Insane. Mad. Idiotic. Those were a few of the words that were tossed around when Sheila told her family that she’d cashed in her retirement and bought an aging inn on Mount Olympus in Greece. But as she stepped out of the stone and thatched building with her steaming cup of coffee and breathed in the clear, clean scent of mountains, snow, and freedom---she couldn’t find an ounce of care for their opinions. She’d left her high-stress job and her low-class fiancé in the city. Sold her immense collection of designer shoes, and packed only what would fit in a suitcase before hopping on a flight and away from the stress.
A black cat wound around her legs with a loud purr. She smiled as she crouched down to run her fingers through his silky fur. Maybe she didn’t leave everything behind…
“You’re the only man I can trust, Powdered Donut. You had to come with me on this adventure.” Sheila picked him up to nuzzle his face. “I think you want some fish. Come, Donut, we have to eat breakfast and plan for our day.”
At the table, she nibbled her English muffin and frowned at the sound of water dripping. Upon searching for the leak, she found a tiny hole in the roof. “Well, barnacles,” she mumbled to herself.
Sheila put on her knit cardigan and pulled on her fuzzy boots, grabbed the toolbox she’d bought in town, and her phone so she could watch the how-to videos and walked out into the brisk morning air. She stood with her hands on her hips and pursed her lips as she tried to figure out how to get up onto the roof without a ladder.
Theo watched her from the shadows of the mountain peak. It had been some time since he’d seen anyone at the inn, and her youthful beauty and random outfit confused him. Why would such a creature choose to make a home, alone, in the middle of the Gods Mountain? The last owner was a cranky, craggy old man by the name Hector, who’d lived in the inn and served the vacationing mountain climbers for over seventy years. When Hector passed to the nether world, Theo’d been the one who buried him at the base of the mountain.
When the woman took a bunch of ancient milk crates and stacked them on top of each other than tried to step on one, Theo grumbled under his breath but continued to only watch as she attempted to climb onto the roof of the decaying building. A black cat came streaking out of the front door to chase a rodent and bumped the milk crates ever so slightly. The woman let out a panicked yelp before the milk crates came crashing down.
Theo was there to catch her before she hit the ground. Her eyes were dilated from fear but still a pretty blue like the sea, her face was stunning and aged with a beautiful grace, and her short, pixie hair was salt & pepper, like lightning through a night’s sky---gorgeous. He shook off the feelings and cleared his throat before setting her on her feet.
“You should use your brain more often,” he stated, and tucked his hands in his pockets.
She flushed at the accusation. “Excuse me? I use my brain quite often, thank you.”
Theo glanced at the milk crates scattered about the ground and back to the roof. “Doubtful. Why are you here?”
She huffed at him. “Cause I own the place now. Why are you here?”
“I live on the mountain. Why did you buy this place?”
“To restore its glory and be an innkeeper in the climbing months.”
Theo snorted as he scanned his eyes from her fuzzy girl boots to her luscious face. “You are going to serve roughneck men and women and live out here all year long? In those boots? Unlikely.”
When her face pinched up, all mad and cute, he shrugged. “I give you two weeks.”
Sheila watched the random mountain man simply stroll back towards whatever cave he resided in and seethed. She glanced down at her designer boots and sighed… maybe the jerk was right about the boots, but the rest of it? No. She was going to make this place her home, and she’d start by fixing the roof, but safe this time.
Sheila gathered her things and made her way to the base of the mountain, where she’d snatched her tiny car for the drive into the town. She bought a ladder, new work boots, and a heavy duty sweatshirt to wear. Then a bookstore caught her eye… and she spent entirely too much time there but she’d left with a leather-bound copy of Greek myths that she’d thought the visitors might enjoy while they relaxed and a romance with some spice, for her own enjoyment.
The sun was already setting by the time she parked the car, so she’d left the ladder and work boots for tomorrow morning. She’d just have to put a bucket under the drip for the night. No big deal. Sheila shifted the bag of books to her hip as she approached the front door of her inn. A comically large, thick paper was tacked to the wood with a note in eloquent handwriting etched into the grains.
I was harsh. I fixed the roof and left a treat as an offering of forgiveness for my crass behavior. If you are ever in trouble, shout Theo… the mountain’s echo. Good Luck, Lady Fuzzy Boots.
“Fixed the roof?” Sheila mumbled as she picked up the box in front of the door. She set it along with her books on the kitchen table before going to toss some water on for tea. As the kettle heated, she opened the box and inhaled the sweet scent of honey and berries.
“He made me honey cakes?” She glanced towards the window as the blanket of darkness coated the land and smothered the last of the day light. “Interesting, man.”
For two months she worked her days at healing the inn from the neglect that had befallen it and her nights were spent by the fire with her tea, a book, and Donut curled up at her feet. That mysterious Theo would leave gifts by her door when she left for walks with Donut or when she’d taken her long trips to town. He’d come by and finish painting the inn or fix something outside, but she’d never saw him.
The climbing season would start in a week, and she already had all the rooms booked for almost the entire season. The coffee steamed in the morning’s cold air as Sheila sat outside and checked her planner with the travel sites to make sure everything was organized. She was just taking a sip when a plate with a honey cake was set down in front of her. She peeked over the rim at Theo as he took a seat across from her. She admired his perfect face with dark eyes and even darker hair, which complimented his olive skin.
“Thank you,” she said as she set the coffee down and leaned back. “For the honey cakes because they are delicious and for all the help you’ve been.”
He leaned casually on the table with one arm and petted Donut with the other hand, but said nothing.
“Guess I lasted longer than two weeks.” She smirked at him when he glanced at her.
“Glad to see it. Got better boots, I see.” He inclined his head to her feet, then nudged the plate closer to her. “Eat. You never eat enough in the mornings.”
She furrowed her brow. “How do you know what I eat?”
“I know many things.” He patted his lap, and the cat hopped right up. “What’s this beast’s name?”
“Powdered Donut,” she said between bites.
“Aren’t those white?”
Theo smiled over at her. “Is your name as much fun?”
“No. My name is Sheila.”
“It’s nice to finally meet you, Sheila.” He tapped the planner on the table. “Climbers come next week, correct?”
“Yes. I’m all booked up.”
He stood and sat Donut on the vacant chair. “Be careful and if you need me, call.”
“Where do you live, that you can hear me?”
Theo glanced around the mountain and lingered for a moment at the peak before shrugging. “I am close by and the mountain echoes, remember. Enjoy the honey cakes.”
She watched him walk away. The sadness that came to his eyes when she’d asked where he lived pulled at the tender strings of her heart.
Sheila tapped her slipper clad foot to a beat in her head while she cooked a warm breakfast for her first overnight guests before they continued their climb to the peak. It was a group of six middle-age frat brothers from the Midwest of America. This had been on their bucket list and they’d decided to finally climb the mountain of the Gods. She’d been nervous upon their arrival, but after a day of climbing, they were exhausted and friendly. She’d made them dinner and left them to enjoy their own company by the fire.
“Ms. Sheila, how are ya this morning?” Robby, the one in charge of his friends, walked in dressed for the rest of their climb today.
“I’m doing good, Mr. Allen. How are you?”
“Sore. And call me Robby, Ms. Sheila.” He sat at the kitchen bar and watched her flip the pancakes.
“Can I get you coffee or tea or maybe juice?” She smiled over at him, and his intense look made her flush. She glanced away.
“I’ll have coffee, if it’s not too much trouble.”
“Coming right up.” She slid the pancake from the pan onto a plate before turning to fill the coffee cup.
“So you live and run this place alone?”
Sheila had lived in the city long enough to be wary of such a question. She smiled as she set the cup in front of him. “We are never alone here on the mountain, Mr. Allen. Theo is nearby.”
He reached out and touched her hand. “It’s Robby.”
“Robby, why you got your hand on my woman?” Theo walked into the inn for the first time.
Robby jumped at the deep, accented voice and slid his hand away from the pretty Sheila. He slipped his eyes to the side and shrank away from the muscular beast of a man. “Sorry,” Robby muttered before turning his attention back to the coffee.
Sheila didn’t correct or argue with Theo, though she wondered how he’d known she needed him. “Mr. Allen, this is Theo.”
Theo nodded to the human before taking a cup from the cupboard and pouring himself some coffee. He sipped and grimaced. “This tea is atrocious,” he whispered.
Sheila chuckled and shook her head. “That’s coffee, fool. Do you want me to make you tea?”
“You’d do that for me?” He tilted his head as he studied her.
“Course. After all you’ve done for me, it’s the least I could do. I’ll have left over breakfast too, if you want some.”
Theo peeked over at the food frying on the stove, and his stomach churned. “Smells… delicious, but no thank you, Shelia. The tea is enough.”
The rest of Robby Allen’s climbing group came out, and after a moment’s hesitation at the sight of Theo, they all sat down to eat their breakfast. Happily chatting with Theo and, much to her surprise, he was charming and warm to the men as they spoke of the mountain and their adventure. She left them to finish their breakfast in peace and fed Donut his own meal before pulling the sheets from each of the beds.
It had taken some sweet talking and cash, but she’d managed to have a washer and dryer installed in the inn. And it thrilled her more than if someone had airlifted a gallon of Starbucks to her. She hummed under her breath as she loaded the used sheets into the washing machine and dumped in the detergent.
Theo watched her go about the chore of cleaning the bed linens and smiled to himself as her sweet voice purred a cheerful tune. She wore bright pink slippers with hearts all over them, black cargo pants, and a long-sleeved gray button up. Her hair was bound back with a simple headband and the silver streaks glittered in the sunlight. She was stunning, and he was ready to admit that he’d been smitten with the newcomer. Her grit, her determination, and her strength were all amazing qualities he admired. Of course, he admired her legs and rear too, not that he’d ever speak of such things.
He’d been awakening from his own nightly journey when he’d heard her mention his name over the wind. And in moments, he was at the door. It hadn’t been yelled, but the stress he sensed from her made him uneasy. Then, when that human had his hands on her, he wanted to rip his soul from his body, but obviously, that would be an overreaction. Instead, he played her man to dissuade any more unwanted attention.
Theo touched the freshly painted wall. Yellow. Not a color he’d have picked, but it certainly brightened up the hallway. She’d done a great job of restoring the inn and bringing it into the new millennium. He’d never been inside, but now that he was, he enjoyed the way it smelled like her, feminine, with a pleasant mix of the mountain. He left her to finish the laundry before he walked back out to the living area where the climbers were gathering their belongings to make their trek to the peak.
“Theo, how long have you lived on this mountain?” The man named Don asked.
“Seems like my whole life. Are you all ready for your final assent?”
They all nodded as they hooked their backpacks to their bodies. “The guide is waiting outside. This time tomorrow, we will be at the peak of Mount Olympus. Pretty exciting,” Don answered.
“I imagine it is,” he murmured as a silver book glinted in the sun, catching his eye. He picked it up and ran a finger over the cover. “Greek myths?” He sat on the couch and flipped through the leather-bound lies.
Sheila came out to wish the climber’s a farewell and good luck on their ascent up the mountain. She watched them until they were out of sight and, with her arms tucked around her waist, she turned with a smile to Theo, who sat on her couch reading a book. The smile slid away at the angry look on his face as he flipped none too gently through the pages.
“Everything okay, Theo?”
He scowled as he stood and tossed the book to the floor. “Everything is fine.” He stormed past her and she placed a hand on his arm. “Do not touch me. It’s all your fault.” He slammed the door behind him and she jumped.
“My fault?” she murmured as she went to rescue the book from the floor. She read the page he’d been staring at. “Prometheus?” In defense of his out-of-place anger, she got upset. “What’s my fault? That I bought a book? Gah. What an asshole.” She placed the book back on the table and, in a huff, cleaned. She had new guests arriving in a few hours, angry mountain man or no angry mountain man.
It had been days since Theo had come to see her or left a gift and she felt… bad. She didn’t know what she’d done to offend him, but she had to make it right. She had two days off before the next set of climbers showed up and she was going to find Theo. Although she had no idea where to leave apology treats for him, she was determined to do it.
Sheila had spent the morning making snacks and put them in a basket with a bottle of the wine she’d been hoarding. She’d bought him a thick, soft blanket and tucked that into the basket as well. She pulled on her heavy coat and hiking boots before she made her way out of the inn.
“Theo?” she yelled but got no answer other than her own voice repeating in different tones. “Fine. We will do this the hard way,” she muttered to herself as she climbed over the beaten path in the direction Theo always left.
“Theo?” it had been hours, and the sun was growing lower on the horizon. Five more hours, tops, and she’d be wandering a mountain alone in the dark.
“Why are you up here?”
His gruff voice startled her, and she dropped the basket. Her cheeks flushed as she quickly bent to retrieve it. “Ah…” she could tell by his face; happiness was not the emotion he was feeling. She blew out a breath. “I am not sure what I did to upset you… but…” She held out the basket in front of her. “I brought you a treat to say I was sorry.”
She gave him a soft smile and wiggled the basket. “Treats.”
It had been a long time since anyone had given him an offering in forgiveness or otherwise. “Come in.” He took the basket and led Sheila into a huge cave lit with torches and only a slabbed rock for furniture.
“You live here?”
“The Fates are cruel.”
“Right.” She watched him set the basket down. “Are we friends again?”
“Friends? Yes, I suppose.”
They spent the next few hours talking about their pasts. When he died, she cried, and slept by his side until his breath started again as the sun rose.
“Good morning, Prometheus.” Sheila smiled.