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Блейк Элли

The Wedding Date

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HANNAH was in the bathroom, washing sleep out of her eyes, when her apartment doorbell rang just before six the next morning. It couldn’t be the cab taking her to the dock; it wasn’t due for another hour.

‘Can you get that?’ she called out, but no sound or movement came from Sonja’s room.

Hannah ran her fingers through her still messy bed hair and rushed to the door.

She opened it to find herself looking at the very last view she would ever have expected. Bradley, in her favourite of his leather jackets—chocolate-brown and wool-lined—and dark jeans straining under the pressure of all that hard-earned muscle. Tall, gorgeous and wide awake, standing incongruously in the hallway outside her tiny apartment. It was so ridiculous she literally rubbed her eyes.

When she opened them he was still there, in all his glory—only now his eyes were roving slowly over her flannelette pyjama pants, her dad’s over-sized, faded, thirty-year-old Melbourne University jumper, her tatty old Ugg boots.

Even while she fought the urge to hide behind the door, the feel of those dark eyes slowly grazing her body was beautifully illicit.

‘Can I come in?’ he asked, eyes sliding back to hers.

No good morning. No sorry to bother you. No I’ve obviously arrived at a bad time. Just right to the point.

‘Now?’ She glanced over her shoulder, glad Sonja’s makeshift clothesline, usually laden with silky nothings and hanging from windowframe to windowframe, had been mysteriously taken down during the night.

‘I have a proposal.’

He had a proposal? At six in the morning? That couldn’t wait? What could she do but wave a welcoming arm?

He took two steps inside, and instantly the place felt smaller than it actually was. And it was already pretty small. Kitchenette, lounge, two beds, one bath. Small windows looking out over nothing much. Plenty for two working women who just needed a place to crash.

She closed the apartment door and leant against it as she waited for him to complete his recce.

Compared with his monstrous pad, with its multiple rooms and split-levels and city views, it must seem like a broom closet.

When he turned back to her, those grey eyes gleaming like molten silver in the early-morning light, the pads of her fingers pressed so hard into the panelled wood at her back her knuckles ached.

But he was all business. ‘I hope you’re almost ready. Flight’s in two hours.’

She blinked. Suddenly as wide awake as if she was three coffees down rather than none. Had he forgotten? Again? She pushed away from the door and her hands flew to her hips. ‘Are you kidding me?’

His cheek twitched. ‘You can get that look off your face. I’m not here to throw you over my shoulder and whisk you off to New Zealand.’

She swallowed—half-glad, half-disappointed. ‘You’re not?’

‘The ferry would take a full day to get to Launceston. I looked it up. It seems a ridiculous waste of time when I have a plane that could get you there in an hour. As such, I’m flying you to Tasmania.’

‘What about New Zealand? It took me a month to organise the whole team to fly in from—’

‘We’re making a detour. Now, hurry up and get ready.’


‘You can thank me later.’

Thank him? The guy had just gone and nixed her brilliant plan to take a full twelve hours in which to rev herself up to facing her mother, while at the same time putting lots of lovely miles between herself and him. And he was doing so in what appeared to be an effort at being nice. If things continued along in the same vein as her day had so far, Sonja would walk out of her room and announce she was joining a nunnery.

‘It’s decided.’ He took a step her way.

She held her hands out in front of her, keeping him at bay and keeping herself from jumping over the coffee table and throttling him. ‘Not by me it’s not.’

He was stubborn. But then so was she.

Her dad had been a total sweetheart—a push-over even when it came to those he’d loved. Her occasional mulishness was the one trait she couldn’t deny she’d inherited from her mum.

‘I know how hard you work. And compared with most people I’ve come across in this industry, you do so with great grace and particularity. I appreciate it. So, please, hitch a ride on me.’

The guy was trying so hard to say thank-you, in his own roundabout way, he looked as if a blood vessel was about to burst in his forehead.

Hannah threw her hands in the air and growled at the gods before saying, ‘Fine. Proposal accepted.’

He breathed out hard, and the tension eased from him until his natural energy level eased from eleven back to its usual nine and a half.

He nodded, then looked over his shoulder, decided only the couch would take his bulk, and moved past her to sit down. There he picked up a random magazine from the coffee table and pretended to be interested in the ‘101 Summer Hair Tips’ it promised to reveal inside its pages.

‘We leave in forty-five minutes.’

Well, it seemed happy, lovely, thank-you time was over. Back to business as usual.

Hannah glanced at her dad’s old diving watch, which was so overly big for her she had to twist it to read it. Forty-five minutes? She’d be ready in forty.

Without another word she spun and raced into her room. She grabbed the comfy, Tasmania-in-winter-appropriate travel outfit she’d thrown over the tub chair in the corner the night before, and rushed into the bathroom.

Sonja was there, in a bottle-green Japanese silk kimono, plucking her eyebrows.

Hannah’s boots screeched to a halt on the tiled floor. ‘Sonja! Jeez, you scared me half to death. I didn’t even know you were home.’

Sonja smiled into the mirror. ‘Just giving you and the boss man some privacy.’

The smile was far too Cheshire-cat-like for comfort. Hannah suddenly remembered the unnaturally underwear-free window. ‘You knew he was coming!’

Sonja threw her tweezers onto the sink and turned to Hannah. ‘All I know is that from the moment we got back to the office yesterday arvo he was all about “Tasmania this, Tasmania that.” Everything else was designated secondary priority.’

Hannah opened her mouth, but nothing came out.

Sonja pouted. ‘He never offered to fly me home for the holidays, and I’ve been working for him for twice as long as you.’

‘Your parents live a fifteen-minute tram-ride away.’ Hannah shoved her friend out, slamming the door with as much gusto as she could muster.

With time rushing through the hourglass, she whipped off her pyjamas and threw them into a pile on the closed lid of the toilet, then scrunched her hair into a knot atop her head as she didn’t have time to do anything fancy with it, before standing naked beneath the cold morning spray of the tiny shower. Sucking in her stomach, she turned up the heat and waited till the temperature was just a little too hot for comfort before grabbing a cake of oatmeal soap and scrubbing away the languor of the night.

A plane ride, she thought. Surrounded by camera guys, lighting guys, and Bradley’s drier than toast accountant. Then at the airport they’d go their separate ways, and she could get on with her holiday and remember what it felt like to live a life without Bradley Knight in the centre of it.

A little voice twittered in the back of her head. If you’d taken either of the perfectly good jobs you’ve been offered in the past few months you’d know what that felt like on a permanent basis.

Swearing with rather unladylike gusto, Hannah turned her back to the shower, letting the hot spray pelt her skin as she soaped random circles over her stomach. She let her forehead drop to thump against the cold glass.

Both jobs had sounded fine. Great, even. Leaps along the career path she sought. But working on studio-based programming just didn’t hold the same excitement as travelling to places for which she needed a half-dozen shots. Trudging up mud slopes and down glaciers, canoeing rivers filled with crocodiles, even if she had to count back from a hundred so as not to heave over the side.

At some stage in the past year, small-town Hannah had become a big-time danger junkie.

Professionally and personally. And it had everything to do with the man whose impossible work ethic had her feeling as if she was teetering between immense success and colossal failure in every given task.

It was crazy-making. He was crazy-making. He was a self-contained, hard to know, ball-breaker. But, oh, the thrill that came when together they got it right.

She shivered. Deliciously. From top to toe.

She just wasn’t ready to let that go.

Suddenly she realised she had the shower up so high she was actually beginning to sweat. She could feel it tingling across her scalp, in the prickling of her palms. She licked her lips to find they tasted of salt.

She turned to lean her back against the cool of the door, only to find the water wasn’t so hot after all. And she was still sliding the slick soap over her shoulders, down her arms, around her torso, in a slow, rhythmic movement as her head was filled with impenetrable smoky grey eyes, dark wavy hair, a roguish five o’clock shadow, shoulders broad enough to carry the weight of the world …

Heat pulsed in her centre, radiating outwards until she had to breathe through her mouth to gather enough oxygen to remain upright. She wrapped her arms tight around her.

Brilliant, beautiful, intense—and literally on the other side of the door. With no sound in the apartment bar the sound of the running shower. And the door was unlocked. Heck, the walls were so old and warped she had a floor mat shoved at the base of the door to keep it closed. With his bulk, if he walked too hard on the creaky floorboards the thing might spring open.

What if that happened and he looked up to find her naked, wet, slippery? Alone. Skin pink from the steaming hot spray. More so from thoughts of him.

What would he do? Would it finally occur to him that she was actually a woman, not just a walking appointment book?

No, it wouldn’t. And thank God for that. For if he ever looked at her in that way she wouldn’t even know what to do. They worked together like a dream, but as for the paths they’d taken to stumble into one another? The man was so far removed from her reality he was practically a different species.

‘Perfect, safe, fantasy material for a girl too busy to get her kicks any other way,’ she told the wall.

But somehow it had sounded far more sophisticated in her head than it did out loud. Out loud it sounded as though the time was nigh for her to get a life.

She determinedly put the lathered soap on the tray and turned off the taps.

She then reached for her towel—only to find in her rush she’d left it hanging on a hook on the back of her bedroom door.

She glanced at the musty PJs piled on the lid of the toilet, and then at the minuscule handtowel hanging within reach. She let her head thunk back against the shower wall.

The pipes in the pre-war building creaked as the shower was turned off in Hannah’s bathroom.

Finally. Bradley had told her they only had forty-five minutes, and the damn woman had been in the shower for what felt like for ever.

Bradley loosened his grip on the magazine he’d been clutching the entire time the shower had run—to find his fingers had begun to cramp.

‘Coffee?’ Sonja said, swanning out from nowhere.

He’d been so sure they were alone—just him in the lounge, Hannah in the shower, nothing but twelve feet of open space and a thin wooden door between them—he jumped halfway out of his skin.

‘Where the hell did you spring from?’ he growled.

‘Around,’ Sonja said, waving a hand over her shoulder as she swept towards a gleaming espresso machine that took up half the tiny kitchen bench. It was the only thing that looked as if it had had any real money spent on it in the whole place.

The rest was fluffy faded rugs, pink floral wallpaper, and tasselled lampshades so ancient-looking every time his eyes landed on one he felt he needed to sneeze. He felt as if he was sitting in the foyer of an old-time Western brothel, waiting for the madam to put in an appearance.

Not what he would have expected of Hannah’s pad—if he’d ever thought of it at all.

She was hard-working. Meticulous. With a reserve of stamina hidden somewhere in her small frame that meant she was able to keep up with his frenetic pace where others had fallen away long before.

What she wasn’t was abandoned, pink … froufrou.

Or so he’d thought.

‘I’m making one for myself so it’s no bother.’

Bradley blinked to find he was staring so hard at Hannah’s bathroom door it might have appeared as though he was hoping for a moment of X-ray vision. He threw the magazine on the table with enough effort to send it sliding onto the floor, then turned bodily away from the door to glance at Sonja.

‘Coffee?’ Sonja repeated, dangling a gaudy pink and gold espresso mug from the tip of her pink-taloned pinky.

It hit him belatedly that the apartment was pure Sonja. Of course. He vaguely remembered her telling him Hannah had at some stage that year moved in with her.

For some reason it eased his mind. The trust he had in Hannah’s common sense hadn’t been misplaced.

He glanced at his watch and frowned. Though if she didn’t get a hurry on he was ready to revise that thought.

‘A quick one,’ he said.

Coffees made, Sonja perched on the edge of the pink-striped dining chair that sat where a lounge chair ought. ‘So, you’re schlepping our girl to the wilds of Tasmania?’

‘On my way to the New Zealand recce.’

‘Several hundred miles out of your way.’

‘What’s your point?’

‘It’s not my job to have a point. You pay me to build mystery and excitement,’ she said, grinning. ‘And what’s more exciting and mystifying than you and Hannah heading off to have a wild time in the wild?’

‘A wild—?’ This time his frown was for real. He sat up as best he could in the over-soft old chair, and pointed two fingers in the direction of Sonja’s nose. ‘She works damned hard. I’m saying thanks. So don’t you start cooking up any mad stories in that head of yours. You know how I don’t like drama.’

Sonja stared right back, and then, obviously realising he was deadly serious, nodded and said, ‘Whatever you say, boss.’

And with that she got up and strode back towards what must have been her bedroom.

‘So long as you promise I’m the first one you’ll tell when you have something else to say. About New Zealand,’ she added, as an apparent afterthought.

And with a dramatic swish of silk she was gone.

Bradley sank slowly back into the soft couch and downed the hot espresso in one hit, letting it scorch the back of his throat.

If the woman wasn’t so good at her job …

But he hadn’t been kidding. He abhorred gratuitous drama. He’d gone miles out of his way to avoid it his whole life. Up remote mountains, down far-flung rivers in the middle of nowhere, deep into uninhabited jungles. Dedicating his life to concrete pleasures. Real challenges he could see and touch. Facing the raw and unbroken parts of the world in order to discover what kind of man he really was, rather than the kind life had labelled him the moment he was born.

Far, far away from the histrionics he’d endured as a kid, both before and after his hypersensitive mother had decided that being his mother was simply too hard. Leaving him to the mercy of whichever relative had had the grace to take him that month and increasing the drama tenfold. Every one of them had expected him to be volubly and effusively grateful they’d taken on such an encumbrance as he. The telling of it had become a daily litany. But that had been nothing compared with the horrendously uncomfortable drama that rocked each household the moment the inhabitants realised that they were not, in fact, as altruistic as they’d imagined they were.

Then they’d each and every one whispered behind half-closed doors, perhaps it wasn’t their fault. His own mother had given him away after all.

A flash of something appeared out of the corner of Bradley’s eye, slapping him back to the absolute present. He sat forward, leant his elbows on his knees, and ran his hands hard and fast over his face in an effort to rub the prickly remnants of memory away.

Then all thought fled his mind as he realised what the flash had been. Hannah. Dashing from the bathroom into her bedroom. Naked.

He slowly turned his head to look at the empty spot where the vision had appeared. Piece by piece it slipped into his mind.

A wet female back, a pair of lean wet legs, and a small white handtowel covering nought but what must have been wet naked buttocks.

Hannah. Naked. And right at that moment behind that door, towelling down with something about the size of a postage stamp.

From nowhere a swift, steady heat began to surface inside him. An unmistakable heat. The kind he’d usually invite with open arms.

He dragged his eyes back to the front and stared hard at a pink quilted lamp covered in so many tassels it made his eyes hurt. Better that than focus on the image seemingly burned into the backs of his eyes.

Hannah was hard-working, meticulous, with a reserve of stamina … He stopped when he realised he was repeating himself to himself.

A loud bang came from Hannah’s room, after which rang out a badly muffled oath and what sounded like hopping.

He found himself coughing out a laugh. Relief flooded through him, and the unfortunate heat brimming inside him dissipated, somewhat. That was the Hannah he knew. Hard-working, meticulous, and singularly likely to snap him out of the labyrinth of his mind right when he needed it most.

At that moment Hannah came bounding out of her room. Fully dressed. In fact she appeared to be wearing a grey blanket as she dragged a big black suitcase behind her.

He managed to pull himself from the clutches of the soft couch to stand, just as she plonked her suitcase by the door and turned to face him. Lips parted, breathless. From the suitcase? The hopping? The exertion of running to her room wet and naked?

He gave himself a mental slap.

‘You made yourself coffee?’ she said, staring at the coffee table.


‘Oh. Oh!‘ Her eyes opened unnaturally wide, then flicked to the room into which Sonja had disappeared. ‘Did she …? Did you …?’

He raised an eyebrow.

But she just shook her head, a new pinkness staining her cheeks and a telling kind of darkness in her eyes. It was the kind of look that told a specific story without need for words. It was the kind of look, when added to the image of naked female flesh, that could turn a man’s blood to hot oil.

Though it was far more likely he simply hadn’t fully moved on from the ‘flash’ after all.

You’re a man, he growled to himself, not a rock. Don’t be so hard on yourself.

Suddenly Hannah held up a finger and headed over to the small round table behind the couch, flicked through a bunch of papers.

Ignoring him completely. He gave his head a short, sharp shake.

As she moved, Hannah’s voluminous blanket—which turned out to be some kind of poncho—shifted, revealing that in lieu of her usual filmy, elegant work number she wore dark skinny jeans tucked into cowboy boots, and a fitted black and red striped, long-sleeved top. Truly fitted. Giving him glimpses of the kind of gentle curves that her filmy, floaty, elegant work numbers had clearly never made the most of.

Curves he’d glimpsed naked, with no embellishment. Curves he could almost feel beneath his hands.

Gritting his teeth, Bradley leant his backside against the edge of the couch and waited. And watched. With the early-morning sun streaming through the old window behind her she looked so young, so fresh. Her nose was pink in the morning cold, her cheeks even pinker. Her lips were naturally the colour of a dark rose. She had a smattering of freckles across her nose he’d never before noticed. And her usually neat, professional hair was kinky and shaggy, as if she’d come from a day at the beach. As if she’d just rolled out of bed.

She glanced up to find him staring. After a beat she smiled in apology. ‘Two seconds. I promise.’

He cleared his throat. ‘If I didn’t know better I’d think you were purposely delaying getting moving.’

She blinked at him, several times, super-fast. Then shook her head so quickly he wondered if his sorry excuse for a joke had actually hit its mark. But he knew so little about her outside of how well she did her job he couldn’t be sure.

‘Sonja is clueless about paying bills,’ she went on. ‘It’s too cold a winter for me to risk her getting the heating cut off—even though I can think of a dozen reasons why she might deserve it.’

He found himself stepping over a line he didn’t usually breach as he asked, ‘Why do I get the feeling there’s some other reason you’re avoiding heading out that door?’

‘I—’ She swallowed. Then looked him dead in the eye for several long seconds before offering a slight shrug and saying, ‘It’s not that I don’t want to go back home. I love that island more than anything. I’m just bracing myself for what I am about to encounter when I step across the Gatehouse threshold.’

‘The Gatehouse?’

‘The hotel.’

‘Regretting your choice?’

That earned him a glance from pale green eyes that could cut glass. ‘You truly think I would organise for my only sister to get married in some dive?’

‘I guess it depends if you like your only sister. How long did you say it’s been since you’ve seen her?’

Her cheeks turned pinker still: a bright, warm, enchanting pink as blood rushed to her face. But she chose to ignore his insinuation. ‘The Gatehouse, I’ll have you know, is a slice of pure heaven. Like a Swiss chalet, tucked into a forest of snow-dappled gumtrees. A mere short hike to the stunning Cradle Mountain. A hundred beautiful rooms, six gloriously decadent restaurants, a fabulous nightclub, a cinema, a state-of-the-art gym. And don’t even get me started on the suites.’

Her eyes drifted shut and she shuddered. No, it was more like a tremble. It started at her shoulders and shimmied down her form, finishing up at her boot-clad feet, one of which had lifted to tuck in tight behind her opposite calf.

Sensation prickled down his arms, across his abdomen, between his thighs. He could do nothing but stand there, grit his teeth, and hope to high heaven she’d soon be done and he could get away from this crazy pink boudoir before it fried any more of his brain cells.

Hell. Who was this woman, and where had she put his trusty assistant?

If it were not for those wide, wide, frank pale green eyes that looked right into his, not the tiniest bit intimidated by his infamy, bullheadedness or insularity, he’d be wondering if he was in the right apartment.

That would teach him to try and do something nice for somebody else. Another lesson learnt.

Her foot slid down her calf, and as though nothing had happened she went back to the pile of papers.

‘Okay,’ she said. ‘I think we can safely assume Sonja will survive till Tuesday.’ She ruffled a hand through her hair, and it ended up looking even more loose and carefree and sexy as hell. ‘I’m ready.’

She ruffled a hand through her hair, and it ended up looking even more loose and carefree, and sexy as hell.

His hands grew restless, as if he wasn’t quite sure where to put them. As if they wanted to go somewhere his brain knew they ought not.

So he gave them a job and grabbed the handle of her suitcase. One yank and his stomach muscles clenched. ‘What did you pack in here? Bricks?’

A hand slunk to her hip, buried somewhere deep beneath acres of grey wool, temptingly hiding more than they revealed.

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I have filled the bag with bricks—not, as one might assume, a long weekend’s worth of clothes, shoes and under-things that will take me from day to night, PJs to wedding formal. Have you never been to a wedding before?’


‘Wow. I’m not sure if you’ve missed out or if you’re truly the luckiest man alive. While you’re trekking through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world—bar Tasmania’s, of course—I’ll be changing outfits more times than a pop singer in a film clip.’

Bradley closed his eyes to stop the vision that throwaway comment brought forth before it could fully manifest itself inside his head.

‘Car’s downstairs,’ he growled, hefting the bag out through her front door. ‘Be there in five minutes or your—’

Underthings that will take you from day to night.

‘Your gear and I will be gone without you.’


With a dismissive wave over her shoulder she went looking for Sonja to say her goodbyes.

Feeling oddly as if a small pair of hands had just unclenched themselves from the front of his shirt, Bradley was out of that door and away from all that soft velvet, stifling frills and froufrou pink that had clearly been chosen specifically in order to scramble a man’s brains.

To the airport, up in the plane, drop her off, thanks gifted—and then to New Zealand he and his research crew would go. He, his research crew, and a juvenile intern who could spend half the day discussing ‘underthings’ and not affect his blood pressure in the slightest.


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