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Грэхем Линн

Mediterranean Millionaires

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ALMOST two years later, Hope sat in a fashionable London café waiting for her friend Vanessa’s arrival.

Her thoughts were miles away and centred entirely on Andreas. She was dreamily wondering how she could best celebrate the second anniversary of that first eventful meeting. By seeking out a snow-bound barn? That would not be a good idea, she conceded with a grin. Andreas disliked inconvenience, cold and, indeed, had a very low tolerance threshold for any form of discomfort.

‘Sorry I’m late.’ A slim redhead with sharp but attractive features and bright brown eyes sank down into the seat opposite and settled a heavy camera case down. ‘If that hair of yours grows any longer,’ she remarked, surveying the pale blonde hair Hope wore secured at her nape but which reached halfway to her waist, ‘people are going to start wondering if you’ve got Rapunzel fantasies.’

Hope blinked. ‘I beg your pardon?’

‘You know…the lady in the fairy tale who got locked up in the tower and let her long hair down to be used as a ladder to rescue her,’ Vanessa clarified. ‘Only unfortunately for her, it wasn’t the handsome prince who climbed up, it was the witch. Be warned.’

Hope laughed and they ordered coffee. She was accustomed to her more sophisticated friend’s cynical outlook on life. The daughter of a famous artist, Vanessa had survived a Bohemian and unstable childhood to become a gifted photographer. But the redhead still bore the scars inflicted by parents who had enjoyed tempestuous love lives.

‘So, how is your handsome prince?’ Vanessa enquired a tinge dryly.

Hope was impervious to that tone and her eyes sparkled. ‘Andreas is great. Very busy, of course, but he phones me a lot when he’s out of the country—’

‘A mobile phone being Andreas’s equivalent of a ball and chain,’ her friend mocked. ‘I seem to recall that if you switch it off he wants an explanation in triplicate.’

‘He just likes to know where I am. He worries about me,’ Hope countered equably. ‘Do you realise that in ten days’ time, Andreas and I will have been together for two whole years?’

‘Wow. The guy who doesn’t commit is going for gold. You could be making gossip column headlines. Of course,’ Vanessa murmured wryly, ‘the world would first have to know you existed and you remain a very well-kept secret.’

‘Andreas hates media attention and he knows I wouldn’t like it either. I’m a very contented secret,’ Hope admitted, telling herself with the ease of long habit that what little time she had with Andreas would be very much diluted if she had to share him with a social whirl and lots of people as well. ‘Right now, I’m trying to think of some special way to celebrate our anniversary.’

‘Andreas didn’t make the effort to mark the occasion last year, did he?’

‘I doubt if it even occurred to him that we had been together an entire year. I shouldn’t have sat around waiting for him to say or do something, I should just have reminded him,’ Hope said ruefully

‘Did he ever mention it afterwards?’

Hope shook her head.

‘Then, let me offer you a piece of advice,’ the younger woman remarked. ‘If you want to hang onto Andreas Nicolaidis, resist the urge to celebrate your second anniversary in his presence.’

‘But why?’

‘The reminder that you’ve been around for two years might set the cold wind of change blowing.’

‘What are you trying to say to me?’ Hope prompted anxiously.

Vanessa compressed her lips and sighed. ‘I just feel you’re wasting your time with Andreas. He didn’t even bother to show up the night you collected the top award for your design course.’

‘His flight was delayed.’

‘Was it?’ The younger woman looked unimpressed. ‘He has no interest in anything in your life unless it directly affects him.’

‘Andreas isn’t artistic…or into fashion. I don’t expect him to take an interest in the handbags I design—’

‘He hasn’t introduced you to a single member of his family or to any of his friends. If he takes you out it’s to some place where he won’t be bothered by the paparazzi and where he won’t be seen with you. He’s kept his life separate from yours and he keeps you in a little restricted box. Why don’t you face facts? You’re his mistress in everything but name—’

‘That’s not true! Andreas doesn’t keep me. I take nothing from him…OK, I live in that flat, but I pay all my own expenses and I don’t accept expensive gifts or anything from him,’ Hope reasoned in a low-pitched tone of urgency.

‘But it’s not a question of what you think, it’s all about what Andreas thinks and how he treats you—’

‘He cares about me…he treats me really well,’ Hope argued tightly.

Vanessa gave her a concerned look but Hope felt far too raw to take comfort from a sympathy that could only further dent her pride. ‘Why shouldn’t he? You’re devoted to him and he knows it and he uses it.

He set the boundaries of your relationship way back at the beginning—’

‘No…there were no rules set. I am not his mistress…I wouldn’t be his mistress!’ Hope stated in an almost fierce undertone.

‘So he was too smooth an operator to put a label on it. Has he ever mentioned a future with you? Love? Marriage? Children?’

Battered down by those bold words, Hope almost flinched.

‘You have a right to ask where things are going at any stage of a relationship,’ Vanessa informed her and then she changed the subject.

Afterwards, Hope had no real idea what she had discussed with Vanessa beyond that point. She remembered having smiled a lot. She had been keen to reassure her closest friend that she was not offended by that blunt appraisal of her relationship with Andreas. But, in truth, those same comments had blown her peace of mind sky-high and caused her considerable pain. Vanessa’s every word replayed again and again in Hope’s troubled thoughts. She was devastated when she was forced to acknowledge that most of what the other woman had said had been based on unarguable fact rather than personal opinion.

Only hours earlier, Hope had felt supremely happy and perfectly contented with her life and with Andreas’s central position within it. It had been Vanessa who had sowed discontent inside her. Yet she did not blame her friend. After all, Vanessa had only shown her a more disturbing interpretation of limitations that Hope had simply accepted. Slowly and painfully, Hope felt all the concerns that she had suppressed and all the questions she had never dared to ask Andreas rise like taunts to the surface of her mind.

Andreas had never taken her to Greece, although he knew that she longed to visit the country of his birth with him. Even though his one and only sibling, his younger sister, Elyssa, was married to an Englishman and lived in London, Andreas had not succumbed to Hope’s gentle hints that she would like to meet Elyssa. Hope had always avoided dwelling on that omission and had told herself that in time Andreas would make that suggestion on his own account. In the same way, she had also convinced herself that she was unconcerned by her lack of contact with Andreas’s family and friends. But he had never given her the option, had he?

It was equally true that Andreas had never been known to make a reference to the future as something they might share…at least not a future that extended further than a calendar month ahead in his highly organised schedule. Not once had he mentioned marriage or a desire for children. As for love, well, he was prone to making cutting comments on that topic and she had learned to avoid the subject.

Her eyes stung with a surge of rare tears as she entered the big penthouse apartment that had become her home. Andreas might be in no hurry to offer commitment, but that still did not mean that she was his mistress. Did it? By nature, Andreas was reserved and cautious. Another doubt crept in to make itself heard: how could she even tell herself that they lived together? In the strictest sense they did not because Andreas continued to own and make occasional use of another, even more substantial city property. He had pointed out that the apartment was a necessary convenience for him because it was a lot closer to his office than his town house. His relatives also stayed at the town house when they visited London, as did he when it suited him. Furthermore, Hope had never set foot inside the town house…

Suddenly, Hope was seeing the foundations of her happiness wash away like sand on a beach. She adored Andreas. She had truly believed that their relationship was wonderful and well worth cherishing. But Vanessa’s frankly offered opinion had lacerated Hope’s pride and destroyed her confidence. Was it possible that she had been wilfully blind rather than face the harsh, hurtful truth? Was it possible that, like the penthouse apartment, she was really just a convenience to Andreas too? A sexual rather than residential convenience?

The phone in the echoing reception hall was ringing. After a moment of hesitation, she picked up.

‘Why has your mobile been switched off for three hours?’ Andreas demanded. ‘Where have you been?’

‘I was meeting Vanessa and…er…shopping and I forgot to put it on again.’ Hope crossed two sets of fingers as she told that small lie and swallowed hard.

‘I’ll be with you by eight tomorrow night. So, talk to me,’ Andreas invited, because he had taken a break for coffee and he could always depend on her to fill the space with the minutiae of her daily existence. No matter where he was in the world, he could pick up the phone and within minutes her tide of chirpy chatter would filter away all stress and entertain him. Hope had been very well named. She never said anything bad about anyone. She went out of her way to do favours for total strangers. She put a positive spin on every experience.

Her mind was blank. ‘What about?’

‘Anything and everything…how clothes are shrinking in size to fuel the diet industry…the addictive quality of chocolate…what a lovely day it is…how even wet days can be fun…what wonderfully pleasant people you have met in the apartment foyer, on the street, in the stores,’ Andreas enumerated without hesitation. ‘I’m used to a deluge of irrepressibly cheerful chatter.’

Hope’s face flamed. Did he see her as a mindless babbler? What did he see in her? She had always wondered.

It took huge effort but she managed to talk and it must have been mindless because, the whole time, one half of her was concentrated on the less-than-encouraging reflection she could see in the contemporary mirror on the wall opposite. How could any guy who looked like Andreas really care for a woman her shape and size? Stop it, stop it, stop it, the voice of common sense urged her. With resolute courage, she turned away from the mirror and assured herself that self-doubt was not about to make her bolt to the kitchen and use food as a source of comfort.

In Switzerland, Andreas set down his phone, a frown dividing his ebony brows as his analytical brain homed in on the question of what had upset Hope. She was not prone to moods. Indeed her temperament was remarkably even and upbeat. When something bothered her, she shared it with him. In fact, she told him immediately and appreciated his advice. What kind of problem would she choose not to share with him?

Although she remained blissfully unaware of the fact, Hope was currently enjoying very discreet twenty-four-hour protection. Andreas, in common with many wealthy individuals, had suffered threats. Concerned that Hope might also be targeted, Andreas had hired security professionals to watch over her. Initially he had planned to tell her. But he had feared that the safeguards he had put in place might frighten her. She was friendly and trusting and thought the very best of everyone she met. He did not want that to change and had decided that it was kinder to leave her in ignorance. Only for an instant did he consider contacting her security team to find out where she had been and whom she had been with. That would be taking advantage of the situation and he respected her privacy. Even so, a sense of annoyance that Hope should for once have given him cause for disquiet made Andreas icy cold and tough with the executives who at his signal returned to the conference table.

Hope always dressed up for Andreas. Staring into her wardrobe, she was mentally dividing it into three separate collections of clothes. Of the three, usually only one set fitted her at any one time. The first had enjoyed a brief but glittering life after a crash diet and the second was filled with all the replacement clothes in different sizes that she had had to buy while she’d steadily regained the weight she had lost. The third was full of stalwart outfits with forgivingly stretchy proportions. Almost everything was bright in colour. As she yanked out a dress her head spun a little and she felt momentarily dizzy enough to sink down on the edge of the bed. It had not been the first time that she had felt that way in recent weeks but she reckoned that the light-headed feeling was an irritating hangover from a virus she had found hard to shake off during the autumn. No doubt the bug was still working its slow way out of her system and she would be wasting her doctor’s time if she approached her with such a vague symptom.

In an hour, Andreas would be with her again and excitement was leaping through Hope in intoxicating waves. She refused to torment herself with Vanessa’s gloomy forecast of doom and disappointment. Her friend had only wanted to put her on her guard, had in short spoken up out of pure, disinterested kindness. But Hope was equally well aware that Vanessa, who had had several unfortunate experiences, cherished a pronounced distrust of men and their motives. Furthermore, Vanessa had never met Andreas, had not even had the opportunity to appreciate what a wonderful guy he was.

Andreas kept the media at arm’s length and suffered accordingly for his determination to protect his privacy. It took a great deal to anger Hope but she had been very much annoyed by several magazine articles and newspaper columns that had utilised old photos and old stories to enable their continued unjust depiction of Andreas as a ruthless, callous womaniser who was merciless in business. Had Vanessa read those items and been influenced by them?

As Hope brushed her hair she was thinking about the male she knew. Strong, generous, wildly passionate, literally everything she wanted in a man wrapped up in one fantastic package. Even though Andreas hated roughing it, he took her on picnics because he knew she loved them. Sightseeing bored him to death but he had flown her out to Paris, Rome and a host of other fabulous cities so that she could explore her passion for history in his company. Whenever she had been scared, discouraged or in need of support, he had been there for her. She loved him with her whole heart and soul for a host of very understandable reasons. On the debit side…? No, no, she wasn’t going there, she was determined not to allow foolish negativity to creep in and wreak havoc with her happiness.

Andreas called her from the airport.

‘I’m counting the minutes,’ she told him truthfully.

He called her from the limo when it got stuck in city traffic.

‘I can’t bear it…’ she gasped strickenly.

‘Have you any idea how much I’ve missed you?’ Andreas finally broke through his cool to demand in his final call made as he stepped into the lift to come up to the apartment.

By that stage, Hope was in a heady fever of anticipation. The front door opened: she saw him and all intelligent thought ceased. Her knees felt weak. She leant back against the wall to steady herself. Everything about Andreas thrilled her to death. From the stubborn angle of his proud dark head to the lithe, leashed power and grace of his hard, muscular frame, he was spectacularly male. Lamplight burnished his cropped black hair and cast his lean, bronzed features into tantalising angles of light and shade. He was breathtakingly handsome and he still only had to walk through the door to make her heart threaten cardiac arrest.

Andreas kicked the door shut behind him and powered on across the hall to haul her into his arms. For an endless moment of bliss she was lost in the glorious touch and feel of him. Her nostrils flared on the familiar male scent of his skin overlaid with a faint tang of designer lotion and her responses went into overdrive. ‘Andreas…’ she breathed unsteadily.

‘If you could travel with me, we would have more time together.’ Brilliant dark golden eyes entrapped her misty gaze, his accented drawl husky and reasonable in tone, for he chose his moments with care. ‘Think about that. You could let your artistic endeavours take a back seat for a while.’

And lose her independence, which was quite out of the question, Hope acknowledged while she agonised with guilty longing over the seductive idea of being able to see more of Andreas. ‘I couldn’t…’

His hands closing over her smaller ones, and content to have planted yet another seed, Andreas pinned her back against the wall with all the single-minded purpose of a male guided by lustful intent. She succumbed to the allure of his hard, sensual mouth with the same fervour she would have employed in a life-or-death situation. He tasted like heaven, like something addictive she could not do without, and she clung. The tight knot of excitement in her belly fired her every nerve ending into an eager blaze of expectation. He dropped her hands to curve possessive fingers to the full, feminine swell of her hips and lift her into stirring connection with his bold erection.

‘Oh…’ she moaned, melting like honey in sunlight while the wicked throb of helpless hunger shimmied down into her pelvis and made her ache.

Plastered to every line of his big, powerful frame, she dragged her mouth free to snatch in a necessary gulp of oxygen while dimly her mind prompted her to recall an important ritual that she could not afford to overlook. ‘Your mobile…’ she gasped.

Andreas tensed.

‘It’s me or the phone,’ Hope reminded him reluctantly.

One-handed, Andreas wrenched the phone from his jacket, switched it off and tossed it down on the hallstand. He returned to plundering her mouth with devouring hunger and then wrenched himself back from her, dark colour scoring his aristocratic cheekbones. ‘For once, we are going to be cool and make it out of the hall.’

Dazed by passion, Hope slowly nodded.

With determination Andreas angled her away from the wall and backed her towards the bedroom. ‘If I surrender my phone, you have to make it worth my while, pedhi mou.’

‘Oh…’ Hope gazed back at him, soft mouth pink and tingling from the heat of his, her legs unsteady supports. The blaze of sexual challenge in his eyes imprisoned her as surely as a chain. A blinding wave of excitement sizzled through her.

Andreas surveyed her with scorching satisfaction. He ran down the zip on her turquoise dress and shimmied it down over her hips to expose the pink lace bra and panties that moulded her ripe curves. He vented a husky masculine sound of appreciation. ‘You’re superb…’

Self-conscious colour flushed her cheeks and even burnished the slope of her full breasts. Scooping her up, he deposited her on the bed, his rare charismatic smile flashing across his lean dark features, and her heart leapt as though it had a life of its own.

‘Don’t move,’ he told her with urgency.

‘I’m not going anywhere,’ she whispered, her attention locked to him like a magnet as he peeled off the tailored jacket of his business suit.

He looked sensational. Lithe, dark and arrestingly handsome, he emanated the prowling, lethal sexiness of a predator. Butterflies were fluttering in her tummy and she was on a helpless high of anticipation. But on another level, she suddenly discovered that she was fighting off a sense of shame that she should be lying on a bed in her underwear for his benefit. She had not been raised in a liberal home and when Andreas had come into her life she had not just thrown away the rulebook, she had virtually burned it. Did she mean anything to him? Or was what they had just a casual thing on his terms?

‘Do you think about me when you’re away?’ Hope blurted out.

His shirt hanging loose on his bronzed muscular chest, Andreas came down on the bed and laughed out loud. ‘After two weeks without sex?’ he teased in his dark deep drawl. ‘By this week, I was thinking about you at least once a minute!’

Hope flushed to the roots of her pale hair, hurt and disappointment scything through her that he should be so literal. ‘That wasn’t what I meant.’

Andreas hauled her up against him with strong hands, and golden eyes ablaze with arrogant confidence assailed hers. ‘Don’t ask a Greek trick questions,’ he warned her. ‘You’re my lover. Of course I think about you.’

Without hesitation, he plundered her mouth and her uneasy thoughts blurred. Fire sparked low in her belly and a wave of tormenting hunger consumed her. Two weeks without Andreas felt like half a lifetime. Even as she doubted his commitment, she could not resist her need to take refuge in his passion. Her body was taut with sensitivity, begging for sensation. The expert caress of his hands on her breasts made her moan. The rosy buds crowning her tender flesh tingled and when he utilised his teeth and his tongue on those inflamed peaks, she writhed, control slipping from her as steadily as any form of rational awareness.

Her heart was racing, the breath catching in her dry throat. He was pure bronzed elemental male and he knew exactly what inflamed her. He found the hot, swollen secret at the heart of her and clever fingers drove her to ever more desperate heights of longing. The passion took over, roaring through her twisting, turning length like an explosive fireball.

‘This is how I like to picture you,’ Andreas rasped with raw satisfaction. ‘Out of your mind with the pleasure I give you.’

He sank into her with ravishing force and her body leapt and clenched. The frenzy of excitement mastered her with terrifying immediacy. Delirious with desire, she was way beyond any hope of mastering the tempestuous surge of her responses. Her need for Andreas was almost painfully intense. His passion pushed her to a wild peak of unbearable pleasure and then she fell down and down and down into a state of turbulence that bore no resemblance to her usual languorous sense of peace and happiness. Her body was satisfied but her emotions were raw. Tears lashed her eyes and overflowed before she even knew what was happening to her.

Andreas rolled over onto his back. In the act of rearranging her on top of him, he pushed her hair gently off her face and his fingers lingered on her damp cheekbone. ‘What’s wrong?’ he demanded.

‘Nothing’s wrong.’ Hope gulped. ‘I don’t know why I’m crying. It’s silly.’

Foreboding nudged at Andreas, who excelled at second-guessing those who surrounded him. She buried her head in his shoulder. He smoothed her hair. Handsome mouth taut, he closed his arms round her. If he were patient she would tell him what was wrong. She was quite incapable of keeping anything important from him. Her confiding habits were engrained, he reminded himself.

‘I’m sorry…I suppose I’ve just come over all emotional thinking about our anniversary,’ Hope mumbled in a muffled voice.

Lush black lashes lifted on guarded dark golden eyes. ‘Anniversary?’

‘Don’t you know that in another few days we’ll have been together for two whole years?’ Hope lifted her tousled head, a happy smile of achievement on lips still swollen from his kisses. ‘I want to celebrate it.’

Two years? His gaze narrowed, his lean, darkly handsome face impassive, concealing his stunned reaction to that news. Had she really been in his life that long? He was appalled that he had neglected to notice her staggering longevity. Two years? Marriages didn’t last that long. When had she become the equivalent of a fixture? She had inserted herself into his daily routine with astounding subtlety. She was just…there. She didn’t cling but the tendrils of her existence were as meshed with his as ivy round a tree. That was not an inspiring analogy. But when had he last slept with another woman? He squashed the instant sliver of guilt that even the thought ignited. He had been incredibly faithful to her. Acknowledging that reality set his even white teeth on edge. Inexplicable as it seemed to him, she had infiltrated his freedom like an invisible invading army and conditioned him in ways that were foreign to him. Angry surprise turned him to ice as though he were in the presence of the enemy.

‘I’m not into anniversaries with women,’ Andreas delivered, brilliant eyes dark as coals and diamond-bright. ‘I don’t do the sentimental stuff.’

Hope could hardly breathe. She wanted to put her hand over his beautiful mouth and prevent him from saying anything more. She could not bear that he should fulfil any part of Vanessa’s disparaging forecast, yet she was equally unable to let that laden silence lie. ‘But it’s special to me that you’ve been a part of my life for so long.’

Andreas shrugged a muscular bronzed shoulder and firmly lifted her off him. ‘We have a good time together. I value you. But it would be inappropriate to celebrate an anniversary. That’s not what we’re about.’

Hope felt like someone tied to the railway tracks in front of an express train and the roar of the metal monster was his words crushing the dreams she had cherished and ripping apart her illusions. In one lithe, powerful movement, he sprang off the bed and headed into the bathroom. She lay there cold and shocked and shattered. In her presence he had changed from the guy she loved into an intimidating stranger with cold eyes and a harsh, unfeeling voice and he had pushed her away. She got up to pull on the ice-blue wrap lying on a nearby chair. But she was forced to sink back down onto the bed because her head was swimming. It was that stupid dizziness again, she thought wearily. Perhaps it was an ear infection that was interfering with her sense of balance.

I value you. What sort of a declaration was that? That Andreas knew the exact extent of her worth? In terms of convenience? No, he didn’t do sentimental but, perhaps more tellingly, he had not cared whether or not he wounded her feelings. He had to be very sure of her to put a blanket ban on even a minor celebration. Biting her lip and with a knot of fear forming inside her, Hope tightened the sash on her wrap. But anger was also slowly stirring out of the ashes of the hurt caused by his humiliating response to her perfectly innocent remarks.

Taut with angry, frustrated tension, Andreas leant back against the limestone wall in the power shower and let the water stream down over his magnificent bronzed body. Usually he was still in bed with Hope at this stage of the evening. His chill-out time with her had been wrecked. Taken by surprise, he had been tactless. He wanted to punch something. Their relationship was as near perfect as he had ever hoped to achieve on a casual basis. Hope never made unreasonable demands and appeared to have no greater ambition in life than to make him happy. And she was bloody brilliant at making him happy, Andreas acknowledged grudgingly. He did not want to lose her. But what did he do with a mistress who did not know she was a mistress? A mistress who wanted to celebrate anniversaries as if she were a wife? Theos mou… He winced. What had come over her?

Most probably, Andreas reasoned with a surge of fierce resentment, Hope’s shrewish friend, Vanessa, was responsible. Was it she who had destroyed Hope’s sunny contentment? Who else could it have been? Once or twice Hope had repeated Vanessa’s revealingly acidic remarks about men. Andreas had gained the distinct impression that Hope’s best friend would fry him alive in hot oil if she ever got the chance.

That his association with Hope should be so misjudged and so undervalued outraged Andreas. He was proud of the way he treated Hope. He looked after her. She was a very happy woman. Why? He kept all the nasty realities of life at bay. He even made her dreams come true. Although she had no suspicion of the fact, eighteen months earlier it had been his influence that had won her a place on a design course at a leading art college. Thanks to him she had since graduated and begun fashioning handbags that he was secretly convinced no sane woman would ever wish to buy. He had a shuddering recollection of the one shaped like a ripe tomato. But the point was, Hope was cheerfully content…or, at least, she had been until the serpent had entered Eden.

Andreas was towelling himself dry when Hope entered the bathroom. She drew in a slow, deep breath to steady herself and fixed turquoise blue eyes bravely on him. ‘So if we can’t have anniversaries, what can we have?’

Six feet four inches tall, black hair still wet from the shower and crystalline drops of water still sparkling on the ebony curls defining his powerful pectoral muscles, Andreas froze. He had not expected a second assault in that line. The first had been startling enough. Winged ebony brows drew together. ‘I don’t believe I follow…’

Hope realised that there was a lump in her throat, a lump that was swelling with every second that passed with the threat of tears. ‘I…I suppose I’m asking is this it for you and me?’

‘Clarify that,’ Andreas instructed in the cool tone he used in the office to make underlings jump. But his dark golden eyes shimmered with intensity. He could not credit the idea but for a split second he wondered if she was threatening to dump him.

‘Once you told me that nothing stays the same and that everything must progress,’ Hope reminded him unsteadily. ‘You said that the things that remain static wither and die. Yet from what I can see, in the last two years we haven’t changed at all.’

Right there and then, Andreas decided that in the future it would be wiser to keep all words of wisdom on the score of goal-orientated achievement targets and healthy change to himself.

Every word Hope spoke came from her heart and nothing was pre-planned or judged for its effect. She was very upset. Horribly conscious of his cool distance, she was desperate to make sense of what was happening between them. She needed the reassurance of finding out exactly where she stood with the man she loved.

‘So what about us?’ Hope continued half under her breath, doggedly pushing the question out, refusing to surrender to her inner fears. ‘Are we going anywhere?’

Incredulous that Hope should be subjecting him to such an onslaught, Andreas snatched in a charged breath and reached for her with determined hands. Gathering her small, curvaceous body to him, he reclaimed her mouth in a fierce, sweet invasion that left her quivering with disconcertion. ‘Back to bed?’ he murmured with hungry intent as he finally lifted his arrogant dark head.

Her pale face flamed as though he had slapped her. Indeed she felt as though he might as well have done, for she was bitterly ashamed that he had found it so easy to distract her. ‘Is that my answer? I want to feel like I’m part of your life, not just someone you sleep with,’ she confided painfully.

Golden eyes ablaze with displeasure, Andreas spread lean brown hands wide in emphasis. ‘You are part of my life!’

‘If that’s true, why do I never get to meet your friends?’ Her voice was rising with stress in spite of her efforts to keep it level. ‘Are you ashamed of me?’ she gasped strickenly.

‘When we’re together, I prefer to keep you to myself, pedhi mou. I won’t apologise for that,’ Andreas fielded smoothly. ‘Calm yourself. You’re getting hysterical!’

‘I’m not…I’m just fighting with you!’

Andreas dealt her a stony appraisal. ‘I won’t fight with you.’

‘Is that something else you’re not into?’ Hope heard herself hurl in shock at her own daring. Backing away from him, she jarred her hip painfully on a corner of the vanity unit behind her.

‘Are you hurt?’ Lean, strong face taut, Andreas strode forward.

In the room next door the phone started ringing. The untimely interruption made Andreas swear in exasperated Greek, but Hope was grateful for the excuse to escape and answer the call.

‘Get me Andreas…’ Elyssa Southwick’s imperious voice demanded.

‘Hold on, please,’ Hope said gruffly.

If Elyssa couldn’t raise Andreas on his mobile phone when he was in London, she called the apartment instead. The Nicolaidis siblings were close, for their parents had died when Elyssa was barely a teenager. Still only in her mid twenties, Elyssa leant heavily on her big brother for support. The young Greek woman, however, seemed to have no inkling of Hope’s identity, for she always spoke to Hope as though she were a servant on telephone duty.

Andreas accepted the phone Hope extended. But his attention was on Hope, who looked like glass about to shatter, her warm blue eyes cast down and her generous mouth taut with strain. He was furious with her. Why was she doing this to them? The phone dialogue continued in Greek. Hope understood the gist of it for she had been learning the language at night class for many months and had planned to surprise Andreas with her proficiency. Elyssa was reminding her brother that she was throwing a housewarming party the next week. Hope left the room.

Of course, she would not be invited to the party. Andreas was in no hurry to take her out and show her off. Was that because he was only using her for sex? Easy, uncomplicated sex with a woman who had been weak and foolish enough to give herself freely on that basis from the very outset of their acquaintance? How could she complain on that score when Andreas had never promised anything else and she had never had the courage to ask for anything more?

Pure anguish threatened to take hold of Hope. She wanted to weep and wail like a soul in torment and the power of her own distraught emotions scared her. Her mouth wobbled and she pinned it flat. Terrified as she was of breaking down while Andreas was still in the apartment, she fought to keep a lid on all distressing thoughts.

But her mind marched on with relentless cruelty. Andreas thought nothing of making love over and over again. He was all Greek, an unashamedly passionate guy with an insatiably high libido. But he was more into work than leisure and a woman who required little in terms of romance or attention was a necessity. No doubt, she suited him on those scores. She had always tried to be independent. She didn’t create a fuss when he was late or business kept him from her. She had accepted her backstage role in his life.

Why? Andreas was so much what she was not and never could be. It was not that she suffered from low self-esteem; simply that she could not ignore or forget the reality that Andreas outranked her in so many ways. He was the gorgeous, sophisticated product of a world of immense privilege and even more immense wealth. If it rained on a summer day, he thought he was suffering and he had once flown her halfway across the world to spend three hours on a hot beach. He was highly educated and shockingly clever. Far too clever for his own good, she had often thought, she recalled ruefully, for he was a perfectionist, obsessively driven to achieve, but rarely satisfied even by superlative results.

What had she to offer in comparison? Basic schooling, an ordinary background and at best what she deemed to be only average looks and intelligence. How could she ever have dared to dream that some day he might fall in love with her? Or that he might eventually choose to offer her a more secure place in his life? But she had been guilty of harbouring exactly those dreams. She loved Andreas, she loved him a great deal, and right from the beginning that had been a handicap to any form of restraint or common sense.

Hope tilted up her chin as if she was bracing herself. Andreas might be satisfied with the current status quo, but she needed to have a good hard think about whether or not she could cope with a relationship that had no future. And presumably none of the commitment she had taken for granted that she already had. Her tummy flipped. She felt sick at the very idea that she might have to walk away from Andreas. But if she meant nothing more to him than a casual bed partner, wasn’t that her only option?

On the other hand, was it possible that she had chosen the worst possible moment to mention something that Andreas seemed to find so controversial? Maybe the very word ‘anniversary’ struck horror into his bones. Maybe she was overreacting to her own anxieties, concerns that she had contrived to ignore until a friend had voiced similar reservations.

Here she was fighting with Andreas for the very first time. Here she was putting their entire relationship in jeopardy. Her hands knotted into fists and her eyes swam with hot tears. She never cried. What was the matter with her? So much emotion was swilling about inside her, she felt frighteningly on edge. She had almost shouted at him. He had been astonished. She pressed trembling hands to her cool cheeks. She breathed in slow and deep in an effort to recapture the tranquillity that had until very recent times been so much a part of her nature.

‘Hope…’ His long, lean, muscular body garbed only in a pair of cotton boxers, Andreas found her by the window in the elegant sitting room. Looking incredibly male and sexy, he strolled across the handsome oak-planked floor and closed firm hands over her knotted fingers to pull her close. His brilliant golden eyes snared her deeply troubled gaze and held her entrapped. ‘How would you like to go to my sister’s party next week?’

Her surprise and pleasure linked and swelled into a sensation of overwhelming joy and relief. ‘Are you serious? My goodness, I’d love to go!’

Andreas watched the glow of happiness reanimate in the instant generous smile that lit up her face. Situation defused: it had been the right gesture to make. A weekend in Paris would have compromised his principles in regard to anniversaries. That Elyssa would barely notice Hope’s existence among so many other guests was irrelevant. There was no reason why Hope should not attend, but he had no intention of making a habit of such invitations.

Eventually, he would have to do his duty by the Nicolaidis name and marry to father an heir. In the light of that prospect, it was wise to make a distinction between his public and his private life and be discreet. Hope would be hurt but, the longer she had been part of his life, the harder she would find it to break away and the more easily she would adjust to the inevitable restrictions and accept them, Andreas reflected with hard determination.

Her heart beating very fast, Hope curved into the gloriously familiar heat of his big, powerful frame. She felt very guilty over her temporary loss of faith in him. Obviously, she should have spoken up sooner. Perhaps he had just needed a little nudge in the right direction.

‘Now…’ Long brown fingers curved to her cheekbones and her breath began coming in quick shallow bursts. His scorching golden eyes dazzled her. Excitement leapt even before he tasted her readily parted lips with devastating hunger and swept her up into his arms to carry her back to the bedroom.


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