seeking out new clients, but she was a poor manager, who rarely emerged from behind her desk. That was the real reason why her business was struggling to survive.

But then, Rosie had long since learned that you couldn’t change people. After all, she had tried for a long time to change her mother, had encouraged, supported, advised, even pleaded, and in the end it had all come to nothing because, regardless of what Rosie did, her mother had had no desire to change the person she was. You had to accept people as they were, not as you would like them to be, Rosie reflected with a pained sense of regret as she recalled that hard lesson. She remembered countless supervised sessions with her mother during which she had tried to shine bright enough to interest her parent in being a parent and in wanting to raise her own daughter. And now she winced, looking back at all that wasted energy and angst, for Jenny Gray had been infinitely fonder of booze, bad boys and a lively social life than she had ever been of the daughter she had purposely conceived.

‘I thought your father would marry me—I thought I’d be set up for life,’ her mother had once confided on the subject of Rosie’s conception. ‘He came from a rich family but he was a waste of space.’

As she was nothing like the ambitious fantasist her late mother had been, Rosie privately thought that a lot of men were a waste of space and that women were better company. The men she had dated had been boringly obsessed with sex, sport and beer. As she had no interest in any of that and better things to do with her few hours of free time, it had been many months since she had even had a date. Not that she was ever likely to be bowled over by a rush of male interest in her essentially unexciting self, Rosie conceded ruefully. Rosie was barely five feet tall and flat as a board back and front, embarrassingly bereft of the womanly curves that attracted the opposite sex. For years she had hoped that she was simply a ‘late developer’ and that if she waited long enough the required badges of womanhood would magically arrive and transform her body and her prospects, but here she was, twenty-three years old and still downright skinny and ultra-small everywhere it counted.

As a straying strand of pale hair brushed her cheekbone she reached up to tighten the band on her ponytail and groaned out loud when it snapped, digging without success through the pockets of her overall in search of a replacement. Her long, wavy hair tumbled round her in an irritating curtain and she wondered for the hundredth time why she didn’t just get it cut short for convenience. But then she did know why: her foster mother, Beryl, had often told her she had very pretty hair and had liked to brush it for her when she was a child. Sadness momentarily touched Rosie for, although it had been three years since Beryl had died, Rosie still very much missed the older woman’s warm common sense and affection. Beryl had been much more of a mother to Rosie than her birth parent.

Alexius sat in an unfamiliar office that belonged to one of his personal assistants, trying to get on with some work, but irritation tinged him every time he reached for something that wasn’t on the desk, for it was a discomfort he was not accustomed to meeting in life. Socrates, he thought grimly of his manipulative godfather, who had played on his conscience to force him into this juvenile masquerade. His even white teeth gritted as he heard the sound of a vacuum cleaner whirring somewhere on the same floor. At least the cleaners had finally arrived and the game could commence. Game? Some game! In fact, he felt infuriatingly and uncharacteristically on edge because deception wasn’t his style. Yet how could he ever get to know a cleaning operative in the guise of who he truly was? It was only sensible to pretend to be a more humble member of staff, but in doing that he was also making the assumption that Rosie Gray wouldn’t recognise him as Alexius Stavroulakis. He doubted that she read the Financial Times, where he was regularly depicted, but there was a chance that she was a fan of the celebrity magazines between whose pages he had also made occasional appearances. The more he thought of the deception involved, the more he thought that accidentally bumping into her in some way outside working hours might have been a wiser approach.

Rosie worked steadily down the line of offices, taking care of routine tasks while Zoe took care of the other side of the corridor. Only one office was occupied and the door stood open. She hated trying to clean round employees working late but couldn’t risk omitting that room in case checks were made on the standard of their work. Most daytime staff had gone home by eight in the evening and she had to ensure that the schedule of duties laid out for STA was completed right down to the last letter on the contract. She peered into the occupied office and saw a big guy with black hair working at a laptop. Only the Anglepoise lamp beside him was lit, casting light and shadow over his strong, dark features. He glanced up suddenly, startling her, revealing ice-grey eyes as bright as liquid mercury in his lean bronzed face. He was drop-dead gorgeous: that was her first thought and a very uncommon one for Rosie.

Alexius stared, both recognising and not recognising his quarry. Bleached of colour, Rosie Gray had looked so flat and uninspiring in that black and white photograph, but in the flesh she was glowing and unusual … and tiny. The Seferis family were kind of small in stature, he recalled abstractedly, but she was as ridiculously tiny and fragile in appearance as a fairy-tale elf. But if her diminutive size almost made him smile, her face and hair riveted him. He had never seen natural hair that colour, a glorious wavy fall as pale a blonde as frost sparkling on snow. It was dyed—of course it was, he assumed, his attention lingering longer still on that amazingly vivid little triangular face of hers: big ocean-green eyes, a neat little nose and a mouth made for sin with the sort of lush pouting outline that gave a man erotic fantasies. Or the sort of man who did erotic fantasies, Alexius adjusted, for he did not. When every woman he ever approached was immediately available, there was no need for fantasies. But those succulent pink lips were definitely sexy, although that was not a thought he wanted to have around his godfather’s long-lost granddaughter. The oddity of the situation was responsible, he decided impatiently. It was throwing him off-balance.

Colliding unexpectedly with those piercing light eyes enhanced by black curling lashes, Rosie swallowed hard and felt her heart hammer behind her breastbone as though she were trapped. He was so very, very good-looking, from the stark lines of his high cheekbones and the bold slash of his nose to the hard angular jaw line and beautifully moulded sensual mouth. But she was quick to recognise the impatience etched in the twist of that firm upper lip and she hastily withdrew from the threshold to vanish back down the corridor. Alarm bells had rung loudly inside her head: this was not a man she wanted to interrupt or inconvenience. She would vacuum the big conference room and then return to see if he had gone.

Her disappearance made Alexius bite back a groan of exasperation. As a male used to women going to often ridiculous lengths to attract and hold his attention, he had virtually no experience of pursuing one. But had he really expected a cleaner to walk up to him and start chatting? Naturally, she had gone into retreat. He strode to the doorway, long powerful legs eating up the distance, and his keen gaze narrowed on the small figure trundling a vacuum cleaner.

‘I won’t be here much longer,’ he said, his deep voice sounding unnaturally loud in the silence of the almost empty office suite.

Taken aback by the announcement, Rosie spun round, her pale hair flying across her face, green eyes openly apprehensive. ‘I can do the conference room first—’

‘You’re new, aren’t you?’ Alexius remarked, wondering what it was about those eyes, that face, that kept him staring longer than he should have done and continually drew his attention back to her.

‘Yes … this is our first shift here,’ she murmured so low he had to stretch to hear her. ‘We want to do a good job.’

‘I’m sure you will.’ Alexius watched her deal with a vacuum cleaner almost as tall as she was and considerably bulkier and he experienced a sudden crazy need to snatch it out of her small hands and force her to give him her full attention. What the hell was the matter with him? He studied her afresh and registered in shock that he was aroused. It had been a very long time since a sexual response that undisciplined had assailed Alexius. Diavelos, he was no longer a boy, horny in the radius of any attractive female. He didn’t understand it, he really didn’t understand the effect she was having on him at all because it was outside his experience. She was little and cute and he didn’t go for little and cute. He liked tall, shapely women with dark hair and almost never deviated from the type. In many ways outside the business world he was very much a creature of habit, unwilling to compromise, distrustful of anything new or different. His upbringing had taught him to be like that, encasing him in a protective shell of reserve, cynicism and objectivity. He had learned too young that to many people his immense wealth marked him out only as a potential source of profit, a literal target to be impressed, flattered, ultimately used and deceived by the ambitious and the greedy.

It was close to the end of her shift when Rosie finally found the occupied office empty. It was true that the light still burned and the laptop still sat open on the desk, but she was tired and she knew she wouldn’t get a better opportunity to finish on time. She was engaged in swiftly whisking a duster over what she could reach of the desk when he reappeared and she froze, intimidated by the size of him filling the doorway. So tall, so dark, so very handsome. And those astonishingly light eyes of his gleamed like polished silver in his strong face.

‘I’ll move this out of your way,’ Alexius breathed, scooping up the laptop, standing so close for an instant that the scent of him enveloped her: the smell of clean, warm male laced with a mouth-watering hint of some exotic cologne.

‘No need … I can work around you if you’ll just put up with me for another f-five minutes,’ Rosie replied a little shakily, her cheeks hot with the awareness of her recent thoughts.

Struggling to run through a mental checklist of small tasks to be done before she could consider her work complete, Rosie noticed the photo on the desk of a pretty blonde woman hugging two young children. ‘Nice kids,’ she muttered into the awkward silence.

‘Not mine. I share this office,’ he informed her abruptly, his slight but definable foreign accent obvious as she unfurled the vacuum cleaner for action.

Rosie glanced at him in surprise, for he didn’t look the type of male likely to take to sharing anything, although she had no idea where she had got that impression from. Perhaps it was something to do with the fact that he had as much physical presence as a ruddy great rock set in her path, not to mention an aura of command and arrogance that had suggested to her that he could be more than just another office drone, earning his daily bread by whatever means were within his power. Hot desking, wasn’t that what the practice of sharing desk space was called?

‘I’m Alex, by the way,’ he murmured smoothly. ‘Alex Kolovos …’

‘Nice to meet you,’ Rosie responded in even greater discomfiture, wondering why he was speaking to her in the first place, because it was certainly not the norm. Men usually only spoke if the cleaner was old enough to remind them of their mother or granny or if they were making a play for you. Zoe, christened by her fellow cleaners ‘the Bombshell’, had enjoyed several such approaches from men attracted by her pretty face and stunning curves, but no man had yet come on to Rosie during working hours. Was it the fact that her hair was loose? Irritated by the sudden wash of stupid thoughts that had taken over her normally logical brain and ill at ease in his company, she switched on the vacuum, engulfing them both in noise. With secret amusement she watched him wince as if she had scraped a chalk down a blackboard.

‘Thanks,’ she breezed as she gratefully switched the vacuum off again and sped from the room without a backward glance.

Alexius reflected that it was a humbling experience to chat to a woman without the aura of his billions enhancing him with a wondrous golden glow of magnetic attraction. It had not escaped his notice either that she couldn’t wait to get away from him. Was she shy? Or simply wary? Alexius had no experience whatsoever of either female trait and no desire to remedy his ignorance in that field either. He checked his watch: he had a business dinner to attend. Flipping shut his laptop with relief, he stood up to leave. She was extraordinarily sexy, he reflected grimly, hot enough to make him hard as a rock, not at all what he had expected.

Rosie went home that night to be greeted by Baskerville’s ecstatic barks and leaps in the tiny lounge off the kitchen that all the women used. Bas was a four-year-old chihuahua. He had belonged to Rosie’s foster mother, Beryl, and since Rosie had moved in he had become the house pet, moving freely between the occupants, being spoiled and looked after by whoever was at home. That was a relief for Rosie, who had worried about him getting lonely when she was out and about. Bas tucked securely under one arm, Rosie made herself a plate of cheese on toast and sat down to watch TV and chat with her housemates while she ate and Bas snacked on the crusts and anything else on offer.

At some stage of the night she wakened with pains in her stomach and she was violently ill. In the morning she felt better but washed out.

That evening when she started her cleaning shift, she was tired. Alex Kolovos’s office was lit up but he wasn’t there. Assuming he would return and stifling a totally pathetic pang of disappointment over his absence, she headed for the conference room instead. The instant she stepped into the room, however, she realised it was occupied because the first thing she heard was his unforgettable drawl. Instantly, she fell still to glance across the long meeting table and butterflies kicked off in her tummy in the most schoolgirlish way as her gaze locked to his powerful figure, where he stood by the window. Her eyes travelled up to his handsome face and a jolt of recognition and pleasure ran through her like an electric shock, her heart rate speeding up, every cell in her body awakening to awareness. In the midst of questioning why the precise arrangement of his features should have that astonishing effect on her, she stopped wondering and just found herself staring while heat and breathlessness assailed her. He was talking on the phone in a foreign language. A couple of familiar words caught her attention as she began automatically to withdraw from the room again: unless she was very much mistaken he was talking in Greek.

Moving an imperious hand to halt her retreat, Alexius studied her, noting that the gorgeous hair was tied circumspectly back and that she still wore no makeup that he could see. The mystery of her appeal, however, was utterly overpowered by the stirring reaction at his groin. One look at that vibrant little face and he wanted to taste that luscious pink mouth, to touch that delicate little body and discover its every secret. He wanted to sink deep into her, watch her eyes widen in sensual shock and ride her into oblivion. He hadn’t felt as hot for a woman since he was a teenager and just as suddenly he was done questioning and was instead enjoying the novelty of the sensation. Last night he had dreamt about her, had actually wakened sweating and hard, and any woman capable of rousing him to that extent was worthy of his full attention. It didn’t matter who or what she was any more, it was more a matter of what she could make him feel. When it came to women Alexius’s biggest problem was boredom.

‘I’m done here,’ he said succinctly, putting away his mobile phone and striding towards her.

‘If you’re s-sure,’ Rosie heard herself stammer slightly, her mouth dry, her eyes pools of deep green, awareness fingering up and down her spine in an embarrassing wave that burned into her cheeks.

‘Of course, I’m sure,’ Alexius fielded a touch drily, moving past her, noting that her eyes were starry bright and catching a faint whiff of a floral scent that flared his nostrils. He knew at that moment with a triumph he could taste that the attraction wasn’t one-sided. Socrates had set him a challenge and he intended to deliver in record time. He would get to know Rosie Gray in every way there was and hopefully he wouldn’t have to waste much more time hanging about the office after hours.

Still all of a quiver, Rosie cleaned the conference room and got her breathing back under control. Alex Kolovos hit her a little like a wave, knocking her off her feet and leaving her to struggle for normality in the aftermath. It was schoolgirlish to react that powerfully to a man, she told herself in exasperation, but possibly she was overdue for the experience. After all, she was twenty-three years old and still a virgin. When she had been a teenager, her social life had been severely restricted by the fact that she had had to leave school to become her foster mother’s carer during Beryl’s terminal illness. Opportunities to explore her sexuality had been non-existent and by the time she had regained her freedom, she had become much more cautious and sensible. Until now, though, no man had ever made Rosie’s heart pound. Times without number her mother had told her about such wildfire attractions and now, finally feeling what her wayward, self-destructive mother had described, Rosie was torn between fear that she was being very foolish and satisfaction that she could feel what other women felt.

‘I’ve met a man …’ Jenny Gray used to confide excitedly when Rosie was a child. ‘Someone special,’ she would savour. ‘I’ll be away a while.’

And Rosie’s mother had often vanished for days on end, leaving Rosie alone in their apartment without heating, money, food in the fridge or clean clothes. It was even worse, though, when she brought the men home, telling Rosie not to come out of her bedroom, lying in her bed or the living room drinking all day and laughing loudly, forgetting that Rosie had to be taken to school and fed and washed. In the end Social Services had removed Rosie and put her in foster care. Rosie’s memories were always sobering.

By the time Rosie had finished cleaning every other office, Alex Kolovos was still behind his desk. Taut with wariness, she entered. ‘Do you mind if I clean?’

‘Not at all,’ he said lightly, glancing up from his laptop to smile at her, a smile that carried so much sensual charisma that she felt heat blossom in her belly like a fire being stoked. Only that fire didn’t need to be stoked, she thought guiltily, insanely aware of the tautness of her nipples and the shakiness of her legs.

‘Would you like a drink?’ he enquired, standing in front of a drinks cabinet with a glass in his hand.

Taken aback by the offer, Rosie said, ‘No, thanks,’ and scolded herself for wanting to say yes. She valued her job too much to flirt on company time and suddenly asked herself what on earth she was playing at. A guy of Alex’s ilk wasn’t going to offer her anything more than a one-night stand. She wasn’t in his league socially or even educationally. While she might be working to make good on the exams she had missed out on through having to leave school early, she guessed that he was probably a graduate.

Irritated by her immediate refusal of a drink, Alexius wondered if he should have offered her dinner instead. It did not escape his notice that she seemed uncomfortable and that, refusing to look back at him again, she removed herself from his office as soon as she decently could. Did she appreciate how much her unavailability added to her pulling power? The prospect of yet another night at the office set his even white teeth on edge.

She should be avoiding him, a sensible little voice murmured in Rosie’s head. Anything else was asking for trouble and Rosie had never asked for trouble in her life. Alex Kolovos was like a fever in her blood, upsetting her stability, making her act silly, and the sooner the fire was put out, the better.

With that conviction firmly in mind, Rosie decided to ask Zoe to clean his side of the office corridor the following evening. Zoe frowned. ‘Why?’ she asked baldly.

‘That guy who’s always working late is sort of … flirting with me,’ Rosie admitted reluctantly. ‘And it’s making me uncomfortable.’

‘He’s welcome to flirt with me any time he likes!’ her co-worker confided. ‘He’s drop-dead gorgeous … you are blind sometimes to your opportunities, Rosie. Don’t you fancy him?’

‘Yes, but I know it wouldn’t go anywhere.’

‘Some of the best experiences don’t go anywhere but I still wouldn’t miss out on them,’ Zoe responded with the amusement of a much more experienced woman.

As they packed up at the end of their shift, Rosie having strenuously resisted the desire to look into Alex’s office even once, Zoe frowned at her. ‘You had me hoping that guy was going to chat me up—chance would be a fine thing! He didn’t even look at me … it was like I was invisible. Obviously, it’s you that revs his engine.’

Rosie lay in bed that night trying not to be secretly glad that Alex Kolovos had failed to take the bait with Zoe. Zoe was very attractive and she wouldn’t have said no to a drink. In fact, Zoe mightn’t have said no to a great number of things. Was that what the gorgeous dark Greek had been hoping for? she wondered wryly. A spot of after-hours sex with no strings attached? What else?

‘You stick to your usual routine tonight,’ Zoe told Rosie before they even started their shift the next night. ‘If tall, dark and very handsome annoys you, stand up for yourself and tell him so. I never took you for a shrinking violet, Rosie.’

Her cheeks burning from the sting of that reproof, Rosie worked faster than usual. It was a Friday night and she would not be back in the building until Monday evening. She passed by Alex’s office, saw his proud dark head lift, turned her face away again, determined not to stare. But, oh, how she wanted to!

Alexius tracked her down to the staff kitchen where he had seen her co-worker having a cup of tea the night before. It was eight. He was fed up with hanging round the office and exasperated by her avoidance of him. He was even wondering if she had some sixth sense protecting her, warning her that he was not to be trusted. She was right. He had deliberately left a wad of banknotes lying on the carpet below the desk he was using. It was a crude test of her honesty but the best he could come up with at short notice.

‘How’s the work going?’ Alexius enquired lazily, seeing her perched on a stool clutching a mug.

Consternation at his sudden appearance almost made Rosie drop her mug. He seemed to tower over her like a storm cloud, making her more than usually aware of her small build. Her hand shook slightly and tea slopped out, staining her tunic.

‘Be careful,’ Alexius instructed, lifting the mug from her and setting it safely aside, extending the kitchen roll on the counter to her.

‘You startled me!’ Rosie tore off a sheet and dabbed her tunic dry.

‘I’m sorry,’ he murmured, bright mercury eyes locked to her evasive gaze.

Rosie reddened. She was trying so hard not to look at that handsome face, but she could visualise him accurately even when he wasn’t physically present. ‘Do you work late every night?’ she asked to fill the buzzing silence.

‘Most nights,’ he admitted truthfully.

‘I suppose you get overtime,’ Rosie assumed, colliding with his intent gaze, marvelling at the length of his black eyelashes while feeling an arrow of wicked heat pierce low in her pelvis. ‘Either that or you’re overworked—’

‘I’m a workaholic,’ Alexius imparted, studying her moist pink mouth, resisting the urge to reach out, touch it with his own, learn if she tasted as good as she looked. His powerful physique was rigid with self-discipline, the line of his jaw hard.

‘Oh …’ Rosie reached for her tea again and sipped, limpid green eyes trained on his lean bronzed visage, loving the angular masculine contours at cheekbone and brow before suddenly recollecting herself and sliding off the stool as if she had been burnt. ‘I’d better get back to work,’ she told him abruptly and brushed straight past him. Seconds later he heard the floor polisher switching on again.

Taken aback by her abrupt departure, Alexius swore softly beneath his breath. She was too wary to take the bait and respond to him. Someone had hurt her, possibly even abused her. His mouth tightened. But what did that have to do with him? Why should he care? If she took the money from below the desk, he would never see her again.

Grateful Alex Kolovos had not returned to the office he used, Rosie got stuck into cleaning it, working faster than her usual pace, eager to get home and start the weekend. She had coursework to complete but, other than that, she was free.

Something jammed in the vacuum cleaner and she groaned out loud, switching it off and getting down on her knees to investigate. She couldn’t believe it when she saw a fifty pound banknote entangled and the edge of what appeared to be another. She had to return to the trolley to get a screwdriver and open up the vacuum cleaner to extract the crushed remains of what looked like an enormous sum of money. By then she was filthy with dust and cross as tacks. Where on earth had the banknotes come from? She couldn’t just leave them lying on the desk. Brushing herself down and furious that someone could have been so careless with their cash when there was every chance that the cleaners could be blamed for the disappearance of the money, she stood up and hoped that Alexius had not yet left the office. She stalked down to the conference room that she had seen him use before when he was making phone calls and entered, relieved for once to see him lounging back against the table as he talked to someone on the phone.

‘Is this yours?’ Rosie demanded, tossing the roll of banknotes—now a little ragged round the edges—down on the polished surface of the table. ‘It must’ve been on the floor. It got stuck in the vacuum cleaner—it might have broken it! It certainly won’t have done it any good,’ she condemned sharply.

Alexius almost laughed out loud at her annoyance. She was fizzing with rage, all five tiny feet of her, green eyes glittering like gemstones in her defensive little face. ‘It’s mine. Thank you,’ he said quietly.

‘Don’t be so careless!’ she told him thinly. ‘If that money had gone missing, the cleaners might have been accused of theft!’

‘Your honesty does you proud,’ Alexius asserted softly, thinking that he could surely now with good conscience tell Socrates to go ahead and pursue the acquaintance.

‘That is so patronising!’ Rosie shot back at him furiously, amazed at the amount of anger bubbling up through her in response to his insouciant attitude to the situation that might have developed had she not found and returned the money he had misplaced. ‘I may be poor but that doesn’t mean I’m more likely to be dishonest! You’re very prejudiced! There are thieves in every walk of life.’

Far from amused by the cleaner deciding that she had the right to shout at him, Alexius surveyed her with eyes suddenly as cold and wintry as black ice. ‘You’ve had your say and I respect your honesty, even if I didn’t like your mode of delivery. Now … leave,’ he commanded. ‘I have calls to make.’

Rosie was stunned by the transformation in him and incredulous that she could have lost control to the extent of raising her voice and being unnecessarily rude. She turned on her heel, thought about apologising and decided that it would be a waste of time as she recalled that chilly look of detachment and enormous authority in his searing gaze. It was as if he had just frozen in front of her into someone else. She had crossed boundaries she should have respected and offended him. She was relieved that she had finished her shift because she literally couldn’t wait to get out of the building.

‘Are you sure that you don’t mind me taking the van home with me tonight?’ Zoe pressed as the two women pushed the trolley through the ground-floor foyer.

‘No, as I said earlier, I’ll catch a bus,’ Rosie responded absently.

‘Thanks, Rosie,’ her dark-haired companion remarked as the two women loaded the cleaning equipment into the back of the van. ‘Mum hasn’t seen her sister in ages and I’ll be able to drop her off early tomorrow and pick her up again on Sunday afternoon.’

‘Vanessa never minds as long as you get the van back in time for Monday,’ Rosie warned her co-worker as the brunette closed up the van and climbed into the driver’s seat.

‘Why are you so quiet?’ Zoe asked suddenly. ‘Did something happen tonight between you and that guy?’

‘Nothing,’ Rosie lied as lightly as she could.

And it was nothing, she told herself. She had met a guy who attracted her to an unbearable degree but nothing had happened and that was as it should be. Ships that passed and all that, better that than a messy collision such as her mother had specialised in. But she could still see him back in that conference room studying her as if she were a particularly repulsive beetle below a microscope, something utterly beneath him, his distaste and antipathy palpable. That had hurt, that had driven deep. She had shouted and he had taken offence and she couldn’t blame him for that, could she? She had found his money and he had thanked her for her honesty. What more could he have done? She shrugged off the feeling that a dark cloud had fallen over her.


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