He couldn’t hear Ava’s squeals of delight but he could feel them. They hit him deep in his guts.

Emily would be a fantastic mother, fierce and loving, just as his mother had been to him before he’d thrown all her love back in her face.

He could still see the ashen hue of her skin when he’d walked out that final time.

‘Pascha,’ she’d said. ‘Andrei loves you. He would never put Marat above you, only equal to you.’

‘You weren’t there,’ he’d sneered, his anger and hurt turning outward. ‘He thinks Marat is deserving of a place on the board by virtue of his Plushenko blood.’

‘He didn’t mean it like that...’

He hadn’t let her finish. ‘So now you’re taking his side? I thought I could expect support from my own mother.’

‘It isn’t a case of taking sides...’

‘From where I’m standing it is. And I can see you have made your choice. I might have wished for your support but I certainly do not need it. I’m finished with this excuse for a family and its obsession with bloodlines. This cuckoo is leaving the nest.’

He could still see the confusion in her eyes at his parting comment.

Would he have reacted differently if he hadn’t received the test results mere days before, if his dream of having his own blood family hadn’t been crushed?

He didn’t know. All he remembered feeling was hopelessness as he realised that his life meant nothing. That he meant nothing. The woman who had borne him, the one person in the world he shared a bloodline with, had failed to take his side. He was alone. Isolated. So he’d forced Yana to stay, desperate to hold onto something to validate his life.

It had taken almost two years of misery, as he threw himself into work, determined to make a success of himself on his own, before he’d seen what he was doing to her and set her free.

Luis joined him, forcing him to switch his attention away from memories that speared his heart and onto easy talk of boats and island life. By the time Luis had slapped his back and wished him goodnight, Emily was no longer dancing.

Automatically he looked out to the lagoon, his lips curving into a smile to see her paddling out to calf height.

He got to his feet.

At the water’s edge, he removed his footwear and rolled his jeans up.

‘I knew that was you,’ Emily said, turning her head to smile at him. There hadn’t been an atom of doubt in her mind that the person wading into the lagoon behind her was Pascha.

‘I’m just making sure you’re not planning on going for a swim.’

‘I was thinking about it,’ she admitted. ‘Maybe later when everyone’s gone to bed. You should join me.’

She’d come out for a paddle because she’d needed space. She’d needed to put a little distance between her and Pascha before she ran over and dragged him onto the makeshift sandy dance floor.

She’d felt his eyes on her as she danced. Whenever she could no longer resist, she’d peeked back, her heart tugging to see him alone nursing his beer, setting himself apart while the party he’d instigated went on around him.

‘Wading to my calves is enough for me,’ he said. ‘Not all the marine life in the lagoon is friendly, especially at night.’

‘Is that your way of telling me not to go for a midnight swim?’

‘It’s my way of asking you to consider the dangers of doing it.’

She laughed softly. ‘I’ve probably had too much to drink to swim.’ Not that she was drunk. A little merry, maybe, but probably more than was safe to go swimming alone.

Pascha standing beside her made her feel giddy in a completely different way; her blood fizzed at his closeness.

‘I’m glad to hear it,’ he said, his voice dry.

‘I’ll save my swimming for the waterfall tomorrow,’ she couldn’t resist saying before laughing. ‘Do you have any idea how lucky you are, owning this island? You’ve got your own lagoon and your own waterfall!’

‘I do know how lucky I am.’

Something in his tone made her stare at him, made her realise that up to that point she’d avoided his gaze.

With the darkness of the sky enveloping them it was impossible to read his eyes; she knew only that something glittered there that made her heart double over.

In the distance, Oliver was singing a Bob Marley classic, the remaining partygoers singing along, the music blurring with the gentle lapping of the waves around them.

Pascha’s chest rose and he looked up to the stars before staring back down at her. He reached out a hand and caught a ringlet.

All the breath rushed out of her body as he leaned his head forward.

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