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Authors: Katrina Cudmore

The Best Man's Guarded Heart

BOOK: The Best Man's Guarded Heart
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The bridesmaid who can heal his heart

Greek tycoon Andreas Petrakis is hosting his brother's wedding on his private island. Ever since his marriage ended in heartbreaking disaster his own emotions have been on ice, but he's determined to be the best man his brother deserves.

Only he hasn't bargained on the early arrival of bridesmaid Grace Chapman. Bubbly, idealistic and feisty, she has no time for his frosty cynicism, and despite all his best intentions, he's soon actually enjoying the wedding! Andreas finds himself tempted by the unthinkable—letting Grace into his guarded heart...

Why on earth had he agreed to host the wedding in the first place?

It was getting more complicated by the day...and bringing back the humiliating memories he had spent the past two years burying.

Yes, he had vaguely agreed to Grace's early arrival, but he hadn't expected her to be so elated about the wedding, or so distractingly beautiful. Her excitement brought home just how much he hated the prospect of this wedding. And unbelievably, this was her first time abroad on her own; he didn't have the time to babysit her. Having her on the island was a headache he didn't need right now. Unfortunately, she had other ideas.

“This view is absolutely stunning.” She didn't turn to him when she spoke but continued to gaze toward the lights of Naxos in the distance, the sky a never-ending celestial ocean of stars. Beneath them, far below the cliff face, the Aegean Sea crashed onto the shore.

She gave a light shiver and rubbed her hands against her bare arms. A silver bracelet jangled at her wrist. He instinctively shrugged off his jacket. When he held it out for her to put on, she jerked back in surprise. In the darkness he could just about see the violet-blue depths of her eyes. Eyes that threatened to swallow his soul.

Dear Reader,

Welcome to the Greek Islands! A place of endless welcomes, sunshine and romance. For the past number of years I've enjoyed idyllic holidays in Greece with my family, where I've been blown away by the warmth of the locals and the stunning landscapes. During my stays I have been totally captivated by the importance of family and friends to the Greek people.

It was this warmth and family orientation that inspired
The Best Man's Guarded Heart
. I wondered how a proud Greek male would react when his family disintegrates around him. And my gorgeous hero, Andreas Petrakis, was born. To test Andreas, I wanted a strong and determined woman who would challenge his entrenched beliefs about love and relationships. A woman like Grace Chapman, who believes in happy-ever-afters but only with a man who loves her completely without any compromises. Grace will never accept anything but absolute love, honesty and kindness in a relationship.

I wrote this book in the middle of the Irish winter and I adored being transported to the endless sunshine and beauty of Kasas Island. I hope that you are equally enraptured by this story and experience the same excitement and wonder as I did for the beautiful love story that unfurls between Andreas and Grace.

My warmest wishes to you until we speak again.

Katrina

THE BEST MAN'S GUARDED HEART

Katrina Cudmore

A city-loving book addict, peony obsessive
Katrina Cudmore
lives in Cork, Ireland, with her husband, four active children and a very daft dog. A psychology graduate with an MSc in human resources, Katrina spent many years working in multinational companies and can't believe she is lucky enough now to have a job that involves daydreaming about love and handsome men! You can visit Katrina at
katrinacudmore.com
.

Books by Katrina Cudmore

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.

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You are my life.

CHAPTER ONE

S
OFIA
'
S
VOICEMAIL
. A
GAIN
. Grace Chapman gave her smartphone's contact photo of her best friend a death stare and muttered, ‘You can hide, Sofia, but I'll find you.'

Grace loved Sofia to bits; during the madness of the past few years she'd been her rock of cheerful good sense. But every now and again, when life got too intense, Sofia lost the plot big-time. Like today. Yes, Grace might have missed her flight and ended up arriving in Athens seven hours late. But she'd had everything under control. Until Sofia had obviously panicked and called in the big guns: the Petrakis family. Which meant that instead of catching the last ferry of the day at Piraeus port, as she had hoped, Grace was now stuck in the VIP lounge of Athens airport, awaiting the arrival of Sofia's soon-to-be father-in-law. A man who brought the word
intimidating
to a whole new level of meaning.

Sofia would have thought she was helping; but in truth she had totally messed up Grace's already tight schedule. There was no way, now, that she would make it to Sofia's wedding venue, Kasas Island, in time for the flower delivery in the morning.

She wasn't going to panic.

Okay, she
was
panicking.

Less than three days to prepare and organise the flowers for the Greek society wedding of the year.

Three days that would determine the success or failure of her dream to establish her name as a leading wedding floral designer. Three days to prove that she wasn't
‘a clueless dreamer'.

This morning, full of enthusiasm, she had thought she could take on the world. Now she just felt embarrassed and out of her depth.

She pushed the untouched champagne flute the lounge hostess had presented to her further away. Her stomach felt as though it was off doing a moon walk without her.

The lounge door swept open. And her stomach headed into orbit at the prospect of being at the receiving end of Mr Petrakis's surly manner.

But standing at the far end of the airport lounge was
not
the older man she had expected. Instead, penetrating eyes scanned the room and came to a land on her. Long tanned fingers shot upwards. His eyes continued to bore into hers. With a quick tug, he unravelled his bow tie, leaving it to hang lose.

Her smile wavered. She took in the chiselled bone structure, the confidence of his stride as he walked towards her, the perfection of his tuxedo. The tousled disarray of his dark brown hair that made him look as though he had just climbed out of bed.

‘Miss Chapman?'

His voice was smooth and refined. If Central Casting was ever looking for a new Bond he would be a shoo-in. Her already racing heart galloped even faster.

Her seat was low and he seemed impossibly tall and menacing as he stood over her.

Clumsily she clambered out of it and tugged down on the hem of her yellow sundress, which suddenly felt too short and casual in the presence of his designer tux and expensive cologne. She was a low-budget package tourist to his first-class sophistication.

His eyes ran leisurely over the length of her body. Her insides melted. A thick dark eyebrow rose as he waited for her to speak, but for the first time in her life no meaningful words jangled in her brain. Instead it was a wasteland of inappropriate thoughts of lust for the man who stood before her.

Just above his left eyebrow a sickle-shaped scar became more prominent as his frown deepened. She balled her hands, worried that she'd give in to temptation and reach out and run her thumb against it.

After another excruciating few seconds of silence she eventually managed to garble out, ‘Yes... Yes, I'm Grace Chapman. I was expecting Mr Petrakis. The airport ground staff told me he had asked that I stay here until he arrived.'

With a quick nod he answered, ‘Yes I did.'

‘Oh.'
It slowly dawned on her who he was. ‘
Oh!
You must be Andreas... Christos's brother. I thought it was your father who had sent the message. He and I met in London last month, at Christos and Sofia's engagement party.' Grace held out her hand. ‘You're the best man, I believe?'

He paused for a second before smooth warm skin enclosed her hand. His handshake was firm, the dominant clasp of a powerful man who liked to get his own way.

In her flat sandals she had to arch her neck to meet his stare. Piercing green eyes framed by long dark eyelashes studied her, and his head was thrown back at an arrogant tilt. The apple really hadn't fallen far from the tree. Dark stubble lined smooth golden skin.

‘And I believe
you're
to be the chief bridesmaid?'

She ignored the coolness of his tone and let her enthusiasm for the upcoming wedding take over. ‘Yes
—
and also the wedding floral designer. Sofia and I have been best friends for years. It's a shame you missed the engagement party—we had such fun.'

He gave an indifferent shrug and then his mouth curled derisively. ‘You missed your flight.'

Her heart leapt at his reproachful tone. About to explain why, she stopped. He really didn't look as if he was in the mood to hear about delayed trains. Instead she said, ‘Yes, unfortunately. Now my priority is to get to Kasas as soon as possible.'

‘You've missed the last ferry.'

She forced herself not to say something terse and gave a polite smile. ‘Yes, I know.' Her smile wobbled.
Don't say anything. Remain calm. I'm sure he doesn't mean to be so arrogant.
Her good intentions lasted all of one second. ‘My flight did arrive in time for me to catch the ferry. I had a taxi waiting.'

His mouth thinned. ‘And tomorrow the sun will rise in the west...'

Well, really!
Frustration hummed in her ears. ‘I had an hour.'

He scowled at her, making no effort to conceal his growing irritation. ‘Christos realised you would miss the ferry so he called me and asked that I collect you.'

Her frustration gave way to embarrassment. His superior attitude might be rubbing her up the wrong way, but she had to face the fact that his night had obviously ended abruptly because of her.

She gestured to his tux and said, ‘I hope I didn't disturb your night out.'

Something flashed in the depths of his eyes. Was it annoyance or some other memory? Had he been with someone? Sofia had said he had a reputation for being a playboy. Maybe she had been right about that tousled hair. It was still relatively early...but then what did
she
know about the bedroom habits of playboys? None of her exes had ever come close to being as dangerously lethal as the man standing before her.

‘No doubt Sofia panicked and got Christos to call you. She's worried I'll get lost. It's my first time in Greece. In fact it's my first time being abroad on my own.'

Those dark eyebrows narrowed. He studied her incredulously. An awkward silence followed.

She said the first thing that came into her head. ‘I suppose you spend your days travelling...what with your business and everything?'

He tilted his head and gazed at her suspiciously. ‘Have you been doing your homework on me?'

‘No!' Her cheeks grew hot and she cringed to think he might assume she was blushing out of guilt. ‘Of course not. I only know what Sofia told me...that you are Christos's older brother.'

The eldest son of the wealthy and powerful Petrakis family, in fact, who had gone on to amass his own fortune in construction and property.

As he continued to gaze at her sceptically she added, ‘I've only met Christos a few times, but from the moment I met him I knew that he and Sofia were perfect for one another. I'm so happy for Sofia. And her dad is equally thrilled that she's marrying a fellow Greek.'

Uncomfortable at the way he studied her, and trying to ignore just how gauche she felt in front of this much too silent and urbane man, she decided to change the subject to something that puzzled her. She gestured towards the other waiting travellers, and frowned when she saw that the other two women in the room, both much more elegantly groomed for the VIP lounge than she was, were staring at Andreas with obvious appreciation.

‘How did you know who I was?'

He reached into the inner pocket of his jacket and took out a phone. After a few quick swipes he handed it to her. A photo of her and Sofia pulling silly faces at the camera popped up on the screen. Christos had taken the photo last weekend, after Sofia's hen party in London...they'd both had one too many mojitos. Grace gave a squeal of despair.

For the briefest of moments a faint hint of amusement lifted his mouth upwards, but it faded and he said with a note of exasperation, ‘Christos is flooding my email with photos of Sofia.'

Confused by his tone, she decided to ignore it and handed Andreas back his phone. ‘That's so cute. They're so in love. Sofia tells me that Kasas is incredibly romantic. She truly appreciates you hosting the wedding there.'

He deposited the phone back in his pocket and folded his arms. The side of his upper lip curled upwards. Lord, he had a beautiful mouth. Wide, with lips that were much too full. A mouth that promised endless sleepless nights.

She gave herself a mental shake. She had enough on her plate with the wedding flowers. Getting distracted by this Greek god standing in front of her was definitely not a good idea.

He gestured to her chair. ‘Please—take a seat. I think we should discuss your stay on Kasas.'

Puzzled, she sat back down and wished once again that she had worn a longer dress as her hem rode up the length of her legs. When she glanced up, Andreas was sitting opposite her, his eyes trained on her bare legs. When their eyes met she saw a hint of appreciation. But then he inhaled a deep breath and moved forward to lean his elbows on his thighs, the wool of his trousers stretching over hard muscle.

‘I had intended taking you to Kasas tonight—'

She could not help but interrupt as relief flooded her veins. ‘That would be
fantastic
. The flowers and all the other supplies are being delivered early tomorrow morning, and I need to be there to—'

His hand slashed down through the air to halt her interruption with his own. ‘Yes, but considering that you've never been to Greece before why don't I arrange for the wedding planner to organise the flowers? You can spend the next few days travelling. Kasas is isolated. It would be much more enjoyable for you to explore Greece instead. As I'm returning to the island for the rest of the week, you are welcome to use my apartment and the services of my chauffeur here in Athens.'

Her mouth dropped open. Was he being serious?

‘But I'm the florist for the wedding.' Through her confusion a horrible thought occurred. ‘Christos
did
tell you that I would be arriving early to create all the floral arrangements, didn't he? This has been planned for weeks.'

‘He may have mentioned it...amongst all the chaos of the other wedding plans. I hadn't appreciated that you would be staying for so long.'

Heat flared even more brightly on her cheeks. He clearly wasn't keen on her staying on the island. And he obviously had no idea or appreciation for the work and skill involved in flower design.

Memories of her father's sneering comments about her making a living by
‘playing with flowers'
had her saying in the politest voice she could muster, ‘I appreciate your offer, but tomorrow morning I have over a thousand flowers being delivered to the island. It's essential that I'm there to coordinate their arrival. I take my job very seriously, Mr Petrakis. That's why I've spent the past month planning the designs, sourcing the flowers and organising support florists from nearby islands. I'm not going to walk away from my commitments now to go on
holiday
.'

His jaw tightened and he fixed her with an intense stare. ‘My island is secluded. There is only my villa. No shops or bars to entertain you.'

She could not help but give a light laugh. ‘I'm not here for shopping or the nightlife.'

‘I'm concerned that you will be bored in the evenings, when the wedding planner and her team have left the island. Apart from my married housekeeper and a gardener, who live in a separate villa, there will be no other people around.'

His eyes, filled with a masculine heat, held hers and a surge of tense energy passed between them.

He came a little closer and in a low growl added, ‘It will only be you and me.'

For a crazy moment something primal, something beyond comprehension, crackled in the air between them. Heat flared in every cell of her body. Her breath caught as a wave of longing...of desire...rippled through her.

His eyes grew darker as he held her stare, and a slash of heat appeared on his cheeks.

He looked away abruptly, his jaw tightening as he cleared his throat. ‘I'll be working late each evening, so I won't be available to entertain you.'

Grace blinked. And blinked again. She felt dizzy with the desire to move towards him, to inhabit his space, to inhale his scent, to feel the heat of his body. What was happening to her?

For the past month she had been so excited about this trip—at the prospect of finally establishing her name as a florist, of finding her freedom. And now her bubble of happiness had truly burst.

Should she take up his offer? The prospect of spending nights alone with him in the seclusion of his island with virtually no one else around was daunting. A strange tug of war of deep attraction and irritation was raging between them...and she wanted to run away from it. And, after years of dealing with her father's unforgiving attitude, did she honestly want to spend time with a man who would be happier if she wasn't there?

But this wedding was about celebrating Sofia and Christos's love. She wasn't going to let Andreas Petrakis stand in the way of her making sure they had the perfect flowers to represent that love and commitment. There was no way he was stopping her from creating Sofia's bouquet—which she intended to do by weaving all her love for her best friend into the design. And she had to remember the importance of this wedding in establishing her career.

BOOK: The Best Man's Guarded Heart
11.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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