Theo needs a wife—fast—or he'll forfeit hisinheritance, and lovely but broken Miranda isthe perfect choice. But Theo hasn't countedon the passion that flares between them oron Miranda learning the truth about how heset out to buy her for marriage!
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Kalmos. A tiny island, set like a gem in the Aegean. Perfect.
Miranda leaned over the rail as the ferry reversed its engines and drifted slowly into port. It had taken an age, but, however slow and primitive the inter-island ferry might be, it was better than trusting her life to the small turbo-prop aircraft that made the same journey. Her knees were still knocking after the flight to Athens.
She was in a crowd of maybe twenty people waiting to disembark, the only pale and silent stranger in a cheery mob of smiling faces. The sun gave you licence to raise your voice, to laugh out loud, to catch someone's eye and greet them like a friend
"Oh, no, thank you, I can manage!" She dragged her rollalong suitcase a little closer as an elderly man tried to help her with it. He took it anyway.
She waited for the familiar anger to surge up inside her, and then realised she wasn't angry. Well, that was a start. Anger was such a destructive emotion. If she couldn't lose the anger she would never heal inside, and those wounds were far more serious than the damage to her arm.
Thinking she was behind him, the man had already lifted her bag and walked away. She caught up with him onshore."Efharisto. Thank you." She smiled, practising one of the essentials she had picked up in her phrasebook.
Still beaming, he turned back to his group after returning her courtesy.
He was intent on his family, she noticed, and suffused with the type of joy that made her feel wistful. She had cut herself off from her own family. She had lied to them. She had said she would teach for a short whilejust until she regained full use of her arm.
"Adio," he called, waving as she walked away. "Adio," Miranda called back. It was such a thrill not to be stared at, or to be treated any differently.
Miranda Weston, world-class violinist. She had led a charmed life up to the accident. Afterwards she had become an embarrassment, usually discussed in the third person, as if her hearing had gone along with her ability to make music.
She had never been weak; she couldn't afford to be. You couldn't show a tender underbelly in the world of classical musiciansnot unless you wanted it ripped out. But the accident had stripped all her confidence away. She'd lost so much. She had been faced with two options: to stay in London, where everyone knew her, or to leave the country and start again, one building block at a time.
The irony was that what had allowed her to make this trip were the royalties for her one and only CD, which had landed on the doormat at just the right moment. She had been hugging herself in a huddle of misery at her apartment, curtains still drawn against another unwelcome day. But when she'd read the cheque she had been forced to count the noughts three times. How many copies had she sold?
That had been the turning point, when she had decided to get awaypartly to avoid telling a family that had sacrificedso much for her about the latest prognosis on her ruined arm, but more in an attempt to redefine herself and find new purpose and direction for her life. Perhaps she couldn't be an international violinist, but she had to be someone. She couldn't just step off the bandwagon altogether.
The tiny Greek island of Kalmos was far enough away for people not to know who she was or who she had been. And she was attracted to the sunshine, the sea and the swimming something she could still do, and had to do if she wanted to improve the movement in her arm.
As people started to drift away from the quay Miranda gave a happy sigh and turned her face up to the sun, revelling in the knowledge that at last she was free. Free from the past and free from those who wanted to manipulate her. She was still stinging from memories of her own Svengali figure, the manager who had directed her career only to try and turn her into a sob-story for the tabloids when she was no longer any use to him. And she was still suffering from nightmares after the accident that had destroyed a lot more than a career.
But she would not sit back and let others cast her in the role of victim. She would rebuild her life, but on her own terms. And one very good way to make a start was to locate her apartment, unpack, and find a job. That was her target for today.
Tomorrow, the world
This was as close to perfect as it got. She had a sea-front balcony, and the sea was an improbable shade of blue. The sky was even bluer, if that was possible; in fact all the colours seemed a little brighter here on the island.
She had chosen Kalmos because the girl at the travel agent had said it was the most picturesque and least commercialised of all the Greek islands. Well, it was certainly beautiful, and her simple apartment was in a prime location. Set in asmall block, it was in the centre of a long sugar-sand beach. And, just as she'd hoped, there was a taverna within walking distance.
She'd travelled light, knowing she wouldn't need much in a hot climate, but she had brought a couple of special outfits just in case she found some singing work. When she had been a student at the music conservatoire she had brought in extra money by singing with a band. It hadn't paid too well, but she'd usually got a free meal as part of the deal.
And if she couldn't get work as a singer she would take any job. She felt sure that whatever happened would give her a whole new view on life. It wasn't everyone who got the chance to start over with a clean sheet.
Miranda's optimism took flight. Her twin, Emily, had met her prince the night a dose of flu had kept Miranda in bed, putting Emily on stage in her place. One night was all it took.Yes, but get real, Miranda, she told herself. Lightning never strikes twice in the same place. And even if it does, it's life, and it's up to me to sort it out. Even Prince Charming waiting in the wings couldn't change her mind about that.
Quickly twisting her long black hair into a respectable coil, she pulled on a jade green T-shirt the same colour as her eyes. Satisfied that she was ready for her first job interview, she added a slick of lipgloss and grabbed her bag.
The golden sunlight embraced her the moment she stepped outside. Miranda could feel all her tension easing away as she slipped sunglasses onto her nose and shifted the strap of her bag containing music and all the other paraphernalia associated with auditions. She had no idea what to expect, and it wasn't easy to strike a balance between, Yes, I would love to sing for you, and, Yes, washing up sounds perfect, when it came to achieving the right look.
She had gone for understated, wearing what she imaginedwould become her daytime uniform: plain top, cropped pants and flip-flops. Flip-flops because she had to walk across the sand to her first job interview. Who wouldn't be smiling?
It didn't take Miranda long to discover that a nut-brown friendly individual named Spiros owned the taverna.
"And this is my wife, Agalia." "Miranda." Miranda smiled back at Agalia, who was just as round and sunny as her husband. She had a feeling everything was going to be all right. The couple's welcome was so warm, and it wasn't long before Spiros was offering her a job. Waiting on tables, singing, working behind the baranything, as and when required, he said.
Concerned about letting him down, Miranda quickly explained that she might not be quite as dextrous as the rest of his staff and might be better off in the kitchen. Spiros only made a dismissive gesture, barely glancing at her hand. The pay was minimal, but the clientele was rarely demanding, he reassured her, and, above all, she was their friend and a welcome guest to the island.
She needed this like oxygen, Miranda realised. Real peoplepeople without an agenda, people who didn't know the celebrity she had briefly been. Out here on Kalmos she was just someone else on the brink of life, testing what the world had to offer before the weight of responsibility tied her down. It was all the therapy she needed. She could feel the tension easing from her shoulders, and smiled happily when Spiros and Agalia suggested she should join them for lunch.
"I can't think of anything I'd like more," she said eagerly. "You must be tired after your journey?"Agalia suggested, passing a dish of plump green olives and a basket of freshly baked bread.
"No, not at all." It was true, Miranda discovered. She was infused with life already, as if friendship and sunshine hadwashed warmth through her veins. "I haven't felt so good for such a long time." She blushed, noticing her blunt admission had cast a shadow over the faces of her hosts. "To Kalmos," she added brightly, determined to restore the mood again as she raised her glass in a toast.
"To you, Miranda," Spiros and Agalia chorused warmly, exchanging the briefest of glances before chinking glasses with her.
The moment she woke the next morning Miranda was overwhelmed by disappointment and frustration. The nightmare had come back. She had hoped the change of scene would help, but here she was, tense and trembling, because of the deep-laid guilt that was her constant shadow. Maybe she would never escape.
But if that were the case she had to learn to live with it and get on with her life, or the guilt would destroy her.
Swimming. Yawning, she stretched. That was what she would do. She would fight the mental demons with exercise. She loved swimming, she was good at it, and it was essential if her arm was to improve at all.
She had been swimming every day back home, to try and strengthen it, and here she had the chance to ease the tight muscles of her hand in the healing waters of the sea. The ugly red scars had faded a little since the accident, but her fingers were still awkwardly bent, and her arm hadn't straightened properly either. It was always a little stiff to start with, but if she had to undergo physiotherapy anywhere, Kalmos was the place.
Heading for the water, Miranda tested the temperature with her toes and found it warm. She had always been a good swimmer, confident too, and this was one thing she had really been looking forward to.
She hit the current when she was about a hundred yardsout from the shore. There was no tell-tale sign, no gradual tug on her legsnothing to alert her at all. It came fast, like so many watery hands, pulling her out to sea. For a few seconds she panicked, and started flailing around, but then she relaxed into the drag, keeping her head above water to try and work out how to steer herself to safety, or find something to grab on toa rock, an anchor chain, anything.
Then, just as suddenly, the current spewed her out into calmer waters. She picked a course back with greater care, taking a route that would take her closer to the moored boats. She had learned a valuable lesson, and would show the unpredictable current more respect in future.
When she first heard the whine of a high-powered engine she had no idea that the speedboat was heading straight for her. The moment she realised, she shot up an arm to warn of her presence in the water. She caught a glimpse of a man standing up in the bow, and then he slewed the boat around, swamping her in the wash. The next thing she knew he was dragging her on board, and she was coughing up seawater on his deck.
"There are dangerous currents between these two islands. What did you think you were you doing?"
The deep and very masculine voice was like a rasp on metal, and about as welcome as a curse. She couldn't talk and choke at the same time, which held her back from stating the obvious. She put out her good hand to shut him up.
"Vlakas!" "I beg your pardon?"She hadn't a clue what he had said, but knew it wasn't nice. Rather than showing remorse after swearing at her, the man gave another, equally scathing sound of contempt as he tossed a heavy towel across her shoulders.
Miranda dragged it around her shoulders, taking a moment to recover from the shock. Then, shading her eyes, she gazed up. The man drew himself a little taller. "You people stop at nothing, do you?"
He sounded so hostile. "Do we know each other?"she enquired coldly.
"I expect you know me from a newscast, or from some journal."
"Oh, really?'she pressed her lips together, trying not to smile. The situation was suddenly very funny. The man must be someone famousbut who was he? She didn't have a clue. It appeared they both feared the consequences of fame, and were both mistaken in imagining their celebrity had found a worldwide audience. It made her feel better. In fact, it made her feel great.
"So what is this?"He glanced around suspiciously. "A set-up?""A set-up?"She struggled into a sitting position. "What are you talking about?"
"The rescuewas it a device to get a good photograph?"He scanned the shore. "Where's your cameraman?"
"Are you insane?"She choked back a laugh. "So this is just a coincidence?"he asked sarcastically.
He was really quite stunning, she saw now, but that was no excuse for his behaviour. "A coincidence?"she repeated. "What do you mean?"
"Vlakas!"he muttered again, apparently on the edge of fury. She cooled rapidly at his tone. "Right. First of all, I didn't need rescuing. And secondly"
"What?""Secondly, don't bark at me!"That wasn't what she had intended to say, but she didn't like his tone of voice; she didn't like the arrogant way his feet were planted on the deck; she didn't like the way he was towering over her.
"You're lucky I was around to bark at you. I might have been dragging your lifeless body off my anchor chain instead."
And then, before she could answer him, he added, "How long have you been watching me?""Watching you? I had no idea you were so fascinating." "Oh, so you didn't notice my yacht?"His turn for sarcasm. Following the pointing finger, Miranda blenched. There it was, a huge white monstrosity, sleekly sensational and totally unmissable, though from her apartment she might not have seen it. "I didn't see itand anyway, how would I have known it was yours?"