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Marco DiSanto lowered his long, elegantly lean body into the rickety bamboo chair and rested one elbow casually on the little round sidewalk café table. The heavy heat was offset a bit by the afternoon trade winds. Still, it was a good bet he was the only man on the island crazy enough to be wearing an Italian business suit in this climate.
Was he here on business, or was this a search for lost love? Maybe it was time he made up his mind and acted accordingly. With his free hand, he pulled a crumpled photo out of his pocket and flattened it on the surface of the table. Bracing himself, he glanced at it again.
No matter how often he looked at the picture, the shock of seeing those mesmerizing blue eyes gazing back at him sent a quiver of excitement through him. Eyes like that didn't belong in real life. He was pretty sure they only existed on the covers of science fiction books or on fantasy movie posters.
But the ticket agent at the Ranai airport had recognized her right away when he'd shown him the photo.
"Oh sure. That's Shayna. You can probably find her at Kimo's Café. She works there off and on."
So here he was, wondering why nothing looked familiar. Out of the corner of his vision, his attention was caught by crisp white shorts encasing a firmly rounded female bottom and set off by long and lovely tanned legs. He didn't want to make eye contact—not yet—but he turned enough to see a bit more, including a loose, gauzy top that fell provocatively off one lovely shoulder, giving a teasing glimpse of full breasts. Waves of blond curls cascaded almost to her shoulders and framed a pretty face that was alive with laughter. He drew his breath in sharply, muttered something slightly obscene in Italian and looked down at the picture.
Yes, he had the right woman. But he'd never seen her before in his life. Not in the flesh, at any rate.
Who the hell could she be? The man at the airport had called her Shayna, so he supposed that must be her name. Other than that, he knew nothing about her.
He slid the picture into the pocket of his suit coat and sat back at the remote table on the patio of the fashionably shabby waterside café. He would wait. She would have to get to him eventually.
Funny that he couldn't remember her. Funny that he couldn't remember anything from the recent two weeks he'd spent here, on vacation in the Traechelle Islands. He'd tried. It just wouldn't come. Something about the accident—or maybe something about what had happened while he was here—had caused his brain to block it out. The psychiatrist who'd been assigned to him during his recovery had a name for this kind of thing: selective amnesia.
"It will probably begin coming back to you bit by bit," he'd said, frowning at Marco as though he were a specimen in an experiment. "Interesting case. I hope you'll keep me apprised as to your progress."
That was doubtful. If modern science had no answer for him, he would have to deal with this on his own. In the meantime, it was damn annoying. Those two weeks loomed like a black hole in his life. He found it very difficult to try to move on when he had this empty place that needed filling. He knew he'd come to this island resort, but he didn't know what he'd done while he was here—or whom he'd done it with.
An added problem—he was missing some very important designs he'd been working on. Had he left them here? He needed to know, and he needed to find them, quickly. And so he'd come back to see if he could reconstruct just exactly what had happened to his missing two weeks.
She came out of the café carrying a tray bristling with tropical drinks, all pastel colors and tiny exotic umbrellas. He watched as she set it down on a table crowded with tourists and began to pass the drinks out. Someone said something to her and she laughed, throwing her head back so that her thick blond curls caught the breeze and flew around her face. He could hear her laughter, hear her voice, though she was too far away for him to understand just what she was saying. He stared at her, hard, even pulling off his dark aviator's glasses for a moment to get a better look. Surely this should strike a chord with him if anything would.
But no. There was nothing.
He pulled the photo out again and looked at it. Yes, it was definitely the same woman. There she was, laughing the same way, and there he was, his arm around her shoulders in a manner that spoke of intimacy. One look said it loud and clear—at the time the picture had been taken, the two of them had been lovers. Just knowing that sent a hot current of interest through his pertinent regions. How could he have wiped his memory clean of something like that?
She picked up the empty tray, throwing a comment back to the table which made those around it erupt with laughter, and he braced himself for the moment her gaze would meet his. What would she do? Would she recognize him? Would she smile and come quickly toward him, reaching out for a hug, a kiss? Would she open up the floodgates to his lost two weeks?
But she turned to another table and began to take their order. He wasn't going to find out yet. He relaxed. He had another few moments to watch her.
And she was definitely good to look at. She moved with style and grace, and a certain languor that evoked sensuality. She seemed to belong to these islands, like a natural part of the landscape of paradise. Just watching her move made his male instincts sizzle.
But there was no recognition triggered. None at all.
He'd thought just coming back might remove the roadblocks and trigger his memories. So far, that hadn't happened. Once he'd found the picture, he'd been certain, that if he could find the woman again, that would do it. There was no getting around the fact that this woman was not the sort a man would easily forget.
He watched her weave her way among the tables in the outdoor café. She was coming closer. In another moment, she would see him. The moment of truth.
There was a smile on her lips as she turned. It froze as she caught sight of him. Those blue eyes were even more hypnotic in person, but right now they were filled with shock and then went cold as ice. Turning on her heel, she fled.
It took him another beat to realize she really was running from him. He hadn't expected that. Rising, he started after her, but a table full of young people had just begun to leave and they filled the aisle, talking and laughing back and forth and blocking his path. By the time he'd made it around the corner she'd taken, he'd lost her. He looked up and down the rutted street, but she was nowhere to be seen.
"Damn," he swore softly, frowning. Now what?
Shayna Pierce stopped herself short, gulping in air, and looked at her little Vespa. Her impulse had been to hop on and head for the hills. The only trouble was, there were no real hills—not that kind, anyway. What the heck was she doing? It was a small island. She couldn't hide from him if she tried.
She could always wait for dark and take her motor boat out into the ocean, heading for the even smaller island of Coco where she'd been hanging out for the last month or so, just in case. But in the meantime, what was she going to do? Stay concealed in this dusty lean-to? Hardly.
She sighed, wheeling out her little Vespa. She was pretty sure he would be in the road, looking for her. She was surprised he hadn't followed her right into the shed. He knew where she parked it when she worked at Kimo's Café. Stopping, she took a deep breath before stepping out into the sunlight again.
Why was he back? Her emotions buzzed like a swarm of angry bees, making her dizzy. She had to admit just seeing him made her heart stutter and her stomach feel as if she'd just started off on a roller-coaster ride. What could you do when your feelings turned traitor like that?
Fight them. That was all that was left to do. But running wasn't going to change all that. She had to face him and have it out. There was no other way, now that he was here. With a soft groan of regret, she pushed the double doors open and wheeled her Vespa out into the road.
There he was, facing out of town, hand shading his eyes, looking in the wrong direction. She kick-started the engine on her scooter and he whipped around, staring at her. With as haughty a look as she could manage, she settled into the seat and drove forward, pulling up next to him.
"Hop on," she said. "We need to talk."
Pulling off his sunglasses, he looked directly into her eyes. He seemed to be searching for something he didn't find. There was no warmth in his gaze, no evidence of shared memories, of past intimacy. Her heart sank. He really did despise her now, didn't he? Probably had from the beginning. Well, in many ways, the feeling was mutual.
Oh, brother—whom was she trying to kid? Just looking at him made her heart thump like a bass drum and the rest of her innards go all warm and gooey inside. He was such a beautiful man with his Roman profile, his huge dark eyes shaded by eyelashes thicker than any male should be allowed to have. And then there was that long, gorgeous body and those wonderful hands….
No! She looked away. She had to stop before she fell off the Vespa in an old-fashioned fainting spell.
"Come on," she said impatiently. "We'll go to my place. We can talk there." She threw him a quick glare, just to keep her spirits up. "Unless you're too busy," she added, ready to be defensive if he gave her reason to be.
He didn't say a word. Instead, he swung his leg over the seat behind her, grabbed the edge for balance, and held on as she started off.
Her heart thumped hard and her mind was in chaos. She'd really thought she would never see him again, and now, here he was. There were a hundred reasons why she wished he hadn't come back. And there was one very clear reason why she was holding off a big, embarrassing swoon. She was crazy about him.
Or at least, she had been before she realized they had a connection she hadn't known about. An ugly, painful connection that made a relationship between the two of them impossible.
Still, here he was, and what had been between them, and what had destroyed that, had to be dealt with. They were both reasonable people. They had to come to terms with things.
She raced down the dirt road at full speed, the wind in her hair. She had a lot of questions. Was he going to answer any of them? First, she wanted to know if he'd ever really cared for her at all, but that was one she was never actually going to ask. All signs pointed toward a negative.
Then she wanted to know how much her father had paid him to come find her. And last—and the most puzzling one—why hadn't her father contacted her yet? She'd been so sure, once she realized Marco was working for her father, that someone would show up to drag her back to New York. That was why she'd gone to hide out on Coco Island for the last month.
But no one had appeared. There had been no word of anyone coming. So what had happened? Had Marco decided not to tell her father where she was after all? Had he had second thoughts? If so, his demeanor didn't show it.
Still, she was hoping, deep in her heart, that his return meant…. No, she wouldn't put it into words. She couldn't let herself get her hopes up. She wasn't that naive.
Pulling the scooter to a stop in the little clearing near her tiny house, she turned off the engine. Marco got off and she followed, looking at him, trying to be as cool as he was acting.
But then a funny thing happened. He stopped and scanned the area, as though he'd never been there before. That was odd. Ordinarily, he would be striding toward her house by now.
"Go on," she said, gesturing with a jerk of her head, but he turned to eye her warily.
"You go first," he said.
She frowned. There was something way off center about all this. Was he sick? Was something seriously wrong? Suddenly filled with a wave of worry and compassion, she stepped toward him.
"What is it, Marco?" she asked. "Is something the matter? Do you feel all right?"
The panes of his dark glasses flashed at her mockingly, as though he were sneering at what he perceived as her attempt to get closer. "I'm fine," he said shortly. "Let's go. You lead the way."
She hesitated. He sounded the same. He looked the same, except for that coldness she'd seen in his eyes. But something wasn't right. He didn't seem like the same person at all.
She remembered the first time she'd seen him, not two months ago. She'd just come back hot and tired from a hike along the far side of the island and she'd been going into her cabin when she heard the shout from out in the water. Shading her eyes, she'd seen someone struggling just inside the reef. Teenage lifeguard training kicked into gear and she dashed toward her little outboard motor-equipped dinghy.
Shayna to the rescue! She'd felt like a real contributing member of society—she was going to save a life.
Cranking on her motor, she'd raced out to where she'd seen the man struggling. He was still thrashing around in the water. But it didn't take long to realize this wasn't quite a life-threatening situation. The water inside the reef was crystal clear and turquoise blue from a distance. But as she stopped the boat and stood up to survey the scene, she saw one tired man and an array of floating blue bubbles that spread out like a little navy fleet. The poor guy had got himself caught up in a mass attack of Portuguese men-of-war and he'd tried to fight back.
"Ouch," she'd said, wincing as she looked down and shaking her head as she noted the large red welts on his neck and shoulders—and even his face. "Didn't you see them coming?"