The Marakaios Baby (Mills & Boon Largeprint Romance)

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9780263257090: The Marakaios Baby (Mills & Boon Largeprint Romance)

Don't miss this exciting new *Mills & Boon* romance The Marakaios Baby by Kate Hewitt available on 04/12/2015 - pre-order your copy today!

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About the Author:

Kate Hewitt has worked a variety of different jobs, from drama teacher to editorial assistant to church youth worker, but writing romance is the best one yet. She also writes short stories and serials for women's magazines, and all her stories celebrate the healing and redemptive power of love. Kate lives in a tiny village with her husband, five children, and an overly affectionate Golden Retriever.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

'Will you marry me?:

The question seemed to bounce off the walls and echo through the room as Marguerite Ferrars stared in shock at the face of the man who had asked the question—her lover, Leonidas Marakaios.

He gazed at her with a faint half-smile quirking his lips, his eyebrows slightly raised. In his hand he held a small black velvet box, and the solitaire diamond of who knew how many carats inside sparkled with quiet sophistication.

'Margo?'

His voice was lilting, teasing; he thought she was silent because she was so surprised. But, while that was true, she felt something else as well. Appalled. Terrified.

She'd never expected this—never thought that charismatic playboy Leo would think of marriage. A lifetime commitment, a life—and love—you could lose. And she knew the searing pain of losing someone—the way it left you breathless and gasping, waking up in the night, your face awash in tears, even years later...

The moment stretched on too long, and still she said nothing. She couldn't. Because she didn't dare say yes and yet no seemed just as impossible. Leo Marakaios was not a man who accepted refusal. Rejection.

She watched as a slight frown pulled his eyebrows together and he withdrew the hand holding the open velvet box to rest it in his lap.

'Leo...' she began finally, helplessly—because how could she tell this impossibly arrogant, handsome, charismatic man no? And yet she had to. Of course she had to.

'I didn't think this would be that much of a surprise,' he said, his voice holding only a remnant of lightness now.

She felt a surge of something close to anger, which was almost a relief. 'Didn't you? We've never had the kind of relationship that.'

'That what?' He arched an eyebrow, the gesture caught between wryness and disdain.

She could feel him withdrawing, and while she knew she should be glad, she felt only a deep, wrenching sorrow. This wasn't what she'd wanted. But she didn't—couldn't—want marriage either. Couldn't let someone matter that much.

'That...led somewhere,' she finished, and he closed the box with a snap, his expression turning so terribly cold. 'I see.'

Words stuck in her throat—the answer she knew she had to give yet somehow couldn't make herself say. 'Leo, we've never even talked about the future.'

'We've been together for two years,' he returned. 'I think it's reasonable to assume it was going somewhere'

His voice held a deliberate edge, and his eyes were blazing silver fire. Or maybe ice, for he looked so cold now—even contemptuous. And moments ago he'd been asking to marry her. It almost seemed laughable.

'Together for two years,' Margo allowed, determined to stay reasonable, 'but we've hardly had what most people would call a "normal" relationship. We've met in strange cities, in restaurants and hotels—'

'Which is how you wanted it.'

'And how you wanted it too. It was an affair, Leo. A—a fling.'

'A two-year fling.'

She rose from her chair, agitated now, and paced in front of the picture window that overlooked the Île de la Cité. It was so strange and unsettling to have Leo here in her apartment, her sanctuary, when he'd never come to her home before. Restaurants and hotels, yes—anonymous places for emotionless no-strings sex...that was what they'd agreed. That was all she could let herself have.

The risk of trying for more was simply too great. She knew what it was like to lose everything—even your own soul. She couldn't go through that again. She wouldn't.

Not even for Leo.

'You seem upset,' Leo remarked tonelessly. 'I just didn't expect this.' 'As it happens, neither did I.'

He rose from where he'd been sitting, on the damask settee she'd upholstered herself, his tall, rangy figure seeming to fill the cosy space of her sitting room. He looked wrong here, somehow, amidst all her things—her throw pillows and porcelain ornaments; he was too big, too dark, too powerful... Tike a tiger pacing the cage of a kitten.

'I thought most women wanted to get married,' he remarked.

She turned on him then, another surge of anger making her feel strong. 'What a ridiculous, sexist assumption! And I, in any case, am not "most women".'

'No,' Leo agreed silkily. 'You're not.'

His eyes blazed with intent then—an intent that made Margo's breath catch in her chest.

The sexual chemistry between them had been instantaneous—electric. She remembered catching sight of him in a hotel bar in Milan two years ago. She'd been nursing a single glass of white wine while she went over her notes for the next day's meeting. He'd strolled over to the bar and slid onto the stool next to hers, and the little hairs on the back of her neck had prickled. She'd felt as if she were finally coming alive.

She'd gone back with him to his room that night. It had been so unlike her—she'd always kept herself apart, her heart on ice. In her twenty-nine years she'd had only two lovers before Leo, both of them lamentably forgettable. Neither of those men had affected her the way Leo did—and not just physically.

From that first night he'd reached a place inside her she'd thought numb, dead. He'd brought her back to life. And while she'd known it was dangerous she'd stayed with him, because the thought of not being with Leo was worse.

Except now that was a reality. She'd thought an affair with Leo would be safe, that he would never ask more of her than she was prepared to give. But here he was asking for marriage, a lifetime, and her response was bone-deep terror.

Which was why she could not accept his proposal.

Except she had a terrible and yet thrilling certainty that he had a different proposal in mind now, as he came towards her, his gaze turning hooded and sleepy even though that lithe, powerful body she knew almost as well as her own was taut with suppressed energy and tension.

She licked her lips, felt the insistent thud of her heart, the stirring of blood in her veins. Even now her body yearned for him.

'Leo.'

'You surprise me, Margo.'

She gave a little shake of her head. 'You're the one who surprised me.'

'Clearly. But I thought you'd be pleased. Don't you want to get married?'

He sounded so reasonable, but she saw a certain calculation in his eyes, and he ran one hand up and down her bare arm, so gooseflesh broke out in the wake of his touch.

'No.'

'Why not?'

His easy, interested tone jarred with the fingers he continued to run up and down her arm, and with that sleepy, knowing gaze.

'I'm a career woman, Leo—'

'You can be a married career woman, Margo. This is the twenty-first century, after all.'

'Oh? And how would that work, exactly? You live in central Greece—the middle of nowhere. How am I supposed to work from there?'

For a second she thought she saw a gleam of something like triumph in his eyes, but then it sparked out and he gave a negligent shrug of his shoulders. 'You could commute. The flight from Athens to Paris is only a few hours.'

'Commute? Are you serious?'

'We could work something out, Margo, if that's all that's stopping you.'

There was a note of challenge in his voice, and she realised then what he was doing. Leonidas Marakaios was a powerful and persuasive man. He was CEO of the Mara-kaios Enterprises, a company that had started with a few olive groves and a cold press and was now a multibillion dollar company—a man of the world who was used to getting what he wanted. And he wanted her. So here he was, breaking down her defences, discarding her arguments. And the trouble was she was so weak, so tempted, that it might actually work.

She turned away from him to take a few steadying breaths without him seeing how unsettled she was. In the darkness of the window she could see her reflection: a too pale face, wide eyes, and a tumble of long dark brown hair that fell nearly to her waist.

When Leo had shown up twenty minutes ago she'd been in yoga pants and a faded tee shirt, her face without a lick of make-up, her hair down. She'd been silently appalled. She'd always been careful that he saw only the woman she wanted him to—the woman the world saw: sexy, chic, professional, a little bit distant, a little bit cool. All their meetings had been stage-managed affairs; she'd swept into a restaurant or hotel room in full make-up, a sexy little negligee in her bag, insouciant and secure.

He'd never seen her like this: vulnerable, without the mask of make-up, the armour of designer clothes. He'd never seen her agitated and uncertain, her savoir-faire slipping from her fingers.

'Margo,' Leo said quietly. 'Tell me the real reason.'

Another quick breath, buoying inside her lungs. 'I told you, Leo. I don't want marriage or what it entails. The whole housewife routine bores me to death.' She made her voice cold—careless, even.

Steeling herself, she turned around to face him and nearly flinched at the careful consideration in his eyes. She had a horrible feeling she wasn't fooling him at all.

'I just said you don't need to be a housewife. Do you think I want to change you completely?'

'You don't even know me, Leo, not really.'

He took a step towards her, and again she saw that intent in his eyes, felt an answering flare inside her. She had, she realised, just given him a challenge.

'Are you sure about that?'

'I'm not talking about sex.'

'What don't I know, then?' He spread his hands wide, his eyebrows raised. 'Tell me.' 'It's not that simple.'

'Because you don't want it to be. I know you, Margo. I know your feet get cold in the middle of the night and you tuck them between my legs to keep them warm. I know you like marshmallows even though you pretend you don't eat any sweets.'

She almost laughed at that. 'How do you know about the marshmallows?' Her dirty little secret, when it seemed as if every other woman in Paris was stick-thin and ate only lettuce leaves and drank black coffee.

'I found a little bag of them in your handbag once.'

'You shouldn't have been looking through my things.'

'I was fetching your reading glasses for you, if you remember.'

She shook her head—an instinctive response, because all those little details that he'd lobbed at her like well-aimed missiles were making her realise how intimate her relationship with Leo really had been. She'd thought she'd kept her distance, armoured herself—the elegant Marguerite Fer-rars, keeping their assignations in anonymous places. But in truth reality had seeped through. Emotion had too, as well as affection, with the glasses and the marshmallows and the cold feet. Little signs of how close they'd become, how much he'd begun to mean to her.

And she saw all too clearly how he would chip away at her defences now—how he would seduce her with knowing words and touches until she'd say yes. Of course she'd say yes. Because she was already more than halfway to loving him.

For a second—no more—Margo thought about actually accepting his proposal. Living a life she'd never thought to have, had made herself never want. A life of happiness but also of terrible risk. Risk of loss, of hurt, of heartbreak. Of coming apart so she'd never put the pieces of her soul back together again.

Reality returned in a cold rush and she shook her head.

'No, Leo.'

That faint smile had returned, although his eyes looked hard. 'Just like that?' 'Just like that.'

'You don't think I—we—deserve more explanation?'

'Not particularly.' She'd made her voice indifferent, maybe too much, because anger flashed in his eyes, turning the silver to grey.

He cocked his head, his gaze sweeping slowly over her. 'I think you're hiding something from me.'

She gave a scoffing laugh. 'You would.'

'What is that supposed to mean?'

'You can't believe I'm actually turning you down, can you?' The words tumbled out of her, fuelled by both anger and fear. 'You—the Lothario who has had half the single women in Europe.'

'I wouldn't go quite that far. Forty per cent, maybe.'

There was the charm, almost causing her to lose that needed edge of fury, to smile. 'No woman has ever resisted you.'

'You didn't,' he pointed out, with what Margo knew was deceptive mildness.

'Because I wanted a fling,' she declared defiantly. 'Sex without strings.'

'We never actually said—'

'Oh, but we did, Leo. Don't you remember that first conversation? We set out the rules right then.'

She saw a glimmer of acknowledgement in his eyes, and his mouth hardened into a thin line.

It had been an elaborate dance of words, their talk of business concerns and obligations, veiled references to other places, other people—every careful remark setting out just what their affair would and wouldn't be. Both of them, Margo had thought, had been clear about their desire for a commitment-free relationship.

'I didn't think you wanted to get married,' she said.

Leo shrugged. 'I decided I did.'

'But you didn't at the beginning, when we met. You weren't interested then.' She'd felt his innate sense of distance and caution, the same as her own. They had, she'd thought, been speaking the same language, giving the code words for no commitment, no love, no fairytales.

'People change, Margo. I'm thirty-two. You're twenty-nine. Of course I'd think of settling down...starting a family.'

Something clanged hard inside her; she felt as if someone had pulled the chair out from under her and she'd fallen right onto the floor.

'Well, then, that's where we differ, Leo,' she stated, her voice thankfully cool. 'I don't want children.'

His eyebrows drew together at that. 'Ever?'

'Ever.'

He stared at her for a long, considering moment. 'You're scared.'

'Stop telling me what I feel,' she snapped, raising her voice to hide its tremble. 'And get over yourself. I'm not scared. I just don't want what you want. I don't want to marry you.' She took a breath, and then plunged on recklessly. 'I don't love you.'

He tensed slightly, almost as if her words had hurt him, and then he shrugged. 'I don't love you. But there are better bases for a marriage than that ephemeral emotion.'

'Such as?'

'Common goals—'

'How romantic you are,' she mocked. 'Did you want more romance? Would that have made a difference?' 'No!'

'Then I'm glad I didn't wine and dine you at Gavroche, as I was considering, and propose in front of a crowd.'

He spoke lightly enough, and yet she still heard an edge to his voice.

'So am I,' she answered, and held her ground as he took a step towards her. She could feel the heat rolling off him, felt herself instinctively sway towards him. She stopped herself, holding herself rigid, refusing to yield even in that small way.

'So this is it?' he said softly, his voice no more than a breath that feathered her face. His silvery gaze roved over her, seeming to steal right inside her. 'This is goodbye?'

'Yes.' She spoke firmly, but he must have seen something in her face...

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