By: Sylvia Day

Primula Bond

The idea of swinging in a hammock above the Bay of Naples seemed like utter heaven when Samantha first suggested it. We were sitting in the British Museum at the time, staring at the shrivelled remains of someone who had failed to escape the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. Every six months or so we’d meet there for some sisterly bonding, to ponder the exhibits until we felt sufficiently educated. Then we’d repair to the pub so that we could catch up – or rather I could listen to tales of her doomed love life.

‘Except that I don’t really have a love life at the moment, unlike you, lucky thing.’ Samantha sighed, tapping my engagement ring as we waited to cross the road. ‘How is the mysterious Geoffrey, by the way?’

I conjured up my imaginary fiancé from the collage of magazine cuttings stuck to my pin board at home. I love my younger sister, but she’s too nosy by half. I had to invent Geoffrey to keep her and my other friends off my back.

‘He’s fine. In the States, actually. Dying to meet you.’

‘Which is why you’d be the ideal travelling companion. Respectable, spoken for, always available…There’s an extra space in the villa, you see. You love the sun, or you used to. You’re a brilliant cook. There’ll be plenty of culture. And you won’t be competition when we’re out pulling the locals.’

‘We?’ I paused at the door of the pub.

‘Me and Greta. Don’t look so horrified.’ Sam flicked her golden plaits at me. ‘She speaks English really well now. We’re best mates.’ Now she was blushing.

‘For some reason clients always want us on modelling assignments together.’

‘You mean you still haven’t twigged why identical Frauleins in scraps of lace and shaking their booties like the Cheeky Girls is such a winner?’ I said, with not a little trace of incredulity at her naivety. It was then I caught sight of my dishevelled reflection in the tarnished pub mirror – long hair falling out of a chaotic top knot, big eyes watering over the emerald-green pashmina protecting my face from the late spring chill. I was not so much cheeky as peaky.

‘I suppose we are alike –’

‘You’re their best investment since what’s her name, who’s always in the society pages. Come on, doll. Why do the pair of you want someone like me coming on your girlie holiday?’

‘We don’t, really.’ Sam bit her lip and pushed her way to the bar to order my favourite Merlot.

‘Oh, that’s charming.’

‘I mean, it’s the agency who suggested it. In fact they’ll only let us have the time off if we take a kind of –’

‘What? Minder?’

Sam giggled. Even her laugh made me feel ungainly and ancient, but protective too. I’d looked after her since our mum died, done everything for her until the talent scouts took over and it was time for me to get a life.

‘Chaperone. Apparently we’re not considered proper adults, even at the age of twenty. They don’t want us misbehaving and ruining our looks for the Gleneagles shoot next month.’ She pouted her pillowy mouth. ‘You’re even to make sure we don’t get sunburned.’

The idea of swinging in a hammock over the Bay of Naples with a pair of nubile honeys in tow would not have been my first suggestion for an ideal holiday – but it didn’t stop me from accepting the offer. I even wangled for the holiday to be paid through the agency and, after some toing and froing, cast caution to the chill wind and went for it.

* * *

The peachy villa was paradise regained. Hidden in a lush garden on top of a pink cliff overlooking a small, deserted beach, it had cool flagstoned floors with terra-cotta tubs of huge cacti dotted about the poolside terrace and entrance. Tiny finches darted about the bougainvillea and the whole place hummed with life and heat. And right there was the hammock I’d imagined, slung especially for me between two black pine trees.

The days passed without incident. I relaxed on the terrace while the girls gossiped about the agency and the high dramas that seemed to occur with regularity in that world of fragile egos and beautiful creatures. I read the latest blockbuster novels, dozed in the shade and took photos of the landscape.