‘What’s the alternative? For you to stay here in Milan to face the press on your own? You wanted my support and I am trying to give it to you.’

 ‘Why do I need to leave? Why can’t you stay here?’

 ‘I need to be in Athens. I have important business commitments coming up this week.’

 ‘Are you saying your commitments are more important than mine?’

 ‘No.’ Swearing, he gripped hold of his mug. ‘Yes.’

 Looking at her, he could see she was fighting the urge to punch him in the face just as her brother had done.

 Such passion.

 On the surface, Alessandra Mondelli was the epitome of cool sophistication. Scratch beneath it and the passionate, sultry woman emerged like a vibrant butterfly emerging from a chrysalis.

 Knowing he was the only man to have experienced that passion made his chest fill.

 Her passion was his. All his.

 One day, soon, he would sate himself in her arms again. He knew it and she knew it too; he could see it in the way the pupils of her eyes dilated when their gazes met, the way her breath hitched when they brushed against each other.

 She still wanted him.

 The thought of them sharing a bed again made his loins tighten and the dread of their forthcoming nuptials taste sweeter.

 She would be his again.

 For now, though, all thoughts of making love would have to wait. He’d given his word not to make a move on her until after their wedding and he intended to keep it.

 ‘In the future we will arrange our schedules to accommodate both our obligations, but in this instance I’m afraid my commitments are more important than yours.’

 One of Greece’s major banks—one that had weathered the worst of the financial crisis—had been plunged into serious financial trouble and had called on Christian for help and advice. So many of his compatriots were struggling; it was like a constant pain in his chest. He’d been there once: impoverished. Desperate. He gave his assistance gladly.

 ‘That’s just...’

 ‘There is another alternative,’ he said, knowing perfectly well it was an alternative she would dismiss out of hand. ‘You can stay at Villa Mondelli. The press won’t be able to touch you there, not with all the security measures that have been put in place.’

 ‘What, with my brother? I would rather stay in a convent.’

 ‘Those are your options: stay here alone to deal with the press you hate so much, stay with the brother you’ve just disowned or come to Athens with me where the press can’t touch you.’

 ‘Then I stay.’

 Theos, give him patience. The woman was even more stubborn than her brother. ‘And deal with the press alone? When you hate them so much?’

 ‘At least I know their comments will be kinder than they were before. I’d much rather they harass me by asking questions about our wedding than harass me by telling me who the latest person to call me a slut is.’

 ‘They did that?’ He’d seen much of the coverage, knew she’d had a rough time with the press, but had had no idea they had stooped so low as to tell a vulnerable teenager what despicable names people were calling her.

 ‘That was then. I’m perfectly safe here in my apartment—the press can’t get past the concierge.’

 ‘Who are these people who called you a slut?’ His brain refused to move on from that piece of information. When he learned who had said such insulting words towards her, he would hunt each and every one of them down. He would make them pay.

 The sheer violence of his thoughts shocked him.

 All his life he’d used his brains to better himself, only using his fists when it was a choice of fight or flight.

 The kids in his neighbourhood had roamed the streets of Athens in packs while he had spent his precious free time with his head buried in books, determined to educate himself out of that life. They’d seen him as a freak.

 Often they had lain in wait for him. Between the ages of ten and sixteen he’d been beaten up on average once a month. Always he’d fought back, sometimes more successfully than others. Then, aged sixteen, he’d experienced a monster of a growth spurt, growing six inches in six months. He’d also found himself an early-morning job at the fish market lugging heavy boxes of freshly caught mackerel and sardines. He’d filled out physically to match his new height.

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