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Game Of Scones: a feel-good summer romance for 2018!

Game Of Scones: a feel-good summer romance for 2018!
Game Of Scones: a feel-good summer romance for 2018! Samantha Tonge ‘This was the ultimate summer read and I enjoyed every page and every word. A little slice of paradise.’ - Jenny in NeverlandA story of icing and flour… and how love doesn’t always go to plan!Growing up, Pippa Pattinson’s summers were spent in the idyllic Greek island fishing village of Taxos. There she spent many long hazy days determinedly ignoring thoughts of the life her parents had mapped out for her (a dreary-but-secure accounting job and obligatory sensible husband!) Instead she daydreamed of running her own tea shop – serving the perfect scones – with mocha-eyed childhood friend Niklaus by her side…Arriving back in Taxos for the first time in years, with suave boyfriend Henrik, Pippa barely recognises the tired little town – but is relieved to catch glimpses of the quaint, charming village she’s always loved. Together Niklaus and Pippa put together a proposal to save Taxos from tourist-tastic ruin, and at the heart of their plan is Pippa’s dream project: The Tastiest Little Tea Shop in Taxos. It’s time for Pippa to leave her London life behind and dust off her scone recipe that’s guaranteed to win over both locals and visitors. And amidst the rolling pins and raisins, it seems romance is blossoming where she’s least expecting it…Loved Game of Scones then don’t miss Breakfast Under a Cornish Sun – out soon!This sizzling summer read is perfect for fans of Lindsey Kelk and Debbie JohnsonWhat reviewers are saying about Game of Scones‘The perfect book to kick start your summer reading… A gloriously fun read which does not disappoint.’ – Book Addict Shaun‘a great escapist read that is still well written and character lead.’ – The Price is Usually Right‘an enjoyable light read with a good story and characters. The baking element of the story is also an enjoyable aspect… An enjoyable read for summer.’ – Chick Lit Central‘I loved Game of Scones… and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a HEA steeped in friendship, tradition, location, and yummy desserts.’ – Harlequin Junkie A story of icing and flour…and how love doesn’t always go to plan! Growing up, Pippa Pattinson’s summers were spent in the idyllic Greek island fishing village of Taxos. There she spent many long hazy days determinedly ignoring thoughts of the life her parents had mapped out for her (a dreary-but-secure accounting job and obligatory sensible husband!). Instead she daydreamed of running her own teashop – serving the perfect scones – with mocha-eyed childhood friend Niko by her side… Arriving back in Taxos for the first time in years, with suave boyfriend Henrik, Pippa barely recognises the tired little town – but is relieved to catch glimpses of the quaint, charming village she’s always loved. Together Niko and Pippa put together a proposal to save Taxos from tourist-tastic ruin, and at the heart of their plan is Pippa’s dream project – The Tastiest Little Teashop in Taxos. It’s time for Pippa to leave her London life behind and dust off her scone recipe that’s guaranteed to win over both locals and visitors. And amidst the rolling pins and raisins, it seems romance is blossoming where she’s least expecting it… If you’re a fan of Lindsey Kelk or Lucy Diamond then don’t hesitate to step into Samantha Tonge’s truly delightful teashop. Also by Samantha Tonge Doubting Abbey From Paris with Love Mistletoe Mansion Game of Scones Samantha Tonge Copyright (#ulink_a0a8e6f6-e49c-5ebf-9c2a-7ad425dde208) HQ An imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd. 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF First published in Great Britain by HQ in 2015 Copyright © Samantha Tonge 2015 Samantha Tonge asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work. A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins. E-book Edition © June 2015 ISBN: 9781474034029 Version date: 2018-07-23 SAMANTHA TONGE lives in Cheshire with her lovely family and two cats who think they are dogs. Along with writing, her days are spent cycling, willing cakes to rise and avoiding housework. A love of fiction developed as a child, when she was known for reading Enid Blyton books in the bath. A desire to write bubbled away in the background whilst she pursued other careers, including a fun stint working at Disneyland Paris. Formally trained as a linguist, Samantha now likes nothing more than holing herself up in the spare room, in front of the keyboard. Writing romantic comedy novels is her passion. http://samanthatonge.co.uk/ (http://samanthatonge.co.uk/) http://doubtingabbey.blogspot.co.uk/ (http://doubtingabbey.blogspot.co.uk/) http://pinkinkladies.wordpress.com/ (http://pinkinkladies.wordpress.com/) Acknowledgements Firstly, I’d like to thank my hardworking, lovely editor Lucy Gilmour, along with the rest of the dedicated HQ Digital UK team. Thanks also to Kate Nash for her input. HQ Digital UK authors, I love you guys, thanks for brightening every working day. Hugs to Martin, Immy and Jay for their continued support. Appreciation to my many online friends who always know when to offer virtual chocolate. And a big shout-out to all those wonderful bloggers who generously give up their spare time to help us authors promote our books. A special thank you goes to Frank de Jong, the very charming KLM flight attendant I met on the way back from Japan who inspired the character of Henrik. Thanks Frank, for putting up with my emails and requests for photos; for not running a mile when KLM tracked you down, having heard me chat about this book’s “hot Dutch hero” on Twitter. Of course, these acknowledgements wouldn’t be complete without mentioning my favourite Game of Thrones characters Tyrion, Daenerys and Jon Snow. George R R Martin, I salute you! My darling Immy, this one’s for you! Contents Cover (#uc0f5215f-f6ce-5637-bf83-2b3ffc063e42) Blurb (#u23d6ed8b-b331-55cc-bac4-a5d16d5d7fac) Title Page (#u22830b25-38de-5459-979b-65e6cfe4e8da) Copyright (#ulink_073af24c-7460-56f7-a9ea-9ed7d52e36f0) Author Bio (#ubb48347c-7d1f-5d29-a338-131c0754a177) Dedication (#u0a1a3073-3a0d-5507-bb35-c88fffa3dc3e) Chapter One (#ulink_85bf822d-55e6-540d-b204-226f47079b7b) Chapter Two (#ulink_68eafc25-ca65-57a8-8afc-dbc155fe08e5) Chapter Three (#ulink_8fbbaae5-8d84-5f42-bb27-9d775241fbbe) Chapter Four (#ulink_cc911bde-d76d-5b45-a065-265fa99d7641) Chapter Five (#ulink_02ad7660-c4a3-549b-a86b-7b76a99d88ee) Chapter Six (#ulink_05235a38-dff8-545a-9889-8cc66959c43d) Chapter Seven (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Eight (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Nine (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Ten (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Eleven (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twelve (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Thirteen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Fourteen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Fifteen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Sixteen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Seventeen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Eighteen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Nineteen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twenty (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twenty-One (#litres_trial_promo) Endpages (#litres_trial_promo) About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter One (#ulink_5e57039b-a63c-532f-a9b7-30bb5204e15f) Word to the wise: never Google “Dutch” and “Sex” in the same sentence. Mmm, tempted you, haven’t I? A graphic image hovered in my mind, after I closed the page on my browser. Really? How was that even possible? With a brief smile, I put my phone on the coffee table and snuggled back into the black leather sofa. On my lap lay a pen and sheet of paper. For important decisions, I had to map out my thoughts the old-fashioned way. On one side I’d scrawled a list titled HEAD: reasons for staying together. On the other, HEART: reasons for breaking up. Breaking up, that was, from my six foot four boyfriend, Henrik from Holland. Okay, so he was only half-Dutch, thanks to his mum Greta, a divorced liberalist, who strutted around her house half- naked. However, he showed several of the stereotypical characteristics of a Dutchman that I’d just discovered on the internet, in a bid to come to a decision about our future. Despite Henrik’s ever-increasing earnings as a real estate developer, he counted every single penny. Plus he could be direct to the point of sounding rude – although I just called that honesty. On the plus side… what can I say, his lack of inhibition in the bedroom had rubbed off onto missionary-position me. Talk about fifty shades of yay! In fact, on hearing that Christian Grey’s safe word was “red”, for a joke we’d set ours as “pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis”, the longest word in the English language. Just as well our love life, whilst adventurous, didn’t really include risky whips, clamps or cable ties. A picture of Henrik came into my mind, with his slicked-back oat-coloured hair, Atlas shoulders and Titan height. This guy had the swoon-factor in excess – or at least that’s how I used to feel, until recent months. The first time our eyes had locked, his crinkled in a way that made me feel like a teenager crushing on a boyband. What’s more he was ambitious – for both of us – could wire a plug, kept fit and cooked a mean bowl of pasta… Gushing now, wasn’t I, as the list under HEAD (to stay with him) grew longer? It sounds shallow, but hands up, I’ve been constantly bowled over by his Hollywood looks – until lately when, for some reason, his super suave appearance has grated. I know. Ridiculous. Talk about picky. Yet, thanks to my maths degree, I am analytical to the extreme, which means weighing up all the evidence – including my gut feelings. So I’d almost come to a decision – that just this once, I should listen to my heart and tell myself I’m actually not being silly. Despite Henrik’s considerable physical assets and appealing personality traits, my head needed to listen to my heart shouting that our relationship no longer felt right. With a sigh, I stood up, went into the bedroom and slipped out of my trouser suit. I yawned. Would my body ever get used to the six a.m. starts, one hour commute to work and busy days in my power suit? Without concealer, dark rings circled my eyes and at night my brain found it hard to switch off. Henrik was the same, both of us often working in bed on our laptops. But that was good, right? Showed we were motivated and getting the most out of life? Carefully I hung up my suit, pulled on cut-off jeans and a T-shirt, and headed into the open-plan kitchen. I tied a cake-themed apron around my waist. After one last look at my list, I tucked it into the front pocket. Now, flour, butter, milk, sugar… what flavour of scone would I bake today? Late afternoon sunbeams warmed my face and I gazed out of the window, onto the small regimental garden. Such a bright summer’s day called for sun cream-smelling desiccated coconut with a zing of fresh lemon juice… I sieved the flour and rubbed in the butter, enjoying the sticky sensation. Scones were brilliant – like a blank canvas, you could colour with either a savoury or sweet theme. What’s more, gently kneading the dough, after adding the milk and sugar, never failed to lessen worries… It was the one time of day I took an hour out and emptied my mind of sums and equations. Stressed or happy, nothing beat creating something scrumptious out of such basic ingredients. However, you had to be careful not to pummel the mixture too much. Ideally, before you cut out shapes, the dough should still feel crumbly. Over the years I’d picked up the tips for perfect scones – keep the butter cold to improve the rise, too much milk would make the dough tough, and scones do best on a hot oven’s top shelf. I jumped as the front door to our swanky ground-floor Notting Hill flat opened and slammed shut. ‘Had a good day?’ I said and turned around to face Henrik. He leant down to brush my lips with his. At five foot ten, my inner cavewoman had always loved the rare experience of a man towering over me. I used to think he’d make a heartbreaker of a uniformed hero, like a scrubbed-up surgeon or cabin crew member. ‘The best, thanks – but nothing compared to this evening when I’ll reveal a surprise.’ He put his shiny briefcase on the laminate floor. Not for the first time, I appreciated how well an expensive suit showed off his athletic outline. Henrik removed his jacket, slipped off his tie and undid the top two shirt buttons. This revealed a patch of tanned chest that I’d have once found tantalising, in the extreme. Henrik led me to the sofa. My stomach had lurched when he mentioned a surprise, thanks to a recent night out with Greta, who’d texted, asking to meet. ‘My boy is about to propose to you,’ she’d said after too many gins. ‘Marriage can get messy – make sure you carefully consider your reply.’ Despite feeling annoyed on his behalf, at her indiscretion, I secretly appreciated the heads-up – but hence the pressure on me to make up my mind about her son. I’d rather break up with him before any proposal, to avoid bruising his pride even more – to not witness the hurt on his face if I refused to accept a ring. My mind swirled for a moment. But what else could this surprise be? His eyes shone and his smile exuded warmth, so it was unlikely to be something he’d dislike announcing such as… a promotion abroad or him wanting to break up with me. ‘Tell me about your day first, Pippa Pattinson,’ said Henrik. ‘How is the new team that you’re overseeing?’ We sat down, hips and legs touching. The list in my front pocket rustled and with a grin he plucked the sheet of paper out of my apron. ‘I can’t believe you still have to consult recipes, after all the baking practice you’ve had. What’s on the menu today?’ He waved the list in the air, before turning away to unfold it. With a squeal I draped my arms around his taut waist, jostling for the paper. My heart thumped. What if he read it? Did I really want to split up? Would he be upset or agree with me that things between us had changed? Either way, I wasn’t yet ready for a confrontation. My knotted stomach unfurled as he chuckled and gave it back. ‘It’s, um, also a surprise,’ I said, cheeks burning as I stuffed the list back into my apron pocket and folded my arms. His lips twitched into a smile. ‘Bet it won’t be as big as mine.’ Henrik had the knack for surprising people, as his mum found out last month. He arranged an amazing fiftieth birthday spa morning for Greta and her best friends, followed by afternoon tea at The Ritz. My arms loosened and out of habit, our fingers intertwined. In truth, his caring nature had been the biggest turn-on of all, although just occasionally I wished conscientious Henrik could be a little less perfect and forget someone’s birthday. Again, urgh! Talk about ungrateful. The prospect of a proposal from such an impeccable lover should make me super-happy. ‘Today was okay, thanks. Although the customer service supervisor is twice my age and probably considers me too young to be training for management.’ I shrugged. ‘But that’s not new territory for me. She seems hardworking…’ Plus had the cutest photo of a cat on her desk – must ask her about that. ‘And the vending machine?’ he asked, with a serious expression. I smiled and gave the thumbs up, my heartbeat having returned to its normal pace. It was our little joke – whatever office we worked in or visited, we rated it by the supply of drinks. A rich mochaccino or creamy latte never failed to perk up a gruelling day. Henrik tucked a loose strand of hair behind my ear. ‘I’m so proud of you, Pips, you’re zooming through the bank’s trainee manager internship. It seems like only yesterday you graduated from university.’ My eyes tingled. More supportive than an under-wired bra, how could faultless Henrik not be the ideal man? Yet over the last few months, a slight sense of unease had crept over me, because of phone calls he’d leave the room to deal with… Then there were really late nights at the office and unexpected trips that totted up more air miles than ever… But then why would he bother cheating? He could just end the relationship. When I’d asked, Henrik said, in an excited voice, that the company was developing fast and it meant more man hours if he was going to get promotion. I sighed. Okay. Really my suspicions were unfounded – Henrik hid nothing in life, including his One Direction CD and tub of anti-ageing cream. So onto the main reason that I’d recently felt he and I fitted together no better than a phone with the wrong charger… If you’d only ever had one proper relationship to talk of (um, life’s been busy,) how do you know if you’re really head-over-heels? Movies rave about love at first sight… Sex scenes on telly show couples tearing each other’s clothes off. Occasionally I still felt leg-trembly over my boyfriend’s movie star looks, but physical attraction aside, what remained? Was Henrik my soulmate out of bed, or even in it? Lordy, now I sounded like Carrie Bradshaw typing questions into her computer, in Sex and the City… But tons of thoughts had swirled in my head these last few weeks, without getting answers. Perhaps I’d overdosed on romantic novels, which talked of fairy tale meant-to-be’s. Plus, I should be grateful for our fancy executive lifestyle, despite dreaming as a youngster I would one day own an old-fashioned afternoon teashop. I know – mad idea, wasn’t it? My lips tugged upwards. High-flying Mum and Dad were having none of it. They’d pushed me to do a maths degree, little knowing I attended baking classes on the quiet. Just as a hobby, of course, not that Henrik understood why I’d waste my mathematical brain on creating something that fed your body and not your mind. My chest glowed as I thought back to many summers spent in Taxos, a little fishing village on the northern coast of the Greek island, Kos. Having been sent to boarding school from the age of seven, it was the only time I saw my jet-setting parents consecutively, for every day of one month. ‘What are you thinking about? asked Henrik, as I felt a dreamy look come over my face. ‘Taxos. Georgios and Sophia.’ Mum and Dad’s good friends who used to be like a second set of parents to me. ‘Ah, yes. Pleasant people.’ ‘You got on well with them in January, didn’t you?’ Henrik shrugged. ‘I guess. Not that I could spent much time at their taverna. Jeez, dead as the tourist market in the Ukraine, that restaurant was,’ he said. ‘If the people of Taxos have poor summer takings, it must be a real struggle to make ends meet during the low season.’ Urgh, that was a harsh comparison, but remember what I said about the Dutch speaking their mind? A trait that could be highly uncomfortable or rather refreshing… In fact, it was one thing I’d always found attractive about him – his total transparency. ‘Although Georgios did take me to the wetlands, to watch wading flamingos… Never far from his binoculars, is he?’ I grinned. ‘Sounds like some things haven’t changed. Dad used to tease him about looking for dollybirds.’ I don’t think we ever did explain that joke. ‘You might get a shock when you see Taxos again.’ Henrik shook his head. ‘The recession has taken its toll.’ That’s what worried me. I bit my lip. Six months ago he’d gone over as a favour to Mum and Dad when they received word that their villa had flooded. Henrik had a business meeting on the Greek mainland anyway, and said his employer – ThinkBig Development – could pay for the detour. He was always flying off to meet foreign builders or architects, since ThinkBig had branched out into Europe. ‘I never asked – did you at least try Georgios’ homemade retsina?’ I gave a grin. ‘Yep – didn’t think you’d want the details as I was as ill as a dog the next day.’ He pulled a face. ‘Have you ever stuck your head down a Greek toilet? I can confirm that the flushing system copes with vomit as poorly as it does loo paper.’ I giggled. Yet I’d always envied everything about my Kos friends’ simple lives, rearing their own meat, growing vegetables and fermenting their own wine. ‘How long is it exactly since you’ve been there?’ said Henrik and stretched back against the sofa, hands behind his head. I thought for a moment. ‘Wow. Nine years – the last time I was fourteen and had just chosen my GCSE options. Then life got busy with exams, sixth form, university, getting a new job, renting this gorgeous flat with you…’ My chest tightened as I recalled comments Henrik had made about empty Taxos properties and rundown businesses… Of Georgios and Sophia’s home needing a good lick of paint… Although I cheered up as an image of their cheeky son Nikolaos – Niko – popped into my mind. ‘It’ll be a change for you, to be on a beach during your days off, instead of on the piste, during one of our usual ski breaks.’ I nodded. Even our holidays were busy these days, navigating snowy slopes or trekking up challenging mountains. Relaxing images floated into my mind of the many summers Niko and I had spent together, climbing olive trees, chasing goats or diving for pretty shells. The clear waters and marine life inspired a love of tropical fish, and ever since my thirteenth birthday I’d owned the biggest heated tank I could afford. My current one was home to three angelfish, two mini shark fish and some colourful snails. I sighed, almost smelling the briny air of Taxos beach. ‘On my last visit, Niko would have been fourteen like me and was sponge-diving and fishing with his Uncle Christos and helping out in the taverna… What’s he doing now?’ Henrik shrugged. ‘Much the same, from what I could tell.’ No surprise there. Niko never had aspirations to leave home and travel the world. Even as a young boy, he’d say “Like fertile soil, Taxos will provide everything I need for a lifetime of happiness”. I kind of admired the confidence he had in his little hometown. And despite me studying and ultimately heading for university, we’d still had lots in common, that last summer – a love of nature and food plus the ability to tease each other mercilessly. Niko would call pink-hating teenage me Tomboy and being the tallest, I named him Shorty. We used to spend hours watching turtles and both joined the World Wildlife Fund. ‘It was good of Mum and Dad to invite me on their annual visit this August,’ I said and loosened my ponytail. And for three consecutive weeks! I’d never left my desk for that long, but since my chat with Greta, since my feelings for Henrik had shifted, I needed a good amount of time away from the daily grind, to think about our relationship. Fortunately work had insisted it wasn’t a problem, even though I’d just moved departments, due to all the unpaid overtime I’d happily put in, over the last two years. ‘I’ve always loved Taxos for being so untouched by the glitzy eighteen-to-thirty crowd. You experience a real slice of authentic Greek life.’ Henrik’s jaw tightened and he fiddled with his designer watch. ‘I’d say it was short-sighted of any Greek village to hark back to the old days, in these economically-challenged times. Taxos didn’t look to me as if it was doing well on feelings of nostalgia and the earnings from selling fish and olives.’ My head told me he was right, but just the thought of puking, drunken tourists invading that community made me feel like throwing up. I shook myself. ‘Anyway, it’s a shame you’ve got that big contract to work on and can’t go.’ I cleared my throat. Truth was, I felt as relieved as an ice cream finding shade that I only had seven days to go until I left. With that marriage proposal on the horizon, I needed to come to a decision about him, without the distraction of his seductive slate eyes. They only reminded me of how I’d felt about him when we’d first started dating. My own eyes misted up as I thought of struggling Taxos with its turquoise waters and shortbread sand – of my imaginary teashop where I’d do the school run, dance in the dark and wake with the birds. Oh, the hours Niko and I had spent thinking up ridiculous names for it: Scones Sweet Scones; Teacakes Ahoy; She Shells Cake; Shiver me Sandwiches. In the end, I’d plumped for Pippa’s Pantry. BORING, Niko had declared – cue a generous handful of hot sand down his back. I leant up against Henrik, wondering if I would miss him whilst out in Greece. He wanted kids, but not until our thirties and, like my parents, thought boarding school fitted the executive life best. A bustling family home like Georgios and Sophia’s wouldn’t suit him one jot. ‘Funny you should talk of Taxos, you see my surprise…’ Henrik sat upright and turned to face me. Eek! Greta’s words rung in my ears. Was her son about to propose and take me to Greece on honeymoon? Because his surprise certainly wouldn’t be chocolates or extravagant bouquets. Henrik wasn’t the chivalrous, romantic type, and would consider such gifts a waste of money. Which was good, right? I was a successful, independent woman, not a Disney princess – although if I was, it would have to be Snow White, with her love of birds and forest life. Not that I’ve, um, thought that through at all *clears throat*. Knights – or princes – in shining armour, I knew, belonged in fiction books. And Henrik always respected my modern outlook. He rarely gave out flowery compliments either – said I was far too intelligent to be patronised by such “tosh”. Neither of us could understand why I loved reading anything with a romantic theme. ‘Oh, goodness, is that the time…’ I rambled, desperate for a speedy exit. I moved forwards, to the edge of the sofa. ‘Sorry, I’ve got to go out right now, forgot I have Zumba and–’ ‘Whoa! Slow down, Pippa! Surely an exercise class can wait two minutes?’ Aarggh! There was no way out of this. As if already feeling apprehensive about an engagement ring, my left hand curled into a fist. ‘Guess what? Thanks to your parents and my boss, you’re in for a great holiday abroad.’ Like the detergent-blue Greek tide coming in, a growing sense of uneasiness washed over me. ‘As a thank you for me heading over to sort out the flooding mess, your mum and dad insist we have the villa to ourselves this summer. They will visit your aunt in Canada instead. My boss said he can just about afford to let me go for three weeks as long as…’ Henrik fiddled with his watch again, ‘…I find a few days to head off to Kos Town to tie up some business at our new offices there.’ ‘Since when did ThinkBig have offices on Kos island?’ I said, for a minute forgetting my total relief at him not having proposed. ‘Ignore all that for a minute – didn’t you hear? I’m coming with you, Pips! It’ll be just us, cocktails and waves… And who knows what could happen.’ Voice husky now, Henrik took my hand and – uh oh – ran his thumb over my wedding ring finger. Chapter Two (#ulink_7074d252-c028-5e8a-a3ae-052012798a72) ‘Us split up? Why?’ said Henrik, and his well-defined jaw dropped. He put down our cases in the lounge of our villa and straightened up. His head almost touched the ceiling built by much shorter Greeks. To avoid an answer, I gazed around. Nothing much had changed since my last visit. The wooden coffee table in the middle of the floor, on top of a mosaic rug… the cream sofa and armchairs… the paintings of fishing boats on the whitewashed walls… the vases of dried flowers… I glanced over at the kitchen with its gleaming white units, deep cornflower blue cupboard doors and spotless silver appliances. Plus the sturdy, rectangular breakfast bar in the middle, surrounded by high stools. The eating area had hardly been used seeing as Mum and Dad preferred to dine out. On the rear side were French patio doors, revealing the Aegean Sea in the distance, beyond a small dusty patio edged with trees and shrubs. ‘Um… I need to stretch my legs and could pick up some essentials like bread and milk. You’ve worked so hard this last week, Henrik, why don’t you unpack and take a dip in the pool?’ I gave a bright smile, knowing this would appeal to his practical side. ‘We’ve got the next two weeks in each other’s company. A couple of hours apart won’t kill.’ What? Did you really think I’d break up with him minutes after arriving in Greece? Where would be the sense in that, and talk about cruel? Plus…*sigh*… thanks to my head and heart tug-of-war, I still hadn’t quite come to a decision. ‘Okey doke.’ He shrugged. ‘Whatever suits. I know you get twitchy if we stay anywhere that doesn’t stock flour, milk, butter and eggs.’ Which was true – the scone-maker in me was never far away. Henrik jerked his head back towards the corridor, leading from the front door. ‘Which room is ours, that big one on the right – your mum and dad’s?’ ‘No way! That would be wrong.’ Henrik grinned. ‘The English are so uptight about things like that. So what if your parents have shagged in that bed?’ My shudder only fuelled his laugh. ‘We’re in the spare room, on the left, which has a lovely big bed.’ I led the way in, walked past the huge mosquito net, draped down from the ceiling, and headed for the round window. Like a small child, trying to spot Santa’s sleigh, I peered out. Henrik came up behind me and as he let out a whistle, his breath brushed my skin. ‘I’d forgotten this view of the sea. Talk about peacock blue.’ Gently he ran a hand up and down my bare left arm. ‘Sure I can’t tempt you to stay a bit longer? I’ve been dying to get you out of those shorts ever since we got off the plane. Why don’t I turn down the bedcovers?’ He kissed my neck, pulled away and within minutes uttered an expletive. I turned to see him fighting the mosquito net. Eventually he burst out laughing. ‘Jeez! This stuff makes the best form of contraception! Just look at my cool moves.’ He karate- chopped his long arms and became even more tangled. I couldn’t help giggling. Suddenly his phone belted out the Dutch national anthem – a nod to his roots, him being a mad fan of that country’s football team. Then, as had become his way of late, he mouthed “sorry” and after a moment’s more struggle, left the room to answer. Hooray! This gave me the perfect opportunity to head off into Taxos. What with my doubts, I’d found it nigh on impossible recently to… well, ahem, just “go through the motions” in bed, so it really was just as well we hadn’t signed any kind of Christian Grey contract. Call me old school, but I truly believed sex went hand-in-hand with love – unless there had been partaking of Prosecco. Fizzy alcohol had a lot to answer for in my life, including a Brazilian wax, one tiny tattoo (don’t ask where) and a snog with a university professor. My chest squeezed. Henrik being Henrik, he never complained. He’d simply ask, in his straightforward way, if it was that time of the month or bought Paracetamol when I’d pleaded stress headaches. On a relaxing holiday, sweetened by sun and cocktails, it might prove harder to avoid his flirtatious touch. Tip-toeing, I picked up my floppy hat and big bug-eye sunglasses from the lounge. Henrik didn’t look up as he sat next to a large folder, having brought work papers with him – or at least I’d assumed that’s what it contained. He’d kept the folder well sealed, muttering something about confidential documents. Suited me. I’d come away for a break from that office stuff and left my mobile phone on the kitchen worktop, before heading out of the front door. I admired terracotta pots bursting with bubblegum-pink flowers, and strolled past our gleaming white car – ThinkBig had left it at the airport for us, having apparently signed a good deal with Range Rover for their company’s transport. I made my way down the dusty road to my left, having glanced at the fire station opposite. A skinny tabby cat scooted past. It would be fifteen minutes’ walk before the village appeared. I suppressed a yawn. Although I’d slept on the four-hour flight, it had been a ridiculously early start. It was only just half past twelve now – and the hottest time of the day. Yet after all these years, curiosity reenergised me. Would Taxos live up to my memories? Mum and Dad’s villa had been built on the outskirts, for privacy, part of a cluster of four. Over the years, the others had always been full during the summer but now I noticed that two looked quite derelict, with worn “for sale” signs out the front. Smiling at an old woman, wearing a black dress and headscarf, I took in the wooded pine forests, either side. As perspiration glistened on my skin, I inhaled. Mmm. What a fabulous combination of cedar wood and salt. Some things hadn’t changed one iota – like the gentle island breeze and chirp of cicadas. Memories once again came back: Niko pointing out a glimmering shoal of sardines, as we sneakily snorkelled, instead of helping out with the melon harvest; the two of us munching on honey pastries in his parents’ taverna, sipping crafty sips of the grown-ups’ ouzo, whilst guests circle-danced. A grin spread over my face, as I realised just how much I was looking forward to seeing my former partner in crime. ‘Pippa!’ called a voice from the distance. Uh oh, Henrik must have expected me to stay longer. Despite the early afternoon heat, I sped up, wishing I’d worn sun cream as well as my shades and hat. Eventually the wooded area thinned, and the dusty road forked into three smaller, paved-over pedestrianised avenues, which I knew all led to the small port and postcard-perfect sea. Behind me a bus pulled up, at the last stop. No vehicles ran up and down the streets of Taxos. The only transport from hereon was cyclists and donkeys. The latter’s dung gave the village a distinct odour when the weather became really scorching. I gazed down the left fork, trying to remember the exact lay-out of the village. Let’s see… Down there would be the supermarket, post office and school, with great views of mountains in the distance, towards the south of the island. Then I turned my head to the right and far away spotted the blue dome of the church. That road led to a pottery workshop and gift store, run by Demetrios who now, ooh, had to be in his late thirties. He’d given up a bank job in the city to follow his artistic dreams, and with his last generous bonus had bought the premises and the equipment he needed. He’d let me and Niko make small pots and paint them. I narrowed my eyes at a maze of further avenues, lined with small whitewashed houses with blue painted doors and window shutters. Even quicker now, I made my way down the central walkway ahead, past houses and a cake shop run by Pandora – a friendly, fashionable woman. It still had the gilt painted window sills, and colourful potted plants outside, plus the sign swinging in the breeze, bearing a delicious looking drawing of chocolate cake. Then I past the Fish House and Olive Tree restaurants… Moving on, I glanced into the cycle shop owned by middle-aged Cosmo, whose back faced me. I remembered his skinny build and penchant for his mouth harmonica. I could just see him, through the dusty window and frames of bicycles leant up outside. The walls of his shop looked grubby and chipped. Right at the end, nearest to the boats and the water’s edge, stood Taxos Taverna, belonging to Niko’s family. My heart lurched at the cracked windowsills and door frame and decidedly weatherbeaten blue and white paintwork. The place looked empty inside, despite it being lunch time – in fact, the far half of it, the other side of its kitchens, looked completely closed down. I swallowed. The Olive Tree and Fish House had been the same – not buzzing with catchy Greek string music, nor pre-dinner smells of garlic and oregano. How tranquil it was for a Saturday. Just before reaching its front door, I stopped and stood in the shade of a nearby palm tree, a must thanks to my pale skin, smattering of freckles and red-tinted hair. I picked up one of the large, fallen leaves and fanned my face. It had been so long since I’d enjoyed a foreign summer break. I’d forgotten how sensitive I was to the Mediterranean rays. Niko used to tease me for living in a cap and long-sleeved blouse. Our complexions couldn’t have been more different, with his caramel skin and curly black hair. Feeling slightly queasy, despite my hat, I decided to visit Georgios and Sophia when I felt on better form. So I headed straight to the port and as soon as I could, left the concrete path and jumped down onto the beach. I approached the breaking waves, stepping across spiky sand lilies. Impatiently, I slipped off my ridiculously impractical high heels. Phew. I felt so much better, once I’d sat down and cool water lapped over my toes. Fishing boats bobbed gently nearby, now all tied up due to the heat sending everyone indoors. The local fisherman always used to head out first thing. The beach was empty, as was Caretta Cove, an inward curve of sand down to the left, named after the endangered species of turtle that used to nest there – the loggerhead turtle, to you and me. Taxos residents knew better than to sit out at midday. As the breeze lifted my fringe, a tightness inside me loosened up. It was good to be away from the stresses and strains of London life: my computer; the musty train journey to work; the artificial lighting in my office block. When was the last time I’d kicked back and relaxed without a phone or pen in my hand? I lay down, pulled my sunhat over my face and closed my eyes, revelling in the sound of lapping waves. ‘Oi!’ shouted an irritated voice from behind, ‘Me sinhorite!’ which I vaguely remembered meant “excuse me”. Really? The beach was deserted. Why would anyone need me to move? I kept my eyes firmly closed and pretended to sleep. ‘Woman! Move yourself, please. Now…’ said a man’s voice, in what could only be called Greeklish, pronouncing the consonants very strongly, with a slight roll on the Rs. Opening my eyes to roll them, I sat up and turned around. From behind my big glasses, I spied four men, heaving a small boat. Oops. I now realised I’d been lying directly on a path leading from a boatshed to the nearby ramshackle jetty. I jumped up and grabbed my shoes as they puffed past and was just about to say sorry when a young man at the back muttered “vlakas”. My cheeks felt hot and I folded my arms. Idiot? Me? How dare… Ooh, now my head started to throb and my mouth felt as if last night I’d drunk a litre of ouzo. I caught his eye as he stood knee-deep in water, the bottom half of his face hidden by a small mast. Feeling a bit weird, and not at all like myself, I held up my palm, fingers spread out (a milder equivalent of giving someone the finger in England). Without waiting to see his reaction, I spun around, just a bit too fast. The beach swayed, as if I really had drunk a bottle of that aniseed liquor. Bile shot up my throat. This has happened to me once before when I’d actually been sick and spent a day in bed with the headache from hell. ‘Oi! Not so polite, huh? But you, woman, were in the way.’ A man loomed into view. My vision was kind of blurred but, phooey, even I could see he was one hot stud! Perhaps he was a mirage. Just a bit taller than me, he stood, mocha eyes fiery, yet a hint of a smile on his lips. Plus a tight vest top that showed… well… You could tell he did physical work for a living. He was earthy, kind of ruffled – the opposite to well-groomed Henrik. I had a sudden urge to squeeze his neatly formed biceps, but instead pulled down my sunhat, worried my tongue might be hanging out like a puppy dog’s. ‘I’m not usually so rude, but you called me an idiot!’ I muttered. ‘Sorry, but I was struggling with half a ton of wood. Of all places to sunbathe, why you choose the runway between the–’ ‘I didn’t realise…’ I said. ‘It was an easy mistake. And I wasn’t sunbathing.’ ‘You no looked as if you were about to budge.’ ‘Budge? Good word,’ I muttered. He chuckled. ‘Okay, all is forgiven.’ ‘You forgive me?’ I shook my head, feeling too icky to remonstrate further, plus, oh God, any minute, this sun was once again going to make me throw up. If he didn’t get out the way, revenge for his vlakas comment really might be sweet – or rather sickly, and all down his shirt. The stranger stared at me and then, with a surprised tone, muttered something in Greek. With one swift movement, he leant forward to remove my glasses and hat. ‘It is you!’ He gasped. ‘I recognise that feisty tone anywhere – yet you have no idea who I am.’ But I was hardly listening and in reply promptly vomited over his leather sandals, before everything went black. Chapter Three (#ulink_ec8c78cd-35e4-55f4-892c-94f58408cf34) If this was heaven, then sorry Mum, Dad and Henrik, but I’m reluctant to come back to earth. Eyes still closed, I breathed in the comforting aroma of tomato and beef. Foreign voices muttered in the background. Cold air fanned across my face. Someone held my hand so gently, as if I were as valuable as a Fabergé egg. Eventually I opened my eyes to wooden beams above my head and ochre walls all around. Guitars, pots and plates filled slightly wonky shelves. A ceiling fan spun above. Squinting, I averted my eyes to focus on the person who sat by me, their fingers curled around mine, a leather bracelet around their wrist. Mmm. Caramel skin… a man with curly dark hair and mocha eyes full of concern… slanted lips… would they taste of olives or baklava? I shook myself. Honestly, I was practically engaged! The sun must have warped all sense of reason. Clearing my throat, I focussed again. Ah yes, the tight vest top… those frayed jeans… This was the guy who’d called me idiot; the guy whose shoes must be covered in sick. My stomach twisted slightly. Something was bugging me. The thick eyelashes… the way his head cocked slightly to the left… A voice in my head whispered that I’d seen him before today. ‘What happened?’ I mumbled. My vision sharpened and behind him stood two short middle-aged figures. The woman patted my shoulder before passing me a glass of water. I sat up and took a large sip, then set the drink on a scratched mahogany table. I looked up to say thank you and gasped. ‘Sophia?’ I gazed at the man next to her. ‘Georgios?’ Of course, I was in Taxos Taverna! I’d been lying on a sun lounger they must have brought in from outside. The wonky shelves… the familiar ochre walls… It all made sense now. So this man holding my hand had to be… ‘Niko?’ ‘Ya sou, Pippa,’ he said, eyes dancing, probably because of my dropped jaw. I scanned him from head to toe. Of course. How hadn’t I recognised him earlier? Despite the fuller build and inches he’d grown, there was no mistaking the slightly bent nose and mole just above his left eyebrow. Laughter lit up his eyes. I grinned back, leant forward and gave him a big hug. Eek! How embarrassing, that just for one minute earlier – well, a second… no, a nanosecond, really – I’d considered him hot stuff. ‘It’s great seeing you all again,’ I stuttered, hoping my breath didn’t smell of sick. ‘My parents send their love.’ ‘They shall visit us this evening, no?’ said Georgios. ‘We are so happy to see you. Tonight we celebrate.’ I loved the sound of the locals speaking English. Thanks to tourism, most people in Kos knew a smattering of my language – and many, like this dear family, much more than just a few essential phrases. ‘Afraid not. They are visiting my aunt in Canada. It’s just me here, with my… boyfriend, Henrik.’ Niko’s body stiffened, like a dog that had suddenly got a whiff of a cat. ‘Ah yes. We met him last winter.’ Georgios’ smile widened. ‘I introduced him to retsina. He was a little ill afterwards.’ ‘Talking of which, sorry about your sandals, Niko,’ I said. Georgios’ deep laugh bellowed out. Sophia punched her husband’s arm. ‘My little meatball, it is not funny. Poor Pippitsa has not been well.’ She came forward and kissed me on the forehead. Sophia hadn’t changed, apart from being just a little fuller around the waist. My chest glowed at the familiarity of her floral skirt, long hair scraped into a bun and friendly heart-shaped face. Playfully Niko shook a finger. ‘What a welcome you gave me, Pippa, although… sorry for calling you vlakas.’ My cheeks burned. ‘Sorry I palmed you – must have been due to sunstroke.’ ‘Enough of the apologies,’ said Georgios and ran a hand over his round, hairless head before stepping forward to give me a hug. He’d been bald as long as I’d known him, and still tried to make up for that with a big, black moustache. ‘Pippa, to see you back in Taxos after so many years, warms my heart. But before we exchange news, you eat, no? Let me fetch moussaka, or a fresh feta salad, with toasted pitta bread, like you always preferred.’ He raised his bushy eyebrows which were grey and didn’t match his moustache. ‘Both dishes sound lovely – although that moussaka smells divine. Efharisto.’ Some words, like “thank you”, had stuck in my mind. Sophia insisted on helping me to one of the tables, then took the sun lounger outside as a couple of blonde tourists trickled in – a rare sight, I suspected, in Taxos nowadays. On her return we chatted about my job and parents. Niko headed over to the diners, two young women. ‘Ya sas, ladeez,’ he said and soon they were laughing with him. Neither could take their eyes off my Greek childhood friend. No idea why. The fact that I couldn’t either meant, um, nothing at all. ‘Apollo?’ I said to a black cat that strolled over and meowed. I picked him up and tickled his chin, before running my hand over the soft fur. Niko eventually came back, carrying two plates of moussaka – not without winking at the tourists, as he passed them. Sophia left us alone at the table to catch up. Carefully, I put the purring cat down. ‘I can’t believe Apollo is still around.’ Niko forked up the juicy layers of meat and vegetables as if he’d not eaten for a week. Henrik would not have approved – back home, he never ate without a full set of cutlery and napkin. Several mouthfuls later, Niko paused for breath. A chuckle escaped his lips. ‘Sorry, hunger wins over manners when I’ve been out fishing all morning… Yes, Apollo does well – he is eighteen this year and still catching mice. And I can’t believe you’ve come back, Tomboy…’ His eyes shone. ‘Although I cannot call you that any more.’ He put down his fork and reached for my hand. ‘Those manicured nails – so mature and sophisticated, no? And your neatly tied-back hair… Where are those cute spots on your cheeks?’ ‘You mean freckles? I’ve discovered foundation – and hairbrushes. So, guilty as charged – I’ve grown up.’ Like two teenagers, we giggled. ‘That I see,’ he said, and for some reason the way he stared made my palms feel hot. ‘You happy, no, with your fancy bank job and living with Henrik, in London? In January he told us all about it.’ Gosh, I’d forgotten how intense his gaze was. I’d also forgotten Henrik until just now. But that was normal, right? I’d just blacked out. Ignoring the guilty twinge in my chest, I decided he was no doubt tucked up in the mosquito net, sleeping off several hard months of work and today’s early start. ‘Hmm my colleagues… London… Me and Henrik, it is… very nice.’ Niko burst out laughing. ‘Remember all those summers you taught me English? Rule one was NEVER use the word “nice”. You said it meant nothing at all.’ I bit my lip. ‘Well, my English teacher drilled that into me. He was my idol. I was a bit of a language geek back then.’ ‘But still…’ Niko picked up his fork again and toyed with a slice of melt-in-the-mouth aubergine, ignoring the cat’s hopeful stare. ‘You and Henrik… All you can say is it’s nice?’ ‘Yes – unlike you,’ I replied, in the frostiest voice I could muster. Sophia glanced over as once more we laughed. She looked from Niko, to me, then back at him and her mouth downturned for a moment. She exchanged a glance with her husband. Sophia’s whole demeanour couldn’t hide a sense of… not exactly disapproval but something negative. Niko seemed to sense it too and jerked his head towards my empty plate. ‘You and me – let’s get some fresh air,’ he said. ‘We take two orange granitas down to the beach. Siesta is almost over, it will be cooler and I know a shady spot.’ ‘Under the fig tree, by the disused boatshed, just before Caretta Cove – is it still the same?’ Niko’s face lit up. ‘You remember?’ I went to the bathroom to freshen up and when I returned Niko had prepared the slushy ice drinks. We went outside and I stared at the drinks in sealed paper cups, with straws. He shrugged. ‘We do takeaway drinks and food now. Times have been hard.’ ‘The other half of the taverna is closed down…’ ‘Yes. On a good day, we are lucky to fill just the half that is now open.’ I slipped my arm through his, enjoying the breeze which blew stronger. It was as if the last nine years apart hadn’t happened. In fact, I almost expected him to drop a beetle or handful of damp seaweed down my back. I sucked up the refreshing granita as we strolled down the left side of the beach and eventually came to a sprawling fig tree by a dilapidated building. In the distance stood the ash and green southern mountains, all hazy at the top. We sat on the sand underneath the tree. I removed my floppy hat and sunglasses and swatted away a wasp. ‘That was weird,’ I said. Niko raised an eyebrow. ‘Walking together, with you now taller than me. I couldn’t give you a piggy-back any more.’ ‘And look at you, in those fashionable heels.’ He gazed at my feet. ‘I forgot to change into my sandals,’ I said and kicked them off. Niko took my drink and put the two cups down by his side. ‘I no criticise, Pippa. You are a beautiful woman – more striking than the orange blush of a sunset. But then I always thought you were out of the ordinary. I…’ He shrugged. ‘I never thought I’d see you again.’ For a moment I lost myself in his mocha eyes and swallowed hard. Henrik would never say something like that. I shook myself. And quite right too. It was okay in books, but what modern woman needed to actually hear romantic mush? Yet my heart raced like it never used to years ago, in my Greek friend’s company. What was going on? Clearly the strong Aegean sun had a lot to answer for. I cleared my throat. ‘So, um, come on then – what’s the punchline?’ I leant back on my elbows. ‘Huh?’ ‘The joke… after that compliment.’ Niko’s eyes lost their intensity for a second and he grinned. ‘We used to laugh a lot, no? Okay… Would you feel happier if I said you look very nice instead?’ ‘Don’t you dare!’ I laughed and turned onto my front. ‘Does Cosmo still play his harmonica? Niko smiled. ‘All the time.’ ‘How about Demetrios? Remember the awful, wonky pots we made – is he married yet?’ ‘No. But he adopted four stray cats. How they are spoilt – he made each a food bowl with their name.’ ‘And is his shop still the only building in the village that isn’t painted white and blue?’ Niko nodded. ‘Yes, it is still the colour of aubergine, with ivy growing across the roof. Before the recession hit, Demetrios laid fancy tiles on the floor and bought a new kiln… So inside it has changed, but from the outside it still looks about one hundred years old, with the unlevel foundations that make it sink to the right.’ I grinned. ‘It’s good to be back.’ ‘How long for?’ ‘Three whole weeks.’ ‘Ah, yesis good. We can get to know each other again. I have missed you these last summers, Pippa.’ My stomach fluttered. I realised I’d missed him too. ‘You and Henrik…’ He bit his lip. ‘It is true love… forever, no?’ ‘Niko!’ I grinned. ‘We haven’t seen each other for so many years and within minutes you cut straight to the chase!’ ‘Huh… chase?’ His gaze bore straight through me. ‘We haven’t seen each other for nine years, Pippa. Time isn’t to waste. You are sure he’s good enough?’ I raised one eyebrow. ‘Why would you ask that?’ Niko glanced away. ‘It’s just… Ay, ignore me, Pippa. You are an intelligent woman who wouldn’t waste time on the wrong man.’ He stared at the sand. ‘No one could believe his size, when he visited in January. The village’s children called him Gigantes, after our country’s mythical giant tribe.’ A muscle in his cheek flinched. ‘And the women couldn’t do enough for your Dutch goliath. Young Alysia from next door managed to build up a secret album of photos of Henrik, taken on her mobile phone.’ I gazed sideways at him. ‘So, if we’re being so forthright, what about you? Has Nikolaos Sotiropoulos found the woman of his dreams?’ His cheeks flushed. ‘For a long time I’ve doubted I ever would, but life is full of surprises. Perhaps now…’ He squeezed my hand. ‘Fate has been kind to me.’ My stomach flipped. Surely not…? Could he mean me? No. This was Shorty, just a family friend, who used to scare me with grass snakes – at his peril, I might add, as I knew spiders gave him the shakes. I breathed in and out. Clearly the sun was messing with my brain. ‘So… Taxos… How are you all managing, with the recession?’ I mumbled, not quite sure what to say next. ‘Huh? Oh…’ Niko’s brow wrinkled and he drew circles in the sand with his finger. ‘Not good. I help Papa and Mama where I can, as a chef and waiter. Plus my cousin Stefan and I take out my uncle’s boat every morning to fish – after siesta we sponge-dive. But the locals watch every euro and there are only so many sponges you can sell to the neighbouring villages.’ He too lay on his front, so close it reminded me of when we’d hide, stretched out under tarpaulin, in the bottom of his uncle’s boat, to avoid our parents calling us in for bed. Niko nodded across the sand. ‘See Mrs Dellis, over there?’ The old lady was easy to pick out as the beach was still empty. Dressed in black, from her scarf to her shoes, she sat in a deckchair, under a large parasol. Two young children built sandcastles at her feet. By the side of them lay two red lilos. ‘I’m surprised to see them out in this midday heat,’ I said. He shrugged. ‘Two young boys must be hard for her to keep entertained. Their family is typical of many – her son-in-law lost his job as a website designer in Kos town. He’s gone back to farming the little land they have, with his wife, who makes cheese. They trade with farmers in neighbouring villages, try to sell jam and pickles as well, but is hard, especially in winter. More than ever grandparents look after children, whilst both parents work all hours.’ ‘How do your uncle and cousin manage – just by fishing?’ ‘My cousin and I have more physical strength now, so we’ve taken over. Uncle Christos gets shift- work cleaning, or as security at the airport, when he can.’ My eyes ran over Niko’s solid body. Despite being short as a child, he’d always been strong. A relaxed silence fell between us as I glanced at houses lining the beach, each blue and white, like the sand, like the sky; each with a boatshed that could have done with a lick of paint. Henrik had been right – the village did look rundown. Henrik. With a sigh I realised it was time to return to the villa. I hadn’t even bought any milk or bread. I glanced up at the tree branches overhanging us. Their big leaves shimmied in the wind. Plump, green figs drooped down, as shapely as any Kardashian bottom, a clear sign they were ripe. Niko followed my gaze, stood up and easily plucked one off. He lay down next to me again, caught my eye and I nodded. Just like in the old days, he rubbed it against his vest top before taking the first bite. Juice trickled out of the corner of his mouth as he passed me the other half. The cinnamon flesh glistened. I pushed it between my lips. Slowly I chewed, savouring its sweet lushness. ‘I’m glad you haven’t become too posh to eat the skin,’ said Niko and his mouth slanted into a smile. ‘I haven’t changed that much,’ I mumbled, as with his thumb, he gently wiped away juice from my chin. His hand lingered. Our eyes locked. The strangest sensation ran up and down my spine. As his pupils dilated, I wondered if mine were doing the same. ‘You still have those thick eyelashes,’ I murmured. ‘Remember you’d beg me to give you butterfly kisses,’ he said, eyes teasing. ‘You’d say “Niko, lean forward close and bat your eyelashes against mine”. The tickling sensation made your laugh sound like a braying donkey.’ I chuckled. ‘Go on – let’s do it, for… what do you say? For old clock’s sake.’ ‘Old time’s sake… ‘ His grin widened. ‘Unless… perhaps Pippa Pattinson is boring in her old age?’ I snorted. ‘Fine. Go ahead.’ Our faces neared by a centimetre. Then another. Despite the shade, my body felt as if I were lying on volcanic rock. He pressed right up close, his breath blowing against mine. Our eyelashes touched. What would happen if my mouth tilted just a few millimetres forwards? It was as if every cell in my body was magnetised to his. Oh God, all I could think of, right at this moment, was him. The memories, history between us, the laughter, silly arguments, the small scar above his lip… I shut my eyes, to be met with a kaleidoscope of colours, as if magical fairy dust swirled in my head. Wow. What was that? Unable to stop myself, eyes open now, I leant further forward, calling on all my willpower not to press my lips against his – although if I didn’t soon, my insides would surely explode… By now we held each other’s hands. Gently our noses met. It was as if time had stood still to shout “all those moments from your childhood were leading to this”. Was I still out cold from sunstroke? Was this all a dream? ‘Pippa! I thought you were shopping,’ hollered a familiar male voice, from behind. ‘What on earth are you doing?’ No, I was wide awake and with a jolt pulled away. Chapter Four (#ulink_21f8beca-735e-5da0-86e1-4611eb58e7c6) I swung around and got to my feet. Henrik approached, the wind almost blowing off his cap. He removed it himself to reveal Top Gun sunglasses. Behind him smiled a young Greek woman with a purple flower in her hair. ‘Sorry, Henrik,’ I stuttered, as he reached the fig tree. I brushed sand off my shorts. ‘Georgios and Sophia looked after me, you see, I fainted, then–’ ‘I know,’ he said. ‘They assumed you two had gone shopping for the food we need.’ He held out a hand to Niko. ‘Good to see you again, mate. Thanks for looking after Pippa.’ After a momentary pause, Niko held out his hand. I got the feeling Henrik’s “mate” was the last thing he wanted to be. ‘Niko’s granitas are hard to resist,’ said the woman as she eyed the empty cups. ‘Ya sou Pippa. I am Leila, pleasure to meet you – I guessed you two had come here to cool off.’ Oh the irony – during those butterfly kisses, I’d never felt so hot. Deep lines appeared in Henrik’s forehead, as he scanned my face. ‘I should have reminded you to put on sun cream. Why don’t you head back to the villa? I’ll get the groceries in.’ But I couldn’t stop staring at petite Leila. Not remembering her from my childhood, I studied the gathered skirt and blouse, the shiny raven hair draped down one shoulder and the small gold hoop earrings. She had a flavour of the exotic about her and what friendly eyes… Leila came forwards and with a shy expression hugged me tight. ‘Often Georgios, Sophia and Niko have talked about the Pattinson family, since I moved here with my parents six years ago – and Niko’s grandmother, Iris, tells tales of the tasty scones you baked her.’ ‘How is Grandma?’ My chest glowed at the thought of Georgios’ mum. I couldn’t wait to see her again. Nine years without her fiery words – but caring heart – had been too long. By now Niko had sat up, fig juice still at the corner of his mouth, vest top ruffled… His shoulders sagged. ‘Not the best, what with her being ill, the last year.’ Ill? My mouth went dry. ‘Whilst successful…’ his voice wavered, ‘…the treatment has been harsh. We see very small signs of improvement, of her blossoming back into the old Grandma – it is a gradual process, like the growth of oregano, a most slow-developing plant.’ He exchanged a look with Leila. She walked over as he stood up and squeezed his arm. ‘But a visit from you would cheer her up, Pippa,’ said Leila. I returned her nod, barely able to breathe for a moment. Grandma was strong. It couldn’t be that bad, otherwise the Sotiropoulos family would have surely contacted us back in England. ‘She talks of you often,’ said Niko. ‘I remember how you used to tell her everything.’ ‘Yes. Grandma was a great confidante.’ I gave a small smile. Which was true – Mum did her best but her mind often seemed elsewhere (the office, probably), whereas Grandma, who never stopped cooking or cleaning, still had the knack of knowing when to call me in for a fresh pastry and ask what was wrong. Like the summer after I’d fallen out with my best friend, or the year of my OCD phase. Gently she’d asked why I kept disappearing to the bathroom to wash. No one else had noticed. Grandma worked out I was fretting about the approaching autumn school term. I was due a new form tutor with a fearsome reputation. Grandma gave me her own Greek stress beads – but just talking about my worries had helped. And as usual she’d been right – rumours always tainted the truth and the new teacher turned out to be all right. ‘She’ll be okay, I’m sure,’ said Leila, in a voice as gentle as rustling olive tree leaves. Yes. She was right. No doubt when I visited, Grandma would still be baking and ordering everyone about – and asking me to sing (or at least whistle) her favourite Greek song about a sleeping cuckoo… I nodded at Leila, now unable to take my eyes off the way she easily held onto Niko. Henrik held out his hand. ‘Come on, Pips. Let’s head to the supermarket. I’m sure Niko and his fiancée would like some time alone, before the sponge-diving boats go out.’ He grinned at Niko. ‘Leila filled me in on your daily routine. It’s clearly not for the faint-hearted.’ My throat constricted and the oddest expression crossed Niko’s face. Fiancée? Engaged to be married? For some reason, an unpleasant sensation pierced my chest. Wow, what a flirt he’d become, for someone on the verge of exchanging marital vows. Pursing my lips, I stood transfixed to Leila’s right hand and a diamond, obvious now, twinkling in the sunlight. That explained why Sophia had looked uncomfortable, in the taverna, at my easy closeness with her son. My eyes scanned her face, those elegant arms, the tiny waist… What was not to like? No wonder my childhood friend had fallen for her charms. Plus she was softly spoken and had the prettiest smile… I swallowed hard and for the first time in a while, momentarily wished my frame was more petite. Niko spoke rapidly in Greek to this fiancée for a moment and then cleared his throat. ‘Look, Henrik, I don’t think Pippa’s up to shopping just yet – Leila will take you to the supermarket, yes? We’ll meet you back at my parents’ taverna.’ ‘It’s true,’ said Leila, ‘you look a little off-colour, Pippa. It makes me happy to help Henrik. I promised to look after my small cousins today, but not for another hour.’ ‘I’m absolutely fine,’ I replied in a bright voice. So, she was kind-hearted as well. But the happy Greek couple (who me, sarcastic?) were having none of it. Plus Henrik took little persuasion when Leila hinted Georgios might shout him a free beer. Within minutes the two of them were gone. I picked up my hat and sunglasses and turned to go. However, Niko grabbed my hand. ‘Pippa. Look, don’t go, I should have…’ Gently, I pulled away my fingers. ‘Whatever… Your personal life – it’s… it’s nothing to do with me.’ I coughed. ‘Congratulations. She seems lovely. Your parents must be thrilled.’ ‘Yes, but… look…before… about the butterfly kisses…’ I forced a laugh. ‘Look at us, trying to relive old times. What are we like? I’m… I’m glad you’ve found someone, like I’ve found Henrik.’ ‘About Leila… I was going to tell you, but–’ Urgh, give it up Niko, otherwise… too late. Prepare for an Epic Fail when it came to pretend civility. ‘But what? I saw the way you flirted with those guests back at the taverna. “Ladeez”? I mean, really? Then with me on the sand… all those mushy compliments… you never used to talk like that.’ I shook my head. ‘You were the last person I expected to turn into one of those bull-shitting Greek waiters determined to charm their way into customers’ good books and wallets.’ Damn my voice for wobbling, but what was he playing at? He stepped forward, eyes dull. ‘You really think that of me, Pippa? I bit my lip. ‘The things I said about you… every single one I meant.’ Yeah right – as beautiful as the blush of a sunset? Did I really fall for that rubbish? Henrik may not be the most romantic man in the world, but at least he was dead-straight. And for that quality alone, he was worth hanging onto. ‘Oh come on, admit it,’ I said, voice calmer now. ‘You’ve not given me one thought over these years. And I… I’d practically forgotten that annoying boy who used to pinch my sweets and ping the straps of my bikini top. It’s okay. Life moves on.’ ‘You’re even more attractive when angry,’ he said and smiled. I shook my head. ‘You could learn a lot from watching a famous film my mum loves, called Shirley Valentine… You might pick up some tips on how to get into foreign women’s knickers more quickly.’ Cheeks flushed scarlet, he scowled and promptly lifted off his vest top. He threw it on the ground. ‘Oh God, what now… Am I supposed to be impressed?’ I muttered. ‘Honestly, you’re unbelievable.’ Although… wow. Look at those pecs, clearly visible, as he’d not become nearly as hairy as his dad. Niko’s eyes sparked and he pointed to a line of small scars down the right side of his abdomen, an imperfection which contrasted Henrik’s smooth, unmarked chest. Annoyingly I longed to run my fingers – or my tongue (eek, did I really just think that?) across his deliciously firm, caramel skin. ‘You remember, no?’ he demanded. I stared for a moment, praying for some cold shower to hover over my head, like the snowman’s personal cloud in Frozen. Then it clicked. The jellyfish attack. It had happened during that last summer, when we’d both just turned fourteen. One stung me and I panicked. Swiftly Niko had swum over, through a cluster of them and dragged me out of the water. In the process he got trapped by tentacles and injured ten times worse than I was. ‘I would do it again in a heartbeat. And I’m grateful… This scar is a constant reminder of happy times – of our friendship. And–’ ‘Here we go, bullshit again. That’s like the Greek waiter in that film saying he loves Shirley Valentine‘s stretch marks.’ ‘Stretch marks?’ He shrugged. ‘I don’t understand the words but get your tone – after all those summers together, now you dove-hole me as some shallow playboy?’ ‘It’s pigeon-hole,’ I muttered. My stomach twisted. ‘Yes, well, I wouldn’t worry. Clearly Leila thinks you’re fabulous.’ ‘She is the fabulous one,’ he snapped. My throat ached as I thought back to her exotic appearance. What did Leila do for a living? Probably something super sexy, such as painting portraits or dancing. ‘Unlike Henrik,’ he continued. ‘You should know that last time he was here–’ A bloodcurdling scream pierced the air and dropping my glasses and hat, I span around. Old Mrs Dellis paced up and down, howling and pointing at the waves. The beach was still empty so I followed her finger and gasped. Mrs Dellis’ two small grandsons balanced precariously on red lilos, far out at sea, wailing almost as loudly as her. Niko ran towards the old woman. I followed his cue. Within a minute we were by her side. He spoke rapidly in Greek and in between more howls she responded. ‘Na para I eychi!’ muttered Niko (“damn” to you and me) and in a flash slipped out of his sandals and jeans. ‘Exhausted Mrs Dellis fell asleep,’ he barked. ‘Those kids snuck off with their inflatables, even though they are not allowed in the water on their own. This wind must have blown them out towards a current. Neither is good swimmer. If one of them falls off…’ We exchanged a brief look before Niko charged into the waves. Two hysterical kids and one adult? Nope, that wasn’t going to work. So thanks to the mathematician in me – and to the amazement of a few elderly locals who must have heard the commotion and come down to the beach – I pulled off my blouse and stepped quickly out of my shorts. Thank God I was wearing matching underwear and had recently waxed. Blocking out thoughts of jellyfish, I ran across the sand, to make up the numbers, flinching as one foot landed on something sharp before I hit the warm waves. Trouble was, that wind seemed twice as strong in the water, which increased the height of the waves – for every half-metre forward, I had to navigate a half-metre into the air. Bobbing up and down, I got flashes of the children’s faces scrunched up, lilos colliding. As saltwater filled my mouth, I suffered a coughing fit and Niko turned around. ‘Pippa? You crazee woman! Go back!’ he hollered. ‘Not likely. You’ll need help,’ I shouted. A scream cut through the air from the beach. I stared at the lilos. One of the children had fallen off – the eldest, by the looks of it. ‘Theo!’ shouted Niko, before disappearing from view himself. I also dived under the water. Just a few more metres and I’d be at the inflatables. Hundreds of white bubbles blocked my vision, but eventually I could just make out Niko’s muscular legs and the black curly head of a child. He dragged the boy up to the surface and we all came up for air. Spluttering, I glanced again at the lilos, whilst Niko tried to calm down Theo. Nausea backed up my throat. Both were empty, now. The youngest must have fallen in too. Oh skata (rude word, you can guess which one). I took a deep breath and dived again, leaving Niko to deal with Theo, who kept gagging and flapping his hands. Frantically I paddled my legs, arms tearing through the relentless current. Within seconds I was under the red plastic rectangles, exhausted, despite having only progressed a couple of metres. A clump of seaweed floated past and my eyes stung as I forced them to focus towards the inky black depths. With brilliant timing I recalled the film Jaws. Were great white sharks common in the Aegean? With all my might I pushed myself further downwards. Now all I could think about what how much I needed oxygen. Luxurious, fragrant Greek cedar air, wafting into my lungs… My chest burnt as something grabbed my leg. I pirouetted around, throat aching as I ran out of breath. Little fingers reached up. In one swift movement I ducked and put my hands beneath the boy’s armpits. Legs kicking wildly, I propelled us to the surface. ‘Pippa…’ Niko’s voice broke as my head shot above the water’s surface. Theo was back on one of the lilos. ‘Help!’ I yelled, my open mouth taking in more briny liquid. Somehow we dragged Theo’s brother onto the other lilo and turned him onto his side. The little boy suffered a violent coughing fit. Water and saliva spewed out of his mouth. He gagged several times and burst into tears. The knots in my stomach unfurled as crying probably meant he was all right. Niko ordered the children to lie on their fronts, on the lilos, and hold tight. By this time a group of fishermen had sailed out, towards us. Thank God. My whole body felt as heavy as the anchor I spotted on the boat’s side. After what seemed like five hours, not five minutes, they arrived, first hauling the boys to safety. Niko insisted I went next. He followed, panting for breath, and the four of us crouched on the wooden seats, me in between the two boys. A young fisherman, in a checked shirt, altered the angle of the sail, whilst his grey-bearded man companion wrapped the boys in towels and passed me a spare one. He avoided my eye. Ah yes. Of course. Just remembered my outfit consisted of one lacy bra and high-leg knickers. I wrapped the towel around my body, sarong-style, and wiped my mouth. Urgh. I hated that salty taste, and was that a slimy lace of seaweed down my back? My hair hung in rats’ tails, the tight bobble lost, as I slipped my arms around the children and cuddled them tight. My cheeks pricked and tingled like only fair skin does under the sun. Niko spoke to the crew, a couple of whom had clapped him on the shoulder. Whilst the boat swayed from side to side, I spotted two adults with Mrs Dellis, on the beach. All three waved madly. As we neared I could see their tear-stained faces. The young couple must have been the boys’ parents. A bigger crowd had assembled near the old jetty. As the boat hit the sand, the boys’ mum and dad rushed forward, wading into the water. Old Mrs Dellis was still wailing and wringing her bony hands. ‘Efharisto, efharisto,’ the boys’ family kept saying to me and Niko. In turn, we thanked the fishermen. A while later, Niko gave me a wry smile. ‘So here we are again,’ he muttered. Having escaped the congratulations of the crowd and beady eye of the local doctor, we stood under the fig tree, me back in my shorts and blouse. I picked up my hat and glasses. He leant forward and ran a thumb over my cheeks. ‘They’ll be painful later. Grandma swears that yogurt helps sunburn.’ I shrugged and turned to go, like I had a couple of hours before. ‘Pippa… No leave it like this…’ He held out a hand. ‘How you see me… it is not true. I’m no playboy. It’s just… I’m so pleased to see you again. Stay a while. Tell me about your life. Let’s catch up on the time we’ve been apart.’ I fought the urge to slip my hand into his. ‘Look, it’s great to see you too,’ I said, now over the shock of the change in him. Almost losing those boys gave a bit of perspective. ‘But I’m a Londoner now – part of the rat-race. An office worker. A suit wearer. Whereas you…’ I gazed around at the island… the lapping waves… the squawking seagulls… ‘We couldn’t be more different. And I’m here to spend time with Henrik. I mean, you are happy with Leila, right? Committed to spending the rest of your days with her?’ ‘Of course,’ said Niko quickly and for some reason averted his eyes. ‘Just like I am committed to honest, caring Henrik,’ I continued, shifting uncomfortably. Well, I hadn’t made my mind up yet. ‘Henrik? Honest? Pah, I can keep quiet no longer.’ He sneered. ‘This Dutch giant is up to something. Back in January he kept meeting Stavros Lakis, our local mayor. He is a sly figure, well-known for zooming around in his new white Range Rover, smoking fancy cigars and tricking people out of money. Wake up, Pippa, your tall, handsome boyfriend whose charm is legendary, is in fact a scoundrel, making some deal with the most corrupt man on the whole of Kos island…’ Chapter Five (#ulink_d14c3f3f-fdec-5574-94dd-ef86cfd836aa) I wrapped my arms around Niko’s neck. My fingers played with his curls. The teasing mouth quirked into a smile and like a mirror reflection, I’m guessing my lips quirked back. I couldn’t be more grateful to him, for pointing out the dark ways of clearly unwholesome Henrik. I mean, fancy him speaking to the dodgy town mayor. Without hesitation, I stripped off and lay down on a carpet of fallen fig leaves. Holding my hand up, I muttered ‘Ravish me, my little sea urchin… let your feelers do their work…’ Hmm. As if that was going to happen – me play right into that gigolo’s hands? Yes, “gigolo” – all civility had left me the moment he insulted my boyfriend. I’d snorted in Niko’s face and flounced off, dignity lacking due to my high heels wobbling in the sand. It was laughable. Henrik talking to an underhand mayor meant nothing, because as everyone else on this planet knew, corruption throughout the Greek establishment was rife. In fact it would be more suspicious if Henrik had talked to an official whose reputation was still intact. I glanced sideways, across the shell-white pillows. Slowly Henrik’s chest rose and dipped. Yesterday we’d spent just a quiet Sunday together, by the pool, managing with basic food provisions and… okay, if you must know, we finally made love again and it was… nice. Aarggh, and now I’d used a word that reminded me of Niko. But me realising what a jerk Niko had grown into, forced me to abandon my doubts and realise Henrik really was a catch. My head told me to grow up – that like oysters, not all men had something priceless inside. My man had lots of good qualities, like his honesty, and that should be enough. I jumped as someone knocked at the villa’s front door. Henrik yawned and went to sit up. I shushed him, slipped through a gap in the mosquito net and headed towards our little blue-painted front door, which I unlocked and pulled open. ‘Ya sou, Theo!’ I squinted in the sunlight and bent down to ruffle the black hair. The little boy stood next to his dad. ‘Miss Pattinson…’ Mr Dellis bowed his head. ‘Please, call me Pippa.’ I smiled and smoothed down my nightdress. Eek, by the position of the sun, it must have already been late morning. I yawned again. ‘Excuse me – we got woken up by the fire station last night.’ ‘Ah yes… There was a fire in a nightclub, further north – our crew went to help out. My brother is one of the team. Fortunately no one was hurt.’ Mr Dellis cleared his throat. ‘Pippa… again… Saturday – efharisto. It was dangerous. Like firemen, you risked your life – for my boy.’ ‘Efharisto,’ mumbled Theo, in a shy voice, from under the green sunhat he’d just put back on. ‘No problem,’ I said, chest glowing. ‘But as a thank you, we put on a little meal tonight and have booked Taxos Taverna for eight o’clock. Please say you and your boyfriend will be there. My family and I will treat you and Niko like the greatest of gods.’ My stomach twisted. Niko? Could I really face seeing him again, without my temper urging me to shower him with retsina and…. Oh no. Did I really just imagine what it would be like to lick it off? My ears burned. ‘There is no need, honestly–’ ‘That is exactly what Niko said.’ Mr Dellis took my hand. ‘My wife and I, my mother… so grateful. Please. Let us honour you in this small way. We have arranged for Georgios and Sophia to put on a modest buffet.’ Bags bulged under his eyes and his nails had split, no doubt from working the land. ‘Okay. Um… lovely, thank you. But please let me bring something… for dessert.’ I didn’t want to hurt his pride by saying don’t spend money you can’t afford. His face lit up. ‘We look forward to it. Eight o’clock. Until later!’ I closed the door. How great to see Theo looking so well, although I doubted he’d go back on a lilo any time soon. As I walked through the hallway, gentle snoring wafted out from the spare room. Both Henrik and I had slept like exhausted Olympic torchbearers since arriving in Greece – no doubt the months of a hectic London life catching up with us. Humming, I headed into the kitchen and filled the coffee maker. Mmm, those ground beans smelt good. Soon it was percolating and energised by just the aroma of caffeine, I opened one of the cornflower-blue cupboards and took out the flour, butter and sugar that Henrik and Leila had bought on Saturday afternoon. We were almost out of milk, but I wouldn’t need much for even a large batch of scones. Leila. How long had she been going out with Niko? Did they laugh together like I used to with him? Who’d made the first move? Did she, too, like wildlife? My heart pumped as I recalled Niko’s face, up against mine… Could I avoid him forever? No. For a start, food was running low which meant a trip into Taxos. Talking of which, how on earth would I flavour the scones? Not that much beat a plain, well-risen one with melting butter on top, but I had a bit of a reputation to uphold with the Sotiropoulos family, particularly Grandma. My gaze fell upon a large bar of chocolate on the low wooden table, in the middle of the lounge. Henrik had bought it at the airport. He liked it dark. Surely he wouldn’t mind me using a little if I replaced it at the local supermarket? I gazed out of the patio windows and for the first time really studied the plants, especially a wide, roundish tree with emerald leaves and what looked like bulbous orangey-red peaches… Of course – apricots! The last fruits of the season hung in August and we used to gorge on them for breakfast when I was a child. Chocolate chip and apricot scones would be a perfect combination of bitter and sweet flavours. I slipped into my flip-flops and drew back the patio doors. As I walked onto the paving stones, the tolerable morning sun kissed my cheeks. I still winced as Saturday’s sunburn had not quite turned brown. Cicadas chirped and I inhaled salty sea air. Bliss – a heavenly change from the stuffy smell of the London underground. I tucked strands of unbrushed hair behind my ears, only for the breeze to release them once more. On reaching the apricot tree, I plucked off tiger-orange fruits, clearly bursting with juice. In fact several lay open on the ground, providing flies with a sumptuous brunch. I bit into one and a wet trickle ran down my chin. Annoying… Why did that remind me of Niko’s juice-smeared mouth as he’d devoured half a fig? Back indoors, I cracked on with the culinary task in hand. Ah, that was better, me kneading the scone dough, up and down, then around and around…. How pretty it looked with flecks of hard brown and squishy orange. Aaahhh… slowly my shoulders and brow relaxed and confused thoughts swapped places with happy images in my mind, such as a gently-breaking tide or colourful Greek salad. I couldn’t wait to see Grandma again. How she would loves these scones. Please let her get better… My vision blurred for a second. It was strange to think of the hardworking, no-nonsense Iris bed-ridden with people looking after her for a change. ‘So, when are you going to replace my chocolate?’ said Henrik, as we strolled into Taxos that evening, just before eight. The road was difficult to make out, due to the sunset. Like movie actors teasing paparazzi, stars glinted, now and again, in the sapphire sky. I breathed in cedar wood smells from the nearby forest. He glanced down. I looked up. As he squeezed my fingers through the twilight, we both grinned. With the other hand I carried a basket, containing the scones with a tea-towel over the top. I felt like one of those American Stepford wives you see in TV series, who always welcome new neighbours with homemade delights. Or like Red Riding Hood in the woods, except without the cape. ‘Although I guess I can write off the debt, seeing as you’re such a hero,’ Henrik continued. ‘What happened Saturday – you saving that boy…’ I groaned. ‘Please. I’m dreading tonight. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the meal, but all this fuss – anyone else would have done the same.’ Henrik stopped and turned to face me. ‘You really believe that? Remember when we went skiing last year? That man went off-piste and landed head-first on the ground, catching his helmet on a rock? Even though he declared himself fine, it was you who insisted he visit the resort’s medical centre. He’d have been dead twelve hours later if it hadn’t been for that.’ I shrugged. ‘Then that time, shortly after we met, when a woman choked in that Chinese restaurant.’ I pulled his hand, to continue our journey towards the lights of Taxos. Hmm – fortunately I’d known how to employ the Heimlich manoeuvre, whilst everyone else panicked, apart from Henrik who’d calmed down her husband and kids. Henrik looked sideways at me. ‘Whilst other people are prepared to stand at the sidelines, watching disasters unfold, you get stuck in to change the course of events. No doubt that’s why your career is such a success.’ He cleared his throat which had broken a little. ‘That’s why you and I make such a good match. The easy way out is never an option. We do the right thing, even if that means making tough decisions that not everyone will like. In fact…’ Henrik inhaled as if he had something important to say… was he about to propose? I steeled myself. You’d be mad to say no, Pippa, said a prim voice in my head. ‘This Friday I have planned a very special day out for you and me. So don’t arrange anything with your Taxos friends.’ I swallowed. So, Greta was right. No doubt he’d chosen an exquisite location for the proposal. ‘And, er, also I forgot to mention…’ he said, ‘…whilst you were showering – an urgent phone call came in. Tomorrow I have to go into Kos Town for a meeting and–’ ‘Henrik! We’ve only just arrived!’ ‘Sorry Pips… I promise, it won’t take long.’ ‘So what’s so important about this bit of business that it can’t wait?’ Suddenly his fingers seemed clammy and I loosened my grip. ‘Oh, I won’t bore you with the details…’ He stared straight ahead. ‘It’s just some client who is anxious to close a big deal.’ ‘Which client?’ I pushed, but all to no avail as at that moment shrieks of laughter greeted us at the village’s edge. My heart flipped – it was just the shock, of course – at the sight of Niko with little Theo on his shoulder. He looked as comfortable as if he were the boy’s actual dad, wearing a shirt as white as Greek yogurt, tucked into well-fitting jeans. With Leila, by his side, holding hands with a little girl. They looked like a family, happy and complete. On seeing us, Niko bent over and let Theo – who was carrying a football – slide onto the ground ‘Ya sou, Pippa…’ His mouth twitched into a smile, the shirt showing off his caramel skin. He nodded at Henrik. ‘We have come to greet you… Good food, good wine, good company – it awaits you in Taxos. Mind you…’ He looked down at Theo and grinned. ‘We almost didn’t make it. At this time of night, with only a few locals and tourists around, the streets make a fine, empty football pitch.’ ‘I did my best to make them hurry,’ said petite Leila and I couldn’t stop smiling down at her amiable face. Nor could I stop gawping at her gorgeous dress. The colourful red and yellow floral pattern perfectly suited her skin. Nipped in at the waist, it accentuated her trim figure. Whilst I’d grown accustomed to and even liked my height, once again I just briefly wondered what it must be like to be a small, delicately-featured woman – and whether that aspect of her was what Niko found appealing. ‘Lovely flower,’ I said and pointed to the red-orange bloom with large petals, tucked behind her ear. ‘Thank you. Our pomegranate trees have bloomed late this year.’ Theo looked up shyly and said something to Niko who shrugged. ‘He asks if Henrik would go ahead with him, back to the wider part of the road, for a kick-around before we eat.’ A bubble of laughter tickled my throat. Henrik wasn’t what I’d call child-friendly. I’d never forget his bulging eyes and wrinkled-up nose when we recently visited a friend who’d just had a baby. She’d insisted Henrik hold the tiny tot, who promptly screamed in his arms, filled its nappy and broke copious amounts of wind. Having said that, Henrik oozed charm, whether it be directed at toddlers, young adults or pensioners. Indeed, his love of football won the day and he ruffled Theo’s hair before the two of them hurried away. Leila and the little girl laughed and ran after them. Niko turned to me and took a step closer, fiddling with his leather bracelet. I doubted that a baby’s dirty nappies would faze him. The sky was pitch black now, without the intrusive amber glow of city lights I was used to in London. ‘Pippa – I am glad we are alone. We have something to discuss.’ I stared at the ground. ‘Do we?’ ‘Yes.’ He put a hand on my shoulder. ‘The desire of Niko Sotiropoulos to make fuck with you.’ Chapter Six (#ulink_37c500e3-1d30-5ff8-b318-c7efe729a875) ‘What did you say?’ I almost dropped my basket and shook off his hand as I looked up. ‘That film. I watched it. You compared me to the Greek waiter. He said something like that to Shirley, about making f–’ ‘You watched Shirley Valentine?’ I gasped. ‘How… I mean… so quickly…’ ‘A shop in Kos Town stocks DVDs for tourists. It’s not funny, that you think me like him. Pippa…’ He threw his hands in the air. ‘I have no agenda. Am serious. Unlike the waiter in film who was just looking for lightweight adventures.’ ‘At least he wasn’t hiding a fiancée,’ I muttered. ‘Let me explain.’ His mocha eyes gazed earnestly into my face and tingles in all sorts of places pricked my skin. ‘No! Let’s just leave it – Henrik and I, we… are happy. Look, I kind of get it – life in dusty Taxos, especially after the recession, must be… well, I can’t blame you for having a bit of fun with visiting tourists. Mind you, it stinks that you flirt with everyone behind Leila’s back.’ I started walking again. ‘But don’t badmouth Henrik to me.’ ‘And don’t you badmouth Taxos – life here is as special as ever.’ My cheeks burned. He was right. For me – old-fashioned, unsullied Taxos was still idyllic, with its ramshackle character contrasting Kos Town’s glossy glitz. ‘As for Leila…’ he continued. ‘You really think so little of me?’ ‘What does my opinion matter?’ He swallowed. ‘Everything.’ ‘Of course it does,’ I said and pursed my lips, still cringing as I thought about Saturday’s butterfly kisses. ‘Look, about Henrik…’ ‘Niko, please…’ My voice wavered. ‘Can’t we leave it? I don’t know why you dislike him but he’s a good man.’ Niko stared at me for a moment and took a step back. ‘Sorry Pippa… I… I no mean to hurt your feelings. It’s just…’ I raised an eyebrow. He sighed and nodded. Then with as wide strides as possible, I headed towards the shouts of Theo and Henrik, in the distance. With relief, I reached them and stood by Leila whilst the men enjoyed a ten minute kick-around. Then we hurried to the taverna and wow! What a greeting awaited us with string music, laughter, flickering candles and savoury smells. As we walked in, Mr Dellis, his wife and mother came over to give us tight hugs. I caught sight of a table at the back of the room, laden with… Wow again. Niko’s family had prepared bowls of shiny olives, green and beige dips, fried calamari, souvlaki chicken kebabs and stuffed red peppers. Plus colourful salads dressed with glistening oil and lumps of squishy feta cheese. I spied Sophia’s famous spinach pie – in other words, comfort food at its best. My last holiday there, I’d been fretting about whether I’d chosen the right options for GCSE. Niko had fetched me a slice of this Spanakopita and sat with me, next to our favourite rock in Caretta Cove, whilst I’d relished every mouthful. A lump rose in my throat as I recalled him declaring the wrong choices would be just a small blip that would never hold back a girl like Pippa Pattinson. Niko circled the room, kissing several women, family and friends…What had happened over the years to make him value an engagement so little – and to spurt out spiteful suspicions about people he hardly knew? ‘Demetrios!’ I said as the handsome potter came over and kissed me on either cheek. He stood back and grinned. I’d forgotten how he always wore a colourful cravat. ‘Ya sou, Pippa. So, where are your muddy jeans and bare feet now?’ I grinned. ‘Remember that vase I made? The hole at the top was so small all I could do was push in one stalk.’ Demetrios chuckled. ‘Happy memories – you must come over before you leave. I make you a special vase to take back.’ ‘Ya sou, Pippa!’ Pandora the baker came over and warmth radiated through me at the sight of her in catwalk tailored white trousers and a terracotta blouse. She hadn’t changed a jot, apart from a few grey hairs in her stylish short cut and deep shadows under those ebony eyes. Plus now she wore black-rimmed glasses. I glanced at her perfectly varnished nails and… wedding finger. So she hadn’t remarried. Pandora had lost her husband about ten years ago – flames had cornered him whilst he helped control a forest fire, in a neighbouring village. We hugged. ‘I’ve brought cake tonight, Pippa, and trust you still like it as much?’ I patted my stomach. ‘All these years, I’ve never eaten a sponge cake as good as yours, back in England.’ Pandora’s skin flushed and she gave me another hug. Then she stood back. ‘You’ve grown into a lovely young woman – and have important job in London, no?’ ‘It’s no more important than baking heavenly food to earn a living – I can’t wait to fill my plate from the buffet table.’ Pandora’s cheeks flushed darker as Mr Dellis clapped his hands and a hush fell. ‘Now that Niko and Miss Pat– I mean Pippa, are here…’ he lifted up Theo, ‘… My sons talk of superheroes – Spiderman, Captain America. But they are fiction. In this room we have two real heroes, both bigger than The Hulk…’ Er. Okay. I think that was meant as a compliment. ‘… who saved my boys from…’ His voice trembled. ‘Please, with your hands, thank them.’ As the room shook with claps and cheers, I glanced across the room at Niko and swallowed. Those deep mocha eyes met mine, a crease between the brows. It was as if time had rewound about ten years, to the day we alerted the neighbouring village to the forest fire that claimed Pandora’s husband. After unsuccessfully trying to extinguish it with buckets of sand, we’d got back on our bikes and raised the alarm. Like many inhabitants of a small island, Taxos villagers were at the mercy of the elements. Some had called us heroes back then but we never felt it, because the fire’s consequences had still been tragic, with the one death and several injured. Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». 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