Waiting outside her estranged husband's lavish office, ready to demand a divorce, Holly Tsoukatos can't remember ever being so scared. Not even when she told Theo the words that destroyed their union.
Seeing Holly again, Theo hates how much he still desires her. If she wants to talk, he'll choose the venue: The Chatsfield, Barcelona, where they spent their honeymoon!
Being so close again is delicious torture. Holly might have fled their all-consuming chemistry once before, but this time, Theo won't let her run away so easily
Welcome to The Chatsfield, Barcelona!
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Theo Tsoukatos scowled when his office door swung open despite the fact he'd given strict orders that he wasn't to be disturbed. He expected his orders to be followedand they usually were, because no one who worked for him enjoyed the consequences when they were not.
He was becoming more like his widely feared father by the day, he thought grimly. Which he could tolerate as long as that was only true here, in the business sphere. God help him if he ever acted like his father in his personal life.
Never, he vowed, as he had since he was a child. I will never let that happen.
"I trust the building is on fire?" he asked his secretary icily as she marched inside, because it could only be a crisis that brought her in here against his instructions, surely. He glowered at her. "Or is about to be?"
"Not as far as I'm aware," she retorted, appearing utterly unperturbed by his aggressive tone. Mrs. Papadopoulos, who reminded him of his hatchet-faced, steely-haired and pursed-mouthed aunt and acted about as enamored of Theo as Aunt Despina always had been, was meant to keep him from distractions rather than cause them. "But it's early yet."
Theo sighed his impatience. He was in the middle of compiling the rest of his notes on fuel efficiency and trim optimization strategies for the meeting that he'd be running in his father's stead today, now that wily old Demetrious Tsoukatos was focusing more on his mounting medical issues than on the family business. He glanced out the wall of windows surrounding him and saw all of Athens arrayed at his feet, the sprawling commotion and hectic madness of the greatest city in Greece serving as a reminder, the way it always did.
That all that rose must fallbefore rising again, stronger than before.
That was the unspoken Tsoukatos family creed. It was the story of Theo's own life, certainly. It was built into every inch of the proud Tsoukatos tower, where Theo now sat. Just like the steel girders themselves that made the building an imposing physical testament to his shipping magnate father's searing vision and ruthless success in the face of all obstacles, from sworn enemies to the faltering economy.
These days, the tower stood as a marker of Theo's own growing reputation as a fearless risk taker and out-of-the-box thinker in a business cluttered by those who played it safe straight into bankruptcy. That wasn't going to happen to the Tsoukatos fleet. Theo might have acted the spoiled heir apparent for most of his twenties, but in the past four years he'd dedicated himself to proving he was every bit as formidable and intimidating as the old man himself.
It turned out he was good at this. As if ruthless power really did run in his veins the way his father had always assured him it did. Or should.
And he'd decided he could emulate his father here, in the boardroom, where that kind of ruthlessness was a positive thing. Theo's own personal life might have been a mess, such as it was, but not for the same reasons Demetrious's had been. I may not be happy, he often told himself fiercely, but at least I'm not a liar, a cheater or a hypocrite.
He was surrounded by too many who couldn't say the same.
Theo aimed his most ferocious glare at Mrs. Pa-padopoulos as she came to a sharp stop on the other side of his wide desk. She eyed him right back with her special brand of mild judgment and automatic condemnation, which, perversely, he quite enjoyed. The woman was his own, personal version of the proverbial hair shirt and Theo was nothing if not the kind of man who liked to keep his sins as close as possible to his skin.
"It's your wife," Mrs. Papadopoulos said crisply, speaking of his sins, and Theo stopped enjoying himself. With a great thud that he was momentarily worried was actually audible.
Theo was so used to that flare of dark rage, that thunderbolt of pure fury, that he told himself he hardly noticed it any longer as it careened through him, setting off a string of secondary explosions. It had been almost four whole years since he'd laid eyes on his errant wife. Almost four years since they'd been in the same room, or even in the same country. Four years since he'd last touched her, tasted her, lost himself in herwhich he never would again, he reminded himself coldly, as it was, not coincidentally, also four years since he'd discovered the truth about her. And the mockery she'd made of their marriage.
You did not discover the truth about her, he reminded himself darkly. Pointedly. She presented her confession to you, as if on a silver platter
But God help him, he couldn't let himself go down that dark path. Not today. Not here, in his place of business, where he had become renowned for his icy calm under any and all forms of pressure. Not anymore.
Not ever again.
He should have been over this by now, Theo thought then, the way he always did. But instead he had to order himself to breathe, to unclench his fists, to relax the instant, furious tautness of his body against his chair and pretend he was as unmoved as he should have been after all this time.
"If it is my wife, then I am not only busy, I am uninterested," he said, making no attempt to hide the crack of temper in his voice. "You know better than to bother me with such drivel, Mrs. Papadopoulos. My wife is to be diverted to voice mail or email, which I check as little as possible and certainly no more than once every"
"Sir." And Theo didn't know what surprised him more. That the woman dared interrupt him or that, when he stared at her in astonishment, the rigid yet normally obedient Mrs. Papadopoulos stood her ground. "She insists that it's an emergency."
The last thing in the world Theo wanted to think about, today or ever, was Holly. His downfallthe more uncharitable might call her his comeuppance, and in his darker moments he found he agreed, because he'd married a liar just like the one he'd sworn he'd never becomein one smooth and deceitful and much too pretty female form.
Because the sad truth was that he already spent a significant portion of every day not thinking about her. His predawn hours in his private gym, beating his endless fury into the hanging bag or the occasional sparring partner. The brutal miles he logged on his treadmill. Not thinking about her betrayal of him with, she'd told him so distinctly, some tourist whose name she hadn't bothered to catch. Not imagining those same sickening scenes over and over again, all etched into his brain as if he'd actually witnessed her betrayal himself. Not wondering how he could have fallen so completely for the lies she'd told him when he should have known better, when he should have been far too jaded to be taken in by her artless little act
For four years he'd thrown himself into the family business with the express purpose of thinking of something other than the lying, cheating creature he'd married so foolishly and the many ways she'd ruined him. She'd made him a laughingstock. That smarted, but she'd also ripped out the heart he'd never been aware he'd possessed before her. That was infinitely worse. And more than that, she'd tricked him into reenacting his own parents' doomed marriage, which he couldn't find it in him to forgive. For four years he'd focused all of the feelings he refused to call by name into something tangible: the comprehensive decimation of all Tsoukatos business rivals and the unquestionable success of the company against what should have been insurmountable odds in these troubled times.
No one had called Theo Tsoukatos, once a proud member of Europe's entitled dilettante contingent with the notches on his bedpost to prove it, a spoiled and pampered playboy in a very long while. No one would dare.
But Holly was his living, breathing, walking and talking failure. The crowning achievement of his wasted youth. The embodiment of the pointless creature he'd been back then, a grave disappointment to his father and an epic, permanent stain upon his family name.
He did not want to think about how hard he'd fallen for the dizzy little blonde thing from the United States who'd pretended to adore him at first sight, how desperately he'd pursued her after their initial week together on the island or how deeply and callously she'd betrayed him a mere six months after the wedding that he'd been blind enough to consider romantic not despite its speed but because of it.
He especially did not want to recollect the unpleasant truth: that he had no one to blame for any of these things but himself.
Everyone had warned him, after all. At length. Everyone save Theo had seen supposedly gauche and charmingly naive Holly Holt, touring Europe all on her own following her father's death, for exactly who and what she was. One more American gold digger with Texas dirt on her feet and her calculating blue eyes set on the biggest and best catch she could find.
On Santorini that summer, that catch had been Theo.
"You are my successor and the heir to the Tsoukatos fortune," his father had told him sternly, over and over again and to no avail. "This girl is nobody. This can never be anything more than a holiday romance, Theo. You must understand this."
His father and his brother, Brax, had lined up to tell him not to be a fool, but Theo had hardly been inclined to take advice from the man who'd destroyed Theo's own mother with his infidelities, much less a younger brother he'd thought of then as little more than a child. And then, when it was clear that he was determined to prove himself a colossal fool, anyway, they'd begged him to at the very least take the necessary steps to protect his fortune, his future, the company, on the off chance that he was thinking with his groin instead of his head And Theo had ignored them all, the way he always had done throughout his hedonistic twenties, because he'd cared about nothing and no one but himself.
Nothing but himself and one curvy little blonde girl with deep blue eyes to rival the Aegean Sea itself. She'd had the widest, sweetest, most open smile he'd ever seen, and he'd lost himself in it. In her. And there had been nothing, it turned out, but a deceitful heart beneath all that sweet shine.
This, then, was his reward for his impetuousness. His penance. This humiliation of a marriage that he held on to only because he refused to give her the satisfaction of asking for a divorce, despite what she'd done to him and then thrown in his face so unapolo-getically. He refused to let her see how she'd destroyed him over the course of that long, rainy season on San-torini years ago.
It had been nearly four and a half years since they'd married in far too much haste in the height of the dry Greek summer, almost four whole years since they'd been within the same walls, and Theo thought he was still coldly furious enough to stretch it out to ten, if necessary. He might not want her any longer, he might have vowed to himself that he would fling himself from the Santorini cliffs before he'd let her work her evil magic on him again, but he'd be damned if he'd let her have her freedom from him unless she begged for it.
Preferably at length and on her knees. He was a simple man. An eye for an eye, and a humiliation for a humiliation.
"My wife has never had a minor upset she couldn't fluff up into a full-scale catastrophe," Theo bit out now, venting his spleen on his rigid secretary and not much minding if it made her bristle visibly. He paid her a not-inconsiderable fortune to tolerate him and his many black moods, after all. It was a great pity he hadn't taken the same amount of precautions when choosing his first wife. "Her version of an emergency generally involves her credit limit."
"I think this is different, Mr. Tsoukatos."
Theo was losing what little patience he had lefta virtue for which he was not widely renowned to begin with. This was already far more focused and specific attention paid to Holly and thus his marriage than he liked to permit himself outside the stark truths he otherwise faced only in his gym. He could see emails piling up in his inbox out of the corner of his eye, he still had to sketch out the rest of his presentation and the last thing in the world he had time for was his own, personal albatross and whatever her latest scheme was.
"Why?" he asked, aware that his voice was unduly hostile when Mrs. Papadopoulos stiffened further, a feat which should have been anatomically impossible. He shrugged. "Because she said so? She always does."
"Because she's videoed in." Mrs. Papadopoulos placed the tablet Theo hadn't noticed she was carrying down in the center of his desk. "Here you are." She stepped back, and her voice was as crisp as the look in her eyes was steely. "Sir."
Theo blinked, then eyed the tabletand the frozen image thereas if Holly herself might leap forth from the screen and stick another knife deep into his back. Deeper this time, no doubt. Perhaps a killing blow at last. It took him a moment to remember that Mrs. Papadopoulos still stood there, exuding her typical brusque disapproval, and when he did he waved her off before he betrayed himself any further.
A video call was certainly different. That was the truth.
And when it came to Holly, "different" was never good. "Different" always came with a heavy price and Theo always ended up paying it.
She was his costliest mistake, by far. Of all the many follies of his overindulged and deeply entitled youth, Holly Holt from somewhere as improbable to him as Texas ranch country, with the wide smile and the big laugh that had broken him wide-open and left him nothing but a goddamned fool in a thousand discarded pieces, was the one he regretted most.
And daily, whether he permitted himself to think about her directly or not.
"Control yourself," he snapped out loud, glaring down at the tablet on the polished expanse of his desk before him.
He moved to end the call without taking it, the way he knew he should, but her image taunted him. Even frozen into place and slightly pixelated, she was like a hammer to the side of his head. He could feel her everywhere, her claws still in him, deep.
Hating himself for his weakness didn't do a damned thing to change it.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I wish I could give this zero stars. There is nothing romantic about this book. The characters are not likable. There is so much anger in both characters that it makes the story line depressing. Save your money and don't buy this book. I bought the May bundle. So far the first 2 books have been horrible. Harlequin authors are really starting to slip.
This is the worst Harlequin that I've ever read, and I've read over 1K. Both of the main characters are sadly lacking any redeeming qualities and the plot line doesn't make any sense. This book will make you angry at the characters and then more angry at yourself for spending money on it, so please save your money.