‘Do you know something, Anna? I’d always fantasised about falling in love in paradise,’ Lucy Benedict admitted with a dreamy sigh. Stretching out on her sunbed she ran her fingers casually through her thick, dark curly hair.
‘And now, Holy Dooley, it’s happened.’ Her bikini clad companion, Australian Anna Singleton, rolled over to look at her friend. Wrinkling a small, neat turned-up nose dusted with freckles, she giggled . ‘He’s a bonza bloke, Luce! You’re one lucky girl.’
Lying next to Anna on the golden beach fronting the beautiful Balinese resort of Amankila, Lucy closed her eyes, enjoying the warmth of the mid-morning sun. The sea sparkled, the breeze was warm; yes, this really was paradise and yes, she really was blissfully in love. All her dreams had come true in a way she could never have imagined they would. Lucy loved travelling; the last few years of her life had been an absolute blast. Starting off in Europe, exploring each country in turn, she had gradually worked her way towards South East Asia, where she had spent the last year. Sometimes she stayed in hostels, and sometimes when the whim took her, she spoiled herself with five-star luxury. It was a life of adventure and meeting people, with the occasional relationship thrown in if some special man took her fancy and chose to share her journey for a while. She had met her pretty red-headed companion in a bar in Bangkok. Anna, who was also travelling around South East Asia, might be the same age as her but as they got talking Lucy began to see their lives were worlds apart. Brought up in a working-class family in Brisbane with a truck driver father and a stay-at-home mother, Anna had told Lucy her parents had put every penny of their savings towards sending her and her older sister to university. Although most of her school friends had decided on a gap year before they settled down to university life, Anna felt she owed it to her parents to get her degree first. It was while she was studying she decided she was going to travel during her year off, and set about finding a part-time job in order to put money away. She did bar work , cleaning, even pizza delivery to save for her holiday of a lifetime. Now, however, her money had run out and she was about to get a flight home. She couldn’t wait to see her parents, she said, they were so proud of her success and there would be big celebrations on her return. Lucy thought about Anna’s situation: working hard, achieving her first class honours in English, with plans to become a journalist. She knew how easily it could have been her story too. Instead, as soon as she was twenty-one and inherited her trust fund, she had walked out of Exeter University in the last year of her Business Administration degree course, grabbed her passport and headed straight for Heathrow and a flight to Paris. Unable to face her parents, she had written them a letter instead , explaining her reasons for leaving, knowing even before she put pen to paper they would never really understand. How could they when they were both work -driven and successful? I’m young, she told them, plenty of time to think about a career . Right now there was a big old world waiting out there and a huge amount of money for her to draw on. It had all been fun, and at first she didn’t feel at all guilty. However , recently there had been moments , usually in the early hours of the morning when unable to sleep, she lay alone in her bed staring at the ceiling and wondering whether, once this adventure was over, she would ever be able to go home and face them. Guilt had pricked her conscience to such an extent she had decided to treat her friend to three weeks in Amankila before Anna returned home to Brisbane. Amankila was a cluster of Balinese beach houses – rooms and suites – nestled in lush hillside vegetation facing the sea. The resort was linked by elegant, raised stone walkways which connected rooms, suites, pools , restaurants and other public areas. It was breath -takingly beautiful bathed with the golden glow of artificial light each evening when darkness fell and so very peaceful. Lucy had booked a suite with its own pool which gave them both the option of privacy if they wanted it. But mostly they took advantage of everything on offer. The whole ethos of the place was relaxation and pampering, every creature comfort taken care of. And then, as she thought things could not get any better, quite unexpectedly Ethan Maddison had walked into her life.
It was on their fifth evening, she remembered, when she had gone down to the restaurant for dinner ahead of Anna, totally refreshed after an afternoon of detox, massage and a relaxing yoga session. She was busy studying the menu and wondering whether to suggest they take one of the guided tours tomorrow when she was aware of someone standing over her. Looking up, expecting to see their usual tall middle-aged waiter hovering, she found instead the arrival was well dressed, young and good-looking with a shock of blond hair. He indicated one of the chairs opposite. ‘May I?’ Hearing his accent, Lucy noted that like Anna, he was Australian.
‘How do you know I’m not waiting for someone?’ she challenged, amusement in her smoky brown eyes as they met his incredible blue ones.
‘Because,’ his mouth lifted into the most exquisite smile, ‘despite your protests I have this feeling you are very much alone. And in my world a beautiful woman should always have company for dinner.’
‘Behave yourself, Ethan.’ Anna smiled as she joined them. She was wearing the pale turquoise silk dress and matching Jimmy Choo snakeskin sandals which they had purchased at the Gayson Plaza in Bangkok. The shopping trip to a mall packed with designer names had been another of Lucy’s generous treats.
‘Do you two know each other?’ Lucy asked, feeling sure Anna would have mentioned running into someone as tasty as this. ‘Let’s say Anna’s a new acquaintance.’
Ethan gave his fellow Australian a friendly grin. ‘I bumped into her in the open-air bar earlier – I’m another antipodean on a great adventure. And you, I gather,’ his eyes lingered on her warmly, ‘must be the Lucy she has told me all about.’ Lucy glowed under his close appraisal.
‘Yes. Lucy Benedict. Please, why don’t you join us?’
That had been the start of it all. There was something about Ethan which Lucy found totally irresistible. Not only was he very handsome and had the kind of body most women lusted after, he also seemed to encompass everything she wanted in a man. Looks aside, he was great in bed – something she took less than twenty-four hours to discover in her eager pursuit of him. He was also intelligent, with a degree in geology, was an accomplished pilot and excelled in most sports. And, of course, he was fun to be with. At first , she had been keen to include Anna in all their trips and activities but as Lucy’s relationship with Ethan progressed, Anna began to exclude herself during the day, meeting up with them only at breakfast and in the evenings. Today, however, had been an exception; Ethan was scuba diving, and not wanting to join him Lucy had decided to spend some tanning time with Anna.
‘I’m so pleased for you.’ Anna was now sitting up and hugging her knees, an affectionate expression on her face as she smiled at Lucy.
‘You know, he’s not like anyone I’ve ever met before. But I feel bad about you,’ Lucy confided. ‘After all, you met him first. I feel like I’ve muscled in.’
‘Oh, Luce, please don’t.’ Anna shook her head as she got to her feet and waved out to a passing waiter. ‘Him and me? That was never going to happen.’
‘Oh, rubbish.’ Lucy pulled off her sunglasses, frowning up at her friend. ‘How can you say that?’
‘Guess he hasn’t told you who his father is then, has he?’ Anna replied, as Lucy sat pushing her fingers through her hair.
‘No, I haven’t a clue,’ she said. ‘I know Ethan works in the mining industry and his family is quite wealthy, and that his father’s name is Jack.’
‘Yes, Jack Maddison.’
‘Jack Maddison. He owns the Goorumba Diamond Mines. They’re in North Western Australia, near Kimberley. He’s mega-rich , Luce; very old Australian money. Ethan’s great company but I’m realistic enough to know he’d never get serious with me. But you… you’re special; a girl from his world.’ A girl from his world. Lucy turned the phrase over in her mind as the waiter arrived and Anna ordered two more orange honey mojitos. And soon to be something a little more, she thought as she looked out across the intense blue water of the Lombok Strait, for there was one thing she had not disclosed yet: Ethan Maddison had asked her to marry him.
Australia. She was really about to land in Australia. Lucy smiled as she looked down at the cityscape of Sydney below. The plane banked and turned seaward before looping back to make its final approach to Kingsford-Smith Airport. Only yesterday she had been immersed in the exotic atmosphere of Bali and now she was about to land in a completely different country, one which she guessed would be more like home. Ethan, however, had assured her Australia was very far removed from anything she had learned about in geography text books at school. ‘Don’t be fooled into thinking this is going to be a warmer version of Land of Hope and Glory,’ he said with a smile and one of his normal soft digs at most things British. ‘We Aussies are a very cosmopolitan lot now.’ The plane was lining up for its final approach when Ethan’s hand crept over hers. ‘Okay, gorgeous?’ His smile could light a room, he’s absolutely perfect, she thought with a sigh as her eyes met his – from his highly toned, beautifully tanned surfer’s body, to the shock of golden blond hair which fell in tousled disarray over his forehead. And he had the bluest eyes she had ever seen. In fact, she’d known as soon as she met him he would be special. As the plane touched down Lucy squeezed Ethan’s hand and smiled back at him; yes, very special, she smiled to herself, thinking of the day ahead and meeting her father-in-law-to-be. After they had collected their luggage and cleared customs, she followed Ethan out of the airport to where a silver chauffeur-driven Bentley was parked. The blue-liveried driver tipped his cap to her as he opened the rear door of the limousine.
‘Morning, Randall.’ Ethan gave him a friendly smile as he handed him the luggage for stowing in the boot. Randall nodded.
‘Morning, Mr Ethan. Miss Benedict. Mr Maddison is expecting you for lunch . He’s booked a table at The Waterfront, but I’m to take you to the Park Hyatt first, where suites have been reserved for you both and you can unpack and freshen up.’ For the next thirty minutes Lucy watched from the darkened windows of the rear of the vehicle as they drove north from the airport on a flat road system punctuated by intersections. Ethan was quiet , occasionally clasping her hand reassuringly. All at once she felt slightly uneasy; was he nervous about meeting his father, worried he might not approve of such a whirlwind romance? After all, her own parents were rich but nothing like this. What if his father thought she was some kind of gold-digger after his son’s money? Pushing the thought to the back of her mind, she tried to concentrate on the scenery outside. There was so much space and variety – residential one moment, business park the next, and everywhere surprisingly green interspersed with an occasional tantalising glimpse of distant high-rise buildings and blue sea . Eventually, they were back to cityscape, the Sydney Harbour Bridge loomed ahead to the left and the Bentley purred to a stop outside their destination. Extracting their luggage from the boot, Randall tipped his cap and said to Ethan, ‘I’ll be back in an hour.’
‘Make it an hour and a half would you, Randall?’ Ethan grinned at Lucy and winked.
‘Ninety minutes it is, sir. I’ll let your father know.’
The Park Hyatt was one of Sydney’s newer hotels. With its artistically curving entrance, it afforded spectacular views across to the Sydney Opera House from the exclusive suites Ethan’s father had booked for them. Wrapped in a bath robe, her mass of curly black hair still damp from the shower, Lucy gazed across the water, fascinated by the beautiful shell formation of the great building. A knock drew her to the door where she found Ethan carrying a bottle of champagne and two glasses. ‘I thought we’d have a little pre-lunch drink.’ He brandished the bottle with a lazy smile which wavered when he saw her expression change. ‘Hey what’s all this?’ Abandoning the champagne, he immediately pulled her into his arms. ‘Hun, I know you’re nervous but honestly, Dad will love you. What’s not to like about you?’ Releasing her with a kiss, he returned his attention to the bottle. Foil and wire dispensed with, the cork came away with a healthy pop and an explosion of pale liquid which he caught effortlessly in one of the glasses , tilting it against the bottle until it was full. ‘Oh, I forgot – the ring will be here tomorrow,’ he told her as they touched glasses. ‘It’s a beaut. Maddison diamonds, of course, set in platinum. So here’s to you and me, babe , and the fantastic life we’re going to have together.’
‘To us,’ Lucy echoed softly, as she swallowed back the champagne , feeling alcoholic bubbles hit her empty stomach . She studied Ethan thoughtfully, her gaze washing over his handsome face and superb physique. This man is the one, she told herself, there is no way I can possibly lose him. For goodness’ sake pull yourself together, Lucy Benedict, she scolded herself; you can do this. ‘Sorry, I’m being very silly, aren’t I?’ she said as the effect of the champagne kicked in, boosting her confidence and making her feel slightly light-headed. ‘You’re right. Your dad’s going to love me, isn’t he?’
‘Exactly!’ He put his half-empty glass down and stepped closer, his fingers moving impatiently to the ties of her robe. ‘Now, before we go meet the big bad wolf, how about a little pre-lunch bed sport, Red Riding Hood?’
Randall was back at one thirty to take them to the restaurant. Lucy had decided on an emerald silk short-sleeved dress and light green Jimmy Choo heels with a matching clutch bag. Her jewellery was expensive but understated: a Tank Français Cartier watch, a thick gold rope chain and matching stud earrings. Ethan laced his fingers in hers and gave her one of his stunning smiles as she crossed the lobby with him. ‘You look fantastic.’ ‘You’re not so bad yourself ,’ she teased, stretching up to kiss his cheek, enjoying the smell of his Hermes aftershave as they made their way out of the hotel to the waiting limo. The Waterfront was only a short drive from the Hyatt. With an external canvas awning for al fresco dining running the whole width of the building it, too, had fabulous views of the Opera House. As Randall opened the door and helped her out of the car, she swept her eyes across the tables fronting the restaurant, with their starched white tablecloths and gleaming cutlery , fully expecting to be seated there . However, the Maître d’hôtel led them inside to the main restaurant area where , at a quiet corner table in the cool interior, a large brown-haired man in a pale suit sat perusing the menu. ‘Dad!’ Ethan’s smile widened with pleasure as they approached the table. The Maitre’d backed away discreetly. His father set his menu down, his features forming into a matching smile as he got to his feet, moved around the table and caught his son in a bear hug. Eventually Ethan broke away and turned back, reaching out for Lucy’s hand. ‘And this is my very special girl – Lucy.’ He gave her an encouraging smile, pulling her close to him.
‘Lucy!’ Jack moved over to where she stood and took both her hands in a strong grip, the same blue eyes as Ethan’s scanning her from top to toe. He leaned forward and kissed her cheek. ‘We meet at last.’
Lucy smiled; it seemed he liked her. She relaxed – everything was going to be fine.
Lunch had gone extremely well, Lucy thought as the waiter arrived with a tray of coffee. Jack Maddison had not been at all what she imagined. Welcoming and genial, he had asked her about her life in the UK, about her parents in particular and her family generally. He tended to smile a lot. A warm, sincere smile which made her feel he accepted her, even though, as he had said at first, he was slightly shocked at the speed at which his son had made the all-important decision on the woman he planned to spend the rest of his life with. Lucy’s eyes went from Ethan to his father . While they were in Bali, Ethan had told her his mother had died five years ago, a fall from a horse which had broken her neck. Since then his father had become married to his work. However , Jack, as he’d insisted she call him, appeared surprisingly relaxed and laidback, never once touching on the subject of the family business. What she did know was that the Maddisons had a 10,000 acre ranch in Western Australia which she would be flying up to visit in a couple of days’ time. They also had large house in the exclusive Point Piper district of Sydney, a luxury home on the banks of the Swan River in Perth and a 60 acre island off the Queensland coast. Ethan was adding sugar to his coffee when his mobile rang. Pulling it from his pocket he checked it and got to his feet. ‘Sorry,’ he said, ‘I’ll take this outside if you don’t mind.’ As he disappeared, Jack turned to Lucy. ‘It’s clear my son is totally besotted with you,’ his expression clouded, ‘but personally, I have to say you worry me a little, Lucy.’
‘Oh!’ Lucy felt her heart sink, wondering what he was about to say. ‘Well, everything I’ve told you about myself is true, Mr Maddison… Jack. And I’m not a gold-digger, if that’s what you think. I honestly love Ethan.’
‘Oh, I know you’re not lying.’ Jack Maddison surveyed her carefully as he paused to take a mouthful of coffee. ‘I had my people check you out before this lunch was arranged.’ He returned the cup gently to the saucer. ‘I’m aware everything you’ve told me about yourself and your family is true. And I believe you really do love Ethan, but there’s something else which makes me a shade uncomfortable.’
‘There is?’ Thrust into the spotlight, Lucy tried to sound light hearted, but somehow she knew she wasn’t going to like what was coming.
‘You came into one hell of a lot of money a little over three years ago, young lady, and what did you do? You walked out of university and have been living the life of Riley travelling the world ever since.’ He shook his head and gave a soft sigh. ‘Now, if you were in my shoes, wouldn’t alarm bells be ringing? After all, your family is relatively wealthy but what we have is far beyond that. I don’t want my son settling down with someone whose only interest in life is spending money and having a good time. In this family we’re grafters; we work. And Ethan will eventually inherit a pretty impressive business empire. I want him to have a wife he can be proud of, not one whose day consists of trivial activities like beauty salons, lunching and shopping for clothes.’
Lucy swallowed hard as she tried to think what she could do to remedy Jack’s disapproving view of her. She felt everything slipping away, aware now that her recent lifestyle had perhaps been a little frivolous. She knew she was probably still in deep trouble with her parents, that was one issue she still needed to address, but this more immediate problem required urgent attention – her future depended on it. ‘I guess I was overawed by having so much money,’ she replied meekly, carefully choosing her words. ‘To be honest with you, Ethan was horrified at my extravagance. He kept telling me there was more to life than simply having fun. And Anna, a girl I met in Bali, made me feel guilty too. Her parents went without so she could go to uni. She told me of the debt she owed them and how proud they were of her first class honours degree. I realised then maybe I should have stayed and finished university before travelling.’ Lucy bowed her head. ‘And I regret that very much now.’ She raised her eyes to Jack. ‘But I know I can change… only maybe I could do with a little help.’ She fastened her gaze on him and gave one of her most beseeching looks.
Jack’s expression softened. ‘Well…’ He pursed his lips and thought for a moment. ‘Have you thought about investing rather than spending?’ ‘Investing?’‘Yes. Look, why don’t you come to my offices in Martin Place tomorrow morning? It’s only a few blocks away from here. I’ll send the car for you at, say, ten thirty. We can discuss it then. Would that be helpful?’
‘Yes, perfect.’ Lucy smiled , relieved her problems had been solved with one simple suggestion. She still had access to a substantial amount of money and if Ethan’s father had anything to do with it, she might even recoup all she’d spent so far. ‘Good!’ Jack pressed his palms together and smiled. ‘Ah, here’s Ethan. Now, not a word, eh? This will be our secret. And don’t worry, I’ll arrange to get him out of your way tomorrow morning.’
‘You’ve done what?’ Returning from lunch, Ethan and Lucy had spent the rest of the afternoon in her suite indulging in more champagne and leisurely sexual exploration. Relaxing in his arms afterwards she had accidentally let slip Jack’s suggestion.
‘But I want to do it, Ethan,’ she protested, leaning over him, wild black hair teasing his chest, her pink mouth pushed into a pout. ‘Both you and your father have made me realise I have been selfish and irresponsible in many ways, and I want to change. Your father is helping me by giving me the opportunity to do something for myself.’ Ethan shook his head. ‘I deliberately asked him not to talk about business and as soon as my back is turned, he’s hitting on you to invest money.’ He studied her, his expression serious. ‘How much are we talking about, Luce?’ ‘We hadn’t got around to detail . But I was thinking of around fifty thousand. I know given your family’s circumstances it’s probably small change but—’
‘On the contrary, Luce, I think it’s an awful lot of money. Can you run to that much?’ ‘Oh, don’t worry, I was never allowed to draw on the bulk. Mum wasn’t stupid; she must have had a sixth sense I was likely to fly as soon as the trust fund became available, so the money has been controlled. I get full access on my twenty-fifth birthday but,’ she ran a teasing finger along his jawline, ‘by then it won’t be such an issue, will it? We’ll be married.’ ‘You could set up a trust fund for the kids.’ ‘What kids?’ ‘The ones we’re going to have.’ He pulled her down into his arms and kissed her. ‘Two boys and a girl.’
‘I see you have it all sorted, Ethan Maddison.’ She grinned, wrapping her arms around him tightly. ‘But I’m afraid colour choice isn’t an option. We might have all blue or all pink.’
‘Whatever we have, Luce, I’ll love them.’ He kissed her again . ‘And I love you. Thank you for making me the happiest man on earth.’