Inside, the team were getting more and more hyper, but outside the Adriatic Sea was calm and jewel-blue. The jet’s wing sparkled in the sunshine. The whole day twinkled like a golden blessing. This was going to be the start of an amazing chapter in her life. She could feel it. Things were finally turning around…
The plane landed smoothly, the wait to disembark was mere moments, and then they stepped out into the spectacular sunshine of the Adriatic springtime.
She walked away from the magazine staff and tried to call Lynda. The confidentiality clause was real, but her mother was a worrier. And when she worried she got anxious, and when she got anxious…
That was something to be avoided at all costs.
There was no answer. Out of the corner of her eye Coral saw them all skipping off towards some cars.
She sent a text.
Touched down on a secret island in Greece! On my way to meet the client! Wish I could tell you more but I’m sworn to secrecy! Hugs xx
That should do it, she thought, tucking the phone back into her bag and running to catch up to where the others were all standing like a chorus line, bubbling with excitement. She came up right up behind them—and then saw what had their attention.
There, in between shoulders, she glimpsed a fleet of cars. They were parked one behind the other. The drivers’ doors were open and standing at each one was a man in black trousers and shirt. Everyone seemed to be staring, waiting.
And then, from one of the cars, a man emerged.
‘Oh, my God,’ she heard being whispered along the row. ‘Everybody take cover. Here comes the walking sex bomb.’
Coral strained to see clearly. Was Raffaele Rossini really such a big deal? With her photographer’s eye she scanned and judged.
Tall and toned—just like they all were. Proportions? Perfect. Head to shoulder, chest, waist, hips, legs. Handsome? Yes. Off the charts. Brown hair as opposed to black. Shorter than execs normally wore it. And a close-cropped beard that sculpted his cheeks, lips and jaw. Stubble wasn’t her thing. Normally.
He moved around the cars and then she felt it. Wow. There was no way to deny that this man was utterly magnetic.
But he was going to be her boss. Off-limits was the only rule that applied.
He moved forward slowly. There was nothing to see under the mirrored shades of his Aviators. The slant of his mouth was neutral. But the slow nod of his head as he checked them all out was like a caress. His voice, when he spoke, an embrace. They sighed as they budged a little closer.
‘Welcome to the Island of Hydros. I hope you had a good flight. My men will escort you to your villas and make sure you’re comfortable.’
Mariella breathed her appreciation as everyone else fluttered thank you with their eyelashes.
‘You have all signed non-disclosure agreements, so you’re fully aware that there will be no unauthorised photography, recording or social media.’
The gang gushed an obedient yes. He turned to Mariella.
‘And your protégée, Mariella—where is she?’
As if she was infected with some plague, everyone shuffled away from Coral. The dust from the ground swirled and the wind blew her hair. Coral lifted her hand to sweep it from her face as his gaze zoomed to her.
‘This is Coral Dahl, Raffa. She’s the one I told you about.’
Coral smiled and waited for him to speak, but he didn’t. His eyes flashed over her quickly, and then he seemed to nod slightly.
‘You won the commission to photograph Kyla.’
It didn’t sound like a question, but she found herself nodding.
‘Yes, that’s right. I’m really thrilled to meet you and get a chance to work on the magazine.’
Silence settled over the whole group as he began to walk towards her.
‘Let’s talk about that as we drive. Pass me your bag.’
She looked down stupidly to the huge leather tote that doubled as handbag, briefcase and holdall.
‘No, no. It’s fine. I’ll manage,’ she said cheerfully.
He waited, as if she hadn’t understood him, and then she got it. Obviously whatever Raffaele said, happened. No questions, no rebuttals, no argument. She handed it to him. Fine.
‘There.’ He indicated the second car in the line—low and sleek, compared to the four-wheel drives. He opened the passenger door and she slid inside.
She scented leather and musk, and then the man who got in beside her. The brilliant day was left behind as he closed the door and sealed them in.
She didn’t so much as glance to the side as they passed the others but she could sense them all staring. Raffaele turned off down a narrow road and immediately put his foot down. She lurched back, grabbed at the seatbelt.
‘So, Coral, tell me a little bit about yourself.’