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The Greek's Blackmailed Wife
By Sarah Morgan
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE atmosphere in the boardroom crackled with tension, all eyes fixed on the man at the head of the table.
Zander Volakis, Greek billionaire and the object of a million women's fantasies, lounged in his chair with careless ease, the deadly glitter in his eyes the only indication that he'd even heard the heated discussion that had just taken place.
Broad-shouldered and impossibly handsome, his hard jaw was darkened with the beginnings of stubble, evidence of the punishing hours he'd been working to secure this deal.
Waiting for him to deliver his verdict, the men in the room watched him with a mixture of awe and envy while the two women on his board experienced entirely different emotions.
Finally, after what seemed like a million hours to the others, he drew breath.
"I want that island." His tone deceptively mild, he raked the tense faces of the men and women around the table with night-black eyes. "So we look for another solution."
"There is no solution," someone said bravely. "People have been trying to buy that island from Theo Kouropoulos for twenty-six years. The guy won't sell."
Zander sat totally still, his expression veiled by lashes indecently long and thick. "He's going to sell."
The board members exchanged furtive glances, each one wondering how to perform the expected miracle.
In the end it was the lawyer who spoke. "He might sell -" he licked dry lips, fingering the papers in front of him "- if we could change your image."
The tension around the table increased.
Zander surveyed him steadily, a ghost of a smile playing around his hard mouth. "My image?"
His lawyer gave a nervous smile. "Think about who you're dealing with. Theo Kouropoulos has been married to the same woman for fifty years. They have six children and fourteen grandchildren. Family values are high on his agenda and Blue Cove Island is a family resort. As things stand, he doesn't think you're the right buyer." He drew breath and sat up straighter, bracing himself. "To quote him exactly, you're "an ice-cold, ruthless businessman with a wicked reputation for womanising and no commitment to family life.""
Zander didn't shift in his seat, the casual lift of a dark eyebrow a clear indication that he failed to see the relevance of his reputation. "And?"
Alec exchanged a helpless glance with the finance director. "And the bottom line is that he doesn't want to sell you his family resort. You're the acknowledged leader in creating hotel complexes for singles and couples. You understand what they need for a great holiday. Blue Cove Island is different and it's not like anything you've done before."
"You argue his case very convincingly," Zander said smoothly, toying with the pen in front of him. "Are you working for him or for me?"
Sensitive to the deadly tone behind the softly spoken words, the lawyer flushed but carried on bravely. "The bottom line is that if you want that island, you need to change your image." He looked nervously at Zander. "Or you could think about acquiring a wife."
An appalled, fascinated silence spread across the spacious glass-walled room. The floor-to-ceiling windows afforded breathtaking views over the heat-soaked, traffic-clogged city of Athens, but no one was looking at the view.
They were all looking at Zander, their gazes uniformly frozen in horrified anticipation as they waited for his reaction.
"I will not," he declared silkily, "be acquiring a wife."
Nervous laughter followed this announcement and Alec cleared his throat again.
"Right. Well, in that case I suggest you see this company I've found." He shuffled through a pile of papers on his desk. "They're in London, but you're flying there on business tomorrow for two weeks so we can easily fit a meeting into your schedule. They specialise in public image. Their results are outstanding and they're discreet. I think you should at least talk to them."
Zander studied him silently, battling with the intense and unwelcome emotions that had been stirred up at the mere mention of matrimony. He had buried those feelings deeply in the darkest corners of his soul and their sudden emergence, as new and fresh as ever, came as an unwelcome shock.
A wife was most certainly not a viable solution to his current problem.
Which left the option of changing his image.
He gritted his teeth. The prospect filled him with no small degree of impatience. He'd never cared about other people's opinions. Until now. When his reputation was jeopardising the purchase of Blue Cove Island.
Nothing in his expression revealed just how important this deal was to him.
He wanted that island.
He'd wanted it for twenty-six years but he'd been biding his time, waiting for the right moment.
And that moment was now.
"All right." He stood up with all the grace of a lethal jungle animal, his movements remarkably smooth for such a powerfully built man. "Let's change my image."
"So we really know nothing about them? Not even the name of the company?"
Lauranne O'Neill flicked through some slides on her computer, checking her presentation one more time.
"Nothing. They were very cagey." Mary, her PA, shot her an apologetic look and then cast her eyes over the meeting room one more time. "Intriguing, isn't it? Maybe they're royalty. The guy I spoke to just said that they wanted to talk to us and that it was highly confidential."
Lauranne gave a wry smile. "So confidential that they can't even tell us the company name?"
"I don't care what they're called as long as they pay good money." Tom, her business partner, strode into the room briskly, a pile of corporate brochures under his arm in readiness. "They're on their way up. Amanda just went to collect them from Reception."
Lauranne looked at him with amusement. "Do you ever think about anything except the bottom line, Tom?"
"No." He slapped the pile of reports on the table. "And that's what keeps this company so healthy. You're the conscience - I'm the cash register."
Lauranne laughed and she was still smiling when Amanda, one of their junior executives, came into the room, her face bright with excitement.
Obviously the client was someone well known and very rich if Amanda's reaction was anything to go by, Lauranne reflected wryly as she smoothed her silk skirt over her slim thighs and pinned a polite smile on her face.
It was a smile that turned to a shocked gasp as she caught her first glimpse of her prospective client.
Staggeringly handsome and arrogantly male, he strolled into the room as if he owned it, closely followed by a team of suited men all keeping a respectful distance behind the boss.
Lauranne stood, welded to the spot, her body frozen. For a moment she thought she might have lost her ability to feel. And then her past exploded into her present and the pain shot through her. Intense, dark pain that should have lessened with time but instead seemed more acute than ever. Pain that ripped away the layers of protection she'd carefully built between her and the world. Pain that had been buried deep for five, long years.
She stared into that cold, handsome face and felt her insides lurch.
He hadn't changed at all.
He was still impossibly good-looking and unashamedly Greek. Sleek dark hair swept back from a smooth, tanned brow, a straight, aristocratic nose, a hard jaw that was almost permanently darkened by stubble and a physique so powerfully masculine that it made women drool.
Intercepting her stunned gaze, those brilliant dark eyes lasered onto hers with all the lethal accuracy of a deadly weapon.
A shiver ran through her trembling body as she read the challenge in that dark gaze.
Excerpted from The Greek's Blackmailed Wife by Sarah Morgan Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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