THE cold porcelain of the bathroom sink pressed against Alexandra Dupree’s forehead as she leaned against it, her stomach still heaving from its third early-morning upset in as many days. She dragged air into lungs starved by the unpleasant moments spent bent over the sink.
After a minute of doing nothing but breathe, she tentatively brought her body erect. A small twinge of nausea hit her, but she was able to control it. Okay, as unpleasant as this new early morning ritual had become, she had something even less pleasant to perform. She stared at the small white stick with all the wariness she would feel for a snake found curled around the base of the commode.
Dimitri had been fanatical about using birth control. So she’d convinced herself one late period didn’t mean anything, until she woke up heaving three days ago. At first she’d thought she had the flu, sure there could be no possibility she was pregnant even though the condom had broken a month ago. Her menses had come right on time a week later.
She still didn’t understand how this could be possible, but she had too many symptoms to deny. Her breasts were tender. She was tired all the time. She’d cried when Dimitri told her he had to spend more time in Greece and wouldn’t be returning to their Paris apartment for several days. She never cried.
She forced herself to do what was necessary for the pregnancy test. Ten minutes later the world went white around the edges as she stared at the blue line confirming she carried the child of Dimitrius Petronides.
Dimitri clenched his fists, refusing to give vent to his frustration.
“You know it is time. You are thirty, heh? You need a wife, some babies, a home.” The older man’s gray head tilted arrogantly, while he fixed Dimitri with a look that said he would argue this to the ground.
Dimitri had no desire to argue anything with his grandfather. He had barely survived a heart attack five days ago. Dimitri smiled. “I’m hardly in my dotage, Grandfather.”
The man who had raised Dimitri and his brother since their parents’ deaths snorted. “Don’t try to get around me with your charm. It won’t work. You’re my heir and I need to go to my grave knowing you will do your duty by the Petronides name.”
Dimitri’s heart contracted. “You are not going to die.”
His grandfather shrugged. “Who of us is to say when we will die? But I’m old, Dimitrius. My heart is not as strong as it once was. Is it so much to ask you marry Phoebe now? Why put it off? She’s a sweet girl. She’ll make you a proper Greek wife. She’ll give you Petronides babies.”
Eyes sliding shut, the older man breathed shallowly as if his short speech had taken more out of his weakened physical state than he had to give. Dimitri wanted to do something, but he was powerless. His grandfather’s doctors wanted the old man to have heart surgery, but he had refused to discuss it.
“Why won’t you have the by-pass operation your doctor is recommending?”
“Why won’t you marry?” the old man countered. “Perhaps if I had great-grandchildren to look forward to, the pain of such an operation would be worth going through.”
Dimitri felt the blood drain from his face. “Are you saying you won’t have the operation if I don’t marry Phoebe Leonides?”
Dark blue eyes, so much like his own, opened to stare at Dimitri with all the stubbornness a Petronides male had to bear. “Yes.”
ALEXANDRA nervously smoothed the kerchief style silk halter-top over the nonexistent bump where her baby rested under her heart.
The unaccustomed warmth of late spring had allowed her to wear the sexy outfit to boost her flagging morale. She turned to the side and surveyed herself in the full-length mirror in her bedroom. Her willowy body encased in the champagne silk hip-hugging pants and sexy halter looked no different than it had when Dimitri had left for Greece.
The week-old knowledge that she was pregnant with his child might show in her wary hazel eyes, tinted sultry green by colored contacts, but it had not yet affected the shape of her body. She adjusted the gold chain belt resting low on her hips and the multiple thin bangles she wore on her wrist tinkled like small bells as they clinked together. Then in a nervous gesture, she pulled another curling strand of her hair down to frame the soft angles of her face.
Curled and professionally bleached so many shades, it looked like rippling sunlight when she let it down, her hair was a Xandra trademark. Only right now, she didn’t feel like Xandra Fortune, popular model and lover to Greek Tycoon, Dimitrius Petronides. She felt like Alexandra Dupree, daughter of an old New Orleans family, convent educated and shocked to be unmarried and pregnant with her lover’s child.
“You look beautiful, pethi mou.”
Alexandra spun away from the mirror. Dimitri stood in the door, masculine appreciation burning in his startling blue eyes. For a moment she forgot her condition. Forgot the many truths she needed to tell him. Forgot her fears. Forgot everything but how much she had missed this man over the past three weeks.
She flew across the room and threw herself against his chest. “Mon cher, I have counted the minutes since you left!”
Strong arms locked around her in an almost convulsive movement while his body remained strangely stiff. “It has only been a month and you have been busy with work. You cannot have missed me that much.”
His words reminded her how he had resented her refusal to quit modeling when they had become lovers, but she had not wanted to be any man’s kept mistress. Nor had she had the option of quitting her job. She needed the money she made to support the family he knew nothing about.
“You are wrong. Nothing can keep me so occupied I do not notice your absence. A day. A week. A month. I grieve them all.” She grimaced inwardly at her blatant vulnerability. Where had her sophisticated cool gone, the career model facade that had initially drawn Dimitri to her?
The first crack had appeared when he’d told her he was going to be in Greece longer than anticipated and she’d cried. After two-and-a-half weeks of morning sickness, a positive pregnancy test and her mother’s horrified reaction to the news, the Xandra Fortune persona was in definite risk of extinction.
Dimitri tried to hold on to his self-control, not an easy thing around Xandra. And this was Xandra as he’d never seen her. Clingy. Almost vulnerable, but he knew that could not be true. They had become lovers a year ago and although she shared her body with a generosity that moved him, she kept her heart and parts of her life hidden from him.
Their relationship was modern and free of long-term commitment, something she’d made it clear by her actions she did not expect from him.
She pressed her body to his in blatant invitation and he laughed. “You mean you have grieved my absence from your bed, do you not?”
That was the only place he was convinced she did need him. She wouldn’t let him support her, making it obvious she would rather spend time away from him than give up any part of her career. None of this, however, made it easier to say what needed to be said. In fact, he was sure it would be harder for him to say the words than for her to hear them. His sophisticated lover would not appreciate a drawn out, or emotional goodbye any more than he would.
She shook her head, stretching up to link her hands behind his neck and brushed the hair at his nape. “I missed you, Dimitri. There was no joy in cooking for myself alone, no pleasure in watching the French Open without you to mutter when your favorite double-faulted on game point.”
He frowned, remembering the play. She smiled at him with a look that spelled his doom if he didn’t get his news out quickly. It had already wrought an instant response in his body. “I have news I must tell you.”
Her arms went stiff in reaction to the seriousness of his tone. “Can it not wait, mon cher?”
He reached behind his neck to remove her hands, but she locked her fingers with surprising force.
He clasped her wrists. “We must talk now.”
Alexandra did not want to talk. She was not ready to share her news. He’d seduced her from the beginning. She’d given him her heart, her body and her fidelity, as committed to him as any wife could be. Only she wasn’t his wife and she didn’t know how he’d respond to his lover getting pregnant.
Fear more than desire prompted her hips to grind against him. “No.” She kissed his chin, tasting the skin and letting her body absorb the return of its other half. “No talk.” She brushed her unfettered breasts behind her thin top back and forth across the crisp white silk of his shirt. “First, this.”
“Xandra, no.” He pulled her hands away from his neck, but made the mistake of letting them go.
She tunneled under his jacket and pushed it off his shoulders. “Dimitri, yes.”