f everyone on the guest list, and none of them had had such an impressive outline. So who the hell was he?
Phoebe ran her gaze over him, momentarily forgetting what was going on behind her, and found herself wondering what he looked like. Part of her longed for him to step into the light so she could get a proper look at him and see if his looks matched up to his voice. The other toyed with the idea of summoning the bouncers.
Because whoever he was, this was a private party and if he wasn’t on the guest list then he was gatecrashing. In fact, she thought, pulling herself together, he could well have sneaked in while she’d been in Mr Bogoni’s office, staring at the fuzzy CCTV feed and simultaneously trying to swallow her astonishment, placate the volatile Italian and ignore his mutterings about suing for damages should anything happen to the flamingo.
‘I’m at exactly the right party. And it’s turned out to be far more interesting than I could possibly have imagined.’
Phoebe frowned and was just about to demand his invitation when she heard a series of splashes behind her. A shower of cool water hit the backs of her legs and she stifled a squeal of shock. Mark must have got bored with the flamingo, thank goodness, and decided to come over and investigate this latest development.
‘I suspect the show’s nearly over.’
‘That’s a shame. I was enjoying it.’
Despite the warmth of the night she shivered. ‘There’s far better entertainment inside. Drinks, music, dancing. Much more exciting.’
‘I’m inclined to disagree,’ he said softly and her heart thumped. ‘Besides, I’ve spent the past sixteen hours either in a car or on a plane. At this stage of the evening fresh air is a novelty.’
‘Plenty of fresh air on the other side of the bar. As you can see, I’m afraid I have things to attend to.’
As soon as Mark stumbled to within reaching distance she’d pull him out and bundle him off herself.
‘Do you really think you can handle this on your own?’
If she’d been able to see his face properly she was sure she’d find a patronising smile hovering at his lips and Phoebe bristled. She’d been handling things on her own for years. ‘Of course.’
He folded his arms over his chest and shrugged. ‘In that case I’ll stay out of your way.’
‘Thank you,’ she said crisply and turned back.
Mark was far closer that she’d thought and was waving the bottle of champagne even more wildly than before. All he had to do was trip and he’d land right on top of her.
It was now or never. Phoebe reached out to grab him but he reeled back, teetering as if balancing on the edge of a precipice and then pitched forward. Flailing around while desperately trying to cling onto his balance, his arm and the hand holding the bottle swung round in her direction. An arc of champagne sprayed through the air. Phoebe let out a little cry and jerked back, her hands flying to her head.
Oh no, not her hair. Please not her hair.
She didn’t have time to recover and pull Mark out. A split second later a pair of large hands clamped round her waist and shoved her to one side. She yelped in shock and watched in stunned appal as the shadowy stranger grabbed Mark by the T-shirt and hauled him out of the water.
‘Hey, what are you doing?’ Mark yelled, splashing frantically as the bottle of champagne landed in the water with a plop.
Good question, thought Phoebe dazedly, her skin beneath her dress burning where his hands had gripped her.
‘Taking out the rubbish,’ he snarled and leaned in very close. ‘Men like you belong behind bars.’
‘What are you talking about?’ Mark spluttered. ‘Get off me. You can’t do this. I’ll sue.’
‘Go right ahead,’ he growled.
‘You’ll be sorry.’
‘I doubt it. Wait here,’ he snapped at Phoebe, and then dragged Mark, kicking and struggling, across the garden.
For a moment Phoebe had no choice in the matter. She stood frozen to the spot, droplets of icy water clinging to her bare legs, her heart hammering while shock reverberated around her and the outraged sound of Mark’s protests and threats rang in her ears.
In dumb stupefaction she watched the two men disappear round the corner and struggled to make sense of what had just gone on. Maybe she’d been hurled into a third-rate action film, because in reality men didn’t just leap out of nowhere, elbow their way into the action and then march off leaving chaos trailing in their wake like a brief but devastating tornado. At least, not in her experience.
As her shock receded the potential consequences of this little episode filtered into her head. How dared he barge in like that? When she’d told him in no uncertain terms that she was in control of the situation. Did he have any idea of the damage he could have done?