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'They are the second biggest advertising firm in Europe and-'
'There is something in it for you?' Alex, who had been listening to Nico's pitch while he read the small print on a contract, made the silky suggestion without rancour. He liked his big sister's son and why should his favourite, actually his only, nephew be any different from everyone else?
The younger man acknowledged the point with a self-conscious shrug. 'Well, I had heard there might be an internship going ?'
Alex finished reading, wrote his signature on the last page of the document and laid it on top of the done pile before pushing his chair back and stretching his long legs out in front of him. He flexed his shoulders and thought wistfully about the run he had promised himself as a reward for spending the morning at his desk. Not that he begrudged the youngster his time-Nico was a low-maintenance relative, unlike some who looked on him as their own personal bank. He was philosophical about the role but family was important.
'Consider the decks cleared. You have my attention.'
'Good of you.' But not entirely comfortable for him as his uncle Alex's eyes had always reminded Nico of ice chips. It wasn't the colour, although that was an unnerving pale blue, as his own mother shared the same strangely coloured eyes with her much younger brother. It was the impression he'd had as a kid that those eyes had always been able to see right into his head. He was no longer a kid but he was always painfully honest around his uncle-just in case.
'You know that Dad's offered me a job and I'm grateful,' came the hasty assurance.
Alex voiced the unspoken addendum. 'But?'
'But I'd like to do something that didn't have anything to do with being his son or your nephew.'
'I admire your intentions if not your practicality, and you seem to forget I was born with a silver spoon.'
'And you turned it gold,' the young man said gloomily.
There was no firm on the brink of the financial abyss for Nico to save. Thanks to Alex the shipping empire founded by his Greek great grandfather had recovered from years of mismanagement and had gone from strength to strength to be hailed as one of the success stories of the global recession.
Of course even if it hadn't his uncle would still be fabulously rich as Alex had inherited the Arlov vast oil fortune a few years earlier from the Russian great grandfather that Nico had never met. That was when Alex had delegated the day-to-day running of the shipping business to his brother-in-law, Nico's father.
'And that is a bad thing?'
'No, of course not, but no one thinks of you as a little rich boy who's never done a day's work in his life.'
A direct quote? Alex wondered, feeling a stab of sympathy for his nephew, who was all of the above but also a rather nice kid.
'You don't have anything to prove.' His eyes fell. 'Just forget it,' he mumbled. 'I knew I was talking out of my I guess I knew you wouldn't be up for it. I just wanted to impress the guy from the advertising firm and you should have seen his face when I mentioned your island, Saronia. He lit up like a firework. Pathetic or what.' He reached out for the tablet he had opened on his uncle's desk and drew back as Alex withdrew it from his reach.
'You were trying to impress. Why apologise? Unless your interest is more personal? I am assuming the new face of this cosmetic firm is not ugly-one of your actress friends perhaps? Are you still dating ?' The name of the pretty girl from the soap escaped him as he idly scrolled down the screen that showed the logo of the cosmetics giant that was apparently launching a new perfume.
It was not a world that Alex knew much about. 'A big thing, is it, a new perfume?'
'Massive,' his nephew assured him. 'They're planning to make a series of ads to promote it using the same couple, six ads in all, really glossy and high production values, like a kind of serial each with a story and a cliffhanger like a romantic minisoap. They've got a big-name director and this guy from Hollywood to star in it-though he must be at least thirty-five.'
Alex fought a smile. 'That old!' Good to know he had three years to go before he was classed as elderly by his nephew.
'They want to film the first three in an exotic setting- sand, sun and palm trees on an island paradise thing.'
'And a connection with the golden age of Hollywood would not hurt,' Alex inserted. He could see why Saro-nia would appeal to them as a location.
In its day the island had been the setting for his grandfather's famous parties. Spyros Theakis-a man with a well-documented taste for starlets-reaping the financial rewards of his successful Greek shipping empire, had hosted lavish parties attended by all the stars of the day on his private island. The photos of those legendary events still surfaced from time to time, as did the tales of wild parties, torrid affairs and general excess. Most left out the fact that the mansion had been burnt down during an electrical storm. By some miracle none of the guests had been seriously hurt but the place had never been rebuilt. His grandfather's fortunes, like those of the island, had gone into decline and the place had become uninhabited.
Alex had visited out of curiosity when the resort hotel he had commissioned was being built on the mainland just a few minutes away by boat. Emma, who had come with him, had been fascinated by the romance of the place. They had always planned to build a house there but the plans had been put on hold when she'd become ill and had been shelved permanently after the diagnosis.
He had gone back to Saronia for the first time a few months after her death, camping on the beach for a few days that had stretched into several weeks. Later that year he had commissioned a house, not the family house that he had planned with Emma but a small place, minimalist, no frills-though not the monk's cell his sister had called it. It was his own retreat; he went there once or twice a year to recharge his batteries . God knew there were few places where he could guarantee there were no photographers lurking around the corner, no phones, no news-he was off the grid when he was there.
As much as he admired his nephew's enterprise he would sooner have invited cameras into his own bathroom than allow a film crew to invade this precious private sanctuary.
'Louise,' the younger man said suddenly as he took a seat on the edge of the big desk. 'She had a really tough upbringing and she thinks I'm.spoilt.'
'This is your soap star?'
'And you want to impress her.' Alex, who had been idly scrolling through the tablet, stopped. 'Who is that?' The lack of inflection in his voice might have made those who knew him better wonder.but Nico's attention was on his own troubled love life, not the sudden tension in his uncle's body language.
His nephew bent over, scanning the inverted image that filled the screen. It was a studio shot of an extremely beautiful young woman pouting provocatively at the camera with lips that were glossy and scarlet. Everything about her was provocative, from the swathe of dark wavy hair that fell artistically across one half of her face to the smile in her heavily lidded eyes, a smile that seemed to invite you to share a secret that gleamed in the shimmering emerald depths as she leaned forward displaying a large amount of cleavage in a gold sheath dress that clung like a second skin.
'Angel. She's a model.'
Angel. Angelina? 'A model.'
It did not surprise him. What did surprise him was the instant effect of a face he had last seen six years ago . An incident that had not been his finest hour, but one he had consigned to the past. The instant surge of sexual hunger that tightened in his belly had a very present feel to it.
His nephew nodded and looked amazed by his uncle's ignorance. 'You must have seen her in that underwear campaign last year. She was everywhere.'
'I must have missed that one,' he mused, seeing the beautiful sleek brunette not in underwear not in anything. He went to stand but, not wanting to draw attention to the testosterone that had suddenly pooled in his groin, he sat back down again like some hormonal teenager, resenting his lack of control-or at least the cause of it.
'Gorgeous, isn't she?' the young man continued, oblivious to any undercurrents in the air. 'All that hair and those green eyes. They are going to build the campaign around her. It's a calculated risk, they said, not to choose a big celebrity to be the new face for a perfume, but they want to build the campaign around someone who-'
Alex tuned out the explanation of the thinking behind employing a relative unknown-she was not unknown to him. Seeing that face, those eyes, remembering the sleek, sinuous body, the undulating curves, the golden toned skin, brought that night back so clearly that he could smell the scent of her shampoo.
Lust slammed through him again like an iron fist. With it came the guilt always the guilt. Emma dead how many weeks ? And he had jumped into bed with the first available woman. She had led but he had followed.
His lips curled in self-disgust. He had moved on since then, when he'd felt ready. Not one-night stands, that was not his thing, but he had enjoyed a series of satisfying relationships with women who enjoyed sex but not drama, and none had been tainted with guilt. If that required he maintain a certain emotional distance it was a price worth paying.
He had no desire to revisit that place of agonising guilt but to recapture that ? It was not so much a thing he was trying to recapture but an absence that he was trying to fill. He gave his head a tiny shake, aware that he was guilty of the sin of overanalysing. She had been the best sex of his life, so why not make a push to sample it and her again?
Nico, who had taken his ringing mobile phone from his pocket intending to turn it off, dropped it. It lay where it had fallen as, jaw slack with shock, he scanned the face of the man who sat behind the big desk, a pointless exercise because he never could read his uncle.
'Whaddaya Yes ?' he said, unable to believe he was this lucky.
Behind the desk Alex brought his formidable mental control into play and pushed the increasingly erotic images from his head.
He raised one dark brow. 'Yes.'
Nico surged to his feet, radiating the sort of youthful excitement that made Alex, who was all of what, twelve years his senior, feel old. 'Seriously ? This isn't a wind-up No, you don't-'
Alex quirked a dark brow and suggested, 'Have a sense of humour?'
Maybe the boy was right; maybe he had eradicated that along with his conscience.
A conscience was an inconvenient thing, he thought, seeing the expression in those big eyes. He needed to draw a line under what had happened, and this was an unexpected opportunity to do just that. A girl who adopted a 'jump into bed first and ask questions later' policy should have expected a few surprises, yet innocence was an odd word to use with someone who had been so sexually uninhibited. But for some reason.? Again, he was overthinking this.
Take away the acrid taste of guilt and she remained the best sex he had ever had, and due to pressures of work it had been months since he had enjoyed any sex, which might go some way to explaining the strength of his physical response. He didn't try to justify it. He didn't just need sex, he needed a question mark in his life; he needed highs and lows, not a predictable flat-line monotony.
Wondering where that thought had come from, he was aware he sounded like a man who was not satisfied with his life. He was; of course he was. Alex got to his feet and picked up the jacket he had slung over the back of the chair.
'You going to pick that up?' He nodded towards the phone.
Looking dazed, his nephew nodded. 'What ? Oh, sure.'
'You will keep me up to speed?'
'Me? You want me to Great, of course So should I run the details past ?' Though tall and blessed with an athletic build, the younger man was forced to tilt his head back to look up at his uncle who, at six-five, was a couple of inches taller than him, and significantly more than a couple inches broader across the shoulders.
'Me,' Alex said, shrugging on a fine wool jacket that was tailored to fit across his broad shoulders so it fell into place without a crease.
'You really mean this? You'll actually let them film on Saronia?'
He'd made the pitch but in his wildest dreams Nico had never seriously expected it to work. Everyone knew how jealously Alex Arlov protected his privacy, even more so since someone had hacked into his wife's medical records not long before she died. It was after the resulting tear-jerking newspaper article that he had gained the reputation of being ferociously litigious, someone prepared to go after perpetrators who crossed the line in the sand regardless of the cost. Some people suggested that this meant he had something to hide, and pointed out the lives he had ruined by taking legal retribution, but they did so in very small voices and only after taking extensive legal advice!
Nico, who was not averse to seeing his own picture on the pages of celebrity magazines, privately considered that Uncle Alex took it a bit far. The paparazzo who had ended up fully clothed in a swimming pool at his mother's birthday bash last year, camera and all, might have agreed with him.
'With certain restrictions obviously. They stay on the mainland and make the daily commute. I don't want them anywhere near the house. I can leave the details with you?'
'Wow Yes, absolutely and, thanks, you won't regret this.'
Alex watched the boy bounce from the room oozing enthusiasm and incredulous joy. If Alex had been the type to dwell on the motivations behind his decision he might have spent the next hour doing so with increasing frustration. But he wasn't, so he spent the next hour running instead.
Angel poked her head around the door of the lounge where most of the people involved had congregated. Used to the handful involved in a fashion shoot, she thought there seemed to be an awful lot of them.
'I think I'll go for a walk. Anyone fancy some fresh air?' She was an active person, and being cooped up in the claustrophobic atmosphere of the luxury hotel was getting to her.
Several astonished pairs of eyes turned her way. Someone whose name she had forgotten replied, his tone indulgent, 'It's raining, Angel, honey.'
It never rains in August.
Angel had lost count of the number of times she had heard this statement since they had arrived at the resort, but the fact remained that, despite the lack of precedent, it was raining and it had been for two days solid. In fact, it had been ever since they had arrived at the island paradise, this paradise they had yet to set foot on.
The delay to the photo shoot had caused tempers to fray and the money men to start muttering. For Angel it was two days she could have been at home with her daughter, not hundreds of miles away.
'It's just water.'
Her response drew blank looks. 'But you'll get wet.' 'I need the exercise.'
'I'm just off to the gym,' said India, the actress playing her mother in the ad-though the woman was only ten years older than Angel. 'Come with me.'
'I don't really do the gym thing. I'm allergic to Lycra.'
'No, not seriously, India, she's joking,' Rudie, the lighting man, explained.
'Your hair will get wet.' The objection was made by the man responsible for making her hair look perfect. He was still recovering from the shock of discovering that, not only was the waist-length ebony hair all her own, but the glossy colour had never been enhanced or altered.
'It will dry.'
'What's that smell?'
'Me, I'm afraid.' Angel brought her concealed hand out from behind her back. 'I can't resist lashings of onions.'
'Is that a hot dog?'
Angel glanced at the item that was causing the executive from the cosmetic company to look so shocked. The