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!
FOREVER CHAPTER ONE
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.
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.
“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?”
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!