Cover of the new book "Fly Close to the Sun"

Fly Close to the Sun

 

Excerpt from Fly Close to the Sun

Chapter 1

Crete. May, 1998

The near-hypnotic peacefulness of the courtyard restaurant as it drowsed under warm noon sunshine did nothing to dispel the tension building within Kieran. Her late lunch of salad and pita bread had been lovely, but she wanted to get the bill—why had the waiter chosen now to disappear?—and go explore the beach.

She drummed her fingertips on the multi-colored tablecloth. I came here. I’m open to whatever lessons Crete will teach me. I need to find my path in life. To find myself…

Her breakdown back in Vancouver had filled her with self-doubt and questions. Instinct had told her that the answers she sought lay here.

Instinct. It wasn’t something she usually paid attention to. She was the rational, logical type. But she’d been desperate. And then when she’d leafed through that well-worn book of Crete photos, she’d seen the weird vision of her dead father. It had been like a message from him.

She gave a soft snort of amusement. A message fueled by too much Greek wine on top of being completely exhausted, rundown, and miserable.

Whatever the source of the message, the fact was that Crete was good for her. She’d been here only four days and was healthier, stronger, and thoroughly enjoying this picturesque land. Still, since she’d come to the small village of Agios Dimitrios yesterday, she’d had this strange feeling of expectancy. That something—the key to the answers she sought—was about to happen.

Can’t the gods of this ancient country, wise and all‑seeing, understand that I’m ready ?

She stifled a grin at her own foolishness. But when it came to Crete, let’s face it, years of spinning dreams had turned her into a romantic. Somehow she’d come to identify with the heroines of those old Gothic novels of her Gran’s that she’d devoured over and over.

Footsteps scuffed across the cobblestones behind her. A response to her plea? Or at least, more prosaically, the missing waiter?

As Kieran turned, a female voice with an English accent said, “It’s the second time today that I’ve seen you and I felt I simply must stop and say hullo. You’re here in Agios Dimitrios on your own, aren’t you?”

The speaker halted beside the table. Kieran looked up, using her hand to shade her eyes against the dazzle of sun reflecting off white-washed walls. The woman, who appeared to be several years older than Kieran’s own twenty-nine, had an even-featured but plain face, light brown hair, fair skin protected by an unflattering hat, and a sturdy body clothed in tailored shorts and shirt.

The Greek gods clearly had a sense of humor. Okay, so Kieran wasn’t the heroine in a Mary Stewart romantic suspense novel. She was just plain old Kieran Bridge, a disillusioned lawyer from Vancouver, B.C.

But damn it, she was so sure—all right, so irrationally and romantically sure—that something special would happen to her on Crete. The feeling predated even the novels. It started when she was five and had climbed into her dad’s lap while he was studying a book with glossy photos. He’d told her this was Crete, a place he’d always wanted to go. She’d promptly asserted that she would go with him. The pictures of donkeys and windmills had captivated her almost as much as the idea of sharing an adventure with her beloved father.

Oh, Dad, I so wish you could be here with me. Swallowing the ache of sorrow in the back of her throat, she told the English woman, “Yes, I’m here alone.”

As she grew older, she and her dad had decided that, as soon as she finished high school, they would travel to the land of white villages with blue shutters, a vivid, windswept ocean, and sun-drenched hillsides of broom and herbs. Her mom, a total homebody and risk-avoider, tried to talk them out of it. She said, only half-joking, that if man were meant to travel across oceans, God would have equipped him with either wings or fins.

Kieran’s mom, a warm and loving woman, was only comfortable in familiar places doing familiar things. Her dad had lived that way for his wife’s sake, and Kieran had learned early on to curb her impulses and temper so as not to upset her mom. But when it came to the Crete trip, Kieran’s dad had gently but firmly put down his foot. He’d told his wife that if she didn’t want to come with them or to stay alone in their house, she could go to his parents’ place.

At age sixteen, Kieran bought a tourist guidebook and hid it away to give her father on his birthday, so they could make concrete plans. Two weeks later, Peter Bridge died, saving another man’s life. Kieran threw the guidebook in the garbage, keeping only the picture books she and her dad had poured over so many times.

Crete had become a romantic fantasy, nothing more. But then last month, during the depths of her breakdown, her worried best friend Jen had proposed that the two of them get away for a holiday. Kieran, barely able to crawl out of bed to go to the bathroom, refused. But then Jen said, “What about Crete? You always wanted to go there.” The word Crete had sunk into Kieran’s soul like a pebble into a deep pool. It had shot to her center, straight and true, and the ripples it generated still trembled within her.

“Hullo? Are you quite all right?” The sharp voice broke into her thoughts.

I’d be far more “all right” if you’d go away, the waiter would bring my bill, and I could pursue those answers. Politeness prevailed and Kieran said, “Sorry. Yes, I’m all right. Just wool-gathering, I’m afraid.” Wool-gathering? Oh great, now she was channeling those Mary Stewart English heroines.

“Ah. I suppose that’s what holidays are for. You are here on holiday?”

Does a quest for the meaning of life count as a holiday? A quest she had pursued even when Jen had bailed, with tearful apologies, at the last moment. “I am. My name’s Kieran Bridge.” She held out her hand.

The other woman shook it firmly. “Pippa Halbertson. From England, as I have no doubt is obvious from my accent. And you?”

“From Canada. Vancouver.”

“Yes, your accent is rather more civilized than that appalling American twang. Vancouver, you say? Mountains and ocean? Quite spectacular, I hear.”

“It’s very scenic.”

As scenic, in its own way, as Crete. But it was Crete she needed now. Her emotional wounds were knitting together and she was coming alive in a way she’d never experienced before. All of which was undeniably great, except that she still felt that there ought to be something more. The bolt of lightning hurled by Zeus; the cryptic message that sent her dashing into adventure; the dark, mysterious stranger; the...

Well, certainly not a plain English woman. The gods weren’t playing fair.

“May I join you?” Pippa Halbertson’s cocked eyebrow suggested that Kieran should have extended the offer.

The old Kieran, polite Kieran-at-home, would have. But enough was enough. She wasn’t going to find answers sitting here chatting with another tourist. “Actually I was heading off for a hike. As soon as the bill shows up. Have you noticed how they seem to think it’s rude to ask you to pay? They keep you hanging around forever when you want to get on your way. I even went inside looking for the waiter, but he was nowhere to be found. He’s probably forgotten all about me and is taking an afternoon nap.”

The other woman raised an eyebrow. “Far be it from me to contribute to your unwanted delay, but perhaps you won’t mind if I sit with you while you wait?”

Embarrassed by her uncharacteristic outburst, Kieran mumbled, “Please do.”

Pippa slid into the orange-painted wooden chair across from her. Kieran’s own chair was purple, and the wooden table sported a multi-colored cloth, as did the other tables scattered haphazardly about the courtyard. The effect, when combined with the white-washed walls, the vivid blue trim, the furry puddle of cats dozing in a sun-patch, and the pots of luxuriant geraniums in red, pink, and orange, charmed her. This was exactly the sort of image Kieran and her dad had admired in the picture books they’d poured over.

“Are you staying here too?” Pippa asked, gesturing around.

The restaurant—consisting of the courtyard and an interior dining area—was on the ground floor of a three-story hotel called Kalypso that had a dozen or so rooms. “Yes. I’m on the top floor, with a stunning ocean view.”

“My brother and I both have rooms on the top floor as well.”

Kieran’s pulse jumped. Maybe the brother was younger and more attractive than his sister. She loved English accents. Her dad’s parents had never lost theirs despite decades of living in Canada.

She caught herself and gave a tiny snort, low in the back of her throat. Enough with the flights of fancy. This was not a romance novel, and the last thing she needed was a holiday romance. Her life was in too much turmoil.

“You’re traveling with your brother?” Kieran asked.

As Pippa responded, Kieran listened with half an ear while she reflected back on her recent breakup with Alan. She knew better than to waste energy on a relationship that had no future. But Alan had met all the criteria on her date-ability list—the list she’d developed carefully, with assistance from her mom and Jen. Kieran had been with him two years. They’d been happy, or at least so she’d thought. Was there a flaw in her list? But what criterion could possibly have predicted that the sensible, career-focused accountant would suddenly fall head over heels in love with his niece’s nanny?

When he’d told Kieran, she’d been in shock. But she’d handled it with equanimity, and had moved forward, focusing on her career. Until that career went sideways…

Across from her, Pippa was saying that the original plan had been for her and her husband to come to Crete.

Over her companion’s shoulder, Kieran saw Yianni, a twenty-something Cretan man in a pale shirt and dark trousers, come into the courtyard. He seemed to be the Jack-of-all-trades around the small hotel, and he had served her lunch.

She beckoned him over, making the universal hand gesture for “the bill, please.”

Pippa broke off, raising her eyebrows as Yianni arrived with a white smile and a dingy scrap of paper.

Kieran pounced on the bill, counted out money, and stood. To Pippa, she said, “I’m sorry, but I do need to go. Perhaps I’ll see you later?”

Without waiting to hear the other woman’s answer, she hefted the tote bag that held her digital camera, sketching gear, sunscreen, and a water bottle.

As Kieran hurried across the courtyard and out the gate, her spirits soared. This morning she’d taken the path marked by the hot-pink ice daisies, the one where yesterday she’d seen the fair-haired man who reminded her of her father. Her father’s ghost, she’d thought whimsically, here to enjoy Crete with her. Perhaps directing her to the right path?

Today there’d been no glimpse of him—neither a real man nor a ghost. Only a rugged, scenic coastline. No magic signs or answers either, unfortunately.

But nor, thank heavens, had there been any of the bizarre, scary visions she’d been having since she arrived on the island. Giant, grotesque poppies blooming in olive trees; blood gleaming on stones. She shivered at the memory. If those were messages from the gods, she sure didn’t want to interpret them! But they weren’t; they were simply the product of stress and jet lag.

Today, she hadn’t had a single vision. Hopefully, she’d never have another.

Humming to herself, she chose the opposite direction from the pink daisies, and headed toward the beach that spread itself like a honey-colored blanket. What better spot to enjoy a glorious, sunshiny May afternoon and see if wise gods would visit with her and bestow insights? She tugged off her walking sandals to stroll, barefoot and blissful, on the warm sand.

What a contrast to the days of near catatonia as she lay in bed questioning her judgment, her career, even her sanity. She had done her job as a defense lawyer, securing Wayne Dack’s acquittal. But had she freed a killer? At first, she’d believed her client when he said he hadn’t murdered his fiancée, but over the course of the trial, even as she did her best to defend him, she’d come to question his innocence. She’d consulted a senior litigator at her firm, and he’d said it would be negligence to quit in the middle of a trial. Raised to have strong values, her quandary had seemed impossible: what was the right thing to do?

Damn. Kieran shook her head vigorously, her wind-tangled curls tossing around her face. She’d spent days, weeks, with her mind spinning in futile circles. Rehashing the situation once again was not helping her find answers.

Maybe I’m being foolish, but I’m going to keep hoping that somewhere here on Crete I’ll find the key to my future.

Her gaze fixed on one of the trails that led away from the ocean. There was no fatherly vision—not like the one she’d seen that night back in Vancouver when she was leafing through the photo book, nor the one yesterday by the ice daisies—yet something about that particular trail enticed her.

She put on her sandals and started along it, finding that it soon turned into a moderately strenuous scramble into the hills. She’d always enjoyed walking, and it felt good to again be healthy and exercising.

If Jen had made this trip with her, her friend would have stayed back on the beach. Jen’s idea of a workout was walking to the closest Starbucks for a skinny double-shot latté.

But Jen wasn’t here. Kieran’s grin faded. Her friend had bailed last week, on the night before they were due to leave. A lawyer as well, a case she was working on had heated up and she would have risked her chance at partnership if she’d gone on holiday. Kieran’s brain had understood, but she’d been shattered.

When Jen had said Kieran should go on her own, Kieran’s reaction was No way! She’d never traveled on her own; never traveled at all except for a few driving trips around B.C. and down into Washington and Oregon.

But, later that night, she’d seen that vision of her father and felt the conviction that she must not wait any longer, that it was meant to be, and to be now. She needed so desperately to find something: some truth that eluded her, some meaning in her life, some way of making sense of what had happened at work and her resultant breakdown. Some something! Instinct had told her that if she didn’t do this now, a unique opportunity would be lost. She herself might be lost and never find her way again.

Now, she shook her head and pulled herself back from the past to focus on the present.

On the subject of finding her way, it probably wasn’t the wisest decision to keep following this trail into the middle of nowhere.

Puffing for breath, she came out at a sheltered spot and paused to get her bearings. She stood high on a rocky hillside overlooking the ocean. From here, it would be easy to retrace her steps. Best to stop, rather than carry on and possibly get lost.

Among the shrubs and stunted conifers, a patch of rough grass strewn with tiny flowers beckoned. She pulled her sandals off her hot, dusty, slightly swollen feet and sank down, hating to crush the white daisies and the other miniature blossoms in shades of blue, mauve, orange and pink. The air was tangy with pine and herbs, sweet with the scent of flowers warmed by the spring sun.

Kieran heaved a sigh of contentment and leaned back on her hands. Copying the flowers, she lifted her face to the sun’s kiss. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply. Under her eyelids, fiery orange shifted to deep crimson. The drone of honey bees soothed her ears. If only her dad could have been here with her, enjoying the island he’d known only from pictures.

This land differed from Canada in more than its scenery. It had taken Kieran some time to put aside her trepidations and expectations and to just be. To experience Crete as she sat amid the tumbled stones of an ancient temple or watched from a rickety taverna table as the husband and wife owners engaged in a spirited argument over what to serve for lunch.

Lazily, she reviewed her impressions so far. What she sensed was a core of timelessness under a top layer of immediacy. These were a people who had been here forever—squabbling, drinking raki, grilling fish, herding goats, loving, and dying. This was such an old land compared to Canada. And yet it seemed to her that Cretans brought to their daily activities a freshness and energy of spirit that imbued each act with importance.

They were involved in their lives in a way that people back home had lost touch with. Too many Vancouver residents—and she’d been one—were so caught up in “life in the fast lane” that they didn’t pause to enjoy the small pleasures; they were always on to the next thing. Cretans, though, seemed to glory in living each moment.

Kieran felt some of that herself. Smells were sharper, colors brighter, her palate more appreciative. It was almost like being a child again, when life was made up of discovery, delight, and boundless opportunity.

To fall back on a trite saying, there must be something in the air here. Dittany perhaps, a plant native to Crete, which a herb-seller in Chania had vowed would cure virtually any ill.

Her sharpened awareness seemed to feed into her romantic notion that something unusual, exciting, and illuminating must happen to her. For the moment, it was enough to be alone on this hillside, relaxing and soaking up the atmosphere. But tonight, surely, the adventure would begin. Should she hold out any hope for the English man?

She snorted at her own foolishness.

A rough, scrabbling sound made her open her eyes. Expecting to see one of the ubiquitous sheep or goats, she gasped at the sight of a boy, perhaps fourteen or fifteen years old, crouched on a rock above her.

Chapter 2

Agile as a goat, the teenager jumped lightly from his perch to land a few feet away.

Kieran sat up quickly, heart racing, and assessed him.

He seemed a perfectly normal Greek boy. He had dark skin, near-black eyes, and curly, overly long black hair. His wiry frame was clad in loose shorts and a faded Hard Rock Café T-shirt.

He squatted beside her, scrutinizing her with the same quizzical, penetrating gaze she’d seen on the faces of the Cretan goats. He didn’t seem dangerous, and her racing heart slowed a little, yet she was very conscious that she was alone with him in the middle of nowhere. Although her passport was in the hotel safe, along with most of her cash and credit cards, she’d hate to lose her driver’s license and the photos in her wallet.

Yasou,” she said warily, choosing the least formal of the Greek greetings, roughly the equivalent of “hi.”

The boy smiled, a sudden, engaging urchin-grin that caught her off guard with its charm. His expression curious, not the least bit threatening, he reached a grubby finger toward her shoulder.

Under the spell of that smile, she didn’t flinch.

He didn’t touch her shoulder but instead, with surprising delicacy, separated a strand of her tousled hair and curled it around his finger, where the gleaming gold resembled a wedding band. “Such beautiful hair on such a beautiful lady,” he said in perfect English, widening that delightful grin.

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Kieran’s defenses tumbled and she grinned back. “Mmm. I bet you say that to all the female tourists.”

The teen laughed and released the corkscrewed twist of hair. He plopped down on the grass beside her, knobby knees up and arms wrapped around them. “Only to the blond ones, and only then if they are truly beautiful. But you, despoinis, you are the most beautiful by far with this wonderful hair like the sunlight itself. And your eyes like the ocean where it lies shallow over the white sand and the sun comes through it, turning it all shades of blue and green.” He sounded absolutely sincere.

Bemusedly, Kieran stared at this boy who spouted the finest compliments she’d ever received and whose classic-featured brown face was, to her mind, far more beautiful than her own. Regaining her wits, she joked, “You don’t happen to have an older brother, do you?”

His sunny face darkened. Voice harsh, he demanded, “Why do you ask?”

Taken aback by his sudden change in mood, Kieran drew away. Should she explain, or simply leave? Despite his excellent English, perhaps her joke didn’t work on Crete. “Uh...you’re such a charming young man, I wondered if there was a somewhat older version. Say, oh, fifteen years older?”

His dark eyes showed puzzlement as he worked through this, then they cleared. “For you, despoinis—miss—is this what you mean? For a boyfriend?”

“Sorry.” She shook her head, feeling stupid. “It was a silly joke. No, I’m not looking for a boyfriend.”

The teen’s eyes regained their twinkle. “I am too young for you, you think? But, beautiful golden-haired lady, you must understand that here on Crete we men grow up very early. We are not babies such as the boys in America.” He made a disparaging, very male, gesture, and aged about five years in that moment.

“Canada,” she corrected, then she kinked an eyebrow. “Are you seriously trying to flirt with me?”

His white grin was unabashed. “Well, not so seriously perhaps...”

“And here we haven’t even been introduced.” She held out her hand. “Yasou. Se lene Kieran. Pos se lene?” She tried out her limited Greek to tell him her name and ask for his.

He pumped her hand. “Yasou, Despoinis Kieran. Hello to you too. I am Leksi. Very pleased to meet you.”

“How old are you anyway?”

He gave a dismissive shrug. “I am fourteen in years, but really I am much older than that. In my—how do you say it?—maturity.” His face darkened with an emotion Kieran couldn’t read. Sadness, even anger, but nothing that seemed directed toward her. Something troubling had happened to this boy. What might it be? She wouldn’t be rude enough to ask.

With what seemed like an effort, he smiled again, this time less brightly. “And you, how old are you?”

“I turn thirty at the end of the month. So you see, I am far, far too old for you.”

“Ah, but you do not look so old.” Now his impish grin was back. “But why does such a beautiful young miss sit alone here in the hills?”

“I’ve been walking, taking pictures. It’s lovely. So peaceful.”

“Peaceful?” he echoed, sounding doubtful, or perhaps questioning the value of peace. “You return to Agios Dimitrios now?”

She glanced at her watch. “Yes, I think I will. I could use a shower and perhaps a nap before dinner.”

“I will take you, so you don’t get lost.”

“That’s kind of you, but I can follow the trail back to the beach.” She gestured toward the way she’d come.

He made a dismissive, snorting sound. “That is the long way.”

“In that case, I accept with thanks, Leksi.” Her leg muscles were feeling the effects of the uphill scramble, and the idea of a shower was awfully appealing.

They both rose and she slung her bag on her shoulder. When the boy darted between two boulders, she followed, seeing a trail that led across—fortunately not up—the hill.

A few minutes later, she was panting as the nimble Leksi—he really must be half goat—set a dazzling pace over the rough ground.

They arrived in a final mad dash at the bottom of a hill on the outskirts of the village, Leksi handing her down the last stretch of rock like an old-world gentleman. He gave her an admiring smile, which could have been for her long legs in shorts, or for her stamina, or simply out of flirtatious-teen habit.

As they walked at a more sedate pace into Agios Dimitrios, Kieran’s breathing returned to normal. Leksi threaded the narrow, dusty streets, providing a running commentary on the houses, shops, and people they passed.

Kieran couldn’t take it all in. Also, she was more lost now than she’d been on that hillside, and her guide hadn’t asked where she was staying. She was about to break into his monologue when Leksi led her around a corner and there, in front of them, was the courtyard door of the Kalypso.

“Oh!” Her eyes widened. Then it dawned on her that it must be the only hotel in town.

The boy beamed and with a flourish gestured for her to precede him.

The courtyard was abandoned at this hour between afternoon and dinner time, but for the usual tumble of multi-colored cats. No, wait, over on the far side… “Pippa,” Kieran said.

The other woman sat at a shaded table under the luxuriant orange tree that bore both fragrant blossoms and bright fruit at the same time. Spread out in front of her were some papers and a small notebook, all of which she swept into a carry-all as Kieran and Leksi approached.

“Hullo, Kieran,” she said. “I see you’ve met Leksi.”

The boy gave her one of his charming smiles. “Good afternoon, Kyria Hal-Halbertson.” He stumbled over the English name. “I hope you and Mr. Finch had a fine time in Chania yesterday.”

“Very nice. And so was the restaurant you recommended. We met your cousin, the waiter. He mentioned that your mother—Mrs. Dimitrakis?—is a weaver.”

His shoulders went back proudly. “She does the very best weavings in all of Crete—perhaps even in all of Greece. For you, I can arrange a private viewing and a special price.”

Pippa’s lips twitched, but she sounded genuinely interested as she said, “Brilliant. I might take some home as gifts. Can we go now? You’ll excuse me, won’t you, Kieran? But do let’s meet for dinner later.”

How odd. It was almost as if Pippa, who’d been so eager for Kieran’s company earlier, was now trying to get rid of her. No, surely she was being too sensitive. Besides, it wasn’t like she wanted to accompany them. Though she’d enjoy meeting Leksi’s mom and seeing her work, right now a shower and nap were even more tempting.

“She has her weavings at home,” Leksi said slowly. “I am not sure—”

“Fine, then take me there.” Pippa was on her feet.

“She is not home now, and I think—”

“I’m sure you’re perfectly capable of showing them to me,” the English woman said briskly. “Come along, Leksi.”

“I suppose it will be all right,” he agreed, sounding dubious.

Kieran glanced at the woman’s determined expression and the boy’s troubled one, and an impulse made her say, “I’m interested in weaving, too. Why don’t I come along?” Her shower could wait.

Together, in a rather uncomfortable silence, the three of them strolled through the small village. Leksi took the main street, which was also the highway—to use the term loosely. A skinny two-laner, it was roughly paved. The sporadic vehicular traffic shared space with pedestrians, rickety tables and chairs outside coffee shops and bars, a donkey being led home with a load of olives, a couple of scavenging dogs, and the inevitable cats.

Leksi led the two women into an alley, and then onto an even narrower unpaved road. They walked past flat-topped houses, most of them plain, even dilapidated, by Canadian standards. Above several, rusty metal rods stuck into the air. Kieran had seen the same thing in other villages.

“Leksi,” she asked, “what are those rods for?”

“The owners will build another floor when the fates allow.”

“The fates?” she queried.

“Money, time, and the—how do you say it?—the permissions?”

“Building permits?”

He nodded vigorously. “Ne. Building permits. Now, here is my house.”

The dwelling he pointed to so proudly was the last one on the road, and one of the nicest and most modern in the village. Two stories high, it had a finished roof and no projecting rods rusting in the sun. The white paint was fresh and bright, as was the golden-brown varnish on the doors, shutters, and railings. Leksi’s family must be reasonably affluent. There were flowers too, as always, but these were particularly diverse and well-tended. The standard riot of geraniums was supplemented by mauve wisteria, scarlet crown of thorns, purple bougainvillea, and fragrant yellow roses.

“It’s a lovely house,” Kieran said, and Pippa said, “It is indeed.”

“Thank you. We are very lucky to have such a fine house. My cous—” He broke off abruptly, hunted in his pocket for a large key, and fumbled it into the lock. He thrust open the heavy door and stepped through, with Pippa and Kieran on his heels.

As was typical on Crete, the shutters were closed to keep the house cool. Kieran paused inside the door as her eyes adjusted to the move from blazing sun into this dim front room. Then she glanced around. With the shutters open or lights on, the room would be cheerful. Attractive weavings draped the furniture and hung on the white walls. Her dad would have loved this.

The television was small and old-fashioned. Kieran’s gaze skimmed past it, drawn to a photograph collection on a side wall. Some pictures were black and white, faded with age. There were a couple of blank spaces where it looked as if photos had been taken down. Beside a blank space, there was a photo of… She squinted and moved closer. Men in dark, traditional clothing, rifle belts slung over their shoulders—

A male voice, low but unmistakably furious, cut the quiet. It was answered by another, high and shrill. Leksi.

Kieran spun on her heels.

Chapter 3

The teenager had crossed the room and stood in a doorway with his back to Kieran and Pippa. He rattled away in high‑speed Greek, receiving abbreviated responses, rough with anger, from a man Kieran couldn’t see.

Kieran tensed, then bit her lip. Don’t overreact.

She hated raised voices or any other display of anger. As a child, she’d learned to suppress her quick temper and avoid confrontation, so as not to upset her mom. As a teen, she’d realized that civilized people didn’t need to fight or raise their voices; they could discuss matters civilly. It was the rational thing to do. That was one of the things that had drawn her toward being a lawyer; in the justice system, disagreement was structured and formal. Though, as she’d learned, even that didn’t guarantee peace of mind.

In Greece, though, she’d seen more than once that what she first took to be an angry dispute might in fact be a perfectly amicable, though spirited, discussion. There was an intensity to communication that was different from at home. It could be quite appealing.

Not that there was anything the least bit appealing about this argument. Leksi’s voice had grown belligerent and he backed away from the doorway. Was he in danger?

So much for tolerance of cultural diversity. Kieran strode toward the boy, realizing that Pippa was at her side. When the women reached the point where they could see through the doorway into a bright and relatively up-to-date kitchen, they both froze.

One of the photographs on the wall had come to life.

The man wore traditional Cretan dress: loose dark trousers, a dull black shirt and vest, a black fringed scarf wrapped around hair as dark and curly as Leksi’s, though not quite as long. Although the old-fashioned clothing was typical for the aged, gnarled shepherds and olive-growers, this man was neither old nor gnarled. Tall and rangy, he was virile and had—a phrase she’d read at a museum sprang into Kieran’s mind—an elegant ferocity. A thunder-cloud scowl creased his dark face, and astonishing silver eyes blazed bright and dangerous as lightning.

I know him. A near-electric charge of disquiet—and, oddly, of excitement—rippled through her veins.

Ridiculous. Of course she didn’t know him.

Light flashed, drawing her eye. It came from something he held in his right hand, a blade that he now jammed into a sheath that hung from a belt slanting across his lean hips. She hadn’t caught a clear look, but enough to tell that it was no mere knife, more of a dagger.

A sharp blade, a dangerous man. Her father’s body stabbed and left to bleed in a park…

Dizzy and nauseous, she reeled, automatically putting a hand against the wall to steady herself.

No, that’s the past. Pull yourself together.

Leksi might be in danger from this thug. So might she and Pippa.

Taking a deep breath and wrapping her arms around herself, Kieran again stared at the man’s face, trying to rationally assess the situation. First, why did she have the totally irrational sense that she knew him? Perhaps because of the old photo she’d glimpsed. Or no, wait… Take away the traditional Cretan clothing and the scowl, and this man was her perfect image of male beauty come to life. He was what had drawn her eye, time and again, to men with rangy bodies, olive complexions, dark curls, and gray eyes. And he was why she had always been disappointed. Because none of those men had looked like this.

His dagger disposed of, the disturbingly handsome stranger had frozen in place. Staring at her. The anger had, thank heavens, left his face, replaced by surprise. No, not mere surprise. Something stronger than that. Shock, wonder, and—could it be?—recognition.

No, of course it wasn’t. Crete really was messing with her usual common sense.

Leksi jabbered something and the man turned away from Kieran to frown at him, loosing another torrent of angry Greek.

Kieran stepped forward, not knowing what to do, only that she had to intervene.

As she did, Pippa said, “Might I ask—”

Before the other woman could finish her question, Leksi swung around, grabbed her hand and Kieran’s, and dragged them toward the front door.

When he let go of Kieran’s hand to open the door, she started to turn, to see what the man was doing, but Leksi grabbed her hand again. Unceremoniously, he dragged her and Pippa out into the sunshine, then he released their hands and slammed the door closed.

“And Alice emerges intact from the rabbit hole,” Pippa commented dryly.

Kieran gaped at her, then noted lines of tension around the English woman’s mouth. She wasn’t as composed as she was making out.

Mildly but firmly, Pippa asked Leksi, “What on earth was that all about?”

The boy’s eyes darted every which way, not meeting Pippa’s or Kieran’s. “I should not have taken anyone home.”

Kieran, sympathetic to his distress, was willing to let him get away with this despite her overwhelming curiosity.

Not so Pippa, who said, “Yes, but who was that?”

“It was...”

The boy looked so abjectly miserable that Kieran rescued him. “It’s all right, Leksi. It’s none of our business. Just as long as you’re okay.” She studied his face carefully.

“Okay?” Bewilderment showed in his expression. “Of course I am okay.”

It seemed she and Pippa had misinterpreted the situation. Relieved, Kieran went on. “We’ll come back some other time to look at the weavings. After you’ve checked with your mother.” Did she want to set foot in this house again? To maybe again see the gorgeous but hot-tempered stranger who seemed so familiar?

“You can find your way back to the hotel?” Leksi asked. A rhetorical question, it turned out, as he dashed back into the house before they could answer. There came the distinct sound of a bolt being shot home.

Would he be all right? Surely he wouldn’t have gone in if he’d felt he was in danger.

Side by side, the two women headed back to the Kalypso. Kieran puzzled over the strange encounter and perhaps Pippa was doing the same because she was silent except to say, a couple of times, “I think we turn here.” The woman’s sense of direction was good, and they arrived at the hotel.

As they walked through the gate, Pippa said, “Well, at least we can say we’ve had an adventure. Now, shall we meet for dinner in half an hour? Robin will be so pleased when I tell him about you.”

The English woman did like to manage other people’s lives. Still, Kieran didn’t enjoy eating alone and she was curious to meet Pippa’s brother. She accepted the invitation and they fixed the details as they climbed the marble steps to the third floor.

Inside her room, Kieran tossed her bag on one of the two double beds and flopped down on her back on the other. “An adventure,” she muttered. “Maybe I should stop wishing for an adventure.” So far, the fates had sent her one rather pushy English woman, one mercurial man-child, and one obnoxious Greek shepherd. Obnoxious, and possibly dangerous.

Dashing, like a character in a movie, and the most handsome man she’d ever seen—in real life or on the screen.

Back home, she’d be picking up the phone to call Jen. But the Kalypso had only a single phone, downstairs at the front desk. Guests could use it—as she had yesterday to check in with her mom—but it was public, plus she hated to tie up the hotel’s business line to gossip with a friend. As for Internet—hah! Not here. Even her three-star hotel in Chania had offered only the most unreliable Internet access, using one clunky old PC in the lobby.

Back home, people were talking about Y2K, only a year and a half away. Her law firm was installing a new computer system, and the lawyers were starting to use e-mail and to do research on the Internet.

On Crete, it was more like the 1970s than 1998.