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He dropped out of helicopters with tranquilizer guns, he parachuted into jungles—all in a day’s work. He also managed the family fortunes that included some huge cattle-stations, and since he’d taken over the reins of the Wyndham empire he’d tripled that fortune so he was now a billionaire, although a very reclusive one. He did not give interviews but word of his work had filtered out and he’d captured the public’s imagination.

As Brett’s PA, it fell to Mike Rafferty to ensure his privacy here in Brisbane, amongst other duties at Haywire—one of the cattle stations in Far North Queensland the Wyndham dynasty called home—and at Palm Cove where they owned a resort.

‘So will you be saying anything to the press?’ he queried. ‘There’s bound to be some coverage of the lunch tomorrow, even if you’ll be incognito at the ball.’

‘No. I’m not saying anything to anyone although, according to my sister, my presence alone will invest the proceedings with quite some clout.’ He grimaced.

‘It probably will,’ Mike agreed. ‘And what will you be going to the masked ball as?’

‘I have no idea. I’ll leave that up to you—but something discreet, Mike,’ Brett growled. ‘No monkey suit, no toga and laurel wreath, no Tarzan or anything like that.’ He stopped and yawned. ‘And now I’m going to bed.’

‘Mum,’ Holly said to her mother the next morning, ‘I’m not sure about this outfit. Isn’t the lunch supposed to be a fundraiser?’ She glanced down at herself. She wore a fitted little black jacket with a low vee-neck over a very short black-and-white skirt. Black high-heeled sandals exposed newly painted pink toenails, matching her fingernails. She wore her mother’s pearl choker and matching pendant earrings.

‘It certainly is,’ Sylvia replied. ‘And a very exclusive one. The tickets cost a fortune, although of course they are tax deductible,’ she assured her daughter. ‘But you look stunning, darling!’

Holly grimaced and twirled in front of the mirror. They were in her bedroom in the family home, a lovely old house high on a hill in Balmoral. She still lived at home, or rather had moved back in after her father had died to keep her mother company. There were plenty of advantages to this arrangement that Holly was most appreciative of, which was why she humoured her mother now and then and attended these kinds of function.

Quite how she’d got roped into going to a charity lunch and a masked fancy-dress ball within a few days of each other she wasn’t sure, but she knew it did give her mother a lot of pleasure to have her company. It also gave her a lot of pleasure to dress her daughter up to the nines.

Holly was quite tall and very slim, two things that lent themselves to wearing clothes well, although when left to her own devices she favoured ‘very casual’. She herself thought her looks were unexceptional, although she did have deep-blue eyes and a thick cloud of fair but hard-to-manage hair.

Today her hair was up in an elaborate chignon, and sprayed and pinned within in inch of its life to stay that way. Sylvia’s hairdresser, who made house calls, had also done their nails.

Sylvia herself was resplendent in diamonds and a fuchsia linen suit.

Despite her mother’s preoccupation with the social scene, Holly loved Sylvia and felt for her in her loneliness now she was a widow. But the most formative person in Holly’s life had been her father, imbuing her not only with his love of the different but his love of writing.

Richard Harding, had he been born in another era, would have been a Dr Livingstone or Mr Stanley. He’d inherited considerable means and had loved nothing better than to travel, to explore out-of-the-way places and different cultures, and to write about them. The fact that he’d married someone almost the exact opposite had been something of a mystery to Holly, yet when they’d been together her parents had been happy.

But it was Holly who Richard had taken more and more on his expeditions. Amongst the results for Holly had been a well-rounded informal education alongside her formal one and fluency in French, plus some Spanish and a smattering of Swahili.

All of it had contributed towards Holly’s present job. She was a travel reporter for an upmarket magazine but with a slight difference: hard-to-get-to places were her speciality. As a consequence, to bring to life her destinations, she’d used bad-tempered camels, stubborn donkeys, dangerous-looking vehicles driven by manic individuals and overcrowded ferries.

According to her editor, Glenn Shepherd, she might look as if a good puff of wind would blow her away but she had a hint of inner steel. She had to, to have coped with some of the situations she’d landed herself in.

She’d shrugged when he’d said this to her and had responded, ‘Oh, I don’t know. Sometimes looking and playing dumb works wonders.’

He’d grinned at her. ‘What about the sheikh fellow who introduced you to all his wives with a view to you joining the clan? Or the Mexican bandit who wanted to marry you?’

‘Ah, that required a bit of ingenuity. I actually had to steal his vehicle,’ Holly had confessed. ‘But I did have it returned to him. Glenn, I’ve been doing travel for a couple of years now—any chance of a change?’

‘Thought you loved it?’

‘I do, but I also want to spread my wings journalistically. I’d love to be given something I could investigate or someone I could get the definitive interview from.’

Glenn had sat forward. ‘Holly, I’m not saying you’re not capable of it, but you are only twenty-four; some kinds of—insight, I guess, take a bit longer than that to develop. It will come, but keep up the good work in the meantime. More and more people out there are getting to love your pieces. Also, re the definitive interview, we have a policy; any of our staff can try for one, so long as they pull it off ethically, and if it’s good enough we’ll publish it. But I must warn you, it has to be outstanding.’

‘As in?’

‘Mostly as in, well, surprise factor.’ He’d shrugged. ‘Brett Wyndham, for example.’

Holly had grimaced. ‘That’s like asking for the moon.’

Holly came back to the present and took one last look at herself. ‘If you’re sure,’ she said to her mother, ‘We’re not terribly over-dressed?’

‘We’re not,’ Sylvia said simply.

Holly saw that she was right when she took her place in the upmarket Milton restaurant that had been turned into a tropical greenhouse. She was amidst a noisy throng of very upmarket-looking guests. Almost without exception, the women were exquisitely groomed, expensively dressed and their jewellery flashed beneath the overhead lighting; many of them wore hats. Not only that, a lot of them seemed to know each other, so it was a convivial gathering helped along by the wine that started to flow. Recent cruises, skiing holidays and tropical islands featured in the snippets of conversation Holly heard around her, as well as the difficulties attached to finding really good housekeepers.

There were men present but they were rather out-numbered. One of them took his place beside Holly.

Goodness, gracious me! was Holly’s first, startled reaction.

The man who sat down beside her was tall and beautifully proportioned; he was dark and satanic looking. He had a suppressed air of vitality combined with an arrogance that was repressed, but nevertheless you couldn’t help but know it was there in the tilt of his head and the set of his mouth. All in all he made the little hairs on her arms stand up in a way that made her blink.

He was casually dressed in khaki trousers, a sports jacket and a navy-blue shirt. He looked out moodily over the assembled throng then concentrated on the first speaker of the day.

The patron of the shelter society introduced herself as Sue Murray. She was petite and dark, and clearly under some strain, as she stumbled a couple of times, then looked straight at the man beside Holly, drew a deep breath, and continued her speech smoothly. She gave a short résumé of the shelter society’s activities and plans for the future, then she thanked everyone for coming. There was loud applause as she stepped down.

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