Heart of Stone
The cocktail hour came and went. The rest of the expedition team would be gathered in the hotel bar. Jaimie felt too shaken to go down and make polite small talk with them. No doubt Straker, would dismiss her non-appearance with some suitably witty remark, about the fallibility of women in general and how the journey had already exhausted her! Whatever dim light he chose to cast her in, it was ten times better than spending the evening under his knowing, disapproving scrutiny.
So she stayed in her suite and ordered a light meal and wine, to be sent up. Then she ate in the relative peace of her own company. Jaimie drank over half the bottle of sparkling white Spumante, in an attempt to unwind and relax enough to go to bed. Twice, she re-checked to make sure the bolt was in place, on the door adjoining her room and Straker’s. Before she slipped between the cool, satin sheets and sought the welcome release of sleep. But it did not come, she lay awake for a long time, wrestling with visions of Straker holding her again, fighting the memory of his kisses, while her stinging lips constantly reminded her of their contact and intrusion!
Her ex-fiance Richard, had never made her feel like this, she had kissed him goodnight, often enough. They had petted and caressed, but then she would go to bed alone and fall into an untroubled sleep, her safe little world in tact, her passion unkindled. Now, it seemed as though she was on fire, burning with sensations that were untried, but no longer latent.
It was after midnight, when a strip of light shone beneath the connecting door and just the sight of it, made Jaimie breathe harder. What if he tried the handle now…. or forced it open? But the illumination was soon flicked off, leaving Jaimie at last drifting into a fitful sleep. With images of Straker freeing himself from the restrictive bow-tie and shrugging off his jacket and shirt, playing on her mind.
Someone was knocking on her door and she fought through the drowsiness to wake up. For a moment, lost in the muddled recesses of sleep, she half feared it was Straker hammering so insistently and opening the main door to her suite. But a Greek maid came bustling in, carrying a laden breakfast tray.
“Good morning, Miss,” she began brightly in excellent English. “I’ve brought you a tray…. the gentleman….” she rolled her eyes towards the next room. “He said that I should, he seemed concerned that you were not feeling yourself last night.”
“Really? I’m sure you must have been mistaken about the concern.”
“What Miss?” the maid frowned unsure how to comment further.
“Miss Anders, says she is feeling much better,” drawled Straker, leaning with casual ease in the open doorway. “Though still a little feverish I fear.” he added as the maid scurried out past him. “It’s a hot sunny morning,” he continued, surveying her tumbling hair and flimsy nightie. “But then, they always are in Corfu.”
Jaimie felt clammy already, she swallowed some iced orange juice. Maybe if she ignored him he would go away, though it did not seem very likely.
“Did you sleep well?” he queried and she knew he had noted the dark circles beneath her eyes and the tangled sheets around her.
“The maid has a pass-key…. what’s your excuse for disturbing me?”
“Do I disturb you?” he mused, the idea obviously appealed to him.
“I’m in no mood for sparring before breakfast,” she replied, biting into a piece of toast.
“No, I suppose not.” he agreed, eyeing the half empty bottle of wine on the dressing table. No doubt he was wondering how many others she had consumed the previous night. “Please join us on the terraces when you feel less… fragile!”
The next time Jaimie looked up, he had gone and she pushed the tray aside, for she really had no appetite. Straker seemed to get under her skin, even when he didn’t touch her. The more she let him rattle her, the greater his enjoyment. Every move he made, every word he spoke, was calculated to unsettle her to the best advantage and was a further step towards his ultimate goal…. forcing the “city girl” to go home!
Well, it was not going to work, she thought resolutely, as she brushed her tangle of hair, so tousled from her night of tossing and turning.
Daniel Straker could say what the hell he liked, but she was not about to crawl back home defeated, after just twenty-four hours or forty-eight, for that matter The world was full of married men, she had heard it said often enough and that was exactly what he was…. a married man! Whatever happened, she must not forget that somewhere, he still had a wife.
“Poor wretch!” she sympathised aloud.
Jaimie knew she had fought unconvincingly, when he kissed her, but that was as far as it would go. No amount of persuasion could ever make her consider allowing another woman’s husband to make love to her. In that resolve she was safe, she would not let her resolve weaken again. Once it was all straight in her mind, Jaimie got dressed and applied her make-up, concealing the dark shadows beneath her eyes and her slightly swollen lips.
Then collecting her clutch bag and room key, she walked to the lift and went down, then made her way through the hotel lobby with a spring in her step. She felt better now, for she had won the battle against her own desires and inner conscience. Now, she would be able to marshal her defences and fight the only real enemy, who was looming on the horizon as she went out onto the terraces and neared the pool.
“Morning Professor Straker, aren’t you going to introduce me to your brother?” she had just scored her first hit! Shielding her eyes against the bright early morning sun, Jaimie saw Straker’s face tighten as she shook hands with a younger version of himself. A grinning, handsome man in tight worn jeans and with his shirt stripped off. He had no moustache and his features were darker than his brother,
almost Greek in appearance, but the likeness was unmistakable. Straker seemed reluctant to offer any formal introductions, so the man presented himself with the same Canadian drawl.
“Hi, I’m Tony Straker,” he smiled. “and you must be ‘the’ Jaimie, I’ve been dragged over the coals for hiring!”
“Yes,” she nodded. “I’m sorry about the misunderstanding my name seems to have caused. But I won’t apologise for being a member of the team, I’m more than qualified.!
“Indeed you are and worth the trouble from where I’m sitting.” complimented Tony and she dared to hope that at last, she had found an ally. “Feisty and pretty too…” he went on.
“You’ll have to forgive my brother,” interrupted Straker dryly. “Unfortunately, he inherited all the family charm and manners! I assure you, it will begin to pall after awhile.”
“On the contrary,” said Jaimie quickly. “I find it refreshing and who knows, some of it may rub off on you during the course of our work together!”
Straker pursed his lips and returned to the newspaper he had been reading, but she wasn’t finished with him yet.
“By the way,” she continued, addressing some unintelligible Greek headlines. “I think we should decide what I’m going to call the two of you…. after all, it would be rather confusing standing on ceremony, when you’re both know as Professor Straker, don’t you agree? So perhaps Daniel and Tony might be more appropriate from now on, to avoid confusion.”
Straker’s knuckles were white as he gripped his paper, had she scored another victory?
“Fine by me,” nodded Tony agreeably. “What say you, Professor?”
“Common sense perhaps,” he acknowledged at last through gritted teeth. “But too informal, you can stick to Professor Straker for me.”
“Where are the other two members of the team?” asked Jaimie changing the subject and glancing around expectantly.
“They’ve gone on ahead, to the site.” replied Straker.
“Looking after your interests?”
“Something like that,” he replied. “They left early this morning, if you’d made it down for dinner last night, introductions would have been completed by now.”
“Patience is another of Dan’s strong points,” smirked Tony, “It goes hand-in-hand with his natural charm and happy-go-lucky nature.”
“So I’ve noticed,” said Jaimie.
Straker’s eyes met hers and narrowed warningly.
“Well,” began Tony, sensing the sudden tension. “How about a swim before lunch, Jaimie?”
“Much as I’m sure Miss Anders needs to cool off,” observed Straker, still stubbornly formal. “This is not a paid holiday for her amusement and I require some notes typing up.”
Jaimie stopped in her tracks, she had already half turned and begun to move away. This unexpected summons to work, caught her slightly off guard.
“You do type, I presume?” he stressed provokingly.
“Certainly, I do.” she affirmed sharply. “As you would know already, if you’d troubled to read my CV or references.”
“Then let’s waste no more time,” said Straker rising to his feet. “Follow me!”
“You know what they say…” Tony called after them, pulling a face. “About all work and no play….”
The hotel had put a small office at Straker’s disposal, he set up his laptop computer and produced a collection of handwritten notes for Jaimie to input for him. A quick glance through them, showed that they concerned an article he was writing for an archaeological journal. There didn’t seem to be any real urgency about the work, as far as she could tell. Indeed she had noticed an October date at the top of one page and felt fairly certain that the article wasn’t due for submission until then. Jaimie suspected this little exercise in office duties, had been contrived purely to keep her from a rather pleasant interlude in the pool, with Tony. After all, Straker’s plan to try and make her resign, would go astray if she ever started to enjoy herself!
Some paragraphs of the article were so closely written in his large overlapping handwriting, that she was forced to ask him to decipher it for her. This he did willingly enough, but it meant he had to come and stand over her, leaning forward to see where the problem was. The close proximity destroyed her concentration and he repeated a line three times, while she stared dumbly at his open necked shirt and the mat of dark hair on his chest, just inches away from her face.
It was amazing, the effect he could have upon her, hitting her senses when she least expected it. Standing this near to her, she became so aware of his masculinity, the powerful, hard muscled body. The proud stance and assurance of his movements… he was a worthy enemy, she thought wryly. Strange, how the sight earlier, of his brother in tight jeans and no shirt, had left Jaimie unaffected. Yet, here was Straker, fully clothed and implying a sensuality that threatened her whole equilibrium!
“You’re miles away,” he was saying now, in exasperation.
“Sorry,” she muttered quickly. Richard had said the same thing to her, that night she told him she was leaving. Straker’s deep Canadian tones made it sound so different. If only Richard had brought her alive like this, she could have stayed with him and not minded entertaining his boring clients. If only Straker was free, she could have taught him to trust a woman again, to love one…. but you couldn’t hold onto hopes like that….
“Jaimie!!” in desperation he had used her Christian name, something that rarely happened. “If this is an example of your concentration, then we’re in for some very hard work!”
She must snap out of this day-dream and get a grip on herself. She took a deep breath and pulled at the high collar on her blouse.
“It’s just a bit airless in here.” she said hastily.
“Are you alright?” his voice and glance were suddenly keen.
“Yes, yes of course. The change in climate is just difficult to adjust to, you made a point of telling me so yourself.”
“Well, you’d better sit quietly for a few moments.”
he ordered brusquely and moved to the other side of the desk, shuffling some notes.
Jaimie wiped the perspiration from her upper lip and studied him curiously while he worked. She felt more steady, now that he was a safe distance away. For several minutes she remained puzzled and touched by the uncharacteristic concern he had shown, and then the real reason for it, slowly dawned on her. It would probably make his day, if she were to feel unwell or come down with something, for then, he could quite legitimately stop her from going any further with the expedition,
Straker was so sure she was wrong for the job, so eager to find a potential weakness in her that he might be able to exploit. Always the dedicated archaeologist first and foremost, and rarely a man of flesh and blood. Even now, he was poring over a map of Corfu, half concealed by his open attaché case. Tracing a road route with his fingertip and pausing on the western side of the island, near the beaches of Paleokastritsa. He never made any attempt to discuss his plans with Jaimie, no doubt because he didn’t trust her, and also, she thought bitterly, because he still hoped to persuade her to return home. The fact that her presence was so irksome to him and of such little importance, hurt more than she was prepared to admit, even to herself.
Clutching at the resolve she had found earlier, she began to type again, not stopping until all his notes lay neatly transcribed on his laptop. It had been his turn to watch while she worked, his brows furrowed, he
might think he was some sort of authority on women, but she would show him a surprise or two!
“All finished,” she said, looking up. “Do you need anything else typing?”
“No,” he shook his head. “How are you feeling?”
“Fine,” Jaimie answered brightly, not that he really cared, but she forced her smile to stay in place.
“Alright, that’s all for now.” he told her. “Though, I’ll require you to take some short-hand notes this afternoon. I’m going across to the Archaeological Museum,” he checked his watch. “Too late to go now, it shuts at 12.30pm and doesn’t reopen until 4pm, we’ll go then, but it won’t be in the chauffeured car today, just a taxi.”
“Suits me.” she shrugged, that was Jaimie dismissed for the afternoon, she thought. Still, at least he was testing her capabilities. He might be searching for flaws, but she was determined that he would realise she was an efficient and reliable assistant.
Jaimie left the office and wandered back to the poolside, but there was no sign of Tony. Now that the mid-day sun shone down so fiercely, the few guests who remained on the terraces, sat under large colourful parasols. She sought the shade of the restaurant canopy and ordered some lemonade and sandwiches. Her appetite seemed to have evaporated in the heat, but she forced herself to eat and the fresh, tangy lemonade quenched her thirst.
Even in the shade, it was too hot to stay outside and she returned to the welcome air-conditioning of the hotel and her own suite. Although she had looked upon ‘siesta time’, as something of a custom that only the locals really observed, Jaimie felt suddenly very tired. She lay down on the bed, just to rest for a short while, but after her disturbed night, she was soon asleep.
She slept for nearly two hours and woke feeling quiet refreshed. Straker was meeting her in reception at 4pm, so she had time for a leisurely shower and to finish the unpacking which she had put off doing the night before. Then she dressed in a cool, turquoise silk, T-shirt dress. The colour emphasised her brunette hair. People always said, her hair was one of her best features, that and her striking, long-lashed, dark eyes. She had inherited those from her mother, a gentle, softly spoken woman, who had looked so stricken when Jaimie told her that she was going to work abroad. Jaimie’s father also, had taken it hard, they wanted a son-in-law and grandchildren. It was difficult trying to make them understand, her urge to follow a career, at the expense of Richard!
Jaimie met her own gaze in the dressing-table mirror. She did miss her parents, they’d always been a close family, but she knew she would not miss Richard. She looked at her reflection and the defiant set of her mouth, she had not inherited that from either of her parents…. Daniel Straker was the reason behind the rebellious young woman who now stared back at her!
He was waiting for her outside the main, front entrance of the hotel. Pacing up and down as though she was late, but it was still a couple of minutes off four o’clock.
“Is Tony coming too?” she asked conversationally.
“It would appear not!” he stated, fixing her with the guarded stare of dark aviator sunglasses. She realised that for once, his irritation lay with Tony and not herself. “He’s taken off someplace and left no message. Phone’s switched off too. There’s work to be done, but he’s probably out on a sailboard, getting burnt!”
“Just the two of us then.” shrugged Jaimie, his answering nod did not inspire confidence.
Maybe it never occurred to Straker, that people could not always live up to his own implacable standards, especially the remorseless devotion to his work. We’re only human, all of us, she sighed inwardly, Tony, herself, probably even his wife…. though it wasn’t so easy to include her. None of us are perfect. Jaimie wished she dared to say, ‘why don’t you loosen up a little, relax your ideals, let that mask slip again?’ But they both sat silently, in a taxi filled with smoke from the driver’s evil cheroot, and now, didn’t seem such a good time to say those things!
It was a brief journey and the taxi left them in Corfu Town, the island’s capital, near a big open square bordered by trees and close to the harbour.
“This is the Esplanade,” Straker informed her as they walked slowly south. “The square separates the modern town from the old citadel.”
“It’s very impressive.” a cooling breeze was blowing in off the sea and rippling through Jaimie’s hair, she felt almost relaxed.
“Corfu’s fortunate,” he continued. “It has escaped most of the earthquakes which have devastated other islands in the Ionian.”
“Should I be getting all this down?” she queried earnestly, suddenly reaching in her bag for her reporters notebook and pen.
He laughed and some of the tension that so often seemed to be with him, lifted. “No, I’m sorry, I always talk like a travel guide, when I go anywhere and I never let anyone forget I’m an archaeologist.”
“What would happen if you did?”
“Switch off, you mean?”
“I’d start remembering things… dwelling on the past, my own past I mean,” again the resigned smile. “The ruins of which are better left buried.”
“You make it all sound very mysterious.” she commented, watching him curiously.
“As though I’ve something to hide?” he suggested. “Perhaps, there have certainly been mistakes that I’m not proud of, but then… I’ve paid for them, Lord knows how many times over.”
They continued walking slowly, Jaimie wanted to ask him whether his wife was one of those mistakes, whether she had perhaps left him and betrayed his love? He was so capable of love, Jaimie felt sure of that, but something terrible must have happened to leave him this empty and desolate inside.
“I’ll show you a picture of my wife,” he said, seeming almost to read Jaimie’s thoughts. She looked at him quickly, but it was impossible to judge the expression behind those dark, blank shades. He might be teasing her; Straker’s moods changed like lightning and she was a novice at these sophisticated games. Why was he suddenly, apparently opening up to her? Was this some new torture, that would end badly?
“I must admit, I’m curious to know what she’s like?” replied Jaimie hesitantly.
She waited, expecting him to produce some kind of worn snapshot, maybe from his wallet. But his pace never altered and his hands continued to swing casually at his side as he walked. Jaimie concluded that he merely wished to gauge her reaction to the idea and she immediately regretted revealing her interest. She resolved to obtain some sunglasses of her own at the first available opportunity.
“This is Vraila Street,” he nodded, turning off the Esplanade. “The museum is just down here.”
Jaime fished out the notebook and pen, awaiting the inevitable return to employer/ employee status, which the museum heralded.
“A pleasantly modern museum, that proclaims two of the finest works of antiquity ever dug from the ground.” observed Straker as soon as they were inside and she began scribbling away. “The featured attractions in the Archeologiko Mousio…” how she was going to spell that, escaped her at present, but there was no time to stop and ask now, he barely paused for breath. “are both just over two thousand, five hundred years old and the first, known as the ‘Gorgon Pediment’, was found at the excavations of the temple of Artemis, just south of Corfu Town in 1912…. Am I going too fast for you?” he said as an afterthought and Jaimie wasn’t sure whether he referred to his narrative onslaught or the fact that he expected her to pursue him through a maze of rooms and corridors at the same time.
“It’s not easy writing on the move.” she admitted.
“Okay, don’t worry, we’re here now, no more notes for the moment.”
Jaimie looked up at the colossal pediment, which was a triangular section of stone that had once hung over a Greek colonnade. In the centre was the Gorgon monster, an evil, demonic figure, flanked by two other creatures that defied description and framed a couple of wild beasts. Crumbling in parts, but expertly restored, nevertheless, Jaimie found it quite ugly. In the next room, not as huge, but every bit as fearsome, was the ‘Archaic Lion’, resting menacingly on top of a pedestal.
“That’s two and a half thousand years old, as well,” enthused Straker. “It probably graced the tomb of a warrior back in the days when Corfu was struggling to win independence from Corinth.” he ran his eyes appreciatively over the cold stone. “One of the most beautiful ancient animal sculptures ever found.”
“Depends on your idea of beauty, I suppose!” she stated grimly.
He was laughing again now and it was so crazy the way her heart soared when she made him laugh or smile. Standing here, amongst all the relics of ancient Greece and some more recent additions, ancient coins, lovely mosaics and frescoes. Straker reminded her of an Olympian God himself, magical, hypnotic and beyond the reach of a mortal woman such as herself. This was truly his world, he lived for the thrill of re-discovering lost civilizations, his eyes sparkled as they held hers and his enthusiasm drew her ever closer towards him.
Time seemed to be suspended or slowing down, here under the unwavering gaze of the Greek statues and near Straker, it could have been a hundred or a thousand years ago. Jaimie only knew that he had caught her face tenderly between his hands and kissed the mouth which had sworn never to let this happen again. There was none of the savagery of his previous demands last night and she was powerless under his touch as Straker’s arms slipped around her and he held her silently, his face against the soft folds of her hair. Jaimie could not explain it to herself, the moment just engulfed them both, and it felt so right, so fateful…. out of their control and perhaps in the hands of the Gods.
The sound of footsteps on the stone floor, echoed around the huge museum corridors. Straker released her immediately and she had to steady herself for a moment, against the wall behind her. A diminutive, balding Greek gentleman came into the room and shook hands solemnly with Straker, then Jaimie.
“This is Spiros, an associate of mine.” said Straker, who seemed perfectly composed once more. “Nearly half the male population of Corfu are called Spiros, after their St Spiridon…. but to me, there is only this one here.”
“You flatter me,” dismissed the man. “I am special to the Professor, only because I found the site of his new excavations.”
He spoke slowly, deliberately, having to consider his words carefully. “Forgive me lady,” he smiled awkwardly at Jaimie. “If I must now speak in my own tongue, it is difficult for me sometimes in English and the Professor is not a patient man!”
“I know, that’s alright.” she smiled back and Straker’s eyes caught hers.
Both men then proceeded to converse in Greek, Straker appeared fluent in the language and they gestured and argued alike, as though from the same background. Occasionally, Spiros darted a glance at Jaimie and she was sure the subject matter wasn’t entirely confined to archaeology. He was, no doubt, curious to know who Jaimie was? And the language which excluded her so effectively from their conversation, was also ideal camouflage for any personal questions. She was conscious of looking slightly disarrayed after her encounter with Straker, she certainly felt far from steady.
At last, their business was concluded with a further bout of handshaking and Spiros accompanied them back through the building and out into the street. He walked as far as the Esplanade with them, then they hailed a taxi to return to the hotel. Apart from general comments on the return trip, Straker made no attempt to enlighten Jaimie as to what he and Spiros had discussed. Neither was there any reference to the brief moment of tenderness that Straker had shared with her. Perhaps he had already dismissed it, she considered with a pang, but then, wasn’t that exactly what she should do?
The more she thought about his motives for his change in attitude towards her, the greater her confusion. What if the glimpse he was giving her, of a more sensitive and sensual Daniel Straker, was merely an integral part of his master plan to make it impossible for her to work with him? It was bewildering trying to keep pace with his changing moods, while her own emotions threatened to run riot everytime he touched her.
“See you at dinner, tonight?” he half asked, half stated as they reached the hotel.
“Yes, I’ll have a shower and be down in an hour or so.” she felt a rush of colour to her face, remembering how his hands had moved so freely over her skin after her shower the day before.
He seemed unaware of her discomfort and just said. “Fine.” before striding off towards the reception desk, in search of any messages that may have been left for him.
Back in her room, Jaimie threw open her wardrobe doors and eyed her clothes unenthusiastically. Her entire selection fitted easily into one side, of the huge double-fronted unit and there was only one suitable for evening wear. She had brought it as an after-thought, just in case; a white, shimmering, liquid-like material. It fell from spaghetti straps and clung to her body, glistening with opal colours everytime she moved.
Jaimie showered, then re-applied her make-up carefully. She used her cosmetics sparingly, to emphasis her eyes, high cheek-bones and full lips. Then she slipped into the cool folds of the flowing gown and brushed her dark hair until it shone. She swept it back above one ear, securing the thick tresses with a mother-of-pearl comb.
Jaimie left her room, enveloped in her favourite perfume and by coincidence, or at the sound of her suite door closing, Straker appeared from his room. He wore a formal black evening suit and wing-collared white shirt with a bow-tie. His eyes played over her bare skin and the taut, shimmering dress across her firm breasts…. again she felt so aware of her own sensuality and of Straker’s.
“You look….” he began huskily and she held her breath in anticipation, but he checked himself and did not finish the sentence. Whether he had been about to criticise or compliment, something made him change his mind and he shrugged annoyingly, saying instead, “Shall we go down for dinner?”
Jaimie could only nod; somehow she must regain her composure and conceal the distinct excitement he stirred within her. During the few moments they stood so close together in the lift, Jaimie wondered if her perfume seemed as intoxicating to him, as his subtle male aftershave was to her? Their visit earlier that day, to the museum, felt as though it belonged to a dream, for now Straker was pleasant and civil, but once more distant.
“How long are we staying at the hotel?” she inquired as they reached the ground floor.
“Another three or four days,” he answered after some consideration. “There are still odds and ends of equipment and supplies for the excavation site, that haven’t come through yet. And of course, the longer we appear to be here on vacation, the less interest we’ll arouse in the local press!”
Straker kept his voice low and urgent as he spoke, glancing around the cocktail bar suspiciously. Did he really think he would be able to pick out a camouflaged reporter, hidden amongst the wealthy, bejewelled clientele? Instead, the only familiar face they found sitting on a high bar stool, was that of Tony.
“There lies our Achilles’ heel!” swore Straker under his breath, steering Jaimie across the bar.
“What do you mean?” she laughed. “I thought I was your only weak link!”
The guiding grip around her elbow tightened and she could sense his anger. “The more he drinks,” exclaimed Straker with forced patience. “The looser his tongue becomes.”
As they neared Tony, it became immediately apparent that he had been there for some time. His eyes looked hooded and unfocusing, as he toyed idly with a number of cocktail umbrellas, from previous drinks.
“You’re drunk!” accused Straker, the disgust plainly visible on his face.
“Nothing gets past you…” Tony glanced up from the depths of another multi-coloured cocktail and surveyed his brother’s hard-boned contempt. It seemed minutes before a flicker of recognition even dawned on the younger man’s face. “I’m just well-oiled Professor!” he laughed. “You should try it sometime…. it numbs the pain and blurs the memories.” Tony swallowed another mouthful and then watched in fascination as the carefully layered cocktail colours began to swirl into each other. Something in Straker suddenly snapped and he wrenched the glass away from Tony, dragging him to his feet.
“Hey, I need that!” protested Tony.
“If you can’t handle getting your fingers burnt, you shouldn’t play with fire!” hissed Straker bitterly. “And crawling into the nearest bloody bottle isn’t going to solve anything.”
A bartender hovered awkwardly in front of them. “I am sorry gentlemen, but you’re disturbing our other customers… I must ask you to..”
“My brother is just leaving!” said Straker firmly and he led Tony unresistingly out of the bar.
Jaimie felt a sudden need for a drink herself and ordered a glass of wine. By the time she had been served, Straker reappeared and sat down beside her.
“What have you done with Tony?” she asked, studying his grim profile. “Tied him up somewhere and gagged him?”
“No need,” he sighed. “I took him back to his suite and he flaked out…. probably been in the bar all afternoon.”
“When you said, he’d got his fingers burnt….what did you mean exactly?”
Straker grimaced, his eyes suddenly piercing hers. “Hell, who needs to worry about reporters with you around?”
“I was curious,” she admitted curtly, “but only out of concern, not through any ulterior motives.”
“Alright,” he seemed to relax again. “It’s no big secret; suffice to say Tony made a fool of himself over a woman. He should have heeded my mistakes, but he elected to learn the hard way, instead!”
“Indeed,” nodded Straker wryly. “and one completely out of his league.”
“No, Jaimie, what you saw, was the attempted escape from his pain and from the hold she has over him…. but the truth is, he would still do anything for her.”
“You can’t accept weakness in anyone, can you? Perhaps, not even in yourself?”
“Let’s drop the subject,” he said rising dismissively. “and go and order some dinner.”
Surprisingly, their meal was enjoyable. The food and service were excellent, served in the spacious, yet intimate hotel restaurant. Straker could be captivating company, when he chose to open up a little. He spoke of the highlights and disappointments in his archaeological career, a career that had taken him all over the world on excavations and lecture tours. But Greece was his spiritual home, the myths, the legends and ancient ruins, never
failed to fire his enthusiasm. As he talked, he swept Jaimie along with him, until she could almost taste the sand blowing in her face and see the sun glancing off archaic ruins lying exposed for the first time in thousands of years.
When the two of them returned to the cocktail bar, the lights had been lowered and a pianist was playing softly on a grand piano. A few couples were dancing and Jaimie felt strangely envious of the smiling, whispering faces and of the secret language their bodies spoke to one another. For the moment, she had stopped listening to Straker’s account of his last expedition and imagined herself, moving across the dance floor in his arms.
“Missing Richard?” he queried suddenly, reading her expression, but misinterpreting the reason behind it.
She smiled wistfully and shrugged, what difference did it make if he assumed she missed her ex? What was the point in explaining, when Straker himself was unobtainable? She bit her lip and turned away, but he caught her, his hands encircling her waist. Then before she had realised his intentions, she was on the dance floor held tightly against his strong, hard-muscled body. His fingers stroked the tingling flesh exposed by the cut-away back of her dress, and then he lifted her chin and kissed her parted lips.
She wanted to believe that he was stirred by jealousy, after being reminded of Richard. Whereas, in all truth, he was probably just continuing to act the part of ‘Prof. Daniel Straker’ on vacation, by adding a few embellishing flourishes for the benefit of ‘whoever’ was watching!”
Like any man who had shared a pleasant evening with an admiring woman, perhaps he thought it should reach a natural conclusion. Jaimie began to feel uneasy and his warm breath against her ear, threatened to invade her senses and defeat her resolve.
‘I mustn’t falter now, I mustn’t falter….’ she said it silently over and over again to herself. At the end of the melody, she pulled quickly away from Straker and moved towards the bar, but he followed her in long, easy strides.
“Another drink?” he asked softly. “Brandy?”
“A night-cap.” he smiled and she felt her heart twist painfully. Was it her imagination, or did he fully intend to come to her suite and make her melt into his arms again? She must slip away and leave him in the bar, if he accompanied her upstairs, she might waver dangerously. Jaimie emptied the glass too rapidly and the brandy burned its way down her throat, making her gasp. He was still sipping his drink, now was the time to move.
“I think I’ll turn in,” she stated, her voice seemed barely more than a hoarse whisper, if she wasn’t careful, it would sound more like an invitation than a firm good-night. “It’s late and… I’ll see you at breakfast.”
His fingertips touched her arm lightly, evocatively. “Who are you trying to convince, Jaimie?” he murmured with an amused smile. “The other guests…. me? Or yourself?”
She felt the colour blaze in angry waves from her neck up to her face. Was he that sure of the effect he had upon her, as to suggest she was only pretending to retire alone? Jaimie left the bar without another word and returned to the sanctuary of her suite.
Mechanically, she undressed, removed her make-up and climbed into bed. She lay there, marvelling bitterly at the range of emotions that Straker could arouse in her… from humiliation and anger, to desire and something much deeper. Then suddenly, there was a knock at the adjoining door and her heart hammered desperately. He was trying the handle now, rattling it, but the bolt held firm.
“Jaimie, I want to talk to you!”
You’ve said more than enough already, she thought, determined not to answer.
“For God’s sake Jaimie, let me in…!”
Again he shook the door…. ‘go away,’ she pleaded silently, ‘ just go away.’
If his ego was bruised, she didn’t care and couldn’t stand to listen to his insistent pounding. Jaimie buried her head under the pillow and pressed it against her ears, until the only pounding she could hear was that of her own heart….
Chapter Three coming soon >