The Maverick Millionaire

By: Alison Roberts



Denial, too, of what was happening right now? That his brother was out there somewhere in that merciless ocean? Too cold to hang on any longer?

Drowned already, even?

No. Surely he’d know. He’d feel it if his other half was being ripped away for eternity.

* * *

The cry of pain was enough to pull Ellie from the mental haze she’d been clinging to as she kept her face buried from the outside world, thinking of nothing more than the comfort of being held in strong arms and, hopefully, being carried to safety.

What had she been thinking? Eleanor Sutton wasn’t some swooning heroine from medieval times. She didn’t depend on anyone else. She could look after herself.

‘Put me down,’ Ellie ordered.

But he kept lurching forward into the biting wind and rain.

‘No. We’re not at the river.’

‘I need to see where we are, then.’ She twisted in his arms to look towards the sea.

Taking her helmet off had probably been a bad idea. The wind was pulling long strands from the braid that hung down over Jake’s arm. They were plastered against her face the moment they came free and she had to drag them away repeatedly to try and see properly.

‘I can’t see it. The waves are too high.’

‘See what?’

‘The light from the lighthouse. The bach is in a direct line with the light, just before the river mouth.’

‘The what?’

‘The bach. A holiday house.’ Ellie had finally picked up the drawl in the man’s voice. ‘Are you American?’

‘Yep.’

‘A cabin, then. Like you’d have by a lake or in the woods. Only this one’s near the beach and it’s the only one for a hundred miles.’

‘How do you know it’s even there?’

‘Because I own it.’ Maybe it wasn’t dark enough for the automatic light to be triggered, but she’d seen it earlier, hadn’t she? When she’d told Dave where to drop them?

Maybe she’d only seen the lighthouse itself and it had been childhood memories that had supplied the flash of light. The flash she’d watched for in the night since that first time she’d stayed on the island with her grandfather. A comforting presence that had assured a small girl she was safe even if she was on a tiny island in the middle of a very big sea.

‘We’ll have to keep going till we get to the river. I can find the way from there.’

How long did he keep struggling against the wind before they finally reached the river mouth? Long enough for Ellie to know she’d never felt this cold in her life. At least they had the wind behind them as they turned inland, but there was a new danger when they reached the forest of native bush that came to meet the coastline in this deserted area. The massive pohutukawa trees were hundreds of years old and there were any number of dead branches coming loose in the vicious wind to crash down around them. Live bits were breaking off, too, leafy enough to make it impossible to see the old track that led to the bach.

Ellie had to rely on instinct. Her fear was growing. Had she made a terrible mistake, telling Dave they could find shelter here? The little house that Grandpa and her father had built had seemed so solid, wedged into the bush that had provided the wood to make it. A part of the forest that would always be here even if she had never come back. A touchstone for her life that was a part of her soul.

But how many storms had there been in the years that had passed? Had the tiny dwelling disintegrated—like all the hugely important things in her life seemed to have a habit of doing?

No.

They almost missed it. They were off to one side of the patch of land she owned. She might have let herself get carried right past if she hadn’t spotted the tiny hut that sat discreetly tucked against the twisted trunk of one of the huge pohutukawas.

‘We’re here,’ she shouted.

The man looked at the hut. If he went inside the bleached wood of its walls, he would have to bend his head and he wouldn’t be able to stretch out his arms. ‘Are you kidding me? That’s your cabin?’

Ellie actually laughed aloud.

‘No. That’s the dunny.’

‘The what?’

‘The long drop. Toilet.’ Oh, yeah...he was American. ‘It’s the bathroom.’

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