The Petrakos Bride | Chapter 10 of 15

Author: Lynne Graham | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1257 Views | Add a Review

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CHAPTER SIX

GIANNIS ran brilliant dark golden eyes over Maddie’s pale, shaken face. He was disconcerted by the change in her. She had bluish-grey shadows below her eyes, and the triangular fragility of her face had taken on a pinched quality that suggested she had lost weight in only the few days since he’d last seen her. His black brows drew together in a frown.

‘You look terrible.’

Pained colour seared her cheeks. No, she had no inner glow like his very beautiful fiancée—no glistening straight blonde hair, no thinner-than-thin perfect body to offer. Of course he must have seen Krista again while he was in Greece. Of course he was now comparing her to Krista, possibly without even knowing he was doing it. Her already laden conscience urged her to stifle such inappropriate thoughts. She was jealous, downright horribly jealous, of a woman she had wronged! The shame of that awareness cut through her, and she hated Giannis for bringing her down to such a level.

‘Are you ill?’ Giannis demanded.

‘No, of course I’m not!’ Maddie spun away, turning her back on him while she struggled to rescue her composure.

In her mind’s eye she could still see him, and her heart was racing and pounding as if she had run up a hill. One glimpse of his lean, darkly handsome face, one scorching encounter with his gilded bronze eyes, and she wanted to throw herself at him. For a split second, a wicked moment in time, it didn’t matter what he had done. She just wanted to forgive him so that she could be with him again. The coiled knot of heat in her pelvis was radiating a wanton physical awareness that shook her. Her breasts were heavy, the rosy tips swollen.

Affronted by her weakness, she forced herself to concentrate, and turned back to him. ‘What are you doing here? How did you manage to walk into this office?’ she asked in an accusing rush. ‘How did you even know where I was?’

‘I own this company.’ Giannis spread long brown fingers in a stylish gesture of dismissal. ‘I wanted a meeting, and it was arranged with discretion.’

‘You actually own this business?’ Maddie prompted, half an octave higher. ‘Is that why I was offered the chance to work here this week?’

‘If you must work—and I would prefer that you did not,’ Giannis murmured with silken stress, ‘why not work for me?’

‘Why? Does it give you a kick, pushing people around? Like I’m some piece on a chessboard and this is a game?’

His keen gaze narrowed and glittered. ‘I want you back, pedhi mou. I very much regret the distress I have caused. This is definitely not a game for either of us.’

‘And would you still feel the same way if I was pregnant?’ Maddie heard herself throwing that provocative challenge, and was startled by her daring. She was toying with the truth that she was not yet ready to voice, testing the water. But the instant she finished speaking she realised that now she would have to tell him she had conceived.

The answering silence yawned like a frightening abyss. Her fingers clenched into her palms and etched little purple crescents. She wanted—no, needed a positive response. All her hopes were laid out in a pathetic line in front of her, vulnerable and defenceless.

His lean, strong face had shuttered. His beautiful smart dark eyes, semi-screened by his dense black lashes, narrowed to grim points of light. ‘Are you pregnant?’

That single demand came with the telling speed and precision of a bullet to the heart. The chill factor in the air turned her to pure ice, and pain threatened to crack her down the middle. ‘No,’ she heard herself say cheerfully, hiding her true feelings behind all the pride she could muster.

Only ferocious self-discipline prevented Giannis from swearing out loud. What a question to throw at him! His perfect white teeth were gritted. The fall-out from such a development would rock the foundations of his world. Why the hell had she asked him that? What a stupid, tasteless question! As if a pregnancy could be anything other than a major catastrophe that would require handling. Babies and mistresses didn’t go together.

Maddie hated him at that moment. She wanted to wrap her arms protectively round her still-flat stomach. She wanted to shout that her baby would do just fine with her, and would never, ever need a selfish and heartless rat like him as an uninterested father. Instead she said flatly, ‘I’d like to go back to work. Please don’t approach me again.’

‘How long are you planning to keep this up?’ Giannis growled with furious impatience and growing frustration. Once again she was behaving differently from all the other women who had preceded her. ‘I won’t be back in London for at least two weeks.’

A humourless little laugh escaped Maddie. ‘Why are you telling me that? Didn’t you hear me? I’m asking you to leave me alone.’

Before she would work out his intention, Giannis strode forward, closed his hands over hers and claimed her luscious mouth with a devouring, driving heat that left her giddy and breathless. ‘Let’s not talk,’ he breathed in a heartfelt plea. ‘Let’s go back to my apartment.’

Maddie peeled herself off him again. It was quite an operation: she was leaning into him, with her fingers clenched on his shoulder, her other hand splayed across his shirt-front, her palm warmed by his body heat and the steady thump of his heartbeat. Another few seconds and she knew she would have been inside his jacket with him. No wonder he was inviting her back to his apartment. She was a slut—a total slut, she told herself in disgust. That one passionate kiss had set up a chain reaction of craving that made her entire body melt and quiver.

‘No. I—’

Giannis curved long fingers round her wrist to halt her steady retreat towards the door. ‘What do you want me to do? Beg?’ he ground out.

With a mighty effort of will, Maddie yanked her fingers free and stepped back from him. ‘You’re engaged—’

‘That’s business…You’re very much in the pleasure category,’ Giannis murmured in a roughened undertone.

Her green eyes glinted pure emerald, and defiance was written in every rigid line of her shapely figure and stance. ‘But I don’t want to be with you now. You’re wrong for me.’

‘There aren’t many old-style heroes out there.’ His golden eyes challenged her.

Maddie was trembling. ‘Perhaps not…but I’m sure there are a few decent, trustworthy guys left. Maybe even one with principles, who doesn’t think his money entitles him to do as he likes. Some day I’ll meet someone I can respect—and, believe me, he’s not you!’

His face saturnine in cast, Giannis had fallen very still, for he was not accustomed to being insulted. A forbidding light had entered his piercing dark eyes. ‘Regardless of what it takes, you will learn to respect me. I can wait. I will be patient. In the end I always get what I want.’

‘But I won’t ever be with you again,’ Maddie vowed vehemently. ‘Now I’m going back to work.’

She returned to the filing room in the basement. For several minutes she stared into space and tried to still the inner trembling affecting her. She felt cold inside and out, and utterly bereft. Hating him and wanting him was threatening to tear her apart. But now there was a kernel of fear edging her responses. For how long would she be able to withstand the dangerous combination of his strength and determination pitted against her own longing?

Sensible people moved on from mistakes, and perhaps she needed to move on in a literal sense, she reasoned feverishly. She had no ties in London, and it was a very expensive place to live. If she moved away now she would be able to make a fresh start well in advance of her baby’s birth. If Giannis did not know where she was he would have to leave her alone, and she would not be tempted back into a relationship that would destroy her. While she might have little money in her bank account, she did have a post office savings nest-egg which contained the fifteen hundred pounds that her grandmother had left her. It would cover the expense of any move.

That evening, Maddie began going through her things and sorting out what could be recycled through a charity shop and what should have been dumped long ago. Travelling light would make relocating less of a challenge.

 

And would you still feel the same way if I was pregnant?

The ultimate high jump, Giannis conceded in vexation, an austere cast to his wide handsome mouth. It had been a test, however, and he had failed it. Until he had met Madeleine Conway, Giannis had believed that a luxurious lifestyle and extravagant gifts were sufficient to tempt any woman into pleasing him. But Maddie was complex, challenging, and yet in many ways more basic. What did Stone Age Woman want from Stone Age Man? Giannis asked himself grimly. Stone Age Woman expected her guy to supply protection, food and shelter. In much the same way, Maddie wanted a guy she could depend on to look after her in all circumstances. So she had thrown the pregnancy loop and he had bombed. Why? Like most very rich men, he was accustomed to dealing with avaricious scheming women and ceding nothing, calling in his lawyers to clean up and ensure that the press never got wind of it.

Maddie, however, had been asking a simple question to establish the level of his commitment to her. What if? And, cynical, guarded and astute as he was, he had been too clever for his own good. She had expected an honest response, but he could not recall when he had ever answered a leading question from a woman with simple candour. He avoided relationship discussions. He dumped women prone to striking up such conversations. But Maddie occupied a class of her own, and she required more painstaking management and support. She had needed to hear that, whatever happened, he would take care of her. Regrettably, she had given him insufficient time to work out the reality that only forthright sincerity would win him a hearing.

‘Mr Petrakos…?’ one of the Greek board members murmured. For the silence had lasted and lasted, and everyone round the massive table was getting very nervous.

Giannis shot him a chilling glance. ‘Don’t interrupt me. I’m thinking.’

What the hell had Maddie been playing at? Giannis wondered in seething frustration. Where did she get the nerve to tell him that he was not decent, honourable or worthy of respect? Surely only the most severe distress could have provoked her into such base accusations? She should have had the sense to appreciate that a guy with as much money as he had could not possibly afford to ignore or deny the potential time-bomb that would arise from the existence of an illegitimate child. Just because he had never felt any great need to reproduce it did not mean he did not know what was right and proper, either. Some day, after all, he might have children with Krista.

Without warning he was assailed by the image of a spoilt, imperious little girl with a bored, petulant expression, who only cracked a smile when she looked in the mirror. It was closely followed by an equally daunting image of an ignorant, idle son with the same sulky vacant look that Krista wore when the conversation went above her head. If her genes triumphed, what would happen to the Petrakos power-base in the next generation? Giannis was unable to repress a shudder. At that precise moment he knew that he would not marry Krista. He could not work out how he had ever believed that he could.

 

Forty-eight hours later, Giannis flew out to Paris to break off his engagement. Since their betrothal Krista had been using all his properties, and was currently staying in his townhouse there while she visited friends. He did not give advance warning of his arrival, and when he strode into the hall Krista was screaming like a virago at a cowering maid.

‘Giannis…’ Tiny spots of colour adorning her perfect cheekbones, Krista dismissed the tear-stained member of staff with an imperious wave and turned to greet him as though nothing had happened.

‘Problems?’ Giannis enquired.

Krista complained that he was so rare a visitor to the household that his staff had become sloppy. Giannis was sceptical, because he had seen the vicious look etched on Krista’s face. He had once heard a rumour that the Spyridous had paid off a maid who’d accused Krista of assault. His fiancée gave him a winsome smile that displayed her pearly teeth to perfection. It was wasted on Giannis, who had not only been put in mind of his late mother’s drug-fuelled tirades against her long-suffering servants, but who had also remembered Maddie’s unfailing courtesy with his staff in Morocco. Impatient, however, to do what had to be done, he said nothing more on the subject. In the huge, airy drawing room, he told Krista as gently as he could that he no longer wanted to marry her.

‘You don’t mean it…It’s the wedding arrangements giving you cold feet,’ Krista informed him.

‘The fault is mine. I’m not ready to make such a commitment,’ Giannis countered steadily.

‘But you won’t find being married to me any different to being single!’ Krista pouted. ‘Giannis…I know you enjoy your freedom. You’re a Petrakos male. Womanising is in your blood.’

‘I’m sorry. Our engagement is at an end.’

‘But I’ve made so many arrangements.’

Giannis was quick to assure her that his staff would take care of everything. He was prepared for her every protest. Like a rock in a storm, he withstood reproaches, thwarted tears of rage and a screaming tantrum. Her greatest source of concern was that she would look foolish, and she baulked at his suggestion that they release an immediate joint statement to the press. In a rare gesture he agreed to let her choose the timing and the content of any such announcement.

Also, because he did feel that his change of heart was very hard on her, Giannis presented her with a jewellery case. He had purchased the contents as a wedding gift. ‘Please accept this set as a token of my continuing affection and esteem.’

Krista was as responsive to the glimpse of a large jewel case as a well-trained snake was to a charmer. The magnificent diamond and sapphire set, once the property of now deposed European royalty, brought ecstatic gasps of delight to her lips. Suddenly she was all smiles again.

Giannis was leaving when she said brightly, ‘I’ll wait for you to get this bug out of your system.’

He sent her a wry glance. ‘It’s not a bug.’

She tossed her hair so that it fell like pale blonde candy floss round her exquisite face. ‘I’m perfect for you. Everybody says so. When we get back together we’ll be like Romeo and Juliet.’

‘It’s over, Krista.’ Giannis resisted the urge to point out how Romeo and Juliet’s romance had ended. Instead he rejoiced in the energising sense of freedom gripping him. He knew he would never propose marriage again. It had been a serious mistake on his part. He should have listened to his instincts. If he needed a hostess he would hire one. Maddie had held a mirror up to him, and he did not like the reflection he’d seen.

Thirty-six hours after attending business talks in Dubai, Giannis flew back to London. Although he had yet to forgive Maddie’s behaviour at their last meeting, he could not wait to see her, and he went straight to her bedsit, planning to surprise her.

But the surprise was his, because there was no answer at her door. By the next day Nemos had established that she had moved out of her accommodation without leaving a forwarding address. Giannis insisted on seeing the room and having it searched. He could not credit that she was gone.

Why? He was a very logical guy. But he still could not comprehend why. No woman had ever run away from him before. Why would she do that? She wanted him as much as he wanted her. What was her problem? One minute she kissed him as if she couldn’t live without him, and the next—Raging frustration sizzled through his big, powerful frame. How long would it take him to track her down? There was a chance that he might never find her. That was the cue for the weirdest sense of paralysis setting in to his long powerful legs. Aggressively healthy as he was, he wondered if he was coming down with an illness.

Only when he had swung back into the limo did Nemos bend down to pass him an item. ‘It was in the rubbish bin. I thought you’d want me to be discreet.’

It was the packaging for a pregnancy testing kit. So evidently she had been worried—much more worried than he had been, Giannis registered in surprise. Had he struck her as insensitive? He grimaced. Why was that word working its way into his vocabulary? He had simply thought it improbable that the only contraceptive failure he had ever experienced would lead to conception. And he had been proven right, hadn’t he? But at least he now understood why she had been so angry when they’d last met. She had resented his more mature outlook and his calm lack of concern on that score—which now he found perfectly understandable.

 

The magazine was well read, and its cover was beginning to come off. Even from the other side of the waiting room, however, Maddie recognised the juxtaposed photos of Giannis and Krista. Practically in one motion, she pushed herself up off her seat and swept the publication off the table. The issue was weeks old. On the cover, a jagged lightening flash split a photo of the couple apart, and below ran the headline: Jilted? Too impatient to sit down again, she stood flicking through the pages in search of the corresponding article. It took several minutes for her to find it, because the piece was only a few lines long and not very informative.

An unnamed mutual ‘friend’ had let it be known that the Greek society wedding of the year was off. No reasons were given. Both Giannis and Krista had refused to comment on the rumours, and had asked for their privacy to be respected. Maddie drew in a slow, deep breath and clutched the magazine tightly.

‘Miss Conway?’

‘And this is your first visit to us?’ The middle-aged doctor sighed as he weighed her and took her blood pressure. ‘You must be at least five months pregnant.’

‘About four months…’ Maddie told him. ‘I saw a doctor in Southend when I was about six weeks along. Everything was fine then.’

The doctor said nothing. Unless she was mistaken about the dates, he thought, there was a problem. She was very noticeably pregnant. She looked thin and tired, and he wasn’t happy with her blood pressure. He examined her and said that he would like her to have a scan at the hospital.

‘Also, I don’t think you should be working,’ he added.

‘I’m only doing a few hours here and there. I can’t afford to quit.’

‘Do you want this baby?’

Losing what little colour she had, Maddie nodded in dismay.

‘Then you need to rest and take it easy.’

Fear gripped Maddie. The only thing that had kept her sane through the long lonely weeks since she had left London had been the comforting prospect of her child. True, she had felt endlessly tired, and sick enough to lose her appetite and some weight, but it had not occurred to her that her pregnancy might be at risk. Confronted with that threat, she was appalled. She was living in a bed-and-breakfast, and working odd shifts as a cashier in a restaurant which was open to all hours.

But if Giannis was no longer engaged there was no reason why she shouldn’t contact him and ask him to help her out. Naturally she would have preferred to remain proudly independent—not least because she had not told him the truth when she might have done. But all of a sudden she was painfully and guiltily aware that she should be putting her baby first and her pride and her feelings last.

It was months since Giannis had given her the embossed business card, but she still had it in her purse. Before she could lose her momentum, she went into the shopping centre to find a public phone. She punched out his mobile number very slowly. Her heart was beating so fast and her mind was so full of apprehensive thoughts that she very nearly dropped the receiver before the call was answered.

Giannis spoke in Greek, which unnerved her.

‘Hello…it’s me,’ she announced stiltedly. ‘I mean, sorry…it’s Maddie.’

At the other end of the phone, Giannis rose from his seat. Every predatory instinct on instant hyper-alert, he murmured as smoothly as silk, ‘I’ve been hoping to hear from you. Where are you?’

The rich, accented timbre of his deep voice touched memories Maddie had not known she had, and brought a surge of unexpected moisture to her eyes. ‘I’m in Reading,’ she said gruffly. ‘I need to see you.’

‘Any time. Give me your address—I’ll send a car to pick you up,’ Giannis suggested, determined to pin her down to an exact geographical location.

Not yet ready to advance that amount of trust, Maddie spread uneasy fingers over the gentle swell of her stomach. ‘No. I’ll get the train to London this afternoon.’

An expert negotiator, Giannis knew when not to push. He had picked up on that audible note of wariness. ‘Where do you want to meet? My apartment?’

‘No…’ But her mind, she discovered, was a total blank. The doctor had said it was hormones, but sometimes she felt as if her brain had been hijacked.

She had no objection, therefore, to Giannis stepping straight into the breach with the immediate assurance that she would be met at the station and brought to a hotel where they could dine.

‘It’ll be very relaxed.’ Giannis was determined to do and say whatever it took to draw her out of hiding, though he was using persuasive tactics that were utterly new to him.

Maddie wondered dully how hungry he would feel after she had broken her news. Since she could hardly take care of that in a public restaurant, she felt she had to say in warning, ‘I sort of need to talk to you in private.’

Whatever, Giannis thought, energised by a wave of satisfaction and impatience. She had missed him. Of course she had. He had picked up on a hint of tears in her voice, but even so she had stayed away for over three bloody months! Strange how a woman who could be so gentle could also be as stubborn as a mule and as hard as granite. He realised that he was as angry with her as he was pleased, and it was a volatile combination. But stronger than either prompting ran a deep, atavistic need to stamp her as his again, with the raw, physical intimacy that would ensure she never ran in the wrong direction again. This enthralling imagery in mind, Giannis cancelled all his afternoon appointments with a casualness that shocked his personal assistants.

 

Even though it was a hot day, Maddie wore a long jacket which, amazingly, did a good job of concealing her changing shape. Nemos greeted her with a warm, welcoming smile and shepherded her through the busy station. She alighted in a quiet side street. The lavish hotel foyer was wrapped in the intimidating silence of an exclusive establishment. Her nervous tension increased, her palms dampening.

‘Mr Petrakos is in here…’A door was spread back and she saw him for herself: tall, vibrantly dark and devastatingly handsome, he wore a silver-grey business suit with the classy sheen of madly expensive silk. He was all she saw—the only element in the room that she could focus on. A tiny pulse was beating too fast in the hollow of her collarbone.

His first thought was that she looked incredibly lovely, like a painting brought to life. She looked tiny and fragile in a voluminous black jacket which acted as a vivid foil for her Titian mane of curls and pure white skin.

‘Would you like a drink?’ he murmured softly.

‘Oh, no—I mean…’

Giannis strode forward and offered to take her coat. He didn’t like the way she was hovering, or the evasiveness of her green eyes. He had never been so tense. He was trying not to think of what he would do if she decided to walk away again.

‘No…no, it’s okay.’ Maddie backed away, and then thought how ridiculous she must look—how pointless it was for her to try and delay the announcement that she had to make. ‘I’ve got something to tell you.’

‘You’re very jumpy? I can see that for myself.’

Maddie breathed in deep. ‘About three months ago I told you a lie.’

‘You’re forgiven,’ Giannis asserted huskily, feasting his appreciative and somewhat amused gaze on her, because he was convinced that what she termed a lie would only qualify as the most minor fib. After all, nobody knew better than he did that she had sterling principles set in stone.

‘But you don’t know what I lied about yet.’

His gilded bronze eyes narrowed and raked over her, lingering on the soft pink fullness of her mouth. ‘You look amazing. You’d have to be a guy to understand. Promise to come home with me tonight and I won’t even ask what the lie was, pedhi mou.

Maddie could not initially credit his response, and then intimate and deeply embarrassing memories stirred and surfaced. He exuded hot, sexual energy, and he had taught her the meaning of exquisite pleasure. A heavy flush heated her entire skin surface. She could not deny that in Morocco she had been with him every step of the way. Furthermore, the extent of the passion he’d awakened had shocked her. She had not even known that it was possible for her to want a man to the extent that he could make her want him. So was it any wonder that he did not take her very seriously?

‘Do you ever think of anything other than the bedroom stuff?’ she asked in a stifled tone of discomfiture.

‘Not around you…it colours everything,’ Giannis confided in a driven undertone, opting for the honesty that she had insisted she wanted from him. ‘It even gets in the way of business. Perhaps if I had you all to myself for an unspecified length of time, and I could live out my every erotic desire, I could think of other things…occasionally.’

‘Like…as in having a serious conversation?’ Maddie prompted tightly, as she unbuttoned her jacket with trembling hands.

‘Don’t hold your breath, glikia mou.’ His lean, strong face taut, his brilliant dark eyes flashed languorous gold above his bronzed cheekbones. ‘I’m not into those.’

Maddie yanked off her jacket in a decidedly challenging fashion and pitched it at a chair, fearful that at any moment she would lose her nerve. She also hated herself for the fact that she really didn’t want to show him her pregnant body. He had found her unpregnant body deeply attractive and sensual.

‘And possibly you aren’t either,’ Giannis added thickly, hoping very much that she was going to continue with the strip.

He didn’t care how many serious conversations he had to be subjected to afterwards. Indeed, he dimly accepted that that might well be the price. She was a little conscience on legs, heavily prone to feeling bad about his natural human flaws. He just wished she could see how simple everything would be if she could only think as he did. She was back. They were together. He wanted her to come home with him. What was wrong with a celebration? There was no need to discuss the fact that she now had her own discreet surveillance team of three, who would ensure that she never got lost again. No, he didn’t make the same mistake twice.

‘G-Giannis…?’ Maddie stammered, the tip of her tongue sliding out to moisten her lower lip in the heavy silence. She had assumed that he would immediately notice that her trim waist had vanished.

Instead his smouldering gaze was locked to the sinfully ripe contours of her moist pink lips. ‘I love your mouth…’

Maddie realised that her black T-shirt and stretchy skirt were doing a better job of concealment than she had expected. Sucking in her breath, in the pathetic hope that some of her tummy would go in with it, she muttered unevenly, ‘Don’t you notice anything?’

On an erotic high of anticipation, Giannis was taking his time about inspecting her wonderfully rounded shape. The voluptuous curve of her bosom left him spellbound, and his scrutiny lingered there with the purist’s attention to detail. He was picturing her on his bed, in his office, in his apartment, on his private jet. Always there for him, always available. ‘Your breasts are amazing…’

Maddie went scarlet with rage and stress and disbelief and turned sideways. ‘What about my stomach?’

Sleek ebony brows pleating, Giannis stared. Black lashes lowering, he blinked, too taken aback to instantly grasp why she should look from that angle as if she had swallowed a cushion. ‘Enormous…’

Her eyes smarted; her face tightened and paled. Well, he had shot straight from the hip—and she had always known that he would find her rotund proportions deeply unappealing, hadn’t she?

‘Pregnant,’ Giannis almost whispered in Greek. And then he said it again for good measure in English. ‘But you can’t be pregnant because you said you were not.’

A silence full of dangerous sparks began to simmer in the tense atmosphere.

‘Isn’t that so?’ Giannis murmured lethally.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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