Imprisoned by the Greek's Ring (Conveniently Wed!), page 1
His vengeance won’t be complete...
Until he has her as his bride!
After ten years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, ruthless Greek Atlas Chariton is back to take revenge on Lexi Haring—the woman who put him there. He’ll meet her at the altar and bind her to him—for life! But once married, the bliss of her sensual surrender threatens to unravel his hard-won vengeance...
USA TODAY bestselling and RITA® Award–nominated author CAITLIN CREWS loves writing romance. She even teaches her favourite romance novels in creative writing classes at places like UCLA Extension’s prestigious Writers’ Program, where she finally gets to utilise the MA and PhD in English Literature she received from the University of York in England. She currently lives in the Pacific Northwest with her very own hero and too many pets. Visit her at caitlincrews.com.
Also by Caitlin Crews
Castelli’s Virgin Widow
Expecting a Royal Scandal
The Return of the Di Sione Wife
The Guardian’s Virgin Ward
Bride by Royal Decree
Undone by the Billionaire Duke
A Baby to Bind His Bride
Scandalous Royal Brides miniseries
The Prince’s Nine-Month Scandal
The Billionaire’s Secret Princess
Discover more at millsandboon.co.uk.
Imprisoned by the Greek’s Ring
IMPRISONED BY THE GREEK’S RING
© 2018 Caitlin Crews
Published in Great Britain 2018
by Mills & Boon, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers 1 London Bridge Street, London, SE1 9GF
All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. This edition is published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, locations and incidents are purely fictional and bear no relationship to any real life individuals, living or dead, or to any actual places, business establishments, locations, events or incidents. Any resemblance is entirely coincidental.
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Back Cover Text
About the Author
About the Publisher
THE WORST FINALLY happened on an otherwise unremarkable Tuesday afternoon in the middle of a gray and sullen British spring.
It wasn’t as if Lexi Haring hadn’t been expecting it. They’d all been on tenterhooks since the news had come in. After all these years—and all the appeals that the Worth family solicitors had assured everyone were nothing but noise right up until the very end—Atlas Chariton was a free man.
Not just free. Innocent.
Lexi had watched the press conference he’d given, right there in front of the American prison where he’d been serving a life sentence with no possibility of parole for the murder that DNA evidence at his last appeal trial had conclusively proved he didn’t commit. He’d been released the same day.
She hadn’t been able to turn away from a single moment of the breathless coverage, if she was honest, and not only because every channel was showing the press conference live.
“I’ve maintained my innocence from the start,” Atlas had said in that dark, powerful voice of his that had seemed to come straight through the screen, the English he spoke with both a British accent and that hint of his native Greek as richly mysterious to her ears as ever. He’d had the same effect on her he always had. He filled the small bedsit Lexi counted herself lucky to have in her shabby West London neighborhood. It was a long bus ride plus ten minutes’ brisk walk to the Worth estate where she worked, thanks to her uncle’s continuing kindness to her. And even if she sometimes felt her uncle wasn’t all that kind, she kept it to herself and tried to remind herself of that luck. “I am delighted to be proved so beyond any possible remaining doubt.”
Atlas looked older, which was only to be expected, though no gray had dared yet invade that thick black hair of his that threatened to curl at any moment. The stark ferocity that had always been there on his face and stamped into the long, lean lines of his body was more evident now, eleven years after he’d first been arrested. It made his black eyes gleam. It made his cruel mouth seem even harsher and more brutal.
He made Lexi shiver the way he always had done, though he was all the way on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Her heart kicked at her the way it always had when he was near. And it was as if he was aiming that pitiless midnight stare directly at her, straight through the television cameras.
She thought he was. Of course he was.
She had no doubt that he knew perfectly well that she was watching.
It reminded her of the way he’d glared at her a decade ago, when she’d been eighteen and overwhelmed and had stuttered every time her gaze had clashed with his across that overheated, airless courtroom on Martha’s Vineyard. And yet she’d still somehow managed to choke out the testimony that had damned him.
She could still remember every word she’d said. She could taste each one on her tongue, bitter and thick.
She remembered too much of that time. The intense pressure her uncle and cousins had put on her to testify when she hadn’t wanted to—when she’d been desperate to believe there was another explanation. That there had to be another explanation.
And the way Atlas had watched her in that stony, furious silence when she’d broken down on the stand and admitted she couldn’t think of one.
“What will you do now?” a reporter had asked him outside the prison.
Atlas’s mouth had curved, lethal and cold, more dangerous than the sharpest knife. Lexi had felt it deep in her belly as if he’d thrust it into her, steel edge to hard hilt. No one could possibly mistake it for a smile, surely. No one could miss the fact it was a weapon.
It was her curse that even now, even after everything that had happened, he was the only man alive who made her heart skip a beat, then
“I will live my life,” Atlas had said, dark and sure, a terrible promise. “At last.”
Lexi had known what that meant. What was coming as surely as night followed day. Her uncle Richard had hemmed and hawed and blustered rather than face the subject head-on, but she thought he’d known, too. Her cousins Gerard and Harry, meanwhile, had acted as if it wasn’t happening. The same way they’d acted eleven years ago when Philippa had been found dead in the pool at Oyster House, the family’s summer estate in Martha’s Vineyard. The way they’d behaved through the trial and the appeals process all this time, as if they weren’t involved. As if it would all go away and revert to normal if they pretended nothing had happened in the first place.
And as if there had ever been any possibility that a man like Atlas would simply fade away into the ether, in jail or out.
Lexi had always known better. When she’d wanted desperately to believe in his innocence and when she’d reluctantly believed in his guilt. Because to her, no matter what, Atlas Chariton had always been the only man in all the world.
“The last thing he’s going to want to do is take up where he left off,” irascible Harry told anyone who would listen in the Worth family home and offices peppered throughout the grand old stately house and estate that had been in the family for hundreds of years, spread across the acreage that had been gloriously maintained in West London since the seventeenth century. Harry was always that confident, about everything. “I’m sure he’s got as little interest in us as we do in him.”
But Lexi knew better. She’d been the one up in that witness box. She’d been the one who’d watched Atlas’s face as she’d testified against him. So harsh and terrible. All judgment and the promise of retribution.
At the time she’d convinced herself it was a measure of the man himself. The signs he was a killer, right there in his grim gaze and that set to his proud jaw—and that despite the more tender, secret things she’d felt about him then.
A schoolgirl’s crush, she’d told herself then, to excuse herself. That was all.
Today it felt like an indictment. That she’d had a desperate, endless crush on a man like Atlas and had testified against him the way she had—had she really been telling the truth to the best of her ability? Had she bowed to her uncle’s whim the way she always did? Or had she simply wanted to get Atlas’s attention however she could, linking herself to him forevermore?
She didn’t know how to answer that.
Or to be more truthful, she didn’t want to know the answer to that.
Whatever her emotions, the science told the truth. There was no getting around it, much as she might have wanted to, in some desperate attempt to feel better about what she’d done. She’d thought she’d been standing up for Philippa, doing the right thing even if it had torn her up inside, and she’d hated herself for the part of her that had ached for the Atlas she’d thought she’d known, but now...
Now she would pay. Of that she had no doubt.
She’d had the weeks between his release and his arrival in London to reconsider every thought she’d ever had about Atlas, and to cast herself in the light he most assuredly saw her, which was in no way flattering to either the teenager she’d been or the woman she was these days.
And now he was here.
Lexi forced a smile and nodded at the wide-eyed secretary who’d brought her the news.
“Thank you for coming all the way out here to tell me,” she said, and was proud of how calm she sounded. How serene and capable, as if this disaster was happening to someone else.
“Mr. Worth wanted me to tell you especially,” the secretary told her, her northern vowels sounding extra pronounced, as if the heightened tension around the estate over these past weeks was getting to her and bringing out her Yorkshire.
Lexi could sympathize. She kept her smile steady as she looked past the other woman, out toward the great, green sweep of the lower lawn and the straight march of the famous drive that led to the grand sprawl of Worth Manor in all its ancient splendor. It had once been the pride of a very rich merchant and the impoverished noblewoman he’d married and tried to win with the things his money could do, and sometimes Lexi liked to imagine that the estate itself was ripe with all that old longing time had not assuaged. Today was another gray, wet day in a long run of the same, with only the desperately cheerful flowers along the borders of the winding drive to suggest that spring was limping along.
There were two vehicles parked outside. One was the little sedan that the secretary had driven down from the manor house, small and nondescript. The other was a gleaming black, classic Jaguar convertible that looked like it deserved its own Bond film. If not a franchise.
Her stomach lurched, then knotted, and she felt pale all the way through. But it wouldn’t do to show any of that.
Nor would it help.
“If you hurry back,” Lexi said in the same deliberately, preternaturally calm voice, because she had nothing else to work with today except the appearance of serenity, “you might beat the rain.”
The secretary nodded her thanks, pulling her serviceable mackintosh tighter around her sturdy torso and letting herself out of Lexi’s small office. Lexi stayed where she was. Frozen solid, in fact. Lexi could hear the secretary’s heels click loudly against the uneven floorboards as she moved down the hall toward the front door.
Lexi’s office, such as it was, was far away from the main part of the estate and the manor house itself. She spent her days out in what had once been a carriage house, separated from the family and the estate’s hundreds of daily visitors as much as it was possible to be while still on the same property. Her cousins lived on the estate, of course—Gerard and his family ensconced in the residential wing of Worth Manor as befit the heir to everything, and Harry in one of the cottages where he could come and go and drink as he pleased. Neither one of them had ever shown the slightest interest in leaving home or exploring the world outside of a few years at university.
Philippa had been the only member of the family who’d wanted something—anything—different. She’d been nineteen when she’d died, filled with plans and dreams and a wild, unmanageable and overwhelming certainty about how beautiful her life was going to be if she could just start living it. She’d found her father tyrannical and the expectations placed on her as the only Worth daughter enervating.
More than that, she’d been kind and silly and fiercely loyal, and Lexi missed her. Every day.
Lexi reminded herself of Philippa when she was tempted to harbor dark thoughts about her uncle and cousins—something she tried to talk herself out of almost as soon as they occurred, because she thought it made her a very small person indeed if she allowed herself to be as ungrateful as she felt sometimes. Too often, in fact. Uncle Richard had been unduly kind to her when she was nothing to him but a niece he hardly knew, who he could easily have written off the way he had her mother.
Richard had never approved of his challenging and problematic sister Yvonne’s marriage to unreliable partier Scott Haring. Much less the desperate, squalid life his sister went on to lead with a man so weak and fatally flawed. And yet there he’d been the day Lexi’s parents had finally succumbed to their addictions, ready to scoop her up and give her a life.
Of course she was grateful for that. She would always be grateful for that.
And on the days it was hard to feel grateful while she did the work her cousins and uncle blew off, again, and then repaired to her grotty little flat while they lounged about in luxury, it was helpful to remind herself that Philippa would have viewed everything about Lexi’s life as a grand adventure. Literally everything. The bedsit in a neighborhood where Lexi could come and go anonymously and as she pleased. The commute to work on buses and along streets filled with regular Londoners going about their regular lives. These were things Philippa, raised in a very specific sort of high society bubble, catered to and sheltered in turn, would have found nothing short of magical.
She knew exactly who’d arrived to face her at last, with no American courts or attorneys or bailiffs to keep her safe from him. Not even the marginal, grudging support of her uncle and cousins. Not this time.
It was finally happening, after the gnawing worry of the past decade and the wild panic of the past few weeks.
Her worst nightmare was coming true at last.
Atlas was here.
She heard the heavy, obviously male tread of his feet in the hall outside her door. Was it her imagination, or did he sound as if he was made of stone? As if he’d really and truly turned into the monster they’d made him—she’d made him—after all his years away?
And now that it was finally happening, she didn’t know what to do with herself. Should she stand? Remain seated? Hide in her cramped little coat closet and wait for him to go away—delaying the inevitable?
She knew what she wanted to do, and glanced at her closet as if she might dive for it. But Lexi had never had the option to hide herself away from the unpleasant things in life. That was what happened when a girl was left to raise herself while her parents chased dragons wherever they led, which was never anywhere good. And it was what happened when she was then brought to live with a new family who treated her well enough, in the sense that they provided for her, but never, ever let her imagine that she was one of them.
But that veered toward ungrateful, she told herself as steadily as she could when the world was ending. And she wasn’t ungrateful. She couldn’t be.
Because then she’d be no better than her lost mother. And she’d spent her whole life trying her best to be nothing at all like Yvonne Worth Haring, once a sparkling heiress with the world at her feet, who’d died in squalor like any other junkie.
Lexi refused to start down that path, and she knew—she remembered too vividly—that the road to her mother’s hell was liberally paved with ingratitude and all of it aimed straight at her uncle.
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