Alas, once again, Bethany Michaels had allowed work to take priority over her lady needs.
Ha, lady needs, she silently repeated.
Like she even remembered what lady needs were. Her personal life was non-existent. Sex life? Did she even know what that was any longer?
No. She had no clue. But it didn’t matter. This time, work suited her. She was on her way to Mykonos, and regardless of the reason for the trip, a week on the gorgeous Greek island would do her good. Greece had always been a bucket list destination, and now she had the opportunity to make it a permanent part of her life. Bethany was sure as heck going to make it happen.
The sexiest scent of man lured her attention from the spreadsheet and had her surveying the café for its source.
Bethany couldn’t stop sniffing the air. Her mind clouded. Her heartbeat raced. And she inhaled deep like a woman taking her first breath after breaking the surface from the longest free dive possible.
She began on her left, scanned in a slow and circular pattern, and didn’t realize her mistake until she’d missed her opportunity to glimpse the men’s faces that had thrown her olfactory system into overdrive. She should have started directly behind her, because by the time she’d located them, they’d walked straight ahead.
She released a breath and settled for appreciating the view of the duo strutting to the bar. Wide shoulders knocked as the ferry swayed, and deep laughter drifted in the air, wrapping around her and heightening her senses.
Yes, fine male specimens in Greece, she thought. Damn fine. She licked her parched lips, forced her throat to swallow, and kicked her libido back into hiding. Reprimanding her body for its reaction, she reminded herself of the purpose of her trip.
Heading to Mykonos for work. Not personal pleasure. You have one week in Greece to accomplish the deal of your lifetime. A deal to make the real life you want.
Still, no matter how much the sensible part of her mind repeated business commitment, business reason, business, she couldn’t help but gawk at the testosterone-loaded display. Broad backs, one in a black tee and the other in what looked like a striped button-down, matched large and nicely shaped hands, motioning their emphasis just right, and two perfectly toned backsides, both showcased in well-worn jeans, completed the yummy display.
She listened closer, and made out the voice of the brown-haired man, which was holy-smokes deep enough and strong enough to roll over her and coax her repressed desires for a man, or two, to the surface.
She shook her head and closed her eyes. She really didn’t need the distraction.
Bethany had practically begged her father to consider this venture, and she couldn’t lose sight of her goal. She’d give anything to make her dad proud. And putting it simply, her dad would only be proud of professional accomplishments…a successful deal.
Lustful thoughts were off the table.
She needed that successful deal.
Making a very conscious effort to avoid the men at the bar, she flipped up the cover of her MacBook and checked her email. Earlier in the morning, she’d emailed her father and suggested he come visit before the anticipated signing of the contract.
Bethany planned on familiarizing herself well with Mykonos, and she wanted to show her dad the island and all she’d learn about it. If he came early, they could have a few days to enjoy each other’s company. Maybe bond. But even as she’d composed the message, she’d known she was setting herself up for disappointment. He wouldn’t come an hour earlier than needed. He was too busy for a leisurely lunch by the sea with his daughter.
Sure enough, she’d been correct about her dad’s actions. He hadn’t bothered to reply. His assistant had sent new files, which itemized the costs required to outfit the Mykonos resort with kitchenettes in each room that didn’t have one and a proper timeshare office on the premises, as well as a projection on the timeline for the conversion.
She hit reply and typed out a response, stressing what she really wanted from the endeavor.
While this is a profitable project, my research on the property suggests we evaluate the possibility of continuing to operate the property as a family-friendly resort.
She explained how most of the resorts near the beaches were known to be party spots and not very kid-appropriate. The Lallas property had maintained a reputation for striking a perfect balance between luxury and casual, welcoming all ages to the beautiful seaside. Keeping it family-friendly seemed the way to go.
An instant response from the assistant flashed across the screen.
The board of directors, (aka Bethany’s father) has given distinct directives for the property to be evaluated only as a timeshare location. Please forward observations at your earliest convenience.
That was a virtual slap on Bethany’s hand. She didn’t appreciate the tone, but she knew when to stay silent. After all, she was repeatedly reminded she was being held to the same standards as any other employee and needed to prove herself. Not only as her father’s daughter, but as a true executive worthy of power. The big problem being that her father had always attached personal requests to her proving her professional prowess.
Releasing another long breath, she decided to ignore the negative emotions and continue with her strategy. And truth be told, her earliest convenience wouldn’t be for at least a few days. She hadn’t even made it to the island, was still on the ferry, and Bethany had such grand plans for Mykonos.
She wanted to make Greece her home base and she planned to make the most of every minute spent on Mykonos. Even without seeing it, she knew she’d love it. She loved everything she’d seen of Greece: the landscape, the people, even the food. The idea of spending lots of time at the new Luxury Homes Away From Home property put a smile on her face.
She lowered the lid on the computer and sneaked a glance back at the men. Being a woman, she deserved a little dreamy pleasure.
Her breath caught in her throat and her skin flushed.
Justin, her J, stared clear into her soul. Adrenaline shot through her, and every one of her cells launched a revolution. She considered how quickly she could escape. But her body wouldn’t cooperate. Her legs wouldn’t move.
Recognition flashed in his eyes and his mouth turned up in a smile. He stood, nudged the lighter-haired man’s arm, and motioned for him to follow. Those well-worn jeans came her way, and Bethany melted into her pleather seat.
She hadn’t seen Justin in years. She wasn’t sure she could handle seeing him at all. The man had walked away and broken her heart.
“Bethy,” he said, reaching her and pulling her up on to legs that had turned to jelly. She fell forward, and he steadied her against his chest as he tucked her into a full embrace and lowered his face to the curve of her neck. His breath tickled and his lips heated, causing bumps to rise on her skin. “I’m happy to see you.”
“Me, too, J,” she rasped, failing miserably at finding her balance while breathing in his familiar scent. That was the sexy smell that had distracted her in the first place.
“J? Bethy?” The other man’s surprised voice penetrated the haze and she somehow found the strength to stand. “Your Bethy?”
“My Bethy,” Justin said, only a slight question in his gaze, maybe searching for her acceptance of his touch, before he smoothed a finger down her cheek and dropped a kiss on her forehead. “Bethany, this is my boyfriend, Paul.”
She had no time to process Justin’s words as Paul wrapped his arms around them, both her and Justin, and pressed his lips to the side of her temple. “Such a pleasure to finally meet the elusive and beautiful Bethany.”
Stunned, she didn’t know what to do or how to react. She went with a simple smile. “Hello, Paul.”
Paul, her once-lover’s boyfriend, held her in his embrace like a cherished friend. Snug against his muscular body, she realized it had been his scent that had added an edge of sophisticated roughness to her dreamy olfactory experience. She looked up at Justin, who kept on grinning like he’d just won the lottery, then over to Paul, who tightened his hold and squeezed her closer. What was she supposed to do?
“You should sit,” Justin said. “You look a little shell-shocked.”
A little! Was the man crazy? She dropped on to her seat and stared up at the man who had once shattered her world with a breakup phrase. I can’t stay here.
Not only had Justin moved on, but he’d moved on with a man. And yes, they’d discussed love for the sake of love; love not limited to heterosexual or homosexual love, just love. And yes, the fact that Justin had a boyfriend was not news to Bethany. But meeting the gorgeous man was.
Paul squatted beside her, placing his large palm on the side of her thigh. “From all Justin says about you, I feel like we’ve known each other for years. I know so much about you, but I can honestly say I’m totally stunned at how little justice his sweet words did for you. You’re even more beautiful than I’ve imagined.”
Well she didn’t know anything about him—other than the fact that his touch did things to her a stranger shouldn’t. That was a lie. She also knew he was more beautiful than she’d imagined a man could be. If you could call a handsome man beautiful?
Bethany forced another smile. She gazed at Justin and recalled her last conversation with him.
“I’m not signing away our life,” he’d said. “I can do it on my own. Be my own—”
“I don’t want to hear anymore. I can’t hear anymore.”
“Give me a chance to explain,” he’d urged. “Staying isn’t the—”
“No. It hurts too much,” she’d said, then begged him to stop speaking. “Just go. This isn’t working anyway. We’re done.”
Over the months that followed the heartbreak, she’d erased all the messages he’d left on her phone without listening to them. She’d deleted each unopened email. She’d even transferred schools and had given the house staff specific instructions not to share her forwarding information with him. It simply hurt too much.
Shoot, she wasn’t fooling herself trying to be all civilized and calm. Her world had been royally fucked and turned inside out. She’d been ready to make a life with Justin and had believed he’d been ready to make a life with her. They’d gone out of state for school together, but he’d left only a couple of weeks into the semester. She’d transferred to a new school in January.
“How long has it been, Bethy?”
She knew exactly how long. To the month. To the day. To the hour. She checked her phone, then realized she was in a different time zone. Nope. She wasn’t going there with him.
“It doesn’t matter,” Paul said, coming to her rescue. “We’re just happy to reconnect. Amazing good fortune to run into you today. It’s happenstance.”
Happenstance her ass. It was a curse.
“I kept trying to reach you,” Justin said. “You vanished. You were impossible to find. No one, not even Sheridan, would tell me where you were.”
Of course her sister wouldn’t tell him. While holding her hand and telling her to release her anger by slashing his bicycle tires, her sister had held Bethany’s head in her lap and had played with her hair so she could actually get some sleep.
“The only thing that helped was that your father said to leave you alone,” Justin continued. “To me, that meant you were okay. So I reapplied to my original choice of schools, a university I could afford, and enrolled the following year. I’ve kept my same phone number, just in case you ever wanted to contact me. You never did.”
Nothing he said was news to her. He’d never blocked her on any social network, so lurking had always been an option and the way she’d learned of Paul’s existence. Taking a deep breath, she kept her smile big as shit and concentrated on not letting a single tear slip. Those professional poker players had nothing on her.
“No worries,” Paul said. “You’re together now.”
Traveling to one of the sexiest places on earth, a past lover at her side, and his current lover at his side, did not mean “no worries.” It showcased the life of solitude that haunted her existence. No matter how Bethany had tried to drown her hurt in meaningless physical relationships, she hadn’t managed to put Justin out of her heart.
“So where are you going?” Paul asked.
That’s right. A tiny bit of hope crept through her as she realized the ship made more than one port and had a full route. She might not be subject to hormone-overload for the rest of the week. And it was hormonal…that was her story.
If she were to be subjected to so much tempting testosterone when it was off-limits, it would be pure torture, and her body and mind would be in constant turmoil. She couldn’t handle the turmoil already brewing inside her.
Body: Go for it.
Mind: Are you crazy? Stay away!
Body: Go for it. Orgasms guaranteed.
Mind: Heartbreak guaranteed.
Body: Fantasy come true.
Mind: Shut the fuck up, body. We don’t like him anymore.
Bethany had to stop feeling and start thinking. What was it? The itinerary hit three different islands before returning to Piraeus. Maybe, just maybe, the boat would reach Mykonos, she’d disembark, and the men would continue on.
“Work,” she blurted. “I’m working on Mykonos for the next week.”
“We’re here for a week.” Justin slid into the booth beside her and draped his arm across the back of the seat. “Sort of for work, too.”
“Sort of?” Bethany asked.
“No. It’s work.” Justin shrugged, and dark waves of hair fell across his forehead.
She had to stop herself from reaching up and sweeping them off his brow. She loved the feel of his hair on her fingers.
“We’d rather it was play, but it doesn’t matter. We have a chance to spend some time with you. A real chance to put the past behind us and move ahead.” He met Paul’s gaze. “And you finally get to meet Bethany and see how amazing she is in person.”
The pit in her stomach swelled, and her insides twisted with dread. Why did fate mess with her in such an evil way and subject her to two handsome men, Justin and his boyfriend, when all it would do is remind her of her current solo status?
Despite her confident and suave reputation, she had limited experience in honest relationships. Sure she’d had her share of lovers, but she wouldn’t classify any of them as relationship material. She’d always managed to leave before the sun came up or they’d wanted to chat. Then their calls would be diverted to voice mail and they’d eventually stop calling. Guess the effort wasn’t worth it.
Maybe she wasn’t worth it? Maybe it was her doing that Justin had gone gay?
Ludicrous. Nobody made anyone any way. They were or they weren’t. And if she was honest, like she had been when they’d been together, Justin never defined love by gender. He loved who he loved.
More likely, her real issue was that she was doomed to be lonely and alone.
“What’s wrong?” Paul sat across from her and placed his arms on the table. For a split second she thought he’d reach for her hands, so she tucked them under her thighs. “What are you thinking?”
“Nothing.” She shook her head, hiding her emotions. “It’s a work thing. Conference call.” She inched across the seat and out of the booth. “I need to go.”
“Where are you staying?” Justin asked.
Straightening, she shrugged, collected her files into a neat pile, and placed the computer in its case. “Not sure. The info is in my cabin,” she lied.
“A phone number?” Justin persisted, but she just couldn’t do it. She couldn’t give him her new number, and definitely couldn’t place her heart and soul on the line to have them blown to smithereens again. But his gaze wouldn’t waver. “Want my number?”
“I remember it.” Another shrug.
“That’s great,” Paul said, standing beside her and giving her a reassuring smile. He pulled a card from his back pocket and handed it to her. “Plus, you now have my info, too. Local and US cell numbers. Both phones are on. Call either, any time.”
He closed his hand over hers and squeezed as if he understood her predicament, and her traitorous hand didn’t pull back. She liked it. She actually wanted to step into his arms, knowing darn well he’d welcome and comfort her.
Mind: Walk away now.
Body: Just let the man do what he can do.
Mind: I said now!
“Let’s shoot for meeting up before we disembark,” Paul said, the glint in his amber-colored eyes holding her as much as his touch. “But if the signal is bad onboard, or we don’t meet up before we dock, we’ll wait for you on the pier by the Sunset Café.”
“Okay.” She turned and walked away, waving over her shoulder because she didn’t dare meet Justin’s gaze again. If she did, her resolve to stay away would crumble.