Visiting for The Romance Reviews November splash? Big welcome! You’ll find the answer here. Like me on Facebook to keep up with news of my new book, Fairway To Heaven (it’s almost finished!) I’m on Twitter too @lily_lilymalone
If you’re in the mood for winning books – please shoot me an email to email@example.com because everyone who visits my blog as part of The Romance Reviews November ‘splash’ can get a free e-copy of my novella, The Goodbye Ride (17 reviews on Amazon, 4 or 5 star). Just send me an email with ‘Splash’ in the subject line. Happy ‘splash’ month!
If you’ve read my last few posts, you’ll know that His Brand Of Beautiful began with a meeting of Tate Newell and Christina Clay on May 24; then a wedding on Saturday June 1. Yesterday, my H&H flew north to Binara, Tate’s family’s cattle station and today, Christina wakes to find herself deep in the South Australian outback with the prospect of a horse-riding station adventure in the days to come.
‘Binara’ is a fictional cattle station located east of the Oodnadatta Track, south of the Northern Territory border and west of very beginnings of the Simpson Desert. I modelled it loosely on Todmarden Cattle Station in South Australia’s vast arid north.
Hubby and I travelled through this area in 1999, during our Around Oz trip. We camped for a week down the length of the Oodnadatta Track, making a few forays inland off the track, along the way. I remember the wedge-tailed eagles; the different browns and golds of the landscape back then, all with the backdrop of red rock and sand. It must be so different now. Flooding rains through central Australia have filled Lake Eyre in recent seasons, sparking a whole inland sea ecosystem up there and an ocean of green.
For my ‘Reading in Real Time’ post today, here’s an excerpt from the start of their horse-riding sojourn.
“You’ll hold him steady, won’t you, Tate?” Christina had one boot wedged in the near stirrup. The other hopped on the mounting block at the side of a honey-coloured horse.
“He’s a ‘her’, a mare,” Tate said. She could hear the smile in his voice.
“You’ll be okay, Christina,” Shasta called from the verandah where he and Bree had stopped to see them off. “Sunshine is about as scary as a rocking-chair and even more comfy.”
“I’ll remember you said that.” Grabbing a handful of white mane in her left hand, Christina got ready to impersonate a flying sack of potatoes.
Then adrenalin alone almost propelled her into the saddle.
Tate’s palm cushioned the plumpest part of her left thigh. She felt each finger outlined through the thin skin of the borrowed jodhpurs, five rods of warmth, the longest two trespassed onto the swell of her bottom.
“On three okay?” Tate said. “One. Two.” She felt his muscles bunch. “Three.”
Please God, don’t let the pants split.
The earth moved. There was a chestnut gelding tied on a lead rope to the back of Sunshine’s saddle and Christina narrowly avoided collecting its nose with her boot. She landed across the mare’s back, straightened then tugged at the teal-coloured shirt that had got caught beneath her.
Her left boot slipped from the stirrup.
“This side has to go up too, mate,” Shasta called.
Tate tightened the stirrup leather on the near side, the broad brim of his hat floating near her hip. He cupped his hand around her calf and helped slot her boot into the stirrup to check its length. She hoped Shasta and Bree and anyone else watching would mark the pink stain in her cheeks to excitement over the ride ahead and nothing to do with the way Tate’s fingers made her pulse fly.
Sunshine shifted weight. Tate walked around the mare and Christina felt his fingers close around her right calf. He moved her leg out of his way, hauled the leathers higher then slid her foot back into the stirrup.
“How’s that feel?”
“Here.” He passed up a helmet. Their fingers touched. “Do you need help with it?”
The thought of his knuckles brushing her throat made her squeeze the saddle between her thighs. Sunshine’s ears twitched.
Christina cleared her throat. “Thanks. I’ll manage.” She clicked the catch into place and picked up the reins.
“Heels down, Christina,” Bree encouraged from the second step. “Hands down, too. And keep your hands together. Good. That’s better.”
“Hey. No coaching,” Shasta said.
Shasta, Bree and Tate have made a bet that Christina will last two hours tops on this horse-ride before an aching butt and the dust and flies have her pleading with Tate to return to the station. But this city girl has a few tricks up her sleeve.
To read more of His Brand Of Beautiful and to buy the book, please visit the publisher, Escape Publishing.
It’s been fun re-visiting His Brand Of Beautiful in real time… My new novella, The Goodbye Ride also opens this week. On the East Coast of Australia, this coming weekend is the Queen’s Birthday holiday long weekend – the time and setting for The Goodbye Ride. So I will have more ‘reading in real time’ for you later in the week.
I’m having fun with my ‘reading in real time’ meme this week for both my books, His Brand Of Beautiful and The Goodbye Ride. Both begin with events in late May/early June.
Today is the first Saturday in June, and that’s the day of Lacy and Michael’s wedding in His Brand Of Beautiful. Lacy is my heroine Christina’s, best friend, and Michael is Christina’s brother. It was at Lacy’s Hen’s Night where Christina first laid eyes on my hero, the very wonderful branding strategist, Tate. (You can see an excerpt from that opening scene in the previous post on my blog). Since that explosive encounter, Tate and Christina have defiantly tried to avoid being the first person “to call” the other. Fed-up with all this dallying about, Lacy plays matchmaker and invites Tate to her wedding.
The wedding scene is one of my favourites in the book because it gave me opportunity to trap my hero and heroine together for a few hours as wedding guests and make them talk. Did I mention I like writing dialogue?
Christina doesn’t like weddings. Prior to this excerpt beginning, she has just sat through a conversation with a sympathetic Aunt who believes she’s been stood-up because Tate is running late. Then she runs into a smarmy Politician ex-boyfriend who remains a friend of the family and delights in knowing Christina’s business.
I hope you enjoy this extract.
Near the stage, the three-piece band—shiny shoed, Beatles’ haircuts—began two, one-two sound-checks and strummed guitars. Waiters moved through the tables, collecting plates, pouring wine. The room hummed with conversations far more conventional than her own.
“How did you break your nose?” It was the first thing that popped into her head that wasn’t please take me home.
He looked away. “A horse bucked me into a fence post when I was fifteen.”
“What did you do to piss it off?”
“It wasn’t what I did. It was the five-foot King Brown who didn’t like hooves.”
She shuddered, no fan of snakes, and asked the second question that popped into her head. “Do you have children?”
“But you want kids?”
“What is this? Twenty questions?” He swished swordfish in coriander and lime sauce, but the light in his eyes softened the answer: “One day, sure. You?”
For a simple syllable, the question stung. “I hope so, one day. Yes.”
She waited until he brought his fork to his mouth. “So how come you’re still single?”
He almost choked. “Jesus. Don’t we have weeks to sort all this stuff out?”
“I’m too old for small-talk. If you have huge spooky skeletons in your closet, I’d rather just know.”
He reached for a bottle of Handcrafted Sauvignon Blanc and tilted it towards her. She put her hand over her glass. “I’m running tomorrow.”
“Don’t say it like that. Running. Jogging. Millions of people do it every day.”
“You don’t mention running on your blog.”
She raised an eyebrow. “You’ve done your homework. Lacy has me on a fourteen-week training plan. She’s like a greyhound, I take about three steps to her one. There’s a breast cancer fundraiser being held with the City to Bay in August. We’re raising money for that.”
He paused with the fork halfway to his mouth. “You get on well with your sister-in-law, why aren’t you bridesmaid?”
She tore her gaze from his lips. “Me? God, no. I hate weddings.”
“You don’t want to get married?” His eyes crinkled with amusement.
“Aren’t we supposed to spend weeks sorting all this stuff out?”
“Touché.” He downed the fish, eyed her beef. “Aren’t you hungry?”
“I ate your entree.”
He swapped his empty plate for her steak. Ice chinked as he filled two water glasses. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I wouldn’t have picked you for the type of woman who goes running.”
“A little less padding wouldn’t hurt.”
“Your view. Not mine.” His gaze dipped to her collarbone, grazed the cleft between her breasts. If Abraham Lewis MP had looked at her like that she would have kicked his shin.
“Lacy said the endorphins will hit me at some stage and I’ll start to crave the exercise but I don’t think that happens until about week ten.”
“And what week is this?”
“Week two. Stop laughing!” She kicked his shin.
The microphone burped. Lacy’s father, red-faced and stiff, tapped it. Christina groaned and sliced her finger across her neck.
“Let me guess. You don’t like speeches?”
“I hate wedding speeches.”
Someone hushed them then like they were noisy spectators at a tennis match.
There are reasons why Christina doesn’t like weddings, and hates wedding speeches. My sister hates wedding speeches. You can almost count on the fact that once the speeches start, you won’t find her anywhere in the room. What about you? I will admit to being a Twilight fan, but the wedding speech scene in Breaking Dawn Part I has to be the worst wedding scene I’ve ever watched (let’s face it, the entire movie wasn’t much better) 🙂
If you’d like to read more of my debut novel, His Brand Of Beautiful, or buy the book please click here.
Do you remember the day you first laid eyes on the love of your life? For Tate Newell and Christina Clay, hero & heroine of my debut book with Escape Publishing His Brand Of Beautiful, it was this week.
Actually, it was last Friday, May 24th. It was supposed to be this Friday, May 31st. And because Christina mucked the dates up in her diary, all hell broke loose.
If she looks back now, I don’t think she’d mind the consequences.
It might surprise you to know that I am really not a winter girl. I love summer. I love the heat. I even like humidity, and one day, I’d love to have a tropical garden in which to potter. But for now, both my novels have been set in a Southern Hemisphere winter. His Brand Of Beautiful in May; and The Goodbye Ride novella is set over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend in June. (Which by the way, happens to be Saturday week in Australia – June 8, 9 and 10).
So you can read both my stories in ‘real time’ if you’d like to, over the next couple of weeks.
But this week is about Christina & Tate.
Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter of His Brand Of Beautiful. Christina is hosting her sister-in-law’s Hen’s Party and she’s waiting for the evening’s entertainment (the stripper) to show up. When he does, he isn’t being particularly enthusiastic about getting the party started.
His Brand Of Beautiful
“Miss Clay, there’s been a mistake.”
“I beg your pardon?” She smoked him with her best glare. No way was he wriggling out of this now, she’d paid her deposit.
“Do I really look like a stripper to you?”
“Actually, yes. We ordered the Billionaire Businessman.” She crossed her arms over her chest and a caterpillar-row of bracelets clanked on her wrist.
He held her gaze for a long moment, slipped a hand in his shirt pocket — a beautiful blue Italian silk a shade brighter than his eyes — and extracted his business card. “Christina, I’m Tate Newell. Outback Brands. Tate, not Nate, I thought I misheard you earlier. We have an appointment.”
Something rolled in the pit of her stomach. “Yes we do. Next Friday.”
He fished in his suit pocket, found his mobile and scrolled. “Here. Christina Clay. 5.30pm, May 24. Initial consultation re: Clay Wines’ brand.” He held up the screen. “I thought those balloons on the gate were your idea of a joke.”
The corner of his lip curved. “I thought you were celebrating that you’d finally got me out here, Christina. That the five hundred phone calls worked.”
Two thoughts flashed through her mind: Dear God. This party’s going to hell in a handbasket and Dear God. My new brand. What she said was: “It wasn’t five hundred.”
With that, her brain started working again, only it couldn’t decide whether the best thing she should do was say shit or sorry and it was still trying to work that out when a voice hollered from the kitchen: “Don’t start without us, CC.”
“Just a minute,” Christina yelled back down the hall and her hand shot to her temple. “Shit.”
Her gaze snapped to the suit-clad body making her hall feel small.
On the premises.
It was a short list.
“Blind Freddie could see what you’re thinking. N.O.” He shoved his briefcase into his opposite hand and leaned his weight toward the door.
“Wait! Tate? Please? I’m trying to think outside the square here. Could you help a girl out?”
“You’re not thinking outside the square. You’re outside the damn hemisphere.”
“You don’t have to get your clothes off. It’s just a paint party. It’s my step-mother’s idea—she lent me all the stuff. There’s just an itty-bitty room full of easels and amateur painters, very low key. You’re a graphic art guru. I bet you’re a dab hand with a paint brush.” The words tumbled from her lips.
“CC! While we’re young, hey?” Marlene’s voice foghorned up the hall and Christina knew she wouldn’t sip champagne and wait. Marlene would come and investigate.
There was an echo of cheers. The girls getting restless.
“Please? It’s my best friend’s Hen’s Night. It’s the only one she’ll ever get.” She ignored the small voice in her head that wanted to add: I hope.
Tate exhaled. “I can’t believe you’re playing the guilt card.”
“You should feel guilty. I’ve been trying to meet with you since February. Every time I called, your receptionist fobbed me off. I don’t think you want my business at all.” She stabbed her finger at his chest. It felt good to be on the offensive. “If you hadn’t been avoiding me, we would have had this appointment weeks ago—months ago—and no way could it have got mixed up with tonight.”
His Adam’s apple bobbed in his throat. “You can’t keep a diary straight and that’s my fault?”
She stomped hard on her temper. Tonight, as everybody kept saying, wasn’t about her, and if Tate Newell walked out she was up the creek, sans paddle, in more ways than one. She could kiss Lacy’s party and her new wine brand goodbye, because right now the odds of a follow-up appointment with Tate were slim.
“Ready or not, CC, I’m counting to ten…” Marlene’s voice boomed up the corridor.
How far Christina is prepared to go to get Tate to fill-in for the no-show Stripper takes up much of Chapter 1, and in Chapter 2, things get steamy. If you’d like to read more about His Brand Of Beautiful, you can browse the book and buy it by clicking here.
And if you do remember when you first laid eyes on Mr Right… feel free to share in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.
I’ve been kicking my own goals with my WIP, The Goodbye Ride. I’m about to share it with my critique partners, but I thought – what the heck – let’s share some with the world!
The Goodbye Ride. Lily Malone.
Olivia Murphy had brass in pocket. One thousand dollars’ worth of brass to be exact—all hers and all hard-earned. Technically, the money was in her handbag not her pocket, but Liv wasn’t about to split hairs. The sun—for the moment at least—was shining, she’d given herself the day off tomorrow, and her parents were in Melbourne. She had the house to herself for four whole days.
The Lang’s place wasn’t far—just another few hundred metres heading out of town along the Hahndorf main street. She couldn’t see the glint of red, not yet. There were too many hedges in the way, too many neat brush fences, and her prize was set back from the road. Luke’s bike. Her brother’s Ducati Pantah 650. The bike she was about to give Dean Lang ten thousand dollars to buy back.
Her chin rose. If there’s one oak leaf stain on that paintwork, Mr Lang, you better get ready to knock another few hundred dollars off your asking price.
Liv checked over her shoulder, just as she’d checked every thirty seconds since she’d left the bank carrying ten hundred-dollar notes crisply folded in a plastic bag. The odds of getting mugged in Hahndorf weren’t high, unless by a Japanese tourist who wanted a photo taken. But why tempt fate?
She quickened her pace.
Her handbag bumped her hip. Liv clutched it closed with her elbow and concentrated on where she put her shoes. Rotting autumn leaves made slimy passage underfoot and the pavement was a twisted rollercoaster of treacherous roots.
On the opposite side of the road, up ahead near the sixty sign, a bright red utility pulled to a stop. The driver braked hard enough to grind shining Mag wheels through the roadside slush.
Liv hated the vehicle on sight.
It was one of those big bristling testosterone-fuelled boy toys—one with more aerials than a radio station, mudflaps the size of a swamp, spotlights everywhere. A bull bar covered in RM Williams’ stickers snarled across the front.
Liv figured the driver must be heading up to camp in the backwaters of the Murray River for the Queen’s Birthday long weekend, some choice spot where he could shoot pigs and suck beers. He’d probably stopped to change CDs, throw One Hundred Best BeerSongs of All Time into the stacker.
“Neanderthal,” she muttered under her breath.
The driver-side door opened and two feet eased out. Two feet clad in thongs. Thongs! Liv pulled her scarf tighter at her throat. Didn’t he know it was June?
Those feet were attached to a muscular pair of legs in black cargo shorts, and from there to a ripped torso in a tee-shirt half a size too tight. A nun would go weak at the knees if she saw that chest and Liv was no nun—although there were times lately, it felt like it.
The driver shoved his sunglasses to the top of his head, checked left and right, and his weight edged forward.
Fear iced her spine.
The brute had parked opposite Dean Lang’s house—directly opposite thebike she’d come to buy—and now he zeroed in on her Ducati like a heat-seeking missile.
Dammit. Where was a Greyhound bus where you needed one? Not to hit him, mind. Just to slow him down. Okay, maybe wing him.
Liv missed her step, skidded on an ice-rink of acorns. Her legs slid like a new-born foal’s. It took a few seconds to regain her balance and in that time, the driver loped across the road and up the embankment. Liv lost him behind the neighbour’s hedge, but she was almost level with the Lang’s driveway now. Almost there.
Then the earth moved.
She had just enough time to thrust out her left hand before she hit the ground. Pain shot through her palm and it felt like a sledgehammer whacked her hip. Her handbag catapulted from her shoulder to the pavement, scattering lip-eze, a pack of chewing gum, and a mobile phone. Her precious plastic bag of cash skidded out late, like the last girl asked to the dance.
“Whoa! Are you okay? Hold on.”
Liv heard a flap, clap sound and thought for a second that some arsehole was applauding her fall. Dimly, she looked for the arsehole, wanting to give him a piece of her mind. She tried to push herself up and turn over but before she could achieve either goal, a muscled arm reached down and a dark shape blotted out the tangle of branches over her head. Her saviour’s bare arm cushioned her shoulders while his voice cajoled her to sit.
“You’re wearing thongs in the middle of winter.” It was all she could think of to say. Liv heard comfort and warmth in his chuckle before his arm again tried to propel her upright. “Give me a sec. My head’s spinning. I need to get my breath.”
“That was some fall.”
She examined her sore, scraped hands, aware of a damp spot spreading on the butt of her jeans. Somehow, she got her feet beneath her. “I’m fine. Thank you. Really.”
He picked up her handbag, lipstick and phone. Then she saw him reach for her money.
“I can manage,” she snapped, bending, stretching for the plastic bag.
The earth spun again. She ended up with her hands on her knees and her head at her thighs. His big knuckled fingers rubbed her back and at some stage, her pink wool beanie fell off and landed on top of his bare toe. That toe looked wild enough to crawl into the nearest cave and hibernate. Most male toes she’d seen in her twenty-four years didn’t look like that. Her brother, Luke, had forgotten more about pedicures than Liv had ever known.
Loss spiked her chest. Luke.
Liv sucked two quick breaths and stood. She was here to buy Luke’s bike from Dean Lang, not think about pedicures or toes, or caves.
“Here,” the guy said gravely, picking up her cash and beanie, stuffing one in her handbag and the other over her head. Eyes the charcoal side of black seemed to click with hers and it was as if she heard a little voice inside her head sigh: Oh, hello.
Olivia Murphy didn’t listen to little voices sigh. She was far too sensible for that.
Thanks for getting through my first 1000 words! I’m hoping to have The Goodbye Ride finished so I can release it for June. Off to the crit partners now and a second Beta read soon.
Drum roll please!
I have been buried since Saturday in revisions for my book and that process alone has given me so many ideas for posts!
I will get to them. I promise.
But in the meantime, I am so thrilled to introduce the
WOMAN of the moment! Jenn J Mcleod who has her debut
novel, House For All Seasons, coming out with Simon & Schuster
in March. Thank you so much Jenn for being part of: From Left Field…
The name of the game here is bravery! My blog has been about my path to publication, and while a writer can read any number of articles on writing craft, one of the most valuable things to me was reading excerpts, and well, just reading, to see how good writers put all that craft together.
So the first question I’ll ask is:
Lily M:Share with us the opening paragraph of your book as it began and how it is now.
Jenn J: Okay, on 13/03/10
‘I’m not going back there. Not for three months, not for three weeks, not even for three days.’ Thirty-eight year old Poppy Hamilton, once powerful playground prima donna, still knew how to command a crowd. ‘As lovely as it is to catch up with you ladies after all this time, I can’t do it – I won’t. Sorry. Besides, it makes no sense.’
‘Didn’t you understand?’ Sara tried to project her voice. ‘The Will is conditional on us all doing it – starting with you in spring.’
On 01/03/12 (final edits and I ditched the prologue way back, as advised, changing it to Chapter One)
‘I’m not going back there. Not for three months, three weeks, not even three days.’
Two decades on and Poppy, once powerful playground prima donna, could still command a crowd. ‘As lovely as it is to catch up with you ladies after all this time, I can’t do this. I won’t. Sorry. Besides, it makes no sense.’
Time pressured—as usual—Poppy stood apart from her three companions, alone and restless on the window side of the conference room. She eyed the wall clock hanging at one end of it, then her friends.
Lily M:Share with us 8 lines from the top of page 88 (yes, I stole this idea—did I mention I was head down in edits and time-poor—sorry!)
Jenn J: This is from House Of All Seasons:Part One – Surviving Summer (characters Sara and Will.)
Breathless by the time she’d reached the car, her disquiet turning to exasperation, Sara said, ‘Don’t be angry, Will.’
‘Because it’s not like you to be angry.’
‘Everyone’s funny guy, eh? Yeah, that’s good old Will Travelli. The guy who gives you all a good laugh. The guy who reminds you how lucky you all are. Well, newsflash, Sara, that’s not who I am twenty-four/seven, and not without a lot of bloody encouragement. And by that I mean my kids. Without them I wouldn’t even be here. They were the only thing that made me put up with the frigging pain and humiliation. Can we just go?’
LIly M: (Love those 8 lines Jenn). What is your greatest ‘lightbulb moment’
in terms of Writing Craft?
Jenn J: At this moment in time? The idea that reviewers are reading my book and that my life’s work, my impossible dream that somehow came true, now depends on five little stars or the words they choose to write. (Okay, possibly a little over-dramatic. But you did ask.)
Lily M: If you could choose three items on the list below to take for a week camping in the Australian outback, which three would you pick? There are magic batteries for anything electrical!
my favourite paperback
my significant other
food I don’t have to kill or catch
battery-powered Nespresso & endless supply of Pods
change of clothes
mobile phone/internet connection for twitter & FB
Jenn J: Hello, my name is Jenn and I am an addict! Yes, I picked:
mobile phone/internet connection for twitter & FB. How pathetic is THAT! I do love my iPad.
my significant other (to keep me fed and watered while I write, Twitter and Facebook.)
Dilemma. I don’t need a torch. The iPad will double as that and I don’t need moisturiser/cosmetics/hairbrush as there is no mirror so who cares? Hmm, tough one. Fresh clothes are a must, but so are wine and (to a lesser degree) food.
(Indecisive, isn’t she our Jenn! And not particularly practical. I’d like to see some of those Tweets written on a tummy filled with wine and no food! I think I have to take Answer 3 as ‘fresh clothes’. This is probably just as well for any lost bushwalkers who happen upon this campsite.)
Lily M: My book (being released by Escape Publishing in March) is called His Brand Of Beautiful. Can you tell me what you would describe as ‘your brand of beautiful’?
Jenn J: Hairy, bad breath, annoying at times, but a happy tail and unconditional love. My muse, Strawberry & Daiquiri.
Lily M: Can you tell me the best thing about House For All Seasons?
Jenn J: The best thing about my book?
Oh, you mean inside…story like…?
Hmm, the four characters, based on the four seasons, written in four parts. It’s like four stories in one all tied up with a whopping big secret. I’m inspired by the changing seasons. I love the contrast – and contrast makes for great characters and conflict. So I wanted to create four female characters as different as the seasons.
So, House for all Seasons is four separate journeys of the heart set in a small town with heart: Surviving Summer, Tall Poppy, Autumn Leaves and Wynter’s Way, in which readers witness both the unravelling of friendships and a tightening of family ties.
Lily M: Who would absolutely love it?
Jenn J: I once heard Jodi Picoult say:
“The best books straddle genres and attract a
variety of readers.”
That influences my writing, and with intricate themes that deal with family ties and friendship there is definitely broad appeal. The four-part approach has something for everyone.
I write what the business calls ‘commercial’ fiction. This means stories with broad themes and appealing to a broader audience (making the distinction from what is referred to as more ‘literary’ works). But a broader audience means more people reading my work and that, after all, is why I write. I believe my novels can comfortably sit on a shelf alongside more literary works, general fiction and contemporary romances.
So I’m not sure who would love it. But what I’d hope is that they remember the story, or a particular scene, and talk about it in much the same way people talk about a favourite movie.
Lily M: Can you share with us your favourite 250 words from the novel and tell us what makes it your favourite?
Jenn J: One Favourite Part?! I have lots! But for different reasons. One that makes me cry. One that makes me laugh out loud. One where I sit back and say “Did I really write that?”
For you, I have this one. I hope you enjoy it (and it’s not too long).
(Lily here: AHEM! Did you not see me say 250 words!)
House For All Seasons – Surviving Summer
‘Will said you were back in town,’ Jennifer continued. ‘He mentioned it in passing last night after picking me up and giving me the most beautiful bunch of flowers, then taking me out to dinner at, of all places, La Mystique restaurant in Saddleton, where we drank champagne and he made a toast, to me, of course. It was my birthday, you know.’
Was the woman still breathing? Sara began to wonder, having listened to the longest sentence in history. Maybe Jenny was cheerleader for the verbal Olympics these days. Despite the long-windedness of her monologue, the message could not have been any clearer if she’d tattooed it on that tummy next to the navel stud: Back off, Will’s mine.
‘Well in that case, happy birthday, Jennifer,’ Sara said, trying not to smile.
She should put the woman out of her misery, tell Jennifer she was here to close doors, not bang her head against them by chasing after a twenty-year-old attraction that was never reciprocated in the first place. Sara had moved on from Will a long time ago. She was interested to know how he was doing despite her unforgivable lack of contact and concern, but after fulfilling her obligation with the house, Sara would go back to Sydney. Staying permanently in Calingarry Crossing had never been a consideration. Never again would the town tie Sara down. By summer’s end she would be ready to face the world as a new woman, get a job and get used to how life was for her now. Telling Jennifer she need not worry about any competition from her was the right thing to do, but the devil in Sara decided to let the woman make her own assumptions. Jennifer was probably quite skilled at it.
‘Morning, boss,’ Jennifer chirped as she sashayed past Will on his way back over to Sara.
‘I think my arrival may have upset Jenny … I mean, Jennifer.’
‘Not sure I follow.’ Will wrinkled his nose the way he always used to, except for the time a Saddleton team bully broke it in a high tackle.
‘Jennifer? Your date last night? Wildly romantic dinner? La Mystique? Ringing any bells?’
‘Is that what she just told you?’ He chuckled in a sweet, sympathetic way. ‘Poor Jen. Her husband left her last year. Ran off with a backpacker working at the Saddleton pub. Yesterday was her first birthday alone and I thought a night out would be nice, cheer her up a bit. Besides, she’s a good worker and hangs around to help me close up. She never claims overtime.’
‘Oh, I’m sure she feels amply rewarded, though.’
Sara was teasing, but the pangs of jealousy jabbed a little too seriously hard. Why had there been no Will and no knight in shining armour to rescue Sara when her husband had run out, dumping her at the worst possible point in her life?
Don’t go there.
‘So, speaking of dinner, Ms Sara Fraser, how about you have it with me tonight?’
‘Oh my, La Mystique two nights in one week?’
‘Ah, actually, I was thinking more Le Café, as in here. It’s wages night so I’m slaving over pays after I lock up, but I can have Dom knock us up a meal before he finishes. When I’m done with the wages I can just bung the plates of whatever in the microwave.’
Bung whatever in the microwave!
Sara laughed so hard, the lack of control over her normally tightly controlled emotions surprised her.
‘What’s so funny?’ Will asked, doing a lousy job of keeping a straight face.
‘You—and you know it.’ She buckled her helmet and unhooked her sunnies from the neck of her shirt, preparing to leave. ‘I guess it’s microwaved whatever around six. I’ll be here.’
Lily M: Microwaved whatever at six sounds great to me! What a guy is Will. I’m lucky to have two Will excerpts. Thanks Jenn.
Jenn J: Thank you for having me, Lily.
Lily M: Hmm. You’re being nice now after getting 650 words by me hey? Okay then. You’re welcome!
To find out more about House For All Seasons, and about Jenn J McLeod,
When I started my blog in early June I had a deadline in mind. Basically I’d given myself to the end of August to finish my book. August was significant for a few reasons but one of the uppermost was the Choc-Lit competition, Search For An Australian Star, which closes on August 31. It gave me the extra impetus I needed to stop floating and get focused.
For me it means I’m putting this book to bed, right or wrong, until I have some feedback to go on, and until I’ve given it long enough on ice to look at it with fresh eyes. Because my eyes are many things and right now, none of them are fresh!
So I’m celebrating hitting the ‘send’ button with chocolate tonight for good luck. In the meantime, I’m posting my opening scene below. If you or anyone you know entered the Choc-Lit competition, maybe you’d like to post your opening scenes too. I’d love to read some.
His Brand Of Beautiful
Tate Newell tapped his thumbs against the steering wheel and watched a bunch of fat purple and gold helium balloons try to float away with a wrought-iron gate.
The gate guarded an old stone cottage that might have been pulled from the pages of AustralianCountry Life; all it lacked was the white picket fence and the rose rambling through it. He’d expected Christina Clay to own some kind of architectural glass and concrete milk-carton-shaped box. The type with a couple spiked agaves out front in shiny black pots. Truckloads of designer gravel.
Without the balloons, he might have thought he had the wrong house.
“Guess she wants to celebrate,” he muttered, as his breath added to the fog inside the window and rain cried down the glass and the balloons gyrated like horny teenagers at a rave.
His pocket vibrated. He didn’t need to look; Jancis had rung him the same time every day for a week. Tate pulled out his mobile and pressed accept.
“How’s the hip doing J?”
“Feels like some asshole keeps whacking it with a hammer. Goddamn thing clicks when I fart. Now tell me you’ve got good news.”
The corner of his mouth twitched. “If you mean the speech, I haven’t written it yet.”
“Goddamn. I know you can work miracles Tate honey, but AMPRA starts Monday. You are my keynote speaker, remember?”
He heard cutlery scrape a plate.
“I’m trying to forget. If you were anyone else I’d tell you to stick your Conference.”
“I know Tate. I know. I’ll owe you.”
They both knew that wasn’t true. Jancis Woody had given him his first job fresh out of university and untaught him everything he’d learned in his three-year marketing degree. She was the only person on the planet who could have got him within five-hundred kilometers of the annual AMPRA talk-fest, let alone speak at the damn thing.
“Forget about it J. A trip to Sydney gets me out of the house for a few days. It can’t be any colder up there than it is here.” He slapped the gear stick; let himself dream for a moment about spending the weekend driving over red sand and rock in the Flinders, the only human for miles. He’d bet the sun was shining up there.
Jancis’s drawl brought him back. “I don’t know why you don’t sell that goddamn house. I wish to hell I’d never said buy it.”
“It’s close to the office. Easy to lock-up and leave.” And I don’t want to talk about it. A gust of wind rocked rain from a branch hanging over the Jeep like a claw. “I’ll write your words tonight. I have to go J, I’m late for a meeting.”
“On a Friday night? Who is she?”
“This one’s all business. Brand strategy for a wine firm.”
“Is that what they call it in Adelaide these days? Well just save some creative juice for your speech, you’re my vote-swinger honey and I need you to be brilliant. We can’t let Hank Leyland run the Association for another two-year term. The man has no vision. He can’t see beyond the pile of goddamn beans he’s counting.”
“Jesus. Yeah, no pressure.”
“Monday then. Enjoy the flight Tate honey, Hank had a coronary when I told him we were flying you up here business-class. I swear he turned purple. And send me a headshot for the program.”
“Yeah my ass. I need that photo.”
“You’ll get it when you get my speech.”
“Don’t make me hunt through my archives—”
“Gotta go J.” He shoved the phone in his shirt pocket thinking this was why he had a PR team at Outback Brands: they loved having their photo taken. They got off on swanning around at conferences and commerce lunches and sundowners and business breakfasts and—he grimaced—networking drinks.
He peered out the window, hunting a patch of clear sky. Even the streetlights weren’t making much headway. Rain beat across the bonnet, harder now, the wind slapping it against the Jeep like bullets.
There was an umbrella in the back that had been there since Blu Jools’ Christmas karaoke party, his prize for winning best song when Lila Blu dragged him to the stage to sing Leyla. It skittered and thumped whenever he took a corner too fast; a constant reminder that not only could he not sing, he was too old for such shit.
No way would he knock on Christina Clay’s door with the umbrella he’d designed for Lila shielding his head: Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer with a gigantic ruby stud through his famous honker, antlers loaded with bling. He didn’t feel that cheery.
“It’s getting embarrassing Tate,” Ruth Landers had said, tapping his desk with a finger, leader of the front office mutiny. “All Christina wants is a half-hour brand consult. Last time I looked that was your area of expertise. You’ve had Lisa screen her calls for months. The next time she rings do your own dirty work. Christina’s always nice about it but Lisa can tell she’s sick of being given the run-around.”
And that settled it. Being nice to the person who answered the phone always earned his clients—even the ones he didn’t want—a big fat gold star in Ruth Landers’ book.
He tugged at his tie; Ruth’s other stipulation when he finally agreed to check his diary and schedule a time that fit. “And no jeans! At least try to look like you want her business. It’s professional courtesy Tate. Adelaide is too small to burn your bridges. The Clays have clout.”
The luminous dial of the interior clock was three minutes slower than his wrist-watch, now showing five-thirty-two.
He wrenched the keys from the ignition. Just go in. Tell her you don’t want her business. Come out. Job done.
Then he could find himself a pub with a widescreen tuned to Friday night football. Get a schooner of Pale Ale and a medium-rare steak. Think about that damn speech.
He reached for the leather briefcase on the passenger seat. Even a meeting with Christina Clay was better than spending an extra hour at his house.