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'I'm afraid, Mr Delikaris, that you are still behind Spyros in the opinion polls.'
Orion glared at the bar chart projected on the wall, and then at the pessimistic expression of his campaign manager, who sat beside him at the long, highly polished table. A nerve spasmed at his jaw in disapproval. Orion never allowed himself to contemplate failure. He expected the members of his team to think the same way. That was what he paid them for.
'We have made progress,' the man continued anxiously, sensing Orion's displeasure, 'Especially since the campaign has focussed on how much you are willing to invest in both affordable housing and the new hospital. It's just not quite as much progress as we had estimated.'
He clicked the button in his hand and the image on the wall changed to a far more positively weighted graph, which only served to irritate Orion further, since it proved that his team's predictions had been wholly inaccurate.
Orion pinched the bridge of his nose. 'So, despite the fact that our policies are exactly what Metameikos needs, a man who is as corrupt as his father was before him is still the most popular candidate?' He looked down the table at the rest of his team. 'Would anyone care to volunteer a reason why?'
A long, uneasy silence followed.
Finally a voice came from the opposite end of the table. 'Perhaps people are wary about voting for you.'
There was a collective intake of breath. Rion slowly raised his head to see who had spoken. It was Stephanos, an assistant press officer and the newest member of his team. He was also the youngest. 'Go on.'
'People see you as a billionaire bachelor who has decided overnight, or so it seems to them, that you want to be their leader.' Stephanos paused, awaiting Rion's condemnation, but it didn't come. It gave him the courage to elaborate. 'Your promises may be what people want to hear, but these results show they clearly don't trust you'll deliver them. Perhaps they think you're simply running on a whim—to try and prove that you can succeed at anything you choose—or perhaps they think that if you do get elected you'll be too tied up with your business in Athens to devote the necessary time to the role. It's not true, of course, but they don't know that. People would rather vote for the devil they know.'
Orion studied Stephanos thoughtfully. The boy had guts. He liked that. It reminded him of himself. He also understood that politics was different from business, that people voted with their hearts, not necessarily in conjunction with their heads. Orion had always understood that too, but it hadn't occurred to him that people would instinctively stick with what they had rather than take an outside chance. He would always have taken the chance.
'So, what would you have me do?'
The rest of the men around the table exchanged astonished looks. His campaign manager looked affronted.
Stephanos took a deep breath and continued. 'For people to trust you they need to be able to relate to you, to see that your concerns, your values, are the same as theirs—good old-fashioned Greek values.'
Orion grimaced. His values were good old-fashioned Greek values—always had been. 'I grew up in Metameikos,' he said gravely. What had happened there had made him who he was.
'Then convince them you still think of it as home,' Stephanos replied animatedly. 'That the house you've bought there isn't just another property, but that you plan to settle down there.'
'And how do you suggest I do that?'
'Honestly?' Stephanos paused, a note of hesitancy entering his voice for the first time, 'In my opinion, the best solution would be to return to Metameikos with a wife.'
The receptive look on Rion's face immediately vanished and his expression grew dark, 'Then I hope you have an alternative solution,' he ground out, 'because that is not an option.'
Libby stared at the huge three-dimensional Delikaris logo rotating hubristically in its own fountain, at the enormous revolving glass doors which formed the entrance of his state-of-the-art office, and told herself again that this was the right thing to do. It was the same thing she'd been telling herself ever since she'd discovered that she'd be required to cover the Greek tours for the duration of Zoe's maternity leave.
But she'd been finding excuses not to ever since arriving in Athens a week ago, and even now she still had the urge to run in the opposite direction. Which was completely and utterly ridiculous, because of course it was the right thing to do. It was time they both moved on for good. How could it be anything else when she and Rion hadn't spoken in five years?
It was just that being back in Athens, having to pass the city hall, the old apartment block, had brought her memories to the surface—that was all. But that was all they were: memories. She just felt this way because they hadn't seen each other since back then, and she was remembering the man she'd once been in love with, when the reality was she'd probably barely recognise him now.
If the exterior of his office was anything to go by, he'd be much changed. And so was she. Whilst she'd been off leading low-cost tours around the globe, with only a guidebook and a battered rucksack on her back, he mustn't have spent a single day out of his suit, must have worked every hour since to achieve all this.
Was that why he'd never got his lawyers onto it, then? Libby wondered for the umpteenth time. Had he been so focussed on his work that the legalities had simply slipped his mind? As she finally forced herself to take on the revolving doors, and found herself deposited in a vast, gleaming reception area, she could well believe he had.
'Can I help you?' the glossy-haired receptionist ventured, shooting a condescending glance over her tie-dyed dress and comfy leather sandals. Libby grew suddenly conscious that she was the only woman in the busy entrance hall who wasn't wearing a pair of impossibly high, pointy stilettos and a designer business suit, but she didn't let it faze her.
'I was hoping to see Orion Delikaris—'
'Have you an appointment?'
Libby knew that trying to speak to him at his office was hardly ideal, but without his address, or any means of obtaining it, she had no other alternative. 'No, but as it's lunchtime I thought—'
The receptionist tossed her head and gave a snort of laughter. 'Then you thought wrong. Mr Delikaris does not have time for a lunch break. He is an exceptionally busy man.'
Libby didn't need to be reminded. Didn't doubt that he'd only got busier. But surely after five years he could spare her ten minutes?
'Maybe you will be so kind as to call Mr Delikaris and let him decide whether he wishes to see me,' she said, with emphatic sweetness. She'd once negotiated borrowing twenty-two camels to take an entire tour group across the desert at night, when a coach hadn't turned up, so she'd be dammed if she was going to be frightened off by a woman whose deadliest weapon was immaculate grooming and an over-inflated sense of self-importance.
The woman exhaled through her teeth, wearily lifted the receiver of her phone and tapped a button with one perfectly manicured talon. 'Electra, darling, so sorry to disturb you. I have a woman here who insists that we notify Mr Delikaris that she is in Reception. Mmm. Yes, another one. She seems to think if he knows she's here he'll agree to see her.'
She turned back to Libby. 'Your name, please?' Libby took a deep breath. 'My name is Libby Delikaris,' she replied. 'I'm his wife.'
The office was silent.
'I'm afraid there's no alternative solution as far as I can see,' Stephanos answered. 'You can continue to spend as much time in Metameikos as possible; support local businesses, attend local events and keep trying to get the Mayor on side, but I don't think anything but getting married is going to truly convince people you plan to settle down there.'
Rion grimaced. 'I repeat. Marriage is out of the question.'
Stephanos was surprised that the man who'd sworn he would stop at nothing to win this election wouldn't even consider his suggestion, but decided it would be wise to drop it. 'Oh, well, even that would have been no guarantee. Without a long-term girlfriend it might have looked a little too much like a publicity stunt—especially so close to the election.'
The intercom on the desk behind Rion suddenly burst into life.
He swooped across to it, his voice curt. 'Yes?'
'I'm very sorry to interrupt you, Mr Delikaris, but there's a woman in Reception who is demanding we inform you that she's here.'
'Who is it?'
There was a loaded pause. 'She says her name is Libby Delikaris and that… she's your wife.'
Rion didn't move—couldn't. The instantaneous flood of pleasure that ran over him was so profound it rendered him motionless.
At last she had returned. At last she deemed him worthy enough.
It was the moment he'd been waiting for—far, far too long. Not because he gave a damn about her opinion any longer, he qualified quickly. But because now, finally, he could take his revenge.
He straightened victoriously. As he did, he caught sight of his team out of the corner of his eye, and suddenly the fortuity of her timing struck him. She had chosen to come crawling back now, just when he needed to convince the world he was all about good old-fashioned Greek values. His eyes glittered, and his mouth curved into a sardonic smile. How convenient.
He pressed the button on the intercom and replied with perfect composure, 'Thank you. Send her up.'
Rion sensed every eye in the room widen. It was understandable; he'd never mentioned her. But then he never spoke about failed ventures or the past. Since she fell into both categories, he did his best not to even think about her. Sometimes he even succeeded.
'Apologies, gentlemen. I'm afraid we will need to continue this meeting at another time.'
The men cleared the room without another word. Only Stephanos lingered.
'You know, an alternative way of convincing people you are the settling kind has just this minute occurred to me,' he said wryly, looking Rion straight in the eye and walking backwards towards the door. 'Nothing melts hearts like a reunion story.'
Libby hadn't used his surname for five years; hadn't called herself his wife for just as long. If the look of shock on the receptionist's face was anything to go by, Rion hadn't mentioned her existence either. Yet it seemed his instruction to send her up immediately was proof enough that she was telling the truth, for within seconds the receptionist had become politeness personified—even explaining in detail how Libby could get to his office on the top floor via the stairs when she mentioned she'd rather not use the lift.
As she ascended the stairs, Libby ignored the doubts churning in her stomach and told herself to get a grip. What they'd had once was already lost, the emotional side of it dealt with long ago. This was just a formality, bound to be nothing more than a slightly awkward but amicable exchange between two people who were virtual strangers to one another now, she tried to convince herself. Maybe when it was over she'd even feel the complete sense of freedom she'd always been searching for but had never quite found. She clung to that thought as she arrived on the top floor, passed through a landing area, and then proceeded along a corridor to knock on a large mahogany door emblazoned with his name.
Yes, in theory the emotional side should have been dealt with long ago, but the instant she saw him Libby knew that she had been seriously mistaken.
Of course she was well aware that Orion Delikaris was the most desirable man on the planet. She hadn't expected that to have changed. But she had expected that age and wealth would have altered him at least fractionally. Instead, to her horror, save for the fact that his suit now looked ludicrously expensive, everything was exactly as she remembered. His strong, proud jaw, his resplendent dark hair, those liquid brown eyes that had fuelled her teenage fantasies and shaped her adult ones. Which had gazed right back at her on their wedding day, their wedding night.
She blinked, blocking out the memories, blocking out the urge to run again—away from feelings she shouldn't be feeling any more. 'Hello, Rion,' she managed, somehow.
Rion ran his eyes over her, frustrated to find that the action induced the most powerful kick of arousal he'd felt in years. But he knew it was only because his body still saw her as the woman who'd rejected him, was just responding the way it did to any challenge. The second she started begging him to take her back his desire would evaporate. And yet it annoyed him that she should still get to him that way—especially when she looked so… different. The thick blond hair which had once hung in a silken curtain down her back was gone, now cut short in the kind of style he usually considered unfeminine, but which somehow made her features look even more delicate. Her petite, pale figure, which had once driven him to distraction, had also disappeared, but in its place was an even more enticing mass of toned, sensual curves tanned to a beguiling shade of golden-brown.
He gritted his teeth. Which suggested she spent her life on holiday. That would be about right: Caribbean beaches and designer shops, no doubt funded by her parents. Though somehow that image didn't seem to fit with the clothes she was dressed in. Perhaps Ashworth Motors had fallen on hard times. A perverse part of him hoped that it had. It would make telling her no—after she'd been of use to him, of course—all the sweeter.
'So tell me,' he said, unable to fathom her delay if that was the case, 'what took you so long?'
Libby was taken aback by his question, by his implacable expression that bordered on hostile, but she told herself it was understandable. She, for all the good it had done her, had at least been able to prepare herself mentally for seeing him again. He'd had no such luxury.
'I took the stairs,' she answered, looking up at the clock on the wall and noting that she'd only been five minutes. She was about to shoot out You know I don't do lifts, but then she remembered that he didn't know, that he'd really known so little about her, and she about him.