Pulling a tissue from her tote bag, Nadia Roberts wiped perspiration from her face. Although a brisk wind had pulled at her hair as she crossed the airport tarmac, she found the car hot inside, much hotter than she was used to in April.
Dust and exhaust fumes drifted into the open windows. Bricks and rubble lined the broad highway leading from the Athens airport to the city center, turning it into a scene of chaos.
The six lanes of traffic were at a standstill, impatient drivers leaning on their horns as if sheer noise might get them moving again.
The man beside her tapped his fingers on the steering wheel, lips pursed as he whistled softly in time to the music that was coming from the car radio. The music was strange to Nadia's ears, an almost Oriental dissonance underlying the strong notes of a clarinet and the plaintive voice of a singer wailing about lost love or invasion or some other catastrophe.
"What's holding up the traffic?" Nadia spoke abruptly, glancing at the man, who returned her gaze with unmistakable amusement in his amber cat's eyes.
"It's often like this." His voice was deep, his English fluent, spoken with an almost British inflection that fell pleasantly on her ears. Although he hadn't said much beyond introducing himself and helping her retrieve her luggage, she had noticed the idioms he used freely, his precise accent endowing commonplace phrases with an exotic unfamiliarity.
Lukas Stylianos was his name. He was a Greek policeman assigned to investigate her brother's death, which had occurred less than a week ago.
"Please accept my sympathy," he had said quietly when she climbed into the tiny Renault. With complete self-confidence, he sent the car roaring out of the parking lot, then skirted past a more sedate Mercedes onto the highway.
A monstrous traffic jam took over about halfway into the city. They'd been sitting now for the better part of an hour. "The road is being rebuilt to make it more efficient, but who knows when it will be complete," Lukas said, putting the car in gear as the vehicle ahead inched forward.
A white-gloved traffic policeman directed them around a large crater in the next intersection. The flourishing gestures of his hands gave him the look of an orchestra conductor.
"At last," Nadia muttered as the car accelerated down the palm-lined boulevard.
Lukas glanced at her. "One thing you'd better be aware of at the outset is that nothing is like what you're used to. Some things are accomplished slower, some faster, than in Vancouver. Greeks are great believers in priorities but the priorities tend to differ from those in North America."
"Finding out the circumstances around my brother's death can't wait," she said, her voice breaking despite her effort to control it. The past week had been the worst of her life. She had only just received a cheerful letter from Gerald, saying he was going to the area north of Ioannina on business. Then, the very next day, she had gotten the news. He was dead.
She straightened in her seat, adjusting the seat belt to a more comfortable angle across her chest. "Gerald was not the kind of man who had enemies. I need to find out who killed him, and why."
"Don't worry, Nadia--I can call you Nadia, can't I?"
She lifted one shoulder and let it drop. "What's the difference?"
"Nadia, all of us would like to find out what happened to your brother. Don't act as if I'm here to put obstacles in your path."
"Aren't you?" she countered. "Isn't it tempting just to sweep the whole affair under the rug? 'Canadian has unfortunate accident in remote Greek village.' Done and forgotten, especially when the victim was not particularly welcome."
"When a man is beaten and then shot in the head, it cannot be dismissed as an unfortunate accident." His voice was harsh.
Nadia closed her eyes, remembering the horror of receiving that phone call. His body had been found in the mountains of northwestern Greece. Fortunately he'd listed her on his passport as next of kin. As a result, she was able to break the news gently to their parents.
Tears stung her eyes, a mixture of sorrow and anger at the senseless violence of his death. Murder. Although they had decided to follow Gerald's wish that he be buried in the country where he'd spent so much time these past ten years, she couldn't help but regret that none of them had been present at the funeral. By the time they'd gotten the news it was too late in any case; friends of Gerry's from Athens had gone up to Epirus and seen to the arrangements.
That might have been the end of the matter--except for the autopsy report. She knew all the cold facts detailing cause of death, including the horrifying statement that he had been identified mainly through papers found in his pockets. She had listened to the assurances of consulate staff that everything possible would be done to find and convict Gerald's killer. Because of his Greek birth, the investigation was to be conducted by Greek police.
Nadia had been dissatisfied with their politely worded platitudes. Not that she doubted their sincerity. However, in her mind she felt there were just too many questions to which no one seemed to have answers. She'd had to come to see for herself, knowing she wouldn't accept the finality of Gerry's death until every angle had been investigated and the killer found and punished.
They had assigned Lukas Stylianos to help her. She wasn't at all convinced he hadn't been selected as her personal watchdog.
"We rely on the tourist industry," Lukas was saying. "It's suffered enough damage in the past several years from world terrorism that we can't afford any more international incidents. Rest assured that we're doing all we can."
He sounded sincere, she had to give him that. And he seemed intelligent. She opened her eyes when he brought the car to a screeching halt at a changing traffic light. As he concentrated on the sea of noisy, exhaust-belching vehicles that hemmed them in, she studied him.
He was handsome, although not classically so. His face was too lean, too dark, an arresting composite of hard planes and incisive lines of character. His nose was strong, aquiline, his eyes hazel, clear and glowing like golden cat's eyes, and fringed with thick black lashes.
He caught her staring, and smiled before tromping down on the clutch and shifting into first, missing her blush as he sent the car snarling across the intersection.
Nadia forcibly reined in her errant thoughts. "Mr. Stylianos--"
"Lukas," he interrupted.
She nodded. Formality was pointless, she knew, since it was obvious she was stuck with him. "Lukas, can you tell me what's been done so far?"
"Not much." He put up a hand as she scowled darkly. "Don't get upset, Nadia. Not enough time's elapsed, and because of the international overtones, there wasn't much the local village police could do. Athens wants to direct the inquiries, and I was assigned to the case as special investigator. I've handled this kind of case before. I was about to go up to Epirus when we heard you were coming. So here we are."
"I have to check in with the Canadian Embassy," Nadia said. "Could you take me there?"
Lukas glanced at his watch as he waited for yet another traffic light. "They're closed for the day now. You'll have to see them tomorrow morning." He stared straight ahead through the windshield. "Not that it'll do much good. In fact, they're sure to express their disapproval of a civilian involved in a murder case."
Nadia's frown deepened. "They already have." She lifted her chin. "But I came anyway."
He looked at her, his expression alert, waiting.
"I had to," she said with a determination that came from deep within her. "You won't have the same objections, will you?"
She thought she detected a glint of admiration in his extraordinary eyes. "I may have some misgivings, but no, I can't stop you."
On that somewhat cryptic note, he turned in at her hotel's entrance and brought the car to a halt.
Lukas inhaled appreciatively as he walked up the flagstone path around the house. Pristine white freesias scented the warm spring day, their poignant sweetness seeming to convey a quality of innocence that was in direct contrast to the reality of his life and work.
He never forgot to be grateful that he still lived in this house. It was only a half hour from the city center, yet on a quiet street far removed from the hurly-burly of modern Athens with its commerce and increasingly impersonal apartment buildings.
He let himself in by the back door, skirting bins of potatoes and sacks of beans on the porch. The house was quiet, but he knew his mother would be somewhere about. The thought brought an involuntary smile to his lips. Some of his friends ribbed him about living with his mother at the age of thirty-one, but despite their derisive comments he enjoyed her company. He found Anthea's astute observations on life and some of the cases he discussed with her stimulating and enlightening. She was an attorney, he was in law enforcement; the two fields were complementary.
She was in her studio, reading glasses perched precariously on the end of her nose, the tip of a paintbrush between her teeth.
"Oh, hello, dear," she said absently, tilting her head this way and that as she studied the painting on the easel. "What do you think? A little more yellow in the tulips? Or is it too bright?"
Placing his hands on her shoulders, Lukas dropped a kiss onto her smooth cheek, breathing in the familiarity of the Balenciaga perfume she'd favored for years. "I think it's fine."
Anthea loved to paint; it was an almost obsessive hobby, but she had no talent whatsoever. Fortunately she also had no desire to display her work to anyone but her immediate family, which indicated to Lukas and his two married sisters that she was probably aware of the shortcomings they were too kind to point out.
Pursing her lips, she made a final dab at the lurid acrylic blob that was her impression of a spring flower, and dropped the brush into a jar of water. She stood up, stretching her arms over her head as she flexed her back.
"Getting old and stiff," she muttered. "And that cold spell we had last week didn't help any."
Lukas threw his arm around her shoulders with easy affection. "You'll never be old, Mother."
It was true. Her skin on a handsome, strong-boned face was soft, well cared for, and almost as unlined as a girl's. Tall, only a couple of inches shorter than Lukas's own height of six feet, she retained a slender form and erect carriage that belied her fifty-nine years.
Anthea came from a proud old family, and it showed in the intelligence that shone from her deep, warm brown eyes. Far from living off the achievements of her forebears, she had followed her father's advice and obtained an education. She had always worked, except for brief periods of time after the birth of each of her three children, and Lukas was proud of her, as his father had been.
Moving into the kitchen, he placed cutlery and a salad retrieved from the refrigerator on the table while Anthea dished up their lunch from a pot that had been simmering on the stove.
Lukas eyed the concoction of stewed artichokes, chickpeas and rice with a certain disfavor. "I thought you didn't consider fasting during Lent important," he grumbled mildly. "This year you seem to have outdone yourself. Fish and vegetables, vegetables, rice and fish, with an occasional break for bean soup."
"This is Holy Week," she reminded him. "Even the most lax of us show some reverence. And, I happen to know you went out to a restaurant last night. What did you have, chicken or lamb?"
"Barbecued pork," he replied without a trace of shame.
"And today you have this. A little deprivation is good for the soul."
"Good for the soul, maybe, but can my body stand it?"Sketching a perfunctory sign of the cross, he began to eat the Spartan food that, despite his complaints, was expertly prepared and surprisingly tasty.
His mother dipped a chunk of bread into the communal salad bowl and chewed it with relish. "This unfortunate business you're investigating has brought home to me that perhaps we're becoming too casual about our traditions. We'd better be careful or someone will take them away from us. We're getting so complacent they'd be gone before we were aware of theft."
"Not likely." Lukas got up and fetched a cold beer from the fridge, uncapping it and downing half the bottle at one swallow. He reseated himself, attacking the chickpeas once more. "Still, I agree it's arrogant of someone to come in from outside and start interfering in local affairs. Did Gerald Parker really think he was going to get instant cooperation from the locals simply by trying to teach them more efficient methods of operation? He was an outsider, at least to them."
"His company, Efficiency Consultants Incorporated, has a flawless reputation." She pushed the salad bowl toward him. "Have some more salad. At least the tomatoes are edible today." She chewed thoughtfully and swallowed before adding, "What puzzles me though, is this vandalizing of equipment. That doesn't sound like ECI."
"There's no proof that he was behind the sabotage," Lukas pointed out. Running a crust of bread around his plate, he popped it into his mouth. "So, what's your idea on this murder?"
Anthea tilted her graying head, resting her chin in her palm. "Murder is a serious step to take to get rid of an efficiency expert. Still, some of those fiercely independent Epirotis wouldn't have taken too kindly to an interloper coming into their village and telling them what to do. Tell me, Lukas, what's the sister like?"
He smiled. "What's she like? I don't quite know what I expected, given the family background, but I got a blonde Amazon. Wiped out from the trip and not at her best under the influence of severe culture shock, but an Amazon nevertheless."
When a helpful flight attendant from her plane had pointed her out, he hadn't believed his eyes. At least five foot nine and slender, she had been dressed in narrow, faded jeans, and a loose silk shirt. High cheekbones gave distinction to a face a little too strong for true beauty, and the waves of tawny hair in a shade between brown and blonde gave her the look of a lion. Well rested and on her own turf, she must be a stunner.
Only, he told himself now, she wasn't his type. He preferred small, cuddly brunettes.
"She impressed you," Anthea said, not missing his introspective silence.
"My, what all-seeing eyes you have, mother." He gave her
another slow grin. "After a good night's sleep, she might impress me."
"Good," his mother said, taking a pear from a bowl of fruit on the table. "It's about time you met a woman who can impress you."
He lifted one hand as if to fend her off. They'd had this discussion before. "Don't start matchmaking, mother. She's only here until she's satisfied about her brother's death, and then she'll be gone."
Pausing for maximum effect, he slyly waited until she looked up from the pear she was methodically slicing. "Don't bother with dinner for me. I told her I'd pick her up at seven."
"Ah," said Anthea, beginning to smile. "So you did like her."
"No way," he said too quickly, breaking off, flustered. "I mean, I guess she's nice enough. Just not my type."
He pushed back his chair, carrying his plate and the empty beer bottle to the sink. "We need to discuss the case." He dropped a brief kiss on her cheek. "Antio, mother. Have to get back to the office. Thanks for the lunch."
Anthea gazed after him thoughtfully as he loped out the door, stirring only when the squeal of tires told her he was gone.
In spite of her intention to at least go to the police station to check on the status of the investigation, Nadia slept away the afternoon. She woke with a start when the hotel room phone rang.
Pushing back her tangled hair with one hand, she groped for the phone with the other, bringing it with difficulty of her ear. "Yes?" Her voice was thick with sleep.
"Kyrios Stylianos is waiting in the lobby," the desk clerk informed her in his painfully correct English.
She held up her arm, squinting at her watch. Five to seven! All thought of sleep fled. Jerking to an upright position, she swiveled her eyes toward the window. The curtains were closed but the quality of the twilight filtering through the loose weave confirmed the time.
"Kyria?" The desk clerk's voice sounded plaintive in her ears.
"Uh, tell him I'll be there in fifteen minutes."
"Very good, Kyria."
Nadia pulled a face as she hung up. Greeks must be very astute judges of age. It hadn't escaped her that he'd used the Greek equivalent of madame. At home she was often still addressed as miss by taxi drivers and other strangers. At what age did a woman graduate from miss or ms to madam? Thirty? Well, she'd passed that milestone a month ago.
Jumping out of bed, she selected fresh clothes from her open suitcase, taking them into the minuscule bathroom adjoining the room.
Stylianos, he of the quick smiles, amber eyes, and hair-raising driving habits, was waiting. He didn't strike her as a particularly patient man. Well, fifteen minutes should be ample time to make herself presentable. It wasn't as if she had to impress him.
After a longing look at the shower, she settled for a quick face wash. She looked rested, her eyes clear once more, her skin restored to its normal color and tone. Her spirits also had recovered; she felt strong, confident. She would find Gerald's killer. She would make the uncomfortable alliance with Lukas Stylianos work to her advantage. While she had no desire to cause trouble for anyone but the guilty party, she was determined not to give up until she had the answer to every one of her questions.
Lukas sat on a bench at the side of the narrow, street-front lobby, thumbing through a brochure advertising a three-day bus tour that took in every major classical site on the Greek mainland. As Nadia stepped out of the creaking elevator, he jammed the brochure back into the rack on the wall and rose to meet her.
"That was quick." He glanced at his watch. "Fifteen minutes exactly. Am I right to assume you were still sleeping?" He tilted his head, staring into her face with disconcerting intensity. "It's done you a world of good."
Only a lingering fuzziness in her head reminded her she had crossed ten time zones in the past twenty-four hours. "I feel better," she said, glad she'd taken the time to apply a little eye shadow and blusher.
He was a handsome man, a fact she hadn't fully appreciated this morning. And he'd been assigned to help her. The idea that he was a watchdog, just waiting to pounce if she stepped on any official toes, now seemed an absurd fantasy brought on by fatigue. "Listen," she added, "I'm sorry for the way I behaved this morning. I was tired. And it was all so strange and intimidating."
"No problem," he said easily as he held the door for her. "Jet lag will do that. As long as you're feeling better now."
On the street, outside the relative quiet of the hotel lobby, the cacophony of traffic continued unabated. The air was soft, the green scents of spring holding their own against the pervasive exhaust fumes. To Nadia it was exotic, exciting, a city pulsing with life, its ambience more of the East than of the West.
"What kind of a car is this anyway?" she asked as Lukas let her into the passenger door before walking around to the driver's side. "It's cute."
Lukas twisted the key in the ignition. "It's an R5, but a friend of mine souped up the engine." He threw her a grin that gave his lean features a charming boyishness. "Her name is Jolie."
He glanced out of the side window, waiting until a taxi roared past, then pulled out of the cramped parking space he'd been lucky to get, and into the stream of traffic. "Know much about cars?"
"Only that they have four wheels and an engine." She smiled, a gamine grin that momentarily stopped his breath. Maybe she was his type after all. It wasn't as if he had to commit his life to her. "I've written copy for car brochures, but most of the stuff we used was centered on the options, the aesthetics, and the psychological buttons you push to make people want to buy."
"You're in advertising," he said, propelling the little car across an intersection under the frowning eyes of a helmeted motorcycle policeman. "Do you like it? I hear it's a high pressure field."
"I wouldn't be doing it if I didn't like it," she informed him with a touch of acerbity. "And I like the pressure."
He grinned knowingly, with an expression that was so close to condescension that it infuriated her. "Oh, one of those. The high powered career woman."
She bristled. Her remarkable mane of hair seemed to crackle with electricity. "Do you have a problem with that, Mr. Stylianos?"
With a quick twist of his wrist, he turned the car in at the entrance of a parking lot, sending up a billow of dust as the wheels spun in the dry sand. He braked sharply. "No, of course not. I don't have a problem with that. My mother's a lawyer. In our family, women have always had careers. But that doesn't mean they don't have time for their families and for pleasure."
The way the word pleasure rolled off his tongue put Nadia in mind of French vanilla ice cream on an August day. A peculiar tingle jolted her stomach, and she fought down the blush she knew patched her cheeks.
Fortunately Lukas was occupied with receiving directions from the young parking lot attendant, an exchange that was incomprehensible to her. After what sounded like an argument, though smiles remained on their faces, they seemed to reach an agreement.
Lukas set the car in motion at a sedate pace, and parked next to the attendant's booth. He got out and helped Nadia out, before locking the doors. With a cocky grin at the young man, he tossed the keys into the air, expertly caught them, then took Nadia's arm and walked out of the lot with her.
"What was that all about?" Nadia asked, wishing she either understood the language or was acquainted with the free-wheeling nature of the people. It occurred to her for the first time to wonder how Gerald had managed.
But of course he'd known the language. As for the culture, maybe blood counted for something. After all, his father had been Greek. And Gerald had been very attached to the country, considering it his home in spite of his Canadian upbringing.
"Nothing much. He wanted me to leave the key, as the sign there indicates." He gestured at the gate where a neat, black-lettered sign hung. "I told him I was a cop and might need the car in a hurry."
"Don't you trust him?" Nadia was torn between horror and fascination. A little research before her trip had informed her that Greece had very few criminals in jail, yet she'd seen traffic laws flouted at every opportunity.
He jingled the keys in his hand. "Well, yes and no. It's kind of like a game. If you can get away with it-- We Greeks have never been known for our conformity."
Did murder come in the guise of nonconformity? Suddenly, despite the warmth of the evening and Lukas's hand under her elbow, a chill ran through her body.
As surely as if it had been written on the wall of the building in front of her, she knew that finding Gerald's killer was not going to be easy.