Read an Excerpt
THE UNMISTAKABLE SOUND of footsteps echoed around the ancient stone stairs that led to the basement of the museum.
Angie Littlewood glanced up from the notes she was making, distracted by the unexpected disturbance. Upstairs the museum was heaving with visitors but down here in the bowels of the old listed building there was an almost reverential silence, a silence created by thick stone walls and the academic purpose of the researchers and scientists who worked behind the scenes.
Angie felt a flicker of surprise as she saw Helen Knightly appear in the doorway. As Museum Curator, Helen was usually fully occupied upstairs with the public at this time of day and Angie's surprise turned to consternation as she saw the distressed expression on her colleague's face.
"Are you all right, Helen? Is something the matter?" 'I don't know how to tell you this, dear." Helen's face was slightly paler than usual and Angie's heart took an uncomfortable dive as her mind raced ahead, anticipating the problem.
Obviously it was something to do with her mother. Gaynor Littlewood had been so traumatized by the events of the last six months that Angie was sometimes afraid to leave her alone in the house.
"What's happened?" 'There's someone upstairs asking to see you." With an inward sigh, Angie carefully replaced the piece of ancient pottery she'd been examining and rose to her feet, still holding her pen. "If it's my mother again, then I apologise,'she said huskily, adjusting her glasses and her white coat as she walked towards the curator. "She's found the last six months very hard and I do keep explaining that she can't just turn up here unannounced--"
"It'snot your mother.'The curator gave a nervous cough, a gesture that did nothing to ease Angie's growing feeling of unease.
If it wasn't her mother then it had to be a funding issue. Research posts were always precarious and money was always in short supply. She felt a sudden stab of panic. How would they manage without the money from her job? Angie opened her mouth to prompt the other woman but the heavy tread of male footsteps on the stairs distracted her.
She glanced towards the door as a man strolled into the room without waiting for either invitation or introduction.
For a brief moment Angie stared at him, her attention caught by the strength and perfection of his coldly handsome face. He resembled one of the legendary Greek gods, she thought, her mind wandering as she studied the perfect bone structure, the masculine jaw and the hard, athletic physique. All the Greek myths she'd ever read rushed through her head and for an extremely unsettling moment she imagined him stripped to the waist, bronzed muscles glistening with the sweat of physical exertion as he did battle with the Minotaur or some other threatening creature while some hapless female lay in chains on the floor waiting to be rescued.
"Dr Littlewood? Angie!" Helen's tone was sharp enough to disturb Angie's vision and she gave herself a mental shake, reminding herself that sponsors didn't expect archaeologists to be dreamy. And this man was obviously someone extremely important. He had an unmistakable air of command and authority and her eyes slid to the two men who had planted themselves in the doorway behind him. Their manner was respectful and watchful, and added to her feeling that the man was hugely influential; he was probably considering making an extremely large donation to the museum. Although she would rather be left in peace to do her research, she was only too aware that posts such as hers existed only because certain organisations or individuals were financially generous. Clearly Helen Knightly was expecting her to fly the flag and make a good impression so she pushed down her natural shyness, ignored her deep-rooted belief that men as glamorous and sophisticated as this one never looked twice at women like her, and stepped forward.
It didn't matter that she wasn't beautiful or elegant, she told herself firmly. She'd graduated top of her year from Oxford University. She spoke five languages fluently, including Latin and Greek, and her academic record was excellent. If he was interested in funding a position at the museum, then those were the qualities that would interest him.
"I'm very pleased to meet you." Still holding the pen, Angie stretched out a hand and heard Helen make a distressed sound.
"Angie, this isn't--I mean, I should probably introduce you," she began, but the man stepped forward and took the hand that Angie had extended.
"You are Miss Littlewood?'The voice was strong and faintly accented. The grip of his strong bronzed fingers matched the power of his physique. Which god did he most closely resemble? Apollo? Ares? Angie felt her mind drift again until she heard Helen's voice in the background. "This is Nikos Kyriacou, Angie, the President of Kyriacou Investments."
A Greek name? Given the comparisons she'd been making, Angie almost smiled and then Helen's words and the urgent emphasis of her tone finally registered.
The name hung in the air like a deep, dark threat and then reality exploded in Angie's head and she snatched her hand away from his and took an involuntary step backwards, the shock so great that the pen she was holding clattered to the floor.
She'd never heard of Kyriacou Investments but she'd heard of Nikos Kyriacou. For the last six months his name had been on her mother's lips as she'd sobbed herself to sleep each night.
Clearly aware of the sudden escalation of tension in the room, Helen cleared her throat again and gestured towards the door. "Perhaps we should all--"
"Leave us." His dark, brooding gaze fixed on Angie. Nikos Kyriacou issued the command without a flicker of hesitation or the faintest concession towards manners or protocol. "I want to talk to Miss Littlewood alone."
"But--" 'It's fine, Helen.'Angie spoke the words with difficulty. It was far from fine. Already she could feel her knees shaking. She didn't want to be left on her own with this man. The fact that he was rude came as no surprise. She'd already deduced that he was a man devoid of human decency--a man with no morals or ethics. Now she knew which Greek god he most closely resembled. Ares, she thought to herself. The god of war. Cold and handsome but bringing death and destruction.
Her slim shoulders straightened as she braced herself for conflict. This wasn't the time to be pathetic. She owed it to her family to stand up to him. The problem was, she hated conflict. Hadn't her sister continually mocked her becauseAngie always chose the peaceful route? The only argument that interested her was an academic one. All she really wanted was to be left in peace with her research.
But that wasn't an option.
Staring at him now, she decided that he was every bit as cold and intimidating as his reputation suggested and suddenly all she wanted to do was run. But then she remembered her sister as a child, so blonde and perfect, always smiling. And she remembered her mother's limp, sobbing form--remembered all the things she'd resolved to say to Nikos Kyriacou if she ever met him face to face.
Why should she be afraid of being alone with him? What could he do to her family that he hadn't already done?
His dark, disturbing gaze remained fixed on her face as he waited for the echo of Helen's footsteps to recede.
He had nerve, she had to give him that. To be able to look her in the eye and not appear to feel even the slightest shred of remorse.
Only when he was sure that Helen Knightly had moved out of earshot did he speak. "First, I wish to offer my condolences on the death of your sister."
His directness shocked her almost as much as the hypocrisy of his statement. The words might have meant more had they been spoken with the slightest softening of the voice but his tone was hard. The coldness injected into that statement somehow turned sympathy to insult.
She inhaled sharply and pain lanced through her body. "Your condolences?" Her mouth was so dry she could barely speak the words. "Next time you're offering your condolences, at least try and look as though you mean it. In the circumstances, your sympathy is rather out of place, don't you think? In fact, I think you have a complete nerve coming here and offering "condolences" after what you did!" It was the first time she'd ever spoken to anyone in such a way and she reached out a hand and held on to the table, needing the support.
A frown touched his proud, handsome face, as if he were unaccustomed to being questioned or criticised. "Your sister's death at my villa was extremely unfortunate, but--"
"Extremely unfortunate?" She, who never raised her voice, who always preferred logic and reasoned argument to mindless aggression, raised it now. A vision of her sister flew into her mind. The sister she'd never be able to hug and laugh with again. "Unfortunate? Is that how you justify it to yourself, Mr Kyriacou? Is that how you appease your conscience? How you manage to sleep at night..."
Something dangerous flared in those dark eyes. "I have no trouble sleeping at night."
She was suddenly aware of her pounding heartbeat and the dampness of her palms. An instinctive urge of violent aggression swarmed through her and she must have betrayed that urge in some way because the two men in the doorway suddenly stepped forward, ready to intervene.
Angie realised that she'd actually forgotten their presence. "Who are they?"
"My security team." Nikos Kyriacou dismissed them with an impatient gesture and they melted into the background, leaving Angie alone with the one man in the world she would have preferred never to meet in person.
"I can understand why a man like you would need a security team if you treat everyone the way you treated my sister! Clearly you have no conscience!"
She placed both hands on her desk. It was that or punch him hard. "My sister died in a fall from your balcony and you're standing there telling me that your conscience is clear?"