Read an Excerpt
Rhiannon Davies checked her reflection one last time before nodding to the babysitter.
'Right I should only be an hour or two.' She glanced uncertainly at the baby sitting on the floor, chewing on her house keys and looking at her with dark, soulful eyes. 'She might need a nap in a little while.'
The babysitter, a stout Frenchwoman with an impassive expression, nodded once before stooping to pick Annabel up in her arms.
Rhiannon watched, noticed how the older woman's arms went comfortably around Annabel's chubby middle and carried her with a confident ease she had yet to feel herself.
'I don't think she'll cry,' she ventured, and was answered with another brisk nod.
In the two weeks since Annabel had been in her care, the baby had hardly cried at all. Despite the whirl of events, the change of both home and mother, she simply regarded the world with big, blank eyes. Rhiannon suspected the poor mite was in shock.
That was why she was here, she told herself firmly, not for the first time, ignoring the pangs of guilt and longing stabbing her middle. Her heart.
She had come to France, to this exclusive resort, to Lukas Petrakides, to give Annabel some stability. To give her love.
Annabel stuck a fist in her mouth and chewed while gazing in blank curiosity at the woman who'd come so abruptly into her life.
They hadn't bonded, Rhiannon acknowledged, hadn't really tried. It was too strange, too difficult, too sad.
She'd never even held a baby before Leanne, pale-faced, wide-eyed, had thrust a sleeping Annabel into her arms. Take her.
Rhiannon's arms had closed around the solid little form as a matter of instinct, but her arms had been at awkward angles and she hadn't been sure how to cuddle.
Annabel had woken up with a furious screech.
'Goodbye, sweetheart.' Hesitantly Rhiannon stroked one satiny cheek. Annabel simply blinked.
It was better this way, she knew. Better they didn't get attached. Then it would be so much easier to say goodbye.
A lump formed in her throat; she forced it down. She would do what she had to do to secure Annabel's future and, more importantly, her happiness.
No matter what the cost.
She stole one last look at her reflection: dark curls, mostly tamed behind her ears, a face pale but with a sprinkling of freckles in stark relief, a smart if inexpensive skirt, and a matching sleeveless top in aquamarine. Modest, businesslike. Appropriate.
Suppressing a sigh, she slipped out of the hotel room.
The sun was bright, the air fresh and clean as she walked along the outside corridor. The newest Petra Resort, situated in this remote, exclusive corner of the Languedoc province of France, was simple, spare and elegant. Having arrived in darkness, she now took note of the bougainvillaea spilling from terracotta pots, the climbing vines, the clean colours.
It had cost her half a month's salary-far more than she could possibly afford-to book even the cheapest room at the resort on its opening weekend. If there hadn't been a last-minute cancellation she wouldn't have got in at all.
Taking a deep, cleansing breath that was meant to steady her jangling nerves, Rhiannon hoped this journey would be worth it. For Annabel.
She closed her eyes briefly. This was all so, so crazy.
Only a fortnight ago Leanne had exploded back into her life-and out again just as quickly. Leaving confusion and Annabel in her wake. And the name of Annabel's father.
Rhiannon bit her lip as fresh doubts assailed her, washed over her in a sickening wave. What if Lukas refused to talk to her? Or, worse, denied his responsibility? When she'd attempted to contact him by telephone she hadn't made it past the first hurdle.
We'll give Mr Petrakides your message.
Yeah, right. The disbelief and scorn had been obvious, shaming. They hadn't even taken her number or her name.
Then she'd read in the local newspaper that a new Petra resort was opening in France, seen that Lukas Petrakides would be there at a reception for the resort's first guests. She knew it was a chance-perhaps the only one-for Annabel to know her father. Her family.
Every child needed parents. Real ones, not strangers who took them out of duty, obligation.
She believed that with all her heart. She wanted more for Annabel. She wanted to give her a family. She didn't know where she herself would fit into that equation, if at all. The thought had first chilled her; now it merely numbed.
She understood about sacrifice. She was prepared.
Rhiannon walked down several corridors, looking for the lounge that the resort had advertised as the location for the 'Meet and Greet' reception.
Whenever a new Petra resort opened-and now there had to be half a dozen-Lukas Petrakides, the founder's son and CEO of the company, came to meet with his guests.
His fans, Rhiannon thought wryly. For since learning the name of Annabel's father, she'd researched the man and come up with some information. Although reclusive, Lukas Petrakides was adored by the Greek public and press alike-considered broodingly handsome, unfailingly polite, stunningly charismatic.
Rhiannon smiled at the thought. Surely the magazines had to be making some of that up?
They had to make something up, for Lukas Pe-trakides was notorious for not providing gossip for the rumour mill. Unlike other Mediterranean tycoons, he didn't appear in public with the latest model or starlet on his arm. His only escort was one of his three older sisters. Photographs were rare. He didn't party, didn't drink, didn't dance.
Didn't do much of anything, it seemed, except work.
Considering such a reputation, Rhiannon couldn't quite dismiss the faint sense of disbelief that Lukas Pe-trakides had, at least on one occasion, put aside his own responsibilities for a weekend of no-strings romance. Sex.
One person had cracked his armour and found if not his heart then his libido.
Leanne And the result of that union was back in her hotel room.
Rhiannon dragged in a shuddering breath, needing the air, the courage. She hadn't been able to formulate a plan beyond the basic: book two nights' accommodation at the Petra Resort, attend the reception, find Lukas Petrakides.
And then ?
Her mind skittered frantically, in time with her rapid pulse, even as her heart provided the answer.
And then he'll want her. He'll love her, he'll take her into his home, his heart. They'll be a family, happy, loving, perfect. The End.
Rhiannon's mouth twisted in painful acknowledgement of this fairy tale. Life didn't work that way. It hadn't for her.
But surely it could for Annabel?
She knew Lukas was a man of responsibility; the tabloids held him up as a paragon. It was his shining reputation for integrity, honour, and an unfailing sense of duty that had made the decision for Rhiannon.
This was a man who could-and she prayed would- take on the mantle of fatherhood without a qualm or quiver. A man who would welcome his daughter with open arms.
She finally came to a pair of double doors, guarded by two impassive-looking security guards who asked for her room number.
One of them scanned a list. 'Name?'
'Rhiannon Davies.' Her heart pounded but at least her voice sounded calm.
The guard nodded brusquely, and Rhiannon was given entry. She slipped between the doors, taking in the diamond-spangled crowd with a sinking heart.
She didn't fit in here, and it was obvious. This was a party for the rich and famous, or at least the socially savvy. Not her. Never her.
She scanned the room, a blush rising to her cheeks as she caught the curious stares, the scornful looks. She knew her outfit was inexpensive, but it was hardly tawdry or inappropriate. Yet Rhiannon felt as if she was standing there naked by the way a few well-heeled, skimpily clad society she-devils were looking at her.
For heaven's sake, they were wearing fewer clothes than she was. She lifted her chin, stiffened her spine. She didn't care what anyone thought about her; all that mattered was getting to Lukas.
Telling him about Annabel.
She scanned the room again, took a few steps inside. And saw him.
Once her gaze fastened on his form, she wondered how she could have missed him for a moment. He was tall-taller than most men-dressed in an elegant grey suit, perfectly cut, moulding to his powerful shoulders and trim hips. He leaned against the bar, a drink in one hand, although Rhiannon saw it was virtually untouched.
She saw his suave smile, imagined she could hear his dry chuckle across the room, watched his graceful movements. And still the thought sprang unbidden into her mind.
He's unhappy. He's lonely.
She shook her head slightly; the idea was ridiculous. Who could be either lonely or unhappy with the crème of society jostling for his attention, for one word from those sculpted lips?
She almost laughed at herself; Lukas Petrakides was every bit as handsome as the tabloids claimed he was. She had expected to be intimidated; she hadn't expected to be affected.
Squaring her shoulders, Rhiannon waded into the expensive fray. She walked towards the bar, stopping a few feet before the man himself.
Uncertainty washed over her with the scent of expensive, cloying perfume from the women jostling her, queuing for Lukas's attention. She hadn't considered the crowds, the difficulty in approaching him. She should have.
She nibbled at her lip as she considered her options. She wanted to speak in private, but she doubted a man like Lukas Petrakides would consider a request for a private conversation from a person like her-plain, poor, socially irrelevant.
Still, there wasn't much else she could do. This was why she had come. Phone calls and letters could be ignored, dismissed. Face to face it would be more difficult for him to ignore or deny if she was able to speak to him at all.
She was just about to take a step forward when he turned. Saw her. Looked at her almost as if he recognised her knew her. And she felt a sudden penetrating flash of awareness come over her like a shiver, a shock-as if she knew him. Impossible. Ridiculous.
Still, the expression in his eyes dried her mouth, her words. Her thoughts. His eyes had been described in the tabloids as grey, but Rhiannon decided that they were silver, the colour of a rain-washed river. A small, tender smile quirked his mouth upwards.
He raised an eyebrow, gestured to the space next to him at the bar even as a matron droned on in French at his other side.
Rhiannon's pulse kicked into gear and a strange new sensation flooded through her-pleasant, fizzy, limb-weakening.
All it had taken was one smile, one look from those piercing eyes, one tiny glimmer of tenderness, and she was hooked. Caught.
Was she that desperate? That obvious?
Yet she couldn't deny the connection that seemed to pulse between them across the crowded room, as present and real as if a wire stretched between them, drawing her to him.
She walked towards him, towards the heat flaring in his gaze, as if it were a place she had always meant to go. To be.
He watched, a faint smile curving those exquisite lips, lighting his eyes.
Then she stumbled, caught herself on the bar. Her slick palms curled around cool marble. She heard the low titter of speculative, jealous voices from around her, a mocking wave of sound, and felt a humiliating blush crawl up her throat and colour her face.
Just as well, she told herself. Her clumsiness had broken the spell he'd cast over her, the magic he'd woven. This wasn't about her; it was about Annabel.
She turned to Lukas, and saw in his eyes an expression of gentle amusement.
'Qa va?' he asked, and Rhiannon tried to smile.
'Ummm fa va bien.7 Her rusty schoolgirl French to the rescue, she thought wryly.
But it obviously didn't impress him, for he smiled slightly and said, 'You're English.'
'Welsh, actually,' she admitted. 'I did a GCSE in French, but it's been a while.'
His smile deepened, his eyes lightened to the shimmering colour of dawn on the sea, and Rhiannon saw he had a dimple in his cheek.
'Can I get you a drink?' He was looking at her again in that assessing way, as if he were taking her in, deciding who she was. Considering his own reaction.
And she was considering hers-the way she leaned towards him, intuitively, a matter of instinct as well as desire. Every sense was humming, every nerve on high alert. When he looked at her in that warm, considering way, every thought in her mind seemed to vaporise. All she could do was feel.
'I'll have a white wine,' she said into the silence.
'Done.' He smiled, scattering her thoughts to the wind, and a glass of wine materialised before her. She took a grateful sip, letting the cool liquid zing pleasantly through her system. She put the glass down, turned to Lukas.
He was looking at her with expectation, yet also with something more. The languorous warmth of male appreciation, the treacherous heat of desire.
It thrilled her. It scared her.
It turned her mind to cotton, her bones to wax. Made her waver. Made her want.
Her mouth was dry, and she licked her lips. Tried to form a thought, a word. A sound.
'Are you here alone?' Lukas asked. His tone was one of polite interest, but his eyes were roaming her figure, stroking her as they flared with a heat Rhiannon felt flicker in her own core.
Could this actually be happening? Was Lukas Petrakides flirting with her? More than flirting; openly wanting. Her.
Her heart craved it, feared it. No, he couldn't be. Not him not with a girl like her. A girl from nowhere, a girl with nothing.
Except a baby. His.
The reminder of Annabel's presence, her need, pulsed demandingly through Rhiannon's mind and heart.
That was why she was here.. for Annabel. Only for Annabel.
'Yes, I'm alone,' she finally answered, her voice little more than a croak. She tried to gather her scattered wits and failed. She hadn't expected this reaction-treacherous, molten, overwhelming.
This was not part of her plan.
'You are?' He sounded surprised, and his gaze flicked over the crowd before coming to rest on her face with penetrating intensity. 'A holiday alone?' he clarified, and Rhiannon's blush deepened.
She really did sound pathetic. If he were flirting with her it had to be out of boredom or pity or both.
Except it didn't feel that way.
'Yes, although ' Now was the time to state her purpose. To mention Annabel.
Why was it the last thing she wanted to do?
'Although ?' he prompted. The matron on his right had left with a loud sniff, and Rhiannon could feel the speculative stares from the people around them.
They were wondering how a bourgeois bit-piece like her had captured Lukas Petrakides's attention. She couldn't blame them-even if she didn't appreciate the contempt that was drawing like a palpable shroud around her. She was wondering the same thing herself.
'Ah.' There was a moment of silence, pregnant with possibility, heavy with intent. Rhiannon waited, too overwhelmed to speak, too affected to formulate more than a hazy thought a need.
She didn't want him to go.
She wanted him.
It was ridiculous; it was real. Something pulsed to life between them-something Rhiannon couldn't even understand.
Lukas's mouth twisted in a smile, and he took a sip of wine. He looked undecided for a moment, vulnerably uncertain, and then resolve hardened his eyes, his face, his voice. 'It was nice chatting with you,' he said, and Rhiannon knew it was a dismissal.
For a moment she thought she saw regret shadow his eyes, but it was replaced with a formal cursory courtesy that she suspected was the expression with which he greeted everyone in the room.
If they'd shared a real moment, a connection, it was gone.
And so was her chance.