‘We still need to talk,’ Nik said, coming up beside her.
She gasped in surprise. But the change in her body language made him sure she had recognised his voice before she looked round.
‘Anyone would think you were stalking me!’ She flicked her silky black fringe out of her eyes as she turned to him.
Nik looked down at her upturned face. Her almond-shaped eyes were a dazzling green, framed by arching brows and accentuated by long black lashes. He saw no sign of any make-up, and her flawless skin was incredibly pale, but it was lit somehow by a shimmering vitality.
It suddenly struck him as odd that she wasn’t wearing any make-up. Surely that natural look didn’t usually accompany the style of outfit she was wearing? But then, the denim jacket buttoned up to her chin and the sporty backpack seemed somewhat incongruous, too.
‘You left before we finished our conversation,’ Nik said.
‘I don’t have anything to say to you,’ Carrie said. She looked so cool, standing there, but he knew from experience that her nubile body was anything but.
‘Really?’ Nik asked coldly. ‘Tell me, why did you steal my brother’s baby?’
‘I…I…’ Carrie stammered. She gripped the handles of the buggy tightly and took a step backwards across the pavement. ‘I didn’t steal Danny.’
She stared at him with wide, frightened eyes, suddenly looking even paler than before, if that was possible. She looked genuinely shocked by his words. Maybe she hadn’t expected him to cut to the chase so quickly.
‘What else would you call taking a baby that doesn’t belong to you?’ Nik asked. She couldn’t really be surprised by his question, could she? In a moment she’d probably recover herself and start spouting a prepared speech in her defence.
‘Babies don’t belong to people!’ Carrie gasped. ‘They belong with the people who love them.’
‘They belong with their family,’ Nik said, hearing an edge of menace in his own voice as he took a step closer to her. ‘And, like I said, you stole that baby from his family.’
‘I didn’t steal Danny,’ Carrie said. ‘When his parents were killed in the accident no one else wanted him.’
‘No one else was given the chance,’ Nik said.
‘My father is dead,’ Nik interrupted coldly.
She drew in a sharp breath and stared up at him with puzzled green eyes. He had clearly startled her again, yet as he watched an expression of genuine sympathy passed across her face.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘I—’
‘No.’ He cut her off abruptly with an impatient gesture. Her sympathy was the last thing he wanted.
His father had died suddenly just two months ago—four months after Leonidas had been killed in the motorway accident. Nik had had a heavy couple of months, taking over the areas of the family business that his father had still controlled, but things had finally been coming into order when he’d made an astonishing discovery amongst his father’s personal papers. Leonidas had left behind an orphaned baby boy.
His gaze dropped to study the baby sitting in the buggy beside him—his brother’s son—then he looked back up at the woman who had taken him.
She swallowed convulsively as their eyes met, obviously unnerved by him, and took an awkward step backwards into the crowd of commuters.
‘Oi! Watch out!’ a young man shouted as he careered into her back, nearly knocking her off her feet. Her stiletto heels didn’t help, and she staggered forward, ramming the buggy hard into Nik’s shins.
He swore in Greek. ‘We need to get off the street,’ he grated, hauling Carrie and the buggy sideways, into the relative safety of a café doorway. ‘I’ll signal my driver.’
‘I’m not getting into a car with you.’ Carrie shrugged his hand off her arm and bobbed down to check on Danny. ‘I hardly know you,’ she said, rising to her full heel-enhanced height and meeting his eye.
‘We have to talk, and the street is not the place for it,’ Nik said categorically. ‘We’ll go in here.’ He indicated the stylish Italian café they were standing beside.
Carrie hesitated, biting her lip as she thought about it. She knew she’d have to talk to Nikos Kristallis some time, and quite honestly she’d rather get it over with.
‘All right, but I’m not staying long.’ She stooped to lift Danny out of his buggy. ‘He’ll be getting tired soon.’
A few minutes later they were sitting at a table in a quiet corner at the back of the café. Danny was balanced on Carrie’s lap, making alarming lunges for her cappuccino.
She edged her chair away from the table, automatically shifting Danny out of reach of the hot drink, and glanced surreptitiously at Nik. She couldn’t let herself believe that he really wanted to take Danny from her. It was six months since she’d contacted his family with news of Leonidas’s death, and if Nik had genuinely intended to take Danny he wouldn’t have waited so long to seek her out.
She was anxious to know what he really wanted, but she resisted the urge to ask him straight out. She wanted him to put his cards on the table first, to give her a chance to process what he said. But he’d hardly spoken since they’d sat down, and now he sipped his espresso in silence.
She couldn’t help letting her eyes run over him, drinking in his amazing good looks. His designer suit hung immaculately on his lean, athletic body, emphasising the powerful width of his shoulders and the strong hard planes of his chest. The crisp white shirt he wore was the perfect foil for his bronzed skin, which glowed with an attractive health and vigour.
‘I’m sorry about your father.’ She was still wary of Nik, but she couldn’t stand sitting in silence any longer. ‘It must have been awful to lose him so soon after Leonidas.’
‘Thank you for your concern,’ Nik said, putting his espresso cup down and lifting cold blue eyes to meet hers. ‘But I didn’t come here to discuss my recent bereavement. I’m here to make arrangements regarding the child.’
‘What do you mean?’ A bolt of alarm shot through Carrie, making her heart lurch and her stomach churn unpleasantly.
‘Danny belongs in Greece with me.’
Carrie swayed back in her chair, clutching Danny tightly as she stared at Nik in disbelief. It couldn’t be true. He didn’t really want Danny, did he?
‘I’m sorry for your loss,’ she said tautly. ‘But Danny is staying with me.’
‘No,’ Nik said. ‘Danny will return to Greece with me.’
‘I understand you’re upset, losing your brother and then your father so soon afterwards,’ Carrie said, desperately holding on to her control. She mustn’t let him see how upset she was rapidly becoming as the fact that he might be serious about taking Danny away from her started to sink in. ‘But you didn’t want Danny six months ago. You can’t just decide to look after a child when it suits you.’
‘Don’t insult me,’ Nik said, looking at her squarely. ‘This isn’t about me—it’s about Danny’s right to be part of his real family.’
‘Are you saying I’m not his real family?’ Carrie gasped.
‘You’re not his immediate family,’ Nik said. ‘And you are clearly not a suitable guardian.’
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ Carrie was shocked. ‘You don’t even know me!’
‘I know that I caught you stealing,’ he said.
‘I wasn’t stealing,’ Carrie protested, thinking about Lulu’s plaintive cry for help. She wasn’t ashamed of trying to help her friend. It was none of Nik’s business, but suddenly she decided to tell him everything. It would be better than having him speculate about what she’d been doing. ‘Lulu asked me to do it. She was worried Darren would start a row with her over a message she’d left on his phone, so she wanted to delete it.’
She looked at Nik, to see if he’d accepted her explanation, but his expression was still unreadable.
‘I realise it can’t have been easy, looking after a baby on your own,’ Nik said, abruptly changing the subject back to Dann
‘It’s been perfectly all right,’ Carrie said quickly. ‘Wonderful, in fact!’ There was no way she’d ever admit how hard she’d found it looking after the baby alone, juggling work commitments and trying to make ends meet financially.
‘I’m his uncle,’ Nik said flatly. ‘You are his cousin.’
‘What difference does that make?’ Carrie demanded. ‘I was there when he needed someone. Nobody else wanted him then. Your father called him a brat…’ She hesitated, looking down at the cold grey marble tabletop. She didn’t want to remember her horrible meeting with Cosmo Kristallis. It was too hurtful to think about the way Danny’s grandfather had viewed him.
‘You met my father?’ Nik asked sharply. ‘When?’
Something in the tone of his voice made Carrie’s eyes fly back to his face. A muscle pulsed at his jaw and a line of tension creased his brow.
‘He came to the funeral,’ Carrie replied carefully. At that moment she felt more than a little afraid of how he might react.
‘Last November,’ Nik said, after a slight pause.
‘Yes.’ Carrie looked at him warily, wondering whether talking about his father and brother was painful for him. He hadn’t shown any sign of it, but it was impossible to know what was going on behind his implacable expression.
‘What did my father say to you?’ Nik asked.
‘Not much,’ Carrie replied cautiously. ‘He simply said that he felt it would be in Danny’s best interests if he remained in England with his mother’s family.’
‘Really?’ Nik gave a sudden ironic burst of laughter. ‘I knew my father, and I doubt very much that those were his exact words.’
‘What your father said wasn’t funny.’ How could he be laughing at a time like this?
‘I’m sure it wasn’t.’ There was a hard glint in his blue eyes. ‘But listening to you putting such measured, almost caring words into his mouth is amusing.’
‘Your father didn’t care about Danny at all!’ Carrie said. ‘He wished Danny had never been born!’
‘Probably,’ said Nik. ‘But I do not share his view on that.’
‘If that’s the case, where were you after the accident? You didn’t care enough to come then!’ She was so upset that she didn’t realise her voice was rising. Suddenly Danny made another lunge for her cappuccino.
‘Careful, Danny!’ She pulled him back, but in her haste her own elbow caught against the cup. It rattled in the saucer, and a moment later the table was awash with foamy coffee.
She jumped to her feet to avoid the flood of coffee, quickly checking none of the scalding liquid had come anywhere near Danny.
‘Hot drinks and babies—not a good combination,’ Nik remarked smoothly. He turned and lifted a commanding hand to catch the attention of the girl behind the counter. ‘We need a cloth here.’
Carrie hugged Danny and looked at the mess she’d made. Nik had got her so upset that she hardly knew what to think or say. She dabbed her paper napkin into the flood of liquid, but it was saturated in a second, and it didn’t stop the coffee running off the marble tabletop onto the café floor.
‘I have to go.’ She bent to pick up her bag, barely registering that it was sitting in a pool of coffee, and turned to retrieve the buggy—but Nik was already holding it. ‘I’m really sorry about the mess,’ she said, as the waitress appeared with a large cloth.
She turned and made her way outside.
‘We haven’t finished this conversation yet,’ Nik said, joining her back on the busy London pavement.
‘Yes, we have.’ She tugged the buggy away from him before he could react. ‘I’m taking Danny home.’
‘I’ll drive you,’ Nik said.
‘No, thank you.’ She glanced up the road, and relief washed over her as she saw a bus approaching. ‘Here’s my bus now. Danny likes the bus.’
Without waiting for a reply she hoisted the buggy up under her arm and, hanging on to Danny tightly, made a dash for the bus stop.
He laughed, and settled on her lap happily as the bus pulled away. Out of the corner of her eye Carrie could still see Nik, standing on the pavement. She stared straight ahead, resisting the urge to look. A shiver ran down her spine as the bus rumbled to a halt alongside him.
It was true that Danny liked the bus, but she could think of many nicer things than sitting cramped, with a buggy gripped awkwardly between her knees, trying to keep a wriggling baby out of the damp patch of coffee on her short red dress, all the while knowing that those piercing Greek eyes were fixed on her from behind the grimy window of a London bus.
She knew she should have stayed longer—to find out exactly how serious Nikos Kristallis was about taking Danny. But right now all she wanted was to be as far away from him as possible.
Nik watched the bus labouring through the heavy traffic. He knew that Carrie was aware of him, standing there, but she was looking forward, refusing to acknowledge his presence.
It was only a couple of hours since he’d met her, but already Carrie Thomas had become strangely significant in his life. She had known Leonidas while he’d been lost to Nik. She’d even met his father. And now she had his nephew.
Nik saw that Danny had spotted him standing there. He had no hesitation at all in staring right back at Nik. His bright button eyes were fixed on him, and he turned his head and leant forward to keep him in view as long as possible when the bus finally moved off into the stream of traffic.
That baby boy was all that was left of Leonidas. Carrie Thomas could take the child home tonight, but it wouldn’t be long before he was taking him home to Greece.
CARRIE hurried along the street towards Danny’s nursery. It had been an exhausting day, and all she could think about was collecting Danny and taking him safely back to the refuge of her flat. Normally she loved her work, but she was so tired and stressed, after a sleepless night worrying about what Nikos Kristallis meant to do, that the day had seemed endless.
She told herself that Nik didn’t really mean to take Danny away from her. After all, if he was genuinely interested in Danny, surely he would have made an appearance before now? And even if he really did want Danny, he couldn’t just take him. He might be rich and powerful, but he would still have to make arrangements through the proper channels—otherwise it would be kidnapping.
She was starting to regret leaving the previous evening before anything had been resolved. Not knowing Nik’s intentions was killing her, and she’d been on edge all day, half expecting Nik to contact her at any moment. Every time the phone had rung she’d nearly jumped out of her skin. Her thoughts had kept turning to Danny, and how much she loved him, and by the end of the afternoon her nerves had been in shreds. Now, as she made her way quickly through the crowds of commuters hurrying along the street, she was desperate to reach Danny and wrap him safely in her arms.
Suddenly she stopped in her tracks. She stared across the wide London street, momentarily unable to believe what she saw.
Nikos Kristallis was standing on the doorstep of Danny’s nursery, leaning forward slightly as if he was talking into the intercom.
Buses and taxis flashed across her line of vision, making it hard to see clearly. She couldn’t be right. She was so stressed her eyes were playing tricks on her.
No, it was real. The heavy door was swinging closed behind Nikos Kristallis, but just before it slammed shut she saw him heading swiftly up the stairs. He was going to take Danny!
Carrie’s heart thudded in her chest and she broke into a run, weaving in and out of people as she sprinted along the pavement towards the crossing. The lights were just changing from red to amber, and four lanes of traffic started revving up as the last pedestrians cleared the road. She dashed out anyway, ignoring the angry shouts and blaring horns as she focussed on the nursery door. If Nik came back out carrying Danny she had to reach him quickly. She could not lose him in the crowd.
She skidded to a halt at the doorway and pressed impatien
tly on the buzzer, panting for breath.
‘It’s Carrie Thomas!’ she gasped. ‘Please let me in.’
She was already leaning heavily on the door, and the instant the lock released she was through, bounding up the stairs two at a time. She couldn’t let Nikos Kristallis get to Danny.
She burst through the door at the top of the stairs and dashed along the corridor to the baby room. Danny was there on the play mat—safe and sound.
She called his name and he looked round, but the moment his eyes found her his little face crumpled into tears.
‘Up you come, poppet,’ the young nursery assistant said, picking him up before Carrie was able to unlatch the child safety gate and get into the room. ‘He hasn’t been himself today,’ she continued, speaking to Carrie. ‘Been a bit grizzly all day. I think he might be teething.’
‘Poor little thing,’ Carrie said, holding out her arms to take Danny from the young woman. She hugged him tightly, feeling some of her anxiety ease as she pressed her face against his hair. Then she held him away from her and looked at him carefully. His cheeks were flushed, but he had already stopped crying.
Voices coming along the corridor suddenly caught her attention, and she remembered with a sick feeling that Nikos Kristallis was in the building.
‘And this is our baby unit,’ she heard Mrs Plewman saying right behind her. ‘It has excellent facilities, and most importantly one member of staff for every two babies.’
Carrie turned on the spot and found herself staring up into the face of Nikos Kristallis. He looked completely indifferent to the fact that she had discovered him at the nursery—a place he had no reasonable reason to be—and her concern over his presence suddenly switched to anger. He was so arrogant that he thought normal rules didn’t apply to him.
‘What are you doing here?’ She rounded on him. ‘You have no right to be anywhere near Danny!’
‘Mrs Plewman has been kind enough to give me a tour of the nursery,’ he replied smoothly, throwing the nursery manager a charming smile.
‘I don’t want this man anywhere near Danny.’ She spoke urgently to Mrs Plewman. ‘I don’t trust him—he wants to take Danny away, back to Greece with him.’
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