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Authors: Kelly Hunter

With This Fling...

Praise for Kelly Hunter

“Hunter’s emotionally rich tale
will make readers laugh and cry along with
the characters. A truly fantastic read.”
—RT Book Reviews on
Revealed: A Prince and a Pregnancy

“This is a dynamite story
of a once-forbidden relationship, featuring
two terrific characters who have to deal with the past
before they can finally be together.”
—RT Book Reviews on
Exposed: Misbehaving with the Magnate

“This story starts out on a light, fun and flirty note
and spins into an emotional and heartfelt tale about
coming to terms with the past and embracing the future.”
—RT Book Reviews on
Playboy Boss, Live-In Mistress

About Kelly Hunter

Accidentally educated in the sciences,
KELLY HUNTER
has always had a weakness for fairytales, fantasy worlds, and losing herself in a good book. Husband … yes. Children … two boys. Cooking and cleaning. sigh. Sports. no, not really—in spite of the best efforts of her family. Gardening … yes. Roses, of course. Kelly was born in Australia and has travelled extensively. Although she enjoys living and working in different parts of the world, she still calls Australia home.

Kelly’s novels
Sleeping Partner
and
Revealed: A Prince and a Pregnancy
were both finalists for the Romance Writers of America RITA® award, in the Best Contemporary Series Romance category!

Visit Kelly online at
www.kellyhunter.net

With This Fling…

Kelly Hunter

www.millsandboon.co.uk

PROLOGUE

T
HERE
was a lot to be said for fictional fiancés, decided Charlotte Greenstone as she settled into the saggy vinyl hospital chair for yet another night-time vigil by her dying godmother’s side. The room had seen decades of sickness and death but the elderly Aurora refused entry to gloom and opted instead to remember a life well lived and speculate quite outrageously on what might come after death.

Ashes seemed inevitable given that Aurora wanted to be cremated, but, if not dust, Aurora pondered the layout of heaven, the hierarchy within it, and how long the waiting list for reincarnation as a house cat might be.

This night, unfortunately, wasn’t shaping up to be one of Aurora’s better nights. Tonight Aurora was morphined-up and fretful, her main concern being that once she was gone Charlotte would have no one. Not nothing—for when it came to worldly possessions Charlotte had more than
enough for any one person. But when it came to family and a sense of belonging … when it came down to the number of people Charlotte could turn to for comfort and company … Aurora’s concerns weren’t entirely unfounded. Hence the invention of Charlotte’s tailor-made handy-dandy fictional fiancé. A wonderfully useful man if ever there was one.

Dashing.

Deliciously honourable.

Modest yet supremely accomplished.

And, last but not least, absent.

Once the awkwardness of the initial deception had passed, the fictional fiancé had provided endless hours of bedside entertainment. More to the point, his presence—so to speak—had provided valuable reassurance to a godmother who needed it that Charlotte would be loved. That she wouldn’t be lonely. Not with the likes of Thaddeus Jeremiah Gilbert Tyler around.

Not that anyone actually called the man Thaddeus to his face, oh, no. His research colleagues called him Tyler, and they uttered the name respectfully given his status as an independently wealthy globetrotting botanist, humanitarian, eco warrior, and citizen of Australia. His mother called him TJ. Always had, always would. Thaddeus Jeremiah Gilbert’s father called him son, and bore a startling
resemblance to Sean Connery. The adventurous Mr Tyler had no siblings—easier just to make him like Charlotte in that regard.

Charlotte called him Gil and laced the word with affection and desire, and Aurora believed.

Gil was in Papua New Guinea, somewhere up the Sepik River where phones were few and contact with the outside world was practically non-existent. Charlotte had managed to get a message through to him though … finally … and he’d sent a tribesman back to Moresby with a message for her. He hoped to be there soon, for he’d missed Charlotte most desperately and never wanted to be parted from her again. He wanted to meet Aurora, for he’d heard so much about her: accomplished businesswoman, artefact collector, godmother and all round good fairy; he wanted to meet the woman who’d raised his beloved Charlotte.

Aurora wanted to meet
him.

The wonderfully eccentric Aurora Herschoval being the closest thing to family Charlotte had ever had, for her parents were long dead, over twenty years dead now, and little more than a glamorous memory.

The cancer-ridden and increasingly morphine-medicated Aurora had a tendency to confuse Gil with Charlotte’s father. Easy
enough to do, Charlotte supposed, seeing as she’d modelled the man on the bits of her father she remembered.

Gil, aka TJ, aka Thaddeus Jeremiah Gilbert Tyler, in other words her fictional fiancé, also paid homage to Indiana Jones—complete with hat; Captain Kirk—probably best not to try and figure out why; and a swaggering Caribbean pirate or two—minus the hygiene issues. Yes, indeed, Charlotte’s fiancé was quite a man.

She’d miss him dreadfully when he was gone. His zest for life and new experiences. His tenderness and his wit. His company, as daft as that sounded, for he
had
kept her company these long anxious nights. He’d helped her keep the tears at bay and given her the strength to face what was coming.

Aurora passed away right on time. Two months from the discovery of the cancer to the finish, just as the good doctor had predicted.

This time, the thought of Gilbert did not hold Charlotte’s tears at bay. She wept with relief that Aurora’s pain had finally ceased. She wept with grief for the loss of a mother and friend.

She just wept.

Gilbert didn’t make it home to Australia in time to meet Aurora—an unforgivable act of
negligence as far as Charlotte was concerned. Poetic justice came swiftly.

Gilbert, in his haste to return to her, had ventured into territory he had no business venturing into. Once there, the reckless—yet noble—fool had tried to prevent the kidnapping of tribal daughters by a renegade hunting party, so it was said. Authorities had little hope of recovering his remains. The words
‘long pig’
had been whispered.

It was a double blow, his demise coming so soon after Aurora’s, and in the wee small hours of the night Charlotte mourned for him.

She really did.

CHAPTER ONE

‘C
HARLOTTE,
what are you doing here?’ Professor Harold Mead’s panicked expression didn’t quite fit his soothing fatherly tone. Then again, a lot of things about her boss didn’t quite fit. Like his version of Ancient Egyptian history as opposed to everyone else’s, for example. Or his idea of a regular working week, which was somewhere in the vicinity of seventy hours as opposed to, say, the fifty everyone else put in.

Granted, it was seven-thirty on a Monday morning and she didn’t usually start work quite this early, but still … she
did
have every right to be here. ‘Charlotte?’ he repeated.

‘Working?’ she offered helpfully. ‘At least, that’s the plan. Is there something wrong with the plan?’

‘No, but we were hardly expecting you in today. We thought you might take a few days to come to terms with your loss, what with your godmother’s funeral yesterday.’ Which
he’d attended. Which had been nice of him, seeing as he hadn’t known Aurora well at all.

‘It was a good funeral,’ she said softly. ‘A celebration of a life well lived. That’s what I think. That’s what I know. And thank you for attending.’

‘You’re welcome,’ said the Mead. ‘And if you do need to take a few days’ leave …’

‘No,’ said Charlotte hastily. ‘Please. No leave. I’m fine.’ She tried on a smile, and saw from the deepening concern in the Mead’s eyes that he’d seen it for the falsehood it was. ‘Really. I’m ready to work. I think I have a lead on what the pottery fragments coming out of the Loess site might be.’

‘It can wait,’ said the Mead. ‘Or you could pass that work on to someone else. Dr Carlysle, perhaps? Seeing as he’s on site? Dr Steadfellow values him quite highly.’

‘I’m sure he does.’ Steadfellow’s reports had been full of the man. ‘But I’d rather not.’ The Loess site had been one of her finds. Hers and Aurora’s. She’d
given
Steadfellow that site—coordinates, preliminary work, everything—on condition that she took part in the analysis. Alas, the good Dr Steadfellow seemed to be in danger of forgetting their arrangement now that the highly valued Dr Carlysle had joined the team. ‘Harold, I know Dr Steadfellow and
Dr Carlysle feel they can take it from here. I know they’re eminently qualified to do so but that’s not the point. I feel like I’m being sidelined and that wasn’t the arrangement.’

‘Charlotte, be reasonable,’ said the Mead soothingly. ‘Everyone knows you pulled together the funding for the Loess dig. No one doubts your claim to significant project input, but is this really a good time to be challenging your colleagues? Might they not simply be trying to help you through a difficult personal patch?’

Charlotte heard the words. She wanted to believe in them. Wanted to trust that Steadfellow would honour his word and acknowledge her contribution to the discovery, but in all honesty she just didn’t know if he would. Her judgement was shot, these days. Too many sleepless nights. Too much weaving in and out of imaginary realities because it had hurt too much to stay in
this
one. ‘I’ll talk to Steadfellow. And Carlysle,’ she said quietly. ‘We’ll sort something out.’

‘Excellent.’ The Mead beamed. ‘I knew you’d be generous about this. You already have more publications than most archaeologists three times your age. A tenured position is just around the corner for you.’

‘Even if I’m seen as a pushover?’ she asked quietly and Harold had the grace to flush.

‘Charlotte,’ he said. ‘I know your godmother
was of great assistance to you when it came to contacts in the archaeology world. I know your family name engenders a great deal of goodwill. God knows, I’ve
never
seen an archaeologist pull funding from the private sector the way you do. But your godmother’s gone now, and a lot of people will be looking to see if your legendary contacts went with her.’ He took a breath and fixed her with what he probably thought was a kindly gaze. ‘Charlotte, you’re a wonderful asset to this department, but if you’ll take an old man’s advice—and I do hope you will—losing ground on the Loess dig is the least of your problems. You need to think about taking to the field for a while and renewing your contacts in person. You need to think about getting back out on site and heading up your own digs. That’s what I’d be doing if I were you and I
really
wanted to get back in the game. Your position then would be unassailable. If that’s what you want.’

If that’s what you want.

Truth was—Charlotte didn’t know
what
she wanted any more, when it came to her work.

And the Mead knew it.

‘Charlotte, I know you’re not given to discussing your private life with your work colleagues,’ the Mead began awkwardly. ‘But I heard what
happened to your fiancé in PNG. Bad business, that. Terrible.’

‘You, ah … heard about that?’ Charlotte’s heart thumped hard against her chest, and if her smile was a little strained it was only because the situation warranted it. Thaddeus Jeremiah Gilbert Tyler was supposed to have lived only in her mind and Aurora’s. No one else’s. ‘How?’

‘One of the palliative care nurses up at the hospital is married to Thomas over in Statistics. He’s been keeping us abreast of various … things.’

‘Oh.’ Charlotte offered up another sickly smile, dimly registering the collision of planet fiction with planet reality but having no idea how to wrest them back apart. Why couldn’t she have simply broken her fictitious engagement to her fictitious fiancé in a sane and sensible manner, rather than killing him off? That way the formerly useful Gil could have gone paddling up the Sepik for ever, and she and Harold would not be having this conversation.

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