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If Darcie Hayes had any lingering doubts about her decision to call off her wedding a week before the "I dos" and end her engagement to her longtime beau, they were eradicated the moment she stepped off the plane in Athens and scanned the crowd.
A driver was supposed to meet her at the airport. That was part of the nonrefundable, all-inclusive Greek tour package that her spendthrift fiance had booked for their honeymoon. The honeymoon she had decided to take alone.
Tad got their Buffalo, New York, condominium and their antisocial cat in the breakup. She'd figured a couple of weeks away from her well-meaning friends and family in sun-drenched Greece was a fair trade since she'd never liked the condo, and the cat had never liked her. Now, she had the sinking feeling that Tad had gotten the better end of the deal.
She saw no hand-printed sign bearing her name. Nor was anyone smiling in welcome and waving to gain her attention. For a brief moment, a handsome man on a cell phone stopped talking and their gazes met.
Her best friend Becky's last text played through Darcie's head.
Meet a man. Have a fling. Get ur sexy back.
Becky had wanted to come on the trip, but she hadn't been able to get the time off work on such short notice. That wasn't stopping her from giving Darcie all sorts of advice on how to spend her time, including having a fling. Well, if Darcie were going to cast caution to the wind, this would be exactly the sort of man she would pick to do it with. He was so gorgeous that her mouth threatened to fall open. It settled for watering, and she was forced to swallow or she would have drooled. The crowd of departing passengers surged around him then, obstructing her view. When the travelers cleared, he was gone.
After that, the only person who made eye contact with Darcie was a portly porter who approached with a trolley as she waited for her bags at the luggage carousel. It was just her luck that only one of the designer knock-offs showed up. It was the smaller of the twothe bag in which she'd packed her "second-string" outfits, the first string being the new clothes she'd bought especially for the trip. The bag sported wheels and a retractable handle, but the handle was out and dangling uselessly to the side. As for the wheels, one had been sheared off somehow.
The porter pointed to the missing wheel and busted handle, and then pointed to the trolley. Darcie nodded. Even though the bag was only one size up from a carry-on, when she'd hefted it onto the scale at the airport in Buffalo, she'd nearly given herself a hernia. She was more than happy to have someone else do the heavy lifting now.
The porter was old enough to be her father, but nothing about the smile he gave her was paternal. After loading her bag onto a cart, he winked. Then his gaze skimmed down and he said something in Greek that, even though she didn't know what it meant, had her checking the buttons on her blouse to be sure they were fastened.
"I, um, can take it from here," Darcie said, handing him a couple euros for a tip and then making a shooing motion with her hands.
Alone again, she heaved a frustrated sigh. So much for the part of her itinerary that read, "You will be met at the airport by a member of our friendly and efficient English-speaking staff and taken directly to one of Athens's finest hotels."
But then what her near-miss of a husband considered "sparing no expense" on the trip of a lifetime and how the majority of people would define the concept were two different things entirely. Tad had never earned a penny that he hadn't pinched mercilessly afterward. Darcie was all for getting a good deal, but more often than not, you got what you paid for. She had a bad feeling this trip was going to be a case in point. The plane ride had been her first clue, wedged as she'd been for the long, transatlantic flight into a coach seat so narrow that even a runway model would have found the dimensions unforgiving.
Darcie wasn't a runway model, nor would she ever be mistaken for one, even if at five foot eleven she had the height. She also had curves, the kind for which words such as big-boned and, her personal favorite, full-figured had been strung together. She'd long ago reconciled herself to that fact that no amount of dieting was going to result in her being considered dainty. Instead, through hard work and an amount of discipline she hadn't known she'd possessed, she'd toned her body into its best shape ever for her wedding day. She'd planned to rock the church wearing a fitted white mermaid gown, but she'd never walked down the aisle.
That had been her choice, but still
She headed for the nearest counter, putting her back into steering the trolley, which, she discovered, had an annoying tendency to veer to the right. All the way there, she prayed that one of the two uniformed men standing behind the counter would speak enough English to understand her.
"Excuse me," she began, smiling at both. "Yia sas." That meant "hello" and pretty much measured the extent of her Greek.
Luckily, one of the men replied in English, "Hello. How can I assist you?"
"Someone from my tour was supposed to meet me here and take me to my hotel, but I don't see anyone. I was hoping you might know where I should wait for them."
The man nodded. "What is the name of the company?"
"It's Zeus Tours." She rifled through her purse and produced a full-color brochure and a printout of her itinerary, which she handed to him.
The mouth under his thick moustache twitched with a smile and he nodded again. "Zeus Tours. Ne."
"You know of them?"
"Ne," he said again. It meant "yes," but his amused expression didn't leave her feeling relieved. Next to him, the other man had started to chuckle.
Oh, this didn't bode well, but she forged ahead. "Um, so are they here?" She gestured to the busy terminal at large.
He glanced around. "I do not see Stavros."
The other man said something in Greek that had them sharing a laugh.
"Stavros." She repeated on a nod. "Am I supposed to meet this Stavros somewhere other than here?"
"Here. There." The man shrugged. "I suggest you have a seat and make yourself comfortable." He handed the papers back to her and pointed to a nearby bank of chairs. "It could be a while."
"A while?" Her stomach dropped.
"Stavros keeps his own schedule. If he owns a watch, he never consults it."
At this the man's coworker hooted with laughter.
Darcie was tired and growing irritable. She wanted a shower, a nap and something to eat, not necessarily in that order. It wouldn't hurt to throw in a drink somewhere, either. A nice glass of chilled white wine, perhaps. Or a shot of ouzo straight from the bottle. What she didn't want to do was spend any more of her first day in Athens in the airport as the punch line for a joke. But she worked up a smile and offered her thanks.
She was attempting to wheel the trolley away when someone tapped her on the shoulder. Darcie turned to find the gorgeous man she'd spied earlier. Her stomach took another dive, but this time for reasons that had nothing to do with disappointment.
Up close, she realized that he was taller than she was. Darcie actually had to look up. Even if she'd been wearing the highest pair of heels she owned, she only would have been on eye level. Six foot three, she figured, and every last inch of him was packaged in firm muscle beneath an untucked white linen shirt and a pair of designer jeans that fit snugly across the thigh.
His skin was tanned, his jaw subtly shadowed. His hair was nearly black and fell across brows of the exact shade. The eyes below those brows were a rich chocolate-brown and smiling even though his mouth held only the faintest curve.
"Hello," he said.
Her tongue untied long enough for her to manage a basic greeting. "Hi."
"I could not help but overhear your conversation. Maybe I can be of help," he said in gorgeously accented English.
"I hope so." It came out on a sigh and Darcie came to her senses. "What I mean is, my fi Um, friend booked an all-inclusive vacation package with Zeus Tours. I was promised that someone would meet me at the airport, but " She lifted her shoulders in a shrug.
"Ah, Zeus Tours." Like the pair at the counter, the man apparently was acquainted with the company, but he didn't laugh. Rather, the corners of his mouth turned down in a frown. "May I ask why you decided to book your trip with that particular company?"
"My, um, friend found them on the internet and got a really good deal."
It sounded like he said, "I am sure she did." He glanced around then. "And where is your friend?"
Tad was probably with his mother, Darcie mused. It had taken her six years to accept the fact that an engagement ring was no match for the tight knots in Evelyn's apron strings.
"Couldn't make it," she replied, leaving off the telltale pronoun.
A pair of dark brows rose. "So, you came to Greece by yourself?"
Even a man who looked like a Greek god could be a psychopathic killer. So, Darcie said carefully, "Yes, but you know, it's a guided tour and they're expecting me."
The man glanced around and then back at her.
"Well, I'm sure someone will be here any minute." She pulled out the brochure again and tapped the front of it with the tip of one finger. "I've been assured a safe and supervised good time over the course of the next two weeks."
This time the man's mouth joined his eyes in smiling.
"I apologize. I am making you nervous when I am only trying to help. Here." He pulled out the cell phone she'd seen him talking on earlier. "If you give me the number, I will call the company for you. I know the owner. He and I went to grade school together."
A psychopathic killer wouldn't offer to make phone calls, she reasoned. She handed him the brochure.
Darcie could hear only one side of the conversation and it was in rapid-fire Greek, but she could figure out easily enough that the handsome stranger was irritated on her behalf. Whoever was on the other end of the line was getting an earful. When the man concluded the call, he returned the phone to his back pocket.
"Well?" she asked.
"Unfortunately, your ride has been delayed. I will take you to your hotel."
"You but " she sputtered and glanced around, torn. She was eager to leave the airport, unpack and unwind in the comfort of her hotel room, but "I don't even know your name."
He smiled. "I am Nick. Nick Costas. The men at the counter can vouch for me, if you would like. I fly in and out of this airport often enough. Or I can show you some identification." Without waiting for a reply, he pulled out his wallet and produced his driver's license.
"The State of New York?" She glanced up. "You're American?"
"Yes, for the past five years, but much of my family still lives in Athens. Between business and family, I am here often." He pocketed his wallet. "And you are?"
She cleared her throat and in a demure voice managed to respond, "Darcie Hayes of Buffalo. We're practically neighbors."
It was a stretch given that his address was on Park Avenue in Manhattan and she lived upstate, several hours away. They shared a time zone but were worlds apart based on the designer watch strapped to his wrist.
Still, he was attracted to her.
She may have been long out of practice when it came to flirting, but she knew male interest when she saw it. For a woman who'd spent several years waiting to walk down the aisle while her boyfriend deferred to his mother's wishes, it was heady stuff indeed.
"It's good to meet you, Darcie Hayes of Buffalo."
He offered a hand and their palms met briefly. The simple contact managed to make her insides quake. Of course, they were shaky to begin with as a result of exhaustion and the fact that she'd bypassed the in-flight meal of mystery meat coated in unappetizing neon yellow gravy. Still, she pulled back her hand, worried she might make a fool of herself.
"It's nice to meet you, too. And I really appreciate your help." She tucked a hank of hair behind one ear. "Um, what did the tour company people say?"
"Stavros is indisposed."
Stavros, there was that name again. Nick said he'd gone to school with the man who owned the company, but she asked hopefully, "Is this Stavros the driver?"
"The driver, the tour guide and the owner of Zeus Tours."
"Oh, boy. A real multitasker, hmm?" She blew out a breath. "When you say indisposed, what does that mean exactly? Has he fallen and broken his leg? Or contracted a nasty virus and is racked with fever?"
Nick shook his head. "Stavros is still lying in bed. He told me that he had a late night out with his friends and overindulged."
"He's h-h-hung over?" she sputtered incredulously.
"I am afraid so."
Darcie gritted her teeth. She should have known. The moment Tad bragged that he'd gotten a great deal, it should have been abundantly clear that the dream Greek honeymoon trip he'd booked was too good to be true for a reason.
"I was really hoping this Stavros had a stomach bug," she muttered. This surprised a laugh out of Nick. She asked him, "How familiar are you with Zeus Tours?"
Nick wasn't laughing now. "I am familiar enough to know that Stavros pours more money down his throat than he puts back into his company. He took over when his father died two years ago. In that time, he has had to let go more than half of his employees. He is not a bad man, but neither is he a good businessman."
Although she wasn't normally one to air her complaints to a stranger, weariness had her muttering, "Terrific. Just terrific. I'm here for a vacation. God knows, I'm due for one. I haven't had a day off work in two years. I've worked overtime and taken every crappy assignment I was handed without complaint so I could save up money for for " She waved a hand and tried to reel in her emotions. "Anyway, I was counting on the vacation described in the brochurefirst-rate accommodations, air-conditioned motor coaches for sightseeing with a knowledgeable guide, authentic Greek cuisine at some of the country's best restaurants. Is this company going to be able to deliver on any of its promises?"
"No." He didn't hesitate at all, making that one word all the more damning.
Darcie closed her eyes briefly. "Of course not. Half of my luggage is missing. What showed up is, well, the half I wish were missing. Not that it really matters, given that my dream vacation is turning out to be a bust and I haven't even gotten out of the airport yet." She sighed. "I should have taken the condo and Rufus."
"Also know as the spawn of Satan. He's a cat," she added when Nick continued to frown. Not that her explanation made anything clear. She shook her head. "Never mind. Trust me when I say, this is the story of my life."
"Come." Nick smiled. "You can share this story of your life on the drive to your hotel." Why not?