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Блейк Элли

The Wedding Date

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HANNAH stood in the doorway of the Gulf-stream jet.

Place? Launceston, Tasmania.

Time of arrival? Mid-morning.

Temperature? Freezing.

She breathed in the crisp wintry air though her nose. Boy, did it smell amazing. Soft, green, untainted. She could actually hear birds singing. And the sky was so clear and blue it hurt her eyes. A small smile crept into the corners of her mouth.

She hadn’t been sure how she’d feel, stepping foot back on Tassie soil after such a long time in Melbourne. How parochial the place would feel in comparison with her bustling cosmopolitan base.

It felt like home.

A deep voice behind her said, ‘What? No “welcome home” banner? No marching band?’

‘Oh, Lord,’ she said as she jumped. Then, ‘I’m going, I’m going! You can get on your way. Go back inside. It’s freezing.’

‘I’m a big boy. I can handle the cold.’ Bradley threw the last of a bag of macadamia nuts into his mouth as he looked over her shoulder. ‘So this is Tasmania.’

She looked out over Launceston International Airport. One simple flat-roofed building sat on the edge of acres of pocked grey Tarmac. A light drizzle thickened the cold air. Patches of old snow lay scattered in pockets of shade, while the rest of the ground was covered in little melted puddles.

As far as first impressions went it was hardly going to ring Bradley’s adventure-savvy bell.

‘No,’ she said, ‘this is an airport. Tasmania is the hidden wonder beyond.’

‘Get a move on, then. I don’t have all day.’

She shook her head. ‘Sorry. Of course. Thanks. For the lift. But, please, I don’t need one back. I’ll see you Tuesday.’

With that she gave him a short wave, before jogging down the stairs—only to see the pilot had her bags plonked on the Tarmac next to another set of luggage that looked distinctly like Bradley’s.

‘What’s he doing?’ she asked. Then turned to find Bradley was right behind her.

Instinct had her slamming her hands against his chest so as not to topple onto her backside. Her hips against his thighs. Her right knee wedged hard between his.

Hard muscles clenched instantly beneath her touch. Hot, hard, Bradley-shaped muscles.

All she could think was that, God, he felt good. Big. Strong. Solid. Warm. All too real.

She blinked up into his eyes to find glinting circles of deepest grey staring down at her.

‘You’re shaking,’ he said, glowering as though she had somehow offended his sensibilities.

She curled her fingers into her palms and hid them beneath her poncho as she took a distinct step back, her body arching towards him even while she dragged herself away. ‘Of course I’m shaking. It’s barely above zero.’

He looked out across the Tarmac, as though for a moment he’d forgotten where they were. Then his hand hovered to where her hands had been against his chest. He scratched the spot absent-mindedly. ‘Really?’ he rumbled. ‘I hadn’t noticed.’

Truth was, neither had she. For, while the wind-chill factor had probably taken the temperature below zero, she was still feeling a tad feverish after being bodily against a human furnace.

Hannah took another step back. ‘Why has James deposited your luggage beside mine?’

‘I’m researching.’

‘What? The difference between Tarmac in Tasmanian and New Zealand airports?’

Humour flickered behind his eyes. It made her senses skedaddle and a purely feminine heat began to pulse. Then he slid his sunglasses into their usual hiding place and she had no chance of reading him.

‘Less specific,’ he said dryly. ‘Try Tasmania.’ Then he sauntered on past.

‘Wait!’ she called. ‘Hang on just a minute. What am I missing here?’

‘You sell yourself short on your PR abilities. You sold me.’

‘Sold you what?’

‘Tracts of wild, rugged, untouched beauty. Jagged cliffs. Lush forests. Roaring waterfalls. Lakes so still you don’t know which way is the sky. Sound familiar?’

Sure did. One of her many effusive speeches about her gorgeous home.

He continued, ‘It got me to thinking. So it’s decided. The team know what to do in New Zealand. They’ll go that way, while I do a solo recce of this area this weekend.’

So that was what they’d been cooking up in the back of the jet. She’d been busy playing holiday, so as not to get caught up in office stuff—sipping on a cocktail, reading a trashy magazine and listening to the music blaring from her iPod—and she’d blissfully let it all go by.

She must have been gaping like a beached fish, because he added, ‘Don’t panic. I have no intention of invading your holiday. Spencer’s hired me a car and planned me a course.’

Hannah snapped her mouth shut. The fact that he was staying was still beyond her comprehension. But mostly she was struggling with the intense sense of envy that the one time she’d cut herself off was the one time she could have proved her producer potential. Sure, Spencer was great with an online map, but nobody in Bradley’s circle knew the island, the detail, the most TV-worthy spots of her home island more than her.

Her timing couldn’t have sucked more.

An insistent voice knocked hard on the back of her brain. Let it go. Give yourself a muuuuuch needed break. And come Tuesday sit him down and tell him exactly why he needs to put you in charge of the project.

‘Okay,’ she said, overly bright.

‘Well, that’s just … excellent. Truly. You won’t regret it.’

With that she turned away and headed towards her luggage. And that was when she heard it. A penetrating feminine voice shrilled thinly in the far distance.

‘Yoo-hoo! Hannah! Over heeeeere!’

Her conflicted emotions fled in an instant at the sound of that voice. And, boy, did she not blame them?

Why? How?

The text! She’d sent Elyse a quick message saying she’d be getting in early, and how. Dammit!


She frantically searched the small crowd awaiting the arrival of loved ones from behind a chicken wire fence. With their matching long, thick and straight dark brown hair, pale skin, shiny baubles, and head to toe pink get-ups, Hannah’s mother and sister stood out from the small, chilly, rugged-up crowd like flamingos in a flock of pigeons.

As though the years hadn’t passed—as though she didn’t have an amazing job and a great apartment, cool friends and real confidence in where she’d landed—Hannah’s hand went straight to her hair. Only to remember she’d done nothing with it that morning and now, as she stood on the windy Tarmac, it was making a fly for freedom in just about every direction possible.

In about five seconds flat she went from respected ace assistant to a TV wunderkind to skinny tomboy shuffling a soccer ball around the backyard while her glamorous mother and sister shopped and groomed and giggled about boys.

Her mother pushed through the crowd, opened a gate that probably meant she was breaking about half a dozen aviation safety laws, and headed her way. Hannah knew the grown-up thing to do was walk towards her, waving happily, but she was so deep into meltdown mode she began to physically back away.

And that was when she felt an arm slide beneath her poncho to settle gently but firmly in the curve of her back. The wall of warmth that came with it stopped her in her retreat as nothing else could have.

She must have been putting out such a silent distress call even her famously self-contained boss had felt it. Had come to her defence. Gallantry was becoming a bit of a pattern, in fact. If only the feel of him so close didn’t also make her knees forget how to keep her legs straight.

And she needed every ounce of strength she had for what was about to happen. For coming up against her mother unprepared and un-liquored-up. And for subjecting her fuss-phobic boss to the living soap opera that was her family.

Bradley and her mother. Oh, no.

Brain suddenly working as if she had a sixth-sense, Hannah leaned in closer and said, ‘Take a sharp left now, head into those bushes to the east and you’ll hit the main road in about three minutes. Hail a cab from there. Go!’

His eyebrows came together and he laughed softly. ‘Why on earth would I want to do that?’

‘See that vision in pink hurtling our way? That’s my mother. And if you don’t run now you’ll feel like you’ve been hit by a hurricane.’

But it was too late.

She felt Bradley stiffen behind her. His fingers dug into her skin. If her brain hadn’t been working overtime on how to keep her boss from going into a meltdown right alongside her she might just have groaned with the intense pleasure of it.

Virginia’s eyes had zeroed in on Bradley with a vengeance. No wonder. A six-feet-four hunk standing in the shadow of his own private jet wasn’t something any woman could easily ignore. Especially a strikingly beautiful woman currently between rich husbands.

Elyse, ever the mini-Mum, tottered in her wake.

Hannah felt Bradley grow an inch behind her as he breathed in deep. Then he broke the tense silence with, ‘So, to downgrade the hurricane to mild sun shower, what do I need to know?’

Just like that, the Tarmac beneath her feet felt like familiar ground. At Knight Productions they never went into any meeting without being completely prepared for any outcome. Without knowing they’d never accept no for an answer. And Bradley always got his own way.

‘Number one: call her Virginia,’ Hannah punched out. ‘Not Mrs anything. She’s never liked to be thought of as a wife or mother. If people think she is either, it’s proof she’s of a certain age. Do that and you’re ahead of the curve.’

Bradley’s eyebrows all but disappeared into his hairline, but at least his death grip relaxed. ‘Who does she think people think you were? Her fan club?’

Hannah laughed. Unexpectedly. She turned to find he was looking far more relaxed and less rock-like than she could ever have hoped. And as she turned his hand slipped further around her waist. Her breath went AWOL.

‘Relax,’ he murmured, leaning closer. ‘You are so wound up you’re actually beginning to scare me just a little. Don’t panic. Mothers love me.’

She shot him a look of despair. ‘That’s not the problem. I mean, look at you. I have no doubt my mother will adore you.’

A muscle twitched beneath his eye and his mouth lifted into a sexy half-smile. ‘You think I’m adorable?’

‘To the tips of your designer socks,’ she said, her voice as blank as she could manage. ‘And, just for the record, along with tall men who own private jets my mother also adores rhinestones, tight pink cardigans and fruity cocktails with little umbrellas in them.’

The second the words were out of her mouth she regretted them. But it wasn’t as though she never ribbed the guy. Working sixty-hour weeks a girl had to have a sense of humour. And he was oak-like enough to take it.

But comparing him with rhinestones …?

Maybe it was the comfy outfit. Maybe it was giving her brain cells a day off from the blowdryer. Or maybe her body had gone into some kind of holiday-mode shutdown. Either way, her tongue had come dangerously loose.

So dangerously Bradley’s hand slid even further—till it rested possessively on her hip, till his little finger slid between T-shirt and jeans and found skin. A silent signal that if she went one step too far she was at his mercy. As a comeback it was effective. Debilitatingly so.

Hannah was so tense she was practically vibrating.

She didn’t have time to think before Virginia was upon them, long hair swinging like a shampoo commercial, high heels clacking loudly on the asphalt.

Then her mother’s eyes zeroed in on the lack of sunlight between the two of them. Hannah wished she was wearing work stilettos so she could have kicked her boss in the shin.

‘Hannah! Darling!’ Virginia’s eyes were gleaming, her arms outstretched, and she was looking Bradley up and down as though he was a two-hundred-dollar Hobart Bay lobster even while she reached out for the daughter she hadn’t seen for three years.

Virginia’s arm wrapped around her none too gently just as Bradley’s hand slipped away. She gave in to one while missing the other.

‘Virginia,’ Hannah said. ‘It’s so nice of you to meet me, but you really shouldn’t have. This weekend of all weekends.’

Over her mother’s shoulder Hannah saw Elyse hovering. Her chest pinched at the happy tears in her little sister’s bright green eyes.

She mouthed, Hi. Elyse did the same.

And then, in her ear, Hannah heard, ‘He’s very handsome.’

Not even a whisper. An out-and-out declaration. Heck, even James the pilot, who was now taxiing Bradley’s jet down a nearby runway, had probably heard.

‘He’s my boss,’ Hannah blurted, just as loud. ‘Thus out of bounds. So leave him alone.’

Elyse hid a shocked laugh behind a fake sneeze.

Her mum pulled back and looked deep into her eyes with what looked like a flicker of respect. Wow. That was a first. Hannah’s chest squeezed as she waited for … more. Sadness, poignancy, guilt, regret.

Until Virginia took a step back, flounced a hand up and down Hannah’s form and said, ‘Jeans, Hannah? Must you always look like a bag lady?’

And there you have it, folks. My mother.

‘My work means I fly a lot. All over the world, in fact. I’ve learnt it pays to be comfortable.’ She mentally blew a raspberry, not much caring that it made her feel five years old.

Having said all she apparently felt the need to say, Virginia slid her eyes back to Bradley. In his jeans and fitted shirt, and the soft old leather jacket, he looked extremely comfortable. He also looked good enough to eat.

The scent of macadamia emanating from his direction only made that thought solidify. And expand. Hannah had to swallow down the sensation that rocked through her, finishing in a slow burn shaped very much like a large handprint upon her back.

‘It seems my daughter hasn’t the manners to introduce us …’

‘Forgive me,’ Hannah leapt in. ‘Virginia, this is Bradley Knight—my boss. Bradley, this is Virginia Millar Gillespie McClure. My mother.’

Virginia’s smile was saccharine-sweet, her eyes cool as she said, ‘Darling, you forgot the Smythe. Though Derek was rather forgettable, I’m afraid.’

Bradley took off his sunglasses and hooked them over the neckline of his T-shirt before grasping the manicured hand coming at him at pace. Hannah held her breath. Rock was about to meet hurricane. She squinted in preparation for being in the line of fire of flying debris.

‘A pleasure to meet you, Virginia,’ Bradley said, his deep, sexy voice as smooth as silk. ‘And, considering the fact that I’ve never seen anyone with quite the same stunning colour eyes as Hannah’s, this must be Elyse.’

Virginia blinked her own dark brown eyes slowly as she uncurled her hand away from Bradley’s and made room for him to pass her by in favour of her daughter. Not used to being upstaged, she stood there a moment in silence, regathering herself.

Hannah placed a hand over her mouth to cover her grin. If she hadn’t had a soft spot for her boss before, she had one now.

Elyse’s pale green eyes—eyes so much like their dad’s—all but popped out of her head as she gravitated towards Bradley. ‘Boy, it’s an honour to meet you, Mr Knight. I love your shows. So much. Adore them. Not just because Hannah works on them. They’re actually really good too!’

Bradley laughed. ‘Thank you. I think.’

Hannah slid the thumb of her right hand between her teeth and nibbled. Amazing. For a guy who usually turned to stone at the first sign of such dramatic declarations of adoration he was handling himself mighty well. She watched him carefully for signs that he was about to cut and run. But his smile seemed genuine.

Bradley’s smiling gaze slowly swung to Hannah. His eyes widened just a fraction, enough to let her know that he was well aware he’d stepped into a little bit of crazy but was content to stay a while.

And the only reason she could think of for him to do such a thing was because of her. He’d known her trip home was short, and important, so he’d stepped up to the mark and helped her get there sooner. He’d realised that reuniting with her mother was not quite so looked forward to. So he’d moved in to protect her.

The ground at her feet suddenly felt less like Tarmac and more like jelly.

And then she realised that Elyse was still talking.

‘Hannah never mentioned she was bringing a plus one, but of course we’ll make room—right, Virginia? Hannah’s so secretive about her life in Melbourne—the yummy celebrities she meets at all those TV parties and the guys she’s dating. We can get all the goss from you instead!’

‘No, no, no,’ Hannah leapt in. ‘Elyse, Bradley’s not here to—’

‘You are coming to the wedding,’ Virginia insisted, stepping smack-bang between Hannah and her boss. ‘The accommodation is six-star. The food to die for. Cradle Mountain is the most beautiful spot on the entire planet. Bar none. You simply cannot come to Tasmania without experiencing her raw beauty for yourself. In fact it’s just the kind of place you should set one of your little shows.’

Hannah shook her head so hard she whipped herself in the eye with a hunk of hair. She slid into the fray and grabbed Bradley by the elbow, practically heaving him out of the clutches of her wily relations. ‘Bradley’s not here for the wedding. He’s here on business. He doesn’t even have a minute to spare and stand around here nattering. Do you, Bradley?’

‘I couldn’t possibly impose so last-minute,’ was his response.

She glared up into his eyes to find he was refusing to look at her. Then he shifted his stance, so that her hand slid into the all too comfortable crook of his elbow. Heat slid slyly down her arm.

She tried to pull away. He only clamped down tighter. Then he smiled at her, a quicksilver gleam in his deep, smoky grey eyes.

Her heart tumbled in her chest and she slipped her hand free. Oh, God. Oh, no.

She should never have compared him with rhinestones, or tight pink cardigans, or fruity cocktails with little umbrellas in them. He wasn’t protecting her. He was punishing her!

‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ Virginia said, linking her hand through his spare elbow. ‘Great-Aunt Maude left word last night to say she’s entirely sure she’s come down with consumption.’

Elyse rolled her eyes. ‘For the engagement party it was malaria. Apart from the hypochondria she’s the perfect great-aunt. She sends gifts ahead of time!’

Virginia turned towards the terminal and tugged Bradley in her wake. Hannah, as always, had no choice but to follow.

Virginia was saying, ‘So there’s a spare meal already paid for.’

Elyse, who had taken Bradley’s now free other elbow, said, ‘And the gift’s taken care of too! We’ll just pencil your name alongside Great-Aunt Maude’s on the card. She’ll never know. You won’t be sitting with Hannah, as she’ll be with Roger all night. But you seem like a man who can take care of himself.’

Hannah rolled her eyes. When they settled back into their normal position she realised Bradley was frowning at her.


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