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Cameron Kelly opened the heavy side-door of the random building, shut it smartly behind him and became enveloped in darkness. The kind of inky darkness that would make even the bravest boy imagine monsters under the bed.
It was some years since Cameron had been a boy, longer still since he'd realised people didn't always tell the truth. When he'd found out his two older brothers had made the monsters up.
The small window between himself and the Brisbane winter sunshine outside revealed the coast was clear, and he let his forehead rest on the cold glass with a sheepish thunk.
Of all the people he could have seenmany miles from where a man such as he ought to have been while commerce and industry raged on in the city beyondit had to have been his younger sister Meg, downing take-away coffee and gabbing with her girlfriends.
If Meg had seen him wandering the suburban Botanical Gardens, pondering lily pads and cacti rather than neck-deep in blueprints and permits and funding for multi-million-dollar skyscrapers, she would not have let him be until he'd told her why.
So he, a grown mana man of means, and most of the time sensewas hiding. Because the truth would only hurt her. And, even though he'd long since been cast as the black sheep of the Kelly clan, hurting those he cared about was the last thing he would ever intentionally do.
He held his watch up to the parcel of light, saw it was nearly nine and grimaced.
Hamish and Bruce, respectively his architect and his project manager, would have been at the CK Square site for more than an hour waiting for him to approve the final plans for the fifty-fourth floor. This close to the end of a very long job, if they hadn't throttled one another by now then he would be very lucky.
He made to open the door to leave, remembered Megthe one person whose leg he'd never been able to pull, even with two adept older brothers to show him howand was overtaken by a stronger compulsion than the desire to play intermediary between two grown men. His hand dropped.
Let the boys think he was making a grand entrance when he finally got there. It'd give them something to agree upon for once. He could live with people thinking he had an ego the size of Queensland. He was a Kelly, after all; impressions of grandeur came with the name.
'We're closed,' a voice echoed somewhere behind him.
He spun on his heel, hairs on the back of his neck standing on end. Though he hadn't boxed since his last year at St Grellans, in a flash his fists were raised, his fingers wrapped so tight around his thumbs they creaked. Lactic acid burned in his arms. It seemed fresh air, sunshine and tiptoeing through the tulips weren't the catharsis for an uneasy mind that they were cracked up to be.
He peered around the huge empty space and couldn't see a thing past the end of his nose, bar a square of pink burned into his retina from the bright light of the window.
'I'm desperately sorry,' the voice said. 'I seem to have given you a little fright.'
Unquestionably female, it was, husky, sweet, mellow tones drifting to him through the darkness with a surprisingly vivid dash of sarcasm, considering she had no idea who she was dealing with.
'You didn't frighten me,' he insisted.
'Then how about you put down your dukes before you knock yourself out?'
Cameron, surprised to find his fists were still raised, unclenched all over, letting his hands fall to his sides before shucking his blazer back onto his shoulders.
'Now, I love an eager patron as much as the next gal,' the mocking voice said. 'But the show doesn't start for another half-hour. Best you wait outside.'
The show? Cameron's eyes had become more used to the light, or lack thereof. He could make out a bumpy outline on the horizon, rows of seats decked out auditorium-style. They tipped backwards slightly so that an audience could look upwards without getting neck strain, as the show that went on in this place didn't happen on stage but in the massive domed sky above.
He'd stumbled into the planetarium.
Wow. He hadn't been in the place since he was a kid. It seemed the plastic bucket seats and industrial carpet scraping beneath his shoes hadn't changed.
He craned his neck back as far as it would go, trying to make out the shape and form of the roof. The structural engineer in him wondered about the support mechanisms for the high ceiling, while the vestiges of the young boy who'd once upon a time believed in monsters under the bed simply marvelled at the deep, dark, infinite black.
Finally, thankfully, one thing or another managed to shake loose a measure of the foreboding that ruminating over rhododendrons had not.
He kept looking up as he said, 'I'll wait, if it's alright by you.'
'Actually, it's not.'
'Rules. Regulations. Occupational health and safety. Fire hazards. Today's Tuesday. You're wearing the wrong shoes. Take your pick.'
He slowly lowered his head, glancing down at his perfectly fine shoes, which he could barely see, and he was a heck of a lot closer to them than she was.
He peered back out into the nothingness, but still he couldn't make her outwhoever she was.
Was she security, ready to throw him out on his ear? A fellow interloper protecting her find? A delusion, born out of an acute desire to change the subject that had shanghaied his thoughts since he'd caught the financial news on TV that morning?
'Go now, and I can reserve you a seat,' the honeyed tones suggested.
Management, then. And strangely anticlimactic.
'I'll even personally find you a nice, comfy seat,' she continued. 'Smack bang in the centre, with no wobbles or lumps, that doesn't squeak every time you ooh or aah at the show. What do you say?'
He didn't say anything. He could tell she'd moved closer by a slight shifting of the air to his left, the sound of cloth whispering against skin, and the sudden sweet scent of vanilla making his stomach clench with hunger.
Had he forgotten to eat breakfast? Yes, he had. He swore softly as he remembered why.
The appearance on the financial report on the TV news by the very man who had made him a family outcast many years before had not been a bolt from the blue. Quinn Kelly, his father, was a shameless self-promoter of the family business: the Kelly Investment Group, or 'KInG' as it was irresistibly dubbed in the press.
His father was the epitome of the Australian dream. An immigrant who had come to the country as a boy with nothing to his name but the clothes on his back, he had built himself the kind of large, rambunctious, photogenic family the press prized, and a financial empire men envied. Tall, handsome, charming, straight-talking, the man acted as though he would live for ever, and the world believed himneeded to believe himbecause he had his fingers in so many financial pies.
Cameron hadn't realised he'd believed the man to be immortal too until he'd noticed the pallor make-up couldn't hide, the weight lost from his cheeks, the dullness in his usually sharp eyes that would only have been noticed by someone who went out of his way not to catch a glimpse of the man every day.
For that reason it was highly possible that not even the family knew something was very wrong with Quinn Kelly. The rest of the clan was so deeply a part of one another's lives he could only imagine they had not noticed the infinitesimal changes.
He'd lost hours trying to convince himself it wasn't true. And not for the kinds of reasons that made him a good son, but because he'd felt the sharp awakening of care for a man not worth caring about. Why should he care for a man who'd so blithely severed him from his family to save his own hide, and that was after laying waste to any naivety Cameron might have yet possessed about loyalty and fidelity? And at an age when he'd not even had a chance to make those decisions himself.
It wasn't even nine in the morning and already Cameron wished this day was well and truly over.
'The door is right behind you,' the only highlight in his day so far said.
Cameron pulled himself up to his full height in the hope the unwanted concerns might run off his back. 'While I'm enjoying the thought of you testing each and every seat for me, I'm not here to see the show.'
'You don't have to act coy with me,' she said, her teasing voice lifting him until he felt himself rocking forward on his toes. 'Even big boys like you have been known to find comfort in the idea that there might be something bigger and grander than you are, out there in the cosmos, that will burn bright long after you are a two-line obituary in your local paper.'
Surprising himself, he laughed out loud, something he had not expected to do today. It wasn't often people dared to tease him. He was too successful, his reputation too implacable, his surname too synonymous with winning at all costs. Perhaps that was why he liked it.
'Your expertise on the ways of big boys aside,' he said, 'I saw the show years ago in middle school.'
'Years ago?' the husky voice lobbed back. 'Lucky for you, astronomers hit a point at exactly that point in time when they said, "Well, that'll do us. We've found enough stars out there for a hundred generations of couples to name after one another for Valentine's Day. Why bother studying the eternal mystery of the universe any more?"'
He laughed again. And for the first time in hours he felt like he could turn his neck without fear of pulling a muscle. He had not a clue if the woman was eighteen or eighty, if she was married or single, or even from this planet, but he was enjoying himself too much to care.
He took a step away from the door. He couldn't see the floor beneath his feet. It felt liberating, like he was stepping out into an abyss.
Until he stubbed his toe, and then it felt like he was walking around in a strange building in the dark.
Something moved. Cameron turned his head a fraction to the left, and finally he saw her: a dark blob melting into the shadows. If she was standing on the same level as him, she was tall. There was a distinct possibility of long, wavy hair, and lean curves poured into a floaty calf-length dress. When he imagined seriously chunky boots, he realised he didn't have any kind of perspective to trust his eyes.
But he'd always trusted his gut. And, while he'd come to the gardens searching for the means to navigate his way around a difficult truth, the only real truth he had so far found was the voice tugging him further into the blackness.
'How about you turn on a light?' he said. 'Then we can come to an arrangement that suits us both.'
'Would you believe I'm conserving power?'
There wasn't a single thing about the tone of her voice that made him even half believe her. His smile became a grin, and the tightness in his shoulders just melted away.
He took another step.
'Not for even half a second,' he said, his voice dropping several notes, giving as good as he got to that voicethat husky, feminine voice. Mocking him. Taking him down a peg or two. Or three, if he was at all honest.
Hea Kelly and all.
Rosie kept her distance.
Not because the intruder seemed all that dangerous; she knew the nooks and crannies of this place like the back of her hand, and after stargazing half her life she could see in the dark as well as a cat. And from the lazy way he'd held his fists earlier, like he'd instinctively known nobody would dare take a swipe, she'd surely have been able to get in a jab or two.
She kept her distance because she knew exactly who he was.
The man in the dark jeans, pinstriped blazer, glossy tie and crisp chambray shirt poking out at the bottom of the kind of knit V-necked vest only the most super-swanky guy could get away with was Cameron Kelly.
Too-beautiful-for-words Cameron Kelly. Smart, serious, eyes-as-deep-as-the-ocean Cameron Kelly. Of the Ascot Kellys. The huge family, investment-banking dynasty, lived their lives in the social pages, absolutely blessed in every possible way Kellys.
She would have recognised that untameable cowlick, those invulnerable shoulders, and the yummy creases lining the back of that neck anywhere. God only knew how many hours she'd spent in the St Grellans school chapel staring at them.
Not that getting up close and personal or turning on the light would have rendered her familiar. She'd been the scholarship kid who'd taken two buses and a train to get to school from the indifferent council flat she'd shared with her single mum. He had attended St Grellans by birthright.
Post-school they'd run in very different circles, but the Kellys had never been far from the periphery of her life. The glossy mags had told her that dashing patriarch Quinn Kelly was seen buying this priceless objet d'art or selling that racehorse, while his wife Mary was putting on sumptuous banquets for one or another head of state. Brendan, the eldest, and his father's right-hand man, had married, had two beautiful daughters, then become tragically widowed, adding to the family folklore. Dylan, the next in line, was the charmer, his wide, white smile inviting every magazine reader to dare join the bevy of beauties no longer on his speed dial. Meg, the youngest, was branded bored and beautiful enough to rival any Hollywood starlet.
Yet the one Rosie had always had a soft spot for remained mostly absent from the prying eyes of the paparazzi. He'd played into the Kelly legend just enough by sporting fresh new consorts every other week: a fabulous blonde senator on his arm at some party here, a leggy blonde dancer tucked in behind him at a benefit there.
Yet the minute he'd appeared without a blonde in sight, her soft spot had begun to pulse.
'Rightio,' she said, curling away to her left, away from Cameron and towards the bank of stairs leading to the front of the auditorium. 'What are you doing here if not to once and for all find out who truly did hang the moon and the stars?'
'Central heating,' he said without missing a beat. 'It's freezing out there.'
She grinned, all too readily charmed considering the guy still seemed to have blinkers when it came to skinny, smart girls with indefinite hair-colour and no cleavage to speak of.