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Smitten with Baklava - Smitten with Travel #5

Smitten with Baklava - Smitten with Travel #5

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Work and love collide in this sweet romantic comedy set in Greece.

Smitten with Travel Series - Book #5

Why You'll Love This Book!

  • Set in Greece
  • Secret Identity
  • Obnoxious Donkey
  • Taco Obsession
  • Happily Ever After
  • Clean Read - No Swearing, Violence, or Sex on the Page


Work and love collide in this sweet romantic comedy set in Greece.

When Olivia is forced to take her first vacation in five years, she travels to a picturesque Greek island. But instead of spending time relaxing by the pool, Olivia finds herself hate-flirting with Xander, a local guy with a cocky smile and a unibrow.

Just when Olivia starts to fall for Xander, her boss assigns her to a secret work project—one that will force her to lie about what she does for a living.

As she spends more time with Xander exploring his beloved island, Olivia begins to question the choices she’s made in life.

Will Olivia have to decide between her career and her heart, or can she find a way to have it all?

If you like quirky characters, happily ever afters, and endearing unibrows, you’ll love Olivia and Xander’s story.

Chapter 1 Look Inside

Chapter 1 - Talking Goats

As the ferry makes its way past the brightly painted wooden fishing boats dotting the harbor, I wonder for the millionth time what in the world I’m doing vacationing in Greece. I can’t quite wrap my head around the fact that I’m about to spend two weeks on an island in the Aegean Sea doing absolutely nothing. No work emails, no conference calls, no staff meetings, no spreadsheets. Just fourteen days of rest and relaxation.

It sounds dreadful, doesn’t it? Believe me, being here wasn’t my idea.

Two days ago, my company’s HR Director had called me. “Olivia, you have to take at least two weeks of vacation starting next week,” she said.

“I’m really sorry, Maria, but it would be impossible to take a vacation right now,” I said. “I’m in the middle of finishing up my current project in Toronto, then I’m due to fly out to Dubai next week.”

“No ifs, ands, or buts,” she said sternly.


Maria interrupted me. “What did I say about ‘buts’?”

As I tried to think of another word for ‘but,’ my stomach churned. My manager, Frank, would flip if I suddenly went on a vacation, especially given the high stakes of the Dubai project. But Maria had been on my case for the past month, warning me that it wasn’t healthy to work non-stop for five years without taking time off.

I hate saying no to people. I can’t help it. People pleasing is my superpower. I was at a loss. Did I agree to Maria’s demand that I take a vacation and infuriate my boss? Or show up in Dubai as scheduled, which would test Maria’s patience to no end.

Choosing my next words carefully, I said, “Would it be possible for me to take a vacation after the Dubai project?”

“You said the same exact thing before Toronto, not to mention the Singapore project, the Australia project, the Costa Rica project, and all the other projects you’ve been assigned to.” Maria sighed. “Don’t make the same mistake I made. Being so focused on your career, working non-stop, only to find you’ve turned sixty and all that you have to show for your life is an impressive resume, but nothing else—that’s something you’ll regret. You’re what, twenty-seven, twenty-eight?”

“I’ll be thirty next month.”

“That’s a big milestone, Olivia. It’s time you learned about work-life balance before then. Your vacation starts on Monday. End of discussion.”

“But . . .”

“No ‘buts,’” she reminded me. “Now, I’ll take care of Frank. Your only responsibility is to plan where you’re going to go to rest and relax. Trust me, you’ll thank me afterward.”

My shoulders tensed up, thinking about how my manager would react when he heard that I wouldn’t be in Dubai as planned. Frank isn’t exactly an understanding kind of guy.

“Now, before you start hatching a plan to work remotely while you’re on vacation,” Maria said with a warning tone in her voice, “you should know that I’m going to remove your access to the company network on a temporary basis. If you even so much as try to send a work-related email or make a work-related call, you’ll be on permanent vacation. Understand?”

“Permanent vacation?” My voice squeaked. “As in, you’ll fire me?”

“That’s what happens when you violate company policy,” she said. “And our policy is very clear that employees need to take time off every year. Need I remind you how much unused vacation time you have?”

Someone taps me on the shoulder, interrupting my memories of that agonizing conversation and the HR Director’s ultimatum—relax for two weeks or lose my job.

“Do you mind taking a picture of my husband and me?” An older woman with an Australian accent holds out her phone. Her thick silver hair is tied back in a loose ponytail and she’s dressed in hiking gear from head to toe. Her husband is attired similarly, clearly ready to hit the trail at a moment’s notice.

“Say ‘Vegemite,’” I joke as they pose against the railing.

They do a double take, then grin as I take a few photos.

“I can’t believe you know what Vegemite is,” the woman says as I hand back her phone.

“I spent some time working in Australia,” I explain. “My colleagues loved slathering it on their toast in the morning.”

“But not you, luv?” she asks.

I repress a shudder. Eating something made out of yeast extract? No thanks, I’ll pass. Some people call me a picky eater. I prefer to think of myself as having discerning taste buds.

“I’m more of a strawberry jam kind of girl,” I say.

“Well, I’m looking forward to sampling the local honey with my breakfast yogurt,” she says.

I wonder if she knows that honey is basically a sort of bee vomit. Bees chew and spit up nectar as part of the honey-making process. That’s why I prefer strawberry jam. Just fruit and sugar mixed with a spoon. Simple and delicious. Deciding to keep my thoughts to myself, I ask them if they’ve ever visited Greece before.

She nods. “Many times. We love history and hiking, and Greece is the perfect place for both activities.”

“And the food is to die for.” Her husband rubs his stomach. “That’s why we hike, so we can work off all the calories we consume.”

“What about you?” the wife asks. “Is this your first time in Greece?”

“Uh-huh. My aunt rented a villa here for the summer.”

“Well, you couldn’t have picked a lovelier place to stay,” she says. “Gáidaros is a beautiful island. This is our third time here.”

“You have to try the spanakopita at Athena’s while you’re here,” the husband says as he makes a chef’s kiss. “Spinach and feta cheese in phyllo dough—delicious.”

I really don’t want to rain on his parade, but feta cheese smells like a teenage boy’s sneakers. No, thank you. And don’t even get me started on spinach. When it’s raw, it makes your teeth feel weird, and in its cooked form, it turns sickly green and mushy and looks vile. I really hope they serve normal food on this island, like hamburgers and tacos.

“Since you’re here for the whole summer, you’ll be able to have spanakopita lots of times,” the wife says.

“Oh, I’m only staying with my aunt for a couple of weeks. I can’t afford to waste any more time than that.”

She frowns. “Travel is never a waste of time. I wish I had done more traveling when I was your age.”

“Actually, I travel all the time for my company. I meant that every day I’m on vacation means that I’m getting more and more behind with my work.” I repress the urge to pull my phone out of my purse and check emails. Not that I could if I wanted to, since Maria cut off my access.

The man gives me a look that borders on pity. “You must work for an American company. Most of them only give their employees two weeks of vacation a year.”

“My employer is actually quite generous with time off. It’s just that there isn’t enough time to take time off. . .” My voice trails off as I realize how ridiculous it sounds. Anxious to change the subject, I say, “It looks like we’re docking.”

As we collect our belongings, I overhear the man whisper to his wife, “She seems like one of those types who doesn’t know how to have fun. I bet she works 24/7.”
His wife hushes him, then gives me a wave as they disembark.

While I adjust the strap on my laptop case, I feel my face grow warm. So what if I like putting together spreadsheets and project plans on the weekends? That’s my idea of fun. Spending two weeks twiddling my thumbs on a Greek island? I can’t imagine anything less relaxing. But who knows, maybe something will happen to liven things up.

* * *

You should be careful what you wish for. As I’m getting off the ferry, the strap on my laptop bag breaks. I try to grab it, but it slips out of my hand. I watch in horror as the bag sinks into the water. One of the ferry workers fishes it out for me, but it’s too late. There’s no way this thing will work again.

Frank will be furious. He’s always going on about how my department needs to keep expenses down. I can picture how he’ll react when he learns my computer needs to be replaced. First, he’ll give me the silent treatment, arms folded across his scrawny chest, his thin lips pressed together, and red, angry blotches forming on his pasty skin. Then the yelling will start. There will be relentless pacing back and forth while he tells me what an idiot I am.

“I expect you to put in extra hours to make up for wasting the department’s budget,” he’ll say, knowing full well that I already work all hours of the day, not to mention burning the midnight oil on a regular basis. I’d be rich if I actually got paid for overtime.
It’ll be easier if I just buy a new laptop using my own money rather than tell Frank what happened. I sigh as my laptop bag drips water on my shoes. Setting it down on a bench on the dock, I look around for Aunt Celeste. She was supposed to meet my ferry, but she’s nowhere to be seen.

I perch on the bench and send her a text. After a few minutes, she replies.

Running late. Realigning my crystal aura taking longer than I thought. I’ll be on the next ferry.

What in the world is a crystal aura? And why does it need to be realigned? And, wait a minute, what does she mean by the next ferry? She’s not even on this island? Now, what am I supposed to do?

My stomach twists in knots as I survey my surroundings. The sun is beating down on me, reminding me that I forgot to pack a hat. The ferry workers are unloading crates, a fisherman is untangling a net, and a couple of goats tied up by a shed at the end of the dock are bleating.

I wipe sweat off my brow, wondering who I should approach for help. The ferry workers’ English is limited and, based on the scowl on the fisherman’s face, I doubt he’d welcome being interrupted. The goats seem like my best hope.

You’re probably wondering why I need help. After all, I’m a seasoned international traveler, right? But here’s the thing—I’ve never had to fend for myself. Our team’s administrative assistant books all my flights. Once I clear customs and immigration, someone is waiting there, holding a sign with my name on it. They whisk me away to my accommodations, where all my meals are provided. Then, I’m so busy with work that I never have a chance to explore my surroundings on my own. I’m basically taken care of, every step of the way.

Not this time, though. When Maria forced me to take vacation, my first thought was to spend two weeks holed up in my studio apartment in Minneapolis. But then my aunt convinced me that I should come visit her in Greece instead. “It’ll be fun,” she said.
So far, the fun has been non-existent. First, there was a ten-hour flight from Toronto to Athens crammed between a woman who couldn’t stop talking about the sweaters she knits for her hamsters and a man wearing this pungent body spray that smelled like a cross between bubblegum and dog poop.
Next, I almost had a nervous breakdown trying to figure out how to get from the airport to the ferry terminal. That was followed by a sixteen-hour ferry ride to Rhodes. Fortunately, I slept for most of that leg of the journey. Unfortunately, when I woke up, I discovered that the cafe on board had run out of anything decent to eat.

But wait, there was more fun in store for me—another two-hour ferry ride from Rhodes to the nearby island of Gáidaros, my home for the next two weeks. If I can find my home, that is. Without Aunt Celeste here, I have no idea how to get to her villa.
As I look around frantically for help, my phone beeps.

Wait for me at Athena’s, Aunt Celeste texts. I should be there in a couple of hours.

Athena’s . . . That sounds familiar. Oh, yeah, it’s the restaurant the Australian couple mentioned. I’m starved. A hamburger or a taco would hit the spot. I feel better. I have a plan. Now I just have to find where Athena’s is located.
I gather my belongings. The ferry has departed, so I approach the fisherman. “Excuse me,” I say. “Do you know where—”

Before I can finish my sentence, he starts his engine and pulls away from the dock.

“Thanks, buddy. You really know how to make tourists feel welcome,” I say under my breath. Although why I’m speaking quietly is beyond me. The only ones left on the dock are me and the goats. The larger of the two bleats at me, probably telling me that I made a mistake coming to this island. Then he goes back to chewing on the rope that he’s tied up to.

I watch him for a few minutes, impressed by the progress he’s making. A few more bites and he’ll be free.

“Is that tasty?” I ask.

The goat gives me side-eye as if to say, “Get lost, lady. Go find your own food.” He gives the rope one final chomp, then looks down at the frayed end lying on the dock as though perplexed by his freedom.

Who do you report goat escapees to? Do you call 911? Do they even have emergency services on this island? It’s a pretty small place. I overheard someone on the ferry say that there are less than five hundred people living here.

The goat—who I’m now calling Houdini—ambles down the steps from the dock to the cobblestone path that presumably leads to the town. I glance down at Houdini’s friend. He seems content to remain tied up, settling down on the ground next to the shed.
Houdini looks back at me and bleats insistently. You don’t have to speak goat to know what he’s saying. He’s going to lead me to Athena’s, I’m sure of it.

Of course, it could be delirium setting in rather than a sudden ability to understand goats. The sun is blazing hot, I’m weak from hunger, and I’m exhausted from my journey. But following a goat sure beats the alternative, which is waiting here until Aunt Celeste shows up on the next ferry.

“Okay, Houdini, let’s go.”
I trudge up the hill behind the goat, lugging my suitcase behind me. I’m grateful when he stops to chew on some grass on the side of the path. It gives me a chance to catch my breath. It really is beautiful here. Whitewashed buildings with blue roofs, colorful flowers spilling from planters, and a view of the Aegean Sea that is to die for.

Which reminds me, I might die soon if I don’t get out of this sun and find something to eat.

“Houdini, can we get a move on?”

He looks at me blankly, then shrugs. At least I think it was a shrug. Do goats shrug? Never mind. What does it matter? We’re moving again. The narrow path continues to wind up the hill, passing a church on our left before opening up onto a small plaza. The place is deserted. Where is everyone? Do they take siestas here?

I feel something tug at my skirt. It’s the goat. “Hey, Houdini, find something else to eat,” I say sharply.

He continues to tug at my skirt, pulling me toward a building at the far end of the plaza. Once there, he releases me, then wanders off to nibble on some flowers.

I run my fingers through my hair. “What do I do now?”

Houdini looks up from his snack and bleats loudly. I think what he’s saying is, “I got you this far. Now, you’re on your own.”

Leaning against the building wall, I bang the back of my head against something. When I turn around to see what it is, I grin. A metal sign reads, “Athena’s Taverna.”

I say thank you to Houdini, then push open the rustic wooden door. An older woman wearing black from head-to-toe walks wearily toward me.

“Hi,” I say brightly. “Are you serving lunch?”

She nods, then turns to get a menu. I check my phone and see that I’ve missed a text from my aunt.

Word of warning. Don’t tell the lady who runs Athena’s who you really are. If she asks about you, pretend you’re Canadian. I’ll explain later.

Um, okay. This is weird, even for my aunt. All I want is a simple hamburger or a taco, not to have to pretend to be from the Land of Maple Syrup. Don’t get me wrong, I love maple syrup, but I’m a really bad actress. How in the world am I going to convince anyone that I’m Canadian?

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