Xenakis's Convenient Bride

By: Dani Collins



The villa was well tended, but modest by his current standards. It had been his mother’s dream home when she married. She was a local girl from the fishing village on the bottom of the island. She had insisted her husband use this as his base. It had been a place where he could enjoy downtime. Quality time, with his children. She had called him a workaholic who was losing his roots, spending too much time in America, allowing the expanding interests of the family corporation to dominate his life.

The villa hadn’t been new. It had needed repairs and his father had enlisted Stavros to set fresh paving stones at the front entrance while his mother and sisters had potted the bougainvillea that now bloomed in masses of pink against the white walls.

The memories were so sharp and painful as Stavros sat there, he wanted to jam the truck in Reverse and get away from all of it.

But where would he go? Back to the blaming, shaming glint in his grandfather’s hard stare? Back to the understudy role he hated, but played because his father wasn’t there to be the star?

Cursing Sebastien afresh, Stavros glanced over his work order. He wasn’t cleaning the pool, but repairing the cracked tiles around it. Déjà vu with paving stones. The mistress of the house would direct him.

He blew out a disgusted breath. After two decades of bearing up under his grandfather’s dictates, and now facing a demand that he marry, he was at the end of his rope with being told what to do.

No one answered the doorbell so he let himself in through the gate at the side and went down the stairs into a white-walled courtyard that opened on one side to the view of the sea. His arrival didn’t stir Venus from her slumber.

Damn, but his tension wanted an outlet. He let his gaze cruise over her stellar figure once more. If she was a wife, she was the trophy kind, but she wasn’t wearing a ring.

The mistress of the place, his employer had said. He would just bet she was a mistress. How disappointing to have such a beauty reserved by his boss’s client.

In another life, Stavros wouldn’t have let that stop him from going after her.

This was another life, he recalled with a kick of his youthful recklessness.

Crouching, he scooped up a handful of water and flicked it at her.

* * *

The spatter of something against Calli’s face startled her awake—in the pool, where she reflexively tried to sit up and immediately unbalanced. She tumbled sideways, sunglasses sliding off her nose, arms outstretched but catching at nothing. She plunged under the cold water into the blur of blue. Oh, that was a shock!

Ophelia.

Calli caught her bearings and pumped her arms to burst through the surface, sputtering, “You are so grounded. Go to your room.”

But that wasn’t Ophelia straightening to such a lofty height at the side of the pool. It was a conquering warrior, tall and forbidding, backlit by the sun so Calli’s eyes watered as she tried to focus on him. His yellow T-shirt and shorts did nothing to detract from his powerful, intimidating form. In fact, his clothes clung like golden armor hammered across the contours of his shoulders and chest, accentuating the tan on his muscular biceps.

She couldn’t see his eyes, but felt the weight of his gaze. It pushed her back and drew her forward at the same time, making her forget to breathe, making her hot despite being submerged to her shoulders and treading water.

Heat radiated through her, that dangerous heat that she had learned to ignore out of self-preservation. This time it wouldn’t quash, which caused a knot of foreboding in her belly. He mesmerized her, holding her suspended as though in amber, snared into a moment of sexual fascination that seemed destined to last eternally.

He folded his arms, imperious, but his voice held a rasp of humor. “Lead the way.”

To his room, he meant. It wasn’t so much an invitation as an order.

She had the impression of a dark brow cocked with silent laughter, which made her feel vulnerable. Not threatened, not physically, but imperiled at a deep level, where her ego resided. Where her fractured heart was tucked high on a shelf so no one could knock it to the floor again.

Her chest prickled with anxiety and she wiped her eyes, trying hard to see him properly, trying to figure out who he was and why he had such an instant, undeniable effect on her. His T-shirt sported the pool man’s logo, but she’d never seen him before.

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