Jessica Hart

The Wedding Challenge

Release Date: 2002

City girl Bea is stranded in the Outback - without a shoe shop or a department store in sight! At least she's stuck there with a gorgeous man who seems ready for a challenge ... so, to make her stay a little more bearable, Bea sets him three!

  1. He can't be tempted to have an affair
  2. He's not allowed to fall in love with her
  3. And definitely, under no circumstances, is he to propose marriage!

How will a self-respecting bachelor like Chase handle such a challenge? Run like the wind - or face it like a man!


A tiny plane with wings that seemed to be propped up on long poles dropped lightly onto the runway and taxied towards the terminal, its propeller still blurring. As the girls watched, the plane came to a stop, the propeller faltered and slowed, and a man jumped out and set off towards the terminal at a brisk pace.
‘Do you think this is him?’

Emily sounded disappointed, presumably because of the lack of a checked shirt. He wasn’t giving a very good impression of being unhurried either. In fact, even from a distance he looked distinctly impatient.

On the other hand, he was definitely tall and rangy, thought Bea. Nice broad shoulders, too, she couldn’t help noticing. As far as build went, he was everything Emily could want.

‘Can’t be,’ she said. ‘He’s not wearing a hat.’

Emily was obviously struggling to make the best of things. ‘He can fly a plane,’ she said. ‘That’s good.’

If the man noticed the two girls studying him through the big plate glass windows, he gave no sign of it. Instead, he stiff-armed the swing door in a manner worthy of the most harried city executive and strode into the terminal.

Bea gave Emily a sympathetic glance. His body might be good – actually, it was even more impressive at close quarters – but the rest of him was a distinct disappointment. He was just a very ordinary-looking man, with an irritated expression.

She judged him to be in his early thirties, but something about him made him seem older than that. Obviously ignorant of the sartorial codes Emily found so romantic, he was wearing jeans and a dull brown shirt. In fact, dull brown seemed to be something of a theme. He had a brown face and dull brown hair, and Bea fully expected to meet dull brown eyes too, but as his gaze swept over them, she was taken aback to discover that they weren’t brown at all, but an icy, almost startling, blue, and very unfriendly.

As the cold eyes encountered hers, she felt something like tiny shock, and an odd feeling shivered down her spine. Putting her chin up, Bea stared back at him. She wasn’t about to be intimidated by a cowboy in a brown shirt.

Chase’s heart sank as he took in the two girls before him. So much for Nick and the ‘suitable’ girls he had found. ‘They’ll be perfect,’ he had enthused before getting on the plane and no doubt forgetting all about them.

Chase didn’t think they looked perfect at all. There was a very pretty blonde one, dressed for some reason in a cowgirl outfit, and a brunette who looked as if she was off to a party in a skimpy dress and high heels, for God’s sake. She had a wide, lush mouth that sat oddly with the snooty expression she was wearing. Chase was hard put to decide which of them looked more ridiculous.

Suitable? Perfect? Thanks, Nick, he sighed inwardly. Personally, he had them down as nothing but trouble.

Which was all he needed right now.

Outwardly, he looked from one to the other, trying to guess which one was Emily Williams. He picked the brunette with her nose stuck in the air. Emily sounded a prissy, old-fashioned name, and she looked the type.

Or maybe not, with that mouth.

‘Emily Williams?’

It came out brusquer than he had intended, and the brunette was clearly not impressed.

‘This is Emily,’ she said, gesturing at the blonde girl, who smiled a little uncertainly. ‘I’m Bea Stevenson.’

Her voice was very clear and English, and Chase wondered whether she expected him to bow.

‘Bee?’ he repeated. What kind of name was that? ‘As in buzzing and honey?’

‘As in Beatrice,’ she said coldly. ‘You must be Mr Chase.’

He raised an eyebrow. ‘Most people just call me Chase.’

She ignored that. Probably didn’t like being associated with ‘most people’, Chase decided.

‘Didn’t Mr Sutherland tell you that we were coming?’

‘I wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t,’ Chase pointed out crisply. ‘I’ve got better things to do than hang around at the airport on the off chance that a couple of cooks are going to turn up.’

‘We’ve all got better things to do,’ she snapped, ‘but it hasn’t stopped us from having to hang around all afternoon. The plane got in two hours ago!’

‘Sorry about that,’ said Chase, not sounding at all sorry. ‘We’ve been putting a mob of cattle through the yards, and I couldn’t get away any earlier.’

‘Are we supposed to be grateful that you could spare the time to come and get us?’

‘Bea …’

Bea pushed her hair defiantly behind her ears and met Emily’s pleading blue eyes. She knew it was a bit soon to get into a stand-up argument, but something about this man rubbed her up the wrong way.

‘You should be grateful I remembered, anyway,’ he said, unmoved by her tone. ‘I need to get back as soon as possible,’ he added briskly, ‘so if you’re ready, I suggest you get your things and we’ll go.’

‘In the plane?’ Emily revived magically at the prospect.

‘It’s the quickest way.’ Chase glanced at her. ‘It’s not a problem, is it?’

‘Oh, no, I’ve always wanted to go in a small plane,’ she assured him. ‘It’s all so exciting!’

Chase suppressed a sigh. One who was keen, and one who was obviously going to hate every minute of it. They had had both types before, and it was a toss up as to which was the hardest to deal with. The keen ones, probably. The girls who hated it usually burst into tears and insisted on going home the very next day. Perhaps Bea Stevenson would be the same.

Although she didn’t look like a girl who would cry easily. Too proud for that, Chase guessed, taking in the stubborn set of her chin.

‘Where are your things?’

They indicated two huge suitcases in the corner of the room, and he raised one eyebrow. ‘Brought your ball gowns and the kitchen sink, have you?’ he asked sardonically.

Bea bristled. ‘We thought we’d bring a few books and things to keep us occupied,’ she said in a cool voice. She wasn’t about to tell him about the hairdryer. ‘We didn’t want to be bored.’

‘You won’t have time to be bored at Calulla Downs,’ he said, unimpressed by their forethought.

Bea opened her mouth to tell him that she would be the judge of what bored her or not, but Chase was already striding over to the cases. ‘Is this yours?’ he said to Emily as he took hold of the blue one.

‘Yes, it’s a bit heavy, I’m afraid …’

Emily trailed off as he picked it up in one hand and glanced from the red suitcase to Bea. ‘Want me to take this one for you?’ he asked.

Bea lifted her chin proudly. ‘I can manage, thank you.’


To her fury, he took her at her word and headed for the doors, carrying Emily’s suitcase as if it was empty. He didn’t even have to put it down to open the door. Bea was left to struggle after him across the tarmac. Her case had wheels, but it was so heavy that it kept toppling sideways and snagging at her ankles, which did nothing to improve her temper.

‘So much for slow smiles and slow drawls!’ she said bitterly to Emily who was doing her best to help keep the case upright. ‘This guy makes that lot you see jumping up and down at the stock exchange whenever there’s a financial crisis look laid back!’

‘Perhaps he’s just having a bad day,’ said Emily.

‘He’s not the only one!’ grumbled Bea, stopping to wipe her forehead with the back of her arm. The heat was pouring down and then bouncing back off the tarmac until she thought she was about to expire, but she made herself carry on. Frankly, she would rather collapse into a sweaty puddle than ask the sneering Mr Chase for help!

Reaching the plane, Chase threw the case into the hold and turned to watch the two English girls trailing across the tarmac. The brunette, Bea she called herself, was clearly struggling, but just as clearly would die rather than ask him to help.

Well, if that’s the way she wanted to be, let her. It was no skin off his nose, Chase thought, but he couldn’t help noticing how tired she looked when she finally hauled her case up to the plane. Her face was a bright, shiny pink and her smooth brown hair was pushed wearily behind her ears.

Chase indicated the hold. ‘Do you want to put the case in there, or shall I do it for you?’

Bea shot him a fulminating glance. There was no way she could lift the case six inches off the ground, let alone all the way up there.

‘Thank you,’ she said stiffly, and perversely hated him for the ease with which he tossed the case into the plane.

As if she hadn’t been humiliated enough, she still had to get into the plane, a process which made Bea regret taking such a stand about refusing to dress the part. Of course, they couldn’t have anything easy like steps. The wings were set high on the body of the plane, and you had to climb in underneath by setting your foot on the strut and hauling yourself up. In her jeans and boots, Emily managed it without any difficulty and settled herself in the front seat , swivelling round to watch Bea’s efforts with a smug grin.

Gritting her teeth, Bea tried to follow her example, but the soles of her shoes kept slipping off the smooth strut and she couldn’t find any purchase to pull herself into the cabin.

She heard Chase sigh behind her, and the next moment found herself set brusquely aside. He stepped easily up into the cabin and reached down a peremptory hand.

‘Here, I’ll pull you up,’ he said.

Bea would have given almost anything she possessed not to accept his help, but it was a question of taking his hand or being left on the tarmac. She was very conscious of the cool strength of his fingers as they closed around hers and he lifted her effortlessly off the ground.

Already scarlet with the heat and humiliation, she flushed a deeper and even more unbecoming shade of red as she scrambled up and collapsed in an inelegant heap beside him. Somewhere along the line, her dress had got rucked up and Chase was subjected to an eyeful of her thighs in all their lack of glory. If he had been hoping for a glimpse of slender golden legs, he must have been sadly disappointed. Bea’s thighs were absolutely not her best feature.

Serve him right, thought Bea, hastily covering them up. She wished she had taken the tarmac option.

Her only comfort was the thought that he probably wished she’d stayed behind, too.

As it was, it looked like they were stuck with each other for the duration.

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