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Authors: Sara Craven,Chieko Hara

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PAGAN ADVERSARY

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PAGAN ADVERSARY

Sara Craven

"Alex is a wild man - a true pagan!"

Harriet had forgotten her dead brother-in-law's words until she stood

opposite the fiercest opponent of her life - the autocratic and

unyielding Alex Marcos. He had no scruples about taking her

orphaned nephew, Nicky, away from her, claiming the boy was his

heir.

But Harriet wouldn't let Nicky go - even if it meant abandoning

herself to the savage demands of Alex's lovemaking.

For if the only weapon she had to fight Alex with was the effect her

body had on his, then she'd use it, no matter what the cost!

CHAPTER ONE

'WHAT you're saying is that there's nothing I can do- that I can't win.'

By a superhuman effort Harriet Masters kept her voice steady.

The man sitting opposite her at the wide, polished desk gave a slight

shrug. 'You are mistaken if you regard this as a battle, Thespinis

Masters. But if you insist on doing so, then I must tell you it is one

you will find impossible to Win. My client is prepared to carry his

claim for custody of his nephew to any court either in this country or

internationally. It would be a costly process, but one that he could

afford. Whereas you --'

he glanced down at some papers in front of him— 'You, I see, are a

secretary.'

'Nothing so important,' Harriet said defiantly. 'I'm a typist. I earn a

reasonable salary, but I can't fight the Marcos millions—I admit that.

But my claim to Nicky is on moral grounds.' She took a deep breath.

'My sister was my only living relative. When she and Kostas

married—when they had Nicky, they let me become part of their

family. I—I even had a room in their house, and I was actually

looking after Nicky when— when.. . .' She paused, struggling for

composure. -

'I am aware of that,
thespinis,''
Mr Philippides looked at her with a

trace of compassion. 'It was a great tragedy, a grievous shock for you.

But surely you wish for the best for the boy.'

Harriet returned his glance coolly. 'Naturally. But I think we differ on

how we would interpret what's best for him.'

Mr Philippides pursed his lips. 'Come,
thespinis.'
There was a trace of

impatience in his voice. 'In his uncle's care, he will have every

possible advantage.'

'I'd find that easier to believe if that same uncle had taken the slightest

interest in him when he was born, and during the time before Kostas

and Becca were— killed,' Harriet retorted, and was' glad to see Mr

Philippides look uncomfortable. In a detached way, she could almost

feel sorry for him. He had a wretched job to do, and one that was

probably little to his taste. But on the other hand, she thought

cynically, Alex Marcos was undoubtedly paying him well to

persuade her to hand little Nicky over without a struggle.

When she had arrived at the imposing suite of offices which housed

the London branch of the Marcos corporation, she had been frankly

terrified in case she had to face Alex Marcos himself. She had never

met him, but Kostas naturally had spoken of him often, and although

Harriet acknowledged that his view was coloured by the fact that

there was little love lost between the brothers, there was no doubt that

he sounded a formidable figure.

She had found Mr Philippides with his grizzled hair and rotund

person a distinct relief, although she did not underestimate him.

Anyone Alex Marcos employed would have high professional skills,

and would be expected to win any encounters they undertook on his

behalf.

But not this one, Harriet thought, her nails digging painfully into the

palms of her hands. Not this one. I can't let Nicky go. He's all I have.

She stole a swift glance at herself in the huge mirror which dominated

one wall of the office, and was glad to see that apart from a telltale

spot of colour in each cheek, she looked relatively calm. She was

thankful that Mr Philippides could not know how near collapse she

had been through sheer tension as the lift had borne her swiftly

upwards to the penthouse.

Alex Marcos' arrogant claim to Nicky had come as a complete shock

to her. He and Kostas had been on cool terms for several years, and

relations between them had been totally severed when Kostas married

Becca against his family's wishes. From that moment on there had

been no contact, either by letter or telephone, and Kostas had declared

savagely that he would never go back to Greece again. Harriet could

only be glad he had never known how tragically his prophecy would

be fulfilled. He and Becca had been killed instantly on their way

home from a friend's house when a car driven by a drunk had careered

into their own vehicle at some crossroads.

From that moment, life had become a nightmare for Harriet, but she

had coped with the inquest and the funeral because there was no one

else to do it. And no one else to look after Nicky. The firm she

worked for had allowed her several weeks leave with pay while she

made what arrangements she could. The house had to be sold. It was

on a mortgage, and she could not afford the payments. It was as much

as she could do to pay the rent on the large bedsitter she had found. It

was an airy room, but she had to share the kitchen and bathroom, and

when Nicky grew older she would have to find something larger.

But she had been prepared for that. Prepared for all the eventualities

and sacrifices that would be necessary, because she loved Nicky.

She had got him a place with a registered child- minder, a girl only a

few years older than herself with twins of Nicky's age, and a

pleasantly untidy house and garden. Manda Lane was a serene,

unruffled personality and Harriet had taken to her immediately, and,

what was more important, so had Nicky, who although too young to

fully comprehend the rapid change in his circumstances, was

nevertheless disturbed by it, and inclined to cling.

Life wasn't easy, and money was tight, but she was coping.

And then had come the letter from Alex Marcos' solicitors, informing

her that he was claiming custody of his brother's child, and offering

her payment in compensation. She had been stunned by the letter's

cruelty and insensitivity, and had dashed off an impetuous refusal of

his terms by return of post.

The next communication had been couched in slightly more

conciliatory terms, but with no alteration in the basic demand. Nicky

was to leave England and take up residence in Greece in his uncle's

charge, and she, Harriet, was to relinquish all claims to him. Her reply

to this showed no lessening of her own determination. There had been

a lengthy pause, and she had begun to hope, idiotically, that Alex

Marcos had thought better of engaging in what the media called a 'tug

of love' over a child who was a total stranger to him.

He didn't need Nicky, she had persuaded herself. He had so much

else—wealth, property, business interests which took him all over the

world, and if the gossip columns were to be believed, more female

company than was decent.

'We were born the wrong way round,' Kostas had said once ruefully.

'Alex is a wild man, a rover, a true pagan. That is the role of the young

brother,
ne?
Whereas I—I am the tame, domesticated man. Very

dull.'

He had laughed and looked at Becca, and something in their eyes and

intimate smiles had brought a lump to Harriet's throat. There was

nothing dull about their lives together, she'd thought.

Led by her thoughts, aloud she said, 'Judging by what one reads in the

papers, I'd have said Alex Marcos is the last man in the world to want

to saddle himself with a small child. Won't it cramp his usual style?'

Mr Philippides almost gaped at her, and she saw with satisfaction that

a faint film of perspiration had broken out on his swarthy forehead.

He said repressively, 'That is hardly a subject for discussion. You

forget,
thespinis,
that the child Nicos is his heir.'

Harriet smiled. 'And he forgets that Nicky is my heir too.'

'Po, po, po,'
Mr Philippides gestured impatiently. 'Let us speak

seriously, Thespinis Masters, and practically too. What can you

possibly hope to give the child in comparison to the Marcos family?'

'I can give him love,' Harriet said bravely. 'Nicky isn't a commodity,

as Mr Marcos seems to think, judging by the insulting offer he made

to me.'

Mr Philippides avoided her gaze 'That was perhaps— unfortunate.'

'That is putting it extremely mildly,' said Harriet.

Mr Philippides leaned forward. 'You must not mistake yourself, my

deaf young lady, that the child will not be cared for. As well as his

uncle, his grandmother is also anxious to receive him.'

'What a pity they weren't equally anxious to receive my sister.'

Harriet's tone held a note of steel.

She could remember Kostas' distress at the implacable silence which

greeted his marriage. 'Mama and Alex!' he had raged. 'All my life I

have taken their orders— obeyed them dutifully. But all that is

forgotten now. In their eyes I have transgressed—and neither of them

will forgive or forget.'

Harriet's heart muscles contracted at the thought of little Nicky

growing up in such an atmosphere.

Mr Philippides sighed. 'It could hardly be expected they would

welcome such a match,' he said, clearly making an effort to be

placatory. 'You do not fully understand, dear young lady, that in our

tountry such matters are often still arranged. A bride had already been

chosen for the late Mr Marcos. His marriage to your sister caused

great offence—deep embarrassment.'

'Then why didn't Alex marry her himself, if it was so important?'

Harriet snapped. 'As for Nicky being his heir, that's a ridiculous

argument. He's bound to marry and have children himself one day—if

he can find any woman fool enough to tie herself up to him—and

where will Nicky be then?' She thumped the desk with her clenched

fist. 'He has—everything, Mr Philippides— and I only have Nicky. I

won't give him up. If Mr Marcos wants him, he'll have to fight for

him!'

'I hope that is not your final word, Thespinis Masters.' As Harriet rose

to her feet, Mr Philippides stood up too.

'No,' said Harriet. 'My final word is—tyrant. A Greek word, I think.

In England, we don't believe in them.'

She marched to the door without a backward glance.

Her bravado had faded slightly when she reached the street. In fact

she was shaking so much, she had to pause for a few moments in the

doorway until she had regained her self-control.

The interview had not in fact taken as long as she had anticipated, and

there was still nearly three- quarters of an hour left of her lunch break,

although she had little appetite.

It was a fine sunny day, and several of the pubs she passed on her way

back to her own office had awnings out, and tables on the pavement.

Reasoning that she couldn't do a full afternoon's work on an empty

stomach, no matter how churned-up that stomach might be, Harriet

sat down at one of the outside tables, ordering a tomato juice and a

cheese sandwich.

She might have promised Alex Marcos a fight, she thought sombrely,

but Mr Philippides had been right when he said she could not win. He

had everything going for him—money, power, resources. How could

she hope to convince anyone, let alone a court of law, that she would

be a more suitable guardian for a small child?

She sighed, and tossed the remains of a crust to a hopefully strutting

pigeon.

Besides, couldn't it be argued that by attempting to keep Nicky, she

was actually being selfish? She did want Nicky to have all the

advantages that the Marcos family could provide, but she could not.

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