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Грэхем Линн

Mediterranean Millionaires

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CHAPTER FIVE

ANDREAS saw the artistic photo of the three handbags first. The shot was part of a feature in a Sunday magazine devoted to Vanessa Fitzsimmons’s deeply trendy photographic exhibition. There was a miniature silver-on-black Hope label in the seam of the tiny lime-green bag and it was a dead giveaway to Andreas. Courtesy of Vanessa, the handbags had been arranged against a rough stone wall as though they were works of art. His handsome mouth curled. He wondered why he was even looking at such superficial rubbish.

Flipping the page, however, Andreas was wholly entrapped by a shot of Hope sitting on a rock by a river. Several other faces that were far more well known on the social scene featured in the same study, which was called simply ‘My friends’ but Andreas initially saw only Hope. A multicoloured gypsy-style top open at her creamy throat, her face bathed in golden sunlight and her turquoise eyes luminous, she looked knock-down stunning. A tiny muscle jumped at the corner of his clenched jaw line. His brilliant dark gaze slashed from Hope to the male standing to one side of her: that smug-looking bastard, Campbell, who had a proprietary hand resting on her shoulder.

A boiling tide of rage filled Andreas. He wanted to smash something. Instead he poured himself a drink. It was only ten in the morning. Self-evidently, he was on edge because he had been working too hard for too long, he reasoned grimly. Rage had no place in his disciplined world. All emotion, irrational and otherwise could be controlled, suppressed and ultimately nullified by intelligence. He drained the glass and smashed the crystal tumbler in the Georgian fireplace. The deed was done before he was even aware of his intention.

Hope emerged from the doctor’s surgery on rather wobbly legs.

Vanessa leapt up and groaned. ‘You are, aren’t you? I can tell by your face!’

Hope nodded and did not speak until they reached the street. She had been told that she was more than five months pregnant and she was in complete shock. ‘The oddest thing is,’ she mused helplessly in the fresh air, ‘I’m a healthy weight for a pregnant woman. I’m not too heavy. Can you believe that?’

‘Andreas Nicolaidis has ruined your life,’ her friend lamented in a tone of unconcealed resentment. ‘You’ve just started seeing Ben, you’re just about to look for business premises and then it all goes pear-shaped on you. How could you be so careless?’

Hope went pink and cast down her eyes. She had not been careless; Andreas had been, though. Several different types of contraceptive pill had failed to agree with her and Andreas had been concerned that she would be damaging her health if she persisted. For that reason, about nine months earlier, he had said that he would take full responsibility in that field. Unfortunately he had been rather forgetful on at least a couple of occasions that came to mind. Certain methods of birth control could put a breaker on spontaneity and Andreas was a very spontaneous guy, she reflected with a pained stab of recollection.

‘So how far along are you?’ Vanessa enquired gloomily.

Hope sucked in her tummy guiltily, for she could see that the sight of her changing shape depressed her friend. ‘I’ll be a mother in just over three months.’

Vanessa stopped dead in the middle of the street and surveyed her in wonderment. ‘But you can’t be that pregnant!’

‘I am…’

‘But how could you not have noticed?’ The redhead gasped, standing back to subject Hope’s stomach to a distinctly embarrassing appraisal. ‘I mean, give your brother a medal. You do look pregnant and yet none of us noticed!’

‘I’ve been wearing loose clothing,’ Hope pointed out. ‘And people only see what they expect to see.’

When she had first fallen pregnant, her life had been incredibly busy and she had been so wrapped up in Andreas that she had failed to notice that her menstrual cycle had come to a mysterious halt. The other signs of pregnancy had also passed her by. Her health had never given her cause for concern and she had shrugged off the slight nausea and the dizziness she had experienced, believing neither symptom worthy of a visit to the doctor. In more recent months her personal woes had acted like a cocoon that had blinded her to everything outside her own thoughts and feelings, she acknowledged ruefully.

‘What are your plans?’

‘I have to tell Andreas.’

Vanessa pulled a sour face. ‘Let Ben know first.’

But Hope did not fall for that suggestion. For the first time in two and a half months, she rang Andreas on his mobile phone and left a message on his voicemail asking if she could see him to discuss something important.

It was three hours before he returned her call. ‘What is it?’ he breathed coldly without any preliminary greeting.

‘I need to see you and I can’t talk about it on the phone. Where are you?’

Somewhere close by, a woman giggled and muttered something in a low, intimate voice. ‘In the UK and busy,’ Andreas said dryly.

She squeezed her aching eyes tight shut. She did not want to speak to Andreas and hear his dark, deep drawl and she especially did not want to listen to another woman speaking to him in the teasing tone of a lover. In fact she really could not bear that torment at all.

‘I’m also leaving for Athens tomorrow morning,’ Andreas informed her coolly. ‘This is your one chance to speak to me. Use it or lose it.’

‘No, I have to see you in person and in private,’ Hope countered tautly. ‘I don’t think that’s such a huge thing to ask.’

‘Perhaps not but the prospect is not entertaining,’ Andreas fielded, smooth and sharp as a shard of glass cutting into tender skin. ‘In short, I don’t want to see you.’

‘Do you expect me to beg you for five minutes of your time?’ Hope demanded painfully, angry, humiliated tears clogging up her throat, for she had not been prepared for that level of bluntness.

‘OK. If you’re that keen, you’ll find me at the gym tomorrow morning at seven.’ He finished the call without another word and left her staring into space.

How was she supposed to tell a guy that cold and unfriendly that she was carrying his child? He was not going to be happy about that. Even when they had still been together, Andreas would not have been happy about that. How much worse would it be to break such shattering news now that they were apart? It had been a long time since they had broken up as well. What male was likely to be even remotely prepared for such an announcement weeks and weeks after the relationship had ended? How could he be so cruel as to demand that she come to the gym where he trained at practically the crack of dawn? He knew the one thing she had always hated was getting out of bed early.

Andreas enjoyed extensive private facilities at an exclusive sports club and visited it several times a week. He had a fitness room at his town house but rarely managed to use it. He had once explained that the club offered him the advantage of sparring with an instructor and training without distractions.

As Hope walked past the limousine in the car park his chauffeur acknowledged her with a polite inclination of his head. What did it matter where she was when she made her announcement? she was asking herself ruefully. His office would not have been any more suitable and she would not have felt comfortable at the town house, which he had never invited her to visit even when they had been together. Furthermore, it was foolish to suspect that some slight was inherent in his suggestion that she meet him at his club. After all, Andreas had very little free time and she had to accept the reality that she no longer enjoyed special status in his life.

The weathered older man presiding over Reception asked to see proof of her identity and then told her where to find Andreas. Smoothing damp palms down over the long black wool coat she wore, Hope pushed back the swing door on the gym.

Clad in black boxing shorts and a black vest, Andreas was pounding a speedball with so much energy that he remained unaware of her entrance. She had always been madly curious about exactly what he did at the sports club. Now she remembered him telling her that he had boxed at university. Her attention clung to him. He looked drop-dead gorgeous, she thought helplessly. Every lean, muscular and bronzed line of his long, powerful physique emanated virile masculine strength. She missed looking at him, being with him, touching him, talking to him. She even missed the pleasure of being able to think about him without feeling guilty.

‘Andreas…’ she croaked.

Although she would have sworn he could not have heard her above the racket of the speedball, his hands dropped down to his sides immediately and he swung round as though his every sense had been primed for her arrival. Veiled dark deep-set eyes with the brilliance of black granite inspected her from below inky, spiky lashes.

It was a bad moment for Andreas. He had picked the club with care. He had thought it an inspired choice of venue where Hope was unlikely to linger or stage an emotional scene. But there she was, garbed in a big black coat and reminding him very much of how she had looked in his overcoat in the barn when they had first met: all silky soft blonde hair and huge bright eyes above that ripe pink unbelievably kissable mouth. That was Ben Campbell’s territory now, came the thought, and he went rigid. He hung onto that alienating awareness and welcomed the return of the cold, bitter aggression that slaughtered at source any suggestion of sexual desire.

‘So…’ Andreas murmured, secure again in his emotion-free zone and cold as a polar winter. ‘How can I help you?’

‘Well, it’s not something you can help me with exactly,’ Hope declared in an odd little breathless voice that made her want to wince for herself. Without warning the entire opening speech she had planned to make had vanished from her memory. Her brain now seemed to have all the speed and creative enterprise of a tortoise trapped upside down.

Andreas discovered that like a schoolboy he was picturing her naked below the coat. Angry colour outlined his proud cheekbones and his beautiful mouth curled. He was well rid of her, he decided furiously. He loathed the effect she had on him. ‘I haven’t got much time here,’ he reminded her flatly. ‘But maybe you just came here to look at me.’

‘No, I came here to tell you something that I find very difficult to say,’ Hope advanced jerkily.

‘At this hour of the day I’m not in the mood for a guessing game!’ Andreas derided and he stripped off the fingerless mitts and flexed long, lean brown fingers.

Hope tried a limp smile. ‘Actually I do wish you would guess but it’s not the sort of thing you’re likely to think of on your own. Although you always look on the dark side of things, so I suppose that ought to provide some guidance.’

Exasperated golden eyes lodged to her anxious face, Andreas murmured dryly, ‘What’s the matter with you? You never used to have a problem getting to the point.’

‘That was back when you looked at me as if I was still a human being instead of a waste of space!’ Hope dared, appalled to find that without even the tiniest warning her eyes were suddenly ready to overflow with tears.

Andreas was in the act of pulling on boxing gloves but he stilled and shot a stern look of gleaming golden enquiry at her. His stomach had performed a back flip and he had broken out in a sweat. ‘Are you ill? Is that what you’re trying to tell me?’

‘No…not, not at all,’ she asserted, taken aback by that dramatic flight of fancy on his part.

Relief washing over him, Andreas dragged in a long, deep breath to refresh his lungs. He strode towards the leather punchbag. ‘Then talk before I run out of patience,’ he urged.

‘I’m pregnant.’

Andreas froze two feet away from the punchbag. Stunned by her declaration, he did not turn his arrogant dark head. ‘If that’s a joke, it’s in bad taste and I’m not laughing.’

‘I wouldn’t joke about something like that.’

Andreas discovered that he could not make himself look at her again. He believed he already saw the whole scenario and what he assumed could only leave a very nasty taste in his mouth. Bitter anger slashed through his wall of determined indifference and reserve. Hope had fallen for Campbell. He had come to terms with that. But that Campbell should have stolen her and used her and ditched her again when she proved to be inconveniently fertile enraged Andreas. He did not trust himself to speak. If he spoke he knew he would make comments that she would consider cruel and wounding and that those words would ultimately prove to be of no profit or consolation to either of them.

How the hell could she have been so stupid? Hadn’t she learned anything while she was with him? Of course, she had been able to trust him to look after her, Andreas reflected grimly. She had not had to look out for herself. That was just as well because, in his considered opinion, when shorn of his protective care she had all the survival power of a goldfish swimming with piranhas. She gave her trust indiscriminately. But Campbell had been a very poor bet. He was a spoilt and immature playboy with too much money and no sense of responsibility.

Was it so surprising that Hope should have come back to him for support? What did she want from him? Or expect? Advice? It would be very biased. Money? Suddenly, Andreas was grateful that she was fully covered by her coat. He did not wish to see the physical evidence of her pregnancy. Theos…she had another man’s baby inside her womb! The very concept of that filled him with antipathy and another even more powerful reaction that he flatly refused to acknowledge. Out of disgust and denial rose rage and frustration. An image of Campbell and his pretty-boy looks before him, Andreas pounded the leather punchbag with fists that had the impact of blows from a sledgehammer.

Paralysed to the spot ten feet away, Hope surveyed Andreas with a sinking heart. He was furious and fighting it to stay in control. He was saying nothing because he was too clever to risk saying the wrong thing. She watched him fall back from the punchbag and pull off and discard the boxing gloves. Raking blunt fingers through his short damp black hair, he swore half under his breath and peeled off his sports vest to let the air cool his overheated skin.

‘I need a shower,’ he breathed grittily. ‘Come on.’

He wanted her to accompany him to the shower? Hope would have gone anywhere he asked her to go. Even in such tense circumstances it felt amazing to be with Andreas again. There was an electric buzz in the air. As she preceded him into a luxurious changing area flanked by a walk-in wet room for showering, she was as nervous as a kitten.

‘Aren’t you going to say anything at all?’ she prompted tautly, disconcerted that he should be dealing with her news so much more calmly than she had expected.

Scorching golden eyes lit on her squarely for the first time in several minutes. The burn of his ferocious anger needed no words. Her mouth running dry, she tried and failed to swallow. Hurriedly she tore her gaze from the condemnation in his.

‘I know you have to be very surprised. I was too,’ she muttered, unable to stifle her need to fill every silent, tension-filled moment with chatter. ‘But I’m trying to view this development in a positive light—’

‘What else?’ Andreas ground out in a disturbingly abrupt interruption.

Hope fixed strained turquoise eyes on his lean, darkly handsome features. ‘This baby was obviously meant to be.’

‘That’s a hellish sentiment to throw in my teeth!’ Andreas raked at her, his Greek accent so thick she could hardly distinguish the individual words.

Aghast, Hope fell silent. He bent down and extracted a bottle of water from the mini fridge, wrenched off the lid and tipped it up. He drank thirstily, the strong muscles in his brown throat working. As he wiped his mouth dry again she could not help noticing that his hand was not steady. He was, she registered with a piercing sense of love and empathy, as on edge as she was.

‘Maybe I should go,’ she mumbled. ‘I’ve said what I came to say and I’m sure you must want to think it over in private.’

‘I didn’t intend to raise my voice. Sit down,’ Andreas instructed, grimly acknowledging that the last thing he wanted was to be left alone with the bombshell she had dropped on him.

‘I should leave you to have your shower,’ she said uncomfortably.

‘Sit down,’ Andreas repeated, striding past her to snap shut the lock on the door. His reaction to her suggestion that she depart was instinctive. ‘Please…’

Soothed by the rare sound of that word, Hope became a little less tense. ‘It’s warm in here,’ she remarked and began to unbutton her coat.

‘Keep your coat on!’ Andreas growled as if she had threatened to strip naked, parade around and make a dreadful exhibition of herself.

Andreas decided that an ice-cold shower would settle his tension. He felt as if he were hanging onto his usual cool by a single finger. She was carrying a child and an honourable man did not lose his temper with a woman in that condition. ‘Give me five minutes and then you can have my full attention.’

Hope sat down in her coat. She was overheating but in infinitely better spirits: he had locked the door to keep her with him. She had understood that gesture just as she understood that he needed some time to consider what she had told him. She was well aware that he did not like the unexpected. He liked everything cut and dried and organised. He had never, ever mentioned children to her. It was perfectly possible that he disliked children. Some people did. And even if he did not dislike children, he might still want nothing to do with her baby. He might ask her to consider adoption. He had the right to make his own views known and she had to accept that she might not like what she was about to hear, she told herself firmly.

Andreas stripped off his boxing shorts and strolled into the shower. Hope stared and reddened and glanced away and then glanced back again in a covert but mesmerised appraisal. He was incredibly male and from his wide shoulders, magnificent hair-roughened chest to his lean hips and long, powerful thighs he was quite divinely well built. She had always loved to look at him. But she knew she no longer had the right to do so and that his complete lack of inhibition in the current climate merely emphasised how shattered he was by the news of her pregnancy. Her eyes ached and burned and she averted her gaze from him while he towelled himself dry with unselfconscious grace. She was remembering how happy she had once been and appreciating how desperately fragile and fleeting happiness could be.

Andreas dressed with speed and dexterity in a dark blue suit. Exquisitely tailored to a superb fit on his lean, powerful frame, it was very fashionable in style. He looked sleek and rich and gorgeous and distinctly intimidating.

‘Tell me…what do you want from me?’ he asked softly, opening the door and standing back with innate good manners to allow her to leave first.

Her brow indented, her tension climbing again. ‘I don’t want anything. I have no expectations. I just knew I had to tell you.’

His beautiful stubborn mouth quirked. ‘Thank you for that consideration at least. I would not have liked to find out from someone else. How did Campbell react?’

‘Ben?’ Hope repeated in surprise, struggling to keep up with his long stride as they crossed the foyer. ‘He doesn’t know yet. I don’t know what I’ll say—’

Ebony brows pleating, Andreas stared down at her with incisive dark golden eyes. ‘You chose to tell me…first?’

‘Who else? I mean…strictly speaking, what’s Ben got to do with this?’ Hope asked uncomfortably.

‘He is the father of your baby,’ Andreas drawled flatly.

On the steps outside, Hope came to a sudden halt and stared up at him. As that most revealing statement sank in on her she stiffened in appalled disbelief. ‘My goodness, is that what you think? That Ben is the father? Oh, that’s too much altogether!’ she exclaimed angrily. ‘How dare you assume that? How blasted dare you? I’m very sorry to disappoint you but you are the man who is responsible!’

Andreas vented a rough, incredulous laugh, for he could not believe what she was now telling him. ‘You’ve got to be kidding…is that why you had to see me? You think you can pin this baby on me? What would prove to be the longest pregnancy on record? I dumped you months ago!’

By the time he had finished making that derogatory and insulting speech, Hope was pale as snow. But shocked though she was, she was also furious. ‘I’ve no intention of lowering myself to the level of arguing with you and particularly not in a public place!’ she hissed in a fierce undertone he had never heard her employ before. ‘I’ve done my duty: I’ve told you. I will not tolerate your offensive personal comments—’

‘But what you just said is ridiculous!’ Andreas ground out at a lower pitch, closing a domineering hand to her elbow to herd her in the direction of his limousine. ‘I assume Campbell has shown his worth in the crisis by bolting. But accusing me in his stead is not a win-win tactic.’

In a passionate temper new to her experience, Hope slapped his hand away from her arm and backed off several steps. ‘I’m ashamed I ever loved you and you can stop being so superior about Ben—’

His stunning golden eyes were blazing. ‘Get a grip on yourself.’

‘At least Ben didn’t try to seduce me before we even got out on a first date! At least he’s looking for a girlfriend, not a mistress…you know something?’ Hope demanded shrilly. ‘I wish this was Ben’s baby because I bet he’d be a lot nicer about it than you’re capable of being!’

‘Hope…’ Andreas grated from behind her as she stalked away.

‘Leave me alone…just stay away from me!’ she launched back over her shoulder, not even caring about the fact that her raised voice and distress had attracted attention.

.

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