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Could a man be too much of a gentleman? Until today, Sadie Mancini wouldn't have thought catering to a woman's needs could be overdone. Her boyfriend had proven her wrong. Somewhere between sailing the Dodecanese islands and arriving in Albania, he'd lost his appeal. He was too conservative, too worried about impressions and impropriety. Fastidious. Fickle. Fake. She'd never thought of herself as a woman who needed a "real man" for a partner, but after spending a sexless week with Adam Khral, she had to reconsider.
Leaving the bathroom stall, she went to the sink to wash her hands. The unfortunate part was that he seemed to really like her. After docking his yacht in Durres, they'd had fun sightseeing all day, and he'd even laughed when she spilled wine on his pants during dinner. The laughter could have been faked, but it was rare that she found a man who accepted her the way she was. She wasn't high maintenance, temperamental or meanshe just hadn't found her niche yet, a place where she fit in. When you were the daughter of a rich man, it wasn't easy finding genuine friends. At least, it wasn't for her.
Why did this constantly happen to her? She always realized too late when things were going south. Now she was stuck with Adam in Tirana for the night, and then she'd have to get back on his yacht to cruise home. Timing never worked in her favor. When things fell apart, they fell apart at the worst possible time.
Tidying her sometimes too thick, long black hair, Sadie opened the bathroom door and stepped out into the hotel restaurant, preparing herself for another week with a man she didn't want. She should have spent more time with him back home. Maybe then she could have spared them both.
She could see their table from here and Adam wasn't there. Where did he go? Ignoring a tinge of foreboding, she searched the dining area and didn't see him. Maybe he was in the bathroom. She headed for the table and would have sat, but she saw a wad of euros there. He'd already paid. Unsure of what else to do, she stood by the table and waited, watching the bathroom door. Two men came out, but no Adam. Other diners began to look at her curiously. After ten minutes, she headed for the front of the restaurant. Maybe he was waiting for her there.
But at the entrance, she didn't see him. Was he having issues in the bathroom? She looked back there. No one exited. It had been about twenty minutes since she'd gone to the bathroom. She waited ten more near the entrance, ignoring the glances she received.
Still no sign of him. Had he gone up to their room? But why would he do that without telling her? Why would he leave the restaurant without her? The bad feeling she had expanded into something she couldn't ignore anymore. He obviously wasn't in the restaurant.
Leaving, she rode the elevator to the top floor and walked down the hall to their room. She didn't have a room key so she knocked.
She knocked again, harder this time, and yelled, "Adam?"
Down the hall, a man twisted to look behind him. Sadie didn't pay him any attention. Adam didn't come to the door, and she didn't hear the shower running or any other noises.
Trying to calm her anxious pulse, she rode the elevator back down to the lobby and went to the check-in counter where a small, dark-haired woman with big, round brown eyes stood.
"I lost my room key. Can you give me another?" Sadie asked.
"Your name?" the woman asked in heavily accented English.
Recognition lit up the woman's face. "A man leave this for you." She handed Sadie a room key with a smile.
Stunned, Sadie took it from her. Why had he left her a room key? He'd left the restaurant without her, he wasn't in the room and now it appeared he'd left the hotel. Had he left without her?
This couldn't be happening. There had to be some explanation. Had there been some kind of emergency?
Not wanting the woman behind the counter to notice how upset she was becoming, she turned and walked back toward the elevators, but once there, she stopped without pressing the Up button. What was the point in going back
to the room? She knew he wasn't going to be there. But maybe he left a note.
The elevator doors opened and a man stepped out. Tall with a strong build, he had dark blond hair that looked windblown, as if he'd been outside all day. He nodded a greeting, but she was so disoriented that she didn't think to respond until he'd already passed.
She looked down at the room key in her hand and then back up at the now closing elevator doors. She didn't want to waste time going back up to the room. A note wouldn't change the fact that he was gone and she couldn't wait here and do nothing.
Turning, she caught sight of the blond man heading toward the exit. He was looking back at her. She'd always been transparent. The idea of being stranded in Albania scared her and probably showed. Had the man noticed?
Standing there looking scared wasn't going to help her. Walking briskly toward the front of the hotel, she passed the blond man in the bright and airy lobby and reached the exit.
Outside, there was no sign of Adam.
She still wasn't ready to accept what her gut told her. Rubbing her chilled arms, she looked one way, then the other. It had been nice today but it got cold here in February. She'd definitely need a light jacket tonight.
The blond man spoke with the valet driver, who vanished to retrieve his vehicle. Two cars were parked along the side of the entrance driveway. There were drivers in them. Not seeing another hotel attendant, she waved her hand.
One of the cars drove toward her and stopped.
"How much to take me to the Durres Marina?" she asked through the open passenger window.
"Parli Italiano?" the driver queried.
Oh, great. "Do you speak English?"
"Durres." He nodded and said something else in Italian.
She didn't understand him. And he'd likely rob her on the fare because she couldn't negotiate properly with the language barrier. She needed to see if Adam's yacht was still at the marina, but she also needed to save her cash. Just in case.
A man leaned in next to her. She jumped until she realized it was the blond man. She listened to his fluent Italian, not understanding a word but realizing he was negotiating her fare.
The driver nodded. "Si, si."
Sadie straightened along with the blond man.
"Thirty euros," he said in perfect American English. "He'll take you to the marina in Durres."
"You were listening." He must have come up behind her.
Just then the valet driver appeared with his car.
"You seemed a little lost before," he said to her. "And you're alone. I wanted to make sure you were okay. I'm sorry if I was wrong." His quick glance from her feet to her eyes revealed what might have really motivated his chivalry. But she did like a man with initiative.
"I'm fine, but thank you. As it happens, I needed a translator."
"Will you be all right once you reach the marina?"
"Yes. I'm meeting someone there." She looked down at the room key with a frown before she caught the telling sign. Bringing her head up again, she saw he'd noticed.
"Really, I'm fine." She tried to sound convincing. "Thank you."
Hesitating, he finally said, "Have a safe trip, then," and opened the back door of the taxi for her. Safe.
She sat inside the car and he closed the door. Straightening, he stepped back. She looked through the window at him until the taxi drove away. Should she have asked him to go with her? Or maybe he'd have given her a ride. Would he have agreed? And would she have wanted him to? She didn't even know him. It would be stupid to risk such a thing. So he'd done something nicethat didn't mean he was trustworthy.
The ride to Durres took forever. She suffered every minute, the entire way wondering if Adam had waited for her. Hoping. But the practical side of her warned her of what she'd find at the marinaor not find.
At the marina, the driver stopped. She stared out the window. What if Adam had left her? She glanced down at the room key still in her hand.
The driver said something to her. She caught what sounded like euros and opened her small clutch. Taking out thirty, she hesitated. She took out forty more. Handing him thirty, she held up her forefinger to make him wait and showed him the forty. Then she pointed to the marina.
"Wait?" She pointed at herself, then to the marina, and then back at herself and then down at the backseat. She held up the forty euros and repeated the series of points.
He nodded. "Si, si." He waved his hand, shooing her.
Getting out, she walked fast toward the docks. She found their dock and made her way to where Adam's yacht should be. But the space was empty. Adam's yacht was gone. Her pulse climbed up her throat. It was dark now, and she could see lights out at sea, but it was impossible to tell which one was his.
He'd left her. And in a smoking hurry. There had been no emergency. And instead of confronting her, he'd abandoned her.
Everything bombarded her at once while she struggled with the hurt that caused. She was stranded in Albania. Adam had put her passport in his pocket because her clutch was too small. And because he made a point to be such a nauseating gentleman, he'd insisted on paying for everything, so she'd left all her credit cards on the yacht and had brought very little cash. They were only staying one night in Tirana so she hadn't packed much. What was she going to do? Not having a passport was the biggest problem. If not for that, she might have been glad he'd left. How could he have done this to her? When he realized he had her passport, what would he do? Keep sailing? The jerk!
All his doting had been an act. She wondered what had driven him away. Had she been too strong? Too outspoken? Too klutzy? She hadn't followed his script, so he'd escaped, and if he could dart out of a restaurant as fast as he had to get away from her, he certainly wouldn't turn his yacht around and bring back her passport. He'd probably consider himself lucky that he'd bought himself a few extra days. Less chance of her catching up to him if she couldn't leave Albania for a while.
Yes, she wasn't that crazy about him, but he hadn't seemed like the type to abandon a woman in a foreign country. He'd been overly doting, but he'd seemed nice enough. She'd been wrong about men before, but not this wrong.
Heading back toward the taxi, she passed a man who looked at her too long for her comfort. The sooner she got back to the hotel, the better. Although Albania was growing as a country, it was not a safe place for a foreign woman traveling alone.
She should have paid attention to the nagging suspicion that Adam hadn't really wanted to take her to the Mediterranean with him. But she was not one to shy away from conflict, so she'd confronted him.
"Don't you want me to go with you anymore?" she'd asked him after he began talking about canceling their two-week trip.
He'd hesitated. That should have been her first clue.
"Of course I do, sweetie." His sugary reply should have been her second and last. He'd been sticky sweet the entire trip, but it must have been a big fat act. They must have both realized it wasn't working, but, unlike her, he'd bolted as if the restaurant was on fire.
Of course, he'd probably assumed all she had to do was call her father. He didn't know that her relationship with him had deteriorated. She'd never told him that her father was at his wit's end with her. President and founder of a ragingly successful restaurant corporation, her father had always expected her to join the corporate world and take over his empire. She was his only child and a major disappointment. She'd seen it happen to other kids from wealthy parents. Their parents wanted nothing but the best for their kids, for them to succeed the way they had. But when their kids fell short of an insurmountable bar, it was hard to recover from the letdown. It was like settling for less.
Sadie had done well in math and science in high school, but her heart was on canvas. She was more of an artist than a thinker. She loved to paint and had even sold some of her work. The county fair wasn't an art gallery, but hey, she'd sold her work, hadn't she? Why couldn't her dad be proud of her for achieving that? Because he'd be settling for less, that's why. So, Sadie was left in limbo, somewhere between a smart socialite crowd and an ordinary starving artist crowd. She didn't fit in the former, and her father disapproved of the latter. Maybe that was why she constantly embarrassed, annoyed and disappointed those she encountered. She was only being herself, but "herself" didn't seem to fit in.
Her father told her it was because she lacked discipline. She'd been raised in a well-off household with an obedient mother and a driven father. She'd gotten everything she'd ever wanted and more. But her father had never been there and her mother walked through life like a zombie. She wasn't happy. Sadie had always promised herself that she'd never be like that. She'd never marry a man who stomped out her spirit and turned her into nothing more than an enabler to his bloated ego.
Adam was like that. He needed an enabler, and she could not be that for him. But to leave her behind like this? It baffled her that anyone could be so cruel. If she ever saw him again, she'd tear his eyes out. But first she had to get out of this country. And tomorrow wasn't soon enough.
Sitting on the edge of the bed, the phone clammy in her hand from holding it so long, Sadie finally pushed the last number to ring her dad's cell and put the phone to her ear.
"Dad?" She breathed through her nervousness.
"Sadie? Aren't you on a sailing trip?" With that imbecile boyfriend of hers? She could almost hear him thinking.
"Yes, but something's happened."
Silence. "Are you all right?" he asked tightly. He knew what was coming.
"Yes. II'm fine, I it's just well, Adam he he sort of.left me in Albania. And my passport is gone."