Republished June 2018
First published June 2007
A crusading journalist discovers appearances are deceptive when she’s manoeuvred into a river journey by a sexy millionaire playboy in this modern spin on Pride & Prejudice.
She’s a crusader, he’s a maverick…
To everybody else, billionaire Jordan King is a selfless philanthropist and most-eligible bachelor, but newspaper columnist Kate Brogan has inside information that he is a home wrecker—handsome and full of false promises. Just like her philandering father.
He denies his insecurities, she’s only too aware of hers…
Oh, how Jordan King loves a good challenge. Besides, he can’t let Kate’s scathing newspaper article go unanswered, not when destroying his reputation also jeopardizes his camp for underprivileged kids.
He wants her, she wants someone else…
Setting the record straight is only one of the reasons Jordan has for getting the incredibly sexy Ms. Brogan in a canoe for five days on the wild reaches of New Zealand’s Whanganui River.
…They’re perfect for each other.
All Kate has to do is complete the five-day trip and Jordan will pay one hundred grand to her favorite charity. All Jordan has to do is convince her he’s the right guy.
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The fashionable restaurant reeked of it, along with Chanel, the fruitiness of Chianti and mouth-watering stone-grilled meats so calorie-loaded Kate Brogan tried not to inhale too deeply. She was saving herself for the tiramisu.
Heads together, society matrons murmured low, their salads lying forgotten while they gorged themselves on gossip.
Kate glanced at her watch. Lucy was late, as usual. Draining her glass, she caught the eye of the young waiter hovering on the edge of the restaurant’s terraced courtyard, ostensibly enjoying the sunshine between duties but plainly checking out his female patrons.
“Signorina?” Despite the fact that his taste clearly ran to full-breasted blondes, he was all politeness. Kate smiled, her amusement growing as she watched him up her babe rating. “Antipasto for two and the dessert menu, please.” Lucy might have the afternoon to play but she had a deadline to meet.
While she waited, Kate scanned the place for diversion.
Across the courtyard a jacaranda daubed the diners in patches of sunshine and shade while bright-eyed sparrows perched in its branches, quicker than the waiters to clear an empty table.
To her left an overripe politician devoured a much younger woman with his eyes while his fat, moist hands stroked her upturned palms. Recognizing Kate, he froze.
She raised her glass to him, and Diggory scowled. Eighteen months earlier he’d lost his ministerial portfolio after investigations proved his taxpayer-funded business trips had doubled as dalliances with his PA. Investigations sparked by one of Kate’s newspaper columns, “More bang(ing) for your tax buck?”
To her surprise he got up and came over. “You’re back.”
“And nothing’s changed,” she said dryly. “You can’t be faithful to your mistress, let alone your wife.”
“Margo left me,” he retorted. “I can date who I like. Since you’ve been overseas, I presume you missed my good news.” He smiled, revealing smoker’s teeth. “I was re-elected last week.”
Kate sat stunned and his smirk broadened. “Don’t you want to congratulate me?”
“How did you rig that?”
Diggory’s expression hardened but his tone remained pleasant. “A little breast-beating…public involvement with good causes…. People love a reformed sinner. I won by a landslide, what does that tell you?”
Her tone was equally pleasant. “That cockroaches have more lives than cats.”
Diggory stopped smiling. “Now who’s being a poor loser?” He leaned so close, she could smell the garlic on his breath. “It tells you, Missy, that you don’t get the last word.”
“Your wife left you, didn’t she?”
For a moment she saw violence in his eyes, then Diggory shrugged and stepped back. “I recommend the humble pie.”
He left, and under the table, Kate unclenched her fists. Her hands trembled slightly and she frowned, not wanting to give him another victory. He’d still be sitting on the back-benches for the rest of his parliamentary career. But her fingers drummed her frustration on the starched tablecloth.
As she brooded, her gaze fell on a mismatched couple across the courtyard. The woman, whose iron-gray hair was cropped short, addressed her younger male companion in a manner as crisp as the white blouse under her navy power suit.
Jordan King. His size, looks, and silky blond hair which fell extravagantly past his very broad shoulders would have distinguished him in any crowd. But in this conservative stronghold he looked like a peacock among pigeons. Sprawling on a chair that seemed too small to hold him in his well-worn suede jacket and a faded denim shirt, conspicuously in need of an iron.
His powerful fingers toyed with the delicate filigree ironwork of an adjacent chair, the softness of his hair at odds with his profile – all strong lines and clean angles. Despite the fair hair, his skin was tanned the translucent brown of wild honey.
By rights Jordan King should be gay. The tabloids made it very plain he was not. He was also the only person in the history of Kate’s influential column to turn down a personal profile. She could have accepted it if the tourism entrepreneur’s refusal hadn’t been so blunt. When she’d pressed, he’d said, “I wouldn’t be comfortable doing the touchy-feely stuff.”
Then he’d added insult to injury by asking her for a date.
“I wouldn’t be comfortable doing the touchy-feely stuff,” she’d retorted.
He’d laughed. “This is exactly why I don’t give interviews…my comments are always taken out of context.”
Six months later a bouquet of roses had arrived with a note: “If you change your mind” and Jordan’s number. As if.
Still, there was a slight smile on her lips when Jordan turned his head and recognized her. He smiled too, eyes the blue of arctic ice sweeping over her, insolent in their frank appraisal. Kate frowned and crossed her arms, before realizing that only accentuated her cleavage under the open-necked green shirt.
His gaze lifted to meet hers and his message was direct, sexy and very explicit.
Hot color flooded her cheeks. He thought she’d been trying to pick him up, and his answer was definitely, yes. She jack-knifed straight and shot back a look of slam-shut frostiness.
He shrugged, utterly arrogant, and turned back to his companion. The woman shook her head, said something.
Jordan responded with a wolfish grin, glancing back at Kate and mouthing, “Coward.” Then he adjusted his chair, presenting her with a view of his back, and casually resumed his conversation.
Her mouth fell open. Picking up a linen napkin she crumpled it tight. No one should be so, so…raw. There was no other word for it. He was raw – blatant in his looks, in his invitation and in his dismissal.
“Get a haircut,” she growled, and felt much better.
Tray in hand, her waiter approached, swerving sharply to avoid a collision with the slim brunette in a scarlet dress, also intent on reaching the table.
Lucy sank into the chair opposite Kate. “Sorry I’m late.” She peeled tendrils of long dark hair back from her overheated face.
“She ordered for me, didn’t she?” At the waiter’s nod, she turned to Kate. “I was stuck in another post-production meeting.” A researcher for television news, Lucy often fed Kate leads the state broadcaster turned down as too hot.
“Don’t worry, I filled in the time people-watching.” The waiter started unloading the tray and Kate reached for a sundried tomato. “Jordan King caught me staring and thought I was trying to pick him up.”
“He’s here? You’re kidding me.” Lucy swung round in her chair, then turned back incredulous. “If I’d done what he’s done, I’d go bush for a few weeks – or wherever he hides out when he’s not empire-building.” Obviously intrigued, the waiter busied himself with removing the extra cutlery.
“What did I miss?” Kate offered Lucy the foccacia, then took a slice herself. The man had built Triton Holdings from a small river rafting company started with two university friends into a huge tourism conglomerate. Her boyfriend, Peter, was contracted to develop accountancy software for Triton but rarely mentioned King.
Lucy’s silver bracelets jingled as she leaned forward, and Kate looked pointedly at the waiter who had dropped any pretence of table clearing. He left reluctantly.
“He was caught in bed with a married woman…by her husband,” Lucy said in a hushed voice. “Six months later, the couple is in the middle of a divorce and hubby has gone to the media, giving all the salacious details. He’s bent on revenge, I’m guessing because he lost out on full custody.”
The bread stuck in Kate’s throat, she washed it down with a sip of water, aware of a strange disappointment. She didn’t like King after all. “Those poor kids,” she said.
They ate in thoughtful silence.
“Wait a minute.” Kate paused with an olive halfway to her mouth. “Isn’t Jordan involved in setting up a holiday camp for children from broken homes?”
“Yes, that’s what burns me up about it…the hypocrisy.” Lucy brightened as she looked at Kate. “What a perfect topic for your column.”
Kate ate the olive. “No,” she said firmly. “I’m writing light and frivolous this week, no more crusades.” And she avoided the subject of infidelity because she didn’t trust herself to be dispassionate about it.
“Oh my God.” Lucy clapped a hand over her mouth. “I just remembered we’re here to celebrate your new independence. How was Australia? Did your baby sister settle in okay? More importantly, how do you feel?”
“Courtney loves the Townsville campus, and we found her some great roommates.” Kate passed over a dessert menu and to her relief her friend dropped her gaze. “And when I flew home on Sunday a postcard was waiting from Danny.” She grinned. “I suspect my new sister-in-law is behind that thoughtfulness. They’re having a wonderful honeymoon and-”
“I said how do you feel?” Lucy shut the menu.
Kate opened hers. “Great, absolutely fantastic.”
Across the table, Lucy reached for her hand. “Sweetie, you’ve played mom to your brother and sister for years. Of course you’re missing them.”
To Kate’s horror, she felt the prickle of tears. “I need the bathroom. Order me the tirimasu, will you?”
In the ladies room, she locked the cubicle door, leaned against it and cried – short, sharp sobs she tried to smother with toilet tissue. She was twenty-eight years old, for the first time in her life she had no dependents – and she hated it.
Hated not making dinner for three, hated not buying washing powder in bulk, hated finding the apartment still tidy when she came home from work. Last night when she’d got stuck on the cryptic crossword she’d called out the clue…before remembering they’d gone.
She’d expected to be dancing for joy, instead she felt like an amputee.
Wiping her eyes dry with the damp tissue, Kate checked her watch. Ten minutes. She was taking too long. Blowing her nose, she washed her face at the basin and checked her appearance critically in the gilt mirror.
Low heels, nondescript black pants, tailored shirt and a man’s watch. Clean and tidy. Early responsibility had given her a pragmatic approach to clothes, though she always wore labels. They lasted longer.
She touched up her nude lipstick and dragged a comb through her short wavy hair, frowning at how red it looked under the lights. She was a brunette, damn it. A button had popped open on her shirt; Kate did up two for good measure.
Satisfied, she stepped into the corridor.
A door had been left open to the tiny utility courtyard where crates of empty wine bottles lay stacked alongside big bins. Leaves flew in on a gust of wind, and Kate went to close it. A shadow stretched across the doorway and she stopped.
Jordan King came into view, a cellphone pressed to his ear. “I’m sure if I lay low, stick with ‘no comment,’ it’ll blow over…. Yes, Christian, I know how to lay low. Where am I?” He grinned. “Meg and I are having a quiet bite at Amici’s.” Jordan laughed and held the phone away for a moment. “Okay, okay, I’ll make more of an effort. But no denials. I’m not compounding my error of screwing a married woman by lying about it.”
Kate had heard enough. Returning to the table she found Lucy stealing a spoonful of her dessert. Her friend’s eyes widened when she saw Kate’s expression. “It was only a mouthful,” she said feebly.
“It’s yours. I’ve lost my appetite.”
“Listen, I was thinking…this is your opportunity to break out and have some fun.” Lucy frowned at Kate’s buttoned-up shirt.
“I’ve got the afternoon off, you work flexible hours. Let’s go buy you some sexy clothes.”
Marking King’s return to his table, Kate shook her head. “I’ve got a column to write.” Women everywhere stopped talking to watch him. All Kate saw was a lowlife.
She dragged her attention back to Lucy. “Pete’s taking me out.”
Lucy wrinkled her nose. “That wet blanket. Trade him in for a real man before he bores you to death.”
Involuntarily Kate’s gaze returned to Jordan. Diggory walked past with his date and for a moment the prince and the frog were both in view. She narrowed her eyes and pulled a notebook and pen out of her bag.
In medieval times you could pay to have your sins forgiven, she wrote, holding up a finger to Lucy who rolled her eyes and went back to eating Kate’s tirimasu. The practice was called indulgences – possibly because you got to keep indulging your bad habits.
These days the morally bankrupt buy a new image by making a hefty donation of time or money to charity. She stopped and chewed on her pen, then scrawled the headline: Do you want absolution with that?
“Mr. Yum! Mr Irresistible is a novel filled with twists and turns that will leave readers laughing. This reader can’t wait to see what Karina Bliss has up her sleeves next! Mr. Imperfect, her debut novel, was great, but this novel was the bomb.” ~ Angela Dobson at loveromancesandmore
“Bliss’s dialogue is sharp.” ~ Romantic Times