The truth could destroy them, or bind them together forever...
SEDUCED BY PASSION CHAPTER ONE EXCERPT
Raph gazed down at the one-hundred-and-eight-year-old patriarch of the Giannopoulos family, sleeping in the middle of the bed. His wraith like body was propped up by pillows on each side and his skin was so pallid, he was almost indistinguishable from the white cotton sheet beneath him.
His name was Andris Sebastian Giannopoulos, and he was Raph’s beloved pappoús.
Raph eased his body down into the chair at the side of the bed and, reaching out, he methodically brushed his grandfather’s wrinkled brow, just as Andris used to brush his when he was a little boy in need of comfort. And God knows, he and his brothers had needed a whole lot of tender loving care back then.
A week ago, Raph had received the delightful news that his grandfather, who’d lost his ability to speak and mobility on the right side of his body after suffering a stroke had miraculously regained his speech and partial use of his arm. Raph had spared no cost in hiring the best doctors and therapists money could buy. And after two years of small incremental improvements, he’d finally made a huge breakthrough.
Even though they’d seen him two weeks prior to the call, Raph and his brothers had been so excited about his recuperation, they had immediately hopped a company jet to be by his side. For the past few days, Andris had been very talkative as he visited with his grandsons and his four-year-old great-granddaughter, Petra.
Everyone thought he was surely on his way back to a full recovery, but early this morning, the doctor informed them that his internal organs had begun to shut down. She’d told them to be prepared because he might not make it through the night. He’d lost some of the motion he’d regained, but his ability to speak had remained strong and steady. It seemed he had fought his way out of his prison of silence and immobility, just to bid his family farewell.
Raph’s brothers, his niece, and the descendants of Andris’ deceased sister, Illaria, had said their final goodbyes this afternoon. Raph’s mother, Jordan, was expected to fly in from New York this evening. She would have traveled with her sons last week, but she was in the middle of conducting a Sommelier conference and couldn’t get away. When Raph called her this morning, she’d immediately dropped everything and hooped on the private jet he had waiting for her at JFK. He hoped she made it in time to say her goodbyes.
After expressing his love for his family, Andris had ordered everyone to leave, except his favorite grandson with whom he wanted to spend his last moments on earth. That was an hour ago, and the old man, who was likely worn out from the flurry of relatives coming and going all day, had been napping since then.
Even though they’d traveled back and forth between the US and Santorini for family visits over the years, Raph wished he’d spent more quality time with his pappoús—getting to know him better, learning about his life’s experiences, learn about his family background. But he’d been too busy turning G3 into the giant it was, and had instead postponed his grandfather’s numerous requests to sit and chat for a while. He always thought he had time. It took Andris’ stoke for Raph to realize the importance of family over business, but then it was too late. He’d been so stupid and misguided—focused on the wrong things in life.
Raph stilled as his grandfather’s hand stirred against his thigh, and his eyes fluttered opened.
“Raph… Raph…” he whispered, looking around the room until his gazed zeroed in on Raph’s face.
“I’m here, Pappoús.” Raph resumed caressing his brow.
“The clock. You’ll take it with you.”
“Yes, Pappoús, I will take the clock with me.” Raph grimaced at the thought that he would soon be the unenthusiastic owner of that monstrosity, but a promise was a promise. He was surprised that of all things, the clock was the first the old man spoke about upon awakening. It were as if he’d been dreaming about it.
Raph took a swift glance at the clock, ticking away in a corner of the bedroom where it had been since Raph was twelve years old. That year, Andris had requested that Raph spend time in Santorini with him instead of immediately heading to Brant Lake Camp in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. Their mother had recently remarried, and in a last ditch effort to spend alone time with her new husband, she had sent her boys away to summer camp for seven weeks.
In an attempt to escape their summer fate, Tele and Neo had begged Pappoús to take them too. But he had insisted that Raph come 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 got too busy with girls and friends, and began spending less and less time with the old man.
That summer, Raph had had an exciting time traveling all over the mainland, Europe, and parts of east Africa with his pappoús. It had been nice not to have to split his attention with his siblings for three whole weeks. Then two days before he was due to head back to the US, and camp, his pappoús had brought him into this room and introduced him to the clock he had kept hidden away in a locked room for years.
Raph remembered recoiling in fear and anxiety at the sight of the monstrous chunk of black wood with an eagle standing guard on top of it. 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.
That night, Raph had had the strangest dream, or more precisely, a terrifying nightmare of being pushed…
“It’s my fault, to mikró mou gio.”
Raph’s hand stilled on his forehead. He gazed into the fading brown eyes. “You’re fault for what, Pappoús?”
His grandfather swallowed and took a few shallow breaths. “Everything. Cleon. GiannPort. Your patéras and giagiá. They died because of me.”
Raph stared at him, baffled. Why was his grandfather blaming himself for something that happened over two decades ago? Had he suddenly become delirious in his last moments on earth? Or had he asked to be alone with Raph so he could make a deathbed confession? Was it the reason he’d fought his way back from two years of silence and paralysis? Alarm quickened his pulse at each speculation.
Pulling a tissue from a box on the nightstand, he wiped the tears that slid from the corners of the old man’s eyes. “Pappoús, Giagiá and Baba died in an accident. It wasn’t anybody’s fault. As for GiannPort… you gave it to Cleon after they 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 blackmailed his grandfather into abdicating his position as CEO of GiannPort Vineyard & Wineries that he’d been managing for forty-plus-years, only to watch it sold off vineyard-by-vineyard, until it ceased to exist. All that remained was one dilapidated ampelona in Aetos, 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 the fact that his father, Xander, who’d loved the wine making business, would have taken over GiannPort years ago. Raph’s mother, who was one of the few female sommelier in the world, would have helped him run it.
But as fate would have it, Xander and his mother perished in a car crash in Athens when Raph and his brothers were only six-years old. If things were different, yes, he would have been coached and prepped to take over GVW, but he doubted he would have liked it since he was very happy with G3, the multibillion-dollar real estate development empire that he and his siblings had build. However…
“If Cleon had anything to do with my father and grandmother’s deaths, I will make him pay, Pappoús. I swear on—”
“Óchi! Leave it alone. Doesn’t matter now. Waste of time. Yposchésou mou!”
“Okay.” Raph frowned. Why would his pappoús 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 to ease the old man’s mind, even as he knew in his heart that he could not just forget it.
His grandfather expelled 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. 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 chuckled to lighten the grim aura in the room, and to keep himself from telling the old man the truth.
“You’ll know her when you feel her in your heart.”
“You mean when I see her?” Raph asked with a dubious 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, 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 and had allowed him to lead the pack even when they were children. Since he was the oldest direct male descendant, once his 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 extended his little branch, and he was sure that at some point Neo would stop playing around and plant a few seeds of his own. As for him, settling down was no longer in his life’s plan.
“Neró,” Andris whispered in a voice, much weaker than it was a few minutes ago.
Raph grabbed the glass of water from the nightstand and helped him take a few sips through the straw. When he motioned that 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, getting to know each other better.”
“We had our moments. We walked, talked, laughed and smoked together.” A smile flittered across his face.
“Not often enough.” He was always in a hurry to get back to business. “I should have done more, Pappoús.”
He squeezed Raph’s hand. “You were always my favorite.”
Raph grinned. He knew his grandfather told Neo and Tele that they were his favorite, too, but he also knew the old man held a tad more fondness in his heart for him, simply because he was the oldest. He tightened his fingers around his grandfather’s. “I know, Pappoús. And you’ve always been my favorite grandpa.” His maternal grandfather died when he was ten, so he really didn’t know him that well, but even if he had, he knew Andris would still be his favorite.
“I know your heart, mikró agóri. I know what you gave up.”
His fingers relaxed around the bony ones and his eyes narrowed to slits. “What do you know, Pappoús?”
The old man simply smiled, then said, “I want you to do some… something for me.”
“Of course. Anything for you, Pappoús.” He fought to suppress the grief mounting in his belly by the second.
Andris’ brow knitted, and he beckoned Raph closer. “Take us to Aki—Aki—li—na, Rapheus. Dance with us one last time under the full moon at Aetós Caye, and then release us to the wind.”
Raph did a double take. “Where?”
“Will you take us?”
“Yes. I will take you and Giagiá to Akilina.”
“No one else is to know. Only you must go. Promise?”
“Yes, Pappoús. I won’t say a word. But where is Akilina?” he asked at the unexpected and strange request. He told himself that his grandfather could not be talking about the island in the South Caribbean.
Shortly after the inception of G3, his marketing director had presented him with a list of Caribbean islands for possible investment. Akilina had been at the top of that list. It was small and fairly unknown to the outside world. But its thriving economy and incredibly impressive infrastructure had sparked his interest, until he learned that the eastern side of the island was inhabited by the Megiri, an indigenous Amerindian tribe who still practiced their ancient way of life while enjoying some modern-day amenities.
Even though G3’s expansion across the globe was Raph’s major ambition, he could not in good conscious disrupt that country’s socioeconomic system, which was exactly what happened when big companies targeted small countries in the name of progress and development, and more often than not, ended up pillaging the natural resources, exploiting the citizens and excluding them from gentrified communities.
If his conscience hadn’t gotten in the way, three factors would have made it impossible: the process for any type of major development on the island was long and complicated; only natural-born citizens or persons who could trace an ancestor who was born on the island could own or buy land; and they did not sell citizenship like other islands did.
Akilina was the only Caribbean island that was never colonized by Europeans. Today, it was the most developed and prosperous island in the region, quantum leaps ahead of many still struggling from the effects of imperialists and paternalism. It’s prosperity was largely attributed to its
Akilina’s history had been the catalyst for G3’s policies to never exploit struggling communities. The local people must always benefit from any and all projects or they would walk away. His moral decisions had paid off, because G3 was now one of the most sought-after land development companies in the United States.
Was that the Akilina where his grandfather had asked him to scatter his ashes? If so, why had he never mentioned the island before? “Where is Akilina, Pappoús?” Raph repeated the question, his heart pounding with anticipation.
Andris’ eyes darted around the room with a burning faraway look. “I… Island. Carib… bean. My birthplace.”