Okay, I've told you about the setting for A Wedding at Leopard Tree Lodge.
Now it's time to introduce you to Gideon McGrath.
When I was looking for someone to show you the hero in my head, this was the photograph that leapt out at me. Serious, intent, a man who has lived a full and exciting life, enjoyed danger, enjoyed a challenge until a cruel blow turned him into a man who's only joy was work.
Building his empire of hotels, resorts, taking old and young on adventures that would change their lives.
When he arrives at Leopard Tree Lodge he has come to face up to demons that have been haunting him for a long time. That done, he'll be free. Twenty four hours and then he can walk away.
Except that nothing is ever that easy. His back, which has been causing him a lot of trouble, decides it's had enough.
He isn't going anywhere.
And when he meets Josie Fowler, he doesn't want to.
Here's the moment: -
Gideon had watched her walk towards him. Until ten minutes ago, he would have sworn he wasn’t in the mood for company, particularly not the company of a woman high on getting her man to sign up for life – or at least until she was ready to settle for half his worldly goods. But then the tantalising scent of coffee had wafted towards him.
Even then he might have resisted if he hadn’t seen this extraordinary woman sitting on the deck, raking her fingers through her hair in the early morning sun.
If he had given the matter a second’s thought, he would have assumed anyone called “Crystal” to be one of those pneumatic blondes cloned to decorate the arms of men who were more interested in shape than substance when it came to women.
Not that he was immune. Shape did it for him every time.
But she wasn’t blonde. There was nothing obvious or predictable about her. Her hair was dramatically black and tipped with purple and her strong features were only prevented from overwhelming her face by a pair of large, dark eyes. And while her shape was blurred by the bulky robe she was wearing, she was certainly on the skinny side; there were no artificially enhanced curves hidden even in that abundance of white towelling.
In fact she was so very far from what he would have expected that his interest had been unexpectedly aroused. Rather more than his interest if he was honest; a sure sign that his brain was under-occupied but it certainly took his mind off his back.
An effect that was amplified as she stepped up onto his deck, paused there for a moment.
Straight from the shower her face bare of make up, her hair a damp halo that hadn’t seen a comb, without sexy clothes or high heels, it had to be the fact that she was naked under that robe that momentarily squeezed the breath from his chest as she’d walked towards him.
‘You’re an angel, Miss Blaize,’ he said, collecting himself.
‘Not even close,’ she replied.
She’d worked hard to scrub the inner city from her voice, he judged, but it was still just discernible to someone with an ear for it.
‘On either count,’ she added. ‘I’m sorry to disappoint, but I’m plain Josie Fowler.’
She wasn’t the bride?
Nor was she exactly plain but what his mother would have described as “striking”. And up close he could see that those dark eyes were a deep shade of violet that exactly matched the highlights in her hair, the colour she’d painted both finger and toenails.
‘Who said I was disappointed, plain Josie Fowler?’ he said, ignoring the little leap of gratification that she wasn’t Crystal Blaize. It was her coffee he wanted, not her. ‘I asked if you’d share your coffee and here you are. That makes you an angel in my eyes.’
‘You’re easily satisfied…?’
On the contrary. According to more than one woman of his acquaintance, he was impossible to please – or maybe just impossible -- but right now any company would be welcome. Even a big-eyed scarecrow with purple hair.