Luke Carter can never forget that he’d been abandoned as a child. And that’s why the millionaire and former Olympian is driven to build his camp for underprivileged kids in Beacon Bay. If only the rural New Zealand community trusted his motives.
And if only the beautiful widow mayor, Liz Light, would stop grieving long enough to prove where her loyalties lie–with Luke or her late husband–and show him once and for all which man is truly unforgettable.
She was in bed with a man who wasn’t her husband.
In the dark, the realization was slow coming. Because this loving felt right Liz didn’t question it, until she become aware – slowly – that the man whose mouth she devoured, whose body she explored, whose scent she inhaled, the man inside her, wasn’t Harry but younger, stronger, bigger… and she didn’t want him to stop.
She woke with a jolt and stumbled out of bed to force herself fully awake. Hands shaking, she fumbled with the catch on the French doors leading from the bedroom to the deck and shoved them open, needing air.
Her two-story house clung to Tuttle’s Hill like a barnacle to a rock – which Tuttle’s Hill was – a blustery outcrop hunched at one end of Beacon Bay, offering its cliff top inhabitants extensive vistas of the estuary from one side; the beach from the other. Liz and Harry had opted for estuary views, preferring the calm sweep of tidal river to the unpredictable and often wild Pacific.
But tonight the view couldn’t soothe her. A hot sea breeze dragged at the sweat-drenched cotton of her nightdress as Liz raised her face to the crescent moon. “I’m sorry, Harry,” she whispered brokenly, “I’m sorry.”
Her husband had been dead for over two years and moving on was still so hard.
Oh, my love.
She wanted to be an old woman living peacefully with her memories, not thirty-five years old and betrayed by her body into needing a man.
Her nightdress lifted free of her body as the light cotton dried and Liz concentrated on her breathing, imagining the salty air dissolving the hard lump of pain inside her.
When she was calm, she walked back through the large, empty house to her study and flicked on the light. Her mayoral chains glittered from the desk where she’d dumped them after the evening function, too tired to put them away.
She did that now; carefully straightening the twenty golden links so they lay flat in the velvet lined box. Each previous mayor had donated a link and their names were engraved on the back.
Automatically her fingers traced the outline of link nineteen, the district’s most beloved mayor, tragically killed in a car accident in the middle of his third term. Harry Light.
Her own mayoral link was shiny and bright. The color of fool’s gold, she thought ruefully, without the patina of age or experience. She shelved the box at the top of the wardrobe and reached for a report. Wastewater treatment upgrade options.
Curling up in the big leather chair, Liz opened page one and looked at the chart. Incidence of odor complaints within a one-kilometer radius of pump station over the past twelve months including weather variables.
For a moment she was tempted to grab a pencil and doodle little creatures holding their noses around the margins. But her council staff and constituents wanted her dignified. Like Harry.
Frowning in concentration, Liz lost herself in the mysteries of pond de-sludging, and trade waste bylaws until she fell asleep over her desk dreaming about…
* * *
“Shit.” Fastening the last buttons of his business shirt, Luke Carter stared into the empty glove compartment of his 4WD. The tie was in his Audi S8.
He slammed the compartment shut, pulled on socks and shoes and grabbed his briefcase. Nothing in it, but the town-planning department of Beacon Bay District Council appreciated the trappings.
The first time he’d visited the council offices he’d made the mistake of arriving in cargo shorts and T-shirt thinking he’d left the formalities of the business world behind him in Auckland.
His cool reception had quickly made Luke realize they expected the millionaire businessman, the former athlete; hell they wanted his Olympic swimming medals dangling around his damn neck.
Over the following months he’d all but done it too. Anything to get those po-faced, bureaucratic bastards off his back and signing off Camp Chance. Actually if they signed off the camp, he’d give them the bloody medals.
Outside the car, the heat hit him like a blow; still he shrugged on his suit jacket, muttering a curse as he caught sight of the elderly woman marching toward the council’s entrance.
They met at the top step and exchanged smiles with all the ease of two gunfighters just before a trigger gets pulled.
“Ms Jackson.” Though she’d never let a man tell her what to do, Luke knew Delores hated the feminist honorific.
The faded blue eyes narrowed as she corrected him. “Miss.”
“Of course, my apologies.” He opened the door for her. “Here to snoop?”
Her majestic bosom swelled. “If you’re bringing miscreants and delinquents into our community, we need to be assured that all the checks and balances are upheld.”
“Here to snoop,” he repeated. Damn it, the last thing he needed was the president of the Residents & Ratepayers Association finding a weakness.
They entered the blessed air-conditioned coolness of the council buildings on a waft of Delores’ eau de lilac, a scent Luke had come to associate with bloody battle.
In the struggle to set up a holiday camp for underprivileged children on the foreshore of conservative Beacon Bay, this woman and her cohorts had cost the Triton Trust tens of thousands of dollars and months of delays.
Triton had won in appeals but unfortunately many of the elderly population still equated the impending opening of Camp Chance with an invasion of the body-snatchers.
If the place was ever bloody finished. “As always, Delores, a pleasure.” Without waiting for a reply, Luke headed for the counter.
The council receptionist glanced at the clock. “The meeting’s already started.”
“My planner’s there?”
“Ms Marshall arrived early.”
Luke relaxed slightly. “Find me a tie, Mary, please. I’m desperate.”
She folded massive forearms. “What do you think I am, a magician?”
“Don’t worry about the bunny.”
Lips twitching, she waddled out back and returned with a luridly striped yellow and black tie. Luke’s sartorial soul recoiled but he gave her a big smile as he put it on.
“You’re a life-saver.”
A faint blush stained her cheeks. “Get in there,” she growled. “You know they don’t want to see your planning advisor. They want you.”
They always wanted him. The elevator doors were closing as Luke reached them. He jammed his briefcase in the gap and with a squeak of protest they reopened.
The mayor said dryly, “I wondered why we were having trouble with these doors.”
Luke stepped in the elevator. “Good morning, your Worship.”
“Ah! So, you’re here as a supplicant.” The doors closed. In the confined space he detected a faint vanilla in her perfume, like everything else about the mayor, subtle and understated. As always, she looked cool and composed. Her long, ash-blonde hair was pinned up, she wore a plain white shirt under a gray-blue silk suit, simply styled, but Luke knew good tailoring.
Both jacket and trousers followed her slim curves without accentuating them. Blue eyes would have completed the ice maiden look; but they were dark brown, the irises almost indistinguishable from the pupils. It made them very difficult to read.
He jabbed the button for the third floor. “I didn’t see you at the site visit.”
Though the lift was already moving, the mayor pushed the button again. “I’m sorry,” she said vaguely, “something came up. But it’s not the converted you were preaching to, was it? How did it go?”
Smart lady. The tour was intended to get former adversaries on side by being transparent and inclusive in the building process. “We didn’t quite end up linking hands and singing, ‘We are the world,’ said Luke dryly, “but I’m starting to shake the image of big bad developer.”
She smiled and he added, “Any chance you’re on the Resource Consents Hearing Panel?” Mayor Light was one of the few people he respected on this council.
She was also oblivious to him as a male. Old or young, married or single, women had been flirting with Luke since his teens, either harmlessly or with intent. The mayor was friendly, approachable and, for a beautiful woman in her early thirties, completely indifferent to the opposite sex. Still getting over the loss of her husband, Mary had confided when Luke mentioned it.
“Not my area,” Liz said. “Councilors Bray and Maxwell are supporting the planning officer today.” She ignored his snort, but he thought he detected a flicker of sympathy behind her fashionable black-rimmed glasses. “Why are you looking for consents when Camp Chance is near completion?”
Scowling, Luke punched the lift button to try and hurry it up. The council elevator moved as slowly as its officers did. “Your ecological advisor saw one skink during a site visit last month and slammed a moratorium on construction until we consulted an expert in herpetofauna.”
She started to smile then realized he wasn’t joking and adjusted her glasses. “Go on.”
“The expert concluded the skink was probably passing through…they live in bush, not clearings you see, something I tried to tell your so-called eco expert at the time.” He paused, struggling to rein in his sarcasm. “So we’re presenting his very expensive report and seeking permission to resume building.”
“I see.” Her serenity goaded him.
“Do you? If we’re unsuccessful the camp’s opening will be delayed while we hunt non-existent skinks and we’ll be disappointing a lot of underprivileged kids.”
Her expression didn’t change. “I’m sure that will be taken into account in the decision.” He couldn’t imagine Elizabeth Light ever losing her composure. Even in bed.
Where the hell had that thought come from?
Luke loosened his too tight tie. He was tired or he wouldn’t be snapping at her. Up at six and at the building site, it was a day he yearned for his old corporate life.
“Sorry,” he rubbed the back of his neck. “I didn’t sleep much last night.” He noticed she had faint smudges of exhaustion under her eyes, not quite covered by her expertly applied make-up. “Heat been keeping you awake too?”
The mayor stared at him then a blush swept up her face until even the tips of her ears were red. She mumbled a reply then stared fixedly at the lights flicking between floors.
What the hell had he said?
She had a patrician nose, very straight and he liked how her mouth tilted up at the corners…inherently optimistic. He hated defeated mouths but the best his own could manage these days was a straight line.
The lift doors opened and, with a nod, she stepped out quickly. Three steps along the corridor she hesitated. “If things get sticky, remind them of Blue Heron Rise.'”
“That’s it, just Blue Heron Rise?”
“No. Nice tie.”
Luke looked down at the bumblebee stripes, then glanced up sharply but the mayor was already walking briskly away. For the first time he noticed how high her heels were under the trouser hem.
Given her council were predominantly men, and bombastic ones at that, looking them in the eye had to be an advantage. The hint of vulnerability made her more human.
But what really intrigued him was that, for a moment in the lift, she’d been a woman looking at a man.
“I figured it was somehow somewhat appropriate considering the amount of Olympics I’ve been watching the past two weeks that I read a book where the hero is a former Olympian gold medal winner …and what a champion (heh heh) he makes. I just fell in love with Luke. 4.75 out of 5 (with a chance of a 5 once I read the first two)” ~ Kirstie J from Ramblings on Romance