For Your Love Only by Diana Von Lutzenrath

Seleni, Greece

Costa Eustakhios stood alone, squinting against the glare of the hot sun on the deep blue waters of the Aegean as he watched a familiar yacht cruise up to the dock. He had no trouble recognizing the vessel coming towards him because he had bought it himself, just last Christmas, as a gift for his brother Fidelio. Although the sight of Fidelio’s boat usually put him in a good mood, today was not that kind of day.
For Your Love Only
For Your Love Only by Diana Von Lutzenrath
Leaning against the side of his truck, Costa was content to simply watch Fidelio, with an expertise born from years of sailing, cut the engine and allow his little pleasure vessel to drift up to the edge of the dock to bump gently against a brace of old tires fixed to the pilings. He did not cross the short distance of the dock to help moor the boat. Fidelio could manage without him, and Costa was still too uncertain of his temper to think it prudent to approach his brother just yet. It was exactly as he had been warned, by a discreet phone call from an old family friend on Tanos. Fidelio was not alone. Fixing his dark gaze on the woman in the boat, Costa felt no surprise when he saw that she was tall, rail thin, and very, very blond. If he weren't already seething, he would be rolling his eyes at his brother’s pathetically predictable behavior. Once again, Costa thought acerbically, I have to suffer an introduction to one of Fidelio’s vapid, interchangeable blond girlfriends. At any other time he would not have cared. He was always indulgent of his brother Fidelio’s bad habits. Given his own penchant for gorgeous arm candy, Costa didn’t think he was in a position to censor another man’s choice of bedmate. This time, however, Costa was not going to be the least bit tolerant of his brother’s propensity to shack up with whatever silly piece of fair-haired trash that caught his eye. Gritting his teeth, Costa could only fume inwardly at his brother’s lack of tact. It was one thing for Fidelio to parade his flavor of the day girlfriends around their home in Athens, or even to bring them to the family estate on Tanos, the larger and more developed island from which Fidelio had sailed an hour ago. It was quite another for him to bring his little slut with him to Seleni, Costa's private retreat. Seleni was Costa's sanctuary, and he guarded it jealously. As an outrageously wealthy and powerful man, he was in constant demand, his life hardly his own. With all the family and business responsibilities resting on his shoulders, in addition to the intrusive curiosity of the outside world, he rarely had a moment to himself. Hounded by relatives, business associates, rivals, the press, paparazzi, women, sycophants, underlings, and an entourage of doting admirers, Costa depended on his time at Seleni to keep him sane. The island was primitive and almost desolate. Aside from his large house, built into the cliffs on the other side of the islet, only a tiny village of fishermen and a lone goat-herder shared the inhospitable swath of rocky land that was liberally strewn with olive and lemon groves. Very few people knew of the island’s existence and even fewer ever got the chance to set foot ashore. Costa's security team made certain his privacy was maintained at all costs. Fidelio, as his brother, was always welcome on the island, but guests were not. It was an unspoken rule that Costa thought Fidelio, of all people, understood. It infuriated him to think he was mistaken and his brother could be so dense. Eyeing the willowy blonde, Costa could barely hold his roiling resentment in check while watching the pair slowly disembarking from the boat. He was tempted to stalk down the dock and tell Fidelio not to waste his time, to turn the damn boat around, and go directly back to Tanos with his leggy tart du jour. Costa, though, was a man of intense reserve, not given to scenes even when there was no one to witness them. Costa would wait until they were back at the house to speak to Fidelio in private. He was confident that within an hour the girl would be back on the boat and out of his hair, and smiled thinly at the thought of her consternation at being summarily kicked to the curb. A self-made man, there was nothing that brought him more enjoyment than to watch grasping, gold-digging succubi taken down a notch. This one looks like a model, he thought coldly. He was certain she would throw one hell of a tantrum. He hated models with a vengeance; their air of superiority and self-entitlement set his teeth on edge. Costa had no patience for people who did not know the value of hard work, and in his opinion strutting around in hideous outfits that cost ungodly sums of money did not qualify as work. When they finally shuffled over to him, it was with grave reluctance that Costa greeted the pair with a grunt. Fidelio was grinning broadly, a duffle bag in each hand and a pair of knapsacks slung over one shoulder. His ladylove brought up the rear, trailing a step behind Fidelio, holding only a large canvas tote. From her subdued expression Costa imagined the girl sensed his mood, a mood Fidelio appeared to be ignoring as he greeted him brightly. Offering his brother only a curt nod, Costa said nothing as he threw open the back of his Range Rover so Fidelio could stow the bags inside. Clearly his brother was planning to stay more than the night, but that didn't deter Costa from his plan. Though he was loath to turn his only sibling and best friend away, in this case he would do so without hesitation. He was quietly furious with Fidelio for violating his home. Costa’s privacy was sacrosanct, and no one was allowed to breech it. Without even sparing Fidelio's little friend a closer look, Costa climbed into the driver’s seat and impatiently gunned the engine. Fidelio did not take the hint. Opening the back door for his girlfriend and offering her a hand, he took his time graciously helping her up into the vehicle. Costa waited irritably as Fidelio made certain the girl was comfortable, even going as far as buckling her seatbelt for her, before he shut the door and went around the bonnet to climb into the passenger seat. The instant Fidelio shut his door Costa stomped on the gas, whipping the car around in a tight, vicious circle. In the rearview mirror he could see the girl’s eyes open wide, and her pale face went white. Seeing her discomfort almost made him grin and his fury at Fidelio was forgotten. Flooring the accelerator, Costa watched the girl’s fingers dig into the leather seat and took the turn onto the winding road that circled the island at a reckless speed, considering they were still inside the small village with its narrow, cobblestone streets. Beyond the village the road turned into a smooth ribbon of expertly paved asphalt. When he purchased the island, Costa hired a firm to build his house. Giving in to a fit of self-indulgence, he then had parts of the rocky island leveled and paved to create an exhilarating, twisting series of roads. It was pure folly to build a road on such a small island. There was no need for roads of any kind, but Costa kept several extremely fast cars at the house and often amused himself by taking them out on his own private racecourse. On Seleni he could zip around at ridiculous speeds. The island was almost uninhabited, so there was no risk of running anyone over, but as a precaution, the road was equipped with a sophisticated system of lights, full of motion sensors and warning signals. Whenever Costa went out in one of his cars the system came on automatically, so the villagers knew to be careful if they were on the road. Therefore, Costa never felt the need to slow down. Fidelio slapped a hand over Costa’s as he jammed the stick shift into a higher gear the instant they hit asphalt. Costa flashed him a look of annoyance, which he knew his brother could read despite the dark glasses he wore. Very deliberately, Costa depressed the accelerator again, until the pedal was flat on the floor of the cab. "Slow down, Coco," Fidelio growled, using his pet name for Costa in an obvious attempt to disarm him. Resenting the ploy, Costa could only wish it didn't have the desired effect. He automatically let up on the gas. "Better, Fifi?" he asked snidely, his mouth twisting in a mocking smile as he threw his own pet name for his brother right back at him in acidic tones. Fidelio, the bastard, shot him back a broad, careless grin. The ride to the house felt interminable after that. Costa spent forever glaring at the scenery. In the back seat, the girl was doing the same, although she wasn't glaring. Her relentlessly even features took on a vague and dreamy expression as she studied the island through her window. She looks vacuous, Costa told himself as they puttered along at a snail’s pace. What a bubble headed blond bimbo, he thought dismissively. When they reached the house, Ari, the son of the middle-aged couple who maintained the property for Costa, was waiting for them. Ari, his wife Neni, and her parents, Gustav and Calamini, were the only servants Costa kept on Seleni. Calamini and Neni were in charge of cooking and keeping the house clean. Gustav was the gardener, tending the extensive gardens and the private beach, while Ari was the butler and general handyman who saw to any plumbing, carpentry, and general repairs that didn’t require a professional to be brought in. Costa thought of the foursome as his own family, and as such he asked very little of them since he came to Seleni for solitude. The two couples lived in relative privacy in a pair of small cottages close to his house, literally within shouting distance. In spite of this, the property was outfitted with phones, electricity, and all the modern conveniences that Costa's work required of him. Dismissing Ari with a curt shake of his head, Costa was not surprised to see the young man dart off into the house. His staff knew him well and could read his moods at a glance. It was rare that he was in anything but a good mood when he was on Seleni, because it was his private retreat, but Costa knew he possessed a nasty temper. Usually a person only had to experience him in a rage once, to know the signs of an approaching mood swing and head quickly for cover. Feeling churlish, as he was not in the habit of taking his anger out on innocent people, especially not employees to whom he was warm and friendly, Costa took a deep, calming breath. When Fidelio went to take the luggage out of the car, Costa waved him into the house, deciding it would be best to get the unpleasantness over with as quickly as possible. He knew the faster the girl was gone the faster his temper would begin to cool. "I was not expecting you, Fidelio," he began softly. Removing his glasses with slow deliberation, buying time to choose his words, Costa caught himself on the verge of lashing out and wrestled mightily with his temper. There was no question of losing control, he was always careful to keep the rough edge of his tongue from Fidelio. He would never risk his relationship with his brother over anything so trivial as a woman. Costa was very conscious of the girl, who followed them into the large, airy foyer of the house, and wished they did not have company so he could relax. His brother was probably the only person in the world around whom he actually felt he could let down his guard and he resented not being able to so now. It was out of the question for her to be given a room, since she would not be staying, just having her in the entrance of the house felt like an invasion of his privacy and made his hackles rise. Fidelio chuckled as he turned to face Costa, hands on his hips, his broad grin undiminished. "I could say the same to you Costa." "Oh, is that so?" Costa retorted, his voice growing even softer and bordering on dangerous. He was aware that Fidelio sometimes came to the island when he was not in residence, but as far as he knew his brother had always come alone or with a cousin or male friend, never with a woman. It incensed him to think Fidelio might have used his house as some sort of private love nest in the past. "Yes, I thought you were going to be in Athens all month. Aren't you in the middle of negotiating some huge deal?" Costa arched a thick black brow, "You are well informed brother," he purred coldly, "though your intel is not precisely current. I was in negotiations until yesterday afternoon when things spectacularly fell apart. Now, I am here." "Ahhhh, what happened?" Giving his brother a long, hard look, Costa smiled unpleasantly, "Why the sudden interest, Fifi? I've never known you to give a fig about business, unless your monthly allowance is involved," he bit out obnoxiously. Fidelio had the gall to grin, utterly unruffled. Costa knew his brother was stalling, no doubt hoping his temper would cool sufficiently for him to grow amenable to whatever outrageous request Fidelio was planning to put to him. "You seem rather tense Coco- stressed. I thought you might want to talk about it." Costa almost laughed at Fidelio's attempt at humor, but refused to be charmed out of his righteous indignation. He knew he was usually a pushover where his brother was concerned. Unfortunately, so did Fidelio and he was obviously counting on Costa’s weak spot for him to work this situation in his favor. Whereas Costa had a gift for business and was brilliant at making money, Fidelio was equally brilliant, only his talent lay in charming people. With his handsome face and jovial manner, Costa knew his brother was accustomed to getting what he wanted from anyone with just a practiced smile and a few droll words. He was just as susceptible as anyone to Fidelio, but at least Costa knew his failings concerning his brother and therefore could guard himself against his weakness. "How kind of you to suddenly develop a conscience where I am concerned. Forgive me though if I am underwhelmed, considering you have never once shown an ounce of concern for my stress levels in the past. Get to the point Fifi, and make it quick, I'm in no mood for one of your long, drawn out fairy-tales," he gritted. "Where are my manners?" Fidelio suddenly cried. "I haven't even introduced my friend! Costa, I want you to meet Tallia Maitland. Tallia, my brother Costa." Giving Fidelio a furious glare, Costa had to turn to the girl and acknowledge her existence, since to keep ignoring her would be unthinkably rude. He thrust his hand out in a perfunctory gesture, rife with impatience, already hating her passionately. When she hesitated to take his hand and kept standing slightly behind Fidelio, Costa took a step forward, intent on getting the show of civility out of the way, and grabbed one of the limp hands that hung at her side. He gentled his touch the moment he felt her long, cool fingers against his and realized the girl was alarmingly frail. She was nothing but skin and bones, her hand so delicate he was certain he could crush it without any effort. Her skin was velvet soft, her palm so smooth it felt like a baby’s. Clearly she had never done a day of work in her entire life. The notion filled him with disgust and he looked up from her hand to pierce her with a sharp glare, only to find his critical gaze ensnared by a pair of soft, cloudy blue eyes. For a second Costa, holding Tallia Maitland's hand and looking deeply into her eyes, forgot his irritation, forgot everything really. The only thing he could register was that she was beautiful. Oh, he had known she would be, Fidelio did not go in for plain Jane's, but Tallia Maitland was something else entirely. With her white, white skin, Tallia had an otherworldly look. Her skin was so thin in fact it was almost translucent. Her face was long and heart-shaped, her eyes large and faintly tilted up at the corners. She possessed the sort of bone structure few women could lay claim to, but she was thin to the point of emaciation, her sky-high cheeks lean and almost hollow. The only thing saving her face from elfin perfection was her mouth, a soft, uneven curve of elegantly sculpted lips that were almost quivering now around a nervous, uncomfortable smile. "Miss Maitland, a pleasure," he said, confounded when his voice came out low and rough, instead of curt and cold as he intended. Her spectacular looks, however, threw him. Tallia Maitland was a stunner, no doubt, but not in the brash, obvious way of most of Fidelio's light o 'loves. She looks like a fairy, Costa thought with reluctant admiration. Everything about her was soft and lovely, she had hair so pale it was practically silver and her eyes were a shade of light, opaque blue that bordered on periwinkle, with a slightly unfocused quality that made him wonder if she had a brain in her head. As if to prove him right in his less than stellar opinion of her intellect, she stared at him blankly for a moment before slowly nodding her head. "P-pleased to meet you, Mr. Eustakhios," she rasped, her voice hoarse to his ears, as if from disuse. "Call me Costa," he corrected her, feeling like an old man when she used his surname. "Oh, of course, then please call me Tallia," she replied a bit more quickly, though her eyes remained oddly dull and listless. "Tallia," Fidelio said softly, putting a hand on her shoulder. Costa noticed that she leaned into his brother's touch like a flower seeking the sun. "There's a bathroom down the hall and to the left." She smiled faintly and nodded, "Thank you Fidelio, I'll only be a moment," she murmured, giving Costa a slight smile as she headed down the hall in the direction of the guest bathroom, weaving like a long wisp of grass in a gentle summer breeze. "Is she on drugs?" Costa demanded the moment the bathroom door clicked shut. He knew how models could be, had dated a few in his time, and knew his brother rarely looked past a woman's face. Fidelio could be shockingly lacking in circumspection when he was attracted to a woman. Over the years his brother had had several lovers who were junkies, drunkards, anorexics, and lunatics. When it came to girlfriends, it was the sane ones who were the exception; Fidelio tended to like his women crazy. "Costa, don't be obnoxious!" Fidelio snapped and his good humor vanished, replaced by an angry frown. Fidelio's over-protective attitude surprised Costa, in the past he knew his brother would generally laugh off such a question, even if it were true. He and Fidelio hid nothing from one another, so his sibling never felt the need to prevaricate. Costa had been privy, however involuntarily, to every piece of dirty laundry his brother possessed, and by association his brothers girlfriends dirt as well. Suddenly Costas anger toward Fidelio was replaced with disappointed, because over the past two years he thought his brother had given up his wild ways and loose women, and was starting to grow up and settle down. Unfortunately, it looked as if that had just been a phase and the old, feckless Fidelio was going nowhere. "I want you to be very nice to Tallia, she's been through a lot," Fidelio was lecturing him in a strident undertone, his eyes anxiously checking the closed bathroom door. "She is a dear friend, Coco. I expect you to treat her like a sister. She could be family… if things work out-" The bathroom door popped open, and Fidelio swallowed whatever else he meant to stay, which left that little bomb to tick away between them. Costa was so stunned by what he just heard he could hardly hold on to his composure. Is Fidelio actually suggesting that he means to marry the drug-addled pixie?! Outraged by the idea of his brother wasting his time on such a pathetic creature, Costa almost let loose a hot blast of contempt. But when he saw the tender expression on Fidelio's face as his brother watched Tallia return to them, he bit back his hard words. He knew his brother. If he went on the attack Fidelio would only dig in his heels. Now he understood why Fidelio brought Tallia here. He meant to marry the bubblehead and was being forced to introduce her to Costa now, before he officially made the big announcement! Incensed by his brother’s stupidity, Costa turned to watch Tallia as well and was hardly encouraged by what he saw. She walked with a hand against the wall as if she could barely stand on her own two feet. His eyes narrowed as he looked at her, and he wondered if she had been getting high in his bathroom. She had only been gone a moment, hardly enough time to use the facilities. Fidelio rushed to the girl’s side and took her arm. She gave him a grateful smile that was no less stunning for its subdued quality, and leaned into him. Costa's gut clenched at the expression on her face and the emotion that stirred inside of him at the sight of her wan looks. He was instantly disgusted with himself for feeling such an immediate need to protect the girl, yet that was exactly the emotion that gripped him as he watched her move listlessly through his house. This is bad… very bad, Costa thought to himself. He had to get rid of her and quickly. There was no way in hell he would allow some opportunistic little junky to sink her claws into his brother. He understood her game just as he understood all women. She was playing on Fidelio's sympathies, using his soft heart to take advantage of him. Recognizing her game almost made Costa smile, and he began to plot his own counter strategy. He could not attack her outright, that would only make Fidelio more protective of her. He would have to be very careful, but that didn’t discourage him, he didn't for a moment think some druggy bimbo could get the best of him. "Let me show you to a guest room, you look like you could use a nap before dinner," Fidelio told the girl as he wrapped a supportive arm around her tiny waist. Costa's jaw clenched at the sight, but he forced all hostility from his face and managed to sound as mild as a Buddha when he finally spoke. "Why don't you take Tallia up to the blue room, Fife. It’s been aired out, and the bed is made. I'll bring up the luggage and talk to Calamini about dinner." Fidelio tossed him a grateful smile, not even questioning his choice of guest rooms, which suited Costa perfectly. The blue room was directly across from his own suite of rooms and on the other side of the house from Fidelio's apartments. With this sleeping arrangement Costa felt confident he could keep an eye on Miss Maitland while ensuring the lovers were kept as far apart as was humanly possible. Chapter 2 Tallia sank down onto the neat four-poster bed the moment Fidelio left the room. Her eyes, which she had been struggling to keep open for the past two hours, slid shut. She was exhausted, bone weary, but the painkillers she took in the bathroom made her stomach ache and she knew she wouldn't be able to drift off immediately. Swallowing thickly, she wished she had asked for something to eat as nausea began to churn in her gut, but she already felt like such a nuisance that she hadn't wanted to bother poor Fidelio. Though he never showed a moment of impatience, Tallia couldn't help but feel like a millstone hanging from his neck, slowing him down every step of this journey. She hadn't exactly wanted to come here in the first place, but Emily had been insistent that she visit Greece. After everything Tallia put her younger sister through during the past eighteen months, she thought the least she could do was cede to her sibling’s wishes. In truth, she had been eager to get away and she had always wanted to see Greece, so she hadn't put up much resistance. She just never imagined how exhausting travel would be in her condition. When Emmy convinced her to make the trip she told her it would be a snap, a brief flight to Athens followed by a helicopter ride to Tanos, the island where Fidelio grew up and where most of the Eustakhios family lived. That had been the plan, until the weather and almost everything else conspired to delay them at every turn. First, their plane sat on the runway for hours in London, grounded at Heathrow due to a violent lightning storm over the Midi, in the south of France. Then, when they finally reached Athens, they discovered the helicopter had been diverted elsewhere on company business, thus requiring a harrowing taxi ride through the capital to the water, just in time to miss the ferry to Tanos. Eventually they ended up hiring a water Taxi that took them out to an island where they managed to catch a later ferry to Tanos. Once they reached Tanos, Tallia discovered the trip was still not complete when Fidelio hustled her onto his boat to bring them to Seleni. Apparently that last bit was a little surprise. In London Fidelio never mention to her or Emmy that they would not be staying on Tanos, but rather on his brother’s private island. Tallia knew it was no one’s fault that the trip took twice as long as expected, and two years ago she would not have cared about the delays. But because her health was still flagging, it had been the longest day of her life. Poor Fidelio must have apologized a thousand times, even though he was not to blame. She felt especially bad for him as she suspected he was quite embarrassed by all the problems they ran into. Fortunately she and Fidelio shared similar, easy-going temperaments and managed to keep each other amused during the trip with idle conversation and stupid jokes. They passed most of the time speculating on how Emmy would have reacted if she were with them. Emmy was high-strung and impatient and would be joining them in a few days, once the photo shoot she was working on concluded. Tallia prayed her sister would have an easier time getting to Seleni or heads would roll. Lying as still as possible to help her stomach settle down, Tallia was just grateful they were here. As the day wore on, she had begun to fear that she might actually collapse before they reached Tanos. Obviously she was not as far along in her recovery as she hoped. That thought made Tallia want to cry, because she was sick to death of being an invalid. Growing up she couldn't remember ever being truly ill. Oh, she suffered the odd cold like everyone else, but she had never seen the inside of a hospital. For the past eighteen months however, she had lived in hospital, specifically a hospital bed, hooked up to more machines and tubes than she could count. Since she didn't want to end up right back in hospital, she had put on a brave front all day. Alone in her guest room, she fretted that she had pushed herself much too hard. Her back hurt so badly her very bones seemed to be on fire, and her head was pounding. Thankfully dinner would be at nine, so she would have almost three hours to rest and recuperate. She had not missed the worried look on Fidelio's face as he showed her to her room, and didn't want to let him down by having a relapse. She liked Fidelio, and as his future sister in law she wanted to make a good impression. It certainly wouldn't do to fall apart on him. Sighing glumly, Tallia couldn’t help but wonder if she should have stayed in London, or maybe waited to travel with Emmy. Fidelio though, had asked her privately to come ahead to help him plan for when Emmy joined them. Sensing how nervous he was about the prospect of marriage, Tallia had gladly agreed. She was excited, knowing Fidelio was going to pop the question when Emmy arrived, and so happy that her sister was getting married she didn't want anything to ruin the occasion. Emmy had come a long way in the last year and a half. She had turned her life around remarkably, and Tallia was so proud of her younger sister that she would have done anything to insure Emmy's happiness. A grueling trot across Europe is a small price to pay, she told herself, for your sister’s future. She had to smile when she thought of the plans she and Fidelio hatched up between them during the interminable trip. Everything was going to be perfect for Emmy; she didn't doubt it for a moment. A harsh, dark-eyed face popped into her head, and Tallia was forced to remember Fidelio's brother. Though really how one could forget the man, Tallia had no idea, if anything she had been suppressing all thoughts of the intimidating older Eustakhios brother since leaving him downstairs. Fidelio had told her only a few things in passing about his brother, but the image he painted was as different as chalk from cheese to the reality of the imposing, disapproving brute who met them at the dock when they arrived at Seleni. Fidelio had believed his brother to be safely occupied with business in Athens, so she knew it had been even more of a shock to him to see the tall, broad shouldered man waiting for them when they arrived. Fidelio's groan of dread as he throttled down on the engine had spoke volumes. It would seem that in person the brother Fidelio described in glowing terms as a kind, considerate, rock of cool, conservative authority, was mostly just a rock- possessed of a biting temper. Tallia was not so far gone that she missed the anger in Costa Eustakhios's proud face. The man was about as intimidating as a loaded gun, and just as impressive in appearance. Tallia shivered just thinking of his darkly tan skin, stretched taut over high cheekbones, his wide, smooth brow, and hard, square jaw. Costa looked as if he were molded from bronze, and the lack of expression on his face suggested he just might in fact be cast from some unyielding metal. She supposed Costa could be called handsome, but there was so much harsh disdain in his face, such pride and arrogance, that she just found him scary. His eyes however, threw her. Tallia dared meet his dark gaze only once, when he shook her hand as if he meant to snap it off. She had been completely shocked by the incongruity of his light, mellow brown eyes, given the starkness of his features and the icy hauteur of his expression. Those caramel colored eyes, striated with gold, were disconcertingly beautiful and suggested a soulful, sweet nature, which she knew was ridiculous. There was nothing mild about Costa Eustakhios. He was big, dark, and disapproving. Tallia wished he had stayed in Athens as Fidelio promised. Costa made her unaccountably nervous. She had no idea what she had done to antagonize the man, but it was obvious he did not like her. Aware that she did not deal well with the opposite sex, even in the best of conditions, Tallia prayed she would not have to spend any length of time with the man. She wished fervently he would avoid her, as he seemed to dislike her so much. Rolling carefully onto her side, Tallia felt her thoughts begin to drift and surrendered happily to sleep. Costa could hardly keep himself from staring throughout the evening meal, like a calf-eyed boy, at Fidelio's little friend. It was infuriating to find himself so weak that he too was falling beneath the girl’s charms. Yet there was no denying how lovely Tallia Maitland was- on the outside, he made a point to remind himself snidely. When he came down to the terrace overlooking the sea at the rear of the house where they would be eating, he was quite late. In no mood for company, much less the company he was to be subjected to, Costa saw no reason to pretend as if he were an eager host. He found Tallia and Fidelio waiting for him, sprawled together like a pair of naughty children on one long lounge chair, enjoying cocktails. He would not have thought it possible, yet Tallia was even more exquisite than he remembered with the dark night sky setting off her striking looks. Her eyes sparkled in the light of the torches lit around the terrace, and there was a hint of delicate color in her snow-white complexion. She had changed into a narrow pink skirt and a cream-colored v-neck shirt with three-quarter sleeves, sprinkled with tiny white sequins. The outfit was very simple and probably quite inexpensive, though on her, it looked the height of elegance. Sourly, he imagined a potato sack would look ravishing if draped over her long, delicate figure, and that was why she made a fortune wearing hideous haute couture. She had on flat, silver strapped sandals, and as he made himself a drink Costa caught himself staring inanely at her tiny toes, which were painted a gleaming shade of iridescent sky blue. A quarter of an hour and three gin and tonics later, Costa moved to sit at the head of the wide teak table with Fidelio on one side of him and Tallia on the other. Ari and Neni immediately began serving the food. They did not stand on formality at Seleni. Once the dishes were brought out, Ari and Neni retired to the kitchen, leaving them to serve themselves at their leisure. Fidelio directed the conversation towards food and a lengthy description of the island, for Tallia's benefit. He then began recounting the misadventures he and Tallia suffered while getting to the island. Costa wasn't quite certain what Fidelio was up to, though he suspected his brother was just trying to keep him from asking uncomfortable questions about his relationship with Tallia. More than once Costa caught Fidelio looking at him nervously. He knew his brother well and sensed the younger man had something he wanted to tell him, but was unsure how to go about doing it. Costa didn't encourage Fidelio to spill the beans and added nothing to the conversation. The last thing he wanted was to hear his brother tell him about his feelings for Tallia and his intention to marry her. In no mood for chitchat, Costa retreated behind a wall of cold silence guaranteed to dissuade intimate revelations. It irked him to realize he was content to listen to Fidelio prattle on about life in London and the hassles of international travel, because it left him free to study their gorgeous dinner companion. Costa couldn’t help marveling that Tallia was truly a stunner. Her hair seemed to glow against the darkening sky, and her fine, bloodless skin appeared luminous under the faint starlight. He couldn’t tear his eyes off of her, and she couldn’t help but notice. A faint flush bloomed across her cheeks as they ate, infusing just enough warmth into her complexion to make her seem real. When the main course was finished, Ari and Neni appeared to clear the table before coffee and desert was served, Fidelio unexpectedly excused himself to make a phone call. Deciding to check his messages, as they seemed to be taking a little break, Costa excused himself and retreated to the safety of his study. He felt like a coward as he left the terrace, knowing that it was inexcusably rude of him to leave a guest in his home alone. But he felt an overwhelming need to get away from Tallia, if only for a moment. He had the strange feeling that he should not stay alone with her out on the balcony, as the balmy night lent an air of romance that was oddly intoxicating. For a moment, as he stared across the table at her without Fidelio's presence there as a comfortable buffer, her jewel toned eyes had pulled him in, the slumberous cast of her guileless gaze making something twist deep inside him. Gritting his teeth, Costa forced himself to check his email and lingered over the process for an inordinate amount of time, stalling outrageously. By the time he returned to the terrace Fidelio and Tallia were back at the table, their heads bent together as they enjoyed coffee and nibbled on a plate of Calamini's delicious cookies. Watching them unobserved, Costa felt a tight pressure in his chest. Tallia was clearly at ease with his brother, her posture far more relaxed now that she was alone with her lover, her soft, childlike laughter drifting across the terrace to tease him. She and Fidelio were arguing softly, flirtatiously, the sort of play fighting which came so easily to a couple in the first flush of love. A hot, corrosive sensation knifed through him, and Costa was disturbed to realize he was envious. Clearing his throat, he stepped out onto the terrace and watched the two lovers pull apart with satisfaction. Taking his seat, Costa toyed with the idea of picking at them and finally asking a few pointed questions about their relationship. I am a master negotiator- a master manipulator, he thought coldly, just as his business rivals and dismissed lovers characterized him so loudly and often in the press. He knew he could make things very uncomfortable between the three of them without much effort. It was the fatigue he saw in Tallia's face though, which gave him pause. Her eyes, which looked so bright before dinner, were now half lidded and moved sluggishly. Fidelio seemed to notice Tallia was fading at the same time and made their excuses. Costa rose and nodded politely, gritting his teeth again as he watched Fidelio wrap an arm around Tallia and escort her into the house. Scowling into the darkness, he tried not to imagine what they would be doing upstairs, if Fidelio would be kissing that wide, delicate mouth of Tallia's, or worse. He had intended to wait outside for his brother to return, so they could finally have it out, but the idea of Fidelio lingering in Tallia's room sent Costa back into the house. He took the stairs two at a time, not really knowing what he would do when he got to her room, since he could hardly barge in on the two of them. They were adults and Costa was not some crotchety old-school gargoyle that could rail about propriety, not given his history with women. His fears proved groundless and he felt like a fool when he ran into Fidelio in the corridor at the top of the stairs. "Everything all right?" he asked curtly, to hide his relief. Looking mildly surprised to see him, Fidelio nodded, "The trip took a lot out of Tallia." "So it would seem… perhaps we should all call it a night, we can talk tomorrow," Costa suggested, feeling awkward and not liking it in the least. He never felt awkward around Fidelio. His brother was the only person he could talk to and with whom he felt comfortable to be himself. Then again, he had never felt attracted to any of Fidelio's girlfriends before, and that hardened his resolve to get rid of Tallia in the morning. He couldn't have her getting between him and his brother. Worse, the idea of her married to Fidelio filled him with irrational, volcanic rage. There was no way in hell he would spend the rest of his life watching her hanging off his brother’s arm while he lusted after her like a fool. Fidelio opened his mouth, as if he would say something, and then abruptly nodded. With a happy grin, he slapped Costa companionably on the arm and headed off to his room. Costa watched him go with a painful knot in his gut, feeling like a complete bastard. Without Tallia there to distract him, he finally noticed how happy Fidelio looked, in truth he couldn't recall the last time he had seen his brother looking quite so pleased with life. Clearly, Fidelio was in love. Shaking his head, knowing what he had to do the following day, Costa went to his room with a heavy heart. Chapter 3 The next morning Costa took breakfast in his study, immersing himself in work. The business disaster he left Athens and came to Seleni to forget was still weighing heavily on his mind. Brooding on the mess only served to further sour his mood, which was black. Thoughts of Fidelio and Tallia preoccupied him throughout the night, giving him a restless sleep. It was late when he finally left his study and went to the terrace where he imagined the lovebirds would probably be having breakfast, since it was almost ten o'clock. When he saw Tallia alone by the railing, Costa hesitated in the French doors that opened onto the wide deck. The table showed signs of two people having recently eaten, but Fidelio was nowhere in sight. Tallia stood with her back to him, leaning against the high railing around the terrace, which jutted out over the edge of the cliff where the house was built. She was undoubtedly watching the waves crashing on the rocks below. Costa couldn't blame her as he often found himself enjoying the hypnotic beauty of the ocean's fury from the very spot where she stood. He especially liked to linger there during storms to enjoy the elements in their full, wild tumult. Steeling himself to face her, Costa had to smile wryly as he acknowledged he had never felt quite so leery of a woman. When he joined her at the railing, he smiled to see her startle at the sight of him before she slowly offered him that same nervous, tremulous smile she wore yesterday. Tallia was uneasy around him, which pleased him since he wanted her off balance. Studying her coolly, he wondered how much of her nerves came from a guilty conscience. She wasn't the usual brash, loud, self-assured tart Fidelio preferred- the sort Costa had plenty of experience getting his brother out from under. Usually it only took as much time as he needed to write a check to send those types packing. Miss Tallia Maitland, however, seemed a bit subtler. Costa had seen no real heat in her expression when she was with Fidelio last night. Oh, she liked his brother, there was no doubt about that, but he could detect no passion from her towards his sibling. Her lack of ardor only confirmed his suspicion that she was focused only the bottom line, the main chance, and a solid gold meal ticket. "Good morning Tallia, how did you sleep?" he inquired politely, leaning an elbow on the railing beside her and angling his body to face her. Tallia blinked and edged just the slightest bit backwards to put some distance between them, before she responded softly, "Good morning. Very well, thank you. It’s wonderfully quiet here, I actually slept the entire night through." "You have trouble sleeping?" he asked and leaned in to close the gap between them, just to see her reaction. Tallia's nostrils flared slightly, as did her remarkable eyes, which were smoky lavender in the harsh morning light. "A-a little," she stuttered, her chest heaving gently. Costa imagined he could see her heart fluttering like a terrified birds. He kept staring at her and watched color rise in her face as a delicate blush warmed her wintry beauty the way it had last night over dinner. Costa allowed a wry grin to curl one corner of his mouth, "You look very rested," he commented. Without really knowing what he was doing, beguiled by that blush, he lifted a hand to brush a finger down one sleek, white cheek. As he suspected, she felt like velvet to the touch. To his surprise she shivered, and her thick, pale lashes dipped to cover her eyes. If her blush shocked him, Costa was fairly stunned by her reaction to his touch. He found it impossible to stop and drew the tip of his finger lightly to the corner of her mouth. Her lower lip trembled as she drew an uneven breath and heat exploded through his veins. She was attracted to him or a damn fine actress! Dropping his hand, he tore his eyes from her before he did something stupid like kiss her. Costa could only imagine what it would do to Fidelio, to find his brother and his woman in a heated embrace. Poor Fidelio would be devastated. Clearly Tallia was not thinking of her lover as she leaned ever so slightly towards him, inviting his touch. It took far more of his self control than it should have, to stop Costa from bending to cover her mouth with his own. He cut Tallia a cold look, furious with her for turning him on with only a shiver. His anger was lost on her, as her eyes were still shut. Her entire body was quivering with reaction. Costa's mouth twisted into an ugly smirk, unimpressed with her overacting. He was almost tempted to tell her to take it down a notch, because he hardly touched her. Yet she was trembling like a leaf. Shock lanced through him when he glanced away from her face and his gaze lit on the inside of her arms, where they rested on the brass railing. Needle marks marred the milky white skin of Tallia’s forearms. Outraged by the blatant evidence of her disgusting habits, he grabbed one of her wrists and ran his thumb roughly over the worst of the scars in the crook of her elbow. Tallia gasped in shock and tired to pull away, her slanted eyes flaring wide. "Morning, sleepy head!" Fidelio called out as he bounded onto the terrace. Tallia jerked away from Costa with a guilty start and moved towards Fidelio. "Are you speaking to me?" Costa asked with a condescending arch of his brow. He gripped the railing to keep from grabbing Tallia and dragging her back to his side. Fidelio had the grace to flush, even though it was a running joke between them that he always slept late while Costa rose at dawn and began working almost immediately. "I'm off to Tanos to pick up a few things, can I get you anything?" Fidelio asked, flapping a piece of paper in the air excitedly, while he slid an arm around Tallia and cuddled her close. A long list of things was already scrawled out on the paper. "You are both going to Tanos?" Costa asked with studied indifference. "No, Tallia is staying here to rest up," Fidelio replied with a broad grin, planting a smacking kiss on the top of her bright, pale head. "I'd only slow you down," Tallia added with a self-deprecating smile. Fidelio drew back to hold her at arms length and tenderly denied it, "I never said that!" "Of course not, you're too nice to say it, but you know its true," she retorted with a crooked little smile. "You can come if you want Tallia." "I'm just kidding," she said after giving Costa a brief, uneasy look. "Don't be frightened of the big guy," Fidelio teased, rubbing her back gently, "He looks mean, but that's just a show to keep up his image as a ruthless tycoon. He's really a softy at heart. “C’mon Coco, stop glaring! I'm sorry we invaded your fortress of solitude, but it’s all for a good cause- I swear. Now, I have to go. Ari's got the boat ready and he's rarin’ to be off, but I promise I'll explain everything as soon as I get back!" Costa was skeptical, but pasted a pleasant look on his face for his brother’s benefit. He doubted Fidelio's good mood would last through the day, but he wasn't about to say as much. He was, however, delighted to hear his brother was going, leaving him alone with Tallia. It would give him just enough time to get what he wanted out of her. Yesterday he worried that she would be hard to get rid of, with her fragile, winsome beauty, but after her performance a moment ago he was confident they could reach a satisfactory agreement between them. With cool calculation he wondered if he could have her off the island by the time Fidelio returned. It would take some hard negotiating, but she had tipped her hand, showing him that she was more than willing to change sides- probably for a tidy price, he thought cynically. It annoyed Costa to realize that even knowing what a mercenary, faithless tart Tallia was, he still wanted her. Truthfully, his lust for the fey creature was increasing exponentially with each passing moment, as if he was infected with some virulent, opportunistic virus. He decided he would have a talk with her and then send her off to Athens in his helicopter. He would have her dropped off at his apartment and join her as soon as he let Fidelio down gently. His brother would never have to know the full extent of her perfidy, and after a night or two with her Costa was confident he would be glad to send her packing, never to darken either of their doors ever again. "Why don't I take Tallia out for a little sightseeing?" he offered, struggling to keep the purring anticipation from his voice. Costa wanted her, badly, but he would not have her sullying his home. He had to get her out of the house in case he lost control and gave in to temptation. They could indulge in a little flirtation as he showed her the island, and by the time they got back he would have the helicopter waiting to whisk her off to Athens and safely out of Fidelio's reach. He suffered no flicker of conscience as he made his plans. He told himself it was for the best, and he was protecting his brother from a faithless bitch who was willing to transfer her affection from one man to the next at the drop of a hat. It was his duty after all, to watch his brother’s back. Someday Fidelio would thank him for his shrewdness. "That would be wonderful!" Fidelio cried happily, making Costa feel like a dog despite his efforts to divorce all emotion from what he intended to do. "Oh, you needn't go to any trouble-" Tallia rushed to say. Fidelio cut her off, wrapping an arm around her shoulders he shook her gently and insisted, "Nonsense, you can't stay cooped up in this house! You're on vacation, Ally. I know the island looks inhospitable, but it’s really very beautiful. You'll see, and you can't hope for a better tour guide than Costa, he knows all the best views and secret spots. You have to go!" Tallia looked less than delighted, but she smiled and nodded, giving in easily to Fidelio's wishes. Costa grinned then, taking pleasure in her discomfort. Clearly she was not quite as confident to be alone with him as she had seemed a moment ago, when she quivered beneath his finger like a flower under an errant breeze. "Very well," she murmured passively. "Great, that’s settled, go put on some sunscreen and get a hat, we can't have you burning to a crisp," Fidelio told her, turning her around to the door and sending her back into the house like an obedient puppy, with a tiny push. As soon as she was gone Fidelio crossed the terrace to give Costa a grateful hug. "Thanks, I have some things I need to get that I'd rather she not see, if you know what I mean?" Fidelio confided in him with a wicked grin. "Now take extra special care with her, Coco, Ally tends to overdo things. Make sure she stays covered up and doesn't overexert herself, ok?" "I think I can manage," Costa replied dryly. Fidelio laughed and nodded, "Sorry, I just need everything to be perfect, and I worry about her. She's very special." Fidelio hesitated for a moment, as if he would say more, and then he laughed and exclaimed, "I'll see you this afternoon, we have to talk, I have so much to tell you- wish me luck!" Not in the least pleased to see his brother’s obvious excitement, Costa gave Fidelio a rough shove towards the door and growled, "Go." Luckily Fidelio was too blissed-out on love to notice there was no humor in Costa's manner, and he spun around and practically skipped away. Chapter 4 Tallia dawdled in her room as long as she could. She didn't want to go out with Costa Eustakhios, not sight seeing or for any other reason. She was still burning with embarrassment over her bizarre reaction to him when he came out to join her on the balcony. For some reason she could not fathom, he had a strange effect on her. Yesterday she dismissed the queer agitation she experienced when he was near as nerves, and the breathless sensation she felt when he looked at her as the effects of exhaustion. But today she knew she had been deluding herself. Humbling though it was, she seemed to be attracted to the man, even though she knew he didn't like her! Her attraction to Costa confused her, since he was the complete opposite of the type of men she usually found attractive. Costa was too big, too dark and much, much too forceful. He didn't smile, barely spoke, and did little other than glower at her. Yet when he was near, she felt the strangest things. It was a cliché, but she really did feel as if there were butterflies in her stomach when he was around! When he came to stand beside her on the deck, he took her completely by surprise. Then he touched her! Tallia shivered at the memory. She felt her face burn, and a fresh wave of humiliation swept over her as she thought of how she turned to jelly at one touch of his finger to her cheek. It had been the most innocent gesture, barely a whisper of contact, yet fire had seemed to leap from his finger and course straight through her body, shooting into her stomach to pool shamefully in a place just south of her belly button. I must be losing my mind, Tallia told herself. There is no way I can be attracted to Fidelio's brother. The guy is dark and dangerous and from the way he keeps glaring its obvious he doesn’t like me- at all! "Ready?" Jumping with fright, Tallia slapped a hand over her madly beating heart as she turned around to find the man in question standing in the open doorway of her bedroom, leaning casually against the frame. Costa filled the doorway- hell- he filled the room with his presence. His light, impassive gaze giving away nothing of his thoughts and feelings as they skimmed over her. Tallia blushed furiously, feeling like a fool for reacting so violently to him when it was apparent he did not share the feeling. His unsmiling mouth suggested he was tolerating her and she felt not only like an unwelcome trespasser in his home, but a bothersome one since he had been saddled with the task of showing her around the island. "You know we don't have to do this," she hastened to tell him, clearing her throat when her voice came out low and husky. "I realize you must be very busy-" "Never let it be said I am too busy to spare a few hours for a beautiful woman," he returned, the words devoid of charm as they were spoken in a bland monotone. Tallia almost insisted since his manner screamed resentment towards her. But as he shifted his gaze from her to survey the room, she felt she had lost his interest entirely. His eyes settled on the tiny bedside table and even though his expression did not alter, she sensed a shift in him, a sudden tension. Glancing at the table, Tallia saw the prescription bottles she had neatly laid out yesterday, so she wouldn't forget to take any of the host of meds she was required to ingest throughout the day. Yet again she felt her face go up in flame with embarrassment. "I'm ready," she said, grabbing her hat and marching resolutely to the door, positioning herself between him and the bedside table. She didn't want to have to explain what she had to take, not after having to do so half a dozen times yesterday while passing through repeated customs and security checks. It was bad enough being eye-balled like a drug addict when people saw the sack of little orange canisters with their safety lids, but the sympathetic looks she got once she explained why she was under so much medication, were almost as aggravating. After all her health problems, Tallia didn't want pity or censure. All she wanted was to be whole and healthy again and able to enjoy a normal life. Costa gave her a quick, narrow-eyed look that she could have sworn was dripping with contempt, but his thick black lashes came down before she could be certain. He stepped aside, waving for her to precede him. Tallia stiffened, taken aback by his reaction and uncomfortable as he left her barely enough room to slip past him. As it was, her shoulder brushed his chest as she slid through the doorway and she felt his presence like a great black shadow as she hurried down the corridor with him hard on her heels. Of course, that did nothing to stop the tiny shiver of awareness that coursed down her spine at his proximity. Thankfully, even that small, involuntary motion set off flares of pain up and down her damaged nerve endings, helping to clear her head and bring her back down to reality. Making her way swiftly down the stairs to the front door, Tallia found it standing wide open and went out onto the low steps that led to a brick paved driveway. Her feet, shod in thin-soled sandals, came skidding to a stop on the marble steps when she saw the vehicle crouching in wait a few feet away. It was low and sleek, resembling nothing so much as a gleaming shark and was just as nightmarish to her. Tallia was so distraught at the sight of the sports car he obviously intended for them to use, that she didn’t even feel Costa's hand at the small of her back. "W-where's the truck?" she asked weakly. "In the garage," he replied in a tone of voice that suggested she was a simpleton. His hand pressed into the small of her back firmly, but she hardly noticed as she remained rooted to the spot. "Do we have to take that, can't we… can't we just walk?" she suggested hopefully. "Yes, we must," he bit out. "The island may look small from the water, but it is not, and in a few hours the temperature will make it prohibitive for us to walk, especially you in those jeans," he added. "I could change," Tallia suggested, wishing she had worn a pair of shorts or a skirt, but it had been cool out this morning and she hadn't thought she would be leaving the house. "Let's go Tallia," he said coldly, his fingers digging into her spine. Biting her lip, she considered refusing, but then realized she was acting stupid. They were on a tiny island. It wasn't as if there was any traffic to contend with. The roads were probably small and few, so he wouldn't be able to go very fast. She stoically ignored the little voice in her head. It told her she was being wishful… no one owns a car like his, a car built for speed, if they don't intend to drive it, and to drive it fast. Costa hardly struck her as the sort of man who felt the need to show off and certainly not for someone like her, whom he did not even like, by driving a posh car. With grave reluctance she let him steer her down the steps and open the passenger door for her. She had to crouch down just to get in the car, and her back began to ache immediately as she settled into the deep, bucket seat. Taking a slow breath to steady herself, Tallia searched for the seat controls and calmly adjusted the back of the chair until she was more comfortable, telling herself not to be silly and to relax so her muscles wouldn't cramp. Though the car made her nervous, she watched Costa walk around the bonnet to get in on the drivers side, his stride slow and muscular like a stalking tiger. She had to admit he looked supremely competent, as if he could handle anything life threw him. Certainly a high-powered sports car would pose no challenge to a man like him. Costa watched Tallia discreetly through the windscreen as he went around the hood of his jet black Lamborghini. It was his favorite of the cars he kept on the island, because it was the fastest. He had to suppress a smile as he noticed how nervous she looked. He might have felt sorry for her if he didn’t want her to be nervous. It suited his purpose to keep her on edge and off balance. He was in control. He would make the rules and decide how things went from here on out between them. The quicker she understood that the easier it would be for her. He could be a very generous man when he got what he wanted, so he refused to feel any pity towards her. She would not get exactly what she wanted on her Greek holiday, but once he was through with her, she would not go back to England entirely empty handed. Sliding a pair of sunglasses on his nose, he climbed into the car and shut the door gently, treating his prized baby with the care she deserved. Anticipation flowed through his blood, for both the drive ahead and the prospect of having Tallia in his bed. Glancing at her, he felt a wealth of satisfaction at the idea of possessing her, an indecent thrill, he privately admitted to himself. He was already half aroused just at the thought of screwing her, and the dark blue jeans that clung to her long legs sent his temperature spiking. He still found her painfully thin, yet not in the least unattractive. Every inch of her was perfectly formed, and her extreme slenderness only emphasized her sheer perfection. Her top was unremarkable, a thin white t-shirt that draped off her wide, frail shoulders. She had the body of a model, dainty collarbones and narrow hips, but he found he didn’t mind such slenderness in her case. Costa wasn't into models; he considered them far beneath him, preferring to restrict his liaisons to older, more mature women who knew their place and how to be discreet. He sometimes kept a mistress in Athens, but the last one had worn out her welcome a few weeks ago when she professed her undying love during a bout of heated sex. Costa had immediately dropped her cold. With no outlet for his fierce sexuality he was acutely feeling the need for a woman, which was surely the reason he responded so strongly to Tallia. Oh, she is beautiful, he had to admit that much, but Tallia was not in the least his type. For one she’s a drug addict, he thought caustically. Though he knew what really bothered him was her youth and the knowledge that she was probably totally inexperienced in the ways of conducting a civilized liaison between adults. She was a quiet thing though, so there was hope that she was not the emotional sort who clung to fairy-tales of love and happily ever after, nor would she insist on sappy romantic displays and feign shows of adoration. He did not do drama and conducted his relationships with women as he did his business dealing, prizing logic, reason, and mutual satisfaction over all else. Costa couldn't help but think he would enjoy teaching Tallia a thing or two about the world. Like a man contemplating an object he was considering purchasing, he let his eyes slide down to her breasts and admired their shape without much effort since she didn't appear to be wearing a bra. He could make out the straps of a camisole, though with breasts as tiny as hers he wasn't surprised she opted out of a bra. Costa generally liked his women a little more top heavy, but the small, pointy mounds that tented the front of her shirt were so perky he didn't think he would mind the difference. Tallia was breathing so hard there was plenty of jiggle to hold his attention, and he actually licked his lips as he imagined how easy it would be to take an entire breast right into his mouth. Once again his gaze snagged on her tiny, blue tipped toes, and his groin tightened painfully. Costa never fancied himself a foot man, yet there was something about her feet that drew his eye. He realized then that everything about her appealed to him, and the attraction was growing. Suddenly he was impatient to get this over with, so he could have her. He wished he could just reach out and run a proprietary hand over her, but knew it would be outrageous, even if she were a mercenary little tart. There were rules to every game, especially when sex was involved, and he knew the wait would only make the moment when he had her under him, completely subjugated to his will, all the sweeter. Noticing that she had not fastened her safety belt he grinned, taking it as an invitation. Leaning over her, he grabbed the tongue of the belt and drew the strap across her upper body. He took his time, bringing his face in close to hers, so close there were only a few scant inches between their mouths. Tallia jerked back with surprise, and he watched her pupils dilate wildly at his proximity. Giving her a broad, predatory smile, Costa let his eyes wander all over her face as he slid the metal tongue of the belt into the buckle ever so slowly, appreciating the sexual innuendo in the act for the first time. "Relax Agapate, trust me, you're in good hands. I'll take care of you," he promised softly as his eyes traced her elegant mouth. Tallia shivered visibly, and Costa brought his face a little closer still, sorely tempted to have a taste. He wondered if she was really that responsive or if it was all an act. He sure as hell hoped it wasn't an act because he wanted to feel her trembling just this way when he slid inside her. He wanted her to buck and grind against him like a wild thing, when he made her his. The thought made his stomach flip and his dick turn into a rigid truncheon that jutted uncomfortably against the zip of his jeans. He felt momentarily stunned by the force of his desire and the strange drowning sensation that came over him as he looked deep into her eyes. Tearing his gaze from hers he laughed faintly, dismissing the curious feeling as the product of sexual deprivation. Deciding it was best they got going, he sat back and fastened his own safety belt with one hand as he twisted the key in the ignition with the other. The powerful engine turned over and growled like a pack of snarling wolves. Around them, the car began to vibrate and the deep, throbbing rhythm was undeniably arousing. Revving the engine, he turned to flash a smile of pure delight at Tallia, but she was still staring fixedly through the windscreen as if she had been turned to stone. Without thinking, Costa reached over and slapped her leg, letting his hand linger for a moment so his fingers caressed her long, slim inner thigh. Heat flashed through him and he stomped on the gas like a dilettante. The car shot forward as if it were a stray bullet, and he was forced to put both hands on the wheel to keep the Lamborghini from flying off into the scenery. Beside him, Tallia gasped loudly, and Costa laughed again with more confidence, feeling gloriously alive as he drove the car through the first sharp turn onto the road at lightening speed. "So Tallia," he asked, almost amicably, "how long have you known my brother?” Chapter 5 "W-what?" Tallia asked, struggling to focus on Costa while the car slid across the driveway as if it were skidding through an oil slick, and then righted itself like an animal shaking itself. She could feel the tires grip the road, and she smoothed her hands on the edges of the seat, trying to relax. Costa was right. He knew what he was doing. He had to have driven this car before, and he certainly handled it as if it were an old friend. She knew he was sober, so logically she was safe; there was no need to panic, yet her stomach was knotted tight and lodged in the back of her throat, and she could hardly seem to draw in enough air. "How long have you known Fidelio?" he asked again, his tone more crisp and demanding. "Not long," she replied, grateful to him for taking her mind off the car as they zipped onto a road that was as smooth as a black satin ribbon. The car was so lux, if not for the land streaking by on either side of them, she might have believed they were still sitting parked in the driveway. But with a sidelong glance, she could see the odometer, and her throat ran dry as she watched the needle glide steadily upward as they took off like a rocket. "How long?" Costa asked in a faintly patronizing manner. She glanced at him, and there was a slight smile curling the corner of his wide, full mouth. Sensing her looking at him, he turned and flashed her a broad grin that was shockingly appealing. Jerking her head back around to stare at the road, so as not to distract him, Tallia wished she had insisted they walk or cancel this excursion. She simply could not relax, not in this car. It was too much like Emmy's old fire red Ferrari, all speed and growl with no substance. She felt as if she were strapped to a bomb that could go off at any moment. "Well?" Costa pressed. "Three or four months," she mumbled, closing her eyes to blot out the scenery that was beginning to blur all around her. Rather than calm her down, being in the dark only made her fear ratchet up as her imagination got the best of her, and she flicked her lashes up, staring fixedly at the road ahead as if she could will them safe passage. "Only three months?" Costa remarked casually, "That is hardly enough time to really get to know a person, wouldn't you say?" She shrugged, and when Costa turned to look at her, realized he could not see her reactions. Tallia blurted out a firm, "No, not really," eager to keep his eyes on the road and not on her. "Yet he seems to have formed quite an attachment to you," Costa commented. "I-I guess." "What about you Tallia? What are your feelings for my brother? Are you as fond of him as he appears to be fond of you?" "Yes, I suppose," she muttered, swallowing thickly when they came to a sharp bend in the road and Costa turned the wheel using just the heel of one hand, without even letting up on the gas. The car responded beautifully, taking the curve as if it were fixed to rails. Tallia's relief, however, was short lived as she noticed the road hugged the edge of a cliff. There was no guardrail between them and a sheer drop down to churning surf, far, far below. "Oh, my God! Pease slow down," she whimpered. Costa laughed, "I am insulted on Fidelio's behalf. You don't sound quite sure about your feelings for my brother." "We're just friends," she retorted a bit sharply, annoyed with him for completely ignoring her request that he slow down. "Just friends?" Costa exclaimed, incredulous. "Please slow down," she repeated, though she relaxed as the road drifted away from the cliff and they began racing through rolling hills covered with small trees. "Does Fidelio know you consider him just a friend?" "Of course!" Costa turned to give her a long look, though it was difficult for her to read his expression when he wore such dark sunglasses. "Don't play games with me Tallia. I promise you won't like it if I get angry," he purred in a deadly undertone. Tallia stared at him in mute shock, wondering if she had lost her mind and was hearing things. "…What?" Jamming the stick shift into a different gear, Costa sent the car hurling blindly over a hill. Tallia squeezed her eyes shut as she felt the tires lose the road, and the horrid weightless sensation of flying tugged at her. They hit the asphalt a moment later, and the tires shrieked as the sports car careened down a steep, winding series of switch backs that looked like a black snake slithering through the dusty green and brown landscape. "Fidelio wants to make you part of this family," he mocked. "Don't deny it- and don't deny it’s what you want," he added harshly when she opened her mouth to interrupt him. "I- I don't think you understand-" "Oh, I understand very well Tallia. You are hardly the first to come sniffing around looking for a free meal ticket and hoping to get a ring on your finger. I've run more girls like you off than I can count, and trust me, you aren't even the best or the brightest I've had to deal with, though I'll admit you do have some appeal," he added, turning his head to flash her a cold, cruel smile. "Watch out!" She shrieked when she saw something standing in the road up ahead. Rather than jerk the wheel or brake, Costa pressed on the horn and flashed his high beams with the twitch of a finger. Tallia braced herself for impact, knowing they were traveling far too fast to avoid the animal meandering leisurely across the road. She watched in horror as they bore down on the hapless creature, which looked to be a goat. At the last moment the goat noticed the danger it was in, and with an athletic leap it sprung into the grass on the edge of the road and darted away. She could hear its plaintive bleating through the window, distorting into a queer whining howl as they shot down the road without decelerating in the slightest. Costa tossed his head and laughed, his legs pumping as he shifted gears and swung the car off to the right as they came up hard on a wide fork in the road. He was a madman, she thought desperately, her hand reaching for the door before reason intruded. She realized she could hardly throw herself out of a moving vehicle, especially one traveling at such insane speed. She would be killed instantly. "Stop the car Costa, so we can talk," she said, amazed at how calm she managed to sound when everything inside of her was beginning to quake with terror. "We can talk just fine in here," he informed her blithely, telling her quite clearly that he had no intention of doing what she wanted. "Please-" "Did you really think it was going to be so easy, that you would dazzle him with your good looks, that you would get him to marry you, and that would be the end of it?" Costa bit out coldly. "Don't you realize that everything Fidelio has comes from me? My brother may be a charmer, but he's never done an honest day’s work in his life. And, no, we do not come from money. Fidelio depends on me for every dime he has, every-" "That's of no interest to me-" "Never interrupt me," Costa snarled at her, turning to pin her to her seat with a tight-lipped glare that she could feel right through his sunglasses. "You will not sink your claws into my brother," he spat contemptuously. "I would rather cut him off without a cent then see him throw his life away on a little opportunist like you, who thinks she can live off other people’s hard work." "You don't know anything about me!" Tallia cried, jarred from her mute dismay by his biting contempt. "Really?" Costa sneered. Reaching across the car he grabbed one of her hands and rubbed his thumb across her palm as he remarked caustically, "These don't feel like the hands of a hard worker. Even the mildest pencil pusher has rougher skin. What, have you been in a coma for the past ten years?" "As a matter of fact-" "Save your lies," he hissed, "I'm not interested. You and Fidelio are through. You can accept it gracefully, and we can work something out that will be mutually beneficial to the both of us, or I can make your life a living hell. My brother is too soft, he falls for every pretty face with a sad story- and I'm sure your story was very sad,” he mocked. “Regardless, you will never see Fidelio aga-" "How can you-" "Don't interrupt me!" he barked in a voice that made her shrink in her seat. Tallia hated her cowardice, but he was scaring her and that implacable tone stripped her of her confidence. Suddenly she felt like a thirteen-year-old girl standing in front of her domineering stepfather, helpless to do anything but take his abuse. She shuddered at the memory, her darkest fears rising up to choke her from the place where she kept them locked away tight. "You will be honest with me Tallia, or I will make things very uncomfortable for you. Is that understood? I do not tolerate liars. You know I am a very wealthy and powerful man, and I assure you I make no idle threats. Do I make myself clear?" Nodding miserably, she tried to think how she had managed to slip into such a nightmare. She could almost hear her stepfather Kevin’s voice in her head. He had sounded just as cool and rational as Costa did, when he had berated her. Kevin had enjoyed it, wielding his authority over her, and she could hear the same pleasure in Costa's voice as he lay down his dictates. "Answer me," he demanded, his eyes fixed to the road as it began to rise above them as they headed up into the cliffs on the far end of the island she had seen from the terrace that morning. "I-I understand," she whispered softly, burning with shame at her meekness, but knowing from experience that the best way to get through an ordeal with a man bent on exerting his will like a weapon was to be quiet and acquiesce. "Good," he purred, sounding almost friendly. "Now, tell me exactly what is your relationship with my brother." "We're just friends," she cried, her face flushing with frustration as she struggled to think of a way to convince him he was wrong, though from the steely sound of his voice she already knew it was hopeless. "You don't under-" "Do not lie to me Tallia," Costa cajoled in a voice that made her blood run hot and then cold. "I'm not l-lying, Fidelio is not-" "You are trying my patience," Costa bit out so sharply his voice slid like a knife across her skin. "Please, Fidelio is marrying my- oh God," she gasped, forgetting what she was about to say when the car suddenly left the road again as they crested the top of the cliff at full speed. For a moment it seemed as if they left the earth behind and headed straight into the sun, because she couldn't see the road anymore. When they hit asphalt again the engine roared like a beast, and the car shot towards the edge of the cliff. Tallia gripped the sides of her seat for all she was worth and screamed, "Stop the car!" "Not until you tell me what I want to hear," Costa bit out, turning the wheel sharply so the car hugged the road, a road which ran along the very edge of the cliff with nothing between them and a sheer drop, but a narrow strip of gravel on the shoulder. "We- we're lovers, ok?" she cried, tears of humiliation burning in her eyes. It was just like when she was a child, Kevin hounding her relentlessly until she said exactly what he wanted to hear. Costa said nothing and she dared to look at him. Tallia's inside's shriveled when she saw the furious tension in his face. His full lips were drawn so tight they were edged with white. She thought her reply would appease him, but it only seemed to make him more angry. Desperate to placate him, she struggled with the words she knew he wanted to hear. "Lovers?" he prodded in a flinty undertone. "Y-yes, I- I seduced him. I want him to marry me… I knew he was your brother, that he was filthy rich, so I went after him. Now please, stop the car!" "Is he the first man you've tried to trap?" Aghast at the vile implication, Tallia almost denied everything, but then the car glided closer to the edge of the road, and she lost her nerve. "No," she whispered. "How did you do it? How did you trap him?" Costa demanded angrily. Tallia slammed her head back against the headrest, gritting her teeth to keep from begging him to stop because she knew he wouldn't. He was as hard and cruel as she suspected from the first and he wanted to strip her totally bare, rip away any pride she might have, and grind her down. He wasn't satisfied just getting her to submit, he wanted her total destruction, just like Kevin had. He meant to punish her just for drawing breath, extract his pound of flesh for the pleasure it would give him to see her crawl. "I threw myself at him," she said, her voice shaking, "The first time I saw him. I threw myself at him! I knew it might be my only chance. I played on his sympathies, t-told him a sob story, told him… told him," she repeated frantically, her mind blanking as her fear and panic got the best of her. The car was still careening down the twisty road, so close to the edge that she couldn't even see the shoulder anymore, just the rocks below. Her tongue seemed to lodge in her throat, sticking to the roof of her dry, sticky mouth. "Very good Tallia, that's enough," Costa said in a smooth, condescending voice that cut through her like a rusty saw. Tasting bitter bile in her mouth, Tallia was just thankful that the car began to decelerate. She was shaking in reaction, soaked in sweat and desperate to get out of the tiny, enclosed space. Squeezing her eyes shut to keep herself from further humiliating herself by becoming physically ill in the posh leather confines of the car, she gripped the door latch like a lifeline with both hands, ready to spring from the car the moment it came to a full stop. She was so distraught she didn't notice their surroundings and even forgot the seat belt. "You know they say confession is good for the soul?" Costa derided her in a sarcastic drawl, "what do you think?" "I think I'm going to be sick," she groaned, throwing open the door as she felt the car slide to a stop. When the belt caught her up short she thought it was Costa and threw herself against the restraint, frantic to escape him. The belt didn't budge and she clawed at it wildly, her eyes on Costa as if she feared he would attack her. Despite her panic she finally managed to release the buckle, and she tumbled out of the low-slung car onto the strip of gravel at the edge of the road. On her hands and knees, her breakfast came up in one bitter heave of her stomach. Scrubbing the back of her hand over her mouth, Tallia scrambled to her feet, she could hear the other car door open and Costa's low, unpleasant laugh. Shuddering, she took off blindly, bumping into the back of the car in her haste and almost sprawling face first in the gravel. She would follow the road back the way they came, she thought wildly, the heat and the blinding sun, which was already searing the top of her head be damned. There was no way in hell she would ever get back into that car or remain anywhere near Costa Eustakhios. She heard him call her name, and it felt like a lash burning through her. Throwing an anxious look over her shoulder, she forced her legs to move as she saw him coming towards her at a dead run. Her stomach dropped at the sight of his face, and she let out a terrorized moan, throwing herself forward and away from him with all her strength. She had never seen a man look quite so dangerous as he came after her, his feet crunching in the gravel as he closed the distance between them with a speed that defied logic. "Tallia!" he shouted in warning, but she refused to heed him. Then his arms were closing around her, and the world whirled before her in a blinding rush. Pain exploded through her body and she knew nothing else as she blacked out, hurling straight down into an all too familiar tunnel of burning hot agony. Chapter 6 "Theos! Stop, you fool!" Costa growled as he caught Tallia just before she went right off the edge of the cliff. She made a terrible sound, like a wounded animal, as his arms locked around her, and her body arched violently away from his as if to throw him off. For an instant they teetered on the very edge of the precipice, and he thought they might both go hurling down into the sea far below. But as he snatched her off her feet, the momentum of her body swung them to safety, and he found himself standing on the crumbling edge of the cliff with his boot heels hanging off into empty space. Costa took a quick step away from the edge, clutching Tallia hard to his chest as primal fear shot through him at their close call. "What do you think you're playing at?" he shouted furiously, his heart still hammering with the sick terror that gripped him when he watched her run straight for the edge as if the devil were on her heels. "Do you have some sort of death wish?" He asked more softly when he felt her limp weight hanging in his arms and knew the fight had gone out of her. She was probably scared witless, he thought as he drew her higher against his chest and swept a hand up to push the mass of fine, silvery hair back from her face. He only realized she was unconscious when her head flopped back on his shoulder as if she were a doll made of silk and cotton wool, not a woman of solid flesh and bone. Whispering her name, Costa leaned back against the side of the car and cradled her carefully in the crook of one arm. He slid his hand down to press his fingertips under her delicate jaw, searching for a pulse. He was alarmed at the amount of time it took him to find her pulse and how reedy and weak it was when he managed to locate it halfway down her long neck. Her skin felt icy to the touch and when he patted her cheek to revive her she didn't react at all, not even her lashes fluttered. Scooping her up effortlessly, he settled her back into the passenger seat and stood bent over her for a moment, just staring at her as he tried to decide if she was faking. There was something about her pallor and her utter stillness that made him unaccountably uneasy. If he hadn't felt her pulse he would have thought her dead she was so limp and wan. No one could fain unconsciousness so skillfully, or make their heartbeat slow and uneven. "Tallia," he murmured softly, hoping to get some reaction from her as the minutes ticked past. He stroked her smooth, fair brow and found her skin cold and clammy. Touching her shirt he found it damp with perspiration, but her flesh was icy to the touch. Realizing she was genuinely sick, he quickly buckled her in and shut the door, rushing around to his side of the car to slip into the drivers seat. I pushed her too hard, Costa admitted to himself as he spared her a last lingering look before turning his attention to getting them home. A dull flush burned across his high cheekbones when he recalled what a bastard he had been to her just now. He wasn't proud of his behavior, he only meant to question her, but things quickly got out of control. All he could think about as they drove was her with Fidelio, and he had wanted to punish her for being with his brother. More than that, he had wanted to punish her for being so damn beautiful, for making him want her so fiercely. Costa couldn't account for what had come over him, but for some reason he had turned into a total monster, needling her mercilessly and using her obvious fear of his car against her. He wasn't even sure why he had done it, since he already knew she was his brother’s lover. Perhaps he wanted to punish himself, he mused darkly, for lusting after his brother’s girl. Perhaps he hoped that hearing all the gory details might kill this crazy attraction that was burning him up. Whatever the reason, he knew he had crossed the line and behaved with unconscionable viciousness towards Tallia. He would have to apologize profusely. The idea didn't bother him half as much as the knowledge that, with his rough treatment of her, he had surely ruined any chance he might have of getting her into his bed. He would never forget the fear he saw in Tallia's face as she ran from him. It felt like a hot knife twisting in his gut. Costa had never treated a woman so harshly, never seen one look at him with such naked terror in her face, and never had a woman run- run from him. Once she regained consciousness, he imagined Tallia would want nothing to do with him. She would probably insist on being taken off the island immediately, just to get away from him. It gave him no joy to know that he had succeeded, probably beyond his wildest dreams, in running her off because he had surely lost any chance with her through his callous behavior. By the time he reached the house Costa was beginning to really worry, Tallia still had not stirred. She lay like a broken doll in the seat beside him, her breathing so shallow he could barely hear it, her chest hardly rising. Killing the engine, he caught himself rushing around the car to gather her up, and almost running into the house when he felt how cold she was in his arms. Fidelio appeared as he was laying Tallia on a wide chaise in the living room, having heard the sound of his car. Fidelio's expression did nothing to ease Costa's worry, all the color drained from his brother’s face, leaving his skin sallow beneath his tan. "What the hell happened?" Fidelio whispered as he rushed to the chaise and fell to his knees beside Tallia. If Costa needed any greater demonstration of his brother’s feelings for Tallia, he got it then as Fidelio turned to look up at him with a stricken look. "She passed out," he replied lamely, feeling the first tingle of unease set in as he realized he was going to have to explain himself. Once Fidelio learned the truth it was going to be even harder to pry him away from Tallia. His brother would be indignant, with just cause, and that would only serve to make him all the more protective and devoted to the lovely and now wounded-looking Tallia. "Passed out… what was she doing? Did she overexert herself? How long has she been out?" Fidelio demanded, his voice rising as he clearly began to panic. He smoothed a hand over Tallia's forehead and chaffed her arms lightly, his hands fluttering over her indecisively. "We were driving along the cliffs-" "You took her up that suicide road in your damn black rocket?" Fidelio barked furiously. "I told you I was taking her on a tour of the island," Costa replied defensively, feeling like the lowliest cur as he found himself prevaricating for the first time in his life. Fidelio shoved a hand that was visibly shaking through his hair, "Oh shit, you weren't driving like a maniac were you- of course you were," he muttered, answering his own question. "Couldn't you tell she was scared? Damn it Costa, Tallia is terrified of cars, you must have realized that, she freaks when anyone drives over 25. Didn't she say something?" "She might have," he muttered. "Might have? Costa, this is serious! She's deathly afraid of any sort of speeding, you saw that yesterday," Fidelio snapped angrily. "Don't bark at me Fidelio, your little girlfriend is not what she seems," Costa shot back, never one to tolerate being put on the defensive. He was aggressive and unapologetic by nature, having learned from a young age that being polite got one nowhere, and he knew he was in the right, even if he had cost Tallia some peace of mind and scared her witless. She would recover, he thought coldly, hardening his heart towards her. "Girlfriend! What the hell are you talking about?" "She told me everything Fidelio, how she threw herself at you to get you to marry her, how she only wants you for your money. I'm sorry, I didn't want to hurt you, but I know her type and it's my duty to protect you, even if you are a grown man," he informed his brother quietly. "What are you talking about Costa?" Fidelio demanded in an ominously soft voice. He jumped to his feet then and leaned across the chaise and Tallia's prone body, so his face was as close to Costa's as possible, enunciating brutally as he told him, "Tallia is not my girlfriend." Costa snorted, "What do you mean," he replied scornfully, "she just told me everything Fidelio, how she seduced you the first time you met-" Fidelio cut a hand through the air between them, "Are you out of your mind Costa! Tallia is the sister of my fiancée Emily- Emily Maitland-" "That's not possible…" Costa hissed. "I think I know who I'm in love with, Costa," Fidelio bit out. "You never explained your relation to her," Costa replied stiffly, falling back on cold arrogance as the shock of hearing the truth and how it reflected on his actions washed over him. "Are you completely insane?" Fidelio growled, his face darkening with fury in a way Costa had never seen before. "I told you to be careful with her. I asked you to treat her like family. Can't you see she's sick? “For God sake, she's been in hospital for the past two years. Emmy and I had to spend a month begging and wheedling just to convince her to leave London, and you have to terrorize her with your overbearing, big brother routine the first chance you get!" "Hospital?" Costa asked, his show of indifference swept away by genuine concern. "We need to get a doctor, immediately," Fidelio snapped, falling back down onto his knees beside Tallia and stroking her cheek lightly. He pushed back one of her eyelids and cursed softly when he saw nothing but white. "I think she's in shock. She must be having some sort of relapse from the stress. God, I'm such an idiot, I knew she was too tired after yesterday, I should have told her to stay here and rest!" Costa grit his teeth, hating to see his brother berate himself needlessly when he knew perfectly well he was the one at fault. He was stunned by Fidelio's revelations and the slowly creeping awareness of what he had done to Tallia. He had tortured her. There was no other way to put it. He had literally driven an innocent woman to the breaking point, terrorized her until she spewed lies just to satisfy his sadistic demands. He was so shaken by his behavior that he could hardly think at all. He noticed Ari standing in the door, clasping his hands tightly as he watched them with a worried expression, and ordered him to send for a doctor immediately. "The helicopter will bring Dr. Giannopopoulos. Fidelio, this is not your fault-" A tiny sound from the chaise cut him off in mid sentence and Costa leaned down, hardly daring to hope as Tallia's eyelids fluttered ever so slightly. She turned her head a few inches on the chaise and her smooth brow pleated in a slight frown. She turned her head the other way and her body went rigid. Fidelio grabbed up one of her hands and squeezed it encouragingly. He spoke in a low, coaxing whisper as he rubbed her hand. "C’mon Tallia, wake up." Moaning softly, Tallia obligingly opened her eyes, but when the vague, unfocused look sharpened, as she became aware of her surroundings, she shrank back on the chaise, lifting a hand as if to ward Fidelio away. Digging the heel of her foot into the chaise she tried to shove herself up on the seat, whether to rise or get away from them both, as her eyes darted between them, Costa could not say. There was a blankness in her frightened eyes that told him she didn't recognize either of them, worse, her entire body shook. Even her face trembled, as if she were fevered, though he knew it was fear that had a hold of her- fear and pain. The whiteness of her lips and the low, ragged saw of her breathing as she panted harshly, told him more clearly than words that she was in serious distress. "It's ok Tallia, just relax, you're safe," Fidelio soothed, but it had no effect. When he reached for her shoulder, Tallia flinched so hard she threw herself right off the side of the chaise. Fidelio cursed in horror as he saw the way her body arched when she hit the floor. Squeezing her eyes shut, Tallia whimpered softly. She was too disoriented to calm down, even in pain, and when Fidelio tried to help her she pushed herself back on the rug. Costa watched in frozen disbelief. She could barely move she was so weak and a chill ran through him as he realized the entire right side of her body was hanging limp, both the arm and the leg sprawled out on the floor as if they were useless appendages fixed to her torso, weighing her down. Tallia was bloodless with distress; sweat beading all over her face, shaking like a leaf. Spurred to action by her suffering, Costa stepped over the chaise easily with his long legs, intent on picking her up and taking her to her room so she could rest in a bed until the doctor came. Her eyes darted to him as he came to loom over her and she groan piteously, becoming even whiter, if that was possible. She literally cringed from him! A light step in the hall drew his attention and Costa was desperately relieved when Calamini rushed into the room. He had never been the sort to look to others for help, preferring to do everything himself or delegate. Panic, however, was beginning to edge in all around him as Tallia's anguish only mounted and neither he nor Fidelio could calm her. He could tell Tallia had only known his brother for a short time; it was glaringly obvious since she took no comfort from his presence. In her fear she seemed to have forgotten that she knew Fidelio at all. It was very cold comfort to Costa, at that moment he would have gladly learned she was Fidelio's lover if it meant she would stop struggling and let someone help her. Calamini hurried forward, perhaps it was the mother in her, or the woman, but she seemed to understand without being told that she was needed. Tallia looked up at her with relief, and when the plump little housekeeper swooped down to gather her against her breast, Tallia sagged against her gratefully. All the tension drained from the pale girl as Calamini began to cluck like a worried hen over an injured chick. Tallia's eyes flickered shut and Costa was certain she passed out. Her mouth went slack and the hand that worked stopped clawing at the carpet. "Oh, my God," Fidelio gasped, sitting back on his heels with a shell-shocked look on his face. "What's happened?" More suited to action than handwringing, Costa shoved the chaise back with his foot and bent to slip his arms carefully under Tallia. Fidelio made a sound as if to stop him and he lanced his brother with a hard look. "She needs to be in a bed," Costa bit out, gathering her gently against his chest with Calamini's help. "Let me take her," Fidelio objected, his thick black brows drawing together in a harsh frown. "Get out of the way," Costa growled, not about to entertain ridiculous suggestions or get into an argument. Time was essential, as was Tallia's comfort. He couldn't stand to see her lying on the floor like a broken bird. Fidelio heard the urgency in his voice and immediately stepped aside. Moving carefully, so as not to jar her more than necessary, with Calamini rushing along at his side fretfully, Costa took Tallia upstairs to the blue guest room and eased her carefully onto the wide, soft bed. Tallia did not stir once, not even when she was flat on the mattress. Costa stared down at her, scrapping a hand through his hair as he realized he was completely useless. He had no idea what to do now. Glancing at the small army of prescription bottles arranged like soldiers on parade, he cursed viciously. He was not in the habit of feeling helpless and paced away from the bed to stare blindly out the French doors at the other side of the room. He could hear Fidelio and Calamini fussing and worrying behind him but paid them no mind; all of his energy was focused on silently willing the helicopter to appear. It was the longest twenty minutes of his life, Costa thought as he waited for the big black helicopter. When he finally heard the thump of the powerful rooters he relaxed fractionally. The huge machine swooped down on the lawn at the rear of the house and he watched with silent gratitude as Ari jumped out, followed by a tall young man wearing a bright blue flight suit, who carried a red duffle bag boldly emblazoned with a white cross. Costa was never more thankful that he had such good people around him and that Ari had personally gone to make certain everything went smoothly. Within minutes footsteps were pounding towards the room and the flight medic burst through the open door, his eyes taking everything in with one sharp look. He went to the bed without breaking stride and dropping the medical bag he began checking for a pulse. "How long has she been unconscious?" he demanded, digging a stethoscope out of his flight suit and pressing it to Tallia's ribs. "10-20 minutes, she's recovering from a spinal injury," Fidelio rushed to tell the medic. "What happened? Did she fall?" Fidelio glanced at Costa, who had not moved from the window but now faced the room. "N-no, she had a bad shock. She just came to the island yesterday, I think she was fatigued…" "Mmmm," the medic murmured noncommittally. He pushed aside the stethoscope and began plucking the prescription bottles up off the bedside table, reading the labels with quick precision. "Muscle relaxants, pain killers," he muttered under his breath. Forgetting the bottles as Tallia groaned, he lay a hand across her brow and coaxed her awake with a few soft entreaties. Just as she had in the living room, Tallia woke in a daze, her expression confused and faintly frantic. The sight of the medic didn't seem to alarm her unduly, probably because of the stethoscope and the white crosses emblazoned boldly across the front of his flight suit. She exhaled a jerky breath and relaxed as she stared up at him, a mild, peaceful look settling over her features as her worry melted away. Costa sent a silent thank you upwards, even if it rankled to see her turn so quiet and trusting in the presence of a complete stranger. "Are you alright? What's her name?" the medic asked brusquely of no one in particular, he was bent over Tallia with his attention completely fixed on her. "Do you remember your name?" he demanded of her. "Tallia," she and Fidelio replied at the same time. The medic laughed softly. "Good. Good. Where does it hurt Tallia?" She swallowed and drew a deep breath to answer, but then her eyes shifted from the medic and lit on Costa. The change in her was instantaneous; she paled and stiffened, then let out a muted cry of pain. Her left hand fisted in the covers and the shaking began. Costa started forward, only to stop when Tallia whimpered. Her eyes remained locked with his and he could see the muscles in her face twitch as spasms shook her. "Calm down Tallia, just relax," the medic urged her, pressing his hand back to her brow and putting his other hand on her stomach to restrain her as her body started to convulse. He muttered something when she kept shaking and scrambled in his bag. Producing a syringe and a bottle, he bit off the cap on the needle and stabbed it into the bottle with swift, practiced motions. "I'm going to give you a sedative Tallia, try to relax," he told her as he seized her arm and jabbed the needle in with an expert touch. It must have been a very powerful sedative because in seconds Tallia's eyes rolled back and she went limp. The medic listened to her heart through his stethoscope, as he waited for the injection to work, and then for a minute longer to make certain she was fine. Once he was satisfied he jerked his stethoscope down around his neck and looked up with a grim expression. "I need to call her physician, doctor…" he grabbed up one of the prescription bottles, "Ellsworth. He should be able to help. Spinal cord injuries are problematical. We may have to send for a specialist from the mainland. It could be nothing more than stress and fatigue, the trip out could have aggravated her injuries, or she might be experiencing some sort of complication. I need to do a thorough examination, if the two of you could please leave?" he said, indicating Costa and Fidelio. Calamini, as a woman, was apparently safe to stay and help. Costa's first instinct was to refuse, he was responsible for this mess and he intended to see it through to the end. No matter what it took he would not be satisfied until Tallia was fully healed. Whether they had to fly a hundred specialists out or airlift her to a hospital in Athens or Geneva- or even America, he didn't much care. He could not be at peace until he knew Tallia was better. Even once her body was healed, Costa doubted he would know any peace, not when he thought of how reprehensibly he behaved towards her. He was haunted by the memory of how he carelessly grabbed her on the edge of the cliff, and that terrible sound she made when he did. If she was permanently injured he knew it would be his fault, he must have done her some serious bodily hurt when he manhandled her so thoughtlessly. Glancing at the medic and then Calamini, he nodded stiffly, knowing he had to go, for Tallia's sake. After her reaction when she saw him, it was for the best. Clearly she could not stand the sight of him, and he would not risk upsetting her again by staying in the room. Chapter 7 A spinal injury, Costa thought as he left the room with Fidelio in tow, those were grave words. Tallia's right side had lain motionless through this second fit, and he was terrified of what it might portend. Feeling as if he had aged a hundred years, Costa grabbed Fidelio's arm in the corridor, ready to do his duty and take his lumps like a man. If anything, he was eager to feel the brunt of Fidelio's anger. He was a monster and deserved to be treated as such. Fidelio turned to him with a weary look on his face, which Costa had never seen before, suddenly his brother looked like a man and not a boy. "I am sorry Fidelio, more than you can ever know or I can ever express. I behaved like a monster. I do not think I will ever forgive myself." "Oh, Costa!" Fidelio exclaimed softly, throwing his arms around him. "It's not your fault, I know you were doing what you thought was right, I should have explain-" "Don't blame yourself!" Costa snapped, furious at how quick his brother was to let him off the hook. Though why he was surprised, Costa didn't know; it was Fidelio's way. Since they were children he had never known his brother to hold a grudge or remain angry for long. He wanted to push Fidelio away, refuse his comfort because he certainly did not deserve it, but Costa realized that would be the selfish thing to do. He could see the fear in Fidelio's face and knew the younger man needed him. "I'm so worried Costa," Fidelio confessed as he let go and collapsed against the wall. Costa envied his brother his ability to be so honest and to share his emotions so freely. He could never have admitted as much, even if a gun were pressed to his head. He was simply too reserved, too conscious of maintaining his authority. Fidelio, however, was ten years younger and by the time he was born their father had been an invalid, a mere shell of the autocratic dictator who raised Costa and taught him what it was to be a man. Costa knew he and his mother had doted on Fidelio as their grief over the decline of their bulwark, the Eustakhios family patriarch, made them cling all the harder to one another. Indulged and pampered from the moment he was born, Fidelio did not consider his emotions a weakness. Fidelio laughed and cried quite freely and was certainly a better person for it, Costa thought privately. Standing at rigid attention in the middle of the hall, Costa wished he could be half so open, but he felt the weight of his duty as head of the family acutely and knew it was him everyone depended upon, so he could not indulge in fits of emotion. "Everything will be fine," he assured Fidelio with his usual rock-solid certainty. "Rest assured, I shall do all that can be done for Tallia. She is part of the family, ne? No expense shall be spared-" "There are some problems you just can't throw money at!" Fidelio cut him off in an impassioned voice. It was an argument Costa had heard more than once from his younger, more idealistic brother, but one he did not agree with. "God Costa, Tallia was almost paralyzed in a car accident two years ago. Did you see her arm just now? She couldn't move it!" "She is exhausted and overwrought," Costa reasoned with more sangfroid then he really felt, but he knew indulging in worst-case scenarios would accomplish nothing. He couldn't even allow himself to react to the awful revelation that she had been in a car accident and was almost crippled. Just the notion sent shivers of fear tearing through him. "Her health is so delicate," Fidelio was saying, "She came close to dying in the crash, Costa. They thought she would be a quadriplegic if she ever recovered from the coma-" "Coma!" "Yes," Fidelio said, nodding his head. "Tallia was in a coma for almost a year- nine months! It’s a miracle she came out of it. No one thought she would ever move again, or walk. She has a zillion pins in her back holding her spine together. Even the slightest injury could be disastrous. “We should have listened to her doctor, she told us it was too soon for her to travel, but me and Emmy wanted to get her out of that damn hospital. Emmy's been so frantic over Tallia's health and she knew how depressed Tallia was cooped up in a hospital bed. “I knew it was a bad idea," Fidelio hissed, pounding the back of head against the wall. "I just wanted to make Emmy happy and I thought this was the perfect place for Tallia to rest." "It is," Costa assured him fiercely. "She will be very comfortable here, once she has rested. She is simply tired from the long trip and my unforgivable behavior. I shall get her the best doctors, Fidelio, and if that is not enough I shall have her transported to Athens or London. She must be stronger than she appears, if she has defied all medical predictions concerning her health up till now," he told his brother, grabbing Fidelio's shoulder and squeezing it hard. "She will recover." "Really?" Fidelio whispered hopefully, looking like a little boy again, seeking his big brothers assurance that everything would work out in the end. "Of course. I promise," Costa told him without hesitation. Fidelio grinned then and shook his head, "Costa, you are one in a million," he muttered admiringly. At any other time Costa would have shared his smile and arrogantly agreed, taking his brothers hero worship as his due, but that time was past. He felt about as small and insignificant as a slug after how he behaved today. "Leave everything to me," he said only, swearing to himself that he would see this situation set to rights if it took him the rest of his life. He would not let Fidelio down. More importantly, he would not allow Tallia to suffer a moment longer due to him. "What will I tell Emmy?" Fidelio suddenly exclaimed. "God, she's going to be devastated!" "Tell her nothing- until we know for certain how Tallia is doing," Costa ordered and slapped Fidelio on the back as he led him down to the living room. "I can't do that Costa! She trusts me. We share everything. She'll never forgive me if she finds out I kept something this important from her." "Fidelio, there is no need to upset her unduly. She is coming here soon, ne?" His brother nodded his dark head, "In two days. Tallia and I came ahead to get her settled in. I plan to ask Emmy to marry me when she arrives," he confided with a nervous grin. Costa turned to the wet bar and poured them both a drink to hide the skeptical arch of a black brow, which he could not suppress. As an overprotective older brother, who had been more like a father to Fidelio than a sibling, he could not help but be alarmed by this news. Though Costa loved Fidelio dearly, he knew his brother’s judgment when it came to women was flawed- at best. Fidelio was too trusting and took people at face value. His brother was still so young and inexperienced that he did not know how women could be. Costa knew he was probably to blame, because he had sheltered Fidelio far too much, seeking to protect him from all the harsh truths that no one had shielded Costa from when he was making his way in the world alone. Costa had to look out for his brother. "You will only make her hysterical if you tell her that her sister is ill," he cautioned as he handed Fidelio a drink. "Wait until the medic tells us what he thinks and we know what we are dealing with. There is nothing worse than for a person to know someone they love is in trouble when they are far away and can do nothing to help them. “She is not a physician, your Emmy, is she?" he inquired neutrally. "No. Emmy is a… she's a model," Fidelio told him with telling hesitation. Costa was aware of how his brother paused, the rim of the glass to his lips, to gauge his reaction, knowing how he felt about models. Schooling his features to betray none of his misgivings, Costa merely shrugged and forced himself to take a small sip of ouzo, instead of belting down the entire glass as he really wanted. Privately, he thought things were going from bad to worse; Tallia might be paralyzed and his brother was about to become engaged to a model! It was not lost on Costa that Fidelio had come to Seleni with the expectation of having the island to himself, believing him safely in Athens on business. He could only imagine what he would think of this 'Emmy' when he met her, if his brother felt the need to sneak around and get engaged to the woman behind his back. That cynical thought brought Costa up short as he realized what it implied. Clearly something had gone very wrong in his relationship with Fidelio if his brother was now resorting to hiding things from him, especially something as major as a wife. Pain sliced through Costa as it occurred to him that he had alienated Fidelio, his nearest family member and the person to whom he felt closest in the world. Costa always counted his excellent relationship with his brother as the most important thing in his life and the accomplishment of which he was proudest. He might enjoy his business success and the accolades of associates, mistresses and envious strangers, but he knew family was the only truly essential thing in the world. Fidelio was his family- his only family. It wounded him to think he might have become so stern and overbearing that he had pushed his own brother, the person dearest to him, away. "Fidelio… tell me about your Emmy, please," he asked softly. His brother looked at him with surprise and then his face broke into a wide grin. Tallia woke with a muzzy head. She groaned softly as she let herself drift slowly out of the cotton-wool fog of sedation, knowing from experience it was best not to fight the effects of the drugs and allow her brain to kick start itself. When her mind started working more clearly, she parted her lashes and watched the world drift into focus. She felt as if she were trapped under a ton of bricks, making it almost impossible to open her eyes, much less move. Her mouth was sticky, pasty, and dry all at once, and somewhere in the distance little gremlins were poking her all over with knives that she knew were very sharp, though the drugs thankfully dulled their edge. "Kiri, you are awake, you feel better?" a soft, heavily accented Greek voice murmured in her ear. Remembering where she was, Tallia forced herself not to tense. The voice was that of a woman and made her feel safe. Flicking her gaze around as best she could, she saw no one else in the room and realized she was safe. Suddenly she became aware of a strong, work worn hand holding one of her own hands. Turning her head carefully on the pillow, she found a strange woman with a pleasant face smiling at her, though the woman's dark eyes were fraught with concern. "Ne," she croaked past the gritty dryness in her throat. A lovely smile immediately wreathed the woman's face to hear her speak Greek, though Tallia knew her strange bedside companion was in for disappointment, yes was one of the few words she knew. Thankfully everyone so far had spoken in English around her. "Would you like water?" "Ne," she repeated, knowing better than to nod, as it would only make the gremlins stir with delight. The rim of a glass was brought to her lips and she drank greedily. Instantly she felt refreshed and far more awake. She tried sitting up, but the woman was quick to press a hand to her shoulder to restrain her, making a fretful sound. "I'm fine, I'm fine," Tallia assured her, feeling the need to sit up and check her surroundings. Memory was flooding back and she knew where she was, on Seleni, in Greece. A little shudder skittered through her as she remembered everything, especially him- Costa, Fidelio's brother. Only when she saw for certain that the room was empty, did Tallia feel as if she could relax. Her eyes lingered on the French doors that led out onto a wide, luxurious terrace. That was where she last saw him, standing so dark and menacing against the brilliant blue sky, watching her with his deceptively mellow eyes. Everything that passed between them in the car that morning came rushing through her head, making her groan, while she felt hot color flood her face. She tried to reach up and cover her burning cheeks, but couldn't feel her right arm. Looking down, Tallia saw it lying on the bed, palm up, the fingers curling gently in the air, but it was suddenly the arm of a stranger because it lay unresponsive at her side. Frowning, she willed her hand to move or the fingers to twitch, but nothing happened, all she felt was numbness along the entire right side of her body, from the neck down. Her fear must have been apparent, because the woman at her side began muttering in Greek and patting her on the shoulder lightly, obviously trying to reassure her. Tallia couldn't tear her eyes from her hand. It just lay there, as if it had been severed. Horrible memories suddenly resurfaced, of waking up in hospital with her head in a vice, unable to move anything but her eyes. Tubes had been placed down her throat forcing air into her lungs; strangers’ hands had been all over her body. She whimpered and jerked, trying to force her hand to work. Her right arm slid a few inches across the bed at her weak struggles, but she still couldn’t feel it. Black fear edged her vision and she felt as if she might pass out. Her lungs hurt, and belatedly she realized she was holding her breath. Remembering to breathe, Tallia sucked in a deep lungful of air and grabbed her useless arm with her left hand, which thankfully was still working. To her horror she couldn't even feel her hand on her arm. It was as if the right side of her body were no longer attached. Dropping the dead weight of her right arm in her lap, she pinched her skin frantically- yet she couldn't feel anything! The woman had gone to the door to call for someone, Tallia hardly noticed as she yanked on the fingers of her right hand brutally. This can't be happening, she thought, dumbly. I’m dreaming. I must still be under sedation, she told herself. She began to pant as panic set in. The gremlins went wild inside, and she felt their knives digging deeper. Tallia knew from physical therapy that she had to stay calm. She would burn through the sedative, the nurses were always telling her. But it was hard when she couldn't feel her arm, no matter how hard she bent her fingers or twisted her skin. "Miss Maitland, Miss Maitland!" a deep, authoritative voice called to her. Terrified, she looked up to see a stout, middle-aged man rushing towards her. He wore a lab coat and held a stethoscope in one hand; his other hand was extended towards her in a staying motion. "It won't move," she gasped, struggling to catch her breath and looking wildly around as the room seemed to blur. She didn't know where she was, this wasn't a hospital and she had never seen these people before, the doctor and the woman standing in the door. She needed Emmy. Where is Emmy? She wondered desperately, shrinking into the pillows as the doctor came to hover over her. "Please, do not upset yourself Miss Maitland," the Doctor soothed, his voice a heavily accented, comforting rumble, as he sat down on the edge of the bed. "I can't move my arm," she whispered, settling back against the pillows. She became docile as she realized that though he was a stranger he was here to help. "Yes, so it would seem," he murmured as if it were of only mild concern. "You have had a shock to the system, my dear. I have spoken extensively with your doctor, Mrs. Ellsworth, and examined you myself. We believe you have suffered no further trauma to your existing injuries." What do you mean?" Smiling, he gave her knee a paternal pat and took her useless arm, gently prying it free from the hand that was abusing it. "You did not have a fall this morning or since leaving London, did you?" "No," she agreed. "Do you recall suffering any violent physical trauma?" "N-no," she replied. "Very good. Then there is every reason to believe you are suffering from symptoms of a very temporary nature. I am Doctor Giannopopoulos, and I have taken the liberty of examining you- with Mrs. Panossis in the room," he assured her, "as did the flight medic who was first brought here to check on you. “Both the medic and I observed considerable swelling around your spine, especially in the areas where you have been operated. We have reason to believe, and your Doctor Ellsworth thinks it is most likely, that you have overexerted yourself in the past two days causing inflammation in the muscles of your back. These muscles are now constricting the nerves on the right side of your spine, causing the numbness and temporary paralysis you are experiencing. "I will be honest with you, as I am with all my patients Kiri Maitland. The next twenty-four hours are critical," he told her, lowering his voice to stress the importance of his words. "I have every expectation that with rest and complete relaxation we should see your mobility return once the affected muscles have been given a chance to settle down. The paramedic administered a sedative due to your agitation, to keep you from further injuring yourself, and I intend to give you another injection, to insure your back has a chance to recover. If by tomorrow, however, there is no change in your condition, I fear we will have to airlift you to a hospital where we can x-ray you and determine what must be done. "The next twenty four hours are crucial Kiri, you must remain in bed without any distractions. You must remain calm and give your body a chance to heal, ne?" "Ne," she repeated weakly, taking heart from his calm manner and reasonable explanation. She supposed she had to, since she would surely become hysterical if she dwelt too long on the possibility of being permanently paralyzed, and that would only exacerbate the situation. "You will be fine Kiri Maitland," the doctor pronounced gently, patting her left hand reassuringly. "Have faith. I will remain here until tomorrow and travel with you to the hospital if there is no change in your condition. “Mrs. Panossis will stay with you through the night and see to your care. You must rest and allow nothing to distress you. Tell us if you have any needs, no matter how insignificant, ne? You will be fine, do not worry," he said again with such soothing authority that she could not help but believe him. Nodding her head, Tallia gave him a small smile. "So, before I give you the injection, is there anything you need?" he asked lightly. Blushing hotly, she nodded and licked her lips. After all the time she spent in hospital Tallia knew she should not be embarrassed by anything, yet some things never got easier. The doctor seemed to understand before she even opened her mouth and he chuckled softly. "Ah, I see, perhaps I shall go and leave you with Mrs. Panossis for a few minutes?" "Please," she sighed, grateful for his tact and understanding. Her relief didn't last very long when she saw the bedpan Mrs. Panossis produced with a sympathetic smile, but Tallia realized it was a small price to pay if it saved her from permanent paralysis. Chapter 8 "I bring excellent news," Dmitri Giannopopoulos announced late the next morning as he let himself into Costa's study. Lifting his head from the sheaf of papers he was studying, Costa imagined he looked only mildly interested as the doctor entered his study. Years ago he mastered impassivity, since his poker face was one of his most powerful business assets. Though he probably looked as cool as a cucumber, Costa knew it was a sham. He had spent one of the worst nights in memory after Dmitri examined Tallia yesterday and explained to him his theory of what had happened to her. Knowing they could do nothing but wait and see how bad the damage to her spine was, had been torturous. Not being able to do anything drove him almost mad, especially not being able to even check in on her as he knew it would only upset her to see him if she was awake or woke up while he was in the room. Pushing away the papers he had been half-heartedly reading and re-reading all morning, as he couldn't concentrate on anything, Costa waved Dmitri to a chair. He hardly dared move or draw breath as he waited to hear what the doctor would say, though the man’s jovial manner gave him hope. "Our lovely patient is moving all ten of her fingers and toes this morning Costa!" Nodding his head gravely, Costa tamped down on the relief that poured through him. "So, we are out of the woods?" he asked cautiously. Dmitri nodded his head, "It would seem. The swelling is down and Kiri Maitland has regained sensation in her right side. Now all that remains is for her to begin moving the right arm and leg. I do not think it presumptuous to anticipate she will be doing so by the end of the day- tomorrow by the latest. “She is a very brave girl, but I think it would be wise for her to stay off her feet for several weeks. She will be very weak for quite some time and needs bed rest and only light exercise. No traveling, no lifting heavy objects, and no stress of any kind!" "Yes, of course, you can be sure of it," Costa murmured, holding himself upright with grim effort when all he wanted to do was sag back in his chair and thank God that Tallia was going to make a full recovery. He couldn't think what he would have done if she had remained paralyzed. Guilt had been eating him alive all night and even knowing she was on the mend did little to lighten the heavy sense of self-loathing burdening his soul. "Good. I shall go now, I have patients on the mainland to tend to, but Fidelio has promised to bring me back tomorrow morning to examine her again and check on her progress. I am only a phone call away, and that loud bird of yours can have me back here in less than an hour, so feel free to send for me if there are any problems. “Kiri Maitland already has an entire pharmacy of pain killers, she should manage as long as she remains calm and nothing is permitted to upset her. Everything should be fine Costa," he said with a broad grin, standing up and leaning across the table to shake his hand. Costa snapped to his feet and shook the doctors hand, wishing he shared the man's optimism. Tallia's health might no longer be of any concern, but he had his doubts that things would be fine in his house. He owed the woman a debt of honor he knew he would never be able to repay. On top of that, Emily Maitland would be here soon and after the way he treated Tallia he knew he would be in no position to object to the woman his brother believed himself to be in love with, no matter how unsuitable he found her. Watching the doctor leave, Costa collapsed into his chair the moment he was alone and let out a deep groan. He had made a mess of things, a spectacularly awesome shambles of his life. He had attacked the wrong woman, possibly alienated his brother, and discovered he was secretly a petty, sadistic monster- all in less than forty-eight hours. A master strategist, he could see he had maneuvered himself into an untenable position on multiple fronts. When he took inventory of the personal wreckage that lay all about him, he was almost impressed by how swiftly and completely he had derailed his life. Considering his appalling behavior and the ensuing fallout, Costa wished he could kick his own ass, since no one else seemed willing to do it for him. Fidelio had not recriminated him once for behaving like a brute last night- as he should have, instead he had opened up and told Costa all about the woman with whom he was in love. What a woman indeed, Costa thought acerbically. Emily Maitland was exactly the sort of creature he would never wish on his brother, much less his worst enemy. Miss Maitland, the younger, was a flashy young model who made a name for herself several years ago promoting a racy underwear line. Costa remembered the campaign well for its utter lack of taste and her utter lack of modesty. If memory served him right, his future sister-in-law’s nude body had been splashed across every bus, billboard and television screen in the world. Emily Maitland had used her professional success to launch countless, highly publicized affairs with every man-whore playboy, actor, and degenerate imaginable- all of it well documented by the tabloids. Costa had been appalled to learn, when he did an Internet search on her last night, that the woman actually had a sex tape floating around in cyberspace! Between her underwear modeling and tabloid-fodder love life, Costa considered Emily Maitland one tiny step up from a porn star. She was everything Costa hated. If the sex tape wasn't bad enough, the girl had topped her career of scandal off by becoming a raging drug addict- also well documented as Costa quickly discovered by typing her name into a search engine on his computer. After that Miss Maitland seemed to have fallen off the face of the earth. Not one to follow gossip rags and the lives of famous train wrecks, Costa knew nothing about her aside from her career as a tacky lingerie model. Last night, unfortunately, he learned all he ever wanted to know of the sordid history of Miss Emily Maitland from his brother and the Internet. After almost destroying her career with her drug use, Emily's life had continued to spiral more and more out of control. Fidelio told him of her numerous drug arrests and visits to rehab, all of which had done nothing to make her change her ways. It was only when Emily wrapped her sleek sports car around a telephone pole, with her sister Tallia in the passenger seat, that she finally stopped her self-indulgent foolishness. While Tallia had almost died in the accident, Emily walked away without a scratch. The near miss had been enough to literally scare Emily Maitland straight. She had stopped taking drugs and abandoned her reckless, partying ways to devote herself completely to her sister and her career. Costa supposed it was an admirable end to a sordid story and he should be impressed, but all he could think of was Tallia lying broken and almost mortally wounded in a hospital bed for two years. He had seen pictures on the Internet of Emily’s wrecked car and he was still amazed Tallia survived. The passenger side of Emily's sports car had been completely crushed and mangled beyond recognition. According to the newspaper accounts, Tallia had been pried from the wreckage without a heartbeat and resuscitated in an ambulance en rout to the hospital. She had been in a coma for nine months without any prospects of ever awakening, much less walking again. Somehow she pulled through it all, he mused grimly, only to land in my unsympathetic hands. Theos, he couldn't believe what he had put her through yesterday. As long as he lived Costa knew he would never forget the fear he had seen on her face as he drove her along the cliffs. She had been whiter than a sheet. She had begged - begged! – for him to stop the car, and he had ignored her. Worse, he had enjoyed her fear, enjoyed punishing her for all that he thought she was, a greedy, grasping, shallow, good-time girl- his brother’s girl. Costa didn't think he could ever face her again. No amount of apologizing would suffice, no gift or favor or… or anything could make this right. She must hate him and he could hardly blame her. He kept thinking of her terror when she saw him in her room yesterday. His gut twisted when he remembered how the damn flight medic had been forced to sedate her just to get her to calm down! Dropping his head into his hands, Costa tried to think of a way to fix this situation, but his usually agile brain was useless. There was no way to repair the damage. She would never look at him with anything but fear and loathing. She must hate him, while all he could do was think about her, and want her. Tallia woke in excellent spirits the next day. Emmy would arrive later and though the two of them had been apart less then a week, she was excited to see her sister again. She and Fidelio had spent the previous day talking of nothing but the engagement and she thought it was a toss up as to which one of them was more thrilled by the idea. Even knowing Emmy would say yes, did not diminish Tallia’s pleasure. Emmy was wild about Fidelio and Tallia could not wait for the two of them to be married. The last years had been hard on Emmy, since the accident she had done a lot of growing up fast. Marrying Fidelio would be good for Emily. Tallia knew her sister needed a man in her life, and unlike her previous boyfriends, a long line of losers and users, Fidelio genuinely loved Emmy and wanted to take care of her. Tallia was certain they would make a smashing success of their life together. More important, once Emmy was married Tallia knew her sister would have to devote herself to her new husband and stop making an invalid the focus of her existence. As much as Tallia appreciated all of Emmy's love and attention during her long recovery, she knew it wasn't healthy. Emmy had put her life on hold while Tallia was sick, taking on only enough modeling work to support herself while letting her career and her aspirations languish. Tallia knew Emmy had a thousand plans, her sister had always bubbled over with hopes and dreams. Drugs and Emmy’s crazy lifestyle had briefly gotten the best of her, but now that she was clean and sober Tallia sensed Emmy was ready to take off like a firecracker. Emmy wanted to go back to school and study fashion to become a designer, she also wanted children and a husband and a home. If Emmy married Fidelio, who was always completely supportive and encouraged her to push herself and follow her passions, Tallia was certain her sister would follow through with her plans and stop delaying going to school on the pretext of having to stay by her bedside to nurse her back to health. Sliding to the edge of her bed and easing her legs over the side, Tallia grimaced as she watched her right leg flop awkwardly off the mattress. Part of the reason Tallia agreed to come to Greece was her hope that by so doing she could show Emmy that she really was better and no longer needed constant care and supervision. Her present condition, however, was going to do nothing to alleviate Emmy's fears. If she was eager to see Emmy on her way to a life of her own, Tallia was even more impatient to get back to her own life. She hated being dependent on others for everything from a sip of water to performing basic bodily functions. Leaving the hospital for the first time in almost two years, to take a plane with Fidelio to Greece, had been a major milestone. She had no intention of ending up back in hospital for a very long time to come. Before the accident she had been a relatively carefree single, living in her own apartment in the suburbs of London while teaching children at a posh private academy. Her life had been close to perfect. She had even begun to date, though sporadically and only men who understood that she wanted a relationship and not a romp, and would not be rushed into bed. The only real problem she could remember, aside from her intimacy issues, was Emmy's drug use. Because of Emmy’s problems Tallia had stayed close to London to be near her sister, trying to offer Emmy as much love and support as she could. In those days, Emmy had been a different person compared to the laughing young girl Tallia remembered growing up. Drugs had turned Emmy into a moody, surly, paranoid stranger who resented and rebuffed all offers of help. Emmy had run with a fast crowd, her life full of excess and partying, with no room in it for a staid sister who wanted her to clean herself up and settle down. Emmy had left home early to escape their strict, controlling stepfather and never looked back. Modeling had been her ticket to freedom, and she had been living on her own when she was only seventeen, before Tallia even moved out of their parent’s house. All that freedom and self-reliance so early had made Emmy feel as if she didn't need to answer to or listen to anyone, her headstrong personality and the influence of the wrong people had almost led to disaster. In some ways, Tallia considered the accident a blessing. Before the car crash Emmy had treated her with suspicion and hostility, the accident however, had brought them together again and knocked some sense into Emmy. Her sister had finally stopped using drugs and taken stock of her life, and decided to change herself for the better. With a grimace of distaste, Tallia reached for the cane Fidelio brought her yesterday. It was better than a walker, she thought as she used it to limp to the bathroom. Lord how she hated walkers- the hospital had been full of walkers- they made her feel like a real invalid. She smiled when she recalled how Fidelio teased her yesterday, as she tried out the cane, telling her she looked dashing as he adjusted it until it was just the right length for her. Easing herself into the shower, Tallia worried what Emmy would think when she saw the cane. She knew her sister would be frantic. Emmy was riddled with guilt over the accident. Her sister still had nightmares and tortured herself with recriminations over her recklessness. Tallia tried repeatedly to tell Emmy that it was over and they should put it behind them. She certainly felt no rancor towards her sister, but Emmy wouldn't let it go. Before coming to Greece, Tallia had been almost back to her old self. She wanted things to be normal between them, just two sisters on equal footing. The blasted cane, however, would ruin that hope. Worse, she feared it might stop Emmy from accepting Fidelio's proposal. Emmy never said anything, but Tallia knew her sister had put the brakes on her relationship with Fidelio repeatedly, even going so far as to break up with him once after Tallia took a bad turn, because she felt she had to devote herself to Tallia before anything else. Out of guilt, Emmy insisted on putting her life on hold until Tallia was fully recovered, which was ridiculous. Tallia knew she would eventually mend, but it would take time, as this trip was proving to her. There was no way in hell though that she would allow Emmy to sacrifice her future to play nursemaid. Washing herself quickly, Tallia took special care getting out of the shower so she wouldn't slip on the wet tiles. Propping herself against a counter, she quickly dried herself and went through her routine of brushing her teeth, combing out her hair and applying moisturizer. She needed to catch Fidelio before he went to fetch Emmy and work out a game plan. Yesterday she persuaded him not to tell Emmy anything of her relapse, but it had taken a long time and a lot of pleading and cajoling. Today she had something even nuttier in mind; she needed to convince him that she could manage without the cane. Fidelio, unfortunately, was as stubborn as a mule. He’s also a wonderful man, Tallia had to admit as she recalled his sincere concern for her. It always surprised her a little how close she felt to Fidelio, since she usually avoided men, and how the feeling appeared to be mutual. From the moment they met they had been like brother and sister, or long lost friends. They never ran out of things to say or laugh about, and genuinely cared for each other. She knew Fidelio was worried about her, but right now she needed an ally and not another nurse. Tallia's mind went involuntarily to Fidelio's brother, and she shivered. Glancing at the door, as she limped heavily across her room to the wardrobe where Calamini had hung all her clothes, she wondered why she had yet to see any hint of Costa. It amazed her that he had yet to stop in, not even to apologize. She wasn’t looking for an apology from Costa, whom she imagined would eventually offer one, despite his abominable arrogance. Good manners, she knew, would compel Costa to ask to be forgiven for his behavior, though it was the last thing she wanted. Tallia knew any apology from him would be a seriously awkward affair for both of them, because she didn’t imagine such a brute did much apologizing. Costa made her nervous, not simply because of what happened between them when they went out in his car, but because Tallia knew he had made her nervous from the first. With a domineering personality such as his, Tallia had fully expected to receive a visit yesterday while she lay about all day doing nothing to let her body heal. Bored to tears, she had even imagined him entering the room with that purposeful stride of his to survey everything with his steady, unflinching eyes- like an imperious king inspecting his kingdom. He would look at her with the same haughty air of propriety with which he looked at everything around him, as if he owned her along with each stick of furniture and stitch of fabric in the place. The thought stirred a weird, squirmy sensation in the pit of her stomach that she didn't want to examine too closely. Fidelio had already apologized up, down and center for his brother since the moment Tallia was lucid enough to speak. Tallia accepted his apologies readily and assured him she was fine and didn't blame Costa, though Fidelio hardly appeared convinced. In truth, she didn't blame Costa. Once she calmed down and the pain receded, she could think clearly. In a strange way, she understood Costa perfectly. As an older sibling it was easy for her to see how his actions, though frightfully cruel, had been motivated by love for his brother. She might not like Costa, or his heavy-handed methods, but she could empathize with his need to protect his family. Dropping the towel, Tallia kept checking the door surreptitiously, feeling intensely vulnerable standing around naked with thoughts of Costa in her head. She was dreading seeing him again, yet there was an edge to her apprehension. An electric tingle she had felt around him from the moment she first set eyes on the man, added an element of shivery anticipation to her unease. She had never experienced such a strong reaction to a man before. Usually she was indifferent to men or plain apprehensive. Her experience with the opposite sex was limited. Her father ran off when she was only a small child and by the time her mother remarried she had been a teenager. Kevin, her über-controlling stepfather, had done nothing to make Tallia want closer relations with anyone of the opposite sex. After he married her mother, Kevin had made her life a living hell. He would spy on her, rifling through her papers, reading her diary and checking on her in the middle of the night to make certain she didn’t sneak out. Growing up with him, Tallia had felt like a criminal in jail. Kevin forbade her to date. He insisted teenage girls were all promiscuous tarts as hot for sex as any teenage boy, and couldn’t be trusted not to sleep around. When he even thought he saw her looking at a boy, Kevin would go crazy. He would lecture her for hours about what creeps men were and how they preyed on women, telling her explicitly what depraved sexual things men wanted to do to her. He would accuse her of all sorts of imagined indiscretions and go into graphic detail about things Tallia, at fifteen, had never even heard about. Since leaving home Tallia had led a very quiet life. After her father’s abandonment and Kevin’s lessons, she had a profound fear of making herself vulnerable to a man and being used. She avoiding men as much as possible and had even happily chosen a profession that was dominated by women. Costa Eustakhios however, was not the sort of man a woman could ignore. He dominated every setting that he was in, filled any room in which he stood. He was a big, dark, alpha who demanded attention and submission simply by drawing breath. Tallia had never been in the presence of such a force of nature. It was scary the way he made her feel, though she hated to admit it was also oddly exhilarating, not unlike standing in the charged atmosphere before a storm. She was both attracted and repelled by him, a combination that threw her off balance, leaving her unsure how to react, how to protect herself. Fleetingly, she wished she could leave and never see him again. It might be the coward’s way, but it seemed safest. He didn't like her, and his overwhelming personality threatened her in a way she didn't quite understand. He made her feel intensely female and starkly exposed, as if she were prey and he an inescapable predator. Even more disconcerting, she wasn’t even sure she wanted to get away. Shaken by that strange thought, Tallia knew for her own safety she should avoid him, yet that was impossible given their current situation. With a sense of giddy anticipation, she checked her appearance in a full-length mirror and then left her room. Chapter 9 Tallia found both Eustakhios brothers lounging on the terrace below, which was a little surprising given the lateness of the hour. Fidelio lounged, Costa sat very straight and upright in a chair reading a newspaper. She almost stumbled in the door when she found him staring at her, as if he knew she was coming, his expression unreadable. Smiling nervously, Tallia felt immediately breathless and lightheaded and clutched the doorframe to give herself a moment to get her bearings, rather than to actually steady herself. Fidelio jumped out of his seat and rushed over to help her, slipping an arm around her waist and practically carrying her bodily to a chair. "I'm fine, Fidelio. I can walk," she tried to insist as he dragged her across the deck, easing her down onto a cushioned lounger. He fussed over her like an overwrought mother, tucking a pillow under her legs, dragging an umbrella over to shade her, and adjusting the lounger twice, all in less than thirty seconds. "Why aren't you using the cane?" he demanded once he was satisfied that she was comfortable. Pushing her hair back as it was falling across her face, Tallia could not keep her eyes from Costa. He looked carved out of stone, not merely because of his harsh, exacting features, but because he had barely moved a muscle since she appeared. When their eyes locked, he snapped the paper he had been reading closed and tossed it aside without looking away, his brown eyes fixed to hers hypnotically. "Because I don't need it," Tallia replied, clearing her throat when her voice came out husky and dreamy sounding. "You don't need it!" Fidelio parroted, oblivious to the staring match she and Costa were locked into. "You are limping badly, you need to use the cane Tallia so you don't fall and hurt yourself!" "Don't be silly, Fidelio," she said with a forced laugh, finally tearing her eyes away from Costa and taking refuge in her hair. Dipping her chin, she let her overgrown fringe slide across her face to hide the blush she could feel starting across her cheeks as he kept staring at her in his unnervingly direct manner. "I need to exercise my leg, and that cane is so dramatic- it makes me feel like I'm an old woman." Fidelio gaped at her and then cried, "You women and your vanity," with an exasperated shake of his head. "You must be serious, Tallia. Your leg is still weak, and if you were to fall now you could really hurt yourself." "It's not as if I am going anywhere Fidelio," she told him stubbornly. "I'm restricted to the house, on doctors orders. I'm hardly likely to injure myself lying about like an old dog. I can manage to stay upright going from the bed to the loo, or down the stairs to the terrace here," she insisted. "Tallia-" Fidelio began, clearly not persuaded and determined to argue the matter. Costa cleared his throat, instantly getting his brother’s undivided attention. "Fidelio," he said in that low, silky, carefully controlled voice of his that oozed authority and sent shivers along Tallia's spine, "do not browbeat our guest before she has had her breakfast." Fidelio immediately blushed bright red through his tan, looking like a chastened boy at his brother’s lazy, faintly mocking words. "Why don't you go and get Tallia something to eat? She needs food if she is to build up her strength, ne?" "Of course," Fidelio agreed. A sly smile curved his lips as a private look passed between the brothers, and Tallia knew Fidelio believed Costa would have more luck convincing her than he was having. Tallia wondered if it were true and steeled herself as best as she could, to face Costa's brand of persuasion. As soon as they were alone, Costa slid his chair back from the table and came to his feet. Even though he was only a head taller than her, he looked like a veritable mountain as he came to tower above her where she reclined on the lounger. Tallia felt her stomach knot with a churning mixture of crazy emotions when he crouched down beside her, so they were on the same eye level. Costa was huge, his shoulders massive, his chest a wall, arms and legs like young tree trunks corded with muscle, and every inch of him a deep golden brown that set off his light eyes vividly. "I wish to apologize Tallia, for my inexcusable treatment of you," he began in a smooth purr that slid over her like a velvet caress. "I know words can not suffice, but they are all I have. What I did-" "P-please don’t," she whispered, cringing inwardly as she interrupted him, yet unable to help herself, as she couldn't stand to hear him apologize. She didn’t doubt his sincerity, because it was his very real regret that unsettled her the most. Watching Costa’s eyes soften with contrition made her insides begin to melt, and she felt her body start to tremble uncontrollably. She didn't understand the effect he had on her and was frightened by it. Costa arched a thick black brow, but he didn’t snap at her for cutting him off. "You don't have to apologize," she said, struggling to sound normal as her voice wobbled dangerously. "I understand why you did what you did, and it is not your fault I had a relapse. I shouldn't have been traveling so soon, my doctor in England told me as much, but… I wanted to come." He said nothing for a moment, just continued to stare at her in that unnerving way of his. "You understand my actions?" he finally repeated. Tallia nodded. "Ah, then please Tallia, be so good as to explain them to me?" he asked roughly, his faint accent surfacing. She thought he was mocking her, but when he looked away, his thick lashes flicking down to shield his eyes, she realized he was serious. It amazed her to see a dull flush burned across his hard cheekbones and she knew he was genuinely upset. "Well, you're an older brother, just as I'm an older sister, with no parents between us to depend on," she began softly. "You feel very protective of your brother, just as I feel towards my sister. I realize you misunderstood and thought I was Fidelio's girlfriend, and you wanted to protect your brother from… from a stranger who you don't… who you don't like," she whispered. "You probably want Fidelio to marry a Greek girl, someone you know, of whom you approve. I think you got the wrong impression about me, what with all the pills…" she trailed off. "I see," Costa murmured without inflection. He said nothing for a minute and an awkward silence settled between them. "You are a very unique woman," he finally told her, his eyes lifting to pierce her with a fleeting, inscrutable look, "Very forgiving. You have my apology regardless. I am in your debt and you may consider me your faithful servant, should you need my help." "That is totally unnecessary!" she cried, disturbed by the very idea. The way Costa spoke was shockingly formal and she knew he was utterly serious. Archaic though it might seem, he really did believe he owed her a debt of gratitude. Fidelio once mentioned that his brother was ‘old school Greek’ in many of his attitudes, towards honor, family and business, and she was discovering first hand what that meant. "You will not persuade me otherwise," he informed her tightly, standing up and turning towards the railing, giving her his broad, tense back. "But-" "What I should like to discuss with you now, Tallia," he cut across her objections smoothly, "is what you are hoping to gain by trying to convince my brother than you do not need that cane, when it is quite apparent that you cannot walk unaided at this time." His words brought hot color back to her cheeks and made Tallia feel as transparent as glass. "Must… must you make it sound so sordid?" she asked weakly, thinking he had to have the most suspicious, disapproving nature on earth. "Your health is my primary concern, Tallia," he informed her sternly, turning around to give her a chilling look as he crossed his arms over his impressive chest. He looked the very epitome of intimidation as he stared down at her archly. "I- I just don't want to worry my sister when she arrives." "Perhaps your sister needs to be worried," he retorted in the same biting tones. "No, no she does not!" Tallia hissed, recovering her pluck as she sensed Costas’ criticism of Emily. She was fiercely protective of her sister, just as her sister was protective of her, and couldn’t stand to hear anyone disparage Emmy. "Emily has completely devoted herself to me for the past two years, to the exclusion of everything else- she almost refused to see your brother because she was so focused on taking care of me. I am better now, I just need a little more time to get completely back on my feet," she insisted when a thick black brow ticked up a notch and he looked as if he would argue. "I want to get on with my life, and I want Emmy to do the same! If she sees me walking with a cane she will be terrified and blame herself, as she has been doing for the past two years-" "That is only natural when she almost killed you," he snapped harshly, fury darkening his face and making his eyes narrow dangerously. "It was an accident, and I got into that car knowing full well what state she was in!" Costa let out an ugly bark of laughter. "You defend her for driving intoxicated? What if you were not the one she hurt and instead she crashed into another car, killed some innocent, paralyzed a man coming home from work or perhaps a mother, a child? Would you be as quick to defend her then?" Tallia squeezed her eyes shut because his argument was one that had often played out while she tried to get through to her reckless sister during the height of Emmy's self-destructive tailspin. "Of course you're right, I know it, that was precisely why I got into the car. I was trying to convince her to stop behaving so stupidly and think of the risks she was taking with her life and with the lives of everyone around her! We were arguing while she drove, she was out of her mind on drugs…" Tallia covered her face as memories of that night started tumbling through her head and she could feel herself break out in a cold sweat. "Tallia, please, do not think of it. I did not mean to distress you," Costa's voice urged, soft and velvety in her ear. She felt his hand on her shoulder, and the lounger creaked as he sat down beside her. Jerking back against the seat as his touch and proximity startled her, Tallia tore her hands from her face, but he was already gone. She could smell him all around her though, the warm, bewitching smell of man mixed with a faint exotic soap, a woodsy scent, cedar or sage. He dropped his hand and moved away, rising effortlessly, his muscular thighs flexing beneath the jeans he wore. Retreating back to the railing, he put one strong hand lightly on the smooth wood. She had the fleeting, bizarre thought as she watched him stroke the smooth railing with his thumb, that she wished it were her arm his fingers were resting on, even though she just flinched from his touch. "If it is your wish to deceive your sister then you shall have my help," he informed her stiffly over his shoulder. Amazed at his complete about face, Tallia gaped at his back stupidly for a minute before recovering her wits. "I am not deceiving anyone," she insisted, hating his grim choice of words. "I am better. I'm not an invalid," she stated angrily. "Of course," he agreed blankly, as if he were some mindless lackey. "It's not as if I will be doing anything," she insisted, feeling like a silly child. "I'll be in this house the entire time, and it's only for a few days." "You will not leave Seleni, Tallia, not for at least two weeks," Costa rounded on her, his eyes narrow again, his words a command and not a request. Taken aback by the severity of his tone, she nodded meekly, "O-of course, I only meant… well Fidelio will be taking Emmy around to some of the other islands, at least that was the plan." Costa inclined his head slightly, looking like the most benign and reasonable of dictators. "An excellent idea," he agreed. "I am certain he and your sister shall want their privacy as they make their plans for the future." "So you're not angry with me?" Fidelio asked cheerfully as he appeared with a tray covered with food. "Angry, why would I be angry?" Costa remarked casually, leaning back against the railing and looking almost carefree as he offered his brother a slight, amused grin. "Well, for starters, I was sneaking around behind your back, invading your home, getting engaged to a woman you have yet to meet," Fidelio said as he set the tray down across Tallia's lap. "Oh, that," Costa retorted lightly, "this is your home too Fidelio, and you are a grown man. I think I forget that sometimes. Perhaps you are ready to live your own life, without my interference." Tallia was glad Fidelio had put the tray down because she was certain he would have dropped it the look of shock on his face was so complete. "Really?" "Yes, really," Costa drawled, though there was something in his glittering gaze that made Tallia uneasy. He looked the picture of amicability, but she didn't buy it for a moment. Fidelio, however, seemed oblivious to the undercurrents of tension swirling in the air. Rushing over to Costa, Fidelio threw his arms around him in an exuberant bear hug. Tallia was hardly surprised when Costa merely patted his brother on the back, he didn't strike her as the demonstrative type. Costa didn't look precisely uncomfortable as Fidelio embraced him, just… stiff, as if he were in the habit of holding himself apart from others, even his own brother. It struck Tallia then that Costa might be very lonely, up on his high horse, and she actually felt a little of her apprehension towards him lessen as he became slightly more human in her eyes. "Now Fidelio, if you really intend to marry this woman I suggest you not keep her waiting?" Costa prompted. His brother immediately let go of him and dug his cell phone out of his pocket to check the time. "Damn!" Fidelio muttered, "I better get going." "Yes, and perhaps a change of clothes?" Costa suggested, eyeing Fidelio's jeans and t-shirt pointedly. "Suit?" "Maybe something less formal?" "Of course," Fidelio agreed, a grin on his face as he ran off. He stopped in the door and turned back to look at the two of them, "Wish me luck?" "Always," Costa replied. "You'll do fine," Tallia was quick to assure him. Feeling the heat of Costa's eyes on her, Tallia reluctantly turned to find him smiling at her sardonically. Before she could read too much into the look, or work up the nerve to ask him what he was thinking, he was pushing himself away from the railing and inclining his head in a formal manner, almost as if bowing, "I shall leave you to your breakfast and send Calamini to help you." "Thank you," Tallia said, flushing under his intense scrutiny. "No, Tallia, it is I who must thank you, for gracing my home with your singular presence." On those enigmatic words he strode off, probably to conquer the world or slay a dragon, she imagined fancifully. There was so much purpose in his graceful, muscular gait, such gravity in his mien that she could not think he was off to do anything mundane or ordinary. She thought if anyone was singular it was he, she was just an ordinary woman, a nobody, a schoolteacher from the suburbs. Costa, on the other hand, was larger than life. Tallia didn't leave her room until the sun began to set. She knew Emmy and Fidelio must have come back from Tanos hours ago, but considerately she gave them plenty of time alone to catch up before she went to join them. The extra time was good for her as well, allowing her to rest up and regain more of her strength. For the past months she often felt like a third wheel, an intrusive presence between the two lovers. Though Emmy and Fidelio never said anything, she was certain they were looking forward to spending the next weeks alone with no outside distractions. She knew if she were in Emmy's place she would want to be alone with her lover and not always have her sister or someone else tagging along. She took her time on the stairs, using the banister for support, and made her way slowly through the spacious living room, which was thankfully Spartan in furnishings, so there weren't many chairs and couches to maneuver around. Of course, that also meant there was nothing to hold on to and her leg felt dangerously weak by the time she reached the huge sliding doors that let out onto the terrace. Tallia could hear Emmy and Fidelio laughing and she braced herself to face them, hoping her leg wouldn't give out on her. She gasped softly when she felt a strong, warm hand on her elbow as she pushed away from the door. Glancing up, she found Costa standing at her side as if he had been there all along. He moved with the stealth of a cat, she thought dumbly as she stared at him in mute wonder. "Ready Agapate?" "Y-yes," she whispered and leaned into him as they stepped out onto the terrace. He felt just as she expected, like warm bronze, secure and wonderfully capable. She simply knew she was safe with him, which was strange considering what had already passed between them. "Tallia!" Emmy shrieked, noticing her immediately and jumping out of her chair to fly across the distance between them. Emmy threw herself against Tallia and almost sent them both flying. Costa's broad hand between her shoulder blades was all that saved them from disaster as Tallia lost her balance. With the breath knocked out of her, Tallia could only whisper, “Emmy,” happily. "Oh, Damn! Sorry, I'm such a dunderhead. I've just missed you so much," Emmy cried, squeezing her hard and laughing. She tossed her head, sending her wheat colored hair cascading wildly all around them as she turned to face Costa, her arms loosening a fraction around Tallia. "You must be the big brother, Costa?" "Yes, welcome to Seleni Emily, it is a pleasure to meet you. I have been eagerly awaiting your arrival. Though I am in good company, your sister and Fidelio have been talking of nothing but you since they arrived," he said graciously, flashing an irresistibly charming smile that almost reached his eyes. Emmy, however, didn't notice his lack of real warmth and she gave him her million-dollar smile. Though they were similar in coloring and build, Tallia knew Emmy was gorgeous and far more beautiful than she could ever hope to be. Usually Tallia wasn't jealous, since she never sought the attention her sister had craved from the moment she was born, yet suddenly she found herself nervously waiting to see how Costa would react to Emmy. Tallia took after their mother. She could have been her own mother’s twin, and though her sister bore them a strong resemblance, Tallia considered Emmy a more idealized and perfect version of their mother. Emmy's hair was a dark, rich blond, butterscotch to her own cream, her eyes were a vivid, striking, cornflower blue, her lips plump and pouting, and her figure all that a woman could wish for, with lush breasts and hips and long, toned limbs. Tallia knew she suffered in comparison as she looked like a thin, washed out version of her sister. She watched Costa as he studied Emmy with his all-seeing eyes. Men always fell all over Emmy, so Tallia was used to being completely forgotten if she was around once her sister was introduced. Usually she didn't care, but tonight she found herself holding her breath, waiting to see if Costa would be bowled over by Emmy's striking good looks like everyone else. Costa was hard to read, but she noticed no thawing of his gaze as he looked at Emmy, and he cut his eyes away from her sister after a moment to give his brother a relaxed grin. With an imperious jerk of his chin, Costa brought Fidelio running to join them like a puppy on a leash. Once Fidelio was beside them, Costa took Emmy's hand and placed it in his brothers, steering Tallia away from the pair and escorting her to the table. He pulled a chair out for her and hovered as she sat, as if they were alone on the terrace, and then took the seat beside her. All smiles, Fidelio and Emmy returned to their seats. Tallia was delighted by the shining looks the two exchanged as they held hands. She was happy for them, even if she still suffered a twinge of envy as she saw the secret communication that passed between them, that private language only lovers knew, which she had never been lucky enough to learn. She sighed softly, hoping she would someday know the same happiness with a man who loved her. It was hard for her not to be impatient, she was twenty-five and her relationships to date had been few and altogether lack-luster. She had never felt anything approaching love for the men she dated and was beginning to despair that it might never happen for her. Maybe, she thought glumly, her fate was to be a spinster. "What can I get you to drink?" Costa asked, brushing his fingers lightly across the back of her arm. Smiling at him Tallia shrugged, "I don't know, I don't usually drink." "Tallia's the original teetotaler," Emmy told him, “I drink in moderation.” "Perhaps we shall begin with some white wine," Costa mused aloud. "We will be having seafood tonight, all of it caught fresh on the island today," he informed them as he got up and went to a side table, returning with a perfectly chilled bottle of wine, four glasses dangling elegantly from the fingers of one hand. "Did you catch it yourself?" Emmy teased. "As a matter of fact I did," Costa purred. Emmy, tossing her lovely head, let out an infectious laugh. Fidelio and Tallia couldn’t help but join in. Once their humor passed Fidelio took Emmy's hand and kissed it before he told her, "He's not joking. Costa is a superb fisherman, and he dives for oysters too, we have several decent beds just off the island." "Really?" Tallia asked, astonished. "Well, I didn't harvest the oysters we will be enjoying, Fidelio fetched them from the market on Tanos before he collected your sister. I did, however, catch our main course. I expect you to be suitably impressed," he said with playful arrogance. "Mmmm, sounds delicious," Emmy purred. "A financial genius and a master angler?" she queried, smiling at Costa with open admiration. "I had to get the money to bankroll my empire somewhere," he replied casually as he filled the glasses. "You were a fisherman?" Tallia exclaimed. "Fidelio and I grew up on Tanos, on the island if one is not a fisherman then he is a goatherd," he explained lightly, "and I never cared for the smell of goats. Frankly, I hate them," he added, giving her a wicked smile. Tallia was shocked when he winked at her. Next to her Fidelio laughed, "That's probably why he's always mowing them down on that crazy race track he's built around Seleni." Costa made a face and gave Tallia a long, apologetic look. "But that's horrid!" Emmy cried, though she was laughing as she said it. "Oh, he replaces them- with interest," Fidelio assured them flippantly. "It's become quite a joke among the villagers on the island. Whenever they have a sick animal they leave it out on the road hoping Costa will come along!" "Now you’re yanking our chain," Emmy exclaimed between laughs. Tallia wanted to be indignant, but she had to laugh also because the idea, though outrageous, was amusing. She saw Costa watching her with a serious look and without thinking reached out to squeeze his hand impulsively, worried he thought she was still traumatized over their hair-raising ride. His lips quirked, and he raised his glass, everyone followed suit. "To life and the pursuit of happiness," he drawled. After such a promising start, the rest of dinner proved both delicious and delightful. Tallia laughed more than she could recall laughing in a long time. It wasn't hard, Costa revealed himself to be an extremely good host and remarkably amusing. She could understand why Costa had gone so far in life. When he set out to charm, he succeeded. He had all of them in stitches throughout the meal. He and Fidelio were like a comic duo, playing off of each other and outdoing one another with humorous stories about Greece and their life growing up on a small, undeveloped island. They began the meal with dozens of fresh oysters and clams followed by an octopus salad. In a hilarious touch, when it came time to serve the main course, Ari appeared baring a beautifully garnished platter with grave fanfare. When he set it down however, there was only a small, shriveled fish laid out on a bed of seaweed. From the dismay on Costa's face as they all began laughing uproariously at his expense, it was clear that he had not orchestrated the joke. He took the gentle ribbing of his staff with good grace, especially when Calamini and Neni brought the real fish moments later. It was a truly impressive catch, a long silver Dorad that required both of the women to carry it as the head and tail hung over the edges of the fishplate. Calamini had grilled the Dorad to perfection, and Costa heaped praise on her as he carved the huge beast up and served it with aplomb. Tallia stuffed herself and was grateful when they took a break between courses, relaxing and sipping more of the crisp white wine as they chatted amicably and watched the stars come out. Fidelio shared his plans for the next two weeks with Emmy and Costa, and the brothers discussed which islands were the most interesting and what attractions could not be missed. Emmy was right in the thick of everything, joking and teasing both Costa and Fidelio with her usual quick wit and sparkling laughter. Shyer by nature, Tallia was happy just to watch the three of them and laugh at their jokes. She felt remarkably content tonight; surrounded by people she cared about on a beautiful, wild island. She would never have imagined ending up in such a place and in such company, so she was content just soaking it all in. Soon enough she knew she would be home in England, dealing with rain and work while putting her life back together. By the time they finished the cheese course and dessert, Tallia was practically falling asleep at the table. Costa, ever attentive, said it was time to call it a night and helped her up with a gentle hand under her arm. Emmy insisted she wasn't tired or ready for bed, and the brightness of her smile suggested as much. Demurring when her sister tried to cajole him into returning to join them on the terrace. Costa walked Tallia to her room and politely bid her good night. After washing her face and brushing her teeth, Tallia stretched out in bed. She had had a perfect day and was actually looking forward to tomorrow with enough impatience that it took her a minute or two to fall asleep. She finally drifted off with a smile on her face. Chapter 10 Costa took care to veil his expression behind his eyelashes while watching Emily Maitland's antics during lunch. Over breakfast Emily had insisted the four of them spend the day together, since she and Fidelio would be leaving early the next morning for their trip aboard his brother’s boat. When a picnic was suggested Emily decided the beach below would be the perfect place, so she could swim and work on her tan. Now they were all on the beach with a basket Calamini packed, brimming with her home cooking, enjoying the pure blue sky and the ocean surf breaking softly on the sand as the tide went out. He and Fidelio had tried to dissuade Emily, thinking of how exhausting the walk down to the beach along a twisting, rocky path through the cliffs would be for Tallia, but she had been adamant. Tallia, for her part, made no objection and even refused his offer to take a boat from the dock around to the beach and meet up with her sister and Fidelio. Despite his misgivings, Costa had capitulated to the wishes of the others because he gave Tallia his word he would aid her in any way he could. To help Tallia fool everyone, Costa sent Fidelio and Emily ahead with the basket, while he took charge of a canvas bag full of towels, a parasol and a backpack of beach essentials like snorkels, Frisbees, sunscreen and such. Carrying the bulk of things gave him an excuse to walk at a more sedate pace, with Tallia on his arm. Tallia was managing with greater ease, her leg showing more agility today, but he was still careful not to let her overexert herself. That was the excuse he used to hold her back when she tried to keep up with Fidelio and Emily. Tallia was adorably apologetic, thinking herself a burden, but Costa didn't mind hanging back with her, if anything it suited him perfectly. He liked Tallia, more and more with each passing moment he spent with her. She was shy and quiet, but possessed of a sharp intellect and a keen sense of humor, both of which were all the more interesting because she spoke so little. When she did speak it was to say something. She didn't jabber endlessly like most women, just to hear the sound of her own voice. She could be silent, something that he knew the majority of people in the world found uncomfortable. It pleased him immeasurable to discover that she was more than simply physically attractive. Her beauty, he realized, went all the way to the heart of her, which made his attraction to her all the stronger, because he had met very few genuinely good people in his life. As they took their time meandering down to the beach, they spoke of her life in England. With a little prodding, Tallia told him about her career as a teacher, recounting stories of her students, her good memories, and her professional disappointments. She possessed a sincere love for children and was eager to return to teaching, she told him how it was fulfilling work and made her feel useful. Costa could sympathize, as he felt the same about his job. He smiled as he listened to Tallia's low, soothing voice, taking every chance to draw her close as they navigated the treacherous path down to the beach. He was almost sorry her leg was doing so much better, since it gave him precious few opportunities to play the hero and catch her when she would stumble. By the time they reached the small stretch of sand in the tiny cove below the house, Fidelio had a large blanket pinned down with rocks and was laying out the food. Tallia gasped with pleasure as she took in their surroundings, the jewel blue water, so clear one could see straight down to the bottom, the jagged black rocks that formed a sheltered crescent along the inhospitable rocky edges of the island, and the powdery white sand. Costa felt his heart swell when he saw the delight on her face, taking pride in his home and the joy it brought her. Emily was turning cartwheels and back flips instead of helping Fidelio, laughing and shrieking like a maniac. Even though he had only observed her for a brief time, Costa already knew he did not care for Emily. Objectively he could see that Tallia's sister was gorgeous, but she was also a hyper, attention seeking, immature brat who made his hand itch to put her over his knee and teach her some manners. Last night at dinner, Emily flirted with him openly in front of Fidelio, and this morning she had done the same at breakfast. Emily didn't seem capable of being around a man without flirting. She was so desperate to be the center of attention that she resorted to stupid comments, asking ridiculous questions, and making a spectacle of herself pulling clownish faces just to get what she wanted. Reluctantly he had to admit to himself that she didn’t seem malicious or unkind, just saccharine sweet and childish, a combination he did not find in the least attractive. Unfortunately, Fidelio had on rose-tinted glasses where his fiancée was concerned and thought she could do no wrong. "Seleni is so beautiful," Tallia murmured as they went to join the others, "you must hate to leave it even for business." "Yes, it is very seductive," he replied, staring at her as he spoke, "thankfully we are not so far from Athens that I can not commute." "Commute!" "By helicopter," he explained with a straight face. Tallia laughed and shook her head, "Naturally! How very convenient. I should get one of those when I go home, once I've won the lotto and all." Costa shrugged, "There are some perks to being a wealthy man." "Poor thing," she joked, "Is that it?" "I was hoping you would take pity on me; it can be very lonely at the top." "Oh, is that so? Surely you must have an extra seat on that helicopter?" "Yes, but I'm saving it for someone very special. This is my fortress of solitude," he took pleasure in reminding her so she would understand he was not in the habit of having women here. "Fidelio mentioned as much." Costa smiled down at Tallia as she settled herself on the blanket, "You should be very honored to be here," he told her playfully. "No doubt," Tallia agreed, "If I weren't I'd hate to think what might happen to me, superheroes being such a high-strung, temperamental bunch and all." "So you have some experience with us?" Tallia tried to purse her lips to hide her amusement, but could not restrain her laughter. She shook her pale head, clearly not accustom to flirting, "Not particularly." Leaning in, he whispered conspiratorially, "Trust me, you're doing very well. You have me impressed, especially after surviving my trial by deranged lunatic in a sports car." "Unlike some unfortunate goats?" she queried, once she stopped laughing at that comment. Her laughter surprised her, as did her growing rapport with Costa. "Indeed." "How many goats are we talking?" Costa threw himself down on the blanket beside her, drawling, "I never road kill and tell," which set Tallia off into more peals of husky laughter. "What are the two of you whispering about like naughty children?" Emily came over to demand, somewhat petulantly, and sat down in front of them with her back to Fidelio. "First born secrets, run along young one, you don't know our secret handshake," Costa tossed at her coolly, loving the way Tallia bubbled over with mirth when he dismissed her sister. Emily could only stare at him blankly for a moment, not knowing what to make of him. Costa was smugly satisfied to see her struck dumb by the realization that he was not going to fall at her feet. She looked from him to Tallia, and then shrugged and reluctantly turned to include Fidelio in their conversation. The four of them spent the next hour gorging on the sumptuous food Calamini made for them. They ate a half dozen different cold salads, succulent homemade dolmas, fresh baked bread and goat cheese from the islands goatherd, fresh fruit and delicate pastries Neni specialized in creating, and washed it all down with two bottles of champagne. Not surprisingly, they napped afterwards and wandered the beach, none of them fit to go swimming until later in the afternoon once they fully digested and sobered up. Tallia woke after a brief nap ready for some exercise. Wandering away from the remains of the picnic and the blanket on which Emmy was napping, she gave Costa and Fidelio a wave to send them back to their heated game of backgammon when the two stopped to give her identical questioning looks. The beach was so small she wondered at their concern, since there was no possibility of her getting lost or drifting out of their line of vision. Blissfully alone, she made her way carefully through the surf to an outcrop of rocks, bent on investigating some interesting looking tide pools. She found a nice spot and sat on a sun-warmed rock, where a territorial little crab was scuttling about. The little creature wasted no time approaching her boldly, and Tallia began playing with him, laughing softly as she evaded his flailing pincher. The poor creature looked so incensed, as he waved his oversized claw at her, that Tallia almost felt guilty for teasing him, though she told herself that it was not as if she were doing him any harm. "You seem to be getting along quite well with Mr. Big Brother!" Jumping with fright as Emmy's voice came out of no where, Tallia let out a shriek when the crab saw his chance while she was distracted, to clamp down on her goading finger. She reflexively shook him off with a flick of her wrist, sending the hapless creature flying into the ocean with a plop. Staring after him in dismay, Tallia, full of chagrin, had to wonder if he would ever find his way back to his home in the rocks. "Don't sneak up on me like that Emmy," she scolded, feeling horrid for ejecting the hapless crab from his tide-pool. "Sorry," Emmy sulked, "I'm just amazed you have Costa wrapped around your little finger. Fidelio kept warning me yesterday, when he fetched me on Tanos, that his brother would be a dragon, since he's hated all of his past girlfriends, but Costa is really just a big pussy cat!" Tallia let out a soft snort, thinking she would never characterize a man like Costa as resembling a housecat. She, however, knew just how unpleasant Costa could be when he didn't get his way. When she recalled her first day on the island, when he took her out 'sight-seeing', she frowned. Now that she had spent some time with him and knew him better, Costa didn’t seem like the same person. He had let down his guard she realized, so she could see that he was funny and easy going, exactly as Fidelio described him to her in London. Now she thought of Costa as someone a person could count on, though no push over, a man who made those around him feel safe and at ease. "Maybe its because Fidelio is serious about you and he wasn't about the others," Tallia suggested. She was fairly certain though, that Costa's sudden friendliness was the product of a guilty conscience, because of what he put her through. Of course, she could hardly tell her sister as much with out ruining everything. It bothered her inordinately to think Costa might be putting on a show. Was he acting, she wondered? Pretending as if he liked them when what he really wanted to do was breathe fire all over her sister, which he now felt he couldn't do because he had scared and misjudged Tallia so badly. The last of her apprehension towards him was fading beneath his unfailing kindness and care, and Tallia was beginning to really like him. It hurt her to think he was politely faking and still held her and Emmy in contempt. "You think?" Emmy asked her with a bright smile. "I can't really say," Tallia hedged, "He's hard to read." "What are you talking about?" Emmy exclaimed, "He's a big goof! I can't believe Fido was so worried about me meeting him." "Yes, well… I'm sure he's on his best behavior. H-he probably has an ugly side when he's cross." "I guess," Emmy replied flippantly, too accustomed to everyone loving her to think she might not have made a conquest of someone. "He's very handsome, don't you think? A lot better looking than the pictures I've seen." Tallia gave a slight shrug by way of an answer, uncomfortable with the subject. She was painfully conscious of how handsome Costa was, and made a point to avoid looking at him when he was near precisely because his striking looks had the annoying habit of making her brain short out, especially when he was behaving so charmingly. It was hard to remember that he was only being polite and playing the good host, when those unusual eyes of his bore into her with hypnotic intensity. Sometimes, she had the foolish thought that he really did like her and genuinely sought her company. She knew that was ridiculous and he probably still thought of her and her sister as interlopers on his private island, the place where he came to get away from the world and be alone. "God Ally, you should have become a nun, you must be dead from the neck down if you don't think that man is a hot piece of arse!" "Shhh, be quiet! He'll hear you," Tallia hissed, mortified by Emmy's loud remarks. The curving rock walls of the cove magnified sound and while she wandered across the beach more than once she had heard Costa and Fidelio quietly calling out points. Emmy only laughed gleefully, not in the least embarrassed by the possibility that she might have been overheard. "It's Fido I hope who hears," her sister whispered wickedly, "There's nothing like a bit of jealousy to bring out the beast in a man!" "Why would you want to make Fido- I mean Fidelio, jealous?" Tallia had to ask, wondering if she would ever understand her sister or the inner workings of relations between men and women. It was frustrating to her that even though she was older, compared to Emmy she was like a child when it came to her grasp of love and relationships. "To spice things up," Emmy said with a naughty wiggle of her eyebrows. She let out a devilish laugh and went skipping away, whistling cheerfully to herself. Watching her go, Tallia shook her head faintly, feeling hopelessly confused by the love games people played. Emily and Fidelio left the next morning. Standing on the dock with Tallia, Costa watched them go with a smile of pure delight. The women took their time saying their goodbyes, while he and Fidelio loaded supplies onto the small boat that had a cabin suitable for two people. Now they were finally leaving. Costa didn't expect the lovebirds would spend much time aboard the boat. He knew his brother and Fidelio was accustomed to living in the most luxurious surroundings, even if he grew up in a simple home with people who could best be described as the salt of the earth. He suspected Fidelio and Emily would stay in hotels along the way and use the boat only to island hop. It didn't trouble him in the least, Costa was happy for them as long as they stayed gone as long as possible. Hiding his wolfish thoughts behind a bland expression, Costa looked down at Tallia. He caught her arm and steered her around to the Range Rover as soon as Fidelio and Emily were out of sight. Tallia fell into step with him, a comfortable, almost familiar presence at his side. Costa felt a weird sense of rightness having her near, as if she should always be there at his side. Her quiet, serene beauty suited him. After the past two peaceful days, he could see spending a great deal of time with her, years even, and the thought did not appall him in the slightest. "I can walk on my own now," Tallia said, though she did not pull her arm away from his supporting hand. "Yes, I know, you seem almost completely recovered," he agreed. "So you can let go now," she remarked almost reluctantly. "Are you quite sure that would be wise?" She stopped on the cobblestone street to give him a questioning look, her eyes like lilacs. "You are not fully recovered are you?" "Well… no, I guess not," she murmured, a slight blush giving delightful warmth to her cheeks. "No, I didn't think so," he said gravely. "You're teasing me," she accused softly. "I would never, not where your health is concerned," he told her in his most serious manner. "However, as long as you are not fully recovered, I think it best I keep an eye, and perhaps a hand on you?" "Oh, of course," she agreed, her eyes sparkling as she saw through his solicitousness to the subtle flirtation. "Would you care to see something of the village before we return to the house?" he offered, relieved when she quickly agreed. He didn't want to lose her just yet, and if they returned to the house he was afraid she would politely retire to her rooms for the rest of the day. He wouldn't have another chance to be with her until tonight. That would hardly do, Costa thought. He wanted to be with her because he craved her company and the simple gratification that came at being able to look at her. They spent the better part of the day wandering around the tiny village, exploring at their leisure. There was very little to see, considering the population was less than fifty, but of course Costa knew everyone. And he managed to introduce Tallia to practically everyone by the time they were through. Costa dragged the day out, strolling Tallia along the water and showing her the only building of any consequence on the island. It was an ancient church dedicated to fisherman and had once been a temple to the moon goddess Selene, after whom the island was named. When he finally ran out of wizen old villagers who spoke not a single word of English to foist on her, and unremarkable houses to stare at, he took her to his absolute last resort. It was the village’s only restaurant, a dingy room that was part of a seldom-used inn, and ordered a bottle of the very poor wine made on the island. Tallia sipped a glass of the sour brew valiantly, until she caught him staring at her expectantly and realized he had not touched his own glass. She burst into laughter, as it dawned on her that he had no intention of drinking the awful wine, and they darted out of the inn while the old man who owned the place wasn't looking, giggling like hooligans. Costa took his lumps like a man, laughing and fending off her blows as Tallia punched him lightly on the arms and chest while calling him a wretch. Wrapping his arms around her, he drew her close and barely managed to stop himself from kissing her soundly on her smiling mouth as he playfully restrained her. He knew he probably could have kissed her, but for some reason he hesitated, deciding it was best to go slowly with Tallia. She seemed so fey and otherworldly to him, like something precious that should be savored. He noticed already that she was not practiced or even comfortable around men, and wanted to give her time to feel totally at ease with him. After mishandling her when they first met, Costa was determined not to bungle things again with her. So he took her back to the car, jokingly telling her she had just passed another test- and perhaps, he thought privately, she had. Costa drove them back to the house at a snail’s pace, and they laughed almost the entire way as Tallia teased him mercilessly. At the house they parted company with the understanding that they would share dinner on the terrace later. Dinner was a lighthearted affair, even more so than the night before when they shared it with Fidelio and Emily. They talked about food and wine and travel, places they had visited and places they wished to see around the world. Sometimes they were just quiet, enjoying each other’s company and the food Calamini had prepared for them. The food, as always, was excellent, and Costa plied Tallia liberally with wine. Once the meal was over, they lingered by the railing admiring the stars. He pointed out constellations and explained how fishermen navigated using them like a road map. Later, as he took her upstairs, Tallia leaned heavily against his arm, but Costa left her alone at her door without so much as a peck on the cheek. It was hellish exercising such restraint, but he knew a woman like her needed to be wooed slowly, elegantly, not groped in a corridor and rushed into bed like a one-night-stand. He felt she was worth the wait. The wistful look in her eyes as he bid her goodnight made the discomfort he suffered, while he shivered through an ice-cold shower before going to bed, almost tolerable. Chapter 11 Cheering wildly, Tallia clapped her hands like a fool as she watched Costa reel in yet another gleaming, thrashing fish. He plucked them from the ocean as if they were lead filings and his hook a giant magnet. She had never seen anything like it. Scrambling up onto the front of the sailboat where he stood, feet braced wide apart, brandishing a fishing pole that was bowed almost in half by the weight of his impressive catch, she tried to scoop the wriggling fish into the net she was holding. Unlike Costa, who moved as if his feet were glued to the smooth wooden deck, Tallia slipped on the slick boards and had to brace herself with a hand to the small of Costa's back, when she almost fell. He dropped the fish into the net with a triumphant laugh and took it from her before she dropped it, trading her for the fishing pole. Tallia straightened herself carefully beside him and watched as he deftly reached into the net and plucked the hook out of the exhausted fish’s gaping mouth. "This one we keep!" he announced, flashing her a broad grin. She nodded and belatedly took her hand from the hot, naked brown skin at the small of his back. He looked magnificent in nothing but a long pair of bold blue and white Hawaiian print swim trunks, his tall, powerful body tanned a rich bronze all over, golden brown eyes flashing, water glistening in his thick, wavy black hair. Costa slid an arm around her waist and pulled her hard against him, holding her gaze he asked, still laughing, "You will clean it for me, ne?" Happy to agree to anything when he looked at her like that and pressed her to his big, hot body, Tallia could only nod stupidly. Costa laughed and shook his head, guiding her off the slippery curved topside of the boat with a strong hand and lifting her effortlessly, with one arm around her hips, to the safety of the flat deck. They had been out on the water since he suggested taking her fishing over breakfast, and it proved to be an exhilarating outing. After driving them down to the dock in the Land Rover, Costa took her aboard his small personal yacht, an intimate sailboat with a gleaming wood deck, a sail and a very powerful motor. For most of the morning they tacked around the island, enjoying the salty spray of the water in their faces and letting the wind take them where it wanted. That was until Costa spotted birds diving into a boiling stretch of water. Pulling in the sails, Costa let the boat coast towards the frothing water and went for his fishing rods, clamoring around the tiny sailboat with a speed and agility that was impressive for a landlubber like Tallia to observe. As they drifted into the turbulent water, she could see small fish leaping from the surface of the sea and gulls swooping in to snap the unfortunate creatures up. Costa yelled out a hasty explanation, telling her the Dorad were attacking a school of tiny mackerel, forcing the smaller fish to the surface in the hope of escaping the predators, where the hungry birds waited to snatch them up. Baiting his hook, Costa cast his line and almost immediately began pulling gorgeous, fat fish from the sea. Each time he caught one he would send her a huge grin and ask her whether they should keep it or throw it back. Tallia had no idea what to do, so she told him to throw the first one back, just to see his reaction. To her surprise, Costa nodded and quickly slipped his hook from the fish's mouth and tossed it back into the sea. She soon realized why he had been so willing to part with his first prize when he caught an even bigger fish a few minutes later. "I think that should do it," he told her as he eased the fish he had just landed from the net and into a big, square cooler where two other, equally impressive fish were already languishing. "One for Calamini, one for Neni, and one for us." They exchanged a smile as he took his fishing pole from her and set it neatly with the rest of his gear. Tallia admired the care Costa took with his possessions. He was not rough with his boat, but amused her by talking to the sleek yacht in Greek from the moment he stepped aboard, as if he were speaking to a baby. He treated his fishing equipment with the same respect. Alone with him today, Tallia could tell that Costa really had grown up very simply, probably with few material things, which made him all the more appreciative of what he had. It made sense, as his house was unpretentious, plain with a lack of any real decor. The walls in his home were painted basic colors and adorned with tapestries that had probably been woven by local artisans. The furniture was comfortable, but inauspicious, and there were no real signs of wealth anywhere under his roof. He didn't even appear to possess a television set. One would never think Costa a billionaire if they visited his home with no prior knowledge of the man- not unless his helicopter was sitting out on the back lawn, she mused wryly. "Enough work now," he joked, placing a hand lightly on her shoulder to give her a gentle squeeze, "let me take you to a pretty beach where we can frolic in the water." "Frolic?" He gave her a wicked look and repeated, "Frolic." True to his word, Costa unfurled the sail and once the wind caught canvas they were on their way. Tallia was learning sailing was remarkably fun. She found the quiet serenity of tacking on the breeze, the boat cutting across the water almost effortlessly, amazingly enjoyable. When Costa saw the empty beach he was looking for, he drew in the sail once again and secured it quickly, moving over the boat with the ease of an experienced sailor. He weighed the anchor a good fifty feet from shore and made a point to show her exactly where it was and lecture her to be careful not to bumble into it while they were swimming. She could not help but be touched by his constant care and attention. Removing her wide brimmed hat, Tallia shucked the thigh length coverall she had been wearing, feeling inexplicably nervous around him without the billowy, long sleeved white garment. The day before, she had skipped swimming and kept the coverall on the entire time they were at the beach with Fidelio and Emmy. Though she felt vastly more at ease with Costa than she had when she first came to Seleni, there were still moments when her nerves got the best of her and she felt awkward, jittery and exposed around him. Emmy purchased her entire wardrobe for her, since Tallia was still in hospital when they planned the trip to Greece. While Tallia preferred modest one piece suits, her sister thought they were only suitable for old ladies and children, so naturally she bought Tallia half a dozen of the skimpiest bikini's imaginable, in a rainbow of different colors. Tallia had agonized over the revealing selection of swimwear that morning, while she changed to go out on the water with Costa. Eventually she picked the most modest, if one could use that word to describe a bikini. It was a halter top with a tiny pair of briefs in a cool tropical print with lots of jade green, melon, pink and purple, which didn't look garish against her whiter than white skin- or so she hoped. Biting her lip self-consciously, she glanced at Costa to see what he thought, but he paid her no attention. Grinning like a little boy, he leapt off the side of the boat and did a neat summersault in midair, with that breathtaking ease with which some men managed everything, and splashed neatly headfirst into the water. When he surfaced he was still grinning and he whipped his head around, throwing out a spray of water in a wide arch. Tallia thought him utterly beautiful… a great big, muscular animal, strikingly dark against the pristine blue water, little fish darting all around him. "Come in Agapate, don't just stand there looking lovely," he called up to her. Tallia blushed and taking a deep breath she got her courage up and dove headfirst off the boat, coming up for air with a delighted laugh because the water was warm and welcoming, not at all cold as she feared. Tiny fish flitted all around her inquisitively, making her squeal foolishly when they brushed her skin and nibbled at her toes. Paddling around happily, she looked through the clear depths straight at the sandy bottom twenty feet down, watching fish gliding through the water. When Costa's face suddenly appeared beneath her she started with shock and gasped explosively as he came up under her until she was floating on top of him as if he were her own personal, hot, bronze life raft. "I don't want you to get tired and drown," he commented as if it were perfectly normal for him to appear out of no where, water sluicing off his face as his head and shoulders came up out of the sea, and have her sprawling out on top of him. Tallia gaped, probably like one of his fish, she thought fleetingly, flustered by the feel of his body against hers. She didn't know what to do or where to put her hands as she flailed around. Costa's chest was on a level with her face, she was suddenly riding on his very hard belly, and their legs were entwined so intimately that one of her thighs was trapped between both of his. She felt his big hands close around her hips and lift her up, putting some space between them, and she pressed her hands flat to his smooth chest, swallowing back a gasp when she felt his muscles bunch and flex under her palms. Costa stared at her intently for a few minutes as they floated along together, his thick black lashes spiked with water. Tallia returned his stare, unable to look away and too disconcerted to think what she should do. She thought he might kiss her. They were certainly close enough for him to do so, but he seemed content to tread water and kick them lazily towards the shore. "Relax," he whispered when she began to tremble slightly from the strain of holding herself still atop him. She gave him a tremulous smile and almost inhaled a mouthful of water when he suddenly rolled over so she was riding on his back. Throwing her arms automatically around his neck, Tallia laughed with pleasure as he took off for the beach with her clinging to him for all she was worth. Costa was strong and a powerful swimmer. They shot through the water, and it was an exciting ride, feeling his body surge and ripple against hers. Tallia was certain she took an indecent amount of pleasure in it. When they were close to the shore, she let go. Costa would have none of it, and he turned around, pulling her against him as their feet struck the bottom. Bending over, he scooped her up and carried her effortlessly up onto the sand, depositing her neatly on her feet. "I can walk- and swim," she felt obliged to say as she watched him slick water off his face with one hand. "Pity, I like to carry you around," he murmured, taking her hand and towing her behind him as he walked up the beach with a determined stride. "Where are we going?" Tallia demanded breathlessly, she could see nothing but low bushes all around them and rocky cliffs on all sides. Costa offered no reply and just kept dragging her into the bushes. For a second, Tallia had the wild idea that he meant to make passionate love to her behind the cover of greenery. She quickly dismissed the notion though, as he had yet to make any romantic move towards her. He was gentle and unfailingly solicitous, though sometimes she thought she saw a glimmer of something hot and predatory in his eyes. Dismissing that outlandish notion the moment it occurred, Tallia told herself he was just treating her with the easy familiarity of a sister, or a child left in his care. It was confusing to her because she was so attracted to him, yet had no idea what to make of Costa. She cursed her lack of experience with men because it left her unable to act naturally around him and relax. Her hormones however were going crazy and even if he was just being polite, she couldn’t help her growing attraction to him. "Open your mouth," Costa ordered once they were in the thick of the bushes, turning around to face her. "Wha-!" he popped something warm and soft into her mouth before she could form the word, and Tallia bit down obediently as he covered her lips with a finger to keep her from automatically spitting whatever it was out. Sweet juice gushed over her tongue and ran down her throat. Tallia groaned softly as she realized he had stuffed a ripe fig in her mouth… the juiciest, tastiest, wild fig she had ever eaten in her life. "Again," Costa growled once she swallowed the tiny fruit. Tallia dutifully opened her mouth, and he slid another dark fig past her lips. His fingertip lingered on the bow of her lower lip before he flashed her a lazy smile and turned away to strip more fruit from the small trees. Chewing the exquisite morsel, Tallia plucked a few of the dark fruit from the trees. Still, she had no opportunity to feed herself as Costa kept pressing figs to her lips, his eyes heavy lidded and sensual as he watched her open her mouth for him. After she had eaten four or five figs he leaned in very nonchalantly and rested a hand full of figs lightly at the curve where her shoulder met her neck. He bent his dark head then and brushed his lips ever so softly over hers. Tallia's breath shuddered out on an unsteady sigh. Costa pulled away immediately, and his dark eyes skimmed over her lips before he dipped his head again and covered her mouth fully. He kissed as softly as a breeze, his warm lips settling over hers delicately, molding to the shape of hers and asking nothing as he slid his mouth across hers. When he returned for another delicate caress, he dragged the tip of his tongue across the seam of her lips. Tallia opened for him on another, deeper sigh. Costa's tongue tip glided into her mouth carefully, skimming the edges of her teeth like a shy creature before darting inside to touch just the tip of her own tongue. He drew back suddenly with a low laugh, staring at her mouth and licking his lips. Then, as if nothing had happened, he dug a little bag out of a pocket in his swim trunks, and snapping it open began to fill it with figs. Tallia stood and watched him dumbly for a minute, maybe even two, before she shook herself mentally and helped him fill the bag. There was an innocence, an almost childlike, happy-go-lucky manner about Costa today that amazed her. His kiss added to the surprise and shook her to her very core, because it had been an achingly erotic and still heartbreakingly sweet gesture. Yet it seemed to mean nothing to him, as if he really were only a curious child at play. Costa is far from a child, Tallia thought as she trailed after him towards the hissing surf. Her eyes were clinging to the impressive spread of his shoulders, tapering into lean hips that swaggered ever so slightly on the thick, muscular pillars of his legs. Her eyes dropped to his tight buttocks, and she sighed appreciatively. He’s too perfect to be real, she mused, still in a daze from his kiss. Tallia knew a man like him could not really be interested in her. He was used to running around with glamorous actresses and supermodels like her sister- bright vivacious creatures who knew how to spark a man’s interest and keep it burning hot. "The tide is coming in," Costa said, turning to study her with a shuttered expression. “Can you manage? It's going to be rough going and the boat is a long way off." "Of course," she replied, eager to show him that she was not completely helpless. A rakish smile split his face, and he chucked her lightly under her chin. "That's my English," he remarked and waved her ahead of him. Tallia stepped into the surf, which was really beginning to pound onto the beach, with a bit of trepidation. She had once been a strong swimmer, but since lying in a hospital bed for months on end her muscles were out of condition and not entirely reliable. A stinging slap to her bottom made her jump half out of her skin. Before she could object, or even lance Costa with an angry glare, he was urging her into the water with an arm around her waist, the bag of figs held firmly between his white teeth. He looked like a swarthy pirate as he grinned at her through the bag. Tallia laughed, forgetting her fear and following him into the sea. They swam slowly back to the boat together. Exhausted from the swim and the excitement, Tallia napped on a padded bench while Costa piloted them home with ease, lulled to sleep by the sun and the soothing creak of the sail. She woke some time later to the sound of him speaking jovially to someone in Greek. Sitting up, Tallia saw they were docked in the village at Seleni and Costa was offloading their supplies with the help of a young man. The man had to be a friend because he and Costa laughed and joked as they carried the cooler full of fish off the boat along with the bags which they brought on board earlier full of their lunch and clothes. When Tallia sat up, the young man waved and shouted a greeting to her in Greek. She blushed and waved back, feeling awkward as his dark eyes moved appreciatively over her, and he said something in a hushed undertone to Costa. Smiling at her devilishly, Costa must have told his friend something humorous because the other man laughed and winked at her. Tallia smoothed a hand self-consciously through her hair, not certain what to make of the exchange. She gathered her things and let Costa help her off the boat, waiting for him by the truck as he and his friend finished sorting out the supplies. The young man seemed inordinately fascinated by her and Tallia caught him staring more than once. When everything was loaded into the back of the Range Rover, Costa slapped the man companionably on the back as they exchanged a few last words. To Tallia's surprise, the young man jumped into the boat, and Costa flung him the mooring lines. Starting up the motor of the yacht, which they had not used all day, the man waved as the boat pulled away from the dock. The cheeky rouge even threw Tallia another lascivious wink before he sped out of sight. "Who was that?" she asked when Costa opened the passenger door and handed her up into the truck. Shutting the door, he didn't reply until he was in the driver seat and they were bouncing along the cobblestone road through the village. "Milo,” Costa replied, turning to grin at her. “He takes care of my boats here on Seleni." Tallia pursed her lips, not certain if she wanted to broach the subject. Then, unable to help herself, she had to ask, "What did you say to that cheeky monkey to make him laugh so hard?" "Don't be cross," Costa said lightly, leaning across the console to tap the tip of her nose. "We don't get many strangers on the island, certainly not beautiful ones like you. I never bring women here, so it's only natural Milo would be curious." "But what did you say?" she insisted, refusing to be charmed by him just because he called her beautiful and was making it seem as if she were somehow special. "I told him you were a mermaid I caught while I was fishing. Needless to say he was very jealous and wanted to know exactly where I was fishing today." "Ugh," she groaned dramatically, "I was warned about you Greek men and your womanizing!" "Oh, and were you also warned about our incredible prowess…" "Costa!" she shrieked as a goat waddled into the road. Slamming on the brakes, he cursed lividly in Greek while the fat, oblivious goat continued to stroll across the road at its leisure. Looking at him, Tallia could not help but burst out laughing at the consternation on his face. "You were saying?" she prompted through her giggles. "Our incredible prowess as goat killers!" Costa snarled savagely, stomping on the gas the moment the goat was out of their way. He let up on the accelerator immediately, giving her an apologetic look, but Tallia was surprised to find that she was not scared. She trusted him, she realized, as he continued along the road at a more sedate pace. All her anxiety and fear towards Costa had melted away under his gentle care, and she felt completely safe with him now, even speeding along a treacherously goat strewn road. "I couldn't eat another bite," Tallia demurred when Costa brought the fork they were sharing to her lips. They had feasted on the fish he caught, which Calamini grilled to tender perfection and served with an amazing lemon sauce. And they were now working their way through a delicate fig tart that Neni prepared with a crust so fine and buttery it shattered under the edge of the fork Costa wielded. "Mmmm, I find myself positively insatiable tonight," he purred. Tallia had to laugh since he was nibbling on the curve of her neck and not the dessert. Costa had been kissing and touching her throughout the meal. He had his free hand under her shirt through most of the entree, just stroking her back. When dessert was served, he swept her hair back and started kissing her neck and the hollow beneath her ear until Tallia thought she might go up in flames. Setting the fork down, Costa caught one of her hands with his, entwining their fingers. Combing the fingers of his other hand through her hair he tugged gently on the mass of long, pin straight strands, tipping her head to one side to give him better access to the ultra sensitive cords along her neck. Tallia moaned and shifted restlessly in her seat. His lazy, unhurried lovemaking was driving her mad. Her blood surged hot and thick through her veins, making her entire body throb to a slow, intoxicating beat. The sting of Costa's strong teeth against her overheated flesh was an exquisite counterpoint to the heavy, expectant languor with which his teasing touch filled her. Heat pooled in her belly and a shameful wetness begun to gather between her thighs. She wasn't really ashamed though, Tallia realized, even through her sensual intoxication. Everything felt so right with Costa, as if it were meant to be. Whereas she was always beset by unease when other men touched her, all she felt from his touch was pleasure, and a yearning for more. He pulled away from her suddenly, releasing her hair and sitting up straight. Tallia gave him a searching look, feeling bereft without his touch, but Costa ignored her. Tallia was stung until she heard footsteps and Ari appeared on the terrace with an apologetic look, a cordless phone in one hand. Taking the phone with the same grim look on his face, Costa thanked Ari and the man slipped away. Tallia was immediately worried, knowing it must be serious and thinking it had something to do with Fidelio and Emmy. Costa must have sensed her fear because he shook his head slightly. Lacing his fingers through hers again, he brought her hand to his mouth, kissing her fingertips lightly. She startled when he unexpectedly barked something into the phone, his expression growing truly forbidding. Clearly, he was not pleased by the interruption, and whatever he was hearing was only making his mood worsen. Setting her hand down carefully on the table, he rose from his seat and began to pace while he bit out words in precise Greek. Tallia was glad she was not the person on the other end of the phone because Costa's tone of voice was sharp enough to take off strips of flesh. When he disengaged the call a few minutes later, after growling more furious words into the phone, he tossed the cordless onto the table with barely suppressed violence. "I must go-" "Now?" Tallia cried, surging out of her seat, every part of her revolting at the very idea. She was hot and bothered, primed by his constant attention during the day to throw caution to the wind and indulge in the unthinkable- a night of reckless passion. And he was about to walk out on her to do some sort of business deal? "Yes, I am sorry Agapate, there is a very serious situation in New York that needs my attention, my board of directors-" "You're going to New York, right now?" she demanded softly, distressed, as she knew that meant he would be gone for days. She didn't think she could stand to be away from him that long. "No, Agapate," Costa said urgently, rushing to her and taking her in his arms, "I fly to Athens as soon as the helicopter arrives. I should be back by tomorrow." Tallia tried to pull away from him, hurt and incensed. She couldn't believe he really intended to go and leave her. She had never felt so attracted to a man, never let down her guard so swiftly, and never ever made herself vulnerable to anyone. She was completely out of her comfort zone, taking a huge risk, and Costa was about to walk out on her without a second look. It was on the tip of her tongue to beg him to take her with him, but she had too much pride to grovel. She wished she could storm off to her room she was so upset. But when Costa yanked her back into his arms, she found herself clinging to him, winding her arms around him, and pressing her flushed face to his chest. Her body trembled at the feel of his in an embarrassing way, but he had worn down her defenses all day with his gentleness. She burned for his slightest touch now, more than ready to go a little wild for once and let him seduce her. "Costa…" she moaned. "I know Agapate, I am sorry. I shall fly back to you as fast as I can," he whispered hotly in her ear. "This is not easy for me either," he said, shifting so his hips brushed against hers and she could feel a long, hard ridge in the front of his trousers. A shock went through her as she realized it was his penis. But rather than jerk away from him in horror, Tallia felt her body react of its own volition. Her hips instinctively arched into his, bringing his straining erection into full contact with her, welcoming greater intimacy. Tallia was gratified when she felt his arms tighten about her and his breath catch, as if he were in pain. "I burn for you Agapate. I want only to take you to my bed, and make you mine. Wait for me, my beautiful English faerie. I will make it up to you, I promise," he told her sensually, his mouth capturing her ear lobe and nipping into the plump dewdrop of exquisitely sensitive flesh. Tallia shuddered, her fingers digging into the muscles on either side of his spine as she melted against him. Costa's mouth trailed fervent kisses along her jaw before he took her lips with hard, possessive force. It was only their second kiss, and as different from the first as night from day. Tallia was stunned by Costa’s ferocity as he slammed his mouth down on her own, driving her lips apart with brute force and stabbing his tongue deep. Shocked by the rawness of his passion, she could only hang stiffly in his embrace while Costa ground his mouth against hers, bruising her with his uninhibited lust. The kiss at the beach had been innocent and charming, a sweet exploration, whereas this one was rife with the passion of a full-blooded man bent on staking his claim. With one hard kiss, Costa made it plain to her that he meant for them to be lovers. He pulled away only when the sound of rotors beating the air drifted to them on the wind. Rubbing his thumb lightly over her moist, swollen lips, Costa looked far from apologetic as he stared down at her. If anything there was a dangerous gleam in his eyes that filled Tallia with trepidation. Suddenly she was reminded that she didn't know Costa at all. "I'll be home soon," he assured her before dropping a light kiss on her mouth and leaving her on the terrace with a last, long, hungry look. Shivering as a cool wind blew up from the water, Tallia lifted her face to watch the black helicopter swoop down over the house. It landed out of sight and must have barely touched down before Costa jumped aboard, because in less than a minute it was shooting back up into the night sky with a deafening scream, like a massive bird of prey, as it tore off across the sea, presumably headed for Athens. Chapter 12 For Tallia, the next two days passed at a snail’s pace. Despite his assurance that he would return the following day, Costa was gone all the next day and the one after that as well. He didn't call her, but he must have spoken to his staff because on the second day Ari informed her during breakfast not to expect Costa back. With very little to occupy her time, Tallia lounged on the terrace trying to read one of the books she had brought with her. It was slow going- a dull slog, even if the book was actually quite amusing. Her heart just wasn't into reading. She wandered down to the beach, taking her time on the treacherous path. When she finally reached the water, exhausted and out of breath, she was alarmed to find only a tiny swath of sand to stand on. A storm was brewing on the sea, and the waves were surging up over the beach and onto the rocks. Knowing her limits, she didn't linger long by the water as the breakers began to roll in, lapping hungrily at her toes, while the sky turned a leaden gray. By afternoon lightning was flashing across the distant horizon, and the beach was completely submerged beneath pounding waves. High above the water the house felt snug and secure, but Tallia noticed Ari and his father drifting around the property, securing lawn chairs and windows as if they were expecting a proper storm. Tallia was faintly surprised, as she had not thought the islands were subject to much harsh weather during the summer months. She stayed in her room for the rest of the day. The cold air made the terrace unpleasant, and her mood turned morose. Calamini brought her dinner to her on a tray and clucked sympathetically as she drew the curtains. Calamini was probably of the opinion that the weather was depressing her. If Costa had called, Tallia would have felt better, but his utter lack of contact spoke volumes. She felt like a fool for imagining there was something more than plain lust between them, that he might have developed a sort of fondness towards her. At some point, she realized, she had forgotten she was an interloper in his domain, an uninvited guest. The more Tallia dwelt on the situation the more it seemed to her that his attentions were merely those of a man taking advantage of a convenient arrangement. She blushed every time she thought of how easy she made it for him, she certainly showed no restrain where he was concerned and fell into his arms with only the slightest effort on his part. Costa probably thought she was looking for a holiday fling and he was happy to oblige. Tallia had heard numerous stories over the years of girls who came to Greece on holiday and had brief affairs with the locals to amuse themselves. Some of the nurses at the hospital, when they learned of her vacation plans, even suggested she do so. Tallia found the idea of a holiday fling utterly repugnant, but it was probably so common Costa thought nothing of it. She was here, she was willing, and he was obviously more than capable. Mortified at the idea that he believed she was some loose tart who could shag a complete stranger, she began to pray he would remain in Athens for the rest of her stay on Seleni. When he didn’t call that night either, Tallia, somewhat bitterly, fancied that was probably exactly what he intended to do all along. Thinking how gauche she was, and knowing Costa must have noticed her lack of experience, she imagined he found her utterly boring. She certainly was nothing like the sophisticated women she knew, from what Fidelio told her about his brother while she was in hospital, he dated. No man could be very excited by a girl who fell into his arms like ripe fruit, without putting up the slightest resistance or even attempting to lead him a merry chase. She had been listening to Emmy talk about her love affairs over the years and knew men liked bold women, women who could challenge them and flirt. Tallia felt hopeless in comparison, and abandoned, because Emmy had yet to call once since leaving Seleni. At least Emmy is having fun, she told herself. Tallia then sternly reminded herself that that was the point for their coming to Greece. She was only here to get out of the hospital and recuperate. Having a shag with a hot Greek certainly never crossed her mind before she met Costa. Knowing that she was not the type to have a purely physical relationship, Tallia wondered that she must have lost said mind to ever think she could catch the eye of someone like Costa. A man so good-looking, a man who exuded sex appeal, was sure to draw every female eye around him. It was not lost on her that even Emmy had been drawn in by his charisma. Fidelio was handsome- tall, lean, dark haired, and dark eyed, but next to his brother, he looked like a callow youth. Costa had both the looks and the steely personality to draw a woman to him and make her start weaving ridiculous fantasies about permanently capturing his attention. Tossing her book aside in irritation, sick to death of obsessing about the man, Tallia wished she weren’t such a fool. She didn’t know what had possessed her to make a cake of herself with Costa. She cringed inwardly each time she thought of how quickly she fell under his spell and imagined he was laughing at her right now, probably while having a ball in Athens with some beautiful woman much more suited to his lifestyle. It was only ten o'clock, but she shut off the lights, deciding to go to sleep early, if only to escape her own tumultuous thoughts. The sky outside her window was blacker than black and sporadic bursts of rain lashed the windows, punctuated by bursts of lightning. Thunder grumbled over the house incessantly, as if the storm were gathering but refused to break. She lay sleepless and miserable for a long time, crying a little and calling herself an idiot for letting herself get so overwrought over nothing. Eventually she must have dozed off, because it was hours later when she woke with a start. Confused by the luminous dials on her little travel clock, she lay in the unfamiliar bed and got her bearings. Deafening thunder shook the house, and Tallia felt very small and lonely as rain pounded against the windows. It was past four in the morning, and the storm was apparently breaking right above her. Snuggling deeper under the covers, she let her eyes drift half closed as sleep lured her back down into the murky depths of forgetfulness, despite the racket outside. Without warning her door flew open and she bolted upright, clutching the sheet to her chin in fright. All of a sudden, it occurred to her that she was alone in the house. A big dark shadow filled the doorway, and she almost shrieked in terror until she realized it was Costa striding towards her. She recognizing his sleek movements a moment before a burst of lightning illuminated the room and revealed his tense expression. He was dripping wet and shucked his jacket, tossing it over a chair by the door. He slicked a hand over his wet hair and dried his face on his sleeve. Tallia's breath almost strangled her as she watched him yank off his sodden jumper next and drop it onto the floor as he came to the bed without breaking stride. "Agapate," he murmured, and sat down on the edge of the bed as if it were perfectly normal for him to come to her like this in the middle of the night. "Costa," she whispered, dropping the sheet and opening her arms to him as all her fears and doubts flew from her head. He was cold and slightly damp as he enfolded her in his arms and jerked her hard against his chest. The breath hissed out of her in shock at the feel of icy rainwater dripping from his hair onto her face and breasts. Her thin nightclothes were soaked in seconds and goose bumps roughened her skin. Tallia forgot her discomfort in the instant Costa’s mouth crashed down on hers, and he thrust his tongue deep without warning. His hands were hard on her shoulders, clutching her to his chest, his mouth insistent and cruel. She whimpered when he unexpectedly bit her lower lip with stinging force. Costa didn't seem to hear or care that he was scaring her. He pushed her down on the bed with enough strength to knock the breath from her lungs, and then bent his mouth to her throat. Tallia gasped as he scraped her skin with the sharp edge of his teeth from the hollow beneath her ear to the curve of her shoulder, nipping at her in stinging little bites that burned. He sank his teeth into her shoulder and gave her a little shake that seemed to loosen her very bones and sent a burst of moisture flooding down between her thighs. "Oh God," she groaned, feeling as if he brought the storm into the room with him. Perhaps he was the storm, she thought frantically as he sucked all the air out of the room when he drew hard on the flesh he held between his teeth. His open mouth moved lower, feasting on her as if she were his prey. Tallia clutched at him, but he was all hard, smooth muscle, and she could only tangle her fingers in the loose cotton of his shirt and hang on for dear life. There seemed no stopping him or even slowing him down. She felt his fingers glide over her shoulders, peeling the straps of her camisole down and sweeping the garment to her waist. When the cotton caught on the swell of her hips, he tore it in half without the slightest effort and swept it away along with the soft cotton briefs she wore. Grabbing at his shoulders, Tallia thought to steady herself or even push him away. But one look at his dark, hard face, and she knew there would be no gentling him. Costa's mouth was drawn tight, his eyes black and glittering in the dim light of the storm. He looked as he had the day he took her out in his black sports car, like an ancient Greek warrior. His expression offered no mercy, and she sensed he had none for her tonight. Tonight he wanted her, and he meant to have her. When he lowered his head to claim what he had laid bare, his mouth was hot and demanding on her breast. Tallia’s breaths came in explosive bursts as he ran his tongue around one painfully distended nipple and then drew the aching tip of her breast into his mouth. He sucked on her strongly, taking most of her breast into his mouth, and then let her flesh slide slowly out again, flicking her nipple with his tongue in a way that sent heat licking across her nerve endings. When he bit her tortured breast with his strong white teeth, she jerked beneath him, having never experienced such startling sensations. Costa made a low, hungry sound in the back of his throat and set on her other breast, tormenting it with the same demanding suckling and nipping. Tallia arched on the bed beneath him, moaning and squirming as he pressed the heel of his hand into her stinging flesh. He alternately massaged and plucked at her aroused nipples, while his mouth moved back and forth between the two small, firm swells. Never once taking his mouth from her breast, he stripped off his shirt and then his pants, climbing on top of her to straddle her hips, wearing only a pair of silk boxers. He was breathing hard, his chest heaving. When he finally lifted his head to gaze down at her, his full mouth was as red as she imagined her nipples must be they were so sensitized. Very deliberately, he flicked each pouting nipple with an appreciative finger, making her flinch beneath him at his almost careless touch. He soothed the hurt with his big, warm hands, molding his palms to her breasts, watching his fingers as he played with her nipples, rolling them between his rough fingertips. Tallia panted and trembled beneath him, painfully aroused, held in thrall by his dark eyes and possessive touch. She felt oddly divorced from her own body, like a stranger watching from a distance. What Costa was doing was a shock to her system, so far beyond her experience that her mind was having trouble catching up with the sensations bombarding her body. His touch was hot and demanding, but almost impersonal, as if she were a body he were merely using for his own enjoyment without any care for her feelings. Lowering though the thought was, Tallia could not find the strength to tell him to stop. She was fascinated by him and had been since the moment she saw him. His rough lovemaking mesmerized her completely. As she lay docile beneath him, she discovered she liked the way he dominated her with his big body. Costa made her feel so intensely female every inch of her ached. She was caught in the grip of the sweetest longing imaginable. Sliding a hand up to mold around the curve where her shoulder met her neck, Costa bent forward and took her mouth in a hot, wet kiss. His tongue flicked over her lips, coaxing her panting mouth to open for him, and then delving inside purposefully. His other hand glided over her ribs, splaying wide across her belly, before continuing downward at an agonizingly slow crawl. The calluses on his palms abraded her skin with an erotic friction, and Tallia's breath hitched and shuddered as he cupped the space between her legs in his palm and pressed down firmly. Moaning into his mouth, she shook beneath him, so aroused she was almost crazed with it. She spread her legs for him, feeling only the mildest twinge of embarrassment at her wantonness, silently asking for more… for everything. Costa, the devil, kept rubbing her between her legs with the heel of his hand while thrusting his tongue in and out of her mouth suggestively. He shifted above her as her legs fell open for him and eased himself between her thighs. Bracing his big knees far apart, he spread her out for him wide, leaving her completely open and vulnerable to anything he wanted to do to her. Tallia writhed in a volatile mixture of desire, fear, and self-consciousness. With an almost reverent touch, Costa’s fingers drifted down over her silken curls, stroking the soft hair ever so lightly before he dragged his thumb heavily across her mound and pressed it down into the deep, moist cleft between her legs. Tallia tore her mouth from his, gulping in a great gasping lungful of air as her temperature skyrocketed. If he had been rough and careless before, now Costa moved as slowly as molasses and the contrast was maddening. Very deliberately, he captured her face with one hand and brought her lips to his. He slid his tongue deep into her mouth and curled it around her own while his thumb sketched a lazy circle over her clitoris, coaxing the little bud from its protective folds and making it swell and throb. Lower still, between her quivering thighs, she felt his fingers against the wet lips of her sex, rubbing the slick entrance to her body. Tallia twisted on the bed, her hands fisting in the sheets as he explored her, teased her, and drove her insane with his lazy, unhurried caresses. When he pressed two fingers into the opening of her vagina, her hips shot off the bed, and she took him eagerly inside. Costa groaned at the wet sound of his penetration and pushed deeper still, his tongue mimicking the motion of his hand and thrusting slowly into her mouth. Tallia thought she would die from the pleasure, and then he abruptly stopped, his body going rigid over hers. Opening her eyes she found Costa staring at her in shock, his eyes wide and stunned as he drew back to look her in the face. "Agapate, you are virgin!" Chapter 13 Quivering on the edge of ecstasy, Tallia returned Costa’s stare blankly, her hips arching upwards with undeniable hunger, impaling her on his hard fingers. Costa, however, snatched his hand away and sat back on his heels, a shell-shocked expression on his dark face. "Costa," Tallia whimpered, almost beside herself with need. She didn't understand what was happening, her body was throbbing and a delicious, frantic fluttering had started between her legs. She felt as if she might explode if he would just touch her once more in the right place. Yet, inexplicably, Costa was drawing away as if she were a leper. "We must stop," he gritted out harshly. "Stop?" "You are a virgin, Tallia," he said, scrambling off of her and swinging his legs over the side of the bed. He reached out and snapped on the bedside light, blinding them both. "Costa, you can not be serious," she groaned, squinting and sitting up, drawing her knees to her chest to hide her nakedness and wrapping her arms around herself as a sudden chill swept her skin. "Tallia, you are a virgin-" "Yes, I know! Please stop saying it like that," she hissed, his complete and utter abandonment making her feel freakish and revolting. "I have no right," Costa snapped, turning his head to throw her a dark glare over one tense shoulder. "No right?" she demanded hoarsely, hopelessly confused. "The first time is… special, Tallia. It is an honor you owe your husband," he said with a hint of reverence in his voice. Blinking dumbly at him, Tallia didn't know whether to curse or cry. This could not be happening, she thought, Costa could not be serious. He really meant to stop and leave her untouched because of some antiquated notion about virginal purity! "Don't be ridiculous," she cried, "I'm not… some sacred virgin. I just haven't had sex before." He turned again and regarded her as if she were stupid. "You've been saving yourself for your husband," he said as if it were obvious. "No. No!" she denied hotly, looking at him and aching all over with hunger for him. "I just… never met anyone who I wanted to… you know." Costa shook his head with an impatient frown, "You are not the sort of woman who engages in casual sex," he pronounced firmly. "I should have known," he added with grim finality. "You're wrong! How can you act this way now when you were about to make passionate love-" "Love," he echoed, pouncing on the word with the arch of a dark brow. Tallia wished the light was still off as she knew her face turned as red as a fire engine. Oh God, the moment he said the word the truth hit her like a ton of bricks. I’m in love with Costa! Her next thought was that she had to be the world’s biggest idiot. "Sex. I just want sex- with you," she amended insistently. "No, you don't," he retorted. "You want love, Tallia, and you deserve love. You need to be treasured," he said, his tone softening to a heart-wrenching whisper. “We can't do this, it would be wrong. Your first time is a gift you should give your husband or a man you love, not a stranger who crashes through your bedroom door and jumps on you like a pervert only interested in satisfying his own base lust," he growled, sounding enraged with himself. "Costa, you're being ridiculous," she groaned. "This isn't the Middle Ages. I'm not some princess who needs to preserve her virginity for the marriage bed!" "Tallia, you should not throw your virginity away on casual sex," he told her firmly, "you are beautiful and special and deserve to be loved and honored-" "Oh my God, you’re insane," she hissed, suddenly furious with him. "Yes, I must be to treat you so callously," he agreed and began to get up. Forgetting her pride, Tallia threw herself at him, winding her arms around his thick neck and pressing her cheek to his, "You can't leave me like this Costa," she cried, her body beginning to tremble again as his heat poured into her wherever their bare skin touched. She felt him shudder against her and took hope from the reaction he could not hide. "Tallia-" he began in an infuriatingly reasonable tone of voice, his hands moving to close around her arms "Please, you started this," she groaned. "We can not," he intoned resolutely. "Don't make me beg," Tallia whispered against his ear, blushing with humiliation at her neediness and utter lack of pride. "Oh Agapate, no," he moaned, sounding stricken. Turning suddenly and gathering her in his arms, he took her mouth in a tender, passionate kiss. Tallia had no idea what changed Costa's mind, but the change in him was profound and immediate. Raking his hands gently through her hair, he pressed her down onto the bed, kissing her softly, his tongue sliding into her mouth to tease as he cupped her face, stroking her nose and brows lightly with his broad thumbs. His hands smoothed over her body, worshiping her with slow, heated caresses. He kissed her chin and then worked his way down her throat. He dragged his body over hers, hot and heavy, as he made his way to her breasts, licking and suckling her nipples almost delicately. Strangely, the more gentle he was, the more Tallia found herself craving his rough, oversexed impatience when he first came to her bed. The Costa who now touched her seemed too tentative and circumspect, a polite lover, intent only on giving her soft, considerate pleasure, not the hard, hungry, driving passion that drove her wild before. Costa, however, was a very skilled lover, and Tallia could not help but bloom under his touch. He licked the hardened crests of her nipples lightly, kissing them until they throbbed and ached, and then slid his mouth, hot and wet, over her belly and lower still. Tallia's breath caught in her throat as she realized what he intended. Her fingers clutched the sheets as she felt her anticipation ratchet up wildly. Costa's tongue stroked over the wisp of curls between her legs and dove into the cleft of her sex. She moaned unsteadily, her eyes wide and feverish as she watched him slide her thighs apart with his big hands and move to lie between her legs. He bent his dark head to slip his tongue into her hot cleft again and urged her thighs onto his broad, muscular shoulders. Tallia could hardly contain her excitement at the erotic sight of him hovering over her, his strong back gleaming faintly, dark head bowed, long black lashes fanned across his cheeks. He was focused, intent on giving her pleasure with no thought to his own needs. When his mouth settled between her legs, she let out a soft shout, and her head fell back on the bed. Costa's tongue followed the same path his thumb had taken only minutes earlier and swirled over her clitoris. The sensation was unbelievable, warm, wet, and drowning. Tallia could hardly draw breath as he repeated it over and over again, playing with the tiny point of ultra-sensitive flesh. His mouth was pure magic, flicking and sucking, nibbling and rubbing until she was moaning loudly and lifting her hips rhythmically, asking for more. But just when she thought she might go over the edge of the sensual precipice he was pushing her towards, his tongue delved lower, stabbing into the very heart of her. Tallia knew no shame as he buried his tongue inside of her, and then drew it out to lap at the quivering opening of her sex. Threading her fingers through his thick hair, she held him to her and ground herself down on his mouth, sobbing breathlessly as the throbbing built inside of her. She could feel the fluttering convulsions beginning deep within and tossed her head, knowing instinctively she needed to have him inside her, part of her, to know true satisfaction. "Please, oh please, Costa," she groaned, grabbing his shoulders and urging him higher, wanting him inside, deep inside. With his big calloused hands, he pushed her thighs higher and wider apart. Tallia thought he would give her what she needed most. Instead, his tongue slipped from between the lips of her sex like a hot blade, to curl around her clitoris. Sucking the tiny button into his mouth, Costa bit down on it ever so gently and Tallia came apart with a gut-wrenching scream. Her hips were bucking violently, but Costa held her firm, his strong hands cupping her bottom and lifting her to his mouth. He pushed her to higher and still higher peaks of sensation, his teeth nipping expertly while his tongue drove her out of her mind. Tallia had no memory of whimpering and pushing him away when the stimulation proved too much. She tumbled into sleep, swept away by ecstasy and worn out by Costa's skillful mouth. Costa licked his lips, savoring the taste of Tallia as he pulled the sheet over her nude body, sprawled boneless across the bed. Her hair was a wild silver nimbus against the pale blue linens. Her skin so white in the dark room, she looked as if she were fashioned from marble. He hesitated for a moment, letting his eyes drink in her stunning beauty, and then covered her up to keep temptation at bay and turned off the light. She was lovely beyond bearing and passionate beyond belief: temptation incarnate. It shook him still to think she was a virgin. She responded so hotly to his less than subtle lovemaking when he first came to her tonight, he never would have believed her innocence if he had not felt the proof for himself. After two days of living with a permanent, agonizing erection, he had come home with only one thing on his mind, getting inside Tallia and riding her until they were both too sore or too spent to move. Costa couldn't remember the last time he felt so raw or driven, so desperate for a woman- for Tallia, he corrected himself angrily. If he wanted, he could have bedded a dozen women in Athens. More than a dozen really, there were always women who were eager to make themselves available to him. He hadn't wanted a substitute though, he knew no woman who could substitute for Tallia. What woman could have such remarkable hair and skin, such soft, soulful eyes, such unaffected mannerisms? Theos, all he could think of anymore was Tallia. Her eyes, her skin, her mouth, the sound of her laughter, the timber of her voice, the way she looked at him. Everything about her had him ensorcelled. She would drive him mad if he spent any more time around her, of that much he was certain. He risked his life and that of his poor pilot returning to Seleni in the middle of a violent storm, but when a small window of calm weather appeared in the middle of the deluge, he seized the chance to be with her. Now he would be trapped with Tallia for the next day or two as the storm was expected to intensify tomorrow afternoon and into the following day, and he would have to keep his hands to himself. Gathering his wet clothes, Costa quickly left her room and crossed the hall to his own. He was furious with himself. Furious for misreading her yet again, furious for jumping on her like a clumsy hormone-addled teenager, and- most of all- furious that he could not have her! It was one thing, to his way of thinking, to take a woman who was willing and experienced, another to deflower an innocent virgin. Tallia was about as innocent as they came, in mind, body, and spirit, no matter how many times he stupidly assumed otherwise. Costa thought of the way she reacted in the fig grove when he kissed her and wanted to kick his own ass. How could he not have realized she was a virgin when she looked at him the way she had after that kiss? She had been in a daze, he recalled, her amethyst eye’s dreamy and unfocused. Her lips had remained in a pouty moue, as if still molded to his, as she followed him to the waters edge. It was the sort of look a woman wore after her first real kiss, her first taste of passion. Flinging his clothes into a corner with a vicious curse, Costa shook his head in disgust. He felt like a cretin for not immediately realizing just how inexperienced she was. He let lust cloud his judgment, let his desire for her blind him to the obvious signals she threw out. He was worse than a cretin, he told himself. He was a worm, pond scum. From the moment he saw her he had been trying to convince himself Tallia was no better than a whore, so he could take her without hesitation or qualms. Ignoring all the obvious proof to the contrary, he had sought to denigrate her to make her like all the cheap women he was accustomed to so she would be available for a tawdry fling. Tallia, however, was nothing like the sluts he consorted with, women who gladly crawled into bed with him in the hopes of trading their flesh for expensive baubles, a few nights in a luxurious hotel, publicity, or the cache of sleeping with a wealthy man. Costa felt unclean just thinking of all the soulless women he had screwed in his life. His past relationships suddenly seemed vile to him- beyond shallow, gruesome pantomimes of what should really exist between a man and a woman. He sighed heavily as he realized just how different Tallia was and how strange she made him feel. Theos she was lovely, he thought. She was the sweetest, most desirable woman he had ever come across, and ripe for the plucking. He shuddered when he thought of how eager she was in his arms, the smell of her on his skin and the taste of her, still on his tongue, almost driving him out of his mind. He could have her. She wanted him, and the thought was as tempting as it was maddening. If he knew he weren't such a bastard, Costa would have marched back into her room and had his way with her. He was a bastard however, a total creep. He'd treated Tallia like garbage since the moment she arrived on Seleni. Even if she forgave him for his horrible behavior, he could not forgive himself. Costa knew a man like him did not deserve a woman like her. He coldly set out to seduce her from the moment his brother and her sister left them alone, seeing his chance and deciding to take it. He had thought that if she was going to be around for a few weeks he might as well make use of her, behaving as if she was a mere convenience. For heaven’s sake, Costa thought with caustic self loathing, he came back in the middle of the night for the sole purpose of fucking her senseless. Making love had not figured into his plans, just carnal rutting, sating the basest animal urge. Tallia deserved so much more. As he told her before, she deserved to be worshiped and adored, cherished and put up on a very lofty pedestal. Costa was profoundly disgusted with himself for letting his hormones get the best of him. He might lust after Tallia like a dog, but he certainly was not going to defile her. He had behaved towards her like a conscienceless pig, but no more. If he had to cut off his own cock, he was going to keep his distance and show her some much overdue respect. When Tallia left Seleni, she would go intact, without having to deal with the regret of losing her virginity to an ass like him. Chapter 14 Late the next morning, Tallia stepped hesitantly into the cozy, informal dining room. Since arriving on Seleni she had taken all her meals on the terrace, but since the rain was still pelting down in torrents, she followed her nose. Walking past a large, unlit dining room, she came to a much smaller room off of the kitchen, where food was waiting for her on a lovely, round oak table that looked as if it were quite old. Costa was also waiting for her, and she blushed to her roots as their eyes met over his newspaper. She wanted to sink through the floor as the memory of what happened between them washed over her, specifically the part where she threw herself at him and begged him to make love to her. He lowered the paper fractionally and gave her a warm smile. "Good morning," he tossed out lightly, as if they were the best of friends. It was obvious Costa meant to put her at ease by pretending as if nothing had happened between them. Stiffening her spine, Tallia forced her feet to move. After waking up alone in bed, she knew he had not changed his mind about his antiquated notions on virginity and felt doubly embarrassed to think he had given her pity oral sex last night, just to shut her up. It was lowering in the extreme to know, unequivocally, that she had made a fool of herself in front of this man. And now he meant to politely gloss over it and continue as if nothing were amiss. She supposed it was the best plan of action since they would probably have to see each other quite a bit in the years to come, considering their siblings were soon going to be married. At that sobering thought, Tallia realized she should probably be grateful to Costa. Uncomfortable as she was now, it was probably nothing compared to how strained things would be between them if they did have a fling and then spent the rest of their lives being thrown together during family gatherings with the memory of something like that between them. "Good morning," she muttered, sinking into a chair across from him. She wondered who she was kidding. Things were going to be very awkward between them for a very long time. "Did you, ah… sleep… well," Costa mumbled, clearly regretting the question the moment it popped out. Flags of bright color darkened his high cheekbones, and he rattled the newspaper, holding it up between them like a wall he completely hid himself behind. "Mm," she grunted, deciding against making any reply, especially as none came to mind. All she seemed capable of doing was blushing furiously. Head down, she poured herself tea and grabbed a roll, slathering it hastily with butter and the first jam that came to hand. As luck would have it, she happened to choose fig, and almost choked on the piece of bread she bit off. "Well, I- ah, I'll leave you to it. I have a lot of work to do," Costa blurted out a moment later, crumpling the paper into a wad and shoving it under his arm as he hurried out of the room. Tallia sagged in relief, feeling as if she were a teenager in school again, suffering her first, humiliating crush. She took the coward’s way out. After breakfast, she locked herself in her room for the rest of the day. She busied herself taking a long soak in the huge, decadent sunken tub in her bathroom. Afterwards, she gave herself a pedicure, flipped idly through a stack of magazine's Emmy brought with her from London, and generally did everything in her power to stay busy and distracted. Outside the house, the storm raged with varying degrees of intensity. Towards nightfall, the lightning became stupendous, electrifying the sky for long stretches of time while rain hammered down, and a fierce wind whipped against the windows. In the interest of avoiding Costa, Tallia skipped lunch, but by dinnertime she was too hungry to go without something to eat. It didn't occur to her to wonder why no one brought her a tray for lunch, considering Calamini had been mothering her since she arrived, until she crept downstairs to find Costa puttering around in the room where they had breakfast, setting a table for two. She watched him covertly from the door, amused to see him bending his most intimidating frown on a butter knife that had the audacity to bear a watermark on it. Scrubbing the offending spot off on a corner of the thick linen tablecloth, he disappeared into the kitchen and returned a moment later with glasses and a basket of bread. Feeling like a naughty child spying on him, Tallia cleared her throat and stepped into the room. He looked up and just stared at her for a moment before a smile crossed his face. "Hello, how are you?" he asked politely. "Hungry," she replied, hating the way her heart started to race and her palms became damp just from being in the same room with him. Suddenly she didn't know what to do with her hands and her whole body felt clumsy. Crossing her ankles, she curled her toes into the hardwood floors and wished she had worn shoes when Costa looked down to stare at her toes with a bemused look. "Plum," she thought she heard him say, but then he jerked his head up and gave her another impersonal smile. "Well, it's going to be just the two of us tonight. I told Calamini and the others to stay home this morning because of the weather." "Oh, good- I mean, that makes sense," Tallia replied, wishing that she could calm down. It was obvious Costa was just as nervous as her, which struck her as odd since he hardly seemed the nervous type. But she felt all out of sorts. "Can I do anything to help?" "Uh… no, well, actually," he corrected himself, "can you look through that cabinet for candles? The power might go out," he said, nodding towards a long wooden sideboard. While he finished setting the table and brought out the food, Tallia dug candles and matches out of the cupboard and set them around the table. She lit them reluctantly, knowing how romantic the room was going to look. Sure enough, the warm, flickering golden light made the simple dining room glow, even with the tiny lamps fixed to the walls turned on. Costa waved her to a seat, and she noticed with a sinking feeling that he had put the two place settings side by side instead of on opposite halves of the table, which would have been more tolerable, though hardly practical. "I hope you don't mind leftovers, I'm not much of a cook," he told her as he took the seat beside her. "Everything looks lovely," Tallia assured him, and in truth it did, there was enough food and such a variety of it that she certainly would not go to bed hungry. There were two kinds of cold fish, a haunch of cold ham, and homemade pate in a ceramic terrine. She saw a board covered with different cheeses, a smaller board with two different dry salami's, and of course bowls of olives and dolmas, which were staples at every meal in the house. Costa had even gone to the trouble of preparing a salad, and set out a huge basket of bread, whole raw radish, a jar of pickles, and for desert, several small tarts and a dish of cherries, as well as a bowl of apples and oranges. It was a feast, and they set to it without any fanfare. They were silent as they helped themselves to the food, pausing awkwardly when they would reach for the same thing or their hands would brush by accident. Once her plate was full, Tallia wasn't sure she could swallow a bite she was so nervous. Costa seemed equally disconcerted and tore a loaf of bread in half with unnecessary savagery before exclaiming, with no small amount of relief as he jumped out of his seat, "The wine!" He disappeared into the kitchen for almost a quarter of an hour. When he reemerged he had a bottle of red and two glasses, and then made a production of uncorking the wine and serving them both. He finally sat back down, sighed loudly, and poured the entire contents of his glass down his throat in one swallow. "Listen Costa-“ "I want to-" They stopped as abruptly as they had both started to speak and lookd at each other. Tallia didn't know who started, but when one of them burst out laughing, they both roared with it, as if they had just heard the funniest thing. It was nervous laughter, but it cleared the air. Costa spoke first, "I want to apologize-" "For what?" "Everything," he said with another weighty sigh. "I feel as if I have misbehaved from the start, Tallia," he explained. "I would like… well, I would like us to begin again." "As if we just met?" she asked skeptically, thinking of a fig-drenched kiss and not finding the idea remotely desirable. "We will be family soon," he said judiciously, echoing her very own thoughts that morning, "and we can not go on like this forever. One of us is bound to die of embarrassment." Tallia smiled reluctantly. "Ok," she agreed, amused and faintly interested to see where this would lead. Mostly though, she was just glad to play along if it would keep the tension between them at bay. Costa nodded and held out his hand, she shook it, grinning at the silly formality. "Hello, my name is Costa." Laughing, Tallia schooled her features to appear serious when he gave her a slight, scolding frown, "Brigitte, pleased to meet you." "Brigitte!" "I thought I might try something different," she retorted flippantly. "You're not taking this seriously," Costa complained, though he was grinning. "No, no, I'm serious, just call me Bri." He rolled his eyes, "But I love Tallia. It's beautiful, unusual, and unique," he said softly, making her wonder if he was still talking about her name. "Really?" she asked shyly. Costa nodded and leaned over to kiss her lightly on the lips. "I beg your pardon, sir! I hardly know you," Tallia cried, leaning back and giving him a teasing look of reproach. “I can't help myself. I don't know. I feel as if I've met you before," he retorted playfully. "Oh, then you should probably kiss me again… to make sure you haven't." "Met you before, or kissed you?" he asked. "Whatever," Tallia muttered as she swayed impatiently towards him to press her mouth to his. "Still not sure," Costa sighed thickly against her lips after a few moments. He slid a hand into her hair to cradle the nape of her neck in his palm and deepened the kiss. "Well?" she breathed into his mouth several minutes later, when he finally pulled away. "What?" Costa asked. Tallia smiled at him when she saw the unfocused look in his eyes. "I hope you don't go around kissing every woman you meet like this," she joked. "Only the really sexy ones," Costa retorted. "You, sir, are much too forward, and I suspect a shameless flirt." "And you need to eat something," he said, popping an olive onto her tongue. "I won't be silenced," Tallia warned him with a cheeky grin. Costa fed her a paper-thin slice of salami with a wry look on his face, "French girls never know when to shut up." Picking up a juicy olive, Tallia tucked it between his full lips, enjoying feeding him immensely. She and Costa fell silent as they fed each other for the remainder of the meal, stopping often just to kiss with slowly escalating intensity. "I won't make love to you," he told her firmly when Tallia dropped little kisses along his jaw and nibbled on his chin, while she boldly unbuttoned his dress shirt so she could stroke his bare chest. "How very presumptuous! We only just met," she whispered into his ear, biting down on his earlobe to punish him for that remark. Costa pulled his ear away from her, "I'm serious, Tallia." "Not even if I beg?" she asked softly, running her tongue down the strong column of his throat and pinching one of his wide, flat nipples. To her delight, Costa shivered and groaned softly. Licking her lips, Tallia let him see how she savored the salty taste of him. "Minx," he growled, dangling a cherry in her face. Sticking her tongue out, Tallia balanced the dark red fruit on the tip and drew it into her mouth. Catching the stem between her teeth, she was well aware of Costa watching her with heated interest. She blushed at her forwardness, but the wine and the candlelight created a warm, safe retreat from reality. She wanted Costa quite desperately and realized to get him she was going to have to do more than sit around hoping and looking pretty. It seemed ludicrous to her that she could seduce a man like him, but there was no denying his attraction. After two years of having her life on hold, she was not about to let such a perfect opportunity and such a perfect man slip away. She reasoned to herself that she had already made a fool of herself in front of him, so she didn’t have anything to lose. "I thought you were such a shy, innocent young thing," he commented as he helped himself to a cherry. He held her gaze as he bit into the ripe, firm fruit. "You must be thinking of someone else," Tallia purred, sticking her tongue out to reveal the cherry stem now tied in a perfect knot. Costa's eyebrows shot upwards. But he pushed her hand away when it drifted dangerously low on his hard stomach, so her fingertips could tease the waistband of his chinos. "Here, finish your wine," he coaxed, lifting the glass to her lips. They were already halfway through their second bottle, though it wasn't the alcohol making Tallia feel intoxicated. "I hope you're not the sort of man who likes to get women drunk and take advantage," she remarked before she drank obediently. Costa bent his head to sip the wine from her lips, and Tallia shivered as his tongue slid into her wine drenched mouth. It made her think of last night, when that exceedingly clever tongue of his explored an entirely different part of her body. The gleam in his eyes told her he knew exactly what he was doing and what he was making her think of. And he probably knew exactly how it was making her body react. Suddenly, Tallia’s palm itched to slap him. She became furious with him for being such a practiced lothario and treating everything as if it were a game. He licked his lips like a big cat and grinned at her, his face so close she could see a sun burst of topaz gold surrounded each of his pupils. "I told you I wouldn't make love to you Tallia, with my, ah, cock, at any rate," he clarified a bit crudely. Then he added in a rough undertone, "Though maybe you have something special, something hot and wet to offer me for desert, something with a little honey in it?" he asked, his lips curving into a very smug, suggestive smile. Stung by his continued pigheaded behavior, as well as his colossal ego, Tallia turned her head and gave him a delicate cold shoulder. "I think not. If you won't make love to me like a real man, then I shan't have you at all," she informed him coolly. "What do you mean by that?" he demanded, sounding less than amused. He reached around and caught her chin in his hand, so he could jerk her face around to glare at her darkly. "I'm not interested," she hissed, narrowing her eyes angrily, "and- and I won't be offering you any… honey!" Plunging the fingers of one hand into her hair, Costa seized the back of her head to hold her still so he could grind his mouth down on hers roughly. Tallia tossed her head and tried to turn her face away, but he fisted his hand in her hair, holding her captive. She nipped warningly at his lower lip, wanting him to let go and stop acting so domineering simply because he was more experienced than her. Costa responded by biting down on her lower lip hard. Gasping in outrage as the gesture was clearly meant to put her in her place, Tallia lost all restraint. She shoved at his chest, ignoring the pain in her mouth as her struggles made his teeth cut into her lip, piercing her flesh. She tasted blood, and it infuriated her. Costa tried to sooth her, his lips growing soft against hers. But Tallia was having none of it and heaved herself out of her chair, pushing against his shoulders angrily. "You little witch," he growled, slipping an arm around her waist and tugging her down into his lap. Tallia held her arms out to keep from falling on top of him and kicked at him with a bare foot, catching him in the shin. Costa snarled and lunged up, sending both their chairs tumbling backwards and knocking the table so hard the wine bottles tipped over and food went flying. Neither of them cared as they struggled heatedly. "Let go!" Tallia snapped. Costa ignored her. He ripped her hands from where they were braced against his chest to keep their bodies apart. Whipping her hands behind her back, he pushed her up against the nearest wall. Leaning his full weight into her, he pinned her flat as he glared down at her hotly. Tallia returned his glare with interest, refusing to be cowed, until she felt something very long and hard digging into her belly. His erection felt like a burning hot brand even through the layers of their clothing. Her breath whooshed out, and she looked up at him in shock. "Is this what you want?" Costa bit out harshly, grinding his huge sex against her. "I didn't think so," he spat when Tallia paled. He bent down and took her mouth then with an almost lewd kiss, forcing his tongue past her lips and thrusting it deep, again and again, making her feel penetrated and fully possessed. "Your not ready for this, Tallia," she heard him growl when he finally tore his mouth from her bruised lips. "I want you," she insisted plainly, her voice grave with unshakable certainty. Costa shuddered against her, his hips bucked, driving his penis hard into her soft belly. "I want you too, but it wouldn't be right," he whispered, sounding almost tortured as he panted in her ear. His hands released her wrists and went to her hips to lift her so he could fit himself more snugly against her. He shuddered and groaned, his fingers digging into her flesh as he fought for control. "I don't want to hurt you," he rasped unevenly. Tallia reached for his shoulders and slid her hands over the bunched, straining muscles, awed by the strength in his body and the force of the desire he held in check. He trembled under her touch like a wild thing, clutching her to him convulsively. "It would hurt with anyone Costa. It always hurts the first time. I want it to be you." She didn't know where she found the audacity to even suggest such a thing, with the frightful weight of him poking her stomach, yet the words just tumbled out. He groaned as if she had wounded him and shook his head feverishly. "You don't understand Tallia." "I want you," she whispered, kissing the top of his silky head as she wrapped her arms around him and hugged him to her. "Then marry me," he said against her temple. "Wh-what?" "Marry me," he said with greater force, kissing the corner of her jaw and the hollow beneath her ear. "You want to get married?" she asked weakly. "With you, as soon as possible," he clarified, showering kisses over her face. "But… that's crazy," she whispered. "If you want me, you have to marry me," he told her flatly, nuzzling under her chin. Her eyes slid shut as his lips moved over her throat, kissing and licking seductively. "You can't be serious," she breathed, losing herself in his lovemaking. "I am," Costa growled. Setting his teeth to the curve of her neck and shoulder, to that sensitive spot he seemed to hone in on with such skill, he bit down, sending pleasure rippling along her nerve endings. One large, capable hand closed over her breast and squeezed, weighed, and kneaded her aching flesh lovingly. A building wave of pleasure was gathering, lifting her up, ready to sweep her away. As if in a dream, Tallia heard her voice, thick and drugged, obediently tell him, "Yes, Costa, I'll marry you." Chapter 15 Costa's face was set in an inscrutable mask as he carried her up the stairs. Tallia wondered if he was regretting his hasty words. She was wondering if she regretted her own, as he shouldered the door to his bedroom open and she saw his massive, king size bed. He set her down lightly by the bed and bent to snap on the light on the bedside table, but nothing happened. Apparently the power had gone out and neither of them noticed while they were downstairs. Grateful for the semi-darkness, since the open drapes allowed just enough muted, eerie light from the storm for them to see one another, Tallia stood passive while Costa peeled off her clothes and stripped down to his boxers. Now that the time to lose her virginity was at hand she felt terrified. Costa loomed big and dark in front of her, and it did nothing for her peace of mind to know just how big he was all over. Tallia would much rather have remained ignorant until after the fact. She jerked, as if struck, when he lifted his hands, but all he did was cup her face between his warm palms and kiss her gently. Some of her fear abated as his mouth moved with familiar passion over hers. When he slid an arm around her, she smiled with pleasure as he lifted her up and lay her down in the middle of the mattress and stretched out beside her. He bent over her and resumed kissing her with unhurried sweetness, splaying one hand across her lower belly and sliding the other under the nape of her neck to tilt her head back, giving him better access to her mouth. She felt his tongue slip between her parted lips to play with hers and Tallia began to relax and grow warm and pliant beneath his tender care. Rolling towards him, she slid a hand around his lean waist to stroke the smooth, taut skin of his back, loving the way he groaned and moved under her hand like a cat stretching into a caress. Costa pushed a heavy knee between her thighs and lay half on top of her, pressing her back down into the mattress. Tallia lifted her hips curiously, seeking the length of his erection, but he pinned her to the sheet with his leg and withheld the forbidden from her with a low, knowing chuckle. "So impatient," he purred against her mouth, his hand drifting up to brush her nipples until they stood at attention, straining to meet the stroke of his rough palm. He pinched the tight buds languidly, softly at first and then hard enough to make her breath catch. When he lowered his head to sooth her aching flesh with his mouth, Tallia sank her fingers into his thick hair and pulled him close, moaning as he suckled her hungrily. She pressed her thighs together around his knee. Her sex was throbbing in reaction to the feel of his mouth at her breast and a warm, wet flood of moisture came pouring from her body. Thick, calloused fingers were there to catch the slick honey, and Costa groaned against her breast, biting into the satiny mounds of flesh with exquisite restraint. His teeth raked across her skin and paused to nibble on her nipples. Tallia sighed voluptuously, drowning in sweet sensations as his fingers began to tease the wet folds at the opening of her body ever so slowly. Costa played her like an instrument, strumming her most sensitive points like a master. Each fingertip would pause just long enough to tweak the swollen button of her clitoris, before drifting away to allow another knowing fingertip to caress her, over, and over again. She opened herself up, offering herself to him as she spread her legs and urged him close, slipping her arms around his shoulders and trying to pull him over her. He obliged and settled his narrow hips between her thighs, yet only continued to leisurely suckle her breasts, ignoring the press of her hot, urgent hands on his back. "Please Costa, please," Tallia panted as the throbbing deep inside her body built to a maddening intensity. She curved her legs over his and rubbed his rock hard calves with her feet, squeezing him between her thighs to the rhythmic pulsing of her greedy sex. Never had she wanted so badly, burned so hot, or felt so mindless with need. He pushed her legs away, stripped off his boxers and rose above her on his knees. Tallia's mouth ran dry, and she was glad for the dark that hid his penis from her eyes when he spread her thighs wide with his big, hot hands and mounted her. Costa was a huge black shadow as he leaned forward, blotting out everything else in the world. Bracing a hand next to her face, he took her mouth in a kiss bold with possession, his tongue circling her mouth to slick her lips with moisture and then delving inside, as if to show her what he was about to do. Tallia's breath shuddered out, and she clutched the sheets as anticipation played havoc with her nerves. She was so excited and afraid she could hardly draw breath. She felt something smooth and hard between her legs and then Costa's hips flexed and he entered her. The head of his cock was shockingly wide and Tallia tensed, immediately knowing it was going to hurt. Costa made soothing sounds over her, his head bent, his body bowed as he carefully eased himself into her. He had one hand between their bodies, and Tallia realized he was holding his shaft to control his penetration when she felt his fist against her sex. He withdrew after squeezing only a few inches inside and then slid back in almost immediately, slipping in with slick ease and then pushing deeper, forcing her to open wider to take more of him. With remarkable patience he rocked back and forth above her for long minutes, giving her time to adjust to the size and feel of him, coaxing her tense muscles to yield to him. Tallia could appreciate his care as she felt his big body begin to tremble over hers, but the pain did not lessen. The deeper Costa pushed the more it hurt, until she couldn't hold back her whimpers. Her head thrashed on the pillow, and she bit her already battered lip until she tasted blood again, trying unsuccessfully to hide her distress. She knew he was doing everything he could to be gentle and not hurt her. "Agapate, I'm sorry," he groaned, too focused on her slightest reaction not to know how much she suffered. "Don't stop," Tallia gasped, afraid he might. She knew it would be worse to have to go through this all over again with the awareness of how much it hurt, if he didn't finish it now. "Just… come inside," she urged, braced for the worst. Costa cried out harshly and surged deep, his hand moving from his cock to grip her thigh. Tallia stiffened beneath him and grit her teeth as he tore into her, ripping her asunder. She thought the worst was over once he breached her maidenhead, but Costa kept pushing deeper and still deeper. He was long and thickly engorged, stretching her to a degree that was almost intolerable. She could hardly keep her sobs of misery back as he buried himself inside of her like a burning, hot brand. "Oh Theos, oh Theos!" Costa called out, his voice exalted. He ground his hips into hers, shoving her up the bed so he settled even more solidly inside of her. "Do you feel it? Oh Theos Agapate, do you feel it?" he moaned, shuddering violently, "You were made for me." Her hands fisted in the sheet, tears squeezing from the corners of her eyes, Tallia wasn't certain she shared that sentiment at all. It hurt and the invasive sense of being filled beyond the point of comfort did not lessen as Costa continued to hold himself inside her. When he planted his hands on either side of her face and stretched his spine above her like a great, lazy beast preparing to pounce, she tensed. His hips were moving back incrementally and he slid out of her on a long, wet rush, hard and quivering eagerly. Tallia whimpered with dread. "Shhh, shhh, Agapate," Costa soothed sweetly, and he began thrusting in and out of her in a firm, steady rhythm. He whispered to her in Greek as he rode her slowly for a long time, letting her catch her breath and grow used to his possession. Tallia swallowed her tears and forced herself to lie pliant beneath him, since it hurt less than when she tensed. The pain didn't go away, each thrust brought a sharp, stinging burn. After a while though, her exhausted muscles grew lax, and she felt a melting sensation seize her as she yielded completely. Costa must have felt it too and praised her lavishly. His body gleamed with sweat as he moved tirelessly above her, and Tallia knew he wasn't going to stop until she either asked him to or experienced an orgasm. His gentle determination moved her, she felt safe with him- special. Nudging her legs wider with his knees, he slid still deeper and Tallia cried out softly as her body tightened around him in a lush contraction. Pleasure mixed with pain, and she gave herself over to it, listening to the low, rough growl of Costa's voice in the dark, coaxing her to let go. Ripples of sensation washed over her, one after another, in a quickening cascade as he drove into her faster and faster. Suddenly everything inside of her drew tight, focused at the point where his body met hers, and the world exploded into a brilliant supernova. When she floated back down to earth, Costa was lying sprawled on top of her panting wildly. His big body was limp, and he shook forcefully enough to make the bed rock. Feeling raw, yet deliciously sated, Tallia squirmed out from under him to wrap her arms around him, cradling Costa tenderly against her as his breathing settled and he drifted off into sleep. He felt big and hot- her man, curled boneless against her, his thick hair falling across his brow as he nuzzled his face into the valley between her breasts and murmured her name in his dreams. Her husband, she reminded herself and giggled against his sweat slick shoulder at the preposterousness of that notion. Costa woke a few hours later when the light on his bedside table flickered on. A smug smile curved his lips before he even turned his head to see the woman who shared his bed. The only woman who had ever been in this bed, he thought with soul deep satisfaction. Tallia lay like a mussed angel, her cheeks delicately flushed with sleep, her mouth swollen and red, pin straight hair a bristly cloud of silver with bits sticking up in every direction. She looked as if she had taken a hard landing when she fell from heaven. He grinned at the thought, sitting up in bed with energy to burn, the sight of her revitalizing him. Reaching out, he tugged a strand of hair free from the corner of her mouth, where it had become trapped between her wide, bruised lips. Recalling everything that passed between them earlier, he couldn't regret a moment of it since she was now here in his bed, the future Mrs. Eustakhios. He grinned with delight at the thought, silently congratulating himself for performing probably his greatest feat of negotiating, down in his breakfast room of all places, by getting this lovely creature to agree to be his wife. After beating himself up all day for being an unworthy bastard, he set out to have a perfectly normal, civilized meal with Tallia. He was determined to be polite, perhaps even charming, but to keep his distance at all cost. Of course that plan went straight to hell the moment he laid eyes on her, standing so adorably uncertain in the door to the breakfast room with a fresh coat of pale, glossy plum colored polish on her gorgeous toenails. It was a miracle he hadn't had her for dinner, right there on the damn table, she got him so hot with just one shy glance from beneath that uneven fringe of silver blond hair. She continued to drive him wild during dinner with her flirting – Brigitte indeed! No man could resist a woman with such a mix of tart humor and total honesty. Though she might be shy, Tallia was remarkably self-possessed. She knew her mind and what she wanted and was stubborn enough not to back down. What she wanted tonight was him, Costa thought, and how the hell was a man supposed to say no to a fairy-angel who watched him with hungry, lavender colored eyes through long, flirty lashes. Certainly not when the woman kissed like Tallia did. She tied his guts in a knot as easily as she had that cherry stem. He had been so addled by lust and guilt that it didn't occur to him, until he was rubbing himself against her like a horny kid with the hottest girl in school behind the bleachers, that he wanted Tallia. He had wanted her from the moment he saw her. Whereas he had only felt lust before, now that he knew her, Costa wanted her for a lot more than just sex. He wanted to care for her, treasure her, cherish her, all those things he knew she deserved. It struck him as he told her he wouldn't deflower her, that he was leaving the door open from some other man to do the deed. Costa knew he was not the selfless type. It wasn't in his nature to deny himself what he wanted. He was unabashedly egotistic and possessive. Why shouldn't it be me worshipping Tallia? He had asked himself. Why can’t I enjoy her dreamy smiles and steamy glances? Why can’t it be me kissing those gorgeous lips and sharing my life with her? The thought of some other man taking her to bed and making her his settled the matter. Right then and there, with her shoved up against the breakfast room wall, his mind was made up- he was keeping her. She would be his little English faerie, his wife. He would spend every night staring at her across the dinner table, exchanging silly banter, and sharing their lives. He wanted it, that intimacy with her, the right to call her his and know what was on her mind, the privilege of having her near and turning to her when he needed her. Costa was fairly shocked by the ferocity with which he needed her and the strange conviction that this was what he had wanted all along. It felt as if his instinctive attraction to her, his recognition that she was his mate, had been driving his actions and making him behave totally out of character, like a over-possessive lunatic, since she came to Seleni. He was Greek enough to believe in fate, and it seemed to him that Tallia was meant to be his all along. Now all that remained was getting his ring on her finger and spending the rest of his life making sure she never regretted marrying him. Brushing his fingertips lightly over her cheek, he realized he really didn't care why he felt the way he did. She was here, and that she remained here with him was all that really mattered. Tallia's eyes drifted slowly open as he dragged his fingers down across her lips, tracing the shape of her wide, elegantly formed mouth. Costa gave her a brilliant smile, putting everything he was feeling into his expression. He kissed her then, long and slow, and made love to her once more with infinite care. Using all the skill he possessed, he made certain she experienced as much pleasure as he could possibly give her, until she lay sleeping in his arms again, a dainty hand resting over his heart. Chapter 16 Stretching against thick linen sheets, Tallia groaned as countless aches and pains made themselves known all over her body. Her discomfort did not, however, wipe away the drowsy smile that played across her lips. Nothing can dampen my good mood, she thought as she sat up, yawning hugely while she surveyed the room where she had slept. Costa's room, she mused with lazy curiosity, and Costa's bed. Sliding to the edge of the mattress, she let her feet swing down to the floor and left the bed with a great deal of reluctance. She had spent the most amazing night in that oversize bed, her body was sore all over from all the pleasure she discovered in Costa's big, wonderful bed. Trailing a finger along the mattress, she curled her hand around one of the bedposts and sighed blissfully. Tallia felt like a whole new woman today. It was late, but she was in no rush to join the rest of the world. She could vaguely recall Costa leaning over her earlier that morning, kissing her shoulder and telling her to sleep in before he left her. She missed him and missed his warmth while she slept. Content to savor a few minutes alone with herself before she went to find him, she took stock of the changes she felt inside herself. Oh God, I love him, Tallia thought and laughed foolishly. It was probably a mistake to fall for Costa, but there was no going back. He wasn't the sort of man she would ever have pictured herself with. Costa was altogether too big, bold, bossy, and beautiful. But she was crazy for him and so grateful they had been thrown together that she wanted to weep with joy. Most incredible of all, he seemed to share some of her feelings. He liked her and desired her. Hopefully, they could build on that if he was willing to try and have a relationship. Padding around the room, she looked over Costa's dresser and wardrobe without much interest. Like most of the house, his room was very simple, spartanly furnished with very few personal touches. Tallia wished it were otherwise as she knew so very little about the man she was in love with. She supposed she knew the essentials. She had a grasp of his personality, his traditional outlook, his ruthless devotion to family, his excellent manners, and his sharp sense of humor. Still, she knew next to none of the details of his life. What exactly did he do for a living? Who are his friends? What are his likes and dislikes? She didn’t have a clue what Costa’s favorite color was… or if he preferred summer to fall… or if he liked children. Glancing out the window, she was glad to see that it wasn't raining anymore. The sky was gray and overcast, but it looked as if the sun might appear at any moment. It was close to noon when she realized she should probably get dressed and go down stairs to find her man. She dallied though, toying with the idea that it might be more fun to get back in bed and wait until he came looking for her. Tallia gasped in disbelief, her sexy plans forgotten as she looked out the window. She noticed in the corner of her eye Costa's big, black helicopter squatting like some horrid bug on one of the squares of manicured lawn that Calamini's husband Gustav was constantly fussing over. All her good cheer vanished as she wondered if Costa were about to leave for Athens. Furious at the thought of being abandoned, again, Tallia scrambled into last night’s clothes. She marveled that she had managed to sleep through the deafening racket the helicopter must have made when it landed this morning. Running to her room, she washed and changed in a frenzied rush, girding herself for battle if Costa even suggested going somewhere without her. She was still fastening the hooks on the skirt she jumped into after her shower, as she bounded down the stairs, intent on hunting Costa down. Her emotions were seesawing wildly. She speculated why he might be leaving and whether it was business or he had decided to go because he had had his fill of her last night? Like a graceless child, she skidded to a halt in the long front hall that ran the length of the house. A strange mountain of a man wearing a black suit and wrap around sunglasses, was standing stiffly by a closed door. He had to be a bodyguard, given his size, staid clothes, and unsmiling expression. But she had no idea why he was suddenly in Costa’s house. There was a table next to him, a narrow catchall. Tallia almost smiled when she noticed that someone, probably soft-hearted Calamini, had placed a mug of coffee and a plate of cookies there for the man. The stone-faced bodyguard, however, disdained to touch either. Continuing at a much more dignified pace, despite her bare feet, Tallia stepped into the breakfast room to be greeted by Calamini, who was beaming. The housekeeper was putting dishes away in the sideboard. When she saw Tallia, Calamini set them down carelessly and rushed forward. She took Tallia’s hands, squeezing them as she said something in Greek, which Tallia could not hope to understand. Laughing and clucking happily, the housekeeper dragged her back through the front hall and over to the bodyguard. Throwing the door the impassive giant was guarding open without knocking, Calamini shoved her inside and shut the door behind her. Tallia looked around nervously, not knowing what to expect as she found herself in what had to be Costa’s study. To her surprise, unlike the rest of the house, this room was delightfully busy. The walls were lined with bookcases, the shelves of which were chockfull of books and a confusing jumble of bric-a-brac. Framed pictures hung on every available inch of wall space. Most were personal pictures of Fidelio at every imaginable age, sometimes with Costa too, as well as numerous strangers who were probably family members. A huge white wool rug covered the study floor and two buff leather couches had been positioned on either side of a long coffee table in front of a massive wooden desk. If she could have, Tallia would have loved to look at all the pictures, but Costa was not alone. Costa was leaning against the front of his desk speaking to a stout man in an immaculate black, pinstriped suit, who perched on the edge of one of the couches. The two of them looked at her with almost guilty expressions on their faces when she appeared, and Tallia wondered if she were not welcome. Costa broke into a broad grin though, and immediately came forward to meet her. Tallia noticed the stranger quickly folded several sheets of paper they had been going over and tucked them into his breast pocket, before he stood up politely. "Agapate," Costa murmured for her ears only. He slid an arm around her shoulders and kissed her lightly on the mouth before turning to introduce her to their visitor. "Tallia, this is Mr. Adrossi, an old friend. Piet, my fiancée, Miss Tallia Maitland." Blushing hotly as he introduced her as his fiancée, Tallia shook the hand Mr. Androssi held out to her. She thanked him softly when he surprised her by offering his congratulations on their engagement. Suddenly she knew precisely what Calamini had been trying to communicate in the breakfast room, and she laughed nervously, feeling completely out of her depth. She couldn’t believe Costa was serious about getting married! "Piet was kind enough to fly out here this morning as a favor," Costa explained to her. Mr. Androssi grinned at her with delight, nodding energetically. Tallia had no idea what to make of that statement and wondered if Mr. Androssi was Costa's lawyer. She thought he certainly dressed the part. His suit looked like it cost a million pounds, though he seemed altogether too friendly and too… well, too excited to be a lawyer. Mr. Androssi, with his short, curly black hair and thick, neat mustache, reminded her a little of a well-groomed black poodle. He wore a ring with a stone on each of his pinky fingers, and the gems winked at her as he began to frisk about eagerly. As soon as the introductions were made, the man went rushing around the couch, waving her towards Costa's imposing desk. Costa's hand on the small of her back was suddenly propelling her forward. Tallia suffered a healthy dose of dread as she walked towards his desk. She imagined she was about to be presented with a twelve-inch think prenuptial that would require she sign away her life, just so she could marry the man she loved. All of her trepidation vanished though when she saw the trays of black velvet laid out on the surface of the desk. There had to be a king’s ransom in gems on display, a hundred or more rings glittered magically in the weak sunlight, one more striking than the next. Tallia could not help the 'ooooh' of pleasure that slipped from her lips. Costa and Mr. Androssi laughed at the sound. "Now, this is just a small selection of what Piet carries. If you don't see anything you like we can visit his store in Athens. Or if you have something specific in mind, Piet can make a ring to any specification. He designed most of these himself," Costa explained. She stared in wonder at all the gorgeous sparklers on display and wondered if she was still dreaming. Tallia never considered herself the sort of girl who went to mush at the sight of a diamond. But she discovered in that moment that she was exactly that sort. She looked at the rings and felt tears burn the backs of her eyes. It was all so extravagant, and romantic. Costa had flown the jeweler out first thing to bring her all these gorgeous rings to choose from. He was clearly very serious about getting married. With that thought in mind, she knew she could not be flippant. It was overwhelming though, the gesture, the rings, and his attentiveness. Yet it was for her. To show him how much she appreciated him, she nodded her head gravely and gave the rings her full attention. Halfway through the lot, one stone caught her eye. It was the height of frivolity, but so beautiful it stopped her breath. Costa plucked it up with a low chuckle and presented it to her. It was a pale blush, almost colorless, square cut stone that sat alone in a simple silver setting. "This is one of my favorites too," Costa whispered. "It's quite extravagant," Tallia replied just as softly, excited at the prospect of wearing such a stunning ring, but equally unnerved because she sensed it was more expensive than she even wanted to know. She owned almost no jewelry, and no man had ever given her any. To have this be her first piece seemed more than she could ever expect or deserve. "Costa-" she began with an anxious glance at the ring. Laughing, he put a finger to her lips and shook his head, “This is the one you want?" Tallia nodded her head after a slight hesitation. He grinned, "Then this is the ring." "An excellent choice," Mr. Androssi crowed, looking as if he were in ecstasy. "A flawless, natural, princess cut, one carat rose diamond- extraordinarily rare, set in platinum," he added. Tallia paled as she tried to imagine what such a thing was worth. Costa, the devil, laughed harder. "Can we have a moment alone, Piet?" "Of course!" the jeweler exclaimed, practically dancing out the door. Tallia was certain the ring had to cost a fortune because the man was in such a state. “W-wait,” she squeaked, her conscience pricking her to speak. “I… I don’t mean to be rude Mr. Androssi, but… this isn’t a conflict, or a-a blood diamond, is it?” Mr. Androssi paused for a moment and then chuckled pleasantly. “Oh, do not be embarrassed Kiri Maitland! People nowadays are much more conscientious then we used to be, many of my customers want to know the very same thing. Do not trouble yourself for even a moment, the stone is from Australia, most pink diamonds do not come from Africa. Mine come only from India and Australia!” “Thank you,” Tallia told him, relieved. Bowing slightly the jeweler floated out the door. “I hope I didn’t offend-“ she began fretfully. "Not at all! Trust me, you've made his day," Costa told her, his tone of voice dry and his smile reassuring. Nodding, Tallia turned to him and blanched all over again when Costa went down on one knee and took her left hand in his. "Oh-oh God," she gasped. "Don't pass out on me," he teased, looking up at her with a wicked gleam in his eye. "Will you marry me?" "Yes! Oh yes, of course," she cried. Going down on her knees beside him, she kissed him ecstatically, missing his mouth entirely in her haste. Costa laughed and kissed her finger. Then he slid the ring onto it, and, of course, it fit just right. Tallia burst into tears. Scrubbing at her eyes and gulping in air to try and calm herself, she blurted out, "You really are insane! We've only known each other a week!" "I knew the minute I saw you,” Costa replied gravely, “it just took me a week to build up the courage." They toasted their engagement on the terrace with Calamini, Ari, Neni, Gustav and Piet. Neni had begun baking early that morning the moment Costa told her and Calamini that he was getting married, and she had outdone herself as usual. Neni and Calamini had teased him that it was past time he settled down, and Costa realized they were right. For as long as he could remember his sole focus had been to make money, but long after he reached his goal of pulling his family out of poverty and amassing a sizeable fortune, he was still working like a madman. For the first time in his life he was actually seeing the merits of slowing down, enjoying his life and starting a family! Seeing Tallia’s radiant joy as she accepted everyone’s congratulations, Costa knew he was making the right decision. Tallia was the only woman who had ever inspired thoughts of permanence or marriage in him. When it dawned on him that some day they would have children, the idea filled him with excitement and not horror. After drinking two glasses of champagne, Costa drew her away, leaving the others to enjoy the rest of the wedding cake along with several bottles of champagne. Leading Tallia back into the house, Costa could only wait until they were out of sight of the security guard Piet brought with him to protect his jewels. Halfway up the stairs, on the narrow landing, he kissed her. Costa was brimming over with satisfaction as he gazed down into Tallia's face. She was almost aglow with a newfound sexual satisfaction mixed with the euphoric bliss of a future bride, he mused. He had never been more pleased by anything than the happiness they brought each other. A pragmatist, Costa knew the future wouldn't always be this rosy. They were surely in the first blush of love and still had so much to learn about each other. But he had never felt more sure about anything in his life than he did about Tallia. He could see himself growing old with her. This was something he never even considered with any of the other women he had known. He really wanted to build a life with her. He wanted to be her husband, to be there for her, to love her, to have children, and to live long years together. He wanted all the mundane and the boring days that realistically, he knew made up married life. Once he had her in his room, he shut the door and locked it. Fresh sheets were on the bed and a bottle of champagne sat chilling in a bucket on the bedside table, just as he requested. Tallia, already tipsy, giggled and shook her pale head, "I'm not drinking another drop- it wouldn't be prudent." Peeling off her shirt, Costa laughed softly, wickedly. "That one’s not meant to be drunk," he took great pleasure in whispering in her ear. Tallia gave him a curious look, and he delighted in showing her what he meant for the rest of the afternoon. Chapter 17 Costa and Tallia didn't emerge from his room for the next two days. After their engagement, they indulged in a lengthy bout of tingling, champagne soaked lovemaking, and then passed the time just lying together and talking. Calamini brought their dinner to them on a tray, and after eating they shared a long, hot bubble bath. Costa gave Tallia a massage, and she returned the favor. They didn't make love again because her body was still tender from the sudden demands being made of her. The next day was much the same, bouts of lovemaking interspersed with long conversation, and Calamini keeping them from starvation with regular meals left outside the bedroom door. They only left their love nest when night fell, and the house was empty. Stark naked under a bright crescent moon, they wandered hand in hand down to the beach and swam together in the warm water. After swimming, they lay in the sand and dozed until dawn when they had to race back up to the house, giggling hysterically as they crept around to avoid Gustav. The old man was up well before the sun rose puttering around his garden, and would surely have suffered a coronary if he spotted the two of them streaking around the property. It was a gratifying idle. But by the third day, Costa was chomping at the bit to get out and have some fun. Frog marching Tallia into the shower, he soaped her up and rinsed her down. Then he toweled her dry and sent her off to her room to dress. Calamini greeted them with an indulgent smile when they stepped out on the terrace to have breakfast. She seemed to be psychic and had a full spread waiting for them. There was fresh baked bread, jam, omelets, tea, and coffee- the works. Tallia and Costa tucked in enthusiastically. "What's on the agenda?" Tallia asked between bites. She was almost embarrassed by her lack of motivation. All she seemed to require at the moment was Costa. And perhaps food, she amended as she polished off the last of a divinely fluffy omelet. "I thought we could take a drive, see something of the island?" he proposed carefully. Nodding her head resolutely, Tallia didn't hesitate in agreeing, "That would be lovely." Costa grinned with relief, "We can take the truck. I'll show you the goat farm, and we can pick up some fresh cheese." "Mmmm… Will you be making peace with the goats now that you've decided to settle down and mend your wicked ways?" "Wicked ways? I thought it was because of my wicked ways that you were marrying me?" he joked with a devilish lift of a black brow. "Oh, it is! But only because I expect to have exclusive rights to those wicked ways," she retorted. "Always," Costa assured her, his eyes warm as he reached over to squeeze her hand. They had already discussed their plans and expectations for their marriage while in his bed. Both were agreed on complete and total monogamy. It was a promise he intended to keep. He didn't think it would be too difficult because his bride-to-be had a way of keeping him on his toes. "You know, if you like, we can take that sporty black beast of yours out," Tallia suggested casually. She felt the time was ripe for her to get over her fears. Costa gave her a questioning look, "Are you sure?" Tallia nodded her head. "Provided I can drive it," she added. She surprised even herself with that request. "It's a deal!" Costa agreed readily. "Someone has to show you how it's done," she mocked, "you know, you really are an atrocious driver." Costa drew himself up indignantly, "That is perhaps the most insulting thing you can ever say to a man," he growled coldly, looking like his old, intimidating self. "What if I said you're rubbish in bed," Tallia suggested lightly. A lazy smile swept away all trace of Costa's outrage. "We both know that's a lie," he purred smugly. Tossing her napkin in his face, Tallia grinned impishly and retorted, "Well, I could still tell people that!" "You witch!" he hissed, lunging for her. Squealing at the top of her lungs, Tallia went darting from the room with Costa hard on her heels. Taking turns behind the wheel, they drove around the island several times. Seleni was quite small and Costa's Lamborghini quite fast. At first, Tallia was nervous in the driver’s seat. She could drive a stick; that wasn't the problem. The bucket seat was still uncomfortable with her back problems. Furthermore, the car was so sensitive and powerful that she was scared of sending it flying off the road if she wasn’t careful. Costa showed some remarkable patience in coaching her along. When she grew too flustered or the road ahead ran along perilous cliffs, they would trade off. But after a few tries, Tallia was flying down the winding road, laughing like a maniac as she put the superb machine through its paces. She laughed all the harder when she saw Costa clutch the edge of his seat with white knuckles. "Oh, my God, that's so much fun!" she exclaimed when they stopped by a copse of trees for a break. "Now you see why I built this road," Costa said, falling dramatically onto his hands and knees and pretending to kiss the ground. Pouting, Tallia jumped on his back and he straightened without effort, carrying her to the tall, cool grass under the trees. "I think it’s time I had my wicked way with you," he growled as he knelt down. Shrugged her off, he sent her tumbling onto a soft carpet of grass. He had been very circumspect for the past two days, making love to her only once a day because she still suffered a lot of discomfort, though she valiantly tried to hide it from him. They had happily explored other ways to amuse themselves in bed. Costa thoroughly enjoyed teaching Tallia how he liked to be touched and discovering her proclivities, all while gorging himself on her lovely body. Despite her delicacy she was very passionate and eager to learn the physical side of love, which he found highly erotic. Such sweet, stubborn sensuality could not fail to turn him to putty. "By all means," she agreed, yanking her t-shirt off impatiently so her bare breasts were exposed to his hot gaze. Costa removed his own clothes as an afterthought, his attention fixed on Tallia as she wriggled out of her slim jeans and kicked off her sandals, sending them sailing into a bush. She never ceased to amaze him. There was absolutely no artifice to her. She said what she thought and did what came naturally. She really was from another world. A lost faerie, he mused while she flopped down in the grass and cooed with pleasure. Apparently it felt good to her because she rolled around, giggling and wriggling with sensual delight like a lusty woodland nymph, her pale body striking against the lush greenery. Pouncing on her, Costa covered her. Pressing her down into the cool grass, his erection wedged firmly between the pert swells of her bottom. She gasped, twisting beneath him provocatively. She was enjoying the contrast of cold and hot as he rubbed himself over her. Resting his chest on her back, he pushed the curtain of her silky hair out of his way to nip at her satin smooth shoulders. Tallia turned her face toward him; her violet eyes caught his gaze before they were concealed behind a sweep of long white lashes. Costa took her delicate jaw in one hand and held her still for his kiss. He teased her lips with his tongue before slipping inside her mouth so their tongues could tangle and stroke. Beneath him Tallia began to tremble. She rolled onto her back and looked up at him with a dazed expression. Her eyes glittered, telling him he was all that she desired, while she ran her hands up over his chest and then down to catch his straining penis. "Make love to me," she whispered. Costa did not need to be asked twice. Nudging her legs wide with his knees, he sat back on his heels and watched her guide him to the opening of her body. Her graceful, tapered fingers looked shocking against his much darker skin. His engorged penis was red and brutish, a long, thick truncheon in her delicate hands. She grinned mischievously and stroked him lightly, teasing him and enjoying her power over him when he shuddered and groaned above her, his face drawn into a taut grimace of self-control. "You will be the death of me," he rasped happily. She continued to bring the broad head of his cock down between her thighs, and then proceeded to use him for her own gratification. Sliding the throbbing tip of his penis through the folds of her sex, she stole his breath. He felt, and saw, just how ready she was for him. Then she rubbed him over her clitoris, her eyes narrowing to slits as pleasure gripped her. Costa groaned, wondering which one of them was enjoying it more. Tallia kept sliding him back and forth between her legs. His cock was soon dripping with her honey, the gleaming wetness trickling down over her fingers. Just watching her was driving him crazy. Yet he didn’t dare interrupt her when she was just discovering her own desires. She arched her hips off the ground and took him suddenly inside. Her mouth fell open on a soundless cry as he flexed his buttocks and with one powerful push, plunged in almost to the hilt. Wet and slick, Tallia took him with only the slightest hesitation. Her discomfort was fading fast as her body grew accustom to him. Costa loved how much wilder she became each time they made love. As the pain receded and she began to enjoy herself completely, so did her inhibitions. She was deliciously small and tight around him, sorely testing his restraint. He liked watching her squirm too much though, to rush something so good as their lovemaking. Splaying a hand across her belly, so he could feel her muscles pull taut, he stroked smoothly in and out. Tallia thrashed on the grass, her snug sheath clinging and quivering all around him. Costa lifted one of her long legs onto his shoulder. She arched her back higher and cried out in amazement as he penetrated deeper, touched the mouth of her womb with each hard, controlled thrust. Grinning, he took her toes in his mouth, sucking and licking. Tallia let out a startled scream as her hips jerked in reaction and slammed up against his to impale her fully on his straining shaft. She screamed again at the intense pleasure and bucked frantically beneath him. "Oh God," she sobbed as she shuddered and panted for breath, in the grip of powerful aftershocks from her orgasm. She parted her teary wet lashes to stare up at him in disbelief. Costa chuckled richly and eased her leg onto the ground. He withdrew from her softly convulsing sheath and flipped her gently onto her belly. Tallia gasped, but she was too spent to react and too wet to feel anything but pleasure when he straddled her hips and slipped his penis between her legs to fill her yet again. She shrieked into the grass and her fingers dug into the moist earth as the pleasure started to lift her up on another tidal wave of ecstasy. Costa’s hands squeezed her gorgeous derrière, and he grunted at the sweet friction as he buried himself inside her over and over again. He could feel Tallia's body grow pliant and utterly receptive as the last of her resistance was overcome, and pounded into her mercilessly for a few breathless minutes. Gripping her hips in his hands and pulling her up onto her knees, he buried himself completely inside of her with a lengthy groan of satisfaction. Tallia tossed her head and moaned loudly as she took him without any pain for the first time. Costa held her steady, wrapping his fingers tight around her softly rounded hips to give her as much support as possible. In this position he could see the white surgical scars across her spine, but her impassioned cries told him she felt no discomfort. Finally he let go and drove into her to a furious rhythm. His head fell back on his shoulders and his back arched, throwing his hips into each hammering stroke of his cock. Beneath him Tallia shook violently, her cries rising in a breathless crescendo until she was screaming again, pushing her hips back to meet his powerful thrusts in the wildest mating imaginable. She made a sound like an eagle soaring into the sun and came as Costa bucked against her with a joyful shout. Utterly spent, Costa collapsed onto his side. He held Tallia against him to savor the feel of her in his arms. They were both soaked with sweat, and the wind brushed over them like a cool, soothing caress. Costa looked down over the top of Tallia’s head and saw that both of them had their hands splayed across her soft belly. The pink diamond twinkled brilliantly on Tallia's ring finger. His penis twitched inside of her as he felt a possessive thrill at the sight of his ring on her finger. It occurred to him then that if they continued as they were they would very quickly make a baby. Tallia seemed to read his mind and asked softly, "Would you mind if we had a baby?" "Mind?" he said, "I want children Agapate, our children." His response seemed to please her because she snuggled closer and sighed gently. "Yes, I want them too… but maybe not just yet," she hedged. Kissing the top of her head, he felt a drowsy grin cross his face. "Agreed," he said, thinking that he didn't want to give up this intimacy just yet, not just the sex- though it was certainly amazing- but the delight of focusing entirely on each other to the exclusion of everything else. Soon he would have to get back to work, but Costa shoved that thought aside, in no mood to let business intrude on their time together. He wanted to wallow in the pleasure of being with Tallia for a while longer, and savor the joy of finding love. He had never thought it a remote possibility that he would ever succumb to that mysterious emotion; much less find a woman who made the feeling come so easily to him. "I want girls," he said, admitting to a sentiment he knew most Greek men would not share, "and I want them to be just like you." Tallia laughed in surprise, "I'm sorry to burst your bubble," she told him in a teasing tone of voice, "but that's not likely to happen, genetics and all." He laughed too, "They don't have to look like you," he retorted. "I want them to be like you, on the inside," he explained, putting a hand over her heart. "Costa," she whispered in a voice that shook with emotion. She tipped her head up, and he kissed her lips softly. They must have dozed off because the next thing Costa knew he was being lured back to consciousness by the most exquisite sensation. He moaned softly, feeling as if he was adrift in a hot bath and someone was washing him with a velvet sponge. When he recalled his surroundings, he opened his eyes and his breath caught at the sight of Tallia bent over him with her mouth on him. He groaned when she lifted her head and he could see her little pink tongue slide over the tip of his cock. Her small hands were curled around his shaft, and he watched as she smoothed one down the thick base of his penis to cup his testicles in her palm and squeeze them gently. Not about to disturb her, as she seemed blissfully absorbed in what she was doing to him, he stretched out. Folding his hands behind his head, he was content just to watch. They had explored one another in his bed over the past two days, but he had to admit he was impressed at what a quick study Tallia was. She loved to torment him with that soft, clever mouth of hers. When she sucked on him hungrily and drew his straining length deep into her mouth, he had to warn her that she was playing with fire. "Agapate, I'm only human," he husked, his big body shaking as she teased him with her tongue. Her thick lashes swept up and she gave him the most wicked look imaginable, with those incongruously innocent, flower colored eyes of hers. Then lifted her head and licked her swollen lips. "Don't you want to cum?" she asked provocatively. Costa groaned breathlessly, and his body jerked when she dropped a little kiss on the head of his cock, her lips pouty and wet. "Inside," he growled. Reaching down to tangle his fingers in her hair, he drew her away from his quivering flesh before she could push him beyond the point of no return. Tallia made an exaggerated, sullen moue of her lips and eyed his cock with regret. She pressed her lips to his stomach, making his skin twitch and pull taut with excitement. Kissing her way up his body, she stopped to torture his nipples. Costa lost his patience and yanked her roughly up to take her mouth with his. "Ow," she muttered against his lips. She was clearly in a fractious mood as she turned her head left and then right to avoid his kiss. "Theos, you're driving me mad," Costa growled. He licked a path over her smoothly rounded chin up to her lips and then into her mouth. Tallia's eyes narrowed and she bit down on his tongue delicately. "You deserve it," she told him in response to the hot glare he shot her. She tossed her head so willfully that he had to let go of her hair or risk pulling it out. Flattening her palms on his chest, she pushed herself up to swing a leg around. Now she was straddling his hips. "How so?" Costa asked. His lips curved with humor. His annoyance was forgotten as he tried to imagine what sort of crazy thing she would say. He never quite knew what Tallia had in mind. "For holding out on me," she said softly as she caught his penis with one hand and pried it away from his stomach. "Why haven't we tried any of these lovely positions before?" she demanded petulantly, before sinking down onto his rigid length. Costa would have laughed if he weren’t so overcome by the eroticism of the moment. He could hardly believe Tallia's sensuality when she leaned down to watch avidly as he disappeared inside of her. She threw her head back once he was half way there, then reached back to brace her hands on his thighs as she wriggled her hips, easing herself down to impale herself completely on his rampant sex. A little agonized cry escaped her red lips when she finally took every inch of his cock, and she ground herself against him desperately. She started to move wildly above him, jerked her hips back and forth as she discovered all the sweet sensations she could possibly experience in this new position. Her hands came back around to clutch at his hips as she began to lift herself up and shove herself back down on him. Deep inside, Costa could feel her contract violently, gripping him as hard as a fist, and he grunted at the shocking stimulation. He caught Tallia's squirming hips and slowed her untutored gyrations, helping her find a smooth pace. Covering his hands with hers, she let him guide her and was soon gasping rhythmically with each hard, penetrating thrust. "Oh God, oh God, Costa," she cried. Her hands drifted up over her own body, her nails raked her skin, her fingers squeezed her breasts, as she was seized by an excess of pleasure. Slipping his hands around to cup her bottom, Costa leveraged Tallia up. He watched her long white thighs flex as she drove herself back down, frantic to possess him. By the way she ground herself ecstatically against him, before he could push her back up, he knew he must have hit the sweet spot, deep inside. Hanging onto his self control by a thread, he watched Tallia come undone and grit his teeth to keep his own savage need at bay. "Now, oh God! Costa, my love- now. Come with me now. Now!" she raved, pulling her own hair as she began to buck wildly atop him. Costa gladly obeyed, clamping her hips to his with hard hands and surging up inside to bath her womb with his hot seed. He grunted and shook beneath her as he felt their bodies throb and pulse to the same wild beat. It was hurling them together into a mind-blowing orgasm. Tallia crumpled across his chest, sobbing and writhing weakly in the aftermath, her body twitching like a live wire for several long minutes. "Theos," he remarked thickly when he could speak again, "I think the earth moved." "I think it just got knocked out of orbit," Tallia mumbled against his chest, "at the very least the universe must have farted." Dissolving into laughter, Costa hugged her close. Rolling over so she sprawled in the grass beneath him. He told Tallia, with joy dancing in his eyes, "Agapate, you are one of a kind." Chapter 18 Arm in arm they stumbled back to the car and took the quickest way home, both eager to shower and ravenous for food. Once they reached the house, Tallia wasn't much steadier on her feet. Costa gladly offered his support with an arm wrapped snugly around her waist. They paused in the open front door to kiss, exchanging lazy smiles as one kiss turned into two. There were long blades of grass caught in Tallia's hair, but Costa said nothing and did not remove them. He was enchanted by her tumbled appearance, the flush to her cheeks, and the deep raspberry color of her slightly swollen lips. The jarring sound of loud, raised voices broke the spell between them, and they exchanged identical looks of dismay. No sooner than they had crossed the threshold, Calamini appeared, wringing her hands and looking worried. She said something to Costa, and he strode quickly towards the terrace. "What is it? What's happened?" Tallia demanded, trailing after him. He didn't have to answer as Fidelio walked in front of the open doors that led out onto the terrace. They could both hear the anger in his voice as he shouted. Tallia's stomach fell through the floor when she saw Emmy standing rigidly by the railing, her back to Fidelio. "Go to hell!" Emmy hissed in reply to whatever Fidelio had said. "I don't even know you," Fidelio snarled tellingly. When he saw that he and Emmy were no longer alone, he came up short in his nervous pacing. A wounded expression twisted his face. "Tallia!" he cried, sounding like an anxious child as he rushed to her with his arms open wide. "Leave my sister alone," Emmy shouted, storming across the terrace to shove past Fidelio and throw herself against Tallia instead. She promptly burst into tears. Tallia looked to Costa, but he only shook his head, clearly as confused as her. Patting Emmy's back, Tallia thought it best to put some distance between the quarreling lovers. She led her sister past a fretting Calamini and up to her room. "What the hell is going on?" Costa demanded in Greek the moment the two women were gone. Fury blazed through him as the ramifications of the situation set in. His time with Tallia was being rudely cut short, and he was in no mood to be polite or understanding towards those responsible. He glared at his brother as if he were an interloper, wishing him to perdition. "Don't start with me Costa- you should be delighted," Fidelio spat, "the wedding is off! We've broken our engagement. Emily is returning to England tonight." Gathering his self-control with considerable effort, Costa forced himself to speak slowly and reasonably. "Fidelio, I hope you realize I never take pleasure in your pain," he said calmly, unable to keep the bite from his words despite his best efforts. "Now please, explain what has happened between you and Emily, so we can sort this mess out." "I'm sorry, that was uncalled for," Fidelio apologized automatically, recognizing the warning in his brother’s too soft voice. "I'm just so… there's no sorting this out Costa. It's over- I don't even know that woman." Seeing the genuine distress on his brothers’ face, Costa forgot some of his own, selfish, indignation. "What happened?" he pressed softly. He knew there was a time when Fidelio told him everything and sought him out no matter how insignificant the problem. He had not missed how his brother turned to Tallia first when he saw them. Costa could understand why; Tallia was warm and generous, she invited people to turn to her for comfort, but Fidelio was his brother and his responsibility. "Nothing," Fidelio said, running a hand savagely through his hair. "Everything was just… different once we left the island. We just don't seem to get on like we did in London. Em was bored and distant, and we ran out of things to talk about after the first day…" Fidelio stared off into the distance for a moment and then started venting with greater and greater animation, until he was gesticulating forcefully. "She didn't like the boat, but she hated the hotel. After we went out gambling the first night she refused to set foot in a casino – even though I won a packet! I took her shopping the next day, and that seemed to make things better. But even that got old pretty fast. All those damn tourist shops sell the same crap," he complained bitterly. "She thinks Greek food is dull, I can't stand Indian- and I've told her as much a thousand times, not to mention there are no decent Indian restaurants in Greece! Then that damn storm hit and there was nothing to do and nowhere to go. She started spending all her time talking to her friends on her cell phone- after we agreed to turn them off and only use them if we had an emergency. Not to mention she flirts with every guy she meets, even waiters and bellboys! Coco, she never stops flirting, and I've told her I don't like it. We had a huge fight last night and sailed straight back here this morning- so I wouldn't be tempted to choke the life out of her!" Costa stared at his brother as he rambled on childishly. He wanted to shake him until his teeth rattled. "I thought the two of you have been seeing each other for almost a year?" he asked pointedly, wondering how it was possible Fidelio had not noticed until now that he had nothing in common with the woman he intended to marry! "Yeah, but that was different, she had work and Tallia, and I was doing my own thing. We would see each other as often as possible, mostly at the hospital over dinner with Tallia, but we weren't on top of each other 24/7!" "Fidelio, you were only gone a week!" "I know! I haven't even told you the worst part," Fidelio said, his voice dropping to a conspiratorial whisper, "the sex has been going down hill for the few months. I don't think I'm even attracted to her anymore. I swear I faked it the last time- and she didn't even notice! “Can you imagine how much worse things would be after a year, or even two!" his brother spat with an exaggerated shudder. "Tallia is going to be devastated! I hope you've been showing her a good time.” Costa flushed at his brother’s unwelcome confession and his unfortunate choice of words. "Yes, ah, I don't think Tallia has any complaints." "Good, I would hate to think I dragged her out here for nothing. I wish she could stay. Isn't she the best? I missed her so much while I was gone, I would have called to ask her what to do, but I didn't want to worry her. “If only we could get rid of that witch Emily, and Tallia could stay a little longer. I feel terrible that Tallia’s vacation is going to be cut short, but Em has got to go!" Fidelio annunciated the last three words dramatically. "You need to call the helicopter right now Costa, to take her to Athens. I can't spend another minute around that woman. She's the shallowest, most self-absorbed person I have ever met!" Swallowing a cruel retort, Costa wondered if he should tell his brother to go look in a mirror. He never realized until that moment just how spoiled and superficial Fidelio had become. In his efforts to give his sibling all the things he never had, and fill the void left by their lack of parents, it suddenly occurred to Costa that he had been far too indulgent and completely blind to Fidelio's failings. Listening to Fidelio’s rant, it was obvious to him that Tallia had inadvertently played a major role in the construction of this paper romance, between her bubble-brained sister and his equally stupid brother. It looked as if Tallia was the glue holding the entire mess that was Emily and Fidelio together! Tallia was Fidelio's friend, the one he turned to when he needed mothering and support. Costa was certain she played the same role to Emily. Tallia was the common ground and perhaps the only thing that Fidelio and Emily really had in common. Unfortunately, the two simple-minded twits never realized that there was nothing but their devotion to Tallia keeping them together. Devotion to Tallia and hot sex, Costa amended. If he knew his brother, and he knew him inside and out, Fidelio and Emily had probably initially enjoyed a burning hot love life. This was what people often confused for love and made the mistake of founding a relationship upon. It was shared values, goals and interests that really kept people together and formed the foundation of a serious commitment. Poor Fidelio, he thought glumly. His brother had thought he had the perfect relationship, with Tallia as his emotional support and Emily his red-hot lover. Now that his passion for Emily had run its course, Fidelio had nothing but Tallia's friendship. Savagely, Costa hoped his brother felt nothing but platonic devotion towards Tallia, or he was going to have to hurt him. "No one is going anywhere," he said quietly, bracing himself to weather Fidelio's objections. He knew now was not the time to announce his engagement to Tallia, it would be in extraordinary bad taste. But there was no way in hell he was sending the woman he loved off on a helicopter tonight. It will take every ounce of ingenuity I have to keep Tallia here and get rid of Emily, and Fidelio too, he thought with mercenary alacrity. Costa had no idea how he would manage such a miracle, so he needed to buy himself some time to plot. "What?" Fidelio shrieked. "It is late, and you are both overwrought," he replied soothingly. "Only a week ago you were in love with Emily and desperate to marry her. The least you can do is sleep on it and perhaps have a rational discussion about your relationship with her in the morning?" "Coco!" "Don't Coco me," Costa snapped, his patience badly frayed. "You brought this on yourself. Now you will deal with it like an adult!" Groaning dramatically, Fidelio revealed that he hadn't the faintest grasp of what that word meant as he tossed his head rebelliously and stomped off like a five year old on the brink of a tantrum. "Oh Ally, I am such an idiot!" Emily exclaimed the moment Tallia closed the door to her room behind them. "I can't believe I actually thought I was in love with that wanker!" "W-wanker? Fidelio?" Tallia gasped, shocked by her sister’s words. "Yes. Fido is a spoiled, lazy, useless wanker!" Emily insisted vehemently. "All he wants to do is party! We spent our first night together in a casino, and he barely even looked at me. He was too busy playing craps, or baccarat, or poker, or whatever game he could get in on. He had me holding his drink, like his own personal waitress, and getting him extra chips. His idea of romance was having me blow on his bloody dice!" "It couldn't have been that bad," Tallia said softly, frowning as she didn't recall anything about a casino in the plans she and Fidelio discussed for his getaway with Emmy. "Didn't you stay on the boat the first night and have a… romantic dinner?" "The boat? That tiny, dinky bucket! I couldn't even stand up straight in the bathroom, and Fido wanted me to fix dinner. I told him to hell with that. I'm on vacation. I am not making anyone dinner. It's not as if he's poor and has to pack a lunch. For God's sake, he won a fortune at that stupid casino. He wouldn't shut up about it,” Emmy screeched, going from distraught to enraged in seconds flat. “He kept telling me I was his lucky charm! "If he had his way, we would still be sitting in one of those hideous mausoleums, with all those disgusting people throwing away their life saving's in the hope of getting rich. It was revolting, and he acted like I was a bitch when I insisted we leave!" "Well, what about the next day?" Tallia asked reluctantly, guessing from Emmy's wrathful expression that things had not gone well at all. "Oh, yes, that was so much better," Emmy hissed sarcastically, "We went to some gaudy resort. The beach was choked full of people, and all the girls were topless. You should have seen the way Fido's eyes were hanging out of his head, Ally! “He tried to make it up to me by buying me a bunch of hideous, euro trash wear and then dragging me to some obnoxious disco that night. But I can see the writing on the wall. He's just like all the others, and I will not stand around like some oblivious bobble head while he shops for his next girlfriend right in front of me!" "What's really going on?" Tallia prodded gently when she saw her sister’s bottom lip start to tremble. She knew Em was wrong; Fidelio wasn’t looking for another girlfriend because he wanted to marry her sister. There had to be another reason for their sudden breakup. "He's not attracted to me anymore!" Emmy sobbed, throwing herself into Tallia’s arms again. "Oh- God! I thought this time was for real. You know, I didn't fall right into bed with him like I usually do with guys I like. I waited, I made him take me out and get to know me, and all that stuff people say you're supposed to do if you want a relationship with a guy. Then, when we finally had sex, it was so fantastic I thought everything would be perfect. But lately it’s been… well, I don't want to embarrass you Ally. I know you never… you know," Emmy said with a watery smile through her tears. “But things have gotten really stale. He just doesn't… well… I tried to suggest stuff, but that only made it worse. Fido's not into that, he likes it totally vanilla- missionary all the way. I think I turned him off by even suggesting we try something new because now he barely touches me anymore! I feel like a trophy wife," she suddenly wailed. Tallia blushed crimson as she was forced to listen to the particulars of her sister’s sex life. Suddenly there was no chance of even suggesting she was having a relationship with Costa. She had known that mentioning the engagement would have to wait. But the way Emmy was acting, she realized her sister would feel betrayed if Tallia told her she had slept with Costa. Emmy was hurting, and the last thing she needed was to see Tallia deliriously happy with the brother of the man she had just broken up with. "It's okay Emmy, at least you found out now before you got married. We can go back home and…" Tallia trailed off. She realized she couldn't tell her sister she would never have to see Fidelio again, not when she was marrying Costa. "…you can get back to your life," she finished lamely. Emmy took a deep breath and let go of her, drawing herself up almost regally as she dashed the tears from her face. "I never want to see him again, Ally. Never! He's a bloody bugger. He doesn't know how to treat a woman. All he cares about is partying. He has no plans for the future. He was horrified when I suggested he get a job, even working for his brother! All Fidelio plans to do with the rest of his life is flit around from one fab party to the next and one hot model to the next," Emmy said, her voice dissolving into wrenching sobs as she said the last. "Oh, why am I such a fool! Everyone warned me about him," Emmy cried passionately, "but he seemed so sweet, and he spent all that time with you in the hospital. He always knew how to cheer me up when I was down, but he's totally one dimensional," she said, flopping down on the foot of Tallia's bed. "He's shallow and vain and… and lousy in bed!" Struggling to keep a straight face, as she inappropriately thought of how she teased Costa just that morning about his skills between the sheets, Tallia sat down beside her sister and put an arm around Emmy's shoulders. "Now, now, don't get all worked up about it Emmy," she said. She bit back an irrepressible grin as she remembered how earlier Costa chased her around the house and cornered her by the front door. He had tickled her mercilessly, until she swore never to spread horrible lies about his sexual prowess. After he was done extracting his promise from her, she had been so weak from laughing that Costa had had to carry her over his shoulder, kicking and flailing half-heartedly, to the garage to get his car. He had smacked her on the bottom the entire way, just to make her squirm. Tallia would never forget the look of mortification on Costa's face when they ran into Gustav en rout to the garage, looking utterly appalled at having witnessed Costa manhandling her. Apparently, despite his age, Gustav was far from old school and did not approve of men behaving like cavemen towards women, even women they intended to marry- or perhaps especially towards women they intended to marry. Costa had almost dropped her in his haste to set her down and apologize prettily to her, for old Gustav's benefit. Rubbing Emmy's back, Tallia tried to think of something to say to make everything better but words escaped her. She had really believed Fidelio and Emmy loved each other. While they were in London the two had spent every available minute together. She remembered afternoons spent in her hospital room playing cards and board games, or watching movies on the telly. When one of them came to visit, they always seemed to have a story to tell her about the great party they went to together the night before, or the swank show they both attended. From her limited point of view, they had seemed to have so much in common. They both loved the spotlight, glittering events, fashion, paparazzi, famous people, and big to-do's. Oh, she had no illusions about either of them. She knew Emmy and Fidelio were shallow and self-absorbed. But she had thought that since they both shared that quality they might, well… cancel each other out as it were. Tallia had seen them tease each other about their vanity and love of attention. She believed their narcissism would be something to bring them together, since they were going in with their eyes open about each other’s failings. Clearly, she knew even less about relationships than even she realized. Emmy jumped off the bed and began pacing the length of the room with her trademark strut. Tallia had to smile whenever she saw her sister walk that way because it made her think of the little girl with all the brilliant golden hair she helped raise. She could tell Emmy was about to work herself into a real fit, the sort of tantrum only a diva like her sister could have the arrogance to pull off. Tallia was more amused than worried. If Emmy was being dramatic then Tallia knew she would be fine. Her sisters’ heart might be bruised, but Tallia was beginning to suspect it was far from broken. "I don't know where he gets off treating me like a prop", Emmy ranted, "as if I'm a brainless bimbo, happy to stand around laughing at all his jokes and smiling like some cheap… catalogue model! I've got men throwing themselves at me, smart men, men with a point of view- and a job!" Tallia bit back a grin, finding it strangely ironic that Emmy was finally looking past the superficial and rejecting a man for not being serious and gainfully employed. Two years ago, her sister would have been raving about how lucky Fidelio was not to have to work for a living, swooning over his good looks, and preening because she had caught his eye. Obviously Emmy had changed, and all for the better. Tallia was delighted to see more proof of how far her sister had come since her wild, reckless days as a vain, thrill-seeking drug user. She nodded her head in grave agreement to everything Emmy said, shaking her head and tut-tutting where appropriate, and did her best to be as supportive as a sister could be in such a crisis. When it was time for dinner, Emmy refused to budge from the room. She pitched a screaming fit when Tallia told her she was going down to eat, with her or without her. Emmy must have been making quite a racket because the bedroom door flew open without warning. Costa stood in the hall with a dark glare on his face, looking as formidable as only he could. "Downstairs, both of you. Now," he barked. When he turned to go after dictating, Tallia was amused to see Emmy fall into step behind him like an obedient puppy dog, all the fight gone out of her. The table on the terrace was set for four, and Fidelio was already seated and waiting when they stepped outside. He rose politely and said a subdued greeting to everyone as a whole. Tallia almost objected when Emmy took the seat beside Costa, but then realized she could hardly expect her sister to sit next to Fidelio. Costa gave her a quick, sly smile across the table. Glancing at their dinner companions, who were both busy fiddling with their silverware and napkin, he rolled his eyes. Tallia hid her smile in her water glass. Fidelio and Emmy spoke not a word for the duration of the meal, while Costa made Tallia miserable. He spent the time giving her hot, steamy looks that made her blood burn and fizz in her veins. Ari served dinner as if it were a formal affair, not cracking a single smile or speaking. He whisked around the table with crisp efficiency. Tallia was so used to Calamini's informal puttering that she hardly felt as if she were in the same house anymore. Her time at Seleni felt uncomfortably as if it was drawing to an end. She dreaded the next day as she realized she would have to leave with Emmy. Though I will come back, she told herself. She was trying to let the thought cheer her, but it did not. At the end of the meal Fidelio excused himself, and everyone rose. Emmy waited until Fidelio was gone before she thanked Costa tightly for dinner, and then she grabbed Tallia by the hand to drag her back upstairs. Costa's arm whipped out and he caught Tallia by the other hand, holding her firmly in place. Literally torn in two different directions, Tallia looked from her sister to her lover. She had a grim premonition that this was going to set the tone for the relationship between the three of them for a while to come. Emmy stopped when Tallia didn’t budge. When she saw Costa had a hold of her sister, she shot him a fulminating look. "I need a moment with Tallia, Miss Maitland," he informed her coolly. Emmy visibly bristled, but nodded her head. She stormed off without a backwards glance, leaving them alone on the terrace. Chapter 19 Tallia sighed her relief now that she and Costa were finally alone. She smiled up at him as he took both her hands in his and drew her into a sheltered corner of the terrace where no one could see them. She noticed his fingers toying with the ring she had not removed. He looked down at it with pride and lifted her hand to kiss the ring and then her palm. "I missed you," he whispered. Knowing they were behaving foolishly since they had been together only hours ago, Tallia bit her lip and nodded. "I missed you too," she admitted softly. Costa groaned as he bent to kiss her, his mouth gentle, worshipful, as it moved over hers. "I want you to stay, Agapate," he said against her lips. "Emmy needs me, Costa," Tallia told him with grave reluctance. Her heart twisted in her breast as she was forced to speak the words she dreaded. "I have to go with her to make sure she's okay. She's upset, Costa, I can't leave her alone. She might do something stupid and backslide. Please understand." "I understand that you are too kind. Haven't you already done enough for her, Tallia? At some point she has to learn to manage on her own. You will be my wife soon, and Emily will have to be responsible for herself. You agreed to live here with me, in Greece. It is what you said you want for our future, I know you did not lie," he retorted urgently. "Yes, I know what I said and I meant it Costa, but she is my sister and she needs me." "Well, I need you Agapate," he pressed, sounding angry and put out. "Costa-" "Do you want to marry me or not?" he growled. "I won't chose between you," Tallia told him firmly, refusing to let him draw her into an ultimatum. She could tell Costa was a hard negotiator, but this was not one of his business deals. And she would not be bullied. His eyes narrowed and glittered, sending shivers of apprehension through her body as she wondered if he was about to tell her it was over. "You may have to," he gritted out tightly. Tallia took his left hand and brought it to her lips, kissing his bare ring finger. "I would chose you Costa, you must know that, but it would tear me apart if something happened to Emmy." "Agapate," he groaned. He sounded like a man in pain as his prideful mask slipped, and he pulled her close against his chest. "I am a selfish bastard, forgive me. I know you must be with your sister, but I can not bare to see you leave, not even for a day." "Costa, I love you," Tallia told him plainly." I made a promise to marry you, and you are what I want, more than anything. I will come back. Trust me." "For how long?" he pressed, his thick black brows lowering in a clear sign of irritation. He was not getting his way and was having to accept it. "How long before you come home?" "I… I don't know, a few weeks," she told him, every part of her being rebelled at the notion of being separated from him for such a long time. "A week," he pronounced firmly. "Seven days, no more and no less, and then I come for you," he said in what sounded like a warning. Tallia grinned, delighted by his macho posturing since it revealed his very real need for her. "I hope so, though I expect you to show me a little more respect than you did this morning," she teased. Costa blushed adorably in remembered chagrin. "Well, then you had best be ready and not provoke me," he grumbled darkly, scowling to hide his embarrassment. "I wouldn't dare keep you waiting, Coco," Tallia reassured him with feigned meekness, going up on her toes to kiss his hard mouth until it yielded and he kissed her back. "Must your sister stay in your room tonight?" he asked when she pulled away, his hands griping her firmly around the waist to keep her from leaving. "Yes, the other guest room is next to Fidelio's," Tallia reminded him, feeling just as wretched as Costa looked as he swore softly under his breath. "I need you in my bed tonight Agapate, if we are to be parted for an entire week." Tallia almost laughed at the way he said 'entire week', as if it were an eternity. "Costa, now is not the time to tell Emmy about us." "Agreed, but you owe me a proper goodbye," he husked; pulling her up against him so she could feel his obvious arousal. Costa almost cursed with irritation when Ari came out onto the terrace to clear the table. The poor man looked aghast when he noticed them in the darkened corner, and scuttled away like a frightened animal. Tallia took the opportunity to step away from Costa. She had to go upstairs or Emmy was going to come back down looking for her, and sensed she had to do it quickly before Costa made things more impossible or simply dragged her off somewhere to ravish her. When he reached for her, she batted his hands away and shook her head gently but firmly. Costa's face darkened ominously, as he did not take well to being thwarted or rejected. "I have to go," Tallia sighed, wishing he would not make this so difficult. She was already miserable at the prospect of leaving. "You will come to my room tonight," he stated coldly, his eyes dark and grim. "Costa-" "Tallia, I'm not asking," he bit out harshly. "Good night," Tallia snapped, all her sympathy soured by his highhandedness. As she rushed up to her room, she shook her head furiously. She knew Costa was an autocrat, but she resented being dictated to as if she were one of his employees. The more she thought about it, the more annoyed she became. He didn't even treat his employees the way he just treated her. He was unfailingly kind and polite to the people who worked for him. For God sake, he was still squirming with shame because he had offended Gustav's sense of propriety this morning! When he treated her like he just had, Tallia felt as if she didn't know him at all. Worse, she had the uncomfortable sensation that she was seeing a side of him she would not like if she were ever exposed to it. She knew Costa could be a bastard, but sometimes she had a feeling he was a bit of a misogynist with a very low opinion of her sex. She couldn't forget his remarks about coming to an agreement between them on the day he scared her half to death during the car-ride from hell. She could only imagine what distasteful agreement he had had in mind. It probably involved a bank draft, she thought with a shudder. Fidelio had mentioned that Costa bribed one of his girlfriends to dump him when Fidelio suggested he wanted to marry the girl. That was the reason Fidelio insisted he could not tell his brother about his intentions towards Emmy. Shrugging off the strange thought, Tallia tried not to fret over how short a time she had known Costa. Listening to Emmy ranting about her shortsightedness with Fidelio, however, made her uncomfortably aware that while her sister had known Fidelio for about a year and their relationship had crashed and burned spectacularly, she had only known Costa for two weeks. She wasn't a narcissistic, deluded idiot. She knew she was rushing headlong into marriage with a man who was essentially a stranger to her, but she loved Costa. She had never dreamed she could love anyone the way she loved Costa. Even if he didn't share the feeling, she wanted him so badly she thought the risk was worth any pain that might come later. After only two weeks together, she couldn't imagine living without Costa. She didn't want to live without him. He was the most exciting man she had ever met. Every time she saw him her heart just went crazy, racing and fluttering. What she felt was more than just physical. They could talk and laugh and had the same desires for the future. She wanted to see him everyday and be a part of his life. She ached to have his children, and knew she would be devastated if he broke things off and didn't want to be with her. Tallia stopped outside her bedroom door to take a deep, calming breath. She told herself she was being silly, and everything was fine. She just had to trust her instincts about Costa and have a little faith. Summoning a serene look, she stepped into the room and gave Emmy a reassuring smile. “What was that all about?" Emmy wasted no time demanding. "Oh, nothing, Costa just wanted to tell me he enjoyed meeting me, that sort of thing. He's very formal," she said dismissively. Emmy grunted, clearly uninterested, and started talking about her plans for home. She was excited for Tallia to see her new apartment. She said it was much nicer than the flashy penthouse she lived in two years ago and insisted it would be so much fun to live together. Tallia listened with a guilty conscience, wishing Emmy did not sound quite so thrilled at the prospect of them being roommates. Her own apartment was long gone, rented off to strangers while she was in a coma with no expectation of ever regaining consciousness. All of her belongings had been sold off or packed up by Emmy and put in storage while she was ill. Suddenly she was actively dreading returning to London, as if it spelled the end of a beautiful dream and a return to grim reality. She felt like Cinderella after the ball. Soon she would be back in cold, rainy England, surrounded by the faded echoes of her old, uneventful, lonely life, far from the warmth of Costa and the promise of a new life with him on Seleni. Costa cursed himself for being a fool as he watched Tallia run into the house, her long hair swinging in a heavy, silken curtain around her shoulders, her slim legs flashing beneath the thin skirt she wore to dinner. He had behaved like an ogre and a spoiled brat, browbeating her to stay, as if he couldn't go a day without her, so naturally she had fled, disgusted with him. It did nothing to improve his mood that he genuinely felt as if he could not go a day without her. In a very short amount of time he had become far too used to having her around, to spending every moment with her, and to having her all to himself. He was actually bereft, as if he was at loose ends and didn’t know what to do with himself. He didn't like the feeling at all. He hated the desperation that clawed at his insides, the vile sense of having no control over this situation and no control over himself. In the past, he never gave a damn about any of the women in his life. He certainly never spent much time with them. Only the bare minimum was required to get them into bed, and after that was accomplished he usually never wanted to see them again. To his way of looking at things, women were interchangeable. It only mattered whether he was in the mood for a blond, a brunette, one with big boobs, or a nice ass. He was a pig. His friends told him as much on a regular basis. Costa never cared what other people thought, since he got what he wanted out of the parade of lovely ladies who came his way. He had loads of sex with no strings attached. Tallia, however, had ruined him. She smashed his callous worldview to pieces and did it so subtly he never even realized it was happening. She slipped under his defenses from the moment she arrived on Seleni, blinding him with her beauty and then stripping him down to naked emotion with her sweetness. It was Tallia, so innocent and eager, who forced him to dig deep and find the gentle lover buried somewhere under his jaded playboy routine. Faced with a woman so pure and good, he had been forced to either walk away or drop his façade, becoming a man worthy of her affections. When she told him she loved him tonight, those three little words had disarmed him completely. He never thought he would want to hear a woman say that to him. Before Tallia, he had run at the first hint of those words. In the circles he played in, confessions of love were anathema, a joke, a sad faux pas, and the ultimate turn off. Yet when Tallia said it, he melted. Everything inside him went haywire, and he wanted to tell her he felt the same way, throw himself at her feet, swear he would treat her like a queen, be faithful, and do whatever it took so she never left him. Realizing just how vulnerable she made him feel had brought out a dragon in him, a familiar fire-breathing beast, and he had tried to control to her. Unfortunately, Tallia wasn’t so easily cowed and didn’t respond well to being ordered around, which was why he was all alone at that moment. She had slain the beast. Now he was defenseless against her. He was scared. Costa realized he was terrified of the way he felt and what would happen if she changed her mind. He'd had her all to himself for the past two weeks, tucked away in their private love nest. Tallia was an innocent. She'd been in a coma for part of the last two years. She didn't know anything about him and didn't know the truth. He knew that wouldn't last. One look into Emily Maitland's spiteful blue eyes, and he knew his days were numbered. Once Tallia told Emily about their relationship, Emily would waste no time revealing every sordid detail of his past to her sister. Costa wiped a hand that shook over his face, as he tried to imagine how Tallia would react. He was no saint. He might not be as shallow as his brother, but he had a sex-drive that would probably put Fidelio to shame and a phone book worth of women who could testify to his utter lack of morals or tact. Costa was well aware he treated women like crap, and for the first time in his life he actually regretted it. Tallia, he knew, would be hurt. She might be mad at him now, and rightfully so for commanding her to come to his bed as if she were his property, but in a day or two, she was going to despise him. He would not even be there to explain himself, if there were a way to explain such a thing. If he were a stronger, better man, he would go and confess everything to her right now. But he just couldn’t bring himself to do it. How exactly, he asked himself with burning self loathing, did one go about excusing years of using women for base sexual gratification and then discarding them with the same ease with which one flushed a used prophylactic down the toilet once he got what he wanted? About the only thing Costa could be proud of, was that until Tallia he always practiced safe sex. When a man slept around as much as he did, it was imperative to be careful if he planned to live very long. He could almost hear the devil laughing as Hell opened up to swallow him. He was doomed, irredeemably doomed. Chapter 20 London, England Tallia sighed heavily as she put her bag down in the foyer of Emily's apartment. She glanced around while Emily paid their cab driver and thanked him for helping them with the suitcases. Tallia still couldn't carry anything very heavy, and caught herself sighing again. Emmy locked the door and she prepared herself to appear suitably impressed as she was given the grand tour. She knew she had been sighing all day, but it was hard to stop. She felt totally deflated, as if all the energy and will to live had drained out of her with each mile she moved away from Costa. Back on Seleni, after a quick breakfast on the terrace, Emmy had rushed her into the waiting helicopter, which arrived while they were still eating. Tallia only had enough time to wave at Calamini, Neni, Ari and Gustav, all of whom gathered at the front of the house to see her off, before she left. Costa had been there, standing off to one side like a grim-faced statue, while Calamini sniffled and eventually burst into tears. With Emmy clinging to her, it had been impossible for Tallia to have a moment alone with Costa. Fidelio never even made an appearance, which wounded Tallia, though she understood he was just trying to avoid Emmy. She learned later that Costa had tried to get her sister and his brother to have a sit down that morning. While they hurried through the airport in Athens to catch their flight, Emmy had told her as much in outraged tones. Emmy thought Costa a total brute after he ordered her down to dinner the night before. Her opinion had not improved after he tried to talk her into seeing Fidelio before she left, just to make sure they could not patch things up. Emmy had been incensed by the older Eustakhios’s interference. She ranted that Costa had no right to dictate to her. With a toss of her golden head, Emmy had proudly recounted how she told him it would be a cold day in Hell before she ever considered having anything to do with his brother. Tallia said nothing, already beginning to wilt in Athens from disappointment at having her time on Seleni cut so cruelly short. On the plane, Tallia had almost immediately fallen into an exhausted sleep. Last night, after leaving Costa on the terrace, she had been up half the night with Emmy, who never went to sleep before three in the morning. When she and Emmy finally went to bed, she had hardly drifted off before she felt herself being carried by a pair of familiar, steely arms from her bed and across the hall into Costa's room. She woke by slow degrees, to the feel of Costa making the most exquisitely gentle love to her. He had kissed and caressed every inch of her until she was aroused and awake, and only then taken her with sweet tenderness, bringing her to one beautiful climax after another until Tallia thought she would die from the pleasure. Afterwards, he simply held her in his arms. When she woke she was back in her own bed lying next to Emmy. Tallia would have thought she had dreamed the whole thing if not for the taste of Costa's kisses on her lips and his scent on her skin. Now she felt so tired she could hardly keep her eyes open. Emmy had been giving her strange looks since she woke up as the plane began to land in Heathrow. Dreams of Costa filled her sleep during the flight. Tallia had an uneasy feeling that she had somehow revealed herself. Too exhausted to really care, she just wanted to lie down and rest. Her back was beginning to hurt again, and she had already taken all the painkillers she could stomach. She kept thinking of her all too brief moment alone with Costa this morning, before she had to leave. Emmy had been directing Ari as he gathered their bags, so Tallia and Costa had not had any privacy. She had wanted so badly to kiss him one last time, but that had not been possible. Costa had discreetly taken her hand in his, his fingers playing with her engagement ring. There had been something in his face that frightened Tallia then, though she could not say exactly what it was. Perhaps it was a sort of sorrow or resignation, as if he didn't think he would see her again. All he had felt free to say was a polite good bye and a pointed ‘be careful’ while his eyes shifted grimly towards Emmy. Tallia knew he was worried and that he didn't trust nor particularly like Emmy. She wished she could have told him he was wrong, and that Costa could have got to know Emmy better. If they had more time, Costa would realize Emmy was a great person, but there was no time. All she could do was promise him she would be fine. Then Emmy was yelling at her to go with her to the helicopter. As far as goodbyes went, Tallia thought, it had been dismal. "Well, this place is great," she said brightly as she followed Emmy into the spacious living room. Emmy's apartment was a loft in an old, converted factory building near Parliament. The decor was very modern, which was to be expected as Emmy was always on to the latest trends. She liked new things and avant-garde design. There were all sorts of paintings and sculpture around the room, including swank couches in gorgeous white suede and gleaming glass and mirrors. Looking around, Tallia couldn't help thinking it was not the sort of place a child could ever be set loose in. Of course, Tallia was a second grade teacher, so she always thought kid-friendly. Emmy rolled her eyes and tossed her handbag on a glass coffee table with casual élan. Swinging around and crossing her arms over her breasts, her face split in an impish grin as she stated, "You hate it. Admit it, Ally. It’s all hard edges, chrome and polish. But it's not a museum. You don't have to tip toe around and avoid sitting on the furniture. This is your home now." Looking around, Tallia nodded slowly, tempted to tell her sister the truth right then and there. Emmy certainly looked better now, as if she could handle the news. Even if she were not going back to Greece, Tallia would have felt the need to disabuse her sister of the idea that this was home. Unlike Emmy, Tallia could never feel comfortable in a place like this. She liked cozy and simple. As much as she loved Emmy, she needed her own space and privacy, not a roommate as messy as she knew her sister to be. "Alright Ally, out with it. What the hell happened in Greece?" Tallia straightened at Emmy's sharp-edged question. Her sister’s smile had vanished, and there was a determined glint in her eye. Suddenly Tallia felt as if she was the younger sister being called on the carpet for some transgression. She opened her mouth, but it took her a moment to say anything as she tried to decide whether to just blurt out the truth or not. "W-what do you mean?" she asked weakly. "You have got to be kidding me. You've been acting really weird since I got back to that island. What the hell happened while I was gone with Fido?" Biting her lip, Tallia decided it would have to be the truth since she hated to lie. "Emmy, I didn't want to upset you before, but me and Costa… well-" "Oh, my God! What did he do?" "Emmy…" Tallia tried in a reasonable manner, though she could feel her cheeks flame with color. Practically shouting at her, Emmy exclaimed, "You slept with him!" "It's not like that," Tallia said, taking a breath to explain only to have Emmy cut her off again. "That pig! He raped you?" Emmy's eyes narrowed to furious slits and she spat, "I'm going to kill him! I'm going to carve his heart out with a six-inch stiletto!!!!" Shaking her head, Tallia laughed softly at her sisters’ dramatic over-reaction. It was so far from the truth. "We're getting married," she admitted happily, holding out her hand and wiggling her fingers so Emmy noticed the ring, though she was a little amazed Emmy had not spotted it sooner, considering it was not exactly small or ordinary. Emmy's finely sculpted brows crashed down and she eyed the ring like it was a tumor. "That thing is real?" she gaped. Tallia bit her lip and nodded. "I though it was costume jew… You cannot be serious, Tallia! There is no way in hell you can marry Costa Eustakhios." "Why?" Tallia asked, more unnerved by Emmy's softly spoken words than if her sister were still screaming at her. "Ally, do you even know who Costa Eustakhios is? He's the world’s biggest player. The man's a creep. He probably keeps a scoreboard. No, he's too arrogant for that," Emmy hissed coldly, "He probably has an assistant do it for him." Tallia shook her head, "What are you talking about Emmy." "Oh, Tallia, that bastard seduced you," Emmy suddenly cried, rushing over to envelop her in a comforting hug. "I'm so sorry, I never even considered it. He wasn't even supposed to be there, and I was so busy with that bugger, Fidelio! “God, I should have known not to leave you alone with that scum for even a minute. He's such a pig," she spat with disgust, "I can't believe he couldn't keep his bloody paws to himself! But that's just the kind of slime he is. He can't be alone with a girl without trying to get in her pants, and you are such an innocent." "Emmy, you’re wrong," Tallia told her sister firmly, pushing Emmy away, since she didn't need comforting. She had no idea what Emmy was going on about, but she knew her sister was wrong about Costa. Emmy had to be confused or thinking of someone else. Costa was not some sleazy, bed-hopping playboy, who went around seducing women. He had not seduced her. He had stopped the first time they almost made love when he realized she was a virgin. And then he insisted on marriage before they made love. Tallia shook her head, refusing to believe that she had totally misread the man she was in love with. Yet, a strange pain twisted inside her as she thought of the last two weeks. She wondered if she had missed something or just lost her mind. The man Emmy was describing was nothing like the man Tallia had fallen for on Seleni. How could Emmy say such things about Costa and with such authority? "I wish I were," Emmy retorted softly. "Ally, you don't know how men can be, especially men like Costa Eustakhios. He's filthy rich and thinks women are toys to play with and discard when they loose their appeal. He goes through girls like most people go through tissues. “The paparazzi dubbed him the ‘King of the One Night Stand’ and joke he'll run out of women to shag if he keeps at it the way he does. He is not a nice guy. He's notorious for sleeping around and…" Emmy looked down at her ring, "for giving jewelry as a… well, 'parting gift' is what they call them. The more expensive the gift the more he… uh…. "Oh shit, Ally, I am so sorry, this is all my fault." "No," Tallia whispered numbly, "it's not like that. He asked me to marry him," she repeated stubbornly. She squeezed her eyes shut when she saw the sympathy and pity on Emmy's face. She wanted to blot out the doubts that were suddenly crashing down on her as if she were standing in the middle of a house of cards. Only it felt as if the falling cards were made from slabs of concrete. God, had she been a fool? Had she let a very slick, practiced Casanova seduce her? She thought of how easy she had been… how she begged him to make love to her, and she wanted to die of mortification. Had Costa been playing a game all along, just amusing himself because he was bored? Was she just too stupid to realize how deceitful he really was? She thought back to her first day on Seleni. In his car he revealed his open hatred and disdain, in the casual cruelty with which he treated her. Was that the real Costa? Was he her tender lover, or a cold-blooded bastard who decided to have a little fun? Was she a clueless fool who stumbled blindly into his clutches? "This time he's really gone too far," Emmy was snarling as she began to pace around the living room. "You were a virgin… did he even realize that?" When Tallia said nothing, Emmy pushed her onto one of the gorgeous suede couches and rushed off. She was back in a minute with a glass of water. Tallia sipped automatically, feeling shell-shocked. She tried to sort through the last weeks to decide what was real. From the first, her relationship with Costa had seemed like a dream. Now she had to wonder if it really had been. Everything had seemed so perfect, so much like a magical fairy-tale. "He did this to make me pay for marrying his brother," Emmy said angrily. "Fido always said Costa was a vindictive bastard. He said that when things got too serious or Fido even mentioned the word marriage, Costa would buy off his girlfriends, seduce them away from him, or scare them off with all sorts of ugly threats. “Fido used to brag that Costa was the most ruthless person he had ever known. He claimed Costa would do anything to get his way or once thwarted, have his revenge. He told me Costa once had a girl deported when she refused to break off her relationship with Fido. The man is positively medieval… or Sicilian in his thinking." Emmy's remark struck an awful cord in Tallia's memory. She thought of the night Costa almost made love to her and how he refused to continue. He had realized she was a virgin, and thought that was an honor reserved for a husband. Obviously, he had gotten over his old fashion views quickly when she had thrown herself at him. Her humiliation was complete as she realized that she had helped him seduce her by overcoming his one tiny kernel of scruples. She had talked him into deflowering her! Looking back, she realized he had been seducing her. The fishing trip, the kiss in the fig grove… she could remember his amused looks, even hear his low, cynical laughter. She just knew with a sick certainty that he had been plotting to get her into bed throughout that day, and probably even before. His words in the car, which had haunted her for the past weeks, 'we can reach some sort of agreement', came back to her. She felt like an idiot because only now did she understand them. Costa had not been talking about money at all. He had wanted sex even when he thought she was his brother’s girlfriend! "Oh God," Tallia groaned, lurching to her feet and dropping the glass she forgot she was holding. It smashed on the polished floor boards, but she didn't notice, "Where's the bathroom?" she moaned, clapping a hand over her mouth to stop herself from being sick all over one of Emmy's lovely couches. Chapter 21 Costa paced nervously in his hotel room as he waited for Tallia. He felt sick with relief that she was here. Mostly though, he just felt sick. He knew it was only two days since she left Seleni, but he had not been able to wait. The anxious sense of dread that had been gnawing at his insides since Tallia left had yet to abate. He couldn't stop thinking that Tallia hated him and never wanted to see him again. All of his dreams since they met were of Tallia. Since she left Seleni each one invariably turned into a nightmare in which she stormed out on him, telling him she never wanted to see him again. He could not shake the sense that everything he held dear was slipping through his fingers like sand. The sense of powerlessness was both unfamiliar and horrid. He was so out-of-sorts that he didn’t even dare call her when he landed. He had been dithering in his hotel for hours just trying to work up the nerve to pick up the phone. Now, suddenly, she was here, in his hotel, on her way up to his room, and his mind was blanking. For the past two days he tortured himself with thoughts of what he would say when he saw her again, trying to anticipate any reaction she had, any scenario. Now that the moment of truth was at hand, he wasn't sure he could even remember his own name. It was the unnerving suspicion that he was in for a rough ride that made Costa such a pathetic shell of the suave, debonair, ladies’ man he once was. She had just turned up after he arrived in London, before they made any plans to see each other, and that filled him with unease. He wished she had called him before coming to his hotel, so he would have some clue of what he was in for. Having never indulged in discussions about relationships, much less having a relationship, he had no idea what to expect. If it were any other woman coming to see him to have a 'talk', he would have told security to get rid of her and gotten on with his day. But it was Tallia. He was so desperate to see her that he almost told reception he would be down to meet her, and to have her wait for him in the lobby. Rubbing his damp palms on his slacks, Costa tried to get a grip on his emotions. He saw himself in a mirror by the door and could hardly recognize the disheveled, wild-eyed idiot he saw reflected back at him. That stranger looked as if he hadn't slept in days, and that stranger was him. Why, he wondered viciously, hadn't Tallia just picked up the phone and called him? He hated surprises, drama, being in the wrong, and suspected he was in for all three. Two days of waiting and wondering had frayed his temper and his nerves. He was a wreck. He was sweating like a bull in the slaughter chute. At least not knowing was better than having her tell me to go to Hell. I should never have let her leave Seleni, he told himself stupidly. At the very least I should have come to England with her! A brief knock on the door announced her. He whipped a hand hastily through his hair, smoothing it as he smoothed his expression. Before he could tell her to enter, the door swung open. Costa stiffened in outrage, instantly furious, because he had gotten worked up for nothing. It was Emily who came through the door, the wrong Miss Maitland in every way. He saw the flash of fire in her eyes, and all his defenses snapped into place. "Get out," he barked. "I don't think so," Emily snarled, planting a hand on her hip and striking a pose that dared him to throw her out. They eyed each other silently for a moment like gunslingers, neither of them making any attempt to hide the contempt they felt towards the other. Emily was dressed like something out of a spy movie, all skintight black leather and stiletto heels. Her lips were colored a blazing red and her face and hair done up with all the spray, gel, mousse, and war paint a woman could hope to slather on. Clinically, Costa thought she probably looked drop-dead gorgeous. But all he could think about was how much he would love to see her drop dead, period. "You are one sorry, low down bastard, Costa Eustakhios. Your brother may be a boring nitwit, with only partying on his mind. But at least he's got a conscience and doesn't go around lying and seducing innocent women," she tossed at him coldly. "Ah, yes," Costa purred, "One could hardly call you innocent, now could they? I've never had the privilege of seeing your first movie, but I hear you are quite the star of the small screen. The camera does love you," he taunted, suddenly very happy to have such an easy target on whom to unleash his pent up frustration. "Oh, you are such a hypocrite- a sad cliché really. I may have slept around in the past, but I bow before the master. Do you even know how many women you've screwed?" "Do you even remember half the men you did?" he retorted. Emily, her cheeks burning with color at his snide words, shrieked, "Tallia is not one of your disposable Barbie dolls!" "My relationship with Tallia has nothing to do with you, and I will not discuss it with you," he informed her curtly. "She's my sister! It has everything to do with me," Emily insisted fervently. "When you messed with her, you messed with me!" "I wouldn't touch you with a ten foot pole," he remarked casually, eyeing Emily up and down with a dismissive look. "Now get out, before I throw you out." "You, or any of your goons lay a finger on me, and I’ll put my six inch stiletto so far up your arse they'll need a deep space probe to extract it," she warned hotly. "Was there a point to your visit, or did you come to dazzle me with your charm and witty repartee? I can't even begin to imagine what my brother saw in you. I'm sure you're quite something in the sack, you certainly have enough experience, but aside from that I cannot think what you have to offer a man." Emily trembled in outrage, and Costa almost smirked with satisfaction. It was obvious from her flustered expression that she was not immune to his scathing derision, and it delighted him to know how easily he could get under her skin. "You bastard!" she gritted out. "I believe you are repeating yourself. You should really go now, before you embarrass yourself any further," he drawled. "Don't think I don't know you did this to make me suffer, just for having the gall to try and marry your stupid brother!" Costa burst out laughing, "My, but you are deluded and have a very high opinion of yourself! You have never, nor shall you ever, have that kind of importance to me." "I know all about you, Costa Eustakhios, and your dirty tricks. I know how you can't stand it when you don't get your way and how you have no scruples in getting what you want. I know a dozen girls you've thrown over and treated like trash. You think you're so special because you have money, as if that gives you the right to treat other people like shit, but you're wrong! You're just a gutless, soulless, arsehole!" On the verge of giving Emily another icy set down, Costa's own words about Emily's importance finally cracked the protective shield of his temper. Suddenly, he realized whom he was antagonizing and that this was not an opportunity for him to score points off a hapless child like Emily Maitland. Shame washed over Costa, because he was doing it again, treating a woman like garbage and not just any woman, Tallia's sister. He almost groaned aloud, he was so shocked at his stupidity in letting his temper get the best of him. He would gain nothing by alienating Tallia's only family member- quite the contrary. And he still had no idea why Emily was here, other than to spit vitriol at him. "Listen Emily, I'm not interested in trading insults with you like two kids on a playground. You have the wrong idea about your sister and me, that is, my intentions toward your sister," he began in a curt, no-nonsense manner, hoping to salvage something through cool logic. "The only wrong idea I ever had was to think you would be decent enough not to seduce a woman who you thought, at the time, was going to be your future sister-in-law. For God sake, couldn't you see how innocent Ally is? She was a virgin, in case you didn't notice! “Don't you have a shred of decency in you?" Emily demanded in outrage, thought there was real hurt in her eyes as she glared at him. "She didn't deserve this. She deserves a real man, someone who can love her and treat her right, not a oversexed tomcat who has to nail every woman he meets just to make him feel like a man!" "You don't know the first thing about me," Costa snarled, infuriated by the guilt Emily's words caused him. "I know she is innocent." "I can't believe you!" Emily snapped at that reluctant admission, "couldn't you just stick to your actresses and socialites? Why did you have to go after her? “She's a school teacher. She volunteers at homeless and pet shelters, goes to rallies for Greenpeace, clean air, and… and endangered tigers. Tallia doesn't know anything about your world. She wants to get married and have kids and save the universe. She's a Buddhist for heaven's sake!" Emily's already fragile facade wavered dangerously and tears started to pool in her huge eyes. "She's never done anything to hurt a soul, and she's had nothing but grief for her troubles. If you were any sort of human being, you would have left her alone. She… she has to start her whole life over thanks to me. She doesn't need someone like you taking advantage of her and exposing her to all sorts of filth and empty pleasures." Costa stepped forward, overcoming his aversion of crying, hysterical women, as he let himself give in to his sympathy for Emily. The little blond bristled and pulled herself up straighter, staring daggers at him. She was clearly furious that she let her distress show in front of someone she viewed as an enemy. Seeing Emily so upset, Costa realized that part of her anger was due to her own guilty conscience. But it was her genuine love for her sister that really moved him. Emily wanted the best for Tallia and was fighting for her sister. Costa wanted to tell her that he had every intention of safeguarding Tallia's happiness, and he intended to make Tallia's future his number one priority. Emily’s impassioned words however, gave him pause, as did the things she revealed about Tallia. While Costa had always known Tallia was an angel, hearing about all of her interests made him realize just how great the disparity between them truly was. They were like people from two different planets. He could not recall ever volunteering for anything, much less giving a thought to the homeless other than to consider them an unsightly bother. He never spared a thought for the environment, unless it was the waters around Seleni or something that cut into the bottom line of one of his many business deals. The closest he got to philanthropy was writing checks to charities as tax write-offs, or to impress women he intended to bed. While on Seleni, Tallia had shared a great deal of herself with him, but obviously there was so much more to her than he knew. All of it was disparate to the man he was and the way he lived his life. He knew he really was a selfish bastard. But having Emily hold a mirror up for him made him consider for the first time that maybe he was not the man for Tallia. He always knew he didn't deserve her, but would it be best for Tallia to marry another man, someone who genuinely shared her interests? The thought of Tallia with another man made every fiber of his being revolt in protest, but he knew that was just his egotistic pride prodding him. He hated to lose, and he never gave up anything he wanted without a fight, even if it meant fighting dirty. And he wanted Tallia more than he cared to think. If he loved Tallia, however, and he really loved her, Costa realized, wouldn't he want what was best for her, even if that meant losing her to some tree-hugging hippy? "Is that what Tallia wants," he asked unevenly, his voice breaking as pain knifed through him just to contemplate letting her go, "does she want me to leave her alone?" Emily marched across the room and held a small black velvet ring box out to him. Costa had never seen it before. There had been no need for a box on Seleni. Tallia had worn his ring from the moment he put it on her finger, and she had never taken it off while she was with him. He stared at the box dumbly until Emily shoved it at him. All he could do then was shake his head, feeling utterly eviscerated. It was over. Tallia didn't want him. Once she left Seleni, she had come to her senses and seen him for the empty, self-centered profligate he was in truth. "No, it's hers," he said, refusing to take the ring, much less look at it again. "Costa…" Emily snapped impatiently. "Tell her to donate it," he gritted out, before she could blast him with more of her venom. "While she's at it, she may as well donate this," he said, reaching into his pocket to retrieve a long, midnight blue velvet box. His hand gripped the gift meant for Tallia convulsively, for a moment, and then he forced himself to hold it out to Emily. "Ugh, you are so predictable," Emily groaned, her eyes narrowing to slits, as she looked him over as if he were a slug. She stared at the box in his hand for a moment and then slowly reached out and snatched it from him, as if she were afraid to touch him, as if he were a leper. "Emily," he called out sharply, when she swung around and stalked out the open door. She stopped in her headlong rush and turned to look at him reluctantly over her shoulder. "I never meant to hurt her… I… care for her. Please tell her that, and if ever…" he stopped himself, knowing he was being a fool. There was no way in hell Tallia would come back to him. She was strong and confident, in her own quiet way. She knew her mind. If she no longer wanted him, it was a decision she had come to rationally, not through wild, temperamental posturing. Without saying a word, Emily lowered her long lashes to hide her eyes. She hesitated for only the barest of heartbeats before she walked away. Tallia cried like a watering can on her eighth day home. The week was up, and Costa never showed. She supposed she should have expected it, after everything Emmy told her, yet it still hurt to have her doubts confirmed. After coming back to London and learning the truth about Costa, she braved the Internet and what she found there had shaken her to the core. The computer told her everything her sister warned her about Costa, and then some. Of course, none of the horror she felt at reading about all his legion of flaws did anything to deaden the way she felt about him. She loved him just as madly and foolishly as ever. All she could think about was her time on Seleni and the man who had swept her off her feet. She just couldn't believe that man wasn't real, from his big, strapping exterior perfection to his hidden, sensitive soul. In her love struck heart, she held out hope that Costa would come for her and prove himself. She even stayed cooped up in Emmy's frightfully stylish apartment for days, so she wouldn't miss him, but he never came. All through the seventh night she lay in bed with dry, burning eyes, too upset to even cry. Now the proverbial dam had broken, and she couldn't stop the tears. She had been a fool and made a cake of herself over a heartless playboy, who had only been pretending. She couldn't say what Costa's motivation had been. Was he just too lusty to keep his hands off of any woman who spent enough time around him? Or had he wanted to hurt Emily through her, or punish her for trespassing on his beautiful island? She supposed it didn't matter. Costa had taken what he wanted with the ruthlessness she knew he was capable of, and then walked away. Devastated by his betrayal and her own naïve foolishness, she stayed abed for the next week, wallowing in self-pity, resisting all Emmy's entreaties for her to get up and go out. Her sister fussed and begged, but nothing would budge Tallia. She retreated into sleep, where she could dream about Costa without feeling guilty for doing it. Eventually Tallia’s natural, pragmatic nature kicked back into effect and forced her to get up and get on with her life. Whenever she felt like lying down and curling into the fetal position, she told herself that she couldn't let one stupid mistake ruin her life. She was better now. The weeks in the sun and Calamini's excellent cooking had put her firmly on the path to recovery. Physically she was feeling a lot like her old self, now it was time to get on with living. She was certain Costa had gone back to his life, as if nothing happened. She pushed that thought aside as soon as it formed, resolving not to think about him again. With a mind to the future, she called the head at her previous job and made a lunch date to discuss returning to work. She and the older woman, who ran the academy where she taught before the accident, had always got on like a house on fire. There was no question of Tallia simply stopping in for a meeting. They hadn't seen each other since she went into hospital, and her old boss insisted on taking her out for a bite so they could catch up. Tallia was cheered by the prospect of a lunch date with a friend. She had received numerous cards and phone calls from all her colleagues while she was recuperating, though few had been able to visit due to the severity of her injuries and the bother of getting into London in the middle of the school term. Now that it was summer things were more relaxed, and she was hoping to get her old position back. Fleetingly, she thought of how Costa mentioned there was a school on Tanos where she could teach, if she wanted to keep working once they were married. Tallia almost wept at the thought. Little bits of memory like that would come back to her sometimes leaving her confused and reeling with pain, and making her wonder all over again why Costa had gone to such lengths to humiliate her. She offered him her body on a silver platter, yet he had not been content to merely use her. He had felt some perverse need to create a warped fantasy in which they would marry and live happily ever after. Dealing with the loss of his affection was painful enough, she could hardly stand thinking of how he had pulled the wool over her eyes and convinced her they had a future together. Had he been motivated by guilt? Did he feel that by dressing her seduction up that he could make his deflowering of a virgin, which seemed to genuinely trouble him at the time, more palatable? Or had he thought it would make her more biddable, passionate and eager to please? Unanswered questions like those plagued Tallia every waking moment and brought her low. She didn’t want to consider the very real possibility that Costa had been having a royal joke at her expense. Perhaps he’d been amusing himself by watching her fall hopelessly in love with him, and congratulating himself privately for his prowess in deceiving women. Burning with mortification at the thought of what an idiot she was, Tallia dug through her bag of travel clothes for something to wear, but found nothing suitable. It was cold in London, as was so often the case, and it was raining. All the beautiful things Emmy bought her for Greece were ridiculously light and sexy, not at all appropriate for lunch with a staid, older woman of conservative tastes. Tallia knew the head hired her a few years back out of necessity, as a young woman fresh out of teaching college, with no experience, she had not been a very sought-after commodity. But the academy had been desperate for a replacement when one of the teachers abruptly decided not to return to the school just before the term was set to start. While she had never done anything to make her boss regret the decision, Tallia had always taken care to tone down her more bohemian leanings, as she knew they made the older woman uncomfortable. In truth, she earned the older lady’s respect and friendship. All of Tallia’s old clothes were boxed up in storage somewhere, and Emmy was off on a three-day shoot in the Maldives. Tallia didn't want to trouble her by calling to ask exactly where the storage was and how she could get to it. She didn’t even have time to bother with that. With no other options, she dashed into Emmy's room to raid her sister’s closet. Luckily she and Emmy were almost the same size. While growing up, they often wore each other’s clothes. Smiling ruefully, Tallia admitted that she wore Emmy's clothes, since her sister was a clotheshorse, whereas Emmy shunned her less fashionable togs. Even as a child Emmy possessed a huge wardrobe of gorgeous things. Now that she was a famous model, Emmy had two walk-in closets as big as most people’s family rooms, over-flowing with all sorts of goodies. Emmy owned every designer label imaginable and received most of her outfits for free. She had countless friends in her industry. Picking through the first closet, Tallia quickly found a long black skirt that would do and a very chic blouse in a soft shade of green with which to pair it. Shoes were not an issue, as Emmy's second closet was reserved just for footwear. Once she settled on simple flats, Tallia continued to pick out some matching accessories to make herself look as professional as possible. Just as she was about to leave her sister’s room, a tray of lovely Venetian perfume bottles lured her to Emmy's gorgeous vanity. The colorful little bottles were arranged neatly on top of the elegant piece of furniture. Tallia never wore perfume and hardly touched makeup, but Emmy's vanity, a lovely art deco piece that was probably the only antique in the entire apartment, was hard to resist. Lacquered in buttery smooth layers of white paint, it had three mirrors fixed to the dainty tabletop adorned with flower-shaped lights all over, providing a glow of flattering light. Tallia sniffed suspiciously at the bottles and decided that they were pretty, but perfume was still not for her. There were little drawers in the vanity, and she didn't think twice about sliding them open and poking around. She was awed at the loads of lipstick and eye shadow crammed inside. A makeup novice, she never imagined so many shades of blush existed, as she picked through a veritable rainbow of different colors. When Tallia opened the last drawer of the vanity, her breath sawed out on a pained cry as her eyes lit upon a long velvet box. Emmy had pounds of jewelry in her closet, some of it even valuable. But that was not what made Tallia’s insides freeze. It was the gilt seahorse embossed on the decadent box. Tallia would never forget that elegant logo; it had been imprinted on each velvet tray of glittering rings Mr. Androssi presented to her in Costa's office. She slammed the drawer shut as if it were Pandora's box, her whole body beginning to shake in reaction. For a minute she sat in frozen shock, telling herself she was being silly. Emmy probably had jewels from all over the world, and it was just a coincidence she had something from Androssi. Maybe Fidelio bought Emmy something while they were in Greece, she reasoned. Only Tallia was certain Fidelio never bought Emmy anything. Her sister would have told her if he had. Fidelio had never even gotten around to giving Emmy the diamond ring, a ring Tallia knew he bought for their engagement in London because he showed it to her while she was still in hospital. The presence of the box in Emmy's makeup table only made her more suspicious. Emmy was such a slob that she abandoned dishes in the sink till they smelled. She left appalling messes for her cleaning lady all over the apartment. And she turned the bathroom into a scene out of a horror movie every morning. However, Emmy was scrupulously, in fact neurotically tidy when it came to her clothes, jewelry and makeup. Everything in Emmy’s closets was always in its proper place, and she had an entire standing wardrobe where she kept all of her jewelry. Very slowly, Tallia opened the drawer again and withdrew the velvet box. She set it on the vanity and just stared at it, unable to lift the lid and see what lay inside. Bleak reality tore through her, because she knew what this was. This must have been Costa's 'parting gift', the final insult to all the other injuries he inflicted so callously on her. Somehow, Emmy had to have intercepted the ‘gift’ before Tallia could receive it. Her sister surely tucked the offensive thing away in a place where she thought Tallia would not be likely to find it. Drawing a deep, shuddering breath, Tallia felt her eyes start to burn and her lip begin to tremble. She couldn't believe anyone could be so cruel. What had she ever done to Costa to deserve such treatment? Thank God she never had to see him again. “I am never,” she sobbed, “trusting another man in my entire life!” She tore her eyes from the revolting box, and they caught on her reflection in the vanity. All three mirrors threw back the image of a pale, drawn, devastated woman. The sight shocked her. She couldn't believe that the pathetic, sniveling woman in the mirror was really her! Tallia didn't imagine she had looked half so pitiful when she lay in hospital, paralyzed from the neck down, with doctors clucking sympathetically over her, telling her how she would learn to adapt and how she was lucky to be alive. She had never cried as she was told all the rot that she supposed was meant to make her feel better when her entire life had just been snatched from her. Yet now she was falling apart over something as stupid as a man! Worse, she had always wanted to marry and have children, and she was ready to throw that away because of one conniving bastard. She had let Costa walk all over her, stomp on her pride and reduce her to a hopeless wretch. And it wasn’t just him, she had been afraid of men most of her life. Tallia knew her father, the bounder, who had run off when she was a child, had set the tone. Then had come Kevin, the verbal molester, who she had run from at the first chance, and had yet to seen again even though it meant severing all ties with her mother. Now Costa had come along, and finished the job of making her see the opposite sex as dangerous and best to be avoided. She had been let down by all the men in her life and it was turning her into the exact kind of person she most hated, a narrow minded, spineless ninny who painted all men with one brush. Grabbing the box, she bolted to her room. Flinging open the drawer of the bedside table, she didn't even care that she ripped it right out of the small unit and sent the contents spilling over the floor. She found what she was looking for immediately, her passport and the black box in which she had put Costa's damned ring. Now she finally knew what to do with the cursed thing. Yanking on the first clothes that came to hand, she flew out of the apartment. Her head was so hot with rage that she started marching down the pavement automatically, before she realized that walking to Heathrow was not an option. Checking belatedly for her wallet, Tallia hailed a cab and curtly told the driver where to take her. She was still fuming hours later when she landed in Athens. Chapter 22 Athens, Greece Costa waved his secretary away with a brisk flick of his wrist as he walked out of the conference room. Moving swiftly to avoid being waylaid by any of the people he had just spent the last three hours caged in with, he sailed right past his office, since that would be like stepping into a trap. He was beginning to seriously consider installing a back door to his suite of offices, so he could slip out unmolested when the urge took him. The urge was taking him now, and it had been for the past week. Lately, he felt as if the walls were closing in on him whenever he was at his business headquarters. None of his projects interested him. He was weary of the interminable meetings and negotiations, as well as the relentless politics and backbiting. All he wanted was to be left alone. His current mood was no secret to the people who worked for him, and the floor of offices he kept was as quiet and subdued as a church. Since he returned from London, everyone had learned to tiptoe around him as if he were surrounded by land mines. Looking at his secretary, who had been taking the brunt of his foul mood, Costa almost felt sorry for her when she darted over to hand him a message. These days, she behaved more like a dog who had been kicked than the regal, gimlet-eyed gorgon he hired five years ago to do his dirty work and guard his privacy. The poor woman slinked away, obviously relieved to see him leave the office. Stepping into an elevator crammed with people, he crumpled the unread message into a ball and grit his teeth as they began the long ride down. He bit back a curse each time the stifling steel box dinged to a stop, only to provoke looks of disappointment from the people who waited for it on the lower floors. The damn thing stopped at almost every floor, since it was six o'clock and most of the offices in the huge, prestigious tower in the middle of Athens business district, were closing for the day. When one dense cretin tried to squeeze onto the packed lift, Costa froze him with a glacial look, which was mild compared to what he really would have liked to do to the man. By the time they reached the lobby, he was ready to scream as the press of bodies and the miasma of different colognes and perfumes suffocated him. He took one step off the lift however, and stood bolted to the spot as if turned to stone. He saw her immediately, as if he had been expecting her. She wasn't hard to miss. Her brilliant head of white-blond hair caught the sunlight streaming through the four-story glass windows along the front of the building. Tallia Costa's hand groped for something to hold onto, as his body went weak. He stumbled when the people surging out of the lift jostled him. The elevator dinged furiously, while he remained glued to the spot, his hand clenched on the steel and rubber edge of the door. For a crazy moment, Costa actually considered retreating, considered getting right back inside the elevator and going back up to his office to hide. He couldn't deal with this. He couldn't stand to see her again, much less talk to her, even though he couldn't seem to tear his eyes from her. Clearly Tallia had been vetted by security and denied access to the offices. She stood on the other side of a line of metal posts equipped with scanners that only permitted people with electronic badges to pass. It was an invisible barrier, but he knew that if she stepped across it without a pass, setting off the alarms, a dozen guards would fall on her in seconds. Security officers sat behind counters on either side of the entrance, eyeing everyone with humorless expressions on their faces. Violet eyes locked with his as she stood in the middle of the lobby, staring at the elevators, waiting for him. She looked like an angel, standing there. People flowed around her, a bland stream of mere mortals that parted on either side of her, as if she generated a force field that repelled anything that came too close. Costa could see the stares Tallia attracted, and he was not surprised. She was a vision, more beautiful than even he remembered. Her skin had lost the faint golden glow it had taken on at Seleni, but her pallor only made her more striking. The glorious rosy flush to her cheeks offset her violet eyes, which burned as if lit from within. He was so busy drooling over her that he didn't even realize she had begun to move until the alarms went off. As she burst into motion, he suddenly realized Tallia was no delicate seraph or fey, but rather a fierce Valkyrie. The light in her eyes was the fire of hot, molten rage. Like an avenging angel she came at him, her hair a flying banner of silver. Her eyes shot sparks of amethyst and crimson, oblivious to the pack of black uniformed guards who sprang from their posts like unleashed attack dogs, thirsty for blood. Costa snapped from his daze and barked a harsh command to the guards to stop. He held up a hand and they fell back obediently. In the next instant he wished Tallia were so easily intimidated. As soon as she came within striking distance, her hand whipped out and caught him a stinging blow across the face that loosened half his teeth. "You bloody bastard," she hissed with a fury that was not in the least dampened by the softness of her voice. Shocked by both the strength of the blow she landed and the rage pouring off of her, Costa could only gape at her like a simpleton. Tallia's other hand jerked and cracked across his opposite cheek with equally stinging force. Costa was finally jarred out of his stupor by the second, stinging blow. He grabbed her arms and swung her into the open lift. He punched the close button and then the emergency stop, while she continued to attack. "Bastard!" she cried, her voice ringing in the enclosed space, "I can't believe your nerve, your sheer arrogance! Is there blood in your veins? Do you have any feeling at all- a heart, a soul?" Costa tried to catch her flying fists, but Tallia was surprisingly quick and agile. She managed to land numerous hard, pointy-knuckled blows all over his chest and shoulders. Catching him in the face more than once, she exploded into action like a spitting ball of rage. When he did snag one of her wrists, she went completely berserk and started kicking and screaming. She bit his hand until he had to let go or risk loosing a chunk of flesh. "I hate you!" she kept screaming as she beat him. "I wish I never met you or that you'd never been born!" His heart twisted at her words and the pain in her voice as she railed at him until she sounded raw and hoarse. He didn't try and stop her as she pummeled him. He just deflected some of the more dangerous blows, knowing he deserved everything she dished out. If anything, Costa wished she were strong enough to give him the beating he so richly deserved. He had played with too many people’s emotions for too long. Now he knew he was finally getting his just desserts. The woman he loved more than life hated him so passionately that she had flown all the way here just to tell him so personally, after ending things almost two weeks ago. From the amount of hurt and despair in Tallia face and voice, he knew he had taken something very precious from her. It was not her virginity; he knew Tallia didn't care about that. It was her peace of mind he had stolen, and probably a good deal of her faith in men and people in general. As abruptly as she had flown off the handle, Tallia suddenly collapsed against the opposite wall of the elevator and stared at him blankly. She looked as if she didn't recognize him for a moment, and then she started to cry. Not great teary sobs, but silent trickles of big teardrops slid down her flushed cheeks and turned her eyes a luminous periwinkle. "I'm sorry Tallia," Costa said softly, torn apart by the sight of her so distraught. She said nothing, but reached around and dragged a familiar velvet box from the back pocket of the jeans she wore. Digging into a front pocket, she brought forth the black ring box Emily had tried to give him. Costa held up his hands and shook his head, no more willing to take back his gifts this time than the last. "Take them!" Tallia shouted furiously. "I never meant to hurt you, Tallia," Costa told her, realizing with sick certainty that she was about to walk out of his life, and he would never see her again. He had tried to be noble since he left London, but Costa knew he couldn't live without her and would do anything to keep her. "Just take them," she repeated firmly. "I'm not proud of who I am Tallia," he whispered. "I've been a shallow, egotistical prick for most of my life, but I never meant to cause you any pain. I knew I never should have touched you. I tried to do the decent thing and leave you alone, but… I'm not a decent person. I'm selfish and spoiled, and I like to get my own way-" "You set out to hurt me from the moment you laid eyes on me," she stated softly. Her gorgeous eyes darkened to violet again with righteous indignation. "No, that's not true," he retorted quickly, so relieved that she was talking to him that he didn't allow himself to be discouraged by what she was saying. "I'll admit," he was quick to add when her eyes turned purple, "that first day I meant to scare you, and… and hurt you, yes, because I thought you were Fidelio's girlfriend-" “Who you intended to screw." Costa flinched, "Tallia…" "Who you intended to screw!" "Yes," he muttered, flushing darkly. "One look at you… I knew there was no way in hell I could keep my hands off." Tallia's eyes narrowed furiously. "I'm not denying I'm a creep, or rather I was a creep, but you don't understand how I felt when I saw you." "Oh, please. Spare me the bullshit," she hissed across his words. "No Tallia, you want the truth, then here it is," Costa snapped, crossing the distance between them in one long stride. She jerked back to avoid touching him and fetched up hard against the opposite wall. Her reaction infuriated him, as she never used to avoid his touch. Costa braced a hand on either side of her head, aggressively caging her in, and leaning down until their faces were only inches apart. He looked her directly in the eye. "I've been out of my mind for you since the moment I set eyes on you. All I wanted was to get you in my bed, and I really didn't give a damn what I had to do or who I had to hurt to get what I wanted. That's just the kind of guy I am," he said with bitter sarcasm. "I took you on the ride from hell to make damn sure you left my brother alone. It was that or have Fidelio removed to some distant part of the galaxy, so the two of you would never be able to see each other again. The idea of you with him and him with you, it was enough to make me want to go ‘old school’ Greek, and cut off his most treasured bits. “Once I realized my mistake, I thought it was over and you would never give me the time of day. But you forgave me," he said, his voice trailing away as emotion gripped him. "You just forgave me!" Costa shook his head, "I couldn't believe it. Everything I wanted just fell into place perfectly. It was as if it was fate, and you were meant to be mine. With nothing in my way and Fidelio and your sister off on their pre-honeymoon boat trip, I set out to seduce you. “Yes, I was totally bent on seduction. I was cocksure and practically giddy with excitement when it became obvious you were attracted to me. It seemed inevitable that you would end up exactly where I wanted you… in my bed," Costa pronounced those last three words very carefully, not even trying to keep the satisfaction from his voice. "But then everything changed the moment I realized you were a virgin. Theos, I might be a scumbag Agapate, but I never, never had a virgin. I never sleep with innocents. If I had one rule over the years, it was always to only play my nasty little games with the kind of women who knew the rules. At least they understood that I had nothing to offer other than sex. You blew me away," he told her. Holding her gaze intently because he needed her to see that he was telling her the truth… unvarnished and ugly, but from the heart. "Nothing to offer?" she scorned, "Don't be modest Costa. Aren't you forgetting all the wonderful consolation gifts you love to splash around?" She raised her hands to slam the two jewelry cases against his chest, trying again to make him take them. Costa shook his head in denial. "I never gave you any consolation prizes, Tallia. These are gifts, real tokens of affection. The others were just…" "Insults… you’re parting shot," she filled in for him. Holding her condemning gaze, he nodded his head slowly, "Yes, that's exactly what they were. Those women I fucked only wanted me for my money. They chase after me because I'm Costa Eustakhios, who has a net worth crammed full of dollar signs. “They don't give a damn about me. I treat them like crap, and they don't care. They run crying to the gossip rags, but that's only to see their name in print and get people’s attention. If any of them had any self-respect, they wouldn't crawl into my bed knowing how I treat women. I have never hidden that fact from anyone. I have never pretended to be anything I'm not Tallia. I never put on an act or lie or fake emotions I don't feel. That should tell you something," he added pointedly. Tallia's eyes slid away from his, and her long lashes dipped to shield their expression. Costa brushed a knuckle over her velvet cheek, and then slid it under her chin to lift her face gently to his. Tallia's lashes swept up, and she reluctantly met his intent gaze. "I'm crazy about you Agapate, I thought I made that pretty obvious on Seleni. I know I don't deserve you, and I'm probably the last guy you should be with, but I want to marry you. I want to be your husband, father to your children. I'll do anything-" he began in a pleading undertone, forsaking his pride. "Anything?! How dare you Costa? When you never even came to London like you promised, but you sent this 'gift' instead. You were right about one thing. You really will do whatever it takes to get what you want. You want me gone? You want me to leave quietly to spare your pride? Just watch me! If you want, you can even walk me out so you won't be embarrassed any further in your work place. I wouldn't want your image as the ultimate lady killer tarnished." "What are you talking about?" he growled, grabbing her arms and giving her a little shake. "I came to London, and you sent your damn sister to tell me off!" "Don't lie to me Costa!" Tallia cried, her eyes darkening again as her temper rekindled. "I haven't lied to you once!" he roared, shaking her in earnest. "Your sister came to my hotel and told me off, speaking on your behalf. She said to go to hell and tried to give me back your engagement ring. That’s when I gave her that bracelet. I never sent anything to you, and I kept my promise!" Tallia stared at him mutely, her eyes like saucers, "Emmy…?" "Yes, Emmy, your sister-" Costa swallowed, his furious words silenced as understanding suddenly hit. "She wouldn't…" Tallia whispered, her mind working just as quickly as his. "Oh, yes she would, Agapate," he replied without any heat, "to protect you." Tallia stared at him mutely for a minute, and Costa was fascinated as he watched the naked play of emotions over her expressive face. The anger vanished. The hurt and uncertainty wavered and then were chased away by a slow, blooming joy. Her beautiful eyes were the most expressive of all, changing from deepest violet to a soft, dreamy amethyst. "You really came?" "On the second day," he told her. "Costa," she whispered, a wealth of love and yearning in that one word. He yanked her into his arms, nearly crushing her in his relief. "Agapate, how could you doubt me?" he asked teasingly, his big body beginning to shake as he realized she was really here, and she believed him. "Emmy told me such horrible things, and then you never came. I read all about you on the Internet and had all these doubts. And you never said you loved me, so I started…" "Never said I love you!" he howled, holding her at arms length, "Agapate, it's all I ever say to you." "Agapate…?" Tallia repeated softly, really hearing the words for once and instinctively grasping their true meaning. She looked up at him and smiled blindingly, "Oh, Costa! You're going to have to teach me Greek immediately." He threw his head back and laughed lustily, "So you will marry me?" "Of course! I already have this marvelous ring," she retorted playfully. Costa let her go and took the black box from her hand. Popping it open, he sighed when he saw the ring, twinkling brilliantly up at him. For a moment it was on the tip of his tongue to admonish her for thinking he would give such an outrageously expensive ‘gift’ to a woman he wasn’t planning to marry. Thinking better of risking her wrath, he kept silent. Costa gladly went down on one knee and took Tallia's hand. Just as he had in his study the first time, he kissed her finger and then slid the ring into place. Tallia smiled down at him. Putting her hands on his shoulders, she leaned down and kissed him softly. Grabbing a fistful of her hair, Costa urged her mouth more fully against his, kissing her with all the searing need and love he felt for her. He stood up after a few minutes, when he finally became aware of the persistent ringing of the elevator alarm. Realizing where they were, he knew it was not the right setting for what he desperately wanted to do right then and there with the future Mrs. Eustakhios, to seal the deal. "Lets get out of here," he said gruffly, slipping an arm around her shoulders and drawing her close. "Yes, let’s do," Tallia murmured in a dreamy little voice. "I want you naked when I put that bracelet on you," Costa told her hotly, remembering the other jewelry box. He reached for the elevator buttons, his gaze fixed on her. "Costa!" Tallia gasped, though her eyes were dancing as she looked up at him. He couldn't resist but bend down and kissed her laughing lips. "I have to admit that I'm a little disappointed by your reaction to it," he commented as the elevator lurched and dinged plaintively. Clearly the machine was discombobulated and didn't know what to do. He prayed it didn't dump them into the basement, since he had too much to live for to end his life so ignominiously. Everything looked as if it might actually be working out better than he could ever have dreamed. "Don't be ridiculous, Costa. How was I supposed to react to the sight of a jewelry box and no you, given your past history?" Tallia retorted a bit coolly, slapping him in the chest with the aforementioned box. "Ancient history, Agapate. I am a new man now… your man, and only your man," he added sincerely. "But didn't you feel anything when you looked at the bracelet?" "I-I never even opened the box," Tallia admitted apologetically. Costa stared at her in stunned disbelief, not even noticing that the elevator started climbing upwards. "You never looked inside?!" "No. I just found it this morning in Emmy's room, and it set me off in such a rage I just had to come here and, well… you know." "Teach your man a lesson?" he teased, pleased by her revelation. It made it clear to him just how much Tallia loved him. She had come storming down to Greece without ever even opening his present, just to give him a piece of her mind. "For all you knew, it could have been an empty box," he suggested lightly. Her mouth flying open on a shocked gasp, Tallia blushed hotly, "Are you saying I overreacted?" "Absolutely not! I'd still be living in hell right now, if you hadn't come here. These past weeks without you have been a nightmare. I thought you hated me and never wanted to see me again," he confessed with feeling, taking her face in his hands and kissing her hard. "Oh, my love, I'm so sorry everything got turned around. But I was in hell too," she said against his mouth, kissing him back fervently. They pulled apart with great reluctance when the elevator dinged, and the doors opened. A crowd of neatly dressed professionals filed in and they couldn't speak again for some time as the elevator made the rounds all the way back down to the lobby. Costa didn't mind the wait this time though. Tallia took his hand and held it tight the entire way. When they finally reached the lobby again and stepped off the elevator last, he was especially jubilant at the prospect of their future together. He announced quite loudly to anyone with ears, "She said yes!" and proudly held up Tallia's left hand with his ring on it. Tallia blushed. Costa laughed, too delighted to care that most of the curious people in the lobby, especially the slack-jawed security guards, who watched them with open curiosity as they reappeared, were looking at him as if he were insane. His car was waiting for them at the curb. He bustled Tallia into the back seat, instructing his driver to take them directly to the airport. He then called his flight crew to inform them he needed the helicopter readied to take him immediately to Seleni. After that he called Calamini to tell her they were on their way home, giving Tallia an apologetic smile as she waited patiently for him to finish his calls. "Soooo," she asked with a sly smile when he put down his cell phone, "does that mean there's something in this box?" Costa nodded, "Oh yes, I designed it myself- with a little input from Piet, of course. I knew you still had some doubts about us, and I thought it would be my ace in the hole. One look and you would know exactly how I felt. “When I gave it to Emily," he paused as his voice caught embarrassingly, "I really hoped you would look at it and give me a second chance." Tallia gave him a questioning look, but Costa merely nodded towards the box. Very carefully she lifted the lid and glanced inside. He heard her breath stall and could see that she understood. Dropping the box in her lap, Tallia turned on the seat beside him and put her hands on either side of his face. She drew him down to her, covering his mouth with her own in the sweetest kiss imaginable. "I love you Costa, I always will," she promised him with her usual direct simplicity, and he knew it was true. "I love you too my little faerie," he replied, "I always have and I always will." Epilogue Seleni, Greece Tallia yawned and stretched luxuriantly in bed, her lips curving back into the smile she woke up with. The thick arm draped over her waist tightened, keeping her firmly in place. She wriggled happily back into the curve of Costa's big body, snuggling under the sheets with him and giggling breathlessly when his hands started roving over her body ever so deliciously. "Costa, I have to go to work and I can't be late," she hissed when he began to drag her beneath him. "It's Saturday," he growled, his morning voice low and rough. "No, it's not, it’s Friday," she informed him with a laugh. His dark head came up, and he looked around with a bleary-eyed expression. He glared so thunderously at the alarm clock on the bedside table that she began to laugh in earnest. "Theos, you're joking," he grumbled. "I was looking forward to sleeping in with my wife!" "Ah, well, you'll have to content yourself with me for the time being." Flashing her a wolfish grin, he pounced on her. He began tickling her until she was breathless and too weak to resist him, and then he had his wicked way with her. "You beast," Tallia muttered as she sat up in bed almost an hour later. "Late again," he drawled, unrepentant, "They'll sack you for sure this time." "You'd like that wouldn't you, you wicked brat," she remarked with a serene smile, because unbeknownst to Costa she had set the clock back an hour last night in anticipation of starting her weekend a bit early. "Mmmhmm," he agreed, propping himself up in bed. He watched her with a lazy smile as she ran her hands through her hair and indulged in another lazy stretch. "Then I would have you all to myself." "Selfish, selfish," she admonished him lightly, leaning over to kiss his mouth soundly as if in punishment. "You still have a lot of work to do reforming me," Costa retorted blissfully. "It's practically a full time job. You really should quit teaching. I don't like the idea of you working so hard." "Ha, ha," she laughed, slipping on her bracelet, the one he had given her four years ago, which she wore almost every day. Tallia's fingers drifted over it lightly as they often did, caressing the unique twisting design and the multicolored stones. It was a very unusual bracelet, even for a one of a kind piece. Fashioned of platinum filigree, twisted into knobby strands to resemble the branches of a tree, the bracelet was covered with dark emeralds cut to form leaves and amethyst stones in varying shades of purple scattered throughout, to resemble fruit. "The figs should be ripe now," Costa said softly behind her, noticing the way she stroked the bracelet. He slid across the bed, closing the distance between them, and wrapped his arms around her so he could cuddle her to his chest. "We could take the boat out this weekend and go pick a few," he suggested as he began nibbling at the curve of her shoulder. Moaning softly as his tongue stroked her skin, Tallia reached back to tangle her fingers in his hair. She tugged gently until he brought his mouth to hers for a long, sensual kiss. "I would love to, but remember, Emmy's coming to visit." Costa groaned, and she stroked his cheek lightly. Tallia knew there was still some friction between her husband and her sister, but she thought that was behind them now and she said as much. "You and Em got on rather well last time she was here." "It's not that," Costa replied with a chagrined look, "I completely forgot she was coming. I told Fidelio, at the office yesterday, that it would be okay for him to join us this weekend when he asked me to." Tallia looked at him for a moment in dismay, and then they both burst into laughter. "Oh, Lord, there goes our weekend," she said with a sigh. "Do you remember the wedding…" Costa began with a chuckle. "Who could forget!" "But have you noticed they always seem to pick the same damn weekend to visit?" he remarked speculatively. Tallia turned in his arms to look him in the face, "Now that you mention it… You don't think…?” Costa shrugged, "Stranger things have happened on this island," he murmured and tumbled her back down into the bed. Tallia’s laughter rang merrily through the room and out the open windows into the garden. Gustav lifted his shaggy gray head and shook it gravely, though a smile lurked beneath his bushy mustache.

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