She slipped aboard his yacht, but can he keep her out of his heart?
Rania Ghalli is desperate to free her political prisoner uncle before it’s too late. Hoping to make it to North Africa, she stows away on the yacht of Greek millionaire Demetri Christodoulou. But when Egyptian agents board the boat, she can either jump overboard…or claim she’s Demetri’s new bride.
Tired of being no more than the bastard disgrace to the Christodoulou name, Demetri intends to build a luxury resort below his grandfather’s house so the old man has no choice but to acknowledge that Demetri has made something of himself. But first, he needs a wife to complete the land purchase.
With Rania now at his mercy, a plan comes together. He’ll play along, protecting her and helping to free her uncle, but in exchange, he demands a real marriage. But keeping the vivacious woman out of his heart will be a lot harder than keeping her on his ship…
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Copyright © 2015 by Alexia Adams. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Excerpt From The Greek's Stowaway Bride
Demetri clutched the wall as the boat suddenly changed momentum. He’d paid five million euros to have the yacht custom built. If it had broken down already there’d be hell to pay. Perhaps the captain had noticed something in the water or it was a routine check of the new engine. Demetri would investigate right after he had his shower.
The cool spray felt wonderful after his intense workout in the onboard gym. He turned the showerhead to massage and let the water pummel his back. Three entire days with no meetings, no urgent emails or other obligations meant absolute bliss. Just him and the sea, and a dedicated crew to cater to his every whim.
As soon as they docked at his birth island of Gavdos the peace would end. He was going to propose to Christina who lived there and then there would be a flurry of wedding plans to contend with. The rings were in the next room waiting for the perfect moment to slip on her slender finger. He hadn’t decided whether they should marry right away and get all the wedding nonsense over and done with quickly. Or perhaps he’d suggest a long engagement so it annoyed him in small doses.Christina was biddable and would do whatever he decided.
The sooner he married, though, the sooner he’d be able to put in an offer on the beach property in direct sight of his grandfather’s house. The seller insisted the land go to a married couple. Once it was in his name, however, there’d be no stopping his plans to develop it into a luxury resort. Then each morning when his grandfather looked out the window he’d have to acknowledge that the bastard grandson he despised had made it in life, that Demetri had made something of the family name rather than disgrace it, as his grandfather maintained.
He closed his eyes and imagined the happiness on his mother’s face when he was finally able to provide her with a standard of living worthy of her devotion to him. She’d refused to move with him to Crete, instead insisted on staying on the tiny island of Gavdos with her parents. She’d refused even to let him build her a beautiful house there, but once his resort was up and running he’d insist that she take one of the opulent bungalows he envisaged. He might have to come up with some excuse as to why he needed her to live on site. It was time she had her own place where she could do what she wanted rather than have to answer to his tyrannical grandfather.
His eyes snapped open as the bathroom door clicked open and then closed again. He blinked. Holy hotness, this cruise had just got interesting. A beautiful woman he’d never seen before stood in the room. Her long, dark hair was carefully draped down her front obscuring her body but he’d bet his new boat she was naked.
Before he could ask what she wanted, she opened the shower door and stepped inside. She took a deep breath, held his gaze, and then wrapped her arms around his torso. Her body pressed against his—full, soft breasts crushed against his upper abdomen. Only her damp hair prevented their skin from touching.
“What the?” He opened his mouth to ask the question again in Greek but she stood on tiptoe and whispered into his ear.
“Please. Help me. My name is Rania—”
A millisecond later the bathroom door flung open and two men dressed in black leveled automatic weapons at him. Rather than screaming, the woman in his arms pulled his head down and kissed him. He blinked again. No, there was definitely a naked woman in his shower and two heavily armed men in the bathroom. Was he being pranked with a scene out of a James Bond film? Any moment now someone would yell, "Gotcha!" and he'd discover he was the next YouTube sensation. Who would dare pull such a trick on him?
Rania released his lips but clung to him, her head buried in his neck. Her body trembled but whether from the kiss, which had been intense, or the situation, he didn’t know. Time to find out.
“Get out!” he bellowed, although which of the intruders would respond he didn’t care. Rania had spoken English so he kept to that language. She tightened her arms around his waist and he glanced down at her. Her almond colored eyes were huge and tinged with fear. He could be holding a terrorist about to blow his boat to smithereens. However, she was a hell of a lot more alluring than the two men with their machine guns.
One of the black clad men lowered his weapon a fraction. “You have one minute before we come back and start shooting,” he said in heavily accented English. He spoke to the man next to him in Arabic and they backed out of the room leaving the door ajar.
Rania dropped her arms and tried to step away from him. Damn if he wasn’t holding her as tightly as she had been him. He released her and she quickly opened the shower door then wrapped herself in one of the towels. She handed the other to him, keeping her eyes averted from his lower half in a belated display of modesty. As he secured the towel around his waist she grabbed his hand and then pulled open the bathroom door. Before he’d even stepped fully into the room, Rania began to yell at the two men in Arabic, her gestures so wild her towel almost came loose. Demetri smiled at the confusion on the faces of the armed men, until one raised his gun again.
“Speak in English,” Demetri demanded. It was his boat after all; he had a right to know what was going on.
Rania turned to him and shot a devastating smile his direction. “Habibi, I was explaining to these … men … that we are on our honeymoon. They have no right to board our boat and point their guns at us.”
Maybe it was the guns. Maybe he’d already met his quota of shocks for the day. Maybe he was actually having an aneurysm and imagining all this. Whatever the cause, he didn’t react to the word “honeymoon” or its implication. He addressed the men. “Who are you and what do you want?”
“We are friends of the Egyptian government. This woman is related to an enemy of the people of Egypt. We are here to take her into custody.”
Rania took his hand in hers and squeezed it tight, shifting her body so it fit against his side.
“We are in Greek waters, on a boat registered in Greece. You have no authority here,” Demetri said. “My captain will have alerted the Hellenic Coast Guard that you have illegally boarded my boat. I’m sure you know who I am. Do you really want to start an international incident? Because you will have to kill me before I let you take my wife.” He didn’t even hesitate on the last word and moved to shelter Rania further with his body.
Both men lowered their guns and had a rapid discussion in Arabic. Their gazed darted between him and Rania. Finally, the taller gunman said, “We have not heard of this wedding. Do you have any proof of this marriage?”
“Yes, I have our marriage certificate here,” Rania shocked him by saying. She released his hand and moved over to the bedside table. He looked around. Ten minutes ago, when he’d walked through to take a shower, the stateroom had been immaculate. The bed made so tightly he could have bounced on it without wrinkling the top sheet. Now the blankets were tossed aside, the sheets askew, and three empty condom wrappers littered the floor, not to mention the trail of clothes from the door to the bed, his and he assumed, Rania’s. A black bra with red lace dangled from the lamp beside the sofa. A see-through, red G-string hung precariously from the handle to the walk-in wardrobe. Someone had had a hell of a good time in this room. Too bad it hadn’t been him.
Rania handed a paper to the first gunman who seemed to be in charge. “It’s in Albanian. I’m sure that’s not an issue for you,” she said, her voice overly sweet. The men perused it carefully, even holding it up to the light as though checking for authenticity.
While they examined the document, Demetri studied Rania. He searched his memory for where he could have met her before but came up blank, and he would have remembered a woman as beautiful as her. Her long dark hair, which she’d freed from the towel, fell in wet strands to her waist. Thick, black lashes framed light-brown, amber flecked eyes. She bit down on her lower lip for a second and the desire generated by her earlier kiss flooded to his groin again. She’d tasted as good as she looked. But she was a complete stranger. He’d been in Albania on business for four days before he’d taken possession of his new yacht in Pireus for its maiden voyage. The trip had been interesting, but he was pretty sure he’d have remembered getting married. He’d visited several potential sites in Albania, considering them for his hotel portfolio. It was a gamble if the Balkan country could be the next great tourist destination. With unrest in North Africa and the Middle East, adventurous tourists were searching for a new destination—luxury off the beaten track and he would be the one to provide it to them.
“Why did you marry in Albania and not in Greece?” The first gunman’s abrupt question brought Demetri back to the present bizarre situation.
“That is none of your business,” Rania said. For a second her hand fluttered to her stomach, implying their quick wedding was rooted in a possible unplanned pregnancy. Without saying anything else, she crossed her arms over her chest and glared at the men. Despite the seriousness of his situation, and he still wasn’t sure if he was safe with this woman, he admired her courage and spunk in standing up to the gunmen. If sweet, gentle Christina were here, she’d be in a flood of tears, hiding behind him, not defying two heavily armed men to see through her web of lies.
Another conference ensued in Arabic between the two men. For a moment Rania relaxed then tensed again when the second man said something.
“We will stay aboard to ensure you are truly married, and that Mrs. Christodoulou does not get off the boat and try to make her way to Egypt.”
“That is not acceptable,” Demetri said.
The guns raised again. “It is not open for discussion.”
A smart man knew when he was out-gunned. “The Greek authorities will remove you both from my boat. Until then, get out of my room and allow my wife to dress. She’s getting cold.”
Rania gave an exaggerated shiver as if to back up his words. Both men left the room but the leader said before closing the door, “We will be waiting outside. Do not do anything stupid.”
Rania let out a huge, silent sigh. Out of the frying pan, into the fire. At least this fire was heated with one intensely hot man. Even naked, Demetri Christodoulou exuded power. Attach a couple of electrodes to him and he could certainly light up her Christmas tree. Every one of his many muscles was honed to perfection, his lips full and firm, his dark eyes piercing, his jaw chiseled and strong. Yup, he was genuine, and the only thing currently standing between her and disappearing off the face of the earth. It’d been risky enough stowing away on his boat. She’d really hoped she wouldn’t need to use her backup plan, but she had. And Demetri had played his part wonderfully. She couldn’t allow him to screw it up now.
“What—” he started.
She kissed him again. At first it was to shut him up. As his lips softened and he fully participated in the embrace, she let herself enjoy the moment. It had been a long time, if ever, since she’d been kissed so well. For a second she forgot she was wearing only a towel and that two men who wanted to make her disappear stood outside the door. And that moment of memory loss made the man she was kissing potentially more dangerous than the two outside.
Wrenching her lips from his, she whispered in his ear. “They can probably hear everything we say. And do. We’re only safe to talk in the shower.” Although safe was a relative term when it came to her naked body pressed up against his.
He nodded. However, rather than heading toward the bathroom, he said loud enough for the men outside to clearly hear, “I need to eat before I make love to you again, glykia mou. Let’s dress and go to dinner. We have all night to celebrate our marriage.”
“Good idea. I’m starved.” It would buy her some time to figure out how she was going to explain this mess.
Relieved that he didn’t demand an immediate explanation for her actions, she grabbed the small satchel that she’d hid in the closet. She tilted her head toward the bathroom and he nodded an affirmation. Once safely away from everyone, she crumpled onto the floor.
Her attempt to rescue her beloved uncle from an Egyptian prison had so far got herself, and an innocent bystander, held at gunpoint and virtual prisoners on this yacht. At least the conditions were a hell of a lot better than her uncle was currently enduring, but it wasn’t over yet. She had to convince the gunmen that she and Demetri were wildly in love, so they’d leave. Demetri would undoubtedly get rid of her as soon as possible, hopefully at the first island they came across, then she could make her way to Libya from where she hoped to sneak across the Egyptian border, find her uncle, and bribe the guards to release him. Easy. Not.
None of it was going to happen with her lying on the bathroom floor. She picked herself up and pulled out one of two dresses she’d brought with her, a very skimpy red number that could be crumpled into a ball and still come out looking okay. It probably wasn’t the type of dress Demetri Christodoulou’s women wore, having only cost her ten Euros at a market in Italy. It would have to do.
Through the bathroom door she could hear Demetri talking to someone, demanding to know what was being done about the intruders. He didn’t seem satisfied by the answer as several expletives in Greek followed a long silence. A twinge of guilt unsettled her stomach for the position she’d put him in. She turned the water on to brush her teeth and missed the rest of the conversation. She finger combed her hair, touched up her eye makeup, and took a deep breath. Show time.
It was a good thing she took a deep breath in the bathroom because it all whooshed out when she saw Demetri. Greek Gods, move over, there was a new deity in town. He hadn’t bothered to comb his towel-dried hair, so the ebony curls ran riot, including one that nestled over his forehead, Superman style. His dark eyes and the designer stubble along his jaw emphasized his manliness. He had on a pair of black dress pants and a light blue button-down shirt. The top three buttons were undone, revealing a strong neck and a thick matting of dark hair. His short sleeves stretched tight over his bulging biceps. There was a fluttering sensation in her chest, which was damned annoying. She needed to stay grounded, focused, not aroused and unbalanced.
His dark gaze flared when he saw her in her little red dress. With only string ties around her neck and back holding the front in place, she hadn’t worn a bra. Besides, the only one she’d brought still dangled from the lamp next to the sofa. Under his intense stare, her nipples hardened, something that would be clearly visible to him through the thin fabric. To hide from his gaze, she bent and slipped on her sandals. Shame she didn’t have her shoe collection at home to choose from. When planning a covert operation, a minimal wardrobe had been the first wise decision. And, it appeared, her last good idea. Then again, she hadn’t really expected to play the part of wife to a millionaire Greek hotelier.
It had been sheer luck when she’d been lurking around Athens two weeks ago to discover that Demetri Christodoulou was about to take possession of his new yacht and sail it to Crete. So, she’d found out all she could about the man, even followed him to Albania so they would both have the stamps on their passports if she needed to prove they knew each other. The fake marriage certificate had been a last minute decision, one she was glad about now.
“Are you ready?” His deep voice skittered across her taut nerves. The room suddenly seemed to shrink in size. If they were going to convince the armed men that they were truly married, they’d have to share it tonight. Her gaze was drawn to the sofa, which way too short for the 6’2” man who towered over her in her flats. At 5’3” herself, a pair of four inch heels would barely put a dent in their height difference.
She was about to open the door when his large hand on her arm stopped her. “Wait glykia mou, you forgot to put your rings back on,” he said. His flawless English held a note of a British accent. She’d lived the last five years in Montreal, Canada so she had a North American inflection when she spoke her second language. Until she knew where she stood, she’d keep it to herself that she was also fluent in Greek.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a huge diamond ring and a simple gold band. Taking her hand, he slid both rings onto her finger. Why was he carrying around wedding rings? Her gaze shot to his left hand. Yup, a shiny gold band sat there. Unable to question him without her guards hearing, she was left with only a raised eyebrow to signal her query. A lazy smile crossed his lips at her confusion. She wasn’t the only one with a play in action.
Keeping her hand in his, he strode toward the door and wrenched it open. Sure enough, one of the armed men stood right outside.
“You are not invited to dinner,” Demetri said to the man.
The guard nodded but followed them down the hall anyway. A table was set up on the rear deck, complete with candles and a flower arrangement with champagne chilling in an ice bath. Her knees wobbled when she saw the table was set for two. The ruse would have been up if his crew had prepared dinner for one.
“I know we’d planned to dine in our room, but I asked the staff to set up a table out here so we can eat under the stars.” He kissed her temple as he helped her into a chair.
“You are so thoughtful, Demetri.” She forced a relaxed smile to her face. She’d started this charade; he’d taken it to another level. This man was very good at keeping up a deception. She may yet make it out alive.
They dined quietly, the guard standing close enough to be able to hear should they whisper, but not so close as to loom over them. She hoped he attributed their stilted conversation to his presence and not the fact that she and Demetri were strangers.
Still, her every nerve was on end and any second she expected Demetri to stand up and declare that until an hour ago he’d never laid eyes on her. He must have some ulterior motive for his easy compliance. As she stared at him across the table, he winked. Yes, he was definitely up to something.
She put down her fork, having pushed her dessert around the plate for the past ten minutes. Demetri took her hand in his. “Shall we dance under the moonlight?”
With music playing, they could whisper into each other’s ears and the gunman wouldn’t be able to hear them. She nodded and within a minute a crew member brought out a music system and set it on the deck. Demetri pressed play and the rich, seductive voice of Ella Fitzgerald filled the air. He was full of surprises. She’d never have pegged him for a classical jazz lover, although, in her defense, she’d been a bit too busy in the past two hours to think about his musical taste.
He gently pulled her from her chair, walked her over to the middle of the deck, and then tucked her body against his. His lips rested on her temple.
“So, wife, would you mind telling me why I’m being held hostage on my own boat with a known enemy of the Egyptian people?” He whispered the words but there was a tone of command in them.
“My uncle is a political prisoner in Egypt. He did nothing wrong except stand up for democracy. My family has been trying to get him released using their government connections with no success. I decided to try a more direct route.”
“Are you a terrorist?” His question was immediately followed by a graze of his lips across her forehead to the other temple. It took a moment for her to understand his words, a hesitation she hoped he didn’t interpret as guilt.
“Of course not. I have no interest in politics…or religious fanaticism. But I’m also not going to sit around and wait for my uncle to be tortured to death.”
“And how exactly did you plan on freeing your uncle?” His hand on her back made a leisurely trip down her spine to her ass, pulling her even closer to him as the song ended. With her head tucked into Demetri’s neck, facing away from their audience, she had no idea if he was putting on a show for the gunman or just taking advantage of the moment. Another song began. Ella crooned about wanting someone to watch over her. Rania could do with fewer watchers.
“Stealth, guile, and a shit-load of money,” she said. Her breath hitched as his hand wandered up her bare back again, his fingers toying with one of the ties holding the top of her dress in place.
“And where do you expect to get this shit-load of money?” He stopped dancing. The hand at her back anchored her to his muscled form. He released his grip on her hand and with his fingers under her chin and his thumb along her jaw, forced her gaze to his. To an observer it probably looked like a loving embrace. She felt the force in his touch.
“I have my sources. They don’t include you, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“Then why me? Why did you board my boat without permission?”
Should she tell him she’d followed him for two weeks to make sure he wouldn’t hurt her if he found out she was aboard? No. She didn’t think Demetri Christodoulou would appreciate being targeted. And if she could get off this boat soon enough, he’d never find out.
“You were just in the right place at the right time. Although I guess that interpretation would depend on how you feel about a naked woman invading your shower and machine guns being pointed at your head.”
A small smile lifted his lips. “I’ll decide that when I see how this plays out.”
“I’m sorry I got you into this mess. I’d hoped to hitch a lift to Crete undetected. I heard that your boat was heading south and I slipped aboard while the crew was loading supplies. I’d intended to hide out in the cabin next to yours until you docked. But when the agents came aboard and started to look for me I had to improvise. Someone must have ratted me out to the Egyptian authorities. I sensed I was being watched but I wasn’t sure. I’m new to covert operations.”
“And the Albanian wedding certificate? How did you know I’d been there?”
“I overheard one of your crew say that as soon as you returned from Albania they would be leaving. So I acquired the fake document just in case. I’d hoped I wouldn’t need it.”
“How did you get my full name and date of birth?”
“It’s all on the Internet. Haven’t you Googled yourself recently?”
“Do I look like a man who Googles himself?” He ran his thumb over her lips. Damn, he was a convincing lover.
“No, you seem more of a DuckDuckGo guy.”
His laugh drowned out the music for a moment then he resumed dancing. “Well, for better or worse, I’m involved now.” She wondered if he’d deliberately used the marital term. Before she could ask, he continued. “But if I find you’ve lied to me, or try to scam me for money, I won’t hesitate in handing you over personally to the Egyptian government.”
“What about the rings? Is there a woman somewhere who’s going to scratch my eyes out for pretending to be your wife?”
“I’d put my money on you if it came to a fight.” He hadn’t answered her question. Even with all her spying she hadn’t been able to discover anything about his personal life, which had played in nicely to the Egyptians not knowing if he was married or not. But obviously he had someone in his life to have wedding rings on board. The question was who? And would they understand her predicament?
The song ended and they both stood, not even a hair’s breadth between them, staring into the other’s eyes. He nodded and a crew member who had been hovering out of sight rushed forward and shut off the music.
Demetri cleared his throat and then said loud enough for their guard to hear, “It’s bedtime, wife. You promised me a night full of love.”
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