Authors: Sara Craven
She was living on the edge of torment
Charlie Graham had come thousands of miles across the world--the
Amazon promised excitement, adventure and new hope for her
bedraggled soul. But she hadn't counted on being kidnapped by one
of Brazil's richest rubber planters, Riago da Santana, and held
hostage in his jungle castle!
Of course, the kidnapping was a misunderstanding, and nobody
could have predicted the torrential rains that flooded the river,
stranding everybody. But that hadn't stopped the black sheep of the
Santana family from sweeping Charlie away. He'd taken her body
and devastated her mind and her senses. And then he demanded she
become his bride!
wonder if you
do me a favour...'
Charlie Graham's lips parted in a soundless gasp of disbelief and her
hands clenched on the rail of the boat until her knuckles turned
She went on staring down into the brown waters of the river, hoping
against hope that the tentative remark might have been addressed to
someone else—anyone else—but knowing at the same time that it
wasn't possible. Because there was only one other European on the
boat with her—the blonde girl who'd boarded at Manaus.
I've come thousands of miles across the world, she thought, for
some peace and quiet. To get away from appeals like that. Yet
'Excuse me,' the voice insisted, and Charlie turned unsmilingly.
'I was wondering...' The other girl beamed ingratiatingly at her as
she fished into her shoulder-bag and produced an envelope. 'Could
you deliver this for me to the hotel in Mariasanta?'
On the surface it seemed a harmless enough request, but Charlie's
interest was aroused just the same, especially as the newcomer,
whose name she knew from the scrappy passenger list was Fay
Preston, had stayed aloof, barely addressing one remark to her until
She said, 'Why don't you deliver it yourself? We'll be arriving in
Mariasanta the day after tomorrow.'
'I'm not going that far,' the girl said shortly. 'I'm getting off at the
fuel stop, and catching the next boat back to Manaus.' She
shuddered dramatically. 'I've had Brazil and the mighty Amazon
river right up to here.' She gestured, giving an awkward little laugh.
'I mean—have you seen what they call first-class accommodation on
'Why, yes,' Charlie admitted levelly. 'As a matter of fact, I'm
occupying some of it.'
Fay Preston tossed her head. 'Well, so am I, but that doesn't mean I
have to like it. This whole trip's been a disaster from day one. I just
didn't think it would
like this—so primitive and awful. I'm
getting out now, while I can.'
Charlie looked at her with faint amusement. She had to admit that
the other girl looked completely out of place on the unsophisticated
She exuded the high gloss that only money could buy,
from her extravagant mane of streaked hair to her designer clothes
and elegant sandals. Charlie had wondered more than once why Fay
Preston had been attracted to such a holiday in the first place, when
she'd have been far more at home on the Riviera or some other
expensive European playground.
So she wasn't surprised to learn that four days of drawing water for
washing out of the river in a bucket of her own providing had been
enough for Fay, not to mention the curtained-off hole in the deck
which served as a toilet, and the uninterrupted diet of rice and black
beans, eked out by fish and occasional pork if they tied up at an
She said lightly, 'That sounds serious. Have you had secret
s about to sink?'
'Oh, no.' The blue eyes seemed suddenly evasive. 'Perhaps I phrased
it badly.' She smiled nervously. 'I mean—I just don't want to go any
further up-river, otherwise
might miss the return trip.' She proffered
the envelope. 'So—if you would be so kind...'
Charlie took it, making little effort to conceal her reluctance. She
was being mean, she supposed, but she was fed up with doing
favours for people. Of hearing them say confidently, 'Oh, Charlie
will do it'—no matter how much inconvenience might be involved.
'Charlie by name, and Charlie by nature. The universal dogsbody,'
she'd once heard her sister Sonia say with a giggle, and it still hurt.
She would be going ashore at Mariasanta, so she wasn't really going
to be put out at all, yet at the same time she was aware of an
She glanced briefly at the superscription on the envelope before
tucking it into her own bag.
'Senhor R. da Santana'
it said in a
childishly rounded script. No address—not even that of the hotel,
although she supposed it was doubtful whether Mariasanta would
boast more than one.
Fay's smile was anxious. 'I'd arranged to meet friends,' she said. 'I
thought I'd better drop them a line—explain why I couldn't make it
Curiouser and curiouser, Charlie thought, especially as these
'friends' appeared to be male and in the singular. But what the hell?
she called herself to order. It was really none of her business.
She said drily, 'So—I just leave this at the hotel for collection?'
The other nodded eagerly. 'If you wouldn't mind. I can't thank you
'It's all right,' Charlie returned with more civility than truth, and Fay
flashed her another brittle smile before walking off, her heels
wobbling on the uneven deck, leaving Charlie to return to her
fascinated scrutiny of the passing scenery.
When she'd begun this cruise the Amazon had seemed as wide as
some vast ocean, but now it had narrowed, closed in on the
the high green forest which bordered it seeming almost
accessible—as if she could stretch out her arm and touch it.
Reminding her of one of the reasons behind this journey. One which
she'd barely acknowledged, even to herself, before throwing off the
shackles and restraints of home.
She sighed, remembering the furore when she'd announced her
intention of taking a holiday in the Brazilian interior.
'You surely aren't serious.' Her mother's face had been totally
outraged. 'What on earth will you do—miles from civilisation like
Be on my own for once, Charlie had thought fiercely. Enjoy a few
weeks of independence.
But she hadn't said so aloud. Like so many selfish and demanding
people, her mother had feelings all too easily wounded, and any
such remark from Charlie would have been met with days of sulks
and pointed remarks. She'd learned to her cost and long ago that it
simply wasn't worth it.
Instead she'd said quietly, 'It's always been an ambition of mine.'
What curious ambitions you do have,' Sonia had drawled,
down her coffee-cup. 'One minute you're skivvying for a pack of
ungrateful old biddies. The next you're vanishing up the Amazon.
What will the local geriatric brigade do without you?'
'Oh, don't even talk about it,' Mrs Graham said pettishly. 'It's enough
disgrace having a daughter in domestic service, without allowing it
to become a topic of conversation in my own sitting-room.'
'I'm a home help,' Charlie said patiently. 'And I happen to like my
old ladies very much.'
Sonia gave a silvery laugh. 'Well, you have every reason to adore
the late Mrs Hughes, leaving you that weird legacy to be spent on
foreign travel. Although I bet she didn't have the Amazon in mind.
She probably expected you'd do a guided educational tour round the
European capitals and meet some suitable man.' She gave her sister's
slight figure a disparaging look. 'But then, of course, she didn't
really know you very well, did she?'
'Perhaps not,' Charlie agreed colourlessly. She wondered if by
'suitable' Sonia was thinking of someone like her own husband. In
Charlie's view, Gordon was a smug, self-opinionated bore, smart
and sleek on the surface, but already running to fat in his designer
suits like an over-stuffed sofa. But as Sonia and their mother were
totally complacent about the marriage, Charlie kept her opinions
carefully to herself.
'So, cleaning all that silver and listening to her endless ramblings
paid dividends in the end.' Sonia lit a cigarette. 'Really quite clever
of you, sweetie.'
Charlie boiled inwardly, and silently. It hadn't been clever at all.
Mrs Hughes had seemed to enjoy her visits, and they'd struck up
quite a friendship in the relatively short time available, but that was
all there was to it. Charlie had been genuinely grieved when Mrs
Hughes had succumbed to a final heart attack, and the subsequent
letter from a solicitor informing her of her bequest had left her
Apart from anything else, Mrs Hughes had lived very modestly.
There'd been nothing to suggest she'd had that sort of money at her
'To my dear young friend Charlotte Graham, so that she may spread
her wings abroad at last,' the codicil had stated.
'I can't accept it,' Charlie had said at first, and the solicitor, Mr
Beckwith, had smiled understandingly.
'You won't be depriving some deserving relative, my dear young
lady. Far from it,' he commented with a certain dryness. 'The rest of
the estate goes to Mrs Hughes's nephew Philip, and he,
unfortunately, has not been in contact with his aunt for several
years. In fact, it isn't certain where he is, or even if he's still alive.'
He sighed. 'Rather a self-willed, adventurous young man, I
'Mrs Hughes thought he was still alive,' Charlie said. 'She was
convinced of it. She talked about him a lot—said he'd gone to South
America to prospect for gold, swearing he'd come back a
Mr Beckwith tutted. 'A very risky undertaking, and a great grief to
his aunt. We shall advertise, of course, but he could be anywhere.
South America—so vast.'
In the days that had followed Charlie had found herself thinking
more and more about the missing Philip Hughes.
'We quarrelled,' Mrs Hughes had told her sadly. 'I wanted him to
continue training for his late father's profession—so worthwhile—
and he wanted to see the world. Neither of us was prepared to
compromise.' She sighed. 'I, at least, know better now. He wrote a
few times from Paraguay, and then from Brazil, but for the last two
She'd shown Charlie a photograph. Philip Hughes was tall and fair,
staring self-consciously at the camera, an arm draped across his
aunt's shoulders. There was nothing in his conventional good looks
to suggest that underneath there was a wild adventurer yearning for
But then, no one would think that of me either, Charlie thought with
a faint grin. Especially when I'm still living at home at twenty-two.
She'd made several attempts to strike out on her own and find a bed-
sitter, but each time her mother had reacted with tears and hysterical
outbursts about neglect and ingratitude.
Charlie had always hated scenes, and raised, angry voices made her
feel physically sick. But some inner voice told her she had to
weather the storm about her holiday, or she would never have any