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Ryan Quinn stared out the rain-blurred windscreen of Rogan's Land Rover, his gaze fixed on the dark tarmac. In the distance, the landing beacons from Auckland's airport illuminated the night sky.
"How long are you going to wait?"
"All night if I have to," Ryan murmured, glancing over at his twin brother, slumped in the driver's seat. "They're coming in from Los Angeles on a private jet. I don't reckon they'll be keeping to a strict schedule."
"Serena Hightower," Rogan said, shaking his head. "How did you get so lucky?"
Ryan shrugged. "I'm not sure I'd call it lucky. It's just another job."
"Yeah, but the scenery is going to be splendid," Rogan said, reaching for the coffee he'd set in the cup holder. "What are you going to do with them? I asked Dana what your plans were, but she said they're top secret."
"We're going to Fiji."
"Really? We've never guided in Fiji before. That's more of a vacation spot."
"We'll do some light trekking, maybe some climbing. Surfing. Sailing."
"What about supplies and equipment and"
"It's not that kind of trip. I'm just on board as an advisor. Someone who can take care of all the details for whatever they want to do."
"Kind of like a babysitter?"
Ryan glanced over at his brother, ready with a retort. But there was no way around it. That was pretty much the job description. But how the hell was he supposed to refuse the offer? He was getting his regular rate plus expenses and a promised bonus at the end, all of which he intended to keep for himself. And if he did the job well, there might be other opportunitieswhich meant a chance to carve out a life of his own, away from the family business. "I prefer to call it a facilitator."
He'd been considering a break from the family adventure-guiding business for a long time, and lately, it seemed as if that time was now. Both Mal and Rogan were settling down with women they'd met, planning their futures, searching for ways to cut back on the trips they took for Max Adrenaline. They'd both assumed that Ryan would happily take over the brunt of the work.
But he'd made no promises to them and had plans of his ownhe wanted to start a surf school. He lived right on the beach; he'd been surfer since the age of nine. And he'd always been a decent teacher. The only thing he didn't have was the money to make it happen.
His fee, plus a big tip on this job would provide a good start.
"How did you get this job?" Rogan asked.
"I guided a bloke named Thom Perry last year. He was on our Mount Blanc trip. Perry owns Greenmoor Studios in Los Angeles. Serena Hightower is starring in some big blockbuster they have coming out after Christmas. She's marrying her boyfriend right before the premiere, and he doesn't want any bad press."
"This is her hen party. She and her bridesmaids want one last fling before she gets married, and Perry wants to make sure they don't create any problems for the studio."
"So it's your job to get her safely to the altar so this bloke's movie can make more millions?"
"That's about it," Ryan said. "How hard can it be? Five women on a tropical island."
"So, will you be hiring the male stripper or are you providing those services yourself?"
"It's not like that," he said. "Ms. Hightower wants an adventure. According to her instructions, she doesn't want to spend every minute working on her tan. I expect we won't be sipping mimosas by the pool the entire time."
"So you'll be doing a lot of shopping?"
"Definitely not on the itinerary. Perry has a man in Fiji who will help me with the arrangements. Arthur Cawaru. He'll meet up with me there."
"We're splitting the fee with him?"
Ryan shook his head. "Nope. Like I said, the studio is paying all the bills. And this isn't a Max Adrenaline job. I'm freelancing on this."
"Wow," Rogan muttered. "Mal isn't going to like that."
"This isn't a guiding job. I'm not using company equipment or money. And I don't care what the hell Mal does and doesn't like these days," Ryan muttered. "He's been so caught up in planning the Everest trip that he's not interested in anything else."
Max Quinn, their father, had died nearly twenty years before while guiding a group of climbers to the summit of Everest. Before his death, he'd parlayed his considerable fame as a mountaineer into an adventure business with his Aussie friend and business partner, Roger Inniswho had taken total control of the company, and its profits, after Max's accident.
And now, with the recent discovery of their father's body on Everest, there had been a push for his three adventuring sons to make a pilgrimage of sorts to Max Quinn's final resting place, to retrieve his effects and bury him properly. Mal, Ryan's older brother, was all for the trip, along with publishing a biography that he and his fiancée, Amy Engalls, were writing about his father.
But not everyone was so enthusiastic about their expedition to Everest. Roger Innis was mounting an expedition of his own to recover their father's effects, including his climbing journal, which Innis considered company, not personal, property. Mal suspected that Innis was afraid he might be blamed for the mistakes made that day. And Ryan and Rogan knew there were other secrets that might be exposed if their father's journal got into the wrong hands. The secrets in that book could shatter their perfect memory of their fatherand destroy the family he'd left behind.
Ryan drew a deep breath. "We need to tell Mal about Dad and the Montgomery woman. He can still call an end to this."
"There's no stopping him," Rogan said. "The trip is a go." He paused. "And I'm going with him. I'm not going to let Roger Innis use his expedition to make himself look like the hero."
"But you said it was morbid."
"Yeah," Rogan said. "But I've had a change of heart. Claudia has pointed out that I can't really get on with my future until I deal with my past. Maybe this trip is what it will take for me to understand who he was. And who I am."
"You know who he was," Ryan countered. "He was our father. A philanderer."
"That's not all he was. Listen, someday I'm going to be a father. And I won't have Dad around to talk to about it. So I'd like to know him a little better. And I want the truth of why he died on that mountain."
"And what if the journal's not there? What if he just died there on the mountain, without anything important to say to his family? Or what if he mentions that Montgomery woman? How do you think that will make Mum feel?"
Rogan drew a deep breath. "I don't know. But it's time we found out."
"You and Mal can go right ahead."
"It's something we should all do together," Rogan insisted.
"Count me out. I'm happy with what I know. I don't see the need to stir it all up again. It almost destroyed us once already." Ryan's chest tightened and he swallowed back a wave of emotion.
His family had never really dealt with his father's death. At the time, Ryan's mother, Lydie Quinn, had been so emotionally fragile herself that she hadn't been able to help her children through the tragedy. Ryan had stood by helplessly as all the happiness had drained out of their lives.
Along the way, Ryan had learned to control his emotions, to stop caring about anything that might make him happy. He'd lived his life waiting for the next disaster to befall their family and building a high wall around his heart to protect himself from the pain.
Malcolm and Rogan had found happiness. They'd fallen in love and were looking forward to rosy futures. But Ryan would never allow himself to be that vulnerable. He couldn't bring himself to trust that deeply.
"You're going to have to make a decision soon," Rogan said. "We leave in three months."
"Have a good trip," he muttered.
An uneasy silence fell over the interior of the Range Rover. As if he didn't already feel like an outsider in his own family, this didn't make things much better. He and his brothers had always agreed on most subjects, but since Amy and Claudia had come into the picture, that had all changed.
"Is that your plane?" Rogan asked.
Ryan looked up and saw a small jet appear out of the darkness. It rolled to a stop about twenty meters from the car.
"Jaysus, you will be traveling in style," Rogan said, laughing softly.
"Thanks for the lift," Ryan said. "I'll see you in a week."
The door to the plane dropped down, and Ryan jumped out and grabbed his gear from the rear seat. "Wish me luck," he said.
"I don't think you'll be needing any," Rogan said. "Stay out of trouble."
Ryan waved and swung his bag over his shoulder, then jogged across the tarmac to the waiting plane. A young man appeared in the doorway as Ryan climbed the steps.
"Yes," Ryan said.
"Welcome aboard. I'm Miles DuMont. I'm the studio publicist. It's a pleasure to meet you."
Ryan shook his hand. "A publicist?"
"Oh, don't worry," he whispered. "You'll barely know I'm here. I'm just along to make sure we control the message. And get a few good photos."
"The message? What does that mean?" Ryan asked as he moved past him.
"Ms. Hightower tends to find herself in the middle of a media firestorm wherever she goes. I'm the one who carries the fire extinguisher."
The interior of the plane was dark and silent. Ryan stowed his gear in a locker and glanced toward the back of the plane. "They've all had plenty to drink," Miles said. "Come on back. I'll introduce you to Serena."
Ryan followed Miles down the aisle of the plane. Four passengers were curled up in the wide leather seats, sound asleep, but a reading light glowed from a seat at the rear.
Ryan held his breath when he got his first glimpse of the actress. She was stunning. Her long hair was pulled back from her fresh-scrubbed face, and she wore dark-rimmed glasses, which did nothing to hide her large liquid-blue eyes.
"Ms. Hightower, this is Ryan Quinn, the guide."
She smiled warmly and Ryan's pulse leaped. He knew he ought to say something, but he couldn't seem to put the words together. Hell, he was the last guy in the world who would be starstruck, but she was possibly the most beautiful woman he'd ever met. "Hello," he finally managed.
"Hi," she said, sending him a coy smile. She stared at him for a long moment and Ryan wondered if she could read his thoughts. Not that his thoughts were any different from those of every other bloke who had the pleasure of meeting her. She slowly reached out her hand, and Ryan took it.
"II have some interesting adventures planned for you," he said, his fingers tingling.
"Good. I'm looking forward to having some fun. Do you like to have fun, Quinn? Or are you like Thom Perry? Do you think I need to behave myself?"
"I" Ryan frowned, drawing his hand away. She spoke with a distinct British accent. He'd assumed she was American, but clearly he'd been wrong. "What was the question?"
She laughed softly. "Miles, why don't you get Quinn something to eat and drink. We've got a long flight ahead of us and I'm sure he'd like to settle in."
"Yes, Ms. Hightower."
With that, Ryan nodded, then turned and made his way to a seat at the front of the plane. He looked back once to see Serena leaning into the aisle and watching his retreat.
"Be warned," Miles said. "That innocent smile hides a very naughty side. Don't be taken in."
"No, of course not," Ryan murmured.
But as he sank into the soft leather seat, a strange sense of anticipation settled over him. He couldn't help but be curious. Who was Serena Hightower? And why did the simple touch of her hand startle him so?
He rubbed his hand on the faded fabric of his jeans, as if the action might banish all thoughts of Serena from his head. But it didn't work. Unless he regained a measure of control, this was going to be a very long trip.
Serena Hightower stared out the window of the jet, her gaze fixed on the blinking light at the end of the wing. She closed her eyes and drew a deep breath, trying to clear the chaotic thoughts from her mind.
She rubbed her hands together, wondering why the effects of the man's touch seemed to linger. Yes, Ryan Quinn was attractive and sexy and he had a dangerous air. And, yes, any woman would find him irresistible. But she was engaged. Engaged to be married in a few weeks! And all she could think about was some stranger she'd just met.
"Ryan," she murmured. "Ryan Quinn."
Serena groaned. How had she allowed this engagement to get so far? When she'd accepted Ben's proposal, she'd never really believed it would result in a wedding. She'd been infatuated, giddy with the romance of being in love. But the realities of their situation had soon begun to emerge. They hadn't dated very long, and Serena had soon realized that she didn't really know Ben. Though they were both actors with high-profile careers and permanent places in the gossip magazines, they had very different ideas about a commited relationship, especially when it came to fidelity.
Serena had spent a lifetime watching her parents make a hash of their multiple marriages. Living life as the only child of a celebrity couple should have opened her eyes to the realities of love, especially the fact that actors had so many temptations to stray.
When they'd first gotten involved, Serena hadn't cared that Ben Thayer had a reputation as a playershe'd just taken it as a reality of the biz. Besides, she hadn't been concerned about getting hurt, because she was going into the marriage with her eyes wide open.
So how had she lost control of this?