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Bought for the Greek's Revenge

By:Lynne Graham

CHAPTER ONE

NIKOLAI DRAKOS SCANNED the photo with a frown and enhanced it. It couldn’t be the same woman; it simply couldn’t be! There was no way that his quarry, Cyrus Makris, could possibly be planning to marry a woman from a humble background.

Bemused, Nikolai lifted his arrogant dark head high and once again studied the picture of the ethereal redhead. No way could it be the same little temptress he had once met working as a parking attendant. The world wasn’t that small. Even so, he was aware that Cyrus owned a country house in Norfolk. A deeper frown lodged between his level dark brows, his quick and clever brain taking a rare hike into the recent past.

For all her diminutive size the woman he had met had had attitude, lots and lots of attitude, certainly not an attribute Nikolai sought from the transient beauties who shared his bed. But she had also had aquamarine eyes and a mouth as soft, silky and pink as a lotus blossom. A sizzling physical combination, which had taken a hell of a lot of forgetting on his part. His wide sensual mouth compressed with dissatisfaction. After she had blown him off, another man might have tried to find her again to make another attempt but Nikolai had refused to do so. He didn’t chase women, he didn’t do sweet talk or dates or flowers or any of that stuff ever. He walked away. The mantra by which he lived insisted that no woman was irreplaceable, no woman unique, and he didn’t believe in love. She had simply caught his imagination for a few intoxicating moments but he had refused to allow lust to seduce him into pursuit. Since when had he had to pursue a woman?

And although it was generally known that Cyrus’s elderly father was putting pressure on his forty-five-year-old son and heir to take a bride, it was a challenge to credit that Cyrus could be planning to marry the feisty little redhead who had scratched the paintwork on Nikolai’s cherished McLaren Spider. Besides, only pure and untouched female flesh excited Cyrus, as Nikolai’s late sister had learned to her cost. And no way could that sparkling little redhead still be that pure and untouched.

Flexing his lean muscles as he sprang upright, Nikolai swept up the file he had been studying. The investigator he used was a consummate professional and the report would be thorough. He studied the photos afresh. He was willing to admit that the likeness between the two women was startling. Curiosity at a height, he began to read about Prunella, known as Ella. Yes, that night he had definitely heard her boss using that name, he conceded grimly. Ella Palmer, aged twenty-three, a former veterinary student who had once been engaged to Cyrus’s dead nephew, Paul. Now there was a connection he could not have foreseen for Cyrus, who rarely bothered with relatives.

Nikolai read on, unexpectedly hungry for the details. It had been a year since the nephew had died of leukaemia and two years since Ella’s father, George Palmer, had had a stroke. The older man was currently drowning in debt. Nikolai marvelled that Cyrus, who was rich but tight, had not stepped in to help Ella’s family, but perhaps he was holding that possibility in reserve as a power play.

Nikolai, on the other hand, immediately grasped that it was his optimum moment for action and intervention. He called his team of personal assistants and issued his instructions even while he was still struggling to work out why Ella Palmer could be in line to become Cyrus’s bride.

What was so special about her? For a couple of years at least she had evidently hovered on the outskirts of Cyrus’s life. As his nephew’s fiancée she would have been untouchable, the unattainable always a powerful temptation to a male who thrived on the challenge of breaking the rules. Now she was alone and unprotected and Cyrus appeared to be playing a waiting game. However, it was equally possible that Ella was eager to marry Cyrus, because although he was old enough to be her father he was also a prominent, and wealthy, businessman.

But what, other than innocence, could be attracting Cyrus? Ella Palmer had neither money nor connections to offer. She was a beauty, but could a formerly engaged young woman still be a virgin in this day and age? Nikolai shook his arrogant dark head in wonderment. Was that even possible? And had she the smallest concept of the kind of male she was dealing with? A man who was excited by sexual violence? And who, given the opportunity, would cause her irreparable harm? Would she consider a wedding ring adequate compensation for brutal mistreatment?

Whatever, Nikolai’s objective was to take her off Cyrus. Cyrus was a dangerous man and Nikolai knew exactly how addicted he was to the seamier side of life. By utilising bribery, intimidation and hush money, Cyrus had so far contrived to escape justice. Nikolai had long been forced to pursue a more subtle form of revenge. Being both extremely rich and extremely clever, Nikolai had tracked his quarry’s every move in the business world and had regularly snatched lucrative deals from right under Cyrus’s nose. That had been easy because Cyrus was better at making enemies than keeping friends and making connections. But it wasn’t nearly as satisfying as striking out at Cyrus on a more personal level would be. Losing Ella Palmer, seeing her choose his greatest rival over him, would really hit Cyrus hard where it hurt. And anything that caused Cyrus pain made Nikolai happy.

As for how his actions would affect Ella Palmer and her family, Nikolai ruminated darkly, did he really care? They would simply be collateral damage in Nikolai’s battle. But, at the same time, her family would be freed from crippling debt while Ella would be protected from Cyrus. Nikolai’s burning desire for revenge was fuelled by ruthless resolution and by the knowledge that all Cyrus’s victims had been cruelly denied justice. Yet there was also a weird personal feel to the challenge that made his teeth grit because, try as he did to stay cool and in control and essentially uninvolved, unholy rage gripped Nikolai at the thought of Cyrus getting his slimy hands on Ella and hurting her...

* * *

‘It’s bad, Ella,’ Gramma said heavily.

‘How bad?’ Ella prompted, dry-mouthed.

George Palmer, Ella’s father and Gramma’s son, sighed heavily. ‘I’m a terrible failure of a man when it comes to my family... I’ve lost everything.’

‘The business, yes...perhaps it’s too late for anything to be saved there, but that doesn’t make you a failure,’ Ella conceded in a wobbly voice, because they had known for ages that the shop was doing badly. ‘But, at least, the house—’

‘No, Ella,’ Gramma cut in, her lined face pale and stiff with self-discipline. ‘This time the house has to go as well—’

‘But how can that be?’ Ella exclaimed incredulously. ‘You own the house, not Dad!’

‘My divorce from Joy took half the business,’ the older man reminded her.

‘And the house was the only asset we had left. Your father couldn’t get the business loan he needed to pay off Joy without backing it up with the house,’ Ella’s grandmother, Gramma, a petite white-haired lady in her seventies, told her tightly. ‘So, we put the house on the line and hoped for the best.’

‘Oh, my...goodness,’ Ella gasped after carefully searching for a word that would not make her grandmother flinch.

Thinking of her stepmother, the volatile Joy, Ella tried to reflect on the reality that since the divorce her father was a much happier man. His wife had been a very demanding woman, and although the older man had made a decent recovery from the stroke that had laid him low two years earlier, he now used a stick and the left side of his body remained weak. His wife, Joy, had walked out on him during his rehabilitation. She had deserted him as soon as his once comfortable income had declined. Her father had not been able to afford the services of a good lawyer in the divorce that followed and it had been a shock when his estranged wife had been awarded half the value of his furniture shop in the settlement. That pay out had led them straight into their current dire financial straits.

‘Taking that risk with the house hasn’t worked out for us but I’m trying to console myself with the idea that at least we tried,’ George Palmer said wryly. ‘If we hadn’t tried we would always have wondered if we should have done. Now it’s done and dusted and, unhappily for us, my creditors need to be paid.’

Ella’s mood was not improved by the older man’s accepting attitude. George Palmer was one of nature’s gentlemen and he never had a bad word to say about anyone or anything. Her attention fell instead on the letter lying on the kitchen table and she snatched it up. ‘That’s what this is about? Your creditors?’

‘Yes, my debts have been sold on to another organisation. That’s a letter from the new owner’s solicitors telling me that they want to put the house on the market.’

‘Well, we’ll just see about that!’ Ella snapped, scrambling upright and pulling out her phone, eager to be able to do something at last, for sitting around bemoaning bad situations was not her style.

‘This is business, Ella.’ Gramma gave her feisty grandchild a regretful appraisal. ‘Appealing to business people is a waste of your time. All they want is their money and hopefully a profit out of their investment.’

‘It’s not that simple...it’s our lives you’re talking about!’ Ella proclaimed emotively, stalking out of the kitchen to ring the legal firm and ask for an appointment.

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