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Even in her exquisitely tailored designer suit, Chloe Spiridakou felt out of place in her ex-husband's swank office waiting area.
Like their marriage, the classic pink tweed skirt and blazer were two years past their runway date and didn't quite fit any longer. Stress and grief had taken their toll and peeled pounds she couldn't afford to lose from her already willowy figure.
She'd never had the best relationship with food, but after leaving Greece, Chloe had found it nearly impossible to force herself to eat at all. Some days had gone by when she simply hadn't.
But Rhea had stepped in, literally saving Chloe's life. And Chloe wasn't going to let her sister down now.
No matter how hard this meeting was for Chloe. No matter how ill-equipped she felt to deal with her ex-husband again.
It didn't help that she felt awkward and unattractive. Rail-thin, she'd also hardly slept since making this appointment and had dark circles under her eyes to prove it.
Not that Ariston was likely to notice how she looked. The fact that he was seeing her at all was still hard to fathom. Chloe had the distinct feeling that somehow her sister had got it wrong. Ariston had made no move to contact her since the day she'd walked out on their marriagenot even to ask why she'd done it.
Rather par for the course in a relationship that was by turns scorchingly passionate and emotionally distant.
Her husband had been attentive in his own way, even borderline kind at times and definitely an amazing lover, but Ariston had kept his feelings to himself. Period.
Chloe had this awful feeling that his secretary, Jean, had made the appointment and somehow forgotten to mention to Ariston who it was with.
Chloe was not looking forward to getting kicked out of his high-rise corner office once he realized it either. The urge to flee strong, she rubbed her damp palms down the pink tweed.
After everything, she'd been absolutely certain she wouldn't ever see him again, no matter how she might wish otherwise in the deepest recesses of her heart.
Yet, here she was. Waiting in his anteroom and feeling very much as if she'd like to throw up.
Neither was an option. "Ms. Spiridakou
Chloe was already standing from the first sound of Jean's voice. She swallowed convulsively. "Yes?"
"Mr. Spiridakou will see you now." Jean smiled, the expression one she reserved for the "real" people in Ariston's life.
Not feeling all that "real," Chloe returned the smileher own effort not nearly so natural. "Thank you."
It was only a matter of a couple dozen feet to the tall double doors that led to Ariston's inner sanctum. Yet the time it took to cross the plush office carpet felt both too long and too short for Chloe's rapidly beating heart and the thoughts whirling like a dervish in her head.
The older woman opened the door on the left and ushered Chloe inside with another warm, encouraging smile.
Chloe wanted to say thank you again, for that smile, for the sympathy lurking in the older woman's eyes, but couldn't make her throat work. So she simply nodded before turning to survey her ex-husband's domain.
Easier to maintain her composure if she focused on the room and not its occupant.
Ariston's New York office was exactly as Chloe remembered it. An imposing dark mahogany desk the size of a small dining table sat in the center. Two leather armchairs faced it with an occasional table between them.
On the other side of the large room, two deep burgundy leather sofas faced one another across a large hand-stitched Turkish rug that had taken a group of four women six months to finish, working on it daily. Chloe had bought it for Ariston on their honeymoon and was surprised he'd kept it, but then she shouldn't be.
He wasn't a sentimental guy and it did match the perfectly appointed office decor just as well today as it had five years ago.
Near the corner wall of windows, the sofa grouping made an unexpectedly intimidating place to hold a meeting. Ariston had once told her he used the psychology of it to set to the tone for certain business dealings.
Chloe was marginally relieved that Ariston's cerulean-blue gaze met her green one across his monolith of a desk instead. That tiny bit of relief did nothing to strengthen suddenly water-weak joints in her knees as their eyes met for the first time in two years.
She'd missed him. A lot. The constant ache inside her had barely diminished in its intensity in the twenty-four months spent trying to forget him.
The psychobabblers claimed time healed all wounds, but Chloe's felt nearly as raw and excruciating as they had the day her marriage ended. She could feel every inch of ground she'd gained sliding away as emotions she didn't want to experience, much less acknowledge, washed over her.
One dark brow quirked and he asked, "Would you like coffee, or is this a flying visit?"
She opened her mouth to answer, but closed it again without saying a word, her attention wholly caught by the man in front of her.
He hadn't changed. He should have, shouldn't he?
She had. Her five-foot-eight-inch form was scarecrow skinny now and though she still highlighted her chocolate brown hair, she wore it longer in waves that settled against her shoulders.
He'd commented more than once that he liked long hair, but she'd refused to grow it out while they were married. She wasn't sure why now. Only that then, it had made her feel more independent. As if despite the fact she was in love with her business-marriage husband, she remained true to herself.
That sense of independence had been little comfort after she'd walked away from him.
Though she hadn't had a choice. After three years of marriage, she'd discovered he'd had divorce papers drawn up. As per their initial agreement. Even so, the discovery had been a crushing blow and leaving him had taken every ounce of her stubborn resolve. But her pride had demanded she make the first and irrevocable move.
Doing so hadn't been the healing balm she'd hoped. She was only twenty-five, but pain and worry had etched tiny lines around her eyes.
However, there were no new worry or laugh lines on his face, no early gray hairs to mark his advent into his thirties. It remained espresso dark, almost black, kept short but with a style that screamed power and money. The only hint to his Greek heritage, the slight curl in that perfectly styled hair.
Ariston was still just as devastatingly gorgeous as he'd ever been, his expression equally impossible to read and his manners impeccable.
Unexpected emotions slammed through her. Want and love and need and pain, all of it so strong, she had to force herself to keep breathing.
She hadn't left because she wanted to. She'd gone because she had to.
It had been two years, but shockingly, she craved him as strongly as if she'd walked out the door of the apartment in Athens yesterday.
Even sitting and wearing an impeccably tailored suit, it was clear his six-foot-three-inch frame sported the same well-honed muscles that she had enjoyed exploring so very much in their marriage bed. Not only a virgin, but wholly innocent on her wedding night, Chloe had known passion with only one man. This one.
a man capable of stirring things in her she could not afford to feel.
That dark brow rose again, his mouth tilting just the tiniest in sardonic amusement and she realized she still hadn't answered.
"No, I.I mean, yes, coffee would be lovely."
He gave the instruction to Jean and then focused that all-consuming gaze back on Chloe. "Perhaps you would care to take a seat?"
It was only then that she realized she'd frozen only a step over the threshold. Heat suffused her cheeks. "Oh, yes, of course."
She managed to make it into one of the armchairs without incident and didn't even bother stifling her sigh of relief as she did so. She'd always been rotten at games like poker. Everything she felt played across her face.
Why had Rhea thought this was a good idea again? Oh, yes, because Ariston had insisted. And what Ariston Spiridakou wanted, the Greek business mogul got.
Two years ago he hadn't wanted Chloe. For some inexplicable reason, now he did. Or at least to meet with her.
"To what do I owe the honor of this visit?" Ariston asked when the silence between them had stretched long enough for Jean to have come and gone, leaving aromatic coffee in her wake.
"Are you playing the cat to my mouse?" she asked with no attempt to hide her censure. "You told Rhea you wouldn't meet with her."
"Yes, but the purpose of that meeting has yet to be broached."
Oh, he was enjoying this. Playing corporate shark with the wife who'd had the audacity to walk out on him first.
Chloe fixated on preparing her drink so she didn't have to look at Ariston. If she did, she might very well give in to her sudden urge to toss her coffee cup right at his head. "Do you really need to ask?"
"It appears I do."
"Right." She took a fortifying sip of coffee. It was her favorite Sumatran blend with the hint of vanilla and cinnamon.
Jean had remembered, bless her.
Unwilling to appear the coward or play his little games, Chloe forced her eyes to meet those of her ex-husband. "I'm sure you know exactly why I'm here, but maybe you're wondering why I thought coming would be of any use? To be honest, I was pretty sure it wouldn't be, but I had to try."
There. He could put that in his pipe and smoke it. If he smoked. Which he didn't. Darn it, her mind was running away with her again.
She consciously reined in her wayward thoughts.
"For your father's sake." Ariston's tone was flat, his mouth drawn in a line that could have been disapproval, or just as easily apathy. "You would do anything for your father."
A sound of dark humor spilled from Chloe's lips before she could even think of stifling it.
Seriously? Had Ariston gotten to know her at all during the brief three years of their marriage? She had never once tried to pretend a closeness with her father that did not exist. That had never existed.
She wasn't the business-minded protegee Rhea was, garnering their father's attention in a way Chloe could never compete with. Chloe had always been the artsy one, like their mother whose paintings had hung on the walls of their home years after death had taken her from their lives.
"I haven't seen or spoken to my father in almost two years." More vehement than she intended, Chloe took a deep breath and let her gaze shift to the original El Greco hanging on the wall behind his desk in its gilt-edged frame.
She had always loved it, but the old masterpiece held no solace for her today.
Her father had sold her into marriage with no care for her feelings. When they'd been ripped asunder, rational or not, she'd laid a good portion of the blame at his door.
She might have been able to forgive him for setting her up for such heartache, but not what came after.
"I find that hard to believe."
"Really?" She shook her head, finding it difficult to believe even now that Ariston was so ignorant of her feelings, and let their gazes meet again.
His was assessing.
Was it possible that despite the fact she'd never tried to hide it, Ariston simply hadn't noticed how little interaction she had with her father? The two men had a closer relationship than she'd ever shared with the man who'd fathered her.
She was convinced Ariston knew the other businessman better than she ever would.
"Eber Dioletis only ever deigned to notice my existence when he needed a daughter to fulfill the business contract he thought would save his crumbling empire." He hadn't even sounded sorry when he'd informed her over the phone of her then-husband's actions in having divorce papers drawn up, but then Eber had had his own plans, hadn't he? "Do you know what he said when I called to tell him I was returning to New York?"
Chloe snapped her mouth shut. She hadn't meant to ask that, had had no intention of ever sharing that final humiliation with anyone. She'd never even told Rhea.
"What?" Ariston asked, his attention sharpening as if he realized she'd let something slip she didn't want to.
Hurting and lost after making the only decision she could once she'd found out about Ariston's plans to divorce her, Chloe had called her father and told him she was on her way home. She'd intended to return to the house she'd grown up in, familiar if not a warm haven of memories.
That hadn't happened.
Because her father had been and would always be a coldhearted man. "It doesn't matter."
"I must disagree. You brought it up." She had.
And unlike her parent, or even Ariston, Chloe was no master prevaricator. "He had another prospect in mind for once the divorce was final."
Another arranged marriage waiting in the wings, an older businessman worth tens of millions, if not a few billion like her ex-husband. Eber had known the marriage wasn't going to last beyond its three-year term and had sought to take advantage of that fact.
To this day, she didn't know how her father had found out about the divorce papers Ariston had drawn up in New York before that final trip to Greece. She only knew that he'd had proof. The morning Ariston had flown to Hong Kong for what was supposed to be a short business trip, Eber had sent Chloe a faxdivorce papers signed by her husband and dated not two weeks before their arrival in Athens.
Though they hadn't yet been filed, much less served, there was only one interpretation of her husband's actions and once Chloe had made it, her own decisions at the end of her marriage rose up to torment her with just how naively hopeful she'd been.
"This upset you?" Ariston didn't look or sound in the least surprised by news of Eber's backup plan.
Chloe had to wonder if he'd known about it. Those two were peas in a pod, knowing things they shouldn't when it came to one of their business ventures. And hadn't her marriage to Ariston been nothing but that?
She'd tried to convince herself otherwise toward the end, but ultimately she'd been proven spectacularly wrong.
"Yes," she bit out, unable to believe even Ariston could have thought otherwise.
But then, he'd never known her as she knew him. He hadn't made the effort to do so because he'd never loved her as she loved him.