“HOI - waitress!” The fat man snapped his fingers. “More champagne over here.”
“Say please,” Kat hissed under her breath, fixing a brittle smile in place as she manoeuvred with her silver tray through the elegant throng.
The champagne was flowing like water, the conversation and laughter growing louder by the minute. The crowded saloon was uncomfortably hot, even though the full-length glass doors at the stern had been folded right back to allow the party to spill out onto the wide aft deck. The golden lights of Antibes sparkled above the marina, rivalling the stars spread across the dark Mediterranean sky.
It was quite a party. If she’d been into celebrity spotting she could have filled a book – seriously A-list movie stars here for the film festival, world-shaking financial moguls, even a smattering of European royalty and a few Arab princes. There were more diamonds than Van Cleef and Arpels, more gold than Fort Knox, and the rock band playing for the dancers on the lower deck had just had their third number one album.
But even more spectacular than the guest list was the yacht itself – the Serenity, one of the largest in the world. One hundred and thirty-five metres of elegant white hull, with a graceful superstructure and six decks, all gleaming pale wood and opulent suede upholstery, bronzed glass and fabulous displays of exotic flowers, and every luxury a billionaire’s money could buy.
Ah yes, the billionaire; Javier Francisco Manuel Thiago de Iñiguez y Almanzor. She had done her research thoroughly, poring over the internet for hours. There had been plenty to read – on both the financial pages and the gossip sheets.
His father was a wealthy Spanish landowner, his mother a half-French, half-Lebanese former super-model. He spoke nine languages fluently, including Arabic and Russian. By the age of twenty-two he had exploited that skill to establish himself as a broker in the international oil trade, and now, little more than a decade later, he was reputed to be one of the richest men in the world.
And one of the most eligible. Watching him covertly from across the room, she was forced to admit that he had the looks to go with his playboy reputation.
He really was extraordinarily handsome, with those angled cheekbones and strongly-carved jaw. He was tall – surely several inches above six feet – and the cut of his black dinner-jacket emphasised the powerful width of his shoulders, but he wore it with an air of casual unconcern which underplayed the expensive tailoring.
He held his proud dark head at an imperious angle, like a hawk - an impression heightened by the perceptive glint in those dark eyes. She had caught a close-up glimpse of those eyes as she had passed him at the foot of the steps up from the galley earlier in the evening, and been struck by their colour – the rich, dark brown of espresso coffee, with topaz flecks, and thick black lashes which on a woman she would have been inclined to dismiss as fake.
He was also a sleazy, low-life scum-bag. And she was going to prove it.
It was hot. Javier took a small sip of the mineral water in his glass, listening to several of the conversations going on around him. Were the clocks on strike? The last time he had glanced at his watch – an ostentatious diamond-encrusted monstrosity that he hardly ever wore - must have been at least an hour ago, but the hands had moved barely ten minutes.
A bone-deep ennui seemed to have settled over him as he cast a jaded eye around the crowded saloon. It’s work, he had to remind himself – not for the first time. If he was doing this for pleasure, he’d probably have thrown himself overboard by now.
In those terms, at least, it had been a resounding success, he acknowledged coolly. No-one turned down an invitation to one of his legendary parties aboard the Serenity.
Like a puppet-master he had gathered many of the richest and most powerful men in the world to drink his champagne and talk business. There were few people who could bring together Baron Leopold Von Henning, the reclusive German industrialist, and Prince Abdul Mansour, in the same room as three top Hollywood film producers.
The luscious blonde at his side was insistently demanding his attention, flashing her doe eyes at him in unmistakable invitation – an invitation he would probably have declined, even if her husband hadn’t been somewhere on the boat, probably issuing a similar invitation to some other nubile young beauty.
“If you don’t like your hairdresser, why don’t you simply go somewhere else?” he enquired dryly – he knew it wasn’t the required response, but he was distracted.
Across the room he had spotted the girl again.
He wasn’t quite sure what it was about her that intrigued him. He didn’t usually pay much attention to the efficient staff who served him – although he hoped he was never rude. Even when they owned a pair of legs that could start a riot - he had caught a thoroughly enjoyable glimpse of them when she had been climbing the aft staircase earlier, precariously balancing a laden tray of champagne glasses.
It was the uniform which jarred; it apparently belonged to someone a little plumper and considerably shorter than her. The top-flight catering agency he always engaged to supplement his own crew for on-board events in Antibes and Cannes usually ensured that their staff were immaculately turned out. And they were usually extremely skilful at manoeuvring through a crowd as if almost invisible.
And they didn’t usually pull faces at his guests behind their backs.
He had almost laughed aloud at the searing look she had slanted at that unpleasant sleaze-bag Sir Peter Drummond-Smythe and his equally obnoxious cronies – particularly when one of them had squeezed her neat derriere. He had thought for a moment that she was going to deposit the contents of her tray down the front of his shirt.
But she had returned him a saccharine smile and adroitly moved away – and then poked out the tip of her pretty pink tongue at him when she had thought no-one was looking.
She was quite striking to look at. He had noticed earlier that she was wearing flat shoes – rather worn espadrilles. In an attempt to diminish her height, make herself a little less conspicuous?
It was never going to work. The graceful way she moved would always draw attention, and so would that mop of bright copper curls - she had bunched them into a knot on top of her head, but a few corkscrew fronds were escaping to feather around her face.
Her eyes were the only feature which could be described as conventionally beautiful – a clear grey-green, and fringed with long, dark, silken lashes. In spite of that vivid red hair, her skin was more cream than pale, with just a light sprinkling of freckles over a rather pointed nose. And her mouth was way too wide for her face – though the lips were pink and soft, the colour of wild roses.
But somehow the overall effect was… quirky, and… yes, beautiful.
In sum: as unconvincing a cocktail waitress as he had ever seen. With an almost imperceptible flicker of his eyes he summoned Bob, his head of security, to his side. “The red-head,” he murmured, indicating with a brief nod of his head.
Bob picked up on her instantly. “I have her. What’s the problem, boss?”
“I’m not sure if there is one. Just a gut feeling. Keep an eye on her - but be discreet. See if she wanders into any part of the boat she shouldn’t be in, try to find out if she’s working with a partner, even a team.”
Bob smiled grimly. “I’m on it.”
Javier nodded. If there was anything untoward going on, Bob would discover it. He was ex-SAS, the best in the business – that was why he had hired him, six years ago.
Across the room he watched the girl as she shuffled round a cluster of guests, a small frown of concentration creasing that smooth brow as she precariously balanced her tray of champagne flutes, forgetting to watch out for any guests who wanted to exchange their glasses.
For some reason he found himself hoping that he was wrong – that she was just an innocent, hard-working girl trying to get by in the world as best she could. He didn’t want to think she was a thief.
As the full champagne flutes on her tray were replaced by empties, Kat eased her way back to the bar, leaning on it with a sigh of relief. This was hard work – she had a whole new respect for cocktail waitresses.
The bar-steward grinned as he took the tray from her and slid it through the hatch to the wash-up. “Knackered?” he enquired with sympathy.
“Pretty much,” she confirmed. “I’m glad I wore flats.” She lifted one foot, propping it against her knee as she massaged her aching toes.
“I haven’t seen you before,” he remarked conversationally. “You’re new to the team?”
“Oh… yes. It’s just a fill-in really. I’ve been… hitching along the coast.” That much was true – sort of.
“Where are you headed?”
“Oh, wherever.’ She shrugged with casual unconcern. “I thought I might go to Italy. Florence, maybe.”
He nodded approval. “It’s nice there at this time of year. Are you travelling alone, or is there a boyfriend around somewhere?”
She laughed merrily. “No, no boyfriend.”
“Ah – that’s good.”
“Very good,” he asserted with a cheeky grin. “If you’re not planning to move on right away, maybe we could hook up tomorrow for lunch? I know a great little taverna along the coast that serves fish straight off the quay.”
She shook her head in smiling apology. “Sorry, I can’t plan that far ahead,” she returned lightly, picking up a new tray of champagne flutes and plunging back into the throng.
As she moved discreetly around the room, she was careful to avoid Javier de Almanzor’s eye-line – the last thing she wanted was to attract any attention to herself.
It wasn’t difficult – he was surrounded by a clutch of admiring women, fluttering their fake eyelashes at him, hanging on his every word. All designer dresses and designer tans, Kat designated them with a touch of asperity. Didn’t he ever get bored with all that adulation?
Apparently not, to judge from the endless paparazzi shots of him she had found on-line - arriving at a premier or leaving a nightclub with a succession of jet-set beauties on his arm, the daughters of rock stars and half the aristocratic houses of Europe, it seemed, as well as the usual contingent of actresses and models.
Not that the images she had viewed on the small screen of her cell-phone had really done him done him justice, she acknowledged reluctantly. He was simply the most sinfully handsome man she had ever seen.
And nothing could have prepared her for the sheer impact of his charisma. It went way beyond mere good looks – it seemed to charge the space around him like some kind of magnetic force-field, drawing all attention to him without him making any apparent effort.
Ah, the power of money, she mused dismissively. Truth be told, he’d probably had plastic surgery to clean up that jaw-line, and Botox injections to keep the crows’ feet at bay. And she’d just bet he had a personal trainer to chivvy him along in the gym.
But she could understand why her young step-sister had succumbed to that practiced charm. Amy was just nineteen years old, and had always been carefully protected by her doting father – Kat’s step-father.
She had met Javier de Almanzor on the ski-slopes in February, and by Easter she was pregnant – and her gallant lover had promptly disappeared. And with him her cell-phone, with all the photographs of them together and all the text-messages they had exchanged – all the evidence of their relationship.
A heartbroken Amy had tried to contact him many times, but all she could get on his cell-phone was voice mail, and all her emails had gone unanswered. It was quite obvious that he intended to deny ever having had anything to do with her.
But he had reckoned without Amy’s step-sister, Kat vowed fiercely. Amy’s father had been a better father to her than her own had ever been. She had been heartbroken when he had died two years ago, but she had promised herself then that she would do her best to repay his kindness by taking care of Amy.
She was going to get that cell-phone back. And then she was going to force Javier de Almanzor to accept his responsibilities…
“Phew, don’t these people ever go to bed?”
Kat started back guiltily – she had been hovering at the top of the stairs which led down to the lower deck where the staterooms were situated, waiting for an opportunity to slip down unnoticed.
“All I want to do is get my feet into a nice bowl of hot water,” the other waitress sighed. “These new shoes are giving me blisters.”
“Mmmm,” Kat murmured uneasily – she didn’t want to risk getting into conversation with any of the other agency staff if she could help it.
“You’re new?” the other girl enquired.
“You’re supposed to wear your name badge,” the girl reminded her, tapping her own – Kat could see that she was called Juana, and she was a supervisor. Dammit!
“Oh… I… don’t have one yet,” Kat temporised quickly. “I only signed up with the agency this morning.”
“And they’ve put you on a job already? Without any checks?”
“My cousin works for them, so they said it would be OK.” A couple of days ago she would never have believed she could become such a fluent liar, Kat reflected wryly. “And they were short for tonight.”
“Tell me about it!” Juana conceded, rolling her eyes. “Ah well, make sure they get you a badge for your next job. And a better-fitting uniform, too,” she added, glancing down at Kat’s skirt, which was far too short, even though it was settled on her hips instead of her waist – she was all too aware that it was revealing a considerable length of her slim legs.
Kat hoped her smile didn’t look too false. She hadn’t signed up with the agency at all – in fact, until this afternoon she’d never even heard of them.
She had been loitering discreetly on the quayside at Port Vaubun, watching the comings and goings on the decks of Javier de Almanzor’s spectacular yacht and wondering how on earth she was going to get aboard unseen by the burly security guards on duty, when a minibus and a big black truck bearing the logo of a high-end catering agency had turned in through the gates and drawn up right next to her target.
As she had watched, a huge hatch had been lifted at the stern of the yacht, giving access to a well-lit hangar-like space on the lower deck, and the uniformed catering team had piled out of the minibus and began to unload dozens of boxes and several large stainless steel catering trolleys from the back of the truck, and convey them onto the yacht.
It was too good a chance to miss. Strolling casually past the minibus, she had spotted a pile of spare uniforms on the back seat. Without giving herself time for second thoughts she had slipped inside and picked one that more-or-less fitted, ducking below the windows as she had wriggled into it and stuffing her own clothes beneath the seat.
And then she had simply tagged onto the back of one of the big trolleys, pretending to help trundle it across the gangplank and through the service hatch to the lower deck level of the yacht.
Her heart had been in her mouth the whole time – she was gambling on the hope that the catering crew weren’t a regular team who all knew each other. But after all, what was the worst that could happen? She might be thrown off the yacht, maybe even get arrested, but she wasn’t actually committing a crime – well, maybe trespass, but that was a civil matter.
But it seemed that the uniform had rendered her virtually invisible. No-one in the catering crew, nor any of the security guards, had given her a second glance. After that, she had simply joined in quietly with whatever the catering crew were doing, and no-one had questioned her presence.
Juana sighed, and glanced at the colourful plastic watch on her wrist. “Well, I suppose we’d better start getting some of these glasses collected up,” she remarked, moving away.
“Yes. I’ll… just check around downstairs then, shall I?” Kat suggested brightly. It would be the perfect excuse! “People have been up and down all evening.”
The other girl murmured some vague acknowledgment, too busy with her own task to even notice what Kat had said, and Kat snatched at the opportunity to dart down the wide curving staircase to the lower deck.
Javier’s cell-phone purred discreetly. He drew it out of his pocket and glanced at the screen. “Bob?”
“She’s headed downstairs,” came the security chief’s gruff voice.
“OK – keep watching,” Javier responded quietly. “If she’s just collecting glasses, that’s fine. But if she tries to get into my suite… activate the security over-ride.”
There was a second’s hesitation on the other end of the call. “You sure boss?” Bob queried.
“Yes. But once she’s inside, make sure she doesn’t come out.”
A soft chuckle, and the line went dead.
It was much quieter down here, but every bit as fabulous as the upper decks – all light wood and cream carpets, and discreetly recessed lighting. There were paintings on the walls – brightly-coloured abstracts that looked like originals - and a lingering scent of beeswax beneath the aroma of cigar smoke and stale alcohol that permeated the air.
There were five doors on each side of the corridor, and several stood open to display opulent staterooms. People were still milling around, collecting mink wraps and Prada bags, and laughing tipsily as they sought their way back to the upper decks. Kat wouldn’t mind betting that there were a few thousand dollars’ worth of white powder still dusting the glossy tiles in some of the luxurious en-suite bathrooms.
But fortunately there were also a few empty glasses to justify her presence. She moved around silently, avoiding eye-contact, her head dipped slightly – apparently the discreet servant, but in reality so that there was less chance of anyone seeing her face and being able to describe her later.
She had a rough idea of the layout of the decks – she had looked it up on the internet, and although she had only been able to find a few external shots of the Serenity she had found a similar one built by the same yard, and had studied it with care. So far it had panned out.
This whole deck was given over to sleeping quarters, with the ten guest suites, just as she had expected. And at the far end, beneath where the for’ard stairs divided to climb grandly to the deck above, there was a pair of double doors, which stood closed. The master stateroom.
Pausing at the last of the empty guest suites she left the glasses she had collected on a small table just inside the door, and peered cautiously out into the corridor. A couple, somewhat the worse for wear, were weaving their way unsteadily towards the aft stairs, but they had their backs to her, and anyway they were probably in no fit state to notice anything.
Moving silently, she slipped across to the double doors. Of course they would probably be locked… With a last swift glance back over her shoulder she put her hand on the polished brass handle, and turned it cautiously. Miracle - it wasn’t locked!
Very carefully, she eased the door open.
Within half a second she was inside, the door closed behind her, her heart pounding so loudly that she was sure they would be able to hear it on the upper deck, even over all the noise of laughter and conversation and music. But there was no alarm, and slowly she began to breathe again.
The room was just stunning. It filled the full width of the boat, and the long windows on three sides let in a surprising amount of light reflected up from the shimmering water – enough to get a general impression of her surroundings, anyway.
To one side of the room was a lounging area, with comfortable suede-upholstered sofas around a long onyx slab of coffee table, and a large plasma television screen fixed to the wall. Wide glass doors led out onto a private fore-deck – if the Serenity was indeed identical to the yacht she had seen on the internet, that deck would be accessible only from this room, and would have its own Jacuzzi.
Two low steps curved across the room, elevating an area which was partially screened off by a bronzed glass partition patterned with a gold Mondrian-style design. Beyond, on a raised dais was a huge circular bed, covered in a satin quilt of a rich teal blue which matched the curtains and the cushions, a strong accent to the acres of ivory carpet and glossy ivory ceiling.
For a moment she paused, just gazing around. This was Javier de Almanzor’s lair – a faint hint of something spicy and very masculine lingered in the air, conjuring the vivid image of the man himself. And suddenly her heartbeat was fluttering, her head felt light, her body warm - almost as if he was there beside her, that charismatic presence overwhelming.
It was crazy – she had never even spoken to him, and yet she could feel the lure of those strong arms, those dark, mesmerising eyes. The man ought to carry a government health warning – a naïve young thing like Amy would have been a lamb to the slaughter.
Which brought her attention sharply back to her task.
Of course there was no guarantee that he had kept Amy’s cell-phone, but she had to look for it. The second possibility was the distinctive purple ski-suit he had been wearing in the blurry selfies Amy had sent her from the ski-slopes – if she could find that, and photograph it here on the yacht, that would prove a link.
So… where to begin?
There was a low table on each side of the bed – it was worth trying those first, Kat decided swiftly. She had kept her own cell-phone in her pocket, and using its LED light as a torch she searched both the tops of the tables and the narrow drawers beneath. But there was nothing useful – a Kindle, a half-eaten tube of mints, a couple of motoring magazines…
With a sigh of exasperation she glanced around the room again. The other yacht had had a spacious en-suite bathroom and dressing room – this one was bound to have the same. But where…? Ah, of course – the door was discreetly concealed within the gleaming beechwood panelling that lined the wall behind the bed.
A sound outside the door made her catch her breath in panic – but it was only someone using a vacuum cleaner. They were unlikely to come in here, but still…
The light from her phone gave little help to find the door handle, but skimming her fingertips down the wall revealed a discreet brass plate embedded into the wood panelling, and as she pressed it there was a soft click and the door swung silently open.
She stepped inside and closed the door quietly behind her. At least if the cleaner did come in she should be safe in here. A fragrant hint of… cedarwood? teased her nostrils. It was pitch dark, but she wouldn’t risk turning the light on – the light from her cell-phone would have to do.
The dressing room was spacious. Each side was lined with full-length louvered cupboards, and beyond was an opulent bathroom lined in glossy black marble, with gold taps, a shower that could comfortably hold four people, and a bath the size of an Olympic swimming pool – well, nearly.
Heavens, you could hold an orgy in here…
But she wasn’t going to find anything useful in the bathroom, she reminded herself firmly. Quickly turning back to the dressing room, she opened the first door. Inside was a stack of neat shelves of cashmere sweaters, and in spite of her hurry she couldn’t resist running her hand over them – so soft, so warm…
Unexpectedly an image flashed behind her eyes, of Javier de Almanzor wearing one of these sweaters, its softness a beguiling contrast with the hard-muscled body beneath as he casually tugged it off over his head to reveal a lean, sun-bronzed torso…
Javier’s cell-phone purred again; Bob. “She’s in the master suite.”
So – she was a thief, after all. A common thief. He felt little satisfaction in being proved right. But that was the only reason she would have gone in there. If she had been a commercial spy – the other possibility which had occurred to him – she would have tried for his office, up on the bridge deck.
“OK. Where are you?”
“In the corridor outside - with the vacuum on. She won’t risk coming out while she knows she’ll be seen.”
“Excellent. Stay where you are. I’ll be down shortly.”
At long last his guests were drifting away, staggering their way along the quayside, where a string of fancy cars were waiting to bear them away. In a couple of hours it would be dawn.
The staff from the catering agency were moving around with their usual quiet efficiency, tidying up. He had used them for a number of years, and usually they were completely reliable. But something had gone wrong tonight – and he was about to find out what.
Moving across the saloon, adroitly disentangling himself from all the people who wanted to thank him rather tipsily for ‘a simply wonderful party, dahling – yours are always the very best parties of the season’ he made his way to the for’ard stairs down to the lower deck.
All was quiet down here, except for the quiet hum of the vacuum cleaner – a neat trick, that, keeping her effectively trapped without her even knowing they were onto her. Bob grinned, and signalled a thumbs-up. Javier returned him a grim smile, and with a deliberate rattle of the handle pushed open the door of his suite.
Kat stiffened. Someone was coming into the stateroom! Quick as a flash she slipped into one of the cupboards and pulled the door shut behind her, easing herself silently to the floor and pulling the row of shirts across in front of her, hardly daring to breath.
The lights came on in the main room. She could hear whoever it was moving about, whistling softly to himself. She hardly dared to breathe. And then the footsteps came closer, the dressing-room door swished open, and through the slits in the louvered door she could see a pair of very expensive handmade leather shoes, and the lower part of a pair of elegantly-tailored trousers.
He paused very close to her hiding place, and as she watched he eased off the shoes, opening a cupboard next to hers and stashing them on a shelf. Then the trousers appeared, as he stepped out of them and neatly put them away too. Oh no – the shirt! But as she peered out from her hidey-hole, she saw the shirt and the socks bundled up and tossed carelessly into another cupboard – there must be a laundry basket in there.
And then as she watched, a pair of navy-blue silk jersey boxer shorts followed them. Kat felt her mouth grow suddenly dry. He was standing there stark naked, just inches from her face. And she was trapped. How on earth was she going to get away now? All she could do was wait and hope that he would soon go to bed, and that he was a heavy sleeper.
Her search for evidence was over.
The disappointment knotted inside her – she had been so close! But worse was the fear of discovery. She was beginning to get cramped in the awkward space – all that was needed now was that she would need to sneeze…
No, don’t even think about that!
Cautiously she eased her left leg into a slightly more comfortable position – Javier had disappeared into the bathroom, and the next moment she heard the sound of the shower running. Could she risk trying to slip out while he was in there? Biting her lip hard between her teeth, she slid a finger into one of the louvers of the door, and opened it barely half-an inch.
Oh my gosh! He was in the shower, barely six feet away from her. His back was turned towards her, and he was completely naked, the water splashing down over his smooth golden-bronze skin. Hard muscles rippled across his wide shoulders and in ridges down his back as he vigorously scrubbed his body with a large sponge - down over tight, firm buttocks, and long, strong thighs.
She couldn’t stop herself staring – he was magnificent.
And then he began to turn, and she pulled the cupboard swiftly shut, closing her eyes. There were some things that it just wasn’t wise to see – she’d never get a good night’s sleep again! She heard him whistling softly, heard the shower stop, and a few moments later his bare feet padded past her hiding place. Oh please, let him be going to bed.
But it seemed he had other plans. The next thing she heard was a woman’s voice, speaking French. He had a visitor…? No – it was the television. Surely he wasn’t going to sit there watching it for long? It must be four o/clock in the morning, at least!
He seemed to be flicking through the news channels – she heard a cultured English accent, then American, then one she didn’t understand but guessed from the background music that it was probably Arabic.
At least she could let herself breathe, though she was getting more and more uncomfortable, her knees bent almost up to her chin. And she was tired – she had been travelling all day, and then had been working for hours serving champagne to his obnoxious, pampered friends. All she wanted to do was sleep…
The thought brought an inevitable yawn, almost dislocating her jaw. Just sleep…
Her mind drifted, half in dreams. Snatches of images – the spectacularly beautiful harbour, with it shoals of luxury yachts moored at the quayside… trundling a catering truck along a brightly-lit passageway on the lower deck of the Serenity… peeping out from her hiding place as she watched Javier in the shower...
Dammit, she didn’t want to think about that. The last thing she needed was to let herself be sidetracked from her objective by Javier de Almanzor’s undeniable physical magnetism.
Poor Amy may have fallen for it, but she was seven years older, and knew a little more about men. She had even been engaged once… Well, almost. But nevertheless she wasn’t nearly as naïve as her young step-sister.
How easily Amy been fooled. Javier had even been subtle enough to realise that such a young, innocent girl might have been intimidated by the full-on power of a billionaire playboy in his thirties. He had come on to Amy as if he was much closer to her in age and experience, and wealth, pretending that they had so much in common.
Lies, lies, lies.
Maybe if she had been at home while all this was going on, she would have been able to intervene before disaster struck. But she had been in New Zealand, escorting parties of adventure tourists on white water rafting expeditions on Rangitikei River. She had been following the budding romance through Amy’s regular texts – right up until that last despairing message that Javier had vanished.
She had fixed up with a local tour guide to cover for her, and had been on the next flight home.
After doing her best to put Amy back together, and taking a few hours to do a bit of research, she had been on her way again. Her first attempts had met with little success. She couldn’t even get past security at his apartment in the swankiest part of Barcelona, and the prestigious office-block which housed the offices of the Sociedad Limitada de Almanzor had been even tougher.
But a trip to the family chateau in the foothills of the Pyrenees had yielded a useful snippet of information, courtesy of one of the gardeners who had been impressed by her knowledge of the varieties of New Zealand flax.
She had found out that Javier tended to spend most of his time on his yacht, using it as a base for his high-octane brand of business networking. And that the yacht was currently moored in Antibes, where Javier would be throwing one of his spectacular parties.
It had taken her a whole day to hitch-hike along the coast. The friendly lorry driver who had brought her from Marseilles had shown her a nice little pension, cheap but clean, where she had booked a room and left her back-pack, and then she had gone down to the marina to reconnoitre.
And there her luck had finally changed – or at least she had thought so at the time…
A merry jingle in her pocket jerked her back from her reverie. Frantically she snatched up her cell-phone and jabbed at it to silence it. He had the TV on – maybe he wouldn’t hear it…
No chance. The door of the dressing room opened, the light came on, and the sound of a soft, husky laugh set the hairs on the back of her neck on end.
“So, would you like to come out now, or are you planning to stay in there all night?”