Authors: Penny Jordan
‘A good lover makes it his business to make his partner’s pleasure as enduring as she wishes it to be.’
‘That’s easy to say,’ Lizzie responded, desperate to try to hold her own and appear as nonchalant as Ilios was himself. The reality was that his casual observation was having an intense and unwanted effect on her. It was making her ask questions of herself that she knew she could not answer. Questions such as what would it be like to be the partner of Ilios Manos, as his lover?
‘And I assure you easy to do, when one knows how,’ Ilios came back, slipping the comment up under Lizzie’s guard to draw a soft gasp of choked reaction from her.
Of course Ilios Manos would be an experienced lover. Of course he would know exactly how to please his partner—even if that partner was as untutored as she was herself.
has been writing for more than twenty years and has an outstanding record: over 170 novels published, including the phenomenally successful A PERFECT FAMILY, TO LOVE, HONOUR AND BETRAY, THE PERFECT SINNER and POWER PLAY, which hit the
New York Times
bestseller lists. Penny Jordan was born in Preston, Lancashire, and now lives in rural Cheshire.
A BRIDE FOR HIS MAJESTY’S PLEASURE
THE SICILIAN BOSS’S MISTRESS*
THE SICILIAN’S BABY BARGAIN*
CAPTIVE AT THE SICILIAN BILLIONAIRE’S COMMAND*
TAKEN BY THE SHEIKH
THE SHEIKH’S BLACKMAILED MISTRESS
VIRGIN FOR THE BILLIONAIRE’S TAKING
The Leopardi Brothers
Bestselling Modern Romance
author Penny Jordan brings you an exciting new trilogy…
NEEDED: THE WORLD’S MOST ELIGIBLE BILLIONAIRES
Three penniless sisters, pure and proud…but about to be purchased!
With bills that need to be paid, a house about to be repossessed and little twin boys to feed, sisters Lizzie, Charley and Ruby refuse to drown in their debts. They will hold their heads up high and fight to feed their family!
But three of the richest, most ruthless men in the world are about to enter their lives…
Pure, proud, but penniless, how far will the sisters go to save the ones they love?
THE WEALTHY GREEK’S CONTRACT WIFE
Ilios Manos is Greek and ruthless. A dangerous combination! Lizzie owes him thousands, but he’ll take her as his wife in payment…
Look out for Charley’s story THE ITALIAN DUKE’S VIRGIN MISTRESS in April 2010
And don’t miss Ruby’s story coming soon!
MILLS & BOON®
looked out across the land that had belonged to his family for almost five centuries.
It was here on this rocky promontory, stretching out into the Aegean Sea in the north east of Greece, that Alexandros Manos had built for himself a copy of one of Palladio’s most famous creations. Villa Emo.
Manos family folklore said that Alexandros Manos, a wealthy Greek merchant with his own fleet trading between Constantinople and Venice, had done business with the Emo family, and had been seized with envy for the new Emo mansion. He had secretly copied Palladio’s drawings for the villa, taking them home to Greece with him, where he had had his own villa built, naming it Villa Manos and declaring that both it and the land on which it stood were a sacred trust, to be passed down from generation to generation, and must be owned by no man who was not of his blood.
It was here that Alexandros Manos had created what was in effect a personal fiefdom—a small kingdom of which he was absolute ruler.
Ilios knew that this promontory of land, surrounded on three sides by the Aegean Sea and with the mountains of
northern Greece at its back, had meant everything to his grandfather, and Ilios’s own father had given his life to keep it—just as his grandfather had forfeited his wealth to protect it. To protect
. But he hadn’t protected the sons he had fathered, sacrificing them in order to keep his covenant with both the past and the future.
Ilios had learned a lot from his grandfather. He had learned that when you carried the hereditary responsibility of being descended from Alexandros Manos you had a duty to look beyond your own emotions—even to deny them if you had to—in order to ensure that the sacred living torch that was their family duty to the villa was passed on. The hand that carried that torch might be mortal, but the torch itself was for ever. Ilios had grown up listening to his grandfather’s stories of what it meant to carry the blood of Alexandros Manos in your veins, and what it meant to be prepared to sacrifice anything and anyone to ensure that torch was passed on safely.
His was the duty to carry it now. And his too was the duty to do what his grandfather had not been able to do—and that was to restore their family’s fortunes and its greatness.
As a boy, when Ilios had promised his grandfather that he would find a way to restore that greatness, his cousin Tino had laughed at him. Tino had laughed again when Ilios had told him that the only way he would pay off Tino’s debts was if Tino sold him his half-share of their grandfather’s estate to him.
Ilios looked at the building in front of him, the handsome face imprinted with the human history of so many generations of powerful self-willed men. It was set as though carved in marble by the same hands that had sculpted images of the Greek heroes of mythology.
The golden eyes were a legacy of the wife Alexandros had brought back with him from northern lands, and they were fixed unwaveringly on the horizon.
Tino wasn’t laughing any more. But he would be plotting to get his revenge, just as he had since their childhood. Tino had always wanted what little his cousin had, and would not take this humiliation lightly. As far as Tino was concerned, being born the son of a younger son was to labour under a disadvantage—something he blamed Ilios for.
Ilios knew the reputation he had amongst other men for striking a hard deal, and driving a hard bargain, for demanding the impossible from those who worked for him in order to create the impossible for those who paid him to do exactly that.
There was no black magic, no dark art, as some seemed to suppose in the means by which he had made his fortune in the construction business—other than that of determination and hard work, of endurance and driving himself to succeed. The graft that Ilios employed was not oiled by back-handers or grubby deals done in shadowed rooms, but by sheer hard work. By knowing his business inside out and from the bottom up—because that was where he himself had started. Even now, no commission that bore the name of Manos Construction did so until he had examined and passed every smallest detail. The pride and the sense of honour he took from his work, which he had inherited from his grandfather, saw to that.
Ilios knew that the journey he had made from the poverty of his childhood to the wealth that was now his filled other men with resentment and envy. It was said that no man could rise from penury to the wealth that Ilios possessed—counted in billions, not mere millions—by honest
means alone, and he knew that few men envied him more, or would take more pleasure in his downfall, than his own cousin.
The rising sun struck across his profile, momentarily bathing it in bright gold reminiscent of the mask of the most famous of all of Greek Macedonians—Alexander the Great. He had been born in this part of Greece, and according to family lore had walked this very peninsula with his own forebears.
Several yards away from him one of his foremen waited, like the drivers of the heavy construction equipment behind him.
‘What do you want me to do?’ he asked.
Ilios gave the building in front of him a grim look.
‘Destroy it. Pull it down and level the site.’
The foreman looked shocked.
‘But your cousin—?’
‘My cousin has no say in what happens here. Raze it to the ground.’
The foreman gave the signal to the drivers, and as the jaws of the heavy machinery bit into the building, reaching out to the morning sun, Ilios turned on his heel and walked away.
, what are you going to do, then?’ Charley asked anxiously.
Lizzie looked at her younger sisters, the familiar need to protect them, no matter what the cost to herself, stiffening her resolve.
‘There is only one thing I can do,’ she answered. ‘I shall have to go.’
‘What? Fly out to Thessalonica?’
‘It’s the only way.’
‘But we haven’t got any money.’
That was Ruby, the baby of the family at twenty-two, sitting at the kitchen table while her five-year-old twin sons, who had been allowed a rare extra half an hour of television, sat uncharacteristically quietly in the other room, so that the sisters could discuss the problems threatening them.
No, they hadn’t got any money—and that was her fault, Lizzie acknowledged guiltily.
Six years earlier, when their parents had died together, drowned by a freak wave whilst they were on holiday, Lizzie had promised herself that she would do everything she could to keep the family together. She had left university,
and had been working for a prestigious London-based interior design partnership, in pursuit of her dream of getting a job as a set designer. Charley had just started university, and Ruby had been waiting to sit her GCSE exams.
Theirs had been a close and loving family, and the shock of losing their parents had been overwhelming—especially for Ruby, who, in her despair, had sought the love and reassurance she so desperately needed in the arms of the man who had abandoned her and left her pregnant with the adored twin boys.
There had been other shocks for them to face, though. Their handsome, wonderful father and their pretty, loving mother, who had created for them the almost fairytale world of happiness in which the family had lived, had done just that—lived in a fairytale which had little or no foundation in reality.
The beautiful Georgian rectory in the small Cheshire village in which they had grown up had been heavily mortgaged, their parents had not had any life insurance, and they had had large debts. In the end there had been no alternative but for their lovely family home to be sold, so those debts could be paid off.
With the property market booming, and her need to do everything she could to support and protect her sisters, Lizzie had used her small savings to set up in business on her own in an up-and-coming area south of Manchester—Charley would be able to continue with her studies at Manchester University, Ruby could have a fresh start, and she could establish a business which would support them all.
At first things had gone well. Lizzie had won contracts to model the interiors of several new building developments, and from that had come commissions from home-buyers
to design the interiors of the properties they had bought. Off the back of that success Lizzie had taken the opportunity to buy a much larger house from one of the developers for whom she’d worked—with, of course, a much larger mortgage. It had seem to make sense at the time—after all, with the twins and the three of them they’d definitely needed the space, just as they had needed a large four-wheel drive vehicle. She used it to visit the sites on which she worked, and Ruby used it to take the boys to school. In addition to that her clients, a small local firm, had been pressuring her to buy, so that they could wind up the development and move on to a new site.
But then had come the credit crunch, and overnight almost everything had changed. The bottom had dropped out of the property market, meaning that they were unable to trade down and reduce the mortgage because of the value of the house had decreased so much, and with that of course Lizzie’s commissions had dried up. The money she had been putting away in a special savings account had not increased anything like as much as she had expected, and financially things had suddenly become very dark indeed.
Right now Charley was still working as a project manager for a local firm, and Ruby had said that she would get a job. But neither Lizzie nor Charley wanted her to do that. They both wanted the twins to have a mother at home, just as they themselves had had. And, as Lizzie had said six months ago, when they’d first started to feel the effects of the credit crunch, she would get a job working for someone else, and she still had money owing to her from various clients. They would manage.
But it turned out she had been overly optimistic. She hadn’t been able to get a job, because what industry there
was in the area geared towards personal spending was shedding workers, and with the cost of basics going up they were now struggling to manage. They were only just about keeping their heads above water. Many of her clients had cancelled their contracts, and some of them still owed her large sums of money she suspected she would never receive.
In fact things were so dire that Lizzie had already made a private decision to go to the local supermarket and see if she could get work there. But then the letter had arrived, and now they—or rather
was in an even more desperate situation.
Two of her more recent clients, for whom she had done a good deal of work, had further commissioned her to do the interior design for a small block of apartments they had bought in northern Greece. On a beautiful promontory, the apartments were to have been the first stage in a luxurious and exclusive holiday development which, when finished, would include villas, three five-star hotels, a marina, restaurants and everything that went with it.
The client had given her carte blanche to furnish them in an ‘upmarket Notting Hill style’.
Notting Hill might be a long way from their corner of industrialised Manchester, on the Cheshire border, but Lizzie had known exactly what her clients had meant: white walls, swish bathrooms and kitchens, shiny marble floors, glass furniture, exotic plants and flowers, squishy sofas…
Lizzie had flown out to see the apartments with her clients, a middle-aged couple whom she had never really been able to take to. She had been disappointed by the architectural design of the apartments. She had been expecting something creative and innovative that still fitted
perfectly into the timeless landscape, but what she had seen had been jarringly out of place. A six-storey-high rectangular box of so-called ‘duplex apartments’, reached by a narrow track that forked into two, with one branch sealed off by bales of dangerous-looking barbed wire. Hardly the luxury holiday homes location she had been expecting.
But when she had voiced her doubts to her clients, suggesting that the apartments might be difficult to sell, they had assured her that she was worrying unnecessarily.
‘Look, the fact is that we bargained the builder down to such a good price that we couldn’t lose out even if we let the whole lot out for a tenner a week,’ Basil Rainhill had joked cheerfully. At least Lizzie had assumed it as a joke. It was hard to tell with Basil at times.
He came from money, as his wife was fond of telling her. ‘Born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and of course Basil has such an eye for a good investment. It’s a gift, you know. It runs in his family.’
Only now the gift had run out. And just before the Rainhills themselves had done the same thing disappearing, leaving a mountain of debt behind them, Basil Rainhill had told Lizzie that, since he couldn’t now afford to pay her bill, he was instead making over to her a twenty per cent interest in the Greek apartment block.
Lizzie would much rather have had the money she was owed, but her solicitor had advised her to accept, and so she had become a partner in the ownership of the apartments along with the Rainhills and Tino Manos, the Greek who owned the land.
Design-wise, she had done her best with the limited possibilities presented by the apartment block, sticking to her rule of sourcing furnishings as close to where she was working as possible, and she had been pleased with the
final result. She’d even been cautiously keeping her fingers crossed that, though she suspected they wouldn’t sell, when the whole complex was finished she might look forward to the apartments being let to holidaymakers and bringing her in some much-needed income.
But now she had received this worrying, threatening letter, from a man she had never heard of before, insisting that she fly out to Thessalonica to meet him. It stated that there were ‘certain legal and financial matters with regard to your partnership with Basil Rainhill and my cousin Tino Manos which need to be resolved in person’, and included the frighteningly ominous words, ‘Failure to respond to this letter will result in an instruction to my solicitors to deal with matters on my behalf’. The letter had been signed
His summons couldn’t have come at worse time, but the whole tone of Ilios Manos’s letter was too threatening for Lizzie to feel she could refuse to obey it. As apprehensive and unwilling to meet him as she was, the needs of her family must come first. She had a responsibility to them, a duty of love from which she would never abdicate, no matter what the cost to herself. She had sworn that—promised it on the day of her parents’ funeral.
‘If this Greek wants to see you that badly he might at least have offered to pay your airfare,’ Ruby grumbled.
Lizzie felt so guilty.
‘It’s all my own fault. I should have realised that the property market was over-inflated, and creating a bubble that would burst.’
‘Lizzie, you mustn’t blame yourself.’ Charley tried to comfort her. ‘And as for realising what was happening—how could you when governments didn’t even know?’
Lizzie forced a small smile.
‘Surely if you tell the bank why you need to go to Greece they’ll give you a loan?’ Ruby suggested hopefully.
Charley shook her head. ‘The banks aren’t giving any businesses loans at the moment. Not even successful ones.’
Lizzie bit her lip. Charley wasn’t reproaching her for the failure of her business, she knew, but she still felt terrible. Her sisters relied on her. She was the eldest, the sensible one, the one the other two looked to. She prided herself on being able to take care of them—but it was a false pride, built on unstable foundations, as so much else in this current terrible financial climate.
‘So what is poor Lizzie going to do? She’s got this Greek threatening to take things further if she doesn’t go and see him, but how can she if we haven’t got any money?’ Ruby asked their middle sister.
‘We have,’ Lizzie suddenly remembered, with grateful relief. ‘We’ve got my bucket money, and I can stay in one of the apartments.’
Lizzie’s ‘bucket money’ was the spare small change she had always put in the decorative tin bucket in her office, in the days when she had possessed ‘spare’ change.
Two minutes later they were all looking at the small tin bucket, which was now on the kitchen table.
‘Do you think there’ll be enough?’ Ruby asked dubiously
There was only one way to find out.
‘Eighty-nine pounds,’ Lizzie announced half an hour later, when the change had been counted.
‘Eighty-nine pounds and four pence,’ Charley corrected her.
‘Will it be enough?’ Ruby asked.
‘I shall make it enough,’ Lizzie told them determinedly.
It would certainly buy an off-season low-cost airline
ticket, and she still had the keys for the apartments—apartments in which she held a twenty per cent interest. She was surely perfectly entitled to stay in one whilst she tried to sort out the mess the Rainhills had left behind.
How the mighty were fallen—or rather the not so mighty in her case, Lizzie reflected tiredly. All she had wanted to do was provide for her sisters and her nephews, to protect them and keep them safe financially, so that never ever again would they have to endure the truly awful spectre of repossession and destitution which had faced them after their parents’ death.