The Maverick Millionaire

By: Alison Roberts



She didn’t wait to see a look of disgust about how primitive the facilities were. The track from the outhouse to the real house was overgrown, but Ellie knew exactly where she was now. And if the outhouse had survived, maybe everything else was exactly as it should be. Within a few steps they could both see the back porch of the beach house, with its neatly stacked pile of firewood. The relief of seeing it look just like it always had brought a huge lump to Ellie’s throat.

She felt herself being tipped as he leaned down to grasp the battered iron knob of the door. He turned and pushed. The door rattled but didn’t open.

‘It’s locked.’

She couldn’t blame him for sounding shocked. It wasn’t as if another living soul was likely to come here when the only access was by boat so why would anybody bother locking it?

Another childhood memory surfaced. The door that had been purchased in a city junkyard had been roped to the deck of the yacht, along with an old couch and a potbelly stove.

‘The door’s even got a lock and a key.’ Her father had laughed. ‘That’ll keep the possums out.’

A family joke that had become a tradition. Unlocking the bach meant they were in residence in their tiny patch of paradise. Locking it meant a return to reality.

‘I know where the key is. Put me down.’

This time he complied and it was Ellie’s turn to be shocked as she felt the loss of those secure arms around her, along with the chill of losing his body warmth that she hadn’t been aware of until now. She staggered a little, but her ankle wasn’t as bad as it had been. Hellishly painful but it didn’t collapse completely when she tested it with a bit of weight. Maybe it was a bad sprain rather than a fracture.

‘Can you walk?’

‘I only need to get to the meat safe. The key’s in there.’

The wire netting walls of the meat safe were mangled, probably by possums, and the box frame was hanging by only one corner, but the big, wrought-iron key was still on its rusty nail. Getting it inside the lock was a mission for her frozen hands, though, and turning it seemed impossible.

‘It must be rusty.’ Ellie groaned with the effort of trying to turn the key.

‘Let me try.’ His hands covered hers and pushed her fingers away so that he could find the end of the key. She was still wearing her rescue gloves and his hands had to be a lot colder than hers were, but the pressure of the contact felt like it was skin to skin. Warm.

Maybe it was the reassurance that she wasn’t alone that was so comforting?

He was shivering badly, Ellie noticed, but when he jiggled the key and then turned it, she could hear the clunk of the old lock opening.

And then they were inside and the sound of the storm was suddenly muffled.

* * *

Safety.

They might be frozen to the bone and in the middle of nowhere, but they had shelter.

Jake was safe, thanks to this woman. Thanks to her astonishing courage. She’d not only risked her life to get him out of that life raft, she’d battled the elements, despite being injured, to lead him here. To a place where they had four walls and a roof and they could survive until the storm was over.

She seemed as stunned as he was. They both stood there, staring at each other, saying nothing. It couldn’t be nighttime yet, but it was dark enough in here to make it difficult to see very clearly. She was tall, Jake noted, but still a good few inches shorter than his six feet two. Eyes dark enough to look black in this light and her lips were deathly pale but still couldn’t hide the lines of a generous mouth. A rope of wet hair hung over one shoulder almost as far as her waist.

‘What’s your name?’ He’d been so used to shouting to be heard outside that his voice came out loudly enough to make her jump.

‘Eleanor Sutton. Ellie.’

‘I’m Jacob Logan. Jake.’

‘Hi, Jake.’ She was trying to smile but loosening her facial muscles only made her shiver uncontrollably. ‘P-pleased to m-meet you.’

‘Likewise, Ellie.’ Jake nodded instead of smiling.

His name clearly didn’t mean anything to her and it was a weird feeling not to be instantly recognised. He didn’t look much like himself, of course. Even his own mother probably wouldn’t have recognised him in this dim light with the heavy growth of beard and the long hair he’d had to adopt for his latest movie role. But instant demotion from a megastar to a...a nobody was very strange.

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