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The Drakos Affair: The Pregnancy Shock

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‘THAT should wrap it up,’ Alexei pronounced, stabbing a final button on the keyboard before pushing away his laptop in a rare gesture of rejection. Rising up, he stretched like a lion, flexing strong muscles bunched up by the constraint of sitting at a desk before shrugging back his sleeve to check the slender gold Rolex on his wrist. It was after one in the morning. ‘You should have told me how late it was.’

Blinking, Billie stifled a yawn. ‘I did.’

That quiet rejoinder made his handsome mouth quirk. Billie was the only employee who ever answered him back. He studied her with narrowed eyes, taking in the white sleeveless top she wore and the full rounded thrust of her breasts against the fine cotton that was pulling at the pearl buttons. More than a lush handful, he calculated, pressure building at his groin as he instinctively pictured the baring of her firm pink-tipped flesh. He was startled by his reaction. Evidently, it had been too long since he had been with a woman, he reflected in exasperation.

Even as he looked, Billie was reaching for the jacket she had removed. In the past two years during which Billie had been on his staff, she was always covered up, buttoned up, zipped up, just as her hair was always clipped, plaited or tied—everything held in tight restraint. In an age when other women were happy to reveal as much flesh as possible, Billie’s modesty made her stand out from the crowd. Even when she went swimming she donned a modest black swimsuit that would not have shamed a nun. Yet the feminine mystique she was careful to preserve was strangely and powerfully sexy,Alexei acknowledged. Odd, too, how he felt guilty even thinking about her in such a way. But then he was almost certain that, rare as it would be, Billie was still a virgin.

‘You’ll have to stay here tonight. You can’t disturb your mother this late,’ he commented, lifting the house phone to issue instructions to the housekeeper, Anatalya.

‘I’m sure it won’t bother her if I wake her up,’ Billie protested, uneasy at the prospect of spending the night at the Drakos villa where she generally felt like a peasant-born intruder.

‘Don’t make a fuss,’ Alexei groaned in all-male irritation, silencing her.

Behind his back, Billie flushed at the reproof. The door opened, revealing not the maid she had expected, but Alexei’s mother, Natasha.

‘I’ll show you upstairs,’ the tall, still-beautiful brunette said with an artificial smile. Billie was never more conscious of her humble little-island-girl beginnings than she was in the radius of Alexei’s glamorous and patronising mother.

Alexei said something in Russian to the older woman. Dark eyes warming only as they rested on her only child, Natasha left the room to escort Billie up the palatial staircase. ‘Do you often work this late for my son?’

‘Not that often. But I’m very well paid, Mrs Drakos. Occasional long hours go with the territory,’ Billie pointed out.

A door was pressed open. Rather stiff and taut, Billie walked in. She was always aware that Alexei’s mother didn’t approve of her working for Alexei. She had no idea why, only the vague suspicion that Natasha didn’t think Lauren Foster’s daughter was good enough to work in so trusted a position.

Her reluctant hostess was already turning to leave when Billie noticed the man’s shirt lying discarded on the carpet and put two and two together fast. ‘Is this…Alexei’s room?’ she breathed in dismay.

‘Why, yes, I assumed that…’ Natasha Drakos gave a little suggestive shrug of her slim shoulders.

‘You assumed wrong.’ It was Alexei’s assured drawl from behind the older woman that broke the tension and the brief, awkward silence that had fallen.

Billie’s face was drenched with colour and she could barely bring herself to look at him or his parent. ‘I really think I should go home—’

‘I’m sorry,’ Natasha Drakos murmured. ‘I misunderstood.’

Rather than make more of a scene, Billie allowed herself to be shown into the room next door but she felt humiliated. She was well qualified and she performed her job to the highest standards, for no Drakos had yet been born capable of accepting shoddy work. Why did Alexei’s mother have to assume that her role automatically extended to warming her son’s bed? That was a very demeaning supposition. Locked in that thought, she was then nonplussed by the discovery that her hostess had yet to leave her alone.

‘You probably think you’re very clever getting so close to Alexei and worming your way into his confidence,’ the older woman breathed with cold dark eyes, her angry hostility laid bare now that her son was no longer within hearing. ‘But you’re wasting your time. He’s a Drakos and, although he’ll think nothing of sleeping with you when there’s not a more attractive prospect available, he’ll never marry beneath him.

Billie did momentarily toy with the idea of responding with the simple fact that Alexei’s father had done exactly that when he chose to wed his pregnant mistress, a little-known fashion model from a poverty-stricken home in some obscure industrial town in Russia. But Billie had never been bitchy and she was reluctant to rattle Natasha’s cage when she was an increasingly frequent visitor to the villa.

With that acid condemnation, Natasha mercifully departed and Billie exhaled. At least she now knew why Alexei’s mother didn’t like her. She thought Billie was too close to her son and in spite of Alexei’s denial that he and his PA were intimate, Natasha remained unconvinced. Initially, Billie was vaguely amused to think she could figure as a clever, calculating gold-digger in Natasha’s eyes, but she was not at all amused by the comment that Alexei would only sleep with her if she was the only woman available to slake his high-voltage libido.

How much more hurtful and wounding could one woman be to another? Billie wondered once she had got into the comfortable bed. She was already very much aware that she was not good looking. After all, she had grown up in the shadow of a handsome mother and Alexei’s women were always noted beauties. Billie knew her best points and her worst ones. She was now also wondering if it had been a mistake not to date at least one of the men who had asked her out since she started working for Alexei. Perhaps if, at some stage, she had had a boyfriend Alexei’s mother would not have regarded her with such poisonous suspicion.

Billie lay in the moonlit room and mulled over the awful truth that daily exposure to Alexei had made other men pale by comparison. Alexei had more sex appeal than any man she had ever met. Although she tried not to think about her employer on those terms, he was gorgeous to look at and usually very entertaining to be with, because he was clever, witty and dynamic while also being amazingly attuned to what women liked. Only Alexei would order her a hot chocolate topped with melted marshmallows at the end of a particularly long or difficult day, or send her for a relaxing hot stone massage when she got headaches at that certain time of the month. Times without number he’d picked up on things other men would have failed to notice.

Maybe, Billie began thinking anxiously, it was her own fault that Alexei’s mother had thought it necessary to warn Billie off her son. Maybe her own behaviour was to blame for Natasha’s belief that she shared Alexei’s bed. Just at that moment it suddenly struck Billie that, for a mere employee, she was far too attached to Alexei. Somewhere down the line her protective barriers had crumbled. Alexei was brilliant in business and working for him was exciting. But she admired him too much, she conceded grudgingly. When once she had disapproved of his energetic sex life, now she turned her head away from the evidence of it, reasoning that his lovers were experienced women who knew the score. When had she started making excuses for his lifestyle?

Just when had she started falling in love with her boss?

Shattered by that belated glimpse into her innermost heart, Billie was furious that she could have been so blind to the feelings she was developing. More than a few of the women Alexei had had affairs with had descended into sobbing heartbreak in front of Billie when his interest had waned. Billie had offered tissues and platitudes in response, protecting Alexei from such aggravations, guarding his privacy as best she could. Why had it taken Natasha’s taunts to make her appreciate that, over the past couple of years, she had got too close to the sun and got burned without even realising it? Was her attachment to Alexei equally obvious to others? Billie cringed, resolving that she needed a little space, time to get a grip on herself and her emotions again. She did not want to turn into one of those sad women who worked for the man they’d loved for years without ever being noticed by him, because being close to him was better than being without him entirely.

When she got up the next day, heavy-eyed from her lack of sleep, it was to be greeted with the news that she had the day off because Alexei had gone out fishing with his father around dawn. One of the security guards gave her a lift to the village house she had bought for her mother six months earlier. The purchase had not been as straightforward as she had hoped, for at least one local had complained to the Drakos family about a foreigner like Billie being allowed to buy property on Speros and she had little doubt that allegations about Lauren’s morals had also been part of the argument. Thankfully, Constantine Drakos had squashed the protests and approved the sale.

‘My father believes that you and your mother have lived on the island long enough to be viewed as part of the community,’ Alexei had told her.

‘I’m grateful. I just want Lauren to have a secure home that no one can take away from her,’ Billie had confided, not bothering to add that, from her point of view, buying a small house outright was cheaper and safer than trusting Lauren to use the money Billie gave her to pay the rent.

Lauren was delighted with her new home and had gone to unusual effort to furnish and decorate it.

Smiling at the window box of bright geraniums ornamenting the blue-painted front sill, Billie knocked on the rough-wood front door of the tumbledown whitewashed house at the end of a crumbling terrace. Her smile slid away a little when the door was opened by a strange man. Around thirty years old with long brown hair and an unshaven face that made him look more unkempt than trendy, he sported shorts and a T-shirt.

‘You can only be Billie,’ he said cheerfully. ‘Lauren’s in her studio.’

The tiny sunroom at the back of the house had become her mother’s workplace. Her deeply tanned, leggy parent turned from her easel to say, ‘When I saw the yacht had docked in the bay last night I expected you home.’

‘I had to work late. If I’d known you were expecting me I’d have phoned.’ Billie stretched up to dab a kiss on Lauren’s cheek. ‘Who’s your guest?’

‘Dean? He was a deckhand on a boat that called in a few weeks back. We met at the taverna and he decided he’d like to stay a while. I’m enjoying the company.

You know how it is,’ her mother told her, shooting a flirtatious glance at Dean, who was stationed in the doorway, denying Billie the privacy she would have preferred with her parent.

‘I’ll just go upstairs and change.’ Billie came to a halt and had to say, ‘Excuse me, Dean…’ before her mother’s boyfriend let her pass.

And, as Lauren had commented, Billie did indeed know how it was when it came to Lauren’s boyfriends. They were usually backpackers, dropouts or seasonal workers, happy to latch onto the chance of free board and lodgings on an idyllic Greek island. Billie could not recall when her mother had last had a guest who contributed in any way to the household budget. But she was determined not to let Dean’s presence spoil her brief stay.

Billie made a salad lunch for the three of them in the kitchen, coolly clad in a pair of shorts teamed with a tankini top. She glanced up while she was setting the table and noticed that Dean was staring lasciviously at her cleavage. A hot flush marking her cheeks, she looked hurriedly away again. After they had eaten, she said she was going down to the beach and went upstairs to put on a T-shirt. When she came back down again Lauren and Dean were whispering and kissing on the sofa and she couldn’t get out of the house quickly enough.

Not for the first time she wished she had her own bolthole on Speros. If she moved out it would be yet another nail in her mother’s coffin as far as the locals were concerned but after so many years did that really matter? On the other hand, she had very little time off and was usually staying on the yacht or in one of Alexei’s other properties when she was free. How much use would she get out of an independent home on the island? It would not be much of an investment either as privately owned houses on the island had to be offered to the locals first for sale, which kept prices artificially low.

That evening, they dined at the taverna—Billie’s treat, of course. By then she was noticing that her easy-come-easy-go mother seemed unusually keen on Dean, and that Dean drank too much and talked too loudly. Billie was revolted by the way he kept on staring at her breasts and the jokes he began to crack about busty women. She went to bed early and stirred only when her door opened some hours later.

‘Mum?’ she mumbled, drowsily trying to unclog her lashes to open her eyes when the side of the bed gave as someone came down on the mattress and tilted it.

The smell of beer and male sweat assailed her in warning a split second before a bristly jaw line made scratchy contact with her cheek. ‘It’s Dean,’ her mother’s boyfriend whispered thickly. ‘Keep your voice down or you’ll wake your ma, and we don’t want to do that, do we?’

The instant he made physical contact her eyes flew wide in panic and her arms flailed wildly to push him away from her while her body frantically squirmed and heaved up to escape the weighty imprisonment of his body lying half over hers. ‘Get off me! Get out!’ she screamed at the top of her voice.

Within thirty seconds Lauren was in the room demanding to know why her boyfriend was falling off the end of her daughter’s bed. Her mother had had a great deal to drink as well and the older woman lost no time in accusing Billie of trying to steal her man. In the midst of the resulting madness, in which her mother slapped her face hard, Billie got out of bed, gathered up her clothes, fought past Lauren’s hysterical attempt to hold onto her and escaped into the bathroom to get dressed. By the time she emerged, her mother was shouting at her to get out of her house and never come back and the neighbours were banging on the party wall in complaint. Billie paused only long enough to grab up her bag, which she had not unpacked, and her phone.

Tearstained and trembling, she sat on a bollard down by the harbour, wondering what to do next. The sun was slowly rising in a crimson glow on the horizon. Nothing would make her go to the Drakos villa in such a state to ask for shelter, but Sea Queen was anchored out in the bay and she had no reservations about calling the yacht and asking for the launch to be sent out to pick her up. The crew would think little of her request since she often went on board at odd hours without Alexei. The launch came quickly and she climbed in, her heart thudding fast as the boat drew closer to the giant white yacht that towered above them like a skyscraper. She was embarrassed when she realised that Captain McGregor had got out of bed to greet her. She thought he looked at her a little suspiciously and, after apologising for interrupting his sleep, took her leave of him as soon as she could.

Still shell-shocked by her ordeal at Dean and Lauren’s hands, Billie felt dizzy and she kicked off her shoes and lay down on the bed in the opulent cabin Alexei had long since assigned to her in the guest—rather than in the crew—quarters. Her head was aching, her face was sore where she had been slapped and her hands were shaking so badly she had to set down the glass of water she was trying to drink. How could her mother have believed that she might welcome her boyfriend into her bed?

A loud rata-tat-tat on the door made her sit up with a start against the headboard. ‘Come in!’ she called with a frown; even that movement of her face hurt.

She was shocked when Alexei strode through the door looking rather less elegant and laid-back than was his wont. His black hair was tousled, he needed a shave and he was wearing jeans and a half-buttoned white dress shirt below a dinner jacket.

‘What are you doing on board?’ Billie burst out.

‘McGregor phoned me.’ His probing gaze a clear hot gold, Alexei came down on the bed on his knees beside her, suddenly, disturbingly close. But where Dean had brought her out in a cold sweat of fear and disgust, Alexei sent her heart racing in an all-out sprint.

‘Why did the Captain phone you?’ Billie dragged in a feverish breath, a bubble of heat bursting low in her tummy when she collided with his level golden gaze.

‘My goodness, I’m so sorry you were disturbed, Alexei. I seem to be causing an awful lot of trouble, but I only needed a bed for the night and I couldn’t face your mother. I’m sure she would’ve thought I was being cheeky turning up at the villa,’ Billie gabbled, embarrassed and scarcely knowing what she was saying

His brilliant scrutiny oddly intent, Alexei lifted a bronzed long-fingered hand to turn her face into the pool of light shed by the lamp. His sleek ebony brows pleated and a stifled Greek curse escaped his taut mouth. ‘McGregor phoned me because he could see that you had been attacked and naturally he was concerned.’

‘Attacked?’ she echoed in consternation.

‘You have a long scratch and blood on your cheekbone and I suspect you may have a black eye by morning,’Alexei enumerated in curt explanation. ‘Have you any other injuries?’

Billie lifted a tremulous hand and let the pads of her fingers brush the swelling soreness of her cheekbone. She had not even looked in a mirror since boarding. ‘No. I’m perfectly fine.’

‘You’d tell me that if you were lying here dying!’ Alexei vented, unimpressed by that assurance. ‘What happened? Who did this to you? Get over the idea that it’s not done to admit to being hurt!’

‘I really appreciate your concern but I’d prefer not to talk about it,’ Billie mumbled, her eyes stinging like mad beneath her lowered lashes, because his concern on her behalf was more than she could bear while the thought of sharing such a kitchen-sink family drama with him just made her want to cringe in humiliation.

‘Save the nonsense for fools. Talk,’Alexei instructed in an emphatic growl of threat that ratcheted up her tension and widened her gaze to focus on the harsh set of his darkly handsome features.

‘Storm in a teacup,’ she said shakily. ‘Mum’s boyfriend made a pass at me. He’d been drinking and he came into my room and lay down on my bed while I was sleeping—’

‘He…did…what?’ Alexei roared, springing back upright and glowering down at her in angry disbelief. ‘You could have been raped!’

‘But I wasn’t. He gave me such a fright I screamed at him, and that woke Lauren up and she stormed in and misread the situation…’ Billie was becoming too uncomfortable to hold his gaze. ‘She slapped me—’

‘Blamed you as well, no doubt,’ Alexei incised with a gritty lack of hesitation. ‘Why on earth did you waste your money buying her a house?’

‘She’s my mother and I know she’s not perfect, but she’s the only one I’ll ever have,’ Billie proffered, tight-mouthed.

‘She’s no mother at all when there’s a man in the equation,’Alexei derided. ‘If you had been more aware of your own interests you would have bought that house for your own use. You shouldn’t be under the same roof as her.’

After Lauren’s attack and abuse, Billie wondered if she ever would be under the same roof again. That violent response from her mother had gouged a big hole in Billie’s heart. She knew alcohol had probably had a lot to do with her mother losing her head but it still hurt that Lauren could trust a man she had only met a few weeks ago more than she trusted her daughter.

‘Well, it’s too late now,’ she muttered ruefully.

His attention still nailed to her swollen face and reddened eyes, Alexei breathed grimly. ‘We’ll see.’

Another knock sounded on the door and Alexei opened it to reveal the familiar, careworn face of the island doctor. The older man was taken aback by the state of Billie’s face and, with all the assurance of someone who had known her as a child, he told her not to be silly when she insisted that an examination was unnecessary. He checked her eye and a steward brought a cold pack to help reduce the swelling. The doctor’s probing revealed no further injury and the cut was minor enough to require no further attention.

‘Now go to sleep,’ Alexei instructed, leaving the cabin in the older man’s company as soon as Billie had swallowed the painkillers she had been given. ‘We’ll talk tomorrow.’

Billie could not think what they could possibly have left to discuss. She lay curled up in the bed, tears seeping from below her lowered eyelids and stinging her sore face. She heard the doctor leave on the launch and its return when the sun was high in the sky because sleep had evaded her once again. A cup of tea was brought to her and she peered at her reflection in the mirror in horror: she looked a sight with one eye half shut by purple bruising and swelling that had destroyed the symmetry of her face. The phone by her bed buzzed.

Sunglasses firmly attached to her nose, she went up to the main deck to join Alexei for breakfast. He was on the phone and, sketching a movement with an imperious brown hand, he indicated that she go ahead and eat without waiting for him to join her. There were a couple of faces at the windows of his office and she reddened, knowing that the breakfast invite would be viewed as a sign of favouritism by the rest of the team, while anxiously wondering if word of her sudden arrival on board the yacht in the middle of the night had spread among the crew.

Alexei’s dark rich masculine drawl took on the subtle change that warned her that he was talking to a woman. In Spanish? She had learned to recognise a number of the languages he spoke even if she couldn’t speak them herself. He could well be talking to the actress, Lola Rodriquez, whom he had recently met in London. It was none of her business, Billie told herself urgently, squashing the beginnings of an envious daydream in which she, got up in a fabulous dress, dined out with Alexei, leaving him open-mouthed in admiration over her looks, her wit and her sex appeal.

‘Let me see you,’ Alexei urged, bending down to filch the sunglasses off her nose and inspect her battered face in the full unforgiving light of day.

Mercifully unaware of the heights her imagination could take her to, Alexei grimaced. ‘Nasty. It’ll be a few days before you look normal again.’

Billie snatched back her sunglasses and replaced them on her nose with a shaking hand. His input on how she looked was overkill, for wasn’t she already wincing over the rainbow bruising round her eye and the swelling distorting her face?

‘Your mother’s boyfriend is gone,’ Alexei informed her.

Her brow furrowed. ‘Gone? Where? What are you talking about?’

‘I dealt with him.’

‘And what’s that supposed to mean?’ Billie queried nervously.

‘I took the launch back to the harbour with the doctor last night and confronted the man to tell him to leave.’

Billie rammed back her chair to stand up. ‘You had no right to interfere!’

‘Your mother is full of apologies but she caught the ferry with him this morning. The neighbours are up in arms and I think she decided that a short break from island life was in order.’

‘Oh, my goodness!’ With a groan of protest, Billie flung herself back down in her chair. ‘What on earth did you say to Mum?’

‘That if she ever hurt you again she would be charged with assault—’

A whimper of dammed-up fury and frustration escaped Billie. ‘It was none of your business!’ she bawled back at him. ‘How dare you?’

‘It’s how we deal with problems on Speros—you know it is. Every community must have rules. Lauren’s boyfriend could have raped you, although the neighbours are so nosy I think you would have been rescued before he got very far,’ Alexei conceded with a gleam of dark sardonic humour in his unrepentant gaze. ‘All that matters is that he is no longer on the island and he won’t dare to come back.’

‘But Lauren’s gone as well, driven out of her own home!’ Billie condemned emotively.

‘Your mother will be back, don’t worry. She’s too clever to abandon the easy life she has here, thanks to you,’ Alexei countered carelessly, his interest in the subject patently on the wane. ‘However, I’ve come up with a solution to your problems.’

‘I don’t have any problems,’ Billie told him stonily, abandoning the table and turning on her heel to head back at speed to her cabin.

‘Billie!’ Alexei breathed rawly. ‘Get back here right now!’

Trembling with fury over his meddling in her private life, Billie was outraged by that glossy impenetrable Drakos assurance that made Alexei believe that he could do whatever he wanted to do, particularly on Speros. But the particular note of command in his strong voice stopped her dead. She could storm off but where to and why? They had gone toe to toe once before and, though she might have got her job back, she knew her tycoon boss well enough to know that it had been a one-chance-only deal. Slowly, as if every movement physically hurt, Billie turned round again.

‘Finish your breakfast,’ Alexei told her harshly, his exasperation unconcealed. ‘We’re leaving the ship in ten minutes.’

Clashing with the warning in his hard dark eyes, Billie breathed in slow and deep, suddenly aware that the exchange was taking place right outside the office windows and marvelling that she could have forgotten the fact that they had an audience. Her spine as stiff as a steel pole, she took her seat again. A steward poured her tea and Alexei’s coffee. She had to force herself to eat as all appetite had fled…


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