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Maisie Wallis seldom admitted defeat but on a late winter's day, not long after her twenty-second birthday, she came close to it.
She was a petite redhead with green eyes, but she presented to the world two rather different personae. Her real name was Mairead, although she'd been Maisie for as long as she could remember.
It was as the unexceptional Maisie Wallis that she taught music at a strict private school. She wasn't greatly experienced as a teacher yet, but she was passionate about music and she loved children.
It was as Mairead Wallis, with her cloud of red curls released and teased out, in stage make-up and a glitzy dress, that she pursued her second job, back-up pianist on weekends for a band that performed at upmarket receptions.
Of course, within, she was the same person. The only child of doting parents, she was a little strait-laced, she was a little unworldly, she had to acknowledge with the painful help of hindsight, although as Mairead Wallis she mightn't look it.
Then she'd lost those doting parents in a freak accident six months ago, and now she was on her own.
Well, almost, she thought as she flagged down a taxi because her car had developed a mysterious knock overnight and was in for a service; because the thought of taking a bus was nauseating and her feet were killing her, anyway.
But, as he drove her home, the taxi driver must have caught her air of despair and, as he dropped her off, he said, 'Cheer up, love! Things can't be that bad.'
She handed over the fare and was about to say that they couldn't, actually, be worse. But she stopped as she noticed a blind man walking along the pavement with a white stick and a seeing-eye dog, and shegrimaced. Of course they could.
And maybe it was time to get mad, maybe the time for tears and recriminations and despair was past. She wasn't, after all, a redhead for nothing.
Moreover, Rafael Sanderson might be a high-flying, multi-millionaire with the means to keep outsiders at bay, she might have pounded the pavements in search of him today to no avail, but she refused to be treated like this.
Home was an old wooden Queenslander in Manly, a bay-side suburb of Brisbane. But it had only become home fairly recently. Her father had been in the army, so a lot of Maisie's life had been lived on the move on a variety of bases, including some overseas postings.
She'd done her music degree in Melbourne while her father had been based at Puckapunyal. Then he'd retired and her parents had fulfilled a dream; they'd moved to Queensland, the Sunshine State, they'd bought a house and a boat.
Maisie had come north as well, quite happy to move back home and be able to help her mother, who had suffered from arthritis.
The one downside, though, to being the only child of only-children parents and having moved around so much was the lack of really good friends. Not that she didn't have friends but they were scattered far and wide and when her parents died she hadn't been in Brisbane long enough to make the kind of friends one could really confide in.
The house itself was comfortable although her father had had great plans to renovate it. It also had lovely views down to the foreshore and out over Moreton Bay to its twin guardians of Moreton and North Stradbroke Islands. And it had a garden Maisie loved pottering about inshe'd inherited her mother's green fingers plus a cooking gene from her father.
She made herself a snack and a cup of tea. She took them to the veranda, determined to hammer out her new resolution, but the view captured her for a few minutes as she watched the forest of masts in Manly Harbour, one of which belonged to her parents' yacht, the Amelie, still moored in the Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron marina.
Then she looked out over the bay and the setting sun was laying a living carnation pink with misty violet shadows on the steely-still waters, and it was all so lovely it brought tears to her eyes.
She dashed them away impatiently and remembered her resolve in the taxi. No more tears and, somehow, she would track Rafael Sanderson down.
Starting work on her computer again recalled her extreme surprise when she'd first started her searches, and discovered that he was one of the richest men in Australia as CEO of Sanderson Minerals and had inherited the Dixon pastoralist empire.
It can't be the same one, had been her immediate reaction. Yes, the man she was looking for had had an aura of background and substance, and the Dixon pastoralist side could match that, but Sanderson Minerals was a giant corporation, she discovered. Then she'd come up with a birth date that made him roughly the same age as the man she was looking for, plus some information in his curriculum vitae had made her sure he was the one
But she couldn't help wondering why she'd never heard of him until she checked further and discovered that he was extremely reclusive. She could find business reports and articles on Sanderson Minerals and Dixon Pastoral Inc, but apart from that very potted life history, even although it had yielded gold, there was very little of a personal nature.
And images of Rafe Sanderson, she found, were as rare as hen's teeth, as her father had used to say, as well as frustratingly inconclusive. They certainly rang a bell, but there were differences that made her ponder again whether it was the same man
Perhaps, she'd reasoned, the images she'd found were slightly misleading because they looked like press releases; they were very formal. Whereas the Rafe Sanderson she'd met had been more casual.
She'd shaken her head and decided there was just one way to find out
It had only been by resorting to the electoral roll that she'd found a residential address. He wasn't listed in the phone book.
Sanderson Minerals did have their head office in Brisbane, but after she'd phoned, then called in person, she'd come away in no doubt whatsoever that without stating her business she had no hope of an appointment with Mr Sanderson; anyway, he was away.
She'd buzzed the address she'd gleaned from the electoral roll, a luxurious apartment block on the Brisbane River, only to receive the same disembodied message via the intercom.
That was when she'd thought to use the Dixon connection, he was a Dixon on his mother's side and the Dixons were a very old, wealthy family. One of the reasons she was so footsore today was that she'd visited several residences she'd found in the phone book in expensive suburbs like Ascot, Clayfield and Hamilton that might be the home of the very exclusive Dixon family.
One of them had, indeed, but she'd had the door shut in her face when she'd requested help in getting in touch with Rafe Sanderson.
She gritted her teeth at the memory and stiffened her spine. She would continue trawling the web until she found something that led her to him.
Fortunately the school holidays had just started, so it didn't matter if she burnt the candle at both ends. All the same, she nearly missed it. An article in an online yachting magazine that just happened to mention Rafe Sanderson's Mary-Lue taking line honours in an ocean race.
She blinked as the words on the screen danced before her eyes. That was all there was, although she scrolled through the article several times, noting that it was about six months old, but her mind was jumping and her fingers were suddenly shaky.
Right here under her nose all this time, she marvelled, because she knew the Mary-Lue. It was moored on the same finger as her parents' boat in the marina. Or, at least, she'd seen it there once and stopped to admire its sleek, green-hulled beauty. But was it still there, and was it the same Mary-Lue?
It was too late to do anything about it that night but the next day, after she'd picked up her car, she went down to the marina, ostensibly to check out the Amelie; start the motor and run the bilges.
As usualshe did it regularlyit broke her heart to be reminded of the happy days she and her parents had spent on the yacht, sailing the bay. She knew the time was approaching when she'd have to make a decision about the Amelie keep it or sell it. Along with a whole lot of other decisions
But she steeled herself and after doing her checks, she strolled down the finger in the wintry sunshine.
The Mary-Lue was still there in all her fifty-foot glory. Not only that, but there was also a gas bottle bearing a paper label beside it on the finger.
She glanced down to read the writing and saw that it said 'Deliver to R. Sanderson, Mary-Lue, RQ H29.'
Bingo, she thought with her heart suddenly beating heavily. RQ was the affectionate acronym of the Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron and H29 was stencilled on the pier pole indicating the berth number.
Then she had a further stroke of luck. The young lad who helped the marina manager in the school holidays stepped off the Mary-Lue and greeted her cheerfully.
'Hi, Maisie. Going sailing?'
'No, Travis, I've just done my usual checks and balances,' she replied. 'I thought I'd wander down the finger and see what's new.'
'Well, this gorgeous girl is going out.' He patted the Mary-Lue's hull. 'First light tomorrow morning, which is beaut because he hasn't had the time to take her out for months. Such a shame.' Travis, Maisie well knew, was mad about boats and sailing.
And as he hefted the gas bottle on his shoulder and climbed up to stow it on board, she called up, 'Maybe you'd like to come sailing with me one day, Travis?'
'You just name the day, Maisie,' he called back. 'See you.'
* * *
Maisie walked back to her car with a very strange sensation in the pit of her stomach.
Now that it was almost upon herand she would do it, she knewhow was she going to feel about confronting Rafe Sanderson?
It was four o'clock the next morning when she let herself onto H finger again. She wore a navy tracksuit, deck shoes and a beanieit was overcast, no moon or stars, and colder than she'd thought it would be. Sunrise wouldn't be for another two hours.
She made her way down the jetty finger between the boats and she sighed with relief to see the Mary-Lue still there, but with no sign of lights or life.
Then she almost immediately saw difficulties. What was she going to do with herself until he arrived?
There was no one about in the dark chill of a very early morning and it was tempting to climb aboard the Mary-Lue and make herself comfortable in the cockpit until he arrived, but that was hardly ethical.
On the other hand, how ethical was the Mary-Lue's owner?
She stuck out her chin and swiftly climbed aboard.
The cockpit was comfortably lined with padded seats with waterproof covers, but it was also freezing.
Perhaps you needed to think this out a little better, Maisie, she told herself, and tried, quite sure it would be locked, the door that led down to the yacht's main cabin.
It wasn't locked. She hesitated. This could definitely be putting her outside the law, but what was the worst law she was breakingtrespass? And she could always explain.
A patter of raindrops decided the matter for her. She eased open the door, slipped down the companionway and found herself in a dimly lit cabin of sumptuous comfort, from what she could see. It was also warm.
She sat down on a built-in couch. She ran through everything she planned to say to Rafe Sanderson and how she planned to say it. She heard the eutectic refrigeration click in from shore power a couple of times. She yawned.
She hadn't been able to sleep at all because of the mixture of dread and uncertainty that was building within her, but she did everything to keep herself awake bar prop her eyelids open with matchsticks. She wasn't even aware of gradually toppling over, pulling a scatter cushion beneath her cheek and falling asleep.
She was to think later that it was being used to boats and the noises they made, on top of a wakeful night, that saw her sleep like a baby through what followed.
It had never occurred to her that Rafe Sanderson would sling a bag on board, that he would loosen his lines and the electricity cable and toss them on board then climb aboard himself. That he would start the motor and, when it fired, expertly un-loop the last rope holding the boat to the jetty and reverse out of the berth without coming down to the cabin first.
In fact, she only woke when he'd steered the Mary-Lue out of the harbour and into the channel, and what woke her then she could never afterwards recall.
She sat up with a suddenly pounding heart and a dry mouth to see patchy sunlight coming through the portholes, and to feel the unmistakable motion of a boat underway, to hear the purr of a motor.
She closed her eyes in horror. Then she jumped up and climbed the companionway and catapulted out of the door at the head of the stairs that she'd closed so carefully to keep the cold out.
The next few minutes were chaotic. Rafe Sanderson had abandoned the wheel, put the steering on autopilot and, it appeared, had climbed up to set his mainsail.
Her unexpected arrival in the cockpit took him completely by surprise; the boom, which he'd just released, responded to the fluke breeze and hit him in the midriff and with a yell he slipped sideways, and toppled overboard.
Maisie stared in round-eyed horror this time. Then she came to life. She scrambled up and secured the boom to avoid decapitation. She hopped back down into the cockpit, studied the controls for a moment then put the motor into Neutral.
Finally she looked around wildly, spotted an orange life-saver buoy, untied it and threw it with all her might at Rafe Sanderson's bobbing head as he swam towards the boat.
It hit him on the headfortunately the buoy was the soft varietybut, although he grabbed it and hauled himself in, it seemed to be the final insult added to injury for him. There was no doubting it was a murderously angry, dripping man who hauled himself over the transom.
A couple of strides brought him up to her, where he took her by the shoulders and proceeded to demonstrate that he'd like to shake the life out of her.
Maybe that was what he would have done if they both hadn't frozen at the sight of a channel marker passing by on their port side, uncomfortably close.
He swore, released her and grabbed the wheel at the same time as he flicked the autopilot off.
'What the hell do you think you're doing?' he demanded furiously as he put the power on and steered the boat into the middle of the channel. 'Who the hell are you and how did you get on board?'
'II,' she stammered, 'I needed to talk to you, but it was freezing so I went down into the cabin to wait for you, that's all. I must have fallen asleep.'
'You mean you broke into the cabin!' he fired back at her.
'I didn't! It wasn't locked, so'
'Oh, yes, it was!'
'No, it wasn't,' she insisted. 'Do I look like the kind of girl who goes around breaking locks?'
'You look like,'he paused and scanned her, 'heaven knows what! How on earth could I tell ' He stopped impatiently then frowned. 'Maybe not. You look about sixteen but I suppose you could have taken to a life of crime early!'
But Maisie was now looking at him in something like horror. 'Whowho are you?' she stammered.
'What's that got to do with anything?' he rasped. 'How did you get in?'
'Well,' she swallowed convulsively, as her mind did cartwheels, 'umthe door wasn't locked. Maybe you had a delivery and someone from the marina office brought it on board and forgot to lock the door behind them?'
She stopped and flinched inwardly as she thought belatedly of Travis, the last person she wanted to blame, especially as she might have distracted him herself.
'I ' He paused. 'I did have a catering package delivered and a new gas bottle,'he said almost to himself, then shrugged. 'That still gives you no right to be on my boat. Here, take the bloody wheel,' he added roughly. 'You may have all but drowned me, you may have tried to knock me out, but you're not going to finish me off with pneumonia. Red to starboard, green to port,' he said, indicating the channel markers.