Main Sold to the Enemy\In the Heat of the Spotlight\No More Sweet Surrender\Pride After Her Fall

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Year:
2013
Publisher:
Harlequin Presents
Language:
english
ISBN 13:
9781460309568
Series:
Harlequin Presents 2013-02 February; Bundle 1 of 2
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A Bundle of Brides

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		 			 				Harlequin Presents

				February 2013 — Bundle 1 of 2

				Sold to the Enemy

				In the Heat of the Spotlight

				No More Sweet Surrender

				Pride After Her Fall





		 			 				Harlequin Presents brings you four new titles for one great 					price, available now for a limited time only from February 1 to February 28! 					Escape with brooding billionaires and untamed princes in these four stories. 					This Harlequin Presents bundle includes Sold to the 						Enemy by Sarah Morgan, In the Heat of the 						Spotlight by Kate Hewitt, No More Sweet 						Surrender by Caitlin Crews and Pride After Her 						Fall by Lucy Ellis.

				Look for 8 passionate new stories every month from Harlequin 					Presents!





		 			 				Table of Contents

				Sold to the Enemy

				By Sarah Morgan

				In the Heat of the Spotlight

				By Kate Hewitt

				No More Sweet Surrender

				By Caitlin Crews

				Pride After Her Fall

				By Lucy Ellis





		 			 				Sold to the Enemy

				By Sarah Morgan





		 			 				Contents

				Chapter One

				Chapter Two

				Chapter Three

				Chapter Four

				Chapter Five

				Chapter Six

				Chapter Seven

				Chapter Eight

				Chapter Nine

				Chapter Ten





		 			 				CHAPTER ONE

				‘NO ONE will lend you money, Selene. They are all too afraid of your father.’

				‘Not all.’ Selene sat down on the bed and stroked her mother’s hair—hair tended regularly by hairdressers in order to keep up the appearance of a perfect life. ‘Stop worrying. I’m going to get you away from here.’

				Her mother lay still. She said ‘from here’ but they both knew that what she really meant was ‘from him’.

				‘I should be the one saying that to you. I should have left years ago. When I first met your father he was so charming. Every woman in the room wanted him and he only had eyes for me. Have you any idea how that feels?’

				Selene opened her mouth to say How could I, when I’ve been trapped on this island for most of my life? but realised that would only hurt her mother more. ‘I c; an imagine it must have been very exciting. He was rich and powerful.’ She wouldn’t make that mistake. She would never let love blind her to the true nature of the man underneath.

				‘It’s stupid to talk of leaving when we both know he’ll never let us go. As far as the world is concerned we’re the perfect family. He isn’t going to let anything ruin that image.’ Her mother rolled away, turning her face to the wall.

				Selene felt a rush of frustration. It was like watching someone adrift on a raft, making no effort to save themselves. ‘We’re not going to ask him. It’s our decision. Ours. Maybe it’s time we told the world this “family” is a lie.’

				Her mother’s lack of response didn’t surprise her. Her father had dictated to them and controlled them for so long she’d forgotten she even had a choice.

				Despite the oppressive summer heat and the fact that their fortress home had no air-conditioning, a chill spread across her skin and ran deep into her bones.

				How many years did it take, she wondered, before you no longer believed your life was worth fighting for? How many years before hope turned to helplessness, before anger became acceptance and spirit was beaten to a stupor? How many years until she, too, chose to lie on her side facing the wall rather than stand up and face the day?

				Beyond the closed shutters that blotted out the only window in the tiny bedroom the sun beamed its approval from a perfect blue sky onto the sparkling Mediterranean, its brightness a cruel contrast to the darkness inside the room.

				To many, the Greek Islands were paradise. Perhaps some of them were. Selene didn’t know. She only knew this one, and Antaxos was no paradise. Cut off from its neighbours by a stretch of dangerous sea, rocks that threatened ships like the jaws of a monster and by the fearsome reputation of the man who owned it, this island was closer to hell than heaven.

				Selene tucked the covers around her mother’s thin shoulders. ‘Leave everything to me.’

				That statement injected her mother with an energy that nothing else could. ‘Don’t make him angry.’

				She’d heard those words more often than she could count.

				She’d spent her life tiptoeing around ‘angry’.

				‘You don’t have to live like this, watching everything you say and everything you do because of him.’ Looking at her mother, Selene felt sad. Once, she’d been a beauty and it had been that blonde, Nordic beauty that had attracted the attention of the rich playboy Stavros Antaxos. Her mother had been dazzled by wealth and power and she’d melted under his charm like candle wax under a hot flame, never seeing the person beneath the smooth sophistication.

				One bad choice, Selene thought. Her mother had made one bad choice and then spent years living with it, her heart and spirit crushed by a life spent with a ruthless man.

				‘Let’s not talk about him. I had an e-mail this week from Hot Spa in Athens.’ She’d been nursing the news for days, not daring to share it before now. ‘Remember I told you about them? It’s a really upmarket chain. And they have spa hotels on Crete, Corfu and Santorini. I sent them samples of my candles and my soap and they love them. They used them in their treatment rooms and three of their top clients insisted on taking them home and paid a fortune for the privilege. Now they want to talk to me and put in a large order. It’s the break I’ve been hoping for.’ She was buzzing inside and longing to share the excitement so it came as a blow when her mother’s only response was to shake her head.

				‘He’ll never let you do it.’

				‘I don’t need his permission to live my life the way I want to live it.’

				‘And how are you going to live it? You need money to set up your business and he won’t give you money that enables us to leave him.’

				‘I know. Which is why I don’t intend to ask him. I have another plan.’ She’d learned not to speak without first checking to see who might be listening and instinctively she turned her head to see that the door was closed, even though this was her mother’s bedroom and she’d secured the door herself. Even though he wasn’t even on the island. ‘I’m leaving tonight and I’m telling you this because I won’t be able to contact you for a few days and I don’t want you to worry about me. As far as everyone is concerned I am at the convent for my usual week of retreat and meditation.’

				‘How can you leave? Even if you could slip past his security and make it off the island you will be recognised. Someone will call him and he will be furious. You know how obsessed he is about maintaining the image of the perfect family.’

				‘One of the advantages of being the shy, reclusive daughter of a man feared by everyone is that no one is expecting to see me. But just to cover all eventualities I have a disguise.’ And she didn’t intend to share the details with anyone. Not even her mother, who was now looking at her with panic in her eyes.

				‘And if you do manage to make it as far as the mainland, what then? Have you thought that far?’

				‘Yes, I’ve thought that far.’ And further, much further, to a future that was nothing like the past. ‘You don’t need to know any of this. All you need to do is trust me and wait for me to return and fetch you. I’d take you now only two of us travelling together are more likely to attract attention. You have to stay here and keep up the perfect family pretence for just a little longer. Once I have the money and somewhere to stay I’m coming back for you.’

				Her mother gripped her arm tightly. ‘If by any chance you manage to do this, you should not come back. It’s too late for me.’

				‘It drives me mad when you say things like that.’ Selene hugged her mother. ‘I will come back. And then we’re leaving together and he can find someone else to control.’

				‘I wish I had money to give you.’

				So did she. If her mother had maintained her independence then perhaps they wouldn’t be in this mess now, but her father’s first and cleverest move following his marriage had been to ensure his wife had no income of her own, thus making her dependent on him in every way. Her mother had confessed that at first she’d found it romantic to have a man who wanted to care for her. It had been later, much later, that she’d realised that he hadn’t wanted to care for her. He’d wanted to control her. And so her mother’s independence had slowly leeched away, stolen not by a swift kill but by a slow, cruel erosion of her confidence.

				‘I have enough to get me to Athens. Then I’m going to get a loan to start my business.’ It was the only option open to her and she knew other people did it all the time. They borrowed money and they paid it back and she would pay it back, too. All of it.

				‘He has contacts at all the banks. None of them will loan you money, Selene.’

				‘I know. Which is why I’m not going to a bank.’

				Her mother shook her head. ‘Name one person who would be prepared to do business with you. Show me a man with the guts to stand up to your father and I’ll show you a man who doesn’t exist.’

				‘He exists.’ Her heart pumped hard against her chest and she forced herself to breathe slowly. ‘There is one man who isn’t afraid of anyone or anything. A strong man.’

				‘Who?’

				Selene kept her voice casual. ‘I’m going to see Stefanos Ziakas.’

				The name alone drained the colour from her mother’s face. ‘Ziakas is another version of your father. He’s a ruthless, self-seeking playboy with no conscience and not one shred of gentleness in him. Don’t be fooled by that handsome face and that charismatic smile. He’s deadly.’

				‘No, he isn’t. I met him once, years ago, on the yacht on one of the occasions we were forced to play “happy families” in public. He was kind to me.’ Selene was annoyed to feel herself blushing.

				‘If he was kind, it was because he knew it would annoy your father. They hate each other.’

				‘He didn’t know who I was when we started talking.’

				‘You were the only seventeen-year-old there. It was obvious who you were.’ Her mother sounded weary. ‘Ask yourself why a sophisticated man like him would spend his time talking to you when he came with the actress Anouk Blaire.’

				‘He told me she was boring. He said she only cared about how she looked and who wrote about her and that being with him enhanced her career. He said I was much more interesting. We talked all night.’ About everything. She’d told him things she’d never told anyone before. Not about her family, of course—she was too well trained to let that particular truth slip—but she’d talked about her dreams and her hopes for the future and been grateful when he hadn’t laughed. He’d listened with those sexy eyes fixed on her and when she’d asked him if he thought she might be able to run a business one day he’d spoken words she’d never forgotten.

				You can do anything if you want it enough.

				Well, she wanted it.

				Her mother sighed. ‘The schoolgirl and the billionaire. And because of this one conversation you think he’ll help you?’

				Come back in five years, Selene Antaxos, then maybe we’ll talk.

				She’d wanted to do a whole lot more than talk and she suspected he’d known that, just as she suspected he’d guessed the truth about the fabricated life she led. She’d felt more of a connection with him than she had with any other human being. For the first time in her life someone had listened to her and his words had stayed with her, day and night. When life had grown hard it had been a comfort to remember that she had someone to go to if things were desperate.

				And things were desperate.

				‘He’ll help me.’

				‘That man is more likely to hurt you than help you. You have no experience of men like him. I would not put you with a man like Ziakas. I would find you someone kind and gentle who deserves you.’

				‘I don’t want him to be kind or gentle. I need him to be ruthless or this isn’t going to work. If he doesn’t have the guts to stand up to my father then there is no hope for my plan. I want to run my own business and Ziakas knows more about how to do that than anyone. He did it all himself. He lost his parents when he was young. No one helped him. No one gave him a helping hand. And look at him now. He was a billionaire by the time he was thirty and he did that by himself.’

				She found his story inspirational. If he could do it, why couldn’t she?

				Her mother struggled upright, finding energy from anxiety. ‘Do you honestly think you’ll just be able to walk up to a man like Stefan Ziakas and ask him for money? He is protected from the outside world by layers of security, just like your father. Getting an appointment with someone like him would be almost impossible, especially at short notice. Even if you could somehow find a way to leave the island undetected while your father is away, Ziakas won’t see you.’

				‘He’ll see me. And I have found a way to leave the island.’ Determined not to reveal too much, and even more determined not to let her mother batter her confidence, Selene stood up. ‘I will be back tomorrow, which gives us plenty of time to get far away before my father returns from—from his trip.’ ‘Trip’ was the word they both used to describe her father’s frequent absences from the island. It disgusted Selene that he didn’t even bother to keep his infidelities a secret. Disgusted her more that her mother accepted them as part of the marriage deal.

				She couldn’t allow herself to think about what she’d do if her mother refused to leave, as she’d refused so many times before. All she knew was that she didn’t want to spend anther day on Antaxos. She’d lived here all her life, trapped within its rocky shores, thirsty for a life other than the one she’d been given. She didn’t want to spend another day in this ‘family’ pretending that everything was perfect.

				The events of the last week had shown her that she had to do it sooner rather than later.

				Bending down, she kissed her mother on the cheek. ‘Dream about what you’re going to do on the first day of your new life. You’re going to laugh without worrying that the sound is going to draw his attention. You’re going to paint again and people will buy those paintings, just as they used to.’

				‘I haven’t painted for years. I don’t feel the urge any more.’

				‘That’s because he didn’t like you doing anything that took you away from him.’ The anger was like an energy source, giving her a determination that felt close to power. ‘You’re going to get your life back.’

				‘And if your father returns from Crete early and finds you gone? Have you thought of that?’

				It was like stepping off a cliff or missing a step on the stairs. Her heart bumped uncomfortably and she wanted to clutch something for support. ‘He won’t return early. Why would he?’

				* * *

				Bored out of his mind, Stefan lounged with his feet on his desk.

				Far beneath the glass cocoon that housed his corporate headquarters, Athens was slowly waking up. Athens, a city in trouble, licking its wounds as the world watched in wary fascination. People encouraged him to move his base to a different city. New York. London. Anywhere other than the troubled Greek capital.

				Stefan ignored them.

				He had no intention of abandoning the place that had allowed him to become who he was. He knew what it was like to have everything and then lose it. He knew how it felt to go from prosperity to poverty. He understood fear and uncertainty. And he knew all about the effort required to drag yourself back from the edge. It made winning all the more satisfying and he’d won in a big way. He had money and power.

				People would have been surprised to learn the money didn’t interest him. But power? Power was different. He’d learned at an early age that power was everything. Power opened doors that were closed. Power turned no to yes and stop to go. He’d learned that power was an aphrodisiac and, when it needed to be, it was a weapon.

				It was a weapon he wasn’t afraid to use.

				His phone rang for the tenth time in as many minutes but he chose to ignore it.

				A tap on the door disturbed his thoughts. Maria, his PA, stood in the doorway.

				Irritated by the interruption, Stefan lifted an eyebrow in question and she pursed her lips.

				‘Don’t give me that look. I know you don’t want to be disturbed, but you’re not answering your personal line.’ When he still didn’t answer, she sighed. ‘Sonya’s PA has been ringing and when you didn’t answer Sonya herself called. She isn’t in a good mood.’

				‘She is phoning to give me an update on her moods? I have marginally more interest in the weather forecast.’

				‘She wanted me to give you a message. She said to tell you she’s not playing hostess at your party tonight until you make a decision about your relationship. Her exact words were...’ Maria cleared her throat. ‘“Tell him it’s either on or off.”’

				‘It’s off. I already told her that in words that even she should have been able to understand.’ Exasperated, Stefan picked up his phone and deleted all his messages without listening to them. Even without looking he could feel Maria’s censorship and he smiled. ‘You’ve worked for me for twelve years. Why the long face?’

				‘Doesn’t the end of a relationship ever bother you?’

				‘Never.’

				‘That says something about you, Stefan.’

				‘Yes. It says I’m good at handling break-ups. Go, me.’

				‘It says you don’t care about the women you date!’

				‘I care as much as they do.’

				With a despairing shake of her head, Maria cleared two empty coffee cups from his desk. ‘You have your pick of women and you can’t find one you want to settle down with? You are a success in every aspect of your life except one. Your personal life is a disaster.’

				‘I happen to consider my personal life an unqualified success.’

				‘You must want more than this from a relationship.’

				‘I want hot, frequent, uncomplicated sex.’ He smiled at her disapproving expression. ‘I pick women who want the same thing.’

				‘Love would be the making of you.’

				Love?

				Stefan felt something slam shut inside him. He swung his legs off his desk. ‘Did your job description change when I wasn’t looking? Has there been some EU employment law that requires you to take charge of my private life?’

				‘Fine. I can take the hint. It’s none of my business. I don’t know why I even bother.’ The cups rattled in her hand as she stalked through the door but she was back moments later. ‘There’s someone here to see you. Perhaps she’ll be able to persuade you to get in touch with your human side.’

				‘She? I thought my first appointment wasn’t until ten o’clock?’

				‘This person doesn’t have an appointment, but I didn’t feel comfortable turning her away.’

				‘Why not? I employ you to be the dragon at my door.’

				‘I can be dragon-like when I have to be but not when the person wanting to see you is a nun.’

				‘A nun? You have to be kidding me.’

				‘She says she has something urgent to discuss with you.’

				Stefan gave a sardonic smile. ‘If she’s here to save my soul, tell her she’s too late.’

				‘I will not. To be honest I have no idea what to say to her.’

				‘Any combination of words would have sufficed, providing “no” and “get out” were included.’

				Maria squared her shoulders. ‘I can’t turn a nun away. I don’t want that on my conscience.’

				Stefan, who hadn’t made the acquaintance of his conscience for several decades, was exasperated. ‘I never saw you as gullible. Has it occurred to you she’s probably a stripper?’

				‘I know a genuine nun’s habit when I see one. And your cynicism does you no credit.’

				‘On the contrary, my cynicism has protected me nicely for years and will continue to do so—which is just as well given that you’re turning into a soft touch.’

				‘I’m sorry, but there’s no way I can tell a nun you won’t see her. And she has a really sweet smile.’ Maria’s face softened momentarily and then she glared at him. ‘If you want it done, you’ll have to do it yourself.’

				‘Fine. Send her in. And then take a trip to the nearest fancy dress store and see for yourself how easy it is to hire a nun’s costume.’

				Clearly relieved to have offloaded that responsibility, Maria retreated, and Stefan felt a rush of irritation at the thought of an interruption that would bring him no benefit.

				His irritation intensified at the sight of a nun in a black habit standing in the doorway to his office. Under the robes he could see that she was slightly built but she kept her head bowed, allowing him a single glimpse of a pale face under flowing black and white.

				Unmoved by her pious attitude, Stefan leaned back in his chair and scrutinised his unwanted visitor. ‘If you’re expecting me to confess my sins then I should probably tell you that my next appointment is in an hour and that is nowhere near long enough for me to tell you all the bad things I’ve done in my life. On the other hand if you’re about to beg for cash then you should know that all my charitable donations are handled through my lawyers, via a separate part of my company. I just make the money. I leave other people to spend it.’

				The tone he used would have had most people backing towards the door but she simply closed it so that they were alone.

				‘There is no need to close the door,’ he said coldly, ‘because you’re going to be going back through it in approximately five seconds. I have no idea what you’re expecting to gain by...’ The words died in his throat as the nun removed her hood and hair the colour of a pale moonbeam tumbled in shiny waves over her black habit.

				‘I’m not a nun, Mr Ziakas.’ Her voice was soft, breathy and perfect for the bedroom, a thought that clashed uncomfortably with the vision of her in a nun’s outfit.

				‘Of course you’re not,’ Stefan drawled, his eyes fixed on her glorious hair, ‘but you managed to convince my hardened PA so I suppose you should get points for that.’ Suddenly he was annoyed with Maria for allowing herself to be so easily manipulated. ‘I’m used to women using all sorts of devices in order to meet me, but I’ve never yet had one stoop so low as to impersonate a nun. It smacks of desperate behaviour.’

				‘I’m not impersonating anyone. But it was essential that I keep a low profile.’

				‘I hate to break this to you, but in the business district of Athens a nun’s habit is not considered camouflage. You stand out like a penguin in the Sahara. If you want to blend, next time dress in a suit.’

				‘I couldn’t risk being recognised.’ Her eyes flickered to the huge glass windows of his office and after a moment she sidled across and peered down at the city while he watched in mounting exasperation.

				Who would recognise her? Who was she? Someone’s wife?

				There was something vaguely familiar about her face. His mind coming up blank, he tried to imagine her without her clothes to see if he could place her, but mentally stripping a nun proved a stretch even for him. ‘I don’t sleep with married women so that can’t be the reason for the elaborate subterfuge. Do we know each other? If so, you’re going to have to remind me.’ He raised an eyebrow as a prompt. ‘Where? When? I admit to being hopeless with names.’

				She dragged her gaze from the view, those green eyes direct. ‘When and where what?’

				Stefan, who hated mysteries and considered tact a quality devoid of reward, was blunt. ‘Where and when did we have sex? I’m sure it was amazing but you’re going to have to remind me of the details.’

				She made a sound in her throat. ‘I haven’t had sex with you!’

				‘Are you sure?’

				Green eyes stared back at him. ‘If rumour is correct, Mr Ziakas, sex with you is a memorable experience. Is it something I’m likely to have forgotten?’

				More intrigued than he would have been willing to admit, Stefan sat back in his chair. ‘You clearly know a great deal more about me than I do about you. Which brings me to the obvious question—what are you doing here?’

				‘You told me to come and see you in five years. Five years is up. It was up last week, actually. You were kind to me. The only person who was.’

				There was a wistful note in her voice that sparked all the alarm bells in his head. Trained to detect vulnerability from a hundred paces so that he could give it a wide berth, Stefan cooled his voice.

				‘Then this is clearly a case of mistaken identity because I’m never kind to women. I work really hard not to be or they start to expect it and the next thing you know they’re dropping hints about rings, wedding planners and a house in the country. Not my style.’

				She smiled at that. ‘You were definitely kind to me. Without you I think I would have thrown myself overboard at that party. You talked to me for the whole night. You gave me hope.’

				Stefan, all too aware that he was widely regarded as the executioner of women’s hopes, raised his eyebrows. He stared at that glorious hair and filed through his memory bank. ‘Definitely a case of mistaken identity. If I’d met you, we definitely wouldn’t have wasted a night talking. I would have taken you to bed.’

				‘You told me to come back in five years.’

				That news caught his attention and Stefan narrowed his eyes. ‘I’m impressed by my own restraint.’

				‘My father would have killed you.’

				My father would have killed you.

				Stefan stared at her, his eyes sweeping her face for clues, and suddenly he stilled. Those beautiful washed-green eyes were a rare colour he’d only seen once before, hidden behind a pair of unflattering glasses. ‘Selene? Selene Antaxos.’

				‘You do recognise me.’

				‘Barely. Theé mou—’ His eyes swept her frame. ‘You’ve—grown.’ He remembered her as a gangly blonde who still had to grow into her lean body. An awkward teenager completely dominated by her overprotective father. A pampered princess never allowed out of her heavily guarded palace.

				Stay away from my daughter, Ziakas.

				It was the unspoken threat that had made him determined to talk to her.

				Just thinking of the name Antaxos was enough to ruin his day and now here was the daughter, standing in his office.

				Dark emotion rippled through him, unwelcome and unwanted.

				He reminded himself that the daughter wasn’t responsible for the sins of the father.

				‘Why are you dressed as a nun?’

				‘I had to sneak past my father’s security.’

				‘I can’t imagine that was easy. Of course if your father didn’t make so many enemies he wouldn’t need an entire army to protect him.’ Blocking the feelings that rose inside him, he stood up and strolled round his desk. ‘What are you doing here?’

				The one thing he did remember from that night was feeling sorry for her and the reason he remembered it was because he so rarely felt sorry for anyone. He believed that people made their own choices in life, but he’d taken one look at her in all her leggy, uncomfortable misery and decided that being the daughter of Stavros Antaxos must be the shortest straw anyone could ever draw.

				‘I’ll get to that in a minute.’ She bent down and caught hold of the hem of her habit. ‘Do you mind if I take this off? It’s really hot.’

				‘Where did you get it? The local dressing-up shop?’

				‘I was educated by the nuns on Poulos, the island next to ours, and they’ve always been very supportive. They lent it to me but there’s no point in keeping it on now I’m safe with you.’

				Knowing that most women considered him anything but ‘safe’, Stefan watched in stunned disbelief as she wriggled and struggled until finally she freed herself and emerged with her hair in tangled disarray. Underneath she was wearing a white silk shirt teamed with a smart black pencil skirt that hugged legs designed to turn a man’s mind to pulp.

				‘I almost boiled to death on the ferry. You have no idea. That’s why I couldn’t wear the jacket.’

				‘Jacket?’

				‘The jacket from my suit. It’s designed to be worn in an air-conditioned office, not a floating tin can which is how the ferry feels.’

				Stefan wrenched his gaze from those bare legs, feeling as if he’d been hit round the head with a brick. Staring into those green eyes, he looked for some sign of the awkward teenage girl he’d met years before. ‘You look different.’

				‘I should hope so. I hope I look like a businesswoman because that’s what I am.’ She slid her arms into a jacket that matched the skirt, scooped up her hair and pinned it with brisk efficiency. ‘When you met me five years ago I had spots and braces. I was hideous.’

				She wasn’t hideous now. ‘Does your father know you’re here?’

				‘What do you think?’

				The corner of her mouth dimpled into a naughty smile and Stefan stared at that smile, hypnotised by her lips, trying to clear his mind of wicked thoughts.

				‘I think your father must be having a few sleepless nights.’ The wicked thoughts still very much in play, he tried desperately to see her as she’d been that night on the boat. Young and vulnerable. ‘I should offer you a drink. Would you like a—’ he groped for something suitable ‘—a glass of milk or something?’

				She pushed some loose strands of her hair away from her face in a gesture that somehow managed to be both self-conscious and seductive. ‘I’m not six. Do you often offer your visitors milk?’

				‘No, but I don’t usually entertain minors in my office.’

				‘I’m not a minor. I’m all grown up.’

				‘Yes. I can see that.’ Stefan loosened his collar and discovered it was already undone. He wondered if the air-conditioning in his office was failing. ‘So—why don’t you tell me why you’re here?’

				If she wanted him to ruin her father, they might yet find themselves with a common goal.

				‘I’m here about business, of course. I have a business proposition.’

				Huge eyes were fixed hopefully on his face and Stefan felt an instant pull of lust. The explosion of attraction was instant, unmistakable—and entirely inappropriate given the circumstances.

				Apart from the obvious physical changes she still looked as innocent as she had that night on the boat. It would be asking for trouble. Even he wasn’t going to stoop that low.

				‘I’m not known for doing favours for people.’

				‘I know. And I’m not expecting a favour. I know a lot about you. I know you date different women all the time because you don’t want a relationship. I know that in business they call you all sorts of things, including ruthless and uncaring.’

				‘Those are generally good traits to have in business.’

				‘And you never deny any of those awful things they write about you. You’re happy to be portrayed as the big bad wolf.’

				‘And yet still you’re here.’

				‘I’m not afraid of you. You sat with me for seven hours and talked to me when no one else could be bothered.’ Folding the nun’s habit carefully, she leaned forward to stuff it into her bag, oblivious to the fact that the movement gave him a perfect view of the curve of her breasts above a hint of lacy bra.

				Stefan made a valiant attempt to avert his eyes and failed. ‘You were sweet.’

				He emphasised the word for his own benefit. If there was one thing designed to kill his libido it was ‘sweet’, so why the hell was he painfully aroused? And why was she looking at him with big trusting eyes when what he should have been seeing was an appropriate degree of caution?

				Come into my house, Little Red Riding Hood, and close the door behind you.

				Caution nowhere in sight, she gave him a warm smile. ‘It’s a bit embarrassing to remember it, to be honest. I was so upset I would have done anything just to make my father mad, but you refused to take advantage of me even though you hate him. You didn’t laugh at me when I told you I wanted to set up my own business and you didn’t laugh when I flirted with you. You told me to come and find you in five years, which I thought was very tactful.’

				She spoke quickly, almost breathless as she got the words out, and Stefan stared at her for a long moment, all his instincts telling him that something wasn’t quite right.

				Was he seeing desperation or enthusiasm?

				Stefan bought himself some time. ‘Are you sure you wouldn’t like something cold to drink?’

				‘I’d love some champagne.’

				‘It’s ten in the morning.’

				‘I know. It’s just that I’ve never tasted it and I thought this would be the perfect opportunity. According to the internet you live a champagne lifestyle.’ There was a wistful note in her tone that didn’t make sense. He’d assumed the Antaxos family bathed in champagne. They were certainly rich enough.

				‘Believe it or not I try and restrict my champagne consumption until the end of my working day.’ Clenching his jaw, Stefan hit a button on his phone. ‘Maria? Bring us a jug of water, or lemonade, or—’ he racked his brains for a suitable soft drink ‘—or something soft and refreshing. With ice,’ he added as an afterthought. ‘Lots of ice. And some pastries.’

				‘That’s thoughtful of you. I’m starving.’

				Stefan leaned against his desk, maintaining a safe distance. ‘So—you say you have a business proposition. Tell me about it and I’ll tell you if I can help.’ Those words felt alien on his tongue. When did he ever help anyone but himself? He’d learned at an early age to take care of himself and he’d been doing it ever since.

				‘I want to set up my own business just like you did. That night on the yacht, you inspired me. You talked about how you’d done it all yourself and about how great it felt to be independent and not rely on anyone. I want that.’ She dug her hand into her bag again and pulled out a file. ‘This is my business plan. I’ve worked hard on it. I think you’ll be impressed.’

				Stefan, who was rarely impressed by other people’s business plans, gingerly took the pink file from her outstretched hand. ‘Is there an electronic version?’

				‘I didn’t want to save it on the computer in case my father found it. It’s the figures that count, not the presentation.’

				So her father knew nothing about it. Perhaps that explained the hint of nerves he detected beneath all that bounce and optimism.

				No doubt this was her summer project, designed to fill the long boring hours that came with being an overprotected heiress, and he was the lucky recipient of her endeavours.

				Shaking off the feeling that something wasn’t quite right about the whole situation, Stefan flipped open the file and scanned the first page. It was surprisingly professional. ‘Candles? That’s your business idea?’

				‘Not just candles. Scented candles.’ Her voice vibrated with enthusiasm. ‘I went to school in a convent. I started making candles in craft lessons and I experimented with different scents. I have three different ones.’

				Candles, Stefan thought. The most boring, pointless product on planet earth.

				How the hell was he going to let her down gently? He had no experience of letting people down gently. He just dropped them from a great height and stepped over their broken remains.

				Clearing his throat, he cultivated what he hoped was an interested expression. ‘Why don’t you tell me a bit more about what makes them special? Top line? I don’t need detail.’ Please, God, no detail. As far as he was concerned talking about candles would be one step down from talking about the weather.

				‘I’ve called one Relax, one Energise and one—’ her cheeks turned a deeper shade of pink ‘—Seduction.’

				Something in the way she hesitated over the word made him glance up from the file. She was trembling with anticipation, and all it took was one glance to know that his first assumption had been correct.

				She was a bored heiress, playing at business.

				And now she’d prompted him he could clearly remember the night they’d met.

				She’d been a teenager—miserable, confused and self-conscious. An ugly duckling dumped in the middle of a flock of elite swans with a doting father who barely took his eyes off her. None of the other men had dared talk to her, none of the women had wanted to, so she’d stood alone, her awkwardness almost painful to witness.

				But she was no longer that teenager. She was all woman, and she knew it.

				Stavros Antaxos must be having lots of sleepless nights. And now she was looking at him with those big eyes filled with unwavering trust.

				Stefan knew she couldn’t have found a man less worthy of that trust.

				He wondered just how much she knew about his relationship with her father.

				The atmosphere in the room shifted.

				When he was sure he had his reactions under control, he closed the file slowly and looked at her. ‘So your candles are called, Relax, Energise and Seduction?’

				‘That’s right.’

				‘And just how much,’ he asked slowly, ‘do you know about seduction?’





		 			 				CHAPTER TWO

				GREAT. Of all the questions to ask, he had to ask that one.

				Not market share or growth forecasts—seduction.

				Selene maintained the smile she’d been practising—her business smile—while her brain raced around in crazy circles getting nowhere.

				What did she know about seduction? Nothing. Nor was it a skill she was ever likely to need unless her life changed radically. What she did know was that without his help she’d never get her mother away from the island. It was up to her to prove she had a viable business. ‘What do I know about seduction? Not a lot. But you know what they say—you don’t have to travel the world to teach geography.’

				She didn’t add that she had her imagination and that was already working overtime.

				She’d often wondered if her teenage brain had exaggerated his appeal or whether her own misery that night, together with his kindness, had somehow mingled together to create a god from a man. But he was as gorgeous as she remembered—power, strength and raw virility merged together in a muscle-packed masculine frame that made her feel dizzy with thoughts she couldn’t seem to control.

				Physically he was imposing, but it wasn’t his impressive height or the width of those shoulders that shook her. It was something less easily defined. A hint of danger—the sense that underneath that beautifully cut suit and the external trappings of success lurked a man who wielded more power than even her father.

				Flustered, Selene tried to remember the way he’d been on that night five years earlier, but it was almost impossible to equate that kind stranger with this cool, sophisticated businessman standing in front of her.

				And the fact that he was flicking through her amateurish document so quickly left her squirming with embarrassment. He barely took any time as he glanced at each page, nothing in his face giving a hint as to his thoughts. Clearly he thought it was rubbish.

				Her mother was right. He was never going to help her.

				He was right at the top of his game, a busy man with huge demands on his time. According to her research, thousands of people approached his company every year for business advice and he helped less than a handful of people.

				While she waited for him to comment she sipped the lemonade but after a couple of minutes of squirming in her seat restraint left her. ‘So tell me honestly—’ Is it a crappy idea? God, no, she couldn’t say that. ‘Er—do you see this as an investment opportunity?’ She felt like such a fraud. A total impostor, just waiting for him to laugh her out of his office. It must have been obvious to him that she’d never had a business meeting with anyone except her own reflection.

				He closed the file, then turned to put it on his desk. His tailored shirt pulled across his wide shoulders, emphasising hard muscle, and her heart started to thud.

				She dreamed about him all the time. Had thought about him almost every hour since that night.

				‘Selene?’

				His voice was gentle and she looked at him, startled and embarrassed to have let her concentration lapse.

				‘Yes. I’m listening.’

				The look in his eyes told her he was skilled at reading minds and hers was probably the easiest he’d ever read.

				Suddenly her mouth felt as if she hadn’t touched liquid for a week.

				If he guessed how she felt about him she’d die on the spot.

				Her trawl of the internet had revealed a lot about his relationship with women and every scandalous story had made her heart beat just a little bit faster because they spoke of a life so far removed from hers that it was like listening to a fairy story. Glittering parties. Opening nights. Opera. Ballet. Film premieres. The list was endless, as were the names of the beautiful women he’d paraded on his arm at one time or another, and it was all she could think about now as she stared at him, waiting for his answer.

				‘These candles—do you have a sample?’

				‘Yes.’ She fumbled in her bag, trying to ignore the nerves fluttering low in her belly. It was as if just being in the same room as him had somehow triggered all the alarms in her body. The attraction was so shockingly powerful it knocked her off-balance. She definitely needed to get out more. This was what happened when a father locked a daughter away. She’d turned into a raging nymphomaniac. Stefan Ziakas was going to be lucky to escape with his clothes still on.

				Disconcerted, she glanced at him but that turned out to be a bigger mistake. Thick, inky lashes highlighted eyes of molten gold and his mouth was a slim, sensual line in a face sculpted by the devil to tempt women to the dark side.

				Selene was unsettled by just how desperately she wanted to be taken to the dark side.

				‘I know this business idea has potential.’ She was brisk and businesslike and hoped he wouldn’t guess that she’d practised this a hundred times in the mirror. ‘I have some packaging samples, but they might need to be adapted. We live in a fast-paced, stressful world. Scented candles are an affordable luxury and I’m not the only one who thinks so. The market is currently growing at forty percent.’

				His mouth was such a perfect shape, she thought. She’d noticed the same thing that night on the boat as she’d stared and stared at him, willing him to kiss her. There had been a few breathless moments when she’d thought he might do just that but he hadn’t, so clearly it had just been wishful thinking on her part.

				Leaning forward, he extracted the candle from her grip and turned it in his fingers. ‘You’re expecting me to believe that this is the next big thing?’

				‘Why not? Don’t you like candles?’

				A smile played around that sexy mouth. ‘You want an honest answer?’

				She remembered that this was a business meeting. That she was a businesswoman. ‘Yes,’ she said firmly. ‘Yes, I do.’

				‘I’m a man. The only reason a man is ever going to like candles is if there is a power cut and the generator fails, or if he finds himself dining with a woman who is ugly.’

				And she was willing to bet he never found himself in that position. ‘But candles are about so much more than romantic lighting in a restaurant.’ She tried not to think about him dining with a beautiful woman. ‘The one I’ve named Seduction is scented with lotus blossom and it creates the perfect atmosphere for—for—’

				‘For?’

				His eyes gleamed and she had a strong suspicion he was laughing at her. ‘Seduction,’ she said lamely, suddenly wishing she’d called it something else.

				‘And you know that because...?’

				His voice was disturbingly soft and the laughter had gone from his eyes. Now his gaze was intense—serious—and Selene felt as if she’d been seared by the flame of a blowtorch.

				‘Because people have told me that’s the case.’

				‘But you’ve never tried it yourself.’ It was a statement, not a question, and she felt her face burn along with her body.

				She wished he’d stuck to a conversation about market share and forecasts. ‘I’ve tried Relax and Energise.’

				‘So no market research on Seduction?’

				‘Yes, just not—personal research.’

				There was a long, pulsing silence and then he put the candle down and leaned his hips on the desk, the movement of his trousers revealing expensive polished shoes. ‘Let me tell you something about seduction, Selene.’ His voice was more seductive than a thousand scented candles. ‘To you it’s just a word, but it’s so much more than that. Seduction is about tempting, enticing and persuading until you’ve driven someone mad with need. Yes, scent is important, but not the artificial scent of a candle—it’s the individual scent of the person you’re with, and it’s not just scent but scent combined with touch and sound.’

				Selene couldn’t breathe. ‘Sound?’

				‘When I’m with a woman I want to hear the sounds she makes. I want to hear her pleasure as well as feel it under my lips and fingers. And then there’s taste...’ His voice was softer now, those dangerous eyes velvety dark as he held her gaze, ‘I want to taste every part of her and encourage her to taste every part of me.’

				‘Y-you do?’

				‘Scent, touch, hearing, sound, taste—seduction uses all the senses, not just one. It’s about taking over someone’s mind and body until they’re no longer capable of rational thought—until they want just one thing and one thing only—until they’re reduced to an elemental state where nothing matters but the moment.’

				Selene felt dizzy. ‘I think I might need to rename my candle.’

				‘I’m sure there are men out there who would be only too happy to use a scented candle as a prop. I’m just not one of them.’

				He wouldn’t need any external props to seduce a woman. Those hands would be sure and skilled. And as for his mouth—

				Realising her own hands were shaking, she tucked them firmly into her lap. ‘Just because you’re not my target audience, it doesn’t mean I don’t have a viable product.’ Proud of that response, she carried on. ‘Will you teach me what I need to know?’ As his brows rose she continued, flustered. ‘I mean about marketing. Running a business.’

				‘I have a question.’

				‘Yes, of course you do. Ask me anything.’ He was so cool and sophisticated and she was no more interesting than her seventeen-year-old self. ‘You want to know more about the product? It’s a really good-quality candle. It’s made of beeswax and it’s smokeless and virtually drip-free.’

				‘I can hardly contain my excitement.’ But he was smiling as he picked up the candle again and she had a feeling his mind was still on seduction rather than the product in his hand. ‘That wasn’t my question.’

				‘Oh. I expect you want to ask me about my revenue projections. I’ve had an order for five thousand from Hot Spa. They’re the most exclusive chain of spa hotels in Greece. But of course you know that...’ Her voice tailed off. ‘You own them.’

				Stefan handed the candle back to her. ‘That wasn’t my question, either.’

				She gulped. Licked her lips. ‘Sorry—I’m talking too much. I do that when I’m—’ desperate ‘—excited.’

				‘My first question,’ he said slowly, ‘is why someone like you would even want to set up a business. Are you bored?’

				Bored? She bit back a bubble of hysterical laughter. ‘No.’

				‘You’re an heiress. You don’t need to run a business.’

				He had no idea. ‘I want to prove myself.’

				He stared at her for a long moment. ‘Which brings me to my second question—why come to me? If you’re serious about this then your father could put up the investment.’

				Selene made sure her smile didn’t slip. ‘I don’t want my father’s name on it. This is my project. I want to own it. I don’t want anyone doing me favours.’ It was a lie, of course. She needed all the favours she could grab. ‘I can’t approach the banks because they won’t help me without asking my father’s permission. I tried to think of someone who isn’t under his thumb and I came up with you. You told me to look you up in five years—’

				The silence stretched between them.

				Looking at his hard, handsome face she felt the confidence drain out of her. In an appalling flash of clarity she realised she’d made a monumental mistake. Losing her nerve, horribly embarrassed, she rose to her feet. ‘Thank you for listening.’

				He stirred, uncrossed those long, lean legs and stood up, dominating the room. ‘You came to me for a business loan. Don’t you want to hear my answer?’

				‘I—I thought you might need time to think about it.’

				‘I’ve had all the time I need.’

				So the answer was no. Her shoulders sagged. Misery seeped into her veins.

				‘Right. Well—’

				‘My answer is yes.’

				Because it wasn’t what she was expecting to hear, it took a moment for his words to sink in.

				‘Seriously? You’re not just saying that because I’ve made it hard for you to say no?’

				‘No is my favourite word. I don’t find it hard to say.’

				But he wasn’t saying it to her. ‘I just thought you might be agreeing to help me because you don’t want me to feel bad.’

				A strange expression crossed his face. ‘That isn’t the reason.’

				His eyes were on her mouth and she saw something in his face that made her heart pound just a little harder in her chest.

				I lie awake at night thinking about you.

				He was silent for a long moment and then strolled to the window and stared across the city. ‘It is going to drive your father crazy. Does that bother you?’

				Yes, it bothered her. Her safety and the safety of her mother rested on a knife-edge, which was why she had to get away.

				She had a sudden urge to tell him the truth, but years of keeping her secret and loyalty to her mother prevented her from doing it. And she knew enough about Stefan Ziakas to know that he wasn’t going to be interested in the details of her personal life. He avoided all that, didn’t he? He would never let anything personal interfere with business. ‘He has to understand that this is my life and I want to make my own mistakes. I want to be independent.’

				‘So this is delayed teenage rebellion?’

				Let him think that if he wanted to. ‘I know you’re not afraid of going up against him. I read that article recently—the headline was “Clash of the Titans”. And the mere mention of your name is enough to put my father in a bad mood for days.’ She stared at his broad shoulders, wondering if the sudden tension she saw there was a product of her imagination.

				‘And has he ever told you why?’

				‘Of course not. My father would never discuss business with a woman. He won’t be pleased with me but he’ll have to get used to the idea.’ The ache in her arm reminded her just how displeased he was likely to be. ‘I hadn’t thought about the implications for you. If it bothers you that he’ll be angry...’

				‘That’s not a problem for me.’ There was the briefest pause and then he turned back to his desk in a smooth, confident movement and pressed a button on the phone. Without any further discussion or questions he instructed someone in his legal department to start making all the necessary arrangements to loan her whatever money she needed.

				Having braced herself for rejection, or at least a load of awkward questions, Selene stared at him, unable to believe what she was hearing.

				He was going to lend her the money. Just like that.

				It couldn’t be this easy, could it? Nothing in life was this easy.

				The knot of tension that had been lodged in her stomach for as long as she could remember started to ease. Anxiety was replaced by a rush of euphoria that made her feel like dancing round the room.

				Apparently unaware of the impact of his decision, Stefan ended the phone call, supremely relaxed. ‘It’s done. My only stipulation is that you work with one of my business development managers who will give you access to all the in-house resources of the Ziakas Corporation. That way you won’t be ripped off by suppliers or customers, and basically you can draw on whatever funds you need.’

				He was watching her from under those thick, dark lashes and her stomach flipped.

				He was gorgeous.

				People had him so wrong. It wasn’t right that everyone should talk about him in hushed voices as some sort of cold, conscienceless machine when he was obviously capable of all the normal human emotions. Maybe he was hard and ruthless in some aspects of his life, but to her he’d been nothing but kind.

				‘I—’ She was dizzy with euphoria, hardly able to get her head around what had just happened. She was going to be able to start her own business, rent a small apartment and help her mother leave her father. She wanted to fling her arms round him and then remembered that this was a business meeting and she was pretty sure people didn’t do things like that in business meetings. ‘That’s an excellent outcome. Thank you. You won’t be sorry.’ She should shake his hand. Yes, that was what she should do. Shake his hand to seal the deal.

				Standing up, she walked towards him and held out her hand.

				His hand closed over hers, warm and strong, and suddenly what had begun as a simple handshake became something else entirely. He smelt good. She had no idea whether it was shampoo or something different but it made her want to bury her face in his neck and inhale deeply. All she had to do was lean forward and she’d be kissing him. Horrified by how tempted she was, she looked down at her hand instead and saw the expensive watch on his wrist and his lean, bronzed fingers linked intimately with hers.

				Her stomach clenched.

				Power and masculinity throbbed from him and suddenly all she could think about was sex—which was crazy because she knew nothing about sex.

				But he did.

				‘So now that’s out of the way,’ he drawled softly, ‘the question is how far are you willing to take this quest for independence?’

				Busy imagining those strong, confident hands on her body, she felt her heart thud. ‘Why are you asking?’

				‘Because I’m hosting a party tonight and I find myself minus a date. How do you feel about celebrating your new-found independence in style?’

				Her eyes lifted to his and she saw amusement there. Amusement and something a little bit dangerous.

				The excitement came in a whoosh that drove the air from her lungs.

				Her head spun. The hungry look in his eyes was interfering with the normally smooth rhythm of her breathing. ‘You’re inviting me to a party?’ She never went to parties unless her father decided it was time to play Happy Families in public. They were the most painful moments of her life. And the loneliest, all of them fake.

				She’d never been to a party for the sheer fun of it. Never been to a party where she was allowed to be herself.

				She wondered why he was asking her.

				‘If I say no does that mean—?’

				‘You have my agreement on the loan. Your answer has no effect on our deal.’

				In that case she should walk away. There would be time to party once she was safely away from the island. Selene licked her lips. ‘What sort of party is it?’

				‘A strictly grown-up event. No jelly or ice cream in sight.’

				A party. With him.

				‘You’re asking me to come as your date?’

				‘That’s right.’

				The excitement was sharper than when he’d agreed to lend her the money. A date. A party. With this man. She’d never done anything like that in her life.

				She should say no. Now that he’d agreed to help her she should get back to Antaxos, persuade her mother to leave and be long gone before her father returned. She couldn’t possibly say yes even though she wanted to more than she’d ever wanted anything in her life.

				On the other hand, why not?

				For the first time in her life she was free to make her own decision about something. For once her father wasn’t dictating her actions, no one was watching her and her mother was safe. She had no one to think about but herself. If she wanted to go to a party, she could. And wasn’t that the point of all this? To be able to live her life the way she wanted to live it?

				Feeling liberated, she opened her mouth. ‘I don’t have anything to wear.’

				‘That’s easily solved.’

				‘I have this fantasy about wearing a wicked red dress and drinking champagne from a tall, slim glass with a handsome man in a dinner jacket. Would we drink champagne?’

				His mouth curved into a smile so sexy it should have been illegal. ‘All night.’

				‘And would we—?’

				The devil danced in his eyes and his mouth moved fractionally closer to hers. ‘If you’re asking what I think you’re asking then the answer is yes, we definitely would.’





		 			 				CHAPTER THREE

				‘HOW did he arrange for these dresses to be delivered so fast? And how did he guess my size? On second thoughts, don’t answer that.’ Confronted with a rail of the most beautiful dresses she’d ever seen, Selene felt as if she’d stepped onto a Hollywood movie set. Part of her felt anxious about her decision to stay, but another part felt wildly excited. She listened to the excited part and ignored the anxiety. That, she reasoned, came from too many years of not being allowed to make her own decisions. It was natural that it felt strange.

				Maria pulled an elegant clutch bag from tissue paper. ‘When Stefan picks up the phone, people respond at supersonic speed. The benefits of being a man of power.’

				‘Except that you were the one who did the phoning.’

				‘True.’ Maria smiled. ‘Power by proxy. Why don’t you start by choosing a dress?’

				‘Is Stefan joining us?’

				‘He sends his apologies. He has one more important meeting he has to take before you leave.’

				‘I don’t mind. I’d be too self-conscious to strip in front of him anyway and it’s more fun with a woman. It was thoughtful of him to arrange for you to help me.’ She saw Maria’s expression change. ‘You don’t think he’s thoughtful?’

				The other woman removed a beautiful pair of shoes from a bag. ‘That’s certainly an adjective I’ve not heard applied to him before.’

				‘He’s running a business. Of course he has to be tough. But on the two occasions I’ve met him he’s been kind to me.’

				Maria put the shoes down in front of her. ‘You have no idea how pleased I am to hear that. Why don’t you pick a dress and try it on? Because once he’s finished his meeting he won’t want to hang around. Is there anything in particular that grabs your attention?’

				‘The red one.’ There was no other choice for her and the colour matched her mood. Bold. ‘I’ve never worn anything like that in my life.’ She reached for a shimmering sheath of scarlet with jewels on the strapless bodice. ‘This is gorgeous. Will it be over the top?’

				‘No. It’s a very glamorous party. That dress is very sophisticated.’ Maria stared at it for a long moment. ‘Are you sure you don’t want to pick a different one? Maybe the blue?’

				‘You don’t think Stefan will like the red one?’

				‘I think he might like it a little too much.’

				‘How can he possibly like it too much?’

				‘Selene...’ The other woman hesitated. ‘Are you sure you want to go to this party?’

				‘Want to go? I’m desperate to go. You have no idea how boring my life has been up to now. I’m going to dress up, drink champagne and have the most amazing night with Stefan.’

				‘Just as long as you know that’s all it will be.’ Maria cleared her throat gently. ‘Stefan is the stuff of female dreams, but he quickly turns into a nightmare for most women. He isn’t the happy-ever-after type—you do know that, don’t you? Because you seem like a really nice girl and I’d hate to see you hurt.’

				Selene paused with her hand on the dress.

				She knew all about hurt and this wasn’t it. ‘I won’t be hurt. I’m excited. It will be fun to just enjoy myself for one night.’ Fun to be able to make a decision to go to a party. Fun to decide what to wear. For once, her life felt almost normal.

				‘You don’t usually enjoy yourself?’

				‘I have an overprotective father.’ Realising that she’d said more than she intended to, Selene draped the dress over her arm. ‘Is there somewhere I can try it on?’

				‘You’ll need underwear.’ Maria handed her several boxes. ‘Go and change and if you need help, call me.’

				An hour later Selene was the proud owner of the most beautiful dress she’d ever seen, along with a small emergency wardrobe suitable for an overnight stay at a luxury villa on a Greek island. Ahead of her lay the most exciting night of her life, and if lurking underneath her happiness was a fear that her father might return early she dismissed it.

				That wasn’t going to happen.

				She’d have plenty of time to get home, persuade her mother to leave and be long gone before he returned.

				* * *

				‘You can’t do this. You can’t take that girl to the party. It’s immoral.’

				Stefan glanced up from the papers he was signing to find Maria standing in front of his desk like a general facing down an enemy army.

				‘Now, that’s the look you’re supposed to give unwanted visitors.’ He flung down his pen. ‘Do I need to remind you that you were the one who showed her into the lion’s den?’

				‘I’m serious, Stefan. Take someone else. Someone more your type.’

				‘Just this morning you were lecturing me on picking the wrong type. Make up your mind.’

				‘I wasn’t telling you to prey on innocent girls.’

				‘She’s an adult. She knows what she’s doing.’ He picked up his pen and flicked through the papers on his desk.

				‘She’s an idealist. She thinks you’re thoughtful and kind.’

				‘I know.’ Smiling, Stefan signed the back page. ‘For once, I’m the good guy. An unfamiliar role, I admit, but I’m surprised by how much I’m enjoying the novelty.’

				‘You’re treating her like a shiny new toy that you can play with.’ Maria’s mouth set in a firm line. ‘Send her home to her father.’

				Stefan was careful not to let the sudden flare of emotion show on his face. Slowly, he put his pen down. ‘Do you know who her father is?’

				‘No. Although she mentioned something about him being overprotective.’

				‘Is that a useful synonym for “tyrant”, I wonder? Her father, Maria, is Stavros Antaxos.’ He watched as Maria’s face lost some of its colour. ‘Yes. Exactly.’ He heard his voice harden and it irritated him that just saying the name was enough to do that to him. He’d had over two decades to learn how to control his response.

				‘How on earth can a man like that produce someone as charming as Selene?’

				He’d been asking himself the same question.

				‘I assume she takes after her mother.’

				Maria looked troubled. ‘But why would someone as wealthy as her, from such a close family, come to you?’

				He’d been asking himself the same question. Repeatedly. ‘I’m a hero, didn’t you know? I’m the first man women think of when they’re in trouble.’

				‘You’re the man who causes the trouble.’

				‘Ouch, that’s harsh.’ Stefan leaned back and stretched out his legs. ‘Here I am, sword at the ready, eager to chop the head off a dragon to save the maiden, and all you can do is knock my confidence.’

				She didn’t smile. ‘Is that really what’s going on here? Because it occurred to me that maybe you’re using the maiden to taunt the dragon.’

				Stefan’s smile didn’t slip. ‘When we were dishing out roles in this company I picked cynic, not you.’

				‘We’re all cynical here. It’s contagious. Does she know how much her father hates you? Does she know the story?’

				No one knew the story. Not even Maria, whom he allowed more liberties than most. Oh, she thought she knew—thought it was all about business rivalry and two alpha males acting out their deeply competitive natures. She had no idea how far back it went, or how deep the scars. And why would she? They weren’t visible. He didn’t allow them to be visible.

				‘It’s because of my relationship with her father that she chose me.’

				Maria’s mouth flattened with disapproval.

				‘Are you sure this isn’t a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire?’

				‘You’re suggesting I’m worse than Antaxos? That is hardly a complimentary view of one’s boss.’

				‘We’re not talking about work right now. My admiration for your intellect and business skills is boundless but when it comes to women you’re bad news. What are your plans for her, Stefan?’

				‘When it comes to women I never make plans. You should know that by now. “Plan” implies a future and we both know I don’t think like that. I’ve agreed to help her with her business—which, by the way, looks remarkably interesting on paper, particularly when you consider the product. And I’m taking her to a party. I intend to provide more fun than she’s had in the rest of her life. She can make her own decisions about how she spends her time. She’s twenty-two and on a quest for independence.’ Stefan battled a disturbingly vivid image of her breasts revealed through a cloud of lace. ‘All grown up.’

				‘She’s very inexperienced.’

				‘Yes. I’m finding that unusually appealing.’

				‘And does that appeal have anything to do with the fact you are the last man her father would want her to be with? Thinking of her with you will drive him demented.’

				Stefan smiled. ‘I consider that an added bonus.’

				‘I’m worried about her, Stefan.’

				‘She came to me. She asked for my help. I’m giving it.’ It was obvious that there was something going on beneath the surface and it intrigued him. She was playing a game, but he wasn’t sure which game. ‘I don’t recall you ever being this protective of the women I date before.’

				‘That’s because you normally date women who don’t need protecting from anything.’

				‘So maybe it’s time for a change.’ Cutting off the conversation, he rose to his feet. ‘How long until she’s ready? No doubt she’s still pulling clothes on and off, trying to decide what to wear.’

				‘She decided what to wear in less than five seconds and it took her barely more than that to try it on.’

				Used to women who could waste the best part of a day selecting one outfit, he was impressed. ‘I like her more and more.’

				‘She has a very high opinion of you.’

				‘I know.’ He walked past her to the door and Maria made a frustrated sound.

				‘Where is your conscience?’

				Stefan picked up his jacket. ‘I don’t have a conscience.’

				* * *

				When he’d mentioned his villa she’d imagined somewhere small. She hadn’t for one moment expected this spacious, airy mansion with high ceilings and acres of glass. Here, in this testament to innovative architecture, there were no dark corners or contagious gloom, just dazzling light exploding across marble floors and picking out the warm Mediterranean colours that turned the deceptively simple interior into a luxurious sanctuary.

				Outside, a vine-shaded terrace led to gardens that created a blur of extravagant colour as they tumbled down a gentle slope that led to a crescent beach. And even there the idyll didn’t end. Unlike Antaxos, there were no killer rocks or dark, fathomless depths that threatened to swallow a person and leave no trace. Just sand of the softest, creamiest yellow and tiny silver fish dancing in the clear shallow water. The whole scene was so tempting that she, who avoided water, just wanted to rip off her shoes and plunge into the safe, cool shallows.

				‘So this is why people see the Greek Islands as a tourist destination.’ She spoke without thinking and her unguarded comment earned her a questioning look.

				‘Was the reason for that choice in doubt?’

				Staring out of huge windows across the garden to the turquoise sea, she felt something stir inside her. It was like living a life in black and white and suddenly seeing it in colour. ‘Antaxos isn’t anything like this. No soft sand, just nasty rocks—’ She just stopped herself mentioning the rumour that a woman who’d been madly in love with her father had once fallen from those rocks and drowned. ‘My father’s house—our house—is built of stone with small windows.’ She managed to say it without shuddering. ‘The design supposedly keeps the heat out.’ And it kept everything and everyone else out, too. The bleak, dark atmosphere inside the place had somehow permeated the stone so that even the building felt unfriendly. ‘It’s stuffy in the summer and dark and cheerless in the winter. I like the light here. You have a very happy home.’

				‘Happy?’ He glanced up at the villa, a faint frown between his eyes. ‘You think a building has moods?’

				‘Definitely. Don’t you?’

				‘I think a building is a building.’

				‘Oh, no, that isn’t true. A building can make a person feel different. Here, the sunshine makes you want to smile. And all this space—it feels like being free.’ She spread her arms. ‘I’ve always wanted to be a bird so I can fly.’ Fly away from the island that had held her trapped for so long.

				But she’d finally escaped. She’d done it.

				This was the start of her new life.

				Excited, she did a twirl. Stefan shot out a hand and steadied her before she lost her balance. ‘Probably best if you don’t fly here. I’ve seen pictures of your home on Antaxos. You live in a building the size of a castle.’

				Selene was conscious of the strength of his fingers on her arm. ‘It isn’t anything like this. My father doesn’t like spending money on material things.’

				‘Is there anything that your father does like?’

				Hurting people.

				She stood, searching for an appropriate response to his question, her heart a ball of pain in her chest. ‘Winning,’ she said finally. ‘He likes winning.’

				‘Yes.’ His hand dropped abruptly from her arm. ‘Yes, he does.’

				And he’d know, of course, because he was her father’s biggest business rival. She sensed the anger in him and she also sensed something more. Something dark lurked behind those sexy eyes. ‘You really hate my father, don’t you?’

				‘It’s true to say he’s not my favourite person in the world.’ The deceptively light banter and that attractive slanting smile didn’t fool her.

				This man was every bit as tough as her father.

				She felt a twinge of unease, but already he was strolling ahead of her. She tried to ignore the little voice in her head telling her this might not have been such a good idea after all.

				It was her first party. Her first ‘date’ with a man. It was natural to be a little apprehensive.

				She followed him through a beautiful living space with white walls and uninterrupted views of the sea into the most beautiful bedroom she’d ever seen.

				Forgetting her unease, Selene stared around her in delight. ‘It’s gorgeous. There’s a pool outside the doors and you can see the sea from the bed. It’s stunning. Is this my room?’

				He turned to her with a slow, deliberate smile. ‘It’s my room,’ he said, his tone soft and intimate as he lifted his hand and gently pushed a strand of hair out of her eyes, ‘but you’re sharing it, koukla mou.’

				She didn’t know whether it was the endearment that made her heart bump harder, the seductive brush of his fingers against her cheek or the anticipation of what was to come. ‘The bed looks comfortable.’

				‘It is. Unfortunately proving that will have to wait until later.’

				‘I didn’t mean that.’

				‘I know. I’m finding your tendency to speak before you think surprisingly endearing.’

				The crazy thing was she wasn’t normally like that. At home she had to guard every word. She wondered why she’d suddenly lost that built-in inhibition and decided it was just because her father wasn’t present. It was liberating not to have to watch what she said. ‘I’m going to zip my mouth.’

				That dark gaze dropped to her mouth. ‘Don’t. I like it.’

				Heart thudding, she looked at his lips. Noticed that they were firm and slightly curved.

				‘No,’ he said gently.

				Her eyes lifted to his. ‘No?’

				‘No, I’m not going to kiss you. At least, not yet. Tempted though I am to snatch a few moments, there are some things that shouldn’t be rushed and your first time is one of them.’

				The fact that he knew it was her first time should have embarrassed her but it didn’t, and she didn’t waste time denying something that would be obvious to a man like him.

				There was an almost electric connection between them that she felt right through her body. Warmth spread through her pelvis and she felt shaky with need. She wanted him to kiss her so badly she couldn’t imagine how she was going to last a whole evening without just grabbing him. ‘Maybe I don’t mind being rushed.’

				Frowning slightly, he brushed this thumb over her lower lip, the movement slow and lingering. ‘You need to be more cautious around men.’

				And normally she was cautious, of course, not least because all the men she knew worked for her father in some capacity. But Stefan was different. He wasn’t afraid of her father. And he’d got her through that horrible night when she was a teenager. ‘I don’t feel a need to be cautious around you. Does that sound crazy?’

				‘Yes.’

				‘I trust you.’

				‘Don’t.’

				‘Why not? You’re not being paid by my father.’

				Silence stretched between them.

				His eyes glittering, he lowered his head a fraction until his forehead was against hers and their mouths were a breath apart. The brush of his fingers against her cheek was gentle and seductive at the same time. ‘You’ve come here with me but I want you to know it’s not too late for you to change your mind.’

				‘I’m not going to change my mind.’

				His gaze darkened. ‘Maybe I should just cancel the party and we can have our own party here, just the two of us.’

				Awareness twisted in her stomach. The tension was stifling. She felt as if she were standing on the edge of a deep, dark pool about to jump, with no idea whether she’d be able to save herself from drowning. ‘If we have our own party here, I couldn’t wear my new dress.’

				‘You could wear it for me.’ His mouth slanted into that sexy smile. ‘And I could remove it.’

				Her hand was resting on his arm and she could feel the hardness of his biceps under her fingers. ‘Isn’t that rather a waste of an expensive dress?’

				‘The dress is just packaging. It’s the product underneath that interests me.’ His fingers stroked her neck gently and then his phone rang. He stepped back with a regretful smile. ‘Probably a good thing. I need enough time to do justice to the moment. Our guests will be arriving in a few hours and in true Cinderella style you need to get ready.’

				A few hours? ‘How long do you think it will take me?’

				‘In my experience most women take a lifetime to get ready. In the hope of speeding up that process, I’ve arranged for you to have some help. Not only am I a knight in shining armour, I’m also a fairy godmother. In fact the extent of my benevolence is starting to astonish me.’ His phone continued to ring and he dragged it out of his pocket. ‘Excuse me. I need to take this.’

				As the door closed behind him Selene stood still. Her cheek tingled from the touch of his fingers and the only thing in her head was the memory of hard, male muscle under her fingers.

				With a shiver, she wrapped her arms around herself and turned to look at the bed. It was enormous, draped in white linen and facing the sea. Indulgent, luxurious and like nothing she’d ever seen before. Experimenting, she slid off her shoes and jumped into the middle of it, moaning with delight as she felt the soft mound of pillows give beneath her. It was like being hugged by a cloud.

				She rolled onto her back and stared up at the ceiling, smiling.

				She felt free.

				Right this moment no one knew where she was. No one was watching her. No one was reporting her every move to her father. No one had told her where she had to be. She was here because she had decided she wanted to be here.

				Going to Stefan for help had been her first good decision and agreeing to come to the party had been her second.

				Feeling light-headed, she sprang off the bed and explored the rest of the bedroom suite.

				There was a ridiculously luxurious bathroom with a wall of glass that made it possible to lie in the bath and look at the sea.

				Determined to indulge herself, Selene unpacked her own candles and soap. Then she ran herself a deep bath and lay in it, enjoying the scent of the candle.

				She wasn’t so naïve she didn’t know what was going to happen and she wanted it to happen. She’d dreamed about Stefan for years. Had had years to think about it. Imagine it. It was perfect that he should be the first.

				Soon, she thought. Soon she’d know everything there was to know about seduction.

				She washed her hair and was wrapped in a soft towel, wondering why getting ready was supposed to take hours, when there was a tap on the door and two young women entered, clutching several cases.

				‘Selene? I’m Dana. I’m a genius with hair.’ Dana pushed the door shut with the toe of her shoe. ‘This is Helena—she’s the make-up fairy.’

				‘I don’t own make-up.’ It was embarrassing to admit it but her father had never allowed make-up or anything that he described as ‘vanity’. He’d only paid for her to have a brace because the dentist had told him it would cost him more in the long run if she didn’t have one.

				Dana flipped open her case. ‘No problem. We have everything you’ll need.’

				‘Do you think you can do something about my freckles and my non-existent eyelashes?’

				‘You’re kidding, right?’ Helena peered at her. ‘Your eyelashes are incredible. Thick and long. What’s wrong with them?’

				Selene had assumed it was obvious. ‘Don’t you think I look a bit freakish? They’re so fair they barely show up.’

				‘Freakish? No, I don’t think you look freakish. As for being fair—that’s why mascara was invented, sweetie.’ With a dazzling smile, she flipped open another case to reveal an array of different make-up. ‘I have everything we’ll need right here.’

				‘Hair first.’ Dana pulled a chair into the middle of the room. ‘Sit. And don’t look in the mirror or you’ll ruin the “wow” moment and that’s our favourite part. Just trust me.’

				‘Will I recognise myself?’

				‘You’ll be the best version of you.’

				Selene, intrigued by what the best version of herself was going to look like, sat still as the girl trimmed her hair, trying not to flinch as blonde curls floated onto her lap. ‘You’re cutting it short?’

				‘All I’m doing is taking off the ends to improve the condition and cutting in a few layers to soften it. Stefan threatened never to use me again if I ruin your beautiful hair, although if you want my personal opinion—’ Dana squinted at her ‘—I think it would suit you short.’

				He liked her hair. The thought went round and round in her head.

				He liked her hair.

				It was her first compliment—not actually spoken, of course, but a compliment none the less—and with it came the discovery that the feeling of flying was something that could happen inside you. Her spirits lifted and a smile touched her lips, and as well as the smile and the happiness there was something else. A lump in her throat that caught her by surprise.

				‘It’s in great condition.’ Dana’s fingers moved through her hair as she snipped and combed.

				He liked her hair.

				The girl worked speedily and skilfully, dodging Helena, who was doing Selene’s nails.

				Once Selene’s hair was dry Dana swept it up, twisted and pinned until finally she was satisfied. ‘You’re ready for make-up.’

				‘Can your magic make-up box get rid of my freckles?’

				‘Why would you want to? They’re charming. Part of you. We want to keep you looking like you. That’s one thing he insisted on. This is just primer I’m using, by the way.’ Helena smoothed her fingers over Selene’s face. ‘You have beautiful skin.’ The girl opened a series of pots, potions, colours, concealers, the sight of which made Selene’s head spin. ‘What cleanser do you use?’

				‘Soap I make myself.’ Selene delved into her bag and pulled out a bar. ‘Try it. I make candles, too, but Stefan isn’t convinced there’s a market for those.’

				‘He’s a man. What does he know?’

				Selene smiled and her heart pounded because finally, finally, she believed this might actually happen. Her new life was almost visible, shining like a star in the distance.

				The girl sniffed the soap. Her brows rose. ‘Smells good. And your skin is wonderful so that’s a good advert.’ She dropped it into her bag. ‘I’ll try it, thanks.’ She turned back to Selene. ‘I’m not going to use too much make-up on you because you have a wonderfully fresh look and I don’t want to spoil that.’

				It took ages, and Selene was just starting to fidget and wonder how much longer it was going to take when Helena stepped back.

				‘God, I’m good at my job. You look spectacular. Don’t look in the mirror yet. Get dressed first so that you can see the full effect all at once.’ She grinned. ‘I almost feel sorry for Stefan.’





		 			 				CHAPTER FOUR

				STEFAN moved slowly among his guests, stirring up expectation.

				‘So who is she, Stefan?’ A Hollywood actress who had been flirting with him for months didn’t hide her annoyance at his hints that he’d brought a special guest. ‘Not Sonya, I assume?’

				‘Not Sonya.’

				‘Why so mysterious? And why is she still in the bedroom and not out here, or is that a question one shouldn’t ask?’

				‘Worn out from too much sex,’ someone murmured. Stefan simply smiled and accepted a glass of champagne from one of his hovering staff.

				‘She leads a very quiet, very private life and this is all very new to her.’ He’d discovered early in life that it was best to sail as close to the truth as possible and he stuck to that now as he carefully conjured suspense and interest among his guests.

				Carys Bergen, a model who had been flirting with him for several months, strolled up to him. ‘You’re a wicked man. Who is this reclusive woman that you’re about to produce like a rabbit from a magician’s hat?’

				He left his guests simmering in an atmosphere of expectation and strolled through the villa to the master bedroom suite, scooping another glass of champagne on the way.

				At first he thought she wasn’t in the room and he gave an impatient frown and glanced around him. ‘Selene?’

				‘I’m here.’

				He turned his head.

				There was no sign of the awkward schoolgirl. The person standing in front of him in a sheath of shimmering scarlet was all woman.

				‘That dress was designed for the express purpose of tempting some poor defenceless man to rip it off.’ His eyes weren’t on the dress, but on the delicious curve of her narrow waist and the swell of her breasts above the tight jewelled bodice.

				She smiled, clearly delighted by the effect she was having on him. ‘“Defenceless” is not a word anyone would use to describe you. And I know you spend your life escorting women who wear stunning dresses so what makes this one special?’

				‘The person wearing it.’

				‘Oh, smooth, Mr Ziakas.’

				Unused to women whose response to compliments was laughter, Stefan handed her a glass. ‘Champagne in a tall, slim glass, a red dress and a guy in a dinner jacket. This could be the first time in my life I’ve made a woman’s dreams come true.’

				‘Mmm, thank you.’ She took a mouthful of champagne, her eyes closing as if she wanted to savour the moment. ‘It tastes like celebration.’ Immediately she took another sip, and then another larger gulp.

				Stefan raised his brows. ‘If you want to remember the evening, drink slowly.’

				‘It tastes delicious. I love the feel of the bubbles on my tongue. And one of the best things about my new independence is being able to decide what I drink and what I don’t drink.’

				‘That’s fine. But, delighted though I am that you’re clearly capable of enjoying the sensual potential of champagne, I’d rather my date wasn’t unconscious. From now on take tiny sips and count to a hundred in between.’ He held out his arm and she immediately put her empty glass down, took his arm and smiled up at him.

				‘Thank you.’

				That wide, genuine smile knocked him off-balance. He was used to coy, flirtatious and manipulative. ‘Friendly’ was new to him and he had no idea how to respond.

				She appeared to have no sense of caution. No layers of protection between her and the world. How the hell was she going to manage when she was no longer protected by her father’s security machine?

				‘What are you thanking me for?’

				‘For agreeing to help me, for inviting me to this party and for arranging all these wonderful clothes. It’s the perfect way to start my new life. You’re my hero.’ She stood back slightly, her eyes on his shoulders. ‘You look smoking hot in a dinner jacket, by the way. Very macho. I bet all the dragons in Greece are trembling in their caves, or wherever it is dragons live when they’re not munching on innocent maidens.’

				‘Heroes don’t exist in real life and you’ve definitely drunk that too fast.’ Stefan made a mental note to brief the staff to make her next drink non-alcoholic, otherwise she’d be lying face-down in a coma before the party had even begun.

				‘You’re too modest.’ Her eyes drifted from his shoulders to his mouth. ‘People are so wrong about you.’

				‘You are far too trusting. What if they’re right?’

				Apparently undaunted by that suggestion, she closed her other hand round his lapel and pulled him towards her. ‘Do you know what I think? I think you’ve created this bad-boy image to keep people—women especially—at a distance. I think you’re afraid of intimacy.’

				Stefan felt darkness press in on him.

				She’d found the one tiny chink in his armour and thrust her sword into it.

				How? How had she done that? Was it a lucky guess?

				It had to be a lucky guess. She didn’t know anything about his past. No one did.

				‘I’m not afraid of intimacy and later I’m going to prove that to you, so don’t drink any more or you’ll fall asleep before we reach the interesting part of the evening.’ Ignoring her puzzled expression, he guided her towards the door.

				‘I’ve upset you. Did I say something wrong?’

				‘What makes you think you’ve upset me?’

				‘Because your voice changed.’

				Stefan, who prided himself on being inscrutable, started to sweat. Did she pick up on everything? ‘You haven’t upset me but I have guests, and I’ve already kept them waiting long enough. Are you ready?’

				‘Yes. Although I’m bracing myself to be hated.’

				‘Why would you be hated?’

				‘Because I’m with the hottest guy on the planet. All the women are going to hate me, but don’t worry about it. When you’re Stavros Antaxos’s daughter you get used to not having friends.’

				Her tone was light but he instantly thought of the night on the boat, when she’d found a hidden corner to sit, away from all the other guests. She’d worn her loneliness with a brave smile but she’d been almost pathetically grateful when he’d sat down and talked to her.

				‘Friendship is idealised and overrated. If someone wants to be friends with you, it’s usually because they want something.’

				‘I don’t believe that.’

				‘You mean you don’t want to believe it. You are hopelessly idealistic.’ He held the door open for her and the brightness of her expression dimmed slightly.

				‘So you’re saying that true friendship is impossible?’

				‘I’m saying that the temptation of money is too strong for most people. It changes things.’ The scar inside him ached, reminding him of the truth of that. ‘Just something to bear in mind for the future if you don’t want to be hurt.’

				‘Is that what you do? Do you live your life protecting yourself from being hurt?’

				Stefan, who was used to keeping his conversations satisfyingly superficial, wondered why every exchange with her dived far beneath the surface. ‘I live my life the way I want to live it. Right now I’d like to attend my own party. Shall we go?’

				* * *

				Everyone was staring, some discreetly over the top of their champagne glasses and some more openly. But all the glances revealed the same emotion.

				Shock.

				Feeling like a caged bird suddenly released to freedom, Selene took another glass of champagne just because she could.

				Stefan frowned. ‘Are you sure you should drink that?’

				‘Do you know one of the best things about tonight? The fact that all of it is my decision. I decided to come to the party, I decided what dress I’d wear and now I’m deciding to drink champagne.’

				‘Just as long as you realise you’re also choosing to have a crushing headache in the morning.’

				‘It will be worth it.’ She drank half the glass and smiled up at him. ‘Champagne makes everything feel more exciting, doesn’t it?’

				‘The second glass does that. After the third I doubt you’ll remember enough about what happened to be excited. I advise you to switch to orange juice.’

				‘If it’s going to give me a headache then I’ll find that out for myself.’

				‘I’ll remind you of that when you’re moaning in the bathroom.’

				She laughed up at him, forgetting the people around them. ‘How many glasses of champagne do you have to drink before you’ll kiss me in public?’

				His eyes gleamed. ‘I don’t need to be intoxicated for that, koukla mou.’

				‘In that case—’ her voice husky, Selene closed her fingers around the lapel of his jacket and closed her eyes ‘—kiss me.’ Just in case it never happened again. Just in case tonight was the only chance she was going to get to kiss a man like him.

				Anticipation washed over her skin and she waited to feel the brush of his mouth over hers, barely aware of the hum of conversation or the music around her as her imagination took over her mind. But he didn’t kiss her. It was a moment of elongated suspense designed to torture her, and just when she’d started to think she was going to remember this moment as the most humiliating of her life she felt the tips of his fingers slide over her jaw.

				She opened her eyes and met his, her heart pounding a crazy rhythm.

				There was a brief silence and then he slid his hand behind her head and drew her face to his. ‘What is it about you? I should walk away, but I can’t.’

				Desire was an ache low in her belly. ‘I’m hanging onto your jacket. That could be the reason.’

				He didn’t smile. He didn’t say a word.

				For a breathless moment Selene saw something flicker in those dark eyes and then he lowered his head slowly, his eyes locked on hers. Until that moment she’d never known that a look could have a physical effect, but she felt that look all the way through her body in a rush of heat that spread right through her.

				The anticipation was so acute it was almost painful—and he knew it because that sensual mouth curved slightly as he prolonged expectation.

				And then the warmth of his breath brushed against her lips and she felt his free hand slide down her back and settle low on her waist as he drew her into contact with him.

				She felt hardness and heat and suddenly doing this didn’t feel like light-hearted fun any more. In his eyes she saw no trace of humour. Just raw, untamed male sexuality. She realised in a flash that he was controlling every second of this encounter. The pace. The intensity. Even her response. He was in charge of all of it.

				And suddenly she knew that exploring her own sexuality with this man was like deciding to buy a pet and choosing a tiger. He was everything that wasn’t tame or safe. Everything dangerous. Everything she’d dreamed of during those long nights when she’d imagined her life looking different.

				Her mind in fast rewind, she tried to pull away. But his hand was hard and warm on her back and he held her exactly as she’d dreamed of being held.

				‘Close your eyes, champagne girl.’ His soft command slid into her bones and she felt as if she’d just jumped off a high diving board with no opportunity to change her mind before she hit deep water.

				And then his mouth touched hers and she forgot all of it as she melted under the skill of his kiss. He kissed her with erotic expertise, teasing her lips with his tongue, driving her wild with each movement of his mouth until her head was spinning and her thoughts were an incoherent blur.

				It was, without doubt, the most perfect, exciting moment of her life and she wrapped her arms around his neck, her body quivering as she felt the evidence of his arousal pressing against her.

				The fact that he wanted her was as intoxicating as the feelings he whipped up inside her with nothing but the skill of his mouth.

				‘Maybe you should get a room. I know the man who owns this villa. I could put in a good word for you if you like?’

				A light female voice cut through her dreams and Selene would have jumped away from him had it not been for the fact that Stefan kept her locked firmly against him.

				‘Your timing is less than perfect, Carys.’

				‘I thought it was absolutely perfect.’

				Bitterly disappointed by the interruption, Selene stole a glance at the other woman, wondering who she was.

				The woman was stunning, her smile cool as she extended a hand to Selene. ‘I’m Carys. And you’re Selene.’

				It gave her a jolt that someone recognised her. Stupidly, she hadn’t even thought of that. ‘You know me?’

				‘Of course. It’s just unusual not to see you with your parents. You’re such a close-knit family.’

				Selene kept her smile in place. This was the part she was used to playing and she played it well. ‘It’s nice to meet you.’

				‘Mmm. And you.’ Carys raised her glass to her lips, admiration in her eyes as she looked at Stefan. ‘I have to hand it to you, occasionally you display a Machiavellian genius beyond anything I’ve ever encountered. Game, set and match, Stefan.’

				Selene, who assumed that this coded exchange related to their relationship, stayed silent as Carys scooped two glasses of champagne from a passing waitress and handed one to her.

				‘Let’s drink to your existence.’

				She saw Stefan frown slightly and remembered what he’d said about not drinking any more champagne, but she couldn’t bring herself to ask for orange juice in front of this sophisticated woman so she tapped her glass against hers and drank.

				The alcohol fizzed into her veins and boosted her confidence. She wanted to dance but no one else seemed to be and when she asked why, Carys looked amused.

				‘Dancing makes one—hot.’

				‘Does that matter?’ She started to sway on the spot and the other woman smiled.

				‘That’s for you to decide, but if you can tempt Stefan onto the dance floor then you’ll have succeeded where others have failed.’

				Realising that she desperately wanted to succeed where others had failed, Selene watched as she walked away. ‘She hates me. Not because of my father, but because of you. She’s crazy about you.’

				He gave her a sharp look. ‘Not so innocent, are you?’

				‘I’m good at reading people.’ She’d had to be. She’d learned to recognise everything that wasn’t said, every emotion hidden beneath the surface, so that she could anticipate and deflect. It was how she lived her life and it was going to take more than one evening of freedom to undo that.

				Thoughtful, she finished her champagne. He removed the empty glass from her hand and replaced it with orange juice.

				‘Here’s a hint—alcohol makes you feel good for five minutes, then you crash and you’ll be crying on my shoulder.’

				‘I only cry when I’m happy. Although you should know I’m very happy tonight so you probably ought to stock up on tissues.’ Laughing at the look on his face, she tugged her hand from his and spun onto the dance floor. Emerging from a pirouette, she smacked into Stefan who closed his hands around her arms to steady her.

				‘No more champagne.’

				‘Killjoy.’

				‘I’m preserving my sanity and your brain cells.’

				‘I just want to start living my life.’ The thumping rhythm of the music made it impossible not to dance.

				Stefan clamped his arm around her to restrict her movements. ‘But you don’t have to live it all in one night.’

				The music slowed and he drew her against him. She sighed and slid her arms around his neck. ‘You know when you have a dream and the reality turns out even better?’

				He covered her lips with his fingers. ‘I don’t know what is coming out of your mouth next, but I suggest this would be a good moment to clamp it shut.’

				‘It’s no wonder all the women chase after you because you are seriously hot.’

				He shook his head in disbelief. ‘Whatever happened to the shy, withdrawn nun who walked into my office?’

				‘I think this might be the real me, and the real me has never been let out before.’

				Amusement mingled with exasperation. ‘Should I be afraid?’

				‘You’re not afraid of anything. That’s why I came to you. I know it’s not politically correct to admit it but I think I might be very turned on by strong men.’ Dizzy from the atmosphere and the champagne circulating in her system, Selene leaned her forehead against his chest. ‘And it doesn’t hurt that you smell amazing.’

				‘Selene—’

				‘And you kiss like a god. You must have had hours of practice to be able to kiss like that. It’s brilliant to have ticked the first thing on my wish list.’

				‘You have a wish list?’

				‘I have a list of ten things I want to experience the moment I leave the island and start my new life. Being kissed is one of them and I have to say you aced that one. I’m so glad it was you and not some slobbery amateur. Another is waking up next to a really hot guy.’ She sneaked a look at him and he shook his head in disbelief.

				‘So this is what happens when an overprotected daughter suddenly cuts loose. Until a few hours ago you were a shy girl who had never been near a city. What else is on this list of yours?’

				Selene discovered that her head was too fuzzy to remember in detail. ‘Being able to make my own decisions about everything. Sex is on my list, too, obviously. Wild, abandoned sex.’

				‘With anyone in particular?’ His mocking tone made her smile.

				‘Yes, you. I always wanted the first time to be you.’ She saw no reason not to be honest. ‘I hope I’m not giving you performance anxiety? No pressure or anything.’

				His eyes glittered down into hers but he was no longer smiling. Somewhere during the course of their conversation the atmosphere had shifted subtly. ‘I think the champagne is talking.’

				‘No, I’m pretty sure it was me, although the champagne might have prompted it. It’s good at removing inhibitions.’

				‘I’d noticed.’ With a driven sigh, he drew her off the dance floor and down a narrow path that led to the beach.

				‘Where are we going? You’re walking too fast.’

				‘I’m removing you from public before you tip over the edge and do something you’re going to regret.’ He cursed under his breath as she stumbled and fell against him. ‘Cristos, I should have taken that third glass of champagne out of your hand.’ His voice harsh, he swept her into his arms as if she weighed nothing and continued down the steps. ‘Here’s another tip. Next time stop drinking while you can still walk in a straight line.’

				‘There might not be a next time. That’s why I’m making the most of this time. You have to live for the moment and I’m living for the moment. At least, I’m trying to live for the moment but it’s hard to do that unless the other person is doing it too.’

				‘Theé mou—’ Jaw tense, he lowered her to her feet and Selene collapsed onto the sand in a dizzy heap.

				Shaking her head to try and dispel the swimmy feeling, she pulled her shoes off her feet. ‘The world is spinning. Next time I won’t drink quite as much quite as fast. And if you even mouth the words “I told you so” I will punch you.’

				He swore softly under his breath. ‘Do you even realise what could happen to you in this state? You virtually offered yourself to me.’

				‘I did offer myself to you, but obviously that was too forward of me because now you’re frowning. Is it because you don’t think a woman has as much right to enjoy sex as a man?’

				He sucked air through his teeth. ‘I don’t think that.’

				‘Then why are you looking so disapproving? I was relying on you being as bad as everyone says you are.’ She flopped back onto the soft sand and he gave a growl low in his throat.

				‘One of my few life rules is never to have sex with a drunk woman. You should be grateful for that. Stand up! I can’t have a conversation with you when you’re lying at my feet like a starfish.’

				‘Why do men always compare me to animals? First my father says I’m a giraffe and now you say I’m a starfish. The day a man tells me I’m a whale, I’m killing myself.’

				With an exasperated sigh he bent and lifted her and she tumbled against him, her body pressed hard against his. There was a tense, throbbing silence broken only by the soft sound of the sea on the sand and his harsh breathing in her ear.

				‘This,’ he breathed, ‘is not turning out the way I planned it.’

				‘Tell me about it. I thought amazing things would happen to a girl wearing a dress like this but all I got was lots of anticipation, an incredible kiss and a lecture.’

				His grip on her tightened. ‘You should be grateful I’m showing restraint.’

				‘Well, I’m not. I hate the fact you’re so controlled. I’d do anything for you to just lose it for a moment and follow your deepest male instincts.’

				He muttered something under his breath and then cupped her face in his hands and slanted his mouth over hers. Excitement flashed through her, slid through her limbs and deep into her bones until she felt the strength leaving her. As his tongue traced the seam of her lips and dipped inside Selene felt her tummy tighten and the world spin. His mouth moved slowly, expertly, over hers and she lost track of time and place, of herself.

				Just when she’d decided that all her dreams about kissing were still intact, he released her.

				The sense of loss was searing.

				She stared up at him in the semi-darkness, acutely aware of the contrast between them. He was all raw power and masculinity. Despite her height, in her bare feet she barely reached his shoulder.

				Without thinking she stretched out her hand and touched his face and instantly heard his sharp intake of breath.

				‘I’m taking you back to the room.’

				‘Yes. Take me back to your room so that we can try out your big, beautiful bed. Strip me naked and do unspeakable things to me,’ she murmured, running her fingers over his biceps. ‘You’re very strong.’

				‘Strong enough to stop you doing something you’ll regret tomorrow.’

				‘You see? You prete