My Greek Island Fling
I am delighted to announce that my latest romance for Harlequin Mills and Boon called ”My Greek Island Fling” will be released in the UK as a RIVA title in June 2012 and in September as a Harlequin Romance title.
And I am very excited that My Greek Island Fling is now part of the RIVA Relaunch issues which are available online from Mills and Boon in September 2012 and online and from W H Smith in the UK from October 2012.
And from the back cover:
Could writing someone else’s life story mean re-writing her own?
Sipping a cocktail under the warm Greek sun, Lexi Sloane can almost taste success.
Ghost-writing a celebrity memoir on a postcard-perfect island will be the career breakthrough she’s been working towards for years…but only if she can persuade the infuriatingly guarded Mark Belmont to open up about his famous mother.
Mark grew up in the spotlight and learned young to stay cautious and alert to intrusion, so Lexi has her work cut out.
Lexi is hiding too – behind the experiences of those she writes about…
Could she learn to be the star of her own life?
If you like the films Mamma Mia or Love Actually, you’ll love this.
For me, one of the delights in reading – and writing – fiction, is seeing familiar places in a completely new way through the eyes of the characters on the page.
Over the years I have been fortunate enough to have spent many wonderful summer family holidays on the Greek islands and one of my favourites is the lovely small island of Paxos in the Ionian. You have to travel there by sea but as a result Paxos is unspoilt with wonderful friendly people and the most amazing views and rural landscapes.
To a city girl like Lexi Sloane, tranquil and quiet Paxos is a very different world from the busy and noisy jet setting life she is accustomed to. But she has the last man she ever expected to see again as her guide.
The Honourable Mark Belmont does not know what hit him when Lexi walks through the door of his villa, but one thing is certain. His life will never be boring again.
This is my tenth romance novel for Harlequin Mills and Boon and a very special one. I do hope that you enjoy Lexi and Mark’s journey to love and the happiness that they each deserve.
Here is a taste of some of the stunning scenery that inspired my book – enjoy.
Lexi Sloane pushed her designer sandal hard onto the brake pedal as a pair of long eared brown and white coloured nanny goats tottered out in front of the car from a gap in the wall just as she drove around the bend and then bleated at her in disgust.
‘Hey, give me a chance, girls. I’m new around here.’ Lexi sang out into the silent countryside, and then snorted inelegantly as the goats totally ignored her and sauntered off into the long grass under the olive trees on the other side of the road.
‘Which girls? Lexi? I thought you were working,’ her mother laughed into her ear piece in such a clear voice that it was hard to imagine that she was calling from a basement in a historic London theatre hundreds of miles away. ‘Don’t tell me. You have changed your mind and taken off with your pals on holiday to Spain after all.’
‘Oh please, don’t remind me! Nope. The agency made me an offer I couldn’t refuse and I am definitely on Paxos,’ Lexi replied into the head set as she stretched her head forward like a turtle from its shell, scanning the sunlit road for more stray wildlife. ‘You know how it goes. I am the official go-to girl when it comes to ghost writing biographies. And it’s always at the last minute. I will say one thing,’ she sniggered, ‘I stepped off the hydrofoil from Corfu an hour ago and those girls were the first local inhabitants I have met since I left the main road. Oh – and did I mention it is seriously hot?’
‘A Greek Island in June. I am so jealous,’ her mother sighed. ‘It’s such a pity you have to work, but we will make up for it when you get back. This reminds me. I was talking to a charming young actor just this morning who would love to meet you, and I sort of invited him to my engagement party. I’m sure you would like him.’
‘Oh no. Mum, I adore you and I know you mean well, but no more actors. Not after the disaster with Adam. Oh no. In fact, please don’t set me up with any more boyfriends at all. I’ll be fine,’ Lexi replied, trying desperately to keep the anxiety out of her voice and change the subject. ‘You have far more important things to sort out without worrying about a boyfriend for me. Have you found a venue for this famous party yet? I’m expecting something remarkable.’
‘Oh don’t talk to me about that. Patrick seems to find more relatives by the day. I thought that four daughters and three grandchildren were more than enough but he wants the whole tribe to be there. He is so terribly old fashioned about these things. Do you know that he won’t even sleep with me until his grandmother’s ring is on my finger?’
‘I know, but what is a girl supposed to do? He’s gorgeous and I’m crazy about him. Anyhow, must go – I’m being dragged out to look at gothic chapels, but I will tell you all about it when you get back.’
‘Gothic? You wouldn’t dare, I look terrible in black,’ Lexi replied as she peered through the windscreen then slowed the car at the entrance to the first driveway she had seen. ‘Ah. Wait. I think I have just arrived at my client’s house. Finally! Wish me luck?’
‘I will if you need it, but you don’t. Now call me the minute you get back to London. I want to know everything about this mystery client you have to work with. And I mean everything. Don’t worry about me, you just try and enjoy yourself. Ciao gorgeous.’
And with that her mother signed off, leaving Lexi alone on the lonely silent country lane.
She glanced up at the letters carved into a stone name plate then double checked the address she had noted down over the phone while waiting for her luggage to come off the carousel at Corfu airport some five hours earlier.
Yup. This was it. Villa Ares. Wasn’t Ares the Greek god of war? Curious name for a house, but she was here and in one piece, which was quite a miracle.
Checking quickly for more goats or other animal residents, Lexi shifted the hire car into gear and drove slowly up the rough gravel driveway which curved around the long white two-storey house before bringing the car to a shuddering halt.
Lexi lifted away her telephone head set and sat for a few minutes with the engine turned off to take in the stunning villa. She inhaled a long breath of hot, dry air through the open window, fragrant with the scent of orange blossom from the trees at the end of the drive. The only sound was birdsong from the olive groves and a gentle ripple of water from the swimming pool.
No sign of life. And certainly no sign of the mystery celebrity who was supposed to have sent a minion to meet her at the hydrofoil terminal.
Welcome to Paxos, she whispered with a chuckle and stepped out of the car into the heat and the crunch of the rough stone beneath her feet.
The words had no sooner slipped from Lexi’s lips than the slim stiletto heel of her favourite Italian sandal scraped down a large smooth cobble stone, her ankle twisted over and she stumbled against the hot metal of her tiny hire car.
Which left a neat trail of several weeks’ worth of grime and bright green tree pollen all down the side of the Italian silk and linen jacket.
Oh no! Grinding her teeth she inspected the damage to her clothing and the scrape down her shoe and swore to herself with all of the fluency and extensive vocabulary of a girl raised in show business. The dark red leather had been completely scraped into a tight crumpled ball down the heel of her shoe.
This project had better be a real emergency!
Even if it was so totally intriguing.
In the five years that she had worked as a contract ghostwriter, this was the first time that they had sent her out on a top secret assignment on her own – so secret that the publisher who signed the contract had insisted that all details about the identity of the mystery celebrity author must remain under wraps until the ghost writer arrived at the celebrity’s private home. The talent agency was well-known for being extremely discreet, but this was taking it to the next level.
She didn’t even know the name of her client! Or anything about the book she would be working on.
A tingle of excitement and anticipation whispered across Lexi’s shoulders as she peered up at the imposing stone villa. She loved a mystery almost as much as she loved meeting new people and travelling to new places around the world.
And her mind had been racing ever since she took the call in Hong Kong.
Who was this mysterious celebrity and why the great secrecy?
Several pop stars just out of rehab came to mind and there was the movie star who had just set up his own charity organisation to fight child trafficking – any publisher would be keen to have that story.
Only one thing was certain. This was going to be someone special.
Lexi brushed most of the pollen from the rough silk tweed fabric of her jacket, then straightened her back and walked as tall as she could across the loose stone drive, the excitement of walking into the unknown making her buzz with anticipation.
A warm breeze caressed her neck and she dipped her sunglasses lower onto her nose and waggled her shoulders in delight.
This had to be the second best job in the world. She was actually paid to meet interesting people in lovely parts of the world and learn about their lives. And the best thing of all? Not one of these celebrities knew that she used every second of the time travelling and waiting around in cold studios to work on the stories she really wanted to write.
Her childrens’ books.
A few more paying jobs like this one and she would finally be able to take some time out and write them properly. And just the thought of that gave her the shivers. To make that dream happen she was prepared to put up with anyone.
Swinging her red leather tote which had been colour matched for her now ruined sandals, she shrugged, lifted her chin and strode out lop sided and wincing as the sharp stones of the drive pressed into the thin soles of her sandals.
Hey ho. They were only sandals. She had seen too much of the flip side of life to let a little thing like a damaged sandal annoy her. Meeting a client when she did not even know their name was a drop in the ocean compared to the train wreck of her personal life.
It was time to find out whose life she was going to share for the next week and why they wanted to keep their project such a secret. She could hardly wait.
Mark Belmont rolled over onto his back on the padded sun lounger and blinked several times before yawning widely and stretching his arms high above his head. He had not intended to fall asleep, but the hot, sunny weather combined with the latest bout of insomnia had taken their toll.
He rolled his legs over the lounger, sat upright and ground the palms of his hands into his eyes for a few seconds to try and relieve the nagging headache but without success. The bright sunlight and calm beautiful garden seemed to be laughing at the turmoil that roiled inside his head.
Coming to Paxos had seemed like a good idea. In the past the family villa had always been a serene welcoming refuge for the family away from the prying eyes of the media where he could relax and be himself. But even this tranquil location did not hold enough magic to conjure up the amount of calm he needed to see the work through.
After four days of working through his mother’s biography his emotions were a riot of awe at her beauty and talent combined with sadness and regret for all of the lost opportunities he had missed when she was alive. The things he could have said or done which could have made a difference to how she felt and the decision she took. Perhaps even convinced her not to have surgery at all.
But it was a futile quest. All too late and way too little.
Worse, he had always relished the solitude of the villa, but now it seemed to echo with the ghosts of happier days and he felt so very much alone. Isolated. His sister Cassie had been right. Five months was not long enough to put aside his grief. Nowhere near.
He sniffed and was about to stand when a thin black cat appeared at his side and meowed loudly for lunch as she rubbed herself along the side of the lounger.
‘Okay, Emmy. Sorry I’m late.’
He shuffled across the patio towards the stone barbecue in his bare feet, watching out for sharp pieces of stone. Reaching into a tall metal bin he pulled out a box of cat biscuits and quickly loaded up a plastic plate, narrowly avoiding the claws and teeth of the feral cat as it attacked the food. Within seconds her two white kittens appeared and cautiously approached the plate, their pink ears and tongue a total contrast to their mum. Dad Oscar must be out in the olive groves.
‘It’s okay guys. It’s all yours,’ Mark sniggered as he filled the water bowl from the tap and set it down. ‘Bon appetite.’
Mark ran his hands through his hair and sighed out loud as he strolled back towards the villa. This was not getting the work done.
He had stolen ten days away from Belmont Investment to try to make some sense of the suitcase of manuscript pages, press clippings, personal notes, appointment diaries and letters he had scooped up from his late mother’s desk and so far he had failed miserably.
It was certainly not his idea to finish his mother’s biography. Far from it. He knew that it would only bring more publicity knocking on his door, but his father was adamant. He was prepared to do the press interviews and make his life public property if it helped to put the ghosts to rest and celebrate her life in the way he wanted.
But of course that was before the relapse.
But when could he refuse his father anything? He had put his own dreams and personal aspirations to one side for the family before and would willingly do it again in a heartbeat.
But where do you even start to write the biography of a woman who the world knew as Crystal Leighton, the beautiful international movie star, but he knew as the mother who took him shopping for shoes and turned up at every school sports day?
The woman who gave up her movie career rather than allow her family to be subjected to the constant and repeated invasion of their privacy that came with being a celebrity?
Mark paused under the shade of the awning outside the dining room window and looked out over the gardens and swimming pool as the light breeze brought some relief to the unrelenting late June heat.
He needed to find some new way of working through the mass of information that any celebrity and wife and mother accumulates in a lifetime, and make some sense it all.
But one thing was clear. He had to do it fast.
The publisher wanted the manuscript on his desk in time for a major celebration of Crystal Leighton at the London Film Festival which had been scheduled for the week before Christmas. The deadline has been pushed back to January, then April and now he would be lucky to have anything before the end of August.
And every time the date slipped, another unofficial biography appeared. Packed with the usual lies, speculation and innuendo about her early life and of course, the horrific way her life came to an early end.
He had to do something, anything, to protect the reputation of his mother – he had failed to protect her privacy when it mattered most, and he refused to fail her again. If anyone was going to create a biography it would be someone who cared about keeping her reputation and memory alive and revered.
No going back. No compromises. He would keep his promise and was happy to do it – for her and for his family. And just maybe there was a slim chance that he would come to terms with his own crushing guilt at how much he had failed her. Maybe.
Mark turned back towards the house, and then frowned as he saw movement on the other side of the pine French doors which separated the house from the patio.
Strange. His housekeeper was away and he wasn’t expecting visitors. Any visitors. He had made sure of that. His office had strict instructions not to reveal the location of the villa or give out his private contact details to anyone.
Mark blinked several times and he found his glasses on the side table.
A woman he had never seen before was strolling around inside his living room, picking things up and putting them down again as if she owned the place.
His things! Things he had not intended anyone else to see. Documents which were personal and so very private.
He inhaled slowly and pressed his hands flat against the cushion to calm his blood pressure. Anger and resentment boiled up from deep inside his body and he had to fight the urge to rush inside and physically throw this woman out onto the lane and send her back to where she had came from.
The last thing he wanted was yet another journalist or so called film maker looking for some dirt and a headline picking over his parents’ personal letters.
This was the very reason he had come to Paxos in the first place. To escape from the constant pressure from the world of journalists and the media. And now it seemed that the world had just decided to invade the privacy. Without even the decency of ringing the doorbell and asking to be admitted.
That was unacceptable.
Max rolled back his shoulders, his head thumping, his hands clenched and his attention totally focused on the back of the head of this woman who thought she had every right to inspect the contents of his living room.
The patio door was half open, and Max padded across the stone patio in his bare feet so quietly that she would not hear him against the background noise of the jazz piano music tinkling out from his favourite CD that he had left playing on repeat.
He unfurled one fist so that his hand rested lightly on the door frame. But as he moved the glass backwards his body froze, his hand flat against the doorjamb.
There was something vaguely familiar about this chestnut haired woman who was so oblivious to his presence, her head tilted slightly to one side as she browsed the family collection of popular novels and business books, which had accumulated here over the years.
She reminded him of someone he had met before but her name and where they had met was annoyingly blank. Perhaps it was due to the very odd combination of clothing she was wearing. Nobody on this island deliberately chose to wear floral grey and pink patterned leggings below a fuchsia coloured dress and expensive jacket. She had to be wearing four or five long trailing scarves in contrasting patterns and colours, which in this heat was not only madness but clearly designed to impress rather than be functional.
She must have been quite entertaining to the other passengers on the ferry or hydrofoil to the island from Corfu that morning.
One thing was certain.
This girl was not a tourist. She was a city girl wearing city clothes. Which meant one thing. She was here for one reason and that reason was him. Probably some journalist who had asked him for an interview at some function or other, and was under pressure from her editor to deliver. She might have come a long way to track him down, but that was her problem. Whoever she was, it was time to find out what she wanted, and send her back to the city.
Then she picked up a silver framed photograph. And his blood ran cold.
It was the only precious picture he had from the last Christmas they had celebrated together as a family. His mother’s happy face smiled out from the photograph, complete with the snowman earrings and reindeer headset she was wearing in honour of Cassie’s little boy. A snapshot of life at Belmont Manor as it used to be, and never could be again.
And now it was in the hands of a stranger.
Max gave a short low cough, both hands on his hips.
‘Looking for anything in particular,’ he asked.
The girl swung round, a look of absolute horror on her face. But as she did so the photograph she was holding dropped from her fingers, as her hand pressed against her chest and she only just caught it in time as it slid down the sofa towards the hard tile floor.
And as she looked at him through her oversized dark sunglasses and catching her breath, a flutter of a moment flashed through his prestigious memory then wafted out again before he could grasp hold of it. Which annoyed him even more.
‘I don’t know who you are or what you are doing here, but I would like you to leave the same way you came in. Am I making myself clear?’