Katrakis’s Sweet Prize
Notorious Nikos Katrakis was looking for a new mistress when, out of the blue, heiress Tristanne Barbery offered herself to him. Could satisfaction and revenge really be that easy to obtain?
Tristanne knew better than to play games with a man of such devastatingly lethal charisma like Nikos. But, though she had a good idea of the kind of sacrifice she was offering, she had no choice.
To Nikos’s surprise, Tristanne was not the weak, biddable good-time girl he’d expected… and soon his plans for vengeance came crumbling down around him!
Katrakis’s Sweet Prize
Nikos Katrakis was by far the most dangerous man aboard the sleek luxury yacht. Ordinarily Tristanne Barbery would take one look at a man like him—so dark and powerful her breath caught each time she gazed at him from her place within sight of the elegant marble-topped bar where he stood—and flee for her life in the opposite direction.
Any man who seemed to dim the sparkling blue-green waters of the Mediterranean Sea with his very presence was far too complicated, far too much for Tristanne. This is not about you, she told herself fiercely, then ordered herself to release the fingers she'd clenched into fists. She willed away her nausea, her shakiness. Her panic. Because this was not, indeed, about Tristanne. It was about her mother and her mother's crippling, impossible debts. And she would do whatever she had to do to save her mother.
There were other rich and powerful men aboard the boat, rubbing expensively clad shoulders together while gazing at the glittering shores of the Cote d'Azure: the olive-clad hills and pastel waterfront facades of Villefranche-sur-Mer to the left, the red-topped villas of Cap Ferrat to the right, and the sparkling sweep of Villefranche Bay spread out around them in the late afternoon sun.
But Nikos Katrakis was different from the rest. It wasn't simply because he owned this particular yacht, though his ownership was as clear as a brand—almost visible, Tristanne thought; almost seeming to emanate from him in waves. It wasn't even the undeniable physical power he seemed to just restrain beneath his deceptively calm surface, even dressed as casually as he was, in denim trousers and a white dress shirt left open at the neck to display a swathe of dark olive skin.
It was him.
It was the way he stood, commanding and yet so remote, so alone, even in the center of his own party. There was a fierce, unmistakably male energy that hummed from him, attracting notice but keeping all but the most brave away. He would have been devastating enough if he were unattractive—he was that powerful.
But of course, Nikos Katrakis was not, in any sense of the word, unattractive.
Tristanne felt a shiver of awareness trace its way down her spine, and she could not bring herself to look away. He was more powerful than her late father had been but not, she thought, as cold. And somehow she could sense that he was no brute, like her brother, Peter—a man so cruel he had refused to pay her mother's medical bills, a man so heartless he had laughed in the face of Tristanne's desperation.
Yet something about Nikos made her think he was different, made her think of dragons—as if he was that magical and that dangerous; as if he was epic. He was too virile. Too masculine. His power seemed to hum around him like an electric current. Dragon, she thought again, and her palms suddenly itched to sketch the bold, almost harsh lines of his face—though she knew that was exactly the sort of thing Peter so scorned. There was no explaining creativity to her overbearing brother.
But all of that was precisely why Nikos Katrakis was the only man who would do. She was wasting time simply gazing at him, trying to get up her nerve, when she knew Peter would be searching for her before too long. She knew he did not trust her, no matter that she had agreed to go along with his plan. And she would go along with it, or seem to, but she would do it on her terms, not his. And she would do so with the one man Peter hated above all others—the one man Peter viewed as his chief business rival.
She had moved beyond nervous into something else—something that made her pulse flutter and her knees feel like syrup. She could only hope that it didn't show, that he would see what her brother, Peter, claimed everyone saw when they looked at her: nothing but Barbery ice.
It's about time you used your assets to our advantage, Peter had said in his cold voice. Tristanne shook the memory away, determined not to react to him any further—even in her own mind. Not when so much was at stake. Her mother's survival. The independence she had fought so hard to win.
Tristanne sucked in a fortifying breath, sent up a little prayer and forced herself to walk right up to Nikos Katrakis himself before she talked herself out of it.
Nikos looked up from his drink at the polished wood and marble-topped bar and their eyes met. Held. His eyes were the color of long-steeped tea, shades lighter than the thick, dark hair on his head and the dark brows that arched above, making them seem to glow like old gold. They seared into her. Tristanne's breath caught, and a restless heat washed over her, scalding her. The sounds of the high-class partygoers, their clinking glasses and cultured laughter, disappeared. Her anxiety and her purpose fell away as if they had never been. It was as if the whole world—the glittering expanse of the French Riviera, the endless blue-green Mediterranean Sea—faded into his hot, gold gaze. Was consumed by him, enveloped into him—changed by him, that fanciful voice whispered in the back of her mind.
"Miss Barbery," he said in greeting, his native Greek coloring his words just slightly, adding a rough caress to his voice. It sounded like a command, though he did not alter his careless position, lounging so indolently against the bar, one hand toying with his glass of amber-colored liquor. He watched her with old, intent eyes. The hairs on the back of Tristanne's neck stood at attention, letting her know that he was not at all what he seemed.
Something wild and unexpected uncoiled inside of her, making her breath stutter. Shocking her with its sudden intensity.
He was not careless. He was in no way relaxed. He was only pretending to be either of those things.
But then, she was banking on that. Surely her brother, who cared only about money and power, would not be as obsessed as he was about this man unless he was a worthy opponent.
"You know my name?" she asked. She managed to keep her composure despite the humming reaction that shimmered through her, surprising and unsettling her. It was the Barbery family trait, she thought with no little despair: she could appear to be perfectly unruffled while inside, she was a quivering mess. She had learned it at her father's emotionless knee—or suffered the consequences. And she wanted only to use this man for her own ends, not succumb to his legendary charisma. She had to be strong!
"Of course." One dark brow rose higher, while his full, firm lips twisted slightly. "I pride myself on knowing the names of all my guests. I am a Greek. Hospitality is not simply a word to me."
There was a rebuke in there somewhere. Tristanne's stomach twisted in response, while he looked at her with eyes that saw too much. Like he was a cat and she a rather dim and doomed mouse.
"I have a favor to ask you," she blurted out, unable to play the game as she ought to—as she'd planned so feverishly once she'd realized where Peter was taking her this afternoon. There was something in the way Nikos regarded her—so calm, so direct, so powerfully amused—that made her feel as if the glass of wine she'd barely tasted earlier had gone straight to her head.
"I'm so sorry," she murmured, surprised to feel a flush heating her cheeks. She, who up until this moment had considered herself unable to blush! "I wanted to work up to that. You must think I am the rudest person alive."
His dark brows rose, and his wicked mouth curved slightly, though his enigmatic eyes did not waver, nor warm. "You have not yet asked this favor. Perhaps I will reserve judgment until you do."
Tristanne had the sudden sense that she was more at risk, somehow, standing in front of Nikos Katrakis in full view of so many strangers than she was from Peter and his schemes. It was an absurd thought. You must be strong! she reminded herself, but she couldn't seem to shake that feeling of danger.
Or stop what came next. What had to come next—even though she knew, suddenly, with a deep, feminine wisdom that seemed like a weight in her bones, that this was a mistake of unfathomable proportions. That she was going to regret stirring up this particular hornet's nest. That she, who prided herself on being so capable, so independent, did not have what it took to handle a man like this. One should never rush heedlessly into a dragon's lair. Anyone who had ever read a fairy tale knew better! She bit her lower lip, frowning slightly as she looked at him, feeling as if she fell more and more beneath his dark gold spell by the moment. It was if he was a trap, and she had walked right into it.
The trouble was, that didn't seem to frighten her the way it should. And in any case, she had no choice.