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Authors: Anya Forest

A Southern Star

BOOK: A Southern Star
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A SOUTHERN STAR

Anya Forest

Published by Anya Forest

To contact the publisher and for more information
 

about this and other titles go to

www.anyaforest.com

A catalogue record for this book is available from
 

the National Library of New Zealand

First published 2015

Copyright 2015 Anya Forest

The moral rights of the author have been asserted

ISBN 978-0-473-30683-0

eISBN 978-0-473-30684-7 (Epub)

eISBN 978-0-473-30685-4 (Kindle)

This book is copyright. Except for the purposes of fair reviewing no part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, actual businesses or actual events is purely coincidental.

Cover Design – Pieta Brenton /Formatting Fairies

Design – Formatting Fairies

Cover Images – Colin Monteath /hedgehoghouse.com & Getty Images

Chapter One

Christie stared out at the agate ocean, gasping as the sea spray whipped around her. The ferry ploughed into the next swell and she took a step back, trying to keep her balance.

“You should hold on.”
 

As she registered his voice, she realised he had lightly put his hands on her hips to ensure she did not fall over; just as quickly he removed them. Christie adjusted her hold on the railing and turned to face him.

His eyes widened appreciatively as the hood of her jacket blew back, exposing windswept dark hair framing a pair of blue eyes and flushed cheeks. Tall as she was, Christie had to crane her neck to meet the eyes of this stranger as she thanked him concisely and turned away again, hoping he would think her flushed cheeks were due to the cold. Again, she looked out to sea, conscious of him moving to stand next to her at the railing. Her fleeting glance had been enough to send her senses reeling as she registered his dark eyes and the sheen of sea spray on his face. Christie gripped the railing more tightly, willing him to move away. Instead he spoke, seemingly unaware of her tension and rigid stance.

“And what brings you to the island on this fine southern day?” His voice was gently mocking and despite herself Christie found herself giving him quick glances, turning to him as she tried to formulate a reply.
 

“Just a spur of the moment decision.” She smiled neutrally after speaking, her voice cool.
 

“Well, you’re certainly a mine of information, aren’t you?”
 

Christie’s eyes narrowed as he grinned openly at her. Words, which usually came easily to her, allowed her to present polished seminars and lead meetings, fled from her mind and she was at a loss for a response. “I just wanted to see the island,” she said eventually, inwardly cringing as she replayed her inane response.
 

“Yes, that’s usually why people visit a place.” Christie knew he was teasing her now and her face flamed. Defensively, she pulled the hood of her jacket up. His eyes remained fixed on her; unable to help herself she gazed back. The glint in his eyes reminded her… She snapped her mind away abruptly, did not realise her face had changed.

She had travelled here to forget, wanting to get away, and now, she looked away briefly before looking back up at him and involuntarily taking a step back. “I told you to hold on.” His cheeky grin belied the suggestiveness of his tone and only intensified Christie’s whirl of emotions.

“Excuse me,” Christie murmured. She could see the questions in his eyes.
 

“Let me guess, you have to make an important phone call.”
 

“Yes, I do.” She took out her mobile as if to prove the truth of her words, preparing to walk away.
 

“What phone company are you with?” Christie looked at him, surprise on her features.

“You probably won’t get reception yet—or at all. You need to wait until we come into the bay.” Not waiting until she answered, he went on to tell her about the places on the island where reception was available, or not. Christie’s face fell.

“Blake? Blake!” Christie could hear a woman’s voice calling out, and saw him swing around. He turned back to Christie, his face serious now.

 
“Well, I’ll leave you to make your phone call.” He emphasised the last two words, sarcastic, making it clear he had never believed her excuse, reception or not. She stared speechlessly at him, at the dark eyes that slid away from her to his companion. Christie turned to stare at the churning ocean as he walked away. For several minutes she tried to concentrate on the seascape, only dimly aware of others on the ferry. Her solitary figure was a contrast to the holiday crowd travelling to the remote national park and small settlement on the island.

Doubts crowded Christie’s mind as the stormy weather and rough sea currents caused the ferry to pitch again and the children to shriek with excitement. She remained by the railing, trying to focus on the vague outline of land coming closer.
 

Now she shivered as the ferry entered the bay and in the distance she saw the old industrial wharf and corrugated iron shed, the commercial fishing boats and wooden dinghies. She searched for a glimpse of the hotel where she would be working, on the hill looking out over the bay.

So much for spur of the moment decisions
, Christie thought ruefully, thinking of the harbour side city she had lived all her life with its busy cosmopolitan cafes and promenades, its yachts and cruise ships. She had left her fast—paced career abruptly, wanting to get away from the gossip and open speculation. The stilted exchange with—Blake—had only heightened Christie’s realisation of how much she had depended on being part of a couple, how removed she was from her familiar circle established through years in one place, and a successful career.

She did not dare look around the ferry; did not want to risk running into Blake and his caustic wit. Now the ferry had come into the bay the sea was calmer and Christie felt more able to think ahead. She had seen the ad on the Internet, only glanced at it casually as she searched for—she had hardly known. Something, anything, to allow her to get away. Had seen so many advertisements for surely more appropriate positions, work where she could at least earn a comparable salary.
 

But she had kept going back to that ad and all it represented, found herself picking up the phone to make an enquiry, talking to the manager, downplaying her career. In such a remote environment, the manager had told Christie applications were in short supply and had jumped at the chance to employ her for the summer season after only a cursory reference check.

Some of Christie’s friends had been shocked and other acquaintances had openly derided her decision.
At least it got me away from all the talk
, Christie thought as she looked ahead, watching the ferry come into the berth next to the wharf. The pronounced bump as the ferry nudged the wharf jolted Christie and she shook herself. She wasn’t expecting to be met by anyone but had been assured she could easily walk to her accommodation and from there to work.

Christie moved over to collect her luggage, spotting her pack through the cluster of passengers. It was heavy, crammed with so much gear her flatmates had laughed as they watched her try to lift it. She tugged the pack upright, preparing to lift it onto her shoulders. Christie threaded an arm through the strap, leaning slightly as she braced herself for the weight of the pack, her other arm searching for the remaining strap.

Suddenly the awkward weight on her shoulders eased and she felt a strong hand grasp her wrist and smoothly guide her arm through the remaining strap. Christie tried to swing around only to find herself held firmly in one place by whoever had hold of the pack. She heard a quiet curse as the pack on her shoulders moved to what she realised was a more comfortable angle.
 

 
“What have you got in here? Rocks? The kitchen sink?” Christie’s face flamed as she realised it was Blake; Blake who had held her wrist, Blake who had adjusted her pack, Blake who was standing so close to her now, still tightening the straps across her shoulders, moving from one to the other.

She saw a girl standing off to the side, watching them with a look that was hard to decipher. Christie looked away, embarrassed, intensely aware of Blake’s close proximity. “I can manage myself,” she muttered. He ignored her, giving one strap a final tug. “I can manage,” she repeated lamely as he stood in front of her. She realised he was looking down at the clasps which needed to be fastened across her chest and hips to secure the pack.

“Maybe I’ll leave those to you.” His eyes met Christie’s as he gave her a quick grin.

“Yes,” she said repressively.
 

“You can’t possibly walk any distance with that pack,” he said reasonably. “How much gear do you really need on holiday? Especially a holiday here!”
 

“I’m not on holiday!” Christie burst out. “And I’ll be fine.”
 

He turned and gestured towards the vehicles parked around the foreshore. “I’ll carry it over and throw it on the back of the truck,” he continued. “Give you a lift to where you’re staying.”

Christie shook her head and looked over to where the girl was still waiting. Irrationally she suddenly felt like crying. Part of her longed to hand over the heavy pack to
 

Blake. It would be so easy, after almost a day of solitary travelling, to seize on his offer of assistance and let him take control, to just follow along.
 

She took a deep breath. “No, I don’t need any help, thanks,” she said coolly. She arranged a polite smile on her face and looked up at him. She saw the glint in his eyes change to a flash of anger. “Suit yourself,” he said equally coolly. He watched her walk away, rankled by her terseness and remote manner, remembering the covert glances of other women on the ferry.
Perhaps I should have talked to one of them instead
, he thought wryly.
 

“Looks like that went well, mate,” one of his friends called cheekily. Instantly he responded in kind but his face was reflective as he walked down the wharf.
 

Christie paused at the end of the wharf, determined to present a confident front, not wanting to admit to Blake she had no idea where her accommodation was, knowing she would need to ask directions from someone. She looked around, realising most of the people she could see had been on the ferry too and seemed to be visitors, hardly likely to know their way around the settlement.

Seeing a sign pointing to the National Park Information Centre, Christie walked in that direction, soon obtaining a tourist map of the settlement and an assurance that her accommodation was only a few minutes’ walk. “Looks like a heavy pack,” the guide said cheerfully after handing Christie the map. “If you do those straps up across your front the pack will sit better.”
Not you too
, Christie thought, recalling Blake’s tone as he commented on those same straps, his eyes meeting hers, his irrepressible grin.

Without difficulty Christie found her accommodation, a short but steep walk further round the bay. The modest cottage—
the crib
, Christie reminded herself,
locals would call it a crib
—was basic but looked out over the windswept bay. She knew other workers might move in later in the tourist season but the hotel manager had explained she would be the sole occupant of the crib for now.
 

With a sigh of relief Christie put her pack down, shrugged off her jacket and sank onto the sofa, looking around at the interior of the crib. If she turned her head she could see across the bay, down to the wharf next to the ferry she had just arrived on. She watched people board the vessel for the return journey and her mind drifted, still unnerved by her exchange with Blake. She flushed miserably as she replayed her stilted responses and awkwardness.
What must he think of me,
she thought silently.
Why do you care?
a small voice inside asked. Her blue eyes, usually so bright, became troubled.

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