Greek tycoon Nikolaos Costas has a debt to collect from the Stefanopoulos family and he won't leave until he gets his money. Stefanie Stefanopoulos has been tasked with entertaining-i.e. distracting-him while he's in town, all in hopes of getting him to forgive the debt. She may not be an ugly duckling, but she's a far cry from her petite stepsisters and she knows that the gorgeous playboy won't even notice her. It doesn't stop her from wanting him to, though.
Four months ago, Nick's bachelor-style life was turned upside down. Now the sole parent to a seven-year-old daughter he never knew existed, Nick doesn't have time for pleasure. But he hadn't factored in Stefanie or the intense attraction he'd feel for her. As her seduction heats up, so do the stakes, both professionally and romantically. Can he let business go long enough to allow Stefanie into his heart?
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The Cinderella Seduction
By Hope Tarr, Stacy Abrams, Alycia Tornetta
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Hope Tarr
All rights reserved.
Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Old Town Alexandria, Virginia
"Happy Fourth, Stefanie!"
Personal chef Stephanie Stefanopoulos looked up from the tray of baklava she'd readied for baking to see her father standing on her kitchen threshold. "Hey, Pop, what's up? You're way early. The Fourth isn't until next week," she added with a smile.
Taking in his gaunt face and hollow eyes, she felt a queasy sense of unease plant itself in the pit of her stomach. Since falling prey to her former fiancé's Ponzi scheme three months earlier, her father hadn't been sleeping or eating much. And close though they were, it wasn't like him to just show up, not without at least calling en route. Even with the traffic gods in your corner, his Northwest DC home was easily a half hour's drive from Stefanie's townhouse in Alexandria Virginia's Old Town. Clearly this wasn't a casual call. Something was wrong — very wrong.
Coming toward her, he circuited his gaze around her state-of-the-art chef's kitchen, the granite-topped counter and modularized cooking stations buried beneath trays of pigs in a blanket, gourmet mini burgers, and bowls brimming with potato and macaroni salads. "You wouldn't know it from in here."
Several of her in-home catering clients were getting into the Independence Day spirit early, requesting picnic fare for their personalized menus. Stefanie didn't mind. It was good practice for the two parties she'd signed on to cater for the Fourth, one a backyard barbecue at a congressman's MacLean McMansion, the other a rooftop gathering at her best friend, Macie's.
She swiped sticky hands on her once-white apron. "Usually business slows down after Memorial Day, but we've just added two new full-time clients."
Despite the financial disaster that had exploded in their faces three months ago, she had a lot to be grateful for. Her personal chef business, Good Enuf to Eat, was thriving. Delivering readymade, healthful home-style meals to dual-career couples was proving to be surprisingly recession-proof. While on the surface her service looked like a luxury, the data she'd compiled for her website and brochures showed that signing up actually saved people money previously spent on carryout, prepackaged foods, and pricey dinners out. And all her ingredients, including the meats, were 100 percent organic, sourced from family farmers in Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
"You mean you added them," he corrected, pulling out one of the high-backed stools to sit. "You've worked hard these past eight years." The paternal pride in his voice didn't quite cover the quaver.
Compliments had always left Stefanie feeling awkward, vaguely embarrassed, and now was no exception. "Thanks, but I had a lot of help, especially from you." Despite being deeply disappointed that she wouldn't be following him into the family real-estate business, he'd given her the seed money for Good Enuf to Eat.
He answered with a shrug, picking up a serving spoon she'd washed but forgotten to put away. Watching him turn it over again and again, she stepped out from behind the counter and slid onto the seat beside him. "Is ... everything okay?" she asked, knowing it wasn't.
A first generation Greek American, her father subscribed to the stiff upper lip school of manhood. If there was a problem or obstacle, the solution was to bulldoze through it. Complaining was a waste of time and in real-estate development, time meant money.
He let out a huge sigh and admitted, "I wanted to talk to you, father to daughter ... without an audience." By "audience," he meant her stepmother and twin stepsisters; the latter had graduated from NYU in June and moved home for the summer.
Stefanie's mother's death had been hard on everyone, but her father's remarriage a few years later to Jacquie, a divorced real-estate agent with twins, hadn't done much to restore her faith in Happily Ever After. At first she'd tried welcoming her new family with food made from the Old World recipes her mother had passed down. But no matter how sizzling her souvlaki or how moist her baklava, her stick-thin stepfamily picked at their plates.
Fresh fear seized her. "Are you feeling all right? You don't look so good."
Still twirling the spoon, he shrugged. "I feel fine. It's what's happening with Olympia that's sickening. I fear we may lose her. I may lose her."
Olympia Development, the real-estate development firm founded by her immigrant grandfather to seize the opportunity afforded by the post — World War II building boom, wasn't only a business to them. The company felt almost like another family member.
Stefanie dragged a hand through her hair, belatedly remembering the braid.
"You never have told me. Just how much did you invest with Pete?"
Even having had three months to digest the fact that she'd been engaged to a white-collar criminal, saying her ex's name still made her voice hitch. The Ponzi scheme he'd perpetrated on her pop, among others, was under investigation by the feds. In the meantime, fantasies of grinding him into meat pies a la Sweeney Todd came up with frightening frequency. Safely beyond the reach of her serrated forks, poultry shears, and cast-iron bacon press as well as US law, he was likely roasting his larcenous lily-white hide on a beach in the Caymans.
The spoon stilled. Still staring down at it, her father let out a poof of breath. "Enough ... too much. Three million."
"Three million dollars?"
He nodded without looking up. "I'm going to have to start selling off our assets, starting with Acropolis."
At the mention of Acropolis Village, a lump lodged in her throat. "Not Acropolis! But it's your dream."
Nestled on the Chesapeake Bay's western shore in Southern Maryland, the mixed-use waterfront retirement village was to have been an oasis for Greek and Greek American seniors wishing to continue their cherished traditions into their golden years. Residents could transition from independent living in snug terracotta bungalows to sunny assisted-living condo-style apartments as needed. Once the final phase of construction was completed, amenities would include a private beach, coffeehouse, bakery, festival ground, and a clubhouse modeled on a traditional taverna. Stefanie had even planned to put a Good Enuf to Eat food truck onsite for the weekends.
Unfortunately, the project had proven to be a monumental money pit. In the aftermath of the 2008 global recession, construction had stalled. Currently more than 70 percent of the units remained empty. Despite the affordable pricing, it was hard to sell seniors on the promise of "someday." All the construction scale models and architectural plans in the world couldn't disguise that much of the property was still an open construction site. When Pete had assured them he could quadruple Olympia's cash reserves in nearly no time, the "opportunity" had been too tempting to refuse. Like a hungry fish offered a juicy worm, the board, on which Stefanie sat along with her stepmother and their corporate attorney, had unanimously approved the deal.
"Dreams change," he said sadly, broad shoulders slumping. "These days my 'dream' is to figure out a way to stay solvent and have some legacy to pass onto my grandchildren — your children."
Stefanie swallowed against the emotion thickening her throat. It was bad enough that she'd been the one to introduce Pete to her father. That she hadn't exactly been madly in love with him made her unwitting collusion seem even worse. Looking back, she saw that what she'd loved most was the notion of taking herself off the dating track.
DC wasn't exactly fertile fields for a Junoesque personal chef whose clients were mostly couples. At twenty-nine, she'd started to wonder if putting all her eggs in one basket — work — had really been so smart. By the time Pete had pushed his way into her life, she'd jumped at the chance to be in a committed relationship. She should have known that a single, attractive man strolling into her shop and signing up on the spot for six months of weekly personal catering was too good to be true. Thinking of the oily way he'd ingratiated himself first with her and then with her father set off a salvo of guilt and fury.
Fitting his hand over his brow, he admitted, "It gets worse."
She shifted to face him. "You'd better tell me everything."
"You remember Costas International?"
She thought back to several board meetings ago. "Yeah, sure, it's the Greek resort development company based out of Athens, right?"
"They loaned us the capital for phase two of Acropolis," she added, casting her thoughts back to about two years ago. Other than sitting in on the quarterly sessions, she wasn't actively involved in the company's operations.
"They did. And now the new CEO has called in the loan. In full," he added ominously.
Stefanie groaned. "Let me guess — thanks to Pete, we don't have the money to repay it."
He nodded again, this time darting a sideways look at her. "I'd hoped to recoup the losses through rentals and pre-purchases, but with two-thirds of the site still a mud pit, it's hard to attract home buyers."
According to the contract, if he defaulted, Costas could acquire Olympia and sell off the assets piecemeal. The prospect of her grandfather's company being raided for parts like a junked car tore at her heart — and her family pride.
"There's got to be something we can do."
Eyes bleak, he shook his head. "Unless the CEO of Costas can be persuaded to grant me more time, losing the company is inevitable. Bankruptcy may not be far behind."
"How much are we talking about?"
"Two and a half million."
Stefanie felt her mouth fall open. It was close to the amount Pete had swindled, damn him. "Can't you appeal to Mr. Costas, explain your circumstances, and ask for a modification of the contract?"
He eyed her. "What would you have me say? That I let a slick college boy make a fool of me?"
Ouch. Grasping for straws, she said, "But I thought you and Mr. Costas were old friends."
"My relationship was with Maximos, the founder. Max retired last year and turned the company over to his son, Nikolaos."
She sucked on her bottom lip, thinking. "Can't you blame it on the economy? It's not like you're the only developer who's been hit hard by the recession."
He shook his silvered head. "Considering the Greek economy has been in the toilet for years, I doubt that would win any sympathy. And Max's heir conducts business ... very differently. He's a lawyer," he added, making a face, "with fancy degrees from Cambridge and Yale and a reputation as hard-nosed despite being a playboy."
"A playboy?" Stefanie couldn't help but smile at the old- fashioned word.
He nodded. "According to Max, Niko has a different girl for every night of the week — skinny girls, curvy girls, tall girls, short girls. Movie stars, models, cocktail waitresses, a coach from Dancing with the Stars — it's like he can't make up his mind."
Stefanie hated to admit it, but Costas's inclusive appreciation of female beauty was kind of refreshing, especially for someone in his privileged position.
"Don't get me wrong, he's not a bad kid — no drinking or drugging — but he definitely has a weakness when it comes to women. Max used to worry he'd never settle down. He hoped turning over the business to him would ground him. Little did I know I'd end up in being the one grounded — buried alive."
Stefanie settled a hand atop his arm. "Don't talk like that, Pop. There must be a way out, something we can do."
"That's what I told myself, too, until I got ... this." He stuffed a hand into his pocket, pulled out a folded paper, and passed it to her.
Feeling queasy, Stefanie unfolded the e-mail and scanned the few curt lines. Nikolaos Costas was coming to the US to meet with his American business partner — Olympia. He expected a face-to-face meeting with its CEO — her pop — and his money repaid in full before he left for home. But it was the final line that sent a shaft of shock straight through her.
"He's due into DC on July second? The Independence Day holiday week, seriously?" The ballsy timing solidified her emerging picture of Nikolaos Costas as a spoiled trust-fund brat, a selfish asshole who expected everyone else to clear their calendars at his command.
Gaze bleak, her father nodded. "I know it's a busy time for you, but I need your help."
The buck, or in this case all 2.5 million of them, stopped with her. "Anything — you know that."
"I need you to act as my hostess, show Max's son around town, stall while I work on raising the repayment. I've already gotten in touch with my banker about extending my line of credit and I may be able to bring on additional investors by selling shares in the project. I just need time."
"Playboy" cycled back into Stefanie's consciousness, and a kernel of an idea, totally crazy, of course, began taking shape in her mind. If Nikolaos Costas had a "weakness" for women, might that weakness be used against him? If he only went for stick-thin models, she'd be shit outta luck, but from what her pop had said, he didn't have a type. She bit her lip and glanced down at herself. Her jeans were dusted with flour and the unpainted toes peeking out from her sandal-style Crocs were in dire need of a pedicure.
Confidence flagging, she looked up. "Maybe we'd be better off getting Lena or Leslie to take him around. They have the summer off and they love going out."
Dazzling men with their model looks and killer wardrobes was what her stepsisters lived for. Coming of age in a pond of Paris Hilton-styled swans, Stefanie had always felt like an ugly duckling.
His fist came down on her granite countertop, sending party platters jumping. "You are my blood. You are my heir just as Niko is his father's."
Alarmed by his reddening face, Stefanie reached for his hand. Unfurling the taut fingers, she said, "Pop, please, remember your blood pressure."
He nodded, blowing out a breath. "Forgive me, I didn't mean to lose my temper. It's just that I'm sick and tired of watching you take a backseat to Jacquie's girls. You have a good brain, a big heart, and your own beauty, the best kind of beauty, the kind that starts on the inside. Just like ... your mother," he added, laying a palm to his heart.
Chastened, Stefanie gave his hand a squeeze before letting it go. "You're right. I'm sorry."
Dropping his hand, he sighed. "All I'm asking is that you keep Nikolaos Costas fed and entertained while I work this out. He won't have had a home-cooked meal since he left Greece. C'mon, little one, it's only for a few days."
Little one — talk about pulling out all the stops.
Still, he was right. She was the one who'd brought the wolf, Pete, into their family fold. It wasn't her stepsisters' responsibility to clean up the mess she'd made. It was hers.
Her thoughts boomeranged from the congressman's high-profile party to Macie's rooftop picnic. Being in two places at once had seemed a tough enough trick to pull off, but now it seemed she'd need to find a way to be in three. She chewed on her lower lip, mentally maneuvering food preparation, deliveries, and employee schedules.
"I suppose I can get Karen to cover the MacLean barbecue and Eli can do the drop-offs for the weekly regulars, but there's also Macie's party. She'll kill me if I don't show."
She stopped, anticipating his objection. Surely for the Fourth he would want to host his VIP visitor at his home, the gracious Cleveland Park Tudor Revival where she'd grown up.
Instead, his grin reached from ear to ear. "Perfect, you'll take him with you. A traditional American Fourth of July with your friends could be just the thing to soften him up. Besides, you haven't taken off a holiday since you started eight years ago. As they say, all work and no play — "
"Makes Stefanie a dull spinster girl, yeah, I get it." Dull and desperate, or so she'd been until three months ago.
He shrugged. "I'd like grandchildren someday. So sue me."
Stefanie groaned. "Yeah, well, here's hoping Nikolaos Costas doesn't do it first."
The earlier crazy kernel of an idea sprouted to a full-blown stalk. Her father needed Nikolaos Costas "softened up." Plying him with her authentic Greek cooking could be a strong first step toward winning him over, but would it be sufficient? His weakness wasn't for food but women, and Stefanie was certainly that as well as 100 percent Greek and a good — okay, awesome — chef. She knew how to dress a lamb and set a table to perfection.
But up until now, she'd been too busy to bother applying that aesthetic to herself. It had been easier — and safer — to take the backseat, as her father had pointed out. Could she maybe channel some of her culinary self-confidence to her life once she took off the chef's jacket?
Thanks to Pete's Ponzi scheme, she didn't really have a choice. Beyond righting wrongs and familial duty, she had something to prove — to herself. With Pete she'd been easy prey, gulled by his glib tongue and smooth moves and her own sadly sagging self-esteem. But when it came to Costas, she knew in advance who and what she was dealing with — a player. A player for whom variety was the spice of life — and Stefanie's life could definitely do with some spicing up. Only this time she would be prepared. She would be in control. She would be the wolf, not the sheep, the seducer, not the seducee.
Excerpted from The Cinderella Seduction by Hope Tarr, Stacy Abrams, Alycia Tornetta. Copyright © 2013 Hope Tarr. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Loved this sweet, modern take on Cinderella. It was quite an enjoyable story with a lovely ending.
Personal chef, Stephanie Stefanopoulos, was engaged to a man that was running a Ponzi scheme and her father lost three million dollars and now his business is in trouble. The company that loaned him the capital for an investment is calling in the loan. The CEO, Nikolaos Costas, will be visiting the U.S. from Greece and wants a meeting to collect his money. Stephanie's father wants her to keep Nikolaos busy until he can find a way to come up with some of the money to pay back the loan. Stephanie does what her father asks and keeps Nick busy but at the cost of her heart. She not only falls in love with Nick but his 7 year old daughter too. Does Nick feel the same? Will Stephanie's evil Step Mother convince Nick that Stephanie is trying to get him to fall for her so he will forgive the loan? This story really has it all, devoted fathers, loyal friends, family traditions, love, very HOT seduction, and betrayal. It's truly a modern day fairy tale. Once I started reading, I couldn't put it down. This is book 3 in the Suddenly Cinderella series and I can't wait to read the first 2.5 books. Thank you Hope Tarr for writing this fantastic modern day fairy tale. I received a copy for an honest review.
Absolutely lovely modern fairy tale! I could not put this book down. I started reading it yesterday and by the time I went to bed... I was tired but my brain wanted more reading. I finally gave up and pulled an all-nighter. I had to know how the story was going to resolve the issues surrounding the main characters. So, if you feel like a wonderful time, pick-up this book and read it. By the way, the one seduction scene is so HOT and erotic I had to turn the ceiling fan on to cool down. Believe me, it was not a hot flash! The publisher provided me a copy in exchange for my honest review. I say, if they have more stories like this one, bring them on!
Rating 4 1/2 So this is the third book in Hope Tarr's Suddenly Cinderella series. I have been impress with each of the story, because each of the heroines has been a Cinderella. However, I think Stefanie Stefanopoulos is probably the closest to Cinderella in The Cinderella Seduction. I love Stefanie, because she's like the epitome of all women. I mean she feels inferior compared to her stepmother and stepsisters who happen to be petite. Yet, her father tasks her with the responsibility of distracting Nikolas Costas while in the area. Of course, she wonders why her father would choose her while there are other choices. As she gets to know Nick, she doesn't understand what he sees in her. I mean he's been known to be many beautiful woman in the past. Stefanie has big heart and is loyal to her friends and family. She wants everything to workout in the end. Of course our Cinderella has a couple of roadblocks that would like her to stay in the shadows of her stepsisters. Like most Cinderella stories, I found myself crying. Yes, it has a happy ending, but getting there is always so rough. Nick and Stefanie were almost sabotage by her stepmother who was selfish and self-serving. However, the luck of some magic shows it was able to work itself out. I hope there is more to come, because I really have enjoyed the Suddenly Cinderella stories. I have been impress on how Hope Tarr has puts a modern twist on an old fairytale. So, if you like Cinderella stories, I would suggest checking out The Cinderella Seduction or the other books in the series. Copy provided by the publisher
Stefanie Stefanopoulos wants to help her father with his financial problems. She feels guilty. Her former fiancée swindled him out of $3 million dollars. Now how will he repay the money loaned to his company by Costas International. Nikolaos Costas has come to town to collect this debt. Stefanie's stepsisters are always in the spotlight, but her father wants her to distract the CEO until he gets his fiancés in order. Now it is her turn to be Cinderella and enjoy this handsome man's attention. After all she has magic shoes to help her capture the heart of this notorious playboy. Will she get the man of her dreams? Hope Tarr has written a very romantic love story filled with humor and happiness. Stefanie is a beautiful and honorable woman who just now realizes the power of love. Nikolaos is an Alpha male who just found his love child and has learned to love someone more than himself. This book makes me smile. It's fast paced, funny and has a touch of magic. A perfect afternoon escape.
I really want to kick myself sometimes. I keep on reading the last book in a series as a standalone and when I’m at the end of the book, I just want to bash my head against the wall. Why? Because, when then I don’t have the anticipation of waiting to know what happens next. All in all, this book was fantastic. I’m partial to fairy tales and just the name won me over. In The Cinderella Seduction we meet the sexy Greek hunk Nikolaos Costas. And when I say sexy, I mean incredibly hot, makes-my-knees-weak-and-my-heart-flutter sexy. He travels to America to collect a debt from the Stefanopoulos family. And boy does he manage to collect. Gosh, this book just gave me so many happy feelings. It gave me tears too, but only for a little while (we all know the men in romance novels are only stupid for a while before they come to their senses.) but mostly it gave me those lovely tears that just fill your eyes and then disappear again. Love tears are what I call them. I had some laughs in this book, especially since I was expecting a Greek tycoon with a penchant for playing with a woman’s feelings, instead I got a Greek tycoon that turns out to be a loving father and a magnificent specimen of a male. Stefanie really gripped me with her loyalty to her friends, her family and her business. The way she falls in love with Nick is perfection. I’d have liked it if she was a bit sassier, but taking into account what she’d been through, I understand the character completely. Then there’s the element that I loved from the first mention of it. The shoes! Those gorgeous red magical shoes, that seems to fit everyone who puts them on. It reminded me a bit of The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants. The shoes that can bring you love and help you fall in love. The Cinderella Shoes. I haven’t read the previous book, so I didn’t know about them, but they made the story! With the magic of the shoes and the chemistry from the first meeting between Nick and Stefanie, I fell in love with the story and the characters. The sexy scenes were steamy and hot and had me fanning myself so I could cool down. In fact, this book had me at hello. I just loved it so much.