For the Love of a God

By: Rosanna Leo

Those toenails were as silly as she was. But they made him smile.

He hadn't smiled the same way since before Chloe was taken from him.

If only Nemesis hadn't found her.

He passed a hand over his face. It did no good to remember what he could not change. Since Chloe, since the few other women he'd tried to love, he'd changed his life, devoted himself to a cause. It was his only love now.

He couldn't allow any other love into his life. Not even lust.

And yet, here he was, holed up in a staff lounge that had seen better days in the 70s, with a woman who brought back troubling memories of Chloe. Why? Clearly, Maia Douglas was nothing like his Chloe. His Chloe was all grace and delicate beauty.

Maia was a Shabby Chic mess. And she was dribbling on the couch.

Feeling a strange tug inside his belly, Eric grinned and wiped her chin with a tissue.

Upon feeling his touch, she moved. He retreated, moving to the counter. He watched as her eyes cracked open, and she stared up at the stained ceiling tiles. Then she turned toward him and took him in as an adorable frown creased her brow. “What happened?"

He brought her tea with him and sat at the far end of the couch, needing to feel space between them. The old Eryx would have taken her there, would have seduced her until she was a pliable hot mess in his hands. He couldn't allow himself to be a man of that sort anymore.

He was Eric. For all intents and purposes a man, not a god. At least, not here.

Fighting a strong, sudden urge to lift her skirt and lie down between her legs, he offered her the mug. “You fainted. Here. Drink this.” He knew his tone was brusque. He didn't care.

She took the mug and sniffed it, making a face. “Don't suppose I could get something stronger?"

"Like what?"

"Oh, I don't know. Some Glenfiddich?"

Suppressing a smile, he assumed his serious director face. “I don't think that would be wise."

"Right.” Maia sat up with some difficulty. “I guess it's not a good idea to get plastered in front of the new boss."

Yeah, definitely not a good idea. Because then he'd be tempted to have a sip, and the old Eryx might show himself. And then Miss Douglas wouldn't stand a chance. He'd have her naked before she even noticed her plastic shoes were missing. He sat back and crossed his arms. “So, have you always been so bad with change, or did you save your little display of nerves just for me?"

"I'm not bad with change.” Stubborn, petulant Maia was back. “You took my statue away."

"Your statue?"

Her bottom lip trembled. “Well, the museum's statue. Eryx has been here almost as long as I've been alive. He's one of the most popular pieces in the collection."

"Popular?” He couldn't help teasing. “With whom? Female conservators with an odd fashion sense?"

She glared at him.

"Perhaps I want to widen our demographic.” His lip curled in a taunting smile. “Come on, Miss Douglas, let's be friends. You should see the pieces the Hermitage wants to loan us."

She stood up. “I don't care. I want to see Eryx. Now.” She set her mug of undrunk tea in the sink and vacated the room, headed for storage.

As he watched her leave, Eric's eyes dipped to her bottom again, despite his best efforts. Her wiggle wasn't quite as pronounced in the peasant skirt as it was in her jeans, but it was annoyingly intriguing all the same.

And although he knew he had a ton of work to do, he followed her to the museum storage room in the basement, feeling his anger flare. He wasn't the type to follow others. They were supposed to follow him.

He was suddenly in the mood to fire someone.

Maia swiped her security badge and entered storage, making sure not to hold the door for Eric. Let him swipe his own goddamn pass. Evil stalker dictator scum.

Okay, maybe she was being a bit harsh. He had made her tea. But he'd made fun of her Holly Hobby bag, too.

As the door closed on him, he reached for his security badge, arching a sarcastic eyebrow in her direction. “Thanks,” he called.

Maia scanned the aisles which held countless treasures in storage, enveloped within acid-free packaging and temperature-controlled cases. Once Eric was through the door, she turned to him. “Where did you put him?"

He looked amused as he tucked his security card back into his pocket. “Are you planning to abduct him?” He reached out and tweaked her upper arm gently. “No offense, but I don't think you have the upper-body strength."

Red-hot lightning shot through her body when he touched her. Maia reeled at the shocking sensation. She'd never felt anything like it. It left her wanting more. And hating she wanted it so badly. She pulled herself together, praying he hadn't noticed her legs were a little wobbly.

Okay, who was kidding whom? A lot wobbly.

But why did he look a little wobbly too?

"Where,” she repeated, taking time to swallow the saliva suddenly filling her mouth, “is he? I just want to make sure he's okay."

With a curious look on his underwear-ad-worthy face, he led her down one of the aisles. She saw Eryx right away. Trying not to run, she shuffled toward him, stopping short in front of him. Thanking God he hadn't yet been crated or covered, she breathed a little sigh of relief. Knowing Eric Lord was watching, she resisted touching Eryx. Resisted letting her hands trace the planes of his cold body.

But she remembered how the god had let his hands cup and fondle her every curve. At least, in her dreams. Would the dreams go away when Eryx was gone? It hurt her to consider it.

And what would happen to the gallery her father had designed? The gallery he'd fashioned with his own hands with artifacts he'd discovered. His blood, sweat, and tears were in the gallery, and so were hers.

At least, she figured, dad didn't have to know. In his state, even if she told him, he'd never be able to comprehend such desecration.

Even though she told herself not to cry, a tear escaped, and she let it trail down the side of her nose. Maybe this was for the best. Maybe this ... thing ... she had with the statue was just unhealthy. Sick. Perverted.

Maybe Dino was right. Maybe she did just need a good—

She turned to Eric Lord and sucked in her breath. The resemblance between him and the statue was even more startling when they were together. For a tense moment, she wondered if Lord had all the same attributes as the statue. Including his massive erection.

"Oh, dear,” she whispered. Dino was right.

Maybe her dreams wouldn't go away after all, with Eric Lord breathing down her neck.

It didn't matter anyway. Soon her Eryx would be gone. Really gone. Soon, he'd be halfway around the world, turning on a horde of Russian women. Yes, the Hermitage would treat him well, and he deserved such a prestigious home. But he'd be gone. It made her sick to her stomach. She wiped at the tears which insisted on falling.

"You love him, don't you?"

Maia looked up to see Eric towering over her, his eyes crinkling suddenly with something resembling sadness, even empathy. He looked ready to wipe her tears for her, but she pulled away. Being so vulnerable, so open, she couldn't afford to have him touch her again with his lightning-bolt fingers. She was clearly too hard up. If she wasn't careful, she'd make a pass at her new boss.

"I'm being stupid, I know. Maybe I am bad with change. It's just I've had a lot of it lately ... never mind."

Eric stared at her, tried to stare into her. What was this change she was talking about? And why did it pain her so? And why was it paining him as well? He'd have to discover what it was.

Maybe he could fix it.

No, he warned himself. You're not here to develop an interest in a crazy woman. You're here to perfect the museum.

She gave her eyes another swipe with her already-wet sleeve. “I'm sorry. According to every business magazine I've ever read, crying in front of the boss is a big no-no. It seems to be right up there with going postal on your colleagues. You just don't do it."

Eric smiled at her sad attempt at humor, feeling warmth spread right into his toes. Gods, what was it with this woman? She made him feel so strange.

"I should be more professional about this,” she continued. She took a deep breath, and he watched her chest rise and fall. “I can't think of a better place for Eryx than the Hermitage. I know they'll take care of him as well as I have."