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Angelos Petrakos eased his broad shoulders in the widebacked dining chair and reached a longfingered hand for his wineglass. He took a mouthful of the extremely expensive vintage, savouring it. His glance flicked around the crowded, fashionable Knightsbridge restaurant, momentarily diverted from his host, with whom he was in discussion about a particular joint venture with Petrakos International.
Immediately he was aware of female eyes assessing him.
A mordant look gave a dark glint to his obsidian eyes. How much of their interest was in him and how much in his position as head of a multinational conglomerate with a range of businesses in its highly profitable portfolio?
It was a distinction his widowed father had been incapable of making. So astute in business, in building the Petrakos empire, yet his father had been targeted by one financially predatory female after another, and the youthful Angelos had been repelled by it. He'd hated to see his vulnerable father exploited, lured into loaning them money, making investments in their business affairs, or promoting their careers with his wealth and contacts. Angelos had learnt his lesson well, and so, however alluring the woman, however tempting it was to have an affair with her, he was ruthless in keeping business and pleasure scrupulously separate.
Such selfcontrol could be irksome, but his rule was inflexible and absolutehe never allowed any beautiful and ambitious woman to take advantage of his interest in them. It was simpler and safer that way.
His gaze continued its swift sweep of the restaurant, ignoring the attempts to catch his eye, while his attention remained still attuned to what his host was saying about the complex financial structure of the deal he was proposing. Then, abruptly, his grip on his wineglass tightened. His gaze honed down between the heads of other diners to the far side of the room, to a table set against the opposite wall.
A woman, sitting in profile to him.
He stilled completely. Then slowly, very slowly, he lowered his wineglass to the table. His gaze had not moved an iota. His eyes were hard as steel. For one long, measureless moment he held his gaze immobile. Then, abruptly cutting across whatever his host had been saying, he said, 'Excuse me one moment.' His voice was terse. As hard as his eyes.
He pushed back his chair, getting to his feet, discarding his napkin on the table. Then, with a lithe, powerful tread, he headed across the restaurant.
Towards his target.
Thea lifted her glass, smiling across at her dinner partner, and took a delicate sip of her flavoured mineral water. Even though Giles was enjoying a fine vintage Chablis, she never drank alcohol herself. It was not just empty caloriesit was dangerous. For a second so brief she did not register it by time the flicker of a shadow feinted over her skin. Then Giles spoke, dispelling it. 'Thea '
His voice was tentative. She smiled reassuringly, despite the nerves which ate her inside. Please let him say it She had worked so hard, so long for this moment, and now what she hungered for so much was almost within her reach.
'Thea' Giles said again, his voice sounding more determined now.
And again Thea found herself willing him to continue. Please let him say it! Please!
But even as the words begged in her head she saw him pause.
A shadow fell over the table.
It was curious, Angelos found himself thinking with an abstract part of his mind, just how swiftly he had recognised her. It had been, after all, nearly five years. Yet she had been instantly identifiable in the first second his eyes had lighted on her just now. The same abstract portion of his brain felt a flicker of emotion. He dispelled it swiftly.
Of course he had recognised her. He would know her anywhere. There could be no hiding place for her.
Now, as he reached the table she was sitting at, he could just what she had done to herself. It was, he acknowledged, remarkable. His gaze rested on her. Seeing, for the moment, what she wanted the world to see.
A stunningly beautiful female. A woman to catch the breath of any man.
But then she always had been that. But not like this. Not with sleek, pale, perfect hairstyled immaculately, drawn off her face into a sculpted chignon at the nape of her neckher makeup so subtle that it was as if she were wearing none, the shimmer of pearls at her earlobes, her couture dress the colour of champagne in tailored silk, highcut, longsleeved.
Almost, he laughed. Harsh, unhumorous. To see her like thischic, elegant, soignee A thousand miles from the way she had once looked. Five long years from that. Five long years in which to create the transformation his outward eye now saw. The illusion.
More than an illusion. A lie.
His shadow fell across her. She turned her head. And in the one microsecond that it took he saw the shockfar more than shock!detonate in her eyes. Then it was gone. Almost he admired her. Admired her for slamming down the visor over her face, the blanknessthe flawless, perfect lack of any sign whatsoever of recognition, of acknowledgement of his identity.
But admiration was not what he felt for her. What he felt for her was
Something different. Something quite, quite different. Something that had been buried deep for five long years. Crushed like rocks under lava that had once burnt blisteringly hot and which had cooled to impenetrable basalt.
Until this moment. Out of nowhere.
His hand slid inside the silklined inner breast pocket of his jacket, withdrawing a card. He flicked it down on to the table in front of her.
'Call me,' he said. His voice was expressionless. His face expressionless.
Then he turned and walked away.
As he did, he reached for his mobile phone, pressing a single number. Instantly it was answered.
'The blonde. I want a full dossier on her when I get back to my suite tonight.' He paused minutely. 'And her swain.'
Then he slid the phone away and rejoined his table. His face was still expressionless.
'My apologies,' he said smoothly to his host. 'You were saying ?'
'Thea? What on earth?' Giles's upperclass accents sounded bemused.
She lifted her eyes from the card. For a moment something seemed to move in her face.
'Angelos Petrakos.' She heard Giles read out the name on the card. It came from a long, long way away. Down an endless corridor of purgatory.
Angelos Petrakos. The name speared through her mind. Five years. Five years
She could feel shock still detonating through her. Invisible, but explosive. A destructive force she could barely endure. But endure it she mustmust. It was essential. Yet she felt as if a shockwave was slamming through her, convulsing her, and all she could do was hang onhang on with her fingernailsas its force sought to overwhelm her.
In the wake of the shockwave came another devastating forcepanic. A scorching, searing heat, screaming up in her chest, suffocating her. With an effort she could scarcely bear, she crushed down the shock, the panic. Regained control. Frailpaperthin. But there all the same, holding everything down, pinning everything down.
I can do this!
The words, gritted out into the seething maelstrom in her head, were called up from the depths. Familiar wordswords that had once been a litany. A litany that had somehow, somehow, got her through. Got her through to where she was now. In control. Safe.
She forced herself to blink, to focus on Giles's face. The face of the man who represented to her everything that she had ever craved, ever hungered for. And he was still therestill sitting opposite her. Still safe for her.
Everything's all rightit's still all right
Urgently, she crushed down the panic in her throat.
Giles had turned his head to look at the tall figure striding across the restaurant. 'Not the type to bother with good manners,' he said, disapproval open in his voice.
Thea felt a bubble of hysteria bead dangerously in her throat, seeking to break through her rigid, desperate selfcontrol.
Good manners? Good manners from Angelos Petrakos? A man whose last words to me five long bitter years ago had been to call me a
He mind slammed shut. No! Don't think. Don't remembernot for a single moment!
Giles was talking again. She forced herself to listen, to keep crushed down the storming emotions ravaging inside her with sick, sick terror. To deny, utterly, what had just happened. That Angelos Petrakosthe man who had destroyed herhad just surfaced out of nowhere, nowhere, like a dark, malignant demon.
Panic clawed again in her, its talons like slashing razors.
'Perhaps he wants to engage you,' Giles said, looking back across at her. 'Seems an odd way to go about it, though. Extremely uncivil. Anyway ' his voice changed, sounding awkward, selfconscious suddenly no need for you to accept any more bookingswell, that is if you Well, if you'
He cleared his throat.
'The thing is, Thea,' he resumed, 'what I was going to say before that chap interrupted waswell, would you consider?'
He broke off again. Inside Thea the claws stopped abruptly. A stillness had formed. She couldn't move. Nor breathe.
For a moment Giles just looked at herhelpless, inarticulate. Then, with a lift of his chin, and in a voice that was suddenly not hesitant or inarticulate, but quiet and simple, he said, 'Would you, my dear Thea, consider doing me the very great honour of marrying me?'
She shut her eyes. Felt behind the lids tears stinging.
And everything that was storming in her brainthe shock, the panic, the terrified clinging of her fingernails to stop herself plunging down, down, down into the engulfing depths that she could feel trying to overwhelm hersuddenly, quite suddenly, ceased.
She opened her eyes. Gratitude streamed through her. Profound and seismic relief.
'Of course I will, Giles,' she answered, her voice soft and choked, the tears shimmering in her eyes like diamonds. Relief flooded through her. A relief so profound it felt like an ocean tide.
She was safe. Safe. For the first time in her life. And nothing, no one, could touch her now.
As the terror and panic drained out of her in the sweet, blessed relief of Giles's proposal, she almost twisted her head to spear her defiance across the roomto slay the one man in the world she had cause to loathe with all her being. But she wouldn't do it. She wouldn't give him the satisfaction of knowing that he even registered in her consciousness. Whatever malign quirk of fate had brought him here tonight, it had allowed him to witnesseven if he had no idea it was happening!a moment of supreme achievement in her life.
A hard sliver of satisfaction darted in her mind. All the shock and the panic she had felt were gone nowcompletely gone. Unneeded and unnecessary. Instead there was now thin, vicious satisfaction. It was fittingoh, so fitting!that he should be here, in the moment of her life's grateful achievement, when he had nearly, so very nearly, destroyed her life.
But I wouldn't let him! I clawed my way back and now I'm here, and I've got everything I've wanted all my life! So go to hell, Angelos Petrakos! Get out of my life and stay out for ever!
Then, casting him away with her damnation, she gazed into Giles's eyes. The eyes of the man she was going to marry.
On the far side of the room Angelos Petrakos's eyes were bladed like knives.
* * *
The rest of the evening passed in a blur for Thea. Gratitude and relief were paramount, but she also knew that there were still grave difficulties ahead of her. She was nothow could she be?the ideal bride for Giles. But she knew how hard she would work to succeed as his wifea wife he would never regret marrying, that even his parents would accept as well. She would not let them down. Nor Giles. For what he was giving her was beyond price to her. And she would not risk him regretting it.
And I can do it! I remade myself out of what I wasand I can make myself a suitable wife for Giles! I can!
Resolution surged through her. Giles deserved the very best of her, and she would not stint in her efforts to get it right for him. I'll learn how to do it, she vowed, as she listened to Giles telling her more about Farsdale, the ancestral pile in Yorkshire he would inherit one day.
'Are you sure you want to take it on?' he asked doubtfully. 'It's a bit of a monstrosity, you know!'
She smiled fondly. 'I'll do whatever it takesI only hope I won't let you down.'
'No!' he answered quickly, taking her hand. She felt warmth go through her. 'You'll never do that! You'll be the most beautiful and wonderful Viscountess we've had in the family!'
Angelos stood, hands curved over the cold metal balustrade of the roof terrace of his London apartment, and gazed out over the river, flowing darkly far below. The darkness of the Thames was shot with gold and scarletreflected lights from the buildings either side of its wide expanse. From the penthouse terrace he could see the city stretching far in all directions.
A vast, amorphous conurbationcities within cities physically contiguous but socially isolated from each other as if there were stone walls and barbed wire fences between them. The London that he inhabited when he visited the city was the one that had the highest fence around it, the thickest walls, keeping out those who did not qualify for entrance. The London of the rich.
Many wanted to get infew succeeded. The failure rate was steep, the odds stacked heavily against them. Passports hard to come by.
Money was one passportthe main one. Those whose endeavours made them sufficient money could gain entry. But sometimes money was not essential, not necessary. SometimesAngelos's eyes darkened to match the inky water far belowother attributes would do it.
Especially if you were female.
His hands tightened over the balustrade.
The timehonoured method.
That was what she had used.
He exhaled slowly. He gave an impatient hunching of his shoulders. Well, of course she would! What else did she have?
The cynical twist of his mouth deepened. Only now she wanted more than she had wanted once from him. In the years since then her ambitions had soaredas the dossier he'd ordered showed glaringly.
The Hon. Giles Edward St John Brookeonly son of the fifth Viscount Carriston, principal seat Farsdale, Yorkshire. The Hon. Giles has been a regular escort for the subject at a wide variety of social events over the last year. It is a relationship rumoured in the gossip columns to be potentially one of matrimony, but with the speculative impediment that the Viscount and Viscountess might not approve, preferring a more traditional wife for their heir.
The final phrase echoed in Angelos' head. .a more traditional wife. His mouth thinned.
Had they had her investigated, being concerned for their son? If so, they would have found only what his own security team had found.