Harlequin Presents #2636
Originally published: 06/01/07
Greek billionaire Sandor Christofides was born in shame, and has fought his way to the top. Now he has wealth and acclaimall he needs is Eleanor to be his bride.
The scene is set, vintage champagne, red roses and a dazzling diamond ring! But does Sandor really want to cherish Ellie…or is she just a pawn in a ruthless game?
Lucy Monroe really hits all the right spots in this book. The romance is sensational and the characters are top notch. It’s a special treat for me to have a wonderful book by Lucy Monroe to read. ~ Judy
I think my favorite part about this book is that there is passion there, but underneath all of that, there’s genuine caring and friendship. They can rely on each other for support that has nothing to do with how hot the other person is or how much they want to jump into bed with each other. ~”Michigangirl”
Again, Lucy delivers another emotionally charged book, her first her book in this series…..the other being Taken: The Spaniard’s Virgin. This one is truly a meaningful book, about a stubborn Greek who does not trust and is afraid to love. In the end, he is truly a knight in shining armor and will steal your heart with his passion and newfound love, Ellie. ~Marilyn
Sandor and Ellie are both wealthy, but they come from two different worlds. By marrying Ellie, he can have all the respectability that money can buy. His ruthless plan has all the markings for success, until he discovers that Ellie is a handful in more ways than one. Bought: The Greek’s Bride (4), by Lucy Monroe, is a story full of surprises, passion and love. Readers will fall in love with Ellie and Sandor in spite of, or maybe because of, the very real mistakes they make on their way to one another. ~RT Book Reviews
His big, warm hand against the small of her back, Ellie allowed Sandor to guide her into the exclusive Boston restaurant. It felt good to walk into the air conditioning. Boston in the summer was muggy and hot, but the instant cold sent shivers chasing along her arms and made her nipples bead behind the black silk bodice of her dress.
Rather than discomfort, her body reacted with a sensual pleasure that was her constant companion in this man’s company.
It had marked their first meeting and had not abated since, leaving her with a need to explore a side to her character that she usually ignored. Her feminine sexuality. She found herself dressing more sexily around him than she ever had in the past and reveling in the small, possessive touches he peppered their dates with.
Tonight, she’d worn a dress by Armani that she loved because it was both elegant and sexy. Its sleeveless design and scooped neck left her arms, a good portion of her chest and her back exposed, but the hem swirled modestly below her knees. The black silk clung to her understated curves and the thin fabric offered no real barrier between his hand and the sensitive skin of her back. And that single point of contact was enough to send her nerve endings rioting.
She had to concentrate on maintaining a bland façade for him and the other restaurant patrons, but she couldn’t help wishing they were someplace private. Someplace she might actually get the nerve up to ask why he’d never pressed for deeper intimacy when his goodnight kisses were powered by a wealth of barely leashed passion. Passion she’d decided she wanted to explore.
She recognized several faces as the maitre d’ led them to their table and wished she didn’t. She would like to go out, just once, to a restaurant that was not one of the accepted watering holes for their kind. But Sandor Christofides demanded the best. In everything.
Sometimes, it made her wonder what he was doing with her.
She had been born to the world he had worked so hard to enter, but as far as she could see, that was all she had to offer him. At five-foot-nine, with small curves, average features, and rather boring dark blond hair, she was not particularly beautiful; she did little to cultivate the contacts others would kill to obtain; she abhorred the standards set by money and frequently refused to uphold them. Her job as an employment counselor for the state was as unglamorous as it got. Her clients wouldn’t make it on to the “Who’s Who” list of anything, for that matter…neither would she. Not anymore.
Her dad considered her career a complete waste of her Ivy League education, but she didn’t care. She considered his overwhelming preoccupation with his business a waste too. Not that she dismissed his company as unimportant, but she hated the fact that it always had and always would come before her, anyone or anything else.
Interrupting Ellie’s thoughts, the maitre d’ stopped beside the same table they always had when Sandor brought her here. Its placement was an indication of Sandor’s importance, something her father would take for granted, but she didn’t think Sandor did. His dark brown eyes would glow with satisfaction for a brief moment at small things like this, as if they really mattered to him.
Which was another reason they weren’t exactly well suited. Stuff like that just did not impress her. Maybe she was jaded by growing up around it, but she got a lot bigger thrill out of one of her clients getting a job, or a certification necessary to do so, or additional education.
She knew why she said yes to every one of Sandor’s invitations. Because she was quite literally enthralled with the man. But she didn’t understand why he kept extending them. Especially if he didn’t want to sleep with her. He just didn’t seem like the celibate type, but that might be her own libido talking.
Sandor seated her though typically the maitre d’ would have done so. She took it as a mark of his Greekness…or his possessiveness. She wasn’t sure which, but for as little as she understood what Sandor saw in her, she knew she would not be the one to end their relationship. Because the little actions like him seating her personally made her feel special.
They also exhibited a side to his nature she found enticing. He didn’t bow to the dictates of the world he inhabited, but insisted it take him on his terms. And when she was with him, she felt truly alive for the first time in her twenty-four years.
She couldn’t help watching with a hungry intensity she tried to hide as he folded his six-foot-four frame into the chair across from hers. His dark, wavy hair, cut just a little long framed chiseled features she could stare at all night. His superbly muscled frame filled out his dinner jacket in a way few businessmen did.
His hands were well groomed, his nails buffed from a masculine manicure, but they were big and marked with tiny scars from a background very different to hers.
After placing their napkins in their laps, the maitre d’ left without giving them menus, but Sandor did not remark on it.
He was too busy looking at her, his knowing gaze acknowledging the desire she tried so hard to hide.
His even, white teeth slashed in a smile. “I am not on the menu, pethi mou.” He paused and his smile turned to a predator’s grin. “But I could be.”
“Promises, promises…” she boldly teased back even as she felt the blush burning her cheeks.
Her body wasn’t feeling any embarrassment, however. It was too busy reacting to his teasing as if to a caress. Unrepentant heat pooled low in her belly while her breasts tingled with the need to be touched. Her already hardened nipples felt like they increased in size, aching for his attention.
She wasn’t precisely a virgin, but she’d never responded to anyone the way she responded to him.
He laughed, but didn’t deny that he had no real plans to follow through on his taunt. The truth was, though they had been dating for three months, he had never pushed for the ultimate intimacy and he’d ignored her subtle hints in that direction.
She stifled a pang of disappointment and asked, “How did the negotiations go with the department store chain?”
He and her father had combined forces to try to lure one of the biggest worldwide retailers into using their combined shipping companies’ resources and Sandor’s import/export network.
“It is in the bag.”
She loved the way he often talked American slang in his slight Greek accent. Unlike others of different nationalities that she’d met through her father, Sandor did not speak with the flawless accent of an Englishman, trained by exacting teachers. He’d told her he’d learned most of his English after coming to live in the United States when he was a child. His mother still spoke with a heavy accent that required a lot of concentration to understand sometimes. Luckily it was something Ellie was good at.
“I’m glad and I’m sure Dad is pleased.”
“Yes, but we are not here tonight to discuss business.”
“You know we are not.”
She laughed softly. “I won’t argue. I know more about my father’s business since we started dating than I ever knew before and everything I do know, I’ve learned from you. I’m not exactly the best choice for a partner in that kind of discussion.”
“But I think you are the ideal partner for other things.”
Was he teasing her again…about the sex thing that she was fairly certain he had no plans to act on? Or did he mean something else? She looked at him in confusion, but though the corner of his mouth tilted enigmatically, he said nothing.
The waiter arrived at their table and poured them each a glass of Sandor’s favorite wine. She liked it too and had never balked at his standing order for this particular pre-dinner drink. But she was surprised when he confirmed their food order without asking her preference. He had never done that before. But then, both he and the waiter acted as if he’d ordered before ever arriving at the restaurant.
That impression was further enforced when the waiter returned to their table seconds later with appetizers.
She sniffed appreciatively at the garlic baked shrimp dripping with melted butter and topped with a grated medley of three cheeses. “My favorite.”
“I know.” He put a piece of shrimp on a slice of baguette, carefully drizzling the garlicy butter over it and making sure there was just the right amount of melted cheese on top before handing it to her. “I know you very well, Eleanor.”
“After three months, do you doubt it?”
“That depends on what you mean. I think you do know a lot about me, but I am not sure you know me.” Her dad would have known to order this appetizer too, but that didn’t mean he knew what made her tick. As far as she could tell, Ellie’s dad had no desire to know her on any level but the surface.
She couldn’t stifle the hope that Sandor would be different.
“Is there a distinction between the two?”
“If tonight goes as I plan, I will have a great deal of time to learn what you mean.”
“And how do you plan for tonight to go?” Was he finally going to make love to her? Was she ready for it?
She almost laughed aloud at her inner voice. Ready? She was panting for it. She’d already decided she wanted him, but the possibility of actually having him was throwing her into mental chaos. Which was silly. She wanted this man and while she had no intention of telling him that at this very moment, she would not lie to herself and pretend differently. She refused to indulge in those kinds of games.
“Allow me to reveal my plans in sequence.”
She should have guessed he had an agenda of some sort. It was so like him. It was one of the more disconcerting ways he reminded her of her father. She didn’t dislike it exactly, but it worried her a little. Were his agendas as coldly determined as her father’s?
“By all means, I wouldn’t think of attempting to divert your schedule.”
He took a sip of wine, his dark eyes filled with mock menace. “Are you laughing at me?”
“Maybe, a little. Spontaneity is not your thing.”
“You know me well.”
“As well as can be expected after dating three months.”
“Well enough.” There was meaning behind his words, but she wasn’t sure what it was.
“Aren’t you going to have any of the shrimp?” she asked.
“I suppose, but the real pleasure comes from watching you eat them.”
She had just taken a bite and her eyes closed in bliss. Devine. “To each their own.”
He laughed. “I assure you, I am very happy with my own appetizer.”
They were sharing the shrimp and he wasn’t eating any, so it took her a second to understand his meaning. When she did, her eyes flew open. He was looking at her with a distinctly predatory light in eyes that had grown dangerously dark.
She took a deep breath, trying to calm the rapid pulse that was making her light headed. Oh, my. When this man went for it, he held nothing back. She could not wait for later. Tonight, he would not leave her with a goodnight kiss that made her toes curl and her body feel hollow with wanting. Not with that look in his eyes.
The appetizer was followed by butternut squash soup. She’d never had it at this particular restaurant before. “The chef must be trying something new.”
“At my request.”
“You did pre-order the meal.”
“Tonight is special, I want every aspect to be right.”
“I like the sound of that.” She smiled and took a bite of the soup he’d had one of the most temperamental chefs in Boston make just for her. “It’s delicious.”
“I would expect no less.”
“I’m surprised you talked the chef into trying something new for your benefit alone.”
“Money speaks most languages.”
“Even that of a temperamental chef?”
“As you see.” He indicated their twin bowls of the golden orange soup. “But he did not make the soup for my benefit.”
“No. He made it for yours.”
“At your request.”
“Because tonight is special.”
She didn’t know what else she would have said because at that moment, two things happened that derailed any thoughts of talking on her part. The first was that a trio of violinists took up residence in a spot near them that had on the last occasion they’d eaten there held a table of other diners. The musicians began to play a piece she had always found emotionally evocative and soothing at the same time.
The second occurrence was that she was presented with two dozen long stemmed red roses by the maitre d’. She took them and inhaled the scent of the perfect blooms. The heady fragrance bathed her senses.
She looked at Sandor. “They’re beautiful.”
“You are so certain they are from me?”
She laughed, her voice surprisingly husky. “Of course.”
But she picked up the card to read anyway. It was small and white and read, “Sandor.” Nothing else. He’d signed it himself, however. She recognized the black slashing writing.
“Thank you,” she said, her face still buried in the roses. For some reason, she needed to hide there for a moment.
This was definitely more romance than she’d expected from him for the advent of the physical side of their relationship and it made her wonder if he had feelings for her she had not detected. The prospect sent a swarm of butterflies fluttering through her insides.
“It is my pleasure.”
The maitre d’ took the flowers, returning moments later with them in a gorgeous crystal vase that he set at the side of their table.
She snuck peeks at them throughout the soup course, her mind spinning with what all this meant. Hope swirling through her along with a desire she gave herself permission to feel fully. Tonight, she would not go to sleep wishing for the moon, or Sandor’s caresses. She was sure of it.
But when the main course was cleared – again a dish he knew she enjoyed – a small black ring box appeared on the table and her breath ran out.
She stared at it. That couldn’t be what she thought it was. The roses…the violinists… Suddenly her mind snapped with shattering clarity to a conclusion she had not even considered. The romance had been prelude to a proposal?
She couldn’t believe it and yet, no other reason for the ring box could penetrate her racing mind. A man did not give a woman a ring simply to embark on an affair.
He reached across the table and took her hand. Feeling strangely numb, she could feel him looking at her and willing her to meet his gaze. She forced herself to do so, her eyes moving up the strong chin with its adorable cleft, past the long straight nose to a gaze as penetrating as laser beam.
“Eleanor Wentworth, will you do me the great honor of becoming my wife?”
Even expecting the question, her usual aplomb deserted her and she gasped and stared, her mouth opening, but no sound emerging. He’d asked her to marry him, but she had no idea how he felt about her. If he loved her, wouldn’t he have said it? Wouldn’t she have sensed it?
He cocked his head to one side, one brow rising in an obvious prompt for a response.
“I don’t know,” she blurted out past a constriction of emotion in her throat.
The words sounded unnaturally loud to her ears. She couldn’t believe she’d said it…like that. And from the look on his face, he couldn’t either. He had been expecting a very different response.
“Come, you must have been expecting this.”
“Um…no, I wasn’t. Honestly.” She bit her lip, thinking maybe she’d been naïve, but it had never occurred to her that a man as dynamic and sensual as he was would ask a woman to marry him that he had never slept with. “This has come as a complete surprise.”
And she sounded more gauche than she ever had in her life. She’d been handling difficult social situation with grace since deportment classes when she was a mere six years old, but she’d never been proposed to…by a man she wanted, but was not at all sure wanted her. She hoped, had an inkling he might…but no certainty.
“An unpleasant surprise?” He didn’t sound in the least vulnerable when asking that question. Not like she would have. Instead he sounded demanding, as if he wanted answers and he wanted them now.
“Not unpleasant.” She shook her head, trying to clear it. “Just very unexpected.”
“We have been dating for three months.”
“Yes.” They had already established that.
“Yes…I mean I assumed…”
“For me, it has been exclusive.”
Something inside her that she had not even realized had gone tense, relaxed a little. “For me too.”
“Where did you think this relationship of ours was going, if not marriage?”
“I thought maybe first…to bed,” she answered honestly. Did they even have a relationship?
Casual dating yes…but a relationship?
He cursed in Greek. She recognized the word from a summer she had spent studying ancient civilizations in his former homeland. It was a very nasty curse. “I do not believe you just said that.”
That caught her up short. “Why?” To her, it was a perfectly natural conclusion to make.
“It is unlike you.”
“Perhaps you don’t know me as well as you think you do.” It might not be considered appropriate to discuss such matters in a public place, but she didn’t give as much credence to proper behavior as everyone seemed to think she did. Or as her father thought she should.
Honesty was far more important to her.
And the fact was, he clearly did not know her all that well if he was shocked she’d had the temerity to mention sex. Marriage to a man who was that ignorant of her inner person was not a wholly appealing proposition. If it had not been him doing the proposing, it would hold no appeal at all.
“I do know you,” he insisted.
Exasperated, she shook her head. “Not that way.”
“I know enough to be certain of our compatibility.”
“Because we’ve shared a few kisses?”
“We have shared more than kisses.” His now molten gaze reminded her just how much more.
But as far as they’d gone, he always pulled back. Except once. The first time they’d kissed, it had almost gotten out of hand very quickly. Frightened by a wealth of emotion she wasn’t used to experiencing, she’d pulled back. Since then, he had done more than kiss her, but he’d never let the passion flare so hot and he’d certainly never made love to her completely.
“Yes, we have, but it’s the very fact that we’ve shared just so much that makes me wonder if we are as compatible in that way as you seem to think.”
“Why should you wonder this? It is obvious that you want me.” His Greek accent got thicker when he was upset. She’d noticed that during a heated business phone call she’d overheard once, but it had never happened between them before.
She couldn’t feel badly that it was happening now. She was glad to know she could make him angry. She needed the assurance that she could impact his emotions because he certainly impacted hers. Though she would much prefer evidence of another sort of emotion and she didn’t appreciate his sentiment at all.
“Yes,” she said between gritted teeth, “I do want you, but I’m not so sure you want me. And I’m not going to spend my life married to a man who is going to look for his passion outside of our marriage bed.”
“Who said I would do this?” he demanded, his voice guttural and so thick with accent she had to concentrate to understand the words.
“Who said you wouldn’t?”
“I want to believe you, but—”
“There is no but. My honor is not in question here.”
“I wasn’t talking about your honor. I was talking about making love.”
“You brought up the possibility I would violate the bonds of our marriage…that is a matter of personal honor and one I do not take lightly.”
She was glad to hear that, but it didn’t answer the real problem gnawing at her. He was business associates with her father, how much did that have to do with this marriage proposal? She simply couldn’t convince herself that Sandor was suffering from shyness in admitting undying love. The man was far too confident…if he felt something for her, he would have said so. Yet, how did a woman ask if the man proposing was doing so as part of a business arrangement or if he wanted her personally? The blunt approach would probably be best.
Sandor wasn’t the type to respond well to subtlety.
“Do you want me…I mean for my own sake, not simply because I’m my father’s daughter?”
He frowned. “I would think that is obvious.”
Maybe it was. To him. But it wasn’t to her. When he kissed her, he made no effort to hide the barely leashed passion coursing through him, but he never acted on it. It confused the heck out of her.
“If it was obvious, I wouldn’t be asking.”
“I do want you.” His voice dropped an octave, to a sexual purr. “Very much.”
She licked her lips. “That’s…that’s good.”
“But for me, the commitment comes first…then we make love.”
She doubted he was a virgin, but apparently he ascribed to the standard some men still maintained about the women they intended to marry. “You’ve got some very old fashioned views.”
“Yes. I am not ashamed this is so. I was born in a traditional Greek village. My grandfather’s beliefs may not find wholesale acceptance in me, but his influence is there.”
“That’s another thing,” she said, latching onto a topic less volatile to her emotions. “You never talk about your past. I don’t know if your dad is dead, if your parents are divorced or why it is that you never mention your father, but your grandfather pops up in conversation on occasion. I know he’s gone…at least I know that much,” she muttered under her breath, “But I don’t know why you and your mother live here in America. I don’t know so much about you.”
“Chief being the way I screw.”
“Sandor,” she hissed while her entire body blushed.
He glared. “I can be crude. Yes. It comes from the background you know so little about. But another thing comes from that past…the belief that a man does not take a virgin to his bed unless he is engaged to, but preferably married to her.”
“Is that something your grandfather taught you?”
“He drilled it into me every day of my life while he lived. Only a man totally lacking in honor would do so.”
“I see.” She had a feeling there was a lot more to this topic planned to explore, but first she was going to set the record straight on something else. “However, between us…the point is moot because I’m not a virgin.”
“Of course you are.”