The man in front of her was crazy. That, or he was having some sort of an attack, one that involved dancing up and down and gesturing wildly, all the while talking a mile a minute, his words tumbling out with such speed, they all ran together into one dense, unintelligible stream.
Not that Harry could have understood the words even if he had been speaking slower. She stood up from where she’d been seated on a wooden lounge, enjoying the peace of the balmy Mediterranean night. “The temptation to say, ‘I’m sorry, but it’s all Greek to me,’ is almost overwhelming—you do realize that, right?” she asked the man.
He continued his dancing-gesturing-babbling routine, this time adding a peculiar plucking motion with the hem of her linen tunic.
She glanced around, wondering if she’d misunderstood. “Am I not supposed to be here? Is this garden off-limits to us? Derek said it was the garden area on the other side of the house that was for guests only. Did I get that wrong?”
The little man—and he was little, at least a good ten inches shorter than her solid six feet—evidently grew distressed at her inability to understand, for he grabbed her wrist and hauled her toward the massive bulk of the house.
“Is Timmy in the well?” she asked, a little smile curling her lips before her gaze moved from what she thought must surely be one of the servants to the house itself. “Only ‘house’ doesn’t quite cut it as a description, does it? It’s more like a palace. Houses don’t have wings—palaces do. And I defy you to find a house sitting by its lonesome on its very own Greek island. No sir, this is a palace pure and simple, and although I’m sure you have a good reason for dragging me to it, I should point out that the only people who are staying in its palatial confines are guests, and I’m with the band. We have the little bungalow on the servant end of the island. Hello? You really don’t speak a word of English, do you?” Harry sighed.
The man continued to drag her through a very pleasant garden, filled with sweet-scented flowering Mediterranean shrubs unfamiliar to her, attractive hedges, and pretty neoclassical statues. The night air was balmy; the heavy scent from some flower mingling with the sharper, and to her mind more pleasing, tang of the sea. It was everything she imagined a rich man’s private island paradise should be. Well, with the exception of the wizened little man who gripped her wrist.
“I couldn’t just sit quietly somewhere?” she asked the man. “I promise I won’t bother anyone. I don’t think I could—I’m so jet-lagged I can’t even think straight. Look, that’s a nice little bench right over there in the corner next to the statue of the guy with a really big winky. I won’t be in anyone’s way. I’ll just go sit and contemplate his gigantic genitals, and all will be well.”
“Harry!” A man appeared suddenly at a window, hanging out of it and waving frantically. “There you are! Hurry!”
“Derek, what are you doing in the house?” Harry thinned her lips at the sight of the young man. “You said we weren’t supposed to go near it while the guests were here.”
“That doesn’t matter now! Hurry up!”
“If you think I don’t have anything better to do than to fly halfway around the world to bail your butt out of trouble because you can’t follow a few simple rules—”
“No, it’s not me.” He pulled back inside the window. “It’s Cyn! She’s been attacked!”
“What!” Her bellow took the little man still attached to her wrist by surprise, causing him to dropher hand as if it were suddenly made of fire. Adrenaline shot through her with a painful spike, adrenaline and a fury that almost consumed her. She leaped forward, easily hurdling the low stone balustrade of a patio area as she bolted for the nearest entrance to the house, wrenching open a pair of French doors. She didn’t stop to apologize to the small group of people standing around a pool table as she raced past the men and women in elegant evening clothes and made a beeline for a door that was bound to lead to a central area of the house.
The little servant trailed her as far as a marble-tiled corridor, where he veered off to who-knew-where. Harry didn’t care—her mind was blank except for the horror of the words that kept repeating in her head. It’s Cyn! She’s been attacked!
“Harry, thank god—” Terry emerged from a side hall, gesturing toward a curving staircase, his face tight with worry. “We didn’t know where you were. She’s up here.”
Harry ground off a good layer or two of enamel as the pair of them pelted up the seemingly endless stairs, one distracted part of her mind finding it ironic that now, of all times, she should be thankful for both her height and long legs. “What happened?” she managed to get out as they crested the stairs and Terry pointed to the left.
He cast her a worried look, but said nothing. Derek almost collided with her as he burst out of a room. “In here! Harry, you have to do something! The bastard . . . he . . . he . . . !”
“I’ll kill whoever it is,” she ground out, her blood running icy at the thought of whatever atrocity had occurred. She shoved Derek aside and entered the room, her breath ragged, her heart about ready to leap out of her chest. She’d heard the phrase “seeing red” before, but had never thought it could be taken literally. For a few seconds, though, she would have sworn that everything in the room had an ugly red tint to it. It was obviously a bedroom; a quick glance took in the usual occasional chairs, a large bureau with matching wardrobe, and a big bed swathed in some sort of filmy draperies that fluttered in the breeze drifting in through open French doors. Her attention narrowed to the bed as she dashed to it, immediately taking into her arms one of the two huddled, sobbing figures there.
Dimly, she was aware there was another person in the room, but his identity faded to insignificance. “It’s all right, Cyndi, I’m here now,” she said, her fury rising as the younger woman sobbed onto her shoulder. “You’ll be OK. We’ll make whoever did this pay.”
“He’s evil! He’s horrible!” Cyndi pulled back, tears spilling over from already red and bloodshot eyes. She was naked, a sheet clutched to her bare breasts, her face unmarked but blotchy from the tears. There were some nasty-looking raw marks on her neck and chest, but it was the petulant purse of her lips that suddenly chimed a warning bell in Harry’s brain.
“What happened? Did someone attack you?”
Cyndi drew in a long, trembling breath and glanced over Harry’s shoulder. “Yes! Well . . . more or less. He dumped me, Harry. Dumped me!”
Harry blinked for a few seconds. “He what?”
“Dumped me, cruelly and . . . and . . . viciously. I came up to his room, and I thought we were going to hook up, and everything was going along very nicely, and before we could get down to, you know, really doing it, he told me to leave. Just like that!”
Harry passed a shaking hand over her eyes. Slowly, her heart rate dropped back to reasonable levels. “So you weren’t attacked?”
“Verbally I was. He told me that he didn’t want to have sex with me, and that I should leave because he wanted to sleep.” Cyndi gestured at the bed. “If it’s not verbal abuse to entice someone to your bed, and get them naked, and then kiss them all over before telling them to leave, I don’t know what is!”
“He enticed you?”
“Yes! Not so much in words, but he looked at me several times tonight, and a woman knows what that look means,” Cyndi said with a peculiar lofty coyness. “He wanted me. So I came up here, and then everything was really nice until he went totally crazy and told me to leave. That’s just not right, Harry. It’s traumatizing! You have no idea how traumatizing it is to come up to someone’s room intending on having fabulous sex and then be told to leave because that someone wants to sleep. I’m not a slut! I should sleep here, too!”
Harry took a deep, deep breath to keep from strangling the young, self-centered girl in front of her, reminding herself that her whole purpose in being here was to watch over the kids and see that they came to no harm. Her eyes lit on the red marks on Cyndi’s chest, and a little spurt of anger burned in her stomach.
She turned, moving aside the hovering forms of Terry and Derek. Amy clung to the latter, her eyes huge and wary. Across the room, a man leaned drunkenly against the wall, dressed in a pair of obviously hastily donned pants, the waistband undone, his face slack and devoid of emotion as he watched Harry walk toward him. He was a little taller than she was, obviously of Greek ethnicity, with dark eyes and hair, and what in any other circumstance would be a classical sort of beauty that she would have had to be dead not to appreciate.
“I don’t know what the hell you did to her to leave those marks, but I feel it’s important to point out that she’s only eighteen years old. Couldn’t you have gotten her out of the room without touching her?” she asked, fighting with the need to yell at both Cyndi and the randy stallion before her. He had to be a guest at the party—for which the band had been brought out at great expense to entertain —but at that moment, Harry couldn’t have cared less if he was the owner of this vast palace of sin; she just wanted to get Cyndi out of there without any further drama.
“I—” The man blinked at her, swallowed visibly, and shoved himself away from the wall to take a step forward. “The little bint threw herself at me. She was in my bed, waiting for me. I didn’t screw her, if that’s what you’re all hot and bothered about.”
“Bint!” Cyndi roared, and would have lunged at the man but for the sheet in which she was still tangled. “You bastard! I’m not a bint! Terry, what’s a bint?”
“I don’t care who tried to seduce whom, you should have known she’s too young. You’re just lucky she’s legal. And obviously, you were playing a bit too rough if you left marks like those.”
“I’m wounded!” Cyndi cried, grasping at that thought. “He hurt me! He’s a beastly, horrible man who hurt me and abused me! I think I may faint.”
“You’re not hurt, you little—” The man wisely bit off the word as Harry frowned. “I didn’t hurt her.”
“Oh my god, I’m bleeding!” Cyndi cried in a dramatic voice, and clutched at Terry. “I need to go to the hospital!”
“Look, this has gone far enough. I just want you to promise to stay away from Cyndi for the rest of the weekend, OK?” Harry said with an attempt to take control of the situation.
The man scowled at her. “Who the hell are you to tell me what to do? I bet you planned all of this with that little bint, didn’t you? What a setup you had, getting your friend there to screw me and then pretend she’s been attacked. What’s next? Blackmail? You can just drop that idea, because there’s no way I’m going to fall for your little scheme.”
With every word, anger built in Harry. Oh, she knew full well that Cyndi was milking the situation for all it was worth, just as she knew that Cyndi had pursued him and not vice versa, but his slander left her itching to punch him in the nose. Behind her she heard the whispered hush of the door opening, but she ignored it, saying simply, “Who am I? I’ll tell you who I am. I’m your worst nightmare.”
“I don’t know.” He leered in that sloppy way drunks had. “I’m willing to give you a try. Bet you know a few things that your little friend doesn’t.”
The man reached out and grabbed her breast. Harry saw red again before she knocked his hand away, stomped as hard as she could on his bare foot, swiftly bringing up her knee into his groin, and when he doubled over with a scream, punching him as hard as she could in the eye. His head snapped back, his face froze in shock and pain for a moment before he fell over backward.
“What the hell is going on here?” a voice roared from behind her.
She spun around to behold an absolutely furious man coming toward her. She blinked at the sight of him, amazed for a moment that such a glorious specimen of male beauty existed outside the pages of glossy fashion magazines. He was taller even than the man she’d just knocked out, a good six inches taller than she was, with a broad expanse of chest that wasn’t at all disguised by a black silk shirt open at the neck, revealing a bronzed stretch of skin that she suddenly wanted to lick. The little indentation where his neck met his collarbone beckoned to her with an unholy fascination, and she stared, bemused for a moment, wondering what on earth her mind was doing demanding that she taste this strange—if terribly beautiful—man.
“Who are you?” he demanded, his black eyes blazing with a fury that looked familiar somehow. “What the hell did you do to my brother?”
“Your brother?” Suddenly all the rage, and anger, and fury filled her again with righteousness. “I was seriously considering beating him to a bloody pulp. You’re a big guy—I’ll let you help if you like.”
His ebony gaze raked her over in a manner that left her both hot and cold at the same time, instantly dismissing her as not being worth his consideration. He shoved her aside and marched over to where the other man moved groggily against the wall. “I believe the phrase is ‘over my dead body.’ Get up, Theo.”
“You want on my list, too? Fine,” Harry snarled, and would have rolled up her sleeves except the fawn-colored linen tunic she wore was sleeveless. “You can be second. Go ahead, Theo, get up so I can knock your block off.”
The big, incredibly handsome man hoisted his brother to his feet, one of his lips curling. “You’re drunk.”
“Not drunk,” Theo protested, his eyes glazed. “Barely had anything. That little bitch—”
Harry moved faster than she had ever moved, intent on slapping the word right off his lips, but the other man caught her as she lunged toward his brother.
“Who the hell are you?” he snarled, his arm like steel around her waist.
“I already used the ‘your worst nightmare’ line,” she yelled at him, her fingers curling into a fist. “But you’d better believe I am!”
He stopped her fist just as she was about to punch him in the nose, shoving her backward into the small clutch of people standing next to the bed. His black-eyed gaze crawled over all of them. “You’re not on the guest list. What are you doing here?”
“They’re the band,” Harry said, jerking her thumb toward where the four of them, Cyndi now standing wrapped in the sheet, pressed together in silent amazement. “The one your sister hired for her eighteenth birthday, assuming you are the owner of this house of debauchery.”
The man’s eyes returned to her, scorn just about dripping from his voice as he said, “You look a little old to be in a teenage band.”
“I’m not old,” she said, straightening up. Behind the man, Theo collapsed into a chair, slumping over to rest his head in his hands with a pathetic groan. She narrowed her eyes on him, wondering if she could distract his brother long enough get a really good punch in. “I’m only thirty-three, and I’m their manager. Kind of. By proxy. I’m a writer, really, but I’m acting as their manager because Timothy’s appendix burst, and Jill had to stay with him because she’s about due to pop any minute with their first child, and there was no one else to watch over the kids, so she asked if I would do it for just this one gig. And idiot that I was, I thought how hard could it be to watch over things while they played for some obscenely rich oil billionaire’s party. No one told me your brother was a drunkard who doesn’t have the common sense God gave a potato bug!”
Harry glared at the man as he glanced from his brother to the huddled girl, now thankfully silent. He took in her disheveled appearance before his eyes narrowed on Harry. “I made my money in real estate development, not oil.”
She stared at him for a second. “Does that matter?”
“It does if you’re going to consider the source of my wealth as material for an insult. As for this situation—” he gestured with distaste at Cyndi— “Theo has never had to force a woman into his bed. Usually it’s the other way around.”
“Are you saying I came up here on my own, without him asking me first?” Cyndi gasped with a with a sniff and a jerk of her chin. “He asked me to come up here. Not in so many words, but he asked me by his actions.”
Harry frowned. “What actions?”
“He smiled at me twice, and winked once, and then he brushed my arm when I walked by him. I’m not dense, you know! I can tell when a man wants me! So I came up here to wait for him, because it’s clear he thinks I’m steaming hot.”
Harry closed her eyes for a moment, then took Cyndi by the arms, fighting to keep from shaking her. “I don’t even know where to start, Cyndi.”
“Start with what? I’m not the one who’s wrong here. Theo is!” Cyndi answered with yet another righteous sniff.
“I thought so. This wouldn’t be the first time some enterprising young lady has tried to, shall we say, benefit financially from Theo’s lack of common sense,” the irritating man said.
“Bullshit!” Harry snapped, releasing Cyndi in order to march over to the man. His eyebrows rose at the obscenity. She couldn’t remember what his name was—it was one of those long names with a seeming over-abundance of vowels—but she vaguely remembered hearing Jill mention something about him being on some world’s most eligible bachelor list. If his appearance was anything to go by, she could certainly believe that. “I’m willing to admit that Cyndi has shown a huge lack of intelligence this evening—”
Cyndi gasped again, outraged.
“But neither she nor I are trying to blackmail your precious brother. It was just a case of a young girl—a very young girl, who is just barely legal, I might point out—obviously being dazzled by the situation, and making some bad judgment calls.”
“I’m not dazzled,” Cyndi protested. “I’m hurt! I’m bleeding all over!”
The man made a disgusted noise and looked like he wanted to roll his eyes.
“There’s no actual blood, Cyndi,” Harry pointed out. “Although I will admit that your playmate was far too rough with you. And though rought play is not a crime, it’s certainly not a pleasant little roll in the sack, either.”
“No crime has been committed, other than that of poor judgment,” the man snapped at her implication, his scowl shifting for a moment to an expression of surprise as Harry poked him in the chest when she spoke.
“She’s got marks all over her upper chest! Just look at her! What sort of a man does that?”
Iakovos Papaioannou couldn’t believe that the Amazon in front of him had the nerve to poke him in the chest, just as if she had the right to chastise him. For a moment he was speechless at her utter and complete disregard for his consequence as she continued to lambaste him, throwing the most absurd accusations at his head.
He allowed her to continue just for the pleasure of watching her, admitting to himself that although his preference in women seldom extended to anything but slim, elegant, cool blondes, this woman, this earth goddess with her abundant curves and wild brown hair spilling down her back, stirred something deep inside him. Something primal, some urge woke and demanded that he claim her in the most fundamental way a man could claim a woman.
His gaze dropped to her mouth, and he watched with fascination as her lips moved while she continued to lecture him. A faint scent caught his attention, and he breathed deeper, hoping to catch it again; when he did, the analytical side of his mind noted that it was just the scent of a sun-warmed woman, as if she had been out lying on the beach. It was nothing extraordinary, nothing unusual, and yet it seemed to go straight to his groin, firing his desire as the most costly perfume had never done.
“—and you’re not even listening to me!” the goddess yelled, drawing his attention from his contemplation of laying her down on his bed and burying himself in her glorious body. She gave him a particularly hard jab in the chest, and he captured her hand without thinking, idly rubbing his thumb over her fingers.
“Of course I’m not,” he said dismissively. “There’s nothing further to discuss. The woman pursued Theo, not the other way around. She is not injured, despite her claims to the contrary.”
She stared at him with stunned surprise for a moment or two, thick black lashes blinking over eyes he had first thought were gray, but now he could see were more hazel, the irises seeming to darken slightly as she looked at his hand. “What are you doing?”
“Trying to point out the obvious,” he responded, his eyes on her lips, wondering if she tasted of the sea. She certainly looked like some goddess who had risen from the sea in vengeance, a tempest in human form.
“No, your hand. Your thumb. It’s . . .”
Her gaze lifted to his, and he watched with primal satisfaction as her pupils dilated in sudden awareness of him as a man. How easy it would be to arouse her, this tempest. “What is your name?”
“Harry,” she said, suddenly giving a little shiver as she pulled her fingers from his.
He frowned. That was not at all fitting for a goddess from the sea. “You have a man’s name?”
“It’s a nickname, actually,” she said with a rueful smile. His gaze moved instantly to her lips, a drawing in his groin warning that if he continued contemplation of her mouth, what he’d like to do to it, and what he’d like it to do to him, he would end up carrying her off to his bed. While that idea seemed just fine to him, there were other things to attend to . . . at least while Elena’s party was under way.
“My name is actually Eglantine, but no one but my mother calls me that. It’s just such a mouthful that everyone calls me Harry. What’s your name?”
“Iakovos Panagiotis Okeanos Papaioannou,” he said with a slight frown, as if he was surprised she didn’t know it.
That floored her. She grabbed onto the first part. “Yackydos?”
“Iakovos. It’s Greek for ‘Jacob.’” When she gawked at him, he continued, “My name is quite a bit more than a mouthful, yes. I would suggest that since you are this young woman’s manager, you escort her back to her proper lodgings. I will attend to my brother.”
“I’m hurt! I want to go to the hospital!” Cyndi cried.
“Don’t be ridiculous. You don’t need a doctor’s care,” Iakovos told her.
“I’m their acting manager, and if she wants to go to the hospital, then I’ll take her to the hospital.” Harry poked him in the chest again, not, she told herself, because she wanted to feel his fingers on hers again. Oh, sure, he was the walking epitome of sex on two legs, your standard gorgeous hunk, but he was also an extremely obtuse hunk, one who had a very large surprise coming if he thought he could just brush Cyndi’s (albeit minor) injuries away.
“May I remind you that you are in my house,” Iakovos said, his voice low and incredibly arousing. “On my private island.”
Harry had never really thought of voices as being sinfully sexy before, but the way this man’s rumbled around in his chest made the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. It was like he was a god, a Greek god come to life, standing right there in front of her, doing all sorts of things to personal, intimate parts of her that she didn’t want to think about. He was a drunkard’s brother, for heaven’s sake! How could she find his voice arousing? “Look, Yacky—”
“We may be in your house on your precious island, but we’re also in a country that I’m willing to bet you doesn’t tolerate abuse of women, especially American citizens, and double especially when the American citizen in question is just barely eighteen.” Harry took a deep breath and leveled the Greek god a look that should have felled him. “I’m assuming that since we had to take a boat to get out to Smut Island we’re going to need one to get Cyndi to the hospital on the mainland. And since I also assume you own all the boats here, I’d appreciate if you could have one of your lackeys fire one up for us.”
“And if I don’t?” Iakovos asked, his black eyes damn near spitting fire at her.
“You’re going to be one sad little panda,” she snarled.
“Are you threatening me?” He looked completely outraged at such a thing.
“You bet your incredibly attractive and probably hard enough to bounce a quarter off of ass I am!” she snapped back.
An indescribable look flitted across his face. “You are the most irreverent woman I’ve ever met.”
“And you’re the handsomest man I’ve ever seen in my life, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to lick you!” she yelled.
He stared at her in outright surprise.
“Sorry. That came out wrong.” Color warmed her face as she mentally damned that odd twist in her mind that led her to speak without thinking. “Sometimes the dialogue I write in my head comes out of my mouth instead of staying where it belongs.”
“You wish to . . . lick?” he asked, the same odd expression on his face.
“Not all of you!” she said with dignity, straightening her shoulders. “Just that spot there, where your neck meets your collarbone. Where that little indentation is . . .” Her voice trailed off as he continued to look at her as if dancing boobs had just appeared on the top of her head. “Never mind. It’s not important.”
He opened his mouth to say something, shook his head, and with a dismissive glance at Cyndi and the others still clustered together in silent shock, pulled out a cell phone and spoke rapidly in Greek. “A boat will be waiting for you at the east dock,” His lips tightened as he looked at his brother before jerking him upright. “I trust that a visit to the hospital will reassure you that your charge has no injury beyond that of her pride.”
“Pride?” Harry grabbed his arm as he was about to leave. He spun around and pinned her back with an outraged glare that she more than met with one of her own. “She’s battered to hell and back again.”
His black gaze flickered over Cyndi, who thrust out her chest and gave him an antagonistic look. “I see no signs of battery.”
“She has red marks all over her chest and neck!” Harry said, pointing at Cyndi.
He looked at her steadily for a moment, and she could have sworn one side of his mouth twitched. “Have you never had a lover who had heavy whisker growth?”
“It is common among Greek men to have to shave more than once a day, and my brother and I are no exception to that fact.”
She eyed his jaw, squinting slightly. He did have a slight darkness on his lower face, as if he was about to sport some manly stubble. He also had extremely attractive lips, the lower one in particular, with its sweet, oh, so very sweet curve, and the upper with a deep indentation up to a long, straight nose. Like the spot on his neck, she had the worst urge to taste that upper lip dip. She actually licked her own lips thinking about it before she remembered that ogling a drunk’s brother, especially one who should be on the cover of GQ, really wasn’t the thing to do. “Er . . . what was the question?”
He sighed. “Whisker burn. That is all the red marks are.”
“They are?” She turned to Cyndi. “Cyn?”
“He hurt me,” she said, her eyes filling with tears. “Even if it was just his rough cheeks, I need to see a doctor.”
Amy, Derek’s girlfriend and the other singer of the group, immediately hugged her, her blue eyes worried. Even Terry, bright, cheerful Terry who always had a joke on his lips, looked somber as he moved closer to the two women. All four sets of eyes watched Harry with an obvious plea in them.
“Whisker burn.” She turned back to face the annoying god with the sexy lips. He raised an eyebrow, and she was thankful that he was clearly beyond such mortal things as saying I told you so.
“I told you she wasn’t hurt,” he said with a slight smirk.
She pointed a finger at him. “You just knocked yourself off your pedestal, buster. All right, I’m willing to accept that your brother didn’t intentionally hurt her. But she’s very upset, and she does have some nasty rashes, so I think it probably would be better for everyone’s peace of mind if she saw a doctor. If you and Mr. Grabby Hands over there would just get out of here, I’ll get Cyn dressed and we’ll take her to the mainland.”
His lickable lips tightened as if he wasn’t used to receiving orders, a thought that gave her immense pleasure. Oh, how fun it would be to take him down a peg or two, to remind him that he might think himself a god amongst lesser folk, but in reality he was nothing more than a man. An extremely rich, urbane, sexy, and probably quite fascinating man, but still a man.
She looked at the dip on his collarbone. Her tongue cleaved to the roof of her mouth. “Temptation is a bitch.”
“You can say that again,” he muttered, giving her a dark look before turning on his heel and leaving the room, dragging his brother with him.