For the Love of a GodBy: Rosanna Leo
"I know,” she allowed. “You have an impressive pedigree. I read your grandfather's paper on the spread of Hellenistic civilization. It's brilliant. I referred to it a lot during my studies and my work."
Eric Lord stopped walking for a moment, and stared at her, apparently stunned. “You read that? It was written years ago. I would have thought a young person like you would have turned to some newer research."
"Young person?” she scoffed. “I'm twenty-eight, and you look all of thirty."
She wouldn't have thought it possible, but the director blushed.
"Besides,” she continued, trying to be nice. “Your grandfather's arguments are still completely valid. And I like his style of writing. He made it sound as if he were on intimate terms with the ancient Greeks."
He cleared his throat.
"Is your grandfather still...?"
"Gone. He's been ... gone for years."
"Oh. I'm sorry.” Maia stared at him. He seemed to have let his guard down at little, and she did truly admire his grandfather's work. But she was still determined to hate him. He'd fired what's-his-name, and she still didn't know what he wanted with her. “Look, Mr. Lord. I'm sure you didn't bring me here to reminisce. If you're planning to fire me, could we get it over with sooner rather than later? It'll take me a day just to clear out the crap on my desk."
This time, he did laugh. His top-model face split with a huge grin, as if he were enjoying her discomfort tremendously. And even though his laugh irritated her, it also reached inside her body, like a manly finger seeking out her most private places. It tickled and teased her.
"What's so funny?"
"You, to be truthful,” he replied.
She bristled. “Well, laugh if you want. I'm used to it. People have been laughing at me for years. I assure you it doesn't bother me anymore.” But there was a time when it did. When she was the overweight, pimply girl in high school, it had bothered her a great deal. She might have been the student who won all the academic awards at graduation, but the other kids had only laughed at the “statue hugger."
His green gaze hardened, as if he had somehow caught a glimpse of her former sadness and didn't like it. “I mean no disrespect. I just don't think I've ever met anyone quite so ... frank. I'm not sure if I find it refreshing or not.” He paused, staring at her the whole time. “Look, I didn't bring you here to fire you, Miss Douglas. If that were my plan, you'd already be out the door, clutching your Holly Hobby purse."
She looked down at her satchel. It was her turn to blush.
"Actually, I have some plans for this gallery. Your knowledge of Greece is good, if not quite as extensive as mine. Even still, I thought I'd bend your ear a little."
Her knowledge wasn't as extensive as his? Who did he think he was talking to?
Maia's heart started to palpitate again as her brain whirled. What plans did he have? The Greek gallery was set up exactly as her father had set it up years ago. Yes, they'd been doing some minor renovations, but the design was the one her father had created years ago. Everyone at the museum agreed it should remain. It was her dream to retain her father's vision for the gallery.
Especially now, with her dad sick as he was.
"Plans?” she murmured.
He grinned at her again as they reached the entrance. He held back the drop cloths for her. “Yes. Sweeping changes, actually. Museum styles change, as you know. The gallery is outdated, crammed tight with every possible artifact on display. I want to see something more streamlined, less busy. Right now, it looks like a hoarder's basement.” He wet his lips, noting how her eyes dropped to watch. “Some sculpture will have to go. Starting with the statue of Eryx."
She could barely push enough air through her windpipe to say, “What?"
His eyes narrowed on her. “Eryx. Greek god of love."
Maia's eyes burned. “I know who he is! What are you doing with his statue?"
"I know some people at the Hermitage. They'd like to display the Eryx and I'm interested in a few of their items. You know, a little trade to freshen up the collection."
"The Hermitage? The Russian Hermitage?” He was sending her Eryx to Russia? She fought the overwhelming rush of dizziness as she attempted to squeeze another labored breath through her thickened throat.
"It's just a temporary change, Miss Douglas. Eryx is already down in storage. Don't worry, though. We'll bring him back, in about two years or so.” He stared at her.
"No,” she whispered. Without waiting for Eric Lord to respond, she hiked up her long skirt and ran toward the spot where Eryx had stood for twenty-three years.
As she careened around the corner, Maia didn't even hear the footsteps behind her. All she felt was the horrible, empty feeling in the pit of her stomach and the trail of her tears on her cheeks.
Why him? Why her Eryx? He could have traded any other statue.
She stopped before his pedestal and looked up toward where Eryx's face had been. The face which used to smile and wink at her. The face her father had pulled from the rubble and brought to light. The face she'd fallen in love with.
He was gone. The pedestal on which her beloved Eryx had stood was bare, as if the god had never been there at all.
Eric Lord caught up to her. She turned to him, her face white. And promptly collapsed into his strong arms.Chapter Four
Eric fished the teabag out of the mug and tossed it into the trash. He turned and gazed at the sleeping Maia.
What a basket case. All he'd done was shift a statue, and she'd reacted as if he'd pulled the plug on her comatose granny.
Okay. So maybe he'd done it to provoke her. Maybe he didn't really have an arrangement with the Hermitage. But when he'd seen how strangely she'd acted with the statue, he had wanted to mess around with her mind a little.
Museum employees were always so staid, so resistant to change. He always thought it best to come in and show them who was boss right from the start. So he'd dismissed that one waste of space Mark, and toyed with Maia Douglas. The same sort of wrangling happened in the corporate world every day.
The problem with museum staff was they all thought they were somehow above it.
He hadn't expected her to pass out on him, but he should have seen it coming. Her little face had been just burning with indignation, lit with an inner fire which had touched him in a way few things had in a long time. When she'd fainted, he'd picked her up and carried her to a nearby staff lounge. He'd laid her on a couch so she could recover from the stress of not seeing the statue.
And then Eric had uttered a quick incantation to ensure no one walked in on them. He didn't know what to make of this Maia Douglas and wanted some time to contemplate her in silence.
He also hadn't expected her to comment on his “grandfather's” work. There was no grandfather; there never had been. It was all Eric, doing work at different times. And it gave him a not-insignificant thrill to think Maia had read and enjoyed his paper.
He could still see the tracks of her tears on her cheeks. Even passed out, her face was still crumpled in pain. Pain he'd caused.
And it bothered him.
He'd been too hard on her. Why? Was Dionysus right? Was he being an ass because he was pretending he hadn't felt a crippling attraction to Maia Douglas right from the start?
Yet, without knowing why, he slid over to where she lay and brushed his fingers against her clammy cheek. “So cold,” he murmured.
What would it feel like to warm her up?
Even as the tempting thought strayed into his head, Eric moved away from her. “No,” he said. “I'm not here for sex. I'm here to work. And I don't need to get distracted by a mortal conservator. Especially not one as flaky as this one."
But even as he said the words, he drank in the sight of her. Long dark hair pulled into a messy ponytail, spilling over the couch cushion. Sweet brown eyes, now obscured by fluttering lids. A pleasantly round face with lips that looked so soft. Skin so delicate and pale he could make out a dainty vein under her left eye. And the voluptuous body of a goddess, hidden under a long peasant skirt and an old denim jacket. To top off a disturbingly sensual picture, one of her plastic crocs had fallen off, revealing a pretty foot and toenails painted bright purple.