Read an Excerpt
'Tahlia, you look divine.' Crispin Blythe, owner of the contemporary art gallery Blythe of Bayswater, greeted Tahlia Reynolds effusively. 'Those baubles you're wearing must be worth a small fortune.'
'A large fortune, actually,' Tahlia replied dryly, moving her hand to the ornate sapphire and diamond necklace at her throat. 'These "baubles" are top-grade Kashmiri sapphires.'
'Let me guess. A present from Daddy? Reynolds Gems' profits must be booming.' Crispin's smile faded slightly. 'It's good to know that some businesses are unaffected by this wretched recession.'
Tahlia frowned at the faintly bitter note in Crispin's voice. She had heard rumours that the gallery was suffering from the downturn in the economy, and for a moment she was tempted to reveal that things were far from rosy with her father's jewellery company, but she kept quiet. Reynolds Gems' financial problems would be public knowledge if the company went into liquidation, but they were not at that point yet. Perhaps she was being unrealistic, but she refused to give up hope that the company her father had built up over the past thirty years could be saved. It would not be for want of trying, she thought grimly. Her parents had used all their savings trying to keep Reynolds afloat, while she had worked for no salary for the past three months, and had traded in the sports car her father had given her three years ago, for her twenty-first birthday, for a battered old Mini.
In desperation she had even sold her few items of jewellery, as well as many of the designer clothes that she had once been able to afford. The dress she was wearing tonight was on loan from a friend who owned a boutique, and the sapphire and diamond necklace was not her own—though it was one of Reynolds Gems' most valued pieces, stunningly beautiful and instantly eye-catching. Her father had asked her to wear it tonight in the hope of drumming up new business for Reynolds, but she was terrified of losing it, and knew she was going to spend the evening constantly checking that it was still around her neck.
She followed Crispin into the gallery, accepted a glass of champagne from a waiter, and glanced around at her fellow guests who were congregated in groups, admiring the paintings by the artist Rufus Hartman. Tahlia nodded to one or two acquaintances and allowed her eyes to drift. They came to an abrupt halt on the man who was standing on the other side of the room.
'Who is that?' she murmured curiously, feeling her heart jolt violently beneath her ribs. In a room packed with good-looking, successful men, the simmering virility of this particular man set him apart from the crowd.
'I assume you're referring to the Greek hunk in the Armani?' Crispin said archly, following the direction of her gaze. 'Thanos Savakis, billionaire head of Savakis Enterprises. He bought out the Blue-Sky holiday chain a couple of years ago, and owns several five-star hotels around the world. Careful, darling, you're drooling,' Crispin murmured wickedly as Tahlia continued to stare. 'A word of warning: Savakis has a reputation as a womaniser. His affairs are discreet, but numerous—and short-lived. Commitment is not a word associated with Thanos Savakis—unless it's his commitment to making even more money to add to his enviable fortune,' Crispin finished with a theatrical sigh.
'Workaholic womanisers are definitely not my type,' Tahlia murmured faintly, dragging her gaze from the man and taking a sip of champagne. But her eyes were drawn inexorably towards him, and she was glad that he was looking down at the dainty blonde who was hanging onto his arm because it gave her a chance to study him.
Tall and lean, with broad shoulders sheathed in an expertly tailored jacket, he was mesmerising, and Tahlia quickly realised that she was not the only woman in the room to be fascinated by him. With his classically sculpted features, bronzed skin and gleaming black hair, which was cropped short to emphasise the proud tilt of his head, he was stunningly handsome. But teamed with his blatant sex appeal Thanos Savakis possessed some indefinable quality—a magnetism and self-assurance that set him apart from other men. He would command any situation, Tahlia decided. She sensed his innate arrogance, and although he appeared to be giving his full attention to the pretty blonde at his side, she detected the giveaway signs that he was growing impatient of his companion's chatter.
The woman was a little too eager, Tahlia mused. Instinct told her that a man as self-possessed as Thanos Savakis would be irritated by any hint of neediness, and as she watched he carefully but firmly extricated himself from the blonde's grip and strolled into the adjoining gallery.
Gorgeous, but definitely out of her league, Tahlia decided, giving herself a mental shake as she slowly became aware once more of the babble of voices around her, and the clink of champagne flutes on a silver tray as a waiter walked past. She was shocked by the effect the sexy Greek had had on her—especially as the width of the room had separated them and he hadn't even glanced in her direction. She could not remember ever being so aware of a man. Not even James.
Her mouth tightened. Six months ago her relationship with James Hamilton had come to a shocking and explosive end, and since then she had struggled to piece her shattered heart back together. But the bitterness she felt towards him still burned as corrosively as on the night she had discovered his treachery.
'Tahlia, darling, that's vintage Krug you're gulping down, not fizzy water.' Crispin's laconic drawl dragged Tahlia back to the present. 'Can I get you another?'
She grimaced as she glanced down and saw that she had drained her glass without realising it. 'No, thanks. I'd better not.'
Crispin gave her an impatient look. 'Oh, live daringly for once. A few glasses of bubbly will help you relax.'
'Correction, a few glasses will have me giggling inanely,' Tahlia said dismally. 'And, after the recent press stories about me, I really could do without being snapped by the paparazzi clearly the worse for drink.'
Crispin gave her an amused glance. 'Yes, the tabloids do seem to have excelled themselves,' he agreed. 'The headline "Gems girl Tahlia Reynolds blamed for marriage break-up of TV soapstar Damian Casson" was particularly attention-grabbing.'
Tahlia flushed. 'It isn't true,' she said tensely. 'I was set up. I've only ever met Damian once, when we were guests at a book launch party held at a hotel. He was knocking back champagne all night and kept pestering me. I told him to get lost. The next morning he came over to my table at breakfast to apologise. We got chatting, and he told me he'd got drunk the previous night after he'd rowed with his wife and she had refused to go to the party with him. When I left, he offered to carry my bag to the car—hence the picture of the two of us emerging from the hotel together. Neither of us had expected the media to be hanging around at nine o'clock on a Sunday morning—or at least,' she said slowly, 'I hadn't expected them to be there.'
Anger formed a tight knot in Tahlia's chest at the realisation that Damian had undoubtedly been aware of the presence of the media.
'I was shocked when a journalist asked about our relationship, but Damian told me to leave it to him and he would explain that we were simply friends.'
Instead, the handsome young actor had told the press a pack of lies about their 'amazing night of sizzling sex', Tahlia thought bitterly. If Damian's intention had been to make his wife jealous, it had obviously worked. Beverly Casson had been quoted saying she was 'distraught' that 'party girl' Tahlia had stolen her man. The story had been a scoop for the journalists—the sort of thing that would boost sales of the tabloid, and no one seemed to care that it was untrue, or that Tahlia's reputation was now in tatters.
'This sort of adverse publicity is one of the drawbacks of allowing myself to be in the public eye,' she said dully. 'For months the press have made me out to be a vacuous bimbo who turns up to every event—even the opening of an envelope. It's the price I've had to pay for promoting Reynolds Gems.'
Tahlia bit her lip. When she had graduated from university three years ago her father had made her a partner of his company and given her the role of PR executive. But the global recession had hit Reynolds hard, and in an attempt to raise the company's profile she had reluctantly agreed to feature in an advertising campaign. She had then appeared in glossy magazines, attended numerous social events, modelling fabulous diamonds and precious gems from the Reynolds Gems collection.
Before she had left for the gallery tonight she had learned that all her hard work had been for nothing.
Peter Reynolds had looked grave as he'd explained that, despite the campaign, profits at all three of Reynolds Gems' jewellery shops were down. 'To be frank, Tahlia, Reynolds is facing bankruptcy,' he'd told her. 'I've approached every major bank and financial institution for help, but they've all refused to lend us any more money.' Tahlia's heart had ached when her father had dropped his head into his hands in a gesture of utter despair. 'I'm at rock bottom,' he'd admitted hoarsely. 'I've no more money left to stave off our creditors. The only glimmer of hope on the horizon is an equity firm, Vantage Investments, who have expressed an interest in buying out the company. I've arranged to meet their CEO next week.'
Tahlia could not forget the lines of strain of her father's face, but she forced her mind back to the present and glanced around the gallery, aware that fretting about Reynolds' financial situation was not going to help. She had dreaded the prospect of attending the exhibition tonight, when her supposed love-life was headline news, but Rufus Hartman was a close friend from her university days and she could not have missed his first major exhibition.
As she strolled around the gallery with Crispin she was conscious of the curious stares from some of the other guests. 'I wonder how many people here tonight think I'm a heartless marriage-breaker,' she muttered bitterly.
'No one believes a word that's written in the gutter press,' Crispin assured her breezily.
Tahlia wished she shared his confidence, but for a moment she was tempted to slink into a quiet corner and remain there for the rest of the night. But that was ridiculous; she had done nothing to be ashamed of. Her hand strayed to her necklace.
She had come to the art gallery tonight not simply to support Rufus. She had a job to do, she reminded herself.
Crispin had mentioned that a wealthy Arab prince would be attending the exhibition. Apparently Sheikh Mussada enjoyed buying gifts for his new wife, and Tahlia hoped that if she could catch his attention he might be impressed by the sapphire necklace and request to see more Reynolds Gems jewellery. If Reynolds could earn the patronage of an Arab prince they might not need to sell to Vantage Investments after all, she mused, so lost in her thoughts that she did not realise that Crispin had led her into the second gallery until he addressed a man who was studying one of the paintings.
'Thanos—I hope you're enjoying the exhibition. May I introduce you to a fellow art-lover?' Crispin drew Tahlia forward. 'This is Tahlia Reynolds. Her company, Reynolds Gems, have sponsored Rufus throughout his career, and she has an expert knowledge of his work.'
Shock ripped through Thanos as he stared at the woman at Crispin Blythe's side. She had dominated his thoughts for so long that for a few seconds his brain struggled to comprehend that she was standing in front of him, and it took all his formidable will-power to school his expression into one of polite interest rather than murderous rage.
He had arrived in London three days ago, and at a dinner party with friends had been introduced to Crispin, who had invited him to this exhibition at his art gallery. Thanos had no particular interest in art, but these events were always useful for social networking. You never knew who you might meet, he thought derisively, as his eyes raked over Tahlia Reynolds's slender form.
He recognised her instantly. Hardly surprising when her face was plastered over the front of all the red-top tabloids, he thought sardonically. But the photos of her in the newspapers, even the artfully posed pictures in the glossy magazines, showing her in couture gowns and stunning jewellery, did not do justice to her luminescent beauty. His eyes swept over her close-fitting blue silk cocktail dress, which matched the sapphires at her throat and was cut low to reveal a tantalising glimpse of the upper curve of her breasts.
She was exquisite, he acknowledged grimly. He welcomed the wave of black hatred that surged through him, but to his disgust another, unbidden emotion stirred within him. Nothing had prepared him for the impact of seeing Tahlia in the flesh, and to his fury he felt an unmistakable tug of sexual interest.
An awkward silence hovered in the air after Crispin's introduction, and as the gallery-owner cleared his throat Thanos acknowledged that he could not give in to his inclination to fasten his hands around Tahlia's slender neck and squeeze the life from her body.
'Miss Reynolds,' he murmured smoothly, extending his hand to her. He noted that she hesitated before she responded, and her hand shook very slightly when she placed it in his. Her fingers were slim, and as pale as milk. It would take a fraction of his strength to crush them in his grasp. He tightened his grip rather more than was necessary, and when her eyes flew to his face he stared at her impassively.
The brief pressure on her fragile bones could not compare with the pain his sister endured every day, he thought savagely. Melina had been in hospital for six long months, and would have to undergo many more weeks of physiotherapy before she would walk unaided again. Thanos did not blame the driver of the car which had ploughed into Melina. The police had assured him that the man behind the wheel had stood no chance of avoiding the young woman who had run into the road without looking.
No, he held two other people responsible for the accident which had almost ended Melina's life—and those same two people had callously broken her heart. Tahlia Reynolds was a predatory bitch who had been having an affair with Melina's husband, James Hamilton. Melina had been distraught when she had discovered them together in a hotel bedroom, and she had fled outside onto an unlit country road, straight into the path of an oncoming car.