Marrying The Millionaire Doctor

By: Alison Roberts

CHAPTER ONE




THIS was…weird.

As though reality had become a dream. Of course, Wallaby Island usually had that effect on new arrivals. The largest of a collection of tropical islands off the coast of North Australia, it was a picture-perfect mound of exotic rainforest greenery, bordered by white sandy beaches, surrounded by a warm turquoise ocean and almost always bathed in brilliant sunshine.

Susie Jackson was not a new arrival, however. This environment was reality for her and the anticipation created by watching the privately chartered seaplane come in for a smooth landing and taxi to the pontoon at the end of the jetty was due purely to an empathy with the young girl standing by her side. Pressed close enough for the tremor to feel like her own. She tightened the arm around the girl’s shoulders with a quick, reassuring hug.

Figures emerged from the small aircraft. The pilot stayed to secure the mooring and it was a single figure who began to walk down the timber slats of the narrow jetty.

That was when it happened.

When the edges of reality began to blur.

So much for the generic ‘parent’ figure she had expected to greet. Any last-minute words of encouragement for the girl beside her died on Susie’s lips and she could only stare as the man striding towards them turned the jetty into a catwalk.

Modelling the latest Armani suit, perhaps, with an appropriate aura of elegance and power. Beautifully tailored dark trousers. A dark tie that had been loosened and a pristine white shirt with the top button undone. The suit jacket slung carelessly over one arm and a slim, black briefcase dangling from that hand. A mobile phone was in his other hand, held to his ear.

Was it the way he was walking? A mixture of casual grace but purpose with an unmistakable air of being very accustomed to attracting a spotlight. Demanding it, almost.

OK, maybe the man was a highly acclaimed neurosurgeon from Sydney and maybe he was a key figure in tomorrow’s opening ceremony because he had donated enough money to help make the new, fabulous medical facilities on Wallaby Island a possibility in the wake of Cyclone Willie, which had devastated the area six months ago, but this wasn’t about him right now, was it?

It was about Stella. The girl nervously standing beside her. Without the aid of her crutches. Waiting for the most important person in her life to applaud what was, quite literally, a huge step forward.

The nerves were contagious. Or maybe it was a trickle of apprehension that made Susie’s stomach tighten and her mouth feel dry as Alex Vavunis strode closer. The phone was snapped shut and he was close enough now for Susie to take in the clearly defined lines of his face, the jaw softened slightly by heavy shadow and far more by a charming smile. Dark hair, dark eyes, olive skin. Lines on his forehead that suggested this man was used to frowning.

Not that he was frowning right now. Susie was invisible, standing outside a kind of forcefield created by the palpable bond between this father and daughter. What would it feel like, she wondered a little wistfully, to be so important to a man like this?

But then the lines deepened, confirming Susie’s impression, and the smile of pride and delighted greeting faded as he focused intently on his daughter’s face. For the briefest moment he looked taken aback. As though he didn’t quite recognise the person he was looking at. Almost as though he was seeing a ghost.

‘Stella! What’s all this?’

Stella’s tentative smile widened hopefully. Look at me, Daddy, it said. Tell me it’s OK to feel this proud of myself.

Susie’s smile widened, too. She did this by herself, it said. Isn’t it wonderful?

But Alex Vavunis didn’t even seem to notice the absence of the crutches. He was staring at Stella’s face. Susie watched, transfixed by the changing expression on his face, not wanting to believe what she could see happening. Pleasure giving way to a blink of readjustment. Pride being tarnished by what could only be interpreted as disappointment. Surely not. How crushing would that be?

‘You’re…’ Alex paused, and the transformation from loving parent to authoritarian figure appeared complete. ‘Are you wearing make-up?’

Stella’s smile wobbled. ‘I… It’s the camp disco tonight. I told you…’

‘And what are you wearing? Whose clothes are they?’

‘Mine.’

Her father made a faint sound—of irritation perhaps. As though he knew every item of clothing in his teenage daughter’s wardrobe and didn’t recognise these.

Maybe he did, in which case Susie might label him as a control freak rather than a caring parent. It was possible to give him the benefit of some doubt, though. What Stella was wearing at the moment was very different to anything she had brought with her to camp but, then, variations on a theme of denim jeans, oversized T-shirts and baseball caps were hardly what a girl would want to wear to her first disco, were they?

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