What the heck was wrong with her? She was the Ice Queen. Not even Brad Pitt or Brendan Fraser made her lustful. And they were in full, living color.
What was it about that drawing?
Grace took a careful bite of the pizza and defiantly moved to an armchair across the room. There. She’d show that book and Selena that she was in control.
Four pieces of pizza, two Hostess cupcakes, four glasses of wine, and a full movie later, she and Selena were lying on the floor draped over stacked sofa cushions while they laughed at Sixteen Candles.
" ‘You say it’s your birthday,’ " Selena started singing as she pounded the floor like a bongo drum. " ‘It’s my birthday, too.’"
Grace swiped her head with a cushion, then giggled as her head buzzed from the wine.
"Gracie?" Selena asked, her voice full of mirth. "Are you tipsy?"
She giggled again. "Maybe just comfortably toasty. Pop-Tart toasty."
Selena laughed at Grace, and pulled the band from Grace’s hair. "Then are you willing to try a little experiment?’
"No!" Grace said emphatically, brushing her loose hair behind her ears. "I don’t want to Ouija, or do the pendulum thing, and I swear if I see one tarot card or rune stone I’ll yack cupcake all over you."
Biting her lower lip, Selena pulled the book off the table and flipped it open.
Five minutes to midnight.
She held the picture up for Grace’s inspection and pointed to the incredible form. "What about him?"
Grace looked at it and smiled. "He is yummy, isn’t he?"
Well, that was definitely progress. Selena couldn’t remember the last time Grace had complimented a guy’s looks. She waved the book teasingly before Grace’s face.
"C’mon, Gracie. Admit it. You want this handsome guy"
"If I said I wouldn’t toss him out of my bed for eating crackers, would you leave me alone?"
"Maybe. What else wouldn’t you toss him out of bed for?"
She rolled her eyes and laid her head down on the pillow. "Eating greasy grimy gopher guts?"
"Now I think I’m going to yack."
"Watch the movie."
"Only if you’ll try this one itty-bitty chant."
Grace raised her head and sighed. She knew better than to argue with Selena-she had that look. And nothing short of a meteorite crashing through the house would make her stop until she got her way.
Besides, what was the harm? She’d learned years ago that nothing ever came of Selena’s silly chants and spells. "All right. If it’ll ease your pain, I’ll do it."
"Yay!" Selena said, grabbing her arm and pulling her to her feet. "We need to go out to the deck."
"Fine, but I’m not ripping the head off a voodoo chicken or drinking anything disgusting."
Feeling like a kid at a sleepover who had lost a truth-or-dare contest, Grace allowed Selena to pull her outside her sliding glass door. The damp air filled her lungs as crickets chirped, and a thousand stars twinkled above them. Grace supposed it was a beautiful night to summon a love-slave.
She snickered at the thought.
"What do you want me to do?" she asked Selena. "Wish on some planet?"
Shaking her head, Selena moved her to stand in the circle of moonlight where it fell over the eaves of her roof. Selena handed her the opened book. "Hold this to your breast."
"Oh, baby," Grace said in mock desire as she cuddled the book to her chest like a lover. "You make me so hot and horny. I just can’t wait to sink my teeth into that wonderful body of yours."
Selena laughed. "Stop it. This is serious!"
"Serious? Please. I’m standing out here on my twenty-ninth birthday, barefoot and in jeans my mother would burn, holding a stupid book to my chest in an effort to summon a Greek love-slave from the great beyond." She looked at Selena. "I only know one way to make this even more ridiculous…"
Grace held the book in one hand, opened her arms wide, tipped her head back, and implored the dark sky above, "Oh, take me, great gorgeous love-slave and have your wicked way with me. I command you to rise" she said, wagging her eyebrows.
Selena snorted. "That’s not how you do it. You have to say his name three times."
Grace straightened up. "Love-slave, love-slave, love-slave."
Her hands on her hips, Selena glared at her. "Julian of Macedon."
"Oh, sorry." Grace hugged the book to her breast and closed her eyes. "Come and ease my aching loins, O great Julian of Macedon, Julian of Macedon, Julian of Macedon."
She looked back at Selena. "You know, that’s hard to say three times fast."
But Selena wasn’t paying a bit of attention to her. She was busy looking around for the appearance of a handsome Greek stranger.
Grace rolled her eyes again as a subtle wind swept across the yard and a faint scent of sandalwood wafted around them. Grace took a second to savor the pleasant smell before it evaporated and the breeze settled down to the hot, thick air that was so common on an August night.
All of a sudden, there was a faint sound in her backyard. A small rustle of leaves coming from the shrubs.
Cocking her brow, Grace looked to the bushes that were swaying.
Then, the imp in her took over. "Oh, my God," Grace breathed, pointing toward a bush in the backyard. "Selena, look over there!"
Selena turned around in a hurry at her excited gesture. A tall shrub swayed as if someone were behind it.
"Julian?" Selena called.
Selena took a step closer.
The tree bent over. Suddenly, a hiss and a meow sounded an instant before two cats darted off across the backyard.
"Look, Lanie, it’s Mr. Tomcat come to save me from my celibacy." Cradling the book in one arm, Grace lifted the back of her hand to her brow in a feigned swoon. "Oh, help me, Moon Mistress. Whatever am I to do with the attentions of such an unwanted suitor! Help me quick, before he kills me with my allergies."
"Give me that book," Selena snapped, snatching it from her chest. She headed back into the house while she flipped through its pages. "Dammit, what did I do wrong?"
Grace slid open her door to let Selena back into the cool house. "You didn’t do anything wrong, hon. It’s a farce. How many times do I have to tell you that some little old man sits in a back room somewhere making all this stuff up? I’ll bet he’s laughing his head off right now that we were dumb enough-"
"Maybe there was something else we needed to do. I’ll bet there’s something in the first few paragraphs that I can’t read. That must be it."
Grace locked the sliding glass door and begged for patience. And Selena calls me stubborn.
The phone rang. Answering it, Grace heard Bill’s voice asking for Selena.
"It’s for you," she said, handing the phone over to her friend.
Selena took it. "Yeah?" She paused for several minutes and Grace could hear his excited chatter. By the sudden pallor of Selena’s features, she could tell something had happened.
"Okay, okay. I’ll be right home. Are you sure you’re all right? Okay, I love you. I’m on my way-don’t try and do anything until I get there."
A horrible stab of fear knotted Grace’s stomach tight. Over and over, she saw the policeman at her dorm room door, heard his dispassionate voice: I’m sorry to inform you…
"What is it?" Grace asked.
"Bill fell while they were playing basketball and broke his arm."
She released her breath in relief. Thank God, it wasn’t a car wreck. "Is he all right?"
"He said so. His friends took him to a doc-in-the-box and had it X-rayed before they dropped him off. He told me not to worry, but I think I better get on home."
"You want me to drive you?"
Selena shook her head. "No, unlike me you’ve had one too many glasses of wine. Besides, I’m sure it’s nothing serious. You know what a worrywart I am. You stay here and enjoy the rest of your movie. I’ll call you tomorrow morning."
"Okay. Let me know how he’s doing."
Selena gathered up her bag and dug out her keys. As she started out the door, she paused and handed the book back to Grace. "What the hell. Keep it. It should give you a good laugh for the next few days while you remember what an idiot I am."
"You’re not an idiot. Just eccentric."
"That’s what they said about Mary Todd Lincoln. Until they locked her up."
Laughing, Grace took the book and watched Selena walk out to her car. "You be careful," she shouted out the door. "And thanks for the gift, and for coming over."
Selena waved before getting into her bright red Jeep Cherokee and driving off.
With a tired sigh, Grace shut and locked the door, then tossed the book on the sofa. "Now don’t go anywhere, love-slave."
Grace laughed at their silliness. Would Selena ever outgrow such nonsense?
She turned off the TV and took their dirty dishes to the kitchen sink. As she rinsed out the glasses, she saw a bright flash of light.
For a second, she thought it was lightning.
Until she realized it came from inside the house.
"What the… ?"
She put the wine glasses aside and walked toward the living room. At first she didn’t see anything. But as she came flush with the doorway, she felt a strange presence. One that made the hair on the back of her arms and neck rise.
Cautiously, she entered the room and saw a tall figure standing in front of the couch. It was a man.
A handsome man.
A nak*d man!
Grace did what most any woman would do while confronting a nak*d man in her living room. She screamed.
Then she ran for the front door.
Only she forgot about the cushions that were still on the floor where they’d piled them. Tripping over two, she went sprawling.
No! she silently cried as she landed in a painful heap. She had to do something to protect herself.
Terrified and shaking, she scrambled through the cushions, looking for a weapon. Feeling something, she pulled her hand up, only to find a pink bunny slipper.
Dammit! Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the wine bottle. Grace rolled toward it and grabbed it in her hand, then whirled to face her intruder.
Faster than she could react, he wrapped his warm hand around her wrist, tenderly immobilizing it. "Are you hurt?" he asked.
Good gracious, but his deep masculine voice was rich, with a thick, lilting accent that could only be described as musical. Erotic. And downright yummy.
Her senses dulled, Grace looked up and…
Quite honestly, there was only one thing she saw, and it made her face hotter than Cajun gumbo. After all, how could she miss it since it was just an arm’s reach away. And it was such a large it, too.
In the next instant, he knelt by her side and gently brushed her hair out of her eyes. He ran his hands over her scalp as if feeling for an injury.
Her gaze feasted on his chest. Unable to move or look past all that incredible skin, Grace fought the urge to moan at the intensely wicked sensation of his fingers in her hair. Her entire body burned from it.
"Did you hit your head?" he asked.
Again that strange, glorious accent that reverberated through her like a warm, soothing caress.
She stared at the wealth of golden, tawny skin that seemed to beckon her hand to reach out and touch it.
He practically glowed!
Compelled, she wanted to see his face, to see for herself if the whole of him was as incredible as his body.
As she looked up, past the sculpted muscles of his shoulders, her mouth dropped. The wine bottle slid from her numbed fingers.
It was him!
No! It couldn’t be.
This couldn’t be happening to her, and he couldn’t be nak*d in her living room with his hands in her hair. Things like this just didn’t happen in real life. Most especially not to average people like her.
"Julian?" she asked breathlessly.
He had the sleek, powerful build of a finely toned gymnast. His muscles were hard, lean, and gorgeous, and well defined in places she didn’t even know a man could get muscles. On top of his shoulders, his biceps and forearms. His chest and back. His neck to his legs.
You name it, it bulged with raw, masculine strength.
Even it had started to bulge.
His golden hair fell in haphazard waves around a cleanshaven face that looked as if it really had been carved from stone. Unbelievably handsome and captivating, his face was neither pretty nor feminine. But it was definitely breathtaking.
Full, sensuous lips curved into a halfhearted smile, displaying a set of dimples that cut deep moons into his tanned cheeks.
And those eyes.
They were the clear celestial blue of a perfect cloudless sky with a tiny band of dark blue highlighting the outer edges of his irises. His eyes were searing in their intensity and shining with intellect. She had a feeling his looks, really could kill.
Or at the very least, devastate.
And she was certainly devastated at the moment. Captivated by a man too perfect to be real.
Hesitantly, she reached out and placed a hand on his arm. She was amazed when his arm didn’t evaporate, proving all this was just a drunken hallucination.
No, that arm was real. Real and hard and warm. The skin beneath her palm flexed into a powerful muscle that made her heart pound.