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The Goddess

  • Publisher: Entangled Publishing
  • Available: 05/11/2013
After college graduation, Helene Masters is excited to land a job in a picturesque Aegean kingdom. Tasked with sprucing up the Prince’s villa, she inadvertently finds herself trapped on the  island with the sexiest man alive. Of course she has to fall for a man who is destined to only marry royalty.
Darius Vasily, Prince of Teirenias, can’t figure out what pretty, but accident-prone, Helene is doing at his private estate. After dousing him in paint, she disappears inside the secret cave holding the royal family treasure—a fertility statue, but a cave-in traps them both. Now Darius has to figure out how to save them before he kills her for getting them into this mess in the first place—or gives into their amazing chemistry.

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Chapter One

Watch out beloooow!

As her cry pierced the air, Helene Masters gripped the ladder’s top rung with one hand and lunged with the other. Her fingertips grazed the handle but the bucket, three-parts filled with paint, continued on like a short-range missile hurtling toward earth.

This secluded island was a sacred place. The architecture was classic and walkways were patterned with sandstone laid millennia before. One such walkway sat directly below. Helene would have a job cleaning up the mess.

But it got much worse than that.

An unsuspecting someone had just rounded the stables’ corner and now stood in the plunging pail’s path. At the same instant she shouted out, the man had glanced up. Espresso-colored hair, a proud aquiline nose, and a passionate mouth that might as easily command as seduce. A particularly regal face, Helene thought in that split second. And one that would soon be doused in robin-egg blue.

At the last moment, the man braced. Dark eyes widened, those imperious shoulders dipped back, and the bucket missed by a whisker. The aluminum pail clanged upon the stone, jettisoning plumes of blue into the air before the shower slapped onto the ground as well as over a pair of casual shoes and an un-tucked button-down shirt.

While the man stood motionless, in shock, Helene cringed to her toes. She was in big trouble, which was the last thing she wanted. The very last thing she needed. She was over and done with feeling like anyone’s accident waiting to happen.

Below her, strong bronzed hands bunched into fists and a dark gaze snaked back up to snare hers. A slash of paint oozed down one cheek while that Hollywood jaw clenched doubly tight. Energy rippled off him in blistering waves, hitting Helene with a smidgeon less intensity than a sonic boom.

Balanced on the ladder, she apologized. “I’m so sorry. It slipped.”

He flicked dripping hands. Dots flew as he squinted up and asked, “Who in the devil are you?”

His voice was deep and smooth. Unaccountably sexy. She loved his accent—rolling r’s, rounded vowels, and a rich tone that soothed like black velvet whispering over a stretch of bare skin.

When he persisted— “You do have a name?”—Helene gathered her thoughts.

“Helene Masters.”

“What are you doing up there?”

“Painting stable gutters.”

“Clearly.”

But now, rather than terse, he sounded intrigued, and a certain glimmer in those dark eyes said that, whoever he was, she might not be thrown into some ancient jail cell just yet.

“Who commissioned you?”

Helene moistened suddenly dry lips. “I choose not to answer on the grounds it might incriminate someone.”

His eyes flashed like black diamonds glittering in late-summer sunshine. Then one corner of that passionate mouth curved up so slightly she might have imagined it.

“You’re concerned for a friend. And if I told you that he has nothing to fear?”

“I’d ask who gave the assurance.”

“Let’s say, a person of authority.”

For an instant, Helene wondered… Could this man be the Prince of Teirenias? But Darius Vasily wasn’t due on this island until next week. She’d seen a portrait. That man and this one shared a likeness in hair color and complexion; then again, so did the majority in these parts. Besides, the person in the portrait was much younger. The jaw wasn’t anywhere near as strong. Ditto the physique. And those eyes…

Peering down into that dark lidded gaze, she felt a frisson of heat spiral through her.

The portrait’s eyes bore a certain innocence, she thought, whereas this was the gaze of a man who knew when, where, and how to please—but only on his terms.

The man stepped back, leaving blue-bordered footprints behind.

“Come down.” Flinching, he rubbed his neck. “I’m getting a crick.”

Whoever he was, Helene decided, it didn’t make sense to carry on a conversation with him down there and her all the way up here. She descended, glanced over—and was greeted by the sexiest lopsided grin ever.

From atop her ladder she’d known this man was built and attractive, but close up, he was devastatingly so. Everything about his confident expression sent her blood pressure soaring and her thoughts dipping into all kinds of interesting places. She’d heard about animal magnetism—the power some people had to hypnotize and draw in their prey. This man smoldered with it.

“Tell me who is behind your being here,” he glanced dubiously skyward, “painting gutters?”

“You’re a local?” she asked.

“I’m…from nearby.”

“Then you’d know.” She straightened her sleeveless t-shirt. “About the prince, I mean.”

His head tilted, and a dark curl fell over his brow, bobbing in the briny breeze as he crossed his arms. “Fill me in.”

“The Royal Prince of Tierenias will soon be crowned. But before he can become king, tradition states he must spend seven days and nights experiencing the nourishing solitude on this island—”

“A sacred place that boasts stories of royals-in-waiting realizing their greatest strengths following their time of meditation and spiritual renewal.”

She grinned. “Right.  I was hired to brighten and tidy up some things before he arrives. But I’m even more excited about that other story. You know? The myth surrounding an ancient goddess and her mysterious powers.”

His expression sharpened, darkened. “Yes. I know about her.”

“Story goes she can mesmerize and seduce any mortal of her choosing. They say that power is greatest here on this island.”

Helene took in her surroundings: a centuries-old stone villa crouched on a bluff, verdant slopes decorated with wild olive trees and prickly pear, the scent of crystal-clear water and coo of gentle doves. Hidden somewhere in this secluded paradise, that mysterious goddess was reputed to wait.

“This island is so beautiful.” When her gaze dropped to the blue-splashed sandstone, she exhaled. “And I’ve trashed it.”

He persisted. “I need to know who left you here.”

She didn’t want to get her friend into hot water. But records could be checked. Alexio’s name would show up eventually.

“Alexio owns a taverna on the main island,”  she began,  “but he also oversees the upkeep here. He does a lot of the work himself.” She brightened. “But Alexio became a grandfather yesterday, so he offered me the job of finishing the final tidy before the prince’s arrival. Three days work. He dropped me off yesterday.”

The man’s brow remained furrowed and his arms, knotted over that impressive chest, stayed crossed. “And you?” he asked.

“As soon as I got my degree, I was off, backpacking and loving it.” She’d swooned over Mad King Ludwig’s castle in Germany. She’d been blown away by the gothic splendor of Notre Dame. In Italy at the Fontana di Trevi, she’d tossed a coin and promised, no matter what, she would return. Then she’d hopped aboard a sailboat destined for that little known Aegean kingdom steeped in legend, the twin islands of Tierenias. She’d heard that a distant relative had come from these parts. Helene was even named after her.

“Now, can I ask you a question?” He considered before nodding once. “Who, or what, are you?” she asked. “Some kind of guard or secret service type?”

“Not quite.”

“Are you alone?”

“Absolutely.”

She shrugged. “I give up.”

As his chin tipped higher, a ripple of awareness stirred in her stomach, and all the fine hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. But she’d already ruled out that possibility. The prince was much younger. The planes of his face less angled. His body less…mature. He wasn’t due here until next week.

“You’re not—” She cut herself off with a short laugh. “You couldn’t be… Could you?”

The man thrust back his paint-splattered shoulders.

“I am Darius Vasily, Royal Prince of Tierenias,” he said. “And what we have here, Ms. Masters, is a problem.”

Darius Vasily had enjoyed many extraordinary experiences in his life: competing with the world’s leading sportsmen, trading with the world’s richest countries, dealing with the world’s wealthiest tycoons. This coming week, however, was meant to be the most meaningful of his entire thirty years. Seven days—and nights—spent in isolation to prepare for the role to which he had been born. Since childhood, he’d vowed to be a good and responsible king. He was different from his father, but just as determined to succeed.

Although many would view this situation as the worst possible start.

Had his father stood here now, this trespasser would be marched off and, unwitting or not, dealt with promptly.

Darius’s first thought had been “reporter.” While Ms. Masters appeared to have genuinely paled when she realized who he was, media hounds used every trick in the book. When he returned to the villa, he would have her story checked out and arrange to have her taken away.

“I’ve seen a formal portrait,” she was saying. “The prince—he looks…”

“Younger.” She was right. “That official shot will be updated after the coronation.”

“You weren’t supposed to be here this early.”

A last minute change of plans. “News will have been released that my confinement here begins today.”

“Then Alexio will know now, too.” When she studied the horizon, he noticed how her eyes mimicked the color of the island’s sunlit shallows. “He’ll come collect me,” she said.

“Not unless I give the order. The penalty is ninety days in chains.” He thought to add, “Not that chains have been used for that purpose for a hundred years, give or take.”

Her throat bobbed on a deep swallow. “That’s good to know. But you’ll contact Alexio? I have his number.”

If her story panned out, palace administration would have that man’s details in the system. Still, he was not pleased that security had missed her during their sweep of the island, even given his abrupt change of plans and miniscule notice, which must have translated into cutting of some corners.

“You only need to collect your things,” he said. When she nodded and headed for the stables, his brows shot up. “You slept in a stall?”

Wasn’t there a groundsman’s cabin nearby?

“There’s a clean cot in the tack room.” Both hands slotted in the back pockets of her shorts. “It all adds to the adventure.”

Helene was in her early twenties and radiated energy and effervescence. She had apparent innocence as well as burgeoning sex appeal. Useful qualities for a female reporter who wished to sneak an interview with an isolated prince.

“So, you like adventure, Ms. Masters?”

“What’s life without risks?”

Darius would like to concur, but these days his life had little room for anything other than duty. Finding a suitable wife sat at the top of the list: a woman who would understand his duty and bear their children. Even twenty-first century kings must see to succession, a necessity when considering the peaceful transition from anointment to the eventual passing on of title and claim to the throne.

Clearly, Helene Masters was not for him. Nevertheless, she was intriguing. He couldn’t help but wonder… How would those lips taste beneath his? As sweet as they looked? Possibly sweeter.

He’d looked forward to a glass of retsina and a simple lunch on the cool of the balcony. Perhaps Ms. Masters was looking forward to a break, too. But although he was tempted, he wouldn’t ask her to join him. Rather he would make that call to verify who she was and why she was here. And then…

Well then, of course, he would take the steps necessary to have his unauthorized company escorted away.

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