Seduced into the Greek’s World
BOOK 4 in the Makricosta Dynasty
“I want you, Natalie. Not after five o’clock. Now.”
Every woman has a fantasy she only dares dream about in the dead of night. But for single mom Natalie Adams, the reality of an affair in Paris with infamous billionaire Demitri Makricosta surpasses even her wildest dreams!
Demitri is astounded by fiery Natalie. One night isn’t enough, so to quench his lust he insists she become his mistress. The closer Natalie gets to emotions Demitri has kept locked away, the more he distracts her with dazzling gifts and luxury holidays to ensure that seduction remains the only thing between them…
Seduced into the Greek’s World
BOOK 4 in the
"I want you, Natalie. Not after five o'clock. Now."
— Demitri, Seduced Into The Greek's World
I’ve mentioned elsewhere that the first book in the Makricosta Dynasty series, No Longer Forbidden?, was my first sale. While writing it, I hit a point in the story where Nic, the hero, reveals he has three siblings. They were separated when they were young and he secretly believes he got the raw end of the deal. He was sent away and the three younger children stayed with their mother.
I was deeply concerned for these other children, especially the little sister Nic was so close to. I wondered how it would have affected them to have their older brother disappear and I wrote about Adara in More Than A Convenient Marriage? That’s when I learned that their father never forgave their mother for cheating with Nic’s father. Theo, in An Heir To Bind Them, caught the brunt of that and had a very abusive childhood.
Demitri was the youngest. The children’s mother was pregnant with him when her husband forced her to send away her eldest child and she turned to drinking to numb the pain, leaving Adara to raise her brothers even though she was a child herself.
Demitri didn’t remember Nic and their father liked that. He punished the others for mentioning him and eventually cut off their visits. Nic was abandoned and Adara and Theo kept his memory like a secret. Until Adara finds him in Book Two and Theo invites him to his wedding in Book Three.
Demitri doesn’t know what to do with this information. He doesn’t see Nic as a brother and can’t understand why the siblings he trusted would keep such a thing from him. All he knows is that he was the ‘special’ one who their father favored. He was never punished, no matter how far he went–and he went to great lengths looking for the line he had to cross.
In Seduced Into The Greek’s World, he finds the line when he has an affair with his employee, Natalie. She’s sweet and kind and has a lot to teach him about family and love—but he has to earn her forgiveness first.
I so enjoyed writing about this family and really hope you enjoy reading all of their journey’s to happiness and love.
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Seduced into the Greek’s World
Her laugh was so pure and spontaneous it caused Demitri Makricosta to look away from the Italian beauty flirting with him and seek out the source of the sound. As a connoisseur of fake laughter, often given to offering imitations himself, he found the naturalness of the woman’s chuckle utterly engaging. It was feminine without being girlish or giggly, warm and sexy without being a put-on.
For a moment he didn’t take in anything else but her. Short blond hair swung and fell as she tipped the precision cut backward. Her skin held a pale, translucent quality that made him think her cheek would feel cool but downy soft against his lips. He wondered how her skin smelled. Like summer fruit, maybe. Her profile was feminine and cute, right up to the tilt of her nose, while the rest of her was a study in mouth-watering curves.
Encased in a Makricosta uniform.
Damn, damn and damn.
The disappointment that flooded through him was surprisingly acute.
He took a more thorough tour of her uniform, wishing he didn’t recognize it. It wasn’t the pencil skirt and wispy red jacket over a bowed white top that the French staff wore here in Paris, which gave him a beat of hope. But if she’d been corporate, she’d have only a scarf or tie in company colors as part of her business ensemble.
Unfortunately, those long pants and the warm blazer belonged to one of the Canadian outfits. The Makricosta Elite in Montreal, if he wasn’t mistaken—and he shouldn’t have any doubt because he had final say on every marketing decision in the family hotel chain right down to the front line image of the staff.
He didn’t want to recognize it. That was the problem. His male interest was seriously piqued by the woman wearing it.
Which wasn’t like him. Women were fairly interchangeable for him. He never wondered Who is she? What’s her story? Especially when he already had a female hand resting on his cuff and a voice murmuring, “Bello? What is it?”
“I thought I recognized someone,” he prevaricated, sending his companion a placating smile before glancing once more at the laughing woman—his employee—across the lobby.
She was nodding at someone, tucking her hair coquettishly behind her ear, saying something about email that he read on her lips as noise from different sources echoed across the foyer’s marble floor and pillars.
Curious what kind of man was keeping that bright look on her face, Demitri leaned back on the velvet settee, losing the touch of his prospective afternoon delight as he did.
Shock went through him as he recognized his brother-in-law. Not that Gideon looked as though he was encouraging the woman, but Demitri still rose to his feet in brotherly indignation. His sister had been through a lot, especially a few years ago when Gideon’s PA had intimated to Adara that she and Gideon were having an affair. Demitri wasn’t going to sit here while some fresh tart made a play for Adara’s husband.
“I do recognize him,” he stated grimly. “Excuse me.”
But Gideon and the blonde were already parting ways by the time he rounded the colonnade and approached. The woman swung away with a brisk walk toward the front desk while Gideon glanced up in time to catch sight of Demitri. His expression hardened with determination.
That’s when Demitri remembered he was avoiding the man.
“Good,” Gideon stated as he approached. “I was going to find you before I left. Adara’s birthday. You’ll be there.”
The eye-to-eye, man-to-man directive was annoying, but vaguely reassuring. Demitri liked seeing that Gideon was determined to make his wife happy. When that PA had set her sights on Gideon, Demitri had been on the verge of taking her for a tour himself to keep his sister’s marriage intact. In the end, Gideon had salvaged his own marriage. He’d fired the woman before anything more than a few false and snarky claims had been made. Despite Adara’s worries that Gideon was straying, in reality his devotion to her had never wavered and still appeared rock solid.
Which was good, Demitri supposed. He didn’t wish any more strife on his sister than she’d already weathered, but she was so annoyingly happy. So determined to bring him into the fold of Happily Ever After she’d created for herself. The whole situation with his brothers and all their kids, the number of secrets kept from him… It grated in a way Demitri didn’t like to dig into, so he slid his attention back to the blonde threatening his sister’s happiness and latched on to ensuring she didn’t try anything further with Gideon.
Better that than dealing with Gideon’s demands.
“The date is in my calendar. I’ll try to make it.” Demitri dismissed him lightly.
Gideon folded his arms. His roots as a dock rat sailor were visible in the piercing glint of his eye. “Is there a reason you won’t make it a priority?”
Given that Gideon had been part of the family for several years, Demitri didn’t think he had to explain why these reunions Adara kept trying to organize were about as appealing to him as an impacted wisdom tooth.
“I’ll do my best,” he lied.
“Would you?” Gideon said flatly. The words just for once were silently tacked onto the end, loud and clear.
And here came Reason One why he had no desire to be around his family. What are you doing with your life? Hold the baby. Isn’t he adorable? When are you going to quit chasing skirts and settle down?
Demitri mentally projected two words back at his brother-in-law, punctuated them with a tight smile before he walked away. Wasn’t it enough that he had stepped up when Adara was pregnant? Hell, the only reason he’d gone into the family business was for her and Theo. Maybe he’d kept his own hours in the early years, but these days he showed up all the time, and kicked ass, if none of them had noticed. They could all play white picket fences with their new babies if they wanted to. He had zero interest in becoming a family man—and would make a terrible one—so they could all back the hell off.
Irritated, he glanced toward the Italian starlet watching him like a spaniel that had heard the car keys. As much as he would welcome the diversion of sex right now—lovemaking was his go-to coping strategy for any sort of tension—he was oddly disinterested in taking her upstairs. The blonde filled a bigger space in his mind, niggling at him.
Maybe she hadn’t meant to cause this brief altercation with Gideon, but animosity toward her still bled into him like adrenaline. He wasn’t so immature he couldn’t figure out that he was blame-shifting. Every time familial obligations tugged at him lately a wave of anger and rebellion had come over him. Dark, miasmic thoughts sent him in search of self-destruction on one level or another.
Usually he subscribed to being a lover, not a fighter. Forced himself to stay on the sane side of violence, too aware of the streak of it in his father. But nameless rage sat in him whenever he confronted the fact that his only real family, his brother and sister, the two people he trusted unequivocally, had kept him out of the loop on the existence of their oldest brother.
Had they not trusted him? Why had they cut him out like that? The betrayal sliced down the center of connection he felt toward them and pushed him out in the cold. If he didn’t keep a lid on his emotions, his temper would mushroom out like a radiation cloud. It made for a lot of pressure. A cold, hard, dark feeling deep in his core that he refused to deconstruct, afraid of what he might find.
Instead, he channeled it into a wave of icy energy that carried him past the curious looks from the registration desk through to the administration offices where he found the blonde Canadian in a chair cozily nudged up against the hotel manager’s. The guy wasn’t looking at where she pointed on the computer monitor. He was gazing down to where her breasts strained against the fabric of her shirt.
“I need to speak to you,” Demitri said.
Natalie glanced up and felt the full impact of Demitri Makricosta, the youngest brother of the family that employed her. The one with the scandalously disreputable reputation. She’d seen him in person before, but always from a distance. Never like this, with his dark brown eyes pushing her back into her chair and then making a proprietary inspection of her buttons.
He was incredibly attractive. That fact was legendary across the hotel chain and impossible to ignore when he was barely ten feet away.
She tried comparing him to his older brother, Theo, who bore a resemblance but was more polished, kept a low profile, and remembered every name and number he came across.
But there was no minimizing this man. All she could think was how Demitri was known for the wicked streak that was evident in his winged eyebrows and distant smile. Also for the women he picked up effortlessly, not to mention his utter disregard for little things such as policies and procedures. Greek by birth but raised in America, he had a Mediterranean warmth to his skin tone under a shadow of stubble. He dressed like a citizen of the world in tailored pants and a suit vest buttoned over his shirt that accented his very fine shoulders and trim waist. He looked like the hottest of the 1920s gangsters.
Bad. He looked very, very bad. Full to the brim with sin.
She glanced up from taking him in and her gaze tangled with his. One of his superior brows went up in challenge of her checking him out. This was definitely a different kind of man from any she’d ever known. Sharp and far too knowing. How mortifying to be so obvious.
Decorum, Natalie. You’re a mom.
Swallowing her discomfiture, she glanced at Monsieur Renault as she rose. A blush stung her cheeks.
“I’ll go back to my office and you can call me when you’re done. It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Makricosta,” she said as she approached the door, expecting him to move aside and give her a dismissive nod.
“It’s you I want to talk to, Miss…?” He held out a hand.
Shock made her hesitate before she placed her hand in his and was jolted by the warm grip that enclosed hers. “Adams,” she provided in a jagged, baffled voice. “Me? Are you sure?” Who did he think she was?
“I’m sure. Show me to your office.” He released her and waved her into the hall.
Brushing past him and cooking in self-conscious warmth, she walked ahead of him down the narrow hall to her shared office. Her coworkers were away from their desks. That had been perfect at lunch when she’d connected with her daughter on one of her daily webcam calls. Zoey was having the time of her life with Grandma, not missing Natalie at all, which was a relief, but it still broke Natalie’s heart. She’d shed a couple of tears after she’d disconnected, missing her girl dreadfully, and thankful for the privacy to do so. Now, however, her office mates’ absence left an isolated mood in the small, musty-smelling room with its rain-blurred windows.
When he closed the door behind them, she felt like all the oxygen was pulled out. “I’m not sure—?”
“Leave my brother-in-law alone,” he said flatly.
“I— What?” The accusation was such a missile from the blue, she could only stare, insides flash-freezing. “Gideon? I mean, Mr. Vozaras?” she stammered.
“Gideon,” he confirmed, but there was an underlying stealth to the word. As though he thought she was overstepping by using the man’s name.
“What makes you think there’s something going on between us?” She was so shocked she couldn’t process how appalling the accusation was.
“I don’t think there is. I know him and I know my sister, but I saw you flirting with him in the lobby, asking for his email. Back off or I’ll have you fired.”
“He showed me a photo of his son! The email is about work.” Affront arrived, pushing into her face as a hot flush, straining her tone with the strident notes of the wrongly accused. “I don’t go after married men! That’s a disgusting thing to suggest. Especially when his wife was kind enough to give me this opportunity. That’s the only reason he spoke to me at all. She asked him to pass along a message about a report she wants me to write. I said I hoped their son had got over his cold, and he showed me a photo of the boy after he’d found his way into the refrigerator.”
The flicker of disdain that ticked in one of Demitri’s cheeks only infuriated her further, fueling her need to bring him down from his high horse.
“Who the hell are you to pass judgment anyway? Everything I’ve ever heard about your moral standards leaves me stunned and incredulous that you’d question mine.”
That got his attention. His death glare gave her pause, but she was too outraged to stop.
“Oh, was that out of line? You don’t think someone you only met seconds ago has the right to call you out? I thought rash personal comments were our special thing.”
Okay, that did go too far. A hot blush flooded upward while she clenched her mouth shut. And folded her arms. And set her chin as she screwed up her courage to ask through her teeth, “Are you going to fire me?”
“For?” he prompted with a pithy look.
“Exactly,” she shot out, unable to catch back the haughty response even though she was dying inside. She was so mad and embarrassed she couldn’t even look at him. She liked this job. Needed it. The whole point in coming away on this assignment was to better her position in the organization. More compensation and responsibility translated to more stability and security for Zoey.
Yet here she was risking everything. What had possessed her to go off like that? Guilt? Because she’d secretly coveted Adara’s doting husband who so obviously loved his wife and child and supported them both in every possible way? Of course any woman would secretly wish she had that, but Natalie wasn’t about to steal it to get it.
“What’s your first name?” he asked.
“Natalie. Why?” She eyed him while keeping her face averted, half expecting him to pick up the phone to HR. Man, he was good looking. And not the least bit ruffled. In fact, he almost looked as though he was laughing at her, which was so incensing she had to look away again.
“What are you doing here, Natalie? In Paris, I mean. What has Adara got you on? What’s the special report?”
A chance to show off. Something she had imagined would help her take a step up the corporate ladder. So much for that. “I’m part of the software upgrade.” It was hard to keep her voice steady as defensiveness and contrition pecked her. She kept it short. “I’m training the staff and working out the bugs. I’ve done Toulouse. I’m here in Paris for the week. Then I go to Lyon.”
“You’re an IT nerd?” His skepticism as he gave her another top-to-toe once-over was almost as irritating as the label.
“I wouldn’t have guessed you’re a marketing genius,” she shot back, blithely matching his dismissive tone, thinking stop it. But he was so infuriating.
“A highly creative one,” he assured smoothly. “Ask around. Although it sounds like you already have. You’re doing all the hotels in Europe?”
“I—um, what?” That creative remark had thrown her, which was his intention, she was sure. “No, I only have English and French and, um, can’t be away longer than three weeks.”
She and Zoey wouldn’t starve if he fired her, she reminded herself. The knowledge calmed her nerves. She wouldn’t even lose her house, and she always had the fallback plan of moving in with her ex-mother-in-law, which would suit Zoey just fine because she loved the farm. She’d been beside herself that she would stay with her grandma for three weeks. No, this was a minor, very awkward speed bump that Natalie would get over as quickly as possible.
“I’ve always wanted to travel so…” She cleared her throat as she realized that was too much information and headed back to bare facts. “They’re trying to implement before the end of the year. There’s a whole team. One person couldn’t do it all.”
“So you’re here to work and see the sites. Not have an affair. That’s what you’re telling me?”
“Yes.” From somewhere deep in her subconscious, a fresh blush rose. “Of course I’m here to work.” Maybe she had thought this trip was her chance to have a grown-up affair away from her daughter’s impressionable eyes, but that was very much a midnight fantasy and not something she intended to pursue. This trip might be the opportunity to cast off responsibility and act like a single woman instead of a struggling mom with bills and a flake for an ex, but she’d settle for a date with someone she wouldn’t have met otherwise.
He didn’t need to know any of that though.
Her cheeks stayed hot and hurting, nevertheless. It wasn’t easy to meet his gaze and pretend a fully-fledged affair was completely off the table, especially when there was a knowing glint teasing crinkles into the corners of his eyes.
“Even if I was looking for romance,” she blurted. “Which I’m not, I’d hardly start with the owner of the company, would I?”
“I don’t know. Would you? Let’s have dinner tonight and talk about it.”
Her stomach swooped and her heart stopped, as though she’d hit an unexpected wall.
That’s how it’s done. She’d been observing, trying to crack the code of dating and casual invitations. It had seemed complicated, but he made it look easy.
Practice, she surmised cynically.
But go out with him? Impossible. Her heart restarted, pounding with sudden panic, partly because, well, look at him. He was gorgeous and obviously knew his way around the entire city, not just the block.
Danger. If she could have escaped this airless room crowded with empty desks, she would have.
Somehow she managed to hang on to her composure and scoff, “Is that a test? I realize Theo—and yes, at this level we all refer to your family by your first names when you’re not around to hear it.” She encompassed the ground floor with a sweep of her splayed hand in a flat circle. “Theo might have married a woman who once worked as a chamber maid, but we’re all well aware that was an exception. I have no such ambitions. You’re quite safe from me, and so are the rest of the men in your family.”
There. She folded her arms to close the topic.
He folded his, bunching those gorgeous shoulders in a way that made her throat go dry. “You’re funny,” he said.
“I’m completely serious!”
“I know. That’s why it’s funny. Calling marriage to any of us an ambition is hysterical.” He didn’t laugh. He only gave his mouth an ironic twist, which drew her notice to the shape of his lips. The lower was fuller than the top one, but the upper had a shallow space between the two peaks, perfect for a fingertip. The corners of his mouth extended into short, deep lines that gave him that look of being perpetually amused by the lives of the mortals around him.
His smile grew and he jerked his chin in a nudge of insistence, voice pitched intimately low, filled with knowledge that she was responding to him. “Have dinner with me, Natalie.”
She was mooning. And he’d noticed. Of course he had. He was a serial pickup artist. Where were the natural disasters when you needed them? It was definitely time for the earth to open up and suck her underground.
“Dating among coworkers is frowned upon,” she managed, delighted to have found both the excuse and a steady voice. “I’m sorry you thought I was making a play for your brother-in-law, but I’m highly cognizant of company policy and have no intention of violating it, even if he were available. Now if we’re finished, I really should get back to work.”
“You’re sorry for my mistake? This really is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Come on. Dinner. It will be my apology.” He splayed his straight fingers against his wide chest. A gorgeous chest, she was sure. He looked like he worked out. Often. His physique distracted her from how suddenly he’d turned on the charm. “Where’s the harm in the boss taking an out-of-town employee to dinner? It’s networking,” he cajoled.
“Is that what it would be?” She couldn’t help her snort of laughter. She’d thought he was merely a playboy, but he made the sharing of his favors sound like some kind of a job perk.
His expression changed slightly as she laughed, becoming less arrogant as his regard sharpened with male interest and something more acute, as though he was reassessing her. It made her think she might be holding her own in this match of wits, surprising him.
Which gave her a thrill that she did her best to ignore.
“Look, I’m flattered,” she rushed to say, glancing away so he wouldn’t see how flattered. As sophisticated as she dreamed of being, she wasn’t prepared for someone such as him. “But I’ve seen the women you date and I’m not in their league. Which, by the way, is another reason I would never set my sights on your brother-in-law. So, thank you for this extremely interesting conversation, but I need to get back to work. I don’t want to get fired,” she added pointedly.
“Not in their league?” he repeated, frowning in disagreement as he gave her yet another thorough assessment in a way that set her alight. Her entire body actually hurt from the blood rush that prickled through her.
She’d starved herself and worked out like mad before leaving Montreal, determined that if any sort of corporate limelight fell upon her—or any sexy Frenchmen—she’d have nothing to be insecure about. Nevertheless, she experienced a pang of insecurity under his review, worried she wasn’t up to standard.
He dragged his gaze back up to hers and let her see undisguised male desire.
Tingling excitement encompassed her. It wasn’t exactly confidence, but it wasn’t uncertainty either. It was a delicious and involuntary, Yes, please, that scared the hell out of her.
“You’re very much in an elite league of your own, Natalie. Or are you making excuses to spare my feelings? It would surprise me if you are. You don’t strike me as someone who would bother. Not considering the frankness we’ve already arrived at.”
That made her chuckle dryly, but she suppressed it with a sheepish dip of her chin. “You’re right. But read my personnel file, Mr. Makricosta—”
“Demitri,” he corrected.
“I don’t live nearly as fast as you do. Demitri.” She tried to make her voice diffident and amused, but Demitri was a surprisingly erotic name for a man with an American accent. “If I thought you were issuing a genuine invitation—and one that was only for dinner,” she added with a you-can’t-fool-me look. “I would be tempted. My coworkers here have families to go home to. It would be refreshing not to eat alone. But I suspect you’re mocking me. Or maybe punishing me for said frankness?”
He was taken aback by that. “Why wouldn’t I want to take you out? You’re beautiful, amusing and you have a pretty laugh.”
The sincerity in his tone made her heart swing inside her chest, dipping and lifting in a way that made her set a hand on the edge of her desk for balance. She grappled for humor to deflect how thoroughly his simple compliment disarmed her.
“And you want to hear that laugh in bed?” she challenged.
“Ha!” His chuckle was surprised and real, his grin appreciative before it turned hot and hungry. His gaze closed around her like a fist.
“I’ll have the car brought to the curb for seven.”
That was all she’d had to say before he had winked and left her alone in her office. She could have chased him down, although she’d kept her eye out for him the rest of the day, filled with misgivings, but hadn’t seen him. The inter-company email was the simplest option. It didn’t even require the awkwardness of explaining herself. All she would have had to type was I can’t make it.
Oh, she’d come up with dozens of rationalizations including, It’s only dinner. She was lonely and homesick. Travel for work wasn’t as glamorous as she’d expected, especially without someone to share stories with, and calling Zoey twice a day wasn’t nearly enough. She was used to her daughter disappearing for a weekend with her father up to the farm, but going on ten days without being able to hug her girl was a form of slow torture.
Therefore, she reasoned, she was entitled to a night out on the company that had separated them. She’d already put in tons of extra hours on this project. She and Demitri would probably talk about work anyway. She certainly wasn’t looking at this as a real date. Definitely not one where she might get lucky.
She shaved her legs anyway. Then put on the sexy black underwear she’d bought here in Paris and topped it with a black lace sheathe over a black slip. She stepped into the heels she’d picked up at the consignment store before leaving Montreal, the ones she’d debated whether to bring at all because they were too high to be practical for anything less than a night on the town. With her fake diamond earrings winking from behind the fall of her freshly washed hair and her make-up more dramatic than usual, she was as date-worthy as she’d ever been.
Then she stood at the curb like an idiot for ten minutes.
Wow. What a prince. And she had developed quite a jerk radar after her brief marriage and lengthy attempt to finalize her divorce. Well, she’d wanted a taste of the dating scene. Who knew it was this bitter? But it was exactly this well-honed resentment of thoughtless men that steeled her spine and made her demand better for herself whenever she had offers back home.
Pivoting to go back inside the hotel, she entered the rotating doors as Demitri entered them from the inside. She ignored him as she passed him and kept walking into the lobby.
“Hey!” he circled back to call after her. “Natalie. Wait.”
“I was stood up,” she said over her shoulder, then paused to swing around and level a glare at him. “Lesson learned. If that was your intention. Good night.” She swung back toward the elevators.
“I stood at your door thinking the same thing.”
She checked her step. Turned to search his expression. He looked annoyed, not smug or smarmy. She didn’t want to believe him, too aware that giving men the benefit of the doubt was an invitation to be walked over.
“You said to meet you at the curb,” she reminded him coolly. Her entire body prickled with awareness that the front desk and bell staff could see them if not hear them.
“No, I said the car would be there.” He came even with her and scowled. “What kind of men have you dated that they pick you up on the sidewalk?”
That gave her pause. For all her ideals, she still expected the very worst from men. Maybe she ought to give Demitri more credit.
He offered his arm, gaze still vaguely hostile.
After a brief hesitation, she transferred her pocketbook to her other hand and tucked her fingers into the crook of his elbow, nervous now because she wasn’t sure how to take him. Was he one of the few good ones after all?
With his reputation?
He skimmed a glance down her front to where her dress was revealed by her open raincoat. “I’ll forgive you for underestimating me since you look so lovely,” he commented.
It wasn’t the most extravagant compliment, kind of backhanded in the way he suggested she was seeking his forgiveness, but she warmed under his words. And couldn’t help taking a visual snapshot of him in his black pants and black button shirt under a smoky gray suede jacket that was so buttery soft it made her want to caress his arm. He smelled fantastic, too, all spicy and masculine, jaw shiny where he’d freshly shaved.
They turned more than a few heads walking out to the car, but she doubted it was because they made such a striking couple. She’d have to make a point of mentioning how innocuous this evening had been when training her coworkers over the next few days. He was just being nice, she’d stress. Even though she doubted a man such as Demitri went out of his way to be nice. She suspected he was ruled by self-interest and most of his interest was banked below his belt.
For the moment, however, she set all that aside and concentrated on not smiling like an idiot because she was on a date. With a handsome man. This was exactly what she’d hoped for from this off-site assignment and it astonished her that it was happening. Her neglected femininity had been desperate for male attention and glowed with pleasure at getting some.
They didn’t talk much in the limo. Her fault as she took in the color and lights of Paris. The restaurant was only a short drive anyway, a distance she would have walked in Montreal, even in this blustery fall weather and wearing these neck-breaking shoes. They were shown to a table with a stunning view of Notre Dame and the Seine. She tried not to gawk as they moved through the dining room, but along with gorgeous detailing that spoke of France’s rich history, the place was loaded with movie stars. There were probably athletes and politicians, too, not that she would recognize them. Demitri seemed to have a nodding acquaintance with almost everyone in the room, but didn’t stop to speak to anyone.
“Shall I order for you?” he asked as the maître d’ left them.
“What kind of men have I dated that dared to let me read the menu myself? As if a woman could,” she scoffed lightly.
“This is why I asked. Some of you feminists find it condescending.”
“And you see it as chivalry?”
“I had an old-world upbringing,” he stated with a ring of pride in his tone. “But I also like to know my date is ordering something I’d like to eat, since she won’t finish it,” he added with a supercilious lift at the corner of his mouth.
“Ha! You don’t know me very well, do you?”
“I’m working on it,” he assured her with a look that reached across and held.
“You read my personnel file?” she challenged, heart skipping. He knew about Zoey? Her breath stopped.
“Too easy,” he dismissed, leaning forward in a way that seemed to catch her in a magnetic field that pulled her into him. “I like a more personal approach.”
So he didn’t know she had a daughter. Natalie toyed with the idea of blurting it out, but didn’t want to cool the sizzle between them. It was too exciting, playing with this particular fire.
“I’ll bet you do.” Her voice came out papery and soft. He probably knocked women over with gently blown kisses. Her pulse was racing and her skin glowing hot from the inside. The way the banter lobbed back and forth between them entranced her, but he was an expert, she reminded herself. This wasn’t anything so grand as chemistry.
“If you think I’m such a womanizer, why are you here?” he asked, eyes narrowed to hide what he was thinking.
“Honestly?” She schooled herself not to look or sound desperate, even though she was bordering on despair where men and relationships were concerned. “I live like a shut-in, working from home a lot of the time. I’ll never get another chance to dine like the One Percent and, quite frankly, you hit the nail on the head about the men I date. I thought I’d see what it’s like to be the girl for a change.”
He raised his brows.
“Let you hold the door for me,” she explained. “Pay. Even though I know it’ll really be the company paying. But you do know this is only dinner, right? I work for you.”
“You work for my brother,” he stated firmly, not thrown off his stride at all by her bluntness. “IT falls under Finance. I head up Marketing.” Despite his affable tone his gaze was dead level as he added, “My threats earlier were empty. I have no authority to fire you. By the same token, I have no way of helping you advance. If this turns into more than dinner, there’s no professional advantage for you.”
The warning pushed her back into her seat, putting her in her place. Yet she was strangely relieved. Embarrassed, yet amused.
“Look at all we’ve got on the table and we haven’t even ordered,” she said with a pert lift of her brows.
Demitri released a “Ha,” and looked away, astounded by how thoroughly this woman was keeping him on his toes. Fortunately the waiter arrived to advise the evening’s specials.
“Please,” Natalie said when Demitri glanced at her. “Order for me. I’m curious.”
He nodded in satisfaction even though his brain was barely able to pull it together to order at all, only managing to choose the starters with a suitable wine before he turned back to her, trying not to fall into her spell like a fisherman off a boat.
When had she hooked him? That first laugh? The doe-eyed virgin look when he’d asked to speak to her? Definitely by the time she’d cut him down to size with a few swings of her rapier tongue, he’d been curious. Everyone loved him. Instantly and thoroughly. Even his family only acted irritated as they made every effort to draw him further inside the fold. Hell, women he slept with and left within hours remained affectionate and syrupy when he crossed paths with them later.
But not Natalie. He didn’t think it was an act, either. She’d been furious and insulted by his accusations today, then mistrustful and apprehensive of his invitation to dinner. When she hadn’t answered her door, he’d been stunned. No one rejected him, no matter what he did. And he searched for the line at every opportunity.
Finding her at the front of the hotel had been entirely too much of a relief for his comfort. Then she’d demonstrated that she was perfectly ready to leave him in the dust for being thoughtless. The warning lights were still flashing. Off her and inside him.
Only dinner, she’d claimed.
Take heed, he told himself. He avoided women with standards, being genetically incapable of living up to anything but the basest expectations of him.
Her honesty and playfulness were incredibly refreshing, however. And she was beautiful, with that skin like creamed honey and her eyes reflecting the sparkling lights from beyond the window.
“Tell me about yourself, Natalie,” he commanded softly.
Something passed over her face like indecision before she brought her gaze around to his. Her expression smoothed to an aloof façade, as though she’d mentally tucked away everything personal and only left the basics.
“There’s not much to say. I grew up outside of Montreal with my mother and brother. I divorced pretty much as soon as I married and worked on contract with Makricosta for two years before I was hired for a permanent position with the Canadian branch. Sometimes I go on site across the country, but most of what I do is handled over the phone and through screen-share from my home office.”
“Turn it off and turn it on again?” he guessed.
“Exactly. Along with some talking off the ledge when files are corrupted or a job change demands a revision of an email signature and they can’t find where to update it. The excitement in tech support never stops, let me tell you. I couldn’t figure out why my ear felt weird the first few days I was in France and finally realized it’s because I wasn’t wearing my Bluetooth.”
There was more, he suspected, but before he could dig, she turned his inquiry around. “You?”
“Why don’t you tell me what you know? Through your carefully vetted research,” he drawled and liked the way her full lips pursed in compunction. He wasn’t bothered. Of course the employees gossiped about him. He made about as much effort to be discreet as he did toward curbing misbehavior over all. The whole point was to let his escapades be known in order to reach maximum exasperation factor.
Which was juvenile, he realized, reflecting on it under Natalie’s regard and feeling the first traces of shame, but he had his reasons for making himself the target of attention.
“I don’t actually know that much,” Natalie said. “Your family keeps a low profile. Your brother turning up with a baby with the chambermaid was a hot topic for a while, but since I don’t work directly in the hotels, I don’t have close friendships with anyone at work and only get the odd bits of gossip fed back to me. There are some people I talk to all the time, and when I’m solving a crisis I’m very popular, but mostly I’m regarded as a necessary evil. Right now, making all these changes to the main system? It’s a good thing I have a thick skin because I’m not anyone’s friend. Which sounds like I’m talking about myself again. What a bore I am!”
“I’m interested,” he assured her, surprised by how true the comment was. “How old were you when you married?”
“Not old enough,” she said with a circumspect lift of her lashes. “Nineteen. Have you ever been married?”
“Wish I’d had your sense.” The wry curl at the corner of her mouth and couched bitterness behind her eyes suggested she was being completely forthright.
A woman after my own heart, he thought ironically.
“What happened to cut your marriage short? Infidelity?” Hell, at that age he had broken up his brother’s impending marriage, coldly and deliberately.
Natalie didn’t answer right away. Her lips pursed in old disappointment as she stared out the window. “The short answer is he didn’t come to my mother’s funeral,” she finally allowed.
When she swung her face back to him, it was as if she was saying, There. I did it. As if her telling him without showing too much emotion had been very hard.
A weird, answering pain lurched in his chest.
He was a student of human behavior. People thought he was superficial and lacking in empathy. He was fine with the misconception. Deep thoughts really didn’t interest him, but he was very good at reading people. Years of living in a house where emotions were so deeply hidden you needed a pickax to find them had honed his skills. The side benefit was that it made him good at his job. Good with women.
Natalie didn’t want his sympathy, however. The keep-away vibes rolling off her were obvious and troubling. Especially because, for once, he knew exactly how she felt.
“I couldn’t face my mother’s funeral alone. I brought a date. How twisted is that?” he confided.
“Adara and Theo weren’t there?”
“No, they were.” And Nic, the older brother Demitri hadn’t known about. He averted his mind from how disturbing it had been to have a stranger enter their inner circle, like a member of the audience had walked on stage and begun acting with the players, throwing off his lines. “We’re not close in a way that would have made something like that easier.” He’d barely spoken to them at all, too stunned and filled with questions he refused to ask. “But you said you grew up with your mother and brother, so he must have been at the funeral with you?”
She flinched and sat back, distancing herself even more. She straightened her silverware and looked quite pale despite the golden glow of candlelight on her skin.
“He died the year before. Can we not talk about this please?”
“I’m sorry.” When had he ever been so aghast at stepping on someone’s feelings? Or apologized so sincerely to a woman? But his hand was over hers before he knew he was going to reach out to make a connection. “Really. Theo drives me bat-guano-crazy, but I don’t know what I’d do without him.”
She laughed. It was more of a sniff and she brushed at her cheek, eyes wet and glowing when she lifted them. “Thank you. It was six years ago, but I still miss him and think about him every day.”
The waiter arrived to distract them. By the time they were alone again, Natalie had her bravest smile back in place. “Tell me why your brother drives you crazy.”
He shook his head. “You’ll have me in tears,” he dismissed.
“Your job, then. Will you talk about that?”
“You can’t be interested,” he deflected. Where were questions such as, Were you in Cannes for the festival? Where do you summer?
Natalie shrugged. “I’m certainly not interested in myself. This is the most excitement I’ve had in my life. True story,” she assured him with a confirming nod. “You travel, at least. Meet famous people.”
“People who think they’re famous are boring as hell. That is a true story. But, come on. You must have at least one deep, dark secret that makes you interesting.”
“One,” she allowed promptly, suppressing a smile. “But it’s not very dark. Dirty blond at best. And I’m not going to tell you.” She had decided that, since this was her one chance to act like a carefree young woman instead of a mom. It was harmless, she told herself. This was only dinner.
“I want to hear it,” he insisted.
She shook her head, firm. “You’ll think differently of me. But what about you? Any dark secrets falling out of your pockets?”
His guard was so low he almost told her about Nic. The fact his siblings had kept the man’s existence from him had completely unraveled his view of his life and his place in the family. The exclusion had rocked his foundation, and he’d begun mentally separating from them, thinking more seriously about starting his own marketing firm.
Gideon had called a few weeks later to announce Adara’s pregnancy and to inform Demitri that he would be expected to step up and take on extra hours in the family business. Demitri had been needed again. Integral to the business and to his sister. Things had gone back to normal for a while, but then Adara had started trying to get everyone together. She and Theo were as thick as thieves with their parenthood jokes and he was once again on the outside looking in.
They weren’t even leaning on him at work anymore. Quite the opposite, which was eating at his sense of self. With practiced ease he turned his mind from all of that, distracting Natalie with some of his stock stories that always drew a laugh. He knew loads of celebrities and had made a career of partying with them. His siblings had certainly never loosened up enough to ensure their highest paying guests had fun.
That was Demitri’s job: creating distraction. Drawing and holding attention.
Natalie was rapt, thoroughly engaged with everything he told her. It wasn’t a strange occurrence for him. Everyone, women especially, responded to him. He’d recognized it early and used it to this day. The difference tonight was how much he enjoyed her attention while at the same time resenting that she wanted him to talk when he wanted to hear more about her.
They lingered over their meal, finishing the bottle of wine and nursing coffee, steering away from personal topics in favor of movies and news scandals and places he’d been that she’d like to visit.
“You’re a single woman. Get on a plane,” he ordered. “What’s holding you back?”
“I did get on a plane,” she argued good-naturedly, shielding her eyes with a downward sweep of her lashes. “I’m here. Dining on the Seine. Thank you for a lovely evening,” she added, flashing her gaze back up to his. “This is what I’d hoped for when I applied for this trip.”
She’d been looking for a man to seduce her. He could see it and a pulse of sexual excitement pumped through him. But seduction required patience, he reminded himself.
“Do you like dancing? We could go to a club.”
“I…it’s a work night,” she argued, but the slant of her gaze told him she was tempted.
He smirked. “I begin to see why you don’t have a life.” He signaled for the check.
“Note to self: boss thinks a work ethic is overrated,” she chirped.
“I’m not your boss,” he reminded. “C’mon. I know you want to tick the box on dance in a Paris nightclub.”
“Yes, but…” She canted her head at him, nose wrinkled. “I’m not dressed for it.”
“Believe me, truly cool people do not dress for clubs. They drop in on impulse.”
“And get turned away at the door for not being on the list.”
“You’re adorable. I’m always on the list.”
She had definitely had one glass too many if she was teetering into not giving a damn about work or propriety, but Demitri was a difficult man to say no to. He took her hand and wound her through the restaurant, tucking her into the back of the limo and angling his body so he looked at her the whole way to the club.
“This is a bad idea,” she insisted, trying desperately to hang onto a few grains of common sense while turning a challenging look on him that only clicked into a locked gaze with his.
His grin widened. “Because it’s turning into more than dinner?”
“You’re the kind of man who always gets what he wants, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” he answered without reserve.
Be careful, Natalie. Be very, very careful.
“Well, I’m only going along out of curiosity,” she excused with a toss of her hair. “Don’t say I led you on. Oh, we won’t even get in,” she added as they pulled up at the entrance where a hundred people stood in the rain, all dressed to the nines.
He made a pithy noise and waited until the chauffeur had opened the door and held an umbrella for them, walking them to the door.
“Jean,” Demitri greeted the doorman, slipping him a bill without even pausing.
Pounding music accosted them as they entered the dark interior. Flashes of neon pierced the violet glow while strips of white stood out in stark contrast. As they wound through the crowded tables and bouncing bodies, a stunning woman with a lot of dark skin exposed by her French maid inspired two-piece bikini lowered her serving tray and kissed both of Demitri’s cheeks. They had a brief conversation, she pointed, he nodded and then he tugged Natalie along with him as they continued toward the back of the club.
He said something into her ear, but she must have heard him wrong. She looked to the stage, but that deejay couldn’t be the pop star he’d just mentioned.
Maybe it was, though. A chart-topping band occupied the VIP section and rose to greet Demitri with exuberance when he arrived, insisting they join their entourage, which included a dozen people, three of whom she recognized, two from television and one from a blockbuster movie. More champagne was ordered and she was pressed into a chair next to a movie star.
Oh, sweet Lord. What kind of life had she stepped into that she was partying in Paris with celebrities? No wonder women dropped like flies for Demitri. He plucked them out of their boring little lives and set them into fantasy worlds where money wasn’t mentioned and rich, gorgeous men flattered you shamelessly.
Not that she felt the same frisson of awareness and excitement when this very handsome actor leaned in to fawn over her, but the way he kept asking her about herself, as though he was genuinely interested, was enormously gratifying to her small-time ego. When he asked her to dance, of course she said yes. What a story to tell her grandchildren! I once danced in Paris with a movie star.
He was a bit handsy in real life. Drunk, she assumed. Not outright offensive but awfully familiar awfully fast. He wanted to dance right up against her and she told herself to go with it. This is how the high rollers lived, right on the edge, she supposed. And honestly, if she wanted to flirt with a wealthy stranger, this guy was probably a far simpler entanglement than Demitri.
He roamed his hands over her hips, skewing her dress up her thighs and she let him, hoping for a flicker of the physical spark she felt with Demitri.
An arm shot between them, separating her from the actor and none too gently forcing the man back.
Demitri stepped into the space he’d created, his posture one of startling aggression even though he said nothing, only stood there like a wall between her and the movie star.
“I thought you were done with her,” the actor excused, holding up his hands.
Oh, yuck. Instantly feeling worthless and dirty, Natalie turned away.
Her arm was caught in a hard grip and Demitri said next to her ear, “We’re leaving.”
You think? she wanted to snap, but didn’t bother. She was so offended and disgusted she wanted to evaporate. Maybe she owned some responsibility for that ugly remark since she hadn’t exactly been discouraging the actor. Even so, it didn’t excuse his talking about her as though she was something to be picked up and passed around. She wasn’t an object.
And what did that say about Demitri that his women moved through the ranks?
And, if that was normal behavior for him, why was he acting all possessive? Because he hadn’t actually had her yet? What if she’d been into that other guy? He didn’t have to come on like he owned her, escorting her to the car as though he’d just bailed her out of jail. Giving her a shoulder of glacial ice because she’d danced with his friend.
“You know,” she began over the sound the tires hissing through the wet streets.
“Not right now,” he said in a deadly tone.
Seriously? She glared at his incredibly still posture, eyes facing front, jaw set, hands in loose fists on his thighs. As the silence thickened, she realized that hissing sound was his breath moving in measured soughs through his flared nostrils.
That signal of barely controlled fury gave her pause when she really wanted to rail at him. He’d set her up to be hit on and now he was mad it had happened, as though it was her fault. They drove in silence until they reached the hotel. As they entered the lobby, she said frostily, “Don’t bother walking me to my room. Thanks for dinner.”
“Suit yourself,” he said through his teeth and walked toward the elevators.
She stared at his back, brain throbbing with the knowledge it was better to leave it like this, him going to his room where everyone could see she was not following.
But she still needed to take the elevator to her own room.
Her feet carried her in swift clips of her heels across the marble until she was right beside him.
“I’m a free agent,” she hissed. “In case you missed the part about this evening not coming with any guarantees. So how about you knock off acting like I’m a tease who bruised your ego by dancing with your best friend.”
Demitri slowly turned his head and watched her eyes widen like a gopher realizing she’d called down a raptor and was being swallowed by its shadow. Her throat worked and she pulled her elbows in against her body, telling him exactly how menacing he must look. But even though he was holding himself firmly in check, he couldn’t shake the fury that had lit in him with a gasoline-fueled whoosh! when he’d glanced over and seen that Natalie was gone.
Finding her on the dance floor being pawed by that overpaid puppet had further infuriated him, making an unfamiliar phrase explode in his head: She’s mine.
He’d watched himself from a distance behaving like a jealous lover, unable to countenance where this streak of possessiveness had come from, but his desire to do violence had been disturbingly strong.
Especially when he’d heard the actor’s tasteless comment.
Natalie’s recoil had been a visceral stab to his gut, making him see how he was tarnishing someone nowhere near as cynical and jaded as he was. He’d been instantly disgusted with himself.
“Is that what you think? That I’m angry with you?” The skin across his cheekbones felt tight and he heard how low and chilling his voice was, coming from a churning, ugly place deep in his chest. “We had to leave, Natalie, because I was going to kill him.”
The elevator doors opened, but neither of them moved. She stared into his eyes and he let her see the banked rage burning in his.
The doors started to close and he shot out a hand to catch them back. Waving her into the car, he leaned in and pressed the button. “Good night.”
“Wait,” she insisted, holding the doors herself from the inside. “I probably kind of let him think—”
“No, you didn’t,” he said flatly. “I did.” And he was so filled with self-contempt, with shame, he didn’t know how to deal with it.
He looked away, regretting he’d said anything. But he couldn’t let her think he was calling her out for drawing that man’s attention when he was the one who’d put her in the actor’s line of sight in the first place.
Inhaling to gather his composure, he stepped into the elevator and punched the button for the penthouse, folding his arms and bracing his feet as he faced her. The elevator began to climb.
“I don’t typically care if the women I take to these things choose to leave with someone else. That guy knows it. Hell, most of the women I date come on to me for an introduction to a crowd like that. I don’t care,” he insisted, because until this evening, he genuinely hadn’t.
“But tonight you did?” She was very somber, looking up at him with something that approached concern. Like she sensed he was facing a demon, which was as painful as actually looking into the hard light of self-reflection.
“Tonight I saw how tawdry it is,” he acknowledged.
The elevator stopped at her floor, making her take a half step for balance. The doors opened, but they stayed in the suspended elevator, air so thick with tension it held no oxygen.
“He embarrassed me,” Demitri admitted, teeth locked and trying to hold in the uncomfortable revelation. “He made me embarrassed of myself. You said you weren’t in the same league as the women I usually date and that’s true.”
She flinched, taken aback.
“You’re well beyond anything they could aspire to,” he expounded. “Not as worldly, I’ll give you that, but you have the kind of standards the people I call friends wouldn’t even begin to understand.”
“That’s not true,” she argued. Glancing out to the hall, she motioned that he should release the door. She seemed embarrassed, as though she wanted privacy.
As he allowed the doors to close again, she clasped her hands before her, shoulders hunched and defensive, brow crinkled and looking mortified.
The elevator began the rest of its climb.
“I’m not worldly, that’s dead on. But I don’t have any kind of great standards. I came to France kind of fantasizing about having an affair, just like you accused me this afternoon. I mean, obviously not really expecting anything to happen,” she stammered, wringing her hands. “But as I was dancing, I was letting myself think it could. I’m sure I gave him the wrong impression.”
His brain went supernova, exploding in his head, sweeping out any other thought but that he could have her.
“If you want an affair, Natalie, I’m your man.” His voice plummeted into throaty depravity, the want in him so quick and intense it tightened his airway.
Her lashes quivered and her pupils expanded. “I…It was just a fantasy,” she insisted—voice, tone, protest thin and insubstantial.
The elevator stopped again.
He pinned the door automatically with the well-practiced step of his foot into the sensor and the rest of him in her space.
She was off balance, breasts rising in a startled gasp as her hand went behind her searching blindly for the rail.
He braced his hands against the wall on either side of her head and took his time gazing on her wary expression, letting her get used to the idea. Some primal part of him deliberately forgot why he’d meant to let her go home alone.
“The first time I saw you I thought you would have such soft skin.” He leaned close enough to draw in the scent of her flushed cheek, letting their body heat build in the tiny space he allowed between them. Seduction was about giving a woman time to feel the want, then providing the relief.
“I’m not sure,” she whispered, but her gaze was on his mouth. Yearning parted her lips. “I didn’t mean for you to think…”
Patience, he warned himself, practically trembling with the avalanche of desire building behind his wall of self-control.
“I want this…” she whispered.
He moved in with the skill of a man who always got what he wanted, not by force, but persuasion.
Her mouth was a tender morsel that made his breath hiss out in gratification as he nuzzled it with his own. She responded hesitantly, then with openness, inviting his full possession, letting him guide her toward the sensual world he longed to explore with her. She was delightful, shy yet generous, eyes closed tight in pained pleasure. When a little sob of capitulation left her, when she brought her hands from behind her back to his chest and splayed them in a promising caress, he drew back just enough to speak.
“Come with me.”