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Excitement lacing every movement of her limbs, Phoebe walked into the reception area for her father's office. It was a new day for the Leonides clan. She could not wait to hear what her father had to say.
His secretary, a severe-looking woman in her fifties, who Phoebe knew from experience had a surprisingly soft heart, looked up. "Good afternoon, Miss Leonides. Your father is in a teleconference, but it should be ending any moment. Would you like to have a seat while you wait?"
"Yes, thank you." Phoebe sat in a chair facing the window of the Athens high-rise and looked out at the familiar view.
Thrilled that her father had called her into the office to meet with him, she practically vibrated with anticipation. She was the first woman in her family to attend university overseas, and one of the few to attend university at all. Her father had been surprisingly supportive, not only of her request to go to university in America but of her desire to major in Business. She was almost positive he had set up this meeting to offer her a job at Leonides Enterprises. Why else would he request their discussion happen here, at the headquarters of the company?
It was a new era for the women in her family and Phoebe was beyond happy to be a part of it. Now if she could just convince Papa to dissolve the archaic agreement he and Theopolis Petronides had made when Phoebe was barely eighteen, she'd be ecstatic.
There was no way she could marry Dimitri Petronides. She barely knew him, despite how close their families were. It wasn't like with his younger brother, Spiros. The gap in age between him and Phoebe had never stood in the way of their friendship, but the additionalthree years between her and Dimitri was an insurmountable distance. At least it felt like it.
Dimitri was a total ice man. There was no way she could wed someone she couldn't imagine kissing.
She felt nothing for the older Petronides—unlike her feelings for his younger brother. She could not only imagine kissing Spiros, but doing a whole lot more. Of course it wasn't all imagination, was it?
She was sure Dimitri would be just as happy to dismiss the arrangements made by their elders as she would. After all, it wasn't he who had come to see Phoebe during the four years she had attended university in the States. Not once.
It had been Spiros.
Her friend and… after the last visit… more. Inner warmth and a series of tingles throughout her body suffused her as she remembered that visit. She had learned beyond the shadow of a doubt that the attraction she had felt for him for so long—the attraction she had always believed to be hopeless—was returned.
She had not seen him since her return to Greece, but that was because his honor would not allow him to do so. Not with that ridiculous agreement in place—an agreement she was set on dissolving.
Regardless of how close the two families were, marriage between her and Dimitri was not the way to cement that connection. Frankly, it should never have been considered. A multi-generational friendship was not a compelling enough reason for two people with so little in common to join their lives. That kind of thinking had gone out with the Industrial Revolution, or at least it should have.
She suspected the agreement had less to do with the creation of a family legacy than with two men still grieving the losses of their dearest friends. Her father and Dimitri's grandfather had been looking for a way to compensate for those losses.
Theopolis Petronides had been best friends with her grandfather. Their sons had continued that tradition. Aristotle Leonides and Timothy Petronides had been as close as any brothers. A generation later, she and Spiros had drawn just as close.
When his parents had died, the story was that Spiros had refused comfort from everybody. However, he would spend hours playing with the year-old baby girl who adored him even more than her own parents.
He had returned the favor of being the only solace she could accept when her beloved grandfather had died eight years later. By then Spiros had been a young teen, who was much too cool to hang out with a little girl still in pigtails, but that hadn't stopped him. She thought she'd probably fallen in love with him then. Though at the time everyone had said she had a bad case of hero-worship.
Her feelings for him had grown as she'd got older, and deepened into something much more intimate along with her burgeoning womanhood.
By the time she'd reached eighteen she'd been riding the rol-lercoaster of unrequited romantic love for more than three years. Spiros had been a good friend to her, but that was all, and watching him with his girlfriends had grown more painful than she could bear. It was a story as old as time, but she'd known that for her there would be no miraculous happy ending.
As far as her childhood hero was concerned, Phoebe might have been his sister. In fact, when she'd asked her father why he and Tio Theo wanted her and Dimitri to wed, rather than her and Spiros, he had said Spiros was too much like her brother. It would almost be incestuous. Her secret fantasies disagreed, but she couldn't argue the fact that Dimitri was the oldest—and the better prospect because of it.
Her elders' attitudes, along with the evidence of her own eyes, had made Phoebe realize once and for all that her love for Spiros was hopeless. Spiros was very popular with women— gorgeous, sophisticated, experienced women. Women Phoebe, an often shy, totally innocent teen, had had no hope of competing with.
Phoebe's agreement to the suggested merging of their two families by an eventual marriage between herself and Dimitri had been an admittedly foolish attempt to do one of two things. Either get over her fixation on Spiros, or catch his attention and make him see that she was indeed a woman. If she was old enough to become promised to his older brother, she was old enough to be of interest to him.
Predictably, neither outcome had come to pass. Though it could not be denied that Spiros did see that she was a woman now, the agreement was in the way, not a catalyst.
The first time he'd come to see her at university she'd been feeling extremely homesick. It must have shown in the e-mails they'd been exchanging, because he'd showed up at her dorm two days after her latest e-mail, devastating smile in place.
He'd taken her to dinner and kept her up late talking. When she'd asked him what he was doing in the country, he'd said he had business interests he was seeing to. He'd made similar excuses to come by and see her at least twice a year. In between times they'd e-mailed one another almost daily, and he had called her at least once a month.
He'd often made the joke that he was looking after Dimitri's interests—while she had fruitlessly wished the interests were those of Spiros himself.
She'd seen him whenever she was home from university for holidays as well. In fact, she saw him way more than she ever saw Dimitri. The older man couldn't be bothered to spend time with her. He'd made no effort to get to know her better, and was rarely in Greece when she was. It wasn't possible that he really wanted to marry her, and she didn't understand why he had agreed to the future nuptial plans either.
For goodness' sake, there were even rumors he had a girlfriend in Paris. Everyone thought she was too naive to know about it, but she wasn't. And the very fact it didn't bother her was all the indication she needed that she had no feelings for Dimitri in that regard. It about killed her every time she saw a gossip rag story about Spiros and his latest flame, though.
There hadn't been any stories of that nature since his last trip to visit her in America, which gave her hope. Lots and lots of hope.
The view of Athens's business district in front of her faded as her mind went back to that eventful night…
Phoebe sat with one leg curled under her and the other dangling over the kitchen chair. Studying for finals was so not her favorite thing to do. Even worse when she had a bad case of spring fever. Spiros had made noises about maybe coming to see her before graduation in his last e-mail. She'd been unable to settle since.
Both families would be coming for the graduation ceremony itself. Well, everyone but the man she was supposed to marry. Dimitri had too many business commitments to attend her university graduation and, frankly, Phoebe didn't mind at all.
How could she have been dumb enough to agree to that whole marriage thing in the first place? Dimitri might only be three years older than Spiros, but as far as she was concerned he was completely out of her stratosphere. She flipped to the next page of her notes, guiltily aware that she hadn't soaked in a single word from the one before it.
She had to get her focus off a possible visit from Spiros and back onto her studies. Going to university was a big deal in itself—her mother hadn't gone, after all. But coming to the States and studying here had been a true concession on her parents' part, and she was determined to do them proud. As it stood, she was slated to graduate magna cum laude, and she wasn't about to mess that up by flunking her finals.
Biting on her lip to redirect her thoughts firmly to what was in front of her, she was soon immersed in world economic theory.
She wasn't sure how long she'd been studying when the sound of someone pounding on the door of her small student apartment broke through her concentration. Phoebe stood up and promptly fell right back down. The leg she'd been sitting on had fallen asleep. Needles of discomfort shot up from her painfully tingling foot to her thigh. She gasped, but, holding onto the table for support, forced herself to stand again. The knocking resumed. This time an impatient tattoo that rattled the old door.
"Just a second," she called as she limped across the room.
She flung it open and found Spiros on the other side. All six feet four inches of masculine gorgeousness of him. His dark hair, usually slicked back in a conservative style for business, lay in tousled curls around his face. Unlike her dark brown eyes, his had golden lights that sent butterflies dancing through her insides. His business suits had never been able to hide the muscular definition of his body, but in his current jeans and silk T-shirt he made her mouth water.
"Spiros," she squeaked in shock. She'd been trying so hard not to think about him that his arrival had taken her completely by surprise.
His signature smile was missing, replaced with a severe frown. "What were you doing?" he demanded.
"Studying. What do you think? I told you I had finals."
"You looked startled by my presence."
"You did not look through the peephole to see who it was before you opened the door. Who were you expecting, to fling it wide with such abandon?"
What in the world… ? "I forgot to check who it was. I'm not expecting anyone else."
"But you should have been expecting me. I told you I would come."
"You implied it, you didn't say when. Sheesh, Spiros, get over yourself." She turned and limped back toward the table.
Strong arms lifted her from the floor after she'd only taken a few steps.
She screeched. "Spiros! What are you doing?"
"What is the matter? Why are you limping? Have you hurt yourself?" The questions came out with the speed of automatic rifle-fire.
She had no hope of answering them.
"Well?" he prompted, looking down at her with concern in that golden-brown gaze.
"Can I get a word in edgewise?" she teased.
He snapped his mouth shut with a look of chagrin.
She patted his chest. "My leg fell asleep. Nothing serious."
"Are you sure? It is not normal for a limb to simply fall asleep."
"Man, I never knew you were such a worrier." She found herself grinning. His concern felt good. So did her hand, which she had left resting on his sculpted pec. "It's perfectly normal when you've been sitting on said limb for—" she looked over at the clock on her wall"—um… for more than two hours without moving."
"This is not good. You should not get so involved with your studies that you are not watching out for your health."
She almost laughed, considering how hard she'd found it to concentrate at first. But, since that lack of ability had been directly related to him, she had no intention of telling him about it. "A sleepy leg is not exactly on a par with the plague, Spiros."
"Nevertheless, it is obviously time for you to take a break."
"Sounds good. You going to take me out to dinner?" she asked with a grin.
He was back to looking positively forbidding. "You have not eaten yet?"
She rolled her eyes. "No. I've never quite gotten the hang of eating on American hours. I still prefer my last meal of the day to be closer to eight."
"It is almost nine."
"Have you eaten?" she asked, disappointed in advance. Since he was making such a big deal of it, she was pretty sure he already had.
"Then you can take me out to eat."
"You are spoiled."
"And whose fault is that? You are the one who takes me for a meal every time you come to visit. Can I be blamed for having certain expectations?"
"You are a minx."
She laughed. "That's me. Phoebe Leonides…otherwise known as the shy one… a minx."
"You are never shy with me."
"You're my friend. I'm not shy with my family either."
"You are shy around Dimitri."
She frowned. "Don't bring up your brother. You'll ruin my good mood."
Oh, now he looked truly offended. "There is nothing wrong with my brother."
"Except that us marrying each other is the dumbest idea my father and your grandfather have ever had. And I bought into it," she said, with a healthy dose of exasperation directed at herself.
"You do not want to marry my brother?"
"Please, Spiros, you know me better than anyone else. Don't tell me you are surprised."
"But I am shocked, byba. You made a promise."
She loved it when he called her baby girl. "So did he. But where is he now? Not here."
"I am here, seeing to his interests."
"He has no interest in me."
"That is not true."
"And you are here because you are my friend." She twisted in his arms and tickled vulnerable ribs. "Admit it."
He laughed out loud and almost dropped her. "Watch it, byba. You are going to end up with a sore bottom rather than a sleeping leg."