Authors: Brandi Michaels
Three years ago, heiress Crystal Moran gave her heart to a man, only to have it crushed by his accusations of infidelity. Miserable, she picked up the pieces and returned to the United States to run her family’s non-profit corporation. Now, just as she’s got her life in order, he shows up at her big fundraiser. He thinks making a sizeable donation will win back her good graces.
Greek millionaire Demetrius Vartolas knows his money can’t turn back the clock, but it just might buy him enough time to convince Crystal she belongs in his life. And his bed.
The reunion of bodies leaves them both begging for more. Rebuilding lost trust won’t be so easy—unless she can prove her innocence to him once and for all…
Warning: Steamy hot. Prepare to sweat. ☺ Explicit sex and language!
They cannot be sold, shared or given away as it is an infringement on the copyright of this work.
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.
Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
577 Mulberry Street, Suite 1520
Macon GA 31201
Copyright © 2009 by Brandi Michaels
Edited by Laurie Rauch
Cover by Scott Carpenter
All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
electronic publication: June 2009
With thanks to my good friends Lori and Tony Karayianni for their help with my Greek.
Crystal Moran’s gaze settled on the broad-shouldered, dark-haired man the instant he walked through the doors of the hotel ballroom. He came in with an air of authority, heightened by tuxedoed elegance and pure male magnetism.
His Mediterranean heritage was apparent in the inky black of his hair, his sun-kissed skin, and strong rather than handsome features—prominent jawbones supporting lean, grooved cheeks, a long, narrow nose, and full, sensuous mouth. She’d always thought his face a study in classical Greek bone structure.
A stir of excitement skittered around the room once he was recognized, the atmosphere suddenly teeming with renewed expectations. As one of the world’s wealthiest and most eligible bachelors, Demetrius Vardolas’s presence at any social event made it a guaranteed success.
For Crystal, the sight of her former lover had her heart pausing, tightening with pain, and then pounding in a riotous rush. It had been three years since she’d seen him, two years since she’d stopped sobbing over him and a year since he’d invaded her nightly dreams. He’d hurt her badly, but she thought she’d gotten over him. It stunned her to realize she’d been fooling herself. With him came a wave of memories, both joyous and agonizing.
His proximity made the air whoosh from her lungs. The old pain resurfaced, threatening to suffocate her. She forced it to the back of her mind with a strength born of necessity, but her palms went damp and her nerves felt wired.
She’d been the quintessential art student studying in a foreign land, fascinated by a man way out of her league. Worse yet, she’d been naive enough to believe she’d found her happily-ever-after white knight.
Their gazes briefly met across the crowded room. Crystal didn’t acknowledge him with so much as a blink of an eye or a nod of recognition. Instead, she slowly, deliberately, shifted her attention with an aloofness that came naturally these days. She wouldn’t allow him the satisfaction of knowing he could rattle her so easily.
Taking a deep breath, she accepted a glass of champagne from a passing waiter and downed half of it. The alcohol would wreak havoc on her empty, nervous stomach, but she hoped it would also bolster her shaken confidence. Head held high, shoulders squared, she donned a practiced smile and composed herself enough to continue around the room, chatting with the guests.
She moved with a gentle swish of the finest silk. Her gown had a designer label, but she’d chosen it for its flowing lines and pale green shade. It had a modest V-neck and short sleeves that left most of her arms bare. The fabric draped across her torso and fell nearly to her ankles with a knee-high slit for easy movement.
Accessories included small pearls in her ears and a strand around her neck. A successful professional strategy included blending with the rich and famous without competing. It wouldn’t do to outshine her guests in any fashion. Thinking of their latest guest, she finished off the glass of champagne.
“Miss Moran, how nice to see you.”
The heavily accented voice belonged to Makis Stratus, Demetri’s partner and best friend. She should have known he’d be in the vicinity, even though she hadn’t noticed him earlier. He rarely left Demetri’s side. The two had known each other since childhood and Makis was very protective of the friendship.
“Mr. Stratus.” She replaced her empty glass with a full one and turned more fully toward him. “How are you?”
“I am doing very well,” he replied with a courtly nod. “I was hoping you might honor me with a dance.”
Crystal studied the other man for a silent moment. Although more classically handsome than Demetri, Makis was shorter and stockier. He lacked his friend’s aura of sizzling sensuality. From what little she knew of him, he also lacked Demetri’s personal honesty and integrity. Although he’d always been unfailingly polite to her, she’d sensed he resented her relationship with his best friend.
“I think I’ll have to take a rain check.” She rejected his invitation with just the right amount of regret but no explanation. In Greece, he’d treated her like an unwelcome outsider. His superior attitude had grated, so she had no desire to play nice with him now.
He seemed temporarily at a loss for words. “But, as I understand it, you are a hostess here tonight?”
Part comment, part question, his response implied it was her duty to dance with him. Her position as director of the Margarita Andresen Foundation did make her hostess for this annual fundraising event, but her employers didn’t expect her to cater to every request. Crystal wondered if Makis was just being a typical male chauvinist or if he had an ulterior motive. He’d never approved of her relationship with Demetri, so she’d never trusted him.
“I am your hostess for the evening,” she answered smoothly. “But I am not duty-bound to dance with every guest.”
“Not even the guests with the deepest pockets?” he replied just as smoothly. “Would your employers not frown on that policy? Would it not diminish your value to them?”
Crystal’s temper rose with each new question. Did he think a complaint from him or his partner would get her fired? With his money and resources, he’d probably already researched the foundation. He would know the last director had nearly bankrupted it. Tonight’s event could either ruin or salvage the foundation as well as the job she loved, but that didn’t give him the right to threaten her.
As badly as she wanted to know the motivation for his threats, she refused to go on the defensive. Instead, she mounted a gentle offense and gave him her best hostess smile.
“Please don’t misunderstand,” she said. “The financial support of our guests is very much appreciated by the foundation. I didn’t realize you were a patron.”
Makis’s nostrils flared at her gentle snub. The demure college student he’d known would never have insulted him so, but the past few years had changed her dramatically.
Crystal forgot the other man as soon as she felt Demetri’s presence. She didn’t have to see him to know he’d moved closer. Goosebumps skittered over her body, her pulse accelerated and her breasts plumped against her gown, nipples tingling. She took another long drink of champagne.
“The blame for crashing your party is totally mine.”
His voice, so deep, so sexy, so intimately familiar, sent a quiver over her body. Every nerve and cell reacted to the sound and her knees actually shook, but her confidence didn’t waver.
Turning slightly, she included him in their little semi-circle of space. She greeted him with a carefully controlled smile, but couldn’t force a word past the sudden tightness of her throat.
“We had a meeting today with Harry Connate,” explained Demetri as he openly studied her. “We asked him to have dinner with us this evening. He informed us of this prior commitment and invited us to join him here at the hotel.”
They’d parted three years ago after a hot-tempered shouting match that ended with her throwing his engagement ring back at him. Now pride kept her from showing an emotional reaction to his unexpected appearance. His impersonal tone and manner helped Crystal find her voice.
“Harry’s a dear man and a faithful supporter of the foundation. He’s always welcome to bring guests.”
“And encouraged, one might assume,” added Makis.
His condescension annoyed her, but he spoke the truth.
She gave him another cool smile. “Indeed. We are a non-profit organization, so our charitable operations are dependent on the generosity of many sponsors.”
“So why don’t you share your champagne?” Demetri reached for her glass and pulled it from her unresisting fingers.
The touch of his hand against hers torched the nerves she’d just calmed. Fire sizzled through her as she watched him turn the flute and drink from the exact spot her lips had touched. His midnight-dark eyes gleamed with a challenge Crystal didn’t fully understand, yet she stood mesmerized by his action.
In another instant, he’d placed the flute on a nearby tray and slipped an arm around her waist.
Ela na horepsomai.
Come, let’s dance,” he commanded rather than requested, leaving her little choice but to comply. Under different circumstances, she would have refused him outright, but too many of their guests were too interested in him for her to be openly rude.
She stiffened as the heat of his touch seared her through the thin silk of her gown, wishing with all her heart that her body didn’t remember the exquisite pleasure he’d given it. Wishing she didn’t remember the feel of his hard body in all its powerful, naked glory.
The small orchestra she’d hired for the evening was playing a slow ballad. She’d specifically requested slower dancing music for her more mature guests, but when Demetri pulled her into his arms, she wished she hadn’t done so.
He wasn’t a tall man, just a few inches taller than her five-foot-six, yet she still had to tip her head to look him in the eyes. She found him scrutinizing her features, so she quickly dropped her gaze.
“So, tell me about your foundation,” he said. His big, warm hand enveloped her smaller one, sending more heat throughout her body. She reminded herself to breathe and tried to focus on the conversation.
“It’s a very old foundation, established after the death of Margarita Andresen, a matriarch of one of New York’s most elite families. Although she had incredible wealth, she devoted her life to caring for those less fortunate.”
“I am sure she was a wonderful person and that is a very nice publicity spiel, but I want to know how you became involved. I thought you were dedicated to your painting, even though you believed you sucked at it.”
Having been educated in England, Demetri spoke excellent English with just a hint of an accent, yet he often tangled the very proper with American slang. It had charmed Crystal in the past, but she hardened herself to it now.
He held her at a polite distance; yet being in his arms was like nothing else in the world. It took her to sensual heights that no other man had even begun to scale. His unique scent enveloped her. His heat became her heat. His passionate nature radiated with every move, every touch, every whisper of breath.
“I still paint, but there aren’t many self-supporting jobs available to landscape painters.”
“So you are still the independent, free-spirited woman?”
Crystal dared to look directly into his eyes again. What private thoughts lay hidden in the dark, mysterious depths? He always had an agenda. He’d learned about her involvement with the foundation or he wouldn’t be here tonight. Why had he come and what did he want?
Did he wonder if she’d married or if she had a significant other in her life? A little sleuthing could have unveiled that information. Why would he care? In all the time they’d been separated, he’d never tried to contact her. When they’d parted, there’d been no doubt that it was permanent. He’d called her a lying, cheating slut. He’d lost faith in her, and she’d never forgive him for it.
“I’m capable of supporting myself, if that’s what you’re asking. I don’t know how free-spirited I am these days, though. I just spent the past forty-eight hours finalizing plans for this gala.” She’d gotten through the past two days with catnaps and lots of caffeine. “I enjoy my work, but it’s not an easy or undemanding job.”
“That is why you have those dark shadows under your eyes?”
Crystal blinked and lowered her head again. Leave it to him to notice. He’d always been too damned observant. The whole world might adore blondes, but being a natural one with the accompanying pale, telltale skin had its disadvantages. Even the most expensive makeup couldn’t disguise her fatigue. Nor could it disguise the slight blush that tinted her cheeks now.
“It’s not polite to point out my imperfections.”
“My apologies,” he said with a slight dip of his head. “Is your work a safer subject? Do you find it rewarding?”
Her thoughts skittered through mental images of the people helped by the foundation.
“Yes, it is. America is a wealthy country, yet there are so many people without food, clothing and shelter. Too many of them fall between the cracks when it comes to the welfare system. We do what we can, and I know it makes a difference.”
“But your organization has a critical shortage of funding?”
He would know, of course, probably right down to the last dollar in their account, but Crystal didn’t confirm his suspicions.
“There never seems to be enough money to do everything we’d like to do.”
“What do you hope to raise tonight?”
She tipped her head further back to see him again, but the action made her slightly dizzy. She swayed and he drew her closer, his brows drawing together in a frown.
“Are you all right?”
“I’m fine, just a little lightheaded from too much champagne. I should have known better.”
His voice went deep and intimate. “But my unexpected appearance made you feel panicked and reckless?”
She stared into his eyes, frowning. “That’s a totally arrogant thing to suggest.”
Shaking her head in frustration wasn’t the smartest thing to do at that moment. It made her even more unsteady. She swayed and his hold tightened, crushing her breasts against his chest, belly against belly, their thighs sliding sensuously together with each throb of the music. She felt the hard ridge of his cock as it thickened with arousal. Corresponding dampness gathered between her legs.
Crystal’s heart pounded as desire slowly snaked through her, making her nipples pucker and her blood churn hotly. Panic assailed her at the thought of him becoming aware of her arousal. A blush heated her chest, neck and cheeks.
Their gazes met and his eyes smoldered with the same fire. His hand at her waist dipped lower, pulling her closer to his now-straining flesh. Her breathing faltered, yet she found his arousal strangely calming. She didn’t welcome the feelings he stirred in her, but at least she knew the physical responses weren’t one-sided.
“Why don’t we get some air?” Demetri’s tone was gruff. “Is there an exit we can use?”
Her desire to avoid being alone with him warred with the risk of humiliating herself in front of her guests and board of directors. Maybe some air would clear her head and help her shake free of the sensual haze enveloping them. She nudged him toward balcony doors she knew to be unsecured.