A marriage of misunderstanding.
Nothing could have prepared Rosin for Greek tycoon Constantine Voulos. He asked Rosie to marry hits – well, he insisted: “You will go through a ceremony of marriage,” he said, and in return you will receive a big fat check and a divorce as soon as I can arrange it. Rosie agreed to the clandestine wedding because of her late father’s wishes, but was anguished that Constantine had got her all wrong. The longer she spent with him, the more she knew she just couldn’t be his temporary wife. There was only one thing for it – her secret would have to be told!
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HER heart beating like a drum, Rosie crept into the church when the rush was over, sliding into a pew near the back to listen to the memorial service from a safe distance. Anton Estrada had been well-known in the city of London. The dim interior was crammed to capacity with those who wished to pay their last respects.
A black gold-embroidered scarf covering her bowed head, Rosie shivered, lost in the dark well of her grief. As far back as she could remember she had been alone, but for a few agonisingly brief months she had had Anton. And now he was gone, that warm, laughing man, who had called her the joy he had waited for all his life and the greatest love of his existence. Tears shimmering in her shadowed green eyes, she stared down at the huge ornate emerald on her finger until it blurred out of focus. Well, who would love her now? she thought painfully. Who indeed would ever love her like that again?
The silence and the soft murmur of voices finally penetrated. In a daze, she glanced up and realised that the service was over and the church was almost empty again. Disconcerted by her loss of concentration, she flew upright and headed for the exit. A corner of her scarf caught on the end of a pew, jerking her head back, making her stumble.
She would have fallen but for the strong, masculine hand that came out of nowhere to close round her slender forearm and steady her. ‘Are you all right?’ a dark, honey-rich drawl enquired and her lush dark lashes fluttered in momentary bemusement as the fleeting familiarity of accented English washed over her and filled her with unbelievable pain. ‘Perhaps you should sit down again—’
‘No…’ Riven with tension, Rosie straightened and broke free of that male grasp. Forgetting that her scarf was caught, she barely felt the pull as it trailed off and freed the wild, tumbling mass of her Titian hair from confinement. Involuntarily, she glanced up and froze in stark horror, her breath snarled up in her throat, her beautiful face stiffening like pale, tear-streaked marble into stricken stillness. Sheer shock slowed her heartbeat to a numbing thud that echoed sickly in her eardrums.
Constantine Voulos stared down at her, apparently entrapped by the same immobility that paralysed her. He was gorgeous, even more gorgeous than he had looked in Anton’s photographs, Rosie registered helplessly. Luxuriant black hair, stunning bone structure and a wide, wickedly sensual mouth. A wave of dizziness engulfed her as she collided with mesmeric dark deep-set eyes. Her bemused gaze locked with compulsive intensity to his. It was as terrifying as walking off a cliffedge and falling…and falling…and falling. She couldn’t breathe and she couldn’t speak. It panicked her.
‘Who are you?’ he murmured thickly, in one fluid movement drawing closer again as he tugged her scarf free and extended it to her.
Rosie turned white as death and backed off on legs that were ready to buckle, a dark, ferocious wave of violent and confused emotion consuming her. Constantine Voulos, the child whom Anton and his Greek wife, Thespina, had raised as their own.
Jerkily, reluctantly, she reached out to the child who had become a man. It was a mistake. He caught her thin, trembling fingers in his.
‘Please…’ Rosie gasped, attempting to break the connection, her slim body already twisting on the brink of flight, panic currenting through her.
‘Christos!’ Constantine vented in raw disbelief as he recognised the antique emerald adorning her hand. ‘Where did you get that ring?’
Astonished recognition had made him temporarily loosen his grip. Rosie snatched her fingers back and raced down the steps. The wintry breeze caught her curling torrent of hair and the long, loose black coat, making them flow out behind her like wings as she broke through the lingering groups of people outside and flew across the busy road, indifferent to the screeching brakes and honking horns that accompanied her dangerous passage.
Rosie wandered one last time round the silent rooms. Without Anton’s larger-than-life presence the pretty little house was an empty shell. Having eradicated every scrap of evidence that she had ever lived within these walls, she would slam the door behind her and walk back into her own world. It couldn’t have lasted much longer anyway, she told herself.
She cherished her freedom, yet she had allowed Anton to clip her wings. He had stubbornly persuaded and pressurised and finally pleaded until she’d surrendered and moved in, willing to compromise, wanting to be what he wanted her to be if that pleased him…but always knowing that sooner or later she would be forced to rebel.
‘I am an independent spirit,’ she had said to him gently once.
‘Your independence was forced on you and it was a most unnatural responsibility for a young girl to carry,’ Anton had countered with staunch disapproval. ‘You no longer need to bear that responsibility now that I am here.’
And she had laughed and argued but not very hard, wryly aware that he could not begin to understand the life she had led or the background she came from any more than she could really comprehend his and that it would upset him if she were too honest. So they had built a bridge across the great divide of wealth and culture by making careful allowances on both sides, and ironically it had been remarkably easy for right from the beginning there had been this amazing sense of mutual recognition.
She had been lucky to have that much, she reflected painfully. Four months of perfect happiness was more than some people achieved in a lifetime. Four months of being loved passionately, unconditionally, selflessly. Good memories had taken the edge off the bad ones. She swallowed the thickness of tears in her throat and smiled with sudden brilliance. Nobody could take those memories away. Or the ring that had been in the Estrada family for two centuries, the single surviving heirloom which Anton had slid onto her finger with unashamed tears in his dark eyes.
‘Now it will be worn again for only now is it where it truly belongs.’
Rosie recalled Constantine’s outraged incredulity when he had recognised that ring and a humourless laugh escaped her. So I accepted one little memento; think yourself lucky, Constantine Voulos, for had I been greedy I could have taken far more! Because Anton had wanted to lay the world at her feet. His joy and pride in her had dangerously overwhelmed every other loyalty. That was the only thing they had ever argued about.
And Rosie was guiltily conscious that it had been a struggle to keep her conscience in control. It hadn’t been his wealth that had made her feel like that; she simply couldn’t imagine having that kind of money. No, it had been the squirming attacks of resentment which she had fought to conceal, knowing just how much those feelings would have distressed him. But she was human, fallible, as capable as anyone else of thinking self-pitying thoughts and experiencing envy.
At the age of nine, Constantine Voulos had lost his parents in a car accident. Anton and Thespina had taken Constantine into their home and brought him up as if he were their own child. It had never occurred to Anton that Rosie might resent his constant references to his substitute son’s innumerable virtues and talents, only to despise herself for the unreasoning injustice of such childish promptings.
The silence began to get to Rosie. She shivered at the echo of her own footsteps. She should have cleared out the day Anton had died but she had been in such shock she had simply stopped functioning. Only six weeks earlier, a mild heart attack had put him into hospital. She had been first at his bedside, reluctantly torn from him only when she’d realised that Thespina and Constantine were already on their way from the airport.
‘Stay … to bell with them all!’ Anton had grated recklessly, already inflamed by the nurse who had attempted to prevent her visit to his private room.
‘You know you don’t mean that. You can’t do that to your wife,’ Rosie had muttered tightly, her better self talking, her worse self bitter that she, who had more right than anyone, should have to fight her way in and then sneak her way out.
‘You never use her name,’ Anton had sighed heavily