The Right Path, p.1Nora Roberts
The sky was cloudless—the hard, perfect blue of a summer painting. A breeze whispered through the roses in the garden. Mountains were misted by distance. A scent—flowers, sea, new grass—drifted on the air. With a sigh of pure pleasure, Morgan leaned farther over the balcony rail and just looked.
Had it really only been yesterday morning that she had looked out on New York’s steel and concrete? Had she run through a chill April drizzle to catch a taxi to the airport? One day. It seemed impossible to go from one world to another in only a day.
But she was here, standing on the balcony of a villa on the Isle of Lesbos. There was no gray drizzle at all, but strong Greek sunlight. There was quiet, a deep blanketing stillness that contrasted completely with the fits and starts of New York traffic. If I could paint, Morgan mused, I’d paint this view and call it Silence.
“Come in,” she called when there was a knock on the door. After one last deep breath, she turned, reluctantly.
“So, you’re up and dressed.” Liz swept in, a small, golden fairy with a tray-bearing maid in her wake.
“Room service.” Morgan grinned as the maid placed the tray on a glass-topped table. “I’ll begin to wallow in luxury from this moment.” She took an appreciative sniff of the platters the maid uncovered. “Are you joining me?”
“Just for coffee.” Liz settled in a chair, smoothing the skirts of her silk and lace robe, then took a long survey of the woman who sat opposite her.
Long loose curls in shades from ash blond to honey brown fell to tease pale shoulders. Almond-shaped eyes, almost too large for the slender face, were a nearly transparent blue. There was a straight, sharp nose and prominent cheekbones, a long, narrow mouth and a subtly pointed chin. It was a face of angles and contours that many a model starved herself for. It would photograph like a dream had Morgan ever been inclined to sit long enough to be captured on film.
What you’d get, Liz mused, would be a blur of color as Morgan dashed away to see what was around the next corner.
“Oh, Morgan, you look fabulous! I’m so glad you’re here at last.”
“Now that I’m here,” Morgan returned, shifting her eyes back to the view, “I can’t understand why I put off coming for so long. Efxaristo,” she added as the maid poured her coffee.
“Show-off,” Liz said with mock scorn. “Do you know how long it took me to master a simple Greek hello, how are you? No, never mind.” She waved her hand before Morgan could speak. The symphony of diamonds and sapphires in her wedding ring caught the flash of sunlight. “Three years married to Alex and living in Athens and Lesbos, and I still stumble over the language. Thank you, Zena,” she added in English, dismissing the maid with a smile.
“You’re simply determined not to learn.” Morgan bit enthusiastically into a piece of toast. She wasn’t hungry, she discovered. She was ravenous. “If you’d open your mind, the words would seep in.”
“Listen to you.” Liz wrinkled her nose. “Just because you speak a dozen languages.”
“Five is four more than a rational person requires.”
“Not a rational interpreter,” Morgan reminded her and dug wholeheartedly into her eggs. “And if I hadn’t spoken Greek, I wouldn’t have met Alex, and you wouldn’t be Kryios Elizabeth Theoharis. Fate,” she announced with a full mouth, “is a strange and wonderful phenomenon.”
“Philosophy at breakfast,” Liz murmured into her coffee. “That’s one of the things I’ve missed about you. Actually, I’d hate to think what might have happened if I hadn’t been home on layover when Alex popped up. You wouldn’t have introduced us.” She commandeered a piece of toast, adding a miserly dab of plum jelly. “I’d still be serving miniature bottles of bourbon at thirty thousand feet.”
“Liz, my love, when something’s meant, it’s meant.” Morgan cut into a fat sausage. “I’d love to take credit for your marital bliss, but one brief introduction wasn’t responsible for the fireworks that followed.” She glanced up at the cool blond beauty and smiled. “Little did I know I’d lose my roommate in less than three weeks. I’ve never seen two people move so fast.”
“We decided we’d get acquainted after we were married.” A grin warmed Liz’s face. “And we have.”
“Where is Alex this morning?”
“Downstairs in his office.” Liz moved her shoulders absently and left half her toast untouched. “He’s building another ship or something.”
Morgan laughed outright. “You say that in the same tone you’d use if he were building a model train. Don’t you know you’re supposed to become spoiled and disdainful when you marry a millionaire—especially a foreign millionaire?”
“Is that so? Well, I’ll see what I can do.” She topped off her coffee. “He’ll probably be horribly busy for the next few weeks, which is one more reason I’m glad you’re here.”
“You need a cribbage partner.”
“Hardly,” Liz corrected as she struggled with a smile. “You’re the worst cribbage player I know.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Morgan began as her brows drew together.
“Perhaps you’ve improved. Anyway,” Liz went on, concealing with her coffee cup what was now a grin, “not to be disloyal to my adopted country, but it’s just so good to have my best friend, and an honest-to-God American, around.”
“English at all times,” Liz insisted. “And I know that wasn’t even Greek. You aren’t translating government hyperbole at the U.N. for the next four weeks.” She leaned forward to rest her elbows on the table. “Tell me the truth, Morgan, aren’t you ever terrified you’ll interpret some nuance incorrectly and cause World War Three?”
“Who me?” Morgan opened her eyes wide. “Not a chance. Anyway, the trick is to think in the language you’re interpreting. It’s that easy.”
“Sure it is.” Liz leaned back. “Well, you’re on vacation, so you only have to think in English. Unless you want to argue with the cook.”
“Absolutely not,” Morgan assured her as she polished off her eggs.
“How’s your father?”
“Marvelous, as always.” Relaxed, content, Morgan poured more coffee. When was the last time she had taken the time for a second cup in the morning? Vacation, Liz had said. Well, she was damn well going to learn how to enjoy one. “He sends you his love and wants me to smuggle some ouzo back to New York.”
“I’m not going to think about you going back.” Liz rose and swirled around the balcony. The lace border at the hem of her robe swept over the tile. “I’m going to find a suitable mate for you and establish you in Greece.”
“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your handling things for me,” Morgan returned dryly.
“It’s all right. What are friends for?” Ignoring the sarcasm, Liz leaned back on the balcony. “Dorian’s a likely candidate. He’s one of Alex’s top men and really attractive. Blond and bronzed with a profile that belongs on a coin. You’ll meet him tomorrow.”
“Should I tell Dad to arrange my dowry?”
“I’m serious.” Folding her arms, Liz glared at Morgan’s grin. “I’m not letting you go back without a fight. I’m going to fill your days with sun and sea, and dangle hordes of gorgeous men in front of your nose. You’ll forget that New York and the U.N. exist.”
“They’re already wiped out of my mind . . . for the next four weeks.” Morgan tossed her hair back over her shoulders. “So, satiate and dangle. I’m at your mercy. Are you going to drag me to the beach this morning? Force me to lie on the sand and soak up rays until I have a fabulous golden tan?”
“Exactly.” With a brisk nod, Liz headed for the door. “Change. I’ll meet you downstairs.”
Thirty minutes later
Jack was part of the past. Morgan was forced to admit that he had been more a habit than a passion. They’d suited each other’s requirements. She had wanted an intelligent male companion; he an attractive woman whose manners would be advantageous to his political career.
If she’d loved him, Morgan reflected, she could hardly think of him so objectively, so . . . well, coldly. There was no ache, no loneliness. What there was, she admitted, was relief. But with the relief had come the odd feeling of being at loose ends. A feeling Morgan was neither used to nor enjoyed.
Liz’s invitation had been perfectly timed. And this, she thought, opening her eyes to study that perfect sweep of sky, was paradise. Sun, sand, rock, flowers—the whispering memory of ancient gods and goddesses. Mysterious Turkey was close, separated only by the narrow Gulf of Edremit. She closed her eyes again and would have dozed if Liz’s voice hadn’t disturbed her.
“Morgan! Some of us have to eat at regular intervals.”
“Always thinking of your stomach.”
“And your skin,” Liz countered from the edge of the water. “You’re going to fry. You can overlook lunch, but not sunburn.”
“All right, Mommy.” Morgan swam in, then stood on shore and shook like a wet dog. “How come you can swim and lie in the sun and still look ready to walk into a ballroom?”
“Breeding,” Liz told her and handed over the short robe. “Come on, Alex usually tears himself away from his ships for lunch.”
I could get used to eating on terraces, Morgan thought after lunch was finished. They relaxed over iced coffee and fruit. She noted that Alexander Theoharis was still as fascinated with his small, golden wife as he had been three years before in New York.
Though she’d brushed off Liz’s words that morning, Morgan felt a certain pride at having brought them together. A perfect match, she mused. Alex had an old-world charm—dark aquiline looks made dashing by a thin white scar above his eyebrow. He was only slightly above average height but with a leanness that was more aristocratic than rangy. It was the ideal complement for Liz’s dainty blond beauty.
“I don’t see how you ever drag yourself away from here,” Morgan told him. “If this were all mine, nothing would induce me to leave.”
Alex followed her gaze across the glimpse of sea to the mountains. “But when one returns, it’s all the more magnificent. Like a woman,” he continued, lifting Liz’s hand to kiss, “paradise demands constant appreciation.”
“It’s got mine,” Morgan stated.
“I’m working on her, Alex.” Liz laced her fingers with his. “I’m going to make a list of all the eligible men within a hundred miles.”
“You don’t have a brother, do you, Alex?” Morgan asked, sending him a smile.
“Sisters only. My apologies.”
“Forget it, Liz.”
“If we can’t entice you into matrimony, Alex will have to offer you a job in the Athens office.”
“I’d steal Morgan from the U.N. in a moment,” Alex reminded her with a move of his shoulders. “I couldn’t lure her away three years ago. I tried.”
“We have a month to wear her down this time.” She shot Alex a quick glance. “Let’s take her out on the yacht tomorrow.”
“Of course,” he agreed immediately. “We’ll make a day of it. Would you like that, Morgan?”
“Oh, well, I’m constantly spending the day on a yacht on the Aegean, but”—her lake-blue eyes lit with laughter—“since Liz wants to, I’ll try not to be too bored.”
“She’s such a good sport,” Liz confided to Alex.
It was just past midnight when Morgan made her way down to the beach again. Sleep had refused to come. Morgan welcomed the insomnia, seeing it as an excuse to walk out into the warm spring night.
The light was liquid. The moon was sliced in half but held a white, gleaming brightness. Cypresses that flanked the steps down to the beach were silvered with it. The scent of blossoms, hot and pungent during the day, seemed more mysterious, more exotic, by moonlight.
From somewhere in the distance, she heard the low rumble of a motor. A late-night fisherman, she thought, and smiled. It would be quite an adventure to fish under the moon.
The beach spread in a wide half circle. Morgan dropped both her towel and wrap on a rock, then ran into the water. Against her skin it was so cool and silky that she toyed with the idea of discarding even the brief bikini. Better not, she thought with a low laugh. No use tempting the ghosts of the gods.
Though the thought of adventure appealed to her, she kept to the open bay and suppressed the urge to explore the inlets. They’d still be there in the daylight, she reminded herself. She swam lazily, giving her strokes just enough power to keep her afloat. She hadn’t come for the exercise.
Even when her body began to feel the chill, she lingered. There were stars glistening on the water, and silence. Such silence. Strange, that until she had found it, she hadn’t known she was looking for it.
New York seemed more than a continent away; it seemed centuries away. For the moment, she was content that it be so. Here she could indulge in the fantasies that never seemed appropriate in the rush of day-to-day living. Here she could let herself believe in ancient gods, in shining knights and bold pirates. A laugh bubbled from her as she submerged and rose again. Gods, knights, and pirates . . . well, she supposed she’d take the pirate if she had her pick. Gods were too bloodthirsty, knights too chivalrous, but a pirate . . .
Shaking her head, Morgan wondered how her thoughts had taken that peculiar turn. It must be Liz’s influence, she decided. Morgan reminded herself she didn’t want a pirate or any other man. What she wanted was peace.
With a sigh, she stood knee-deep in the water, letting the drops stream down her hair and skin. She was cold now, but the cold was exhilarating. Ignoring her wrap, she sat on the rock and pulled a comb from its pocket and idly ran it through her hair. Moon, sand, water. What more could there be? She was, for one brief moment, in total harmony with her own spirit and with nature’s.
Shock gripped her as a hand clamped hard over her mouth. She struggled, instinctively, but an arm was banded around her waist—rough cloth scraping her naked skin. Dragged from the rock, Morgan found herself molded against a solid, muscular chest.
Rape? It was the first clear thought before the panic. She kicked out blindly as she was pulled into the cover of trees. The shadows were deep there. Fighting wildly, she raked with her nails wherever she could reach, feeling only a brief satisfaction at the hiss of an indrawn breath near her ear.
“Don’t make a sound.” The order was in quick, harsh Greek. About to strike out again, Morgan felt her blood freeze. A glimmer of knife caught the moonlight just before she was thrust to the ground under the length of the man’s body. “Wildcat,” he muttered. “Keep still and I won’t have to hurt you. Do you understand?”
Numb with terror, Morgan nodded. With her eyes glued to his knife, she lay perfectly still. I can’t fight him now, she thought grimly. Not now, but somehow, somehow I’ll find out who he is. He’ll pay.
The first panic was gone, but her body still trembled as she waited. It seemed an eternity, but he made no move, no sound. It was so quiet, she could hear the waves lapping gently against the sand only a few feet away. Over her head, through the spaces in the leaves, stars still shone. It must be a nightmare, she told herself. It can’t be real. But when she tried to shift under him, the pressure of his body on hers proved that it was very, very real.
The hand over her mouth choked her breath until vague colors began to dance before her eyes. Morgan squeezed them tight
“What do you hear?”
“Nothing yet—in a moment.” The voice that answered was rough and brisk. “Who the devil is she?”
“It doesn’t matter. She’ll be dealt with.”
The roaring in her ears made it difficult to translate the Greek. Dealt with? she thought, dizzy again from fear and the lack of air.
The second man said something low and furious about women, then spat into the dirt.
“Just keep your ears open,” Morgan’s captor ordered. “And leave the woman to me.”
She felt him stiffen, but her eyes never left the knife. He was gripping it tighter now; she saw the tensing of his fingers on the handle.
Footsteps. They echoed on the rock steps of the beach. Hearing them, Morgan began to struggle again with the fierce strength of panic and of hope. With a whispered oath, he put more of his weight on her. He smelt faintly of the sea. As he shifted she caught a brief glimpse of his face in a patchy stream of moonlight. She saw dark, angular features, a grim mouth, and narrowed jet eyes. They were hard and cold and ruthless. It was the face of a man prepared to kill. Why? she thought as her mind began to float. I don’t even know him.
“Follow him,” he ordered his companion. Morgan heard a slight stirring in the leaves. “I’ll take care of the woman.”
Morgan’s eyes widened at the sharp glimmer of the blade. She tasted something—bitter, copper—in her throat, but didn’t recognize it as terror. The world spun to the point of a pin, then vanished.
The sky was full of stars, silver against black. The sea whispered. Against her back, the sand was rough. Morgan rose on her elbow and tried to clear her head. Fainted? Good God, had she
The Right Path by Nora Roberts / Romance & Love have rating 5.4 out of 5 / Based on43 votes