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'The Valentino king of rose-giving is on the loose again,' Heather Gale remarked, swinging around from her computer chair to grin at Ivy. 'He's just ordered the sticky date and ginger fudge with the three dozen red roses to go to his current woman. That's his goodbye signature. Take it from me. She's just been crossed out of his little black book.'
Ivy Thornton rolled her eyes over her sales manager's salacious interest in Jordan Powell's playboy activities. Ivy had met him once, very briefly at her mother's last gallery exhibition of her paintings. That had been two years ago, soon after her father had died and she'd been coming to grips with running the rose farm without his guidance.
Much to her mother's disgust, she'd worn jeans to the showing, completely disinterested in competing with the socialites who attended such events. For some perverse reason Jordan Powell had asked to be introduced to her, which had displeased her mother, having to own up to a daughter who had made no effort to look stunningly presentable.
There'd been curious interest in his eyes, probably because she didn't fit in with the fashionable crowd. The encounter was very minimal. The gorgeous model hugging his arm quickly drew him away, jealous of his attention being directed even momentarily to any other woman.
Keeping him to herself would have been a top-priority aim.
The man was not only a billionaire but oozed sex appealtwinkling, bedroom blue eyes, perfect male physique in the tall-dark-and-handsome mould, charming voice and manner with a strikingly sensual mouth that had worn a teasing quirk of amusement as he'd spoken to Ivy. No doubt, with his wealth and looks, the world and everyone in it existed for his amusement.
'How long did this love interest last?' she asked, knowing Heather enjoyed keeping tabs on his affairs. Jordan Powell was the rose farm's biggest spender on the private-client list.
Heather turned eagerly back to the computer to check the records. 'Let's see a month ago he ordered jelly beans with the roses so that meant he wanted her to lighten up and just have fun. She probably didn't get the message, hence the parting of the ways. A month before that it was the rum and raisin fudge, which indicates the heavy-sex stage.'
'You can't really know that, Heather,' Ivy dryly protested.
'Stands to reason. He always starts off with the double chocolate fudge when he first sends roses to a new woman. Clearly into seduction at that point.'
'I don't think he needs to seduce anyone,' Ivy muttered, thinking most women would willingly fall at his feet, given one ounce of encouragement.
Heather was not to be moved from her deductions. 'Probably not, but I think some play hard to get for a little while,' she explained. 'Which is when he sends the roses with the macadamia fudge, meaning she's driving him nuts so please come to the party. This last one didn't get the macadamia gift.'
'Therefore an easy conquest,' Ivy concluded.
'Straight into it I'd say,' Heather agreed. 'And that was almost three months ago. He didn't stick with her very long.'
'Has he ever stuck with any woman very long?'
'According to my records, six months has been the top limit so far, and that was only once. The usual is two to four months.'
She twirled the chair back to face Ivy, who was seated at her office desk, trying to get her mind into work mode but hopelessly distracted by the conversation which touched on sore points from her mother's most recent telephone call. Another gallery exhibition. Another shot of advice to sell the rose farm and get a life in Sydney amongst interesting people. Insistence on a shopping trip so she could feel proud of her daughter's appearance.
The problem was she and her mother occupied different worlds, had done so for as long as Ivy could remember. Her parents had never divorced but had lived separate lives, with Ivy being brought up by her father on the farm, while her mother indulged her need for cultural activities in the city. Horticulture was of no interest to her and she was constantly urging Ivy to leave it behind and experience the full art of living, which seemed to be endless parties with endless empty chatter.
Ivy loved the farm. It was what she knew, what she was comfortable with. And she had loved her father, loved him sharing the farm with her, teaching her everything about it. It was a good life, giving a sense of satisfaction and achievement. The only thing missing from it was a man she could love, and more importantly, one who loved her back. She had thought, believed. but no, Ben hadn't supported her when she'd needed support.
'Hey, maybe you'll get to meet our rose Valentino again at your mother's exhibition! And he'll be free this time!' Heather said with a waggish play of her eyebrows.
'I very much doubt a man like him would turn up on his own,' Ivy shot back at her, instantly pouring cold water over ridiculous speculation.
It didn't dampen Heather's cheerful outlook on possibilities. 'You never know. I bet you could turn his head if you hung out your hair and dolled yourself up. How often do your see that glorious shade of red-gold hair? If you didn't wear it in a plait, the sheer mass of it would catch his eye.'
'So what if it did?' Ivy loaded her voice with scepticism. 'Do you think for one moment Jordan Powell would be interested in a country farm girl? Or for that matter, I'd be interested in being the next woman on his Valentino list?'
Undeterred, Heather cocked her head on one side consideringly, her hazel eyes sparkling with mischief in the making. Her brown hair was cut in an asymmetrical bob and she tucked the longer side of it behind her ear as she invariably did before getting down to business. She was brilliant at her job, a warm friendly person by nature, and although she was two years older than Ivyalmost at the thirty mark, which was when she planned to have a babythey'd become close friends since Heather had married Barry Gale, who was in charge of the greenhouses.
She had wanted to work at the rose farm, too, and with her computer skills was a great asset to the business. Ivy thanked her lucky stars that Heather seemed to have dropped out of the heavens when someone to help manage the office work was most needed. It had been a very stressful time after her father had been diagnosed with inoperable cancer. Even knowing his illness was terminal she had not been prepared for his death. The grief, the sudden huge hole in her life without Heather, she might not have been able to keep everything flowing to maintain the company's reliable reputation.
'Seems to me Jordan Powell could well be up for a new experience and it could be good for you, too, Ivy,' she drawled now, having fun with being provocative.
Ivy laughed. 'Up is undoubtedly the operative word for him. Even if I did catch his eye, I don't think I'd like the downer that inevitably follows the up. I know his track record, remember?'
'Exactly! Forewarned, forearmed. He won't break your heart since you're well aware he'll move on. You haven't had a vacation for three years, nor had a relationship with a man for over two. Here you are, wasting your prime in work, and if you vegetate too long, you'll forget how to kick up your heels. I bet Jordan Powell could give you a marvellous timegreat fun, great sex, an absolutely lovely trip to wallow in for a while. Definitely worth having, if only to give you a different perspective on life.'
'Pie in the sky, Heather. I can't see Jordan Powell making a beeline for me, even if he does turn up alone at the gallery.' She shrugged. 'As for the rest, I have been thinking of taking a trip somewhere now that everything on the farm is running smoothly. I was looking through the travel section of the Sunday newspaper yesterday and '
'That's it!' Heather cried triumphantly, leaping to her feet. 'Have you still got yesterday's newspapers?' 'In the paper bin.'
'I saw just the thing for you. Wait! I'll find it.'
A few minutes later she was slapping the Life magazine from the Sunday Sun-Herald down on Ivy's desk. It was already opened at a fashion page emblazoned with the words The it factor.
'I was talking about a taking a vacation, not clothes,' Ivy reminded her.
Heather tapped her finger on a picture featuring a model wearing a black sequinned jacket with a wide leather belt cinching in her waist, a pink sequinned mini-skirt, and high-heeled black platform shoes with pink and yellow and green bits attached to straps that ended up around her ankles. 'If you wore this to your mother's exhibition, you'd knock everyone's eyes out.'
'Oh, sure! That pink skirt with my carrot hair? You're nuts, Heather.'
'No, I'm not. The retailer will have other colours. You could buy green instead of pink. That would go with your eyes and still match in with the shoes. It would be brilliant on you, Ivy. You're tall enough and slim enough to carry it off.' She pointed again. 'And look at these long jet earrings. They'd be fabulous swinging in front of your hair which you'll have to wear down like the model. Yours will look a lot more striking against the jacket. The black handbag with the studs is a must, as well.'
'Probably costs a fortune,' Ivy muttered, tempted by the image of herself in such a wow outfit, but unable to see herself wearing it anywhere else in the future.
Such clothes simply weren't worn around here. The farm was a hundred kilometres south of Sydney, situated in a valley which had once been a pastoral estate but had become a settlement for hobby farms. Very casual dress was the norm at any social occasion.
'You can afford it,' Heather insisted. 'The farm raked in heaps with the St Valentine's Day sales. Even if it's only a one-off occasion for this gear, why not? Didn't you say your mother wanted you to appear more fashionable at her exhibition this time?'
Ivy grimaced at the reminder. 'So I'd fit in, not stand out.'
Heather grinned. 'Well, I say, sock it to her. And sock it to Jordan Powell if he turns up, too.'
Ivy laughed. On both counts it was terribly tempting.
Sacha Thornton's jaw would probably drop at seeing her daughter look like a trendy siren. It might even silence the barrage of critical advice that Ivy was usually subjected to every time she was with her mother.
As for Jordan Powellwell, there was certainly no guarantee that he'd be there, but it would be fun to see if she could attract the sexiest man in Australia. It would do her female ego good, if nothing else.
'Okay! Get on your computer and find out from the listed retailers where I can buy all this stuff,' she tossed at Heather, feeling a bubbly sense of throwing her cap over a windmill. And why not? Just for once! She could afford it.
'Yes!' Heather punched the air with her fist, grabbed the magazine and danced back to her chair, singing an old Abba tune'Take a chance on me '
Ivy couldn't help smiling. If she was going to be mad enough to wear that outfit, she needed to acquire it as fast as possible so she had enough time to practise walking in those crazy shoes. The exhibition opening was this Friday evening, cocktails at six in the gallery. She only had four and a half days to get ready for it.
Jordan Powell sat at the breakfast table, perusing the property sales reported in the morning newspaper as he waited for Margaret to serve him the perfect crispy bacon with the perfect eggs hollandaise that not even the best restaurants had ever equalled. Not to his taste, anyway. Margaret Partridge was a jewela meticulous housekeeper and a great cook. He enjoyed her blunt honesty, too. It was a rarity in his life and he wasn't about to lose it. All in all, Margaret was far more worth keeping than Corinne Alder.
The delicious scent of freshly cooked bacon had him looking up and smiling at Margaret as she entered the sunroom where he always ate breakfast and lunch when he was home. There was no smile back. The expression on her face disdained any pleasantries between them this morning. Jordan quickly folded his newspaper and set it aside, aware that Margaret's feathers were seriously ruffled.
She dumped the plate of bacon and eggs in front of him, planted her hands on her hips and brusquely warned, 'If you invite that Corinne Alder back to this house, Jordan, I'm out of here. I will not be talked down to by a good-for-nothing chit like that, thinking she's got it over me just because she was born with enough good looks for you to want her in your bed.'
Jordan raised an open palm for peace. 'The deed is done, Margaret. I finished with Corinne this morning. And I apologise profusely for her behaviour towards you. I can only say in my defence she was as sweet as pie to me and '
'Well, she would be, wouldn't she?' Margaret cut in with a sniff of disgust at his obvious gullibility. 'I don't mind you having a string of affairs. At least that's more honest than marrying and cheating. You can parade as many women as you like through this house, but I won't be treated with disrespect.'
'I shall make that very clear to anyone I invite in future,' Jordan solemnly promised. 'I'm sorry my judgement of character was somewhat blurred in this instance.'
Margaret sniffed again. 'You could try practising looking beyond the surface.'
'I shall attempt to plumb the depths next time.'
'Out of bed as well as in it,' she whipped back at him.
He heaved a sigh. 'Now is that nice, Margaret? Am I ever anything but nice to you? Haven't I just shown how much I care about your feelings by breaking it off with Corinne?'
'Good riddance!' she declared with satisfaction. 'And it's on account of the fact that you're always nice to me that I didn't burn your breakfast.' A smile was finally bestowed on him. 'Enjoy it!'
On her way out of the sunroom a triumphant mutter floated back to him. 'She had a big bum anyhow.'
Clearly a flaw to true physical beauty in Margaret's mind. It left Jordan's mouth twitching with amusement.