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Authors: Carol Marinelli

A Shameful Consequence

THE SECRETS OF XANOS

Two brothers alike in charisma and power;
separated at birth and seeking revenge …

Nico—the good twin

Brought up to be a good Greek boy,
he’s always felt like an outsider. He’s turned his back
on his parents’ fortune to become one of Xanos’
most powerful exports.

Nothing will stand in the way of him discovering
the truth—until he stumbles upon a virgin bride …
an encounter that has shameful consequences …

Zander—the forgotten twin

He took his chances on the streets rather than
spend another moment under his cruel father’s roof.
He’s pulled himself up by the bootstraps and is
unrivalled in business—and the bedroom!

He wants the best people around him, and
Charlotte is the best PA! But she works for his rival …
unless he can tempt her over to the dark side …

Look out for Zander’s story
AN INDECENT PROPOSITION
Coming soon!

‘I will not be your long-time lover. I am no one’s escape …’ He saw her eyes shutter. ‘But I will be with you tonight.’

‘Just tonight?’ She wanted more than that.

‘Only tonight …’ He looked at her, his eyes roaming the body he had been thinking about for hours now. A virgin bride, who would stay that way if not for him. ‘You come to my bed. I will show you all you miss out on if you choose to live this lie …’

‘I have no choice.’

‘Always we have choices,’ Nico said, and this was his—to choose not to examine his feelings tonight. His mind was black and here was light. The streets of Xanos had unsettled him, stirred emotions that he sorely wanted gone. He wanted diversion and here it had been delivered to him—in the shape of a tear-streaked, beautiful virgin.

About the Author

CAROL MARINELLI
recently filled in a form where she was asked for her job title and was thrilled, after all these years, to be able to put down her answer as ‘writer’.

Then it asked what Carol did for relaxation and, after chewing her pen for a moment, Carol put down the truth—’writing’. The third question asked, ‘What are your hobbies?’ Well, not wanting to look obsessed or, worse still, boring, she crossed the fingers on her free hand and answered ‘swimming and tennis’. But, given that the chlorine in the pool does terrible things to her highlights, and the closest she’s got to a tennis racket in the last couple of years is watching the Australian Open, I’m sure you can guess the real answer!

Recent titles by the same author:

HEART OF THE DESERT
THE DEVIL WEARS KOLOVSKY

Carol also writes for
Mills & Boon
®
Medical

Romance!

Did you know these are also available as eBooks?
Visit www.millsandboon.co.uk

A Shameful
Consequence

Carol Marinelli

www.millsandboon.co.uk

PROLOGUE

‘T
ONIGHT
they have their own rooms,’ Alexandros said. ‘Separate rooms.’

‘What harm …?’ Roula started and then stopped—she had learnt not to question Alexandros’s decisions, but on this one she had to stand up to him. It would be cruel to separate the babies, so she tried another route. ‘They will wake you with their tears.’

‘Let them cry—that is the way they will learn that at night you are with me.’ He ran a hand between her thighs, told her that tonight there would be no excuses, not that he listened when she made them.

Her only relief was the slam of the door when he left to spend the day sitting outside the taverna, playing cards and drinking, but Roula’s relief lasted just a moment before the countdown started—dreading his return.

Seventeen and the mother of twins, they were her only shining light. More beautiful than any other babies, she could watch them sleep for hours, the little snubs of their noses, pushed up by their fingers as they sucked
on their thumbs, eyelashes so long that they met the curve of their cheeks. Sometimes one would open his eyes to look at the other. Huge black eyes would gaze at his brother, soothed by what he saw, and then close again.

Mirror image twins, the midwife had told Roula when she’d delivered them. Identical, but opposite, one right handed the other left, their soft baby hair swirled to the right on Nico, to the left on little Alexandros.

At almost a year, still they shared a cot, screaming if she tried to separate them. Even if their cribs were pushed together, their protests would not abate. Now tonight he would force them into separate rooms.

And she would hear their screams all night as her husband used her body—and Roula could not take it any more.

Would not.

Her father would surely help if he knew. Alexandros did not like her to go out, so she had seen her father only a couple of times since her marriage—he had wanted her to marry, the little money he got for his paintings could not support them both. He had been a little eccentric since her mother’s death; he preferred to be alone, but he would surely not want this life for his daughter and grandsons.

‘Now,’ she told herself, ‘You must do it now.’ She had maybe five or six hours before Alexandros would return. She ran down the hallway, pulled out a case and filled it with the few clothes she had for her babies, and then she ran into the kitchen to a jar she had hidden,
filled with money she had been secretly hoarding for months now.

‘This is how you repay me?’ Roula froze when she heard his voice and then simply detached as he beat her, as he told her she was a thief to take from the man who put a roof over her head. ‘You want to leave, then get out!’ How her heart soared for a brief moment, but then Alexandros dealt his most brutal blow. ‘You get half …’ He hauled her to the bedroom where her babies lay screaming, woken by the terrible sounds. ‘Which one is the firstborn?’ He did not recognise his own sons. ‘Which one is Alexandros?’

And when she answered he picked up the other babe and thrust Nico at her.

‘Take him, and get out.’

She ran to her father’s, clutching Nico. Terrified for Alexandros left alone with him, sure that her father would help her sort it out. Along the streets she ran, till finally home was in view, except it was boarded up. Her father was now dead, the disgusted neighbours told her, for she had neglected him in his final days and had not bothered to attend his funeral. The worst was finding out that her husband had been informed, had known, and not thought to tell her.

‘We will get your brother back,’ she said to a screaming Nico. The local policeman drank regularly with Alexandros so he would be no help, but she would go to the main town of Xanos, which was on the north of the island, to the lawyer that was there.

She took a ride on a truck and had to pay the driver
in the vilest of ways, but she did it for her son. She did it many times again when she found that the rich young lawyer wanted money upfront before helping her.

A little cheap ouzo from the lid meant Nico slept at night and she could earn more money. The rest of the bottle got her through.

And she tried.

Till one day, sitting holding her baby in an alleyway, she heard a man’s voice.

‘How much?’

Roula looked up and she was about to name her paltry fee, but there was a woman standing next to him, and that was one thing Roula would not do.

‘I’m not interested.’

Except he did not want her body. ‘How much for him?’

And he told her they were childless—that they were on holiday from the mainland to get over their grief. He told her about the money and education they could give her beautiful boy, that they would move to the neighbouring island of Lathira and would raise him as their own. She thought of Alexandros, who was still with that monster, and somehow she had to save him. She thought of the ouzo and the clients she would service tonight and all the terrible things she had done. Surely Nico deserved better.

Nico would settle, Roula told herself again as the couple left the rich lawyer’s ofice with her baby. Soon Nico would forget.

She, on the other hand, would spend the rest of her life trying to.

CHAPTER ONE

P
ERHAPS
he should have rung.

As the car swept into the drive of his parents’ home, Nico Eliades questioned what he was even doing here—but a business deal in Athens had been closed earlier than expected, the hotel he had been intending to purchase was now his, and with a rare weekend free he had decided, given he was so close, to do his duty and fly to Lathira and visit his parents.

T did not feel like home.

Only duty led him up the steps.

Guilt even.

Because he did not like them. Did not like the way his parents used their wealth, and the way their egos required constant massage. His father had come from the mainland when Nico was one and had purchased two luxury boats that now cruised the Greek islands. No doubt, today, there would be another argument, another demand that he return to live here and invest some of his very considerable fortune in the family business. Another teary plea from his mother, to find a bride and
give them grandchildren—that he should thank them for all they had done.

Thank them?

For what?

Nico blew out a breath because he did not want to go in there hostile, truly did not want another row, but always they threw in that line, always they told him he should be more grateful—for the schooling, for the clothing, for the chances.

For doing what any parent would surely do, could they afford it, for their son.

‘They are not here.’ The maid looked worried, for his parents would be angry they had missed a rare visit from Nico. ‘They are at the wedding, they don’t return till tomorrow.’

‘Ah, the wedding.’ Nico had forgotten. He had told his parents he would not be attending and for once they had not argued. It was the wedding of Stavros, the son of Dimitri, his father’s main business rival. Normally at events such as these, his fat her insisted Nico attend be cause he wanted to parade his more successful son.

Nico’s ego did not need it.

But, surprisingly, his parents had not pressed him to attend on this occasion.

Now here he was, reluctant to leave without having at least seen them—it had been weeks, no, months since he had been back, and if he saw them now then it could be several months more before he had to visit again.

‘Where?’ Nico asked the maid. ‘Where is the wedding?’

Because Charlotte, his PA, had told him of the invitation, just not of the details.

‘Xanos.’ The maid said and screwed up her nose slightly as she did so, because even though Xanos had recently become the most exclusive retreat for the rich and famous, the locals were poor and the people of Lathira considered themselves superior. ‘That is where the bride is from so they must marry there.’

‘In the south?’ Nico asked, because that would mean Stavros had done well for himself. But the maid gave a small smile as she answered.

‘No, in the old town—your father and Dimitri have to rough it tonight.’

And now Nico did smile, for though his father was certainly wealthy, the south with its luxury resorts and exclusive access was way beyond his father’s reach.

He would go, Nico decided.

He did not care that he had declined, details like that did not concern him. Staff moved mountains, tables appeared, presidential suites were conjured up wherever he landed—Charlotte would sort it out.

Except she, too, was at a wedding today in London, he remembered.

‘Sort out my clothes,’ he told the maid, as his driver brought up his cases and Nico told him to arrange the transport.

‘The transport is all taken.’ The driver was nervous to inform him. ‘The helicopters took all the family last night, they don’t return till tomorrow.’

‘No problem.’ Dressed and ready, he ordered the driver to the ferry. He was used to different drivers:
Nico did not really have a base. What he was not used to was attending to small details for himself, but his PA was usually available night and day and she did deserve this one weekend off.

He did not care for the stares of his fellow passengers as he paid for his ticket.

Dressed in a dark suit, he sat amongst tourists who gaped at the beautiful man in dark glasses, who did not belong on the local ferry.

Public transport was not so bad, Nico decided, buying a strong coffee, intending to read the paper to pass the time, but there was a baby crying behind him and it would not stop.

He tried to concentrate on the paper, but the baby’s screams grew louder; there was a discomfort that spread through him, a growing unease as the ferry dipped and rose, the fumes reaching his nostrils. Still the baby sobbed. He turned and saw the mother clutching it, and Nico’s expression was so severe the mother quailed.

‘Sorry,’ she said, trying to hush her child.

He shook his head, tried to tell the woman that he was not angry, but his throat was suddenly dry. He stared at the water and the island of Xanos ahead of him, felt the wind on his face and heard the screams of the baby. Despite the warm afternoon sun, a chill spread through Nico, and he felt a sweat break out on his face and for a moment thought he might vomit.

He stood, his legs for the first time unsteady, and he moved to the rail of the ferry and made himself walk away from the passengers. He was too proud to appear
weak even in front of strangers, but still the baby’s screams reached him.

Perhaps he was seasick, Nico told himself, dragging in air that did not soothe because it tasted of salt. But he could not be, for he sailed regularly. Weekends were often spent on his yacht—no, Nico knew this was something different.

Still the baby screamed and he looked towards Lathira, from where he had set off and then over to Xanos, where he was headed, and the foreboding did not leave him.

They docked and he walked briskly from the boat—decided he was not going to get used to public transport, that a helicopter would fly him back. Nico walked to a taxi and asked to be taken to the town church. He stared out of the window and did not respond to the driver’s attempts at conversation, just stared out at streets that were somehow familiar. As they arrived at the church, he recognised it and could not fathom why, did not want to. Even climbing the steps, somehow he felt as if he were recalling a dream and Nico stood for a moment to steady himself before going in.

The bride was arriving and he watched as she stepped out of the car and a swarm of bridesmaids, like coloured butterflies, busily worked around her, brushing down her dress. The older one fiddled with the simple veil that would soon be lifted over the bride’s face before entering the church. Nico realised, whether she was from the north or the south, Stavros had done
incredibly well for himself for she was quite simply stunning. How wasted she would be on the groom.

Was it the dress? Nico mused as he watched her. It was simple and straight, yet it nipped in at the waist to show her voluptuous curves. Or perhaps it was the heavy, full breasts that were so absent on the rakethin women he usually dated that were the allure. He was used to sculpted, exercised, false curves—yet this bride’s body was lush. Her breasts moved as she lowered her head to thank her small flower girl, in a way the breasts he was used to holding never did—they were flesh, Nico knew, as was the curve of her bottom. There was a softness to her stomach that was natural. Her skin was creamy and pale for a local, and he could not take his eyes from her, felt the disquiet that had plagued him since he’d stepped onto the ferry subside as he quietly observed.

Her thick dark hair was worn up and how Nico would have liked to take it down. He could not make out the colour of her eyes from this distance but they glittered and smiled as she laughed at something that her bridesmaid said—and it was her energy that was stunning, the smile and the laughter and the way she took her father’s arm. Then he saw her still as the priest walked towards her, saw her tense for a brief moment and straighten her shoulders, saw the swallow in her throat and the smile slip from her face as everyone moved to their positions. It was more than nerves, Nico thought as she closed her eyes for a long few seconds. It was as if she was bracing
herself to go in, but then her lovely face disappeared from view as the bridesmaid arranged the veil.

It was normal to be nervous, Connie told herself as the priest walked towards her, but suddenly it was real. The preparation for this day had been all-consuming, her father determined that his only child would have a wedding fit for this prominent family. He would show the people of Xanos and his friends in Lathira that, despite rumours to the contrary, he was doing well. For weeks, or rather months, Connie had been swept along on a tide of dress fittings, menu selections, dance lessons with Stavros, but only now as she stood behind her veil with the priest telling her it was time did it seem real.

This was her life: this was happening whether she wanted it or not.

No one knew of her private tears when her father had told her of the husband that had been chosen for her. And later, when she had confided in her mother that Stavros’s words were cruel at times, her mother had told her to be quiet. Even when, awkward and embarrassed, she’d told her mother that he did not seem interested in her, that he had not so much as tried to kiss her, her mother had told her they had chosen a gentleman for her. That sort of thing was for when she was safely his.

A bride, Connie told herself as she sucked in air, was supposed to be nervous on her wedding day.

And a bride was supposed to be nervous about her wedding night.

Was she the last virgin bride?

The boys and, later, men of the island had been too nervous of her protective father to date her. How she’d yearned for fun and laughter … and, yes, romance, too.

But there had been none.

Even during her business studies in Athens, which she’d loved, she’d been guarded by her cousin; every move she’d made had been reported back to her family, till she had returned to the island and commenced work in her father’s small firm.

As was expected.

‘Kalí tíhi.’
Her bridesmaid wished her luck and Connie closed her eyes as her father took her arm. He felt so frail Constantine wondered who was holding who up.

This was why she was here, Constantine reminded herself.

Her father’s dearest wish, to see his daughter safely married.

It wasn’t at all unusual on the island for the family to choose the partner. In fact, it was how things were done here. There was no question that she would disobey. Already she had put off this day for her studies. And she was …
fond
of Stavros, Connie told herself, even if his words were sometimes harsh. Love would grow, her mother had told her. They had chosen well for their daughter, she had been assured.

Yet there was a stab of grief as the priest commenced chanting, as the bridesmaid covered her face with the veil and the procession moved towards the church, grief for all she would now never know.

She was naive only in body. Of course she knew there were other ways for couples to meet—she had heard of them, read of them, gossiped about them with her more worldly friends during her studies. She had listened to their tales of flirting and fun, dates and romance, first kisses and reckless nights, break-ups and tears, and she wanted to sample each and every one of those things, but it was not to be.

And then she saw him and her heart stilled.

Like an omen.

Like a black crow on the steps he stood as if warning her not to go in.

Like the devil, dark eyes beckoned; and the sun was too hot on the top of her head. It was certainly her father holding her up now, because with one look at this man she was almost dizzy. Only one long look and it was as if she tasted for a second all that had been denied, all that would be denied if she climbed the steps.

He was surely the most beautiful man she had ever seen.

Tall, he lounged against a column, shamelessly staring, which, Connie told herself, people did to a bride.

But it was
how
he looked that had her stomach fold over itself. It was a different sort of look from any she had experienced.

His eyes roamed over her, and she felt her body burn.

Thank God for the veil, for beneath it she burnt red, her breathing tight in her chest; she could feel the prickly heat from her face spreading across her chest and down to her arms.

Brides blushed on their wedding day, Connie told herself as she slowly climbed the steps.

Except the burn in her body was not for the man who waited at the altar, or for guests whose heads would turn when she entered. Instead, the burning was for him. It was surreal, just bizarre, to be walking towards her future, and to see at that second a different route. And as his full mouth did not move into a smile, as his eyes compelled her, so strong was the pull, so fierce the attraction, so palpable the energy between them, she was sure, quite sure, that had she walked over to him, had she
run
to him as her body was telling her to, that his arms would be waiting; that now, right now, she could walk away, run away, and live a life that was hers.

‘I can’t.’ Once past him she faltered at the door of the church, the smell of incense from the priest’s burner making her feel sick. ‘I can’t do this.’

‘It’s nerves,’ her father said kindly. ‘Today—’ her father’s voice came from a distance ‘—is my proudest day …’ Like waking from a dream, she was back in reality, and instead of looking backward to where his eyes still burnt on her bare shoulder, she looked forward, looked down the long aisle and saw her husband-to-be waiting.

Nico had seen her blush, had felt her start and wondered, too, what had just happened. It had felt, for a moment, as if they knew each other, as if their minds were speaking, the connection had been so strong, yet it had come from nowhere.

Perhaps they had once been lovers, Nico mused,
which would explain the blush that crept down her chest and dappled her creamy arms.

He should remember, though, Nico thought, and not out of guilt, for he had held so many women in his arms that recall was often hard. Too many times an ex-lover had galloped over to him then left in tears, because the night she had treasured for so long didn’t even merit a fond memory for Nico. But as for this bride—her body, that gorgeous round face and full ripe lips—surely he would have remembered making love to a woman like that.

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