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Lifting a glass of excellent French champagne, Siena Blake said, "Mum and Dadhere's to your next thirty years together! May they be even happier than the ones you've already had."
Diane Blake smiled, serenely elegant in the unfamiliar surroundings of an extremely upmarket London hotel. "Darling, if they're only half as good as the past thirty years they'll be wonderful."
Siena's father gave his wife a look that combined pride and love.
"They'll be better," he said confidently, "and one reason for that is our great good luck with our children. So I'll return the toasthere's to our twins, Siena and Gemma, for making our lives much fuller and more interesting."
He raised his glass, adding slyly, "Although at our advanced ages I suppose we're now expected to be eagerly waiting for grandchildren."
Sparks flashed from the diamond in Siena's engagement ring as candlelight danced across her taut fingers.
Her voice rang a little false in her ears when she said, "Well, I shouldn't think Gemma has any maternal ambitions. She hasn't yet found a man she'd like to marry, and you'd better give Adrian and me a few years yet." Ignoring a nagging, unwelcome doubt, she took a sip of champagne and set her glass down. "Anyway, the important occasion right now is your anniversary."
A little wistfully her mother said, "The only thing that would be more perfect is if Gemma could have been here too." She smiled. "But she can't, and your arrival yesterday was such a wonderful surprise. I'm only sorry Adrian couldn't make it with you."
Siena thrust aside her strange ambivalence. "He sends his love and best wishes, but he just couldn't take time off work."
Her parents understood. Together they'd built a business from nothing to a modest prosperity, and with their daughters had lived through times of hard work and sacrifices.
Swiftly Siena added, "Anyway, in a few weeks you'll be home again in New Zealand, and we can celebrate again with Gemma and Adrian and all your friends." She lifted her glass again. "So here's to safe journeys. And a truly fantastic cruise for you both."
As long as she could remember her parents had dreamed of cruisingof taking a leisurely trip through the Caribbean Sea and central America. After years of saving they'd finally set out on a round-the-world odyssey, first touring the United Kingdom before flying out early the next morning to join their ship.
A subdued flurry at the entrance caught her attention. Looking past her mother, she noted with hidden amusement the stately maitre d'hotel increase pace perceptibly as he made his way across the room to greet some newcomers.
Clearly important newcomers. He'd barely acknowledged Siena when she'd arrived to join her parents.
At the unexpected sight of the man who'd just walked in, Siena's heart performed a swift jig in her chest. Setting down her glass with a sharp little movement, she asked abruptly, "Is Nick here to celebrate with us?"
Her parents' surprised looks told her he wasn't. Diane said, "Our Nick?"
"Nicholas Grenville," Siena said, the sound of his name on her tongue tinged with bitterness and shame.
Flinching at her mother's surprised look, she composed her face and disciplined her voice into a steadiness she was far from feeling. "He's just walked in with a stunning woman."
Without turning, Diane asked, "An ash-blonde? Tall, coolly exquisite, superbly dressed?"
"That certainly sounds like the same person." Although all Nick's lovers had been blonde, coolly exquisite, sophisticated, et cetera.
All except one
Banishing that extremely unwanted thought, she said hastily, "You know, it seems so unfair I should be barely five foot four inches high when everyone else in our immediate family is tall and elegant."
Even Nick. Unconsciously her gaze flicked across the room as Nick and his partner were shown into an area hidden from most of the diners by a screen of greenery.
Of all the unwelcome coincidences! At least he hadn't seen them.
Smiling, her voice teasing, she said, "Are you sure the nurses in the maternity unit didn't confuse me with another baby?"
Her parents laughed. "Positive," Diane said comfortably. "Apparently you're very like your father's grandmother, who died young. According to family lore she was little and practical and sensible and very forthright. And she had your black curls and those stunning blue eyes."
"I'm glad you still think of Nick as part of our family," Hugh said thoughtfully.
Siena shrugged airily, and bent the truth. "Oh, well, while you were mentoring him Gemma and I saw him at least once a week for years and years, and every holiday while his mother was working. We thought he was wonderful. He was always lovely to us, although he obviously hadn't had much to do with small girls."
She'd managed not to look across the room again, but she couldn't help asking, "Who is histhe woman with him?"
His latest lover, she thought, a raw edge of old pain surfacing unexpectedly.
Diane exchanged a cryptic glance with her husband. "Portia Makepeace-Singleton. We had dinner in his apartment the night after we arrived in London, and she appeared at his door halfway through the meal. Unexpectedly, I'd say, although you know Nicholashe gave nothing away."
"I presume she's his latest significant other," Siena said, hoping she sounded coolly dismissive.
Her mother shrugged. "Possibly. Naturally we didn't ask."
Siena looked from one parent to the other. "You didn't like her," she guessed.
Diane looked a little self-conscious and didn't answer directly. "Have they seen us?"
"No, they've been seated out of sight of us less distinguished diners."
But the evening was comparatively youngplenty of time to be noticed, and Nick always noticed.
She wouldn't let Nick's arrival spoil the evening. Defiantly she raised her glass, only to set it down when light scintillated again from Adrian's diamond.
Adrian was a darling. She was very happily looking forward to marrying him next year. He would never hurt her.
She drew in a sharp breath. Nick had almost shattered her.
At sixteen she'd successfully exorcised a crush on her father's protege. Even then she'd known that Nick was not for her. By the time she'd left high school he'd well outstripped his mentor, made his first millions, and based himself overseas for several years.
He'd stayed in contact with Hugh, sending cards on important dates, calling in to see the family on his visits to New Zealand.
Then, when she'd been nineteen, he'd returned to New Zealand for a few months.
And Siena had been forced to realise she'd been fooling herself. Far from being exorcised, that adolescent crush had metamorphosed into full-blown desire. Oh, she'd fought it, until he'd.
Jolted back into the present by her mother's puzzled voice, she lifted her glass again and drank a little too deeply of the champagne.
"Sorry," she said automatically. "I was daydreaming, I'm afraid. I'm overwhelmed by all this glitter and luxury. I wonder what it would be like to live like this?"
Hugh surveyed her with indulgent amusement. "It wouldn't be long before you'd be bored out of your mind. Why don't you ask Nick some day? It's his milieu now that he's a permanent figure in the world's financial pages."
"And described variouslydepending on the journalistas a buccaneer, a financial genius and an arrogant billionaire far too handsome for his own good," Siena commented, hoping her parents didn't notice the astringent note in her words.
"All accurate," her father said, his tone not entirely approving.
He didn't mention the gossip magazines, with their avid comments on Nick's various relationships. Allowing for the usual frenetic exaggeration, there had been several of those.
Siena wished fervently Nick hadn't come in.
Five years had gone by since she'd seen him lastshe'd grown up from the naive nineteen-year-old she'd been then, abandoning her adolescent fantasies of the perfect hero to settle for a happy future with a lovely man.
It was stupid to be so affected by his arrival.
Not that she'd been the only woman in the room to notice him. His arrogantly handsome features and leanly muscled height gave him a potent charisma that had caught the eye of most of the women in the restaurant.
A very dangerous charisma.
Don't go there
His presence added to a nameless unease that had been gathering in her for several weeks, a sense that her worldher lifewas heading into a grey blandness.
Well, she was probably entitled to a certain concern about her futurea week ago she'd walked out of a perfectly good job.
And now was not the time to be thinking of that disaster. She set her jaw and pushed everything from her mind but the need to enjoy this evening with her parents.
To her relief, a band struck up the sort of music her parents loved. They'd met at a high school ball, and their shared love of dancing was the reason they'd chosen to celebrate their anniversary at this hotel, famous for its dinner dances.
Siena looked at her parents. "What are you waiting for? Up you get."
"Nonsense," her mother said robustly. "We're not leaving you by yourself."
"Mum, of course you must get up. I'm twenty-four! Sitting alone in a restaurant for a few minutes is not going to embarrass me. And I'd like very much to see you dance on your thirtieth wedding anniversary."
After a little more encouragement her parents rose and made their way to the floor. Siena watched them go with a slightly twisted smile. They looked good together, moving with inbuilt, confident grace. Like them, her sister Gemma had hair and skin touched by gold and their long-boned, willowy stature, perfect for a model.
The sort of woman Nick favoured
Oh, stop it! she commanded. OK, so her unfashionably curly tresses were black, and her skin so pale she didn't dare spend more than a few minutes in
New Zealand's notorious summer sun unless she was slathered in sunscreen.
But she had inherited her parents' love of dancing. Smiling, she realised one foot was tapping unconsciously. Using her savings to fly twelve thousand miles as a surprise had been an inspired decision, even if it had cleaned out her bank account. When she'd knocked on their hotel door the previous day her mother had fought back tears and her father had swallowed.
Siena glanced at a woman dressed with such superb taste she shone like a gem even in that gathering of the rich and the famous. Beside her was a notorious and inordinately handsome actor.
The skin between her shoulder-blades tightened. Refusing to turn, she kept her eyes on the dance floor while an odd, primitive apprehension throbbed through her.
From behind her a deep male voice said, "Five years ago you'd have turned to see who was watching you."
Deep within her something fierce and bewildering leapt into existence. No, was reborn.