The truth could destroy them or bind them together forever...

Billionaire real estate developer Rapheus Giannopoulos has a reputation for being emotionally void and unavailable. When it comes to women and dating, he has always kept it casual. But Raph is forced to navigate through a sea of mixed emotions when his grandfather’s deathbed confession about family secrets sends him into a world and to a family he knew nothing about, and to a woman who brings him to his knees.

In business, Hotelier Xiomara Davenport exudes confidence. Not so in relationships. She has been used, betrayed, and humiliated by men who promised to love her. Behind the walls that surround her heart, Xio has all but given up on love. But both her confidence and defenses are shaken to the core when a rival threatens to destroy the life she has built, and a handsome stranger makes her question what she thinks she knows about herself.

On the picturesque Caribbean island of Akilina where lush rainforests, black sand beaches, and majestic mountains unfold at every turn, and where ancient cultures blend as seamlessly as the breathtaking landscape, will Raph and Xio surrender to the irresistible pull between them, or will the truths they uncover forever keep them apart?

Seduced by Passion

Chapter 1

Raph scowled at the six-foot, three-inch man staring back at him in the bathroom mirror. Fatigue had settled in pockets under his sleep-deprived eyes, and a black five o’clock shadow covered his olive skin. He took great pride in his appearance, but with the circumstances of the last week and a half, especially the last few hours, grooming had been the furthest thing from his mind.

Bending under the weight of sadness and unease, he turned on the faucet, splashed cold water on his face, then threaded his wet hands through his rumpled hair, pressing the black strands against the collar of his white shirt. Lifting a clean towel from a stack on the counter, he dried his face and eyed his reflection again. He still looked disheveled, but at least he felt somewhat refreshed.

He exited the bathroom and, ignoring the hum of voices coming from the living room, he headed toward the large oak door at the end of the hall. As soon as he opened it, the smell of ammonia and antiseptic flooded his nostrils and the sound of air being forced through congested lungs filled his ears.

Swallowing the lump in his throat, Raph walked over to the bed and gazed at the ninety-three-year-old patriarch of the Giannopoulos family sleeping in the middle of the bed. His wraithlike body was propped up by pillows on either side, and his skin was so pallid, he was almost indistinguishable from the white cotton sheet beneath him—a stark contrast to the towering man he used to be.

His name was Andris Sebastian Giannopoulos, and he was Raph’s beloved pappoús.

Andris was more than a grandfather, though. He was the man who’d made Raph feel safe and protected as a little boy. Raph remembered the feelings of security when his grandfather held his hand, of excitement when they flew kites on the beach while waves lapped at their feet and the wind tugged at their clothes, and of contentment as they solved jigsaw puzzles together.

Solving jigsaw puzzles was Andris’ favorite pastime, and of his three grandsons, Raph was the only one who showed interest in his hobby. He loved the challenge of creating beauty from chaos, but that wasn’t the only thing that had kept Raph sitting and sifting through thousands of identical cardboard pieces for hours, days, and sometimes weeks. It was his love for his grandfather, and the joy he got from spending time with him. He hoped that over the years he’d given the old man as much love and joy as he received from him.

The flap of the white linen window curtains, moving in the cool evening breeze brought Raph back from the past, and into the dread of the dimly lit room. Wiping the tears from his eyes, he eased his body down onto a chair beside the bed, reached out, and methodically brushed the gray, wrinkled brow, just as Andris had brushed his when he was a little boy in need of comfort. And God knew he and his brothers, Neo, and Tele, had needed a whole lot of comfort when they were children.

Even though they had outgrown that need, their grandfather still piled it on every chance they gave him, until two years ago when he suffered a stroke that robbed him of his ability to speak and his mobility on the right side of his body.

Under the care of the best doctors and therapists that money could buy, after many small incremental improvements, two weeks ago, Raph and his brothers had gotten good news from the doctors. Andris had regained his speech and was asking to see his family. It was the miraculous breakthrough they’d all been praying for, and they’d immediately flown to Santorini to be with him.

For the past week and a half, Andris had been talkative as he visited with his grandsons, his great-granddaughter, Petra, and their extended family. Everyone thought he was surely on his way back to a full recovery, but a few days ago, even though his speech was still strong, his body had weakened, and he’d developed a severe case of pneumonia. This morning, his doctor had warned the family that the infection, and his old age, would claim him before the next sunrise. It was as though his grandfather had fought his way out of his prison of silence, just to bid his family farewell.

Raph’s brothers, his niece, and the children and grandchildren of Ilaria, Andris’ late sister, had said their final goodbyes this afternoon. Raph’s mother, Jordan, was expected to fly in from New York this evening to say her goodbyes to the father-in-law who had accepted her into his heart and loved her like she was his own daughter.

Even though they had all traveled back and forth between the U.S. and Santorini to visit each other when they were younger, Raph wished he’d spent more quality time with his pappoús over the last ten years. But he’d been too busy turning G3 into the billion-dollar real estate development giant it was. In his twenties, he’d thought he had all the time in the world to do all the things he wanted. It had taken Andris’ stroke for Raph to realize the importance of family over business, but by then it was too late. He’d been misguided, stupid, and focused on the wrong things in life.

After the happy, tearful trips down memory lane this afternoon, Andris had asked everyone, except Raph, to leave. He wanted to have a talk with him, but he’d been so worn out from the visiting that he’d fallen asleep shortly after the room had cleared.

Raph stilled as his grandfather’s hand stirred against his thigh, and his eyes fluttered open.

“Raph… Raph…” he whispered, looking around the room until his eyes focused on his grandson’s face.

“I’m here, Pappoús.” Raph resumed caressing his brow.

“The clock. You’ll take it with you.”

Raph wondered why, of all the possessions Andris had acquired during his ninety-three years on earth, that forgotten clock was the first thing he spoke about upon awakening. It was as though he’d been dreaming about it. “Yes, Pappoús, I will take the clock with me.”

Raph looked at the seven-foot-tall grandfather clock ticking away in the corner where it had been since he was thirteen years old. He had been here in Santorini when his grandfather had it moved from an outbuilding on the estate to his bedroom. His mother had remarried that same year, and he and his brothers were looking forward to spending the summer in Greece to get away from their new stepfather, but Andris had asked Jordan to send Raph two weeks ahead of his brothers

Neo and Tele had also wanted to leave early, but Andris had insisted that Raph came alone, with a promise to take each of them for one week every summer from then on—a promise he’d kept until his teenage grandsons had become too busy with friends, girlfriends, and eventually business, and began spending less and less time with the old man.

That summer, Raph and his grandfather had traveled all over mainland Greece to places he’d never been before and hadn’t been to since. It had been nice not to have to split his attention with his brothers for two whole weeks. Then, two days before Neo and Tele were to arrive, his pappoús had brought him into this room and asked him to help him clean the precious family heirloom for the very first time.

While they’d carefully laid out the pieces and polished the carved eagle standing guard on top of it, Raph had felt as if his grandfather wanted to tell him something important. But every time he started a sentence, he would get tongue-tied as if he couldn’t find the words to say what he wanted to say.

Raph had never seen his grandfather at a loss for words until that day. He remembered the firm grip of his grandfather’s hands on his shoulders, and the urgency in his voice while he made him promise to take the clock to California if anything should happen to him––to make sure it stayed in the family.

He grimaced at the thought that he would soon be the unenthusiastic owner of that monstrosity, but a promise was a promise. “I’ll take the clock,” he said again to set his grandfather’s mind at ease.

“Thank you.” Andris gave him a faint smile, then said, “It’s my fault, to mikró mou gio.”

Raph’s hand stilled on his forehead. He gazed into the fading brown eyes. “Your fault for what, Pappoús?”

His grandfather swallowed and took a few shallow breaths. “Everything. Your father and Yaya. They died because of me.”

Raph stared at him, baffled. Why was his grandfather blaming himself for their deaths? Is this why he’d asked to be alone with Raph? Alarm quickened his pulse.

Pulling a tissue from a box on the nightstand, he wiped the tears that slid from the corners of Andris’ eyes. “Pappoús, Yaya and Baba died in an accident. It wasn’t anybody’s fault. It was—”

“It’s more than that. It’s everything. It’s Cleon. It’s Giannport. It’s… It’s…” Andris’ voice trailed off as his lungs fought for air. “You’re not listening to me. You’re… You–– You’re not hearing me!” Andris’ frail body began shaking in the bed as he succumbed to a coughing fit.

“It’s okay, Pappoús. It’s okay,” Raph said as he placed his hand on Andris’ shoulder, trying to calm him down. He waited for him to catch his breath. “Pappoús, you gave Giannport to Cleon after Baba and Yaya died because—”

Óchi. Óchi.” Andris shook his head in frustration. “He knew something. He took it.”

“You mean by force?” Anger churned in Raph’s stomach at the thought that Cleon, his distant and estranged cousin, had coerced his grandfather into abdicating his forty-year position as CEO of Giannport Vineyard & Wineries. Andris had helplessly watched as his company was sold off, vineyard-by-vineyard, until it all but ceased to exist. All that remained was one dilapidated vineyard in Aetós, the launching pad for the Giannopoulos wine-producing empire that was once the most successful in all of Europe.

“If your father had lived, he would run Giannport. Pass it to you, Neo, and Tele.”

Raph could not argue with that fact. His father, Xander, who’d loved the wine making business, would have taken over Giannport years ago, and Raph’s mother, who was one of the few female sommeliers in the world, would have helped him run it.

But as fate would have it, Xander and Kerena, Raph’s father and grandmother, died in a car crash not too far from the family estate in Santorini when Raph and his brothers were six-years old. If things were different, yes, he would have been coached and prepped to take over Giannport, but there was no going back. “If Cleon stole the company from you, I will make him pay, Pappoús. I swear!”

Óchi! Leave it alone. Doesn’t matter now. Waste of time.” Andris tried to clear the phlegm from his throat. “Promise me you’ll leave it alone.”

Raph frowned. Why would he say that his cousin had taken the company away from him by force in one breath, and then in the next, say that it didn’t matter anymore? Of course, it mattered. What was he afraid of? What was he hiding? “I promise, Pappoús,” he said, even as he knew in his heart that he could not just forget it.

His grandfather let out a deep breath and relaxed into the mattress again as Raph continued to soothe his brow with long, gentle strokes of his thumb.

“You are head of the family now, Raph.”

The implication of that responsibility weighed heavy on his heart. “I know, Pappoús.”

“Take care of your brothers and your mother and little Petra. Find the right woman and fall in love.”

“You know me, Pappoús, I wouldn’t know the right woman if she punched me in the nose.” Raph laughed to lighten the grim aura in the room, and to keep himself from saying exactly how he felt about women and love.

“You’ll know her when you feel her. When you dream about her.”

“You mean when I see her?” Raph asked with a questioning frown.

Óchi. You don’t see love. You feel love. Experience love,” he whispered on a smile. “She might not be the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen, but you will know she’s right when you feel her in your heart, and when you dream of her, mikró mou gio. You must carry on the Giannopoulos bloodline,” he said, before closing his eyes and lapsing into silence.

Raph was only older than Neo by five minutes, and Tele by seven, yet his brothers had always looked up to him. They had allowed him to lead the pack even when they were children, and it was understood by all that once their grandfather made his earthly exit, Raph would become the de facto patriarch of the Giannopoulos family.

As for carrying on the family bloodline, Tele had already grown his little branch, and he was sure that soon Neo would settle down and plant a few seeds of his own. Marriage and a family were not in his life’s plan.

Neró,” Andris whispered in a voice, much weaker than it had been a few minutes ago.

Raph took the glass of water from the nightstand and helped him take a few sips through the straw. When he’d had enough, Raph replaced the glass then held his waning gaze. “I love you, Pappoús,” he said in a choked voice, needing him to hear it one last time. “I wish we’d spent more time together during the years before your stroke.”

Andris’ eyes flashed gently. “We had our moments, mikró mou gio. More moments than many people get with their loved ones. You and I solved so many puzzles together.” His thin lips cracked on a crooked smile. “You brought me so much joy.”

Raph pressed his lips together as wrenching knots formed in his belly. “You brought me joy, too, more than you would ever know, Pappoús.” He wiped his sleeve across his eyes and nose.

Andris squeezed Raph’s hand. “You were always my favorite.”

Raph grinned through his mounting pain. He knew his grandfather told Neo and Tele the same thing, but he also knew the old man held a tad more fondness in his heart for him. He tightened his fingers around his grandfather’s. “I know, Pappoús. And you’ve always been my favorite grandpa.”

“I know your heart, mikró agóri. I know what you gave up.”

Raph’s eyes narrowed to slits. “What do you know, Pappoús?”

Andris simply smiled, then said, “I want you to do something... something for me.”

“Of course. Anything for you, Pappoús.” He fought to suppress the grief spreading through his gut with each passing second.

Andris’ brow knitted, and he beckoned Raph closer. “Take us to Aki… Aki—li—na, Rapheus.”

Raph stared wordlessly at his grandfather for a second. “Where? What—”

“Will you take us, me and Yaya?”

“Yes. I will take you and Yaya to Akilina, but—”

“No one else is to know. Not your brothers. Not your mother. Only you must go. Promise.”

“Yes, Pappoús. I won’t say a word. But what is Akilina? Where is it?” he asked, curiosity and surprise warring in his mind.

Andris’ eyes darted around the room with a burning faraway look. “I… Island. Carib… bean. My Ra.”

“Your Ra? What is a Ra?”

“My birthplace.”

Raph drew back in confusion as he tried to absorb the information his grandfather just dumped on him. He took a deep breath and hoped his voice would not portray his alarm. “You’re saying you were born on this island in the Caribbean? I’ve seen your birth certificate, Pappoús. You were born in Aetós. You were born here in Greece.” He paused, again wondering at his grandfather’s state of mind. “Are you getting your facts mixed up, Pappoús?”

“Óchi.“ He shook his head and tightened his lips in frustration. “Óchi,” he said again.

“I’m sorry, Pappoús. I don’t mean to upset you. I’m just trying to understand what you mean––what you want me to do.”

His grandfather’s eyes darted around the room again, causing an eerie feeling to skitter up and down Raph’s spine. What, or who was he looking for?

“My baba. He was promised. To another. He fell–– They fell…in love. They eloped. To Akilina,” Andris said, pausing after each sentence while his chest rose and fell and the crackling in his breath grew louder.

Nausea rose to Raph’s throat as he realized that his grandfather was struggling to take his last breaths. “Pappoús,” he whispered. Tears raced down his face and landed on his hands, both clasped around his grandfather’s. “Pappoús…”

“I’m sorry, Rapheus. I’m so sorry. I didn’t tell you. I— I wanted to… I— I—meant to. But then I…” Andris closed his eyes tightly and pressed his lips together as a lone tear slid from the corner of his eye, rolled down his temple, and into his ear.

Raph’s stomach cramped at the sadness and regret he’d heard in his grandfather’s voice and the turmoil on his face. “What, Pappoús?” He shifted on the chair as his body tightened with urgency. He wiped a hand across his nose. “What did you want to tell me?” He needed to know.

Andris’ eyes brightened and moved around the room as though he were following something, his gaze tense and alert. When his focus zeroed in on a spot above Raph’s head, a chill enveloped Raph, and he had the feeling that a ghost had passed through him. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on edge and goosebumps covered his skin. But he did not feel panic, only a quiet acknowledgement of the existence of things beyond this world.

He knew in that moment that his father’s and his grandmother’s spirits were in the room. Raph pressed his lips together to bite back his sob. “Pappoús...”

Andris’ gaze drifted to Raph, and he managed a faint smile. “Akilina. Raph, take us to my Ra.”

“I will, Pappoús. I will take you to your Ra.” Tears blinded him. Knowing it was the last time he would gaze into his grandfather’s eyes, he hurriedly dried his tears on the sleeve of his shirt.

“Thank you... Rapheus.” Andris’ gaze shifted to the portraits of his son and wife on a table at the foot of his bed. They had been placed there after his stroke so he could see them without having to strain his eyes. He took deep shallow breaths—breaths Raph knew were his very last.

“Pappoús…” His chest felt heavy as lead and his breath solidified in his throat.

Andris squeezed Raph’s hand. “Xander. Kerena, agápi mou,” he whispered, and with those final words, his lips sealed together on a smile. His grip relaxed around Raph’s fingers, and his brown eyes shimmered in the bedside light one last time before his lids closed around them.

And there, in the quiet of the home where he’d lived all his life, Andris Sebastian Giannopoulos peacefully died. For twenty-seven years, he had grieved in silence for his wife and son, hardly speaking of them, even to his grandchildren, because his pain was too deep, the wound of loss, still too raw. But now, he was with them and finally at peace.

The grandfather clock chimed seven times, tolling out the evening hour.

Antío, Pappoús. Se agapó.” Raph leaned over the bed and pressed his lips to his grandfather’s cool forehead. Still holding his frail hand, he dropped his head on his chest and wept, regret for not spending more time with him stabbing at his broken heart.

Chapter 2

Raph was still sitting at his pappoús’ bedside when he felt Neo and Tele’s hands on his shoulders. He’d been so lost in his sea of grief that he hadn’t even heard them enter the room. He lifted his head and stared into the faces that resembled his, and although the sorrow in their green eyes mirrored his, Raph felt as if he needed to say the words. “He’s gone,” he whispered in a broken voice.

They crouched down beside the chair and hugged him as they looked upon the body of the man who had been a surrogate father to them since they were six years old.

“He’s at peace, now,” Neo said, wiping his eyes. “He was never the same after Yaya and Baba died. He’d been longing to be with them for years. I think he was holding on just for us.”

Tele shook his head slowly. “Losing the love of your life is bad enough but losing your only child at the same time is the worst thing that could happen to anyone. The pain of losing Helena is so unbearable at times. Even though I have Petra who reminds me of her, sometimes I wish I had died with her.”

“Telepheus Giannopoulos, don’t ever let me hear you say such a horrible thing again! Ever!”

Raph and his brothers turned as their mother entered the room. Even though he wasn’t the one who’d tested the fates, when he saw the shock on his mother’s face, Raph felt as if it was his fault. He had always taken the blame for his brothers when they got in trouble as children. Even to this day, they willingly stepped aside and let him take the fall. He was not taking the fall today. Raph stood and nudged Tele in the side. “Go to her.”

Tele met their mother at the door. “I didn’t mean it, Mom,” he said. “It’s just too painful when I think about her, and when I look at Petra— She looks so much like her mother. It brings back too many memories, especially of that day.”

Jordan clasped his face in her hands, wiping at his tears with her thumbs. “You think I don’t know how it feels, my baby boy? I know your pain. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of your father. I miss him with everything in me, but I never once wished I had died with him.”

Tension swirled in Raph’s belly as he thought of that fateful day his father and grandmother died. Jordan and Kerena were on their way out the door to meet some friends at a restaurant in Oia. But at the last minute, Rapheus had come down with a stomach bug, and Jordan had decided to stay home with him. Instead of letting his mother go alone with the family driver, Xander had driven her to her lunch date in his brand-new Ferrari.

Raph had always wrestled with the possibility that if he hadn’t gotten sick, his mother and grandmother would have left for the restaurant earlier with the driver, and his father would not have been taking the steep curve at the same time as the produce truck coming from the opposite direction. They’d died instantly, and the old man who’d been driving the speeding truck succumbed to his injuries the following week.

He swallowed the rising panic in his throat as he recalled hearing his mother’s blood-curling scream echoing through the house when the police had come to give her the news. Still weak with fever, he’d jumped out of his bed and run into the living room to find her standing by the door screaming her husband’s name at the top of her lungs with Neo and Tele holding onto her, and his grandfather on his knees, rocking back and forth, his face buried in his hands, calling his wife’s name.

No one had needed to tell Raph what had happened, and his little heart had broken in two as he’d rushed to his grandfather and thrown his arms around him.

“I might never know why fate took my darling Xander,” Jordan said.

Raph sucked air into his lungs as his mother’s voice yanked him back from the abyss, and the despair of the “what ifs” that have plagued him all his life.

“I often wonder why he didn’t live to watch you grow into the wonderful, successful men you’ve become. But,” she continued, glancing over at the bed with tears streaming down her face, “I’m grateful Andris was here. He was a wonderful grandfather to you.”

“Yes, he was,” Neo said.

“The best,” Tele added.

Jordan slowly walked over to the bedside, took Andris’ thin wrist in her hands, and stroked it tenderly. “I wished I’d made it in time. If I’d known you only had a few days left, I would have come as soon as we heard you were better. Forgive me.” Jordan placed her lips to his forehead. “Thank you for helping me raise our precious boys. I could not have done it without you. Give Xander my love… Tell him…. Tell him…”

As he watched his mother struggle with her grief, the wall of ice around Raph’s heart thickened. He had witnessed three members of his family suffer the loss of a spouse––his grandfather, his mother, and his youngest brother––a crippling burden Raph had no desire to carry for the rest of his life.

“Tell him that I miss him every second of every day. I will miss you, too, my dear Baba.” She pressed a trembling hand to her mouth.

With a groan erupting from his throat, Raph pulled Neo and Tele over to their mother. They wrapped their arms around each other and wept for the souls who had departed decades ago, and for the one who had joined them tonight.

As their cries waned, Jordan pushed out of her sons’ embrace. “Our lives will be very different without him,” she said, drying her cheeks on her silk sleeve.

“Our lives changed two years ago when he had his stroke,” Raph said. “At least then, we had hope that he would recover. But death is permanent. He’s not coming back.” He pressed the tears from his eyes with the tips of his fingers.

“Yes,” Jordan said. “Andris is gone forever, but he left you behind to continue the Giannopoulos line. The thought of it dying with him brought him so much anxiety,” she said, gazing hopefully at her sons. “It was very important to him that it continued.”

“It was one of the last things we spoke about before he slipped away,” Raph said. “He told me to find the right woman and settle down.”

“Did you tell him you would?” his mother asked, the hope in her brown eyes growing brighter.

“Of course, Mom. I wasn’t going to disappoint my dying grandfather.”

“I've already done my part. It’s yours and Neo’s turn,” Tele said to Raph.

“I’m pretty sure Pappoús knew he was barking up the wrong tree,” Raph stated. “He was just doing his duty.”

“It’s much more than that, and you know it, Rapheus.” Jordan placed a hand on his arm. “Your grandfather was serious about the family lineage.” She walked over to the family photos and studied them for a minute before turning back to her sons. “You know you are named after three brothers in the Giannopoulos lineage, right?”

“We know, Mom.” They rolled their eyes at each other.

“When Andris found out I was carrying triplets, he was over-the-moon and insisted on naming you Rapheus, Neopheus, and Telepheus, even though your father and I had already picked out your names.”

“What were you going to name us?” Neo asked, clearly to appease their mother who loved to tell the story they had all heard a million times already.

She laughed and tucked a strand of dark hair behind one ear. “Since Raph was the first, he would have been Xander, after your father. You, Neo, would have been Yiannis. And Tele would have been Zeno.”

“We were to be the XYZ babies? Really, Mom? Sounds like an algebra equation to me.” Tele chuckled.

Neo raised his hand in the air and pretended to write on a whiteboard while drawling in a nasal monotone voice, “Good morning, class. Your challenge today is to solve for X, Y, and Z. You have ten minutes.”

Despite the pain in his chest, Raph couldn’t help laughing at Neo’s spot-on imitation of their tenth-grade algebra teacher, Mr. Donahue, but he quickly sobered up as he thought of the sad fate of their namesakes.

Raph, Neo, and Tele had been named after three brothers whose parents, Thaddeus and Amaryllis, had fled to England to escape the Ottoman invasion and occupation in Greece. Once there, they’d started a shipbuilding company. But in 1688, after a flood killed his entire family, Rapheus returned to Greece where he expanded his family’s business.

Giannport Maritime dominated the shipbuilding industry, and in the mid-nineteenth century, one of Rapheus’ descendants branched out into the wine making business. Giannport Vineyards and Wineries had produced some of the best wine in Europe for over a hundred years until Cleon took it over from Andris.

“Yaya! You’re here. You came.” Petra ran into the bedroom and dashed toward her grandmother.

Jordan scooped her up into her arms. “Petra. I mikrí mou kóri. I’ve missed you so much.”

“I missed you, too, Yaya.” Petra wrapped her arms around Jordan’s neck. “I waited and waited for you to come every day.”

“I know. Grandma had to work, darling.”

“Are you coming home with me and Daddy? Are you coming to my ballet recital? Did you pencil me in, Yaya?” she asked, causing everyone to chuckle.

“Do you know what that even means?” Neo brushed a curl from her forehead.

She scowled at Neo. “Of course, Uncle Neo. It means you write somebody’s name with a pencil in your book. Uncle Raph already penciled me in. Right, Uncle Raph?” She grinned eagerly at him.

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world, darling.” His heart drummed with love for his niece, whose sweet smile reminded him too much of her mother.

Petra turned and gazed at her great-grandfather. “Can Propappoús come, too?”

Stillness descended on the room as the adults glanced warily at each other. It brought back unpleasant memories for Raph, as he was certain it did for his brothers, who were only two years older than Petra when they’d lost their father.

Raph walked around the bed and took Petra from his mother. He wrapped his arms tightly around her little body. “Propappoús is sleeping,” he said, stifling his own cry at the stark reality. Now was not the time to tell her that he would not be waking up. “Would you like to give him a kiss before we say goodnight?”

“Okay, Uncle Raph.”

Raph held her as she kissed her great-grandfather for the very last time. “Good night, Propappoús. Sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite.”

The adults glanced at each other, and with tears running down their faces, they approached Andris’ body. One by one, they kissed and bade a final goodnight to the man whose smile and voice and warmth they already missed.

* * *

Two weeks later, San Francisco, California…

Raph filled his mug from the full coffee pot and took a day-old chocolate croissant from the glass jar on the counter. Leaving his kitchen, he walked through his living room, the early morning sun filtering through the glass walls, and down a long hallway lined with ancient Greek artifacts and paintings he had collected over the years.

In his home office, Raph bit into his croissant and took a sip of hot coffee. He was just about to sit down at his desk and open his laptop when he heard the clicking of high heels on his hardwood floor.

Damn, he’d forgotten about the one-night stand he’d picked up at a bar last night. He braced himself for the impending encroachment.

“Oh, there you are, Rapheus,” she said. “I’ve been looking for you. Your place is so big, I didn’t think I’d ever find you.”

He swallowed his mouthful of croissant, turned, and offered her a pleasant smile. “Hi, um—” Shit, he’d forgotten her name. Was it Lisa, Linda, Leslie? He peered at her over the rim of his mug, waiting for her to supply her name.

“It’s Lara,” she said, disappointment edging her blue eyes.

Raph was used to that look, and it didn’t faze him, not one bit. She was attractive, sexy, in her tight little red dress and black stilettos, and he’d had a good time with her last night. But play time was over and he just wanted to be left the fuck alone. He had things to do.

“Right, Lara.” The ER nurse. She had approached him last night at the bar across from G3’s headquarters in downtown San Francisco. He hadn’t been looking for a pick-up, just a couple drinks to ease the tension. She wasn’t shy, and after she’d offered to make the scowl on his face go away, he’d thought, what the hell. A soft, warm body in his bed and a rosy pair of lips was a much better way to forget about his pain than bourbon or Scotch.

“You wake up early,” she said, advancing into the office. She came to stand so close to him that he could smell her perfume. Last night he’d found it appealing, but this morning it made his stomach churn.

He’d been up for three hours already and had split the time between his gym, his rooftop pool, and a long, cold shower. He gestured toward the stacks of folders on his desks, projects that had been backing up for the past three weeks. “Work.”

Her eyes roamed around his office before they zeroed in on the coffee table that sat between two brown leather sofas. “That’s a pretty vase,” she said.

Raph’s jaws tightened as his eyes followed hers. “I had a good time last night, Lara, but I do need to get to work.”

She pouted and placed her hand on his chest. “Well, I don’t have to be at the hospital until later this afternoon. I was thinking we could get some breakfast before I leave.” She used the same sexy smile that had convinced him that getting laid was more fun than drinking alone last night.

And it had been, but the night was over and she was becoming a nuisance. Raph took a step back, breaking contact. He set his half-eaten croissant on the rim of his mug. “I’m really not much of a breakfast person, Lara. And I really do have a lot of things to take care of.”

“Maybe another time then.” She batted her eye lashes at him.

“Sure, maybe another time.” Raph picked up a notepad from his desk and handed her a sterling silver pen.

“My driver is waiting downstairs,” he said as she wrote her name and number. “He’ll take you wherever you need to go. The elevator is just down the hall to the right.” He took the notepad from her, and gave her a peck on the cheek. “Thanks again, I had a great time.”

“Sure. Bye, Rapheus.” The look in her eyes told him that she understood he would not be calling her.

As she clicked her way toward the elevator, Raph dropped his weight into his brown leather chair. He ate his croissant and sipped his coffee as he stared at the urn on the coffee table.

The gold-leafed porcelain urn was inspired by the Lekythos vases used by the ancient Greeks to store oil for funerary rights. This modern interpretation, with its elegant silhouette and yellow and blue mosaic snaking its way around the narrow neck, had held Kerena’s ashes for twenty-seven years. Now, it held Andris’, too. Raph’s mother had chosen it, and a matching one for his father. That one, she kept on a bureau in her bedroom. She refused to let the love of her life go.

The grandfather clock in a corner of his office chimed, its pendulum swinging back and forth behind the beveled glass door.

Made from dark wood with a wide sturdy base, the long-bodied timekeeper sported a magnificently carved eagle perched on the top surface, wings spread as if it was about to take flight. His grandfather had told him that Thaddeus Giannopoulos had built the clock in England, and ever since, it had been passed down to the eldest son in his direct line. Repaired and polished through the ages, it had been keeping time in the Giannopoulos family for hundreds of years. In Raph’s opinion, the clock should have been retired a few generations ago.

As much as he didn’t want the family heirloom, he felt he had to honor his grandfather’s wishes and bring it to California with him. It was among the very few items Raph had brought from Santorini.

Feeling like a caged animal, Raph got up and walked over to the wall of glass behind his desk. He massaged the crick in his neck as he watched the cars disappear into the fog on the Bay Bridge. It had been two weeks since his grandfather’s death, and one week since he’d come back from Santorini—a trip that had been mentally and emotionally taxing. Saying goodbye to his grandfather had been hard enough, but having to deal with his relatives at the memorial had made it more—well, unbearable.

Andris’ last will and testament was short and simple. Apart from a small fortune in trust for Sebastian, his sister’s great-grandson, he’d left everything he owned to his three grandsons: a few properties scattered across Europe, including the Santorini family estate, two yachts currently on lease in the Mediterranean, and stocks in various global companies.

Raph wished he’d instead left the answers to the questions that plagued him. How did his great-grandparents, Arsenios and Giulia, end up on an island in the Caribbean? Why did Andris’ birth certificate reflect that he was born in Greece if he said he wasn’t? Was Ilaria born in Akilina, too? Had his grandfather ever visited the island again?

Raph balled his hands into fists at his side as he paced between the clock, the coffee table and his desk, the shock and curiosity he’d been feeling since Andris dumped the information on him, giving way to anger and frustration.

How was he supposed to just continue with life as usual with this mammoth family secret in his head? It wasn’t fair and it wasn’t right that he should have to bear this alone. Why did it have to remain a secret, anyway? Neo and Tele deserved to know, and he deserved their support.

Raph stopped behind the sofa and stared at the urn. “Why, Pappoús? You had ninety-three years on this freaking earth, and you waited until you were on your deathbed to tell me about all of this? Why bother mentioning it at all? Where the hell am I supposed to find the answers?”

“Knock, knock.”

Raph turned his head to see Declan Ashbrook, G3’s Chief Operating Officer, walking into his office with a manila envelope in his hand. He’d called Declan earlier to tell him he would be working from home today. He wasn’t in the mood for a suit and tie or pretending that his world was alright, and he didn’t want to hear condolence from people who didn’t know anything about his grandfather or the mess he’d left him. “You didn’t tell me you were coming by,” he said, walking over to his desk. “Is there a problem?”

“No. I was on my way into the office when I realized I didn’t have the Graystone Mall file. I have to go over some specs with the team today. I think you might have grabbed it by mistake last night.”

“Oh.” Raph dug through the stack on his desk and pulled out a green folder. “Yep, I did. Here you go.” He handed it to Declan. “You know you could have just printed off another copy, right?”

“I’m thinking of the environment, Raph. Every wasted sheet of paper and empty ink cartridge adds to the problem. Haven’t you heard the seas are rising? I don’t want to wake up one morning floating on my bed in the middle of the Pacific.”

Raph laughed at the image Declan painted. But all jokes aside, G3 did everything in its power to cut down on waste. “You realize you wasted gas coming here,” he pointed out.

“Oh hell, Raph, we can’t have everything.” Declan groaned. “Speaking of having things, I bumped into your one-night-stand coming off the elevator,” he said, setting the folder on the edge of the desk. “She seemed a bit peeved. Weren’t you able to get it up?”

“I got it up,” Raph said without emotion. “She wanted to stick around and have breakfast.”

Declan laughed. “Poor girl. I’m sure she’ll be pining after you for weeks.”

“I doubt it.”

“Well, I hate to pile more onto your plate, but a currier was on his way up with this so I saved him the trip.” Declan handed the envelope to Raph.

Raph’s heart skipped when he recognized the name of the law firm in the upper left corner. He placed it on his desk.

“Aren’t you going to open it? I’m not familiar with that firm.”

“You wouldn’t be. It’s from Andris’ lawyers. It’s the paperwork for transporting his remains to Akilina. I’ve been expecting it.” He dropped wearily down into his chair. “I don’t think I can handle it today.”

“You have enough on your mind with all the questions he left you with. Too bad there’s nowhere for you to find the answers.”

He leaned back into the chair. “To be honest, Declan, I’m not sure I want any answers. They might be worse than the questions. Maybe that’s why he waited until he was on his deathbed to tell me. Maybe the truth scared him.”

“You’ve never shied away from answers before, or any truth for that matter,” Declan said, crossing his arms. “Sometimes we just need to step away from everything to clear our heads. Maybe you need a vacation to grieve your loss properly, then the answers might come easily.”

“I just had a three-week vacation.”

Declan scoffed. “That was not a vacation, Raph. You took off to be at the bedside of your dying grandfather. You were the executor of his will, you were responsible for his cremation, the memorial service, and for closing out his affairs. That’s a lot of stress. And since you came back, you’ve been working harder than you have in years. Why don’t you take some time off? And don’t say you can’t abandon G3. You know that I’m capable of holding down the fort when you’re away.”

“I need to get everything in order for my trip to Akilina.”

“Which isn’t until next week.”

Declan was the only person Raph had told about his grandfather having been born on the island and that he’d requested his ashes be scattered there. “You know as well as I do that I don’t take vacations.”

“You think you’re invincible, Rapheus. But one day you will crash and burn. I just hope it won’t be too late for you to bounce back. Even your grandfather understood the value of leisure. Before his stroke, he used to travel all over the world.”

Raph frowned as he evaluated Declan’s last statement. It was after the accident that killed his wife and only son that Andris had started buying up properties around Europe. Raph could only speculate that he’d been trying to escape his loneliness, and the memories that lingered at the estate in Santorini where he’d collapsed after hearing the horrible news.

Declan arched one brow and tapped his chin with a finger. “From what I’ve heard, Akilina is a beautiful, laid-back place. I could come along to make sure you don’t spend the entire trip working. We can slip in a little sun and rum on the side.”

“This isn’t a fun trip, Declan.”

“But it could be, Raph. You stopped having fun since…” Declan’s voice trailed off when Raph sent him a dagger stare, daring him to say her name.

“You know what I mean,” Declan said. “Yeah, you go through the motions of chasing and catching women, but you don’t seem to get any fun out of it. It’s just so animalistic––unemotional. But that’s nothing you haven’t heard before.”

I had fun last night, he thought on an inward smile. Lara had helped him forget his sorrow for a couple of hours, but then morning had come. “If you want to go to Akilina so badly, you are welcome to take off when I return.”

“Come on, Raph. It’s never fun chasing women alone.” Declan leaned against the desk and eyed Raph comically. “Remember the good old days?”

Raph smiled at his best friend’s attempts to cheer him up. Declan and Raph had been roommates since their sophomore year at UC Berkeley. The first thing Raph had noticed about the witty, math geek, was that once he set his mind on something, he stayed on it like a dog on a bone. He and his brothers hadn’t even thought twice about bringing Declan onboard as COO at the inception of G3 when they were all still undergraduates. It was the smartest move they ever made where the company was concerned.

Raph knew that Declan had played a leading role in catapulting G3 into the multi-billion-dollar corporation it was today. He was also aware that several companies had flirted with his top man, offering him outrageous salaries and perks, but Raph never felt threatened by their plays of seductions. He knew it was more than money that kept Declan at G3. “Another time, Dec,” he said. “There’s something I need you to focus on while I’m gone.”

“A takeover?” Declan rubbed his hands together and smiled like the Cheshire cat at the prospect of a new challenge.

“It’s about my cousin, Cleon.”

“Oh. Are we killing him or simply maiming him?”

“We’re burying him.”

Declan raised an eyebrow. “Alive?”

Raph chuckled. “Of course. There’s no other way to do it. I’ll put a file together and get it to you by the end of the day.”

“I’ll be waiting with swords drawn. You know how I love to slay your demons for you.”

“It’s why I pay you the big bucks.” Raph felt a stab in his gut for going against his grandfather’s wishes, but it was a matter of principal. Dirty business never sat well with him, especially when it came to his family. Cleon would not get away with stealing his grandfather’s company. Not as long as Raph drew breath. The bastard was going to pay for whatever it was he’d done. He glanced up at Declan, forgetting he was there for a moment. “You got the Graystone Mall file.”

“Yep,” Declan said with a grin. “I guess that’s my cue to get the hell out. Catch you later, boss.” Declan tucked the folder under his arm and walked out the door.

Deciding to bite the damn bullet, Raph opened the parcel and pulled out a note addressed to him in his grandfather’s handwriting. It was dated March 15, 2018, two months before Andris’ stroke.

My Dear Rapheus,

As you must have already learned from my lawyers, I wish to have Yaya’s and my ashes scattered at Aetós on the island of Akilina in the Caribbean. I don’t know if you know of it, but more importantly, I don’t know if I will have the courage to tell you about it before I die. The thing is, Raph, I was born on that island.

I hope you will have it in your heart to honor my dying wish, whether or not I have told you the truth. When you do get to Akilina, I want you to stay in The Davenport at Jewel Beach Resort. It’s where I stayed when I visited the island.

You should have received another envelope in this package addressed to Xiomara Davenport. Please deliver it to her as soon as you arrive. When you get to Akilina, don’t be afraid of what you learn. Follow the light that leads you to the truth.

I hope you find love and happiness, mikró mou gio, because when all is said and done, love is the one thing that will defy all odds and stand the test of time.

Se agapó me óli mou tin kardiá.

Your loving pappoús,

Andris

“What the hell?” Who the hell is Xiomara Davenport, and why was his grandfather writing to her? Raph turned the parcel upside down and shook it. The transport papers for Akilina fell onto his desk, along with a small, light blue envelope. He picked up the envelope and his eyes popped at the words scribbled across the front: Xiomara, i mikrí mou kóri. My little daughter.

Raph dropped the envelope on his desk and watched it as if it was a cobra about to strike.

So that was it. His grandfather had a love child named Xiomara Davenport. She lived on Akilina. Was that what Cleon had on him?

Raph threaded his hands through his hair, tugging until pain shot through him, confirming he wasn’t dreaming. This was real. He dropped back into his chair like a sack of potatoes. Sweat broke out on his forehead. He swallowed to soothe his dry throat, then opened his laptop. His fidgeting fingers hovered over the keyboard for a moment, not certain if he wanted to know, but then his curiosity got the better of him and he typed ‘Xiomara Davenport’ into the browser bar.

Desire and intrigue consumed him as her picture appeared on his screen. She had smooth, golden-honey skin, a diamond-shaped face with a heart-shaped mouth, and red lips—slightly parted on a smile. She gazed back at him through a pair of dazzling, chestnut-brown eyes, framed by long dark lashes and soft-angled brows. A thick curtain of black hair flanked her flawless face and cascaded down her slender shoulders. Dressed in a silver gown, she looked like a goddess who’d just walked out of the Caribbean Sea behind her.

Good God.

Butterflies fluttered around in Raph’s stomach as he stared into her seductive eyes that seemed to call to him, enticing him. He closed his eyes and shook his head, trying to reject the debilitating feeling of losing control, of losing himself, his thoughts, his mind.

You’ll know her when you feel her.

But how could he be feeling her this way if she was his grandfather’s love child?

Damn it, Pappoús.

Chapter 3

Akilina

Xiomara’s heart was overflowing with pride as she walked through the lobby of Jewel Beach Resort, waving at guests reclining on the sofas and chairs intimately arranged around pots of towering palms and beige Corinthian columns. She greeted guests coming out of the boutique swinging little gift bags in their hands, and those on their way to the restaurant, tempted by the delicious smell of JBR’s famous breakfast buffet wafting through the air. Her stomach growled, reminding her that all she’d had today was a cup of coffee and a coconut tart she’d swiped from the kitchen on her way to the daily meeting with her department heads.

As she neared the concierge desks where guests waited to be checked-in and attendants toted luggage in and out of the lobby, Xio thought it hard to believe that this hotel that had been in her family for generations had almost come to ruins under the negligent management of her half-brother, Fitzroy.

For five consecutive years before their father died, global travel magazine Sand and Sun had named Jewel Beach the number-one destination resort, not only in the Caribbean, but in the world. It had been an achievement that her grandfather and father, Malik Davenport, had been working toward their entire lives.

But nine years ago, Malik suffered a heart attack, and within the hour before he died, he named his eldest son, Fitzroy, as CEO of Jewel Beach. Fitzroy’s only job was to keep JBR running smoothly until Xio finished her MBA at Princeton, after which point Fitzroy had promised their father to hand the company over to Xiomara. But instead, he’d turned their father’s legacy into a playground for himself and his free-loading friends.

Between Fitzroy’s negligent management and the destruction caused by Hurricane Julie six years ago, by the time Xio took it over, JBR was crumbling under the weights of low to no reservations, struggling restaurants with unqualified chefs who’d replaced those who had resigned, badly damaged swimming pools, termite-infested roofs on the great house and some of the villas, and a host of other problems.

When she’d seen the condition of the resort, Xio had wondered if her father had given Fitzroy a chance to prove himself because he’d felt guilty for divorcing his first wife when Fitzroy was still a kid, and for the deterioration in their relationship after he remarried.

Like all little sisters, Xio had looked up to her big brother, hoping to have a relationship with him, but over the years his behavior had destroyed that possibility. For years Fitzroy had manipulated her into asking their father for money to buy something she wanted, and then he would take the cash from her. Twenty dollars here, fifty there, a hundred… Her father was so trusting that he never seemed to notice that she didn’t have the items she was supposed to buy. Fitzroy would even talk her out of her allowance.

When she was eight, her parents had gone on a European vacation, and had given Xio the green light to have a slumber party with the staff’s supervision. She had games and movies picked out, and had even been allowed to order whatever food she wanted from JBR. But while she and her friends were at the pool, Fitzroy had shown up with friends of his own. By the time Xio and her guests got back to the house, all of the snacks and food had been eaten, and there were empty beer bottles littering the house.

Xio had called her dad in tears, but Fitzroy had refused to leave, and the staff, who were afraid of him, couldn’t be of any help to her. Her friends had all called their parents to pick them up early, and Xio was left alone in the house with Fitzroy. She’d started hating him that day. But she was still a little girl who wanted the love of her big brother, and after a while, she had forgiven him.

Their relationship took a major dive after he walked into her sweet sixteen birthday party, high and drunk, and started a shouting match with their father that escalated into an exchange of physical blows in front of the most respected and powerful people in Akilina. Xio had never been more embarrassed in her life. Even after that scene, she’d still hoped her brother would change, but he had only grown into a lying bastard who thought he was entitled to everything just because his last name was Davenport.

Fitzroy got full access to his trust fund the same year their father died. And in addition to wrecking JBR over the five years he was in control, he blew all of his money on sports cars, women, liquor, drugs, and lavish vacations. Xio had found the cars to be the biggest waste of money since there was nowhere to go on their small island. When his trust fund ran out and his opportunistic friends started deserting him, he sold the fifty acres of land their father had gifted him at birth to keep them around for a few more months.

When Xio returned from Princeton to take over JBR, like their father had intended, she’d had to spend two years fighting with Fitzroy to step down. He’d finally named his price to not only vacate his position, but to also leave the island to get out of her hair.

Xio had weighed the options of parting with the family business, or with the fifty acres of land she had also inherited upon her birth. In the end, she had chosen to sell her land.

It had been four years of uphill battles, but she had managed to place JBR back on the Caribbean’s twenty best resorts chart, and she was determined to make it number-one again. All departments were performing above expectation and projections, and the senior managers who’d been skeptical of her ability to make JBR a success again were finally giving her the praise she deserved.

Xio credited most of the income to The Davenport, a five-bedroom luxury villa set on nine acres of flowering gardens, orchards, and a dense forest with private stables and paths that led to a beach studded with royal palm trees. The villa was a sanctuary within Jewel Beach Resort, and with its own dedicated staff, two swimming pools, a spa, and an unbeatable view of the bay in Anacaona, Akilina’s main city, The Davenport brought in $20,000 per night. Hiring a new marketing team when she first regained control of JBR was one of the best decisions Xio had made, and with their social media savvy, they had made The Davenport one of the most sought-after stays in the Caribbean.

“Ms. Davenport!”

Xio turned to see a gray, curly-haired couple waving enthusiastically from a sofa.

She hurried over, her mouth split in a wide grin. “Mr. and Mrs. McGregor. How are you?” she asked, sitting down on the chair across from them.

“A little sad, you might expect,” Mrs. McGregor said. “We don’t want to leave.”

“I feel your pain.” Xio placed her palm against her heart. It was moments like these she appreciated. “It’s been a pleasure having you with us.”

“The pleasure was all ours, Ms. Davenport.” Mr. McGregor smiled. “I’ll be telling all my friends back in Burlington about your little treasure of an island, and the exceptional service and staff here. You surpassed our expectations in every way.”

Xio was beaming. It was exactly what she needed to hear.

Mrs. McGregor chimed in. “We try to take a trip at least twice a year since we retired. We’ve been all over the world, but this,” she said, sweeping her hands around the lobby, “this is one of the best vacations we’ve had.”

“I’m glad to hear. The best is what we aim for.”

“You’ve got it,” Mr. McGregor winked at her.

“I think the Thursday night bonfires on the beach were our favorite. They made us feel young again. Didn’t they, dear?” Mrs. McGregor gave her husband a coy smile.

When he blushed, it left no doubt in Xio’s mind what she meant.

“The nights are so magical here,” Mrs. McGregor added.

They certainly are, Xio thought, recalling watching the couple dancing around the flames to the rhythm of the live steelpan band.

“It’s Thursday. Maybe we should stay one more night,” Mr. McGregor teased his wife and pulled her against him, kissing the top of her curly head.

“You know we can’t,” she said, smiling into her husband’s flushed face.

The McGregor’s had initially booked for one week, but a day before they were due to leave, they’d asked to extend their stay for two more weeks. All two-hundred rooms in the main house had been full, and another couple who’d booked the same room in advance were due to arrive on the day of their departure. Xio had offered to upgrade the McGregor’s to one of JBR’s private cottages, but they had politely declined and, citing their age, had asked to stay in the main building.

Taking her father’s advice about bending the rules to make her guests happy, even if it might cost in the short run, Xio had instead upgraded the much younger Millers to a cottage. They’d been so ecstatic about the unexpected upgrade that before they left, Candice Miller, who turned out to have a huge following on social media, raved about the resort and wrote about it on her blog. As a result, the reservations were rolling in, two couples had already booked JBR for destination weddings, a Hungarian skincare company had emailed Xio’s office about hosting a retreat at the resort the following year, and as of a week ago, that little cottage, with a nightly rate three times higher than the McGregor’s room, was booked solid for the rest of the season.

“We really wish we could have stayed longer.” Mrs. McGregor said, “But our fourth grandchild, and second grandson, is due next week. Our Sarah won’t forgive us if we miss it.”

“Congratulations!” Xio declared, sharing in the happiness she saw on this couple’s faces. This was the kind of experience JBR was all about. “Wait here one minute. I will be right back.”

Xio hurried toward the nearest boutique. In the children’s section, she flipped through hangers on a rack and picked out a white new-born onesie with a map of Akilina and the words ‘Jewel Beach Resort’ printed on the front. She walked behind the register, folded it into tissue paper and dropped it into a small gift bag. The price of this little onesie, she thought as she hurried back to the McGregors, was nothing compared to what they spent during their extra two weeks on the island.

“This is a little something for your grandson,” she said, handing the bag to Mrs. McGregor.

“Oh, this is so generous of you,” she said, clasping the bag between her hands in gratitude before placing it into the carry-on tote at her feet.

“I hope you can bring him to visit us one day.”

“We have decided to make Akilina an annual vacation spot,” Mr. McGregor said. “We already booked our room for the same time next year, so you will see us again.”

“We’ll bring the whole family next time,” Mrs. McGregor added.

“Wonderful! I look forward to it.” Xio’s heart bubbled over as she shook their hands.

“Thank you for everything,” Mrs. McGregor said.

“You’re very welcome. And your ride to the airport is here,” Xio added, as a van pulled into the courtyard and an attendant began loading their luggage that had been sitting on the curb.

“Unfortunately,” Mr. McGregor said, standing and helping his wife up. He placed a green cap with the word Akilina and an embroidered eagle on his head, then picked up his wife’s tote.

“This is Josef,” she said, as a young man made his way over to them. “He’ll assist you to the van and make sure you are comfortably settled. I hope you have a wonderful flight and get home to Vermont safely.”

“Thanks again, Ms. Davenport. You take care now.” Mr. McGregor gave her a wink, took his wife’s hand, and followed Josef out to the courtyard.

Xio was blissfully happy, wrapped in a silken cocoon of euphoria when she finally headed toward her office suites. Olivia, her best friend, and personal assistant wasn’t yet back from her meeting with the seafood suppliers.

She left a note for Olivia to check in when she returned and ascended the flight of stairs to her office on the second floor. She opened the door and let out a sigh as she took in the beige, coral, and gray decor with floor-to-ceiling windows and doors overlooking the resort and the blue sea behind it.

Xio kicked off her heels and made her way across the tiled floor to her desk. Easing into the comfort of the oversized black leather chair that had been her father’s, she stared at a picture on the corner of her desk of the two of them. It was taken during move-in day her freshman year at NYU. He’d been so proud of her then, and she hoped he was just as proud of her now for her accomplishments with JBR when everyone thought it impossible. She could finally relax, just a little, after functioning on the edge of a debt precipice for four long years.

“I did it, Daddy” she said. “We’re back in business, and I promise to make ours the best resort in the world again. I’ll make you proud.” Reaching out, she traced the outline of her father’s chin with her fingertips, smiling as she remembered sitting on his lap and playing with his beard.

She pulled back and killed the sob in her throat, wondering if the pain of losing her father would ever go away. Whether or not, now was not the time to succumb to the memories. She had to stay in the present and focused on restoring JBR. Despite the increase in revenue for the past few months, she still wasn’t out of the woods yet.

She knew her father would be upset if he knew where she’d gotten the money for the renovations. Her mother had told her that she was taking a risk, but at the time, Xio didn’t have any other options. Four years ago, JBR was in such bad shape that the banks were unwilling to give her a loan, and the ones that were willing had offered shockingly high interest rates––evidence, she felt, that despite the Davenport name, they had little trust in her to reverse the damage that Fitzroy’s negligence had caused.

“It has been difficult without you, Daddy. I did what I thought was best. Things are looking up now, though.”

Xio swiveled around and studied the paintings of eight Davenport men hanging on the wall—all former CEOs of the first hotel ever built on the island. And one day, when she passed the baton to the next generation of Davenports, her portrait—JBR’s first female CEO—would hang next to her father’s.

“Xio! Xio! Are you there? Pick up, gurl. Pick up!”

At the alarm in Olivia’s voice coming through the speaker on her desk phone, she pressed the intercom button and spoke. “Olivia, what’s the urgency? Who died?”

“Somebody’s about to, depending on your interpretation of death.”

Xio bit into her bottom lip. “What do you mean?”

“Mr. Stamer is in the waiting room. He’s demanding to see you.”

“Which one?” she asked, already knowing the answer. Olivia was not fond of either of the Stamer men, but only one of them could throw her into a frenzy.

“The old leathery one.”

Xio let out a long groan. “He knows, doesn’t he?”

“Judging from his pompous-ass attitude, yeah, I’ll say the ground lizard knows everything.”

Xio dropped her face into her hands. Olivia was right. The mere fact that Samuel Stamer had come calling without an invitation or an appointment meant he’d discovered what his son had done for her behind his back, and he’d come to make her life miserable. How? She did not yet know. The man was sharp and ruthless and created chaos for anyone who crossed him. The thought of being in his line of fire scared her. Her confidence immediately turned to panic of the worst kind. Her chest tightened with anxiety as a myriad of bad scenarios played out in her head.

“Your schedule is already tight for the day,” Olivia said.

“Yeah, I know.” Xio slowly lifted her head and glanced at the opened calendar on her desk. She had meetings with suppliers and event planners into the evening, and with Stamer now about to invade her space, Xio knew this was going to be a crazy day. She wished she’d made time to meditate this morning.

“I can move your schedule around, ask Amara if she can meet about the Garcia wedding later today,” Olivia said, penetrating her wishful thoughts. “Or better still, I can make him schedule an appointment and come back another day when you’re ready to see him.”

Xio bunched her hair in her hands and let the strands fall back across her shoulders. She sighed deeply. “I never want to see him, Liv. But putting him off would only prolong the inevitable. If there’s one thing my father taught me, it’s to face my problems head-on the moment they arise. The longer they fester, the worse they get.”

“That is so true, girl. It’s best to get it over with.”

Xio bit into the right corner of her bottom lip. “Hold all my calls and don’t let anyone up here. Don’t need my dirty laundry out there.”

“You got it. Don’t let him bulldoze you.”

“Yeah,” she said with a lilt in her voice, her gaze going back to her father’s picture.

“And don’t forget, you’re meeting your mom for lunch in an hour. You want me to send him up now or make him wait a few more minutes?” Olivia asked.

Xio glanced at the gold Tag Heuer watch on her wrist—a gift she’d received from her father when she’d completed her first year at NYU. She might be able to squeeze in fifteen minutes of meditation before lunch to reset if she got rid of Stamer quickly. “Send him right up.” She ended the call.

“Well, Daddy,” she said, glancing at her father’s picture, “this is a true test to see what I’m made of as I face off with the most insufferable man on Akilina.”

Even though she was expecting it, Xio jumped at the firm knock on her door. Despite the boost of confidence she’d gotten from Olivia, her stomach still rolled with nerves.

Remember who you are, Xiomara.

At the sound of the second, louder knock, Xio slowly rose from her chair, walked over to the door, and slid her feet back into her shoes. She needed to look the part—the epitome of professionalism—when she engaged the devil. She arranged her hair over her shoulders, took a deep breath, and opened the door.

“Mr. Stamer. What a surprise. Please, come in.” She forced a smile at the average-size man with cold brown eyes encased in a web of crows’ feet, neatly cut salt-and-pepper hair, and a mustache to match. His jaws were working overtime on his usual wad of chewing gum.

“Ms. Davenport, is it really a surprise, though?” His voice was infamously emotionless as he strolled past her and looked around the office, eyeing everything in sight.

When his beady eyes settled on the picture of her father on her desk, Xio’s stomach tightened.

It was no secret that Malik Davenport and Samuel Stamer, president of Akilina Bank and Trust—the oldest financial institution on the island—had been lifelong professional rivals. Since her father died, Stamer had been set on overtaking Jewel Beach Resort. He’d tried to purchase it from Fitzroy, who, thankfully, had enough loyalty not to sell his family’s legacy to his father’s rival.

“Please, have a seat,” she said, closing the door and pointing to the beige leather sofa. “Can I get you a drink, a Magua perhaps?” she asked, knowing the local guava drink was one of his favorites.

He waved her offer aside, then sat down on the sofa and placed his phone and a brown leather-bound folder on the glass table in front of him.

Xio took one of the club chair on the other side of the table. “What brings you here, Mr. Stamer?” she asked, crossing her ankles, and clasping her hands on her lap.

He held her gaze and chewed on his gum, then said, “Ms. Davenport, let’s not beat around the bush, eh. You know why I’m here.”

Xio nodded. She would not insult his intelligence by pretending ignorance. “You found out that Trevor gave me a loan from your bank.”

He stroked his mustache and nodded slowly. “Yes. The problem is that every loan, especially those as large and favorable as the one you received, must be approved by me.”

“Well, shouldn’t you be talking to your son about that?” she asked defensively. “I didn’t go to Trevor. He came to me knowing that I needed a loan for repairs.”

“He has always had a soft spot where you are concerned. That’s for sure.”

Xio would beg to differ, but there was no point. Despite their families’ rivalry, she and Trevor had been friends since they were in grade school. She’d liked him, and even trusted him as they’d grown up together. He’d been supportive of her and her younger siblings, Akilah, and Malik Junior, after their father died. Six years ago when she returned from Princeton, Trevor began pursuing her romantically. She’d kept him at arms’ length at first, but he wore her down with his affection and persistence. The next thing she knew, they were engaged. But just as she’d begun planning their wedding, she’d found out that he’d been sleeping with someone on the side and had gotten her pregnant. He’d broken her heart.

When Trevor approached her with the loan offer three years ago, she’d refused, but then he’d actually gotten down on his knees, something he hadn’t even bothered to do when he’d proposed, and begged her to let him help as a way to make amends for hurting and embarrassing her. His only stipulation was that they had to keep it from his father who would not have agreed to such generous loan terms. Xio imagined that Samuel had ripped his son a new one when he came across the contract. But Trevor’s decision to keep his father in the dark had nothing to do with her.

She cleared her throat. “To tell you the truth, Mr. Stamer, I don’t know why you’re here. I haven’t missed any payments, and based on my profit margins, the payments will increase in six months per the contract. She glanced across the room at yesterday’s reports on her desk and the pride she’d felt before he arrived began to flow again. “Trevor’s offer made good business sense. So of course, I took the deal.”

“I’m all for making good business choices, Ms. Davenport, but not when fraud is involved.”

Xio straightened up in her chair, her hands fisting on her lap. “Fraud? What are you talking about? I didn’t commit any fraud?”

Stamer unbuttoned his gray suit jacket, leaned forward, and opened his folder. He pulled out a stack of papers that were stapled together and placed it on the edge of the table closest to her. “One of my loan officers found this buried at the back of a cabinet. While going through it, he realized that the assets and value of your establishment had been gravely inflated at the time you applied for the loan.”

Xio stared at her name and ‘JBR’ typed on the top sheet. “What do you mean inflated?” she asked, switching her gaze to Stamer.

“See for yourself. Page eight lists the value of JBR’s assets that you provided.” He sat back, chewing on his gum with a sly smile on his face.

With trembling hands, Xio picked up the file and flipped to page eight. The bottom fell out of her stomach. The figures were three times as much as what she remembered providing. “This is not my contract,” she said, shaking her head vehemently. “I did not give anyone these numbers. I—”

“But you did, Ms. Davenport. Your signature is on the last page, isn’t it? See for yourself.”

She did not need to. “This is not what I signed off on,” she repeated, dropping the stack of papers on the table like it was a hot iron. “Somebody fudged the numbers after I signed it.”

“Xiomara, are you accusing my son of committing bank fraud?”

“Ms. Davenport, to you, Mr. Stamer!” she spat out. No way in hell would she allow him to get informal with her while accusing her of bank fraud. She knew exactly what he was doing, and she was not going down without a fight. “Either Trevor, or somebody else at your bank changed those numbers.”

“I don’t understand why anyone would put themselves in jeopardy by committing such an egregious act. People go to jail for such crimes.” He picked up the file and weighed it in his hand as if it was a trophy he’d won. “You have a copy?”

“Of course, I have a copy.” Xio got to her feet and walked over to the row of silver filing cabinets behind her desk. She opened the one where she’d filed the contract and yanked it out, flipping to page eight as she returned to the sitting area. The nerve of this bastard to come into her office and accuse her of…

Xio came to an abrupt stop as she stared at the column of numbers on the asset page. They weren’t the ones she’d provided and signed off on. The file slipped through her numb fingers and landed on the floor. She collapsed into her chair.

“From your reaction, I’ll assume the numbers in your contract match those in mine,” Stamer said.

Xio’s gut wrenched as her mind whirled back to last week Friday when Trevor had shown up at her office, unannounced. Olivia had already left for the day, and Xio was getting ready to do the same, but she had felt obligated to tolerate and entertain him because of what he’d done for her. They’d shared a drink, and again, he’d apologized for hurting her, and asked if she would give him a second chance, which she’d of course declined. He must have switched the file when she’d gone into the bathroom to change for her kickboxing class at the resort’s gym. He knew that she went to that kickboxing class after work on Monday and Friday afternoons like clockwork.

As Xio glared at Stamer, it became clear that she’d been set up. She should have known that Trevor could not have offered her that loan without his father’s consent, as Stamer had so gleefully pointed out a short while ago. Desperation to save her family’s legacy had made her blind and vulnerable to them. And now here she was, trapped in their plot to steal her family’s business from under her.

People go to jail for committing such crimes.

Xio swallowed the panic rising to her throat and forced stability into her voice. “You and Trevor set me up with that loan. You changed the numbers after I signed it, and you sent him here last Friday afternoon to switch out the file.”

Stamer stared at her as if she had two heads. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Xiomara. Was Trevor here last week?”

Xio shot to her feet, her panic turning to fury. “Don’t screw with me, Samuel Stamer,” she said between clenched teeth. “You and your son inflated the values of my assets after I signed the contract. You’re the ones going to jail for committing fraud. Not me.”

He laughed as if her threat was water rolling off his back. “Come on, Xio… Ms. Davenport. Nobody is going to jail.” He left the sofa and picked up the contract she had dropped and placed it on the table. The corners of his eyes crinkled, reminding Xio that with Stamer, there was always an ulterior motive. “Not if we work together,” he said, confirming her worse nightmare.

Pressure built in Xio’s chest and slowly moved upward, tightening around her throat like an iron fist. Fearing she might slap the arrogance from his face, Xio walked to the verandah door and stared out at the deep blue waters of the Caribbean Sea.

Being indebted to Samuel Stamer was tantamount to selling your soul to the devil. Under his directive, Akilina Bank and Trust approved loans at historically high rates, but God help those who fell behind in payments, as first-time borrowers often did. He had swindled vulnerable, elderly widows and widowers out of their properties through his snaky dealings, and tied the hands of ambitious young people who lacked credit and couldn’t get loans from other banks, destroying their lives before they had a chance to live it. There was little anyone could do, since he could hire the best lawyers on the island. Plus, Stamer always had his ass covered. Nobody was ever able to prove in court that he’d done anything illegal even though there were always quiet rumors that he had. Her father had had the wisdom not to put one penny of his money into Akilina Bank and Trust, because he didn’t trust Samuel Stamer.

But it wasn’t him she’d trusted. It was Trevor. Was Trevor an innocent pawn in his father’s plot or was he a willing partner? After he failed to buy Jewel Beach from Fitzroy, had Stamer told Trevor to marry her as a plan B? If that was the case, Trevor cheating on her made perfect sense. He never loved her. He was just using her to do his father’s bidding. Now this, blackmailing her, was what they resorted to after the engagement fell through? Like father like son. Why hadn’t she seen this coming?

Swallowing her anger at herself and at the father and son with whom she’d unwittingly fallen into bed, Xio turned around to find Stamer standing at the bar across from her desk with a glass of water in his hand. She knew what he wanted, what he had always wanted, but she would force him to say it. She wanted to hear him say that he was about to defraud her of her family’s business, so when the topic came up again, he couldn’t say that it was all in her head, that she had misinterpreted his intentions. Her father had taught her that assuming her opponent’s intentions would put the burden of proof on her back. “What do you want, Mr. Stamer?” she asked in a very calm voice.

He emptied the glass in one draft, set it on the countertop, raised his arms as if he were already the king of Jewel Beach, and said, “Jewel Beach has been a profitable resort for decades. I respect and applaud your father for putting it on the map. But he did a stupid thing when he handed it over to Fitzroy. Malik should have known better. He knew who his son was. Your father gave a pearl to a pig and the pig trampled on it because he didn’t know the value of what he’d been given.”

No argument there. Xio walked back to the sitting area, forcing him to follow her, but neither of them sat. They stared at each other, as if forcing the other to continue the conversation.

Stamer turned his head toward the certificates of excellence Jewel Beach had received over the years on the wall. “I admire what you’ve done in two years, Ms. Davenport. I believe that under your management, Jewel Beach will be restored to its former glory.” He returned his gaze to her, his eyes and voice cold and exact. “But this is business. I didn’t get to where I am by doing favors for everyone and their grandmother.”

Favors? No, you just steal and trick and commit fraud. Xio saved her breath as she knew he would deny it. Stamer was a narcissist, and he would never admit to any wrongdoing.

He folded his arms and toyed with his mustache as he looked her up and down. “You and Trevor were a couple once. I think you should reconsider giving him another chance now that he divorced that little side piece of his. Marry him, give him fifty-one percent control of Jewel Beach, and we’ll call it a win-win.” He dusted his hands.

Xio eyed the counterfeit contract on the table and her blood boiled like a volcano on the verge of eruption as she remembered Trevor sitting on the sofa last week. It was all clear now. Trevor had been sent by his father to manipulate her into getting back together with him, and to leave the doctored contract if she declined.

Xio clenched her teeth. She wanted to slap somebody, kick something. Fight! “Are you out of your goddamn mind, Samuel Stamer? I wouldn’t marry your deceitful son if he was the last man on the planet. You are two of a kind.”

“Fair,” he said with a nonchalant shrug. “Trevor hurt you, and I understand that some things cannot be forgiven. But with that being said, Xiomara, you might find becoming a Stamer much more palatable than the other two options.”

Xio’s body shook from the force of her lungs pumping air rapidly in and out of her body as she waited for him to lay out options two and three.

“You’ll sell me Jewel beach, I will forgive your loan, and toss in a couple hundred thousand just for old time’s sake. You won’t be able to say I left you with nothing, now.”

His insult infuriated Xio. The Davenport alone pulled in much more than what he was offering to ‘toss in’. She could throw that information at him, but she bit her tongue. Business was a real-life chess game, and when her queen was backed into a corner, she knew not to react, but to let her opponent get comfortable in his own self-righteous gloating. And just when he thought he really had her, he would slip up and make a mistake that she could use against him.

Xio bottled her rage and seethed inside while she watched Stamer walk pompously over to the bar. He spit his gum into the wicker waste basket, fished a new stick out of his pants pocket, unwrapped it, and slid it into his mouth while walking back over to her.

He gloated at her, obviously thinking that her silence and her inaction meant defeat. “There is a third option, Xiomara. It is the least favorable of all, but I will have to alert the authorities of your dishonest business dealings. You will end up in prison for bank fraud.”

“Then go ahead.” Xio tossed her head back in defiance. “Alert the authorities. Nobody would ever believe I committed fraud,” she said, watching a trickle of saliva slide out of the corner of his mouth into his mustache. So disgusting.

“Oh, Ms. Davenport, you can’t prove that you didn’t. Desperation, my dear, makes people do desperate things. You were desperate to save your hotel. My bank was the only one that was willing to take such a huge risk on JBR. My son felt sorry for you and was trying to make amends, but you took advantage of him.”

He paused to get a response out of her and when she didn’t flinch, he continued. “Your sister and brother are too young to take over, and your mother doesn’t know anything about running a resort. If you should go to jail, Jewel Beach would fall into disarray again. Which would be a real pity seeing that you’ve worked so hard to bring her back to life. While you’re serving your time, it would end up on the market, and being the astute businessman that I am,” he said, tugging his jacket closed and buttoning, “I’ll rescue her. Jewel Beach Resort will be mine no matter which way this goes.” He flashed a grin then glanced around the office. “I’ll give you thirty days to think about your options, Ms. Davenport. I hope you choose to become a Stamer. It’s the best and easiest route for both families. You and Trevor would make a fine couple.”

Xio wanted to say something, but her tongue was too heavy with anger and disgust.

Stamer cleared his throat. “You might not believe me, but I would hate to drag you to court and see you locked up for the next twenty years. It would be such a waste. I know that Jewel Beach and your family are the two most important things in the world to you. What will happen to Akilah and MJ if you are locked away? Have you thought of what their lives would be like growing up without you? I mean, Akilah already has issues, and—”

Xio had had enough. “Get the fuck out of my office, Samuel Stamer!” She pointed to the door, her lips trembling as she fought to hold it together.

His nostrils flared in shock. “Xiomara Davenport! If your father heard—”

“I. Said. Get. The. Fuck. Out.”

“Weigh all your options and pick the best one, Ms. Davenport,” he said, before walking to the door.

When it closed behind him, Xio growled aloud. “Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. How the hell did you let that piece of crap get the upper hand of you, Xiomara!”

She stormed back and forth, pumping her fist and kicking the air as she thought of the times in the past year that Trevor had told her how sorry he was to have hurt her. He’d been buttering her up, making her feel comfortable with him, getting her to trust him enough to turn her back on him. Give him the chance to switch out the contract.

Her skin burned with anger. She eyed the contract on the table. Snatching it up, she twisted it in her hands, as she began pacing again, refusing to look at her father’s picture on the wall or the one on her desk. She couldn’t bear the look of shame and disappointment she imagined would be in his eyes. She had failed him––worse than Fitzroy had done. At least he had the good sense to stay away from Stamer.

She growled at the silent room again. If she’d only listened to her mother.

“What now!” she barked at the knock on her office door. “You want my heart and soul, too?”

“Are they up for grabs?”

Also in this series - coming 2024

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