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"Mrs. Antonides is here to see you."
PJ Antonides's head jerked up at the sound of his assistant, Rosie's, voice coming from the open doorway. He leaned his elbows on his desk and pinched the bridge of his nose in an attempt to hold off the headache that had been threatening all afternoon.
It had been a hellish day. Murphy's Law had been written expressly for days like this. It was only two in the afternoon, but as far as he could see, anything that could go wrong, already had.
As the head of Antonides Marine since his brother Elias had, literally and figuratively, jumped ship two years ago, PJ was no stranger to bad days. He'd stepped into the job willingly enough, could never complain that he hadn't known what he was getting into. He had known. And oddly he relished it.
But there were dayslike todaywhen memories of his carefree years of Hawaiian sand and surf were all too appealing.
Mostly the good days outweighed the bad. For every disaster there was usually a bright spot. When something fell apart, something else worked out. Not today.
The supplier of sail fabric for his own design of windsurfers had rung this morning to regret that they couldn't fulfill the order. A Japanese hardware firm who had been trying to track down a missing shipment reported cheerfully that it had never left Yokohama. And his father, Aeolus, had called to say he was flying in from Athens tonight and bringing house guests for the week.
"Ari and Sophia Cristopolousand their daughter, Constantina. More beautiful than ever. Single. Smart. She's dying to meet you. We are expecting you out at the house for the weekend."
Subtle, Aeolus was not. And he never stopped trying even though he knewPJ had told him often enough!that there was no point.
A trickle of perspiration slid down the back of PJ's neck.
Not that he wasn't sweating anyway. The air-conditioning in the building hadn't been working when they'd arrived this morning. The repairmen had left for lunch two hours ago and no one had seen them since. Everyone was sweltering in the July heat and humidity. The latest temp girl had gone home sick because she couldn't stand the heat. An hour ago, PJ's computer had stopped typing the letter A. Half an hour ago it had flat-out died. He was back to calculating requisitions with a pencil and paper.
The last thing he needed right now was a visit from his mother.
"Tell her I'm busy," he said gruffly. "Wait. Tell her I'm busy but that I'll be there Friday for dinner."
Agreeing ahead of time to the inevitable dinner invitation even though it meant meeting Ari and Sophia and their beautiful daughterwas a surefire way to prevent Helena Antonides from demanding to see him this afternoon.
"I don't believe she asked," Rosie said doubtfully.
"She will. My mother always asks." In his thirty-two years on the planet, PJ couldn't remember a weekend that Helena Antonides hadn't demanded the presence of all of her children within a hundred miles. It was why he'd headed for Hawaii right after high school and hadn't come back until two years ago.
"This isn't your mother."
He blinked at Rosie. "Not?" He brightened and took a deep relieved breath. "Oh, well, if it's Tallie"
PJ had no problem with seeing his sister-in-law whenever she chose to drop in. His older brother Elias's wife was still on the governing board of Antonides Marine and, as far as PJ was concerned, she was always welcome. She had good ideas, and she didn't meddle.
She didn't have time. While she had once been a hardworking full-time CEO, now she was a hardworking full-time mother. She and Elias had year-and-a-half-old twins: Nicholas and Garrett.
PJ brightened further at the idea that she might have brought his nephews to visit. They were a handful and a half, but he was always delighted to see them. But, he reflected, he didn't hear the sound of anything breaking in the outer office, so he supposed she must have come alone.
No matter. He was always glad to have a visit from Tallie.
But Rosie was shaking her head. "Did you forget? Tallie and Elias and the boys are in Santorini."
Oh, hell, yes. He'd forgotten.
Good grief! Surely it wasn't his grandmother! Yiayia was ninety-three, for heaven's sake.
She was hale and hearty, but she didn't travel to Brooklyn on a momentary whim. On the contrary, since her ninetieth birthday, she had expected the world to come to her.
"Don't tell me Yiayia is out there," PJ muttered. But stranger things had happened. And she had been on his case recently.
"You're old," she'd said, shaking a disapproving finger at him last month when he'd seen her at his parents' house on Long Island.
"I'm not old," PJ had protested. "You're the one who's old!"
Yiayia had sniffed. "I already had my children. I want babies around. You will need to give me great-grandchildren."
"You have great-grandchildren," PJ told her firmly. "Four of them." Besides Elias's twins, there was Cristina's Alex and Martha's Edward. And Martha had another one on the way.
Yiayia had sniffed. "They are good," she admitted. "But I want handsome babies like yourself, Petros, mou. It's time."
PJ knew what she meant, but resolutely he had shaken his head. "Forget it, Yiayia. Not going to happen." Or the chances were a million to one that it would. "Forget it," he said again.
But he could tell from her narrowed gaze and pursed lips that his grandmother hadn't forgotten what he'd told her last year. And he began to regret sharing his plan with her. Surely she hadn't decided to bring the battle to Brooklyn.
"Not your grandmother," Rosie confirmed.
"I don't know any other Mrs. Antonideses," PJ told her irritably.
"That's interesting," Rosie said, looking at him speculatively, her dark eyes wide as her gaze flicked from him back through the open door toward the outer office beyond. "This one says that she's your wife."
For an instant Ally didn't react to the name, just sat staring blindly at the magazine in her hand and tried to think of what she was going to say.
"Mrs. Antonides?" The voice was firmer, louder and made her jump.
She jerked up straight in the chair as she realized the secretary was speaking to her. "Sorry. I was just"praying this would go well"woolgathering," she said, raising her brows hopefully.
The secretary was impassive. "Mr. Antonides will see you now." But Ally thought she detected a hint of challenge in the woman's voice.
Ally wet her lips. "Thank you." She set down the magazine she hadn't read a word of, gave the other woman her best hard-won cool professional smile and headed toward the open door.
Six feet of hard lean whipcord male stood behind a broad teak desk waiting for her. And not just malea man.
The man she'd married, all grown up.
Ally took a surreptitious, careful, steadying breath. Then she swallowed, shut the door and pasted on her most cheerful smile. "Hello, PJ."
Even though he was looking straight at her, his name on her lips seemed to startle him. He took a single step toward her, then stopped abruptly, instead shoving his hands into the pockets of navy dress-suit trousers. He dipped his head in acknowledgment. "Al." The nickname he'd always called her by. His voice was gruff.
"Alice," she corrected firmly. "Or Ally, I guess, if you prefer."
He didn't respond, left the ball in her court.
Right. So be it. "Bet you're surprised to see me," she added with all the brightness she could muster.
One brow lifted. "Well, let's just say, you didn't make the short list of any Mrs. Antonideses I might have been expecting." His tone was cool, edged with irony.
And while a part of Ally wanted to throw her arms around him, she knew better. And any hope she'd entertained that they might be able to go back to being pals was well on its way to a quick and permanent death.
"I shouldn't have done that," she apologized quickly. "Shouldn't have used your name, I mean. I don't ordinarily use your name."
"I didn't imagine you did." The edge again.
She let out a nervous breath. "I just well, I didn't know how busy you were. President. CEO." She glanced back toward the main door where she'd seen a plaque with his name and title on it. "I thought you might not see me otherwise."
His brows lifted. "I'm not the pope. You don't need to request an audience."
"Well, I didn't know, did I?" she said with asperity, disliking being put on the defensive. "This" she waved her hand around his elegant office with its solid teak furnishings and vast view across the East River toward Manhattan's famous skyline "is not exactly the 'you' I remember."
It might not have been the Vatican, but it wasn't a tiny studio apartment above Mrs. Chang's garage, either.
PJ shrugged. "It's been years, Al. Things change. You've changed. Grown up. Made a name for yourself, haven't you?"
There was challenge in his words, and they set Ally's teeth on edge, but she had to acknowledge the truth of them. "Yes."
And she made herself stand still under the long, assessing gaze that took a leisurely lingering stroll up from her toes to her head, even as it made her tingle with unwanted awareness.
"Very nice." A corner of his mouth quirked in a cool deliberate smile. "I've changed, too," he added, as if she needed it pointed out.
"You own a tie."
"Two of them."
"And a suit."
"For my sins."
"You've done well."
"I always did well, Al," he said easily, coming around the desk now, letting her feel the force of his presence at even closer hand, "even when I was a beach bum."
It was hard to imagine this man as a "beach bum," but she knew what he meant. When she had known Peter Antonides, he had never been about the fast track, never cared about wealth and ambition. He'd only cared about living life the way he wanteda life on the beach, doing what interested him.
"Yes," she nodded. "I thought I mean, I'm surprised you left it. It was what you liked. What you wanted."
But PJ shook his head and shoved a lock of hair off his forehead as he propped a hip against the corner of his desk. "What I wanted was the freedom to be me. To get away from everyone else's expectations but my own. I did on the beach. And I'm still free now. This is my choice. No one pushed me. I'm here because I want to be. And it doesn't define me." He paused, then fixed his gaze intently on her. "But I'm not the point. What about you? No, wait." He shoved away from the desk. "Sit down." He nodded to the armchairs by the window overlooking the East River. "I'll get Rosie to bring us some coffee. Or would you rather have iced tea?"
She hadn't come to sit down and be social. "I don't need anything," she said quickly. "I can't stay."
"After ten years? Well, five since I last saw you. But don't tell me you just 'dropped in'?" He arched a skeptical brow. "No, you didn't, Al. You came specifically to see me. You said so. Sit down." It wasn't an invitation this time. It was an order. He punched the intercom. "Rosie. Can we have some iced tea, please? Thanks."
Ally took a deep breath. He even sounded like a CEO. Brisk, no nonsense. In command. Of course he had always had those qualities, Ally realized. But he'd never been in charge of anyone but himself when she'd known him.
Reluctantly she sat. He was right, of course, she had come to see him. But she'd expected the visit to be perfunctory. And the fact that he was making it into something elsesomething social, something extended even by a few minuteswas undermining her plans.
It wasn't personal, she assured herself. At least not very. And PJ didn't care. She was sure about that. This was simply a hurdle to be jumped. One she should have jumped a long time ago.
She needed to do this, make her peace with PJ, put the past behind her. Move on.
And if doing so meant sitting down and conversing with him for a few minutes first, fine. She could do that.
It would be good for her, actually. It would prove to her that she was doing the right thing.
So she sat down, perched on the edge of one of the armchairs overlooking the East River and downtown Manhattan and tried to muster the easy casual charm she was known for.
But it was hard to be casual and polite and basically indifferent when all she really wanted to do was just feast her eyes on him.
PJ Antonides had always been drop-dead handsome in a rugged, windblown, seaswept sort of way. Not a man she'd ever imagined in a suit.
He hadn't even worn one to their wedding. Not that it had been a formal occasion. It had been five minutes in a courthouse office, paid fees, repeated vows, scrawled signatures, after which they'd come blinking out into the sunlightmarried.
Now she looked at him and tried to find the carefree young man he'd been inside this older, harder, sharper version.
His lean face wasn't as tanned as she remembered, and the lines around his eyes were deeper. But those eyes were still the deep intense green of the jade dragon that had been her grandmother's favorite piece. His formerly tangled dark hair was now cut reasonably short and definitely neat with very little length to tangle, though it was ruffled a bit, as if he'd recently run his fingers through it. His shoulders were broader. And though jacketless at the moment, apparently PJ really did own a suit. She could see its navy jacket tossed over the back of his chair.
He obviously owned a dress shirt, tooa narrow-striped, pale-gray-and-white one. He had its long sleeves shoved halfway up his forearms, as if, even in running a corporation, he was still willing to get down and dirty with whatever had to be done. Beneath his unbuttoned collar dangled a loosened subdued burgundy-and-gray-patterned silk tie.
Ally wondered idly if his other tie was equally conservative.
It wouldn't matter. At twenty-two PJ Antonides had been a sexy son of a gun in board shorts with a towel slung around his neck, but at thirty-two in tropical-weight wool, an open-necked dress shirt and a half-mast tie, he was devastating.
And he made her want things she knew were not for her.
She shut her eyes against the sight.
When she opened them again it was to watch as PJ dropped easily into the chair opposite her and sat regarding her steadily from beneath hooded lids. "So, wife, where have you been?"
Wife? Well, she was his wife, of course, but she didn't expect him to simply toss it into the conversation.
Her spine stiffened. "All over the place," she said quickly before any tempting thoughts could lead her into disaster. "You must know that."
He cocked his head. "Fill me in."
She ground her teeth. "Fine. Prepare yourself to be bored. As you know, I started out in California."