FUGITIVE BRIDE

By: Nalini

PROLOGUE


The letter stood out because of its pink perfumed envelope.

Enid hesitated, then shrugged and opened it. As Gerard Woodward's confidential secretary she had permission to open all mail which came to the office unless it was clearly marked 'Private and Personal'. In fact, Gerard insisted upon it. He also insisted she decide and deal with everything not needing his individual attention. The head of Sunshine Enterprises did not want to be bothered with trivia.

Enid knew, however, from the first few words, that this was one letter she shouldn't have opened. But the damage had been done and there was no going back. She scanned the brief note all the way through, her chest becoming tighter with each word.



Dear Gerard,

By the time you read this I will have left you. Don't try to find me. You won't succeed. Even if you do, I won't come back to you, no matter what. Believe me when I say I never want to see you again. I overheard what you said to Steven last Sunday regarding your attitude towards love and marriage. And wives.

May God forgive you for what you've done to me, because I never will.

Leah



'Dear God,' Enid muttered.

She closed her eyes for a second, swivelled round in her chair and stood up. There was no use trying to hide her mistake in judgement. Gerard could not really blame her for opening the darned thing, though he might criticise her lack of feminine intuition. He would be really furious, however, at any delay in acquainting him with such a letter.

Gathering herself, she stepped up to the door which separated her office from her employer's and gave it her usual precise tap-tap.

'Yes,' came the curt reply.

Enid straightened her spine and marshalled a confident expression.

Gerard was a difficult and demanding boss at the best of times, a workaholic with a perfectionist personality. Failure was anathema to him; success his God. The man who would be king of Queensland's tourist industry was ruthless when crossed and given to caustic comments whenever anyone didn't come up to his impossibly high standards.

Fortunately, Enid was a top secretary, totally competent, cool in a crisis and unflappable under fire. During the eight years she'd held this job it had been rare for her to provoke her boss into criticising her work performance.

On the one occasion when she had been on the end of Gerard's cutting sarcasm Enid had been tempted to quit on the spot. She'd had a husband once with a nasty tongue and did not relish being on the end of anyone's temper these days.

But she was forty-six years old, and didn't fancy her chances on the open and very tough job market. Her qualifications were impeccable, but so were those of younger women who had more going for them than their secretarial skills.

Glamour had never been Enid's strong hand, and she looked every minute of her age. So she'd bitten her tongue at the time, while reminding herself Gerard paid her well enough to put up with the occasional blast.

But she didn't like the man. Not one bit.

Steeling herself against what was to come, she opened the door and stepped into the holy of holies.

He didn't look up, his attention all on some photographs he was studying. No doubt some cute coastal town was about to be besieged by offers its inhabitants couldn't refuse, after which their quiet, uncontaminated lives would never be the same again.

'What is it, Enid?' he said brusquely, still without looking up.

Enid almost relished giving him the damned thing. Serve him right, she thought.

'This letter came in the morning mail, Gerard,' she said coolly. 'I thought you would want to read it straight away.'

Now she had his attention, his dark head snapping up, a frown not marring his disgustingly handsome face.

'Who's it from?'

'Your wife.'

'Leah?' He could not have been more startled.

'I'm sorry, Gerard. It wasn't marked "Private", and there was no reason for me not to open it.' She came forward and handed the note across to him, thanking her lucky stars that the simple white paper it was written on was not as fancy as the pink envelope.

Butterflies crowded in Enid's stomach as her boss's piercing blue eyes immediately dropped to the note. She watched him read the 'Dear John' letter, watched as he tried to absorb his wife's rejection of him as a man and a husband.

A small shred of sympathy twisted Enid's heart. For she knew this had to be killing him. Gerard so hated to fail in anything.

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