Authors: S.E. Gilchrist
His total focus on his
task made her smile.
The cushions shifted as
Harrison sat down beside her, taking up more than his fair share of the space.
She frowned. Would it be
too obvious if she moved further along the lounge? “Shouldn’t you be working?”
Harrison snorted. “Only
mad dogs and Englishmen go out in this weather, and I’m neither.”
“What’s that?” Matty
paused and glanced over at them and Madeline couldn’t help wondering what he
made of the pair of them sitting so close together, if anything.
“Just an old saying.”
Harrison grinned. “Us Aussies like taking the piss out of Poms.”
Madeline and Matty
exchanged baffled looks.
“We like teasing English
people,” explained Harrison, taking a big gulp of his coffee. He stretched out
his legs, shuffling about until his body was right next to Madeline’s.
She glared at him.
He winked and slung his
arm along the back of the sofa. His fingers rested on her shoulder. She tensed,
her tummy fluttering while a slow burn of sexual heat sizzled through her
“I know you like
baseball, but what else do you like to do, Matty?”
Matty’s face lit up.
“I’ve got a chemistry set but it’s a bit basic which is why I use the lab at
Karim Academy. I’m particularly interested in biochemistry.”
“I meant out of school.”
Madeline sent her brother
a fond smile. “That’s what he does, in and out of school. It’s a wonder he
doesn’t put a bed in that lab.”
“No girlfriend?” Harrison
“Nah, not really. I don’t
have a lot a spare time.”
“Amazing how much you two
Madeline turned and
looked at Harrison. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I think you use your
work and your commitment to your brother as an excuse not to get involved with
anyone. And probably, vice versa.”
trembled. Damn him for hitting the nail on the head.
She sipped her coffee
before saying, coolly, “How?”
“Okay, tell me you
believe in love at first sight.”
“There’s no such thing.”
“You think so?”
“Absolutely. Our mother
believed in that rubbish. And look where it got her. Pregnant at seventeen with
no guy in sight, kicked out by her family, homeless and with no one to turn
to.” Her voice was thick with grief and she had to clear her throat.
Matty ducked his head and
played with his fork. He choked down an audible sob.
“That would have been
tough for her,” Harrison said noncommittedly.
“You have no idea,”
Madeline said hoarsely. “Mom did her best but she didn’t have an easy time
giving birth to me. It never entered her head to give me up. Even though she
struggled with depression each day, she kept us together.”
She smiled across the
room at her brother. “It wasn’t all bad. We had each other. Mom eventually
resorted to prostitution to put food on the table, then Matty was born and he
was such a beautiful baby. But again, she experienced post-natal depression.
The hospital did nothing for her except hand over a bunch of drugs. And the
next thing, I knew, she was an addict. She died from an overdose when I was
Madeline leaned over and
placed her mug on the small coffee table. Straightening, she raised her
eyebrows at the guy beside her. “See? Love at first sight, what a joke.”
Harrison waited a beat
before continuing, “What about falling in love? You must believe in love since
you guys are so tight.”
Madeline said gruffly.
Matty bent his head and
tapped away on his screen. “This is a pretty dumb conversation.”
“See? Peas in a pod.”
Harrison shook his head.
When Madeline gazed into
his eyes, there was a bleakness dimming their luster. She compressed her lips
and turned away. It was none of her business if this guy had suffered
disappointment and heartbreak over some woman.
Hell, everyone has been hurt
or let down at some point in their lives
Look at me and Matty.
stiffened her spine so she wouldn’t snuggle into his side and give him the
comfort of her body.
They sat for silence for
a while, the fire crackling and sending tiny sparks into the air every so
often. Her mobile pinged. Madeline retrieved it from her pocket and read the
“Yes. It’s from Sasha.
She wants to know where I am and if I’m okay.”
“Better not tell her your
whereabouts in case the police question her.”
After considering him for
a moment, Madeline nodded. She sent a brief text back telling Sasha not to
“Now that we’re hidden in
the wilderness, are you going to tell me why the cops are after us?” Matty laid
his iPad onto the cushion beside him and cupped his hands around his mug.
At the sight of his
serious face, Madeline sighed. Her brother was right; he needed to know the
truth. Well, maybe not all of the truth.
“Not us, just me,
apparently.” As concisely as possible, she relayed the news that Roberta had
fired her last night, leaving out the sordid details of the bet, the missing
money from the bar till, and how earlier this morning, Madeline had discovered
charges had been laid with the police against her for theft.
“No, way.” Matty’s eyes
bulged. “You would never do anything like that.”
“Yes, way. I mean, yes,
in that I’m not joking. And no, I would never steal from anyone.” Pain pulsed
behind her eyelids and Madeline stared at the fire, listening to the snap and
pop of the flames. Looked like her migraine might be on its way back. She
attempted to will herself to relax and empty her mind, but it was too hard. The
situation she was in terrified her, plain and simple.
I can’t lose my
brother. I can’t lose the little family life I’ve made for us.
His voice, low and even,
Harrison said, “I figured we needed some breathing space to decide on the best
course of action.”
Matty pulled at the hair
flopping near his eyes, a sure sign he was agitated. “Don’t get me wrong, dude,
it’s great that you’re here for us but it’s kinda weird you’ve muscled in like
this and taken over. We don’t know you.”
“Matty’s right. I think
we should go home.”
Do I ask him now why he’s so intent on helping us or
wait until later?
She nibbled on her lower lip.
“I’m the best chance
you’ve got to clear your sister’s name. Anyway with that storm raging outside,
we’re safer inside until it blows over.” Harrison drew in a deep breath.
Out of the corner of her
eye, Madeline noted how his chest expanded as he inhaled. The memory of how
smooth and firm his torso had felt beneath her exploring fingertips was as
sharp and tempting as if it had happened only seconds ago. And that was another
source of anxiety. Why did she remember every little detail about their time
together with such clarity? Surely that wasn’t normal for a one-night stand?
Pain sliced over the top
of her scalp and she winced. Black dots formed in front of her eyes.
“Hey! You’ve gone as
white as snow. Madeline, is your migraine returning?” Harrison gently turned
her face towards his. “I think we better have some tucker and get you off to
bed sooner rather than later.”
weary, she lifted her heavy lids to gaze into his amazing cobalt-blue eyes. The
concern she read there made her feel all weepy inside.
She held it in.
not getting involved. How can I, when this guy is the source of all my
Then a sneaky thought
whispered inside her mind.
But oh Lordy, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have
someone strong and dependable by her side.
Someone like Harrison.
Harrison pulled aside the
heavy brown curtain and stared out the window. During the night the storm had
passed over, leaving behind a thin layer of frost and ice that covered the
land, giving it the magical appearance of a snowy Christmas. Dawn lightened the
sky, the beams cutting through the thin clouds and gilding the ice into
glittering specs of gold. A faint breeze rippled through the sparkling marsh
reeds and a small flock of ducks rose from the dense stalks, wheeled in a
circle, then flew off out of sight.
As he sipped his mug of
tea, Harrison pondered over his actions of yesterday.
Here, in the relative
safety of the cabin far from any police and possible theft charges, it was
forcibly borne on him that he may have made a tactical error in virtually
kidnapping Madeline and her brother. He hadn’t failed to notice the reserve
she’d erected again between them last night. For a few moments in her home,
when he’d massaged her, he could have sworn they’d connected on more than the
awesomely physical level of that mind-blowing sex they’d shared. Then, she’d
opened up to him a little about her childhood only to close him out again. She
was suspicious of his motives, still was uncertain of how involved he had been
in the bet and now that he’d hidden them away in a cabin was no doubt
considering the possibility he was some kind of psycho.
Desperation can make a
man do strange things, his dad always said to him and his brothers. Add love
into the mix, and really, Harrison, hadn’t stood a chance of acting rationally.
I need to think. Do
what’s in Madeline’s best interest.
The small amount of information he’d gleaned from her last night about her life
had struck him like blows from an iron bar. He’d spent a long, sleepless night
staring up at the ceiling and thinking about her, her brother, and how they’d
lived so different to his own happy and safe upbringing.
Geez, but he could still
see the lost look in her eyes as she spoke about her mother. Madeline’s
childhood had been hard and probably desperate. And yet through it all, she’d
remained strong, determined, and with a heart as big as Australia if he could
only unlock it.
What he needed to do was
protect her, even if it was from himself. Turning away from the window, he
crossed to the counter and placed the mug on the sink. He sighed and ran a hand
through his hair.
Shit, I’m a selfish bastard, only thinking of myself. Of
my own wants and needs. Right then. Let’s fix this mess.
Before he did anything
else, he stoked up the fire then he flicked on his smart phone and went to
work. By the time, Matty struggled out of his blanket cocoon, Harrison had
already set his plan into motion and had breakfast on the burners; bacon, eggs
and fried canned tomatoes.
“Smells awesome.” Matty
leaned on the counter and sniffed the air like a hungry dingo.
The bedroom door opened
and Madeline walked out, a shy smile on her beautiful lips. “Is that
Bereft of speech, Harrison
nodded, looking his fill and loving every inch of her. She was dressed for the
day in skinny-leg blue jeans and a pale, candy-pink pull-over with her blonde
hair brushed and falling over her shoulders. He wanted to scoop her up into his
arms and cart her back inside that bedroom, peel off her clothes, and lap his
tongue over all her luscious curves. With her brother present, that was one
fantasy that wasn’t going to happen any time soon.
Because it was also
possible that was all it would be—a fantasy, a day dream, a wistful hope. After
he told her exactly how much of a part he’d played in that bloody bet, he could
be left with only the one precious night of memories that he’d cherish all his
Frowning, he returned his
attention back to the frypan and dished the food up onto plates. When they were
seated around the small table and beginning to eat, he cleared his throat.
Madeline’s eyelashes flickered. She didn’t look up, instead appeared to be
engrossed in cutting her bacon into tiny pieces.
“How’s your migraine this
morning?” he asked.
“Gone. I only feel a bit
drained like I could sleep for a week. Are you heading off to work soon?” She
rubbed her hands together and shivered. “Gosh, its cold.”
dropped again. I think we’re in for more bad weather. Listen, Madeline, I’ve
cleared it with my supervisor and told him I’m not coming in today. The thing
is, I think I may have made a big mistake in bringing you here.”
She laid her knife and
fork on the table and lifted her chin. “We can leave anytime you’re ready to
take us.” Her voice was so chilly, it reminded Harrison of her nickname at the
He took his time, chewing
and swallowing his mouthful of food before responding. His gut churned and he
pushed his plate away, his appetite vanished. “Time to lay our cards on the
table. We need to discuss the bet.”
Matty glanced up. “What
bet?” His gaze darted between his sister and Harrison.
Harrison shook his head.
“Matty is fifteen not five. He can deal with this. A bet was laid at the Club
between several of its patrons concerning your sister. I’m not giving you
details, so don’t bother asking me. All you need to know is that your sister
was coerced by her supervisor into going along with it, isn’t that right,
She blushed but held her
brother’s gaze as she elaborated, “My hours at the Club were cut and Roberta
promised me a bonus if I ensured that the Club won.”
“What has this go to do
with you?” Matty fixed Harrison with a grim stare.
“A friend of mine is a
regular there and told me about it. We decided, actually, I decided that I
needed to be involved for reasons of my own.” Harrison grimaced. “The Club lost
the bet and your sister was fired.”
Matty pushed his plate
across the table and sprang to his feet. His chair crashed to the floor. “What
did you do to her?” he roared, his hands clenched into fists.
Harrison stood also,
ready to let the kid punch him one. He probably deserved it. “I told you I’m
not going into details.”
Matty slammed his fist
into Harrison’s face.
“Matty, no!” Madeline
jumped up and pulled her brother away. “This was my choice, and it is my
decision to work at the Club. No one else is to blame.”
“But the police? Geez,
sis, I don’t want you to go to jail.” Tears formed in Matty’s eyes.
Madeline hugged him.
“Your sister isn’t going
to be charged.”
They looked over at him.
Harrison said, “While you
two were snoring your heads off, I was busy making calls. My mate has come up
with the goods. Aaron’s a lawyer and knows one or two of the cops at Karim
Station. Apparently, the so-called theft complaint has come from one Roberta
“Yep, I kid you not.”
Shaking her head,
Madeline released her brother and collapsed into her chair. “I should have
known. She’s always had it in for me, from the day she started working at the
Fingering his aching jaw,
Harrison sat down. “Good right hook there, mate.”
“Sorry,” Matty said.
“No need. A man can’t
fault another man for looking out for his family.”
Matty reddened and shyly
extended his hand which Harrison took in a firm grip.
“Now that the mutual
admiration society is over, can we get on with my problem?” Madeline didn’t
smile but inwardly the sight of those two bonding caused a positive whirlwind
of emotions seething in her breast. She swallowed over her suddenly constricted
throat and looked down at where she’d hidden her trembling hands in her lap.
“How sure is this friend of yours?”
“He’s positive, actually.
Did I mention Aaron’s a lawyer?” Harrison quirked his eyebrows. “He’s also the
guy that got me an invite to the Club.”
“That was your first time
“Second.” With vivid
clarity, he recalled his first visit when he’d spent the majority of his time
there, gawping at the photos lining the Club’s walls; and in particular, the
ones that featured Madeline. Those images were seared into his brain and had
made for a hell of a lot of wet dreams. “My mate’s got one or two buddies in
the police department. His intel is gold. It was Roberta Sangrini who lodged
the complaint, admittedly by phone, and named me as the victim and you as the
culprit. She also implicated you stole a thousand dollars from the downstairs
whispered. “She was furious with me for the Club losing the bet.”
Harrison walked around
the table and laid his hands on her shoulders. Through the thickness of her
pullover, he felt her skin ripple and tense under his touch and he gave her a
quick squeeze. “You’re not alone in this, babe.” After pulling out the chair
beside her, he sat down and scooped her hands into his. “Geez, your fingers are
He rubbed her hands
gently. When she turned to look at him, her eyes glistened with tears. From
across the table, he could feel her brother watching them like a hawk. “I’ve
been thinking about her involvement since I received Aaron’s text. The odds
are, she was expecting a big payout herself which would explain why she’s so
Madeline nodded. “I never
believed that Jet Mak would have allowed the bet in the first place, no matter
how tempting the prize money. She could have organized this on the sly and with
Jet out of town, took advantage of his absence.” She drew a deep breath. “I
need to tell you something. If they check, the police will find my fingerprints
on the till.” She explained about paying for the glass of wine she’d poured.
“Damn. The security
cameras would have caught you opening and closing the till.”
“Someone else must have
taken that money. What about Roberta?”
“I don’t know. It’s
possible, I guess.”
”Unless you’ve pissed off
someone else, she’s the logical choice. Right now we know who and what sounds
like to me, a plausible why, we have all the ammunition we need. And once the
cops find no trace of the missing money in your possession, I’m certain this
problem will disappear. I hope that Roberta chick gets charged with wasting
police time as well as theft. Maybe we can throw in defamation of character.”
Harrison glanced over to Matty then back to Madeline. “My mate reckons I did
the worst possible thing for you by insisting you take off yesterday. It’s made
you look guilty as hell which means I need to deal with this, today.”
She looked at him mutely.
He smiled. “I’m driving
you both home. Then I’m meeting Aaron at the cop shop where I’ve an appointment
with the bloke in charge of the case. Under legal representation, I’ll make a
statement refuting the complaint and make a counter-one of my own about false
accusations and using my name without my consent and knowledge. This should
clear you of any involvement with me. Afterwards, Aaron and I’ll escort you to
the station and you can make your statement about the till. The police will
have to investigate Roberta for the missing money.”
Raising her hands to his
mouth, he brushed his lips over her knuckles, his heartbeat jumping about like
a jack-in-the-box as a flush spread rosily over her face. About to confess the
reasons for his involvement in the bet, he hesitated, their conversation of
last night echoing in his mind.
She didn’t believe in
love at first sight. Had practically laughed in his face at the idea. Maybe
fessing up should wait a while until she got to know him better. He’d show her
with his words and actions exactly how much she meant to him.
By the time he came to
this decision, the moment had passed anyway. Already, his babe had pulled her
hands from his and was busily stacking plates while her brother was packing up
their gear. Looked like they were both eager to leave.
And although he knew they
had no idea how much this time here together meant to him, it hurt like bloody
crazy that they could dismiss him so easily.
All he could hope, was
for Madeline to give him a second chance.
The drive back to Karim
was enlivened with Harrison tuning in the car’s radio to a country and western
station the instant they set off. Madeline took the hint and remained quiet the
entire journey while her brother, after rolling his eyes, stuck his iPod’s buds
into his ears.
With Harrison and his
attorney buddy on the case, it looked like her problems were about to
I should feel relieved.
Well, she did but there was that niggling little voice in the back of her mind
prompting her to wonder what would happen next. Would Harrison walk out of
their lives? He’d said nothing to explain his reason for being involved in the
bet. What if it was just an ego trip between him and his buddies? Some type of
competition with her as the prize?
The thought made her sick
to her stomach. Disappointment was like a knife twisting in her belly. What had
she expected? Surely not a happy-ever-after?