A marriage full of secrets – stormy, sexy and set to implode?
Billie’s baby has been born but she hasn’t told Alexei about his son’s existence. Yet when she returns to Greece and he proposes a marriage of convenience, she knows she just has to take her chance to be with the man she loves. But Alexei is amazed to find his wife isn’t a virgin on their wedding night – and that’s just the first shocking revelation in this stormy marriage…
THE opulent cloakroom was adorned with stylish contemporary fittings and fresh flower arrangements and was as large as many reception rooms. At a vanity unit that was more private than any of the others on offer, the bride was touching up her smudged eye makeup with a careful hand, while scolding herself for getting so weepy and overcome at the altar. However, her green eyes also shone with happiness. She jumped when the door from the hall noisily opened to feed in a burst of animated chattering females.
‘…Calisto threw tantrums, so clearly Alexei decided that life would be easier with a doormat,’ a very correct English voice pronounced with a giggle. ‘He will get bored so fast—’
‘And she’s just a worker from his office… Who ever would have believed that a Drakos would even have looked at her?’ someone else observed acidly.
‘And so plain—positively dumpy!’ the first speaker added with vitriol. ‘As for that dress. No train and all that fussy dated embroidery. Obviously Alexei is on the rebound—’
Gritting her teeth together and keeping herself out of view, Billie was literally trying to mentally seal her ears and stop listening to the bitchy comments. She reflected in disbelief on the exquisite hand-embroidered heirloom dress that she had fallen madly in love with, feeling affronted and hurt by that criticism of her gown. She could have put a face to every voice though. All three women featured on Alexei’s impossibly long list of former lovers, each of whom had gone on to marry or move in with one of his wealthy friends or business colleagues and thus contrived to stay within his social circle.
‘Calisto must have really screwed up—a billionaire on the rebound. If I’d known that miracle was on the horizon, I’d have gone for a divorce and made myself available!’ the Englishwoman confided in a petulant tone that implied her outrageous suggestion was far from being a joke.
‘But Calisto was a one-off,’ her companion returned crushingly. ‘She’s the only one of Alexei’s exes that he’s ever revisited.’
‘What’s that worth now when he’s just married right out of his class and culture? I give this mismatched union three months, four if she plays her cards right and ignores it when he strays,’ the Englishwoman forecast. ‘Then Alexei will ditch his homely little bride so hard and fast her head will spin!’
That was the exact moment when a glint of defiant green flared in Billie’s eyes. Pride would not allow her to skulk out of sight somewhere in the splendid villa that was now her home. As she moved into view three female faces froze in a rictus of almost comical discomfiture. Sidestepping their stilled figures, her bright auburn head held high, Billie left the cloakroom.
Hilary, her aunt, was walking in circles in the hall while she rocked the sobbing baby in her arms. Her eyes settled on Billie in some relief. ‘I’ve been looking everywhere for you. Nicky just won’t settle for me. I think he’s getting another tooth—’
‘Let me take him.’ Billie sped over immediately to grasp the little but solid, squirming body of her baby son. Her secret son, she reminded herself guiltily, gazing down worriedly into his cross little face. She adored him, wanted to show him off, not behave as though he were Hilary’s child and her infant cousin. But that masquerade had been forced on her when she chose to bring Nicky and her aunt back with her to the island of Speros, for she had yet to tell the man she had just married that morning that she had conceived a child by him on the night following his parents’ funeral. Unhappily, Alexei, having suffered a fall and a blow to the head shortly afterwards, had no memory of their brief intimacy. Their son’s face was flushed below his spiky shock of silky black hair. She hugged him close in spite of her aunt’s exhortations for her to be careful of her wedding gown. The scent and feel of the baby in her arms was a comfort to her frayed nerves and the charm seemed to work both ways because Nicky started to simmer down and indeed began to snuggle into his mother’s soothing embrace.
A tall, devastatingly handsome, black-haired, olive-skinned male strode across the echoing hall towards Billie and Hilary. Instantly, all Billie’s senses went on red alert and she sucked in a ragged breath to steady herself. She collided with Alexei’s dark-lashed exotic bronzed eyes and her surroundings became immediately invisible: his effect on her was that shocking and intense. Her mouth ran dry because she could still barely credit that she was now his wife. That was a dream so long held and suppressed by her that even on her wedding day it could only seem to her to consist more of fantasy than fact. Alexei, blithely ignoring the greetings of those who would have sought to deflect him from his bride, drew level with her.
For a split second he seemed to stare at the sight of Billie cradling a child in her arms and his attention lingered on the striking contrast of the baby’s tawny complexion and black hair against Billie’s white dress, auburn hair and naturally pale skin. It struck him as surprising that the kid bore not the slightest resemblance to any one of his female relatives. A slight frown line forming between his sleek ebony brows, he dismissed that fleeting thought and snapped an imperious set of long fingers to bring a manservant running, at which point he addressed him in a low-pitched aside.