"Don't be silly, Leo. Strangers don't get married."
Leo Zikos should be celebrating securing a perfectly convenient fiancée, but it's left him cold. Instead it's stranger Grace Donovan's impeccable beauty that fires his blood. So he decides to pursue one last night of freedom...
But that night and the two little blue lines on the pregnancy test that follow blow Leo's plans apart. Now he must break with his fiancée and marry Grace. She might resist marrying a man she barely knows, but Leo will claim his legacy and has all the riches and influence he needs to ensure his demands are met!
"Sinopsis" puede pertenecer a otra edición de este libro.
Lynne Graham lives in Northern Ireland and has been a keen romance reader since her teens. Happily married, Lynne has five children. Her eldest is her only natural child. Her other children, who are every bit as dear to her heart, are adopted. The family has a variety of pets, and Lynne loves gardening, cooking, collecting allsorts and is crazy about every aspect of Christmas.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
'Oh, yes, I should mention that last week I ran into your future father-in-law, Rodas,' Anatole Zikos said towards the end of the congratulatory phone call he had made to his son. 'He seemed a little twitchy about when you might.../zna/Zy...be setting a date for the wedding. It has been three years, Leo. When are you planning to marry Marina?'
'She's meeting me for lunch today,' Leo divulged with some amusement, unperturbed by the hint of censure in his father's deep voice. 'Neither of us has any desire to sprint to the altar.'
'After three years, believe me, nobody will accuse you of sprinting,' Anatole said drily. 'Are you sure you want to marry the girl?'
Leo Zikos frowned, level black brows lifting in surprise. 'Of course I do—'
'I mean, it's not as if you need Kouros Electronics these days.'
Leo stiffened. 'It's not a matter of need. It's a matter of common sense. Marina will make me the perfect wife.'
'There is no such thing as a perfect wife, Leo.' Thinking of his late and much-lamented mother, Leo clamped his wide sensual mouth firmly closed lest he say something he would regret, something that would shatter the closer relationship he had since attained with the older man. A wise man did not continually look back to a better-forgotten past, he reminded himself grimly, and Leo's childhood in a deeply troubled and unhappy family home definitely fell into that category.
At the other end of the silent line, Anatole made a soft sound of frustration. 'I want you to be happy in your marriage,' he admitted heavily.
'I will be,' Leo told his father with supreme assurance and he came off the phone smiling.
Life was good, in fact life was very good, Leo acknowledged with the slow-burning smile on his lean, darkly handsome face that many women found irresistible. He had just that morning closed a deal that had enriched him by millions, hence his father's phone call. His father was quite correct in assuming that Leo did not need to marry Marina simply to inherit her father's electronics company as a dowry. But then Leo had never wanted to marry Marina for her money.
At eighteen, a veteran of the wretched warfare between his ill-matched parents, Leo had drawn up a checklist of the attributes his future wife should have. Marina Kouros ticked literally every box. She was wealthy, beautiful and intelligent as well as being a product of the same exclusive upbringing he had enjoyed himself. They had a great deal in common but they were neither in love nor possessive of each other. Objectives like harmony and practicality would illuminate their shared future rather than dangerous passion and horrendous emotional storms. There would be no nasty surprises along the way with Marina, a young woman Leo had first met in nursery school.
It was forgivable for him to feel just a little self-satisfied, Leo reasoned as his limo dropped him off at the marina in the French Riviera where his yacht awaited him. Exuding quiet contentment, he boarded Hellenic Lady, one of the largest yachts in the world. He had made his first billion by the age of twenty-five and five years on he was enjoying life as never before while at the same time ensuring that, although the cutthroat ambiance of the business world was where he thrived, he still took time off to recuperate after working eighteen-hour days for weeks on end.
'Good to have you on board again, sir,' his English captain assured him. 'Miss Kouros is waiting for you in the saloon.'
Marina was scrutinising a painting he had recently bought. A tall slender brunette with an innate elegance he had always admired, his fiancée spun round to greet him with a smile.
'I was surprised to get your text,' Leo confided, giving her a light kiss on the cheek in greeting. 'What are you doing in this neck of the woods?'
'I'm on the way to a country house weekend with friends,' Marina clarified. 'I thought it was time we touched base. I believe my father has been throwing out wedding hints—'
'News travels fast,' Leo commented wryly. 'Apparently your father is becoming a little impatient.'
Marina wrinkled her nose and strolled restively across the spacious room. 'He has his reasons. I suppose I should admit that I've been a little indiscreet of late,' she remarked with a careless shrug of a silk-clad shoulder.
'In what way?' Leo prompted.
'I thought we agreed that until we got married we wouldn't owe each other any explanations,' Marina reminded him reprovingly.
'We may have agreed to go our separate ways until marriage forces us to settle down,' Leo agreed, 'but, as your fiancé, I think I have the right to know what you mean by "indiscreet".'
Marina shot him a bright angry glance. 'Oh, Leo, don't be tiresome! It's not as if you care. It's not as if you love me or anything like that! '
Leo remained silent, having long since learnt that listening was by far the best tool to use to calm Marina's quick temper and draw her out.
'Oh, all right! ' Marina snapped with poor grace, tossing her silk scarf down on a luxurious sofa in a petulant gesture. 'I've been having a hot affair...and there's been some talk, for which I'm very sorry, but, really, how am I supposed to stop people from gossiping about me?'
His broad shoulders squared below his exquisitely tailored jacket. 'How hot is hot?' he asked mildly.
Marina rolled her eyes and burst out laughing. 'You don't have an atom of jealousy in your entire body, do you?'
'No, but I'd still like to know what's got your father so riled up that he wants us to immediately set a wedding date.'
Marina pulled a face. 'Well, if you must know, my lover is a married man.'
Leo's stunning clean-cut bone structure tautened almost infinitesimally, his very dark eyes shaded by lush black lashes narrowing. He was taken aback and disappointed in her. Adultery was never acceptable in Leo's book and he had made the fatal mistake of assuming that Marina shared that moral outlook. As a child he had lived with the consequences of his father's long-running affair for too many years to condone extra-marital relations. It was the only inhibition he had in the sex department: he would never ever get involved with a married woman.
'Oh, for goodness' sake, Leo!' Marina chided, her face colouring now with angry defensiveness in receipt of his telling silence. 'These things always burn out—you know that as well as I do!'
'I won't pretend to approve. Furthermore that kind of entanglement will damage your reputation...and therefore mine,' Leo reproved coolly.
'I could say that about the little lap-dancer you were sailing round the Med with last summer. You could hardly describe that slutty little baggage as adding lustre to your sophisticated image!' Marina remarked cuttingly.
Predictably, Leo did not even wince, but she flushed uncomfortably at the look he shot her. But then very few things put Leo Zikos out of countenance and regular sex was as important to him as ordered meals and exercise and indeed rated no higher than either by him. He was a very logical male and he saw no need to explain himself when he and Marina had yet to share a bed. The very fact that they had both chosen to retain the freedom of taking other lovers during their long engagement had convinced them that it would be much more straightforward just to save the sex for when they were married.
There is no such thing as a perfect wife, his father had said only an hour or so earlier, but Leo had not expected to be presented with the definitive proof of that statement quite so soon. His high opinion of Marina had been damaged because it was obvious that she saw nothing inherently wrong with sleeping with another woman's husband. Had his own views become so archaic, so unreasonable? Was he guilty of allowing childhood experiences to influence his adult judgement too much? He was well aware that he had friends who engaged in extra-marital affairs, but he would never accept such behaviour from anyone close to him or indeed within his own home.
'I'm sorry but I've had Father on my case. He's not ready to retire and let you take over yet but he's terrified that I'll scare you off,' Marina confided ruefully. 'As I supposedly did with your brother—'
Leo tensed, disliking the reminder that until today Marina's single flaw in his judgement was the reality that she had once enjoyed an ill-judged one-night stand with the younger half-brother whom Leo loathed. That Bastien had treated Marina appallingly in the aftermath was another thing Leo never forgot for, more than anything else, Marina was virtually Leo's best friend and he had always trusted her implicitly.
'Perhaps we should set a wedding date to keep everybody happy,' the brunette suggested wryly. 'I may only be twenty-nine but Father's already getting scared we're getting too old to deliver the grandkids he wants.'
Leo frowned, barely contriving to suppress the need to flinch when she mentioned children. He still wasn't ready to become a father. Parenting required a level of maturity and unselfishness that he was convinced he had yet to attain.
'What about fixing on October for the wedding?' Marina proposed with the sort of cool that implied she had not the faintest idea of his unease. 'I'm no Bridezilla and that would give me three months to make the preparations. I'm thinking of a very boho casual do in London with only family and our closest friends attending.'
They lunched out on deck, catching up on news of mutual friends. It was very civilised and not a single cross word was exchanged. Once Marina had departed, Leo reminded himself soothingly that he had not lost his temper. Even though he had agreed to the wedding date, however, his strong sense of dissatisfaction lingered. Even worse, that reaction was backed by an even more unexpected feeling, because suddenly Leo was astounded to register that what he truly felt was... trapped.
'Nonsense, Grace. Of course you'll go to Turkey with Jenna,' Grace's aunt, Della Donovan, sliced through her niece's protests in her usual brusque and bossy manner. 'A free holiday? Nobody in their right mind would turn their nose up at that!'
Grace gazed out stonily at the pretty garden behind her aunt and uncle's substantial house in north London. Her thoughts were in turmoil because she was trying to come up fast with a polite excuse to avoid the supposed treat of a holiday with her cousin.
'I mean, you've sat all your stupid exams now, haven't you?' her cousin, Jenna, piped up from the leather sofa in the snug beside the kitchen where Grace was seated with Jenna's mother. Mother and daughter were very similar, both of them tall, slender blondes in stark contrast to Grace, who was small and curvy with a fiery mane of red hair and freckles.
'Yes, but—' Her pale green eyes troubled, Grace bit back the admission that she had been planning to work every possible extra hour at a local bar so that she could save up some money to cushion her when she returned to university at the end of the summer. Any overt reference to her need for financial support was always badly received by her aunt and regarded as being in poor taste. On the other hand, although her aunt was a high-powered lawyer and her uncle a very well-paid business executive, Grace had only ever been given money when she worked for it. From a very early age, Grace had learned the many differences between her standing and Jenna's within the same household.
Jenna had received pocket money while Grace had received a list of household chores to be carried out. It had been explained to her when she was ten years old that she was not their real daughter, would never inherit anything from her aunt and uncle and would have to make her own way in adult life. Thus, Jenna had attended a fee-paying school while Grace had attended the comprehensive at the end of the road. Jenna had got her own horse and riding lessons while, in return for the occasional lesson, Grace had got to clean the riding-school stables five days a week after school. Jenna had had birthday parties and sleepovers, which Grace had been denied. Jenna had got to stay on at school, sit her A-levels and go straight to university and at twenty-five years of age worked for a popular fashion magazine. Grace, on the other hand, had had to leave school at sixteen to become a full-time carer for Della's late mother, Mrs Grey, and those years of care and the strain of continuing her studies on a part-time basis had swallowed up what remained of Grace's far from carefree teenage years.
Complete shame at the bitterness of her thoughts flushed Grace's heart-shaped face. She knew she had no right at all to feel bitter because those years of caring for an invalid had been payback to the family who had cared for her as a child, she reminded herself sternly. The Donovans, after all, had taken Grace in after her mother's death when nobody else had wanted her. Without her uncle's intervention she would have ended up in the foster-care system and while the Donovans might not have given her love or equality with their own daughter they had given her security and the chance to attend a decent school.
So what if she was still the modern-day equivalent of a Victorian charity child or poor relation within their home? That was a comparatively small price to pay for regular meals and a comfortable bedroom, she told herself firmly. She always reminded herself of that truth whenever her uncle's family demanded that she make herself useful, which generally entailed biting her tongue and showing willing even if she didn't feel willing. Sometimes though she feared she might explode from the sheer effort required to suppress her temper and watch every word she said.
'Well, then, I suppose I'm going to be stuck with you,' Jenna lamented, sounding far younger than her years. 'I can hardly go on a girlie holiday alone, can I? And none of my mates can get time off to join me. Believe me, you're my very last choice, Grace.'
Grace compressed her soft full mouth and pushed her rippling fall of fiery hair back from her taut brow where a stress headache was beginning to tighten its grip. Her cousin's best friend, Lola, who had originally planned to accompany Jenna, had broken both legs in a car accident. Sadly that was the only reason that Grace was being invited to take Lola's place and, equally sadly, Grace didn't want to accompany Jenna even though it was a very long time since Grace had enjoyed a holiday.
The unhappy truth was that Jenna didn't like Grace. Jenna had never liked Grace and even as adults the cousins avoided spending time together. A much-adored only child, Jenna had thoroughly resented the arrival of another little girl in her home and Grace wasn't even sure she could blame her cousin for her animosity. The Donovans had hoped that their daughter would see Grace as a little sister, but perhaps the fact that only a year separated the two girls in age had roused competitive instincts in Jenna instead and the situation had only worsened when Grace had unfailingly outshone Jenna in the academic stakes and eventually gone on, in spite of her disrupted education, to study medicine.
'I'm afraid at such short notice Grace is your only option.' Della directed a look of sympathetic understanding at her daughter. 'But I'm sure she'll do her best to be good company.'
"Sobre este título" puede pertenecer a otra edición de este libro.
Descripción Harlequin, 2015. Mass Market Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Never used!. Nº de ref. de la librería P11037313360X