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Athan Teodarkis's eyes moved over the photographs spread out on his desk. His sculpted mouth tightened to a tight line like a whip, and anger speared him.
So it had started! Just what he'd feared right from the beginning. From the moment his sister Eva had told him who she was in love with
He felt the anger stab at him again, and with deliberate control made himself release the tension steeling his shoulders, his spine. He contoured his back against the leather moulding of the executive chair he was sitting in behind the mahogany desk in his office. Across the wide expanse of expensive carpet the vista of the City, over which the lavish London HQ of Teodarkis International had a panoramic view, went unattended.
His hard gaze went on studying the photos. Though taken by a camera phone, and from half a dozen metres' distance, their evidence was indisputable. They showed Ian Randall, his boyishly handsome face gazing devotedly, eagerly, at the woman opposite him.
With part of his mind Athan could see why.
She was blonde, like Ian, fair-skinned and heart-stoppingly lovely. Her pale hair fell like a waterfall either side of her face. Perfect featuresfull parted lips, delicate nose and luminous blue eyesall made her a total peach of a female. No wonder she'd captivated the fool sitting opposite her.
It had been entirely predictable. Right from the start Athan had feared that Ian Randall was weak, self-indulgent, and born to be a philanderer.
Just like his father.
Martin Randall had been notoriousnotorious for wom-anising, notorious for succumbing to every tempting female who passed in front of him. He had indulged his incontinent desire for her until the next one floated by. Then he'd dropped the present incumbent and gone after a new one.
Time and time again.
Disgust and contempt twisted Athan's mouth. If that was what Martin's son was going to be like, then
Then I damn well should have stopped Eva marrying him! Whatever it took, I should have stopped it!
But he hadn'the had given the son the benefit of the doubt, even though it had gone against all his instincts to do so. His mouth set. And now he'd been proved right all along. Ian was no better than his father.
Philanderer. Womaniser. Libertine.
With an angry impulse Athan got to his feet, picking up the innocuous-looking buff folder that contained enough dynamite to blow apart Ian's marriage. Could it yet be saved?
Athan speculated. How far had his adultery progressed? Certainly his inamorata had been installed in a fancy apartment by Ian, and judging by her designer outfit and freshly styled hairnot to mention the diamond necklace she'd been presented withshe was clearly benefiting from his largesse already. His mouth thinned. But had she paid the bill for that largesse yet?
The expression on Ian's face caught by the camera phone wasno other word for itbesotted. It wasn't the expression of a lascivious lecherit was the expression of a man caught in the toils of a woman he could not bring himself to resist. A woman he was showering his wealth upon. But not, as yet, very much of his time. That was the one cause for optimism Athan could see in this whole sordid business.
The surveillance reports had found no evidence that Ian Randall visited the girl in her fancy apartmentnot yet, at any rateand nor did he take her to hotels. So far the only time he spent with her was in restaurants, clearly chosen for their out-of-the-way locations, and his only visible adultery was his besotted expression.
Can I stop this in its tracks? Can I stop it in time?
That was the question in the forefront of Athan's brain. Ian Randall was, it seemed, playing it pretty cautiouslyin that, at least, he was unlike his father, who had been totally blatant about his affairs. But if that look of slavish devotion on his face was anything to go by he would soon throw caution to the winds and make the girl his mistress in fact as well as intention.
It was inevitable.
He set the folder back on the desk with a sense of angry frustration.
What the hell am I going to do about this?
The question hung in his head like a dead weight. He had to do somethingthat was inescapable. He had a responsibility to do so. If he had done from the outset what he'd wanted to doput his foot down and objected to Eva's marriage to Ian Randallthen he wouldn't be facing this infernal situation now. He should have gone with his instincts, stopped the marriage. Whatever it had taken to do so. Oh, Eva would have been heartbroken, he knew, but what was she going to be once she found out what Ian had done?
Athan's expression shadowed. He knew exactly what she was going to begoing to becomeif her husband followed the same damnable path his father had so heedlessly and selfishly taken. She would end up just like Ian's unhappy, tormented mother.
Athan had grown up knowing all about just how unhappy Sheila Randall was in her marriage to Martin Randall, Ian's father. Sheila had been his mother's best friend since finishing school in Switzerland, and once Sheila's eyes had been painfully opened to her husband's ways she had poured out her unhappiness into his mother's ears.
'Poor Sheila' had become a permanent fixture in their lives during his youth, as his mother did her best to comfort and console her friendwhether by phone or on mutually exchanged visits between London and Athens. Athan's mother had spent, so it seemed to him, an interminable amount of time trying to mop up Sheila Randall's tears, but despite his own sense that the best course of action would have been to divorce Martin Randall and be done with him, Sheila, it seemed, was of a romantic disposition.
Despite all the evidence she'd gone on hoping that her husband would one day realise that his wife was the only woman who truly loved him and his adulterous lifestyle would be finally abandoned. In this unlikely hope she had been supported by Athan's mother, who had been equally romantically disposeda disposition also shared by her daughter, Eva.
This was the crux of his concern for his sister. His expression darkened. His mother had discovered the full depths of Martin Randall's irredeemability in a manner that had very nearly proved disastrous to her own marriageand to her friendship with Sheila. For Martin Randall had been unable to resist the temptation of stooping so low as to target the best friend of his wife with his pernicious attentions. His attempt at seduction during one of her visits to his wife had, Athan remembered, caused an unholy row in both families. His mother had had to do everything in her power to convince her husband that Martin Randall's assiduously insistent advances were neither invited nor welcome, and it had taken almost as much persuasion to convince Sheila Randall as well.
A hard, brooding emotion filled him. Men like Martin Randall caused misery and torment and trouble all round. He had very nearly succeeded in breaking up his parents' marriage. If his son were anything like him he would wreak the same kind of devastation all around him.
But there was no wayno wayhe was going to let Ian do that kind of damage. No way Ian was going to repeat his father's misdeeds. Athan would stop him in his tracks.
Whatever it took.
An angry rasp escaped him. If only Eva weren't married to Martin Randall's son! If only she could see through him the way he could himself. But Ian Randall's dangerously easy charm had fooled Eva just as it had fooled his own mother Sheila.
Ian Randall had grown up the apple of his mother's eye, indulged and pettedespecially after his father's early death. And with his good looks and his supreme confidence in his own ability to attract females he'd cut a swathe through the population as a teenager and a young man.
Yet again Athan's expression darkened. Had he had the slightest idea of just how dangerously indulged and doted upon Ian Randall was by his mother, he would never have let Eva get anywhere near him. But when his mother had so tragically died, when his sister was only just eighteen, Sheila Randall's heartfelt invitation for Eva to go and live with her in London had seemed a godsend.
Having already lost her father to a heart attack only two years earlier, this second blow had been grievous indeed to Eva. Athan, who had had to take up the full running of his late father's business enterprise, had been worked off his feet, and his bachelor apartment in Athens was scarcely suitable for a teenage girl to make a home in. Nor could Eva be left alone in the family mansion, with none but the household staff to live with.
Moving to London, living with her beloved mother's best friend and changing her college to one of the London universities instead, had been a far, far better choice for Eva. In Sheila Eva had gained a surrogate mother who'd taken her under her wing, and in Eva, the now-widowed Sheila had gained a surrogate daughter to lavish her attention upon.
She had also, so it had proved, gained a daughter-in-law.
Eva had fallen head over heels in love with Sheila Randall's handsome, indulged son, and had set her sights on him.
Just why Ian Randall, with his predilection for playing the field, had responded to Eva's open ardour with a proposal of marriage Athan didn't knowbut his suspicions were dark. Had Ian not been able to bed Eva without a marriage proposal? Had the prospect of marrying into the fabulously wealthy Teodarkis family been too overwhelming a lure for him?
Athan, however, was the only one to have such suspicions, he knew. Neither Eva, with romantic stars in her eyes, nor Sheila Randall, with her doting maternal devotion to her son, shared them. So in the face of his sister's ecstatic happiness Athan had, with deep reluctance, given the marriage his sanction, if not his blessing. He'd also provided Ian Randall with a plum post in the Teodarkis organisation. Partly to satisfy Eva, but mostly to ensure that whatever frailties lurked in Ian's make-up he, Athan, could keep a very, very close eye on his brother-in-law.
For two years, however, Ian seemed to have toed the line, giving every appearance of being a devoted husband. Now, it seemed, his true nature was coming to the fore. The evidence against his brother-in-law was damming. Ian was consorting, in secret, with a beautiful blonde whom he'd set up in a lavish luxury pad and upon whom he was bestowing diamonds.
His next move would inevitably be starting to visit her in her love-nest .the long-feared adultery would begin in earnest.
Restlessly, Athan twisted in his leather chair. He would notwould notsee his beloved sister reduced to the sobbing wreck that his mother's best friend had become during her marriage, hoping and hoping that the man she so unwisely loved would mend his ways. He would not see that happen! Somehow he had to stop Ian in his tracks. But how? That was the devil of it!
Oh, he could confront the wretched man with the evidence against him, but Ian would probably try and wriggle out of itafter all, no adultery had been committed as yet, and he would probably find some weasel way of explaining away the blonde's existence. And if Athan took the photos to Eva that would achieve the very thing he dreaded mostbreaking her heart with proof of her husband's betrayal. He couldn't do that to hernot if he could help it.
That might have to happenbut not yet. Surely not yet?
Besides, shouldn't he at least give Ian a chanceone chance!not to go the way of his father? If he could manage to nip this incipient affair in the bud, find a way of deflecting Ian from it, maybejust maybeIan Randall would prove himself a worthy husband for Eva.
I can give him a chanceand if he falls a second time then I shall be merciless.
The question was how to give him that chance and prevent him succumbing to what had every indication of turning into a full-blown adulterous affair with the delectable blonde he was lining up for himself?
The brooding look returned to Athan's stormy expression. This required strategycold, logical strategy.
A hard light darkened in his eyes. Icy logic sliced down through his synapses. OK, so Ian wanted to start an affair with this blondeand the blonde, from the photographic evidence, looked every bit as keen as he did. Whatever was motivating herIan's obvious wealth and generosity, or his golden-boy looks and seductive charmshe was clearly very, very responsive to him. It would surely take little more effort on Ian's part to get her into bed. Unless
Thoughts moved across Athan's mind. Dark, ruthless thoughts.
When it came to adultery it took two to tango. The adulterer and a willing mistress.
His thoughts coiled and uncoiled like a serpent in his mind. But what if the willing mistress were no longer so willing? What if Ian Randall were not the only good-looking, wealthy admirer in her orbit? What if a rival arrived on the scene?
Cut Ian out.?
Slowly Athan felt his taut muscles finally relax, for the first time since he'd ripped open the envelope and the damning photos had spilt out in front of him.
His mind raced ahead, trying to assess whether what had crossed his mind could work. The answer came through loud and clear.
Yes! Because it simply replaces Ian with someone else. Someone else who can take his place. Someone else who is rich and has a track record of successfully wooing beautiful women
For a moment he hesitated. Was this really something he could go ahead with? For all he knew the girl was genuinely in love with Ian Randallshe certainly had a sufficiently devoted expression on her face.
He pushed aside his doubt.
Well, if she is, then I will be doing her a kindness in removing him, in providing her with a rival to him. What possible long-term happiness could she find loving a married man?
He gave a tight smile. If his plan worked, then Eva would not be the only woman spared unnecessary pain.
His eyes went back to the photo in front of him. He let his eyes wash over it. She really was very, very lovely
Could he do it? Could he really do it?
Could he really seduce a womanhave an affair with herfor no other reason than to achieve his aim of parting her from a married man's attentions? He had had many affairs in his time, but never for such a purpose! Was it not just too, too cold-blooded to consider?
His thoughts circled in his head, seeking justification for his actions.
I don't intend her to be hurt or devastated by such an affair. I don't intend her harm. I only intend to get her away from Ian, with whom she cannot have an affair.
The logic was clearirrefutableyet still his expression was troubled. Sitting here, at his desk, it was easy enough to set in progress plots and machinations to try and save his sister's marriageat least for now. But what would he feel like when he actually had to put his strategy into action?
Once more his eyes washed over the perfect oval face, the celestial blue of her wide eyes, the perfect curve of her tender mouth.
As before, he felt his senses stirred by her heart-stopping loveliness.
Resolution filled him. Oh, yes, he could do it. He most definitely could do it.
For one long moment Athan went on staring down at the image on his desk. The beautiful, blonde face gazed inge-nously at the camera, all unknowing of its presence. Then another image formed in his mind. Female too, but dark brunette, with deep, doe-like eyeseyes filled with love for her husband, whose attention was all taken by the blonde in the photo.
I will protect my sister whatever I have to do. He had reached his decision. Now he simply had to do it. Neither flinching, nor hesitating, nor doubting.