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Dimitri Kyriakis placed the unmarked buff-coloured envelope squarely in front of him on the gleaming expanse of the otherwise empty desktop and tried not to show his distaste as he dismissed the private investigator.
With the tips of his long fingers resting on the surface of the envelope he stared out of the huge floor-to-ceiling plate glass window, seeing nothing.
He had lived for thirty-six years, a driven man, with the last twenty-two of those years spent coldly and clinically exacting vengeance on the man who was his father for the way he'd flung unforgivable insults and flatly refused to help his gentle, loving mother when she'd needed financial help as much as she'd needed oxygen and he, her son, fourteen years old, had been impotent to provide it.
Years spent working, learning, planning, taking at first tentative steps and then giant strides towards his objective: the downfall of the arrogantly powerful Andreas Papadiamantis.
Already the Kyriakis fleet of eye-wateringly luxurious cruise liners had relegated his father's dwindling fleet to scratching for the cut-price, downmarket, kiss-me-quick tourist business, and it was rumoured to be going out of business altogether.
And now his money men were working on the takeover of the last two of his father's hotels. One in Paris, the other in London. The rest had been overshadowed by the Kyriakis chain, driven out of the top end of the market and eventually sold off at a loss.
But things had changed. His father had disappeared off the radar six months ago—none of the usual mentions in the press, no sightings at his head office in Athens—and the thought of the old lion crawling into his den to lick hiswounds had been oddly unsettling to Dimitri. He needed his enemy to be in the ring, fighting.
Four months into his father's apparent disappearance, his frustration and curiosity at fever-pitch, he had had the fabulous, sprawling white villa he'd only visited that once in his life watched. He had needed a clue to what was going on. To him, the spying exercise had been utterly distasteful. Ruthless in pursuit of his objectives he might be, but he was always up-front, his intentions open for anyone to see. It was the way he operated.
His dark-as-jet eyes focused at last on the panoramic view from the window: the expanse of deep blue ocean framed in the foreground by tall pines, the glimpse of the soft white sand of a rocky bay.
Relaxing. Hypnotic. Or it should be. Always had been. Until today.
He came to his island retreat on average twice a year, to unwind, empty his mind. Not a fax machine, a computer, a landline in sight. But now his mind was churning with totally uncharacteristic and unwelcome indecision.
Had he done enough? Was the vendetta played out? Was it time to forget his father, let the planned takeover go? Time to allow the man who'd sired him to avoid the final humiliation? Time for Dimitri to move on, to turn his life in an entirely different direction? To turn his back on sporadic, ultra-discreet affairs, to marry, produce sons and daughters of his own—laughing, golden-limbed small people to give a gentler purpose to his life.
The black bars of his brows drew together as he finally remembered what lay beneath his fingertips. Broad shoulders tightening beneath the crisp white cotton of his custom-made shirt, he withdrew the photographs.
His father. On a terrace surrounding an immense outdoor swimming pool. Wearing his trademark cream linen suit, shades and—incongruously—a battered straw hat. The telephoto lens made him look strangely diminished. Not so the female he was touching.
He was touching the naked shoulder of arguably the most luscious blonde bimbo ever to wear a bikini. Caught in the act of turning to smile at the older man, her long silvery hair falling back from her gorgeous face, her voluptuous breasts seeming about to burst from the confines of the two scraps of dark blue fabric, she was sexual enticement on legs.
And what legs! Long, beautifully proportioned, smooth, tanned.
Abruptly he pushed the photographic images back in the envelope. He didn't need to see the others. He'd already seen enough to know that the old lion was on the hunt for a new wife to stir his ageing libido.
His father favoured blondes.
His mouth tightened to a hard, straight line as his mind swirled with the memory of that other time, that other blonde. His father's second wife. With diamonds glittering at her ears, and her floaty designer dress a whole universe away from the cheap, second-hand stuff his mother had had to wear. And his father throwing him off his property, refusing to help, refusing the modest sum that would have assuredly gone a long way to making the life of the mother of his bastard son so much easier, in all probability extending it by several precious years.
So, no, while such coldly bitter memories still existed, it wasn't over.
Andreas Papadiamantis was still unforgiven.
A girl could get used to this, sis!'
Bonnie Wade smiled warily at her sister. Lisa was sprawled out on a lounger, her honed, bikini-clad body still glistening from the pool, her cropped strawberry blonde hair slicked to her head.
'My two blonde babies,' her dad called them. 'One strawberry, one champagne!'
'Here—' Bonnie reached for the tube of sunblock from the marble-topped table at the side of the lounger and tossed it over. 'You don't want a dose of sunburn.'
At twenty-seven, two years Bonnie's senior, Lisa had always been her best friend. Physically and temperamentally, they couldn't be more different. Lisa was tough as old boot leather, and slim to the point of thinness, whereas Bonnie was soft as marshmal-low and—to her private dismay—billowy. But they complemented each other, understood each other.
Their mum, the harrassed wife of a busy GP, had been heard to confide in her closest friend, the mother of three boisterous boys who seemed perpetually to be intent on causing grievous bodily harm to each other. 'I don't have that problem, thank heavens! Ever since little Bonnie learned to walk my two have been joined at the hip. Never a cross word!'
So, delighted as she had been to receive the seven a.m. call from the airport this morning, she still didn't understand why Lisa was here.
'I'll talk to you about it later,' the older girl had stated on the drive back to the villa. 'And before you get your knickers in a twist, the Olds are fine. It's nothing to worry about.'
Now, three hours later, she was none the wiser. As a fitness instructor to the rich and famous, Lisa usually took time off over the Christmas season, taking a three-week break and flying to where was hottest. But it seemed this year she had decided to take a week off during the summer, with a last-minute diversion to drop in on her sister on her way to Crete.
'You're sure the old guy doesn't mind me being here?' Lisa finished slapping sunblock on her legs.
'Quite sure,' Bonnie confirmed. 'When I told him I needed time off to collect you at the airport he insisted Nico drive me, and wouldn't hear of you finding a hotel.' She tweaked the starched skirts of her white uniform dress. 'So—give. Why the unexpected visit? What is there to talk about?'
Lisa hoisted herself up on one elbow. 'OK. Look, why don't you sit down—relax? I think I know how you're going to take this, but I'm not sure, so, I thought I'd stop in as I was passing and talk to you face to face.'
Bonnie shifted on the flat soles of her white canvas shoes, as near to feeling exasperation with her sister as she'd ever been. 'I'm on duty,' she pointed out. A glance at her watch confirmed it. 'Andreas is due for his exercise session in ten minutes.'
'Fair enough. Here goes… But first, how much longer are you in this job?'
'I'm supposed to sign off at the end of the week. Why?'
As a nurse, working through a highly respected agency, she specialised in remedial care. Sometimes, as now, she worked abroad, but mostly in the UK. She might be staying on longer to help this patient. Andreas Papadiamantis was a troubled man, and she'd promised to help him. But there was no time to go into that now—although the unexpected opportunity to confide in her sister later, during her off-duty hour after lunch, would be more than welcome.
'Why?' Lisa gave a wry, tight-lipped smile. 'Because Troy went to see the Olds, that's why. He says he wants you back.'
Bonnie felt her face crawl with colour. Anger, disbelief—she didn't know which. Abruptly she sat on a vacant lounger. On the eve of their wedding he'd sent his best man to tell her that he couldn't go through with it. Sorry. Would she arrange for the return of the wedding gifts? And she could keep the engagement ring.
She'd felt sorry for Brett, the bearer of the news. He'd been painfully embarrassed. Only with hindsight had she realised that she should have been feeling sorry for herself, broken-hearted. But she hadn't been broken-hearted, and Troy's supposedly magnanimous message that she could keep his ring was an insult she was still smarting over six months later.
The next morning, on what should have been her wedding day, she'd taken the ring and the unworn bridal gown to the nearest charity shop. Her parents, bless them, though alternately fussing over her and ranting at Troy's perfidy, had made all the necessary cancellations and returned the gifts, and she had just gone ahead and got on with her life as if nothing had happened.
Which, also with the clarity of hindsight, she recognised meant that Troy had done her a favour.
She couldn't have been in love with him at all. He'd hurt her pride, her sense of self-worth, but, being of a cheerful, optimistic disposition she'd soon got over that.
'Apparently,' Lisa was saying, 'he gave them a real sob story. He didn't know what came over him. Burnout, he guessed. He'd been working so hard. He'd never forgive himself for hurting you so badly, for messing up his own life, come to that. He loves you more than he thought possible, and just wants the chance to put things right. But he didn't know where you were working, how to contact you—blah-blah-blah. And you know Mum. A soppy romantic if there ever was one. She went and got all dewy-eyed and sentimental and told him where you were, working with a cancer patient. And—this is more than a guess—I know he'll be turning up any time now. As soon as he can fix time off from that supposedly mega-impressive job of his in the City. I wanted to warn you. I don't think you're the type to go all gooey when a guy gets down on his knees and begs forgiveness with crocodile tears in his eyes, but some women just might—'
'Not this one!' Bonnie got to her feet, a smile twitching at the corners of her expressive mouth. The nerve of the man! Though if Lisa was right, and Troy Frobisher did want them to get back together, and she had been head over heels in love with him, then she might be deluded enough to believe whatever he said and spend the rest of her life regretting her gullibility.
She turned to her sister. 'Thanks for the warning. We'll talk more later—after lunch. Don't worry, I won't be taken in by him—or any man, come to that. And I've got something to tell you that'll knock spots off the prospect of any sick-making visit from an ex-fiancé!'
Andreas Papadiamantis could be a charming companion when he wanted to be, and if ensuring that his surprise house-guest felt welcome and relaxed while she enjoyed the lavish hospitality of his home was his objective then he'd succeeded magnificently.
Over lunch at the polished stone-topped table in a cool, airy dining room, his gaunt, still-handsome features softened as he glanced between the sisters, smoothly switching subjects.
'Touching on your amusing description of your need for strictness with your clients, I must tell you that my nurse—your sister—is also a formidable woman,' he told Lisa. 'When I was first diagnosed and taken in for treatment I insisted on a total news blackout. I am not the powerful business force I once was, but I still have assets—the remainder of a once dominant chain of luxury hotels. If the shareholders got wind of my possible demise the value could drop like a stone.
'Bonnie was apprised of the situation when she took over my remedial care, and I tell you, although I employ a security staff, she made them look like amateurs! She was like a lioness defending her cub.' He lifted his bony shoulders in a dismissive shrug. 'I have lived with press interest for most of my life, but it has increased to intolerable proportions since my son set out to ruin me. She sent them flying—literally!' He chuckled, his black eyes dancing. 'She found one clinging to a tree that overhangs the perimeter wall on the far side of the estate. She knocked him off his perch with a handy stout stick!'
Bonnie blushed at the reminder. She'd felt dreadful afterwards, and had sent Spiro, one of the security men, out to discover if the snooper had been hurt. Thankfully there'd been no sign of the man or his camera.
'It's not something I'm proud of,' she told the grinning Lisa, and laid down her fork, her healthy appetite dwindling.
It disappeared altogether when her patient said, 'Bonnie saved my life. I truly believe that. Oh, the doctors did their part, I don't deny that, but mentally I had given up. Until Bonnie arrived and chivvied me out of it—taught me how to laugh, really laugh, for perhaps the first time in my life, to take things less seriously.' His eyes clouded. 'To take a long hard look at my life, recognise my mistakes and vow to do better. I know her agency will move her on to look after some other ailing creature when I get the final all-clear—'
'Which you have,' Bonnie put in, wanting to stop all this embarrassing stuff.