CHAPTER ONE

Catherine looked at her best friend, Emily, coming towards her on the deck of the boat. The tall, curvy woman was having a bit of trouble moving across the deck even though it was a smooth, bright summer day on Lake Wakatipu. She was sure it had more to do with the Champagne glass in her hand than having no sea legs.

Catherine found the smile on her face widening even further at the happiness in her friend’s face. Job done, she thought patting the cushion next to her.

“Whoops,” Emily said as she threw herself next to Catherine on the bench seat. “That was harder than I was expecting.”

“Well, that is the point of a bachelorette party.” Catherine saluted her friend with the glass in her hand.

“Which is down to you, my friend. I can’t thank you enough for arranging this,” Emily breathed out before enveloping Catherine in a bear hug.

“I salute you. Spa treatments on a boat. Who does that? How is this possible?” Emily said.

“I’m just glad you’re happy; I can’t imagine you going the traditional route,” Catherine leaned into her friend’s hug.

Emily pulled back to glance at her. “Well, I am so glad that you have moved home, I missed having you around, yes, yes.” Emily waved her hands around while pulling back. “The phone and brief visits aren’t the same.”

“I’m glad to be back, Em. This last month has been enlightening,” Catherine raised her eyebrows up and down.

“Ha Ha, but look at you, you’re starting to appear good again, not that you didn’t before,” Emily backtracked as she saw the frown appear on her friend’s face. “You seem healthy, calm now, not so stressed out.”

“How did you find this place?” Emily asked, filling the silence.

“Well, you know what Queenstown’s like, luxury tourism everything on offer if you just ask for it,” Catherine shrugged her shoulders, avoiding the discussion about her health.

“But this must have cost you a bundle, Catherine.” Emily looked around the boat.

 They had spared no expense in the fit-out. Gleaming brass, stainless and other metals sparkled in the sunlight. Someone had polished the teak deck to within an inch of its life. White leather seat cushions complemented the exterior of the boat. They were sitting under the canopy off the back deck where dinner seating for ten was available. Even Catherine admitted the boat exceeded her expectations tenfold.

“Let me at least pay for some of it, that last commission I did came with a large payday.” Emily advised, a flash of stubborness lightning her features.

“Oh no, Blake warned me, you would try something like this. Sorry everything’s paid for, done and dusted.”Catherine mock scowled at her friend.

“And I might add, if it keeps the tabloids away from your bachelorette party, I consider it good money spent for my best friend.” Catherine bared her teeth.

Catherine watched as a blush came across her friend’s face at the mention of the tabloids. Emily and Blake, her finance, had become newspaper fodder after they announced their engagement. The tycoon and the artist. The interest was intense, Catherine mused. They were the sexy ‘IT’ couple after a senseless photographer had taken photos of them when they’d been celebrating in their backyard. The mortification at the invasion of privacy had gotten to Emily hard, all the attention was stressing her friend. But the mention of it would stop Em from arguing over the money.

“Where are the others?” Catherine asked, looking back towards the saloon doors.

“They were just finishing up before getting changed.”

Catherine looked at Emily, the women wore a dreamy expression across her face as she took in the Lake’s view; the tension gone from her shoulders.

Job done, she couldn’t avoid the smug smile crossing her features; at least someone would get their happy every after. Em deserved it. She would admit the spa treatments made a world of difference. She couldn’t remember the last time since she indulged herself; it felt good.

“I didn’t expect to see you in town.” the deep voice accompanied the unexpected slap on the back made Evan start and whip around to face the man who’d taken the action, thankful he’d recognized the voice before lashing out.

“Blake, good to see you, man.” The two of them smiling and doing that very male hug greeting that only long term friends do.

“So Queenstown for some R&R before heading back up North? Time for a Beer?” Blake asked , sensing the tension in the enormous man.

Evan let himself be led to one of the restaurants further up the lakefront beside the boat dock, waiting to answer him, until two nice long cold ones were sitting in front of the two of them.

“No, I’m back permanent this time. Been discharged about two weeks,” Evan took a sip of his beer as he let the words sink into his brain.

“You’ve left the Special Air Service?” the stunned disbelief in Blakes voice clear.

“Yep, going to finish that barn and set myself up alpine guiding when I’m not helping on the farm,” Evan grinned at his friend.

“Well, I’ll be darn, never thought you’re do it, congratulations man.” Blake said.

“Well, I hear congratulations are in order for you, where is your sexy finance anyway I wouldn’t think you would let her out of your sight.” he teased his best mate.

“Well, actually, I’m waiting for her,” Blake said with a smug smile on his face.

Evan laughed at the contentment on his friend’s face, the smug bastard he couldn’t help a pang of envy at his friend’s happiness. It was one reason he’d come home. He loved working in the SAS, but it paled in the last few years, never having enough time for friends and family unable to keep up long-distance relationships he wanted a family something not compatible with the military. He wanted what he’d run from as a teenager when he enlisted in the army he considered what his mum and dad had was boring. He wanted to experience the world. Thinking about how naïve he was as a youngster made him almost spill his beer as he took a sip.

“Ah their boat is almost back.” Blake looked out onto the water and a luxury cruiser heading towards the dock.

Evan raised his eyebrow at his friend 

“Em is out having her bachelorette party on that floating gin palace today, nice and low key.”

“Smug much are we mate.” Evan teased.

“Yep, life has been great.” Blake took a sip of his beer, trying to stop the laughter from spilling out at the disgruntled look on his friend’s face.

Evan made small talk with Blake as he watched the boat come and tie up at the dock in front of them, his glaze found Em coming down the side of the boat talking to another woman.

He almost spilled his beer as he got his first view at the women beside her. She was smaller than Emily, about 5 foot 6. She would tuck in excellent under his arm. The hourglass figure filling out the shorts and plain T-shirt she was wearing, but even her casual clothes could not hide the air of class that radiated out from her. Curly black hair, pulled back into a casual ponytail high on her head. He wanted to let it lose and run his hands through the slinky strains. He saw it spread across his pillow. He felt his loins stirring at the sight of her, the instant attraction like a punch to his gut. He needed to meet this woman asap. She was MINE; his gut screamed out.

Catherine walked alongside Emily, getting her land legs back. They both spotted Blake sitting at a table waiting for them. He was not alone at the table. Even sitting down, Catherine saw that the male  next to Blake was very tall. Broad shoulders gave his black T-shirt a workout. She took in the ruffled brown hair; the stubble shading his jaw; he had a sensual mouth under no circumstances would she call this a tame man. Blue eyes the colour of the sea skimmed her face, then her body, sending tingles across her nerves at the look. She gave a jolt as she reconsidered the man. Evan Long in the flesh. She’d not seen the him for six years. His face seemed harder than the last time she had seen him. 

The goodbyes from her friends who’d accompanied them on the trip distracted her. As everyone collected their belongings and headed for their homes, happy smiles all around.

The two men stood as they approached, pulling chairs back for them to sit in. The brush of his arm against hers as she sat on the chair cause her to shiver. She looked up into his eyes; they were twinkling at her as if aware of the reaction he caused in her.

“So Evan, have you met Catherine before,” Blake asked, his deep voice attracting her attention away from Evan.

“Ha, Ha Blake.” Emily whacked her finance good naturally on the arm.

“What.” Blake looked at her in puzzlement.

“Catherine grew up in Glen Point remember.” Emily shook her head at him while smiling at Evan.

“Long time no see Evan. Are you in town long?”

“He’s just finished telling me he’s here permanently now,” Blake advised

Catherine saw Evan’s head swing towards her at Emily’s words, looking at her up and down.

“Catherine Sutherland?” Evan posed the disbelief clear in his deep voice.

“The one and only,” she couldn’t help laugh at the shock on his face.

“And grown up into one hell of a woman,” the admiration in his deep voice soothing the sting from his lack of recognition caused.

“Yep, I have all my front teeth now.” she smiled at Evan as he blushed. He’d been part of the childhood accident where she’d lost one of her front teeth a long time ago, that blush fascinating her on such a tough man.

“Well, this is great.” Emily said as she smiled at Catherine.

Catherine gulped at the smile. Now that she was engaged, Emily held onto this hope that all her friends would be too. She prayed the little matchmaker wasn’t up to something.

“You can give Catherine a ride home for us.” Emily advised her attention all on Blake as if they’d not seen each other for days instead of a few hours.

“I think the love birds are trying to tell us something, and I would be happy to take you home. Are you living in your grandmother’s old house in Glen Point, its good to be neighbourly.” Evan shrugged his head at the couple sitting across from them, finishing his beer in one swallow. She watched fascinated as he unwound himself from the chair, his height causing her to tip her head back. He must be at least 6 foot three or four, she thought.

He helped her up from her chair before she had time to protest the goodbyes passing in a blur as he hustled her from the restaurant.

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