A little later, Leonidas Parnassus looked around the thronged salon and tried to stifle his irritation when he couldn’t see the waitress. It had made him uncomfortable how urgent had been the need to see her again as soon as he’d walked into the main reception room. It had also made him uncomfortable how vividly her image had come back to him in his recent shower, forcing him to turn the temperature to cold.
But now her image surged back, mocking his attempts to thrust it aside. He recalled how she’d looked, with a dark flush on her cheeks, those intensely light blue eyes wide and ringed with thick black lashes, staring at him like a startled fawn. Like she’d never seen a man before.
She had a tiny beauty spot just on the edge of a full lower lip and he grimaced when he felt the effect remembering that had on his lower body. He hated having such an arbitrary response. But, when he’d seen her arrive by the pool and do her work with quick economic movements, her glossy light brown hair pulled into a high topknot, something about her had stirred him. Something about her intense preoccupation, for patently she hadn’t noticed him in the pool. And Leo was not a man who was used to going unnoticed.
When he’d caught her against him in that completely instinctive move, tendrils of her hair had come free and framed her face, and the defined line of her jaw, making him want to slip his hand into the glossy strands and cause it to fall down around her shoulders. He could almost feel it over his hands now, the heavy silky weight.
Irritation spiked again, where was she? Had she been a figment of his imagination? His father approached then with a colleague and Leo forced a benign smile to his mouth, hating the fact that he was in thrall to a nameless waitress.
Distracting him momentarily was the reality he now faced of just how frail his father had become, even since he’d seen him last. As if something within him had shifted subtly but profoundly, he felt a deep seated sense of inevitability steal over him. He was needed here, his own empire notwithstanding. But washis place really here? He tried out the word now; home. His heart beat fast.
He thought of his sterile yet state of the art penthouse apartment in New York; the steel and silver skyscrapers of the world he inhabited. He thought of his impeccably groomed and very experienced blonde mistress; he thought of what it might be like to walk away from all of that, and he felt…nothing.
Athens, and being here for the past week had confounded his every expectation when he’d thought he’d feel nothing. On the contrary, he felt as though he’d been plugged into something deeply primal within his soul. Something had been brought to life and wouldn’t be pushed back to some dim and distant recess.
Just then as if to compound this feeling he caught sight of something in the far corner of the room. Glossy hair piled high, a long neck. A familiarly slim back. Leo’s heart started to thud, this time to a very different beat.
Angel was trying to keep her head down and not meet anyone’s eye. She’d done her best to stay in the kitchen preparing the trays but her boss had eventually sent her up to the main salon as she was his most experienced staff member.
At that moment she caught a pointed frowning look from Aristotle Levakis across the room – he was business partner to Parnassus – and her stomach quivered with renewed panic, this was a disaster in the making. Aristotle Levakis knew her to see because his father had been friendly with hers before he’d died. Angel could remember that Aristotle had been to one or two parties at her father’s house over the years.
In the act of offering some red wine to a small group of people, she had to keep going, but just then she got accidentally jostled by another waiter. The tray tipped off balance and with mounting horror Angel watched four glasses full of red wine disgorge their contents all over a beautiful woman’s pristine and very white designer dress.
For a second nothing happened – the woman was looking down at her dress, aghast. And then it came, her voice so shrill that Angel winced. Conversely at the same time, an awful silence seemed to descend.
‘You stupid stupid girl – ‘
But then just as suddenly, a huge dark shape appeared at Angel’s side and she barely had time to take in a breath before she registered that it was the man from the pool. Her heart skipped a beat, before starting again erratically. He sent her a quick wink before taking the gasping woman aside to speak to her in low hushed tones, and Angel saw her own boss hurry forward to take the matter in hand.
Her boss and the woman were summarily dispatched and then the man turned around to face Angel. Words dropped into her head but made no sense. He was so downright intimidating in an exquisite tuxedo that shock was rendering her speechless, breathless and motionless.
He calmly took the now empty tray from her hand and passed it to another waiter. The mess from the fallen drinks was already being cleared up. Angel would have protested that she should look after it, if she could have spoken.
Everyone else in the immediate vicinity seemed to melt away and with a light, yet commanding touch from his hand on her arm Angel felt herself being maneuvered across the room until they’d walked through a set of open patio doors and out to the blessed quiet of the grand terrace.
The cool and fragrant evening air curled around Angel like a caress, but she felt hot, right down to her very core. Hot from embarrassment and hot from where this man’s big hand was curled around her upper arm. They came to a stop beside a low wall, beyond which a pristine lawn sloped gently downwards and off into the distance.
Silence surrounded them, thick and heavy, the muted sounds of the party coming from behind the closed patio doors. Had he closed the doors? The thought of him doing that to give them privacy made her shiver. She looked up and with a disconcerting amount of effort, pulled her arm free from his light, yet devastating grip. He smiled down at her, putting his hands in his pockets and looked so rakishly handsome that Angel felt weak all over again. Hair that had been slicked back with water was now thick and glossy, a little overlong.
‘So…we meet again.’
Angel forced her brain to retain a small sliver of sanity, but no matter how much she wanted it, she feared her voice wouldn’t come out as cool as she hoped for. ‘I’m sorry…you must think me an awful klutz. I’m not normally so clumsy.’
‘Thank you for…’ she gestured to the room, thinking of the red stain spreading over the woman’s white dress again and feeling sick, ‘…defusing the situation, but I don’t think my boss will forgive me for it. That dress looked like it was worth about a years worth of my wages.’
He took a hand out of his pocket and waved it nonchalantly, ‘Consider it taken care of. I saw what happened, it was an accident.’
Angel gasped, ‘I can’t let you do a thing like that. I don’t even know you.’ His insouciance and casual display of wealth made something cold lodge in her chest. It was a rejection from deep within her of this whole social scene, she’d grown up with it and it reminded her too much of the darkness in her own family.
His eyes glinted with something dangerous. ‘On the contrary, I’d say that we’re well on the way to becoming…more acquainted.’
An electric current seemed to spring into action in that moment, the man moved closer to Angel, closing the small distance between them and the breath lodged in her throat. She couldn’t think, couldn’t speak. His eyes held hers and for the second time that day she noted the way they seemed to burn with a gold light.
He lifted a hand and trailed his finger down one cheek and to the delicate line of her jaw. It left a line of tingling fire in its wake.
‘I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you.’
The something cold that had lodged in Angel’s chest melted. ‘You…haven’t?’
He shook his head. ‘Or your mouth.’
‘My mouth…’ Angel repeated stupidly. Her gaze dropped to his mouth then and she saw once again the jagged line of the scar extending from his upper lip. She had to strongest desire to reach up and trace it with a finger, so strong that she shook.
‘Are you thinking about what it would feel like if my mouth was to touch yours right now?’
Angel’s gaze flew up and clashed with pure molten golden heat. An answering heat invaded her lower body, she felt the urge to clamp her legs together as if that might defuse the disturbing ache building up there.
Before she could answer or articulate a response, his hand had cupped her jaw and cheek and suddenly there was no distance between them, only him, so tall and close that he blocked out the sky and his head was descending, coming nearer and nearer.
He smelt musky and hot, it was something so earthy that Angel could feel the response being tugged from her down low in her belly, as if she recognised it on some primitive level. Dimly she wondered if this was what people meant when they talked about animal attraction.
Desperately trying to cling onto something, anything rational, Angel brought a hand to cover his to pull it down, to stop him, to say no…but then his mouth was so close that she could feel his breath feather there, mingling with hers. Her mouth tingled. She wanted…she wanted –
Angel wanted his mouth on hers so badly that she made a telling move closer –
Angel’s eyes had been fluttering closed and suddenly flew open again. Their mouths were just about touching, if Angel was to put out her tongue, she’d be able to explore his lips, their shape and texture. And then the name that had just been uttered exploded into her consciousness properly.
Reality slammed back and the cacophony of the party rushed out to meet them through open doors. Angel was barely aware of pulling that hand down and moving back, shock was starting to spread through her entire body. Someone else came out to the patio. The butler who had been standing there – for how long? – melted away discreetly. The new arrival was the hosts’ wife, Olympia Parnassus. Angel knew this because she’d given all the wait staff a pep talk in the kitchen earlier.
‘Leo darling, your father is looking for you, it’s almost time for the speech.’
In a smooth move, Angel realised that she’d been effectively shielded from view. She felt more than heard the deep rumble of response.
‘Give me two minutes here Olympia.’
His tone was implacable, clearly he was someone used to giving demands and having them met. He was Leonidas Parnassus.
Angel barely heard the older woman make some comment before she turned and clipped her way back into the party in her high heels, pulling the doors shut again. Shock was gathering force and Angel started to react. She had to get out of here.
She knew that Leonidas Parnassus had turned back to face her but she couldn’t look at him. A warm hand tipped her chin up and she nearly felt like getting sick. She couldn’t avoid his eyes unless she closed her own and the thought of doing that made panic rise. He smiled a sexy smile.
‘Please forgive the interruption, I’ll have to go in a minute but…where were we?’
Angel had to get out of here right now. She’d just been about to kiss Leonidas Parnassus, the very man who must be gloating over her family’s very public ruination. A sudden spurt of anger bloomed. They were in dire straits and it was all because of his family, and their lust for revenge. She thought of Delphi who was so vulnerable now; they didn’t deserve to be paying for something that had happened decades before.
Angel pulled down his hand and forced frost into her voice. ‘Look, I don’t know what you’re playing at. I have to get back to work, if my boss saw me out here with you I’d be sacked on the spot, which is obviously something that hasn’t occurred to you.’
Leonidas Parnassus looked at her for a long moment before straightening to his full intimidating height and moving back a pace. Gone was the sexily teasing man of just moments before and in his place now stood the son and heir of a vast fortune. The man who was already a self-made millionaire, a scion of his own making. No wonder she’d had that feeling earlier that he was someone.
Arrogant confidence oozed from every pore and Angel had to repress a shiver at the cold of his eyes, not tawny gold anymore but almost black, like flint.
‘Forgive me.’ His voice was frigid, ‘I would never have attempted to kiss you if I’d known you found the prospect so repugnant.’
His demeanor make a mockery of his words. He was completely unprepentent. At that moment, he reached out and cupped her jaw again. Her heart hammered against her ribs, she felt herself flushing.
Any pretence of remorse was gone, or charm. ‘Who do you think you’re kidding sweetheart? Don’t ever fool yourself like that again, or me. I know the signs of desire and you’re practically panting for me right now, just like you were by the pool.’
Angel ripped his hand down again, panic surging in earnest. If he had even aninkling of who she was… ‘Don’t be ridiculous. I am not. I want you to get out of my way please, so I can get back to work.’
‘I will,’ he bit out, ‘but not before we’ve proven your words to be a lie.’
Before Angel could take a breath, he’d cupped her face in both his hands, stepped right up to her body and his mouth was crashing down onto her shocked open one with all the force of a huge wave. Her hands covered his in a hazy attempt to remove them, she struggled against the onslaught but it felt like going against the stongest tide.
Her open mouth had provided the unwitting invitation to his, and his tongue stabbed deep and plundered, seeking hers, sucking it deep. To be touched so intimately shook her to her core.
Her body had stiffened with the shock of his action but a spreading melting sensation was quickly taking over. The urge to fight was becoming more and more distant, all Angel could feel was the sinewy strength of those hands. They were so big that he was cradling her entire head, long fingers threading through her hair, massaging her scalp. And all the while, his mouth and tongue were sucking her down into a deep spiral of the unknown.
When she had stopped trying to pull his hands away she would never know. Nor would she be able to say when she had moved her own hands and arms to wind their way up and over his shoulders.
She only knew that all reality had ceased to exist as they kissed and kissed with furious intensity. Their bodies were tight together and she pressed against the long lean hardness of him. The thundering beating of their hearts was drowning out voices, concerns. She strained against him, on tip-toe to get even closer…and could feel the unmistakable signs of his burgeoning arousal, and when she felt that, her brain melted completely.
And then all of a sudden it was over and he was stepping back from her. Angel made an awfully betraying move towards him, as if loathe to let him go, her hands still outstretched from where they’d been wrapped like clinging vines around his shoulders. It was only then that she noticed her hands were held in his….and the awful suspicion arose, had he had to forcibly take them down? Mortification flooded Angel, even as she tried to assess the situation, gather her scattered nerves. Her heart still hammered. She was mute. Dizzy.
Leonidas Parnassus just looked at her, his face flushed…with anger? Or satisfaction that he’d proved himself right? Angel’s mortification rose to a new level.
A discreet cough came from close by, and a voice.
‘Sir? If you could join your father inside now…please.’
Leonidas just looked at Angel, nothing being given away on his face. It held a steely imperviousness that she would never have guessed the teasing man she’d met earlier to possess.
‘I’ll be right in.’ Leonidas pitched his voice to reach the hovering staff member, but his eyes never left hers. He seemed to be utterly in control, apart from that betraying colour in his cheeks. She felt like she was unravelling at the seams.
‘I…’ Angel began ineffectually.
He cut her off with an autocratic, ‘Wait for me here, I’m not done with you yet.’
And with that, he turned on his heel and Angel watched him stride powerfully back into the thronged room, raking a hand through his hair as he did so. His back was huge and broad in the black of the tuxedo. She couldn’t believe what had just happened.
In shock she put a finger to her mouth where her lips felt plump and bruised. Thoroughly kissed. In a fresh rush of embarrassment and disgust, Angel could remember wantonly arching her body even closer to his…almost as if she’d wanted to climb into his skin for god’s sake. Not even in the most passionate moment of her relationship with Achilles had she felt that intensity of desire, every thought wiped clean from her mind. But then, she recalled bitterly, that had been part of the problem…
Angel felt raw and exposed, painful memories surging back as if it wasn’t awful enough to deal with what had just happened.
She heard the hush descend on the crowd in the salon and searched for some means of escape. Finally, growing desperate, she spotted where steps led down from the patio to the lower levels and presumably back around to the kitchen. Hurrying down, she knew that she could forget about her job, the incident with the wine would have sealed her fate anyway; her disappearance with the guest of honour would have merely ensured it.
If her boss hadn’t known the significance of who she was, he soon would, and she didn’t want to be around to witness that.
Down in the kitchen she grabbed her things and then crept out and headed down the drive, away from the glittering villa, not looking back once.