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©Copyright 2007 by
ISBN 13: 978-0-9799423-2-7
Edited by Karen MacLeod
Cover Art by Jennifer Mueller
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
the stunningly attractive Chrysandros Karalis first meets the wealthy and
independent Miss Fleur Burleigh, he believes his only interest lies in merging
his shipping line with her luxury hotels. He is very quickly proved wrong by
his heart, his mind, his body, and his very soul.
What happens when you mix One Greek Tycoon and one wealthy and independent English Beauty?
Why you get Greek Fire….
Other Books by Kate Hofman:
A Greek Love Story
I dedicate GREEK FIRE to my dearly beloved sister Henriëtte Wynn.
Itty, this is for you with my love.
Many thanks, again, to Jennifer Mueller, who suggested the title, and then most generously designed the cover art. Who would have thought a flame could be so sensuous?
Again, my gratitude to Irene Kambos for sharing her knowledge of the Greek language so unstintingly with me, correcting my mistakes and teaching me some more Greek words, suitable for lovers.
As always, I am deeply grateful to Thea Devine, who gave so willingly of her precious time to make me a better writer, and who taught me to play What If when the occasion demands it...
Aristedes Karalis leaned back in the big desk chair in his office, holding his son’s draft of Karalis Shipping Inc.’s annual report. He smiled to himself. Chrysandros was truly his son, gifted with the same flair for business. Of course, Sandro would indignantly point out that his decisions were not based on flair, but on meticulous research and calculations. He shrugged. Whatever. Sandro had made a brilliant decision in selling off their big cruise ships, keeping only the small, elegant, highly profitable ships that afforded every luxury to approximately a hundred persons. These ships invariably operated at full capacity, departing from Boston, New York, Seattle or San Francisco to an opulent resort hotel complex in the Caribbean or Mexico. Their first year of operating only these small luxury cruise ships had shown an astonishing increase in profits.
Aristedes smiled. Only one thing could now increase their prestige — and their profit margin. If they could persuade the Burleigh chain of luxury resort hotels to give priority to passengers sailing south on the Karalis cruise ships; perhaps consider a merger—
Of course, Burleigh Resort Hotels was headquartered in New York, as were Karalis Shipping and Karalis Air. But he did not think a direct approach by his son to Fleur Burleigh, hotel chain owner, was the way to go. He had heard that she was brilliant in business, but shy, almost reclusive in private life. He shook his head slowly. Such a woman would be overwhelmed by his son’s natural charm, his spectacular good looks. No, another way of approach would have to be found.
Rumour had it that Fleur was very close to her grandmother. Lady Vanessa Burleigh was said to have managed the hotel chain on behalf of her granddaughter, a teenager at the time of her parents’ sudden, accidental death. Even now, Lady Vanessa retained a lively interest in the hotels.
He would approach Lady Vanessa. He’d get her to persuade the granddaughter to consider the merger of the two companies. The old lady had a good head for business. And this was very good business for all concerned.
He pressed a key on the intercom. “Araminta?”
“Find out the private telephone number of Lady Vanessa Burleigh, will you?”
He shrugged as he waited. His trip to Monte Carlo with Monique Delorme would have to be postponed. A pity, but—
The intercom buzzed.
“Lady Vanessa is in London, England. She has a house in Mayfair. I have the address and phone number.” Araminta carefully enunciated the foreign words. “I’ll type it out for you.”
“No need, Araminta. I’ve got it. Thank you.”
Aristedes took out his cell phone.
“More coffee, Mr. Karalis?” Lady Vanessa Burleigh glanced unobtrusively at her visitor. Distinguished-looking, darkly handsome still, hair silvering at the temples. He had to be close to sixty, bearing in mind his son’s age of thirty-three, as he had let fall during conversation.
“Thank you, Lady Vanessa. I’m grateful you agreed to receive me at eleven rather than at teatime. In spite of an English mother, and many sojourns in Britain, I’ve never acquired a taste for tea.”
Lady Vanessa smiled. “For the discussion you indicated you wished to have, tea would be impossible. Jackson, my butler, would have to be present, handing things around, and although he is the soul of discretion, I felt sure…” Her voice trailed off.
“Exactly, Lady Vanessa. I am, of course, delighted to hear that you think as I do — a merger of our companies would be mutually beneficial. And you feel confident that your granddaughter — Fleur? — will agree?”
Lady Vanessa nodded. “Yes, Fleur. Her mother was a Canadian painter — portraits mostly — and insisted on Fleur.” She shrugged imperceptibly.
Aristedes took the opportunity to look more closely at a portrait of a beautiful blonde with unusual, sea-blue eyes. He raised a brow.
“Is this one of your daughter-in-law’s portraits?”
Lady Vanessa nodded again. “Yes. It is my granddaughter at age fifteen. Her parents died in a plane crash a few months later.”
“She’s astonishingly beautiful, if I may say so.”
Lady Vanessa smiled. It seemed to Aristedes that she took a deep breath, before continuing, “I’m glad you think so, because this may help you take a favourable view of the suggestion I’m about to make.”
Aristedes sipped coffee to give himself time to think. This woman wanted to make a suggestion in connection with the granddaughter?
And then he knew.
* * * *
Lady Vanessa said quietly, “As I mentioned, Fleur was orphaned at the age of fifteen. Since then, she has lived with me. Fleur went to an exclusive boarding school in Toronto. Her mother was an alumna. After Fleur lost her parents so tragically, I decided to buy a house in Toronto so she could be a day girl.” When she saw her visitor’s questioning glance, she elucidated, “It means Fleur attended classes during the day, but she slept at my house.” She continued, “It wasn’t easy, being there for Fleur and keeping a firm hold on the company in New York, but I managed.” Lady Vanessa lifted her coffee cup, glancing at her visitor to see whether he was bored by these details, but she saw only courteous interest in his gaze.
She went on, “After Fleur finished school, she studied Economics at Columbia, sparing me further commutes between Toronto and New York. She has an MBA. I was glad of this because, after all, she inherited the Burleigh chain of hotels.”
Aristedes remarked, “By all accounts, your granddaughter has made a great success of Burleigh Resort Hotels.” Privately, he wondered when Lady Vanessa would get to the point. At that moment, she did.
“I’ve been wondering whether a merger such as we’ve been discussing might be strengthened if there were a private attachment between the parties as well. Fleur is twenty-six, and she hasn’t shown the slightest interest in any of the men who try to invite her out. You said your son is thirty-three— You may, perhaps, wish that he would settle down, marry, have children?”
“Of course I do, but so far Sandro hasn’t found a woman to be serious over. Oh, when I raise the subject obliquely, he agrees with me, but—”
Lady Vanessa nodded. “I’ve only met your son a couple of times. We share an interest in ‘Reaching Out’ — the charity that gives bright but underprivileged young people a chance at a decent education. He struck me as a serious man, quite indifferent to his spectacular good looks. A rarity. In my opinion, most men would make ruthless use of such an impressive asset. I thought it showed character that he didn’t.
“How do you think he would react to the suggestion of an arranged marriage? I realize that Fleur and your son would have to meet to see whether they like being in each other’s company. But in my opinion, far too much is made of ‘love’ — which in most cases is chemistry, lust if you will. That sets expectations too high, and both parties are bound to be disappointed when the marriage calms down to a less frenzied level, shall we say.” Lady Vanessa leaned back in her chair and glanced speculatively at her visitor.
Aristedes said calmly, “Your suggestion is most interesting. I’m flying to New York at the end of the week, and will discuss this with my son.
Tell me, do you wish him
to approach your granddaughter?”
“I’ll call Sandro tonight and discuss the proposed merger with him. I won’t mention your granddaughter until I can talk to him in person.”
“I agree that would be wise. But Mr. Karalis— Before my birthday party, your son’s uh…friendship with that very flamboyant young woman who manages to get herself photographed so often clinging to his arm— That would have to be over before your son approached Fleur.”
Aristedes nodded. Very astute of Lady Vanessa.
“I suspect these photos are from their archives. Last time I expressed my dismay at his choice of…friends, my son said he would abrogate the…uh…arrangement shortly. That was months ago. But if Sandro hasn’t yet sent the woman packing, I’ll insist he do so instantly.”
Lady Vanessa nodded. “I’m glad we understand each other.”
Aristedes nodded. “And now I must take my leave, Lady Vanessa.”
She lifted an arthritic but still elegant hand. “If you have no luncheon engagement, stay to luncheon with me. With this personal development a possibility, I think perhaps there are more things for us to discuss.”
“Thank you, Lady Vanessa. I shall enjoy having lunch with you.”
Lady Vanessa nodded, pleased, reaching for the house-telephone. “I’ll just tell my butler.”
* * * *
A week later, Aristedes arrived in Manhattan, and quickly settled in at his son’s Fifth Avenue duplex. After he had freshened up, he went in search of his son, finding him in the library. Chrysandros gestured to the wing chairs beside the fireplace, and they sat down with glasses of wine.
“I have followed your suggestions, Papá, regarding the merger. I told the lawyers and the bean counters to get on with it, because feet-dragging will not be tolerated.”
Aristedes grinned. “That’s exactly what Lady Vanessa told me her granddaughter said to her people. She thought there’d be efforts at delaying things. Not by the lawyers, of course, we’re bound to retain our own law firms. But the bean counters must be wondering whether her bean counters or ours will prevail in the new, merged company.”
Chrysandros switched to Greek. “Do you believe Lady Vanessa will be easy to get along with?”
“She certainly was when I initially approached her about the possibility of the merger, but don’t forget the company isn’t hers. Her granddaughter, Fleur, is an unknown quantity, but she is very close to Lady Vanessa, who speaks of her with great warmth and affection. And she seems to have considerable influence with Fleur who, by all accounts, is a brilliant businesswoman. She’s bound to recognize the huge advantages for both companies in this merger going through. According to Lady Vanessa, Fleur is quiet and withdrawn in private life. Anyway, we’ll meet her at Lady Vanessa’s birthday party, to which we’re both invited. The twenty-sixth of February, she said. I think it would be an excellent move to attend, don’t you?”
“Yes, I agree. By that time I should have the merger facts and figures finalized. But that is not all, Papá, is it?”
Aristedes smiled. Trust his son to sense there was more to it. “You’re right, Sandro, that isn’t all. After discussing the preliminaries of the merger over coffee, Lady Vanessa invited me to stay to lunch, and we talked about our families and ourselves.
“She is worried about her granddaughter being totally uninterested in marriage, refusing all invitations except those related to business. Fleur is twenty-six, by the way. Lady Vanessa was wondering—” His voice trailed off. Perhaps he was approaching this too bluntly, and his son would refuse the idea of an arranged marriage out of hand. To his surprise, Chrysandros smiled and reached for the wine bottle, refilling both glasses.
“Let me guess. Lady Vanessa is hoping we will agree to an arranged marriage between her granddaughter and me, right, Papá?” With a sigh, he lifted a brow. “Tell me, is this Fleur so unattractive that Grandma has to sweeten the pot with a merger in order to get her married off?”
Chrysandros reached for his wine and sipped. “I will tell you honestly, Papá, such a deal would not interest me. Oh, I agree I have been wasting my time with Gina and the likes of her. Incidentally, I ended that nearly three months ago. She is still trying to get me back.” Chrysandros grinned derisively. “Not a chance.”
Aristedes leaned forward in his chair, his earlier fatigue forgotten.
“Sandro— you’ve finished with that blatant gold-digger? What a relief, ye mou - my son. Every time I saw yet another photo of her clinging to your arm, that over-painted mouth sneering triumphantly, I was worried sick that she’d somehow trick you into marriage.”
Chrysandros shook his head decisively. “No way, Papá. Give me credit for a little common sense. No, Gina was never a serious contender for anything but what she actually is, an expensive playmate. And, as I told her, playtime is over. But, Papá, I will not tie myself to a woman who sets my teeth on edge, no matter how many hotels she has. You know me well enough for that.” Leaning back in his chair, Chrysandros put his right ankle on his left knee, took another sip of his wine, and gazed at his father.
Aristedes laughed. “Would I do that to you? Sell you down the river for the sake of a business advantage? Force some dreadful woman on you? Surely you know me better, Sandro.”
“I hoped I did.”
At that, Aristedes smiled. “I’ve seen a portrait of Fleur, age fifteen, painted by her mother. It was exquisite. Of course Fleur has grown up some. I’ve had Araminta do a little Googling, and she’s e-mailed the photos she found to our London office, where I had them printed up.
“As you’ll see, Fleur is slender and blonde, and she has the most unusual blue eyes I’ve ever seen. Here, take a look.” Aristedes rummaged in his briefcase, handing his son the photos. He waited silently.
At last Chrysandros looked up from sifting through the photos. “No doubt about it, Papá— She is stunning in a subtle, understated way. I admit it is—”
“A welcome change from blatant, obvious, aggressive Gina?” his father grinned.
“Something like that,” Chrysandros agreed. “Of course, I would have to meet her, find out if she has a croaking voice like a crow or an unpleasant, gossipy nature…” His voice trailed off.
“You’re clutching at straws, searching for a reason not to consider the personal merger to cement the business one.”
“Perhaps I am, Papá,” Chrysandros admitted. “After all, it is my life we are talking about. Let me say that I am not against an arranged marriage per se. I’ve seen enough failed marriages among my friends who married for love.”
“That’s what Lady Vanessa said. She takes the view that most people confuse lust with love, and when the marriage settles down, it’s bound to be a grave disappointment.”
“Good point, Papá. Let me think on it. And I insist on meeting this Fleur at the birthday party to see for myself whether I could bear to have her around for the rest of my life. You will agree I am entitled to ask that.”
“Of course you are, Sandro. If you should decide you don’t want to marry Fleur, well, so be it. I suspect the merger will go through anyway. All their hotel rooms guaranteed to be filled to capacity. And if one of their hotels has considerable slack periods, we can direct our cruise ships there to fill the rooms. No, the possibility of you and Fleur getting married is just the icing on Lady Vanessa’s cake.”
Aristedes glanced at his son, hoping his pride in him, his great love for him would not be too obvious.
“Tell you what, Sandro. Unless you have other plans, I’d like to take you to dinner at Papa Etienne’s. I know it’s short notice, but Etienne will do me the favour of giving us a table. Well?”
“Thanks, Papá, I would enjoy that.” Chrysandros paused, frowning. It seemed to him his father was paler than usual, and he was definitely thinner. Was he ill? “Papá, are you sure you’re not too tired to go out to dinner? If you should prefer a quiet evening at home after all that flying, please say the word. We can always do Papa Etienne’s another day.”
Aristedes shook his head. “No, ye mou, I’m fine. Maybe the last few days have been a bit hectic. But, since you sent your plane for me, I slept my way across the Atlantic. No, by all means, let me quickly phone Etienne and arrange dinner for us — at nine?”
Chrysandros nodded. “Yes, fine, Papá. Let me just alert Manuel to bring the limousine around.”
An hour later they were on their way to dinner.
* * * *
When the two tall, dark men stepped out of the limousine, both faultlessly attired in black Armani, a few eager paparazzi surged forward, intent on snapping quick shots of the stunning, photogenic Chrysandros and his still handsome father. They both smiled faintly, ascending the steps to Papa Etienne’s entrance. A burly doorman hurried out, intent on keeping the paparazzi at bay.
Etienne Saint-Aubin himself came to greet Aristedes and his son.
Aristedes asked, “Will you have a drink with us at the bar, Etienne, before we go to our table?”
“I have a better idea, my dear Aristede. We’ll have a drink in my office, more private, non?”
“More private, oui,” Aristedes grinned. He and Chrysandros followed Etienne into his elegant office, where they settled in a small grouping of armchairs at the far end. Jean-Paul, the maître d’, personally brought a bottle of Krug champagne, uncorking it with a discreet plop and without any foaming excesses.
“Thanks, Jean-Paul,” said Etienne. “M’sieu Karalis and his son will be ready for their table in about half an hour, d’accord?”
“Of course, M’sieu Etienne.” The maÎtre d’ left quickly.
* * * *
After half an hour, he knocked gently and entered Etienne’s office. “If the gentlemen are ready?”
“Yes, we are, Jean-Paul,” said Aristedes. Turning to his old friend, he added, “Etienne, it was a rare pleasure spending some time with you. I’m going to be here for several weeks. One Monday, on your official ‘closed’ day, will you come to dinner with Sandro and me?”
“With great pleasure, cher Aristede.” Etienne smiled at his friend.
“You pick which Monday, and leave the rest to us. Au ’voir, Etienne.”
* * * *
Jean-Paul had reserved the best, most secluded table for Aristedes and his son. It was in a corner, on a little dais, two curved containers of lush tropical plants forming discreet barriers. A small indoor waterfall splashed nearby, making it impossible to overhear talk at this table. After seating them, Jean-Paul promised to send the sommelier to them immediately.
Aristedes grinned at his son. “Jacques is far too grand to be called a wine steward. What are you in the mood for, Sandro?”
“Papá, why not stay with the Krug? Saves having to select a white and a red — all that pouring, sniffing, tasting, nodding?”
Aristedes laughed. “Not a wine snob, I’m glad to see. Good idea, let’s continue with the Krug.” Turning to the sommelier, who approached with great dignity, he said, “Evening, Jacques. We’ve been drinking Krug with M’sieu Etienne. We might as well stick with that.”
“But of course, Messieurs.” Jacques bowed and departed.
* * * *
They had just been served their champagne, when a woman’s voice interrupted their private toast to each other.
Without rising, Chrysandros said to the woman standing at their table, “You are interrupting a private dinner, Gina. I thought I had made it clear that ‘over’ means ‘finished and done with.’ No, do not ask the waiter for a chair, you will not be staying.” Chrysandros shook his head at the hovering waiter.
The beautifully made-up woman in the black couture dress paled. “But Sander, this is an emergency — I’m pregnant—”
With an indifferent shrug, Chrysandros said, “Then speak to the father, if you have any idea who he is. I am glad to say I finished with you three months ago. Goodbye, Gina. Do not bother me again.”
“Sander, of course it’s yours. You’ve got to help me, pay for the abortion—”
His voice glacial, Chrysandros said, “You told me you were sterile from a few too many abortions in the past. Even so, I always used protection.
Find someone else to pin this on, Gina. Goodbye.”
Frantic now, Gina tried to clutch at his arm. He shook her off, his expression icily disdainful. “Keep your acquisitive hands to yourself, Gina. And leave us. Now.”
“But Sander, all I want is the money to pay for the abortion—”
With deadly accuracy, Chrysandros aimed his next remark. “No. No abortion. Have the child. I shall have a DNA test done and, if a miracle has occurred and the child is mine, I will buy it from you.”
“Sander, you can’t be serious? I can’t afford to have a huge gap in my career — I have contracts to fulfill. Catwalks in Milan, photo shoots in Morocco, après-ski in Gstaad— Just a few thousand dollars for the abortion, Sander.”
“I told you, Gina. No abortion.”
“Damn you, Sander. You’re loaded — what can a few thousand dollars matter to you? To me, it means my whole career.”
“You should have been more selective and careful in sleeping around after I finished with you, Gina. You managed to get photos in the tabloids with all your new men. Talk to them. I always used protection; there were no accidents. Now leave before I ask the maÎtre d’ to remove you.” Chrysandros turned his back to Gina and resumed talking to his father, in Greek. Gina’s near-hysterical voice interrupted again.
“Sander! You wouldn’t—”
“Try me.” His voice was arctic, his eyes cold as onyx.
Gina narrowed her eyes, trying to read the expression on his face, but all she saw was disdainful contempt and impenetrable calm. Damn!
“You haven’t heard the last of this,” she tried to bluster.
“Do not come near me ever again. If you believe you have something to say, speak to my lawyer. He knows how to deal with shameless opportunists. I would also remind you that you signed a binding legal document forbidding you ever mentioning me to anyone in private or in public. For this, you were paid ten thousand dollars. Be sure you adhere to the letter and spirit of the document.” His voice became even colder. “I thought you had more class than you have demonstrated here. And now, I will ask Jean-Paul to remove you.”
Chrysandros lifted his hand. The maÎtre d’ approached. “Yes, M’sieu?”
His voice changing to pleasantly conversational, Chrysandros said, “Jean-Paul, Miss Mosca is leaving. Will you see to it that she does? Thank you.”
“Of course, M’sieu. The lady said you were expecting her, that’s why I—”
“Yes, I thought as much. Never mind, Jean-Paul. Just get her out of here.”
Jean-Paul’s voice was scornful. “This way, Miss.” He put his hand firmly under Gina’s arm, removing her quickly.
* * * *
Aristedes turned to his son, his face showing his distress at the unpleasant scene Gina had provoked. “Sandro, that woman is dangerous— How could she know we were dining here tonight?”
Chrysandros shrugged. “Judicious phoning around, probably. She is not dangerous, Papá, merely tenacious. She hates being separated from the generous allowance I made her. She tried talking me into having her as an official mistress. As if I would ever bother having one. The occasional playmate is quite enough. And even Gina does not delude herself that I would ever marry her. Ah, well. Let us hope she will leave me alone now. If necessary, my lawyer will see to it that she does.”
“Is that Yiorgos Eleftheris?” Aristedes asked.
Chrysandros shook his head. “No, his son, Damian. More brilliant than his father, my opinion. He will eat Gina alive. Come to think of it, he rather liked the look of her when we met at a reception. I shall warn him not to keep her for more than a month.” Chrysandros grinned at his father, more than a little concerned to see him so worried.
“I was thinking, if Fleur were to hear of this—” Aristedes raised a brow to his son.
Chrysandros shrugged. “Whichever way that goes, Fleur would not be entitled to get on her high horse over what I did or did not do before she even met me, do you not agree, Papá?”
Aristedes nodded. “Yes, of course you’re right. Now, shall we decide on dinner?”
“You choose, Papá. I am invariably awed by the dinners you invent.” Chrysandros smiled affectionately at his father.
Aristedes took his time selecting a memorable dinner. His son made sure he showed great appreciation with every mouthful.
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