Dione’s father’s business is facing ruin and he begs her to ask Greek billionaire, Theo Tsardikos, for cash to help him out. Her meeting with Theo goes like this:
Theo smiled, his very even white teeth looking predatory in her heightened state. Like a wolf about to pounce, she thought. This was a man she had to watch closely. He looked relaxed, leaning back in his chair, his shirt collar undone, but his mind was as sharp as a razor.
“Your father’s using you, you do know that? Like he uses everyone he comes into contact with. The best thing you can do, Dione – do you mind if I call you Dione? – is to go right back and tell him the answer’s no.”
Dione drew in a pained breath. What a heartless brute the man was. “You haven’t even asked how much he wants,” she retorted, her back stiff, her eyes sparking resentment.
“It’s immaterial,” he said. “I wouldn’t lend your father one euro, let alone thousands, which I presume is the kind of amount he’d want. What’s happened?”
Dione shrugged. “All I know is that he’s nearly bankrupt.”
“Bad management,” drawled Theo uncaringly.
“So that’s your final answer?” she snapped, her heart dipping so low it almost touched her shoes.
Theo leaned back in his chair, a smile playing on well-shaped lips, and an unfathomable gleam in his eyes. “There could be another solution.”
Dione’s heart leapt with hope.
“I could save your father’s business – on one condition.”
“And that is?” asked Dione eagerly.
There was a long pause before he answered, a space of time when his eyes raked insolently over her body, sending a shiver of unease through her limbs. But she didn’t let him see it; she sat still, her hands folded primly in her lap, and waited to hear what he had to say.
“That you become my wife.”
The shock of his suggestion couldn’t have been greater. This man was a stranger to her, as she was to him, and yet he was talking about marriage! Was he out of his mind? Would he lend her father money just to get his hands on her? Dione shivered as rivers of ice raced down her spine and she jumped to her feet. “That is the most outrageous suggestion I’ve ever heard. What makes you think I’d marry a total stranger?”
A faint, insolent smile curved his mouth. “I thought you had your father’s best interests at heart. Otherwise why would you be here?”
“I do,” she admitted, “but that doesn’t include giving myself away to you.” The man had no idea what he was asking. He was probably a fantastic lover with years of experience, but it meant nothing to her. She didn’t know the first thing about him. And nor did she want to if these were his tactics.
“It’s your choice,” he said, as simply as if they were discussing a normal business proposition. “If your answer’s no then we have nothing else to discuss.”
“Of course my answer’s no,” she spat. “What do you take me for?” And with that she whirled on her heel and stormed out of the room.
His mocking voice called after her. “I’ll be waiting should you change your mind.”
“Then you’ll wait a lifetime,” she hissed beneath her breath.
By the time she reached the hospital she was almost able to laugh at Theo Tsardikos’ suggestion. But her father didn’t laugh. “You could do worse,” he said. “I’ve always wanted you to marry a proud Greek and Tsardikos is as good as they come.”
Praise indeed coming from her father.
“I’ve been afraid that on one of your trips to England you’ll fall in love. It would break my heart.”
It was on the tip of Dione’s tongue to tell him about Chris, but at the last moment she decided against it. Yannis’s health was so bad that such an admission might finish him off altogether. In fact he looked even worse than yesterday. His breathing laboured, his skin a ghostly yellow, and Phrosini hovered, not knowing what to do to help her beloved husband.
“I can’t marry a complete stranger,” Dione said miserably.
“Not even for me?” demanded Yannis in a rough, angry voice. “Not even though my life and my livelihood depend on it? What sort of a daughter are you?”
He made Dione feel guilty, but even so she stuck to her guns. “I’d be prostituting myself.”
“With Tsardikos? He’s an exciting male. Half the female population of Greece are after him. You’ll be the envy of thousands.” And then he slumped in his chair and hardly seemed to be breathing.
Phrosini beckoned her out of the room. “We must leave him for a while,” she said.
“Don’t you know he’s asking the impossible?” asked Dione as they made their way to the hospital restaurant. “I haven’t said anything to my father, and I don’t want you to either, but there’s a man in England I’ve promised to marry.”