The Secrets She Carried

By: Lynne Graham

CHAPTER ONE


CRISTOPHE DONAKIS opened the file on the Stanwick Hall Hotel group, which he expected to become the latest addition to his luxury hotel empire, and suffered an unanticipated shock.

Ironically, it took a great deal to shock Cristophe. At thirty years of age, the Greek entrepreneur and billionaire had seen a lot of bad behaviour and when it came to women in particular he was a complete cynic with low expectations. Orphaned at the age of five, he had survived several major setbacks in life, not the least of which had included foster parents whom he loved but with whom he had not a single thought in common, and a divorce, which still rankled for he had entered his marriage with the best of good intentions. No, what caused Cristophe to vault upright behind his desk and carry the file over to the window to avail of the best possible light was a glimpse of a startlingly familiar face in a photograph of the Stanwick executive staff … a face from his past.

Erin Turner … a pocket Venus with pale hair that glittered like polished silver gilt and eyes the colour of amethysts. Straight off, his lean, darkly handsome features clenched into forbidding angles. Erin occupied a category all of her own in his memories, for she had been the only woman ever to betray him and, even though almost three years had to have passed since their last meeting, the recollection could still sting. His keenly intelligent gaze devoured the photograph of his former mistress standing smiling at the elbow of Sam Morton, the elderly owner of Stanwick Hall. Clad in a dark business suit with her eye-catching hair restrained by a clip, she looked very different from the carefree, casually clad young woman he remembered.

His tall, powerful body in the grip of sudden tension, Cristo’s dark-as-night eyes took on a fiery glow. That fast he was remembering Erin’s lithe form clad in silk and satin. Even better did he recall the wonderfully slippery feel of her glorious curves beneath his appreciative hands. Perspiration dampened his strong upper lip and he breathed in deep and slow, determined to master the near instantaneous response at his groin. Regrettably, he had never met another Erin, BUT then he had married soon afterwards and only in recent months had he again enjoyed the freedom of being single. He knew that a woman capable of matching his hunger and even of occasionally exhausting his high-voltage libido was a very rare find indeed. He reminded himself that it was very probably that same hunger that had led her to betray his trust and take another man into her bed. An un-apologetic workaholic, he had left her alone for weeks while he was abroad on business and it was possible that he had invited the sordid conclusion that had ultimately finished their affair, he conceded grudgingly. Of course, had she agreed to travel with him it would never have happened but regrettably it had not occurred to him at the time that she might have excellent, if nefarious, reasons for preferring to stay in London.

He studied Sam Morton, whose body language and expression were uniquely revealing to any acute observer. The older man, who had to be comfortably into his sixties, could not hide his proprietorial protective attitude towards the svelte little manager of his health spas. His feelings shone out of his proud smile and the supportive arm he had welded to her spine in a declaration of possession. Cristo swore vehemently in Greek and examined the photo from all angles, but could see no room for any more innocent interpretation: she was at it again … bedding the boss! While it might have done him good to recognise Erin’s continuing cunning at making the most of her feminine assets, it gave him no satisfaction at all to acknowledge that she was still happily playing the same tricks and profiting from them. He wondered if she was stealing from Morton as well.

Cristo had dumped Erin from a height when she let him down but the punishment had failed to soothe an incredulous bitterness that only increased when he had afterwards discovered that she had been ripping him off. He had had faith in Erin, he had trusted her, had even at one point begun to toy with the idea that she might make a reasonable wife. Walking into that bedroom and finding another man in the bed he had planned to share with her, along with the debris of discarded wine glasses and the trail of clothes that told its own sleazy story, had knocked him sideways. And what had he done next?

Lean, strong face rigid, Cristo grudgingly acknowledged his own biggest mistake. In the aftermath of his discovery that Erin had cheated on him, he had reached a decision that he was still paying for in spades. He had made a wrong move with long-term repercussions and for a male who almost never made mistakes that remained a very humbling truth. With hindsight he knew exactly why he had done, what he had done but he had yet to forgive himself for that fatal misstep and the fallout those closest to him had suffered. Handsome mouth compressed into a tough line at that reflection, he studied Erin closely. She was still gorgeous and doubtless still happily engaged in confidently plotting and planning how best to feather her own nest while that poor sap at her elbow gave her his trust and worshipped the ground her dainty feet trod on.

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