The Greek's Forbidden Innocent
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The Greek’s virgin bride...
...is hiding her royal identity!
While helping her friend escape an arranged marriage, dutiful Princess Mina finds herself captive on enigmatic Alexei Katsaros’s luxurious private island! Mina must convince Alexei that she’s his future bride, but she doesn’t expect their scorching chemistry to be so deliciously overwhelming... And after a night in the Greek’s bed, suddenly there’s more at stake than just Mina’s hidden identity—her heart is at Alexei’s mercy, too!
Escape to an island paradise with the billionaire and his royal bride!
Growing up near the beach, ANNIE WEST spent lots of time observing tall, burnished lifeguards—early research! Now she spends her days fantasising about gorgeous men and their love lives. Annie has been a reader all her life. She also loves travel, long walks, good company and great food. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via PO Box 1041, Warners Bay, NSW 2282, Australia.
Seducing His Enemy’s Daughter
A Vow to Secure His Legacy
The Flaw in Raffaele’s Revenge
The Desert King’s Secret Heir The Desert King’s Captive Bride
Contracted for the Petrakis Heir
Inherited for the Royal Bed
Her Forgotten Lover’s Heir
The Princess Seductions miniseries
His Majesty’s Temporary Bride
The Greek’s Forbidden Princess
Discover more at millsandboon.co.uk.
The Greek’s Forbidden Innocent
THE GREEK’S FORBIDDEN INNOCENT
© 2019 Annie West
Published in Great Britain 2019
by Mills & Boon, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers 1 London Bridge Street, London, SE1 9GF
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This story is for Helen Sibbritt
Thank you so much for your enthusiasm, support and never-failing good cheer!
‘TAKE A DEEP BREATH, Carissa, and tell me slowly.’ Mina held her friend’s shoulders tight. ‘And another.’ She nodded encouragingly as Carissa’s breathing grew more normal. ‘That’s better.’
While Carissa focused on her breathing, Mina’s gaze searched for the source of her friend’s distress. But there was nothing unusual in the entry to the other woman’s apartment. No blood. No disarray. No intruder. Just a large pink suitcase.
Yet something was definitely wrong. Carissa, the most easygoing person she knew, had grabbed Mina before she could open the door to her own apartment and yanked her in next door. There was real fear in Carissa’s china-blue eyes.
‘Come and sit and tell me about it.’
‘No!’ Carissa shook her head and a cloud of golden curls spilled around her shoulders. ‘There’s no time. They’ll be here soon. But I don’t want to go. I can’t go.’ Tears filled her eyes as her voice wobbled. ‘I want Pierre! But he’s not here in Paris. He’s abroad.’
That at least made sense. Pierre was Carissa’s boyfriend.
‘Don’t fret. No one’s going to make you go anywhere you don’t want to.’ Mina kept her voice calm, ushering her friend into the small sitting room and gently pushing her into a seat. Carissa’s whole body shook and her face was stark white.
Mina had received enough bad news herself to recognise shock. Her mother had died when she was young and just five years ago, when she was seventeen, her father had died unexpectedly from a brain aneurism.
Memories stirred of that terrifying time, held hostage in a palace coup after her father’s funeral. Then her sister Ghizlan’s sacrifice, forced to wed the coup leader, Huseyn, so he could become Sheikh. It seemed a lifetime away from Mina’s life now in France.
‘Tell me what’s up so I can help.’ Mina pulled a chair close and took Carissa’s hands. Her face was, for the first time Mina could recall, bare of make-up and her shirt wasn’t buttoned right. For Carissa this was a fashion catastrophe. More like Mina’s usual look than her own.
Mina’s frown deepened. ‘Has someone hurt you?’
Her stomach clenched as she remembered the day of the coup, the drench of icy fear as a soldier manhandled her, stopping her escape with brutal efficiency. She recalled the adrenalin rush galvanising her to fight back. It was the first time anyone had laid a hand on her. The first time she’d become aware of the sheer, physical power men could exert over women. Until then, Mina’s royal status had protected her.
Carissa was trusting and gentle, always looking for the best in people. If someone had taken advantage of her—
‘No, it’s nothing like that.’
Mina’s shoulders sagged. Relief rushed through her. In the years they’d studied together at a prestigious Paris art school, and since, she’d never seen Carissa distraught like this.
‘So who is coming? Where don’t you want to go?’
Carissa’s bottom lip quivered and she blinked hard.
‘Alexei Katsaros is sending someone. They’ll take me to his private island.’ A shudder ran through her. ‘But I don’t want to go. I can’t. Even when Dad told me about it, I never thought it would actually happen! You have to help me, Mina. Please.’
Mina’s worry eased and with it her frantic heartbeat. Not a life-and-death situation, then. She knew who Alexei Katsaros was. Who didn’t? He was a megawealthy IT entrepreneur. Carissa’s father was one of his executives.
‘Is it an invitation to visit your father? I’m sure Pierre would spare you for a short vacation.’
Carissa shook her head. ‘This isn’t a vacation. It’s an arranged marriage! Dad told me he hoped to organise it but I never thought he’d bring it off. Alexei Katsaros can have his pick of women.’
Mina said nothing. Carissa was extraordinarily pretty and sweet-natured. That, plus her innate desire to please, would appeal to lots of men.
‘I can’t go through with it, Mina.’ Carissa’s fingers bit into hers. ‘I could never love a man like that, so hard and judgemental. He wants a trophy wife, who’ll do what he wants when he wants. My father’s told him I’m pretty and biddable and...’ Her shoulders shook as the tears became sobs. ‘I never thought it would come to this. It seemed impossible, laughable. But I don’t have a choice. My father’s counting on me.’
Mina frowned. Arranged marriages she knew about. If her father had lived he’d have organised one for her.
‘I’m sure no one will force you into anything.’ Unlike in Jeirut. Her sister had been forced into an unwanted marriage and Mina remembered feeling utterly helpless at being unable to prevent it. It had been a miracle when, against the odds, the pair later fell in love. The match had seemed doomed to end in misery. ‘Your father will be there. If you explain—’
‘But he’s not there,’ Carissa wailed. ‘I don’t know where he is. I can’t contact him. And I can’t say no to Mr Katsaros. Dad warned me there’d been some trouble at work. He didn’t say what, but I think his job’s on the line. He’s hoping this marriage will smooth everything over.’ Carissa clung to Mina’s hands, her fingers curling into talons. ‘But I could never marry such a hard man. He has a new woman every week. Besides, Pierre and I are in love. We’re getting married.’ A flicker of happiness transformed her teary features.
‘You’re getting married?’ Mina stared. She shouldn’t be surprised; the pair were besotted.
Carissa’s smile died. ‘We were planning to elope next weekend, when he’s back from this business trip. Pierre says it will be easier to face his family with a fait accompli.’
Pierre rose in Mina’s estimation. He was a lovely guy but he’d never stood up to his stiff-necked family who wanted him to marry someone from old French money.
‘But I can’t marry him if I’m forced to marry Alexei Katsaros!’ Carissa’s tears overflowed.
‘Did Katsaros say he wanted to marry you?’
‘As good as. He said my father had told him about me and he was anxious to meet. He believed we’d find a lot in common and that we had a future together.’ Carissa bit her lip. ‘I tried to fob him off but he didn’t hear a word I said. He cut me off and said his staff would be here in an hour to collect me. What will I do?’
Mina frowned. She didn’t like the sound of this. He might be rich but that didn’t excuse rudeness or give him the right to order Carissa around.
‘Tell me again exactly what your father told you.’
But as Carissa spoke, Mina’s hope that her friend had overreacted dissolved. There’d recently been a rift between her father and his employer. After years of faithful service it seemed Katsaros might dump him. Mina couldn’t approve of Mr Carter’s plan to use Carissa to cement his position, but such things happened. Several of Mina’s peers in Jeirut had been married to older men they barely knew to strengthen family or business links.
She gritted her teeth, watching Carissa’s hands flutter as she related the one-sided conversation with Alexei Katsaros. He hadn’t invited Carissa to his island hideaway but simply informed her of the travel arrangements. As if she were freight to be transported, not a woman with a life of her own.
Mina’s temper rose like steam from a kettle.
She prized her freedom, appreciating how different her life was in Paris, away from a world where every major decision was made by the male head of her family. Western women accepted freedom as their right, not knowing how precious that was. And here was some billionaire bully, trying to snatch that from Carissa. With the help of her own father!
It wasn’t right.
‘And there’s nothing I can do.’ Carissa sniffled.
‘Of course there is. They can’t force you onto the plane. Or into marriage.’
‘I can’t not go. What about my father’s job?’ She hiccupped. ‘But if I go, what about Pierre? His family will find a way to stop our wedding.’
Mina wanted to tell Carissa to grow a backbone and stand up for herself. But Carissa wasn’t made that way. Besides, she cared for her father, though he’d got her into this mess. Plus it sounded, from other things she’d said, as if Mr Carter hadn’t recovered from his wife’s recent death. That might explain why he’d slipped up at work. A good employer would make allowances for grief. Mina suspected Alexei Katsaros was a domineering tyrant, considering no one but himself.
Irresistibly, her thoughts dragged back to those fraught days after her father’s death. Her future and her sister’s had hung in the balance, their fate determined by a man with little sympathy for their hopes and wishes.
Mina remembered the horror of being utterly powerless.
She refused to let Carissa become a chattel to buy her father out of trouble, or satisfy Katsaros’s desire for a convenient, biddable wife.
‘I’ve packed a bag. I can’t reach my father, so I’ll have to go. But it means leaving Pierre.’ Carissa wrung her hands and Mina felt something snap inside.
Carissa was sweet but she had as much grit as a marshmallow. Between them, Katsaros and Carter could herd her into a marriage that would make her miserable for the rest of her life. Mina couldn’t change her friend into a woman who’d look a thug in the eye and send him packing, or tell her father he couldn’t marry her off to a stranger. But she could delay things long enough for Carissa and Pierre to marry. A few days, a week at most.
‘How long before they collect you?’
Carissa’s answer was drowned by a sharp rap on the door. She gasped and grabbed Mina’s hands.
The last shred of doubt fled Mina’s brain as she read her friend’s terror and despair. Carissa was a pushover, but Mina wasn’t.
She got to her feet.
* * *
‘Still no sign of Carter, sir. He hasn’t been home.’
Alexei’s grip tightened on the phone and he ground his teeth in frustration. But he refrained from chewing out the head of his London office. It wasn’t MacIntyre’s fault Carter had done a bunk. Alexei should have acted sooner, but initially he hadn’t wanted to believe Carter’s guilt. The man had been at his side for years, the only person Alexei really trusted.
That was why his betrayal cut so deep. Trust came hard to Alexei. He’d seen his mother betrayed and cast aside, made into a victim and her life shortened, because she trusted too easily.
Alexei bore a lot of the blame. He’d been gullible, falling for his stepfather’s charm, believing the man genuinely cared. He’d persuaded his mother to let the guy into their lives. Too late they discovered he’d only cultivated Alexei to get to his mother and her dead husband’s insurance payment.
No one could accuse Alexei of gullibility now.
That was what made it so remarkable that, despite his caution, he’d come to believe in Carter. It wasn’t just his way with numbers. His almost uncanny knack for identifying problems and possible solutions. It was his reticence, his scrupulous separation of business and personal life. He’d been the perfect executive.
Until his double-dealing came to light.
Alexei felt that sucker punch of betrayal. Worse this time because he should have known better. He was no innocent kid.
‘Keep me informed. Have the investigator check in daily.’
‘Yes, sir. Of course, sir.’
Alexei ended the call and scraped a hand through his hair, telling himself he’d grown soft. He should have acted sooner. Now he had to play catch-up.
He swung round to pace, ignoring the turquoise water and white sand beyond the window. He didn’t want to be in the Caribbean, no matter how restful his private retreat. He wanted to be wherever Carter was. The man’s depredations had been deep. Not enough to destabilise Alexei’s business but enough to send a ripple of disquiet through anyone savvy enough to discover Alexei had been duped.
Despite his policy of employing the best, most innovative people in the industry, Alexei Katsaros was his company as far as the market was concerned. He’d worked hard to establish one of the world’s leading software companies and build a reputation as a canny entrepreneur. His nose for success was only rivalled by his company’s groundbreaking IT solutions. News of his fallibility would crack that image and damage his company’s position.
Damn Carter. Where was he hiding?
Alexei slammed to a halt as he heard a vehicle through the open window.
At last. The ace up his sleeve.
Alexei breathed deep, easing cramped lungs, assuring himself that now, finally, he had the upper hand.
He crossed to the window and watched as the four-wheel drive pulled up. The driver’s door opened but before Henri could get out the front passenger door swung open and someone alighted.
Alexei’s brow twitched into a frown. That couldn’t be her. He waited for the rear door to open but it stayed steadfastly shut. Henri walked ponderously to the rear of the vehicle and pulled out a single suitcase of candy pink.
That was all. One suitcase and one passenger, though not the passenger he expected.
Alexei’s frown became a scowl. The call from Paris had assured him that she’d been collected from her apartment and deposited on his jet. Yet surely this wasn’t Carter’s daughter. He’d expected a fashion tragic with mountains of luggage.
His gaze rested on the svelte figure of a woman who stood, hands on her hips and head back, surveying his home. Far from being addicted to high-end fashion as he’d been led to believe, she wasn’t dressed in designer casuals for a tropical island holiday, but for...what? A yoga class? An artist’s garret?
Understanding took root. That was it.
Carter, when he’d raised the preposterous idea of a match between Alexei and his daughter, had waxed voluble about the girl he’d never mentioned in years of employment. He’d wittered on about her beauty and charm, her sweet disposition and eagerness to please. And her aspirations to be an artist in between shopping. She lived in Paris, playing at an artistic career, no doubt funded by the money Carter had embezzled from Alexei.
Pain radiated from Alexei’s jaw down his neck to his tight shoulders.
He yanked his thoughts from Carter’s crimes to the man’s daughter.
She took her pretensions seriously. Or perhaps the outfit was for his benefit, though surely it wasn’t designed to please a man. Flat black shoes, black leggings and an oversized black T-shirt that gaped over one shoulder.
Definitely not Alexei’s style. He preferred a woman who dressed like a woman.
Yet even as he dismissed Carissa Carter as not his type, his gaze lingered on the length of shapely legs silhouetted in black. Long legs, the sort of legs he’d enjoy wrapped around his waist during sex.
His gaze flicked higher, skimming her slight figure. He supposed, in the right gear, she’d be a perfect clothes horse, but personally he preferred a woman whose curves were more abundant.
Then the tilt of her head altered and he found himself face-to-face with her.
She was too far away for him to make out her features properly. Just good bone structure and dark hair pulled ruthlessly back into a bun. He had the impression of a wide, mobile mouth, but he wasn’t paying attention. His thoughts were on the sudden throb pulsing through his belly.
It couldn’t be attraction. Not for the daughter of a criminal. A woman whose lifestyle had probably fed her father’s depredations. He had no proof Carissa Carter knew of her father’s crimes, but she’d benefited. Maybe she’d been in on the scheme, eager to fund her easy life in Paris. Alexei couldn’t trust her. He’d play the part of eager suitor, pretending he was in the market for a wife.
As if he needed a third party to find him a woman!
He stared back at her, expecting her to duck her head and pretend not to see him.
Instead she stood motionless, watching as if he were under the microscope. It was a curious feeling. Alexei was used to people inclining their heads in agreement or deference. Except women, who tended to stare.
Carissa’s bold regard was something altogether different. It sent heat skittering down his spine, drawing every sense to hyperalert.
Finally, after she’d looked her fill, she turned to Henri. Alexei caught a flash of white teeth as she smiled but it was the coltish grace of her movements that held his attention. There was a fluidity to her supple body that reminded him of a Russian ballet dancer with whom he’d once shared a fiery affair. Alexei recalled not only the dancer’s grace but her athleticism and body awareness that had taken sexual pleasure to a new level.
He watched Carissa Carter saunter towards his house. Shoulders back, head up, yet she didn’t march. Instead that loose-limbed stroll was a symphony of sensual femininity.
For his benefit?
His guest might play at being the bohemian artist, but if she was her father’s daughter, she’d have her eye on the main game, getting Alexei’s money.
For the first time since he’d learned of Carter’s betrayal, Alexei smiled.
He didn’t want the woman here, except as bait to draw her father. The fact she’d accepted his summons told him she’d sell herself into marriage with a man she didn’t even know. Though she knew the size of his bank balance. That regularly featured in rich lists around the world.
It could be amusing watching her try to seduce him.
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