Her Enemy, Her Lover Excerpt
The Burling School Series Book 1
Lana stared at the complex documents spread out chaotically over the big, wooden desk. Contracts and invoices, complaints and lawsuits, requests for…something…and even a few pieces of paper that looked like they might be official or legal. Those were the papers that scared her the most. Everything in front of her seemed extremely complicated. She had no idea where one issue ended and another began.
At the moment, the door to her father’s big, pandemonium -filled office was closed, a heavy silence weighing over the room. Lana slowly lowered her head into her hands, hoping that some divine intervention would point out what she needed to focus on first. And if that could happen, perhaps that divine intervention could also give her clues as to how she might accomplish each of those priority tasks.
Unfortunately, no heavenly message was forthcoming and she sighed again, but this time, frustration tinged the increasing resentment. “Why did you leave me, Father?” she whispered to the panicked silence. “Why couldn’t you have taken better care of yourself?”
Lana’s father, Higar Kosta, had been a wonderful man, his life filled with love and laughter, always ready to listen when Lana had a problem or just needed a hug. But Higar preferred a good cigar with a glass of scotch over sweating in a gym. And goodness, he’d loved his food! The man was renowned all over the city for his elaborate dinner parties! Maybe, if he’d stopped eating all of the rich foods and exercised a few times a week instead of sitting around smoking those horrible cigars, then he might still be with her now. He would still be taking care of all of these mind-boggling corporate details and she could be back in her light-filled art studio, doing what she loved instead of sitting her in this depressing office, alone, panicked and…overwhelmed!
But her father had passed away two months ago and…Lana secretly acknowledged that she was completely lost.
Yes, she could call up her best friends from school, Tamara or Willow. They’d met at The Burling School on the outskirts of London, and, after an initially expecting to hate both of them, they’d quickly become fast friends. The three of them had shared a room for many gloriously wonderful, laughter and tear-filled years. No, their acquaintance hadn’t started off smoothly. Lana was very aware that most people thought of her as flighty and irresponsible. But she wasn’t! Lana came across as flighty only because she lived in her head a bit more than the rest of the world. As a painter, Lana saw things differently, which was also why her paintings sold so well. Every year, the value of her paintings increased in value. She was financially secure and understood the international markets better than most artists.
But this….! She shifted several of the papers around on the previously polished desk, not sure where to even start. Lana couldn’t keep relying on advice from Tamara who had a degree in international business and knew how businesses worked. The woman knew the world and, even though the world might think that she was a ditzy party girl, that was a very deliberate image that Tamara created and cultivated. The images that appeared in the tabloids were placed there for a very specific purpose.
Unfortunately, Tamara had her own problems and Lana didn’t want to bother her friend. Willow was…well, normally Willow would be in her craft studio, working with her team to get ready for the next holiday season’s…stuff…whatever it was that Willow might create next. But Willow had her own worries as well.
“Cassandra!” Lana whispered into the silence of the office. Standing up, Lana walked over to the window and looked out, not really seeing the beautiful ocean or the sunshine as it sparkled off of the water. “Cassandra might be able to get me out of this…mess!” she thought. There’d been that article recently about an especially trick legal case that Cassy had won!
But…Cassy and Lana weren’t really friends. They were more…acquaintances. Lana and Cassy had enjoyed a few moments of camaraderie during their years at The Burling School, but they weren’t bosom buddies. Although, Lana had always wondered why Cassy had worn those horrible sports bras. The woman was gorgeous in a pinup girl kind of way. She was smart too! Unfortunately, Lana hadn’t ever taken the time to really get to know Cassy – or Cassy’s roommates. Not really. Oh, the six of them had snuck into the dining hall occasionally for a late night ice cream raid. But she’d been too close with Tamara and Willow and hadn’t bothered trying to befriend anyone else.
“Not an option,” Lana thought with resignation and turned away from the window to look at the desk once again.
“What a mess,” she groaned, pushing her hands through her already mussed, brown hair, trying to figure out where to start. Her father’s business was shockingly complex and, from some of the documents she’d read, wasn’t in very good shape at the moment.
Every morning when she contemplated coming into this office, she felt her chest constrict and a vicious bout of nausea came next. Not only because she had her own issues to handle with her personal business, but because her father’s empire was too convoluted. Too vast.
Thankfully, as an artist, Lana’s business had done well enough over the last few years that she hadn’t taken any money from her father since graduating from college. Her paintings were meticulous and beautiful. Every canvas she released into the world sold almost immediately. But…!
“Having problems?” a deep voice asked, interrupting her pity party.
Lana looked up, startled. But not nearly as startled as she was when her eyes focused on the tall, terrifying man standing in the doorway of her father’s office.
“What the hell are you doing here?” she demanded, standing up with a jerk as the tall, odious man pushed away from the door frame and stepped arrogantly into her father’s office. With a soft thud, the door closed behind him, the sound ominously dreadful. It might have been better if he’d slammed the door closed. That would have given her mind something to focus on besides the terrifying man coming towards her.
“I’m here to see if you need help.” His eyes moved over the desk that seemed to be piled with papers and files, contracts and reports. “Looks to me as if you’re drowning.”
Lana looked up at the formidable man, refusing to show her fear. Christoph Anastas. The few times she’d met him at the various social gatherings around Athens had told her that this was not a man to ignore. He was one of the few businessman in Greece, all over the world actually, that made other businessmen quake in their thousand dollar shoes! Christoph Anastas was simply that powerful! Just his name sparked reverential silence when spoken out loud.
Even now, looking up into eyes that weren’t quite blue and not really grey, she knew that he was a man to keep at arms distance. Ice, she thought. Yes, his eyes were the color of ice. Cold. Heartless. Merciless. Rivers of ice ripped open mountains, tore down boulders and reframed the earth. This man was the same. Just a simple glance from this man could damage a business, alter financial markets and shift the paths of currencies.
She’d hated him from the first time she’d met him several years ago. It had taken one dance, just five minutes in the man’s spookily strong arms, before she understood his dangerous power.
Well, not really understood so much as grasped. Even from across the ballroom that night, the man had looked at her and she’d felt naked. Raw. Vulnerable. And when he’d touched her that one time, her skin had felt singed. An odd reaction when his eyes seemed so cold, but she’d immediately wanted to pull her hands away. To run from him.
But Lana prided herself on facing problems head on. Never running from them, never cowering. After the initial shock of being in his arms, she’d straightened her spine and glared up at him, refusing to let him feel her trembling because she absolutely refused to show any weakness around this man! Not him! Not with her father’s enemy! Show no weakness, Higar Kosta had always told her. “Use your weaknesses to gain power! Aspire to Strength” her father had preached ever since she’d been small.
So here she was again, facing the man who was her weakness, determined to make him her strength! How Lana was going to do that was the mystery, but she’d eventually figure out how.
In the meantime, Lana refused to show him how overwhelmed she was with all of the business issues spread out over the wide desk. Her chin went up a notch, her arms crossing over her stomach. “Did you come here just to annoy me for general purposes?” Lana demanded, pretending that everything in this office was under control. “Or did you have a more specific purpose?”
The man had the audacity to sit down in one of the chairs on the opposite side of her father’s big desk. He even unbuttoned his immaculate suit, stretching his long legs out in front of him before he looked up at her. Was he laughing? Was he mocking her?!
Oh, her hatred for the man intensified with that smug expression! There were few people in this world who could engender those kinds of emotions in Lana. Her friends from boarding school, Tamara and Willow, had been two of them…initially. They’d hated each other upon their first meeting all those years ago. But now she loved those two women more than if they were her own sisters. The three of them understood each other. They fought for each other and protected each other’s secrets.
This man had secrets, she thought. And if she could ever discover any of them, she’d reveal those secrets to the world. Just looking into his icy blue eyes made her want to take him down several pegs. No, not several pegs. She wanted to crush him under her heel. She wanted to beat him at whatever game he was initiating.
And Lana had no doubt that the man was definitely initiating a game. Cat and mouse. Okay, maybe lion and mouse, she corrected. Christoph Anastas was much bigger and significantly more powerful than a house cat.
But Lana refused to be his timid mouse! She was going to be…well, at least a cheetah.
Okay, ridiculous mental conversation, she acknowledged and forced her eyes to glare at him from across the huge desk.
“I understand that you’ve inherited all of your father’s businesses,” he started off conversationally.
The horrible grief from her father’s passing several months ago still haunted her, but she suppressed the instant stab of sadness. She was a cheetah, she reminded herself. A sleek, powerful cheetah. “How is that significant to you?” Her hand slipped self-consciously over her too-rounded hips, reminding herself that she’d planned to go for a run after work. Of course, she’d planned on going for that run this morning, but had rolled over in her warm bed, not wanting to face the misery of morning, much less a morning run.
His thin lips smiled slightly, but because the man’s face was all angles and planes, harsh lines and boogey-man intensity…the smile didn’t warm his features in any way.
“Lana, I know that you’re in over your head. Your father’s businesses were far-ranging.”
That was true, but Lana wasn’t going to admit that to this man. Leaning forward, she clasped her hands in front of her and looked directly into his ice-blue eyes. “Christoph, you’re being a patronizing ass,” she came right back.
He stared at her for a long moment, then threw back his head laughing.
For some reason, the sound made her heart pound harder but she hid her insane reaction by crossing her arms more tightly over her chest.
When he looked up at her this time, there seemed to be a glimmer in his icy eyes. A glimmer of…ice? Or heat?
“That’s good, my dear. No one has ever had the courage to call me out in such a way. Which,” he leaned forward, resting his arms on his knees, “makes my offer even more enticing.”
Lana watched him for a long moment, tensing because she knew with absolute certainty that she wasn’t going to like his offer. An easy supposition, since she’d never liked anything this particular man ever said to her. “I can’t sell the business to you. Even if I could, I wouldn’t. Not to you,” she told him with a bit of her own smug delight, warning him that she wasn’t going to give in to threats or intimidation – two tactics she knew this man was extremely good at.
His grin widened for a brief moment. And did those eyes of his glance downward? Lana wasn’t sure because it was only a brief flash, then he was looking right back into her hazel eyes once again. “I don’t want to buy any of your businesses. I know that you can’t legally do that. The terms of your father’s will were very strict.”
Wait – he knew about the terms of her father’s will? Her mouth fell open in shock. “How…how do you know about what’s in my father’s will?” she squeaked out, even more…impressed because her father’s will was private. No one but her father’s attorney and Lana knew about what her father had demanded of her. So yeah, she was more than a little impressed. And terrified. And overwhelmed. How in the world could he know?!
“It doesn’t matter how I know,” he replied smoothly and stood up, moving around to the other side of the desk. Immediately, Lana stood up, not wanting to be so much lower than this man.
“I know that your father’s will declared that you couldn’t sell off any part of the business. Everything he owned, right up until the point of his unexpected heart attack, will go to your husband.”
She wanted to step back, but seeing him this close reminded her of those few minutes in his arms, swaying gently to the music. But she hadn’t heard the music that night. Every ounce of her mind, her body, had been focused only on this man and trying not to let him know how intensely confused she’d felt when he held her like that.
Taking a deep breath, she shook her head, trying to banish the image from her mind and the feelings from her body. Those blasted memories were…warped! She’d magnified them in her mind over time. There was no way she was accurately remembering her body’s reaction because she would never betray her father by…reacting in that way to his foremost enemy!
So what if she’d had a few erotic dreams featuring that dance and this man? He’d never know about those dreams! Ever!
Her chin lifted slightly in an attempt to appear more confident than she felt. “Okay, so you know about the private details of my father’s sexist will. Should I be impressed that you have super-secret spies that are everywhere? Your information doesn’t change the details.” She shrugged slightly. “I don’t see how that is relevant.”
He buttoned his suit coat as he looked down at her, his icy eyes not revealing anything.
“I want to be your husband.” He pulled a card out of his pocket, wrote something on the back, then laid the card on the edge of her desk. “This is my private number. Call me when you’re ready to talk.”
And with those words, he left her with her mouth hanging open and no pithy response to toss back at him.