Captivated by the Greek

By: Julia James

CHAPTER ONE

NIKOS PARAKIS TWISTED his wrist slightly to glance at his watch and frowned. If he wanted to make his appointment in the City he was going to have to skip lunch. No way could he fit in a midday meal now, having delayed leaving his Holland Park apartment—his base in the UK—in order to catch a lengthy teleconference with Russian clients. He’d also, on this early summer’s day, wanted to get some fresh air and brief exercise, so had dismissed his driver and intended to pick up a taxi on the far side of the park, in Kensington High Street.

As he gained the wide tree-lined pavement he felt a stab of hunger. He definitely needed refuelling.

On impulse, he plunged across the road and headed for what appeared to be some kind of takeaway food shop. He was no food snob, despite the wealth of the Parakis banking dynasty at his disposal, and a sandwich was a sandwich—wherever it came from.

The moment he stepped inside, however, he almost changed his mind. Fast food outlets specialising in pre-packed sandwiches had come a long way in thirty years, but this was one of the old-fashioned ones where sandwiches were handmade on the spot, to order, constructed out of the array of ingredients contained in plastic tubs behind the counter.

Damn, he thought, irritated, he really didn’t have time for this.

But he was here now, and it would have to do.

‘Have you anything ready-made?’ he asked, addressing the person behind the counter. He didn’t mean to sound brusque, but he was hungry and in a hurry.

The server, who had her back to him, went on buttering a slice of bread. Nikos felt irritation kick again.

‘She’s making mine first, mate,’ said a voice nearby, and he saw that there was a shabbily dressed, grizzled-looking old man seated on a chair by the chilled drinks cabinet. ‘You’ll ’ave ter wait.’

Nikos’s mouth pressed tight, and he moved his annoyed regard back to the figure behind the counter. Without turning, the server spoke.

‘Be with you in a sec,’ she said, apparently to Nikos, and started to pile ham onto the buttered slice before wrapping the sandwich in a paper serviette and turning to hand it to the man. She pushed a cup of milky tea towards him, too.

‘Ta, luv,’ the man said, moving to stand closer to Nikos than he felt entirely comfortable with.

Whenever the man had last bathed, it hadn’t been recently. Nor had he shaved. Moreover, there was a discernible smell of stale alcohol about him.

The man closed grimy fingers around the wrapped sandwich, picked up the mug in a shaky grip and looked at Nikos.

‘Any spare change, guv?’ he asked hopefully.

‘No,’ said Nikos, and turned back to the server, who was now wiping the sandwich preparation surface clean.

The old man shuffled out.

The server’s voice followed him. ‘Stay off the booze, Joe—it’s killing you.’

‘Any day now, luv, any day...’ the man assured her.

He shuffled out and was gone, lunch provided. Presumably for free, Nikos supposed, having seen no money change hands for the transaction. But his interest in the matter was zero, and with the server finally free to pay him attention, he repeated his original question about the availability of ready-made sandwiches—this time most definitely impatiently.

‘No,’ replied the server, turning around and busying herself with the tea urn.

Her tone of voice had changed. If Nikos could have been bothered to care—which he didn’t, in the slightest—he might have said she sounded annoyed.

‘Then whatever’s quickest.’

He glanced at his watch again, and frowned. This was ridiculous—he was wasting time instead of saving it!

‘What would you like?’

The server’s pointless question made his frown deepen.

‘I said whatever’s quickest,’ he repeated.

‘That,’ came the reply, ‘would be bread and butter.’

Nikos dropped his wrist and levelled his gaze right at her. There was no mistaking the antagonism in her tone. Or the open irritation in his as he answered.

‘Ham,’ he bit out.

‘On white or brown? Baguette or sliced?’

‘Whatever’s quickest.’ How many times did he have to say that?