from Amnesty of the Heart, Chapter One...
copyright 2013, 2014, 2016 by Mia Michele
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A soft breeze lifted the sheer curtains towards the bed. The sun was sinking closer to the horizon, a fire against the sky. Annie woke with a stretch and made her way to the balcony. The fresh air and the constant breeze left her feeling relaxed, and she decided to take in more of the Aegean that surrounded the island. Leaving her shoes behind, she slowly walked down the cool stone steps and through the garden path to the beach. In only a few minutes, she was out of sight from the house and at what felt like the edge of the world. She put her feet in the rolling waves, and the water was warm. Taking a look around, she saw no one and quickly slipped out of her silk dress, throwing it and her underwear away from the waves.

The water was heaven. Clear and smooth as satin, it wrapped each crevice of her milky white body and played with her red mane. She floated in the waves and swam away from the shore only to have the current bring her back to the beach. She was a child again; she had no cares and no worries. No ex-fiancé who haunted her dreams. No assassin to stalk her like an animal. She was alone and unafraid.

"Aphrodite, ise omorphi."

Annie stood up, the water covering her nudity, her toes buried in the sand. Looking around, she saw no one. "Who's there?"

In response, the wind whistled through the trees.

"Ah, it can't be Aphrodite, not if she's American," the voice taunted. "Besides . . . Aphrodite must look more Greek. Probably bigger breasts as well."

She scanned the beach, and her eyes rested on a patch of disturbed sand. Her clothes were gone. "Damn," she muttered under her breath. "Look, whoever you are, this isn't funny. I'd hate to call the police and have you arrested as a peeping Tom and a thief."

"Arrested? No, I don't think so." He followed his words with a deep laugh. "Perhaps it's Eve, although I don't believe she was a red-headed American, either."

He walked out from behind a tree, like a dark warrior hidden from his enemies. He was well over six-feet tall, and his body was firm. The olive slacks he wore hugged thick, muscular legs, and his button-down shirt, with its open collar, revealed a mass of dark, curly chest hair. His eyes were black, and they danced at her obvious discomfort. "So, which is it?" he asked, stepping closer. "Aphrodite or Eve?"

"Can I help you with something?" Annie swallowed hard. Who are you and what do you want? You obviously didn't stumble here by accident.

"You help me?" The man chuckled, and she noticed her dress in his hand. "You're trespassing." His eyes flashed mischievously. "And I don't take kindly to trespassers on my land. Even naked ones."

My land. Surely this thirty-something man isn't Apostalos Sophacletes. Annie squinted in the sun. Was she missing something?

As he turned to walk away, slinging her dress carelessly over his shoulder, panic set in. She couldn't stay in the water, nor could she walk back to the house naked and risk anyone seeing her. "Wait!" she called out, taking a step forward but keeping her body beneath the water. Her trembling voice betrayed her anxiety, and she struggled to find her words. "Apostalos, please. I'm Aine O'Shay. Your best friend, my Uncle Padrig, sent me here. I'm your guest."

The man stopped and turned, a smirk on his face. "I've been mistaken for a lot of things, Miss O'Shay, but my sixty-year-old father isn't usually on the list." He took a few steps toward the water and watched as Annie took a step back. "I'm sure we can work out some arrangement during your stay . . . to mitigate your trespassing, of course."

Fire scorched Annie's cheeks, and anger welled up in her throat. Of all the nerve. Irish temper flaring, she marched out of the sea and stood toe to toe with the man, who was several inches taller than she. With a swift movement, she slapped his cheek and grabbed her dress, before running toward the garden. Unsure whether she was being followed and no longer caring if she was seen, she darted up the stairs to her room and closed the balcony door, leaning her wet body against the curtained glass. Her adrenaline gone, she lowered her head and tossed the spent dress on a chair in the corner.

Annie stood beneath the shower head and let the hot water run in beads across her toned body. The scent of the herbal shampoo lifted her spirits, and she generously used the matching soap on her weary body. After a few moments in bliss and having completely forgotten her encounter with Apostalos' son, she left the bathroom wrapped in a luxurious cotton towel and prepared to massage lotion into her parched skin. Coming into the bedroom, she froze.

"I don't believe anyone—especially a woman—has ever slapped me and lived to tell about it." He looked more amused than angry as he walked forward and fingered a wet curl.

"Then don't make me do it again," she whispered. Her throat burned, and she felt vulnerable in a way that was as foreign to her as the soft accent he spoke with. "Although, if this is the way you always behave, I find it hard to believe that you aren't slapped more often."

He laughed a hearty, full-bodied laugh, but his fingers didn't leave her hair. "That'll be the day, Despoina. Tell me"—he dropped his hand to the rim of her towel, brushing his fingertips over her bare collarbone—"Do you always approach strange men in the nude?"

Annie stumbled back. "I think that's enough," she said with more bravery than she felt. "I don't know who you think you are, but kindly leave my room."

There was a knock at the door, and it opened broadly. "Aine, I brought you some afternoon tea—" Evadine stopped mid-voice. "Talos!"

Placing the tray on the coffee table, she wrapped her arms around the young man as Annie slipped into a robe. She rattled off in Greek before pausing, her face red. "Oh, signomi Aine, I am so sorry. I forgot that you don't speak Greek. This is my nephew, Talos. And this, Talos, is Aine O'Shay, the niece of your father's dearest friend."

Annie watched as Evadine raised her eyebrows and looked at him questioningly, clearly assessing the scene of her nephew in the same room as a near-naked woman. "I do hope you aren't disturbing her."

Talos approached Annie, his eyes still smiling, and he lifted her hand to his lips. "The pleasure is all mine," he said softly.

Snatching her hand away and dumbstruck, Annie evaded his glance and turned to stand by the window.

Evadine spoke again. "I had no idea you were coming to the island."

"To be honest, I didn't know I was coming either." He sighed and smiled down at his aunt with obvious affection. "I needed a break—and perhaps one of your famous trays of baklava."

She laughed. "You know the way to my heart, Talos." She caressed his cheek, the same one that Annie had slapped earlier. "Such a man now. But in my mind still a boy." As though dispelling memories of sadder times, Evadine looked at their guest and smiled. "Aine is on holiday as well."

"From the United States?"

"I live in Dublin now, actually. I've been covering the war in Iraq." Take that, Mister no-one-has-slapped-me-and-lived-to-tell-the-tale.

"You're a broadcaster."

"No, a print journalist." Annie focused on Evadine and hoped the stranger would take the hint and go back to his own room or, even better, find an island somewhere else for his holiday. "Thank you so much for bringing me tea. It was so kind, and I really appreciate it."

"You are most welcome." Evadine turned toward the door.

"Thia, would you mind bringing me some of your delicious coffee? I'd love to get to know our guest better."

She nodded over her shoulder with a smile and then was gone.

When the bedroom door closed, Annie glared at Talos, who proceeded to take the chair by her armoire. "I don't want you here," she said.

"It's my house, so tough luck."

"It's your father's house."

"No," he corrected. "When I turned thirty, five years ago, it became my house. So, technically you, Aine"—her name rolled off his lips—"are my guest."

Speechless and with rage boiling her blood, she stormed to the closet and took out a pair of white linen slacks and a matching sleeveless top. When she turned, he was leaning on one arm and studying her intently. "Can I have some privacy please?"

"Whatever for? I've already seen what you have to offer."

Incensed, she turned her back to him so he wouldn't see her face. "Right, I remember. Small breasts."

"I said no such thing. I simply said that Aphrodite's—"

"Are bigger. I remember." Locking her emotions up, she turned and tossed her head forward. "Well, go on now. Get out!"

"Make me," Talos challenged.

"You sound like such a child. Make me," she imitated his voice. "What would your father say to your naughty behavior?"

She eyed Talos with annoyance. He was lightly tanned, his olive skin accentuated by the ivory shirt he wore tucked into his slacks, its sleeves rolled up just below his elbows and his silver watch sparkling in the light from the setting sun. "You can get back to your vacation now that you know I'm not trespassing."

Talos stood in a fluid movement and stepped forward. "Trespassing may be a matter of opinion." He tossed the clothes from her hands into a free chair and placed his hand on her waist. "Where were we?"

With false bravado, Annie gripped his wrist. "I don't know who you think you are or what sense of entitlement you think you have, but I'm not here for your amusement." Her voice was strong, defiant. "And I'm sure as hell not looking for a holiday fling."

He leaned against her, and she felt her heart beat wildly against his chest. He whispered, his voice tickling her ear. "Tell me you don't feel the fire between us. Tell me you didn't feel it on the beach."

Annie's legs were weak. Who was this man before her? Such arrogance, such privilege. Did he think that she was a plaything for his enjoyment? His body was against hers, and she could smell his cologne, fresh and sensual. Breathing him in left her breathless. She placed her hands on his chest to stabilize her weak lower half. "Talos . . . Please . . . ."

Again, that silky whisper. "Please . . . please kiss you?" He brushed his mouth against one ear and then the other. "Like no other man has kissed you?"

His mouth touched her cheeks, left, then right, and she could feel him drawing toward her mouth. "Talos . . . Wait . . . ."

What was she doing? This was mad! She didn't even know the man before her, the man who had alluded to sexual favors as restitution for her trespassing. How could a man she didn't know existed a moment before suddenly be the cause of her undoing? "Wait . . . Please . . . I can't."

He hovered above her lips, his breath hot against her face, his heart pounding against her fingers. She felt his body press against the thin robe that had fallen open to the towel beneath. His hands were on either side of her, keeping her beneath him and against the wall. "You must be Eve," he muttered. "Who else could tempt a man so?"