Authors: Lindsay Armstrong
Bridget looked up at him. ‘You really don’t trust women, do you?’ she said quietly.
He shoved his hands into his pockets and looked down at her meditatively. ‘I don’t trust anyone—on face value.’
Then you’re just as likely not to believe this is your baby—the thought ran through Bridget’s mind—and that would be the
was born in South Africa, but now lives in Australia with her New Zealand-born husband and their five children. They have lived in nearly every state of Australia, and have tried their hand at some unusual—for them—occupations, such as farming and horse-training—all grist to the mill for a writer! Lindsay started writing romances when their youngest child began school and she was left feeling at a loose end. She is still doing it and loving it.
Recent titles by the same author:
THE BILLIONAIRE BOSS’S INNOCENT BRIDE
FROM WAIF TO HIS WIFE
THE RICH MAN’S VIRGIN
THE MILLIONAIRE’S MARRIAGE CLAIM
A BRIDE FOR HIS CONVENIENCE
THE AUSTRALIAN’S CONVENIENT BRIDE
MILLS & BOON
IT WAS a filthy night in the Gold Coast hinterland.
It hadn’t started out as such, but severe summer storms were not unknown in the area and this series had sped across the escarpment, taking even the weather bureau by surprise. Rain was teeming down, and gusts of wind buffeted Bridget Tully-Smith’s car. The ribbon of winding, narrow road between the dark peaks of the Numinbah Valley disappeared regularly as the windscreen wipers squelched back and forth, revealing and concealing.
She’d been staying with a married friend who had a hobby farm and was breeding, of all things, llamas. It had been an enjoyable weekend. Her friend had a young baby, a devoted husband, and their particular patch of the Numinbah Valley was wonderfully rural.
It should have been only an hour’s drive back to the Gold Coast, but as the darkness drew in and the storms hit, somehow or other she got lost. Somehow or other she found herself on a secondary road, little more than a track, just as the rain became torrential—as if the
heavens above had opened and were literally hell-bent on deluging the area.
Then she came round a bend to a concrete causewaystyle bridge, or what had probably been one but was now a raging torrent, cutting the road in two. It came upon her so suddenly she had no choice but to brake sharply—and that very nearly proved to be her undoing.
The back of her car fishtailed, and she felt the tug of the creek water on it, more powerful than the brakes or the handbrake. In perhaps the quickest-thinking moment of her life, she leapt out of the car as the back of it was slowly pushed to midstream, and scrabbled with all her might to attain higher ground.
She found a gravelly hillock supporting a young gum tree, and clung to it as she watched in horrified disbelief. Her car straightened, with its nose pointing upstream and its headlights illuminating the scene, then floated backwards downstream until it was obscured from view.
‘I don’t believe this,’ she whispered shakily to herself. She tensed as above the wind and the drumming rain she heard an engine, and realised a vehicle was coming from the opposite direction—and coming fast.
Did they know the road? Did they think speed would get them over the bridge? Did they have a four-wheel drive? All these questions flashed through her mind, but she knew she couldn’t take a risk on any or all of those factors. She must warn them.
She abandoned her tree and ran out into the middle of the road, jumping up and down and waving her arms.
She was wearing a red-and-white fine gingham blouse, and she prayed it would stand out—though she knew her loose beige three-quarter-length pedal-pushers would not; they were plastered with mud.
Perhaps nothing, she thought later, would have averted the disaster that then took place. The vehicle was coming too fast. It didn’t even brake. But as it hit the torrent raging over the bridge, just as had happened to her car, the back fishtailed, the stream got it, and it too was swept away at a dangerous angle.
Bridget winced and put a hand to her mouth, because she could see faces at the windows of the vehicle, some of them children, and there were childish cries as windows were wound down, one piercing scream. Then the car disappeared from sight.
She sobbed once and forced herself to examine her options, but they were pitifully few—actually she had none, she conceded, other than to try to reach the car on foot. Her mobile phone was sitting in her car…
But another vehicle suddenly appeared around the bend behind her, and this one managed to stop without skidding, well clear of the torrent.
‘Oh, thank heavens,’ she breathed as she started to run towards it, slipping and slithering up the muddy road.
A man jumped out before she got to it, tall, in jeans and boots and rain jacket.
He got the first words in. ‘What the hell’s going on? What are you doing out in this?’
Bridget tried to catch her breath, but it was a panting, emotional explanation she gave. She finished by saying
passionately, ‘There were children in the car! They’d have no hope against a torrent that can wash away cars. Have you got a phone? Mine’s in the car. We need to alert—’
He shook his head.
‘What kind of a person doesn’t have a mobile phone these days?’ Bridget demanded thinly. She was feeling thoroughly overwrought by now.
‘I’ve got a phone. I’ve got no signal, though. The country’s too rugged.’
‘Then—’ she wiped the rain out of her eyes ‘—should I drive your car back to get help while you see what you can do here?’
He shook his head.
She jumped up and down in exasperation. ‘Don’t keep knocking all my suggestions on the head—
The stranger took a very brief moment to examine her sodden, highly emotional presence. ‘I’m not—’ he began.
‘Yes, you are!’
‘You wouldn’t get through,’ he said precisely. ‘There’s a rock fall, and a washaway over the road a couple of kilometres back. It happened just after I passed.’
He stopped to open the back of the rather elderly Land Rover he was driving. ‘So I’ll go and see what I can do.’ He pulled out a hank of rope, a knife in a leather holder that he clipped to his belt, a small axe and a waterproof torch.
‘Oh, thank heavens—I’ll come.’
‘Nope. You stay here.’
He turned to her impatiently. ‘The last thing I need
is a hysterical slip of a girl to worry about. I only have one waterproof, that I happen to be wearing—’
‘What does that matter?’ she interrupted. ‘I could hardly get wetter! And—’ Bridget drew herself up to her full height: five feet two ‘—I’m not a hysterical slip of a girl! Let’s go!’
Had it been doomed from the start, their rescue mission? She sometimes wondered. They certainly gave it their all. But climbing their way downstream beside the swollen creek, in pouring rain, with bushes and small trees whipping in the sudden gusts of wind, was not only heartbreakingly slow, it was exhausting.
It was also bruising and scraping, and before long, with still no sign of the car or any of its occupants, all her muscles ached.
That might have accounted for her slipping suddenly and getting herself caught up on an old piece of fence line at the edge of the creek. Somehow a piece of wire slipped into the belt loop of her pants, and she couldn’t free herself however much she wriggled.
‘Take them off!’ the man yelled, and flashed his torch behind her. She looked backwards over her shoulder, and nearly died to see a dirty wall of water coming down towards her.
She didn’t give it a second thought. She squirmed out of her pants, but the water caught her and she’d have been washed downstream if her companion hadn’t leapt in beside her, managed to tie the rope around her waist and somehow drag and half-carry her to relative safety.
‘Oh, thank you! You probably saved my life,’ she panted.
He didn’t reply to that. ‘We’ve got to get higher. Keep going,’ he ordered.
She kept going. They both kept going—until, when her lungs and her heart felt like bursting, he finally called a halt.
‘Here—in here,’ he said, and flashed the torch around. ‘Looks like a cave.’
a cave, with rocky walls, a dirt floor and an overhang overgrown with dripping bushes and grass. Bridget collapsed on the floor.
When her panting had subsided a bit, she said with irony, ‘Looks like the rescuers will have to be rescued.’
‘It’s often the way,’ he replied, and set the torch on a ledge of rock.
Bridget sat up and looked around tentatively. She wasn’t all that keen on small spaces, but the thought of what lay outside outweighed her tendency towards claustrophobia.
For the first time her partially unclothed state struck her. She looked down at her bare legs, then realised her blouse was torn and showing parts of her blameless pink lace and silk bra. It was also muddy and torn.
She looked up and discovered her rescuer on his knees, looking down at the dripping, twisted, half-clad length of her with a little glint of admiration in his amazing blue eyes—it was the first time she’d noticed them.
But just as she felt like squirming in embarrassment he looked away abruptly and started to undress himself.
She watched him in startled suspended animation as he ripped off his waterproof jacket, then his longsleeved plaid shirt, revealing a tanned, muscular chest sprinkled with dark hairs and a pair of powerful shoulders. For a moment her eyes rounded in admiration of her own, then she swallowed with a strange little squawk of sound—a squawk of unwitting apprehension.
He said, matter-of-factly, ‘I’m Adam, by the way. Why don’t you take your blouse off and put my shirt on? It’s relatively dry. I’ll look the other way.’ He tossed the shirt into her lap and did as he’d promised.
Bridget fingered the shirt. It
mostly dry, and it emitted a reassuringly masculine odour of sweat and cotton. It would be heaven—not only as a cover for the deficiencies of her attire, but also because she was starting to shiver with cold.
She pulled her blouse off, and her soaked bra, and slipped into his shirt as quickly as possible, buttoning it with shaky fingers. It was way too big for her, but although the sleeves hung over her hands, the length made her feel at least halfway decent. ‘Thank you. Thank you! But will you be all right? I’m decent, incidentally.’
He turned back and pulled his rain jacket on again. ‘I’ll be fine.’ He sat down. ‘Not going to return the compliment namewise?’
‘Oh, yes! I’m Bridget Smith.’ She often used only the second half of her famous double-barrelled surname. ‘Oh, no!’ She put her hand to her mouth and her eyes darkened with concern as, for the first time since the car
with the children had been washed away, she thought suddenly of her own plight. ‘My car!’
‘Your car will be found,’ he said. ‘I’m not sure in what condition, but once the waters recede—and they will—it will be somewhere.’
‘Do you really think so? My windows were all closed but I didn’t have time to lock it—my whole life is in my car!’ she said, on a suddenly urgent little note.
He raised an eyebrow at her.
‘My phone, my credit cards, my driver’s licence, my keys, my Medicare card, not to mention the car itself.’ She stopped helplessly.
‘They can all be replaced or, in the case of credit cards, stopped.’
Bridget subsided, but her expression remained doomed.
‘I take it it’s Miss Smith?’ he queried.
She shrugged. ‘Not necessarily.’ Her thoughts returned to her car.
‘You’re not wearing a wedding ring,’ he pointed out.
Bridget hesitated, and stopped looking down the barrel of the chaos in her life if she didn’t retrieve her car to look rather intently at the man she was trapped in a cave with.
Then she fished beneath his plaid shirt and pulled out the gold chain she wore around her neck. There was a plain gold wedding ring threaded onto it.
‘I see—but why don’t you wear it on your finger?’ he queried.
Bridget blinked, and wondered how she could assess this man. Because, however good-looking, beautifully
built and strong he was, the fact remained that she didn’t know him—and one could never be too careful, could one? So it mightn’t be a bad idea to have a husband in the wings…
‘I’ve lost a bit of weight and it’s just a little big.’ The last part was true enough.
‘So what’s he like? Mr Smith?’
Was it just a casual query? Bridget wondered. To take her mind off the traumatic events surrounding them? Or had he doubted her?
‘Actually, he’s rather lovely, as Mr Smiths go,’ she said lightly, and it was the invention flowing off her tongue so smoothly that caused her to smile apprecia-tively—not, she thought swiftly, that he would know it. ‘He’s tall, probably even a bit taller than you,’ she continued. ‘And he strips to great advantage.’ She stopped and asked herself where the hell that particular phrase had sprung to her mind from? A Regency novel? ‘Uh…’ She soldiered on. ‘And of course he’s devoted to me.’
‘Of course.’ A smile appeared fleetingly in those smoky blue eyes—a smile of genuine amusement that, all the same, made her uneasy for some reason. ‘Does that mean to say,’ he went on, ‘he’s waiting for you? At home, perhaps?’
‘Oh, definitely,’ Bridget lied with abandon.
‘That’s comforting to know. So when you don’t show up, and you don’t ring, he’s liable to call the police, who in turn are liable to get onto the Emergency Services when they realise
liable to be caught up in this situation?’
‘Ah.’ A tinge of pink coloured Bridget’s dirty cheeks. ‘Well, no. Not exactly. I was speaking more generally. He’s—he’s out of town at the moment. But only on a business trip—and—and—he’ll be home tomorrow. Definitely. Or maybe the next day.’
Adam studied her. Her short cap of hair was a coppery bronze, and not even an extremely arduous hike through rocky, sodden terrain had been able to dim her sparkling green eyes, he reflected, and smiled inwardly. They were also very revealing eyes, and from the turmoil they’d revealed as a variety of emotions had chased through them he was fairly sure she was lying. But if she’d chosen to invent a husband,
He narrowed his eyes on the obvious answer. Never trust strange men. Of course. So Bridget Smith was a cautious girl, even on a night like tonight. Well, he’d go along with it if it made her feel safer…
‘But hang on!’ Bridget stopped looking guilty. ‘The friends I was staying with—they’ll probably worry and try to ring me. They wanted me to stay overnight, but I’ve got an early start tomorrow so…’ She looked rueful. ‘They might alert someone when they can’t get me.’
‘OK.’ He shrugged and got to his knees. ‘I’m going out to reconnoitre. If the water’s still rising we may have to move again.’
still rising, but not quite as fast.
‘I think we can relax for a bit,’ he said as he crawled back into the cave. ‘The fact that it’s not rising so fast may mean it’s going to start falling soon.’
Bridget heaved a relieved sigh, but her relief was to be short-lived because there was an almighty crack of
sound and something—a tree, they realised moments later—fell down the hillside from above, blocking the entrance to the cave.