His Virgin Mistressñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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I’ve always wanted to write—which is not to say I’ve always wanted to be a professional writer. On the contrary, for years I only wrote for my own pleasure and it wasn’t until my husband suggested sending one of my stories to a publisher that we put several publishers’ names into a hat and pulled one out. The rest, as they say, is history. And now, one hundred and sixty-two books later, I’m literally—excuse the pun—staggered by what’s happened.
I had written all through my infant and junior years and on into my teens, the stories changing from children’s adventures to torrid gypsy passions. My mother used to gather these manuscripts up from time to time, when my bedroom became too untidy, and dispose of them! In those days, I used not to finish any of the stories and Caroline, my first published novel, was the first I’d ever completed. I was newly married then and my daughter was just a baby, and it was quite a job juggling my household chores and scribbling away in exercise books every chance I got. Not very professional, as you can imagine, but that’s the way it was.
These days, I have a bit more time to devote to my work, but that first love of writing has never changed. I can’t imagine not having a current book on the typewriter—yes, it’s my husband who transcribes everything on to the computer. He’s my partner in both life and work and I depend on his good sense more than I care to admit.
We have two grown-up children, a son and a daughter, and two almost grown-up grandchildren, Abi and Ben. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org and I’d be happy to hear from any of my wonderful readers.
His Virgin Mistress
About the Author
‘IS THAT her?’
‘Yes, sir.’ Spiro Stavros gave his employer a faintly sardonic look.
‘Not exactly what you’d anticipated, is she?’
Demetrios Kastro arched a dismissive brow. As yet his arrival had not been noticed, and he was able to look across the crowded salon to where his father and his companion were standing without being observed. They were surrounded by the guests who had been invited to welcome the old man back to Theapolis, and Demetri watched with a tightening of his jawline as his father put a possessive arm about the woman’s shoulders.
‘Perhaps not,’ he conceded at last, aware that Spiro knew exactly what he was thinking. He had expected her to be younger. A ‘blonde bimbo’ was how she had been described to him by his sister, and because it was what he had wanted to hear he had believed her. But the woman his father had adopted as his mistress didn’t look like a bimbo. There was intelligence as well as beauty in the high-cheekboned face, with its wide-set eyes and mobile mouth, and, although she was undoubtedly a blonde, she wore her hair drawn up into a severe knot that, whatever its purpose, tended to draw attention to the slender column of her neck. ‘She is certainly older than I had imagined.’
‘And more sophisticated?’ suggested Spiro drily. ‘I have the feeling she is not going to be as easy to get rid of as you thought.’
Demetri cast his assistant a dark look. ‘You think not?’ He was cynical. ‘In my experience, my friend, everyone has their price. Man or woman. It makes no difference. If the rewards are great enough, they all succumb.’
Spiro’s snort was disbelieving. ‘Do you include me in that assessment?’
Demetri sighed. ‘We were not talking about you, Spiro.’
‘That does not answer my question.’
‘All right.’ Demetri scowled. ‘I would hope not. I consider you my friend as well as my assistant. But few people are as scrupulous, Spiro. You know that.’
‘Not all women are like Athenee, Demetri,’ the other man reminded him gently. Then, aware that he was in danger of overstepping the mark, he added, ‘I suppose I must consider myself honoured.’ He grimaced. ‘So? What are you going to do now?’
‘Now?’ Demetri’s dark, tanned features smoothed themselves into an urbane mask. ‘Why, now I am going to announce my arrival to my father, and ask to be introduced to the delightful Kiria Manning.’
Spiro’s mouth compressed and, taking a chance, he put a detaining hand on Demetri’s sleeve. ‘Be careful,’ he said, risking a rebuff. But although his hand was shaken off, Demetri merely gave him a mocking smile.
‘Am I not always?’ he enquired, loosening the button on the jacket of his dark blue silk suit. ‘Calm yourself, Spiro. I am not likely to show my hand so early in the game.’
Nevertheless, as Demetri made his way across the room he was aware of an intense feeling of irritation. Dammit, his father had only been out of hospital for a few weeks; weeks that he had spent in London, ostensibly to avoid the blistering heat of Theapolis in mid-summer. The old man had been ill; seriously ill. In God’s name, when had he found the time to meet this woman, let alone become intimate with her?
He would find out. Offering a word of greeting here, an acknowledgement of welcome there, he gradually covered the space dividing him from Constantine Kastro and his mistress. What was her name? Manning, yes. But what was her first name? Demetri frowned, thinking. Joanna! That was it. Joanna Manning. Was it her real name? If so, it was elegant, just like the woman herself.
‘Do not tell me that frown is because you are sad to see me back, Demetri.’
His father’s chiding words—spoken in English for the woman’s benefit, Demetri assumed—were delivered in a mocking tone. Demetri realised he was allowing too much of his feelings to show in his face and he hastily schooled his features. Then, finding a polite smile, he shook the old man’s hand and submitted to the customary embrace with genuine warmth.
‘Forgive me, Papa,’ he said disarmingly, and no one could tell from his expression that he was anything but delighted with the present situation. ‘Naturally, I am relieved your physicians consider you well enough to return to us at last.’
Constantine looked less than pleased now, his narrow features mirroring his discontent. ‘I am not an invalid, Demetri,’ he declared irritably, even though his wasted body belied the fact. ‘The doctors have given me a clean bill of health, and I do not appreciate you behaving as if I had only just got out of hospital.’
Demetri made no response to this. Instead, his eyes moved to the woman standing at his father’s side, and, because they were surrounded by interested spectators, Constantine was obliged to introduce his companion to his son.
‘My dear,’ he said and Demetri stiffened at the implied intimacy in the term. ‘Allow me to present my son to you. Demetrios: this is Joanna. Joanna Manning. My—my friend.’
‘How do you do?’
The woman didn’t make the mistake of calling him by his first name and Demetri’s thin lips stretched into a tight smile. ‘It is my pleasure to meet you, Kiria Manning,’ he responded politely. ‘I trust you are not finding our weather too trying for your English tastes?’
‘On the contrary.’ Despite the faint film of perspiration on her upper lip, she denied it. ‘I love the heat. It’s so—sensual.’
Demetri had to work hard to prevent himself from showing his incredulity. He had heard his father was besotted by the woman, but he hadn’t expected her to disconcert him. And why was she watching him with that air of amused speculation? She was taller than most of the women of his acquaintance—easily five feet eight or nine—and, although he was still almost a head taller than she was, she didn’t have to tilt her head too far to look up at him. If he hadn’t known better he’d have wondered if she wasn’t deliberately trying to irritate him. But that was ridiculous. Nevertheless, there was a definite look of challenge in her face.
‘Katalava.’ I see. Conscious that his father was enjoying his confusion, Demetri inadvertently spoke in his own language. But he quickly corrected himself. ‘You are familiar with our Greek weather, Miss Manning?’
‘It’s Mrs Manning, actually,’ she corrected him. ‘But please call me Joanna, or Jo, if you prefer it.’ Then, with an affectionate look at Constantine. ‘Not yet. The weather, I mean. But I hope to be.’
Now, why am I not surprised?
It was all Demetri could do to prevent himself from saying the words out loud. But at least he knew a little more about her now. No one had seen fit to tell him that she’d been married. But it figured. And if he’d had any doubts about her relationship with his father they’d been dispelled by the familiarity of that look.
‘Do you live on the island—um—Demetrios?’ she asked suddenly, surprising him again. ‘Or do you have your own home?’
‘This is my home,’ replied Demetri, unable to quite disguise his indignation. ‘This house is our family home.’ He paused. ‘But do not worry, Mrs Manning. It is quite big enough to accommodate us all without any—what is it you say?—stepping on toes?’
He was pleased to see that her soft mouth tightened a little at this rebuff. The upper lip was drawn between her teeth and the lower, which was so much fuller and more vulnerable, curved protectively. Then he scowled. When had he started thinking that her mouth was soft, or vulnerable, for that matter? She was a kept woman, for heaven’s sake. Hardly better than the sluts who plied their trade on the streets of Athens. He had no need to feel sorry for her. It was his father who was the vulnerable one. Vulnerable, and foolish. What on earth did he think she saw in a man at least thirty years her senior?
‘Demetri has his own apartments in the house,’ Constantine put in now, the look he cast at his son promising retribution later. ‘As do Alex and Olivia. As my son says, this is our family home. Our island fortress, if you will. I regret you will discover that security is paramount in our situation.’
Joanna nodded. ‘I understand.’
‘I doubt you do,’ put in Demetri pleasantly, though his feelings were anything but. ‘My father is a constant target for terrorists and paparazzi alike. Only on Theapolis can we—usually—ensure that he is not at the mercy of unscrupulous men—and women.’
Her eyes flashed then, and he noticed how deep a blue they were. ‘I trust you are not suggesting that I am any threat to your father?’ she demanded coolly, her earlier amusement all gone now. He could hardly suppress a smile.
‘Of course not,’ he said, but when his dark eyes strayed to his father’s taut face he saw he was by no means convinced by his son’s denial. ‘I am sure you and my father must have a lot in common. Tell me, Mrs Manning, do you have children, too?’
Her answer was almost curt, but it didn’t have quite the effect he’d expected. Instead of showing surprise, his father put his arm about her shoulders and drew her closer to him. Demetri was almost sure Constantine was reacting to something she’d told him, and he wondered what it was. He didn’t like the idea that their relationship might be more than a temporary aberration on his father’s part. A desire to prove his masculinity was one thing; a threat to his mother’s memory was quite another.
But, before he could say any more, Constantine himself severed the conversation. ‘Come,’ he said to Joanna Manning. ‘I see Nikolas Poros over there. He is a friend as well as a business colleague. I would like you to meet him.’ He looked briefly at his son. ‘You will excuse us?’
It was hardly a question. Although Demetri bowed his head in silent acknowledgement they both knew he wasn’t being given an option. Instead, he stepped back to allow them free passage, aware as he did so that Joanna gave him a covert glance as she passed. Was it a triumphant glance? he wondered broodingly, watching them make their way across the room. He couldn’t be sure. But one thing seemed apparent to him: his father’s infatuation with her went deeper than the sexual fascination he had anticipated.
‘Demetri! Demetri, pos iseh?’ How are you? ‘Na seh keraso kanena poto?’ Can I get you a drink?
With an effort, he became aware that there were other people around him. Neighbours; friends, relatives. They had all gathered to welcome the old man home, and his own absence until just a few minutes ago had not gone unnoticed. Forcing himself to put the problem of his father and his mistress aside, he accepted the greetings he was offered with a grim smile, aware that for the moment he was obliged to play the devoted son.
And he was devoted, dammit, he thought, taking the glass of champagne he was offered with controlled grace. But he was also his father’s son, his deputy, and he couldn’t help thinking that the last thing the old man needed at this time was the respect he’d always enjoyed among the shipping community weakened by some woman taking advantage of his vulnerability.
‘She is beautiful, is she not?’
Spiro was at his elbow and Demetri turned to give the other man an impatient look. ‘Yes, she’s beautiful,’ he agreed. ‘But what does she want, Spiro? More importantly, what does she hope to gain from this liaison?’
‘Perhaps she loves him,’ suggested Spiro, accepting a glass of champagne in his turn and smiling at the dark-eyed waitress who had proffered the tray.
‘And perhaps she sees him as a very convenient meal ticket,’ retorted Demetri. ‘My father is sixty-seven, Spiro. A woman like that does not attach herself to a much older man for love.’
‘How cynical you are, Demetri.’ He had been unaware that his older sister Olivia had joined them, until her soft words were whispered in his ear. ‘Mrs Manning does not look like a gold-digger, you must agree.’
‘How do gold-diggers look?’ enquired her brother shortly, looking down into Olivia’s olive-skinned face with a softening of his expression. ‘Surely you are not championing her, Livvy? With only a week to go to Alex’s wedding, I’d have expected you to feel as I do. After all, what is Alex going to think when she discovers our father has invited a stranger to what is essentially a family occasion?’
Olivia’s lips thinned. ‘Alex will not care,’ she said. ‘But that does not mean we can ignore the influence Mrs Manning has with Papa. And making an enemy of her may not be the wisest decision. You have seen them together. Only briefly, I admit. But you must have noticed that they seem very—absorbed with one another.’
‘Absorbed, yes.’ Demetri watched his father and his companion over the rim of his glass. ‘How did they meet? Do we know? Where has the old man been since he got out of hospital to find a woman like her?’
Joanna’s apartments adjoined Constantine’s. Each suite comprised a comfortable sitting room, a spacious bedroom, and an adjoining dressing room and bathroom.
And they were sumptuously appointed. Sofas in blue and green striped linen, decorated with matching cushions, were set against walls hung with silk damask. A delicately carved writing bureau, a comprehensive entertainment centre contained in a rosewood cabinet; all were illuminated by heavy brass lamps that stood on every available surface. Long windows, closed at present, opened out onto a wraparound balcony that served all the rooms on this floor, and Turkish rugs, or kilims, splashed colour onto polished floors. There were pictures everywhere: in the sitting room, in the bedroom, even in the bathroom. And floor-length mirrors, also in the bathroom, disdained any attempt at modesty.
But it wasn’t just the beauty of the things surrounding her, or their obvious value, that convinced Joanna of their exclusivity. It was the incidentals that reminded her of where she was and why she was there. The sheets being changed every day, for example; the expensive cosmetics and toiletries removed and replaced as soon as she used them; the knowledge that she had only to touch the bell for her smallest wish to be granted.
This was Constantine’s world, she thought ruefully. The way he lived. She had never known such assiduous attention to detail, and although she had agreed to come here for Constantine’s sake, she had never imagined anything like this. She couldn’t help wishing he had not been so rich.
Not that his son would believe that, she thought drily, wondering if Constantine had glimpsed the momentary flash of hatred in Demetrios’s dark eyes. He probably had. Constantine must know exactly how his son was feeling. After all, that was why he had persuaded her to come here. He’d known that nothing short of grim hostility would blind Demetrios to the truth.
There was a light tap on the panelled double doors that connected her apartments to Constantine’s. Joanna, who had been trying to decide what she should wear for dinner that evening, hurried to answer it. She’d guessed that it was Constantine, and it was. But, just in case, she’d wanted to make sure before inviting anyone else into her room.
‘May I come in?’
‘Of course.’ Joanna stood back to allow him into her sitting room, gazing at him intently. He’d shed his formal clothes, as she had, and he looked so frail now that the necessity to appear invincible was gone. She indicated one of the overstuffed sofas. ‘Sit down. You’re supposed to be resting, you know.’
‘You are not my nurse, Joanna.’ Constantine’s smile was warm but defensive. He was wearing a white towelling bathrobe and the colour accentuated his pallor. ‘As a matter of fact, I am feeling a little stronger this evening. Now that Demetri is home I can relax.’
‘Oh, right.’ Joanna closed the door behind him, tucking the folds of the scarlet wrapper she’d put on after her shower closer about her. ‘I suppose that’s because you think the worst is over.’ She shook her head. ‘I wouldn’t hold my breath, if I were you.’
‘Joanna, Joanna.’ Constantine sighed, but he took her advice and subsided onto the nearest sofa. ‘Do not be so cynical, my dear. Just because Demetri is not entirely happy with the situation—and, I admit, I believe he does have doubts about the suitability of our relationship—he will do nothing to jeopardise the peace of the household. Not with Alex’s wedding to consider. I am his father, Joanna. I think I know him better than anyone else.’
Joanna wished she could feel as sure. Her own encounter with Demetrios Kastro had left a decidedly unpleasant taste in her mouth. She was convinced that he had nothing but contempt for her, that he believed she was only with his father for what she hoped to get out of him. He had been polite, but cold; saying little, but implying a lot. She was glad he hadn’t deceived his father, but she was afraid Constantine was deluding himself if he thought Demetrios had accepted her presence.
‘Anyway,’ Constantine said now, reaching out to take her hand and urge her down beside him, ‘how are you? Are you happy here? Do you have everything you need?’
‘Need you ask?’ Joanna was rueful. ‘This place is amazing. It’s everything you said it was and more.’
‘I am glad.’ Constantine raised her hand to his dry lips. ‘I want you to enjoy your stay. I want you to feel at home here. I know Demetri may be difficult for a while, but he will get over it. Besides, so long as I am ostensibly recuperating he will have little time to fret about our relationship. Between now and the wedding there may be occasions when he has to leave the island. With my work to do as well as his own…’ He allowed the words to trail away. ‘You understand?’
‘I can’t wait.’ Joanna pulled a wry face. Then, withdrawing her hand from his, she got to her feet again. ‘But are you sure about this? What is Alex going to think when she finds out I’m here?’
‘Alex will love you,’ said Constantine firmly. ‘She is not like Demetri or Olivia. She is younger; less cynical, shall we say?’
‘All the same…’ Joanna lifted the heavy weight of her loosened hair from her neck, enjoying the coolness of the air-conditioning on her hot skin. ‘I can still go back to England, Constantine. I wouldn’t mind.’
‘I would.’ His response was unequivocal. ‘My dear, the reasons I asked you to come to Theapolis have not changed. I need you. I need your strength and your companionship. And, most of all, I need your support.’
‘You have that, of course.’ Joanna sighed. ‘I’m just not sure whether I can go through with it.’
Constantine pushed himself to his feet. ‘Because of me?’ he asked. ‘You find me so repulsive?’
‘Don’t be silly.’ Joanna touched his cheek with a tender hand. ‘You’re a very attractive man. I’ve always thought so.’
‘You have?’ He was sceptical.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî