Gina Williams ran naked from the bathroom, struggling into a cream toweling bathrobe three sizes too big. By the time she got down the stairs to the door of the villa, Nick Rostov had already crossed the beach and stepped onto the wooden jetty. She caught up with him as he was unhitching the cruiser’s mooring rope.
“Nick, wait!” She put her hand on his arm to make him look at her. “What’s going on?”
“I told you. I have business today. Urgent.”
“But—how long have you known about this?”
“Dimitri tell me last night.”
She thought back to their arrival at the marina, late last night. Nick had spoken—in Greek, or maybe Russian—with a stooped, gray-haired man, before they took the short boat trip to the island. She hadn’t understood a word, of course.
So he’d known all this time, but hadn’t bothered to mention it. And he’d let her laze in bed, and take her time in the shower, without saying a word. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
He shrugged. “Is my business. You here to enjoy beach, swim, lie in sun.”
Did he understand her so little? Lying on the beach all day was the last thing she’d want to do. Besides, he had no right to make assumptions on her behalf. Still, having an argument might not be the best way for her to get on that boat.
“I’d really rather come with you,”she said. “If you give me five minutes, I’ll grab my stuff. I can get dressed on the boat.”
She stepped back, shocked by his scowling eyebrows and hard-set mouth.
His face relaxed, a little. “You must stay. I go now.”
“Five minutes, honestly, that’s all I need! And I won’t get in your way. Just give me a lift to the mainland, I’ll go sightseeing by myself.”
“Not possible. You stay.” He pulled her to him and bent to kiss her forehead. His beard tickled her nose. “Maybe tomorrow.” With that, he vaulted onto the gleaming white 32-footer.
“Nick!” she wailed, her frustration bringing out her Australian accent. “I came here to be with you, not sit on a bloody beach all by myself!”
“I back tonight,” he called to her as the cruiser pulled away.
With a huff of annoyance, she sank down onto the jetty and hugged her knees, confused by Nick’s dismissive attitude. He’d been so different in Thessaloniki, eager to fulfill her every whim. Perhaps she should have accepted that theirs was just a holiday romance. He was Russian and lived here, in Greece; she lived in England and her real home was ten thousand miles away in Australia, how could that ever work? But faced with the choice of being single and unemployed in damp, gray-skied London, or spending a few more sun-kissed weeks with a handsome Russian, she had weakened. Wouldn’t anyone?
She leaned back on her hands, gazing up at the clear, jewel-blue sky, and felt the tension in her neck ease. Even in mid-September, the sun was bright, the air was mild, and the fresh aroma of pine mingled with the salt tang of the breeze. If only the island had been as she’d imagined, she’d have waved Nick off without a word of complaint.
When Nick had said, “I have a luxury villa on a Greek island”, she had imagined somewhere like Mykonos, with neighbors and restaurants and ferries and telephones. The reality had turned out to be a great lump of barren rock in the middle of a bay, with no transport and no phone signal.
She swiveled to glare at the building behind her. When she’d first arrived, she had been mightily impressed by the Hampton-style mansion, gleaming white in the moonlight with a small crescent of beach in front, and the great cliff looming darkly behind. But then she’d discovered it was divided into three two-bedroom villas, and Nick owned only the one on the far right. And apart from the fake mansion, there was absolutely nothing else on the island, unless you counted the generator shed and the water tank. There wasn’t even a garden, just a wide wraparound deck. Nothing to do but swim and sunbathe, and—now that Nick had taken the cruiser—no way to leave.
A movement caught her eye. A woman emerging from the center villa, which belonged to Nick’s brother, Sasha. Nick had warned her that Sasha and his girlfriend were weird recluses who hated visitors.
The girlfriend was coming towards the jetty, no doubt coming to board the stylish Venetian-style runabout moored there, all burnished wood and shining chrome fittings. A way for Gina to escape the island too, perhaps.
Gina stood as the woman approached. Wow, she was tall, and her tailored shorts made her legs look even longer. Her flaming red hair was perfectly groomed. Gina groaned inwardly, thinking how her own uncombed mop of boring-brown curls must look to such a Glamazon.
Gina held out her hand, but noticed her bathrobe had fallen half-open and had to use both hands to pull it close around her. “Hi, I’m Gina! You must be Monika?”
The woman nodded but her face remained impassive. “You’re Nick’s guest, I suppose.”
“Yes. He had to leave on business unexpectedly so I’m kind of stuck here. I wondered…”
Monika was already climbing into the runabout, as if Gina hadn’t spoken. But Gina wasn’t ready to give up yet.
“It would only take me a few minutes to grab my things, if you could possibly give me a lift to the mainland?”
“I’m sorry,” Monika said, not sounding sorry in the slightest. “I’m meeting someone at the airport. I can’t wait.”
Gina watched her steer the runabout out to sea with a twinge of jealousy. Monika had hair that hung in a pin-straight bob, legs up to her armpits, a rich boyfriend and a beautiful boat. Some people had all the luck.
Sighing, Gina crossed the white sandy beach and slumped into one of the wicker chairs on the deck, considering what to do with her day. There was one silver lining of Nick’s absence: she’d have plenty of time to do her daily ballet practice. The only difficulty was where. The four-poster bed took up too much room in the master bedroom, and even if she moved all the furniture in the lounge and rolled up the Persian rug, it would hardly be enough space.
But the third villa would have space. Nick had told her it was empty, abandoned when the owner went bankrupt. Empty meant no furniture. If one of the rooms had a finished floor…
She walked over to the villa entrance. A chain was threaded through the handles of the double doors, but the padlock was missing. She removed the chain, pushed the doors open and found herself in a small hallway—with a finished floor, she noticed. Promising.
Facing her was another door. She opened it, and stopped on the threshold, awestruck. The room was enormous. Beams of sunlight slanted in through skylights in the double-height ceiling, onto a vast expanse of honey-colored floorboards. The only furniture was some built-in cupboards at the far end—and fixed to the wall opposite her, a ballet barre. The other two walls were unfinished, their battens still visible.
Unmistakably, a dance studio. She stepped into the room and tested the floor by jumping up and down. It was properly sprung, not laid on concrete, to protect dancers from injury. Built by someone for whom dancing was a business, to be worth going to all that expense.
Her feet left footprints in the dust and sand. The place hadn’t been used for ages. She must ask Nick if he knew anything about the previous owner…but wait. Why hadn’t Nick told her about the studio? He knew she was a dancer and how useful it would be to her.
Another bone to pick with him when he got back from his trip. But in the meantime, she had more important things to think about. She would need to find a broom, a bucket and a mop for a start. That floor would take a lot of cleaning—but it would be worth it. With a gleeful skip, she left the studio, looking forward to a glorious morning of dancing. Delete Created with Sketch.
Alex Korolev sat up in bed. Music filtered clearly through the wall between his bedroom and the villa next door. Someone was in his studio.
He reached for the buzzer by his pillow. Nick must be doing this, as revenge for refusing to increase his allowance. Alex put the buzzer down slowly. He wouldn’t give his brother the satisfaction of knowing how much it upset him.
No point trying to sleep now. He pressed the remote control to open the blind, letting in the morning light, such as it was. The window, at the back of the house, looked out onto the cliff face only a few feet away.
He closed his eyes. If only he could sit quietly and listen to the melody like a normal person, but he’d been dancing since he was three. His instinctive response to music was movement. Without wanting to, he could see the dance in his mind’s eye. Unbidden, his shoulders swayed. He moved his leg, and gasped at the pain.
The music was from Nutcracker, which made him think of the last Christmas before the accident. The festive season was always a busy time, crisscrossing the globe as a guest artist. He had traveled nearly fifty thousand miles in two months.
How his life had changed. In the last six months, he’d traveled no more than a few meters, from his bed to the bathroom and back.
His world now was limited, but not without its comforts. A king-sized bed, goose-down pillows, a large-screen television—although satellite reception was unpredictable at best, and he didn’t know enough Greek to understand the local broadcasts. He’d had the Persian rug removed from the floor. He would never need to walk on it, and it caught on the wheelchair’s wheels.
The music died away. His muscles relaxed.
The swans’ music from Swan Lake began. An inspiring Tchaikovsky score. He knew it too well. The ballet he and Louise had been rehearsing before the crash.
The first notes of the pas de deux sounded through the wall, and the memory of the accident flooded his brain—the squeal of tires, the screeching, grinding collision of metal, glass showering over him. Then silence, and the smell. Rain, gasoline, rubber, and a strange smell of copper. Blood. Louise’s blood. Her broken body next to him, her head—.
“For fuck’s sake!” He grabbed the lunch tray from the nightstand and hurled it in the direction of the sound. It ricocheted the wall, sending crockery shards flying. The violent movement sent a jagged pain through his legs as the bolts of the metal fixators grated against bone. He swore at them.
A few minutes later, the bedroom door creaked open.
“What the fuck do you think you’re —” Alex stopped. He was not shouting at Nick, but a petite woman dressed in a typical dancer’s ragbag of clothing, with a tangle of dark brown curls and huge dark eyes.