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Australian Escape: Her Hottest Summer Yet / The Heat of the Night

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«Australian Escape: Her Hottest Summer Yet / The Heat of the Night» - Элли Блейк

RED-HOT Australia!When Avery Shaw meets Jonah North on her Australian holiday he hits all the right notes: rippling muscles, perfect tan, surfing skills. She’s only there for another two weeks so she shouldn’t… But why the uncontrollable chemistry between them?Business mogul Luke Hargreaves sees the Australian beach paradise he owns with Claudia Davies as a burden. But, after a cyclone, they need to rebuild the resort together and the undeniable attraction grows into a scorching no-strings fling …Seriously gorgeous politician Aidan Fairhall, ends up on a week long road trip with recently single Quinn Laverty during an airline strike. They say opposites attract and this pair are beginning a journey that will change their lives…
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Table of Contents

Title Page

Her Hottest Summer Yet

About the Author











The Heat of the Night

About the Author























Road Trip with the Eligible Bachelor

Back Cover Text

About the Author













Her Hottest Summer Yet

Ally Blake

In her previous life Australian author ALLY BLAKE was at times a cheerleader, a maths tutor, a dental assistant and a shop assistant. In this life she is a bestselling, multi-award-winning novelist who has been published in over twenty languages with more than two million books sold worldwide.

She married her gorgeous husband in Las Vegas – no Elvis in sight, though Tony Curtis did put in a special appearance – and now Ally and her family, including three rambunctious toddlers, share a property in the leafy western suburbs of Brisbane, with kookaburras, cockatoos, rainbow lorikeets and the occasional creepy-crawly. When not writing, she makes coffees that never get drunk, eats too many M&Ms, attempts yoga, devours The West Wing reruns, reads every spare minute she can and barracks ardently for the Collingwood Magpies footy team.

You can find out more at her website,

This one is for all the long hot Australian summers of my life; for all the memories and possibility they hold.

With an extra dollop of love for Amy Andrews; one of my favourite writers and a sublime woman to boot.


Avery Shaw barely noticed the salty breeze whipping pale blonde hair across her face and fluttering the diaphanous layers of her dress against her legs. She was blissfully deep in a whirlpool of warm, hazy, happy memories as she stood on the sandy footpath and beamed up at the facade of the Tropicana Nights Resort.

She lifted a hand to shield her eyes from the shimmering Australian summer sun, and breathed the place in. It was bigger than she remembered, and more striking. Like some great white colonial palace, uprooted out of another era and transplanted to the pretty beach strip that was Crescent Cove. The garden now teetered on the wild side, and its facade was more than a little shabby around the edges. But ten years did that to a place.

Things changed. She was hardly the naive sixteen-year-old with the knobbly knees she’d been the summer she was last there. Back when all that mattered was friends, and fun, and—

A loud whoosh and rattle behind her tugged Avery back to the present. She glanced down the curving sidewalk to see a group of skinny brown-skinned boys in board shorts hurtling across the road on their skateboards before running down the beach and straight into the sparkling blue water of the Pacific.

And sometimes, she thought with a pleasant tightening in her lungs, things don’t change much at all.

Lungs full to bursting with the taste of salt and sea and expectation, Avery and her Vuitton luggage set bumped merrily up the wide front steps and into the lobby. Huge faux marble columns held up the two-storey ceiling. Below sat cushy lounge chairs, colossal rugs, and potted palms dotted a floor made of the most beautiful swirling mosaic tiles in a million sandy tones.

And by the archway leading to the restaurant beyond sat an old-fashioned noticeboard shouting out: Two-For-One Main Courses at the Capricorn Café For Any Guests Sporting an Eye Patch!

She laughed, the sound bouncing about in the empty space. For the lobby was empty, which for a beach resort at the height of summer seemed odd. But everyone was probably at the pool. Or having siestas in their rooms. And considering the hustle and bustle Avery had left behind in Manhattan, it was a relief.

Deeper inside the colossal entrance, reception loomed by way of a long sandstone desk with waves carved into the side. Behind said desk stood a young woman with deep red hair pulled back into a long sleek ponytail, her name tag sporting the Tropicana Nights logo slightly askew on the jacket of the faded yellow and blue Hawaiian print dress, which might well have been worn in the seventies.

“Ahoy, there!” sing-songed the woman—whose name tag read Isis—front teeth overlapping endearingly. Then, seeing Avery’s gaze light upon the stuffed parrot wiggling on her shoulder, Isis gave the thing a scratch under the chin. “It’s Pirates and Parrots theme at the resort this week.”

“Of course it is,” Avery said, the eye patch now making more sense. “I’m Avery Shaw. Claudia Davis is expecting me.”

“Yo ho ho, and a bottle of rum... The American!”

“That I am!” The girl’s pep was infectious, jet lag or no.

“Claude has been beside herself all morning, making me check the Qantas website hourly to make sure you arrived safe and sound.”

“That’s my girl,” Avery said, feeling better and better about her last-minute decision to fly across the world, to the only person in her world who’d understand why.

Tap-tap-tap went Isis’s long aqua fingernails on the keyboard. “Now, Claude could be...anywhere. Things have been slightly crazy around here since her parents choofed off.”

Choofed off? Maybe that was Aussie for retired. Crazy or not, when Avery had first called Claude to say she was coming, Claude had sounded giddy that the management of the resort her family had owned for the past twenty years was finally up to her. She had ideas! Brilliant ones! People were going to flock as they hadn’t flocked in years!

Glancing back at the still-empty lobby, Avery figured the flocking was still in the planning. “Shall I wait?”

“No ho ho,” said Isis, back to tapping at the keyboard, “you’ll be waiting till next millennium. Get thee to thy room. Goodies await. I’ll get one of the crew to show you the way.”

Avery glanced over her shoulder, her mind going instantly to the stream of messages her friends had sent when they’d heard she was heading to Australia, most of which were vividly imagined snippets of advice on how best to lure a hot, musclebound young porter “down under.”

The kid ambling her way was young—couldn’t have been a day over seventeen. But with his bright red hair and galaxy of freckles, hunching over his lurid yellow and blue shirt and wearing a floppy black pirate hat that had seen better days, he probably wasn’t what they’d had in mind.

“Cyrus,” Isis said, an impressive warning note creeping into her voice.

Cyrus looked up, his flapping sandshoes coming to a slow halt. Then he grinned, the overlapping teeth putting it beyond doubt that he and Isis were related.

“This is Miss Shaw,” warned Isis. “Claudia’s friend.”

“Thanks, Cyrus,” Avery said, heaving her luggage onto the golden trolley by the desk since Cyrus was too busy staring to seem to remember how.

“Impshi,” Isis growled. “Kindly escort Miss Shaw to the Tiki Suite.”

Avery’s bags wobbled precariously as Cyrus finally grabbed the high bar of the trolley and began loping off towards the rear of the lobby.

“You’re the New Yorker,” he said.

Jogging to catch up, Avery said, “I’m the New Yorker.”

“So how do you know Claude anyway? She never goes anywhere,” said Cyrus, stopping short and throwing out an arm that nearly got her around the neck. She realised belatedly he was letting a couple of women with matching silver hair and eye-popping orange sarongs squeeze past.

Avery ducked under Cyrus’s arm. “Claude has been all over the place, and I know because I went with her.

The best trips were Italy...Morocco... One particular night in the Maldives was particularly memorable. We first met when my family holidayed here about ten years back.”

Not about ten years. Exactly. Nearly to the day. There’d be no forgetting that these next few weeks. No matter how far from home she was.

“Now, come on Cyrus,” Avery said, shaking off the sudden weight upon her chest. She looped a hand through the crook of Cyrus’s bony elbow and dragged him in the direction of her suite. “Take me to my room.”

Kid nearly tripped over his size thirteens.

One wrong turn and a generous tip later the Tiki Suite was all hers, and Avery was alone in the blissful cool of the soft, worn, white-on-white decor where indeed goodies did await: a basket of warm-skinned peaches, plums and nectarines, a box of divine chocolate, and a huge bottle of pink bubbly.

But first Avery kicked off her shoes and moved to the French doors, where the scent of sea air and the lemon trees that bordered the wall of her private courtyard filled her senses. She lifted her face to the sun to find it hotter than back home, crisper somehow.

It was the same suite in which her family had stayed a decade before. Her mother had kicked up a fuss when they’d discovered the place was less glamorous than she’d envisaged, but by that stage Avery had already met Claude and begged to stay. For once her dear dad had put his foot down, and Avery had gone on to have a magical, memorable, lazy, hazy summer.

The last simple, wonderful, innocent summer of her life.

The last before her parents’ divorce.

The divorce her mother was about to celebrate with a Divorced a Decade party, in fact; capitals intended.

Avery glanced over her shoulder at the tote she’d left on the bed, and tickles of perspiration burst over her skin.

She had to call home, let her mother know she’d arrived. Even though she knew she’d barely get in a hello before she was force fed every new detail of the big bash colour theme—blood-red—guest lists—exclusive yet extensive—and all-male live entertainment—no, no, NO!

Avery sent a text.

I’m here! Sun is shining. Beach looks splendiferous. I’ll call once jet lag wears off. Prepare yourself for stories of backyard tattoos, pub crawls, killer spiders the size of a studio apartment, and naked midnight beach sprints. Happy to hear the same from you. Ave xXx

Then, switching off her phone, she threw it to the bed. Then shoved a pillow over the top.

Knowing she couldn’t be trusted to sit in the room and wait for Claude without turning her phone back on, Avery changed into a swimsuit, lathered suncreen over every exposed inch, grabbed a beach towel, and headed out to marvel at the Pacific.

As she padded through the resort, smiling at each and every one of Claude’s—yes, Claude’s!—pink-faced guests, Avery thought about how her decision to come back had been purely reactive, a panic-driven emotional hiccup when her mother had broached the idea of the Divorced a Decade party for the very first time.

But now she was here, the swirl of warm memories seeping under her skin, she wondered why it had never occurred to her sooner to come back. To come full circle.

Because that’s how it felt. Like over the next few weeks she’d not only hang with her bestie—or nab herself a willing cabana boy to help get the kinks out—but maybe even be able to work her way back to how things had been here before her family had flown back to Manhattan and everything had fallen apart. To find the hopeful girl she’d once been before her life had become an endless series of gymnastic spins from one parent to the other and back again. Cartwheels to get her absent father’s attention. Cheerleading her way through her mother’s wild moods.

She’d never felt quite as safe, as secure, as content since that summer.

The summer of her first beer.

Her first beach bonfire.

Her first crush...

Avery’s feet came to a squeaking halt.

In fact, wasn’t he—the object of said crush—in Crescent Cove, right now?

Claude had mentioned him. Okay, so she’d bitched and moaned; that he was only in the cove till he and Claudia sorted out what they were going to do with the resort now that their respective parents had retired and left the two of them in charge. But that was about Claude’s history with the guy, not Avery’s.

Her history was nice. And at that moment he was there. And she was there. It would be nice to look him up. And compared to the supercharged emotional tornado that was her family life in New York, this summer Avery could really do with some nice.

* * *

Jonah North pushed his arms through the rippling water, the ocean cool sliding over the heat-baked skin of his back and shoulders, his feet trailing lazily through the water behind him.

Once he hit a sweet spot—calm, warm, a good distance from the sand—he pressed himself to sitting, legs either side of his board. He ran two hands over his face, shook the water from his hair, and took in the view.

The town of Crescent Cove was nestled behind a double row of palm trees that fringed the curved beach that gave the place its name. Through the gaps were flashes of pastel—huge resorts, holiday accommodation, locally run shops, as well as scattered homes of locals yet to sell out. Above him only sky, behind and below the endless blue of the Pacific. Paradise.

It was late in the morning for a paddle—there’d been no question of carving out enough time to head down the coast where coral didn’t hamper actual surf. Who was he kidding? There was never any time. Which, for a lobsterman’s son, whose sea legs had come in before his land legs, was near sacrilege.

But he was here now.

Jonah closed his eyes, tilted his face to the sun, soaked in its life force. No sound to be heard bar the heave of his slowing breaths, the gentle lap of water against his thighs, a scream—

His eyes snapped open, his last breath trapped in his lungs. His ears strained. His gaze sweeping the gentle rolling water between himself and the sand, searching for—

There. A keening. Not a gull. Not music drifting on the breeze from one of the resort hotels. Distress. Human distress.

Muscles seized, every sense on red alert, he waited. His vision now locked into an arc from where he’d heard the cry. Imagining the reason. Stinger? No, the beach was protected by a stinger net this time of year so it’d be tough luck if they’d been hit.

And then he saw it.

A hand.

His rare moment of quietude at a fast and furious end, Jonah was flat on his belly, arms heaving the ocean out of his way before he took his next breath.

With each swell he glanced up the beach to see if anyone else was about. But the yellow and red flags marking out the patch of beach patrolled by lifesavers were farther away, this part cleared of life bar a furry blot of brown and white dog patiently awaiting his return.

Jonah kept his eyes on the spot, recalculating distance and tidal currents with every stroke. He’d practically been born on the water, reading her as natural to him as breathing. But the ocean was as cruel as she was restorative, and if she decided not to give up, there wasn’t much even the most sea-savvy person could do. He knew.

As for the owner of the hand? Tourist. Not a single doubt in his mind.

The adrenalin thundering through him spiked when sunlight glinted off skin close enough to grab. Within seconds he was dragging a woman from the water.

Her hair was so long it trailed behind her like a curtain of silk, so pale it blended with the sandy backdrop behind. Her skin so fair he found himself squinting at the sun reflecting off her long limbs. And she was lathered in so much damn sunscreen she was as slippery as a fish and he could barely get a grip.

And that was before she began to fight back. “No!” she spluttered.

“Hell, woman,” Jonah gritted out. “I’m trying to rescue you, which will not be possible unless you stop struggling.”

The woman stopped wriggling long enough to shoot him a flat stare. “I’m an excellent swimmer,” she croaked. “I swam conference for Bryn Mawr.”

Not just a tourist, Jonah thought, her cultured American accent clipping him about the ears. From the whole other side of the world.

“Could have fooled me,” he muttered. “Unless that’s what passes for the Australian Crawl stateside these days.”

The stare became a glare. And her eyes... A wicked green, they were, only one was marred with a whopping great splotch of brown.

And while he stared at the anomaly, her hand slipped. Lucky she had the smarts to grab the pointy end of his board, leaving him to clench his thighs for all he was worth.

“Honey,” he growled, by then near the end of his limited patience, “I understand that you’re embarrassed. But would you rather be humbled or dead?”

Her strange eyes flinted at the Honey, not that he gave a damn. All he cared was that she gave a short nod. The sooner he dumped her back on the sand and got on with his day, the better. And if a dose of reality was necessary to get it done, then so be it.

“Good. Now, hoick yourself up on three.” When her teeth clamped down on her bottom lip to suppress a grimace, and her fair skin came over paler again, he knew there’d be no hoicking. “Cramp?”

Her next grimace was as good as a yes.

Damn. No more finessing. In for a penny, Jonah locked his legs around the board, hooked his elbows under her arms, and heaved.

She landed awkwardly in a mass of gangly limbs and sea water. Only Jonah’s experience and strength kept them from ending up ass up, lungs full of sea water, as he slid her onto his lap, throwing her arms around his neck where she gripped like a limpet. He grabbed her by the waist and held her still as the waves they’d created settled to a gentle rock.

Jonah wondered at what point she would become aware that she was straddling him, groin to groin, skin sliding against him all slippery and salty. Because after a few long moments it was just about all he could think about. Especially when with another grimace she hooked an arm over his shoulder, the other cradling the back of his head, and stretched her leg sideways, flexing her foot, easing out the cramp, her eyes fluttering closed as her expression eased into bliss.

He ought to have cleared his throat, or shifted her into a less compromising position, but with those odd eyes closed to him he got a proper look. Neat nose, long curling lashes stuck together with sea water, mouth like a kiss waiting to happen. If he had to have his paddle disturbed, might as well be by a nice-looking woman...

Tourist, he reminded himself.

And as much as the tourist dollar was his life’s blood, and that of the entire cove, he knew that with all the Hawaiian shirts and Havana shorts they packed, it didn’t leave much room for common sense.

And those were just the uncomplicated ones. The ones who were happy to come, and happy to go home. Lanky Yankee here—a city girl with clear dibs on herself—had complication written all over.

“You all right?” Jonah asked.

She nodded. Her eyes flicked open, and switched between his and finally she realised she was curled around him like seaweed.

Light sparked in the green depths, the brown splodge strangely unmoved. Then, with a quick swallow, she slid her gaze down his bare chest to where they were joined at the hip. Lower. She breathed in quick, rolling as if to separate only to send a shard of heat right through him as she hit a sweet spot with impressive precision.

“May I—?” she asked, rolling again as if to disentangle.

Gritting his teeth, Jonah grunted in response. Having a woman be seaweed on him wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. But out here? With a tourist on the verge of cramp? Besides which she was a bossy little thing. Skin and bone. Burn to a crisp if he didn’t get her indoors. Not his type at all.

“This is nice and all,” he said, boredom lacing his voice, “but any chance we could get a move on?”

“Nice? You clearly need to get out more.”

She had him there.

With that she got to it, lifting a leg, the edge of a foot scraping a line across his bare belly, hooking a hair or two on the way, before her toes hit the board, mere millimetres from doing him serious damage. He shifted an inch into safe territory and breathed out. And finally they were both facing front.

Not better, he realised as The Tourist leant forward to grip the edges of his surfboard, leaving nowhere for him to put his hands without fear of getting slapped.

Especially when, in place of swimmers, the woman was bound in something that looked like a big-girl version of those lacy things his Gran used to insist on placing on every table top—all pale string, and cut-out holes, the stuff lifted and separated every time she moved, every time she breathed.

“Did you lose part of your swimmers?”

With a start she looked down, only to breathe out in relief. “No. I’m decent.”

“You sure about that?”

The look she shot him over her shoulder was forbearing, the storm swirling in her odd eyes making itself felt south of the border.

“Then I suggest we get moving.”

With one last pitying stare that told him she had decided he was about as high on the evolutionary scale as, say, kelp, she turned front.

Jonah gave himself a moment to breathe. He’d been on the receiving end of that look before. Funny that the original looker had been an urbanite too, though not from so far away as this piece of work, making him wonder if it was a class they gave at Posh Girls’ Schools—How to Make a Man Feel Lower Than Dirt.

Only it hadn’t worked on him then, and didn’t now. They bred them too tough out here. Just made him want to get this over with as soon as humanly possible.

“Lie down,” he growled, then settled himself alongside her.

“No way!” she said, wriggling as he trapped her beneath his weight. The woman might look like skin and bone but under him she felt plenty female. She also had a mean right elbow.

“Settle,” Jonah demanded. “Or we’ll both go under. And this time you can look after your own damn self.”

She flicked him a glance, those eyes thunderous, those lips pursed like a promise. A promise he had no intention of honouring.

“Now,” he drawled, “are you going to be a good girl and let me get you safe back to shore, or are you determined to become a statistic?”

After a moment, her accented voice came to him as a hum he felt right through his chest. “Humility or death?”

He felt the smile yank at the corner of his mouth a second too late to stop it. Hers flashed unexpected, like sunshine on a cloudy day.

“Honey,” he drawled, “you’re not in Kansas any more.”

One eyebrow lifted, and her eyes went to his mouth and stayed a beat before they once again looked him in the eye. “New York, actually. I’m from New York. Where there are simply not enough men with your effortless charm.”

Sass. Bedraggled and pale and now shaking a little from shock and she was sassing him. Couldn’t help but respect her for that. Which was why the time had come to offload her for good.

Jonah held on tight and kicked, making a beeline for the beach.

He did his best to ignore the warmth of the woman beneath him, her creamy back with its crazy mass of string masquerading as a swimsuit.

As soon as they were near enough, he let his feet drop to the sand and pushed the board into the shallows.

She slid off in a gaggle of limbs. He made to help, but she pulled her arm away. Didn’t like help this one. Not his at any rate.

Hull stood at their approach, shook the sand from his speckled fur, then sat. Not too close. He was as wary of strangers as Jonah was. Smart animal.

Jonah took note and moved his hand away. “Stick to the resort pool, next time. Full-time lifeguards. Do you need me to walk you back to the Tropicana?” Probably best to check in with Claudia, make sure she knew she had a knucklehead staying at her resort.

“How on earth do you know where I’m staying?” asked said knucklehead.

He flicked a dark glance at the Tropicana Nights logo on the towel she’d wrapped tight about her.

“Right,” she said, her cheeks pinkening. “Of course. Sorry. I didn’t mean to suggest—”

“Yeah, you did.”

A deep breath lifted her chest and her odd eyes with it so that she looked up at him from beneath long lashes clumped together like stars. “You’re right, I did.” A shrug, unexpectedly self-deprecating. Then, “But I can walk myself. Thanks, though, for the other. I really am a good swimmer, but I... Thanks. I guess.”

“You’re welcome.” Then, “I guess.”

That smile flickered for a moment, the one that made the woman’s face look all warm and welcoming and new. Then all of a sudden she came over green, her wicked gaze became deeply tangled in his, she said, “Luke?” and passed out.

Jonah caught her: bunched towel, gangly limbs, and all.

He lowered himself—and her with him—to the sand, and felt for a pulse at her neck to find it strong and even. She’d be fine. A mix of heatstroke and too much ocean swallowed. No matter what she said about how good a swimmer she was, she was clearly no gym junkie. Even as dead weight she was light as a feather in his arms. All soft, warm skin too. And that mouth, parted, breathing gently. Beckoning.

He slapped her. On the cheek. Lightly.

Then not so lightly.

But she just lay there, angelic and unconscious. Nicer that way, in fact.

Luke, she’d said. He knew a Luke. Was good mates with one. But they didn’t look a thing alike. Jonah’s hair was darker, curlier. His eyes were grey, Luke’s were...buggered if he knew. And while Luke had split Crescent Cove the first chance he had—coming home only when he had no choice—nothing bar the entire cove sinking into the sea would shift Jonah. Not again.

Literally, it seemed, as he tried to ignore the soft heat of the woman in his arms.

Clearly the universe was trying to tell him something. He’d learned to listen when that happened. Storm’s a coming: head to shore. A woman gets it in her head to leave you: never follow. Dinner at the seafood place manned by the local Dreadlock Army: avoid the oysters.

What the hell he was meant to learn from sitting on a beach with an unconscious American in his arms, he had no idea.

* * *

Avery’s head hurt. A big red whumping kind of hurt that meant she didn’t want to open her eyes.

“That’s the way, kid,” a voice rumbled into her subconscious. A deep voice. Rough. Male.

For a second, she just lay there, hopeful that when she opened her eyes it would be to find herself lying on a sun lounge, a big buff cabana boy leaning over her holding a tray with piña coladas and coconut oil, his dark curls a halo in the sun...

“Come on, honey. You can do it.”

Honey? Australian accent. It all came back to her.

Jet lag. Scorching heat. A quick dip in the ocean to wake up. Then from nowhere, cramp. Fear gripping her lungs as she struggled to keep her head above water. A hand gripping her wrist: strong, brown, safe. And then eyes, formidable grey eyes. Anything but safe.

Letting out a long slow breath to quell the wooziness rising in her belly, Avery opened her eyes.

“Atta girl,” said the voice and this time there was a face to go with it. A deeply masculine face—strong jaw covered in stubble a long way past a shadow, lines fanning from the corners of grey eyes shaded by dark brows and thick lashes, a nose with a kink as if it had met with foul play.

Not a cabana boy, then. Not a boy at all. As his quicksilver eyes roved over her, Avery’s stomach experienced a very grown-up quiver. It clearly didn’t care that the guy was also frowning at her as if she were something that had washed up from the depths of the sea.

So who was he, then?

Luke? The name rang in her head like an echo, and her heart rate quickened to match. Could this be him?

But no. Strong as the urge was to have her teenage crush grow up into this, he was too big, too rugged. And she’d had enough updates about Claude’s family friend over the years to know Luke had lived in London for a while now. Worked in advertising. If this guy worked in an office she’d eat her luggage.

And as for nice? The sensations tumbling through her belly felt anything but. They felt ragged, brusque, hot and pulsey. And oddly snarky, which she could only put down to the recent oxygen deficit.

On that note, she thought, trying to lift herself to sitting. But her head swam and her stomach right along with it.

Before she had the chance to alter the situation, the guy barked, “Lie down, will you? Last thing I need is for you to throw up on me as well.”

While the idea of lying down a bit longer appealed, that wasn’t how she rolled. She’d been looking after herself, and everyone else in her life, since she was sixteen.

“I think I’m about done here,” she said.

“Can I get somebody for you?” he asked. “Someone from the resort? Luke?”

Her eyes shot to his. So he wasn’t Luke, but he knew him? How did he know she knew him...? Oh, my God. Just before she’d passed out, she’d called Luke’s name.

Heat and humiliation wrapped around her, Avery untwisted herself from Not-Luke’s arms to land on the towel. She scrambled to her feet, jumbled everything into a big ball and on legs of jelly she backed away.

“I’m fine. I’ll be fine.” She pushed the straggly lumps of hair from her face. “Thanks again. And sorry for ruining your swim. Surf. Whatever.”

The brooding stranger stood—sand pale against the brown of his knees, muscles in his arms bunching as he wrapped a hand around the edge of the surfboard he’d wedged into the sand. “I’m a big boy. I’ll live.”

Yes, you are, a saucy little voice cooed inside her head. But not particularly nice. And that was the thing. She’d had some kind of epiphany before she’d gone for a swim, hadn’t she? Something about needing some sweet, simple, wholesome, niceness in her life compared with the horror her mother was gleefully planning on the other side of the world.

“Take care, little mermaid,” he said, taking a step back, right into a slice of golden sunlight that caught his curls, and cut across his big bronzed bare chest.

“You too!” she sing-songed, her inveterate Pollyannaness having finally fought its way back to the surface. “And it’s Avery. Avery Shaw.”

“Good to know,” he said. Then he smiled. And it was something special—kind of crooked and sexy and fabulous. Though Avery felt a subversive moment of disappointment when it didn’t reach his eyes. Those crinkles held such promise.

Then he turned and walked away, his surfboard hooked under one arm, his bare feet slapping on the footpath. And from nowhere a huge dog joined him—shaggy and mottled with deep liquid eyes that glanced back at her a moment before turning back into the sun.

Definitely not Luke. Luke Hargreaves had been taller, his hair lighter, his eyes a gentle brown. And that long-ago summer before her whole world had fallen apart he’d made her feel safe. To this day Avery could sense the approach of conflict as tingles all over her skin, the way some people felt a storm coming in their bad knees, and Mr Muscles back there made her feel as if she’d come out in hives.

She blinked when she realised she was staring, then, turning away, trudged up the beach towards the road, the resort, a good long sensible lie-down.


She glanced up and saw a brilliantly familiar blonde waving madly her way from the doorway of the Tropicana: navy skirt, blinding blue and yellow Hawaiian shirt, old-fashioned clipboard an extension of her arm. Claudia. Oh, now there was a sight for sore eyes, and a bruised ego and—

Avery’s feet stopped working, right in the middle of the street. For there, standing behind Claudia and a little to the left, thumb swishing distractedly over a smartphone, was Luke Hargreaves—tall, lean, handsome in a clean-shaven city-boy kind of way, in a suit she could pin as Armani from twenty feet away. If that wasn’t enough, compared to the mountain of growly man flesh she’d left back there on the beach, not a single skin prickle was felt.

With relief Pollyanna tap danced gleefully inside her head as Avery broke out in a sunny smile.


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