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FOUR years later it was an older and wiser Rhiannon Fairfax who found herself staring wide-eyed at a man in an airport lounge.
Her flight was delayed and she was feeling bored and restless.
He was, she supposed, a striking example of the male species. He was tall and dark and she got a glimpse of aquiline features. His physique was superb, wide-shouldered and sleek-hipped beneath designer jeans, a white shirt and a leather jacket that shouted expense and quality craftsmanship.
He was the man she'd shared a taxi with four years ago, she was sure!
He had someone with him, almost as eyecatching as he was; a woman, tall, slim, dark and expensive-looking. She spoilt it with a slightly submissive air as she received what was obviously a string of instructions from him.
Then his briefing came to an end and he turned more towards Rhiannon and smiled, suddenly and unexpectedly, at the woman he was with. She blushed and looked for an instant as if she'd been transported to heaven, before taking her departure.
If there'd been any doubt in Rhiannon's mind, that smile banished it
But that was when he lifted his head and surveyed the crowded lounge with the smile gone.
She caught her breath at how well she remembered his dark blue eyes and that aloof air although today it was more than that. He had the air of a man who took what he wanted when he wanted it and damn the consequences!
All the same, she felt herself smiling at the memory of that rain-soaked taxi trip.
Then she realised he was looking at her, and for a long moment she was flustered into immobility with the smile still etched on her lips.
He took his time as he examined hershort though stylish fair hair, her figure beneath her grey, severely tailored trouser suit worn with a black blouse. It was such a long, slow assessment and so intimate, she broke out in goose-pimples.
Then he looked back into her eyes and, with a shrug, turned away.
Rhiannon felt herself blush vividly. He obviously hadn't recognised herperhaps it wasn't so surprising without that dreadful beret. But did she look like the kind of girl who made tacit passes at men?
She bit her lip suddenly. She'd certainly pursued an unusual line of conversation with a strange man in a taxi!
She was still smarting when the flight was called and she boarded economy class while her perfectly arrogant stranger disappeared into business class.
She tried to comfort herself with the thought that he probably had some short-comings like an unmasculine sort of vanityit didn't altogether work but, by the time the flight landed on the Gold Coast, most of her equilibrium had been restored.
She'd spent the last half-hour concentrating on her new position. Put plainly, she was a housekeeper. Put more accurately, she specialised in putting her skills to work for the rich, and sometimes the famous, for short stints while she reorganized their households to maximum efficiency and style; or in some cases for a special event.
This wasn't what she'd set out to do with her life. For most of her childhood she'd been rich and her parents had been famous. Then it had all fallen apart, she'd lost her mother and been forced to make a living.
It had occurred to her that her time at an expensive finishing-school in Switzerland could be put to better use than its original purpose of "finishing" her to take her place in society.
The result was that now, at twenty-six, she had her own one-woman agency that specialised in passing her expertise in house management, style, cuisineshe was a passionate cookon to others.
She rarely accepted assignments that were longer than a month. This one would be for that duration and she would be extremely well paid for it. She'd learnt not to sell herself cheap.
The assignment, the one she was flying to the Gold Coast for, was an interesting one.
Southall, the present family seat of the Richardsons, was a vast country mansion perched on the scenic rim of the Gold Coast. The Richardson family owned large tracts of Queensland grazing country as well as cattle stations in West Australia and the Northern Territory.
It was an old family and an extremely wealthy one. And as its grazing empire had expanded, Southall, rural but with the advantage of being close to the coast, had been chosen as the family headquarters.
That had been in Ross and Margaret Richardson's time.
Then Margaret had died five years ago and Ross had remarried fairly swiftly, a woman young enough to be his daughterRhiannon knew this from the gossip columns. Ross had taken his second wife,Andrea Comero, a model, to the south of France to live. He'd handed over the reins to his elder son, Lee, who was unmarried. Ross had died less than a year ago.
Both his sons had been unmarried at the time of Ross's second marriage but the younger son, Matthew, had since made the trip to the altar with a gorgeous television starlet, Mary Wiseman.After a six-month honeymoon touring the world he had brought his bride to Southall.
Again, Rhiannon had gleaned this from the gossip columns but, while Margaret and Ross Richardson had been household names and faces, while Matt Richardson's marriage had achieved quite a bit of publicity, while Andrea Comero had been a well-known face, Rhiannon knew nothing at all about the elder son, Lee.
It was on Lee's behalf, however, that Rhiannon's services had been sought by his PA. With great diplomacy she'd been given to understand that Mary Richardson née Wiseman, in her early twenties, was not au fait with running a large household. She was, however, said to wish to return to Southall its reputation for providing great food, wonderfully comfortable beds and always interesting company that it had held in Margaret Richardson's day.
Where Lee Richardson himself came into it all, Rhiannon had no idea. Still, it was none of her business if he wanted his younger brother's wife to take over Southall. It was Rhiannon's windfall, in fact.
Rhiannon collected her luggage from the airport carousel then presented herself at the information desk, as she'd been instructed to do.
She was just about to give her name to one of the clerks, when a deep, husky voice beside her asked another clerk whether a Rhiannon Fairfax had made herself known to them.
She shut her mouth and turned to the speaker, only to stop as if shot. It was none other than the man from the taxi, the man who'd obviously mistaken the way she'd been looking and smiling at him in the airport lounge before the flight.
Her abrupt movement caught his eye, and he turned to her. Their gazes clashed.
"Well, well," he drawled, "if it isn't the lady who was trying to come on to me in Sydney, although "lady" may not be perfectly apt." His gaze swept downwards.
Rhiannon opened her mouth a couple of times but nothing came out. Then she took hold and said icily, "I was not trying to "come on to you", I would scorn," her eyes flashed, "to do that."
"Could have fooled me, ma'am." But he frowned suddenly.
"The thing is,"she persisted through her teeth, "I happen to be Rhiannon Fairfax."
Those rather amazing dark blue eyes narrowed. "Now, that,"he said softly, "should be really interesting, Ms Fairfax."
"On the contrary'
He overrode her smoothly. "Because I happen to be Lee Richardson, your' he let the word hang in the air "employer."
"Oh."It was a singularly ineffective response, Rhiannon was uncomfortably aware, but it was all she was capable of at the time.
"Mmm!'he agreed with a lightening look of wicked amusement. "Perhaps you should bear in mind that life can be littered with coincidences before you eyes'
"Don't go on," she interrupted, "unless you'd like me to turn around and go straight back to Sydney?"
"I'm afraid you can't, ma'am,"said one of the wildly interested clerks who'd been following the exchange word for word. "The last flight left half an hour ago."
"I can spend the night in a motel, then' "You can't,"Lee Richardson said, "because' "Will you both stop telling me what I can't do?" She eyed him and the clerk with exasperation.
"What I meant was," Lee Richardson amended gravely, "that I'm your lift up to Southhall when the flight was delayed and it was realised we both were on it, I was deputised to drive you up."
"What's that got to do with anything?" Rhiannon raised an eyebrow at him.
"Nothing. But we desperately need you up there, Ms Fairfax. My sister-in-law is throwing a party the night after tomorrow that could, by all accounts, be a disaster."
Rhiannon blinked. "How so?" "She gave the caterers the wrong day. They're booked up for the right day, a Sunday, anyway.
So, it would appear, is every other decent caterer on the coast. Of course, it may be beyond you to organise drinks and a buffet supper for thirty people at such short notice."He looked at her expressionlessly.
"Providing I had access to shops, I could do it in my sleep," Rhiannon said gently.
Lee Richardson summed her up from head to toe. She was medium height, five feet five-to-six probably, and her figure was deliciously curvy beneath the grey suit and black blouse. Her straight, smooth fair hair was expertly cut to chin length and parted on one side. The longer side arched attractively against her face. She had rather unusual light brown eyes emphasised by long, carefully darkened lashes.
The rest of her make-up was light and flawless, so was her skin, her lips were luscious and gleamed a frosted coral-pink.
Was it his imagination, though, or had he met her before? Something in her voice and those sparkling brown eyes seemed to strike a chord but he couldn't place it.
More to the point, could she ever look entirely businesslike? he reflected. Would that glossy, rather gorgeous air, those curves, always get in the way of taking her seriously?