The Greek's Marriage Bargain

By: Sharon Kendrick


CHAPTER ONE

 

WHY HADN’T SHE been paying attention?

Why hadn’t she registered the horribly familiar sound of footsteps on gravel?

If Lexi hadn’t been thinking about silver earrings—the type which caught the light when you moved—she might have ignored the sharp ring on the bell. As it was, she was completely distracted when she pulled open the door to see the towering form of her estranged husband standing there, sunlight glinting off his ebony hair.

His stance was fixed and immovable. He seemed to absorb all the light which surrounded him, like a piece of blotting paper drinking up a dark spill of ink.

Lexi’s heart contracted with pain. The last time she’d seen him he’d been knotting his tie with fingers which had been trembling with rage. A blue tie, she recalled—which had matched his eyes perfectly.

His gaze licked over her now like a cobalt flame. She got the feeling he was undressing her with that gaze. Was he? Didn’t he once tell her that whenever a man looked at a woman he was imagining what it might be like to make love to her? And she had listened to him of course, because Xenon had been the expert when it came to sex and she had not. Her heart began to thump heavily in her chest.

Why was he here?

She wished she’d had time to brush her hair. She wasn’t trying to impress him, but even so—a woman still had her pride. She thought he looked shocked. As shocked as she felt—though she suspected his momentary loss of composure was for very different reasons. She knew she looked nothing like the woman he had married. The gilded creature who had gazed up at him from behind a misty veil of tulle was nothing but a distant memory. These days she wore the same clothes as other women. She did the same things as other women. No more couture and fast cars. Her hand strayed up to push an errant strand of hair behind her ear. No more expensive trips to the hair salon either.

While he, of course, looked exactly the same.

Six feet two and eyes of blue. Xenon Kanellis. An olive-skinned powerhouse of a man and a legend in his native Greece. A man with a face of dark and rugged beauty. And a man she had never wanted to see again.

‘X-Xenon,’ she said, her voice stumbling over a word she hadn’t said in a long time.

‘Thank heavens for that.’ He gave the sardonic smile she knew so well. ‘For a moment back then I thought you’d forgotten me.’

Lexi almost laughed because the suggestion was so ludicrous. Forget him? It would be easier to forget her own name. True, he wasn’t on her mind 24/7 the way he used to be when they’d first split. Before she had decided to take herself in hand. She’d known she would never recover if she continued to obsess about him. The stern talking-to she’d given herself had carried her through the worst. It got her through those bleak, dark days when she had missed him so much that it had felt as if someone had ripped her heart out and crushed it.

But she had recovered because people always recovered, even if at the time they never thought they would. And she had survived worse things than a marriage which should never have happened in the first place.

‘You’re not an easy man to forget, Xenon,’ she said, and then added as an afterthought, ‘More’s the pity.’

He laughed then but it sounded strange. Maybe she just wasn’t used to the sound of male laughter any more. Or the sight of a man—any man—turning up on the doorstep of her cottage and staring at her with such a disturbing sense of entitlement.

His blue eyes bored into her. ‘Aren’t you going to invite me in?’

Something about his demeanour was unsettling and Lexi felt a flicker of foreboding. ‘Is there any point?’

‘You’re not even a bit curious to discover why I’m here?’ He gaze moved over her shoulder, to glance into the cosy interior of her cottage. ‘Why I’ve driven all the way down from London to this godforsaken little place you’ve chosen to live in?’

‘I imagine it must be for your benefit and yours alone,’ she answered. ‘And if that’s the case, then I’m not interested. I’ve got nothing to say to you that hasn’t already been said.’

‘I wouldn’t speak too soon if I were you, Lex.’

‘Veiled threats won’t work, Xenon.’ She gave him a tight smile. ‘Time after time you’ve refused to give me a divorce and we seem to have reached a stalemate. So unless you’ve got the papers with you, it’s going to have to be hello and goodbye. I’m sorry if you’ve had a wasted journey but...’

She began to close the door on him but was stopped by his frankly outrageous action of inserting one soft Italian shoe into the narrowing space. For a moment she actually thought about pushing all her weight against it but Lexi knew there was no point in trying. She was strong for a woman, but he was built like an ox. She remembered the first time he’d picked her up and carried her effortlessly to bed. How she had purred her pleasure out loud. Lexi shuddered at the memory. How could she even have been that woman?

‘I don’t need your strong-arm tactics,’ she said.

‘Tough.’

His eyes met hers and Lexi knew this was one battle she wasn’t going to win. ‘Then I suppose you’d better come in,’ she said ungraciously. ‘Perhaps you’d like to beat your chest like an ape while you’re at it?’

‘I might,’ he agreed. ‘I know how much that macho stuff turns you on.’

Don’t rise to it, she told herself even though she could tell from the cool smile on his face that he seemed to be enjoying this. But then Xenon thrived on battle, didn’t he? He liked the frisson and the taste of triumph. That was one of the reasons for his global success and his boardroom victories.

Over his shoulder, she could see his gleaming limousine parked awkwardly at the bottom of the tiny lane. It couldn’t have been more in-your-face if it had tried and she hoped none of her neighbours were home. She had tired of the fame which had once been hers and had done her best to leave it all behind. She worked hard at being normal. She’d spent time blending into her local community, trying to prove that she was just like everyone else. The last thing she wanted was for Xenon Kanellis to come along and blow all her efforts with one ostentatious display of wealth. ‘You’re taking up a lot of space with that gas-guzzling piece of machinery.’

‘You want me to ask my driver to move it?’ He raised his eyebrows. ‘I could send her away for a couple of hours, if you like.’

Stupidly, one word registered above all the others. A word which echoed annoyingly in her head. ‘You have a female driver?’ she questioned, unprepared for the flash of primitive jealousy which shot through her.

‘Why not?’ He shrugged. ‘Weren’t you always telling me that I should practise a little more equality?’

‘Your idea of equality ended when women got the vote, Xenon. I thought you didn’t like female drivers? You went on about my driving often enough.’

‘That was different,’ he said, shutting the door behind him and giving her a patronising smile. ‘You are temperamentally unsuited to being behind the wheel of a car, Lex. Probably because of your artistic nature.’

She’d only been in his company for five minutes but already Lexi wanted to tip her head back and scream. But anger was good, she told herself. It kept the adrenalin flowing. It stopped her thinking about the pain of the past. It stopped her from wanting him. And that was the crazy and scary thing. That she still wanted him.

‘So why are you here?’ she asked. ‘To remind me how lucky I am not to have to put up with your sexist attitude any more—or is there something else on the agenda?’

For a moment Xenon didn’t answer. Instead, he let his eyes travel over her, slowly acquainting himself with someone he’d once known better than any other woman. But the truth was that he was taken aback by her appearance.

The Lexi he’d met and fallen in love with had been a glossy pop-star. A woman with fame at her fingertips and a world who couldn’t get enough of her. Sexy Lexi the press used to call her and they hadn’t been wrong. Everyone had told him she was the last woman he should have married. That a woman like her was ill suited to a man with such fiercely traditional Greek values. Even when she had abandoned her singing career and tried to play the good wife with varying degrees of success, people had still regarded her with suspicion and subsequent events seemed to have proved them right.

Yet the Lexi who stood before him now was a low-key version of the woman who had turned heads whenever she’d walked down the street. The shiny red hair—her trademark look—had gone. She still wore it long, but now it was back to its natural colour; it hung over one shoulder in a thick plait of strawberry-blonde. Gone were the contact lenses she was always losing and, instead, her silvery-green eyes were accentuated by a pair of dark-rimmed spectacles. He didn’t think he’d ever seen her wearing glasses before and they made her look oddly serious and surprisingly sexy. The only jewellery she wore was a pair of silver earrings—heavy twists of metal which caught the light as she moved.

In faded jeans and a plain cotton shirt, her transformation couldn’t have been more dramatic and it was hard to reconcile this new sober image with the glittering woman he’d married. But with Lexi, what you saw wasn’t necessarily what you got. Of every woman he’d ever known—and there had been quite a few—she had depths like no other. Hidden, mercurial depths which had captivated him from the start.