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Грэхем Линн

Mediterranean Millionaires

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ANDREAS NICOLAIDIS kept a powerful grip on the steering wheel as his Ferrari Maranello threatened to skid on the icy, slippery surface of the country lane.

The rural landscape of fields and trees was swathed in a heavy mantle of unblemished white snow. There was no other traffic. On a day when the police were advising people to stay at home and avoid the hazardous conditions, Andreas was relishing the challenge to his driving skills. Although he owned a legendary collection of luxury cars he rarely got the chance to drive himself anywhere. In addition, he might have no idea where he was but he was wholly unconcerned by that reality. He remained confident that he would at any moment strike a route that would intersect with the motorway, which would enable his swift return to London and what he saw as civilisation.

But then, Andreas had always cherished exceptionally high expectations of life. He led an exceedingly smooth and well-organised existence. To date every annoyance and discomfort that had afflicted him had been easily dispelled by a large injection of cash. And money was anything but a problem.

It was true that the Nicolaidis family fortunes, originally founded in shipping, had been suffering from falling profits by the time Andreas had become a teenager. Even so, his conservative relatives had been aghast when he’d refused to follow in his father’s and his grandfather’s footsteps and had chosen instead to become a financier. In the years that had followed, however, their murmurs of disquiet had swelled to an awed chorus of appreciation as Andreas had soared to meteoric heights of success. Now often asked to advise governments on investment, Andreas was, at the age of thirty-four, not only worshipped like a golden idol by his family, but also staggeringly wealthy and a committed workaholic.

On a more personal front, no woman had held his interest longer than three months and many struggled to reach even that milestone. His powerful libido and emotions were safely in the control of his lethally cold and clever intellect. His father, however, had been on the brink of marrying his fourth wife. His parent’s unhappy habit of falling in love with ever more unsuitable women had exasperated Andreas. He did not suffer from the same propensity. Indeed the media had on more than one occasion called Andreas heartless for his brutally cool dealings with the opposite sex. Proud of his rational and self-disciplined mind, Andreas had once made a shortlist of the ten essential qualifications that would have to be met before he would even consider a woman as a potential life partner. No woman had ever met his criteria…no woman had even come close.

Hope curled her frozen hands into the sleeves of her grey raincoat and stamped feet that were already numb.

She was hopelessly lost and there was nobody to ask for the directions that she needed to find the nearest main road. Pessimism was, however, foreign to Hope’s nature. Long years of leading a very restricted life had taught her that a negative outlook lowered her spirits and brought no benefits. She was a great believer in looking on the bright side. So, although she was lost, Hope was convinced that a car containing a charitable driver would soon appear and help her to rediscover her bearings. It didn’t matter that the day she had already endured would have reduced a less tolerant personality to screaming frustration and despondency. She knew that nothing could be gained from tearing herself up over things that she could not change. Yet it was hard even for her to forget the high hopes with which she had left home earlier that morning to travel to the interview she had been asked to attend.

Now, she felt very naive for having pinned so much importance to that one interview. Hadn’t she been looking for a job for months? Wasn’t she well aware of just how difficult it was to find employment of any duration or stability? Unfortunately she scored low when it came to the primary attributes demanded by employers. She had no qualifications in a world that seemed obsessed with the importance of exam results. Furthermore, hampered as she was by her lack of working experience, it was a challenge for her to provide even basic references.

Hope was twenty-eight years old and for more than a decade she had been a full-time carer. As far back as she could remember, her mother Susan had been a sick woman. Eventually her parents’ marriage had broken down beneath the strain and her father had moved out. After a year or so, all contact had ceased. Her brother, Jonathan, who was ten years older, was an engineer. Having pursued his career abroad, he had only ever managed to make occasional visits home.

Now married and settled in New Zealand, the Jonathan who had flown in to sort out their late mother’s estate a few months earlier had seemed almost like a stranger to his younger sister. But when her brother had learned that he was the sole beneficiary in the will, he had been so pleased that he had spoken frankly about his financial problems. In fact he had told Hope that the proceeds from the sale of his mother’s small bungalow would be the equivalent of a lifebelt thrown to a drowning man. Conscious that her sibling had three young children to provide for, she had been relieved that their late mother’s legacy would be put to such good use. Back then, she had been too ignorant of her own employment prospects to appreciate that it might be very hard for her to find either a job or alternative accommodation without a decent amount of cash in hand.

The silence of a landscape enclosed in snow was infiltrated by the distant throb of a car engine. Fearful that the vehicle might be travelling on some other road, Hope tensed and then brightened as the sound grew into a reassuring throaty roar and the car got audibly closer. Her generous pink mouth curved into a smile. Eyes blue as winter pansies sparkling, she moved away from the sparse shelter of the hedge to attract the driver’s attention.

Andreas did not see the woman in the road until he rounded the corner and then there was no time to do anything but take instant avoiding action. The powerful sports model slewed across the road in a wild skid, spun round and ploughed back across the snowy verge to crash with a thunderous jolt into a tree. Ears reverberating from the horrible crunching complaint of ripping metal, Hope remained frozen to the same spot several feet away. Pale with disbelief and open-mouthed, she watched as the driver’s door fell open and a tall black-haired male lurched out at speed. He moved as fast as his car, was her first embryonic thought.

‘Move!’ He launched at her, for the pungent smell of leaking fuel had alerted him to the danger. ‘Get out of the way!’

As his fierce warning sliced through the layers of shock cocooning Hope, the car burst into flames and she began to stir, but not speedily enough to satisfy him. He grabbed her arm and dragged her down the road with him. Behind them the petrol tank ignited in a deafening explosion and the force of the blast flung her off her feet. A strong arm banded round her in an attempt to break her fall and as she went down he pinned her beneath him.

Winded, she just lay there, lungs squashed flat by his weight and struggling to breathe again while she reflected on the impressive fact that he had in all probability saved her life. She looked up into bronzed features and clashed with eyes the exotic flecked golden brown of polished tortoiseshell.

At some level she was conscious that her clothes had got very wet when she’d fallen, but the damage was done and it seemed much more important to recognise why those stunning eyes of his struck such a chord of familiarity with her. As a child she had visited a zoo where a splendid lion had been penned up behind bars, which he had fiercely hated and resented. Tawny eyes ablaze, defying all those who had dared to stare, he had prowled the limits of his humiliating cage with a heartbreaking dignity that had made her tender heart bleed.

‘Are you hurt?’ he asked in a dark, deep accented drawl that would have made her toes curl had she been able to feel them.

Slowly, carefully, she shook her head to express her continuing health. The fact that he was flattening her into a wet ditch was meaningless when she met those gorgeous eyes. She spread her visual net to appreciate the lush spiky black lashes that provided a fitting exotic frame for his deep-set gaze. He had a lean, hard-boned face that was angular and uncompromisingly male, yet possessed of such breathtaking intrinsic beauty that she could do nothing but stare.

Andreas looked down into the bluest eyes he had ever met. He was convinced they could not be naturally that bright turquoise colour and was equally suspicious of the spill of shiny pale blonde hair tumbling round her heart-shaped face like tangled silk. ‘What the hell were you doing in the middle of the road?’

‘Would you mind letting me up?’ Hope mumbled apologetically.

With a stifled curse as he registered in rare embarrassment that he was still lying on top of the woman responsible for the death of his car, Andreas wrenched himself back from her. A faint tinge of colour demarcating his superb cheekbones as he questioned his own uncharacteristic loss of concentration, he sprang upright and reached down a lean, long-fingered hand to assist her. An unsought thought emerged out of nowhere: she had skin as smooth, soft and tempting as whipped cream.

‘I wasn’t in the middle of the road…I was scared you would drive on without seeing me,’ Hope explained, wincing at the freezing chill of her clothing as she let him pull her upright. He was impossibly tall, so tall, she had to throw her head back on her shoulders to look up at him.

‘You were standing in the centre of a very narrow road,’ Andreas contradicted without hesitation. ‘I had to swerve to avoid hitting you.’

Hope looked back down the road to where his car still smouldered. It was obvious even to her that when the last of the little flames died down, it would be a charred wreck fit only for the scrapyard. She could see that it had been a sports model of some kind and probably very expensive. That he appeared to be blaming her for the accident sent a current of guilty anxiety travelling through her.

‘I’m really sorry about your car,’ she said tautly, striving to sidestep the possibility of conflict. Having grown up in a family dominated by strong personalities, who had often been at loggerheads, she was accustomed to assuming the soothing role of a peacemaker.

Andreas surveyed the pathetic remains of his customised Ferrari, which he had only driven for the second time that day. He turned his arrogant dark head back to his companion and flicked his keen gaze over her at supersonic speed. He committed her every attribute to memory and dismissed her with every cold succeeding thought. Her clothes were drab and shabby. Of medium height, she was what his father would have called a healthy size and what any of his many female acquaintances who rejoiced in jutting bones would have called overweight. But no sooner had he reached that conclusion than he recalled how soft and feminine and sexy her full, ripe curves had felt under him and a startling spasm of pure, unvarnished lust arrowed through him at shattering speed.

‘It’s such a shame that you weren’t able to avoid the tree,’ Hope added, intending that as a sympathetic expression of regret.

‘Avoiding you was my priority. Never mind the fact that, in the attempt, I could easily have killed myself,’ Andreas countered with icy bite at what he interpreted as a veiled attack on his skill as a driver. Having dragged his attention from her, he had felt the heat of that startlingly inappropriate hunger subside as swiftly as it had arisen. He decided that the crash had temporarily deprived him of his wits and caused his libido to play a trick on his imagination: she had to be the least attractive woman he had ever met.

‘But mercifully,’ Hope bravely persisted in her efforts to offer comfort, ‘we both have a lot to be grateful for—’

‘Educate me on that score,’ Andreas sliced back in an invitation that cracked like a whiplash.

‘Sorry?’ Hope prompted uncertainly, turquoise eyes locking to him in dismay.

‘Theos mou! Explain exactly what you believe that I have to be grateful for at this moment in time,’ Andreas demanded with derision, snowflakes beginning to encrust his cropped black hair as the fall grew heavier.

‘I’m standing in a blizzard and I’m cold. It’s getting dark. My favourite car has been obliterated from the face of the earth along with my mobile phone and I am stuck with a stranger.’

‘But we’re alive. Neither of us has been hurt,’ Hope pointed out through chattering teeth, still keen as mustard to cheer him up.

He was stranded with Little Miss Sunshine, Andreas registered in disgust. ‘May I make use of your mobile phone?’

‘I’m sorry…I don’t have one—’

‘Then you must live nearby…how far is it to your home?’ Andreas cut in, taking an impatient step forward.

‘But I don’t live round here,’ she answered ruefully. ‘I don’t even know where I am.’

Ebony brows drawing together, Andreas frowned down at her as though she had confessed to something unbelievably stupid. ‘How can that be?’

‘I’m not a local,’ Hope explained, trying to still a shiver and failing. ‘I’m only in the area because I was attending an interview and I got a lift there. Then I started walking…I followed this signpost and I thought I couldn’t be that far from the main road but I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere—’

‘How long were you walking for?’

‘A couple of hours and I haven’t seen any houses for absolutely ages. That’s why I didn’t want you to drive past. I was getting a little concerned—’

Watching her shiver violently, Andreas noticed that her coat was dripping. ‘When did you get wet?’

‘There’s a stream in that ditch,’ she told him jerkily.

‘How wet are you?’

Having established that she was soaked through to the skin, Andreas studied her with fulminating intensity, brilliant eyes flashing tawny. ‘You should have said,’ he censured. ‘In sub-zero temperatures, you’re liable to end up with hypothermia and I don’t need the hassle.’

‘I’m not going to be any hassle,’ Hope swore hurriedly.

‘I saw a barn a couple of fields back. You need shelter—’

‘Really, I’ll be fine. As soon as I start walking again, I’ll warm up in no time,’ Hope mumbled through fast-numbing lips, for of all things she hated to make the smallest nuisance of herself.

‘You won’t warm up until you get those clothes off,’ Andreas asserted, planting a managing arm to her spine to urge her along at a pace faster than was comfortable for her much shorter legs.

Her lips were too numb for her to laugh at the very idea of getting her clothes off in the presence of a strange man. But she was tickled pink by his instant response to what he saw as an emergency. In a flash, he had abandoned all lament about his wrecked car and his own lack of comfort to put her needs first. At a similar speed he had found a solution to the problem and he was taking charge.

Wasn’t that supposed to be a typically male response? Only it was not a response that was as common as popular report liked to suggest, Hope reflected thoughtfully. Neither her father nor her brother had been the least bit tempted to help her out by solving problems. In fact both the men in her life had beat a very fast retreat from the demands placed on them by her mother’s long illness. She had been forced to accept that neither man was strong enough to cope with that challenge and that, as she was capable, there was no point blaming them for their weakness.

‘What’s your name?’ she asked him. ‘I’m Hope… Hope Evans.’

‘Andreas,’ Andreas delivered grimly, watching her attempt to climb a farm gate with incredulous eyes. With purposeful hands he lifted her down from her wobbly perch on the second bar so that he could unlatch the gate for their entry.

‘Oh, thanks…’ Wretched with cold as she was, Hope was breathless at having received that amount of attention and shaken that he had managed to lift her without apparent effort. But then she could not recall anyone trying to lift her after the age of ten. She would never forget, however, the cruel taunts she had earned at school for the generous bodily proportions that had been the exact opposite of the fashionable slenderness possessed by the most popular girls in her form.

As she lurched into a ditch by the hedge where the snow was lying in a dangerously deceptive drift Andreas hauled her back to his side. ‘Watch where you walk…’

The numbness of her feet was making it well nigh impossible for her to judge where her steps fell. The natural stone building ahead seemed reassuringly close, however, and she tried to push herself on but stumbled again. Expelling his breath in an impatient hiss, Andreas bent down and lifted her up into his arms to trudge the last few yards.

Instantly, Hope exploded into embarrassed speech. ‘Put me down, for goodness’ sake…you’ll strain yourself! I’m far too heavy—’

‘You’re not and if you fall, you could easily break a limb,’ Andreas pointed out.

‘And you don’t want the hassle,’ Hope completed in a small voice as he lowered her to the beaten earth floor towards the back of the dim barn, which was open to the elements on the side closest to the road.

Before she could even guess what he was doing, Andreas tugged off her coat. Her suit jacket peeled off with it. ‘My goodness!’ she gasped, lurching back a step from him in consternation.

‘When you get the rest off, you can use my coat for cover,’ Andreas declared, shrugging broad shoulders free of the heavy wool overcoat and extending it with decisive hands.

Hot pink embarrassment washed colour to the roots of Hope’s hair. Grasping the coat with reluctance, she hovered. She was too practical to continue questioning his assertion that she had to take off her sodden clothing.

‘I’ll get on with lighting a fire so that you can warm up,’ Andreas pronounced, planning that he would then leave her ensconced while he sought out a house and a phone. He would get there a hell of a lot faster on his own.

There was a massive woodpile stacked against the wall. She stepped to the far side of it, rested his coat over the protruding logs and began with chilled hands to clumsily undress. Removing her trousers was a dreadful struggle because her fingers were numb and the fabric clung to her wet skin. She pulled off her heavy sweater with equal difficulty and then, shivering violently and clad only in a damp bra, panties and ankle boots, she dug her arms into his overcoat. The coat drowned her, reaching down to her ankles, hanging off her shoulders and masking her hands as though she were a child dressing up in adult clothes. The silk lining made her shiver but the very weight of the wool garment bore the promise of greater warmth. Wrapped in the capacious depths of his carefully buttoned coat, she crept back into view.

Andreas was industriously engaged in piling up small pieces of kindling wood with some larger chunks of fuel already stacked in readiness. Again she was impressed by the quiet speed and efficiency with which he got things done. He was resourceful. He didn’t make a fuss. He didn’t agonise over decisions and he didn’t moan and whinge about the necessity either: he just did the job. She had definitely picked a winner to get stranded with in the snow.

She studied him, admiring the trendy cut of his luxuriant black hair, the sleek, smooth and undoubtedly very expensive tailoring of the charcoal-grey suit he wore teamed with a dark shirt and a silk tie. He looked like a high-flying business executive, a real urban sophisticate, the sort of guy she would have been too afraid even to speak to in normal circumstances.

‘One small problem…I don’t smoke,’ he murmured.

‘Oh…I can help there,’ Hope recalled, hurriedly digging into her handbag and producing a cheap plastic lighter. ‘I don’t smoke either but I thought my future employer might and I didn’t want to seem disapproving.’

As he waited for her to complete that rather intriguing explanation Andreas glanced up and registered in surprise that she was very far from being the least attractive woman he had ever met. In the dim interior, her pale blonde hair, now loose and falling almost to her shoulders, glowed like silver against the black upraised collar of his coat. Her cheeks were flushed, her eyes bright. She was smiling at him and when she smiled, her whole face lit up. Lost in the depths of his coat, she looked startlingly appealing.

‘Here…’ Hope extended the lighter.

‘Efharisto…’ Andreas thanked her gravely, mentally querying her unexpected pull for him. She was blonde and rather short and he went for tall, leggy brunettes.

‘Parakalo…you’re welcome,’ Hope responded with a weak grin, striving to move her feet to instil a little feeling back into her toes. ‘So, you’re Greek?’

‘Yes.’ Protecting the minuscule blaze of wood shavings from the wind whistling through the cracks in the wall, Andreas fed the fire. She was virtually naked below his coat. It was that knowledge that was making her appear appealing to him, he told himself in exasperation. He resisted a foolish urge to look at her again. Why would he even want to look at her again?

‘I love Greece…well, I’ve only been there once but it was really beautiful.’ When her companion failed to grab that conversational opener, Hope added, ‘You’re used to lighting fires, aren’t you?’

‘No, as it happens,’ Andreas remarked, dry as dust. ‘But I don’t need to be the equivalent of a rocket scientist to create a blaze.’

Hope reddened. ‘I’m talking too much.’

Andreas told himself that he was glad that she had taken the hint. Yet when he looked up and saw the stoic look of accepting hurt in her face, he felt as though someone had kicked him hard in the stomach. When had he become so rude and insensitive?

‘No. I’m a man of few words and you’re good company,’ he assured her.

She gave him a huge surprised smile and, blushing like a schoolgirl, she threaded her hands inside the sleeves of his over-large coat and shuffled her feet. ‘Honestly?’

‘Honestly,’ Andreas murmured, taken aback by her response to the mildest of compliments and involuntarily touched.

He coaxed the fire into slow life. She was so cold she was shivering without even being aware of it. As the fire crackled he sprang up to his full height of six feet four and approached her. ‘There’s a hip flask in the left pocket of my coat.’

Hope reached in and lifted it out.

‘Take a drink before you freeze.’

‘I’m not used to it…I couldn’t—’

Andreas groaned out loud. Taking the flask from her, he opened it. ‘Be sensible.’

Hope sipped and then grew bolder. When the alcohol raced like a leaping flame down her throat she choked, coughing and spluttering.

Closing the flask for her, Andreas surveyed her and rueful amusement tilted his wide, sensual mouth. ‘You weren’t joking when you said you weren’t used to it.’

Hope sucked in a jerky breath and wrapped her arms round herself. ‘I didn’t know I could feel this cold,’ she confided in a rush.

Andreas uncrossed her arms, closed lean, strong hands over hers and slowly drew her close. ‘Think of me as a hot blanket,’ he urged.

Her lashes fluttered in confusion. ‘I don’t think I could…’

‘Try. It will be a while before the fire puts out enough heat to defrost you.’

Hope lifted wide eyes as turquoise as the Aegean Sea on a summer day. ‘I suppose…’ she mumbled.

‘Do you wear coloured contact lenses?’ Andreas enquired, black brows pleating because even as he spoke he questioned the inanity of his enquiry.

‘You must be joking… I can’t even afford makeup!’ Hope’s state of nerves was betrayed by the tiny jerk she gave as he eased her into physical connection with his tall, well-built body. All of a sudden her heart felt as if it were jumping inside her chest and she could hardly catch her breath.

‘You have perfect skin…you don’t need it,’ Andreas said thickly, his big, powerful body growing rigid. Even the separation of their clothing could not dull his high-voltage awareness of the tantalising softness of her lush, feminine curves. In spite of his every effort to freeze his own all-too-male reactions, his libido was rocketing into overdrive.

That close he turned her bones to jelly and Hope couldn’t think straight. She looked up and connected with his mesmerising dark golden eyes. A dulled heaviness gripped her lower limbs while a tight, hard knot of agonising tension formed in her pelvis. He lowered his handsome dark head and she guessed what was going to happen before it happened but still couldn’t believe that he would actually do it.

But Andreas confounded her expectations and captured her mouth with hungry urgency. That single kiss devastated her and as it began, it continued, his tongue delving between her readily parted lips to demand greater intimacy. She was defenceless against that wild, sweet tide of sensation, for her body flared into sudden desperate life. The tense knot low in her stomach spiralled into a drugging flare of heat that suffused her entire body with explosive effect. Only the need to breathe conquered that wicked heat and she had to pull her swollen lips free to drag in a great gulp of oxygen.

Andreas gazed down at her with heavily lidded dark eyes and then, abruptly, he yanked his head up and colour delineated his hard cheekbones. ‘Theos mou…I had no intention of…’ His handsome mouth clenched. ‘I should never have touched you. I’m sorry.’

‘Are you married?’ Hope demanded, voicing her worst fear instantaneously and only contriving to drag her hands from him as she finished speaking.


‘Engaged?’ Hope was no longer cold. Her entire body felt as though it were hot as a furnace with embarrassment.

His ebony brows pleated. ‘No.’

‘Then there’s no need to apologise,’ Hope declared half under her breath, scrupulously avoiding his scrutiny while she struggled to get a grip on herself. The way he had made her feel had been a revelation to her and she felt incredibly vulnerable and confused. Her fingers clenched into the cuffs of the coat sleeves to prevent her hands from reaching back to him. She turned away in an awkward semi-circle, so many thoughts and emotions and physical feelings bombarding her that she felt momentarily overwhelmed.

Her first real kiss and he had apologised. It would be terribly uncool to confess that he had thrilled the socks off her and that if he wanted to do it again he was more than welcome. Her face flamed with guilt and bewilderment. For goodness’ sake, where had that shameless thought come from? With hands that trembled she made herself concentrate long enough to pick up and drape her wet clothing over the pile of logs.

‘I’ve upset you,’ Andreas breathed.

Hope whirled round, turquoise eyes bright as precious stones in her flushed heart-shaped face. ‘No… I’m not upset.’

She felt a hundred things but not upset: shocked, bemused and exhilarated by the sheer strength of her response to him. For too many years she had lived in a world empty of any form of excitement. Andreas was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to her and so great was her fascination that it hurt to deny herself the pleasure of looking at him.

‘I planned to leave you here alone,’ Andreas drawled flatly, still struggling to get a handle on his own inexplicable behaviour and somewhat stunned by his loss of control.

Startled, Hope whirled round. ‘Why? Where were you planning to go?’

‘I intended to try and find a house but it’s too dark now.’

‘And I have your coat. Much better to wait until daylight.’ Hope snatched in a stark breath of the icy air while she gazed out at the fast-swirling snow being blown about by the wind. It was no longer possible to see even the hedges bounding the road.

She drew nearer to the fire and then knelt down beside it to take advantage of the heat the flames were beginning to generate.

‘Tell me about your interview,’ Andreas invited, having noted that she would no longer meet his gaze and determined to eradicate her unease. ‘What was the job?’

‘The position of live-in companion to an elderly woman but the interview never happened,’ Hope confided ruefully. ‘When I got to the house I found out that a relative had moved in with the lady instead and there was no longer a job available.’

‘So these people didn’t bother to cancel your interview and left you stranded?’ Andreas queried with disapproval.

‘I asked why I hadn’t been contacted but the woman who spoke to me said it was nothing to do with her because she hadn’t placed the ad in the first place.’ Hope just shrugged and smiled wryly. ‘That’s life.’

‘You are far too forgiving,’ Andreas told her. ‘Why did you want work of that nature?’

‘I’m not qualified for anything else…at least, not at present.’ Hope wanted a stable roof over her head and a period of steady employment before she checked out what she considered to be the much more remote and ambitious possibility of winning a place on a design course. ‘I also need somewhere to live and it would’ve suited me very well. Where were you travelling?’

‘I was heading back to London.’

‘Why did you kiss me?’

It was hard to know which of them was most surprised by that very abrupt question: Hope, who had not known that she was about to embarrass herself by asking for clarification on that score, or Andreas, who had never been faced with such a bald demand to know his motivation before.

Dark golden eyes surveyed her steadily. ‘Why do you think?’

Face hot again, Hope studied her tightly linked hands. ‘I haven’t a clue…I was just curious.’

‘You’re very sexy.’

Her lashes swept up on her astonished gaze. ‘Are you serious?’

‘I should know…I’m a connoisseur,’ Andreas asserted without hesitation.

Her lush, full mouth curved into a grin, for she liked his frankness. So, he liked women and no doubt in large numbers. And why should he not? He was gorgeous and women had to fall for him in droves. Naturally he took advantage and who could blame him? If deep down a little twinge of pain stabbed at her that that should be so, she ignored it.

After all, she was much more interested in what Andreas had said prior to that final statement. It seemed like a miracle to her but he had called her sexy. Hope was used to thinking of herself as plain, overweight and ordinary. She had spent years hating her own body and longing to be thinner. To that end she had dieted and exercised and her weight had fluctuated up and down while the slender figure she craved continued to elude her. Even the mother she loved had sighed over her daughter’s lack of looks and lamented her keen appetite.

Yet Andreas, who was heartbreakingly handsome, considered her attractive. And not only that…he thought she was sexy. Even better he had proven his own conviction by succumbing to charms she had not known she had. She reckoned that she was probably going to love him until the day she died for allowing her to feel just once like a young and pretty woman. She had waited what felt like half a lifetime to hear such words and had truly believed that she would die without ever hearing them. He was the fulfilment of a dream and she studied him with massive and grateful concentration.

‘So what do you do for a living?’ Hope asked chattily.

‘I deal with investments.’

‘I suppose you’re stuck at a desk all the time studying figures and it’s a bit boring. Still, somebody has to do it.’ Her turquoise eyes were warm with sympathy.

Andreas got a high out of his immensely successful career but he had met far too many women who faked an interest in finance in an effort to impress him. Hope, he recognised, was not tempted in that direction. His rare smile illuminated his lean bronzed features, which in repose could seem grave and cold.

‘Would you like some chocolate?’ she asked, rooting round in her capacious bag and emerging with a giant bar and only then seeing that smile and riveted by it. He had buckets of charisma and she was entrapped.

‘Yes…before you melt it,’ Andreas laughed, hunkering down to reach for the bar, which she was holding perilously close to the fire. He broke off a piece and let his brilliant gaze sweep from her clear bright eyes and the fascination she couldn’t hide to the ripe curve of her lips. He remembered the intoxicating taste of her and the laughter left him to be replaced by a disturbingly strong desire to haul her back into his arms. He put the square of chocolate he had intended for himself into her mouth instead.

‘Oh…’ Hope gasped in surprise and closed her eyes in slow, blissful appreciation as the cold chocolate began melting against her tongue.

Andreas was transfixed by the expression she wore. He could not take his attention from her. He wondered if she would react like that to him in bed. He tried to kill the thought. He tried to suppress the powerful tide of hunger she ignited in him, but his usually disciplined libido was behaving like a runaway train.

Her lashes lifted. ‘I would do just about anything for chocolate…’

Her voice faded away and her mouth ran dry on the glittering blaze she met in his intent golden eyes. On a level of understanding she had not even known she possessed she recognised his hunger and she leant forward without even thinking about what she was doing and sought his hard, sensual mouth again for herself. With a hungry growl, Andreas came down on his knees and kissed her until the blood drummed at an insane rate through her veins and her head swam.

‘I’ll buy you chocolate every day,’ Andreas promised huskily.

‘You know…I wasn’t meaning anything provocative,’ Hope warned him anxiously.

‘I know.’ Long fingers framed her cheekbones while his eyes devoured her. ‘I find that straightforward streak of yours very refreshing.’

‘Other people call me blunt—’

‘Whatever, I don’t meet with much of it,’ Andreas admitted thickly, his hands not quite steady on her. ‘I also want you so much it hurts to deny myself. That’s a first for me.’

Hope felt utterly unlike herself. It was as though at that first kiss she had become an alien inside her own once familiar skin. She felt wild and greedy and joyous and as tempting as Cleopatra. All the years of stoically repressed regret at the manner in which life was passing her by, all the wistful longings and fanciful dreams that crowded out the fertile imagination she hid behind a front of no-nonsense practicality finally got to break free. Andreas was the embodiment of her every fantasy.

‘A first for me too,’ she confided breathlessly.

He unbuttoned the coat and then froze, a rare glint of confusion in the wondering appraisal he gave her. He had no grasp of quite how the situation had developed but he couldn’t make himself let go of her. ‘We have to be out of our minds—’

Hope closed her fingers into the lapels of his suit jacket. ‘Shush…don’t spoil it,’ she whispered pleadingly.

Andreas spread her back against his coat and let his mouth glide down the length of her throat. ‘Tell me when to stop…’

With no intention of calling a halt at any point, Hope shivered with delicious tension and lay there. She booted the misgivings struggling to be heard out of her mind and slammed shut the door on them for good measure. For twenty-eight years she had been good and just once, and for the space of one stolen, secret night, she was going to be bad and what was more she was going to enjoy it.

He unsnapped the lace bra and groaned out loud at the creamy swell of her pouting breasts in the firelight. ‘You have a body to die for.’

Hot with a mix of self-consciousness and helpless longing, she opened her eyes to see if he was teasing: his appreciation spoke for him. With reverent hands he toyed with the tender pink peaks already straining into thrusting points. Deep down inside she felt as if she were burning and her hips shifted in a pointless effort to contain the feeling. Within very little time the whole world centred on him and what he was doing to her.

He employed his knowing mouth on the stiff crests that crowned her breasts and the inner thrum of her body’s response became so powerful she could not stay still. Her entire skin surface felt unbearably sensitive but more than anything she was aware of the damp ache at the swollen heart of her.

‘Andreas…’ She sounded his name in a throaty, pleading purr and at last he touched her where she most needed to be touched.

Sensation electrified her and took her to a place she had never been before, where all that mattered was the sensual glory of his touch and the wildness that was being born within her. She writhed, wrapped herself round him, lost in the hot, male scent of his skin and hair and the enervating roughness of his hard, muscular body against her.

‘I can’t wait…’ Andreas confessed rawly, passion breaking through his formidable control at a level of excitement he had never known before.

The sheer overload of physical pleasure had driven her to a tortured peak and she was helpless in the hold of the powerful craving that controlled her. He pulled her under him and she was with him every step of the way. With an earthy groan he sank into the slick, hot heat of her and met with unexpected resistance.

‘You’re a virgin?’ he breathed in stark shock.

‘Don’t stop…’ she gasped, reaching up to lock imprisoning arms round him.

He yielded and swept her through the sharp little pain into a fast, frantic rhythm as primal as the overpowering sensations that had taken her over. Intolerable excitement pushed her into ecstasy and a cocoon of pleasure. In the aftermath, she felt amazingly silly and happy and buoyant.

Andreas gazed at Hope with wondering golden eyes and then he gathered her very carefully back into the warmth of his coat and tugged her into his arms. He kissed her brow. ‘You’re very sweet…but you should have told me I’d be the first.’

‘It was my business,’ Hope muttered, burying her face into his shoulder, fighting off the shock of what she had just done.

‘But now’s it mine,’ Andreas asserted, determined fingers tipping her chin up so that he could look at her again in the flickering light cast by the burning logs. ‘I think that in the very near future you will decide to move to London and I will be your lover.’

‘Why would I do that?’ Hope dared to ask although sparkles of joy were running through her like precious gold dust.

His hard, sensual mouth slashed into a sudden smile of breathtaking assurance. ‘Because I will ask you to and you won’t be able to resist.’

Her heart was bouncing like a rubber ball inside her chest and she smiled up at him with all the natural warmth that was the very core of her character.


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