Return of the Moralis Wife, страница 1
‘That’s very generous of you. I’ll—’
‘I haven’t finished,’ Rion cut in, his free hand sweeping back the long length of her hair from one shoulder to curve around the nape of her neck. A thumb seemingly idly stroked her throat, making each separate nerve-end tingle and tauten in response. ‘To satisfy me, Selina, I want you to join me on the yacht for the next two weeks as my lover.’
Fighting against the sensual awareness that his close proximity aroused, Selina thought for a moment she had heard wrong … Rion couldn’t have asked her to be his lover … Then she looked into his eyes and for a moment was transported back in time. The desire in the black depths was a potent reminder of what they had once shared.
Helplessly she stared at him, her mind screaming that he was worthless, she hated him, even as her pulse accelerated like a rocket in shameful response to the promise of passion in his gaze, to the warmth of his hand curved around her neck.
Then he spoke, and as the import of his words sank in she snapped back to reality.
‘Think of it as the honeymoon we never had, Selina, but without the marriage. No strings attached. I buy back the shares, you get the money, and no further contact between us—business or otherwise—is necessary.’
About the Author
JACQUELINE BAIRD began writing as a hobby, when her family objected to the smell of her oil painting, and immediately became hooked on the romantic genre. She loves travelling, and worked her way around the world from Europe to the Americas and Australia, returning to marry her teenage sweetheart. She lives in Ponteland, Northumbria, the county of her birth, and has two teenage sons. She enjoys playing badminton, and spends most weekends with husband Jim, sailing their Gp.14 around Derwent Reservoir.
Recent titles by the same author:
PICTURE OF INNOCENCE
THE SABBIDES SECRET BABY
UNTAMED ITALIAN, BLACKMAILED INNOCENT
Did you know these are also available as eBooks?
Return of the
To James and Peter—
without whose love and support
I probably would never have written a book.
ORION MORALIS—Rion to his friends—impatiently tapped his long fingers on the steering wheel of the powerful sports car. Athens was notorious for traffic snarl-ups, so it was no surprise he was stuck in one. He was going to be late for a damn dinner party he did not want to go to in the first place. It was his father’s fault, he mused.
Rion had arrived back from a two-month business trip to the USA late last night. At eight this morning his intercom had been activated and his father had breezed into his apartment.
‘To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?’ Rion had asked, and the answer had amazed him.
‘I had lunch with Mark Stakis yesterday, and he has agreed to sell his company at a really good price.’ He’d quoted a figure. ‘How about that?’ His dad had beamed. ‘I haven’t lost my touch yet.’
His father’s determination to take over the Stakis shipping line was becoming an obsession. Rion was not involved, but he knew the firm was worth a lot more than what Stakis was asking—the man was giving his business away. But his dad was obviously delighted. He was retiring in the autumn and this deal was to be his last—which was just as well, as his dad was definitely losing his mind if he believed the offer to sell at that price was genuine.
‘So what is the catch?’ he had prompted dryly.
‘Well, Stakis does have a couple of provisos. First, he wants a few shares in the Moralis Corporation instead of more cash. Second, he wants you to marry his granddaughter, so he will know someone of his blood will still be connected to the business that has been his life and his father’s before him after he is gone.’
Rion couldn’t believe what he was hearing. ‘Incredible.’ He shook his head. ‘I am not marrying any woman for years—if ever—and as for Stakis’s granddaughter, it would be a physical impossibility. The man doesn’t have a granddaughter. His son Benedict, his wife and teenage children were killed in a helicopter crash ages ago—or had you forgotten?’ he queried seriously.
‘No, of course not. It was a tragedy!’ his father declared indignantly.
Then his father told him the story. Benedict Stakis had fathered a child with an Englishwoman when his own wife had been pregnant with twins. Stakis had only discovered the existence of his illegitimate granddaughter after his son’s death. Apparently Benedict had persuaded the woman to keep quiet in exchange for setting up a trust fund with an English lawyer to provide for the child. Mark Stakis had finally met the girl, Selina Taylor, last September, and now she had finished school she was spending the summer in Greece with him.
‘You want me to marry a schoolgirl?’ Rion asked with a laugh, relieved his dad was not going senile. ‘You aren’t serious?’
‘I am serious, and it is not funny. The girl is not a child; she is nearly nineteen. She is staying at Stakis’s home in the city and he is holding a dinner party tonight to introduce her to society. We are all invited, so you can meet her and see what you think.’
‘No. I don’t need to think. Definitely not.’
‘At least meet her. This is too good a deal to pass up.’
But pass it up Rion had—adamantly—over and over again. Then his father had brought up some of Rion’s past ladyfriends, and a recent episode when Rion had been pictured in a tabloid outside a nightclub arguing with the paparazzi over a married lady who was no better than she should be, and had told him it was time he got himself a good woman instead of the bad he so obviously favoured.
His father had then hinted that he would have to think seriously of delaying his retirement and was not happy at the thought of leaving the business until he knew his son was settled.
His father was not averse to a bit of emotional blackmail … Yet they both knew Rion had, over the past few years, been the driving force behind the diversification from the original Moralis shipping line into the international company it was today. But Rion also knew his father’s doctor had warned him after his last heart attack to retire or suffer an early demise. Never mind the fact his stepmother, Helen, would be furious if she had to postpone the world cruise she had planned for his dad’s retirement in September.
Finally he had agreed to attend the dinner, but had made it very clear that was all he was promising—and only to humour his father. His dad saw this deal as the finishing touch on a successful career. He might actually succeed in taking over Stakis Shipping, but he would have to do it without Rion marrying some schoolgirl …
The idea of a marriage for business reasons was not something he would ever contemplate—but then he found the idea of marrying for love just as unpalatable. He wasn’t convinced the emotion actually existed …
He’d loved his parents, and had thought they’d loved each other. He’d been eleven when his mother had died, and six months later his father had married his secretary, Helen, because she was pregnant. That had hurt Rion, still grieving for his mum. At nineteen he had believed himself in love with Lydia, a stunning society beauty three years older than him. In the year they were together she had vastly expanded his education in the sex department—especially the many and varied ways to please a woman.
Rion had seriously considered asking her to marry him, but swiftly changed his mind when he’d caught her in bed with another woman … Lydia had laughed and suggested he join them, but he had refused, feeling betrayed, and he never did propose. But ‘each to his own’ was his motto, and they remained friends to this day.
Now at twenty-eight, Rion had learnt to be more discerning in his choice of partner. He liked sophisticated women who accepted from the start that all he offered was pleasure for as long as it lasted. He was not into commitment. He had enjoyed a few relationships, but never again imagined he was in love.
The repeated tooting of car horns reminded him where he was and he drove on.
The Stakis house was in the best suburb of Athens. A long drive led up to an impressive entrance portico. Not knowing how many guests were attending, Rion parked at the bottom of the drive so he could make a quick exit. He had a hot date arranged for later with Chloe, a model he had met twice before, and he walked up the drive with a spring in his step that had nothing to do with the dinner party but everything to do with anticipation of ending a couple of months’ celibacy …
A maid answered the door and showed him through the rambling old house to where the guests were gathered.
Rion walked into the room and paused when he saw the girl standing with his half sister, Iris. It had to be the granddaughter—and she was nothing like he had expected and certainly no child, if his body’s immediate reaction was anything to go by. Selina Taylor had a knock-out body, and he had to fight to control the pleasurable hardening in his groin area at the sight of her before moving on.
She was about five feet six, with full, firm breasts, a narrow waist, slim hips and fabulous legs—all perfectly displayed by the short emerald-green designer gown she wore and the sexy stiletto sandals.
Up close she was stunning. Her hair was reddish gold, its curls cut short to frame the perfect oval of her face. Her features were even and her complexion as pale as cream—when she wasn’t blushing, he amended, which she did rather a lot, he realised as the evening progressed.
But even scarlet-faced she was still lovely. Her expressive eyes fascinated him—big and cat-like, and the most incredible colour: hazel, or amber with a hint of green was as near as he could get. When she laughed they gleamed golden, and when she glanced his way they widened and she looked at him almost in awe—which he found flattering and incredibly arousing.
She had an innocence about her, and a lack of artifice that was totally genuine, Rion was sure. And he should know. He had met enough women who tried to play the innocent but with eyes as hard as stone.
‘So, how long have you been learning Greek, Selina?’ he asked her over dinner, wanting to know more about her. He didn’t question why …
He was stunned by her reply. She already spoke Italian and French, and had been learning Greek since meeting her grandfather, but she specialised in Chinese and Arabic and was going to university in the autumn.
She was definitely bright—and yet oddly naive. Rion was an experienced man of the world, used to the attention of women, and was well aware of Selina’s interest in him as the conversation flowed around the table. Under any other circumstances he would have pursued the mutual sexual attraction, but Selina was strictly out of bounds.
For all her stunning looks she obviously had little experience of men.
Coffee was served, and with his usual iron resolve Rion dismissed Selina from his mind. He took a sip or two of coffee and then swiftly drained his cup. Pushing back his chair, he got to his feet. He thanked Mark Stakis for dinner and made the excuse of a conference call booked at his apartment from the USA.
‘Shame you are so pushed for time, but don’t let us delay you.’ Mark Stakis smiled at him. ‘In fact take a shortcut through the garden—it is quicker that way.’ Turning to his granddaughter, he said, ‘Selina, show Rion the pathway to the drive. It will save him time.’
Of course the girl agreed and rose to her feet. Rion was amazed at how obvious the old man was being, but he couldn’t say anything. Instead he followed Selina down the steps from the terrace to the garden path. The poor girl hadn’t a clue Mark Stakis was trying to marry her off …
‘Steady, Selina.’ Rion reached for her arm as she caught the killer heel of one shoe in the decorative paving. ‘I am not in as much of a hurry that I want to see you break your lovely neck.’ Running his hand down her arm, he clasped her hand. Moving on, he said smoothly, ‘So tell me, Selina, how do you like staying in Greece with your grandfather? It must be a lot different from the life you lead in England.’
‘There is no comparison.’ she said. ‘He lives in such splendour.’ Glancing up at him, she added, ‘In fact I was amazed to discover I had a grandfather, and even now I still find it hard to believe.’
She smiled and made no attempt to free her hand from his, and as they walked down the dimly lit garden path, with a little prompting from Rion, she told him all about herself. Her mother was dead and she lived with her Aunt Peggy whom she had known all her life. She had been to continental Europe before, but last Christmas had been her first visit to Greece.
Rion found himself feeling sorry for Selina. She’d had a mother who had denied her knowledge of her father, a father who had ignored her, and now a grandfather who had befriended her for his own reasons. He looked into her big golden eyes, then down to the soft pink mouth, and suddenly it wasn’t sorrow he felt but an overwhelming compulsion to comfort her … kiss her … just once …
He slipped his hands around her waist and drew her gently against him. Lowering his head, he brushed her full lips in a tender kiss. He had meant it to be brief, but the taste of her was instantly addictive. He felt her tremble as he coaxed her lips apart to accept the subtle penetration of his tongue. She swayed against him, her arms wrapping around his neck and her body pressed against the lean, hard length of him.
Rion knew he should stop, but he was enchanted by her taste, her tentative touch, the unconsciously sinuous movement of her body against his, and was reluctant to let her go. Finally, painfully aroused, he drew in a deep, shuddering breath and curved his hands around her shoulders, putting some space between them. He held her for a long moment until his breathing returned to normal, and saw her dilated pupils, the sensual longing in her eyes that she could not disguise. He knew he had to see her again.
Selina was so sexy, and yet so naive. He had an urge to protect her … along with a more basic urge—which of course he knew he must deny, he told himself piously ….
The date he had lined up for after the dinner party was a disaster. Chloe would never speak to him again. He had taken her to a nightclub and then back to her home. Refusing her offer of coffee with a kiss on the cheek, he had left her at the door.
THE blistering heat of the July day had faded to a bearable level as the luxury yacht glided into the harbour of the Greek island of Letos just before midnightb.
Orion Moralis—tall, dark-haired, dark-eyed, and with a dark frown on his handsome face—the powerful, and some would say ruthless, owner of the vast Moralis Corporation—walked down the stairs from the bridge and onto the main deck. Casually dressed in combat pants and an open-necked black shirt, he paused for a moment to look at the assortment of buildings surrounding the harbour. The church tower held centre stage in the only village on the island, where Mark Stakis lived. Had lived, he amended with a shrug of his broad shoulders. Though as far as Rion was concerned the man had been dead to him for years.
His yacht, with a crew of seven, was fitted with state-of-the-art technology and had been heading for the coast of Egypt for a rare three-week break. Rion had planned to combine essential work with a cruise and a diving holiday. He had heard the news that Stakis was dead and had had no intention of going to the man’s funeral—but yesterday morning he had received an informative e-mail from Stakis’s lawyer, Mr Kadiekis, requesting his presence. He had diverted the yacht midway across the Mediterranean to get here—his trip cut short before it had started.
Rion strolled across the deck and stopped at the rail to glance down at the harbour to where a sailor was securing the yacht to its berth. He was impatient to get ashore; he needed to stretch hi
Amazingly Mark Stakis hadn’t changed his will in years, and the knowledge had brought memories Rion had thought dead and buried to the surface with a vengeance.
Six years ago he had married Stakis’s granddaughter Selina Taylor—and what a mistake that had been. Rion rarely if ever made mistakes—in business or in his private life—and it had been a huge blow to his ego when his young wife had betrayed him. For a second black fury blazed through him at the memory. Then abruptly he turned from the rail, and with the gangway in place walked down onto dry land.
Breathing deeply of the night air, Rion walked the length of the harbour away from the lights and onto the beach, enjoying the stillness of the night. The further he walked the more the anger the thought of his ex-wife had aroused in him ebbed away, and he began to relax. He listened to the soft sound of the waves against the shore as he strolled around the headland and through the trees, and realised he had reached the Stakises’ private beach.
He stopped for a moment and looked at the sprawling white villa set on the hillside. A single light shone from the building, dimly illuminating the elegant terraces trailing down to the shore. A retaining wall with a gate gave access to the beach and he glanced, around wondering if there was any security. Suddenly the gate opened.
Rion’s dark eyes narrowed on the white ghost-like figure that appeared thirty feet away, then widened on the very obvious feminine form … certainly neither ghost nor Security.
He stepped swiftly back into the shadow of the trees as the light of the moon illuminated the woman, jogging over the sand, the white robe she wore flying out behind her.