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Emily singled him out immediately, not because his father had described him so well that she couldn't miss him, but because even though he stood well back from everyone else, he dominated the throng waiting to meet passengers newly arrived at Athens's Venizelos Airport. At more than six feet of lean, toned masculinity blessed with the face of a fallen angel, he could hardly help it. One look at him was enough to tell her he was the kind of man other men envied, and women fought over.
As if on cue, his gaze locked with hers. Locked and lingered a small eternity, long enough for her insides to roll over in fascinated trepidation. Every instinct of self-preservation told her he was bad news; that she'd live to rue the day she met him. Then he nodded, as though he knew exactly the effect he'd had on her, and cutting a swath through the crowd, strode forward.
Given her first unobstructed view, she noted how his jeans emphasized his narrow hips and long legs, the way his black leather bomber jacket rode smoothly over his powerful shoulders, and the startling contrast of his throat rising strong and tanned against the open collar of his white shirt. As he drew closer, she saw, too, that his mouth and his jaw, the latter firm and faintly dusted with new beard shadow, betrayed the stubbornness his father had spoken of.
When he reached them, he asked in a voice as sinfully seductive as the rest of him, "So you beat the odds and made it back in one piece. How was the flight?"
"Long," Pavlos replied, sounding every bit as worn and weary as he surely must feel. Not even painkillers and the luxury of first-class air travel had been enough to cushion his discomfort. "Very long. But as you can see, I have my guardian angel at my side." He reached over his shoulder, groped for her hand and squeezed it affectionately. "Emily, my dear, I am pleased to introduce my son, Nikolaos. And this, Niko, is my nurse, Emily Tyler. What I would have done without her, I cannot imagine."
Again, Nikolaos Leonidas's gaze lingered, touring the length of her in insolent appraisal. Behind his chiseled good looks lurked a certain arrogance. He was not a man to be crossed, she thought. "Yiasu, Emily Tyler," he said.
Even though her sweater and slacks pretty much covered all of her, she felt naked under that sweeping regard. His eyes were the problem, she thought dizzily. Not brown like his father's, as she'd expected, but a deep green reminiscent of fine jade, they added an arresting final touch to a face already possessed of more than its rightful share of dark beauty.
Swallowing, she managed an answering, "Yiasu."
"You speak a little Greek?"
"A very little," she said. "I just exhausted my entire vocabulary."
"That's what I thought."
The comment might have stung if he hadn't tempered it with a smile that assaulted her with such charm, it was all she could do not to buckle at the knees. For heaven's sake, what was the matter with her? She was twenty-seven, and if not exactly the most sexually experienced woman in the world, hardly in the first flush of innocent youth, either. She knew well enough that appearances counted for little. It was the person inside that mattered, and from everything she'd been told, Niko Leonidas fell sadly short in that respect.
His manner as he turned his attention again to Pavlos did nothing to persuade her otherwise. He made no effort to embrace his father, to reassure him with a touch to the shoulder or hand that the old man could count on his son for whatever support he might need during his convalescence. Instead he commandeered a porter to take care of the loaded luggage cart one of the flight attendants had brought, and with a terse, "Well, since we seem to have exhausted the formalities, let's get out of here," marched toward the exit, leaving Emily to follow with Pavlos.
Only when they arrived at the waiting Mercedes did he betray a hint of compassion. "Don't," he ordered, when she went to help her patient out of the wheelchair and with surprising tenderness, scooped his father into his arms, laid him carefully on the car's roomy back seat and draped a blanket over his legs. "You didn't have to do that," Pavlos snapped, trying unsuccessfully to mask a grimace of pain.
Noticing, Niko said, "Apparently I did. Or would you have preferred I stand idly by and watch you fall on your face?"
"I would prefer to be standing on my own two feet without needing assistance of any kind."
"Then you should have taken better care of yourself when you were awayor else had the good sense to stay home in the first place, instead of deciding you had to see Alaska before you die."
Emily was tempted to kick the man, hard, but made do with a glare. "Accidents happen, Mr. Leonidas."
"Especially to globe-trotting eighty-six-year-old men."
"It was hardly his fault that the cruise ship ran aground, nor was he the only passenger on board who was injured. All things considered, and given his age, your father's done amazingly well. In time, and with adequate follow-up physical therapy, he should make a reasonably good recovery."
"And if he doesn't?"
"Then I guess you're going to have to step up to the plate and start acting like a proper son."
He favored her with a slow blink made all the more disturbing by the sweep of his lashes, which were indecently long and silky. "Nurse and family counselor all rolled into one," he drawled. "How lucky is that?"
"Well, you did ask."
"And you told me." He tipped the porter, left him to return the airport's borrowed wheelchair, then slammed closed the car trunk and opened the front passenger door with a flourish. "Climb in. We can continue this conversation later."
As she might have expected, he drove with flair and expertise. Within half an hour of leaving the airport, they were cruising the leafy green streets of Vouliagmeni, the exclusive Athens suburb overlooking the Saronic Gulf on the east coast of the Attic Peninsula, which Pavlos had described to her so vividly. Soon after, at the end of a quiet road running parallel to the beach, Niko steered the car through a pair of ornate wrought-iron gates, which opened at the touch of a remote control button on the dash.
Emily had gathered Pavlos was a man of considerable wealth, but was hardly prepared for the rather frightening opulence confronting her as the Mercedes wound its way up a long curving driveway, and she caught her first sight of
what? His house? Villa? Mansion?
Set in spacious, exquisitely landscaped grounds and screened from local traffic by a stand of pines, the place defied such mundane description. Stucco walls, blind-ingly white, rose in elegant proportions to a tiled roof as blue as she'd always imagined the skies to be in Athens, even though, this late September afternoon, an approaching storm left them gray and threatening. Long windows opened to wide terraces shaded by pergolas draped in flowering vines. A huge fountain splashed in a central forecourt, peacocks preened and screeched on the lawns, and from somewhere on the seaward side of the property, a dog barked.
She had little time to marvel, though, because barely had the car come to a stop outside a set of double front doors than they opened, and a man in his late fifties or early sixties appeared with a wheelchair light years removed from the spartan model offered by the airport.
The devoted butler, Georgios, she presumed. Pavlos had spoken of him often and with great fondness. Behind him came a younger man, little more than a boy really, who went about unloading the luggage while Niko and the butler lifted Pavlos from the car to the chair. By the time they were done, he was gray in the face and the grooves paralleling his mouth carved more deeply than usual.
Even Niko seemed concerned. "What can you do for him?" he muttered, cornering Emily near the front entrance as Georgios whisked his employer away down a wide, marble-floored hall.
"Give him something to manage the pain, and let him rest," she said. "The journey was very hard on him."
"He doesn't look to me as if he was fit to travel in the first place."
"He wasn't. Given his age and the severity of his osteoporosis, he really ought to have remained in the hospital another week, but he insisted on coming home, and when your father makes up his mind, there's no changing it."
"Tell me something I don't already know." Niko scowled and shucked off his jacket. "Shall I send for his doctor?"
"In the morning, yes. He'll need more medication than what I was able to bring with us. But I have enough to see him through tonight." Struggling to preserve a professional front despite the fact that Niko stood close enough for the warmth of his body to reach out and touch hers, she sidled past him and took her travel bag from the pile of luggage accumulating inside the front door. "If you'd show me to his room, I really should attend to him now."
He stepped away and led her to the back of the villa, to a large, sun-filled apartment on the main floor. Consisting of a sitting room and bedroom, both with French doors that opened onto a low-walled patio, it overlooked the gardens and sea. Still in the wheelchair, stationed next to the window in the sitting room, Pavlos leaned forward, drinking in the view which, even swathed in floating mist as the storm closed in, held him transfixed.
"He had this part of the house converted into his private suite a few years ago when the stairs proved too much for him," Niko said in a low voice.
Glancing through to the bedroom, Emily asked, "And the hospital bed?"
"I had it brought in yesterday. He'll probably give me hell for removing the one he's used to, but this one seemed more practical, at least for now."
"You did the right thing. He'll be more comfortable in it, even if he won't be spending much time there except at night."
"The more mobile he is, the better his chances of eventually walking again, although
Picking up on the reservation in her voice, Niko pounced on it. "Although what? You said earlier you expect him to make a reasonable recovery. Are you changing your mind now?"
" Again, she hesitated, bound by patient confidentiality, yet aware that as his son, Niko had the right to some information, especially if her withholding it might have an adverse effect on Pavlos's future well-being. "How much do you know about your father's general health?"
"Only what he chooses to tell me, which isn't very much."
She should have guessed he'd say that. There's no need to contact my son, Pavlos had decreed, when the hospital had insisted on listing his next of kin. He minds his business, and I mind mine.
Niko pinned her in that unnerving green stare. "What aren't you telling me, Emily? Is he dying?"
"Aren't we all, to one extent or another?"
"Don't play mind games with me. I asked you a straightforward question. I'd like a straightforward answer."
"Okay. His age is against him. Although he'd never admit it, he's very frail. It wouldn't take much for him to suffer a relapse."
"I can pretty much figure that out for myself, so what else are you holding back?"
Pavlos spared her having to reply. "What the devil are the pair of you whispering about?" he inquired irascibly.
Casting Niko an apologetic glance, she said, "Your son was just explaining that you might not care for the new bed he ordered. He's afraid you'll think he was interfering."
"He was. I broke my hip, not my brain. I'll decide what I do and don't need."
"Not as long as I'm in charge."
"Don't boss me around, girl. I won't put up with it."
"Yes, you will," she said equably. "That's why you hired me."
"I can fire you just as easily, and have you on a flight back to Vancouver as early as tomorrow."
Recognizing the empty threat for what it really was, she hid a smile. Exhaustion and pain had taken their toll, but by morning he'd be in a better frame of mind. "Yes, sir, Mr. Leonidas," she returned smartly, and swung the wheelchair toward the bedroom. "Until then, let me do my job."
Niko had seized the first opportunity to vacate the premises, she noticed, and could have slapped herself for the pang of disappointment that sprouted despite her best efforts to quell it. The faithful Georgios, however, remained on the scene, anxious and willing to help wherever he could. Even so, by the time Pavlos had managed a light meal and was settled comfortably for the night, darkness had fallen.
Damaris, the housekeeper, showed Emily upstairs to the suite prepared for her. Decorated in subtle shades of ivory and slate-blue, it reminded her of her bedroom at home, although the furnishings here were far grander than anything she could afford. Marble floors, a Savonnerie rug and fine antiques polished to a soft gleam exemplified wealth, good taste and comfort.
A lady's writing desk occupied the space between double French doors leading to a balcony. In front of a small blue-tiled fireplace was a fainting couch, its brocade upholstery worn to satin softness, its once-vibrant colors faded by time. A glass-shaded lamp spilled mellow light, and a vase of lilies on a table filled the room with fragrance.
Most inviting of all, though, was the four-poster bed, dressed in finest linens. Almost ten thousand kilometers, and over sixteen hours of travel with its inevitable delays, plus the added stress of her patient's condition, had made serous inroads on her energy, and she wanted nothing more than to lay her head against those snowy-white pillows, pull the soft coverlet over her body and sleep through to morning.
A quick glance around showed that her luggage had been unpacked, her toiletries arranged in the bathroom and her robe and nightshirt laid out on the bench in front of the vanity. But so, to her dismay, was a change of underwear, and a freshly ironed cotton dress, one of the few she'd brought with her, hung in the dressing room connecting bathroom and bedroom. And if they weren't indication enough that the early night she craved was not to be, Damaris's parting remark drove home the point in no uncertain terms.
"I have drawn a bath for you, Despinis Tyler. Dinner will be served in the garden room at nine."