Mediterranean Millionaires - Линн Грэхем - CHAPTER EIGHT Читать онлайн любовный роман

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Грэхем Линн

Mediterranean Millionaires

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HOPE’S mouth ran dry and shock tore through her tensed body. Andreas had taken her by surprise. She closed her eyes tight against the intrusion of his and let herself savour just for a moment the sheer joy of actually being asked to be his wife. There was nothing she wanted more but she knew that it would not be right for her to say yes unless he said the right words. Unfortunately those same words were words she had long since accepted that she would never hear from him.

‘Why?’ she questioned tightly. ‘Why are you asking me to marry you?’

His ebony brows pleated. ‘Isn’t that obvious?’

The first twist of disappointment tore at her and she opened strained turquoise eyes. ‘You’re thinking about the baby.’

‘Of course. No Nicolaidis that I know of has ever been born outside the bonds of matrimony,’ Andreas informed her with considerable pride.

His reasons for asking her to become his wife were fairly piling up, Hope conceded unhappily. One, she was pregnant. Two, he was keen to respect the conventions.

‘It’s only two days since you told me that you would never marry me,’ Hope reminded him very quietly.

‘That was when I was still under the impression that you had been unfaithful,’ Andreas asserted without discomfiture. ‘I think we should go for a quick, quiet ceremony and throw a big party afterwards. What do you think?’

Slowly, Hope withdrew her fingers from his and sat up. ‘I think you’re not going to like my answer.’

Andreas misunderstood. ‘If you prefer a more traditional wedding, I don’t mind. Have as many frills as you like. How we do it isn’t important as long as we do it before the baby’s born.’

Hope pushed herself upright. ‘I’m afraid the answer has to be…no.’

‘No?’ She saw that it had not once occurred to Andreas that he might meet with rejection.

‘I love the house, love the picnic—’ Love you too, Hope reflected painfully but kept that admission to herself ‘—but unfortunately you don’t want to marry me for the right reasons.’

Utterly taken aback by that criticism, Andreas sprang upright, dark golden eyes incredulous. ‘What are the right reasons?’

‘If you don’t know, there’s no point in me spelling them out for you,’ she said heavily.

‘Are you still determined to keep your options open? Is that what this is all about?’ Andreas ground out.

Her brow indented. ‘I don’t know what you’re getting at.’

‘Or are you punishing me for listening to my sister three months ago and letting you down?’ Andreas demanded in a raw undertone.

Hope studied him with pained intensity. ‘I wouldn’t behave like that. But I am afraid that you were so willing to believe Elyssa’s lies because you wanted your freedom back—’

‘I always had my freedom. I made a free choice to be with you!’ Andreas contradicted.

‘And when I made the mistake of reminding you that we’d been together almost two years, you were in no mood to celebrate.’ Hope sighed. ‘There was no question of your making a commitment to me then—’

His even white teeth gritted. ‘Everything’s changed since then—’

‘Yes. But you don’t need to put a ring on my wedding finger because I fell pregnant,’ Hope told him gently.

‘How are you planning to manage without me?’

Hope lost colour at that crack. ‘Are you saying that if I don’t marry you, you’ll break up with me again?’

An electrifying silence fell.

His beautiful dark deep-set eyes struck sparks from hers. ‘No, I’m not saying that. I’d have to be a real bastard to abandon the mother of my child in any circumstances.’

‘For goodness’ sake, I know you’re not that.’ Hope felt as though she were standing on the edge of a chasm in the middle of an earthquake. If she wasn’t careful she might tumble into the chasm and lose everything. Was she being foolish? Should she be willing to settle for a marriage of convenience with a guy who didn’t love her? Or was it that she was more scared of Andreas marrying her and then regretting it?

While she was frantically questioning whether or not she was making the biggest mistake of her life, Andreas closed his arms round her.

‘I made you happy before…I can do it again,’ he intoned fiercely.

‘I know, but—’

‘Theos…Just you try and find this same fire with someone else!’ He bent his arrogant dark head and crushed her ripe mouth under his, unleashing a passion that took her by storm. His lips were firm and warm and wonderful on hers and she could not get enough of his kisses.

Breathless and trembling, she knotted her fingers into the shoulders of his jacket to hold him close. She did not want to set him free to find someone else. She did not want to be alone.

‘Andreas…?’ she framed through reddened lips, turquoise eyes clinging in urgent appeal to his. ‘Don’t get the wrong idea about what I’m about to say. I’m not suggesting that I be your mistress. But could we live together instead of getting married?’

Andreas was a long way from happy with that proposition. His smoothly laid plans had been derailed when he’d least expected it. He felt hollow, bewildered by his failure, quite unlike himself.

Had he rushed her too much? He always moved fast and made decisions at the speed of the light but she did not. Once, though, she had had touching faith in him and his judgement. Now, however, she was wary, unsure of herself and of him. For the first time he recognised how much he must have hurt her when he’d dumped her. He could hardly blame her for being afraid to trust him again.

He saw that there had been a fatal flaw in his approach. He had put more effort into marketing the house than himself. Having recognised the problem, he saw the solution and came up with a fresh strategy. That disturbing sense of disorientation that had afflicted him mercifully vanished. All he had to do was demonstrate that he would make a perfect husband and a fantastic father.

‘Andreas…’ Hope prompted worriedly, afraid she had offended him.

The brooding light in his dark reflective gaze ebbed and his slow, charismatic smile curved his handsome mouth. ‘I’ll buy the house this afternoon. How soon will you move in?’

She blinked, thrown by his immediacy. ‘Whenever you like.’

‘I like it best when you’re not out of my sight for longer than five minutes, pedhi mou,’ Andreas told her, tugging her up against his lean, powerful frame and anchoring her below one strong arm while he called the agent to negotiate.

‘No, you’re not to look at that,’ Andreas scolded, flipping an offending newspaper out of her reach six weeks later.

‘Why not?’ Hope watched him lounge back against the crisp white pillows. The sheet had dropped to below his waist, exposing the hard, hair-roughened expanse of his bronzed torso and the sleek, muscular strength of his superbly fit body. He looked breathtakingly handsome.

‘There’s an entry about us in the gossip column…I don’t want you lowering yourself to look at trash like that,’ Andreas delivered in a tone of finality.

Unimpressed, Hope put out her hand. ‘Give it to me,’ she told him.

A raw masculine grin slashed his beautiful mouth. ‘No…’

‘Stop being bossy!’ Levering herself up, Hope flung herself across him in an effort to wrest the paper from him. Laughing with rich appreciation, he caught her in his arms and pressed her gently back against the pillows. Teasing golden eyes met hers. ‘Behave yourself!’

‘You can’t censor what I read—’

‘If there is the tiniest risk that something might upset you it’s my duty to protect you from it. I’m Greek. You’re my woman and I look after you. Learn to live with what you can’t fight,’ Andreas warned with unblemished good humour.

‘I’ll just walk down to the village and buy another copy.’

‘You’re supposed to be taking it easy.’ Frowning, Andreas handed the disputed item over. ‘That was blackmail.’

‘I know.’ Far from ashamed of herself, Hope wriggled up again, snuggled back into him for support and opened the paper. Sometimes it was rather sweet to be treated like impossibly fragile spun glass, but other times it made her feel horribly like a burden.

It was bad enough that he should be full of energy and vitality while she was falling asleep in the middle of the day. In addition, anything more intimate than a hug was off the menu as well. When her cautious gynaecologist had said that her exhaustion could become a source of concern, Andreas had decided that sex was absolutely out of the question.

Having leafed through the newspaper, Hope found a most unflattering photo of herself that seemed to concentrate rather cruelly on her pregnant stomach. She looked like a large woman overfilling a little black dress, an archetypal ship in full sail trundling across the pavement. The photo had been taken two days earlier as they’d left the well-known restaurant where Andreas’s grandfather, Kostas, had entertained them to dinner and initially trying questions. She had soon warmed to the blunt-spoken older man, however. Kostas Nicolaidis had made it clear that, although he would much prefer them to marry, he was overjoyed that she was carrying his grandson’s baby and that Andreas was finally settling down.

‘Oh, no…’ Hope exclaimed, aghast, as she started reading the article beside the photo.

‘So what’s wrong with my grandson that you won’t make an honest man of him?’ Kostas had asked baldly, and there were those exact same words in print, clearly overheard and passed on to the columnist. Below the execrable title, BAG LADY REFUSES NICOLAIDIS HEIR, virtually every female that Andreas had ever dated was listed, the suggestion being that he had been turned down because no sane female would seek to tie down a rampant womaniser.

‘Kostas will be thrilled. He loves to see his name in newsprint,’ Andreas commented cheerfully.

‘But I look simply huge!’ she wailed in embarrassment.

Andreas stretched appreciative hands across the rounded swell of her stomach, stretched them just a little more and contrived to link his fingers. ‘You look fantastic, really, really pregnant now. Ripe like a peach, pedhi mou.’

‘Very round and squashy?’ Hope refused to be comforted. ‘Aren’t you angry that everybody knows that you proposed and I said no?’

‘You must be kidding.’ Andreas laughed off that idea with disconcerting verve.

Her brows pleated, for she had assumed that he would be furious that something so private had been accidentally brought by his grandfather into the public domain. ‘You don’t mind?’

‘Not in the slightest,’ Andreas asserted silkily. ‘And when you get to meet the rest of my relatives this weekend you’ll understand why. I’m the golden boy because I tried to get a wedding ring on your finger and you’ll be—’

‘The horrible witch who doesn’t appreciate you!’ she slotted in, cringing at that new awareness.

‘Nonsense. My great-aunts will be very keen to talk me up. You are destined to spend the entire weekend listening to stories that represent me as Mr Wonderful—clean-living, kind to old ladies and animals and stupendous with children. I’ll bet you right now that nobody mentions my late father and his three divorces. He’s the family skeleton and would give the wrong impression.’

An involuntary gurgle of laughter escaped Hope and she relaxed. The past six weeks had been just about the happiest and busiest of her life. They had managed to move into Knightmere the previous month. Andreas had pulled strings, called in favours and brought in an interior design firm as well as a project manager to ensure that the wonderful old house had been made habitable in the least possible amount of time. A full quota of domestic staff had been hired and Hope had been left with little more to do than design bags.

That had proved to be just as well because pregnancy was slowing her down. Just occasionally her worries got on top of her. Had saying no to the proposal been the right thing to do? He had not mentioned the subject since, which suggested that he was quite content with things as they were. How could a guy so gorgeous cheerfully settle for a woman who was the shape of a very ripe peach? Was it guilt that was making Andreas so perfect? Guilt that he had misjudged her and left her alone for several months?

Perfect was not an exaggeration of his attitude towards her or his behaviour. He had begun working much shorter hours and cutting down on his trips abroad. He had attended all her pre-natal appointments with her. He had read a book on pregnancy with the result that he descended into pure panic if she experienced the slightest twinge of pain in any part of her body. When she’d got a cramp in her leg one evening he had wanted to take her to Casualty and when she’d refused he had sat up all night watching over her. He had also been pleasant to her friend, Vanessa, and had tolerated her receiving regular phone calls from Ben, who had been travelling round Europe for several weeks.

In addition, Andreas had been kind, affectionate, supportive and, as always, wonderfully entertaining. Being sexy came naturally to him so she didn’t count that. But although he could well have aspired to sainthood, not one word had Andreas said about love. So there it was, Hope thought heavily. She had to accept that she just did not have what it took to inspire Andreas with love. As long as there was no other woman out there who had the power that she lacked, she supposed she was all right. After all, she loved him and she was living with him and she would soon give birth to his child. Wasn’t it rather greedy to want more?

‘I have a couple of things I need to deal with at the office before we leave for Greece. I’ll meet you at the airport at six,’ Andreas murmured above her head, wishing he could take her to the office with him and then frowning in bemusement at the seriously uncool and embarrassing oddity of that last absentminded thought.

He assumed that he was always stressing about her because she was pregnant. She was always on his mind. When he was away from her, he found it particularly difficult to concentrate on work. Reading that gruesome book had been a serious error. He had not slept for a couple of nights after it and the worst thing of all had been the necessity of keeping quiet about the concerns that had been awakened by what he had read. He had dumped the book. He didn’t want her reading scary stuff of that nature.

‘Hope…?’ Andreas probed.

He tugged her to one side and bent over her. She was fast asleep. He listened to hear her breathing just in case it didn’t sound normal. With great care he settled her down on the pillows. He would warn the housekeeper to check on her.

Hope was really annoyed when she realised that she had drifted off and missed Andreas’s departure. Having completed her packing the day before, she donned the lilac tunic and cropped trousers she had decided to travel in. Andreas phoned an hour later.

‘Make sure you eat some lunch,’ he instructed.

‘Stop fussing…’ She walked over to the window of the room that she used as a design studio. It overlooked the courtyard where a car was pulling up. It was a Porsche and she grinned when she saw a familiar tousled blond head emerging from the driver’s seat. ‘Oh, my goodness, Ben’s here…sorry, I have to go!’ she told Andreas in a rush.

In his London office, Andreas stared fixedly down at the phone in his hand. She had been so overjoyed to see Campbell she had ended the call. He endeavoured to return his attention to the report on his desk. Campbell had been out of the country for weeks. Hope seemed to think he simply enjoyed travel but Andreas suspected that Ben had gone abroad in an effort to come to terms with losing Hope. Now Campbell was back and what was his first action? He went to see Hope in the middle of the day when he knew he was most likely to find her at home and on her own.

Andreas breathed in deep but the sick sense of rage threatening him did not abate. He leapt upright. Exactly what was he going to do? Go home. He rang his helicopter pilot and told him he needed to get there as soon as possible. Would it look odd if he just arrived back at Knightmere? He raked an uneasy hand through his cropped black hair. Hope might think he didn’t trust her. He did trust her, he trusted her absolutely. But how could he possibly trust Ben Campbell?

Campbell might try to make a move on Hope. A guy didn’t get over losing a woman like Hope that easily. Andreas knew that from painful personal experience. He had dumped Hope and lived in hell for endless weeks that were a blur of alcohol and misery. He did not want to go through that again ever. If Campbell attempted to lure Hope back to him, he was going to get a fight he would never forget.

On the top of the Nicolaidis building, Andreas boarded the helicopter. He felt out of control. That unnerved him. But he was quick to assure himself that there was no way he would lose his temper and get physical with Campbell. Hope would not like that and he was determined not to do or indeed say anything that might distress her. Possibly he should tell her how her seeing Campbell made him feel. He felt angry. He felt jealous. He felt threatened. Of course, he felt threatened! He was on like…continual probation. She wouldn’t marry him. The one thing that would give him a sense of security, she denied him and she would not tell him why.

Maybe he should make a special effort to explain just how important she was to him. That was something he had always been careful to keep to himself, but now he was afraid that he had kept quiet for too long and missed his chance. She was very, very important to his peace of mind. He could not bear the idea that anything might ever harm her. He thought he was incredibly lucky to have got a second chance with her. Was that love? How was he supposed to know what love was? Before he had met her, he had never been in love. He was morosely convinced that Campbell wouldn’t hang back from saying he loved her.

Hope tensed when she saw the helicopter coming in to land. Why had Andreas changed his plans and returned to the house? Was it because he was unhappy about Ben coming to visit? She really hoped it wasn’t that.

‘Andreas…’ she murmured as he strode into the drawing room, his lean, strong face shuttered and taut. ‘Did you forget something?’

‘Ne…yes,’ he breathed in Greek, his eyes smouldering gold as his expressive mouth curved into a smile that was purely for her.

‘Let me introduce you to our visitors,’ Hope said warmly.

Visitors in the plural? Disconcerted, Andreas turned his head and saw to his surprise that Ben had his arm wrapped round a tiny exquisite brunette. A perceptible air of intimacy clung to the other couple.

‘Of course, you know Ben…this is Chantal,’ Hope informed him.

Andreas extended a hand to Ben and kissed the brunette on both cheeks French style.

‘I’m afraid we have to make tracks,’ Ben told them. ‘My mother’s expecting us this afternoon.’

Having watched them drive away, Andreas closed a hand tightly over Hope’s. ‘I was really scared that Campbell was back to make a play for you,’ he admitted half under his breath.

Hope dealt him a startled glance. ‘Andreas…at this moment, I’m the size of a medium-sized house,’ she pointed out gently. ‘I don’t think there’s much risk of any guy making a play for me right now.’

‘I’ve had a problem handling your friendship with him.’ Dulled colour scored his high cheekbones. ‘If you hadn’t been pregnant, you’d probably still be with him—’

‘No, slow up there!’ Hope inserted in dismay. ‘As far as I’m concerned I’m with you by choice and our baby has very little to do with it.’

‘But you had something good going with Campbell—’

‘I liked him very much but he’s not you and he was never going to be.’

Encouraged by that statement, Andreas bit the proverbial bullet. ‘I’ve been jealous as hell—’

Hope looked up at him in amazement. ‘But why? There’s no need. I had only started seeing Ben when I found out I was expecting. It’s not as if I slept with him or anything like that!’

The silence sizzled.

‘You…didn’t sleep with him?’ Andreas prompted fiercely. ‘Have you any idea how much knowing that means to me?’

‘If you had asked, I would never have lied. You didn’t ask.’

Andreas flexed lean brown fingers, shrugged broad shoulders, compressed his beautiful mouth and nodded into the bargain. It took all those separate gestures to express the intensity of his response. ‘It always meant a lot to me that I had been your only lover—’

‘You never said.’

‘I took you for granted. You were there. Life was good and then…pow! It’s gone,’ he breathed in a roughened undertone, pulling her close as though to combat that unhappy memory.

‘Elyssa,’ she sighed.

‘Her lies tore me apart. I have never been so wretched in all my life. I didn’t understand what you meant to me until you were gone,’ Andreas confessed raggedly above her head, his strong arms tightening expressively round her. ‘Then I couldn’t admit to myself that I hated my life without you in it.’

‘Honestly?’ Her head came up, turquoise eyes focusing on him.


‘But what about all the women you were seen about with?’

Andreas grimaced. ‘Window dressing.’

Hope snatched in a stark breath. ‘Did you undress any of the windows?’

Andreas winced. ‘Couldn’t…’

Her eyes rounded. ‘Couldn’t?’

‘I couldn’t because…’ Andreas dragged in a sustaining breath before he pushed himself on to the crux of the matter. ‘I couldn’t because I only turn on for you. Didn’t you notice how hot I was for you at the cottage?’

‘You’ve been faithful.’ A huge sunny smile lit up her heart-shaped face.

‘I’ll always be faithful…’ Andreas hesitated. ‘I love you, pedhi mou.’

Her lashes fluttered up on wide, disbelieving eyes.

‘It’s true…I do!’ Andreas stressed as if she had argued the score with him. ‘When I feel this weird, it’s got to be love!’

‘You love me…’ Hope felt buoyant with happiness. ‘I love you too—’

‘So why won’t you marry me?’ Andreas demanded fiercely. ‘Being single is driving me mad!’

‘Oh, I think I could do something about that and save your sanity for you,’ Hope whispered teasingly. ‘If you love me—’

‘I love you like crazy!’ Andreas launched, cupping her cheekbones with his spread fingers.

‘I’ll marry you just as soon as you can get it organised,’ she told him happily. ‘That was what I was waiting and hoping for. I didn’t want you to marry me unless you loved me.’

Andreas did not let the grass grow under his feet. The relatives assembled to meet Hope that weekend extended their stay and got treated to a big splashy wedding in Athens. Hope’s grasp of the Greek language was finally revealed and much admired. Hope took centre stage in a pink off-the-shoulder dress and a bag in the shape of a lucky horseshoe. Vanessa acted as her bridesmaid. Ben attended with Chantal. The paparazzi turned out in large numbers but were prohibited any wedding pictures by tight security arrangements.

The happy couple returned to Knightmere for their honeymoon because the bride did not feel up to anything more strenuous. When she lamented that truth, Andreas just laughed and reminded her that they had their whole lives in front of them.


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