To balance the plunging neckline of her little black dress, Clio swept up her hair into a long ponytail tumbling to her shoulders. Tonight she’d make Jon proud to be her husband. Angling this way and that in front of the full-length mirror in the walk-in closet, she gave an appreciative nod at her fit reflection. The muscles in her arms and thighs had a subtle definition they lacked before the wedding. A side benefit of making love in challenging places – and positions.
Jon stepped to the sink and combed his short hair, but focused on her. “Almost ready? We don’t want to be late.” In the mirror, he smiled as she sidled up behind him.
“Don’t we?” She breathed into his ear, sliding her hand over the curve of his rear.
Grabbing her wrist, he turned, face flushed. “Babe, you know I’d love to. But we can’t be late tonight. This account is too important.” He kissed her fingers. “Keep that thought for later.”
Definitely. She let her mouth linger at his cheek. “I’m holding you to that, especially after you’ve been late so many nights these past few weeks.”
More serious, he reached for the cologne. It permeated the air, filling her senses, as he dabbed his neck. “You know I don’t like to leave unfinished business.”
“So long as you don’t forget our pact.” Her dress twirled around her knee as she retrieved her pashmina from the shelf.
“Never.” He pulled on his sport coat and winked at her. “You’re going to leave them breathless.”
Repressing a sigh, she touched his chin. “And then I’m going to leave you breathless later.” Unfortunately, business took precedence. For now.
They drove down unfamiliar streets, to winding, tree-lined roads.
“If everything goes as well as I think with this client, I’ll buy you a new car, a new house – whatever you want.” His glance carried such sincerity.
Settling against him, she took in the huge houses, looming behind large fences of stone or wrought iron, like castles guarding against intruders. Cold and manicured, nothing like home.
She squeezed his knee. “I don’t need all that. Just you.”
Grinning, he made the final turn. “Did I tell you how much I love you?” He gave her a quick kiss before stopping at the gate to present their invitation to the guard.
Even that short connection sent warmth coursing through her. “Not today.” But she hoped he’d remember later, when they were finally alone again.
As the car continued up the long, semi-circular stone driveway, an unease settled over her. “Is this his house?”
McMansions had never appealed much to her. She preferred cozy houses, where people could relax and not worry about spilling anything. Where kids could run free without fear of breaking anything precious. This place resembled a museum.
Jon pulled their Grand Cherokee behind Jarod’s Lexus. “Impressive, huh?”
“Pure decadence,” she whispered, scowling at the classic style, thick white pillars climbing the front entrance. Bordering the top, the Greek key inscribed the bleached granite facade. Beyond the driveway, a white marble fountain loomed, a dozen half-naked women dancing in a circle atop the flowing water. Their laughing faces disturbed her – not depicting happiness, they appeared frenzied. Vicious.
Jon held open the car door. “This guy’s vineyard produces more wine than anyone on the east coast. We were so lucky to convince him to sign on. Now we have to keep him happy.”
Clio stepped out. “He’s lucky to have you and Jarod. You’re the best.”
“It’s amazing how he got it going so fast. I still can’t figure it out.” He scanned the house, the yard.
They stepped to the front door and the sprawling entrance swallowed them.
“Don’t you love it?” Touching the small of her back, he pushed the doorbell.
The door swung open. A tall woman stood before them wearing a mini metallic shift. Eyes like a cat, she regarded them as if unsure whether to allow them inside. “Welcome. I’m Marcella.” The sleeveless, low-cut dress revealed taut, lean muscles.
“Hi, I’m Jon. This is my wife Clio.”
The woman made no effort to disguise her wandering gaze in appraising them both. Her full, wide mouth slid into a lazy smile. “Please come in.”
They followed her through the large foyer. Clio nudged Jon, who paid too close attention to the swaying of Marcella’s hips beneath her dress. She moved like a lioness, slow and graceful, down the marble steps leading to an immense high-ceilinged room. Grecian pillars lined the glass doors to a patio extending past Clio’s line of vision. A long s-shaped sofa dominated the center of the room, with seating on both sides. Custom-made, if she had to guess. An elaborate marble-topped bar occupied a corner. The setting had a theatrical feel. Unnatural.
More women than men attended the gathering. Something about the females set Clio on edge. Their smiles bared glistening white teeth. Like Marcella, all were well toned and in excellent shape, like a team of personal trainers. They cooed at the men in deep, suggestive tones, refilling their glasses without being asked. Like circus animals performing tricks, but always the edge of danger lurking beneath the surface. It made Clio shudder.
She leaned into Jon. “Which is the hostess?”
He shrugged. “I think all of them. They must be his employees.”
Their backs curved in feline menace, and their eyes glittered as if they could track someone in the dark.
She held tight to his hand. “They’re fascinating, in a creepy sort of way.”
“Yes,” he said, his voice husky as his gaze followed their curves with too much fervor.
Marriage had stopped neither of them from looking, but Clio sensed Jon drawing away. “Who is the host, then?”
He nodded toward the far end of the room. “Standing by the patio doors – grey shirt.”
About twenty people clustered in groups in the main room. An unfamiliar man stood by the glass doors. Michelangelo’s David come to life would have exuded equal beauty. His dark, layered hair curled to the top of his grey silk shirt collar, open to mid-chest. On anyone else, it might have appeared cheesy, a retro disco look. On him, it hinted a woman might have unbuttoned it to slide her fingers inside and feel the ripple of muscles. He had the bearing of royalty; his movements bore an ease of grace. The stance of an athlete, but brown leather sandals showed beneath his silken cream pants.
When the host turned and his eye caught hers, a fire lit behind them, and the sizzle caught in her bloodstream. He looked at her as if he knew her. Every inch of her.
The din of the room fell away, and she was held by his captive focus.
“Let’s go say hello,” Jon was saying.
She barely registered his palm at her elbow. Guiding her forward in slow steps, as if she walked through water. Reminding herself to breathe, Clio fought the urge to flee.
Too enthusiastic, Jon extended his hand. “So good to see you again. This is my wife, Clio.”
His attention solely on her, the man’s eyes widened, shaking Jon’s hand. “Clio. The muse of history.” His hand enveloped hers. “Enchanting.”
He looked much too young to use a word like enchanting.
Warmth flashed across her cheeks. “Yes, my mother loved Greek mythology. I am living proof.”
Jon glanced at her hand, still wrapped in the host’s. “You never told me that.”
“I’m sure I did.” She slid her fingers away from his intimate grasp.
“You never wondered about her extraordinary name?” The man’s sharp glance challenged Jon. A defiance lurked behind his amusement.
Jon stammered, “Well, I….”
Their host seemed to draw strength from Jon’s weakness. He straightened, his shoulders widened. His presence grew more palpable.
“Speaking of names….” She hoped to defuse the moment. “I didn’t get yours.”
He bowed his head. “Dion. At your service.”
“Your name is rather unusual too. After the singer from what, the sixties?” The Wanderer. Maybe his mother had been a fan. He appeared too young, though she couldn’t guess his age. His classic features were smooth, but he had a timeless aura. Ageless.
Jon shifted, his smile tight, touching her back, ready to steer her away, if necessary, from breaking the deal with her questions.
Dion’s gaze swept across her face with a sweet tenderness. “Like yours, it’s Greek. My mother, too, was a fan of mythology. Dion is an abbreviation of Dionysus. Too much of a mouthful.”
His emphasis on mouth conjured an image of him feeding her lush grapes, her reclining on white bedding, letting each grape tease her lips before closing her teeth around it, and devouring its flesh.
His gaze drifted to her mouth and lingered there.
Her chest rose with a heavy breath, and she forced herself to glance about the room. “You have a lovely home. Also very…unusual.”
Dion chuckled. “Unusual, yes. I miss my homeland, and did my best to make my house evoke the beauty of my island.” He extended a muscled arm. “Let me give you a tour.”
Her focus fully on him, she linked hers in his.
Jon stepped beside them. “We’d love that.” He flashed a smile, but his glance at her held indignation.
Maybe she should have deferred to her husband. She’d almost forgotten he stood beside her.
Dion led them down a wide hallway lit by crackled glass wall sconces. White stone urns sat on ornate pedestals and overflowed with trailing broad-leafed vines. He opened the first door. “This is the media room.”
Two large, pillow-filled lounging pits sat before a screen half the size of a movie theater’s. A low credenza wrapped the walls. No equipment was visible.
“I’ve never seen anything like it.” Clio imagined a togaed Dion reclining, surrounded by fawning women scantily draped in flowing gauze.
Dion’s gaze seared into hers. “I had it specially designed.” His half-smile sent a shiver through her as he laid his hand atop hers.
She should remove her arm from his, but didn’t.
He led them along the circling hallway to double doors. “This is my favorite place.” He threw open the doors.
Clio glanced at Jon. Before them stood a center wall apparently constructed of granite, behind which rushing water sounded. They followed Dion past the divider, which smoothed to white marble. Palm trees and ferns lined a waterfall cascading from the marble divider’s height into an indoor pool. It appeared to stretch out over the valleys beyond. Two grey marble pillars separated ceiling-high glass sliding doors.
Jon put a hand on his hip, his mouth half-open in a smile. “Wow. This is incredible.”
“An infinity pool – how beautiful.” She walked along its bordering tiles to the glass wall.
Dion stood beside her. “These slide open. It’s an engineering feat. Especially lovely in the moonlight.” His dark, magnetic eyes sparkled holding hers a beat too long.
His arm brushed against hers like a breeze fanning flames. She eased away, afraid Jon might see. He’d said this account represented their future, and she wouldn’t endanger it in any way.
In the orchard below, vines stretched in jagged rows on hill after hill.
“Is that your vineyard?”
“One of them.” Dion’s smile hinted at the power he held. “Come.” He spoke as one who’d spent a lifetime commanding others.
Jon stood near the wall, studying the sculpted figures in relief along the marble stripe. Dancing women, ribbons of gauze curling from shoulder to thigh, but hardly covering them. Their breasts pointed like armored shields, their figures muscular and lithe. Their expressions intent, as though performing a ceremony.
When Dion passed, Jon turned and fell in step with Clio.
Up a winding staircase lay the bedrooms. He led them through two guest rooms and a spacious office adjoining the master bedroom, but the main door stayed closed.
“The bed hasn’t been made.” His words smacked of falsehood, which raised her curiosity. He seemed the type of man not to leave any detail undone, let alone the bed.
An image came to her – him lying on his side on white sheets, a hand outstretched toward her. The sheet fell loose below his waistline, and a line of hair invited her gaze to follow it from his belly button to the very edge of the bulge beneath the sheets. She slipped one strap of her dress down her arm, then the other, and soon the fabric formed a black puddle on the floor. Like a predator on the hunt, she crawled onto the bed. The images were disturbingly vivid, as if they’d already taken place and returned to her as a memory.
She turned from the door. Dion watched her intently.
Jon heaved a breath and circled his shoulder, indicating irritation. “Why don’t we go downstairs? We need to freshen our drinks.”
Dion extended his arm. “Please. I’d like to hear your opinion on the wine.”
“Jarod and I think it’s excellent, as you well know.” Jon grasped her waist firmly.
Somehow Clio didn’t believe Dion cared what anyone said. His casual demeanor belied a ruthless businessman, a strategist who knew every angle to play.
They followed him down the staircase, and three women with open bottles at the ready approached them to fill their glasses.
The woman who filled Clio’s glass had a voice surprisingly deep and rich. “Drink up.” Her taunting smile lingered as she glided away.
The three women surrounded Jon, leading him toward the media room.
Jon glanced over his shoulder at her and shrugged.
Clio tensed, ready to follow. Business was one thing; this smacked of something else entirely.
Dion stepped in front of her. “Are you enjoying yourself?”
“Yes thanks.” She’d be more comfortable if those women hadn’t spirited Jon away. And if he hadn’t gone so willingly.
Dion held out his glass. “A toast. To new friends.”
“And old loves.” A blush warmed her cheeks. She had no idea why she’d said that.
She clinked her glass to his and sipped. The wine warmed her throat and chest, its bouquet tingling her palate. “This is excellent.”
His eyes shone like flickering coals. “There’s plenty more.” He held up a bottle.
“Mm, drink up to feel like a god and possess a power greater than ourselves, or let it take us to our ruin.”
His smile faded, his lips parted as if to speak.
“Sorry. My mother told Greek myths as bedtime stories. Whether her cautionary tales of wine’s dual nature became too ingrained, or whether I inherited weak genes, I’m afraid I have a low tolerance for alcohol.” Hopefully he wouldn’t take her admission personally, and it wouldn’t sour his business with Jon.
“Your mother sounds like a fascinating woman. Tell me more.” He slid his arm around her waist and they strolled into the hall.
Engaging him with minor details of her family, she let him lead her. They walked to the pool room, and he sat at the water’s edge. He took off his sandals and dipped his feet. She stepped out of her shoes and hiked her dress up her thigh, sitting beside him, arching her foot in and out of the pool, delighting in the cool water trickling down her leg.
Their conversation flowed easily and unhurried, the gaps of silences seemed natural. He asked about her hopes, unfulfilled dreams. She told him things she’d never even told Jon.
Each time her sips left her glass less than half full, he filled it again.
His shoulder met hers as they sat, the warmth of him – his aliveness – palpable beside her.
“What about you? Have you ever been married?” The women in his house circled him protectively, but none appeared to be his partner.
“Yes. Very happily. She was more than my wife – she was my equal in everything.” He gave his description of her so freely, yet sadness haunted his eyes.
Curiosity overcame her manners. “Where is she?”
He gripped the side of the pool and circled his foot in the water. “Heaven, I’m certain.”
“I’m so sorry.” She laid a hand on his leg; his muscles tensed beneath her palm.
He turned to her. “You remind me of her. A great deal.” His gaze swept across her. “Your eyes, your mouth. Your spine.” His fingers traced her vertebrae. She closed her eyes. In her mind, she was naked, arched over his powerful hand at the small of her back, open to him and his every desire.
His breath warmed her ear. “The water’s perfect. Why don’t we go for a swim?”
A swim – yes, that’s how she balanced atop his hand, his legs splayed, her leg up, poised to slide around his waist, to clench his hip to hers. It would be so easy. His power grew as he held her, ready to cleave her.
She gasped, and opened her eyes. “Where is everyone?”
No noise came from the main room, or anywhere in the house. Only the waterfall gushing as though time existed separately in this room.
“Enjoying themselves as much as we are, hopefully.” His fingers skipped to the end of her spine, one of her most sensitive spots, just above her ass. The way he peered so intently -- expectantly – he knew how it affected her.
Her insides tightened. Had Jon revealed their secrets to this man?
“I need to find Jon.” The water whooshed as she pulled her knees up and collected her shoes. “What time is it?” They might have been there for minutes or hours. It was impossible to tell.
He stood slowly, and sat on a nearby stone bench to dry his feet with a towel, and slip on his sandals. “Let’s go find out.”
Worry churned up. Why hadn’t Jon come looking for her?
The hallway appeared absurdly long and winding. Her hair fell about her shoulders. Had she unhitched the clip? “Where’s Jon?”
“Slow down. Let’s check the main room first.”
The hallway opened to the main room, where two women and a man sat. Damn his penchant for ancient Greece–no clock was evident on the wall or mantle, not even a digital glow of numbers to give her a clue.
“Perhaps he’s in the media room.” His hand on her elbow, he guided her down another hall and opened the door. The darkness inside was cut by the screen’s light, flickering like a strobe, across the tangle of bodies in the lounging pit.
Jon’s throaty chuckle cut through the dark. “Oh, I love this part.” His arm pointed at the screen, then fell again into the indistinguishable mass of limbs, writhing like a pit of snakes.
“Jonathan.” Her voice carried strong and stern above the movie soundtrack. A round knob sat on the wall where a light switch might be, but wouldn’t pull out. She twisted it as far as it would go, and brought the lights up full blast.
Jon lay in the center of the lounger with three women in various postures on either side and at his feet. All still clothed, though rumpled. It didn’t ease the sickening sensation in the pit of her stomach.
Her husband winced in the bright light, and shielded his eyes with his forearm. “Clio?” His eyes narrowed at the sight of Dion standing beside her. “Where have you been?” His words slurred badly.
Her voice cut through the dark. “It’s time to go.”
The three women looked at her as if ready to hiss and bare their claws.
Let them. Jon wasn’t included in this damn business deal.
He clumsily leaned up on one arm. “Go? The movie’s not over.”
Dion touched her shoulder. “I’ll be close by if you need me.” To the women, he said, “Girls?”
At his beckoning, the women eased from the pit and slithered toward him. All were gloriously wild-looking, their hair unfettered from adornment. As each passed, their eyes held a glint of mischief.
Jon held his stomach laughing at the screen. “Oh–watch this. C’mere.”
Two empty bottles lay on the floor beside the pillows. She sat on the lounger’s edge. “How much did you drink?”
He held up another. “Still some left. Where’s your glass?”
“I’m done. It’s time to go.” Her head had cleared since leaving the pool room, as though she’d awakened from a dream.
“Already? I’m taking this with me, then.” He clutched the bottle to his chest.
She found his shoes strewn on either side of the lounger. Not like him at all. “Give me your foot.”
He sat back, watching her with bleary eyes. “Where were you?”
She slipped one shoe, then the other, on his feet. “Up you go.” She stood, held out her hand.
All trace of humor gone, he grasped it. His arms were jellylike, but his body heavy as lead. “You were with him, weren’t you?”
If he wanted to accuse her, she could do the same. Nothing would be settled tonight. “Up, let’s go home.”
The word had always held such a pleasant connotation, but she wasn’t looking forward to bringing him home now.
She pulled the car to the front door. Dion helped Jon into the passenger side, and then shut the door, lingering at the window. “Drive safe.” He moved to the steps and stood, arms folded, as she drove through the gate.