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Damien Wyatt was lounging in an upstairs study.
He wore jeans, a khaki bush shirt and desert boots, all visible since his feet were up on the desk. His dark hair was ruffled and there were blue shadows on his jaw.
The windows were open and the roses in the garden below were in bloom. So was the star jasmine creeper clinging to the house. Beyond the garden wall a beach curved around a blue, inviting bay. You could hear the sound of the waves on the beach and there was a tang of salt in the air.
'Hang on,' he said with a sudden frown. 'Is it remotely possible that this Ms Livingstone we're talking about is actually Harriet Livingstone? Because, if so, forget it, Arthur.'
Arthur Tindall, art connoisseur and colourful dresser-he wore jeans and a yellow waistcoat patterned with black elephants over a maroon shirt- looked confused. 'You've met her?' he asked from the other side of the desk.
'I don't know. Unless there are two Harriet Livingstones, I may have,' Damien said dryly.
'There could well be. Two, I mean,' Arthur replied. 'After all, it's not the wilds of Africa where it was highly unlikely there'd be more than one Doctor Livingstone popping up out of nowhere.'
Damien grinned fleetingly. 'I take your point.' He sobered. 'What's your Harriet like? Tall, thin girl with wild hair and an unusual taste in clothing?' He raised an enquiring eyebrow.
Arthur looked blank for a moment. 'Tall, yes,' he said slowly. 'Otherwise, well, certainly not fat and her clothes are-I don't seem to remember much about her clothes.'
'Have you actually met her?' Damien enquired with some irony.
'Of course.' Arthur looked offended then brightened. 'I can tell you one thing: she has very long legs!'
'So does a stork,' Damien observed. 'I couldn't tell with my Ms Livingstone,' he added. 'I mean for someone that tall she obviously had long legs but whether they were-shapely-I couldn't say because they were all covered up in some kind of wraparound batik skirt.'
Arthur stared narrowly into the distance as if trying to conjure up a batik wraparound skirt then he blinked again and said triumphantly, 'Glasses! Large, round, red-rimmed glasses. Also ' he frowned and concentrated ' a rather vague air, although that may be due to being short-sighted, but as if her mind is on higher things.' He grimaced.
Damien Wyatt smiled unpleasantly. 'If it is the same girl, she ran into me about two months ago. At the same time she was wearing large, round, red-rimmed glasses,' he added significantly.
'Oh, dear! Not the Aston? Oh, dear,' Arthur repeated.
Damien looked at him ironically. 'That's putting it mildly. She had no insurance other than compulsory third party and the tank she was driving survived virtually unscathed.'
Damien shrugged. 'It might as well have been: a solid old four-wheel drive with bull bars.'
This time Arthur winced visibly. 'How did it happen?'
'She swerved to avoid a dog then froze and couldn't correct things until it was too late.' Damien Wyatt drummed his fingers on his desk.
'Was anyone hurt?'
Damien looked at him, his expression sardonic. 'The dog was retrieved by its owner completely unscathed. All she broke were her glasses.'
He paused as he recalled the melee after the accident and the curious fact-curious from the point of view that it should have stuck in his mind-that Harriet Livingstone had possessed a pair of rather stunning blue eyes.
'That's not too bad,' Arthur murmured.
'That's not all,' Damien remarked acidly. 'I broke my collarbone and the damage to my car was, well-' he shrugged '-the whole exercise cost me a small fortune.'
Arthur forbore to make the obvious comment that a small fortune would hardly make the slightest dent in the very large fortune Damien Wyatt owned.
But Damien continued with palpable sarcasm, 'Therefore, dear Arthur, if there's any possibility it's one and the same girl, you do see there's no way I could let her loose here.' He removed his feet from the desk and sat up.
Arthur Tindall discovered he could certainly see something cool, determined and even quite grim in Damien's dark eyes but he also found he wasn't prepared to give up without a fight.
Whether it was the same girl or not, it did sound like it, he had to admit, but the thing was he'd promised Penny, his young and delicious yet surprisingly manipulative wife, that he would get the Wyatt job for her friend Harriet Livingstone.
He sat forward. 'Damien, even if she's the same girl-although we don't absolutely know that!-she's good,' he said intently. 'She's damn good. So's her provenance. Your mother's collection couldn't be in better hands, believe me! She's worked in one of the most prestigious art auction houses in the country.' Arthur emphasised this with rolling eyes and a wave of his hand. 'Her father was a noted conservator and restorer of paintings and her references are impeccable.'
'All the same, you've just told me she's vague and distracted,' Damien said impatiently. 'And I've had the woman literally run into me!'
Arthur said intensely, 'She may be vague over other things but not about her work. I've found her knowledgeable on not only paintings but porcelain, ceramics, carpets, miniatures-all sorts of things. And she's experienced in cataloguing.'
'She sounds like a one woman antiques roadshow,' Damien observed caustically.
'No, but she's the one person I could recommend who would have some familiarity with most of the odds and ends your mother collected. She's the one person who would have some idea of their value or who to get a valuation from, some idea of whether they need restoring, whether they could be restored, who could do it if it was possible, who-'
Damien held up his hand. 'Arthur, I get your point.
'Of course,' Arthur interrupted, sitting back and looking magisterial, 'if it is the same girl, there's the distinct possibility nothing on earth would induce her to work for you.'
'Why the hell not?'
Arthur shrugged and folded his arms over his black and yellow waistcoat. 'I have no doubt you would have been quite scathing towards her at the time of the accident.'
Damien rubbed his jaw. 'I did ask her,' he said remi-niscently, 'whether she'd got her driver's licence out of a cornflakes packet.'
Arthur whistled but said, 'I've heard worse. Was that all?'
Damien shrugged. 'I may have said a few other less than complimentary things. In the heat of the moment, of course. My car was smashed. So was my collarbone.'
'Women don't necessarily see things like that in the same way. About cars, I mean.' Arthur waved his hands again. 'Pure excellence, pure fineness in a motor vehicle and then to see it all smashed up may not affect them as deeply as a man.'
Damien chewed his lip then shrugged and picked up his phone as it buzzed discreetly.
Arthur got up and wandered over to the windows. It was a lovely view, he mused, but then Heathcote, home to the Wyatt dynasty, was a magnificent property. They ran cattle and grew macadamias with equal success in the Northern Rivers district of New South Wales but it was machinery-farm machinery, and lately mining machinery-that was the backbone of their fortune.
Damien's grandfather had started it all with a tractor he'd designed and manufactured but, so it was said, Damien had tripled it by investing in mining machinery. And all sorts of mining was happening all over Australia, Arthur thought rather ruefully.
His own connection with the Wyatts had started with Damien's father and his interest in art. Together they'd built up a collection to be proud of. Then, seven years ago, both his parents had been lost at sea when their yacht had capsized. Consequently Damien had inherited the collection.
It was the upheaval after this that had brought to light the full extent of his mother's collection of objets d'art-something the rest of the family had tended to overlook. In fact it wouldn't be unfair to say that Heathcote was stuffed to the rafters with them. But it had taken several more years for this decision to do something about them to be made, and hence to his advice being sought.
His first inclination had been to suggest that it should all be crated up and sent to an appropriate firm for assessing. Damien, however, supported by his aunt, had been disinclined to allow any of his mother's treasures to leave Heathcote and it had been their suggestion that he look for someone to do the job in situ.
No easy task since Lennox Head, Heathcote's nearest town, was a long way from Sydney and a fair way from Brisbane or the Gold Coast, the nearest large cities.
Therefore, when Penny had presented him with Harriet Livingstone he'd more or less looked upon it as a godsend
Arthur turned from the view and studied Damien Wyatt, who'd swung his chair so he was partially facing the other way and was still talking on the phone. At thirty-one, Damien was loose-limbed, lean and deceptively powerful. He was well over six feet tall, broad-shouldered and he had the facility to look at ease in any milieu. Yet there was something about him that let you know that whilst he'd be good outdoors, good at battling the elements, good at managing vast properties, good with mechanical things, he'd also be good with women.
He certainly possessed a pair of fine dark eyes that often had a glint in them indicative of a mercurial personality and a lively intelligence.
Not to put too fine a point on it, Arthur ruminated, as his wife Penny had once remarked: you couldn't call Damien exactly handsome but he was devastatingly attractive and masculine.
He also had thick dark hair and he did possess a powerful intellect. Not only that, but he had an affection for getting his own way and a cutting, irritable way it was with him at times, as Harriet Livingstone had apparently encountered, poor girl.
So why, Arthur wondered suddenly, if she was the same girl-and he was pretty sure she was-had she been happy for him to go ahead and sound Damien Wyatt out on this job? She must have recognised the name. She must have some very unpleasant memories of the incident.
She must, above all, find it extremely hard to believe he would ever offer her a job after smashing his beloved Aston Martin with a vehicle not unlike a tank and breaking his collarbone.
So what was behind it, this willingness even to meet Damien Wyatt again? Did she have designs on him? Did she, he swallowed at the mere thought, plan to, if she got the job, fleece him of some of his mother's treasures?
Arthur came back to the present with a start to see that Damien had finished his call and was looking at him enquiringly.
'Sorry,' he said hastily, and sat down again.
Arthur hesitated. Despite the fact that Damien was always unfailingly polite to Penny, it was hard to escape the feeling that he didn't really approve of her.
Or, if not that, Arthur mused further, did Damien view his belated tumble into matrimony after years of bachelorhood with some cynicism? He was now approaching fifty and was twenty years older than Penny.
Probably, he conceded to himself. Not that Damien Wyatt had anything to be superior about on that score. He might not have been twenty years older than his wife but he did have a failed marriage behind him-a very failed marriage.
'Arthur, what's on your mind?'
Once again Arthur came back to the present with a start. 'Nothing!' he asserted.
'You seem to be miles away,' Damien commented. 'Is Penny all right or not?'
'She's fine. She's fine,' Arthur repeated, and came to another sudden decision, although with an inward grimace. 'Look, Damien, I've changed my mind about Harriet Livingstone. I don't think she's the right one after all. So give me a few days and I'll find someone else.'
It was a penetratingly narrowed dark gaze Damien bestowed on Arthur Tindall. 'That's a rather sudden change of heart,' he drawled.
'Yes, well, a blind man could see you two are unlikely to get along so.' Arthur left his sentence up in the air.
Damien settled more comfortably in his chair. 'Where are you going to find a paragon to equal Ms Livingstone? Or was that a slight exaggeration on your part?' he asked casually enough, although with a load of implied satire.
'No it was not!' Arthur denied. 'And I have no idea where I'm going to find one-be that as it may, I will.'
Damien Wyatt rubbed his jaw. 'I'll have a look at her.'
Arthur sat up indignantly. 'Now look here; you can't change your mind just like that!'
'Not many minutes ago you were hoping to goad me into doing just that.'
'When you told me I'd be the last person on earth she'd work for. You were hoping that would annoy me or simply arouse my contrary streak to the extent I'd change my mind.' Damien's lips twisted. 'Well, I have.'
'Which streak prompted that, do you think? A rather large ego?' Arthur enquired heavily after a moment's thought.
Damien grinned. 'No idea. Bring her here for an interview tomorrow afternoon.'
'Damien-' Arthur rose '-I have to say I can't guarantee the girl.'
'You mean everything you told me about her provenance et cetera-' Damien raised his eyebrows sardonically '-was a lot of bull dust?'
'No,' Arthur denied. 'I followed up every reference she gave me and they all checked out, I've talked to her and sounded her out on a range of art work, as I mentioned, but-'
'Just bring her, Arthur,' Damien interrupted wearily. 'Just bring her.'