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The Stephanides Pregnancy
Chapter OneCHRISTOS STEPHANIDES had never been into women in uniform. Had he been, the world would certainly have known about it for the tabloid press reported his every move. A startlingly handsome Greek tycoon with a legendary appetite for super fast cars, luxury homes and dazzlingly beautiful women, Cristos was hotter than hot in the gossip columns.
The young woman who had caught his attention, however, was not in his usual style. Nor was she even aware of his scrutiny because the tinted windows on his limousine shielded him from view. Tall and slender, she wore a dark green fitted jacket and tailored skirt that accentuated her tiny waist and delicate curves just as her plain shoes showed off her award-worthy legs.
"That woman in the peaked cap. Is that an army uniform?" Cristos enquired idly of his second cousin, Spyros Zolottas.
The portly older man peered out. "She looks more like a flight attendant."
At the exact moment that Cristos was about to look away, a gust of wind dislodged the woman's cap and sent it careening along the ground. Vibrant streamers of Titian hair flew out in an arc behind her as she sprinted off in pursuit. She caught up with the cap only a few feet from his car. Spring sunshine flamed over the glorious hair she was struggling to coil back into concealment. Surprised by the vivid beauty of her oval face, Cristos stared. Luminous eyes and a luscious cherry-pink mouth highlighted skin as fine and smooth as alabaster: she was knock-down stunning.
Timon, his PA, said quietly, "I think she might be a chauffeur."
Disconcertion pleated Cristos' ebony brows, for to his mind a chauffeur fell into the same prohibited category as a servant. Watching the redhead climb into the driving seat of a Bentley that bore the discreet but unmistakable logo of a hire company on the rear bumper, he quirked an ebony brow. "A strange choice of career for a woman."
Predictably, Spyros loosed a sleazy snigger. "With a body like that she may well find it very lucrative."
Distaste filled Cristos. Spyros had always given him the creeps but he was family and Cristos had been raised to rate blood ties higher than other more instinctive responses.
"Are you thinking of your betrothed?" Having mistaken the reason for the younger man's silence, Spyros released another suggestive laugh. "Petrina is a well-brought-up girl who knows her place, and if she doesn't know it yet you're just the man to tell her!"
"We will not discuss my engagement," Cristos murmured, his dark, deep drawl sounding a cool note of warning, which in no way reflected the level of his exasperation.
Cristos was a Stephanides and Petrina was a Rhodias. Their families had long been linked in business and marriage would forge even closer ties. Matrimony was for the preservation of wealth and power and the raising of the next generation. Nobody expected Cristos to be faithful but it would be tasteless to acknowledge that fact out loud. His cousin's vulgarity offended him.
In truth, Cristos had no time for the other man's laboured efforts to flatter and amuse him because he was already waiting for the usual punchline to come. After all, Spyros only ever approached him when he wanted money. Once Spyros had concocted elaborate tales of investments gone wrong and sure-fire business ventures that required capital. If those failed to impress, he would then turn the sob story screws by talking about how his family would suffer for his 'misfortunes'. A gambler and a waster, Spyros had once revelled in his reputation of never having had to work a day in his forty-odd years of life.
Six months ago, Cristos had destroyed the legend by putting Spyros to work in the London office of a freight company, one of the many subsidiary businesses that made up the vast Stephanides empire. He had hoped that, separated from familiar haunts and cronies, Spyros would make a fresh start. To aid that objective, Cristos had paid off all his cousin's debts. His own grandfather, Patras, had laughed like a hyena. In fact, when Cristos had given Spyros a job Patras had laughed so hard he had almost needed resuscitation.
"Spyros is a leech and a loser. There's one in every family and we're too rich to let his nearest and dearest starve. Pay him to keep him out of our hair. You won't change him." Patras had laid a bet that within months Spyros would have reverted to his old habits.
Cristos had accepted the bet. He saw no reason why the Stephanides clan should fund the dissolute lifestyle that shamed and distressed Spyros' wife and daughters. Although he had every respect for his grandfather, it was his firm belief that someone should have made Spyros toe the line a long time ago. Now Cristos believed that he had lost that bet, for his keenly intelligent gaze had already noted that his late mother's cousin was betraying all the visible stress of a man striving to rise to the challenge of an awkward occasion.
"I know you have to be wondering why I came to meet you off your plane." Spyros paused and breathed in deep. "I wanted to thank you personally for the opportunity you gave me last year to turn my life around."
Lean, strong face expressionless, Cristos stared steadily back at the older man, his surprise that his cousin should speak so freely in front of Timon concealed. "If that has been the result, I am happy for you," he murmured with his slow, devastating smile.
Cristos was enough of a cynic to be disconcerted but he was also genuinely pleased.
"You will join us for dinner this evening before you leave?" Spyros pressed with enthusiasm.
Cristos had had other plans. His current mistress would be waiting at the apartment. The perfect end to a long day of business meetings was sex on silk sheets with a woman who would meet his every expectation with unquestioning zeal. With regret he shelved that sensual image and cursed his powerful libido. His principles had spoken: the very least that Spyros deserved was recognition of his achievement.
Before she had even arrived at Gemma and Rory's apartment in the leafy city suburbs, Betsy had promised herself that she would not be over-sensitive to anything her sister said.
So when Gemma widened her china-blue eyes and tossed her pale blonde head and said, "I think being very skinny is aging," Betsy, who stuffed herself with biscuits in the forlorn hope that she would develop a larger bosom, just smiled and said nothing.
When Gemma exclaimed in horror over the nails that Betsy had broken tinkering with a temperamental car engine, Betsy said nothing and hid her hands below the table as much as she could. In the same way, she withstood the suggestion that her casual jeans and shirt made her look like a boy and even a later reference to her lack of material success in the world. Indeed she was proud of herself for not rising to the bait.
Rory shared the same table, both with them and not with them, his discomfiture at the atmosphere between his girlfriend and her older sister pronounced. Every so often he made a clumsy attempt to bring in a new conversational subject but no matter what it was it always seemed to provide Gemma with more grist for her mill. Betsy studied Rory in a quick stolen glance. He looked grim, tense and embarrassed. Like Betsy, he was in the dark as to why Gemma seemed to have a need to verbally attack Betsy in every way she could.
Excerpted from The Stephanides Pregnancy by Lynne Graham Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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