Read an Excerpt
By Annie Seaton, Alethea Spiridon Hopson
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Annie Seaton
All rights reserved.
Jessica Trent walked slowly between the rows of rental cars looking for the small, red sedan described on the rental contract she clutched in her hand. The other hand had a firm grip on the handle of the leopard print suitcase that clattered along behind her. Her matching carry-on bag was perched precariously on top of the suitcase, and threatened to fall as it bumped against the laptop bag jammed underneath it.
"At last." She sighed with relief when she spotted the vehicle at the end of the row and stepped out briskly, relieved to finally deposit her luggage. The heat in the strong wind blowing across the tarmac was unbelievable, and the light silk of her skirt and long-sleeved jacket stuck uncomfortably to her damp skin. She unlocked the car, stowed her luggage in the trunk, slipped into the driver's seat, and turned the air conditioning up to top speed.
Pulling out her cell phone, she switched it on, and an Australian service provider appeared almost instantly. She hit the speed dial for Monica's number and then realized she had to put the international code prefix before the cell phone number, and she didn't have a clue what it was. All those details were stored in her laptop computer now buried in the trunk.
"Shit." Reaching down, she searched for the lever to pop the trunk up and caught her fingernail beneath the hard plastic edge.
"Double shit." She examined her once perfectly manicured long red fingernails and glared at the broken nail of her index finger. Lack of sleep on the flight over had left her out of sorts. She took a deep breath before she opened the door. Heat blasted into the car, instantly dissipating the cool air from the air conditioning. She scurried around to the rear of the car and retrieved the laptop from behind the large suitcase. A strong gust of hot wind caught the door above her head and slammed it down onto her shoulders just as she straightened.
"Ouch." So far Australia wasn't doing much for her.
She backed out and slammed the door down. When she was back in the car, she reached up to her shoulder and groaned when her hand came away from her silk blouse that was now covered in grease. No way was she getting her suitcase out again to change. She would get to her destination first. And anyway, it was way too hot to get out of the car.
Firing up the laptop, she scrolled through her contacts, found the international prefix she had stored in her address book, and entered the digits onto the touch screen of her phone.
"Come on, Mon. Pick up." The phone rang continuously, and Jess could feel her temper rising when her best friend didn't pick up straight away. "Please," she muttered, drumming her fingers on the steering wheel. Finally, the call connected, and she heaved a sigh of relief when Monica answered.
"Do you know what time it is, Jess?"
"Oh sorry, I forgot about the time difference."
"I suppose that means you've landed, and you're down under safely."
"Yes, I've just arrived in Darwin. Has Gareth found a hotel for me?"
"He's working late tonight. There's a big campaign coming up, and he has to go back to the UK for a photo shoot next week, so he sent me an email from the office. I forwarded it to you before I went to bed. It's got the name of the closest town to the resort."
"Oh, thank goodness. I didn't know whether to book into a hotel here or drive straight to Cockatoo Springs."
"Have you looked at a map yet, Jess? I know what you're like. You'll drive off without even checking that you're on the right freeway. Daly River is the closest town to the resort, and there should be a couple of hotels there. I'll e-mail you some links before I go back to bed."
"I'll be fine, so stop worrying. Now that I know where to go, I can put it into the GPS and head off."
Jess held the phone away from her ear, prepared for Monica's rant as her friend's voice hit squeal pitch. Gazing through the window, she watched the palm trees across the tarmac bend in the strong wind. They had flown over a large bay just before the aircraft touched down, and the screen on the back of the seat in front of her displayed the name Fannie Bay. It was a shame she couldn't spend more time here before she headed into the outback. The morning sunlight had glinted invitingly off the sapphire blue water, and a line of resorts and sailboats had edged the coastline. Now it was late morning, high thunderclouds were building over the sea, and it looked like a tropical storm was on the way.
"Are you listening to me?" Monica's voice was getting louder with each word.
"Yes, I'm listening."
"Well, as soon as you get there safely, call me. Gareth said as long as you have the application in by the end of the month you'll be fine. He heard through the grapevine that they aren't interviewing for the new position for a couple of weeks."
"How thoughtful of them. Just in time for Christmas." She glanced down at her watch. She did the quick time calculation and realized it was only eleven o'clock the night before in New York. "Go back to bed, hon. You've got the whole night ahead to sleep, and don't worry about me. I'm determined to get this job. And you know me, I never give up until I get what I want." She ended the call and leaned back on the seat, closing her eyes.
Two weeks. She had two weeks to track down the elusive wonder boy who'd created the innovative bush tucker chef school at Cockatoo Springs resort and made it a worldwide phenomenon in less than a year. Then get an interview with him and write the best damned article she had ever written about this unique establishment that chefs from all over the world were clamoring to get into. Once the article was subbed, the interview for the fulltime job coming up at Cuisine magazine would be in the bag. The job would be hers, she just knew it. It had to be. Since she'd bought her apartment she couldn't afford to just walk away from the PR job she hated. Working for media magnate Larry Bartholomew was not what she wanted to do with her journalism degree. It was her off-the-cuff freelance interviews that always ended up as her most successful pieces, but it had been over a year since she had last produced the article that resulted in mega sales for the Christmas issue of Cuisine magazine.
Once she got the permanent job at the magazine, she would enjoy giving in her notice to sleaze ball Larry. But no matter how bad things got, there was no way she was going to run begging to her father for help, even if it meant losing the new little apartment she loved. She'd done her journalism degree, she'd written some fabulous freelance articles, and now she was determined to prove to herself she could be a top food journalist. She was already well on the way to proving to her father she could stand on her own two feet. There was no way she was going to run back to him to access her trust fund. He'd be lucky if she ever spoke to him again after the way he'd treated her last year.
Jess opened her eyes and looked down, surprised to see her hands clenched in her lap, and she took in a deep breath. The cool air from the air conditioning unit fanned across her hot cheeks and restored a measure of her calm.
Food journalists had been trying to get a feature interview with this guy for the last six months, ever since the outback cuisine trend had hit the top restaurants of New York and Europe. No one had been successful in getting an interview, and there wasn't even a photo of him anywhere, but she had done her research.
Alessandro Gabrielle Ricardo. I am going to track you down and write the best damn article I can.
Jess reached for her phone again, connecting it to her laptop so she could collect her email. Scrolling through, she quickly located Monica's message.
Daly River. The Banyan Tree trailer park.
She reached over and entered Daly River into the GPS.
The small colored screen indicated she had two hundred and nineteen kilometers to travel south. Doing a quick conversion to miles, she calculated she could do that in less than four hours and would be there well before dark. She slipped her sunglasses down, started the car, and turned right toward the boom gates at the exit. A horn blared in front of her, and she quickly angled the car to the other side of the road when she remembered they drove on the left in Australia. She barely missed the silver Mercedes and smiled apologetically at the driver when he glared at her through his window. Turning onto the access road to the international airport, she followed the instructions of the robotic female voice of the GPS, concentrating on staying on the left hand side of the road. She breathed a sigh of relief when she turned the small sedan onto the on-ramp of the Stuart Highway, set the cruise control, and relaxed into the drive. Thoughts scurried through her mind as she devised and discarded strategies for meeting the mysterious Mr. Ricardo.
She'd overcome the first hurdle and was on her way down the highway to her destination ... or close to it. She would book into the resort as a guest but first would stay in the small town close by to the resort and then do an exploratory foray. Maybe they were hiring kitchen hands or waitresses, and she could go in undercover and check him out. This could be exciting and a bit of fun ... she thrived on a challenge, and her investigative radar twitched.
Finding him and getting the interview would be her two biggest hurdles.
* * *
Three hours, and well over one hundred miles later, Jess approached a sign indicating the turn off to Daly River was two kilometers ahead. Even though it was only mid-afternoon, the sky was dark, and huge thunderclouds were building in the sky as the storm followed her down the freeway. The drive on the Stuart Highway had been slow, and she'd passed so many motor homes she'd lost count. She'd driven without a break, sipping on the bottled water she'd bought at the airport. Jet lag finally caught up with her, and she turned off the freeway and followed the narrow, winding road to Daly River for another hour. The paved road ended, and just as she began to worry she'd taken the wrong turn, she crested a hill and a sign with Daly River, three kilometers, appeared.
Five minutes later, a small trailer park with a vacancy sign out front was the only sign of life amongst the short scrubby trees. She drove along the road until she came to a closed up brick building with a police sign hanging crookedly out front, and then the road came to a dead end at a wide river. Turning the car around, Jess drove back to the trailer park to a timber building that had 'Reception' written across the front window. She stepped out of the car just as the sky broke, and large raindrops splattered on her silk suit. By the time she'd pushed open the door of the small office, it was pouring, and rivulets of water were running across the driveway.
The woman at the desk looked up as the bell above the door rang. She reached under the counter, brought out a handful of paper towels, and passed them to Jess. "Looks like you got a bit damp, darl."
"Thank you," Jess said, mopping at the sodden silk. "At least it's a bit cooler now."
"Bit of a worry when the heavy rains come this quick, though," said the older woman. "Early start to the wet season. Are you after a cabin or just shopping?" She smiled and looked Jess up and down, obviously taking in the suit and the Jimmy Choos.
"I was looking for Daly River. Have I taken the wrong turn?"
"Nope, you've found us, love. We are Daly River. Since the police station closed and the river cut the road to the other trailer park, we're it." She looked at Jess, curiosity filling her face. "So, why Daly River? You don't look like you're here for the fishing."
"I was hoping to get a room ... or a cabin here for the one night. You do have a vacancy?"
"I've only got one cabin left down the back near the river. The fishing season has started and the park is full."
"That will do nicely." Jess smiled, and she scrabbled in her handbag for her wallet. The bell rang again as the glass door pushed open, and a deep voice rumbled behind her.
"Are you the idiot driver who has blocked the loading bay?"
Jess jumped and dropped her wallet. Before she bent to pick it up, she drew herself to her full height, under six foot in her heels, and let the ice drip from her voice.
"Ha ... should have known it. A bloody Yank." The owner of the voice towered over her. "No idea about outback road courtesy."
Jess curled her nose as an unpleasant aroma pervaded her nostrils, and she put her hand over her mouth. She looked him up and down, not at all intimidated by the glowering look on the face of this ... this person. Long legs encased in stained jeans, a tight black T-shirt molding a broad chest, and a deeply tanned, unshaven face with shaggy black hair pulled back and tied at the nape of his neck with what looked like a dirty piece of string that trailed over one shoulder.
"What is that dreadful smell?" She bent to retrieve her wallet and kept one hand across her mouth.
"Live bait for crabs. Prawn, mullet, and herring burley." He put his hands on his hips as she stood. "Look, love, I've got a load of barra to put into the cool room out here. It's sitting out in my truck in the heat, and your bloody car is blocking the way, so if I ask nicely would you go out and move it?"
"Since you have been so polite, I will move it as soon as I check in." She hadn't understood a word he'd said about the smell, and the accent didn't help either. Placing her keys and wallet on the counter, she turned to the woman who was watching the exchange with a broad grin on her face.
"May I have the check-in form, please?" She gasped as a large tanned hand whipped past her arm and grabbed her keys.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Jess tried to keep her voice level as he dangled the keys rudely in front of her face.
"I'll move the car for you. Janet here will get you all checked in," he said. "Which cabin, Janet?" He turned to the woman behind the counter. "I may as well park it for the sweet young lady."
Jess was at a loss for words. No way did she want this unkempt hulk knowing her room number.
"Last one on the left down by the boat ramp," Janet called after him as he strode to the door. "And watch out for the crocodile. There's been a biggie hanging around the ramp all day. The rain might get him wandering."
"Oh, and by the way." He paused in the doorway and looked back over one shoulder. "Don't look at me as though I've just crawled out of the slime. The back of your pretty shirt is covered in grease." The door slammed shut behind him
Jess looked up at the woman behind the counter. "Are all Australian men so ... so rude?"
"Nah, don't worry about Alex. He was in a rush. He'll be anxious to get home with the rain coming, and he has a heap of fish to cool down. The season has just started."
Home? He looked like he belonged in a cabin in the wilds, and what's more he smelled like it.
Jess completed the check-in, picked up the door key, stomped through the rain down to the back of the small park, and retrieved her keys from the rental car. She was relieved to see no sign of the smelly truck driver hanging about her room. Standing at the door of the cabin, she put the key in the lock of the flimsy door, pulling at her suit with her other hand. It was sodden and sticking to her underwear. Water splashed as a black pick-up truck, loaded with blue crates, sped down the road past her cabin and slowed when it got to her car.
"And sweetheart, you can see right through the front of your suit. Nice view, though. Like the lace G-string." He laughed, gunned the engine, and took off. Mud splashed the front of her skirt and legs before she had a chance to reply.
Jess stepped out onto the road and gave him the finger.
Not the best reply, but satisfying.
Excerpted from Outback Affair by Annie Seaton, Alethea Spiridon Hopson. Copyright © 2013 Annie Seaton. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.