'Who are you?' he demanded in English. His voice was deep, a mere whisper, but with the sort of authority that guaranteed an answer.
'Tessa Marlowe.' She swallowed against the sudden dryness in her mouth.
He jerked his head up abruptly in clear rejection. For a moment there was silence between them, broken only by the sound of her shallow breathing. Then he leaned forward, planting both fists on the table before her. His head loomed close to hers and she stiffened against the urge to retreat, shrink back in her chair.
She breathed deep, searching for calm. But instead another sensation ricocheted through her. The subtle, tantalising scent of him evoked something unmistakeable. A female awareness that circled and curled in on itself, deep in the pit of her belly.
'Don't you remember me?' she whispered, her voice hoarse with stress.
His eyes looked obsidian-black now, slitted and gleaming between long lashes.
There was no recognition there. No welcome. Only doubt. And fury.
'Who are you?' he said again.
'I told you. I'm Tessa Marlowe.'
He slammed his palm against the table. 'No! Tessa Marlowe died four years ago.'
The air seemed to crackle, the tension between them sucking the oxygen from her lungs.
She'd expected surprise, astonishment, but not this anger that welled from him in waves. The force of it pinned her against the hard back of her seat.
She gathered her strength and spoke, surprised to hear her voice so calm and cool. 'You're mistaken. I was injured, unconscious. But that's all.'
He gazed at her unblinking. 'Prove it.'
She fumbled at the neckline of her T shirt. Drew the familiar chain up till she felt it in her hand: the ring she'd protected and cherished all these years.
For a moment she hesitated, held it close in her clenched fist. Then she dragged it out, holding the chain at full length away from her, its burden resting in her open palm.
He watched her intently, didn't even blink. A sizzle of energy jagged between them and she wondered why she hadn't heard the sound of a thunder clap to accompany it.
Then he flicked his eyes from hers and down to the prize she held in her hand.
Released from his thrall she sagged in her seat, exhausted by the assault this man made on her senses.
She heard the hiss of his indrawn breath and knew that at last he believed.
Stavros stared, unbelieving, at the ring in the centre of her slender palm.
He'd recognise it anywhere, had known it all his life. The heavy circlet of gold, worn but still solid. Its centrepiece engraved in ancient times with tiny exquisite carvings of a hunter in a chariot facing a lion at bay. It had been designed for use untold generations ago as a seal - the unique identifying mark of a man of power.
And now it was the symbol of his house, the House of Denakis. A stylised version of that chariot, that hunter, graced the doors of Denakis showrooms in Athens, Paris, London, New York, Zurich and Tokyo.
He reached out a hand and touched the engraved surface of it. His finger connected with the warmth of her palm and he watched her tremble.
So, she was nervous after all. With her uptilted chin and her unwavering gaze she gave the appearance of pure confidence.
He focused again on the ring. No doubt about it. It was genuine, and completely out of place on that cheap, low grade chain.
He frowned. Explanations were required.
Stavros picked up the ring between his fingers, again letting his fingers brush the flesh of her palm. This time she whipped her hand away, leaving him in sole possession of the ring.
He pretended to study it, but his attention was focused on her. The rapid rise and fall of her breasts. The soft sound of her breathing. The warm, soap scent of her, more evocative somehow than the expensive designer perfumes to which he was accustomed.
He let the ring drop, watched the shabby chain fall against her plain T shirt, between her breasts. Then he raised his eyes again to hers.
Even now, prepared for it, the sight of her stunned him. When he'd entered the room he'd thought he'd seen a ghost. Reaction had stopped him in his tracks, churning his stomach.
Tessa Marlowe had died four years ago in an explosion that claimed a dozen lives. He had a copy of her death certificate! Officially she didn't exist any more. The memory of the day she'd died, of mangled vehicles in that shambles of a street, lived with him still.
And yet, here she was. Alive. The shock of it reverberated down his spine.
Fleetingly he wondered what poor nameless woman had been wrongly identified after the bomb blast. For he knew with a bone-deep certainty that this was Tessa Marlowe. The high slanted cheekbones, the elegant neck and heart-shaped face. The slight frame. And of course those eyes.
He'd seen green eyes before, but not this pure, unadulterated emerald. He'd only found that shade in the most priceless gems. Collectors would pay a fortune for a stone that colour. It was unique.
This was indeed Tessa Marlowe. She was unmistakeable.
Yet she looked different. There was a gravity about her, and something in those bright eyes that hinted she'd seen far more of life than she wanted to. Physically she'd altered as well. She'd been slim the first time he'd seen her. Now she seemed fragile. Yet her lips were soft and well-shaped, an invitation in that lovely face.
Oh yes, he remembered that mouth. Had dreamed of it for months after their meeting.
'What are you doing here?' It emerged from his throat as a growl.
He saw her eyes widen.
What? She thought he'd welcome her after all this time? Accept her presence with no questions or recriminations?
She couldn't be that naive. Anyone who tried to make trouble for him lived to regret it.
'I came to return it. The ring.' As she spoke she reached for the catch on the chain and opened it. It took an inordinate amount of time for her to slide the ring off and hold it out to him.
Her hand was shaking when she did so.
'And why are you bringing it back to me now? What possible explanation could you have?'
Her brows drew together in a good imitation of confusion. 'It's yours. I know you didn't intend for me to have it this long. If I'd been able to return it earlier, I would have.' She thrust her hand out, closer to him.
On a surge of angry energy he reached out and clasped her whole hand in his, curving his fingers right round hers, pressing the heavy ring into her flesh, into his.
'I'm to believe that it took you this long to contact me? Four whole years?' His tone was rough, furious, and he felt its effect as her hand quivered in his.
He felt no remorse. This woman deserved no sympathy. She'd deceived him for years.
He refused to acknowledge the temptation she represented as he held her warm, soft flesh against his. His body might respond to her. But he had mastery over such basic instincts.
Whatever her game she'd more than met her match with Stavros Denakis.
'I don't believe it,' he said with heavy emphasis, ignoring the flare of what looked like pain in her eyes. This woman was no innocent, he reminded himself. She was out for all she could get. She'd just found a more intriguing way than most to try cashing in.
'But it's true,' she answered. 'I found out about you and I had to come.'
Of course she did. She'd found out precisely who he was and immediately come running. Almost unbelievable that she hadn't worked it out before. But he could understand her decision to locate him once she knew his identity. And the size of his personal fortune.
Her lower lip trembled for an instant, then stilled. She straightened her shoulders and stared straight back at him, the picture of unblemished innocence.
'I'm sorry if I've come at a bad time. It wasn't my intention.' She tugged at her hand but he kept it in his. 'I'll leave now that you have your property.'
Would she indeed? And no doubt she'd head to the nearest press agency to sell her story.
Not if he had anything to do with it!
'I'm afraid not,' he murmured.
'But I'm not welcome here. That much is obvious.'
He nodded, acknowledging her point. 'True. But do you really think I'm so stupid as to leave you to your own devices?'
She opened her mouth, no doubt to protest. He cut her off with a single, abrupt gesture.
'Enough! I want no more of your pretensions to innocence. You will not leave the estate until I have the whole story from you and we come to some...accommodation about our circumstances.'
'Accommodation?' She shook her head, the very picture of bewilderment.
Her dramatic skills had improved in the last four years, he realised. When they'd first met he'd found her amazingly transparent in her thoughts and emotions. Now look at her: an accomplished liar.
'Of course, an accommodation. The situation requires careful...attention.' His fingers tightened round hers as he smiled.
'You surely don't think I'd have celebrated my betrothal quite so publicly tonight if I'd known I still had a wife?'Reviews Behind the Book Return