Authors: Helen Brooks
She felt his fingers release the clip holding her hair, and as it fell about her shoulders Cherry jerked away.
‘Don’t,’ she said sharply, holding out her hand for the fastener. ‘It’s too hot to wear it down today.’
‘And is this the only reason you hide such beauty from me?’ he said, ignoring her outstretched fingers.
She stared at him, wondering if he was making fun of her. Her hair was ordinary. She was ordinary.
‘My hair is nothing special.’ She fixed him with her most severe look. ‘And how I choose to wear it has absolutely nothing to do with you.’
He smiled faintly, which Cherry found incredibly irritating. ‘Do not deny once again there is not a man behind your sojourn in my country,’ he said with unforgivable audacity. ‘A man who is stupid enough to let you slip through his fingers does not deserve you anyway.’
About the Author
lives in Northamptonshire, and is married with three children and three beautiful grandchildren. As she is a committed Christian, busy housewife, mother and grandma, her spare time is at a premium, but her hobbies include reading, swimming and gardening, and walks with her husband and their two Irish terriers. Her long-cherished aspiration to write became a reality when she put pen to paper on reaching the age of forty and sent the result off to Mills & Boon.
Recent titles by the same author:
THE BEAUTIFUL WIDOW
SWEET SURRENDER WITH THE MILLIONAIRE
THE MILLIONAIRE’S CHRISTMAS WIFE
THE BOSS’S INEXPERIENCED SECRETARY
Did you know these are also available as eBooks?
had she got herself into this position? It was ridiculous, stupid—she wouldn’t let herself think dangerous—and not at all like her. She was sensible, methodical—she didn’t do the rushing off in an impetuous tantrum thing. She never had. Mind you, the impetuous tantrum depiction was her mother’s definition of her actions, not hers.
Cherry Gibbs shielded her eyes as she stared up and down the narrow country road bordered by drystone walls with miles of olive groves stretching away as far as the eye could see in either direction. Then her gaze returned to the hire car, sitting stolidly in the warm May sun, the driver’s door hanging open. For the umpteenth time in the last hour she climbed back in to the vehicle and tried the engine. Nothing. Not a murmur.
‘Don’t do this to me.’ She pushed back a strand of silky brown hair from her hot face. ‘Not here, not now. Please, please,
start this time.’
Holding her breath, she turned the key in the ignition. As dead as a dodo. The car clearly wasn’t going to go anywhere. OK, what to do now? She couldn’t sit here all day, hoping someone might come along. It wouldn’t have been a problem if she had kept to one of the motor ways or main roads, but after leaving the town where she’d stayed
overnight she’d made the decision to get off the beaten track for a while. Italy, she’d found, was different from England in many respects—most of them good. But not with regard to driving.
In an unofficial sense, and to all intents and purposes, there were no rules of the road. Driving in the towns was a nerve-racking experience, and she’d found she needed her wits about her every second she was behind the wheel. Locals tended to pull out suddenly and without warning, overtake at hairpin bends, turn left or right on red lights if they saw an opportunity, keep bumper to bumper in their lane rather than give way to other drivers, and blast their horns incessantly if she sat at a green light for a split second.
She’d been in the region of Puglia, the southern ‘heel’ of Italy, for five days, and was in danger of developing a permanent stress-related headache. Somewhat ironic as she’d fled the UK to escape just that very thing. Hence the decision to give herself a break from the towns. Not that she hadn’t enjoyed the last few days overall.
Since she’d arrived at the airport in Brindisi, and picked up the hire car she’d arranged to have waiting, she had explored the southern tip of Puglia, taking in Lecce and the Salentine Peninsula—which was undeniably beautiful. The compact, meandering Old Town of Lecce was a paean to Baroque artistry, every church façade positively dripping with stone representations of foliage, animal life and religious imagery, and when she had followed the coast road to the very tip of the land’s end she’d felt as though she was on the edge of the world as she’d looked out from Santa Maria di Leuca across to the distant mountains of Albania. That had been a good
day. She hadn’t thought of Angela and Liam more than a dozen times.
After shutting her eyes tightly for a moment, she opened them and climbed out of the car.
. She gazed up into the brilliant blue sky. She had done enough crying over the last months to last a lifetime. This trip was all part of beginning her life anew—and that included no dwelling over the past or grieving for what she’d lost.
Reaching through the open passenger window she fetched out the map she’d bought at the airport and pored over it. She had left the little
on the outskirts of Lecce after a late breakfast of cappuccino and sweet pastries, driving up the coast for some thirty-five miles or so before turning inland. She had stopped for diesel for the little Fiat in a town called Alberobello, famous for its gathering of quirky
houses—small limestone buildings with squat whitewashed walls and domed stone roofs. They were truly magical little houses, and she had seen others scattered here and there in the region. She had spent some time looking at them before buying a bag of figs and a
—a cake made with raisins, almonds, figs and wine—from a local market.
At least she wouldn’t starve. She glanced at the purchases on the back seat of the car. It was beginning to feel like a long time since breakfast.
She’d left Alberobello some twenty minutes ago, and almost immediately had found herself in the heart of a traditional southern Italian lifestyle unchanged for decades, its landscape dotted with pine, almond and prickly pear trees and endless olive groves and vineyards. Alberobello had begun to batten down the hatches and shut up shop for the siesta as she had driven away,
and she knew within minutes the place would resemble a ghost town, with empty streets and echoing alleyways bereft of any human activity. She would have been hard put to it to find anyone to help her in the town, much less out here in the middle of nowhere. She’d been following country roads and dirt lanes for a while and had no clear idea where the nearest village was.
Tossing the map back through the window, she sighed deeply. She had her mobile phone but who the heck could she call to get her out of this fix? No one at home could help, and there were no foreign embassies in Puglia—although she had taken the precaution before leaving the UK to get the number of the nearest embassy in Rome and the number of the British Honorary Consul in Bari. Neither of which were any use now, because she didn’t have a clue where she was. Southern Italy had a justified reputation for petty crime and car theft in the towns and cities; bag-snatching was a possibility and she’d been warned not to leave the car in a dark or secluded place by the hire company and to keep any valuables out of sight. The very nice Italian man who’d delivered the car had also advised her to avoid walking alone late at night. Thieves could spot a tourist a mile away.
Still, she wasn’t in a city or town here, was she? The thought was of little comfort. She had passed the odd tiny village and farmhouse, even the occasional
house since leaving Alberobello, but exactly how far she would have to walk before she reached the nearest habitation she wasn’t sure—because she hadn’t been concentrating on that. And she would have to take all her belongings with her. She winced at the thought. Her suitcase weighed a ton and even her shoulder bag was heavy. And it would
mean leaving the car unattended. Think of all the red tape and paperwork if it got stolen.
Cherry sighed again. The olive groves either side of the road were picturesque, the warm balmy air was scented with summer, and the only sound was the lazy humming and buzzing of insects and the odd bird call; normally she would have drunk in such serenity.
She glared at it. But she wasn’t going to panic. She would eat her lunch—it would be one less thing to carry, after all—and then start walking back whence she’d come. It was the only thing she could do. It might be hours, days, before someone came down this road, for all she knew, and the thought of staying with the car and it getting dark was a bit scary. She’d seen too many horror movies that didn’t end well to do that. She smiled wryly at herself.
Cherry was sitting perched on top of the drystone wall eating the cake when she heard the sound of a vehicle. Narrowing her eyes, she peered into the distance, her heart pounding. She saw a cloud of dust first, on the road in front of her. If it was one of the local farmers he was going to be thrilled to bits with the roadblock she’d inadvertently caused. Nevertheless, a middle-aged fatherly farmer would be preferable to one of the many Don Juans she’d encountered since being here, who clearly considered a young English girl on her own fair game. It didn’t help that she looked so much younger than her twenty-five years either. Small at five-foot-four, and naturally slender, she was resigned to being taken for seventeen or eighteen. Liam had often pulled her leg about it, saying he was aware everyone would think he was cradle-snatching when she was constantly asked for her ID at nightclubs.
She could see a car now, and all thoughts of Liam
went out of her head as she surveyed the midnight-blue Ferrari nosing its way towards her. Hell. Definitely one of the local Lotharios. And no doubt one who’d think he was doing her a great honour by brightening up her sad existence and offering to sleep with her—like the one a couple of days ago, who’d asked her if she’d like some real Italian
She’d actually laughed at the way he’d drawn out the last word, before refusing his generous offer as politely as she could. He’d taken the rebuff with the lazy, philosophical good humour most young Italian males exhibited towards the opposite sex, joining his friends after blowing her a theatrical kiss. Not for the first time since she had been in Italy, she’d thought the outrageous flirting was just a game. Albeit an ever hopeful one.
Cherry clambered down from the wall, brushing crumbs of cake from her T-shirt. She had reached the Fiat by the time the approaching car drew to a halt. The tinted windows made it difficult to see the occupant, and as the driver’s door opened she braced herself, trying to gather her composure. It was one thing dealing with over-confident and amorous males in the safety of crowded streets or market places—quite another on a lonely stretch of road without a soul in sight. For a split second all the stories she’d ever heard about women tourists abroad getting raped or murdered were as one in her mind.
The man who uncoiled himself with leisurely ease from the Ferrari was no youth. Cherry had a quick impression of height—at least six foot—breadth—his shoulders were broad and strong—and a handsome dark face which had lines of experience carved into it, before
he drawled something in Italian. She didn’t understand any of it beyond the
at the end.
‘I’m sorry, I don’t speak Italian,’ she said quickly.
She thought he sighed before he said, ‘You are English?’
It was said with an air of resignation. He didn’t actually add,
Another stupid tourist
, but he might as well have. Cherry felt her hackles rising and her nod was curt.
‘So.’ He surveyed her through dark sunglasses. ‘There is a problem,
Yes—and she had the feeling she was looking at it. With a calm she was far from feeling, Cherry gave a cool smile. ‘I’m afraid my car has broken down.’