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Tash Sinclair stared at the handsome, salt-and-pepper-haired man across the bustling coastal cafe as he exchanged casual conversation with a younger companion seated across from him. The electric blue of Fremantle harbour stretched out behind them. She should have been all eyes for the older manNathaniel Moore was the reason she was here, monitoring from across the cafe like a seasoned stalkerbut she caught her focus repeatedly drifting to the modestly dressed man next to him.
Not as chiselled as his older friend, and closer to Tash's thirty than Moore's fifty-odd, but there was something compelling about him. Something that held her attention when she could least afford it.
She forced it back onto the older man where it belonged.
Nathaniel Moore looked relaxed, almost carefree, and, for a moment, Tash reconsidered. She was about to launch a rocket grenade into all that serenity. Was it the right thing to do? It felt right. And she'd promised her mother kind of.
The younger man reached up to signal the waiter for another round of coffee and his moss-green sweater tightened over serious shoulders. Tash felt the pull, resisted it and forced her eyes to stay on Nathaniel Moore.
It wasn't hard to see what first attracted her mother to the executive thirty years ago. He had a whole Marlon Brando thing going on, and if she couldn't guess it for herself, Tash had dozens of diaries, decades of memories and reflections captured in ink, to spell out the attraction. Adele Portershe'd abandoned the name Sinclair right after Eric Sinclair had abandoned hermight have had trouble living her feelings, but she had no difficulty at all writing them down in the privacy of her diaries once her divorce had come through.
Tash studied him again. Her mother had died loving this man, and hefrom what she could tell from the diaries and family gossip only now coming to lighthad loved Adele back.
Yet they'd been apart most of their lives.
She might never have thought to look at those diariesto look for himif not for the message she'd received from him on her mother's phone. A fiftieth birthday message for a woman who would never get it made about as much sense as Tash maintaining her mother's exorbitant mobile phone service just so she could ring and hear her voice message when she wanted to. When she needed to.
Because it was her voice. And apparently that was what they both needed.
Tash's eyes returned to the man across the cafe.
Nathaniel's head came up and he swept the diners vaguely with his glance, brushing past her table, past the nameless woman in dark sunglasses disguising her surveillance. That was when she saw it: the bruising beneath his eyes, the dark shadows in his gaze. The same expression Tash had worn for weeks.
Nathaniel Moore was still grieving, and she would bet all of her best art pieces that he was doing it completely alone.
His colleague pushed his chair back and stood, sliding the empty espresso cups to the side for collection by the passing staff. A small kindness that would make someone's job that tiny bit easier. He excused himself to Nathaniel and headed towards the restrooms, crossing within feet of her table. As he passed, his eyes brushed over her in the way that most men's did. Appreciative but almost absent, as though he were checking out produce. A way that told her she'd never be going home to meet his family. That said she might get to wear his lingerie at Christmas but never his ring.
The story of her life. Ordinarily she would steadfastly ignore such a lazy appraisal, but today the chance to see what colour his eyes were was too good to resist. She turned her head up fractionally as he passed and crashed headlong into his regard. Her breath caught.
How had she, even for a moment, thought he was the lesser of the two men? Not classically handsome but his lips were even and set, his jaw artistically angled. And those eyes bottomless and as blue as the rarest of the priceless cobalt glass she'd worked with . They transformed his face. Literally breathtaking.
She ripped her stare away, chest heaving.
He kept walking as if nothing had happened.
Her heart tugged against her ribs like a nagging child and she took a deep, slow breath. She wasn't used to noticing men beyond their mannerisms, their social tells, the things that told her who they really were. With him, she'd been so busy studying the shape of his mouth and the extraordinary colour of his irises she'd failed to notice anything else. She'd failed to think of anything else.
Like the reason she was here.
Her focus dragged back to the water's edge and the man sitting there alone, staring out. Do it.
The voice came immediately. Not her mother's and not her own. A weird kind of hybrid of both. But it was the reason she was here today and the reason she'd paid particular attention to a newspaper article in which Nathaniel Moore was captioned in the photograph. The reason she was able to find out where he worked and, then, how to contact him. The voice that was just planting seeds. Inspiring particular actions. Pushing when she needed a nudge. Kind of like a guardian angel with an agenda, prompting from off-stage.
Do it now.
Tash's hand reached for the call button on her mobile even as her eyes stayed glued on the greying man across the alfresco area. He reached into his suit pocket casually, tugging his tie a little looser, winding down a notch further. She was about to dash all of that against the rocks of the harbour side they sat on. Tash very nearly pressed the 'end' button but he flipped his phone open as she watched.
'Nathaniel Moore.' Deep and soft.
Tash's heart squeezed so hard she couldn't speak and a frown formed between elegant eyebrows.
He lowered the phone to check the caller ID. 'Hello?'
Speak! Her mouth opened but the tiny sound she uttered was lost in the cafe noises. He shook his head and started to close his phone. That was the shove she needed.
He paused and lifted his eyebrows, speaking again into the phone. 'Yes?'
She took a deep breath. 'Mr Moore, I'm sorry to interrupt your lunch' Damn! She wasn't supposed to know where he was. But he seemed to miss the significance. She narrowed her eyes and looked closer. In fact, he seemed to have paled just slightly. His hand tightened noticeably around the phone.
'Mr Moore, my name is Natasha Sinclair. I believe you knew my mother.'
Tash watched expressions come and go in his face like the changing facets of good glass. Horror. Disbelief. Grief. Hope.
His free hand trembled as he fidgeted with a napkin. He didn't speak for an age. Tash watched his panicked glance in the direction of his lunch partner and she twisted slightly away as his gaze dragged back past her table.
Eventually he spoke, half whispering, 'You sound just like her.'
It sickened her to be doing this to a man her mother had loved. 'I know. I'm sorry. Are you all right?'
He reached for the water pitcher and poured a glass. She heard him take a sip even as she watched him raise a wobbly glass to his lips. 'I'm yes. I'm fine. Just shocked. Surprised,' he added, as though realising he'd been rude.
Tash laughed. 'Shocked, I think.' She took a breath. 'I wanted to call you, to touch base. To make sure you knew ' Yes, he already did know; his expression spoke volumes.
Silence fell as Nathaniel Moore collected his emotions. He glanced towards the restrooms again. 'I did hear. I'm sorry I couldn't come to the funeral. It was not possible.'
Tash knew all about the fall-out between their two families; she'd seen the after-effects repeatedly in her mother's diaries. 'You didn't get to say goodbye.'
He looked desperately around the cafe and then turned his face away, out to the harbour. His voice grew thick. 'Natasha. I'm so sorry for your loss. She was an amazing woman.'
Tash took a deep breath and smelled a heavenly mix of spices and earth. She knew, without looking, who was passing her table again. Broad, moss-green shoulders walked away from her towards Nathaniel Moore. He spared a momentary, peripheral glance for her. It was the least casual look she'd ever intercepted.
Her heart hammered and not just because her time was running out.
'Mr Moore,' she urged into the phone, 'I wanted you to know that regardless of how your family and mine feel about each other, my door is always open to you. If you want to talk or ask any questions.'
The younger man reached his seat, recognising immediately from the expression on the older man's face that something was up. Nathaniel Moore stood abruptly.
'Uh one moment, please will you excuse me?'
Was that for her or for his colleague?
Nathaniel moved unsteadily from the table, indicating the phone call with the wave of a hand. Concerned blue eyes followed him and then looked around the cafe suspiciously. Tash threw her head back and mimed a laugh into her mobile phone as the stare sliced past her. Not that he'd have a clue who was on the other end of Nathaniel's call but she absolutely didn't want to make difficulties for the man her mother had died loving.
Not for the first time since finding the diaries, Tash imagined how it would feel to be lovedto loveto the depths described in such heart-breaking detail on the handwritten pages. Her eyes drifted back to the younger man now sitting alone at the waterside table.
'Are you there?'
'I'm sorry, yes.' She found Nathaniel where he stood, back to her, half concealed in giant potted palms. She groaned. 'Mr Moore, I just wanted you to know that my mother never stopped loving you.' The Armani shoulders slumped. 'I'm sorry to speak so plainly but I feel like we don't have time. Her diaries are full of you. Her memories of you. Particularly at the end.'
Her heart thumped out the silence. His posture slumped further.
'You've lost so much.' His voice was choked. 'Endured so much.'
She glanced back to the table. Hard blue eyes watched Nathaniel from across the cafe, narrowing further.
Tash shook her head. 'No, Mr Moore, I had so much.' More than you ever did. More than just one extraordinary night together. She sucked in a breath. 'As hard as it has been to lose her, at least I had her for my whole life. Thirty years. She was a gift.'
The greying head across the alfresco area bowed and he whispered down the phone. 'She was that.'
Silence fell and Tash knew he was struggling to hold it together. 'You should go. I've called at a bad time.'
'No!' He cleared his throat and then glanced back towards his table, sighing. Blue-eyes stared back at him with open speculation. The hairs on Tash's neck prickled. 'Yes, I'm sorry. This isn't a good time. I'm here with my son'
Tash's focus snapped back to the younger man. This was Aiden Moore? Entrepreneurial young gun, scourge of the social scene? Suddenly her physical response to his presence seemed tawdry, extremely un-special, given that half the town's socialites had apparently shared it.
'I have your number in my phone now.' Nathaniel drew back to him the threads of the trademark composure she'd read about in business magazines. 'May I call you back later, when I'm free to speak?'
She barely heard the last moments of the call, although she knew she was agreeing. Her eyes stayed locked on the younger Moore, realisation thumping her hard and low. He couldn't be compelling. He couldn't smell as tantalising as an Arabian souk. She couldn't drown in those blue, blue eyes.
Not if he was Nathaniel Moore's son.
The Moores hated the Porters; and the Sinclairs, by association. Everyone knew it, apparently. Why should the heir be any different?
It took Tash a moment to realise two things. First, she'd let down her guard and let her eyes linger on him for too long.
Second, his ice-blue gaze was now locked on her, open and speculative.
She gathered up her handcrafted purse, slid some money onto the table and fled on wobbly legs, keeping her phone glued to her ear as though she were still on it even after Nathaniel had returned to the table.
She felt the bite of Aiden Moore's stare until she stumbled out into the Fremantle sunshine.