* * *

"Now don't you worry," Gina told me, "I'll organise everything. Imports and exports are my speciality. It is the family business after all. I'll email you the flight details and all you have to do is turn up at the airport, relaxed and ready to go."

Which was how we ended up on a flight crammed with tourists, got delayed twice and were now unlikely to arrive at Naples until the middle of the night. I could only assume Gina's PA managed everything on her behalf, or her father's business would have gone bust years ago.

"Couldn't your father have sent a private plane?" I grumbled, only half-joking, as I forced my bag into the overhead locker under the disapproving glare of the flight attendant.

"Don't be such a snob, darling," Gina said. "This is far more fun."

She must have seen my expression because she laughed, plugged herself into her iPad and promptly fell asleep, oblivious to the chaos around her – whereas I had some monster child kicking the back of my seat for the next two and a half hours.

Gina's father Stefano lived in a beautiful old villa surrounded by lemon groves and nestled in the hills above Sorrento. The villa had been built by Gina's great-grandfather, who had also founded the fruit-growing business Stefano had transformed into a multi-media corporation – although it still had a lemon tree as its logo.

When we finally arrived at the villa, sometime around midnight, it was to find every light on and the door wide open. I stepped out of the car onto the drive and was almost knocked sideways by the loud rock music.

Gina, as unruffled as ever, said, "My brother must be home from his tour," and went inside, leaving the poor driver to bring in all the suitcases. When I offered to help, he looked so offended I scuttled up the steps after her, pausing only long enough to see a man dive from one of the upstairs balconies into the swimming pool.

Apparently I was not going to get the quiet, relaxing holiday I had in mind. Gina's brother wasn't just home, he was having a party. Every room was heaving with the kind of glamorous people you usually only see in magazines. Gina, with her stunning figure and designer-label jeans, blended right in. Me, hot and tired in a boring skirt and cardie, not so much. Thankfully Gina took one look at my appalled face and came to my rescue, dragging me through the crowd and up the central staircase.

"It's not as bad as it looks," she said. "Take a shower and a few moments to relax, and then join us. You'll be fine."

Did I really have the self-confidence to fling myself into a night of wild partying? "Is there anyone here I actually know?" I asked, somewhat desperately.

"Luca, of course."

From what I remembered of her gorgeous brother, he was likely to spend the whole night draped with models. "Who else?"

"Loads of people, darling. Lots of opportunities for you to make new friends."

She must have seen me cringe, because she hastily followed that up with, "Now, I did ask Papà if you could have your usual room, but with all Luca's friends staying overnight, we're horribly short of space."

Oh God, was I going to have to share with one of those skinny models?

"So, I told a little white lie and said your new boyfriend would be joining you later."

"I don't have a boyfriend!"

For a split second her brown eyes were completely without guile, and then she spoilt it by winking. "Maybe you'll meet someone while you're here?"

Uh oh, what was she planning? "Gina?"

But she spoke over the top of me. "Put your party dress on and I'll see you downstairs. You're here to have fun, remember?" With that, she left.

Party dress? What party dress? I had thought I'd be spending the weekend lounging around the pool, shopping and sight-seeing. I eased off my shoes and collapsed onto the bed. Why on earth had I come here? I wasn't even sure I remembered how to have fun – I certainly had nothing in common with those beautiful people downstairs.

Now thoroughly depressed, I got up and went onto the balcony. I could see the lights of Sorrento stretching down the hill, and a pearly-white moon hanging so low in the sky I could have reached out and squeezed it.

As I leaned against the stone balustrade I felt some of the tension ease away. Up here the music was not so loud and my fingers tapped out the beat. I was hardly aware I was doing it. I'd always loved music. It was one of the things that had brought Ryan and me together. He and Luca were in a band and I'd met Ryan during one of my previous visits. It was only when the band had become successful that everything had gone wrong for us.

The party had spread out into the garden, which was large and stretched down the hillside. The trees were illuminated with fairy lights and pretty glass lanterns and there was a band – not Luca's – playing at the end of the terrace. If I leaned right over the balustrade, I could even see couples dancing below. It was magical.

Beyond the terrace was a large swimming pool, now filled with men and women in various states of undress, splashing about and having a good time – all except for the man standing in the shallow end. His unbuttoned white shirt swirled in the water around him and he was holding a wine glass in his hand, which wasn't the smartest thing to have taken into a swimming pool. As he was the same man I'd seen jump from the balcony earlier, presumably common sense wasn't his forte.

He must have sensed me watching him, because the next moment he was staring up at my balcony as though he'd seen a ghost.

From his point of view he probably had – the ghost of a girlfriend past.

Because his blond hair was slicked back by the water, making it appear longer and darker, I'd completely failed to recognise Ryan.

But he'd recognised me in an instant.


The Indecent Proposal (Short Story)Where stories live. Discover now