Chapter Seven

Joy

 

Maybe it’s not that big a coincidence, but my heart leaps in my chest. “Is Hermes a common name in Greece?” I ask.

He shakes his head, brow furrowed. “Not that I know of, no. Still must be more common than in the States.”

“Oh, I didn’t meet him there. I was in a foster home in Thessaloniki. The adoption to the US moved forward when my birthmother dropped from the face of the earth.” It doesn’t hurt anymore; therapy helped me realize her issues didn’t reflect on me. But why am I talking about my childhood with this stunning man, instead of kissing him some more?

I reach for him, to remedy the situation, but he staggers backward. “What happened to the boy?”

“He was adopted before I was.” That’s the answer that springs from my lips, but the truth is I don’t know. My memories of the last time I saw him make no sense.

Hermes studies my face. “Adopted?”

“Yes.” My voice trembles on the single word. Because he wasn’t adopted. He was just—

A white light blanks out that spot in my memory. I can’t remember what he was just, but the next morning, people said he’d been placed with a lovely family in Athens, through a formal adoption. That was literally all they said about him. Verbatim.

I knew better.

But did I? I was a kid, and this happened twenty-four years ago.

Before I can register he’s moving, Hermes presses me back into my door, his shaft hard against my belly. He cups the back of my head with one hand and plants the other on the wood beside me, before attacking my lips with a ferocity that makes my mouth tingle and my chest flutter.

“Not a coincidence,” he mutters when he breaks the kiss. “I’ll see you in the morning, sweet Joy.”

And he leaves me here, shoes dangling from my fingers by their straps, as I lean against the door that’s the only thing keeping me from collapsing, since my knees have turned to Jell-O. Once more, I watch him go. Yes, it’s a nice view, but I was hoping to feel a little more of him first.

Lie. I don’t want to sleep with him tonight. Well, technically, I’m dying to. But I wouldn’t do it. That’s not me, jumping into bed with a stranger. I wouldn’t mind another make-out session, though, before he left. And he seemed into it, didn’t he? He was hard—and long, and thick, and God only knows how much I ached to feel that inside me on the beach, despite my mind’s screaming it’d be the wrong thing to do.

Why didn’t he try for more?

And what’s wrong with me? I’m disparaging a man who didn’t go after something I wasn’t ready to give.

Legs finally sturdy enough, I turn to let myself inside.

Fuck.

Where’s my keycard?

In the dining room, with my phone.

Double fuck.

They’ll still be there. Why would anyone in the hotel take either of them?

Yeah, because nobody would jump at the chance for a free iPhone.

My watch says it’s after ten. Dining room must be closed. Shit.

I put on my sandals and head to Reception. Someone may have turned my stuff in there.

Seeing nobody at the front desk, I rap my knuckles on the door marked Management.

“Come in.” Thanasis’s voice on the other side makes me uneasy, though I can’t say why.

I open the door and poke my head in. “Hey. I must have left my phone and keycard at my table, after dinner. Do you know if anyone found them?”

“Come in, Joy.” The smile he gives me seems genuine, but I don’t like the way his gaze glides down my body when I enter. He motions for me to sit.

“Thanks, but I need to get some sleep.” I yawn, to prove how sleepy I am.

He stands to meet me. Stops too close again. He doesn’t touch me, but his proximity makes me squirm in the exact opposite way to how Hermes’ affects me. “You do look tired,” he says. “Are you all right?”

The question throws me. “Of course. Why wouldn’t I be?”

He shrugs. Raises his hand, as if to caress my cheek.

I force myself to not flinch away. Why? I shouldn’t care about offending this man who doesn’t respect my personal space, by rejecting his touch.

Thanasis drops his hand without making contact. “After that man dragged you out… I wanted to come after you, but Aunt Kallie said you’d be fine.” He looks at me like a lovelorn puppy. “Are you?”

Shit. Does Thanasis have a crush on me?

I take a step back and keep my voice steady as I say, “Thank you for your concern, but there’s no need. Hermes—”

“If he touched you, I’ll make sure he never works again.”

Overreaching, for a small-hotel manager, but he means well. I guess. “Hermes did nothing against my will. Now can you please tell me if you have my things, because it’s late and I want to turn in?”

His nostrils flare, and a deep line forms between his eyes. “I see.” He no longer sounds worried—more upset, but not on my behalf. With a last lingering look at my cleavage, that makes me bristle, he rounds his desk again and drops into his chair. “You know, this is a small community,” he says as he opens a drawer and rummages inside it. “People will talk. And you know how easily rumors spread.” When his hand comes out from under the desk, he’s holding my phone and keycard.

I close the distance and reach over the desk for them, mindful not to lean too much and offer him a view that’s not for his eyes. My patience is running thin, but he’s not all-out saying something bad or demeaning, even if his snippy tone frays my nerves.

I bite down on my irritation and close my hand over my things. “I’ll be gone in four days. People can say whatever the fuck they want.”

I don’t miss his wince at the word fuck. What’s wrong, buddy? Am I ruining the good-girl image you seem set on maintaining for me?

He holds on to my stuff, a sickeningly sweet smile on his lips. “Even if you don’t worry about what may be said about you online, this establishment has a reputation to protect. We can’t let the word get around that someone in our employment is consorting with our guests at a place as public as the beach.”

And I just ran out of nice. “Can’t say I give a fuck about that, either.” But I do.

He saw us? Did someone else? How must it have looked—me in a virtual stranger’s lap, trying to swallow his tongue? Romance authors already have it hard enough, with people often refusing to accept us as legit authors. My indiscretion could be the community’s latest gossip-fodder.

I refuse to let Thanasis see he got to me. “I’ll gladly move to another hotel, but I’ll have to tell Kalliroe that I wasn’t welcome here, and explain why.” Fingers crossed that my bluff works and she doesn’t already know what a creep her nephew can be.

His smile falters. “No need for anything that extreme. Just try to be appropriate while you’re with us.”

I roll my eyes, tug my belongings out of his grasp hard enough to free them, and stride out of his office fueled by pure rage. I hate that I can’t actually say anything to Kalliroe. Thanasis was careful to only imply I’m a brazen hussy since I wasn’t a victim of sexual assault. Will he fire Hermes?

I should warn him, but I don’t know where he’s staying. Damn it.

Thanasis’s vague threat still buzzes in my ears when I make it back to my room. Would he really post something online, about how I made out with a cover model on the beach? My heart thunders against my ribs. Not a panic attack, damn it. I’m done with those. Have been for years.

I push and retract the card from the slot, and let myself inside my room. Focus. Forcing my breath to slow down, I sit on my bed to take off my sandals. My head feels light, but with none of the euphoria I felt ten minutes ago.

Sand speckles the tiled floor. It clings to my bare feet and calves with the humidity of the evening sea air. I should shower. First, make a list of things to do. Lists are good. They ground me. Shield me against the sense of doom crawling in my gut.

“Snap out of it,” I tell myself aloud. “You’re an author. Whatever he says, you can spin it. And you didn’t do anything wrong.”

But if it wasn’t wrong, why did Hermes leave the way he did? Did he change his mind about making out with me? Or was it about saving his job? Can’t blame him either way. Better that he stopped things when he did.

Which was when I mentioned the boy at the foster home.

Not a coincidence.

Hermes’ parting words spill down my back like ice cubes. In my panic over my phone, I didn’t pay them any mind before, but can he possibly be the same boy I remember from back then? How is his being here not a coincidence? He can’t have looked me up; he had no clue who I was until tonight.

Was that a line too?

The memory of the first time I saw little Hermes tugs at the corners of my lips. I was so scared, to be leaving behind the only home I’d known—the orphanage—and he split his chocolate bar with me. He said it was a special bar that would make me strong and fearless. I chomped it down, and then he asked if I played football. We were the youngest kids there—him two years older than me—and we became inseparable for the two weeks he stayed.

And then he vanished overnight.

That night is a blank in my memory. Or rather, it’s buried under something, and I can’t reach it.

Not what I should be doing, anyway. I should be washing the eww of my interaction with Thanasis off my mind and getting some shuteye.

And maybe daydreaming about what could have happened with Hermes if he didn’t run off after that mind-blowing kiss. Purely for research purposes, of course. If tomorrow’s writing session goes as planned, Periandros and Iokaste will be having hot, passionate sex in her dressing room. No, wait. It’ll be after the date, when he wants to dazzle her, so it’ll be at his mansion. Or does she invite him in when he takes her home? Hmm… A seduction scene in her virginal bed. I like it.

Should I take notes? Maybe outline the scene? Nah. Still need that shower, and words flow more easily when I have the whole scene mapped out in my head. Which the shower head could totally help me with.

I undo the buttons on my dress and slip it down my shoulders. The soft cotton caresses my skin, raising goose bumps like Hermes’ hands did. They’re gorgeous, huge hands, with rough skin and long, thick fingers I wouldn’t mind feeling more of. I take off my bra and cup both breasts.

Wish he were here, doing this.

No. No, that wouldn’t be good. Because if I want him this much after a couple of—incredible, life-altering—kisses and a few touches, I’d never stop wanting him if we had sex.

I lose my panties too and pad barefoot to the shower. The water is hot when I step under the jet, and I let it pelt my skin while steam fills the room around me, blurring out reality’s edges. My soaked hair sticks to my back. I twist it out of the way and duck my head, so the water can massage my neck and pour down my front, to stroke my breasts and belly.

Eyes closed, I can pretend it’s Hermes’ arms, wrapping around me.

The water goes suddenly cold, snapping me out of the daydream and leaving my teeth chattering.

Thanasis turned off the hot water. Stupid thought, but it’s the first that comes to mind. Dismissing it, because it is stupid, I make quick work of lathering up and rinsing, my nipples painfully hard with the cold, and not arousal. I wipe myself dry and put on a fresh pair of boyshorts—cotton this time—then take a few minutes to blow dry most of the moisture from my hair.

AC on, I slip under the covers.

Damn. Forgot to brush my teeth. And after that meatball—

Oh God.

I kissed the most gorgeous man alive, with garlic-breath. Was this why he stopped things? Pure embarrassment gets me out of bed and back to the bathroom, where I brush my teeth and tongue twice, for good measure. By the time I’m back in bed, not only am I no longer sleepy, I’m also at the verge of a migraine. Playing the evening back in my mind on a loop, interspersed with fragmented memories of my childhood, doesn’t help.

And I need to be up at seven.

Fuck. 

 

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