Juliette followed the guys down the gangplank, tugging on her hat so she could stare up into the blazing sun to check out the cliff. Hundreds of feet up! The usual gaggle of tour guides, hucksters, and shouting taxi drivers didn’t surprise her, but that cliff was so high! And …
She tapped Dima on the shoulder. “What the HELL are those for?”
“Donkeys!” he said. “Oh, my God, they’re so cute, but they’re all roped together. What the devil?”
Mark hopped off the gangplank and ran over to the string of little animals. He read a sign and called over his shoulder. “Looks like two ways up to the top of Santorini. We can either take a taxi-van or the donkey train!”
“Wooo!” laughed Ian. “No taxis for us!”
“Oh, God no,” grumbled Juliette.
Twenty minutes later she was hanging on tight, saddle leather creaking under her weight as the tiny burro picked its way up an almost vertical path. “I’m gonna kill you guys,” she shouted.
Mark’s mount was just ahead of her, Ian and Dima bringing up the rear. She shuddered as a stone skittered and her donkey skipped a step. She looked back to complain to Dima, but that only brought the ocean into view —straight down and far, far below. She shuddered.
She clung tight to the pommel and crouched down as low as she could. “Good boy,” she said to the donkey. “Don’t trip now, OK?” All she got in reply was an angry snort and a whiff of burro body odor.
“Hey!” yelled Ian. What do you guys want to do first? The volcano or the ancient buried village?
“Village!” said Dima.
“The black pebble beach!” Mark called down past Juliette.
“I vote for the volcano,” said Ian. You can look all the way down inside. I’ve always wanted to do that!”
Juliette gathered up just enough courage to let go of the donkey for two seconds. The sun was baking her, and she was dying to wipe sweat bullets off her forehead. “Ian Collins!” she shouted. “I am so gonna kill you for this when we get to the top!”
Her donkey stumbled again, and she swallowed a shriek. “And besides, how can you ALWAYS have wanted to look inside that volcano? You’d never knew it existed before the Athens museum.”
He laughed. “Any volcano, not that one in particular. You’re just mad cuz your donkey hates you. Hang on tight now!”
She swallowed a curse and focused on staying in the slippery saddle, watching Mark’s broad back bounce up and down just a few feet ahead. After what felt like hours, Mark disappeared over a crest, and her own pack animal scrambled up after him and stopped.
Mark helped her out of the saddle and murmured into her ear. “Hey, I’m sorry about that. Look! We really should have taken a taxi.”
“No kidding!” she laughed, tension already melting. “My heart’s still pounding! I’m scared of heights, but that view is freaking amazing.” The sea hundreds of feet below was so blue she thought the color deserved a name all its own. “The ride was scary, but this is so worth it!”
“That’s not what I meant,” he whispered. “Don’t be obvious about it. Pretend you’re still taking in the view. Check out those two guys at the front of the donkey train.”
She jerked her head around.
“No, don’t stare!” hissed Mark.
Juliette’s mouth fell open. If that guy in the weird checked suit jacket wasn’t Russian, she’d eat her straw hat. And he wasn’t taking in the sights like everyone else. He was scanning the crowd!
When he grinned at her, she jumped and spun around to where Ian and Dima were jumping off their donkeys. “Hats and sunglasses now! Move!” She swore at herself for not insisting on disguises and precautions for their arrival. This was the second time she’d screwed up bad.
“Relax,” Mark mumbled under his breath. “Act natural. Try not to stand out. Let’s not jump to conclusions.”
She snorted under her breath.