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Xheron Anetakis sifted through the mountain of paperwork his secretary had left on his desk for him to read, muttering expletives as he tossed letters left and right. Occasionally one would garner more than a brief glance and then he'd shove it to a separate pile of things requiring his attention. Others, he consigned to the trash can by his feet.
His takeover of the New York offices of Anetakis International hadn't been without its pitfalls. After the discovery that one of the staff members had been selling Anetakis hotel plans to a competitor, Theron and his brothers had cleaned house, hiring new staff. The culprit, Chrysander's former personal assistant, was behind bars after a plea bargain. They had been leery of replacing her and allowing another employee unfettered access to sensitive company information, but in the end, Theron had opted to bring in his secretary from the London office. She was older, stable and most importantly, loyal. Though after the debacle with Roslyn, none of the Anetakis brothers were keen to trust another employee implicitly.
Theron's arrival from London had been met by a pile of documents, contracts, messages and e-mails. Two days later, he was still trying to make sense of the mess. And to think his secretary had already weeded out the majority of the clutter.
He paused over one letter addressed to Chrysander and almost tossed it as junk mail, but yanked it back into his line of vision when he saw what it said. His brow furrowed deeper as he scanned the page, and stretched out his other hand for the phone.
Uncaring of the time difference, or that he would probably wake Chrysander, he punched in the number and waited impatiently for the call to go through. He spared a brief moment of guilt that he would also be disturbing Marley, Chrysander's wife, but hopefully he would pick up the phone before it wakened her.
"This better be damn good," Chrysander growled in a sleepy voice.
Theron didn't waste time with pleasantries. "Who the hell is Isabella?" he demanded.
"Isabella?" There was no doubt as to the confusion in Chrysander's voice. "You're calling me at this hour to ask me about a woman?"
"Tell me " Theron shook his head. No, Chrysander wouldn't be unfaithful to Marley. Whatever this woman was to Chrysander, it must have been before he met Marley. "Just tell me what I need to know in order to get rid of her," Theron said impatiently. "I've a letter here informing you of her progress, whatever the hell that means, and that she's graduated successfully." Theron's lips thinned in disgust. "Theos, Chrysander. Isn't she a bit young for you to have been involved with?"
Chrysander exploded in a torrent of Greek, and Theron held the phone from his ear until the storm calmed.
"I do not like your implication, little brother," Chrysander said in an icy voice. "I am married. Of course I am not involved with this Isabella." And then Theron heard Chrysander's sharp intake of breath. "Bella. Of course," he murmured. "I'm not thinking clearly at this hour of the night."
"And I repeat, who is this Bella?" Theron asked, his patience running out.
"Caplan. Isabella Caplan. Surely you remember, Theron."
"Little Isabella?" Theron asked in surprise. He hadn't remembered her at all until Chrysander mentioned her last name. An image of a gangly, preteen girl with po-nytails and braces shot to mind. He'd seen her a few times since, but he honestly couldn't conjure an image. He remembered her being shy and unassuming, always trying to fade into the background. She'd been at his parents' funeral, but he'd been too consumed with grief to pay attention to the young woman. How old would she have been then?
Chrysander chuckled. "She's not so little anymore. She will have just graduated. Was doing quite well. Intelligent girl."
"But why are you getting a report on her?" Theron asked. "For God's sake, I thought she might be a former mistress, and the last thing I wanted was her causing trouble for Marley."
"While your devotion to my wife is commendable, it's hardly necessary," Chrysander said dryly. Then he sighed. "Our obligation to Bella had temporarily slipped my mind. My focus of late has been on Marley and our child."
"What obligation?" Theron asked sharply. "And why haven't I heard of this before?"
"Our fathers were longtime friends and business partners. Her father extracted a promise from our father that if anything should ever happen to him that Isabella would be looked after. Our father preceded her father in death, so I assumed responsibility for her welfare when her father also passed away."
"Then you should know that, according to this letter, she's arriving in New York two days from now," Theron said.
Chrysander cursed. "I can't leave Marley right now."
"Of course you can't," Theron said impatiently. "I'll take care of it. But I need details. The last thing you need right now is to be saddled with another concern. New York is my responsibility. I'll count this as yet another problem I've inherited when we traded offices."
"Bella won't be any problem. She's a sweet girl. All you need to do is help her settle her affairs and make sure her needs are provided for. She doesn't gain full control of her inheritance until she's twenty-five or she marries, whichever happens first, so in the meantime Anetakis International acts as the trustee. As you are now the New York representative of Anetakis, that makes you her guardian of sorts."
Theron groaned. "I knew I should have bloody well made Piers take over the New York office."
Chrysander laughed. "This will be a piece of cake, little brother. It shouldn't take you long at all to make sure she's settled and has everything she needs."
Isabella Caplan had no sooner made it past the airport security checkpoint when she saw a man in a chauffeur's uniform holding a sign with her name on it.
She held up a hand in a wave and made her way over. To her surprise, two other men stepped forward to flank her. Her confusion must have showed because the chauffeur smiled and said, "Welcome to New York, Ms. Caplan. I'm Henry, your driver for today, and these gentlemen are from Mr. Anetakis's security detail."
"Uh, hi," she said.
"I've arranged for someone to collect your luggage from baggage claim," Henry said as he herded her toward the exit. "It will be delivered to the hotel shortly."
Outside, one of the security men held the limousine door open for her then got in after her, while the second climbed into the front seat with Henry. Privacy wasn't in the cards, and what she really wanted to do was wilt all over her seat.
Isabella leaned back as the limousine pulled away from the passenger pickup area en route to Imperial Park, the hotel owned by the Anetakis brothers. Chry-sander had arranged a suite anytime she visited New York, not that it had occurred often.
This trip had been planned as nothing more than a brief stopover on her way to Europe, a fact she'd apprised Chrysander of in her correspondence. All of that had changed the minute she'd received a terse missive from Theron Anetakis informing her that he was now overseeing her affairs, and he would meet briefly with her in New York to make sure she had everything she needed for her trip abroad.
He didn't know it yet, but her trip was a thing of the past. She was going to stay in New York indefinitely.
The limousine pulled up in front of the hotel and ground smoothly to a halt. Her door opened, and the security guard who'd ridden in front extended his hand to assist her out. Once inside the lobby, she was ushered immediately to her suite, bypassing the front desk altogether.
Within ten minutes, her luggage was delivered to her room along with a bouquet of flowers and a basket filled with an assortment of snacks and fruits.
If that wasn't enough, just as she settled onto the couch to kick off her shoes and catch her breath, another knock sounded. Grumbling under her breath, she went to open the door and found another hotel employee standing there. He extended a smooth, cream-colored envelope.
"A message from Mr. Anetakis."
She raised an eyebrow. "Which Mr. Anetakis?"
The young man looked discomfited. "Theron."
She smiled, thanked him and then closed the door. She turned the envelope over and lightly ran her finger over the inscription on the front. Isabella Caplan. Had he written it himself?
Experiencing a moment of silliness, she brought the paper to her nose, hoping to catch his smell. There. Light but undeniably his scent. She remembered it as though it were yesterday. He obviously still wore the same cologne.
She broke open the seal and pulled the card from the envelope. In a distinctly masculine scrawl, he'd written his instructions for her to come to his office the next morning.
An amused smile curved her lips. As arrogant as she remembered. Summoning her like a wayward child. At least Chrysander had dropped by her suite to check in on her. But then she'd been a mere eighteen, and he'd also provided a veritable nanny to chaperone her for her visit to the city.
She'd be more than happy to meet Theron on his terms. It would make it that more satisfying to rock him back on his heels. The basis for her big trip to Europe had been solely because that was where Theron lived. Or had lived. When Chrysander married, he and his wife moved to his Greek island on a permanent basis. Which meant that Theron had moved a lot closer to Isabella. Finally.
The trip to Europe was off. Her seduction of Theron was on.
She sank onto the couch and put her feet up on the coffee table. Vibrant red toenail polish flashed in front of her as she wiggled her toes. The delicate ankle bracelet flashed and shimmered with the movement of her foot.
Theron had only gotten more gorgeous over the last few years. He'd lost the youthful handsomeness and replaced it with raw masculinity. While she'd been waiting to grow up so she could stake her claim, he'd only become more desirable. More irresistible. And she'd only fallen more in love with him.
It wouldn't be easy. She didn't imagine he'd fall readily into her arms. The Anetakis brothers were hard. They could have any woman they wanted. They were ruthless in business, but they were also loyal, and honor was everything.
The phone rang, and she sighed in aggravation. The phone was across the room, and she was quite comfortable on the couch. Shoving herself up, she stumbled over to answer it.
There was a brief silence. "Ms. CaplanIsabella."
She recognized the accented English, and a thrill skirted down her spine. It wasn't Chrysander, and given that Piers was out of the country and had never so much as had a conversation with Isabella, it could only be Theron.
"Yes," she said huskily, hoping her nervousness wasn't betrayed.
"This is Theron Anetakis. I was calling to make sure you made it in okay and are settling in with no difficulty."
"Thank you. Everything is fine."
"Is the suite to your liking?"
"Yes, of course. It was kind of you to reserve it for me."
"I didn't reserve it," he said impatiently. "It's my private suite."
She looked around with renewed interest. Knowing that she was staying where Theron spent a lot of his time gave her a decadent thrill.
"Then where are you staying?" she asked curiously. "Why would you give up your suite?"
"The hotel is undergoing renovations. The only available suite was mine. I'm temporarily taking a different room."
She laughed. "I could have taken other accommodations. There was no need for you to move out for me."
"A few days won't make a difference," he said. "You should be comfortable before your trip to Europe."
She swallowed back the denial that she would be going to Europe. No sense in putting him on guard as soon as she arrived. There'd be plenty of time to apprise him of her change in plans. Mainly when he had no chance of talking her out of it.
A mischievous smile curved her lips. "I received your summons."
He made a sound of startled exclamation that sounded suspiciously like an oath. "Surely I didn't sound so autocratic, Ms. Caplan."
"Please, call me Isabella. Or Bella. Surely you remember when we weren't so formal? Granted it's been a few years, but I haven't forgotten a single thing about you."
There was an uncomfortable silence. And then, "All right, Isabella."
"All right.Bella," he conceded.
He made an exasperated sound in her ear and then said, "Now what was it we were discussing again?"
He sounded distracted, and though he was unfailingly polite, she knew he wanted rid of her as soon as possible. She grinned. If he only knew
"We were discussing your autocratic demand for me to appear at your office tomorrow."
"It was a request, Bella," he said patiently.
"And of course I will honor it. Shall we say ten in the morning then? I'm a bit tired, and I'd like to sleep in."
"Of course. Don't overtax yourself. Order in room service tonight for dinner. Your expenses are being taken care of."
Of course. She hadn't expected anything less and knew better than to argue. The Anetakis brothers were thorough if nothing else. And very serious about their perceived obligations.
"I'll see you tomorrow then," she said.
He uttered an appropriate goodbye, and she hung up the phone. A smile popped her lips upward as she hugged her midsection in delight. Oh, she'd planned to pay him a visit the next day, all right.