The Russian's Ultimatum(10)

By: Michelle Smart



She’d known getting caught in Pascha’s office would have basic risks attached to it but she’d assumed the worst that could happen would be a night in a prison cell. She’d arranged for James to spend the night with her father in that eventuality. That particular risk had been worth it for the chance of clearing her father’s name and giving him something that might, just might, give him some form of hope to cling to. Something that might prevent him from sinking another bottle of Scotch and throwing dozens of pills down his throat again.

Her father was broken. He’d given up.

She hadn’t been a strong enough reason for him to want to live.

* * *

By the time they embarked onto the small luxury yacht in Puerto Rico that would take them on the last leg of their trip, Emily’s brain hurt. Her heart hurt.

Leaving Pascha to talk safety issues with the yacht’s skipper, in much the same way he’d discussed safety issues with the flight crew before they’d taken off from London, Emily settled onto a sofa in the saloon and closed her eyes, blinds shading her from the late-afternoon sun.

She must have fallen asleep as a tap on her shoulder made her open her eyes with a snap.

Pascha loomed over her. He wore the same outfit he’d been in when he’d caught her in his office hours earlier, but still looked as fresh as if he’d just dressed.

‘We’ll be there soon,’ he said before turning round and heading back outside, leaving his dreadful citrus scent behind him. Okay, maybe it wasn’t dreadful. Maybe it was actually rather nice. Too nice. It made her feel...hungry. She didn’t want to like anything about him, not even his scent.

Despite her worry and lethargy, she couldn’t help but experience a whisper of excitement when she joined him on deck and felt the warmth of the sun beat down on her face. It really was a picture-perfect scene. Not a single cloud marred the cobalt sky.

Pascha pointed out the tiny, verdant island before them poking out of the Atlantic—or was it the Caribbean? They were right at the border between the two watery giants. In the far distance she could see a cluster of larger islands, seemingly surrounding the smaller one like sentries.

‘That is Aliana Island.’ It was the first time he’d put a name to her final destination.

Aliana Island: even its name was beautiful.

Emily reminded herself that it should make no difference whether her prison for the next week was an under-stairs cupboard or a virtual paradise. Her reasons for being there were the same. She was there against her will.

All the same, the closer they got to their destination, the more her spirits lifted. The island didn’t appear to get any bigger, but she could see more detail. The deep blue sea beneath them lightened, turning a clearer turquoise than she could have dreamed of, the sandy beach before them sparkling under the beaming sun.

‘We have to be careful getting to the island,’ Pascha explained in that clipped manner she was becoming used to. ‘It’s surrounded by a coral reef.’

‘Aren’t they dangerous for boats?’ She didn’t know much about coral reefs but that was one thing she was fairly certain of.

‘Exceedingly dangerous,’ he agreed. ‘Only a fool would navigate coral waters without any prior knowledge of them. Luis has been navigating these waters for years.’

‘That’s good to know,’ she murmured without surprise. In the short time she’d known him, Pascha had proved himself a man who took security and safety extremely seriously.

‘Is that a temple?’ she asked, spotting what looked like some kind of Buddhist retreat set back a little from the beach.

‘No. It’s my lodge.’

‘Your lodge?’

‘Aliana Island belongs to me.’

Despite herself, Emily was impressed. Looking carefully, she could see other, smaller buildings with thatched roofs branching off the main one. ‘It’s beautiful. How did it get its name? Was Aliana the person who discovered it?’

‘No. Aliana is my mother.’

‘Really?’ Something flittered over her face, a look he couldn’t discern but made him think his answer had pleased her somehow. ‘You named an island after your mother? What a fabulous thing to do. I bet she was delighted when you told her, wasn’t she?’

‘She...’

He struggled to think of the correct wording to describe his mother’s reaction—the slap across his face and the words, ‘You think an island can repair the damage you caused?’

He decided on, ‘She wasn’t displeased.’

He’d bought the island three years before. The ink on the purchase contract had barely dried before he’d changed its name.

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