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.
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.
“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.
“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.
“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 ;-).