I had a sudden, powerful urge to flee, but Ioniko must’ve sensed it, too, because his hand had instantly tightened around mine. And then he started introducing me to his flight crew, and I found myself putting my jaw to work once more as I smiled and smiled and smiled.
Afterwards, Ioniko took me to a lounge-slash-bar at the back of the plane, and when the captain announced we were about to take off, he leaned over and reached for my seatbelt.
“I can—” But a snapping sound told me he had already taken care of it, and so I stopped arguing. How very alpha, I couldn’t help thinking, and the thought made me want to laugh and knock my head against something hard all at the same time.
When Ioniko leaned back into his seat, his green gaze immediately sought mine and narrowed. “Something wrong?”
“Just…overwhelmed.” I wanted to be as honest as possible with him. “The difference between the lives we lead has been quite…glaring.”
“There are differences,” Ioniko acknowledged, “but since it’s you, they should be a welcomed change.”
“You’re a gold-digger, remember?”
“Oh. Uh. Right.” But the moment I saw his smirk, I totally lost it and burst into laughter. “Jerk.”
“While you, my Schuyler, have no hopes of being mercenary even if it is to save your life.”
“You just wait,” I promised him. “Things like that take practice.”
“Good luck with that then.” Ioniko’s tone was so polite it had me giggling, and it suddenly struck me—
Ioniko frowned when my giggling died an abrupt death. “What is it?”
I felt my throat tighten as I gazed at him. Every time I thought about Ioniko being a billionaire, I felt awkward and terrified, but every time I was actually with him, I couldn’t remember feeling happier and more relaxed in any other guy’s company.
It was almost as if…
Almost as if I was…
I squeezed my eyes shut.
It’s not true, Mathers. Whatever you think you feel for him, it’s not that. It’s not.
“Speak to me, koukla mou.”
I opened my eyes. “I still want to date other guys.”
Ioniko noticeably turned rigid in his seat. “I see.”
“It’s the only way,” I told him jerkily, “I can protect myself.”
“Because you’re absolutely convinced you need protecting?”
“Can you tell me honestly that I don’t?”
His lips tightened, and his silence was answer enough for both of us.
“When I say date…it’s just, you know, spending time getting to know another guy, and that’s all.” When I saw something flicker in his gaze, I added emphatically, “There won’t be anything else, like…kissing…”
The tension visibly eased from Ioniko’s form.
And the muscle in his jaw finally stopped ticking.
“I see.” It was all he said again, but at least this time he no longer sounded like he was biting each other word out, and when our gazes met once more…
“Do you agree then?” I asked softly.
“It depends on one last thing.” His voice was sober.
My brows furrowed. “You’ve got a condition of your own?”
“What about our dates?”
“Do I get to kiss you?”
The correct answer to that was obvious from the start, but instead I heard myself answer, “We’ll see.”
A few moments passed, and then another rakishly beautiful smirk slashed over his lips. “That’s good enough for me.”
Ioniko asked if I wanted a tour of the jet, and of course I said yes, and I took lots of photos, too, because this time I remembered that I had a role to play. “See how vain I am?”
“A selfie is supposed to include yourself, koukla mou.”
Oh. Shit. He was totally right, of course, and the billionaire smirked when he saw me grimace at my mistake.
After the tour, we headed back to the lounge, with its coffee tables converted into a dining table during our absence. Napkins were laid on our laps, and the seven-course meal served after it was just spectacular.
This really is the life, I couldn’t help thinking, but the thought only left me feeling subdued and uneasy, and when the staff started clearing the plates away, I asked Ioniko if I could have some time to work.
“Of course. Do you want to work here or would you rather work in your room?”
“The latter please.”
Ioniko took my hand as he helped me out of my seat, and when I kept trying to tug free, he bent his head down and murmured, “It’s either you let me hold your hand or I’ll try to kiss you.”
I stopped struggling after that, of course, and meekly followed his lead as he took me to one of the guest rooms onboard. Ioniko only freed my hand when he had to hold the door open for me, and I hid my hands behind my back the moment his fingers loosened.
I heard him chuckle at my actions, but I didn’t care, and only good manners had me ignoring the urge to run past him and slam the door on his face. I’m just going to thank him, I told myself, and that’s it. But just as I lifted my gaze to his, I saw that his head was already lowering—