“You’d never cheat. I know you.”

FairWayToHeavenFinal-harlequin 200_200x315The Amazon gods have put my April 8 release, Fairway To Heaven on sale for less than a dollar most of this week. I don’t know how long the sale will last. You can pre-order Fairway for 94 cents from Amazon in Australia, and from iTunes right now.

Amazon: Australia link here:

Amazon: US link here:

iTunes link here:

Here’s one of my favourite snippets from the book. It’s just after Jenn and Brayden have been reunited at the beach shack in Busselton, and they’re sitting on the beach at Geographe Bay watching Jenn’s son, Seb, play in the sand. They have a lot to catch up on.

“So, have you been playing any golf, Jenn?”

Now he’s kicked off on another topic destined to screw with my insides. Yesterday’s golf course visit is a blazing scar in my mind.

“Not since before Seb was born.”

He fixes me with a look. “You hook up with a golf pro and you’re not playing golf? That sucks.”

“Jack plays or coaches all day. The last thing he wants to do is play another nine holes with me. And anyway, we’ve got Seb. I’d just slow him down. Jack hates wasting practice time.”

“Bullshit,” Brayden scoffs. “Your golf game can keep up with anyone.”

“I haven’t hit a ball in two years.”

“You’d still run rings around me. You were a better golfer than most people I know, even when we were in school.” He’s doing it again, talking about the past, making ‘us’ sound natural as breathing. “Remember when your Dad made that driving range in the scrub at the back of your place? Emmy and I had bets on how far you could hit. We used to fetch buckets of balls for you.”

“Yeah.” I remember.

My life revolved around Brayden then. There wasn’t a minute of the day where I didn’t know where he was. When I came out of my science class on Tuesday afternoon, I knew that if I stopped for thirty seconds at the drink fountain, he’d come out of English and I’d see him on his way to Technical Drawing. Sometimes he’d sneak close, flick his hand in the water and make it spurt in my face and I’d squeal, like I never saw him coming.

On Fridays, I had piano lessons. I could walk halfway home with Emmy and Brayden before I’d turn at Swan Street to get to old Mrs Hampson’s. I got later and later for my lessons because I’d linger longer and longer with the Culhanes, and finally my parents said they wouldn’t waste their money if I couldn’t even get to the lessons on time.

“We should play at the weekend. It’ll be fun.” His voice jolts me from the Pilbara to Busselton.

I tip my nose at Seb—now burying the dozer up to its windows in sand. “Aren’t you forgetting something?”

“Bring him with. He can run around. He’ll love it.”

“Most golfers I know don’t deal well with small children who run around while they’re trying to line up a putt.”

Brayden scoops a handful of dry sand and lobs it five metres from us, then another, making the grains scatter and roll. Then he turns to me and says,  “You gonna tell me the story with Jack?”

“There’s no story.” I can’t look at him. His question starts that prickle behind my eyes, same as when I peel onions. I hate peeling onions, and I refuse to cry here on this beautiful beach.

“Come on, Jenn. Something happened. You and Emmy cooked up this beach shack sabbatical, and Jack’s not invited. It’s not rocket science.”

I pick at something trapped behind the fingernail of my left hand, banana probably, while I debate over how much to say. It sounds so cheap to admit Jack’s affair—if a quickie in a bunker can even be called an affair—and I’m not sure it’s any of Brayden’s business. It’s crazy really, Jack’s the cheat and yet I’m the one who feels disloyal talking about it behind his back.

“Jenn?” He prompts.

Bloody pushy Culhanes. Eventually I settle for, “I’ve moved out.”

“Forever? For the weekend? What?”

I get a horrible flash of Marnie James’ knickers on the grass. “Forever.”

“When you two had Seb… I thought things were good. Emmy said—”

He stops, picks up another handful of sand.

Let it go, Jenn. But I can’t. I don’t care how many cats curiosity killed. “What did Emmy say?”

Throwing the sand at his feet, he turns to me. The breeze surfs through his hair and I want to reach out and smooth the tangle, test whether his beard is long enough to be soft.

“Em said she thought I’d pretty much blown my chance. She thought you and Jack were a done deal.”

Why does he choose now to talk about blown chances? Now when everything’s so complicated and I’ve got no easy answers.

God. I hug my knees to my chest. “I can’t do this… I can’t talk about Jack… with you.” I’ve got no hope of keeping any of my armour intact if Brayden can open my weak spots like this.

“It’s okay, Jenn.” His arms constrict around his knees, all the muscles outlined. “Just tell me this: he didn’t hurt you? Or Seb?”

“What? Like hit us? No. I’d have been out the door in a flash.”

Seb has had enough of pushing the bulldozer in the sand. He’s wandering toward the water. I don’t want him to get wet because it’s almost time to go home.

“He couldn’t keep his dick in his pants,” Jack says. It’s not a question.

“What?”

“Jack. He cheated, didn’t he? That’s what you won’t tell me. He’d be the one who strayed. You’d never cheat. I know you.”

My mouth works without making a sound, and the hesitation is all it takes. It’s written all over Brayden’s face: he knows he’s guessed right.

“It’s not your fault,” he says.

“I know it’s not my fault. I don’t need you to feel sorry for me.” Abruptly, I’m on my feet, shaking out the towel, sending sand flying. “Seb and I better get back. It’s getting late.”

He stands too, slings his towel over his shoulder. “Jenn…”

Please. Just leave it.” I bristle. I won’t cry if I bristle.

Seb doesn’t want to leave the beach. He kicks at me when I pick him up. Screams, and when that doesn’t work, goes limp, trying to slip through my hands like a wet fish.

Brayden appears beside us. “Do you think he’ll let me give him a lift home?”

“Who knows? Give it a try.”

Brayden throws Seb in the air a couple of times and I don’t know if it’s shock at being tossed so high, or that instinctual little boy love of rough games that cuts through, but he stops screaming and lets Brayden swing him onto his shoulders. They start up the beach.

I pick up Seb’s hat, the bulldozer, my bag, and I follow the trail Brayden blazes, like I’ve done most of my life.

Fairway To Heaven: You Read It Here First!

Hello blog, I’ve been busy!

I am SO close to calling my new contemporary romance, my golf story, Fairway To Heaven, finished. So very close. I had hoped to get to The End before family Malone went on holiday… but I haven’t quite made it.

I am, however, way ahead of schedule. I didn’t think I’d be finished till February.

In the last week, the book has been in the hand of fellow authors, Jennie Jones, Juanita Kees, and the very soon to be published with Losing Kate (Random House), Kylie Kaden. They’re Beta reading for me, and they’re enjoying Fairway thus far.

With their suggestions, I’m almost halfway through edits. Chapter 13. It’s so tempting to take the laptop with me on holiday, however, I think this way also may lie divorce… (joking).

So I’ll be away for a few weeks, but I’d like to leave you with the first 1000 words of Fairway To Heaven—my golf romance about lust in the bunkers and love on the greens.

Enjoy. Stay safe and happy, and I’ll be back in touch soon.

Cheers, Lily M

xxx

Fairway To Heaven – Chapter 1.
By Lily Malone

Jack Bannerman likes the way my butt fills a pair of skinny jeans. I wish he didn’t. There’s a denim seam stuck in vaginal purgatory and no matter which way I squirm, it doesn’t want to budge. I’m getting squeezed in places no woman should ever be squeezed.

If Jack says I don’t make an effort, after today… I’ll. I’ll. I don’t know what I’ll do, but it won’t be pretty.

Spying a gap in the traffic, I gun the Corolla across the dual lanes. The car splutters, hops a bit, and shoots between the polished black gates of Sea Breeze Golf Club, into the shade of a solemn line of sheoaks.

They’ve changed the layout since I was here last, but that was months ago, no, longer than that. I haven’t hit a golf ball here since I was pregnant with Seb and swinging a club around my stomach was like swinging round a basketball.

There are speed bumps on the driveway now, humps big as whales, and I reduce speed. Who would have thought an exclusive golf course would attract your average hoon? They’re a conservative bunch here.

The Pro’s parking space—Jack’s designated space—used to be under the spreading branches of a London Plane Tree. Now his Subaru WRX is in a different spot, parked nearer the Pro Shop, divided from the bitumen and the billiard-table lawn by a low white-painted post and rail fence. Afternoon sun glints off the WRX’s metallic blue paint.

All the office-bearers have reserved places. Secretary. Treasurer. Captain. The only slot, other than Jack’s that’s currently filled, is President.

I’m not surprised the course isn’t busy. Jack says Thursday afternoon is dead. It’s late-night shopping in Perth and most of the members are under instruction to hurry home so their wives or girlfriends can hit the malls. That’s why Jack chose Thursdays for lessons, because the course is quiet.

The dashboard clock says five-thirty and a thrill rushes through me. I’ve got so much planned for tonight. Champagne on ice, Jack’s favourite dinner in the oven, and Sebastian is at Emmy’s for a sleepover.

If he wants to, Jack and I might hit a few balls down the twelfth, for old time’s sake. Though I’m hardly dressed for golf.

I cruise past a SAAB, then a Mercedes, turn the corner and double back, pass a couple of four-wheel-drives, one with the personalised license plate screaming HOLE IN 1. Who would buy a number plate like that?

Aiming the Corolla at a spot under the plane tree, I come in a little too fast. The tyres bump the kerb and recoil, and I wonder if that’s enough to get me kicked out for hoon behaviour.

I clamber out into the scent of cut grass, hot bitumen, and bore water from ticking sprinklers now splashing the greens, and as I shove the key in my pocket, I take a subtle second to ease denim from the centre of my butt.

The Pro Shop nestles under the right-hand wing of the club house. Unlike the more expansive glass and brick building, it’s got a skillion roof, and it’s only single story. The main path continues straight but I detour right, wobbling a little in Emmy’s Lady Janes as I circle a bed of bright red geraniums, orange pokers, and yellow daisies.

From the Pro Shop, I know Jack can see the carpark. Has he seen me? He could hear me—these heels would wake the dead.

I glance toward the Pro Shop door, half expecting Jack to be there, all lean and gorgeous, ready with a smart comment and a sexy smile.

The sign on the front door is flipped to Closed. 

Huh.

Shoving my sunglasses to the top of my head, I walk up to the Pro Shop door until my nose touches the glass. Nothing moves inside. I grab the door handle and push, then pull, and it doesn’t budge. Only then do I agree with what the sign already told me.

Pro Shop’s closed.

Two or three strands of blonde hair get yanked out as I lift the sunglasses from my head and put them back on my face.

Sometimes when he isn’t busy, Jack will take a bucket of balls up on the driving range. There is two-hundred metres of fairway lined with thick bush, not far from the Pro Shop. He takes a radio, and if a customer comes there’s a button on the door that says ‘press for the Pro’.

I don’t want to press his button. Today, surprise is the key.

The course opens before me, green, fresh, undulating like sheets in a breeze. It makes a wet sponge beneath my feet and in five steps, cut grass glues to Emmy’s shoes.

Kicking them off, I hook a finger under the heels.

The crack of someone teeing-off the fifteenth makes me look that way, but it’s not Jack. Two older men, silver-haired and bent, tuck their drivers in their golf bags and trudge away, pushing buggies up the hill.

Jack isn’t on the practice range. He isn’t anywhere and he’s hard to miss. Jack is six-foot-four. He hits a golf ball further than I can sprint without having a heart attack.

Maybe he’s helping a student hunt for balls in the bush. That happens. But I can’t hear any crunching of sticks or leaves, and there are no ‘found it’ shouts from the trees.

Then, in the shadows draped across the twelfth green I see the golf bag—Jack’s bag—complete with blazing Nike tick. He’s dropped a glove or a cleaning rag on the grass at the bunker’s edge. It shines lemony against the grass.

I open my mouth to call out, but years of ingrained etiquette stop me. So, veering from the practice range, I head diagonally for the bunker on the twelfth. There’s a visible line not far ahead marking the end of the sprinklers’ reach, and as I step from wet grass to dry, I look up to get my bearings.

That’s when my tummy does this flip-splat. Like an omelette tossed wrong.

Thanks for reading the start of Fairway To Heaven. I’d love to hear what you think. If you’d like to keep in touch with Fairway as it gets closer to publication, feel free to ‘like’ my Facebook page.

Pruning time. An army of buzz cuts

My two favourite seasons in the vineyards are pruning, and budburst. There’s something special about a row of neatly pruned vines… a bit like neatly pruned roses in a rose garden. Order is restored!

P1020151Vines (like roses) get very straggly at the end of the growing season. The leaves die, which can be spectacular as they range through red, orange and yellow before they fall, and the canes are unwieldy and wild. Once they’re pruned, they remind of me a line of schoolchildren with lovely neat Number 5 hairdos… or perhaps you could make that a military image and think of rows of soldiers with buzz cuts. It’s a similar type of thing.

I have been lucky enough to live in wine regions all my life, in Margaret River, then the Adelaide Hills, and I’ve spent a lot of time in the Barossa in between. I picked grapes in Switzerland when I was 20, staying with a host family who were relatives of my landlady in London at the time. I worked for two weeks on the hills above Lausanne, looking out over Lake Geneva to the hills of France. It was absolutely scenic, and absolute hell on the butt, knees and back. Note to future self: Lily Malone will drink wines and eat grapes… she will not pick them! Life lesson learned!

My novella, The Goodbye Ride, brings my hero, Owen, and heroine, Olivia, together as they set out to prune Owen’s aunt’s vineyard over a holiday weekend.

Here’s an excerpt where Liv is giving Owen instruction on how to prune a grapevine.

She switched the Felcotronic on and moved to the start of the vine row. As she talked, she demonstrated. “These vines are about twenty years old, I’d reckon. So they’re still teenagers, but they’ve been around a while and some need taking down a peg or two. See?” She indicated a spot near the end post where there was a cluster of crossed canes.

“It’s a bit like pruning a rose bush. We want to clean everything out to let air circulate. Cut out any dead wood and make lots of room for the new buds to grow. Grapevines fruit on new wood.”

Owen’s boot nudged hers as he leaned around her to watch and the contact sent butterflies cartwheeling through her stomach.

Focus, Liv.

“We want to pick the healthiest spurs and cut them back to two buds. Here,” Liv moved the electric pruners into place and touched the trigger. Shining blades sliced through the vine as if it were a stick of soft cheese. She moved to the next spur, squeezed: “And here.”

Canes swished to the ground.

“When do I get a go with that thing?” Owen asked.

“You don’t.” Liv moved down the row, snipping as she went. “If you come across knotty bits like this where there are no new spurs growing at all, you can cut that section back completely. That’s where those loppers come in to it.”

“Okay. It looks simple enough. I’ll give it a go.”

She pointed him to the row of vines behind her so that they would be working back to back. It was safer that way. He couldn’t accidentally chop her finger off, vest or no safety vest.

P1020158Have you ever noticed vineyard seasons? They can be very dramatic. There’s nothing like green vineyards in summer when all the paddocks around them are dry and brown.

Then this time of year, as you can see in the photos, it’s the vines that are brown, and the grass around them is green. The picture on the right is the first pruned vineyard I’ve seen in Margaret River this season.

Lily Malone Promo pic
The Goodbye Ride is available exclusively on Amazon, buy it here with one click. 

Hello to The Goodbye Ride

I’ve been inspired by Ros Baxter and Lilliana Anderson and Cate Ellink in recent weeks, all of whom have shared some amazing short stories and excerpts on their blogs.

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.

Chapter 1.

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.

Bliss.

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 Beer Songs 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 the bike 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.

Please watch this space!

And she sighs with relief

Done. Finished. Sent.

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

Chapter 1

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 Australian Country 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.”

“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.

Thanks Ruth.

“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.

Fuck it. 

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.

****