Julian had his eyes closed and looked as if he were savoring the sound of the children’s voices.
"You’re quite a storyteller," she said after he moved to join her.
"Really," she said emphatically. "You know, it got me to thinking. Bobby’s right. You would make a great teacher."
He smirked at her. "Commander to teacher. Why not call me Cato the Elder, and really insult me while you’re at it?"
She laughed. "You’re not as offended as you pretend."
"How do you know?"
"I can tell by the look on your face, and the light in your eyes." She took his arm and led him back toward the deck. "You really should think about it. Selena got her Ph.D. from Tulane and she knows the faculty there. Who better to teach ancient civilization than someone who actually lived it?"
He didn’t respond. Instead, she noticed the way he shifted his bare feet against the ground.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"I’m enjoying the feel of grass," he whispered. "The way the blades tickle my toes."
She smiled at the childlike action. "That’s why you came outside?"
He nodded. "I love to feel the sunshine on my face."
And in her heart, she knew he’d had way too little of it to feel. "C’mon, I’ll make us some cereal and we can eat it on the deck."
She led him back up the five stairs to the deck, and left him sitting in her wicker rocker as she went inside and poured the cereal.
When she returned, he had his head lying back and his eyes serenely closed.
Not wanting to disturb him, she stepped back.
"Do you know, I can feel your presence all over my body? With every sense I possess?" he asked, then opened his eyes to pin her with a hot stare.
"No," she said nervously, handing him his bowl.
He took the bowl, but didn’t elaborate on his words. He just sat there quietly eating his breakfast.
Absorbing the warm sunshine, Julian listened to the soft breeze as he felt Grace’s calming presence beside him.
He had awakened at dawn to watch the sunrise through her bedroom windows, and had spent an hour just letting Grace’s body soothe his.
She tempted him in a way he’d never before known. For a minute, he allowed himself to think of staying in this time.
But then what?
He only had one "skill" he could use in this modern world, and he wasn’t the kind of man who could live off a woman’s charity and like it.
He ground his teeth as the memory burned him.
At fourteen, he’d traded his virginity for a bowl of cold porridge and a cup of soured milk. Even now, after all this time, he could feel the woman’s hands on his body, removing his clothes, grabbing feverishly at his skin as she showed him how to pleasure her.
"Ooo," she’d cooed, "you are a pretty one, aren’t you? If you ever need more porridge, you just come back and see me any time my husband’s not home."
He’d felt so dirty afterward. So used.
Over the next few years, he’d spent more nights sleeping in shadows than in warm beds merely because he wasn’t willing to pay that price again for a meal and temporary comfort.
And should he ever get his freedom again, he didn’t want to…
Julian clenched his eyes shut. He just couldn’t see himself in this world. It was too different. Too strange.
He looked up to see Grace standing by his side with her hand outstretched for his bowl. "Yes, thank you," he said, handing it to her.
"I’m going to take a quick shower. I’ll be back in a few minutes."
He watched her leave, his gaze lingering on her bare legs. Already, he could taste her skin on his tongue. Smell the sweet scent of her body.
The woman haunted him. It wasn’t just the curse. There was something more. Something he’d never encountered.
For the first time in over two thousand years he felt like a man again, and with that feeling came a longing so profound that it sliced through his heart.
He wanted her. Body and soul.
And he wanted her love.
The thought jolted him.
But it was the truth. Not since his childhood had he felt such a gut-wrenching ache for someone to hold him tenderly. Someone who would tell him that she loved him and mean it from her heart and not because of a spell.
Leaning his head back, he cursed. When would he learn?
He had been born to suffer. The Delphi Oracle had told him as much.
"You will suffer as no man has ever suffered."
"But will I be loved?"
"Not in this lifetime."
He had walked away crushed by her prophecy. Little had he known then exactly how much suffering lay before him.
"He’s the son of the Goddess of Love and not even she can stand to be near him."
He winced at the truth. Grace would never love him. No one would. His destiny wasn’t to be released from his suffering. And even worse, his destiny had a tragic way of bleeding over onto those around him.
Pain lacerated his chest as he thought about something happening to Grace.
He couldn’t allow that. He had to protect her at any cost. Even if it meant losing his freedom.
With that thought on his mind, he went to find her.
Grace wiped the soap from her eyes. Opening them, she jumped as she caught sight of Julian watching her through the small parting of the shower curtains.
"You scared the be-jesus out of me!" she snapped.
He stood outside of her extra-large, claw-foot tub, wearing nothing but boxers and leaning back against the wall in the same pose he’d had in the book. His broad shoulders were thrown back to support him and his long arms were casually at his sides.
She licked her lips at the sight of the hard, sculpted muscles of his chest and torso. Unbidden, her gaze fell lower to the red and yellow boxers.
Well, so much for thinking no man could look good in those. Because he did. There were truly no words to describe exactly how good he looked in them.
And that devilish, half-taunting smile on his face could melt the heart of even the most frigid of women.
The man was hot.
Nervously, she realized she was standing completely nak*d. "Do you need something?" she asked, covering her br**sts with the washcloth.
To her dismay, he removed his boxers, then stepped into the tub with her.
Her mind turned to mush as he overwhelmed her with his powerful, masculine presence. That incredible, dimpled smile hovered at the edges of his lips, making her heart race. Her body tremble.
"I just wanted to watch you," he said, his voice low and tender. "Do you have any idea what it does to me when you run your hands over your bare br**sts?"
Judging from the size of his erection, she could give a good guess.
She forgot what she was going to say as he dipped his head down to her neck. Chills rippled through her as his tongue scorched her flesh.
Grace moaned at the sensory overload of his hands and the hot water running over her body. She only vaguely felt him pull the cloth from her br**sts before he took one in his mouth.
She hissed in pleasure as his tongue swirled around the taut peak, flicking across her flesh and making her burn.
He lowered her down in the tub, to lean against the sloping back. The contrast of the cool porcelain at her back and his warm body in front of her while the water poured down over the two of them titillated her in a way she’d never imagined.
Never before had she truly appreciated the size of the huge antique tub, but at the moment, she wouldn’t have traded it for anything.
"Touch me, Grace,” he said hoarsely, taking her hand into his and leading it to his swollen shaft. "I want to feel your hands on me."
He shuddered as she stroked the velvety hardness of him.
Julian closed his eyes at the feelings swirling through him. Her touch wasn’t just physical, it touched him on a level that was undefinable. Unbelievable.
He wanted more of her. He wanted all of her.
"I love your hands on me," he breathed as she cupped him. Oh, gods, how he ached for her. How he wished for just one moment she was really making love to him.
Making love to him with her heart.
Pain sliced through his chest. No matter how many times he had sex, the end result was the same. It always hurt. If not his body, then deep in his soul.
No decent woman would ever have you in the light of day.
It was true and he knew it.
Grace felt him tense. "Did I hurt you?" she asked, pulling her hand away.
He shook his head, then placed his hands on each side of her neck and kissed her deeply. Suddenly, his kiss intensified as if he were trying to prove something to both of them.
He slid his hand down her arm to capture her hand in his. He laced his fingers through hers, then moved his hand to cup her between her legs.
Grace moaned as he stroked her with their hands entwined. It was the most erotic thing she had ever experienced.
She shook all over as he quickened the rhythm of their joined fingers against her. And when he plunged their fingers inside her, she cried out in pleasure.
"That’s it," he breathed in her ear. "Feel us joined."
Breathless, Grace clutched at his shoulders with her other arm, her body on fire. Oh, he was an incredible lover!
Suddenly, he moved their hands away, then lifted one of her legs to curl about his waist.
Grace followed his lead, until she realized what he meant to do. He was preparing to drive himself into her.
"No!" she gasped, shoving at him. "Julian, you can’t."
His eyes burned her with his need, his raw hunger. "I want at least this much of you, Grace. Now, let me have it."
She almost did.
Until something strange happened to his eyes. They turned a full shade darker, the pupils dilating.
Julian froze. His breathing labored, he closed his eyes as if struggling against an unseen attacker.
With a curse, he turned away from her. "Run!" he said.
She didn’t hesitate.
Grace pulled herself out from under him, grabbed the towel and ran for the door. But she couldn’t leave him.
Pausing at the door, she looked back and watched as he went down on all fours and writhed as if he were being tortured.
She heard him strike the tub with his fist as he growled in pain.
Her heart pounded as he struggled. If only she knew what to do.
Finally, he collapsed in the tub.
Terrified and shaking, she took three tentative steps back into the bathroom, ready to run if he reached for her.
He rested on his side with his eyes closed. His breathing ragged, he looked weak and drained while the water pelted him, plastering his dark gold hair against his face.
She turned the water off.
Still, he didn’t move.
He opened his eyes. "Did I scare you?"
"A little," she answered honestly.
He took a deep, tortured breath, then sat up slowly. He didn’t look at her. His gaze was focused somewhere past her shoulder.
"I’m not going to be able to fight that," he said after a long pause. He looked at her. "We’re fooling ourselves, Grace. Let me take you now while I’m calm."
"Is that really what you want?"
Julian ground his teeth at her question. No, it wasn’t what he wanted. But what he wanted was beyond his ability to claim.
He wanted things the gods had never meant for him to have. Things he dared not name, because the naming of them made their absence all the more unbearable.
"I just wish I could die."
Grace flinched at the heartfelt words. How she wished she could soothe him. Take away his pain.
"I know," she said, her voice thick with unshed tears for him. She wrapped her arms around his sleek, strong shoulders and held him tight against her.
To her amazement, he laid his cheek against hers.
Neither said a word as they held each other.
Finally, Julian withdrew. "We’d better stop before…"
He didn’t finish the sentence, but then he didn’t have to. Grace had already seen the consequences and had no wish for a repeat.
She left him in the bathroom and went to dress.
Julian rose slowly from the tub, then toweled himself dry. He heard Grace in her room, opening the door to her second closet, and in his mind an image of her nak*d body scorched him.
A crippling wave of desire crashed through him with such force, that it almost sent him back to the floor.
He braced his arms against the vanity as he fought with himself. "I can’t live like this anymore," he breathed. "I am not an animal."
He looked up and saw his father in the mirror. He glared at his reflection, hating it.
He could feel the sting of the whip as his father beat him until he could barely stand. "Don’t you dare cry, Pretty-boy. Not one whimper. You might be born of a goddess, but it’s this world you live in, and here we don’t coddle pretty little boys like you."
In the back of his mind, he could see the look of hatred on his father’s face as he knocked him to the ground, and grabbed him in a choking headlock. Julian had kicked and fought, but at fourteen, he’d been too young, too inexperienced, to loosen the commander’s hold.
His face contorted by a contemptuous sneer, his father had dragged his dagger down Julian’s cheek, laying it open to the bone. And all because his father had caught his wife staring at Julian while they ate.