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It wasn't the first time he had been latebut it was the first time he hadn't bothered to warn her.
Outside, the rain made the street look as glossy as an old black and white photo but Rebecca's eyes were fixed at the junction which would give her the first glimpse of his car.
The palms of her hands were cold and clammy and she bit her lip, her head spinning with thoughts she could no longer ignore. Because maybe this was how it all beganthe end of a relationship. With the slow, slow drip of inconsiderationrather than the passion of the blazing row.
Her lips curved into a painful smile as she recognised that even calling it a relationship gave it more importance than it deserved. When two people lived on opposite continents and merely snatched at secret moments togetherdid that really count?
Perhaps affair would be more accurate. An affair which should never have started and which she'd tried her best to resist, but in the end she had been weak of course she had. For wasn't that Xandros's special ability: to make women weak around him? It wasn't difficult to see why. Given the sheer charisma and powerful persuasion of the Greek billionaire, it was amazing that she had lasted out as long as she had.
Maybe this was what happened when you finally began to fall in love with a man like Alexandros Pavlidisor Xandros to his friends and lovers. This terrible preoccupation which made all your thinking skewed. Even though you told yourself that you didn't want to be in love, that it couldn't possibly be love when all you'd known were some amazing dates and some even more amazing sex.
Yet you could tell yourself something again and again and sometimes almost believe it. And then he would call at the very last minute and she would hear that deep sexy voice, asking her if she'd like to have dinner, and her heart would flipthe world seeming suddenly to be lit by fairy lights. And even though she hated herself for being so available, she would be unable to say no.
The gleam of powerful headlights cut a bright channel through the night and Rebecca saw the shiny black nose of the limousine as it slowly eased its way into view. Hastily, she ducked out of sight as it stopped outside the apartment building. Not the most attractive sight in the world, was it? To be seen staring anxiously out of the window!
She checked the mirror. Her hair was clean and shiningworn loose, just the way Xandros liked it. She was wearing a dress in soft lilac and was slim enough and young enough to carry off the relatively inexpensive outfit and make the most of it. Xandros didn't like a lot of make-up and neither did she. A slick of lipstick and a curl of mascarathat was all.
But no amount of careful preparation could hide the faint shadows beneath her eyes, or the way that she seemed to have been constantly biting her lip lately, like an exam candidate who hadn't really understood the question.
The doorbell rang and she pinned a casual smile to her mouth, which died the instant she opened the door to see a tall man in uniform standing on the step, rain dripping from his peaked cap, and it took a moment or two to realise that she was looking at Xandros's chauffeur.
'Miss Gibbs?' he said politely, as if he'd never met her before. As if he hadn't witnessed Xandros kissing her so passionately on the back seat of the car. Or hadn't been forced to sit in a car outside her tiny house, waiting for his Greek boss to reappear over an hour later minus his tie, his hair dishevelled, his sensual mouth curved with pleasure.
Rebecca's cheeks burned with shame at the memory of that particular time. 'Where's Xandros?' she questioned, and then her eyes widened as a thousand horrible possibilities flooded into her mind. 'He's okay? I meannothing's happened to him?'
But the chauffeur's face might have been made of wood. Hard, disapproving woodas if he was used to dealing with a hundred worried-looking women like Rebecca. 'Mr Alexandros Pavlidis asked me to convey his apologies, but he is dealing with a conference call. He asked me to bring you to him instead.'
Rebecca swallowed. Bring you to him. Like a convenience, she thought. A package. Something handy, but ultimately disposable. Yes, that was her, all right.
There was a split second while she ran through her options. What was the normal response when your lover sent his chauffeur to collect you and you suspected that was because your novelty value was wearing off and he might be tiring of you? Did you smile gratefully and thank the chauffeur and settle back comfortably in the back of the luxury car, counting your blessings?
Or would you be more respectedand desiredif you politely told the driver that he could go back to his boss with the information that you had changed your mind about dinner, and were staying in? That if he was busy, then surely the best solution was to leave him in peace to get on with his work.
But the lure of Xandros was strong, and so was her fear that a dramatic display of pique might bring about the end sooner than she had anticipated. Sooner than she could cope with.
'I'll get my coat,' she said.
The traffic was heavy and the weather bleak for a Thursday night in April. Rebecca's hair was whipped around her head by a biting wind as the hotel doorman opened the car door and she stepped out.
Had she been hoping that Xandros might have been standing in the foyer, waiting for her? That she wouldn't have to make the endless journey across the luxurious carpet on her own, imagining that eyes were on her, wondering who the woman in the cheap dress was? Wasn't there a part of her which was slightly terrified of being stopped by one of the hotel staff, demanding to know why she was taking the lift up to the penthouse?
But the journey passed without comment and in the mirror-lined lift she had the opportunity to drag a brush through her hair, to compose herself into the right kind of expression.
How did she look the first time he'd seen herwhen he had hunted her down like a hungry predator? Surely she could recreate a similar kind of expression now. The kind of air which implied that she had a full and fulfilling life, and she wasn't particularly fussed about any mannot even if he was a world-famous Greek billion-aire.
The trouble was that things changed. People changed, once a man like Xandros had possessed them. Did he have the power to turn women into his willing slavesso that he could ultimately despise them for wanting him so badly?
Did he despise her? Had she no pride left where he was concerned?
The lift doors slid open noiselessly and she could hear the sound of his voice coming from the direction of the sitting room. A unique voice, in Rebecca's experiencelow, soft, dangerous, sexy. He was speaking in Greek and then suddenly he switched to English as she began to walk towards its silken resonance, the heels of her boots quiet on the thick carpet.
He was sitting at the vast desk which overlooked London's Hyde Park, wearing a white silk shirt which contrasted against his deep olive skin. His ebony hair was ruffled and it sparkled with the light from drops of wateras if someone had scattered fine diamonds over his head, though he was clearly just out of the shower.
'Tell them no,' he was saying. 'Tell them ' And then he must have become aware of her presence for his gaze flicked up from the document he was reading. He studied her for one long, unhurried moment and then the black eyes glittered, and he gave a slow smile, running the tip of his tongue over his lipslike someone starving who had just seen their meal arrive.
'Tell them that they will have to wait,' he said softly, and then put the phone down without any kind of conventional goodbye. 'Rebecca,'he murmured. 'Rebecca mou.'
Usually, that deep, sensuous endearment made her tremble, but not tonight. 'Hello, Xandros,' she said evenly.
His eyes narrowed. Leaning back in his chair, he continued to study her. 'Forgive me for not coming to collect you myselfbut some business came in which I had to deal with.'
Rebecca eyed the dark arrow of hair revealed by the few shirt buttons which had been left open and she felt the habitual rush of desire which overrode everything else, even sanity. But if she ignored this lapse in plain courtesy, then wasn't she just giving him permission to treat her any way he saw fit? If it was any other man, would she have said something? Of course she would. But with any other man you wouldn't care!
'You could have phoned.'
There was a split second of a pause. 'I could indeed,' he agreed steadily and felt the flicker of a pulse at his temple. Be careful, agape mou, he thought. Be very careful.
'And you're still not ready.'
His eyes narrowed. Was that a criticism? Of him? Did she not realise that he would not tolerate being judged? That no woman ever had, and no woman ever would? And was she not aware that she was in danger of treading the path of the predictablethe path that so many women before her had takenand that if she did there could be only one outcome?
Leaning back in his chair just a little, he crossed one long leg over the other, watching the way that her eyes followed the movement as she tried to disguise the hunger in her eyes. Should he take her now? he wondered idly. Could he really be bothered to endure a restaurant dinner of small talk when all he wanted was to lose himself in the sweetness of her body?
'Indeed I am not,' he agreed softly, following her gaze to his bare feet and remembering that amazing time when she had 'But that is easily remedied,' he said thickly. 'I shall go into the bedroom and finish getting dressed right now.'
'Okay,' she said uncertainly, something telling her that he was playing a game with her.
'Or ' His mouth flickered in the mockery of a smile. 'Or you could always come over here and say hello to me properly.'
Was that a subtle dig that she hadn't already done so? Rebecca was aware of some unknown emotion hovering in the air about themsomething unspoken and dangerous. Instinct told her that she was playing with fire if she continued to moan about his lateness.
And an even stronger instinct made her badly want to kiss him.
Letting her handbag slide to the floor, she crossed the room and went over to him, bending her face to brush a light kiss against his lips. A kiss could wipe everything away, she thought longingly, her hands reaching up to his shoulders. Oh, Xandros.
'Nice,' he murmured. 'Oreos. Do it some more.'
She kissed him again. And then againonly deeper this time and more intentlyuntil he groaned and reached for her so that she let him pull her down onto his lap. 'Xandros!' she gasped.
'Touch me,' he urged, his mouth against her ear, his nostrils inhaling her light, flowery scent and feeling the silken spill of her hair next to his skin.
'Wh-where?Where ever you want, agape mou.'
Oh, the choice was dazzling. Where did she begin? With his faceand all its shadowy contours, its contrasting lines and curves? She let her fingers caress his cheeks, running them along the luminously gold skin as if she were measuring the high angles of his cheekbones until she encountered the rasp of the dark new growth around his jaw.
'You didn't shave today,' she whispered.
'Yes, I did.'
'Don't you know what they say about men who need to shave a lot?'
'No. What do they say?
'What do you think they say?'he taunted. 'They say that he is a real man. Shall I prove it to you?' Taking her hand, he guided it down to between his legs and Rebecca felt the rush of blood to her cheeks as she felt the unbelievable hardness of him stretching the fabric of his elegant trousers. 'Ne,' he groaned. 'Touch me there. Right there.'
'Like that?'she whispered, cupping him in the palm of her hand.
'Ne. More. Do that some more.' She drifted her fingers teasingly over the rocky shaft of him, and his soft moan became an impatient imprecation. His ebony eyes were sparking pure passion and fire and his voice was unsteady as he stroked the silken skin above her breasts. 'I haven't seen this dress before.'
'Do you like it?'
'No. I want to tear it from your body.'
'Don't do that, Xandrosit's new.'
'Then why don't you take it off for me?'
'Suddenly she felt shy, the doubts which had been assailing her all day coming back like spectres to haunt her. Was this an acceptable way to be treated by a manto be made to feel insecure with him and then for him to ask you to perform a striptease, while he was still seated at his desk?
'Shouldn't we go into the bedroom?'
He gave a short laugh, but he was so hard and so hot for her that he doubted he would be able to make it to the door and this sensual power which she always seemed to exert over him made him want to wrest back control. 'Isn't it a little soon in our acquaintance for convention to rear its ugly head?'
Rebecca froze. Acquaintance. What kind of a word was that?