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Greek CEO of the Simonides Corporation, Andreas Simonides, thirty-three, astonished the corporate world by marrying unknown, twenty-six-year-old American, Gabriella Turner, in a private ceremony on Milos.
The August headlines in the Corriere della Sera caught Vincenzo Antonello by the throat. While in town he'd bought a newspaper before stopping off for lunch, never dreaming what he'd read when he opened it. In a gut reaction, his hands gripped the edges of his Italian newspaper so tightly, it started to tear down the middle.
"Papa? Are you mad?" His six-year-old son had stopped eating his pasta salad to stare at his father.
"No." Vincenzo caught himself in time. "It tore by accident."
"Oh. Can we go to the park now and play soccer?"
"In a minute, Dino. Let me finish my coffee first."
Sources close to the Simonides family have closed ranks on the press, but one rumor has floated that the elusive couple are honeymooning in the Caribbean and won't be available for pictures or comments for some time to come.
The CEO's former Greek girlfriend, Irena Liapis, daughter of Athenian newspaper magnate Giorgios Liapis, was expected to become the bride of the brilliant Simonides tycoon. Since the surprise announcement, it has been learned that the twenty-seven-year-old Ms. Liapis, who heads the monthly lifestyle section of her father's newspaper, has resigned her position and dropped off the scene. Her location is unknown at this time.
An icy hand seemed to squeeze Vincenzo's lungs until he couldn't breathe. Since early July when Irena had returned to Greece, he'd honored her wishes by not going after her. Every day he'd expected to hear that she and the great Simonides were married.
When Vincenzo had first met her, he'd damned the man's very existence and had baited Irena constantly about her alleged feelings for the man she intended to marry. Those feelings had not stopped her spending one blissful night with him, though, Vincenzo thought angrily. He had hoped and believed that the night had been earthshaking for her, too, and that it had erased her desire for Vincenzo's nemesis.
But these headlines proved he'd only been deluding himself. Somehow he'd thought this was the one female on the planet who'd been different.
"I know it surprises you to see me."
Deline hugged her. "Only because I thought you'd already left for Italy. Why didn't you phone that you were still in Athens?"
"I—I didn't dare," she stammered.
"Not dare?" Her best friend's brown eyes looked at her with concern. "Come in and we'll talk." Irena moved inside. "I just finished feeding the twins. They're out in the garden room in their swings. Leon will be sorry he missed you. He left for work a few minutes ago."
"I know that, too. I came earlier and purposely waited until I saw his car disappear."
Deline had been guiding her through the Simonides villa, but after hearing that comment she spun around and put a hand on Irena's arm. "The minute I saw your face I could see something was terribly wrong. What is it that is troubling you, Irena?"
"My biggest fear right now is that your house staff will know I stopped by and mention it to Leon. He just can't know I came here!"
Unspoken words flowed between them. Deline was already reading between the lines and realized that whatever had brought Irena to the villa, it was deadly serious.
"The maids won't be in until this afternoon. The only person around at the moment is my housekeeper, Sofia. I'll find her right now and tell her that your visit is to remain private. She is a valued staff member and can be trusted, I'm sure. However, I will make it clear that if any of the staff or my husband hear about you having come over, she'll be in serious trouble."
No one ever had a better friend. "Thank you, Deline." They hugged again.
"I'll be right back."
As she darted away, Irena walked into the garden room. The five-month-old twins were in their swings facing each other. Each had a plastic toy and seemed perfectly content, but when they saw Irena, their little arms and legs started moving faster in excitement.
Irena knelt down next to Kris, who'd come through his heart surgery so well, you'd never know he was barely out of the hospital. She kissed his cheek, then turned to Nikos. Both beautiful black-haired boys had been made in Leon's image. Most people would assume Deline was their mother due to her black hair and olive skin.
But others who knew the Simonides clan well were aware of Leon's slip during a rough spot in their marriage. It had been a one-night mistake in a state of inebriation with Thea Turner, a Greek-American woman, now deceased, that had produced his beautiful children.
Incredibly, Deline, who was pregnant with Leon's child, had loved him enough to forgive him and take him back. They were now a family of four with another baby on the way.
"Problem taken care of," she announced as she hurried back in the room.
If only that were true…
"Tell me what's wrong," Deline begged after sitting on the sofa.
Irena eyed her dear friend who would have been her sister-in-law if fate hadn't stepped in to change lives.
Overnight, nothing was the same as it had been before. Leon's twin brother, Andreas, was the man Irena had thought she would be marrying. But two months ago she'd gone to Cinque Terre in Italy for her job and had met another man. So strong was the attraction and feelings between them, she hadn't wanted to leave him.
When she had returned to Greece to tell Andreas the truth, he had been unavailable because of some mysterious circumstance. Irena had soon learned that Thea's half sister, Gabi Turner, had appeared on the scene and Andreas had taken one look at her and had broken it off with Irena. The next thing she knew Andreas had married the blonde American woman and had just left on his honeymoon.
"Irena Liapis— Talk to me!"
Her body started to shake. "I don't know how to tell you this."
"You're not going to believe it. I don't believe it."
"It's that bad?"
"Are you dying?"
Irena knew it was a serious question. "No, but at least it would solve my problem."
Without warning Deline jumped to her feet. "That's never a solution!" she scolded. "I was about to say that unless an incurable disease is about to take your life, nothing else you could tell me would rival what I've lived through while I decided whether to stay with Leon or not."
"Try this. I'm pregnant."
Deline paled. "Andreas's baby…"
After a brief pause; "Probably," she answered in a shaky voice.
Her friend's eyes widened with incredulity. "What do you mean probably?"
"The doctor worked out the dates with me. He's ninety percent sure it's Andreas's, but it could be another's. Oh, Deline, what if it's Vincenzo's baby?"
"Who's Vincenzo?" Her friend's loss of color alarmed her so much, she guided her back to the couch where they could both sit.
"Vincenzo is a man I spent all my time with when I was in Italy doing my article for the paper. He is handsome and… Oh, what a mess!" Irena let her head drop into her hands, a sudden feeling of despair washing over her.
"How long have you known you were pregnant?"
"I've felt queasy for the last week and finally went to the E.R. yesterday. I thought maybe I'd come down with flu or something. The doctor there referred me to an ob-gyn who confirmed it this morning before I came here. I'm six weeks along."
She'd begged the doctor to go over the dates again… and again. When she'd left Greece for her newspaper assignment in Italy, she'd only slept with Andreas, the man she had assumed she would marry on her return to Greece.
But those ten days in Italy had changed the course of her life forever. There she'd met Vincenzo, had been hit hard and fast with feelings she had never experienced or felt before. So much so that she'd extended her stay to be with him and hadn't wanted to go back to Greece… or Andreas.
Her friend's eyes filled with tears. "Oh, Irena. No matter what, you're going to have a precious baby."
"I know." Moisture glazed Irena's cheeks. "I want it more than anything in the world." Wanted it to be Vincenzo's…she added silently.
"Of course you do." Deline squeezed her arm gently. "What are you going to do?"
Irena took a deep breath. "I know one thing I'm not going to do. Andreas will never learn the child I'm carrying is his, if it is his. I'm going to another OB this afternoon to get a second opinion. I have to be sure."
"I was just going to suggest that you see another doctor. This is too important."
"Oh, Deline…I want so much for Vincenzo to be the father."
"But if the next doctor tells you the same thing—"
"If he does, I still refuse to hurt Andreas and Gabi. You and Leon had to live through a nightmare when he came to you with the news that he'd fathered Thea's twins. I don't want to start another nightmare for them. They're in love. Andreas couldn't marry her fast enough. They're on their honeymoon making plans for their future. I won't do that to them."
Deline sat there shaking her head in disbelief.
"I want to be on my honeymoon with Vincenzo. I want to be able to tell him I'm carrying his baby. Sometimes I wonder how you got through it, Deline. I was so crushed for you." The twins were adorable, but they should have been Deline and Leon's.
"I'll never forget you were there for me." Her voice shook.
"I don't mean to bring up the past to hurt you. I just can't do that to them."
Deline got to her feet. "The truth has a way of coming out, Irena. What if everything had remained a secret until years down the road? I'm not so sure our marriage could have withstood such a blow then. At least we're starting out with the truth now, before our own baby is born. And Leon has been so good to me—incredibly kind and understanding. Patient, you know?"
Irena understood. "Believe me, I'm thankful things are working out for you so well. But think, Deline— Maybe Gabi is pregnant already. I'm afraid of history repeating itself."
Her friend groaned.
"Wouldn't my news be a lovely belated wedding present for the two of them after they get back from the Caribbean… I can't do it to them."
"One day he'll find out, and when he does…" Deline actually trembled. "I know Andreas. Leon's brother is noble to a fault and he'll always care about you, but if you were to keep knowledge of that kind away from him and then he discovered it—especially after what he went through to make sure Leon was united with his own children—" She shook her head again. "I'd fear for you, Irena."
Put that way, so did Irena. She cleared her throat. "There's one way to handle it so he never finds out. That's what I came over to talk to you about."
"What? Move to another planet?"
"Not quite so far away. After I returned from Italy, I resigned my job at the newspaper. My plan had been to break it off with Andreas before I went back to Riomaggiore to be with Vincenzo. That's where I'm going now. What I'm hoping is that he meant what he said and still wants to marry me."
"Still? You mean in ten days you got to a point that he asked you?" Deline cried out aghast. "Not that you aren't the most beautiful and intelligent woman I've ever known. Any man would want you, but if he knew about Andreas—"
"It sounds complicated, I know. He didn't exactly ask. It more or less came out. But when I left, I couldn't give him an answer until I'd talked to Andreas first, and you know what happened next. He was totally involved with Gabi!
"When he told me about her, it struck me then that Andreas and I had never been in love, otherwise Gabi couldn't have stolen his heart any more than Vincenzo could have stolen mine. Vincenzo warned me that if I'd gone through with that marriage, it wouldn't have worked, that one day I would regret my mistake—he was right."
Deline stared at her before an odd expression broke out on her face. "What kind of a man could have caused you to fall for him so completely in a ten-day period, you want to marry him and wish it was his baby you're carrying?"
Irena averted her eyes.
"Come on. Out with it."
"His name is Vincenzo Antonello. He's an irreverent bachelor who's Italian down to the roots of his hair." Curly, untamed, overly long black hair. "He either walks or drives his used Fiat if he has to go any distance." Irena smiled at the memory, so different from her life where she had grown up in a world of luxury villas, elegant cars, limo service and helicopters.
"He was assigned to give me and my photographer a tour of the liqueur manufacturing plant in La Spezia where he works. As he was putting me back in his car, he said he liked it that at five foot eight, I was closer to him in height. 'There's more to grab hold of.'"
His deep laughter had rumbled out of him along with the words spoken in heavily accented English. Insufferable, arrogant, but with those blue eyes piercing you through black lashes.
"Our whole meeting was absolutely crazy, Deline. The whole time I was there, he spent every waking hour with me. We laughed and ate and walked and talked. I've never talked with anyone else so much in my whole life. I don't think either of us got any sleep.
"We hiked, we played, we strolled. He bought me flowers and little gifts. I was showered with them. He… bewitched me."
Six feet of proud, hard-muscled male, handsome as the devil he mocked. The antithesis of political correctness.
Irena had grown up cautious.
He was a Catholic, albeit not a good one, he'd admitted with a rakish white smile. She didn't espouse one particular religion. Irena believed in the emancipated woman who could be powerful in the corporate world.
"He has an opinion on everything and isn't afraid to express it."
No worshipper of money, Vincenzo. As long as he made enough at his job, he was happy to let someone else handle the financial nightmare of being a CEO. Irena came from a monied background. Her parents' very existence was defined by wealth.