Authors: Aleka Nakis
Enjoying the smell of morning, she inhaled deeply. A sense of renewal filled her soul and she smiled at the sensation. The air was crisp, refreshing and contained the mystery of things to come. “What newspapers do you have?”
“Greek, English, French, and American. Take your pick.” They talked softly as they walked around the house.
“Would you like coffee?” he offered.
They walked into the kitchen. She found the
, while he took out the smooth brown powder and the sugar. She poured water into the stainless steel coffee pot, which looked like a tiny pitcher with a long black handle, and then turned to take the spoon and coffee from him. She placed two heaping teaspoons of coffee into the warm water.
She nodded, and he dropped the sugar in. She slowly stirred the mixture to a gentle boil and as it began to rise, then turned to pour it into the demitasse cups he held on the tray of breakfast cookies.
She went to the sink, rinsed the
before grabbing some napkins and following him back outside. She noted how naturally they moved around each other in the kitchen, and grinned.
At the table, they each sat in one of the two chairs, and picked their respective papers. Alexandros decided she needed her space, and made a very conscious effort not to touch her.
It was working. She twirled a long finger in her curls as she read. Occasionally, she would stop playing with her hair, pick up her coffee and sip. Placing the small coffee cup down, she’d go back to twirling those long strands, a different one each time, and then more reading.
The situation tormented him, tested his self-control. He wanted to run his whole hand through those enticing curls, but for now, he’d simply watch her, allow her time to assimilate him into her space.
Alexandros had considered setting up a business transaction to see her after Naples, but quickly decided that would have been futile. She did not mix business with pleasure.
An obstacle he could easily overcome. Too bad the other hurdle would not be so easy. His brother had shared a bit of knowledge about Athena. He’d told Alexandros that she was adamantly opposed to becoming involved with a Greek.
The thought outraged him. He was a Greek!
Moreover, why was a Greek not good enough for her? Was he not proud? Was he not loyal? Greeks had history. A fierce and passionate line of ancestry ran through his veins, and hers.
Yet she refused a personal attachment to a Greek.
“Did you see this?” Taking a deep breath, he pointed to an article about Giardetti International’s most recent actions toward purchasing the resort in Crete. “It says you’re giving us a ‘run for the money’.”
“Yes, I know.” Her gaze narrowed and she shuttered her eyes. “I don’t think we should ruin the week by discussing business.”
“I don’t see it as a problem, but if you do—”
“I do.” She dropped the paper on the table, crossed her arms, and turned her back to him.
Interesting. Maybe the problem between us is business and not personal. That is easy to fix.
Picking up his coffee cup, he took a long, noisy sip, eyeing the tension on her shoulders.
Definitely, work related. What a shame.
He resumed reading.
After they had traded all the papers, he stretched out his legs and casually reached over to tap her hand. “What are your plans for today?”
“Since I’m the maid of honor, I need to see what Heather wants to do. I know she and Costa have a few wedding errands, so I will probably do some work by the pool while they are gone. You?”
“I have some meetings to attend. The last one around three o’ clock with an associate from the States. Would you like to go the beach or to a café afterwards?” He asked politely, keeping with his initial plan to win her trust.
“It sounds nice, let’s see how the day goes,” she offered, failing to commit.
“Good,” he said, looking at his watch. “I have a meeting soon. See you later then.” He stood and walked away.
Athena cringed at the awkward end to their breakfast together.
Why had he left so suddenly like that? Did he really have a meeting or had she insulted him? He had been a perfect gentleman all morning. Nothing like her vision of a spoiled playboy.
“What is wrong with me?” Athena whispered under her breath.
She had enjoyed reading the paper with him, taking the time to be herself. Not needing to entertain him, she’d found it easy to relax.
Hoping for an afternoon on the beach, she went to her room to dress.
After considering her options, Athena chose to spend the remainder of the morning walking the estate and pruning roses she found on the south side of the house.
Taking into consideration the time difference with New York, she returned to the little blue table with her laptop and logged onto her email for the latest update on the resort. She had made her final bid just before boarding the Strintzaris jet. If Alexandros surpassed it, she’d be out. Her dream of building the first Athena Resort would not begin in Crete.
Maneuvering the computer so the sun wouldn’t hit the screen, Athena clicked for her mail and held her breath. Tony had emailed her twenty minutes ago, Demo ten. She opened Demo’s since it was the most recent.
Yia sou, koukla
! I’m in Zurich, so call my cell. D.
That was it? She was going to strangle him. Athena opened Tony’s email because it would be faster that getting her phone from inside the room.
. Call Demo on his cell. He has news. T.
“I’m going to kill you both!” She hurried inside and dumped the contents of her bag on the bed. Grabbing her cell phone, she cursed under her breath when there was no signal. She didn’t want to use the house phone. Not when it was DDGC’s phone. She’d go and pick up a local SIM card.
Shoving the phone into her shorts pocket, she walked out to the veranda and was about to hustle down the stairs when the phone rang. She stepped back up.
?” Yes, she answered.
Did you get my email?”
“Demo! Yes. And I’m going to kill you for keeping me waiting.” Feeling her legs grow weak, she returned to the table and sat. “Tell me, please tell me.”
“You did it, baby sis! The resort is yours, debt and all. Congratulations!”
“Yes! Yes! Yes!” She leapt from the chair and did a happy jig, jumping up on each syllable.
Demo laughed into the phone. “Hey, is that anyway for the owner and CEO of the latest player in the luxury hotel industry to behave?”
One more jump. “Yes!”
She joined her brother in laughter and dropped back into the chair. “Wow, Demo.”
He chuckled and teased her, “Athena, you’ll have to be a bit more articulate in your new position.”
“Thank you, Demo. Thanks for all your work on this.” She blew a kiss into the phone. “I know you think I’m doing this all wrong, but I really wanted to do it on my own.”
“I’m proud of you.” Demo paused, and she caught her breath. “I would have done it the same way. I just wanted it to be easier for you and I wanted to help. Just promise me that you’ll come to Tony and me if you need us.”
“I promise.” She raised a fist in triumph and kicked her feet. Smiling she asked for the rest of the details.
“Sammy has delivered the personal contract between you and Luca to his office. She’ll be faxing it to me later tonight. Giardetti should be transferring the remainder of the money into escrow as we speak, and the resort is preparing an executive bungalow for your arrival.”
“Athena,” he warned jokingly. “More articulate!”
“Yes!” she repeated and laughed. Taking a deep breath, she listened to the rest.
“They’ll operate until the end of the month. Then the Giardetti flag will assume control. So take your well-earned vacation and enjoy the wedding.”
She sobered fast. “Why did Alexandros stop?”
“We don’t know, and we don’t care. Things like this happen every day.”
She dropped her head to her hand and whispered into the phone. “What am I supposed to tell him?”
“Nothing. Athena, you need to separate business and pleasure. That is why you pay us the big bucks. We run interference and you don’t need to come face to face with the adversary. Alexandros is your best friend’s brother-in-law. That’s it.”
She hesitated. How did she explain how wonderful the family was?
Demo let out a heavy breath. “Listen, Alexandros makes and breaks deals like this on a daily basis. He’s a professional, and I hate to sound flip, but he doesn’t see it the way you do.”
“I know,” she conceded. She’d been working with Luca for five years and had seen him do the same. To her, this was not just a good investment. It was the cornerstone of her future.
“Stay with the story that we’ve come up with for the press. That way you don’t lie to friends—and you’ll achieve your goals. The resort’s reputation has to be rebuilt under the Giardetti name to have a chance to compete in today’s cutthroat market. It’s a win-win situation for everybody.”
“You’re right.” Her mind and her stomach dueled for her attention. Logic eventually gained the upper hand. “I guess I’ll enjoy everything here and let business wait. After all, that’s what you guys do every day.”
“Exactly. Don’t confuse the two.”
Athena worked for two hours on the Cretan hotel’s marketing file before Alexandros came into view, speaking into his headset.
“No… fair market value,” she heard as he made a gesture to ask if she was hungry. She smiled back and mouthed a silent “no” as he walked by.
Still talking, he sauntered over to the pool and slowly sat on the edge. His hands moved, expressing the urgency of the point he made to who ever was on the other end of the phone. His broad shoulders relaxed as he placed his bare feet into the pool and leaned over to draw on the water with his finger. She regretted saying no to him. If she had said yes, she could go sit with him. Magnetically drawn to him, her feet moved without consulting her mind.
He was nodding his head and concluding the call when he looked back at her. She continued, slowly walking to where he sat. He smiled, and took off the headphone and patted the spot next to him.
“Come and have a seat.”
“This is a nice setting to conduct business.” She searched for something else to say as she took off her sandals.
“It sure is, but life isn’t just about working. It is time for a break.” Looking up at the mid-day sun, he stretched his arms and pulled off his simple white t-shirt, then dove into the pool.
She felt a hot trickle running down her back as he surfaced, exposing his muscular chest and defined abdomen.
“Where is everyone?” he asked.
“Your parents went to see your grandmother. Heather and Costa went to lunch with Gianni Poulos and his wife, and I stayed behind to do some work.”
He simply nodded and did a few laps in the pool. She watched as his powerful arms cut into the water, his long legs only needing a few kicks to get him from one side to the other.
When he turned on his back, her gaze followed the line from the soft, dark hair on his chest, down his sculpted abdomen, into the wet red cloth clinging to his manliness.
Her mouth went dry as she saw his long, broad outline. She forced her eyes to move to his thick thighs and down his legs before looking back to his beautifully masculine face. If they pictured him in the marketing material for the hotel in Crete, they would never have a vacancy. His body was so male, so strapping, so tempting.
She had to stop these thoughts. Her brain said she wanted nothing from Alexandros but friendship. Her body was obviously not listening. Water splashed onto her hot face.
“Come in,” he said, spraying her again.
“I need to change into a bathing suit.” She got to her feet as he hauled himself out beside her.
“As you are.” He laughed, grabbed her waist, and hurled them together into the deep end.
His arms closed around her as they resurfaced and gently pushed her hair out of her eyes. She liked the feel of his arms more each time he held her.
“You’re stunning. If you appear in a tiny bikini, I can’t promise to behave.”
His hand cupped the back of her head and pulled her closer, kissing the top of her forehead. Suddenly, he released her completely, and moved to arms’ length.
“It’s a lot easier to behave if you’re wearing a NY Knicks basketball t-shirt,” he said with a spectacular grin. “Come on, a five lap race—loser does the lunch dishes.”
She inhaled deeply and began to swim, thankful for the diversion. She was a strong swimmer, matching his strokes, and releasing the sexual tension that had swelled her chest. On the last lap, he pulled ahead. He would not be doing the dishes.