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‘I’m going to be a free spirit,’ her mother had said, Lisa recalled, curling her lip as she remembered their hectic flight to the commune. The only thing that was free at the commune as far as she remembered was the men’s licence to have sex whenever, and with whomever, they chose. The women worked, while the men drank themselves into oblivion, only recovering in time for the next rut.

In Lisa’s opinion, her mother had simply exchanged one type of savage slavery for another. Fortunately, such a thing could never happen to her. She had taken control of her life when she had escaped the commune, and no one would ever take that control away from her. If they did she always feared it would destroy her.

As Constantine Zagorakis’s hand enclosed Lisa’s in the customary handshake she felt a shock run right up her arm. She had thought him strong, but she’d had no idea up to that moment how powerful he was. Touching him was like touching the pelt of a sleeping lion. She could sense the power underneath. And he had the same peculiar stillness of a deadly predator, a predator poised to pounce…

‘It’s a pleasure to meet you,’ she said, but they both knew it was a meaningless courtesy; the smile didn’t even attempt to reach her eyes. The only pleasure in store for either of them was a deal that came out weighted in their favour.

Zagorakis’s gaze was as hard as her own. She wished it might have been possible to learn something about him before they had met, but Constantine Zagorakis was a dark mystery of a man, a man who lived his life behind a wall of secrecy. No rumours about him had ever circulated. He was, apparently, Mr Clean, with no family that anyone knew about, no lurid sex life, no life at all outside his formidable business empire—an empire that reached into every corner of the world.

At thirty-five, Constantine Zagorakis ran one of the largest corporations on the planet. Devouring companies was his recreation of choice. But this was one business that would stick in his craw, because Bond Steel wasn’t for sale. And neither was she. Lisa thought, hardening her mouth when he held her gaze. Easing her hand away from his clasp, she turned to address the room: ‘Shall we sit down, gentlemen?’

And now, Zagorakis was holding out her chair like the perfect gentleman. He didn’t fool her. He understood the significance of the seat of power, and was goading her with it. He had sensed how territorial she was. The fact that he could read her so accurately made her doubly cautious. ‘Thank you, Mr Zagorakis.’ She took her place.

‘Please, call me Tino.’

‘Won’t you sit across from me?’ Lisa indicated a place at the table, ignoring his attempt at informality. She didn’t want to sit facing him, but it was better, safer to keep him in sight at all times—that way she could detect any little asides he might send to his people.

It provided her with a perfect chance to study him. His choice of outfit was nothing short of an insult: casual jacket, blue jeans, and a black, open-necked shirt—though everything was designer, she’d give him that. Still, he looked more like a buccaneer home from a raid than a suave Greek tycoon. His thick, wavy black hair was too long, and there was at least a day’s worth of stubble on his face.

Her stomach gave a kick as their eyes briefly met. She didn’t like his expression. Aesthetically his eyes were pleasing enough, glorious in fact, black as pitch, with lashes so long he could almost shield what he was thinking… but not quite. This was a scouting trip for Tino Zagorakis. He wasn’t interested in her small engineering works. He was testing the vulnerability of the parent company, Bond Steel. He was testing her vulnerability.

Lisa was used to corporate raiders sniffing around. They all thought the same thing: a woman at the helm was easy pickings—their mistake. Zagorakis was no more of a threat than the rest—other than in the hot-sexual-tug department.

Businessmen she normally encountered had boardroom pallor with blubber to match, and so she had imagined him shorter, dumpier, uglier—a younger model of the grizzled old shipping tycoons. Tino Zagorakis was none of those things.

But she had to forget the man’s impressive casing, and focus on the brain beneath. Bond Steel’s reputation was on the firing line—not to mention her own, and from his casual approach she assumed Zagorakis thought the deal a foregone conclusion. He hadn’t even troubled to shave or dress appropriately, and that showed contempt in her book.