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Greek Escape: The Dimitrakos Proposition / The Virgin's Choice / Bought for Her Baby

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‘I COULD’VE DONE with some advance warning before you came to visit,’ Tabby remarked thinly, after giving the uniformed chauffeur the address of the basement flat where she was currently staying, courtesy of her friend, Jack.

Jack, Sonia and Tabby had become fast friends and pseudo-siblings after passing their teenaged years in the same foster home.

Tabby eased slowly into the leather upholstered back seat of Acheron’s unspeakably fancy limousine and studiously avoided staring starstruck at her surroundings but, dear heaven, it was a challenge not to stare at the built-in bar and entertainment centre. She had, however, enjoyed a mean moment of glorious one-upmanship when she sailed out of the front doors of the DT building with the doors held open by the same security guards who had, the hour before, manhandled her on the top floor.

‘Obviously a warning would’ve been unwise. I need to see how you live without you putting on a special show for my benefit,’ Acheron responded smoothly, flipping out a laptop onto the small table that emerged at the stab of a button from the division between front and back seats.

Tabby gritted her teeth at that frank admission. Any kind of fake special show was not an option open to her in the tiny bedsit that she was currently sharing with Amber. It was purely thanks to Jack, who was a small-time builder and property developer, that she still had Amber with her and had not already been forced to move into a hostel for the homeless and give up Sonia’s daughter. It hurt that her long-term friendship with Sonia counted for nothing next to the remote blood tie Acheron Dimitrakos had shared with Troy. What had they been? Troy’s gran had been a cousin of Acheron’s mother, so Acheron was what...a third cousin or something in relation to Amber? Yet Tabby had known and loved Sonia since she was ten years old. They had met in the children’s institution where they were both terrorised by the older kids. Tabby, having grown up in a violent home, had been much more used to defending herself than the younger girl. Sonia, after all, had once been a loved child in a decent family and tragically orphaned by the accident in which her parents died. In comparison, Tabby had been forcibly removed by the authorities from an abusive home and no longer knew whether her parents were alive or dead. There had been a few supervised visits with them after she was first taken away, many attempts to rehabilitate her mother and father and cobble the family back together, but in reality her parents proved to be more attached to their irresponsible lifestyle than they had ever been to their child.

Acheron Dimitrakos worked steadily at his laptop, making no effort to start up a conversation. Tabby compressed her generous mouth and studied him. She knew he had already decided that she was a rubbish person from the very bottom of the social pile. She knew he had taken one look and made judgements based on her appearance...and, doubtless, her use of bad language, she conceded with a sneaking feeling of shame.

But then she doubted he knew what it felt like to be almost at the end of your tether. He was so...self-possessed, she decided resentfully, her violet gaze wandering over his bold bronzed profile, noting the slight curl in his thick black hair where it rested behind his ear and the extraordinary length of his dense inky-black eyelashes as he scrutinised the screen in front of him. Imagine a boyfriend with more impressive lashes than you have yourself, she ruminated, unimpressed, her soft mouth curling with disdain.

It annoyed her that he looked even more gorgeous in the flesh than he had in the magazine photographs. She had believed the photos must’ve been airbrushed to enhance his dark good looks but the evidence to the contrary was right before her. He had high aristocratic cheekbones, a perfectly straight nose and the wide, sensual mouth of a classic Greek statue. He was also extremely tall, broad-shouldered, narrow-hipped and long-legged—in fact, he was graced with every attractive male attribute possible.

Not a nice, caring person though, she reasoned staunchly, determined to concentrate on his flaws. Indeed, thinking of how he had outright refused to take any interest in Troy and Sonia’s daughter, it was a challenge to understand why he should be suddenly bothering to come and see Amber now. She decided that she had made him feel guilty and that, after all, he had to have a conscience. Did that mean that he would support her application to adopt Amber? And even more importantly, would his opinion carry any weight with Social Services?

* * *

Acheron could not concentrate, which annoyed the hell out of him. Tabby Glover never sat still, and the constant movements of her slight small body on the seat beside him were an irritating distraction. He was too observant, he thought impatiently as he noted the bitten nails on her small hands, the shabbiness of her training shoes, the worn denim of jeans stretched taut over slender thighs, and he suppressed a sigh. He was out of his depth and although he had told Stevos to return to his office he was not enjoying the course he had set himself on. After all, what did he know about a young child’s needs? Why did he feel guilty that he had already made up his mind to the hard fact that this young woman was not a fit sole guardian for a baby girl?

When the car came to a halt, Tabby slid out of the limo and bounced down the steps to stick her key in the front door of the basement flat. Here goes, she conceded nervously as she spread wide the door.

Ash froze one step inside, aghast at the indoor building site that comprised her accommodation. There was scaffolding, buckets and tools lying around, wires dangling everywhere, plasterboard walls. Tabby thrust open the first door to the left of the entrance.

Acheron followed her into a small room, packed with furniture and a table bearing a kettle and mini-oven and scattered with crumbs. Baby equipment littered almost every other surface. A teenage girl was seated on the bed with work files spread around her and when she saw Tabby she gathered up her files with a smile and stood up to leave.

‘Amber’s been great. She had a snack, enjoyed her bottle and she’s been changed.’

‘Thanks, Heather,’ Tabby said quietly to the girl who lived in the apartment above. ‘I appreciate your help.’

The child was sitting up in the cot wedged between the bed and the wall on one side. Acheron surveyed the child from a safe distance, noting the mop of black curls, the big brown eyes and the instant dazzling smile that rewarded Tabby’s appearance.

‘How’s my darling girl?’ Tabby asked, leaning over the cot to scoop up the little girl and hug her tight. Chubby arms wrapped round her throat while curious brown eyes inspected Acheron over Tabby’s shoulder.

‘What age is she?’ Ash enquired.

‘You should know,’ Tabby said drily. ‘She’s over six months old.’

‘Do the authorities know you’re keeping her here?’

A flush of uneasy colour warmed Tabby’s cheeks as she sat down on the bed because Amber was getting heavier by the day. ‘No. I gave them Jack’s address. He’s a friend and he bought this apartment to renovate and sell on. He’s allowing us to stay here out of the goodness of his heart. He hasn’t the space for us at his own place.’

‘How can you live in such a squalid dwelling with a young child and believe that you’re doing the best you can for her?’ Acheron condemned.

‘Well, for a start, it’s not squalid!’ Tabby flared defensively and hurriedly rose to set Amber back into her cot. ‘It’s clean. We have heating and light and there’s a fully functional bathroom through that door.’ She pointed a hand to the opposite wall, and the gesture fell down in effectiveness because her arm shook and she hurriedly lowered it again. Tears were suddenly stinging the back of her eyes, and her head was starting to thump with the onset of a stress headache. ‘For the moment I’m just doing the best I can but we’re managing.’

‘But you’re not managing well enough,’ Ash stated curtly. ‘You shouldn’t be keeping a young child in accommodation like this.’

Her brow pulsing with the band of tension tightening round it, Tabby lifted her hands to release the weight of her hair from the ponytail. Acheron watched a torrent of long blonde hair fall down to her waist and finally saw something he liked about her appearance: blonde hair that was natural unless he was very much mistaken, for that pale mass had no dark roots or streaky highlights.

‘I’m doing the very best I can,’ Tabby countered firmly, wondering why he was staring at her, her self-conscious streak on override, her pride still hurting from the ‘squalid’ comment.

‘And how are you supporting yourself?’ Acheron asked with a curled lip.

‘I’m still cleaning. I didn’t lose all my clients when I had to close my business down, and those I kept I’m still working for. I take Amber with me to the jobs. Most of my clients are out at work anyway so her coming with me doesn’t bother them,’ she admitted grudgingly. ‘Take a look at her. She’s clean and well fed and happy. We’re rarely apart.’

Ash assimilated the information with a grim twist of his expressive mouth. ‘I’m sorry, but your best isn’t good enough. Nothing I’ve seen here will convince me otherwise. You don’t have a proper home for the child. You’re clearly living on the poverty line—’

‘Money isn’t everything!’ Tabby protested. ‘I love her and she loves me.’

Ash watched the slender blonde lean over the cot rail to gently stroke the little girl’s head and saw the answering sunny smile that the gesture evoked. No such love or tenderness had featured in his childhood experience, and he fully recognised the fact, but he was also bone-deep practical and not given to changing his mind mid-course. ‘Love isn’t enough on its own. If you had a supportive family to back you and a proper home to raise her in I might feel differently, but you on your own with her in this dismal room and dragging her out with you to cleaning jobs is wrong,’ he pronounced with strong conviction. ‘She could do better than this, she should have better than this and it is her needs and not your own that you should be weighing in the balance.’

‘Are you saying that I’m selfish?’ Tabby prompted in disbelief, because she had given up so much that was important to her to take care first of Sonia, after she had suffered her first stroke, and ultimately her baby daughter.

Beneath the shocked onslaught of eyes the colour of rain-washed amethysts, Acheron’s stubborn jaw line clenched hard and his mouth compressed.

‘Yes. You have obviously done the best you can and given her continuity of care since her mother’s death but now it’s time for you to step back and put her best interests ahead of your own personal feelings.’

The tears glistening in Tabby’s eyes overflowed, marking silvery trails on her cheeks, and for the first time in years Acheron felt like a real bastard and yet he had only told the truth as he saw it. I love her and she loves me. Yes, he could see the strength of the bond before him but it couldn’t cover up the cracks in the long-term struggle for survival he saw for them both. Olympia’s grandchild deserved more. Yet how did he put a price on the love and then dismiss it as if it were worthless?

‘What age are you?’ he pressed.


‘I should’ve dealt with this situation when it first came up,’ Acheron acknowledged grimly, thinking that she was surely far too young and immature to take on such a burden and that he should have taken immediate action to resolve the situation the instant the guardianship issue arose. It was his fault that Tabby Glover had been left to struggle on with the child while becoming more and more dangerously attached to her charge.

‘Not if it meant parting Amber and me sooner,’ Tabby argued. ‘Can’t you understand how much I care about her? Her mother and I became best friends when we were kids, and I’ll be able to share my memories of her parents with her when she’s old enough to want that information. Surely there’s something you could do to help?’

But on a personal level, Acheron didn’t want to be involved. He always avoided emotional situations and responsibilities that fell outside company business, and it had been that very detachment that had first roused his late father’s concern that his only son should have set himself on such a solitary path.

Tabby searched Acheron’s handsome features, marvelling at his masculine perfection even as she appraised the glitter of his dark-as-jet eyes and the hard tension round his wide, sensual mouth. ‘I’ll do anything it takes to keep her...’

Acheron frowned, his brow furrowing. ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

‘What do you think? I’m desperate to keep Amber. If you have any suggestions on how I can be a better parent to her, I’m willing to listen and take advice,’ Tabby extended with the new-found humility of fear.

‘I thought you were offering me sex,’ Acheron confided bluntly.

‘Seriously?’ Tabby gasped in shock at that misconception. ‘Does that happen to you a lot? I mean...women... just offering?’

Acheron nodded cool confirmation.

Her violet eyes widened in astonishment and she lifted her head, pale blonde hair cascading in a silken tangle round her shoulders with the movement. In the space of a split second she travelled from possibly pretty to decidedly beautiful in Acheron’s estimation, and desire kindled; a desire he neither wanted nor intended to act on. His body was stubborn, though, and the pulse of heaviness at his groin was utterly disobedient to his brain, throwing up outrageous images of her lying on his bed, that lovely swathe of hair spread over his chest, that lush mouth gainfully employed in pleasuring him. He gritted his perfect white teeth, suppressing the outrageous fantasy, furiously conscious of the child’s innocent presence and his unprecedented loss of self-discipline.

‘Women just offer themselves? No wonder you’re so full of yourself,’ Tabby remarked helplessly, aware of the tension in the atmosphere, but unsure of its source as she stared back at him. She liked looking at him, didn’t know why or exactly what it was about those lean sculpted features that fascinated her so much. But as she collided with his stunning dark-as-midnight gaze, liquid warmth surged between her legs and her nipples tightened, a message even she couldn’t ignore or deny. He attracted her. The filthy rich Greek with his dazzling good looks and hard-as-granite heart attracted her. How foolish and deceptive physical chemistry could be, she reflected ruefully, embarrassment colouring her pale cheeks.

I’ll do anything it takes to keep her... And suddenly Acheron, rigid with the force of his self-control, was reasoning with a new and unfamiliar sense of freedom to think outside the box and he was thinking, Why not? Why the hell not? Possibly Stevos’s bright idea had not been as off the wall as it had first seemed. He and this strange girl both wanted something from each other, and he could certainly ensure that Amber benefitted from the deal in every way, thereby satisfying his uneasy conscience where the child was concerned.

‘There is a way you could keep Amber with you.’ Ash dangled the bait straight away, as always impatient to plunge to the heart of the matter.

Tabby leant forward where she sat, wide violet eyes intent on him. ‘How?’

‘We could apply as a couple to adopt her—’

Thoroughly disconcerted by that unexpected suggestion, Tabby blinked. ‘As a couple?’

‘With my backing it could be achieved but we would need to be married first,’ Ash delivered smoothly, deciding there and then that he would not admit the truth that he would have a great deal riding on the arrangement as well. That acknowledgement would tip the power balance between them and he refused to take that unnecessary risk and find himself being blackmailed. The less she knew, the less power she would have.

Astonishment was stamped on her small oval face. ‘Married?’

‘For the sake of the adoption application. I should think that the most traditional approach would have the likeliest and quickest chance of success.’

‘Let me get this’re saying you would be willing to marry me to help me get permission to adopt Amber?’ Tabby breathed in frank disbelief.

Acheron dealt her a sardonic look. ‘Naturally I’m not suggesting a proper marriage. I’m suggesting the legal ceremony and a joint application to adopt her. We would then only have to give the appearance that we are living below the same roof for as long as it takes to complete the proceedings.’

So, not a real marriage, a fake one, she mused, but even so she was still transfixed by the concept and the idea that he might be willing to go to such lengths to help her. ‘But why would you do that for us? A couple of months ago, you simply dismissed the idea that you could have any obligation towards Amber.’

‘I wasn’t aware then that she was Olympia Carolis’s grandchild—’

‘Olympia...who?’ Tabby queried blankly.

‘Troy’s mother. I only knew her by the name she had before she married. I knew her when I was a child because she worked for my mother and lived with us,’ Acheron volunteered with pronounced reluctance. ‘I lost all contact with that side of the family after my mother died. But I liked Olympia. She was a good woman.’

‘Yet you don’t have the slightest true interest in Amber,’ Tabby commented with a frown of incomprehension. ‘You haven’t even tried to hold her.’

‘I’m not accustomed to babies and I don’t want to frighten her,’ Acheron excused himself glibly and watched her process his polite lie. ‘I should’ve taken a greater interest in the child when I was first informed that I was one of her guardians. Your situation would not have reached crisis point had I accepted that commitment and taken my share of the responsibility.’

His admission of fault soothed Tabby, who had not been prepared for that amount of candour from him. He had made a mistake and was man enough to acknowledge it, an attitude that she respected. He had also moved a step closer to the cot and Amber, always a friendly baby, was beaming up at him in clear expectation of being lifted. But his lean brown hands clenched into taut stillness by his side, and she recognised that if anyone was frightened it was not Amber, it was him. Of course, he was an only child, and she assumed he had had little contact with young children because his rigid inhibited stance close to the baby spoke loudly for him.

‘So, you’ve changed your mind and you think I should adopt her?’

‘Not quite that,’ Ash declared levelly. ‘If we go ahead with this, I will be on the spot to oversee Amber’s welfare and if I’m satisfied that you’re a capable mother, I will release her fully into your care after we divorce. Naturally I will also ensure that when we part you have a proper home to raise her in.’

In other words, she would be on probation as a parent for the duration of the fake marriage, which was not good news on her terms. But Acheron Dimitrakos had to really care about what happened to Amber to be willing to get so involved and make such a sacrifice as marrying a stranger for the child’s benefit alone, she thought ruefully, suddenly ashamed of her prejudices about him.

He would be killing two birds with one stone, Ash decided with satisfaction, solving all his problems in one decisive act. He would choose a discreet location for the ceremony but at the same time, if anyone was to be expected to believe that they were a couple and the marriage genuine, she would have to undergo a major makeover first.

‘I’ll take you home with me now,’ Acheron pronounced. ‘Bring the baby...leave everything else. My staff will pack your possessions.’

‘Are you joking? Walk out the door with a strange man and move in with him?’ Tabby breathed in stark disbelief. ‘Do I look that naive and trusting?’

Acheron studied her levelly. ‘You only get one chance with me and, I warn you, I’m not a patient man. I can’t leave you and the child living here like this and, if we decide to go ahead with the marriage and adoption plan, there are things to be done, forms to be filled in without further waste of time.’

Tabby leapt up. As he shifted his feet in their highly polished leather shoes and elevated a sleek black brow in expectation he emanated impatience in invisible sparks, filling the atmosphere with tension. He thought he was doing her a favour and that she ought to jump to attention and follow his instructions and, because that was true, she wasn’t going to argue with him. In fact, just for once, she was going to keep her ready tongue glued to the roof of her mouth and play nice to keep him happy and willing to help. Yes, she would trust him, but common sense suggested that a male as rich and gorgeous as he was had many more tempting sexual outlets than a woman as ordinary as she was.

‘OK...’ Tabby stuffed nappies and bottles and a tub of formula milk into the worn baby bag, and threaded Amber’s chubby arms into a jacket that was slightly too small before strapping her into the car seat that she had had no use for since she had had to sell her car.

Acheron was already on his phone to his PA, telling her to engage an emergency nanny because he had no plans to trail the baby out shopping with them. The deal was done, only the details had to be dealt with now and he was in his element.

Ash stayed on the phone for the first ten minutes of their journey, rapping out instructions, making arrangements, telling Stevos to make a start on the paperwork. For the first time in a week he felt he was back in control of his life and it felt good. He stole a reluctant glance at Tabby, engaged in keeping Amber occupied by pointing out things through the windows. The awareness that Tabby Glover was going to prove very useful to him compressed his hard mouth because he was convinced that she would be difficult.

‘Where are you taking us?’ she asked, still in something of a daze after that discussion about adoption and marriage. She was scarcely able to credit that her and Amber’s luck had turned a magical corner because Acheron Dimitrakos bore not the slightest resemblance to a fairy godmother.

‘Back to my apartment where we will drop off...Amber,’ Acheron advanced warily.

‘And who are you planning to drop her off with? Your staff? That’s not going to happen,’ Tabby began forcefully.

‘I have organised a nanny, who will be waiting for us. We will then go shopping to buy you some clothes.’

‘Amber doesn’t need a nanny and I don’t need clothes.’

Acheron treated her to a scornful dark appraisal that burned colour into her cheeks. ‘You’re hardly dressed suitably. If we’re to put on a convincing act, you need clothes,’ he contradicted.

Anger flared in her violet eyes and her head turned sharply. ‘I don’t need—’

‘Just say the word and I’ll return you both to your clean and comfy basement,’ Acheron told her in a lethally quiet tone of warning.

Tabby sucked in a sudden deep breath and held it, recognising that she was trapped, something she never ever allowed herself to be because being trapped meant being vulnerable. But if she said no, refused to toe the line, she would lose Amber for good. There would be no coming back from that development because once Amber was removed from her care, she would be gone for all time.

Had Acheron Dimitrakos been right to censure her selfishness in wanting to keep Sonia’s daughter as her own? It was a painful thought. She hated to think that he could know better about anything but she knew that outsiders often saw more clearly than those directly involved. All she had to offer Amber was love, and he had said love wasn’t enough. But Tabby valued love much more highly because she hadn’t received it as a child and had often longed for the warm sense of acceptance, well-being and security that a loving parent could bestow. Only time would tell if Amber herself would agree that Tabby had made the wisest decision on her behalf.

Amber hugged Tabby in the lift on the way up to Acheron’s apartment, the little girl clinging in reaction to Tabby’s increasing tension. Acheron stood poised in the far corner of the mirrored compartment, a comfortable six feet three inches of solid masculine detachment. Tabby studied him in growing frustration, noting the aloof quality in his gaze, the forbidding cool of his lean, strong face. He was so unemotional about everything that he infuriated her. Here she was awash with conflicting emotions, terrified she was doing the wrong thing, putting her feelings rather than Amber’s needs first...and whose fault was that? She had not doubted her ability to be a good mother until Acheron Dimitrakos crossed her path. Now she was facing the challenge of also surrendering her pride and her independence to meet his expectations.

‘I don’t think this is going to work,’ she told him helplessly. ‘We mix like oil and water.’

‘A meeting of true minds is not required,’ Ash imparted with sardonic bite. ‘Stop arguing about every little thing. That irritates me.’

‘A nanny is not a little thing. Who is she?’

‘A highly trained professional from a reputable source. I would not put the child at risk.’

His intense dark eyes challenged her, and she looked away, her cheeks burning, her mouth dry, her grip on Amber still a little tighter than it needed to be. For a split second she felt as though Amber were the only sure element left in the world that he was tearing apart and threatening to rebuild. He intimidated her, a truth that made her squirm. Yet he was willing to help her keep Amber, she reminded herself doggedly, and that should be her bottom line. Whatever it took she should bite the bullet and focus on the end game, not how bad it might feel getting there.

‘Won’t the sort of marriage you suggested be illegal?’ she heard herself ask him abruptly. ‘You know, a marriage that’s just a fake?’

‘Why would it be illegal?’ he countered with icy cool. ‘What goes on within any marriage is private.’

‘But our marriage would be an act of deception.’

‘You’re splitting hairs. No one would be harmed by the deception. The marriage would simply present us as a conventional couple keen to adopt.’

‘You’re hopelessly out of date. Lots of couples don’t get married these days,’ Tabby pointed out.

‘In my family we always get married when it comes to child-rearing,’ Acheron told her smoothly.

That’s right, remind me that I’m not from the same world! Tabby thought furiously, a flush of antagonism warming her face as embarrassment threatened to swallow her alive. Her parents had not been married and had probably never even thought of getting married to regularise her birth.

Her gaze strayed inexorably back to him until she connected with smoky dark deep-set eyes that made her tummy lurch and leap and heat rise in her pelvis. There was just something about him, she thought furiously, dragging her attention from him as the lift doors whirred open and she hastily stepped out into a hallway, something shockingly sexy and dangerous that broke through her defences. She did not understand how he could act like an unfeeling block of superior ice and still have that effect on her.


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