Scandalous Seduction(3)

By: Miranda Lee

Harriet was forced to concede that her home town was hardly a thriving metropolis, tucked away as it was in a valley in the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales. Though the town's relative proximity to the coastline and the booming tourist trade there had brought some rewards for the local property industry in recent months.

Several large tracts of land in the hills around Valley's End had already been snapped up, with the townsfolk hoping that the owners might be rich millionaires intent on building luxury hideaways— anything to inject a bit of money into the fading town. Valley's End had once serviced a huge sugarcane and banana growing area but with the plummeting prices of both commodities the once buoyant economy was past history.

But the millionaires had so far failed to materialise in person, the properties having clearly been bought as long-range investments. Except, it seemed, for Mist Mountain, and the one and only Brad Barrington!

Harriet frowned. It did seem out of character for such a man to buy a remote mountain retreat to live on. In his television interview he'd revealed that he thrived on his jet-setting city life, writing his novels in a penthouse unit in King's Cross in Sydney, where he could soak up the cosmopolitan atmosphere for his fast-paced novels. He had openly spurned the cliché of burying himself in a log cabin in order to write, vowing he needed noise and 'colourful' people around him for inspiration. What had changed all that? His break-up with Lydia Richmond perhaps? '

'What if I don't like him?' Harriet pointed out quite sensibly.

Her mother's lovely blue eyes opened with genuine astonishment. 'But of course you'll like him. How could you not like a man so rich and clever? Besides, you have so much in common, both of you being writers.'

Harriet thought of the play she'd been working on for years and chuckled wryly. 'I'm not a writer, Mother. I'm a high school English teacher who dabbles in writing as a hobby.'

'Just because you haven't been published doesn't mean you're not a writer. You write beautifully.'

Harriet smiled to herself, knowing that to tell her mother that all her manoeuvrings were a waste of time would be futile. She didn't understand the word. 'At least promise me you won't say anything embarrassing in front of Mr Barrington tonight,' Harriet insisted.

Julia raised her eyebrows. 'Me? Say something embarrassing' I'd watch my own tongue, if I were you, my girl. Sometimes you say the most tactless things.'

Harriet was taken aback. And showed it.

'It's not that you mean to be rude,' her mother hastened to explain. 'But remember when I asked Mrs Gallagher's nephew to dinner? And you made it quite clear you knew he had only come back to Valley's End because he thought the old lady was going to die and he wanted to make sure of his inheritance? The poor man didn't know where to look. It's no wonder he didn't call back.'

'But Mother, he hadn't been near that sweet old lady for years! Where was he when she had that nasty operation on her hip a year ago, I ask you?'

'People aren't perfect, Harriet. Some girls just can't afford to be so picky!' Julia flushed when she realised she might have betrayed that she didn't believe her daughter to be quite as charming and attractive as she had asserted earlier. 'Oh, my goodness, look at the time. I'll have to get the roast on.' She jumped up and hurried towards the kitchen. 'Now make sure you wear an especially pretty dress tonight, Harriet,' she threw over her shoulder. 'We want Mr Barrington to see you at your best.'

Harriet watched her mother's hasty departure with exasperation. My best, Mother dear, she thought ruefully, will fall far short of what is required to attract the likes of our famous visitor.

A light laugh bubbled up from her throat. Good heavens! What did it matter if Brad Barrington liked her or not? She was beginning to let her mother's plottings get to her. As if marriage were the be-all and end-all, anyway.

Harriet was happy with her life at the moment. Quite happy. She had returned home from Sydney to live this year and was thoroughly enjoying teaching in a country high school, a welcome change after the stress of handling city kids. Yes…life was quite good at the moment.

Nevertheless, when she returned to her bedroom she set about making the most of herself, telling her grumbling conscience that it was merely her pride that was insisting on such a vast effort.