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by Freda Vasilopoulos
Description: Sara Morgan falls asleep on a remote Greek beach and has a vivid dream of Apollo come to earth. She soon finds that Nick Angelopoulos is real and all too tempting. But after an act of sabotage at the archaeological site where they are working, she begins to wonder if he is really a friend and potential lover, or a dangerous enemy. Romantic Suspense by Freda Vasilopoulos writing as Freda Vasilos; originally published by Silhouette Special Edition
eBook Publisher: Belgrave House, 1985
eBookwise Release Date: July 2010
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [310 KB]
Reading time: 199-278 min.
She lay in the sea, cradled by the silken deep. Closing her eyes against the intense blue of the sky, she floated, lulled by the friendly lap of tiny waves. The faraway chirring of cicadas wove a gentle serenade through the somnolent heat of the summer afternoon.
Greece. Sun, sand and sea, and air the sweet lucid gold of summer wine. Everything about the country struck a responsive chord deep within her, as if in a former life she'd walked its sere hills and fertile valleys.
Why hadn't she come here before this? She had done her Ph.D. thesis on the early inhabitants of this land, those who had built civilizations centuries before Pericles, but she'd never seen where they'd lived.
Now she was here, and the sense of walking where those ancient wise men had walked was overwhelming, a dream come to vivid life. Even after four days in Greece, Sara couldn't shake off the feeling that she might meet Agamemnon striding through a lemon orchard, or see powerful Zeus on one of the treeless crags in the distance, braced to unleash a handful of thunderbolts on a slumbering world.
The smile on her face turned into a quiet chuckle of contentment as she stretched her legs in the liquid warmth of the sea. Its saline buoyancy made
swimming effortless. Her long hair fanned out behind her as she moved her arms only enough to let her body slide through the water with languid grace. She could lie here forever, floating mindlessly, an elemental return to the warm fluid of the womb.
Her dawn departure from Athens yesterday and the grueling drive to reach Sparta the same day had been worth the effort. This morning she'd driven the remaining distance south to the village her father had mentioned in his letter, and checked into the small hotel. After lunch at a taverna she'd driven into the hills to locate the house of Dr. Andreas Stamoulis, who was to arrange the final lap of her journey to join her father.
By the time she'd found the house in a tangled skein of roads, the siesta hour was well under way. She drove on, tracking along a winding road through olive and citrus groves, drawn by tantalizing glimpses of a sea the rich blue of robes in a Raphael painting.
At last, when she was aching to feel its cool ripples against her skin, the road had twisted and brought her to a beach with sand the color of rich cream. It was as deserted as an unexplored planet, she realized with delight, remembering the overcrowded beach she'd visited near Athens her first day there.
With a feeling of bold exhilaration she jumped out of the little Renault. She threw off the sundress that concealed her turquoise bikini. The carefree gesture with which she tossed it into the car said she was stripping off more than just her clothes; she was shedding all the restraints of civilization.
Without thought of tides or currents she flung herself into the water, swimming out with vigorous strokes until her breath labored in her chest and her arms ached.
Now she floated, inhaling the heady air as the water enfolded her with silken arms, warm and alive as a human embrace.
Time passed, until the sting of heat on her skin reminded her that this sun was not forgiving of those who spent too long under its rays. She shifted her weight and let her feet touch bottom. For a moment she stood, stretching her arms high in a silent tribute to good health, clear air and that glorious sun. The disturbed sand under her feet settled and she could see a little school of minnows darting through the water, so close they brushed her knees.
Tiny ripples surged around her shins, then her ank1es, as she waded to the shore. They lapped on the hard packed sand with soft kissing noises, sea mating with land.
Picking up her towel, Sara briskly rubbed the salt residue from her skin. In the heat her swimsuit would dry in no time. Her watch, lying in the sand where she'd dropped the towel, told her it would be another two hours before social custom allowed her to present herself at Dr. Stamoulis's house.
Sara smiled. Who was she to go against the custom of the country? After her swim a nap was just what she needed. With a carefree grin at a tiny lizard sunning itself on a rock nearby, she spread her towel on the sand and followed its example. The sun's rays seeped into her, turning her limbs into boneless languor. Her eyelids fluttered closed. She would rest for a few minutes, then find her way back to the hotel to shower and change for her meeting with her father's colleague.
A faint breeze ruffled the leaves of the olive tree over her head, shifting the pattern of shade that covered her. No danger of sunburn here out of the full glare of mid-afternoon. She already had the beginning of a tan and, in spite of her golden hair, rarely burned.
Drowsy in the soporific heat she let her eyes close. So peaceful--the whisper of the leaves, the sleepy music of cicadas, the gentle sigh of the sea--
A shadow fell across her, cutting the sunlight. She stirred restlessly, then opened her eyes. A man stood over her, a black outline against the vivid blue sky. She froze, her muscles paralyzed as several emotions ripped through her at once: fear at her isolated vulnerability and chagrin at having slept so long and deeply--the sun had moved and she lay fully exposed to its rays.
Her arms and legs were flaccid with heat and sleep. She couldn't move as her eyes devoured the powerful shape of the man before her.
Tall and straight, water flattening the hair on his body and legs, he was the epitome of maleness, a bronzed god come to earth dressed only in swimming trunks. A strange breathlessness assailed her and her heart did a curious lurch in her chest. This was what early maidens must have felt when the gods descended from Olympus to mingle with mortal men.
She couldn't take her eyes from him and her thoughts formed into involuntary speech. "Apollo," she whispered, all her habitual reticence drowning in the black depths of his eyes. Dazzled by the sun behind him she couldn't make out his features, but his eyes seemed to shine and hold all the secrets of the cosmos.
"Aphrodite," he breathed, kneeling at her side. His brown fingers tentatively stroked her shoulder, as if to ensure that she was flesh and blood. Sara felt his eyes caressing her and watched in fascination as her nipples tingled and stood erect under the thin fabric of her bikini top. Some part of her mind told her she shouldn't feel this way with a stranger, that she should run from his arousing eyes and hands, but a breathless excitement held her in thrall.
"Are you real?" she asked haltingly, barely able to breathe, much less speak. "Or are you a dream?"
A smile transformed his dark shadowed features, the flash of white teeth giving him a look of boyish recklessness. "If it's a dream, I'm having it too."
He touched her hair, pushing the golden strands over her shoulders so that she lay bared to his gaze and to the kiss of the sun. Apollo, the sun god, in the sky and here beside her--the two somehow mixed in her dazzled mind.
She watched, mesmerized, as his head lowered toward hers. Without thought of turning away, she felt his mouth touch her lips, soft and gently tasting, asking without demanding. She answered it from the buried depths of sensuality within her, not questioning the rightness of it, not even wondering at the mystery of her willing response.
In her subconscious mind she knew. She had waited all her life for this very moment, and her life would be altered by it forever.
He teased her with tiny kisses, then slid his mouth over her flushed cheeks. He barely nipped her tender earlobe before slowly tracing a path over her temple, her forehead, down her straight nose back to her eagerly parted lips. She would have pressed her mouth against his, but he ignored her invitation. He played lightly, tantalizing her with his mouth, giving her only lightning quick flicks with the tip of his tongue.
She was on fire. She wanted to lift herself to meet his touch. She yearned to throw her arms around him and pull him close so that she could feel all of him against her, but her body was heavy with a mystical lassitude. She couldn't move; he had bewitched her, his will holding her captive.
He lay beside her now, his thighs against hers. When his muscles contracted under the skin, she felt the abrasiveness of his body hair and a shiver of pleasure went through her. He was so clearly male, the antithesis of her femininity, and she gloried in the knowledge.
One of her feet lay on top of his, and her toes curled against his instep. His hands were tangled in her hair, threading through its glossy curls and arranging them in a fan over her head. Sara opened her mouth with a
tiny whimper as his tongue ran around the inside of her lower lip, rubbing over her teeth. She wanted to scream at him to stop playing this tormenting game. She needed him to deepen the kiss. She ached with a hunger that would have frightened her, if she could have thought beyond the pleasure of his touch.
She shifted her thigh, gratified as she heard the sharp intake of his breath. His hand slid down to grip her head and at last his tongue came into her mouth, sliding over hers with hot sensuality. As if energized by this small invasion of her body, her arms lost their lethargy and wrapped themselves around his head, fingers weaving into silky black curls.
Kissing could fill a whole world, she found, drinking his sweetness as his tongue probed the depths of her mouth, now deep, now gentle. If this was a dream, she hoped she never woke up. She moved her hands down to his shoulders, golden satin skin over hard muscles, absorbing the texture of him through her palms.
As she felt the hot wetness of his tongue trace the shallow valley between her breasts, her arms lost their strength and fell back over her head. She closed her eyes, arching her back in an effort to soothe the fiery throbbing that started at her breasts and flashed through her, to her stomach and restlessly shifting thighs. His mouth moved lower, tongue examining with minute attention the small indentation of her navel, then lower still until it lapped at the edge of her bikini bottom.
Sara waited, tense with anticipation, her breath trapped in her throat. All her nerves seemed exposed on the surface of her skin, and his next caress would send her shooting off into space. Without opening her eyes she reached up to bring him to her.
To her astonishment, her arms embraced empty air. Only then did she realize that nothing but the sun's burning rays touched her. Her bemused eyes flew open and she sat up, fighting the lethargy that stole her will. The
beach was deserted, an expanse of pale yellow sand shimmering with heat waves.
She laughed unsteadily, shaking her head. She had slept and it had been a dream, the most blatantly erotic dream she'd ever had. That's what came from falling asleep in the sun, she thought ruefully, amazed at the boundless and fanciful extent of her subconscious imagination. Apollo, indeed!
She squinted at the sun, a copper globe well past its zenith, and reached for her watch. Her groping hand found the edge of the towel, and powdery sand slipped through her fingers. She twisted around to look at the spot where she'd left it. Nothing.
Her straight brows drew together in a frown. A dream?
Then she heard a rhythmic pounding, transmitted through the ground. The sound of a horse's hooves, fading into the distance and leaving only a residual vibration under her that matched the suddenly urgent thud of her heart.
Apollo? The man who had kissed her, who in a moment of time had not only touched her lips, but had left his imprint upon her soul? It had to be. Horses didn't roam free in these vast, unfenced orchards.
She sat up, biting her bottom lip in consternation. If he'd been real, and she had a sinking feeling that he had, then she might meet him again. Would she know him? With the sun behind him, all she'd seen was his silhouette. She'd been left with only the impression of leashed strength and masculinity.
And felt those hands and that magical mouth that had the power with only a kiss to transport her to a nirvana that surpassed fantasy.
Skin burning with a heat that owed nothing to the sun, Sara wrapped the towel around her body and walked up the beach to her car. It was still locked, apparently undisturbed, a tiny rented Renault that looked like a
cute, snub-nosed toy. She found her keys in the fork of the orange tree that shaded the vehicle, exactly where she'd left them.
Unlocking the door she took her sundress from the seat and pulled it on over her bikini. "Damn," she muttered as she started the engine and turned the car in the direction of her hotel. Her watch couldn't have evaporated into thin air.
The setting sun was a golden sphere on the horizon when Sara pulled up in Dr. Stamoulis's front drive. As she got out of the car she paused for a moment, taking in the clean lines of the white stucco house. The architect had designed it so that the various levels clung to the undulations of the land, as if the house had grown there rather than been built.
Tall cypresses edged the raked gravel driveway and a lush trumpet vine enhanced the entry porch. If this was an indication of how Dr. Andreas Stamoulis lived, they must pay university professors more here than they did in the United States, Sara mused.
Birds twittered in the orchard that ran along the side of the house, and a muted roar came to her ears as she skipped lightly up the shallow steps leading to the front door.
The doorbell echoed through the house with the mellow sound of chimes. After a moment the paneled door was opened by a young girl dressed in a crisp black uniform with a cap set at a perky angle on her dark hair. Sara suppressed a smile. A uniformed maid way out here? Dr. Stamoulis must harbor yearnings for the past in more than his archaeological work.
"I'm Sara Morgan," Sara said, hoping the girl understood English. "Dr. Stamoulis is expecting me."
The girl smiled, dark eyes sparkling with welcome and good humor. "Come in, Dr. Morgan."
Sara grimaced wryly as she followed the girl down a narrow hall. She had earned the title, but it still struck her as pretentious when anyone addressed her by it outside of her classes. It made her feel as if she should be wearing tweeds and sensible shoes instead of a bare-shouldered sundress covered by a brief little jacket.
She pushed her hands into her pockets, letting her shoulder bag swing back against her hip. Besides, her father was Dr. Morgan, Dr. Daniel Morgan, a professor of archaeology like Stamoulis. Her own degree was in ancient history, the period she specialized in matching her father's interests, Greece before the Golden Age of Pericles.
The maid opened a door at the end of the hall and Sara walked past her into a large room. Some of the windows that made up the entire far wall stood open. The roar she'd noted earlier was louder here. Of course. The house overlooked the sea, a fact not apparent from the road, which wound through the orchards in a haphazard fashion. With an uneasy premonition she realized she wasn't far from the beach where a stranger had touched her soul.
Had it been someone from this house who had so disturbingly introduced himself to her? No, it couldn't have been, if it was only a dream. Still, she hadn't dreamed the galloping horse.
She pushed the disconcerting thoughts into the back of her mind and slammed a door on them as an elderly man rose from a chair and shambled toward her. He was shorter than her own five feet eight inches, slightly stooped but radiating vitality. His face was brown and deeply wrinkled, his wide smile and prominent teeth giving him the appearance of a good-natured monkey.
"Ah, Dr. Morgan," he said warmly, his voice surprisingly resonant for his slight frame. "I'm happy to meet you at last. Your father has talked about you so often that I feel I know you already."
"Dr. Stamoulis." Sara smiled as she shook his hand. His palm was dry and impersonal, his fingers barely gripping hers before letting go. Odd, she thought, since his smile seemed so welcoming.
She gave a mental shrug as he added, "Andreas, please. We can't have formality between us." The accent in his English was more British than Greek, and Sara remembered Daniel saying that Andreas had lived in London. "Come into the library and have a drink."
"This is a marvelous house," Sara said, following him through an open door at the side of the room. "Did you design it?"
He laughed, the sound harsh as if he didn't laugh often despite his look of good humor. "Not I. I'm only interested in old buildings. A friend of mine planned it and supervised the building."
This room was smaller than the living room but again unconventional. Here, too, wide windows framed a view of the sea. The remaining walls were covered with pictures and photographs, with bookshelves jutting at right angles out from the walls, forming alcoves furnished with deep armchairs. A cozy place to sit and read, thought Sara, whose idea of paradise was an unlimited supply of books.
The bar was cleverly concealed in an antique armoire. "What will you have, Dr. Morgan?" Stamoulis asked, glasses clinking on the glossy wood.
Sara had gone to the windows, which opened onto a narrow balcony. "Some wine, if you have it, please," she said over her shoulder. "And please call me Sara."
He had been the one to suggest informality, yet he wasn't reciprocating. Was this his normal manner, closing a distance and then creating another? She wondered how it would be to work in close proximity with such a man. Never mind, she was sure she could adapt to his vagaries of character.
"How about a spritzer?" he suggested, his voice warmer.
"Yes, that sounds fine," she said absently, focusing on the limitless blue of the sea. The wind had picked up and whitecaps gilded by the setting sun ruffled the surface. A fresh scent of salt and residual heat came through the open window and she inhaled deeply, closing her eyes in sheer enjoyment.
She jumped slightly as Dr. Stamoulis came up to her. The glass he handed her was cold, tinkling with ice.
"To your good health," Andreas said, lifting his own glass, which contained a dark amber liquid. "And to a successful summer."
"Episis," Sara said, dredging up the correct response from her meager fund of Greek words. Andreas remained close to her, so close he began to crowd her personal space. Forcing down her nervous discomfort, she moved away from him and sat in a nearby armchair.
Andreas sat in a chair opposite hers, the light from the window falling across his face. Sara noticed his features were never still, as if a restless current of energy drove him. Not the most relaxing person to be with.
"Now, Sara," Stamoulis said, "What can I do for you?"
Sara started at the unexpected question. She set her glass carefully on the table beside her chair. "Didn't my father make arrangements for you or one of your assistants to take me to the excavation site?"
Andreas's bright eyes flickered for an instant, not quite meeting hers. He started to speak, then seemed to change his mind. When he finally spoke she had the distinct impression he'd reconsidered whatever he'd been about to say. "Oh, yes, how stupid of me. I'd forgotten for the moment."
He paused, then added in a tone that seemed hurried and nervous, "Daniel was to meet you here, but he thought he was on to something in the area where we're digging and decided not to take time off."
Sara was disappointed that her long awaited chance to work on an archaeological dig in progress might be delayed. "Then when will I be able to join him?"
Andreas lifted his glass and took a long swallow, making a vague gesture with his free hand. Sara was about to speak again when an indefinable sound made her sit up and turn her head. She glanced at Andreas, but he was staring at the titles on a row of books near his head, apparently hearing nothing out of the ordinary.
A shiver touched her spine, as though a door had opened and let in a draft. She had the oddest sensation of being watched, and chided herself for her imagination. This afternoon's encounter, dream or whatever it was, must have unsettled her more than she'd realized.
Stamoulis put down his glass next to hers. "It might be difficult for you to get to the site," he said hesitantly. "I'm not going back for a couple of days. Supplies coming--" His voice trailed off.
"Then can you get someone else to take me?" Sara asked, frustration giving her voice a sharp edge. "I don't want to waste any more time than I have to. I've only got until the end of August."
Before the archaeologist could reply, another voice spoke from the twilight shadows that had crept into the room. "I'll take you to the site, Dr. Morgan."