Hope you enjoyed Chapter One of At Last yesterday 🙂 As promised, here's Chapter Two.
The delightful warmth of the morning sunshine washed over Gemma as she exited the hotel. With a contented smile, she walked over to one of the chaise lounges neatly arranged around the glorious outdoor pool of the resort. As she’d expected, the area was empty. After last night’s party, she wouldn’t be surprised if she was the first person up, apart from staff.
She’d left and gone to bed at around one in the morning, while the Christmas Eve festivities were still in full swing. Her nerves at performing last night must have taken their toll, and now that it was over, she was more relaxed but tired.
The brand new day gave her a burst of energy, though. She always looked forward to getting out and about in this wonderful place every morning, especially when everyone else was still asleep. She’d considered walking to the beach, which was a relaxing fifteen-minute trek through the rainforest from the main hotel. There was a long boardwalk through the trees, which ensured that no one who wanted to venture to the beach and back lost their way. But admittedly, she was yet to fully recover from last night, so lying outdoors by the poolside was good enough for today.
She sat on a comfortable lounge under the protection of a wide outdoor umbrella, waiting for the breakfast she’d ordered. She was tempted to bask in the sunshine, but she’d been too lazy to put sunscreen on this morning. The Australian sun could be harsh, especially during summer, so she’d better stay under a shade if she were to laze there for a long while like she’d planned.
She looked at the magazine in her hand and sighed. She’d found it outside her door that morning, and the headline had immediately grabbed her.
Where are Greg Carmichael and Gemma Aldwyn hiding?
There was a slightly fuzzy picture of her at Sydney’s Domestic Airport, with Greg by her side, talking on his phone. She rolled her eyes. She bet whoever took the photo must have also spotted the other guys with them, including Zach and Jeff. But the paparazzo had chosen to focus the lens only on her and Greg. She supposed concentrating on Greg Carmichael’s new ‘flavour of the month’ was juicier than running another story on Zach and Bec’s wedding, or Jeff and Sarah’s engagement. The readers must be getting bored with the repetition, and the magazines needed something else to garner interest.
She opened the pages and started reading. Guesses were made as to where she and Greg might be enjoying a romantic holiday. She snorted. Romantic, my ass. I wish.
With a shake of her head, she continued on. The article writer was convinced that they were at the Carmichael Sanctuary. After all, it was argued, not only was it tucked away in a secluded area of Serenade Bay, but the place was also notorious for being hard to get into. When someone uninvited or unexpected did succeed in stepping foot inside the gate of the vast property, the round-the-clock security team was quick to escort them out of the premises.
Even though the writer had guessed correctly, Gemma was relieved that they were indeed safe from snoops in this place. Apart from the almost-invisible but highly efficient security team, she’d discovered that the resort staff also helped in keeping the unwanted out of the Sanctuary—and out of Serenade Bay itself.
She’d spoken to a couple of workers who’d said that most of those employed by the Carmichaels were fiercely loyal. They were treated extraordinarily well, so they constantly did their bit to ensure the privacy of the guests. They quietly worked with the Serenade Bay locals—who were happy with the visitors’ patronage and generous tips—to sniff out possible undercover reporters or paparazzi, and report them to the security team. No wonder even billionaires and famous actors from all over the world chose to stay here sometimes.
Gemma got to the part of the article where it was mentioned that the father of one of her students had confirmed that she wasn’t resuming any piano lessons until February. This showed, said the writer, that there must be some truth to the rumour that things were getting serious between Greg and Gemma. Why else would they be having a long holiday together? And, of course, the writer had to include the requisite statement that hundreds of women’s hearts must be breaking at this news.
She snickered loudly. She always closed for lessons from mid-December till mid-February. It coincided with the school holidays, with the addition of a couple more weeks to enable the kids to settle into the back-to-school routine before starting their piano lessons again.
But she was relieved to know that there was nothing too concerning involving her students in the article. Still, she wouldn’t like it if uninvited photographers continued to hover around her studio. Parents of her students would be troubled if their own privacy and that of their kids were threatened.
Her breakfast arrived, brought by Phoebe, a pretty and petite girl in her twenties. Guests were assigned a particular staff member responsible for managing all of their needs while at the resort. Phoebe was hers, and she’d grown to really like the woman in just a handful of days.
“Thanks, Phoebe. And Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas, Miss Aldwyn,” Phoebe answered cheerily. “Is there anything else I can do for you right now?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, there is. It’s for you to remember to just call me Gemma. Please. I mean it.”
Phoebe smiled. “Sorry, Gemma. Force of habit.”
“It’s funny being called Miss Aldwyn by someone who’s almost the same age as me,” she said with a giggle. “It makes me feel old.”
Phoebe laughed with her. “Mrs. Carmichael said the same thing.”
“No. Mr. Zach’s wife, Rebecca.”
“There you go. Just call all of us by our first names. We’re not into being formal.”
“Neither are the Carmichaels, actually,” Phoebe said. “They say that the only reason they ask us to be formal is for the sake of some of the guests who expect it.”
“They’re great, aren’t they?”
“Yes, they are,” Phoebe answered, eyeing the magazine on Gemma's lap.
Gemma chuckled. “Would you believe the magazines think I’m Greg’s new girlfriend?”
“Uh… you’re not?”
“No,” she answered with a hint of disappointment. “Isn’t it obvious?”
Phoebe shrugged, giving her a polite smile.
“Anyway, I’m single,” Gemma continued. “And I’m supposed to find a guy to kiss by the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve or my best friends will refuse to kiss their men.”
“Really?” Phoebe asked, clearly intrigued.
Gemma sighed, not really minding sharing this with Phoebe. She felt the need to get this particular frustration off her chest. “Yeah. See, last year we made a pact to make the first move on men we like so when New Year’s Eve comes around, we’re with our potential forever-guy. Well, they insist I have time left, so I should try to find myself a guy to kiss. They say it’s for practice, because I actually haven’t asked even one guy out all year.”
“Sounds like a fun arrangement,” Phoebe commented.
“Yeah. In fact, I started the whole thing. But I’m the one who ended up doing nothing,” Gemma lamented.
“Why didn’t you? Ask a guy out, I mean. You’re very pretty. Surely, there were lots of men who would have loved to go out with you.”
“Two reasons. Either I wasn’t interested enough in them, or the ones I was attracted to weren’t commitment material.” Her mind flashed a picture of Greg in her head.
“For what it’s worth, one of the drivers likes you,” Phoebe said with a little laugh.
“Really? Which one?”
“Oh, I can’t tell you which one. He’s too shy to approach you. Besides, he doesn’t want to jeopardise his job. It would be very unprofessional if he did ask you out.”
“Yes,” Gemma agreed, thinking it was better not to go there.
“Anyway, isn’t Mr. Greg still single?”
Gemma couldn’t help the blush that rose to her face. “Unfortunately, he’s not interested in me.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“But don’t tell him we talked about this,” she warned.
“Of course not,” Phoebe said, her eyes wide. “I won’t tell anyone else either. This is just between you and me.”
Gemma smiled her thanks, knowing Phoebe would keep her word. Being discreet about their guests was a non-negotiable requirement for anyone who worked at the Carmichael Sanctuary.
“Good morning, girls!”
They both looked and found Magda making her way to them, followed by a staff member carrying a tray. Gemma grinned, greeting the elderly lady warmly. She should have known Magda would be up earlier than the rest as well.
“May I join you for breakfast, Gemma?” Magda asked.
“Please! That would be lovely,” she answered delightedly.
Phoebe rearranged a chair and a table so Magda could sit close to Gemma.
“Thank you, girls,” Magda murmured, smiling widely at her employees.
Phoebe and her colleague beamed, then excused themselves after checking that neither Magda nor Gemma needed anything else.
“I see you’re reading that magazine,” Magda observed. “I’ve had a look at my copy this morning.”
“I’m glad it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be after Greg told me last night that my students were affected. But I’m still a little concerned,” Gemma admitted.
“Unfortunately, unless we catch them breaking some law, we can’t stop them from hanging around in the public places outside your studio or your apartment.”
“My apartment?” she asked in surprise.
Magda glanced at her sharply. “I’m sorry, dear. I take it Greg hasn’t mentioned that bit yet?”
“No,” she said, her brows creasing.
Magda sighed. “He probably didn’t want you to worry about it since it’s Christmas. I’m sorry. I should have waited.”
“Uh… could you please tell me now?”
Magda took a sip from her teacup before responding. “After we left Sydney, Greg asked one of our security men to go to your apartment building and have a look around. And yes—someone’s been seen acting suspiciously, asking your neighbours if they know where you are. When he was questioned, he said he was just a fan who thinks you’re wonderful.”
“A fan? I’m not even a celebrity,” Gemma said with disbelief. “Was he a reporter or a paparazzo pretending to be a fan?”
“Security doesn’t think so. Apparently, this person was walking around carrying nothing but a stack of magazines with your picture on them. They said he was a little strange.”
Gemma inhaled deeply. She’d just recently moved to her apartment, which was only a couple of blocks away from her studio. She loved her place, and she’d felt safe there. Until now.
“We’ll have to assign a security detail for you.”
She looked at Magda in horror. “Oh no, Magda. That’s… that’s too much.”
“What do you mean?”
“They’re expensive…” she whispered. And seriously, she was a nobody.
Magda smiled mirthlessly. “This is happening to you because of your association with us, Gemma. It’s the least we can do. And it would only be until we’re sure that no one dangerously unstable is stalking you. Unfortunately, past experience has taught us not to take these things lightly.”
“Maybe there’s another way. I’m really quite uncomfortable with the idea of a security detail.”
Magda pursed her lips. “I do have another idea. We’d need to handle this matter delicately, so it wouldn’t blow up in the media. We don’t want to create a whole lot of other mess or additional attention. So it would take some time to make the necessary checks quietly.”
Gemma nodded, wondering where Magda was leading.
“You’re not due to start seeing your students again until mid-February, right?”
“Why don’t you extend your stay here? Have an extra-long holiday and keep me company? Some of my friends are coming in January, staying until the end of February to celebrate my birthday. So I’ll be here for another two months myself. I don’t think you’ll get bored here. There are plenty of activities to do inside the Sanctuary, and the Serenade Bay town centre is just delightful. You could also visit the neighbouring towns. There are various music, art and food festivals happening at this time in the greater vicinity. And you can go shopping at quaint little shops you’ll never see in Sydney.”
Gemma’s mouth dropped open. It sounded like a fantastic, tempting idea. Another month and a half of living in luxury in this paradise would be heaven. But…
“Please don’t even think it’s too much, Gemma,” Magda said, reading her mind. “If you go home we won’t have a choice but to assign a security detail to watch you, which, as you said, would make you more uncomfortable. And yes, I’m trying to twist your arm here to make you say yes.”
Gemma laughed out loud.
“Say yes, please,” Magda cajoled. “It would make me feel better. Otherwise, I’ll keep worrying about you.”
Gemma took a deep breath. “If I stay, could I make it up to you by entertaining your guests? Properly, that is, as if I’m a hired entertainer with set times when I have to perform? I could talk to your activities director and work it out with her.”
Magda sighed, shaking her head with a smile on her face. “All right. If you’re too stubborn to accept this as a relaxing long break, you can be our in-house entertainer, or whatever you want to call yourself.”
“Thank you,” she said with a wide smile. “It’s all settled then. And I’m very excited.”
Generally, Gemma preferred not to have the spotlight on her. It was why she’d chosen piano teaching as a career rather than performing. But she noticed that most of the guests at the Carmichael Sanctuary did enjoy listening to her while she’d practised for her performance last night. This was a way of giving back to Magda and her family for letting her stay in this uber-exclusive resort for almost two months without paying a cent. Just because two of her best friends were now Carmichaels, it didn’t mean Gemma took for granted all the perks she got as a side effect of that close friendship. She was grateful, and entertaining their guests would be but a small token of her appreciation.
“Excellent!” Magda said with a pleased grin. “I’m sure Greg will be relieved by this, too. By the way, he’s staying here with us until February.”
“He is?” she asked, her heart beating faster.
“Yes. You know how this place was already fully booked for the holidays before those lovebirds decided this is where they wanted their engagement party to be held?”
Gemma nodded. “I heard that some famous people got their bookings cancelled to make room for us.”
“Yes. In exchange for the inconvenience, they were offered a stay at any of our resorts for free at any time they choose. Anyway, there were some important business partners of ours who understandably were disappointed that they weren’t spending Christmas and New Year’s here like they’d wanted. We have to make them feel extra special after stuffing up their plans, and we’ve decided that one of my grandsons staying here to personally entertain them and strengthen business ties should do the trick. So Greg will work from here while we have important people around. Fortunately, most of them will be coming in January and February, so that works well. It’s nice to have one of my grandsons stay with me while I’m here, too.”
“Right,” Gemma responded, her breathing shallowing.
Wow. She could stay in this beautiful place until February. With Greg. Yippee!
Oh, shut up, Gemma.
***End of Chapter Two***
Hope you enjoyed that! Not long to go now before you can read the whole book 🙂
I'll send a reminder on January 6 so you can either check your devices for the book if you've pre-ordered, or check out the store links to get your copy before the discount finishes. (Price goes up from US$2.99 to US$3.99 approximately two days after release date.)
By the way, it's also now available for pre-order on Google Play. Here are the pre-order links again:
It will be available from January 6 on All Romance Ebooks, Smashwords and Scribd.
Till release day, take care and have fun!
Love, love, love,