Marriage and Miracles(7)

By: Miranda Lee

'If he can afford a place like this, Byron,' she said as they climbed out of the car, 'then six million will be just a drop in the ocean.'

A security guard checked their identities at the gates, then let them inside.

Gemma was all eyes as they made their way through the lushly tropical front garden—complete with fountain—up some statue-lined steps and on to an arched portico that was at least twenty feet wide and God knew how long. It disappeared into the dim distance as did the ranch-style building itself. The ceramic pots lining the covered veranda at regular intervals were enormous and alone would have cost a small fortune.

Byron moved over to ring the front doorbell while Gemma turned to admire the gushing fountain from the top of the steps.

'If only Ma could see this place,' she muttered.

'Have you told Ma about me yet?' Celeste asked her daughter on hearing her mention her old neighbour out at Lightning Ridge.

Gemma nodded. 'I wrote to her last night. She's going to be tickled pink when she finds out Byron is my father. I think she always rather fancied him.'

'Did she, now?' Celeste said archly. 'I think I'll have to put a stop to all those opal-buying trips dear Byron goes on. I've never subscribed to the theory that absence makes the heart grow fonder. I'm more inclined to believe out of sight out of mind, especially where the male sex is concerned!'

Gemma laughed. 'Ma's about seventy, Celeste. I don't think you have to worry on that score.'

'Worry?' Byron butted in. 'What are you worried about, Gemma? Look, I'm sure Nathan will come round eventually. Give the boy some time and he'll see sense.'

Byron's reminder of why she had come to this party brought a resurgence of nerves to Gemma's stomach. Her confidence slipped another notch and it took all of her courage not to turn and run away.

'Nathan is not a boy, Byron,' Celeste advised tartly. "And we weren't talking about him, anyway. Did you ring the doorbell?'

Right at that moment, the heavy front door was flung open and a big, barrel-chested man with a ruddy face and thick white hair appeared, a glass of whisky in one hand and a cigar in the other.

'Byron, my man!' he boomed in a broad American accent. 'I've been waiting for you to show up. Everyone else has been here for a while. What kept you?'

'The Press.'

Cliff laughed. 'I saw them swarming all over you afterwards. I gather they were keen on the play?'

'Very keen.'

'How could they not be?' the American enthused. 'The damned thing was brilliant! If you don't sell me the rights, I'll have to throw myself off your Gap.' .

Gemma was startled by this mention of a rather notorious Sydney suicide spot since she hadn't really been tuned into the interchange. Her mind had been elsewhere.

Byron merely laughed. 'That's a bit drastic. I'm sure we could be persuaded to sell at the right price. Have you a spare six million or so?'

'Six million! Why, you Aussie rogue, you! But let's not talk money matters on the front doorstep. I'm much better at negotiation after a pint or two of Southern Comfort. And with a bit of luck, you won't be,' he chuckled.

'Come in, ladies, come in,' Cliff continued expansively, and threw an appreciative glance first at Celeste, then at Gemma. 'Two women, Byron?' he joked as he ushered the threesome into the spacious terracotta-tiled foyer. 'I thought you were a conservative widower. Is this a side to you I haven't seen before?'

Byron gave him a look of mock horror. 'Good lord, Cliff, one woman is enough for me to handle, especially one like this.' He linked arms with Celeste and drew her, forward. 'Let me introduce my fiancée, Celeste Campbell. Celeste, this is Cliff Overton.'

Celeste shook his hand and smiled with mischievous seductiveness.

Cliff whistled. 'I see what you mean, Byron. And who's this gorgeous young thing?' he said on turning to Gemma. 'I don't recall seeing you on stage tonight, honey, yet someone as lovely-looking as you are must surely be an actress. I could set up a screen test for you, if you like,' he whispered conspiratorially.

'Back off, Cliff,' Byron said, putting a protective arm around Gemma's shoulder. 'Gemma doesn't want to be an actress, do you, love?'

'Gemma! What a fantastic stage name!' Cliff gushed on before Gemma could get a word in edgeways. 'And so individual. All it needs is the right surname. I can see it in lights now. GEMMA STONE.'

Celeste and Gemma rolled their eyes at each other while Byron's mouth thinned. 'Gemma is Nathan's wife,' he informed drily. 'I doubt he would like to see her name in lights.'

The American's broad grin faded to a puzzled frown. 'She is ? But I thought Nathan was divorced. I mean, he—er—well, never mind ,' he shrugged. 'I must have got it wrong. Nice to meet you, Gemma. You must be very proud of that genius husband of yours. That is some play he's written. Not to

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