He pulled back abruptly, giving her a searing look. “I would never hurt you, agape mou.”
At that moment she believed him. “I know.”
But he still hesitated, looking troubled. She realized that he was holding himself back because he didn’t want to cause her pain. He still cared about her. For the first time she felt the magnitude of her own power over him, and it thrilled her.
She smiled up at him, tracing the beauty of his slightly crooked nose with her fingertip, touching his bare scars. He was a warrior, fierce and powerful, and frightening in his beauty.
But, powerful as he was, she realized she could match his fire.
Bracing her hands on his shoulders, she unwrapped her legs from his body. Backing away, she reached behind her and untied her halter top. It fell into her hands, leaving her upper body naked. Moonlight briefly drenched her skin in an opalescent glow the color of pearls, then disappeared behind the dark clouds that were rapidly covering the sky.
She stood in front of him in the semidarkness, straight and tall. She’d never been this brave before. Even during the months of their affair she’d always let him take the lead. Nervous at her own daring, she looked into his face.
His expression was strained. With a low growl he lifted her back into his arms, pressing her against the wall. The feeling of his skin against her own, without the halter top to separate them, was exquisite. But it wasn’t enough—still not nearly enough.
Clasping her wrists tightly in one massive hand, he pulled her arms over her head, kissing down her body as he moved his other hand between her legs. Her earlier fear of pain was already forgotten as she moved against him, wanting to feel more. To feel him. Above her, she could hear the howl of rising wind, and she felt small drops of rain against her overheated skin. Her hair whipped wildly as she leaned her head back, hardly able to breathe, out of her mind with longing.
“I take it all back,” she gasped. “Don’t be gentle. Don’t make me wait. Take me now.”
He gave her a lazy smile as his fingers caressed her through her jeans. “You want me to take you here? Against the wall?”
“Yes. And I don’t give a damn who might see.” She only knew that if he kept stroking her through her jeans she was going to come any second.
But he didn’t make a move to pull off her jeans. Instead he kept stroking her, moving his chest against hers, plundering her mouth with his own.
“Stop,” she panted. Pushing his hand away, she strained toward him, her hands fumbling at his zipper. “I want to feel you inside me—”
“No.” He grabbed her hands. “Wait.”
A roll of thunder shattered the clouds and cold rain began to fall, splattering across the courtyard and pool. Wind howled across the desert, rattling the palm trees high above them as they stared at each other.
“I want you. But—” He blinked, as if trying to clear his mind of a fog, shaking his head like a wolf scattering water from his fur. “This is a mistake. When I make love to you again it will be in a bed…”
She saw a glimmer of hope. “My bedroom is—”
“As my wife,” he finished.
They stared at each other in the moonlight, whipped by wind and hard rain. Anna was suddenly aware that she was standing half naked, with cold, hard rain sleeting down her bare breasts.
She’d just thrown herself at him.
And he’d refused her. Her cheeks flushed with shame.
“If you wait for me to marry you, you’ll wait forever,” she retorted, blinking back angry tears. He’d only been trying to prove his power over her, and she’d fallen for it yet again. She reached down to the tiled floor and snatched up her halter top, now ruined in the rain. Her hands shook as she tied the strings in back. Her teeth chattered as she said, “Just being your mistress nearly killed me. I will never be your wife, Nikos. Never.”
Beneath the darkness of the desert storm she could barely see his face for shadows. But his voice was low and dangerous, resonant with the certainty that only came from power. “We’ll see.”
The next morning, Nikos growled at the housekeeper’s cheery greeting as she brought his breakfast to the table. She set down a cup of strong Greek coffee and a plate of eggs, bacon and toast, then left. He stared blankly at the morning editions of the Wall Street Journal and the local Review-Journal and cursed himself for a fool.
He hadn’t slept all night, and it was his own damned fault.
It was not in his nature to be patient, but he’d left Anna in the courtyard and gone to his bedroom alone. Where he’d tossed and turned until dawn.
He swore softly to himself. If he’d just made love to Anna last night, perhaps he’d already be free of this spell.
He took a gulp of the hot coffee. He’d need all the help he could get to make it through the day. He had to secure a new secretary to replace Lindsey, the negotiations for the land lease bid for his new casino resort project in Singapore were at a critical juncture, and all he could think about was getting Anna in bed. He was so wound up he couldn’t see straight.
He was off his game. Just when his business urgently needed his attention. It was intolerable.
And the worst thing was he had no idea how to convince Anna to be his wife. It was the best thing for everyone. Damn it, why couldn’t she see that?
He’d already reasoned with her. Fired Lindsey. Bought her a two-hundred-thousand-dollar ring. He’d offered Anna wealth and the protection of his name, and she’d thrown them back in his face.
Even seducing her hadn’t made her agree to his proposal. For a man accustomed to negotiation, he was in a tough spot. What was left to offer?
“More toast, Mr. Stavrakis?”
He growled in reply. Accustomed to his moods, the housekeeper gave him a cheerful nod. “By the way, thank you for hiring Mrs. Burbridge. She’s already popular among the staff. And such a sweet baby you have too, sir, if you don’t mind me saying so.”
“Thank you,” he bit out, then picked up the nearest paper to signal the end of the conversation. After the housekeeper had left he took several bites of food, then threw his paper down and went to look for Anna.
He found her at the pool, and watched her for several seconds from the doorway before she saw him.
She was in the water, holding Michael. The baby was laughing and splashing as she skimmed him through the water in the warm morning sun. Anna held him close, pointing out things in the courtyard. “And those are palm trees, and a fountain. That’s the blue sky, and the water is blue too. It’s going to be hot today,” she said to the baby, smiling. “So different from your great-grandmama’s old palace, isn’t it, Misha?”
Nikos envied her playful ease with the baby. He felt like an outsider looking at a loving family. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Having a child was his chance for a fresh start. To have a family of his own. To be the father he himself had never had. Damn it, how had everything gone so wrong?
It should have made him resent her, reminded him to hate her, but instead he felt only envy and a whisper of loneliness. Anna was simply in the pool doing nothing, splashing and wading, but he could tell she was having the time of her life because she loved just spending time with their child.
He’d been wrong to think about taking Michael away from her. Even if he’d been cruel enough to do it, Anna never would have accepted it. She would have fought him all the way. She had absolute loyalty and a single-minded devotion to those she loved.
His eyes went wide.
That was how he could get Anna to marry him.
Not jewelry. Not money. Not even sex.
Love. Love was the glue that would bind her.
He had to make Anna fall in love with him—fall so hard and fast that she’d not only marry him but would spend the rest of her life trying to get his love in return.
Which, of course, he wouldn’t give her. He wasn’t a fool. Loving her would make him weak when he most needed to be strong. How could he guard his family, protect them as they deserved, if his judgment was impaired? He’d never allowed himself to love anyone, and he never intended to.
But her loving him—that was something else. She had a character that was born for devotion. If she loved him it would ensure her loyalty for a lifetime. It would keep his son safe with a loving mother, and he’d be protected from stepfathers like Sinistyn.
It couldn’t be that hard to make Anna love him, he reasoned. She’d said she loved him before, though he hadn’t realized it at the time. All he needed to do was repeat those same conditions and she would do so again.
But she must never suspect what he was doing. She had to think she was falling for him of her own free will.
He narrowed his eyes, watching as Anna laughed with their baby, splashing in the pool, tilting her lovely pale face back to drink in the warm Nevada sun.
What carrot could he dangle in front of her to convince her to be with him and spend unguarded time together?