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Kerry was shaking as she looked down at the little white stick clutched in her hand—a plus sign was clearly visible in the window. The test was positive. A flutter of excitement rose up inside her—she was pregnant.
It wasn't planned, and she hadn't truly expected the test to come up positive—but she knew the discovery that she was pregnant would change her life for ever.
She pressed her teeth gently into her lower lip and stared at the test result for a moment longer. Her heart had instantly filled with joy at the prospect of having a baby—but her body had already started to tremble with nerves.
How would Theo react to the news that he was going to be a father? The thought of telling him sent a wave of apprehension rolling through her.
It was only six months since she'd become the live-in lover of Theo Diakos—one of Athens' richest, most powerful property tycoons. She'd shared his high-paced cosmopolitan lifestyle and spent night after glorious night in his bed. He'd treated her like a princess, and his close family members—his brother, Corban, and his wife, Hallie—had made her more than welcome.
But, although Kerry had fallen deeply in love with Theo, they had never discussed their feelings for each other. And they'd never talked about their future together.
She lifted her head, pushed her long blonde hair back from her face and walked out onto the roof garden. When she and Theo were staying in the city, this magical green and scented oasis was her favourite place. The warm fragrance of climbing roses wrapped around her and the gentle sound of trickling water filled the evening air. There was such an aura of tranquillity that itwas hard to imagine the garden was right on top of one of the glitziest hotels in the city—the flagship property in Theo's empire.
Beneath her the city lights were starting to shine, and up high on the Acropolis Rock the floodlit columns of the Parthenon were glowing majestically against the darkening sky. It was an awe-inspiring sight, and one that would be forever linked in her mind with Theo. Being with him was wonderful. For the first time in twenty-three years she felt as if she was wanted—cherished, even.
At first she'd hardly been able to believe that he was interested in an ordinary girl like her, but the intensity of their whirlwind affair had swept her doubts away and she'd never been so happy.
The troubles that haunted her past had faded until they seemed almost to belong to another lifetime. It was wonderful, knowing that he valued her and wanted to be with her. It was something she'd never experienced before—but it was something that she was determined her baby would feel right from the start of its life.
She pressed her hand against her stomach. The knowledge that she was carrying Theo's child was still sinking in—but she knew one thing for sure. This baby would always feel wanted. Always feel loved.
Suddenly a rush of excitement bubbled through her body. Theo wouldbe happy. She was certain of it. After all, he was a wonderful uncle—he clearly thought the world of his nephew, Nicco—and she knew he would be an amazing father.
All at once she was desperate to tell him the news immediately. She hurried back inside and dashed straight to Theo's study in their private apartments at the hotel, almost running in her enthusiasm. She couldn't wait to see the look on his face when she shared her wonderful secret.
She slid to a halt outside his study door as she realised he wasn't alone. He was with his brother, Corban, and from the sound of their voices they were discussing something important—something urgent. She paused to catch her breath, disappointed that her special news would have to wait.
Then, just as she turned to leave, the subject of their conversation suddenly became clear to her. She truly had not meant to eavesdrop, and her Greek was still far from perfect. But she knew enough to understand what Theo and Corban were discussing.
They were talking about taking little Nicco away from his mother.
A knot tightened in her stomach and her heart lurched horribly in her chest. She couldn't really have understood correctly. Could she? She stood frozen outside the study door—unable to tear herself away— listening to them talk.
'You must think about Nicco—it's your duty to protect him,' Theo said. 'He is your son, and his well-being must come first.'
'But Hallie is my wife—she trusts me,' Corban said. 'I don't think I can do this to her.'
'You must.' Theo's voice was emphatic. 'A Diakos child belongs with the Diakos family. And Hallie is not fit to take care of your son.'
'But it seems so drastic,' Corban said. 'Can't we at least let her see Nicco before we take him?'
'No. Absolutely not,' Theo said. 'This is the only way. If we do this right now—tonight—Nicco can be away by helicopter to the island before Hallie even notices he's gone. Then we can deal with her privately— get her out of the country without any fuss. No one outside the family ever needs to know.'
Kerry clamped her hand over her mouth in horror. Theo and his brother were plotting to take Hallie's child away from her.
She started shaking violently, suddenly revisiting all the pain and misery of her own childhood. She felt sick, remembering the heartbreak and despair—the utter wretchedness—of her own true mother, who had been unable to bear having her baby daughter taken from her.
Kerry could not stand by and let that happen to Hallie. She had to try and save her friend the anguish that her mother had suffered. Maybe if her mother had been allowed to keep her baby she would still be alive today.
Suddenly Kerry found herself backing unsteadily away from the study doorway. Her throat was tight, her stomach was knotted painfully and her mind was spinning with horrible memories that made it impossible to think straight. All she knew was that she couldn't let them take Hallie's child away from her.
She turned and ran to find her friend. She had to warn her.
She charged into the luxury apartment Hallie shared with Corban, stumbled through the huge open living space to the bedroom and found Hallie sitting in front of the mirror brushing her long brown hair.
'Kerry!' Hallie exclaimed, her cheeks flushed and her dark eyes wide with surprise. 'Is everything all right?'
'I'm sorry…' Kerry gasped for breath after her mad dash. 'It's Nicco. I heard Corban and Theo talking— they are going to take Nicco away tonight.'
'Why? What's wrong? Is he all right?' Hallie demanded, standing up so quickly that the stool she'd been sitting on crashed over.
'Yes, he's fine,' Kerry said. 'But listen—you don't understand. They said you're not fit to look after him. They're going to take Nicco away by helicopter without telling you.'
'No. They can't do that.' For a moment Hallie stood glued to the spot, her face blank with shock. Then her expression changed and she lurched into action, snatching her handbag from the dressing table so quickly that she sent a glass of wine flying. 'They won't take him. I won't let them,' she said, grabbing her car keys from a side table and hurrying unsteadily across the room in high heels. 'I'll take him away with me—somewhere they won't find us.'
'Wait,' Kerry said, automatically reaching for a handful of tissues to stem the spread of the red wine across Hallie's dressing table. 'I'll come with…'
Suddenly Kerry hesitated, looking down at the wine-soaked tissues. Hallie had been drinking. Remembering her flushed cheeks, and the way she'd swayed unevenly across the room, she'd obviously had quite a lot—way too much to be driving. But she'd just taken her car keys.
Kerry burst out of the room after her. But it was too late—the nursery door was open and Nicco's cot was empty. A glance at the lights above the family's private elevator told her that someone had already reached the underground car park.
Oh, God! What had she done? Hallie was drunk and she was about to drive out into the busy city traffic with her little boy in the car.
Kerry's heart was in her mouth as she hurtled back to Theo's study. She careered through the open door, making Theo and Corban look up in surprise.
'It's Hallie!' she cried, struggling to catch her breath to speak.
Theo was beside her in an instant. His strong hands closed reassuringly on her upper arms to keep her steady and his dark brown eyes held her secure in his powerful gaze.
'Take a deep breath.' His calm, assured voice cut through the panic that gripped her. 'That's it. Now, tell me what has happened.'
Kerry stared up at his handsome face, momentarily torn between the distress she'd felt when she heard him planning to take Nicco away from his mother and the comfort she instinctively felt simply from being close to him, from the feel of his strong hands on her arms.
'Hallie has taken Nicco in her car,' she blurted. 'She's been drinking.'
Corban cursed in Greek, then ran out the door, shouting urgently to Theo as he left. At the same time Theo spun away from Kerry to pick up the phone. She realised he was calling his security team to give orders that Hallie should not be allowed to leave.
Kerry folded her arms across her chest and hugged herself tightly. What had she done? Theo and Corban had no right to take Nicco away from his mother—but her impulsive reaction had put both mother and child in danger. She should never have acted without thinking things through.
'I'm going to help my brother,' Theo said, turning to leave. 'Hallie was away from the hotel before I warned Security, but Corban is right behind her.'
Kerry bit her quivering lip anxiously and felt her eyes burning with unshed tears. She wished she'd realised sooner that Hallie had been drinking—but it had never occurred to her that her friend would be in that state.
'It will be all right.' Suddenly Theo was back by her side, pulling her gently against his strong chest. He lifted his hands and slipped them under her hair, cradling the back of her head tenderly as he tipped her face up to his. 'You did the right thing—we'll take care of it now.'
Then, before she could reply, he was gone. But the warm, exotic fragrance of his cologne lingered in the air and the nape of her neck still tingled where his fingertips had brushed.
Theo was everything to her. Since the day she'd met him everything else in her life had faded into insignificance.
When her temporary job in Athens had finished she'd been overwhelmed with joy when he had asked her to stay with him. With his encouragement she had delayed looking for a new position, so that she would be free to travel with him wherever he went. He'd said that he wanted her with him always, so that they would be able to spend time together whenever his demanding schedule allowed.
Kerry closed her eyes, imagining the warm strength of Theo's arms around her. Being in his arms always felt so right. Just now, even when he was worried about his nephew and his sister-in-law, he had taken a moment to give her comfort and reassurance.
He had told her that she'd done the right thing— except he didn't know what had really happened. What she had really done.
She walked shakily across to the window and looked out at the city, which was now properly dark. Somewhere out there Corban was pursuing his wife and child. And Theo was helping him. She squeezed her eyes shut, feeling a tear escape to run down her cheek, and prayed that everyone would be all right.
Theo Diakos strode through the hotel with a face like thunder. Hallie and the child had been safely retrieved by his brother, but not before she had crashed her car on Syntagma Square.
Mercifully no one had been injured—but driving a sports car off the road on one of the busiest squares in Athens, right outside the parliament building, had attracted a deluge of unwanted attention, and a horde of paparazzi had appeared out of nowhere before Corban had been able to get his family away from prying eyes.
Theo swore under his breath. If only he had persuaded his brother to act sooner—to get Hallie out of the country and away from the family—then none of this would have happened. It had been becoming increasingly difficult to keep Hallie's drinking problem under wraps, and this fiasco would certainly blow it wide open.
Up until that evening almost no one had known about her difficulty with alcohol. Even Kerry—as far as he knew—had remained unaware. Corban had worked hard to keep it a secret—but now everyone would know.
Theo glanced at his watch. Only a few minutes had passed since he'd called Kerry to tell her that the situation was contained, but she had sounded so distressed by the whole event that he wanted to get back to her without delay. He was sorry that she'd been dragged into such an unpleasant family situation. Witnessing Hallie drunk and out of control, then putting Nicco at risk and creating an unsavoury public embarrassment, had obviously been upsetting for her.
Kerry would never behave like that. There wasn't a disagreeable bone in her body. She was gentle and graceful, and she hated drawing attention to herself. Theo valued every minute he spent in her enchanting company.
He'd first spotted her nearly a year earlier, talking to a group of tourists in the foyer of one of his hotels. Her long blonde hair, wide blue eyes and honeyed complexion had initially caught his attention, but once he'd spent an evening with her it had been her gentle charm that had utterly captivated him. After the cut and thrust of his high-paced business life, time with Kerry was the perfect refreshing antidote.
Now he was hurrying back to her, waiting for him on the roof garden. He knew how much she loved it there, and he hoped the pleasant surroundings would ease her distress. But if she was still upset when he reached her, he would pull her into his arms and make love to her until she forgot her worries.
He found her standing with her back to him, looking out over the city towards the Acropolis. The second he took another step towards her she seemed to sense his presence and spun round to face him, her hair bouncing about her shoulders as she moved.
'Is everyone all right?' she asked urgently. 'Hallie and Nicco? People on the street where she crashed?'