Archaeologist Laurel Evans put her career on hold to care for her younger sisters. Now, close to achieving her goals, she won't let anything distract her. Laurel has come to Delphi to dig up ancient treasures, but she finds a modern-day Greek god insteadlocal doctor Andros Drakoulias!
A devoted single dad, Andros is determined to give his little girl stability. He knows his fling with Laurel can't last, so why is it so hard to imagine a future without her by his side?
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Laurel Evans gasped as the pinhead-sized gleam of gold revealed itself, winking at her through the layers of dirt she'd painstakingly removed. Even mostly still buried in this pit they'd dug on Mount Parnassus, the glow was unmistakable.
Laurel's heart danced wildly in her chest as she grabbed her pick and brush, forcing herself to go slow as she gently worked to free the treasure. It took only a moment to realize it was something small, not the item she'd hoped to find, and she shoved down her brief disappointment. Oh so carefully, she used the delicate tools until the ancient find was finally loosened completely from the earth it had been long buried in.
A ring. Likely worn and possibly loved by someone thousands of years earlier. Even the smallest pieces of pottery, tools and partial bits of art they'd unearthed, reassembled and cataloged in the past weeks stepped up her pulse, but this? Nothing beat the thrill of finding a treasure like this one.
No, scratch that. There was one thing she could think of that would be way beyond thrilling, and the weeks were ticking away on her hopes of finding it. Of getting it on the cover of archaeological magazines all over the world, along with her parents' faces, crowning the pages of her PhD dissertation, and ensuring funding for the next project that would get her own belated career launched at last.
She closed her fingers around the ring in her palm and breathed in the dusty, sweltering air. Too soon to panic. There were still a few weeks left before the end of this dig, and she, the rest of the crew and volunteers just needed to work harder and smarter. She looked up the mountain where the ruins of Delphi lay hidden from her view. Why couldn't the oracle still be there to advise her where the heck the mythical treasure might be deeply hidden on this mountain?
Laurel wanted to show Melanie what she'd found, but as she looked around at the crew working the numerous rectangular pits dug into the mountainside she didn't see her anywhere. Where could the woman be? Usually she was up early and on the mountain to enthusiastically guide her and the volunteers. Could she have gone to the caves with Tom? Seemed unlikely she wouldn't tell Laurel she'd be working with her husband instead of leading the mountain portion of the dig. Maybe the cold she'd been fighting had gotten worse, and she'd decided to sleep in.
Laurel swiped a trickle of sweat that persisted in rolling down her temple, despite the wide-brimmed canvas hat shielding her from the insistent sun. She tucked her exciting find into a sample bag, but before she could start to label it, her palm began to bleed again from under the bandage she'd put on it.
"Damn it," she muttered, trying to reposition the pad to cover it better, then ripped off a piece of duct tape to slap over the whole thing. So annoying that she'd stupidly jabbed herself while unearthing a sharp piece of what was likely part of a cup. She was just glad she hadn't further broken the artifact in the process. She started to label the ring bag again only to stop midword as her peripheral vision caught a movement nearby.
She glanced over to see a man walking up the steep, rocky mountain path that wound between dried brown scrub scattered with tufts of thriving green plants, as steady and sure-footed as the goats that sometimes trotted by with their neck bells ringing. As he grew closer, she blinked, then stared. The brilliant sunshine gleamed on his short black hair and sent shadows and light across his chiseled cheekbones and jaw, his straight nose and sculptured lips. His face was so startlingly beautiful, so classically Greek, she thought he might be a mirage. That it was the god Apollo himself walking up Mount Parnassus to visit the temple built to honor him.
She gave her head a little shake, wondering if the blistering heat was getting to her. She narrowed her eyes against the sunlight and looked again.
Not her imagination. And not Apollo, but most definitely a real man. Greek gods didn't normally wear khaki-colored dress pants and a short-sleeved, blue, button-down shirt that was open at the collar. A shirt that emphasized the obvious fitness of his torso and the deep tan of his skin. A steel wristwatch caught and reflected the sun in little white diamonds that danced on the craggy ground with each measured step he took.
The one word that came to mind was wowza. Who in the world was he? And why was he wearing such a surprising choice of clothing for hiking the mountain in ninety-five degrees Fahrenheit? Must be a local businessman, or possibly a reporter come to check out the dig. Or, with his knockout looks, a movie star planning his next film. She didn't normally watch many movies, but if that was the case she'd definitely find time to fit in a viewing or ten of him on the big screen.
Laurel snapped out of her fixation on the man and finished her notation on the ring bag. She stood and quickly tucked the bag inside her canvas apron, next to her trowel. Tom and Melanie wouldn't be happy if she yakked to a reporter or anyone else before they even knew about her find.
He stopped to speak to one of the volunteers on the dig, who pointed at Laurel. The man's gaze turned to her, and even with twenty feet between them she could see his eyes were so dark they were nearly black, with a surprising intensity that seemed to stare right into her.
He resumed his trek toward her. He wasn't a tall manprobably an inch or two shy of six feet. But the broad muscularity of his physique, which she'd noticed wasn't unusual among Greek men, made him seem larger. Or was it the sheer power of his good looks and intelligent gaze that made him seem that way?
"Are you Laurel Evans?" he asked with only a slight accent to his otherwise American-sounding words.
"Yes. Can I help you?"
"I'm Dr. Andros Drakoulias." He reached out to grasp her hand in a firm handshake. His palm felt wide and warm, slightly rough and not at all sweaty as she knew hers was. She pulled her hand loose and swiped it down the side of her shorts, hoping he hadn't noticed the sweat or that just the simple touch made her feel a little breathless. "Your colleagues, the two Drs. Wagner, asked me to let you know what was going on."
"Going on?" She realized it was a rather stupid echo of his words, but there was something about the serious expression she now saw in his eyes that sent her pulse into an alarmed acceleration. "Why? Is something wrong?"
"They came to the clinic early this morning feeling feverish and ill. I've done some tests, and both have pneumonia."
"Pneumonia?" Laurel stared at him in shock. Pneumonia? How was that possible? "Melanie and Tom both had colds the past couple of days, but that seemed to be all it was."
"Unfortunately not. I have them on IV fluids and antibiotics, and I plan to keep them today and overnight at the clinic to see how they do."
Did this guy really know what he was talking about? Handsome didn't necessarily translate to smart. She studied him. Maybe it was wrong of her, but she couldn't help but wonder if the local town doctor had the knowledge and equipment to properly diagnose the problem. Should she take them to the closest large town instead, to be sure? "What makes you think it's pneumonia?"
A small smile touched his beautifully shaped lips. "Hippocrates could diagnose pneumonia by listening to a patient's chest, Ms. Evans. Ancient Greeks were at the forefront of medicine, after all. But believe it or not, even in our small-town clinic we have X-ray equipment and pulse oxim-etry to measure a patient's oxygen saturation."
Somehow, her face flushed hotter than it already was beneath the scorching noon sun. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be insulting." Maybe inserting a little light humor into the awkward moment she'd created was in order. "But I must say, despite the Greeks putting the Omphalos stone at Delphi to show it was the center of the world, many believe Egyptian physicians adopted an ethical code of medical care centuries before Hippocrates."
His smile broadened; he was seemingly amused instead of offended, thank heavens. "Don't say that out loud, Ms. Evans, or you may find yourself in a no-win argument with angry locals."
"Is there any other kind of argument with Greeks?"
"Probably not." The amusement in his eyes became a dangerously appealing twinkle. "I lived in the United States for fifteen years. I know Americans think everyone outside the US and Western Europe are somewhat backward and simple. If you like, I could go up to the temple and consult Apollo. Or perhaps pray to Asclepios for guidance?"
"Not necessary. I'm sure you're very experienced, Dr. Drakoulias. I just " Her voice trailed off, because she didn't know what else to say and had a feeling she might stick her foot in her mouth all over again. She sent him a grateful smile, hoping that would make him look past her blunder. "Thank you for walking all the way up here to let me know. Right now, I need to stay at the site to supervise since Mel's not going to be here. But I'd like to come down this evening to see them. Where's your clinic?"
"In Kastorini, which is at the base of the mountain above the gulf waters. Just follow the old bell tower to the center of townyou can't miss us."
"What's the address?"
His straight teeth showed in a smile that gleamed white against his brown skin. An unexpected dimple appeared in one cheek, which added another attractive layer to the man who sure didn't need it. "There are no addresses in Kastorini, Ms. Evans. We're small enough that everyone finds their way around without."
No addresses? How did people get their mail and things? She wasn't about to ask, though, and make even more of a fool of herself. "Well, I'm sure I can then, too. Thanks."
"I do have a question for you." All the teasing humor left his face. "Were both of the Drs. Wagner working in one spot? Somewhere they might have been exposed to a fungus of some kind?"
"Not really. Melanie is in charge of this part of the dig, and Tom leads the dig in the adjacent cave discovered a few years after the initial excavation. Why?"
"Just that it's unusual for two healthy people to come down with pneumonia at nearly the same time. Which makes looking for an external cause something we need to think about. Has Melanie been in the caves recently?"
Laurel thought hard about what they'd excavated and where they'd dug, but couldn't come up with anything that might have made them sick. "I'm almost certain she hasn't been in the caves at all. At least, not since the first days of the dig two months ago. At team meetings, Tom shares the cave dig results weekly, and Melanie shares our results. It's more efficient that way."
"All right. We'll see how they're both doing tomorrow and decide then if it makes sense to look harder for some connection." He looked around at the extensive excavation. "I wasn't living here when Peter Manago tried building a house in this spot and they found the ruins. When was thatfive or six years ago?"
Had it been that long? Five years since her family's shocking loss that had turned her world upside down? A loss that seemed like yesterday, and yet, in other ways, felt like forever ago.
"I think that's about right." She swallowed hard at the intense ache that stung her throat. "Have you been up here to check it out?"
"No, but I've been wanting to. Is it filled with treasures offered to Apollo and the oracle?" His eyes crinkled at the corners. "Everyone who grew up around here used to dig giant holesor at least giant to usthat we were sure would expose a sphinx, or the Charioteer's horses, or something else that would make us rich."
"And were you one of them?"
"Oh, yes. Born and raised in Kastorini. Many a goat has likely fallen into one of my 'digs.' But after finding only rocks and more rocks and the occasional very exciting animal bone, I decided becoming a doctor might be a better way to make money."
She had to laugh. Money was definitely not the reason anyone dug in the dirt for a living.
"No doubt about that."
"You must be finding something, though, or they wouldn't have been working at it for so long. What's here?" He looked around at the carefully plotted-out sections of earth. "Tell me about these squares you have marked off."
"Much of the time when you unearth a site that's several thousand years old, it's a bit like a layer cake. The oldest part of a settlement is at the bottom, with artifacts that reflect how the people lived then. Vessels used for cooking, style of art that's found, even the way a wall might be built, all can change a lot from the bottom of the cake to the top. But this site?" She loved sharing the excitement of this place with people who were interested. "The layers aren't there. There's no cemetery. No human remains, despite the number of buildings that housed probably a hundred people at a time. Which convinces us that it was temporary housing for pilgrims visiting Delphi."
"Interesting. How long, do you think?"
He stopped scanning the site to look at her with rapt attention in his beautiful eyes, and a dazzling smile that momentarily short-circuited her brain. What had she been talking about, exactly? "How long what?"
"How many centuries did the pilgrims come to stay here?"
"Oh." The man probably thought she was dense. "About five hundred years, we think. Amazing that people came here to consult the oracle and worship Apollo all that time."
"Did the small earthquake we had a couple weeks ago damage anything?"
That earthquake had scared everyone, but especially Laurel. When the earth had rumbled around them, her heart had about stopped as the vision of how she'd been told her parents had died had surged to the forefront of her mind. The quake had lasted only a few minutes, but her in-sides had shaken for hours.
"Some rocks and earth loosened and fell into the pits, but it wasn't too bad, thankfully."
"That's good." He seemed to be studying her and she wondered what her expression was, quickly giving him a smile to banish whatever might be there. "Do you have any photos of the things you've found?"
"We do. A number of tools and potsherds have been reassembled and I have pictures in a binder in that box. This section here," she said, showing him a large, cordoned-off rectangle, "is where several inscribed stones were found that are similar to the ones at the Temple of Apollo." And one of those stones was etched with the cryptic words that had convinced her mom and dad they'd find the priceless artifact Laurel was still looking for. That part had to be kept secret from most people, but she could show him the rest.