Authors: Margaret Way
Tags: #Romance: Modern, #Contemporary, #General, #Romance, #Romance - Contemporary, #Fiction, #Fiction - Romance, #Love stories, #English Light Romantic Fiction, #Ranchers
Welcome to the intensely emotional world of
Where rugged, brooding bachelors meet their match in the burning heart of Australia…
“Margaret Way delivers…
vividly written, dramatic stories.”
Romantic Times BOOK reviews
“With climactic scenes, dramatic imagery and bold characters, Margaret Way makes the Outback come alive…”
Romantic Times BOOKreviews
Look out for Margaret Way’s next Harlequin Romance in a special 2-in-1 volume with new Australian talent Jennie Adams—for double the romance!
Australian Bachelors, Sassy Brides
, a definite Leo, was born and raised in the subtropical River City of Brisbane, capital of the Sunshine State of Queensland. A Conservatorium-trained pianist, teacher, accompanist and vocal coach, she found her musical career came to an unexpected end when she took up writing—initially as a fun thing to do. She currently lives in a harborside apartment at beautiful Raby Bay, a thirty-minute drive from the state capital. She loves dining alfresco on her plant-filled balcony, overlooking a translucent green marina filled with all manner of pleasure craft—from motor cruisers costing millions of dollars, and big, graceful yachts with carved masts standing tall against the cloudless blue sky, to little bay runabouts. No one and nothing is in a mad rush, and she finds the laid-back village atmosphere very conducive to her writing. With well over a hundred books to her credit, she still believes her best is yet to come.
afternoon in late spring. October in the Southern Hemisphere.
Glorious sunshine, vibrant blue sky, the sweet warbling of a thousand unseen birds sheltering in the cool density of trees. A white limousine pulled up outside the lovely old Anglican church of St Cecilia’s, one in a stately procession bearing guests to the “Wedding of the Year”. As a caption, “Wedding of the Year” was more hackneyed than most, but that was how Zara Fraser, society columnist for the
, phrased it at the behest of her boss, a golfing pal of Sir Clive Erskine, the bride’s grandfather. Be that as it may, it was difficult for Zara to quibble. This was definitely a
Nearly everyone on the bride’s guest list was mega-rich; on the bridegroom’s side the usual sprinkling of savvy young lawyers with their dressed-to-the-teeth partners, a lesser sprinkling of everyday folk struggling with the kids, the mortgage and keeping it all together. As for the bride’s soon-to-be in-laws, they had taken off on a round trip to Antarctica and thus couldn’t attend. It had been suggested at a mid-week dinner party that they had deliberately planned their trip to coincide with the wedding because their only son hadn’t lived up to the rules of behaviour they had endeavoured to instil in him. Doing the right thing was what got one through life.
What today’s bridegroom was doing wasn’t right in anyone’s book. The word on the street was that the groom had sunk lower than a worm shuffling under a leaf.
Two hundred people had been invited to the church and two hundred and
were in attendance. Almost as many more had been invited along to the grand reception. The setting was idyllic. The magnificent shade trees, the jacarandas, the golden shower trees and the apple-blossom cassias were in radiant bloom all over the city, lifting the heart with their splendour. A particularly lovely jacaranda—the grass ringing the tree with spent lavender-blue blossom—dominated the precinct of the old Gothic-style church with its pointed arches and tall slender columns and much admired medieval-style marble pulpit. To either side of the stone building with its token buttresses lay large circular flower beds that literally teemed with fragrant pink roses. A picture-book setting for a picture-book wedding.
To one person at least—the
guest—the whole thing was nothing less than a ghastly nightmare.
That person now emerged so gracefully from the white limousine that she appeared to flow out of it, quite mesmerizing to watch. She accepted a hand from the uniformed chauffeur, who couldn’t believe his luck that his boss had given him such a plum assignment. The young woman looked amazing—tall, very slender, a vision of female perfection and glamour. Looking to neither left nor right, she moved off in her sexy stilettos towards the short flight of stone steps that led to the church portals.
The wedding guests who alighted from the luxury limousines behind her, however, were frozen in their tracks. They gawped after her, some panic stricken, some downright intrigued.
“It couldn’t be.” Shock and a touch of gleeful anticipation.
“She’s right, you know. It is!”
“For God’s sake!” A substantial matron, Rosemary Erskine, mother of the bride, wearing an amazing electric-blue hat sprouting peacock feathers, gasped, “Cal, you have to
something!” She looked to the tall, commanding young man at her side as though if anyone could save the situation he could.
“What’s the problem, Rosemary?” Callum MacFarlane, Outback cattle baron and a cousin to the bride, was busy watching the progress of a walking work of art. He had no idea who the goddess was, though he was aware that all eyes were riveted on her. Why not? She looked pretty darn good to him. In fact she would take a man’s breath away. Not
, mercifully. He had gained immunity to beautiful women the hard way. But there was no harm in
Maybe Rosemary was het up because the latest arrival looked dead set to outshine Georgie, the bride? Or was it something far more problematic? The only thing that could account for such a reaction was the ex-fiancée had turned up. He’d been assured that she was behaving impeccably, so that couldn’t be it. So publicly humiliated that she was bound to have taken off for the wilds of New Guinea. This young woman was beautifully dressed in what was obviously a couture two-piece suit of an exquisite shade of pink. A dream of a picture hat shaded her head and face from the hot rays of the sun, one side weighed down by full blown silk roses in pink and cream. Such a hat, while affording protection, offered tantalizing glimpses of her classically beautiful face with a truly exquisite nose. The sort of nose women paid cosmetic surgeons a fortune to try to recreate.
The trouble was that most people, unlike Cal MacFarlane whose Channel Country cattle station Jingala was just about as far off the map as one could get, were familiar with that face. They fixated—in the case of the male viewer salivated—on it every week night on television when she read the six o’clock news with Jack Matthews, the long-time male presenter who behind the scenes gave Ms Wyatt a bad time.
“It’s that dreadful Amber Wyatt!” Rosemary hissed, her formidable face working tightly. Not a pleasant sight. This was a woman who was known to make people’s hair stand on end.
Well, fancy that! Cal had to wrench himself away from imagining what it would be like to have a woman like the vision in front of him. Despite his multiple defensive shields he felt a lunge of desire; swiftly killed it. Euphoria only lasted the proverbial fifteen minutes anyway.
“Hell, Cal!” A relative standing just behind him came to Rosemary’s aid. “
knows who she is. She’s—”
“Okay, okay, I’ve got it!”
So this seriously stunning young woman with what had to be the best pair of legs in the country was the woman Sean Sinclair, the bridegroom, had thrown over for Georgette.
Would wonders never cease?
It had fortune-hunting stamped all over it. Ms Amber Wyatt had been
. One had only to be jilted once, never to get it out of the system, he reflected grimly, his mind going off on a tangent. His ex-fiancée, Brooke Rowlands, had played as dirty as a woman could get. Like some knight of old, he had let her get away with it. The betrayal had happened while he’d been in Japan, part of a trade delegation. Brooke had taken a little holiday at the swank Oriental Hotel in Bangkok with one of his polo buddies. Ex-buddy. Ex-fiancée. He might have shaken off what black thoughts remained over that fiasco, but he had no illusions left about women.
No illusions about Sinclair either. He was a fortune-hunter. As fond as he was of Georgie, for her to believe she had utterly bewitched a man into abandoning a woman as beautiful as Amber Wyatt was as probable as her knocking back a previous proposal from George Clooney.
Cal had heard mentioned at last night’s family dinner that Ms Wyatt had won an award for a story about street kids, wringing admissions and follow-up promises from the
Government. She should feel good about that. Nevertheless, in coming here today she had flagrantly disregarded the rules of wedding etiquette. How rash was that? And Rosemary had chosen him to be the Enforcer. This totally unexpected appearance was giving quite a few of his relatives a bad case of the jitters. Just when they’d thought the whole thing had been sorted out:
Enter the ex-fiancée.
How could he do this to me?
Amber was experiencing a brief moment of wanting to turn tail and run. The malicious gods up there, the ones who toyed with human lives, would be expecting it, but that wasn’t going to happen. She was determined on keeping a lid on her emotions, even if this was possibly the most foolish and, let’s face it, the most
thing she’d ever done. Gatecrashing weddings was a serious breach of the rules, even for a fiancée cruelly dumped. She put it down to post traumatic stress. PTS was big these days. Even the courts listened.
Giving no outward sign of her nerves, she kept moving in line up the stone flight of steps. This was the very church where they had planned their own wedding. It was unbelievably callous. Sean couldn’t be allowed to get off scot-free. For every crime, one had to expect punishment. The bride had experienced no sense of guilt either at stealing another woman’s man. That put her on the hit list as well.
There was a shake in her now ringless hands. Of course she had sent the damned thing back by courier. Probably if she’d had the stone checked out she would have found it was a zircon. To counteract her tremulousness, she clasped the chain of her pink Chanel shoulder bag for support. She needed to be as cool as a cucumber to pull this off. There would be some satisfaction in making him cringe. Plenty of women, so cruelly jilted, had been known to run over their ex in a car,
then try it in Reverse. She had an idea of herself that precluded violence. But, given the despicable behaviour of Sean and his bride, a frisson of fright was well within her parameters of revenge.
She had just the moment picked out. The
moment when the Bishop, revelling in a role he was famous for, began to intone…. “I am required to ask anyone present who knows a reason why these persons may not lawfully marry, to declare it now.”
That was her cue to rise. At near six feet in her stilettos it would be difficult not to spot her. Then, when all necks were craned and unbelieving eyes were focused on her, she would calmly turn and walk out of the church, leaving the guests either bitterly disappointed that there hadn’t been more drama or aghast at such an assault on wedding etiquette.
All she had to do now was get past the ushers and inside the church. Though she kept her eyes trained ahead, she was aware that her presence was causing a stir. Little whispers wafted to her on the rose-scented breeze.
“Oh, goodness, it’s Amber Wyatt!”
“Has she got some guts, or hasn’t she?” Admiration there from a sister-at-arms.
“If I were her I’d kill myself, poor thing!”
Come on, why should I kill myself?
I haven’t done a thing wrong. Wrong has been done to me, just when life was going so great.
God, she felt ill. Buck up, Amber. It won’t be much longer. She was the sort of person who regularly gave herself pep talks. Hundreds of them of late. She was dressed to kill. Confidence in how one looked always helped. One couldn’t pity her and gape open-mouthed in admiration simultaneously. Her suit was the
shade of pink that complemented her hair—neither red nor gold nor copper but a combination of all three.
“We just have to call this little angel Amber!”
That had been her darling dad, holding his brand-new daughter in his adoring arms.
So Amber she was, though her bright, eye-catching hair was all but hidden by her masterpiece of a hat. It offered a modicum of camouflage. Her accessories were colour co-ordinated, perfect. The whole outfit had cost her way too much money, but her pride demanded she look staggeringly glamorous. She wouldn’t have been content with anything less. Her friend Jono, gay man about town who lived in the penthouse apartment above her and charged unheard of prices for writing other people’s software programs, a man who could be counted on to deliver a totally reliable verdict when it came to fashion, had given her the thumbs up and a spontaneous, “Wow!”
Ironically, it was her friend, the society columnist Zara Fraser, who had first broken the news to her…
She sat up in bed, bracing herself on one elbow as she made a grab for the phone. She nearly rapped, Who the blazes is this? but stopped just in time. There was a remote possibility it could be her boss. The digital clock on her bedside table read: A.M. 5.35. To make it worse, it was Sunday—her morning to sleep in. It couldn’t be Sean, although she hadn’t spoken to him for a few days. He wouldn’t ring at this time. Sean was safely in London on business, or as safe as one could be in the great cities of the world these scary days. Immediately the thought crossed her mind, she started to panic.
“Who else do you suppose? Is that you, Zee?”
“Jeez, love, I know it’s early. But you have to hear this.’
“If you’re ringing to tell me you’ve found Mr Right again, don’t dare put him on. I’m not in the mood.”
None of the usual infectious giggles from Zara. “Amby, love, you’ve got to listen. This is
Amber groaned. “They
are. Just remember, men aren’t to be trusted.”
“Ain’t that the truth!” Zara sounded very down-mouthed. “This isn’t about me, Amby. It’s about
. Are you still lying down?”
!” Amber swung her feet to the floor. “Spit it out, Zee. There’s a good girl.”
“Why should it be
destiny to have to tell you?” Zara moaned. “Okay, there’s no easy way to say it, so here I go. Your fiancé, Sean Sinclair—”
Amber was finding it difficult to swallow. “There hasn’t been another terrorist attack, Zee, has there? Please God, tell me no!” Disasters could and did come out of the blue.
Zara hastened to reassure her. “Not something as terrible as that, but bad enough on a totally different scale. Trish McGowan, you know Trish, she’s in London. She let me know. I didn’t get home until after three. I didn’t want to wake you then but I couldn’t sleep and I couldn’t hang on any longer. Wait for it, girl. Sean,
fiancé, married Georgette Erskine, Sir Clive Erskine’s granddaughter, at a civil ceremony yesterday afternoon London time.”