RAVEN HARBOR ROMANCE, BOOK 3, OLIVIA
Olivia Sarlin is at a crossroads and quaffing Champagne to numb her sorrows.
When she fell in love with Argentinean race car champion Antonio Testino she never imagined how little time they’d have together. But she's alone - again. He's on the run and she can nothing to help him. Can she?
Her first love, Daniel Beck, hasn’t left her side. He’s been keeping an eye on her since Antonio’s disappearance. She’s his soul mate and there’s nothing that will ever change that. He’d give his life for her.
Yet, Olivia hardly notices his devotion. She’s desperate to find a way to clear the criminal charges against Antonio - so desperate she’s about to ransom her soul for him - to the man who stalks her - Clive Garo! And she’s keeping it secret from everyone. Not even Dame Helena knows how far out on a limb she’s about to go. There will be no one there to catch her if she falls.
Can she match Garo at his dark game? Can she make him believe she wants to be his friend? She knows just how dangerous it is to toy with him. But she’s about to risk everything and there’s no turning back.
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It was dark. Her porch light was off but he couldn’t resist. Something had driven him to her tonight and nothing would stop him from knocking on her door. But he didn’t have to. She’d begun to open it before his hand reached the knocker.
She was smiling warmly. It had been so long since that smile had been for him. “I’ve been thinking about you,” she said.
She was dressed for bed.
He hesitated. “Oh, it’s late. I should come back another time.”
“It’s ok. I’m not sleepy.” She opened the door wide. “Come in.”
He entered cautiously. He felt like an intruder. It was unusual for him to stop by so late.
“I’m sorry for coming by at this hour. I thought I’d take the chance.”
“I’m glad you did.”
He looked ahead into the room. There were candles everywhere. She’d moved to stand in front of the fireplace, the light of the flames backlighting her, a soft shadow of her body visible through the fabric.
“I’ve been thinking about you, hoping to see you.” She dropped the shoulder of her robe. “Come closer.”
He couldn’t believe his eyes. She was standing on a bed she’d made on the floor.
“I like to sleep beside the fire. I remember the night we did that on Shoal Point.” She slipped her robe off her other shoulder, clasping it closed between her breasts, her chest rose and fell heavily. Then she lowered herself to her knees and sat on her heels where she began slowly pulling open her robe, exposing her breasts first, continuing until she was naked before him. “I’ve wanted you with me here for a long time, you know.”
He walked to her.
“Take off your shirt to be comfortable.”
He obeyed pulling it hastily over his head and tossing it across the room. He felt the stiffness in his pants surge forward.
“Come lower,” she said.
He kneeled before her where she unbuttoned his pants and let them drop to the floor then she laid down, beckoning him with her hand.
When he lay next to her she pulled his hand to her body then wrapped her leg around his thigh and rolled herself on top, her lips brushing his. He could feel her hot breath. She offered her tongue first, then a caress to his abdomen, sinking her hand lower until she had him in her grasp.
“Make love to me like you used to…”
Daniel Beck stirred. The dream was so lucid he could almost touch it; so vivid that he would swear he could feel the silky, warm pressure of her skin on his. The weight of her body lingered. He almost believed he’d see her by his side when he opened his eyes. But he didn’t dare. Instead, he squeezed them together tightly and pulled the blanket over his head, desperate to will himself back into the fantasy, but it had drifted too far out of reach.
“Shit!” Slamming a fist against the mattress, he rolled over onto his painfully hard erection, groaning. For several more minutes he lay there as the reverie disintegrated. Finally, reluctantly, he opened his eyes to the day. It was of little consolation to his waking life, but Daniel knew the illusion would return. It was a recurring dream and the woman starring in it appeared to him now only while he slept.
The unwelcome memories shoved their way in, taking up their usual haunt as he regained consciousness. Since the day he’d lost her, a million and one regrets gnawed at his every waking thought. It had been his fault that she’d slipped through his fingers.
But every night he surrendered himself oh-so willingly to her beautiful phantom as he fell into sleep. Without fail she’d come to him. And it was like old times; like they were before all hell broke loose, back when she loved him, before he’d made one disastrous choice after another that had landed him in this living hell. And as pleasurable as they were, once he was awake his dreams lashed at him but he hung onto them like an addict.
Daniel lunged out of bed for the shower, turning it cold then stepping in. The bite of the icy water had become his friend, however fleeting. The moment his body warmed again, her ghost flickered back into his thoughts. She lived there, waiting for him to let his guard down to bewitch him once more.
Daniel dressed hastily, pulling on his jeans with an angry tug, the zipper on his hoodie catching when his frustration got the better of him. Stomping out the door, he made his way from the guest house across the lawn and entered the back door to the main house. In the kitchen for coffee, he stood at the counter and took in the spectacular ocean view while he calmed his temper. His brother and sister-in-law were away for the weekend. Soon he’d be moving back to his place in the city. It would be good to get home. He knew the familiar sights and the routine might help him gain distance from the dead-end fantasy.
Daniel’s laugh was both rueful and light when he remembered what day it was. Of all weekends, she loved this one most – even when she was a kid. He smiled. A brief thought that he should bring her a gift made him reach into his jeans pocket and pull out a small gray rock. He fondled it affectionately. It was literally a touchstone for him, and he carried it everywhere. It was the lone reminder that still connected him to Olivia. A talisman for good, he hoped.
He’d already given it to her once, back when they’d been happy, carefree and in love. His eyes stung at him. She’d thrown the rock back at him the day she’d taken her love away.
She’d never accept it from him again, no matter how much he wished. The rock had already taken on another layer of meaning.
But Daniel fought the sorrow, telling himself like he always did, that if he could just figure out the right way he could get her back; that the man who’d won her love from him was somewhere far away. He hoped – no, he prayed that man was gone forever. Because if he had forever, he knew he could make her love him again. It was just time he needed, he told himself, over and over.
The clatter and squeal of the train wheels below jarred Olivia Sarlin, who’d been staring dully at the passing scene. When she glimpsed her face mirroring back at her in the window, she quickly shut her eyes, but it was too late to dodge the wave of melancholy. Blinking them open she stuck out her tongue at her reflection.
Her intention this morning had been to dust her flagging spirits off and head across the bridge; an escape plan from the reminders that hammered her at every corner. These days going anywhere in Raven Harbor was like taking a haunted house tour of her life. The ghosts plagued her at every pass of the yacht club, the town square, and every happy restaurant. Even a jaunt to Eden Point Resort was no longer a pleasure – not to mention that and she’d gone nowhere near Majic Beach. The memory of Antonio was everywhere.
She’d reluctantly picked up an early morning call from Loulou Cavendish, telephoning with an invitation to brunch. They were both in the same situation as far as Antonio was concerned. More than just cousins, he and Loulou were as close as twin siblings and the impact of his self-exile and disappearance had hit her just as hard.
Olivia’s first impulse had been to turn her down. But when Loulou pointed out that they could at least use the opportunity to commiserate together, and in the process the outing might do them both good, she reconsidered, finally agreeing. It would lighten the load if even just a little. So she mustered enough resolve to get herself out the door.
Usually she looked forward to this weekend. Of all the holiday weekends, Labor Day weekend was her favorite. It was a time when the city dwellers left empty homes behind and headed for the beaches for one last hurrah before jumping back into the routine and getting the kids back to school. It was that time of the year when the urban growl dimmed to a purr, the light changed, and the earthy, sharp smell of fallen leaves could transport you into another mood entirely. Surely a traipse through the city on such a day would lift her spirits.
She’d been doing her damnedest to keep her nose buried in work. Kaley Bishop, her best friend and business partner, was due back tomorrow night. Olivia had called forth every remaining ounce of energy she possessed, and tried hard to prepare everything so her friend’s arrival and transition would be as easy as possible.
She mentally went over her to-do list. Niggling loose ends at the office tied up? Check. Have Kaley’s penthouse cleaned? Check. Her car detailed? Check. And the gloom flooded in again. Good God. The R8.
She knew that the email she’d sent Kaley about the accident had been received. Her friend had only replied that they would talk about it when she got back. But the unfinished dangling end of it had been nipping at her the whole summer. The insurance had paid for the lot of the damage and, to her at least, the car had come back from the shop looking none the worse for wear. But the Audi was Kaley’s baby, and Olivia couldn’t have felt more guilty.
But in her scant few messages sent from the Himalayas, Kaley had given her no hint as to her feelings about what had happened. Time would tell, indeed, but in the meantime Olivia had been left to fret in limbo. She hoped her best friend wouldn’t be too angry with her, but she was already doling out enough of her own self-punishment to go around. But if she hadn’t been driving the snazzy little red car that morning, life would have been different.
Antonio. His name winged its way into her head and landed beak-first between her stinging eyes. Olivia lifted a hand and pinched the bridge of her nose to stem the threatening tears. Her last image of him blowing a kiss to her from the beach as the float plane pulled away from the dock was burned indelibly into her memory and shredded away a piece of her heart every time she let down her guard and allowed it in again.
In the weeks since his disappearance, she’d led a narrow existence that consisted of only the basics: sleep, eat, work long hours, and sleep again. Anything outside of those parameters – even bathing – had become taxing. Yet every time she accidentally strayed out of her carefully self-defined lines, she’d invariably crash head-on into a memory that nearly razed her and sent her whimpering home again. But her self-imposed regime had been a survival tactic, like boot camp for her emotions. It helped her maintain her equilibrium.
And to complicate the whole mess was the one factor had made everything all the more difficult and, ironically, easier at the same time. Daniel Beck.
While he’d been waiting for his renter to move out of his apartment in the city, he was staying at his brother’s on Shoal Point – meaning he was nearby and an easy drive to visit her. He’d been checking in on her regularly, calling her, knocking at her door. But in view of everything that had gone on recently, she wasn’t sure if his constant visits were a good thing or bad. But they were certainly confusing.
He’d offered his support to her since that night she’d landed at the airport and was met by the FBI. She was glad of his visits. His smiling face was a comfort, and she was thankful for his level of concern. But his frequent visits, however short, were messing with her head. He had tried to see her more often, but for the sake of keeping her sanity she’d kept him at arm’s length. Not so long ago it would have been Daniel she’d have run to for solace. How could life change so entirely in the blink of an eye?
Olivia plodded off the train and trudged heavily up the steps to the street, preparing excuses for Loulou that she’d use at the earliest opportunity to return home again. But when she emerged street-side and pointed herself in the direction of the restaurant where they were to meet, the tide of her inner sea changed and brightened.
All around her seductive autumn tantalized. Her beloved elm trees rustled their secrets from above, their leaves flushed with gold and nearing their peak of beauty. The summer swelter had waned, and the cooler September air invited her to cross the street to the sunny side. This morning there was no reason to shun the sun’s rays in favor of leafy shadows; this was the season when its solar flare no longer wilted. And the stillness that always went along with this particular weekend unfailingly made her feel like she had the city entirely to herself.
Olivia looked ahead in time to avoid plowing into a young couple in her path, their bodies serpentined and glued to one another. The man’s dark good looks and his hand tangled in the woman’s blonde hair became a Doppelganger for her memories; Antonio’s soft breath in her ear, his lips that trailed that same path down her neck. She let out a cleansing sigh and rounded the corner. The memory was still too fresh.
As the melancholy sucked at her like quicksand once more, Olivia shook free and squared her shoulders, putting on the happiest face she could for her friend. But when Loulou came into view, the pretense fell away. Her captivating friend’s ginger curls spilled glamorously about her. It was good to see some of her radiance had returned. Distancing herself from Raven Harbor had obviously been therapeutic.
Loulou had chosen a provençal-style sidewalk café in the tony neighborhood where she now lived. The spotlessly kept streets and chic surroundings were an additional boost to transport Olivia out of her troubles. She hoped it would have more than a lingering effect and made a point to be in the moment.
Loulou’s face lit up as she spied Olivia and stood, opening her arms wide. “Oh, are you ever a welcome sight!”
Olivia hugged her back tightly, letting go reluctantly.
“Have a seat and make yourself comfortable, gorgeous girl, because we are going to be here a while. And that,” gesturing to a chilling bottle of Champagne, “is only the first, and we are eating everything that strikes our fancy.”
Olivia made a conscious effort to release her tense shoulders and smile, resting her purse on the terrazzo table and pulling out a French-rattan chair. “That sounds like heaven, Loulou.” As she sat, Loulou grabbed her hand and focused intently on her.
“How are you, lovely? You look distressed.”
“I’m fine, Loulou.” Her friend had seen right through her contrived veneer. “But I might ask the same of you.”
“I get by,” showing her teeth, but her smile was tight. Since Antonio had gone underground, Loulou had packed up and left Raven Harbor. Like Olivia, she hadn’t been able to face the memory of happier times in town, even choosing to spend as little time as possible in her Giffin Square office. “But I can confirm how brilliant an idea it was for me to relocate to the city, as hard as Granny tried to talk me out of it.” Loulou squeezed her hand harder. “I’m sorry I left so suddenly, Olivia. I really wanted to tell you, but I felt like spending one more moment there would be the end of me. I was going to implode.”
“I think you made the right move, Loulou. I might have done it myself if I’d thought about it enough. And I was sad to find out you’d left, but I wasn’t surprised. If it hadn’t been for the fact that my life is so entrenched in Raven, I might’ve moved with you.”
Loulou grabbed Olivia’s other hand. “You know, if you ever need to get away, just come. I will leave word with the doorman today. Really, Olivia. Just come.”
“That’s sweet, thank you. But you know what? I really am fine. Kaley’s back Sunday and I’m sure with all the projects coming up I won’t have time to look behind and dwell on any of it. Full steam ahead, right?”
Olivia saw the faraway look in her friend’s eyes. She hesitated to ask her about it, but this was why they’d come today. They had to share whatever was bottling up and get it out. She began softly. “Have you heard any news?” When Loulou’s brow furrowed, she regretted her question.
Loulou blinked quickly and forced a smile. “No. But I am sure he is fine and Granny says things will be resolved in no time. She has an investigator looking into it. It is very hush-hush because of course we need to find him without giving anything away to the authorities. I’ll just be happy to know he is well and not leading the life of a desperate man on the run in some ramshackle rat hut.”
“Has Claey -,”Olivia stopped herself when Loulou winced. “Sorry.” She started again. “I mean, has David been in touch?”
“You mean Agent ‘Jones’?” Loulou gave a sarcastic sniff. “Whomever the bloody hell he’s calling himself now, he has attempted to contact me, yes. But I’m not in the least interested.”
Olivia doubted that, venturing, “He said he was sorry. I heard him say he loved you that night on the tarmac.”
Loulou focused on her pointedly. “Olivia, from the very beginning he lied to me about who he was. He lied about his name. How can I know that ‘David’ is even his real name?”
“Because he told you when he was on the job. You saw his ID.”
“Not a lot of people get FBI credentials, Loulou. I’d say you could rely on him actually being David Jones.”
“Olivia,” she sighed, her chest caving. “I’ve seen too much all ready not to be skeptical.”
“He works undercover, Loulou. Of course he would have different names.”
“Yes, well, he has yet to explain to me why he called himself Claey when we first met. Bloody hell!” The ice bucket wobbled as Loulou angrily extracted the Champagne bottle and filled their glasses, bubbles overflowing. “Let’s drop the subject because this is supposed to be a day of fun and forgetfulness, remember?”
Olivia’s spirits sagged. She wholeheartedly believed Agent David Jones was the one person on the inside of the investigation who actually had Antonio’s back. He’d flat out stated he didn’t believe that Antonio was guilty of the charges he’d been accused of. Olivia had hung her every hope on that.
Loulou could be forgiven for nevermore trusting he was who he now declared himself to be. But surely, if a person was carrying around FBI credentials it would be reasonable to accept that as proof.
Even if Loulou didn’t trust David’s identity was true, she herself had no doubts. And she was sure that his pledge of support for Antonio and his statement of belief in his innocence was sincere. Surely he wouldn’t waiver just because Loulou wouldn’t see him. But of course, that meant that because she was no longer communicating with him she’d have no news to share.
And David had been out of touch, back under cover, so there’d been no way for Olivia to contact him. She assured herself that certainly if he had had any information about Antonio at all, he’d have found a way to get it to her.
The waiter was now table-side pouring a fresh bottle of Champagne. Loulou handed a newly filled flute across the table and abruptly changed the subject. “So, what glamorous events are you planning now, Olivia? Fill me in on all the juicy details because I’m desperate for diversion.”
But Olivia’s mind was wandering elsewhere. Antonio was a fugitive. His sailboat, his cars and his properties, everything he owned and left behind had been seized and was in the hands of the Feds now.
Before he went on the run, it was his warehouse she was going to use for the shelter. Now what would she do? Even yet she hadn’t yet been able to wrap her head around every implication of what Antonio was facing. He was a suspected felon, implicated in crimes he’d sworn he didn’t commit. Clive Garo had set him up. It was him the FBI should be going after.
“Come back to earth, Olivia.” She swiveled her head toward Loulou. “Drink up, my darling. We’ve a lot of rehydrating to do.”
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