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She heard a car door slam, the crunch of gravel on the drive, and Alice tensed as the doorbell rang, sounding unnaturally loud as it echoed through the large house.
He was here.
Drawing a deep breath, she applied one final brushstroke of Racy Red lipstick and then stepped back to survey her handiwork as a very different Alice stared back at her from the mirror.
Had fate stepped in to provide her with the kind of armour she suspected she might need to cope with seeing Kyros again? Normally, she would never have been wearing black satina dress so exquisitely fitted that it looked as if she had been poured into it. Nor silk stockings and a pair of killer heels, with their distinctive scarlet soles. The waterfall of glittering stones which dangled from her ears and lay clustered at her throat were not real, but at least they served a purposefor surely their dazzle would distract her ex-lover from looking too closely into her eyes and seeing her troubled thoughts.
She wanted him to look at her and think: Alice looks wonderful, and she wanted him to look at her and think: What a fool I was to let her go. Wasn't that what every woman would want in the same situation? That a man who had walked away from their love affair so carelessly because she wasn't Greek should feel a pang of regret?
The doorbell rang again.
'I've only just got out of the bath!' yelled Kirsty from along the corridor, and Alice drew another breath. Please give me strength, she prayed as she went to answer it.
'All right!' she called. 'I'm coming!'
Her progress downstairs in the too-high heels was slow but her heart was beating like a piston as she pulled open the front door and dazzling summer light flooded in to create an unmistakable silhouette of the man who was standing there. Alice's mouth dried. Her thoughts had been spinning round and round ever since his phone call. She had tried to imagine what he might look like nowbut nothing could have prepared her for the heart-stopping reality of seeing Kyros Pavlidis for the first time in ten years.
He stood in the doorway, almost filling it with his powerful frame. Black jeans and a black T-shirt moulded his hard bodythe lean torso and the long, muscular legs.
Against the light she couldn't see his expressionnot at firstonly the glitter in his jet-dark eyes. But as she became accustomed to the brightness every feature was revealed to her. The high slash of cheekbones, the aquiline noseand the slightly forbidding mouth which so rarely softened. His face was as hard and as formidable as she rememberedbut he was still devastatingly handsome.
She gripped the heavy oak of the door, afraid that she might crumple. Or show him that she still thought he was the most amazing man she had ever set eyes on. But hot on the heels of confusion came pride. Because this was the man who had hurt her. She had gone to him an innocent and been left a cynic who'd stopped believing in love. So remember that.
'Hello, Kyros,' she said calmly.
For a moment Kyros did not respond as fury, disbelief and pure sexual hunger flooded through his veins in quick succession. His assessment of her had been rapid. No wedding ring. No man hovering curiously in the background, monitoring the mystery caller. And the clothes of a whore!
His lips curved in a mixture of distaste and appreciation as he ran his eyes over a black satin dress that showed far too much of those long legs which used to wrap themselves so spectacularly around his neck. It clung to the swell of her breasts and shimmered down over that perfect derriere. How could she contemplate going out wearing something which would make every man with a pulse think what he was thinking right now? How much he wanted her.
'Kalespera, Alice,' he said softly as desire began to coil itself deep within him. 'Did you forget to put your dress onor are you simply moonlighting as a hooker?'
Despite the outrageous remark, it was the voice that was almost her undoing. She had heard it on the phone, but being coupled with the sight of him in the powerful and glowing flesh simply magnified its impact and Alice only just stopped her knees from buckling. That accent, she thought weakly. That sexy, incomparable Greek accent that took her straight back to a time which was strictly off limits.
'I told you I was going to a party,' she said, realising that already he was making her defend her behaviour!
'In a pair of shoes that should never be worn outside the bedroom,' he observed, his gaze flicking over the high, patent heels.
Alice gripped the door even tighter. 'Listen, Kyrostrading insults with someone you haven't seen for ten years isn't really the traditional method of greeting in Englandor had you forgotten such basic things as manners?'
But Kyros barely heard herhe just continued staring at her intently, as if his vision would suddenly clear and the woman he had been expecting would reappear. The Alice he had known had been pure and innocent, her hair hanging in a flaxen curtain to her waistnot piled up on top of her head in some sophisticated creation of loops and curls that made her look as if she should be working in a casino. She would be clad in a pretty cotton frock or some swirly little skirt and T-shirt. She'd certainly never have worn a dress so obviously sexy or revealing. He would never have allowed her to.
But his eyes gleamed as he was caught in the emerald crossfire of her eyes. 'Okay, Aliceif it's convention you want, then convention you shall have.' He let his gaze drift over her, drinking in that glorious creamy flesh of hers. 'Long time no see,' he murmured sardonically. 'Isn't that what we should say after so many years?'
Alice felt shaken. His smooth fluency had always been such a foil to his very Greek buccaneering beautybut that blatant undressing with his eyes had made her feel positively weak, and she wasn't going to do weak. 'I wasn't sure you'd turn up,' she said.
'But I told you I'd be passing.'
'Yes. Yes, I know you did.' He would pop in, he had said, as if she was nothing but a careless afterthoughtwhich she supposed she was. Had he deliberately highlighted the fact that he wasn't putting himself out to come and see her? In case she got the wrong idea. He hadn't even told her he'd be coming alone. She peered over his shoulder, as if expecting to see some exotic Grecian beauty following obediently behind him, but to her utter relief there was no one there.
It wasn't exactly the warmest welcome he had ever received and Kyros raised his dark brows. In theory, he had known that she wouldn't be standing there with open armsbut he was still macho enough to be surprised at her coolness. Was she perhaps worried about her parents and their reaction to seeing him? 'Your mother and father are around?'
'No. Dad took early retirement from the business and they're having a new lease of lifethey're on holiday in the Maldives!' Now why had she told him that?
Kyros's eyes narrowed. It surprised him to think of a man as vital as her father being retired. 'And you live here now?' he questioned. 'With your parents?'
Perhaps she was being hypersensitive but now he was making her sound like some sad old spinster who had run home to her parents when her romantic dreams hadn't quite worked out. Alice laughed. 'No, of course I don't live here. I have an apartment in London. I've come back for this party.'
'And you're still planning on going to it?'
Her lips fell open into a disbelieving 'O.' 'You thought perhaps I'd cancel it once I knew you were coming?'
He gave a slow smile. 'Why not?'
She wanted to be outraged at his arrogance but how could she be when a tiny part of her had been tempted to do just that? Hadn't she felt an overwhelming urge to ask Kirsty to get ready at her own houseso that she'd be able to spend a little time alone with the black-eyed Greek she'd never really forgotten?
She'd told herself that it was normal to want to catch up on the lost years. That maybe it would help give her proper closure on their affair once and for all. But all that would have been a lie. There was only one reason why she wanted to spend time with Kyrosand it had nothing to do with talking and everything to do with his dark, sexual allure. 'Sorry to disappoint you,' she swallowed.
There was a pause. 'Ah, but you never did disappoint me, Alice,' he said softly. 'Not then, and certainly not nowdespite the showgirl appearance.'
He let his eyes drift over her and suddenly Alice wondered why the hell she hadn't thrown on a silk kimono over the dress. It had been a rebellious gesture to answer the door like thisone intended to demonstrate that she might be almost thirty and unmarried but her figure was as slim and her legs as toned as they had been at university. Yet all it was managing to do was to make her feel vulnerable naked beneath that candid appraisal which had followed on so quickly from his obvious initial disapproval.
But she couldn't turn him away, not now. Not only would it make her look foolish, it would hint to Kyros that he still exerted some kind of power over her and he didn't, did he? Not anymore. And besides, Alice was curious. You didn't spend years wondering and aching to know what had happened to the one man you'd ever loved, only to shut the door in his face.
So wasn't this her opportunity to change the tape? To wipe the bad memories clean and replace them with new ones? To realise that Kyros was just a man and not a god, and that she had moved on. Wouldn't it be wonderful if she could do all that?