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"OHI. No." the deep rough voice could be none other than Kristian Koumantaros himself. "Not interested. Tell her to go away."
Standing in the hall outside the library, Elizabeth Hatchet drew a deep breath, strengthening her resolve. This was not going to be easy, but then nothing about Kristian Koumantaros's case had been easy. Not the accident, not the rehab, not the location of his estate.
It had taken her two days to get here from Londona flight from London to Athens, an endless drive from Athens to Sparta, and finally a bone-jarring cart and donkey trip halfway up the ridiculously inaccessible mountain.
Why anybody, much less a man who couldn't walk and couldn't see, would want to live in a former monastery built on a rocky crag on a slope of Taygetos, the highest mountain in the Peloponnese, was beyond her. But now that she was here, she wasn't going to go away.
"Kyrios." Another voice sounded from within the library and Elizabeth recognized the voice as the Greek servant who'd met her at the door. "She's traveled a long way"
"I've had it with the bloody help from First Class Rehab. First Class, my ass."
Elizabeth closed her eyes and exhaled slowly, counting to ten as she did so.
She'd been told by her Athens staff that it was a long trip to the former monastery.
She'd been warned that reaching rugged Taygetos, with its severe landscape but breathtaking vistas, was nearly as exhausting as caring for Mr. Koumantaros.
Her staff had counseled that traveling up this spectacular mountain with its ancient Byzantine ruins would seem at turns mythical as well as impossible, but Elizabeth, climbing into the donkey cart, had thought she'd been prepared. She'd thought she knew what she was getting into.
Just like she'd thought she knew what she was getting into when she agreed to provide Mr. Koumantaros's home health care after he was released from the French hospital.
In both cases she had been wrong.
The painfully slow, bumpy ride had left her woozy, with a queasy stomach and a pounding headache.
Attempting to rehabilitate Mr. Koumantaros had made her suffer far worse. Quite bluntly, he'd nearly bankrupted her company.
Elizabeth tensed at the sound of glass breaking, followed by a string of select and exceptionally colorful Greek curses.
"Kyrios, it's just a glass. it can be replaced."
"I hate this, Pano. Hate everything about this"
"I know, kyrios." Pano's voice dropped low, and Elizabeth couldn't hear much of what was said, but apparently it had the effect of calming Mr. Koumantaros.
Elizabeth wasn't soothed.
Kristian Koumantaros might be fabulously wealthy and able to afford an eccentric and reclusive lifestyle in the Peloponnese, but that didn't excuse his behavior. And his behavior was nothing short of self-absorbed and self-destructive.
She was here because Kristian Koumantaros couldn't keep a nurse, and he couldn't keep a nurse because he couldn't keep his temper.
The voices in the library were growing louder again. Elizabeth, fluent in Greek, listened as they discussed her.
Mr. Koumantaros didn't want her here.
Pano, the elderly butler, was attempting to convince that Mr. Koumantaros it wouldn't be polite to send the nurse away without seeing her.
Mr. Koumantaros said he didn't care about being polite. Elizabeth's mouth curved wryly as the butler urged Mr. Koumantaros to at least offer her some refreshment.
Her wry smile disappeared as she heard Mr. Koumantaros answer that as most nurses from First Class Rehab were large women Ms. Hatchet could probably benefit from passing on an afternoon snack.
"Kyrios," Pano persisted, "she's brought a suitcase. Luggage. Ms. Hatchet intends to stay."
"Stay?, Koumantaros roared.
"Yes, kyrios." the elderly Greek's tone couldn't have been any more apologetic, but his words had the effect of sending Kristian into another litany of curses.
"For God's sake, Pano, leave the damn glass alone and dispense with her. Throw her a bone. Get her a donkey. I don't care. Just do it. Now."
"But she's traveled from London"
"I don't care if she flew from the moon. She had no business coming here. I left a message two weeks ago with the service. That woman knows perfectly well I've fired them. I didn't ask her to come. And it's not my problem she wasted her time."
Speaking of which, Elizabeth thought, rubbing at the back of her neck to ease the pinch of pain, she was wasting time standing here. it was time to introduce herself, get the meeting underway.
Shoulders squared, Elizabeth took a deep breath and pushed the tall door open. As she entered the room, her low heels made a faint clicking sound on the hardwood floor.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Koumantaros," she said. Her narrowed gaze flashed across the shuttered windows, cluttered coffee table, newspapers stacked computer-high on a corner desk. Had to be a month's newspapers piled there, unread.
"you're trespassing, and eavesdropping." Kristian jerked upright in his wheelchair, his deep voice vibrating with fury.
She barely glanced his way, heading instead for the small table filled with prescription bottles. "You were shouting, Mr. Koumantaros. I didn't need to eavesdrop. And I'd be trespassing if your care weren't my responsibility, but it is, so you're going to have to deal with me."
At the table, Elizabeth picked up one of the medicine bottles to check the label, and then the others. it was an old habit, an automatic habit. the first thing a medical professional needed to know was what, if anything, the patient was taking.
Kristian's hunched figure in the wheelchair shuddered as he tried to follow the sound of her movements, his eyes shielded by a white gauze bandage wrapped around his head, the white gauze a brilliant contrast to his thick onyx hair. "Your services have already been terminated," he said tersely.
"You've been overruled," Elizabeth answered, returning the bottles to the table to study him. the bandages swathing his eyes exposed the hard, carved contours of his face. He had chiseled cheekbones, a firm chin and strong jaw shadowed with a rough black beard. From the look of it, he hadn't shaved since the last nurse had been sent packing. "By whom?, he demanded, leaning crookedly in his chair.
"Yes, indeed. We're in daily contact with them, Mr. Koumantaros, and these past several months have made them question your mental soundness."
"You must be joking."
"Not at all. there is a discussion that perhaps you'd be better cared for in a facility"
"Get out!" he demanded, pointing at the door. "Get out now." Elizabeth didn't move. Instead she cocked her head, coolly examining him. He looked impossibly unkempt, nothing like the sophisticated powerful tycoon he'd reportedly been, with castles and estates scattered all over the world and a gorgeous mistress tucked enticingly in each.
"they fear for you, Mr. Koumantaros," she added quietly,
"and so do I. You need help."
"That's absurd. If my doctors were so concerned, they'd be here. And youyou don't know me. You can't drop in here and make assessments based on two minutes of observation."
"I can, because I've managed your case from day one, when you were released from the hospital. No one knows more about you and your day-to-day care than I do. And if you'd always been this despondent we'd see it as a personality issue, but your despair is new"
"there's no despair. I'm just tired."
"then let's address that, shall we?, Elizabeth flipped open her leather portfolio and scribbled some notes. One couldn't be too careful these days. She had to protect the agency, not to mention her staff. She'd learned early to document everything. "it's tragic you're still in your present condition tragic to isolate yourself here on Taygetos when there are people waiting for you in Athens, people wanting you to come home."
"I live here permanently now."
She glanced up at him. "You've no intention of returning?"
"I spent years renovating this monastery, updating and converting it into a modern home to meet my needs."
"That was before you were injured. it's not practical for you to live here now. You can't fly"
"Don't tell me what I can't do."
She swallowed, tried again. "it's not easy for your friends or family to see you. you're absolutely secluded here"
"As I wish to be."
"But how can you fully recover when you're so alone in what is undoubtedly one of the most remote places in Greece?"
He averted his head, giving her a glimpse of a very strong, very proud profile. "This is my home," he repeated stubbornly, his tone colder, flintier.
"And what of your company? the businesses? Have you given those up along with your friends and family?"
"If this is your bedside manner"
"Oh, it is," she assured him unapologetically. "Mr. Koumantaros, I'm not here to coddle you. Nor to say pretty things and try to make you laugh. I'm here to get you on your feet again."
"it's not going to happen."
"Because you like being helpless, or because you're afraid of pain?"
For a moment he said nothing, his face growing paler against the white gauze bandaging his head. Finally he found his voice. "How dare you?, he demanded. "How dare you waltz into my home?"
"it wasn't exactly a waltz, Mr. Koumantaros. it took me two days to get here and that included planes, taxis, buses and asses." She smiled thinly. This was the last place she'd wanted to come, and the last person she wanted to nurse. "it's been nearly a year since your accident," she continued. "there's no medical reason for you to be as helpless as you are."
"I can't. Not only have I've nowhere to goas you must know, it's too dark to take a donkey back down the mountain."
"No, I don't know. I'm blind. I've no idea what time of day it is."
Heat surged to her cheeks. Heat and shame and disgust. Not for her, but him. If he expected her to feel sorry for him, he had another thing coming, and if he hoped to intimidate her, he was wrong again. He could shout and break things, but she wasn't about to cower like a frightened puppy dog. Just because he was a famous Greek with a billion-dollar company didn't mean he deserved her respect. Respect was earned, not automatically given.
"it's almost four o'clock, Mr. Koumantaros. Half of the mountain is already steeped in shadows. I couldn't go home tonight even if I wanted to. Your doctors have authorized me to stay, so I must. it's either that or you go to a rehab facility in Athens. Your choice."
"Not much of a choice."
"No, it's not." Elizabeth picked up one of the prescription bottles and popped off the plastic cap to see the number of tablets inside. Three remained from a count of thirty. the prescription had only been refilled a week ago. "Still not sleeping, Mr. Koumantaros?"
"Still in a lot of pain, then?, She pressed the notebook to her chest, stared at him over the portfolio's edge. Probably addicted to his painkillers now. Happened more often than not. One more battle ahead.
Kristian Koumantaros shifted in his wheelchair. the bandages that hid his eyes revealed the sharp twist of his lips. "As if you care."
She didn't even blink. His self-pity didn't trigger sympathy. Self-pity was a typical stage in the healing processan early stage, one of the first. And the fact that Kristian Koumantaros hadn't moved beyond it meant he had a long, long way to go.
"I do care," she answered flatly. Elizabeth didn't bother to add that she also cared about the future of her company, First Class Rehab, and that providing for Kristian Koumantaros's medical needs had nearly ruined her four-year-old company. "I do care, but I won't be like the othersgoing soft on you, accepting your excuses, allowing you to get away with murder."
"And what do you know of murder, Miss Holier-Than-Thou?, He wrenched his wheelchair forward, the hard rubber tires crunching glass shards.
"Careful, Mr. Koumantaros! you'll pop a tire."