The MillionaireBy: Victoria Purman
They were the bluest eyes she’d ever seen. Pale and translucent. Like light blue sapphires.
He was looking at her. In a friendly way, actually. And when his gaze dropped from her face to her breasts, that pulse exploded from a jog into a sprint. His gaze settled on her mouth for a moment before meeting her eyes. She realised he was waiting for her to speak.
Something clenched in her chest. All she could think was, don’t blow this. Don’t be an idiot.
“Any good waves?” she managed.
“Yeah, not bad out there today.” And then Malone half-smiled at her and she forgot her own name. He was so much more beautiful in person than in any of the photos of him she’d ever seen. He was always portrayed with his camera, with a flak jacket on, a grim expression and serious eyes, with toppled buildings and rubble behind him in a dusty haze.
But now, here, on the beach, he seemed the opposite of all those things.
“Do you surf yourself?”
“Oh no, I’m just… I’m here… well. What I’m trying to say is that I’m a huge fan, Chris. I mean, Mr. Malone,” she stammered. “It’s an honour to—”
His reaction was sudden and jarring. His piercing, friendly eyes became steely and his shoulders stiffened. He took a step back on the sand.
Holy crap. She’d blown it.
“Shit,” he grunted and shook his head.
“Wait. Please. What I meant was—”
Malone raised a hand as if to dismiss her and didn’t say another word. He took off up the beach, his long, strong legs not bothered at all by stomping through the soft sand as he walked to a path in between the coastal shrubs. The sand flicked angrily behind him as he strode away.
Ellie couldn’t move. Her feet were still planted in the sand and when she looked down, she realised she was still clutching her phone. She hadn’t even taken a damn photo.
“I really like your work,” she called half-heartedly into the wind and to the empty beach.
If he’d heard her, he didn’t turn around.
So much for the middle of freaking nowhere, Chris thought ruefully as he stashed his board into the back of his four-wheel drive. After stripping off in the car park, and changing into dry clothes, he’d driven away with the distinct feeling his day was ruined. His plan had been to get as far away from anyone he knew and just have a quiet surf. Him and the clean, clear waters of Australia’s east coast and the sound of nothing but the roar of the ocean in his ears, the taste of salt in his mouth, and a board under his feet.
Was that really too much to ask?
He’d learnt a long time ago that he couldn’t escape being Chris Malone, no matter where he went. Australia was a huge country, with twenty-two thousand miles of coastline, but of all the damn beaches in all the damn country, he managed to find one where the only other person on the damn beach knew who he was.
And when that only other person was a gorgeous woman with long legs, shoulder-length hair the colour of caramel, and big brown eyes – which he wouldn’t have minded looking into for a little while longer – it was even more disappointing.
Chris had taken the road out of Sydney earlier that day to hit the waves in a place he figured he could be anonymous. It was impossible these days to surf on any of the city’s best beaches without running into someone he knew. He’d been around a long time and he had fingers in a lot of pies. He had connections in the media, in surfing, across a whole range of sports clubs from his youth and, despite his best attempts to stay as far away from it as humanly possible, the business world his father and one of his younger twin brothers, Callum, inhabited.
He’d flown back to Australia four weeks before from Moscow via London, determined to escape the bitter winter and the dark days, with a plan to stay away from everybody. He hadn’t let his father or Callum know where he was. And as for his other brother? Cooper was always chasing a wave somewhere in the world. The rest of the family kept up with his life by checking his surfing competition victories in the sports news.
Chris hadn’t told them he was back because he hadn’t wanted to talk to anyone or see anyone or to answer the inevitable questions about why he’d returned home. He didn’t want to explain the truth. After more than ten years roaming the globe, with a rucksack and a camera and a well-stamped collection of passports, jumping from one continent to another, from one disaster to another, seeing things no one should ever see, he was simply exhausted.
He needed a break.
He’d been running for ten years on adrenalin and reputation and his street smarts and his addiction to the chase, but it had all caught up with him now. Chris wound down the window and let the cool sea air blow his hair around, so he could feel something other than sheer mental and physical exhaustion.