In the final year of her business degree, Phuong has her future all mapped out. Finish studying, then go home and save her family's business. Until her father dies and it all falls apart. Broke and jobless, she stumbles on a solution: find herself an Australian husband. Fast.
She's not looking for love – Phuong doesn't believe in fairy tales. Her marriage will be a business deal, pure and simple. But when she meets her husband-to-be and discovers he's a reclusive rock star living at Romance Island Resort, maybe it's time to believe a girl can live happily ever after.
Idly, she clicked on one of the unread messages from some other man whose profile was a sculpted, headless torso, like something cropped from the cover of a romance novel.
Mr Six-Pack's message was short:
"I'm looking for a woman who knows all fairy tales are lies, but who still hopes one might come true."
Reflexively, Phuong clicked on his profile. Mr Six-Pack was a gym junkie, he admitted, who went by the name of Lucky Jason. He worked on a remote island, but it was lonely and he wanted to share his living accommodation with someone who could brighten the darkness at night. Or so he said. She laughed softly before clapping a hand over her mouth at the thought that she might wake Norman. His snores continued, like he was sawing down a tree with his nose in his sleep, so she breathed a sigh of relief and returned to ogling Jason's abs. Desire flooded her for the first time in months.
She hit the reply button on his message. "Which fairy tale did you have in mind, and which character are you? The big bad wolf, the woodcutter or Prince Charming?" Before she could think better of it, she sent the message.
The response came back almost instantly: "What would you like me to be? I can cut down everyone keeping you from me, carry you off to my castle like Prince Charming, then turn into the big bad wolf and eat you all up until you scream for joy."
"That only happens in books," she whispered to herself, then typed the words and fired off the message.
Lucky Jason had an answer for that, too: "One day, some romance author will write books about us and a million lonely women will crave the sort of sex you only have to ask for."
Arrogant much? "No one's that good. What if I'm after Prince Charming, a man who loves me, listens to me and wants to take care of me, and I'm not interested in sex?"
"Prince Charming is a prick who'll smother you and turn jealous if you look at anyone else. He'll lock you in a tower and never let you out. And he wouldn't know what to do with his own cock, let alone your body. Prince where-do-I-put-my-prick. That's not me, babe."
"No? You don't get jealous? What do you do when your girl looks at another man?"
"Grin and wink at the guy while my arm's around her. He'll never be me and never have what I do, but that's cool. Not everyone's as awesome as me. Let me show you, babe."
She gasped at his audacity, the sheer arrogance of the man…but even the typed words made her more aroused than any other man had. Aroused at a man who used a stock photo for a profile picture. "Show me what you really look like first."
"What do you mean? The site's rules say no face, cock or arse pictures, so I stuck my six-pack on there. You don't like muscles, babe?"
"They don't look real. Show me what you really look like." She slowly exhaled, knowing she'd effectively ended the conversation. Lucky Jason's six-pack was as fictional as his sexual prowess. Big bad wolf eating her, indeed.
She left the laptop and headed to the kitchen to dry the dishes. Lucky Jason wasn't so lucky tonight, but then neither was she.
Phuong returned to the laptop when she'd put away the last beer glass. To her surprise, a blurry picture of a man's muscled tummy beside the edge of a keyboard sat on the screen. "Satisfied?" said the message above it.
"No," she replied. "You could've pulled that photo off the internet, too. Give me proof of life. Take a picture with today's newspaper."
"We don't get newspapers out here. I live on a deserted island. Tell me your real name and I'll write it across my abs for you."
If he mangled her name or called her Fiona like Norman, she'd delete every damn message and never speak to him again. "It's Phuong."
Seconds ticked by without a response. Phuong glanced at the clock on the oven. If she didn't go to bed soon, she wouldn't get enough sleep.
She glanced back and was greeted by another blurry picture, but this one had the letters P-H-U wavering across his skin. She held her breath as another picture appeared, this time bearing a wonky O, a back-to-front N and a tailed G that ended by guiding her eye to the treasure trail vanishing into the waistband of his shorts. Then a final shot with all six letters.
Before she could type a response, he added a line of text: "How do you pronounce it?"
"Rhymes with thong, only with an F." Wonders never ceased. A second point to Lucky Jason – one for actually having a six-pack, and one for caring about getting her name right.
"I want to see you wearing one so I can take it off with my teeth."
That made him an American, Phuong guessed, sighing. Lucky Jason was too good to be true. He couldn't give her Aussie citizenship.
"Just don't bite my feet. I'm looking for an Australian man who knows thongs come in pairs and who'll wear them with me as we go for a walk on the beach. Is there one of those on your deserted island?"
She has since swum with sea lions, sharks and sea cucumbers and stood on spray-drenched cliffs over a seething sea as a seven-metre cyclonic swell surged in, shattering a shipwreck below.
Sensationalist spin? No - Demelza tends to take a camera with her so she can capture and share the moment later; shipwrecks, sharks and all.
Demelza now lives in Perth, Western Australia, the shark attack capital of the world.
The Ocean's Gift series was her first foray into fiction, followed by the Nightmares trilogy. She swears the Mel Goes to Hell series ambushed her on a crowded train and wouldn't leave her alone.