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"Journeys end in lovers meeting; every wise man's son doth know."
JET lagged and dull headed after his long flight from London to Sydney, Ryan Tanner was waiting in the Customs queue when he first saw the girl with the turnand-stare legs.
He caught sight of her again when he was pushing his luggage trolley through the Arrivals hall.
The slim blonde in a belted pink shift, with long golden-brown legs and strappy high-heeled sandals, was like a glowing hologram moving confidently through the drab tide of travellers dressed in predictable, look-alike business suits or denim jeans.
But Ryan's interest in her, although keen, was fleeting. Stunning as the girl was, she was a total stranger among thousands of strangers. Ryan had no idea where she'd come from or where she was heading. And his focus now was on getting home.
Home, after a year and a half in London. Home, after eighteen months of dreary British weather.
He'd spent a good part of the flight dreaming of sunshine and his first view of Bondi Beachaquamarine surf breaking into white froth on yellow sand. But, with his usual lousy luck, it was pouring rain in Sydney today. The view was obscured by grey clouds.
Now, head down against the sheeting rain, he left the terminal building and felt his mood sink from travelweary-jaded to downright morose as he steered his unwieldy trolley piled with two suitcases, a bulky snowboard and a laptop.
There was, of course, a long queue at the taxi rank. Ryan yawned and supposed he should have let someone know he was arriving this morning. But, after a twenty hour flight, he was too tired to bother with conversation, withthe inevitable questions about London and the ugly row with his Fleet Street editor.
Besides, he felt scruffy, needed a shower. And a shave wouldn't go astray, he thought, rubbing at the rough stubble on his jaw.
Then he saw the young woman again.
Fresh as a newly picked peach, she was standing ahead of him in the queue.
Wind, whipping across the street and under the awning, exposed enticing glimpses of her divine legs before she got control of her skirt.
He spent a pleasant moment wondering if she was a European tourist or an Australian coming home.
Three businessmen at the front of the queue climbed into the same taxi and Ryan shuffled forward, dragging his luggage trolley with him, pleased that the line was diminishing at a reasonable rate.
He thought about his comfortable, slightly shabby flat in Balmain and hoped that the tenants, who'd rented it while he was away, hadn't treated it too badly.
He stole another quick glance at the girl, not that he made a habit of ogling attractive girls, but this one intrigued him. He tried to pin down the quality that grabbed his attention, apart from her legs.
Perhaps it was an impression of vitality and fitness, the way she stood, shoulders back, head high, suggesting can-do confidence without conceit. Her bulky backpack surprised him. She looked the type who would travel with expensive matching suitcases.
Suddenly, almost as if she'd felt his eyes on her, she turned and looked straight at him, and for electrifying seconds their gazes met and held.
Her eyes were darkblue or brown, he couldn't be sureher brows darker than her hair and well defined. And, as she looked at him, he could have sworn that her mild, slightly bored expression changed.
He sensed a tiny stirring of interest from her. A ripple. The briefest flicker at the corner of her mouth. The barest beginnings of a smile.
He decided to smile back and discovered he was already smiling. Had he been grinning like a fool?
And then it happened. A tremulous, gut-punching sense of connection with this girl seized him by the throat, drove air from his lungs.
But in the next breath her taxi arrived. The driver jumped out and grabbed her pack, grumbling noisily at having to leave the warmth of his cab and splash about in the rain. The girl slipped quickly into the back passenger seat. Ryan caught one final flash of her beautiful bare legs before she shut the door.
The driver, a very glum fellow indeed, dumped her bulky backpack into the taxi's boot. He already had a couple of boxes in there and he spent a bad-tempered few minutes in the rain, shoving and cramming her pack, squeezing it mercilessly into the too small space.
At last the bulky pack was squashed enough to allow him to slam the door but, as he did, something slipped from one of the pack's side pockets and fell into the rain-filled gutter with a plop.
It was a small book. "Hey, mister, you want this cab or not?"
Ryan turned, surprised to discover that other passengers had left and he'd reached the top of the queue. A taxi driver was scowling at him.
His eyes swivelled back to the book in the gutter. Her book. Small and thick with a brown leather cover of good quality. It looked like a diary or one of those fancy planners many people couldn't live without. And no one else seemed to have seen it fall.
"Just a sec." Ryan waved violently to catch her driver's attention. "Hey, you've dropped something!"
But it was too late.
The driver was already slipping behind the wheel. His door slammed and, with an impatient, throaty roar, his cab shot out from the kerb, ducked across two lanes and streaked off, leaving the girl's book lying in the rain.
"Listen, mate, you either get in this cab or step aside. You can't hold up the bloody queue in this weather."
But Ryan stared after the other cab and at the book, lying in the gutter. If it wasn't rescued quickly it would be ruined.
And why should he care?
Why should he, Ryan Tanner, a seen-it-all, done-it-all, travel-weary journalist, jeopardise his precious place in a taxi queue while he dived into pouring rain to retrieve an unknown stranger's sodden book from the gutter?
He hadn't the foggiest clue. It didn't make any sense. But, then again, he'd always been a curious type and he'd looked into the girl's beautiful eyes
So perhaps it made perfect sense.
Whatever In the next unthinking, reckless splitsecond he grabbed his suitcase out of the driver's hands, hurled it into the taxi's boot and yelled, "We've got to follow that cab in the far lane!"
The driver's jaw gaped. "You're joking." "Never more serious, mate." Ryan dashed for the gutter, shouting over his shoulder, "Get the other case and stow my snowboard in the back."
As he scooped up the book, he was aware of a moment's indecision behind him before the driver gave a strangely excited cry and leapt forward.
The snowboard was shoved into the back of the cab and the two men jerked their front doors open and leapt in, Ryan clutching his laptop. And the wet book.
The driver's dark eyes were flashing with high excitement as he depressed the accelerator. He turned and grinned at Ryan. "I've been waiting twenty years for a chase!"
Ahead of them, the girl's cab was still in sightjust. It had stopped at a junction, but any second now the lights would change.
As the lights turned green, Simone wriggled her shoulders and deliberately relaxed into the luxurious hug of soft leather upholstery. She closed her eyes and tried to shrug off the sense that nothing about her homecoming felt right.
Perhaps that was what happened when you came down from the top of the world. Literally.
Three days ago, she'd been madly celebrating the achievement of a lifetime. She'd never before experienced anything like that heady feeling of supreme accomplishmentor the wonderful sense of camaraderie she'd shared with her fellow cyclists.
The trip had produced all kinds of unexpected extras best of all the especially close bond she'd formed with her new friends, Belle and Claire the deep sense of connection that they'd all felt up there in the mountains, far away from their everyday worlds the trust they'd developed.
And then, near the end of the journey the dark secrets they'd unburdened.
The pact the three women had made.
Oh, cringe. Simone shut her eyes quickly. Oh, help. Every time she thought about the terrible secret she'd revealed to Belle and Claire that night, she felt a shaft of hot, terrifying panic.
It was so hard to believe that she'd actually told them. She'd said it out loudrevealed the one thing she never talked about.
Never. To anyone.
At the time it had felt amazingly good to get it off her chest at last. A blessed relief. After all, Belle and Claire had both spilled secrets too. And they hadn't reeled back in horror at her story. She'd been lulled into thinking that perhaps it wasn't so shocking after all.
And she'd felt so happy, so strong in her brave decision to visit her grandfather at last, to break her promise to her mother and to tell him what she should have confessed years ago. To ask for his forgiveness.
But everything had seemed different when she'd been up there, in the rarefied atmosphere of the Himalayas. Her vision had been clearer, choices had appeared straightforward. It had seemed perfectly OK for three women from totally different worldsan Aussie, a Yank and a Britto make life-changing decisions beneath the benevolent gaze of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.
Now, coming home, Simone wasn't so sure. Sharing her secret had changed everything, complicated everything.
Before, no one else in the world knew, and she could almost convince herself that the events on that terrible night her stepfather died had never really occurred.
Now, she was frightened. She wished Belle and Claire weren't so far away. She needed their reassurance that her life wasn't going to collapse because they knew.
They'd agreed to stay in touch, to share regular emails and to help each other through the weeks ahead. Simone hoped that would be enough. She felt so so anxious. And something else. What was it? Not depressed exactly. Deflated? Yeah definitely. She felt flat. Very flat.
* * * They'd lost sight of the girl's taxi.
Despite Ryan's driver's most valiant attempts, there was simply too much traffic, too much rain and too many taxis zipping back and forth. They'd had to admit defeat.
Now, as his taxi dashed through Sydney's rain-lashed streets, heading for his flat in Balmain, the diary sat on the seat beside Ryan. The thick leather cover had saved it from a soaking and a few shakes and a wipe on his jeans had rendered it almost as good as new.
But so far Ryan hadn't been able to identify the book's owner.
Funny how much that bothered him.
His fingers drummed on the leather cover as he stared ahead at the frantic motion of the windscreen wipers. Under other circumstances he might have tracked back to the terminal and handed the diary in to the airport's lost property office.
But he was dog-tired, it was lousy weather and they had already been halfway across Sydney before they'd given up the chase and before he'd realised that the pretty blonde had not filled in the personal information page inside the book's front cover.
Of course he hadn't rescued her book simply to discover her name, address and telephone number. It was more a sense of fair play that had sent him diving into the gutter. But now he was left in something of a quandary. He had no idea who she was. And he realised, too late, that was the way she wanted it.
Why else would she keep a diary without including any personal contact details?
This diary, with its closely written pages, was nothing like the small, dog-eared notepad filled with scribbled contacts, appointments, story leads and notes that Ryan kept in his inner coat pocket.
He'd thumbed through a few pages and read enough to realise that this was a very personal record, meant for her eyes onlya mixture of internal musings as well as a detailed account of a recent bike ride through the Himalayas.
Himalayas? Wow, no wonder she looked fit.
She'd begun writing in neat black ink, but she must have lost the pen halfway through the trip and the rest of the pages were written in a mixture of red ballpoint and blunt pencil.
Ryan flicked the book's pages once more and they fell open in the middle, where she'd wedged postcardsa Buddhist temple, towering snow capped mountains, Chinese villagers in traditional dress, a breathtaking view down a gorge. He checked the back of each postcard to see if any had been addressed, but they were blank.
Frustrated, he closed the book again.
And decided he wouldn't read it.
OK, so he was a journalist and journalists were noted for sticking their noses into other people's business. He'd been doing exactly that in the UK for the past eighteen monthsuntil his recent, rather notorious departure.
Now, he'd come home to regroup, to think about new directions. The last thing he needed was a scavenger hunt, digging through an innocent young woman's personal journal for pay dirt.
Besides, he'd stood in that taxi queue and looked into her eyes.
And somehow that made a difference. Anyway a cycling holiday in China was hardly breaking news.
That settled, he slipped the diary into his pocket and turned his attention to familiar Sydney landmarks. He was almost home.