Read an Excerpt
Andreos Demetrios, his erect posture making no concession to the whirling blades of the helicopter from which he had just alighted, looked around, his piercing dark glance moving pointedly over and past his reception committeea younger man standing beside the helicopter pad.
It was a deliberate snub, but nothing in the waiting man's expression suggested that he was affronted by the action. His only response at all was the faintest of sardonic smiles as the older man pointedly turned his back to him.
People did not, as a rule, overlook Mathieu Demetrios. It wasn't just his heightMathieu topped six fouror his face, though more column inches than he cared to recall had been devoted to his classical profile, which many writers claimed, with what Mathieu considered a lack of originality, could have graced a Greek coin. No, what Mathieu Demetrios had was far less quantifiable; he had that rare indefinable qualityhe had presence.
When Mathieu spoke people listened. When he walked into a room heads turned, people watched himpeople, that is, who weren't his father. The same father who was at that moment delivering a string of terse rapid instructions to the bespectacled man who had just disembarked with him from the helicopter.
Mathieu's patrician features gave no hint of his feelings as, silver eyes narrowing, he silently observed the interchange. He held himself with natural grace, his body language relaxed as an updraft from the helicopter blades plastered his thin shirt against his body revealing the clearly defined musculature of his powerful shoulders and chest, the same squall tugging at his dark hair.
The man nodding respectfully as helistened to Andreos Demetrios was the only one of the trio who was made visibly uncomfortable by the tension and simmering hostility vibrating in the disturbed air.
Keeping one wary eye on his employer, he risked the Greek financier's wrath by sending the younger man a tentative smile of sympathy before he hurried past him. It was hard to tell whether the gesture was either noticed or appreciated. Unlike his father, Mathieu Gauthier, or Demetrios as they must learn to call him, kept his cards pretty close to his chest and he definitely was not prone to the uncontrolled outbursts of emotion for which Andreos was famed.
If Mathieu Demetrios had been a different sort of man, the sort who looked as if he would appreciate well-meaning advice, he might have taken the younger man to one side and explained that the older man's mood changes, though abrupt, could sometimes be diverted if you learnt to read the danger signs.
Even simply showing a little reaction to his father's outbursts, excepting Mathieu's usual cynical amusement or boredom, would help.
Opinion amongst employees who had to witness the conflict firsthand was split into two camps when it came to the subject of the uneasy relationship between Andreos and his heir apparent. Personally, his logical accountant's brain could not allow him to believe that anyone would deliberately go out of his way to provoke Andreos Demetrios. No, he joined those who said it was a matter of perception, and someone who had hurled a formula-one car at speed around a track for a living as Mathieu Gauthier had could not be expected to perceive danger the same way normal mortals did.
It was only after the third man had left that the Greek financier faced his son. Andreos had read and reread the comprehensive report he had requested during the flight from the mainland searching for errors.
If there had been flaws in the report he would have found them; there were none. It was clear, concise and drew some unexpected but challenging conclusions, which only seemed obvious once they had been pointed out.
Challenging about summed up his eldest son. A nerve jerked in Andreos's heavy jaw as his eyes, dark and contemptuous, swept upwards from the feet of the younger man to his face.
Only once in all their years of marriage had Andreos ever broken his vows of fidelity to the wife he adored; it was a moment he had regretted and been ashamed of ever since.
But to have the physical proof of that infidelity appear in the form of a sullen, self-contained male adolescent who did not further endear himself to his reluctant father by outperforming his legitimate half-brother in every way both intellectual and athletic had been a nightmare situation.
Ironically it had been his wronged wife, Mia, not Andreos, who had been able to welcome the motherless boy into their home with genuine warmth.
The noise of the helicopter engine faded at the same moment the men's eyes lockedsmouldering brown with cool grey.
They stayed that way for a long time.
The older man was the first to lower his gaze. A dull angry colour dusted his cheeks and heavy jaw and he addressed his son. He did not waste time on preliminaries.
'You will cancel your little trip to ' a spasm of irritation crossed Andreos's heavy swarthy features as he trawled his memory ' wherever it was you were going.'
There was no trace of warmth or affection in his curt demand, but Mathieu did not expect it. His father had never made any pretence of affection, but before Alex's death Andreos had not been as overtly hostile as he was now. But then before Alex's death twelve months had been able to go by without father and his elder son meeting.
But Alex's death had changed that.
It had, Mathieu reflected bleakly, changed a lot of things.
'Well, you can change your plans.'
It was not a suggestion. But then the head of Demetrios Enterprises, a global giant that had major interests in amongst other things IT and telecommunicationsthings had moved on since the days the family were merely Greek shipping million-airesdid not make suggestions.
Andreos Demetrios spoke and people jumped.
The recipient of this peremptory decree wasn't showing any signs of jumping. Mathieu wasn't doing anything; in fact he achieved a level of stillness that very few people ever managed. His eyes narrowed but it was impossible to tell what emotion lay concealed beneath the mirrored silver surface and his enigmatic expression was equally uninformative.
Not that Andreos in his turn seemed interested in his son's response. After issuing his pronouncement the older man began to walk briskly up the winding white marble path that led to a massive villa complex that was built into the pink rock above the sparkling turquoise waters of the Aegean.
Andreos had reached the edge of the lush landscaped grounds that surrounded the villa when Mathieu caught up with him.
'I am going to Scotland to stay with a friend; the plan is not flexible.'
The trip was only partly pleasure; Jamie had asked for his help. The banks were making unhappy noises and the fate of the highland estate his friend had inherited from his father the previous year hung in the balance.
Unless I come up with one hell of a business plan they won't extend the loans, Mathieu. That means I won't just be the MacGregor who couldn't hack it as formula-one driver, I'll be the MacGregor who lost the estate that has been in the family for five hundred years.
The older man swung back, his expression antagonistic. 'Were going. Sacha and her mother are arriving tomorrow.'
Mathieu repressed a sigh, reflecting that he really ought to have anticipated this.
'A fact you neglected to mention when you summoned me.' The older man gave a thin-lipped smile. 'It would be an insult to them if you are not here. There have been links between the Constantine family and ours for generations. My father and'
'And,'Mathieu inserted, interrupting the history lesson, 'there is no son in this generation to inherit and you hate the idea of the Constantine fortune slipping through your grubby fingers.'
A flash of anger darkened the older man's heavy features. 'And I suppose you would turn your nose up at it?' he grunted.
'I wouldn't be prepared to marry a girl of nineteen to get it.' A girl who had coincidentally been engaged to his younger brother. When he had first heard of the engagement, Mathieu had been inclined to view it with cynicism.
Not so much a marriage as a merger.
But Mathieu's view had changed once he had seen the two youngsters together. They had been very obviously in love.
'Sacha is a mature nineteen and you could do a lot worse. That actress, for instance, who was plastered all over you at that première. What was her name?'
Mathieu, not explaining it had been a stunt staged to gain publicity for a low-budget movie, dismissed the young starlet with a contemptuous shrug and admitted, 'I have not the faintest idea.'
She had been and still was a total stranger, despite her offer to show him how grateful she was, a proposal he had said thanks, but no, thanks to.
His taste had never run to that sort of gratitude. The formula-one racing circuit attracted groupies like a magnet. Women who in his opinion represented everything that was bad about today's depressing shallow, celebrity-obsessed society.
Mathieu had frequently been tempted to say to them, Go away, get a life, get some self-respect, but he hadn'tany attention at all they took as encouragement. So he had gained a reputation for being aloof and unapproachable. He had changed careers but the reputation persisted. It was on occasion useful.
'I read the wedding plans were at an advanced stage.' Mathieu angled a dark brow at the sarcasm in his father's voice and retorted lightly, 'I should review the sort of newspapers you read if I were you, Andreos.'
'You are not me.'
'Nor even a paler version.' He knew he took after his mother; he wondered sometimes if looking at him reminded his father of the young woman he had used and discarded.
'So there is no oneyou are not in love?'
Mathieu was not in love or actively seeking it. On the contrary, if he saw it coming he had every intention of running or at least walking swiftly in the opposite direction.
What was the all-consuming attraction of love anyway? A form of temporary insanity that made your happiness reliant on someone else's smile?
The allure baffled him.
And anyway, the people he loved had a habit of dying.
No, falling in love was not on Mathieu's list of things to do.
The only person he relied on was himself and that was the way he liked it.
'I fail to see what business that is of yours, regardless of which I can think of few worse fates than to be married to a teenager, even a mature teenager.'
Andreos's face darkened with displeasure. 'I am not telling you to marry the girl.'
'But you wouldn't exactly be displeased if I did either, and in the meantime you will take every opportunity to throw us together. You are embarrassingly transparent.'
Andreos looked at him, his face dark with frustration. 'The girl is Vasilis's only child, his heir. Her husband would'
Mathieu lifted a hand to still the flow. 'I hardly need it spelt out; you are empire-building.' His lips thinned in distaste. 'Does the girl have any say in this?'
'Do not look down your nose at me,' Andreos barked. 'And do not pretend you could not make this girl love you if you chose to do so. I have seen you with women.'
'She is not a woman; she is a child.'
'She was good enough for your brother.'
'They were in love.'
'You have taken everything else of hiswhy not his woman?'
The words hung in the air, building the tension between the two men, until Mathieu shrugged. 'I never wanted anything ofAlex's.'
Except a share of their father's love, but that desire had only lasted until Mathieu was sixteen. He had been living with his father for a year when an overheard conversation had made him recognise that was never going to happen.
Mathieu's thoughts drifted back to the occasion in question. He had been walking past a half-open door. It was hearing his own name and the anger and frustration in his normally softly spoken stepmother's voice that had made him pause outside
'The boy tries so hard, does everything you ask of him and more. Could you not just occasionally give him a word of encouragement? Would it kill you, Andreos, to smile at him? All Mathieu wants is your approval. He's desperate for it. I can see it in his eyes when he looks at you. It breaks my heart.'
'What you see in his eyes is naked ambition, Mia. Why can you not see that? The boy is hard, he is confrontational'
'You say you wish that Alex would stand up to you more.'
'That is not the same thing. Mathieu doesn't need love and kisses; he needs a strong hand.'
'Not one raised in anger, I have told you that. If you ever'
'No, of course not. I told you I was sorry about that, Mia. You know I have never raised a hand to Alex; it's just Mathieu lied and then, caught out in the lie, refused to apologise.'
'Oh, for pity's sake, Andreos, are you blind? It was Alex who broke your precious statuette and he was too scared to own up so Mathieu took the blame.'
'No, no, you're wrong! I don't know what story he has told you, but'
'Not Mathieu, he didn't say a word. It was Alex who told me about the beating and the broken statuette.'
'Oh, goddamn that boy he made me the thing is, Mia, when he looks at me all I can think is that I wish he'd never been born.'
He had heard enough. Mathieu had moved on, in more ways than one. It had hurt at the time to hear the truth, but it was better to face bitter reality than live in false hope.
'You will have to pass on my apologies. I'm expected in Scotland.'
A dark mottled colour rose up the older man's neck until his face was suffused with angry colour. Mathieu watched the effect of his words with clinical detachment.
The truth of it was he had returned just over a year ago at his stepmother's request, not his father's. 'Give it a year, Mathieu,' she begged. 'Your father needs you, though he'd never admit it.'
Mathieu was reluctant to shatter the illusion that he cared what his father needed, especially when she added, 'And when I am gone he will need you even more. The company and the family,' she reflected with a rueful roll of her eyes as she spoke of the Demetrios clan. 'They both need a strong hand at the helm. He was grooming your brother for the role '
A memory had surfaced in Mathieu's headAlexander sliding his small hand in his and saying earnestly, 'I want to be just like you when I am older, Mathieu, even if it means Father doesn't like me.'
'Alex would have done it well,' Mathieu lied.
Mia smiled and shook her head. 'I appreciate your loyalty, but we both know that isn't true. Alex hated business. He tried, of course, to please his father, but ' She shrugged. 'One day Andreos would have had to accept that Alex would never take his place, but sadly for us all that day never came.'
As Mathieu moved to enfold her in a comforting embrace, hiding his shock at the fragility of her birdlike frame, she grasped his hand tight and said fiercely, 'Promise me, Mathieu, to help him even if he doesn't want your help.'
So Mathieu had promised, and he had stayed after his promise to her had been fulfilled, not out of a sense of duty, but because against all the odds he was enjoying what he was doing.
'You ingrate, you will do as I say or or ' Andreos raised his clenched fists from his sides and glared at the younger man with every appearance of loathing.
Mathieu, his calmness increasing in direct proportion to his father's furious incoherence, raised a satirical brow. 'You will disinherit me?' he suggested.
'And do not think I won't.'
'That is your decision.'
'You expect me to believe you don't care?'Andreos let out a loud bellow of scornful laughter and shook his head. 'That you don't care about losing an empire worth billions?'