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This Christmas, Nicola McGillroy will:
1. Be a great nanny to Cade Hindmarsh's two adorable little girls, and give them the best Christmas they've had since their mother left.
2. Enter into the Christmas spirit and forget the fact she should have been planning her own wedding right now.
3. Keep a straight head in her attraction to her gorgeous off-limits boss... Surely this is just a rebound thing and not true love—for both of them?
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When MICHELLE DOUGLAS was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up she answered, “A writer.” Years later she read an article about romance writing and thought, ooh that’ll be fun. She was right. She lives in a leafy suburb of Newcastle on Australia’s east coast with her own romantic hero who is the inspiration behind all her happy endings. Visit Michelle at her website www.michelle-douglas.comExcerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Nicola craned to take in as much of the view as she could from the Cessna's window as they landed on an airstrip that was nothing more than red dirt, bordered here and there with spiky grass and mulga scrub. When the pilot cut the engine the sudden silence engulfed her.
He turned to her. 'Here we are then.'
'Right.' She swallowed and gave a curt nod. Here was the Waminda Downs cattle station in the far west of Queensland—the Outback, the Never-Never, beyond the Black Stump—and about as far from civilisation as a body could get. She glanced out of the window again and something in her chest started to lift. This place was the polar opposite to her native Melbourne. The total polar opposite.
'May I get out now?'
'Well, as this is your destination, love, i believe that's the plan.'
He let the steps down, she stuck her head outside and the first thing to hit her was the heat—hard, enveloping and intense. The second, when her feet found firm ground again, was the scent—hot, dry earth and sun-baked grasses. The lonely desolation thrust itself upon her consciousness with an insistence that refused to be ignored, greater than the heat that beat down on her uncovered head and greater than the alien sights and scents. A person could get lost out here and never be found.
She surveyed the endless expanse of pale brown grass, interspersed here and there with mulga scrub and salt-bush, and at all the red dirt beneath it, and for the first time in three months she felt like her heart started to beat at the right pace again. Out here she wouldn't encounter acquaintances who would glance at her and then just as quickly glance away again to whisper behind their hands. Or friends who would rush up to grip her hands and ask her how she was doing. Or those people who just plain enjoyed others' misfortunes and would smirk at her.
She closed her eyes and lifted her face to the sky. 'This is perfect.'
'Perfect for what?'
That voice didn't belong to Jerry the pilot.
Her eyes sprang open. She spun around to find a man hauling her suitcase from the plane's cargo hold. He set it on the ground and then straightened. He was tall and broad. He gave off an impression of strength. He gave off an even bigger impression of no-nonsense efficiency.
She blinked. 'Where did you come from?' So much for thinking she and the pilot were alone in this wilderness.
He pointed back behind him and in the harsh glare of the sun she caught the glint from a car's windscreen. 'You're from the station?'
One corner of his mouth hooked up. It wasn't precisely a smile, but she had a feeling it was meant to be friendly. 'I'm Cade Hindmarsh.'
He must be about thirty and he was tanned. Really tanned. He had deep lines fanning out from his eyes. Probably from all the habitual squinting into the sun one must do out here. A habit Nicola found herself mimicking already. He tipped his Akubra back from his head and she found herself staring into the bluest pair of eyes she'd ever seen. The sun might've faded everything else out here, but it hadn't faded them.
His gaze was direct. The longer she looked at him, the lighter she started to feel, a burden of weight slipping free from her shoulders and sinking into the dry earth at her feet. He didn't know her. He'd never met her before in his life. Nobody out here knew her. He wouldn't think her pitiful, stupid or a failure. Unless she did something to give him reason to.
She had absolutely no intention of letting that happen.
'Nicola McGillroy,' she said, recalling her manners and introducing herself. Cool, poised and businesslike, she lectured. That was the impression she wanted to give. And the antithesis of a pitiful doormat.
He strode over and extended his hand. She placed hers inside it and found it so comprehensively grasped it made her eyes widen. He grimaced and loosened his hold. 'Sorry. I'm always being told not to grip so hard.'
She swallowed. 'No need to apologise; you didn't hurt me.'
Cade shook hands the way she'd always thought men should shake hands. The reality, like so many other realities, had disappointed her. Cade didn't disappoint. His grip was firm, dependable. Strong. Men who shook hands like that didn't get pushed around. She wanted to learn to shake hands like that.
From beneath the brim of his Akubra those blue eyes twinkled for a moment. Her lips lifted in response, and then with a start she realised her hand was still held in his. She gently detached it.
Her employer tipped his head back and stared at her for several long, pulse-inducing moments. She lifted her chin and met his gaze square-on. She didn't kid herself that his survey was anything other than what it was—a sizing up...a summing up. For the next two months she would have charge of his two young daughters. She wouldn't respect any man who merely took her at face value, who went only by her resume and a telephone interview. Even if that telephone interview had been gruelling.
'Will I do?' she finally asked, the suspense sawing on her nerves. She didn't doubt for one moment that if his answer was no he'd put her back on that plane and send her home to Melbourne.
The thought made her throat dry and her heart falter for a couple of beats before it surged against her ribs again with renewed force. She couldn't go back to Melbourne. Not yet!
Melbourne...December...with their joint reminders of the wedding she should've been planning. She didn't think she could stand it.
'Why is this place perfect?'
Perfect? Nicola Ann, you can't be serious!
Her mother's voice sounded in her head. Nicola resolutely ignored it. 'All of this—' she gestured to the landscape '—is so different to what I'm used to, but it's exactly what I imagined.'
'And that's good?'
'I think so.' It was very good.
He planted his feet. 'A lot of people who come out here are running away from something.'
She refused to let her chin drop. 'Is that why you're out here?'
Off to one side Jerry snorted, reminding her that she and her employer weren't alone. 'Love, generations of the Hindmarshes have been born and bred out here.'
She raised an eyebrow at Cade Hindmarsh. 'Is that a no, then?'
Those blue eyes twinkled again. 'That's a no.'
'Some people—' she chose her words carefully '—not only want to see what they can of the country, but to experience it as well.'
'And that's why you're here?'
'I know if you were born and bred out here that you're familiar with this kind of life and landscape, but being here is an adventure for me.' It was also a timeout from her real life, a much needed break from Melbourne with all its reminders of her short-sighted stupidity and her cringe-inducing ignorance. She didn't say that out loud though. He might interpret that as running away.
It will all still be here when you get home, you know, Nicola Ann.
And her mother might be right.
Though, in two months' time, hopefully she'd have found the strength to face it all again. She hoped that in two months' time she'd have changed, become a different person—someone stronger, tougher. Someone who didn't get taken advantage of, lied to or cheated on.
Finally Cade smiled. 'Welcome to Waminda Downs, Nicola.'
A pent-up breath whooshed out of her. 'Thank you.' She grinned. She couldn't help it. She wanted to high-five someone for having passed Cade's assessment. Jerry's chuckle told her that her excitement was visible for all to see.
Cade's smile broadened into a grin that made her blink and just like that she could practically feel Diane's elbow in her ribs and her whisper of, Hot, gorgeous hunk at her ear. The thought of her best friend pulled Nicola up short.
It made her pull back, compose her features and press her hands together at her waist.
Cade's eyes narrowed and his grin faded too until it had vanished completely. Something inside her protested at that, but she stamped it out. She was here to change. Not to gush. Not to be eager to approve of everything and everyone she met without considered judgement first. And not to be patted on the head and treated like a child.
She strode around him to seize her suitcase. 'I'm really looking forward to meeting Ella and Holly.'
Cade remained silent. Nicola bit her tongue to stop from prompting further. She wasn't here to make friends. She wasn't here to win approval—not from Cade, not from anyone. She was here to do a job...and to get her head screwed on straight again. She'd do both those things to the best of her ability.
'Brought that generator you ordered.'
The men unloaded the generator. Beneath his work shirt Cade's arm muscles bulged. Despite the generator's bulk and weight, he didn't so much as break out into a sweat as he carried it to the car. With a wave to Jerry, she set off after him, admiring the broad sweep of his shoulders and the depth of his chest. The man was a veritable Atlas. He stowed the generator into the tray of his ute with ease and then took her suitcase. She told herself the only reason she let him take it was because he'd know how to load the tray to best effect.
It wasn't because it was too heavy and she had pitiful upper body strength.
Her lip curled. Oh, who was she trying to kid? But getting fit was on her to-do list while she was out here. In two months' time she'd be tossing that suitcase around as if it weighed nothing at all. The way Cade did.
She found her eyes drawn too easily to him so, setting her teeth, she did what he did—shaded her eyes and watched as the Cessna took off. And then, to stop from staring at him again, she completed a slow three hun...
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Book Description Harlequin Romance. MASS MARKET PAPERBACK. Condition: New. 0373178522 . Seller Inventory # Z0373178522ZN
Book Description Harlequin Romance, 2012. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0373178522
Book Description Harlequin, 2012. Mass Market Paperback. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P110373178522
Book Description Harlequin Romance. MASS MARKET PAPERBACK. Condition: New. 0373178522 New Condition. Seller Inventory # NEW7.0109769