Her Deal with the Greek Devil
Desire flares in this intensely sexy revenge romance by USA TODAY bestselling author Caitlin Crews.
The playboy’s proposition:
Too enticing to ignore…
Constantine Skalas may seem idle and arrogant, but he hides a razor-sharp need for vengeance against the Payne family. The key? His former stepsister, Molly, who’s blossomed from ugly duckling into gorgeous supermodel. Constantine will offer her a perfectly outrageous proposition…
Virgin Molly knows the danger of walking into a powerful man’s den. Yet only a deal with the devil himself will save her beloved mother from bankruptcy. Constantine has always been sinfully seductive, but now, bound by their pact, Molly burns for him. And there’s no going back…
From Harlequin Presents: Escape to exotic locations where passion knows no bounds.
Read all the books in the Rich, Ruthless & Greek series:
Book 1: The Secret That Can’t Be Hidden
Book 2: Her Deal with the Greek Devil
Her Deal with the Greek Devil
Constantine Skalas had waited a long, long time for this day. What had started as a young man’s rash promise had become a plot. Then a plan. Today that plan had finally borne its intended fruit.
He intended to savor it.
And as a man who had dedicated a large portion of his decidedly debaucherous adult life to relishing all the many pleasures life had in store, he knew precisely how best to go about it.
There were any number of places he could have met the object of all his many plans. He was a Skalas, one of two owners of the sprawling, multinational Skalas & Sons. His father had once been the richest man alive, but Constantine and his brother Balthazar had doubled his wealth within the first year of their ownership. He had properties literally everywhere, homes and rentals and hotels, and could have chosen any one of them for today’s long-awaited meeting.
Naturally, he’d chosen the one calculated to stick the knife in, and he hoped, give it a little twist for good measure. It was an estate in the quiet part of Skiathos, an island off the coast of Thessaly, Greece. Skiathos, where far too many bright young things flocked for the energetic nightlife in Skiathos Town, though Constantine had not availed himself of the local amenities, or talent, in longer than he cared to recall. And Skiathos was also where, once upon a time, he had been force-fed his father’s new and unacceptable second wife and worse, had been required to contend with an awkward stepsister he had never warmed to in the slightest.
Though that was perhaps understating the case.
He had despised his stepmother. He had felt only slightly less opposed to his stepsister, who might not have been at fault for her mother’s ambitious marriage—but she hadn’t done anything to oppose it, either. Those feelings had not dimmed over time. His father might have thought better of his second marriage and summarily ended it, as he had been wont to do with his customary brutality, but Constantine could hold a grudge until the end of time.
And did. Happily.
He settled back in the chair behind the desk where the late and wholly unlamented Demetrius Skalas, his father, had once conducted his business when he’d called this house his primary home. It had been but a few years of madness before Demetrius had rid himself of the appalling British housekeeper, Isabel, and her hopeless daughter that he’d acquired for reasons unclear. As far as Constantine could tell, Demetrius had only married Isabel in the first place to really hammer home the fact he was moving on from his elegant and fragile first wife. The wife he’d crushed, then discarded, then mocked as she’d cycled deep into despair.
The wife who happened to be Constantine’s mother, that was.
But Constantine was not going to think about his mother today, or he would lose his cool. And his quarry did not deserve his temper. She did not deserve to see anything but his vengeance.
He studied his father’s desk as he sat there. Like all the things Demetrius had used as props to bolster his inflated sense of himself, the desk was a monstrosity. Constantine had entirely too many memories of being forced to stand on the other side of this very desk during those years, his eyes on his father if he valued his hide, while he gave a twenty-year-old’s surly accounting of what he’d done with his monthly allowance. A tedious undertaking when he already knew it would lead to more of his father’s brand of consequences. And all the while the wall of windows down one side—all of which opened up as doors to the terrace no one was permitted to use without Demetrius’s never-proffered permission—let in the pine-covered cliffs. Unusual for Greek islands, as the tourists liked to caterwaul, but pine trees they were and they rose above the private cove the house sat over like the king Demetrius had imagined he was. And more, the great Aegean beyond beckoned, all while Constantine had been required to stand still and pretend penitence.
It had been torture, in other words.
A torture he intended to visit upon dear stepsister Molly, who his staff down at the gate to the estate had informed him had just arrived.
The waiting was exquisite.
After all these years, after all his plotting, after creating the perfect disguise for his true intentions and living it in full view of the world, it was time.
If he was capable of such things, he might have considered himself positively gleeful.
Constantine leaned back in the huge leather chair, itself a monument to a certain kind of overt masculinity. His father’s kind, all bluster and bark, but unlike some of his toxic ilk, with a deadly bite beneath.
His father had died a few years back, and unlike Constantine’s older brother Balthazar, who had always splayed himself wide open with an unnecessary sense of responsibility, Constantine did not miss him. Perish the thought. The world was a far better place without Demetrius Skalas. His sons, in particular, were incalculably better off without him.
Not to mention, the old man’s absence meant Constantine had finally been able to put the plan closest to his blackened heart into action.
He waited, smiling to himself when he heard the click of very high heels along the hallway floors that led to this study. He had not known which version of his stepsister to expect. But the heels were like a premonition, and then, in the next moment, she appeared.
She stopped in the doorway and regarded him.
Constantine gazed right back, aware of a certain electrical charge that seemed to fill the space between them.
No longer awkward or embarrassing, or anything like gawky, little Molly Payne, the housekeeper’s daughter, had transformed herself. She stood before him, framed by the doorway, and stared at him as if she stood atop some kind of catwalk and he was at her feet. It was adorable, truly. And he had seen her blond hair in a number of different styles, but today she had gone for big and lustrous curls, like a cat puffing itself up to make itself seem bigger in the face of a predator.
Poor little kitty, he thought to himself, darkly. Your tricks and claws will not help you here.
Her eyes were a stunning, arctic blue, and today she’d expertly applied the kind of cosmetics that took hours to achieve a barely-there look, so that she looked effortlessly sultry, the cold color of those eyes honed to a laser point. Her pout was enough to raze cities to the ground, and that wasn’t getting to her magnificent figure that had been splashed across every magazine cover in existence, then back again.
For awkward little Molly Payne had not had the good manners to fade off into obscurity when her mother’s reprehensible marriage to Constantine’s father had ended. He had imagined she would lead a perfectly unobjectionable porridge sort of life, perhaps away in one of those sad, lesser British cities, where everything was forever gray and depressed. Like she had been.
But no such luck. For instead, his stepsister had gone ahead and had the temerity to become universally, stratospherically famous.
“If it isn’t the eponymous Magda,” Constantine drawled, eventually, using her laughable professional name.
“Hello, Constantine,” she replied.
Like all beautiful women whose looks were widely held to be objective fact, not subject to individual opinion, every inch of her was weaponized. Including that voice. It struck him like his favorite spirit, metaxa, smooth and complex before rolling on into a deeper, hotter intensity.
He had expected to feel the attraction that hammered him then, but it was far worse now that she was in this room than it usually was when he was confronted with her picture. Everywhere.
“I thought you would enjoy this trip down memory lane with me,” he said, lounging back in the chair. His father had been a rigid man, his only excesses brutal. Constantine, by contrast, had created for himself the most dissipated, dissolute alter ego possible. It had started when he was young. He had learned, as his brother never had, that there was no point in attempting to live up to a madman’s expectations. For every time a certain level was achieved, their father made up seven more. No one could possibly scale those heights.
Constantine had stopped trying. Then and now, he took great pleasure in polluting his father’s legacy with his own brand of what he liked to call his libertine approach to rakishness.
The tabloids used other words. He delighted in all of them.
“Is that what this is?” Molly asked. For he refused to think of her as Magda. “Memory lane? Funny, that. This particular road to hell always seemed remarkably unpaved to me.”
“How droll. You’ve become so spiky over the years.”
She did not shift from where she stood, shown to perfection in the doorway to the study. And Constantine had taken on a deep, personal study of the rise of Magda, a modern supermodel in a time when supermodels were widely held to be a thing of the past. He knew she was fully aware that the sun streamed in from without, lighting her beautifully, and dancing all over the exquisitely skintight gown she wore in a deliberately overbright shade of gold. The sunlight made her glow like an angelic host. He knew that she was well aware of the position in which she stood, designed to call attention to the impeccable lines of her body that left fashion designers beside themselves as they draped their latest creations all over her frame. Here, in this study, she simply looked magnificent. And untouchable.
Too bad for her that he had other ideas.
“Everyone grows up, Constantine,” she replied. She considered. “Or, I should say, almost everyone.”
“Was that a dig?” He made a tsking sound. “That is no way to convince me to be merciful, Molly. You must know that.”
“I would prefer it if you called me Magda.”
He grinned, enjoying himself immensely. “I am certain that you would. But I think I will stick with Molly all the same. Just to remind ourselves who and what we are.”
Fascinated, he watched as a storm moved through that cool blue gaze of hers before she shuttered her gaze.
And then he waited, letting the silence spill out between them. Until, to his very great pleasure, she stopped holding that commanding position in the doorway and took a step farther into the room.
Betraying herself, he thought.
“I know you know why I’m here,” she said, sounding far more brisk, then. “I suppose we might as well get down to business.”
“Refresh my memory,” he invited her.
“I see that we’re going to play games. Lovely.”
He remembered the sixteen-year-old who had foolishly confided in him and saw no trace of her on this woman’s face. But that was just as well. Constantine did not traffic in guilt or shame, so he would never use those words to describe how he felt when he thought of that time. And yet sometimes it haunted him, all the same.
“Is that really necessary?” she asked.
“You will know what is necessary and what is unnecessary,” he assured her. “Because I will tell you.” He inclined his head, then waved a lazy hand. “For now, by all means, tell me your sad tale of woe, Molly.”
“I do not wish to bore you.” Her cool eyes glittered, like shards of ice, and he suspected she was thinking of a great many things she would like to do to him, none of them boring. All of them violent. “I know you remember my mother.”
“As it happens, I have known a great number of grasping, petulant, jumped-up whores in my life,” Constantine drawled, each word deliberate. Each word its own sharp blade. “And yet, you are correct, your mother managed to distinguish herself.”
A faint splash of color stained Molly’s cheeks. Her eyes blazed with fury. And he had the sudden, near uncontrollable urge to rise from his chair, throw himself across the room, and get his hands and his mouth into all of that fire.
But too soon, she reined herself in, iced over, and regarded him coolly once again.
Interesting, he thought. He would have to make a note of how she protected herself with that aloofness. And set it ablaze.
“I am not here to debate my mother’s faults with you, or anyone,” she said crisply.
“And yet I feel certain that should I wish to discuss your mother’s many faults and terrible decisions, I will. Entirely as I please. With or without your permission. Molly.”
She took a long, visible breath, but did not object. Because she was not a stupid woman, Constantine knew. And she was not in the dark as to why she was here, any more than he was.
“My mother has always fancied herself a businesswoman of sorts,” Molly said, her voice ever so slightly strained. She moved further into the study that he knew she hadn’t seen since she was still a teenager. It was unchanged. He watched with interest as she took that in, her gaze moving with arctic precision from the ponderous choice of art on the walls to the crystal decanter on the sideboard, which was the last in a long line of similar decanters his father had shattered against the wall. Such pleasant memories. “This is not a business in the sense of Skalas & Sons, of course. What is? But whenever she found herself with some money—”
“Such as her divorce settlement,” Constantine interjected silkily. “Three million euros to silently go away when she should have done so on her own, had she the faintest shred of shame.”
Molly ignored that. He hoped it was hard. “She did some investing, here and there. And she began to imagine herself something of a hotel mogul.”
“Surely that would be better termed a delusion and used to secure medical attention.” Constantine laughed when Molly’s frigid gaze swept to him. “I have many hotels. In my personal portfolio, not underneath the Skalas & Sons umbrella. I hardly think a few poorly chosen boutique options scattered about the globe make a mogul. But to each her own.”
“Funny you should mention those few boutique hotels,” Molly said softly, her gaze on him. “Because, wouldn’t you know it, she’s completely overextended herself and faces total financial ruin, because someone leveraged them right out from under her.”
“What a sad story this is,” Constantine murmured. “How lucky she must be that she has an internationally famous daughter who she can lean upon for support in such troubled times. Troubled times she brought upon herself, but I digress.”
“I hate to continually tell you things you already know,” Molly said, her voice acidic. She picked up a photograph from one of the incidental tables. A seemingly happy family shot until one looked closer and saw the look of worry on young Balthazar’s face, the mutiny on Constantine’s, and their father’s grim expression that promised retribution.
If he recalled correctly, that time, Demetrius had beaten them both.
Ah, the manifold joys of family, Constantine thought dryly.
“But I know so little,” he said. “Ask anyone.”
Molly turned back to him then, and her gaze was a little too clever for his liking. Only because clever women boded ill, always. It was his own personal curse that he preferred them.
Not that his usual choice of paramour would make that clear.
His typical selections bored him, but they were beautiful. And the more vacant the woman on his arm, the more it was assumed that he, too, must also be shallow to his very core no matter how good he was at making money. He encouraged it.
Better that no one should ever see him coming.
“Since she left England to marry your father, my mother has always had one scheme or another,” Molly told him. “Before these hotels, it was her own fashion line. Before the fashion line, she fell for at least three different scams.”
He affected a vaguely sympathetic expression. “Conmen abound.”
“I used to think that she just had spectacularly bad luck,” she agreed. She even smiled, though it was a cold curve of her famous lips. “Recent events have made it clear to me that no, she has one, very powerful enemy. And has always had this enemy.”
Molly glared at him. Constantine grinned.
“That sounds ghastly,” he said. “What do you suppose she might have done to gain such an enemy, if one exists?”
“Since you asked,” Molly said, folding her arms before her, “she had the terrible misfortune of believing a horrible man when he claimed to be in love with her. Only in the end, lo and behold, it turned out he was not. But she only discovered that after a disastrous marriage that came complete with two unpleasant stepsons who made her life a living hell.”
“Surely her choice of husband was the living hell she chose because it came alongside so much money,” Constantine replied, his tone as smooth as it was dark. “These bargains are always so tawdry, are they not? But tell me, what sort of woman blames her stepchildren for her venal little choices?”
“Oh, you mistake me.” Molly sounded as dark as he did, though three times as cold. And her gaze should have frozen him solid. “She doesn’t blame anyone. She doesn’t look back. But I do.”
Constantine wanted to share his thoughts on the dreadful Isabel, Molly’s mother, who should never have been permitted to set foot on Skalas property. Much less take up residence here. When all she should ever have been to Demetrius was a night’s amusement. Possibly two. Who married the housekeeper after a weekend at a business acquaintance’s old pile in the English countryside? Who then paraded about with a housekeeper on his arm?
“Blame is such a funny thing, is it not?” he asked. “Oddly enough, I too have those I blame for the misfortunes that have befallen both me and my family. For my part, I find that what goes well with blame is power. For one is whining. The other is winning. And Molly, you should know by now that I always, always win.”
“I’m tired of playing this game,” she replied, her gaze like ice. “You know that my mother is near enough to ruined and I’m on the verge of bankruptcy. You know it because you did it.”
“I have had no interaction with you whatsoever since you were a depressed teenager,” Constantine said mildly. “I suspect you are well aware that we’ve been at the same parties, from time to time, yet we somehow managed never to speak. How could I possibly be responsible for your inability to handle your finances?”
“She’s my mother, Constantine.” That was the first crack. The first hint of her emotions, and it was all he’d hoped for, a flash of deep, dark blue and that catch in her throat. “What am I supposed to do? Throw her out into the streets?”
He shrugged. “It sounds like that would be a good start if, as you say, she has had such…terrible luck.”
Molly looked down for a moment and he thought he saw the faintest hint of a fine tremor move through her. Though it was gone so quickly, he couldn’t be sure. And he didn’t want to believe she was reacting quite in that way. Constantine only wanted her to feel the things he wanted her to feel. Not fall beneath the weight of them all. Where would be the fun in that?
For him, that was.
“I assume that this is what you wanted,” she said after a moment, no sign of cracks or temper visible on her perfect face. “You left just enough clues. When I put the pieces together, it all made a kind of sick, strange sense. This whole playboy act of yours is just that. An act. You spend a lot of time and energy pretending a flashy car can turn your head and that you’re as vapid as the interchangeable women you squire about. When the truth is, you’re exactly as much of a shark as your brother, you just hide it. I’m sure you have your own, twisted reasons, as ever. I suppose it was silly of me to imagine that after making sure my teenage years were as hideous as possible, you would keep right on going.”
“I think you’ll find that teenage years, as a rule, are hideous for all.” He smiled. “Even me. Though I am interested that both you and your mother seem to have no shortage of people to blame for your misfortunes. Anyone and everyone except yourselves, is that it?”
Again, a splash of color on her porcelain cheeks, but that was all that betrayed the emotions inside her. He was more fascinated than was wise, he knew that. But knowing it didn’t change it any.
Molly regarded him as if he was the devil. It pleased him. “You set a trap and my mother walked right into it, over and over. Congratulations. Now why don’t you tell me what it is you really want?”
So many things in life did not live up to expectations, Constantine knew. Most things deemed decadent, for example. The so-called charms of the yachting set who cluttered up the Mediterranean coastlines and bored him silly. Too many Michelin starred restaurants, forever attempting to outwit their diners instead of simply feeding them. The notion that because a woman was beautiful to look at, she would be any good in bed.
But this. This was the exception that proved the truth.
For this was even better than he had imagined it—and he had imagined it in a thousand different variations, year after year.
“Why, I thought what I wanted was obvious,” Constantine said, milking the moment for all it was worth.
Because he had waited all this time. Because his mother lay senseless in a long-term care facility, dead in all but name thanks to what had been done to her. Balthazar had handled the architect of their mother’s downfall, the man who had seduced her then discarded her, then laughed when their father had done the same. Constantine was glad his brother had taken care of that egregious loose end. But for his part, he had never forgiven the woman who had truly imagined she could walk in and take their mother’s place.
“Spell it out for me,” Molly urged him. “I know you can’t want my money, because you have far too much of your own. And anyway, all of my money is gone. Because someone had to take care of my mother’s debts when you ruined her again and again—but I think you already know that. So what is it?”
“I told you when you called me, did I not? I do hate to repeat myself.”
“In the very brief, very obnoxious phone call it took you three weeks to return, you told me that there was a possibility my mother could reclaim her properties and retain her good name, such as it was.” Her blue eyes glinted. “Your words, obviously. I’m betting it will involve intense humiliation for all the world to see, that being your specialty. Just tell me the shape of it.”
“Intensity and humiliation are all a question of degrees,” Constantine mused. Philosophically. “And perspective, do you not think? It should be obvious what I want, Molly.” He smiled. “It is the one thing I am truly known for.”
And he had the great pleasure of watching her face go slack with shock. He saw, very clearly and distinctly, the difference between Molly and Magda, because she lost completely that harder shell he supposed she must have developed over the years. And in its place was the face of a girl he half remembered, wide blue eyes, a sulky mouth, and forever where she didn’t belong.
“You can’t mean…”
“But I do,” he told her, his voice low and deliberate. Revenge served cold, and it made him hot, everywhere. “I want you, Molly. Beneath me. And above me. And in all other ways. Naked, begging, and most of all, completely mine to do with what I wish, for as long as I wish, until your mother’s debt is paid. In full.”
She actually gaped at him. His smile widened.
“Did I not tell you it was a simple thing?” he asked silkily. “You should know this above all else, Molly. I am nothing if not a man of my word.”
End of excerpt
Her Deal with the Greek Devil
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