A large carrier cruise ship drifted on calm waves off the rocky shores of Santorini, its many hundreds of passengers mingling on the upper deck in the hot sun. Two young American women lie tanning on a couple of beach towels, a pile of fashion magazines on the floor between them.
“I think you should take the next job, Cordi,” said the one with dark curls and bronze skin. She looked up at her friend from behind large sunglasses, “I mean, when are you gonna get another chance to do Vogue?”
“Yeah, maybe…” Cordi sighed dreamily, tucking her straight, ash-blonde hair behind one ear. She wrinkled her small freckly nose and let her head fall to the side, gazing out at the volcanic scenery of the Mediterranean, its peacefulness emptying her mind.
“I’m so tired,” she had said two weeks earlier, flopping onto a chair in the lobby of her hotel with a huff of exhaustion. “I don’t care what top model is coming into town, I need a break.”
Cordi worked in Milan seven days a week as a makeup artist for Italian fashion magazines like Harper’s Bazaar and top designers like Versace, Valentino, and Ferragamo. The relentlessly fast-paced high fashion industry demanded long hours, late nights fueled by espresso, and meetings with bull-headed magazine editors. She felt the business owned her as she helped crank out hundreds of pages for the fall collections. But the work was finite – as soon as the season was over she would return to her home in Manhattan.
“Not even Lauren Hutton?” Yvonne raised her dark Cuban brows and clucked her tongue in a mixture of suspicion and disapproval. Cordi and Yvonne had met at the local hotel full of models, photographers, makeup and hair artists from all over the world. Yvonne was from Texas and hung out with all the artists while having a summer fling with one of the hotel employees.
Cordi smirked wryly through half-closed eyes in response.
“Well, I’m going on this Grecian cruise…” Yvonne paused with a thoughtful grin, “it’s only a hundred and fifty bucks round-trip, you wanna go?”
The two had been island hopping for a week, staying on different islands just south of Athens every couple of days. They had danced the night away on Mikonos and watched the sun rise over the clear waters of Paros. Santorini was the last stop before the ship returned to the mainland. The island seemed frozen in time – fisherman enjoyed the same slow lifestyles as their ancestors, traveling by donkey and pulling nets of cod onto the black sand beaches. Women tended terraced olive groves and hung clothes to dry between cube-like whitewashed houses just as the generations before them had done.
The blues of the Mediterranean are unlike any other blues, Cordi thought sleepily as the ship rocked, the cool, salty air pleasant on her skin.
Just then a group of loud young men passed by on their way to the front of the ship, laughing and talking in German. One of them bumped Cordi’s water bottle with his foot, knocking it over. She shielded her eyes from the sun and her heart leapt into her throat without warning. His physique was breathtaking. Her gaze traveled slowly up his tall, tan, muscular frame topped with broad shoulders and jet black hair.
“Oh, excuse me,” he said in a thick accent, “my big feet…” He bent to pick up the bottle looking abashed, as though he wasn’t yet familiar with the parameters of his own large body. He had an angular, boyish face and dark eyes that glittered in the sun. His mustache reminded her of Tom Selleck and for one insane second she considered asking for his autograph.
“That’s alright,” she said, slightly open-mouthed, nostrils flaring as the breeze picked up his scent – sunscreen, sweat and faint cigar smoke. He flashed a white smile at her and went to join the other men, glancing backward for a half-second before tossing a towel at one of his grinning friends.
“Oh my, he’s a damn Adonis,” Yvonne said, pulling up her sunglasses to get a better look. Cordi was staring openly now and nodded, though she was certain Adonis could not have pulled off that awful green and beige Speedo so casually.
It was a 12-hour ride from Santorini to Athens, and she spent most of it watching him. There was simply nothing more beautiful to look at on board the ship. With Madonna’s “Holiday” in her headphones, she found herself glancing in his direction as he conversed with his guy friends. They teased each other and laughed often, talking with big hand gestures as central Europeans do.
She watched him use two fingers to lick the last of the yogurt from the bottom of his cup, the white cream sticking to his dark mustache.
Not a spoon on board the ship, she thought, and poked Yvonne in the side without taking her eyes off of him. “He has no idea how he looks doing that,” she said with a suggestive grin. The two of them laughed and Cordi wondered just how oblivious he was.
Later, she picked up her camera and covertly took a picture of him lying on deck with a towel wrapped around his head. She had never been such a voyeur, but he was built like a visual work of art, as though he’d been sculpted from marble. He had a broad chest, chiseled back and a long, lean torso with clearly defined abdominal muscles that tapered down into a V-shape at his hips. His rippling legs and perfectly C-shaped butt completed the unique landscape of his long, muscular body. It was spellbinding, and the artist in her couldn’t help wanting to capture it somehow.
Cordi’s preoccupation finally got the best of her. She got up, adjusted her bikini on her petite frame and walked over to him, camera in hand, steeling her confidence on the assertion that she had nothing to lose.
“Excuse me, can I take your picture?” She was suddenly aware of how small she felt standing in front of him.
He was lounging on deck like a big lion sunning itself on a rock, one knee bent and a book in his hand. He looked up at her, surprise flickering to intrigue on his handsome face, “Ahh, yes?”
But she didn’t move her camera. “Where are you from?”
“Austria, and you?” his deep voice and heavy accent fit his body perfectly.
“New York, but I’m living in Milan. I work in the fashion business,” she toyed with her camera strap absently. “What are you doing here?”
He hesitated, clearly searching for the adequate English words. “We have just graduate from Uni. Sorry, mine English is… schlecht. Bad,” he said with an apologetic half-smile.
“That’s ok,” she said, not really knowing how it was ok, “mein Deutsch ist… also bad.” She was pleased to see that he was approachable despite his large appearance and spoke slower, “My name is Cordi.”
He straightened a little and leaned slightly toward her. “I am Maximilian, Max. You would like…” his dark eyes focused hard from left to right, struggling with translation, “eat with me, ahh, heute abend, this night?”
He looked up at her with an open curiosity that made him seem very young and vulnerable, an odd juxtaposition with his big features. It grabbed at something in her chest and she felt her cheeks grow hot with excitement.
“Dinner!” she couldn’t help a wide grin, and in that moment the Earth turned beneath them with the same magnetic force that swirled and pulled between them as he returned her smile in earnest.