Authors: Aleka Nakis
“It will be for me,” Heather leaned closer, whispering in her friend’s ear. “Perhaps it will be for you, too. Alexandros is very hard to resist and it seems you two have a definite attraction. Do me a favor, forget your rule and listen to your heart for once.”
Athena squeezed her eyes shut again. She prayed that Costa’s family would not see Heather as an outsider, and she prayed for her own sanity. Perhaps business would keep Alexandros at a distance, and away from her.
The jet touched down and coasted on the runway, then taxied toward a shiny gray Mercedes parked next to a red motorcycle. There were three figures standing beside them.
The friends descended the plane’s stairs, and Costa stepped forward to engulf the awaiting threesome. His father, Spiro, mother Anna, and brother Alexandros.
“I’ve brought you the best gift, a
! The daughter you have always wanted.” Costa urged Heather forward.
The matriarch of the powerful Greek family had a twinkle dancing in her eyes. Reaching out her long gracious arms, Anna took Heather into her embrace. “Welcome, Heather, we are so happy to have you in our family. I’ve been counting the days to your arrival,
“Me too, Mrs. Strintzaris—” Heather began.
“No! None of that!” Anna waved a dismissive hand. “
my child. You are to be my son’s wife. The two of you will become one. He addresses me as
, and so shall you,
Tears gathered in Heather’s eyes. “It will be an honor to call you
I haven’t called anyone mother since I lost my parents. Thank you.”
“Okay, Anna, enough, you are making the girl cry. Come,
, it is my turn to kiss my son’s bride.” Spiro took Heather into his large arms and softly whispered into her ear, “You call me
.” He thrust a large bouquet of roses into her arms, and bent to place a kiss on her forehead.
Next in line was Alexandros, the tallest of the three men, and a younger version of his handsome father. He opened his muscular embrace to Heather and grinned.
“Costa makes my life so difficult. I will have to beat all the island’s single men to keep them from trying to change your mind about marrying my brother.” He sealed the family’s reception with a kiss on each of her cheeks.
The older couple welcomed Athena warmly with her own set of kisses and flowers. The family accepted her friend, but she could not relax. She still had to greet the man whose gaze scorched her skin. She dared to glance toward him. Alexandros seemed like a boy about to devour his favorite ice cream cone.
It was unavoidable. He was unavoidable.
Heather returned to Costa’s arms, and Athena inched to the end of the line. She prayed that Alexandros would stop looking at her with those hypnotic eyes, but her prayers went unheard.
“I am most pleased to see you again.” He took her hands, raised them gingerly to his burning lips, and placed a slow tender kiss on the inside of each wrist.
Athena’s heart jumped as his deep voice filled her ears. Her skin sizzled where his lips had caressed it, and she found herself sinking into the almond-shaped abyss of his eyes.
On this heavenly island, he wore no tuxedo and no business suit, only a simple pair of khaki linen pants and a crisp white shirt open at the collar to reveal the tanned skin underneath. He looked like a normal man—a normal man who happened to fit all her physical fantasies. And without the suit to present him as a business associate, or more accurately as her rival, he was now only DDG. The Competition lost in this island paradise.
Her gaze trapped, she could not look away from his face so close to hers. His tanned, chiseled cheekbones, strong sun-kissed nose, and fiery lips were framed by hair like luscious, chocolate waves in which Athena wanted to soothe her hands.
She lost her voice and could only smile back.
“It is okay.” Alexandros leaned in and spoke in a whisper. “I feel it too. We will discuss this later, in private.”
Athena jerked her hands away. Yes, Alexandros was the most beautiful man she had ever seen. Yes, he made her heart jump. Yes, his touch set her skin on fire. Nevertheless, who did he think he was? Perhaps she didn’t want to be in
Gathering her strength, she took two steps back. She had not expected to see him so soon. This was going to be a tough week.
Alexandros placed the suitcases in the trunk and threw the Ducatti’s keys to his younger brother. Costa, in turn, placed a red helmet over Heather’s blonde head, climbed onto the impressive red motorcycle, and patted the space behind him for his fiancé. “Time to properly introduce you to Santorini.”
Baba Strintzaris opened a rear door for his wife and scooted her over before nestling beside her.
“Athena, you ride up front with me,” Alexandros announced.
“Your mother will be more comfortable up front.”
“You’re a stronger person than I if you can separate those two. Come on,
, let’s go.”
Hearing him call her his doll again was very unsettling. Just as his relaxed, easy manner was difficult to handle. Hesitating, Athena stepped into the car and found herself too close to him. It was a luxury vehicle, but on an island like Santorini, size mattered. Too big wasn’t good.
But as Alexandros guided the car smoothly along the hairpin turns, she relaxed, losing herself in the rugged beauty.
Spiro, a graceful back-seat tour guide, identified the different towns and told Athena of their history. Rows of towering cliffs jutted against the dark magenta sky and reflected off the deep azure sea. Blue domes crowned the little white homes scattered on the rugged cliffs creating quaint villages.
Another turn and the fabled black volcano, which some believed had sunk the ancient civilization of Atlantis, was on their right. The sun set into the sea, its descent filling the sky with amazing streaks of orange and red. Promising to toast any barefoot visitor’s toes, the sand on the beach below was a scorching black.
Lost in the beauty, Athena was stunned when an arm whipped out and held her back on the seat. A large truck headed straight at them. She grabbed at the muscle on his forearm.
. My God,” she gasped.
Alexandros maneuvered the car right to the edge of the cliff, and the truck sped by them without incident.
Wetting her dry lips, she closed her eyes and tried to calm her palpitating heart.
His hand lightly stroked her knee. “I’ve got you. I will not let anything happen to you. Now breathe for me.
Athena found herself releasing her breath. She believed him.
The butterflies left her stomach and fluttered straight to her head. Why did this man have such an effect on her?
It is only the jetlag wreaking havoc on your senses. Stop projecting romantic feelings toward Alexandros, or you will regret it.
He was obviously a man who always got what he wanted, and women continuously fell at his feet. She’d heard the stories about him gallivanting all over the Greek islands as a teenager, leaving countless broken hearts in his wake.
Now he was a grown man and dangerous to her. Above all, she could not deny the electric charge his touch sent through her body.
Athena had a rule, and during her many summers spent in Greece, she had never broken it. She would not get romantically involved with any Greek. No summer romance for her. She had seen these islands flood with vacationers looking for a tryst each summer and had no desire to join their ranks.
Well aware of how women craved the attentions of men such as Alexandros and Costa, she had made a conscious decision not to be influenced. She always made friends, as she had with Costa. She laughed and socialized by day, but slept alone each night. She had no plans of changing her rule any time soon, and especially not now.
A notorious playboy, Alexandros continually graced the pages of the gossip papers. Last month, he’d headlined with a blonde French model on a yacht. She was sunbathing topless, and he was standing behind her applying lotion to her back when the paparazzi snapped the picture.
Costa had laughed when he’d seen the paper. “When he falls, he’ll fall hard, harder than the rest of us. He hasn’t met the right woman yet.”
If that were true, she’d thought, it sure wasn’t from lack of trying. Alexandros was young, handsome, and rich, topping the list of most eligible Europeans each year. He never had any shortage of women vying for his attention. A Greek golden boy, he had grown his father’s lucrative shipping enterprise and had expanded into the international hospitality industry.
Most importantly, he was Costa’s brother, soon to be Heather’s brother-in-law. Athena could not allow herself to make any mistakes that would ruin her relationship with her friends, and simultaneously get her heart broken. Heather and Costa held a very special place in her heart and she planned to keep them in her life for many years to come.
She moved her knees toward the passenger door and out of his reach. She shouldn’t feel at ease with his touch. No, no touching.
The car arrived at
and Athena realized they stood on the Caldera. A shiver ran down her spine as she looked over the volcano’s edge. The part of the island that had broken off from the volcano had an addicting, raw beauty and smelled of danger.
The Strintzaris house was not a little home with a blue dome. It sprawled across the edge of the dark cliff, its numerous domes still gleamed in the fading light, and its many verandas promised visitors a spectacular view. Massive bougainvilleas climbed the white walls that reflected the warmth out to sea. She could not see the vibrant colors of the flowers in the dusk’s dim light, but Athena could smell the heavy, seductive scent of jasmine in the evening air.
Waves crash on the jagged rocks below, then retreated, caught up in their never-ending dance of give and take. This place had a pulse of its own. Lulled by its warmth, she was awestruck by its strength and intense beauty. Santorini captured one with her many sensual gifts and made it impossible to leave her behind. It gripped fiercely at Athena’s fundamental nature as her feet moved slowly beneath her.
Roses lining the walk grabbed her attention and she bent to smell them. Lovingly cupping a large bloom, she stroked the velvety petals and inhaled its musky, sweet scent.
Mr. and Mrs. Strintzaris walked ahead, leaving her alone with Alexandros.
“Your home is exquisite.”
“Thank you, I'm glad you like it,” said the voice belonging to the man who’d occupied her mind the past weeks.
“I can’t believe it’s only a summer place. I’m surprised your parents don’t live here all the time.”
five years ago, and it has since become our base on the island. I like it because it’s on the Caldera and the view is fantastic. Hence the name,
.” He shrugged his broad shoulders. “Baba's house is inland. Mama and Baba use both homes, depending on their mood. They are funny that way.”
Anna and Spiro had reached the main entrance, and signaled for Alexandros to take a phone call. They motioned for Athena to join them for fruit.
Sitting on the patio, Athena enjoyed the sweetest watermelon she’d ever tasted. It was from the villa’s garden and cut just before the family headed to the airport.
“I am very glad we finally get to know you,” the older woman said to Athena. “My sons have had the pleasure of your company and speak so highly of you.”
“The pleasure is mutual. I know Costa well, he’s been one of my best friends these past few years, but I’ve just recently met Alexandros.”
“Perhaps you made a bigger impression on him. He talks about you often.”
Like such a man could fail to impress her!
Meeting him had sent quakes through her body and soul, an event not likely to be forgotten.
When Alexandros returned from inside the house, his mother asked him to clarify the issue.
“No Mother, we didn’t have the opportunity to get to know each other well, or personally.” He turned to face Athena. “It’s too bad you had such an early flight in Naples last month. We missed each other a second time. You were out to dinner with Costa last week, and I arrived to the restaurant as you were stepping into a taxi. I guess the third time is the charm.” His lips curled into a smile as he tapped his finger on the table.
“I, for one, am very happy we have this time together,” Anna added. “You’ve been a big part of Costa’s life and our Heather regards you as a sister. Even though they complain that since you started working for Luca, you barely have a social life.”
“I guess they’re correct.” Athena shrugged. “I love my work, and I seem to let it carry me away at times. No offense, since Strintzaris is now in the hospitality business, but I feel very privileged to be learning from one of the oldest and most highly regarded dynasties in the industry. Giardetti International is a great wealth of information.”