A SECRET, A SAFARI, A SECOND CHANCE        Harlequin Romance August 2019

 

 

 

 

A luxury escape…

A chance to reveal her baby bombshell!


A bid at a charity auction wins Eve Bliss a dream holiday on safari! As a penniless single mom, she’d be foolish not to go, but she’s not expecting Kit Merchant to be there on business. She and Kit once shared a passionate moment. Now, together in beautiful Africa, how long can she keep her four-year-old secret? Kit has a daughter!

S E R I E S

with books by Donna Alward, Nina Singh and Barbara Wallace

 

 

 

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PROLOGUE

 

‘Are you cold, Red?’

Eve was shivering, but the Nantucket evening was balmy; the cold was coming from inside.

She’d been cajoled into joining this beach party by the older women in her family, who were worried about her and thought she needed to get out, assuring her kindly that some young company would ‘cheer her up’.

Her cousins, given no choice in the matter, had done their best to include her, but these teenagers had known one another all their lives. She was twenty-one, in her last year at university; they all seemed so young, and her novelty value as ‘the English cousin’ was outweighed by the awkwardness of the fact that her mother had just died.

Bit of a downer, that.

She’d taken pity on them, pleading a headache to move away from the music and the bonfire to sit in the quiet shadow of the dunes, welcoming the chance to be on her own for a while, without having family fussing around her. Counting down the time until her grandmother would be in bed and she could slip back into the house, so that she wouldn’t have to pretend to have had a good time.

So that her grandmother wouldn’t have to pretend to care.

The last thing she needed was for someone to hit on her.

‘If I lend you my sweater can I join your escape party?’ She managed to stuff the little soft elephant she’d been cradling for comfort out of sight in her bag but, before she could tell the guy to get lost, he had draped a soft cashmere sweater across her shoulders and flopped down beside her on the sand. The sweater smelled not of woodsmoke but of the sea and, as her body relaxed into its soft warmth, she didn’t shake it off but pulled it around her.

‘Hi,’ he said, offering a large, square hand. ‘I’m Kit.’ Years at an English boarding school had drummed in the automatic ‘politeness’ response but as she reached up to take it, her own name died in her throat.

She might only be an occasional summer visitor to her mother’s birthplace, but everyone knew Kit Merchant. An island legend, he’d been a teenager when he’d brought home sailing gold from London and had been collecting trophies ever since.

Now in his mid-twenties, he was too old, and a lot too glamorous, to be hanging out at a teenage beach party.

‘This isn’t a party,’ she said, but curiosity beat her irritation that he’d called her Red. Her hair, a gift from her mother’s Scottish ancestors, had been an unending source of nicknames ever since she’d gone to school and it had got old. ‘What are you escaping from?’

Without taking his eyes off her, or letting go of her hand, he waved in the general direction of the fun on the beach. ‘It’s my kid sister’s birthday and I’ve been appointed the responsible adult.’

‘Oh, bad luck.’

‘Not that bad if I can sit it out with you?’

He had to be kidding but the guy was not only a legend, he was over-the-top gorgeous from his tousled hair to his long, bare feet. Suddenly, being on her own felt overrated.

‘Is that what a responsible adult would do?’ she asked.

‘I’ve given them the “no booze, no sex” talk and, since they were polite enough not to laugh, I thought I’d retreat to a safe distance so that they can enjoy themselves.’

The flames of the bonfire were reflected in his eyes, dancing off his cheeks, adding golden highlights to his sun-silvered hair and she felt warmed, not just by his sweater, but his smile.

‘In other words, no.’

‘My responsibility extends to all my sister’s guests, especially the ones sitting on their own looking sad. So, who are you? And why are you hiding out over here when you could be having fun drinking soda and toasting marshmallows?’

Despite the smile, there was an edge to ‘having fun’ that suggested he was having a bad evening, too. That neither of them wanted to be here.

‘I hate soda,’ she said, ‘and my marshmallows always fall into the fire.’

Her name she kept to herself. Her mother’s memorial service had been all over the local papers and if she told him that she was Genevieve Bliss, the flirtatious mood would shatter.

It felt like a lifetime since she’d smiled, since she’d been treated with anything other than kid gloves, let alone flirted with and, choosing not to be that ‘poor girl’ whose mother had died of a fever in a Central American jungle, she took her cue from him.

‘Red is good enough and, like you, I’m too old for this party.’

He looked at her for a moment then with what might have been a shrug said, ‘In that case, Red, can I tempt you to a decent bottle of wine and I’m sure to have something a little more substantial than marshmallows in the fridge?’

‘You have a fridge?’ She lifted a disbelieving brow and he laughed.

‘I not only have a fridge,’ he said, ‘I have a cabin just down the beach.’

‘What about the party?’

He looked across at the young people sitting around in groups, chatting, drinking soda. One or two were dancing to music that reached them as little more than a bass beat. He hesitated for a moment, then said, ‘If they need me, they know where to find me.’

Could this be real? She was being invited by a world-famous yachtsman, a man whose face and ripped body had appeared on countless magazine covers, to have supper with him in a cabin on the beach?

Sensing her own hesitation, he said, ‘I’m not hitting on you, Scout’s honour.’

He sounded serious, but his eyes were telling a different story, his mouth was temptingly close and she was overwhelmed by a reckless need to be held, to be warm again.

‘How disappointing,’ she said, and his sweater slipped from her shoulders as she hooked her free hand around the back of his head. For a moment neither of them moved and then, as she closed her eyes, he kissed her.

 

CHAPTER ONE

Nearly four years later...

‘Are you cold, honey?’

Genevieve Bliss was shivering, but not with the cold. She had been on edge from the moment she’d arrived on Nantucket and tonight’s charity dinner and auction to raise funds for an opioid clinic was not helping.

It wasn’t the cause. She knew the clinic was desperately needed. It was the location. The Merchant Seafarer Resort was the last place she would have chosen to visit voluntarily but her godmother, recovering from a hip replacement and pleading the need of her arm, was determined to bid at the auction.

‘I’m fine,’ she said, forcing herself to relax as they approached the impressive entrance.

It would be fine.

Kit Merchant, according to his team blog, was on the other side of the world putting a new multimillion-pound racing yacht through its paces. Even if he was here, he wouldn’t recognise a girl who, for one unforgettable night, he’d called Red.

Not that she believed for one moment that it had been unforgettable for him. His playboy reputation was a gift to the gossip magazines and without the red hair to flag up a reminder, she would be lost in the crowd both literally and figuratively.

‘I’m just a little overawed to be honest, Martha,’ she said, as they made their way to the cloakroom. ‘This place is way out of my comfort zone.’

‘To be brutally frank, Eve, I’d say your comfort zone and your wardrobe are both overdue a serious shake-up.’

On the contrary, what she’d gone for was a shake-down.

Desperate to hide the red hair that could be seen from a mile away, just in case he made a flying trip home, she’d used a semi-permanent colour to tone it down. She’d been aiming for something approaching the glossy brunette on the carton; her hair had resisted the transformation and what she’d ended up with was a muddy brown.

It wasn’t pretty, and it had been a shock to catch sight of herself in a mirror, but it was temporary, and she could live with it. Her dress was, she had to admit, not flattering.

She hadn’t brought party clothes with her; it hadn’t been that kind of visit. Even if there had been room in her bag after she’d packed for Hannah, she wouldn’t have trusted the zipper on anything in her wardrobe.

Ghastly hair and the extra pounds were, she told herself, the perfect camouflage. If, by any chance, she was to pass Kit Merchant in the street, he wouldn’t notice her, let alone take a second look.

If she were with Hannah on the other hand…

Far away in London, it had been easy to convince herself that she’d done the right thing. Here, where the Merchant name was everywhere…

‘Where on earth did you get that dress?’ Martha asked, as she took off her coat.

‘You really aren’t helping my self-confidence, Martha,’ she said as, attempting to make a joke of it, she struck a pose. ‘This dress is a classic.’ At her godmother’s raised eyebrow, she said, ‘Honest. I found it in Nana’s wardrobe. She’d never even worn it. It still had the tags.’

Martha was not amused. ‘The last time your grandmother bought a new dress Reagan was president.’

‘It’s lovely material.’

‘It fits where it touches. At your age you should be shaking out the red curls Mother Nature gave you and wearing something outrageous to go with that tattoo you’re so desperate to keep hidden.’

‘A moment of graduation madness,’ she said, turning around to try and catch a glimpse in the cloakroom mirror. ‘I didn’t realise it showed.’ She tugged at the dress. ‘I need to lose those last few pounds of baby weight before I wear anything likely to scare the horses.’

‘Nonsense. Hidden beneath that shapeless sack of a dress you have a lovely figure.’

As Martha, unable to disguise her irritation, shook her own head, the pink streak in her sharply angled silver bob caught the light. A picture of elegance right down to her silver-topped Malacca cane, Eve’s seventy-year-old godmother made her look like a dreary governess in some nineteenth-century novel.

‘You were the loveliest girl, Eve, and somewhere, hiding beneath your grandmother’s dress and a very bad hair colour, is a beautiful young woman. What on earth were you thinking?’

‘The dress or the hair?’

She waved a dismissive hand. ‘You can take off the dress and the sooner the better. Your hair is another matter altogether.’

‘My hair was all anybody ever saw,’ she said, capturing a wayward curl that no amount of hairspray could ever quite control, pinning it on automatic, implying that the change had happened long ago and had nothing to do with her visit to Nantucket. ‘People didn’t ask my name, they just called me Red.’ Not true, only one person had ever called her Red, but there had been other names. Coppernob, Carrots, Clown. ‘And I don’t think the head of a prestigious boys’ school would employ a science teacher who dressed outrageously.’

‘Don’t tell me you’re planning to live with that look permanently if you get the job?’

She’d worn a conservative grey suit and pinned her hair up as tight as humanly possible for the interview and had somehow reached the shortlist. It had been the perfect excuse to keep her visit to her ailing grandmother as short as possible.

The best-laid plans…

‘I had to call them when Nana died to let them know that I wouldn’t be available for a second interview.’

‘Surely, under the circumstances, they would have waited?’

‘They could have held the post for another week, but the cottage was an unforeseen complication,’ she said. ‘Since I couldn’t give them a date, I had to step down.’

‘You weren’t expecting to inherit your grandmother’s cottage?’ Martha asked, surprised.

After the way she’d left, she wouldn’t have been surprised if Nana had left it to her cat. The creature was old, bad-tempered and the rest of the family had, as one, taken a sharp step back when she’d raised the question of rehoming him.

‘I didn’t inherit it,’ she pointed out. ‘Nana left it, and everything in it, in trust for Hannah.’

The lawyers had made it plain that her plan to invite the family to help themselves to furniture and anything else they wanted, get a firm in to clear out what was left and leave it in the hands of a realtor, was not an option.

‘I should probably sympathise with the lost opportunity,’ Martha said, ‘but good teachers are always in demand. You can’t sell the cottage, but you and Hannah could live there. Stay on the island and let your hair grow out. Someone has to take care of that cat,’ she added.

With the summer approaching, Eve had to admit that it did sound a lot more appealing than going back to supply teaching in London. Apart from the cat.

Unfortunately, Hannah’s father wouldn’t stay in the southern hemisphere for ever, forcing her to face the decision she’d been avoiding for so long that it now felt…impossible.

And she wouldn’t be able to hide behind the muddy brown for ever.

She’d be forever on edge, never knowing when she might turn a corner, with not just hers but Hannah’s unmissable bright red curls blazing in the sunlight, and find herself face to face with the man who’d lived up to his reputation as a serial love ’em and leave ’em playboy.

‘Once I’ve sorted out the family stuff and put it into storage I’m going to freshen up the cottage and put it on the rental market to build up a college fund for Hannah,’ she said, aware that Kit Merchant wasn’t the only one on the run.

‘Or you could sublet your London flat and put that money in the bank,’ Martha pointed out. ‘Unless there’s some pressing reason to return to London? You never talk about Hannah’s father. Does he support her? Does she see him?’

‘N-no—’ It would have been the perfect excuse, but then she would have had to invent some man, a relationship that had gone off the rails. She’d told Hannah that she didn’t see her father because he lived in another country but that he had been kind when her mama had been very sad.

Her best friend at pre-school had a daddy who lived in Australia so she’d accepted it without question.

For now.

She knew that if Hannah was ever to know who her father was, she would have to tell Kit, but she was very afraid that he wouldn’t want to know.

‘He was there at a bad moment,’ she told Martha. ‘That’s all.’

True, and less embarrassing than admitting that her precious daughter was the result of a one-night stand at a beach party with her mother’s ashes barely in the ground.

Shame had sent her running back to England and then a pregnancy that would have caused gossip, raised eyebrows, a stain on her mother’s memory, had kept her away.

Her daughter had turned three at the beginning of May, time enough, she hoped, for dates to have blurred.

‘Did you ever tell him about Hannah?’ Martha asked.

‘I… No,’ she admitted. ‘He was long gone before she arrived.’

To say that Martha pulled a face would have been an exaggeration. There was the slightest movement of muscles, more than enough to show her disapproval. ‘And now you’re hiding out, afraid to get involved again.’

‘It’s simpler this way.’

‘Men do tend to complicate life,’ Martha agreed, ‘but they add a little spice. You’re a single mother, Eve, not a nun.’

‘Martha! I’m shocked.’

‘Are you?’ Her godmother could write an essay with the lift of an eyebrow. ‘Clearly you haven’t heard the rumour that it was my generation that invented sex as a recreational pastime.’

It was perhaps as well that, having arrived at the entrance to the ballroom, Martha didn’t wait for a response, but reached for a glass of champagne.

‘This is stunning,’ Eve said, following suit as she took in the magnificence of the ivory and gold ballroom.

She’d never been to the resort as a girl, although she’d instantly recognised Kit Merchant when he’d left the party to come and talk to her.

She hadn’t wanted to talk, and she was pretty sure he hadn’t followed her for the conversation. A local hero, he could probably have had any girl on the beach, but they were his kid sister’s friends; pretty and no doubt keen to attract his attention. Trouble, in fact, which might have accounted for his eagerness to get away.

Normally, she’d have told him to get lost, but she’d been a mess. Her mother had just died, and her father hadn’t felt the need to fly in to support her at the funeral. Her boyfriend had felt the same way, sticking to his plan to go backpacking around Europe during the spring break rather than fly to Nantucket, and she’d dumped him by text from the airport.

She’d been at the party because her cousins’ arms had been twisted to take her with them and she had only gone to get away from another miserable night sitting in with Nana.

She had been desperate for someone, anyone, to put their arms around her, to hold her, and Kit had been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Not that he’d failed her. Far from it. No doubt used to females throwing themselves at him, he had responded with some truly outstanding sex. Not the wham, bam, anonymous stuff she’d expected, had wanted right there on the beach to drive away the pain. Instead he’d grabbed her hand, racing with her to his beach hut where they’d had hot, mindless sex, as if they were both desperate to blot out the world. But then he had slowed everything down. They had drunk a rich red wine under a star-filled sky before making slow, sweet love; the kind that could break your heart. That you would never forget.

She swallowed, looking at the men in dinner jackets, the women in their beautiful clothes, and had a moment of regret for the head-turning red curls, wishing she were wearing something a little less…classic.

Wanting, just for a moment, to feel that alive again.

But only for a moment.

She’d been there and done that. She had Hannah, with her own Titian curls and Kit’s bright blue eyes, as a constant reminder of the night she’d lost her head.

Her baby girl. The love of her life.

She knew she should tell him, that he had a right to know, but her world was complicated enough. She wasn’t going to stick around and risk blundering into the man who’d made her laugh, made her cry, made love to her with a sweet passion that had changed everything in one starlit night.

The man who, at the fierce banging on his beach cabin door, the call that he was needed, had rolled out of bed, pulling on his jeans and grabbing his sweatshirt. All he’d said was, ‘Stay out of sight…’ on his way out.

She had waited until the first pink edge of dawn appeared on the horizon and then she had run back to her grandmother’s house and thrown her things into a bag. Nana had been asleep, so she’d left a note, caught the first ferry back to the mainland and been back in London twenty-four hours later.

Had he waited, holding his breath, waiting for the call from one of the less glossy gossip mags asking for a comment on the story they were about to run.

My Night of Sex… Sex in the Sand… Abandoned After a Night of Sex…

There had been stories in the past and, even if some of them were pure fiction and others heavily embellished to make better headlines, he had clearly made the most of his youthful fame. There were still photographs of him with beautiful women but these days no one was talking and neither would she. Not even when, weeks later, after her finals were over, she’d had time to realise what was happening to her body and two pink lines had changed her life for ever.

She hadn’t talked and she couldn’t call Kit.

The news had been full of the start of the single-handed round-the-world yacht race, or maybe that was all she had been noticing because Kit was the skipper that every camera had been watching, the man already making the headlines after rumours that his entry had caused a rift with his family.

Calling him on the satellite link would have been a very public way to inform him that he was about to become a father. While the headlines would have cheered a newspaper man’s heart and set Twitter alight, the trolls would have been out in force. She would have been mobbed by the press, her poor grandmother would have been under siege, and she would have had to go into hiding.

It had given her plenty of time to think. Time for her heart to stop when, two months into the race, his radio had gone silent after a storm. She’d hugged her belly protectively during the ten long days before he’d been spotted by search aircraft.

The photographs had shown that his damaged mast had been lashed back into place and the pundits had speculated with sickening detail how he must have climbed in heavy seas to repair it.

Worse, he’d signalled that his communication equipment had been smashed in the storm that hit his mast, but he was okay and was continuing with the race.

He’d finally limped home after more than four months in third place. A great feat of sailing, according to the yachting community.

Eve hadn’t cared about the sailing or the press, she’d just been furious that he would recklessly endanger himself for a piece of silverware to stick on the mantelpiece.

Had he no feelings for his family and what they must have gone through?

She knew all about recklessness. Her mother had taken risks and died; she would protect the precious little girl growing inside her from that kind of pain.

*

‘Kit? Where are you?’

‘Sorry, sis. The ferry was late but we should be with you in about thirty minutes.’

‘We could delay the start—’

‘No, dinner won’t wait so go ahead with the presentations. Lucy can speak after dinner before the serious bidding. How was Dad this evening?’

‘Furious. Frustrated at not being able to remember stuff. To walk properly. To say what he’s thinking.’

‘That’s probably a blessing.’

Laura laughed. ‘Undoubtedly, but he’s improving every day, even if the words aren’t in any dictionary, so stand back to have your ears blasted.’

*

‘Your grandmother and I used to come here all the time when we were growing up,’ Martha said. ‘Christmas parties, birthday treats, sailing. I missed her so much when she went off on her travels after college.’

‘I didn’t know Nana travelled. Where did she go?’

‘Spain, France, Italy, Ireland. There are photographs. You’ll find them as you sort through the cottage. Bring them over and I’ll tell you who everyone is.’ She sighed. ‘The itchy-feet gene runs deep in your family. Your mother was away to Africa on some research trip the moment the ink was dry on her degree, met your father and never really came home again.’

‘Nana wasn’t…’

‘Welcoming? Easy to live with?’ Martha finished for her. ‘She was such fun as a girl, but she was never the same after your grandfather died. We tried to involve her, but we didn’t understand so much about depression back then and we were all so busy with our own families.’ She shook her head. ‘But that’s not what kept your mother on the move. That’s who she was. I’ve never been further than Boston, which is why she asked me to be your godmother. She wanted someone grounded in your life.’

Eve struggled for something to say but Martha rescued her.

‘I thought you were going to follow in your parents’ footsteps, Eve. I seem to recall that you were studying zoology?’

‘I was.’ She had dreamed of returning to Africa, to the scent of hot earth when the rains came, the thunder of hoofbeats as a million wildebeest migrated across the plains, velvet black skies filled with stars. ‘When I discovered I was pregnant I realised that fieldwork wasn’t going to be an option, at least not for me, so I forgot about my Masters and I took a teaching diploma.’

‘Pregnancy didn’t slow your mother down.’

‘She wasn’t alone, not until Dad left her, but I’d never send Hannah to boarding school.’

Martha reached out and took her hand. ‘Her death was such a tragedy. I hope your little girl gives you some comfort.’

‘She is a gift, Martha. My joy.’

‘Well, let’s hope this visit will be as blessed,’ Martha said, innocently.

Eve realised that she’d underestimated her godmother’s capacity for mental arithmetic, but she’d been away on a fishing trip when Eve had met Kit that summer. Martha might have put her swift departure together with Hannah’s birthday and come up a theory about where and when, but that was all it was. There was no way she could be certain that Hannah had been conceived on the island.

‘People are beginning to sit down,’ she said, changing the subject. ‘Shall we go and find our table?’

Martha knew everyone at their table, mostly couples of her own generation who greeted her warmly before quietening to listen to Barbara Merchant welcome them and introduce the auction.

She had the same colouring as Kit, Eve thought; the same sun-streaked hair, the same vivid blue eyes. Lost in memories of that night, she heard little of her introduction to the cause for which the auction was being held.

‘Let’s go and see what the trip involves,’ Martha said, when she was done.

Monitors showed film of the trips on offer at Merchant resorts and some of their partners, in fabulous locations.

There was whale watching off the west coast, trips to Europe—vineyards in France, culture in Italy, golfing and fishing in Scotland—but it was the last one, the wildlife safari, that brought a gasp to Eve’s lips.

The Nymba Safari Lodge had been built high amongst the trees with viewing platforms where you could watch animals in a landscape that was painfully familiar. There was a glimpse of a giraffe at sunset, foreleg spreadeagled as it drank at the oxbow lake. There was the dusty green bark of fever trees, a family of warthogs snuffling through the grass.

‘Eve?’

‘Nymba… It was our home,’ she said. ‘It’s where we lived…’

The cover of the brochure for the safari trip had a photograph of a mama elephant, trunk curled protectively around her calf, and Eve picked it up, instinctively hugging it to her.

Nymba…

It was what her mother had called their boma. The word meant home and for just a moment she could hear her mother’s voice as she’d given her a hug before putting a small grey velvet elephant in her arms and sending her off to school.

‘This little elephant’s trunk is my arm, Evie. Hold onto it when you’re lost…put it around you when you need a hug…’

She wished she could wind the clock back to those last few weeks with her.

‘Excuse me? Can I get there?’

The woman waited for her to move and Eve stepped back, forcing a smile as she turned to Martha.

‘There are some really exciting trips on offer. Have you seen anything you like?’ she asked.

‘I was hoping for something a little more relaxing than zip-lining through a rainforest,’ she said, ‘but this one could have been made for you. Your grandmother left you some money and you could do with a break.’

‘That’s rainy-day money and, anyway, Hannah is too young to come with me.’

‘The rule with an inheritance is to give ten per cent, save ten per cent and spend the rest,’ Martha said. ‘Serendipitously, if you were to make a winning bid for the safari, you’d be economising by giving and spending at the same time.’

Eve laughed at her logic but shook her head. ‘Good try, but I couldn’t leave Hannah.’

‘It’s only for ten days. I don’t imagine you took her to lectures with you when she was a baby? Teaching practice?’

‘Well, no. Obviously. She is in a wonderful day nursery, but I’ve never left her at night. She’d miss me.’ And she knew everything there was to know about missing your mother.

‘Mary would love to have her stay and Hannah would have a great time with her cousins.’

‘You’re very free with your daughter’s hospitality.’

But Eve knew her godmother was right.

Mary was one of those women who wrapped you up in a hug and instantly made the world seem a better place. Older, she’d been married and living in New York when Eve’s mother had died, or things might have been very different.

Now she and her husband were back on the island with their three children and a menagerie of pets, and Hannah adored, and was adored by, all of them. Every sentence seemed to begin with Cara and Jason and Lacey…

‘Okay,’ she admitted. ‘I’d miss her.’ Putting an end to the discussion, she turned to a rail journey across the US. ‘This hits the less strenuous requirement,’ she said. ‘Or how about this camel trek across the desert? Camping out under the stars. You might meet a dark-eyed sheikh. Very romantic.’

‘There is nothing in the least bit romantic about camels, Eve. They spit.’

‘Okay… Is there anything here that you do fancy?’

‘I’m rather taken with the idea of sailing down the Adriatic from Venice to the Greek islands in that classic nineteenth-century sailing yacht, and if Kit Merchant happened to be at the helm there would always be something attractive to look at.’

Eve felt her cheeks heat at the mention of his name. ‘Isn’t he estranged from his family?’

‘There was a big row three or four years ago. Christopher didn’t want him to take part in the round-the-world race. He said it was time to stop playing and concentrate on the business.’

‘Sailing is his life.’

‘The resort is his father’s.’

Eve had to clear her throat, stop herself from looking around, although she suddenly felt as if she had a great big sign on her back saying ‘HERE’ before she could manage a bright, ‘Maybe a brush with death will soften his father’s attitude.’

‘Maybe. Ah, now this is the one I’ve been looking for.’ Martha picked up a pen, wrote her name and a substantial bid for a vacation at the Merchant Spa in Phuket. Then she held out the pen. ‘Your turn.’

Eve looked back at the African trip.

‘Just to show my support,’ she said, raising a fairly modest bid that someone had already made.

She had only just put down the pen when a man picked it up and outbid her.

Martha had met someone she knew and, while she was talking, Eve checked by how much she’d been outbid. Five hundred dollars… It was still ridiculously cheap, and she placed another bid.

Just to help push up the price.

She straightened to find Martha, thoughtful, watching and guiltily put down the pen. ‘It’s going to go much higher.’

‘They’re starting to serve dinner,’ she said. ‘We should go back to our table.’

As they moved away someone else stepped up to make another bid. As Eve smothered a squeak of protest, Martha took her arm.

‘Leave it until after dinner when we know what we’re up against.’

‘Yes… No!’ Realising how quickly she’d been sucked in, she said, ‘Wow, that’s dangerous.’

‘The trick is to decide on your top bid and not to get carried away. Well, not too much,’ Martha added, smiling.

‘Oh, no, I’m done,’ Eve declared, but she couldn’t stop herself from looking back, fingers twitching.

 

 

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From the book A SECRET, A SAFARI, A SECOND CHANCE by Liz Fielding

Copyright © 2019 by Liz Fielding