A Bride for the Maverick Millionaire. Marion Lennox
section of the boat.
‘He’s gorgeous,’ Maud decreed the moment she’d set eyes on him. ‘And a boat-builder… Ooh, I love a man who can handle a hammer. Rachel, love, if you weren’t in mourning, I’d say go for it.’
Rachel had been forced to smile. Others skated round Rachel’s grief, but Maud was upfront.
‘A shipboard fling could do you good,’ she’d decreed.
Rachel wasn’t the least interested in any sort of ‘fling’, but she conceded Finn Kinnard was definitely gorgeous. And also… nice. He was solitary but not aloof, making light-hearted banter with the older passengers on the ship, offering help when needed.
She needed his help. Right now he was heading under the ship.
Where Maud was.
This was the tip of Northern Australia. This place was crawling with crocs.
She couldn’t see. She couldn’t see. Jason was holding her and wouldn’t let go.
‘He has her,’ Jason said, but he didn’t sound sure. ‘I think… Yes!’
For suddenly they could see. Finn had her under her arms, hauling her out from under the hull, and up.
Maud broke the surface before him. She choked and coughed, then looked wildly round for her rescuer, who’d surfaced behind her.
And, typically Maud, she took a deep and dignified breath and made an extraordinary recovery.
‘Thank you, young man,’ she managed, with only one or two coughs in between. ‘Oh, dear, I believe I’ve lost my hat. No, don’t even think of diving for it. I believe my travel insurance will pay.’
There was a burst of relieved laughter. The Captain himself was reaching down, lifting her high as Finn propelled her up from below.
The deckhands were reaching for Finn. Laughter aside, the threat of crocodiles was real.
Even on deck, Maud held on to her dignity. She stood in her soaked skirt, her button-up blouse and her sensible walking shoes, and she patted her silvery bun to make sure all was present and correct.
And Rachel? Jason couldn’t hold her. She was back over the ramp, reaching to hug this woman who’d become such a friend.
‘Don’t hug me, girl,’ Maud retorted. ‘You’ll make yourself wet.’
As if that mattered. Rachel hugged her anyway.
‘Dame Maud, I’m so sorry,’ the Captain was saying. ‘It should never have happened. The crew should have systems in place…’
‘Don’t you dare think about disciplining the crew,’ Maud said. ‘I should have been more careful but, even so, I haven’t had so much excitement for years. Being saved by a young man like Mr Kinnard… Ooh, it’s enough to make an old lady’s heart flutter.’ She cast Finn a smile that was pure mischief and then she smiled at Rachel in a way that had Rachel thinking Uh oh. Light-hearted banter about matchmaking was maybe about to get serious. ‘Now, if you give me a moment to put a dry skirt on, let’s get on shore and go find these paintings. I haven’t come all this way for nothing.’
‘You’ll want a few moments to recover,’ Rachel said and, amazingly, Maud’s eyes twinkled.
‘Do you need to recover, young man?’ she demanded of Finn.
‘Um… no,’ Finn said, sounding disconcerted.
‘I may not look quite as good as you, dripping wet,’ Maud decreed, eyeing his shorts and clinging T-shirt—and the body beneath—with blatant approval. ‘But I’m a fast dresser. A dry skirt and blouse and I’m done. Stop fussing, Rachel, love, and let’s get on with our adventure.’
Maud had decreed she wasn’t shaken, yet it was Rachel who was shaking. Because of Rachel, Finn decreed that Rachel was right, they did need a few minutes’ time out. He’d changed his mind, he said. He did want to change his clothes and it took ages to button his shirt. Fifteen minutes, in fact. Maud looked pointedly at his very unbuttony T-shirt but she smiled and acquiesced, and Rachel threw him a look of gratitude as she ushered Maud below.
I want to be like Maud when I’m her age, Finn thought, as he waited for them back on the deck. Indomitable. Taking whatever life threw at you and finding humour everywhere.
He knew a lot about Dame Maud Thurston. She was the matriarch of Thurston Holdings, and Thurstons was one of the biggest mining companies in Australia. Her biography was in every Australian Who’s Who, so finding out about her had been easy.
Not so her travelling companion.
Until two days before sailing, Rachel’s berth had been booked by Maud’s grandson, Hugo Thurston. Then there’d been a swap, which didn’t fit with Finn’s plans.
Finn had researched the passenger list with care before he’d started on this venture. He’d wanted no one here who’d recognise him.
Finn’s ships took small groups of passengers to some of the most remote places in the world. The Kimberley Temptress should be one of his most successful, travelling from Darwin to Broome while it gave its passengers a guided tour of the magnificent Northern Australian coastline. It wasn’t. There’d been complaints—nothing disastrous, but in an industry that depended on word of mouth to advertise, bookings were falling off.
Finn had always kept a low profile. He’d travelled this route when he’d first taken over the line, but that was years before. None of the crew knew him in person. Fineas J Sunderson had thus become Finn Kinnard, undercover boss. He was here as a passenger, to watch and to listen.
Not to watch the passengers.
But he hadn’t been able to stop noticing Rachel, and the underwater drama had only intensified his noticing. Her terror had been palpable, her affection for the old lady obvious to all.
Her attitude had her as Dame Maud’s granddaughter, and that was how Maud treated her, yet Who’s Who said Maud only had the one grandchild—a grandson—and they looked nothing alike. Maud was a big-boned, booming matriarch, whereas Rachel was blonde and tiny. Maud’s clothes were plain but quality, yet Rachel dressed in shorts and faded shirts, and she tied her wayward curls back with a simple ribbon.
Little, attractive and unsophisticated. A passenger.
Steer clear, he told himself. Leave the lady alone. Even if she didn’t resemble every woman his father had ever messed with, any hint of a romantic connection would interfere with his job. Even if he wanted a romantic connection.
Which he didn’t.
Finally they reappeared. Maud seemed as indomitable as ever, but Rachel was white-faced and shadowed.
Shadowed seemed the only way to describe her. Even haunted.
‘Hey,’ he said, smiling at them both. ‘That was fast.’
‘Not as fast as you, Mr Kinnard,’ Maud said approvingly. She grinned as she surveyed yet another T-shirt. ‘Well done on the buttoning. But we have extra problems. You don’t have to worry about lipstick.’
‘You’re right,’ he said, grinning. ‘For this cruise only, I’ve given lipstick a miss.’
Maud chuckled but Rachel barely managed a smile. She’d been badly frightened, he thought, and then, with a moment’s acuity, he thought, this was a woman who’d seen bad things happen. This was a woman who knew life could change in an instant, from wonderful to tragedy.
‘I’m sorry I kicked you,’ she managed. ‘I was… terrified.’
‘Maybe I deserved the kicking,’ he told her. ‘I didn’t grab fast enough. But we didn’t come close to disaster. There were many people able to rescue Maud. I was simply the nearest. And crocodiles tend to assess their prey before attacking.