Harlequin Presents #3885
Can this Greek marriage go the distance? Find out in this passionate and dramatic romance by USA TODAY bestselling author Lucy Monroe!
First came passion, then came vows…
What comes after “I do”?
Greek tycoon Andros Kristalakis knew that his white-hot whirlwind romance with Polly could end only one way—with her wearing his ring! He offered her his world of unbelievable luxury while he ruled his family’s business empire. But that was all he could give.
Now pregnant Polly has revealed that for the past five years she’s secretly craved more! With his marriage on the line, Andros must choose—because closing the distance between himself and Polly will mean destroying the protective barriers he’s long fought to keep intact…
(c) 2020 by Lucy Monroe
Greek billionaire and societal icon Alexandros Kristalakis stepped into the hall, having wrapped up an international call with one of his business interests in America, unsurprised to find his wife waiting.
Unlike early in their marriage, Pollyanna was always punctual now.
Never late anymore, but neither was she spontaneous. Exuberant expressions of affection had disappeared along with her spontaneity. He’d believed at first, that was the result of being pregnant the first time around, a difficult period for her emotionally and physically. But giving birth and early motherhood had not seen a reversion to the old habits he’d enjoyed so much.
He could not complain. Pollyanna had worked too hard to adjust to her new lifestyle as the wife of a billionaire Greek from an old and established family.
Coming from a far more relaxed background and a family that had none of the societal expectations of his own and the very different American culture, she’d naturally found it a challenge. But not a challenge his amazing and resilient wife could not meet.
Despite speaking almost no Greek to begin with, she had attended the necessary social functions and lent her newfound position to the support of worthy causes. With her naturally open nature and warm personality, she’d won over his friends and acquaintances, making a place for herself in Athens society not reliant wholly on her role as his wife.
Six months pregnant with their second child, the leggy brunette was more beautiful than the day they married.
Even if nowadays her warm personality was muted by a dignity more fitting to the name Anna his mother insisted she be called, rather than the more common Polly she used go by.
Her designer gown in the ice blue that had become known as her signature color clung to breasts that had grown at least a cup size since conception and fell in an elegant drape over her baby bump. His child growing inside his wife.
It gave him a sense of pride not even his most ruthlessly executed business deal ever had.
He gave her an openly appreciative look. “You look beautiful, yineka mou.”
“That’s what you pay the exorbitant fees to the stylists for.” She didn’t smile, or meet his eyes with her crystalline blue gaze.
She hardly ever did anymore. With him.
Other people still got the benefit of her warm nature, but he got the elegant wife who never spoke out of turn or reacted without thought. Except in the bedroom. There, she was still the passionate being he had known he could not live without.
He’d known she was something special the first time they went to bed together.
So he had asked her to marry him, instead of one of the many proper Greek heiresses his mother had been throwing at him since uni days.
And she had said yes. Of course she had. Why wouldn’t she?
He had been able to give Pollyanna a lifestyle she couldn’t even have dreamed of.
Nevertheless it wasn’t the expensive designer gown or glittering diamonds she’d opted to wear for the weekly family dinner, or even the silky chestnut hair swept up in an elegant twist, but the way she glowed with her pregnancy that had prompted his compliment.
Even looking a little tired, as she did now, she still took his breath away. “It is all you,” he assured her.
She gave him a barely there tilt of her lips, clearly unimpressed by his praise.
She used to smile when he told her how beautiful she was to him, her expression open and full of delight at his appreciation. He did not know what had changed in that regard, but something had.
Just as somewhere along the way he’d lost the privilege of using the term agape mou. Oh, she never told him not to call her his love. She didn’t do that anymore, make demands, or argue. She just winced every time he used the words, so he’d stopped doing it. She didn’t seem to mind yineka mou, referring to her as his wife, his woman seemed acceptible. So, he found himself using that instead.
They made the helicopter trip to his childhood home in silence, which was not unexpected. Unless they wore headsets, hearing one another above the sound of the rotors was impossible without shouting. There had been a time she would have curled into his side, and they would have communicated with their eyes, if not their bodies. He did not remember the last time she’d offered that kind of open affection outside the bedroom.
Married friends had warned him that things changed naturally as a marriage settled into life’s routines. He’d thought his would be immune, but even being wrong did not make him regret making this woman his wife.
Their ride from the helipad on top of the Kristalakis Building to the home where he’d grown up in the northern Athens suburb of Ekali went without incident and they arrived spot on time. Of course.
His mother greeted them both with the traditional kiss to both cheeks, though she showed respect for Pollyanna’s makeup by kissing the air. Pollyanna returned the gesture, her expression perfectly contained. Not like the hothead he’d first married, who’d had a terrible time not showing the antipathy she’d developed for his mother on her expressive features.
Those features were never anything but serene now.
Except in bed.
In bed, Pollyanna still showed all the passion she ever had, with one exception. She never reached for him first.
He didn’t recall when that changed, wasn’t sure he would have noticed right away. Why should he? She always responded so beautifully to him when he initiated intimacy, but at some point he had become aware that she did not turn to him in the night. She did not reach across the bed to touch. She never kissed him with great enthusiasm and little concern for where they were as she’d used to do.
He’d accepted that kind of exuberance couldn’t last in marriage. Her lack of enthusiasm was only in initiation, not the act, so he had nothing to complain about.
So, why did he still feel the loss so deeply?
“I see you’re still making use of the stylist I suggested,” his mother said to Pollyanna, in what should have been approval. So why did her words sound like a criticism?
Or was it that telltale wince that was barely there and then gone from his wife’s lovely face?
“As you see,” Pollyanna said in quiet self-deprecation.
Corrina, his new sister-in-law, who was usually all sunshine and smiles, was frowning at his mother, her expression not at all approving. “Polly doesn’t need a stylist. Her natural style is perfect as it is.”
His mother drew herself up in obvious affront, probably as much at the gentle rebuke as Corrina’s use of Polly, which his mother thought far too common and had refused to use from their first meeting. Everyone called her Anna now, even him.
Though sometimes in bed, he still chanted Polly, when he was climaxing. The name he’d first come to know her by.
Alexandros looked to his brother, expecting him to subtly rein his wife in.
But Petros was smiling at Corrina in nothing less than approval. “As always, you are quite right, agape mou. She has never needed the stylists my brother insists on paying for.”
The look Corrina gave Petros was nothing short of adoration. There was something about that look that bothered Alexandros, but he could not put his finger on what it was. It was a good thing that his newly married sister-in-law looked at her husband like he was a superhero. That was as it should be.
So why did Alexandros get a strange, unpleasant feeling every time he noticed it? He looked sideways at his own wife. She was not returning his regard.
No surprise there. She never looked at him unless good manners dictated she do so. She stood now, removed from the conversation like a statue in a museum.
“I do not expect to be taken to task in my own home,” his mother said in freezing tones.
That didn’t seem to impact Corrina at all.
Petros, on the other hand, wasn’t so calm. Displeasure turned his expression dark and he snapped, “Giving Polly a compliment is not taking you to task. My wife is allowed to have a different opinion from you, and if you are not mature enough to accept that, perhaps we need to rethink these family dinners.”
“Petros, how dare you talk to me that way?” their mother demanded, sounding utterly shocked.
“Oh, Mama, don’t take on so,” their younger, and unashamedly spoiled sister butted in. “You know how protective Petros is of his beloved wife. It’s the way of the Kristalakis male. You remember how Papa used to be?”
As always, mention of her dead spouse brought a fragile smile to his mother’s face, and she unbent enough to nod. “I suppose, but still, Petros, I am your mother.”
His mother had fallen apart after his father’s death. After losing both her parents only a year prior, he maybe should have expected her broken response to further loss. But he hadn’t, and things had gotten very bad before Alexandros had taken action.
For a time, he had worried they would lose her to grief. They nearly had. She’d stopped bathing, stopped going out. In desperation, he had booked her into a luxury rest facility.
It had worked and she’d returned to the villa more herself, but Alexandros never forgot those dark days and how fragile of spirit his mother was under her society grande dame facade.
“And Corrina is my wife.”
There could be no doubt in that room which woman came first in Petros’s estimation. His mother looked furious again, and Stacia glared at their brother. “No one is denying that. We all love Corrina.” Then Stacia shook her head, put an arm around her mother and said, “You can’t be angry you raised him to be so much like Papa.”
“No, I suppose not.”
Stacia smiled. “Corrina and Anna are the luckiest women alive, being married to Kristalakis men. I’m sure no one will ever measure up for me. They are the most protective and considerate men on the planet. Right, Anna?”
Alexandros was surprised when his sister tried to bring his wife into the conversation. Even after five years, Stacia hadn’t warmed up completely to his American bride. But he was shocked stupid by Anna’s response.
“I wouldn’t know, Stacia. I never knew your father.” Pollyanna moved to take a seat in one of the armchairs, precluding him sitting beside her. She didn’t use to do that either. Another barely there wince worried him. Was she having pain in her back and pelvis again with this pregnancy? “But Alexandros has never been the protective and considerate husband to me that Petros is to Corrina.”
The words were so shocking that for a moment, his usually facile brain froze in trying to understand them. She had not just said that his brother was a better husband than him.
Pollyanna’s reply to his sister had been incomprehensible enough, but the tone in which she said it even more so. His wife did not sound angry. She did not even sound resigned. Pollyanna sounded like she simply didn’t care that he, Alexandros Theos Kristalakis, did not measure up to his younger brother in the husband stakes.
Worse was yet to come as he took in the reactions of his family.
Stacia managed to look both offended and satisfied at the same time. His mother’s expression showed offence and concern, but it was Corrina’s reaction that struck him like a blow to his ego. She looked at Pollyanna with undisguised pity. And his brother?
Petros wasn’t looking at Pollyanna at all; he was looking at Alexandros, and his expression was equal parts anger and disappointment.
It was not the type of look Alexandros was accustomed to receiving from any member of his family, but especially his younger brother.
Alexandros had a realization so stunning, it nearly took him out at the knees. His brother and his brother’s wife thought he was a poor husband. Even more staggering, the flat tone of his wife, the absolute belief that tone imbued to her own words said she thought the same thing.
A discussion he’d had with his brother before Petros’s marriage to Corrina came back to Alexandros now.
Alexandros gave his brother, Petros, a stern glance over the coffee they shared after a productive meeting with their top-level executives. “Is it really so much to ask that you put your honeymoon off for one week so you can attend this gala? You know how important it is to our mother.”
“Yes.” Petros’s glare was more than stern; it showed a stubborn resolve Alexandros was not used to his brother turning on him. “If you think I’m making the same choices in my marriage you’ve made in yours, then you are wrong. I know Mama had a hard time after Papa died, but her feelings are not more important than the woman I have chosen to spend the rest of my life with. I will never put her desires ahead of Corinna’s.”
“Family requires sacrifice. We balance the needs of our wives with those of the rest of our family.” It hadn’t been easy for Alexandros to watch his mother and wife jockey for position in his life.
But ultimately he’d never doubted Polly’s ability to hold her own and stand up for herself when it mattered.
There was no humor in Petros’s laugh. “You mean like you balance your wife’s needs against that of our mother and sister?”
“No thank you. I would like my wife to still be in love with me five years from now.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“It means that I am not putting off my honeymoon to make our mother happy.”
At the time, Alexandros had dismissed the dramatic implication of his brother’s words. But they came back to haunt the eldest brother now.
Had Pollyanna stopped loving Alexandros? She still responded to him in bed like a woman in love. Or a woman in lust. But love? It wasn’t an emotion he’d been particularly worried about when they first got together. He’d called her agape mou but had rarely told her he loved her, and she’d never pressed for declarations of that nature. Not even when he proposed.
He’d taken that as more proof of how well suited they were.
Alexandros had said the words the first time when their daughter was born, and had given her an eternity ring to remind her of the sentiment when he did not say it.
Looking back, he realized she’d responded in kind but not with the kind of enthusiasm she’d said the words in the beginning. And he could not remember the last time she’d told him she loved him.
He thought, that like him, she realized they did not need the words.
“How can you say something like that?” his mother was saying with ringing censure.
Pollyanna tilted her head, like trying to understand the question. “Surely there is no reason for me to lie? There cannot be a single person in this room that harbors any illusions in regard to my place of priority in Alexandros’s life.”
She spoke like she meant what she said, like she couldn’t understand why his mother had taken offence, why Alexandros might take offence. Then as if she had not said anything inflammatory at all, she turned to Petros and asked, “Have you and Corrina decided to stay in the Athens apartment for now?”
And his brother answered, pulling his wife into the discussion. Apparently, they were going to stay in the apartment. That was another difference between Petros and Alexandros.
His younger brother had moved into one of two penthouse apartments at the top of the Kristalakis Building when he graduated university and took up his first position in the family business.
He and Corrina had opted for her to move in there with him after their wedding, rather than back into the more spacious family home Alexandros had not moved out of until he bought the country villa he and Pollyanna lived in now.
Generations of their family had lived in the huge luxury villa together since his second great-grandfather had bought it for his new wife.
“But won’t that be limiting once you start your family?” his mother asked.
Petros shrugged. “We’re in no hurry to have babies, but when we do, we’ll decide if we want to find a house in Athens, or move to the country like Alexandros did.”
“We certainly enjoy our weekends at your villa,” Corrina said to Pollyanna with a smile. “Though I’m sure it’s as much the company as the location.”
Pollyanna returned Corrina’s smile with more warmth than he’d seen all evening.
He’d noticed that his brother had not said like Alexandros and Pollyanna did, because she hadn’t had any say in their move, had she? Alexandros had seen how unhappy his wife was living with his mother, so he’d broken with generations of family tradition and bought them a house. And had it decorated.
His mother had assured him that surprising her with the fait accompli would delight his wife, who was not exactly inclined toward interior decor.
Pollyanna had not reacted with rapturous delight at the news they would be living in the country and he would be commuting to work in the city.
In fact, their argument about where they were going to live was the last big dustup he could remember with his then-volatile wife. He’d thought she’d finally settled into her place as the wife of a billionaire, had accepted he had her best interests at heart.
But that settling in had come with a cost that he was only now beginning to truly appreciate.
“Alexandros did not put off having children,” his mother said in clear disapproval of his brother’s stance in that regard.
Corrina looked ready to say something, but then shook her head and pressed her lips firmly together.
“What were you going to say?” Alexandros asked, still reeling from the knowledge his sister-in-law pitied his wife in her choice of husbands.
“It’s not important.”
“This is family. You should be able to speak your mind.”
The scoffing sound that came from his wife’s direction was surprising only in that she’d stopped making commentary on his family a long time ago. He’d thought her attitude toward his mother and sister had changed.
Had Pollyanna simply given up on trying to get him to see her point of view?
Corrina gave him a wary look. “I was only going to point out that if pregnancy was as difficult for you as it is for your wife, you might actually have waited to have children.”
“That is a ridiculous thing to say,” his mother censored. “It is a woman’s lot to deal with the more difficult aspects of bringing children into the world. That does not make my son selfish for expecting his wife to give him heirs.”
“My wife did not say it made my brother selfish.” Petros sounded good and furious now, not merely annoyed with their mother, but pissed enough he would leave.
Unsurprisingly, it was Alexandros’s wife who stepped in to smooth the waters. She was very good at that. “I love being a mother,” Pollyanna said directly to Corrina. “I knew what I was in for when I agreed to have a second a child.”
His wife gave a serene facsimile of her genuine smile and looked at his mother now. “I know you don’t mean to criticize either Corrina or Petros for their wish to wait a while before having children.”
“No, of course not,” his mother agreed.
Though even Alexandros was aware her words had certainly sounded like criticism.
Petros didn’t look any more convinced than Alexandros felt, but Corrina looked more relaxed.
She smiled at Pollyanna. “You’re a brilliant mother.”
“Thank you. Helena is the joy of my life.”
There had been a time when she had claimed that he and their marriage were the joy of her life, but he couldn’t remember the last time she’d said anything similar either.
Dinner was announced then, precluding any further tense discourse.
Not merely because of the change of venue but because his wife did as he realized she always did and made every effort to steer the conversation in less volatile directions. As he sat there mulling over predinner discussion, he was still aware of how many times Pollyanna did not react to what were clearly pointed barbs from his mother or his sister.
Had it always been like this and he ignored it in favor of family peace?
It was past ten o’clock when they got in the back of the limo for their ride to the helipad so they could return home.
Alexandros had been stewing all evening and barely waited for the door to shut them into seclusion before saying, “I can’t believe you told my family you don’t think I’m an attentive husband.”
The laugh his comment startled from his wife was anything but amused. “Are you trying to claim that you are?”
“When have I ever neglected you?” he demanded in a driven tone. “Would you look at me when we’re talking?”
She lifted her head, her blue eyes shadowed by fatigue not anger. “When haven’t you?” she asked.
“I am not a neglectful husband.”
“If you say so.” She let her head fall back against the headrest and closed her eyes.
“It’s not even worth arguing with me over?”
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there are very few things I find worth arguing with you over anymore, Alexandros.”
When she used to argue about everything, screaming when he would not listen. She hadn’t even argued over her refusal to bring their daughter to the family dinners.
Pollyanna had simply pointed out in a very reasonable tone that since Helena was usually in bed by the time they ate, keeping her up was not conducive to the baby’s well-being. She’d added that Athena and Stacia were welcome to visit during little Helena’s awake hours.
She hadn’t mentioned his brother because Petros had made an effort to spend time with his sister-in-law and then his niece from the very beginning, the only person in Alexandros’s family who had accepted Pollyanna’s joining the family without any reservations. He and Corrina now came to Villa Liakada to visit once a week, frequently opting to stay the weekend and fly back into Athens on Sunday evening with Alexandros and Polly for the family dinner.
Petros and Corrina had made their visit midweek this time around however.
Though their daughter, Helena, was now three, she was still too young to be kept up. Alexandros and Pollyanna had yet to revisit the issue.
“Why didn’t you ever suggest that my mother change our family gatherings to the midday meal so our daughter could be included?” he asked.
“Why would I? I have no sway with your mother. She’s not my family.” The last was said with absolute certainty.
But it was not true. His mother was her family. Only clearly, Pollyanna did not see it that way. Had Pollyanna refused to accept the connection, as he had always assumed, or did that lack lay at his mother’s door?
Had he made too many concessions to his mother because of her emotional fragility and too many demands of his wife because of the strength he knew she possessed?
Emotional self-analysis was not something he was comfortable with, but he was beginning to see that so much he had taken for granted was not as he believed it to be.
“Did you expect me to make the suggestion?” he asked her, trying to understand a relationship he had thought he had figured out perfectly.
“Did you make it?” she asked wearily.
“No.” He had never even thought of changing a long-standing tradition until just that moment and was a little ashamed of that fact.
Not only would his daughter have gotten to spend more time with her yia-yia, but the more casual setting of lunch would have been easier on his wife. Though she’d never said so.
“Then?” she prompted, with little interest lacing her tone.
Having no answer and not even sure why he’d brought it up, he admitted, “I don’t like you telling my brother he’s a better husband than me.”
“I would never presume to comment on how good a husband your brother is.”
“You said he was more attentive and considerate than I am.”
“If those are the traits by which you measure good or bad, you might take issue, but we both know you don’t.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” he demanded, noticing as if from outside himself that his voice was rising.
She didn’t seem to care he was practically shouting, not bothering to open her eyes or look at him again. “If you wanted to be attentive, you would be. If you wanted to be protective, you would be. If you wanted to be considerate, you would be.” She stopped, thought. “Maybe. Being considerate means noticing how the decisions you make affect others, and I think you’re really bad at that.”
“I make decisions that affect thousands of people all the time.”
“And you don’t think I care how they are affected?”
Just that. No. Not a reason why or a maybe. Just no and he knew she meant it.
She had no idea that he did his best to maximize jobs and keep people employed in jobs they wanted, even if it couldn’t always be in the same company, or even country. And she assumed those kinds of considerations never made it past his ruthless need to also maximize profits.
“I can be considerate,” he informed her, wondering how she’d missed his efforts in their marriage.
Had he really got it so wrong? For five years?
“To your mother, maybe,” Pollyanna acknowledged without missing a beat. “But even as much as you spoil Stacia, I wouldn’t say you are particularly considerate of her feelings or desires when they conflict with what you want or the way you think things should be done.”
“Is this another argument where you lament the fact I won’t always take your part against my mother?” Even as he asked the question, he tried to remember the last time they had had that disagreement and knew it was years past.
“No. I wasn’t aware we were arguing at all.” She sighed, still not opening her eyes. “Is there a reason for this conversation? Only I’m really tired.”
“I forgot. I’m not worth arguing with.”
“Alexandros, what exactly do you want me to say here?”
“That I’m not a bad husband,” he blasted her.
Finally. Finally, her head snapped round, her eyes opening to flash at him with anger he remembered but had not seen in too long.
“Alexandros, I am six months pregnant and the mother of a very active toddler. Even without all the committees you insist I chair or participate in, I would be exhausted. Not just tired. Exhausted.” And suddenly she looked it, her usual vibrancy so muted as to almost be extinguished.
She placed her hand protectively over her baby bump. “I am making new life inside me and I still suffer from nausea. It hurts to sit in any but the most comfortable chairs, hurts to walk and stand. Just like with my last pregnancy. But still you insist I suffer through a stylist’s ministrations so I can attend these unpleasant family dinners, which require an uncomfortable fifty-minute helicopter ride each way.”
“I did not realize it was such a struggle for you.” But he should have.
Damn it. He should have.
“Of course you didn’t, and if you had? You would not have cared. Never once, in our entire five years of marriage, have you ever made a decision with my happiness, or even my well-being at the forefront of your mind. A bad husband? No, you’re not a bad husband. You’re a terrible husband.”
In receipt of those indictments, he was shocked stupid and silent for several long moments.
“If I’m so awful, why have you stayed married to me?” he asked finally, a wholly unexpected fear that one day maybe she wouldn’t taking root inside him.
He’d realized long ago that the material benefits of being married to a billionaire were not the perks he thought they would be for her. So, what kept her married to a man she considered a total failure as a husband?
“You’re just now asking yourself that?” She sighed. “We made promises before God, and I won’t just ignore those promises in favor of an easy out. We also have a child together. From the moment of conception, I stopped making decisions based solely on my own happiness.”
He had no doubt she spoke the truth on both counts, but those reasons for his wife staying married to him were not exactly good for his ego.
“So you’ll stay married to me no matter what?” That didn’t jibe with the woman he knew his wife to be under the placid facade.
“No, not no matter what.”
“What would make those vows invalid?” he was driven to ask, a nameless dread telling him that he was on the thinnest ice when he hadn’t even realized he’d stepped out onto the frozen lake.
“And that is all I have going for me? I don’t abuse you and I’m not unfaithful.”
“Pretty much, yeah.” She sighed. “And you’re good in bed,” she added as if forced to do so. “You are not a selfish lover.”
Just selfish in every other way.
He had no words to respond to that statement.