C2 Miss Predictable: Chapter Two
The vehicle still belched thick black smoke as Cassandra wrenched open the rear passenger door then dragged out her overnight case and handbag. She wrinkled her nose at the pungent odor, wondering what her clothing would smell like when she unpacked. Probably just as bad.
Once she’d backed up, the bellhop smothered the smoldering remains with the entire contents of a fire extinguisher. Cassandra shook her head. Her mother’s monster of a car looked as though it had been rammed into a wall, torched and was now covered in whipped cream.
Try to fry it now, freaky storm. She peered at the sky. Her cloud still perched above, a dirty, misshapen monster, but patches of blue now streaked through the gray.
How long could she delay outside? Get close to people and questions flowed. And since she was Honesty Girl, most of the answers made her and others cringe. For once, she wanted to make an impression. In the past, guys weren’t that into her. Her mother giving her teenage boyfriends aura cleanses so they couldn’t get a rise if her daughter happened to tempt them tended to kill the mood somewhat. Hence the avoidance.
In general, men ditched her family. Her whole family, from the first Cassandra on, had been fortune-tellers. Not that anyone ever believed them. The mystic hocus-pocus had driven her father away. He’d been on so many research trips to Greece she couldn’t picture him anymore. Her family’s history with men was rocky from start to end and it was always the same story.
The guy left… The end. It hadn’t really worried her too much before. She’d been busy making a life for herself, divorced from all the occult and paranormal crap. Besides, she didn’t need a man to make her happy, but there was no doubt Hermes sure pushed her buttons. For the first time in her life, she wondered what it would be like to have a man around full-time. And not just any man— Hermes!
One of the colorful peacocks screamed close behind her and Cassandra just about jumped out of her skin. She shuffled out of the way, and the peacock strutted past, nose in air, tail feathers spread in a majestic fan.
She spun in a circle, searching for any more attack beaks. Damn feathered assassins were a menace and liked her bottom way too much. With her luck, animals gone wild would take her down. She was a jinx, the same as all the women from her family.
A glance at the sky showed the gray cloud had floated closer. She dropped her moody thoughts and backed away to the relative safety of the hotel. One last glance at the sky and Cassandra suddenly stopped. Agonize over her family’s lack of good fortune and the cloud moved closer. Drop the thoughts and it shrank and drifted away?
Huh? Strange. She thought again of her father leaving. The cloud blackened and quivered, shifting with an audible pop to hover overhead. She shut off the memory and focused on the image of Hermes. His eyes, his hair. The smile.
Compressed muscles unfolded. Her spine of steel softened until she slumped against the wall of the hotel. She stole a glance at the cloud. It had shrunk to a small, fluffy, silvery puff hovering on the edge of the driveway now. She imagined her mother and it loomed black and started moving.
Hermes stood behind her, staring from the sky back to the car. “Is there a problem?”
Another question. The answer flowed and she hoped humiliation didn’t follow. “No problem. But meteorological patterns are tied to one’s emotions. Don’t make the weather guru see red. Otherwise the color will be black.”
Cassandra squinted at Hermes, searching for any sign of ridicule. Who understood any of that? It was more riddle than clear answer.
Hermes inclined his head. No surprise visible. Maybe he hadn’t decided she rode the freak bus yet?
Cassandra cleared her throat. “Um, I have my bag here. Are you able to show me to my room?” Before I either jump you, or you decide I’m a complete loon.
“Of course. After you.” He gestured to her but turned at the last moment to frown at the ruined car.
Cassandra grabbed his arm before the bellhop tattled on the little driveway incident. Smooth material caressed her fingertips as she rested them on the warm arm of his suit jacket. Fire of a different kind burned through and traced the palm of her hand. She inhaled and his musky cologne, mixed with the smell of burned rubber, washed over her.
Her head spun and she searched around for a neutral, shame-free topic. Her mother. He knew her mother. “Ah, how long have you known my mom? You said she’s here for a reunion?”
Hermes smiled as they entered the lobby. “Yes, I met her years ago. She’s always welcome at Olympus.”
Olympus? “Hasn’t the casino just opened?”
He coughed. “Of course, but she’s known the owners for a long time. That’s all I meant.”
“Right.” He’d sounded weird, like he was trying to cover up a major faux pas . She had a feeling he hadn’t meant to say those words. So why had he? Time for a little bit of investigation.
Cassandra stopped near the lobby bar and gave him what she hoped was a winning smile. “Hermes, it’s been a long drive avoiding lightning the entire way. I mean… Do you mind if we get a drink first?”
“Whatever you need, Cassandra. I’m at your command.” He called over a bellhop and arranged for her overnight bag to be delivered to her room then guided her to a table in the nearby lounge. After seeing her seated, he headed to the bar.
She fiddled with the clasp of her black handbag, feeling awkward. The idea of chatting Hermes up to obtain information exceeded her skill range. Online dating was over her limits and that wasn’t even face to face. Romantic ineptitude was her middle name. Flirt with a guy and he’d ask her if she had an eye complaint.
Cassandra shoved her lack of feminine wiles to the side and sniffed. Time for a change.
Hermes came back with a glass filled with silvery ice cubes. “I thought a cool glass of lemonade would be perfect.” He placed the drink next to her with a flourish.
Wow, this guy knew her already. She wasn’t much of a drinker. “Thanks.”
She took a long sip and sighed. A cool stream of bliss tracked its way through her system. “The drink is great. When did you first meet my mother?” Nice way to ease into the interrogation, Cassandra.
Hermes shifted on his seat. “I started work for my father and he introduced your mother to me. But I’d heard of her before.”
“You heard of her?” She raised her eyebrows. “In what context?”
Why did she get the feeling that Hermes knew something about her family, or rather, her mom, that she wasn’t privy to? He looked decidedly uncomfortable, as though he didn’t want to talk about her mother. A long way from the smooth man of earlier. Hmm…
“Ah, she was very good at her job, very popular. Nothing else.”
“You mean as a fortune-teller?”
He ignored Cassandra’s comment and stood, extending a hand toward her. “Now, if you’ve finished, why don’t we get you settled in?”
He definitely doesn’t want to discuss it.
Putting the thought aside for the moment, Cassandra grabbed his hand and let him pull her upright. Ripples of sharp current shot through her arm at his touch, mimicking an electric shock. She suddenly lost her poise and turned into a klutz, tangling with the leg of her chair. Hands waving in the air, she lost her balance and tilted forward.
Hermes moved with split-second timing, and she found herself plastered against his chest. Taking her weight, he moved the chair back and set her on her feet, hands still resting on her waist.
Cassandra glanced up at Hermes, immediately caught by the dark glitter of his gaze. The world froze as sensation assaulted her. The restrained noise of a working bar—the clink of glasses, the muted chatter of well-behaved patrons—all disappeared.
Delicious energy permeated her blood and fired nerve endings she didn’t know existed. Her heart thumped in excitement, the breath snagged in her throat. Her nipples peaked, pressing against the lace of her bra. Muscles tightened, contracting and releasing, deep in her core. Oh my…
The loud cough of the receptionist brought Cassandra back to earth. Face heating, she backed away from Hermes and reached for her handbag to cover her scattered wits.
“Sir, Mr Olympus. Miss Troy has a package waiting.”
Hermes retrieved the parcel from the receptionist and held it out to Cassandra. She worried at her bottom lip, suddenly not wanting to touch said package. A chill spread through her and she had that run-for-the-hills feeling. Zombies on her grave, her mother would have said.
She mentally shrugged and took the package. “No one knew I planned to come to Vegas. Unless one of my mother’s friends decided to send a present. There was a man in the shop who needed a pair of handcuffs… Never mind, I’ll open it later.”
Why mail a parcel here? Her mother’s friend, Fate, knew she’d come here after her mom, but she couldn’t see Fate shipping anything here. After all, she could have handed it over when Cassandra buttonholed her as to where her mom was.
She rubbed a finger over the wrapping. Plain brown paper. Ordinary. Yet a simple touch gave her the heebies. The sight of it niggled at her. Something hovered on the edge of her consciousness…something she should remember. With a shudder, Cassandra shoved the package into her black handbag and tried to ignore it.
Now she was acting irrational, a clone of her eccentric mother. Strange was her mother’s life and this just added to the weirdness tenfold.
She hated the paranormal gunk her mother had force-fed her from birth. Every friend she’d ever had had refused to come to the house in case her mother gave one of her dramatic reads. The majority of her mom’s visions dealt with drink and drugs, but not in the way of a worried parent. Oh no, not her mother. Hers encouraged kids to experiment and open their third eye to the wonder of the universe. Praise Zeus the knowing one , she’d wail at the end of a good reading.
Cassandra puffed her cheeks out then exhaled. Her mother’s life ran on the Greek gods. An issue like her daughter’s emotional well-being wouldn’t stand in the way of her God-given gift. And now this package and the weird vibes she was getting. She had to get out of here pronto.
“Handcuffs?” Hermes raised an eyebrow.
With a concerted effort, Cassandra drew her attention back to the conversation. Her last words echoed again in her mind. Hmm, handcuffs and Hermes. Yum…
The tips of her fingers ached and tingled. An image of cuffing him to a bed and touching every imagined luscious inch of him burned her mind. Sweat beaded her forehead and her skin prickled. Had someone turned up the heat? This guy was dynamite. And the type of man her normal self avoided.
She waved her hand in front of her face to cool her thoughts. Who had time for a man? She had enough energy for work and her mother’s antics, and very little else.
Taken for granted, that was her. Miss Predictable and Dependable. It was time to change her life, but she wasn’t certain starting with Hermes was the right way to go. Unfortunately, he was the kind of man her mother wanted for her and she’d hate to admit the woman might well be right. Anyway, the manager of a big Vegas casino wouldn’t want a boring library assistant. Would he?
Even so, she couldn’t stop the erotic pictures whizzing through her brain. She fought a grin as the visual of her rushing to his aid after a crazy guest chained him to a bed played scene after scene in her mind. She imagined coming home to him every day and night…
Cassandra’s skin goosebumped. Every hair stood on end at the thought of settling in with Hermes. She should stay away from him. If she was smart, she would, but something about him, even with only this short an acquaintance, pushed her buttons. And she was sick to death of being Miss Predictable.
It was definitely time to break the mold and who would blame her if she used Hermes? Her mother certainly wouldn’t. So, did she have the intestinal fortitude to grab for what she wanted, use Hermes to escape her rut? He wouldn’t be there for the duration anyway. He’d end up leaving soon enough. Men in her family didn’t last long.
“Aren’t you going to open it?” Hermes gestured to the parcel she’d shoved in her handbag.
Cassandra shook her head to clear her thoughts then narrowed her gaze at Hermes and his silky smile. “Are you sure it’s not for my mother?”
He shrugged in a sharp movement that rippled throughout his body. Each part moved in a harsh defined, masculine way, and Cassandra was sure every female mouth within fifty meters hungered for more. She was no exception.
“It’s addressed to a Cassandra Troy. Since it doesn’t stipulate which Cassandra, it could be either one of you.”
She switched off her lust-o-meter and grabbed the parcel again, holding it tight in one hand. She didn’t care who the parcel was for. Her mother trumped every other mystery. That and getting Mr Olympus to walk ahead while she checked out his ass.
“I don’t care, but if you’re concerned, I’ll open it.” She spun on the spot and waited for Hermes to take point.
“It doesn’t matter, but most women of my acquaintance would tear at the parcel in the hopes of a Tiffany box. I have a feeling you, Cassandra Troy, will impact everyone’s lives.” Hermes winked at her.
She wrinkled her nose. “You know the wrong women. Now, what about my room?”
Not waiting for a reply, she swept toward the elevators and smacked into a woman. The impact robbed her of breath and pain exploded in her forehead. Both their purses and the parcel flew as makeup, tampons and whatnots scattered over the floor. A trio of striking young blonde women burst out laughing and pointed. One of them waved and called out to Hermes.
“Hermes, if you need help with your new project, call me.” The tall woman winked at him, and her friends resumed their giggling.
Great, now she was entertainment for the intelligence-challenged. It didn’t take special powers to work out the women were eager for Hermes’ attention. A growl vibrated low in Cassandra’s throat. She watched with an unknown jealousy as the girl flipped her long blonde hair over her shoulder and waggled her fingers at Hermes.
Dropping to her knees, Cassandra grabbed the parcel and her scattered belongings then shoved them back into her handbag. Hermes took her arm then helped her stand. She gave a furtive glance to check she wasn’t under scrutiny from all and sundry. Her gaze connected with that of the man accompanying the woman she’d run into—the guy who’d approached her first in the hotel driveway. The guy with the good looks and smarmy attitude.
He gave her a fierce frown then broke eye contact before bending down to help his companion collect her belongings. Waves of hate tsunamied off the man every time he glanced at Hermes. If asked, she’d swear she could see a heavy aura cocooning this guy in deepest black.
Cassandra’s instincts tweaked. She’d always been sensitive to emotions. Not psychic, just a good judge of people. This guy might be hot, but he had issues with Hermes. An edge of fear burrowed into Cassandra’s spine. She turned to the woman. The one who had head-butted her and made her fall on her ass.
Aging gracefully hadn’t occurred to this woman. A low-cut, tiger-striped shirt paired with tight, painted-on black pedal pushers screamed fashion faux pas . And the woman’s teased bouffant style hair showed a love for the sixties.
“You should watch your step, dear. I’m not as young as I used to be.”
“Sorry, I didn’t see you and your friend. A tackle in a hotel lobby isn’t anyone’s idea of holiday fun.” Play nice, Cassandra. The more allies she had in her hunt for her mother the better.
The plump blonde lady smiled at her. “I didn’t say that, did I? But if I’m to be tackled, I prefer my football players more butch. A penis is helpful too.”
She leered and switched her attention to Hermes. “Hermes, Asclepius and I were looking for you. Could you ask room service to send up towels and nubile young men? I’m a tad bored. I thought I’d take a bath.”
Cassandra raised her eyebrows high. Nubile? Gosh, chemical enhancements worked miracles.
“Aphrodite, your last boredom-busting bath exhausted three of my male staff. They weren’t fit for work for two days. Go easy on them this time?”
Talk about living up to her name. Cassandra fought the twitch of a smirk.
Aphrodite winked and smiled at Hermes. “We’ll see. It depends on the boys.”
“I’ll get straight on it after I show Miss Troy her room.”
“Little Cassandra? It’s nice to meet you. By the way, ignore that nasty cat, Lia.” Aphrodite pointed to the brainless blonde. “She’s jealous of Hermes and his interests. Well, I’m sure I’ll see more of you later.”
The words rang in Cassandra’s ears. How had the old woman known she’d noticed the other girls? Aphrodite turned and gave the bellhop a once-over as she sauntered away.
Man, she must be on some good medication. Or it might be syphilis. Cassandra ducked her head when the other girls blew kisses. No matter what the woman said, road-testing Hermes shouldn’t be on her agenda…much. Who was she kidding? It was the only thing on her mind besides her mother.
“Ignore my cousin. She’s had too many fruit cocktails. The elevator is this way.”
Cassandra pressed the button for the lift and tapped her foot until it arrived. As soon as the doors opened, she strode inside. She needed to get back to reality. Hermes did far more to her insides than was comfortable.
The doors closed, and Cassandra fought the oppressive heaviness that settled about her. Hermes reached a warm arm past and brushed against her. Her mouth dried, and pins and needles sparked along nerves. Her nipples grew tight and rubbed against the lace of her bra, sending spirals of sensation straight to her core.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Her voice had roughened and lowered. Control held a tight grip on every part of her daily life. Her mother created chaos through Cassandra’s teenage years, every decision or choice ruled by the gods. As an adult, she was in charge of whom she liked and what she did. Having desire rule her made her feel lost.
Cassandra wondered if Hermes sensed the change in the air. Energy sizzled in a visible blue arc between them. She shook her hand as the static electricity bit at her fingertips. So they had zing, but she’d be damned if she’d be the first to give in to it. Their mutual attraction shouldn’t be a priority… shouldn’t be.
Remember the mission . No distractions or Hermes detours. Her mother’s woo-woo would chase him off anyway. Cut my losses now . Pep talk finished, she tilted her head up a tad and glared at Hermes.
“Your floor level needs to be pressed into the elevator’s computer. Otherwise we’ll be here all day.”
Embarrassment choked her. Great first impression . Prize idiot in front of the hottest man she’d ever seen.
She cleared her throat. “Sorry, press away.” For all I know he’s married with ten kids. Nope no ring. Hello? Focus on Mom, not a wedding band.
Flashes of voltage stroked through her every time he brushed against her back. She might have a man-dry patch now, but she hadn’t forgotten what an aroused man—a large, aroused man—felt like nestled against her. Dampness pooled between her thighs and the need to clench her legs together hammered away at her sanity.
She fought to break his sensual hold on her. Closing her eyes, she breathed slowly, but it made no difference. The hair rose along her arms as her skin pebbled into goosebumps. Her body felt hypersensitive, every brush of her clothing pushing the tension higher.
I really need to cool down. She reached for her handbag and the water spritzer she kept in it. Without taking obvious aim, she pressed the button and let the cool spray settle.
She flinched and spun around at Hermes’ curse as he rubbed his eyes. Did he have something in them? Realization dawned. She’d sprayed him. Whoops !
“Oh, sorry. It’s hot in here,” she offered, hoping the lie wouldn’t show.
Before he could reply, the lift ground to a jagged stop. Lights flickered then went out, leaving them in warm darkness. Hermes reached for the phone. Cassandra nibbled her lip as he listened to the voice on the other end. The emergency lights hummed on with a low orange glow and gave an odd hue to Hermes’ face.
Tendrils of worry slipped through her barrier of control. Something was wrong. More than an elevator pausing between floors. Cassandra braced herself against the wall. Hermes growled into the phone, his back ramrod straight. Whatever had happened, he looked worried.
It wasn’t a simple problem. Her cloud couldn’t do much damage inside a large casino. Could it? She clasped her arms tight about her middle.
Paranoia plus. It wasn’t weather related. Probably electrical. Maybe even sabotage? The man from the driveway and lobby flashed through her mind. It was clear from his attitude he hated Hermes.
Between him and her cloud, the word ‘jinx’ came to mind. It was just her luck to be stuck in here with a man who, with one touch, turned her into a whimpering pathetic mess. Peachy.
She inhaled deeply and chose not to focus on the possible lack of air. The rich, earthy musk mixed with sweat that was Hermes crawled inside her. It tantalized her senses, wreathed her in sensation. Her head spun as she fought lightheadedness. She’d never struggled so hard for her customary control.
She licked her dry lips. Hermes shone brightly in her mind. He was the only thing that mattered in her life. Scent him, touch him and inhale him. Him, him, him …
When Hermes slammed the phone against the wall, Cassandra jumped and banged her head. The pain of the bump broke the hold on her emotions. She rubbed the back of her skull and gasped.
Someone else had lived in her head, just for a moment, holding her emotions for ransom. Every thought had been centered on pleasing Hermes. What was wrong with her? Cassandra moaned and rubbed her blazing cheeks.
Hermes cursed and leaned back. “Fuck.”
If only. He’d been attracted to her before the elevator, but now she’d become an obsession. The whole time on the phone he’d longed to push her against the wall and sip heaven.
He wiped sweat off his forehead and loosened his tie. He had to go slowly. Cassandra wasn’t a woman to be rushed, but the situation was about to get harder. And that wasn’t the only thing getting harder, damn it. The technicians were working as fast as they could, but the gods knew how long they’d be stuck…and how long he could keep this situation—and himself—under control.
“What—why have we stopped?”
Cassandra clutched her purse against her breasts. A bulletproof shield. The elevator started again, but swayed to a halt. She sidestepped to keep her balance. He groaned as her hip brushed against him. Gods damn it, when had his flesh, even through his clothing, become so ultrasensitive? The need to take her ate through his control and he trembled.
He didn’t want to scare her off, but the scent of her wild, aromatic perfume didn’t help matters. And he’d swear on a parcel of gods that he could smell her arousal—tangy, musky, the aroma of paradise. It permeated the small space and seeped into his bones, ignited a firestorm inside and drove the blood through his system.
He clenched his fists to avoid touching petal-soft skin and moved away from her. Best he got his mind out of her bed, or he’d shock her. Lia, a wood nymph he’d dated, hadn’t triggered this effect on him. But Cassandra, a virtual stranger, did. Lia loved her wine and dancing and had provided a welcome hiatus from the pressures of the hotel. Cassandra was different. She’d never be light relief.
“We’ve been having electrical issues of late and our elevator program has crashed. We have people investigating the problems. But we’re here for a while until my men fix it.” He crossed his arms and waited for the imminent explosion. In his book, most people didn’t accept change well and Cassandra struck him as a control freak. A woman who hated to deviate from a plan, and stuck between floors was a massive deviation.
“What?” Her shriek echoed around them.
Hermes winced at the sharp sound bouncing off the elevator walls. She wasn’t taking the news well. He wondered why.
“Do you have an issue with being with me? Perhaps you are worried about controlling yourself in the dark?”
“Excuse me?” she spluttered, words rushing out. “ Pleassse . The only way we’d make out is if we were both under the influence.”
“Such a reaction. I wonder if you protest too much.” God, he hoped she over-protested. In truth it was all he thought of.
“I’m not into public interludes. And that includes elevators. Now, how long do you think we’ll be here?”
An inferno raged through him. His cock was so hard it was ready to snap off at the slightest touch, and she wasn’t into public affection? “Umm, a while. I’d make yourself comfy. Be prepared for the lights to go out.”
He straightened and moved toward her. She backed away fast, and he grinned. Every hunted animal sensed the predator nearby and acted to save itself. Cassandra was no exception. He intended to bring down this particular prey. But later. When the urge to run faded from her thoughts.
“Uh, what are you doing?”
“We may need the flashlight. There’s one in a side panel of the elevator.” He leaned in again and inhaled her essence. It clung to his skin, like he wanted her to. The need to sink into her soft body drained rational thought away.
Fertility and good fortune were his stock in trade, his talent. He knew women. What they wanted and how they reacted. He savored her arousal in the air, knew images of them together seared a path through her mind. As a god, his senses tuned toward earthy desires and he sensed her every physical response.
Hermes released his steel hold on his actions and swirled his finger around full lips that held center stage in his fantasies. She sagged in reaction. Hermes caught her, shocked to find his hands trembling. His need for her tumbled through his blood and spun frenzied through his brain. Take her, consequences be damned .
He hadn’t expected her to be uninhibited and let arousal have control. She’d rejected a public encounter, denied their pleasure. But after centuries of existence, he’d become a very good judge of people. And this wasn’t a self-indulgent woman.
In a period of sanity before he succumbed to their passion, he flashed back to Aphrodite and the mess of bags on the floor. Hermes groaned as he realized she’d picked up the contents of Aphrodite’s bag instead of her own.
The goddess of love preferred aphrodisiacs. The water spritzer Cassandra had sprayed must have contained a potion. Aphrodite’s concoctions worked on the emotions present in the user. So was Cassandra reacting to the spray first and foremost? Or was there something more to this? Damned if he knew, but he had to keep this mortal near.