Cover of the new book "Heat Waves"

Heat Waves

 

Warning: This excerpt contains adult content. 18 and over only, please.

Excerpt from “Rock the Boat”

Chapter 1

Athens, Greece—Friday, May 13, 8:00 a.m.

After seventeen hours of travel from Vancouver, Gwen should have been tired, but an equal measure of excitement and nervousness drove her to hurry from customs and the baggage claim. She tightened her grip on her purse and the carry-on bag that held her laptop and files—crucial items she’d never have entrusted to her checked luggage—as she burst into the arrivals area of the Athens airport. She was in Greece!

The place was bright, noisy, and bustling. An airport, yet a totally foreign one, with signs in Greek and strangers talking in languages she didn’t understand. And she was here alone.

She caught herself running her thumb over the now-bare spot on her left hand, a habit she’d thought she had finally kicked. “Oh, Jonathan,” she whispered under her breath, “we were supposed to come to Greece together.”

When he had slid the wedding ring onto her finger, he’d promised to look after her forever. Six years ago they’d begun to plan their big trip for his sabbatical year: Italy and Greece, with all the ancient sites and museums to please her philosophy prof husband, and all the scenery, restaurants, and shopping that she craved. Like everything else in their lives, the holiday would be the perfect blend of both their interests and tastes.

Instead, they’d spent his sabbatical year and the two after it fighting a losing battle with his cancer.

In some ways, it didn’t seem right that the first exotic destination wedding she was in charge of as a wedding planner with Happily Ever After would be in Greece. But maybe it was good. Organizing and imposing control over the myriad details that went into putting together the perfect wedding would distract her from the melancholy that descended whenever she found herself wishing Jonathan was at her side.

Right now, though, it was less melancholy than anxiety that made her heart race as she scanned the crowd of strangers. With relief, she spotted a sign bearing her name and the Dionysus Cruises sailing ship logo. It was held by a pretty, young Greek woman in a short-sleeved white blouse, teal blue skirt, and sandals. Gwen hoped she’d make as good a first impression in her lightweight taupe pants and jacket worn over a silk tee the color of her flaxen hair.

Gwen waved a hand and towed her wheeled bag toward the woman. “Kalimera. I’m Gwen Austin. Are you Elpida Drakos?” Elpida was the rep who’d dealt patiently with dozens of e-mails, phone calls, and faxes.

“Kalimera, Gwen.” The woman shook her hand, smiling as she returned the greeting for good morning in Greek, then continued in perfect, lightly accented English, “Welcome to Greece. Yes, I am Elpida.”

“Thanks for coming to meet me.”

“It is my pleasure.” Elpida took the handle of Gwen’s wheeled bag. “Come. Our van is in the parking lot.”

Carry-on and purse slung over her shoulders, Gwen followed her outside. The dazzling sunshine, the wall of heat, brought her to an abrupt stop. Greece, oh my God, I’m actually in Greece! It was the first time she’d been anywhere outside Canada and the U.S. She and Jonathan had taken a few short holidays, but mostly they’d been saving for their big European trip.

She lifted her face to the sun’s kiss and greedily sucked in air that hadn’t been climate controlled and recycled. Though research had told her the temperature would be only a few degrees hotter than back home, the air felt drier on her skin and the light was more blinding. She slipped sunglasses from her purse and peeled off her jacket, savoring the warmth on her lightly tanned arms and shoulders.

Elpida waited patiently. “Nice to be off the plane?”

“Yes, and nice to be in Greece.” Though, as she glanced around, she had to admit that an airport was pretty much the same anywhere in the world, and not the most scenic of sights.

“Wait until you’re on the ocean.” Elpida led her past bright yellow taxis toward a parking garage. “It is a short drive to Zea Marina at the port of Piraeus.”

Liz Tippett and Peter Kirk had chosen to charter a small motor sailer to cruise the Cyclades Islands, including stops on Mykonos and Santorini. The trip would end in Crete where, a week from tomorrow, they’d be married on a pink sand beach. When Gwen thought about the entirety of what she’d be handling, she tended to hyperventilate. However, over the past eight months of working with Sarah and Andi at Happily Ever After, she’d developed an approach that worked for her. She broke each project into its individual tasks and details and developed a plan for each, plus a contingency plan. So what if she was a control freak? In this business—in life—it was the safest way to be.

“I wish I could go with you on the cruise,” Elpida said. “It sounds so exciting and romantic.”

“It will be if I do my job right.” She believed that every bride and groom deserved a romantic, utterly fabulous start to their married life, just as she’d had when she married Jonathan at age nineteen. Her childhood had been unstable, with a dad who was charming but a total jerk, and a mom who both loved and hated him. In her teens Gwen had gone a little crazy, until that one tragic night. The next year, Jonathan had come along and she’d found love, happiness, and her place in life. At least until he’d fallen ill, and life had spiraled out of control again.

Elpida stowed Gwen’s luggage in a small white van bearing the Dionysus name and logo, then they both climbed in. “I am sorry to not have better scenery to offer you on your first day in Greece, but development is such that”—Elpida shrugged as she pulled away—“really it is almost one city from Athens to Piraeus.”

“That’s okay. I’m eager to get to the Aphrodite.”

“You will enjoy our Greek love boat.”

When Gwen had first spoken to Elpida, the Greek woman had mentioned that Aphrodite was the goddess of love, beauty, and sexuality. When Gwen had relayed that information to the bride and groom, Liz had laughed with delight. “A love boat,” she said, in the English accent that was still pronounced after two years of living in Vancouver. “Brilliant.”

“You understand, though,” Elpida now went on, “that the Aphrodite has just returned from a week-long cruise and at this moment passengers are disembarking? They’ll be gone by the time we get there and the new crew will have boarded, but the cleaners and maintenance people will be busy giving her a spit and polish.”

Gwen smiled at hearing that expression come from Greek lips. “I’ll stay out of the way. I just want a quiet corner to meet with the captain, chef, and cruise director.” She’d been e-mailing with them as well as with Elpida, and had arranged her schedule so as to arrive at the ship several hours before everyone else to run through everything in person.

With any luck, she’d even have time for a nap. Then, when Liz, Peter, and their guests arrived at two, she’d feel calm and in control. Or at least that was the plan.

“Of course,” Elpida said.

“I’m particularly looking forward to meeting Giorgos, the cruise director.” He had worked with Sarah and Andi before, and his knowledge of the islands had been invaluable in planning this trip. She’d be relying on him for so much over the next week. “Am I pronouncing his name correctly?”

“Er, yes, but—” Elpida broke off, blasting the horn and cursing in Greek at a taxi driver who’d swung in front of her. “Bad drivers and no scenery. A fine introduction for you.”

“It’s okay.”

“It is a pity you couldn’t come earlier and see Athens, but I’m glad you’re planning a couple of days at the end of the trip. There are so many wonderful sights, from the shops of the Plaka to the National Archeological Museum. And of course the Acropolis.”

“I’m looking forward to it. But later is better. Now I wouldn’t be able to relax. I’m so focused on the cruise and the wedding.” Besides, she’d get emotional seeing the Acropolis without Jonathan. It had been one of the spots he’d most looked forward to. Best to leave that experience for the end of her trip, when she could afford to indulge in sentimentality and—

Elpida cleared her throat, breaking into her thoughts. “I must tell you, Gwen, there has been a small change. Giorgos will not be on the Aphrodite. He had—”

“What?” No cruise director? Panic swelled quickly, her breath speeding up so she could barely force out words. “That’s impossible.” Giorgos was supposed to lead the shore excursions, provide details of Greek history, give language lessons, and do a hundred other things she couldn’t possibly handle on her own. “I need him. I can’t do this by myself.” It had never occurred to her that she’d need a contingency plan for his absence; he’d seemed one hundred percent reliable.

Damn, she was having trouble catching her breath and her heart was racing. Realizing she was starting to hyperventilate, she forced herself to breathe slowly and deeply. She hated this feeling, reminiscent of the days when Jonathan’s cancer treatments had failed, and the days after his death when she was terrified of facing the future alone.

“No, no,” Elpida said quickly, “we have another cruise director filling in. Santos Michaelides.”

“Whew.” Gwen sank back, heart still pumping madly. Breathe. Everything’s going to be fine. “You scared me.” Okay, I can handle this. It was only a small change in plan. What a pity, though, because she and Giorgos had worked well together, at least by e-mail. “I assume Mr. Michaelides is equally experienced?”

“Er, well, he does have Giorgos’s notes.”

“His notes? What do you mean? Hasn’t Mr. Michaelides handled these cruises before?”

“Not actually. He’s brand-new to Dionysus. But I’m sure it will be fine.”

“Oh my God.” She was new at her job and so was the cruise director. And, though she wasn’t superstitious, she couldn’t help but remember that this was Friday the thirteenth. “How did this happen?”

“Giorgos’s grandmother is in ill health and he had to go visit her on Corfu.”

“Poor Giorgos. I hope she’ll be okay. But doesn’t Dionysus have other experienced cruise directors?”

“Yes, of course.” Elpida glanced in the mirrors before changing into the right-hand lane, and Gwen glimpsed a frown furrowing her brow. “It is up to the manager of the company to allocate crew. He assigned Mr. Michaelides to the Aphrodite, so I am sure he’s confident of his ability.”

“Have you even met Mr. Michaelides?”

The other woman glanced her way, the frown now replaced by a knowing smile. “Oh yes, he has been in the office. I must say, in some ways he’s an improvement on Giorgos.”

“In what ways?”

“Let me say”—she winked—“the single ladies will enjoy the excellent . . . is the expression eye candy?”

“That’s the expression.” And it wasn’t one bit reassuring. “This man will be professional, won’t he?” Gwen needed him to do his job, not play the shipboard Lothario and seduce the wedding guests. She knew that type very well. Her dad, who she rarely saw, had always been a player—superficially charming and completely unreliable.

“Look, here is Zea Marina.”

Distracted from her concerns, Gwen gazed ahead, seeing that the ocean beckoned from between thickly clustered buildings. She leaned forward eagerly as Elpida drove closer. This was more like it, and much better than the traffic-clogged industrial strip.

Zea Marina was a large bay with several docks, ringed with light-colored buildings that seemed to include apartments, restaurants, bars, and shops. Sunlight reflected off the walls of the buildings, the surface of the ocean, and the white hulls of numerous luxury yachts, making her glad she wore sunglasses. Though the place was spectacular, what Gwen really longed for was a more rustically picturesque Greece with small villages and ports, tavernas by the ocean, ancient ruins, and shops full of local crafts and jewelry.

Elpida parked, hoisted Gwen’s bag out of the van easily, then led her to the dock. They boarded a Zodiac that could hold a dozen or more people.

Gwen commented, “I remember you saying that Dionysus chooses not to dock their ships here, but anchors them out in the bay.”

“Yes, it’s more exciting for the guests to approach from the water.” Elpida started the engine, cast off the lines, and steered away from the dock.

A fresh breeze tossed Gwen’s straight, shoulder-length blond hair and she scented the tangy air. “This is invigorating after the heat and traffic.”

Elpida nodded, then pointed. “There she is. The Aphrodite.”

“Oh my, she’s beautiful.” The ship was close to 150 feet long, tiny compared to the massive cruise ships that could run to 1000 feet or more. All the same, she loomed large as they approached and was dramatically lovely with her indigo hull and shiny wood cabin. Gwen clicked a few pictures, imagining the ship with her sails raised, flying with the wind. On deck, Liz and Peter would be hoisting drinks, laughing with their family and friends, creating wonderful memories.

“Your home for the next week.” Elpida slowed the Zodiac. “She will be good for you, I’m sure, our love boat.”

Gwen hoped so. This was a huge career step. While the captain and crew would be responsible for the guests’ safety, it would fall to her—assisted by the brand-new cruise director—to ensure that everyone had a fabulous time. She had plans and more plans, and contingency plans, but each day would bring a dozen new challenges. Sarah and Andi had taken a chance on her, a woman who’d been out of the workforce for four years. She didn’t want to let them down.

Nervousness fluttered through her and she focused on her deep breathing. It didn’t help that she now realized Elpida had never actually answered her question about Santos Michaelides being professional. It was too late to ask again, though, because a stocky, middle-aged Greek with a neat beard and a white cap with gold braid and insignia was smiling down from the deck. Pleasant looking, but not eye candy, so probably not Mr. Michaelides.

She climbed up the ladder and he helped her on board, his grip firm and warm. “Welcome aboard, Ms. Austin. I’m Captain Aristides Papadopoulos. But as I said in e-mail, everyone calls me Captain Ari.”

He was only two or three inches taller than her five foot seven, and he looked fit and strong in his uniform of white pants and short-sleeved shirt with the Dionysus logo.

She thanked him in Greek. “Efkharisto, Captain Ari. I’m Gwen.”

Elpida swung aboard. “Yassas, Captain Ari.” Gwen recognized the casual word for hello or hi.

“Yassas, Elpida.”

“Everything on track?” the Greek woman asked.

“Ne.” It sounded like no, but Gwen knew it was Greek for yes. “Gwen, your cabin is all ready for you. We thought you might want to unpack and change out of your travel clothes. Then perhaps a snack?”

“That sounds wonderful.” A shower, too, would be heaven. “As soon as I’ve changed, could I meet with you, Chef Ilyas, and the new cruise director, Mr. Michaelides?”

“If Michaelides has arrived by then.”

“He’s not aboard already?” Anxiety pinched her again. She glanced around the wooden deck, noting a couple of people at work washing windows and polishing brass, somehow expecting the new cruise director to materialize. “I thought the three of you were going to be here. That’s what I arranged with Giorgos.”

Captain Ari exchanged uneasy glances with Elpida. “We are, uh, expecting him any moment.”

It didn’t sound as if Giorgos’s replacement was reliable, and that was definitely not a good thing. Minor glitches Gwen could cope with, but the cruise director was critical to the success of this week.

She hated when things got out of control. It took her back to the worst days of her life, to the panicky feeling that nothing would ever be right again.

As she struggled to take a deep breath of ocean air, Captain Ari glanced past her and said, with some relief, “Ah, there he is now.”

Gwen let out her breath in a low whoosh and swung around to size up the man she hoped she’d be able to count on.

A small water taxi was approaching the Aphrodite, a young Greek at the wheel and a slightly older one sitting beside him, his longish black hair whipping in the wind. Sunglasses hid his eyes, then he took them off and studied the threesome on board.

A smile flashed, even brighter than Elpida’s. Before the boat had stopped, he stood, balancing with the natural grace of a sailor. His black T-shirt and pale, much-washed jeans weren’t tight, but the breeze plastered them against a lean, muscled body.

Well, how about that? Reliable or not, he was the sexiest thing she’d seen in . . . maybe ever. Disconcertingly, she felt a twinge of lust in female parts that hadn’t twinged in years.

That feeling gave her a new awareness of herself as a woman—an awareness that made her wish she’d had a chance to freshen up. Not that she cared one bit whether this man found her attractive, but a girl did have some pride.

She straightened her shoulders and resisted the urge to tidy her windblown hair.

The water taxi bumped up against the Aphrodite. The man paid the driver, slung a duffel bag over his shoulder, and stepped onto the bottom rung of the ladder.

His bearing was confident, almost arrogant. His eyes, so dark they might be black, sparkled with something that hinted at devilry, and a gold earring winked. There was a rakish air about him, and for a moment she envisioned him in pirate’s garb.

She stepped back as he came aboard. “Yassas,” he said casually. “Elpida, Captain Ari.” He rattled off something quickly in Greek that turned their rather skeptical looks to grins.

In that moment, disconcertingly, he reminded her of her father, a man who was handsome, confident, and had lots of charm but virtually no substance. Then she shook her head. No, there was no reason to jump to that conclusion. Maybe he had a legitimate reason for his lateness.

He turned that sparkling gaze on her. “And Ms. Austin? It’s a pleasure.” His voice was husky, a little rough to match up with his hair and earring, and he used it like a caress. “I’m Santos Michaelides.” He held out his hand. “Sorry to be late. My taxi had a flat tire.” He was obviously Greek, yet his English was colloquial and only slightly—charmingly—accented.

A flat tire. Yes, it was a reasonable excuse from what she’d seen of the road to Zea Marina. “Call me Gwen.” She took his hand, intending to shake briskly, but an odd sensation rippled through her: heat, dizziness, and an inappropriate and disconcerting arousal. Realizing she was clinging to his hand, she quickly drew hers away and rubbed her forehead. “Sorry, I must be a little jet-lagged.”

“I’m sure that’s it.” His black eyes danced, indicating he was used to women reacting this way. She had the fanciful thought that if he’d really been a pirate, he wouldn’t have to take women captive; they’d throw themselves at his feet.

As for her, she was here to work. She turned away from those far too seductive eyes and said to Captain Ari, “Could you point me toward my cabin? I really could use a shower and a change of clothes, then that snack you promised.” Without risking another look at Santos, she said, “Could we all get together in twenty minutes to go over the details of the cruise?”

Everyone murmured agreement, then the captain hefted her bag easily. “Right this way. As you requested, you’re on the lower deck. We have lots of singles sharing cabins, so those folks have the twin-bed rooms and you’ve got a double.”

A double bed. Where she’d sleep neatly on one side, the way she always did now. As for Santos Michaelides, she only hoped his considerable charm proved a useful addition rather than a disruption to her carefully planned cruise.

Chapter 2

A double bed. Damned if those words didn’t send a surge of lust straight to Santos Michaelides’s groin. So did the rear  view of the wedding planner as she walked away: a spill of pale gold hair, straight back, narrow waist, curvy butt, long legs. He couldn’t wait to see the woman in a bikini.

“She’s pretty, isn’t she?”

“Huh?” He turned to Elpida, who was studying him with amusement. “The Canadian? Yeah, I guess.” So was Elpida, but it was Gwen Austin who got to him.

Elpida tossed the thick black hair that curled around her face and said knowingly, “Greek men always go for blondes.”

“Like Greek women don’t?” he shot back. Not that he cared about the color of a woman’s hair. He’d dated blondes, brunettes, and redheads in equal numbers. With Gwen, it wasn’t so much the blond hair as the way it combined with lightly tanned skin, huge eyes the rich caramel of Metaxa brandy accented by lashes and brows a shade or two darker, and a full, mobile mouth that was the stuff of wet dreams. It was her manner, too. He was used to women flirting with him but Gwen, who clearly felt the same attraction he did, was doing her best to deny it. It only made her more intriguing.

No wedding ring—he’d checked that out—so probably she was just being professional. The folders of notes he’d been given by Giorgos and the manager of Dionysus Cruises told him she was compulsive about her job, to the point of being anal.

And he, too, should be thinking about work, not whether Gwen’s mouth tasted as lush as it looked. He was here to do a job—or, rather, two jobs: his real one as an insurance fraud investigator, and his cover job of cruise director.

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Elpida wound up a commentary on the merits of guys of different nationalities, then studied him appraisingly. “Your taxi really had a flat tire? That wasn’t just an excuse for being late?”

“No, it did. And that’s after the hotel messed up my bill and I had to stand in line forever to get it fixed.” He’d wanted to board the Dionysus with Captain Ari and the rest of the crew so he’d blend in as if he were one of them.

“Friday the thirteenth,” she said.

“Here’s hoping it improves.” Arriving late had set him off on the wrong foot with Gwen, a woman he had to work with, and had to deceive. A woman who stirred inconvenient lust. And that was bizarre, because only three days ago, in Toronto, he’d shared a night of steamy sex with his “friend with benefits.”

Now he was as horny for the wedding planner as if he hadn’t had sex in a year. Gamoto, he cursed silently. As if the coming week wouldn’t be complicated enough already. Though he loved undercover work and was happy to be back in Greece, he usually had more prep time to get his head around an investigation, do research himself rather than rely on an intern, and develop his cover.

“Where’s my cabin?” he asked Elpida. “I should stow my gear and get into uniform before the meeting.”

“I’ll take you to crew quarters. You’re sharing with the cook.”

“Thanks.” He’d known he’d be sharing a cabin and would have little privacy. All his confidential files were on his laptop, well password-protected.

He followed as she led him belowdecks.

Last week, his employer, Insurance Assured, had turned up information that Flynn Kavanagh was flying to Greece to attend the wedding of a friend, Liz Tippett. Kavanagh, a Vancouver IT consultant, had been charged with using his technological wizardry to steal five million dollars from a client, but was acquitted at trial a few months ago. Insurance Assured had paid out but kept an eye on the man. The female undercover agent who’d gotten friendly with Kavanagh’s mother at her fitness club had found out about the trip to Greece, and that had raised enough of a flag to put an investigator aboard the Aphrodite. Santos, a Greek who lived in Toronto but had grown up on one of the Greek islands, was the logical choice, and he’d just wound up an assignment where he’d nailed an auto insurance fraud ring.

Elpida showed him to a small cabin with two twin beds, one with jeans and a shirt tossed across it, and a small desk that doubled as a bureau. “You’ve done this before?” she asked. “Been a cruise director?”

“You bet.” He told the lie with a flash of smile, the persuasive one he’d perfected in his work. “Don’t worry.” He slung his duffel on the vacant bed. “I have the files, contact names, all the information I need.”

The manager of Dionysus Cruises had also given him an intensive briefing. Sworn to—and paid for—secrecy, the man had treated it as a cloak-and-dagger adventure. When Giorgos, the real cruise director, had returned from his last cruise, he’d been ordered to pretend he’d had a family emergency and take a week’s vacation, the bill footed by Insurance Assured.

“A lot of work has gone into planning this cruise,” Elpida warned. She moved to the door. “Change into uniform and bring your files when you come up. You’ll want to refer to them. Gwen’s meticulous about details.” She gave a lopsided grin. “Have a fun week.”

He groaned. Yeah, that was the impression the files had given of the wedding planner. Himself, he was more the intuitive type. If you concentrated too hard on the details, you could miss the broad picture. Santos looked at patterns, the odd things that didn’t quite fit.

Unzipping his duffel, he thought wryly that today, on the Aphrodite, the piece that was out of place was he himself. Lucky that most people took things at surface value and that he was good at his job.

Though he hated uniforms, donning the white pants, Dionysus-logoed white shirt, and rubber-soled sandals helped him get into character. He studied his reflection in the small mirror. He’d asked the manager of Dionysus whether he should cut the hair he’d grown for his last assignment and the man had said no, the company’s image was contemporary, not overly formal.

Lugging Giorgos’s bulging file folders, he headed up to the main deck. Captain Ari was in the dining room, seated at the head of a rectangular wooden table, with Elpida on his right. The two were absorbed in conversation and didn’t notice him, so Santos had a chance to survey the room. It had a Greek simplicity and attractiveness: wooden furniture with cushions in that vivid, particularly Greek shade of blue, white walls with wood trim, brass accents, and a well-equipped bar in one corner.

At the table, a portly, balding man set out fresh fruit, rolls, and orange juice, together with two classic Greek breakfast items: a bowl of thick, creamy yogurt and a pitcher of dark, liquid honey. When Santos went over, the man gave a genial smile and introduced himself as Ilyas, the chef, Santos’s roommate.

Ilyas poured everyone small cups of strong coffee from a bikri, the traditional pot for making Greek coffee.

As Santos took a sip, Gwen stepped into the dining room and walked toward them. Damp hair, falling long and straight to her shoulders, told him she’d had a shower and not bothered with a hair dryer. A shower. Naked. Water streaming over the curves now hugged by tan capris and a sleeveless knit top in a pretty coral shade.

His body tightened at the thought of her naked. Focusing on her face didn’t help either. A touch of makeup made her eyes even larger, and the coral on her lips had the same effect. Those lips could drive a man insane.

They widened in a delighted smile—not at the sight of him, but at the spread on the table. “This looks delicious.” She took the chair at the foot of the table, opposite the captain, and slung her huge shoulder bag over the back.

A scent drifted on the air, something tropical and flowery. Spicy. Sexy.

She reached for the glass of orange juice and took a long swallow, tilting her head back in an unconsciously seductive motion that made him want to trail kisses down her exposed neck. “Mmm, I needed that.”

At the moment, what he needed was way more intimate.

Next she reached for the coffee.

“I could make you a cappuccino or caffe latte if you prefer,” the chef offered.

She shook her head. “Greek coffee is perfect.”

Chef Ilyas beamed. “You know Greek coffee?” He took a seat across from Santos.

After taking a sip, she gave an appreciative smile. “I’ve been doing my homework. Online, and also in Greek coffee shops and restaurants. My hometown, Vancouver, Canada, has some great ones. I’m guessing you’re Chef Ilyas Petrakis?”

“A pleasure to meet you, after all those e-mails.”

She wrinkled her nose charmingly. “Sorry if I was a bit obsessive, but I really want things to go well.”

“And they will,” Captain Ari broke in with a reassuring smile. “We have done this before, you know.”

“Of course.” Finally, she turned to Santos. “Although I understand you’re new, Mr. Michaelides.” She pronounced his name well for an English speaker.

He tapped his files and gave her his persuasive grin. “Call me Santos. I’m new, but prepared. I aim to please. Just let me know what you need.”

Her eyes widened, and delicate color tinged her cheeks.

He realized his words had come out with a double meaning that he hadn’t intended—at least consciously. Even when he tried to focus on work, he was affected by her. Damn, he had no business being affected. No business gazing into intoxicating brandy eyes or thinking about kissing full, coral lips. Much less lifting the hem of her top and reaching under it to cup a sweet, firm—

“Help yourselves to breakfast.” The captain’s voice broke into his thoughts. “We can talk while we eat.”

Santos had already had room service at the hotel, and the thing he most wanted to nibble on was Gwen’s lush mouth. But he couldn’t resist yogurt and honey. The Greeks made the best in the world.

Gwen served herself some of everything and dug in.

He liked a woman who wasn’t afraid to eat, especially if she was fit and curvy like this one.

And he liked the way her white teeth nipped into the flesh of an orange segment, neatly separating it from the rind; the way she chewed slowly, eyes half closed as if she was concentrating entirely on the flavor.

He raised a piece of orange to his own mouth so he could taste what she was tasting. Flavor burst on his tongue, sweet and tangy. The inside of her mouth would taste the same.

She swirled a little honey into her yogurt, then lifted the spoon and slowly sucked the yogurt into her mouth. If she’d been another woman, he’d think she was teasing him, but Gwen didn’t cast sly glances from under her lashes; she focused on her breakfast.

Her sensual gusto made him guess she was like that in bed, too. His cock pulsed at the thought of her wide mouth wrapping around him, her pink tongue licking him as thoroughly as she was licking that spoon.

He shifted, feeling growing pressure beneath his fly.

Pity they weren’t both here on holiday. They could have a lot of fun. Maybe she wasn’t into holiday flings, though. A wedding planner with a company called Happily Ever After might well be looking for one of her own. In which case, she sure as hell shouldn’t look in his direction. As his grandparents had told him with bitter disappointment, he took after his parents. For him, life was about adventure, not stability. He always made that clear before hooking up with a woman. He hated when people got unrealistic expectations and then were hurt when he didn’t live up to them.

While they all ate, Captain Ari reviewed their itinerary and the weather forecast, which promised sunshine and light breezes. “We’ll have the sails up much of the time,” he told them. “Passengers like that.”

“Wonderful,” Gwen said. She’d polished off the last of her yogurt, thank God, and now took another sip of coffee. “There should be no problem staying on schedule?”

“None at all.”

“Great.” She cleared space on the table in front of her, then took a file folder from her bag. From it, she extracted a paper-clipped bundle with a spreadsheet on top. “Elpida, is everything on track for picking people up at the airport and from the hotels?”

“Hotels?” Santos asked.

“Some guests arrived a few days early, to explore Athens,” Gwen explained.

“We have airport and hotel pickup under control,” Elpida said.

“I brought you a copy of the spreadsheet.” Gwen peeled off the paper clip.

Elpida waved a hand. “I have a more recent one.” She handed Gwen a folded sheet. “I brought you a copy. One flight was delayed, but it will still arrive on time for our two o’clock departure.” She glanced at her watch and rose. “I must go now.”

“Thanks.” Gwen skimmed the paper, then put it down and picked up another paper-clipped bundle. “Chef Ilyas, let’s confirm menus.”

Unobtrusively, Santos took the sheet of paper Elpida had given Gwen and quickly scanned it. Yes, Flynn Kavanagh was still on the list, his flight and arrival time unchanged from the information Insurance Assured had supplied. He replaced the sheet and listened while Gwen and the chef reviewed their plans.

He concentrated not on the details but on impressions. Gwen struck him as a control freak who had to organize every tiny detail. It was an interesting contrast to the sensual, uninhibited way she’d dug into her breakfast and the excitement on her face when she gazed out at the ocean.

The Dionysus Cruises people seemed efficient as well, but far more relaxed. He sensed that, while they respected Gwen, they were humoring her a little.

He certainly hoped things ran smoothly, because it would give him more time to mingle with the passengers, particularly his suspect.

What he really wanted to do was mingle with Gwen, between the sheets.

He spooned up the last of the delicious concoction in his bowl. If he painted his cock with yogurt and honey . . . Would she be gentle, or a little rough? Would she suck him between those full lips, take him deep into her mouth?

And why was he indulging in lustful fantasies when he—and she—had a job to do? Over the years he’d learned there was no explaining attraction, but the way Gwen got to him was . . . unique.

Now, there was a disconcerting notion, one that didn’t make the least bit of sense.

“Santos?” Her voice made him raise his head from rapt contemplation of that last spoonful of yogurt.

“Yeah?” He put the spoon into his mouth.

Her throat muscles rippled as if she was swallowing, too, then she cleared her throat. “I’ve gone over everything I need to with Captain Ari and Chef Ilyas. In fact”—she gazed at the two other men—“feel free to get back to work, if you want.”

They both departed, then she fixed those captivating brown eyes on Santos. “Those are Giorgos’s files? You’re familiar with everything in them?”

He opened the top folder and riffled through a pile of papers that outlined this afternoon’s and evening’s activities. Though he’d only had a day and a half to get up to speed, he was a quick study, plus he’d grown up on the Cyclades Islands. He grinned at her. “It’s not exactly rocket science.”

The corner of her mouth curved. “Is that a Greek expression, too?”

“Uh . . .” He hadn’t lived in Greece since he was seventeen, when he’d pissed his grandparents off by going to London to work. After that, he’d attended college in the States. Currently, he lived in Toronto, where Insurance Assured’s head office was located. “Greece has picked up most of the Americanisms,” he hedged.

“Small world.” Her smile faded and her arched brows drew together, creating a furrow up the center of her forehead.

“What’s wrong?”

The lips he’d been fantasizing about, still pink though she’d eaten off most of her lipstick, pressed together. “It may not be rocket science, but I need you to take this seriously.”

“No problem,” he tossed off. At the moment, his most pressing concern was the pressure in his groin.

Her frown deepened. She glanced around as if ensuring no one was nearby, and lowered her voice. “Santos, I’m sure you’ve done this kind of thing many times, even if not with Dionysus Cruises. But for me, this is a big deal. This is the first time I’ve been in charge of an exotic destination wedding.”

“Yeah?” The word exotic was perfect for her scent—like sultry, spicy flowers.

“I’ve never been to Greece, never handled a wedding where the guests were all together for a week before the ceremony, never even been on a cruise. This is all new to me.” Her breathing had sped up and there was a pleading look in her soft brown eyes.

Then she took a deep breath and firmed her jaw. “I’ve organized every last detail and I’m prepared for anything, but I was counting on Giorgos’s experience. I need to know I can rely on you.”

Despite the lust that clouded his brain, he was paying attention. Her frankness had a certain appeal. Him, he was more of the “baffle them with bullshit” school, but then his undercover job had made him adept at deception.

Playing his role, he held a file folder. “Of course you can. Here’s all the information.”

Those brandy eyes didn’t even glance at the file, they remained fixed on his own eyes. “Having the information is different from being committed to doing the job well.”

“Gwen, when I commit to doing something, I can be relied on.” It was when people wanted things he wasn’t prepared to give—like staying in Greece to take over his grandparents’ restaurant, or being a husband or dad—that he couldn’t be relied on any more than his parents. In his work, he lied all the time to get the job done. In his personal life, he was up front with people so no one would expect more than he was prepared to give.

Her gaze remained fixed on him, telling him without words that he hadn’t reassured her.

He sighed. “You and I may not have Giorgos’s experience, but we can do this together. I hear how important this is to you and I won’t let you down.” And damned if, when he said those last words, the promise didn’t seem more like a genuine one, a personal one, not just role-playing. What was it about this woman?

This time, she seemed to believe him, because she gave a warm smile. “Thanks, Santos.” She touched him, just a gentle press of warm fingers against the back of his hand, but it resonated all the way through him. Sexually, of course, and it made him realize that staying away from her would take willpower he likely didn’t possess. But there was something more, something he couldn’t define.

Her eyes were warm with gratitude and trust. She trusted him, the man who was deceiving her.

He studied her face. Lovely, a little stressed, and with a maturity he hadn’t noticed at first. She was likely two or three years older than his own twenty-seven, not that it lessened her attractiveness.

Deception was his job. Rarely did he think twice about the dishonesty of playing an undercover role. Again, he asked himself what it was about this woman. The combination of vulnerability and strength? The trust she placed in him? Normally, he’d have been annoyed if a woman wanted to rely on him, and yet, bizarrely, he wanted to deserve Gwen’s trust.

All she was asking was that he partner with her the way Giorgos would have. He could do that—had intended to do it—and still deceive her about his real identity.

He drummed the fingers of his other hand on the table, deliberating. It was within his discretion to tell her about his real mission. In the past few days, since Insurance Assured had learned about Kavanagh’s trip to Greece, one of the law student interns at his office had run basic background checks on all the passengers and crew. The criminal record checks had turned up a few minor infractions that the intern had investigated in more depth. Santos had that information and also a list of the people who’d come up squeaky clean, Gwen included.

He turned his hand over and captured hers, which made her give a soft gasp and made his own flesh tingle disconcertingly. “Gwen, let’s go to your cabin.”

She jerked her hand free, her huge eyes widened further, and color tinged her cheeks. “What?”

“No, sorry, that’s not what I meant.” Though his erection sure as hell liked the idea. “I need to talk to you privately.”

“Talk?” she asked skeptically.

“Yeah, just talk.” An irresistible demon made him say, “Unless, of course, you have something else in mind.”

Her mouth opened, lips quivering, and the color on her cheeks deepened. “Of course I don’t.”

“Never play poker.”

“What?”

“Your body gives you away.”

“Oh! How dare you . . . ?” she sputtered. “A gentleman would never say—”

The old-fashioned term made him grin. “You seriously think I’m a gentleman?”

Her chin stuck out. “No, probably not. When I first saw you, pirate was more the word that came to mind.”

He gave a surprised laugh. “I’m kind of flattered.” A life of adventure? Yeah, that was what he’d always sought.

Her eyes narrowed. “Did I say it was a compliment?” There was an edge to her voice.

“Oh, okay.” Weren’t women supposed to like pirates? Johnny Depp and all that? But her comment made him think past the superficial. “Yeah, I guess there’s not a lot to admire about pirates.”

“Not at all,” she said stiffly. She studied him a long moment, then her face softened. “Well, the earring’s kind of cool.”

He touched the small gold hoop, its band engraved with a Greek key design. He’d worn it since he was seventeen—the one thing he’d taken as a reminder of home when he left—unless he was on an undercover job where he had to remove it. “I may not be a gentleman, Gwen, and I like adventure, but I’m no pirate. I take my job seriously.” He took her trust seriously, too, a fact that was disconcerting enough that he wouldn’t share it with her. “It’s my job I need to talk to you about.”

“In private?” she asked skeptically.

He leaned closer and indulged himself by hooking silky blond hair behind a delicate ear, then he whispered, “It’s about the real reason I’m here. It has to be our secret.”