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Fran Myers' gaze fastened on the scenery unfolding at every bend along the coastal road. Against the azure blue of the Aegean, the miles of white beaches with their background of deep green pines didn't seem real. Dark, fast-moving clouds swirled overhead, adding a dramatic aspect to the landscape. The panorama of colors was quite spectacular.
"I didn't know the Greek Riviera was this beautiful, Kellie. I'm in awe. It's so unspoiled here."
"That's why my husband had built the resort where we'll be staying for the next few days. The Persephone is the latest getaway for the very wealthy who can afford to have peace and quiet in total luxury."
It was such a fabulous area, the news didn't surprise Fran. "Is that why you've brought me all the way from Athens? Because you think I need peace and quiet?"
"Exactly the opposite. Many royals come here to vacation. I'm hoping you'll meet one who's unattached and gorgeous. You two will take one look at each other and it'll be love at first sight."
"That'll never happen, not after my bad marriage."
Fran's best friend since childhood flashed her a searching glance.
"Don't look so surprised, Kellie."
"I'm not surprised. What I see is that a vacation for you is long overdue. Every time I've called since your divorce, you've been at the hospital doing your patient advocacy work all hours of the day and night, and you couldn't talk more than a few minutes. You need a passionate romance to bring you back to life!"
"You're hilarious. It's true I've buried myself in work to keep me from thinking, but it's been a year. I'm doing a lot better now."
"Liar. I don't need your mom to tell me you don't have a life and need to take a break in completely different surroundings. I intend to see you're pampered for a change. We'll laze around, swim, sail, hike, do whatever while we scope out eligible men."
"You're incorrigible, but I love you for it. You know very well that when I told you I would come, I didn't expect you to go to this kind of trouble for me. I thought we'd be staying in Athens to see the rest of the sights I missed when I flew over for your wedding. That was too busy a time to get everything in. Besides, your adoring husband couldn't be thrilled with this arrangement."
Kellie waved her hand in the air in a dismissive gesture. "July is Leandros's busiest time. He's off doing business in the Peloponnese and looking for new resort sites in other places. This is the perfect time for me to spend with the person who's been the sister I never had. That's why I called you to come now and wouldn't take no for an answer. We have a lot of catching up to do."
The two women had been friends since they'd attended the same elementary school in Philadelphia. They could read each other's moods. Having gone through the good and the bad of their lives together, they'd become closer than most sisters.
When they'd been planning this trip, they'd talked about September. But Kellie had changed her mind and was insistent on Fran coming as soon as possible. Something was going on; normally her friend traveled everywhere with her husband. It sounded as though she needed to talk to Fran in person.
Two years ago Kellie had married millionaire Greek business tycoon Leandros Petralia in Athens. Fran had been the matron of honor at her wedding. Though they'd talked on the phone and emailed since then, they'd only seen each other the half a dozen times Kellie had flown home to Pennsylvania to be with her family for a few days. On those short visits Fran could tell her friend was so crazy over her exciting husband, she couldn't bear to be gone from him longer than a few nights.
But clearly that wasn't the case today. Kellie seemed wired, and her show of gaiety was somehow artificial. Physically she was thinner than the last time Fran had seen her. On their five-hour drive to the resort south of Thessolonika, Kellie's glib responses throughout their conversation weren't at all like her.
Fran decided to hold off until tomorrow to have a heart-to-heart with her golden-blonde friend. Right now she wanted Kellie to concentrate while she drove the fabulous slate-blue luxury saloontoo fast for Fran's liking. As they whizzed along, Fran's eyes darted to the stormy sky. "Have you noticed how black those clouds ahead are?"
"Yes. It's almost spooky and so windy, it's buffeting the car. That's very strange. This place is legendary for its sunshine. Wouldn't you know it would choose today to cloud up for your arrival?"
"Maybe it's a bad omen and your hubby came back to Athens early only to find you missing."
"Don't be absurd" Kellie answered with uncharacteristic sharpness. "He's got his secretary with him. Maybe they're really somewhere in the Dodecanese Islands, a favorite place of his when he wants to relax."
With Mrs. Kostas? She was in her late forties.
Her friend's emotional outburst took Fran by surprise. "I was just having some fun with you." She'd never seen Kellie explode this way before.
"I'd rather talk about you. Has Rob called yet, wanting you two to get back together?"
"No. In fact, I've heard he's involved with someone at his work."
"He'll soon realize he's lost the best thing that could ever happen to him."
"Spoken like my best friend."
Kellie had been the maid of honor at Fran's wedding. Four years ago Fran had married Rob Myers after meeting him through mutual friends in Philadelphia. He was an upcoming estate-planning attorney working for a prestigious local law firm. On their third date she'd told Rob that she could never conceive, so if he didn't want to see her again, she'd understand.
He'd told her he didn't have a problem with adoption. It was a great option for childless couples. Besides, he was interested in her, and he had proven it by marrying her. After a year passed, she'd brought up the idea of putting in adoption papers, but he'd said it was too soon to think about and kept putting her off.
Eventually she realized he had issues and she suggested they go for counseling so they could talk about them in depth. But the counseling revealed that with the busy law practice thriving, he no longer had the time or the interest to enlarge their family, especially when the child couldn't be their own flesh and blood. Fran was enough for him.
But she wanted children badly. After three years of a married life no longer happy or fulfilling for either of them, they'd agreed to divorce. It was the only way to end the pain. Since then Fran had decided marriage wasn't for her. Kellie scoffed at such nonsense and told her she would find the right husband for her no matter what.
"Kellie? I don't know about you, but I'm thirsty. Let's stop at the village I can see up ahead and get ourselves a drink at one of those cute hotel bars."
"It's only twelve more miles to the Persephone," her friend responded in a clipped tone. "We'll order room service and have dinner in our suite where we can relax. But, of course, if you can't wait.."
"I hope you don't mind."
Kellie's hands tightened on the steering wheel, further proof her friend was barely holding herself in check. "Of course not."
There was no softening of her tone, or a reassuring smile. Right now, Fran was more concerned with Kel-lie, who'd been driving over the speed limit. She never used to drive this fast. After they stopped for a soda maybe Fran could prevail on her friend to let her drive the rest of the way. She'd use the pretext that she'd never been behind the wheel of a Mercedes before.
Fran wanted both of them to arrive at the resort in one piece. With this wind, the driving could be dangerous. To her alarm, the idea came into her head that Kellie wasn't even seeing the road. Intuition told her the once flourishing Petralia marriage was having problems.
Not Kellie, too.
By the time they reached the village proper the wind was so powerful there was actual debris in the air. "Stop in front of that hotel on the corner, Kellie. It's starting to hail. Let's make a run for it."
The small ice balls pounded down, emptying the street of people rushing to take cover. All the shops and cafes had taken their display items and tables inside. When Fran entered the hotel bar with Kellie, tourists and staff alike were huddled in groups talking and gesticulating while they brushed themselves off.
"Kellie? You understand Greek. What are they saying?"
"I don't know, but I'll find out."
Fran followed her friend over to the counter where Kellie got a waiter's attention. He rattled off an answer to her question. She turned to Fran. "Someone in the back was listening to the radio and heard that tornado-like winds have swept through the area. There's no television reception right now. The police have issued a warning that everyone should stay indoors until the danger has passed. It's a good thing you wanted to stop here."
Considering the violence of the elements, it was providential they'd been passing by this village. "Let's get a drink and find a place to sit down while we wait this out."
After being served, they carried their sodas to an unoccupied bistro table. By now the hail had stopped and a heavy downpour had descended.
Kellie frowned. "I can't believe this weather."
"Since it made the six o'clock news, maybe you ought to call and let Leandros know you're all right."
Her jaw hardened. "He knows. Whenever I leave our apartment, my bodyguard Yannis follows me. If my husband is interested, he'll phone me." She pulled out her cell and checked everything. "Nope. No calls yet. See?" She showed her the screen. "No messages."
"Kellie" Fran put a hand on her friend's arm. "Tell me what's going on. I'd planned to wait until morning to ask you that question, but since we won't be leaving here any time soon, I'm asking it now. I want to know what's happened to the happiest wife I've ever known. Where did she go?" The reason Kellie had wanted Fran to come to Greece was no longer a mystery.
Kellie averted her soulful brown eyes. "Maybe you should be asking Leandros that question."
"He's not here. You are. What's wrong?"
Kellie's face was a study in pain. "I'm losing him, Fran. In fact, I've discovered I never really had him and I can't stand it."
Her friend's emotions were so brittle they'd crack if Fran pushed too hard. Instead of arguing with her that it couldn't possibly be true, she took a deep breath before saying, "Does this have anything to do with the fact that you haven't gotten pregnant yet? You're probably putting too much pressure on yourself to give Le-andros a child. These things take time."
"Since I've been diagnosed with seminal plasma hypersensitivity, that's the understatement of the year.
I've never wanted to talk about it, but you deserve an explanation.
"Our marriage took a crushing blow when I discovered that the painful itching and hives I experienced after intercourse was because my body is allergic to Leandros's sperm. When the doctor told me twenty thousand-plus women suffer from it in the U.S. alone, I couldn't believe it."
Fran shook her head. "I had no idea."
"I know. Growing up, I never knew such a problem existed. Leandros had to have been devastated, but he was wonderful about it. He's worn a condom every time, but I know deep down he must hate it.
"The doctor knew we wanted a baby and said we could try artificial insemination with a good hope of success. They have to wash his sperm of the proteins first before the procedure is done. We've been trying that method since last year, but unfortunately it hasn't worked for us. He said he's willing to adopt. How's that for irony after what you've lived through? At this point I'm thinking it's just as well," came the bleak admission.
Fran couldn't believe what she was hearing. "What do you mean?"
"I'm talking about Karmela Paulos. She came to work for Leandros a month ago as part of the typing pool."
Ah. Karmela. The woman couldn't get to him by other means, so she'd insinuated herself into the office. Now things were starting to make sense.
Karmela Paulos was the gorgeous, raven-haired younger sister of Leandros's first wife, Petra. Petra had been pregnant when she'd died in a helicopter crash over the Ionian Sea.
Two years later Leandros had met Kellie by accident at the Cassandra in Athens, one of the famous Petralia five-star hotels. It hadn't taken long before he'd married her, but it seemed that since his late wife's funeral, Leandros had acquired a constant companion in Karmela who was always around.
Fran had met her at the wedding and hadn't liked her proprietorial behavior with Leandros either. Though he was now a husband for the second time, it seemed Karmela had won herself a position that placed her closer to Leandros than before. This was foul play at its best. Being her brother-in-law, he could hardly turn her down.
"It was clear to me at the wedding that your marriage had thwarted her dreams to become the next Mrs. Leandros Petralia." Whatever subterfuge was going on here, Fran was positive Karmela was behind it in order to break them apart. She clearly still wanted Leandros for herself.
Too bad. Fran intended to make sure this was resolved before she went back to Pennsylvania in two weeks.
"Tell you what, Kellie. You heard the warning from the police, so I have an idea. Since we're not supposed to be out on the street, how about we get a room for tonight right here?"
"That sounds good."
"I think so, too. It'll be fun. How long has it been since we hung out in some cozy little hotel like this?"
"I don't remember."
"We'll watch the news on TV when it comes back on, and we'll get some food. Then we can talk all night if we want. I've got an idea about how to thwart Karmela without your husband realizing what's happening."
"I don't know if that's possible."
Fran smiled. "You haven't heard my plan yet." She got up from the table. "I'll talk to the proprietor and arrange a room for us. When the rain stops, we'll go out to the car for our luggage."
By now Fran figured Kellie's bodyguard would have contacted Leandros wherever he was and told him his wife was safe and sound. She hoped Leandros would call her soon. The problems in their marriage were tearing her best friend apart. No one knew what that felt like better than Fran.