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Anatole Telonidis stared bleakly across the large, expensively furnished lounge of the penthouse apartment in the most fashionable part of Athens. It was still as untidy as it had been when his young cousin Marcos Petranakos had last walked out of it a few short nightmare weeks ago, straight to his death.
When their mutual grandfather, Timon Petranakos, had phoned his older grandson he had been distraught. 'Anatole, he's dead! Marcos, my beloved Marcos-he's dead!' the old man had cried out.
Smashed to pieces at twenty-five, driving far too fast in the lethal supercar that had been Timon's own present to Marcos, given in the wake of their grandfather's recent diagnosis with cancer.
The death of his favourite grandson, whom he had spoiled lavishly since Marcos had lost his parents as a teenager, had been a devastating blow. Timon had since refused all treatment for his cancer, longing now only for his own death.
Anatole could understand his grandfather's devastation, his mind-numbing grief. But the fallout from Marcos's tragic death would affect more lives than their own family's. With no direct heir now to the vast Petranakos Corporation, the company would pass to an obscure Petranakos relative whose business inexperience would surely, in these parlous economic times, lead inevitably to the company's collapse and the loss of thousands of jobs, adding to the country's sky-high unemployment levels.
Though Anatole had his own late father's business empire to run-which he did with tireless efficiency and a pressing sense of responsibility-he knew that, had Marcos lived, he could have instilled a similar sense of responsibility into his hedonistic young cousin, guiding him effectively. But the new heir-middle-aged, self-important and conceited-was resistant to any such guidance.
Frustration with the fate awaiting the Petranakos Corporation-and its hapless workforce-Anatole started on the grim process of sorting out his young cousin's possessions. Bleakly, he began his sombre task.
Paperwork was the first essential. As he located Mar-cos's desk and set about methodically sorting out its jumbled contents a familiar ripple of irritation went through him. Marcos had been the least organised person he'd known-receipts, bills and personal correspondence were all muddled up, demonstrating just how uninterested Marcos had been in anything other than having a good time. Fast cars, high living and an endless procession of highly temporary females had been his favoured lifestyle. Unlike Anatole himself. Running the Telonidis businesses kept him too occupied for anything more than occasional relationships, usually with busy, high-powered businesswomen he worked with in the world of finance.
Frustration bit at Anatole.
If only Marcos had married! Then there might have been a son to inherit from Timon! I'd have kept the Petranakos Corporation safe for him until the child grew up!
But to the fun-seeking Marcos marriage would have been anathema! Girls had been for casual relationships only. There'd be time later for getting married, he'd always said.
But there was to be no later
Grim-faced, his honed features starkly etched, Anatole went on sorting through the papers in his cousin's desk. Official in one pile, personal in another. The latter pile was not large-not in this age of texting and the internet-but one drawer revealed a batch of three or four envelopes addressed to Marcos in cursive Roman script with a London postmark and UK stamps. Only one had been opened.
Anatole frowned. The lilac-coloured envelopes and the large, looping script suggested a female writer. Though Marcos's dramatic death had been splashed across the Greek tabloids, a British girlfriend might not have heard of it. It might be necessary, Anatole thought reluctantly, for him to let her know of Marcos's fate. That said, he realised as he glanced at the envelopes' postmarks, none of these was dated more recently than nine months ago. Whoever she was, the affair-or whatever it had been- was clearly long over.
With a swift impatience to be done with the whole grim business of sorting through Marcos's personal effects Anatole took the folded single piece of paper from the one envelope that was open. He flicked open the note and started to read the English writing.
And as he did he froze completely
Lyn made her way out of the lecture hall and sighed. It was no good, she would far rather be studying history! But accountancy would enable her to earn a decent living in the future and that was essential-especially if she were to persuade the authorities that she was capable of raising a child on her own: her beloved Georgy. But for now, while she was still waiting so anxiously to learn if she could adopt him, she was only allowed to be his foster carer. She knew the welfare authorities would prefer for him to be adopted by one of the many childless couples anxious to adopt a healthy baby, but Lyn was determined that no one would take Georgy from her! No one!
It didn't matter how much of a struggle it was to keep at her studies while looking after a baby as well, especially with money so short-she would manage somehow! A familiar regret swept over her: if only she'd gone to college sooner and already had her qualifications. But she hadn't been able to go straight from school because she'd had to stay home and look after Lindy. She hadn't been able to leave her young teenage sister to the indifference and neglect which was all her mother had offered. But when Lindy had left school herself and gone to London, to live with a girlfriend and get a job, her mother had been taken ill, her lungs and liver finally giving in after decades of abuse from smoking and alcohol, and there had been no one else to look after her except Lyn.
And now there was Georgy.
It was one of the university's admin staff. 'Someone's asking to see you,' the woman said briskly, and pointed to one of the offices across the corridor. Frowning, Lyn walked inside. And stopped dead.
Standing by the window, silhouetted by the fading light, was an imposing, dark-suited figure. Tall, wearing a black cashmere overcoat with a black cashmere scarf hooked around the strong column of his neck, the man had a natural Mediterranean tan that, along with his raven-dark hair, instantly told Lyn that he was not English. Just as the planes and features of his face told her that he was jaw-droppingly good-looking.
It was a face, though, that was staring at her with a mouth set in a tight line-as though he were seeing someone he had not expected. A frown creased his brow.
'Miss Brandon?' He said her name, his voice accented, as if he did not quite believe it.
Dark eyes flicked over her and Lyn felt two spots of colour mount in her cheeks. Immediately she became conscious of the way her hair was caught back in a stringy po-nytail. She had not a scrap of make-up on, and her clothes were serviceable rather than fashionable.
Then suddenly, overriding that painful consciousness, there came a jolt of realisation as to just who this clearly foreign man must be-could only be.
The Mediterranean looks, the expensive clothes, the sleekly groomed looks, the whole aura of wealth about him
She felt her stomach constrict, filling with instinctive fear.
Across the narrow room Anatole caught the flash of alarm and wondered at it, but not nearly as much as he was wondering whether he had, after all, really tracked down the woman he'd been so urgently seeking ever since reading that letter in Marcos's apartment-the woman who, so his investigators had discovered, had most definitely given birth to a baby boy.
Is he Marcos's son? The question was burning in hope. Because if Marcos had had a son then it changed everything. Everything!
If, by a miracle, Marcos had a son, then Anatole had to find him and bring him home to Greece, so that Timon, who was fading with every passing day, could find instead a last blessing from the cruel fate that had taken so much from him.
And it was not just for his grandfather that a son of Marcos's would be a blessing, either, Anatole knew. This would persuade Timon to change his will, to acknowledge that his beloved Marcos had had a son to whom he could now leave the Petranakos Corporation. Infant though he was, Anatole would guard the child's inheritance, keep it safe and prosperous for him-and save the livelihoods of all its employees.
Tracking down the author of the letters had led him first to a council house in the south of the country and then, through information given to his detectives by neighbours, to this northern college, where he'd been told the young woman he was so urgently seeking-Linda Brandon- had recently moved.
But as his eyes rested now on the woman he was addressing he felt doubt fill him. This was the woman he'd trekked to this grim, rainswept northern town to find in a race against time for his stricken grandfather? Marcos wouldn't even have looked twice at her-let alone taken her to his bed!
''Are you Miss Brandon?' he asked, his voice sharper now.
He saw her swallow and nod jerkily. Saw, too, that her entire body had tensed.
'I am Anatole Telonidis,' he announced. His voice sounded clipped, but his mission was a painful one-and an urgent one. 'I am here on behalf of my cousin, Marcos Petranakos, with whom I believe you are
' he sought the right phrase '.acquainted.'
Even as he said it his eyes flicked over her again doubtfully. Even putting aside her unprepossessing appearance, Marcos's taste had been for curvy blondes-not thin brunettes. But her reaction told him that she must indeed be the person he was looking for so urgently-she had instantly recognised Marcos's name.
And not favourably.
Her expression had changed. Hardened. 'So he couldn't even be bothered to come himself!' she retorted scornfully.
If she'd sought to hit home with her accusation she'd failed. The man who'd declared himself Marcos Petranakos's cousin stilled. In the dark eyes a flash of deep emotion showed and Lyn saw his face stiffen.
'The situation is not as you suppose,' he said.
It was as if, she realised, he was picking his words carefully.
He paused a moment, as if steeling himself to speak, then said, 'I must talk to you. But the matter is
Lyn shook her head violently. She could feel the adrenaline running through her body. 'No, it's not difficult at all!' she retorted. 'Whatever message you've been sent to deliver by your cousin, you needn't bother! Georgy-his son!-is fine without him. Absolutely fine!'
She saw emotion flash in his dark eyes again, saw the shadow behind it. Out of nowhere a chill went through her.
'There is something I must tell you,' Anatole Telonidis was saying. His voice was grim, and bleak, as if he were forcing the words out.
Lyn's hands clenched. 'There is nothing you can say that I care about-!' she began.
But his deep, sombre voice cut right through hers. 'My cousin is dead.'
There was silence. Complete silence. Wordlessly, Anatole cursed himself for his blunt outburst. But it had been impossible to hear her hostility, her scorn, when Marcos lay dead in his grave.
'Dead?' Lyn's voice was hollow with shock.
'I'm sorry. I should not have told you so brutally,' Anatole said stiffly.
She was still staring at him. 'Marcos Petranakos is dead?' Her voice was thin-disbelieving.
'It was a car crash. Two months ago. It has taken time to track you down.' His words were staccato, sombre.
Lyn swayed as if she might pass out. Instantly Anatole was there, catching her arm, staying her. She stepped back, steadying herself, and he released her. Absently she noticed with complete irrelevance how strong his grasp had been. How overpowering his momentary closeness.
'He's dead?' she said again, her voice hollow. Emotion twisted in her throat. Georgy's father was dead.
'Please,' Anatole Telonidis was saying, 'you need to sit down. I am sorry this is such a shock to you. I know,' he went on, picking his words carefully again, she could tell, his expression guarded, 'just how
you felt the relationship was between yourself and him, but-'
A noise came from her. He stopped. She was staring at him, but the expression in her face was different now, Anatole registered. It wasn't shock at hearing about Marcos's tragic death. It wasn't even anger-the understandable anger, painful though it was for him to face it-that she'd expressed about the man who had got her pregnant and then totally ignored her ever since.
'Between him and me?' she echoed. She shook her head a moment, as if clearing it.
'Yes,' Anatole pursued. 'I know from your letters- which, forgive me, I have read-that you felt a strong
attachment to my cousin. That you were expressing your longing to
' He hesitated, recalling vividly the hopelessly optimistic expectations with which she had surrounded her announcement that she was carrying Marcos's baby. 'Your longing to make a family together, but-'
He got no further.
'I'm not Georgy's mother,' Lyn announced.
And in her bleak voice were a thousand unshed tears.
For a moment Anatole thought he had not heard correctly. Or had misunderstood what she had said in English. Then his eyes levelled on hers and he realised he had understood her exactly.
'What?' His exclamation was like a bullet. A blackening frown sliced down over his face. 'You said you were Linda Brandon!' he threw at her accusingly.
His thoughts were in turmoil. What the hell was going on? He could make no sense of it! He could see her shaking her head-a jerky gesture. Then she spoke, her voice strained.
'I'm.I'm Lynette Brandon,' Anatole heard her say.
He saw her take a rasping breath, making herself speak. Her face was still white with shock with what he'd told her about Marcos.
Linda-' she gave her sister's full name before stopping abruptly, her voice cutting off. Then she blinked.
Anatole could see the shimmer of tears clearly now.
'Linda was my sister,' she finished, her voice no more than a husk.
He heard the past tense-felt the slow, heavy pulse of dark realisation go through him. Heard her thin, shaky voice continuing, telling him what was so unbearably painful for her to say.
Her face was breaking up.
'She died,' she whispered. 'My sister Linda. Georgy's mother. She died giving birth. Eclampsia. It's not supposed to happen any more. But it did. it did.'
Her voice was broken.
She lifted her eyes to Anatole across a divide that was like a yawning chasm-a chasm that had claimed two young lives.
Her mind reeled as she took in the enormity of the truth they had both revealed to each other. The unbearable tragedy of it.
Both Georgy's parents were dead!
She had thrown at Anatole Telonidis the fact that his uncaring, irresponsible cousin wasn't wanted or needed by his son, but to hear that he had suffered the same dreadful fate as her sister was unbearable. As unbearable as losing her sister had been. Tears stung in her eyes and his voice came from very far away.
'You should sit down,' said Anatole Telonidis.
He guided her to a chair and she sat on it nervelessly. His own mind was still reeling, still trying to come to grips with what he had just learnt. The double tragedy surrounding Marcos's baby son.
Where was he? Where was Marcos's son?