His very veins stood out on a body made perfect with the promise of a hard, lean strength designed purely for feminine pleasure.
Her mouth dry, Grace trailed her gaze over his muscles, which bulged in perfect proportion to his height and weight. She followed the lean, hard muscles over the deep indentation that divided his pectorals, down the washboard stomach that just begged for a woman’s touch.
To his navel.
And then to his…
Well, no one had bothered to put a fig leaf there. And why should they? Who in their right mind would want to cover up so nice a masculine package?
For that matter, who would need anything with batteries around with that in the house!
Licking her lips, Grace looked back at his face.
As she stared at the sharp, handsome features that held just a hint of a devilish smile, she had an image of a breeze rugging at sun-kissed, tawny locks that curled around a neck made for suckling. Of steely blue eyes piercing in their intensity as he raised an iron spear over his head and shouted.
She felt a sudden stirring in the thick, hot air around her, one that seemed to somehow caress her exposed skin.
She could almost hear the deep timbre of his voice, feel strong arms wrap about her and pull her back against a rock-hard chest while warm breath tickled her ear.
Feel strong, competent hands roaming her body, giving her delight as they sought out her most private places.
A chill stole up her spine, and her body throbbed in areas she’d never known a body could throb. It was a fierce, demanding ache she’d never before known.
Blinking, she glanced up at Selena to see if she’d been affected the same way. If she had, she gave no clue.
Grace must be hallucinating. That was it! The spices from the red beans had finally seeped into her brain and turned it to mush.
"What do you think of him?" Selena asked, finally meeting her gaze.
Grace shrugged in an effort to subdue the slow burn of her body. Still, her eyes lingered on his perfect form. "He looks like a client I signed up yesterday."
Well, it wasn’t exactly true-the guy she’d seen had been fairly attractive, but nothing like the man in the drawing.
She’d never seen anything like him in her life!
"Really?" Selena’s eyes darkened in a way that warned her she was about to begin her long lecture on kismet and chance meetings.
"Yeah," she said, cutting Selena off before she could start. "He told me he was a lesbian trapped in a man’s body."
Selena’s face fell. Grabbing the book from her and slamming it shut, Selena glared at her. "You know the weirdest people."
Grace cocked an eyebrow.
"Don’t say it," Selena said as she took her usual seat behind her table. She placed the book down beside her. "I’m telling you, this"-she tapped the center of the book twice-"is the answer for you."
Grace stared at her friend, thinking how true to form Madam Selene, self-proclaimed Moon Mistress, looked sitting behind her tarot cards and purple table with the arcane book beneath her hand. At that moment, she could almost believe Selena was a mystical Gypsy.
If she believed in such things.
"Okay," Grace said, giving in. "Quit stalling and tell me what that book and picture have to do with my sex life."
Selena’s face became gravely earnest. "That guy I showed you… Julian… is a Greek love-slave who is completely controlled by, and devoted to, whoever summons him."
Grace laughed out loud. She knew it was rude, but she couldn’t help it. How in the world could a Rhodes scholar with a Ph.D. in both ancient history and physics, even one with Selena’s idiosyncrasies, believe in something so ludicrous?
"Don’t laugh. I’m serious."
"I know you are, that’s what makes this so funny." Clearing her throat, Grace sobered. "Okay. What do I have to do? Strip off my clothes and dance by the Pontchartrain at midnight?" The corners of her mouth lifted even as Selena’s eyes darkened in warning. "You’re right, I’d get sex all right, but I don’t think it’d be from some gorgeous Greek love-slave."
The book fell from the table.
Selena jumped with a shriek and scooted her chair back.
Grace gasped. "You pushed that with your elbow, didn’t you?"
Her eyes as round as saucers, Selena slowly shook her head no.
" ‘Fess up, Lanie."
"I didn’t do it," she said, her face deadly serious. "I think you offended him."
Shaking her head at that nonsense, Grace fished her sunglasses and keys out of her purse. Yeah, right, this was just like the time in college when Lanie had talked her into using a Ouija board and Lanie had made it say that Grace would marry a Greek god by the time she was thirty and have six kids by him.
To this day, Selena refused to admit that she’d been pushing the planchette.
And right now it was too hot under the August sun to argue. "Look, I need to get back to the office. I have a two o’clock and I don’t want to get caught in traffic." She pulled her Ray-Bans on. "Are you still coming over tonight?"
"Wouldn’t miss it for the world. I’ll bring the wine."
"All right then, I’ll see you at eight." Grace paused long enough to say, "Tell Bill I said hi and thanks for letting you come over for my birthday."
Selena watched her walk off and smiled. "Just wait until you see your birthday present," she whispered, picking the book up from where it had fallen. She trailed her hand over the soft tooled leather, brushing away a few grains of dirt.
Opening it back up, Selena stared at the gorgeous picture, and at eyes that were drawn in black and yet somehow gave the impression of a deep, cobalt blue.
For once, her spell would work. She was sure of it.
"You’ll like her, Julian," Selena whispered to him as she traced her finger over his perfect body. "But I should warn you, she’d try the patience of a saint. And getting inside her defenses will be as hard as breaching the walls of Troy. Still, I think if anyone can help her find herself, it’s you."
Underneath her hand, she felt the book grow warm and instinctively she knew it was his way of agreeing with her.
Grace thought her crazy for her beliefs, but as the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter and with the blood of Gypsies flowing thick through her veins, Selena knew that there were certain things in life that defied explanation. Certain arcane energies that ebbed and flowed unchecked, just waiting for someone to channel them.
And tonight was a full moon.
Placing the book back into the safety of her cart where she locked it up tight, she was certain that kismet had placed the book in her hands. She had felt it calling to her as soon as she’d approached the bookstore shelf where it lay.
Since she had been happily married for the last two years, she knew the book wasn’t meant for her. It was only using her to get where it needed to go.
Her smile grew wider. Imagine having such an incredibly handsome Greek love-slave at your beck and command for an entire month…
Yep, this was definitely a birthday Grace would remember for the rest of her life.
Hours later, Grace sighed as she opened the door to her two-story bungalow and stepped into her polished foyer. She tossed her handful of mail onto the antique drop-leaf table by her staircase before she shut and locked the door behind her, then dropped the keys next to the mail.
As she pulled off her black high heels, silence rang in her ears and a lump settled deep in her chest. Every night she followed the same innocuous routine. Come home to an empty house, drop her mail on the table, trudge upstairs to change, eat a small meal, sort the mail, read a book, call Selena, check with her answering service, then go to bed.
Selena was right, Grace’s life was a short, boring study in monotony.
And at twenty-nine, Grace was tired of it.
Heck, even Jamie the nose-picker was starting to look good.
Well, maybe not Jamie, and most especially not Jamie’s nose, but surely there was someone out there somewhere who wasn’t a cretin.
As Grace headed up the stairs, she decided living by herself wasn’t so terribly awful. At least she had plenty of time to devote to her hobbies.
Or to develop some hobbies, she thought as she walked down the hallway toward her bedroom. One day, she really was going to get herself a hobby.
She crossed her bedroom and dropped her shoes by the bed, then quickly changed.
She’d just finished pulling her hair into a ponytail when the doorbell rang.
Heading back downstairs, she went to let Selena in.
As soon as the door opened, Selena huffed, "You’re not wearing that tonight, are you?"
Grace looked down at the holes in her jeans and her oversized T-shirt. "Since when did you start caring about what I look like?"
Then she saw it in the huge wicker bag Selena used to carry her groceries. "Ugh, not that book again."
Looking a bit peeved, Selena said, "You know what your problem is, Gracie?"
Grace looked up at the ceiling, seeking heavenly help. Unfortunately, none was forthcoming. "What? That I don’t go moon-crazy and toss my freckled, fat self at every guy I meet?"
"That you don’t know just how adorable you really are."
While Grace stood dumbfounded by such an uncharacteristic remark, Selena took the book into her living room, and set it on the coffee table. Next, Selena removed the wine from her bag, and headed for the kitchen.
Grace didn’t bother to follow after her. She’d called for pizza before she left work, and she knew Selena was just getting wine glasses.
As if pulled by an unseen hand, Grace felt herself drawn toward the coffee table and the book.
Unbidden, her hand reached out for it, and as she touched the soft leather, she could almost swear she felt something brush her cheek.
That was ridiculous.
You don’t believe in this stuff.
Grace ran her hand over the smooth, perfect leather, noting that no lettering or title appeared anywhere on it. She opened the cover.
This was the strangest book she’d ever seen. The pages looked as if they’d once been some kind of scroll or something that had later been bound into book form.
The bleached parchment crinkled under her fingers as she turned to the first page and saw an intricate emblem of painted scrollwork that had three intersecting triangles and a beguiling image of three women united by swords.
Frowning, Grace vaguely recalled it as some sort of ancient Greek symbol.
Even more intrigued than before, she flipped through the book only to find it was completely empty except for the three pages…
It must have been some sort of sketchbook for an artist or a sculptor, she decided. That would be the only explanation for why the pages were left blank. Something must have happened before the artist had a chance to add anything more to the book.
But that didn’t really explain why the pages looked a whole lot older than the binding…
Flipping back to the drawing of the man, she studied the writing across the page from him but couldn’t make any of it out. Unlike Selena, she’d avoided language classes in college like they were poison, and if not for Selena, she would never have passed that part of her core curriculum at all.
"It’s definitely Greek to me," she said under her breath, then she returned her attention to the man.
He was amazing. So very perfect and inviting.
So incredibly sexy.
Completely captivated by him, she wondered how long it would take to make a drawing so perfect. Someone must have spent years on it, because the guy literally looked as if he could step right off the page and into her house.
Selena paused in the doorway as she watched Grace staring at Julian. In all the years she’d known Grace, she’d never seen her so enthralled.
Maybe Julian could help her.
Four years was really too long.
But then Paul had been an inconsiderate, self-centered pig. His callousness for Grace’s feelings had even made her cry the night he’d taken her virginity.
And no woman deserved to cry. Especially not while she was with someone who had told her he cared about her.
Julian would definitely be good for Grace. A month with him and Grace would forget all about Paul. And once Grace tasted what real, mutual sex was like, then she would be free of Paul’s cruelty forever.
But first Selena had to get her stubborn chum to be a little more compliant.
"Did you order the pizza?" Selena asked, handing her a full glass of wine.
Grace absently took it. For some reason, she couldn’t quite take her eyes off the picture.
Blinking, she forced herself to look up. "Hmm?"
"Caught you looking," Selena teased.
Grace cleared her throat. "Oh, please, it’s just a little black-and-white drawing."
"Hon, there ain’t nothing little in that drawing."
"You’re bad, Selena."
"True enough. More wine?"
As if on cue, the doorbell rang. "I’ll get it," Selena said, setting the wine down on the end table, then heading to the foyer.
A few minutes later Selena returned to the room. Grace let the wonderful aroma of a large pepperoni pizza drag her thoughts away from the book. And the man who seemed to have branded his image on her subconscious.
But it wasn’t easy.
In fact, it seemed to get harder by the minute.