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The more things changed, the more they stayed the same.
Bryna Metaxas weighed the old axiom, feeling exasperated by her job, by the current stagnancy of her love lifeor, rather, the lack of one at alland frustrated by everything in general.
She sat in her small office at the old lumber mill where Metaxas Limited was located in Earnest, Washington, blind to the view of the lush, pine-covered hills visible through the window behind her. She was too busy trying not to think about the weekly Tuesday meeting she'd attended that morning where she'd been marginalized yet again. She couldn't help wondering why her older cousin Troy included her if he wasn't going to have her do anything more substantial than take notes and follow up on minor details. She was half-surprised that he hadn't asked her to serve coffee to the dozen attendees while they brainstormed ideas on where to go now that the deal they'd been working on with Greek billionaire Mano-lis Philippidis had fallen through.
Fallen through. Now, that was a print-ready description for what had happened. Disaster would be more fitting.
Bryna drew in a deep breath. How long had she been working at the company? Nearly two years. And while every six months she was given a positive review and her salary was increased incrementally, she was doing basically the same mundane tasks she had done since the day she hired on.
At any other company she would have quit long ago. But this was a family operation and she was part of the family.
Besides, as a resident of Earnest, she had a vested interest in seeing the plan succeed for the good of the community. Hell, she'd minored in green energy at university and had a better working knowledge of the emerging technology than either of her cousins.
Bryna sighed and pushed her straight black hair back from her face. On her desk sat three different versions of a proposalvariants on the original she'd put together months ago, but had never seen the top of her cousin's in-box. A proposal she'd thought stood a chance when the Philippidis debacle happened. But, no. If anything, Troy was even less interested in looking at her ideas. No matter how many bricks walls he continually ran into.
Ultimately, she'd decided she'd have to fly solo.
It was just after eleven and she'd been at the old family mill offices since six, moths fluttering their wings against the walls of her stomach at the thought of going this alone. If some of that wild flapping was also associated with the very attractive person she'd decided to approach first well, she wasn't admitting to it, beyond allowing that it had been a while since she'd enjoyed male attention and this particular hot, single male not only appeared skilled in that specific area, he was renowned for it.
At any rate, if her plan worked the way she hoped, she'd be a major player in the business rather than the second fiddle to which she'd been relegated.
Of course, if her cousins Troy and his younger brother Ari found out what she was up to, they'd probably fire her sorry butt on the spot, family ties be damned.
She heard Troy's voice in the hall outside her door. Bryna quickly put another file on top of the proposals and picked up a pen, pretending interest in the routine accounting job she'd been given to do the day before.
"Hey, Bry," Troy said, leaning against the door-jamb the way he always did.
Everything that the gossips said about both of her cousins was true. They were powerful and impossibly good-looking, walking, talking Greek gods, a double whammy to any single female within grinning distance.
Of course, Ari was no longer on the market. And Troy
"You look like shit," she said.
And he did. It was the height of summer and he looked pale as a ghost. And tired beyond what any amount of sleep could cure.
The reason for that was closely tied into Ari's change in bachelor status. A month ago the two brothers had traveled to Greece, not so much for the Philippidis wedding, but to close the deal with the wealthy groom that would put the company on a fast track. And save Earnest, the old mill town that they all called home that had recently chalked up a twenty-five percent unemployment rate, the highest in its hundred-year history.
Needless to say, the deal hadn't gone through. Not through any fault of Troy's. Rather, Ari's infatuation with the bride had resulted in the collapse of not only the deal, but contributed to the downward spiral of what was left of the company itself.
And that broke Bryna's heart. Metaxas Limited was a true family business. Troy well, what would he do without the company his grandfather and then father built? He lived, ate and breathed ML. The cash flow reflected his blood flow.
Both Troy and Ari were much more than cousins to her: they were her brothers. She'd been an only child until she was twelve and the Cessna her father had been flying had crashed, killing him and her mother as they'd been returning from a weekend trip to San Francisco. Her father's brother had generously provided a home for her along with his two sons, his own wife having died long ago.
It hadn't been easy being the only female in a house full of males. But it had been interesting. She remembered the first time she'd brought a boy home to "study," when she was fifteen. Troy and Ari had invited Dale Whitman out back for a talk after they'd caught him and Bryna enjoying a first kiss over their chemistry books. When Dale hadn't returned to the dining room within ten minutes, she went looking for him. And found him trussed up by his ankles, suspended from a branch of the old oak tree out back.
Her cousins had scared him so badly that not only had he not returned, no other boyfriend had dared show up at the Metaxas estate again, the ankle story having taken on a life of its own and grown to mythological proportions that would do the Greeks proud.
And this company was their Mount Olympus.
Which is why Bryna had decided it was long past time she took action to defend and protect the same.
Her cousin chuckled quietly at her comment and rubbed his freshly shaven chin. "Gee, thanks. Exactly what I needed to hear this morning."
Bryna grimaced. "Just calling 'em as I see 'em."
"Yeah, well, maybe that's one of the reasons why you haven't earned that promotion you've been angling for."
"Oh, so unfair. I'm speaking to you cousin to cousin now. Not employer to employee."
"And the difference in the Land of Bryna?"
She flashed him a bright smile. "I'd be much nicer if we weren't related."
She successfully concealed her true reaction to her recent promotion denial. She wanted to be included on an equal level, damn it. Was that too much to ask? Okay, so she was only twenty-four. But she'd graduated summa cum laude from WSU with her master's in business administration. And she was up to the task.
She'd even told them she didn't need a hike in salary. Just give her anything that was above junior associate, essentially a glorified office assistant, and she'd be happy.
Troy had told her no. Again. That the company was putting a freeze on all promotions for the time being.
She'd half expected him to ruffle her hair and tell her to go out and play like a good girl.
She needed to convince him that she wasn't their cute little cousin anymore. Or merely their cute little cousin; she had no intention of giving up her special spot in the family.
Troy said, "If that were true, I'd give you the promotion in a blink."
She twisted her lips. "I'm never going to live down that Bainwright incident, am I?"
"Bainwright incident? Oh, wait. Yes, now I remember." He shook his finger at her. "Maybe it's just me, but dumping the contents of a water pitcher in a supplier's lap during a meeting is not exactly good work etiquette."
"Neither is his copping a feel while I was pouring his water."
"He said it was an honest mistake."
"An honest mistake would be if he'd removed the hand in question the moment it made contact. Not leave it there and give a couple of squeezes for good measure."
She remembered the slimy man's fingers on her breast and gave an involuntary shudder.
Troy sighed heavily. "When you realize that perhaps you could have handled the situation more diplomatically, maybe then we'll have another talk about that promotion."
Bryna sat back, prepared to say something along the lines of "So I suppose offering him my other breast for a tweak would have been preferable."
Instead, her gaze fell on the files on her desk. More specifically, on the proposals that she was scheduled to pitch to none other than Manolis Philippidis's principal consultant in
"Oh, my God, is that the time?" Bryna launched herself from her chair.
Troy blinked at her. "What, do you have an appointment?"
"Yes," she confirmed, pulling on her suit jacket and buttoning the front. "Yes, I do."
"May I ask with whom?"
She struck a pose. "With the hairdresser in Seattle. Would you like to attend, act as my wingman?"
He chuckled. "Thanks, but I'll pass."
"You may want to rethink that. You could probably use a good spray tan."
She discreetly stuffed the proposals into her briefcase and began to pass him.
"See you later, then."
"Since it's Tuesday, why don't you just stay there? Come back on Sunday?"
Her usual schedule was to head to her small apartment in Seattle every Wednesday night, spend two days working from there, then return home to the Metaxas estate Sunday morning for brunch, starting the cycle over again.
"No, I'll be coming back this afternoon," she told him.
As Bryna headed toward the old steel stairs and the parking lot beyond the mill doors, she wasn't sure which bothered her more: that she was nervous as hell, or that Troy hadn't even thought twice about her leaving in the middle of the morning.
Just went to show you how much her cousin really thought of her and her work ethic.
She smiled to herself. If everything went the way she planned, that would all change soon enough.
To the victor the spoils.
Caleb knew who Bryna Metaxas was. She was related to the same man indirectly responsible for the collapse of his latest business deal. But given the fact that his position or personal wealth hadn't been impacted, he was still the victor.
And she was very definitely the spoils. Because he had absolutely no interest in pursuing anything of a business nature with her.
They'd met once. During a meeting at Metaxas Limited. While Manolis Philippidis had droned on about a catch in the contract, Caleb had allowed himself to appreciate Bryna's remarkable beauty. The type of looker who would be right at home sunning herself on one of Philippidis's yachts, a white, barely there bikini playing up her physical assets, large sunglasses perched on her petite nose, her long, dark hair combed back while a formally clad waiter served her a dirty martini. He remembered thinking that she could easily challenge any of the goddesses her Greek ancestry boasted on the sexy meter. Why she would ever want to be associated with her loser cousins was an intriguing mystery to him. Especially since whatever ideas she'd proffered were immediately squashed by her cousin Troy, her thoughtful frown as he did so making her all the more appealing.
And she looked even better now, staring up at him with a wide smile.
Although for the record he'd prefer to see her in that barely there bikini rather than in the too-stern navy blue suit she had on.
He openly appreciated the pretty young woman who'd stormed his office after he'd made her wait for half an hour. She was a little on the young side. He was maybe a decade her senior. But if his recent experiences had taught him anything, it was that seeing women closer to his own age came with baggage he was no longer interested in carrying. Biological clocks and measuring sticks were tucked in their designer handbags, always nearby, always dictating their actions.
Bryna was young and had yet to hear the distant ticking. And her handbag of choice appeared to be a briefcase.
The fact that she was a member of the Metaxas family added a certain illicit appeal to her attraction quotient. It had been Ari Metaxas who sank one of his prized deals.