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The Greek Tycoon's Blackmailed Mistress

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ELLA was thoroughly chilled by the smile on Aristandros’s lean, darkly handsome face and his casual term of endearment jarred on her. She had not forgotten what she was dealing with: a very rich and powerful male whose ego she had once dented. Quite accidentally dented, though, she affixed ruefully to that recollection. Their dialogue, however, had taken a sudden step into unknown territory and she genuinely didn’t know what he was getting at.

‘I’m not sure that I appreciate your meaning,’ Ella said carefully, her hyacinth-blue eyes level and enquiring.

‘You’re far from being stupid,’ Aristandros countered in his measured accented drawl. ‘If you want to see Callie, you can only do so on my terms.’

Ella slid out of her comfortable seat and walked with quick harried steps over to the rails farthest away, eager for the breeze coming in off the sea to cool her anxious face. ‘I know that—if I didn’t accept that, I wouldn’t be here.’

‘My terms are tough,’ Aristandros spelt out bluntly. ‘You want Callie. I want you, and Callie needs a female carer. If we put those needs together we can come to an arrangement that suits all three of us.’

I want you. That was almost the only phrase she initially picked out of that speech. She was shocked. He still found her attractive—seven years on? Even in her sensible brown trouser-suit, when she was stressed out of her mind? In that first instant of astonishment, she almost turned round to tell him that he was the answer to an overworked doctor’s prayers. That side of her life had not just taken a back seat while she’d studied and worked her steady path through all the medical hoops she had had to traverse to qualify, it had vanished.

She reminded herself that being wanted by Aristandros did not, by any stretch of the imagination, make her one of a select group. As a woman, she was clued up enough to go on a TV quiz show and answer virtually any question about Aristandros’s highly volatile and energetic love-life. She knew that while his sexual skill and stamina in bed might be legendary according to the tabloid press, his staying power outside the bedroom was of exceptionally short duration. Since they had last met, a constant procession of gorgeous supermodels, starlets and socialites had briefly shared his fast-lane, champagne lifestyle before being ditched and replaced. He got bored very easily.

Indeed, Aristandros had gone on to fulfil every worst expectation that Ella had had of him seven years earlier. His relationships appeared to be short-lived, shallow, self-serving, and not infrequently featured infidelity. He had closely followed in the footsteps of his notorious father as a womaniser. Nothing Ella read about Aristandros had ever given her cause to regret refusing to marry him. He could no more have adapted to the restrictions of matrimony than a tiger could adjust to being a domestic pet. He would have broken her heart and destroyed her, just as her faithless stepfather had destroyed her mother with his extra-marital diversions. After twenty-odd years of marriage, Jane Sardelos had neither backbone nor self-esteem left.

‘You’re suggesting that, if I have sex with you, you’ll let me see Callie?’ Ella queried in a polite tone of incredulity.

‘I’m not quite that crude, glikia mou,’ Aristandros fielded. ‘Nor so easily satisfied. I’m even prepared to offer you something I’ve never offered a woman before. I want you to move in with me—’

‘To live with you?’ Ella echoed in astonishment, a powerful wave of disbelief winging through her taut length.

‘Live and travel with me as my mistress. How else could you look after your niece? Of course, there would be conditions,’ Aristandros continued smoothly. ‘You couldn’t hope to work and still meet my expectations. Living with me and taking care of Callie would be a full-time occupation.’

‘You haven’t changed one little bit,’ Ella framed shakily, even as her heart jumped in anticipation at the idea of having the freedom to take care of her niece. ‘You still expect to take priority over everything else.’

Aristandros angled back his arrogant dark head, stubborn eyes hurling an unashamed challenge. ‘Why not? I have known many women who would be delighted to make me and my interests their main priority in life. Why would I even consider accepting a lesser commitment from you?’

‘But you can’t make a child part of a deal like that!’ Ella condemned fiercely. ‘It would be immoral and horribly unscrupulous!’

‘I don’t suffer from moral scruples. I’m a practical guy who has no plans to get married to give Callie a mother. So, if you want to be her replacement mother, you have to play this as I want it played.’

He was offering her everything she longed for in return for surrendering everything she had worked so hard to achieve. It was blackmail and it was revenge in one cruelly potent weapon. ‘After seven years, how can we go from having no relationship at all into living together? And me a mistress?’ she questioned unevenly, the unfamiliar word thick and unwieldy on her tongue. ‘It’s crazy.

Aristandros slowly unfolded his big powerful frame, from his seat and strolled towards her like a sleek panther on the prowl. His narrowed gaze blazed golden and welded to her, homing in on the soft pink of her mouth. ‘It’s not a problem for me. I find you amazingly attractive.’

‘And that’s all that it takes for you—lust?’ Ella slung between gritted teeth with a look of distaste.

‘Lust is all that we need concern ourselves with, glikia mou.’ He lifted a hand and let confident fingertips trace the proud curve of her cheekbone. Blue eyes spitting angry flame, she jerked her head away in a violent rejection of his touch. ‘Let’s keep it simple. I want you in my bed every night.’

‘No way!’ Ella launched back at him furiously.

‘Of course, I can’t force you into agreement,’ Aristandros conceded, trapping her by the rails with his size and proximity, while staring down at her with burning resolve. ‘But I’m a stubborn and tenacious man. I have waited a long time for this day. Many women would be flattered by my continuing interest.’

‘Lust is not an interest!’ Ella practically spat at him, her scorn unconcealed. ‘This is all because I said no to you seven years ago, all because you never got me into bed!’

Towering over her slighter, smaller figure, Aristandros went very still at that charge. His dark eyes gleamed, diamond-bright and hard as granite. ‘I let you say no because I was prepared to wait for you. This time around I’m not prepared to wait for anything.’

Butterflies danced in her tummy while rage preoccupied her thoughts and clenched her hands into fists. ‘I can’t believe you have the nerve to try this on me!’

He closed his hands over her fists to hold her entrapped. He bent his proud, dark head, his breath skimming her temples as he murmured thickly, ‘But I always have the nerve in a fight, koukla mou. Fighting for what I want comes naturally to me and, if the stakes are high enough, I will risk everything to win. I wouldn’t be a true Xenakis if I didn’t occasionally sail too close to the sun.’

He was so close she couldn’t breath, and she was trembling while her heart pounded as if she was running a marathon. He lowered his head to claim her lips and he kissed her slowly with an irresistible passion. Extraordinary, achingly familiar, that kiss was everything she had steeled herself to forget. For a timeless moment she was lost in the heat and pressure of his hungry urgency, shivering violently at the deeply erotic thrust and flick of his tongue into the tender interior of her mouth. Suddenly her body was flaring wildly out of her control, her nipples pinching into stiff, painful buds, moisture surging between her thighs. Memory took her back and she froze, shutting out and denying those shameful sensations while she shifted away from him in an abrupt, defensive movement that caught him by surprise.

‘No,’ she told him flatly, throwing her head back, little strands of silvery-pale hair breaking free of the clip to brush her cheekbones.

A wolfish smile slashed Aristandros’s lean face. He made no attempt to hide his triumph. ‘“No” is very close to becoming a blatant invitation on your lips,’ he derided softly.

‘You can’t buy me with Callie. I’m not up for sale, and I can’t be tempted,’ Ella swore, praying even as she spoke that she had the strength of character to make those statements true.

‘Then we will all be losers, and perhaps the child most of all. I doubt if any other woman would be prepared to offer her the honest and genuine affection that you could give her,’ Aristandros pronounced. ‘Although many women will no doubt try to convince me otherwise.’

That final assurance was like a knife finding a gap in her armour to pierce her skin, penetrate deep and draw blood. The very thought of ambitious gold-diggers auditioning to be Callie’s mother-substitute simply to impress her billionaire guardian hurt Ella immeasurably and threatened her composure.

‘You’re being so cruel,’ she muttered tightly. ‘I wouldn’t have believed that you could be so cruel.’

Unmoved, Aristandros surveyed her with hard eyes. ‘It’s your choice—’

‘There isn’t a choice!’ Ella gasped strickenly

‘It’s a choice you don’t like. But be grateful there is a choice to make,’ Aristandros urged harshly. ‘I could have said no, you can’t see Callie, and slammed the door shut in your face!’

Gooseflesh gave Ella’s skin a clammy feel. It felt like the cold breath of reality making its presence felt, for of course what he said was true. In the circumstances, even a choice was a luxury, for he might have turned her request down flat.

Furthermore, what happened next was entirely her decision. She glanced up at him from below her lashes. He was on some sort of power kick. With the options and offers that came his way every single day, how could he still be interested in her? Was it just the fact that she was one of the precious few to have turned him down? Wasn’t that the real secret of her enduring attraction—her one-time refusal, her apparent unavailability? And wouldn’t her pulling power wane fast once she was freely available?

‘Just suppose I said yes,’ Ella suggested in a driven undertone. ‘Your interest in me wouldn’t last longer than five minutes. What happens to Callie then? I’m there for about a week and then I vanish again?’

His lean, strong face had clenched hard. ‘It won’t be like that.’

Ella had to gnaw at the soft underside of her lower lip to prevent herself from screaming back at him in disagreement. It was always like that for him with women, wild, hot affairs that burnt out at supersonic speed. ‘What would I know about being a mistress? I’m hardly the decorative type.’

Aristandros rested his attention on her, his golden-brown eyes smouldering below the luxuriant black fringe of his lashes, amusement curling his handsome mouth. ‘Is there a type? I’m flexible and very open to new experiences.’

Unamused by this suggestive sally, Ella walked back to her seat and sank down as rigid-backed as if she had a fence post attached to her spine. ‘If I did agree,’ she said very stiffly, ‘What would the ground rules be?’

‘Your main objective would primarily be pleasing me,’ Aristandros drawled, watching her grit her teeth as if he had said something unspeakably rude. ‘Of course, there would be no other men in your life. You would always be available for me.’

‘The any-time, any-place, anywhere girl? That’s a male fantasy, Aristandros, not an achievable objective for a normal woman in today’s world,’ Ella countered drily.

‘You’re clever enough to live that fantasy for me. Focus all that career-orientated zeal on me, and you won’t find me ungrateful. Give me what I want, and you will have everything that you want,’ he traded in a powerful promise of intent.

‘Callie.’ She framed the name weakly because it encompassed so much and stirred such deep emotion in her. The child she had never seen but whom she longed to love as a daughter rather than a niece. Aristandros might enjoy almost unlimited power over them both, but Ella was quick to remind herself that she also had the power to make a huge difference in Callie’s life. And she badly wanted the chance to be there to love and care for the little girl, who had already lost both mother and father at such a tragically young age.

Her rushing thoughts were so frantic and intense, she was beginning to develop a tension headache across her brow. She pressed the heel of her hand there and snatched in a steadying breath. ‘How long have I got to decide?’

Aristandros flashed her a punitive appraisal. ‘It’s now or never. A today-only deal.’

‘But that’s outrageous! I mean, you’re asking me to give up my career in medicine. Have you any idea what being a doctor means to me?’

‘A very good idea. After all, you once chose your career over me,’ Aristandros skimmed back, keen eyes dangerous.

‘That wasn’t the only reason I turned you down. I did that for the both of us—we would have made each other miserable!’ Ella flung back at him a little wildly, her emotions finally outrunning her self-discipline. ‘And let me warn you of one thing that isn’t negotiable under any circumstances—if I agree, I will not tolerate infidelity in any guise.’

Strong emotion animated her features, brightening her eyes and flushing her cheeks with colour. It was a welcome glimpse of the passionate young woman he remembered, who had invested so much emotion in everything that mattered to her, but who had tellingly walked away from him without a backward glance.

‘I’m not asking you to marry me this time. I won’t be making any promises either,’ Aristandros delivered in direct challenge. ‘I should also warn you that, regardless of what happens between us, I will not give up custody of Callie. Timon trusted me to raise his daughter, and I hold that sacrosanct.’

A half-dozen fire-starting responses were ready to tumble off Ella’s tongue but she held them back, deeming the momentary pleasure of challenging him to be unwise at that point. She was willing to bet that he knew next to nothing about children or their needs, for he was an only child, raised as a mini-adult by parents who had had no time and even less interest in him. Even so, she could not believe that he would do anything that might harm the child in his charge. For her own peace of mind, she had to believe that if she succeeded in forging close ties with Callie he would recognise the damage that the sudden severance of those bonds would cause and make allowances.

‘Ella…’ Aristandros growled, impatience etched in every angular line of his lean, bronzed features. ‘It’s decision time, glikia mou.’

Ella pictured the imaginary child in her head and studied Aristandros with determined cool. Regardless of how she might feel about him and his methods, she still thought he was drop-dead gorgeous, and that was a plus, wasn’t it? But how would it feel to engage in an unemotional sexual relationship with him, particularly when she was totally inexperienced in that line? She suppressed the critical part of her brain because she saw no point borrowing trouble in advance of the event. She forced herself to concentrate on Callie and shut out all the personal, selfish stuff like the injured pride, the fury and the sense of humiliation threatening her. If she gained the right to take care of Callie, couldn’t she learn to cope with the rest?

‘Okay.’ Ella threw her head back and lifted her chin. ‘But you’ll have to give me time to work out my notice at work.’

* * *

‘Are you finished?’ Dr Alister Marlow queried from the doorway of Ella’s surgery as she lifted a cardboard box from the desk. The room looked bare.

‘Yes. I took the bulk of my stuff yesterday.’ As her colleague helpfully extended his arms, Ella relinquished the box and then took the opportunity to perform a last-minute check through the drawers. Finally she straightened. ‘Will you ask the cleaning lady to keep her eyes peeled for a small photograph? It was of my father and I was attached to it,’ she admitted ruefully ‘I broke the photoframe last month and took out the photo, and now it seems to have vanished.’

‘We’ll keep an eye out for it.’ The tall, broadly built blond man promised, concerned blue eyes resting on her. ‘You look exhausted.’

‘There’s been so much to organise.’ Ella said nothing about the considerable emotional fallout of having to resign from the job she loved. All her years of hard work had been nullified and all her goals had been wrenched from her. She would miss her work and her colleagues a great deal. She would not play any further part in what happened to her patients, nor would she see the benefits brought by the breast-care clinic she had helped to set up. Already she felt lost without the structure of her busy, demanding routine. It had all happened so fast, as by the time her unused holiday entitlement had been added in she’d had only had a couple of weeks’ notice left to work.

‘I can’t say I approve of what you’re doing, because you were too valuable a part of our team,’ Alister remarked as they walked towards her car. ‘But I do admire your commitment to your niece, and know that our loss will be her gain. Stay in touch, Ella.’

Ella drove home while reminding herself that the spacious loft would soon no longer be her home. Lily was buying Ella’s share of the apartment. Ella would have preferred to retain her stake in the property, but had felt it would be unfair to impose that on Lily, who was reluctant to take a chance on a new flatmate. Of course she knew Lily would be quick to offer her a bed if she was in need, but it wouldn’t be the same as owning her own place.

Just how long would it be before Aristandros tired of her? Her shadowed blue eyes gleamed with resentment, for she was convinced that their affair would be over within weeks. Her novelty value wouldn’t last long. Then where would she be without a job and with no home to return to? The proceeds from her share of the apartment would not be enough to buy another property, and she would have to go back to renting again. But, when Aristandros did throw her out, her main concern would be Callie and whether or not she would be allowed to maintain a relationship with the little girl, Ella acknowledged worriedly. She had told nobody the truth about her impending intimate relationship with the Greek tycoon. She had simply said that she was going to help to take care of her orphaned niece whose life was currently based in Greece.

Lily, however, remained suspicious of that explanation. ‘I’m trying so hard to understand all this. Do you really want Callie so much that you’re happily giving up everything that matters to you?’ She demanded that night over the restaurant meal they had organised for their last evening together. ‘If it’s just that you’re getting broody, you could easily have a child of your own.’

‘But I want to be with Callie—’

And the oversexed billionaire?’

Reddening, Ella pushed her plate away. ‘Aristandros happens to be Callie’s guardian and a non-negotiable part of her life.’

‘But you do have a thing for him, don’t you?’ the brunette said suddenly.

‘I don’t know where you got that idea,’ Ella countered with a laugh that sounded more brittle than amused.

‘Oh, maybe it was when I noticed you only bought tacky newspapers and magazines so that you could read about him and his exploits.’

‘Why not? I was curious because I met him years ago and Susie was married to his cousin!’ Ella protested.

Her friend was still watching her closely. ‘That last Christmas you spent in Greece before your family started treating you like a pariah—that was when you met Aristandros Xenakis, wasn’t it?’

More defensive than ever, for she preferred to hold on tight to her secrets, Ella shrugged a slim shoulder. ‘My stepfather made sure we never missed a chance to rub shoulders with the super-rich Xenakis family. I suspect we first met as kids but I don’t remember it. Aristandros is four years older than I am.’

‘I just feel there’s a history there that you’re not telling me about,’ Lily confessed. ‘At the time, I thought you’d had your heart broken.’

Ella rolled her eyes while trying to suppress the memory of the nights she had cried herself to sleep and the days when only work had got her through the intense sense of loneliness and loss. But she had chosen and accepted those consequences when she’d realised that she couldn’t marry the man she had fallen in love with. In any case, he had not made the smallest effort to change her mind on that score, had he? In truth her heart had got broken over a much longer term than most. A chip had been gouged out of her heart with every woman that had followed her in Ari’s life. But all that was water under the bridge now, Ella reminded herself thankfully. She had lived to see her worst misgivings about Aristandros vindicated; she had made the right decision and had never doubted the fact.

Tomorrow morning, however, she would be picked up at nine, and she had no idea what happened next for Aristandros had not deigned to inform her. Would they be staying in London for long? Would she meet Callie tomorrow? Lying sleepless in bed that night, watching shadows fall on the bare walls, she recalled that Christmas vacation in Athens midway through her medical studies. Time rolled back and plunged her into the past…

Susie had collected her at the airport. Her sister had been single then, and in a very good mood as she’d chattered about the exclusive club she was taking Ella to that evening.

‘I’ve just finished exams and I’m really tired, Susie,’ Ella had confided ‘I might just go to bed and give the socialising a miss.’

‘You can’t do that!’ Susie had gasped. ‘I wangled a special guest-pass for you, so you can’t let me down. Ari Xenakis and his friends will be there.’

Susie, with her determination only to mix with the most fashionable crowd, and her strenuous efforts to ensure that her name appeared regularly in the gossip columns, was the apple of their stepfather’s eye. Theo Sardelos expected women to be ornamental and frivolous. Ella’s serious nature, her championship of her mother and dislike of pretension were all traits that made him feel uncomfortable.

For the sake of peace that evening, Ella accompanied Susie. The club was noisy and very crowded. Surrounded by Susie and her pals, who had nothing more on their minds but the hottest party or man on offer, Ella was bored. She listened dutifully to tales of how outrageous Ari Xenakis was. He had dumped his last girlfriend by text and her parents had had to pack her off abroad to stop her stalking him. As the stories of his wildness, fabled riches and volatility were traded round the table, Ella registered in amazement that there still wasn’t a girl present who wouldn’t give her right arm to date him—in spite of his evident obnoxiousness. When he was pointed out to her across the dance floor, she registered another reason why he was so disproportionately popular: he was breathtakingly good-looking with black hair, brooding golden-brown eyes and the fit body of an athlete.

If one of their party hadn’t collapsed, Ella was convinced that Aristandros would never have noticed her. Lethia, the teenaged friend of one of Susie’s mates, suffered a seizure. Ella was shocked by the way everyone abandoned the girl as she lay twitching and jerking at the side of the dance floor. When Ella went to her assistance, Susie was furious. ‘Don’t get involved!’ she hissed, trying to drag her sibling back to their table. ‘We hardly know her!’

Ignoring Susie’s frantic instructions that she keep her distance, Ella placed Lethia in the recovery position and made her as comfortable as possible while the seizure ran its course. The other girls disclaimed any knowledge of Lethia’s health. Ella had to turn out the girl’s handbag to learn that Lethia appeared to be an epileptic and to be taking prescribed medication.

‘Do you need some help with her?’ someone asked her in English. Turning her head, she found Aristandros hunkered down by her side, his lean, handsome face surprisingly serious.

‘She’s an epileptic, and she needs to go to hospital because she’s been unconscious more than five minutes,’ Ella told him.

Aristandros organised an ambulance, his cool in a crisis welcome in the overexcited atmosphere surrounding them. He also contacted Lethia’s family, who confirmed that she was a recently diagnosed epileptic.

‘Why wouldn’t anyone else help?’ Ella sighed while they waited for the ambulance.

‘I suspect that most people assumed that her collapse was drug-related and they didn’t want to be associated with her,’ Aristandros explained.

‘Nobody seemed to know that she suffers from epilepsy. I suppose she didn’t want people to find out,’ Ella guessed, her blue eyes compassionate. ‘You spoke to me in English. How did you know I was English?’

Dark eyes glinting with amusement, Aristandros gave her a sardonic smile that made it extraordinarily hard for her to breath. ‘I had already asked who you were before Lethia collapsed.’

Ella flushed, self-consciousness assailing her, because she was convinced he could only have noticed her because she didn’t fit in. The other girls were like exotic birds in their skimpy designer outfits, while she was wearing a simple black skirt with a turquoise top. ‘Why did you come over?’

‘I couldn’t take my eyes off you,’ Aristandros confided. ‘Lethia was just an excuse.’

‘You dump women by text and then call them stalkers. I’m not interested,’ Ella told him drily, switching to Greek, which she spoke fluently.

‘There’s nothing hotter than a challenge, glikia mou,’ Aristandros husked, black lashes as long as fly-swats lowering on his dark, golden gaze…


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