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Callie's heart thundered in her ears, muting the sound of their hoarse breathing. Hers and his, mingled together.
Aftershocks shuddered through her. Light flickered behind her closed lids, remnants of the white-hot ecstasy that had exploded through her moments ago. An ecstasy she'd never before experienced.
Who could have known? she dragged in a breath and inhaled his spicy scent. Clean masculine sweat, musky skin and something indefinable that made her want to burrow closer into his bare shoulder.
She nuzzled his damp skin and was rewarded with a rumble of approval deep in the wide chest that cushioned her. One large hand slid gently over her hip, long fingers caressing her bare flesh, pulling her closer to his hot, slick body so she lay half across him.
Callie's breath puffed out in a sigh of astonished bliss. He was strong, tender and generous.
Everything she'd never had from a man.
Everything she'd learned not to expect.
He'd taken her to paradise. Teased and pleasured her until reality shattered in a conflagration of sheer bliss.
She'd never known such intense joy as when she'd soared to ecstasy in his arms. She'd always be grateful for the gift he'd given her today. The shared pleasure that connected her, however briefly, to him. That sense of linkage, even more than the physical delight, warmed her to the core.
She 'd felt alone for so long.
From the moment she'd seen him row his dinghy from the gracious old yacht, his wide shoulders gleaming bare and golden in the sun, she'd sensed something different about him. Something special. He epitomised a masculinity so perfect it had sucked the breath from her chest.
She, Callie Manolis, who hadn't looked at a man with desire in seven years! Who'd thought she never would again.
For days she'd tried to ignore the stranger who invaded the seclusion of this private beach. Invaded her refuge. Each morning as she lay under the pine trees, spent from swimming, she attempted to focus on her book. But inevitably her gaze strayed to where he pottered on deck, fished, or swam in the clear waters of the tiny bay.
Even with her eyes shut she'd been aware of him. As he'd been of her.
Had he really needed to ask the way to the track for the nearest village? The sizzling gleam in his eyes told her he hadn't. But for once Callie had warmed to that wholly male glint of appreciation. It hadn't repelled or annoyed her.
He looked the way she felt when she saw him.
Ensnared by his dark, dark eyes, Callie had been like a swimmer adrift on the Aegean, cut off from reality. From her future plans, the pain of the past, even her distrust of men. What did trust matter in the face of this potent attraction? It was extraordinary yet stunningly simple.
Her lips curved against his skin. She couldn't resist the temptation to press a kiss there, tasting his salt tang. A sound between a growl and a purr vibrated from his throat, exactly matching her own sense of lazy triumph.
Perhaps sexual abstinence made this sudden passion so exhilarating. She was twenty-five and he was her second lover. Perhaps that was why
Thought clogged as his hand moved splay-fingered down her leg. It circled, light as a wind-blown leaf, slipping between their bodies to caress her sensitive inner thigh.
Callie sucked in an astonished breath as the tingling started again deep inside. A jolt of desire pierced her, shocking her to full awareness in an instant.
Heat radiated from his touch as his hand strayed to the place where need had pulsed a short time ago. She gasped as he stroked her, tenderly yet deliberately. Stunned, she felt a shimmer of excitement ripple through her sated body like a rising tide.
'You like that?' There was lazy satisfaction in his deep voice. And a knowledge that told her he knew exactly how much she craved his touch.
He understood her reactions better than she. Callie was a novice at this but even a woman so inexperienced recognised a master of the sensual arts.
She flattened her hands on his chest and pushed herself up so she could look down into his face.
A smile lingered on his sensuous lips and his glittering eyes flashed an invitation. His unruly black hair flopped over his brow, in gorgeous disarray after she'd clutched it. Her gaze strayed past his solid jaw to the strong column of his throat. To the reddened patch on his neck.
Was that a love bite? She'd marked him with her teeth? Surely she hadn't been so wild.
'We can't,' she blurted out. 'Not again.'
One sleek black brow rose and he bestowed a slow confident smile that sent a buzz of pleasure through her.
'I wouldn't be too sure of that, little one.'
His questing fingers moved and her body trembled.
Automatically she clamped her fingers around his wrist, intending to drag his hand away. She needed to think. But she couldn't shift him. His arm was all hard bone and muscled strength. His touch was bliss.
'Yes,' he whispered, his gaze fixed on her with searing intensity. 'Hold me while I touch you.'
Callie's eyes widened at his deliberate eroticism. Her heart leapt. The melting warmth between her legs belied her instinctive denial and she squirmed.
After their desperate lovemaking this should be impossible. Yet the feel of his sinewed hand moving beneath hers was exciting. As was the burgeoning strength of his arousal against her thighs.
'No.' Her voice was breathless. She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to claim control of her wayward body. 'I have to go. I have to'
'Shh, glikia mou,' he murmured in that seductive, black-velvet voice. He withdrew his hand to cup her face with callused fingers. He stroked the erogenous zone at the corner of her mouth she hadn't known existed till today. 'Relax and enjoy. There's no rush. Nothing more important than this.'
His hand slid to the back of her head and he pulled her inexorably down to meet his mouth. The kiss was long, languorous and seductive. Callie's resistance seeped away like sea water through sand. Her bones melted as her lips opened and he ravaged her mouth with sweet possessiveness.
How could anything so unprecedented feel so right?
'You can leave later,' he murmured against her lips, each word a caress. 'Afterwards.'
Afterwards. The word circled in Callie's hazy brain then disintegrated as she kissed him back. The remnants of self-control dissolved in the heat of rising passion.
It was oh-so-easy to give herself up to the luxury of his expert seduction. To throw away a lifetime's caution and live for the moment. To forget the real world and the harsh lessons she'd learned there. Just for a little longer.
That was what it had been, Callie decided as she stood before the mirror in her guest room. Nothing else could explain the way she'd allowed herself to be seduced.
No, not allowed. She'd encouraged him, eager for the feel of his tall, muscular body against hers. Impatient to pursue the sensual promise she'd read in his eyes. Eager for the sort of loving she'd never had, and now, to her stunned delight, had experienced for the first time.
With a stranger.
Her eyes rounded and a shudder rippled through her at the thought of what she'd done. She, the woman the tabloids had once dubbed the Snow Queen, had given herself to a complete stranger in passionate abandon! Not once. Nor twice. But three times, in heart-stopping succession.
Shock and shame flooded her as she remembered in exquisite detail.
Given herself! She grimaced at her reflection. She hadn't even had the grace to be embarrassed that he carried condoms when he'd come ashore today. All she'd felt was relief.
He had a swimmer's body, broad shoulders, slim hips, with long muscled limbs and the easy stride of a man at ease with his strength. The sort of body she'd seen on beaches at home in Australia a lifetime ago. Not what she'd expect on a tiny island off the tourist trail in northern Greece.
She knew gorgeous men. They left her unmoved. Their charm and good looks had never quickened her pulse.
The gossips had been disappointed as for six years she'd remained loyal to her much older husband.
Even the fact that her husband had desired her only as a possession to display and jealously guard hadn't driven her to seek consolation elsewhere. Alkis had been impotent and Callie had buried her libido as well as her emotions during their sterile, unhappy marriage. More, his sick jealousy and frightening outbursts ensured she kept men at a distance. She'd learned to brush off the importunate ones with a cool grace that had become her hallmark.
Never had she felt this fiery yearning when she looked at a man. Until today, just hours ago in the deserted private cove of her uncle's estate.
It had been a momentary insanity, brought on by worry for her aunt's health and stress from this duty holiday under her uncle's roof. By the release of unbearable tension after those dreadful last months with Alkis.
By a lifetime of being what her aunt would describe as a 'good girl', doing what was expected.
Callie's lips quirked in a humourless smile as she met her gaze in the mirror. She didn't look like a good girl now.
She'd done as her uncle insisted, donning a full-length gown, totally over-the-top for a family dinner. She'd piled her hair up and wore the flashy diamond pendant and bracelet set that was all she had left of Alkis' gifts.
But the formal clothes didn't conceal the change in her.
There was high colour in her cheeks, her eyes sparkled over-bright, her lips were plump as if kissed long and hard by an expert. And that look of secret satisfaction surely must betray her.
She should be mortified by what she'd done.
Yet, staring at the stranger in the glass, she knew an overpowering urge to flee. To forget the stuffy dinner her uncle had organised and race barefoot to the beach and find her stranger.
The man whose name she didn't even know.
But she could never do that. Callie had been trained too well. Ruthlessly she subdued the renegade impulse to ignore a lifetime's lessons and run to the man with whom she'd shared her yearning and her inner self.
She'd had her single afternoon of madness. Now it was over and she had to forget him before he swept away all her desperately won defences.
'I want you girls to make a special effort tonight.' Uncle Aristides turned the statement into a threat. He waggled a warning finger at his daughter, standing beside Callie. 'Especially you, Angela. Your mother's unwell again, so you'll stand in for her.' He spoke disapprovingly, as though Aunt Desma had planned to be ill.
Seeing the scowl wedge between her uncle's beetling brows and the miserable look on Angela's face, Callie swallowed a pithy retort. It would be her docile cousin who'd pay if Callie made her uncle angry.
'The evening will be perfect, Uncle. I've checked with the staff. The meal looks superb and the best vintage champagne is on ice. I'm sure your guest will be impressed.'
Her uncle was even more touchy than usual, lashing out furiously at any perceived problem. Poor Angela was already a bundle of nerves, anticipating an explosion.
'I hope so,' her uncle boomed. 'We have an important visitor tonight.' He emphasised the point with a wave of his hand. 'A very important guest.'
Callie's stomach sank with foreboding. What did he have planned? This was more than a family celebration for her twenty-fifth birthday. Diamonds and designer gowns weren't usual attire, even in this house where oppressive formality was the norm. He was up to something.
His eyes strayed again to Angela and Callie's curiosity twisted into a stab of anxiety. She knew exactly how ruthless her uncle could be, and how devious.
'Don't forget what I said, Angela,' he barked.
Angela's face paled. 'Yes, father.' At eighteen she had none of her father's brash confidence. Callie knew she found it a chore mixing among her father's associates.
Callie stepped forward. 'Tonight will be a success, Uncle. Don't worry, we'll see to it.'
If she had to dredge up every last ounce of patience to smile and listen to one of his cronies bore on about the iniquities of the government or the flaws of the younger generation, she'd do it. Anything to prevent an angry outburst that would force Angela further into her shell.
Aristides Manolis looked Callie up and down as if seeking to find fault. But six years of marriage to a rich man, of mixing in glamorous society, had given her the gloss to shine in any surroundings. And the experience to handle any social situation.
Dinner for four, even with the most demanding, querulous guest, would be no problem at all.
'You will be our hostess,' he said. 'But I don't want Angela fading into the background as she usually does.'
Callie found herself nodding in unison with Angela. She'd only been in this house five days and already she felt the old yoke of submission settling on her shoulders.
Could it really be just hours ago she'd lain naked in the arms of a man? Brazen enough to have sex with him in a secluded grove of pines by the beach?
As soon as her uncle strode from the room, Callie reached for her cousin's hand. It was cold.
'It'll be OK, Angela. I'm here with you.'
Trembling fingers squeezed hers and she felt her cousin's desperation. Then Angela pulled away, head up, back straight, the picture of elegant composure, as expected of the Manolis girls.
It was something the women in her family learned early. To conceal emotion. To appear calm and agreeable, an ornament and an asset to the right man.
The right man. Callie repressed a shudder of horror. Thank heaven that was behind her now. She need never again be the biddable possession of any man, much less a cruel control freak. The knowledge of her new-found independence still took her breath away.
Yet a sixth sense kept Callie on edge. Something was wrong. This wasn't pre-party jitters.
'What is it, Angela? What's the matter?'
Her cousin cast a furtive glance to the doorway. 'This visitor.' Her voice was a shaky whisper. 'Papa is arranging for me to marry him.'
'Arranging to marry?'
Callie's lungs seized as horror gripped her. The world spun chaotically and she grabbed the back of a nearby chair.
The years slid away. Once again she was just eighteen, Angela's age. She stood here, waiting alone for him to arrive. The man her uncle had informed her she had to marry.
Unless she wanted to destroy her family.
Angela's voice pierced the fog of nightmare reminiscence. Callie blinked, clearing her blurry vision and strove for composure.
Another arranged marriage. Another disaster.
Callie groped for Angela's hand, knowing how much her little cousin needed her now. Remembering