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Authors: Anne Oliver

The Price of Fame

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‘There you are.’ Nic said the first thing that came to mind. ‘I’ve been looking everywhere for you.’

Charlotte blinked. One moment she was trying desperately to deny her identity to the press, the next she was being swept against some dark-shirted stranger with abs of steel who seemed to think she was someone else.

Large hands held her in place, and a deep voice against her cheek murmured, ‘Trust me and play along.’

For an instant a whole other ‘play along’ scenario scorched the back of her eyeballs as his lips teased and toyed with hers. She was vaguely aware of the voices around them blurring into one meaningless hum. This guy could
kiss
. Somewhere an inner voice warned her that she didn’t know him … but instead of easing away, as she should be doing, she
kissed him back
.

About the Author

ANNE OLIVER
was born in Adelaide, South Australia, and with its beautiful hills, beaches and easy lifestyle, she’s never left.

An avid reader of romance, Anne began creating her own paranormal and time travel adventures in 1998 before turning to contemporary romance. Then it happened—she was accepted by Harlequin Mills and Boon for their Modern Heat series in December 2005. Almost as exciting; her first two published novels won the Romance Writers of Australia’s Romantic Book of the Year for 2007 and 2008. So after nearly thirty years of yard duties and staff meetings, she gave up teaching to do what she loves most—writing full time.

Other interests include animal welfare and conservation, quilting, astronomy, all things Scottish, and eating anything she doesn’t have to cook. She’s traveled to Papua/New Guinea, the west coast of America, Hong Kong, Malaysia, the UK and Holland.

Sharing her characters’ journeys with readers all over the world is a privilege and a dream come true.

You can visit her website at www.anne-oliver.com

Recent titles by the same author:

THE MORNING AFTER THE WEDDING BEFORE
THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT A REBEL
HER NOT-SO-SECRET DIARY

Did you know these are also available as eBooks?
Visit www.millsandboon.co.uk

The Price
of Fame
Anne Oliver

www.millsandboon.co.uk

CHAPTER ONE

N
IC
R
USSO
always planned for contingencies. The volcanic ash cloud from Chile sweeping across southern Australia had already disrupted air travel and any moment all flights out of Melbourne’s Tullamarine would be grounded.

His instincts were always spot on and Nic didn’t intend being one of those passengers caught up in the chaos.

In line at the airline’s business check-in, he speed-dialled Reception at the airport hotel, heard Kerry’s familiar, but somewhat distracted voice on the other end and smiled. ‘Hey, babe. It’s Nic.’

‘Nic, hi.’

‘How’s it going there?’

‘Hectic.’

‘I bet. Reckon I’m going to need that reservation after all.’

‘You’re not the only one. There’s a waiting list a mile long.’

‘Ah, but they don’t know the receptionist like I do.’ He grinned. ‘Connections, Kerry babe.’

‘Are everything. Right.’ He could hear the clatter of her fingers flying over her keyboard. ‘So … that’s for one guest?’

‘Depends …’ He deepened his voice and drawled, ‘What time do you get off?’

The muffled cough was laced with friendly amusement. ‘You’re incorrigible, Nic.’

‘So you keep telling me.’ He could envision the humour in her eyes and knew Kerry and her partner, Steve, would have a laugh over it later tonight. ‘If I’m still grounded when you get off, do you want to come by for a thank-you drink?’

While he talked, his attention was drawn to the slim brunette in line ahead of him. She’d been a passenger on his flight from Adelaide earlier in the day. He’d noticed her perfume then and he noticed it now—French and expensive but cool and light and refreshing.

Was it only her perfume that captured his interest? Neat and conservative weren’t his type but there was … something about her. Something timeless.

The notion tickled him for a moment. But only for a moment, because Nic didn’t do that nostalgic sentimental nonsense where women were concerned. In fact, he didn’t do sentimental, period.

But it was exactly how she made him feel, and that was weird. He could imagine standing behind her just this way on the edge of a still lake and watching the stars come out. Flicking aside her single strand of pearls and the glossy hair that had escaped its knot and putting his mouth right there, on that slender neck—

‘I’d love to catch up,’ he heard Kerry say, jolting him back to the noisy, overcrowded terminal, ‘but at this point with everything so uncertain I don’t know how long my shift’s going to be.’

‘No worries. You’re busy; I’ll let you get on with it. Maybe I’ll see you shortly.
Ciao
.’

He disconnected, his eyes still focused on the back of the woman’s neck. Shaking away the odd feeling she’d invoked, he studied her from a purely objective viewpoint.
Who wore pearls these days? Unless she’d dressed for a royal garden party.

His gaze wandered over her shoulders, covered in a slippery-looking fade-into-the-background jacket, then down to a matching knee-length skirt over a well-rounded, caressable bottom. A sexy little handful. Warmth flooded his palm—and other places. He could do a tea party if it meant taking her home after …

Tea party? Pearls? Hell, if that turned him on, his libido needed some serious attention. It had been a dry couple of months, after all.

She’d been in the aisle seat one row back and across from him, plugged into her music player, eyes glued shut every time he looked, fingers stiff on her lap. No rings on her left hand, he’d noticed, but a heavy chunk of bling on her right. Maybe she suffered from the same affliction he did? But the suffocatingly claustrophobic effect of being hermetically sealed in a flying tin can was a tedious necessity in his life.

Whatever the reason for her tension, she’d been an intriguing distraction. Her apparent lack of interest had given him the opportunity to glance back every so often and wonder whether that peach-glossed mouth would taste as luscious as it looked. How she’d respond if he put his theory to the test. The expression he’d see if she opened those eyes and saw him watching.

He grinned to himself—yeah, that was more like him. The excitement of the chase, the inevitable conquest. And temporary. None of that timeless sentimental rubbish.

He shuffled forward with the line.

So she was also travelling to Fiji and flying Tabua Class. She didn’t look like a businesswoman; not in that insipid suit that whimpered ‘don’t look at me’, but she didn’t look like a tourist either. Maybe she’d have the seat next to him
and he could spend the next few hours finding out what colour her eyes were and whether or not a hot-blooded woman lay beneath that drab, conservative exterior.

Assuming the aircraft got off the ground.

She stepped up to the counter and slid a high-end brand-name suitcase onto the conveyor. A moment later, he watched her walk away, those mystery eyes hidden behind a pair of supersized sunglasses. A celebrity or a wealthy socialite? he wondered, swinging his own travel-battered bag onto the conveyor and reaching for his documents. Whoever she was, he didn’t recognise her.

He proceeded to Immigration and Customs, unable to keep his eyes off the enticing sway of her backside a few metres ahead.
Forget it, Nic, she’s not your type, remember?
Except his body didn’t want to listen. So he deliberately stopped, shrugged off his jacket and stowed it in his cabin bag and studied the departures board a moment. He was supposed to be using the flight to brainstorm the ins and outs for his current computer game, not lusting after some unknown woman. Who wasn’t his type.

He’d not gone far when he caught sight of her again amongst the milling crowd. And all casual, carnal thoughts vanished. A reporter he recognised from one of the local gossip rags stood in her way. She was shaking her head and attempting to move on, but the guy, easily twice her size, was blocking her progress, shadowing her steps as he towered over her. Intimidating her.

Nic’s gut tightened reflexively as his own childhood images charged back. And now, as then, not a single person intervened or came to her assistance. No one cared, no one wanted to get involved.

No way
. He swung his cabin bag over his shoulder and moved fast, the hand on the strap jammed into a fist. No
way would he stand by and allow the bully to get away with it.

‘Leave me alone,’ he heard her say as he neared. She was standing her ground, one palm thrust in front of her, then she shook her head again, trying—and failing—to pass. ‘I’ve already told you, you’ve mistaken me for someone el—’

‘There you are.’ Nic said the first thing that came to mind. ‘I’ve been looking everywhere for you.’ Keeping his hands easy and non-threatening, he touched her rigid shoulders and turned her to face him.

Beneath her flawless complexion she looked pale and stunningly fragile, a vanilla rose facing the dawn of summer’s first heatwave. Up close her skin-warmed perfume was even more sensuous. Damn, what were her eyes saying behind that sunglass shield?

He didn’t take his eyes off her face, willing her to give him a chance to show he meant no harm, and said, ‘Clear off, mate, she already told you, you’ve got the wrong woman.’

Charlotte blinked. One moment she was trying desperately to deny her identity, the next, she was being swept against some dark-shirted stranger with abs of steel who seemed to think she was someone else.

Large hands held her in place and a deep voice against her cheek murmured, ‘Trust me and play along.’

She froze, her already hammering heart tripping against her ribs, her insides trembling. She couldn’t have freed herself anyway; she was gripping the handle of her cabin wheel-bag in one hand, her documents and handbag in the other, and his arms were like prison bars. Well, not quite, because they were big and warm and somehow protective rather than restrictive.

As if he knew she’d had a recent run-in with the press and was desperate to avoid another. But he didn’t appear to recognise her so she grabbed the lifeline he seemed to be offering with a vengeance, met his eyes and forced her lips into a smile. ‘And here I am …
Honey Pie
.’

His brows lifted a fraction at that, then, nodding once, he returned a co-conspiratorial grin, his hands sliding off her shoulders and down her back.

And before she could draw another breath, his mouth touched hers. Tender yet firm but not hard and controlling.
Trust me and play along
. His words played back to her in that wholly masculine rumble that still echoed in her breasts, making them swell and throb with a tantalising heat.

For an instant, a whole other ‘play along’ scenario scorched the backs of her eyeballs as his lips teased and toyed with hers. She was vaguely aware of the voices around them blurring into one meaningless hum. This guy could
kiss
. Somewhere an inner voice warned her that she didn’t know him … except instead of easing away as she should be doing, she
kissed him back
.

He pulled her closer, dived deeper and took complete possession. Of her mouth, her senses, her … everything. It was like falling and flying at the same time. She’d never experienced anything like it. Somewhere in the dim distance she was aware of an announcement over the PA system but the part of her brain that processed rational thought had already shut down.

She could feel his hands sliding lower, fingers playing over her spine and settling on her hips, beneath the hem of her jacket and against her skirt so that she could feel every pressure point his fingers made through the thin silk. His warmth soaked clear through her underwear to shimmer
on her skin, coarse denim rasped against her skirt as his thighs came into contact with hers.

A moan rose up her throat. He was hard as rock. Everywhere. It made her feel soft and feminine and totally boneless and she found herself sagging against him.

He changed the angle of the kiss, bumping her glasses with his cheek or nose and tilting them sideways. She felt the pressure of his lips lessen and wanted to cling a moment longer—wanted
more, deeper, hotter
—but he lifted his head and straightened the glasses on her face and grinned. An intimate we’re-sharing-a-secret kind of grin. ‘Missed you too,
babe
.’

‘Uh-huh.’ She felt as if she were waking from a trance. She realised she’d stopped breathing and drew in some much-needed air. A whiff of some unfamiliar spicy fragrance teased her nostrils. The intimacy of the moment lessened, but her pulse was still stammering, colour and commotion and movement swirling all around her as she stared up at him.

His eyes … the deepest darkest brown, she noticed now. Mesmerising, compelling. The kind of eyes you could lose yourself in and never find your way back … She tightened her slippery grip on her belongings. ‘I—’

He touched a long tanned finger to her lips, glanced over her shoulder and gave her a look alerting her that the media pest was still watching, then said, ‘We’d better get moving—pandemonium’s about to break out.’ Curling a hand around her upper arm, he began to guide her towards the exit.

‘Hang on!’ She stopped. This was suddenly moving way too fast. ‘Where are you taking me? What is
going on
?’

‘Shh.’ His warm breath tickled her ear, making her toes curl inside her shoes. ‘Didn’t you hear the announcement?’ A flicker of barely there humour crossed his gaze—as if
he knew she hadn’t. ‘All flights are grounded until tomorrow morning at the earliest.’ Tightening his grip, but not so much that it felt threatening or uncomfortable, he propelled her forward. ‘So we’re going to the airport hotel.’

Of course she hadn’t heard any announcement. She’d been otherwise occupied. Blind and deaf and mute to everything but him. His hands resting with familiar ease on her waist, his lips moving expertly and intimately over hers as if they were long-term lovers …

She didn’t even know his name.

She jerked to a halt as warmth flooded into her cheeks. ‘Wait. Just wait. I don’t—’

‘You’d rather stay here and take your chances?’ He glanced at her, one eyebrow raised, his dark eyes assessing.

No. Definitely not. Wise or foolish, she’d take her chances with Mr Expert Kisser.

He tugged on her hand, giving her no further time to consider her options. ‘Your stalker’s following us—don’t look back.’

A shiver ran down her spine as she struggled to keep up. Difficult when her knees still felt like clotted cream. ‘How do you know?’

‘I know how the guy’s mind works.’ They were approaching the terminal’s glass doors, being swept along with the tide of noise and people. ‘He’s watching to see if our impromptu display of affection continues. Waiting for us to slip up.’

‘But my luggage …’

‘Has been checked through. You’ll have to make do with what you’ve got.’

They walked out into a dull winter’s late afternoon. Passengers who hadn’t heard the news were still arriving, others were diving into taxis as fast as they pulled into the kerb and disgorged their load.

She accompanied him towards the sky bridge that led to the multi-storey car park and hotel. ‘I’m sure we convinced him,’ she murmured, yanking her wheel-bag up over the kerb and onto a strip of grass. Heavens, this guy had convinced
her
—introverted scene-avoider, Charlotte Dumont. And in more ways than one.

‘Convincing, you reckon?’ He stopped, looked down at her, lips curved into that devastatingly intimate-secret grin again. His eyes were twinkling. Or maybe it was just the sun momentarily peeking out from behind the clouds. ‘I think we should give it another try,’ he said. ‘To be absolutely certain.’ Before she knew what he was about to do, he slipped the glasses off her face. ‘Ah,’ he murmured.

She jerked her chin up, daring herself to meet his gaze. ‘You were expecting brilliant blue or moss green? Violet maybe? I appreciate your help,’ she hurried on before he could pay her some smoothly delivered yet empty compliment she didn’t want to hear. She bent to unzip the side pocket of her bag, slid her documents inside, then straightened. ‘Really. Thank you. But was all that …’ she waved a hand, trying to find the right words to express the almost orgasmic experience and failing ‘… necessary?’

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