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Excerpt: Bound to the Greek

‘Come right this way, Mr. Zervas. You’re going to meet with Eleanor, our top planner.’

Jace Zervas stilled his stride for no more than a second as the word reverberated through him. Eleanor. He hadn’t heard that name in ten years, hadn’t let himself think it.

Of course, it had to be a coincidence. There were certainly more Eleanors in the United States--in New York City--than the one who had broken his heart.

The assistant who had led him through the elegantly sparse lobby with its designer sofas and modern art now stopped in front of a door of tinted glass, gave a perfunctory knock, and then swung it open.

‘Eleanor? I’d like to introduce you to--’

Jace didn’t hear the rest. For as the woman in the office swung round to face him, his mind buzzed, blanked. It was Eleanor.

His Eleanor. Ellie.

He knew she was as surprised as he was that he was here, that they were here, face to face. Although her expression didn’t really change, he was aware of the slight widening of her eyes, the parting of her lips.

Then she drew herself up, gave him a professional smile that managed to irritate him with its coolness, and said, ‘Thank you, Jill. That will be all.’

The assistant, surely aware of the current that crackled through the air, glanced speculatively between them. Jace ignored her, his gaze fixed on Eleanor Langley, so utterly, appallingly different from the Ellie he once knew. ‘Shall I bring coffee?’

A tiny pause. ‘Certainly. Thank you.’

The assistant left, the door clicked shut, and Jace’s mind kicked back into gear.

Of course he should have expected this might happen. He’d known Ellie was from New York, and her mother was an event planner. Why shouldn’t she have followed the same career path?

Because the Ellie you knew hated her mother’s career, her mother’s world. The Ellie you knew--or at least thought you knew--wanted to open a bakery.

Clearly much had happened in the last ten years.

‘You’ve changed.’ He didn’t mean to say it, yet it was impossible not to notice it. The Ellie he knew ten years ago looked nothing like the shiny, polished woman in front of him.

His Ellie had been relaxed, natural, fun, so different from this woman with her tailored black power suit, her highlighted hair barely brushing her cheekbones in an elegant. chestnut bob. Her hazel eyes, once warm and golden, now seemed darker, sharper, and were narrowed into assessing slits. As she moved back around to her desk, Jace saw her shoes: black three-inch stilettos. His Ellie had never worn heels. His Ellie had never worn black.

Yet why was he even thinking this way? His Ellie hadn’t been his at all. He’d realized that all too terribly when he’d last seen her... when she’d lied to him in the worst way possible. When he’d walked away without another word.

 

Eleanor Langley stared down at the burnished surface of her desk and took a deep breath. She needed the moment to regain her poise and control. She’d never expected this moment to happen, although she’d fantasized about it many times over the last decade. Coming face to face with Jace Zervas. Telling him just what she thought of him and his cowardly creeping away.

She’d envisioned herself slapping his face, telling him to go to hell, or, in her more dignified moments, sweeping him with one simple, disdainful glance.

She had not pictured herself trembling, both inside and out, unable to think of a single thing to say.

Stop. She’d worked too hard for too long to let this moment defeat her. Taking another breath, Eleanor lifted her head and settled her gaze coolly on the man in front of her.

‘Of course I’ve changed. It’s been ten years.’ She paused, letting her gaze sweep over him, although she had a feeling it wasn’t as disdainful as she might have wished. ‘You’ve changed too, Jace.’ It felt strange to have his name on her lips. She never spoke of him. She tried not to think of him.

He had changed; his ink-black hair was now streaked with grey at the temples and his face looked leaner, longer. Harder. Eleanor noticed new lines from nose to mouth, and the faint fanning of crow’s feet by his eyes. Somehow those lines didn’t age him so much as give him an air of dignity and experience. They even emphasized the steely grey of his eyes with their silvery glints. And his body hadn’t changed at all, it seemed: still long, lithe, and powerful. The grey silk suit he wore only emphasized his muscular shoulders and trim hips; he wore it, as he had the cashmere sweatshirts and faded jeans of his college days, with ease and grace.

He looked, she thought a bit resentfully, great. But then, she reminded herself, so did she. She spent a lot of time and effort making sure she looked great; in her job a professional and even glamorous appearance was a must. She was grateful for it now. The last thing she wanted was to be at a disadvantage. She straightened, smiled even, and flicked her hair back from her face in one quick movement. ‘So you’re my two o’clock.’

Jace smiled back, faintly, but his eyes were hard. He looked almost angry. Eleanor had no idea what he had to be angry about; he was the one who had left. If anyone should be angry--she stopped that thought before her resentful mind gave it wings. She wasn’t angry. She was over it. Over him. She no longer cared anymore, at all, about Jace Zervas.

She turned to her planner, still open on her desk, and trailed one glossily manicured finger down the day’s appointments. ‘You’re here on behalf of Atrikides Holdings?’ she asked. ‘It says Leandro Atrikides would be coming.’ She looked up, eyebrows arched. ‘Change of plans?’

‘Something like that,’ Jace agreed, his voice taut. He sat down in one of the leather armchairs in front of her desk and crossed one leg over the other.

‘Well.’ She made herself smile and sat down behind her desk, hands neatly folded. ‘How may I help?’

Jace’s lips tightened, and Eleanor wondered if that was going to be it. Ten years of anger, bitterness, and overwhelming heartache reduced to nothing in a single sentence. How may I help. Yet what other choice was there? She didn’t want to rake over the past; it would be messy and uncomfortable and far too painful. She wanted to pretend the past didn’t exist, and so she would. She’d treat Jace Zervas like a regular client, even though he was far from one, and she hardly wanted to help him. She didn’t even want to talk to the man for another second.

The sane thing, of course, would be to respectfully request a colleague to take Jace as her client, and step away from what could only be an explosive situation. Or if not explosive, then at least angrily simmering. She could see it in the hard steel of his eyes. She could feel it bubbling in herself.

Yet Eleanor knew she wouldn’t do that. Her boss wouldn’t be pleased; Lily Stevens didn’t like changes. Messes. And Eleanor could certainly do without the gossip. Besides, there was another, greater reason why she’d face Jace down in her own office. She didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of making her run away. Like he had.

‘Well,’ Jace replied after a moment, ‘obviously I’m here because I need you to plan an event.’

‘Obviously,’ Eleanor agreed, and heard the answering sharpness in her tone. This was not going well. Every little exchange was going to be pointed under the politeness, and she didn’t think she could take the tension. The trouble was, she didn’t know what else to do. Talking about the past was akin to ripping the bandages off old wounds, inflaming the scars that still remained on her heart. Her body. Even remembering it hurt.

She clamped her mind down on that thought. Jace Zervas was just another client, she told herself again. Just a regular client. She let her breath out slowly and tried to smile. ‘What I meant,’ she said evenly, ‘was what kind of event are you hosting?’ She gritted her teeth as she added, ‘Some details would help.’

‘Isn’t there some form that’s been filled out? I’m quite sure my assistant did this all on the telephone.’

Eleanor glanced through the slim file she had on Atrikides Holdings. ‘A Christmas party,’ she read from the memo one of the secretaries had taken. ‘That’s all I have, I’m afraid.’

A knock sounded on the door, and Jill came in with a tray of coffee. Eleanor rose to take it from her. She didn’t want her assistant picking up on the tension that thrummed angrily through the room. God knew how she’d try to use it; Jill had been jockeying for her position since she arrived, fresh from college, two years ago.

‘Thanks, Jill. I’ll take it from here.’

Surprised, Jill backed off, the door closing once more, and Eleanor set the tray on her desk, her back to Jace. She still heard his lazy murmur.

‘You didn’t used to drink coffee. I always thought it was so funny, a girl who wanted to open a coffee shop and yet didn’t drink coffee herself.’

Eleanor tensed. So he was going to go there. She’d been hoping they could get through this awkward meeting without referencing the past at all, but now Jace was going to talk about these silly, student memories, as if they shared some happy past.

As if they shared anything at all.

A single streak of anger, white-hot, blazed through her. Her hands shook as she poured the coffee. How dare he. How dare he act like he hadn’t walked--run--away from her, the minute things got too much. How dare he pretend they’d parted amicably, or even parted at all.

Instead of her going to his apartment building, only to find he’d left. Left the building, left the city, left the country. All without telling her.

Excerpt From: BOUND TO THE GREEK by Kate Hewitt
Copyright © 2010 by Kate Hewitt
Permission granted by Harlequin Books S.A. All rights reserved.

January 2008