Normandy, France 1944
Louisa stared down into the dark, empty void. All lights were hidden behind blackout curtains. She forced herself to concentrate on what she’d been taught in training on how to land safely. She checked, for the final time, the adjustment of her parachute straps.
“Dropping zone ahead,” the pilot’s voice crackled through the intercom. Louisa glanced at her fellow agent. He gave her the thumbs-up sign.
As the French countryside, six hundred feet below, revealed itself under a soft moonlight, the wind whipped the legs of her overalls. She patted each of her deep coat pockets, reassuring herself that her revolvers were secure.
Rolling her shoulders to ease the weight of the kitbag, she tucked an errant curl back under her snug tin hat.
She snapped the clasp of her black handbag, checked off the contents and slung it around her neck.
She was ready.
New Zealand. Spring, 1944
Ruby Miller exploded through the door of New Plymouth city’s Registry Office and flung her bridal bouquet into the gutter. A gust of wind tugged at her hat, and she lifted a trembling hand to hold it down. Lowering her head against the bright afternoon sun’s glare, she broke into a run.
“Oomph!” With a shudder of shock she glanced up at the stranger she’d bumped against. “Sorry. Please excuse me.”
The man’s blue eyes reflected the color of his US Navy uniform. His puzzled glance dropped to her knee-length ivory satin dress, and then his lips curved in a smile. Stepping aside with a smart click of his heels, he drawled, “Your bridegroom is one very lucky guy.”
A sob caught in her throat, and her stomach twisted with nausea. Her eyes fluttered shut against a swell of dizziness, and she swayed on her heeled shoes.
THE WATER BABY
Jasmine floated on her back, and smiled as tension slowly leached from her limbs. With the sun caressing her skin, and the gentle rocking of the deliciously cool water, she closed her eyes and imagined listing the property for sale. The advertisement would read: Charming storybook cottage, in top location, lovingly restored to its former glory. Fairytale garden for kids, cats and dogs. Make your dream come true. Phone Jasmi-
Splash! Her pulse jumped. What was that? Springing her eyelids open, she caught a streak of movement.
Twisting around, she shrieked as a man reared up inches away. Water sprayed like a geyser. He blinked, and shook his mop of dripping cocoa-brown curls in the manner of a large, energetic puppy. She shrank away, covering her lacy bra with both arms and choking open-mouthed on the wave churned in his wake.
A pair of silver-green eyes regarded her beneath the sodden curls as she coughed, spluttered and gasped. Her face flamed as her legs frantically trod water, and she silently held those eyes – desperate to keep his gaze from wandering south.
“Hey little mermaid.” His deep voice complemented his square jaw and broad shoulders.
She assessed the expression on his face. Not concerned or even irritable. More like amused. Annoyed with the thought of him laughing at her, she snapped, “You gave me a heck of a fright. Where did you come from? Who are you?”
He ignored her questions, merely raising one arched eyebrow and indicating in the direction of her chest. “It’s a bit late for modesty, isn’t it?”
Her face burned afresh. “How long have you been here?” How long have you been watching me?
His eyes narrowed. “Uh-uh, I’ll ask the questions. Who are you and what the hell gives you the right to trespass on my property?”
Jasmine’s heart plummeted to the bottom of the pool as panic surged through her. She stared, gulped and whispered, “You’re Fraser Brook?”
TAMING THE BAD BOY
Luke loomed darkly in the frame, his hair damp from the shower, his clothes all rumpled from sleep. He ran a hand over his unshaven chin.
Katie placed her hands on her hips as she turned to face him. “Ever heard of knocking before you enter a girls’ bedroom?”
He shrugged. “What’s the fuss about? You don’t sleep naked.” He stepped forward, a cheeky smirk on his face. “Most unlikely anyway, with Emily in the same room.”
At the sound of her name, Emily jumped up from the floor. “Look at my bag!” She waved it above her head. “Have you got a present for me?”
Katie, inwardly smarting over his assumed right to treat her in such a familiar, arrogant manner, thawed a smidgen when she saw the way his face lit up as he looked at the little girl. He certainly gave every impression of being genuinely fond of her.
“A present?” He knelt down until he was at eye level with Em. “Will a kiss do?”
Her eyes widened and she shook her head from side to side. “No, silly. I want a real present.”
“Typical female.” Luke glanced past her shoulder and winked at Katie. When he looked back at Emily, he added, “After I give you a present, then can I have a kiss?”
“Only if you’re very, very good.”
Katie stifled a giggle as she recognized the exact imitation of the words and tone of voice which she used herself, when trying to influence Em’s behaviour.
Luke winked at Katie again. “I’ve never had any complaints about my kissing technique.”
Her giggle turned into a groan and she rolled her eyes heavenward.