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Authors: Janette Paul

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BOOK: Just Breathe
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Lucy explained the ‘weekend’ was a getaway she’d organised for a group of friends at her holiday house on Lake Macquarie. ‘We had this bright idea to turn it into a yoga retreat. Get the inspiring girl from the TV ad to be our yogi for a couple of days. What do you think?’

‘Oh, gee, a house party,’ Dee said. Half of her wanted to jump up and down – a big job without even trying. The other half of her wanted to crawl under a rock.

House parties were a bit like the
Hindenburg
– great idea but likely to crash and burn at any moment. The last time she’d been recruited for one, she spent the entire weekend trapped in a small house with four couples while the heavens opened in the worse storm in decades. Her students got more and more inebriated as the weather deteriorated, ended up in a drunken brawl over Trivial Pursuit, exiled themselves to their bedrooms to sober up and left at the first hint of sunshine. Dee vowed never to do another one, but that was before she decided to walk the path of security.

Perhaps if she took her own car, she could leave when hostilities broke out. And if things went smoothly, she’d get a mini break while she paid off a few debts.

‘Sure. Sounds interesting. Have you got some dates?’

Why did Security Road have to be such an obstacle course? Dee thought as she waited for the lift back down to the lobby. A house party was manageable as long as the weather held but a swanky party was a minefield of small talk and society etiquette. How would she assert herself through that?

As the elevator dropped, she noticed how her wrap-around Indian skirt looked like a
tablecloth alongside the crowd of suits already on board. Two floors down, the doors opened to reveal the urbane form of Ethan Roxburgh. He acknowledged someone in the back with a fleeting lift of his brows and stepped in beside her, elbow to elbow. He smelled of fresh coffee and musky aftershave.

His voice was low when he spoke. ‘So you sail?’

She glanced at him, not sure he was talking to her. ‘Huh?’

‘I read in this morning’s paper you love sailing. And surfing too, apparently, although you settle for walking on the beach in winter.’

‘I never said that.’

‘Thought it sounded like Lucy.’ A small smile played at his lips as he smoothed his tie with the flat of a hand.

Interesting, Dee thought, how the espresso brown of his suit brought out the cafe latte swirls in her skirt. ‘I can’t sail or surf.’

He nodded once, like it was a mental strike against that skill. ‘Will you be at the dinner tomorrow night?’

‘Yes.’

‘As a guest?’

‘Yes.’

‘Probably safer that way.’

She wanted to laugh out loud but followed his example with the sensible, low-key elevator speak. ‘I plan to avoid dessert altogether.’

‘And large platters.’

The doors slid wide. He stepped out, watched her for half a second, straight-faced, eyes
twinkling. ‘See you tomorrow night, Dee the TV Star.’

Chapter Eight

Dee selected a glass of champagne off a tray and took a long gulp. She was standing alone on the edges of the biggest, swankiest party she’d ever been to, so nervous she had to keep the glass in constant movement to and from her mouth to stop the contents from spilling – and conscious that any sudden movement might expose a breast in the deep-V that was laughingly called a neckline.

Where the hell was Lucy? Dee had walked the block twice hoping to be fashionably late and have Lucy waiting for her. No such luck.

‘Grab a glass of champagne,’ Leon had told her. ‘It’ll give you something to do if you have to wait for Lucy.’

Now what? Two glasses of wine drunk leisurely over a meal was enough to make her silly and giggly. If Lucy took much longer, she’d be drunk and slumped in the corner before the night had even started. She raised the glass to her lips again and reminded herself to sip.

‘TV stars aren’t meant to drink on their own.’

Dee turned and looked into the dark eyes of Ethan Roxburgh. She’d never been so relieved to see a man in a suit. Actually, he was looking every bit his tall, dark and handsome reputation in a crisp white dress shirt, black bow tie and dinner jacket. Her belly did an excited little flip – which was strange, really, considering how lowly she usually rated those qualities.

‘Just enjoying a moment alone before the rush of fans,’ she grinned, and felt herself blush as his gaze lingered momentarily at her plunging neckline.

‘Lucy’s chatting up a client so she asked me to find you,’ he said. ‘Come and I’ll introduce you around. But let’s get you another drink first.’ He signalled to a waiter and while he swapped her empty glass for a full one Dee hitched at her dress to force a bit more coverage into it and
reminded herself about responsible service of alcohol.

‘You look lovely, by the way,’ Ethan said as he steered her through the crowd.

‘Thanks,’ she smiled, then almost fell as her heel became tangled in the hem of her dress. Oh no, boobs on the move. She grabbed onto Ethan’s forearm, spilling some of her champagne on his sleeve. ‘Oh, sorry, sorry.’ She didn’t know what to do first – wipe his jacket, tuck in her breasts or cover her embarrassment with a nonchalant swig of her drink.

Ethan shook off the champagne like it was stray dust then cupped his hand under her forearm and held her eyes with his. ‘Relax, Dee, it’s a party.’

Yeah, that was the problem.

He stopped at a circle of guests who opened their ranks for him. ‘Leonard, I found your yoga girl.’ He turned to her. ‘Dee, do you remember Leonard Frost, director of Health Life, and his wife, Rosemary?’

It was the same Leonard who watched her peel lemon tart off her face. She expected something condescending but he shook her hand warmly. ‘Congratulations on the ad, Dee. I hope you’re as pleased with it as I am.’

She smiled tentatively. ‘Yes, I am.’

‘I’m tempted to take up yoga myself after watching you do all that.’ He stuck his hip out, raised a hand over his head in a bad imitation of one of her poses, getting a laugh from the others in their circle. Dee chuckled too, relaxing just a little.

Ethan introduced her to the rest of the group, all Health Life executives. She shook hands, accepted more congratulations and drank happily in a toast to their new commercial.

‘Sorry, guys, she’s hot property tonight. We’ll see you at the table.’ He found another cluster of guests.

‘I’m amazed we haven’t seen you before,’ a man asked. ‘How long have you been modelling?’

‘I’m not a model. I’m a yoga teacher.’

He raised his eyebrows. ‘No wonder you’re so good. What else do you do?’

It was one of the more annoying questions she was asked at parties, as though teaching yoga wasn’t enough on its own. ‘Nothing. I’m just a yoga teacher.’

‘That must be great,’ he said. ‘Give me a call some time. I’d love to pick your brains about business opportunities in that market.’

Dee’s mouth opened and closed in surprise. Not a sideshow act but a brain to pick. She smiled jauntily and sipped more champagne as Ethan led her onwards.

‘So what’s your game plan?’ The question came from a highly polished thirty-something woman with a handshake like a vice.

‘What do you mean?’

‘The yoga teaching is a great idea, gives you a bit of a back story, probably an edge on the standard model-singer-actor thing. But now you’ve got our attention, what’s your game plan?’

‘I, um, don’t have one. I’m just going to teach yoga.’

The woman smiled conspiratorially. ‘Yeah, it’s not good to look too greedy. Well, I don’t know what you’ve got planned but I can tell you, you could have a big future if you’ve got the right moves.’ She flipped a business card out of her evening purse. ‘Give me a call if you want some advice.’

At the next group and the one after that, Ethan introduced her to a bunch of other people whose names she couldn’t remember, mainly because she was so stunned.

‘You’ve got a great figure. Is that the yoga?’

‘Do you do private classes?’

‘How do you manage to look so serene?’

Dee felt like she was in a parallel universe where yoga geeks were gods and everyone wants to be short and muscly. She’d never had so many compliments in so short a time. No, she’d never had so many compliments
period
. She was in danger of being flattered into a good time.

‘More champagne?’ Ethan took her empty glass and replaced it with another.

Had she finished that one already? She sucked up his smile, took a sip, admired him over the rim of her glass. She’d been aware of him watching her as she shook hands and attempted small talk. At first, it made her nervous, expecting him to draw her aside, tell her how better to handle herself. Then she realised he was just watching – not critiquing. After that, the bemused look on his face made her feel pretty cool.

‘Enjoying yourself?’ he asked as they moved across the room again.

‘I think so.’

He laughed and it was as though he’d reached right inside her and sprinkled around some kind of feel-good herb. Her stomach tingled and her mouth curled up. If he ever gave up his suits, multimillion-dollar business and glamorous lifestyle, she wouldn’t let him out of her sight. Ha, ha, like that’d ever happen.

A photographer hovered in front of them. ‘Mr Roxburgh, can I get a shot of you and Ms Nichols?’

‘Sure.’ He stepped in beside her.

‘Perhaps a bit closer,’ the photographer suggested.

Ethan slid his arm around her waist and pulled her gently into him. ‘How’s that?’

Nice. Very, very nice, Dee thought. Her skin hummed where his arm rested across her back and his warm palm pressed softly to her hip made her legs go all wobbly. Fortunately, she was small enough to fit snugly under his arm and she leaned into him to keep herself upright. At least that was what she’d say if anyone asked. She looked up at him, inhaled an exotic aroma of aftershave and dinner jacket and musky male and understood why Roxburgh Girls were always photographed pressing themselves against him.

‘One more, if you don’t mind, Mr Roxburgh.’

Dee smiled again, hoping she didn’t look as dazed as she felt, and had a chuckle to herself. If this photo made it into the newspaper, her mother would have kittens. Dee the latest Roxburgh Girl. She’d think her wayward daughter was finally doing some social climbing. Did that count as getting her shit together?

After the photographer moved on, Ethan placed her hand in the crook of his arm and led her once again through the well-dressed throng.

So this was what it was like to be a Roxburgh Girl. People smiled at you, made way for Ethan and his partner, gazed in wonder. The newspapers came up with the tag four years ago when Ethan divorced his wife and became the new bachelor of the moment. Considering the basic qualifications – beautiful, well-dressed, sophisticated and on the end of his arm – and the fact that she’d only achieved the arm clutch bit, Dee wasn’t about to hold her breath waiting for a membership card. But it was fun to pretend for a few minutes, especially when it involved nestling into his nicely toned torso as they squeezed through the crowd.

Lucy was at the table when they finally arrived, along with her husband, John, Leonard and his wife, Lucy’s Creative Director Adam Velor and several others.

‘Dee, you look fabulous.’ Lucy brushed her cheek with an air kiss. ‘Have you dazzled
everyone yet?’

‘Well, I’ve met a lot of people.’

‘And there’ll be more of that after dinner. So have another glass of bubbly and enjoy.’

Another
glass of bubbly. She’d already had two. Or was it three? She couldn’t remember but the fuzzy in her head told her it was enough. Lucy handed her a glass, clinked it with her own. ‘Drink up. It’s gonna be a long night.’

Dee sipped, then waited for her eyes to focus before taking a seat between Leonard and a man whose tan was an odd shade of orange. Across the table, she saw Ethan kiss the cheek of the most elegant woman in the room. She had daringly short hair, doe eyes and a long, slender body that looked like it had stepped out of
Vogue
. My exact opposite, Dee thought, forgetting to just sip the champagne.

She looked as Ethan admired his dinner partner. There was no bemusement – just confident appreciation. That was the thing with men like Ethan Roxburgh. There was no need to settle for anything less than perfection when perfection was at your fingertips.

‘Have you seen much of Asia?’ Leonard asked her.

She pulled her eyes away from Ethan. Yes, a subject she knew something about. ‘I’ve travelled through most of it, although mainly India in the last few years.’

‘We’re investigating expanding our business there. I’m leaving next week on a fact-finding mission to Bangkok, Beijing and Kuala Lumpur.’

Maybe not her kind of topic. ‘That sounds interesting.’

‘What did you think of the Sheraton over there? I’m told it’s excellent.’

In her backpacker clothes, they wouldn’t have let her in the door. ‘I’ve never stayed there.’

‘Top rate,’ the tanned man on the other side chipped in. ‘I was in KL three weeks ago and I
was very impressed.’

‘Was it business or pleasure?’ Leonard asked.

Dee glanced back and forth between the two men trying to appear interested, which was getting more and more difficult after all the champagne. A little sleep was what she felt like. Maybe they wouldn’t notice if she dozed off for a second.

‘What do you think, Dee?’

‘Huh?’

‘Do you follow the cricket?’ Leonard asked.

‘Ah, no, sorry.’

‘Doesn’t matter who’s winning, we always manage to do a little business in our private box.’ Both men laughed heartily at that hilarious joke.

Entrée, dinner and dessert were punctuated with an array of subjects Dee knew nothing about. If it wasn’t Leonard and the tanned guy, it was a round-table discussion that left Dee feeling like a dunce. On a couple of occasions, she laughed along in merry unison with no idea what was supposed to be so riotous. Even with a bucket-load of champagne, a tad too much Chardonnay and a glass of Pinot she ‘just had to experience’, it didn’t seem funny at all. The dropsy feeling in her head wasn’t too funny either. Or the lecherous looks from the tanned guy. Oops, her glass of water splashing across the table wasn’t very funny, either, even though she giggled recklessly. She needed more water, she thought, as she took another sip of the Pinot.

The band was playing again. Dance tunes this time. Loud, rocky, lots of drumming. At least it killed the unfunny conversation. Oh, yay. They’re playing Madonna. Dee hadn’t heard this song for years. She’d danced around the lounge room with Amanda to this. She knew all the actions back then. Hey, look at that. She still knew all the actions.

‘How about a dance?’ Tanned Guy asked.

‘You’ve just gotta dance to Madonna, don’t you?’ Dee bounced out of her chair and followed Tanned Guy to the floor.

She’d forgotten how much she enjoyed a good ole bop. She hadn’t done it in ages. There’s no time for that sort of thing when you’re a busy yoga teacher. Not when you get up at 5 a.m., work till 8 p.m. No energy. But tonight she had heaps. It was amazing.

Back at the table, she finished off the Pinot then drank a large glass of water while Tanned Guy refilled her wine. Ethan slid into the seat beside her.

‘How’re you doing?’ He smiled at her with a small crease of – what? – concern on his brow.

‘Great. Isn’t the music a blast?’

He laughed, then put a hand over hers, his face earnest. ‘Just to let you know, Brad there is a bit of a ladies’ man.’ He nodded at Tanned Guy. ‘Might be best to watch yourself with him. Unless you’re looking for a lift home.’

With her back to Brad, she hooked her thumb in his direction and pulled a grimace. He nodded and her mouth formed an awed ‘Oh’. Imagine that. A professional-type guy making a pass at her without mentioning flexibility. It was the parallel world. Then she made a face. Even in another dimension she wouldn’t go home with him.

‘Another dance?’ Brad leaned over her shoulder, a clammy hand on her bare shoulder.

Ohmigod. Was that an ABBA song? She
loved
ABBA. ‘Yeah!’

Out in front of the band she forgot about Brad. The music was so loud it felt like it was being amplified through her body. She let the sound waves guide her across the floor, floating, bobbing, weaving to the beat. Another song. More ABBA. Then something else she couldn’t
remember the words to.

She felt strong arms circle her waist and her eyes flew open as Ethan eased in against her.

He smiled bemusement. She smiled in confusion. Having him this close was, well, lovely but even in her drunken state, the close-quarters seemed a little inappropriate, especially with the gorgeous Roxburgh Girl somewhere nearby.

‘Your dress is stunning. Did Lucy lend it to you?’ He spoke in her ear so she could hear over the band.

She tried to lean away but he tightened his hold. Was Ethan Roxburgh a sleaze too? ‘Gina, actually.’

‘I guess she didn’t think to give you any of that tape.’

‘Huh?’

‘I hear they use double-sided sticky tape to keep dresses from moving around.’

BOOK: Just Breathe
8.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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