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The Drakos Affair: The Pregnancy Shock

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A YEAR later, Billie finished school and fought her mother hard for the freedom to go to university to study for a business degree. To survive, she had to work endless hours in a student bar where, mercifully, the low pay was matched with free meals. Aged twenty-one, she took her first job in a small import firm in Piraeus where, no matter how hard she worked, her male colleagues got the recognition and she got all the routine administrative tasks. When she saw Drakos Industries advertising a well-paid PA post on the Internet the following year, she wasted no time in applying.

Alexei Drakos had quickly tired of working for his billionaire father in the family shipping line. Breaking away, he had set up Drakos Industries at the age of twenty four, had made millions and was already well on the way to becoming a formidable tycoon in his own right. ‘The Shark,’ Time magazine had labelled him in an article marvelling at the speed with which he’d shaken off his reputation as a jet set playboy to demonstrate his worth as a shrewd entrepreneur.

As part of the application process for the job, Billie was one of the lucky few allotted a place in a day-long assessment. It was a gruelling experience comprised of working against the clock and handling difficult personalities but, forty-eight hours later, she learned that she had passed this first stage and had won an interview withAlexei. She was surprised he took so active a part in recruitment.

By the time she walked into his big fancy office in Athens clad in her smartest clothes, she was high on nerves. Sleek as a jungle predator in his black designer suit, Alexei surveyed her. ‘I was surprised to see your name on the shortlist.’

Billie looked steadily back at him, noting the toughness that time had added to his lean strong face. ‘I just want someone to give me a chance to do a proper job where I can use my brain—’

‘And you think I might?’ His brilliant dark eyes were nailed to her, his wide sensual mouth cool, discouraging.

‘I don’t think you will mark me down because I was born in England—’

‘A positive panoply of praise from someone who doesn’t like me,’ Alexei mocked lazily. ‘But you’re right. I don’t care where you came from, I’m only interested in who you are now. What could you offer me as an employee?’

‘I’m very discreet and I work fast and hard. I also have good ideas—’

‘Everyone’s got ideas. I don’t always want to hear them…’

‘I’m a great organiser and I can think on my feet.’

Alexei rested his unsettling gaze on her and she shifted uneasily, suddenly alarmingly conscious of her every physical flaw. It was as though his very masculine perfection highlighted her deficiencies. Her vibrant mane of hair was restrained in a French plait, her green eyes bright against her pale skin. Full as she was at breast and hip, she felt she lacked the height to successfully carry off her curves. Her waist was small though and her legs slim. Lauren had always refused to tell her daughter who her father was and Billie had wondered cynically if her mother even knew. Certainly, she had signally failed to inherit any of her mother’s leggy blonde assets.

‘The position on offer would entail working directly for me.’

Belatedly, Billie understood why she was receiving an interview from the boss himself. ‘I’d like to know exactly what the job is.’

‘The successful candidate will take care of everything I don’t have time for. He or she will often travel with me and the hours will be long. The job will cover everything from setting up appointments with my tailor to buying gifts on my behalf and barring women I don’t want to see or hear from any more,’ Alexei spelt out bluntly. ‘It is a post which demands considerable trust on my part. A confidentiality agreement will be included in the contract of employment, making it illegal to share any revelations about me or my lifestyle with the press.’

In truth, Billie was totally taken aback by the extent of what was being offered to her. Even if it didn’t sound like her role would have much of a business angle to it, any position working directly for Alexei would still add kudos to her CV.

‘I want to hire someone willing to turn their hand to anything I ask at any time of day—’

‘A slave?’ Billie quipped and then wished she could bite off her facetious tongue when his superb bone structure tensed and cooled.

‘A very well-paid one. I don’t work by the clock. Neither do I want someone who counts the hours or excludes certain tasks.’

Billie nodded, tantalised by the prospect of travelling and reasoning that she was free as a bird and well able to cope with such a demanding role. The following week, she was informed that she had got the job. The salary took her breath away being, even at a conservative estimate, twice what she had expected. On her first day she arrived neatly attired in her newest suit.

‘You need to smarten up your work wardrobe,’Alexei informed her at the first glimpse he had of her. Seemingly impervious to the flush of mortification warming her face, he handed her a business card. ‘And this first time, you can do it at my expense—’

Billie stiffened. ‘That’s not necessary—’

‘Look in the mirror. You are a frump,’ Alexei countered bluntly, ‘and I always decide what’s necessary.

Feeling cut off at the knees, Billie took the card and went that same afternoon to an upmarket store, where she was kitted out with the sort of figure-hugging clothing and high heels that she had always deemed unsuitable in a working environment. On the third day she wore a skirt well above her knees that outlined the curve of her hips and a jacket that nipped in at her waist, accentuating the shape and size of her breasts. She didn’t like her reflection; she thought it was unprofessional.

‘Turn round,’ Alexei instructed casually during his morning coffee break and he studied her with assessing cool, oblivious to her blushing discomfiture. ‘That’s a major improvement.’

‘I prefer a more formal look,’ she told him starchily.

Dark golden eyes alight with amusement as he absorbed her rigid stance and tight mouth, Alexei laughed out loud. ‘You’re young and pretty. Make the most of it while you can.’

As Billie looked at his vibrantly handsome features she felt the sensual buzz of his compelling attraction right down to the centre of her bones and it unnerved her, for she did not want to feel that way around her boss. But even though she fought it, she was flattered by the simple fact that this man, who kept company with some of the world’s most beautiful women, could deem her ‘pretty’. Suddenly the high heels and the short skirt no longer felt like such a bad idea.

Alexei’s business team was all male and she was assiduously ignored until the first time Alexei phoned her in the middle of the night to help him handle a minor crisis and the team then discovered that they had to liaise with Alexei through her. Later that week, with the ice broken, she took the opportunity to ask one of the men why she was excluded to such an extent.

Panos gave her an uneasy glance. ‘Sooner or later the female staff on the team end up in bed with Alexei,’ he told her reluctantly. ‘And that makes us all uncomfortable. After a week or so, Alexei always transfers that person out of the main office to another job. We know the score. Four women have already come and gone in your particular role in a short time.’

Billie managed a calm smile. ‘It’s not going to happen that way with me. I’m here for the long haul.’

But that warning also put her on her guard around Alexei, even though she soon appreciated that the fault was rarely his. A phenomenal number of women, exposed to Alexei’s charismatic good looks and wealth, literally threw themselves at him the first opportunity they got. His sex life frequently shocked her, for the very nature of her job and her need to work closely to him meant that she saw virtually every woman he had in his life. During the second month after employing her, he spent the night on his yacht with twin blonde models, Katia and Kerry, who could barely string an intelligent sentence between them.

‘Take them out shopping,’Alexei instructed Billie the next morning, tossing her a credit card. ‘And don’t look at the price tags. I’m not on a budget.’

Billie travelled to shore in the launch with the two giggling blondes, who seemed not to have a care in the world. Indeed, acting as Alexei’s entertainment for one night only appeared to have energised their spirits. While she escorted the twins round the exclusive boutiques on shore, she was forced to listen to a great deal of sexual banter about what Alexei was like in bed. Her every attempt to change the subject was turned aside and by the time she thankfully parted from his effervescent lovers she was very angry and determined never to have to repeat the experience. She wasted no time in tackling the subject when she found Alexei out on deck on her return to Sea Queen.

‘Please don’t put me in a position again where I have to escort your lady friends around while they discuss your sexual performance during the night before,’Billie framed in a tone of tremulous rage, her green eyes as bright as emeralds, her face pink and set in censorious lines.

Alexei dealt her a startled glance and then burst out laughing, astonishing her with his reaction almost as much as she had astonished him with her verbal attack. ‘How did I rate? Did I figure as a hero or a zero?’

‘That is not something I would wish to discuss with my employer,’ Billie assured him thinly, rigidly unamused by his attitude for he was refusing to take her objection seriously.

‘You’re a real prude.’Alexei lounged back against the rail, a darkly handsome and graceful presence in a lightweight beige summer suit. ‘I’m surprised. We both have liberal parents in that regard and yet the experience seems to have affected us very differently. A good time was had by all and sex was not a serious subject when I was growing up. I prefer to keep it that way now—’

‘I’m not a prude,’ Billie proclaimed sharply, her voice rising a little because she was deeply embarrassed by his reference to her mother’s promiscuous lifestyle. That was part of the past she had left behind her and she very much resented any reminder of it.

‘Billie…the sight of me having breakfast with two women this morning offended you,’ Alexei countered drily. ‘But you are not required to exercise your moral convictions while you work for me. I’m not interested in what you think. My private life is just that—mine. My sole expectation of you is that you do your job—’

Her slim shoulders straight as a ruler, growing tension bubbling through her small frame, Billie breathed, ‘And I’ve told you that I have limits.

This morning, Katia and Kerry crossed them. I was embarrassed to be out in public with them. They dress, behave and talk like hookers—’

‘I don’t sleep with hookers,’ Alexei cut in, his rich dark drawl harsh in reproof. ‘One more suggestion along those lines and you’re fired.’

Outraged by his attitude and white hot with resentment, Billie snapped, ‘Because I’ve got standards? Because I expect to be treated like a professional during my working day?’

‘You don’t have standards, you have a narrow mind. I warned you before I hired you that I would expect you to cope with everything I throw at you—’

Determined not to be intimidated by the anger in his scorching dark golden eyes, Billie lifted her chin. ‘Katia and Kerry were a step too far—’

‘If I can’t count on you to follow orders, you’re no use to me. I will not tolerate any member of my staff telling me what I can and can’t do, or complaining about the responsibilities I give them,’Alexei delivered coldly. ‘So, if that is how it is, clear your desk and I’ll have you flown back to Athens.’

Billie had gone too far to back down and, her head held high, she went indoors to pack her belongings. How dared Alexei Drakos christen her a prude? Just because he slept around and looked for nothing more than beauty and sex from his partners!

Lauren’s habit of bedding every man she met had made Billie very cautious in her dealings with the opposite sex. How could she not have been influenced by the distaste and contempt that Lauren’s lifestyle had roused in so many people? In every way possible Billie drew a clear boundary line between her life and her mother’s. She never wore revealing clothes. She didn’t flirt with other women’s men. Casual uncommitted sex was anathema to her. She’d only ever had three relationships—Damon, and two at university that had come to nothing after her boyfriends sought easier conquests. A highly sexed and very handsome philanderer like Alexei Drakos was Billie’s worst nightmare in the partnership stakes.

Billie returned via Athens to the island of Speros, where Lauren soon dragged the story of her dismissal out of her daughter.

‘Why didn’t you just laugh at those women? Why do you take everything so seriously?’ Lauren demanded, her incomprehension patent. ‘You’re your own worst enemy—you land the job of a lifetime and straight away you screw it up!’

‘I don’t need this, Mum,’ Billie breathed tautly. ‘But don’t worry. I can still cover your rent for the next couple of months and by then I should have found another job.’

‘You certainly won’t find one as well paid. What got into you?’ Lauren snapped. ‘Alexei Drakos is a young, good-looking single guy and all he is doing is what comes naturally. Of course he doesn’t want to be tied down at his age or with his opportunities. What does it have to do with you?’

‘I just don’t like his lifestyle or his attitudes and I’m with him so much I can’t avoid either.’

Lauren dealt her smaller daughter a scornful look. ‘You’ve got the hots for him and you’re jealous—’

‘No, I haven’t!’ Billie argued, incensed and shaken by that accusation.

‘He’s gorgeous. I wouldn’t say no,’ Lauren replied with a voluptuous pout and a toss of her blonde head.

Billie resisted a shrewish urge to agree that no wasn’t a word that came easily to her mother’s lips. In her forties, Lauren was no longer the siren she had once been and there were fewer men in her life. Eighteen months had passed since Billie had last come home to find that she was sharing her mother’s house with a resident toy boy. But the very suggestion of Alexei and Lauren together made her feel physically sick and this knowledge worked on her that night while she tossed and turned and failed to find restful sleep.

Was she attracted to Alexei more than she was prepared to admit? Had she been mortally offended by Katia and Kerry because they had shared Alexei’s bed? Was that because in some dim dark corner of her mind she was jealous of the carefree and sexually confident twins? She shuddered at the suspicion. Alexei was as bronzed, beautiful and flawless in feature and physique as a Greek god and she was a flesh and blood ordinary woman who could hardly be impervious to that reality. But being aware that he was a very good looking guy did not mean that she was physically attracted to him, did it? And even if it did, what did it matter? Nothing was ever likely to come of the fact. Alexei only went for gorgeous women and she was much too sensible to be tempted even if he should have a weak moment in her radius. Mortified by her growing suspicion that she might not be as unprejudiced or as principled as she had fondly believed, Billie lay awake until dawn.

The following day, she returned to Athens and the apartment she shared with two other women. She needed to be on the spot to job-hunt. She put her short-lived job with Alexei into a mental box and hammered it shut, but she soon discovered that the very brevity of her employment with him had harmed her standing in the eyes of others. A month later, she was less angry with Alexei and angrier with herself for damaging her career prospects. By then her proud and impulsive walkout on a matter of principle was beginning to strike her as more foolish than brave.

That was the mood she was in when the doorbell went one evening and she answered it to find one of Alexei’s security team facing her. ‘Mr Drakos would like to speak to you. I have a car waiting outside for you,’ he volunteered before swinging away and heading downstairs, it not even crossing his mind that she might dare to refuse such an invitation.

Billie stepped back into the apartment, glancing at herself in the hall mirror. Her hair, freshly washed, lay in vibrant waves across her shoulders. She was wearing cropped jeans, a sleeveless cotton top and canvas pumps. She lifted her chin. What did Alexei want? She could just say no to the offer of a meeting and then she would burn with curiosity ever after, she completed ruefully. He could just want to see her about something she had dealt with while she still worked for him. Grabbing her bag, she slammed the door behind her.

Alexei had a ritzy apartment in Athens, just one of the many properties scattered round the world that he owned, since he had already inherited several from his father’s side of the family. She recalled his town house in Venice, a chateau in the south of France, a house in New York, a ski lodge in Switzerland and a ranch in Australia. Taking care of those properties and their staff had been her responsibility and she had been looking forward to visiting each and every one of them at some stage.

Alexei was on the phone chattering in French when she was shown into a massive living area with bold designer furniture and an array of modern art and sculpture. A wide-shouldered, lean-hipped figure clad in linen trousers and an open shirt, Alexei was barefoot and clearly fresh out of the shower. His black hair was still spiky and shiny with moisture, his aggressive jawline rough with the shadow of blue-black stubble that accentuated the wide sensual allure of his masculine mouth.

Just looking at him, she felt his impact like a thud in her ears and a kick in her stomach. He was all rogue male, from his dark-as-midnight eyes heavily fringed by lashes to the slice of torso visible between the unbuttoned edges of his shirt, which revealed a matt of dark curls sprinkled across his bronzed chest and the six-pack stomach that Katia and Kerry had raved about…among other things. Her mouth dry and feeling oddly breathless, Billie squashed those inappropriate thoughts—but not in time to stop her disobedient gaze dropping to the distinctive masculine bulge at his crotch.

Reddening to the roots of her hair as fully as only a woman of her complexion could, Billie yanked her eyes upward and said jerkily, ‘You wanted to see me?’

He shifted a hand, which urged her to wait until he had finished his phone call and, that fast, she wanted to shout at him again. Her spine stiffened, her full soft mouth compressing, for he had summoned her like a minion across the city at seven in the evening and he was still putting his own wishes first. And it would always be like that, she acknowledged tautly. He was poised there, more beautiful than any mortal male had any right to be, and the world was his oyster because he was a blue-blooded filthy-rich Drakos. In his life, people always dropped everything to run and do his bidding. It had been that way for him since he was born.

Constantine Drakos had truly idolised his one and only child. Every cough and sniffle Alexei had suffered had been a major episode for his father. Alexei had had a bodyguard before he could even walk. A weaker child would have been indelibly scarred by such a protected upbringing but Constantine had found that he had a fight on his hands as Alexei had fought his ultra-safe regime every step of the way. He had taken part in dangerous sports at school; he had gone out fishing on the elderly boats of the village fleet; he had learned to sail alone; he had even learned to fly. Full of restive boundless energy, he had always challenged himself and those around him. He’d let nothing and nobody hold him back from what he wanted to be.

‘Sorry about that.’ Alexei sighed, tossing aside the phone. ‘Take a seat.’

Billie sank down onto the sofa behind her, closed her hands together neatly on her lap and sent him an enquiring look.

‘I’ve tried out two personal assistants since you left and rejected both. They couldn’t handle your job—’

‘At the end I couldn’t handle it either,’ she pointed out, and then wondered why she was drawing that failing to his attention again.

‘It is important to me that I don’t have to deal with all the hassle of being a Drakos—the properties, the social invitations, my relatives. I need to concentrate on business,’ he breathed impatiently. ‘When I’m not working, I like a smooth peaceful life. For the six weeks that you were in charge I enjoyed perfect peace. I want you to come back and work for me again.’

Billie was tense: she was flattered and troubled at one and the same time. ‘I’m not sure that would be a good idea—we didn’t gel.’

‘From my point of view, I barely noticed you were around most of the time,’ Alexei volunteered. ‘You’re very quiet.’

Not best pleased to hear that she was just part of the wallpaper as far as he was concerned, Billie met his stunning dark eyes unwarily and her tummy performed a somersault. ‘I assumed that that was what you would want.’

‘Why are you always so tense?’ Alexei demanded with a sudden frown. ‘You were like that around me even when you were a kid. Look at you now—sitting there as frozen as if you’re waiting to be tipped into a pool of hungry sharks!’

In a defensive move, Billie folded her arms. ‘I never know what you’re going to do or say next. It’s…unnerving.’

‘You could learn to live with it. If you start back to work tomorrow, I’ll double your salary,’ Alexei murmured silkily, watching the sunshine play across the gold and copper shades in her auburn hair, which was much longer than he had appreciated and surprisingly attractive. He went for blondes, not for redheads, but for the first time ever he could see the draw of her striking colouring, particularly in the contrast between her hair and her pale, flawless skin.

‘But I haven’t even said I’ll come back yet and offering to double my salary is just crazy and extravagant!’

His expressive mouth took on a humorous quirk. ‘I can afford to be. If having to occasionally deal with the women in my life is a sticking point, you can hire an assistant to deal with them on your behalf. I don’t care.’

It was a compliment to her efficiency that he should be so keen to have her working for him again. As he smiled that lazy smile and remained poised there in the sunshine pouring through the windows she was, for the first time, hugely conscious of his compelling charm. He was offering her an amazing salary to do a job she enjoyed. With that amount of money coming in, she would no longer need to worry about Lauren falling behind with the rent or not being able to buy her own property.

‘All right,’Billie said gruffly. ‘I’ll start back tomorrow.’

‘You didn’t get another job, did you?’

‘I couldn’t come up with a good enough excuse for leaving your employ after only six weeks!’ Billie responded with spirit.

Alexei laughed. ‘Where were your wits? You should’ve said I made a pass at you. With my reputation everyone would have believed it.’

Billie turned a slow hot pink and evaded his keen gaze. ‘That idea never occurred to me.’

Probably because it would never have occurred to her either that anyone would believe she had actually found his attentions unwelcome and turned him down, Billie acknowledged ruefully…


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