CHAPTER TWO

Barbie was literally trembling, her nerves a total jangle as she waited to make her entrance. She shouldn't have let Sue talk her into this. Somehow her friend had plumbed a well of pride, stirring it to the point where Barbie had actually thought that seeing the stunned look on Nick Armstrong's face might mend the scars on her heart. Especially when she sprinkled Stardust over him, turning him into the child, with her being the adult, falsely smiling at him.

Sweet revenge, Sue called it, but right now Barbie seriously doubted that anything about this gig could turn out sweet. She would hate it if Nick Armstrong didn't recognize and remember her and she would hate it if he did. And it was useless to even try to pretend she had forgotten him.

Nevertheless, she was here, outside the party marquee on Observatory Hill, and it was too late to call off the promised performance. Someone inside was making a speech—Leon Webster?—to bursts of appreciative laughter and occasional guffaws. About a hundred guests, dressed in very trendy evening gear, Sue had reported, definitely a moneyed crowd.

Since the sides of the marquee were clear plastic for the guests to have an unimpeded view of the harbour and its spectacular coat hanger bridge, as well as

the myriad night lights of North Sydney, Barbie was standing out of sight behind their car while Sue stood at the entrance, watching proceedings until the vital moment came.

At least she could make a fast getaway, Barbie consoled herself, with the car so close by. Ten minutes— just ten minutes—of being a fairy princess and she could be out of here. Sue, of course, didn't want to leave. She was all dressed up to party in a slinky green satin slip dress—a very sexy pixie tonight—but she'd promised she would find her own way home if Barbie wanted to take off.

A burst of applause made her heart start skittering. Sue held up her hand, the signal to get ready.

Barbie briefly closed her eyes and prayed that her wings wouldn't fall off, that the long train of her skirt wouldn't catch on anything, that her vocal cords wouldn't collapse on her, that the Stardust mechanism on her wand would work without a hitch. One perfect performance, she pleaded, for this one night.

Leon Webster grinned around at his audience as the applause for his speech died down. 'Please...hold your seats everyone. We have a special surprise coming up for Nick, just to add a little bit of magic to the big 3-0 milestone.

He gestured an over-to-you to the bandleader and stepped off the podium, having stirred a buzz of speculation around the tables. Nick watched his friend striding across the dance floor to their table, a slight swagger to his gait, Leon was certainly in top form tonight.

He'd pulled off a hugely entertaining speech and now he was about to pull something else out of his hat of amusing tricks.

Leon was a great party guy, Nick reflected, smiling at the high-octane energy still radiating from him as he dropped into his chair at their table. Over the years they'd had a lot of fun together—all through university, setting up the business and running it. Long-time friends and always would be, Nick thought, knowing each other probably better than any women in their lives ever would.

The band started playing something he didn't recognize until the clarinetist came in with the melody. Then Nick burst out laughing at Leon. ‘“Somewhere Over the Rainbow"?'

"The pot of gold is coming, man.'

'A bit childish, isn't it, Leon?' Tanya sniped.

Nick gritted his teeth, biting down on the urge to tell Tanya to take a hike. She'd been in a picky mood all evening—criticizing everything—and very soon now he was going to advise her to join another table.

Leon gave her a smile that smacked of sweet satisfaction. 'I'm giving Nick a touch of romance, Tanya. He needs it'

Nick felt Tanya bristle and braced himself for another snide sling off at him. The surprised exclamations of 'Oh, look!' and 'Wow!' from other guests came as welcome relief, drawing their attention to where everyone else was turning. Swiveling around in his chair, Nick was initially hit with stunned disbelief.

A gorgeous glittering blonde with gossamer wings?

Then he took in the total image and barely stifled a glorious bubble of laughter. Leon—with undoubtedly the most wickedly Machiavellian pleasure—had got him a fairy princess with a magic wand! Tanya, of course, would not appreciate the joke, but Nick no longer cared what Tanya thought. Or did. In fact, if a wave of that wand could make her disappear, he'd have no objection at all.

He smiled at the fairy princess. He wouldn't be leaving her on a shelf for long if he had her in his keeping, and he wouldn't need any magic to spark off desire either. She was the best looking fantasy he'd ever seen in the flesh. And what flesh! The gauzy silver evening dress shimmered around hourglass curves and the clingy fabric clearly revealed there was no artful underwear involved in creating the sexy effect. This was all living, breathing woman, so perfect she could have emerged from the pages of a fairytale. Her lovely face was made even more luminous by a smile that could have made gooey mush out of a stone heart and eyes that sparkled through a sprinkling of stardust. A delicate diamante tiara crowned a long rippling flow of silky blond hair which looked all the more beautiful, framed by the wings with their fine network of silver spokes and loops.

A princess indeed, Nick thought, and hoped she would grant his wish for her to stay on at the party so that they could work some magic together.

So far, so good, Barbie told herself, smiling so hard her face ached. She'd made it up the aisle between the tables from the entrance to the dance floor without a falter or mishap. Her surprise appearance was certainly coming off as a surprise and she was intensely grateful that the response from the guests was positive—no cat-calling or anything off-putting, just a. buzz of wonder and appreciation and a heightened sense of anticipation for what would happen next.

She spotted Nick Armstrong as she stepped onto the dance floor. Leon had told Sue that he and the birthday boy would be at the table directly opposite where the band was set up, and there they both were, Leon emphatically pointing at Nick to identify him as the guest of honour.

Barbie nodded to show she understood. Nick was happily smiling at her, looking even more handsome than she remembered him, a dark blue shirt enhancing his dark colouring and heightening the vivid blue of his eyes...eyes that were gobbling her up as though she were everything his heart could desire.

For a moment, her heart leapt with treacherous joy... Nick loving the image of her. Then her mind savagely kicked in—lust, not love, you fool. He'd probably have the same look for a curvaceous bikini girl popping out of a birthday cake.

Her gaze slid briefly to the woman sitting next to him—masses of black hair in a tousled mane, pouty red lips and a red dress with a decolletage that had undoubtedly attracted him—out of the same mould as

the scarlet tart he'd preferred to true love on his twenty-first birthday.

Barbie hated her on sight. And quite clearly, the woman was making no bones about hating her right back. The fairy princess for Nick was not going down at all well with her.

Unaccountably a sweet sense of satisfaction swept through Barbie. She bestowed an especially warm smile on Nick before turning to walk to the podium where the microphone awaited. Let him lust after her instead of his black-haired bed-pet, she thought wickedly and put a more seductive sway into her hips to help him focus his attention where she wanted it.

Sue was right about revenge. It would be balm to her wounded soul if Nick ended up panting after her tonight. Of course, it would mean he was a shallow rat, but proving that beyond a doubt might help to finally put him behind her. And then she could crush him and walk away. Walk away forever!

She timed her arrival at the podium to the last chords of ' Somewhere Over the Rainbow.' The musicians grinning at her, thoroughly enjoying the effectiveness of her appearance. The bandleader winked his approval and another wicked idea slid into her mind.

'Remember Marilyn Monroe singing "Happy Birthday" to the president?' she whispered. He nodded, his eyes twinkling with mischief.

I want that' tempo, Okay?'

'You got it, babe'

She took the microphone and swallowed a couple of times to moisten her throat. One of her talents was doing a good mimic. She hoped she could pull this one off tonight. It was worth trying, anyway, she boldly reasoned, even if her voice did waver off the note. If it was sexiness that turned Nick Armstrong on, she'd pour it out at him.

The audience settled and hushed. Sue gave her a thumbs up sign from where she still stood at the en-" trance to the marquee. Leon Webster leaned forward, saying something to Nick at their table. The black-haired sexpot looked furious. Nick flashed a grin at his friend, ignored the woman beside him, turning his back to her as he concentrated his attention on the fairy princess about to sing for him. Not polite attention, Barbie noted triumphantly. Wolfish attention!

The band struck up a vibrant opening chord. Barbie took a deep breath and lifted the microphone close to her mouth so she could purr into it.

'Ha... ppy birth... day,..' another big breath '...dear... Nick...'

A ripple of amusement ran around the marquee, It was pure over-the-top candied honey. Nick tilted his head back in delight, a low chuckle emerging from his throat...music to Barbie's ears. He was captivated all right.

She repeated the line, putting a huskier edge on her voice. The band paused for her until the appreciative laughter died down, picking up again as she stared the third 'Happy Birthday', soaring with her as she poured more volume into the high note, then dropping

softly to the 'Dear Ni...ick,' into which she pumped a load of seductive come-on.

He was not the least bit embarrassed by it. His head was cocked slightly to one side, as though bewitched and bemused, wanting more.

Barbie gave it to him, drawing out the last line and loading it with sensual innuendo as she sang to...you-ou-ou,' her lips rounded in a suggestive oval, sending a long, long, visual kiss.

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