FREE Online Read: A Peek into The Greek’s Innocent Virgin and The Greek’s Christmas Baby by Lucy Monroe
FREE ONLINE READ:
A Peek into the Lives of Sebastian & Rachel Kouros from The Greek’s Innocent Virgin and Aristide & Eden Kouros from The Greek’s Christmas Baby
by Lucy Monroe
For my compassionate and patient readers, and particularly those who have asked over the years: What ever happened to so-and-so, was their baby a boy or a girl, will their children grow up and get their own stories?” These vignettes peeking into the lives of past characters are for you!
These vignettes are not intended to be books, or even novellas. They do not follow typical story structure with a beginning, a middle, a story climax and an ending. The beginning for each vignette was the book it’s based on. Simply put, these are codas, the asked-for glimpses into the lives of favorite characters.
Each of those glimpses is different. Some are very short, others are near novella length and the rest fall somewhere in between. A few are sexy and sensual, all are a bit emotional, but a couple will take you on a new heart-wrenching journey with the characters.
All answer the question “What happened after the HEA?”
I’ll be releasing a new vignette every couple of weeks so be sure to keep an eye on the Harlequin blog as there will be seven in total. It is my sincere hope that you will find as much joy reading these peeks into the lives of the characters as I had writing them.
Love and hugs,
Sebastian & Rachel Kouros from The Greek’s Innocent Virgin (2005) and
Aristide & Eden Kouros from The Greek’s Christmas Baby (2005)
Not quite 16 years after Sebastian and Rachel wed.
Sebastian Kouros finished signing the deed documents with a sense of great satisfaction. He’d tried to gift the island and Kouros villa on it to his beautiful wife, Rachel, since first courting her. She always refused it, saying she hadn’t married him for his billions and real estate, but because she was foolish enough to love him more than life itself.
He had no problem believing her—not only had she exhibited that love in her giant, giving heart for many, many years, but he felt the same way. A love as powerful as the one they shared could not be faked or denied.
But Sebastian was a competitive man and he’d finally found a way to gift the island to the woman who should have always owned it, in his mind anyway.
He had signed it over to their youngest child, with the stipulation it could not be sold outside the family until she was thirty, and named Rachel as the executor of the property until Phyllida turned twenty-one. Since their youngest had just turned four, that would make Rachel the de facto owner for nearly two decades.
“What are you up to, Sebastian? You’ve got that just conquered the world business tycoon look on your face.” Rachel came into his office, her beautiful, curvaceous body encased in a long, lightweight, cream-colored sweater and caramel leggings.
She’d call them mom-clothes. He called them enticing as hell.
“Just finishing up the children’s Christmas gifts.”
“I thought we finished shopping for them in Athens last week?” She gave him a look. The one that said she thought he spoiled their four children shamelessly. “Did you buy them more stuff after we agreed we were done?”
She’d gotten her way about having more children after Chara had been born, despite his possibly irrational fears about her health. He got his way when it came to spoiling those children. However, that did not mean he was stupid enough to go in direct opposition to his wife’s dictates.
“No, naturally not.” He’d already owned all four properties he was signing over to their children.
He’d bought the Santorini villa with vineyard he was gifting their fifteen-year-old eldest, Chara, the month after she was born. The penthouse in Athens that Sebastian had deeded to their twelve-year-old son, Achilles, had been the first property he’d purchased for himself after becoming an adult. And the villa outside Athens that he put in his son’s twin sister Leto’s name had been the first house he bought for him and Rachel to live in.
She’d thought he’d sold it when they purchased the bigger house, closer to the city center, after she unexpectedly became pregnant with Phyllida, seven years after the twins were born.
“So, what are you giving our children that you didn’t have to buy?” Rachel asked suspiciously.
“Nothing of which you will not approve, agape mou, but I prefer you be surprised with the children on Christmas morning.” His wife had the endearing trait of loving surprises, whether for herself or for someone she cared about.
She came around his desk and he turned his chair so she could settle onto his lap as was their custom. Rachel laid her arms on his shoulders, locking her hands against his neck and leaning forward to kiss him.
“Not that I’m complaining, but to what do I owe this midafternoon visit to my office?” he asked after returning her kiss in a most satisfying way.
She nuzzled under his chin and Sebastian’s senses went on alert. He’d learned that his wife was a cuddler, but especially when she was upset, or feeling insecure.
“I wanted to talk to you about something and I didn’t want to wait for you to be finished with work,” she said, confirming his suspicions that Rachel had something on her mind.
Something that bothered her.
“You have my full attention.”
“I got a disconcerting email.”
“You don’t have a sister.”
“That’s what I thought too, but according to this woman, I do.”
Now Sebastian’s instincts were on high alert. “Who is this woman?”
“Her name is Bethany Stone. She’s seven years younger than me. She said Andrea gave her up for adoption. She doesn’t know who her father is.”
“How did she find out about Andrea?”
“She hired a private investigator. I guess the adoption records weren’t sealed. It was an open adoption, but Andrea never took advantage of the stipulations for visitation.”
“Andrea had another child?” Sebastian asked, just to confirm…because honestly? He was shocked at the very idea.
His lovely wife didn’t look so steady herself. “According to Bethany.”
“Did this Bethany offer any proof, these open records maybe?”
“So far, she’s just emailed me and told me about them.”
“How did she get your email?”
“She used the one attached to my work with Eden on the Kouros Children’s Fund.”
That was better than this unknown woman having Rachel’s private email.
Rachel bit her lip. “I list the KCF on my social media. It wouldn’t have been hard for her investigator to find me.”
Sebastian rubbed his wife’s back, leaning down to kiss the side of her neck. “How do you feel about all this?”
“For what, yineka mou?”
“For asking that instead of going all ‘we need proof, we need to investigate this woman’ on me.”
“That’s coming.” He could not pretend otherwise. “But first, tell me what you are feeling at the prospect of having a sister.”
“It’s weird. I hated growing up an only child, but it never occurred to me that I could possibly have a sister, or a brother. I mean, my dad could have gotten remarried.”
“But he did not.” Not until he’d been reunited with his daughter. He’d met Sebastian and Aristide’s mother and married Phillipa about a year later, giving her a new lease on life that Sebastian would always be grateful for.
“No, but he could have and it never occurred to me. Only that would have been so much more believable than Andrea having another child and giving it up for adoption.”
“So far, you only have this Bethany Stone’s word that happened.”
“Do you remember Andrea being pregnant?”
“It would have been right after we left my father. I don’t remember much from those first couple of years, just searching for my daddy, missing him. Hating being with my mom.”
“She was not a good mother. Not like you. Our children know how important they are to you every single day.”
Her smile was so warm, so filled with love for him and love for their children. “I love being a mom. I love being a wife. Our life is so good, Sebastian.”
To hear her say these things, no matter how many times she’d done so, after their painful beginning always gave him soul-deep pleasure. “It is, fíltatos mou, Rachel mou.”
Her gaze filled with pleasure, reminding him how much she adored when he called her his beloved. She snuggled in closer. “I am yours. And I know it’s safe to tell you…” Rachel let her voice trail off, but Sebastian wasn’t worried.
She would share when she was ready.
He waited patiently while his beloved wife sat in silence, her hands kneading his chest in the way they did when she was stressed.
Finally, she took a deep breath and then let it out. “I’m not sure I want a sister. I’m thirty-eight years old. I have a family now—I have for the last fifteen years. Bethany could have found me at any time since she turned eighteen. Why now?”
“You don’t trust her?”
“If she’s telling me the truth, she’s as much Andrea’s daughter as I am.”
“You’re afraid Bethany is like Andrea,” he said, even more shocked by this than the knowledge his kindhearted wife might have a sister. “Distrustful cynicism is usually my department.”
“I know, right?” Rachel teased, but her emerald gaze reflected worry more than humor.
“You are nothing like the woman who gave you life.”
“I know that.” Her brows drew together as she went silent in thought, parsing what he had said. “So expecting Bethany to be like her is unfair.”
“But understandable. Your experience with Andrea was filled with pain. This woman claims to be a link to the pain you were finally able to leave behind after Andrea’s death.”
“She said she wants to get to know her sister, to find out about our mother.”
“And the last thing you want to do is spend time talking about Andrea.” Again understandable. Rachel had gotten a very raw deal when it came to who she’d been saddled with as a mother.
“Yes. One of the things that gave me comfort about Andrea dying when she did was that she never had the opportunity to hurt my children the way she’d hurt me. I know that sounds awful—”
He wouldn’t let her castigate herself. “No, it sounds human. You never wished your mother ill. You didn’t want her to die, but the fact she was not around to manipulate and hurt your children was something you could take comfort in even as you grieved the life she could have had if Andrea had the capacity to care about others.”
“You know me so well.”
“Naturally. You are my wife.”
Rachel grinned, her lovely face so enticing he had to kiss her. When he was finished, she had her hands in his hair and his were settled on her hips.
“You’ve still got that arrogant streak.”
He caressed her hip, letting his hand slide around to her backside. “You would have me no other way.”
“No, I wouldn’t.”
He kissed her again, just for that, then said, “Our children’s lives do not have to be touched by Andrea even if you tell Bethany the truth.”
“If Bethany is like her, if she’s got some kind of angle getting ahold of me now, it’ll be like my mother is still here, still alive to destroy the lives of those around her.”
“And what if Bethany Stone is nothing like Andrea? What if she is like you? A giving, caring woman who just wants to expand her family?”
“Why wait so many years to get ahold of me?”
“You can ask her. After I’ve turned her name over to Hawk Securities and we’ve gotten a deep report on her life. After she agrees to a DNA test to confirm the filial link and that test has been done. You are, after all, married to a billionaire.”
“And we’re not opening our family up to a stranger without confirmation of her claims.” There was a lot of relief and satisfaction in his wife’s tone.
“Even with those confirmations, Bethany Stone will not be meeting our children until you and I have met her and determined that is the right course of action.”
Rachel let out what was clearly a happy sigh. “You know, sometimes I find your distrustful cynicism so incredibly comforting.”
She leaned up, pressing her lips to his. Enjoying very much when she initiated physical intimacy, Sebastian’s libido spiked. After fifteen years, no matter how often she did it, every time was special. Every time a gift.
Sebastian returned his beautiful wife’s kiss, touching her body through the thin sweater, cupping her generous breast even as he slid one hand under the fabric to find the naked skin of her stomach. She made the sound he loved so much, that little moan of feminine need that told him his touch had the same powerful impact on her as hers did on him.
Even after more than fifteen years and four children.
Sebastian broke the kiss long enough to give his smart technology the verbal command to shut and lock his office door. The door closed with a soft whoosh, the lock falling into place with a snick that said their privacy was ensured, the sound freeing his inhibitions even as it had the same effect on his Rachel.
Her kiss turned deliciously heated, the passion in her lips igniting his own, not that he wasn’t already turned on. How could he be anything but with her sitting on his lap for the past fifteen minutes?
Sebastian had always found Rachel irresistible, but the longer they were married, the stronger his desire for her grew, the more intrinsic his need to possess her body as well as her heart. He’d heard from other men with wives of many years that physical intimacy became less necessary, that their affection settled into something comfortable.
While his very precious wife gave Sebastian comfort in the deepest part of his spirit, his feelings for her were not comfortable. They were not tame. His need for her body had not diminished as the years went by and she gave him four amazing children.
“I want you more today than I did on the day we made our first child and I thought then, I could never want a woman as much as I did you.” He’d been so out of control it had scared him into behaving like a complete and utter ass the next day, but she’d forgiven him and he’d never once taken that beneficence for granted.
“I’m glad, but no more talk.” She tugged his tie off, going for the buttons on his shirt. “I need you, Sebastian. Don’t make me wait.”
“But waiting can be so much fun.” He pressed a kiss to the side of her mouth, tugging her sweater up one delicious centimeter at a time. “Anticipation only heightens the pleasure.”
“You’ve said that before,” she offered breathlessly.
“And. I. Have. Been. Right. Before.” He accentuated each word with a kiss, first to each eyelid, then to her neck, then leaning down to press his lips to the valley between her breasts, then the slope of each beautiful curve, then her lips, claiming her mouth with his own.
His own arousal grew with each shiver, each shudder, every honest, uninhibited reaction of her body.
Sebastian took his time removing Rachel’s clothes, smoothing his hands over her satin-soft skin as he exposed it, enjoying the goose bumps that appeared, knowing they had nothing to do with the cold. He groaned as he took off her bra, revealing the pale peach mounds that gave him so much pleasure, her beaded, cherry-red nipples, just begging for his mouth.
He lifted Rachel so her nipples were close enough to taste. He nipped at first the sweet, succulent berry on the right and then the one on the left, taking it into his mouth to suckle, knowing the effect it would have on her.
“Oh, yes, that’s so good, Sebastian. My love, please, more!”
Sebastian was happy to oblige, nibbling and licking at her hard little pebbles, caressing her thighs, her delectable bottom, everywhere but where he knew she was craving it most. He left her most intimate flesh untouched, loving the way she rocked against him in her need. He offered all the attention she could want to her sensitive breasts with his mouth and his hands, knowing how aroused that would make her, how much she loved having her breasts played with.
Sebastian pushed both of their desires higher and higher with his touching until she was demanding loudly that he do something about the ache between her legs.
Tucking his arm under her knees and lifting Rachel against his chest, Sebastian carried her to the oversize sofa he kept in his office just for this reason. He used to have chairs around the low table for meetings, but discovered he needed a piece of furniture upon which he could comfortably make love to his wife.
He settled her over the side of the sofa arm, spreading her legs with his own, her gorgeous curvy bottom on display, and pressed against her entrance with his erection. Lacking any inhibition, her confidence in their intimacy having grown strong over the years, she pressed back against him, silently inviting him deeper inside.
Then, she not-so-silently demanded he pick up the pace, go deeper and make love to her, darn it!
Their intimacy was intense, her responses strong and powerful. He reached around her, finally giving her what he knew she needed most, touching the bundle of nerves now swollen and incredibly sensitive. Rachel keened her pleasure and then shouted, “Finish it!” with imperious demand.
And he did, bringing his sexy wife to a shattering climax even as he exploded inside her, his body going rigid with ecstasy.
Eden yawned as she entered her and Aristide’s bedroom to change for dinner. Her tycoon husband was already there, his shirt open, no tie yet, his slacks on, but not buttoned or zipped.
She gave him a sincere look of appreciation. “Very nice.”
He turned toward her, his usual smile upon her arrival conspicuously absent. “You know what is not so nice?”
She shook her head, her attention still mostly on the gorgeous male body on display. For her eyes only. She would never grow tired of the knowledge that she got to touch and look at this incredible, beautiful man in a way no other woman could.
“My wife standing me up for lunch.”
Her gaze flew to his and what she saw there wasn’t happiness, or even desire like she was feeling. It was hurt and accusation.
She stifled a sigh. He didn’t deserve that. She had canceled their lunch at the last moment. “I’m sorry.”
“For the third time in two short weeks,” he continued as if she hadn’t spoken.
Really? Three times. She winced when she acknowledged his count was accurate. “I would have come if I could.”
The excuse sounded lame, even to her ears.
“And why could you not? You are not only the founder, but the director of the Kouros Children’s Fund, are you not? You are the boss.”
“Yes, you know I am.”
“So?” he prompted. “You are not in control of your schedule?”
“I am, but it’s not that simple. I got a call from a potential donor. He wanted a rundown on all of our programs. I couldn’t just hang up on him.”
“A potential donor and the world must stop.”
“Don’t be sarcastic.”
“Was that sarcasm?” he asked, his tone as sardonic as they came. “I thought according to my very busy wife, that was truth as she saw it.”
“So you’re really angry. But Aristide, you need to deal with the fact I am not available to you 24/7.”
“When have you ever been at my beck and call like that?” he demanded, sounding really, truly angry, but also seriously hurt. “When have I ever not respected that you had other people and responsibilities you were committed to? We have had Theo since months after our marriage. Regardless of your father’s reciprocity, you have made time for him whenever he would allow you to. You have always had some sort of career, whether in a paid position or not.”
“But I was more available before I started Kouros Children’s Fund.”
“Yes, you were. More important, I and our children made it onto the upper echelon of your priority list.”
“Are you trying to imply you don’t now?” she asked, hurt he could say something like that, even if he was frustrated by her canceling lunch plans.
He stared at her like she wasn’t understanding something vital. “I am not implying anything. I am not a subtle man. I am stating a fact. Theodore, Angel and I are adjuncts to your very important life as the director of a worldwide children’s charity now.”
“How can you say that?” she asked with pain and shock. “I love you all more than anything.”
He had to know that. She had always loved him, from the very beginning, even when he was fighting his own feelings for her.
“That may have been true at one time.” Aristide sighed and looked away from her, his own expression bleak. “I will not disparage your love for your children. Even if they do not play the central role in your life that they once did, you are a loving and compassionate mother. However, the jury is out on your feelings for me.”
She didn’t like the feeling she got when he said that Theo and Angel weren’t the center of her life like they once had been. Because she couldn’t deny that her time with them had become more limited in the last two years and she missed events and milestones that at one time she never would have. Still, how could he keep saying he wasn’t sure of her love?
She’d never hidden her feelings for him. “That’s ridiculous. You know I love you.”
“Do I? When a call from a donor, and a potential one at that, was enough to have you canceling lunch plans again? When you miss our family dinners one night out of three and have either canceled or simply turned me down for several nights out as a couple? The last four times, not to mention the many occasions previous, I have made overtures for lovemaking, you have been too tired, too busy or just too oblivious.”
With each example he gave, Eden felt more and more guilty. Because she couldn’t deny a single one, or even accuse him of exaggerating.
He frowned. “And regardless of your admiring glance right now, it is clear from the dark circles under your eyes that you are too exhausted for me to entertain thoughts of intimacy any time soon.”
“What? I never said I was too tired.” In fact, she missed him. Missed making love with her husband so, so much.
“I did. You may have little care for your health, but you are my wife. I would be a selfish bastard if I even considered depleting what little energy stores you have right now with lovemaking.”
“It’s not like that.”
“What is it like? You are so tired, it will be a miracle if you make it through dinner without dozing off.”
“I would never be so gauche as to fall asleep at the dinner table.”
He shook his head as if her comment saddened him in some inexplicable, inexorable way. “I suppose you have forgotten those months when Angel was up all night with colic every night, and Theo still awoke bright and early the next morning. We both caught ourselves dozing more than once at the dining table.”
“No, I didn’t forget. I just meant…”
But he was done with the conversation, having turned away to button and tuck in his shirt.
“What?” he asked, his back to her, grabbing a tie and creating an expert Windsor knot with deft movements.
“This conversation isn’t over.”
He turned back to face her, his expression closed off in a way it hadn’t been since those first awful weeks after he’d lost his memory when she was pregnant with Angel. “What more is there to say? For two years, we’ve had conversations like this one. Ever since you started the Kouros Children’s Fund. You have made your position clear. What is the point in rehashing old ground?”
“You said you don’t think I love you anymore.” That was the point. He couldn’t believe that. She wouldn’t accept it.
He looked at her like he didn’t understand what the problem was.
“You and the children are my life,” she asserted vehemently.
But her husband looked wholly unconvinced and not even a little impressed with her passionate declaration. “No, your work on behalf of children in need is your life. We are the family you are content to neglect while doing so.”
“That’s not fair. I never accused you of neglecting the family because of your demanding job for Kouros Enterprises.”
“Did I neglect you?” he asked.
She opened her mouth to say of course there had been times, but since he’d regained his memory, he’d turned over a new leaf, cutting back on his travel by more than 50 percent, and making sure she and the children could go with him comfortably when he did have to leave Greece. She could count on one hand, and still have fingers left over, the number of times in the last decade that he’d canceled any plans with her or the children.
“I guess you’re better at scheduling your time than I am,” she said, feeling a little defeated.
“You think that is what made the difference? For such an intelligent woman, I’d have to say that you have developed some singularly irritating blind spots.”
“What are you trying to say?”
“You don’t lack the ability to order your time, or anything else. You’ve run our family’s schedule since our marriage, you’ve always managed to work at something, whether it was with local museums, or later your work with the charitable funds from Kouros Enterprises and still maintain your family commitments just as I have. But two years ago, your priorities changed when the foundation you’d dreamed of became a reality.”
“You supported me starting Kouros Children’s Fund.”
“Even knowing the personal cost to myself, or the change in your relationship with our children, I would do it again.” His tone reflected sadness, but sincerity.
Her own heart was hurting. “Those are some pretty heavy caveats.”
“The truth is sometimes a heavy burden.”
“I didn’t stop loving you.” How could she make him believe that?
“Perhaps you never loved me as I thought you did. If your feelings didn’t change, you just never had anything in your life more important to you than me. I do not like it, but I would not take it away.”
He really believed she didn’t love him. Not soul-deep and with everything in her. He thought she cared more about the foundation than him, maybe even than their children, though he’d been careful not to say so.
He let out a weary sigh. “Come, it is time to go to dinner.”
“Dinner can wait. We need to finish this conversation.”
“No. Dinner cannot wait. My mother and her husband arrived this afternoon. You have not even greeted them. Sebastian and Rachel are going through something and need our support and encouragement.”
“What’s going on with Sebastian and Rachel?” she asked, worried.
She couldn’t change the fact she hadn’t been there to greet Phillipa and Vincent upon arrival. Though Eden now remembered that was why she and Aristide had made plans for lunch—so she could spend time with the older couple.
“Perhaps if you are available to her later, Rachel will tell you.”
“Don’t be petty. I’m your wife. You tell me.”
He frowned, but she could tell he was going to answer and he did. “A woman claiming to be Rachel’s sister, the daughter that Andrea gave up for adoption at birth, has contacted her.”
“I didn’t know.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” she demanded. “Rachel and I are friends. She’s been like a sister to me since you and I got married. We see each other several times a week at the foundation offices. She could have said something.”
“At work?” he asked with clear censure. “That is when she should have told you something upsetting and highly personal?”
“I saw her last night at dinner.”
“And were late arriving, missing cocktails before dinner, then left directly after eating to work on your computer.”
“The New Year’s gala is our biggest fundraiser and happening in less than two weeks.”
“Did I ask what kept you from us? I did not because I am not stupid. I knew. I merely pointed out why it might have been difficult for Rachel to share anything important with you.”
“I’m not my father,” Eden claimed with an inner painful uncertainty that scared her as much as her husband’s lack of belief in her love.
Aristide shrugged into his suit jacket, looking every bit the part of the billionaire tycoon. “You are your own person, Eden. Your children know you in a way you have never known your father, even since he came to live with us after his stroke. You are mostly aware of your children’s needs and do not hold yourself distant from them as he did with you.”
“He’s a very different grandfather.”
“Since his stroke left him partially paralyzed, yes, he is. He wasn’t any more interested in the children than he was in you, his only daughter, before that, though.”
Aristide stepped to the door. “Are you ready?”
She’d managed to freshen her makeup and brush her hair, but had only removed her suit jacket. She still wore the heather-gray silk top and eggplant-purple skirt from the designer suit she’d worn all day at work.
“My skirt doesn’t look too crushed, does it?”
“It is fine.”
“Why are you wearing a suit? You usually dress down for dinner.” She loved that part of her day, when she got to see her tycoon husband in a cashmere sweater, or an untucked short-sleeved shirt.
“Leiandros and Savannah are hosting their annual Christmas party tonight. We agreed to go last month.”
Her shoulders slumped at yet another reminder her plans with her family were not at the top of her priority list. “I forgot.”
“If you would prefer to stay home and get some rest, no one will blame you.”
Eden wished she could, but she now did as much work at parties like this as regular socializing. “I’ll change after dinner.”
“If that is your wish.” Aristide didn’t try to dissuade her as he once might have done.
And Eden realized she missed her husband’s arrogance in thinking he knew what was best all the time and the way that arrogance came out to play when he was protecting her.
He said he didn’t want her so exhausted, but he wasn’t laying down the law about her getting rest and she realized it had been a long time since he’d done anything like that. Was the problem not only that he doubted her love, but his own was starting to wane after two years of what he considered neglect?
It didn’t feel like that long since she’d started the foundation. In the beginning, Eden had justified the hours she put in because it was all new. She’d believed that once things settled down, she could go back to being part-time like she’d worked when her only job had been oversight of Kouros Enterprises’ charitable endeavors.
That had never happened. Eden now worked longer hours than ever, with no end in sight. Not unless she made some significant changes to how she’d been doing things.
She’d missed Theo’s last soccer game. European football, but she’d never gotten used to the term, thinking of pigskins and helmets whenever the word football was used. Angel had invited Eden to come to her school for her class’s Christmas party, but Eden had to say no. Despite his demanding schedule as Director of International Development for Kouros Enterprise, Aristide had made the time to attend both, though.
What did that say about how Eden prioritized her time? She could miss an event here and there, that’s what she’d always told herself—and frankly still believed. But she hadn’t been simply missing one or two important things in her children’s lives. She’d actually only made one game for her son’s team this whole season. And she’d missed more parent-child opportunities at school with Angel than Eden had made.
She wasn’t a single parent, fighting to eke out a living for herself and her children, or a parent in a necessary two-income household that had to put in long hours to put food on the table, with little to no choice about these things. She was a singularly blessed wife and mother who was finally realizing that maybe her choices over the past two years had been a little messed up.
They reached the dining room and the whole family was there. The Kouros clan ate early, with their children, and that was something Eden had always liked.
Angel came rushing over for a hug. “Did you see Chara’s new dress? Isn’t it pretty? I want one like it.”
“You are far too young to wear a dress like that, though your fifteen-year-old cousin looks quite lovely in it.” Aristide smiled at their oldest niece.
She smiled back, blushing at the compliment about her pretty green holiday dress.
“Are you going to the Kiriakis Christmas party with us?” Eden asked her, noting that the other adults in the room were also dressed for a party later.
“Papa said I was old enough to go this year.” Chara hugged Sebastian, looking delighted to be included in the adult entertainment for the evening. “Bea and Leo are going to be there and they’re the same age as me.”
She’d named Savannah and Leiandros’s younger children, twins like Achilles and Leto, and the same age as Chara.
“I don’t know why she wants to go to a boring adult party,” Leto, Chara’s younger sister, said with a frown. “They aren’t going to have any video games, or even board games. What’s the point?”
“Yeah, you won’t catch me going to stuff like that until I don’t have a choice,” Leto’s twin brother, Achilles, said with all the assurance and certainty in his own opinions of a twelve-year-old boy.
“Chara is going to have fun with her friends, even if it is at a stuffy old grown-up party,” their mom, Rachel, teased. “I’m sure Savannah will have arranged for other teens their age to be there, as well.”
“She did,” Chara agreed. “Mrs. Kiriakis let Bea and Leo each invite three guests. I was one of them.”
“Which one invited you?” Achilles asked with a teasing grin. “Bea or Leo?”
Chara’s blush went peony pink. “Leo did, if you must know, but I’m friends with both of them.”
“Are you going to grow up and marry Leo?” Angel asked, her sweet innocence so on display that Eden just wanted to hug the stuffing out of her daughter.
“I don’t know who I’ll marry. Papa said I had to get through university before even thinking about stuff like that.”
“And you’re listening?” Aristide asked with a warm smile. “Well done, Chara.” Then Aristide turned to his brother. “I’ll need pointers on how to convince Angel of the same thing. She’s obsessively fascinated by romance and becoming a mother.”
“Papa!” Angel protested, but privately Eden had to agree with her husband.
What other nine-year-old child did she know who wanted to watch documentaries on childbirth and parenting customs in different cultures? Angel made up stories about the people around them when they were out, and those stories were inevitably about love found, lost or hoped for.
Eleven-year-old Theo was not similarly inclined, far too interested in his science experiments and technology to even see girls yet. And frankly, Eden was perfectly content for her son to be that way. Crushes and crushing romantic disappointment would come soon enough.
Dinner was pleasant, everyone chatting about what they wanted to do on the island for the holidays. Eden apologized to Phillipa and Vincent for missing lunch with them.
“We missed you, of course, but Aristide told us something important and unavoidable had come up for the foundation.” Phillipa smiled at Eden with obvious affection. “And we are seeing you now.”
Important and unavoidable. Had her discussion with the potential donor been those things? If Eden were honest with herself, she’d have to say no. She’d simply got so used to putting the foundation first, she’d forgotten how to assess and prioritize the way she should.
Aristide was right. Eden did know how to keep a schedule, but she’d spent two years sacrificing everything on hers for the sake of Kouros Children’s Fund and the good it could do.
The question was: Why?
What had made her feel like she could never say no to anything to do with the foundation? And more important, was this the way she wanted to keep living?
She knew the answer to the latter, if not the former. And it was a resounding no.
Smothering a yawn, she looked around guiltily to see if anyone else noticed.
Rachel was looking at Eden with an expression of sympathy mixed with worry.
And suddenly Eden realized Aristide wasn’t the only one who saw the change in her and was concerned by them—for different reasons, no doubt, but she was still concerned.
He’d never wavered in his commitment to her since regaining his memory, but Eden could not say the same about herself. She hadn’t meant to deprioritize her family, but that was exactly what she’d done and she’d put the deep, abiding love she shared with her tycoon husband at risk because of it.
Two tears leaked out past her eyelids, no matter how hard she’d tried to blink them away. She swiped at her cheeks unobtrusively, hoping again that no one else had noticed.
“That’s it!” Aristide exploded up from the table and pulled Eden’s chair out. “You are going to bed. No party tonight, no talking to the guests about your eminently worthy charity. You are so exhausted, your emotions are a mess.”
“Is Uncle Aristide mad? Why is Aunt Eden crying?” the four-year-old Phyllida asked, her own expression looking like it was going to crumble any second.
Her father, Sebastian, pulled the toddler from her chair and into his lap. “Your aunt and uncle are fine. Aunt Eden is just overtired, and you know how I get when your mama neglects herself.”
Eden wanted to comfort the little girl, but she was afraid if she opened her mouth, she’d start sobbing. And that would scare all the children.
“I’ll give your regrets to Leiandros and Savannah,” Sebastian offered.
“Thank you,” Aristide said as he swung Eden up in his arms.
“You’re not going, either?” she asked, hopeful and teary at the same time.
His jaw looked hewn from granite, his expression saying she shouldn’t even have to ask, but her husband answered with a quick negative jerk of his head. Then he turned to their children. “Theo, Angel, your mama is fine. Just tired. I’m taking her to bed, then I will be down to see you both tucked in.”
“I don’t need tucking in, Dad,” Theo argued, using the more grown-up, Americanized address he’d adopted in the past year.
“Nevertheless, I will be back to tell you good-night and make sure your sister is tucked in.”
Angel didn’t make any demurs, her little girl gaze fixed on Eden with relief that implied an understanding beyond her years that her mother needed this. Eden gave both her children a wobbly smile and blew them kisses.
Angel caught hers and hugged it to her chest and her son, who was not as affectionate as he’d been when he was little, actually returned the gesture.
Eden felt the tears more imminent and let her head fall against Aristide, turning her face to hide it in his neck. She didn’t even think of making a protest as her husband carried her from the dining room and up the stairs to the bedroom they always shared when they were staying at Sebastian’s island villa that he’d inherited from their uncle.
Aristide laid his wife on the bed, the expression in her rainwater-gray eyes so tragic it was all he could do not to growl. He removed her clothes with little help as she seemed so drained, she was incapable of doing it for herself.
When he went to put a nightgown over her head, she looked up at him with a grief that broke his heart. “I miss you, Aristide. I miss us. And I’m sorry I let it get this bad.”
Tucking her arms through the holes of her sleeveless white gown with an embroidered neck and hem, Aristide just looked at her. Eden loved the innocent-looking cotton gowns and Aristide had to admit he found them even more sexy than the titillating lingerie she donned occasionally.
Understanding reflected in her gray gaze and the tension seemed to drain out of her. “I’ll stop.”
He nodded, believing her. Believing that she’d finally awoken to what her actions and priorities were doing to their marriage and family.
He did not need to beat a dead horse rehashing it all.
“Will you come to bed with me?” she asked.
“Yes, after I see to the children.” He leaned down and kissed her chastely, but with purpose, reminding her that he loved her, that she was his woman. “I may even make love to you after you’ve gotten some rest.”
Her smile was pure, provocative woman. “I may even let you.”
She slept for eleven hours straight, Aristide never leaving her side, once he’d put their children to bed and once again allayed their concerns about their precious mama. Though he did bring his laptop to bed, working for a while before watching some news reports and then a late-night comedy talk show that helped him to wind down and sleep himself.
He felt Eden stirring in the early hours of the morning and came out of slumber with one thought on his mind.
Making love to his wife.
She turned toward him, her hands exploring his body, her kiss so hungry he couldn’t doubt she wanted this as much as he did. Finally.
They made love in the hushed light of early dawn, their bedroom a sanctuary for intimacy they’d both been missing for too long. Aristide caressed his wife’s silky-smooth skin, mapping the changes in her body over the past months. She’d lost weight she could ill afford to on her slight frame, but he craved her on a cellular level that saw nothing but beauty and perfection when he looked at her, that felt nothing but the same when he touched her.
She was eager, but he wanted this to last. He’d gone too long without his hands on her and he wasn’t about to rush things now.
“Darn it, Aristide, make love to me!” she demanded, her body bowing toward him.
“What do you think it is I have been doing?”
“That’s not what I meant. I want you inside me, part of me. I need it, husband!”
He looked down at her flushed face, beautiful gray eyes liquid with lust, her mouth parted, inviting his kiss. “You need me? Are you sure?”
“Of course I do. I love you!”
Once he would have accepted those words fully and at face value, but after the past two years, doubt tinged the joy he felt at hearing them. “I love you, yineka mou. With every beat of my heart.”
And not just when it was convenient. Not that he thought she loved him that way. But part of him, a small part barely worth noting, was unsure.
He didn’t like the feelings of insecurity, so he ignored them, focusing on the passion building between them. He wanted to be inside her, as well. Wanted to feel the ecstasy of swollen, silken tissues stretching around his sex, accepting him and pleasuring him. Two becoming one in a way that was both mystical and profoundly prosaic.
“I am your wife. I am your woman.” Eden’s tone was fierce, but her gaze was fiercer. “I do love you, my husband. Things will get better. I promise.”
She’d promised other things over the past two years, promised trips that got canceled, dinners and lunches that she didn’t show up for. Could he trust his beautiful and oh-so-precious wife to now keep this promise?
Did he have a choice?
Aristide loved Eden so deeply he did not know where he ended and she began. She was the center of his life, her and their two children.
Pushing his doubts, his thoughts, his worries aside, Aristide aligned his sex with the entrance to Eden’s body and then pressed forward.
She gasped and then told him how wonderful it felt. He gritted his teeth, holding back a shout of pleasure that would have woken the children down the hall. Even with the sound-dampening walls of the villa.
“This, between us. It is a gift neither of us should ever take for granted.”
“No, never,” she agreed, her face contorted in pleasure, her body straining toward his.
They made love then, only words of love and pleasure whispered between them until he felt the imminence of her orgasm. He twisted his hips on each downward thrust, lifting her legs and spreading her thighs wider so he could get that last couple of centimeters of penetration.
His own body wanted to explode, but Aristide would not allow the climax to come. Not until she’d come apart in his arms.
Eden’s scream was loud and long, her body’s convulsions testimony to how powerful this pinnacle of pleasure was for her. He kept thrusting through her pleasure, drawing more from her body until she whimpered and went lax under him. Only then did he give in and thrust more powerfully once, twice and three times, exploding in ecstatic pleasure, his own shout also loud.
When the last vestige of climax had ebbed from his body, he withdrew from hers, taking his place beside her on the mattress, his arms staying locked around her in a hold he couldn’t even think of breaking. He needed this closeness.
She laid her head on his chest, her hand over his heart, and just breathed for long moments, her body as close to his as she could get it. Then she spoke. “I don’t know why I’ve felt I couldn’t say no to anything to do with the foundation, how I could let my priorities get so messed up.”
“It is a worthy cause that you feel deeply about.” That much he understood. The fact that the cause had taken her from him so completely, not so much.
“It always feels like there’s more that I can do, more that I should do.”
“Perhaps you need more help to do it?”
“I don’t really want to be the director anymore,” she said, like she was admitting something shameful.
“You can still be involved without taking on the most demanding position in the hierarchy.”
“But if I gave it up, wouldn’t I be quitting?” she asked with clear pain.
He shook his head. “No, sýzygos,” he said, calling her beloved because she was. “You began a foundation that does a lot of good for children who would have no hope otherwise. It will continue to do that good with you as the guiding light. You’re not giving up your position of president on the board of directors, right?”
“No. No, of course not. That role takes a lot less time.” She sounded like she was admitting a terrible secret. Again.
“This guilt is misplaced, Eden. You can still impact Kouros Children’s Fund in all the ways that matter, just not as the manager of day-to-day operations. Our lifestyle, it is not like other people’s. I travel. I prefer to have my family with me as you once did, too.”
“I still do!”
“That is good to hear. Eden, sýzygos mou. We have commitments that come with great wealth and responsibility. The foundation is only part of that.”
“I know. Really. I do. I just…I didn’t want to be a quitter.”
“Delegating is not quitting. How do you think I cut back so drastically on my travel when I regained my memory?”
“You delegated?” she asked, not sounding too sure. “Only I can’t imagine you letting someone else make decisions you’d always made.”
“And yet that is exactly what I did. You know your father has worked for me in a part-time capacity since a month after coming to live with us.”
“I thought that was to make him feel like he was still useful.”
“And to give me someone I knew I could trust to cover important meetings and the like, so I could spend more time with you and the children.”
“Wow. That…that makes sense. You really did delegate, and not just when Dad came to live with us.”
Hadn’t he just said so? “Ne.”
“And our children, and the life we wanted to have together. Yes.”
“I can delegate.” She sounded so relieved, so happy at the idea.
He had to shift her up his body so he could kiss her again. He didn’t stop at her mouth, but covered her face in the baby kisses she loved so much. “I want my wife back.”
“I didn’t mean to go anywhere.”
“I wondered,” he admitted.
“What? What did you wonder?” She propped herself on her arms on his chest so their eyes could meet.
“If this was payback?”
“Payback?” she asked, sounding truly horrified. “For what?”
“For the way I treated you in the beginning, for how I didn’t commit to our family until after you were pregnant with Angel. For my stupidity in believing Kassandra was my friend and yours.”
“I’m not big on revenge, Aristide. I forgave you a long time ago for your mistakes. I knew you loved me.”
“And yet you still pulled away from me. For two years, no matter what I said, or did.”
“It was tunnel vision, I think. This desperate knowledge that what I was doing was important and the fear of letting not just the people at the foundation down, but all the children we help.”
“Now I understand what I’ve been doing to you, how I’ve hurt you. You’ve got to believe I never wanted to hurt you, my darling. You are the very air that I breathe.” Her expression was so wounded, so sincere.
Aristide had to believe. And in doing so, his own pain was diminished, his fears allayed. “Then believe you too are the very air that I breathe. I suffocate when you are not around.”
Tears filled her rainwater eyes, their gray depths dark with true and deep love for him. “No more suffocating. No more missing. From now on, I remember that you need me as much as any child the foundation serves.”
“More, because they can be helped by others. Only you can give me what I need.”
Eden felt her heart expand in her chest. How could she not be moved by her husband saying such amazing, loving things?
Her fear of not being enough, her intrinsic need to be everything to everyone, began to break apart inside her. She needed to be wife to this man. She needed to be mother to her children, sister-in-law, aunt, daughter-in-law, and yes, daughter to her mostly reformed workaholic father. And yes, there was room for her to be the guide for her foundation, the heart behind it, but she didn’t need to be its primary hands, feet and brain. Not when there were so many talented, generous people who wanted to help.
Eden suddenly knew exactly what she needed to get her husband and children for Christmas.
Rachel walked hand in hand with Sebastian on the private beach outside their island villa. The sun was just starting to lighten the sky, turning the water golden orange with its light, the morning air briskly cool.
“This is my favorite time of day,” she said happily to Sebastian.
He squeezed her hand. “For me, too. I like the quiet and the cool of the morning, knowing our family is safe and secure in our home, but you and I have these moments of privacy.”
“Do you think Eden and Aristide are going to be okay?”
Sebastian pulled her close, putting his arm around her shoulders, like he knew she needed that extra bit of comfort. “Ne, fíltatos mou. My brother loves his wife and he is too stubborn to lose her to her own desire to help others.”
“She’s so driven with the foundation. I thought when I agreed to work there, she would step back a little, but she just took on more commitments in other areas.”
“She cares so deeply, she’s gotten a little lost, but she adores her family. Perhaps even as much as my own ideal wife.”
Rachel smiled. “Maybe. That’s a lot of adoration to compete with though.”
Warm, masculine laughter rumbled from his chest.
Unmistakable cries of ecstasy sounded from open windows on the second floor of the villa and Rachel felt relief pour through her.
“I believe they have found the reconnection Aristide was looking for.”
“Sex doesn’t solve everything,” Rachel felt the need to point out.
“But between two people who love each other so deeply, it can be very healing.”
She couldn’t argue with that outlook. Glad that Eden and Aristide had found some sort of rapprochement, Rachel let her mind wander back to her own issues.
“Did you get the report from Hawk’s company?” she asked her husband.
“It came in last night while we were sleeping.”
“What did it say?”
“According to the documents, Bethany is indeed your mother’s daughter.”
Rachel felt her knees give way.
Sebastian swore in Greek even as he swept her around to lean into him. “Are you all right, agape mou?”
“Yes… I just…I didn’t expect her to be telling the truth.”
“The DNA test has not come back yet, but the likelihood is it will be a match for half sisters.”
“I…” Rachel didn’t know what she wanted to say.
Andrea had had another child. A daughter, whom she’d given up.
“Did Bethany have a good life?”
“According to the report, her parents were salt-of-the-earth-type people who adopted late in life after losing one child and being unable to get pregnant again.”
“How awful for them.”
“So, she had a good childhood.”
“From what the investigators could put together, yes.”
“You said were.”
“Her father died five years ago from a heart attack. Her mother passed this last year, after a prolonged illness that ended in organ failure.”
“You are so compassionate, fíltatos mou. It is one of the many things I love most about you.” He brushed her hair away from her face, the touch a caress. “According to her social media and the reports of neighbors, Bethany cared for her mother at home to the very end.”
“And that’s why she went looking for her genetically related family? She was alone in the world,” Rachel guessed.
“She has a couple of cousins, aunts and uncles, but the age difference is significant. Her cousins are closer to the age of your mother.”
“I doubted her,” Rachel said painfully.
“With good reason, but I believe this Bethany is, in fact, a decent person who is looking for a connection to someone she can love after losing her parents.”
“She’s not married?”
“She’s never even been engaged.”
“But she’s thirty-one.”
“And she’s spent the last ten years taking care of her parents.”
“She’s nothing like Andrea.”
“But she is clearly a lot like her half sister.”
“What? I’ve never taken care of an ill relative.”
“If my mother, or your father, became ill, would you place them in a facility?”
“No, of course not!”
“Even a very good one with a private nurse?”
“You know I wouldn’t.”
“Because your love is more than a feeling, it is a hundred and fifty small actions every day and any big ones necessary to make life better for those blessed enough to fall under its umbrella.”
She turned in his arms and put her arms around Sebastian to hug him. “Sounds a lot like your brand of love.”
“Perhaps. That is undoubtedly why we are so well matched.”
“Or it could be that I fancy you something rotten and always have.”
His laughter cascaded around them, making her smile in response. He leaned down and kissed her with satisfying passion. “The feeling is entirely mutual.”
“I believe you.”
“Do you want to meet Bethany before, or after, Christmas?” he asked.
“Before if we can manage it. I mean, it doesn’t sound like she’s close to the rest of her family. I don’t want her spending the holiday alone.”
“What did I say? Compassionate almost to a fault.”
“I can find no fault in you. To me, you are perfect.”
“That’s a lot to live up to.”
“Only if I expect perfection, and that is not the same thing as believing you are perfect for me.”
“I love you so much!”
“And I love you!” He kissed her again, and then said, “I’ll contact Bethany and send the jet to fetch her if she’s amenable.”
“Now, I think it is time we returned to our room so we can make some of those noises that show how very in tune we are.”
Rachel spun around and started running across the beach toward the villa. “Race you!”
Sebastian caught up with her before she’d stepped onto the flagstones of the oversize back patio. He swept her up and threw her over his shoulder. “I’ve got you now!”
“What are you going to do with me?” she demanded breathlessly, her laughter making it hard to speak.
“If you have to ask, I’m not doing my job right.”
“Papa! What are you doing?” Achilles demanded, sounding thoroughly scandalized finding his father carrying his mother through the kitchen.
“Having some much-needed alone time with your mother.”
“Aren’t you two too old for that?” their son demanded sarcastically.
“Bite your tongue,” Rachel told her son. “Romance is alive and well in our marriage, thank you very much.”
Her son made gagging noises as Sebastian carried her through the kitchen.
“He’ll change his tune one day, and won’t I enjoy reminding him of this?” Sebastian carried Rachel up the stairs.
“He’s our son—he’s always going to think romance between his parents is gag-worthy.”
“I do not think so. I am very happy my mother found your father and it makes me very pleased to see them holding hands, or kissing.”
“You’re a special guy, Sebastian Kouros.”
“I am happier than I can say that you feel that way.”
Eden had offered to come with Rachel for her to meet Bethany for the first time and Rachel gratefully accepted. She was sorry if her sister found two Greek tycoons and their wives a bit overwhelming, but she was finding it very hard to adjust her thinking to having a sister she’d never known anything about.
The driver brought Bethany to the restaurant in Athens that Rachel had picked out for this first meeting. The food was good, but more important, there was a small room they kept in the back for business meetings or small social gatherings.
The table easily sat ten, but was laid for five at one end.
Bethany had Rachel’s green eyes. Her hair was a really pretty honey blond, though, and while she dressed kind of dowdily, her figure was curvy like Rachel’s too, maybe even a little more so. But it was the look in her wary green eyes that told Rachel they had plenty in common.
She looked shell-shocked, hopeful and a little terrified all at the same time.
Rachel jumped up and rushed to her half sister, offering her arms for a hug, which Bethany returned without hesitation.
“Oh, it really is you. I wondered…you being married to a megarich tycoon, if he’d insist on meeting me first, putting me through all kinds of security stuff first.”
Rachel smiled as she stepped back. “You’ve been thoroughly investigated. Don’t let his friendly countenance now fool you. But the result of the investigation was that he’s decided you and I are a lot alike.”
“Being investigated should probably offend me, but it doesn’t.” She smiled at Sebastian. “I like that you’re protective of my sister. A loving husband should be.”
“Agreed,” Aristide said from the other side of the table with a significant look at Eden. “Even when it means protecting those we love from themselves.”
Rachel made the introductions then.
The more introverted Eden surprised Rachel by offering Bethany a hug, too. “It’s very good to meet the sister of the woman I’ve considered my own sister for more than a decade.”
Bethany looked between them, her eyes soft with approval. “I always wanted a sibling, but Mom and Dad were in their late forties and early fifties when they adopted me. It wasn’t going to happen.”
“I hated being an only child,” Rachel admitted.
Bethany nodded. “Your husband isn’t the only wary one, though I was more curious than worried. I had my own investigation done, maybe not as thorough as what you all could make happen, but I learned one thing for sure. You definitely got the raw end of the deal staying with our mother.”
“That is what I have told her,” Sebastian said.
Rachel shrugged. “Being her daughter led me to the family I have now. It was worth it.”
“I’m glad you feel that way, fíltatos mou, and I love you very much, but I must agree with your sister,” Sebastian said.
“Andrea was not a nice person,” Aristide offered, with uncharacteristic restraint when discussing the woman who had given Rachel birth.
“My parents were truly wonderful people,” Bethany said, sounding a little guilty about that fact.
Rachel gave her a reassuring smile. “I’m glad. I wouldn’t have wished growing up with Andrea as a mother on anyone else, no matter how much I wanted a sibling.”
“I guess we’re both really lucky we got the best of our genetics from our fathers.”
Rachel grinned, sitting down at the table. “You’re right.”
Bethany took the chair to Rachel’s left. “I just wish I’d been able to figure out who mine is. But according to my investigator, Andrea was big on one-night stands with nameless strangers that year after she left your father.”
“She actually stole me, hiding me from him,” Rachel offered.
“What a truly awful woman.”
Sebastian had a strange expression on his face.
“What is it?” Rachel asked.
“The DNA test came in while we were waiting for Bethany to arrive.”
“Oh.” Rachel cocked her head. “No surprises?”
“Actually, there was one,” Sebastian said, giving her and then Bethany a very careful look.
“What is it?” Bethany asked, looking ready to cry.
Did she think they might not be sisters? Rachel knew better. Their looks, their mannerisms, their viewpoint on the world? They were related. They were sisters.
“You did not match for half siblings.”
Bethany made a wounded sound.
But Sebastian wasn’t done. “You matched for full sisters, who shared DNA from both parents.”
Bethany turned whiter than the stucco on their island villa, while Rachel felt faint. “She’s dad’s daughter, too? That bitch didn’t just steal me away, she gave away his second child?”
“It looks that way, yes.”
“We share a dad?” Bethany asked faintly.
“It appears you do,” Sebastian confirmed.
“Can you believe Rachel’s mother?” Eden asked Aristide that evening as they were once again getting ready for dinner.
They had spent the day together as she had planned, but unlike past times when she’d made such plans, she had not checked her email or checked in with social media. In fact, she’d left her phone in their room while they went on an early-morning swim with the children, then flown to Athens in the helicopter with Rachel and Sebastian. They’d gotten back to the villa only a half an hour before, but their children along with Rachel and Sebastian’s were still busy Christmas shopping with their grandparents and a bevy of bodyguards.
It was a yearly tradition, allowing the two couples to have a date night during the busy holiday season.
Aristide came over to do up the catch on her necklace. He met her eyes in the mirror. “Andrea was a terrible woman and I thank God, daily, that He gave me a woman like you for my wife.”
“You think I’m a heavenly gift?” she asked, disbelief he could shock her with stuff like this after so many years coursing through her.
“Even after the way things have been the last couple of years?”
“The foundation is important to you. I understood that.”
“But you needed me, too.”
“I did. I do.” He turned her around and pulled her into his body, his unbuttoned shirt allowing his naked chest to press against her hands trapped between them. “And I have you, ne?”
“Oh, yes. You always have. I just got lost for a little while.”
“I know, sýzygos mou. You love me, ne?”
She reached up to cup his face, meeting his gorgeous Aegean-blue eyes. “I love you with everything in me. My dreams are dry sand blowing on the beach without you by my side.”
“You know I feel the same. Of what use is my wealth or my business if my family is not here to share the benefits?”
“You’re a special guy, Aristide. I’m sorry I ever made you doubt my love.” Her heart was still bleeding from that knowledge.
He kissed her until she melted into him, then it was his turn to meet her gaze, his own intense and dark with emotion. “I am sorry I ever doubted your love. Your heart is what gives my life joy. Doubting its beauty, generosity or passion hurt both of us and I never will again.”
“My dear tycoon husband, even with all your self-confidence, I don’t expect you to read my mind or my heart. I have to show you my love, just as—honestly?—I need you to show me your love and tell me you love me often. You deserve everything from me that I expect to get from you.”
“I will never withhold what you crave to feel secure in our marriage,” he promised her.
And that was what it was, wasn’t it? He needed to know he and the children came first and she couldn’t just say it then turn around and put her work ahead of them on a regular basis and expect him to believe her.
“Neither will I.”
He smiled down at her. “That sounds very much like a vow.”
“You can take it as such.”
“I think tonight, my brother and sister-in-law will have to do without us for dinner.”
Eden was laughing with joy and anticipation as she landed on the bed with her very amorous husband.
Sebastian watched his wife walk aimlessly around their bedroom. She’d removed her clothes from earlier, but had not yet donned her dress for dinner. As much as he knew she was in emotional turmoil, so he could not act on it, his libido was sparked into heated need by the sight of her in nothing but a skimpy pair of panties and pretty matching bra.
“Are you all right, yineka mou? You had a very emotionally challenging day.”
She turned to face him, her body silhouetted in the setting sun out their balcony window. “That’s a good way of putting it. How could my mother do that? Not only did she steal my sister from me, but she gave away her child, a child my father would have been thrilled to raise if she didn’t want to. He’s going to be so devastated when he learns what Andrea did.”
“Perhaps, but he will also be thrilled to have another daughter to dote on. I anticipate a great deal of matchmaking from him and my mother.”
“Your mom is an old hand at matchmaking.”
“She succeeded with us, yes?”
Sebastian doubted the sensual hunger he heard in his wife’s voice. That was just his mind playing hopeful tricks on him.
“Do you want me with you when you tell Vincent what Andrea did?” They’d agreed to wait until his mother and Vincent returned to the villa after their overnight shopping trip with the children to tell the older man he had a second daughter.
“Yes. I think Phillipa should be there, as well. He’ll need the support.” Rachel crossed the room toward him, her hips rolling seductively.
Sebastian did his best to tamp down the lust surging at the sight of his beautiful, scantily clad wife. “Did Bethany agree to come to the island for Christmas?”
Rachel nodded. “I arranged with our helicopter pilot to bring her over the day after tomorrow. I wanted to give Vincent some time to adjust to the news and she wanted a chance to do some last-minute shopping in Athens.”
Rachel’s sister had taken careful notes on the names, ages and interests of all her newly discovered nieces and nephews. She’d informed Aristide and Eden she considered their children her niece and nephew by default, as well.
Sebastian had been touched by the woman’s attitude and could tell his brother and sister-in-law felt the same way. He was convinced Bethany had a great deal in common with his generous-hearted and loving wife.
Rachel stopped in front of him, stopping his hands from finishing the buttons on his shirt. “I don’t want to talk about anyone else right now.”
“You don’t?” he asked, his tone going husky without his volition.
“Oh no. I want to focus entirely on you and me right now.”
“You do?” He couldn’t quite mask his shock.
“You shouldn’t be surprised. I have always found the most amazing comfort in our intimacy.”
“But I didn’t want to be the tactless, oversexed male in the face of your emotional distress.”
His wife’s laughter ended against his lips as she kissed him with unfettered passion. Sebastian gave himself permission to give in to his own desire and swept her up onto the top of the dressing table, scattering jars and feminine detritus with a sweep of his hand.
She moaned, shoving his dress shirt down his arms, making him glad he hadn’t gotten to his cuff links yet because the offending fabric dropped right off his body without hindrance.
Rachel’s hands were everywhere, sending fire along his nerve endings and ratcheting up his arousal.
Sebastian undid her bra with a flick of his wrist and then peeled the garment from her body, sucking in a heated breath at the sight of her plump breasts tipped by turgid nipples. The scent of her musk reached him and he groaned.
His sexy wife was as into this as Sebastian.
She lifted her hips for him as he pushed her underwear down, helping him to get rid of the panties completely in a couple of wriggles that about sent him into the sexual stratosphere.
“You are so darn sexy, Sebastian Kouros!”
“Pot? Meet kettle, Mrs. Kouros.”
She grinned, her expression filled with passionate delight. “Oh, I do love you, Sebastian.”
Her answer to that was another mind-melting kiss. Then she demanded, “Take off your trousers, Sebastian. I want you naked and inside me.”
How could he do anything but what she asked, shucking his slacks and underwear in a couple of jerky movements. He reached down to touch her silky, wet flesh, loving the heat he found waiting for him.
She moved against his hand, abandoned to pleasure. He didn’t believe any other woman could be as generous in her passion or open to his touch. And she was his.
All his, for the rest of their lives.
He lifted her thighs, spreading them wide and tilting her back so he could press the head of his sex against the core of her body.
“Yes, oh yes, Sebastian. Please, I need you inside me, connected to me, keeping me connected to our life, our love, the present, not the past.”
Damn. He understood exactly what she needed and was touched beyond measure she trusted him enough to tell him.
He thrust forward, seating himself inside her tight, slick, heat. She cried out and dug her nails into his shoulders.
Their lovemaking was wild and abandoned, shaking the heavy dressing table with their movements.
She came faster than he expected but with all the signs of satisfied passion and brought him inexorably over the edge with her, his shout echoing around them in the room.
“I think Eden and Aristide will have to be content on their own for dinner tonight,” he said with deep satisfaction as he lifted her into his arms and carried her to their bed, with every intention of repeating what they had just done as soon as possible.
Her soft laughter washed over him as she snuggled into his arms. “From the look in Eden’s eyes when we landed, I doubt they made it to dinner, either.”
Nothing would make Sebastian happier. His little brother and wife deserved to be as happy as Sebastian and Rachel were.
Rachel watched her children open gifts from their newly discovered aunt, her heart so full, she could barely keep it in. Bethany had come to the villa a couple of days ago and she fit in with the family like she’d always been there. Nothing like their mother, she was clearly awed by the Kouros wealth, but not greedy for it. She gave love and affection to her father, healing something inside him that Rachel hadn’t even realized was still wounded.
Bethany was a natural caretaker, wanting to help with the Christmas preparations, and delighted to add her modest gifts to the others under the giant tree in the main living room. She’d bought each of the children books and it was obvious she’d put a lot of thought into what every child would be interested in and like best. No generic classics or hottest book for this age group in the bunch, but each one clearly a personal gift from a woman who admitted to finding solace and joy in her own reading over the difficult years of caring for elderly parents and having very little social life outside those responsibilities.
Vincent had been heartbroken when Rachel first told him about Bethany, but learning she’d been raised by loving, affectionate parents who had always treated her like a miraculous gift had helped him to come to terms with Andrea’s actions.
He’d taken Rachel’s hands and looked at her with utter sincerity, then said, “Honestly? My dear daughter, if I could have prevented you being raised by that woman, I would have done it, even if it meant giving you to someone else to raise. I cannot grieve the fact your sister had a chance at a happy childhood.”
Though he could grieve the fact he’d had his children stolen from him, Rachel loved her father even more for thinking of them before his own emotional pain.
“You’re the best dad, you know that?”
Vincent’s eyes turned suspiciously glossy and he hugged her tight. “Thank you, sweetheart. Hearing that heals my heart.”
So now her dad was just clearly delighted to have both his daughters and the rest of the family around him, and Rachel felt just absolutely happy to be exactly where she was.
“Your smile is such a pleasure to see,” Sebastian said from beside her.
“If you have to ask, I’m doing something wrong.”
“No, I just… I guess I want to hear it.”
“Then let me say it. I am deliriously happy to be here with our families, to have our wonderful children showing such warm appreciation for their gifts, no matter how big or small.”
“Big gifts like a house, or an island with a house?” she teased.
“We already owned all of them. It was natural to provide for our children as they prepare to leave the nest.”
“We’re years away from even Chara moving out. You just wanted to make me the de facto owner of the island and villa after me refusing it all these years.”
“You know me well, but the point is, our children showed the same level of excitement for their gifts from their cousins as they did for the biggest ones from us.”
“They are good kids, aren’t they?” Rachel sighed happily.
“As much as I love my nieces and nephew,” Aristide said with a smile, “my son and daughter definitely compete for that moniker.”
“What’s a moniker, Papa?” Angel asked her father.
“It means a name, what you call someone. I was saying that to me, and your mama, you and your brother, Theodore, are the best children in the world.”
Little Angel jumped up from her pile of presents and ran to her father, giving him a giant hug, the expression on Aristide’s face so touching Rachel felt tears at the back of her eyes.
Eden sighed happily as her daughter embraced her husband with such enthusiasm. He was such a good, loving father. And an amazing husband. She hoped he understood the intent behind her gift to him and the children, hoped it settled once and for all his worries about their relationship.
She’d meant it when she said she was done putting her commitments to Kouros Children’s Fund ahead of her family.
“Theo, love, will you come here? Your papa has a gift to open that is also for you and your sister.”
Aristide gave her a questioning glance, but Eden just smiled. “You’ll see.”
He opened his arms and their usually too-old-to-cuddle son joined him and Angel beside Eden on the sofa. Eden handed Angel the box, but she showed her loving nature by offering it to Theo to open.
Eden’s son grinned at his little sister. “Let’s open it together.”
So they both ripped the Christmas-themed paper from their end of the box, tearing it away and then handing the box to their dad to finish opening.
What a family she had!
Aristide lifted the lid and looked inside, his expression warming with unmistakable delight at what he found inside. “We are going on a family vacation?”
“Two weeks in Southern California.”
“We’re going to Disneyland!” Angel screamed.
“And Universal Studios, Legoland, the San Diego Zoo, all of it.” She’d bought tickets to all the major family-centric attractions. “I spoke to your executive assistant and we’ve cleared your calendar. Whatever she couldn’t move, my father has agreed to cover for you.”
“I would offer to cover for you,” Sebastian piped up. “But my wife has been in collusion with yours and our family will be joining you for the trip.”
All of the children went nuts at that point, while their grandparents looked on with indulgent love and Rachel’s newly discovered sister, Bethany, showed no embarrassment at the happy tears tracking down her face.
“Bethany agreed to come with us, too,” Rachel offered.
“Even though I grew up in California, I’ve never actually been to most of the theme parks. My parents weren’t keen on crowds.”
“We’ll have time just for us, too,” Eden said to her beaming husband. “Vincent and Phillipa have agreed to come and watch them so we can have adult time.”
The children all squealed in joy at the idea of their grandparents going.
“Your father does not mind not coming?” Aristide asked in a low tone.
“He would find the walking onerous and you know how he feels about being pushed in a chair or using a scooter.” Her father’s left leg had never fully recovered from his stroke and he could only walk with the steadying use of a cane.
No way would he enjoy day after day at theme parks and zoos that required miles of walking to see and experience.
“I am genuinely happy to do this for you and Sebastian, Aristide,” her father said, proving he was far more aware than he used to be. “My daughter deserves some time with just her family after the long hours she’s put into establishing the foundation. Rachel too.”
“Well, I appreciate you making this trip possible,” Aristide said with respect and warmth for her former workaholic father.
Then he turned to Eden. “And I will show you just how happy I am with this gift later when we are alone, agape mou.”
“I can’t wait.”
“Mom,” Theo said, drawing the word out to three syllables.
“Your mother and I adore each other, this is not new.” Aristide’s arrogance was back in full force.
And Eden was thrilled.
“Not new at all,” she said with a wink.
Angel giggled. “Mama loves papa,” she sang in her sweet little girl voice.
Theo rolled his eyes, but the smile curling the edges of his mouth said he was pleased at his parents’ affection.
The trip to Southern California was incredible. Aristide was surprised and very happy when his wife hired not only a new director for Kouros Children’s Fund but also a full-time personal assistant to help her free up time to spend with her family.
This was beyond anything he had expected. Eden had arranged for them to renew their vows in Cinderella’s Castle, about sending his daughter and nieces into ecstatic rapture. The boys pretended to be less impressed, but their eyes had been wide as saucers when they’d all first arrived to discover her plans.
He had been given a tuxedo in a style that made him look like a living Prince Charming. His son was decked out in something similar as his best “man” and their daughter was wearing a Cinderella-style ball gown when she walked down the white runner that two ushers had unrolled just before “Wedding March” started. Then Eden was there, her dress decadent and beautiful, reminding him that she loved fairy tales as much their children.
Aristide went halfway down the aisle to meet her, irresistibly drawn to the beautiful woman he had married.
He heard his brother’s laughter, his sister-in-law’s joining in, and he did not care. He had to have his hand on her. Now.
He reached out with his hand and she took it, her gray eyes filled with love and joy.
They spoke their renewal vows before their family, her father having flown over for the ceremony. They promised to always put the other first, speaking words of love and commitment that they’d spoken before with a few new promises thrown in.
It was a beautiful ceremony and the dinner after had an air of celebration.
Not caring if other diners understood his need to do so, Aristide pulled his wife into his lap, the voluminous skirts of her gown cascading over his thighs. “Thank you, my very precious, delectable wife, for loving me, for showing how important that love is and for being the mother of my wonderful children.”
She was too choked with happy tears to reply with anything but a long, loving kiss.
About the Author
With more than seven million copies of her books in print worldwide, award-winning and USA TODAY bestselling author Lucy Monroe has published over sixty books and had her stories translated for sale all over the world. While she writes multiple subgenres of romance, all her books are sexy, deeply emotional and adhere to the concept that love will conquer all. A passionate devotee of romance, she adores sharing her love for the genre with her readers.
Look for Lucy Monroe’s next title from Harlequin Presents:
Kostas’s Convenient Bride
Coming May 2018!