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When she raised the matter, Sylvia pointed out that it would make the table numbers uneven, for one thing, and for another wasn’t her costume inspired—especially for a girl called Holly?

‘So, who are we going with?’ Holly queried.

‘Two married couples and a gentleman friend of mind, plus his son: a nice table of eight,’ Sylvia said contentedly.

Holly had met the gentleman friend, a widower, but not the son. In answer to her query on that subject, she received the news that the son was only twenty-one but a very nice, mature boy. Holly digested this information with inward scepticism. ‘Mature and twenty-one’ in young men did not always go together, in her opinion, but then she consoled herself with the thought that her mother couldn’t have any expectations of a twenty-one-year-old as in husband material for Holly, surely?

Still, she wasn’t brimming with keenness to go—but she remembered how she’d probably embarrassed the life out of her mother a few days ago, and she decided to bite the bullet.

Unfortunately, the memory of the lunch brought Brett Wyndham back to mind and demonstrated to her that she didn’t have an unequivocal stance on the memory. Yes, she’d been outraged at his approach at the time—who wouldn’t have been? He’d accused her of being a serial socialite and a gold-digger.

Of course, there’d been an intrinsic undercurrent to that in his own fairly obvious distaste for the lunch and all it stood for. Why else would he challenge her motives for being there? But—another but—how did that fit in with his sister being the patron of the shelter society?

Ironic, however, was the fact that two things had chipped away at her absolute outrage, making it not quite so severe: the undoubted frisson he’d aroused in her being one. Put simply, it translated into the fact that he’d been the first man to excite her physically since, well, in quite a long time…

She looked into the distance and shivered before bringing herself back to the present and forcing herself to face the second factor that had slightly lessened her outrage. Had she mucked up a golden opportunity to get the interview that would have boosted her career?

Yes, she answered herself, well and truly mucked it up. But there was no way she would have done anything differently so she just had to live with it!

All the same, militant as she felt on the subject of Brett Wyndham on one hand, on the other she had an impulse, one that actually made her fingers itch—to look him up on the Internet.

She shook her head and fought it but it was a fight she lost, and her fingers flew over the keys of her laptop, only to find that not a lot personal came to light. He was thirty-five, the oldest of three. There was a brother between him and his sister Sue, a brother who was getting married shortly. In fact, there was more about this brother Mark, his fiancée Aria and Sue Murray than there was about Brett Wyndham, so far as personal lives went.

She dug a bit further and established that the Wyndhams had been pioneers in the savannah country of Far North Queensland where they’d established their cattle stations. She learnt that Haywire, situated between Georgetown and Croydon, was the station they called home. And she learnt that the red-basalt soil in the area produced grass that cattle thrived upon—quite beside the point. Well, the treacherous little thought crept into her mind, not so much beside the point if she ever got to interview the man!

She also learnt that Brett Wyndham was a powerful figure in other ways. The empire was no longer based solely on pastoralism. He had mining interests in the area, marble from Chillagoe, zinc and transport companies. He employed a significant amount of people in these enterprises, and he was respected for his environmental views, as well as views on endangered species.

Then she turned up gold, from her point of view—a rather bitchy little article about one Natasha Hewson, who was described as extraordinarily beautiful and extremely talented. Apparently she ran an agency that specialized in organizing events and functions down to the last exquisite detail for the rich and famous. But, the article went on to say, if Natasha had hoped to be last in the long line of beautiful women Brett Wyndham had squired when they’d got engaged, her hopes had been dashed when they’d broken off the engagement recently…

Holly checked the date and saw that it was only nine months ago.

She sat back and tapped her teeth with the end of her pen. She had to admit that he’d got to her in a way that had reawakened her from a couple of years of mental and physical celibacy—but had she wanted to be reawakened? Not by a man who could have any woman he wanted, and had had a long line of them, she thought swiftly.

Mind you—she smiled a rueful smile—there was no hope of her getting an interview with him anyway, so it was best just to forget it all.

Brett Wyndham wondered how soon he’d be able to leave the ball. He’d come partnerless—well, he’d come with his sister. True to her word, she was looking stunning in a lavender crinoline, but otherwise apart from her tiny mask was quite recognizable as Sue Murray. Moreover she was putting a brave face on even if her heart was breaking and, whether it was his presence or not, no-one appeared to be making a laughing stock of her.

He watched her dance past—he’d left their table and was standing at the bar—and he found himself pondering the nature of love. Sue felt she shouldn’t be able to love Brendan Murray now but was that all it took in matters of the heart? Dictating to yourself what you should or should not feel?

Which led him in turn to ponder his own love life. The nature of his life seemed to ensure that the women in it were only passing companions, but there had been no shortage of them. The problem was, he couldn’t seem to drum up much enthusiasm for any of them.

Not only that, perhaps it was the inability of those partners to disguise their expectations that he was getting tired of, he reflected. Or the fact that none of them ever said ‘no.’ Well, one had quite recently, now he came to think of it. His lips twisted with amusement at the memory.

He shrugged and turned to watch the passing parade.

He’d come, courtesy of Mike Rafferty, as a masked Spanish aristocrat with a dark cropped jacket, dark, trousers, soft boots and white, frilled shirt, complete with scarlet cummerbund and black felt hat.

Dinner was over and the serious part of the evening under way—the serious dancing, that was. They were all there, strutting their stuff to the powerful beat of the music under the chandelier: the Cleopatras, the Marie Antoinettes, the belly dancers, the harem girls, the Lone Rangers, the Lawrences of Arabia, the three Elvises, a Joan of Arc and a Lady Godiva in a body stocking who looked as if she was regretting her choice of costume.

Some of them he recognized despite the masks and towering wigs. All of them, he reflected, bored him to tears.

He was just about to turn away when one girl he didn’t recognize danced past in the arms of an eager pirate complete with eye patch, one gold earring and a stuffed macaw on his shoulder.

She was quite tall, very slim and dressed almost all in black. Something about her, probably her outfit, stirred something in his memory, but he couldn’t pin it down.

‘Who’s she supposed to be?’ he enquired of an elderly milkmaid standing beside him. He indicated the girl in black.

The milkmaid beamed. ‘Isn’t she perfect? So different. Of course, it’s Holly Golightly—don’t you remember? Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. That gorgeous black hat with the wide, downturned brim and the light, floaty hat-band; the earrings, the classic little black dress and gloves—even the alligator shoes. And to think of using her sunglasses as a mask!’

‘Ah. Yes, she is rather perfect. You wouldn’t happen to know who she is in real life?’