Sara Craven.

Thunder On The Reef






Thunder On The Reef
Sara Craven


www.millsandboon.co.uk

CONTENTS

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Endpage

CHAPTER ONE

SHE knew, of course, that she was being watched.

In normal circumstances, it wouldnt have bothered her too much. She was accustomed, even hardened, to the effect her spectacular looks had on people. Shed even learned to live with the flash of cameras when she appeared in public, and the resulting pictures in glossy magazines. Sir Edwin Gilmours lovely daughter.

Macys mouth curled in self-derision. At one time that had seemed the only identity she possessed. But not any more. She was someone in her own right now, with a lifea career that had been almost a salvation.

And that was why she was here on Fortunato prove to Cameron and her father and the rest of the board at Gilmour-Denys that the nursery slopes of property negotiation were behind her, and she could handle deals even as tricky as the purchase of Thunder Cay promised to be.

And the last thing she needed was to be recognised at this stage in the game, she thought with irritation as she sipped her iced tea, and tried to ignore the prolonged and intense scrutiny she could feel being directed at her from the other side of Fortuna Towns bustling Main Street.

Because any negotiations for Thunder Cay were to be strictly confidential. The unexpected tip-off Sir Edwin had received had made that clear. Any hint that the island might be on the market would bring other types of shark to those normally inhabiting Bahamian waters thronging around.

And we have to be first, hed said with intensity. Our syndicate wants that land, and II need this deal, Macy. For a moment there was a note of something like desperation in his voice. Shed stiffened in alarm, her eyes searching his face, questions teeming in her brain, but, after a moment, hed continued more calmly, Id go myself, of course, but if I was spotted it would give the game away immediately.

So its all down to you, my dear.

Shed said, No problem, with more confidence than she actually possessed.

The elaborate model for the hotel and leisure complex which would turn Thunder Cay into the Bahamas latest and most expensive resort had graced the penthouse office at Gilmour-Denys for a long time now.

Privately, Macy had termed it the Impossible Dream, because Boniface Hilliard, the reclusive millionaire who owned Thunder Cay, had always adamantly refused to sell. Shed been convinced he never would.

Yet in the last week, a whisper had reached Edwin Gilmours ears from some grapevine that the old man, a childless widower, was said to be ill, and prepared to discuss the disposal of some of his assets.

Thunder Cay wouldnt be the only item up for grabs, Macy thought. There was the fortune hed made from investment worldwide, and the mansion Trade Winds, overlooking the best beach on the south side of Fortuna itself.

But the bulk of his massive estate wasnt her concern. All she had to do was convince his lawyer, Mr Ambrose Delancey, to recommend Gilmour-Denyss bid for Thunder Cay to his client. For someone apparently prepared to negotiate, Mr Delancey had proved annoyingly elusive. Shed spent three fruitless days so far, trying to make an appointment with him.

Ostensibly, of course, she was a tourist, booked into Fortunas main hotel, using her mothers maiden name Landin as an added precaution. Shed thought shed be safe enough. Fortuna, after all, wasnt one of the most fashionable islands of the Bahamas. It didnt appeal to the jet-setters and generally well-heeled who thronged to New Providence and Paradise Islands, and there were no paparazzi eagerly face-spotting around the bars and cafes on Main Street, or the bustling harbour area.

On the whole, it was a mans resort, a haven for the big-game fishermen who came to chase the bluefin tuna, the sailfish and the blue marlin by day, and enjoy a nightlife more lively than sophisticated when darkness fell.

Accordingly, Macy had deliberately played down her appearance, choosing a plain navy shift dress, with matching low-heeled leather sandals, as well as concealing her cloud of mahogany-coloured hair under a bandanna, and masking her slanting green eyes behind an oversized pair of sunglasses.

And yet, incredibly, it seemed shed still been recognised. Damn and blast it, she thought with exasperation.

She ventured a swift, sideways glance across the busy road, searching between the slow-moving hurly burly of carts, street-vendors bicycles, and luridly hued taxis.

She saw him at once, lounging against an ancient pick-up, its rust spots held together by a virulent yellow paint-job. He was tall, with a shaggy mane of curling dark hair, the upper part of his face concealed behind sunglasses as unrevealing as her own, the lower hidden by designer stubble. But even from a distance she could see his teeth gleam in a smile of totally cynical appraisal.

The rest of him, Macy noted, bristling at the implications of that unashamed grin, was bronze skin interrupted by a sleeveless denim waist-coat, and matching trousers raggedly cut off at mid-thigh.

He was as disreputable as his tatty vehicle, she thought with contempt, averting her gaze. A later-day Bahamian pirate turned beach-bum. She supposed that, as a woman sitting alone at a pavement table, she was obvious prey for his kind. Nevertheless that prolonged, oddly intense observation made her feel uneasyrestless, almost unnerved.

Idiot, she thought, glancing at her watch, then signalling to the waiter, as she finished her tea. She was out of here anyway. It was time to find her way to the office of Ambrose Delancey, attorney-at-law.

As the bill was placed in front of her, a shadow fell across the table. A tanned hand dropped a scatter of loose change on to the folded slip in the saucer.

And a voice shed never thought to hear again said laconically, Have this on me, Macy.

Shock mingled with disbelief paralysed her. Turned her dumb. The traffic noises, and the buzz of laughter and chatter around her faded into dizzying silence. All she could hear, echoing and re-echoing in her brain, were those few drawled words.

Turning her ordered world to sudden reeling chaos.

Her nails became claws, curling into the palms of her hands, scoring the soft flesh. But, as they did so, bringing her back to stark reality.

No wonder, she thought, swallowing back sudden nausea. No wonder shed felt uneasy. Some undreamed of sixth sense must have been warning her.

She turned her head slowly. Looked up, with an assumption of calm enquiry.

He was standing over her, close enough to touch. She had to force herself not to shrink away. But it was imperative not to allow him any kind of ascendancy.

She said coolly, Ross. What a surprise.

You could say that. He sounded faintly amused, as he hitched a chair forward. Mind if I join you?

His presumption galled her. She said between her teeth, Yes, I bloody well do mind, and he laughed.

Now thats far more in character. He looked her over, a tingling top to toe assessment that missed nothing on the way, and made her cringe inside with anger, and a kind of unwilling excitement. Youre looking good.

I wish I could say the same for you, she said tersely. I didnt recognise you.

Now I, he said softly, would have known you anywhere. The beautiful Macy Gilmour. I hope Ive got the label right.

Absolutely. She pushed the coins back at him. Save these for your next meal.

Always the soul of generosity.

A family trait, she said. But maybe you dont remember.

By no means. I recall all the details of every transaction between us, Macy, my sweet, sexual as well as financial. His voice lingered on the words, deliberately creating all kinds of intimate images. Deliberately winding her up, she realised with vexation, feeling swift blood rise unbidden in her face,

Fortunately, I dont, she said crisply, trying to take control of herself, and the situation. She couldnt believe what was happening to her. For four years, shed striven to dismiss Ross Bannister from her mind as completely as hed disappeared from her life. Of all the people in the world, she thought despairingly. Of all the places in the world. And of all the lousy, stinking, rotten luck.

So, what brings you to Fortuna? Ross asked lazily, sitting down in spite of her denial.

Im on holiday, she returned shortly. To her annoyance, the waiter whisked away the bill and the money before she could stop him, lifting a hand to Ross in obvious camaraderie as he did so.

Above the enigmatic shades, his brows lifted sardonically. Are all the usual flesh pots fully booked? I wouldnt have thought this was your scene, although there are some good beaches. He paused. I wont tell you to watch out for sharks. Youve been mixing with them all your life.

You, she said, were the first. She reached for her bag, and got to her feet.

Going so soon? Ross rose too, with a courtesy so exaggerated it bordered on insolence. But our reunion has hardly begun.

Wrong, she said. Her mouth was dry, her heart was hammering. It never started.

He stroked his chin meditatively. I hope the beard hasnt put you off.

By no means, she returned. It looks wholly appropriate. Wasnt there a pirate called Blackbeard?

Indeed there was, he said. He used to operate round Nassau way.

What a pity you dont do the same.

I prefer to work on a smaller scale. Shed forgotten his smile. Forgotten too how heart-stoppingly handsome he was, in spite of the scruffy hair and stubble. In fact, there was a lot about Ross Bannister shed have preferred to dismiss permanently from her mind.

Youre not very relaxed for a holidaymaker, he commented. You seem constantly on edge.

Do you wonder? She paused. May I be frank?

You always were, he murmured.

Thank you. She faced him squarely, chin up. The fact is, Ross, Id hoped you were out of my life forever. Meeting you again is like the worst kind of bad dream.

Well, that is being frank. Unfortunately for you, it could also be a recurring dream, he said. This is only a small island. We could bump into each other quite regularly.

No. She said it so loudly and vehemently that people at neighbouring tables looked at them curiously.

Alternatively, Ross went on imperturbably, you could always ask your hotel for a transfer to another island.

If the choice were hers, that was exactly what shed be doing, Macy thought angrily. Only she couldnt cut and run. Not yet. She had business to attend to. An important deal to get off the ground. Her personal emotions couldnt be allowed to interfere with that.

She said coolly, Using the excuse that Id been frightened by a rat, I suppose. But, no, I dont think so. I like it here. She paused. How much, this time, Ross, to get you out of my life?

He said softly, Forget it, Macy. There wouldnt be room for all the noughts on the cheque. He slanted a brief smile at her. See you around, he added, and walked away.

* * *

Macy walked too, back up the street, oblivious to the jostling of other pedestrians, as she stared unseeingly ahead of her. Her head was whirling, her thoughts going crazy.

It had been four long years since Ross Bannister had walked out on her. Four years in which to heal herself, and rebuild her shattered self-esteem. Find a new identity.

She thought shed succeeded. But his sudden reappearance, just when she needed it least, had shaken her world to its foundations.

For the first time, she realised just how much her hard-won security and confidence depended on never being reminded of Ross. Certainly of never seeing him again.

Yet, like some evil genius, here he was.

Under the laws of probability, she wondered just what the chances were of them bumping into each other like this. Probably a million to one. It had to be the most appalling coincidence of the decade.

She cursed herself silently for not staying safely in the confines of the hotel until it was time to go to Mr Delanceys office. If she hadnt taken time out to explore, shop-gaze and have a drink at that particular pavement bar, Ross might never have seen her.

She was surprised that hed recognised her at all. She wasnt the girl hed left behind four years before. And she was astonished that, after all that had passed between them, he should want to make contact with her again, however fleetingly.

He could have no conscience, she thought bitterly. No sense of shame.

And there was no guarantee this was the only time theyd run into each other.

This is only a small island...

Had she imagined the note of warning in his voice? She didnt think so.

She felt sick again. She could always call her father and ask his advice. Except that she knew what hed say. Hed summon her back instantly, and hand the Thunder Cay negotiations to someone else.

And she didnt want that. Shed fought hard for her place on the Gilmour-Denys team. At first work had been a form of therapy in the wake of Rosss desertion. Lately, shed become involved for the sake of the job itself.

Among other things, shed taken over the administration of the charitable trusts left by her wealthy American mother. The bulk of Kathryn Landins considerable estate, bequeathed to Macy personally, would come to her in four years time, on her twenty-fifth birthday.

Up to now, her father had acted as her trustee and adviser, while shed merely been a figurehead, following his direction. Shed gathered, wryly, that that was how he thought matters should continue.

But she had other ideas. She planned to manage the Landin bequest herself, alongside her career at Gilmour-Denys. She had no intention of being treated as a pretty ornament, to be produced at dinner parties and other social events. She had a sharp business acumen like her mothers before her, and no emotional shock, however acute, was going to throw her off balance. She couldnt afford to get hysterical just because an ex-lover had crossed her path.

But not just an ex-lover, said a sly voice in her head. Ross was your first, and only lover. The one you fell so hard for that you gave him your whole life.

Only that wasnt what Ross wanted at all, she thought, inner pain slashing at her. Hed had very different plans for the future.

Dont look back, she adjured herself. Look forward. Concentrate on the job in hand. Make the deal, and get out as fast as you can. The fact that youve seen him doesnt have to affect your plans at all.

As she turned to hail a passing taxi, painted like a mauve and white zebra, she found the image of Ross, tanned and unkempt in his raggy denims, disturbingly entrenched in her mind. Looking, she thought, exactly like the drifter and layabout her father had accused him of being.

She supposed she should be glad her father had been right about him all along. At the same time, she couldnt help wondering exactly what Ross had done with all that money.

The money her father had paid him to get out of her life forever.

* * *

Ambrose Delanceys law offices were situated on the first floor of a pleasant white-painted building, in a square of similar buildings.

In the middle of the square was a fountain, surrounded by flower-beds, and surmounted by a statue of a man dressed in the elaborate style of the seventeenth century. A plaque announced that this was Bevis Hilliard, Fortunas first governor.

As a family, the Hilliards had clearly enjoyed power here from the first. The sale of Thunder Cay was the first chink in the wall of autocracy theyd built around themselves. A tacit acknowledgement, perhaps, that Boniface Hilliard was the last of his name.

There was a certain sadness about that, Macy thought, as she went into the office building.

She found herself in a small reception area, confronted by a girl with a smile as wide as the sky.

My names Landin, she introduced herself. And I have an appointment with Mr Delancey.

Hes expecting you, Miz Landin. The girl lifted a phone and spoke softly into it. Will you take a seat for just one minute. May I get you some coffee, or a cold drink?

Macy declined politely. She was feeling frankly nervous, and took several deep breaths to restore her equilibrium.

Then a buzzer sounded sharply, and she was shown through a door at the rear of the room into a large office. One wall was mostly window, shielded against the worst of the sun by slatted blinds. Two of the other walls were lined in books, and a display of green plants gave an impression of coolness as well as discreetly masking another door, presumably leading to further offices.

Ambrose Delancey was a tall black man, impeccably clad in a lightweight cream suit. He greeted Macy with reserved friendliness and a firm handshake.

What can I do for you, Miss Landin? he asked, offering her a black leather chair in front of his imposing desk.

I hope you can open negotiations for the sale of Thunder Cay to Gilmour-Denys, Macy returned coolly and crisply. Youve seen a copy of our proposal, and had time to consider it. Wed now like to hear your clients response.

Mr Delancey smiled reluctantly. You dont waste any time. But this is Fortuna, Miss Landin, and we take things at a slower pace here.

So Ive noticed, Macy said drily.

Im not saying my client isnt interested in your offer, Mr Delancey went on. But there are certainformalities he insists on, before any serious discussion takes place.

What kind of formalities?

He toyed absently with a pen. The fact is, Miss Landin, Mr Hilliard wishes to meet you.

To meet me? Macy was taken aback. Why should he want thatat this stage?

He shrugged. Maybe he wants to assess the calibre of your company from you as its representative. He let that sink in, then continued, I take it you have no objection?

No, she said. If thats what it takes. Will you arrange a further meeting here?

He shook his head. Mr Hilliards state of health doesnt permit that, so the interview will be at Trade Winds. Ill contact you at your hotel as soon as the appointments been made. I trust thats convenient.

Perfectly, Macy returned. It seemed to her that Mr Delanceys gaze had strayed a couple of times towards the door in the corner, and that shed heard vague sounds of movement from behind it. Another client, she surmised, growing restive.

She got to her feet. I realise how busy you are, she said pointedly. Ill wait to hear from you.

Outside, in the baking afternoon heat, she drew a deep, shaky breath. What did they say about the best laid plans?

It seemed that, for good or ill, she was stuck here indefinitely.

She would have to wait with as much patience as she could muster for her summons to Trade Winds. Play the game on Fortuna terms. She wasnt enamoured of the idea of being inspected by Boniface Hilliard, but there was no point in objecting. Softly, softly was the only approach.

Under different circumstances, of course, she could have shrugged off the inconvenience, even enjoyed her enforced break, especially as this was her first time in the Bahamas.

If, that was, it werent for Ross...

His presence on Fortuna made all the difference, of course. That was why she was so on edge, she thought.

This is only a small island. That was what hed said. And See you around.

Macy tasted blood suddenly, and realised she had sunk her teeth deep into her bottom lip.

Not, she said under her breath, staring up at the merciless blue of the sky, not if I see him first.

CHAPTER TWO

MACY still felt restive as she showered and changed for dinner that evening.

She put on white silk trousers and a matching sleeveless, low-necked top, defining her slender waist with a favourite belt of broad silver links. Her hair she pinned up into a loose coil, and she hung silver hoops in her ears.

She looked like the ideal tourist, anticipating an evening of leisure and pleasure, she thought, grimacing at her reflection before turning away.

Shed spent a quiet afternoon in a sheltered corner of the hotel gardens, making herself think coolly and rationally about the best course to follow when she came face to face with Boniface Hilliard. How to make the best impression.

But in spite of everything, her thoughts kept turning compulsively back to Ross, although she knew she was a fool and worse than a fool to let him impinge even marginally on her consciousness.

She didnt mention his presence when she left a message on her fathers answering machine about the latest development in the negotiations.

What Sir Edwin didnt know wouldnt hurt him, she told herself defensively. She could imagine only too well how hed react if he discovered Ross was within a thousand miles of her again.

But then theyd been oil and water from their first meeting, she recalled with an inward shudder. On almost every issuepersonal, professional, and politicaltheyd been on opposite sides of a steadily widening gulf, with her, trapped between them, suspended over some bitter, bottomless pit of divided loyalties.





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