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The Greek Tycoon's Defiant Bride

By´╝ÜLynne Graham

The Greek Tycoon's Defiant Bride
Lynne Graham

CHAPTER ONE

WHEN the limousine appeared, a perceptible wave of anticipation rippled through the well-dressed cliques of people gathered on the church steps. Two cars had already drawn up in an advance guard, from which muscular men wearing dark glasses and talking into walkie-talkies had emerged to fan out in a protective cordon. At a signal from the security team the chauffeur finally approached the passenger door of the limo. The buzz in the air intensified, heads craning for a better view, eyes avid with curiosity.

Leonidas Pallis stepped out onto the pavement and immediately commanded universal attention. A Greek tycoon to his polished fingertips, he stood six feet three inches tall. A staggeringly handsome man, he wore a black cashmere overcoat and a designer suit with an elegance that was lethally sexy. That cutting-edge sophistication, however, was matched by a cold-blooded reserve and ruthlessness that made people very nervous. Born into one of the richest families in the world and to parents whose decadence was legendary, Leonidas had established a wild reputation at an early age. But no Pallis in living memory had displayed his extraordinary brilliance in business. A billionaire many times over, he was the golden idol of the Pallis clan and as much feared as he was fêted.

Everyone had wondered if he would bother to attend the memorial service. After all, just over two years had passed since Imogen Stratton had died in a drug-fuelled car crash. Although she had not been involved with Leonidas at the time, she had enjoyed an on-off association with him since he'd been at university. Imogen's mother, Hermione, swam forward to greet her most important guest with gushing satisfaction, for the presence of Leonidas Pallis turned the event into a social occasion worthy of comment. But the Greek billionaire cut the social pleasantries to a minimum-the Strattons were virtual strangers. While Imogen was alive he had neither met them nor wished to meet them and he did not have an appetite for fawning flattery.

Ironically the one person he had expected to greet him at the church, his only surviving acquaintance in the Stratton family circle, had yet to show her face: Imogen's cousin, Maribel Greenaway. Refusing an invitation to join the front pew line-up, Leonidas chose a much less prominent seat and sank down into it with the fluid grace of a panther. As quickly, he wondered why he had come when Imogen had despised such conventions. She had revelled in her fame as a fashion model and party girl. Living to be noticed and admired, Imogen had loved to shock even more. Yet she had worked hard at pleasing him until her absorption in drugs had concluded his interest in her. His hard-sculpted mouth flattened. Ultimately, he had cut her out of his life. Attending her funeral had presented a challenge and the fallout from that rare inner conflict had been explosive. The past was past, however, and like regret, not a place Leonidas had ever been known to visit.

Maribel nosed her elderly car into the parking space. She was horribly late and in a fierce hurry. At speed she re-angled the driving mirror and, with a brush in one hand and a clip gripped between her teeth, attempted to put her hair up. Newly washed and still damp, the shoulder-length fall of chestnut was rebellious. When the clip broke between her impatient fingers she could've wept with frustration. Throwing the brush aside, she smoothed her hair down with frantic fingers while simultaneously attempting to get out of the car. From the minute she'd got up that morning everything had gone wrong. Or perhaps the endless line of mini-disasters had begun the night before, when her aunt Hermione had phoned to say dulcetly that she would quite understand if Maribel found it too difficult to attend the memorial service.

Maribel had winced, gritted her teeth at that news and said nothing. Over the past eighteen months her relatives had made it clear that she was now persona non grata as far as they were concerned. That had hurt, since Maribel cherished what family connections she had left. Even so, she fully understood their reservations. Not only had she never fitted the Stratton family mould, but she had also broken the rules of acceptance.

Her aunt and uncle set great store on looks, money and social status. Appearances were hugely important to them. Nevertheless, when Maribel had been orphaned, her mother's brother had immediately offered his eleven-year-old niece a home with his own three children. In the image-conscious Stratton household Maribel had had to learn how to melt into the background, where her failings in the beauty, size and grace stakes would awaken less censure and irritation. Those years would have been bleak, had they not been enlivened by Imogen's effervescent sense of fun. Although Imogen and Maribel had had not the slightest thing in common, Maribel had become deeply attached to the cousin who was three years her senior.

That was the main reason why Maribel was determined that nothing should be allowed to interfere with her sincere need to attend the service and pay her last respects. Nothing, she reminded herself doggedly, not even a powerful level of personal discomfiture. That sense of unease exasperated her. Over two years had gone by. She had no business still being so sensitive-he didn't have a sensitive bone in his body.

Her violet-blue eyes took on a militant sparkle and her chin came up. She was twenty-seven years old. She had a doctorate and she was a university tutor in the ancient history department of the university. She was intelligent, level-headed and practical. She liked men as friends or colleagues, but had reached the conclusion that they were far too much hassle in any closer capacity. After the appalling upheaval and the grieving process that she had had to work through in the wake of Imogen's sudden death, Maribel had finally found contentment. She liked her life. She liked her life very much. Why should she even care about what he might think? He had probably never thought about her again.

In that mood, she mounted the church steps and took the first available seat near the back of the nave. She focused on the service, looking neither right nor left while her sixth sense fingered down her taut spine and her skin prickled. Self-conscious pink began to blossom in her cheeks. He was present. She knew he was present and didn't know how. When she couldn't withstand temptation any longer, she glanced up and saw him several rows ahead on the other side of the aisle. The Pallis height and build were unmistakable, as was the angle of his arrogant dark head and the fact that at least three extremely attractive females had contrived to seat themselves within easy reach of him. Involuntarily she was amused. Had Leonidas been a rare animal, he would long ago have been hunted to extinction. As it was, he was dazzlingly handsome, totally untamed and a notorious womaniser. He mesmerised her sex into bad behaviour. No doubt the women hovering near him now would attempt to chat him up before the end of the service.

Without warning, Leonidas turned his head and surveyed her, the onslaught of his brilliant dark deep-set eyes striking her much like a bullet suddenly slamming into tender flesh. Her fight-or-flight response went into overdrive. Caught unawares and looking when she would have given almost anything to appear totally impervious to his existence, Maribel froze. Like a fish snared by a hook and left dangling, she felt horribly trapped. Mustering her self-discipline and her manners, she managed to give him a slight wooden nod of polite acknowledgement and returned her attention to the order of service in her hands. The bookle

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