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

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KASMA’S ACCUSATION RANG in Tabby’s ears like a nasty echo during the flight to Italy. After the brunette’s departure, lunch had proceeded quietly but Tabby had not had the advantage of a private moment in which to question Acheron. She had intended to raise the subject during the flight but Melinda was looking after Amber at the back of the cabin and she did not feel that she could speak freely.

Was it possible that Acheron had had a far more self-serving motive to marry than he had admitted? Tabby deemed it perfectly possible when she compared his refusal of all responsibility for Amber only months earlier with his sudden change of heart. Why on earth hadn’t she been more suspicious of that rapid turnaround of his? He had to think she was as dumb as a rock, she thought painfully, feeling betrayed not only by his lack of honesty but also by her own gullibility. What terms had been included in his father’s will? How could he possibly lose half of a company that belonged to him? And if Kasma’s information was correct, why hadn’t Acheron simply told Tabby the truth?

And the answer to that question could only be power, Tabby reflected with steadily mounting anger. As long as Tabby had believed that Acheron was doing her a favour for Amber’s sake she had been willing to meet his every demand because she had been grateful to him, believing that he was making a big sacrifice even if theirs was only a fake marriage. But what if it wasn’t like that at all? What if Acheron Dimitrakos had needed a conformable wife just as much as she needed the support and stability that would enable her to adopt Amber? That very much changed the picture and made them equals. But Acheron had never been prepared to treat Tabby as an equal. Acheron preferred to dictate and demand, not persuade and compromise. Well, those days were gone if Kasma had told her the truth...

‘You’re very quiet,’ Acheron commented in the car driving them through the Tuscan countryside. She had changed out of her wedding gown before leaving London, and he had felt weirdly disappointed when he saw her wearing the violet dress he had personally chosen for her in London instead. The fabric and long sleeves were too heavy for a warmer climate and there was a flush of pink on her face in spite of the air conditioning. The colour, however, brought out the remarkable shade of her eyes and somehow accentuated the succulent fullness of her pink mouth.

Acheron breathed in slow and deep, dropped his gleaming gaze only for it to lodge on a slender knee and the soft pale skin beneath, which only made him wonder if her skin would feel as silky to the touch as it looked. He gritted his teeth, cursing his high-voltage libido. It had never once crossed his mind until now that, even with the options he had, a platonic relationship might still be a challenge, but evidently he was suffering from sexual frustration. Why else would he find her so appealing?

‘I’m enjoying the views,’ Tabby proclaimed stiltedly, so angry with him that she had to bite her lower lip before she started an argument while still trapped in the car with him. ‘Where exactly are we going?’

‘A villa in the hills. Like most of my properties it once belonged to my mother but I had it renovated last year.’

Despite her anger, curiosity stirred in Tabby. ‘Your mother died when you were still quite young, didn’t she?’ she remarked.

His lean bronzed features clenched hard, dark golden eyes screening. ‘Yes.’

The wall of reserve he used as a shield cast a forbidding shadow over his expressionless face. ‘I lost my parents quite young too,’ Tabby told him, rushing to fill the uneasy silence with an innate sensitivity towards his feelings that annoyed her. ‘I went into foster care. That’s where I met Jack and Amber’s mum, Sonia.’

‘I didn’t realise you’d been in foster care,’ Acheron breathed flatly, well aware she would not have had the escape route from that lifestyle that had eventually been granted by his inherited wealth.

‘Well...’ Tabby responded awkwardly, colliding with impenetrable midnight eyes heavily fringed by spiky black lashes and fighting a sensation of falling...and falling...and falling. ‘They weren’t the happiest years of my life but there were some good times. The last foster home I was in was the best and at least the three of us were together there.’

That appeared to be the end of that conversation as Acheron compressed his lips in grim silence while Tabby fought that light-headed sensation and struggled to focus on her anger. So, Acheron Dimitrakos was gorgeous and he kept on making her hormones sit up and take notice but he was also a skilled manipulator and deceiver and only a complete fool would forget the fact. In addition, it had not escaped her notice that he really wasn’t interested in learning anything about her background and who she was as a person. But then had he ever seen her as a person in her own right? Or simply as someone he could easily use?

The car turned off the road and purred up a sloping driveway to the very large ochre-coloured stone building sprawling across the top of the hill. Tabby had to tense her lower lip to prevent her mouth from dropping open in comical awe because what he called a villa she would have called a palace. A fountain was playing a rainbow of sparkling water droplets down into a circular pool in the centre of a paved frontage already embellished with giant stone pots of glorious flowers. As she climbed out into the early evening sunshine, a flicker of movement from a shrubbery attracted her attention and a white peacock strutted out, unfurling his pristine feathers.

The light caught his plumage as he unfurled it like a magnificent silver lace fan. The peacock posed, head high, one foot lifted, his confidence supreme in spite of his aloneness.

‘You remind me of that bird,’ Tabby muttered as the car carrying Amber and her nanny with the bodyguards drew up behind them.

Acheron raised an ebony brow enquiringly.

Embarrassed, Tabby shrugged. ‘Never mind. Could we have a word in private?’ she asked then.

‘Of course,’ he said without expression, but she didn’t miss the frowning glance he shot in her direction as she moved to speak to Amber and her nanny. The little girl was fast asleep though, and a last feed and an early night were clearly what she most needed after a long and exhausting day.

The hall of the villa was breathtaking. Gleaming stretches of marble flooring ran below the arches that separated the reception areas. Tabby had never seen so many different shades of white utilised in a decor or anything so impractical for a household with a child in tow. Of course they would not be staying for long, she reminded herself, and Amber wasn’t yet mobile so all the sharp-edged glass coffee tables and stylishly sited sculptural pieces on pedestals would scarcely endanger her.

‘Very impressive,’ she pronounced while Melinda followed the housekeeper up the wrought-iron and marble staircase.

‘I have a few calls to make,’ Acheron informed her and he was already swinging away, a tall, broad-shouldered male in a beautifully cut lightweight suit made of a fine fabric that gleamed in the light flooding through the windows.

‘We have to talk...’

Over the years, far too many women had fired that same phrase at Acheron and had followed it with dramatic scenes and demands for more attention that he found abhorrent. His powerful frame tensed, his lean, strong face shuttering. ‘Not now...later.’

‘,’ Tabby emphasised without hesitation, violet eyes shimmering with anger, for she was not going to allow him to rudely brush her off as if she were the nobody from nowhere and of no account that Kasma had labelled her. If she toed his line and treated him like a superior being she would soon be thinking the same thing about herself.

‘What is this about?’ Acheron enquired coldly.

Tabby walked very deliberately out of the hall into the area furnished with incredibly opulent white sofas and slowly turned round, slim shoulders straight, chin lifted. ‘Is it true that to retain ownership of your company your father’s will required you to take a wife before the end of the year?’

His stubborn jaw line clenched. ‘Where did you get that story from?’ he asked grittily and then he released his breath with a measured hiss of comprehension. ‘Kasma...right?’

‘It’s true, then,’ Tabby gathered in furious disbelief. ‘She told me the truth.’

‘The terms of my father’s will are nothing to do with you,’ Acheron stated with chilling bite, his dark eyes deep and cold as the depths of the ocean.

But Tabby was in no mood to be intimidated. ‘How dare you say that when getting married must’ve suited you every bit as much as it suited me? Didn’t you think I deserved to know that?’

Acheron gritted his even white teeth together in a visible act of restraint. ‘What difference can it possibly make to you?’

‘I think it makes a huge difference!’ Tabby slung back at him, violet eyes darkening with seething resentment. ‘You made me feel as if you were doing me an enormous favour for Amber’s benefit.’

‘And wasn’t I?’ Acheron slotted in, utilising a tone that was not calculated to soothe wounded feelings.

‘And you can stop being so rude right now!’ Tabby launched at him, that derisive tone and superior appraisal of his lashing her like an offensive assault. ‘Yes, Acheron, it is rude to interrupt and even more rude to look at me as if I’m some bug on the ground at your feet! I was completely honest with you but you, and no doubt your lawyer, deceived me.’

Eyes smouldering gold, Acheron was having trouble holding on to his temper. ‘How you were deceived? I did exactly as I promised. I married you, I helped you to lodge an adoption application and I have ensured your future security. A lot of women would kill for one half of what I’m giving you!’

Her slender hands closed into irate fists.

She wanted to pummel him as he stood there, the king of all he surveyed, cocooned from ordinary mortals and decent moral tenets by a level of wealth and success she could barely imagine. ‘You are so arrogant, so hateful sometimes I want to hit you and I’m not a violent person!’ Tabby hastened to declare in her own defence. ‘Do you honestly not understand why I’m angry? I was frank with you. There were no lies, no pretences, no evasions. I believe I deserve the same respect from you.’

His wide, sensual mouth curled. ‘This doesn’t feel like respect.’

‘Is this how you normally deal with an argument?’

‘I don’t have arguments with people,’ Acheron responded levelly.

‘Only because people probably spend all their time trying to please and flatter you, not because they always agree with you!’ Tabby snapped back in vexation. ‘For someone who appears very confrontational, you’re actually avoiding the issue and refusing to respond to my natural annoyance.’

‘I don’t wish to prolong this argument, nor do I see anything natural about your annoyance,’ Acheron admitted curtly. ‘I don’t make a habit of confiding in people. I’m a very private individual, and my father’s will certainly falls into the confidential category.’

‘I had the right to know that I didn’t need to be grateful and submit to your every demand because you were getting even more out of this marriage than I was!’ Tabby condemned, refusing to be sidetracked by a red herring like his reserve. ‘You used my ignorance like a weapon against me!’

‘The will was a matter of business and was of no conceivable interest to you,’ Acheron stated in a raw undertone.

‘Don’t talk nonsense. Of course it was of interest to me that you had as much need to get married as I did!’ she flashed back at him. ‘It levels the playing field.’

‘As far as I’m concerned, there is no playing field because this is not a game!’ Acheron countered angrily. ‘I married you and now that you’re my wife, you’re trying to take advantage of your position.’

Her violet eyes widened and she planted her tiny hands on her hips, just like a miniature fishwife getting ready to do battle, he decided, torn between grudging amusement and exasperation. ‘Take advantage? How am I taking advantage? By standing up to you for once? By daring to state my side of the case?’ she hissed back at him with simmering rancour.

Acheron strode forward, planted two hands over hers and hauled her up into the air before she could even guess his intention. He held her there, entrapped. ‘You don’t have a side of the case to argue, moraki mou—’

Enraged by his behaviour, Tabby glowered down at him. ‘If you don’t put me down, I’ll kick you!’ she launched at him furiously.

In response, Acheron banded her closely to his big powerful length, ensuring that her legs were as trapped as her hands. Dark golden eyes fringed by heavy black lashes held hers fast. ‘There will be no kicking, no hitting, no bad language—’

‘Says who?’ Tabby bit out between gritted teeth.

‘Your husband.’ Acheron frowned as though that aspect had only just occurred to him and he was as much amused as irritated by the reality.

It was as if she were a firework and he had lit her up inside. Rage blazed through Tabby. ‘You are not my husband!’

Unholy amusement lit Acheron’s eyes, whipping up the lighter tones she had noticed before and giving him an extraordinary appeal that made her mouth run dry and her tummy perform acrobatics. ‘Then what am I?’

‘A rat with a marriage certificate!’ Tabby snapped at him informatively.

Acheron gave her a look of mock sympathy. ‘Your rat because you’re stuck with me.’

‘!’ Tabby ground out fiercely. ‘Or you’ll regret it!’

‘No, I much prefer this set-up to you shouting at me from across the room.’

‘I was not shouting!’

‘You were shouting,’ Acheron repeated steadily. ‘That is not how I conduct disputes.’

‘I don’t give a monkey’s about how you like to conduct your disputes!’ Tabby fired back.

It was those sparkling eyes, that incredibly succulent and inviting mouth of hers, Acheron mused abstractedly, conscious that she somehow hauled fiercely on every libidinous hormone he possessed and fired him up like a horny teenager. He didn’t understand it, didn’t care, didn’t think he needed to, but without conscious volition he drew that tempting mouth up to his and crushed it under his, and the taste of her was as rich and fragrant and luscious as juicy strawberries on a summer day.

‘No... No,’ Tabby’s dismayed objections, voiced as much to her wayward self as to him, were swallowed up by the hot, hungry pressure of his erotically charged mouth on hers.

Nobody had ever kissed Tabby as he did with all the passion of the volatile nature he kept under wraps, but which she sensed every time she was with him. He demanded and teased and the force of his sensual lips on hers followed by the invasive plunge of his tongue was unbelievably exciting and sexy.

He was very, very sexy, she acknowledged dimly, as if it was an excuse, and as he hoisted her higher to get a better grip on her slight body he let go of her hands and, instead of using them to get free of his hold, she balanced one on a broad shoulder and delved the fingers of the other into the springy, luxuriant depths of his black hair. With a guttural sound low in his throat he brought her down on something soft and yielding and then sealed her fast to the hard, driving length of his powerful frame.

And even as a faint current of alarm blipped somewhere in the back of Tabby’s head she was aware of how much she loved feeling his strong, muscular body over and on hers. In fact, her every skin cell was leaping and bouncing with pent-up energy long before his fingers closed over the slight thrust of her achingly sensitive breast, and she strained up breathless and bound by a new tide of sensation. Indeed, desire had infiltrated her with such powerful effect that she scarcely knew what she was doing any more. Nothing had ever felt more necessary; nothing had ever felt more thrilling than the hot, hungry stimulation of his mouth and his hands. Spasms of excitement were quivering through her in a gathering storm. But then other sounds suddenly cancelled out those physical responses: a stifled gasp linked to the rattle of china and the sound of hastily receding footsteps.

‘My goodness, what was that?’ Tabby exclaimed, dragging her mouth from beneath his to find that she was lying on a sofa beneath him. Beneath him, her brain repeated, and her body went into panic mode when she collided with smouldering dark golden eyes and pushed at his shoulders, wriggling out from under his weight at frantic, feverish speed.

‘Let’s go to bed,’ Acheron husked, closing long brown fingers over hers.

And it’s just that simple and casual for him, she told herself angrily, furious that she had not contrived to resist him. She perched at the far end of the sofa, smoothing her tumbled blonde hair back from her brow, a slight tremor in her hands and her face so hot with mortification she could have boiled eggs on it. ‘No, let’s would mess up things.’

‘The bed would be more comfortable than the sofa,’ Acheron declared single-mindedly.

‘I’m not talking about where...I’m saying no, we’re not going to do that!’ Tabby slung back at him in frustration, wincing at the nagging bite of separation from his lean, hard body, fighting the ache of longing between her thighs with defiant determination. No way was she planning to be one more in a no doubt long line of easy women for Acheron, a mere female body to scratch an itch for a male unaccustomed to doing without sexual satisfaction.

Acheron sprawled back at the other end of the sofa, long powerful thighs spread so that she noticed, really couldn’t help noticing, that that little tussle with her body had seriously aroused his. Her face burned even hotter and her tummy hollowed just looking at the prominent bulge at his pelvis, reactions to a physical craving she had never experienced before assailing her in an unwelcome wave.

All of a sudden and no thanks to Acheron for the lesson, she was realising why she was still a virgin. No other man had ever attracted her enough to make her drop her guard and yearn for sex. Sex, yes, that was all it would be, straightforward, unvarnished sex, not something a sensible woman would crave, and she was very sensible, wasn’t she? Wasn’t she? It really bothered her that even while thinking along those lines and carefully realigning her defences she was still fully engaged in appreciating the pure male beauty of Acheron’s lean bronzed face and long, powerful body.

‘You want me,’ Acheron breathed a little raggedly. ‘I want you.’

‘Weird, isn’t it...? I mean, we can’t even be civil to each other,’ Tabby pronounced shakily, still as out of breath as he was, recalling that wild entanglement and the fierce need he had sent powering through her and then suppressing the uncomfortable memory before standing up, smoothing down her dress with careful hands.

‘Yet you burn me up, hara mou,’ Acheron breathed huskily, springing upright with easy grace.

Tabby turned her head away. ‘Let’s not talk about and me? It would be a very bad idea. We have as much in common as a cat and a dog. I’d like to see my room,’ she completed, moving back with determination towards the hall.

‘I’ll show you. We’ve frightened off the staff,’ Acheron volunteered with an unconcerned laugh. ‘I think that noise was someone bringing us coffee and we were seen.’

‘Yes, I can imagine what they saw,’ Tabby cut in stiltedly, wishing he would drop the subject.

‘Well, that’s at least one person who will believe that we’re genuine honeymooners,’ Acheron replied nonchalantly, refusing to take the hint as he led the way up the marble staircase.

‘But we’re not,’ she reminded him doggedly.

‘You’re not a very flexible personality, are you?’

‘You’d roll me out like pastry if I was,’ Tabby quipped. ‘I’m still mad at you, Acheron. You took advantage of my ignorance.’

‘I’m an alpha male, programmed at birth to take advantage,’ Acheron pointed out with unapologetic cool. ‘But you called me on it, which I wasn’t expecting.’

He pushed open double doors at the end of the corridor and exposed a small hall containing two doors. ‘That’s my room.’ He thrust open one door and then the second. ‘And yours...’

Tabby worried at her full lower lip. ‘Do we have to be so close?’

‘I don’t sleepwalk,’ Acheron murmured silkily. ‘But you’re very welcome if you choose to visit.’

‘I won’t be doing that.’ Tabby strolled in the big room, glancing into the en suite that led off and then into a dressing room to slide open a wardrobe, only to frown at the garments packed within. ‘Didn’t your last girlfriend take her clothes with her?’

‘Those are yours. I ordered them,’ Acheron explained. ‘You’ll need summer clothes here.’

Tabby spun back to study him with simmering violet eyes. ‘I’m not a dress-up doll.’

‘But you know that all I want to do is undress you, moraki mou.’

Tabby went pink again and compressed her lips.

‘You blush like a bonfire,’ Acheron remarked with sudden amusement as he strode off to make use of another door on the opposite side of the room that evidently led to his suite.

Tabby thought about turning the lock and then decided it would be petty, for surprisingly on that level she trusted him and had no fear that he might try to take what she was not prepared to offer. If she withstood his appeal, she was quite certain he would withstand hers and find some far more amusing and experienced quarry to pursue. Unfortunately, she didn’t like the idea of him with another woman in the slightest and she told herself off for that because she knew she couldn’t have it both ways. Either they were together or they were not; there was no halfway stage to explore.

Acheron stripped off for a cold shower. He was still ragingly erect and wondering when a woman had last turned him down. He couldn’t remember, and the shock of Tabby’s steely resolve still rankled. But it was a timely warning to steer clear, he reflected impatiently, his sensual mouth twisting as he stifled the urge to fantasise about having her tiny body wrapped round him while he satisfied them both. If she attached that much importance to sex, he definitely didn’t want to get involved because sex meant no more to him than an appetite that required regular satisfaction.

Tabby rifled through the new wardrobe he had acquired for her without even mentioning his intent. She tugged out a long cotton dress that looked cool and, more importantly, covered up anything that she imagined a man might find tempting. If he kept his hands off her, she would keep her hands off him. She worried at her lower lip with her teeth. She had wanted to rip his clothes off him on that sofa, and the incredible strength of the hunger he had awakened still shocked her in retrospect. But nothing more was going to happen, nothing, she stressed inwardly with more force than cool. She could handle him, of course she could. He might be a very rich, very good-looking and very manipulative male but she had always had a good gut instinct about how best to look after herself.

Buoyed up by that knowledge, Tabby got changed, freshened up and went off to find out where the nursery had been set up.


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