For the rest of the morning she waited for Nikos to revert to his usual arrogant, cold personality, but he never did.
They were like a happy family. It left her amazed. And shaken.
When she left the pool to go feed and change Misha for his nap, he climbed out behind her. The ruined Italian trousers dripped and sloshed water behind him. She glanced at them with a rueful smile. “Sorry about your pants.”
“I’m not.” He gave her a grin. He looked relaxed and something else…contented? Had she ever seen him look that way before? “Besides, I can get more. I haven’t had that much fun in ages. I felt like a kid again.”
She snorted. “If it was that great, maybe next time in the pool I’ll wear a snowsuit.”
“Please don’t,” he said lazily. “I like the bikini.”
The look he cast over her made her suddenly feel warm all over, in a way that had nothing to do with the hot desert sun.
“You didn’t like my outfit last night.”
“That was different,” he said. “That was for another man.”
She waited for him to lash into her accusingly, demanding that she never see Sinistyn again, but he just turned away to head back into the house. “I’m going to slip into something a little less wet,” he said with a wink. “After Michael’s asleep come see me in the office, will you? I have a proposal.”
A proposal? Thank heavens, she thought as she hurried back to the nursery with her cranky, yawning baby. Nikos’s behavior had been starting to confuse her. But she knew that as soon as she met him in the office he would start tossing out demands. He’d try to kiss her senseless until she agreed to his marriage proposal.
That she could deal with. It was his new playfulness, his kindness and love for his son, that she didn’t know how to handle.
She showed up at the office with a T-shirt and shorts over her bikini, ready for battle. She was so ready, in fact, that she could hardly wait for him to take her in his arms. All the kisses in the world wouldn’t convince her to marry him, but since she’d managed to get through last night unscathed, she was willing—no, eager—to let him try…
But he didn’t touch her. The enormous mahogany desk that filled his home office had a light lunch spread at one end, while he sat working at the other, surrounded by piles of disorganized papers that were also stacked on the floor. He somehow managed to ignore the mess, focusing on his laptop.
He was dressed now, in a T-shirt and casual button-down shirt. He greeted her with a smile and nodded toward the food. “I had the housekeeper bring lunch. I figured you’d be hungry.”
“You figured right,” she said, and went straight for the gourmet sandwiches and the fruit and cheese tray. Nursing left her hungrier than she’d ever been before, and thirstier too. She gulped down some sparkling water. She waited, but he still seemed intent on his laptop. She cleared her throat.
He looked up, as if he’d forgotten she was there.
“Um…why did you want me to join you here?” she asked, confused at his behavior. “You said you wanted to ask me something?”
“Oh. Right. I need your help. I’m closing my bid on the land lease for a new casino in Singapore, and since I fired Lindsey I have no executive assistant.”
A thrill went through Anna. He wanted her back! She’d always taken such pride in her work, and she and Nikos had connected creating L’Hermitage. She tried to temper her growing hope. “But what about Margaret? Or Clementine in your New York office? They could quickly come up to speed.”
“I need them where they are. The New York office are up to their necks getting zoning approval for the Battery co-op. And Margaret has her hands full with L’Hermitage. I need to hire someone new as my personal assistant, and I’ll be leaving for Singapore in ten days. I need your help.”
Her heart started to beat, thump, thump. Returning to work for Stavrakis Resorts would be a dream come true. She wondered if the baby would like traveling around the world.
“All right,” she said, trying to hide her elation. “Since you need me.”
“I was hoping you’d say that.” He pushed a piece of paper down the desk.
To her confusion, Anna saw that it was a résumé. “What’s this?”
“The first candidate.” He looked at her with his velvety brown eyes, and a warm smile traced his lips. “To replace you.”
ANNA felt as if she’d just been sucker-punched.
“Replace me?” She thrust the résumé back at him, as if it burned her fingers. “Why would I help you replace me? This job was my life. Why would I help you give it away? I’m not going to lift a finger for you.”
“Good point,” he said briskly, then pushed another official document toward her. “Would this convince you?”
She picked up the attached papers, frowning. “Another résumé will hardly—”
But, as she read the first words on the page, her jaw fell open and she collapsed back against the hard wooden chair.
“It’s a custody agreement,” she gasped when she could speak.
“Yes,” he said pleasantly.
She fumbled through the pages, but her hands were shaking and the paperclip fell to the floor. Bending to pick it up, she looked up at him. “You’re going to give me joint custody?”
“Call it incentive.”
“What do you want in return?” she said guardedly.
“I’ll sign the custody agreement if you help me find a good executive assistant within ten days.”
She stared at him. “That’s all? I just have to help you find a new secretary and you’ll give me joint custody of Misha? You’ll let me leave?”
He gave a graceful shrug. “I’m a desperate man. I need this settled by the time I leave for Singapore.”
She could hardly believe her ears. It was way too good to be true. “I thought you said you were going to make me suffer for betraying you?”
“As I said yesterday, I’ve come to appreciate your love and care for my son.”
Yeah, right. “There’s something you’re not telling me.”
“So suspicious,” he said, then closed his laptop with a sigh. “You will, of course, agree never to see Victor Sinistyn again.”
She nearly laughed aloud. At last it made sense. Perhaps he did want her help finding a new secretary, but it was Victor that really worried him. Her plan had worked better than she’d ever dared dream.
She opened her mouth to tell him she’d be perfectly happy to cross Victor’s name permanently off her Christmas card list, but closed it as another thought occurred to her.
What if Nikos changed his mind before she found him a new assistant and he signed the custody agreement? If she agreed to stop seeing Victor she’d lose her only hold on Nikos. She couldn’t play out her hand so easily.
“I’m not sure I can do that.” She tilted her head, as if considering his offer. “Victor is a hard man to forget.”
She saw a glint of something hard and flinty in Nikos’s eyes, then it was veiled beneath a studiously careless expression. “It’s your choice, of course.”
“Whether I’m friends with Victor?”
“Whether you want joint custody of our son.”
Hardly able to believe her own daring, she said, “Of course I do. But I’ll need more than your signature on a custody agreement to give up a man who might be the love of my life.”
His eyes were decidedly hard now, glittering like coal turning to diamonds under pressure. “What do you want?”
“You want a new secretary to replace me. Understandable. I want a new boss to replace you. Give me a glowing reference so I can find a good job in New York.”
“I never agreed you could take our son to New York.”
“What do you care? You’ll be in Singapore—”
“And you’ll never need to work again,” he interrupted, not listening. “I will supply you with all the money you could possibly need to raise our child in comfort. Do not insult me.”
“It’s hardly an insult to wish to work.”
“Your job now is to take care of our son.”
“That’s your job too, since you’re his parent as well, but I haven’t noticed you putting Stavrakis Resorts up for sale.”
“The company is my son’s legacy,” he said. “I have no choice but to work.”
“Neither do I.”
“I will always support Michael. And you as well, for the rest of your life. I protect what is mine. You need never fear for money again.”
“And my family, too? Will you support my mother and sister for all their lives as well?”