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Authors: Janette Paul

Just Breathe

BOOK: Just Breathe
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About the Book

Opposites attract in this funny, touching and deliciously romantic novel as hippie Dee meets millionaire businessman Ethan – and her calm world is turned upside down …

Dee Nichols is a free-spirited yoga teacher, albeit a broke one. But she’s not interested in money or possessions or thinking too far into the future. After surviving a terrible car accident, she’s just happy to be breathing.

Then Dee meets Ethan Roxburgh at a Christmas party. As the head of Roxburgh Holdings, and a regular in the social pages, he’s the opposite of what Dee wants in her life. Until a job modelling yoga in a TV commercial turns Dee into an overnight celebrity.

Thrust into a whole new world of business and PR (as well as high-heels and plunging necklines), Dee is out of her comfort zone and suddenly Ethan is perfect – as a mentor. Or would be, if she wasn’t so damn attracted to him. After all, he’d never look twice at a short, accident-prone yoga instructor with market-stall couture.

Then Ethan does look twice – and life gets sweet and sexy as hell.

To Nikki

Chapter One

A string quartet played a funked-up version of ‘Silent Night’ as Dee slipped away from the small talk to the deserted, dark end of the balcony. She took a moment to soak up the sultry night air and the million-dollar view of Sydney Harbour. Then she stepped out of her stilettos, picked them up and, one by one, pitched them into the air.

As they tumbled in a high, wide arc towards the garden below, she cupped her hands around her mouth and cried, ‘Instruments of torture!’

A soft laugh sounded over her shoulder.

Okay, maybe a not so deserted balcony. She turned and saw Ethan Roxburgh step into the light spilling from a Christmas tree in the windows behind him.

Wow, he looked just like the photos in the newspaper, except he wasn’t shaking hands with Mr Such-and-Such Power Broker or arm in arm with a glamorous woman. The knot in his tie had been loosened and his short-cropped dark hair was a little messed up, like he’d been raking his fingers through it.

He raised a half full glass of white wine towards the balcony railing. ‘Impressive throw.’ He quirked an eyebrow. ‘Interesting sentiment.’

‘Clearly you’ve never worn stilettos.’

‘Only in the privacy of my own bedroom.’

‘Oh, so you
do
understand. I just don’t know how the health authorities ever allowed them to pass inspection.’

‘A chiropractic conspiracy, obviously.’ His smile was cheeky and a laugh bubbled in Dee’s throat.

She watched him stroll to the edge of the balcony, a little surprised he was alone. According to the gossip columns, Ethan Roxburgh never went anywhere without a ‘Roxburgh Girl’ – the title given to the unfailingly beautiful, well-dressed, sophisticated women who appeared on his arm. He leaned an elbow on the railing, took a sip of wine, studied her over the rim of his glass.

Dee crossed one bare foot over the other and studied him back: tanned complexion, fit looking, a little intense. Probably more comfortable in a suit than not. Total swoon material, if you were into the collar-and-tie kind of guy. She wasn’t. The loosened tie was a good look on him, though, and there was an interesting kind of ruggedness about his eyes – small wear lines around a liquid, dark chocolate centre. And he could do with some stretching on that tight shoulder.

‘M, isn’t it?’ he said.

‘Excuse me?’

‘L then?’

‘Sorry?’

‘No, I’m sorry. I heard Lucy introducing you before. I’ve forgotten your name.’

Oh, he meant Em and Elle. ‘No, D. I’m Dee.’

‘Sorry, Dee. Nice to meet you.’ He held out his hand and she took it with a firm grip.

‘No problem,
Nathan
. Easy mistake.’

His eyebrows popped up for an instant before settling at a bemused angle. Guess Ethan Roxburgh wasn’t used to irreverence. He looked at her with renewed interest, a small smile turning up one side of a mouth that was now slightly less intense.

‘So what does Dee stand for? Deanne?’

‘Ah, no.’

‘Deirdre?’

She looked appalled.

‘Desdemona?’

Dee laughed. ‘God, no. It’s Trudy, but now you know I’ll have to throw you over the balcony after my shoes.’

His eyes flicked to the muscular curve of her upper arms. ‘I don’t doubt you could.’

She leaned against the rail and pulled her long hair over her shoulders. She’d
told
Amanda the dress made her arms look too muscly.

Dee had borrowed the sparkly, strapless number and the stilettos from her clotheshorse sister, who assured her it was the perfect outfit for blending into tonight’s classy guest list. ‘If you’re going to mix with thoroughbreds,’ Amanda said, ‘don’t dress like a donkey.’ Which didn’t say much for Dee’s usual market-stall style but she got the picture.

And now two hours of teetering on four-inch heels had just about undone a decade of yoga on her injured back.

‘So how do you know Lucy?’ Ethan asked.

Dee contemplated her answer. She could tell him she taught yoga to his sister three days a week – she was so proud of Lucy last month when she finally made it into a full Lotus position – but then the dress and shoes would’ve been for nothing. It wasn’t just that her clothes made her feel like a donkey on the annual student Christmas-party circuit. Her job description tended to be a prompt for uncomfortable questions. She’d already answered with: yes, she could put her foot behind her ear; no, yoga was more than just lying around meditating; and no way, she would not be acting out any man’s fantasy of sex with an extremely flexible woman.

She decided on a diversionary tactic. ‘We met through my job but, hey, it’s Christmas Eve. Who wants to talk about work?’ She flipped a strand of hair over her shoulder, aiming for blasé.

Ethan studied her for a moment, as though he’d taken a mental step back for a wide-angle view. ‘Yeah, you’re right. Let’s not do the work thing. I came out here to escape the investment prattle.’

‘Ditto. If my spare cash ever runs to more than a coffee, I’d probably just skip the share market and buy a muffin.’

He laughed quietly as though she was joking. If only she was. He pulled his tie undone, folded it neatly, and pushed it into a trouser pocket. He looked better without it. ‘So, Dee, Christmas? Have you contributed to the retailers’ holiday fund yet?’

A loud thud followed by a round of applause made them both turn to the doors. Ethan held up a hand like a stop sign, crossed the balcony in a few long strides and surreptitiously poked his head around a door.

When he returned, Dee said, ‘What was it?’

‘Nothing really. It’s just I’m hiding from Lucy. She wants to introduce me to her yoga teacher.’

‘Oh.’ Oh dear. Dee cringed on the inside and realised she probably didn’t want to know the answer to the question she couldn’t help but ask. ‘And you don’t want to meet her yoga teacher because …?’

‘Because Lucy’s always getting caught up in some new fad and she wants everyone to embrace it with her.’ He rolled his eyes. ‘She’s probably very nice, if you like that kind of thing, but I’m just not interested.’

Dee kept the smile on her face while the heat of a deep blush crept up her face. What
exactly was
that kind of thing
? ‘She might be an ordinary kind of person who just happens to do yoga.’

‘You think?’ He huffed a laugh. ‘If she’s hooked up in Lucy’s midlife crisis she’s probably some hippie banging on about finding yourself and going vegan.’

‘Oh,’ Dee said again. There seemed nothing more to say. She smiled awkwardly, unsure what to do next. Maybe she could take a flying leap off the deck after her shoes.

‘Here you are!’ Lucy’s voice sailed across the balcony from the doorway.

Dee winced. Lucy was tall, glamorous, assertive, driven – pretty much the opposite of Dee. She was the high-powered head of her own advertising company and right now she had really bad timing.

She stepped onto the balcony with a guest in tow. ‘I thought you were avoiding me, Ethan, but I see you found my yoga teacher all on your own.’

Ethan’s head snapped back to Dee. ‘
You’re
the yoga teacher?’

‘Ah, yes, that would be me.’

His eyes widened in surprise and he spent a good thirty seconds reassessing her, taking in the bare feet, the sparkly dress, the long, untamed hair, before a brief confused crease of his brow was followed by a small bemused smile. ‘Dee the Yoga Teacher.’

She ground her teeth.

‘You’ve obviously met my brother.’ Lucy was drawing Dee’s attention to the man with her. Lean, slight stoop to the shoulders. ‘This is Adam Velor, Creative Director at Roxburgh Advertising. Adam, this is my yoga teacher.’

Adam held out his hand and she shook it, trying to ignore Ethan’s eyes still on her.

‘Yeah, you’re right,’ Adam said to Lucy while watching Dee, ‘she’s got an earthy kind of
chic.’

Lucy was smiling, nodding.

‘A what?’ Dee said.

Lucy’s gaze bypassed her in favour of her brother. ‘Ethan.’ His focus was still on Dee so she snapped her fingers. ‘Ethan!’

He blinked. ‘What?’

‘I’m thinking of Leonard Frost. I’m thinking Health Life. I’m thinking’ – she tweaked her fingers like inverted commas – ‘even when you’re healthy.’ She made a ‘get it?’ face and his eyes slipped to Dee for another long assessment.

‘What?’ Dee glanced back at Lucy. ‘What?’

‘It’s my brilliant idea,’ Lucy announced. ‘The minute you walked in I knew you’d be perfect. Earthy chic is exactly what you’ve got. You should dress like this all the time. It’s perfect.’

‘Perfect for what?’

‘Our latest ad campaign for Health Life Insurance. You’re gonna be the star.’

The three of them looked expectantly at her.

Dee felt a familiar roiling in her belly as her anxiety started to unfurl. The dress was meant to make her blend in. This wasn’t even related to blending. ‘You want
me
in an ad?’

‘Not just an ad, a whole campaign,’ Lucy told her. ‘You’d be the face of Health Life Insurance’s new advertising campaign, doing some yoga, looking meditative and chic and healthy. It’ll be TV, print, the lot. You’ll be great.’

Dee fought an urge to screw up her face. Not a brilliant idea. Just plain daft. ‘I think you’d need at least one show-off gene for that. Which rules me out.’

Adam Velor looked stunned.

Ethan slid his hands into his pockets, eyes curious.

Lucy grinned as though a challenge had been thrown down. ‘That’s not the answer we want. I think you need to think about it.’

Dee gave it a second. She was in a safe place now, the back pain was minimal, she had enough money to live on, just, and she was happy – happy enough, anyway. And it’d taken a lot of damn hard emotional toil to achieve that delicate state. Did she want to upset the equilibrium by introducing an out-of-comfort-zone experience? ‘No, I don’t need to think about it. I really don’t.’

Lucy raised an eyebrow. ‘We’ll see.’ She slid her gaze back to the others. ‘Leave it with me, guys.’

‘Here.’ Adam Velor held out a business card. ‘For when you change your mind. You could have a big future in advertising.’

Well, that sealed it. She’d had a future once before. It hurt like hell when she lost it. She didn’t want another one.

Dee pushed his card into her sister’s evening purse. She’d have to be pretty damn desperate to change her mind. Right now, she was just desperate to leave. She didn’t want to be in an ad or have Lucy talk her into it. And the blending thing was making her uncomfortable.

She said hasty goodbyes and wove her way back through the guests circulating around Lucy’s palatial home, looking for a way to the garden – Amanda would have a fit if Dee left the shoes behind. The phone in her evening purse vibrated with an incoming text. She ducked into a guest bedroom and leaned against the door.

Hey, donkey. How goes it?

It was Leon – her best friend, flatmate and de-pressure valve for her anxiety. He’d rolled about laughing at Amanda’s dress-like-a-donkey dig.

Dressed like a thoroughbred. Feel like a zebra!
she wrote back.

The Message Sent window had just disappeared when the phone rang.

‘Stripes are totally in this year.’ Leon’s voice was high and excited.

She was pretty sure her zebra comment wasn’t that funny. ‘What’s going on?’

‘It’s so exciting. Robert asked me to move in with him.’

Dee’s knees went wobbly. She stepped further into the room and sat on the edge of a plush double bed. ‘What did you tell him?’

‘I said I needed six months to think about it and a back-out clause in case I panic at the last minute.’

‘Good idea.’

‘I said yes, you idiot! You’re the only one that factors in freak-out time.’

Dee’s stomach tightened as Leon kept talking.

‘It’s a bit sooner than I expected but he’s just so perfect for me. Don’t you think?’

Damn it, he was. ‘Yeah. I think you’ll be really happy. Congratulations.’ She smiled and hoped the sentiment carried through the phone, instead of the sound of her gut ripping open.

‘He gave me the key to his place on a ribbon, like an early Christmas present. It was so cool.’ He lowered his voice. ‘It’s going to be really weird leaving our place. I added it up. Do you realise we’ve been there almost five years?’

Dee loved living with Leon in their quirky old apartment. ‘Yes.’

‘And counting the time we were in India, we’ve been together for almost seven years.’

Dee’s throat dried up. She put an elbow on her knee and plunked her chin in her hand.
‘Yep.’

Neither of them said anything for a long moment. She didn’t know what Leon was thinking but her head span back to the ashram in India, the heat, the rain and his grinning face. He’d been backpacking. She’d been learning to live in the moment, trying to forget, trying to manage the back pain. She didn’t want him to move out.

‘Are you okay?’ he asked.

She tried to inject a smile into her voice. ‘Yeah, great. Stunned and kind of lost for words but I’m so happy for you.’

‘Thanks, babe. I so needed to hear that. And don’t worry about the rent. I’ve already decided I’m going to pay the next month’s so you’ve got some time to find a new flatmate.’

A wave of worry surfed through Dee’s belly. She didn’t want a new flatmate, either.

‘I’ve already thought of a couple of people who might be interested,’ he said.

‘Maybe I could make the rent on my own.’

‘Maybe you could win the lottery.’

She laughed a little. It was meant to help when you felt like crying, wasn’t it? ‘Or you could just cut the wisecracks and hang up so I can go parade my zebra stripes some more.’

Dee put her phone away and sat for a while on the bed. She figured Lucy wouldn’t mind if she hung out in the guest bedroom for a few more minutes, especially if it meant her yoga teacher didn’t wander amongst the guests in a stupor. Her head was spinning and her back ached with tension. With an effort, she stood, hitched her dress and dropped into a forward fold. Her hands hung loose on the floor and her hair pooled about her bare feet while she took long, deep, refreshing breaths. When she felt a little better, she stood, shook her hair into place and went in search of her shoes.

BOOK: Just Breathe
9.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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