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Грэхем Линн

Mediterranean Millionaires

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HOPE gulped. Why was Andreas acting as if she had done something wrong? She had no desire to whinge about Elyssa’s unkindness or indeed to tell tales about the younger woman. Yet if Andreas knew that she had seen his sister with another man, why was he making a mystery of that embarrassing event?

‘No, nothing comes to mind,’ Hope answered uneasily, wishing she did not feel quite so guilty about keeping quiet on Elyssa’s behalf.

‘You were seen with Ben Campbell,’ Andreas imparted icily, but there was a dauntingly rough and unfamiliar edge to his intonation.

Disconcerted by that reference to Ben, Hope turned pink and shifted uncomfortably, but she could see no reason to be the slightest bit apologetic on that score. ‘Yes, I did speak to Ben for a couple of minutes.’

‘Finlay, my brother-in-law, saw you with him. You were in Campbell’s arms.’

That particular choice of wording sent a stab of sincere annoyance travelling through Hope. Could something so minor and innocent in every way be responsible for causing so much bad feeling? She had not even met Elyssa’s husband. But she could not help thinking that there was surely something rather mean-spirited about a man capable of reading anything suspect into her brief chat with Ben. ‘It wasn’t quite as you make it sound—’

Andreas elevated a black brow. ‘Wasn’t it?’

Her usual calm chipping away at an ever-faster rate, Hope stared back at him in an effort to comprehend the mystery of his unusual behaviour. He had never shown signs of being unreasonably jealous or possessive. Now all of a sudden he was acting like a stranger. ‘Of course it wasn’t. For a start there were at least half a dozen other people nearby,’ she pointed out. ‘Ben wasn’t even flirting with me, he was just fooling around.’

His lean bronzed features remained maddeningly uninformative. ‘Was he?’

‘For goodness’ sake, Andreas,’ Hope continued with gathering force, for a cascade of little mental alarm bells was beginning to go off inside her head. ‘Ben probably put his arms round me because he had to hang onto me to stay upright. He was rather merry. There certainly wasn’t anything else to it. In fact, I’m finding it very hard to believe that we’re having this conversation.’

‘We’re having this conversation because five minutes after Finlay saw you getting cosy in public with Campbell, Elyssa surprised you getting cosier still in private,’ Andreas delivered with grim clarity.

Hope stilled, the animated pink draining slowly from her shaken face. ‘Say that again…’

‘Surely I don’t need to repeat it,’ Andreas said, his disgust unconcealed. ‘You went into a private room with Campbell.’

A tiny pulse had begun to go bang-bang-bang at Hope’s temple and she was so stiff she might have been fashioned out of stone. ‘I did not go into any room to be alone with Ben—’

Something flashed in his hard, dark gaze: a sizzle of golden fury. ‘This is grubby…this is beneath me!’ Andreas incised with a raw, slashing derision that cut her to the bone. ‘At least admit the truth. When such behaviour is witnessed, there is no scope to lie or make excuses.’

‘But I’m not lying or making excuses,’ Hope fielded breathlessly, for sheer shock was making her feel as if she had been punched squarely in the solar plexus. ‘What am I supposed to have been doing with Ben?’

‘You were kissing him—’

‘I wasn’t!’ Hope gasped. ‘Your sister is—’

Andreas spread his arms in a sudden violent movement that shook her into silence. ‘Don’t offend me even more by daring to question my sister’s integrity. She saw what she saw. You abused her hospitality and embarrassed her.’

‘I did not…I swear I did not,’ Hope muttered in bewilderment, her head swimming with too many thoughts at once. As she finally grasped how cruelly manipulative and unashamedly deceitful Elyssa Southwick had been, she felt sick to the stomach. For an instant she was simply shattered that someone she barely knew could be prepared to tell a lie of such appalling magnitude about her.

‘Elyssa was very upset and she didn’t know what to do. But after discussing the matter with her husband, she decided that I had a right to know that you were behaving like a slut behind my back!’ Andreas bit out rawly, his wintry cool and control starting to crack.

Hope trembled. ‘But it’s not true. Not a word of it is true—’

‘I want to hear you admit the truth before I leave. You owe me that at the very least,’ Andreas growled.

Even as she saw that her world was falling apart, Hope was sickly fascinated by the callous ruthlessness that Elyssa had employed to bring about the destruction she had threatened. ‘I’ve been a real fool,’ she mumbled in a daze. ‘I always try to overlook other people’s mistakes and not stand in judgement because I know I’m not perfect either.

But I overlooked one very dangerous fact…your sister is as clever as you are and it seems she decided that I was a threat to her security.’

His handsome mouth curled. ‘That’s offensive nonsense. Have the decency to leave Elyssa out of this unpleasant business.’

‘I don’t think I can.’ Yet Hope was also asking herself how she could possibly stage a creditable counter-accusation. Having got her story in first, Elyssa had backed it up most impressively with her husband’s reference to having previously seen Hope in Ben Campbell’s arms. It didn’t matter that that latter incident had taken place in the most innocent of circumstances. The other man’s additional testimony had made the case against Hope look irrefutable. On the other hand, she reasoned, perhaps the story might have looked unarguable to a stranger, but should Andreas not know her better?

‘Don’t you know me better than this?’ she whispered out loud.

That question hit Andreas as hard as a blast of dynamite detonating inside a giant rock. Rage was like a clenched-tight fist inside him and it took all his concentration to keep it contained. He could not stand to look at her; yet somehow he could not make himself look away. He had trusted her. Until his sister had blown away his illusions he had had no idea just how deep his trust in Hope had run. The sleazy truth had come as a body blow. But then placing that amount of faith in a mistress was asking for trouble, he reflected bitterly. He had kept her around too long. He had let her rosy, cosy sentimentality infect him like a virus and blur the boundaries of what they shared: great sex, nothing more, and he could find equally great sex elsewhere.

‘Andreas?’ Hope breathed unevenly, a tumult of emotions thrust down as she fought a fierce battle not to lose control. ‘Do you really think that I would do something like that?’

Insolent golden eyes zeroed in on her. ‘Is it beyond impossible?’ Andreas drawled smooth as silk. ‘You did it with me in a barn the first night we met.’

All the natural colour bled from Hope’s complexion to leave her pale as parchment. Pain exploded inside her. But on some level, she welcomed the hurt inflicted by his cruel derision. Perhaps it was a long overdue punishment for her recklessness that night. Evidently that bad beginning had come back to haunt her. He didn’t respect her; he had obviously never respected her. Virgin or not, she had been too easy a conquest and he was now looking back at that as though it had been the first betraying symptom of her being a slut in the making. It was incredibly cruel of him to throw that first night back in her teeth. She had cherished the memory of the night she fell in love with him as the very essence of romance. But he had slung that same recollection back to her as a base and humiliating insult.

Her eyes felt horribly hot, dry and scratchy. Shock seemed to have driven all desire to cry out of her. ‘Yes I did, didn’t I?’ she managed gruffly. ‘But even if it wasn’t special for you, it was for me.’

Emanating pure indifference on that issue, Andreas shrugged a broad shoulder in a gesture that was as careless as it was wounding.

Hope tried again. ‘You have to listen to me—’

‘No, I don’t.’

‘I didn’t do anything tonight and I’m not lying to you. I have never kissed Ben Campbell,’ Hope declared with vehemence.

‘I expect you to find alternative accommodation by the end of the month. It’s over,’ Andreas countered with supreme derision.

Hope realised he was about to leave and horror galvanised her out of her paralysis into sudden action. She placed herself between Andreas and the front door. ‘You can’t leave!’

‘Watch me—’

‘No, I won’t. I want you to stop and think about the person you know me to be. Ask yourself if I’d throw what we have away just for the chance to snog Ben Campbell!’

His strong jaw line clenched. ‘Other women have.

He’s wrecked several marriages with his little-boy-lost act. He’s also famous for going after women who belong to other men—’

‘But I don’t fancy him…I never have. I imagine half of London has got to snog Ben when he’s drunk. He’s not exactly exclusive,’ Hope pointed out in growing desperation, praying that the very tenor of her comments would force Andreas to see that she had never even thought of Ben Campbell as a potentially fanciable male. All he had ever been on her terms was Vanessa’s rather dissolute and amusing cousin. ‘If you won’t believe me, ask Ben if anything happened tonight.’

Outraged by that suggestion, Andreas vented a harsh laugh of incredulity. ‘Why would I lower myself to that level? Had you been my wife, I would have confronted him. I would’ve torn him apart for daring to lay a single finger on you!’ he proclaimed with a disconcertingly vicious edge to his dark, deep drawl. ‘But you’re not my wife, you’re my mistress and, as such, expendable with the minimum of fuss.’

Ashen-pale beneath the lash of his naked contempt, Hope looked back at him, distraught turquoise eyes sparkling with sudden angry denial. ‘I am not and I have never been your mistress.’

‘Then what are you?’ Andreas purred like a panther ready to flex his claws and draw blood.

‘A woman who fell in love with you and who never stopped to count the cost,’ Hope quantified jerkily, her generous mouth compressing. ‘Some people would judge me harshly enough for that or call me a fool. But that doesn’t make me your mistress—’

‘A lot of women have told me they loved me,’ Andreas murmured with sizzling scorn. ‘Invariably they love what I can give them more.’

Her spine ached with tension. ‘But I’ve never let you give me anything. With the exception of this apartment, I’ve kept your money out of our relationship and I never once looked for or accepted expensive gifts. Don’t try to bundle me up with other women when I’ve always been true to you!’ she told him, hearing the sharp, accusing undertone in her voice and unable to suppress it. ‘And you can also stop insulting me for what I haven’t done and talking at me in that bored, sneering way!’

‘If I stop sneering, I might lose my temper,’ Andreas asserted with a lethal quietness that made gooseflesh prickle at the nape of her neck. ‘Now get out of my way…I’m leaving.’

Hope backed up against the door in a panic. ‘Over my dead body. I won’t let you leave until you listen to me. This is like a living nightmare and I won’t let it happen to us—’

‘There is no us now.’ Without further ado, Andreas lifted her bodily out of his path and strode through the door.

Hope could not believe he was gone any more easily than she could accept what had just happened. Only a few hours earlier when they had left for the party, she had been so happy and secure. To accept that Andreas had dumped her, walked out on her, indeed finished with her absolutely and for ever was more than she could bear to deal with at that moment.

Like someone lost in a strange land, she wandered round the big, empty apartment. Elyssa had told horrible lies about her. Such behaviour was so inexplicable to Hope that for the space of an hour she strove frantically to plan out how she might approach Andreas’s sister and what she might say to persuade the young Greek woman that she had to retract her false accusation. But even an optimist like Hope could not cling to such a remote prospect for long.

After all, even before she had had the misfortune to catch Elyssa in compromising circumstances, Elyssa had made it clear that she despised her. The brunette had too much to lose from telling the truth and had triumphed with her lies. She had managed to destroy Hope’s relationship with her brother and ensure that Hope was banished from his life.

Hope’s hands closed tight in on themselves. She recognised that she was still in a stupor of shock. But she was already thinking that she ought to have told Andreas that she had seen his sister with another man. Whether he believed her side of the story or not, she needed to speak up in her own defence. Yet what realistic chance of success did she have? Any attempt she made to clear her own name would entail accusing Elyssa of, not only being a liar, but also being an unfaithful wife. She shivered at the prospect. Andreas was very proud and protective of his younger sister. Honour and family were all-important to the Greek male. Any attack on Elyssa would outrage him.

She tripped over the black shirt lying discarded by the bed and swept it up, burying her face in its crumpled cotton folds to draw in the scent of Andreas. He was gone. How could someone who felt like the other half of her leave and how could she still function? Terror spread into the void inside her for she could not imagine living without Andreas. A passion of grief dug nasty talon claws into her shrinking flesh. Her aching eyes finally overflowed and she threw herself down on the bed and cried until her throat hurt and she could hardly see through her swollen eyes. In the silence that followed, she was overwhelmed by a terrible sense of loss and emptiness.

In the limo that ferried him back to the town house, Andreas worked his way through two brandies. What Elyssa had seen admitted no possibility of error. Hope’s foolish pleas of innocence had only deepened his anger. He concentrated on that anger, letting it rise like a red mist and suppress all other thoughts. He would prove that she was lying, he decided grimly. Lifting the phone, he called his security chief and, with a perfunctory apology for the late hour, he requested a detailed rundown of Hope’s daily itinerary in recent months.

Somewhere around dawn, Hope had drifted into an uneasy slumber disturbed by dreams. Wakening, she sat up, and as the awful events of the previous night rolled back to her her tummy seemed to roll queasily in concert. In the aftermath of that rare bout of nausea, she stumbled into the shower and slumped. With or without Andreas, her life had to go on, she reminded herself dully. There was no point being wimpy about it. From somewhere she had to find the strength to concentrate on the practicalities of life. She had to find somewhere else to live. It was also time to redouble her so-far-unsuccessful efforts to get a loan that would enable her to set up her own business. When she was finally in a position to design and produce her own small select line of handbags, she would be working night and day. Yes, she would be so incredibly busy she wouldn’t have the time to agonise over Andreas.

She noticed a small decorative gold box resting on a console table in the hall. When he’d arrived the day before, Andreas had tossed something down before he’d hauled her into his arms. As always it would be chocolate, superlative, incredible, melt-in-the-mouth chocolate purchased abroad at an extortionate price. And as well? Opening the box, she lifted out the tiny gold charm that he had included as a surprise. Only it wasn’t really a surprise any more for one by one Andreas had given her an entire collection of unusual charms for her bracelet. This particular one was her name picked out with tiny glittering stones. Some lucky charm this one had proved to be…hope? Without warning her eyes flooded again and she squeezed them tight shut in an agony of loss. Blinking back tears, she realised that misery appeared to have deprived her of her usual love of chocolate. Instead the image of an olive and the prospect of that sharp rather than sweet taste came to mind and her taste buds watered. Bemused, for she had never liked olives, she frowned, but a moment later she headed into the kitchen.

On the way to the airport and a flight to New York, Andreas studied the security reports that detailed Hope’s recent movements. His initial sensation of complete disbelief swiftly mounted to hot-blooded fury. He knew that if he put his private jet on hold he would never make his transatlantic meeting in time. But for once, emotion took strong precedence over efficiency and discipline and he told his chauffeur to turn round and head for the apartment instead.

Hope disposed of the now-empty jar of olives that Andreas had recently disdained to eat. Perhaps being sick had done something odd to her taste buds, she was reasoning in some confusion just as she heard the slam of the front door. Her heart leapt into her mouth and instant optimism seized her in a heady tide. Andreas had come back…Andreas had realised that she could never have been unfaithful to him!

‘I’m down in the bedroom!’ she called when she heard him say her name with all the impatience that was so much a part of his abrasive character.

Pale blonde hair tumbling round her shoulders in silken disarray, Hope focused turquoise eyes bright with expectation on the doorway and wished she had had time to get dressed and do something about the redness of her eyes. Her restive hands fiddled with the sash of her wrap.

Stunning golden eyes blazing, Andreas strode in. Garbed in a dark designer suit that accentuated his superb masculine physique, he looked heartbreakingly handsome. In a gesture of high voltage intensity that she would never have associated with his cool, controlled nature, he pitched a whole handful of documents down on the carpet at her feet. ‘You lying slut!’ he raked at her in raw condemnation. ‘You’ve visited Campbell’s apartment on countless occasions! You’ve even stayed the night there. You’ve been screwing him for months!’

Dumbfounded by the naked aggression of that full-frontal verbal attack, Hope was paralysed to the spot. ‘What on earth are you talking about?’ she framed in bewilderment. ‘I’ve never been in Ben’s apartment. I don’t even know where he lives.’

‘Like hell you don’t! Take a good look at the quality of the evidence I have!’ Andreas enunciated from between even white teeth.

‘Evidence?’ Hope bent down to lift several of the sheets of paper and frown down at the neat lines of computerised entries. ‘What are these?’

‘Surprise…surprise. You’ve had round-the-clock security for most of the past year. Those are the most recent reports of your activities,’ Andreas informed her grittily.

‘I’ve had round-the-clock security?’ Hope parroted in total astonishment. ‘Are you saying you’ve been having me watched?’

‘I would argue that watched over would be a more fair and accurate description.’

‘Who’s been watching me?’ Hope queried tightly, the physical recoil of genuine revulsion assailing her at the very thought of strangers taking note of her every move while she went about her daily business in sublime ignorance of their presence in her life.

‘One of my own security teams. Top-notch professionals, who can do the job without attracting attention or interfering with your freedom. They don’t make mistakes,’ Andreas declared in a ferocious undertone, ‘so don’t waste your time trying that line on me.’

Hope surveyed him with huge perturbed eyes. ‘I’m horrified that you could have distrusted me to that extent. You actually paid people to spy on me. That’s absolutely horrible.’

The faintest tinge of dark colour demarcated the angular bronzed planes of the aristocratic cheekbones that enhanced his superb bone structure. ‘That isn’t how it was. Anonymous threats were made against me. Naturally I was concerned that through your association with me you could be at risk. I considered it my duty to protect you and I did. End of story.’

Hope wasn’t listening. She was very much shocked by what he had revealed. ‘The very idea that strangers have been spying on me gives me the creeps. I never realised until now just how much I took my right to privacy for granted.’

The confrontation was travelling along unanticipated lines that were utterly infuriating Andreas. How dared she focus on a trivial and obscure angle and ignore the giant sin of her own infidelity? What the hell was her right to privacy worth when set beside the gross betrayal of her affair with another man? Where did she get the nerve to look at him in that reproachful way as if he had done something shameful?

‘Until last night I never once requested a copy of the reports on your movements. I did respect your privacy one hundred per cent,’ Andreas countered with grim exactitude, his sculpted masculine mouth firming. ‘But I wanted to satisfy myself with the proof of your infidelity. The number of visits you have made to Campbell’s apartment corroborated the accusation made against you in full.’

Hope was still studying the papers in her hand. A slight sound was impelled from her parted lips when she recognised the familiar address that appeared several times over in the daily reports. She began to understand how the latest misunderstanding had come about. She breathed in deep, glancing up with rueful turquoise eyes to say quietly, ‘Ben does own that apartment. But he throws a lot of parties and the residents’ committee made life difficult for him. He moved out last year and Vanessa lives there now.’

Andreas was unmoved. Hard-as-granite golden eyes clashed with hers. ‘I don’t believe you. But I’ve no doubt that your best friend would back up a cover story for your benefit.’

On that score he could not have been more wrong. Having grown up with parents who had frequently cheated on each other, Vanessa heartily despised the deceit that went hand in hand with infidelity. She was the last woman alive likely to lie to conceal a friend’s affair.

Taken aback as she was by Andreas’s instant dismissal of her explanation about the apartment, Hope swallowed hard. She was very pale. ‘Vanessa lives at that address,’ she stressed in her determination to make him listen. ‘I hardly know Ben Campbell and I have not been unfaithful to you. I appreciate how dreadful all this must look to you but surely the two years we’ve been together at least buys me the right to a fair hearing—’

Andreas studied her with raw contempt. ‘It buys you nothing.’

He swung on his heel and strode out of the bedroom.

‘Wait!’ Hope called down the corridor after him.

Slowly and with a reluctance she could feel, Andreas turned his arrogant dark head and looked back at her.

Hope snatched in a jagged breath. Her nerves were so fraught that she had to immediately pull in another deeper breath. The terrifying finality and obduracy she saw stamped in Andreas’s lean, hard face frightened her to the edge of panic. She saw that she truly had no choices left. She saw that keeping quiet about Elyssa’s behaviour was no longer a sustainable stance. It was wrong that she should be afraid to tell the truth, she reflected unhappily. Unfortunately, the truth would be most unwelcome to Andreas. He might well dismiss what she said out of hand and hate her even more for making damaging allegations against his sister. But Hope felt that she should not let that daunting awareness prevent her from speaking out in her own defence. After all, she might never have another opportunity. As that reality sank in on her, as she was finally forced to confront the possibility that she might never see Andreas again, Hope was impelled into sudden speech.

‘Let me give you my version of events last night. It was me who walked into a room and saw your sister in a clinch!’ she admitted with all the abruptness of severe stress.

Outrage firing his brilliant gaze, his lean features clenching taut with disgust, Andreas fell very still. ‘Theos…don’t say another word; stop right there—’

Hope thrust up her chin. ‘I can’t. Elyssa came after me and swore that I would suffer if I told you what I’d seen—’

‘How dare you speak of my sister in such a way?’ Andreas was white with anger below his olive skin.

‘I had no intention of telling anybody what I’d seen…to be honest, I just didn’t want to be involved,’ Hope continued doggedly.

‘You’ve said enough to make me your enemy for life. The Nicolaidis family have honour—each and every one of us and I am proud of that,’ Andreas proclaimed in fierce dismissal. ‘It is deeply offensive that you should soil Elyssa’s reputation in a pointless attempt to rescue your own. Were you a man I would not have stood here and let you talk about my sister like that. Don’t take advantage of the fact that you’re a woman.’

‘You’re the one who’s been taking advantage!’ Hope protested, a floodtide of anger and agony breaking loose inside her because he had immediately dismissed her account of what had happened at the party. ‘You’ve called me a liar and a slut…you’re refusing even to listen to my side of the story.’

‘What’s to listen to? What’s to understand?’ Andreas demanded, striding back down the corridor and cornering her against the wall outside the bedroom. ‘You spread your legs for a pretty blond toy boy!’

‘Of course I didn’t!’ Colour had run like a banner into her cheeks. ‘Don’t be crude—’

‘That’s nothing to what I would like to know.’ Andreas slammed his hands to the hall on either side of her head, effectively holding her entrapped. Smouldering golden eyes as dangerous as dynamite challenged her. ‘Did you do it in our bed?’

‘It didn’t happen!’ she cried. ‘I wouldn’t even look at someone else, never mind—’

‘You forget…I saw you looking at Campbell last night,’ Andreas reminded her darkly.

Hope was trembling with the strength of her emotions. Her spine pushing into the wall, she was forced to tip her face up. ‘But I wasn’t looking in the way you mean—’

‘What does he have that I don’t?’ Andreas demanded with savage force. ‘Is he better in bed?’

‘Andreas…’ Hope gasped, fierce embarrassment and dismay at the tenor of that blunt question making her full lower lip part from the cupid’s bow curve of her upper.

‘Is he more inventive? More exciting? Kinky? What did he do that I didn’t do? Didn’t I satisfy you? Tell me…I have the right to know!’ he launched at her, stunning eyes smouldering ferocious gold with dark sexual jealousy and dropping to the luscious pink swell of her mouth.

‘There’s nothing for you to know!’ she cried in despair.

The tension in the atmosphere was electric. At first Hope did not understand its source. There was a warm, heavy feeling low in her tummy, a buzzing vibration of awareness holding her on a dizzy edge. Holding her indeed on the edge of an anticipation that left her mind frighteningly blank.

‘And right now…it’s me you want,’ Andreas purred with silken satisfaction, lifting lean brown hands to skim a blunt masculine thumb over the distended buds of her nipples, which were clearly delineated by the thin wrap.

Hope gasped in helpless response and arched her back. Her entire body felt hot and super sensitive. Recognising her own sexual excitement shook her inside out. ‘Yes, but—’

‘In fact you’re begging for it,’ Andreas husked, dropping his hands to her hips and mating his passionate mouth to hers with a bold hunger that in its very intensity was overwhelmingly erotic.

Fire snaked sinuous seductive forays through her heated flesh. She melted like honey in sunshine, yielding to the plundering thrust of his tongue and the heady intoxication of her own response. In one powerful movement he lifted her off her feet and carried her into the bedroom. As he brought her down on the bed his mouth was still melded to hers with devouring passion.

Just as swiftly he relinquished his hold on her. Still lost in the fever of her own desire, Hope clung to his shoulders to draw him back to her.

With cool disdain, Andreas detached her arms from him and straightened to his full commanding height. Proud, dark head high, he stared down at her with icy derision. ‘It’s over. The instant you let Campbell touch you, it was over. I expect my mistress to preserve her affections exclusively for me.’

Her face drained of colour, Hope thrust herself up into sitting position. ‘I’m not and I never was your mistress!’

From the doorway, Andreas vented a sardonic laugh that scored her tender skin like a whiplash. ‘Of course you were. What else could you have been to me?’

Hurt far beyond his imagining, Hope blanked him out and stared into space. She could no longer bear to see him. She listened to his steps recede down the corridor, the distant slam of the front door echoing through the apartment. It was over and he was gone and without apparent regret. He could never have cared a button for her, she thought in an agony of mortified pain.


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