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Almost the last thing Maura said at Auckland airport was, 'Now enjoy yourself!'
Giselle Foster smiled. 'Of course I will.'
Her godmother gently urged her towards the departure gate. 'When you come back I want to see clear eyeswithout the shadows underneathand a spring in your step. And some colour in your cheeks. You've worked far too hard for far too long, and that flu turning to pneumonia was a warning.'
'You know I've always been lily-white. Leola's the twin with golden skin and pink cheeks! And someone has to keep Parirua going,' Giselle said defensively, checking her travel documents.
The older woman looked at her with too much perception. 'Just because it's been in your family for generations doesn't mean you're obliged to make it your life's work.'
'I love it,' Giselle said.
Maura sighed. 'I know, I know. Too muchbut don't let me start on that. Just try to forget about the station and the cattle and the farm workers and the mortgage for the next fortnight.'
If only it were that easy! But Giselle nodded. 'OK.'
'You'll probably find Coconut Bay too noisy and brash for you at first, so ease yourself into things. Have fun. Go a little wildflirt lots, and laugh more.' She smiled and kissed Giselle's cheek, then gave her a little push, adding sternly, 'And make sure you rest every afternoon. I want to see some colour in your cheeks when you come back.'
Giselle hugged her. 'Thank you so much for not only organising this holiday, but paying for it. I promise to enjoy every second.'
But after only three of the fourteen days she was to spend on the tropical island of Fala'isi, Giselle was ready to slink back to New Zealand. Although it wasexquisitely beautiful, and the resort lived up to its reputation for nonstop activity, most of it was wasted on her. The universal high spirits seemed tiresome, even a little desperate; drinking cocktails in a crowd held no allure to her, and she didn't know howor even wantto embark on a holiday flirtation.
And lying on the beach to burnish a tan wasn't an option; her pale skin needed careful nurturing, so she had to sprint for shelter after each swim.
Also, it was impossible to avoid people unless she stayed in her room. Everyone was so openly friendly, it made her feel ungrateful and sullen to long for solitude and quiet.
Which was why she had just hauled one of the resort's small, garish sailing dinghies across the skirt of dazzling sand that surrounded a tiny island, a green bead on the edge of the reef. She took a deep breath once again, grateful to the high school teacher who'd given his time after school to teach an enthusiastic group the rudiments of small boat sailing.
All was peace and calm and blissful silence except for the faint rustling of the palm leaves in the warm wind. Even the long combers that normally smashed noisily against the reef had transmuted into wavelets purring against the coral. No footstep marred the pristine beach; it promised serenity and splendid isolation. Giselle's gaze drifted further, across a lagoon as impossibly blue as the sky. Not a sail in sight.
Sighing happily, she carried her picnic hamper through the palms into the shade beneath several sprawling trees, their leafy lower branches hiding her from view.
That thought made her laugh out loud. Nobody was going to stroll by. 'Perfect,' she breathedsecluded, with delightful glimpses of the open sea through the foliage.
She spread out her towel, loosened the sarong that covered her bikini and took her book from her bag. Beneath it was a digital camera, an extra gift from Maura.
Giselle spent some time taking snaps of the huge sweep of ocean that reached all the way to Tahiti, its immensity emphasised by a solitary yacht making its way up the coast.
Then she sank down onto the towel and opened her book. The only reading material in the resort shop seemed to be magazines that detailed the supposed romantic affairs of the jet set. Giselle was as interested as anyone in the lives of famous people, but an uninterrupted diet of it soon palled. Fortunately the resort also had a small library, and there she'd discovered the most recent book of one of her favourite authors. Time to read was a rare, highly prized luxury.
She stretched out to lose herself in a fantasy world.
Some time later she woke with a start, realising dimly that she'd been hearing voices in her sleep, a light woman's voice, and one belonging to a man.
She couldn't make out any words, but something made her hold her breath as she eased up to peer through the tangle of foliage separating her from the beach. The first thing she saw was a yacht anchored just inside the passage through the reef, a long, sleek obviously expensive thing with such beautiful lines it made her heart sing.
Two people were on the beach only a few metres from her refugea tanned, powerfully built man in a loose shirt and swimming shorts, and a woman wearing a white bikini that displayed slightly more than was necessary of her considerable assets. Her back was presented to the man who was smoothing sunscreen on it, a process she was enjoying enormously if her sensuous little stretches and murmurs were any indication.
An odd shiver ran down Giselle's spine. She suspected that she too would be purring like a kitten under those expert caresses.
He was facing Giselle, black head bent slightly while he said something, the sun on his face highlighting arrogant angles of his features.
An odd twist of sensation in the depths of her stomach startled Giselle. She swallowed to ease her dry throat. Big, sleekly muscled, he was a bronzed image of masculine power as he loomed protectively over the woman.
As she watched he laughed and said something to the woman, who tossed a glance that sizzled with invitation over her shoulder. Then she gave another voluptuous wriggle and leaned back against him.
He went very still, before getting to his feet in a single fluid movement, looking up the beach as he did so.
Giselle ducked down, because she had a horrid suspicion they were going to make love. Or perhaps had just made love. Whatever, she didn't want to be a spectator. She tried to shimmy backwards through the tangle of greenery, heart jumping when a dry stick cracked beneath her. Her gaze flew to the man on the beach.
He stood immobile for several seconds, his dark face intent, before turning back to the woman.
Breathing again, Giselle frowned as she scanned the woman's pouting face. She looked vaguely familiar, even while she was giving her companion what Giselle's godmother, who enjoyed ancient slang, would have called a very come-hither look. Instead of responding to the open invitation the man made another comment, and after a shrug she too got up.
He bent to pick up a couple of bright cloths from the sand, then turned, his gaze once more searching the thick growth that hid the interior of the island.
Heart thudding so noisily in her chest she was afraid they might be able to hear it, Giselle froze again, hastily clamping her eyes shut to hide the shame of peeping.
He couldn't have known she was there. Although the crack of the stick had been loud to her, surely the noise couldn't have travelled that far?
He'd probably realised that an exposed beach was no place to make love. Much better to go back to that lovely yacht and have some privacy.
A little wistfully, Giselle let her lashes drift up and watched them walk out of sight. Her life meant she had no time and almost no desire to go out. But sometimes she dreamed of meeting someone
Not, she thought sensibly, a man like that. His overwhelming male presence might have taken her breath away, but men like him didn't come along often, and they certainly weren't interested in women who worked as farm labourers. They could have anyone they wantedbeautiful, expensive women like the ones who graced the magazines in the resort shop.
A few minutes later she heard the distant buzz of a motor, and watched a small speedboat appear from the yacht and head purposefully for the islet.
Who were they?
'Rich people,' she said dismissively. Yachts like that one came expensive.
And they'd both had that air of complete confidence, of a self-assurance so deep nothing could ruffle it.
The rich were different, and for a moment she envied them. Smiling with irony, she lifted her camera to take a photograph of the yacht as the sails were being raised.
'No, you don't. Give me that.' The voice came from just behind her, coldly commanding, and as she whirled the camera was wrenched from her hands.
Shocked into a gasp, she looked up into eyes of an astonishing clarity and colour; the deep, dark blue of the sky at midnight, they were hard and angry, set in a face even more strikingly handsome than she'd realised.
He towered above her, wide shoulders blocking out the sunlight. And although he wore a shirt, there was entirely too much rich bronze skin on view. It did very strange things to her bones.
If he touched her, she thought feverishly, she might burn like a torch.
Words stumbled from her tongue. 'Give me that!'
'No.' Before she could stop him he flicked through the stored photographs.
Outraged, she stammered, 'What the hell do you think you're doing?'
'Just checking,' he said briefly, and put the camera into the pocket of his shirt.
A faint intonation to his words made her suspect that English wasn't his first language. Although sexuality smoked off him like a haze, he kept his gaze fixed on her face; no surreptitious glances at her breasts in her bikini top, or inspection of her long legs.
Stung, Giselle blurted, 'You have no rightI didn't take any photographs of you.' And then stumbled into scarlet-cheeked silence, because she'd just made it obvious that she'd been watching.
His eyes narrowed into icy slivers. 'Who are you? Where do you come from? What do you want?'
The questions hammered at her like bullets. She drew in a deep breath and replied sturdily, 'I'm a guest at the Coconut Bay resort and I have just as much right to be here as you do.'
'Motukaithis islandis privately owned,' he said between his teeth. 'I don't believe any of the workers at the resort would have agreed to let you come here.'
Her skin burned even hotter. 'No one said not to.'
'Did you tell them you planned to sail here?'
'Wellno,' she admitted honestly. She'd intended to sail around a headland to a smaller, less crowded beach, but halfway across the lagoon she'd noticed the island and changed her mind. She added with spirit, 'If you want people to stay away you should scatter the island with No Trespassing signs.'
'It isn't needed,' he told her with breathtaking arrogance. 'Everyone knows to keep off it. Why did you take photos of the yacht?'
'It looks so lovely,' she said quietly, her fear subsiding a little.
One black brow lifted. 'White yacht on a turquoise lagoon, palm trees, the sound of the rollers breaking on the reefall the tropical clichés,' he agreed with irony. Then, abruptly changing his tone, he asked, 'Would you like to go on board and have a look around?'
Stunned, she was almost tempted, but shook her head. 'No, thanks. I don't know you, and your attitude doesn't exactly fill me with confidence.'
A swift smile set her heart beating madly again. It was pure dynamiteintimate, amused, and challenging in a way that set off alarm bells. Giselle's stomach muscles clenched, and heat churned through her. She knew what it was, of course. Inexperienced she might be when it came to men, but she was woman enough to recognise physical attraction when it hit her in the solar plexusand other vulnerable parts of her body.
Face it, she thought grimly. It had to happen eventually. So get over it. He probably does that to every woman he meets.
He knew he was gorgeous; he had the bone-deep confidence of someone with a charmed life.
'Touché,'he drawled. 'I'll help you get your stuff back to the sailing dinghy.'
In other words he was going to see her off. Stiff-backed, Giselle said coolly, 'You don't need to botherI got them here, I'll take them back.'
But he ignored her, stooping to pick up her rug and hamper and carrying them through the dark shade of the trees. Out on the sand, Giselle stopped, frowning. Her little craft had been hauled into the water and was bobbing behind a small motorboatnot, she realised, the one that had come from the yacht to pick them up. There was no sign of the woman.
'I can sail back,' she said, stiff with unease.
He shrugged. 'It's easy enough sailing this way with the wind behind you,' he said lightly, 'but you'd have to tack back.'
'I know.' Patronising jerk! 'I've done quite a bit of sailing.'
He gave her a considering look calculated to set her teeth on edge. This man knew exactly the effect he wanted to have, and achieved it effortlessly.
'You're a New Zealander, aren't you?' he said.
'What's that got to do with anything?'
'You can stop bristling. Most New Zealanders seem to have an affinity for the sea.'
A satirical undertone set her nerves even more on edge.
He waded into the water and put her things into his craft. 'Hop in.'
Giselle stood her ground. 'I'm perfectly capable of sailing back by myself.' She tried to sound mature and calm and confident.
His smile gave no quarter. 'But you'll come back with me,' he said, and this time there was no mistaking the threat. 'I don't like peeping Tomsor Thomasinasand I want to find out why no one warned you to keep off the island.'
Obstinately she insisted, 'I want to sail back.'
'And I want you to come with me,' he said as though that clinched the matter.
When she glared at him he picked her up and dumped her into the small craft, following her in with a lunge that literally rocked the boat.
'Damn you!' she spluttered, totally bewildered by her body's shocking, incandescent response to those few dazzling moments in his arms.
Outrage at his overt use of power against her warred with fierce awareness, primitive and hotly consuming. A charged tension burned through every nerve, the memory of his strength and an elusive, primal scent paralysing any coherent thought.
Her objections were cut off by the roar of the engine. She lurched as the runabout took off, and sat down abruptly where he indicated, ruffled and flaming with a debilitating mixture of embarrassment and anger.
Arrogant, high-handed, overbearing piratewho the heck was he? The owner of Coconut Bay?
He was certainly formidable, and apparently the prospect of being charged with assault and kidnapping didn't worry him in the least.
Obstinately keeping her head turned away from him, she stared across the vivid waters of the lagoon until the boat slowed as they came into Coconut Bay, her abductor effortlessly threading a way through the swimmers until they reached the beach.