Oceans Between Us Online - Helen Scott Taylor Page 0,1

performing over Christmas so he'd missed his usual visit home to see his parents for the holiday season.

"Where is Rachel?"

Unease flitted across Freddy's face. "She's recovering. You shouldn't see her right now. Not until you've cooled off."

Dino had no intention of seeing his ex at the moment. But he wanted to be sure she was all right. She was emotionally fragile at the best of times. Freddy wouldn't care how she felt as long as she fulfilled her contractual obligations, and the money kept rolling in. Bloody Freddy didn't care about anything except his percentage.

"You've got a month before you're due in New York. Why not get started on the new recordings. It'll take your mind off things."

Dino stared at the mottled pink carpet, his mind fading to gray. A shiver ran through him and curled icy talons around his heart. He hadn't known it was possible to hurt this much without physical injury.

"Dino, mate. You all right?"

Dino grabbed his bag and headed for the office door. He couldn't face a soulless London hotel room. He had to get out of the city, had to outrun this pain, this guilt that swamped him like a choking smog. His baby boy had come into this world and been passed on like an unwanted package. He wasn't sure he could ever forgive himself for letting this happen.

***

Wind buffeted the front of the house, whistling through gaps in the casement windows while rain pelted against the glass. Maria Gardener wiped her face on her sleeve and examined the wall she had just painted. She angled her head, trying to see if she had missed anywhere. It was only midafternoon, but the awful weather meant it was prematurely dark, and she'd had to turn on the light. The golden wheat color glowed, fresh and clean. The greasy finger marks were gone. The guesthouse entrance hall would be ready to start next season spotless and welcoming.

Happy with her work, she pushed the lid on the paint can, then bent and started gathering the newspaper she'd spread to protect the Victorian mosaic floor. Her parents closed the place each winter and left for a month's cruise. The last few years she had used the quiet time to redecorate. This year she was making good progress. They had only been gone for two days, and already she'd finished a room.

She almost wished she were with her mum and dad, boarding the cruise ship in Florida. Almost. Despite the weather, she would still rather be safe at home. As she gathered up her paintbrushes, the doorbell chimed. It couldn't be her sister, Chris. She'd be collecting her twins from playgroup. And, in this weather, none of the locals would be crazy enough to walk up the hill to the Crow's Nest guesthouse on its rocky perch overlooking the village of Porthale. If any tourists were brave enough to visit Cornwall in winter, they would surely have seen the large CLOSED sign on the front gate. So who was her mystery caller?

Maria dropped her brushes onto the newspaper and stripped off her paint-stained gloves before unlocking the door. It swung against her in a gust of wet wind. A dripping man stood on the top step huddled into his jacket. A little stab of fear hit Maria and she told herself not to be silly. The poor man looked like a drowned rat. He wasn't going to hurt her. She stepped back and gestured him in. She couldn't leave him standing outside in the downpour.

Safely out of the rain, he ran his fingers back through gleaming black hair, scattering drips on the newspaper. Water trailed down his skin, caught in his thick black eyelashes. Foreign, she thought, Italian or Spanish, perhaps. She noticed a leather overnight bag in his hand. He must be looking for somewhere to stay. With the low light and bad weather he could have missed the closed sign, or his English might not be good. "I'm sorry," she said slowly so he would understand, "we're c—" But her words died in her mouth as he turned his gaze on her.

He was beautiful—golden skin, classic good looks—but that wasn't what broke her train of thought. His bleak expression did that. Lines of tension bracketed his mouth and fanned out from deep brown eyes filled with anguish. "Do you have a room?" he asked in soft, accented English.

She was alone in the place, vulnerable. It was on the tip of her tongue to say no, suggest he