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At first, Catherine didn't notice the shadowy figure sitting there. She was too busy smiling at the waiter with her practised I-am-having-a-wonderful-holiday smile, instead of letting her face fall into the crestfallen lines which might have given away the fact that her boyfriend had fallen in love with another woman.
The sultry night air warmed her skin like thick Greek honey.
'Kalispera, Dhespinis Walker,' said the waiter, his face lighting up when he saw her. 'Good day?'
'Mmm!' she enthused. 'I took the boat trip out to all the different coves, as you recommended!'
'My brother—he look after you?' questioned Nico anxiously.
'Oh, yes—he looked after me very well.' In fact, Nico's brother had tried to take more than a professional interest in ensuring that she enjoyed the magnificent sights, and Catherine had spent most of the boat-trip sitting as far away from the tiller as possible!
'My usual table, is it?' she enquired with a smile, because Nico had gone out of his way to give her the best table every evening—the faraway one, which looked out to sea.
But Nico was frowning. 'Tonight it is difficult, dhespinis. The table is already taken. For tonight the man from Irlandia is here.'
Some odd quality changed the tone of his voice as he spoke. Catherine heard reverence. Respect. And something else which sounded awfully like a grudging kind of envy. She looked at him with a lack of comprehension. The man from where? 'Irlandia?' she repeated.
'Ireland,' he translated carefully, after a moment's thought. 'He arrive this afternoon and he take your table for dinner.'
It was ridiculous to feel so disappointed, but that was exactly the way she did feel. Funny how quickly you established little routines on holiday. Night after night Catherine had sat at the very end of the narrow wooden deck which made up the floor of the restaurant, so close to the sea that you felt as if you were almost floating over it.
You could look down over the railing and watch the slick black waters below as they licked against the supporting struts. And the moon would spill its shimmering silver light all across the surface—its beauty so intense that for a while Catherine was able to forget all about England, forget Peter and the always busy job which awaited her.
'Can he do that?' she pleaded. 'Tomorrow is my last day.'
Nico shrugged. 'He can do anything. He is good friend of Kirios Kollitsis.'
Kirios Kollitsis. The island's very own septuagenarian tycoon—who owned not only the three hotels, but half the shops in the village, too.
Catherine strained her eyes to see a dark figure sitting in her chair. They said that you could judge a woman by her face and a man by his body, and, though she couldn't see much in this light, it was easy enough to tell from the taut and muscular definition of a powerful frame that this man was considerably younger than Kirios Kollitsis. By about four decades, she judged.
'I can give you next table,' said Nico placatingly. 'Is still lovely view.'
She smiled, telling herself it wasn't his fault. Silly to cling onto a routine—even a temporary one—just because her world had shattered into one she no longer recognised. Just because Peter had gone and found the 'love of his life' almost overnight, leaving Catherine wondering wryly what that said about their relationship of almost three years standing. 'That would be lovely. Thanks, Nico.'
Finn Delaney had been slowly sipping from a glass of ouzo and gazing out at the sunset, feeling some of the coiled tension begin to seep from his body. He had just pulled off the biggest deal in a life composed of making big deals. It had been fraught and tight and nail-biting, but—as usual—he had achieved what he had set out to do.
But for the first time in his life the success seemed empty. Another million in the bank, true—but even that seemed curiously hollow.
The ink had barely dried on the contract before he had driven on impulse to the airport and taken the first flight out to the beautiful empty Greek island he knew so well. His secretary had raised her eyebrows when he'd told her.
'But what about your diary, Finn?' she had objected. 'It's packed.'
He had shrugged his broad shoulders and felt a sudden, dizzying sense of liberation. 'Cancel it.'
'Cancel it?' she'd repeated faintly. 'Okay. You're the boss.'
Yes, he was the boss, and there was a price to be paid for that position. With power went isolation. Few spoke to Finn Delaney without an agenda these days. But, in truth, he liked the isolation—and the ability to control his own destiny which went with that. It was only when you started letting people close to you that control slipped away.
He picked up his glass of ouzo and studied the cloudy liquid with a certain sense of amusement, feeling worlds and years away from his usual self. But then, this island had always had that effect on him. It had first known him when he had nothing and had accepted him with open arms. Here he was simply 'Finn', or Kirios Delaney.
Yet for a man known in his native Dublin as The Razor—for his sharp-cutting edge in the world of business—he would have been almost unrecognisable to his many friends and rivals tonight.
The fluid suits he normally sported had been replaced by a pair of faded jeans and a thin white shirt he had bought in one of the local shops. The top three buttons were left carelessly undone, veeing down towards the honed, tanned muscle of his chest. His thick, dark hair—as usual—was in need of a cut and his long legs were stretched out lazily beneath the table.
Tonight he felt like one of the fishermen who had dragged their silver shoals up onto the beach earlier.
It was a perfect night, with a perfect moon, and he sighed as he recognised that success sometimes made you lose sight of such simple pleasures.
'This way, Dhespinis Walker,' Finn heard the waiter saying.
The sound of footsteps clip-clopping against the wooden planks made him look round almost absently, and his eyes narrowed, his heart missing a sudden and unexpected beat as a woman walked into the restaurant. He put the glass of ouzo down, and stared.
For she was beautiful. Mother of all the Saints! She was more than beautiful. Yet beautiful women abounded in his world, so what was different about this one?
Her long black hair tumbled in ebony waves over her shoulders and made her look like some kind of irresistible witch, with a face as delicate as the filmy dress which hinted at ripe, firm flesh beneath.
Yes, very beautiful indeed. His eyes glinted in assessment. And irritated, too. Her mouth was set and, very deliberately, she looked right through him as though he wasn't there. Finn experienced a moment of wry amusement. Not something which happened to him every day of the week. He spent his life fighting off women who rose to the challenge of ensnaring one of Ireland's most eligible bachelors!
He felt the stir of interest as she took her seat at the table next to his, mere inches away, and as the waiter fussed around with her napkin Finn was able to study her profile. It was a particularly attractive profile. Small, cute nose, and lips which looked like folded rose petals. Her skin was softly sheening and lightly golden, presumably from the hot Greek sun, and her limbs were long and supple.
The pulse at his temple was hammering out a primitive beat, and he felt the heated thickening of his blood. Was it the moon and the warm, lazy night air which made him look at a total stranger and wish he was taking her back to his room with him to lose himself in the sweet pleasures of the senses? Had the magic of the island made him regress to those instant clamouring desires of his late teens?
Catherine could feel the man's eyes scanning her with leisurely appraisal, and it felt positively intrusive in view of the fact that he was inhabiting her space. She studied the menu unseeingly, knowing exactly what she was planning to have.
Finn gave a half-smile, intrigued by the forbidding set of her body and the negative vibes she was sending out. It was enough of a novelty to whet his appetite.
'Kalispera,' he murmured.
Catherine continued to study her menu. Oh, yes, he was Irish, all right. The soft, deep and sensual lilt which was almost musical could have come from nowhere else. His voice sounded like shavings of gravel which had been steeped in honey—a voice Catherine imagined would have women in their thousands drooling.
Well, not this one.
'Good evening,' he translated.
Catherine lifted her head and turned to look at him, and wished she hadn't—because she wasn't prepared for the most remarkable pair of eyes which were trained in her direction. Even in this light it was easy to see that they were a deep, dark blue—as wine-dark as the sea she had idly floated in earlier that day. And fringed by thick, dark lashes which could not disguise the unmistakable glint in their depths.
He had a typically Irish face—rugged and craggedly handsome—with a luscious mouth whose corners were lifted in half-amused question as he waited for her to reply.
'Are you speaking to me?' she asked coolly.
He hadn't had a put-down like that in years! Finn made a show of looking around at all the empty places in the tiny restaurant. 'Well, I'm not in the habit of talking to myself.'
'And I'm not in the habit of striking up conversations with complete strangers,' she said blandly.
'Finn Delaney.' He smiled.
She raised her brows. 'Excuse me?'
'The name's Finn Delaney.' He gave her a slow smile, unable to remember the last time he had been subjected to such an intense deep-freeze. He noticed that the smile refused to work its usual magic.
She didn't move. Nor speak. If this was a chat-up line, then she simply wasn't interested.
'Of course, I don't know yours,' he persisted.
'That's because I haven't given it to you,' she answered helpfully.
'And are you going to?'
He raised dark brows. 'On?'
'On whether you'd mind moving.'
Catherine's journalist training instinctively reared its head. 'Do you always make a habit of repeating everything and turning it into a question?'
'And do you always behave so ferociously towards members of the opposite sex?'
She nearly said that she was right off the opposite sex at the moment, but decided against it. She did not want to come over as bitter—because bitter was the last thing she wanted to be. She was just getting used to the fact that her relationship had exceeded its sell-by date, that was all.
She met the mockery lurking deep in the blue eyes. 'If you really saw me ferocious, you'd know all about it!'
'Well, now, wouldn't that be an arresting sight to see?' he murmured. He narrowed his eyes in question. 'You aren't exactly brimming over with bonhomie.'
'No. That's because you're sitting at my table.' She shrugged as she saw his nonplussed expression and she couldn't really blame him. 'I know it sounds stupid, but I've been there every night and kind of got attached to it.'
'Not stupid at all,' he mused, and his voice softened into a musical caress. 'A view like this doesn't come along very often in a lifetime—not even where I come from.'
She saw a star shoot a silver trail as it blazed across the night sky. 'I know,' she sighed, her voice filled with a sudden melancholy.
'You could always come and join me,' he said. 'And that way we can both enjoy it.' He saw her indecision and it amused him. 'Why not?'
Why not, indeed? Twelve days of dining on her own had left a normally garrulous woman screaming for a little company. And sitting on her own made her all the more conscious of the thoughts spinning round in her head—of whether she could have done more to save her relationship with Peter. Even knowing that time and distance had driven impenetrable wedges between them did not stop her from having regrets.
'I won't bite,' he added softly, seeing the sudden sadness cloud her eyes and wondering what had caused it.
Catherine stared at him. He looked as though he very easily could bite, despite the outwardly relaxed appearance. His apparent ease did not hide the highly honed sexuality which even in her frozen emotional state she could recognise. But that was her job; she was trained to suss people out.
'Because I don't know you,' she pointed out.
'Isn't that the whole point of joining me?'
'I thought that it was to look at the view?'
'Yes. You're right. It was.' But his eyes were fixed on her face, and Catherine felt a moment halfway between pleasure and foreboding, though she couldn't for the life of her have worked out why.
Maybe it was because he had such a dangerous look about him, with his dark hair and his blue eyes and his mocking, lazy smile. He looked a bit like one of the fishermen who hauled up the nets on the beach every morning in those faded jeans and a white cotton shirt which was open at the neck. A man she would never see again. Why not indeed? 'Okay,' she agreed. 'Thanks.'
He waited until she had moved and settled in to the seat next to his, aware of a drift of scent which was a cross between roses and honey, unprepared for the way that it unsettled his senses, tiptoeing fingers of awareness over his skin. 'You still haven't told me your name.'
'It's Catherine. Catherine Walker.' She waited, supposing there was the faintest chance that Finn Delaney was an avid reader of Pizazz! magazine, and had happened to read her byline, but his dark face made no sign of recognition. Her lips twitched with amusement. Had she really thought that a man as masculine as this one would flick through a lightweight glossy mag?
'Good to meet you, Catherine.' He looked out to where the water was every shade of gold and pink and rose imaginable, reflected from the sky above, and then back to her, a careless question in his eyes. 'Exquisite, isn't it?' he murmured.
'Perfect.' Catherine, strangely disconcerted by that deep blue gaze, sipped her wine. 'It's not your first visit, I gather?'
Finn turned back and the blue eyes glittered in careless question. 'You've been checking up on me, have you?'
It was an arrogant thing to say, but in view of her occupation an extremely accurate one—except that in this case she had not been checking up on him. 'Why on earth should I want to? The waiter mentioned that you were a friend of Kirios Kollitsis, that's all.'
He relaxed again, his mind drifting back to a long-ago summer. 'That's right. His son and I met when we were travelling around Europe—we ended the trip here, and I guess I kind of fell in love with the place.'
'And—let me guess—you've come back here every year since?'
He smiled. 'One way or another, yes, I have. How about you?'