extravagance, and bad financial management. That truth was so fixed in his thoughts that he feared his daughter’s career would lead to her ruin.
The group moved forward as Marg spoke to Dan. “Hold Zoey’s hand, Dan.”
“Gran, do I have to? I’m too big to hold hands!”
“You’re right, Dan, but today you will. It’s too crowded. I don’t want you gettin’ lost.”
“Can’t I just promise to stay next to her?”
Zoey said, “Dan's pretty responsible, Aunty Marg. If he says he’ll stick close, then he will.”
Reluctantly, Marg agreed. “I’m relyin’ on you, Zoey, to keep him close.”
With affable efficiency, the publicist led the way into the terminal. “So many more fans than I’d hoped. Mr Doyle will be thrilled! We have great media coverage: Nine, Eight, Seven, Ten, and the ABC as well as the newspapers! You can’t buy press like that, and I’ve organised the perfect spot for a touching reunion.”
“Hang on,” Trevor Mills said, stopping. His group came to a halt. “You can put a cork in that idea. You’re not goin’ to exploit a private family moment.”
Trevor looked at his wife who reflected his confounded expression.
The group did not move.
“Okay, I’ll work something out.” The publicist hurried forward, aware that her time-critical plan now worked against her. Why hasn’t anyone explained the importance of the publicity show to them? It’s too late to organise the VIP room. How can I make this work? Looking back over her shoulder, she was relieved to see this particular train was back on track.
Passing through the terminal’s automatic double doors, the Mills and Zoey came to a standstill. Not only could they not move forward, they were gobsmacked.
A squeeze of select fans positioned behind waist-high barricades raised the hubbub significantly in the Arrivals area. Exiting travellers, after clearing the Customs Hall, flowed down a narrow path into Arrivals, met their welcome parties, added baggage trolleys to the congestion, and converged into a single lane that moved like Sydney traffic in a peak-hour jam.
“Okay.” Zoey let go of his hand.
Hired security guards on the lookout for the publicist cleared a path for her party. The publicity machine took over.
The Nikki Mills Band exited the Customs Hall midstream in the flow of people. In the time they had been away, the look of the band had changed. It was not so much what they wore but the ultra-cool attitude they projected. The men wore sneakers, jeans, solid colour Tees, and carried jackets. Usually clean-shaven, they all wore a patina of stubble that day. As the men exited Customs and took in the glare, Jack Carter and Steve Mason donned sunglasses.
Close on Dan’s heels, Sarah O’Brien, dressed in soft appealing green hues, rushed to her husband.
The Mills and Zoey joined Nikki and Dan, as did Susie Blake. With Dan attached to her, Nikki hugged each parent, her father first.
“Mum! It’s the October school holidays. Besides, I know my stuff backwards. It’s just low-key revision from now on. I’ve missed you!”
“Oh, I thought … never mind, I’ve missed you too.”
The publicist, eager to harvest the fruit from this carefully planned event, enjoyed the press’ interest in what was an unusual story of a single mother triumphing against the odds in the music industry. “Nikki, I’ve booked a media room because of demand. We’ll head there next. The press are very interested in The Babes-in-the-Bath tour and why the British and European press dubbed it so.”
Nikki laughed. “You heard about that over here?”
“The Sotheby’s auction and the story behind the tour tag has the media intrigued.”
“I’d be a poor publicist indeed if I didn’t make the most of such a golden opportunity.”
“Then we’ll be happy to tell the whole story.”
“Now if you, Dan, and the group will follow my assistant, I’ll round up Jack and Steve. We thought some shots of you reunited with Dan—”
“No, I’m not exploiting my child.”
“But, Mummy, I want to stay with you.”
“There are no buts about it.” Nikki flicked a grateful smile at Zoey who soothed Dan with an undertone explanation. Nikki looked apologetically at her parents before speaking to the publicist. “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”
“Isra Haq. I’m the senior publicist for The Harbourside Agency.”
“Mr Doyle saw the wisdom in my suggestion to provide one given your parents are country people unused to city traffic or the airport circus. It will make visiting his office after the media interview easier as well. No parking hassles.”
Aware of her travel-dishevelled state, Nikki said, “I hadn’t planned on meeting anyone today let alone being in a media interview. I intended going straight home. Have a good look at me; I’m not dressed for it. Can’t you reschedule both?”
“I can’t do that.”
“We have to take advantage of this media opportunity now. I can’t reschedule Mr Doyle either; he pays the bills and calls the shots. I do have a make-up artist ready though.”
“Not a stylist and a change of clothes for us?”
“No, our line is that this was a spontaneous fan-based response, and we just took advantage of it on the day. The crumpled look is the look we want.”
Nikki responded, “If I’d known about the meeting with Doyle, we could’ve showered in the QANTAS lounge facilities before we came through Customs.”
“How spontaneous was it really?”
“As spontaneous as any such gathering can be. Look, I know you’re unhappy about the way today is playing out, but doesn’t the fact that you flew back Business Class compensate?”
“So that’s the reason? We thought it was because the tour was such a success.”
“I’m not privy to Mr Doyle’s reasons.”
“Yet, you linked our mode of travel to the media circus unfolding here.”
“I’m just trying to see the glass as half full, that’s all. … The media room is this way.”
* * * *
The Harbourside Agency occupied a premier location in Darling Harbour southwest of the Harbour Bridge. The agency occupied floors in one of the greenest buildings in Sydney. The building was an innovative and ecologically sustainable facility, a reflection of growing national concern about climate warming. Natural light filtered into the building through a panelled automated roof that tracked the sun and shade. Huge expanses of double glazed windows provided views of Cockle Bay to the west and the harbour to the north while maintaining energy efficiency. Solar chimneys expelled
hot air and drew in cooler sea air. The interior walls transitioned subtly from blue to green. Furnishings were elegant yet functional.
The publicist excused herself.
“Will you look at that view!” Trevor Mills said. “This place must cost a bundle!”
Nikki crossed to her father and spoke softly to him. “Dad, try not to look so impressed. It puts me at a business disadvantage.”
“Oh, right. I need to act like this is run-of-the-mill stuff, eh, Mavis?” He chuckled, pleased with his subtle witticism.
Nikki smiled at her father’s attempted pun. “Dad, have you forgotten you agreed to call me Nikki in business situations?”
“We both had, love,” Marg said. “Trev’, doesn’t this look a gastronomic delight? So much more appetisin’ than that airport food. I wonder if we should wait for Mr Doyle.”
Trevor answered, “Wait would be the right thing. It looks more like a gastronomic nightmare given all that gluten and dairy.”
Doyle’s elegant personal assistant glided into the lounge area followed by the publicist. The assistant spoke to Nikki. “Miss Mills, Isra Haq has explained your desire to freshen up before the meeting. I’ve discussed your request with Mr Doyle. He’s happy to wait.”
“That’s very kind, but I don’t want to waste his time. He must have a busy day.”
“He does, very busy, but he’s more than happy to give you time to freshen up. Besides, his sister has popped in without an appointment. London to Sydney is such a long flight. Staff here appreciate how terrible travel grunge feels. Our shower facilities have a full complement of hair and make-up products. I can organise a fresh change of clothes from the Harbourside shopping centre if
you can’t access your luggage.”
“Thank you.” Nikki consulted with Susie before adding, “If someone could buy us jeans and a T-shirt each, sizes 10 and 12 respectively, we’d appreciate it. Fellas?”
Jack answered for them, “Yeah, we’ll have a shower and change as well. We’re a one-size-fits-all group, regular, thirty-four waists, large Tees. We haven’t had time to get local currency yet so—”
The personal assistant replied, “No worries. The agency usually takes care of this sort of thing.” She left.
Nikki spoke to the publicist, “Thank you.”
“I hope it compensates in part for not giving you a heads up before you returned to Oz.”
* * * *
From the comfort of his leather chair, Doyle looked up at her, an unusual experience for him given he was significantly taller. His face was symmetrical, lean with a well-defined bone structure, expressive brown eyes, and dark hair. His sister was a classic beauty. They shared a strong family resemblance although he opted for a quiet, understated casual look that nonetheless spoke money and success.
“You’re confusing my clients with wedding singers. It’d be an insult to ask any of them to perform at your wedding, a wedding the old man hasn’t consented to as yet, or are you prepared to forgo inheritance and go for love alone instead?”
“I’ll bring Daddy around. I’m not sure how yet, but I will. His preoccupation with bloodlines and breeding is absurd!”
“I agree, but it’s a consequence of his passion for race horses and his decades old dream of winning the Melbourne Cup. It might help if you enlisted Gran.”
“Do you think she’ll like Gavin?”
“No, he’s not her cut of man. For that matter, I don’t understand what you see in him either.”
“The heart wants what it wants.” Avril stood. “What I want is essentially the same as we did when we were kids — a close-knit, demonstrative family. Have you forgotten?”
The question triggered a memory from his childhood. He remembered the sleeting cold rain of that winter’s day and the bleak chill of indifference. That day had been a milestone in his young life.
“I haven’t forgotten.”
“Well, with Gavin, I can have that family. He grew up in that family.”
“And if you’re made to choose?”
“I’ll call Daddy’s bluff, but if push comes to shove, I’ll go with my man if it comes to that. It won’t though. Gran wouldn’t stand for it.”
Doyle’s phone rang. He rerouted the call to his personal assistant.
“I hadn’t planned on it.”
“I’m officially introducing Gavin as my fiancé so I’ll need your support.” Avril glanced at Doyle’s photographic collection symmetrically aligned on the wall as Doyle walked her to his office door. “That’s new.” She crossed to examine the framed photographs. “Oh my God! Shaun, you’re the anonymous buyer from that Sotheby’s Art Auction that made the headlines!” She considered each of the four photographs carefully. “You paid an outrageous amount for them!”
Doyle recalled the heat of the bidding and his unexpected determination that he had to possess those photographs.
“Both women look hot! Are they?” Avril turned on her heel and looked critically at her brother. “Are you interested in one or both of them? I would not be surprised if it were both. You have such a harem!”
“I’m no blabber-mouth, well … not since I grew up. Your secret is safe; I promise not to use it as leverage to get my way. Well, I’ve places to be and money to spend.” On impulse, Avril hugged him. “You are the best brother a girl could ever wish for. You’ve two weeks to rearrange any conflicting plans for that weekend. I know you won’t disappoint me.”
As the lift descended, it occurred to Avril that her brother’s explanation did not quite ring true. Maybe it was the reason for him bidding at the auction, but it did not explain him engaging in a bidding war that was the talk of Fleet Street and the Australian media. Which of the women was he interested in?
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