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The gleaming black yacht cut swiftly through the green waters of the Mediterranean Sea, slowing as it approached the island of Majorca to berth perfectly alongside the marina at Alcudia. With a satisfied smile, Guido Barberi handed the wheel back to the Captain.
'I'll leave the rest to you.'
Wearing only white shorts and soft shoes, he walked out onto the deck. He cast a fleeting glance at the bustling tourist-filled waterfront of Alcudia town, before turning his attention to the crew as they secured the ship to its mooring. Satisfied everything was secure, he let his dark gaze wander admiringly over the classic old yacht berthed alongside his. It stayed. His tall frame tensed as his eyes narrowed intently on the two women sunbathing on the timber deck.
One, a blonde, was sitting up and watching the arrival of his yacht with obvious interest. But it was the other one, lying flat on her stomach on a sunbed, who captured his attention and made every predatory male sense he possessed leap to instant attention.
It could not possibly be her, he told himself. But the compulsion to make sure was overwhelming. Slowly he lifted the binoculars strung around his neck to his eyes, and focused on the prone female. From the soles of her feet his gaze trailed slowly up long, shapely legs to a small pert bottom, and he drew in a stunned breath.
They were there nestled near the base of her spine two perfectly formed circular dimples. Swiftly he looked up the length of her body, noting the slender indentation of her waist, the smooth shoulders and the rich golden-brown hair haphazardly looped in a knot at the back of her head. She was reading a book, oblivious of his scrutiny. Hisfirm mouth twisted in a grim smile as his dark gaze slid back down the length of her spine again.
Only once had he ever seen a woman known a woman who had such distinctive dimples in just that place. The kind that had totally fascinated him. The kind his lips had touched and his tongue had teased countless times before he eventually possessed her hot, welcoming body. He let the binoculars fall and shoved his hand in the pocket of his shorts as his body reacted with lightning-fast enthusiasm at the thought.
It had to be her. It was her. His ex-wife. Sara Beecham.
Memories he had thought long-forgotten came rushing back.
Even now he could still remember the exact moment he'd set eyes on her. She'd had her back to him, and the low-slung hipster jeans she'd been wearing had just covered her delightful bottom, but had fallen short of meeting her top by a good nine inches, revealing the two dimples that had totally intrigued him. When she'd turned around her beauty had taken his breath away, and the well-filled short sweater, tiny waist and long legs had turned him on so fiercely he hadn't dared move. It had been love at first sightor so he had thought at the time. In hindsight he realised it had been sheer unbridled lust on his part.
But his brief marriage had been an education in the faithlessness of women, and of this one in particular. As soon as his back was turned she had left him, clutching the cheque she had demanded from his father. He had returned home to find his bride goneno sign of her remaining except a short note wishing him farewell. He, fool that he was, had refused to believe it. But a quarter of a million pounds cashed within days of her return to the UK had managed to convince him. The divorce had been handled swiftly by the lawyers and he had never seen her again until today.
'Will you look at Il Leonessa? Now, that is what I call a yacht. I think it's the new Predator class. Wow! Never mind the shipwhat about the man? Look Look Oh, my God. Isn't he just the most gorgeous hunk of masculinity you ever saw? Look at those shoulders, that chest, the legs '
Sara felt the dig in her ribs and reluctantly tore her attention away from the tale of murder most foul she was reading. She cast a sidelong glance at her companion.
'Oh, please, Patnot another Greek god stepped down from Olympus. He must be about the hundredth you have spotted in the past week.' She grinned. 'And you a married lady.'
'Believe me, this one is exceptional. Unless he has rolled-up socks stuck down his shorts, he has to be the best-looking, most rampantly virile male I have ever seen. Unfortunately he's focused on you.'Pat sighed ruefully. 'Still, I bet he's great in bed.'
'You are disgraceful.' Sara shook her head and returned to her book.
'And you, girl, are wasting your life. You're on a yacht with six single men and only two female guests. It's perfectly obvious Peter Wells has the hots for you, and do you encourage him? No. When you're not cooking you spend most of your free time with your head buried in a book. Where is your spirit of adventure? If I were you I would be straight over there and trying to find out who that beautiful man is. In fact, I think I will anyway. I'll invite him to our farewell party tonight. Dave won't mind if I tell him he's for you.'
'No.' Sara spun over and sat up. 'Don't you dare.' But she was talking to her friend's back. The trouble was Pat did dare anything. And Dave, her husband, was just as bad Initially, as their sometime accountant and friend, Sara had tried to teach them the benefit of restraint. But the word was not in their vocabulary.
So Sara had answered Pat's frantic telephone call to ditch her own holiday, get down to Marseilles and join their cruise as the cook. The one they had hired had failed to turn up and they'd been desperate. Having shared her apartment with Pat when she'd first started work with an international accountancy firm in London, Sara knew how useless Pat was in the kitchen. Sara knew without conceit that she was an excellent cook. She also knew just how perilous their financial situation was.
On their marriage three years ago they had both given up their jobs and sunk all their money, and some more besides, into this yachtthe idea being to make a living from running cruises with an element of training people to sail when they were not sailing off somewhere themselves. It had sounded good on paper, but with Pat now pregnant they would shortly need somewhere to livepreferably back in England. Dave confidently expected to keep the yacht, and rent a place in London until the baby was born and able to sail with them. But Sara had seen the figures, and knew how horrendously expensive it was simply to own the yacht.
The trouble was, although it was a decent size with four guest cabins, the ship was quite old. A stunning timber-built sailing cruiser, it was very romantic to see in full sail, but very expensive to maintain and run. Even with Dave as instructor and certified captain and Pat as crew, the bare minimum they could sail with was three qualified sailors plus a cook and a cabin boyand their wages had to be paid. As for the insurance, it was colossal to cover the yacht and the paying guests. Sara knew because she had arranged the policy for them.
The charters tended to be groups of young people who had experience of sailing and liked the idea of learning more. But they were on an expensive holiday, and if the wind dropped and it looked as if they might miss a single port of call they expected the engine to be utilised. Given the astronomical rise in the cost of fuel over the last two years, calm seas could virtually wipe out any profit on a charter. Plus, simply keeping it berthed in the Mediterranean accrued very hefty feeswhich was why Sara had given up the second week of the Cordon Bleu cookery course she had been attending in the South of France to help them out.
Sara glanced up idly at the much bigger vessel opposite. Good Lord, it actually had a helicopter on the top deck. Heaven knew what kind of money it took to run a ship like that millions, probably, she thought, her gaze skimming down.
Then she saw the object of Pat's enthusiasmor at least the rear view of him. He was tall, with black hair, wide shoulders and a broad back tapering to a lean waist and hips and long, muscular legs, and he was about to enter the wheel-house. Great body, she thought, and then inexplicably she shuddered. Someone walking over her grave. She shrugged and, rolling over on her stomach, was soon lost in the intricacies of a very bloody murder case.
Later that evening Guido Barberi leant against the rail of the neighbouring yacht and studied the woman who had just appeared on deck. If anything the last ten years had increased her beauty, Guido thought dispassionately. Her long chestnut hair fell in casual waves over her shoulders and her silken skin was lightly tanned to a soft golden glow. Her perfectly arched eyebrows framed dark thick-lashed blue eyes, her nose was small and straight, and the top lip of her luscious mouth formed a natural cupid's bow. She was wearing a white wraparound dress in a fine fabric that revealed the soft swell of her firm, obviously braless breasts. It emphasised her tiny waist and ended a few inches above her knees to reveal long legs. On her feet she wore jewelled flip-flops.
He felt an instant stirring in his groin and his mind was made up. It was over two weeks since he had finished with Mai Kim in Hong Kong and returned to Italy. He had spent a few days at the family home in Naples, to attend his younger brother Aldo's wedding, and then left to take delivery of his new yacht in Monaco. Two days ago he had sailed from France with the representative from the yachtmakers' and his new crew to put the yacht through its paces. Satisfied everything was in order, he had sailed on at a leisurely pace this morning for the island of Majorca. He had been enjoying the peace and relaxation he thought he needed, which the yacht provided, but now he realised he needed a woman a whole lot more. One particular woman. And Dio, she certainly owed him, he thought, a bitter smile twisting his firm lips.
Sara stepped out onto the deck and grimaced at the crowd milling around in the limited space. As usual Pat had managed to swell the eight guests from England who had chartered the yacht to thirty or so. Why was she surprised? Pat had done the same at every port they had visited, intent on making the charter a success, hoping for a return booking from the group. It was good fun, Sara supposed, but truth to tell she was glad the cruise was almost over. They were sailing on to Ibiza tomorrow morning, and Sara was flying back home tomorrow night. This hectic lifestyle was not really her seven days of sailing and partying was more than enough. Much as she loved cooking, after feeding fifteen people for a week, with only a cabin boy to help, she was all cooked out.
Still, she had no right to complain. In between ports and preparing meals she had caught up on her reading and enjoyed the company of the guests. In fact the change had done her good. She was feeling more relaxed than she had in years. Perhaps Pat was right All work and no play was not good for anybody. And maybe it was time she found herself a man.
'Sara, you look fabulous as usual. Dance with me?'
'Peter.' She grinned at the tall blond man smiling down at her. He was employed by a top hedge fund in the City of London, as were all the guests, and he was viewed as something of a whiz-kid by the others. Kid being the operative word. He was only twenty-four, but had apparently already made a million in bonuses, and was in line for a lot more. He worked hard and played hard
'Is there enough room?'she queried, eyeing the few square metres of crowded deck, and then added, 'Yes, why not?' as she moved smoothly into his arms. 'It's our last night, so you can't possibly get up to any more tricks here,'she scolded him with a reminiscent smile as they moved easily to the music.
So far he had made her miss the tender back to the yacht when they were anchored off Corsica, snatched the top of her bikini from under her when she was innocently lying on her stomach reading a book on a beach in Sardinia and tried to get her drunk countless times. And yesterday he had thrown her overboard off the island of Minorca, then made a drama of rescuing herdespite the fact that, as a strong swimmer, she had not needed rescuing.
'Oh, I don't know ' His arm tightened around her waist, and before she knew what he intended a large hand grasped the base of her neck and his laughing mouth covered hers. She was so astounded she did not try to resist, and a moment later she acknowledged he was no kid when it came to kissing!
Lifting his blond head, he grinned, his blue eyes sparkling with merriment and something else. 'I was determined to kiss you before the end of the cruise to let you know what you are missing,' he declared outrageously.
Her own lips curved in a rueful grin. The kiss had surprised her, and it had been very pleasurablestirring her blood a little for the first time in years. And, yesPeter was rightit had reminded her of what she had been missing. But it was the something else that bothered her. Held close to his muscular torso, she could not help but be aware of his aroused state and, planting her hands firmly on his broad chest, she pushed out of his arms.
'It was even better than I imagined.'
'Well, in future stick to your imagination,' she said dryly. 'Because I am not looking for a toy boy.' They had become good friends over the last week, and she did not want to offend him, but she was not sure she wanted to encourage him on the strength of one pleasurable kiss. Though, far from disgusting her, she found his instant arousal rather flattering. Maybe after ten years of celibacy her body was trying to tell her something, and it might not be such a bad idea ?
'Ahyou cut me to the quick!' he exclaimed, with a hand on his heart.
Sara chuckled. Peter really was irrepressible Handsome, with boundless confidence, he had girls falling at his feet and he knew it. Had she ever been that young and carefree? she asked herself, before quickly dismissing the thought. Tonight she was going to enjoy herself. The yacht was strung with fairy lights, the chatter of the crowd was friendly and the music and laughter created a near perfect ambience.
'I have never understood exactly what the quick is.' She grinned up at Peter. 'And you, sir, are a drama queen.'
'You know me so well, dear heart.'
'Godyou are so over the top I'm amazed any girl ever falls for it.'
They laughed in mutual accord.
'Come on.' He flung a friendly arm around her shoulder. 'I'll get you a drink.'
She cast him a sidelong sardonic glance.
'And, no, I am not going to try and get you drunk. But you do look hotreally hot '
He smiled lasciviously.
'Majorca in June is hot, and it looks like being a stifling night,' she said glibly, ignoring his innuendo.