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By Sara Craven
Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Copyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe room was in deep shadow. Moonlight pouring through the slats of the tall shuttered windows lay in thin bands across the tiled floor.
The whirr of the ceiling fan gently moving the warm air above the wide bed was barely audible against the ceaseless rasp of the cicadas in the garden below the room.
Once, she'd found these sounds alien. Now, they were the natural accompaniment to her nights in this house.
As was the firm masculine tread approaching the bed. The warm, husky voice, touched with laughter, whispering "Katharina mou."
And she, turning slowly, languidly, under the linen sheet that was her only covering, smiling her welcome, as she reached up to him with outstretched arms, her body alive with need - with longing ...
With a gasp, Kate sat up in the darkness, throat tight, heart pounding violently.
She made herself draw deep calming breaths as she glanced round the room, seeking reassurance. Her bedroom, in her flat. Curtains masking the windows, not shutters. And, outside, the uneasy rumble of London traffic.
A dream, she thought. Only a bad dream. Just another nightmare.
At the beginning, they'd been almost nightly occurrences, as her stunned mind and bruised senses tried to rationalise what had happened to her.
She had never really succeeded, of course. The hurt, the betrayal had cut too deep. The events of the past year were always there, in the corner of her mind, eating corrosively into her consciousness.
But the bad dreams had been kept at bay for a while. It was now almost two weeks since the last one.
She had, she thought, begun to heal. And now this ...
Was it an omen? she wondered. Tomorrow - the next day - would there be some news at last? The letter - the phone call - that would bring her the promise of freedom.
God knows, she'd made it as easy as she could, going right against the advice of her lawyer.
"But, Mrs Theodakis, you're entitled ..."
She'd stopped him there. "I want nothing," she said. "Nothing at all. Kindly make sure the other side is - aware of that. And please don't use that name either," she added constrainedly. "I prefer Miss Dennison."
He had assented politely, but his raised brows told her more loudly than words that no amount of preference could change a thing.
She had taken off her wedding ring, but she couldn't as easily erase the events of the past year from her tired memory.
She was still legally the wife of Michael Theodakis, and would remain so until she received his consent to the swift, clean-break divorce she had requested.
Once she was free of him, then the nightmares would stop, she told herself. And she could begin to put her life back together again.
That was the inner promise that had kept her going through these dark days and endless nights since she'd fled from Mick, and their charade of a marriage. From the images that still haunted her, waking and sleeping.
She drew her knees up to her chin, shivering a little. Her cotton nightgown was damp, and clinging to her body. She was tired - her job as a tour guide escorting parties of foreign tourists round the British Isles was a demanding one - but her body was wide awake, restless with the needs and desires she'd struggled so hard to suppress.
How could the memory of him still be so potent? she wondered despairingly. Why couldn't she forget him as easily as he seemed to have forgotten her? Why didn't he answer her solicitor's letters - or instruct one of the team of lawyers who served the mighty Theodakis clan to deal with them for him?
With all his money and power, it was the simplest thing in the world to rid himself of an unwanted wife. He was signing papers all day long. What would one more signature matter?
She lay down again, pulling the covers round her, in spite of the warmth of the August night. Cocooning herself so that the expanse of the bed beside her would not seem quite so empty - so desolate.
And knowing that nothing would ever make any difference to the loneliness and the hurt.
It was nearly eight when she reached home the following evening, and Kate felt bone-weary as she let herself into the narrow hall. She had spent the day showing a party of thirty Japanese tourists round Stratford-on-Avon. They had been unfailingly polite, and interested, absorbing information like sponges, but Kate was aware that she had not been on top form. She'd been restless, edgy all day, blaming her disturbed night for her difficulties in concentration.
Tonight, she thought grimly, she would take one of the pills the doctor had prescribed when she first returned from Greece.
She needed this job, and couldn't afford to lose it, even if it was only temporary, filling in for someone on maternity leave.
All the winter jobs for reps with tour companies had already gone when she came back to Britain, although her old company Halcyon Club Travel were keen to hire her again next summer.
And that's what she planned to do, although she'd stipulated that she would not return to any of the Greek islands.
On her way to the stairs, she paused to collect her mail from the row of rickety pigeon-holes on the wall.
Mostly circulars, she judged, and the gas bill - and then stopped, her attention totally arrested as she saw the Greek stamp.
She stared down at the large square envelope with its neatly typed direction, her eyes dilating, a small choked sound rising in her throat.
She thought, "He's found me. He knows where I am. But how?"
And why was he making contact with her directly, when she'd made it clear that all correspondence was to be conducted through their lawyers?
But then, when had Mick Theodakis ever played by any rules except his own?
She went up the stairs slowly, aware that her legs were shaking. When she reached her door, she had to struggle to fit her key into the lock, but at last she managed it.
In her small living room, she dropped the letter on to the dining table as if it was red-hot, then walked across to her answerphone which was blinking at her, and pressed the "play" button. Perhaps, if Mick had written to her, he'd also contacted her lawyer, and the message she was hoping for might be waiting at last.
Instead Grant's concerned voice said, "Kate - are you all right? You haven't called me this week. Touch base, darling - please."
Kate sighed inwardly, and went across to the bedroom to take off the navy shift dress, and navy and emerald striped blazer that constituted her uniform.
It was kind of Grant to be anxious, but she knew in her heart that it was more than kindness that prompted his frequent calls. It was pressure. He wanted her back, their former relationship re-established, and moved on to the next stage. He took it for granted that she wanted this too. That, like him, she regarded the past year as an aberration - a period of temporary insanity, now happily concluded. And that when she had gained her divorce, she would marry him.
But Kate knew it would never happen. She and Grant had not been officially engaged, when she'd gone off to work as a travel company rep on Zycos in the Ionian Sea, but she knew, when the season was over, he would ask her to marry him, and that she would probably agree.
She hadn't even been sure why she was hesitating. He was good-looking, they shared a number of interests, and, if his kisses did not set her on fire, Kate enjoyed them enough to look forward to the full consummation of their relationship. And during her weeks on Zycos she had missed him, written to him every week, and happily anticipated his phone calls planning their future.
Surely that was a good enough basis for marriage - wasn't it?
Probably Grant thought it still was. Only she knew better. Knew she was no longer the same person. And soon she would have to tell him so, she thought with genuine regret.
She unzipped her dress, and put it on a hanger. Underneath she was wearing bra and briefs in white broderie anglaise, pretty and practical, but not glamorous or sexy, she thought, studying herself dispassionately.
And totally different from the exquisite lingerie that Mick had brought her from Paris and Rome - lacy cobwebby things that whispered against her skin. Filmy enticing scraps to please the eyes of a lover.
Only, there was no lover - and never had been.
Excerpted from Smokescreen Marriage by Sara Craven
Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.