SIGNED PRINT EDITION
The truth could destroy them, or bind them together forever...
To honor a dying wish, billionaire real estate developer, Rapheus Giannopoulos, travels to the Caribbean island of Akilina to scatter his grandparents’ ashes and deliver a letter to a young woman he doesn’t know. The moment they meet, Raph is enamored by her beauty and envisions her as the perfect playmate during his week-long stay. However, his plan to seduce her loses priority when he discovers his family’s mysterious link to the island and an age-old vow that could forever destroy the Giannopoulos bloodline.
Hotelier, Xiomara Davenport, is in hot water. To save the resort that has been in her family for generations, she accepted help from someone she thought she could trust. But when the loan is unexpectedly called in, Xio fears she will lose everything if she rejects her creditor’s terms. As she weighs her options, a young man, to whom she’s instantly and inexplicably drawn, walks into her office, and hands her a letter from a godfather she barely remembers, pressing her to make a decision that could change the trajectory of her life forever.
As they work to honor the old man’s wishes, Rapheus, the infamous playboy with no plans to settle down, and twice-jilted Xiomara, who has placed her heart on ice, find it impossible to resist the overwhelming passion burning between them, and eventually succumb to the lure and seduction of Akilina’s magical nights.
Will their newfound love survive once the truth about their families’ connection finally comes to light?
SEDUCED BY PASSION
CHAPTER ONE EXCERPT
Raph gazed down at the one-hundred-and-six-year-old patriarch of the Giannopoulos family, sleeping in the middle of the bed. His wraithlike body was propped up by pillows on each side and his skin was so pallid, he was almost indistinguishable from the white linen sheet on which he lay.
His name was Andris Sebastian Giannopoulos, and he was Raph’s beloved grandfather.
Raph eased his body down into the chair at the side of the bed and, reaching out, he methodically brushed the wrinkled brow with his thumb, 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.
If felt like a lifetime, but it was only a week ago that 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 two years ago, had miraculously regained his speech and partial use of his arm. Raph had spared no cost in hiring the best doctors and therapists that money could buy. After months of small incremental improvements, he’d finally made a huge breakthrough.
Excited about his improvement, Raph and his brothers, Neo and Tele, had immediately hopped one of their company jets to be with their beloved grandfather, even though they’d all seen him three weeks prior to the call. 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 mobility he’d gained, even though his ability to speak had remained strong and steady. It seemed that Andris had fought his way out of his prison of silence and immobility, just to bid his family farewell.
Raph’s brothers, Petra, and the descendants of Andris’ 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 another of his private jets he had waiting for her at JFK. He hoped she made it in time.
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 thirty minutes ago, and the old man, who was likely worn out from his army of relatives, had been napping since then.
Even though they’d traveled back and forth between San Francisco 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 with G3, turning it 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 was only after Andris’ stoke that Raph realized the importance of family time over business. By 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 right 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 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. He took a swift glance at the clock, ticking away in a corner of the bedroom where it had been for as long as he could remember.
Upon his arrival last week, his grandfather had made Raph promise not to leave the clock in Santorini, but to take it to San Francisco with him. Raph grimaced at the thought that he would soon be the unenthusiastic owner of that monstrosity, but a promise was a promise, and...
“It’s my fault, to mikró mou gio.”
Raph’s hand still 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 some kind of 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 you were too heart—”
“Nai. Nai.“ Andris shook his head in frustration. “He knew something. He took it.”
“You mean by force?“ Anger churned beneath Raph’s ocean of grief 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 now-dilapidated ampelona in Aetos, the launching pad for the Giannopoulos wine-producing empire that for centuries 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 and his siblings had built G3—their own empire—a multi billionaire-dollar real estate development company, and were very happy with it. However…
“If Cleon had anything to do with my father and grandmother’s deaths, I will make him pay, Pappoús. I swear on—”
“Nai!“ 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 with 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, fall in love.”
“You know me, Pappoús, I wouldn’t know the right woman if she punched me in the nose.” Raph chuckled in an effort 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.
“Nai. 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 find her and fulfill your duty to carry on this branch of the Giannopoulos bloodline before it’s too late,” he announced 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 line, Tele had already extended his little branch, and he was sure that at some point Neo would, too. As for him, procreation was not on his horizon. During middle school, Raph had been tasked with an assignment that involved researching his family tree. It should have been a fun project, but it turned daunting when seven generations deep, he discovered that every male member of the Giannopoulos family had buried his wife—two, in some cases.
No wonder the tree had so few branches and fruits. He’d discussed what he’d learned with his pappoús who was also aware of the pattern. He’d told Raph that pregnancy and childbirth were difficult in those days and that some women grew weak, and died during the process while others died from complications thereafter. When Raph had mentioned his own wife’s death, just six years prior, his grandfather had become upset and ordered him never to talk about it again.
Even though he felt as if his grandfather was hiding something, Raph had put the subject to rest, until two years ago when his sister-in-law was killed in a boat explosion. Andris had been eager to talk then. But the day before Raph was scheduled to fly to Santorini, Andris had suffered a stroke, and Raph had totally forgotten about their last conversation about the subject—until now…
Blood pounded against Raph’s temples. What was his grandfather about to tell them two years ago? And what did he mean a second ago when he said that Raph had to fulfill his duty to keep the Giannopoulos bloodline alive before it’s too late? Before what was too late? “Pap—”
“Neró,” he whispered in a voice that had become considerably weaker in a few short minutes.
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. All those times you asked me to sit and talk, take a walk with you…”
His grandfather mustered up enough energy to give him a weak smile. “I know your heart, mikró agóri. You are my favorite.”
Raph smiled because he knew that his grandfather also told Neo and Tele that they were his favorite. He squeezed his grandfather’s hand that lay at his side. “I know. I wouldn’t tell anyone.”
“I have a favor to ask?“ Andris said, watching him intently.
“Anything for you, Pappoús. Anything.” He fought to suppress the grief in his belly that was mounting 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. “What? 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 small island of Akilina in the South Caribbean.
As Senior CEO of G3, Raph was practically knowledgeable about every bit of dry land on the planet since he was always on the lookout for new investments. He’d learned of Akilina a few years after the inception of G3. The thought of expanding to the Caribbean had been high on his venue. For a small island, the rules, regulations, and restrictions for any type of major development was long and complicated, and Raph had been willing to test them all until he’d learned that one half of the island was fully inhabited by the Megiri, an indigenous Amerindian tribe who still practiced their pre-Columbian way of life to this day.
Even though G3’s success was his top priority, Raph had had no desire to disrupt that country’s socioeconomic system to the detriment of the natives—which is exactly what happens when big companies invade small countries in the name of progress and development, and instead end up pillaging and abusing the citizens and natural resources. He’d crossed Akilina off his list of potential investments.
“Where is Akilina?” he repeated the question he was certain he already knew the answer to.
His eyes darted around the room with a burning faraway look as he stuttered his response. “I—island—Ca—Carib—bean. My—my birth—birthplace.”