The Secret Love-Child

By: Miranda Lee

CHAPTER ONE



'PLEASE, Rafe. My reputation for reliability is on the line here.'

Rafe sighed. Les had to be really desperate to ask him to do this. His ex-partner knew full well the one job he'd hated when they'd been in the photographic business together was covering weddings. Where Les enjoyed the drama and sentiment of the bride and groom's big day, Rafe found the whole wedding scenario irritating in the extreme. The pre-ceremony nerves got on his nerves, as did all the hugging and crying that went on afterwards.

Rafe was not a big fan of women weeping.

On top of that, it was impossible to be seriously creative when the criterion was simply to capture every single moment of the day on film, regardless. Rafe, the perfectionist, had loathed having to work with the possibilities that the weather might be rotten, the settings difficult and the bridal party hopelessly unphotogenic.

As a top-flight fashion and magazine photographer, Rafe now had control over everything. The sets. The lighting. And above all...the models. When you shot a wedding, you had control over very little.

'I presume you can't get anyone else,' Rafe said, resignation in his voice.

"The wedding's on Saturday, exactly a fortnight from today,' Les explained. 'You know how popular Saturday weddings are. Every decent photographer in Sydney will already be booked.'

'Yeah. Yeah. I understand. Okay, so what do you want me to do?

"The bride's due at your place at noon today.'

Rafe's eyes flicked to the clock on the wall. It was eleven fifty-three. 'And what if I'd refused?'

'I knew you wouldn't let me down. You might be the very devil with women, but you're a good mate.'

Rafe shook his head at this back-handed compliment. So he'd had quite a few girlfriends over the years. So what? He was thirty-three years old, a better-than-average-looking bachelor who spent his days photographing bevies of beautiful women, a lot of whom were also single. It was inevitable that their ready availability, plus his active libido, would keep the wheels turning where his relationships were concerned.

But he wasn't a womaniser. He had one girlfriend at a time, and he never lied or cheated. He just didn't want marriage. Or children. Was that a crime? It seemed to be in some people's eyes.

Rafe wished his married friends—like Les—would understand that not everyone wanted the same things out of life.

'Just give me some details before the bride actually arrives,' he said a tad impatiently, 'so I won't look a right Charlie.'

'Okay, her name is Isabel Hunt. She's thirtyish, blonde and beautiful.'

'Les, you think all your brides are beautiful,' Rafe said drily.

'And so they are. On the day. But this one is beautiful all the time. You're going to enjoy photographing Ms Hunt, I promise you. Or should I say, Mrs Freeman. The lucky girl is marrying Luke Freeman, the only son and heir of Lionel Freeman.'

'Is that supposed to mean something to me? Who the hell is Lionel Freeman, anyway?'

Truly, Rafe, you're a complete philistine when it comes to subjects other than food, the Phantom and photography. Lionel Freeman was one of Sydney's most awarded architects. Poor chap was killed in a car accident! A couple of weeks back, along with his wife, so tread easily with the groom when you finally meet him.'

'Poor bloke. What rotten luck.' Rafe's own father had been killed in a car crash when Rafe had been only eight. It had been a difficult time in his life, one he didn't like dwelling on.

'Oh-oh. I just heard a car pull up outside. The bride-to-be I gather, and right on time. I hope she's just as punctual on her wedding day. Now what about money, Les? What do you charge for a wedding these days?'

'A lot less than you could command, my friend. But I'm afraid you'll have to settle for my fee. It's already been agreed upon and the full amount paid up front. If you give me your bank account number, I'll...'

'No, don't bother,' Rafe broke in, not caring about the money this once. Les might need it. He wouldn't be running around covering too many weddings with a broken leg. 'You can owe me one. Just don't ask again, buddy. Not where a wedding is concerned. Must go. The doorbell's ringing. I'll call you back after the bride's gone. Let you know what I thought of her.'

Rafe hung up and headed downstairs, then hurried along towards the front door, curious now to see if Les was exaggerating about the bride-to-be's blonde beauty. She'd have to be something really special to surprise him. After all, he was used to beautiful blondes. He'd photographed hundreds. He'd even fallen madly in love with one once.

He'd been twenty-five at the time, and had just started climbing the fashion photographic ladder. Liz had been an up-and-coming cat walk model. Nineteen, nubile and too nice to be true. Only he hadn't realised that in the beginning. He'd become so besotted with her he'd actually begged her to live with him. Which she had. But only till she'd milked him for everything he was worth, both personally and professionally. Within a year she'd moved on to an older, more influential photographer, leaving an emotionally bruised and embittered Rafe behind.

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