A Bride for the Maverick Millionaire. Marion Lennox

A Bride for the Maverick Millionaire - Marion Lennox

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Rachel said, but she still sounded subdued.

      ‘And Rachel’s not my granddaughter,’ Maud told him, casting a sharp glance at Rachel. ‘She’s my friend, and she’s a bit fragile. She lost her baby a year ago, and this cruise is part of her recovery.’

      Rachel’s eyes widened with shock. She turned to Maud, her face even whiter than before, and opened her mouth to protest, but Maud shushed her.

      ‘Mr Kinnard was heroic in rescuing me,’ Maud said, quiet but firm. ‘I don’t want him thinking we haven’t accepted his reassurance. He deserves to know why you look terrified.’

      ‘I’m…’ Rachel shook her head, as if trying to haul herself out of the nightmare she was so obviously in. ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to look…’

      ‘If you lost your baby, you can look any way you need to look,’ Finn told her. ‘It’s me who’s sorry, for your loss, and for the shock you had just now. But if you feel you can still go onshore…’ He motioned to Jason, who was standing by the gangplank, six feet two of gangly youth, looking decidedly anxious. ‘Esme and one of the deckhands have taken the main group on up the cliff. Jason’s been left behind to see if we can catch them up.’

      ‘There are paintings closer to the ship than the ones the group’s heading for,’ Rachel said, surprisingly. ‘It’s a bit of a climb, but I know Maud’s fit enough to cope.’

      ‘Your hip…’ Maud said.

      ‘My hip’s fine,’ Rachel said, more definite now. She cast a cautious look at Finn. ‘I had an accident a long time ago,’ she confessed. ‘I’m moving on. The paintings sound great. If we can persuade Jason to let us go…’

      ‘The crew’s here for the passengers’ pleasure,’ Finn said. ‘I don’t see why not. Let’s go ask him.’

      Jason did know the art Rachel was referring to. The main group of passengers was heading to a large, easily accessible cluster, but this smaller section was closer, a little less accessible but seemingly no less spectacular.

      Finn was still wondering how Rachel knew about them.

      ‘I guess we could go there,’ Jason said dubiously, and he radioed Esme to get the all-clear. He then proceeded to enjoy himself, giving his little group a great guided tour and helping Maud as they made their way onshore.

      Jason was a good guide, Finn thought. The crew members on his ships were handpicked for knowledge and people skills. Jason spoke of the ancient peoples of this land with enthusiasm, and Finn thought this enthusiasm was what the cruise needed.

      It had it. Why wasn’t it working?

      Why had Esme been distracted this morning? She’d been working by rote, not noticing Maud was unsteady when she’d let her go.

      And why had they needed to land on rocks? The plan was to land the passengers on the soft sandy beach, which was much safer.

      They’d had to change their plans because they’d missed the tide. Engine trouble. Again.

      Delays were an increasing part of this tour’s problem. There’d been too many instances of delays, where passengers couldn’t walk on promised reefs because the ship missed the tide; where beaches became inaccessible.

      He’d had the ship checked over and over, but the ongoing problems were all small and niggling. A fuel blockage. An electronic malfunction that needed checking in case it signalled something more serious. Little things that he couldn’t put his finger on that, combined, were messing with passenger enjoyment and thus his profit.

      That was why he was here. It was what he should be thinking about this morning—but instead he was walking beside a gorgeous young woman in one of the most beautiful places on the earth and he thought he’d worry about business this afternoon.

      Rachel was walking with a slight limp, but she wouldn’t let him help her. ‘It’s time I started standing on my own two feet,’ she retorted, but she’d smiled as he’d offered to help and her smile was lovely.

      ‘I can’t believe I’m finally seeing this,’ she breathed as they reached the far side of the beach and started the slow climb up the cliff face. Maud was unashamedly holding Jason’s hand, chattering happily as they clambered, and Finn and Rachel were left to themselves.

      I wouldn’t mind if Rachel did need help, Finn thought. Holding this woman’s hand would be no hardship.

      Why was he so attracted?

      Maud did indeed wear lipstick, but Rachel wore no make-up at all. She was in jeans she’d cut off to make frayed shorts, a baggy man’s shirt, sensible walking sandals and a battered Akubra over her curls.

      She looked almost a waif.

      Small and vulnerable. Maybe that was what attracted him, he thought, but it was also sending out warning signals. This was the kind of woman his father preyed on. His mother had fitted the mould. His grandmother had also been little and cute in her time—and dependent and emotional and hysterical.

      He wasn’t going there. Ever.

      ‘How did you know about these paintings?’ he asked, trying hard not to offer to help again as she struggled over a patch of loose shale.

      ‘I’ve known about this region all my life,’ she told him. ‘I’ve read everything there is to read. I’ve dreamed of visiting it for ever.’

      ‘But this is your first visit?’

      ‘Yes. Thanks to Maud, I’ve finally been able to come. But I’ve visited it so often in books I feel I know it already. Did you know fossils are extremely rare through the Kimberley Neoproterozoic? This place is so ancient we know only fragments about it, and the land holds and keeps its treasures. Like this artwork. Bird nest remnants over the top date the art to over seventeen thousand years old, yet here it is, not in some air-conditioned gallery but untouched, where it’s lain for so long…’ She broke off then, and a slight flush tinged her cheeks. ‘Whoops. Sorry. My sister would say, “Here she goes again”. I’m a bit… obsessed.’

      ‘With rocks and art?’

      ‘I’m a geologist. Rocks are what I love.’

      But she’d loved more than rocks, he thought as he watched her struggle up the cliff. She’d lost a baby. Somewhere there must be a man.

      Maud hadn’t said she’d lost a partner.

      She was Maud’s friend. She had a sister.

      He wanted to know more.

      No. Little and pretty—and a passenger. He could not be interested. He was on the Kimberley Temptress for two more weeks. Close confines. He knew exactly what happened when people were stuck together in fantasy land. His father had taught him that, far too well.

      It had been easy to sign up for this cruise as Finn Kinnard—because he was Finn Kinnard. His father was Charles J Sunderson, owner of the Sunderson Shipping Line. His mother was Mary Kinnard, little, pretty and vulnerable, and their attachment had lasted less than a week. Theirs had been a shipboard romance, resulting in an unwanted child.

      He wasn’t going there in a million years.

      ‘I’m sorry I bored you,’ Rachel said and he realised he’d been quiet for too long.

      ‘You’re not boring me. Tell me about the rocks.’

      She raised her brows. ‘Really?’

      ‘Cross my heart, serious,’ he told her. ‘All my life I’ve been waiting to hear about these rocks.’

      And, amazingly, she grinned back.

      ‘Okay,’ she told him. ‘If we’re seriously talking rocks… I believe this place is made from proterozoic sediments, dumped on an Archaean craton. The craton’s surrounded by a paleao protezoic belt, which includes mafic and felsic intrusions and, of course, mignatites

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