Playing for Love (Summer Beach Vets 1) - Escape Down Under (8 page)

“Look, I’m sorry Wendy upset you,” said Craig in a quieter voice. “I’ll have a word with her the next time I speak to her, okay? But I really don’t think she meant anything by it.”

Feeling slightly mollified, Sara nodded. She didn’t want their day ruined by hostility between her and Craig. Forcing a smile to her face, Sara turned to look out the window and tried to push his nosy agent out of her mind.





They parked the Jeep near Circular Quay, Sydney’s main ferry terminal and waterfront precinct, and strolled through the historic old streets and picturesque wharves of The Rocks. Tourists swarmed along the sidewalk, clicking away on their cameras and poring over folding maps. Sara enjoyed window shopping as they passed various souvenir stores and galleries displaying Australian art, jewellery, and other craft items. She paused outside one store window and gazed in wonder at the display of beautiful, iridescent stones glowing with a rainbow of colours. A sign above the store doorway invited visitors to come in and view their “Australian Opal Collection”.

“Opals are the national gemstone of Australia,” said Craig. “I think about 95 per cent of the world’s opals come from here. Want to go in and take a look?”

Sara nodded and followed him eagerly into the store. A smiling Asian woman came forwards and ushered them over to the display cabinets. Opals, she explained, came in several types. The most common and least valuable type was the white opal, also known as the “milky opal”, as they didn’t show the colours very well. Then there were crystal opals which tended to be slightly transparent, so that light passed through the stone. These came in an array of beautiful colours—they reminded Sara of a Caribbean lagoon on a sunny day: vivid pale blues and greens, with flashes of orange and yellow, like tropical fish darting through the water.

“The most sought-after, of course, are the black opals,” said the shop assistant, leading them over to another display cabinet. Inside were a selection of lustrous gemstones that seemed to each burst with a rainbow of colours. Glowing crimson, brilliant green, turquoise blue, dazzling orange… all shimmering together against a dark background.

,” murmured Sara, peering into the cabinet. “It’s almost like there’s a tiny little fire burning inside each one and you can see the different colours of the flames…”

The shop assistant nodded. “You can see why they’re the most valuable. A top-quality black opal can be worth as much as $15,000 per carat. That’s comparable with diamonds.”

“Wow,” said Sara. “But what makes those amazing colours? How are opals made?”

“Ah, well, there are lots of stories. The Arabs believed that opals fell from the heavens in flashes of lightening. The ancient Greeks said that they were the tears of the god Zeus. In India, the legends say that the Goddess of Rainbows was so beautiful, she was chased by all the other male gods and had to turn herself into an opal to escape their advances. Australian Aboriginals have a Dreamtime myth which says that opals were left in the footsteps of the Rainbow Serpent, who created the world and all living things.”

Craig laughed. “Those are all nice stories, Sara, but the real explanation is a lot more prosaic. Opals are mined from the deserts of the Australian outback. They’re basically made up of silicon dioxide. There are microscopic bubbles within the silica which catch the light and refract it—and our eyes see that as different colours. Like a rainbow. But it’s just to do with the way light passes through the opal and is reflected back at us. Nothing to do with magic.”

Sara smiled ruefully at the shop assistant. “I think I like your version much better. I think we all need a bit of magic in our lives.”

The woman smiled. “Perhaps you’d like to buy a little magical souvenir to take back home with you?”

“I’d love to. But not one of these,” Sara said regretfully, looking at the black opals. “I couldn’t afford it!” She laughed.

“Oh, that’s no problem. We have a range of opals to suit all budgets,” said the shop assistant smoothly as she led Sara over to another counter.

Sara found a beautiful little crystal opal shimmering with pale green, orange, and lilac. It was set in a delicate silver charm bracelet, which looked perfect on her wrist. It would be a wonderful souvenir of her time in Australia. She also bought a slightly darker crystal opal with deeper blue tones, set in a silver pendant, as a gift for Ellie. Feeling very pleased with her purchases, she tucked the jewellery boxes into her handbag and left the store with Craig.

“I think I should have asked for commission from that shop for taking you in,” chuckled Craig. “I hope all that shopping has worked up an appetite. There’s a great seafood place near here that I’d like to take you to. But first, come and check out the view…”

He led the way to the end of the wharf where they paused and looked out over the harbour to Sydney’s north shore. Above their heads, the hulking steel frame of the Harbour Bridge arched up across a cloudless blue sky.

“The locals call it the Coathanger, you know,” said Craig, gazing at it. “Pretty impressive, eh? Nightmare to drive over, though. It’s got eight lanes, plus two railway tracks, a cycleway, and a walkway for pedestrians… and it’s still always chocka!”

His phone rang in his pocket. Craig took it out and glanced at the screen.

“It’s Wendy,” he said with an apologetic look.

He turned away to answer the call and Sara wondered what the pushy agent wanted now. She saw Craig frown and send a quick glance in her direction, then he said shortly, “Fine. Go ahead. If you think it’ll be a good move,” before ending the call and slipping the phone back into his pocket.

“Problems?” Sara asked.

“No, no problem,” said Craig, although he didn’t elaborate. Instead, he started pointing out various landmarks on the other side of the harbour and Sara put the agent from her mind.

Craig took her to lunch at a waterfront bistro, where they shared a giant seafood platter of crispy soft-shelled crab, steamed mussels, barbecued king prawns, smoked salmon, grilled barramundi, and crumbed squid rings, accompanied by shoestring fries and washed down with something Craig called “stubbies”—ice-cold Australian beer in short, squat bottles.

Sara clutched her stomach as they came out of the bistro. “Oh my God, if I keep eating like this,
going to start looking like a giant sturgeon!”

Craig glanced at her, his blue eyes moving appreciatively over her full curves. “You look good to me.”

Sara blushed and looked away. They walked slowly—to allow their food to digest—and made their way around Circular Quay to Bennelong Point, where the Opera House sat in all its splendour. The afternoon sun reflected off its dazzling white roof, each curved “shell” fitting with perfect symmetry to the others. Sara stared at it, remembering the many times she had seen pictures of this Australian icon online, and in books and TV shows. She couldn’t quite believe that she was standing there.

They took a guided tour and Sara spent a fascinating hour learning about how the Opera House was designed and built. She never realised that it had taken fourteen years to build or that the site was so extensive, a stagehand working there would walk the equivalent of thirteen kilometres in one day. As one of the twentieth century’s most distinctive buildings, it was a UNESCO World Heritage Site with over seven million visitors a year.

Standing in one of the concert halls, inside one of the roof shells, and gazing up at the beautiful interior, Sara could see why the building had become such an icon. She felt Craig move beside her and then his strong, warm hand clasped hers. Sara felt a rush of happiness fill her. Closing her eyes for a moment, she thought to herself:
whatever else happens, I’ll always have the memory of this moment, standing here in the Opera House with this man beside me

They came out of the performing venue to find that the sun was setting. The sky was shot with purple, pink, and orange, and the water on the harbour reflected the same fiery colours. It was breathtakingly beautiful.

“Time for a quick drink in the Opera Bar, I think, before we head back,” said Craig with a smile.

He led her to the section of the waterfront below the Opera House where a concourse had been cleverly built to host a variety of small bars and eateries, all with open-air seating and a spectacular view of the harbour. It was packed with people—either tourists grabbing a bite to eat or locals coming for after-work drinks. Sara declined Craig’s offer of a snack, but she let him order drinks and soon found herself sipping a cocktail as she watched the city lights twinkle on across the harbour.

She leaned back and sighed. It had been a magical day and she was sad it was almost over. And soon her stay would be over and she would be leaving Summer Beach, leaving Australia, leaving Craig…

“Dr Murray! Can we have your autograph?”

Sara turned around at the sound of eager young voices. She saw two young boys standing next to them.

“Sure, no worries, mate.” Craig smiled and took the pens they handed to him. He scrawled his name on their shirts and they left beaming. But no sooner had they left than another person took their place. Then another. And another. Soon a small crowd was forming around Craig—not just of kids but adults as well.

Craig took it all in his stride, talking and laughing good-naturedly as he signed autograph after autograph. Sara sat slightly apart, watching him uncomfortably. Whatever Ellie may have said about Craig’s humility, she could see that he really enjoyed meeting and interacting with his fans.
Who wouldn’t enjoy a bit of celebrity?
Sara thought cynically. And once you get used to the attention and adulation, it can be addictive.

As the minutes ticked past, though, Sara began to feel resentful as well. This was the last precious bit of their day together and it was being ruined by all these stupid groupies! She watched a blonde woman reach a possessive arm around Craig’s neck as she posed for a photo with him. Sara decided that she had had enough. Standing up abruptly, she turned and walked away. A moment later, she heard a commotion behind her as Craig obviously saw her departure and broke away from his fans to come after her.


Sara kept walking, her steps quick and angry. She ignored Craig as he called her again and didn’t slow down until he reached out and grabbed her arm.

“Sara!” He pulled her around to face him. “What’s the matter?”

How could he ask that?
Sara seethed. She tried to pull her arm out of his grasp, but he wouldn’t let go. She looked around them. She didn’t realise that she had come so far when she had stormed off. She had walked all the way around the Opera House to the south side, where the Monumental Steps, a ceremonial stairway 100 metres wide, led down from the Opera House Forecourt to Macquarie Street.

“Let go of me,” she said breathlessly.

“Not until you tell me what’s going on. You’re angry about something.” His deep blue eyes searched hers. “What is it, Sara?”

“I just… I got fed up, okay?”

“Fed up?” He dropped her arm. “Are you annoyed because a couple of people wanted me to sign an autograph?”

“It wasn’t a couple of people,” hissed Sara. “It was dozens! And you looked like you were never going to stop! What were you going to do—just sit there all night signing autographs?”

“These are my fans,” said Craig, his voice cold. “I owe it to them. They’ve been amazing in supporting me and my TV career. I can’t just turn my back on them. Unfortunately, this is part of being a celebrity. An important part.”

“Yeah, I know all about that,” snapped Sara. “And I know how important it is to do
to boost your showbiz career!”

Whirling, she started down the Steps, just wanting to get away from him. But her foot slipped and, suddenly, Sara felt herself pitching forwards. She flailed her arms wildly as she tried to regain her balance—then she was being caught and held against a hard male chest. Her arms went instinctively around his neck as she felt him cradle her close to him. A rush of warmth enveloped her. It felt so wonderful being in Craig’s arms. Even furious at him as she was, she couldn’t help thinking she had never felt so safe and cherished.

He held her close for a moment longer than necessary, then let her go. Gently, he steadied her as she stood back from him.

“Are you okay?”

“Y-y-yes, I think so.” Sara straightened her skirt, feeling a bit foolish. Somehow, the near-fall had taken the wind out of her sails. Her anger had evaporated and she was left with a feeling of wistfulness. She didn’t want this wonderful day to end with them fighting.

Perhaps Craig felt the same way, because his voice was gentle as he said, “I think we’d better start heading back. Are you okay to walk back to the Jeep? I can go and drive it around, if you prefer to wait here.”

“No, no, I’m fine. I can walk,” Sara said.

“Good.” Craig gave her a slight smile, then put a solicitous hand under her elbow as he guided her back along the concourse, around Circular Quay, to where they had parked the Jeep.

They didn’t talk about his fans again and Sara was happy to sit in a contented silence as the powerful vehicle navigated its way out of Sydney and back onto the freeway. The drive back to Summer Beach seemed to be shorter than coming down the coast that morning, and all too soon, they were turning down a familiar street and pulling up in front of Ellie’s beach cottage.

The lights were on in the house. Ellie would be waiting, eager to hear the details of their day, Sara realised. She paused with her hand on the handle of the car door, suddenly reluctant to leave the cosy intimacy of the Jeep interior.

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