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A blind date wasn't Carrie's idea of fun. But since day two of their holiday together when Jo had met Theo she had been determinedly insisting that Carrie just had to meet his handsome older brother.
'Honestly, the moment you see him you'll know what I mean,' Jo had told her seriously. 'If I wasn't head over heels about Theo I'd be interested in him myself. Andreas is absolutely gorgeous, and a really nice guy.'
'Jo, if you are doing this because you don't want me to be left alone then you really don't need to worry. After the last few months working for my degree I'm perfectly happy to be left to do some serious relaxing, soaking up the sun and—'
'Yes, I know, you said all that—but you really need to meet him, Carrie. He's a real Greek Adonis—honestly. Just humour me; meet Andreas once for a few hours one evening. We'll make it a foursome—how's that? We'll have pre-dinner drinks together at that lovely little taverna on the waterside. And if you are hitting it off you can stay and we'll have dinner together—if you're not, you can tell him you've already eaten and leave. But you will like him—honestly.'
On day four of the holiday in a moment of weakness Carrie had agreed. Now here she was sitting at a table by herself feeling more than a little apprehensive. Jo and her new boyfriend Theo had been delayed. And heaven alone knew where Andreas was.
Possibly dragging his heels if Theo had strong-armed him as heavily as Jo had her.
She should never have agreed to this, Carrie thought with embarrassment.
At least the waterside taverna was an idyllic place to wait.
The sun was setting in a glorious shade of crimson, turning the sea aflame red, and giving a spectacular end to another long hot day on the small Greek island of Pyrena.
Carrie breathed in the warm evening air, fragrant with jasmine and the salt of the sea, and relaxed. With a bit of luck Theo's brother wouldn't turn up and Carrie could make a hasty escape and leave Jo and Theo to enjoy a romantic evening together. They needed to make the most of their time, because in another ten days the holiday would be over and she and Jo would be heading back to London. Jo would be devastated to leave—Carrie had never seen her so captivated by a guy. It was completely out of character. And Theo seemed to feel exactly the same way. They had just clicked immediately and now, even though they'd only known each other a few days, it was as if they had always been together.
Was that true love? Carrie wondered.
Darkness was stealing over the landscape and a waiter was lighting some candles on the tables nearby ready for the evening ahead. As yet the place was quiet, just one other couple dining at a table tucked away in a far corner. She glanced at her watch. Jo was now ten minutes late. Maybe if she wasn't here in another ten Carrie could sneak away—because the more she thought about it, the more she didn't want to be here. Jo and Theo needed to be alone, not wasting precious time needlessly matchmaking! Why couldn't they understand that she was happy on her own reading her book? She didn't want to meet anyone.
'Are you waiting for someone?'
The question made Carrie look up and shock sizzled its way through her entire body.
If this was Andreas, then Jo hadn' t been exaggerating! He was absolutely gorgeous—in fact he was probably the most handsome man Carrie had ever set eyes on in her life.
He was tall yet powerfully built and he was wearing an expensive-looking dark suit with casual flare that only continental men seemed to achieve so effortlessly. A crisp blue shirt was open at the strong column of his neck. His thick dark hair was cut short accentuating chiselled features and a strong jaw. But it was his eyes that held her spellbound, they were the colour of dark molasses, intense, almost arrogant in their assessment of her.
Aware that he was waiting for a reply she tried to gather herself together with some difficulty. 'Yes… some friends—'
'You must be Carrie?'
She nodded. Was it her imagination, she wondered, or was the air electrically charged between them? Their eyes seemed to hold for a fraction too long before his gaze swept over her in a bold unconcealed scrutiny of her appearance from her long blonde hair and sweetheart-shaped face, down over the curves of her figure in the bright blue summer dress.
And shockingly Carrie felt a thrust of sensual heat stir deep inside her at that slow, sexy deliberation.
'Andreas Stillanos.' He held out his hand and she took it, aware that as their skin touched she felt the zing of attraction deepen. She liked the strong firm touch of his skin against hers. She liked everything about him.
This was crazy, she thought with a mounting sense of panic. A man had never had this effect on her before; so, OK, he was good-looking—so what? She didn't know him—how could she feel so intensely… turned on just by the way he was looking at her?
But the simple truth was that she did—there was something almost raw and primitive about it. Carrie couldn't explain it; all she knew was that it was scaring her to death! She was a sensible person, grounded—realistic—this was a kind of madness that she didn't want.
She watched as Andreas pulled out the chair opposite her and sat down.
For a moment there was silence, filled only with the relentless sizzle of the tide as it brushed over the stony beach beside them, a sound that seemed to echo the sensations inside her body.
'Jo and Theo have been delayed,' she told him, trying hard to pull herself together.
'Yes, so I gathered.' His lips curved in an amused smile.
She supposed she had stated the obvious! Carrie tried to compose herself, tried to think of something else to say, but as their eyes held she found the task increasingly difficult.
A waiter appeared next to them and Andreas spoke to him in Greek. The sound was deep and sexy and Carrie was even further entranced.
'Can I get you another drink, Carrie?' He switched effortlessly to perfect English again and looked over at her.
'No, I'm fine, thank you.' Carrie indicated her glass of wine that was almost full.
They were left alone again.
'I think the delay is something to do with Theo's dive shop,' Carrie continued, trying to stay focused on anything except the feelings he was generating inside her. 'Apparently he stayed open later than usual to accommodate some customers who are going home to England tomorrow.'
Andreas regarded her sardonically. 'Personally, I think the delay is more to do with throwing us together on our own for a while.'
That thought hadn't occurred to her until he suggested it so bluntly and Carrie felt a surge of red-hot embarrassment. 'I don't think so!' But even as she rejected the idea she wondered if it were true—were Jo and Theo deliberately late? Honestly, it was too mortifying!
'Don't you?' He seemed to be watching her with very close attention, and she knew that even though they were sitting in the semi-darkness of the star-lit evening he could see that she was blushing.
The knowledge and the way he was watching her made her flush even more. 'Well, Jo rang me to apologise for their delay and she sounded genuinely agitated. She always likes to be on time.'
'So you haven't felt obligated to meet me, then?' he asked with a mocking lift of one eyebrow. 'Because to be honest Theo hasn't stopped going on about you for the last few days.'
'And you found yourself agreeing to this evening's arrangements just to get some peace?' Carrie wanted the ground to open up and swallow her. 'It's OK; I have to admit to a similar situation. Jo has been going on rather a lot about you too. I think she feels guilty about leaving me—but I keep telling her I'm perfectly happy.'
'They've fallen in love and now they think that the whole world needs to follow suit,' Andreas said wryly.
The waiter arrived with his drink and Carrie had never been so very glad of an interruption. It was obvious from his derisive words that Andreas had wanted this blind date even less than she had! And she noticed he'd ordered a Greek coffee—hardly a pre-dinner drink. He wasn't even pretending that he might stay.
As they were left alone again he glanced up and their eyes met. 'Unfortunately I have a business meeting back in Athens early tomorrow. So I can't stay long.'
'Well—I can't stay long either.' Carrie rallied herself, her pride rising to her defence. 'I was just thinking before you arrived that we should get this over with as quickly as possible. Jo and Theo should be making each moment count, having a nice romantic time on their own.'
'Yes, I suppose they should.' Andreas looked over at her with a teasing gleam in the darkness of his eyes. 'But I wouldn't worry too much. I'm sure their time has been put to some good use.'
Meaning what, Carrie wondered, as opposed to their time?
'So how are you enjoying your holiday on Pyrena?' he asked as he sat back into his chair.
Now he was trying to make polite conversation. This was excruciating.
For her friend's sake she forced herself to smile and answer courteously. 'I'm having a lovely time, thank you. It's a beautiful island.'
'Have you been out to see the coral reef yet?'
Carrie shook her head. Theo and Jo invited me to go out there with them yesterday but I don't dive.'
'You could snorkel.'
'I'm not a strong swimmer and I don't like to be out of my depth.'
'You just need someone experienced alongside. You should try it—it really is beautiful out there.' His mobile rang and he reached to answer it immediately. 'Excuse me Carrie,' he said politely as he flicked it open.
She listened as he spoke in Greek, his voice crisp and businesslike, and his expression serious.
He was far too attractive, Carrie thought as she allowed her eyes to drift over him. Dangerously so.
She wondered what it would be like to feel those sensual lips exploring hers, those hands touching her skin.
He hung up and glanced over at her again. 'Sorry about that— business, I'm afraid.'
'That's OK.' Annoyed by her thoughts, she looked away from him and lifted her glass of wine. What on earth was the matter with her? Andreas couldn't have made it clearer that he was uncomfortable with this situation and wasn't interested in her and yet here she was daydreaming about kissing him! 'You know, if you need to go don't let me detain you. I'll pass on your apologies to Theo and Jo.'
'I don't think you'll need to. They're here.'
Carrie followed his glance out towards the road and saw Theo climbing out of his black sports car, closely followed by Jo. She noticed the way Theo waited for her by the pavement, reached out and took her hand.
There was something very touching about the moment, about the way Jo looked up at him.
'Somehow they seem right together, don't they?' Carrie didn't realize she had spoken aloud until Andreas answered her.
'Yes. I think this is serious.'
Carrie glanced over at him, his words resonating inside her. He was right.
So what was going to happen at the end of the holiday when it was time for Jo to go home? Her friend deserved happiness so much, Carrie thought as she turned her attention back towards them. She'd been through so much in her life—Carrie knew exactly how tough she'd had it because they'd grown up together in the same foster home. She knew that Jo pretended to be tough but had a heart as kind and as soft as you could get.
As they approached Carrie thought her friend had never looked lovelier. She was wearing a black fitted dress that did great things for her slender figure, and her skin was glowing, her long blonde curls softly tousled around her face. 'I'm so sorry we're late,' she murmured, looking from one to the other of them searchingly.
'It was entirely my fault.' Theo cut in as he reached to kiss Carrie on both cheeks. 'Nice to see you again, Carrie, and I'm really sorry, time just ran away with us. But we knew you two would be hitting it off.'
Carrie wished she hadn't met Andreas's eyes across the table just at that moment.
He looked lazily amused, which irritated Carrie considerably.
'Don't worry about it,' he said nonchalantly as he got to his feet to greet them. 'Carrie and I have enjoyed meeting.'
'Oh, good!' Jo looked at Carrie with an 'I told you so' glint in her eyes and Carrie tried her utmost to look unfazed. Was Jo so blinded by love that she failed to notice Andreas's obvious reluctance to be here?
'So, is everything OK?' Jo asked in an undertone as she took the seat beside her.
'Absolutely.' Carrie was distracted for a moment as she watched Andreas greet his younger brother. She noticed how alike they were, both tall and dark, but Theo's features were open, pleasant, less challenging than Andreas's, who had a powerful, hard intensity about his good looks.
It was immediately apparent that the men were not just brothers, but that they were also good friends. They talked together for a moment about Theo's business, Theo asking Andreas's opinion on some new equipment that he wanted.
'They would talk for ever about business.' Jo grinned at Carrie.
'Hey, I need all the advice I can get,' Theo cut in good-naturedly. 'Especially from a brother who has a brilliant mind for business—I don't know what I'd do without him.'
'You'd do very well, Theo. Your business is flourishing,' Andreas told him staunchly.
'Not without your help.' Theo glanced around for the waiter. 'Shall we grab some menus? I don't know about everyone else but I am very hungry.'
'Unfortunately I'm not going to be able to stay.' Andreas glanced at his watch. 'I have to head off to Athens—I have a meeting early tomorrow.'
'Oh, no! But surely you can stay a little longer?' Jo couldn't contain her disappointment.
'Afraid not.' Andreas glanced over at Carrie. 'But it has been really lovely meeting you, Carrie.'
The urbane civility of the words made Carrie cringe. 'Yes— likewise.' She smiled politely back at him.
Their eyes held for a moment.
Andreas noticed how she tilted her head up, an almost rebellious fiery light in her eyes. Obviously she'd been as uncomfortable with this situation as he had.