HER FATHER’S SERVANTS KEPT the ebony grand polished to a mirror-smooth gloss. Ariadne sat stiffly at the keyboard, playing Debussy but not hearing it, looking out past open shutters to the sea. The sun was sinking into molten copper and crimson, ash from the latest eruption refracting vivid shimmers. Her fingers summoned arpeggios to echo the rippling colors.
This might be the last time she played her mother’s piano. She sighed, letting the old hurt out through her hands, letting the music flow through her. Her mother had loved to play here, where she could see the sea and the gulls, her pale hands moving over the keys like the sweep of wings. Then the music had died for little Ariadne, light dimming in Uncle Dmitrios’s magical blue crystal that she’d given to the mountain chapel’s altar so God would heal her mother. But it hadn’t worked. Nothing had worked. Ellen Barrett Demodakis had become too ill to play the music that first captivated her husband in the concert halls. To the end, the servants carried her daily to this room with the long windows and distant wings.
After Ellen’s death, Ariadne’s father had ordered her to keep practicing, until she finally stopped hating her mother’s piano. And so she had to owe even the gift of music to Tyrannos Constantin.
She stood abruptly, echoes of “Clair de Lune” summoning that childhood day—her father’s stern voice, her uncle’s white grin as he gave Ariadne the carved crystal, then turned to intently watch his brother’s wife at the keyboard.
And now Lisa, here? Pretty blond Lisa, laughing, teasing—the sorority’s trickster. So brash yet sweet. To Ariadne, she’d embodied the American freedom to explore, challenge the rules, plunge into experience. Maybe her old friend might help lighten these dark times.
She took a deep breath, smoothing her blue silk dress that had also been her mother’s, touching the knot of hair at her nape, sliding her fingers over the smooth facets of her crystal pendant. She stilled her nervous hands as the door swung open to admit Lisa.
Blue toenails, high-heeled sandals of colored straps, long thin legs in garish orange prancing past Marta’s stiff outrage, pale skin and bright makeup and the gauzy sheer blouse clearly molding high breasts. An American ad come to life. Ariadne had always enjoyed Lisa’s free-spirited fashions, and she herself knew too well that look of Marta’s.
But as she raised her gaze to Lisa’s, her welcoming smile froze. The pale topaz eyes glittered in a painted mask of the face she’d known, wearing an arrogant—hostile?—expression.
Ariadne finally offered her hand. “Chairete, Lisa.” Rejoice.
“It’s Leeza now.” A wolf’s grin. She held out her hand, not taking Ariadne’s, but displaying the platinum and sapphire ring. “Nice little souvenir you left me with.”
Ariadne stood rigid, struck dumb.
Lisa paced past her. “Figured better late than never. You did invite me, you know, back when you ran off. Even if you never answered my messages.”
“But . . . You didn’t receive my letters? When I didn’t hear from you, I thought. . . .” She closed her eyes. Of course, the Tyrannos would have intercepted them in his campaign to keep her isolated here. She cleared her throat. “Lisa, I’ve been something of a prisoner here, cut off from the world.”
“Right, I can see it’s brutal.” She snorted, gesturing around the room with its expensive antiques. She ran a finger over the grand piano. “Recognized the music.” She picked up a cushion from a couch and dropped it, touched a restored amphora, stopped at the windows. “Wild view.”
She turned, long legs in a model’s stance. “You’re still gorgeous, of course. Cool as a cucumber in this heat. You haven’t changed.”
Was it a question? Her pale eyes were intent, unreadable. Almost. She wanted something. Lisa, like all the others, coming to plead and take, angry when they found only a woman and not an oracle. Ariadne had learned to be wary of people’s needs.
“Please sit down. We can start to . . . catch up.” She gestured toward the couch, moving numbly in the routines of her father’s hostess. “Would you like a drink before dinner? I’ve sent someone to ask your companion to join us.”
Lisa stiffened, the mask cracking. “He’s not—”
The door had swung open again, to Ariadne’s relief. Marta was ushering someone in, her face still set in disapproval, though the stranger was at least dressed decently in shirt and slacks. He gave the maid a nod of thanks, one eyebrow quirked as he stepped into the room.
Lisa scowled. “He’s not my—”
“Nope. Just the hired help.” The man shot a look at Lisa and grinned, then turned toward Ariadne. “But thanks for the invita—”
He froze. His gaze flew to her crystal pendant and back to her face and he took a step forward, hands raising, face flushing.
Ariadne, beyond surprise, met the stare riveted on hers. Hazel-colored eyes. They’d looked darker in the sunlight by the sea, but now they matched the wavy chestnut hair. That afternoon at the cove, she’d thought he was one of the Greek recruits—straight-cut features and sturdy sun-bronzed figure emerging from the waves—until he’d spoken.
Lisa was glaring at him. He stood with his hands half-raised, just as Ariadne had left him at the spring, after he’d insisted she take the fish he’d caught. Her lips twitched with suppressed laughter.
The stranger cleared his throat and dropped his hands. He shrugged then, a humorous tilt to his brows. “Peter Mitchell here. Chairete, Despoina Demodaki.” He added in Greek, “Thank you for the dinner invitation.”
“We will be eating fish,” she answered in Greek, without thinking.
He looked surprised, then laughed, and somehow she found herself chuckling, too, Lisa looking back and forth between them with a puzzled, then peevish, expression.
“Lisa, forgive me.” She collected herself, reverting to English. “It seems Mr. Mitchell and I have already met, when he offered us a fresh pompano the cook is now preparing for our meal.”
The pale eyes narrowed, shooting daggers at the man, but he hadn’t taken his eyes from Ariadne.
She avoided his insistent stare, orchestrating seats and drinks and polite questions, but somehow slow and awkward, her rusty English stilted. She longed for the near-invisibility of her childhood self, wishing she could melt into a shadow beneath the piano.
She turned. “Please, Lis—Leeza, help yourself.”
Leeza jerked out a hand to refill her glass, eyes glinting angrily, though her voice came out flat and bored. “So you’ve never caught my show. Thought they got it even in the boonies. I’ve got some on chip, you want to check it out.”
“I’ve got an old one she’d like. Hot Kitten—”
Leeza turned on him, hissing, “Cram it, Mitchell!”
He held up his hands. “Kidding.” He grinned, launching into a humorous tale about the Piraeus taverna where apparently Leeza had hired him to bring her here, but his gaze kept following Ariadne.
And she’d actually enjoyed the encounter with the stranger at the cove that afternoon, a reminder that life was more than threats and urgency. Something elemental in the way he’d risen from the sea, the rush of time halted for a moment and distilled to the essence of sunlight, white stone, blue water, wet brown skin, and the simple pleasure of laughter. And now all she wanted was to escape both of these intruders—the flippant smuggler, and this brittle, cynical Leeza. Ariadne looked out through the open shutters, the last purple glow on the horizon almost visibly shimmering with geomagnetic turbulence. She needed to finish her plans for escape.
“. . . but I have to admit the joke’s on me today.” Mitchell was raising his glass in a mock salute. “I throw myself on your mercy, Despoina—”
A blinding flash split the darkness beyond the windows, shattering the calm night. Pounding on the heels of the glare, a percussive boom. The floor shook, rattling glasses on the table. Past the terrace, another bomb exploded.
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