Finally Chapter One

I'm so proud of Sarah and Jeff–our couple in Finally (Time for Love Book 2). I tried to take their story in one direction, but they kept blocking me until I was forced to look at a different path. In the end, these two characters reminded me of the simplicity and complexity of true love.

There's only a handful of days left before the 27th, when Finally is released. Today, I want to share with you how their love story begins.


“Kiss, kiss.”

Sarah Daley whipped her head toward the hunk with dark hair and vivid blue eyes sitting next to her in the big hot tub. What?

Her two-second excitement at the thought that she might be the intended recipient of that comment was quickly dashed when she noticed that the gorgeous Jeffrey Carmichael wasn’t even looking at her.

“I’m almost hoping that there are paparazzi around to capture this moment,” Jeff said with a wry grin as he watched his older brother Zachary and Sarah’s best friend Rebecca Andrews kiss passionately by the poolside.

“Oh, let them be, Jeff,” Magda Carmichael said as she sank up to her neck in the heated pool, relishing the massaging effects of the water jets. “They’re in love.”

“Look at your face, Gran,” Jeff said to Magda with a laugh. “You’re so thrilled about this.”

“Of course, I am,” Magda replied. “I’m glad your brother and Rebecca settled their differences and reconciled. They’re wonderful together. Don’t you think so, Sarah?”

“Yes, they are, Magda,” Sarah said with a fond smile for her sweet eighty-year-old client.

“Well, I’m glad that you and Rebecca are on this ship with us. It produced a very satisfactory outcome,” Magda said smugly.

It had already been almost four weeks since Sarah and Rebecca boarded one of the world’s most luxurious cruise ships from Sydney, and Sarah was still overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of Magda Carmichael—the matriarch of one of Australia’s wealthiest families.

Having been Magda’s physical rehabilitation nurses when Magda had hip replacement surgery a year ago, Sarah and Rebecca were handpicked by the elderly woman to accompany her as her private nurses on the all-expense-paid, one-month cruise that included several exotic Asian cities in its itinerary.

But Magda was fit and well, and only wanted them on board for any unexpected illnesses or injuries. That left them with loads of free time on their hands, able to fully enjoy the amenities, activities and shore excursions the fabulous ship offered.

Sarah now suspected that getting Rebecca and Zach together again had been Magda’s primary reason for getting them on board as her nurses. She just felt lucky that Magda had thought of hiring her, too—probably to make sure that Rebecca felt comfortable enough to take the job.

Well, Sarah was very grateful. She’d been having a wonderful time meeting new people—a few of them good-looking single men. Truth be told, the romance of being at sea on a grand floating home was having an effect on her. She’d been toying with the idea of a holiday fling, even though she was generally averse to one-night stands. But although Ron—the handsome guy she’d met at the beginning of the trip—had been giving her strong hints, she hadn’t been tempted enough to go to bed with him.

But geez, ever since Jeffrey Carmichael had boarded the ship over a week ago with his younger brother Gregory, he’d been occupying her mind.

The Carmichael brothers turned heads wherever they went. Photos of them on the covers of magazines ensured a bestseller. So it wasn’t hard to develop a crush on a Carmichael. But out of the three, Jeff was the one who had always made her heart beat just a tad faster.

She’d gotten to know him a little in the six months that she’d looked after Magda. She’d seen the guy who was the COO of a multi-million dollar company—focused, driven, brilliant, reliable and trustworthy. Combine that with his flirty and fun-loving nature, and sitting next to her was someone irresistible. Totally hot. Heck, who wouldn’t want to sleep with him?

She was dreaming though. Fat chance that Jeff would pay attention to her. According to Rebecca, Jeff was sleeping with Marilyn—the granddaughter of one of Magda’s friends, who was also on this cruise with them.

She sighed her resignation.

“Now it’s your turn to find that special someone, Jeffrey,” Magda said.

Jeff snorted. “Now, now, Gran. Don’t get any ideas.”

“Whyever not? You’re already thirty years old. Back in my time, that was too old to still be single.”

“You already know I don’t want to get married.”

“Oh Jeff. You can still change your mind,” Magda said, her eyes wide with concern.

Jeff shrugged. “You should just focus on Zach, Gran. This thing with Rebecca looks serious. Say, if those two decide to tie the knot, would you promise to lay off me about finding a wife?”

“No,” Magda said with conviction.

Jeff laughed.

“I want to see all three of my grandsons happily settled down with someone they love. A few great-grandkids to help raise before I die is one of my final wishes before I leave this earth.”

Jeff sighed. “So me being happy with my life isn’t enough, Gran?”

“I know you’d be happier if you could spend the rest of your life with a woman who loves you, and whom you love,” Magda said stubbornly.

Jeff rolled his eyes and glanced at Sarah. “See what I have to put up with?” he asked in mock frustration.

Sarah smiled and decided to ask the question that piqued her interest. “So you don’t believe in marriage, Jeff?”

“Oh, I’m not anti-marriage when it comes to other people tying the knot. It’s just not for me anymore.”

“Anymore?” she asked, unable to shut the lid on her curiosity.

“Well, I proposed to a woman once. But she didn’t want to marry me,” he said blithely.

“Really? Was she crazy?” Sarah exclaimed before feeling the heat rise up to her face. “I mean, who wouldn’t want to marry someone as dashing and devastatingly handsome as you?” she hastily added in a flippant tone, hoping to cover up her embarrassment by pretending she was joking around. Not that she was joking about Jeff being dashing and devastatingly handsome, because he really was. She just hoped he thought she was joking. Argh! She was blushing harder now.

“Why thanks, Sarah. That’s very kind of you to say that. I didn’t know you had a crush on me,” Jeff said, his eyes laughing and his tone teasing.

Magda’s amused expression at their interaction gave Sarah confidence to push on. “Well, if saying that someone is handsome means I have a crush on that person, then I have a confession to make.” She gave an exaggerated sigh before turning to Magda. “Magda, I have a crush on all your three grandsons. They’re so good-looking. But that’s not a surprise because you’re one very beautiful woman.”

Magda chuckled. “Why, thank you, dear. Yes, I agree my three goons are not bad on the eye. So which one do you like best?”

“Oh, uh…” Sarah was lost for words. Speaking before thinking was a trait that had landed her in embarrassing situations many times before. She’d done it again, and there was only one way she knew how to dig herself out of a hole—continue pretending everything was a joke.

“Well, unfortunately for me, Zach’s taken,” she said with a fake pout. “By my best friend, nonetheless.”

“Ouch,” Jeff said quietly. “See what I mean, Gran? This is what women in this day and age do. They take your heart from out of your chest and crush all your dreams.”

Jeff spoke with enough gravity to make Sarah’s eyes widen in surprise and… yes… hope. An itsy-bitsy, tiny speck of hope. Was he really disappointed at her answer?

“That’s one face that would be a challenge to paint,” Jeff said gravely, but the twitching of his lips gave him away. “To capture that horror and disbelief would take some serious skill.”

Sarah laughed out loud and her tension eased. “Hey, don’t you know I’m a painter’s dream?”

“I wouldn’t dispute that,” he said.

She sighed, deciding it was time to end this banter. She was flirting around with Magda’s grandson, for heaven’s sake! That was very unprofessional. But with all the Carmichaels being so down-to-earth, it was so easy to forget she was in the company of her employer, not her friends. In fact, Magda had always treated her and Rebecca like family, not hired nurses. Of course now that Rebecca was officially Zach’s girlfriend, Rebecca was definitely no longer considered staff in any way, shape or form.

She pretended to relax, closing her eyes, as she mulled over Jeff’s comments about being rejected by the woman he’d wanted to marry. Was that the reason why he’d now turned his back on marriage?

At least Jeff was being honest about what he didn’t want for his future. Maybe all those magazine articles about him changing girlfriends like he changed his clothes were true after all. There had been enough pictures of him in the magazines and on the internet to suggest that he’d had a string of affairs with different beautiful women in the last two years alone.

She knew how the constant attempts to invade their privacy were a big frustration for the Carmichaels. Luckily for them, unwanted publicity had slowed down in the last few months. Rebecca had told Sarah that the brothers were intent on not giving the press anything to write about. Privacy was something the Carmichaels valued, and they had been vigilant in ensuring they minimised the chances of seeing themselves plastered on the front covers of magazines.

A wave of sympathy hit her. It wouldn’t have been easy being in the brothers’ and Magda’s shoes in the last two years. The tragedy that hit their family was so great she could only admire how they’d handled it and come out of that dark period.

Her musing was interrupted by Zach and Rebecca getting into the Jacuzzi with them, their faces split by big, happy grins.

“Glad you decided to join us,” Jeff said teasingly. “I was starting to worry that you’d forgotten you’re in a public area of the ship and not in the privacy of your suite.”

Zach grinned at his brother. “Bec and I have something to tell you guys.”

“What’s that, dear?” Magda asked.

“We’re getting married,” Zach said, giving an ecstatic-looking Rebecca a sweet kiss on the lips.

Sarah gasped while Magda let out an uncharacteristic squeal.

“Oh, darlings, that’s wonderful!” Magda gushed, reaching out to hug Zach, then motioning for Rebecca to come close for the same treatment.

Sarah glided to her best friend when Magda released her. “Congratulations, hon! I’m so happy for you,” she said, squeezing Rebecca tight.

“Thanks, sweetie.”

“I can’t believe this,” she whispered. “Just a few days ago you were crying your eyes out because Zach had broken your heart again.”

“I know,” Rebecca said with a giggle.

Sarah let go of her friend and hurried to Zach, who already had his arms poised for a hug. She let out a surprised cry when she felt a wall of muscle hit her back. A low chuckle came from behind her as warm hands gripped her arms.

“I see you like being sandwiched by two men,” Jeff said, keeping her flush against his chest.

“Hey, I was going to give Zach a hug and I thought he was aiming for me.” Despite her light response, Sarah knew she was redder than a beet. And, heaven help her, she couldn’t move away. She was frozen in the hot water as Jeff’s caressing hands slid down her arms. When he stepped back from her, the chill she felt was startling.

“Here we go, Sarah,” Zach said, his voice laced with amusement as he embraced her.

“Congratulations, Zach,” she murmured, returning the gesture and swallowing her embarrassment.

“Thank you.”

“My turn,” Jeff said.

She moved away from Zach to make room for Jeff. To her utter surprise, Jeff wrapped her in his arms. Her already racing heart galloped faster and, Lord, she’d rather not admit it, but she felt a delicious, needy tingling between her legs.

“Oops, wrong person,” Jeff said, grinning wickedly before turning to give his brother an affectionate hug.

“Don’t mind him, Sarah,” Zach said, casting Jeff a warning look. “He’s just a big, flirtatious joker. And for all his reminders about our photos making it into magazines, he’s the worst when it comes to public exhibitionism.”

“I’m finding that out,” she said wryly.


Jeff sat back down on the raised seat in the water, chuckling. It was slack of him to continue to tease Sarah when embarrassment was written all over her face, but he couldn’t help himself. She was just too cute. Plus, she was a good sport. Despite her blushes, she seemed to enjoy ribbing just as much as he did.

He was attracted to Sarah. She was hot and fun, and he loved watching her blush. He could still see some colour on her cheeks and even on her neck, which was fully exposed as her silky blonde hair was tied up in a bun atop her head.

He had the urge to pull her to him so she would sit on his lap, and he could place a kiss on that slightly tanned shoulder of hers. He shook his head mentally and dunked his head in the water to arrest the direction of his thoughts. His groin was stirring and his grandmother was only a few steps away, for heaven’s sake.

A question that had been prodding him lately popped into his head again. Would Sarah be up for some fun in bed?

It wasn’t ideal to even think about a fling with her, considering that she was the best friend of his brother’s new fiancée, not to mention that she was his grandmother’s nurse. And with Rebecca and Zach getting engaged, he was sure Sarah would be deep in discussions with Rebecca about engagement parties and weddings. Women could get funny when talking about those things. The last thing he wanted was the complication of a sex partner who’d want an eventual trip to the altar with him.

He’d meant it when he said he had no intentions of getting married. It was something that didn’t hold interest for him anymore.

It hadn’t always been that way. He had wanted to get married two years ago. He’d even been engaged for five whole weeks.

He remembered he’d still been on a high from Bianca’s acceptance of his proposal when the biggest tragedy in the Carmichael family history had struck.

Jeff dunked his head in the water again to hide the grief that crossed his face. It wasn’t as bad as it used to be, but it was still there. Every now and then, memories of that horrendous day flashed in his mind, making the big empty hole in his heart make itself known again.

He’d been in his office when he heard the news that the light plane that carried his grandfather, father and mother had crashed. The three had been on their way to an outback property that his dad and gramps had been interested in buying. Investigators had surmised that his dad, who had been piloting the plane, hadn’t anticipated the suddenness and severity of the freak storm that had developed in the area. In one fell swoop, they’d lost three loved ones.

He truly didn’t know how the rest of his family survived those first few days. But even though he and his brothers had been wholly devastated, they had rallied and pulled themselves together for Magda.

In honour of their gramps, mum and dad, they had been putting all of their energy into making sure that the company built by their family’s blood, sweat and tears continued to flourish. The Carmichael Corporation, founded by their grandfather, was now one of Australia’s biggest property development firms, with interests extending to wineries and eco-tourism. He was now its COO, Zach its CEO and their youngest brother Greg the CFO. Not in a million years did he and his brothers think they’d run the company so soon, and from such harrowing circumstances.

Yes, that short space of time two years ago had been the most devastating in his whole life. It was compounded by Bianca breaking off their engagement just a month after the funerals. She’d said that while she did love him, she wasn’t ready to get married, and that the sudden spotlight on the Carmichaels by the press scared her. She’d felt suffocated by the need to hide so they could keep their private lives private. Three weeks after the breakup, Bianca had left Sydney for New York to further her career in advertising.

He’d stopped moping around for Bianca a long time ago. But ever since they broke up, he hadn’t wanted to be in a committed relationship again. He’d discovered that giving his heart to a woman only added to his grief, not helped him out of it. He no longer had the motivation to put his heart in a position where it could be broken again. Those terrible events two years ago were enough to last him a lifetime.

Besides, he was happy enough with his mutually agreed casual relationships with beautiful, discreet women. Such agreements had an added benefit: the women didn’t get mad or demanding when he worked long hours. Apart from his grandmother and brothers, The Carmichael Corporation was, after all, his priority.

Happy laughter from Magda snapped him out of his depressing memories. He smiled as he watched his grandmother chuckle at something Zach was saying.

Now this kind of love was entirely different. One thing he absolutely had no doubts about was the love of, and for, his remaining family members. They had it in spades for each other. In terms of emotional support, that was more than enough for him. Maybe that was why he didn’t feel the need for a ‘special someone’ in his life anymore. What for? He had the love of his family. As for sex, he could satisfy his lust at any time with anyone he wanted.

Speaking of lust… His gaze returned to Sarah. She was talking animatedly with Rebecca, her beautiful hazel eyes shining brightly. To his bemusement, he felt himself go hard again.

He sighed in resignation. It wasn’t the greatest idea in the world to try to convince Sarah to have a short, hot affair with him. All he was likely to get was a hard slap on the face if he did proposition her for it. So he really shouldn’t even consider it… not unless she gave him some hint that she wouldn’t mind…


Tomorrow, I'll share Chapter Two with you ;-).


Finally – released on May 27th. Pre-orders are available from Apple iTunesBarnes and NobleGoogle Play and Kobo.


Forever Chapter One

Forever 200x300Forever (Time for Love Book 1) is almost here! In fact, it's now available for pre-order on Apple iTunes. If you're using an Apple device, here's the link:

Forever: Apple iTunes Pre-Order

It's not up on the other stores yet, but I'll send you an email when other store links are ready.

As promised, here's chapter one of the book for you to enjoy while you wait for it to be available for download. Hope you enjoy this one, too!


Extremely lucky. How else could Rebecca Andrews describe what she should be feeling for the new work offer she'd recently received? But somehow, she couldn't muster the same excitement that radiated from her friend and colleague Sarah Daley.

“I understand why you're not ecstatic about this, Bec, but I still think you should grab it with both hands,” Sarah said, her wide eyes magnifying the intensity of her belief.

Rebecca thanked the server, who placed two mango smoothies on their table, before responding to Sarah. “I know. But the client is Magda Carmichael.”

“Yes. I know that's a big deal for you. But you love Magda, don't you? She's asked for us. She doesn't want anyone else to go with her.”

Sarah, one of Rebecca's four best friends whom she'd known since primary school, had been ready to pack her bags from the moment they got the call from their nursing agency. They had both been personally selected by Magda Carmichael—a very wealthy and absolutely sweet lady—to be her private nurses during her month-long holiday aboard one of the most luxurious cruise ships in the world.

“You have to go with me, Bec,” Sarah pleaded. “We've both never been on a cruise before, and we'll get to visit some exotic Asian cities. It'll be fun!”

“Fun?” Rebecca said with a laugh. “We're not being hired to have fun. We're being hired to work, remember?”

“I know. But we won't be working twenty-four/seven. That's why they want the two of us there, so we could work on shifts looking after Magda. We'll still have some private time to enjoy what promises to be an incredible trip.”

“I do wonder why she needs two nurses with her?” Rebecca mused. “She'd fully recovered from her hip replacement surgery, and according to the agency, she's not currently suffering from any illness or injury.”

“She's almost eighty, Bec. Magda and her family probably prefer to have two professionals with her on the cruise in case something happens. Besides, she could very well afford to pay for our salary and our trip.”

Yes, the Carmichaels could certainly afford those and much more. Magda Carmichael's late husband was a self-made multi-millionaire who'd founded The Carmichael Corporation, one of the biggest property development companies in Australia. Now Magda's three grandsons looked after the various interests of the company, which extended to wineries and eco-tourism.

“I wonder who else would be accompanying her apart from nursing staff?” Rebecca asked. “I'm sure she wouldn't be going on a holiday like that by herself.”

“You mean you want to know if Zach will be going,” Sarah said softly. “You said you're over him.”

“I am. But that doesn't mean I want to bump into him again,” she responded, ignoring the pinching in her chest that still happened every time she thought of Zachary Carmichael, Magda's oldest grandson.

“It's none of our business and it would be rude to ask. Besides, I can't imagine Zach accompanying his grandmother on a cruise for a month even if he's very fond of her.” Sarah leaned across the table with a serious look. “Bec, you know it's time you let go of whatever feelings you still feel for Zach—even the bitterness and regret. And do you really want to say no to Magda?”

Rebecca sighed. Magda Carmichael was the nicest, kindest, most generous client she'd ever worked with. When she and Sarah were hired as Magda's physical rehabilitation nurses while Magda recovered from her hip replacement surgery after an accidental slip in her bathroom, Magda had treated them like family, not paid personnel. She'd often wondered if the fact that Magda didn't have granddaughters was the reason she’d grown attached to her and Sarah. At twenty-eight, both she and Sarah were close to the ages of Magda's three grandsons. Zach was the oldest at thirty-two. His younger brothers Jeffrey and Gregory were thirty and twenty-nine.

“You know I can't say no to Magda,” she admitted.

“Yay! You have to tell the agency you're accepting the job, then you have to advise Magda's personal assistant that you're going so she can arrange your travel documents,” Sarah said excitedly. “I've already emailed her my details that she's asked for.”

“Okay. I'll email her when I get home.”

“Make sure you do it as soon as you walk through your door. The ship leaves in ten days. I'm sure she'd need time to organise everything.”

“Don't worry, I will,” she said with a laugh.

“Hey, girls!”

Rebecca and Sarah greeted their three other best friends Brenna Ward, Amanda Payne and Gemma Aldwin with a kiss on their cheeks.

“You look super excited, Sarah. What's up?” Brenna asked.

Sarah gleefully told the newcomers their news.

“Oh my God!” Gemma exclaimed. “I really, really should go back into private nursing. What the hell was I thinking giving it up?”

“You know teaching piano is your main love,” Rebecca quipped. “Anyway, if I change my mind about taking it on, you're welcome to take my place.”

“Why would you change your mind?” Amanda asked.

“Did I tell you the client is Magda Carmichael?” Sarah interjected.

“Ohh,” the other ladies said in unison, their mouths forming a perfect ‘O'.

“I see why you're not that keen on this, Bec,” Gemma said softly.

Rebecca put on a nonchalant expression. “Well, I very much doubt Zach will be on the cruise. But even if I see him again, so what? It's been seven months since we broke up. Besides, it didn't take him long to replace me with Miss Universe-Australia.”

Her eyes stung. Damn it. She should be over the whole thing by now. Why was she so slow in moving on?

“Hey,” Brenna said softly, running a comforting hand on her arm. “He's not worth one salty tear, remember?”

She nodded, trying to regain composure. It was hard to stay unaffected when talking about Zach—the only man she'd ever loved. They’d had an incredible four-month relationship that had started not long after she and Sarah were hired to help Magda recover from her surgery.

It was a passionate affair that they'd kept under wraps. The Carmichaels were a favourite subject for gossip magazines and paparazzi, and privacy had become something the family guarded with jealousy. Plus, while there were no written rules about dating relatives of clients, Rebecca's nursing agency would have frowned if they found out she was dating a Carmichael. She loved her job and didn't want to jeopardise it.

Unwanted memories of the moment when she'd told Zach she loved him filled her mind. Yes, it was more than silly of her to expect an ‘I love you' back from him, but when he hadn't said it, she'd been so shattered.

She did try to contain her disappointment from his lack of response, understanding that saying ‘I love you' wasn't something someone like Zach would say willy-nilly. But she'd gotten scared. According to some of the articles about him, he had a habit of changing girlfriends every six months or so. Somehow, she'd managed to convince herself that Zach was preparing to dump her.

Her friends had suggested that she had a fear of abandonment that stemmed from her childhood experiences with her parents. That was probably true. But knowing that didn't stop her from acting out of fear. She'd decided to break up with Zach before he could do it to her.

Zach had tried to make her change her mind and had said he just needed more time to figure out his feelings. But all his words had done was prove to her that Zach had only enjoyed her as a sexual partner. He didn't love her, and it was simply too painful and scary for her to stay with him with that belief.

She frowned at the pain emanating from her chest. Crazy how she still hurt after all the time that had passed. But lingering regret about her actions kept her tethered to thoughts of what might have been.

“Are you okay, Bec?” Sarah asked worriedly.

“Yeah,” she lied.

Brenna shook her head. “We know that look on your face. It's called remorse. How many times do we have to tell you that you did the right thing?”

“Breaking up with the man I was dating because he wasn’t ready to say ‘I love you' back to me?” Rebecca said wryly. “Yeah, great move. I should have been more patient.”

“But what you did was totally understandable.”

“What if all I had to do was wait a little bit longer? He wouldn't have asked me to go on a business trip with him if he hadn't cared about me, would he?”

“Haven't we had this conversation many times before?” Sarah asked with an eye roll. “Have you forgotten that just one week after you've told him it was over, he'd started dating Miss Universe-Australia?”

Rebecca sniffed as she recalled the magazine article that claimed Miss Universe-Australia was dating one of Sydney's most eligible bachelors—Zachary Carmichael. There were even photos of them in a restaurant, and another while they were coming out of a theatre, with the woman's hand tightly holding on to Zach's arm.

No, it hadn't taken him long to replace her.

“You girls are right. I should stop beating myself up for what I did. For all I know, it saved me from a worse heartbreak that would be harder to recover from.”

Thank God that apart from her best friends, no one else knew about her past relationship with Zach. She doubted Zach would have told anyone. She was just a fun diversion to him—as his actions had proven.

She was especially grateful that Magda had no idea about it. She was sure Magda wouldn't have asked for her services if she'd found out.

“Zach's moved on, Bec. Seriously, it's time you did too,” Brenna said gently.

“Yes,” she said with conviction. To show her friends she meant it, she picked up her phone and called the nursing agency to let them know she was available to work for Magda Carmichael.


“You girls have to pack some cocktail dresses,” Gemma said. “Let's go shopping tomorrow. At least the three of us who'd be left here on land can share some of the excitement with you before we wallow in jealousy.”

“Great idea,” Sarah said.

“You'll want new swimsuits as well,” Amanda said. “Get a couple of really sexy ones. You never know who you might meet in those places.”

“Hey, we're there to work!” Rebecca exclaimed with a laugh.

“Doesn't hurt to be prepared. You'll kick yourself if you bump into a hunk there and you don't have anything sexy with you. And remember our group New Year's resolution?”

“Yes,” Rebecca answered with an eye roll.

“Say it,” Gemma said.

Rebecca sighed theatrically. “This year, all five of us will make time for love. We won't let our busy schedules or other lame excuses get in the way of making the first move on hot, decent men who aren't afraid of long-term commitment. I still don't know where we'll find them, though,” she added sceptically.

“Remind me again why we made that stupid resolution?” Brenna asked.

“First, because we were crazy-drunk,” Gemma said with a laugh. “And second, because it's been five New Year's Eves in a row that all five of us didn't have anyone to kiss at the stroke of midnight. And don't forget we've pinky-promised on this.”

“Anyone already on your radar, girls?” Rebecca asked curiously.

Her friends shook their heads.

“We still have eleven months to go before the next New Year's Eve,” Amanda said.

“And remember, the whole point is for us to make an effort instead of sitting on our butts waiting for them to fall on our laps,” Sarah said.

“And not letting our exes or painful pasts get in the way,” Gemma said, looking pointedly at Rebecca. “It's all about moving forward to find our happily ever after.”

They all nodded in agreement.

Rebecca was actually glad of this pact she'd made with her four best friends. It was giving her the much-needed push and motivation to move on from Zach. She loathed to admit it, even to herself, but a big part of her still pined for him constantly.

Well, no use crying over something she couldn't undo. She'd try to give herself—and love—another chance. She'd start dating again and finally push Zach away from her heart and mind. It was about time she did.


“Hi Granny.”

“Zach! I'm so glad you could join me for dinner tonight, dear.” Magda put down her cup of tea and motioned for Zach to bend down to her.

Zach kissed Magda and sat beside her. “Unfortunately I have things to finish off tonight so I'm just here to say hello. Are you looking forward to the start of your month-long eightieth birthday celebration tomorrow?”

“Of course. I'm so excited I probably won't be able to sleep tonight. And I'm glad you're going with me, Zach. You've been working far too hard lately. You deserve a break.”

Zach laughed. “I'm young and energetic, Gran. You don't need to worry about me. But I want to let you know I can't stay for the whole month. I'll be disembarking in Hong Kong in two weeks.”

“What? Why can't you stay for the whole month? I thought you would.”

“I have work to do and important meetings to attend, Gran,” he said in a contrite voice.

“Why can't you do your work from the ship? I was assured electronic communication from there would be reliable wherever in the world we are.”

“The coverage might be patchy if we're at sea,” he reasoned. “Besides, Jeff and Greg will join us from the Philippines so there's a few days when we're all together before I leave. You know it's not a good idea for the three of us to be absent from the company at the same time for long periods.”

“Zachary, just because you're the CEO of our company, and Jeff is the CFO and Greg the COO, those titles shouldn't stop you boys from being my grandsons. I'm already disappointed that your brothers won't be joining me for the whole duration of this trip, but I thought you were. You haven't had a single day's break for months! This is the first time I've seen you in weeks and I was hoping the cruise was my opportunity to spend some time with you,” Magda said a little tremulously.

Zach pressed his lips, guilt eating at him. Spending time with her grandsons brought Magda the joy and comfort their family's wealth couldn't give. He knew that for all of his grandmother's exuberance and resilience of spirit, she still acutely mourned the loss of her husband, her only son, and her daughter-in-law. Heck, even he still missed his grandfather and his parents terribly. That horrific light plane accident two years ago that had cruelly robbed them of three people they loved dearly was not something any of them would ever forget. And special occasions like Magda's eightieth birthday always brought back the best and worst of the memories.

He rubbed his chin, wavering in his decision to make the trip short. The weekly phone calls, he knew, didn't make up for his recent physical absence.

“Okay, Gran,” he said, grasping Magda's hand. “I'll make arrangements so I can do my work on board the ship and stay with you for the whole month.”

“Oh, thank you, Zach. I do miss you, you know,” Magda said delightedly.

“I know,” he responded as he got up. “I have to go and tidy up a few things before we leave tomorrow.”

“Okay. Make sure you're free to join us for dinner tomorrow night—our first night on the ship.”

“Who's ‘us', by the way?”

“Well, there's your Grand-Auntie Miriam,” Magda responded.

Zach nodded, not minding the thought of spending time with Magda's younger sister.

“And I've invited Phillip Lee.”

Zach hid his grimace, not looking forward to socialising with the man. Phillip had been the bearer of hurtful news that Zach would rather forget, and lately, he'd been noticing repressed antagonism from Phillip directed toward him.

But Phillip's late mother was Magda's best friend, and Phillip was someone that Magda considered a nephew even though he wasn't blood related.

“That's very surprising that you've asked him to come,” he commented casually.

“I felt sorry for him,” Magda said with a sigh. “Did you know that the company he worked for went bankrupt a month ago?”

“Yes, I've heard about that,” Zach said. Phillip had been hounding him and his brothers for a job at The Carmichael Corporation.

“Well, he was telling me the other day how lost and lonely he felt. So I asked him to join us. I'm paying for his expenses.”

Zach simply nodded. His grandmother had a heart of gold.

“I've also invited my friends Olga and Debra to join us on this trip,” Magda continued. “Their granddaughters are accompanying them.”

This time, Zach couldn't help groaning out loud. He'd bet the granddaughter Debra was bringing with her was Vicky—a woman he'd had sex with four times in the last couple of months.

It was Vicky who'd offered a casual liaison agreement with him, since neither of them was interested in a committed relationship. But lately, she'd started to ask him out to dinners and events. He'd been quick to decline, reminding her of how it was between them. He wasn't interested in anything long-term with Vicky and didn't want her to have misconceptions.

At least Vicky was being as tight-lipped as he was about their arrangement. He could just imagine how their grandmothers would enthusiastically embrace the possibility of their grandkids married off to each other if they knew. He shuddered at the thought.

“Don't even think about pairing me off with anyone while on this trip, Grandmother,” he warned.

Magda laughed at his tone. “If you insist.”

“Oh, I insist, Gran.”

“Fine, I won't,” Magda said readily.

“Good. I'll see you tomorrow.”

“Okay, Zach. By the way, my nurses will also be joining us for the trip.”

“Your nurses?” Zach asked in surprise.

“Yes. Even though I'm fit and well, you never know what might happen while we're at sea. Better that they're on hand.”

His heart hammered in his chest. “Who… uh… have I met these nurses before?”

“Yes. Rebecca and Sarah. They're those lovely girls who helped me recover from my hip replacement. You remember them, don't you?”

He paled.

Rebecca. She was going to be there. On the ship. With him. For a month.

“Don't tell me you can't remember them, Zach. They looked after me for six months.”

He roused himself from his shock. “Sure, I remember them. I'll… uh… see you tomorrow.”

***End of Chapter One***

Watch out for chapter two arriving in your inbox soon!

Much love,
Miranda xxx