As a successful romance novelist, Alena Romanova is no stranger to love. Drawing from a long line of failed relationships and a rap sheet of past sexual exploits, she churns out stories of burning lust and heartbreak to adoring readers who hang on her every word. But when her fiancé breaks her heart and her career comes to a screeching halt, she escapes to a tropical island paradise in the South Pacific to find solace and healing.
Instead, she finds herself caught in the undertow between the affections of two men – one a local Polynesian and the other an American expatriate – pulling her heart in opposite directions. As she is drawn into the allure of island romance and the hidden dangers within, she discovers a new definition of love and the courage she never knew she had to pursue it with all of her heart.
Alena had always written about destiny and the happily-ever-after. She just didn’t believe it could ever happen to her. Until now.
This is Book 1 in the Romantic Discovery Series.
Prologue and Chapter 1: Paradise Found
Bound. Abandoned. Left to die.
Ropes, roughly and tightly fastened around her wrists and ankles, carved deeply into her skin with every twitch of resistance. Her mind, struggling to stay conscious, like a mantra from somewhere outside of her yet also from within, continually reminded her of who she was.
You are Alena Romanova. You have a name, a life – a living, breathing soul.
Lying in a puddle of sludge in the middle of the Tahitian jungle, she hung her head, giving up all defiant resistance as strands of soaking wet hair splashed across her dirty face. Torrential rainfall pummeled her entire body and the muddy ground around her as the sound of gale force winds tore through the trees and jungle vegetation like the jet-wash of a 747.
You are Alena Romanova, romance novelist. You cannot die now. You have one more story to tell. The greatest of all.
Fear seized her heart and emotions like a vice as she curled into a fetal position and covered her head to protect it from catapulting branches, leaves, rocks, flying coconuts, and other jungle debris that whipped up around her like she was on the inside of a blender of all hell breaking loose.
They said that this was going to be the most devastating cyclone in years. They said that no one would be safe in a small hut, much less outdoors in the open. Whatever they had predicted, she was an eyewitness to the fact that they were right.
She closed her eyes to avoid windswept debris and whispered a silent prayer.
You are Alena Romanova. Someone knows you’re here. Someone will come for you.
But that someone – her true love, she knew that now – could not come. He had been ripped from her life, his life stolen from him, and with him, all of Alena’s hopes and dreams. She blamed herself. If only she had never known him. Maybe he would still be alive today. But it was impossible. He was gone and she would never be able to see him again – to gaze into his tender eyes, to look upon his loving face. All she wanted was just one last chance to say the words that she had been too afraid to tell him:
“I love you.”
You are Alena Romanova. Your life has a destiny. This cannot be the end…
As any last hope of survival diminished with the rising storm around her, Alena’s thoughts drifted back to where she had come from. How could she have allowed herself to come to this point? It had all started so peacefully, so gently, as if she were gliding upon the wings of a dove to find her freedom in these islands of paradise.
With the storm bearing down on her like a demon over its victim, Alena’s mind traveled back two months earlier to the very day she stepped foot on the island. Back to a simpler time, when she had opened the shutters of her uncle’s villa to a rising sun over a calm South Pacific Ocean and a whole new world full of life and possibility.
Chapter 1: Paradise Found
Freshly-painted turquoise shutters swung open to a view of a tropical beach and a teal sea that stretched to the edge of eternity. Sunlight pierced through the wide-open second-floor bedroom window of the beachfront villa in Puna’auia, casting its delicate rays upon Alena’s red silk bathrobe as she closed her eyes to soak in the dream of the Tahitian fantasy island that now surrounded her.
She breathed in the salty sea air, listened to the tropical birds sing her a song of praise to the early morning, and for the first time in weeks, simply smiled.
Deep blue skies that had awoken before she did and tranquil white clouds that hung like cotton reminded her that jet-lag and the double-layover 18-hour trip across the world to get here were well worth it. Just below her, the sugar-white sandy beach beckoned, while lazy palm trees waved good morning in the breeze.
How she had longed to get away from the life she had known: the fast-paced noise of the city, the striving for perfection in a world of high-strung competition, and the relationships that always ended in misery. As a successful romance novelist, she drew from her failed relationships and past sexual exploits, writing page after page of burning lust and heartbreak to adoring readers who hung on her every word.
Blame it on college. It had all begun in Delta Phi sorority when NYU’s campus newspaper published an article, in which Alena had graphically described her hot date with Sigma Phi house leader, Gil McMahon. Before the article was published, Gil had cunningly tricked Alena into falling in love with him on their first date but later stabbed her in the back by posting intimate photos of their date online, whose slightly-censored version had eventually landed on the front page of the college paper. The editor had given Alena one chance to redeem herself to share her side of the story. And write it, Alena did.
Almost immediately after her no-holds-barred account of their date was published, Alena not only became a popular writer on campus, but her sorority sisters had also pleaded with her to write more of her sensual adventures and romantic stories, and although her reputation as the “sorority harlot” eventually disappeared, a blossoming writing career for Alena had begun.
Fast-forward seven years. Manhattan looked much different from a penthouse suite view and a six-figure income. Alena had found herself on top of the world in her career, churning out novels every six months, doing interviews on the Today Show, and becoming a household name in the romantic genre. She’d become successful in every area of her life except, ironically, when it had come to love.
As far back as Alena could remember, it had always been her childhood dream to marry a wealthy man and be the object of his spoiling affections, but one failed relationship after another was enough for any woman to lose hope, and sadly, Alena had publicly become the proverbial pitiful girl in the fairy tale whose prince had not come.
Until one day, her dream had arrived.
It was at a dinner party for the rich and well-to-do, and Alena couldn’t help but gush over the dashing brother of a New York City hotel investor. Love had blossomed and bloomed and an engagement ring finally topped off the Cinderella fantasy.
But then love as she had known it, the ideal romance, had come to a crushing halt, as if her heart were a Rolls Royce blindsided by a Mack truck, and almost all at once, in her overly-priced penthouse studio apartment on the upper West Side, the blank page had stared back at her and given her the look. She knew the look well, the one that says, “I own this place, and you’re not going anywhere.”
Almost a month later, with writer’s block still firmly in control and her heart a mess, Alena knew she had to get away. As far away as possible. Maybe she should have told her editing staff where she was going. Maybe she should have warned them that she might not even come back at all. After all, the last heartbreak had left her without a single story to tell.
For the first three days in Tahiti, breakfast in Alena’s new digs consisted of pulling at a flaky, freshly-baked, piping-hot croissant and sipping a cappuccino loaded with extra sweetener over the milky froth. It was just the way she liked it – like coffee, like life – so sweet that the sugar granules crunched in her mouth like pebbles.
The little breakfast nook with elegant furniture was on the balcony outside her bedroom overlooking the ocean. There was always an ocean view at her uncle’s place. Always a sea breeze. Always a slow pace. Always sunshine. At least since she’d arrived, that was the way it was. And there were no complaints.
On the third day after breakfast, Alena took a leisurely stroll among the grounds of the villa. She was alone on the multi-acre property – the beach to the north, tropical gardens to the south, and miles from the nearest neighbor.
Having changed into a comfortable sundress, the sun rays felt strong on her bare shoulders and the sounds of swifts and swallows chirped and sang a melody of stereophonic symphony so foreign to her ears that she would have thought she was in another world. Her own little world – a tropical paradise with such warmth, like a tangible embrace, touching right to a place in her heart that had not been disturbed since she was a child.
Her dark, curly brunette hair fell lazily over her chest as she wandered slowly down windy cobblestone paths, through freshly cut lawns with thick trees and wide palm branches, vibrant tropical flowers, glossy green leaves, and expansive gardens.
Tahiti was as beautiful as her uncle had always described it. Even as a little girl, listening to her uncle’s stories of the tropical paradise with wide eyes and a hopeful heart, Alena had dreamed of one day coming here. It was a longing that would never go away – through her teenage years, in college, and right up until last week.
In many ways, Alena knew she was destined to come.
And then she paused, seeing something that took her breath away: the Tiare Tahiti, a native-grown gardenia of delicate white petals around a daffodil-colored center that stood out in sharp contrast to the green leaves around it. Stooping down to inhale its fragrant scent, Alena closed her eyes and remembered the conversation she had had with her uncle back in Manhattan.
Just one week earlier, with the sun peeking over the New York skyline outside her bedroom window, Alena had awoken from a dream in a cold sweat pondering the meaning of the sound of distant yet distinct island drumming. She had seen nothing, felt nothing, but knew that sound, as if from a memory of a life she had never known. The soft beat of the drums had moved in time with the rhythm of her heartbeat. Then the answer had come.
Tahiti. It was calling to her.
“I only need the place for a week, maybe less,” she had pleaded with her uncle. Her stature, normally strong and confident, had become vulnerable. Her eyes had been puffy from crying, her sniffles fighting back her feelings. “I promise I’ll take good care of it,” she’d added in Russian, to further persuade him if he wasn’t convinced already.
Her uncle was Patrov Romanova, the famous publishing tycoon who owned more than half of the industry based in Manhattan. It was because of him that she had been able to publish her first romance novel. To top it off, he was also the proud owner of a recently fully-restored villa in the secluded northwest corner of Puna’auia on Tahiti Nui, the big island, which was the same place he had gone on vacation many times before. Having fallen in love with the South Pacific ages ago, Uncle Patrov would come back to New York after traveling there with golden skin, a glow on his face, and an excitement in his voice. And Alena had always looked forward to his stories and the exciting souvenirs from the place that she could only imagine in her mind as heaven on earth.
Now with her life in shambles and the need to get away at a boiling point, there was no better time than the present.
Alena also knew that Uncle Patrov had not become a successful businessman without understanding people, or trusting his instincts. “Why don’t you take it for a month, perhaps two?” he said gently, touching his niece’s arms. “The island sun will do you some good. I’ll make all the arrangements.”
“Thank you, uncle!” she responded in Russian, unseemly embracing the tall, stately man, using her entire willpower not to stain his suit and tie with her tears.
He returned the hug and offered some words of advice that took her by surprise. “And while you are there, be sure to look around the gardens. You will find a white wild flower by the name of Tiare Tahiti. The locals say it is used for many purposes, but one in particular … for healing.”
Her thoughts returned to the garden in paradise where she breathed in the perfume-scented aroma of the delicate flower as she wondered how he had known that was exactly what she had needed the most.
Walking further along the cobblestone path, Alena discovered an enclosure of trees and another garden within. Granite slabs surrounded pools of water with cascading waterfalls at one end. Palm branches hung over the pools and sunlight beamed past the wide-leafed tropical trees higher above. There were hoots of birds and chirping of the softer sort, and colorful sparrow-like birds flitting down to the rocks and ascending to the trees as quickly as they had landed.
She laughed gently and picked up her pace along the path as she realized that Uncle Patrov had designed this place as an actual outdoor bath! Hidden behind thick vegetation at one end of the garden pools was a bathroom that could have been a luxury in a five-star hotel – two large sinks, marble-white counter tops, a long mirror above them, and a pure coconut-oil soap bar in a dish shaped like a seashell. A toilet sat behind a glass stall, and next to it, a four-person hot tub made entirely out of marble. A cabinet contained bath wash, shampoo, and towels. It almost seemed a shame that none of this was being put to good use.
Unable to resist the temptation, Alena slipped out of her sundress and laid it on the marble counter top, taking the bar of soap outside. Under the bright sunlight, surrounded by trees, gardens, pools, and nature, she closed her eyes, reached her arms up and stretched in a yoga sun salutation, feeling completely at one with her surroundings. After a good minute of deep breathing, she pattered up the small staircase over the granite rocks and slipped her feet into the warm pool. Sliding into the water freely and gracefully, she immersed herself completely underwater as the sounds of the world were replaced with the temporary silence and tranquility of the water.
Then gliding back up through the surface, the world welcomed her return, indulging her senses.
At the far end of the pool, she stood under a cascading waterfall fountain that poured over her head and shoulders. From high above, tropical bulbuls serenaded her, sunlight rays crept through the trees, and palm branches slowly danced to a song only they could hear.
Alena closed her eyes, her face melting into a smile of contentment and bliss, as she bathed. The aroma of the coconut soap intoxicated her, casting a kind of magical spell over her, allowing her mind and imagination to come alive in ways it never had before.
Now Alena was never one to experience what some might call visions, or even understand the spirit world beyond her own humanistic level, but there in the bath, amidst the mystique of tropical nature all around, she had without question a vision.
It came as a clear image of a local island male with dark skin, powerful shoulders and chest muscles, and except for a necklace with one shark’s tooth in the center, he wore tattoos painted on his chest and on both solid arms.
This was not an image of smoke and mirrors. This was as real as any man she had ever met, and he stood directly behind her in the water, towering over her, his thick black hair, long and curly and tight, falling just past his shoulders. There was something fierce about him, something animalistic, rugged, rustic.
As she slid her hands of lathered soap slowly over her body, she imagined his hands reaching out to touch her, tough and calloused on her smooth skin, starting with her shoulders, with his mouth close to her neck. The touch of his gentle finger tips on her skin was electrifying, and she had the feeling that if she resisted, he would most certainly overpower her, but in a way that she would melt into. With her eyes still closed, she reached over to touch his arm and could swear that she had actually touched that arm!
Snapping her eyes open and whirling around to face the waterfalls, Alena was ready to defend herself with one arm covering her chest and the other hand clenched in a fist. She silently cursed herself for appearing too vulnerable in this place, but after she had spun around, there was nothing there but the water cascading into the pool from the fountain above. Her heart was pounding, her breath erratic. He was here, she swore it. His body, his arm, his breath.
And now that he was gone, leaving a misty aura in his wake, Alena’s loneliness washed away with the falls and a shiver ran down her spine.