“What do you take me for?” she said in a low voice.
“As my wife. To have—” his eyes raked over her “—and to hold.”
She swallowed. His dark eyes were undressing her, right there in the restaurant. As if he were considering the very real possibility of pulling her to him, ripping off her clothes, and making love to her on there on the table, with the entire restaurant watching.
He still intended to coldly seduce her. He still meant to take his pound of flesh for what she’d done. And if he were her husband, his power over her would increase tenfold.
Just give in, her thought whispered. Give in to her desire. Give in to his power. Then he couldn’t send her away from Misha ever again. She would be his wife. She would be above Lindsey and the other women like her—she would be Mrs. Stavrakis. And though Nikos hated her now, perhaps someday…
No. She had to get a hold of herself. Even if someday Nikos forgave her, she would never, ever forgive him. He didn’t love her. And it was worse than that. He didn’t even trust her enough to work or to make any decisions about her own life.
He said he wanted to protect her, but he really wanted to lock her away, like a parakeet in a tiny gold cage.
Could she put aside every ounce of pride and self-preservation and marry a man who hated her? Allow herself to be bound to him forever?
“No,” she whispered.
His dark eyebrows pushed together like a storm-cloud. “What did you say?”
She trembled at his anger even as she braced herself for more. She wouldn’t bend. She wouldn’t submit. She wouldn’t sell herself for the hopeless, destructive illusion that he might someday trust her, respect her, love her.
“I said no.” Snapping the box shut, she held it out to him. “Sorry, Nikos. I’m not for sale.”
NIKOS stared at her, hardly able to believe his ears.
“Don’t you understand?” he said. “I’m giving you what you wanted. I’m making you my wife.”
“How very generous. But I only wanted that when I was in love with you. Not anymore.” When he didn’t take the box, she tossed it on the table between them. Such a small thing, but it separated them like a stone wall two feet thick. “Now I just want to be free.”
She shifted in her chair, brushing her dark hair off her bare shoulders. He looked around the restaurant that they’d conceived together. To his fevered imagination it seemed that every man in the room was watching Anna. Her lovely pale skin, the dark hair cascading in riotous waves down her back, those almond-shaped turquoise eyes challenging him. The beige halter top barely covered her full breasts, and her dark low-rise jeans revealed her flat belly.
God, she was gorgeous. He’d never wanted her more.
“You will marry me, Anna,” he said. “We both know it will happen.”
“Death and taxes are inevitable. But marriage?” She gave him a humorless smile. “No.”
“I don’t particularly want to marry you, either. But my son’s happiness means more to me than my own.”
He saw her lips tighten at that. Good, so she understood how much he cared for Michael.
But there was more to it than that.
From the moment Nikos had seen Anna dancing with Victor Sinistyn in the club, something had changed in him that he couldn’t explain. He only knew that Anna belonged to him and no other man. He had to stamp his possession on her for all the world to see.
The idea had haunted him. In the club, on his motorcycle, as he’d walked with Anna through the casino. He’d kept thinking it would be simple enough to marry her. Hell, they were already in Las Vegas. And once she wore his ring he knew she would be utterly loyal to those vows. There would be no more arguments or fear of betrayal. No custody battle splashed in the papers. It was the perfect solution.
He’d just never thought she would refuse him.
“You will marry me for the sake of our son.”
Nikos raked a hand through his dark hair in frustration. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. He was accustomed to his employees rushing to fulfill his orders, and his mistresses had always done the same.
“You will be rich—richer than your wildest dreams,” he pointed out. “I will deny you nothing.”
She snorted incredulously. “You think I care about that? If I’d wanted to marry for money, I could have done it long ago.”
“Meaning you’d have married Victor Sinistyn?”
“Yes. I could have.” She paused. “I could still.”
Nikos tightened his hands into fists, cracking his knuckles. A flood of unwelcome emotion swept through him.
He remembered watching Anna in the dance club, the way she’d swayed against Sinistyn, gyrating beneath the flashing lights. He remembered the way the skin on her taut belly had glistened, how her low-slung jeans had barely covered her hips as she swayed.
No other man but Nikos should touch her. Ever.
Especially not Victor Sinistyn. How could Nikos allow Anna to throw herself away on a man like that? How could he allow his son to have this man for a stepfather.
There was only one way to make sure that never happened. She would agree to his proposal.
He had to convince her.
“Why don’t you give the ring to Lindsey?” Anna said sweetly as she rose from the table. “I’m sure she’d be more than willing to marry you. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go home and feed my son.”
He had a sudden image of her in bed, and he relaxed. Bed was a place where they’d always understood one another very well. A slow smile spread across his lips. Once they were home he would take her in his arms and she would not be able to deny him anything…
“I will take you home,” he said.
“But I left your car at the club—”
“That will be arranged. The fastest way to get to my estate is on the bike.” He raised an eyebrow. “Unless you’re afraid to be that close to me again?”
She tossed back her hair with a deliberate casualness that didn’t fool him for a second. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Good.” He rose from his chair, reaching out for her hand. “Let’s go.”
She stared at him for a moment, her eyes wide as the sea, then with obvious reluctance gave him her hand. It felt small and cool in his own. “Fine,” she said with a sigh. “Take me.”
Oh, he intended to.
But she hung back, glancing back at the table. “What about the ring? Are you just going to leave it?”
Nikos shrugged. Since the jewelry hadn’t worked, it was of no further use to him. All he could think about now was that her skin felt warmer by the second. He yearned to touch her all over, to feel her hands on his body.
“Is everything all right, Mr. Stavrakis?” the waiter asked nervously behind him. “I hope there was no problem with your dinner?”
His eyes focused on the young waiter who’d served Anna earlier. He looked scared, holding a platter of dirty dishes on his shoulder.
“Your tip’s on the table,” Nikos replied abruptly. Then he turned back to push Anna out of the restaurant.
He heard a loud gasp, and the clatter of dishes falling to the floor as the waiter saw the ring, but he didn’t wait for thanks. All he could think was that he had to get Anna home and in his bed. Within minutes they were roaring down the highway on his motorcycle.
The moon was full, casting shadows over the sagebrush and distant mountains. Anna clung to Nikos on the back of the motorcycle, her dark hair whipping wildly around her face as they sped across the wide moonlit desert.
She tightened her grip on his narrow waist, pressing her body against his. He was driving like a bullet, and the wind was cold against her bare arms and back. But that wasn’t the reason she was shivering.
She was burning like a furnace, lit up from within.
She knew why Nikos was driving down the highway as if all the demons of hell were in hot pursuit. She’d seen it in his dark eyes. She’d felt it in the way he’d touched her. In the way he’d taken possession of her hand and pulled her from the casino.
He was going to make love to her. Until she couldn’t see straight. Until she couldn’t think.
Until she agreed to marry him.
She felt beads of sweat break out on her forehead, instantly wiped away by the cool desert wind.
It terrified her how badly she wanted him in return. She was barely keeping herself in check. She was afraid she’d give in.
To sleeping with him.
Had anyone ever defied Nikos for long? Was it even possible?
She shivered again.
“Cold, my sweet?” Nikos asked in a husky voice as they pulled into the ten-car garage. Turning off the engine, he set the kickstand and gently took her hand, pulling her off the bike. He ran his fingers down the inside of her wrist as he pulled her close. “You won’t be cold for long.”