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Gemma Allen was back.
Forcing himself to snap out of the shock that held him rigid, Angelo Apollonides strode across the pale sand towards the woman who had betrayed him.
His staff had not lied. The nasty truth was that his beautiful former mistress stood on his beach, on his island admiring one of his sleek, double-hulled catamarans. And Angelo intended to find out precisely why she had chosen to return.
"What are you doing here?" Angelo fought to keep his voice even, to keep the string of ugly curses from escaping. "I never expected to see you again. Particularly not here on Strathmos."
She turned, her tawny eyes wide and startled. The first week of November had passed, the evenings on Strathmos had begun to cool. The sea wind caught at Gemma's dark red hair, whipping it across her face, hiding her expression for a beat of time. When she brushed it back, she'd recovered her equilibrium and her eyes were wary.
"Angelo." Gemma's voice was cool, composed. A world away from the alarm that had flickered in her eyes only seconds before. "How are you?"
"Forget the pleasantries. You have nerve showing up at the Palace of Poseidon." Angelo pressed his mouth into a tight, forbidding line. "I couldn't believe it when I was told you are performing in the Electra Theatre."
She shrugged. "It's a free world. I can work where I want."
"Anywhere except on Strathmos. This is my world, run by my rules." The island was more than his world; it was his home. The resort had been created from his dreams. Today he'd returned after a hectic month away to find that Gemma had already been working here for over a week.
"Do you really want to be faced with an unfair-dismissalaction?" Her wariness had been replaced with attitude.
Angelo froze. He was known to be a fair employer, hard but just. He didn't need the headache of an industrial action—and there was a good chance she'd succeed. Frustrated, he stared at the face that had grown more beautiful in the years since they'd been apart. Her hair was longer…wilder, her eyes glowed brighter and as for her mouth…that lush red mouth taunted him with fighting words. He jerked his attention away from her provocative mouth and gave her slender body an insultingly slow once-over. "Singer is certainly a step up from exotic dancer."
"It's been three years. Things change," she pointed out.
"I haven't changed." He widened his stance and put his hands on his hips.
"No, you haven't changed one little bit," she agreed. He assessed her through slitted eyes, not liking the bite in her tone. "So what do you want, Gemma? A second chance?"
An emotion he couldn't decipher flitted across her stunning features. Gemma gave a brittle laugh. "A second chance? With you? You must be mad!"
He frowned, not liking the fact that he couldn't read her any longer. "Why are you here?"
"I'm here to work…it's a free world." With a sweeping hand she gestured to the blue stretch of the Aegean Sea beyond the beach where the catamarans rested.
"You—or rather your minions—gave me the job. The money was too good to pass up."
"Don't scorn the lack of it so easily." Her eyes were flashing now. "Just because you inherited an empire of resorts that stretch across the Greek isles before you turned twenty-one doesn't give you the right to look down your nose at me. I need the money."
Angelo felt himself bristle. Her tongue had developed a razor-sharp edge since their last unforgettable encounter. "I worked damn hard to build a chain of family hotels into world-class resorts. And you never objected to the funds it gave you access to in the past."
He felt her withdraw, even before her eyes went blank. Then she murmured, "If the recent tabloids are to be believed, you're so far removed from us ordinary working mortals, you might as well inhabit Mount Olympus."
"You should know better than to believe everything you read in the newspapers," he snapped, shuddering at the memory of the latest batch of headlines about his breakup with Melina.
"Really?" She raised an eyebrow. "You're not the playboy they portray you to be? You don't wear a different rising starlet or supermodel on your arm every month?"
He glared at her, his frustration increasing to a rising inferno, fanned by her sharp words. "The media exposure is advantageous to both the women and myself."
"So it's all about glamour? About creating an illusion about the rich and famous, then? Nothing more?"
His brows jerked together. "Why are you so interested—unless you do want a chance to get back into my bed?"
She snorted. "I don't want you back."
His mouth slanted. "Didn't anyone tell you that you should be nice to the boss? Three years ago you would've never dared speak to me as you just did."
"Three years ago, I was a silly little goose."
She shifted and her tank top rode up, revealing a strip of tanned midriff. Every male instinct went on alert. "But you don't deny that you are interested?" Angelo moved closer.
Gemma glanced at her watch. "I can't deny you're a fascinating man."
The bite was back. He gave a surprised laugh. "You don't want me back…but you're interested enough to admit you find me fascinating? What message are you trying to send me?"
For an instant she looked rattled. He noticed that goose bumps had risen on her arms. "Are you cold?"
"No." She rubbed her arms briskly, not meeting his eyes.
He touched her arm where the fine hairs stood on end. Gently. With a fingertip. "If you are not cold, then what is this?"
She jerked away. Her gaze swung up to meet his. He read bewilderment…and something more. A stark, turbulent emotion. Fear?
Gemma stepped away. "Excuse me." The smile she gave him didn't reach the eyes that were stretched wide. "But I need to go. It's nearly time for the show. I've got to get ready. Maybe you can come watch." She flung the invitation over her shoulder. As she brushed past him, Angelo let the weight of his hand land on her arm, stilling her.
She turned. This time, he was certain of the emotion that darkened her eyes from tawny to a deep sherry-brown.
It was fear. Powerful and totally overwhelming. He inspected her. From close-up he took in her darkened eyes, the taut tension in her face, the tiny shivers that rippled across her skin. He could smell the saltiness of the sea in her hair and feel the cool edge of the wind on her skin.
Why was she here? She'd implied she needed money. Was that the only reason? Or, despite her denial, did she hope to rekindle the burnt-out embers of their affair?
"Let me go." Her voice was toneless. Pointedly, she stared at his long, tanned fingers lying against her skin.
He removed them, taking his time and watching intently as she hauled in a steadying breath.
The nagging wind tugged at her wayward hair as she gave a hurried glance at her watch and scooped up the sandals lying in the sand. "I suppose I should say it's been nice seeing you—"
"But you'd be lying."
"I didn't say that." She stilled. There was chagrin in her eyes. "Don't put words in my mouth."
Her mouth. His gaze dropped to her rosy lips. Full and lush. The sudden surge of desire was unexpected. It left him reeling. He clenched his fists. How could he want Gemma Allen? After everything she'd done?
How the hell could he have forgotten how sexy she was? The lush bee-stung lips, the sinuous curves of her sleek body, the cloud of dark red hair…how could he have let those details slide from his consciousness?
Reluctant to examine the discovery that he still desired her, he said softly between his teeth. "From exotic dancer into singer…I want to see this transformation. I'll be at your show."
Half an hour later, wearing only lacy briefs and a silky black halter-neck slip, Gemma sat alone in front of the mirror in the dressing room she shared with Lucie LaVie, a likeable comedienne who did a very funny routine in the bar adjacent to the Electra Theatre.
Meeting Angelo on the beach so unexpectedly had been a shock. Dammit, she hadn't even known he was back. She'd been on Strathmos for just over a week, waiting for him, half-dreading their first encounter. She'd planned to be prepared…to be dressed to the nines…to show him what he was missing when they met again. Instead she'd been wearing shorts, no makeup and her legs had been covered in sand. She certainly hadn't expected the curious numbness that had enveloped her.
Staring into the mirror, Gemma couldn't help wondering what Angelo would make of the transformation. The heavy stage makeup gave her skin an unnatural perfection, blotting out the light sprinkle of freckles across her nose and cheeks. Eyeliner accentuated her tawny eyes and dark ruby lipstick added lushness to her lips that gave her an in-your-face sensuality.
Angelo liked his women beautiful and flamboyant. His most recent mistresses had all been actresses or famous models. And, according to the recent tabloids she'd studied, he still showed no sign of settling down. She examined herself in the mirror. She looked beautiful…flamboyant. And Angelo would be out there tonight watching her.
Her plan had to—
A rap on the door broke into her desperate thoughts. "Ten minutes to showtime, Gemma."
"Won't be long," she called back, and ran her fingers through her hair in an effort to tame the wild auburn curls. She couldn't remember the last time a man's fingers had stroked through them. A vivid image of Angelo's hand on her arm, his long fingers and buffed square nails, flashed into her mind and she swore softly.
An instant later the door burst open and Angelo entered with all the force and energy of a hurricane.
"Hey. You can't come in here!" After the initial shock, Gemma resisted the urge to cross her hands over her breasts. Despite the skimpy fabric and the low dip in the front, the slip covered all the strategic places.
Angelo shut the door and, folding his arms, leaned against it. "There's nothing to see that I haven't seen before."
Right. Gemma swallowed. Then she let her gaze run over him. He looked magnificent. The white dinner jacket must've been tailored to fit his tall body. Under the lights, his hair gleamed like old gold and his startling turquoise eyes blazed. He looked assured, wealthy, powerful.
And this was the man she intended to teach a lesson he'd never forget.
"What do you want?"
"Join me in the theatre for a drink after the show." Gemma hid her exultation. It had been worth coming all the way to Strathmos. A few years ago he would've impressed her—with his Greek-god looks and the sheer force of his personality. But these days she didn't go for the domineering masterful type.
She dared not give in too quickly. She didn't want to lose his interest. Nor could she let herself forget for one moment why she was doing this.
"Don't you think you should wait outside until I am dressed?" Gemma waited a beat then added delicately, "Boss…"
Angelo's brows jerked into a frown at her disparaging tone and Gemma felt a fierce rush of pleasure. Of course, he was accustomed to admiration…adulation… women falling all over him. But not her.
"You—" He broke off and sucked in a deep breath. Then in a soft, dangerous tone, he said, "Do not presume on our past relationship." "I would never do that." In the mirror, she slanted him a small smile. "I came to Palace of Poseidon to sing."
"Precisely." He didn't smile back. His eyes were bright and ruthless. "Or were you lying earlier? Perhaps you were hoping I'd want you back in my bed?"
Annoyance swarmed through Gemma. Quickly, she veiled her gaze before he glimpsed her ire. "I never imagined you'd want that. And nor do I. I've told you that already." Gemma drew a steadying breath. She had to be very careful; she could mess it all up with one careless mistake.
"I thought you might be hankering after the style to which you'd become accustomed."