Love isn't always plain sailing
Willa Daventry knows what she wants. She's thirty-two, single and determined to make her singles sailing holidays a successful part of her family's travel business.
She doesn't usually mix business with pleasure but the attentions of three handsome men under the blazing Greek sun are enough to turn any girl's head. Should she keep things professional, or risk a little flirting and get what she wants into the bargain?
She needs to negotiate a new deal with Greek hotel owner, Aristaios Nikolades. Advertising executive, Harry 'Banner' Bullen's skills could prove useful, and a five-star review from award-winning, travel writer, Mark Thornton would be a dream come true.
Unbeknown to Willa, the three men make a drunken wager to see which of them can get a date with her. Aristaios and Harry don't play fair but Mark is determined to win. He'll have to keep sex-mad pilates instructor, Blossom Appleyard and divorcée, Suki Thane at bay though, if he is to stand a chance of sailing off into the sunset with Willa.
When Willa learns of the bet will she decide to play the men at their own game and teach them a lesson they won’t forget, or … will she just feel she’s better off sailing solo?
Now read on for the excerpt. This is where Willa (Wilhelmina) is waiting at Athens airport to meet Mark Thornton and take him to the hotel. She's never met him but she has read an article written about him by a woman called Candice Cornwell, who spent a night with Mark after he 'rescued' Candice and her friends. Willa has already formed an opinion of Mark; it's not a good one, but he's going to be writing a review of the holiday so she has to be polite.
‘You’re Wilhelmina Daventry? I mean ... hi, I’m Mark Thornton.’
Willa eyed the tall, good-looking man standing in front of her in the arrivals hall at Athens airport and hoped she didn’t look as surprised as he did. Because she was surprised. That photograph of him in 'Only The Best Will Do' clearly hadn’t been enhanced. If anything, it didn’t do him justice and she prayed that when she opened her mouth to reply, her voice wouldn’t sound as shocked as she felt.
She folded up the large piece of paper she was holding, with his name written on it, stuffed it in her handbag and took the hand he held out to her. She shook it firmly but briefly and coughed lightly before replying.
‘Yes. But please call me, Willa. Everyone does. I hope you had a pleasant flight.’
She saw his eyes examine the length of her body and despite being a UK size twelve, she pulled her tummy in, lifted her shoulders up and stuck her chest out slightly. She hoped he didn’t notice.
‘Very pleasant, thanks but it’s even more pleasant to be on the ground, standing here.’
Willa blushed although she wasn’t sure if he was flirting with her or being sarcastic. There was something in his tone she couldn’t quite place and his eyes – which were even more intense, and a much deeper blue than they were in the picture – held a look something akin to irritation.
‘Well, let’s not keep you standing here,’ she said. ‘The car is this way, if you’ll follow me.’
‘With pleasure,’ he said, running a hand through his light brown, dishevelled hair and grinning lopsidedly before picking up his bag and falling into step beside her.
‘Is this your first time in Greece?’ she asked, keeping her eyes straight ahead.
‘No, I’ve been here many times.’
‘Oh. Have you been to the Agolida district?’
‘Frequently. I often spend several weeks in Greece and I spent six months sailing around the islands some years ago. You may have read the book I wrote about it. It was called 'On the Waves of Poseidon.'’
‘Oh, no I haven’t.’
‘Just as well really. It was a crappy title and the book wasn’t much better. I think it sunk to the bottom of the ocean.’
Willa stole a look at him from beneath her long, dark lashes. Self-deprecating humour wasn’t something she’d expected from him.
‘Have you written many books?’
He stopped in his tracks and when she turned to face him, his handsome features wore a despondent look.
‘Are you telling me you haven’t read any of them? I’m crestfallen.’
‘Oh, I’m sorry. I–’
‘I’m joking,’ he said.
Willa watched his lips twitch into the lopsided grin and she felt herself smiling back. He resumed walking and she fell into step beside him.
‘It must be wonderful to travel all over the world for free and then sit and write about it.’
He stopped again. ‘You’re determined to put me in my place, aren’t you?’ he said, grinning broadly. Then he marched forward again. ‘Don’t worry, I’m being facetious. It’s a great way of life but it doesn’t come without risks.’
‘Yes. I read about some the other day. I believe you fought off a bear and a pack of wolves to rescue a group of female campers and then saved one of them from drowning in the swollen river. In Canada, I think it was. Oh! Have I said the wrong thing again?’
Mark sighed and shook his head. ‘Don’t tell me, you read that in 'Only The Best Will Do'?'
‘Yes. It’s the only travel magazine written especially for women.’
‘It certainly is,’ he said.
She saw something flash across his eyes but it was gone in a second and the smile returned. She was going to say that she read it because she had placed an advert in this month’s edition, along with adverts in a fitness and health magazine and a couple of men’s magazines, and she wanted to check that it looked as she’d expected, but something about his expression stopped her. She seemed to be saying all the wrong things and she didn’t want to slag off a travel magazine on top of everything else.
‘But I didn’t really mean those type of risks,’ he continued. ‘I meant financial insecurity. You never know when you’ll get your next assignment or if your book will sell enough copies to allow you to write the next one.’
‘And you shouldn’t believe everything you read, you know.’
‘I don’t. Are you saying it’s not true then? Are you telling me you didn’t face danger and save the women from almost certain death?’ she said, wondering if he’d detect the sarcasm in her tone.
His lips twitched. ‘I did get a nasty bite from a mosquito. Seriously though, I got them out of a couple of ... awkward situations, that’s all. Nothing worth writing about.’
‘Really? Well, Candice Cornwell seemed to have rather a lot to write about it.’
‘So I keep hearing.’
Mark quickened his pace and Willa was almost jogging to keep up with his lengthy strides. They covered the remaining distance in an awkward silence – and in five minutes flat.
‘This is me,’ Willa said, gasping for breath when they finally reached her car. She opened the boot with the remote and waited whilst he threw his bag inside.
‘Is this insured for anyone to drive?’ he asked.
‘Er ... yes it is. It’s our company car and Blossom and I – Blossom Appleyard, my colleague and flatmate – share it. Why?’
‘Would you allow me to drive to the hotel then? When I spoke to your father he told me this is your first time to this part of Greece and the motorway will be hectic at this time of day. I know the back roads and there’s a particularly pleasant taverna right beside the Corinth Canal. A friend of mine owns it and it’s a great place for a halfway stop and a drink – and I could use one, believe me.’
‘You ... you spoke to my father ... about me?’ Willa was horrified. This was the first time she’d heard mention of it.
‘Not specifically about you, no,’ Mark said, walking round to the driver’s side and taking the keys from her hand. ‘He called me to say how pleased he was that I was going to be spending the week here and doing the review. He just mentioned that this was your first time running an entire season on your own and that you were a little nervous, but the sailing holidays were your idea so he’d let you take the helm. He also said that he hoped I’d be ... kind, I think. Anyway, that was all.’
‘That was all!’ Willa screeched, feeling her face go as red as the paintwork of the car. ‘Mr Thornton. This may be my first time running a season without another member of my family hanging around at the start and dropping in unannounced to check up on me but there is absolutely no need for you to treat me any differently than you would anyone else! Is that clear? I neither want nor expect any special treatment from you.’
Mark’s brows shot up in surprise as she snatched the keys back from him and got into the driver’s seat.
‘You can give me directions to this ... taverna but I’ll drive there. You can drive from there to the hotel if you like, because, Mr Thornton, you’re not the only one who could use a drink, and I plan on having more than one!’
‘Oh!’ was all she heard him say before she slammed the car door and turned on the ignition.
If you enjoyed this excerpt, please feel free to share it with your friends on Facebook, Twitter etc. 'Sailing Solo' released Wednesday the 24th of July 2013.
© Emily Harvale 2013