Gail Selinger is author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Pirates. She is also a licensed cannoneer, a pirate consultant for museums and films, and a lover of romance in all its forms.
by Gail Selinger
“Where’s Father? I’ve looked everywhere.” He rushed into her bedroom, breathless from the exertion.
His sister glanced up from her book. “Father left already.”
He slumped onto the burgundy satin cushion next to her. “He didn’t waste a second.”
“When does he?”
“I hope he’s prompt returning.”
“When is he?”
“If only he’ll stick to the agreement.”
“Has he ever?
“I pity the girl.”
“When don’t you?” she answered and returned to her reading.
“Ahhh,” Phoebe kicked off her four-inch high navy swing backs and wiggled her red painted toes in sheer ecstasy.
Sinking deep into the hotel suites plush, gold brocade sofa, she rummaged through her oversized navy purse and pulled out the compact walkie-talkie. “Charles, are all the conference tracks still running on schedule? Yes? Good. I’ll meet you in the banquet hall as soon as I change shoes.”
“No, Phebe, I need you for five minutes.”
Through dry burning eyes, Phoebe watched Rachael, her co-director, pour iced mint tea into two hand cut crystal glasses provided and handed her one.
“I thought it was my turn to serve?”
“It is, but you look too comfortable. Besides, you lost the bet and gave Simone’s lectures piggybacked onto your own. I figure I’d be magnanimous.”
“Seriously, I just received a few politically problematic, last minute confirmations, and some no shows.”
Raking her fingers through her long dark auburn hair Phoebe shook her head. “I don’t think I’ll survive this conference to have a vacation.”
“You always survive. You’re just one step beyond exhaustion. Keep thinking, Greece in spring time.”
Phoebe took a long slow sip of tea, and inhaled deeply. “So who’s in a snit now? I only have an hour to rearrange a banquet hall for 4,000.”
The warring perfumes and after shaves wafting from the crush of people milling about the reception area exasperated the onslaught of Phoebe’s headache. The champagne she sipped did little to mask the intermingling scents assaulting her taste buds. She hated her allergies. Especially now. Glancing at her watch, she hoped the niggling throb across the left side of her temple, first sign of a migraine, would not escalate to the light sensitivity stage. If only the headache held off for another hour she could escape to her room, take an additional dose of medicine, lie down, and pray it didn’t turn into a full-blown ordeal.
Damn it! She had to be well enough to be packed and checked out by noon. As much as she would love to spend her four days of vacation here at the Alsos, the convention rates ended at midnight. She couldn’t afford the price of one of their broom closets, even if it were offered. Phoebe sipped more champagne, knowing the alcohol wouldn’t help her one iota. It would, in all likelihood, make her headache worse.
“A great success all round, I would say, Miss Velicia.”
“Why, thank you.” Phoebe turned and was rewarded with an overbearing whiff of Paco Rabonne aftershave and sweat. She tried not to sway against the aerial assault. She took two small steps backward, hoping Professor Charvey wouldn’t notice the maneuver.
“Most interesting and lively conference I’ve been to in ages. Ages.” He laughed and slapped her gently on the forearm. “Get it?” he chortled, nodding toward the bright purple and white nylon banner announcing “Gerontology—Aging is International.”
“Clever. Oh, look the band is here. I must make sure they have everything they need. If you’ll excuse me, professor, duty calls.” Phoebe plastered on her most professional smile and began to elbow her way through the packed crowd toward the bandstand.
“Expertly done.” A deep baritone whispered above her head.
Phoebe froze and stared up into a pair of mischievous twinkling blue eyes. The rest of him isn’t bad either, she thought. More than six feet of yum. “Thank you. I’ve learnt one should not insult the guest speaker.”
“Rightly so,” he replied, lowering his head to just above her five foot, five inch frame. “But well done, especially since you look unwell.”
Phoebe was taken aback by his quick assessment of her condition. Over the years she had learned the necessity to hide the excruciating episodes of her headaches. Now she was so adapt at it only Rachael recognized the subtle signs.
“Ah,” he straightened to his full six foot eight height. “My condolences. Don’t let me keep you, then.”
Phoebe felt his words vibrate through her. “Thanks.” She nodded and continued toward the bandstand.
He watched her zigzag through the crowd until she reached the band. Only then did he raise his arm waist height and snap his fingers. Immediately a waiter appeared by his side.
“Yes, Mr. Demandrous?”
Silently he pointed to Phoebe.
“Yes, Mr. Demandrous.”
The soft rapping sounded to Phoebe like a jackhammer. Her luck had held. She had downed a double dose of medicine and merely felt like she’d been run over by a truck.
“I’ll get the door, Phebe.”
She snuggled deeper under the down feather quilt, not caring who was disturbing her last few precious hours of rest.
But the low feminine whistle peaked her interest. “Phebe, get in here. You have to see this.”
Grumbling, she fumbled for her robe and shuffled to the living room archway. Rachael was grinning like the proverbial cat that had swallowed the canary, and by the looks of the huge two tier serving cart in front of her Phoebe could see why. Discounting the lone silver gray rose in the center, the cart overflowed with chafing dishes.
“Rachael, you didn’t?”
“Nope.” Rachael systematically uncovered the dishes. “My gosh,” she giggled. “It’s all our breakfast favorites.”
“Who?” Phoebe walked over to the overflowing cart.
“This came with it.” Rachael handed her a steel gray envelope. Phoebe’s name was boldly handwritten in blue ink. “Well, come on. I’m dying here.”
Phoebe ripped open the envelope and read the missive aloud:
I hope your migraine has subsided sufficiently for you to delight in this feast. I wish you to
enjoy the remainder of your visit in my country with a complimentary stay as my hotel guest.
“Holy cow, when did you meet the owner?”
Rachael whipped the single sheet from her friend’s hand and waved it in front of her face. “When did you meet the man who owns this hotel?”
“Oh, last night, I guess.”
“I spoke to a room full of people last night. We weren’t formally introduced.”
“Why can’t I ever score?” Rachael moaned, stuffing a jelly-covered croissant in her mouth.
“It wasn’t anything like that,” Phoebe protested. “We spoke for three minutes, tops. I had no idea who he was until now.”
“Yeah, sure.” Rachael nodded unconvincingly. “Hey, enjoy is what I say. He’s rich, you’re on holiday, he’s a foreigner….”
“Rachael, this is Greece. We’re the foreigners.”
“Same difference. Do you want that chocolate cannolli?”
Phoebe followed the tall stately redhead, not at all surprised Mr. Demandrous’ office manager was not only gorgeous but smart as a whip. It also didn’t surprise Phoebe that she was expected.
When they reached the intricately carved mahogany door, Ione tapped, and gestured for her to enter.
“Mr. Demandrous, I’m honored by your gracious offer. However, I simply must refuse. It’s not….”
The moment Phoebe entered he unfolded himself from behind his pink marble desk and met her face-to-face in two strides. “Please, my close associates call me ‘Tee.’”
She gave him a slight nod of acknowledgement. “Phoebe. Seriously….”
“I have an aunt named Phoebe. Lovely name.”
“Mr. Demandrous! I can not accept your offer.”
“Tee, and you most certainly can.”
Phoebe paused and mustered her infamous business persona deep within that caused corporate CEO’s to take notice, open their wallets, and generously donate to her gerontology research programs. “And exactly what will this ultimately cost me, Mr. Demandrous?”
He peered down at her upturned face, black eyes flashing up her challenge, her arms akimbo.
“Lets see. Hmmm…suntan lotion, souvenirs, depends what type of shopper you are. Difficult to determine the way the U.S. dollar is fluctuating in today’s market.”
He flashed a mischievous smile in direct challenge and laughed.
The smile—and damn, those dimples—did her in. She couldn’t resist and her giggle turned into a hearty laugh. The sound of her laughter mixing with his melted her fury. Phoebe threw up her arms in mock defeat.
She had been ill during their first encounter, and so insulted mere moments ago over his overt sexual proposition, she hadn’t noticed anything besides his height and very blue eyes. Not so now.
His tanned face was pure classical Greek with a chiseled jaw line, and proud nose. His laughter had revealed a set of deep dimples. Of course he had to have dimples. She was a sucker for dimples. His platinum blonde hair fell below his shoulder blades, constrained in a solid pink gold hair band carved as a cluster of oak leaves and tied with a leather strip. Phoebe wondered how long she could resist setting his hair free. A tailor made scarlet raw silk shirt caressed his broad shoulders and clung to muscular forearms and across his chest. It was tucked into the waistband of beige cotton pants, concealing long legs. The brown snakeskin belt that encircled his slim waist matched his shoes. Michelangelo’s David definitely had a run for his money with this man.
“We have a great deal to accomplish in a mere four days, Phoebe. I want to show you the soul that is Greece.”
A charming rogue as well as a brilliant businessman, Phoebe thought. Now she was truly intrigued. Why not? A native guide, and she wouldn’t have to waste a moment packing. “Where to first?”
Phoebe lost no time once she exited the private elevator from his penthouse office. He had good-naturedly challenged her to be ready in half an hour’s time. Not one to primp, she agreed to meet him in the hotel lobby.
After the frantic bustle that had been ever present in the four-bedroom suite that her organization had booked, the eerie stillness hastened her preparations. Slipping on a comfortable pair of Capri pants, a loose shirt and her well-worn hiking boots, Phoebe stuffed everything she thought she’d need into one of the leftover convention totes that boldly announced in purple lettering, “Aging: It Isn’t For Cowards.”
Phoebe checked her appearance in the mirror. Satisfied she looked put together yet casual, she headed for The Nectar, her favorite of four bistros located in the hotel lobby and ordered. “One large dark roast coffee, black, to take away, please.”
Phoebe looked up from her guidebook at the anxious face of the young server behind the coffee bar.
“Would you not prefer to drink it here, miss?”
“No thanks. Please, I want a take away.” Phoebe tried not to snap at the boy when he turned toward the coffee maker mumbling in Greek. She knew they preferred to have customers stay seated in the coffee bar, however, it took her long enough to get used to asking for take away instead of take out, plus she didn’t want to be late.
“Miss, your coffee.”
Phoebe reached out for the cardboard coffee cup and simply stared at it.
“Is something amiss?”
“No, no, it’s just so ironic. You see in New York the exterior of every to go, I mean, take away cardboard cup in the entire five boroughs, is light blue and heavily decorated with white classic Greek motifs. And here in Athens….” Phoebe held up her steaming coffee cup to the boy and pointed. “Well, I am in Greece and it’s a plain dark brown cup.”
“Do you wish me to serve your coffee in a different container?”
“No, no, it’s fine.” Phoebe hated when life’s little ironies were lost on the very people who should find them as amusing as she did.
“Is there a problem, Phoebe?”
Mr. Demandrous’ baritone, emanating behind her left shoulder, made the hairs on her arms tingle. Phoebe noticed that while it gave her a thrill, it made the boy behind the counter blanche in dread. She turned. Demandrous stood so close, her cup almost bumped into his chest.
“Not at all. This young man and I were having a lovely conversation regarding cultural differences. Shall we go before it gets too hot outside?” From the corner of her eye Phoebe noticed the boy slump against the back counter.
The doorman opened the glass doors. They stepped out into sunshine and heat. Phoebe expected Demandrous to impress her by chauffeuring her around in a fancy limousine. There was none in sight. Two valets approached, each carrying matching gold motorcycle helmets. A third wheeled a gold motorcycle to the curb.
He simply shrugged. “I like speed.”
Strapping on a helmet, Phoebe tucked in behind him on the double leather seat, and wrapped her arms tightly around his expansive muscular chest.
“Are you settled?” he inquired.
“Lets at it,” she shouted over the revving of the engine, ready to feel whatever the day would bring.
They spent the day being tourist and guide. He patiently took her to all the usual sites, leaving the Acropolis for last. The path to the Parthenon was both rocky and breathtaking. Phoebe stopped every few feet, as she had at every other place they had visited, taking in the beauty of her surroundings. She snapped photo after photo, using her digital camera. Determined not to sacrifice one picture during her vacation, she’d also purchased a dozen memory cards.
“Mr. Demandrous, this is beyond spectacular!”
“I’m happy you are pleased. It is even more beautiful when you get to the top.”
Phoebe was glad he stopped insisting she be informal and call him Tee. She wasn’t quite ready to cross that line.
When they reached the top, Phoebe walked between a set of marble columns into the center of the Parthenon in dazed amazement. Slowly circling the interior of Athen’s tribute to Athena, the grandeur and beauty of the carved temple ruins hypnotized her.
“Do you think, I mean, if there really were gods like the ancient Greeks believed, that Zeus would have been jealous that his daughter had a city, and all these gorgeous temples, dedicated to her?”
She felt the warmth of his body against her back. He rested his hands atop her slender shoulders and leaned in closer. “I think he would be proud of his daughter,” he replied in a tender tone.
Phoebe looked down at a fallen column and kicked at the dirt. “Lucky her,” she mumbled.
They descended from the ruins after sunset.
“Now for the real heart of Athens,” he exclaimed proudly. Kicking up the motorcycle stand, he waited for Phoebe to mount. True to his word they drove to the local hangouts, shops, and cafes.
Afterwards, they agreed to meet for a late dinner. Phoebe allowed herself a hot bubble bath in the suite’s full-length bathtub. She’d been eyeing that tub the entire convention, when there were only minutes to bath and dress. Now she luxuriated in the bath, speculating on how the evening would end. She knew how she wanted it to end.
When Phoebe opened the door all her hours of preparation were instantly justified by the appreciative male look on his face.
Phoebe freely admitted she was staring right back. Wearing a white dinner jacket over a dark teal shirt, white tie, and black tuxedo pants, he looked as if he stepped out of a cologne ad. Phoebe was thrilled she had discarded her three previous outfits and chosen the dark lavender strapless gown.
“Are you ready?”
“I’ll get my wrap”
Dinner at his restaurant, Ambrosia, stood up to its world-class reputation. Their private dining room was secluded enough from prying eyes, yet open enough to hear the pianist located in the front room. Dish after dish was brought to the table, each with their own unique seasoning or sauce providing Phoebe with new culinary experiences.
After their first round of appetizers Phoebe lost count of the amount of champagne they’d consumed. She knew she was far from sober, although she didn’t feel drunk.
“Good thing I’m not driving,” she mumbled under her breath.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Oh, did I say that out loud?” Phoebe giggled into her palm. “I think I’m a bit tipsy.”
“Yes, I believe you are,” Demandrous replied, attempting to sound serious yet failing. “Do you care for dessert? The cheesecake here is exceptional.”
Phoebe leaned over the table towards him. “I LOVE CHEESECAKE. But only if it’s plain. I think all that fruit stuff on top just ruins the whole thing.”
As if by magic, plain and perfect portions were set before each of them. He watched as she took her first taste of the dessert.
“This is heavenly,” Phoebe purred.
“Did you know,” Demandrous said, “cheesecake was first served to the athletes that attended the original Olympics in 776 B.C.”
“No. Really?” she asked between bites.
“And,” he added, leaning across the table towards her, “the rumor is this is the original recipe.”
“No. You think?”
He poured them both another glass of champagne, then leaned back against his chair. “It’s possible.”
Phoebe wasn’t sure how they ended up in her room, but there they both, were in front of the brocade sofa, kissing like teenagers in heat. He smelled of sexual promises she couldn’t even begin to imagine.
He pulled away, the slightest distance possible, just enough to catch their breath. He looked into her black eyes that shined like obsidian. “It’s your choice, my sweet.” His husky aroused tone would have been the deciding clincher, right then and there, if Phoebe hadn’t made up her mind hours before.
“I never invite a man to my bed until I know his first name. His full first name.” She looked at him, waiting for him to choose.
“Theros. Theros Demandrous, at your service.”
“Pleased to meet you, Theros.” Phoebe bobbed her head in acknowledgement of her personal triumph, small, as it might have been. “Care for a night cap?”
“I believe I do, starting with you,” he growled while shrugging out of his dinner jacket.
With the curtains drawn, Phoebe couldn’t tell what time it was, nor did she care. She and Theros had made love numerous times with breaks for food, champagne, and conversation. Theros. She liked the sound of his name, but she appreciated his sexual expertise far better. Fumbling with her robe, still quite tipsy from all the champagne she’d been consuming, Phoebe entered the living room in time to see him pour melted chocolate from a fountain haphazardly over a large bowl of strawberries. She hadn’t heard room service at the door.
“Champagne and chocolate covered strawberries,” he gestured her to sit besides him on the couch. “Now this is one of my favorites. Here, try one with champagne.”
Before she could make her way to him, the room shook with the force of an earthquake. Losing her footing, Phoebe grabbed the back of a chair for support.
He jumped over the table, landed in a defensive stance and steadied her. “Stay calm, my sweet. I think not, though it would be safer if it were.”
“What!” she yelled. “You’re not making any sense.”
The room shook again, this time followed by a blazing flash of light. That’s not what made Phoebe’s knees go weak, but the eight-foot woman now standing before them.
“Trickster!” she shrieked. “You have broken the pledge.”
“You dare call me trickster, Hera! You lie! I broke no pledge.”
“Hera?” Phoebe stuttered. “Wait, wait, wait, WAIT!”
Phoebe turned to Theros, but his attention was on the eight-foot apparition. Hera extended her arm, palm upward. An hour sandglass appeared in her upturned hand. “You have bedded her. Your time is overdue, Zeus.”
“ZEUS!” Phoebe screeched, turning on Theros. “ZEUS!”
Hera looked down at Phoebe and cackled. “I see you are still choosing them witless.”
“Now wait a minute. I’m not taking that insult from you, even if you are a drunken hallucination.”
Theros stepped between Phoebe and Hera. “She’s real, Phoebe,” he assured her in a low serious tone.
“Earthquake, concussion, hangover, real. Her? Nope, not real. Not real, Theros.”
“Husband, are there not enough of our own?”
Hera’s contempt bore down full force at Phoebe. “Witless child, Theros means Zeus! The sands have run out. According to the pledge, she must be dealt with.”
Phoebe watched as the man she had made love to all night instantly grew to the height of his accuser. He gazed intently at the narrow channel of the sandglass. When he looked up his face was red with rage.
“Wife, there are still a dozen grains of sand to fall. My time is not up, and she will be left unharmed. You have forfeit this round. Go!”
“Not alone I will not, husband!”
Thunder and a kaleidoscope of colors filled the room. When all went quiet, Phoebe opened her eyes, and crawled out from under the living room table. Unsteady on her feet, she pulled herself up onto the nearest chair.
She was alone in the suite. Her rapid heartbeat and ragged breathing were the only sounds filling the room.
“Okay,” she announced, aloud to the empty room, turning in a tight circle to check out the suite. “Alcohol induced hallucination. The place is empty, he left hours ago and I’ll never drink another drop of champagne again.”
Dizzy, Phoebe moved to the couch in front of the chocolate fountain, and reached for a strawberry. A reflective light caught her attention. She reached between the fountain and bowl, retrieving a pendent she hadn’t noticed before.
The necklace felt heavy in her hand. The chain was made from hammered red gold in the shape of a running bough of oak leaves. The eight-inch pendent, made of platinum, was the shape of a thunderbolt with diamond chips along the edge. Gingerly turning the piece around a gasp escaped her lips. There was no mistaking the inscription. In block lettering it read:
With Admiration for Your Bravery,
Phoebe dropped the necklace, and reached for the unopened bottle of champagne.
Love could hit like a lightning bolt.
So could regret.
She took a sip of champagne.
And wondered which she felt.
“If you are interested, Father’s home.” Artemis leaned against the pink marble archway into her brother’s quarters.
“Did he make it in time?” he asked, looking up from his project.
“What was mother’s reaction when he returned?”
“She went down to retrieve him.”
“Relax Hermes,” Artemis admonished. She straightened and walked over surveying his worktable. “Nothing of consequence occurred. She was a dozen grains too early.”
“Yes, this one was. Unfortunately, there’s always next month.” Artemis turned and left Hermes to his task.
Copyright © 2008 by Gail Selinger.
Copyright © 2017 Arc Manor LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2017 Arc Manor