NICK CAPOTE was gazing into the sea. He was sitting on the sands of the beach, at a measured distance from the sea, in such a way that the waves came close enough to lick his feet, yet didn't dare to touch him.
That was Nick Capote.
Nick was only thirty-four, but life had hardened him more than his age required. His face, a face that had once brightened with laughter, now had only a few laughter lines and fewer happy memories. The slanted light of the evening illuminated his face in such a way that all the hard angles and planes and his strong jaw stood out starkly. A sight to scare away any lesser mortal, but William wasn't one to be shooed away; especially not by Nick.
William, now a dear man of sixty-three, was Nick's surrogate father. Well, almost. At least, he came close to that. William had spent a lot of his early chauffeuring days substituting for Nick's absentee father. William had been the one to teach Nick to fly kites, ride horses, drive cars.
Oliver Capote bothered to notice his son's presence only when Nick had grown almost as tall as his father. Only then had Oliver decided to descend from his throne and teach his son business. True, hard, ruthless business.
Nick turned slowly at William's voice. "William," he smiled. The smile didn't quite reach his eyes, or brighten his face, like William wanted it to, but it sure made the boy's face look a lot younger, lot handsomer. No wonder all those girls swooned at his feet.
The younger man patted on a spot next to him, indicating William to sit down with him.
"What are you thinking?" asked William, watching the sunset with the little boy he had watched grow.
Nick gave William a look that asked, 'Don't you know?'
William sighed, and smiled ruefully. "Son, what good is thinking about her going to do you?"
"I know, I must let go," Nick said slowly. "It's very difficult, but I must. She deserves better, don't you think?" He sounded desperate, confused - so unlike the Nick William had always known; so very unlike the Nick who was always in control.
A little elf of a girl has brought Nick to this? William thought. He wasn't sure whether he wanted to laugh or cry at it all.
IT HAD all started on that beautiful Wednesday.
But then, all the Wednesdays - and every other day - on Felicity Island were surely as beautiful.
Nick was taking one of his little breaks. Sometimes he worked so hard, he couldn't quite distinguish weekdays from weekends. Any girlfriend who didn't understand this drive of his, this madness, this systematic craziness, got dumped mercilessly, without ceremony, the very next day.
Right now he was between girlfriends, though he wished he wasn't. He mustn't have dumped that Celia something-or-the-other. (Or was it Cecilia? Or Cicely?)
He didn't plan on getting back to work anytime soon. Right now, all he wanted, and could think of, were the feel of the salty breeze on his body and the tickle of the warm sand under his feet. The sun was benign, not blistering, and always so, which was one of the reasons why Nick always went back to Felicity Island.
That particular part of the island, fenced and closed to public, well-isolated from the busy town that was constantly buzzing with tourists, was private property - all Nick's. It was a special place to him. Nick had bought it his own money - a fruit of his own hard labor. He hadn't inherited it like everything else that had come from his father. He hadn't even brought any of his female friends here, he had no idea why.
Ah, but it surely felt like coming home.
It was nearly dusk, and the sun was taking his own sweet time setting. The sky was a wonderful shade of orange.
He was talking to William about something, when he saw her for the first time.
Her black, black hair flying all around her maniacally, her thin hands trying to suppress them into some semblance of order, and her eyes taking in the sea and the sky and the sands slowly...
For a minute, Nick didn't listen to William. Nor did he listen to the sounds of the waves lapping the shore, or that of the trees rustling in the breeze. It was just her. She filled all his senses.
Dramatic, yes, and Nick hated drama, but still, that was how he felt. No exaggeration.
Her eyes met his, and they seemed to widen just a fraction, but even from the distance, his senses were so attuned to her, to every movement of hers, that his eyes caught even that slight movement of her body.
William realized he wasn't being listened to, and soon he noticed the cause of Nick's distraction walking towards them.
She was small. Small, as in fashionably, elegantly petite. Her bones seemed delicate, fragile, tiny. Next to Nick's large frame, she looked like an elf, certainly.
But they did look good together. And from the way Nick was looking at her, William could see that she wasn't just another trespasser.
"I've lost my way," she said, in a soft, husky voice.
William and Nick never respected trespassers. Usually. But this woman was no ordinary trespasser.
"I see." Nick said, as softly. "You're from the town? Or from one of the neighboring resorts?"
"The town. The fence you've put up needs repair..."
"I'll look into it," Nick put in, hurriedly.
"I just followed the narrow path from there, and somehow I've landed here..." Her voice trailed off as she met Nick's eyes.
William closed his eyes and mentally shook his head. The boy could as well wear a neon sign saying he was bowled over. Jesus, look at the way he was devouring the girl just by looking at her like that. This way, he'd probably end up frightening the little thing away.
William decided it was time to step in and take action. "Miss, I suggest you walk with me and show me where the fence needs repair. The last time I checked the fences, they were all perfect, and disrepair worries me. And Nick, you'd better go to bed. You must have had a long day."
If someone else had spoken to Nick that way, they shouldn't hope to wake up to the next day. But it was William who had issued a command, and Nick just had to listen.
Nick scowled, ever so slightly, at being dismissed like a little boy. In front of her, too. But when he looked at the girl, his scowl disappeared, and he smiled his most charming smile. "We'll meet. Some other day." He took her hand and kissed the tip of her fingers.
Ah, the effect old-fashioned charm has on women, William thought with a stifled chuckle.
They left Nick standing there looking at them, when William took her arm in his, and asked slowly, "So, tell me, who are you?"
"Amorah," she said, smiling up at him. "Amorah Longford."
"Have I heard that name somewhere?" William frowned, in an effort to remember.
"I hope not," she said, a little too quickly, and grinned. "I'm just a small town girl. I teach at a primary school. I'm here with a group of children, on a fun trip."
"A lovely young woman, all alone, with just a bunch of kids to guard her? Where do you stay?"
"We've got just twenty children with us, and there are three more teachers," she said with a smile. What a beautiful smile it was. It filled her entire face, dimpling her cheeks. "We stay at the town, near the market."
"Ah," said William. He knew the place. It was a decent hotel.
William noted the spot where the fence needed repair, they walked further to the hotel, and as they walked, they talked.
Near the bottom of the stairs, she kissed his cheek, and said softly, "Thank you, dear William."
"You must come and visit us again." William waved and left.
"SHE'S NICE," William said softly. "Isn't she?"
"You didn't let me talk to her, anyway. What were you trying to do, sending me off like that?" Nick didn't get mad at William often, but today William had really done it.
William chuckled. "What were you trying to do, staring at her like that?" he retorted.
Nick looked away. God, was he that obvious? "Well, she's pretty. You ogled her too, admit it."
William shook his head. "She's like a daughter to me."
"What, you've adopted her already?"
"Let's take it that I have. Now, tell me why you're so bothered about her."
"Well, she's attractive. I just wanted to..." He thought about it for a second. He'd always liked a challenge. This was just another business deal, wasn't it? Conquering her? She'd seemed all prim and proper and perfect, keeping her emotions under control, even when he'd kissed her hand. How would it be to pin her to the bed and do things... He smiled to himself. Those came later.
He yawned. "Tired, Will. See you tomorrow."
"A VERY charming old man dropped you off at this place?" Eleanor asked, skeptically.
"Oh, darling, we were so worried," Belle hugged Amorah and cooed.
"Yeah, he was rather nice." About the young man, she didn't want to think. And mentioning him to Eleanor wasn't her idea of fun.
"You had to get lost, and meet this old man in this paradise? Just your luck!" Eleanor was still skeptical, but Amorah didn't try to do anything about it.
"You're hiding something from us," Belle murmured with a wicked smile.
"You have met someone else, haven't you?" Eleanor asked, her voice both accusatory and elated.
Amorah sighed. "Oh, come on. I just set my eyes on a nice guy, but this old man walked me..."
Nice? Who was she kidding? There was nothing remotely bland as 'nice' about him. He was the kind of guy every young woman's mother warned her daughter about.
"Tell us about him!"
"The old man? Well, he was tall and..."
"The nice guy!"
"OK, so he was tall." And how tall. "Really tall," she added. "He had a nice face, I guess, but it was dark and I couldn't see all that well."
Which was a lie. She still remembered how handsome he had looked in his white t-shirt, that charming smile of his...
Eleanor looked piercingly at her. But Belle was the innocent one, so she just hugged Amorah and said, "Don't worry, you'll meet him again."
Oh, no. Amorah didn't wish that at all.
NOT ALL wishes come true. And sometimes, things you don't wish for happen, too.
And fate had already decreed that they meet again. This time, at a beach-side barbecue party, a day later.
Amorah wasn't one to enjoy barbecues, but some really nice friends had invited her.
She was just standing quietly, looking at the beach, deep in thought, when a deep male voice startled her. "Hello."
"Oh, hi," she said, blushing like a schoolgirl and not liking it. It was him. He looked even bigger now, standing so close. She found it difficult to breathe, but she managed, somehow.
"We couldn't talk much the other day. William wanted you for himself," he smiled.
She laughed softly.
"I'm Nick. Nicholas Capote."
Oh, hell. She knew him. Anyone who followed the news knew him. He was the head of the Capote Group. They'd made their way into just about every business that existed.
"That's great," she responded, not introducing herself.
"And you are?"
"Amorah," she said softly.
"So, love." The endearment slipped so easily from his lips. He probably used it to every other woman he slept with.
Sleeping with him was another thought... She didn't want to go there.
"Dance with me." It wasn't a question. It was a straight order, but before she could bristle at his commanding her, he bent towards her, and repeated the same sentence in a much more coaxing voice.
His voice near her ear was her undoing. His breath fanned her cheek. His voice was thick, like chocolate sauce, and that made her think a whole new lot of unwanted thoughts...
He held her like she was a fragile porcelain doll. Or still worse, as if she was made of glass.
Not that she didn't like being held by him that way, but still...
This was what they called 'flirting with danger', she thought.
"Now, would you like to come home and have a drink with me?"
"No, thank you," she murmured softly, her voice muffled against his chest.
"Honey, you can't do this to me," he said, with a smile that aimed to twist any woman's heart.
"Oh, but I can," she said, turning on her full charm and smiling right back at him.
WHAT A smile she had.
Nick felt as if he was punched right in his guts.
"So, what do you propose we do?" he asked, in a voice so weak, that it didn't seem to belong to him. Still, the wind managed to convey his message to her.
"I propose you dance with the other lovely women here. And I spend my evening with dear, charming William."
Dear, charming, safe William, Amorah said to herself.
A TALL woman called Eleanor almost bit his ear off, talking to him about the school and the funds they were raising. She viewed him as a prospective source of funds. Wasn't that just great?
And then, there was Belle. Charming, sweet Belle. She was talking to him about romance and love at first sight, god knew why. She was soft, sweet, and oh, so boring.
He gazed longingly at where William and Amorah were standing together. Each had a wineglass in hand, and both were laughing together. Nick scowled, wondering what the joke was. He'd never been jealous of anyone, especially not of William.
But now, old William hits the jackpot and gets to spend time with a woman who looks like she'd make Aphrodite beg.
Amorah. Man, just the name gave him a hard-on.
THE NEXT day, Nick woke up with one hell of a hangover.
He must never have let Amorah affect him that way. He'd had glass after glass of wine, just looking from afar at her chatting amicably with William.
He must see her. Again. Today, tomorrow, the day after. Damn, he must see her.
He went to William, even without changing out of his pajamas. "Will, old boy, you've got to..."
"I know, young man, and before you could ask me, no way, you hear? No way."
"No way what?" Nick asked, keeping his face innocent.
"Nick, I've known you for ages now. Don't waste that look on me."
"William, you can't do this to me!" he knew he was whining, and he sounded pathetic, but still he was that desperate.
After minutes, hours of coaxing, Nick finally managed to get details of her whereabouts.
After a quick shower, he chose to walk to the town, and not drive, enjoying the sea breeze, and tunelessly whistling a merry tune.
AMORAH STARED at him. She hadn't expected to open the door to him so early in the morning.
"What are you doing here?" she asked, sounding almost hysterical.
"Good morning to you too," he said cheerfully. "Don't you get a holiday? We could go out together."
He looked inside, and caught the nasty look that Eleanor was giving him, from behind Amorah. The look said something like, 'Hurt her, and you'll have hell to pay.'
"Minus her," he said, in a whisper. "And her," as he saw Belle come out of another room.
"And the male teacher? And the kids?" Amorah asked dryly.
"Yeah, them too."
"You're crazy," she declared.
"Yeah, crazy for you."
She blinked. "My, do they actually fall for that piece of crap?"
He looked wounded. "Hey, I'm supposed to be a pro at this."
"Prove it to someone else, Capote." Amorah had to bring up all her determination and resolve to say that. She was sorely tempted, but she knew better than to burn her finger in the fire. After all, she'd be gone in three days, and she couldn't afford to start something she couldn't actually finish.
"Hon, I can't think of anyone else I'd like to prove myself to," he said in a sultry tone.
Amorah rolled her eyes. He was just incorrigible.
He laughed. "OK, I'm inviting you to a friendly shopping expedition. I won't touch you, and anything that happens between us is started by you."
Amorah laughed at the audacity of the man. "Started by me? That's a joke."
"Let's see," Nick smiled. "Let's see."
AFTER SOME persuading from Belle and some warning from Eleanor, Amorah left with Nick.
They walked side by side, with a safe distance between them.
She took great pains to ensure that he didn't get any closer to her, and he had to stifle his laughter at how obviously worried she was that something might happen between them.
Felicity Island had a whole lot of shops and stores where they sold pretty trinkets and handmade things. Every time Amorah's eyes widened at the sight of something beautiful, Nick wanted to buy it and put it in a sack, and store it. All for her. If she asked for the moon, he'd get her that too. Just for that beautiful, wide-eyed look on her face.
But then, Amorah simply objected to his taking his wallet out of his pocket.
"If you touch it, Capote, I'll walk right back."
Great. So he just had to watch, as she flitted from shop to shop, asking about this, and the cost of that, and not buy her anything. And he had so much of money, and he couldn't buy her anything. It felt like a cruel punishment.
All of a sudden, when she was just standing there, holding a large earring next to her ear and asking him if she looked OK, he realized he liked her.
He liked her, really a lot.
And it wasn't just how a man liked a pretty face. He liked the woman underneath. She was sweet, she was nice, she didn't bore him. She acted prim and proper sometimes, she acted like a prude sometimes, she acted like she hated him touching her, but he liked her.
He suddenly found it difficult to breath, and she looked worried.
"Nick, are you OK? Is the heat bothering you?" she asked him softly. "You look pale." She touched his arm, her warm touch sending shocks all through his body.
He shook his head. Then, he looked down at her hand, and grinned wickedly. "You touched me first."
She frowned, hit him with her handbag across his arm and walked away.
THEY HADN'T touched each other all day.
Nick had almost forgotten that she was like just another challenging deal. He was having fun with her, laughing, joking. She was like no other woman he'd ever known. He felt so comfortable with absolutely no one else. He liked spending time with her, because she was witty this moment, sarcastic the next, and goofy later. She was unpredictable, a beautiful puzzle, and he liked figuring her out.
When he walked with her to the hotel, he took her hand in his. She didn't object. Just said slowly, "You touched me first."
He smiled, and said, "So, sue me."
He just stood there, his hands in his pockets, as she walked up the stairs. They hadn't even kissed goodnight.
THEY WERE sitting facing the sea.
"So, when do you leave?" he asked, not liking the question even as he was asking it.
"The day after tomorrow," she said, keeping her eyes firmly fixed on the blue of the sea. She wasn't going to look at him and let him know that she'd miss him.
"Hey, look at me."
It was softly spoken, not a command at all, and Amorah turned to look at him.
They were sitting apart that moment, and all of a sudden, they were in each other's arms, kissing fervently.
When he came up for air, he said, "You started this."
"So, sue me," she said, and kissed him again.
SHIT, BUT Amorah was a forever kind of woman. A woman who believed in "I do"s and romantic drivel. It was quite obvious from the way she looked at him, the way she behaved with him.
So, she shouldn't be kissing him like a sex-goddess. She should be prim, proper and not passionate.
But Nick was almost reeling from the effect she was having on him, even as he was thinking. Oh, hell. He was wrong. All wrong. He was wrong for her. He was thinking of her as just another conquest, and here she was, so trusting, so pliant, so adorable.
He was so wrong.
So, how did one break romantic feelings in a girl? How did one hurt a lovely, lovable, wonderful girl, so she moves on and never thinks about this rotten guy again?
"SHE TEACHES for free."
"I know," William said, his eyes never leaving the magazine.
"She's probably rich. Do we look her up?" Nick said, his hand rubbing his chin. "What did you say her full name was?"
"Go away, Nick. I'm reading."
Nick snatched the magazine from the old man's hand, and said, "Tell me."
William sighed, and said, "Amorah Longford."
"YOU'RE A Longford."
It was a statement, not a question.
Amorah didn't meet his eyes. He already knew, why did she have to answer him?
"Your father is the Longford."
He was. Perkin Longford. The Longford of the Longford Bank fame. The Longford Bank that was almost bankrupt.
"Now I know why you're with me."
She didn't like his voice when he said that. "What do you mean by that?"
"You know very well what I mean!"
"Listen, bastard, and listen well. I hate you. For what you're insinuating, for the coward that you're. Go to hell!"
She walked away, not wanting to look at his face ever again.
"YOU DID it, didn't you?" William asked slowly.
"I did what?" Nick asked, tired.
"You know what. Break her heart."
Nick sighed. It was short, it was painfully short, their last meeting, but the damage was done. "She'll live," he said, softly. "She's a strong girl."
William silently handed him a glass of wine.
"Thanks. I needed it," Nick said, before downing it in a single gulp.
SHE HAD left the next day, and William had gone to send her off.
When he came back, he didn't bother to tell Nick about her.
Nick didn't ask, either.
NICK WAS leaving Felicity Island the next day.
Strange, felicity means happiness, but this island had given him only pain this time around. Would he ever be able to come back and stay here again without thinking of her?
Felicity Island didn't feel like home, anymore.
William had been darting piercing looks at him all day. Nick wondered why.
He knew William couldn't come to terms with his hurting Amorah yet. William had loved the girl like his own daughter, and Nick had to go and hurt her.
All of a sudden, he wanted to be left alone. He walked on the beach for a while, his feet making deep prints on the sand. He'd walked with her on this very same beach. They'd kissed, and it'd been such a revealing experience...
He stood and stared at the sea. Beyond the sea. She was somewhere there. She'd probably forgotten him. She was probably engaged to marry a rotten rich guy. She probably fell in love with some guy on the rebound. Or genuinely.
Somehow all the above thoughts depressed him, and he tried to forget about her by concentrating on a particular shell for a while.
He ended up remembering the market, the shop, and her wide-eyed look.
"Nick." Why won't William leave him alone?
"William, go away."
"Listen, you dumbass, why don't you go to her instead of brooding?"
IT SO wasn't like William.
It was as if William had lost all his patience. And William was the most patient man on this earth. He took Nick by his shoulders and shook him hard. "Go, get her, boy! Don't just stand there and torment yourself. For all you know, you haven't done her a favor too. She's probably torturing herself thinking about you all the time."
That had put his senses back in him.
AMORAH WAS writing something about a figure of speech on the blackboard when little Sally said, "Miss Amorah, you've got a visitor."
She turned to smile at Sally, and her smile promptly vanished when she saw who the visitor was.
Nick tried to smile, but he couldn't quite manage it without looking like a constipated toad.
William had phoned her to warn her about Nick's imminent arrival, and she'd taken it all coolly, but here she was, not knowing what to say, what to do.
"Excuse me, class," she addressed the twenty eager little kids. "I must go and talk to Mr. Visitor here."
Mr. Visitor. Nick didn't like the sound of it. He wanted to be something like Mr. Permanent. Her Mr. Forever. Or her Mr. Magic.
Romantic thoughts, Capote? Save them for later, when you're allowed to have them.
"Mr. Capote," Amorah gushed artificially. "How are you?"
"Cut the crap, Amorah," Nick said, as he ran his hand through his hair.
The thick dark hair she'd run her hand through when she'd kissed him... Amorah shook her head mentally.
"So, tell me. What are you doing here with the Longford's wicked, gold-digging, money-grabbing daughter?"
"Hey, I didn't say all that."
"You insinuated, you asshole."
Nick winced. He hadn't expected even this much of a welcome, but he really wished she had come running to him and hugged him tight, and not insulted him this way.
The loud clicking of heels across the corridor made them both turn.
Oh, no. It just wasn't his day.
Eleanor was standing there, glaring at him. "What is he doing here?" she asked Amorah.
"I'll take care of it, Eleanor. Don't worry about it." Amorah sighed. Eleanor didn't seem placated, and it looked like she was surely going to grill Amorah for details later.
And then, Belle arrived. "My, Amo, didn't I tell you he'd come for you? He's your prince, alright!" she gushed, all excited.
"He's a toad. I'll kiss him, and he'll turn into an uglier toad each time," Amorah said dryly.
Belle frowned, but had the sense to leave them alone.
"Does that mean you'll kiss me again?" Nick asked, softly.
"No way, toad," she said, concentrating fiercely on the books on the table. She arranged them, rearranged them, and finally left them in peace, in total disorder.
"Honey, I'm sorry."
"Don't waste your apology, Capote. Just leave. Turn back and leave, and don't ever come back."
"You don't mean that." Nick said, not letting his fear show.
"You were nasty the other day. And of course, I mean that!"
"I was nasty. I was being a lowlife. Please, give me some concession, I'm just evolving."
"Why did you have to do that?" she asked, still not meeting his eyes.
"I'm all wrong for you, can't you see? I wanted to acquire you, like you were an unsuccessful firm. Make you submit to me. But then, you were so sweet, so lovely, you didn't deserve any of it. You deserve a prince, like Belle said. And now I love you, and I need you so badly, I might die if you leave me once more."
She sniffed. "No, silly," she said softly, after a few minutes. "I was talking about your apology. Why did you have to apologize? Now I can't remain mad at you."
"I didn't mean any of it. I knew you were in love with me. I wanted to make you un-love me. It all went wrong. And backfired." He lifted her face, so his eyes met hers. "Look at me and tell me you love me still. Even though I don't deserve it."
"Who said I loved you?" she asked, firmly concentrating on a point to the side of his face. "I didn't love you back then, and I won't love you now."
"Amorah, you're not a good liar," he said mock-sternly, and kissed her.
When they both came up for air, she said slowly, smiling against his lips, "You kissed first, not I."
"So, sue me," he said, and kissed her again.