Read an Excerpt
'Ellie, your phone is ringing! Ellie, answer it now!'
Ellie Evans grinned at her best friend Merri's voice emanating from her mobile in her personalised ring tone, then eagerly scooped up the phone and slapped it against her ear.
'Hey, youhow's the Princess?' Ellie asked, sorting through the invoices on her desk, which essentially meant that she just moved them from one pile to another.
'The Princess' was her goddaughter, Molly Blue, a six-month-old diva who had them all wrapped around her chubby pinkie finger. Merri launched into a far too descriptive monologue about teething and nappies, interrupted sleep and baby food. Elliewho was still having a hard time reconciling her party-lovin', heel-kickin', free-spirited friend with motherhoodmmm-ed in all the right places and tuned out.
'Okay, I get the hint. I'm boring,' Merri stated, yanking Ellie's attention back. 'But you normally make an effort to at least pretend to listen. So what's up?'
Her friend since they were teenagers, Merri knew her inside out. And as she was her employee as well as her best friend she had to tell her the earth-shattering news. Sitting in her tiny office on the second floor of her bakery and delicatessen, Ellie bit her lip and stared at her messy desk. Panic, bitter and insistent, crept up her throat.
She pulled in a deep breath. 'The Khans have sold the building.'
'This building, Merri. We have six months before we have to move out.'
Ellie heard Merri's swift intake of breath.
'But why would they sell?' she wailed.
'They are in their seventies, and I would guess they're tired of the hassle. They probably got a fortune for the property. We all know that it's the best retail space for miles.'
'Just because it sits on the corner of the two main roads into town and is directly opposite the most famous beach in False Bay it doesn't mean it's the best '
'That's exactly what it means.'
Ellie looked out of the sash window to the beach and the lazy ocean beyond it. It had been a day since she'd been slapped with the news and she no longer had butterflies about Pari's, the bakery that had been in her family for over forty years. They had all been eaten by the bats on some psycho-drug currently swarming in her stomach.
'Why can't we just rent from the new owners?'
'I asked. They are going to do major renovations to attract corporate shops and intend on hiking the rents accordingly. We couldn't afford it. And, more scarily, Lucy'
'The estate agent?'
'Mmm. Well, she told me that retail space is at a premium in St James, and there are "few, if any" properties suitable for a bakery-slash-coffee-shop-slash-delicatessen for sale or to rent.'
After four decades of being a St James and False Bay institution Pari's future was uncertain, and as the partner-in-residence Ellie had to deal with this life-changing situation.
She had no idea what theyshewas going to do.
'Have you told your mum?' Merri asked quietly.
'I can't get hold of her. She hasn't made contact for ten days. I think she's booked into an ashram or sunning herself in Goa,' Ellie replied, her voice weary. Where she wasn't was in the bakery, with her partner/daughter, helping her sort out the mess they were in.
Your idea, Ellie reminded herself. You said she could go. You suggested that she take the year off, have some fun, follow her dream What had she been thinking? In all honesty it had been a mostly symbolic offer; nobody had been more shockedhorrified!than her when Ashnee had immediately run off to pack her bags and book her air ticket. She'd never thought Ashnee would leave the bakery, leave her.
'El, I know that this isn't a good time, especially in light of what you've just told me, but I can't put it off any longer. I need to ask you a huge favour.'
Ellie frowned when she picked up the serious note in Merri's voice.
'Anything, provided that you are still coming back to work on Monday,' Ellie quipped. Merri was a phenomenal baker and Ellie had desperately missed her talent in the bakery while she took her maternity leave.
The silence following her statement slapped her around the head. Oh, no no, no, no! 'Merri, I need you,' she pleaded.
'My baby needs me too, El.' Merri sounded miserable. 'And I'm not ready to come back to work just yet. I will be, but not just yet. Maybe in another month. She's so little and I need to be with her please? Tell me you understand, Ellie.'
I understand that I haven't filled your position because I was holding it open for youbecause you asked me to. I understand that I'm running myself ragged, that the clients miss you.
'Another month?' Merri coaxed. 'Pretty please?'
Ellie rubbed her forehead. What could she say? Merri didn't need to work, thanks to her very generous father, so if she forced her to choose between the bakery and Molly Blue the bakery would lose. She would lose
Ellie swallowed, told herself that if she pushed Merri to come back and she didn't then it was her decision but she felt the flames of panic lick her throat. They were big girls, and their friendship was more than the job they sharedit would survive her leaving the bakerybut she didn't want to take the chance. Her head knew that she was overreacting but her heart didn't care.
She had too much at stake as it was. She couldn't risk losing her in any way. She'd coped for over six months; she'd manage another month. Somehow.
Ellie bit her top lip. 'Sure, Merri.'
'You're the bestbut I've got to dash. The Princess is bellowing.' Now Ellie could hear Molly's insistent wail. 'I'll try to get to the bakery later this week and we can talk about what we're going to do. Byeee! Love you.'
'Love you ' Ellie heard the beep-beep that told her the call had been dropped and tossed her mobile on the desk in front of her.
'El, there's someone to see you out front.'
Ellie glanced from the merry face of Samantha, one of her servers, peeking around her door to the old-fashioned clock above her head, and frowned. The bakery and coffee shop had closed ten minutes ago, so who could it be?
'Who is it?'
Samantha shrugged. 'Dunno. He just said to tell you that your father sent him. He's alone out front we're all heading home.'
'Thanks, Sammy.' Ellie frowned and swivelled around to look at the screens on the desk behind her. There were cameras in the front of the shop, in the bakery and in the storeroom, and they fed live footage into the monitors.
Ellie's brows rose as she spotted him, standing off to the side of a long display of glass-fronted fridges, a rucksack hanging off his very broad shoulders. Week-long stubble covered his jaw and his auburn hair was tousled from finger raking.
Jack Chapman. Okay, she was officially surprised. Any woman who watched any one of the premier news channels would recognise that strong face under the shaggy hair. Ellie wasn't sure whether he was more famous for his superlative and insightful war reporting or for being the definition of eye candy.
Grubby low-slung jeans and even grubbier boots. A dark untucked T-shirt. He ran a hand through his hair and, seeing a clasp undone on the side pocket of his rucksack, bent down to fix it. Ellie watched the long muscles bunching under his thin shirt, the curve of a very nice butt, the strength of his brown neck.
Oh, yumoh, stop it now! Get a grip! The important questions were: why was he here, what did he want and what on earth was her father thinking?
Ellie lifted her head as Samantha tapped on the doorframe again and stood there, shuffling on her feet and biting her lip. She recognised that look. 'What's up, Sammy?'
Samantha looked at her with big brown eyes. 'I know that I promised to work for you tomorrow night to help with the petits fours for that fashion show'
'But I've been offered a ticket to see Linkin Park and they are my favourite band it's a free ticket and you know how much I love them.'
Ellie considered giving her a lecture on responsibility and keeping your word, on how promises shouldn't be broken, but the kid was nineteen and it was Linkin Park. She remembered being that age and the thrill of a kick-ass concert.
And Samantha, battling to put herself through university, couldn't afford to pay for a ticket herself. She'd remember it for for ever so what if it meant that Ellie had to work a couple of hours longer? It wasn't as if she had a life or anything.
'Okay, I'll let you off the hook.' Ellie winced at Sa-mantha's high-pitched squeal. 'This time. Now, get out of here.'
Ellie grinned as she heard her whooping down the stairs, but the grin faded when she glanced at the monitor again. Scowling, she reached for her mobile, hastily scrolling through her address book before pushing the green button.
'Elliehello.' Her father's deep voice crooned across the miles.
'Dad, why is Jack Chapman in my bakery?'
Ellie heard her father's sharp intake of breath. 'He's there already? Good. I was worried.'
Of course you were, Ellie silently agreed. For the past ten years, since her eighteenth birthday, she'd listened to her father rumble on and on about Jack Chapmanthe son he'd always wanted and never got. 'He's the poster-boy for a new generation of war correspondents,' he'd said. 'Unbiased, tough. Willing to dive into a story without thinking about his safety, looking for the story behind the story, yet able to push aside emotion to look for the truth.' Yada, yada, yada.
'So, again, why is he here?' Ellie asked.
And, by the way, why do you only call when you want something from me? Oh, wait, you didn't call. I did! You just sent your boy along, expecting me to accommodate your every whim.
Some things never changed.
'He was doing an interview with a Somalian warlord who flipped. He was stripped of his cash and credit cards, delivered at gunpoint to a United Nations aid plane leaving for Cape Town and bundled onto it,' Mitchell Evans said in a clipped voice. 'I need you to give him a bed.'
Jeez, Dad, do I have a B&B sign tattooed on my forehead?
Ellie, desperate to move beyond her default habit of trying to please her father, tried to say no, but a totally different set of words came out of her mouth. 'For how long?'
God, she was such a wimp.
'Well, here's the thing, sugar-pie.'
Oh, good grief. Her father had a thing. A lifetime with her father had taught her that a thing never worked out in her favour. 'Jack is helping me write a book on the intimate lives of war reportersmine included.'
Interestingbut she had no idea what any of this had to do with her. But Mitchell didn't like being interrupted, so Ellie waited for him to finish.
'He needs to talk to my family members. I thought he could stay a little while, talk to you about life with me.'
Sorry life with him? What life with him? During her parents' on-off marriage their home had been a place for her mum to do his laundry rather than to live. He'd lived his life in all the countries people were trying to get out of: Iraq, Gaza, Bosnia. Home was a place he'd dropped in and out of. Work had always been his passion, his muse, his lifelong love affair.
Resentment nibbled at the wall of her stomach. Depending on what story had been consuming him at the time, Mitchell had missed every single important event of her childhood. Christmas concerts and ballet recitals, swimming galas and father-daughter days. How could he be expected to be involved in his daughter's life when there were bigger issues in the world to write about, analyse, study?
What he'd never realised was that he was her biggest issue the creator of her angst, the source of her abandonment issues, the spring that fed the fountain of her self-doubt.
Ellie winced at her melodramatic thoughts. Her childhood with Mitchell had been fraught with drama but it was over. However, in situations like these, old resentments bubbled up and over.
Her father had been yakking on for a while and Ellie refocused on what he was saying.
'The editors and I want Jack to include his storyhe is the brightest of today's bunchbut getting Jack to talk about himself is like trying to find water in the Gobi Desert. He's not interested. He's as much an enigma to me as he was when we first met. So will you talk to him?' Mitchell asked. 'About me?'
Oh, good grief. Did she have to? Really?
'Maybe.' Which they both knew meant that she would. 'But, Dad, seriously? You can't just dump your waifs and strays on me.' He couldof course he could. He was Mitchell Evans and she was a push-over.
'Waif and stray? Jack is anything but!'
Ellie rubbed her temple. Could this day throw anything else at her head? The bottom line was that another of Mitchell's colleagues was on her doorstep and she could either take him in or turn him away. Which she wouldn't do because then her father wouldn't be pleased and he'd sulk, and in twenty years' time he'd remind her that she'd let him down. Really, it was just easier to give the guy a bed for the night and bask in Mitchell's approval for twenty seconds. If that.
If only they were normal people, Ellie thought. The last colleague of her father's she'd had to stayagain at Mitchell's requesthad got hammered on her wine and tried to paw her before passing out on her Persian carpet. And every cameraman, producer and correspondent she'd ever metincluding her fatherwas crazy, weird, strange or odd. She figured that it was a necessary requirement if you wanted to chase down and report on human conflicts and disasters.
Mitchell's voice, now that he'd got his own way, sounded jaunty again. 'Jack's a good man. He's probably not slept for days, hasn't eaten properly for more than a week. A bed, a meal, a bath. It's not that much to ask because you're a good person, my sweet, sweet girl.'
My sweet, sweet girl? Tuh!
Sweet, sweet sucker, more like.
Ellie sneaked another look at Mr-Hot-Enough-to-Melt-Heavy-Metal. He did have a body to die for, she thought.
'Have you met Jack before?' Mitchell asked.
'Briefly. At your wedding to Steph.' Wife number three, who'd stuck around for six months. Ellie had been eighteen, chronically shy, and Jack had barely noticed her.
'Oh, yeahSteph. I liked her I still don't know why she left,' Mitchell said, sounding plausibly bemused.
Gee, Dad, here's a clue. Maybe, like me, she hated the idea of the man she adored being away for five of those six months, plunging into the situation in Afghanistan and only popping up occasionally on TV. Hated not knowing whether you were alive or dead. It's no picnic loving someone who doesn't love you a fraction as much as you love your job.
She, her mother and Mitchell's two subsequent wives had come second-best time after time decade after decade. And she'd repeated the whole stupid cycle by getting engaged to Darryl.
She'd vowed she'd never fall in love with a journalist and she hadn't. But life had bust a gut laughing when she'd become engaged to a man she'd thought was the exact opposite of her father, only to realise that he spent even less time at home than her father had. That was quite an accomplishment, since he'd never, as far as she knew, left London itself.
She'd been such a sucker, Ellie thought. Still was