Gift-Wrapped in Her Wedding Dress

By: Kandy Shepherd

CHAPTER ONE

 SO HE’D GOT on the wrong side of the media. Again. Dominic’s words, twisted out of all recognition, were all over newspapers, television and social media.

 Billionaire businessman Dominic Hunt refuses to sleep out with other CEOs in charity event for homeless.

 Dominic slammed his fist on his desk so hard the pain juddered all the way up his arm. He hadn’t refused to support the charity in their Christmas appeal, just refused the invitation to publicly bed down for the night in a cardboard box on the forecourt of the Sydney Opera House. His donation to the worthy cause had been significant—but anonymous. Why wasn’t that enough?

 He buried his head in his hands. For a harrowing time in his life there had been no choice for him but to sleep rough for real, a cardboard box his only bed. He couldn’t go there again—not even for a charity stunt, no matter how worthy. There could be no explanation—he would not share the secrets of his past. Ever.

 With a sick feeling of dread he continued to read onscreen the highlights of the recent flurry of negative press about him and his company, thoughtfully compiled in a report by his Director of Marketing.

 Predictably, the reporters had then gone on to rehash his well-known aversion to Christmas. Again he’d been misquoted. It was true he loathed the whole idea of celebrating Christmas. But not for the reasons the media had so fancifully contrived. Not because he was a Scrooge. How he hated that label and the erroneous aspersions that he didn’t ever give to charity. Despaired that he was included in a round-up of Australia’s Multi-Million-Dollar Misers. It couldn’t be further from the truth.

 He strongly believed that giving money to worthy causes should be conducted in private—not for public acclaim. But this time he couldn’t ignore the name-calling and innuendo. He was near to closing a game-changing deal on a joint venture with a family-owned American corporation run by a man with a strict moral code that included obvious displays of philanthropy.

 Dominic could not be seen to be a Scrooge. He had to publicly prove that he was not a miser. But he did not want to reveal the extent of his charitable support because to do so would blow away the smokescreen he had carefully constructed over his past.

 He’d been in a bind. Until his marketing director had suggested he would attract positive press if he opened his harbourside home for a lavish fund-raising event for charity. ‘Get your name in the newspaper for the right reasons,’ he had been advised.

 Dominic hated the idea of his privacy being invaded but he had reluctantly agreed. He wanted the joint venture to happen. If a party was what it took, he was prepared to put his qualms aside and commit to it.

 The party would be too big an event for it to be organised in-house. His marketing people had got outside companies involved. Trouble was the three so-called ‘party planners’ he’d been sent so far had been incompetent and he’d shown them the door within minutes of meeting. Now there was a fourth. He glanced down at the eye-catching card on the desk in front of him. Andrea Newman from a company called Party Queens—No party too big or too small the card boasted.

 Party Queens. It was an interesting choice for a business name. Not nearly as stitched up as the other companies that had pitched for this business. But did it have the gravitas required? After all, this event could be the deciding factor in a deal that would extend his business interests internationally.

 He glanced at his watch. This morning he was working from his home office. Ms Newman was due to meet with him right now, here at his house where the party was to take place. Despite the attention-grabbing name of the business, he had no reason to expect Party Planner Number Four to be any more impressive than the other three he’d sent packing. But he would give her twenty minutes—that was only fair and he made a point of always being fair.

 On cue, the doorbell rang. Punctuality, at least, was a point in Andrea Newman’s favour. He headed down the wide marble stairs to the front door.

 His first impression of the woman who stood on his porch was that she was attractive, not in a conventionally pretty way but something rather more interesting—an angular face framed by a tangle of streaked blonde hair, a wide generous mouth, unusual green eyes. So attractive he found himself looking at her for a moment longer than was required to sum up a possible contractor. And the almost imperceptible curve of her mouth let him know she’d noticed.

 ‘Good morning, Mr Hunt—Andie Newman from Party Queens,’ she said. ‘Thank you for the pass code that got me through the gate. Your security is formidable, like an eastern suburbs fortress.’ Was that a hint of challenge underscoring her warm, husky voice? If so, he wasn’t going to bite.

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