A Bride for the Maverick Millionaire. Marion Lennox
extinct, sketches that showed this vast rocky cliff had once looked out over grassy plains rather than a sea that must be junior in the scheme of time.
Finn had seen paintings like these the last time he’d done this cruise. Even so, his awe only deepened, and Rachel seemed almost unable to breathe.
She moved from painting to painting. She looked and looked, making no attempt to touch. Finn’s tour guides were trained to protect these wonders and Finn knew if Rachel tried to touch, Jason would stop her, but there was no need to intercede.
Maud was treating the paintings with the same respect, but Finn could see that half the old lady’s pleasure was seeing Rachel’s reaction.
Maybe that went for all of them. Rachel’s wonder was a wonder all by itself.
She examined everything. She saw the obvious paintings and then went looking for more. She slid underneath a crevice and found paintings on the underside of the rocks. She slid in further so she was in a shallow cave.
‘These look like pictures of some sort of wombat,’ she called. ‘On the roof. Oh, my… Come and see.’
‘I’m not caving for wombats,’ Maud retorted and Jason elected to keep his uniform clean so it was Finn who slid in after her.
She was looking in the half dark. Finn had a flashlight app on his camera phone. He shone it on the wombat-type animals and he watched her amazement.
‘They can’t have painted these here,’ she breathed, soaking in the freshness of ochre-red animals that looked as if they’d been painted yesterday. ‘This will have been the rock face. The gradual deformation of the magma will have pushed it sideways and under. Imagine how much art’s hidden, but how much has the cliff movement preserved? These rocks are the sentinels of this art. Silent keepers. It does my head in.’
He thought about it, or he tried to think about it. Artwork in geological terms. He looked again at the wombats—and then he looked at Rachel.
She was lying in the red dust, flat on her back, with the rock face art two feet above her head. She’d wriggled under the rocks, pushing dirt as she’d wriggled. Her blonde curls were now full of red dust, and there was a streak of red running from her forehead to her chin.
With the flashlight focused on the wombats, she was barely more than a silhouette, and a grubby one at that, and she wasn’t looking at him. She was totally engrossed in what she was seeing.
That was fast, he thought ruefully. He’d decided he could think of this woman as a friend rather than… well, as a woman.
He’d thought it for a whole twenty minutes, but now he was lying in the dust beside her, her bare arm was just touching his, and he felt…
Like he had no business feeling. Like his life was about to get complicated.
He did not want complications.
But she turned to him, her face flushed with excitement, and heaven only knew the effort it cost him not to take her face in his hands and kiss her.
How would she react?
The same way he’d react, he thought, or the same way he should react. He’d seen her fear. She didn’t want any sort of relationship and neither did he.
‘I can die happy now,’ she breathed, and that was enough to break the moment. To stop him thinking how much he really wanted to kiss her.
‘We’re not wedged that far under the rock,’ he managed. ‘I think if we try really hard we should be able to wriggle out. Maybe dying’s not an option.’
‘But you know what I mean.’
‘No,’ he said, and figured maybe he needed to take this further. There was something in Rachel’s voice that told him this place had been an end point, an ambition held close when things were terrible. If I can just hang on long enough to see the Kimberley art…
So now she’d seen the art, and maybe she’d need to do more than hang on, he thought. Given what he’d heard in her voice—maybe he should make a push to help her.
‘There’s lots of things I still need to do before I die,’ he told her, firm and sure. ‘Maybe not as magnificent as this, but excellent for all that. For instance, I believe today’s lunch on board is wild barramundi. Then we have Montgomery Reef to explore and the Mitchell River and the Horizontal Waterfalls. And, after that, when we get to Broome I’ve promised myself a camel ride. I’ve been there before but never had time to explore. And I hear there are dinosaur footprints in the Broome cliffs. How could I die before I see them?’
She hesitated in the half light before she spoke again, and he knew he was right to have been concerned. ‘I just…’ she whispered.
‘You just thought you could stop now? Think again.’ He couldn’t help himself. He leaned forward in the close confines of their cave and he kissed her, a feather touch, a trace of a kiss that brushed her lips and that was all. It had to be all.
‘Life is great,’ he told her, firmly and surely. ‘Ghastly things happen, but life’s still great. You remember what’s lost with regret, but you still look forward. There’s always something.’
‘You speak like you know…’
‘I’m not a wise old man yet, Rachel,’ he told her. ‘But I do know life’s good, and I do know that if I’d died yesterday I wouldn’t be lying here with you, and I do know there’s life after lunch as well. So shall we go find out?’
She gazed at him in the dim light and he gazed right back at her. She was so close. He could reach out and take her in his arms and kiss her as he wanted to kiss her—but he knew he couldn’t.
It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right, and what was more, it’d make her run.
He was not his father.
Lunch. Sense. He managed a grin.
‘There’s mango trifle as well as barramundi,’ he said. ‘Who could ask for more?’
‘How do you know?’
‘Spying’s my splinter skill,’ he told her, mock modest. ‘I broke the code for the day’s lunch menu at breakfast.’
Her smile returned. It was a smile he was starting to know and starting to like. A lot.
‘Mango trifle?’ she managed. ‘Really?’
‘You have my word.’
‘I guess seventeen-thousand-year-old art fades into insignificance,’ she said, casting another look at the wombats.
‘Not quite,’ he said and managed not to kiss her again. That was twice he’d contained himself in as many minutes. He should get a medal. ‘But it’s close. You want me to haul myself out first and tug you after?’
‘I can manage on my own,’ Rachel said. ‘I haven’t done it very well yet, but I will now. I must.’
They walked back to the ship as a foursome. Jason and Rachel traded knowledge about the area, and by the time they reached the beach Finn realised Jason was eagerly soaking in a knowledge that was greater than his own.
Jason was a great kid and he was humble enough to recognise Rachel’s in-depth knowledge of this area. He’d done tour guide training for the Kimberleys, but Rachel’s background knowledge was awesome.
We could employ her, Finn thought, shifting back to owner mode. She’d be an awesome tour guide for his company.
He’d be her undercover boss.
Not going to happen.
Besides, she was still handicapped. By the time they reached the ship she was making a visible effort not to limp.
‘Hold Rachel’s hand as she crosses the