Flynn Gifford is enjoying a simple existence in a rural Derbyshire village when Caroline Rogers crashes into his life, barefoot and panicked.
Their lives could hardly be more different—she owns a successful luxury hotel chain, and he’s a penniless nomad who’s off the grid—yet neither can deny the attraction that burns between them. As Caroline reluctantly starts to open up to him, Flynn finds himself divulging some secrets of his own, secrets he thought he’d take to his grave.
But can a billionaire and a wild man ever make a relationship work, or will their secrets keep them apart?
I’m busy minding my own business, clearing up litter in a field on the outskirts of Hartington when what can only be described as a crazy woman appears, seemingly from nowhere. She’s all wild-eyed, and her blonde hair looks damp. Her outfit is unremarkable, except for the fact she’s got nothing on her feet. Bright red toenails seem massively out of place in this rural village. She seems out of place. I’m not sure why I think this, but somehow, she just doesn’t appear to belong. So what the hell is she doing here?
Normally, I steer clear of other folk unless it’s absolutely necessary, but this woman looks like she needs help. Serious help. If she’s crossed the road with her feet like that, then they’re going to be scratched to buggery, maybe even cut.
Taking a deep breath, I chuck the empty crisp packetI’ve been holding into my rubbish bag. Then I place it next to the tree I’m standing beside and step out into the woman’s path. I’m used to people not seeing me—or behaving like they haven’t seen me, anyway—so I’m not surprised when she lets out a shriek that could wake the dead and freezes in front of me.
“Hey, hey,” I say gently, holding my hands up placatingly. “It’s okay. I’m not going to hurt you. I just wanted to come and see if you were all right. I can’t help but notice you’re not wearing any shoes. You’re not hurt, are you?” The concern in my voice confuses me, but then my brain catches up. If this chick is so desperate to get away that she’s gone without shoes, then something’s wrong. Seriously wrong.
I look around, half-expecting to see an angry husband chasing after her, or maybe even a shopkeeper. She could be a thief. Glancing at her again, I realize that can’t possibly be the case, unless she’s stolen something invisible. All she has are the clothes on her back.
She still hasn’t spoken, so I try again, attempting to make myself appear friendly, welcoming. Not an easy thing when you’re over six feet tall and pretty wide, too. Also, the fact I haven’t had a change of clothes, shave, or a haircut for a while won’t help. I wouldn’t blame her if she ran away, to be honest. I must look a fright, but I haven’t peered into a mirror—or even a window—for a good few days, so I can’t be sure.
“Sweetheart, please answer me. Are you hurt? Is there someone after you?”
She looks around, then back at me. Shakes her head. I’m confused—if there’s no one after her, why did she look behind her?
I crouch down. “Are your feet okay? Cut?”
Finally, I get a verbal reply. “N-no. I mean, yes. They’re okay. Not cut. At least … I don’t think so.”
She lifts each foot in turn, checking the soles. They’re fine. Now she’s answered another of my questions, too. Her accent doesn’t sound local. More like southern England. London, perhaps.
I suppress an involuntary shudder. The thought of London, the big, dirty, smoky city, does not impress me. Horrible bloody place. But at least it explains why the blonde doesn’t appear to fit in. She’s not from around here.
Naturally, I still have a million and one questions, but I don’t know how to ask them without bombarding or intimidating her. Not to mention that really, I have no right to know the answers. I’m a total stranger. But there’s something about her, about her appearance—and I don’t just mean the lack of footwear—that makes me want to help her. Or at least get her back where she came from, which is clearly somewhere in the village. She certainly hasn’t come far, as otherwise her feet would be filthy and bleeding.
What the hell is she doing here?
“What’s your name, love?” I give her what I hope is a friendly smile, though there’s a chance she can’t see it through all my facial hair. God, I really need to get hold of a razor. Or even a sharp knife.
“Caroline. Caroline Rogers.”
I hold out my hand. “Flynn Gifford.”
She takes it, and we shake. That tells me another thing about her, about Caroline. Her grasp, grip, and the way she pumps our joined digits up and down, then lets go at an appropriate time that’s not too quick, or too long, indicates she shakes a lot of hands. She’s a businesswoman.
“You here on holiday?” I speak the words that have just popped into my head. Why else would a city girl be in the depths of Derbyshire? There’s no business here. Or at least, not big business.
She frowns, and cute little wrinkles appear either side of her nose, and a tiny line appears between her eyebrows. “No. Why, are you?” Taking in my appearance, seemingly for the first time, she then gapes, realizing her mistake.
“S-sorry. I didn’t mean anything by that. I wasn’t taking the piss. I mean—” She trails off, clearly having no idea what to say next. I seem to have that effect on a lot of people. After all, I have all the appearance of a tramp, minus the starved-and-smelling-of-alcohol bit. I don’t have a dog on a string, either.
“It’s all right, don’t worry. People have said much worse about me. Now, are you going to tell me what’s going on, or have I got to keep questioning you? Only I’m really busy.”
She looks confused for a moment. Then I tip her a wink.
Cupping her hands over her mouth, she giggles.
I feel a sense of achievement—I’ve made her laugh, broken the ice, for want of a less clichéd description.
“Well? Want to help me pick up litter while you talk?”
Her eyes widen for a second, but then a determined expression crosses her face. “Yes, actually, I’d love to.”
I figure not much harm can come to her feet on the soft grass, so I grab the bag I’ve been using to hold the litter—not that there’s much, the ramblers that come through here are a respectful lot, on the whole—and hand it to her. Turning away, I begin looking for more rubbish, hoping she’ll follow me, and, more importantly, start talking.
Fortunately, she does.
“Well, uh, as I already said, I’m not here on holiday. It’s nowhere near as fun as that. I’m here … for a rehab, of sorts.”
As I have my back to her, I allow the surprise I feel to show on my face. I had not been expecting that.
“Oh?” I say, trying to sound casual.
“Yeah.” She pauses. “I had a bit of a meltdown at work.”
“Ah. Your boss a bit of an arsehole is he? Or she?” I add, not wanting to sound sexist.
Caroline snorts. “Not exactly. I am the boss.”