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"Welcome home, my wife."
Morgan froze inside Villa Angelica's expansive marble and limestone living room with its spectacular floor-to-ceiling view of blue sky and sea, but saw none of the view, and only Drakon's face.
It had been five years since she'd last seen him. Five and a half years since their extravagant two-million-dollar wedding, for a marriage that had lasted just six months.
She'd dreaded this moment. Feared it. And yet Drakon sounded so relaxed and warm, so normal, as if he were welcoming her back from a little holiday instead of her walking out on him.
"Not your wife, Drakon," she said softly, huskily, because they both knew she hadn't been his anything for years. There had been nothing, no word, no contact, not after the flurry of legal missives that followed her filing for divorce.
He'd refused to grant her the divorce and she'd spent a fortune fighting him. But no attorney, no lawsuit, no amount of money could persuade him to let her go. Marriage vows, he'd said, were sacred and binding. She was his. And apparently the courts in Greece agreed with him. Or were bought by him. Probably the latter.
"You are most definitely still my wife, but that's not a conversation I want to have across a room this size. Do come in, Morgan. Don't be a stranger. What would you like to drink? Champagne? A Bellini? Something a little stronger?"
But her feet didn't move. Her legs wouldn't carry her. Not when her heart was beating so fast. She was shocked by Dra-kon's appearance and wondered for a moment if it really was Drakon. Unnerved, she looked away, past his broad shoulders to the wall of window behind him, with that breathtaking blue sky and jagged cliffs and azure sea.
So blue and beautiful today. A perfect spring day on the Amalfi Coast.
"I don't want anything," she said, her gaze jerking back to him, although truthfully, a glass of cool water would taste like heaven right now. Her mouth was so dry, her pulse too quick. Her head was spinning, making her dizzy from nerves and anxiety. Who was this man before her?
The Drakon Xanthis she'd married had been honed, sleek and polished, a man of taut, gleaming lines and angles.
This tall intimidating man in front of the picture window was broader in the shoulders and chest than Drakon had ever been, and his thick, inky brown and black hair hung in loose curls to almost his shoulders, while his hard fierce features were hidden by a dark beard. The wild hair and beard should have obscured his sensual beauty, rendered him reckless, powerless. Instead the tangle of hair highlighted his bronzed brow, the long straight nose, the firm mouth, the piercing amber gold eyes.
His hair was still damp and his skin gleamed as if he'd just risen from the sea, the Greek god Poseidon come to life from ancient myth.
She didn't like it. Didn't like any of this. She'd prepared herself for one thing, but not this .
"You look pale," he said, his voice so deep it was almost a caress.
She steeled herself against it. Against him. "It was a long trip."
"Even more reason for you to come sit."
Her hands clenched into fists at her sides. She hated being here. Hated him for only seeing her here at Villa Angelica, the place where they'd honeymooned for a month following their spectacular wedding. It'd been the happiest month of her life. When the honeymoon was over, they had left the villa and flown to Greece, and nothing was ever the same between them again. "I'm fine here," she said.
"I won't hurt you," he replied softly.
Her nails pierced her skin. Her eyes stung. If her legs would function, she'd run. Protect herself. Save herself. If only she had someone else to go to, someone else who would help her, but there was no one. Just Drakon. Just the man who had destroyed her, making her question her own sanity. "You already did that."
"You say that, my love, and yet you've never told me how"
"As you said, that isn't something to discuss across a room of this size. And we both know, I didn't come here to discuss us. Didn't come to rehash the past, bring up old ghosts, old pain. I came for your help. You know what I need. You know what's at stake. Will you do it? Will you help me?"
"Six million dollars is a lot of money."
"Not to you."
"Things have changed. Your father lost over four hundred million dollars of what I gave him."
"It wasn't his fault." She met his gaze and held it, knowing that if she didn't stand up to him now, he'd crush her. Just as he'd crushed her all those years ago.
Drakon, like her father, played by no rules but his own.
A Greek shipping tycoon, Drakon Sebastian Xanthis was a man obsessed with control and power. A man obsessed with amassing wealth and growing his empire. A man obsessed with a woman who wasn't his wife. Bronwyn. The stunning Australian who ran his Southeast Asia business.
Her eyes burned and her jaw ached.
But no. She wouldn't think of Bronwyn now. Wouldn't wonder if the willowy blonde still worked for him. It wasn't important. Morgan wasn't part of Drakon's life anymore. She didn't care whom Drakon employed or how he interacted with his female vice presidents or where they stayed on their business trips or what they discussed over their long dinners together.
"Is that what you really believe?" he asked now, voice almost silky. "That your father is blameless?"
"Absolutely. He was completely misled"
"As you have been. Your father is one of the biggest players in one of the biggest Ponzi schemes ever. Twenty-five billion dollars is missing, and your father funneled five billion of that to Michael Amery, earning himself ten percent interest."
"He never saw that kind of money"
"For God's sake, Morgan, you're talking to me, Drakon, your husband. I know your father. I know exactly who and what he is. Do not play me for a fool!"
Morgan ground her teeth together harder, holding back the words, the tears, the anger, the shame. Her father wasn't a monster. He didn't steal from his clients. He was just as deceived as they were and yet no one would give him an opportunity to explain, or defend himself. The media had tried and convicted him and everyone believed the press. Everyone believed the wild accusations. "He's innocent, Drakon. He had no idea Michael Amery was running a pyramid scheme. Had no idea all those numbers and profits were a lie."
"Then if he's so innocent, why did he flee the country? Why didn't he stay, like Amery's sons and cousins, and fight instead of setting sail to avoid prosecution?"
"He panicked. He was frightened"
"Absolute rubbish. If that's the case, your father is a coward and deserves his fate."
She shook her head in silent protest, her gaze pinned to Drakon's features. He might not look like Drakon, but it was definitely him. She knew his deep, smooth voice. And those eyes. His eyes. She'd fallen in love with his eyes first. She'd met him at the annual Life ball in Vienna, and they hadn't dancedDrakon didn't dancebut he'd watched her all evening and at first she'd been discomfited by the intensity of his gaze, and then she'd come to like it. Want it. Crave it.
In those early weeks and months when he'd pursued her, Drakon had seduced her with his eyes, examining her, holding her, possessing her long before he'd laid a single finger on her. And, of course, by the time he did, she was his, completely.
The last five years had been brutal. Beyond brutal. And just when Morgan had found herself again, and felt hopeful and excited about her future, her world came crashing down with the revelation that her beloved, brilliant financier father, Daniel Copeland, was part of Michael Amery's horrific Ponzi scheme. And instead of her father handling the crisis with his usual aplomb, he'd cracked and run, creating an even bigger international scandal.
She drew a slow, unsteady breath. "I can't leave him in Somalia to die, Drakon. The pirates will kill him if they don't get the ransom money"
"It would serve him right."
"He's my father!"
"You'll put yourself in debt for the rest of your life, just to buy his freedom, even though you know that his freedom will be short-lived?"
"You do understand that he'll be arrested the moment he tries to enter any North American or European country?"
"He's never going to be free again. He's going to spend the rest of his life in prison, just like Michael Amery will, once he's caught, too."
"I understand. But far better for my father to be in an American prison than held by Somali pirates. At least in the United States he could get medical care if he's sick, or medicine for his blood pressure. At least he could have visitors and letters and contact with the outside world. God knows what his conditions are like in Somalia"
"I'm sure they're not luxurious. But why should the American taxpayer have to support your father? Let him stay where he is. It's what he deserves."
"Do you say this to hurt me, or is it because he lost so much of your money?"
"I'm a businessman. I don't like to lose money. But I was only in four hundred million of the five billion he gave to Amery. What about those others? The majority were regular people. People who trusted your father with their retirement money their life savings. And what did he do? He wiped them out. Left them with nothing. No retirement, no security, no way to pay the bills now that they're older and frailer and unemployable."
Morgan blinked hard to clear her vision. "Michael Amery was my father's best friend. He was like family. Dad trusted him implicitly." Her voice cracked and she struggled to regain her composure. "I grew up calling him Uncle Michael. I thought of him as my family."
"Yes, that's what you told me. Just before I gave your father four hundred million dollars to invest for me. I nearly gave him more. Your father wanted more. Twice as much, as a matter of fact."
"I am so sorry."
"I trusted your father." His gaze met hers and held. "Trusted you. I know better now."
She exhaled slowly. "Does that mean you won't help me?"
"It means " His voice faded, and his gaze narrowed as he looked at her, closely, carefully, studying her intently. "Probably not."
"Probably?" she repeated hoarsely, aware that if Drakon wouldn't help her, no one would. The world hated her father, and wanted him gone. They all hoped he was dead. And they all hoped he'd suffered before he died, too.
"Surely you must realize I'm no fan of your father's, glykia mou."
"You don't have to be a fan of my father's to loan me the money. We'll draft a contract, a legal document that is between you and me, and I will pay you back in regular installments. It will take time, but it'll happen. My business is growing, building. I've got hundreds of thousands of dollars of orders coming in. I promise"
"Just like you promised to love me? Honor me? Be true to me for better or worse, in sickness and in health?"
She winced. He made it sound as if she hadn't ever cared for him, when nothing could be further from the truth. The truth was, she'd cared too much. She'd loved him without reservation. And by loving him so much, she'd lost herself entirely. "So why haven't you divorced me then? If you despise me so much, why not let me go? Set me free?"
"Because I'm not like you. I don't make commitments and run from them. I don't make promises and then break them. I promised five and a half years ago to be loyal to you, and I have been."
His deep gravelly voice was making her insides wobble while his focused gaze rested on her, examining her, as if she were a prized pet that had been lost and found.
"Those are just words, Drakon. They mean nothing to me. Not when your actions speak so much louder."
"Yes, your actions. Or your lack of action. You only do something if it benefits you. You married me because it benefited you or you thought it would. And then when times were difficult when I became difficult you disappeared. You wouldn't grant me a divorce but you certainly didn't come after me, fight for me. And then when the world turned against us, where were you again? Nowhere. God knows you wouldn't want your name sullied by connection with the Copeland family!"
He studied her for an endless moment. "Interesting how you put things together. But not entirely surprising. You've inherited your mother's flair for the dramatic"
"I hate you! I do." Her voice shook and her eyes burned, but she wouldn't cry, wouldn't give him the satisfaction. He'd taken everything from her, but not anymore. "I knew you'd mock me, humiliate me. I knew when I flew here, you'd make it difficult, but I came anyway, determined to do whatever I had to do to help my father. You'll let me plead with you, you'll let me beg"
"That was a very passionate speech, so please forgive my interruption, but I'd like to clarify something. I don't believe you've begged. You've asked for money. You've demanded money. You've explained why you needed money. But there's been very little pleading, and absolutely no begging, at all."
A pulse beat wildly in her throat. She could feel the same wild flutter in her wrists and behind her ears. Everything in her was racing, raging. "Is that what you want? You'd like for me to beg you to help me?"
His head cocked, and he studied her, his gaze penetrating. "It'd certainly be a little more conciliatory, and far less antagonistic."
"Conciliatory." She repeated the word, rolling it over in her mouth, finding it sharp and bitter.
He said nothing, just watched her, and she felt almost breathless at the scrutiny, remembering how it had been between them during their four weeks here on their honeymoon. It was in this villa she'd learned about love and lust, sex and pleasure, as well as pain and control, and the loss of control.
Drakon never lost control. But he'd made sure she did at least once a day, sometimes two or three times.
Their sex life had been hot. Explosive. Erotic. She'd been a virgin when she'd married him and their first time together had been uncomfortable. He was large and it had hurt when he entered her fully. He'd tried to make it pleasurable for her but she'd been so overwhelmed and emotional, as well as let down. She couldn't respond properly, couldn't climax, and she knew she was supposed to. Knew he wanted her to.
He'd showered with her afterward, and kissed her, and beneath the pulsing spray of the shower, he lavished attention on her breasts and nipples, the curve of her buttocks and the cleft between her thighs, lightly playing with her clit until he finally accomplished what he hadn't in bedshe came. One of his arms held her up since her legs were too weak to do the job, and then he'd kissed her deeply, possessively, and when she could catch her breath, he'd assured her that the next time he entered her, it wouldn't hurt. That sex would never hurt again.
But that didn't mean sex was always easy or comfortable.
Drakon liked it hot. Intense. Sensual. Raw. Unpredictable.
He loved to stand across the room from herjust as he was doing nowand he'd tell her what to do. Tell her what he wanted. Sometimes he wanted her to strip and then walk naked to him. Sometimes he wanted her to strip to just her panties and crawl to him. Sometimes he wanted her to wear nothing but her elegant heels and bend over or put a foot on a chair and he'd tell her where to touch herself.