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'You're him! Aren't you?'
The gorgeous specimen of manhood in the dark sunglasses, at the pointy end of a squat pale pink fingernail, sat stock still. To the eclectic, late-afternoon Brunswick Street crowd rushing past the sidewalk café he would have appeared simply cool. Collected. Quietly attentive behind a half-smile so effortlessly sexy it could stop traffic. Literally.
Hannah knew better.
Hannah, who worked harder and with longer hours than anyone else she knew, would have bet her precious life savings on the fact that, behind those ubiquitous dark sunglasses he was hoping, almost desperately, that the older woman on the other end of the finger might quickly realise she had mistaken him for someone else.
No such luck.
'You are!' the woman continued, flat feet planted determinedly on the uneven cobbled ground. 'I know you are! You're the guy who makes that Voyagers TV show. I've seen you in magazines. And on the telly. My daughter just loooves you. She even considered going into training once, so she could be one of those regular-type people you send off into the wild and up mountains with nothing but a toothbrush and a packet of Tim-Tams. Or however it goes. And that's saying something! It's all but impossible to get that girl off the couch.
You know what? I should give you her number. She's quite pretty in her way, and unquestionably single
Sittingwith apparently Ninja-like invisibilityon the other side of the rickety table that served as Knight Productions' office those times when the boss felt the need to get out of the confines of their manic headquarters, Hannah had to cover her mouth to smother the laugh threatening to bubble to the surface.
Any other time of day or night her boss was like the mountains he had so famously conquered before turning his attentions to encouraging others to do the same on TV. He was colossal, tough, unyielding, indomitable, enigmatic. Which was why seeing him wriggle and squirm and practically lose the power of speech under the attentions of an overtly loving fan was always a moment to relish.
It had taken Hannah less than half a day of the year she'd worked for Bradley Knight to realise that overt adoration was her boss's Achilles' heel. Awards, industry accolades, gushing peers, bowing and scraping minionsall turned him to stone.
And then there were the fans. The many, many, many fans who knew a good thing when they saw it. And there was no denying that Bradley Knight was six feet four inches of very good thing.
Just like that, the laughter tickling Hannah's throat turned into a small, uncomfortable lump.
She frowned deeply, cleared her throat, and shifted on her wrought-iron seat, redistributing the balance of her buttocks. And more importantly her train of thought.
The very last thing her boss needed was even the smallest clue that in moments of overworked, overtired weakness he'd even given her the occasional tummy-flutter. And sweaty palms. And hot flushes. And raging fantasies the likes of which she wouldn't dare share with even her best friend, whose good-natured ribbing about Hannah's constant proximity to their gorgeous boss had come all too close to hitting the mark on a number of occasions.
The beep of a car horn split the air, and Hannah flinched out of her heady daydream to find herself breathing a little too heavily and staring moonily at her boss.
Hannah frowned so hard she pulled a muscle in her neck.
She'd worked her backside off to get there, to take any job she could get in order to gain experience before finally finding the one she loved. The one she was really good at. The one she was meant to do. And she wasn't going to do anything to risk that career path now.
Even if that wasn't reason enough, pining after the guy was a complete a waste of time. He was a rock. He'd never let her in. He never let anyone in. And when it came to relationships Hannah wasn't prepared to accept anything less than wonderful.
Don't. Ever. Forget it.
She glanced at her watch. It was nearly four. Phew. The long weekend looming ahead of herfour days away from her all-consuming job and her all-consuming bossclearly could not have come at a better time.
Still on the clock, she turned her concentration back to the woman who might as well have had her boss at knife-point he was sitting so eerily still.
She scraped her chair back and intervened, before Bradley managed to perform the first ever case of human osmosis and disappeared through the holes in his wrought-iron chair.
The woman only noticed her existence when Hannah slung an arm around her shoulders and none too gently eased her to the kerb.
'Do you know him?' the woman asked, breathless.
Glancing back at Bradley, Hannah felt her inner imp take over. Leaning in, she murmured, 'I've seen the inside of his fridge. It's frighteningly clean.'
The woman's still glittering eyes widened, and she finally focussed fully on Hannah. She was very thorough in her perusal of the kinks that always managed to appear in Hannah's straightened hair by that time of the afternoon. The countless creases in her designer dress. The chunky man's diving watch hanging loosely around her thin wrist. The cowboy boots poking out from beneath it all.
Then the woman smiled.
With a none too comfortable flash of realisation it hit Hannah that she was being compared unfavourably to the daughter who never got off the couch. Her inner imp limped back into hiding.
Eight hours earlier she'd looked the epitome of personal assistant to Australia's most successful television producereven despite the little odes to her tomboy roots. You could take the girl out of small-town Tasmania, but
But she didn't say any of that. With a shrug she admitted, 'I'm Mr Knight's personal assistant.'
'Oh.' The woman nodded, as if that made so much more sense than a man like him choosing to spend time with herbecause when he said jump, she knew how high without even having to ask.
After a little more chat, Hannah turned the woman in the opposite direction, gave her a little push and waved goodbye as, like a zombie, she trudged away down the street.
She brushed off her hands. Another job well done. Then she turned, hands on hips, to find Bradley running long fingers beneath his eyes, sliding his sunglasses almost high enough to offer a teasing glimpse of the arresting silvery-grey eyes beneath. But not quite.
Then slowly, achingly slowly, his rigid body began to unclench. Muscle by hard-earned muscle, limb by long, strong limb, down his considerable length until his legs slid under the table and his large shoes poked lazily out at the other side.
The apparent languor was all an act. The effort of a private man to restrain whatever it was that drew people to him like moths to a flame. Unfortunately for him it only made the restrained power seething inside him more obvious. More compelling. A familiar sweep of sensation skipped blithely across her skin againa soft, melty, pulsing feeling.
Even the fact that she knew she was about to bear the brunt of the dark mood he'd be in after the one-way love-in didn't make her immune.
At least it hadn't yet.
Time was what she needed. Time and space, so that the boundaries of her life weren't defined by the monstrous number of hours she spent deep inside Bradley's overwhelming creative vision. Thanks heavens for the long weekend!
Actually, time, space and meeting a guy would do it for sure. A guy who might actually stand a chance in hell of feeling that way about her.
He was out there. Somewhere. She was sure of it. He had to be. Because she absolutely wasn't going to settle for anything less than everything. She'd seen first-hand what 'settling' looked like in the first of the three marriages her mother had leapt into after her father passed away. It wasn't pretty. In fact it was downright sordid. That wasn't going to be her life.
She blinked as her boss's beautifully chiselled face came into such sharp focus her breath caught in her throat. He was something. But any woman who hoped in Bradley Knight's direction was asking for heartache. Many had tried. Many more yet would. But nobody on earth would topple that mountain.
She grabbed the wayward swathe of hair flickering across her face and tucked it behind her ear, plastered a smile across her face, and bounded back to the table. Bradley didn't look up. Didn't even flicker a lash. He probably hadn't even realised she'd left.
'Wasn't she a lovely lady?' Hannah sing-songed. 'We're sending her daughter a signed copy of last season's Voyagers.'
'Why me?' Bradley asked, still looking into the distance.
She knew he wasn't talking about posting a DVD. 'You were just born lucky,' she said wryly.
'You think I'm lucky?' he asked.
'Ooh, yeah. Fairies sprinkled fortune dust on your cradle as you slept. Why else do you think you've been so ridiculously successful at everything you've ever set your heart on?'
His head swung her way. Even with the dark sunglasses between them, the force of his undivided attention was like a thunderclap. Her heart-rate quadrupled in response.
His voice was a touch deeper when he said, 'So, in your eyes, my life has nothing to do with hard work, persistence, and knowing just enough about man's primal need to prove himself as a man?'
Hannah tapped a finger on her chin and took a few seconds to damp down her own latent needs as she looked up at the cloudy blue sky. Then she said, 'Nah.'
The appreciative rumble of his laughter danced across her nerves, creating a whole new wave of warmth cascading through her. Enjoying him from the other side of the mile-high walls he wore like a second skin was imprudent enough. Enduring the bombardment of his personal attention was a whole other battle.
'If you really want to know why you are so lucky, give that lady's daughter a call. Take her to dinner. Ask her yourself.' She waved the piece of paper with the woman's address and phone number on it. 'Talk about a PR windfall. "Bradley Knight dates fan. Falls in love. Moves to suburbs. Coaches little league team. Learns to cook lamb roast."'
She could sense his eyes narrowing behind his sunglasses. He then took his sweet time sitting upright. He managed to make the move appear leisurelyinconsequential, evenbut the constrained power pulsing through every limb, every digit,
every hair was patently clear to anyone with half an instinct. She could feel the blood pumping through her veins.
'At this moment,' he said, his voice a deep, dark warning, 'I am so very, very glad you are my assistant and not in charge of PR.'
Hannah slid the paper into her overstuffed leather diary and said, 'Yeah, me too. I'm not sure there's enough money in the world that could tempt me to take on a job whereby I'd have to spend my days trying to convince the world how wonderful you are. I mean, I work hard nowbut come on.'
Frown lines appeared above his glasses as he leaned across the table till his forearms covered half the thing. He was so big he blocked out the suna massive shadow of a man, with a golden halo outlining his bulk.
Hannah's fingertips were within touching distance of his. She could feel every single hair on her arms stand to attention one by delicious one. Her feet were tucked so far under her chairso as to not accidentally scrape against hisshe was getting a cramp.
'Aren't we in a strange mood today?' he asked.
His voice was quiet, dropping so very low, and so very much only for her ears she felt it hum in the backs of her knees.
He tilted his chin in her direction. 'What gives?'
And then he slid his sunglasses from his eyes. Smoky grey they wereor quicksilverentirely depending on his mood. In that moment they were so dark the colour was impenetrable.
The man was such a workaholic he never looked to her without a dozen instructions ready to be barked. But in that moment he just looked at her. And waited. Hannah's throat turned to ash.
'What gives,' another voice shot back, 'is that our Hannah's mind is already turned to a weekend of debauchery and certain nookie.'
Hannah flinched so hard at the sudden intrusion she bit her lip.
Yet through the stinging pain, for a split second, she was almost sure she saw a flicker of something that looked a heck of a lot like disappointment flash across Bradley's face. Then his eyes lowered to her swollen lip, which she was lapping at with her tongue.
Then, as though she had been imagining the whole thing, he glanced away, leaned back, and turned to the owner of that last gem of a comment.
'Sonja,' he drawled. 'Nice of you to show up.'
'Pleasure,' Sonja said.
'Perfect timing,' Hannah added, her voice breathier than she would have hoped. 'Bradley was just about to offer me your job.'
Sonja didn't even flinch, but the flicker of amusement in Bradley's cheek made her feel warm all over. She shut down her smile before it took hold. Not only was Sonja Bradley's PR guru, she was also Hannah's flatmate. And the only reason she knew how to use a blowdryer and had access to the kind of non-jeans-and-T-shirt-type clothes that filled her closet.
Sonja perched her curvaceous self upon a chair and crossed her legs, her eyes never once leaving her iPhone as one black-taloned finger skipped ridiculously fast over the screen.
In fact her stillness gave Hannah a sudden chill. She clapped a hand over her friend's phone, and Sonja blinked as though coming round from a trance.
Hannah said, 'If you are even thinking of Tweeting anything about my upcoming weekend off and debauchery and nookie, or anything along those lineseven if I am named "anonymous Knight Productions staffer"I will order a beetroot burger and drop it straight on this dress.'
Sonja's dark gaze narrowed and focussed on the cream wool of the dress Hannah had borrowed from her wardrobe. Slowly she slid her phone into a tiny crocodile skin purse.
'Why do I feel even more like I'm on the other side of the looking glass from you two than usual?'
Hannah and Sonja both turned to Bradley.
He looked ever so slightly pained as he said, 'I'm feeling like it's going to give me indigestion to even bring this up, but I can't not ask. Debauchery? Nookie?'
At the word 'debauchery' his eyes slid to Hannahdark, smoke-grey, inscrutablebefore sliding back to Sonja. It was only a fraction of a second. But a fraction was plenty long enough to take her breath clean away.
Boy, did she need a holiday. And now!
Sonja motioned for an espresso as she said, 'For an ostensibly smart man, if it doesn't involve you or your mountains, you have the memory of a sieve. This is the weekend our Hannah is heading back home to the delightful southern island of Tasmania, to play bridesmaid at her sister Elyse's weddingwhich she organised.'