Read an Excerpt
Earlier that day
JANE VAUGHAN wandered up and down the bustling jetty with a frown appearing over the ridge of her sunglasses. She couldn't remember exactly which gate she'd been at yesterday; now there were lots of bobbing boats and people lining up to get on board. The man she'd approached had taken no deposit, nor given her a ticket, but instead had reassured her that if she came back to him he would make sure she got on the right boatthe only problem now was that she couldn't spot him anywhere.
Bumping into that stranger in the street just afterwards must have scrambled her brain more than she'd thought. She shook her head wryly. She'd never thought herself to be the kind of woman that would spend a night fantasising about someone she had bumped into for mere moments. A newly familiar heat flooded her belly, however, as his tall, powerful body and hard-boned face swam into her mind's eye, his image still as vivid as if he were standing right in front of her. She shook her head again, this time to shake free of the memory. Honestly, this was so unlike her.
She went towards a gate that looked familiar, tagging onto the end of a queue. When she got to the man at the top he seemed a little harassed. At her query of, "Excusez-moi. C'est le bÃ¢teau pour les Ã®les?" he just gestured impatiently into the boat. She hesitated for a moment, before figuring what was the worst that could happen? So if she didn't end up exactly where she'd expected to then it would be an adventure. They were going somewhere, and she was on holiday, not everything had to be strictly organised. She needed to relax more.
Once they were underwayshe had to admit grudgingly that she was enjoying the breeze and the sun across her shoulders and bare legs. The brightly patterned halterneck dress she wore was a present from her friend Lisa, given with an order to make herself more visible.
She pushed her sunglasses onto her head, tipping her face up to the sun, and for the first time since landing on the CÃ´te D'Azur a week ago felt a rush of wellbeing and freedom. She didn't even really miss her friend's presence. Lisa was meant to have travelled with herafter all, it was her family's villa that Jane was staying in. But at the last minute Lisa's father had been rushed into hospital with a suspected heart attack, and this very week was undergoing a delicate operation. The conversation she'd had with Lisa the night before her departure had been rushed, but her friend had been insistent.
"Janey, if you don't go then I'll feel guilty on top of everything else. Anyway, you'll be doing us a favour. No one has been at the house for months, and it needs to be aired, so look at it like that."
"But I can't just leave when you might need me most"
"Look," Lisa pointed out, "you know my family. It'll be like Picadilly Circus in the hospital, and we've been assured Dad is going to be fine Seeing your little face here would only upset me, and I mean that in a good way."
She knew Lisa was just being brave, that the outcome was anything but assured, and didn't want to put her under any more pressure.
Jane had given in. Lisa was right; there wasn't anything she could do. With a formidable mother, four sisters and three brothers she would only get in the way. And of the three brothers one in particular was intent on pursuing Jane. Not sure how she felt about Dominic, who was lovely, if a little dull, Jane was well aware that the campaign would have been taken up with enthusiasm by Lisa had she had the opportunity.
She got up and wandered over to the railing, shades back on against the glare of the sun, the sea spray catching her every now and then.
She still couldn't help a little pang of guilt at enjoying her solitude so much. She really hadn't expected to embrace it, but for the first time in her twenty-six years she was truly alone, without the crushing responsibility she'd carried for so long.
And it felt good!
Looking up from her contemplation of the foaming sea, she saw that they were approaching an island. Something about it, rising majestically from the water, made her shiveras if someone had just run a finger down her spine. It was a forbidding rock, softened only by the sandy beach and picturesque houses that surrounded the small harbour. The sun glinted off the water as the boat docked and they dis-embarked. On the jetty, as she waited with the other passengers to be told where to go, her mind wandered back to danger territory, as if it had been waiting patiently in the wings until she'd stopped thinking of other things. She tried to resist, but it was too strong, yet again she re-lived the events of yesterdaythat burning moment in the streets near the harbour came flooding back.
She'd escaped the crowded pedestrian area, feeling somewhat claustrophobic, and stumbled into a charming winding street that had been blessedly quiet, with no sign of any tourists. She had looked for a street name to figure out where she was; she wanted to explore more of this sleepy part of the town.
With her map open, trying to walk and read at the same time, she'd been unaware of the approaching corner. She had looked up briefly, there had been a flash of something, and she'd crashed into a wall.
Except it hadn't been a wall, because a wall wouldn't have reached out and clamped hard hands on her upper arms. Winded and stunned, the map slipping from her fingers, she'd realised that she'd bumped into a man. Her gaze, on a level with a T-shirt-clad broad chest, had moved up, and up again, before coming face to face with the most beautiful pair of green eyes she'd ever seenlike the green of a distant oasis in the desertin a dark olive-skinned face, with black brows drawn together forbiddingly. Her jaw had dropped.
It had been only then that she'd become aware of her own hands, curled around his biceps, where they had gone automatically to steady herself. And with that awareness had come the feel of bunched muscle beneath his warm, silky skin. They had flexed lightly under her fingertips as his arms held her, and out of nowhere came a spiking of pleasure so intense and alien through her entire body that she'd felt her eyes open wide in shock. His gaze had moved down to her mouth, and she'd had a weightless, almost out-ofa point of awareness just short of pain. She had been able to feel the imprint of his hands on her She'd lifted fingers to her lips, which had if he had actually touched them. It had just seconds, a mere moment, but she'd felt as she'd stood there with him for hours. The bizarre and disturbing feeling. And then she remembered his enigmatic smile, as if he'd exactly what effect he was having on her. time she would indulge herself in thinking about that man. The last time she would indulge the fantasy she'd had of sitting across a table from him, sharing an intimate dinner, candlelight flickering, picking up the silverware and sparkling glasses. Those green eyes holding hers, not letting her look away. She quashed the silly flutter in her belly and took in the other people on the bus, leaning over to a young couple about her age across the aisle.
"Excuse me, do you know where we are?"
The woman leant across her boyfriend, replying with a strong American accent. "Honey, this is Lézille Islandbut you'd know that, coming from the hotelaren't you a guest?
"No!" Jane clapped a hand to her mouth. "I'm not in a hotelI thought this was just a general trip"
Dismayed, she wondered what she should do, she hadn't paid for this trip She belatedly remembered asking the man if this was the boat to les Ã®lesthe islands, in French, which sounded exactly like the name of this island. Lézille. No wonder he had just ushered her on board.
The other woman waved a hand. "Oh, don't worry. I won't say anything, and no one will noticeyou just bagged yourself a free trip!"
Jane smiled weakly. She hated any sort of subterfuge. But maybe it wasn't such a big deal. She could always follow them back to their hotel afterwards and offer to pay for the trip. She felt a little better with that thought.
The woman told her that they were due to visit a vineyard for some wine-tasting, and afterwards to take in an aerial display. Jane gave in and relaxed, and started to enjoy the mystery tour nature of the tripthis was exactly what she needed.
The vineyard was enormous, with beautifully kept rows of vines. They were shown every part of the winemaking processwhich Jane had to admit was more interesting than she would have expected. The name on the bottles sounded familiaras had the name of the island.
When they emerged at the other end of the buildings, they could see what looked like a medieval castle in the distance. Again she felt that funny sensationalmost like déjÃ vu.
"You know this island is owned by a billionaire who lives in that castle?"
Jane looked around the see the friendly woman from the bus. "Nono, I don't know anything about it."