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A movement at the door caught Luke Chapman's eye. So tall he saw above the heads of his guests, he met the newcomer's gaze. Although no one else at the crowded cocktail party would have noticed anything more than the slightest narrowing of Luke's eyes, and a swift, barely perceptible shake of his head, it was enough to make his head of security step back out of the room and wait outside for his employer.
The middle-aged magnate beside Luke lifted his glass. 'Charming little spot you've got here.' He grinned and added slyly, 'Of course you could tuck Fala'isi and its outlying islands in one corner of my ranch in Texas, but we certainly don't have anything like these magnificent mountains. Or your beaches! And this plantation house is something else again.'
Amused, Luke said smoothly, 'We do pride ourselves on our beaches,' before steering the conversation into the prospective ramifications of the collapse of a huge company with worldwide interests.
Ten minutes later, after introducing the Texan to an Australian pastoral tycoon, he made his way across the room, pausing frequently to chat to various guests. Although this sort of social-cum-business occasion wasn't his favourite form of entertaining, in his position as heir to the very small country of Fala'isiseveral islands sprinkled across one corner of the Pacific Oceanthey were part of his life. And his decision to hold the party in his parents' house was vindicated; many of the guests had complimented him on the old mansion's beauty and style.
Just outside the door, his security man straightened up.
Luke asked swiftly, 'What's happened?'
'I saw Ms HarrisonMrs van Helgenwalking along the road. Well,staggering, actually. I stopped to see if she was all right,' Valo told him in a rapid undertone. 'She passed out cold in front of me, so I took her to your place.'
Not a muscle moved in his boss's hard, handsome face. 'How is she?'
'Not too good. When she didn't regain consciousness I called the doctor. She hadn't got there when I left, but I thought you should know.'
'You were right.' Luke looked at his watch. 'I'll be finished in an hour.'
A bright, feminine voice said, 'Lukeso this is where you are!'
The head of security for Chapman Inc watched the younger man turn to the improbably blonde woman in the doorway and smile. It had the usual effect.
His boss's smile worked on everyonehe'd even seen it charm a tantrum-throwing three-year-old into instant submission. As the uncle of the tantrum-thrower, he'd been hugely impressed.
But those who thought his boss just another tycoon's spoilt heir soon learned their mistake. The autocratically chiselled features hid a brain that was cold and incisive and penetrating. Luke Chapman's overwhelming aura cut women off at the knees, yet he was as respected in the arcane world of high finance and business as his father, the legendary Grant Chapman, who held the reins of power in this tiny, hugely wealthy realm.
His head of security looked discreetly away while the woman said something. Luke's voice, deep and deliberate, put her at a slight distance, but not enough to stop her kissing his cheek before she turned back into the room.
He followed her after saying curtly, 'Make sure no one talks.'
She could hear people talking in low, muted tones. She'd been awake before, she knew dimly, but each time she'd immediately slid back into sleep, or maybe it had been unconsciousness?
This time she stayed awake. Over a raging headache, and an even worse thirst, she strained to separate the voices. One was a woman, Australian by her accent, and the other a man with the soft lilt that marked the natives of Fala'isi.
' dehydrated, and it looks as though she hasn' t been eating much, either. She should be all right now that we've got the drip in her, but she'll need care for several days.'
That was the woman. Fleur tried to open her eyes, but the lashes weighted her eyelids.
However, the woman must have seen that abortive flutter. 'She's coming to.'
An arm slipped around her shoulder, lifting her so that someone could nudge a straw between her lips.
'Janna, here's some water. Drink it downsmall sips to begin with.'
Janna? Who was Janna? The thought fled as she dragged greedily on the straw, letting the cool water slide down her parched throat, feeling it spread through her body like a benediction.
When the straw was pulled away she croaked a protest, to be told firmly, 'Not too much at first. Just take it slowly. You're on a drip so you'll soon be feeling better.'
There was a stir at the door, a kind of quickening in the air, as though a presence had arrived. The woman said, 'Ah, Luke, as always your timing is impeccable. She's just woken up.'
Fleur forced her heavy lids up, met a pair of steel-grey eyes, hard and direct and penetrating, in formidably handsome features that seemed vaguely familiar.
His scrutiny was a swift, shocking invasion until he turned away as though dismissing her. 'This isn't Janna.'
He had, she thought in bewilderment, the most wonderful voice she'd ever heardrich and textured, so potent it stopped the breath in her lungs. She'd heard people speak of dark voices; now she knew what they meant. This one reminded her of bronze, with an underlying note of concentrated authority that should probably warn any woman to watch her step.
She summoned the strength to whisper, 'My name is Fleur.'
Nobody said anything. She closed her eyes and finished wearily, 'Fleur Lyttelton.'
The water had revived her brain enough so that she could think again. Clearly this was a case of mistaken identity, but who was she mistaken for? She could remember walking back along the road to the beach, and the heat. She'd felt sick, and so weary she could hardly put one foot ahead of the other, and then a car had come to a halt beside her
The odd silence in the room worried her. Frowning, she forced up her lashes to peer at the shuttered face of the man called Luke. He was scrutinising her as though she was some sort of strange being, his cold, metallic gaze slicing through the fragile remnants of her composure like a sword through silk.
'And I'm Luke Chapman,' he said calmly, as though this were an ordinary social occasion.
'How do you do?' she muttered, and thankfully let her lashes cover her eyes again.
Luke felt something stir inside him as he examined her face. Close up she didn't resemble Janna at all, although the hair long, badly cut, an amazing blaze of primal colour around her white facewas an identical red-gold. However, he suspected Fleur Lyttelton's was natural, unlike Janna's.
Neat featuresshe'd photograph wellbut she didn't have Janna's carefully cultivated beauty. Something stirred deep inside him. There should be a law against mouths like hers full, subtly sensuous, it was an incitement in itself.
Her lashes drifted upwards again and she fixed him with a wide, slightly vacant stare. The limpid green of the sea at dawn, black-lashed and wide, and with no sign of contact lenses to enhance their colour, they seemed to bore right through him. A tiny frown pleated her narrow dark brows, and she surprised him with a little nod, no more than a queenly inclination of her square chin.
'Thank you,' she said, quite clearly, and slid back into sleep.
The doctor said, 'I'll organise an ambulance, although I don't know where we're going to put her. The hospital's full with this wretched flu epidemic. By the way, the Sulus baby's on the mend.'
'Thank God for that.' Luke's austere expression was transformed by a smile.
The doctor nodded. 'I can put Ms Lyttelton in with the'
'She can stay here, if that's medically OK?' Luke said, making up his mind instantly.
The doctor's brows shot up. 'Well no reason why not, I suppose. The drip will need supervision and replenishment, of course, but a nurse can do that, as well as do bloods to check the balance of water and salts in her body. But she's going to be pretty weak for several days, possibly longer.'
Luke nodded, watching the still, uncommunicative face, white against the pillows. In spite of that sensuous mouth, and the tumbled, provocative silk of her red-gold hair, she looked like a woman who'd learned self-discipline in a hard school. He turned to the man who'd picked her up and brought her here. 'I presume she had a bag?'
His head of security indicated a shabby black handbag on the chest at the foot of the bed. 'There.'
'See if she's got any ID, and find out where she's staying, will you?' He looked at the doctor. 'Can you organise a nurse? One who can keep her mouth shut?'
She didn't look surprised. Originally an Australian, she'd spent most of her professional career in Fala'isi, coping with everything the tropicsand the Chapmanshad thrown at her. 'Of course I can. And all my nurses know the value of discretion. One's on leave at the moment, and I happen to know she'd like some extra money. I'll send her over.'
'Thanks.' He left the room, saying once he and the other man were outside, 'Find out about Fleur Lyttelton. Get what information you can from her purse and run a complete check on her.'
When Fleur woke again she could see light glow through her closed eyelids. Instinct told her it was daylight. For a few seconds she lay still, orienting herself. Close by, a dove cooed plaintively, the soft notes backed by the rustle of a breeze in palm tree fronds. A faint fragrance, like vanilla combined with a more exotic scent, transported her back to her mother's kitchen. There that had been the comforting aroma of home and love.
Here it smelt seductive, almost opulent.
Even though her eyelids were too heavy to lift, she knew where she was: in Fala'isi. But instead of the hard ground she'd slept on for the past three nights she was lying on a very comfortable bed. She forced her eyelids up a fraction.
In spite of the spicy perfumes, she expected the usual hospital ward, sparse and institutional; she'd seen enough of them to last a lifetime. But this was a bedroom, modern and enormous, with filmy curtains billowing and stained wooden shutters pushed back against the pale walls.
And she wasn't in a hospital nightgown. Except for a pair of briefs, she was only wearing a tee-shirt. Not one of her own, she realised, looking down at it. Humiliating tears stung her eyes. What was she doing here?
The room's cool, understated simplicity breathed a restrained opulence that intimidated her. A pot of orchids on a long black dressing table made a bold statement against pale walls. The butterfly flowers in shades of scarlet and crimson and gold breathed all the dangerous allure of the tropics. On one wall hung a magnificent panel of tapa cloth, its stylised patterns in shades of tan and bronze redolent of the Pacific.
Slightly dizzy, Fleur closed her eyes, but couldn't block out the face that swam into her consciousnessstrong, autocratic, totally compelling. Tall and powerfully built, he'd stood by her bed and subjected her to a clinical, unsparing survey.
Was he the owner? The man with the steel-grey eyes and that wonderful voice?
In spite of the sun that spilled through the curtains she shivered, recalling a perfectly moulded mouth that had exuded strength and potency
Her mind groped for a name, failed, and then caught a fragment of memory. 'Chapman,' he'd said.
Everyone in the Pacific had heard of the family; their status as lords of Fala'isi was the stuff of legends, and the fact that the man who ruled the chain of islands, Grant Chapman, had married a Kiwi meant that the New Zealand women's magazines followed the exploits of their children with great interest, especially the only son and heir apparent.
A sound at the door brought her head around with a jerk. A bad move, she thought dizzily, and sank back onto the pillow as the room wavered hideously in front of her.
A woman in nurse's uniform hurried across to the bed. 'Oh, you're awake at last! How are you feeling this morning?'
'Much better, thank you.' But Fleur's voice was hoarse and she swallowed to ease her dry throat as she closed her eyes again. So she was in hospitala very up-market one. Perhaps a clinic
'Here, drink this.'
An arm lifted her while another straw was inserted between her lips. This time she drank without her previous greedy desperation.
'You've been on a drip to get you rehydrated,' the woman told her. 'You certainly look much better than you did last night.'
Just when Fleur had had her fill of water the door opened again and the man walked in, effortlessly dominating his surroundings. It helped, Fleur thought raggedly, that his casual clothes were superbly tailored to fit his big lean frame, but even in a tee-shirt and board shorts he'd give off that same primal, disturbing magnetism.
Luke. His name was Luke, heir to all this beauty and wealth. Fleur stiffened, then set her jaw. Magazine and newspaper photographs hadn't done justice to a face that made him some dark prince of fantasy, its arrogant, uncompromising bone structure honed by tanned skin.
He came across to the bed and smiled at her. It packed a punch, Fleur thought, surprised at the odd little chill that tightened her skin. The swift smile had everythinghumour and concern and a smidgeon of sexual interest. It was dangerous.
And so, she thought with a flash of insight, was Luke Chapman.
'You're looking much better,' he said in that deep, exciting voice. 'Breakfast's on its way. Do you feel well enough to answer a few questions?'
'Yes, of course,' she said weakly. 'Thank you. I don't remember what happened, but ' Her voice trailed away.
He said something in the liquid Polynesian language of the island, and the nurse left the room.
Gaze locked with his, Fleur heard the almost silent closure of the door, leaving her alone with Luke Chapman.
He stood looking down at her, his hooded eyes contrasting with that unsettling, charismatic smile. 'You fainted on the road,' he said in a bland voice, 'just as my driver was passing. He brought you here.'
A frown drew her brows together. 'Why here?' she asked, forcing herself to meet that penetrating stare.
Luke resisted the temptation to shrug. She wasn't going to accept any smooth lies, and although he applauded her caution he wasn't going to tell her that she'd been mistaken for the woman he'd had a brief affair with two years previously.
This morning, a faint wash of pink over her cheeks set off her eyes and mouth. With more colour along those high cheekbones and her stunning hair properly cut she'd be more than appealing, he thought with involuntary masculine appreciation. Rehydration had restored an ethereal bloom to her skin, and her green eyes were huge in their thickets of dark lashes.