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Who Needs Mistletoe?

Who Needs Mistletoe?

Аннотация

    Pilot Sophie Madigan practically drools when her last-minute client walks in on Christmas Eve. Wealthy Trey Shelton III has bedroom eyes, a wicked grin and a body to die for! Sophie can't think of any Christmas gift she'd enjoy more.until they're forced to make a crash landing.
    Finding himself on a deserted Pacific island isn't exactly the Christmas Eve Trey had in mind. At least, until he and Sophie leave their inhibitions – and their clothes! – behind.
    It should have been nothing more than a holiday fling – island-style. Too bad nobody told either of them…


Kate Hoffmann Who Needs Mistletoe?

    The seventh book in the 24 Hours series, 2008

    Dear Reader,
    If a girl is going to be lost for twenty-four hours, my choice would probably be a high-end department store or the food court at a local mall. But throw in a handsome companion and I might opt for a deserted tropical island. After all, where else would clothing be optional?
    In Who Needs Mistletoe? I had a chance to combine a bit of Survivor, a dash of my last Caribbean vacation and a few other secret fantasies to pen my latest effort for Harlequin Blaze. Added to that was a little bit of Christmas, too. It’s not the typical Christmas story-no twinkling tree or stacks of wrapped presents. But hopefully this book will give you more than a little holiday cheer.
    So enjoy this escape to the South Pacific while you’re drinking eggnog and sitting in front of the fire. And have a wonderful holiday season!
    Happy reading,
    Kate Hoffmann

1

    THE ARTIFICIAL CHRISTMAS TREE looked even tackier than it had the previous year, the plastic pine needles worn thin in spots and the wire branches drooping. Sophie Madigan hung the last of the ornaments on a high bough, then stepped back, forcing a smile. “Doesn’t that look festive, Papa?”
    She glanced over her shoulder at her father, who sat at the huge desk in their parlor, his reading glasses perched on the end of his nose, aviation manuals and charts spread out in front of him. He nodded distractedly, then took another sip of his whiskey. It was barely noon and he had already poured himself a drink, Sophie mused.
    “I should have bought some new lights,” she continued. “Half of these are burned out.”
    “Looks fine, darlin’,” he murmured, without even looking up.
    Sophie sighed and began to gather the boxes and bags strewn over the plank floor. Why did she even bother? Trying to celebrate Christmas in the middle of the South Pacific was a lost cause. She remembered Christmases past, when she and her parents had traveled to places where entire towns had been decorated, places where it actually snowed.
    Outside their small house on the tiny Polynesian island of Taratea, the trade winds kept the temperatures at a constant eighty-three degrees and the wet season made the air thick with humidity. The heady scent of tiare and hibiscus and frangipani seeped through the shutters that lined the lanai and she could hear the soft patter of raindrops on the tin roof. Sometimes it seemed as if it would never stop raining.
    Sophie had hoped to spend this Christmas with her mother in Paris. But for the third year in a row, she’d reluctantly refused the invitation, choosing instead to stay with her father, Jack “Madman” Madigan. Christmas in Paris would have been a happy affair. Her uncles and aunts were all excellent cooks and there would have been food, followed by gifts, followed by more food.
    When she broached the subject of spending the holidays in Paris, her father had told her to go. But as the time to leave got closer, Sophie saw him sink further and further into a deep depression. He had no one except her. No family, few friends. Since his eyesight had gone bad, he’d cut himself off from nearly everyone.
    Sophie turned away from the tree and crossed the room, peering over her father’s shoulder. “What are you working on?”
    He had a map of the Society Islands spread out in front of him and he was studying a small archipelago through a magnifying glass, squinting to see the fine print. Her father’s eyesight had been failing for nearly five years. It had become so bad, he’d been grounded, prohibited from doing what he did best.
    Since then, Sophie had been forced to take over his air-charter operation, making almost daily flights between Tahiti and any one of the fourteen inhabited islands nearby. To make ends meet, they’d sold off four of the five planes to pay her father’s debts. With one small plane left and only one pilot-Sophie herself-they made just enough to get by.
    Sophie had tried to convince her father to sell the last plane and move back to the States where he could get medical care and she could get a better-paying job, but Jack held out hope that his eyesight would suddenly return and he’d be back in business. “Are we going on a trip?”
    “I’m mapping out a flight plan for you for tomorrow,” he murmured.
    “I didn’t know I had a charter,” Sophie said, frowning. “Papa, tomorrow is Christmas Eve. Don’t you think we could take the day off, maybe do a little celebrating? The tree is up. I thought I might make a nice dinner and we could open our gifts and maybe even listen to some Christmas music.”
    “This guy is willing to pay ten thousand American for three days’ worth of flying. I didn’t think it was a job you’d want to refuse.”
    She gasped. “Ten thousand dollars? For three days’ work?”
    Jack nodded, then handed her a slip of paper. “His name is Peter Shelton. He’s some bigwig for the Shelton Hotel chain. They’re looking for a new location to build some fancy-schmancy new resort and they want to buy a whole island, make it real exclusive. You need to meet him at eight tomorrow morning at Faaa. At the hangar.”
    Sophie stared down at the name and phone number written on the scrap of paper. “Quelle chance,” she murmured. “Peter Shelton. Shelton Hotels.” He sounded like a pretty important guy. Anyone who worked on Christmas Eve and paid more than three thousand dollars a day for a charter had to be important. “Why would he choose us?”
    “Probably because no one else would take the job on Christmas Eve,” Jack replied. “Here,” he said, pointing to the map. “Fly him up here to this little atoll. There’s a nice-size island with a decent lagoon.”
    “Suaneva? Didn’t they try to build a resort there once?”
    “About thirty years ago. But the developer ran out of money. The lagoon is a little tight for landing and taking off, but a good pilot should be able to get in and out. Hell, if he decides to build there, I can fly his workers in and out. We’ll haul freight, and later the guests. We could work out an exclusive long-term contract and maybe buy a few new planes. I want you to really impress this guy, Sophie girl. Make him see that a partnership with Madigan Air would be good for both of us.”
    Sophie rested her hand on his shoulder. “Yes, Papa.” She knew it was all just a pipe dream. Or maybe he did expect her to spend the rest of her life flying for him. She’d found a doctor in Sydney who’d promised a simple but expensive surgery for her father’s sight problems, but when she’d mentioned this to him, Jack had completely discounted the option, preferring to stick to the herbal remedies a local tahua woman had prescribed.
    Besides, it wasn’t as if they had the money for the operation. Though ten thousand American dollars would go a long way toward paying for it, it still wasn’t enough. Sooner or later, she’d have to accept the fact her life was here, caring for her father and eking out a living for them both as best she could.
    She glanced around the small fare they called home. Built onto a hillside overlooking the water and perched on stilts, the interior of the cottage was small, just enough room for a few bedrooms and a parlor. But most of their living was done outside, on the wide lanai that circled the house.
    Tourists would say she was living in paradise, but to Sophie, it often felt like a prison. Unable to enjoy the beauty that surrounded her, she longed for the excitement of living in a city, the noise and the people, never knowing what was around the next corner.
    Slipping out of the house, she walked across the small lawn to a point that overlooked the bay. People paid thousands of dollars to come and admire a view like this, she mused. The steeply raked crags covered with lush vegetation, the turquoise water and white sand, the little fare, surrounded with flowering vines and bushes.
    Perhaps she might convince her father to sell and find a place in Pape‘ete. Maybe then she could meet some people her own age, maybe even find a man to distract her from her troubles. She flopped down onto the lawn and stared up at the sky, the dampness from the rain soaking through her pareu.
    Though she was emotionally exhausted, something inside her couldn’t seem to rest. She felt as though she was ready to jump out of her skin. She smoothed her hands over her body and closed her eyes as the rain pelted her face. The sensations her hands evoked were enough to remind her how long it had been since she’d been touched by another.
    It had been nearly a year since she’d enjoyed the pleasures a man’s body offered. Though her Irish-American father would be more than happy if she decided to enter a convent, her French mother had given Sophie a very practical and healthy attitude about sex. One must accept that a woman has desires, her mother had told her, and they must be fulfilled. There is no sin in acting upon these feelings. As long as both parties agree there will be no promises the next morning.
    After she finished flying Peter Shelton around the islands, she’d take a little bit of the money, buy herself a new dress and find herself a man, Sophie decided. There were always tourists at the resorts on Tahiti and Bora Bora, handsome men who’d offer a temporary diversion.
    She’d make it her goal to ring in the New Year in the bed of a sexy man. “I’ll make it happen,” Sophie muttered, stretching her arms above her head and arching her back. “A lover for New Year’s Eve. And for New Year’s Day.”
    But would a few nights in a man’s bed really satisfy her? Or would she still have to make some more drastic changes in her life in order to be happy? “I’ll start with the lover,” she said, sitting up. “Then we’ll see what happens.”
    TREY SHELTON GLANCED at his watch then cursed softly. He was already an hour late and the taxi he’d hired at the hotel had managed to get him to the airport but no farther. “Are you sure you don’t know where Madigan Air is? It’s a well-known charter company.”
    The native driver peered at him in the rearview mirror. “Non. Maybe this way?” he said in heavily accented English, pointing to a small cluster of hangars on the periphery of the Faaa airport.
    “Let’s try there,” Trey suggested. “Someone should know.” He’d hired the plane for three days, but he hoped to get his business settled early so he might enjoy a short vacation in paradise. He’d spent last night with an attractive Polynesian dancer from one of the local clubs and he’d promised to meet her that evening for dinner. Though she’d been interested in spending the night in his suite, Trey had begged off, explaining he had an early morning.
    Since he’d begun working for his father a year ago, Trey had been forced to leave his jet-set Casanova lifestyle behind. Six months ago, he’d ended a relationship with a somewhat crazy, but sexy, English actress. Since then, he’d had a few one-night stands, but they’d left him more confused than satisfied.
    He’d spent his adult life indulging in one whim after the other, all of it fueled by a seemingly bottomless trust fund. But now, at age twenty-nine, the money was almost gone and the lifestyle with it. His father’s job offer was his only option.
    “Ah!” the driver cried, pointing at a rusty sign dangling from above a hangar door. “Nous sommes ici! Madigan Air. Voilà!
    Trey paid the driver in colorful French Pacific franc notes, then grabbed his bag and slid out of the cab. He slowly walked through the huge overhead door into the interior of the hangar. The place was a wreck, parts strewn everywhere, a bent propeller dangling from the ceiling, an old girlie calendar hanging on an open office door. A small amphibious plane was parked inside. Either the guy on the phone had oversold the company, or Trey was in the wrong place.
    “Hello?” he called. “Anybody home?”
    “Bonjour!”
    The female voice came from the direction of the plane.
    “Is this Madigan Air?”
    “Oui. This is. You’re late,” the voice said. “When you didn’t come, I decided to do some maintenance. We’ll be ready to go in about fifteen minutes. Just find a seat and relax. I won’t be long.”
    Though she spoke flawless English, Trey could detect a French accent. He approached the plane, circling around the front until he came upon a slight figure standing on a small ladder, her head bent over an open engine compartment. He expected her to be cleaning the windows or polishing the mirrors, not wielding a wrench!
    She wore a skirt made of fabric so thin he could see her bare legs through it, a tiny T-shirt didn’t even cover her midriff and her dark hair hung well below her shoulders, held back by a colorful scarf. She’d tucked a flower behind her ear, the creamy-white color a stark contrast to her deeply tanned skin. “Are you sure you should be messing with that? Maybe you should wait for the pilot.”
    Her head snapped up and he met her gaze. Trey’s breath caught in his throat as the most stunning pair of sapphire eyes fixed on his face. He watched as her expression quickly shifted from thinly veiled annoyance to embarrassment. A pretty blush colored her cheeks and she forced a smile. “I-I am the pilot, monsieur,” she murmured.
    Trey couldn’t help but laugh. “You’re the pilot?”
    She straightened her spine. “What? You don’t think a woman might be capable of flying a plane?”
    A smudge of grease marred her exquisite complexion. Even from this distance, he’d become lost in her eyes, rimmed by long, dark lashes. Her features were perfectly balanced, and even without a bit of makeup, her beauty stole the breath from his lungs. “No. Of course not. I was just…surprised, that’s all.”
    She grabbed a rag, wiped her hands, then climbed down the ladder. “It seems I’m both. Pilot and mechanic. Sophie Madigan.” She said her first name in the French way, with the accent on the last syllable.
    “This is your plane?” he inquired.
    “No, it belongs to my father. But I fly it. I am a licensed pilot,” she said. “There is no need to worry, Mr. Shelton. I know what I’m doing.”
    He reached out and took her slender fingers in his, shaking her hand. God, she was stunning. This island was teeming with gorgeous women, but this woman put them all to shame. She was slender and delicate, with long legs and graceful arms. Her clothing clung to every curve of her body and if he had to guess, Trey would venture she wasn’t wearing a whole lot underneath.
    “You are younger than I expected,” she said, a tiny smile curving the corners of her mouth. Her gaze was still fixed on his face, her eyes slowly taking in his features. For a moment, he thought she might say more.
    She didn’t seem to recognize him, even though his name should have given him away. Trey’s reputation as a celebrity playboy usually followed him wherever he went. The press had dubbed him the male equivalent of Paris Hilton. They’d documented his exploits with women and poked fun at the various careers he’d attempted.
    Most women found his bad-boy reputation irresistible. But he found the thought of going unrecognized for once intriguing. What would it be like to be judged on his own merits rather than an image perpetrated by the press?
    “My friends call me Trey,” he said, turning on his most dazzling smile. She still showed no sign of recognition.
    “Très? Très what?” Sophie asked, frowning.
    He chuckled softly. “My name is actually Peter Shelton the Third. My grandfather was the first and my father was the second. I’m the third. Trey.”
    “Oh, like un, deux, trois. Well, that makes sense then,” Sophie said, dragging her hand from his. “But I’ll call you Mr. Shelton. Okay, just have a seat and let me finish and we’ll be on our way.” She climbed back up the ladder, then gave him an odd look.
    “I’m good right here,” he said. “I’d be happy to give you a hand.”
    She shrugged and went back to work. His gaze slowly drifted along the length of her body, lingering on her backside. Hell, he’d flown in a lot of planes, but he’d never had a pilot like this. The thought of going up with her made him a little uneasy. Was it because she was a beautiful woman? He couldn’t deny his immediate attraction to her, so why even bother? Or was it because she seemed so young?
    “Do you mind if I ask you a question?” he ventured.
    “It depends upon the question,” she said.
    “How old are you?”
    “This is not a proper question for a man to ask a woman,” she said, sending him a coy smile.
    “But I think it’s highly proper for a passenger to ask his pilot.”
    “I’m twenty-six,” she said.
    “Are you French?” he asked.
    “Half,” Sophie said, glancing up and bracing her arms on the edge of the engine compartment. “And the other half, American. Why? Is that a problem, too?”
    He shook his head. “I was just curious. The accent. It’s a little confusing.”
    “I can talk American,” Sophie said, her accent shifting with lightning speed. “If that would suit your ears better.”
    He shook his head, grinning. “No, I like the way you talk,” he said. “It’s…exotic.”
    His words seemed to take her aback for a moment. She gave him an uneasy look, then returned to her work. “My father has chosen some spots he thought you’d like to see. Is there anywhere specific you want to go?”
    “Three islands,” Trey said, pulling a crumpled sheet of paper from his leather messenger bag. “Waruhatu, Pareaa and Suaneva.”
    “Those are all on my list,” she said. She glanced over at him, then reached up to close the cowling over the engine. “All done. I’ll just do the preflight and we’ll be ready to leave in about ten minutes. There are some cold drinks in the cooler over there if you want to grab one. You can stow the cooler behind the front seat, if you’d care to help.”
    She brushed by him as she returned the wrench to the tool cart and Trey caught the scent of her perfume, or maybe it was the flower in her hair. Whatever it was, he found the smell incredibly intoxicating. What was this beautiful girl doing in such a place? he wondered.
    True to her word, they were rolling down the runway ten minutes later, Trey strapped into the passenger seat and Sophie Madigan behind the controls. Though Trey had never been afraid of flying, something about this situation made him nervous. For the first time in his life, he’d placed himself in the hands of a beautiful woman. The most he’d ever surrendered to a woman in the past was his body and even then, it had never been complete surrender.
    The plane smoothly lifted off the runway and soared into a steeply banked turn over the water. As they continued to climb, Trey closed his eyes and drew a deep breath. She seemed to be a very competent pilot, at least so far.
    “Are you all right?” she asked.
    He opened his eyes to find her staring at him, her brow furrowed. “Yeah.”
    “If you’re going to be sick, there’s a bag under the seat.”
    “I’m not going to be sick,” he said. “I’m just not a big fan of small planes.”
    She shrugged again. “Don’t worry. I can put this plane down anywhere. That’s the benefit of an amphibious plane. Water or land.”
    “How about on the side of that mountain over there?” he said.
    “Why would I want to put it down there?” she asked.
    He’d never met a woman quite so unimpressed with him. Trey knew he was a handsome guy, and charming, quite the catch according to everything he’d read in the tabloids. Although he wasn’t sure how much of the attraction had to do with him, and how much with his money. But now that the trust fund he’d inherited from his grandfather’s estate was virtually gone, he’d had to make some changes.
    In less than a year, when he turned thirty, his father would decide whether to give him his share of the larger Shelton family trust, millions set aside for each Shelton heir, controlled by a man who thought Peter Shelton III had nothing substantial to offer the world.
    To prove himself, Trey had gone to work for Shelton Hotels, focusing on a new division that developed smaller, more exclusive resorts, the kind of properties that appealed to his celebrity friends.
    To Trey’s surprise, he enjoyed the work. He’d found himself building resorts in his head-from the basic architecture to the linens in the rooms. After living in hotels nearly his entire adult life, Trey knew what worked and what didn’t. And he was beginning to wonder if he might have something to offer the family business.
    It was still a rather revolutionary concept-Trey Shelton, giving up the fast life for a real job. He figured he’d decide what to do with his future once he convinced his father to release his share of the Shelton family trust. If he still found the job appealing, then maybe he’d stick around.
    He looked over at Sophie. She seemed quite relaxed behind the controls, as if she’d been a pilot for a long time. “Where did you learn how to fly?” he asked.
    “I just picked it up. I flew all the time with my father, and one day we were doing preflight together and he put me in the pilot’s seat and we took off. He taught me what I needed to know and I got my license.”
    “How old were you?” Trip asked.
    She smiled as she remembered. “I was twelve when I first got behind the controls.” Sophie laughed softly. “I think my dad always wanted a son. So, for a while, I was happy to become that son.”
    “I think you make a much better girl than a boy,” he teased.
    Trey watched her face as another smile curled the corners of her pretty mouth. Maybe she wasn’t immune to his charms, after all. He certainly found Sophie intriguing. He didn’t see a wedding band, so she probably wasn’t married, but beyond that, his radar wasn’t working. He couldn’t seem to read her reactions to him. Had she been flattered by the compliment or just amused at the attempt?
    He reached out, curious to push the issue a bit further. His movement startled her, causing her to draw away. “Sorry,” he said, pointing to her cheek. “You have a smudge of grease there and it’s been bothering me.”
    “Really?” She reached up and rubbed her cheek, missing it entirely. “There?”
    Trey shook his head. “Do you mind?”
    Sophie hesitated, then shook her head. “Not at all.”
    He gently rubbed a spot just above her jaw, the grease wiping away easily. Yet he didn’t stop. Instead, Trey continued to smooth his thumb over her soft skin, fascinated by the silken feel of it. “There,” he finally said. “Perfect.”
    She seemed to be as affected by his touch as he was, shifting uneasily in her seat and trying to focus her attention on the instruments in front of her. If she’d been driving a car, he might have asked her to pull over so they could explore his attraction in a little greater detail. But unfortunately, there weren’t any curbs in the sky and one couldn’t just park a plane in the middle of a flight.
    Trey slowly pulled his hand away. “When will we see our first island?” he asked.
    “I’m heading out to Suaneva first and then we’ll work our way back to Tahiti.”
    They flew for a long time in silence, Trey studying a report on power-generating windmills he’d brought with him in between watching her. He’d been right to call her exotic. Though she spoke like an American, she acted more like the French women he’d known-haughty, aloof, indifferent at times. And then there was a bit of Polynesian in her, as well, in her dress, in the careless addition of a flower behind her ear, in the sexy little tattoo above her ankle.
    She glanced over at him and caught him staring. Trey quickly turned his gaze back to the report.
    “What are you reading?” she asked.
    He held it up, showing her the cover. “Just researching an idea I had. It’s nothing.”
    “Windmills?”
    “They’re ecologically friendly,” he said.
    He’d been turning the idea over in his head ever since his father had put him on the payroll. Why not build an eco-friendly resort in the South Pacific? He’d have to deal with the problems of providing power and water to a small island anyway and there were now methods to do it without impacting the environment.
    “This is not really a good season to be seeing our islands,” Sophie said.
    “I’ve noticed it rains a lot.”
    “It’s the rainy season,” she said with a smile. “Sometimes, it rains for days.” She looked out the window of the plane. “Today is a good day. I can’t promise you that tomorrow you’ll even be able to see anything below us.”
    Trey grabbed his messenger bag from between his feet and pulled out a pad of paper and a pen. “Tell me everything you know about Suaneva,” he demanded, anxious to keep her engaged in conversation.
    He listened, silently taking notes as she explained the physical topography of a Polynesian atoll in comparison with an island. But he was less interested in the facts than he was in the sound of her voice.
    “Suaneva is an atoll. An atoll begins with a volcano sticking out of the water,” she explained. She let go of the controls and turned to him to gesture with her hands. But when she saw the startled look on his face, she sent him an apologetic smile. “I set the autopilot.”
    Trey exhaled the breath he’d sucked in. “Oh. Well, fine then.”
    “Coral builds up around the base beneath the water’s surface,” she continued, “and over the years, the volcano top falls away until all that is left is the coral ring and a huge lagoon in the center. Vegetation grows on the ring and beaches form and you have an atoll. They look like little rings in the sea.” She pointed out his window. “There. You see? This atoll is part of the Archipel des Tuamotu. The Tuamotu Archipelago. We are about 150 miles from Pape‘ete. Tahiti is part of les Îles du Vent. The Windward Islands. Mostly mountaintops that haven’t erupted or disintegrated. Although there are many atolls, too. Vous comprenez?
    He stared at her hands, wondering what it might be like if she actually reached out and touched him. Trey wanted to capture her fingers and pull them to his lips, to kiss each neatly manicured tip until he got a reaction from her. How could such a simple gesture intrigue him so? “Yes,” he murmured.
    “In an atoll, there are often separate islands in the ring and these are called motu. A motu can be very large or quite small, but they are…lower. Flatter than an island like Bora Bora.”
    What he wanted right now didn’t have anything to do with islands or resorts or trust funds. Listening to her voice, watching her beautiful mouth, was pushing his thoughts in a very different direction. If he had his way, he’d demand she land the damn plane so he could drag her into his arms and kiss her. And once he sensed her surrender, he’d strip off all their clothes, lie in the warm sand and make love to her. It wasn’t just a fantasy. There was definitely an attraction between them. He could see it every time their eyes met.
    But as long as they were in the air, nothing could happen. Trey wondered how long it might take to make their tour before heading back to Pape‘ete. He could always just cut the trip short once he saw Suaneva. Hell, maybe it would suit his purposes perfectly and there would be no reason to continue. Or maybe they could simply continue tomorrow, after they’d spent the night together in his bed.
    “How long before we reach Suaneva?” he asked.
    SOPHIE GLANCED DOWN AT HER hands clutching the steering yoke of the plane. They were white-knuckled, frozen in place, the only part of her body that looked the way she felt.
    It all happened so quickly Sophie hadn’t found time to think. From the moment her gaze had focused on this gorgeous man, she hadn’t been able to breathe. And the instant Trey Shelton took her hand in his, she’d felt a current race through her body, setting every sense on edge.
    She couldn’t remember a man ever affecting her in such an intense and immediate way. Had she possessed any common sense at all, she would have refused to take him up. Flying with Trey was like flying drunk! Every nerve in her body had shifted into overdrive. The scent of his cologne filled her head and the feel of his warm hand still tingled on the tips of her fingers. His voice sent a shiver down her spine and she could barely stand to look at him without moaning.
    Of all the times for her to fall apart, this was the worst possible moment. A man as sexy as Trey didn’t just walk into her life every day. And if she had any intentions of seducing him, she couldn’t make it seem easy. Her mother had taught her a lot of valuable lessons about the opposite sex, and one of the most important was to let the man take up the chase. She wanted to be elusive and mysterious, but right now she just felt breathless, giddy-desperate. She’d vowed to have a man by New Year’s and she was a week ahead of schedule.
    Thank goodness they were flying over Suaneva, she mused. At least she had conversation to distract her from studying his handsome face and incredible body. Yes, she’d imagined him undressed more than once and as they’d flown northwest from Pape‘ete, she’d managed to catalog each perfect feature.
    He had an attitude that many American men possessed, an easy confidence that made his masculinity even more powerful. His smile was stunning, his features rugged yet refined, and his hazel eyes were so penetrating she thought he could see right through her flimsy facade.
    “Suaneva is one of the smaller atolls,” she said in a shaky voice. “Though the lagoon is small, there’s a fair amount of land to build on.”
    Trey peered out the window. “I was told someone already tried building a resort there.”
    “Yes, but I don’t know what’s left of it. Can you see anything down there?” She banked the plane steeply to the right to give him a better view, but the moment she eased into the turn, Sophie felt the engine hesitate.
    A few seconds later, it sputtered. “Merde,” she murmured. Maybe it was just moisture in the fuel line. That sometimes happened during the rainy season. The engine cut out and Sophie’s instincts immediately kicked in. She switched to the auxiliary tank and tried the ignition, but to her surprise, it wouldn’t turn over. The battery was dead and without it, there’d be no way to restart the engine.
    “What’s wrong?” Trey asked.
    She and her father had practiced dead-stick landings on several occasions and his words came back to her now. Keep the nose up, maintain airspeed and find a smooth place to land.
    “The engine cut out,” Sophie replied, attempting another start.
    “I can see that,” he said, his voice laced with concern. “Don’t you think you ought to start it up again?”
    “I’m trying. But I need to pull us out of this turn first.” She lined herself up with the tiny lagoon below, then pushed the ignition for the engine again. There was no response.
    “I’m going to have to put us down,” she said.
    “What?”
    She heard the panic in his tone. “Don’t worry. We’ll land, and I’ll radio for help. We’ll be fine. I’ve done this before.”
    “Run out of gas in midair?”
    Sophie shook her head. “We didn’t run out of gas. I think there’s moisture in the fuel. I drained the sumps, but sometimes this happens.”
    “Sometimes you crash?” he asked.
    “No. Usually, the engine will start up again. But the battery seems to be dead. Don’t worry. I can put us safely down on the lagoon.” She glanced over at him to see a dubious expression on his face. “You’re not going to die, Mr. Shelton. It might be a bumpy landing, so make sure you’re strapped in. If the plane flips in the water, kick open the window and get out as fast as you can.”
    “I knew I should have trusted my instincts,” he muttered. “The moment I saw the inside of that hangar, the moment I saw you fixing that engine, I should have just turned around and walked out. But no, I brushed my doubts aside. You were beautiful and I figured, why not spend the afternoon trying to seduce you? This is exactly what I deserve. I put my need to get laid in front of my need to keep breathing, and now I’m about to die.”
    “You’re not going to die,” Sophie repeated, a warm blush rising on her cheeks. He had wanted to seduce her? The thought made her dizzy with desire. She drew a shaky breath and pointed to the instrument panel. “I want you to watch this gauge. This is my airspeed. I need you to call it out to me.” She could keep an eye on the gauge herself, but this would give him something to do.
    She ran through the checklist in her head, her father’s voice speaking to her. Maintain your composure, fly the airplane, watch your glide speed. Sophie adjusted the flaps and lined the plane up with the near end of the lagoon. Landing the plane without power would be tricky, but she was more worried about coral heads in the lagoon tearing apart the plane’s floats or stopping their forward motion once they hit the water. If they hit coral, it might flip the plane. If they hit the beach too fast, they’d flip, as well. She banked slightly, determined to give herself as much water to work with as possible.
    She drew another deep breath, said a silent prayer and began her descent to the lagoon. If they died, she’d never get to enjoy sex again, much less sex with a man as beautiful as Trey Shelton. So, she’d just have to make sure she landed the damn plane safely.
    Trey called out her airspeed, but Sophie could feel the plane respond. Outside, the air rushed by and she was amazed by the silence that surrounded them. For a moment, she worried she might be coming in too fast and may overshoot her landing zone, but then the headwind picked up and the plane drifted lower.
    And then, to her relief, they touched down on the water. The plane skimmed toward the water’s edge and she held her breath, ready to use the rudder to spin them around if it looked like they might be in trouble. But in the end, the plane gently slid to a stop twenty feet from the shore of the lagoon.
    With trembling hands, Sophie unhooked her seat belt and shoved her shoulder against the door of the plane. The door gave way and she tumbled out, falling into waist-deep water. Floundering, she struggled to the shore, her heart slamming in her chest.
    The adrenaline was pumping so fast she felt as if she could run a mile in ten seconds flat. When she reached the beach, she braced her hands on her knees and gulped in a deep breath, trying to slow her pounding heart.
    “Shit, that was incredible,” Trey shouted as he followed her to the shore. “You’d think that was the way we were supposed to land. I mean, you just set us down perfectly.” He stood in front of her, his khakis soaked, his hands braced on his hips. “How did you do that?”
    She looked up at him, taking in his awestruck expression, still gasping for breath. Then, with a burst of energy, Sophie lurched forward, threw her arms around his neck and kissed him.
    Trey stumbled back, grasping onto her waist to balance them both since Sophie’s knees had gone boneless beneath her. He wrapped his arm around her waist and pushed his other hand through her hair, tossing her scarf aside. Sophie was aware of every detail of the kiss, the way his mouth opened beneath hers, the sweet taste of his tongue, the immediate rush of desire that seemed to propel them forward.
    Slowly, he pulled her down into the sand, never breaking contact. He stretched out beside her, his hand smoothing along her thigh until it reached her backside. Sophie moaned softly, rolling over on top of him, pressing her hips against his.
    His reaction to the kiss was immediate, his erection hard against her belly evidence of that fact. Sophie reached between them and touched him, slowly rubbing her palm against his desire. This was crazy, but yet, it seemed so right. Had they been over the ocean, they might be slowly sinking to the bottom right now, both of them drowned, never to be found.
    But they’d been lucky and they were alive and she wanted to celebrate that fact. Sophie fumbled with the buttons of his shirt, damp from his trip through the lagoon. When she became frustrated, Trey grabbed his collar and yanked, the buttons popping open all at once.
    His chest was smooth and finely muscled, exactly what Sophie expected to find beneath the cotton shirt. It had been so long since she’d touched a man intimately, that she wanted to take her time, enjoying the feel of his body beneath her hands.
    He didn’t appear to object to what she was doing. She risked a glance up and saw his eyes were closed. Why not take advantage of the situation? she wondered. If she radioed for help, they’d have an hour, maybe two, alone on this island. Right now, she wasn’t in any hurry to be rescued.
    Sophie pressed her lips to the center of his chest, then traced a trail of kisses to his collarbone. If she was going to take a lover, then this man was as good as any. Unless he already had a woman in his life.
    Sophie paused, knowing the only way she could proceed was to know for sure. Though she had an open attitude about sexual desire, she’d experienced, firsthand, what an affair could do to a marriage. Her father’s infidelities had been the cause of her parents’ divorce. She certainly didn’t want to be the other woman in any man’s marriage, even a man as sexy and geographically available as Trey was.
    His hand skimmed up her belly, slipping beneath her shirt to cup her bare breast. Drawing a deep breath, Sophie placed her hand over his. “Wait,” she murmured.
    He froze, his own breath catching in his throat. “Sorry. I thought-”
    “No, it’s all right. I just have a quick question.”
    “Yes, I do,” he said, chuckling softly.
    Sophie frowned. It was an answer, but to what, she wasn’t sure. “You do? Do what?”
    “I have…protection.” He reached around and pulled his wallet from his pants pocket. “I have two. And I might even have a few more in my bag.”
    Though she was glad he’d come prepared, it didn’t really soothe her doubts. “I wanted to ask if you were involved. Married, engaged, otherwise spoken for.”
    “Would it make a difference?” he asked.
    “Yes,” Sophie replied. “I’m not a home-wrecker.”
    He bent closer and pressed a kiss to a spot just below her ear. “No,” he whispered. “Not married, not engaged, not even dating. Completely free to do whatever it is you want me to do.”
    Sophie stared into his eyes. She didn’t know this man and couldn’t tell if he spoke the truth. If he didn’t, she’d deal with the consequences later. Sitting up, she pulled her top over her head and tossed it into the sand. Slowly, his gaze drifted from her face to her breasts and back up again.
    Following her lead, he shrugged out of his shirt. Neither one of them was dressed in much, owing to the humid weather. Her pareu came off next, leaving her in just a skimpy thong. Sophie had always been comfortable with her body and was used to sunbathing naked. But the way he looked at her, with such desire, she wondered if she should have taken things a bit slower.
    She reached for her pareu, ready to cover up again, but Trey caught her hand. He slowly got up, his body casting a shadow over her, and unzipped his khakis, then skimmed them down over his hips. He stood there, wearing only cotton boxers, tented out in the front where his erection pressed against the damp fabric.
    There was no going back, Sophie mused as she stared up at him. She held out her hand and he lay down beside her in the sand, drawing her into another kiss. This time, it was slow and sensual, his mouth possessing hers, his hands skimming over her nearly naked body.
    She didn’t want to go back. She didn’t want to be rescued. For now, Sophie was exactly where she needed to be-alone, on a deserted South Pacific island, with a man who was about to make delicious love to her.

2

    WHEN HE’D CRAWLED OUT OF BED that morning, Trey had assumed he’d be in for a rather ordinary day, spent cooped up in a small plane with a competent male pilot. As he teased at Sophie’s tongue with his, he couldn’t help but wonder at this odd turn of luck. The scene was straight out of the encyclopedia of male fantasies.
    Stuck on a deserted tropical island, with a beautiful, naked woman who’d ripped off her clothes right in front of his eyes. Maybe he’d actually died when the plane crashed and this was his version of heaven. “Touch me,” he murmured as he dragged his lips from hers.
    She skimmed her fingers over his belly and wrapped them around his cock, the fabric of his boxers creating an enticing friction. Trey bit back a moan. It sure felt real, his heart pounding in his chest, his body aching with need. But how could he prove it to himself?
    He slowly drew back, cupping her face in his palm and looking into her eyes. Did it really matter? After all the debauchery in his life, he’d ended up in heaven, with a sexy companion. He’d done pretty well for himself. If he was really dead, then dead wasn’t so bad. Trey kissed her again, smoothing his palm over her shoulder and arm until his fingers were laced through hers.
    Drawing her hand over her head, Trey gently pushed her back into the sand, his body stretched alongside hers. He buried his face in the curve of her neck, inhaling her exotic scent as he kissed her. Slowly, he moved lower until his lips fixed on her nipple. He teased and Sophie arched toward him, twisting her body until a tiny moan slipped from her lips.
    The sun, filtered through a thin cover of clouds, was hot on their bodies, but it felt good to be free of clothes. When she slipped her hand beneath the waistband of his boxers, Trey quickly stripped them off. A moment later, her thong was gone and there was nothing left between them but the salty ocean breeze and the sand clinging to their skin.
    Though the seduction began in a rush of desire, the pace had grown almost lazy. There was time, and Trey wanted to take advantage of every moment. But when Sophie touched him again, without his boxers as a barrier, he wondered if he was already too far gone.
    He pulled her body against his, their hips meeting, his shaft hot and hard between them. Seduction had always come so easily to him, the clever balancing act between pleasure and complete surrender. But this meeting was different. As she drew her leg up along his hip, he knew he was just an instant away from burying himself deep inside her.
    He wanted it now, needed it to happen, as if it would provide proof he was still among the living. Breaking contact for just a moment, Trey grabbed his khakis and pulled out his wallet, retrieving the condoms he kept there for “emergencies.” Though the little packages wouldn’t fix the plane, they’d certainly come in handy.
    The moment she saw the condoms, Sophie grabbed one from his hand and tore open the plastic. He held his breath as she smoothed it over his cock, her touch causing a groan to rumble in his chest. It was obvious she wasn’t into long, slow seductions. She preferred to skip the preliminaries and head right to the main event.
    Pulling her beneath him, Trey drew her legs up alongside his hips and slowly entered her. A sigh slipped from her body and he watched as a smile played across her damp mouth.
    “Oh,” she murmured, as he withdrew. Her hands clutched at his ass, as he buried himself again.
    Trey had always been able to control his desires, but this felt far too good. Maybe it was the leftover adrenaline from his near-death experience. Maybe it was the exotic setting. But most likely, it was this woman writhing beneath him, so incredibly beautiful and uninhibited.
    “We are alive, aren’t we?” he murmured, his hands braced beside her shoulders.
    “We are alive,” she replied, meeting his gaze.
    He slowly began to move, but every sensation seemed heightened by what they’d experienced. When she touched him, it was as if an electric current passed between them. The taste of her mouth was like the sweetest fruit he’d ever eaten. And the sound of her voice wove a silken web around him, until he felt as if he were born to do her bidding.
    Her fingers dug into his hips as his rhythm increased. Pleasure pushed aside rational thought and Trey found himself lost in the feel of her body beneath his. He was so close, yet he stopped himself from surrender, knowing she was almost there herself.
    A moment later, Sophie cried out, arching against him, her body trembling. It was only then that Trey allowed himself to give in, to feel her body convulsing around him. He teetered on the edge, the sensation of exquisite anticipation lasting far longer than it ever had before. And then, his orgasm blindsided him, coming from deep in his core.
    He’d never felt such an incredible surge of pleasure, his body shuddering, driving deeper, until he was completely spent. Trey’s arms grew weak and he lowered himself to lie beside her, pulling her along with him, still intimately connected.
    She winced and he smoothed the hair from her eyes. “Are you all right?”
    “Something bit me, I think,” she said, reaching back to rub her hand over her backside. “There are little crabs in the sand.”
    Trey grinned, then gently rolled her over, holding his breath as he slipped from her body. He brushed the sand from her skin and examined the spot she pointed to. “It looks a little red,” he said. Bending close, he kissed her backside. “Better?”
    “Much,” she murmured. She reached down to caress him, removing the condom as she smoothed her hand over his still-rigid shaft.
    He was ready to go again, but condoms were in limited supply. If they were going to spend any time on the island, he might need to conserve his resources.
    When they’d both caught their breath, Trey levered to his feet and reached down to help her up. Lacing his fingers through hers, he led her to the lagoon. Silently, they waded in, washing the sand from their naked bodies as the warm water enveloped them.
    Sophie submerged, then swam underwater until she was a fair distance away. When she broke the surface, she smoothed her hair back and tipped her face up to the sky. “When did you first decide you wanted to seduce me?” she asked.
    Trey frowned.
    “You said in the plane, when we were going down, that you intended to seduce me. When did you decide?”
    Trey swam over to her, then stood, his feet barely touching the bottom of the lagoon. “A man will say a lot of crazy things when he’s about to die.”
    She sighed softly. “I knew the moment I saw you,” she said.
    “Knew I’d seduce you?” Trey asked.
    She shook her head. “No. That I’d seduce you,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone. She submerged and then swam underwater toward the plane. Trey watched her naked body move through the water of the sun-dappled lagoon. When she popped back up, she smoothed her hair back from her face, her arm draped over the pontoon. “We should pull the plane in,” she called.
    It had drifted farther out into the lagoon, though it was still in shallow water. Trey swam out to where she stood, her words still drifting through his mind. Had she seduced him or had it been the other way around? Though it shouldn’t be important, it was. “Can you fix it?” he asked.
    “I don’t know,” she said. “If it’s the battery, there’s no way to charge it. It might be something electrical.”
    Trey wanted to reach out and grab her waist, to pull her into another kiss, to test the limits of her desire for him. Hell, as far as he was concerned, they could stay out here for the week, as long as he had Sophie with him. But he held his impulses in check.
    Sophie unhooked a line from beneath the plane and swam to a spot where she could touch the sandy bottom of the lagoon. He grabbed the line and helped her pull. To his surprise, the heavy plane easily glided through the water.
    He stood in the waist-deep water as he watched her walk across the beach to a nearby palm, where she tied up the plane. She was magnificent, her naked limbs slender and supple, her skin tanned all over and gleaming in the sun. She was obviously comfortable with nudity, making no attempt to cover up. Or was she deliberately trying to provoke his passion again? He felt himself growing hard and cursed softly.
    He’d never been in this situation before. Usually when he had sex with a woman, it had come after a short but amusing chase. Once the flirtations and silly games had been completed, mutual desire led to the bedroom. But this time, there had been no games. The sex had come from a primal need to reassure themselves they were both alive. What was the etiquette in this situation? Was he supposed to act as though nothing had happened?
    “Now what?” he asked.
    “I’m going to radio for help,” she said. Sophie had waded back into the water and crawled up into the plane, providing him with a lovely view of her backside as she pulled herself up. She was oblivious to her nudity, but he certainly wasn’t. The sight of her was doing all sorts of things to his desire.
    Taking the opportunity to hide his reaction, Trey walked back to the beach and retrieved his boxers and khakis. He tugged them on, then sat down in the sand to wait. Though he couldn’t see what she was doing inside the plane, Trey trusted they weren’t in any immediate danger. The weather was good, they had a cooler full of drinks and rescue was only a few hours away.
    As he stared out at the lagoon, Trey mentally began to plan his next move. No doubt, they’d be back in Pape‘ete before dinner. He’d insist she accompany him, perhaps in gratitude for saving his life. Or maybe he wouldn’t need an excuse. Maybe she’d be just as anxious as he was to continue what they’d begun on the beach.
    Fifteen minutes later, she emerged from the plane, making a shallow dive off the float before she swam to shore. Muttering to herself in French, Sophie grabbed her pareu and wrapped it around her waist, tying it in a knot. “The radio’s not working,” she said. “I’m pretty sure the battery is dead.”
    In any other situation, Trey might have been angry. After all, bad fuel, a dead battery and a useless radio didn’t speak well of Madigan Air. But he’d been looking for an excuse to spend more time with Sophie and now he had it.
    “What are we going to do?”
    “There’s not much we can do. There’s a small dry cell battery in the back of the plane. If there’s any charge left, I may be able to wire the radio to it and we can call for help. But I’m not sure the voltage is compatible.” She shrugged, then forced a smile. “I’m sorry, you must think-”
    “No,” Trey said. “I’m happy to be alive. Besides, won’t they come looking for us?”
    “Of course. They know where we went and they’ll easily be able to see the plane from the air.” She paused. “But they won’t know to search for us until after sundown. They might send out a plane then or wait until morning. Either way, we’re probably going to be here all night.”
    “It’s not so bad,” he said, looking around. “There are worse places to be stuck.” He paused. “And far worse companions to be stuck with.”
    She smiled, as if pleased by the compliment. “Of course, I will refund your charter fee. It wouldn’t be proper to-”
    Trey reached up and grabbed her arm, pulling her down beside him. “You don’t have to do that,” he murmured, cupping her face in his hands.
    She stared at him, wide-eyed, as she waited for him to make the first move this time. Gently, he ran his thumb over her lower lip and kissed her, his mouth lingering over hers as he traced the outline with his tongue. “Let’s just call this a side trip,” he said. “An adventure. We can continue our survey once we get off this island.”
    “You may not say that when the rain is pouring down and you’re wet and miserable,” she teased.
    He pulled her closer, his hand splayed against the small of her back. Her breasts brushed against his chest and Trey bit back a moan. “I’m a pretty tough guy,” he said. “I think I can handle a little rain.”
    SOPHIE SAT WITH HER BACK against the trunk of a coconut palm, a seat cushion providing extra comfort. She’d retrieved an old blanket from the plane and spread it out in the sand and settled in to wait for someone to realize they were missing.
    Though she should have been trying to get the radio to work, she’d decided to hold off. If she got it working too soon, they might be rescued before sunset. If she got it working later, she could call in their location and reassure her father that everything was all right. Then, she and Trey would have an entire night together.
    Still, if she couldn’t get the radio fixed, her father would be in for a very long night. Sometime after sunset, he’d come to the realization she might have been forced to ditch in the open ocean. Though the plane had floats, landing on open water was always risky. One wrong move, one swell, and they could have rolled end over end and sunk too quickly for anyone to get out. They’d been lucky to be where they were when the problems occurred.
    In truth, after what had happened between them on the beach, she had to wonder if maybe this was more wish fulfillment than sheer luck. She’d been determined to find a lover and now she had one, complete with a deserted tropical island. They were probably going to be stuck on Suaneva until at least tomorrow morning. And she had every intention of taking advantage of her good fortune.
    When Sophie had thought about finding a man, the individual had been just a vague image in her mind, someone with the physical prowess to satisfy her desire and to make her feel like a woman again. But Trey was much more than that. There was a powerful physical attraction between them, an attraction that wouldn’t be quelled by just one passionate encounter on the beach.
    She recalled the conversation she’d had with her father about this trip. He’d wanted her to-what was the word-impress? Perhaps the gods had stepped in and given her the solution to all their problems. She’d get what she wanted and her father would get what he wanted.
    Sophie pulled her legs up and rested her chin on her knees, silently observing her fellow castaway. She couldn’t help but feel a little guilty. Once her father realized they were missing, he’d be beside himself with worry. She, on the other hand, would be enjoying a host of carnal pleasures with her sexy passenger.
    Trey had decided to raid the tail of the plane for anything that might improve their comfort while they waited and had come away with a wide variety of items he’d arranged on the beach. He was now focused on a canvas tarp and a length of nylon rope, the small toolbox she kept stowed beneath the pilot’s seat open at his feet.
    “What are you doing?” she asked.
    He squatted down and picked through the toolbox, then pulled out a large pocketknife. “I’m making us a shelter, in case it starts to rain.”
    “Give me that knife,” she said, wriggling her fingers.
    He walked over to her and placed it in her hand. Sophie reached out for the leg of his khakis and cut the fabric at midthigh. She tore off one leg and then the other. “There. You’ll be more comfortable now.”
    “I’m not sure I’ll ever be comfortable with you lying around topless like that,” he said wryly, staring down at her, the soft light outlining his gorgeous body.
    Sophie glanced down at her chest. “Americans are far too obsessed with breasts,” she muttered. “It’s too hot for a shirt. You’re not wearing one. Why should I?” Sophie paused. “You know, we could always sit in the plane if it rained.”
    “It’s kind of hot and stuffy in there,” he said. “It’s nicer outdoors. And I don’t want to sleep in the plane. It’s too cramped. I need space.”
    He hesitated, then looked her way. Considering what they’d done on the beach an hour before, Sophie could attest to that fact. Making love in the plane would be more than uncomfortable. When they did it again, she wanted comfort, not privacy.
    Trey straightened, turning in a slow circle, then looked over at her. “Which way is the wind coming from?”
    She pointed to the northeast and he grinned. “Thanks.” He took a small length of rope and ran it through the grommet in the tarp, then tied it onto a tree. “When I was fifteen, my parents sent me on an Outward Bound trip. They thought it would make a man of me.”
    “What is this? This Outward Bound?” Sophie asked, curious to learn a little more about her lover.
    “It’s a program where they drop kids in the middle of the wilderness and they have to learn how to survive by working together. You learn all these skills-how to make a fire and how to build a shelter. How to find drinkable water.”
    “These are good things to know,” Sophie said.
    “This is the first time I’ve ever needed to use them,” he said ruefully. Trey paused, staring down at the knot he’d tied. “You know, that was the last time I remember ever feeling a sense of accomplishment. I was happy that summer. Happy with myself.”
    “So it made a man out of you?”
    Silly question, she mused. The answer was right in front of her eyes. In all her life, she’d never met anyone who was more “man” than Trey. He exuded masculine sexuality, from his careless stance to his easy athletic grace, from his boyish smile to his unchecked desire.
    He glanced over her shoulder, chuckling softly. “Yeah, in more ways than one. I lost my virginity on that trip. To a red-haired girl from Burlington, Vermont. Her name was Elizabeth and she could portage a canoe all by herself.”
    Sophie giggled. “Sounds like the right kind of girl to be stuck in the wilderness with. Tell me more.”
    “About the girl?”
    “No, about losing your virginity. Was it all you thought it would be?”
    He considered her question for a long moment and Sophie was afraid that she’d offended him with her bold inquiry. They’d just shared the most intimate experience between a man and a woman. Why shouldn’t they speak about sex as easily as they’d shared it?
    “It was over pretty quickly,” he admitted. “And it was out in the woods. We’d been sent to gather firewood. And neither one of us had had a bath for days. The mosquitos nearly ate us alive. But I liked it.” He nodded. “I really liked it. And I’ve liked it ever since.”
    “And did it happen again?”
    Trey shook his head. “No, she moved on to an older boy. What about you?”
    “I was sixteen,” Sophie said. “I was spending the holidays in Paris with my mother’s family. I met a boy. He was an art student and he was sketching along the Seine. He took me back to his parents’ apartment and we did it. It was pretty much the same as your experience.”
    “It’s a wonder we survived,” he said. “And that we managed to get so good at it.”
    “So what attracted you to this girl?” Sophie asked, wondering just what kind of women he usually chose to bed.
    “She had very large…”
    “Breasts?”
    “Shoulders,” Trey said. “Like I said, she could haul a canoe down a muddy path for miles. And carry two backpacks at once.”
    “So you admire capable women?” Sophie asked. “Some men find them…intimidating.”
    “I admire you,” he said. “When the plane was going down, you acted like it was just another day at the office.” He looked over at her. “Just how close were we to dying?”
    She smiled. “If I told you all the things that could have gone wrong, you might not want to fly again. We were lucky,” she said.
    He tipped his head, a grin quirking at the corners of his mouth. “I guess we were.”
    There was more than one meaning to his words, Sophie mused. They were lucky to be alive. But they were also lucky to be stuck alone on this island. Had they met any other place, they might have enjoyed a quick afternoon in bed and then gone their separate ways. But here, they were able to take their time, to test their passion.
    Sophie pushed to her feet and strolled over to where he worked, grabbing the edge of the tarp and pulling it tight. She caught him staring, then looked down at her bare breasts. It was obvious that her nudity was causing him a great deal of unease. He was growing hard, his erection bulging out the front of his khakis. Was it just her, or was he always so aroused around women?
    She sighed, then tossed her hair back over her shoulders, exposing herself completely. “There,” she said. “Go ahead. You can look. I don’t mind.”
    He focused on tying a knot around the trunk of a coconut palm. “I’m not obsessed,” he murmured.
    “Mais non! It doesn’t bother me. I just don’t understand this American fascination with naked breasts. There is nothing special here. One, two. Now, if I had three, there might be something to stare at. But, sadly, I only have two. Like every other woman on the planet. And every man, for that matter.”
    Trey grabbed the edge of the tarp, covering her hand with his. The moment they made contact, Sophie’s breath caught in her throat. She wanted him to touch her again, to pull her into his arms and run his hands over her naked skin.
    Slowly, Sophie stepped closer, until her breasts brushed against his chest. It was a subtle challenge, a dare for him to touch her more intimately. She saw the desire in his eyes and his reaction was unmistakable. Trey drew in a sharp breath and held it.
    A heartbeat later, his hand found her shoulder, then slowly drifted down to her breast. “I beg to differ,” Trey said softly, as he rubbed his thumb over her nipple. “Yours aren’t quite as ordinary as you claim. Besides, how can you be upset that men find that part of your body so distracting?”
    “I didn’t say I was upset,” Sophie protested, placing her fingertips on his chest. “Just curious. And perhaps a bit amused. Would you rather I put my top back on? So you wouldn’t be distracted?”
    He bent close and brushed a kiss across her lips, his hand still cupping her breast. “When you look at a naked male body, you don’t see anything sexual?”
    “I didn’t say that.”
    “All right, let’s limit our discussion to my male body.” Trey stepped back and held out his arms. “Be honest. Take your time. I’ll wait.”
    Rising to his challenge, Sophie stared at him, taking in every detail of his form between his chin and his belly. Her gaze skimmed over his wide shoulders to the well-defined muscles of his abdomen. She reached out and ran her finger along the trail of dark hair that went from his navel to a spot beneath the waistband of his khakis. She’d followed that trail before and knew what was waiting at the end.
    Her mind skipped back to their encounter on the beach. It had happened so quickly, she hadn’t taken the time to think. In truth, everything was a bit hazy. But, there were some small details that kept teasing at her memory, tempting her to try it all over again. It had felt good. He had felt good moving inside her.
    She returned to the little valley in the center of his chest, following it down to his muscled abdomen. Her eyes focused on a bead of sweat that traced its way through the ridges and contours. Her fingers twitched and she fought the urge to taste it.
    Unable to resist, she reached out and ran a lazy finger from his collarbone to his khakis, tracing the trail of hair before stopping where his waistband began. “This,” she murmured. “I like this.”
    Sophie pushed up on her toes and gave him a kiss, letting her tongue slip between his lips for just a second. Though she was tempted to pull him back down on the blanket and have her way with him, Sophie fought her need for instant gratification. If he wanted her, he’d have to wait, at least until they found something more than sex to sustain them.
    “Are you hungry?” she whispered, her lips still touching his.
    “For you? Always.”
    “No, for something to eat.” Sophie stepped back. “When we were circling the island, I think I saw some old rainwater tanks over on the other side of the lagoon. I’m going to see what there is. Meanwhile, you can build a fire and then we’ll try to catch some fish.”
    “Do we have a fishing pole?”
    “There are hooks and line in the bottom of the toolbox.”
    “Do we have matches?”
    “Yes, but using them wouldn’t be much of an accomplishment for a man so well trained in wilderness survival, would it?”
    She found his shirt and slipped into it, then tied the tails at her waist and rolled up the sleeves. Sophie grabbed the plastic water jug he’d pulled from the tail of the plane. Despite having shared an incredibly passionate encounter, they were still virtual strangers. She didn’t know how he took his coffee, whether he preferred showers to a bath, or whether he slept on the left or the right side of the bed. But she was learning what made him hard with desire. And for now, that was enough.
    Though he was ready and willing to have her again, Sophie thought it might be a good idea to take things a bit slower. He only had one condom left and they had the whole night ahead of them. She intended to make the next seduction last a lot longer than the first. Their gazes met and it was as if there was a silent understanding there. They would touch each other again, but next time would be much more powerful than the first.
    “Maybe I should come with you,” he said, his hands braced on his hips. “I wouldn’t want you to get eaten by alligators.”
    Sophie laughed. “There are no alligators on this island.”
    “Well, there are probably all kinds of poisonous snakes and spiders.”
    “In the water. There are sea snakes.”
    “Poisonous?” he asked.
    “Yes, but very rare. You have more to fear from the centipedes. They have a nasty bite. And there may be taramea and jellyfish and rori and nohu in the lagoon. And sea urchins. Although, if we find any sea urchins, we should eat them. They’re a delicacy.”
    “I’ll come and protect you from sea urchins then.”
    “I’ll be fine,” she insisted. “Why don’t you finish the shelter and get a fire started. We’ll probably need to boil any water we want to drink. The old fronds from the coconut palms burn really well. And you can probably find some driftwood if you walk over to the ocean side of the atoll.”
    “Are you sure you’ll be all right?” he asked.
    “If I get in trouble, I’ll scream and you can rescue me.” Sophie pointed to the other side of the lagoon. “Over there. I’m just going to follow the beach around. You’ll be able to see me most of the way.”
    He crossed over to her, wrapped his arms around her waist and brought his mouth down on hers. It was a sudden, almost possessive, gesture, followed by a long, deep kiss. “Don’t get lost,” he murmured when he finally drew back.
    “I-I won’t,” Sophie stuttered, stunned by the fierce tone of his words.
    She started off down the beach, her knees wobbling from the power of his kiss. Sophie glanced over her shoulder to find him staring at her, his head cocked to the side as he watched.
    In truth, she needed to put a bit of distance between them. Given time alone, she’d be able to reexamine all the details of what had happened-the way his lips felt on her breasts, the scent of his skin, the sound of his moans as he buried himself deep inside her. Even now, she got goose bumps at the thought of the two of them, naked, limbs entwined.
    “Be careful, Sophie,” she muttered to herself. It would be silly to get all wrapped up in this man. Yes, they’d enjoy each other again before they got off the island. But that was where it would have to end, with a physical need that begged to be satisfied. Any type of emotional attachment to Trey would be foolish at best.
    THE HEAT HAD SETTLED OVER the island as the noonday sun rose behind the thin cover of clouds. Sophie shaded her eyes as she peered across the beach toward her destination. Even though she was alone, she still felt an overwhelming connection to Trey.
    They’d already shared the most intimate of acts, but it was more than just sexual attraction that had brought them together. There was a bond now, a shared experience, forged when they’d both come face-to-face with death, a thing that made the sex they’d shared even more intimate.
    As she waded through a shallow channel that fed seawater into the lagoon, Sophie wondered if she ought to just set up camp on the opposite side of the lagoon from Trey. Yes, he was charming and handsome and unbearably sexy. Just the kind of man it would be impossible to forget. How easy would it be to walk away from him? Or to watch him walk away from her?
    Her mind was still occupied with those thoughts when she reached the ruins of the abandoned resort. She stood on the sand and surveyed what was left-a collection of crumbling fares set back from the lagoon in a grove of coconut palms. Hidden behind the palms, she was surprised to find a small wooden cottage, once whitewashed, but now peeling with age. It had been built on stilts near the water tanks. Colorful flowering vines clung to the porch, nearly hiding the facade of the building. The metal roof still seemed to be intact, though rusty.
    Sophie climbed the stairs and tried the door and to her surprise, it opened. She walked into a huge room, with sunlight filtering through the slats of the rotting shutters. It was nearly empty of furniture and the air inside was stuffy and stale.
    Though Trey’s shelter was admirable, this small house offered much better protection from the rain and dampness. She walked to the nearest window and unlatched the shutters, then pushed them open. Daylight splashed across the floor and as Sophie looked up, she noticed writing on the whitewashed walls.
    She opened a few more shutters and began to read. The walls had become a logbook of sorts for passing sailboats. Over the past thirty years, people from all over the world had anchored inside Suaneva’s reef and left messages on the walls.
    She wandered over to a low counter against the far wall and picked through a meager assortment of canned food. She’d heard of the tradition, how sailors would trade something from their stocks, for something left behind on many of the deserted islands in the Pacific. She searched through the tins, examining a can of smoked oysters and another of beef stew. At least they’d have something for dinner if they didn’t catch any fish.
    The steel water tanks were set behind the cottage in a small meadow, about fifty yards from the back door. When Sophie reached the nearest tank, she searched for an outlet. She expected the faucet to be corroded and impossible to open, but to her surprise, it turned easily. Obviously, passing sailors had taken advantage of the water supply, as well.
    When she’d filled the water jug, Sophie circled around the tank to find a makeshift shower hooked up to a second faucet. But then, something else caught her eye-a small grove of trees, distinctly different from the coconut palms that grew on the island. Someone had thought to plant fruit trees thirty years ago!
    She found mangoes, bananas and papayas hanging from the trees and scattered on the ground below, along with broken branches, blown off in storms. Sophie wondered how the fruit could grow in such poor soil, but as she approached, the answer was evident. The original resort owners had hauled in soil so that the trees might flourish. Squatting down, she gathered some of the fallen mangoes, using her pareu as an apron.
    They had everything they needed to survive on this island for more than just a few days. With fish and fruit, firewood and shelter, not to mention drinkable water, they could survive on Suaneva quite easily for as long as they had to.
    How long would be enough? Sophie wondered. Would a week with Trey dull this irresistible attraction? What about a month? Somehow, Sophie sensed it was better that they’d only have wait twenty-four hours to be rescued. Any longer and desire might turn into something much more serious.

3

    TREY RUBBED HIS PALM, the skin nearly raw. As Sophie had suggested, he’d gathered wood from the beach on the other side of the atoll and had stacked it over a pile of dried palm fronds and old coconut husks. But building a fire was a lot easier than starting one.
    He’d learned three methods during his time with Outward Bound. Without a flint, he was left with only two options. But then, a decent stick was also hard to come by on an island with nothing but palm trees, so he’d been forced to eliminate the bow-and-drill method. Left with the fire-plow method, he’d been optimistic about his chances to succeed. But for some reason, the castaway guy in the movie had a much easier time of it.
    “That’s Hollywood for you,” he muttered. There was probably some expert there to make sure conditions were perfect. Maybe they even used matches.
    Trey sat back on his heels. He should just admit defeat and use the matches. If he got the fire lit before Sophie returned, she’d never know that he cheated. Besides, it was ridiculous to pin his manhood on his ability to start a fire. They were living in the modern world, so why not use the conveniences available.
    He looked around the camp, now very quiet without Sophie’s presence. A man alone would go crazy living on this island, he mused. Hell, a man living with Sophie would probably reach the edges of sanity on occasion, as well.
    Just one look at her was all it took for the fantasies to start spinning in his head. Her body was enough to tempt the most devout monk to break a vow of celibacy. And then there were her very open-minded views on sex. She seemed quite at ease discussing her desires-and his, as well.
    Naughty talk had always been a turn-on for him, but this was different. Sophie wasn’t doing it to play games. She was simply being honest about her passions-and her curiosity. He’d never met a woman quite like her and Trey had to wonder how deep her curiosity ran. What limits would she be interested in testing now that they were alone on the island?
    Trey knew it wouldn’t take much to convince her to make love with him again, to let him strip off her clothes and possess her body. From what he could tell, she wanted him as much as he wanted her.
    But in just a matter of hours, he’d become obsessed by thoughts of her…of her body…of the way she made him feel when she touched him. She’d changed the way he felt about sex. With other women, it had been all about release, a need to momentarily lose himself in a warm and willing body. But there was something else pulling him toward Sophie, something much more powerful that just physical desire.
    “I have lunch!”
    Trey looked over his shoulder to see Sophie approaching, the water jug in one hand and her pareu gathered in the other. Though she’d only been gone an hour, he realized he hadn’t stopped thinking about her since she’d left.
    He slowly stood and brushed the sand off his knees. “What did you find? The local mini-mart?”
    Sophie frowned. “Mini-mart? What is that?”
    “Convenience store? Gas-and-go?”
    “Oh,” she said with a smile, finally understanding. “No. No mini-mart. But I did find some fruit trees.” She stepped beneath the tarp onto the blanket and dumped the load of fruit onto the ground. “Mango,” she said. “Papaya. There were bananas, too, but I would have needed the knife to cut them down. We can go back later.”
    “Wow,” Trey said, joining her beneath the shade of the tarp. “This is great. I can see you would have done well in Outward Bound.”
    “I would have definitely seduced you before the red-haired girl did,” she teased.
    His gaze fixed on her lush lips. “I meant with the foraging.”
    “There wasn’t any foraging involved,” Sophie replied. “Whoever decided to build the resort thirty years ago planted some fruit trees.” She knelt down on the blanket and picked through the toolbox for the pocketknife. When she found it, Sophie used it to slice open a mango. “There’s plenty of firewood over there, too. We might want to think about moving camp.”
    Trey shrugged. At least he wouldn’t have to admit his failure in making a fire. It was probably just the wood on this side of the island. Wood from the other side would no doubt be easier to start. Right.
    He sat down in front of Sophie and watched her score the juicy orange flesh and flip the skin inside out. She handed it to Trey and he bit into the fruit, the juice running down his chin. “Oh, God, this is good,” he said. “I didn’t realize how hungry I was. I don’t remember mangoes tasting like this.”
    Sophie prepared a piece for herself and took a huge bite. “All natural, right off the tree.” She took a bite and then licked the juice off her lips and fingers.
    Trey found himself captivated by her mouth. He fought the urge to lean over and taste the mango on her lips. “Look at us,” he murmured. “We’ve got shelter, food to eat. If I can get a fire going, we’ll be warm.” Trey dragged his gaze from her face and stared over her shoulder at the lagoon. “How long do you think we could survive here?”
    Sophie licked her fingers, then shrugged. “For a pretty long time,” she said. “There’s enough to eat, decent shelter. Sooner or later a sailboat would come by and we’d be rescued.”
    “I wouldn’t call this tarp a decent shelter,” Trey said.
    “Actually, there’s a cottage on the other side of the lagoon-it looked like it might have been an office at one time-and a few fares that were probably built for the workers they were going to need. If the weather turns bad we can go over there.”
    “You don’t like the house I built for us?” he asked.
    She handed him another piece of fruit. “It’s a lovely house. But the one on the other side of the lagoon has walls and a real roof.”
    Trey shrugged. “Sometimes, I wonder if I’d have been better off living a simple life like this,” he said. “I think I might have been happier if my life hadn’t involved so many temptations. Here, I’d eat, sleep, look for food. Give me an endless supply of books to read and music to listen to, and I could be happy.”
    “You wouldn’t miss all the things the world has to offer?”
    “You would?” he asked.
    “I wish I had more temptations.” Sophie laughed softly. “I’d give anything to be able to go out and see the world. To breathe in all the excitement of a big city. To go to a shopping mall. Or to see a movie whenever I wanted. To go to a club and dance the night away. I wish I had those choices.”
    “There are nightclubs in Pape‘ete, aren’t there?”
    Sophie shook her head. “Of course. But they’re in Pape‘ete, not London or Paris or Rome. Besides, if I left, there would be no one to take care of my father. He needs me.”
    “He’s an adult. Can’t he take care of himself?”
    She forced a smile, then picked up another mango and cut it open. “These are good, aren’t they?” She handed him a piece, leaving Trey with the distinct impression that she didn’t want to discuss the subject any further.
    He reached out and grabbed her hand, examining her fingers distractedly. “You can talk to me, Sophie. I’m the last person to judge anyone when it comes to family loyalty and duty.”
    “Is that why you’re not with your family on Christmas?” she asked.
    “That’s a long story.” Trey paused and gathered his thoughts. He wanted Sophie to admire him, to see him as a good person. But some of the things he’d done in his life had been awfully silly and self-centered.
    “Until recently, my father disapproved of my lifestyle,” he admitted. “And my spending habits. I had a trust fund I got when I turned eighteen and I used it to move as far away from my family as possible. Going home always meant listening to my dad’s lectures on personal responsibility. After a while, I’d been gone so long, nobody even expected me to show up on the holidays.”
    “But you’re working for your father now.”
    “Out of necessity. I don’t have any money left. And he figured it was about time I settled down and made something of myself. I didn’t really have a choice.”
    He’d never really wanted his father’s respect, at least that’s what he’d told himself. And from the moment Trey was old enough to stand up to Peter Shelton II, Trey’s mother, Carolyn, had abdicated her role as mediator in their relationship.
    But as Trey began to see his life for what it really was, he realized that his father had a point. Sooner or later, a man had to take responsibility for doing something of value in the world. Trey’s first realization came when he found himself out of money, with nothing to show for it. But the second realization came just hours ago, as the plane was descending without power.
    What would he be remembered for if he’d died? In a few years, no one would even miss him. He had never truly loved a woman, never had a family or permanent home. He’d be forever known as the wastrel son of a successful billionaire. It was time to change that, time to make his father see that he was worth the investment.
    “When they realize we’re missing, they’re going to call your family, too,” Sophie said.
    Trey laughed. “My father will probably be relieved,” he joked. “One less worry in his life.” The joke just wasn’t funny anymore, he mused.
    “Don’t say that,” Sophie murmured, reaching up to press her finger to his lips. “Things couldn’t be that bad.”
    “My life was planned out from the time I was born. I was the male heir to the Shelton Hotel empire. Even though my two older sisters have been devoted to the family business, my father wanted me to run it. That’s a lot of pressure for a teenager and I guess I felt I should be the one to decide. So, from the time I was about thirteen, I started to rebel. And it felt good, to see him finally realize he wasn’t in control of my future.”
    “And what do you want now?” she asked, leaning back on her elbows and stretching her feet out in front of her.
    That was a loaded question, a question he’d been trying to answer his entire adult life. What did he want? Right now, he wanted to kiss Sophie, to lean over and pull her down onto the blanket with him. “I’d settle for more of that mango,” he murmured.
    She handed him the knife and a fresh mango and he cut off a piece, slicing it in the same way she had. He pulled a small square of flesh off the leathery skin and held it out to her. When she moved to take it into her mouth, he held it back. Slowly, he approached her lips, then ran the fruit along her lower lip before placing it on her tongue.
    It was meant to be a playful gesture, but the moment their eyes met, Trey realized how easy it was to mistake the game for sexual foreplay.
    His gaze dropped to her lips, damp with the fruit’s nectar. Unable to stop himself, he leaned over her and drew his tongue along her bottom lip. They were both sticky with the juice and the sweet taste was like an aphrodisiac. She licked his chin before returning to his mouth.
    Sophie kissed him, her tongue slipping between his lips to tease at his. Trey held back, wanting to see how far she might go to seduce him. When she pulled away, he noticed a tiny smile curling the corners of her mouth. She took the slice of mango from his hand and squeezed it over his chest, the juice dripping down from his collarbone to his khakis.
    Sophie pushed him back until he was braced on his elbows. Slowly, she began to lick the juice off his skin, her tongue tracing a tantalizing path over his chest and abdomen. When she’d licked up nearly all the juice, Trey grabbed the other half of the mango, tore at the flesh and squeezed it over his belly.
    He closed his eyes, enjoying the feel of her lips against his skin. But Sophie didn’t stop there. She worked open the button on his khakis and slowly drew the zipper down. Thinking she’d stop once she finished the last of the juice, Trey reached down to run his fingers through her hair.
    But she didn’t stop. Instead, she tugged at the waistband of his pants until she’d pulled them and his boxers over his hips, exposing his desire to her touch. Then she picked up another mango and sliced it open, before rubbing the fruit over his belly and his cock.
    The juice felt cool against his hot shaft and he moaned as her lips brushed the swollen tip. Trey knew what was coming and he waited, the anticipation of it almost too much to bear.
    A moment later, a jolt of pleasure coursed through his body as she took him into her mouth. It was like nothing he’d ever felt before, the sensations so intense that it made rational thought nearly impossible.
    She took her time, using her tongue to bring him closer to the edge before allowing a gradual retreat. He’d enjoyed this same act with other women, but his reactions had never been quite so powerful. Every movement sent a flood of sensation racing through his body.
    Trey felt the breeze on his skin, her silky hair sliding across his abdomen as she moved above him. He heard the palms rustling and the tarp snapping. Every nerve had become more attuned, until he was alive with desire.
    This was paradise, he thought as he gave himself over to the rush of surrender. He reached for her, knowing he was close but she continued making love to him with her lips and tongue. And when he finally allowed himself, he found exquisite release in the warmth of her mouth.
    He lay back, his body tingling and his thoughts hazy. Nothing had prepared him for this. Her touch was so arousing, he was barely able to control himself. And the feeling of surrender that she evoked was becoming dangerously addictive.
    Trey pushed up on his elbows and looked down at Sophie. He reached out and tipped her chin up until her gaze met his. A satisfied smile touched her beautiful lips and she reached for another mango and bit into the tough skin before sucking on the fruit.
    “Are you still hungry?” she asked, holding out the mango.
    Trey shook his head. For the first time in his life, he felt completely satisfied. And that scared him.
    “I DON’T THINK THE FISH are hungry.”
    Sophie leaned out of the plane. Trey sat on the float, his back braced against the wheel strut, his feet dangling in the water. “Your feet are probably scaring them away. Haven’t you ever fished before?”
    “No,” Trey said. “Maybe you should do this and I’ll try to fix the radio. I built a ham radio for a science project once.”
    Sophie had pulled the radio out of its bracket and exposed the wires, but no matter how she attached them to the battery, nothing seemed to work. With a frustrated groan, she reached for the pocketknife that had fallen beneath the pilot’s seat. As she searched, Sophie noticed a small plastic case shoved almost out of reach. To her surprise, she found a flare gun and an EPIRB transponder inside, part of an old life-raft kit that had once been stored in the tail of the plane.
    All the tools they’d need for a quick rescue, she mused. But did she want to be rescued? If the batteries were still good on the transponder, she’d merely have to flip a switch and an emergency radio beacon would go out from their little island to any passing planes or ships. They could be back in Tahiti by dinnertime.
    Already, she was coming dangerously close to feeling something for this man. When he touched her, she became alive and aware. He made her believe she was the most desirable woman in the world. And though this was a fantasy world they were living in, she didn’t want to leave it. Not yet.
    Still, she had a responsibility to her father. A night filled with worry for him was not worth a night filled with pleasure for her, was it? Once Jack Madigan realized she wasn’t coming home, he might do something stupid, like borrow a plane and come looking for her.
    “Have you figured out what’s wrong with the radio?” Trey called.
    “No,” she replied. “I think this battery is dead, too.” She stared at the emergency radio beacon, turning it over in her hands and rubbing her thumb over the activation switch.
    “Why don’t you just leave it? You said they’d find us.”
    “It’s Christmas Eve,” she said. “It would be nice if my father didn’t have to spend Christmas Eve wondering if I was dead or alive.”
    A moment later, Trey opened the passenger-side door and slid into the seat. His hair was dripping and his khakis were wet. “I guess I shouldn’t have asked you to take this trip,” he said. “Not on Christmas Eve.”
    Sophie shook her head. “We needed the money. I could have turned the job down, but I didn’t. Besides, who could have predicted we’d end up here?”
    Trey took her hand and drew it to his lips, pressing a kiss in the center of her palm. “Still, I’m sorry. I guess I’ll have to find a way to make it up to you. Once we get off this island.”
    His words sent a shiver skittering over her body. Did that mean there would be something between them after they were rescued? Or was she just reading meaning into words that had none? Drawing a deep breath, Sophie held up the EPIRB. “Do you want to get off the island?”
    “What is that?” he asked.
    “An emergency radio beacon. It will send out a signal. Passing planes will pick it up, ships, too. Maybe even some of the nearby airports.”
    He took it out of her hand and examined it carefully, then glanced over at her. “Do you have to turn it on for it to work?”
    Sophie nodded. “There’s a switch right there.”
    “Why haven’t you turned it on?” he asked.
    What was she supposed to say? That she was contemplating putting it back in its case and forgetting she’d ever seen it? “I-I just found it,” she said. “You turn it on.”
    “Do you want me to turn it on?”
    “Why wouldn’t I?” Sophie asked, frustrated with the back-and-forth debate.
    He handed it back to her. “Then you turn it on.”
    “You don’t want to be rescued?”
    “Of course I do. Don’t you?”
    She bit her bottom lip as she fingered the switch. “I have to do this,” she murmured. “My father will be worried. I can’t do that to him.” Closing her eyes, she gathered her resolve and flipped the switch. But when she opened her eyes, she noticed the little light above the switch wasn’t blinking.
    “How long?” he asked.
    Her fingers trembled as she moved the switch back and forth. “It-it’s not working. The battery must be dead.” A flood of relief washed over her, followed quickly by guilt. Was she really so desperate for a man that she’d put her father through the worst worry of his life? At least the decision was out of her hands now.
    “Sorry,” she murmured. “I seem to be having bad luck with batteries today.”
    “I’m not sorry,” Trey replied. “I’m not going to lie to you, Sophie. I don’t mind spending the night on this island. With you.”
    She handed him the plastic case, then crawled out of the door to balance on the float.
    “What is this?” he asked.
    “Flare gun,” she said. “In case we see any passing boats or planes.” Drawing a deep breath, she jumped off the float into the lagoon, sinking down to the bottom before bobbing back to the surface. She swam toward the beach, then turned and floated on her back, staring up at the sky.
    Was it wrong to want this time with Trey to last a little longer? Was she being selfish? Or was she simply taking pleasure where she might find it? She’d already given up her life for her father. Would he really begrudge her just one day of happiness before returning to her ordinary existence?
    The sun broke through the clouds and the ocean breeze cooled her wet skin. She felt weightless, as if all her concerns had sunk to the bottom of the lagoon and only pleasure had risen to the surface. She’d never wanted a man the way she wanted Trey. It wasn’t just about his body, or about him satisfying her desire. There was more there.
    Sophie heard a splash and a moment later, she felt his arms around her waist, pulling her beneath the water. They surfaced together, wrapped in each other’s arms, their limbs tangling.
    He kissed her, his mouth molding to hers, his hands tangled in her wet hair. She wasn’t sure what he meant by it, but she knew there was a reason. He demanded a response and Sophie returned the kiss in full measure, her tongue savoring the taste of him.
    When he finally drew back, Trey looked down into her eyes. “There are moments when I don’t want to go back,” he murmured. “Ever.”
    Sophie nodded, knowing exactly how he felt. The more time they spent together, the more it felt as if they could live a lifetime on Suaneva. But they couldn’t survive on passion alone. And though their desire might feed the soul, it didn’t go very far to feed the body.
    “AREN’T YOU UNCOMFORTABLE in those?” Sophie asked.
    Trey glanced down at his shorts, the khakis still wet from their swim in the lagoon. “Yeah. I guess. I suppose I could wear my boxers.”
    Sophie shook her head. “Take them off,” she ordered, levering to her feet from her spot beneath the shelter. “Go ahead. As long as we’re staying here for a while, you might as well dress like a native.”
    Regarding her suspiciously, Trey stripped out of his shorts. She pointed to his boxers dismissively and he skimmed them over his hips and kicked them aside, too. Though they’d already been intimate more than once, he felt a bit exposed running around the island naked.
    “I’m not sure I like this,” he said.
    “It doesn’t feel good?” she asked.
    “Well, yeah. It feels really good. But I’m not used to running around with all my bits and pieces showing. Something might bite me.”
    “I promise I won’t,” Sophie teased. “Besides, you don’t have to be embarrassed.”
    “Well, you’re dressed and I’m not.”
    She glanced down at her outfit, his shirt tied beneath her breasts, and the flowered pareu knotted around her waist. “I think you need to get rid of your inhibitions,” she suggested. “No one is going to see you…or your bits and pieces, except me. And I’ve already seen you naked.”
    “There are times when I’d prefer to hide my reactions, if you don’t mind.”
    She let her gaze drift down below his waist and then back up again. “It’s a perfectly natural thing,” she said. “It doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, I find it flattering.”
    “It kind of takes all the mystery out of things, don’t you think?” He paused. “I mean, I might as well have a big neon sign on my forehead that blinks Horny every time I get aroused.”
    “I don’t need a neon sign to know when you’re aroused,” she said. She unknotted the pareu from her waist and wrapped it around his, fastening it low on his hips. “How is that?”
    Trey wriggled, enjoying the feel of the thin fabric on his skin. It felt much better than the damp khakis or his boxer shorts. “The breeze just blows right up beneath it and makes everything very…pleasant,” he said.
    Sophie giggled. “You look nice in a skirt. Not many men can carry it off, but you can.”
    “And what are you going to wear now?” he asked.
    She was dressed in just the shirt and her thong. Sophie picked up his boxers and held them up. “We are a little short on clothing. I could wear these.”
    Trey shook his head. “No, I think I like you just the way you are.” The thong was sexy as hell, showing off the sweet curves of her backside. And the shirt was thin enough that he could see her breasts through the fabric. Any fewer clothes and he’d be walking around with a perpetual hard-on all day. Any more and he’d be depriving himself of his one true pleasure-looking at Sophie’s delicious body.
    Sophie wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him, arching against him as he held her close. “See, already you’re starting to adapt to the ways of the island.”
    “I’m wearing a skirt,” Trey said, looking down at the brightly flowered fabric.
    “I know. But it’s practical. When you want to swim, you just untie the knot. And if it gets wet, it dries very quickly. It’s the perfect thing. You’ll want to buy five or six of them for yourself when we get back to Pape‘ete.”
    Trey chuckled. It was a fair swap, but still, he liked the way she looked dressed in his shirt. It made him feel as if she were his and his alone-at least until they got off the island.
    She grabbed her bag from beneath the shelter and rummaged through it until she found a brown plastic bottle. “You should put some of this on.”
    She handed it to him and he screwed off the top and sniffed. He recognized the scent from her skin. “What is it? Your perfume? First a skirt and now perfume?”
    “It’s called monoi. It’s for the sun, to keep you from burning. It has coconut and sandalwood and jasmine in it. And citronella for the mosquitoes. They can get bad at night.” She glanced around. “Although, they shouldn’t be too bad on an atoll like this.”
    “Why?”
    “There’s not a lot of standing water. And it’s always pretty windy. But it is the rainy season and they’re at their worst when it’s damp.”
    Trey sniffed it again. He liked the way she smelled, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to smell the same. “I think I’m all right.”
    Sighing impatiently, Sophie grabbed the bottle and squeezed some of the oil into her hand. As she began to rub it into his chest, Trey started to believe in the benefits of the oil. Her touch was like a narcotic, relaxing him, yet exciting him all at once. The scent of the oil filled the air and he pressed his hand to the small of her back, pulling her closer.
    “That feels good,” he murmured.
    She smoothed her palms over his shoulders, then circled around behind him to rub the monoi on his back. Did she have any idea what her touch did to him, how deeply it stirred his desires?
    With Sophie, even the most benign things became seductive. She could wiggle her toes in the sand and he got turned on. Or she could lick her bottom lip and he’d lose himself in a fantasy about how those lips might feel on certain parts of his body.
    When she was finished with his back, she put the cap on the bottle and tossed it on the blanket. “There. You’re ready to go,” she said.
    “Where are we going?”
    “You’ll see,” she replied. “Since we didn’t have any luck at fishing, we’ll have to find dinner. And I know the perfect place.”
    “Are you asking me on a date?”
    “A date?”
    He slipped his arm around her waist as they began to walk. “I think you just asked me to dinner. Before we go, I want to make something perfectly clear. I don’t kiss on the first date.”
    “I see,” Sophie said, giggling. “That’s good. Because neither do I.”
    As they walked along the lagoon to the south end of the atoll, Trey wondered what other delights he and Sophie would share before the night was over. Once they settled in for the evening, there was nothing else to do but amuse themselves with sexual activities.
    But then, there was always conversation. With Sophie, Trey enjoyed that almost as much as sex. This time together had proven one thing-they enjoyed each other’s company. For Trey, that was saying a lot.
    There were very few women he’d met that he’d wanted to spend an extended period of time with. Mostly, he enjoyed their company in bed, and that was about it. The women he’d known had usually been silly and shallow and interested in only one thing-his money.
    But Sophie didn’t seem to be aware of who he was, or of the life he’d led. Their acquaintance began in the hangar at the airport and she didn’t care at all about what had come before.
    “Tell me more about this resort you want to build,” Sophie said, wrapping her arm around his waist as they walked. “What would it be like?”
    “Luxurious,” he said. “But primitive.”
    Sophie frowned. “How is that possible?”
    He’d been turning the idea around and around in his head for such a long time that Trey was almost afraid to talk about it, afraid that if he did, the idea might not hold up to scrutiny. “There’s a segment of the population, a very wealthy segment, that’s looking for a completely unique vacation. I want to find a location so secluded that they can feel safe enough to relax and enjoy themselves.”
    She didn’t say anything for a long time, but he could see she was thinking about what he’d said. “It will be very expensive to build on an island,” Sophie warned.
    He shrugged. “Money really isn’t a problem.”
    “What about the other things? You’ll need electricity and fresh water. A way to get materials on and off the island. A way to get guests back and forth to a major airport.”
    “You’ve thought about these things?”
    “Well, haven’t you?”
    “Yes,” he said. “Of course.”
    “I live in these islands, Trey. I know what it’s like. It’s not like living in a big city with all the conveniences. Everything is simpler there, yet it’s much more difficult, as well. Here, everything comes in by boat or plane and it’s expensive.”
    “Well, if we build it right, then it will sustain itself,” Trey said, pulling her to a stop. “We’ll power everything with windmills. We’ll collect rainwater. We’ll sail our guests to the island. We’ll prepare simple meals with all-natural foods, grown on the island. We’ll serve the kind of meals that islanders have eaten for centuries.” He paused. “What do you think?”
    “What does your father think?” Sophie asked.
    “I haven’t told him about that part of the plan yet. He’s kind of a traditional hotel developer. He really doesn’t have any imagination. Do you think it’s a good idea?”
    “Yes!” she said with a smile. “I think it’s a marvelous idea.”
    They continued to walk, Trey suddenly more excited about the project than he’d ever been. It was a good idea, but he’d been afraid to talk about it, afraid that his father would immediately find fault or discount it completely because he’d been the one to come up with the idea. But Sophie lived in these islands and she knew them well. If she thought the concept would work, then maybe it wasn’t so crazy.
    “If you’re bringing people by boat, your location needs to be closer to an island with an airport,” Sophie suggested.
    “I’m kind of flexible on that,” he said. “We could bring people in by plane.”
    “Then an atoll is a better idea,” she said. “You can land in the lagoon or you can build a landing strip on a larger motu. And if there’s a deep enough channel, you could bring boats right into the lagoon.”
    As they continued their walk, they discussed more of the details, Sophie listening quietly as he explained everything he wanted to accomplish. In the end, Trey felt as if the project were suddenly real. This wasn’t just a pipe dream anymore. He could make this work.
    But he could use Sophie’s help. Why not hire her? After all, she’d be in on it from the very beginning. They could work together on the project. She certainly knew enough to coordinate all their transportation needs. And Madigan Air could use the business.
    “I should hire you,” Trey said. “I’ll need someone here to be my liaison if the project goes through. Someone who knows the islands. Someone who can cut through the red tape.”
    Once the offer was out there, Trey realized just how stupid it sounded. Though they might get along quite well as lovers, stuck on a deserted island, what made him think they could have a working relationship once they went back to the real world?
    “I-I’m not sure how much longer I’m going to be in the islands,” Sophie said. “The business isn’t doing real well and-”
    “But don’t you see? This would be an answer to all your problems. I could hire you to fly me back and forth. I’d pay you well. And-”
    “We’ll see,” she said, cutting him off.
    They continued the rest of their walk in silence, their fingers laced together as they waded through a narrow channel that fed the lagoon.
    After five minutes of silence, Trey was certain he’d made a mistake. Perhaps this was all they were supposed to have, just twenty-four hours on this island. She didn’t seem interested in anything more than that. But he didn’t want to believe it would end so soon. He was beginning to care about Sophie, and he wanted to know her much better.
    He silently chastised himself. Hell, he’d never in his life felt so vulnerable. And it was his fault, letting himself believe what they were sharing was more than just a temporary passion. From now on, he’d accept the fact that their affair would end the moment they got off the island.
    That didn’t mean he couldn’t enjoy the pleasure her body offered. He just wouldn’t attach any expectations to their relationship. It would be purely sexual.

4

    THE CLOUDS HAD BROKEN and sunlight filtered through the grove of coconut palms, illuminating the remains of the old resort. Trey stood at the edge of the beach, staring at the rotting fares, an odd expression on his face. He seemed almost perplexed by the ruins of the village, the scene putting a damper on his good mood.
    Was he having doubts about his plan? Sophie wondered. The person who had tried to develop Suaneva thirty years ago had had big dreams, but this was all that was left of them. “Maybe he just didn’t know what he was getting himself into.”
    “Maybe,” Trey said. He shook his head. “At least he tried.”
    “Just because he failed doesn’t mean you will. With enough money, you can do almost anything.”
    “My father is the one with money,” Trey said. “I was thinking if he doesn’t approve of my plan, then I might strike out on my own. You know, build the resort anyway. I could find investors or take out a loan against my trust-fund money.” He drew a deep breath. “Then again, maybe I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.”
    She reached out and grabbed his hand. It seemed to help, for as soon as she touched him, he glanced over at her and smiled. “I think it’s a great idea,” Sophie said. She pulled him along toward the cottage. “Come on. Let’s go find something for dinner.”
    They walked past the fares into the grove of trees and she led him up the steps of the weather-beaten cottage. The flowers on the vines created a thick scent in the air. Trey stopped to pick one and tucked it behind her left ear.
    “There,” he murmured. “I like that. It’s perfect.”
    She reached up and plucked it out, then drew a deep breath of the scent. “You have to learn the meaning of the flower,” she said softly as she ran it along his bottom lip. “When you wear it behind your left ear, it means you’re taken. When it’s behind your right ear, you’re available.”
    He reached to take it from her, but she shook her head and held it back. “There’s more. If you wear flowers behind both ears, it means you’re taken, but available for the right person. And when you wear the flower backward, it means follow me and you’ll have a good time.”
    With a playful smile, Sophie turned the flower around and put it behind her right ear, the bloom facing backward. Then Trey pulled another flower off the vine and did the same. “Now we know where we stand,” he said with a rakish grin.
    Sophie opened the door to the cottage and stepped inside and he followed her into the dark interior. Light filtered through the slats of the shutters, creating an odd pattern on the floors and walls. Trey pulled her into his arms and kissed her, his hands running freely over her body. “Alone in a dark room. Is this what you mean by a good time?”
    They’d gone past the point of denying themselves pleasure, Sophie mused. Now, it was possible to act on their urges without a second thought. If she wanted to touch him, she could. If he wanted to kiss her, he’d do just that.
    The kiss was slow and delicious, his hands making her body come alive with wonderful sensations. He cupped her bare backside and pulled her against him, the evidence of his arousal growing hot and hard between them. Sophie sighed, desire aching deep inside her. Though they were still new to this passion, it didn’t make it any less powerful. Instinctively, she reached down and ran her fingertips along the length of his shaft, the thin fabric of the pareu providing little protection from her touch.
    Slowly, they explored each other, using touch instead of sight to guide them. Sophie wondered if she should be playing harder to get. But why deny themselves the pleasures? They were both consenting adults and they only had a limited time on the island. Besides, she had every intention of keeping her emotions in check. This was about sexual gratification and nothing more.
    If she had learned anything from her parents’ relationship, it was that love couldn’t be trusted to last. As a small child, Sophie had looked at her mother and father as a fairy-tale king and queen. But her innocence was slowly stripped away by her father’s infidelities and her mother’s abandonment.
    She’d never be able to trust a man with her heart and soul. But she could give him temporary custody of her body. Passion and desire didn’t need to transform into an emotional connection.
    “Do you have any idea how beautiful you are?” Trey whispered.
    “You can’t even see me,” she said, his touch sending a rush of sensation through her body.
    “But I can feel you. And you feel beautiful.”
    He kissed her again, Sophie melting into his arms. She’d grown so familiar with this, the way his tongue invaded her mouth, the way he tasted. It felt good to know a man again. But then, she didn’t really want to know him. Sex with a stranger was so much less complicated.
    Sophie drew back. “This is kind of silly, don’t you think?”
    “Kissing you?”
    “No, hiding in a dark room while you kiss me. There’s no one here to see us. We don’t have to sneak around.”
    He chuckled softly. “You’re right. Old habits, I guess.”
    Sophie wanted to ask what he’d meant by that, but she bit her tongue and stepped out of his embrace. Light poured into the room as she threw open a set of shutters. When Sophie turned back around, she found Trey surveying the interior of the cottage with a look of amazement.
    “What the hell is this?” he asked. Crossing to stand next to one of the windows, he frowned as he read. “This is really weird. Who wrote all of this?”
    “Passing sailors,” Sophie said. “From all over the world. It’s like a diary of this island. Thirty years’ worth of visits. And look what they left.” She crossed the room to the small counter and picked through the assortment of canned goods. “Spam,” she said, holding up a square tin. “It’s some kind of canned meat, I think.”
    “Ah, no thanks.”
    “Artichoke hearts?”
    Trey shook his head, wrinkling his nose. “Only in a nice parmesan sauce over pasta.”
    “Baked beans. Men always love baked beans.” She grabbed another tin. “And smoked oysters.”
    “I’ve heard those are an aphrodisiac,” Trey said, sending her a playful leer. “I don’t think we need any more help in that area, do you?”
    “Probably not,” Sophie said, pleased that he found no fault with their sex life. She bent down and opened the cabinet beneath the counter, curious to see what there was in the way of cooking utensils. She gasped in surprise. “Oh, my! Look at this. I think I’ve found something we can both agree on.” She grabbed one of the bottles lying on the shelf and held it up. “Wine.”
    “Really?” Trey strode across the room and knelt down beside her. There were five or six bottles lying inside the cabinet including a couple of French vintages and a Merlot from the Napa Valley. “Nice. Although in this heat, the bottles might have gone bad. We’ll need a corkscrew.”
    “I think there might be one in the pocketknife you were using from the plane,” Sophie said.
    Trey sat back on his heels. “Instead of carting this stuff over to the other side of the lagoon, maybe we should just move camp, like you suggested. This cottage seems pretty weather tight. And the food and water are here.”
    “But what about your shelter?”
    “I think my ego will give way to comfort,” Trey admitted. “It did the trick for a while, but this seems to be a much better place to spend the night, don’t you agree?” He slowly stood and glanced around the room. “So this isn’t really a deserted tropical island. And we could have company at any minute.”
    “I suppose we could,” Sophie said. “But it’s not likely. There aren’t many sailors who’d brave the typhoon season in the South Pacific. It would make for miserable sailing.”
    “Good,” he murmured. “I don’t want any company. I’m enjoying the relaxed dress code.”
    Sophie rearranged the cans on the counter. “After we move over here, I’ll make us a Christmas dinner and we’ll settle in and wait to get rescued.”
    Just the word rescue brought a flood of regret. As much as Sophie wanted it to last, this time on the island would come to a very quick end. It would be over before she knew it, and all she’d be left with was memories. She let her gaze drift slowly down Trey’s body, then back up again. She had grown so used to having him near, and in such a short time.
    They’d tossed aside the last of their inhibitions when they’d discarded their clothes. Now, there was nothing but a bit of fabric between her touch and his body, between his hands and her bare skin. If she wanted him, all she had to do was reach out and untie the knot in the pareu.
    Temptation was always there, just within her reach. She could be naked in a matter of seconds and so could he. Both of them knew they wouldn’t be able to keep their hands off each other for very long. But it was an arousing game to try.
    Sophie stepped toward him, tempted to pick up where they’d left off. But she twisted her fingers together in front of her. They had a lot of work to do and the sooner they got it done, the sooner they could relax. “If you could go gather our things from the other camp, I’ll get wood for the fire,” she said.
    “I can help you with the wood,” he countered, grabbing her hand and placing it on his chest.
    Just a simple touch sent a shiver of desire through her, strong enough for Sophie to realize that, from now on, working together was impossible. No doubt they’d find some excuse to touch each other again and then work would be forgotten in favor of sex.
    “I’ll be fine,” she said. “The sooner we get this done, the sooner we can…relax.”
    He gave her a look, as if he knew exactly what she implied with the word relax. “All right,” he said.
    They strolled out of the cottage and stood on the porch. “Go on,” she said. “I’ll be here when you get back.”
    He took her hand and pressed a kiss to the middle of her palm, drawing his tongue along her index finger, before putting her fingertip in his mouth. It was a provocative gesture and one that made her heart skip a beat. “You promise?”
    “Where am I going to go?” Sophie teased. “It’s an island.”
    Trey nodded reluctantly. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.” He kissed her hand again, then stepped off the porch. “So, I’ll see you in a little while.”
    “Yes, you will.”
    They made a good team, Sophie mused as she watched Trey walk away. He was so even-tempered, so unselfish, that she couldn’t imagine them ever disagreeing. And even though they didn’t know each other at all, she couldn’t imagine having a better companion on a deserted tropical island.
    Maybe working for him wouldn’t be such a crazy idea. If he really was going to build his resort, then she could be a valuable help to him. And it would add a lot more excitement to her life. Plus, there was the benefit of spending more time with Trey once they got off this island. And more time meant…well, more sex, didn’t it?
    Still, Sophie had already decided her future wasn’t here on the islands, but in some exciting city. Was she willing to give up on that dream for good sex? A tiny smile quirked at the corners of her mouth. Maybe. If the sex was really good.
    As for a real relationship, one that included love and commitment, Trey had a life of his own back in the States. And she wasn’t about to follow him around, begging for his attention whenever he might want to give it. This was a twenty-four-hour fling, nothing more. Once the twenty-four hours were over, they would be, too. And then, she’d find a way to start her new life away from these islands-on her own.
    IT DIDN’T TAKE VERY LONG for Trey to gather their meager belongings. He put everything he could carry onto the canvas tarp and then tied it up with the ropes. He thought it might be easy to drag it along the sand, but in the end, he waded out into knee-deep water and floated the bundle as he walked.
    The plane and his attempt at a campfire were the only things he left behind in their first camp. In truth, he was a bit sad to leave, even though they’d only lived at the location for the morning. They’d made love on the sand there and she’d pleasured him beneath the small clump of coconut palms. Once they moved, would things suddenly change?
    When they’d first tumbled onto the beach, wrapped in each other’s arms, he hadn’t even thought about the consequences of what they were about to do. He’d been so glad to be alive, he hadn’t thought of anything else.
    But with each touch, each kiss, his feelings for Sophie were growing. Was it simply because they were here alone, without anyone to interfere? In the past ten years, the press had hounded him unmercifully. Every relationship he’d gone into had been splashed across the pages of some magazine. He hadn’t been able to enjoy anything close to a normal romance with a woman.
    Being here with Sophie was the nearest he’d come. And to his surprise, he was falling fast. He could barely stand to be away from her, so addicted was he to her presence. He had to fight to keep from touching her and kissing her. And there were times when he honestly felt he could be content simply listening to her voice for the next fifty years.
    Was this what it was like to fall in love? Trey shook his head, pushing the thought from his brain. He’d met Sophie seven hours ago! Besides, he didn’t have a clue about what it was like to be in love. Lust, now that was another thing. But love wasn’t something Trey had ever experienced for himself.
    As he approached the ruins of the old village, Trey called for Sophie. When she didn’t respond, he dragged their belongings onto the shore and went in search of her. After ten minutes, he came to the conclusion that she was either too far away to hear him or something was wrong.
    Raking his fingers through his hair, Trey tried to calm the fear that coursed through his body. If something had happened, there was nothing he could do. They were alone on this island with no help available. Drawing a deep breath, he tried to think of where she might have gone.
    He would have seen her had she walked along the shoreline. “Wood,” he muttered, spinning around to find a small pile of palm fronds near the front steps of the cottage. She’d probably walked across to the ocean side to search for wood.
    He ran back through the grove of palms, past the water tanks, toward the ocean side of the motu. Sophie wouldn’t have been stupid enough to go swimming on her own. Hell, even he knew better than that.
    Trey ran until his lungs burned, weaving through the tangled underbrush and dodging palm trees. When he burst out of the trees onto the beach, he bent over and gulped a deep breath of the humid ocean air. Sweat dripped down his chest and his legs were cut and bleeding from the sharp edges of old palm fronds.
    He scanned the beach, then caught sight of her sitting on the sand a hundred yards away. Cursing softly, Trey kicked off his shoes and jogged toward her. She didn’t see him approach and when he called her name, Sophie jumped as if startled. Shading her eyes from the sun, she stared up at him.
    “Jesus, Sophie, didn’t you hear me calling you?” He squatted down in front of her and peered into her face. “When I got back to camp and couldn’t find you, I was worried.”
    “Where am I going to go?” Sophie asked.
    “I don’t know. I thought you might have taken a swim in the lagoon and drowned. Or been bitten by some poisonous spider and were now lying under a tree, dying. Don’t scare me like that.”
    “There are no poisonous spiders on this island,” she said. “Or in all of French Polynesia. I told you, the only thing that might kill me would be a centipede bite. Or a shark attack.”
    “Well, there you go. I did have good reason to be worried.”
    “There’s more chance I’d be killed by a falling coconut than a shark,” she said with a shrug.
    He plopped down in front of her. “Really?”
    Sophie nodded. “There are a lot of people killed by coconuts,” she said.
    Trey reached out and grabbed her hands. “What are you doing out here?”
    “Just sitting. I was curious what the beach was like on this side of the motu. This is nicer than the lagoon side, don’t you think? I mean for your resort.”
    “Yeah, I guess.” Was that really what she was thinking about? He tried to calm his anger at her, knowing that he ought to be happy she was fine. But as he stared at her beautiful face, Trey realized he wasn’t really angry at her at all. She was a grown woman and could take responsibility for her own safety. He was angry at himself, for caring so much, for being frightened at the possibility of losing her.
    “We’re going to get some bad weather,” she murmured. “There’s a squall coming in.”
    Trey glanced back over his shoulder to see a wall of slate-gray clouds building on the southern horizon. “How long?”
    “A few hours at least. We may have to secure the plane.”
    “Why?”
    “If the wind is high it will pick it up and flip it over. I saw some old pilings on the west side of the lagoon. We can pull it over to that spot and tie it down properly.”
    “How high would the wind need to get to flip it over?”
    “High. At Faaa, we just put it in the hangar.” She looked at him, a frown wrinkling her brow. “If the plane gets wrecked on this island, Madigan Air is out of business.”
    Trey reached out and took her hand. “If it gets wrecked on this island, I’ll buy you a new plane,” he promised. He straightened, then pulled Sophie to her feet. She bent down and picked up her sandals and then wandered over to the water’s edge. Trey watched her, wondering at her subdued mood. Was she having regrets about what had happened between them? Just an hour ago, he’d never felt closer to a woman, but now, she seemed a million miles away.
    “Come on, let’s go,” he said, holding out his hand.
    She turned to face him, and took a step. An instant later, he saw a look of pain cross her face. “Oww!” she cried, as she hopped on one foot.
    “What is it?”
    Sophie looked down at the sand, then groaned. “Jellyfish.”
    “They can be poisonous, can’t they?” he asked, a current of fear shooting through him.
    “Just box jellyfish,” she replied, wincing as she hopped on one foot.
    Trey stepped to her side and she wrapped her arm around his for balance. “How do we know what kind that is?” He pointed to the nearly transparent corpse lying in the sand.
    “Help me rinse off my foot,” she said.
    He scooped her up and carried her into deeper water, wading in up to his thighs so she could dip her foot in. “How do you know if it was a box jellyfish?”
    She sighed impatiently. “Well, if I die, then we’ll know,” Sophie said in a wry tone.
    “Don’t kid about that,” Trey warned.
    She winced. “I think I can stand. You can put me down.”
    “I’m going to carry you back to camp.” He set her on her feet and then turned his back to her. “Hop up.”
    “You don’t have to do this,” she said.
    “Don’t argue, Sophie. Just do as I say.”
    He waited. He didn’t want to care so much, but Trey couldn’t help himself. What if something went wrong? What if the jellyfish was poisonous and there was nothing he could do to help her? They were stuck in the middle of nowhere, helpless and completely vulnerable. What had seemed like a fun time could turn deadly serious in a heartbeat.
    She barely weighed more than the backpack he’d carried during his Outward Bound trip. Driven by adrenaline, they made it back to the cottage in less than fifteen minutes. He set Sophie down on the front steps, then bent to examine her foot. An angry red welt ran the length of it, from her ankle to her little toe.
    “What should we do?” he asked.
    “There’s not much you can do,” Sophie replied. “There’s a gel that I have at home that stops the sting…but that’s at home.” She leaned back, bracing her hands behind her. “You could always pee on it,” she suggested. “That’s supposed to work when you don’t have anything to relieve the sting.”
    “You want me to pee on your foot?” Trey shook his head. “No, I’m not going to do that. I can’t.”
    “Why not?”
    “There’s a limit to how kinky I go and that’s beyond my limit. There has to be something else.”
    “This isn’t sexual,” Sophie said. “It’s medical. I need something acidic and that’s all we have.”
    “No, it isn’t,” Trey said. He took the steps two at a time and returned a few moments later with a bottle of red wine. “We have this.”
    Trey made quick work of the cork, then dumped the wine over her foot, the liquid running down the steps and into the sandy ground. He took a quick swig for himself, then handed her the bottle and she did the same. “Is it feeling better?”
    Sophie wrinkled her nose. “I think so.”
    “How about you? Do you feel all right?”
    She nodded. “I don’t think it was poisonous. Really, you don’t have to worry.”
    He sat down on the steps and stared at her foot, trying to control his frustration. Why was she taking this so lightly? Didn’t she realize how serious it could have been? It would kill him if anything had happened to her and he wasn’t able to help. Trey took another gulp of the wine, hoping that it would calm his nerves. “From now on, we stick together. You don’t go anywhere without me. Understand?”
    “I’m not a child. You don’t have to talk to me like I am.” Her chin was set at a stubborn angle and she looked at him through narrowed eyes. The sweet, funny Sophie he’d known was suddenly replaced by a obstinate, dismissive, fiercely independent woman.
    He wanted to lash out at her, to scold her for her part in this all. She’d made him care about her, made him want to protect her. And now he’d been forced to face the fact that he did care-more than he wanted to.
    He leaned closer and pressed a kiss to the soft skin above her knee. “You have to be more careful,” he murmured, hoping to defuse the situation.
    Sophie ran her fingers through his hair, brushing it away from his eyes, her lips pressed into a pout. “Don’t order me around. You have no right.”
    “I’m sorry. So, what can I do to make you feel better?”
    “Can I have more wine?” she asked.
    He held the bottle out over her foot, but she grabbed it before he could pour and took a long swig. Sophie pointed to her sole. “Can you see any stingers? If you take the blade of the knife, you should be able to scrape them off.”
    Trey held her foot up to the light and shook his head. “I don’t think so. But you probably shouldn’t walk on it for a while. I’m going to get a fire going and then we’ll figure out what to do about the plane.”
    THE RAIN BEGAN SHORTLY AFTER they returned from the beach. Within seconds, a few droplets had turned into a deluge, with water running off the tin roof in sheets. Trey had jogged to the other side of the lagoon and pulled the plane over to the submerged pilings. Relieved, Sophie had thought her worries were over.
    But when Trey returned to the cottage, he’d informed her that the wood pilings were so rotted, it was impossible to tie it down securely. In the end, he had done what he could, but wasn’t confident that the plane would stay where it was.
    Sophie rested her back against the weather wall of the cottage, freshly picked flowers from the vines scattered around her as she wove them into a wreath. They’d finished the first bottle of wine and Trey had opened a second. He occupied himself with tearing the canvas tarp into strips, intent on fashioning a hammock by weaving and knotting the canvas together.
    She watched him surreptitiously, wondering at the argument they’d had earlier. She thought she knew him, enough to assume that he didn’t have a quick temper. But his anger over her trip to the beach and the jellyfish seemed completely out of character. After all, what right did he have to chastise her like that? She wasn’t a child. And it wasn’t her fault the jellyfish had picked that place to die.
    Perhaps this was a character flaw coming to the surface, she mused. Though Trey might appear to be easygoing, he showed a possessive streak that she didn’t care for at all. Had she even been considering him as boyfriend material, that characteristic alone would have disqualified him in an instant.
    Sophie grabbed the wine bottle and took another sip. Either she was getting drunk or her foot was feeling much better. Or maybe it was both. A tiny hiccup slipped out and she covered her mouth with her fingertips.
    She glanced over at Trey. His back was braced against the porch railing, his long legs crossed in front of him. The pareu barely hid his assets and Sophie allowed her gaze to drift.
    She wondered what he was thinking. Was he only pretending to concentrate on the hammock? Or was his mind caught up in some sexual fantasy? If he was thinking about sex, then he was doing a pretty good job of hiding it. Perhaps she’d have to give him a little nudge. Sophie stood and stretched her arms over her head, then began to unknot the shirt.
    “Where are you going?” he asked, his attention suddenly sparked.
    “To take a shower,” she said, letting the shirt fall to the floor of the porch. She skimmed out of her thong and dropped it on top of his shirt. “The rain will wash off the salt on my skin.”
    She wandered down the stairs, then stopped and tipped her face up, letting the downpour soak her thoroughly. The rain was warm, the water fresh, and Sophie closed her eyes and opened her mouth, letting the drops fall on her tongue.
    She didn’t want to look to see if he had followed her. But a few seconds later, she felt his hands on her shoulders, the heat of his body against her back. Trey’s palms smoothed over her skin, but she didn’t turn around. Instead, she sighed softly and arched back against him, an invitation for him to go further.
    His fingers tangled in her hair as he held it out, letting the rain fall through it. Everywhere he touched, Sophie’s nerves tingled, her body came alive, her senses aware. His path wasn’t deliberate, moving from her breasts to her feet and then back up to the nape of her neck, as if he couldn’t decide which spot he liked best.
    When she turned in his arms and looked up into his eyes, she saw the desire there. In a heartbeat, he captured her face with his hands and pulled her into a deep, mind-numbing kiss. He seemed desperate to possess her mouth, demanding that she meet his need. But there was something else there-a need to set things right between them again.
    Sophie opened beneath the assault and let the kiss consume her. Nothing in her life had prepared her for the power of his touch over her body. In the past, men had come and gone from her life without a sense of loss. But already, Sophie had to wonder how she’d deal without this chaos he’d created in her body. Every cell of her being seemed to surrender to him, to ache for what they shared. She thought nothing of resisting his charms the first time, but now Sophie knew she’d completely lost that capacity.
    Breathless and dizzy with desire, Sophie pressed her hands against his chest. He pulled back and smiled, the droplets of rain clinging to his dark lashes. She smoothed her fingertips along his torso, then untied the knot in the pareu.
    She slowly circled around him, washing the salt off his body with the damp fabric, running it over his muscled back and arms. It felt good to be clean again, to be able to press her lips to his flesh without tasting the ocean.
    Sophie pushed up on her tiptoes and kissed the nape of his neck, then trailed her lips and tongue down to the small of his back. She heard him moan softly, pleased that he wasn’t immune to her touch, either.
    They stood in the rain for a long time, letting the water wash over them, exploring the curves and angles of each other’s bodies. Though it was a practical choice, Sophie had no doubt about where their “shower” was leading.
    He took the lead as he ran his hand down her belly to find the warm spot between her legs. His caress was soft and slow, but almost immediately, she felt an overwhelming surge of desire building inside her.
    Determined to share the exquisite pleasure that raced through her body, Sophie wrapped her fingers around his erection and began to stroke him, the warm rain causing him to be slick and smooth.
    She drew a deep breath as she nuzzled her face into the curve of Trey’s neck. He smelled like the rain and the last traces of the monoi left on his skin. Sophie didn’t hesitate to tantalize him, to touch him in a way that was meant to make him ache for release.
    There were no walls between them that hadn’t already been breached, no part of his body that she wasn’t allowed to touch. Here, on this island, they were free to explore their desire without any outside interference. For now, time stood still, no one else existed, the real world was just a clouded memory.
    Her fingers slid over the tip of his shaft and then back down again. This man who had such control over her desires was completely at her mercy. She looked up at his handsome face, his eyes closed and his lips parted.
    She continued to watch him as she placed a kiss in the center of his chest. When she moved to his nipple, Trey sucked in a sharp breath and when she delved lower, he tangled his fingers in her wet hair and groaned. But this time, he wouldn’t allow her to go further.
    He pulled her back up along his chest and then took her hand and led her over to the front steps of the cottage. Gently, Trey sat her down on the top step, while he knelt below her. His hand slid down her belly and his fingers found the soft folds between her legs, now slick with her desire.
    Sophie had been with enough men to know exactly what he wanted. She leaned back, turning her face up into the rain that poured off the porch roof onto them both. And when his tongue continued what his fingers had begun, Sophie moaned out loud.
    She knew he was watching her, knew that everything he did to her was designed to end in absolute pleasure and shattering release. He teased and tempted her, learning by her reactions what she liked best. And when she seemed to move close to the edge, he slowed his seduction.
    Minute by minute, he brought her ever nearer before dragging her back, until her eyes were hazy with desire and her breath was quick and shallow.
    “Oh God, what are you doing to me?” she whispered. She tangled her fingers in his wet hair, pulling him along her body until their mouths met. He was still hard and his shaft teased at the spot between her legs, rubbing back and forth until she was desperate to have him inside her.
    Sophie was stunned at how quickly it came upon her. One moment, she was running her hands over his back, and the next, she was writhing beneath him. The spasm came hard and fast and she pulled his hips against hers as she dissolved into her orgasm. A moment later, he joined her, his essence warm and sticky between them both.
    When they’d both floated back down to reality, Sophie reached between their bodies and touched him again. Trey sucked in a sharp breath. “Stop,” he begged. “Sophie, stop.”
    She did as he asked, tossing her hair back from her face to look up at him. She waited for a long moment, watching him regain control over his senses. He shifted his weight and sat down beside her on the steps, stretching his arms over his head and moaning softly.
    The rain had begun to subside and the air was fresh and cool for the moment. His fingers ran through her hair and Trey pulled her into a deep kiss, his mouth possessing hers, leaving her breathless. The kiss spun out into one long, delicious ending. A few moments later, Trey opened his eyes. A grin curled the corners of his mouth. “That was…incredible.”
    Sophie reached down to touch him again. “It was?”
    He moaned, grabbing her hand to stop her teasing. “You know those questions they ask, about the three things you’d want on a deserted island?”
    “Yes,” Sophie replied.
    “I could never decide what I’d take. There were too many things that I thought were necessary. But now that I’m here, I know exactly what I’d need.”
    “Food and water?”
    He shook his head. “We have that here.”
    “What then?”
    “You. You’d be on the top of my list.”
    “Any woman? Or me specifically?”
    “I’m pretty sure it would have to be you.”
    “What else?” she asked, now curious about his answers.
    “Condoms,” he said. “An unlimited supply. So we’d never have to keep ourselves from doing anything.”
    “What, are you going to have them air-dropped? How many would you need?”
    “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe three a day. About a thousand a year. Taking into account the average life span, I’d say we’d need fifty thousand, just to be safe.”
    “And what else?” Sophie asked. “Besides a warehouse to store them in?”
    “A good fishing pole,” he said after a few moments of thought. “With all that sex, I think I’d need some protein every now and then.” Trey reached up and tucked her hair behind her ear. “And what would you take?”
    “I don’t know. I never thought about it. Probably an airplane, so I could get off the island when I wanted.”
    Trey frowned. “But that’s not following the rules.”
    “I’ve lived on a little island, not much different than this one, for my entire life,” Sophie said. “Sooner or later, it will make you crazy.”
    Trey sat up and raked his hands through his damp hair, a frown wrinkling his brow. “It can’t be that bad.”
    “It’s easy for you to romanticize all of this,” she said, pushing up beside him. “The warm breezes and the blue ocean, the white sand and the beautiful flowers. The naked women. And it will be interesting for a week or two. But then, like all the tourists, you’ll grow bored and go home. I can’t go home. This is my home. I’m stuck here.”
    “Is it that bad?” Trey asked.
    She shrugged. “I just wish I had a choice, to stay or go.”
    “I’ll help you, Sophie,” he offered. “When we get off this island, I’ll buy you a ticket. You can go anywhere you want, just name it.”
    Sophie shook her head. “My father won’t leave. And I can’t leave him alone, with his eyesight so bad. He doesn’t have anyone else to take care of him or the business.”
    “Then we’ll make sure he can take care of himself. I’ll find him a good doctor. I don’t care how much it costs. I owe you something for this mess I’ve put you in. If it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t be here.”
    “Maybe. But the plane might have gone down somewhere else, somewhere a lot less fortunate than this place. Somewhere without a nice big lagoon to land in.” Sophie smiled at him then dropped a grateful kiss on his lips. “It’s a nice fantasy,” she said. “But fantasies don’t always come true.”
    Sophie pushed to her feet and walked out toward the lagoon. She picked up the discarded pareu, shook it out and wrapped it around her body, knotting it beneath her arm. Funny how every time they were intimate, it left her feeling more vulnerable.
    Though it was just a silly answer to a silly question, Sophie couldn’t help but wonder if island life might be tolerable with Trey at her side. Was she really looking for an adventure of her own? She’d always believed the empty spot inside her would be filled by an exciting career in a glamorous city. She’d never even considered it might be filled by a man.
    “Now that the rain has stopped, we should try to get the fire started,” she suggested, turning back to him.
    Trey watched her, his expression inscrutable. “Just give me a few minutes to recover.”
    Sophie turned and wandered to the edge of the lagoon. She stared into the water, watching a small school of fish dart back and forth. She pressed her palm to her heart, feeling the ache of emotion there.
    After her mother had left, Sophie’s dreams about love and happiness had been put aside. How could she possibly let a man into her heart if there was a chance he might break it into a thousand pieces? She had a big empty spot that love could have filled. But if she wasn’t willing to allow herself that emotion, she’d have to fill that spot with something else. But what?

5

    THE HUMIDITY HUNG IN the late-afternoon air and the breeze had disappeared, leaving a strange stillness over Suaneva.
    Trey sat on the top step of the porch, his gaze fixed on the plane on the far side of the lagoon. Just minutes before, he’d thought he heard the sound of an engine overhead. It was strange to be so close to rescue, yet so incredibly far away.
    He and Sophie were alone on this island until someone came looking for them. And though it had proved to be an interesting adventure so far, Trey had to wonder what would happen when it was over. If it was ever over.
    There was always a small chance that they wouldn’t be found, that her father might have forgotten where she went. Or that a search party might miss them. It was a remote possibility, but a possibility nevertheless. The more likely scenario would be the opposite-that they’d be found in the morning and that a rescue plane would land in the lagoon, pick them up and take them back to the real world.
    But what then? Would they just walk away from each other as if they’d never met? Or would they make hasty plans to have dinner together? If Trey had anything to say about it, he’d take her hand, drag her off to his hotel suite and let nature take its course.
    They’d enjoy a long, hot shower together, then wrap themselves in thick robes. After that, they’d have a huge dinner with dessert and champagne. And then they’d go to bed for the next three or four days. Only after that would they be ready to make plans for the future.
    Their rescue wouldn’t be the end of their affair, it would be the beginning. When the sex was this good, you didn’t just walk away. He and Sophie shared incredible intimacy in a relationship unencumbered by inhibition. But would they have to begin all over again once they got back? Or could they continue on as they had?
    He turned to look at Sophie, sound asleep in the hammock he’d made. The effects of the wine and sex and incessant heat and rain had been enough to make her drowsy. The moment he’d finished hanging the hammock, she’d crawled in and fallen asleep.
    He glanced down at his wrist, then remembered that his expensive waterproof watch had stopped running when he’d first jumped into the water. From what he could tell by the intermittent sun, it was probably getting close to five in the evening. He’d already spent eight hours with Sophie and he felt as if his life had completely changed. What would happen in the next sixteen? When he left Suaneva tomorrow, would he be a different man?
    Trey found it difficult to believe that he could change so much in twenty-four hours. He hadn’t really cared about anything in his life, so what made him think he felt something deeper for Sophie? But then, the things he’d tossed aside so quickly had always been things he’d bought and paid for.
    No matter how much he spent, he never seemed to find any satisfaction, any comfort. He’d gone through millions and had nothing to show for it. He wasn’t any richer, any smarter or any happier. But he couldn’t buy Sophie’s affection. Maybe that’s why Trey found it so valuable-and maybe that’s why he wanted it more than anything he’d ever wanted in his life.
    He slowly stood, then walked across the porch and bent down to look at her face. Her dark lashes were thick and feathery, her lips parted slightly as she slept. Trey reached out and brushed a strand of hair from her forehead, his fingers instinctively needing to touch her. This was crazy, he mused. If he couldn’t resist touching her now, how would he ever get along without her?
    Women had always occupied a specific place in Trey’s life, as social accessories. The more beautiful, the better. He’d never really thought much about compatibility since he’d never intended to stay with one woman long enough for that to be an issue. But he liked Sophie. He admired her strength and her determination. He thought she was, by all accounts, the most beautiful woman he’d ever met. And when he was with her, he felt good about himself.
    But would his feelings last? Or were they so intense only because she was the one thing he might not be able to possess? Trey sat back on his heels, his gaze still fixed on her face. This was the woman who had saved his life. Perhaps that was the reason for the attraction and nothing more.
    As long as they were here on this island, he didn’t need to think about the future. He’d take each hour as it came and deal with the difficult stuff later. Trey drew a ragged breath. Yeah, he could keep telling himself that, but he was far from convinced that he’d ever be able to let Sophie Madigan go.
    Trey picked through their belongings, which he’d tossed into a corner of the porch. He found his khakis, then tugged them on. Though it felt good to walk around naked, he felt vulnerable without clothes. How the hell was he supposed to fight his attraction to Sophie, when the proof of it was there for all to see?
    Trey walked back to the grove of fruit trees and collected enough wood to get a fire started, making four trips back and forth before he was satisfied it would last through the evening. Sophie had been right about this side of the lagoon. Things were a lot easier when they had shelter, food, water and a supply of firewood.
    Trey arranged the wood in a pile on top of the damp palm fronds, then searched for some kindling to start the fire. In the end, he grabbed his messenger bag and pulled out the notebook he kept inside, crumbling up sheets of paper and stuffing them beneath the firewood.
    Ten minutes later, to Trey’s great satisfaction, they had fire. Though the matches were damp, it had only taken three tries to get a flame going. The wet wood popped and sparked and sent a cloud of smoke drifting straight up into the still air.
    “You’re a man now,” he muttered to himself. He flexed his biceps and grunted, sure that he must have a caveman gene left inside him somewhere.
    It was strange how self-reliant he had become when needed. In the past, money had always solved his problems. If he wanted something, he just paid for it. But here on the island, it didn’t matter that he had money…or privilege…or fame. He was just a regular guy who’d made a very respectable fire.
    “Nice fire.”
    Trey turned around to see Sophie standing on the porch, her hip braced against the railing, her hair tumbled around her sleepy face. He slowly let his arms fall to his sides.
    “Hey,” he said. “How was your nap?”
    “Good,” she murmured, rubbing her eyes. “I think I drank a little too much wine.”
    “Headache?”
    She nodded, smiling winsomely. “But my foot feels much better.”
    “That’s good,” he said. “I thought I’d make us some dinner. Maybe heat up those beans. And I found a tin of crackers. They might be pretty tasty with the oysters.”
    “I am hungry,” she said.
    “Good. Why don’t you sit and I’ll get things ready.”
    Sophie plopped down on the top step and watched him as he gathered up the collection of canned goods for their meal, her elbows braced on her knees, her chin cupped in her palm.
    “You know, if we didn’t have this pocketknife, we’d be in pretty big trouble.” Trey held it out. “Corkscrew, can opener, knife, scissors, tweezers. If we just had a few more tools we could build a boat and get ourselves off this island. Kind of like MacGyver.”
    “Does he have a lot of tools?” she asked.
    Trey chuckled softly. He kept forgetting that he and Sophie had grown up on opposite sides of the world. Her cultural references were completely different from his. Still, he was amazed at how easily she moved between cultures. Now that she’d spent the day with him, her accent had all but disappeared. “Yeah, he’s got a lot of tools. He could make a luxury yacht out of a chewing-gum wrapper and a rubber band.”
    She stared at him, her head tilted. “How is that possible?”
    “American television,” he said. Trey set an open can of beans on the edge of the fire, then stood back to watch it. “I’m going to buy myself one of these knives when I get home.”
    “You can have that one,” Sophie offered. “As a memento of our time together.”
    “Thanks,” Trey said, staring down at the knife. “That’s nice of you.”
    Though the knife was a thoughtful gesture, Trey wanted more than that. He at least wanted a promise that they’d see each other again. A chance to find out if there was anything between them once they were off the island.
    “You are about to enjoy the full extent of my cooking skills,” he said, when the beans began to bubble.
    Sophie watched as he straightened and carried the can over to her, using a piece of canvas as a potholder. He set them down, shaking his hand, burned from the heat from the can.
    Sophie took his fingers and licked his fingertips, then blew on them. The cooling effect sent a flood of desire racing through his body and Trey cursed inwardly. Would there ever come a time when she could touch him and he wouldn’t automatically think about sex?
    When she was satisfied that his fingers would be all right, Sophie sat back and waited while Trey laid out the rest of the feast between them. Sliced papaya, smoked oysters, another bottle of red wine. A tin filled with crackers that they could use to scoop up the beans. All in all, Trey thought it was a rather well-rounded meal.
    “Five star,” he said.
    “Are you sure we should eat these oysters?” she asked.
    He sat down opposite her. “I don’t know. Do you think they might make us do something crazy later?” Trey asked.
    Sophie giggled. “I hope so.” She plopped one on top of a cracker and gobbled it down. “What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done in your life?”
    This was not a game Trey wanted to be playing. He’d done far too many crazy-and stupid-things to recount. Things he was ashamed of now. “I don’t know.”
    “Have you ever had sex in a public place?” Sophie asked.
    “Oh, we’re talking about crazy sex? I thought you meant like losing a hundred thousand on one spin at roulette in Monte Carlo or wrecking a vintage Ferrari sports car the day after I bought it or punching out a policeman in Paris.”
    Sophie gasped. “You did all that?”
    Trey had almost forgotten that Sophie knew nothing of his life before she’d met him. “No,” he lied. “I was just using those as examples.”
    She ate another oyster. “So. Tell me.”
    Hell, he didn’t want to lie to her. But his sexual escapades were a lot worse than anything else he’d ever done. “Well, there was this one time. With this woman I barely knew. We met on an airplane and-well, you know the rest.”
    “I do?”
    He nodded. “You were there.”
    “That was the craziest sex you ever had?”
    “Yeah,” Trey said. “That was pretty crazy. How about you?”
    She drew a deep breath. “I’ve always wanted to do something crazy. I guess attacking you on the beach was the high point for me.”
    It was a decent concession, he mused. Trey certainly didn’t want to hear about her past lovers. And he didn’t want to talk about his. They’d start fresh, without a romantic or sexual past for either one of them.
    “Well, maybe we’ll have to work on that,” he said. “We could always aim for something higher, don’t you think?”
    She gave him a sexy smile, then popped another oyster in her mouth. “It’s good,” Sophie said, nodding at the meal.
    “You know, this is the first time I’ve ever cooked for a woman. Until now my culinary skills stopped at ordering takeout and reading French menus.”
    “So what else are you good at?” she asked, her brow arching up. “I mean, besides…you know…”
    “I do?”
    “Sex,” she said. “You’re good at sex. But I’m sure you already know that.”
    “So are you,” he said. He considered her question for a long moment, trying to come up with an answer. Most men his age had at least one thing they could do well. But all the things he could list didn’t really make a whole lot of difference in the world. He could drive a race car really fast, he could ski better than anyone he knew. He was a daredevil when it came to motorcycles. He was good at blackjack and could speak six different languages. He could seduce a stranger in less than an hour. And he knew how to spend money.
    “I’m good at taking care of you,” he said. “And that’s all that really matters.” He picked a cracker out of the can and held it out to her.
    “I guess life really isn’t so bad on this island,” she said.
    “After we get back to civilization, I’m going to take you out for a really good meal. The best restaurant in Pape‘ete. We’ll drink champagne and order the most expensive entrée on the-”
    “You don’t have to say that,” Sophie interrupted.
    “Say what?”
    “That we’ll go out. I mean, I appreciate the gesture, but I think it would be best if we just went our separate ways once this is over.”
    “Why would you say that?” Trey asked, startled by her indifferent attitude. At the least, they ought to leave the island as friends.
    Sophie shrugged. “Because it’s silly to pretend. We’re attracted to each other. We’re the only two people on this island. Believe me, if there were another woman here, you’d be attracted to her, don’t you think?”
    “Not if she looked like my aunt Marjorie,” he teased.
    She smiled. “All right, any reasonably attractive women under the age of forty.”
    “Forty-five,” Trey said. “I’ve always liked older women.”
    “See. It’s just a matter of availability.”
    “So you don’t think there’s something…special to this attraction?”
    She shrugged. “No. Because it won’t last. My mother always said it’s the chase that fascinates men. Once a man has caught a woman, he tires quickly and moves on to another. Like my father. Once he was certain of my mother’s love, he moved on to someone else. She always said that was her biggest mistake. She let him know how much she loved him.”
    “I’m not your father,” Trey said.
    Sophie scooped up some beans with a cracker, then put them into her mouth. “No,” she said, shaking her head as she chewed. “But you are a man.”
    Trey stared at her for a long moment, before reaching out and smoothing his hand over her cheek. Was she really that cynical? “And you’re a very special woman. There’s something very exotic about your eyes.” He ran his finger along her collarbone and let it drift down to a spot between her breasts. “And about the way your skin feels.” He leaned forward and kissed her, taking his time to tease a response out of her. “And you taste better than any woman I’ve ever kissed.”
    “I think the oysters are working,” she said, a tiny smile playing at the corners of her mouth. “Either that, or you’re too charming for your own good.”
    He should have put aside his doubts right then and pulled her into his arms. But instead, her words brought his past crashing back to the present. How many times had he heard that? Peter Shelton the Third was all charm and no substance. “Do you really think this is just a game?” Trey asked, his mood darkening suddenly. “That I’m just interested in the chase?”
    “I-I don’t know what to think. I think maybe you’re used to getting what you want from women.”
    “And you don’t get what you want from men?”
    Sophie shook her head. “Not usually.” She picked another oyster out of the tin and held it out to him. Trey shook his head. “At least, not until now.”
    The rest of the meal passed in more subdued conversation, Trey’s mind occupied by the admissions spoken between them. He may be good at sex and even better at seduction. But it was the other stuff he needed now. He wished he were better at the whole romance thing.
    For the first time in his life, he wasn’t quite sure what to do. How could he get Sophie to look at him as more than just the man who satisfied her sexual needs? A man only interested in the chase?
    SOPHIE GUZZLED THE LAST of the bottled water, hoping that it would ease the tiny hangover she’d gotten from the wine. Trey had found an old coffee tin in the cottage and had used it to collect rainwater to refill their bottles before the night set in.
    He truly seemed to be enjoying their exercise in survival. He’d made a hammock, started a fire, cooked dinner and was now replenishing their supply of drinking water. Sophie had to admit she could have been stuck on this island with a far less useful guy than Trey Shelton.
    And far less sexy, as well. Dressed only in his ragged shorts, Trey might have looked a bit disreputable to some. But Sophie couldn’t take her eyes off him. His skin had been burnished by a day of Polynesian sun filtered through the cloud cover, and the thin sheen of sweat on his torso only highlighted the muscles of his shoulders and back.
    Sophie drew a ragged breath as she let her gaze drop to his butt. It wasn’t difficult to imagine what would happen between them that night. What else was there to do in the dark but continue the seduction that had begun the moment the plane landed?
    She wondered if there might come a point when his touch didn’t cause her to respond so intensely. He seemed to know what she needed even before she did. And when he set out to bring her pleasure, Sophie could do nothing but be swept up in the moment.
    Brushing the cracker crumbs off her fingertips, Sophie stood. Right now, she wanted to be kissed by him. And after that, touched. She didn’t want to wait until dark. She needed to look into his eyes when they made love and know that he needed her as much as she needed him.
    Slowly, she descended the steps, wincing at the residual pain from the jellyfish sting and the tingles that shot up her other leg from a foot that had fallen asleep. But as she took the last step, her leg wobbled and she tumbled face forward onto the sandy ground.
    Trey turned and quickly crossed to where she was lying. He bent down and helped her to her feet, holding firm until she regained her balance. “Are you determined to kill yourself?”
    “My foot was asleep,” she murmured.
    “And you’ve had too much wine. I should have replenished our water supply a lot earlier.” He held tight to her elbow. “Maybe we should take a walk. Get you some fresh air.”
    The suggestion struck Sophie as silly. They were practically living outside. How could she get any more air than she already had? A giggle bubbled from her lips and she covered her mouth as a hiccup escaped, as well.
    He turned his back to her. “Hop on.”
    “Where are we going?”
    “We’re going to the beach. To watch the sunset.”
    “How romantic,” she said with a sarcastic edge. “But I think it’s going to start raining again. Look at those clouds.”
    “Yeah, well, it’s about time we do something romantic, don’t you think?”
    Sophie blinked, surprised by his words. Though romance might be nice for a couple that was actually in a relationship, she and Trey were just having sex. A lot of sex. Romance should have nothing at all to do with it.
    “Come on,” Trey insisted. “Hop on. We’re going to miss the sunset and we’ll have to walk back in the dark.”
    “I can walk,” she murmured. Sophie slipped into her flip-flops and started off in the direction of the beach, limping on her sore foot and tugging at her pareu as she circled the cottage.
    He hurried up beside her and took her hand in his, lacing his fingers through hers. “We’re not running a race here,” he said. “We can stroll. Or I can stroll and you can continue to limp along.”
    The whole idea of romance frightened her, Sophie admitted to herself. With romance came expectations. And then disappointments. And regrets and recriminations. She wasn’t good at romance. She never had been.
    Why couldn’t they just concentrate on what they were both good at-sex? It was so much simpler. She didn’t need to think about other things when they were together. She only needed to respond to his touch.
    “All right,” she muttered. “I’ll take that ride.”
    He bent down and Sophie hopped on his back, her legs straddling his waist, her arms wrapped around his neck. As he walked, she rested her chin on his shoulder.
    “Tell me, if you were home right now, what would you be doing?” she asked.
    “Home? Home has always been a rather vague concept for me. I usually don’t stay in one place too long.”
    “You don’t have a home?” Sophie asked.
    “Sometimes I live in hotels. Or stay with friends. Sometimes, if I’m in Europe, I rent a house. Lately, I’ve been living in the Shelton in Manhattan. And if it was dinnertime, I’d probably be watching a ball game and eating something from room service.” He paused. “At least here, I’ve got a plan, a purpose. I like that.”
    “You’re better suited for island life than I am,” she murmured, pressing a kiss to the nape of his neck.
    “I’m going to find a spot for my resort and I’m going to get it built,” he said. “It’s funny. I was waiting around for something in my life to change. And now it has, thanks to you.”
    “I didn’t have anything to do with it,” Sophie said.
    “I think landing on this island was the best thing in the world for me,” Trey said. “It woke me up. Made me realize that life was just passing me by.”
    Sophie had been feeling that same way for years, as if the world was spinning so fast and she was standing still. Exciting things were happening to everyone but her. But crash-landing on Suaneva hadn’t made things any clearer to her. Instead, it made everything more confusing.
    “I’ve been waiting, too. For my father to stop being so stubborn, for my mother to decide to come back home, for me to get a life of my own.”
    “Aren’t we supposed to know what we want by now?”
    “Maybe there’s something wrong with us,” Sophie said.
    “Or maybe it’s just the opposite,” he said.
    She thought about his comment for a long moment. Was he saying there was something “right” about them? Or was he saying that they shouldn’t know what they wanted? Sophie opened her mouth to ask, but then snapped it shut. She really didn’t want to know the answer.
    By the time they reached the beach, the sun was hanging low on the horizon. To the south the clouds were building, the reflection of the sun creating a riot of pink and orange and purple.
    “Wow,” he said, coming to a dead stop. “Look at that sky.”
    “You act like you’ve never seen a sunset before,” Sophie said, hopping down.
    “I haven’t. I mean, I have, but I haven’t really taken the time to look. It’s beautiful.”
    Sophie drew in a deep breath and nodded. It was the most beautiful sunset she’d ever seen. Or maybe it was just so wonderful because of the company she had. She wrapped her arms around Trey’s waist and tucked herself into the crook of his arm.
    Physical contact between them was something she’d almost begun to take for granted. But standing here, she knew she wouldn’t always be able to touch him like this. There would come a time when she’d want to remember the feel of his skin, the way the muscle rippled beneath flesh.
    She’d never been one to appreciate romantic clichés-candlelit dinners, long walks on the beach, beautiful sunsets. But something had changed. She was seeing these things for the first time, with Trey. And Sophie was glad she could share them with him.
    Thunder rumbled in the distance and a wind gust sent a soft spray across the beach. He wrapped his arms more tightly around her, and she felt the goose bumps prickle her smooth skin. “Is it going to be bad?” he asked.
    “It’ll probably be noisy and rainy and windy, but it probably won’t last long.”
    “I never really notice the weather,” he said. “But here, I’m feeling a little vulnerable.”
    “It’s not a cyclone,” Sophie said. “I’d be worried if it was. A cyclone would blow the cottage down around us.”
    “If I hadn’t been so anxious to work on Christmas Eve, you’d be at home, safe and sound, enjoying the holiday like you should be, instead of stuck on this island.”
    “It is Christmas Eve, isn’t it?” Sophie murmured. She turned to him and smiled. “Merry Christmas, Trey.”
    Her hair blew around her face and Trey smoothed his hands over her temples so he could look into her eyes. “I wanted to forget it was Christmas,” he said. “I didn’t have anywhere to be this year. No one to buy gifts for. I thought if I kept busy, I wouldn’t realize I was all alone. But I’m glad I’m here with you.”
    “Maybe we should sing some carols,” Sophie suggested. “Do you know ‘Good King Wenceslas’?”
    Trey chuckled. “It just doesn’t seem right. There’s no snow.”
    “But there’s been plenty of rain. The only difference is a few degrees in temperature.” She paused. “I know what we can do.” Sophie reached for the knot in her pareu and untied it, then let the breeze blow the fabric from her body. She kicked off her sandals and ran to the edge of the water, then turned to face him. “Come on.”
    Trey watched her for a long moment, his gaze raking her naked body. Then, with a groan, he stripped off his shorts, slipped out of his shoes, and ran after her. As he passed, he grabbed her hand and pulled her into the water, both of them falling head-first into the surf.
    Sophie screamed and splashed water at him, but he yanked her into his arms and kissed her long and hard. Their bodies seemed to fit together so perfectly, her breasts pressed against his chest, her legs tangled around his.
    He nuzzled her neck, biting her gently as they played. Sophie leaned back in the water and Trey cupped her breast in his hand, his thumb teasing at her nipple. This was paradise, she thought to herself. When she’d wished for a lover, she could never have expected this man.
    Sophie kicked away from him, swimming a few strokes then turning to tread water. But he wasn’t watching her. Trey’s gaze was fixed on the horizon. “Sophie, look.” He pointed and she followed his arm to a spot not far offshore. The white sails of a boat were clearly visible against the sunset. Trey turned and looked at her. “The flare gun. I’ll go back and get the flare gun.”
    He spun around and ran out of the water and onto the beach. But before he could get his shorts back on, Sophie called to him. “Don’t,” she shouted.
    He turned to face her, tugging on his khakis over his damp skin. “What do you mean?”
    “Don’t,” she said, shaking her head. “I don’t want you to signal them.”
    “Sophie, I’m not going to put you in danger. There’s a storm coming up. We’re here alone. The least they could do would be to radio someone and let them know we’re safe.”
    “The waves are getting pretty high,” she said. “I don’t think they’ll risk coming through the reef. And the sun is almost down. They wouldn’t be able to get back out. We’d be putting them in danger.”
    “They could call for a boat,” he said. “Isn’t there a coast guard around here?”
    “Anyone sent to rescue us would have to deal with the weather, too.” She glanced over at him. “We’ll be all right for the night. They’ll find us in the morning.” Sophie stared into his eyes and she saw the indecision there. But there was more. A genuine concern for her safety. He cared about her, enough to put an end to their time together.
    “No,” he said.
    “Yes.” She held out her hand and motioned to him as he slowly walked to the water’s edge, the waves swirling around his feet. “I want to spend the night with you. I don’t want to be anywhere but here.”
    He waded through the water to where she stood and picked her up, wrapping her legs around his waist. Then he kissed her, his hands tangling in her damp hair, molding her mouth to his.
    “All right,” he murmured, his lips warm against hers.
    She needed this night, Sophie told herself. After that, she’d be able to let him go without any regret. Just this one night.
    BY THE TIME THEY GOT BACK to the cottage, they could hear thunder in the distance. The wind had shifted direction and was blowing across the lagoon toward the plane. The pilot-side float had been grounded on the sand, and the plane sat at an odd angle.
    “Should we try to tie it down again?” Trey asked.
    Sophie stared across the lagoon, squinting into the diminishing light. “There’s nothing we can do now,” she murmured. “Except hope that the wind doesn’t get too high.”
    The plane probably wasn’t worth a whole lot, Trey thought to himself. He suspected that Sophie and her father had sold the most valuable of their assets first, leaving her with something that was held together with chewing gum and duct tape. He probably ought to be grateful they’d had a problem with the engine when and where they did. Hell, they would have been in a lot more trouble had a wing or the propeller fallen off.
    “Don’t worry,” he said.
    “If it flips, we’ll never be able to get it off this island,” she said.
    “It’ll be fine,” he said, reassured that money could solve any problem. If he had to send a boat over and find a mechanic to take the plane apart piece by piece and haul it back to Tahiti, he’d do that for Sophie.
    Trey wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her against him. In truth, there wasn’t much that he wouldn’t do for her, if she asked.
    “Maybe it would be better if we couldn’t get it off the island,” she murmured. “Then it would finally be over. The insurance would pay for the plane. My father’s business would be done and we could move back to the States.”
    “Is that what you want?” Trey asked.
    She shrugged and slipped out of his embrace. “Yes.” She paused and turned to face him. “No.”
    “If you could have anything you want, any wish, what would it be?” he asked.
    “It won’t do me any good to wish,” she said, climbing the front steps of the cottage. “Wishing can’t make it happen.”
    He stared up at her, studying her enigmatic expression. “Humor me. If you could snap your fingers and have whatever you want. Three wishes.”
    Sophie leaned against a vine-covered post and stared out at the lagoon. “I’d wish my father would go to a doctor and get his eyes fixed. And then, I’d wish the business was making money again. And finally, I’d wish my mother would come back.”
    “Nothing for yourself?” Trey asked.
    “All those things are for me,” she said. She shrugged, her smile fading slightly. “What about you?”
    “I’d wish…I had a big, soft bed here on this island. With clean sheets and down pillows.”
    “And?”
    “And a bathtub big enough for two with an endless supply of hot water and bubbles.”
    “That’s two,” she said. “What’s the third?”
    “You. In the bathtub first and then the bed.”
    Sophie stared at him for a long time, her gaze flitting over his face. Trey could already imagine the scene his three wishes might create. A bath, a bed and Sophie was a fantasy he hoped might come true. He’d make it come true.
    Trey felt the first drops of rain on his skin and he looked up at the sky and closed his eyes. It seemed as though they’d spent a lifetime on this island and yet, in so many ways, they were still strangers. He wanted to touch the real Sophie, the lighthearted, silly woman that he sometimes saw, not the indifferent, slightly cynical girl that he was faced with now.
    She was so guarded at times, so careful of her emotions that Trey wondered if he’d ever truly know her. He knew she had an incredible inner strength and she was fiercely loyal to those she loved. He knew her parents’ divorce had left her with deep scars, making her unable to trust her own feelings.
    They’d been intimate, but only with their bodies. He wanted to know this woman, to feel what was in her heart and soul and to touch her there, as well. But how was that possible in just a single day and night?
    Trey drew a deep breath and opened his eyes to find her still staring at him.
    She held out her hand. “Come in out of the rain,” Sophie coaxed.
    “Come into the rain,” he countered, holding out his hand.
    Sophie turned and walked in the open door of the cottage. Trey knew if he went to her, she’d surrender. He’d run his hands over her shoulders and toss aside her pareu and they’d pleasure each other the way they had since the moment the plane had gone down.
    But sex with Sophie wouldn’t get him what he wanted. It wasn’t just passing pleasure. He needed to know this relationship actually meant something to her, that they weren’t simply satisfying a physical craving, but, perhaps, connecting in a deeper way.
    Slowly, he climbed the steps, his desire overwhelming his resolve. At least, when he was inside her, he could claim a part of her that no one else could. In those moments before they dissolved into orgasm, the walls fell and she was his completely.
    Trey cursed softly, stopping just outside the front door. Once he touched her, there was no going back. She stood at one of the windows, staring out at the rain, her face illuminated by the late-evening light. Her beauty took his breath away and Trey wondered at the stroke of luck that had put him here on this island with her.
    He slowly walked across the room and slipped his hands around her waist, gently turning her around and backing her up against the wall. His fingers tangled in her hair as his mouth met hers. Sophie moaned, going pliant in his arms. They couldn’t seem to keep their hands off each other for long.
    Was it just unbridled lust or did he need to reassure himself that she still wanted him? So many times in the past, the passion he’d felt for a woman faded too quickly. It had always been replaced by the pragmatic notion that love wasn’t worth the trouble.
    Hell, he didn’t even know what love was. He wouldn’t know it if it dropped out of the sky and hit him on the head. But this was certainly a lot more than just lust, Trey thought, his lips tracing a path from her jaw to the sweet curve of her neck.
    His palms were warm on her naked skin and he found the knot in her pareu. With practiced ease, Trey tossed aside the filmy fabric and it drifted to the floor. She held her breath as he cupped her breast in his hand, rubbing his thumb over her nipple until it peaked.
    Bracing his hands on either side of her head, he pinned her body against the wall with his. Another kiss, this one more intense and demanding, brought a moan from Sophie’s throat and the silent question he asked was answered. She did want him as much as he wanted her.
    She tore at his shorts, hastily unzipping them before shoving them down over his hips. The instant his shaft made contact with her body, Trey knew any thought of stopping would be futile. But he wanted more than just pleasure. Unfortunately, he didn’t know just exactly what that was.
    Trey hooked his finger beneath her chin and turned her toward the light from the window, his eyes fixed on hers. “You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” he groaned.
    He grabbed her waist and pulled her up, wrapping her legs around his hips and using the wall for support. His shaft was hot and hard between them, the length of his erection rubbing along the damp slit between her legs. Pleasure knotted inside him with every stroke and he struggled to keep himself from release. Sophie arched back, pushing against him with each stroke as her need built.
    Trey ached to lose himself inside her, to feel her heat as he came. But neither one of them wanted to pause to retrieve a condom and he wasn’t even sure where the last one was. The force that had brought them together was too strong for them to deny or to stop.
    He probed at her entrance and Sophie shifted above him. For one breathtaking moment, he slipped inside her, then cursed softly. “We shouldn’t,” he murmured, swallowing hard. “Should we?”
    Sophie shook her head, her breath coming in short gasps, her hair tickling his chest. “I don’t want you to stop.”
    “I have some control, but not that much,” he said, his voice raw with need. “And not with you.”
    She moved again and he was inside her and it felt like heaven. But suddenly, reality set in. This woman had stolen the last ounce of his self-control. When he was with her, all he could think of was this, the feel of their bodies joined as one.
    Drawing a deep breath, he slowly pulled out, then set Sophie back on her feet. If he expected anything more than sex between them, then the sex would have to stop, at least temporarily. The next time he was intimate with Sophie, Trey wanted it to mean something.
    “What’s wrong?” she murmured, her lips pressed against his chest.
    “Nothing. We just shouldn’t do this without a condom.” He pulled his shorts back up over his hips and forced a smile, the height of his desire still plainly evident.
    “Are you going to go get one?” she asked, her eyes wide.
    “Right.” Trey nodded. “I’ll…go get one.”
    He walked toward the door, wincing slightly as the zipper from his shorts rubbed against his erection. When he got outside, the last light from the day had nearly faded. The sky was a deep blue and the first stars twinkled through the clouds. The rain had stopped for the moment and the air was fresh with the smell of the island.
    Trey leaned back against the weather-worn siding next to the door and closed his eyes. Things were moving far too fast. Emotions he’d kept so closely in check were threatening to break through his usual indifference.
    Somehow, this place had worked a kind of magic on him. Civilization, and the real world, seemed miles and miles away. And for the first time in his adult life, Trey was able to live unencumbered by the expectations of others.
    Here, on Suaneva, he was able to be himself. And he was beginning to like the guy he’d found.

6

    SOPHIE LEANED BACK AGAINST the wood-paneled wall and sighed. The rain had begun again, the soft hiss of raindrops filling the room, the sound amplified by the tin roof. The sun had set and the last traces of light were leaving the sky. In another few minutes, it would be impossible to see.
    Trey had walked out a while ago and hadn’t come back. She thought about going after him, wondering why he wasn’t interested in finishing what they’d begun, but Sophie didn’t want to hear the answer. They’d almost done something they could have both been sorry for later. And yet, Sophie was sorry now.
    Since their sunset stroll on the beach, something had changed between them. What had begun as a physical relationship was quickly turning into something more. She’d grown desperate to feel him inside her, without anything between them, and not just because it brought physical pleasure. She had wanted him to bury himself deep during his release so that they could share something they hadn’t yet experienced, something that would be theirs alone.
    It was foolish, Sophie knew. She’d never allowed such an emotional attachment to any other man. But her feelings had somehow become tangled up in all of this and she couldn’t help herself. For just a little while, she wanted to believe what she and Trey had was more than just sex.
    Ever since her parents’ divorce, Sophie’s heart had been left nearly paralyzed. It still beat every day, but she’d been unable to feel anything deeper than mild affection for anyone. She couldn’t trust herself with emotions that might end up wounding her even more deeply.
    Yet the moment she and Trey had faced possible death, the moment they’d stumbled out of the plane and into each other’s arms, she’d felt her heart begin to come alive again. Sophie had tried to tell herself it was just the adrenaline rush of landing safely. But the adrenaline had worn off long ago and she realized she was falling for her fellow castaway.
    Sophie drew a ragged breath and moaned softly. Sexual attraction and mutual desire had somehow transformed into trust and affection. And though it was dangerous to even explore such emotions, perhaps it might be worth the risk. Maybe this was just a first step, a way for her to find herself. How much could he possibly hurt her in such a short time? She was stronger now and more able to recover. Why not take a chance?
    Reaching up, Sophie touched her lips, still bruised from his kiss. No man had ever made her feel this way. Every moment with Trey was like a carnival ride, a mixture of thrills and fear and exhilaration. She wanted to get off, yet she felt compelled to stay for just a little longer, to see what wonderful experience might be next.
    “That’s the problem,” Sophie murmured to herself. “Knowing when to get off.”
    She bent down and picked up her pareu, then wrapped it around her naked body and knotted it under her arm. When she reached the door, she stepped out onto the porch. Trey was bent over the fire he’d built earlier, trying to coax a flame to life while shielding it from the rain.
    Sophie wrapped her arms around the porch post and watched him, wondering what he was thinking. “It’s raining too hard,” she called. “It won’t last.”
    He glanced over his shoulder. “If it’s big enough, I can keep it going,” he said. “Besides, your father is going to know something is wrong by now. He might send out a search plane. If they see the fire, it may give him cause to hope.”
    Sophie smiled, grateful that he understood her father’s worries. But she suspected he was working on the fire to avoid talking to her. “In the dark, they could miss the island by miles. They’re not likely to see a fire that small.”
    “Then I’ll make it bigger,” he snapped. Trey grabbed another branch and tossed it onto the feeble flames, the muscles across his back tight, his fists clenched.
    He was angry, Sophie mused. They had let their desire get the better of them, both of them enjoying the feel of each other without a barrier between them. But they’d stopped in time. And it wasn’t as if she were trying to trap him with some surprise pregnancy. “You don’t have to take it out on me,” she replied. “What’s your problem?”
    He straightened, as if he were about to turn around and face her. But then, he must have thought better of it, as he continued to stare into the fire. “I don’t have a problem.”
    “Why are you angry with me?”
    He drew a deep breath, his shoulders rising. “Sophie, just go back inside.”
    She didn’t like being dismissed. And she didn’t like being blamed for something she wasn’t even sure she’d done. With a muttered curse, she hurried down the porch steps and crossed the short distance to Trey, then grabbed his arm and spun him around to face her.
    “You can’t just ignore me,” she said. “We’re stuck on this island together.”
    “I’m not trying to ignore you. I-I just need some space right now.”
    “If you didn’t want to have sex, you could have just said so.”
    His sharp laugh split the damp night air. “That’s not the problem. All I want to do is make love to you. It’s all I think about. I can’t get enough of you. The moment I touch you, I lose all capacity to resist.” He stopped himself, drawing a deep breath. “I don’t like that feeling. It scares me.”
    “It’s just sex,” Sophie said.
    “No, it isn’t. And I’m not sure it ever was.”
    She took a step back. “What is that supposed to mean?”
    Trey shrugged. “It means I’m not sure we can just walk away from this when it comes time to leave this island. I’m not sure I want to. And I don’t think you do, either.”
    Sophie shook her head. “I’m not going to talk about this,” she muttered. “We were just having some fun. There’s no need to make a big deal out of it.”
    “Come on,” Trey countered. “It’s more than fun. I feel it. You feel it. I know you do.”
    Sophie avoided his gaze, as if one look would reveal the truth. Of course she felt it. But that didn’t mean it was anything more than just infatuation.
    He grabbed her chin and turned her face up to his. “Go ahead. Admit it.”
    “What? You want me to say I love you? No, I’m not in love with you, Trey. We’ve spent a day together. No one falls in love in a day.”
    “I didn’t say love.” He paused. “You did.”
    Thunder rumbled in the sky and she felt her temper rise. Was this all a game to him? “What were you going to say?”
    He opened his mouth, then closed it again as he measured his words. “I’ve never felt this way about any woman,” he replied. “There’s something there. It’s…different.”
    “Right. Different. Oh, that tells me a lot.” She spun on her heel and stalked back to the porch, cursing to herself in French. “That something is lust, pure and simple,” she said, shouting through the rain.
    She stepped through the door and slammed it behind her, but the moisture had made the wood swell and it refused to close. With a frustrated growl, Sophie shut it, then leaned back against it, her breath coming in tiny gasps, her heart slamming in her chest.
    She hadn’t meant to say it out loud. All along, from the moment they’d first kissed, Sophie had warned herself against just this moment. She’d been a fool to believe either one of them could keep emotion from creeping into their relationship. And now that it had, everything was ruined.
    She wanted to run away, to hide until all these feelings evaporated. But she was trapped here with him, at least until morning…and maybe even longer.
    A knock sounded on the door. “Sophie?” He tried the doorknob, then gave the door a push, but she braced her shoulder against it.
    “Go away,” she called.
    “Let me in.”
    “I just want to be alone for a while.” She closed her eyes, trying to stem a flood of tears. Great. Now she was crying over him. What was wrong with her? “I need some space.”
    “All right,” he finally said. “But we are going to talk about this again.”
    Sophie slid down along the rough wood door until she was sitting on the floor, her knees tucked under her chin. It had been so simple to avoid attachments. Trey had been right, she could have left her father and found a place for herself in the world. But instead, she’d hidden from her future, from love, in one of the remotest places she could find. Was it any wonder she had no one to love?
    In her mind, she rewound the memories of her previous relationships and Sophie recognized a disturbing pattern. Whenever her feelings became too intense, she’d walk away. Her motives weren’t difficult to interpret. Her father had been a notorious philanderer and though she loved him, she’d never really trusted him. But all men weren’t like her father, were they?
    There were people in the world who had wonderful marriages, people who loved the same person for their whole life without infidelity ever entering the picture. Had she already found a love like that and carelessly tossed it aside because of her fears? Or was that man here, on this island, with her?
    Sophie covered her face with her hands, trying to restore a sense of order to her crazy thoughts. Someday, she’d have to face all her doubts and insecurities about love. But now wasn’t that time. How could she afford to risk her heart with a man she didn’t even know? Though they’d shared the most incredible intimacy, Trey was a complete stranger. She knew nothing of him beyond what she’d learned on this island.
    Sophie silently cataloged the things that she did know. He cared about her and in more than just a sexual way. He wanted to protect her. He found her interesting and amusing and attractive. And when he touched her, he made her feel as if she were the only woman in the world he could ever want.
    Inside the cottage, it was now dark and she could barely see any light coming through the windows. It would be a long, lonely night with Trey outside and her alone inside. But right now, facing Trey meant facing her feelings. And she just wasn’t ready to deal with that. Not yet.
    TREY HEARD THE HINGES SQUEAK and the soft footsteps on the porch floor. He lay in the hammock, his arm thrown over his eyes, blocking his view. He slowed his breathing, wondering if she intended to speak first or reach out and touch him.
    He felt her fingertips brush his shoulder and he pulled his arm back. He could just barely see her as his eyes adjusted to the dark. Trey held out his hand and she wove her fingers through his, repairing the break between them in that single instant.
    He gently pulled her to the hammock and she crawled in beside him, stretching her body along his. They lay together silently, the hammock swinging back and forth, the warmth of her body seeping into his skin. Sophie nestled beneath his arm, then threw her leg across his, wriggling until she was comfortable.
    “I’m sorry,” he whispered, his lips brushing her forehead as he stroked her hair. “I didn’t mean to snap.”
    Sophie nodded. “And I’m sorry for getting angry.”
    “I shouldn’t have walked out.”
    “It wasn’t you,” she continued, a trace of hesitation in her voice.
    “What was it?”
    “Past mistakes,” she said. “What do you call it? Luggage?”
    “Baggage,” Trey corrected.
    “Yes. Baggage. I have a lot of baggage.”
    “You and me both.” He kissed her again, but this time it wasn’t out of desire, but pure affection. She hadn’t really opened up to him, keeping details of her personal life to herself. But now, he felt desperate to know what had formed this extraordinarily fascinating female. “Sometimes, it’s better to just open it up and examine it.”
    A long silence grew between them and Trey wasn’t sure she was willing to enlighten him. But then, she drew a ragged breath and began to speak.
    “When I was young, we lived in Pape‘ete, in a little house near the water. My mother worked as a pastry chef in one of the big hotels and my father ran the air-charter business. I was pretty much in charge of myself and I’d come and go as I wanted. We had a wonderful life and I was happy. And my parents were like this…golden couple. Everyone loved them. My father was handsome and dashing and my mother was sophisticated and beautiful. They were proof that opposites could attract.”
    She paused and for a moment, Trey wondered if she intended to stop there. But then, the next words came out in a rush. “After school, I’d usually go to the airport and work at the hangar with my father, helping to keep the books or clean the planes.” Her fingers traced lines over his bare chest, as if the distraction helped her to explain. “I’m not sure when it first happened. But one day, I walked into his office and there was a woman there, sitting on his lap, kissing him. I didn’t know what they were doing at the time, but when I got older, I understood.”
    Trey could hear the pain in her voice and he pulled her closer, wrapping his arms tightly around her shoulders. “I’m sorry,” he murmured.
    “My father told me I couldn’t say anything to my mother or she would be so upset she might leave us both and never come back.”
    “He made you keep his secret?”
    Sophie nodded. “I was so confused. I mean, I assumed he was telling the truth-that if my mother walked out on their marriage, she’d leave me behind. So I didn’t say anything. But it kept happening, with that woman, and with others. Sometimes he’d use me to make excuses to my mother. And I kept my mouth shut. Even after my mother suspected, when I could see it in her eyes, I still didn’t say anything. Then one day, she was gone.”
    “That’s it? She just walked out?”
    “She went back to Paris, to her family. It was a separation at first. And I thought, it’s right she leaves me, because it was my fault, too. The funny thing was, from the moment she left, my father just fell apart. He didn’t know what to do without her. And when she finally sent for me, he begged me to stay with him and I did. I thought my mother would never be able to forgive me and I just couldn’t face her.”
    “Why?” Trey asked. “It wasn’t your fault. You didn’t know.”
    “It was me who’d done it, too,” Sophie said. “I could have asked him to stop. I could have made him stop. I could have told her when it first happened. But I didn’t.”
    Trey reached down and cupped her cheek in his palm, feeling the tears that dampened her cheeks. “Oh, sweetheart, you can’t blame yourself for any of that. You were just a kid. Your father was wrong to make you keep that secret. And your mother was wrong to leave you behind.”
    She drew a ragged breath and then let it out. After another, he did the same along with her, until her breathing had slowed and the tears had stopped. “Better?” he asked.
    Sophie nodded. “You’re right. Now that I’ve said it out loud, it feels like I can leave it behind.” She placed her palm on his cheek and kissed him. “Is that how you deal with your luggage?”
    “Baggage,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of it. Steamer trunks full. But I usually pack it all up and leave it behind. I’ve got trunks all over the world-Paris, Tokyo, London, New York. I usually just abandon my baggage.”
    “Is that a good idea?”
    “It’s worked for me in the past,” Trey admitted. But now that he thought about it, walking away from his problems had never really solved them. He’d never taken responsibility for his life, for the mess he’d made of it. Maybe it was time for him to open some of those trunks, too, and look at what was inside.
    “I didn’t have the most perfect parents in the world,” he said, deciding to open up, too. “My mother and father are still married, after thirty-five years. But they barely speak to each other. Most times, they’re living in separate houses. My mother lives for her charity work and my father concentrates on business. They go out in public all dressed up and looking happy for the cameras, but they don’t have a marriage, either.”
    “Do you know anyone who is married and happy?” Sophie asked.
    “My grandparents. My grandfather was the one who bought the first hotel, and he and my grandmother built the business together. They were always so content, so solid. They never spent a night apart throughout their whole marriage. When he was sick at the end, she slept at the hospital with him. They were devoted to each other.” Trey smiled. “That’s what I’d like. But maybe that’s just asking for too much.”
    “So, I guess we’re both pretty screwed up,” Sophie finally said with a soft laugh.
    “Maybe. Or maybe we know just enough not to make the same mistakes our parents did.”
    Sophie pushed up, bracing her hand on his chest, and looked into his eyes. “Do you really think so?”
    “Yes, I do,” he said. Trey smoothed her hair out of her eyes, trying to read her expression through the darkness. “Whatever happens with us begins here, Sophie. It doesn’t start back when we were kids. It begins now.”
    She snuggled against him again and sighed. “Merry Christmas,” she murmured.
    “Merry Christmas,” Trey said. He chuckled softly. “Speaking of Christmas, I have presents for you.”
    This brought her upright again and Trey could detect a smile on her face. “You do?”
    “Of course I do. Since it’s Christmas, I thought we ought to have gifts.”
    “But I didn’t get you-”
    Trey reached out and touched his finger to her lips. “No need. You kind of saved my life this morning, so I’ll count that as a very big gift.”
    “I saved my life, too,” she said. “You just happened to be along for the ride.”
    Trey chuckled. “You also gave me a story I can tell for years to come. About how I was marooned on a deserted tropical island with a beautiful woman.”
    “Can we open them now?” she asked.
    “Oh, you’re one of those.” Trey shook his head. “Nope. Can’t do it. Presents are for Christmas morning. This whole idea of opening them on Christmas Eve is just wrong.”
    Sophie curled up beside him again. “You’re probably right,” she said. “Besides, I wouldn’t be able to see anything, anyway. It’s very dark.”
    “Oh, well. I can take care of that.”
    “Now you command the sun and the moon?”
    Trey rolled out of the hammock, then walked across the porch. He’d found a lantern earlier that day, hung above the porch rail, but hidden by the twisted vines. It was full of kerosene, probably replenished by a passing boater. He retrieved the matches from his pocket and lit one, touching it to the wick.
    Holding it aloft, Trey turned to see Sophie standing beside the hammock, a surprised expression on her face. “Just what I wanted for Christmas,” she teased. “Light.”
    “This isn’t one of my presents. Although, it is nice to see you again, Miss Madigan.”
    “Where did you find it?”
    “Hanging from that hook behind you. I figure it will last us a good part of the night.”
    “So, we can have a celebration,” she said.
    Trey nodded. “Why not? We don’t have any other pressing engagements, do we? No parties, no caroling. Church is pretty much out of the question. A celebration would be nice.”
    “Then, I need some time,” Sophie said. She hurried up to him and took the lantern from his fingers, then walked back to the door of the cottage. “You wait out here and I’ll get things ready.”
    “What am I supposed to do in the dark?”
    “You could work on your fire,” Sophie suggested.
    “I think that fire is a lost cause,” he said. Trey smiled as he watched her slip inside the cottage. How quickly the mood had changed. Hell, he’d been with plenty of women who could hold a grudge for weeks. But all he’d had to do was find out what was on Sophie’s mind and allow her to talk. Once she’d unloaded her worries, things went right back to the way they’d once been with them-easy.
    Was it really that simple? He’d been prepared to play the typical games, the abject apologies followed by the standard groveling. But this time, he listened and things were set right.
    Trey walked down the steps to the fire. He grabbed a stick and stirred the embers, surprised to see an orange glow beneath the ashes. Like the fire between him and Sophie, this one refused to die, even in the pouring rain. He tossed a few more branches into the center of the flames and watched as sparks rose into the air and were quickly snuffed out.
    Trey turned his face up to the sky and let the soft drizzle fall on his sunburned face. Raking his hands through his hair, he drew a deep breath. What happened between them tonight would probably set the course for the rest of their relationship, he mused. Either he’d be able to convince Sophie what they had was real, or he’d fail to prove his case and they’d go their separate ways in the morning.
    Trey wasn’t even sure how this would all work out, even if they decided they wanted it to. He lived in Los Angeles now and she lived in the South Pacific. And then there was her father, although perhaps he could be convinced to move back to the States given proper incentive.
    Still, there was always the resort. If he could find a way to build it, then he’d be here with Sophie for at least a year or two. Living on an island in the middle of the South Pacific certainly wouldn’t seem so bad if Sophie was with him. Maybe they could build something together, like his grandparents had.
    But he was getting ahead of himself. Trey wasn’t about to put all his hopes out there and risk Sophie rejecting him out of hand. No, he had to at least be certain she’d consider the possibility of a future together, permanent or otherwise, before he made any plans.
    He’d come to this island unsure of his future. Now, if things went well, he’d be leaving with a purpose. That was a lot more than he’d been able to achieve in the first twenty-nine years of his life.
    Sure, the thought of allowing himself to fall in love was a little scary. And he wasn’t sure he wouldn’t want to take off after just a few months. But the possibility of finding a woman to spend his life with was intriguing, especially if that woman was Sophie.
    SOPHIE SMOOTHED HER HANDS through her damp hair and tugged on her T-shirt. It was Christmas and she and Trey were going to have a date-of sorts. It was only proper that she dressed for the occasion. And though she might have preferred a sparkling party dress with a low-cut back and a high-cut hem, this outfit was what she had available.
    She glanced at the preparations she’d made for a light meal, laid out on the cabinets at the back of the cottage. They had wine, the rest of the crackers, another tin of oysters and a can of what seemed to be ham salad. Though they weren’t the most sophisticated hors d’oeuvres, they’d do in a pinch.
    A knock sounded on the door and Sophie turned. Trey had been outside for the past half hour, biding his time and tending to the fire. But the rain had increased in intensity again, evident from the sound of it on the tin roof. She took a deep breath and walked over to the front door, then pulled it open.
    But instead of setting eyes on Trey, she found herself staring at a clump of palm fronds tied together at the base with a short length of rope. Interwoven in the fronds were blooms picked from the vines on the porch. “Oh, you’ve brought me flowers,” she exclaimed.
    He slowly lowered the fronds to reveal his face. “It’s supposed to be a Christmas tree,” Trey admitted.
    Sophie smiled. It did look a bit like a tree, if she didn’t look too closely. And he’d done the best he could in their circumstances for ornaments. “It’s lovely,” she said, stepping aside to let him enter. “Thank you.”
    He crossed the room to the lantern, then set the “tree” on the counter, leaning it up against the wall until it was balanced upright. He’d found his shirt and put it on, buttoning it properly and rolling up the sleeves, but his hair was still wet and his shorts soaked. “Not bad,” he murmured.
    “It does look festive,” she said.
    Trey plucked a blossom from the tree and turned to her, then tucked it behind her right ear. She fixed her gaze on his face, then reached up and turned the flower around. It was clear by the look in his eyes that he understood the signal. He bent closer, wrapping his arm around her waist and dropping a soft kiss on her lips.
    “Merry Christmas, Sophie,” he murmured.
    “Merry Christmas, Trey,” she replied, desire humming in her veins. Now that they were both dressed as they had been when they’d met, the thought of getting naked was even more exciting. She couldn’t just look at Trey and admire his body as she had for most of the day. Now, she was left to imagine what was hidden beneath the clothes.
    “Would you like some champagne?”
    He blinked in surprise. “We have champagne?”
    Sophie picked up the bottle and held it out to him. “It was on the bottom, beneath the other bottles. Someone was thoughtful to leave it behind.”
    “Very,” Trey said as he pulled the foil off the cork. “Let’s hope it’s still good.”
    A moment later, the cork popped. He sniffed at the bottle. “It still smells okay.” Tipping it to his mouth, Trey took a sip and smiled. “It would probably be better chilled, but I’m not going to complain.” Trey held out the bottle. “A toast. To my lovely pilot and castaway companion. I can’t think of another person I would have wanted on this island with me.”
    His words were incredibly sweet and Sophie couldn’t help but blush. Everything seemed so different now, as if they’d brushed aside a curtain hanging between them. It was all right to admit she cared about him and that her feelings were more than just lust. Trey Shelton was a man any woman would be lucky to claim as her own.
    “We don’t have much time left here,” she said. “They’ll send out planes at first light. And they’ll probably come here first.”
    “If they don’t?”
    “They will. Sooner or later, they’ll find us. Or another boat will come along. If all else fails, we could try to fly out. I can drain the fuel sumps and we can hand prop the plane to start it. But I don’t really want to do that without knowing what’s wrong. Hand propping can be dangerous.”
    “Hand propping? What is that?”
    “That’s when I sit in the plane and you spin the propeller. If you don’t pull your hands back in time, they-well, you don’t have hands anymore.”
    Trey held up his hands. “I kind of like these things. Besides, I don’t mind staying a few more days.”
    Sophie smiled. “Your family will come looking for you, no doubt. Whether we like it or not, I’m afraid, we’re going to be rescued tomorrow.”
    Trey gave her a reluctant smile. “Yeah. I know. But a guy can dream, can’t he?”
    “It hasn’t been all bad,” she said, taking a sip of the champagne, the bubbles tickling her nose. “The landing wasn’t so much fun, but after that, it’s been pretty nice.”
    He nuzzled her neck, biting softly. “Just nice?”
    “Better than nice.” She shivered as his lips trailed to her shoulder. “It’s been interesting.”
    “Oh, no, not interesting. Watching someone pet a puppy is nice. Watching someone build a house is interesting. Certainly, you have a better word than that for us.”
    Sophie took another sip of the champagne and handed him the bottle. “All right. How about intoxicating?”
    “How about tantalizing?”
    “Enthralling?”
    “Mind-blowing?”
    “Earth-shattering.”
    “We are good together,” he admitted. He set the bottle down on the counter and pulled her into his arms. A heartbeat later, his mouth was on hers, soft, yet demanding. His fingers ran through her hair, and he molded her lips to his.
    Sophie had come to know his kiss so well. She could walk into a pitch-black room, filled with a hundred men and pick him out of the lot by just the fleeting touch of his mouth. How was it that she could know this part of him so well, the way he seduced her, the way he made her body ache with need, yet not even know what he liked to eat for breakfast or how he took his coffee?
    She stepped out of his embrace and grabbed his hand, then led him over to the counter. Boosting herself up, Sophie drew him between her legs, her hands clutching the front of his shirt. “We’ve been on this island together for a day, but I don’t know anything about you.”
    “I’m not very complicated,” Trey said. “But if you’re curious, ask away. I’ll answer any question you have. As long as you do the same for me.”
    “This doesn’t have to be the Spanish Inquisition,” Sophie said. She turned and picked an oyster out of the tin and placed it on a cracker, then held it out to him. “We’ll pretend that we’ve just met at a holiday party. Your friend Bob and my friend Danielle introduced us. We find ourselves sitting together…on a terrace. Under the moonlight.” Sophie held out her hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” she said. “What did you say your name was again?”
    “Peter,” he said. “But my friends call me Trey.”
    “Peter.” Sophie gave him a coy smile. “I’ll call you Pete. My name is Ann-Marie. But my friends call me Sophie.”
    “Your name is really Ann-Marie?”
    She nodded. “Sophie is my middle name. My mother is Ann-Marie. My father insisted I be named after her. But she always called me Sophie, so it stuck.”
    Trey nodded. “I like this,” he said. “So, Sophie, what do you say we blow this boring party and find a place where we can be alone?”
    “Where are you going to take me?” she asked, toying with the top button of his shirt.
    “I have a really fast car outside. We’ll put the top down and ride up to Malibu.”
    “Malibu? What is that?”
    “A beach in California.”
    “Oh, we’re in California?” she teased. “I just assumed we’d be in Tahiti.”
    “No, we’re in L.A.,” Trey said.
    “Well, if we’re not going to be in Tahiti, then I’d rather be in Paris. We can take a ride along the Seine in your convertible.”
    “You’re making this really difficult,” Trey said, frowning.
    “Then maybe we should stay at this boring party a little longer,” Sophie suggested. “And get to know each other better.”
    “So I’m going to have to charm you?”
    Sophie nodded slowly, a smile curling her lips. “Yes. And maybe, if you’re lucky, I’ll let you take me home at the end of the evening.” She smoothed her hands over the front of his shirt. “So, Pete, what do you do for a living? I want to know everything about you.”

7

    THE STORM RAGED OUTSIDE, the wind rattling at the old shutters and threatening to blow in the front door. It was raining so hard the sound from the tin roof had almost become background music. The darkness was broken only by the flashes of lightning and a wavering light from the old lantern Trey had found.
    Sophie handed Trey the empty champagne bottle, then launched into another verse of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” They’d begun singing Christmas carols after the effects of the champagne had set in, Sophie standing before him in her pareu and fumbling through “pipers piping” and “geese a-laying.”
    Though Sophie wasn’t much of a singer, Trey found her performance endlessly charming. But when she got to “five golden rings,” Trey pushed off the wall and playfully covered her mouth with his hand. “No more,” he cried. “I can’t take it.”
    She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him playfully. “It’s Christmas Eve. What else are we going to do?”
    In truth, there were plenty of things that they could have been doing. They had one condom left and Trey intended to make passionate love to Sophie before the sun came up in the morning. And this time, he was determined it would be more than just a physical release for them both.
    The doubts and insecurities that they’d both felt building had been banished by their argument. Like a valve releasing steam, they’d simply let go. They were laughing and having fun, dissolving into silly giggles and outrageous teasing, then taking time out to kiss and tease each other.
    Trey couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt this close to a woman. Maybe he’d never experienced it. He felt her laughter in the depths of his soul, as if the sound of her voice was vital to life. Like eating or breathing.
    He couldn’t stop touching her, couldn’t seem to stop watching her every move. Every time she looked at him, he found some new facet of her beauty to explore. And when he finally realized what was happening, Trey wasn’t surprised or even concerned. He was falling in love with Sophie and it was the most natural thing in the world.
    “Damn,” he said, rubbing his forehead. “I forgot my presents.” He pressed his finger to her lips before she could begin another song. “Stay right here.”
    “I thought we weren’t going to open them until tomorrow morning,” she said.
    “If it will get you to stop singing that ridiculous song, then you can open them tonight.” He walked over to the front door, where they’d piled all their belongings to get them out of the rain. Bending down, Trey grabbed his bag then returned to the center of the room. He sat down on the floor, pulling her down with him, then handed her three small packages. They looked rather festive, wrapped in yellow legal paper and tied with palm fronds.
    “Where did you get presents?” she said.
    “Didn’t I tell you? There’s a Bloomingdale’s on the other side of the island. You can take the subway right to the front door.”
    “What is Bloomingdale’s?”
    He nodded. “A department store? In New York City? At Christmas, they have the most wonderful window decorations. Someday, maybe we’ll go there and see them together.” He pointed to the smallest package. “Go ahead. Open that one first.”
    The thought of them spending Christmas together in New York was almost enough to make up for the pathetic trove of gifts he’d managed to find. He wanted to show Sophie the world, all the wonderful things she hadn’t yet seen. And then he wanted to show her all those that she had, so they might experience them together.
    “Pretty wrapping paper,” she said as she tore open the first package. Inside, she found a chocolate bar. A gasp slipped from her lips and she seemed genuinely surprised. “Where did you get this? Oh, this is wonderful.”
    “It was in my bag. But it had your name on it.” He’d given expensive jewelry to women and never gotten such an enthusiastic reaction.
    Sophie wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him, lingering over his lips for a long time. “Thank you. We’ll have it for dessert.”
    Trey handed her the next package. “And what’s this?” she asked.
    “That’s actually yours already,” he said. “I figured, at least you’d like it.”
    She pulled away the paper to discover a bottle of nail polish that had been sitting at the bottom of her purse for the past few months.
    “It fell out of your purse when you pulled out the monoi. If we run out of things to do, I can paint your toes. I was really good at art when I was a kid.”
    “I’d like that,” she said with a laugh. “What a nice present.” Sophie held up the last package. “Maybe I should save this for tomorrow morning.”
    “Open it now,” he said.
    Trey had thought long and hard about this gift, but in the end decided to give it to her anyway. After all, at this point, he had nothing to lose. She glanced up at him as she ran her fingertip over the plastic card.
    “It’s my frequent-flyer card,” he said. “I have a lot of miles. I thought you could decide where you wanted to go and…just go. I’ll get you a ticket. Paris, London. Wherever you want.” He paused, then reached out and took her hand. “We could meet. I could show you the sights. We could drive up to Malibu or shop at Bloomingdale’s or visit the Eiffel Tower.”
    She stared down at the card and Trey said a silent prayer. If she accepted, then he knew there would be a time for them off this island-a chance at just a few days, maybe a week together in the real world.
    “Thank you,” she murmured, her voice soft and filled with emotion. “It’s a wonderful gift.” Sophie glanced up, tears glistening in her eyes. “I’m sorry, I don’t have anything for you.”
    He shrugged, surprised by her sudden emotion. “That’s all right. It was just something silly to do.”
    “But it was nice,” Sophie said. “It was a very nice thing to do. It feels like Christmas now.”
    “All right, continue with the song,” he said, hoping to cheer her mood again. “I believe you had stopped at five golden rings.”
    “I don’t feel like singing.” She slowly got to her feet and walked to one of the windows, peering through the shutters at the storm outside. “This isn’t how I expected to spend Christmas Eve.” She glanced back at him, forcing a smile.
    “You miss your father?”
    “Yes. But that’s not it. The past few Christmases, my father and I would open gifts and then he’d drink too much and fall asleep in his chair. And I’d sit there and wonder if there was anyone else in the world quite as lonely as I was.” She sniffled, brushing away her tears with the back of her hand. Then a smile broke through. “But I’m not lonely now. This is the best Christmas I’ve had in a long time.”
    The truth was, Trey didn’t want to be anywhere but here, with Sophie. And try as he might, he couldn’t feel guilty for finding some kind of pleasure in this time marooned on the island.
    Trey got to his feet and joined her at the window. “Everything is going to be all right, Sophie. I promise.” It was the only thing he could think to say that might stop her tears. And yet Trey knew it was the truth. He would make everything right for her. And she’d never have another lonely Christmas again. Not if he had anything to say about it.
    Sophie wrapped her arms around his waist and nuzzled her face into his chest. Running his hand over her hair, Trey kissed the top of her head. It was so easy to lose himself in the feel of her body touching his. But every kiss, every embrace was filled with more meaning and more intensity.
    He drew back and wiped her cheeks with his thumbs. “Don’t cry.” He wrapped his arm around her waist, then took her hand in his. “Come on. There’s a band playing. Let’s dance.” Slowly, he began to move, gliding her around the floor as he hummed “White Christmas.”
    Sophie was reluctant to participate at first, but then he picked up the tempo and pulled her into a swing dance to “Jingle Bell Rock.” Trey didn’t know half the words and hummed almost everything but the chorus. And before long, they were laughing again.
    He didn’t like to see Sophie sad. When she hurt, he felt almost frantic to soothe her. But then he realized it was all right to let her cry, or yell or pout if she wanted to. She’d held her emotions in for so long that letting them out was a good thing. If she could feel passionately enough to get angry at him or to weep in front of him, then she could feel passionately enough to love him.
    “Look out,” he warned. “Dip coming up.” Holding tight to her waist, he leaned Sophie back, then yanked her up again. Before long, they were moving easily around the floor, their steps strangely in sync with each other. “We’re not too bad, are we?”
    “You’re a good dancer,” she said.
    “My mother made me take dancing lessons when I was a kid. She said someday I’d appreciate knowing how. She’s right.” He glanced down at her, then dropped a kiss on her lips. “Feeling better?”
    She rested her head on his shoulder as he moved her slowly around the room, this time singing “Silent Night.” “I wish I’d known you when you were a little boy,” she murmured. “I wish I’d known you when you were a young man.”
    “You wouldn’t have liked me very much,” he said.
    “Why not?”
    They continued to dance in silence, Trey wondering how much he ought to tell her about his life before Suaneva. “I suppose you’ll find out anyway, once we get off this island.”
    “It can’t be that bad.”
    “It’s not good. I have a bit of a reputation around town. Actually, around the world. Some journalists have called me a wastrel. Others, a playboy. A boy toy. A himbo.”
    “A himbo?”
    “The male equivalent of a bimbo,” Trey explained. “All looks, no brains. I don’t think I deserved that label, but then, the press is never really interested in the truth.”
    “I don’t understand. Why would they call you that?”
    He opened his mouth, ready to change the subject. But then, Trey decided to tell her everything. He wanted to be honest with her, to let her know that he’d left that life behind. “Because that’s what I am, Sophie,” he said. “I’m famous for spending money. And for being with famous women. You said that once they realized I was missing, they’d call my parents. In twenty-four hours, the whole world is going to know that you and I spent the night on this island. They’re going to want to talk to you and take your picture and get all the salacious details.”
    “Why would they be interested in me?” Sophie asked, staring up at him in disbelief.
    “Because you were with me.” Trey grabbed her arms and set her back from him, so he could look into her eyes. “Don’t believe anything they tell you, Sophie. What happened here was real. What goes on everywhere else isn’t. Promise me you won’t listen to any of it.”
    “But I-”
    “Promise!” he demanded, a desperate edge to his voice.
    “All right,” she murmured. “I promise.”
    He cupped her face in his hands and kissed her gently. “Good. As long as I know you believe in me, then everything will be all right.”
    There was an apprehension in her expression that frightened him. How could he protect her from that? Public opinion had never been on his side. But Sophie had lived so far from what went on in the rest of the world. Maybe it wouldn’t make a difference.
    He’d face that problem when it came. For now, he had an entire night to convince her he wasn’t the man the rest of the world believed him to be. Instead, he’d be the man she wanted him to be.
    SOPHIE SNUGGLED INTO THE CURVE of Trey’s arm. They sat on the top step of the porch, staring out at the lagoon in the night. The squall had passed, the rain had stopped and every now and then, the moon would peek out from behind a cloud.
    It was late, probably well after midnight. Trey’s fire had been doused long ago, but there was no need for it now. In six hours, the sun would come up and a new day would begin. She took a deep breath of the damp night air, a cool breeze blowing in from the ocean. She was afraid to go to sleep, afraid that when she woke up, everything would have changed.
    For now, she wanted things to remain exactly as they were, for just a few more hours…until the sun rose and this magical night came to an end. She’d always remember this Christmas. Every detail would remain etched in her mind-the presents, Trey’s tree, the storm, the dancing and singing. Though it wasn’t a traditional celebration, it was perfect in her eyes.
    Sophie turned to Trey and smiled. “I do have a Christmas gift for you,” she said.
    “What is it?”
    She slowly stood, then pulled her T-shirt over her head. A moment later, her pareu fluttered to the ground. He stared at her, unblinking, in the moonlight. As she shed her clothes, Sophie felt as if she were letting her last inhibition go.
    She didn’t want to hold anything back, not physically or emotionally. They only had one chance, just a few more hours together, and she didn’t want to leave Suaneva with any regrets.
    At first, Trey seemed to be afraid to touch her, his gaze skimming her body. Though it was dark, her skin gleamed from the monoi, reflecting the white light from the moon. Sophie knew the effect her body had on him. But this time, she wanted him to really see her, not just as a sexual object, but as a woman.
    He slowly reached out and spanned her waist with his hands. “That’s a nice present,” he said, running his palm from her shoulder to her hip.
    Sophie shook her head. “I have something else,” she murmured.
    His eyebrow arched. “What are you giving me, Sophie?”
    She took his hand and placed it over her heart. Sophie could feel the pounding of her pulse and she wondered if he could, too. Drawing a deep breath, she met his gaze. “Just for tonight, I’ll love you.”
    He looked at her, a frown furrowing his brow. “What?”
    “I’ll love you. Tonight, I’ll be completely yours, my heart and my body. I’ll do anything you want, be anything you want.”
    “What if I want you to love me for more than just one night?” Trey asked.
    “I don’t know what’s going to happen once we leave Suaneva,” Sophie said. “You don’t, either.”
    “But I know what I want, Sophie. And it’s you.”
    “When we wake up tomorrow morning, everything might be different. We might feel different.”
    “That’s not going to happen. I know how I feel. And I think I know how you feel.”
    “It’s all I can give, Trey. Tonight, I’m yours, completely. It has to be enough for now.”
    Trey stood and took her hand, drawing it up to his lips and kissing each fingertip. “Then for tonight, I love you, too.”
    He laced her fingers through his, then led her back up the porch steps. After slipping out of his shirt and tossing it aside, Trey took off his shorts, as well. Sophie held her breath, watching as the light from the moon played off the planes and angles of his naked body. He bent down and dug through his pocket, then held up the condom they’d been saving. He pressed it into her hand as he led her to the hammock.
    It was damp from the rain, but Sophie liked the feel of their bodies cradled so closely together, as if there were nothing between them at all. They could barely move, but it didn’t make a difference. He kissed her, softly at first, teasing at her tongue until she moaned in frustration.
    Sophie ran her fingers through the hair at his nape and drew him into a longer, deeper kiss, a kiss meant more as an invitation than a challenge. He was already hard, the heat of his erection pressed against her belly. But this time, she was in no hurry. Sophie wanted the night to last forever.
    It was a long, slow seduction. Sophie focused on the warm spot beneath his ear, rough with a day’s growth of his beard. Then she moved to the notch in his collarbone, tracing the soft dusting of hair there.
    All the while, her hands roamed over his lean but muscular body, smoothing over hard flesh and warm skin. Though she’d touched him before, this time she felt a measure of possession. His body was hers, at least for tonight. And in turn, she surrendered herself to him.
    They held off for as long as they could, each of them bringing the other closer and closer to release, touching and teasing. When she finally sheathed him, Sophie was almost dizzy from the need. He turned her away from him, tucking her against his body, his lips pressed to her nape. Then, ever so slowly, Trey entered her.
    The sensation was more powerful that she’d ever experienced before. And as he began to move, Sophie had to keep herself from dissolving into her orgasm. Trey whispered her name softly, telling her how much he wanted her, how much he needed her.
    His hands drifted to her breasts and then to the damp spot between her legs. But Sophie was so close that she couldn’t bear to have him touch her. She wanted the feelings to last far longer than they ever could. Days, weeks, months would never be enough.
    “Tell me you want me,” he murmured, his breath warm against her shoulder.
    “I do,” Sophie said, arching back against him. “Oh, God, I want you so much.”
    It was nearly impossible to get any closer to him, the hammock cradling them both. Sophie knew he was almost there and this time, when his hands drifted lower, she allowed him to touch her.
    Her orgasm came quickly, like a bolt of lightning, sending a current through her limbs until she trembled with ecstasy. Spasm after spasm rocked her body and a moment later, Trey followed after her, moaning her name as he surrendered.
    The pleasure seemed to go on and on, long after they’d both been satisfied. For Sophie, this time had been different. This wasn’t just sex. It was an expression of her feelings for Trey, of her trust and her affection for him.
    Sophie listened as his breathing gradually slowed. Trey pressed a kiss to her shoulder and sighed. “Say it,” he whispered.
    “I love you.” The words were so simple, yet so powerful. But she barely had to think before they formed a sentence and became true.
    “I love you,” he replied.
    Sophie didn’t care whether it was the truth or not. For now, in this moment, it was. And though their feelings for each other might not last past morning light, they would last the rest of the night and that was enough.
    TREY SLEPT SO SOUNDLY, he didn’t stir when Sophie crawled out of the hammock. As he opened his eyes to the early morning light, he realized she wasn’t lying next to him anymore. He raked his hands through his hair and brushed the sleep out of his eyes before swinging his feet to the floor.
    He was still naked and the breeze off the ocean was cool on his skin. He rubbed his chest, surprised at how smooth his skin was from the monoi that Sophie had rubbed all over their bodies yesterday.
    Trey smiled sleepily. It was odd to wake up and find himself alone. Usually, he was the one who crept out well before dawn, preferring to finish out the night in his own bed, alone.
    Drawing a deep breath, he stretched his arms over his head and worked a kink out of his back. Though the hammock had kept them close, it wasn’t the most comfortable place to sleep. His thoughts shifted to the big four-poster in his hotel suite, with the down pillows and crisp cotton sheets. He’d like to wake up with Sophie there.
    Trey walked to the door of the cottage and peeked inside, then turned and stared out over the lagoon. There was just enough light to see the outline of the atoll, and Sophie standing at the edge of the water.
    She was naked, the low light creating a silhouette over her curves. The stiff breeze tangled her hair, whipping it around her head. For a moment, Trey wished he’d had a camera with him to capture the scene. She looked like an island princess, a sacrifice to the gods of passion, her tanned limbs and dark hair a contrast to the white sand that surrounded her.
    He’d thought the sunset had been beautiful the evening before, but this was just breathtaking. Closing his eyes, he committed the scene to memory, burning the image into his brain so it would be there for years to come.
    What was she thinking? Was she looking for the rescue plane to come and take them both off the island? Or was she thinking about last night and the pleasure they’d shared? Her words still echoed in his head. I love you.
    It was just a silly sentence, a Christmas gift that expired at the end of the evening. But it felt so real, he mused. And when he had returned the sentiment, there was no guilt or regret in his heart. He’d wanted to say those words again and again. But now, in the light of day, Trey wasn’t sure what to do.
    Now he knew what it was like to make love to a woman. Though he’d seduced more than his fair share, love had never been part of the equation. Sophie had changed that. The connection between them had been so intense, so perfect and pure, that Trey couldn’t imagine ever feeling that same way again with anyone else.
    He slowly sat down on the top step, his eyes fixed on her, his mind running through what might happen in the next four or five hours. In truth, he would have been happy to kidnap her, to take her back to Tahiti, lock her in a hotel suite with him, and figure out exactly how they felt about each other.
    But Trey was afraid the moment they returned to civilization, they’d both realize what they’d shared was some silly fantasy. People didn’t fall in love in the course of a day. Their situation had merely made them vulnerable to the illusion of love.
    It seemed like the perfect solution, but only if Sophie went along willingly. But would forcing the issue be the right choice? Or should he take a few steps back and woo her slowly? He could find more than enough excuses to stay in the islands for a week or two. Certainly, after that, he’d know where they stood.
    Hell, he’d never really had to work to get what he’d wanted from a woman. It had always been so simple. They went after him and he was happy to oblige for as long as it suited his fancy. But with Sophie, he felt like a rookie, desperate to get into the game, yet not fully aware of the strategy.
    Trey groaned softly. How the hell had he managed to go through nearly thirty years of living without ever figuring out how to fall in love? He wanted her in his life, but he wasn’t sure what he had to offer. A marriage proposal was beyond his current capabilities. A simple promise to make her happy might work.
    Maybe it was best to just wait, until they got back. Then, everything was sure to make sense in his head. He pushed off the steps and walked to the edge of the lagoon. Standing behind her, Trey slipped his arms around her waist.
    His touch didn’t startle her. Instead, she reached back and wrapped her arm around his head, twisting her fingers through the hair at his nape. “They’ll be coming for us soon,” she murmured.
    Her backside nestled against his hips, the soft flesh pressed into his cock. He closed his eyes and drew in a slow breath. “I know. I’m going to miss this place.”
    Sophie laughed softly. “Me, too.” She turned in his arms. “We could always come back.”
    Trey gazed down into her mesmerizing eyes. It was the first time she’d ever acknowledged the possibility of a future together and he took it as a hopeful sign. “We could. But next time, we’re going to bring better food. And wine. And ice for the champagne.”
    “And a softer place to sleep,” she mentioned.
    “And more clothes,” he said.
    Sophie shook her head. “I was just thinking maybe we had too many clothes. It might be nice to spend the whole vacation naked.”
    “You’re right,” he said, glancing down at her naked body. He dropped a kiss on her lips, his palm cupping her breast. “Who needs clothes?”
    “We will today,” she said. “They won’t take us back to Tahiti if we’re naked.”
    Trey smoothed his hands from her torso down to her thighs. “So where are your clothes, Sophie? If we don’t get dressed, they might just leave us both here for a little longer.”
    She turned in his arms again, wrapping his embrace more tightly around her. “Will you buy this island for your resort?” she asked, her gaze scanning the landscape.
    “I don’t think it’s right for the resort,” Trey answered. “But I wouldn’t mind making a personal investment in the local real estate.”
    She looked at him over her shoulder, frowning. “I don’t understand.”
    “I’d buy it so we could come back here. It could be ours. A place to come when we wanted to be alone, and run around naked, and make love on the beach.” He paused, pressing a kiss to her ear. “We could renovate the cottage. Bring in a bed and some other furniture. A stove for cooking.”
    “And you would come here, a few times a year, to visit?”
    “Yes,” Trey said. “I would.”
    “I’d like that,” Sophie agreed. “I’d like to come back here with you someday.”
    Trey took her hand and led her out into the water. When it was deep enough, Sophie wrapped her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist and they bobbed in the water, neither one of them speaking.
    It was enough to just hold her close, to feel her body against his. They didn’t have to say anything. The mood was palpable. He felt a knot of regret in his gut, regret that they didn’t have more time, that the end was coming soon. But as long as he could touch her, they could still communicate.
    “What’s the first thing you’re going to do when you get back?” Trey asked, running his hands through her hair as it floated on the surface of the water.
    “Kiss my father. Tell him I’m sorry for all the worry I caused him. Then I’ll figure out how to get the plane back to Pape‘ete.”
    “I told you I’d help out with that.”
    She smiled, then dropped a gentle kiss on his lips. “Thank you. It’s probably just a minor problem. We’ll fly a mechanic over and he can fix it. And then I’ll fly the plane back.”
    Trey frowned, not happy with the prospect of her getting back into that plane. “Maybe you should get someone else to fly it back,” he suggested.
    She gave him an odd look. “Why? No one knows that plane better than I do.”
    “What if the guy doesn’t fix it right? I don’t want you going down again. This time there might not be a safe place to land.”
    “I’d never go up if I wasn’t sure the plane was ready to fly.”
    “The plane wasn’t ready to fly when you took me up,” he said. “The engine died and the radio didn’t work.”
    “The engine cutting out was probably caused by moisture in the fuel. That happens during the rainy season. And I suspect that I couldn’t restart the engine because the alternator belt broke. Which drained the battery for the radio and the ignition. So, it’s just a broken belt, that’s all.”
    Trey knew he shouldn’t push the issue. But the last thing he wanted was for Sophie to go up in that plane again. When he got back to Pape‘ete, he’d discuss the matter with her father. He’d hire a mechanic and another pilot to do the job. Hell, he’d buy the damn plane and set it on fire before he let Sophie risk her life again. She shouldn’t be flying around in that old rattletrap.
    He nodded. “Just find a good mechanic. Make sure he knows what he’s doing,” Trey insisted.
    She kissed him again and a moment later, they were lost in a rush of desire. Trey had grown to love the taste of her. With just a simple flick of her tongue, she could make him crazy. Holding tight, he walked out of the lagoon and carried her up to the porch. Then, he gently put her back into the hammock and he joined her there.
    They had at least a few more hours until someone came looking. Trey intended to use the time wisely.

8

    SOPHIE COULD SMELL THE SCENT of warm bread baking, of sweet pastries in the oven and fresh croissants. She drew a deep breath, her mouth watering. Oh, and coffee. A moan slipped from her lips. Hot, black coffee. It was enough to make her stomach rumble with hunger.
    She sighed, snuggling into the comfortable depths of her bed. But her bed wasn’t so comfortable anymore. And the sounds of the birds and the waves that usually woke her up were distinctly different. Sophie slowly opened her eyes, then realized where she was.
    “Are you hungry?”
    She pushed up on her elbows to find Trey standing on the porch, dressed in his shorts and shirt. He was holding a banana leaf. On it, he’d cut up fresh fruit and piled canned cashews, arranging them in a pretty pattern. “Is that my breakfast?”
    “Yes. Breakfast in a hammock.”
    Sophie crawled out and grabbed her pareu, then wrapped it around her naked body. She followed him over to the steps and sat down beside him. The sun was up and though the day was cloudy, there was blue sky to be seen through the haze.
    Trey held out the fruit and she picked a piece of mango and popped it in her mouth. It was sinfully sweet and juicy. This island had the best mangoes she’d ever tasted. If that wasn’t a good reason to come back, nothing else was. “I wonder what time it is?”
    “It’s a little past seven,” Trey said.
    “I thought your watch broke when you got it wet.”
    He shrugged. “I looked on my cell phone.”
    Sophie gasped. “You have a cell phone? Here? On the island?”
    Trey nodded. “Yeah. But it doesn’t work. There’s no signal. I tried yesterday, while you were messing with the radio.”
    “Oh,” Sophie murmured. “All right then.”
    He chuckled, bending closer to catch her gaze. “Did you think I would have let your father worry over you or kept us stuck on this island if the phone had worked?”
    “We didn’t use the flare gun,” she said. “We could have signaled that boat.”
    He pulled her against him, giving her a hug. “Yeah, you’re right. Even if it had worked, I probably would have waited until sunset to call.” He grabbed his bag and pulled his cell phone out. “But I forgot about one feature of this phone.” He flipped it open and held it out. “It’s a camera.”
    Sophie covered her face. “No! Don’t take a picture of me. I just got up.”
    “There,” Trey said, showing her the display. “Look at how beautiful you are.”
    Her hair was mussed and fell in careless waves around her face. She took the phone from his hand and stared at her image. She was beautiful. Sophie barely recognized the woman in the photo. Was this how he saw her?
    “How do I take a photo of you?”
    Trey took the phone from her hand, then stood next to her and pressed a kiss to her cheek. A moment later, the photo came up on the display. Sophie laughed, delighted with the shot. It was so silly, but it reminded her of all the fun they’d had together.
    “Now a serious one,” she said.
    Trey wrapped his arm around her shoulder and they both smiled at the camera. As Sophie examined the third photograph, she stared at Trey’s face. He was a handsome man, a beautiful man.
    “You’re very pretty,” she said.
    He grabbed the phone from her and began to take pictures, one after another. Caught up in the fun, Sophie posed, throwing her arms out and giving Trey a series of sexy looks.
    She gave him one last smile, then held a piece of papaya in front of his lips. “We should probably make a list of all the things we’ve consumed so that I can replace them when I come back for the plane.”
    “Three bottles of wine, including a bottle of champagne,” Trey said.
    “Funny, I don’t feel that hungover. And that’s the most I’ve had to drink in years.”
    “You handled yourself well,” he teased. “Except for the ‘Twelve Days of Christmas.’ That was bad.”
    She munched on a cashew. “I think I’ll bring back all sorts of good things. So the next people to stop here will have a gourmet feast.” She paused. “You’re going to have to get another charter service,” she said. “There’s an outfit called Tiare Air. They have the hangar next to ours. Gabe Aubert is a really good pilot and they have very nice planes. I’m sure I can arrange to have him take you up.”
    “I’ll wait until you can take me up,” Trey said.
    “I don’t know how long it will be before I can get the plane back in the air,” Sophie said.
    “I’ll wait,” he repeated.
    She didn’t want to lose the fee, but if he was willing to stay in Tahiti for a week, then she wasn’t going to fight with him. In truth, Sophie liked the idea that they’d have a little more time together.
    They both nibbled on the fruit and cashews. Trey’s mood was a bit subdued but Sophie thought it might be due to a lack of sleep. Or perhaps he didn’t want to leave the island any more than she did.
    They’d been together for less than twenty-four hours and already, they’d grown so comfortable with each other, sharing breakfast as if they’d done so for years. Sophie finished the last of the mango, then stood up. “I’m going to go get more,” she said. “Do you have the knife?”
    “It’s on the counter,” he said. “There’s a couple more mangoes in there. And another papaya. Do you want me to help?”
    She smiled and shook her head. “No. I’ll get it.” She picked up the banana leaf and walked to the front door, then turned and looked back at Trey. How would it be between them if they actually lived together? Would they wake up in each other’s arms every morning? Would they make breakfast together before going off to work? Would there come a time when they had children running around at their feet?
    Sophie found the mangoes where he’d left them, along with the knife and a few more banana leaves. She sliced through the ripe fruit and arranged it on the shiny green leaf. But as she was cleaning up after herself, writing on the wall just above the counter caught her eye.
    Unlike the rest of the inscriptions around the room, this one appeared unfaded and fresh, written with a thick black marker. “Here on this island,” she read, “Trey fell in love with Sophie. Christmas Eve, 2008. We will be back.”
    Sophie glanced around, certain that she’d misread the writing. But it was her name and Trey’s there on the wall. Reaching out, she ran her sticky fingers over the inscription, aware that she was looking at Trey’s own handwriting for the first time.
    They knew so little about each other. She wouldn’t have even recognized his writing had their names not been evident. And yet, he’d fallen in love with her. Sophie drew a shaky breath. Should she ask him about the inscription or should she pretend she never saw it? Had he meant for her to see it?
    With shaky hands, Sophie picked up the fruit and carried it to the front door of the cottage. For now, she wouldn’t say anything. Maybe he would-
    Trey’s shout startled her as she walked through the door. “Sophie!” He was standing near the lagoon, staring up at the sky.
    “What? I’m here.”
    “I think I hear a plane,” he said. He turned to face her, the flare gun clutched in his hand. “Do you hear that? Or am I imagining things?”
    Sophie set the fruit down on the porch step and joined him near the lagoon. She closed her eyes and listened, then nodded. “I think so.”
    “What should we do? Should I shoot a flare?”
    “It’s too soon. If it is search and rescue, they’ll fly over and probably be able to see us from the air. At the least, they’ll see the plane.”
    Sophie scanned the horizon. The sound was too far away to pinpoint the direction. But it was definitely a small plane. Was it part of a search-and-rescue team or just a passing pilot on his way to another island?
    A few minutes later, the plane was visible to the south of the atoll. Trey reached out and took her hand, as they waited silently. Gradually, the plane began to descend and Trey held up a hand and waved.
    The pilot circled once, then came down low. “That’s Franc Aubert,” Sophie said, waving. “He owns Tiare Air.” Sophie took the flare gun and aimed it over the lagoon, then pulled the trigger. “There. Now he’ll know we need help.”
    “Is he going to land?” Trey asked.
    Sophie shook her head. “No. He doesn’t have floats on that plane. He’ll radio back and they’ll send someone with a float or amphibious plane, one that can land in the lagoon. His son, Gabe, flies an amphibious plane like ours.” She turned to him and smiled. “I guess we’re going to be rescued.”
    “I guess so.”
    They both turned and started for the cottage, their fingers linked, their arms swinging between them. Suddenly, Trey pulled her to a stop. “I don’t want to be rescued,” he said.
    Sophie laughed. “Neither do I.”
    He yanked her into his arms and brought his mouth down on hers, his kiss fierce and possessive. It was clear to Sophie what he wanted beyond no rescue. Stumbling toward the cottage, they tore at each other’s clothes, the same way they had that very first time.
    “How much time?” he whispered, untying her pareu.
    “Maybe minutes,” she replied, breathless with anticipation. “Maybe an hour.” Sophie pushed his hands away and she unknotted the filmy fabric and tossed it aside. Then she tugged his shirt over his head and dropped it at their feet.
    “I don’t have another condom,” he whispered as he watched her unzip his shorts.
    “I don’t care.” Sophie knew her body well enough to know that there wasn’t much chance it would matter. “I’m safe. Are you?”
    “Yes,” he said. “Always.”
    She skimmed his shorts and his boxers down over his hips and calves, then pushed him gently back to sit on the step. After she’d stripped off her T-shirt, Sophie straddled his legs and sat down on his lap.
    Trey groaned as he glanced down. With a sly smile, Sophie wrapped her fingers around his shaft and began to stroke him. “You could ask me for anything right now and I’d give it to you,” he said.
    “All I want is you,” Sophie replied. “Nothing else.”
    He leaned back and braced himself on the step behind him, watching her every move. And when he was hard and ready, Sophie lowered herself onto him, burying his shaft to the hilt.
    The sensation was so exquisite that for a long time, she was afraid to move. She closed her eyes and arched back, burying him even deeper. And then, unable to stop herself, she pushed up until he was outside of her again.
    It was a tantalizing game and she was in complete control of his desire. When she felt him nearing the edge, she slowed her pace and when he’d regained his control, she quickened it. But all the while, she knew she was drawing him closer and closer to an explosive orgasm. If this was the last time they made love, Sophie wanted it to be the one he remembered for the rest of his life.
    She didn’t know what tomorrow would bring. Or where they would be in a few days’ time. But this was the way she wanted to spend their last hour together…swept into a vortex of pleasure.
    BY THE TIME THEY WERE completely sated, Trey and Sophie were both drenched with perspiration. She grabbed his hand and pulled him along to the water tanks behind the cottage, then showed him the shower.
    The water was a bit cooler than that in the lagoon and it was fresh. He turned his back to Sophie and she smoothed her hands across his shoulders, gently massaging. He loved the feel of her touch and the sensations she caused. He tipped his head back, letting the warm water rush over him.
    Sophie circled around him and began to wash his chest. Trey rested his hands on her shoulders. Her skin was warm and smooth beneath his touch, her limbs lean and supple, yet soft and feminine. She hadn’t been toned by a trainer, but kept beautiful by living a healthy life in lush surroundings.
    His gaze fixed on her fingers as they skimmed over his chest. Her nails were clipped short and were unpainted. Sophie was beyond the rules of feminine primping, but he’d come to admire that about her. She wore no makeup, yet she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever set eyes upon. She hadn’t been spoiled by the modern world. Sophie was completely unaware of her own beauty.
    His gaze slowly drifted down to her breasts and Trey watched, fascinated, as the water sluiced between them. Natural, that’s what she was. Perfect and natural, the way God had intended a woman to be.
    He grinned as her hands drifted lower, lingering just below his waist. “We don’t have time for that,” he warned, grabbing her hands and bringing them back to his lips. Trey kissed her fingers.
    “If they come while we’re busy, we’ll just signal them to circle the island until we’re ready to leave.”
    “How about we make some plans,” he said, cupping her face in his hands. “Dinner tonight at my hotel. You wear your sexiest dress, I’ll order the best bottle of champagne and we’ll continue where we left off.”
    “All right,” she said. “It’s a date.”
    “Yes, it is a date.” He dropped a kiss on her lips. “I’m going to go gather up our stuff while you finish your shower.”
    “No,” Sophie cried. “I need you to scrub my back.”
    “If I start running my hands all over your body, then we are going to have a problem.”
    She looked down at his crotch, then back up, a wicked smile curling her lips. “I know how to make that go away.”
    Trey shook his head and stepped out from beneath the water. “Take your shower, Sophie. I’ll be waiting for you when you’re done.”
    He walked back toward the cottage, the sand clinging to his bare feet. Though the shower did a bit to cool him off, there was no escaping the heat and humidity on the island. The temperature really didn’t vary a whole lot. It only seemed cooler when he remained absolutely still for an hour or two. And Sophie didn’t make that easy.
    When they got back to Pape‘ete, they’d have an air-conditioned room and clean sheets and all the food they’d care to eat. Living on the island with Sophie for a day had been a little bit of heaven. But when they got back, they’d be in paradise.
    Trey turned to take one last look at Sophie, knowing that from now on, they’d be dressed. She smoothed her hair back, then opened her eyes to catch him staring at her. She smiled coyly, then reached over and turned off the water. Slowly, she walked toward him, the water glistening on her skin. As she passed by, she let her hand drift along his belly, just low enough to tease him.
    “I’m in the mood for a pedicure,” she said. “I think we’ll have just enough time to take advantage of my Christmas present.”
    Trey groaned. This wasn’t fair. He’d always thought he was the one in control when it came to sexual relationships. But here on this island, he had completely lost it.
    It was getting ridiculous, or pathetic, he wasn’t sure which. He’d enjoyed a very satisfying orgasm fifteen minutes ago and just watching her shower had made him ready for another. A guy had to wonder how many more times his body could react before it just gave out.
    Trey followed her back to the cottage, his gaze fixed on her curvy backside. A cold shower would have done the trick in a matter of a minute or two. But there were no cold showers on Suaneva.
    “YOU HAVE VERY PRETTY FEET.”
    Sophie dipped the brush into the nail polish and carefully painted Trey’s big toe. He’d finished her pedicure and with nothing better to do, she’d decided to treat him to pale pink toenails.
    “You’re lucky I’m wearing boat shoes home.”
    “What are you worried about? You’re manly enough to carry off pink. Coral might be a bit much, but…” She glanced at the bottom of the bottle. “Bubblegum Baby is definitely your color.”
    They sat on either side of the porch steps, their backs braced against the posts, their legs stretched out in front of them. Trey idly massaged her feet as she painted his toes. But it wasn’t enough to just focus on the pedicure. Instead, she rubbed her foot gently against his crotch. He was hard again and if she teased him much longer, he’d need to seduce her again.
    It wasn’t the worst use of their time, Sophie mused. They’d been expecting the plane for the past hour, but it hadn’t come. Neither one of them seemed particularly concerned about rescue. Sophie informed Trey that calling up a floatplane from Tahiti could take at least an hour or two. By her calculations they had about thirty minutes left.
    There was a tiny sliver of fear inside her, a feeling that the moment they lifted off from the lagoon, everything would change. She knew there wasn’t anything magical about the island. It was just a deserted atoll in the middle of the South Pacific.
    But something wonderful had happened here, something very unexpected. She’d gotten on the plane in Pape‘ete thinking she’d like to seduce Trey Shelton. A night in his bed was all she was looking for. But now, Sophie was sure that a single night together was just the beginning for them.
    They had a date for that evening. She wouldn’t have time to go home, so she’d run out from the airport and find herself a nice dress, then shower at the hangar. She made a mental note to buy some sexy underwear, too.
    “What is this?”
    Sophie glanced up from her painting to find Trey rubbing his hand over the tattoo on her ankle. “It’s a sunrise,” she said, “with a hibiscus flower.”
    “Why did you choose that?”
    Sophie shrugged. “I didn’t. The tattoo artist did. In Tahiti, some of the artists are like…mystical. They read your aura and they create a tattoo to symbolize who you are. He saw the sunrise because I was beginning a new phase of my life. And the hibiscus was to remind me of my life on the islands.”
    “Did it hurt?”
    She shook her head, then laughed. “Yeah. It hurt like hell. But it only took about a half hour, so I tried to be brave.”
    “I like it,” Trey said. “It’s sexy.”
    “When my mother saw it, she was so angry with me. But I’ve always felt as if I lived between two worlds with my parents. My mother is French, my father American, but I feel Polynesian. I grew up in Tahiti. It’s home.”
    “Maybe I should get a tattoo,” Trey said. “My mother would probably kill me, too.” He paused. “Although, I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my life. A tattoo wouldn’t be the worst of it.”
    “You have to get a tattoo for a reason,” Sophie explained. “It’s like a rite of passage. You get it when you undergo a change in your life. I got mine after I lost my virginity.”
    “Going down in that plane was a big moment in my life,” he said. “Things kind of changed after that.”
    “What changed?”
    Trey thought about his answer. He wanted to say, “everything.” “I’m just looking at things a little differently. Taking stock of my life. Thinking about making a few changes.”
    “Like with your resort?”
    “Yeah, that. And other things.”
    Sophie considered his story for a long moment, then nodded. “That’s worth a tattoo,” she said. “When we get back, I’ll take you. I’ll even hold your hand.”
    She finished with his right foot, then blew on his toes. “It’s so damp, this isn’t going to dry very fast. If you walk in the sand, it’ll stick to the polish.”
    “How do I get this off?”
    “It never comes off,” she teased. “Your toes will be pink for the next year.”
    “Pink toes would definitely scare my mother,” he said.
    Sophie put the top back on the bottle, then handed it to him. “For touch-ups,” she teased. “And you’ll have to get some polish remover and some-” She stopped, a distant sound catching her attention. “The plane is coming.”
    Trey swung his feet off her lap and stood, then held out his hand and helped her up. Sophie pointed across the lagoon. “They’ll come in from that way,” she said.
    “How do you know?”
    “The wind. They’ll land into the wind.”
    They stood on the step and waited. Just as Sophie had predicted, ten minutes later, they saw the plane circle twice before lining up for a landing. Sophie smiled as she recognized Gabriel Aubert’s plane from Tiare Air. Both Gabriel and Franc were excellent pilots and Sophie wasn’t surprised that her father had called on them both to lead the search. Besides, Gabe and Sophie had also dated for a time three or four years ago and Sophie suspected he still harbored a small crush.
    Gabriel made a perfect landing with the amphibious plane, maneuvering so it glided slowly up toward the beach. He cut the engine and the propeller stopped. A moment later, the plane came to a halt about twenty feet from the shore. Sophie strolled down to the lagoon, Trey walking a few feet behind her.
    Gabriel hopped out of the plane and waded through the water, a wide smile on his handsome face. “Sophie Madigan, you have caused a lot of worry,” he scolded, his French accent thick. “Your father was frantic when you didn’t return last night.”
    Sophie threw her arms around Gabe’s neck and gave him a hug. “Thank you for coming for us. We had a problem with the plane and I had to put it down.”
    “She put it down without the engine,” Trey said.
    Gabe glanced back and forth between the two of them. “Really? This is true?”
    “It was nothing,” Sophie said.
    “It was something,” Trey contradicted. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
    “Alors, let’s get you home,” Gabe said, draping his arm over Sophie’s shoulders. “You can tell me all about it on the way. Your papa is anxious to see you, Sophie.” He looked over at Trey. “And so is yours, Mr. Shelton.”
    “My father?”
    Gabe nodded. “He’s waiting at the Madigan hangar at Faaa. He came in on a Learjet. Nice plane. I’ve always wanted to fly one of those.” He glanced around. “Do you have your belongings?”
    Trey held up his bag and Sophie nodded. “We’re ready to go.” It was obvious from Gabe’s attitude toward her that he didn’t suspect anything had gone on between Trey and her. And it was obvious from Trey’s expression that he didn’t like Gabe touching her. But Sophie wasn’t ready to explain to anyone what had happened on Suaneva.
    They waded out into the water. Gabe grabbed her around the waist and lifted her into the plane. Sophie crawled into the copilot’s seat, then turned to watch Trey and Gabe spin the plane around. When they were finished, Trey took the spot behind the pilot’s seat while Gabe strapped himself in. Sophie sent Trey a smile, but he didn’t return it.
    She turned back to the controls, wondering what was going through Trey’s mind. Though she and Gabe had dated, they’d realized early on they were much better off as friends. And now, they were more like siblings, sharing their interest in flying and their frustrations with working for their fathers. Trey really had no cause to be jealous.
    Maybe he was just sad to leave the island, she mused. Sophie sat silently as Gabe started the engine and when they were ready to take off, Sophie fastened her seat belt and glanced back at Trey. “You okay?”
    “Yeah,” he said, staring at her with an enigmatic smile.
    Gabe pushed the throttle forward and the plane began to skim over the lagoon. Her father had been right. Though landing was always tricky on Suaneva, taking off required a very steep bank at the end of the lagoon to avoid the tops of the coconut palms. When they were in the air, Gabe grabbed the radio and flipped to the channel that her father used for Madigan Air.
    “Madigan Air, this is Tiare Air 2269. I have both passengers on board and we’re on our way to Faaa. Estimated flying time, ninety minutes. Over.”
    Sophie heard her father’s voice crackling over the distance between them. “Let me talk to my daughter. Over.”
    Gabe handed her the radio and she pushed the transmit button. “Hello, Papa. I’m so sorry to have worried you.”
    “You don’t know how frantic I was,” he said. She could hear it in his voice, the same emotion that she heard whenever he talked about her mother. “I didn’t know what to think. What went wrong? Over.”
    “I think there was moisture in the fuel line. The engine cut out and I couldn’t get it started again. I’m pretty sure the belt on the alternator broke. That’s why the radio didn’t work. Over.”
    “You made a dead-stick landing?”
    “Yes, Papa. Just like you taught me.”
    “Good girl, Sophie.”
    She could hear how upset he was, so Sophie decided to cut the conversation short. “Papa, I’ll see you when we land. Tell Trey’s-I mean, Mr. Shelton’s father that he’s fine. I love you, Papa.”
    “Love you, too, Sophie.”
    She handed the radio back to Gabe, then brushed a tear from her cheek. Drawing a ragged breath, she fixed her gaze out on the horizon. Sophie had to believe everything would be fine when they got back.
    But as Gabe chatted about his plans to buy a new plane for his father’s business, Sophie realized that she really wasn’t interested. She longed to hear Trey’s voice, even if he was reciting the alphabet or reading the phone book.
    In fact, she was starting to seriously regret they’d ever left the island at all.

9

    TREY KNEW IT WAS GOING to be bad as they taxied up to the Madigan Air hangar. He could see a group of photographers hurrying toward the plane, their cameras flashing. Cursing softly, he wondered if Sophie was prepared to handle this.
    He’d been wading through the celebrity cesspool his entire adult life. The press had finally begun to back off now that he was keeping a lower profile, but a story like this was too juicy to resist. Plane crash, castaway on a tropical island and a beautiful woman. All elements the tabloids could exploit.
    “Look at that,” Gabe said. “Les Nouvelles has sent out reporters. Sophie, you must be famous.”
    “No,” Trey muttered. “I think they’re looking for me.”
    Sophie glanced back at him, their gazes meeting for the first time since the flight began. Trey sent her a weak smile. “When you get out of the plane, go right to your father,” he said. “Lock yourself in the hangar until the press leaves. Do you understand?”
    She nodded, then turned back to stare at the growing mob outside. Sophie had spent the past hour chatting with her handsome pilot while Trey had pretended to work, scribbling illegible notes on his legal pad as he tried to figure out the true nature of the relationship between Sophie and Gabe.
    It had become so easy to think of Sophie as his own. But after just a few minutes off the island, Trey was forced to admit there were other people who cared about her, too. Her father. And obviously this Gabe character.
    Trey had known men like him, Frenchmen, who were well schooled in the art of charm. Even with his faded T-shirt and battered cap, Trey could see through the act. This guy was smooth. And from what Trey could tell, he’d set his sights on Sophie.
    “Look,” Gabe said, “there is your father.” He took Sophie’s hand and gave it a squeeze. Trey bristled at the gesture and he bit back a curse. For the first time in his life, he was jealous and he didn’t like the way that felt.
    “See, this is the Lear I was talking about,” Gabe said, pointing to Trey’s father’s plane. “Nice, n’est-ce pas?
    “Very nice,” Sophie murmured.
    The plane drew to a stop and Gabe shut off the engine, then crawled out the pilot’s side, leaving Trey and Sophie alone for the first time. “Don’t say anything to the reporters,” Trey warned. “Just do as I said and everything will be all right. I’ll come back later, after everything has cooled down.”
    Sophie nodded, giving him a weak smile. Then the passenger-side door opened and Gabe reached in to help Sophie out. “What is lost is now found,” Gabe said as he grabbed her waist and lifted her from the plane.
    Trey found his bag and prepared himself for the crush of photographers and reporters. If he was able to draw their attention away from Sophie by answering a few questions, then maybe she could get away. He waited until she’d reached her father, then, taking a deep breath, Trey stepped out of the plane to the flash of cameras.
    “Trey, tell us about your time as a castaway!”
    “Are you all right, Trey? Do you have any injuries?”
    “They say your pilot was a woman. Was the crash her fault?”
    “There was no crash,” Trey said with a warm smile. “We had to make an emergency landing, that’s all.” He kept his eye on Sophie, watching as she threw herself into her father’s embrace. “There was a minor mechanical problem with the plane and the pilot did an amazing job putting us down on the lagoon at Suaneva.”
    “My son will answer all your questions later!” Trey stopped at the sound of his father’s voice, then turned to watch Peter Shelton the Second emerge from the Learjet. He slowly strolled down the steps as the cameras turned their attention toward him.
    “Mr. Shelton, were you worried about your son?”
    “Did you think he was dead?”
    “Tell us how you felt when you got the call.”
    “I said we’d answer questions later,” Trey’s father said. “I’ve arranged for a press conference at the Sofitel in a couple of hours. You can get all the photos you want and ask all your questions then. Right now, I’d like to talk to my son.”
    His father crossed the tarmac to where Trey stood, then pulled him into a fierce hug. Trey couldn’t recall the last time his father had showed the least bit of affection toward him. “A press conference?” Trey muttered.
    “Good to see you, Trey,” he said. “I was worried.”
    “How did you get here so fast?” Trey asked.
    “I got the call late last night while I was in Tokyo. It didn’t take me long. Your mother is on her way. She’s flying in from New York and should be here early this evening. I chartered a plane for her.”
    “That wasn’t necessary. I’m fine.”
    “Well, good.” He clapped Trey on the shoulder and to his surprise, Trey saw tears glistening in his father’s eyes.
    “I’m glad you came,” Trey said. “And it will be nice to see Mom. We haven’t spent a Christmas together in years.”
    His father smiled. “We’ll have a big celebration.”
    Trey thought back to the simple celebration he and Sophie had enjoyed the night before. His father’s parties were always overblown affairs. “Maybe we could just have a drink and talk?”
    A taxi screeched to a halt near the hangar and Trey turned to watch as an oddly familiar woman crawled out of the back. She pulled off her sunglasses and surveyed the crowd, immediately catching the interest of the photographers. “It’s Tania!” one of the reporters shouted.
    “Oh my God! Oh, Trey, thank God you’re alive.”
    Trey cringed. Tania Richardson. What the hell was she doing here? Though he’d broken off the relationship six months ago, since that time, Tania had managed to perpetuate the rumor that she and Trey were about to announce their engagement. Obviously this was some silly publicity stunt.
    Tania came from a famous acting family in Britain and was rather used to over-the-top dramatics. But this was too much. She rushed over to him, making sure to stop a few times for photographs. Tania was wearing clothes more suitable for a nightclub-a skimpy little dress that left nothing to the imagination.
    When she reached him, Tania threw herself into his arms and the flashes began popping continuously. Trey tried to extract himself from her embrace, but she wouldn’t let go. “Stop,” he gasped, unwrapping her arms from around his neck.
    “I’m so glad you’re alive, darling.”
    Trey glanced over to see Sophie watching them both, her eyes wide, her expression marked with confusion. “How did you get here, Tania?”
    She stepped back and gave him a plastic smile. “Well, darling, when I heard you were going to be here for the holidays, I thought it would be nice if we’d spend some time together. With your schedule and mine, we’ve been apart for too long. Imagine my horror when I heard you were missing. So of course, I called the press. News like this is important.”
    “No doubt you were anxious to try out a new role-that of the grieving fiancée,” Trey said. “It would have been a good part, Tania, but unfortunately, I survived. And I suppose now would be a good time to tell the press we’re not really engaged.”
    In fact, now would be the perfect time, Trey thought. He glanced around at the small crowd gathered around him. He’d lost track of Sophie and he stepped away from Tania, searching for her. A moment later, he saw her, standing at the door of the hangar.
    “Sophie!”
    The reporters and photographers immediately turned their attention to her. He tried to walk toward her but no matter which way he moved, they stepped into his path. Trey gave one of the reporters a shove and the guy stumbled back, falling against a photographer. “Sorry,” Trey muttered. “Just let me get by.”
    “Son, come on.” Peter Shelton grabbed Trey’s arm and pulled him back. “I have a car waiting to take us to the hotel.”
    Trey glanced back and forth between his father and Sophie. His gaze met hers and held and for a moment; he felt as though they were back on the island, all alone. He could read the confusion in her eyes and he wanted to explain. But not here and not with everyone watching.
    Sophie gave him a little wave goodbye, then turned and walked inside the hangar. The moment she was gone, Trey felt an incredible loneliness set in. He knew things might be bad when they got back. But he’d never imagined this.
    “Come on, darling,” Tania said. “Let’s get out of here. You need to change out of those awful clothes and have something decent to eat.” She turned to Trey’s father and gave him a blinding smile. “You don’t mind if I ride with you, do you?” She looped her arm through Trey’s and pulled him toward the waiting town car.
    “By the way, who was the girl?” Tania murmured through clenched teeth as they wove back through the photographers.
    “She was the pilot,” Trey said. “Her name is Sophie.” Tania had a jealous streak a mile long. It had been one of the things that had quickly put an end to their short relationship.
    “I think you should sue,” she added in a clipped tone. “The girl is obviously incompetent. You could have been killed.”
    Trey crawled in the backseat of the car, Tania getting in after him. His father brought up the rear, scowling as if he wasn’t pleased they had an extra passenger, either. But Trey couldn’t think about the politics of what was going on. All he could think about was getting back to Sophie.
    They pulled away from the hangar and the reporters and photographers quickly gave chase, some in cars, some on motorcycles. Trey sank back into the soft leather seats, not listening to the incessant chatter coming from Tania. Sophie was always so careful with her words. She never wasted any and everything she said was endlessly interesting. Tania talked because she loved the sound of her own voice.
    He’d get back to the hotel, get changed and then find a way to leave without the reporters following. He knew Sophie and her father lived on an outlying island, but maybe, without their plane, they’d be forced to stay in Tahiti for the day.
    Or perhaps Gabe would take them home. If that was the case, then Trey would simply hire Gabe to fly him to Sophie. That part of his plan would be easy to accomplish. After Tania’s little stunt, convincing Sophie that they belonged together might be a bit more difficult.
    Trey pushed up from his seat and crawled over Tania, squeezing in next to his father. “I have something I want to talk to you about,” he said. “An idea I have for a resort.”
    “We can talk about business later,” his father said.
    “No, I need to talk about this now,” Trey insisted. “My future depends on it. I don’t have time to waste.”
    SOPHIE SAT DOWN AT the battered desk inside the hangar of Madigan Air. She’d been back for two hours and it hadn’t taken long for her life to return to exactly what it had been a few days ago.
    Her father, Franc and Gabe had insisted she accompany them into town for a celebratory breakfast at their favorite patisserie. Sophie had begged off, wanting nothing more than to get home and back to her normal routine. But the three men had been up all night and wanted something to eat, so she’d stayed behind to make arrangements for a mechanic to fly to Suaneva the following morning.
    The thought of going back to Suaneva without Trey was difficult to imagine. But the reception they got on arrival was enough to convince her they’d never be going back there together. Her thoughts wound back to the scene she’d witnessed.
    One of the reporters had come over to ask her a few questions about the “incident,” as he had called it. She carefully explained what had happened and he seemed satisfied with her answers. But then, Sophie had risked a question of her own, asking about the woman who had greeted Trey so enthusiastically.
    The reporter had looked at her as if she’d just asked him what that big bright ball of fire was in the sky. He’d quickly informed Sophie that Tania Richardson was both a famous British starlet and Trey Shelton’s fiancée.
    Sophie had never heard of her, but then, she’d been stuck on an island in the middle of the South Pacific her whole life. And Tahiti wasn’t exactly a hotbed of celebrity activity, either.
    As Sophie searched the desk for the phone book, anger bubbled up inside her. She cursed loudly first in French, and then in English for good measure. How could she have been so stupid as to trust him? The whole time they’d been on the island, he’d been playing her for a fool. When he’d said he was unattached, he’d lied. And everything after that was a lie, too.
    Merde, she should have known. A man as handsome and charming as Trey Shelton was never single for long. Besides that, he was rich. But after observing his fiancée for no more than just a few minutes, Sophie had to wonder if she ever knew anything about Trey at all.
    She and Tania Richardson had absolutely nothing in common. Tania was glamorous and aloof and probably rich, too. She wore expensive jewelry and designer clothes, she had a snooty accent and seemed a bit…ob-noxious.
    If Trey was in love with Tania, what could he find remotely fascinating about Sophie Madigan? “I was convenient,” she finally said, throwing up her hands at the revelation. “He was horny and I was convenient. And easy. And more than willing to seduce him.”
    Well, she’d gotten the lover she’d wanted. Sophie bit her bottom lip to stem a flood of emotion. Falling apart was not going to do her any good. She needed to accept that what they’d enjoyed had only been temporary. Before landing on the island, that would have been exactly what she needed. So what had really changed?
    “Everything,” Sophie murmured. After only twenty-four hours, she’d imagined a whole future with Trey, an exciting life where she looked forward to every day-and every night. Unfortunately, his future was with someone else.
    Sophie finally found the phone book and rifled through it, searching for the number of Trey’s hotel. Before he left the island, she intended to tell him exactly how she felt about his deception, if only to prove to herself she was strong enough to do it. Once that was accomplished, she could move on with her life.
    But as she punched in the digits, Sophie realized her true motives for calling Trey. She wanted him to tell her it wasn’t true, that he didn’t love Tania Richardson and that he hadn’t lied to her. She wanted him to say he loved her.
    Sophie dropped the phone back into the cradle and sighed. Maybe it was best to just get on with her life. If she got back to work, she’d forget all about Trey and what happened on the island. But why should she forget? He’d betrayed her and she deserved an apology.
    His father had said they’d be holding a press conference at the Sofitel. Maybe she could get some answers to her questions there. She pushed away from the desk and crossed to the mirror hanging on the back of the office door. She was still dressed in the clothes she wore on the island.
    Even after just a day of saltwater and sand, they looked a bit ragged. But she didn’t have time to buy something new. Maybe it was best to remind him of their time together. He’d worn her pareu and removed her T-shirt. If he saw her dressed in these clothes, he’d remember.
    Sophie raked her hands through her hair. She’d lost the scarf she’d worn that day in the plane, but it didn’t matter. Staring at herself in the mirror, she gathered herself, calmed her emotions and thought about what she’d say to him.
    “Sophie?”
    She recognized the voice as soon as he said her name. Sophie closed her eyes and cursed softly because it wasn’t the voice she wanted to hear. Gabe stood outside the office door, his cap in one hand and a small bouquet of flowers in the other.
    “Hi,” Sophie murmured. Gabe held out the flowers and she took them. “What are these for?”
    He shifted on his feet, twisting his cap back and forth in his hands. “When I found out your plane had gone down, I was very worried, Sophie. And sad. Very sad because it made me realize how much you mean to me. And how I never really told you this.”
    Sophie held up her hand. “You don’t have to-”
    “I know we said we would not see each other anymore, but I want you to know my feelings haven’t changed. I am still very fond of you, Sophie. And I thought, perhaps, we might go out some night and…talk. Or eat. Or both.”
    Sophie opened her mouth, prepared to make some feeble excuse. Though Gabe was incredibly attractive, very available and one of the nicest people she’d ever met, there had never been a spark between them. Not like there had been with Trey.
    But then, Trey wasn’t available. Was this how it was to be? Sophie wondered. Would she compare every man she met to Trey Shelton? Maybe it was time to open herself up to new possibilities. Though Trey had allowed her to trust again, she wasn’t about to let his behavior set her back. She was stronger than that.
    Sophie held the flowers up to her nose and drew a deep breath. It was time to get out there and try again. Even if it was with a man who seemed more like a brother than a lover. “All right. But I’m going to be very busy this week trying to get the plane back from Suaneva. How about next week?”
    Gabe nodded, a warm smile breaking across his face. “Sure,” he said. “And I can help you with the plane. I’ll fly you out there and take a look at it. We’ll get it back up in the air in no time.”
    “Yes,” Sophie said, warmed by his thoughtful offer.
    Gabe glanced around nervously. “Well, I promised your father I’d fly you both home. I’ll go pick him up from the patisserie and we’ll be on our way.”
    “Thank you,” Sophie said, reaching out to touch his hand. “For coming to get me. And for the flowers.”
    He nodded, then turned and walked to the door. When it slammed behind him, Sophie let out a tightly held breath. She returned to the office and plopped down in the chair, then put her head down on the desk.
    Suddenly, she felt exhausted. It was no wonder. A life-and-death landing in the lagoon, followed by nonstop sex was enough to make anyone want to curl up in bed and sleep for three or four days. In truth, she wanted to sleep so she wouldn’t have to think about Trey.
    Tears pressed at the corners of her eyes, but she stubbornly pushed them back. She wouldn’t get emotional about this. Instead, Sophie would look at their relationship for what it was-short, sweet and incredibly satisfying. She closed her eyes and let her thoughts drift, back to the island, back to the man who’d made her body ache with desire.
    “Sophie?”
    At first she thought she was dreaming. But then Sophie opened her eyes and saw him standing in the doorway of the office.
    “Are you all right?” Trey asked.
    Pressing her hand to her heart, Sophie felt her pulse begin to race. He’d showered and changed and he looked so different from the man she’d grown to love on the island. He wore a loose cotton shirt with a flower tucked into the pocket and shorts that revealed his long, muscular legs.
    His face was a bit sunburned and his hair looked a little lighter than she remembered. But his eyes were the same beautiful shade of hazel and his smile still made her blood warm.
    “I-I didn’t think I’d find you here,” he said.
    “I’m here.” Sophie slowly stood, twisting her fingers together in front of her, holding tight to calm her nerves.
    Trey reached out to touch her, then let his hand drop to his side. “I’m sorry.”
    “Yes,” Sophie murmured, staring down at her feet. “You probably are. She’s very pretty. I can understand why you’re with her. And it’s fine. We don’t have any claim on each other and-”
    “I’m not with Tania.”
    “Then she’s back at the hotel?”
    “Yes.” He frowned. “I mean, no. She’s not here. She’s not with me. She’s not with me.” He reached out and took her shoulders in his hands, giving her a gentle squeeze. “Sophie, Tania and I haven’t seen each other for six months. There’s nothing between us.”
    “But one of the reporters told me-”
    “He’s wrong. Trust me on this. Do you honestly think I’d choose her before you?”
    “She’s beautiful,” Sophie said.
    “You’re beautiful,” he countered. “You are everything I’ve been looking for all my life. The funny thing is, I didn’t know I was looking until I found you. And now that I have, I’m not going to let you go.”
    Sophie swallowed hard. Was she hearing this right? She’d been so stunned to learn Trey wasn’t engaged that she’d forgotten to listen to the rest. “You want me?”
    “Yes.” He bent close and kissed her gently. “Yes, yes, yes.”
    A long silence grew between them as Sophie regarded him suspiciously. She wanted to believe him. The truth was there in his eyes. “I want you, too,” she said softly.
    It was a risk she had to take, but for the first time in her life, Sophie knew it was the right risk. A giggle slipped from her lips. “I was going to go to your press conference and demand you tell me the truth.”
    He grinned. “That would have been nice. We could always drive back to the hotel and you could do that. Tell them what a great guy I am and how I built fire on the island and made a hammock.”
    “You’re missing your press conference?”
    “I don’t need a press conference,” he said. “I’m going to be out of the public eye for a while. For the next fifty or sixty years. I’m hoping they’ll soon forget about me.”
    “What are you going to do?”
    “Well, first, I’m going to take you out to lunch and then we’re going to go back to my hotel and we’re going to take a long bubble bath. And then, I need you to take the nail polish off my toes.”
    “No, I meant what are you going to do. About your work, your job,” Sophie said.
    “I’m going to build my resort. I told my father about my idea and he thought it was a good one. He’s going to back me on it financially. I’m going to move here while it’s being built. And after that, we’ll see what happens.”
    “You’re staying here?”
    He nodded and Sophie felt a smile break across her face. She couldn’t help it. She wanted to pretend she didn’t care, but she did. And if Trey was here on the island, they’d have plenty of time to explore all these new and wonderful feelings.
    “So, now that I’m staying, I was wondering if you’d be my girl.”
    “What would that mean?”
    “It would mean that when Gabe puts his arm around your shoulder, you’ll tell him you’ve got a boyfriend. And when I have to go back to the States for business, you’ll come with me. And we’ll maybe spend the night with each other occasionally. Or always. Your choice.”
    Sophie wrapped her arms around Trey’s neck and pressed her body against his. She gave him a sweet, tantalizing kiss. “I think that sounds like a good idea. Especially the always part.”
    Trey nodded. “Then there’s only one thing to do.” He stepped out of her embrace and reached for the flower he’d tucked in his pocket. He brushed it across her lower lip, before tucking it behind Sophie’s left ear. “There. That makes it official. You’re taken.”
    “Yes, I am,” Sophie said. With a laugh, she threw herself into his arms and kissed him fiercely. She would have a man for the New Year, and not just a lover, but a friend. And if all went well, they’d have many New Years to come. Suddenly, life seemed full of possibilities. And the islands didn’t seem so small after all.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Kate Hoffmann lives in a small town in southeastern Wisconsin with her two cats and her computer. In her spare time she enjoys golf, genealogy and gardening. She is also involved in local musical and theater activities with high school students.

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