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The Marriage Betrayal

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«The Marriage Betrayal» - Линн Грэхем

Careless passion, pregnancy surprise…Sander Volakis goes his own way. He’s forged his reputation in business, rather than relying on the family fortune, and indulges his darkly passionate, wild streak – he has no intention of marrying… He doesn’t do country weekends, either. Pitching up at Westgrave Manor is a favour to his father and a bore…until he sees Tally Spencer, so pretty and voluptuous that he can’t resist her. Sander’s looking forward to casually seducing her…little knowing that one night with the innocent Tally could end his playboy existence… THE VOLAKIS VOW A marriage made of secrets… This month, read Part One: THE MARRIAGE BETRAYAL Look out for BRIDE FOR REAL, Part Two of The Volakis Vow, next month!
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Marriage …

Sander poured himself a stiff drink and tipped it back with scant appreciation. He knew that he was going to get very, very drunk before he went to see Tally the next day. He dared not mention her father’s visit.

Suppressing his anger on that issue, he reminded himself that, having been brutally honest with her when she told him about the baby, he now had fences to mend. He also had an honourable proposal to make in response to the most dishonourable act of blackmail …


A marriage made of secrets …

An enthralling two-part story by bestselling author

Lynne Graham

This month:


Tally Spencer, an ordinary girl with no experience of

relationships … Sander Volakis, an impossibly rich and

handsome Greek entrepreneur … Their worlds collide

in an explosion of attraction and passion. Sander’s

expecting to love her and leave her, but for Tally this is

love at first sight. Both are about to find that it’s not easy

to walk away … because Tally is expecting Sander’s baby and he is being blackmailed into making her his wife!

Next month, look out for:


Just when they thought their hasty marriage was

finished, Tally and Sander are drawn back together and

the passion between them is just as strong … But Sander

has hidden reasons for wanting his wife in his bed again,

and Tally also has secrets … and neither is prepared for what this tempestuous reunion will bring …

Available in July and August—

can you wait to find out what happens?

The Marriage Betrayal

Lynne Graham


‘I DON’T do English country weekends,’ Sander Volakis informed his father without hesitation.

With difficulty, Petros Volakis mustered a diplomatic smile, wishing for the hundredth time since the death of his eldest son that he had devoted a little more time and attention to his awkward relationship with his younger one. After all, on the face of it, Lysander, known as Sander to his friends, was a son that any man would be proud to possess.

Extremely good-looking and athletic, Sander had a shrewd brain for business and his outstanding entrepreneurial skills had already ensured that even without family backing he excelled at making money. Unhappily, however, Sander also had a darker side to his passionate temperament and a wild streak that ran deep. He was obstinate as a rock, arrogant and fiercely independent, indeed very much an extrovert individualist in a family of unashamedly conservative people. Over the years clashes between father and son had proved inevitable because Sander went his own way … always. Parental disapproval had not deterred him. But with the death of Titos, Sander’s older brother, the need to build bridges had increased a thousandfold, Petros reflected heavily.

‘Eleni’s family deserve to see you visit their English home again as a guest,’ Petros argued. ‘It’s not their fault that your brother died in the car crash and that his fiancée survived—’

Sander elevated a contradictory brow, his lean darkly handsome features grim while a glow of disagreement burned bright in his dark gaze. ‘Eleni only just escaped a charge of careless driving—’

‘They went out in Eleni’s car, so she was at the wheel!’ Petros snapped back at his son, frustrated by his unforgiving attitude. ‘It was a snowy night and the roads were treacherous. Have a little compassion and make allowances for human error. Eleni was devastated by Titos’ death.’

Not so devastated that she had resisted the urge to flirt with his younger brother within weeks of Titos’ funeral, Sander recalled with cynical cool. But he kept that salient fact to himself, well aware that his parent would gallantly protest that Sander must have misinterpreted her signals. Although only six months had passed since Titos’ demise, Sander had already become bleakly aware that that tragic event had transformed his prospects in the eyes of his peers. As his shipping tycoon father’s only surviving heir, he was now viewed as a much bigger catch than when he’d been seen as a mere maverick businessman cut loose from the family apron strings.

‘Relations between our respective families will relax again if you accept the invitation to stay at the Ziakis home,’ Petros declared.

Sander gritted his even white teeth, resenting the request, for he had no desire to fill his late brother’s shoes in any way. He liked his life just as it was and wondered if his parents were cherishing the ludicrous hope that he might miraculously warm to Eleni and marry her because she was an equally good catch in shipping terms. He almost winced at so depressing a prospect. Eleni might be beautiful and accomplished, but at twenty five years of age Sander had not the smallest desire to marry or settle down with one woman and his headline-grabbing private life remained as varied and adventurous as he could make it.

‘I would really appreciate this, Sander,’ the older man declared in a grudging undertone that hinted at how hard he found it to ask for a favour.

Sander studied the older man, reluctantly noticing the lines of age that grief had indented more heavily on his face. He was disturbed by that pull on his conscience and loyalty. But he could not fill the hole that Titos had left in their family. Having been the indisputable favourite from birth, his older brother would be an impossible act to follow. Sander had always refused to compete with his sibling because when he was quite young he had noticed that it had annoyed their parents when he’d outshone their firstborn. But what the hell was one weekend if it made his parents content that the social mores they based their entire lives on had been respected? Sander asked himself in sudden exasperation.

‘All right, I’ll go … this once,’ he felt moved to add, afraid that he might be creating a precedent and setting himself up for other boring social occasions.

‘Thank you. Your mother will be relieved. You’re almost certain to meet friends at Westgrave Manor and no doubt useful business connections as well,’ Petros continued, conscious that his son’s primary need to forge his own power base and fortune were more likely to influence him than anything else.

In the wake of that uncomfortable meeting neither man was best pleased with the other. Driven now by a desire to do his duty, Sander proceeded to an upper floor in the Athens town house to visit his grieving mother, Eirene. On his way his mobile buzzed and he checked the number: Lina, his current lover; this was already her third call since he’d left London.

He switched his phone to silent, resolving to ignore her and ditch her at the first chance he got. A sense of injustice dogged him, though. What was it that turned women from exciting lovers into all-too-predictable demanding stalker types in search of a commitment he had already made clear he wasn’t offering?

As usual, his mother lamented Titos’ death as if it had only just happened. Sander submitted to being wept over and reproached for his deficiencies in comparison to his perfect brother before finally beating the fastest possible retreat back to the airport and the freedom that he revelled in. He knew it would be quite a few months before he could make himself visit again; going home was always a downer in his view.


‘OF COURSE you should go and take the opportunity to get to know your sister better,’ Binkie pronounced, beaming at the prospect of Tally being treated to a luxury weekend in a stately home. ‘You could do with a break after all the studying you’ve been doing.’

Unsurprised that the older woman had taken only the most positive view of the invitation, Tally swallowed back the admission that her father’s phone call and request had come as an unwelcome surprise. She pushed her honey-blonde curls off her brow with a rueful hand, her green eyes wary. ‘It’s not quite that simple. I got the impression that my father only wants me to go so that I can police Cosima’s every move—’

‘My goodness,’ Binkie cut in with a frown of dismay. ‘Did he say so?’

‘Not exactly.’

‘Well, then, aren’t you being a bit too imaginative?’ Binkie asked in gentle reproof, her kindly brown gaze resting on the younger woman’s troubled face. ‘Granted your father rarely gets in touch but why immediately assume the worst of his motives? Maybe he simply wants his two daughters to get to know each other.’

‘I’m twenty years old and Cosima’s seventeen—if that’s what he wants why would he have waited so long?’

Tally responded wryly because, after a lifetime of disappointments and hurtful rejections, she was a dyed in the wool cynic when it came to either of her parents.

Binkie sighed. ‘Perhaps he has seen the error of his ways. People can mellow as they get older.’

Reluctant to parade her bitterness in front of the woman who was the closest thing she had ever had to a loving mother, Tally stared a hole in the table because Binkie was always an optimist and Tally was reluctant to make yet another negative comment. Binkie or, to be more formal, Mrs Binkiewicz, a Polish widow, had looked after Tally since she’d been a baby and had soon graduated from childcare to taking care of her employer’s household as well. Anatole Karydas was a very wealthy and powerful Greek businessman who had done his best to ignore his eldest daughter’s existence from birth. He hated Tally’s mother, Crystal, with a passion and Tally had paid the price for that hostility. Crystal had been a well-known fashion model, engaged to Anatole at the time that she’d fallen pregnant …

‘Of course I planned it!’ Crystal had admitted in a rare moment of honesty. ‘Your father and I had been engaged for over a year, but his precious family didn’t like me and I could see that he was going cold on the idea of marrying me.’

As, in the midst of that delicate situation, Crystal had been caught cheating with another man, Tally could only feel that her father had had some excuse for his waning matrimonial enthusiasm. Indeed, her parents had such different outlooks on life that she did not see how they could ever have made each other happy. Anatole, unfortunately, had never been able to forgive or forget the stinging humiliation of her mother’s betrayal or the embarrassing interviews she had sold to magazines maligning him in the aftermath of their break-up. He had also questioned the paternity of the child that Crystal was carrying. Ultimately, Crystal had had to take her ex-fiancé to court to get an allowance with which to raise her daughter and although her father had eventually paid his dues Tally had reached eleven years of age before he finally agreed to meet her. By that stage, Anatole had long since married a Greek woman called Ariadne with whom he’d also had a daughter, Cosima. Tally had always been made to feel that she was on the outside looking in and surplus to paternal requirements.

In fact she could count on two hands the number of times she had met her reluctant father. Currently a student in her last year of a degree course in interior design, however, Tally was conscious that Anatole had paid for her education and she was grateful for that because her spendthrift mother never had a penny to spare at the end of the month.

‘You like Cosima,’ Binkie pointed out cheerfully. ‘You were really pleased when you were invited to her seventeenth birthday party last year.’

‘That was different. I was a guest,’ Tally pointed out ruefully. ‘But my father made it clear on the phone that he was asking me to accompany Cosima this weekend to keep her out of trouble. Apparently she’s been drinking and partying too much and seeing some man he disapproves of.’

‘She’s very young. Naturally your father’s con cerned.’

‘But I don’t see how I could make a difference. I doubt very much if she would listen to me. She’s much more sophisticated than I am and very headstrong.’

‘But it’s heartening that your father trusts you enough to ask you to help, and Cosima does like you …’

‘She won’t like me much if I try to interfere with her fun,’ Tally retorted wryly, but she was far from impervious to the sound good sense of Binkie’s reasoning.

In truth, after a couple of brief encounters, organised mainly to satisfy the younger woman’s lively curiosity, Tally was the one still intrigued by her beautiful ornamental half-sister, who regularly appeared in the gossip columns rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous. The two young women had nothing in common in looks or personality and lived in different worlds. Cosima was the much loved and indulged daughter of a very rich man. She wore designer clothes and jewellery and was only seen out at the most fashionable social venues. The tougher realities that had shaped Tally and formed her attitudes had never touched Cosima, who had been cocooned in privilege from the day she was born.

Cosima had never had to deal with unpaid bills or bailiffs or a mother who, when the cupboards were bare, would buy a new dress instead of food. Only the roof over their heads remained safe because the terraced town house in London where Tally lived with her mother and Binkie was an investment property belonging to her father.

It was there that the limousine called just over a week later to collect Tally. Having handed the driver a small weekend bag to stow away, she scrambled into the rear seat where her half-sister subjected her to a pained appraisal. ‘You’re dressed all wrong,’ Cosima complained, viewing Tally’s colourful raincoat and jeans with a grimace.

‘I have a typical student wardrobe and two business suits bought for my work experience last year and that’s pretty much it,’ Tally told her frankly, studying Cosima who was an extremely pretty girl with long black hair and big brown eyes, her slim figure beautifully set off by a fashionable mini dress and perilously high heels. ‘You look like you’re about to go out on the town.’

‘Of course. Some of the most eligible young men of my generation will be staying at Westgrave this weekend,’ Cosima remarked and then her vivacious face split into a huge grin. ‘You should see your face! That was me quoting Dad. He’d love to marry me off to some filthy-rich guy so that he could stop worrying about me. But I’ve already got a man.’

‘Great. Who is he?’ Tally enquired with interest and the lively enthusiasm that was the mainspring of her personality. She was grateful the attention was off her clothing deficiencies, because that so-visible difference between them had embarrassed her.

‘His name’s Chaz and he’s a DJ.’ Cosima veiled her gaze, her reluctance to share any more personal facts palpable. ‘Are you seeing anyone?’

‘Not right now, no,’ Tally fielded, her face warming when she thought about how long it was since she had gone out on a date. But then she loathed it when men she barely knew tried to paw her and was even more turned off when the same men were drunk. Finding a comparatively sober male on a night out, she had learned, was a challenge.

Being raised by a devoutly religious and moral woman like Binkie had put Tally rather out of step with her contemporaries. But having lived through the constant turmoil caused by her mother’s colourful love life, Tally had embraced Binkie’s outlook with gusto. Although now in her forties, Crystal remained a very beautiful woman. But none of her relationships had lasted, most of them being based on the most superficial male attributes and desires. Standing on the sidelines of such shallow affairs, Tally had long since decided that she wanted something more than just lust, a good laugh or an open wallet from a man, and she told herself that she was quite happy to sleep alone until she found it.

Cosima answered her ringing mobile phone and babbled in a torrent of Greek. Tally, who had attended evening classes in the language for several years, only to have her self-conscious efforts dismissed as ‘an embarrassment’ by her critical father, sealed her ears to the content of her half-sister’s chatter, aware that the younger woman had assumed that she spoke no Greek at all.

The limo was purring down a wooded lane by the time that Cosima ceased chattering. She slid her phone back into her bag and shot Tally a guarded look. ‘You know I’m not planning to tell my friends who you are. I’m sorry if that offends you but that’s the way it is,’ she declared. ‘If Dad had wanted to acknowledge you as his daughter you would have been given his name. That you don’t have our name says it all really.’

In response to that deeply wounding little announcement, Tally lost colour and before Cosima could add anything else, she said hurriedly, ‘So, for your friends’ benefit, who am I?’

‘Well, obviously, you’re still Tally Spencer, because that won’t remind anyone of anything—I mean, these days people don’t even remember Dad was ever engaged to anyone but my mother. But I certainly wouldn’t want all that dirty washing brought out. I think it would be safest to say that you work for me.’

‘In what capacity?’ Tally enquired with a frown.

Cosima wrinkled her delicate little nose. ‘You could say you’re my personal assistant and that you do my shopping and look after invitations and things for me. Some of my friends have employees like that. You know you’re only here in the first place because Dad said I couldn’t come without you!’ she complained petulantly.

Tally went red and nodded, her own quick temper surging, only to be suppressed by her common sense and intrinsic sense of tolerance for more volatile personalities. Cosima didn’t intend to be rude or hurtful. She was simply rather spoilt and accustomed to being everyone’s darling and she had not been taught to regard Tally as a real sibling.

‘As an employee I’ll be excluded from any activities and I won’t be able to look out for you.’

‘Why would I want you looking out for me?’ Cosima asked her witheringly. ‘You’ll be totally out of your depth mixing with my friends.’

‘I’ll try hard not to get under your feet or embarrass you in any way but I did promise our father that I would take care of you and I like to keep my promises,’ Tally retorted, tilting her chin and merely widening her fine eyes when her half-sister spat out a very rude word in challenging response. ‘And if you’re not prepared to let me try and do that, I might as well go home now—’

‘What choice does that give me? Dad would be furious if I stayed here without you in tow. I can’t believe we’re related—you’re so boringly stuffy, Tally!’ Cosima hissed as the luxurious car came to a halt in front of a big Victorian mansion surrounded by acres of beautifully kept lawn. ‘Isn’t it ironic that you remind me of Dad?’

Tally said nothing, reluctant to fan the flames.

‘You look like him as well,’ Cosima slung in bitter addition, lashing out like the child she still was in so many ways. ‘You’ve got his nose and you’re small and chubby. Thank heaven I took after my mother!’

Chubby? Tally clenched her teeth on that cutting comment. She had the shape of an hour-glass, full of breast and hip, but she had a tiny waist and did not have a weight problem. Did she look chubby? She winced. Small? Well, that was true. She was five feet two inches tall. Climbing out of the car, she watched her taller, slender half-sister greeting the leggy glamorous brunette at the imposing front door.

‘Eleni Ziakis, our hostess. Tally Spencer, my personal assistant,’ she announced chirpily.

A bunch of giggling young girls surged round Cosima in the echoing hall and it was left to Tally to follow the housekeeper upstairs. When Cosima joined them a moment later and saw Tally opening her weekend bag on one of the pair of single divan beds that furnished the bedroom, the younger woman turned to the housekeeper to say imperiously, ‘I can’t share a room with someone … I never share!’

An awkward few minutes followed while the older woman explained that all the guest rooms had already been allocated and Tally was forced to proclaim her willingness to sleep on bare boards if necessary. She was eventually shown up to another floor and put in a room already occupied by a member of the household staff who looked furious at the intrusion of a stranger. Taking the hint that her presence was unwelcome, Tally didn’t bother taking the time to unpack and quickly removed herself again to rejoin her sibling.

As she walked along the corridor on Cosima’s floor a tall broad-shouldered figure with a shock of damp spiky black hair appeared in a doorway. Unintentionally she froze and did a double take because the man wore only a towel wrapped round his lean brown hips. What wasn’t covered by the towel was buff enough to make even Tally stare. He stood over six feet in height and enjoyed the wide shoulders, muscular chest and corrugated six-pack stomach of an athlete. He was, without a doubt, the most gorgeous-looking guy she had ever seen with sculpted cheekbones, skin the colour of dulled gold and a beautifully shaped sensual mouth. The fact that he needed a shave and that black stubble accentuated his stubborn jaw line merely enhanced his masculine sex appeal. Tally was startled to discover that she literally couldn’t take her eyes off him.

‘I’ve just flown in from abroad and I’m too hungry to wait for dinner. I’d like sandwiches and coffee,’ he announced, brilliant dark golden eyes arrowing over her expectantly and lingering, for he instantly noticed that she was an exceptionally pretty girl, even if she wasn’t quite in his usual style. ‘Would that be possible?’

‘I’m sure it would be, but …’

‘I can’t raise anyone on the house phone. I did try.’ A scorching smile slashed his handsome mouth, lending him more charismatic pull than any guy with his already stunning looks required.

‘I’m not on the staff here,’ Tally told him gently.

‘You’re not?’ Sander studied her and the longer he looked, the more he liked what he saw. She had a knockout quality of warmth and friendliness that he found hugely attractive.

Her mass of dark blonde corkscrew ringlets was very unusual. Her eyes were the colour of shamrocks, her nose was endearingly freckled and her lush sexy mouth looked as though it would be most at home laughing or smiling. Her skin was as flawless as newly whipped cream. She was very natural, not a word or a state he was used to attaching to the women he met, and that intrigued him. He could tell at a glance that she didn’t take herself too seriously because no woman of his acquaintance would have been caught dead in her ordinary jeans and khaki T-shirt combo. On the other hand, those unprepossessing garments encased a very shapely figure that went in at all the right places and came out wonderfully generously in others. His hooded dark gaze rested appreciatively on the ripe swell of her breasts below the fine cotton top. He liked a woman to look like a woman, not a skinny boy.

Beneath that speculative appraisal, Tally was getting breathless. ‘No, I’m not on the staff but I’m not exactly a guest either. I’m here to sort of look after one of the younger guests.’ Registering that her tongue was running on without the guidance of her brain, she fell silent and coloured hotly at the way in which his attention was locked onto her breasts. She hated it when men did that but somehow when he did it, it sent an arrow of heat shooting down into her pelvis and her nipples tightened and stiffened uncomfortably inside her bra.

‘Look, if I see a member of staff downstairs I’ll mention your request,’ Tally assured him.

‘I’m Sander Volakis,’ he informed her lazily, his keen eyes trained to her like a hawk on the hunt. She was different and he, having recently dispensed with his latest bed partner because of her strident demands for his attention, was definitely in the mood for something different in the female line. Someone more low-key and less spoiled, he reasoned, a woman who might appreciate his interest without endeavouring to turn a casual affair into the romance of the century. A woman who worked for a living in an ordinary capacity would make a refreshing change from the celebrity beauties and models he usually dated. If she had no interest in achieving her fifteen minutes of fame, she might also be more trustworthy and less likely to flog the story of their affair to some mucky tabloid publication, he reasoned broodingly, for he loathed that kind of exposure in his private life.

Tally nodded, not recognising the name but liking the fracturing edge of the foreign accent that roughened his deep dark drawl.

‘And you are?’ he prompted, noting her lack of response to his name and encouraged by the tantalising suspicion that she might know nothing about him. No preset expectations would make for a more laid-back affair.

Tally blinked in surprise at the question. ‘Tally … Tally Spencer.’

‘And Tally is short for?’

People didn’t usually bother to ask and with reluctance Tally admitted, inwardly squirming, ‘Tallulah.’

Sander grinned, his amusement unhidden. ‘Lysander,’ he traded mockingly as he withdrew into his room again. ‘What were our parents thinking of?’

So preoccupied was Tally after that tantalising encounter that she almost walked head first into a pillar on the imposing landing that lay several yards further on. Blinking rapidly to clear her head, she descended the stairs and laughed at the recollection of the way her brain had gone walkabout and she had gawped at him as if he had magically dropped down from the sky. Evidently she was more susceptible to a good-looking guy than she had ever had reason to suspect. She was less amused by the recollection of her body’s hormonal reaction to him—that just embarrassed and irritated her. No man had ever made her feel silly and all hot and shivery in his presence before. Lysander Volakis, Greek, named for a Spartan general and built like one, her brain added with defiant force. She passed on his request for sandwiches to a maid passing through the hall.

Tally found Cosima in a girlie, giggly huddle in one corner of a gracious reception room and it didn’t take her teenaged sister’s warning look for Tally to decide that she was too mature to join the group without casting a dampener over their mood. There were drinks glasses on the table but there was no way of knowing who was drinking what in such a gathering. But Tally wondered anxiously if her sibling was consuming alcohol and if her father turned a blind eye to his daughter doing it a year short of the legal age limit. Determined not to get on the wrong side of her sister, however, she went off to explore the house and grounds.

Eleni Ziakis, his late brother’s former fiancée, delivered Sander’s sandwiches and coffee to his bedroom with her own fair hands and then she lingered as if her legs had turned to stone. Indeed so intent was the talkative brunette on ensuring his comfort, hanging on his every word and assuring him of how very welcome he was in her home, that she killed his appetite. It was steadily turning into the weekend from hell, Sander decided grimly when he finally saw her off. Eleni’s parents were not present to act as hosts, there was a bunch of teenyboppers running about the place with Eleni’s kid sister, Kyra, and Sander had walked into two of his ex-girlfriends within minutes of his arrival. One he was quite happy to catch up with, but the other—Birgit Marceau—was a less welcome sight. Birgit, the moody and tempestuous daughter of a French construction magnate, had taken their brief affair the year before way too seriously and had dealt badly with the break-up. Although Sander knew that he had done nothing wrong, he always felt uncomfortable when Birgit’s limpid brown eyes followed him mournfully round the room.

Tally wiled away an hour or so exploring the grounds before she ended up at the stable block, meeting and greeting the various mounts. Offered the chance to ride a friendly mare the following morning, she had to pass because she had never learned. She would once she was earning enough money to cover lessons, she told herself firmly. Crystal had insisted on her daughter attending ballet classes that she hated for years, but had refused to allow a little girl she already saw as worryingly tomboyish take horse-riding lessons.

Having little interest in clothes, money and men, Tally had not much in common with her mother. Her determination to live within her financial means and her dream of some day running her own interior design business were foreign to Crystal, who hated budgets and expected the man in her life to keep her. Tally’s enthusiasm for life and new experiences and her sheer energy were equally strange to her indolent mother.

‘Where have you been?’ Cosima demanded when Tally walked back into the big front hall.

‘Out seeing the horses,’ Tally confided.

Drawing closer, Cosima wrinkled her dainty little nose with distaste. ‘I can smell them on you!’

‘I’ll take a shower before dinner,’ Tally said cheerfully and she headed for the stairs just as Sander strolled down them, looking impossibly cool in well cut chinos and an open shirt.

‘Tally, you’ve been out doors,’ Sander noted, registering that her hair had been whipped into a gloriously wild tangle of streaming curls and her cheeks had been stung pink by the breeze. She looked more vibrant, sensual and kissable than ever. He loved the fact that she wasn’t fussing with her appearance or trying to duck his notice because her appearance was less than perfect. He could not recall when a woman had last been so real in his radius and it was a powerful attractant.

‘Saying hello to the horses,’ Tally confided with her ready smile, colliding with dark golden eyes fringed by sooty black lashes and feeling positively dizzy. Close up he was absolutely breathtaking and her mouth ran dry and her knees felt weak.

‘Maybe now that you’ve had a break you could take care of Cosima’s ironing. I’m afraid the staff are very busy this evening,’ another female voice interposed loudly.

Tally turned in some surprise to regard her hostess, Eleni Ziakis. ‘I’m sorry but why would I do Cosima’s ironing? I’m not her maid.’

‘No, she’s not,’ Cosima was quick to agree, her discomfiture patent in the face of Tally’s polite bewilderment.

Sander recognised with impatience that Eleni had spotted his interest in Tally and he strode off before his presence could trigger any further baiting from that source. Women, he thought in exasperation; can’t live with them, can’t live without them. His keen gaze was welded by libidinous male instinct to the voluptuous sway of Tally’s beautifully rounded backside as she climbed the stairs and the ready pulse of arousal at his groin let him know that he had gone without sex long enough to be getting uncomfortable. Her exuberant smile had informed him, should he ever have doubted the fact, that his interest was reciprocated. He would not be sleeping alone that night, he decided hungrily.

‘When the heck did you get to know Sander Volakis?’ Cosima gasped in disbelief, curiosity having sent her upstairs in her half-sister’s wake.

‘I ran into him earlier and he introduced himself … it’s no big deal,’ Tally fielded lightly.

‘The way Eleni was watching the two of you, it was a very big deal to her!’ Cosima laughed. ‘She used to be engaged to Sander’s older brother, Titos, but he was killed in a car crash last winter. I think Eleni’s trying to keep her interest in the family but she’ll have her work cut out. Sander is a real womaniser!’

In the midst of struggling to conceal her interest in those titbits of information, Tally was betrayed into turning right round and saying, ‘Is he?’

‘He has a new woman every month. Don’t waste your time, Tally,’ Cosima warned her. ‘Everybody dreams of pulling Sander but you’ll never make the grade.’

Tally flushed, her freckles standing out clearly against her fair complexion. ‘I have no desire to make the grade,’ she lied, and the very fact that she knew she was lying affronted her as she had always believed that she had more sense than to be attracted to the sort of arrogant guy who scored women like goals on the football pitch and marked a notch his bed post accordingly.

‘I’m not trying to put you down but you’re so not his type. He goes for really beautiful women … models, actresses,’ Cosima told her, her brown eyes scanning Tally’s unconsciously disappointed face with a touch of condescending amusement. ‘He’s got quite a reputation …’

‘I’m not interested in Sander Volakis!’ Tally proclaimed in a tone of annoyance.

Cosima made no attempt to hide her amusement. ‘Well, I wouldn’t say no if I got the chance and Dad would back me all the way—Sander is what is known as “eligible”, which basically means that the girl who gets him to the altar will have done very, very well for herself indeed!’

‘I gather he’s rich,’ Tally remarked, irritating herself, for while pride made her want to drop the subject, the curiosity that needled her and drove her on was stronger still.

‘I heard he made his first million before he even left school and even before you take his business interests into account you have to consider the family fortune,’ Cosima responded in a suitably lowered tone, an avaricious gleam in her gaze. ‘They made it in shipping and business is thriving.’

Tally actually found herself feeling sorry for Sander Volakis. Evidently his wealth and his family’s made him a target for ambitious socialites and gold-diggers. It struck her as ironic that Cosima, who had never ever had to worry about the cost of anything, should be so very obsessed with what everyone was worth, but that was how it was. Her half-sister measured people and their importance purely in terms of cash and Tally was very much aware that her own lack of money increased her lowly status in Cosima’s eyes.

However, when Cosima showed off her pathetically crumpled evening outfit Tally took pity on the younger girl. Cosima had never wielded an iron in her life but was forced to agree to try when Tally offered to teach her how it was done. For the first time Tally felt like a real sister and the two young women ended up in paroxysms of giggles over Cosima’s clumsy amateurish efforts at the ironing board.

‘What are you wearing?’ Cosima finally thought to ask.

‘Nothing very exciting.’

‘I’d loan you something but …’ Cosima glanced at their combined reflections in the wardrobe mirror and nothing more needed to be said. Cosima was tall and very slim while Tally was small and curvy. They would never be able to share clothes.

‘I’m fine.’ Tally was accustomed to such remarks, having grown up in the shadow of her taller, thinner mother who had tried to put her on a diet at the age of nine. Binkie had had to utilise a lot of tact to persuade Crystal that no amount of dieting was likely to give Tally the same long lean lines as her mother.

She donned her dull black chain-store dress knowing that, in her sombre apparel, purchased purely because it was suitable for so many purposes, she would resemble a crow amongst a flock of exotic birds. For the first time she looked at her reflection and experienced a daunting pang of regret for attributes she did not have. What evil fate had given her corkscrew curls, freckles and breasts like melons instead of straight silky hair and petite feminine proportions? Binkie had tried to teach her charge that looks weren’t important but Tally knew she lived in a world where appearance always counted. It mattered when you went for an interview and it mattered even more when you wanted to attract a man.

Did she really want to attract a wealthy womaniser? Who are you trying to kid? Tally scolded herself for being so silly and superficial all the way downstairs as she trailed in her effervescent teenaged sister’s wake. She espied Sander at the far end of the table seated beside Eleni Ziakis, who wore an eye-catching white gown that bared one shoulder, and she tried not to take strength from the fact that he looked bored stiff. Cosima was no company at all while she giggled with her friends, exchanged confidential chat in whispered Greek and texted constantly on her phone. When the meal was over, it was announced that drinks would be served afterwards.

‘I’m going to have an early night.’ Cosima smothered a yawn with one hand and complained, ‘I’m really sleepy and there’s a big party here tomorrow.’

Tally was relieved to be released from her chaperoning duties. Thinking cheerfully about the paperback romance she had packed, she was crossing the hall towards the staircase when Sander intercepted her.

‘Tally …’

Tally spun round and tipped her head back, dark blonde curls spiralling back from her cheekbones where the ready colour of awareness ignited the minute she met intent dark golden eyes. ‘Yes?’

‘Let’s go out for a drink,’ he suggested lazily, his attention roaming inexorably from her bright beautiful eyes down to her generous mouth and the voluptuous breasts shaped by her dress.

‘I was thinking more of going to bed …’ she began, tempted almost beyond bearing to say yes there and then. However, when she caught the amused gleam of confidence in his stunning gaze betraying his appreciation of her unintentional double entendre, she grasped the fact that he was expecting her to spend the night with him. As she turned cold at the suspicion that he saw her as a very sure thing in that respect, she glimpsed Eleni Ziakis staring coldly at them from a doorway and her colour heightened even more.

Her light ‘Thanks but no thanks’ tripped off her tongue without hesitation.

Startled by the kind of refusal that so rarely came his way, Sander stared down at her with a searching frown.

Awkward with the resulting silence, Tally felt prompted to fill it with a reasonable excuse and said, ‘I’ve got a great book to read.’

Sander, glib of tongue though he was, had no answer for that and Tally, conscious of how silly that last comment had been and hot with mortification at her ineptitude, fled upstairs. Mercifully her reluctant room mate was nowhere to be seen and Tally climbed into bed with her book. The adventures of a heroine who seemed to attract an incredible number of different men, not one of whom she wanted, only irritated Tally and the mood she was now in and she put the book aside and doused the light. But sleep was not so easy to find, for her thoughts were running back and forth over Sander’s brief invitation, and questioning why she had turned him down flat and in a way that would ensure he would never ask her again.

His approaching her when there were so many beautiful young alternatives available had shocked her. She knew she didn’t fit in with the exclusive guests staying at Westwood Manor. She didn’t have the right clothes, the right accent, background or attitude. So why had he selected her for his invitation? Could it have been because he assumed that she would be flattered, impressed to death and a pushover in the sex stakes? Or was that her low self-esteem doing the talking instead of her brain?

After all, a rich, sophisticated, good-looking guy had asked her out and she had said no because she was unprepared, and because deep down inside she was so insecure that she had felt he had to have an ulterior and base motive for choosing her. That was pathetic and most likely nonsense, she told herself impatiently, thoroughly irritated by the manner in which she had reacted. She fell asleep wishing she had said yes, wishing it over and over again …

Tally awoke a short time later with a start to find the light on and her room mate noisily rummaging through a drawer. She sat up blinking and, as she did so, her attention fell on a dainty vanity case sitting behind the door. Dismay filled her because it was a designer piece that belonged to Cosima; her half-sister was bound to be looking for it. Checking her watch and registering that it was only midnight, Tally got up, pulled on her robe and grabbed the case, planning to slide it just inside Cosima’s bedroom on the floor below.

But when she gently opened the door a small way, she peered through the crack and saw the bedroom was still brightly lit and the bed unoccupied. Entering the room and setting the vanity case down on the dressing table, she noted that the bathroom was empty as well and she wondered where Cosima was. It was when she was walking back across the main landing that she thought she heard her sibling’s voice and that it sounded oddly shrill. Approaching the banister, she looked down into the hall below.

She was astonished to see that the massive front door was standing wide and that Sander Volakis was guiding her swaying sister towards the stairs. My goodness, had they been out somewhere together? I wouldn’t say no if I got the chance, her half-sister had admitted earlier. Had Cosima said yes where Tally had said no? But Tally had no time to consider those daunting questions as Cosima was noisily chattering in slurred and hiccuping Greek, her eye make-up smeared round her eyes and her short skirt rucked up to show too much thigh. It was clear that she had over-indulged in some substance and that, as a result, she could hardly walk. Appalled by what she was seeing, Tally hurried down the stairs to find out how the younger woman had got into such a state …


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