~22~

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Will offered a formal apology to the Maxwells before he and his family made a run for it, and the remaining guests enjoyed a less dangerous version of horseback riding along the trails. Lexi let everyone have their fun while she reclined in front of a crackling fire, warming her toes from the comfort of the living room couch.

Swaddled in her favorite sweats, Lexi huddled under a blanket, while Luke sat at her feet perusing a book. His hand stayed within reach of her toes, tugging the blanket over them every few minutes. Each time his fingers brushed across her skin, a fresh wave of chills rippled up her calves. Hopefully, he wouldn't discover she was kicking the blanket off on purpose.

Lexi's experience with crushes totaled two, and one was a pop singer who didn't know she existed. This was a crush on top of desire sprinkled with lust. An indecent amount of lust. She had to fight a strong impulse to touch Luke's face and taste the flavor of his lips.

And the way he looked at her...all smoldering and delicious, reaching to her core. Was he doing it on purpose? Did he feel the same rush whenever their bodies touched? Or was it more academic? Maybe he enjoyed her sense of humor and voluminous vocabulary. Lexi spent her entire sixth grade year learning a new word every day, and Luke seemed to have a gift for words, among other fine attributes. Like those eyes. Did he think she was pretty?

Lexi tucked a strand of hair behind her ear as she pretended to be interested in the flickering fire. She knew if she looked away, he would stare at her. But he had become engrossed in one of her mom's many books about the gods. Lexi's knowledge of Greek mythology went beyond the realm of normal due to her mother's obsession with the stories. Most of them were entertaining, but some were downright tragic, and Luke's shifting expressions showed this as he flipped through pages. When she heard him chuckle, she had to ask.

"Have you read much Greek mythology, Luke?"

"Yes, quite a bit. I find the character descriptions fascinating." He lifted his gaze and the chills were there again.

"What do you find fascinating about them? Is it because the gods run around doing whatever the hell they please?"

Luke laughed and closed the book in his lap. "They do, don't they? Actually, I have developed my own theories on how the gods might have handled things, and much of it conflicts with what is written in these texts."

"Please, enlighten me." Lexi sat up to make better eye contact while keeping her feet within reach of his hand.

"Take Apollo, for example," he said, tucking the blanket back under her toes. "One myth states he pursued the affections of a forest nymph named Daphne, but his massive ego angered Eros. So, Eros imposed his judgment on Apollo by shooting Daphne with a lead arrow of hate and turning her into a laurel bush. Still not satisfied, Eros shot Apollo with a love arrow, causing Apollo to fall in love with the bush, which ended badly. In my version, I like to think the two lovebirds got together and enjoyed a fiery love-hate relationship."

Lexi grinned at the cute way Luke jutted his chin after he made a point. That strong, clean-shaven chin. "It sounds like you're a bit of a romantic. What's your take on Orpheus and Eurydice?"

"Orpheus was a fool. He was asked to do one simple thing and he blew it. I suspect Eurydice has found happiness elsewhere."

"You talk about the gods like they're alive and well and living among us."

"Who's to say they aren't?" He shrugged his indifference, but the twinkle in his eyes told a different tale. "What about you, Lexi? Do you have a favorite myth?"

"I've always loved the story of Persephone. A goddess of nature, Persephone was wooed by many gods because of her incredible beauty. But her mother, Demeter, kept her separated from the Olympians because she didn't think anyone was good enough for her. Hades was one of those gods. He fell in love with Persephone as he watched her bloom into a woman. Then one day he abducted her, taking her down to the underworld to be his mate."

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