the train drew in to Roma Street Station, Emily checked her phone messages one
more time. There was still nothing from Alex, so now she was officially
worried – not only about Alex’s twenty-four hour silence, but also about her
own fate. She had no idea what she’d do if he wasn’t in Brisbane.
She’d rushed to the city in
blind despair. She needed to see Alex, to stay with him, and yes, to pour out
her heart to him. Of all her family, Alex would understand, and Emily had been
so very desperate to get away from Wandabilla that she’d jumped on the train
in the vain hope that Alex would return her call before she arrived.
Now, the train came to a stop with a wheezing sigh of brakes, and
all around Emily, passengers were rising from their seats, gathering their
belongings in a businesslike fashion, pulling on jackets and coats and heading
for the carriage doors, eager to be out on the platform and gone.
They, of course, had
somewhere to go.
Emily did not.
If Alex was away, she would
have to find a hotel. She certainly wasn’t going to turn tail and head home to
Wandabilla, to face the music, with everyone in the small country town knowing
what had happened to her.
Besides, Emily told herself
there was still a slim chance that Alex was home. He might have a problem with
his phone, or perhaps he’d let the battery run down, or he’d bought a new
phone and changed his number and hadn’t got around to telling her.
Although her doubts about
the wisdom of rushing to Brisbane were mounting fast, she rolled the magazine
she’d been trying, unsuccessfully, to read and stowed it in her shoulder bag,
then retrieved her suitcase from the luggage rack.
It was an unusually cold
September afternoon, and a biting westerly wind whistled callously along the
platform. Shivering, Emily buttoned her coat and turned up its collar, then
she lugged her suitcase behind her, and headed for the warmth of the
As luck would have it, she
was in the depths of the tunnel, jostling with crowds of shoppers and
commuters, when she heard the soft quack-quack which was the silly
ringtone she used to distinguish social from business calls. She grabbed her
phone from her bag. It was a text message.
Em, sorry I missed you, and
very sorry to hear about that @#$%$# of a boyfriend. Wish I could be with you
now, but I’m in Frankfurt at a Book Fair. Please use the apartment tho. Stay
as long as you like and use my room. I’ve checked with Jude and he’s cool, so
he’s expecting you.
Emily had to read this
twice, standing rock still in the tunnel while commuters steered somewhat
irritably around her. She needed a moment to take the message in, to deal with
her see-sawing emotions of relief that Alex was OK, and her disappointment
that he was so far away.
Very quickly, overriding
these initial reactions, rushed a flurry of questions. Who was this Jude
person? When had he arrived in Alex’s life? And… would he really be as cool as
her cousin suggested about her sudden appearance on his doorstep?
She felt awkward about
imposing on a stranger, and she wondered, briefly, if she should continue up
the coast to her grandmother’s instead. Granny Silver was as understanding and
welcoming as Alex, but she preferred to see the world through rose coloured
glasses, so Emily rarely burdened her with her problems.
Also, if this Jude fellow
was expecting her, and if he was anything like Alex – which he probably was,
remembering Alex’s former housemates – he’d probably already jumped into host
Jude could well be whipping
up something delicious for their dinner right now, so it would be rude to
simply not turn up. Emily headed to a nearby bottle shop, bought a good
quality red, as well as a white, because she didn’t know Jude’s tastes, then
went to the taxi rank. But as the taxi sped towards West End, crossing a
bridge over the wide Brisbane River, her impulsive dash to the city began to
feel more foolish than ever.
She’d been so self absorbed,
so totally desperate to get away from prying eyes, that she’d seen her cousin
Alex as her one safe haven. She’d had visions of crying on his shoulder, of
sitting with him on his balcony, looking out over the river and the city
skyline, drinking wine together while she told him all about the whole sorry
mess with Michael.
Alex was such a wonderful
listener, way better than her mum. He never trotted out I told you so,
or kindly but firmly pointed out her mistakes. Best of all, once he’d
sympathised and mopped her tears, he always made her laugh.
Man, she could do with a
laugh right now, but she couldn’t expect sympathy, wine and cheering up from
Alex’s new flatmate. As the taxi drew up outside the apartment block, she told
herself that the best she could hope for was friendly tolerance from this
perfect stranger, and a little privacy in which to nurse her wounded feelings.
At any rate, it was
reassuring to know that she wouldn’t have to negotiate any of the bothersome
boy-meets-girl nonsense. She’d had enough trouble with men to last her a
lifetime, but she could rely on the fact that any man living with Alex would
be gay and totally safe to live with.
Marlowe was still typing at his laptop when the doorbell rang. He was in the
midst of a thought, a decent thought, one of the few he’d come up with that
day. He was trying to get it onto the page, so he continued typing, despite
the doorbell, knowing that if he stopped, the precious words would be lost,
never to be recalled.
The bell rang again, with a
slight air of desperation. Fortunately, the last sentence was captured and
Jude saved his work, pushed away from the desk. Taking off his reading
glasses, he rubbed at the bridge of his nose, then stood unhurriedly and
stretched, rolling his shoulders in a bid to ease the tension that always
locked in when he became too absorbed in his writing.
The caller would be Alex’s
young cousin. Jude had received a garbled message that she needed a bed for a
few nights and so he’d manfully hidden his reluctance to socialise and assured
Alex that he’d oblige. Apparently, she’d had boyfriend trouble and was
suffering from a broken heart.
Another of Alex’s lame ducks,
Jude thought wryly, knowing he was one, too.
He was in the hallway,
blinking at the darkness (was it really that late?) before he gave a thought
to his appearance. Still in the clothes he’d dragged on in the morning, he was
wearing old, badly ripped jeans and a baggy, ancient football jersey, stained
at the neck and worn at the elbows. Not exactly suitable for receiving Alex’s
houseguest, but it was too late to do anything about it. The girl at the door
would be getting impatient.
Jude turned on the light as
he pulled the door open and a yellow glow spilled, golden and honey warm, over
the chilled figure outside. At first sight of her, he felt deprived of oxygen.
Later, he asked himself what
he’d been expecting, and he realised that if he’d given Alex’s lovelorn
country cousin any thought at all, he’d mentally classified her as frumpy and
miserable. An unfashionable, possibly plain country mouse.
How wrong he was.
The girl standing before
Jude in a fashionable white wool coat and knee high brown leather boots was a
stunner. Her red-gold hair flowed softly over her white coat, making him think
of fire on snow. Her face was delicate yet full of character.
And while there was a hint
of sadness about her blue eyes, her skin showed no sign of country mouse
freckles. Her complexion was fair and smooth, her chin neat, her mouth curving
She looked, at first glance,
like all Jude’s female fantasies rolled into one hot package.
He found himself silenced to
the point of stupidity.
‘You must be Jude?’ she
enquired, tilting her head to one side and smiling cautiously.
‘Sure.’ Somehow, he
remembered his manners. ‘And you must be Emily.’
‘Yes. Emily Silver, Alex’s
cousin.’ She held out her hand. ‘How do you do, Jude? Alex said he’d warned
you about me.’
‘Yes, he rang.’ But the
warning had been totally inadequate, Jude realised now. He’d planned to offer
the barest courtesies as a host and then leave Emily Silver to mend her heart
in whichever way she needed to. He still planned to do that, but already he
knew she wouldn’t be easy to ignore.
‘I must say it’s very kind
of you to take me in at such short notice.’ She shook his hand, and it was a
ridiculously electrifying experience.
‘You’re very welcome.’ Jude
spoke gruffly to cover his dazed dismay. Then he noticed her suitcase. ‘I’ll
get that for you.’
‘Oh, thanks. And I’ve
brought wine.’ With a dazzling smile, she held up a brown paper bag. ‘A bottle
There was a slight shuffle
in the doorway as he stepped forward to reach for the luggage while Emily came
inside. Their bodies brushed briefly. Damn. Jude couldn’t believe he
was reacting this way. He’d had more than his fair share of girlfriends, but
this evening, his body was reacting as if he’d been cast away on a desert
island and Emily was the first woman he’d seen in two decades.
‘Oh, it’s lovely and warm
inside,’ she was saying.
Jude nodded, added
grouchily, ‘Alex’s room is down the hall, as I’m sure you remember. First on
In the doorway to the master
bedroom, Emily paused and sent a dimpling smile back to him over her shoulder.
‘Wow. I’ve never stayed in this room. I’ll be able to enjoy the amazing view
of the river from Alex’s bed.’
‘No doubt.’ Jude set the
suitcase on the floor just inside the doorway, angry that the mere mention of
the word bed set his mind diving into fantasy land. Refusing to meet her
animated gaze, he said tersely, ‘You settle in. I’ll – ah – be in the
From “Falling For Mr Mysterious"
By: Barbara Hannay
Mills and Boon Romance
Copyright: © Barbara Hannay
® and ™ are trademarks of the publisher. The edition published by arrangement
with Harlequin Books S.A. For more romance information surf to: http://www.eHarlequin.com