The Rock Star's Email Order Bride - Demelza Carlton - ebook
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A mail order bride and a rock god: can they make fairy tales come true?  In the final year of her business degree, Phuong has her future all mapped out. Finish studying, then go home and save her family's business. Until her father dies and it all falls apart. Broke and jobless, she stumbles on a solution: find herself an Australian husband. Fast. She's not looking for love - Phuong doesn't believe in fairy tales. Her marriage will be a business deal, pure and simple. But when she meets her husband-to-be and discovers he's a reclusive rock star living at Romance Island Resort, maybe it's time to believe a girl can live happily ever after.

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Contents

Title Page

Dedication

Free books

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10

Part 11

Part 12

Part 13

Part 14

Part 15

Part 16

Part 17

Part 18

Part 19

Part 20

Part 21

Part 22

Part 23

Part 24

Part 25

Part 26

Part 27

Part 28

Part 29

Part 30

Part 31

Part 32

Part 33

Part 34

Part 35

Part 36

Part 37

Part 38

Part 39

Part 40

Part 41

Part 42

Part 43

Part 44

Part 45

Part 46

Part 47

Part 48

Part 49

Part 50

Part 51

Reviews

Author's Note

Free books

About the Author

The Rock Star's

Email Order Bride

Demelza Carlton

For the real Magic Marcel

Copyright © 2015 Demelza Carlton

Lost Plot Press

Click here to get started – http://subscribe.demelzacarlton.com/RIR8

ONE

Jason didn't wait for the rotors to stop before he leaped out of the helicopter door and sprinted for the hotel entrance.

"Welcome to Romance Island Resort, sir. Enjoy your stay!" came the pilot's voice behind him, but Jason wasn't listening.

He burst through the door and skidded to a stop in front of the Reception desk. "Where's Audra?" Jason demanded. She was the only girl who could make him forget Angel. The only girl who could make this right. He needed her. Now.

The blonde girl at Reception stared at him. "We don't have anyone named Audra here, sir."

"Of course you do. Best maid I ever met. Tell her I'm here, and to meet me at my accommodation. I had Villa Maxima last time. The one with the huge spa tub in the bathroom. And make sure we have plenty of mango beer. Mangoes are her favourite."

A second girl sidled behind the desk, beside to the blonde. She looked Japanese, but her accent had Aussie overtones as she asked, "Did you say Audra? She was mad about mangoes. I bet Audra's missing those now she's in Antarctica."

Jason laughed. "Antarctica? Don't be ridiculous." He turned his eyes back to the blonde. "Can you let her know I'm here?"

She looked lost until her eyes fixed on someone behind Jason. "Oh, Mr Meier, this man's looking for Audra. He doesn't believe that she's gone."

An older man with a professional smile held out his hand. "Good morning, Mr ah – "

"Felix. Jason Felix." Jason's firm handshake almost crushed the other man's fingers in his eagerness. "Where's Audra?"

"Like Hana said, she's in Antarctica, Mr Felix. Audra no longer works here."

Jason's heart plummeted. No Angel, no Audra...what was a rock star supposed to do when the girl he wanted didn't want him?

"Is there anything else we can help you with, Mr Felix?" the blonde asked sweetly.

Find another girl.

He eyed the blonde, who wore a pink and white frangipani behind her ear that matched her pink lips. "Make one of the villas ready for me."

She looked askance at Meier.

Meier coughed and dropped his voice to a carrying whisper, "Mr Felix owns the hotel, Heloise. Give him anything he wants."

Heloise beamed. "Sure thing, Mr Felix. What else would you like?"

"I'm the activities manager, Mr Felix," Hana interjected. "My job is to make sure every guest enjoys his holiday to the fullest. Tell me what you want, and I'll make it happen."

His loins stirred at the thought. Who first – the blonde or the brunette?

"Stand up," Jason ordered. "Both of you."

Heloise rose and Jason eyed her breasts. More than a handful – much too big for his tastes. Maybe some other time. He turned to scrutinise the brunette instead. Jason took stock of her athletic figure, perky breasts and rosebud mouth. She'd definitely do for a night.

"Join me for a drink. I'd like to tell you what activities I have in mind." He crooked his finger and headed for the bar, grinning when he heard Hana's following footsteps. Yes, he was still a rock star. No woman could resist him.

TWO

"I'm sending you to Australia," Phuong's father had told her. "There you can study accounting until you're qualified. A proper CPA. Then you will come home to sort out my company. You'll check all my accounts and find out who's stealing from me. I suspect my accountant, Felipe, but he's family – your brother's wife's brother – and your brother swears he's honest, so we need proof before we can fire Felipe and give you his job. So study hard, because this family's fortunes rest on you."

"Why me? Why not Thuan?" Phuong asked.

He sighed. "Because you're ten times as clever as your brother, who's also blinded by love for the stupid woman he calls his wife. She'll spend all his money and leave him when he's bankrupt to marry some other stupid man. You'll never be seduced by a pair of batting eyelashes over a dissatisfied pout. Love won't make a fool of you."

He was right, Phuong reflected. If she was ever foolish enough to fall in love, her mother's acid comments would soon dissuade her of any such sentimental feeling.

Sadly, her father's plans hadn't come to fruition in his lifetime. A stroke felled him in his sleep, leaving her brother in charge of both the business and the family finances.

Her brother's phone call had been abrupt. "I'm not wasting any more money on you. Felipe tells me Dad's business is nearly bankrupt, so we have to cut all unnecessary expenses – including educating you. I don't know what Dad was thinking," Thuan said, without even greeting her.

"But I only have a year to go. Then I'll be able to work for Dad's firm and turn the company around, just like he wanted," Phuong protested. "Just one more year."

"Not one more cent," he snapped. "There's no point educating girls. Look at my wife, Pearl. You might work for a few years, but then you'll get married and have children – what do you need an education for, when all you'll do is cooking, cleaning and childcare? And I won't support you any more, either. Pearl says we can barely afford to support Mother and we have nothing left to waste on you. You're too old. Find a job or a husband. You won't be welcome here." Before Phuong could respond, he'd hung up. That would be the last time she'd speak to her brother.

Find a job or a husband. Her Australian visa didn't allow her to work more than ten hours a week, which was hardly enough to pay for her final year of university fees. It would barely cover her food for the week, let alone her rent. She knew what she had to do – find a husband, and fast. An Australian man who could give her Australian citizenship. Then she could finish her degree and save her father's firm. If Felipe and her brother hadn't bankrupted it already.

A husband. She needed a husband. Where did a girl go to get a husband quickly? The internet, of course. She knew other girls back home who'd been mail-order brides and they'd raved about the experience. The men had romanced their brides-to-be, whisked them away to their home countries, married them and given them a future. She also knew girls back home who'd done worse – sold their bodies to many men, not just one, in order to help the family finances. Compared to prostitution, marriage to a stranger couldn't be that bad – perhaps there'd be some handsome, charming, rich one who'd sweep her off her feet and into the lap of luxury. Then her brother would be begging her for favours.

Smiling to herself, Phuong opened her laptop. She had a husband to find.

THREE

"Hello? I need a fuck."

Xan blinked and forced her smile to stay in place. "I'm sorry, what did you say?"

"I need a fuck." The frustrated-looking backpacker glared at her. "And a plate."

Xan repeated the man's accented English several times in her head before she decided not to kick him in the groin for one of the coarsest come-on lines she'd ever been hit with. Instead, she replied, "Ah, you want a fork? It's a ten-dollar deposit to get a crockery and cutlery pack – one of everything you need, including a plate and a fork. Here, let me show you." Xan rose and retrieved one of the drawstring bags from the office. She tipped it on the counter, sending a cascade of cutlery across the desk.

"Ten...ten dollars for a fuck?"

She had to keep a straight face. She HAD to. Xan took a deep, calming breath.

"Yes. It's a deposit. When you return this at the end of your stay, I'll give your ten dollars back." Xan watched the backpacker thinking it over. She could almost read his mind. Yes, ten dollars was cheap for what you got, but he didn't know if he could find the items cheaper in a discount store in town. If he did, he could return these and get his money back. But if he bought things, he'd never see that money back, even if he did get his ten dollars from her. He didn't have much space in his already overstuffed backpack because of all the souvenirs he wanted to take home. Maybe he'd just hand over the money and... Xan tried to hide her smile as he produced the cash. "Here you go." She bagged the cutlery and passed the pack across the counter.

Fresh off the plane, she was sure of it. If he'd stayed at any other hostels in Australia before coming to Broome, he'd know the drill by now. She watched him disappear through the swinging kitchen door, before he reappeared in a group of equally lost-looking girls by the communal refrigerator. He'd evidently been their spokesman, because the girls trooped out of the kitchen and laid siege to the reception desk.

Xan did a quick head count and retrieved enough packs for everyone. She needn't have hurried, though – the girls weren't familiar enough with Australian currency to produce a single ten-dollar-bill between them. She saw euros, ringgit and what looked like Thai baht surface, before they'd produced enough dollars to seal the deal.

By the time the crowd cleared, the airport shuttle arrived, bringing with it a group of even more lost-looking souls, panting like dogs in the unfamiliar heat as they hefted their suitcases up the steps. Everyone wanted to visit a tropical paradise, but no one wanted to stay outside in the heat for long. Especially not in wet season humidity.

"Excuse me, but where are the cups? I want to make a cup of tea, but I can't seem to find them." The wilting woman had arrived on yesterday's shuttle, but Xan had been serving in the kiosk at the time, so one of the other girls had handled check-in.

Xan explained about the packs and endured a ten-minute argument as to why the woman couldn't just pay for the cup. It was the whole pack or nothing. It took another five minutes for the woman to produce the money she grumpily acknowledged was necessary, though she tried to tell Xan she was two dollars short while hiding the stack of twenties nestled in her wallet.

A queue coughed and shuffled at the kiosk, but the two girls who took turns in the kitchen and manning the counter were nowhere to be seen. Sighing, Xan stepped up to the counter and proceeded to sell soft drinks, laundry detergent and anything that could be deep-fried to the impatient guests. When the queue cleared, she took the food orders into the kitchen, where she found her missing staff peering at one girl's phone.

"It sounds like a dream come true," the phone's owner breathed. What was the girl's name? Heather, that was it.

"I'd say it's more of a nightmare," Xan interjected as she slapped the orders on the counter. "All these people were waiting to be served, so hurry up and get the orders ready."

"No, look at it, Xan," Adele replied, pulling Heather's phone from her fingers and handing it to Xan. "Seriously, it's got to be the best job in Broome. Tours and activities coordinator for the luxury resort island the celebrities go to. They want you to be a dive master, fluent in at least two languages, and all sorts of things, though. And a degree! But you get paid to snorkel and dive and go on helicopter tours all day...and you get to live on that island all the time."

A luxury resort sure sounded better than watching backpackers count their pennies all day. Xan hadn't thought she was ready for children, but now it seemed like she had hundreds of them. All adult-sized and asking the same questions, over and over and over again. Her visa would expire at the end of the dry season, though, which meant she needed to return to the UK, her family and her fiancé. She missed Jerome like an ache in the...well, touring the world was one thing, but travelling celibate, knowing that he was counting on her coming home when he finished his studies so they could get married, get a house and do all the things newlyweds did? Sometimes it was enough to make her want to return early. Firmly stamp on what Jerome called her travel bug and settle down with him.

For a moment, she considered it.

A shrill scream broke through her reverie. Assuming the worst, Xan took the stairs two at a time to the source of the sound: the female communal bathrooms. Damn. Why couldn't it be the male ones?

"What's the problem?" she called as she strode in.

Cries of, "Kikker!" and "Katak!" echoed through the steam, followed by, "What's a fucking frog doing in here? Aaargh!"

Xan assumed her calm-the-mob tone. "Nothing to worry about. Just a frog. It can't hurt you. I'll get someone to catch it when we close the bathroom for cleaning in an hour. Welcome to Western Australia, where the wildlife's so friendly, it joins you in the shower!"

One of the frog's friends snorted, but no one said anything else, so Xan headed back downstairs to the reception desk.

"Frog?" Adele asked as she handed a customer his change across the kiosk counter.

"Frog."

No, she couldn't go home yet. She was having too much fun. She hoped the frog appeared in the men's bathrooms next, or one of the big bush spiders. It was shift change for the oil and gas platform workers tomorrow. Some of those guys were ripped.

Maybe she should apply for that island resort job. How many dive masters with tourism degrees would there be around here? This was the trip of a lifetime: one big blast before she settled down for good with Jerome. It should include a piece of paradise. Go big or go home, she decided. And she wasn't ready to go home yet. Even if her life was all forks with no fucks.

"Hi, I'm new here and I can't find any spoons in the kitchen." The nervous-looking girl stared pitifully at Xan. "Please, can you tell me where to find them?"

"There's a ten-dollar deposit," Xan began wearily.

FOUR

Audra had never been so exhausted in her life, so naturally, she wanted to dance on the ceiling. She wasn't sure how many people had actually seen the South Pole, but now she was one of them. It felt...exhilarating. Hence the need to dance as soon as she could shut the door of her tiny room, where no one would see. The buzzing in her blood was better than sex. Everyone had sex.

Except...her room wasn't hers. Well, it was, but it was someone else's too. The vacant bunk she'd considered her reading lounge was now occupied by a girl with a round, smiling face. "Hi, hi! Finally we meet. I'm Shelley! You must be Audra. The guys told me it's your first trip and you've already seen the pole. Three winters I've spent here and my first expedition out there, I failed the medical and you got to go instead."

"I'm sure there'll be others. Some of the equipment wasn't up to spec, so when the right stuff arrives next summer, a team will need to return." Audra couldn't keep the longing out of her tone. Of course she wanted to be part of it. Who wouldn't? But she was only covering Shelley's maternity leave, after all, and it looked like her time was up. "How's your little girl, anyway?"

Now it was Shelley's turn to look wistful. "She said her first word the day before I left: Mum. It killed me to leave her, but Ross and I agreed that he'd get to be a stay-at-home dad with her while I went off to work. God, I hope he can handle it." She waved at their cramped room. "This'll seem like a holiday in comparison, though."

They both laughed.

"Sorry, you probably want a minute to yourself after all that time in the field. Video calls home and such. I'll go take a shower before the boys use all the water." Shelley grabbed her towel and slung it over her shoulder.

"Watch out for the shower monitor. He's a big Russian bloke named Boris. If you try to take a shower even a second longer than three minutes, he'll bust in and carry you off for torture and whatever else Russians do to traitors. Apparently."

Shelley's face fell. "You mean Bruce left? He's the best plumber on the continent!"

Audra couldn't hide her smile. "No, but he did spend a whole day booming at me in a thick Russian accent until one of the other guys ratted him out. I've never forgotten to time my showers since."

Shelley laughed and headed for the showers.

Alone, Audra decided dancing was probably a bad idea, so she dusted off her laptop and woke it up. Calling home could wait until tomorrow, but she could catch up on news and email in the meantime. Hundreds of unread emails awaited her, so she sighed and sat down to sort the spam from the...sixty-three emails from Jay? More?

Huh. She hadn't heard a peep from him since she left Romance Island, and she never expected to, either. Well...okay, for the first week she'd kind of hoped, and maybe for the second one, too, especially after she'd sent him the photo of them together, and the third week...but by the time she'd boarded the Aurora Australis, she'd barely checked her email at all. And not because of the restricted internet access, either.

So why on Earth was he sending her thrice-daily emails? Curiosity won and she opened the most recent one.

WHY WON'T YOU ANSWER MY MESSAGES?

Another:

WE WERE MADE FOR EACH OTHER. WHERE ARE YOU?

That popped up a lot, though the wording varied a bit, depending on the day.

After the first couple dozen, Audra skimmed to the first one he'd sent.

I'M HOME. WHERE ARE YOU, BABY? WHY AREN'T YOU HERE?

Had he completely forgotten about her new job? The reason she was leaving the island? Maybe he was drunk. It still didn't explain why he thought she should be at the resort.

Exasperated, Audra typed a response:

"I'm at Davis as one of the Antarctic meteorology team this summer. I just got back from an expedition to Dome Argus and the South Pole. It was awesome, thanks for asking." She hit send and scrolled through her emails, looking for anything from her family and friends.

Her laptop chimed, signalling that someone wanted to start a video call. Jay, who else?

She hadn't had a shower in days and her hair had been mashed under an assortment of hats and hoods for weeks. One look at her would scare him off for life. Reluctantly, she allowed the call to connect.

"Where the fuck are you really?"

Jay Felix was all charm.

Audra took a deep breath. She'd thought the soundproofing at the resort was bad. Here at Davis, if she raised her voice, the whole building would hear. "Hi, Jay. It's lovely to see you again. It's been months, I'm sure, though I gather you've been busy with your band's tour. I've been very busy, too. First training for my first Antarctic expedition, and then living and working out here for the summer. There are real penguins here, not just a jetty named after one. I must say, the jetty smells better, though."

"Why aren't you here?" Judging by his slurred voice, sobriety had deserted him several hours ago.

"I don't work at Romance Island Resort any more, remember?"

"No. Was it because of me? Did you quit because of me? I told you I was coming back, babe. I own the hotel. Had to come back."

He hadn't known? Then what had he meant that night when they'd... "That last night we spent together. When you answered the door, you said I was just in time and I'd left it until the last minute. You knew it was my last day and I was flying out to Hobart on Monday."

"No, I fucking didn't. You never told me that!"

Audra mulled this over. "So let me get this straight. You spent the night with me, made all sorts of promises you had no intention of keeping, then flew out the next morning to record your new album and go on tour. All the while, not saying a single thing to me. Not a word, a phone call, an email, nothing, until now, when you're demanding to know why I'm not waiting for you with open arms after you deserted me?"

"I didn't desert you! I had to work!"

"And who doesn't? When I got offered the chance of a lifetime, a stint in Antarctica, I took it. I'd have been crazy not to. Especially after dealing with VIPs who threw tantrums, painted the walls with ketchup, and slept with anything in a skirt." She'd never get the image of Jay and Penny out of her mind. It would scar her for life.

"Ooh, is that your boyfriend? Hi, I'm Shelley, Audra's roommate." Shelley smiled and waved over Audra's shoulder before throwing herself on her bed. "Don't mind me."

"Yes, I'm Audra's – " Jay began.

Audra cut in, "No, he's not my boyfriend. Never was, never will be. He used to be my boss." Though it was on the tip of her tongue, she didn't add that he'd once been the bane of her existence. It didn't seem fair to kick a man when he was down.

"What about all the time we spent together?" Jay exploded. "Are you honestly saying everything – the time, the incredible sex – meant nothing to you?"

Audra heard Shelley laugh softly, then whisper an apology.

"It was one night, Jay. One night that you made astonishingly clear meant nothing to you, when you climbed into a helicopter the morning after, then ignored me for months while wrapping yourself in different girls every night. Do you even remember how many? I mean, you did twenty, thirty shows at least, and I know for a fact that you took half a dozen girls back to your hotel room after the Perth concert. Add that all up and I don't need to be a statistician to know you've probably slept with over a hundred women, while you didn't even have time to send me an email saying hi." She drew in a deep, shaky breath. "If it weren't for the other girls, maybe I'd be interested if we were to meet again. But right now, if you showed up in the snow outside my door, I'd kick you right back to the boat that brought your sorry arse to Antarctica."

His eyes got that kicked puppy look that a dog gets when...Audra had never kicked a puppy, but she figured hurt and betrayal and big, wide eyes would feature in there somewhere.

"But...I could fly there now. We can talk about this. I could take you home and...I want to spend the rest of my life with you. How about it? A fresh start with just you and me. I'll marry you if that's what you want. No other women ever again. I swear." That same beseeching look she'd surrendered to before. Never again.

"Jay, you barely know me. Normal people don't marry strangers. Especially not strangers who've slept with a hundred other people in less than six months!"

"Please, baby, give me time to book a flight and – "

Audra's heart nearly broke at the pain in his voice, but somehow she mentally sticky-taped it back together and said, "No. I ship out in a couple of days. Even if you did fly here, I'd be gone, on my way back to Melbourne to finish my training. I told you before, if you want a girl to love you, you have to be more than a rock star. Go back to the hotel library and do some more research. You'll see what happens to guys who cheat. They don't get the girl, that's for sure." She sighed. "I'm sure she's out there, Jay – the right girl for you. But I'm not her. So good night...and good luck." Before he could say anything, she ended the call and slammed her laptop closed.

Shelley whispered, "Was that really Jay Felix?"

Audra nodded.

"And you used to work for him?"

Another nod.

Shelley cleared her throat. "He's always had a reputation for...well, you know. But I've always wondered if it was true or just something the girls made up. What's he like in bed?" In alarm, she added, "I'm only asking in the name of scientific inquiry, of course. Happily married and stored in this fridge and all."

Audra smiled faintly. "Unbelievable."

Shelley inhaled sharply. "I knew it! Wait, in a good way or a bad way?"

"Both."

They both laughed, but Audra's heart wasn't in it any more.

Shelley was sensitive enough to stop. "He seems really into you, despite all his obvious failings. Is there any chance you and him might...you know...reconnect? In some way?"

Audra shook her head. "If he grew up a bit, and maybe turned into a good man instead of a spoiled, selfish arsehole...maybe. But I think hell will freeze over first." She glanced out the window and noticed snow flurrying past the glass, dancing in an evening breeze that she'd never grow tired of watching.

Unseen by anyone, her tears for Jay dropped onto the windowsill. One, two, three, four...the beats of a song that only her heart knew.

FIVE

Jay lost count of the number of times he tried to call Audra again after the first call disconnected, but he just couldn't reach her. He couldn't quite bring himself to believe it. One moment, he'd been thrilled to finally speak to her again, and the next, he was all at sea. She wanted to work in a frozen wasteland and she didn't want him? What was wrong with her?

He'd have to talk to her in person, that was all. He'd find a plane or charter one to take him out there and...

Two hours later, he'd managed to find a cargo plane leaving New Zealand in a fortnight's time that would take him. Too late, if Audra had been telling the truth, because she'd already be on the ship home. Maybe he could track her down in Melbourne, but he wouldn't know where to start looking. Besides, he wasn't a stalker – he stood out and was proud of it.

And who was Audra, anyway? Just a hotel maid turned weathergirl, who'd saved his life and helped him and...aw, fuck. He'd messed up again. Done something wrong and lost her for good this time. And there wasn't a thing he could do about it. At least, not yet.

He needed to work out what he'd done wrong, so it wouldn't happen again. Rock gods didn't get dumped – not even retired ones.

Time to head back to the library. He'd get as many books as he could carry, and this time he'd pay attention. He'd get this romance thing sorted so no woman could resist him. So when the right one came along...she'd be his, no question. And no fuck-ups.

The library was closed by the time he reached it, but he'd persuaded the security manager to give him access to more than what the regular guests got. He was the owner, after all. After-hours access to the library? Easy.

He headed straight for the shelf where the rock star romances were kept. No matter what Audra said, he'd gotten some of his best ideas from these. As if someone had been expecting him, he found three new ones he'd never seen before – recognisable because of the absence of shirtless dudes on the cover, of course. He checked the bit on the back and they seemed sufficiently similar to the shirtless books to suit him.

What else had she said? Something about marrying strangers. Those were the mail-order brides, weren't they? Funny, she'd admitted that she liked those books, and he'd even seen her reading a couple. He grabbed those, too, figuring they might help.

Five books should do him for a couple of days, he decided, so he tucked them under his arm and left the library, whistling as he walked around the lagoon, back to his villa.

Three books and a lot of bourbon later, he discovered that he'd missed the first book in the series, so he staggered back there to find it. It figured – had a shirtless dude on the cover. No wonder he'd ignored it the first time. May as well get some more of the mail-order bride books, too, to cover up the shirtless dude.

He'd read it as soon as he got another bottle of bourbon. The last one had somehow emptied itself and he couldn't be fucked finding another one. Yeah. But now, he'd just rest his head on the rug for a moment. Because...because...

Jason's head touched the rug and he fell into a deep, whisky-soaked sleep where he was a rock star again, and everything was rosy. Fuck yeah.

SIX

All out of fucks and forks to give, Xan collapsed on her bed. Burying her face in her pillow, she tried to shut out the world, but she didn't have time for that yet. She had to call home.

Easing her phone out of her bag, she checked that the wi-fi was active and started a video call to her parents.

Her dad answered the call, peering blearily at the screen. Was it just Xan's imagination, or was his nose red? Surely he couldn't be drunk at – she checked her watch – ten in the morning. He rarely drank anything.

"Xanthe, is that you? You look so tanned."

"Hi, Dad. Yeah, it's hard not to get tanned out here. The backpackers I manage is pretty open to the elements and it's only a short walk to Cable Beach, when I get time. They call it the wet season here, but we get fewer rainy days than you probably see."

After chatting for a few minutes about life in Broome and some of the strange things Dad's English students had said lately, Xan felt it was safe to ask, "Where's Mum?"

"Trying to single-handedly cure the plague, or that's what she says. I caught the dreaded lurgy from someone at work so your mother's at the supermarket buying ingredients for soup." He sneezed, then finished with a hacking cough. "Impressive, eh?"

Only her father could dramatise dying of man-flu. "Very. You make me really glad I'm on the other side of the world and it's summer here." She tried again. "Just that Mum emailed me, saying she needed to talk to me. It sounded ominous. You wouldn't know what she meant, would you?"

Her father shrugged. "No idea. Maybe she just wants to give you the recipe for her plague-curing soup. It can't be that bad if I haven't heard anything, can it?"

Xan finally relaxed. "No, that's true. Maybe she wants me to send more Vegemite for your birthday."

Her father failed to hide his horror. "Oh God, please no. Don't send any more of that stuff. Do Aussies really eat that? How are any of them still alive?"

Xan laughed. "It's the best hangover cure ever, or so I've been told. I've never had so much to drink that I wanted to try it. Watching tourists try it for breakfast at the backpackers never gets old, though. Their expressions...no words are necessary."

"So you like working there, then? Thinking of extending your stay?"

"Maybe." Xan thought about leaving it at that, but she'd always told her father everything. "I saw a better job advertised at a luxury resort near here. Well, a couple hundred kilometres from here, actually, on an island. They're looking for someone to manage all the activities at the hotel. That includes diving and snorkelling – they've got some awesome coral reefs there that I'd kill to dive, but you can only get to them through the hotel because of the shape of the island. They cater to VIPs, so you have to factor in anything that's within reach of a helicopter, light plane or luxury yacht...and they have access to all three. The pay's good and it includes accommodation and board on the island, so I wouldn't have to share a house in town and pay rent, either."

"Sounds perfect for you. That's what you want, right? All that time at university studying tourism management. I know we talked about history tours of the Greek islands, but with the economy the way it is...maybe you're better working in paradise in Australia. Perhaps one day I can persuade your mother to come for a visit."

Xan breathed a sigh of relief. She'd been thinking it, but to hear it from her father broke through all her remaining resistance. "I'll put in my application tonight."

A few minutes later, she ended the call and switched on her laptop. Yes, she wanted to do more diving before she settled down to a dull, married existence.

SEVEN

Pounding began in Jason's head. It wasn't until he cracked one eye open that he realised there was pounding outside it, too. On the door. "Fuck off," he mumbled. He reached across the bed, but there was nothing to grab but linen. Where were all the girls? He remembered two, maybe three of them, but they weren't here now. That meant no one else would answer the door and the hammering wouldn't stop until he did something about it.

"Yeah, coming," he growled. He reached the front door and waved it open.

"Mail delivery, Mr Felix." The night porter waved at the box of fan mail, topped by a small stack of official-looking envelopes that he should probably read first.