Changing Constantinou's Game

By: Jennifer Hayward

CHAPTER ONE

AS FAR AS luck went, Manhattan-based reporter Isabel Peters had been enjoying more than her fair share of it lately. She’d managed to nab a cute little one-bedroom on the Upper East Side she could actually afford, she’d won a free membership to the local gym, which might actually enable her to keep off the fifteen pounds she’d recently lost, and because she’d been in the right place at the right time, she’d landed a juicy story about the New York mayoral race that was putting her name on the map at the network.

But as she raced through the doors of Sophoros’s London offices, slapped her card down on the mahogany reception desk in front of the immaculately dressed receptionist and blurted out her request to see Leandros Constantinou, the look on the blonde’s face suggested her lucky streak might finally have run out.

“I’m afraid you’ve missed him, Ms. Peters,” the receptionist said in that perfectly accented English that never failed to make Izzie feel totally unworthy. “Mr. Constantinou is already on his way back to the States.”

Damn. The adrenaline that had been rocketing through her ever since her boss had texted her as she was about to board her flight home from Italy this morning and sent her on a wild-goose chase across London came to a screeching, sputtering halt, piling up inside her like a three-car collision. She’d done everything she could to make it here before Sophoros’s billionaire CEO left. But midday traffic hadn’t been on her side. Neither had her poky cab driver, who hadn’t seemed to recognize the urgency of her mission.

She struggled to control the frustration that was no doubt writing its way across her face, reminding herself that this woman could still be useful. “Thank you,” she murmured, wrapping her fingers around the card and sliding it back into her purse. “Would you happen to know which office he’s headed for?”

“You would have to ask his PA that,” the blonde said with a pointed look. “She’s in the New York headquarters. Would you like her number?”

“Thanks, I have it.” Izzie chewed on her bottom lip. “How long ago did he leave?”

“Hours,” the other woman drawled. “So sorry it was a wasted trip.”

Something about the gleam in the gatekeeper’s eyes made Izzie give her a second look. Was the elusive Leandros Constantinou holed up in his office avoiding her? She wouldn’t put it past him from what her boss had said about his magic disappearing acts when it came to the press, but she didn’t have time to flush him out. Her flight back to New York left in exactly three and a half hours, and she intended to be on it.

She gave the other woman a nod, zipped up her purse and turned away from the desk. James, her boss, wasn’t going to be happy about this. From what he’d said in his texts, the scandal rocking Constantinou’s gaming software company was about to go public. And if NYC-TV didn’t get to him before it did and persuade him to do the interview, every media outlet in the country was going to be knocking on his door. At that point, their chances of landing the feature would be slim to none.

She swung her purse over her shoulder with a heavy sigh and made her way out the heavy glass doors to the bank of elevators. A glance at the bored, restless expressions of those in the packed reception area told her she’d walked right into the middle of the midday caffeine and nicotine exodus. Which wasn’t to say she herself didn’t have bad habits. Hers were just more of the “shoving food she didn’t need in her mouth” variety. Or obsessing over a story when she should be at the gym sweating off a few extra pounds. But what was a girl to do when her mother was a famous Hollywood diva and her sister sashayed down runways for a living? Perfection was never going to be all that attainable.

The ping of an elevator arriving pulled her gaze to the row of silver-coated death traps. A group of people crammed themselves inside like a pack of sardines, and she should have gone with them, really, given her hurry. But her heart, which hadn’t quite recovered from the trip up, started pounding like a jackhammer. Just looking at the claustrophobic eight-by-eight-foot box made her mouth go dry and her legs turn to mush.

She glanced at the fire exit door, wondering how bad, exactly, walking down fifty flights of stairs would be. Bad, she decided. Three-inch heels did not lend themselves to such activity and besides, she had to catch that flight. Better to slay her demons and get on with it. Except, she reasoned, taking a step back as the thick steel doors slammed shut on the dozen people inside, having a whole contingent bear witness to her incapacitating fear of elevators wasn’t going to happen.

Telling herself she was a rational, levelheaded woman with what many would call a heck of a lot of responsibility on her shoulders every day, she looked desperately around the lobby at the crowd that was left in search of a diversion. She could do this. She wasn’t a total head case.

She took in the drop-dead perfect figure of the woman to her right, covered in a body-hugging dress that screamed haute couture. Stunning. Were these women everywhere? And weren’t those designer heels? So not fair. The only pair of designer shoes she owned were a ruby-red marked-down find she’d fallen in love with, then spent a quarter of a month’s salary on. Which had seen her eating cereal for dinner for weeks.

She kept her gaze moving. Over a man who looked as if he indulged in one too many pastries at tea every day to the distinctly not middle-aged specimen leaning against the wall beside him typing on his smartphone. Her jaw dropped. How could she have missed him? He was distraction with a capital D. And even that didn’t begin to describe the six-foot-something-inches of pure testosterone in the designer suit. He was distraction in all caps. And then some...

Wow. She took in every magnificent inch of him. She’d never seen a guy wear a suit that well. Not even the full-of-themselves peacocks who liked to show off in the financial district bars of Manhattan. Because the way the tailored dark gray creation molded this man’s tall, lean frame to perfection? Should be illegal. Particularly the way it hugged his muscular, to-die-for thighs like a glove.

Damn but he was hot. Like “her body temperature ratcheted up about ten degrees” hot. She dragged her gaze northward to check out his swarthy, sexy Mediterranean profile. And froze. Somewhere along the way he’d looked up from his phone...at her. Lord. That dimple, indentation, or whatever you called it in the middle of his chin—it was just so...yum.

She held her breath as he embarked on a perusal that bore little resemblance to her guilty ogling. No—this was a fully adult, ultra-confident assessment of her assets by a man who’d surely had his pick of those he’d bestowed it upon in the past. She twitched, pushing her feet into the floor, wanting to squirm like a six-year-old. But her training as a reporter had taught her that was the last thing she should do when cornered. By the time his gaze moved back to her face, unleashing a full blast of heady dark blue on her, she was sure her cheeks weren’t the only thing that were beet-red.

A long moment passed—which surely had to be the most excruciating of her life. Then he broke the contact with a deliberate downward tilt of his chin, his attention moving back to his phone.

Dismissed.

Her cheeks flamed hotter. Honestly, Izzie, what were you expecting? That he would ogle you back? This has been happening your entire life. With men who weren’t that far out of your league.

A Latin tune filled the air. Grew louder. Adonis lifted his head; frowned. Her phone. Dammit. She fumbled in her bag and pulled it out.

“So...?” Her boss barked. “What happened?”

“He was already gone, James, sorry. Traffic was bad.”

Her boss let out a short, emphatic expletive. “I’d heard he was uncatchable but I thought that was only for the female population.”

Izzie had no idea what Leandros Constantinou looked like—or anything about him for that matter. She’d never heard of the gaming company he ran, nor its wildly popular racing title, Behemoth, before this morning when she’d gotten James’s text on the way home from her girls’ trip to Tuscany and he’d ordered her to make this pit stop. His text had said Constantinou’s former head of software development, Frank Messer, who’d been pushed out of the company years ago, had walked into NYC-TV today claiming he was the brains behind Behemoth. Determined to get his due, he’d launched a court case against the company. And offered an exclusive interview to her boss to tell his side of the story.

She pursed her lips. “I asked the receptionist which office he was headed for, but she wouldn’t tell me.”

“My source says it’s New York.” Her boss sighed. “No worries, Iz, we’ll get him here. He can’t avoid us forever.”

We? She frowned. “Are you going to let me work on this?”

There was silence on the other end of the line. “So I wasn’t going to tell you until you got back, given that you get yourself all worked up about stuff like this, but since the timing’s changed I better let you know now. Catherine Willouby is retiring. The network execs have been impressed with your work of late and they want you to try out to replace her.”

Her breath caught in her lungs, her stomach doing a loop-to-loop. She took an unsteady step backward. Catherine Willouby, NYC-TV’s much-loved matriarch and weekend anchor, was retiring? And they wanted her, a lowly community reporter with a handful of years of experience to audition to replace her?

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