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The Giannakis Bride

By:Catherine Spencer

The Giannakis Bride
Catherine Spencer

       Chapter 1





Only 6:46 on Tuesday, with a fine May sunrise tinting the sky over  Athens a pale, translucent peach. Yet for Dimitrios Giannakis, the day  was already old and too grimly familiar. He hadn't needed to hear the  medical team's latest bulletin when they met for their regular  early-morning consultation. One look at their faces had told him all he  needed to know.

Seated in his office now, Dimitrios regarded the telephone on his desk  with the kind of loathing a man might show if he thought a pit viper was  about to uncoil itself from the instrument and settle in his lap. This  was not a call he wanted to make. Would, in fact, have done almost  anything to avoid it if he'd had any choice in the matter. But the  tragic fact was, he'd run out of options. Brianna Connelly was his last  hope-or, more accurately, Poppy's last hope. And when it came to his  daughter, Dimitrios allowed nothing, especially not his injured male  pride, to come between her and what she so desperately needed.

Of course, the odds of Brianna agreeing to his request were slim to  none. She'd made it clear enough, more than four years ago, where her  priorities lay: in the glossy, artificial world of high fashion, which  paid homage only to youth and beauty. But he had to ask. Was willing to  beg, if necessary, to give his little girl a fighting chance.

The sweep second hand on his watch inched toward seven, making it almost  nine the previous evening on Canada's west coast. As good a time as any  to do what had to be done.

Jaw clenched, he lifted the handset from its cradle and punched in the  number for Brianna's penthouse apartment, which, fortunately, was where  his sources told him she was currently to be found. Time was of the  essence, and by tomorrow she could be on location in some inaccessible  corner of the Sahara, Iceland or the Australian Outback. Hers, after  all, was a face and a body greatly in demand worldwide, and she too  inexhaustibly ambitious to reject any assignment which might further her  career.

The phone rang three times before her answering service picked up and  asked him to leave a message. Glowering, he swiveled his chair to face  the window. "It's Dimitrios Giannakis, Brianna. It's urgent that I speak  to you as soon-"

"Dimitrios?" Her voice, slightly husky and disturbingly erotic, intercepted, caressing his ear like a kiss.

Steeling himself against the sensory impact, he said curtly, "Good. You are there."

If he hadn't known better, he might have thought her small intake of  breath signaled dismay or regret, but whatever the cause she recovered  quickly and replied with matching brevity, "Obviously. What can I do for  you?"

For years now he'd prided himself on being his own man, able to conquer  the world and bring it to heel on his terms. The idea of groveling to  anyone, least of all a woman he despised, almost made him retch. But  fate had zeroed in on his one weak spot, his daughter, and although he'd  have gone to his grave before he asked anything for himself, as his  child's advocate, he had no choice but to swallow the bitter taste in  his mouth and turn to the one person in the world who might possibly be  able to help her. Alienating Brianna Connelly within seconds of  contacting her was hardly the route to take.

Bearing this in mind, he attempted to soften his approach. "How are you, Brianna?"

How are you, my lovely? Happier than I ever thought it possible to be … .  Slamming shut the door on memories that were particularly inappropriate  at this moment and pointless at any time, he waited for her reply.

She laughed, a brittle, uncertain sound. "Considering we haven't  exchanged more than ten words in years, Dimitrios, I hardly think you  care one way or the other about my state of health. Nor would I have  thought we shared anything in common since my sister's death. So why  don't you cut to the chase and tell me what you're really after? I have  an early flight tomorrow and need to get a good night's sleep."

He should have known it was still all about her. Some things never changed.

But some things did, and swinging back to his desk again, he picked up  Poppy's framed photograph, taken just six months earlier, before illness  had left her little face looking so pinched and wan. Grimacing with  distaste, he did what he had to do. "Very well. I have a favor to ask of  you, and I warn you now, it's huge."                       
       
           



       

Four years ago, Brianna had vowed never again to set foot in Greece, and  except for the time she'd attended Cecily's memorial service when she'd  quite literally flown in and out of Athens on the same day, she'd stood  by that promise. Yet within forty-eight hours of his latest call, not  only was she in the country, she was on Dimitrios Giannakis's doorstep,  deposited there by his uniformed chauffeur who'd been waiting to meet  her when she landed at Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport in  Spata. Changing her original travel plans had been easy enough. Her  suitcases had stood already packed for her much-anticipated, month-long  hiatus in Bermuda, and the clothes she'd packed-casual summertime  outfits for the most part-would serve her equally well in Athens.

"I'm perfectly capable of getting myself from the airport to a hotel,"  she'd said, when she'd relayed her arrival date and time to Dimitrios.

He, however, had vetoed any such idea. "You will be met," he informed  her flatly, "and you will be accommodated in my house where you will be  pampered and cared for throughout your stay. It's the very least I can  do. I am, after all, deeply in your debt."

His house? The word didn't come close to describing the residence  confronting her now, and she hadn't even seen the inside yet. Perched on  a low rise of cliff above the Aegean, and surrounded by lush gardens,  its soaring white stucco exterior blushing in the sunset, the place was  intimidatingly grand. Palatial, even-and Brianna wasn't exactly unused  to luxury. But then, what else had she expected? She knew from  experience that Dimitrios wasn't a man to do things by half.

She'd have laughed at the irony of the thought if she hadn't been so  tense she could hardly breathe. Although she would never admit it, the  prospect of seeing him again, let alone living under his roof, terrified  her. He'd shredded her heart once and it had taken the better part of  four years for it to heal. She wasn't keen on having him trample all  over it a second time. Yet proximity gave opportunity for just such an  outcome, especially under the present emotional circumstances.

"Well, you could have said no," her longtime agent and friend, Carter  Maguire, had pointed out, when Brianna explained the reason she had to  cancel all assignments in the immediate future.

To Dimitrios, yes. But how did any woman turn her back on a critically ill three-year-old?

His estate lay a few miles south of Rafina. The chauffeur, a taciturn  man who'd uttered not one word during the thirty-minute drive from the  airport, dumped her luggage beside her, reached forward to yank on the  bell pull hanging by a chain beside the front door, then without waiting  to see if anyone answered, climbed back behind the wheel of the  Mercedes-Benz and drove away.

Over the fading sound of the departing car, she heard footsteps approach  from inside the house and braced herself. The moment of truth had  arrived. If she could weather this first meeting with Dimitrios, the  worst would be over.

But the man who opened the door was too short, too genial, too bald and  about twenty years too old to pass for her brother-in-law. With a  mile-wide smile, he ushered her across the threshold. "Kalispera,  Despinis Connelly, kai kherete! Good evening and welcome! We have been  expecting you and are all so happy you have arrived."

We? She cast a nervous glance around the vast, marble-floored entrance  hall, expecting Dimitrios to appear momentarily, but found nothing  beyond a profusion of flowering shrubs in jardinieres, and a floating  staircase leading to the upper floors.

The man hauled her suitcases inside. "I am Alexio," he informed her  cheerfully. "I and my wife, Erika, we run the household staff. She is  waiting to meet you in the courtyard with a light refreshment, and later  will show you to your room. Meanwhile, I will have your luggage taken  care of."

"Thank you," Brianna said. "You're very kind."

"Parakalo." He inclined his head. "You're welcome. Dinner will be served at nine o'clock, after Dimitrios returns."

"He's not here?"

Alexio's smile dimmed. "He's at the clinic with the little one," he  explained, escorting her to the far end of the hall and through open  glass doors to an inner courtyard.                       
       

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