Authors: Patricia Kiyono
by Patricia Kiyono
Published by Astraea Press
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and events are fictitious in every regard. Any similarities to actual events and persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental. Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features are assumed to be the property of their respective owners, and are used only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if any of these terms are used. Except for review purposes, the reproduction of this book in whole or part, electronically or mechanically, constitutes a copyright violation.
Copyright Â© 2012 PATRICIA KIYONO
Cover Art Designed by Ginny Glass
Edited by Kim Bowman
To Mandy and Robyn, who both share my love of travel and meeting people in wonderful faraway places. Thanks for letting me tag along on some of your adventures. I am so very proud to be your mom.
He was staring at her again.
She knew it, despite his outward lack of interest. His long, lean frame was draped casually on the wooden chair in the outdoor section of the Appolon Grill. Dark shades covered his eyes, but the jet-black eyebrows above them rose and tilted her way every time she moved. Unlike locals, who occasionally threw friendly greetings her way, this man stayed in his seat and silently watched her.
Francie Vasileiou bent her head and focused her attention on the textbook in front of her. Inwardly, she was flattered by his interest. But she reminded herself she was here in Athens to further her education, not to find a man. She sipped her water and struggled to ignore him and concentrate on the words on the page.
The warm breeze calmed her nerves as she sat at her usual table in the back corner of the restaurant. Most tourists preferred to sit at the outer edges of the seating area with a view of Mount Olympus and the spectacular sunset. But here, next to the kitchen, she wasn't distracted by the conversation and the view. The light from the kitchen allowed her to continue reading until Kostos closed down for the night.
Her job here at the restaurant was perfect. She worked enough hours so she could pay her living expenses, and when she wasn't cooking or waitressing, Kostos allowed her to use one of his tables for studying. Even with the commotion from the kitchen and the restaurant patrons' conversations, this setting was much better for concentrating than the noisy apartment building where she lived.
It took some effort, but finally the words on the page became concrete ideas, and she was transported back in time to the world of ancient Greece, to the time of the patricians. The structures on the Acropolis were not ruins but proud, gleaming works of art. Toga-draped people walked the dusty streets, while the less fortunate hawked their wares from makeshift stalls.
“Francie? We're done for the night. I need to close up now.” Kostos's gentle touch on her shoulder brought her back to the present.
She closed her book and rose to help with the process of bringing the tables into the enclosure and closing up. As she worked she glanced around, but the stranger was nowhere to be seen. They finished the task quickly, and Francie gathered her books to head back to her apartment. A sudden movement in the shadows made her shudder.
“What's wrong, Francie?”
She hesitated. Was she being paranoid? No, it would be better to play it safe.
“Kostos, could you walk with me back to my place?”
His swift intake of breath and the pleasure lighting his face reminded her of the man's interest. He had made it clear he would like to be more than her boss. She clarified her request. “It's just thatâthere was a man here earlier. I've seen him before. He was staring at me andâ”
“Say no more. I will make sure he does not harm you.”
They took the ten-minute walk to her apartment in relative silence. Once there, she knew she would have to be firm about not inviting him in. She would have toâ
“Have you seen the man following us?”
Kostos's question caught her off guard. She had nearly forgotten about the mysterious man in her preoccupation with extracting herself from the kind, unassuming man walking beside her. She shook her head, assuring herself as well as Kostos that the danger was past.
“No, I haven't seen him since before we left the restaurant. He's been in the restaurant at least three times this week. Maybe I should try reading at home more.”
“But you said you were unable to study in your room because of your noisy neighbors. You know you are welcome to study in the restaurant any time.”
“I know. Thank you so much. You've been a lifesaver, in more ways than one.”
“It is my pleasure. I will see you to your room.”
She stopped at the gate to the building. “I'm fine now, Kostos. Thanks for walking me home.” She turned to open the gate, but a beefy hand grabbed her arm and stopped her.
âmy love.” His voice dropped to a growl as he hauled her against him.
Francie struggled to breathe as his arms entrapped her. Her mild-mannered employer had become an animal. What had happened to the gentleman who greeted and served his customers each night? Where was the sweet man who had helped her when she'd had no money and no place to go?
She fought against the steel bands wrapped around her midsection. His face was pressed against hers, his awkward, sloppy kisses wetting her face. Between the kisses, he murmured endearments.
“Kostos, please let me goâI can't breathe!” But the kisses and endearments continued.
She pushed at him and turned her head sideways to get her mouth away from his and took a deep breath, intending to scream. But before a sound came out, he was lifted away from her and lay sprawled on the street, moaning. A dark figure stood over him, turning a familiar face toward her.
“You'd better go inside now,” the stranger instructed her. And then he was gone.
Shock immobilized her for a moment, but Kostos's groan galvanized her. She picked up her books, unlocked the security gate, and went through, remembering to lock it behind her. Plaintive wails from the street pushed her to run the two flights up to her apartment. She didn't stop until she was in her room, the door locked, the windows shuttered and latched. Thank goodness the mystery man from the restaurant had appeared when he did.
But in the back of her mind she wondered if perhaps the stranger was as great a threat to her well-being as Kostos.
Two streets and half a world away, Alex Leonidis poured himself a drink and paced the floor of his richly appointed sitting room. His reputation and record of success as a private detective allowed him to live in much greater comfort than the shabby apartment building he had just left.
Tracking the lovely Francie Vasileiou was a challenge to his state of mind. He had solved dozens of cases involving beautiful women and had never had a problem seeing them as anything but the criminals they were. But this woman, with her wide, child-like eyes, her quiet, unassuming appearance, stirred an unfamiliar yearning in him. Was it possible Zotis's suspicions were incorrect? His new employer had insisted the missing artifacts could be traced to her, but how could a mere student have gained such access to them? It was his job to find out.
He sat at his writing desk, opened his laptop, and reviewed the notes sent to him.
The report listed the basic facts. Name: Francine Genevieve Vasileiou, aged twenty-seven. Parents: the renowned Greek archaeologist, Georges Vasileiou and French-Canadian actress Genevieve Dumont. Raised in Athens, Montreal, and Los Angeles, she was fluent in Greek, French, and English. Studied ancient Greek history and graduated at the top of her class at Stanford University, where she had also obtained her master's degree. Presently enrolled in the PhD program in archaeology at the University of Athens. With her father, she had participated in archaeological digs from the time she was able to walk.
Miss Vasileiou had been a member of the teams discovering the artifacts most recently stolen. She was the obvious thread between the thefts. But police investigations had cleared her. Zotis insisted the police had made a mistake.
Alex had observed her for the past two weeks, learning her routine, watching her interact with her classmates, professors, her employer, and her customers. Nothing in her manner suggested a devious criminal mind. But he knew from experience that looks were deceiving. Somehow, Zotis claimed, this fresh-faced college student had found a way to smuggle priceless Greek artifacts into the hands of the black market.
Solving the puzzle would be a coup, and then maybe he would take some time off. Perhaps he could visit his mother, who now lived in her native America with her second husband.
His cell phone chirped, and he stood as he slid it out of his pocket. Recognizing the number on the caller ID, he frowned. He jabbed at the phone to connect and raised it to his ear. “Yes?”
“You should show more respect to the man who is paying your salary.”
Alex fought back a groan. He focused on projecting a less antagonistic tone. “Sorry, I was studying my notes. What can I do for you?”
“I'm checking on your progress. Are you sure you can't solve this without going through an entire dig?”
Alex took a deep breath, willing himself not to sigh. “We've been over this, Zotis. The only way we can find out how the pieces are stolen is to catch the thieves in the act. If we find the connection, hopefully we'll be able to recover some of the stolen articles.”
“But the expenseâ”
“Will be more than worth it for you. Some of the details and expenses are covered by the university, since this dig was already planned.”
After more reassurances and divulging a few plans, Alex disconnected and sat at his desk once more. He hoped his employer's insistence in knowing every detail would not be a hindrance to his investigation.
He refocused on the task at hand. As he had told his employer, the dig had already been planned. Zotis's estate included a rocky cliff overlooking the Aegean Sea. It was believed the cliffs once housed a small community of cave dwellers. The University of Athens had secured permission from the previous owner and had even done the preliminary excavation, but the dig had been abandoned when the estate changed hands. By convincing Zotis to personally invest in it, Alex was able to revive the project and place Francie and himself in the crew.
He knew the stolen goods had been taken by someone within the trusted few who had actually handled the artifacts. There was, of course, Francie's mentor, Professor Milos Theodoris. He seemed harmless enough, but his absentmindedness could be a cover for a scheming mind. Other than Francie, Professor Theodoris was the only person who had been involved in both digs from which artifacts had gone missing. But the professor, too, had been cleared by the police.
Francie was the more likely culprit. She reminded him of another seemingly fragile woman. After he had been taken in by Katarina's supposed helplessness, he vowed he'd never again be deceived by wide-eyed innocence. His experience with the young heiress had been expensive and humiliating. Fortunately, she had found someone with pockets deep enough to satisfy her every whim, so he didn't have to deal with her anymore.
Why couldn't all women be like his mother? She was the only woman he trusted implicitly. She was strong and fiercely loyal to those she loved. She had been his rock, his anchor, until she could no longer live with his father's overbearing manner and philandering ways. She had returned to her native America while Alex was attending Panteion University. He would have gone with her, but she had convinced him to complete his studies before moving. By the time he finished his degree, Katarina had had her claws in him. And since then, he had allowed no woman into his heart.
Francine Vasileiou was not going to be the one to break down the barriers he had worked so hard to erect. If she was the mastermind behind the thefts, he would learn her secrets. If she was merely an accomplice, he would trip her into leading him to the perpetrator. Her soft, gentle ways would not work on him. Eventually, she would make a mistake and the case would be solved.
Finding his glass empty, he refilled it. Hopefully, Francie would make a mistake before he made one.
Tomorrow would be an early day, and there was still much to do tonight. He sat down at the desk with his notes and tried to forget his physical reaction to the lovely suspect.
The eyes looking back at Francie from her bathroom mirror were almost unrecognizable. Dark circles under them testified to her sleepless night. How could she have placed her trust in Kostos? Last night, he had stood under her window for almost an hour, pleading with her, begging her forgiveness. One of her upstairs neighbors finally convinced him to leave by throwing a vase at him and flinging a string of threats.
Perhaps she should move. She would definitely need to find another job. But right now she needed to get to class. It was the last week of the semester, and she couldn't let an incident like this affect her grades.
This morning, after her first class, she had an important meeting to attend. The invitation had arrived last week, printed on expensive paper and embossed with the university's seal. She had been chosen to participate in a special archaeological dig on the island of Paros, a beautiful spot in the Cyclades Islands. Professor Theodoris, one of her favorite instructors at the University of Athens, was to head the dig. The invitation was an honor she couldn't refuse. Aside from the welcome addition to her resume, she loved working with “Professor Theo,” as everyone called the good-natured instructor.
Hopefully, there would be no problems this time. On her last dig with Professor Theo, some items had been stolen. The police interrogation had been unpleasant, but she had been cleared, and she was glad her involvement in that dig had not marred her reputation.
She threw on a pair of jeans and the first clean t-shirt she could find. Mindful of the time, she rubbed a wet cloth across her face and applied a light touch of makeup to cover the circles under her eyes. After a quick swipe of the brush through her thick brown hair, she was ready to go.
Somehow she made it through her class, and with a lighter step headed toward the room indicated in the invitation. She arrived early and took a seat in the front row. Gradually, the others trickled in. It looked like an eclectic group. There were two females she recognized from her classes and two men she hadn't met.
She looked up as Professor Theo shuffled into the room. He welcomed everyone and introduced himself.
The professor went on to describe the project. The dig would last most of the summer. She could give up her job, get away from Kostos, and decide what to do in the fall. The timing couldn't be more perfect.
“The Project Director is coming today to give us more specific information. He is in contact with the major investorsâoh, here he is, Mr. Alexandros Leonidis.”
Francie turned her expectant gaze toward the door and felt her blood freeze. There had to be a mistake. The mystery man from the restaurant, the man who had rescued her from Kostos's advances, was the Project Director? Maybe she should rethink joining this dig. There was really no question she would go, of course. She needed the work, and she needed to get away from Kostos.
But would she be trading one problem for another?
Against her better judgment, her gaze traveled down the length of the man. A battered brown satchel hung from his left shoulder, conflicting with the polished yet casual appearance of his clothing. Perhaps the satchel had sentimental value. Or perhaps he was a practical man, not requiring new things simply because what he had was worn.
Her father had had a similar leather satchel for his digging tools. He had used it long after it showed signs of wear, repairing the rips and tears. One Christmas, she had given him a new one, hoping to please him. He'd thanked her but continued to use his old one. During her last visit to his home, she found her gift stuffed in the bottom drawer of a cabinet, unused.
She forced her mind back to the present. The stranger from the previous night was definitely not Georges Vasileiou. Unlike her father, this man moved with purpose. His eyes were clear and focused. And right now they were focused on her.
So the man had a name. Alexandros, or Alex. He greeted them before launching into specifics of the project. The dig was funded through public as well as private sources and would take place on the estate of a well-known shipping magnate, Constantine Zotis. The tycoon wanted the excavation done this summer and had asked Alex to oversee the selection of the crew and the logistics of the dig. As Project Director, he had selected Professor Theo as the Project Archaeologist, and the professor, in turn, had selected the rest of the crew.
She started when she heard her own name and realized the professor was introducing the team members to each other. She felt her face heat and shrank in her seat as the professor listed her accomplishments.
There were two other students she recognized from the university: Jane, a Brit, and Christina, a Greek. There was Dimitri, a native of Paros, who would serve as their guide, cook, and general gofer. Yannis, a tall, gangly young man with a penchant for his Blackberry, was the last member of the crew. He was introduced as a graduate student from the Hellenic Institute.
Other details were covered, but since they were outlined on a handout, she listened with only half an ear. Having participated in several digs, she was familiar with the routine. But she perked up when he got to the part about accommodations.
“Since the land owner wishes to have this project done quickly, he is hosting us all on his property. A campsite has been set up along the shore, including cooking facilities, so that we can work and take our meals there with a minimum of interruptions.”
All heads popped up at this. The younger crew members looked disappointed.
“You mean we'll be trapped on site the entire time?” Jane asked.
Alex cast an indulgent smile at the young girl, and Francie berated herself for the twinge of envy she recognized.
“You're not going to be trapped, Jane,” he told her. “The site is only seven kilometers from Alyki and ten kilometers from Parikia. Transportation will be available if you want to go into town in the evenings and on days off. But during the day we will be able to get much more accomplished if we don't have to leave the site for all our meals. We'll also get a much earlier start each morning if we are already there.”
The girl pouted, but she refrained from arguing. Perhaps she realized the opportunity for experience outweighed the availability of entertainment.
“Are there any other questions?” Alex asked.
The only questions came from Jane and Christina, the two with the least dig experience. Alex promised to meet with them afterward and asked Professor Theo to answer the questions about process of the dig and their specific duties. Soon afterward, the crew was dismissed, and Francie gathered her things.