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Грэхем Линн

Mediterranean Millionaires

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ENTERING the imposing mansion that Elyssa and her wealthy husband, Finlay Southwick, had renovated at reputedly vast expense, Hope smoothed her V-necked black dress down over her hips with damp palms.

The party was already in full swing, for Andreas did not believe in early arrivals. She was very nervous and was resisting a powerful urge to stick to him like superglue. She had been so scared of wearing the wrong thing that she had opted to play it safe with black, but women all around her were wearing rainbow colours and she felt horribly drab and unadventurous. In addition, her plan to spend half the day grooming herself to her personal best in the presentation stakes had been interrupted, cast into confusion and pretty much destroyed by Andreas arriving three hours early.

Warm colour blossomed in Hope’s cheeks. A business meeting had been cancelled, leaving Andreas free to finish early. The intimate ache between her thighs testified to the enthusiasm with which Andreas had taken advantage of that rare gift of extra time with her.

A youthful blonde caught up in the crush stared at Hope in surprise and stopped dead. ‘It is you, isn’t it? You’re the handbag lady who does the stall in Camden market…aren’t you?’

‘I think you will find that you are mistaken,’ Andreas interposed in a cool, deflating tone that would have crushed granite.

Hope tensed. The teenager already reddening with embarrassment had vaguely familiar features. ‘Yes…that’s me,’ she confirmed with a warm smile to ease the girl’s discomfiture.

‘My mother adores the bag I gave her for her birthday and loads of her friends are desperate to find out where she got it from! I’ll be calling back soon,’ the blonde promised.

Before Hope could confide that she had given up on selling at the market, Andreas had curved a firm hand to her spine to urge her past. The foyer was big and crowded with noisy knots of chattering guests. He pressed her into a doorway to say in an icy undertone, ‘Is it true? Have you been flogging merchandise from a stall?’

Taken aback, Hope looked up at him in dismay. His gleaming dark eyes were hard and cold. ‘Yes. Initially, I was doing market research to find out what sells to which age groups. It helped me keep in touch with current trends—’

‘You’ve been keeping a market stall,’ Andreas sliced in, cold, incredulous disapproval etched into the hard angles of his lean, strong face. ‘Trading in the street as though you were penniless and without means of support! How dare you affront me in such a manner?’

Hope was paralysed to the spot. Astonishment had leached all the natural colour from below her skin. ‘It never occurred to me that you might be so snobbish about it,’ she muttered unevenly.

‘I am not a snob.’ Andreas rejected that accusation out of hand.

Anxious turquoise eyes clear as glass rested on him. ‘I’m afraid you are, but with your privileged background that’s perfectly normal and understandable—’

‘Theos…what has my background to do with this?’ Andreas grated, his annoyance fuelled to anger by the expression of gentle and compassionate forgiveness that she wore. ‘Why did you not tell me that you were working as a street trader?’

‘For goodness’ sake, it was only an occasional casual thing. I had no idea you would feel like this about it. I didn’t even think that you would be interested,’ Hope murmured unhappily. ‘As it happens, I’m not doing the market any more—’

‘You should never have stooped to such a level. From now on you will respect the standards required to conserve your dignity.’ Devastatingly handsome features set in grim lines of intimidating impassivity, Andreas reined back his temper with difficulty.

‘I don’t think I’ve got any to conserve,’ Hope confided apologetically, deciding that it might not be the best time to tell him that she had only given up the market in favour of craft fairs.

Sometimes, the cocoon of his own stratospheric wealth made Andreas hopelessly impractical, she thought ruefully. After all, she was virtually penniless. She had lived like a church mouse on her student loan and had since stretched her meagre earnings to paying for all her outgoings but it was a real uphill battle. Only the fact that she had no rent to pay for the roof over her head had enabled her to manage. Was he even aware of the contribution she made to the household bills? Or did one of his staff deal with all his domestic expenditure at the apartment?

‘But I have, so cultivate dignity for my benefit,’ Andreas delivered with cutting clarity, refusing to be softened by the playful light in her gaze.

His pride was outraged by the very idea of her rubbing shoulders with market traders and serving customers. Such a milieu was beneath her touch and she ought to know that without being told. She was too naive and she lacked discrimination. How much over-familiarity and coarseness had she endured without complaint? What other foolish things did she get up to that he didn’t know about? His unquestioning trust in her was shaken. For the first time he acknowledged the inherent flaw in his own all too regular absences abroad. If he had been around more, he would have found out about the market-trading project and he would have suppressed it. In the future he would need to take a much closer interest in her activities.

Hope knew Andreas too well not to recognise his distaste and it cut her to the quick at a moment when she was already feeling vulnerable. He was disappointed in her. It was plain that he believed she had embarrassed him and that really hurt. The cool distance stamped in his stunning dark golden eyes hit her hardest of all.

At that point she registered that the crush had magically cleared to allow them a clear passage. But she was discomfited by the discovery that they appeared to be the cynosure of all eyes. A perceptible ripple of excited awareness was travelling round the big reception room, turning every head in their direction. Eyes skimmed over her with curiosity but lingered with fascinated awe on the tall, authoritative male at her side. Andreas was the main attraction and the crowds parted before him as though he were royalty. Certainly, he was royally indifferent to the power of his own presence. He ignored all but a tiny number of the hopeful and gushing greetings angled at him.

A beautiful young woman with sultry dark eyes and long brown hair, her slender figure displayed to advantage in a strappy iridescent pink dress, was hurrying towards them. Hope, who had often seen photos of Elyssa in gossip magazines, recognised Andreas’s sister instantly and smiled. Her tummy felt tight with nerves. She so much wanted her meeting with the other woman to go well. Elyssa focused her attention on her brother and kissed him on both cheeks in ebullient welcome even as she uttered a spirited barrage of complaint about his late arrival.

Untouched by that censure, indeed laughing, Andreas flicked a glance at Hope as though he was about to introduce her to his sibling. However, a heavily built older man approached him just then and addressed him in a flood of Greek. ‘Excuse me a moment,’ Andreas said to both women, his mouth tightening with impatience as he stepped to one side.

‘I’m Hope,’ Hope confided as she extended a friendly hand to Elyssa. ‘I’ve been looking forward to meeting you.’

A glittering smile pinned to her burgundy-tinted mouth, Elyssa fixed sullen dark eyes on her, ignored her hand and murmured with stinging scorn, ‘You’re my brother’s whore. Why would I want to meet you?’

As Elyssa walked away, her smile brighter than ever, Hope struggled to conceal her shock. Her face burning, she was gripped by a sick sense of humiliation. That Andreas’s sister and closest relative, a woman who did not even know her, should attack her with such venom appalled her. She told herself that she would not think about the offensive label the brunette had applied to her. She had been mad keen to come to Elyssa’s party, she reminded herself doggedly, and she had to make the best of the event for Andreas’s sake. Andreas was very fond of his kid sister. There was no way she could tell him what Elyssa had said to her. She would just have to take it on the chin.

Across the room, a man in his twenties with fair, angelic features at odds with his bloodshot eyes and tousled spiky blond hair raised his hand to her in nonchalant greeting. Grateful to see a face she knew in that sea of daunting strangers, Hope beamed at him.

‘Do you know who that guy is?’ Andreas enquired flatly.

‘Ben Campbell…he’s Vanessa’s cousin,’ Hope told him, her face shadowing as she once again fought off the recollection of the name Elyssa had applied to her. Whore…no, she refused to even think about that.

Andreas spared the younger man a chilling glance and made no effort to acknowledge him. Campbell had a sleazy reputation for wild parties and indiscriminate womanising. He was very much disconcerted by the evident fact that Hope should be on friendly terms with him.

‘I don’t want you associating with Campbell,’ Andreas imparted with succinct clarity.

Hope stiffened in surprise, chewed at her lower lip and then dropped her pale head. When had Andreas begun to talk as though his every word, unreasonable or otherwise, ought to be her command? She might only have met Ben a few times but she liked him.

‘Which means,’ Andreas extended very dryly, for he was less than impressed by her lack of response and the way she appeared to be avoiding his gaze, ‘as of now, you no longer know him.’

Hope said nothing. How could she cut Ben dead and offend her best friend? Apart from anything else, it would be ridiculous overkill for a casual acquaintance that only encompassed a handful of meetings at Vanessa’s apartment.

A woman glittering with diamonds swam up to speak to Andreas. She paid Hope the barest minimum of attention and was the forerunner in a long and constant procession of people frantic to get a chance to talk to him. In comparison, Hope felt as interesting as a wooden chair and would not have been surprised to find coats being draped over her.

Her confidence already smashed to bits by her hostess, Hope retreated into an alcove nearby. From that safe harbour, she watched the female contingent gush and flatter and hang on every word that fell from Andreas’s beautifully sculpted lips. The men were loud with nerves, unerringly deferential and eager to hear his opinion.

His whore. Without the slightest warning, that dreadful tag leapt back into her mind and had much the same effect on her as an axe wielded by a maniac. A whore was a promiscuous woman, she thought sickly. A woman who bartered sex for reward.

A woman who made a special effort to please men sexually. Could she be described in those terms?

Andreas did not give her money, but she lived in an apartment worthy of a princess and it did rejoice in a designer décor, fancy furniture and fantastic art works. Even if she worked a thousand years she would never be able to afford such luxury on her own income. But she was not promiscuous. When she had met Andreas, she had been a virgin. She had only ever slept with Andreas. He had taught her everything she knew. But Andreas being Andreas and a demanding perfectionist in all fields had doubtless ensured that she had learnt exactly what pleased him in bed. Did that make her a whore?

Feeling claustrophobic in her dim corner and too tormented by her own fears to stay still, Hope wandered off into the next room. Only then did she appreciate that her eyes were awash with tears. Ashamed of her lack of self-control, she hurried on in her exploration of the big, crowded house, afraid that if she lingered anywhere someone would notice that her emotions had got on top of her. A sob was clogging up her throat. She wished she had never come to the party. She felt duly punished for daring to crave what she had naively believed would be an important stepping stone in her relationship with Andreas. Finding herself alone in a quiet branch corridor, she paused, listened outside a solid panelled door and, reassured by the silence within, pressed down the handle.

The door creaked wide on a low-lit room and a startling spectacle. Andreas’s sister, Elyssa, was passionately kissing a dark-haired man, who bore no resemblance whatsoever to her husband, Finlay Southwick.

Consternation momentarily froze Hope on the threshold. Shocked eyes veiling, she pulled the door closed again in a nerveless harried movement and sucked in air to steady herself. But before she could even breathe out again and move on, the door flew open again to reveal Elyssa.

‘Don’t you dare tell Andreas!’ the young Greek woman hissed in a tempestuous mix of revealing fear and fury. ‘If this gets back to my brother, I’ll know who to blame and I’ll destroy you!’

Barely able to credit the extent of the other woman’s aggression, Hope murmured tightly, ‘There’s no need to threaten me—’

‘There’s every need,’ Elyssa condemned furiously. ‘What were you doing snooping? Did you follow me in here?’

‘Of course I didn’t!’ Hope protested in disbelief. ‘I wasn’t snooping either. I was just looking for somewhere quiet where I could sit down. I thought the room was empty—’

‘Did you really?’ Elyssa sneered.

‘Yes, I did. Look, I have no intention of telling anybody anything. I always mind my own business—’

‘Just you see that you do, you fat cow!’ the enraged brunette spat at her spitefully.

Reeling from that second attack, Hope walked away with a rigid back. Tears were blinding her: it was a nightmare party with the hostess from hell. She cannoned into someone and looked up with a stifled apology to focus on Ben Campbell.

‘What’s up?’ Ben asked, his voice a trifle slurred.

‘Nothing!’ Brushing past him, Hope took refuge in the cloakroom. Secure then from prying ears and eyes, she punched out Vanessa’s number on her mobile phone and said wretchedly, ‘Everything’s going horribly wrong. Elyssa hated me on sight!’

‘Good. Andreas must be even keener than I suspected,’ her friend responded with disconcerting good cheer.

‘How do you make that out?’ Hope swallowed back another sob and decided that she did indeed look very large in the black dress. All that dark unbroken colour was less than flattering. In fact her reflection seemed to fill the whole dainty mirror above the vanity unit.

‘Elyssa’s a spoilt little brat of an heiress and she’s possessive of her big brother. She must have some idea how long you’ve been with him and I bet she’s worried that he’s serious. Did she say anything nasty? Anything you could make decent mileage out of?’

Hope frowned, for where Andreas’s sister was concerned she felt honour-bound to preserve a discreet silence. ‘Why?’

‘Because you could use it as ammunition and confide tearfully in Andreas. Only a week ago, I would have said that that was a major no-no, but with impressively little effort you miraculously persuaded Andreas to take you to the party of the year,’ the redhead mused thoughtfully. ‘I’m now convinced that you have more influence over Andreas Nicolaidis than either he or you appreciate.’

‘Do you really think so?’ Hope encouraged, desperate to have her spirits raised even with what she deemed to be a false hope. ‘But I wouldn’t dream of saying anything that would cause trouble between Andreas and his sister. That would be dreadfully mean of me and certain to fail—’

‘If Elyssa is planning to be your enemy, you may not have much choice,’ Vanessa warned.

‘Don’t be so pessimistic.’ Hope sighed. ‘She may well think that I’m not good enough for her brother—’

‘Oh, please, don’t start making excuses for her!’ Vanessa groaned in despair.

Finishing the call, Hope returned the phone to her bag. She hadn’t been able to bring herself to tell her best friend that she had been called a whore. She was too afraid that Vanessa might secretly think that Elyssa had had some justification for voicing that cruelly humiliating opinion. Emerging from the cloakroom, she saw that Ben was now lounging up against the wall a few feet away.

‘Let’s talk…’ he urged, holding out a languid and rather wavering hand, which made her suspect that he was drunk. ‘Who stole your big happy smile? I want you to tell me what’s wrong. Van would kill me for walking by on the other side.’

Cheeks hot with self-consciousness as envious female eyes locked to her, Hope hurried over. ‘Shush…there’s nothing wrong…please keep your voice down—’

Ben locked both arms round her as much to keep himself upright, she suspected, as to prevent her walking away. ‘Would you like me to take you home?’

‘Thank you but no—’

‘I got droves of women,’ Ben confided lazily, bloodshot green eyes mocking her as she blushed and attempted to tug free of his hold. ‘Do you think I could seduce you away from your Greek billionaire?’

‘No chance. Nothing and nobody could,’ Hope swore with fervour.

‘Never say never…it’s like challenging fate.’ Scanning her pale, troubled expression, Ben sighed and dropped an almost paternal kiss down on top of her head. ‘You’re way too sweet and straight for Nicolaidis.’

Andreas was the restive centre of a crowd. He was bored: even at a distance she could tell. His stunning dark golden eyes picked her out when she was still moving towards him. Lean, extravagantly handsome face intent, he abandoned his audience without hesitation and strode forward to intercept her. ‘Where the hell have you been?’ he demanded.

‘When the dialogue turns to gold prices and pork bellies, I feel a bit surplus to requirements.’

‘Let’s go, pedhi mou.’ Closing a determined hand over hers, Andreas trailed her in the direction of the hall and remained wonderfully impervious to every fawning attempt to slow down his progress. ‘We should never have got out of bed…’

As he hurried her down the steps into the cool night air the shameless sexual sizzle in his skimming appraisal made her tummy clench and her mouth run dry. Suddenly everything that had upset her seemed utterly unimportant. She loved him to death. What else mattered? In a spontaneous movement, she stretched up on her tiptoes to press a kiss to a bronzed cheekbone and she breathed in the heady male scent of his skin with the delight of an addict.

‘Andreas? Please wait,’ a soft voice interposed from behind them in Greek. ‘I need to speak to you.’

Andreas tensed, ebony brows drawing together. He tucked Hope into the waiting limousine with scrupulous care and an apologetic smile. ‘Give me five minutes…I’ll say your goodbyes for you.’

Elyssa’s approach had made Hope tense as well, but she was grateful to be released from the challenge of dealing with his volatile sister again. She had been surprised at how quiet and hesitant the brunette had sounded until it occurred to her that perhaps Elyssa intended to confide in her brother and admit that all was not well in her marriage. Hope liked that idea, for she felt bad about withholding what she had seen from Andreas. After all, he was very attached to his sister and her two young children. Cynical he might be, but Hope was convinced that he would make considerable effort to keep his sister’s family together.

Perhaps Elyssa, who had married when she was still very young, had allowed a flirtation to get out of hand. Whatever, Hope reminded herself that the situation was none of her business. But even so the whole wretched tangle was liable to put Andreas in a very bad mood. Andreas was not tolerant of female mistakes in the fidelity line, Hope reflected ruefully. More than once she had heard him pass distinctly judgemental comments on that score.

It was fifteen minutes before Andreas joined her. In the artificial light his vibrant olive skin tone had an unusually pale aspect. His brilliant eyes were dark and screened to a brooding glitter. Convinced that his sister had told him what had happened, Hope was unsurprised by his silence during the drive back through the city streets. He was fiercely loyal to his own flesh and blood and he had never discussed Elyssa with her.

When Hope recognised the tension in the atmosphere, she thought she had to be imagining it. Then doubt crept in. Had Elyssa accused her of snooping? Surely Andreas was too sensible to pay credence to that far-fetched idea? Her brow tightened even more with tension.

In the lift on the way up to the apartment, she met bold dark eyes cold as the Atlantic in winter. ‘What’s the matter?’ she asked instantly.

‘Why are you asking?’ Andreas murmured sibilantly.

Hope had never heard that daunting inflection in his rich dark drawl before. Entering the hall, she kicked off her shoes as was her wont and hesitated.


Slowly she turned round and stared back at him. Andreas was still lodged at the far side of the spacious hall. Lethally tall and exotically dark and sexy, he looked so drop-dead gorgeous he took her breath away. Yet her sense of being under threat at that moment was so intense that she felt slightly queasy.

Andreas strolled fluidly towards her. Brilliant dark eyes flashed shimmering gold. ‘Did anything happen tonight that you would like to tell me about?’


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