Bride By Design 3: Manchala Nights

By: Alicia Roberts

Chapter One

It was late afternoon by the time we reached the Grand House, a seven-bedroom villa sitting atop the central hill in Manchala.

When I looked away from the house, the hill sloped downwards and I could see the untouched beaches and angry waves of Manchala. It was a thrill to be here - a place very few men or women had ever set foot on.

The Grand House, Don told us, was the first and only thing he'd built on the island, a retreat for him and his extended family. He hoped to maybe live in the House one day, after he retired. It was sprawling and majestic, and there seemed to be nobody else inside.

When I commented on the quietness, Don said, "Everyone's having a siesta. It's our tradition here, after lunch - and we hope you two'll get some rest after your terrible flight in." He winked at me, and I tried to smile and forget the horrible kite-like plane. "We'll have a barbeque dinner in a few hours' time, and you'll meet the rest of the guests then."

A uniformed servant appeared out of nowhere and led us to our room. After he left, I closed the door and leaned back against it. I felt overwhelmed by it all and wanted to laugh maniacally, or sink to the floor in amazement. Manchala was gorgeous with its pristine beaches, dark green forests and the lush tropical quietness. The Grand House was understated and welcoming and I wondered at the strange twist of fate that allowed me to have a glimpse at this secret luxury - a place most people would never even know about, let alone visit.

Colin had dragged our luggage out of the way and opened the curtains. When he saw me leaning against the door, he seemed to know how I felt.

He came and leaned beside me. "Strange new world, huh?"

I turned and smiled at him. "It must be just another day at work for you."

He nodded, his smile thin and his eyes hooded. "But it wasn't always like this."

"No, I guess not." I wondered what he'd done before he'd become a property developer. "Everyone has to start somewhere."

"And now I plan to get somewhere." The steel was back in his voice, and his eyes were flashing. "This resort is going to be my mark."

I sighed. "I can't imagine a resort here, it would just ruin everything."

"Oh it'll be exclusive, of course."

He reached out and touched my shoulder. I felt the sparks against my skin and I drew back quickly. I was going to live up to the promise I'd made myself on the plane - I wouldn't let Colin touch me or kiss me, and there was no way anything would happened between us on Manchala. I planned to get back home with my pride and heart intact, there was no way I'd be a notch on Colin's belt.

He seemed surprised at my quick withdrawal, and his jade eyes widened slightly.

"I'm going to take a bath," I said coldly, ignoring the twinge of guilt I felt when I saw his eyes. "And I'm happy to pretend we're all lovey-dovey around the others, but don't think I'm letting you kiss me again."

I unzipped my luggage and grabbed the first clothes I saw.

When I closed the bathroom door behind myself, I had to groan under my breath. This was ridiculous - did all the bathrooms have such a lovely spa bathtub? They probably did. The room was done in shades of beige and gold, and there was even a delicate loveseat near the tub. I filled it up and switched it on, shedding my clothes and sinking down into the warm bubbles that soothed and relaxed me until I forgot all about my flight in.

I started to wonder what the other couples would be like, and what Don's wife was like. Would everyone be rude and stand-offish to each other? Or would they pretend to be nice?

After a while, I finally got out of the water and got dressed. I'd pulled out a purplish maxi dress - this was something I actually liked a lot, it was dark and stylish, floaty and comfortable without being revealing.

Colin was sitting on the edge of the bed, scrolling through his tablet.

"I need to tell you about the other people here," he said, brusquely. "And we'd better get our stories straight. Everyone will want to know how we met and what's going on with our marriage."

I nodded and sat down on the sofa opposite. We looked at each other stiffly, all business, and slightly uncomfortable. I ignored the way sunlight bounced off his hair, and the fact that a part of me wanted to go and press myself against him and feel his warm lips on mine. It was time to do my job, and to ignore my emotions.

Colin and I discussed what we'd say, how we'd met and how happy we were in our marriage. It felt ironic to be talking about how happily we were married, when we were sitting far away from each other and being careful not to feel the attraction between us.

Once we got our stories straight, Colin began to reel off the list of other people who were here. Roger and Celine were on the island - they were Colin's closest competitors. Roger came from one of the oldest and richest families in the US, and I gasped when I heard his last name. His father had been one of Sir Donald's closest friends, and Don was predisposed to give the resort job to Roger.

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