She was sitting alone at the bar with her back
to him, so he wasn’t sure why she caught his attention. Perhaps it was because
she seemed so different from the rest of the under-thirty-fives who packed the
Hippo Bar for Friday night cocktails. No mad flirting for her.
She was staring at her empty cocktail glass,
stirring what was left of the ice cubes with a tiny back straw, oblivious to
the happy commotion going on all around her.
Her clothes were different, too. No tight
hipster jeans or bare midriff, no outrageous jewellery or spangly glitter.
Her shiny dark hair was caught up in a simple
knot and her dress, something dark and feminine with one shoulder bare,
offered a clear view of the graceful line of her neck and shoulders. Her skirt
wasn’t especially short but it managed to reveal rather shapely legs.
He wanted to see her face; if it matched the
rest of her it was, at the very least, elegant.
And then, miraculously, she turned and his lungs
compressed as if he’d free-dived to the bottom of the Coral Sea. She was
quite, quite lovely.
Her eyes were clear grey, her nose classic and her mouth lush. She’d dusted
her eyelids with smoky hues and had drawn a fine black line to skim her lower
lashes. The make-up gave her a dramatic, dusky allure.
A disturbing fantasy flashed into living
Technicolour in his head. He saw her in a different setting, somewhere remote,
far away from this city and she was leaning towards him, her dark eyelashes
spiky and wet... her cheeks flushed, her pink lips softly parted... and her
eyes were begging him to make love to her.
He cursed softly at his foolishness and spun on
his heel, eager to move on, to find a quieter, less crowded bar. But he made
the fatal mistake of glancing back over his shoulder.
And this time, he was touched more by her air of
solitude than her beauty. Her gaze was fixed on a spot in the distance, and
yet she was staring at it without interest, as if she was seeing something
else, some inner turmoil.
He recognised that look. He knew the loneliness
hovering like a shadowing hawk behind her lovely eyes. There were many times
he felt that.
Tonight was one of them.
Each year, this anniversary became more and more
difficult and he’d chosen to fly north to Cairns a few days earlier than his
business commitments required, simply to avoid spending this particular night
He’d planned to spend the night alone – content
to be a sightseer, wandering this sultry, tropical city at whim, hoping to
blank out bad memories by renewing his acquaintance with the sights and sounds
and smells of the far north. A solitary stranger in town.
But now he’d seen the girl at the bar.
His plans had to change.
Alice was trying to be brave.
It wasn’t easy to sit alone in a bar on her
thirtieth birthday. Alone, for heaven’s sake! She had a right to feel down.
The annoying thing was that she had no one but
herself to blame; she’d run away from her birthday party. Not the party her
workmates had wanted to throw, but the family gathering her mother had
insisted on arranging.
Very early in the night, Aunt Bettina voiced the
family’s collective thoughts.
“Poor Alice,” she’d said, her voice choking,
while her eyes became moons of sympathy. “Married before twenty and divorced
before thirty. It’s a crying shame.”
No one – repeat, no one – not a single member of
the Madigan family had ever been divorced. Louisa, the family’s genealogy
expert, had researched on the Internet, so she was certain of this.
No one had been infertile either. And if the men
in Alice’s family had ever indulged in extra-marital affairs, their women kept
very quiet about it. It was an unspoken family law that Madigan women hung
onto their husbands.
Alice had committed all three crimes –
infertility, an unfaithful husband and a divorce. She was the family failure.
She’d had been trying hard to feel good about
herself in spite of these disasters. She’d survived a wrecked marriage with
her ego intact – just. She knew that she was better alone than she’d ever been
with Todd. And she’d learned the bitter lesson that she couldn’t rely on
others – certainly not a husband or babies – to make her happy or to give
meaning to her life.
It was up to her.
She’d come a long way in the past six months.
But tonight her family made her feel like an obliterated body in a single
vehicle crash. No hope. Dead on arrival.
As if turning thirty wasn’t a miserable enough
milestone in any woman’s life. As celebrations went, her party had been a
And as soon as the cake was cut she’d made her
excuses, claiming that her workmates, who hung out at the Hippo Bar on Friday
nights, were waiting for her.
The only problem was that her friends weren’t
expecting her and by the time she arrived they’d moved on to a nightclub
somewhere, and Alice didn’t have the heart to track them all over town on
their cell phones.
So here she was. On the night of her big
Three-O. Looking down the barrel of the rest of her life. Alone.
Alice blinked at the barman and he pointed to
her empty glass. “Did you enjoy the French Kiss?”
“Yes, it was delicious.”
“So you want try another cocktail?”
Should she have another? Why not? This wasn’t a
night for being careful. Picking up the menu, she scanned the list of
outrageous names and smiled. “I think I’ll be adventurous and go for a
Screaming Orgasm this time.”
“And I’ll have one, too,” said a lazy voice
Alice spun to her left and was surprised to find
a man sitting on the stool right next to her. When had he arrived?
He smiled. Slowly. It was a smile that started
at his eyes – light blue, clever and good-humoured – and took its time
reaching his mouth. With the same lack of haste he let his gaze linger on her
and he didn’t try to hide the fact that he liked what he saw.
Something about his eyes and the very male way
he was checking her out made her stomach feel ridiculously weightless – as if
she’d suddenly toppled over the edge of a cliff.
“Hi,” the stranger said.
She had no experience of meeting men in bars;
her ex-husband had been her first boyfriend and she’d married him before she
was out of her teens. If only she could think of some smart, metro-chick
“Hi yourself,” she replied.
At a guess, he was in his mid thirties. He had
dark brown hair with just the faintest hint of silver at the temples and a
longish face. A strong face. He was lean and suntanned and dressed in chinos
and an open necked, white shirt with long sleeves rolled back.
“You seem to be drinking alone,” he said. “It’s
not a healthy habit.”
Alice felt compelled to defend herself. “It’s not actually a habit. This is a
one off experience.”
He accepted this with a slight nod. “Are you
“The best.” She straightened her shoulders.
“What about you?”
“I prefer the company of others.”
“But you’re on your own tonight.”
“Ah, yes,” he admitted and he sent her another
slow smile. “But then, I have an excellent excuse.”
She drew a deep breath, aware that a kind of
game had begun and the ball was in her court. “You just got out of jail?”
His eyes widened slightly and then he chuckled.
“In a manner of speaking. I’ve escaped from Sydney. I only arrived in town
today and I don’t know anyone.” His blue gaze held hers for breathtaking
Okay. Now was the point when she should give
this guy the brush off. But their drinks arrived. And before she could pay,
her neighbour pushed several bills across the bar.
“My shout,” he said.
She was about to protest.
But she changed her mind. Why the heck shouldn’t
she test her wings on a little light flirtation? She was thirty – and for the
first time in her adult life she was out on the town as a free agent – two
good reasons to let a rather nice looking guy chat her up in a bar.
If he wanted to.
And if she decided she wanted to let him.
“So, what’s your excuse for drinking alone?” he
“Aliens abducted my friends.”
One dark eyebrow lifted. “How unfortunate for
“Yes. I guess they’ll wake up in the morning
with their memories wiped clean.”
He grinned. “It’s happened to a few of my mates
after a night on the town.”
Picking up her drink, she took a slow sip. “So,
what do you think of the cocktail?” She tried to feel detached as she watched
the movements of his lips when he tasted his drink.
“Have you had one of these before?”
“No.” He held his glass to the light and gave
the contents a swirl before taking a longer sip. And then he flashed her a
wicked smile. “This is my very first orgasm.”
She almost choked, gasped for breath. A cloud of
steam rose through her and she tried to ignore it. Stay cool, Alice. Lifting
her glass, she offered him a shaky salute. “Don’t drink too fast then.”
From “Having the Boss's Babies"
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