Xenakis's Convenient Bride

By: Dani Collins

“I didn’t hear you come in.”

“Obviously. Up late?”

“Yes.” It struck her very belatedly that it couldn’t have been Ophelia to wake her. Calli had fallen asleep in the pool because she’d arrived home in the wee hours after leaving Ophelia at her maternal grandparents’ home in Athens. She had driven half the night, then dozed in the car as she waited for the ferry.

Takis wasn’t here. No one was except her and this barbarian of a man.

“I was traveling.” She skimmed toward the stairs at the shallow end. “I knew workers were coming and didn’t want to miss speaking to you by falling asleep inside. Where is Ionnes?”

“He gave me my assignment and told me I have two weeks.”

“Yes, there’s a party scheduled.” The roll of alarm wouldn’t leave her belly. It trebled when his shadow fell across her as she climbed the steps. He had plucked her filmy wrap from the chair and held it out for her like a gentleman.

He was no gentleman. She didn’t know what he was, but had the distinct feeling he was somebody. Not a normal plebeian like her.

She took the wrap and struggled to push her wet arms into the loose sleeves. Why was she shaking? Oh, Ophelia had misguided taste! Why wasn’t this wrap opaque? It was a birthday present and Calli had thought it delightfully feminine when she had opened it, but with the simple hook-and-eye closure over her navel, it was more provocation than cover, hanging open down her cleavage and parting in a slit over the tops of her thighs.

He noticed. He studied her from chin to toe polish, unabashed in the way he let his gaze move down and up, tightening her hair follicles inch by inch.

It wasn’t the first time she’d been eyed up, but the locals knew she wasn’t interested. Or considered her off-limits, at least. With tourists, she pretended she didn’t speak English if she wanted to reject an advance.

Either way, it was always easy to brush men off, but not today. She felt his gaze. She told herself it was the water trickling off her, but that had never turned her inside out this way.

Once again she was accosted by defenselessness. Why? She’d been inoculated against men who used their looks to devastate.

Nevertheless, that’s what he was. Devastatingly handsome. Standing on the same level with him didn’t make him any less intimidating. He was big and powerful and now that she could properly see his face, she caught her breath in reaction. He wore a day’s shadow of stubble and finger-combed hair, but those hollow cheeks and ebony brows were pure perfection. It wasn’t the sculpted beauty of his face that arrested her, though. It was the fierce pride and unapologetic masculinity he projected.

It was the undisguised desire that flared in his black-coffee eyes as their gazes locked. The arrogant assumption he could have.

Because he knew she was reacting to him? Knowledge made his eyelids heavy while smug anticipation deepened the corners of his mouth.

She couldn’t tear her eyes from his wide mouth, his lips brutally sensual, his jaw determined.

As he spoke, his voice lowered an octave to something that promised, yet warned. “Tell me what you want. I’m at your service.”

Her body stung with a renewed flood of heat, countering the chill of her damp suit. Please let him think the cold hardened my nipples. But it was him. She knew it and he knew it and it scared her.

She scrambled back a step, trying to escape his aggressively sexual aura, and nearly stumbled into the pool.

He caught her by the arms, saving her from falling onto the steps under the water. It was chivalrous, but paralyzing, leaving her shaken. What was wrong with her?

She tried to lift her chin and look down her nose at him. “Let me go.”

The amused heat in his brown eyes cooled to mahogany. “If that’s what you want.” He waited a beat, then lifted his hands away and straightened to his full height. “Watch your step.”

He wasn’t cautioning her about a slippery pool deck.

Her stomach wobbled and her heart pounded so hard she wanted to press her hand against her chest to calm it. She clenched her fist instead, swallowing to ease the dryness in her mouth.

“Your accent is strange.” She narrowed in on that as a way to hold him at a distance. Something about his voice caused a prickle of apprehension in her. “Where are you from?”

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