Excerpt: The Santorini Bride
Book 4: Beware of Greeks Series
One more hill.
Looking up the stone steps that twisted up from the dock, Martha could see the house at last. Thank God.
When she’d got off the launch in Santorini she’d thought, “I’m home.” But she’d forgotten the climb and she hadn’t told Ariela, the local lady who took care of the house, that she was coming. So no one knew to meet her.
No matter. She’d been determined to get here on her own, to be here on her own. The climb was just the last part of it. Still, she was exhausted and sweating and her duffel bag, packed for a move back to New York, not a spur-of-the-moment desperate flight to Greece, felt like lead as she dragged it behind her.
She looked up again. In the shimmering summer heat the walls of the two story white stuccoed building seemed almost like a mirage, a dream. Martha had been running on adrenaline so long that it could well have been a hallucination if she didn’t know she was down to her last dollar – dollar, hell, her last drachma – having spent nearly every cent in her savings account to get her plane ticket from JFK yesterday afternoon.
Was it only yesterday?
It seemed like another lifetime since she had blithely and eagerly bounded up the stairs to her boyfriend Julian’s loft apartment in Tribeca, already anticipating his killer grin, his open arms that would grab her and swing her around in joy when she announced she was back for good, that she had finally finished the mural in Charleston that had taken her out of New York for the past month, and that while she was gone she’d made a decision – she was ready at last to share his bed.
She had opened the door, calling his name. Then, hearing the sound of the shower, she had thrown caution to the wind. What better way to prove to him that she was ready for the intimacy he’d demanded.
And so she’d kicked off her sandals, stripped off her shirt and was shimmying out of her skirt as she’d opened the bathroom door.
And discovered Julian wasn’t alone.
Through the steamed glass she could see two bodies beneath the spray – Julian, his blond hair plastered flat, and some curvaceous brunette with an all-over tan. Their bodies bare, their limbs entwined.
Martha had stopped dead, gut-punched, rooted to the spot as she gazed unblinking at the sight of her fantasies, her dreams and hopes crashing to bits.
And then the cool blast of air she’d brought in when she’d opened the door caused Julian to look up. He wiped a hand over the glass, clearing it briefly to stare straight at her stunned face.
His mouth opened and an expletive formed on his lips. Martha’s own mouth was as frozen as her feet as she watched the woman rub against him unaware. Julian shut his eyes for a moment, then opened them and met her gaze again. This time there was less shock and more defiance.
And thank God, Martha found that her feet would move.
She spun away, snatching up her shirt to cover her own bareness, her foolish vulnerability. She yanked it on, face burning. heart slamming – but nowhere near as hard as she slammed the door on her way out.
She’d run down the stairs, her duffel bag banging along behind her, desperate to get away into the street where crowds of people passed, unconcerned, unaware of her humiliation, of her world spinning out of control. Nothing had changed for them.
But for Martha the world had just gone upside down.
She had spent the month she was in Charleston thinking about Julian, about their relationship, about whether he was “the one.” She’d taken things slow, unwilling to just jump into bed with him because he was gorgeous and charming and sexy and wanted to go to bed with her.
She’d seen her sister, Cristina, do far too much of that. Martha had always been determined she was going to be “sure” before she ever became intimate with a man.
Fat lot of good it had done her. She’d finally been sure and Julian had found someone else!
She couldn’t stay with him, obviously. In fact she couldn’t even bring herself to stay in New York. It might have ten million people in it, but it wasn’t big enough for both of them. She had to get out.
There were any number of places she could have gone – to her parents’ house on Long Island, to her brother Elias in Brooklyn, to her brother Peter in Hawaii, even to Cristina – though God knew she would never do that. The only person in her family she couldn’t run to was her twin brother, Lukas, because Lukas was always wandering around somewhere – New Zealand this time, she thought – but who knew, really. Everyone else would have taken her in. And Peter and Elias at least wouldn’t even have asked a million nosey questions.
But she couldn’t do it.
She didn’t want to see any of them, didn’t want to witness their sympathy or even their silent commiseration. She just wanted to get away.
And so she’d come to Santorini.
It wasn’t running away from home.
Her parents had been born here. So had her grandparents. And even though all of her own family – and most of the extended family – were long gone to seek their fortunes in the far corners of the world, they all held Santorini in their hearts. The ancestral house was still here.
In the most fundamental sense of the word, Santorini was home.
Some of her earliest and definitely best memories were of times spent in their house high on a Santorini hillside overlooking the deep Aegean sea. Her parents had moved them from the city to Long Island and back half a dozen times while Martha had been growing up.
No place had ever become the home Santorini was.
She loved it. The minute she’d stepped onto the hot pavement and looked up at the rows of whitewashed houses climbing the hills, she’d known things would get better.
She could breathe here. She could be herself here. She could start again.
She hadn’t been here since she’d come with her parents for a week in January. Then the weather had been almost cool. Now in mid-summer it was blazing hot and Martha was sweating and exhausted as she set her shoulders, then grabbed the handle of her duffel and began to haul it again up the narrow winding street.
The house would be empty.. The refrigerator would be shut off and the cupboards bare. She would have to do the shopping and the cooking, but she didn’t care. It would be good to do everything herself. Keeping busy would be a good thing. Immersing herself in the life of the island would distract her and, she hoped, help her get her bearings, look to the future, make new plans.
She certainly had no intention of going on with the old ones – even if Julian had rung her cell phone while she was en route to the airport.
“It’s not as if Andrea means anything to me,” he’d said, sounding wounded, as if Martha was just supposed to accept him making love to another woman.
“Right. No big deal,” she’d said acidly. “I’m sure she’ll be pleased to hear that.”
“Well, what do you expect?” Julian had demanded, trading wholly inappropriate hurt for even less warranted indignation. “You never gave me any, did you?”
It didn’t seem the time to say she had come intending to do just that.
“Smart of me, I’d say,” she bit out.
“You’re a cold fish, Martha. If you’d ever shown a little passion – “
”You want passion? I’ll give you passion!” And Martha had flung the cell phone out the open taxi cab window into the road where it had been instantly squashed by an 18 wheel semi. She only wished it had been Julian, not the phone, who’d been flattened.
Now she allowed herself a moment’s remembrance of the single satisfying sight she’d had yesterday afternoon. Then she made her way up the last few steps to the gate that led into the walled garden and the last flight of up to the house. Sweat was streaming down her back and between her breasts, and her long curly black hair, which she had scraped back into a ponytail the minute she’d got off the plane, was coming loose. Tendrils straggled around her face.
She needed a cold drink, then a cold shower, and a nap, in that order. Provided she could stay awake that long.
She opened the gate and let herself in. A trellis overhung with bougainvilleas in bright reds and purples gave her the first shade she’d had since she began the climb. Martha shut the gate, then leaned against the wall and just let the silence and the blessed coolness of the wall and the shade envelope her. For the first time since she’d opened the door to Julian’s bathroom, the desperate urgency to escape faded a bit. She breathed deeper. The stillness seemed to surround her.
Her breathing slowed and steadied. She ran her hand over the rough white stone wall. It felt solid, dependable, strong. And welcoming.
She remembered racing down these same steps as a little girl, running her fingers along the wall, thinking that her father had done that as a boy, and that his father had done the same. She smiled faintly and turned to press her cheek against the cool whitewashed wall, finding comfort in the notion that generations of Antonideses had done that, too.
Others had hurt. Others had survived. She would, too. Settled, comforted, determined, she squared her shoulders, grabbed her suitcase and with renewed energy, hauled it up the winding stairs.
Thirty-two steps later she reached the top and fished out her house key. Her father had given each of them a key to the house when they reached the age of twenty-one.
Martha sent a brief silent thank-you to her father now as she turned the key in the lock and pushed open the heavy wooden door. The terrazzo-floored entryway was cool and breezy.
Breezy? Martha frowned, surprised to notice that the front windows were open, the light gauzy curtains rustling in the air. Had someone figured out she was coming?
Had Julian called her parents’ house looking for her? Oh, please no! She pressed a hand to her cheek in dismay.
But then she noticed the pair of sandals – men’s sandals – beside the door. Her heart leapt with joy. “Lukas?”
It had to be. Elias never left Brooklyn (“Someone has to work,” he would say dampeningly whenever the word “vacation” came up) and Peter, as far as Martha knew, had scarcely ever left Hawaii since he’d moved there to go to college. So that left Lukas – her twin.
If she could bear to see anyone right now, it would be Lukas.
He had always been her soulmate. He would understand and sympathize, and spending time with Lukas would keep her from believing that all men were as horrible as Julian Reeves.
“Luke?” Eagerly Martha kicked off her own shoes and started toward the kitchen when she heard the sound of footsteps coming down from the bedrooms upstairs. She turned expectantly.
A lean dark pirate of a man, with tousled jet-black hair and a sharp narrow nose, was coming down the steps.
He had high, chiseled cheekbones and a hard jutting chin. He was handsome, she supposed, in a rough-hewn way. If Julian was classically handsome the way a glossy highly polished marble statue was handsome, this man looked like rough cut granite.
She supposed he must be one of Elias’s friends. He was, from the looks of him, in his thirties, about her oldest brother’s age. Had Elias given him the key and told him to make himself at home? It seemed more like the sort of thing her charming feckless father would have done than hard-nosed, hard-working Elias. She wasn’t sure he had any friends anyway.
But this man didn’t look like the sort who would have had the patience to deal with her father. Aeolus Antonides loved golf courses and yachts and three-martini lunches – the finer side of civilization, he’d have said.
Civilized wasn’t a word that Martha would have used to describe the man who had stopped at the bottom of the stairs and was staring at her with what could only be described as profound dislike.
Well, she wasn’t exactly enthralled to see him either.
“Who the hell are you?” he demanded, then startled her further by jerking his head toward the door. “Never mind. It doesn’t matter. Just leave.”