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Christmas Dream

by

Kate Hofman



©Copyright 2009 by

Romance at Heart Publications E-Novels

ISBN 10: N/A

ISBN 13: N/A

Edited by Rose Brungard

Cover Art by Rae Lori


Publication by Romance At Heart Publications  ©2009
http://www.rahpubs.com/


All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information and storage retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author's imagination, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.



PUBLISHED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA


eBooks are not transferable.

They cannot be sold, shared or given away.

It is an infringement on the copyright of this work and prosecutable under the laws of copyright.

Novel Copyright © 2009 by Kate Hofman

Cover art by Rae Lori

Edited by Rose Brungard

First published by:

Romance At Heart Publications

http://rahpubs.com/

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner including but not limited to printing, file sharing, and email, without prior written permission from Romance At Heart Publications, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

Romance At Heart Publications

First Electronic Edition By Romance At Heart Publications: December 2009


Other Books by Kate Hofman:

Navajo Dreams

A Greek Love Story

A Greater Love

A Sensual Seduction

Greek Fire


Dedication:

'Christmas Dream' is dedicated to my dear friends, Rose and Steve Brungard.

I wish them good health, lots of happiness and every success financially.

Love, KATE


Thanks To:

My gratitude to Bill Freda, who depicted Damian Chiotis with his usual charm and elegance--exactly as I imagined him.

Thanks, Billy.

 

Many thanks to Rose Brungard, my publisher, who edited 'Christmas Dream'.  Her light hand, as always, made it a pleasure to work with her.

You know how grateful I am, Rose honey.


Christmas Dream

by

Kate Hofman


I

Christmas Eve

          As the sleek, black limousine purred along through the falling snow, on its way from Newark to East Hampton, Damian Chiotis frowned.  A wasted trip, and in this weather, he thought irritably.  Why couldn’t his mother have left two days ago, when he sent his plane for her, with a spare crew for the flight back?  No, she had to attend this, still take care of that, with the result that his plane left Athens too late to duck beneath the snow.  Newark was thoroughly snowed in—all outgoing flights were cancelled, and incoming fights were diverted to Baltimore, the nearest snow-free airport.  Damian’s dark eyes flickered, his mouth twisting in grim amusement.  His mother would be fuming, having to spend Christmas in whatever hotel his flight crew would have been able to find.

          Dammit, the snow was falling harder.  But what was that?  Damian lifted his hand, and Ian Evans, his bodyguard, seated beside the chauffeur, caught the gesture.  “Slow down, Sir?  Check what that is?”  Damian nodded.

          “Right,” said the bodyguard.  Damian watched him leave the limousine, going over to a snowbound hunched figure, gesturing to the open hatchback of the car.  Ian nodded to the figure, sprinting back to the limo.  “It’s a young lady, Sir, stranded with a rental that has no spare in the back, and she has a flat.  I offered to stop at the nearest garage, send some help to her…”  He halted when Damian shook his head.

          “Make sure the car is locked securely and well off the road.  Invite the young woman to come with us.  We’ll find out her destination and drive her to it, or as close as we can get.  You get the rental contract out of the glove compartment, so you can phone the rental people and get them to rescind the contract and pick up their car.”  Ian nodded and went back to the figure, which Damian now realized wasn’t hunched, but a petite woman, in a hooded suede coat that seemed to be lined with some kind of fur.  He saw her nod, and Ian went about the business of dealing with the rental.  He guided the young woman to the back of the limousine, about to open the door for her.  Damian was amused to see her open her coat, shaking it vigorously to rid it of the amount of snow that had collected on it.  Considerate, well mannered.  She even knocked her boots against the bottom of the limousine.  At least the trip to wherever she was going promised to be reasonably pleasant, if he should feel like conversation.  For safety’s sake, he took a file out of his briefcase.  If the woman should turn out to be a ninny, he’d excuse himself, and read the file instead.       

          A blast of cold, snowy air brought Damian quickly out of his reverie.  He glanced over to the young woman who did her best to enter quickly.  She slid smoothly into the seat next to him, glancing at him rather shyly, it seemed to him.

          Removing her snowy gloves, she said softly, “It’s very good of you to take pity on me this way.  My name is Cynthis Leigh.”

          “Damian Chiotis.”  He held out a well-shaped hand, and was interested to see her small, cold hand disappear entirely into his.  “You’re ice cold,” he remarked, frowning.  “I’ll up the thermostat a little, so you can warm up quickly.”

          She hastily shook her head, and he was amused to see coppery curls dance.  “Please don’t bother on my account.  It’s wonderfully warm in here, I’ll soon warm up.”

          “How long had you been out there, staring at the empty space where the spare should’ve been?”

          She frowned.  “Uh—maybe a quarter of an hour.  Trouble is, I hadn’t intended driving on this quiet back road, where there’s hardly any traffic, but I missed the turnoff for 485…”

          “That’s the Interstate to Long Island,” he exclaimed.  “But actually you haven’t yet missed the turnoff.  It’ll be coming up in a few more minutes.”

          Cynthis nodded.  “Oh, I see.  I was on my way to Sag Harbor, where I’ve friends who invited me for Christmas.”

          He smiled briefly.  “Then you are in luck.  I am on my way to East Hampton.  I’ll have my chauffeur drop me off at my house, and continue to Sag Harbor to deliver you safely to your friends’.” 

          “Thank you very much—that’s so kind of you.”  Her sigh was barely audible, but he heard.  Without appearing to, he slanted a glance at her.  He had already noticed her coppery curls, which had remained mostly dry under the hood of her coat.

Long lashed, deep blue eyes under finely drawn dark brows.  Elegant cheekbones, a straight little nose, and a luscious, pink mouth that invited kisses…  He frowned at himself.  What a flight of fancy…  Well, he had been alone for a while.  The repulsive tricks of his discarded mistress—who had been trying to force him into marriage—had turned him off totally.  Now, for the first time in months, his libido kicked in.  Maybe it was time to have a brief fling with one of the women vying for his attentions— He sighed.  After Christmas.       

          He nodded in her direction.  “You will excuse me, I’ve some papers to go through.”  He was pleased to note she merely nodded quietly, didn’t use the opening to bury him under a flood of words.  She seemed to be comfortable with silences, sitting there so calm, her hands clasped lightly in her lap, not fidgeting, crossing and re-crossing her legs, giving him a flash of thigh.  None of that.  Hmmm.

          He put his papers away with a sigh.  Turning to her, he said, “I’m glad that’s done.  Tell me, did your misadventure come at the end of a long flight?”

          She shook her head.  “I live in Ocean Breeze, Florida.  It’s between Daytona Beach and Jacksonville, so I can fly from either location.  This time, I decided to fly to Newark, avoid the zoo that will be JFK today.”

          He nodded.  “That’s why I thought Newark would be the best place for my plane to land—bringing my mother from Greece.  There’s a small airfield I normally use, close by where I live, but with this accumulation of snow, there wasn’t a hope of my plane being able to land there.” 

          “And you drove to Newark in vain because your plane was diverted?” 

          “Well, Bud Hillman drove, I just sat here.”  His mouth twitched slightly.

          She smiled back.  “Even so…”  Nodding, he made a throw-away gesture with his left hand.  She noticed again the strong, elegant shape of his hand, the fingers long and tapering, the trimmed nails beautifully formed, a heavy gold signet ring on his little finger.  A snowy cuff with a discreet gold cufflink showed beneath a dark charcoal sleeve.  A classy guy.  Damian Chiotis—obviously Greek.  Owns his own plane, is driven around in a limousine…  Evidently a Greek tycoon. 

          In spite of the snow that kept on falling, they were making good time.  They left the highway and went on to a much smaller road.  After a little while, she thought a snow-covered sign read, Southampton.  If that was true, they weren’t far from East Hampton and Sag Harbor.  A little smile curled around a corner of her mouth.  Damian evidently noticed it, for he said, “You’re right, we’re getting near my house, and from there it isn’t far to Sag Harbor.”  When he noticed her little sigh, he added, “You’re entitled to a sigh of relief.  In this weather one never knows whether one will reach one’s destination.”

Shortly afterwards, the limousine slowed, then drove through what was evidently a huge cast iron gate, which closed quickly behind them.  The limo drove up to a porte-cochère, on the side of what seemed to her a huge house—what she could see of it in the slowly fading light.  The bodyguard flew out of his seat, scanning quickly, while the chauffeur went to the trunk, getting the luggage, she thought.  

Damian decided to get out of his limo on her side, closer to the house.  She hastily tucked her feet close to the bottom of the seat, allowing him to pass.  As he did so, he smiled, and the serious tycoon became a stunning, to-die-for handsome man of great charm.

“Goodbye,” he said.  “I’ve enjoyed your company on this long, fruitless trip.”

          “Thank you for taking me in,” she whispered.

          “No Greek worthy of the name would leave a beautiful woman stranded in the snow.”

          “You are very kind.”  Her voice was no more than a sigh.  He nodded, and with a lithe movement left the car.  The chauffeur quickly closed the door again, and slid behind the wheel.  He drove through the porte-cochère, making a quick turn on an apron in front of what seemed to be a four-car garage, and sped out of the gate, which miraculously opened, closing behind them. 

          “Where in Sag Harbor, Miss?” Bud Hillman asked. 

          “If you’re taking the 114…” he nodded, “then it is the first white house on the right where the houses begin.”

          “In this weather, all houses are white, Miss.”  The chauffeur’s voice was edged with humour. 

          “Of course, you’re right.  Let me see…”  She counted on her fingers.  “Yes, it’s the fourth house on the right.”  Bud nodded, driving as fast as the snow allowed.  When they reached her friend’s house, Cynthis was disquieted to see it entirely in darkness.  Bud Hillman was puzzled, asking, “Are you sure this is the house, Miss?”

          Cynthis nodded.  “Oh yes, very sure.  Maybe the snow has caused the electricity to fail…”  Bud silently indicated the three houses they had just passed.  They were ablaze with Christmas lights, and there was light at the downstairs windows.  Cynthis nodded.  “You’re right.”  Peering through the increasing dusk to the dark front door with its huge Christmas wreath, she said, “Um-uh, if you’d let me walk to the front door?  I think there’s a white envelope stuck to the door, just underneath the wreath.  See it?”

          “I’ll go, Miss.  I doubt anyone’s been on this driveway today, it is thickly snowed in.”  Bud fought his way to the portico and found that Cynthis was right. An envelope was stuck to the door.  He hurried back, giving her the envelope.  “There you are, Miss.”  Cynthis nodded her thanks, and tore the envelope open.  Reading half-aloud, she could not prevent a little gasp escaping her.     

                   Cynthis— My mother was suddenly hospitalized in Montreal.  I’m driving                    

                    up there just ahead of the snow.  Sorry about your Christmas visit, but

I’m sure you understand.    Love, Germaine

          Cynthis gazed at the chauffeur, who had a cell phone to his ear.  She heard, “Yes, Sir.  There was a letter for the young lady on the door, she seems upset.”  There was a pause, then Bud said, “I’ll ask her, Sir.”  Turning to Cynthis, he said, “I’m on the phone with Mr. Chiotis.  He asks what your friend’s message was.”

          “She had to leave this morning for Montreal, her mother was hospitalized there, quite suddenly.”

          “Thank you, Miss.”  Bud relayed what Cynthis had just told him, listening respectfully to his employer’s voice, which Cynthis could just discern as a deep rumble.

          “Yes, Sir, I will, thank you.”  Bud put his cell phone away and said, “Mr. Chiotis told me to bring you back to the house.  This late on Christmas Eve, there is nothing you can do here.  Tomorrow is Christmas.  Mr. Chiotis would be pleased if you would spend Christmas with him.”

          “He would?  He…”  It took Cynthis mere seconds to realize that Bud’s message from Damian Chiotis was a godsend.  “Thank you.  I’m…”  Bud nodded, and carefully settled Cynthis back in her seat.  He slid behind the wheel and began to drive back to East Hampton.

                                                         ****

          When the limousine neared the Chiotis mansion, the gates opened, and a Mercedes convertible drove out, with a roar of its powerful engine, wrenching the car into the opposite direction—back to New York, Cynthis supposed.  Imperturbably, Hillman had braked smoothly, and now drove through the gates calmly, stopping at the porte-cochère Cynthis had noticed the first time she entered Damian’s grounds.  This time, Hillman opened the door for her to leave the limo, while he went to the trunk to get her luggage.  As Cynthis stepped out, a middle-aged woman, trim in a navy blue dress, came forward.  “I’m Dot Hillman, Mr. Chiotis’s housekeeper.  He has asked me to show you to one of our guest suites, as he felt you would want to freshen up after your long and hazardous journey.”

          “Thank you,” Cynthis managed.  The housekeeper seemed to realize that the unexpected guest was upset, distressed about her stay with friends being cancelled.  Keeping up a casual conversation, she said, “You’ve probably guessed that I’m Bud’s wife.”  For greater clarity, she added, “Bud’s the chauffeur, we look after the house for Mr. Chiotis.  Oh, there’s also a chef and his helper—and two gardeners—and some cleaning women to help me.  But we try to bother Mr. Chiotis as little as possible, managing the house and grounds for him.  Of course, the bodyguards do their own thing.  Nothing to do with the running of the house.”      

          Cynthis smiled.  “Quite a house, and from what little I could see in the dusk, huge gardens.”

          Mrs. Hillman nodded. “The gardens go all the way down to the beach.”

          Cynthis sighed.  “It must be divine in summer…”

          Mrs. Hillman smiled.  “It is pretty nice here in winter, except when a sudden snowstorm hits.”  She sighed.  “I was getting worried about Mr. Chiotis’s return from Newark.”  Glancing at Cynthis, she continued, “Little did I know he was bringing a guest for Christmas.”  She gave Cynthis a half-smile.  “Makes up for the uninvited guest who was sent on her way.”  Cynthis gazed for a moment at Mrs. Hillman, then she understood.  The convertible that had roared out of the gates…  Mrs. Hillman turned from the main hallway down a short corridor, opening a door.  “This is the guest suite Mr. Chiotis ordered for you.  If there’s anything you need, buzz me on the phone, there.  Press the green button, a direct connection with the kitchen.”  She smiled a thank-you at her husband, who was just bringing Cynthis’s luggage in. 

          He said, “Mr. Chiotis said he’d be happy to have you join him for a cup of tea, when you’re ready, Miss.”  

          Cynthis smiled.  “Thank you, Mr. Hillman.  My name is Cynthis Leigh.”

          “Call me Bud, Ms. Leigh.  Everyone does, except my wife sometimes has choicer names for me, right, Dot?”

          Cynthis laughed.  These were nice people, not the stiff, starchy, uppity  household servants she had half-expected in a house of this size and magnitude.  No, they were kind human beings who happened to work for a very rich man.  One casual glance at the house and its furnishings would make it clear that Damian Chiotis was a very rich man.

          The Hillmans left, and Cynthis decided to have a quick shower to warm up a little, and whisk away the travel-weariness.  When she returned to the bedroom, she realized that Mrs. Hillman had come back and unpacked for her.  How kind…  On reflection, she thought that was probably par for the course in a house like this.

          She quickly chose a blue cashmere sweater and a toning skirt of fine wool fabric.  Real stockings, and shoes with kitten heels.  She deliberately dressed down a bit, hoping to convey to Damian that she had changed to get out of her snowy clothes, not to impress the heck out of him.

When she descended the curving stairway, she found Mrs. Hillman waiting for her.  “I’ll just show you the small drawing room, where Mr. Chiotis is taking tea,” she said.  Cynthis laughed.  “I realize this is the residence of a very rich man, but does he really have drawing rooms in different sizes?”

          Mrs. Hillman joined in Cynthis’s laughter.  “Just the small drawing room, which he likes, and the huge formal drawing room, which he detests.”

          “I suppose that big drawing room is used only for entertainment?”

          Mrs. Hillman shook her head.  “He doesn’t entertain here.  This is his home, where he unwinds.”  She stopped at a door on the left.  “Here we are.”  She opened the door, and Damian got to his feet to greet his unexpected guest. 

          “I hope you’ve recovered to some degree from your long and snowy journey?”

Cynthis liked his voice—deep, with a slight, very attractive Greek accent. 

          “Oh yes, thank you.  It wasn’t the journey so much as the shock of finding my friend wasn’t there…  I felt close to panic when I read her note…”

          Damian smiled, and she saw again the phenomenon of the handsome man becoming devastatingly stunning.  “After I rescued you from standing in the snow by your rental car, you surely didn’t think I’d abandon you to an empty house in Sag Harbor?”

          Cynthis smiled back.  “I’m afraid at first I didn’t think at all.  It was when Bud indicated he was on the phone with you, and he gestured me back into the car, that I finally heaved a huge sigh of relief—and of apprehension.  How would you react to having a Christmas guest forced on you?”

          Damian’s mouth quirked.  “When you get to know me a little better, you’ll realize that no one could ever force himself or herself on me.”  He shook his dark head, and she noticed sapphire flecks where the light touched his hair.  Dear God, he’s so handsome…   “No.  I was very happy to have your company, because my own Christmas—planned to be spent with my mother—was going to be very quiet, as she is stranded in Baltimore.” His slim, black brows came together in a frown.  “Her own fault, for delaying the flight back from Athens for all kinds of things she felt she had to do—not the least of which is that she offered a friend of hers a ride in my plane.”  His frown deepened.  “I suggested she send the woman on her way to her destination from Baltimore, which is snow-free.”  He shook his head.  “Then she told me she had brought the woman for company.”  He grinned ruefully.  “And here I was, thinking that I, her son, would be all the company she could wish for at Christmas…”

          Cynthis was wryly amused by his conversation, but also surprised he would discuss his mother and her irritating plans that much.  In the limousine, he had been taciturn and remote.  His mother must have irritated him well beyond his level of tolerance.  Or—is he still annoyed at the unexpected appearance of his uninvited guest?  She vaguely recalled an article about Damian Chiotis’s latest mistress, Tawny Shiraz, or some such ridiculous name.  There had been photos of her, about six feet tall, a mane of too-blond hair, with silicone breasts spilling out of the top of whatever she was wearing.  Cynthis sniffed delicately.  Apparently she had, even then, been his discarded mistress.  Anyway, he certainly hadn’t hesitated to send her on her way.

“Perhaps your mother meant for the woman to keep her company on the long flight?” Cynthis suggested.  She was surprised and a little taken aback, when Damian said feelingly, “I sure hope so.” 

Mrs. Hillman entered with the tea tray.  A young woman in a black dress with a little café-au-lait lace apron, carried a stand with tiny sandwiches, bite-size goodies, and various delicate looking cookies and small cakes.  When Cynthis saw the antique Georgian silver teapot, she hoped Damian would pour.  She doubted she could lift the thing. 

When Mrs Hillman and her helper had finished setting the tea table, he said, “Thanks, Dot, we’ll help ourselves.”  Mrs. Hillman nodded, pushing the young woman out of the door ahead of herself.  Damian smiled at Cynthis.  “I’ve tried to get Mrs. Hillman to use an ordinary china teapot, but she persists in dragging out this huge silver monstrosity—which means I can’t very well ask you to pour, the damn thing is too heavy.”  He sighed,“Ah, well,” and began to pour the tea.  He gestured to the milk, sugar, thin lemon slices.

“Just a slice of lemon, if I may.  I love the taste of Earl Grey.  Milk and sugar would ruin it, but I think lemon goes well with it,” she said, helping herself.

“I agree with you, and I’m glad you knew Earl Grey by its scent of bergamot.”  For a while, they both sat, sipping with visible pleasure.  “Please help yourself to some of the sandwiches and so on,” Damian invited.  “I keep to the Mediterranean habit of dining late.  Nine o’clock, in fact.  So if you’re starving—and you’ve probably missed your lunch—please eat something now.”

“Thank you.”  Cynthis took two minuscule sandwiches and one of the unidentified goodies that looked delicious.  Although starving, she ate daintily, with small bites, and an occasional smiling glance at her host. 

When they had finished their tea, Damian pressed a small button on the telephone standing on a nearby table, and Mrs. Hillman appeared promptly, with a small cart, to take the tea things away.  

When she had left, Damian said, “I don’t know what you brought in the way of clothes…?”

“I brought a dress to have Christmas dinner in,” she said.  “ And one evening dress, just to the knee— I couldn’t put a load of chiffon skirt into my luggage.  And various tops to go with this skirt and the pant suit I travelled in.”  She hesitated, adding, “If you are planning to have a more formal dinner than I have clothing for, please say, and I’ll of course have a tray in my room.”

Damian shook his head decisively.  “No way,” he said.  “I detest giving dinner parties at any time, and particularly at Christmas.  I was going to have a quiet Christmas with my mother, as I told you.  I was only concerned that, once my mother arrives, she will expect a certain formality at dinner.  Your Christmas dinner dress and the evening dress will be fine.” 

As if on cue, the phone rang.  Damian picked up.  “Chiotis.”  After listening to a spate of what seemed garrulous babble to Cynthis, Damian switched to Greek.  Ah, his mother is calling to blame Damian for the snow…  After listening  and giving a brief answer, he said, in English, “The woman is not welcome in my house.  My bodyguard will put her in a hotel at the airport.  If she prefers, he will buy her a ticket back to Athens and put her on the next plane.  She will not enter my house.”  His mother was evidently suspicious of why her son would suddenly speak English, and a spate of furious Greek ensued.  Damian said only, “No, Mamá.”  He put the receiver back on its cradle, and turned to Cynthis.  With one of his devastating smiles, he said,

“I apologize for that.  I’m afraid it is worse than I thought.  My mother brought the woman to be company for me.  You heard what I said.  My mother may attempt to vent on you her disappointment over not being able to force this woman’s company on me.  If she should try, be very firm with her, and be sure to tell me if she should be rude to you.  That, I will not allow.”

          Cynthis gazed at him, her blue eyes huge.  “I’m willing to stay in my room, if that makes things easier for you, Mr. Chiotis.”

          Damian shook his head.  “Call me Damian.  Cynthis—pretty name—you are my invited guest.  My mother tried to force an uninvited guest on me, and she will pay for that by having the guest put up in a hotel or sent back to Athens.”  His smile was derisive.  “She will bluster to my bodyguards, but she will not budge them an inch from my instructions.”

          Damian seemed to realize that all this information must sound threatening to Cynthis, and attempted to cheer her up.  “Tell me, would you like to go to your room and have a nap?  Or, if you’re not tired—do you by any chance play chess?”

          Cynthis nodded, carefully hiding her surprise at this unexpected invitation.  “Yes, I do.  I used to play regularly with my father, when he was still alive…”

          “And would you rather rest or play chess?”

          Cynthis smiled.  “I’d rather play chess, but I’m probably not in your class.”

          “Now why would you assume that?  I’m an average player.  Tell you what, I’ll give you White.”

          “Thank you.”  Cynthis saw Damian get to his feet, stretching out a hand to her. 

          “The board with chessmen is permanently set up over there, by the window, on the table between the two armchairs.”  Cynthis was already out of her chair, accepting Damian’s hand, strong and warm.  Together, they strolled over to the chessmen.  Damian courteously held the chair on the side of White.  Giving him a smile, she sat down, hoping she would prove an adequate player for Damian.

          When she moved a pawn, Damian smiled.  “Ah, the famed opening of Dr. Max Euwe.  I may be sorry I gave you the advantage of White.”  Cynthis gave him a diffident glance.  She was glad Damian wasn’t one of those players who take an hour to decide on a move.  They both played in a brisk tempo, until Cynthis moved her remaining knight, and saw from the glitter in Damian’s dark eyes that she had played into his hands.  He moved his queen.  “Checkmate, I think,” he murmured.

          Cynthis nodded ruefully, turning down her King to indicate she accepted defeat.

          “I’ll give you revanche tomorrow,” he promised, adding, “If my mother has managed to arrive here by then, we may both be grateful for the respite of a game of chess.  I have another board set up in my library, which I hold inviolate from invasion by anyone, including my mother.”  He gestured to the fireplace.  “Will you sit down for a while and have a glass of wine with me?”

          “Thank you, I’d like that.”

          Damian went over to a drinks tray on a low credenza. “Red all right for you?”

          “Oh yes, thank you.”  Smiling, he poured two glasses of red wine, carrying them over to the fire.  Giving Cynthis her glass, he touched the rim of his to hers.  “To an unexpectedly pleasant Christmas.”

          “Yes,” she whispered.  They both sipped, and she glanced up.  “This is a wonderful wine.”

          “Glad you like it.  By the way, since we’re just by ourselves, let’s stay as we are for dinner, and not get all dressed up.”

          Cynthis smiled.  “Like the first evening’s dinner on a sea voyage.  No one dresses for dinner—uh, I mean no one gets dressed up for dinner.”

          “I know what you meant,” said Damian, his mouth twitching again.  “But for a moment, the thought of a ship’s main dining room filled with nude people was most amusing.”   

          They stayed together for another half hour, and then they parted, Damian claiming to have some work awaiting him in his library.  Cynthis went back to her room. 

          To her surprise, Mrs. Hillman was there, turning down her bed.  “Thank you, Mrs. Hillman, but such small things I can easily do for myself.  I don’t like the thought of you racing up and down this grand, sweeping staircase to do things like this.”

          “Bless you, Ms. Leigh.  And call me Dot.  Dorothy’s my name, but Mr. Chiotis always calls me Dot.”  It seemed to Cynthis that Dot was looking for a chat.  In this she was proved correct, for Dot went on, “You’re a hit with Mr. Chiotis, my dear.  The fact that you can play chess is a big factor with him.”  She added, “Of course he never expects his mistresses to play, but then, he does not have them for company, but for only one purpose.”

          “Um—uh, yes, I guess so.”

          “He never talks to them, certainly doesn’t have them down for tea.  He eats dinner while they talk his ear off about a designer dress they’ve seen, a diamond bracelet that would look divine with a new dress, and so on.  He never reacts.”

Dot became animated, warming to her subject.  “Sometimes, like with that Tawny, they talk themselves right out of a job.  She went on and on about wanting him to accept an invitation for a cruise with Prince Lysandros of Pátrai and his wife, Princess Geneviève.  As if he would have taken that obvious slut to meet royalty…  At last, in the middle of dinner, he said, ‘That is all I am prepared to stand from you.’  He said to me, I was just clearing the previous course away, ‘Help her pack and tell the bodyguard on duty to make sure she is gone within half an hour.’  He threw his napkin down and strode out of the room.  You never heard such howls!  She tried to go after him, but his bodyguard intercepted her.  Told her to get packed and leave, quickly, or they would move her without her luggage.” 

Bending to Cynthis as if imparting a deep and dark secret, she said, “That was her, earlier, roaring out of the grounds in her Mercedes.  She had come here ahead of Mr. Chiotis, you see, insisting that he had invited her to come.”   Dot laughed.  “Well, the moment Mr. Chiotis saw her, it was clear he had not invited her.  Told his body-guards to make sure she cleared out instantly.”  Dot laughed again.  “I liked seeing the last of her.  The most avaricious, grasping type, she was.  Rude to the staff…”  She shrugged.  “Of course, up to a point it goes with the job description, but she was the worst.  Trouble is, Mr. Chiotis works so hard, he doesn’t have time to get to know decent women.  As a result, he is constantly under siege from models, actresses, European celebrities, famous only for being famous, well, you know the type.  Always in the glossies, bragging over some new man.” 

          It seemed to Cynthis that Dot wondered whether she was giving the impression that her employer was a womanizer, for suddenly she changed course, as it were.  “Mr. Chiotis doesn’t always have a resident mistress, of course.  And they’re not resident here, just at a condo he keeps for them, in Manhattan.  He rarely brings them here.  Most of the time, he prefers to be here by himself, doing some gardening, going for walks.  I often think he is too fastidious to put up with those bitches who brag about being seen with him.”  She sighed, “Ah, well…  Maybe one of these days….”  She grinned.  “It certainly won’t be anyone his sainted mother picks for him, that’s for sure…”  She slid her hand over the pristine sheet.  “I’d better go…”

          “Thanks a lot, Dot, and for our chat.  I’ll try not to irritate Mr. Chiotis.”

          Dot shook her head.  “You won’t, but his mother will, plenty.”    

                                                       ****

         

When Cynthis went down on hearing a muted gong sound, Dot was there to show her the dining room.  Damian was already there, greeting her with a friendly smile.  Silently, she blessed her father, who had taught her to play chess when she was five years old.  Apparently it had broken the ice with him.

          They had just finished the first course, when Damian asked, “You told me you lived in Ocean Breeze, a small town or big village?  What do you find to do there?”

          She smiled.  “I’m gainfully employed.  I teach at the elementary school, and because my degree is in music—piano—I can also teach music.”  She smiled, unaware of its gentle, loving quality.  “I like teaching small children.  They react to music like a starving person to food.”  Aware of his sympathetic smile, she wondered if she had bored him with too much information.  “I’m very happy in my work.”

          “You’re a pianist?  I am delighted to hear it.  Perhaps, if you’re not too tired after dinner, you would play for me?”

          “I’ll be delighted.  What do you like to listen to?”

          “Chopin.”  He smiled at her.  “I realize it is an unusual choice for a man, but I find Chopin recharges my batteries, lifts my mood, well…”  He let his voice trail away.

          “You’re playing my song,” she smiled.  “I love playing Chopin.  Any time you say.”

          “And tomorrow some Christmas music?”

          “With great pleasure.”

          It seemed to Cynthis that neither of them was all that interested in the excellent dinner any more.  Both of them seemed anxious to get to the piano. 

The piano turned out to be a Steinway concert grand, in a room with wonderful acoustics.  She went to the grand piano, stroking the keys as if caressing them.  Damian noticed it and quietly went to sit where he could see her hands on the keys, as well as listen.  “Any time you’re ready,” he said softly.

          Neither of them could say how long she had played for him, when Damian finally got to his feet, walking over to her, taking her hands into his and bringing her fingers to his lips.  “That was the most sublime evening I have ever experienced.”

          “I’m glad I was able to please your taste in piano music.”

          “You more than pleased me, you must know that,” he protested.  “It is rare for me to hear music I love played in the way I love to hear it.  Thank you for the gift of this evening.”  He gazed at her, concerned.  “I’m afraid I must have tired you far too much.”

          Cynthis shook her head.  “If I had got really tired, you’d have heard it in the quality of my playing, and I’m sure you’d have called a halt.”

          “I am pleased you should think me capable of such refined hearing.  I can’t thank you enough.  Good night.  By the way, on Christmas morning, we do much as we like.”  He paused, saying ruefully, “Unless my mother manages to reach Newark.  Then we are in for as much formality as I’ll allow her.”  He turned back to Cynthis.

“But I’ll hold you to your promise to play some Christmas music for me—preferably before my mother arrives.”

          Cynthis laughed.  “I promise.  Good night, Damian.”  With a smile, she moved away from him, and left the room.  Damian sat down again in the chair he had vacated to thank Cynthis.  He sat there for a long time, staring into space.


 

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Christmas Dream
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