“The storyline is really intriguing; the characters are great; plot twists and turns galore; and one helluva HEA.”
“Jealous?” I laughed into my cellphone, incredulous. “Why would I be jealous?” I’d never wanted to be in Elizabeth’s shoes.
“Oh, I don’t know, Kate,” my twin sister baited.
“My best friend disappears for six months, and in all that time, can’t even tell me that she’s okay.” I sighed and dropped onto the edge of the hotel bed.
I didn’t need to see my sister to know she’d cast her eyes heavenward. “Elizabeth had good reasons,” Jessica continued. “An assassin on her trail for one. You need to sit down and talk to her. Tell her how you feel. Give her a chance to explain what was really going on.”
“It’s not me who didn’t have the time,” I grumbled. “Besides, now she’s found Count Charming and become a box office wonder, she’s too important to be bothered with a nobody like me.”
My sister’s chortle set my teeth on edge. “I knew it. Her becoming famous — that’s what’s got you in a twist.”
A twist? “Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Then, fess up,” she pushed back, persistent as ever. “What’s stuck in that bull-headed bean of yours?”
I flopped onto the bed. “Everything has happened too fast. That’s all.”
Elizabeth was never a slow doer, but this particular upturn hit at the speed of light, leaving me to crash and burn. She had talent; I never doubted she’d be a success.
But finding her perfect man? I hadn’t banked on that. Or her abandoning me in Provincetown barely a month after we’d moved in together.
I shook my head, burying my frustration. “She deserves her success. I just didn’t think she’d leave. She loved the new place, the ocean. We’d found paradise.” I rubbed my neck. “I don’t get why she walked away.”
Jess’s voice crackled over the fickle cell connection. “It’s a house, Kate. Planks and nails.”
“So? The place meant something to her, to both of us.” I adjusted the cellphone against my ear.
Her voice sharpened a hair. “You just haven’t met anyone worth leaving hearth and home for.” She let out a soft sigh. “Elizabeth has.”
“Tell me about it,” I murmured, realizing I sounded pathetic.
“Besides,” Jessica added, “Julien has a chateau in France. Basically, a castle. Your P-town shack never stood a chance.”
“My home is not a shack,” I growled. “And so what if he’s loaded and has a fancy title?”
“So what? Everything.”
I blew out a breath. Elizabeth had this magical charisma. Trust her to find James Bond, George Clooney and the Prince of Monaco all rolled into one. Yes, Julien was some kind of secret agent or whatever. That’s how they’d met. Apparently. Not that Elizabeth had spent much time explaining, beyond the barest bones about her adventures.
“Seriously, Kate.” My sister laughed softly. “I think you are jealous.”
I groaned. “I don’t know what I am, anymore. Irritated, mostly.”
Argh. I crunched my abs and sat up straight. I hated it when Jessica analyzed me. “Possibly. Look, I’d better go.”
“You’re running away again,” her voice sang.
Yeah, well… “Who knows what this call’s gonna cost me.” With international call rates and all.
“And you are such a starving artist,” Jessica snickered. Fortunately, she knew when to tell her backseat psychologist to take a rest.
“I am,” I concurred, though starving wasn’t strictly true. I’d arrived in Greece to begin a four-week research project for my doctorate that my parents were helping pay for.
“Well, I guess you’d better get out there and start working on that tan,” my sister said cheerfully.
“Melanoma, you mean,” came my grumpy reply.
“Be thankful. You get to enjoy the sun while I’m stuck inside, grading finals.” Jessica was a high school math teacher. “Anyway,” she added. “I’m glad you’re meeting up with Elizabeth. Say hi for me and make time to talk things through. I’ll expect a full report next week.”
“Sure. Sure,” I said. “Talk to you later, sis.”
* * *
Having arrived in Athens midafternoon after a nightmarishly long flight, I took a power nap and woke to stifling heat. The blackout curtains were closed, and the air conditioner was off.
My room had a balcony overlooking an enclosed garden with a stone patio and vine-laden trellises. I’d chosen the place because they offered a longterm booking price that made it more affordable. Not exactly five stars, but it had some character.
Elizabeth had reserved the room next door for a couple of weeks, so we could hang out together before I started my research. With Julien around, I was nervous I’d turn into a third wheel but hoped Elizabeth and I would get some quality time.
The happy couple where out when I banged at their door on arrival, but given I’d texted Elizabeth about my delay in New York, I wasn’t surprised.
She hadn’t responded, but that was Elizabeth, always forgetting her phone. I hoped she was already exploring one of the amazing Grecian ruins I couldn’t wait to see.
Stepping out onto my balcony, I discovered it adjoined Elizabeth’s with nothing between them but a low wrought iron divider.
The sun had dipped below the horizon, but the heat remained, radiating off the exterior blue-stucco walls. The glass slider into Elizabeth’s room was half-open and a glow shone through a narrow gap in the curtains. Returning to my room, I pushed my feet into shoes and stepped into the hall.
I knocked sharply on their door and waited, then knocked again.
Frowning, I strode back to my balcony. The light from their room was gone.
What the…? Avoiding me didn’t make sense. Elizabeth had proposed we meet in Athens and see the sights together.
A light breeze struck the gauzy curtain inside their room, and its rebound sent it through the open slider.
Were they too busy going at it to hear me knocking? I rolled my eyes and set my butt on the iron divider, lifted my long legs over the top and stepped onto their balcony.
I listened for gasps and groans. Nothing.
Having a passionate hatred of mysteries, I tapped against the glass door, hoping I wouldn’t embarrass them. Or myself.
Grumbling under my breath, I slipped through the curtain and into their room.
A pale orange glow radiated from the bedside light, its lampshade cloaked with a hand towel.
Odd, to say the least.
The place looked undisturbed. Two closed suitcases sat on luggage stands. A stack of magazines rested by the hotel phone, and several guides and maps fanned across the dresser. No sign of a purse or keys. They must still be out.
A red light on the landline phone flashed, and I made out a French magazine in the intermittent glow. Elizabeth and Julien had flown in from Paris, so this must be their room.
Maybe one of the hotel staff had stopped by to replace a light bulb, but that didn’t explain the towel over the lampshade or the balcony door left open.
I started toward the suitcases to check for tampering and caught a movement from the corner of my eye. I swung around, arms lifting automatically into a defensive pose, to discover my face, eyes wide, staring back at me from a large wall mirror.
I huffed and unclenched my fists. Time to get back to my room, before Elizabeth and Julien found me here.
I switched off the bedside light and started for the balcony. As I drew close, a shadowy form separated from the curtains and lunged at me.
A few years of martial arts training didn’t mean I wouldn’t choose flight over fight.
I spun and darted for the entry. My fingers closed around the handle, turned and tugged, but the door didn’t budge. I yanked again with an adrenalin surge that should have torn the damned thing off its hinges. But nothing happened.
My eyes sped across the door panels, searching for a deadbolt, and encountered a baseball-mitt-sized hand inches above my right shoulder. No wonder the door hadn’t opened.
Fear constricted my throat as I flipped from flight to fight mode. I tensed my core, twisted and shoved into the hulking figure behind me like a fullback breaking through a defensive line.
I shouldered the guy in the chest, pulled back my arm and threw a fist into a steel gut.
“Ah!” My knuckles throbbed from the impact while this mass of a man barely flinched.
A hand gripped my arm at the elbow, spun me in a half-circle and thrust me face-first into the door.
My forehead met wood with a thud. I grunted as my hair was grasped and my cheek shoved against the paneling.
I struggled to push myself from the door, but a few inches was all I managed. The guy wouldn’t give me any slack.
“Who are you?” his voice growled an inch from my earlobe. The pressure on the side of my face eased enough so I could answer.
A small opening. I took it. With a yell, I thrust back an elbow.
He hooked it, swung me around and shoved me against the door. Then he let go.
“I said,” he grated, looming over me. “Who are you?”
His bulk blocked the foyer leading into the room and most of the light from the balcony window. I stared into his shadowed face while groping the doorknob for the lock.
“Don’t even think aboot it.” An accent. Irish? No, Scottish.
Options bounced around my head like lotto balls. Reason with him was my first pick.
My tongue slid across dry lips. “What do you want?” I rasped.
“An answer to my question.” He punctuated the statement with a half step toward me. “Who are you?”
“No one who matters.” I swallowed. “Why don’t I just leave, and…we can pretend we never met.” My words came out a couple of octaves higher than usual, while my heart pounded in my ears.
He stared at me for a long second.
Taking his silence as acquiescence, I twisted the doorknob.
“Oh, no, you don’t.” He reached past me and press the door closed before I’d opened it an inch.
I dodged sideways, slipped past him and darted for the balcony door.
“You’re Kathryn,” he called after me.
I almost tripped as I sped across the room. “What?” I swung around to face him.
He held my attention as I backed across the balcony threshold ready to bolt. “Who the hell are you?”
My jaw went loose. “The writer?”
“Aye,” he responded, voice even.
Walking a thin line between relief and fury, I sucked in a few deep breaths and got ahold of myself.
Elizabeth had stayed with a Jonathan Sullivan during the months she was missing. She’d been hiding from a killer. Not that I’d accepted that as an excuse for her silence. I’d been worried sick the whole time.
I narrowed my eyes at his shadowy face. “How do you know who I am?”
“I heard you were coming.”
My hands balled. “Then why did you attack me?”
“Because I thought you were someone else.” His voice was low, gravelly.
“Like who?” I really wanted a better look at this mysterious man from Elizabeth’s past. “Look, do we have to stand in the dark like this?”
“No.” Without needing to search, he flipped a switch.
The sudden glare from the overhead lights made me squint, but as my eyes adjusted, I got my first look at Jonathan Sullivan — aka Jon Stock, the writer.
Somehow, he seemed larger in the light than in the dark. No wonder my punch hadn’t made a dent in him. I was tall, but the man had inches on me — six-four or five. He was dressed in khaki shorts and a black T-shirt that stretched snuggly across his broad chest and shoulders.
His face was handsome in a rugged kind of way, square-jawed and straight-nosed. His Gaelic skin had a touch of pink, no doubt the aftereffects of exposure to the Grecian sun. What I’d thought was black hair turned out to be deep auburn, a couple of inches long and wavy. Just long enough to bury fingers into if one were so inclined.
Elizabeth had said she and Jonathan went to school together, which would make him her age, thirty, three years older than me.
His green eyes appraised me in a manner that must have matched my own.
I narrowed my gaze. “Why are you here? She didn’t say you were coming.” I hadn’t intended to sound accusing, but it seemed a valid question.
“I wasnae until the day before yesterday. Julien’s brother-in-law asked me to come.”
“On the spur of the moment?” I lifted a quizzical eyebrow. “Why?”
He ran a hand through his hair. “Do you mind if we get out of here?”
I pursed my lips. “Why didn’t you answer my question?”
A frown nestled into his brow. “I’ll answer it. Just not here.”
Strange. “Why not?”
“In case the person I thought you were arrives.”
I reached for the slider’s frame, tension tightening in my belly. “What person? Where is Elizabeth? This is her room, right?”
I frowned. “So, what am I missing?”
“Have you had dinner yet?”
The off-the-wall question threw me, and I blinked.
“Let’s go get something to eat, and we’ll talk.”
Why the total fob off?
I dropped my hands to my hips. “Why won’t you tell me what’s going on?”
“Because staying here isn’t a good idea. Besides, I’m hungry, and I’ll bet you haven’t eaten either.”
How did he even know that?
A guess, obviously, but his evasiveness frustrated me, and I got the undeniable impression he wouldn’t tell me anything unless I humored him.
“How aboot I meet you outside in, say, twenty minutes?” he suggested. “There’s a garden at the side of the hotel.”
I didn’t seem to have a choice. “Okay, I’ll go back the way I came.”
As I vaulted over the railing, the glass slider swooshed along its track until its lock clicked, and Jonathon disappeared behind the curtains.
Chewing my lip, I marched into my room.
Mysteries were fine in books but not in real life.
What was he hiding? Where were Elizabeth and Julien? And what in the world had Jonathan been doing in their room in the first place?
I ran a brush through my mess of short curls and washed the heat from my cheeks with cold water.
Natural-colored hemp slacks and a purple tee covered my internal dishevelment. I grabbed my wallet and headed down to the garden to meet the annoyingly evasive Jonathan Sullivan.