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Текст книги "Needed: Her Mr Right"


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Автор книги: Barbara Hannay


Жанр: Современные любовные романы, Любовные романы


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Needed: Her Mr. Right
Barbara Hannay


www.millsandboon.co.uk

With special thanks to:

Elizabeth Heaton, my intrepid cycling sister, whose trek through the Himalayas was our inspiration.

Liz Fielding and Jackie Braun for their enthusiasm and wisdom.

My husband, Elliot, writer mate Anne Gracie and editors Meg Sleightholme and Lydia Mason, who kept me on the right track.

CONTENTS

PROLOGUE

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

EPILOGUE

PROLOGUE

Simone’s Diary—Day One:

ARRIVED IN BANGKOK at 10.30 p.m. Very hot and muggy. Tomorrow I enter China and I’m freaking out.

Am stressing about my fitness, wondering if the long bike rides each weekend and the daily slogs in the pool are enough preparation for cycling four hundred and fifty kilometres across the Himalayas. What if I can’t keep up with the others?

Everyone at work is convinced I’m crackers. I don’t expect them to understand why I need to do this, to push myself out of my comfort zone.

Problem is, tonight, I’m thinking maybe I am crazy. I mean, fundraising for street kids aside, what am I trying to prove?

It’d be nice if I came up with an answer some time in the next twelve days.

1.00 a.m. Couldn’t sleep so wandered off in search of a cute little bar for a drink or a snack,got totally lost and was propositioned by a middle-aged tourist.

Arrived back here even more stressed. Still can’t sleep. My hotel bed is so hard I might as well lie on the floor—the carpet and underlay are softer than this apology for a mattress.

I’m going to be tired, stressed and unfit for the start tomorrow.

Disaster!

CHAPTER ONE

“Journeys end in lovers meeting; every wise man’s son doth know.”

William Shakespeare

JET lagged and dull headed after his long flight from London to Sydney, Ryan Tanner was waiting in the Customs queue when he first saw the girl with the turn– and-stare legs.

He caught sight of her again when he was pushing his luggage trolley through the Arrivals hall.

The slim blonde in a belted pink shift, with long golden-brown legs and strappy high-heeled sandals, was like a glowing hologram moving confidently through the drab tide of travellers dressed in predictable, look-alike business suits or denim jeans.

But Ryan’s interest in her, although keen, was fleeting. Stunning as the girl was, she was a total stranger among thousands of strangers. Ryan had no idea where she’d come from or where she was heading. And his focus now was on getting home.

Home, after a year and a half in London. Home, after eighteen months of dreary British weather.

He’d spent a good part of the flight dreaming of sunshine and his first view of Bondi Beach—aquamarine surf breaking into white froth on yellow sand. But, with his usual lousy luck, it was pouring rain in Sydney today. The view was obscured by grey clouds.

Now, head down against the sheeting rain, he left the terminal building and felt his mood sink from travel-weary-jaded to downright morose as he steered his unwieldy trolley piled with two suitcases, a bulky snowboard and a laptop.

There was, of course, a long queue at the taxi rank.

Ryan yawned and supposed he should have let someone know he was arriving this morning. But, after a twenty hour flight, he was too tired to bother with conversation, with the inevitable questions about London and the ugly row with his Fleet Street editor.

Besides, he felt scruffy, needed a shower. And a shave wouldn’t go astray, he thought, rubbing at the rough stubble on his jaw.

Then he saw the young woman again.

Fresh as a newly picked peach, she was standing ahead of him in the queue.

Wind, whipping across the street and under the awning, exposed enticing glimpses of her divine legs before she got control of her skirt.

He spent a pleasant moment wondering if she was a European tourist or an Australian coming home.

Three businessmen at the front of the queue climbed into the same taxi and Ryan shuffled forward, dragging his luggage trolley with him, pleased that the line was diminishing at a reasonable rate.

He thought about his comfortable, slightly shabby flat in Balmain and hoped that the tenants, who’d rented it while he was away, hadn’t treated it too badly.

He stole another quick glance at the girl, not that he made a habit of ogling attractive girls, but this one intrigued him. He tried to pin down the quality that grabbed his attention, apart from her legs.

Perhaps it was an impression of vitality and fitness, the way she stood, shoulders back, head high, suggesting can-do confidence without conceit. Her bulky backpack surprised him. She looked the type who would travel with expensive matching suitcases.

Suddenly, almost as if she’d felt his eyes on her, she turned and looked straight at him, and for electrifying seconds their gazes met and held.

Her eyes were dark—blue or brown, he couldn’t be sure—her brows darker than her hair and well defined. And, as she looked at him, he could have sworn that her mild, slightly bored expression changed.

He sensed a tiny stirring of interest from her. A ripple. The briefest flicker at the corner of her mouth. The barest beginnings of a smile.

He decided to smile back and discovered he was already smiling. Had he been grinning like a fool?

And then it happened. A tremulous, gut-punching sense of connection with this girl seized him by the throat, drove air from his lungs.

But in the next breath her taxi arrived. The driver jumped out and grabbed her pack, grumbling noisily at having to leave the warmth of his cab and splash about in the rain. The girl slipped quickly into the back passenger seat. Ryan caught one final flash of her beautiful bare legs before she shut the door.

The driver, a very glum fellow indeed, dumped her bulky backpack into the taxi’s boot. He already had a couple of boxes in there and he spent a bad-tempered few minutes in the rain, shoving and cramming her pack, squeezing it mercilessly into the too small space.

At last the bulky pack was squashed enough to allow him to slam the door but, as he did, something slipped from one of the pack’s side pockets and fell into the rain-filled gutter with a plop.

It was a small book.

“Hey, mister, you want this cab or not?”

Ryan turned, surprised to discover that other passengers had left and he’d reached the top of the queue. A taxi driver was scowling at him.

His eyes swivelled back to the book in the gutter. Her book. Small and thick with a brown leather cover of good quality. It looked like a diary or one of those fancy planners many people couldn’t live without. And no one else seemed to have seen it fall.

“Just a sec.” Ryan waved violently to catch her driver’s attention. “Hey, you’ve dropped something!”

But it was too late.

The driver was already slipping behind the wheel. His door slammed and, with an impatient, throaty roar, his cab shot out from the kerb, ducked across two lanes and streaked off, leaving the girl’s book lying in the rain.

“Listen, mate, you either get in this cab or step aside. You can’t hold up the bloody queue in this weather.”

But Ryan stared after the other cab and at the book, lying in the gutter. If it wasn’t rescued quickly it would be ruined.

And why should he care?

Why should he, RyanTanner, a seen-it-all, done-it-all, travel-weary journalist, jeopardise his precious place in a taxi queue while he dived into pouring rain to retrieve an unknown stranger’s sodden book from the gutter?

He hadn’t the foggiest clue. It didn’t make any sense.

But, then again, he’d always been a curious type and he’d looked into the girl’s beautiful eyes…

So perhaps it made perfect sense.

Whatever…In the next unthinking, reckless split-second he grabbed his suitcase out of the driver’s hands, hurled it into the taxi’s boot and yelled, “We’ve got to follow that cab in the far lane!”

The driver’s jaw gaped. “You’re joking.”

“Never more serious, mate.” Ryan dashed for the gutter, shouting over his shoulder, “Get the other case and stow my snowboard in the back.”

As he scooped up the book, he was aware of a moment’s indecision behind him before the driver gave a strangely excited cry and leapt forward.

The snowboard was shoved into the back of the cab and the two men jerked their front doors open and leapt in, Ryan clutching his laptop. And the wet book.

The driver’s dark eyes were flashing with high excitement as he depressed the accelerator. He turned and grinned at Ryan. “I’ve been waiting twenty years for a chase!”

Ahead of them, the girl’s cab was still in sight—just. It had stopped at a junction, but any second now the lights would change.

As the lights turned green, Simone wriggled her shoulders and deliberately relaxed into the luxurious hug of soft leather upholstery. She closed her eyes and tried to shrug off the sense that nothing about her homecoming felt right.

Perhaps that was what happened when you came down from the top of the world. Literally.

Three days ago, she’d been madly celebrating the achievement of a lifetime. She’d never before experienced anything like that heady feeling of supreme accomplishment—or the wonderful sense of camaraderie she’d shared with her fellow cyclists.

The trip had produced all kinds of unexpected extras…best of all the especially close bond she’d formed with her new friends, Belle and Claire…the deep sense of connection that they’d all felt up there in the mountains, far away from their everyday worlds…the trust they’d developed.

And then, near the end of the journey…the dark secrets they’d unburdened.

The pact the three women had made.

The promise.

Oh, cringe. Simone shut her eyes quickly. Oh, help.

Every time she thought about the terrible secret she’d revealed to Belle and Claire that night, she felt a shaft of hot, terrifying panic.

It was so hard to believe that she’d actually told them. She’d said it out loud—revealed the one thing she never talked about.

Never. To anyone.

At the time it had felt amazingly good to get it off her chest at last. A blessed relief. After all, Belle and Claire had both spilled secrets too. And they hadn’t reeled back in horror at her story. She’d been lulled into thinking that perhaps it wasn’t so shocking after all.

And she’d felt so happy, so strong in her brave decision to visit her grandfather at last, to break her promise to her mother and to tell him what she should have confessed years ago. To ask for his forgiveness.

But everything had seemed different when she’d been up there, in the rarefied atmosphere of the Himalayas. Her vision had been clearer, choices had appeared straightforward. It had seemed perfectly OK for three women from totally different worlds—an Aussie, a Yank and a Brit—to make life-changing decisions beneath the benevolent gaze of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.

Now, coming home, Simone wasn’t so sure. Sharing her secret had changed everything, complicated everything.

Before, no one else in the world knew, and she could almost convince herself that the events on that terrible night her stepfather died had never really occurred.

Now, she was frightened. She wished Belle and Claire weren’t so far away. She needed their reassurance that her life wasn’t going to collapse because they knew.

They’d agreed to stay in touch, to share regular emails and to help each other through the weeks ahead. Simone hoped that would be enough. She felt so…so…anxious. And something else. What was it? Not depressed exactly. Deflated? Yeah…definitely. She felt flat. Very flat.

They’d lost sight of the girl’s taxi.

Despite Ryan’s driver’s most valiant attempts, there was simply too much traffic, too much rain and too many taxis zipping back and forth. They’d had to admit defeat.

Now, as his taxi dashed through Sydney’s rain-lashed streets, heading for his flat in Balmain, the diary sat on the seat beside Ryan. The thick leather cover had saved it from a soaking and a few shakes and a wipe on his jeans had rendered it almost as good as new.

But so far Ryan hadn’t been able to identify the book’s owner.

Funny how much that bothered him.

His fingers drummed on the leather cover as he stared ahead at the frantic motion of the windscreen wipers. Under other circumstances he might have tracked back to the terminal and handed the diary in to the airport’s lost property office.

But he was dog-tired, it was lousy weather and they had already been halfway across Sydney before they’d given up the chase and before he’d realised that the pretty blonde had not filled in the personal information page inside the book’s front cover.

Of course he hadn’t rescued her book simply to discover her name, address and telephone number. It was more a sense of fair play that had sent him diving into the gutter. But now he was left in something of a quandary. He had no idea who she was. And he realised, too late, that was the way she wanted it.

Why else would she keep a diary without including any personal contact details?

This diary, with its closely written pages, was nothing like the small, dog-eared notepad filled with scribbled contacts, appointments, story leads and notes that Ryan kept in his inner coat pocket.

He’d thumbed through a few pages and read enough to realise that this was a very personal record, meant for her eyes only—a mixture of internal musings as well as a detailed account of a recent bike ride through the Himalayas.

Himalayas? Wow, no wonder she looked fit.

She’d begun writing in neat black ink, but she must have lost the pen halfway through the trip and the rest of the pages were written in a mixture of red ballpoint and blunt pencil.

Ryan flicked the book’s pages once more and they fell open in the middle, where she’d wedged post-cards—a Buddhist temple, towering snow capped mountains, Chinese villagers in traditional dress, a breathtaking view down a gorge. He checked the back of each postcard to see if any had been addressed, but they were blank.

Frustrated, he closed the book again.

And decided he wouldn’t read it.

OK, so he was a journalist and journalists were noted for sticking their noses into other people’s business. He’d been doing exactly that in the UK for the past eighteen months—until his recent, rather notorious departure.

Now, he’d come home to regroup, to think about new directions. The last thing he needed was a scavenger hunt, digging through an innocent young woman’s personal journal for pay dirt.

Besides, he’d stood in that taxi queue and looked into her eyes.

And somehow that made a difference.

Anyway…a cycling holiday in China was hardly breaking news.

That settled, he slipped the diary into his pocket and turned his attention to familiar Sydney landmarks. He was almost home.

For Simone, the single best thing about coming home was her lovely modern apartment in Newtown.

She’d invested in this soon after she’d landed her plum job as executive editor of City Girl magazine. Spacious and open-plan, great for parties and handy for the City Girl offices, it suited her lifestyle perfectly.

She loved everything about it, from the lively purple feature wall in the living room and the mezzanine level that housed her home office and bedroom, to the funky retro-style stools lined up at the kitchen counter—a favourite gathering spot for her friends.

Today, however, as she set her key in the lock, she didn’t feel quite the sense of welcome that she’d hoped for. Ever since she’d farewelled Belle and Claire at Hong Kong airport, a vague sense of unease seemed to have taken root inside her.

Silly. She wasn’t going to sink into gloom. All she needed was to kick off the designer sandals she’d splurged on in Hong Kong—gorgeous, but still a tad uncomfortable—and she would make a nice hot cup of tea and reread some of the affirmations she’d written in her diary when she’d felt so fantastic up in the mountains.

Barefoot, she padded across the timber floor to her backpack and she looked down at it, rubbing at her forehead as she tried to remember where she’d packed the diary. It was in one of the outside pockets.

She rolled the pack a little, patting the pockets, to feel their contents. Toiletries in this one. Her camera in this other, a small bottle of French perfume from the duty free and—

No!

A jolt ripped through her as she felt the unmistakable flatness of an empty pocket. Her heart began to race. There shouldn’t be any empty pockets in her pack. She’d crammed her possessions into every available space.

This pocket was where she kept—

Frantically, she checked the other pockets, hoping against hope to find a familiar rectangular shape.

It wasn’t there.

“Oh, no!” Her cry was almost a wail. “I don’t believe it!”

She’d put her diary in this pocket. And it was gone. Stooping closer, she saw that the zip was broken. Her heart jerked erratically as she traced it with her fingers and found an irregular gap in the metal teeth. Fighting a growing sense of panic, she tried to remember when it could have happened. She could distinctly remember seeing the reassuring book-shaped bulge of her diary in this pocket when she’d gone through Customs.

Groaning, she thought of everything she’d written—her faithful descriptions of every point of the journey through China, the scenery, the cycling, the aches and pains, triumphs and fears…

The secrets!

Oh, cringe. What if someone read them?

She hadn’t merely written the outpourings of her own heart, she’d included the secrets that Belle and Claire had shared too. And she’d written down details of the private pact they’d made.

She covered her face with her hands. Panic threatened.

Fighting it, she forced herself to remember everything she’d done at the airport, retraced her steps in her mind…getting through Security, pushing her pack on a trolley through the Arrivals hall, waiting outside, locking eyes with the hot guy in the taxi queue. The tall, smiling guy with the stubble and the amazing dark brown eyes that—

Oh, give it a miss, Simone. As if he’s relevant!

She gave an impatient cry of self-recrimination.

She couldn’t lose her diary. She just couldn’t! Apart from the dire possibility that she was scattering her new friends’ secrets to the four winds, she was writing an article for City Girl about the trip and she needed the notes she’d made.

Thank heavens she’d emailed a fairly comprehensive coverage of her journey through from Hong Kong to her office yesterday, which meant she’d still be able to write the article, even without her diary. It was the personal stuff in there that sent her stomach churning.

And now some stranger might—

She jumped to her feet as she remembered the awful thump when the taxi driver had dumped the pack into the boot of the car. The whole vehicle had rocked with the force of it. Maybe it had fallen out into the boot.

Perhaps her driver had already turned it in to the taxi company’s lost property. She could phone them, ask all their drivers to check their vehicles…offer a reward.

Excited by fresh hope, she rushed to her telephone.

Ryan piled his suitcases, snowboard and laptop in the middle of his living room and looked about him. It felt strange to come home to his flat after so long away.

Professional cleaners had been in and left the place super-tidy and smelling of artificial room freshener and disinfectant. Devoid of character.

Sad truth was, his home didn’t really feel like home without a fine layer of dust over the furniture and a scattering of newspapers, books and at least three dirty coffee mugs.

He yawned again—a jet lag induced yawn so huge he almost cracked his jaw.

He needed a coffee.

Damn. With a groan, he realised that his cupboards were bare. The tenants hadn’t left anything—even the sugar bowl was empty.

To add to his annoyance, his mobile phone rang.

Ryan almost ignored it but, a split-second before it rang out, he relented and answered.

“Hello?”

“So you’re home son.”

“Hi, Dad.” Ryan’s stomach sank. An interrogation from JD the minute he arrived home was the last thing he needed. “I’ve just walked in the door.”

“So, what are your plans now? Now that the London venture’s fallen through.”

Fallen through? The old man had such a sweet turn of phrase—and an incredible capacity for ignoring the facts. As if JD didn’t know that it was his insensitive interference from the other side of the world that had forced Ryan’s resignation.

“Uh—I haven’t made any definite plans yet, Dad. I’m going to take a little time out. To regroup.”

“Regroup? What kind of rubbish is that? You need a plan, Ryan. A business plan. That’s your problem, you know.”

You’re my problem, Ryan almost snapped. His father couldn’t leave him alone. But if he told JD that, he’d leave himself wide open for a tirade.

He got one anyway.

“It’s high time you did something about your lifestyle, Ryan. You’re still drifting aimlessly. No focus. No goal. You’re past thirty, son, and still a hack journalist.”

For crying out loud.

“You know you should be in management by now. Running budgets, hiring and firing.”

Ryan held the receiver away from his ear as his father rattled on.

“I’ve had an idea that might suit you,” JD said. “It’s time you used the money in the trust fund your mother left you. Use it to buy up a little country newspaper. You would get one for a song. Get it up and running and then knock off the other papers in the region. Build quite a good business.”

Ryan groaned softly. “Thanks for the suggestion, but I’ve no intention of burying myself in some sleepy country town.”

“But for—”

“Dad, I’m taking a short break and then I’m going to concentrate on specialist writing. Features. Human interest. I’ll look up some of my old contacts at The Sydney Chronicle.”

“Surely you’re not going to crawl back to the rag where you started?”

“I can and I shall. I’m very happy with my life.” Ryan’s voice rose several decibels. “OK?”

He disconnected, felt drained. In recent years, hanging up in mid-conversation had been the only way to avoid an almighty argument with his father.

I’m very happy with my life.

It was almost true.

And that was more than JD could claim. His father might be an Australian success story, but he was into his third marriage and was still obsessed with wiping out his business opponents. Ryan couldn’t imagine ever finding pleasure from that.

JD owned a string of iron ore and gold mines and several cattle stations, a mansion in Perth, an apartment overlooking Sydney Harbour, an island in the Great Barrier Reef and a villa on the Côte d’Azur, but his billions had never bought him the kind of contentment that Ryan longed for.

Nevertheless, in his father’s eyes Ryan would always be a failure. Christopher, the elder son, was the Good Son, the golden child. He’d followed in JD’s footsteps, had acquired a Ph.D. in mining engineering, a beautiful trophy wife and two fine sons.

Ryan was the black sheep.

Most of the time he didn’t let it bother him. And yet…

He felt strangely alone.

Like a congenital defect, loneliness had dogged him since childhood, since he’d first known he would never bask in the warmth of his father’s approval.

And right now he was tired. Physically and emotionally. But he knew from experience that it was best after a long international flight to grit it out until night time before hitting the hay.

He really needed coffee.

With not a coffee bean in sight, he opted for Plan B. He would head for Stratos’s café. He could spend the afternoon there, surrounded by Sydneysiders, drinking endless cups of coffee.

Picking up his coat, he felt the weight of the girl’s book in the pocket.

He felt the grain of the leather cover beneath his fingers and then, as he took the diary out and set it on the bookcase, he thought about its owner. Remembered her tentative smile, her lovely eyes.

He should do something about getting this back to her. But the conversation with his father had destroyed his sense of gallantry.

Maybe tomorrow. Right now, he needed coffee.

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