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Sara Andropolous leaned over to view the pastry from all angles. It looked perfect. Satisfied, she slid it onto one of the delicate china plates and drizzled a bit of honey on top. Two mint leaves completed the presentation and she smiled. One down, five more to do in less than five minutes.
Working swiftly, she finished the last in less than the allotted time. Perfection.
She'd been on her feet for five hours, yet she felt as fresh as if she'd just started. She loved creating works of art for consumption. Time flew, and she was absorbed in her work to the exclusion of all else.
"See how this pleases your guests," she murmured in a onesided imaginary conversation with Nikos Konstantinos.
When Sara had first arrived in Greece four months ago, her temporary assignment at the xpayo´'UG)8t ao´epa, Windsong Hotel, several miles from Thessalonika had seemed like an answer to prayer. She'd been trying to find a way to get a toehold in Greece for so long, it was amazing to her how swiftly things had fallen into place. No one suspected her real intent. The sudden opportunity to move to Greece had been impossible to refuse. She'd left her friends, sublet her flat, and headed for the Aegean with one thought in mindfind a way to make contact with her grandmother, Eleani Konstantinos.
As the yacht gently bobbed on the sea, Sara wondered for the nth time if she were really any closer to her goal. It had seemed meant to be when her friend Stacy had discovered that Sara's grandmother had remarried and found where she had been living all these years. When Stacy had then told her five months ago about an opening at the exclusive Greek resort owned by the grandson of the man her grandmother had married, Sara had applied instantly for the job. Amazingly, she'd been hired within two weeks of her first interview. Being Greek herself and knowing the language had been a big plus. But she also liked to think her accomplishments had commanded the attention of the interviewer. The lavish salary she was getting indicated they expected no less than outstanding work.
So far things had progressed better than she'd expected. After only four months in Greece, it was nothing short of miraculous that she'd been promoted to temporary chef on Nikos Konstantinos's luxury yacht. With any luck, at some point, they would put in at the island his family ownedthe key to getting to her grandmother. How she was to accomplish the next step was beyond her at the moment. Still, she was closer than ever. Time would present the opportunity she needed.
Stretching her muscles, she placed the desserts on the elegant silver tray and put it on the open area of the counter where the steward would pick it up to deliver to the guests in the main dining salon. It was after nine and she was just about finished for the day. She felt revved up, wide-awake and not at all ready to go to bed, though she'd been up before six every morning to prepare breakfast.
The chef on the yacht Cassandra had become suddenly ill with appendicitis, and she'd been selected to fill the role until he recovered. As the chief chef at the resort had explained when selecting her for the assignment, their boss, resort owner Nikos Konstantinos, had guests expected for a week's cruise around the Aegean and needed someone versatile enough for all meals and desserts. The chief chef had recommended her even though she was the newest member of the kitchen staff. She still couldn't believe her luck. At this rate she'd finally meet her grandmother before the month was out!
Her intelligence unit, as she called her friends in London who had rallied round to help her get to Greece once they'd learned of her goal, were certain her mother's mother was living on the Konstantinos family island in the Aegean. Strategically isolated for privacy, the island offered no way to gain access unless a family member brought guests. Since her letter had been returned unopened, her phone call refused and no e-mail address available, she knew no one would vouch for her. To the contrary, she suspected if she petitioned Nikos Konstantinos directly, he'd have her fired on the spot and erect even stronger barriers between her and her grandmother. She was not going to put that to the test. She'd find a way onto the island on her own.
If she could just meet the woman, maybe she could ignore some of that stiff Greek pride that apparently ran rampant in her mother's family and tell Eleani Konstantinos about her daughter's death, and the last words her mother had said how she wished she could have reconciled with her parents. It had been too late by the time Damaris Andropolous had uttered those words. She had died two days later.
Sara wanted to carry them back, heal a breach that had split the family for almost thirty years. She had been working more than a year to achieve that aim to fulfill the promise she had made to her mother just before she died.
Was the end really in sight?
Looking back, the best thing her mother had ever done was insist Sara learn Greek. Most of their family friends in London had been of Greek descent, a close-knit community of Greek expats who had loved to celebrate special occasions together. Her friend Stacy swore she loved the English lifestyle more than anything, yet she, too, had studied their ancestors' language. Sara knew her fluency in Greek had landed her this job, she was sure of it. She had had no difficulty in adapting to life at the resort. It was a delightful change from the rainy weather she'd left in London and she'd thrown herself into her job with determination that had obviously paid off.
As she put the pots and bowls she'd used to prepare the evening meal in the sink to soak, Sara thought about how she'd approach her grandmotherif she got the chance. Stacy had been a font of information, relying on the gossip of her own cousins who still lived in Greece. Sara's grandfather had died several years ago, and Eleani had remarried Spiros Konstantinos, head of the legendary Konstantinos Shipping empire. Sara had scrambled to find out as much information as she could about the family, only to come up with very little.
They obviously used a good deal of the money they made ensuring privacy.
"I'm late. Sorry. Won't happen again," Stefano said as he swooped up the tray of desserts. The steward was late at least once a dayand always claiming it wouldn't happen again. She had gotten used to it and if Nikos Konstantinos didn't care, she certainly didn't.
"Looks delicious, as usual. I'll get it up to the guests." He talked so fast Sara sometimes had trouble understanding him. She made sure he had all he needed for the guests, then began preparing a tray for the crew.
When Stefano returned, he leaned against the door and let out a long breath. "So the daughter is turning up her charm. I suspect this is a cruise to ensure the lovely Gina Fregulia and Nikos have a chance to get to know each other better. Her father is hinting for marriage, you know. And it doesn't seem as if Nikos is resisting at all."
"Now how would you know that?" Sara asked as she worked. She silently urged him to continue. The more she knew about the Konstantinos family, the better able she'd be to deal with them, she thought.
"It's no secret. The man's thirty-four years old. Past time to marry and start a family, else who will inherit all the money?"
Sara looked up at that. "You're thirty-five. Are you married?"
Stefano laughed. "It's different for me. I get to see beautiful women every day. Sail the Aegean on every cruise. Maybe I will settle down one day. But I don't have two fortunes to leave when I die."
"Nikos didn't follow his father and grandfather into shipping. But he's still the sole heir after his father. He's making a small fortune in his own right with the resort and all the collateral businesses. Wish I had some of that money."
"I'm sure we all do. Actually, we get some by doing our work properly," Sara said mischievously, smiling at the steward.
"I meant, have it to spend without working. It'll be interesting to see how the relationship between Miss Fregulia and the boss pans out."
"Do you think it won't?" Sara asked, curious. She longed to ask a dozen questions, but didn't want to give rise to suspicion.
Stefano gave a shrug. "The way I hear it, Nikos loved his first fiancée. I never knew the full story of the breakup, but for a long time, he had the temper of a bear. Arranged marriages are a bit passé for those of us in the regular world, but in the world of huge fortunes, not so uncommon. I think Nikos Konstantinos will marry for the good of the resort, and to provide heirs for the fortunes. The Fregulias are big in wine in Italy. Their fortunes surely match those of Nikos. At least he doesn't worry about being married for his money. I predict a match made in business."
"An oracle," Sara said, finishing the last touch on the desserts for the crew. "I wish them happy." A happy Nikos meant a more amiable man if she ever had to call on him for access to her grandmother.
"I expect Gina Fregulia will be happy if she gets her hands on Nikos's millions."
"Thought you said she was wealthy."
"Her father is, subtle difference. Nikos will be the prize," Stefano said.
Sara shook her head. Stefano called their boss by his first name around the staff, but she knew he'd have infinitely more respect when in the presence of Nikos Konstantinos. At least she thought he would. She had yet to meet the man. Didn't care much one way or another if she ever met him, as long as his yacht docked on the family island at some time while she was still aboard.
"The captain won't be having dessert. He's returned to the helm to relieve the mate. This looks nice for the crew," Stefano said as he lifted the second, less elaborate, tray full of delicious pastries.
"We should have our food as nicely presented as the guests," Sara said, putting the finishing garnishment on the last plate.
Sara followed Stefano to the aft deck where a table had been set up for the crew to use. Those already seated had left her a place at the end since she didn't normally join them until dessert. Except for Stefano, the rest of the men were around her mother's age. They had probably sailed on the Konstan-tinos yacht for years.
Sara relaxed slightly. Her duties for the day were completed. The gentle breeze that swept by as the yacht plowed through the sea made it most pleasant to be outside. It was a cool relief from the hot kitchen. The stars were growing brilliant against the darkening sky. Only the running lights from the yacht and the illumination spilling from the salon disturbed the velvet darkness.
Once she'd finished eating, she considered relaxing on one of the loungers and just studying the sky. With little ambient light, the stars seemed to multiply. She saw more each night than she'd ever seen in London.
They'd be stopping at anchor soon. The Aegean rocked the boat gently each night. She loved it. Maybe she should consider looking for a permanent berth on some ship once her task had been completed.
"Thank you," one of the crew said as he rose. "It's good."
One by one the others rose and thanked her. Sara was beaming when Stefano left to clean the kitchen. He'd removed all the dishes and utensils, leaving the table bare, except for her glass of water.
One of the men went to sit near the aft rail, gazing out across the sea. The others left, presumably to other tasks or for an early bedtime.
Sara enjoyed the night air for a short time, then went back to the galley to check on preparations for breakfast. Once she had that done, she'd call it a night.
She had been longer on the aft deck than she thought. The galley was gleaming. Stefano had finished and vanished. She would have enjoyed some company in the quiet space while she mentally reviewed the checklist for the ingredients she would need to bake individual quiches for breakfast. She'd make a pan of sweet rolls and cut up fresh fruit. The larder of the galley was bigger than the pantry she had in her flat. The yacht was spacious and outfitted to suit the most discriminating tastes.
Humming as she double-checked everything, Sara was startled when she heard the door open behind her. Turning, she stopped in surprise. No doubt about it, Nikos Konstantinos had come to the galley.
In a land where all men seemed to be handsome, she was momentarily taken aback. Feeling tongue-tied like an idiot schoolgirl, she could only stare for a long moment, feeling every sense come to attention as she gazed at him. He had wavy black hair and a tan that spoke of hours in the Aegean sun. Dark eyes gravely regarded her. He seemed to fill the doorway, his head barely clearing the lintel. He was over six feet, with broad shoulders and a trim physique. The white dinner jacket he wore seemed out of place on a ship, yet suited him to perfection. Bemused, Sara wished her friend Stacy could see how the rich dressed for dinnereven on a private yacht. This man would take the crown for good looks. She felt a frisson of attraction, and the surprise shocked her out of her stupor. He'd think she was an idiot if she didn't say something.
"Can I help you?" she asked. For a moment she felt a pull like a magnet's force field, drawing her closer. Looking away for a scant second, she was vaguely pleased to note her feet were still where they had been. She hadn't made a fool of herself by closing the gap between them.
"You are the chef replacing Paul?" he asked in disbelief.
Sara almost groaned in delight at the husky, sexy tone of his deep voice. She wanted to close her eyes and ask him to recite some lengthy passage just to hear him speak. But Sara Andropolous was made of sterner stuff. Tilting her head slightly, she gave a polite smile, ignoring her racing heart and replied, "I am."
Be very wary, she warned herself. This man held the key to the Konstantinos family island. She dared not do anything to jeopardize that. But for an instant she forgot all of that as she took in his stunning good looks. The tingling awareness seemed to grow with each tick of the clock.
He narrowed his eyes slightly. "I had not expected a woman so young," he said softly.