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Sunset. Glorious Bali Island.
Harry St Clair glanced around the hotel swimming pool and grimaced. His usual calm deserted him just thinking of going back to Australia and the practice of medicine. To make it worse he was half an hour early to tell them it wasn't happening.
The pool chairs were littered with tourists sipping cocktails while waiting for sunset and he was careful not to catch the eye of any of them, especially the women, as he scanned for the man who'd arranged to meet him. Now was not the time for dalliance.
Bonnie McKenzie watched him arrive. All the women did. When he approached the pool the ladies' necks stretched like those of inquisitive turtles to follow his broad shoulders, and she rolled her eyes. She could hear Sacha, in the chair next to her, whisper to Jacinta, and she hoped the words didn't carry to where he stood.
'They call him the package. 'Cause he looks good, talks good and I'll bet my new black bikini he feels good. But he's a heartbreaker. Tells all the women he's not into relationships.' Jacinta sighed dreamily as her friend went on. 'He's not staying at the hotel. I asked the waitress. He's here to see someone.'
To Bonnie the man didn't look like a package. He looked like an isolated lighthouse off the coast of Wales that she'd once seen on television.
Alone, surrounded by jagged rocks, immovable in any storm as he waited, protected by a wall of sceptical disinterest in everyone until an older woman in a ceremonial sarong tapped him on the arm and he smiled. Then everything changed.
Then there was something about the tilt of his head and warm greeting as he responded to the Balinese lady with such kindness, such honest charm, it called even to Bonniewhich surprised her, because since selling her engagement ring she'd vowed she'd never be that receptive to a man again.
Good genes, her gran would have said. Bonnie found herself thinking, Good jeans, and she looked away and pressed her lips together to hold the smile in. These young midwives she'd travelled with from Darwin were a bad influence.
She looked back, fairly sure he couldn't see her under the shadow of her umbrella'd deckchair. He was talking to a man now, shaking his head at the elderly sunburnt tourist she'd seen around the hotel, but her eyes were drawn back to the younger one.
There, good lighthouse, a beam of radiance as the man beside him made him smile, and again, when he lifted one strong hand and shook the other man's hand. So he could soften and, yes, Bonnie could see why the girls felt the need to discuss him.
Now he looked casual and relaxed, lazily footloose in his cutoff blue jeans, his long brown legs testament to some sporting pursuit that kept him fit. Being footloose and declaring it seemed imminently sensible for him, and much better than stomping on hearts to scale the heights of a profession, like some Bonnie knew.
She could see this man's loosely buttoned sports shirt fought a losing battle if it wanted to disguise the width of his shoulders or the leanly muscular biceps that peeked out of the short sleeves. Not something that usually fascinated her, leanly muscular men, but those arms teased her now, corded with strength and generous with leashed power. She glanced down at the sudden swish of goose bumps across her own skin and lifted her face to find the breeze that caused it.
Hopefully there was a breeze
Bonnie shifted back further under the umbrella in case her malady was too much sun. She glanced around and saw she wasn't the only woman still sneaking a peek. So, thankfully, she wasn't the only basket case because it seemed he called to every person with two X chromosomes.
No doubt being such a woman magnet could be a trial for him after a while and she wasn't about to join the party.
The thought settled her. Good. At least she had her common sense back, though she had to admit there was something shadowed and intriguing in his persona that begged the question of his past. Well, there was stuff in her own past, plenty of baggage for the unwary, and he could keep his load because she had enough of her own.
Bonnie looked away to the reds and golds of the Balinese sunset leaking colour into the waves. When Sacha actually nudged her to admire him again, Bonnie shook her head and whispered, 'Not interested in packages. I'm here to enjoy the sunset without discussing men.'
Sacha rolled her eyes. 'As you like. You watch the pretty ball in the sky and I'll watch my own view.' The girl winked and Bonnie shook her head and pressed her lips together again. She had to. The incorrigible young midwives had been making her smile since she'd unexpectedly joined their holiday.
Pushed into a short vacation by her friends in Darwin, this break had been designed to put a spring back in Bonnie's step before she started the new job at Ayers Rock, or Uluru now, she reminded herself, the ancient Aboriginal name for their sacred place. And, in fact, although her mouth still felt a bit stiff, she was finding more to smile about every day.
The last sliver of molten fire disappeared into the sea with an audible sigh, though, strictly speaking, the noise came from the collective breath of appreciation from the watchers as they turned and began to meander back to their rooms before the tropical night encroached.
'So what are we doing for dinner?' The girls lived for action and Bonnie searched in her head for a skerrick of enthusiasm. Nope. None there.
She'd floated quietly in the deep end of the pool last night and avoided them because she'd spent the first three days with a plasteredon smile. Now she just wanted to soak in the calmness that she had to admit had unexpectedly filtered back into her soul by Balinese osmosis.
'Think I might curl up on one of the lounges and stare at the colours as they fade. Then maybe dinner in my room.'
'Okay.' The girls jumped up now. The nature show was over and youth needed diversion. 'Maybe we'll catch up with you later at the club.' They grinned, waved and took off like they'd miss the chance of a lifetime if they didn't run.
Harry St Clair watched the scantily clad nymphs hurry away but his eyes were drawn back to the quietly restful woman in the chair. He'd noticed her while he'd been talking to Bob. Allowed himself to be distracted from Bob's attempt at persuasion, though it hadn't been a hardship scoping her out. And here he was, still loitering when he could have gone.
He hesitated, conscious of his own aversion to disruption by people when he wished to be alone, and very aware of the 'don't bother me' signals that flew above her like those Balinese kites you'd see any afternoon herehappy doing their own thing.
But she intrigued him, attracted him ridiculously with a little flick of her hair and the stretch of her fingers when she put her glass down, and suddenly he didn't want to eat dinner in peace.
A little harmless weather conversation with an intriguing little sunlover would chase away the demons the job offer had left him with. And he'd had a beer already so he wasn't driving back to Ubud until tomorrow.
She looked nothing like the usual women he flirted with. She looked more like someone he'd actually converse with. Like his housekeeper's sister, he'd just seen, or any woman safely married and motherly and therefore not interested in him as a fling, but this young woman seemed someone he could briefly connect with, which in itself was strange. Connection hadn't been on his agendaespecially in the last two years.
Serene, that was what she was, though serenity over sadness? Maybe it was just his ego because she hadn't looked his way at all and she obviously didn't feel any of the vibes he was getting.
Harry gave up the struggle and crossed to her umbrella. 'I wondered if they'd leave you alone,' he said, and as an opening remark it was pretty lame, but she looked even better up close. He was right. Her eyes did hold a background of darkness, or maybe greentoned memories that made him want to ask why. Maybe that was why he'd felt drawn to her.
She wore a cheap silk dress that looked incredibly cute on her, unlike the flaunting swimwear the others had worn, as if she wasn't confident displaying her body.
The concept of conversation grew even more attractive. If he could convince her, that was, because she looked like he was the last person she needed to see, and usually that was enough deterrent when he just didn't care enough.
She took her time to tilt her firm little chin to a ridiculous angle so she could look up at his face. 'Actually, they're my friends.'
'Sorry. Didn't mean to be rude.'
Bonnie was in a dilemma. The palpitations had come from nowhere and his proximity was making it hard not to blush. The lighthouse offered her the fivestar smile free of charge. Dazzling sweep of light. Then his words sank in. And even an apology. Not something Bonnie was used to getting from men. Nice of him, Bonnie thought, but she wished he hadn't because she didn't need more reasons to be attracted.
'I'm not judging,' he said. 'I remember being young.'
In years he was nowhere near old but there was a wealth of experience, possibly not all good, behind those dazzling eyes of his. Some days she felt decrepit too but didn't know this guy well enough to agree.
'Poor you.' Though he didn't look poor in any sense of the word. She wondered what had happened to make him feel aged but that was probably all part of his pickup plan. He had to be somewhere between thirty and thirtyfive, which put him five years older than her at least.
Up close he was even more impressive in a gutwrenching, tearthebreathfromyourthroat kind of way she didn't like to admit, but thankfully she could now call on months of training in unattainability. 'Do I know you?'
More smile and the look he was giving suggested he'd like to move that way. She ignored the little buzz that grew with the idea. 'I don't know. Do you?' He held out one tanned hand and she looked at it. 'Harry St Clair,' she heard him say.
Such beautiful hands. Long fingers, squareclipped nails, fine hairs across a strong backand a wedding band. She hadn't noticed that before and she didn't know why she'd be shocked. Maybe because the way he was smiling at her had nothing to do with fidelity. It was a strange old world when people could act like this.
Bonnie uncurled herself from the chair and stood up next to him. She was tall but he was taller by a fair margin and that only made her more annoyed. She couldn't hide the contempt in her eyes but then, that was what happened when you smelled a rat when you expected aftershave.
She raised her eyebrows and then her chin. 'I don't know you.' She shook her head. 'Do I know your wife?'
His hand dropped and his other came over the ring and hid it from view. 'I doubt that. She's been gone for more than two years.'
Bonnie closed her eyes. He was a widower? Hell. 'I'm sorry.' But it was too late now. She'd jumped to the conclusion he was just like Jeremy, Dr Sleaze, with the harem of women in the wings and their joint bank account he'd emptied.
Infidelity brought back the memories she'd thought she'd zippered away in a sealed compartment, like she'd packed her suitcase to fly into Denpasar. But that was no excuse for accusing him.
She could feel her fingers against her side, twitching a little as if hoping he'd put his hand out again and give her another shot. But her hand wouldn't make the journey by itself. Her barriers were secure. That was a good thing. 'I'm sorry. I have to go.'
Harry wasn't ready for that. Hadn't expected it because it didn't happen to him often. In fact, he couldn't remember the last time he'd been given the flick so smoothly. He followed her. 'I didn't catch your name.'
She kept walking and obviously she didn't care if he heard her or not. 'I didn't throw it,' she muttered.
So this was how it felt, Harry reminded himself. Unpleasant, but more interesting. Maybe he was a masochist? The wall around her was higher than the one around the Royal Palace in Ubud and twice as fascinating. He knew all about walls to keep people out. Suddenly it became imperative he have more than a brief chat with her about the weather.
He took two big steps and caught up with her. 'But you threw an insult. I'm only looking for a nice platonic dinner partner to share Jimbaran Bay with. Maybe we could talk about that?'
At least she'd stopped. Turned to look at him. But she wasn't saying anything. He could feel those liquid eyes assessing him, and he felt as if he were posing, like in a passport photograph, with that frozen, tryingnottolooklikeapsychopath expression on his face.
It was as if she didn't know what to say so she didn't say anything at all. More people should try that. It was attractive. And at least it wasn't no.
He went on because he knew he had seconds before she disappeared. Make it count, old boy. 'I really am Harry St Clair. They know me here. I'm reluctant to ask someone else.' He glanced around as if there were loads of women he could ask. 'All those candles and tables in the sand at Jimbaran are just too romantic.' He shrugged. 'I can tell you loathe me. I'd feel safe with you.'
He felt like groaning. What the heck was falling out of his mouth? He was an idiot and he wouldn't blame her if she ran away. Where had that come from?
'I think you've tickets on yourself,' she said, and her eyes suddenly looked as lush as the local jungle and just as dangerous. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea because this woman had weapons he wasn't that sure he could hold out against if she used them all.
'I apologise. I was insensitive about your wife.' She looked away and he thought he heard her sigh. 'I don't know you enough to loathe you but I guess I could think about trying.'
Bonnie glanced over her shoulder at the pinking horizon. Was she mad? Was it too late to squirm out? 'The sun's gone. Why go to Jimbaran now?' She'd heard of the bay past the airport. 'Everything I've heard's about the sunset.'
He slanted a quick look at her as he followed her towards the main building of the resort. 'I enjoy eating seafood on the beach. But not alone. My treat?'
'Wow. A big spender. I might choose lobster.' Even to her it sounded like a yes. She didn't know the man. But then, the girls had implied he wasn't a serial killer. Most men who looked like him usually weren't. No doubt some women would do their own dying to attract his attention.