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"I'm sorry, Ms. Turner, but Kyrie Simonides says he can't fit you in today. If you'll come next Tuesday at three o'clock?"
Gabi's hand tightened around the leather strap of her taupe handbag. "I won't be in Athens then." The outcome of this visit would determine how soon she left Greece…that was if she were allowed to see him now.
She fought not to lose her composure in front of the retirement-age-looking receptionist who was probably paid a lot of money not to lose hers. "After waiting over three hours for him, surely he can take another five minutes to talk to me."
The woman with heavy streaks of silver in her hair shook her head. "It's the weekend. He should have left Athens an hour ago."
At twenty after six on a hot Friday evening Gabi could believe it, but she hadn't come this far to be put off. There was too much at stake. Taking a calming breath, she said, "I didn't want to have to say this to you, but he's left me no choice. Please tell him it's a matter of life and death."
Because it was the truth and her eyes didn't blink, the receptionist's expression underwent a subtle change. "If this is some kind of a joke, I'm afraid it will backfire on you."
"This is no joke," Gabi replied, standing her ground at five feet five in her comfortable two-piece cotton suit of pale lemon. She'd already undergone a thorough vetting and security check upon entering the building, so the receptionist knew she didn't pose a threat.
After a slight hesitation the taller woman, clearly in a dilemma, got up from her desk and walked with a decided limp back to her boss's office. That was progress.
While businessmen came and went from his private domain on top of the building complex in downtown Athens, she'd been continually ignored until now. If Gabi had just come out with it in the first place, it might not have taken her most of the day to get results, but she'd wanted to protect him.
Gabi only knew three facts about the thirty-three-year-old Andreas Simonides: First, he was the re puted new force majeure at the internationally renowned Simonides Corporation whose holdings were tied up in all areas of metallurgy, including aluminum, copper and plastics.
Her source confided that their vast fortune, accumulated over many decades, included the ownership of eighty companies. With a population of twelve thousand employees, the Simonides family ruled over a virtual empire extending beyond Greece.
Second, if the picture in the newspaper didn't lie, he was an exceptionally attractive male.
The third fact wasn't public knowledge. In truth no one knew what Gabi knew…not even the man himself. But once they talked, his life would change forever whether he liked it or not.
While she stood there anticipating their first meeting, she heard the woman's footsteps. "Kyrie Simonides will give you two minutes, no more."
"I'll take them!"
"You go down the hall and through the double doors."
"Thank you very much," she said with heartfelt sincerity, then rushed around the reception desk, her golden jaw-length curls bouncing. At first she didn't see anyone as she entered his elegant inner sanctum.
"Life and death you said?" came a voice of male irony from behind her. Though deep, it had an appealing vibrant quality.
She spun around to discover a tall man shrugging into an expensive-looking gray suit jacket he'd just taken from a closet. The play of rip-cord muscle in his arms and shoulders beneath a dazzling white shirt attested to the fact that he didn't spend all his time in the confines of an office. Helpless to do otherwise, her gaze fell lower to the fabric of his trousers molding powerful thighs.
"I'm waiting, Ms. Turner."
Heat stole into her cheeks to be caught staring like that. She lifted her head, but her voice caught as she looked up into eyes of iron gray, half veiled by long black lashes that gave him an aloof quality.
He possessed a healthy head of medium-cropped black hair and an olive complexion. Rugged of feature, his dark Greek looks fascinated her. The picture she'd seen of him hadn't picked up the slight scar partially hidden in his left eyebrow, or the lines of experience she could detect around his eyes and wide male mouth. They revealed a life that had known every emotion.
"You're a difficult man to reach."
After shutting the closet door, he walked across the room to his private elevator. "I'm on my way out. Since you refused to come back next Tuesday, say what you have to say before I leave." He'd already stepped inside the lift, ready to push the button. No doubt he had a helicopter on the roof waiting to fly him to some exotic vacation spot for the weekend.
Standing next to him, she'd never felt more diminutive. Even if she didn't have an appointment, his condescension was too much. But because she might never have another opportunity to get this close to him, she hid her reaction.
Without wasting time she opened her handbag and pulled out a manila envelope. Since he made no move to take it, she undid the flap and removed the contents.
Beneath a set of DNA results lay the front page of a year-old Greek newspaper revealing him aboard the Simonides yacht, surrounded by a crush of people partying the night away. Gabi's elder half sister Thea, whose dark Grecian beauty stood out from the other women on board, was among the crowd captured in the photo. The headline read, "New CEO at Simonides is cause for celebration."
Along with these items was a photograph taken a few days ago of two baby boys wearing diapers and shirts. Gabi had gone to a store to get it enlarged into an eight-by-ten.
She held everything up so he couldn't miss looking at the identical twins who had a crop of curly black hair and gorgeous olive skin like his and Thea's. He'd had his hair cut since the photo.
Up close she picked out many of the other similarities to him, including their widow's peaks and the winged shape of their dark eyebrows. The strong resemblance didn't stop there. She quickly noticed they had his firm chin and wide mouth. Her list went on and on down to their sturdy bodies and same square-cut fingertips.
Yet nothing about the set of his features indicated the picture had made any kind of impression. "I don't see you in the photograph, Ms. Turner. I'm sorry if you're in such a desperate situation, but darkening my doorstep wanting a handout isn't the way to get the help you need."
Gabi's jaw hardened. "And you're not the first man to ignore the children he helped bring into the world."
His black eyes narrowed. "What kind of a mother sends someone else on an errand like this?"
Somehow she got around the boulder in her throat. "I wish my sister could have come herself, but she's dead."
The moment the words left her lips, she sensed his body quicken. "That's a tragedy. Now if you'll excuse me."
Andreas Simonides was a cold-blooded man. There was no way to reach him. As his hand moved to the button on the panel, alerting her that this conversation was over, she said, "Are you saying you never saw this woman in your life?"
Gabi pointed to Thea's face in the newspaper picture. "Maybe this will help." She put the items under her arm while she pulled out Thea's Greek passport. "Here."
To her surprise he took it from her and examined the photo. "Thea Paulos, twenty-four, Athens. Issued five years ago." His black brows formed a bar. He shot her a penetrating glance. "Your sister, you say?"
"My half sister," she amended. "Daddy's first wife was Greek. After she died, he married my American mother. After a while I came along. This was the last passport Thea held before her divorce." Gabi bit her lip. "She…celebrated it with friends aboard your yacht."
He handed the passport back to her. "I'm sorry about your loss, but I can't help you."
She felt a stab of pain. "I'm sorry for the twins," she murmured. "To lose their mother is tragic beyond words. However, when they're old enough to ask where their father is and I have to tell them he's alive somewhere— but it doesn't matter because they never mattered to him—that will be the ultimate tragedy."
The elevator door closed, putting a definitive end to all communication. Gabi spun around, angry and heartsick. For two cents she'd leave the incriminating evidence with his receptionist and let the other woman draw her own conclusions.
But creating a scandal within the Simonides empire was the last thing Gabi wanted to do, not when it could rebound on her own family, especially on her father whose diplomat position in the consulate on Crete might be compromised. In his work he met with Greek VIPs in business and governmental positions on a regular basis. She couldn't bear it if her presence here brought on unwanted repercussions.
No one had asked her to come. Except for Mr. Simonides himself now, no one knew the nature of this visit, especially not her grieving parents. Since Thea had died in childbirth from a heart condition brought on by the pregnancy, Gabi had taken it upon herself to be the babies' advocate. Every child deserved its own wonderful birth mother and father. Unfortunately not every child was so lucky.
"Mission accomplished," she whispered to the empty room. Her heart felt like an anchor that had come loose and had plunged through fathoms of dark water to the lowest depths of the Mediterranean.
Once she'd put everything back in the envelope and stashed it in her handbag, she left his private office. The venerable receptionist nodded to Gabi before she disappeared into the hall. In a few minutes she arrived at the ground floor of the building and hurried outside to get a taxi back to her hotel.
To her surprise, the chauffeur of a limo parked in front got out and approached her. "Ms. Turner?"
She blinked. "Yes?"
"Kyrie Simonides said you had to wait a long time to get in to see him. I've been asked to drive you wherever it is you wish to go."
Her adrenaline kicked in, causing her pulse to speed up. Did this mean the twins' father wasn't a complete block of ice after all? Who wouldn't melt over seeing a photo of his own flesh and blood? If the boys' picture didn't completely convince him, the printout of their DNA would provide infallible proof of a match.
By sending a limo for Gabi, it could mean he planned for a second meeting with her, but he was forced to be discreet. With his money and power, not to mention his looks, the head man had learned how to keep his former liaisons private.
"Thank you. If you wouldn't mind taking me to the Amazon Hotel?" She'd purposely checked in there because it was near the Simonides building in the heart of the Plaka.
He nodded as he helped her in.
Before carrying out her plan to meet with Mr. Simonides today, Gabi had told her parents that one of her female coworkers from Alexandria, Virginia, was in Athens on a trip. They'd decided to get together and see a little of the sights. Gabi felt awful for outright lying to them, but she didn't dare let them know her true agenda.
Until Thea's fifth month of pregnancy when she'd developed serious heart complications and was hospitalized, Gabi hadn't even known the name of the babies' father. But as the end drew near and it became apparent Thea might not make it, she told Gabi to look in her jewel box at home and bring her the envelope she'd hidden there.
Gabi brought it to the hospital. Thea told her to open it. She took one look and gasped when she realized who the man was. "This is all I have of him. Like everyone else on board, we'd both had way too much to drink," Thea whispered. "We were 'strangers in the night' kind of thing."
Her confession elicited a moan from Gabi.
"It didn't mean anything to him. He didn't even know my name. I'm ashamed it happened and he shouldn't have to pay for a mistake which was as much mine as his. I wanted you to see him so you'll know what kind of genes the children have inherited. Now promise me you'll forget everything."
Gabi understood how Thea felt and planned to honor her wishes. Besides the unsuspecting father, she realized that any news would be exploited if linked to the Simonides family. As they had recently lost the daughter of her father's first marriage, Gabi wanted to save her parents any added grief.
While she sat there deep in thought the rear door opened. Surprised they'd already arrived in front of the hotel, she gave a start before getting out.
"Please thank your employer for me."
Once he'd gone, she hurried inside, anxious to eat something at the snack bar before going up to her room. Whatever Mr. Simonides intended to do, he was in the driver's seat and would be the one to set the timetable for their next conversation. If there were to be one…
She could only hope he would make the arrangements before morning. Tomorrow she needed to fly back to Heraklion on Crete and rejoin her family. On top of their sadness, they had their hands full with the twins who'd been born six weeks premature.
When it had looked as if Thea was in trouble, Gabi had taken an undetermined leave of absence from the advertising agency in Virginia to fly to Heraklion. Since then she'd taken over the care of the babies because her busy parents' demanding diplomatic position didn't allow for the constant nurturing of the twins without full-time help.
That was four months ago and Gabi's job as public relations manager had been temporarily filled by someone else at Hewitt and Wilson, so she had a vital decision to make. If Mr. Simonides chose to claim his children, then she needed to get back to her work in Virginia ASAP.
Her immediate boss had been made regional director of the East Coast market and hinted at an important promotion for her. But she needed to get back home if she wanted to expand her career opportunity with him. The only other career more important would be to become the mother to Thea's children. But if she chose to do that, then it meant she would have to give up her advertising career until they were school age.
Having been burned by Texas rancher and oil man Rand McCallister five years ago, Gabi had no intention of ever getting married or having children, but if the twins' birth father didn't want them, then she would take on the responsibility of raising them because they were her family. As such, she needed to go back to Virginia where she could rear them in familiar surroundings.