He wants her in his bed – but will she stay there…?
Aristandros Xenakis is like a panther poised to pounce. Sleek, dark and utterly powerful, he’ll soon taste the sweet victory of vengeance…. Ella desperately wants access to her baby niece, but the child’s guardian is Aristandros-her ex-fiance! She has no choice but to submit to his demand-she must become his mistress! Naive and unworldly, Ella is not like the groomed, gold-digging females who have previously warmed Aristandros’s bed. Surely it’s only a matter of time before he tires of her…?
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ELLA sat as still as a statue in the smart waiting area.
Locked deep in her stressful thoughts, she didn’t notice the admiring glances she received from the men walking past. In any case, she was accustomed to screening out the unwelcome notice that her physical beauty attracted. Her white-blonde hair, that rare shade most often seen only on children, turned heads as much as her bright blue eyes and slender, shapely figure. Her hands were tightly laced together on her lap, betraying her tension.
‘Dr Smithson?’ the receptionist said. ‘Mr Barnes would like you to go in now.’
Ella got up. Beneath her outward show of calm, a burning sense of injustice was churning in her stomach. Her prayers had gone unanswered and common sense was still being ignored. She could only marvel that her own flesh and blood could have placed her in such a cruel position. When would enough be enough? When would her family decide that she had paid a steep enough price for the decision she had made seven years earlier? She was beginning to think that only her death would settle that outstanding account.
Mr Barnes, the lawyer she had first consulted two weeks earlier—a tall, thin man in his forties reputed to be at the very top of the tree when it came to complex child-custody issues—shook hands with her and invited her to take a seat.
‘I’ve taken advice from the specialists in this area of the law, and I’m afraid I can’t give you the answer that you want,’ he told her with precision. ‘When you donated eggs to your sister to enable her to have a child, you signed a contract in which you relinquished all claim to parental rights over any baby born subsequently—’
‘Yes, I accept that, but as my sister and her husband are now dead surely the situation has changed?’ Ella broke in with the urgency she was trying hard to keep under control.
‘But not necessarily in your favour,’ Simon Barnes responded wryly. ‘As I mentioned before, the woman who carries the baby to birth is deemed to be its legal mother. So, although you are a biological parent, you cannot claim to be the child’s mother. Furthermore, you have had no contact at all with the little girl since she was born, which doesn’t help your case.’
‘I know.’ Ella was pale with strain and a curious feeling of shame, for she still found it hard to handle the fact that her sister, Susie, had pretty much cut her out of her life as soon as her infant daughter had entered the world. Ella had not even been allowed a photo, never mind a visit and a face-to-face encounter. ‘But I’m still legally Callie’s aunt.’
‘Yes, but the fact that you were not named as a guardian in your sister and brother-in-law’s wills does harm your case,’ the lawyer reminded her tautly. ‘Their solicitor will testify that the only party Callie’s late parents were prepared to nominate was Aristandros Xenakis. Don’t forget that he too has a blood tie with the child—’
‘For goodness’ sake, Aristandros was only her father’s cousin, not an uncle or anything!’ Ella proclaimed with helpless heat.
‘A cousin and lifelong friend, who putatively accepted responsibility for the child in writing well before the accident that killed your sister and her husband. I need hardly add that you cannot reasonably hope to fight his claim to custody. He is an extremely wealthy and powerful man. The child is also a Greek citizen, as is he.’
‘But he’s also a single man with an appalling reputation as a hellraiser!’ Ella protested fiercely. ‘Scarcely an ideal father-figure for a little girl!’
‘You are in dangerous territory with that argument, Dr Smithson. You too are single, and any court would question why your own family are not prepared to back you in your claim.’
Ella reddened at the humbling reminder that she stood alone and unsupported. ‘I’m afraid that my relatives will not take a single step that might risk offending Aristandros Xenakis. My stepfather and my two half-brothers rely on his connections to do business.’
The lawyer released his breath in a slow hiss of finality. ‘My advice is to accept that the law is unlikely to get you any closer to seeing the child, and that any attempt to challenge her current custodial arrangements will destroy any goodwill you might hope to create.’