Authors: S.E. Gilchrist
The other girl sighed. “I
guess I’m finding it hard to believe it’s true. I wanted to hear what you had
to say about it.”
“I appreciate that,
Sasha. I swear none of it is true. I don’t know what’s going on but I need a
chance to clear my name before things get out of control.”
“Honey, they are way out
of control. Look, best I can do is give you Jet’s email. I don’t know if it’s
going to be of any help though because last I heard he was incommunicable. He’s
out of the state, in vacation mode. Wait here.”
The door closed.
Madeline stood in the passageway
and waited until Sasha re-opened the door, slipping a piece of paper through
“If it’s of any
consolation, Beebee, who works the bar with me some nights, reckons she’s going
to look into it, although what she thinks she can do is anyone’s guess. Good
luck and remember, you didn’t get this address from me.”
The door slammed shut and
this time Madeline heard the lock engage. She was on her own.
All the way home, she
kept expecting a cop car to sweep up to her at any moment and order her to pull
over. Panicky thoughts chased themselves inside her mind like squirrels on
speed. Matty. His future. Their mother lying dead on the floor in a pool of
vomit, her eyes staring at eternity. Harrison. Roberta and that shitty bet. The
impossibility of achieving her goal as a paralegal if she was charged with
theft. Even the whiff of being under investigation would be sufficient to taint
her chances of employment in that area.
And she was so close.
She’d been working on her
online degree so hard, paying down the fees as and when she could over the past
four years while working at the Club. With only one final exam to pass, the
next step would be applying for work in a law firm for a year while she
continued with fifteen hours a week legal education. Then, if all went
according to plan, she could apply to the State Bar of Texas for membership.
God, if she could never break away into a new career, how much would that
jeopardize her brother’s future?
There was more than her new career at stake here.
There was her freedom.
The knowledge that she’d
let Matty down.
That he could lose his
place at the Academy, be sucked into one of the local gangs. Drugs. Violence. A
With a start, she
realized she was driving down her street and coming up to her house. Her heart
raced, slamming against her rib cage. Her head pounded. The palms of her hands
were sweaty. She was on the verge of panic attack. Gasping for air, she pulled
over and turned off the engine and windshield wipers. The street was quiet, the
rain and cold wind keeping people inside their homes. Her hands clenched on the
steering wheel as a car turned into the street. She squeezed her eyes shut for
a second. When she opened them, the car turned into her neighbor’s driveway two
doors down and disappeared from sight. It wasn’t a cop car.
I need to focus. Get a
hold of myself. Think!
She locked the Chevy and
hurried inside the house where she kicked off her boots. Still in her overcoat,
she perched on the edge of the sofa and reached for Matty’s old laptop. A
reconditioned model, several years old, and Madeline’s now after she’d given
her brother an iPad for Christmas.
After staring at the
screen for several minutes, she composed an email explaining everything that
had happened from the moment she’d stepped into the Club last night and
included what Sasha had told her this morning. She ended by saying that she’d
never stolen from either the Club or its patrons and asking Jet to phone her
mobile as soon as possible. She hit the send button and wasted another hour
waiting for a response of some kind to no avail.
What if Jet was unable to
get back to her for hours? Days even? Anything could happen during that time.
She could be charged with theft, Matty hauled off to Social Services. Their
whole lives down the toilet because of someone’s lies. Could it be a client was
unhappy with their session? But who? There’d certainly never been any
indication any of her clients had been left unsatisfied. Unless it was Roberta,
but surely she wouldn’t go this far out of spite?
She pressed her hand to
her throbbing forehead, barely able to think clearly.
None of this would have
happened if I had won that bet.
He’s behind this; he has
to be. That slimy toad.
She raced into her
bedroom and rummaged through a pile of clothes she’d tossed onto a chair. Her
hand closed over a small card and she dialed the number printed in black,
The mobile on the other
end rang and rang. About to end the call, the ring tone finally stopped.
He’s quiet, even tones
somehow settled the queasiness churning in her gut. Even her fury at his
duplicity for some inexplicable reason began to lessen but it did nothing to
soothe her throbbing headache.
“Hello?” he said when she
failed to respond.
Madeline swallowed. “Um,
hi, it’s Madeline, I mean Marigold. You know, from last night at the Club.” She
squeezed her eyes shut briefly, at how croaky her voice sounded.
a social call. You’re not asking him out for a date. The guy’s lodged lies
about you. Grow up, Madeline.
“Madeline. Hey. Are you
okay? You sound…upset.”
Her anger erupted. “You
know what, you slim ball? Hell yeah, I’m upset. How could you. How could you
lie like that? You’re ruining my life.”
“Hey! What’s wrong? I
don’t know what you’re talking about. If it’s to do with that little matter of
changing the rooms around, then I’m sorry. When I saw the names on the board in
the foyer, I did a little switch. I didn’t think it would be such a big deal.
I’m not a fan of green walls. But I do like green eyes.”
His words hardly impacted
Her headache was rapidly
developing migraine status and she wanted to put her head through the wall. She
could barely think. Nausea was burning in her belly, darkness shrinking her
vision. It was if screws were tightening either side of her forehead. Pain
sliced over the top of her head. “It was you.
You got me fired and
now I’m going to lose everything. Matty. Oh, Matty. I’m sorry, baby.”
Her voice trailed off.
Gasping she clutched her head, only vaguely aware she’d dropped her mobile and
that Harrison was yelling something from the other end.
I’m gonna be sick.
Where are my tablets?
She stumbled to the
bathroom, where she fumbled open the medicine cabinet and sank down onto the
Harrison gunned his
pickup truck and took another corner far too wide. Luckily no one was coming in
the opposite direction. Ahead was another intersection. The lights turned
orange. He pressed down on the accelerator and roared through, slowing back to
the speed limit once on the other side.
Despite repeated attempts
to reach Madeline by phone, no one picked up on the other end. He’d been
tempted to dial 911 but the thought he could be sending emergency services on a
wild goose chase stilled his hand. There was no reason to believe she needed
medical attention. The odds were she was simply furious with him for his
Not that he blamed her.
When Aaron had told him about the bet being whispered around the club, Harrison
had known immediately he had to either stop it from taking place or failing
that, be the one to seduce Madeline.
A little voice had
suggested perhaps this was the chance he’d been waiting for; a way to snag the
interest of the woman who he’d fallen in love with the moment he’d set eyes on
her. Not that she’d noticed. She’d been oblivious or determined on ignoring the
guys sending her meaningful glances. Instead, she’d been totally focused on a
high school baseball game and watching the young boy holding the position of
One look on Harrison’s
part—that was all it had taken and he was a goner.
He’d been instantly
attracted to her shapely body, but it had been the expression of pride mingled
with love on her face that had stolen his heart.
Harrison had made it his
business to learn all he could about both of them which wasn’t much. His mate,
Aaron who’d been with him at the ballgame that day, had noticed Harrison’s
interest and had offered the information that he knew she worked at the Club.
Aaron had also volunteered that the woman’s brother was on the same team as his
son and that there were no parents in the picture. When Harrison realized she
supported and was bringing up a younger brother, his fate was sealed. This was
the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with, the woman he wanted to
raise a family with—the only problem being she hadn’t even looked in his
direction at that ballgame. As far as she was concerned, he could have been
That soul-rocking moment
had been his alone.
And now she was totally
pissed off with him.
He had a lot of fences to
mend if he was to achieve his heart’s desire.
First off, was an
apology. Hence his mad dash to her home when he should have been knee-deep in
marsh mud and continuing his research on the migratory habits of snow geese.
Luckily, he’d only been half-way to the McFadden National Wildlife Refuge when
her phone call had come through.
All it took was searching
online for her address using her mobile number and he was on his way. He rolled
his shoulders, telling himself that looking her up like this wasn’t the actions
of a sleazy stalker. She sounded like she was in trouble and he needed to make
damn certain it wasn’t through any stupid thing he’d done. He flicked on his
mobile and tried her number again. No answer. Sighing, he tossed the phone onto
the passenger seat.
He took the next left,
slowed down, and checked the house numbers as he cruised down the street.
Number one hundred and ninety-six. He pulled up behind her Chevy and parked,
taking a couple of minutes to calm his nerves and organize his thoughts. This
was it and it wasn’t much. A small clap-board house on a narrow allotment and
painted a dingy grey. But the grass was mown, sunshine yellow curtains covered
the windows, and there were several hanging pot-plants dancing in the wind on
How am I going to do
this? How do I explain turning up on her doorstep, uninvited?
A sudden downpour roused
him from his ruminations.
. Now he’d get soaked before he got to
I’m going to look like a shipwreck survivor. Maybe, she’ll take
pity on me.
Harrison tucked his
mobile into his top shirt pocket and pulled on the oilskin coat he used on his
job. Taking a deep breath, he stepped out into the rain. He ran for the door
and arrived on her front porch, dripping and with slick dread like boulders
weighing him down.
I’ve got one go at making this right.
Realizing water was
sloughing off his oilskin and puddling around his feet, he shrugged out of the
coat and draped it over the back of a wicker chair. He eyed the door, then
stared about the porch. The wicker chair was one of a pair, arranged around a
redwood coffee table with a mosaic countertop. Harrison knocked again then
stepped over to admire the image made from broken tiles of a lake with three
swans skimming across the surface. Clever and attractive.
The rain drummed on the
house’s iron roof and the wind howled through the branches of the tree out
front. He walked back to the door. It was possible she hadn’t heard his knock.
He thumped harder.
The unlocked door swung
open under his onslaught.
“Hey, Madeline? It’s me,
Harrison. Okay if I come inside?” He pushed the door wider and peered into the
shadowy house. Although going onto mid-day, the overcast sky and sleeting rain
made it appear much later than it really was. Outside the street lights
From what he could see
the front of the house was made up of a combined living and dining room to the
left with a breakfast bar dividing what was probably the kitchen. A hallway led
from the center of the room into the back of the house where he guessed the
bedrooms and bathroom would be located.
There was no sign of her.
stepped inside, then stumbled over a pair of boots left near the doorway. There
still was a tiny puddle of rain surrounding them, which hopefully meant
Madeline was home. He sure hoped so. He didn’t want to be done for breaking and
entering if some nosy neighbor decided to call the police.
“Madeline, I just wanted
to check up on you. Are you here?” He crossed the room, feeling more and more
like a stalker. His heartbeat kicked up a gear. What if she was sick? The door
hadn’t been latched properly. What if some gangbanger was prowling through her
His hands fisted and he
crept slowly along the hallway.
The sound was faint,
barely more than a sigh, but it galvanized him into action. Stuff whoever else
was in the house. Harrison hurried forward, ears straining for any other noise.
He heard the scuffing of cloth over tiles and pushed open the bathroom door.
“Blood hell! Madeline,
what’s the matter?” He rushed toward the figure huddled in the corner, her
hands holding her head, intermittent shivers racking her body.
“Migraine,” she gritted.
“Come on. Let’s get you
out of here and into bed.” He crouched, gripped her under the armpits, and
helped her upright. Once he’d shuffled her out of the cramped bathroom, he
lifted her into his arms and by kicking open the other two doors, found her
bedroom. With infinite care, he laid her on the bed, covering her with the
blanket that was folded up at the end. “Have you taken anything?”
“Let’s get you warmed up,
then. Your skin is like ice.” Harrison tucked the blanked in more closely. “My
mum suffers from migraines. One of my sister’s is a massage therapist. She does
this amazing stuff with mum’s feet and the back of her neck and it helps with
the intensity of her attacks. Okay for me to give it a go on you? Bron showed
me what to do last time I was home.”
Madeline nodded, her eyes
squeezed tight. “Home?”
“A town called Dubbo, in
outback Australia. My parents have a vineyard there and also run a mob of
merino sheep.” He walked to the end of the bed and gently pushed aside the
Starting with her right
foot, he rubbed and tugged her big toe with fluid movements, then gradually
moved onto her other toes before massaging the bottom of her foot and her heel.
After he finished her left foot, he toed off his shoes and knelt on the bed
“Starting to relax?” he
“Yeah, the pain is
He scanned her face,
noting how she no longer had her eyes crunched up and her jawline appeared less
tense. “I need you to roll over onto your stomach and I’ll work on the back of
her neck and head.”
Harrison began to knead,
pushing his thumbs deep into the pressure points.
“Ooooh, that is so good,”
“Last one.” He leaned
down and whispered near her ear. “I need you to sit up now.”
When she was sitting
upright, he shifted about until she was facing him where he spent several
minutes massaging her temple and around her eyes.
“I can keep going, if you
Madeline opened her eyes
and smiled. “It’s only a headache now. Thank you so much. Now, how about you
tell what you’re doing in my house.”
This close to her,
Harrison had to exert all his will power and not pull her into his arms and
blab about how much she meant to him. But this wasn’t the right moment. Her
green eyes were shadowed, reserve was already stealing back into her, and he
could feel her pulling emotionally away from him.
Putting up her barriers.
Determined to keep him
well and truly out of her life.
But he had news for her.
He wasn’t going anywhere until he’d fought with every breath he had to win her
heart. He grinned, pleased when her eyelashes flickered and her gaze dipped for
a moment to stare at his mouth.
She made a big deal out
of wrapping the blanket around her shoulders and using her movements to put
some space between them. Her hair was tousled, a few strands had fallen into
her eyes, and Harrison’s fingers twitched, wanting badly to feel the that silky
softness falling over his hands.
Clearing his throat, he
slid off the bed and picked up his shoes. “Your phone call scared the living
daylights out of me.”
She stared at him for
thirty long seconds before saying, “You’ve got a nerve. How you feel is not the
issue here. Let’s talk about that call. And about your low, disgusting actions
Fire had returned to her
eyes. Chin lifted, Madeline flung off the blanket and scrambled off the bed.
“Not only did you get me fired, you’ve lied and accused me of stealing from
you. Money is missing from the till and my supervisor has apparently called the
cops. Get out of my house!”
Harrison back away, hands
held out as if to stay
. “Listen, I don’t know what you’re going on
She frowned, her eyes
searching his face. “How did you know where I lived?”
“I’ve got more than one
Her lips quirked, as if
she was repressing a smile. The brief flash of amusement died from her eyes.
She said, flatly, “Did you know about the bet?”
Holding her gaze, he
“And that’s it? Just,
‘yes’?” Her voice shook. “I got fired last night because we lost.”
“You didn’t have to agree
to take part,” he pointed out coldly, remembering the wild explosion of
jealousy and desperation that had gripped him when he’d first heard she was
“I wasn’t given a lot of
choice. My hours have been cut. I need the money.” Her gaze left his and fell
on the photo frame sitting on the bedside table.
picked it up. “Is this your brother?” He already knew that but he figured
keeping her talking might ease a little of the wary suspicion in her eyes.
“Looks like a good kid.
I’ve got three brothers and two sisters myself, plus a bunch of cousins.”
“Bully for you.” She
folded her arms. “Do you mind putting that photo back where you found it?”
“Sure thing.” He replaced
the photo. “Listen, about that bet. I want to explain—”
“Don’t bother. I’m
feeling a lot better now. You can leave.” Her eyes glittered as sharp as green
“Hey, but I want to talk
about why I agreed to being part of the bet.” Cold sweat formed on his upper
“Forget it. I’m not
interested in your narcissistic excuses. There’s the door.” She pointed across
Crap, this wasn’t going
anywhere near how he imagined it might turn out. “Listen, babe…”
A mobile phone trilled
with the ring tone of the song
I will survive
“Yours, I take it?” Harrison grinned.
Madeline dropped the
blanket and stalked out of the bedroom. Harrison followed her to the living
area where she snatched up the phone lying on the breakfast bar.
“Hello?” She fell quiet,
obviously listening to whoever was on the other end.
could tell by the way she clenched her hands over the phone the news wasn't
good. Her face bleached of all color, causing the tiny scattering of freckles
over the bridge of her nose to stand out like brown dots. Definitely not good.