Read an Excerpt
Ten weeks ago, Katerina Jackson had spent one night in bed with her best friend. And it had been absolutely amazing.
Now, as she drove down the Captain Cook Highway, just before she got into Cairns, she was confronted with an image of the man in question, naked and smiling seductively down at her.
Kat's foot instinctively tamped on the brake, and she only just managed to avoid the car in front as it stopped at the red light. The burn on her cheeks went all the way down her body, ending in her thighs, where it pooled annoyingly in her groin. She looked up at the familiar massive billboard featuring Marco Corelli, the golden boy of France's premier futball league and Marseille's highest goal scorer in the club's entire history.
Well, he wasn't exactly naked. The stacked Y-fronts left little to the imagination, though, as did his splayed hands across his low-riding waistband and the caption "Come and Feel My Skins." But it wasn't his ridged abs, popping biceps and the seductive Adonis line of muscle that disappeared into the low-riding underwear that heated her blood. It was that familiar, tempting come-here-so-I-can-have-my-way-with-you grin, the curve of his overtly lush bottom lip and the forbidden promise in those dark, sensual eyes. The way the camera had captured his hypnotic charm as he looked up from behind artfully tousled, rakish black hair, one curl lying teasingly across his forehead and cheek.
She'd had to pass that damn billboard every morning for the past ten weeks, his perfect face staring knowingly down, as if he remembered every single thing he'd done to her that night. How he'd made her sweat, how he'd made her moan. How he'd made her pant.
She snapped her gaze back to the road, glaring at the taillights as the traffic finally began to move.
"God, I am so stupid," she muttered in the air-conditioned silence. It was Marco, her best friend since high school. The arrogant former-soccer-star-turned-sports-commentator, the underwearendorsing charmer, Mr. Flirt with a dozen different girlfriends. She was his best mate, secret keeper, sounding board, partner in crime. His plus one when he needed a date to some swish function. He was also her boss's on-again, off-again boyfriend.
She cast her mind back, sifting through her and Grace's many conversations about Marco. Yeah, they'd definitely been off for a while before that night, so there was one less moral dilemma to worry about. Which just left the main two.
Oh, she couldn't just have sex with her best friend, noooo. She had to end up pregnant, too.
If you could see me now, Mum. All your pretty, shiny dreams of your daughter having a perfect life, a perfect career. A perfect husband surrounded by perfect, healthy children.
The sliver of pain sliced through her, drawing blood, before she effectively sealed up the wound and pulled into Channel Five's parking lot. After flashing her ID to the guard, she parked, gathered her bag and strode into the studio. Then she tossed her bag in her office and checked her phone.
Four missed calls, one from her friend Connor, three from Marco, plus a text message. Back in town. We need to talk. Drinks on the boat? M x
She sighed then finally replied. Sorry, snowed under at work. Can't get away. Plus there's a cyclone warning, in case you haven't noticed. K x
After she sent it, she scrolled back to their texts from two months ago, a painful reminder that only rekindled her inner turmoil.
Have a good trip to France.
Hate to run and fly. We shouldn't leave last night without talking about it.
Nothing to say. Let's just blame it on booze and stupidity and forget it happened, okay?
Are you cool with that?
Totally. Erasing from my memory in three two one © Okaaaay. See you in a few weeks.
And that was it. Due to both their schedules, they had a mutual phone blackout during his assignments, although he always managed to send a few photos of the local scenery. But now he was back and wanted to do the usual drink-and-talk, and she had no idea what to tell him.
You can't avoid him forever.
"You can't avoid him forever," Connor confirmed five minutes later when she returned his call.
"What the hell, I'm gonna give it a shot."
"Don't be ridiculous. He deserves to know."
Kat slid her hip on the corner of her desk and sighed. "I can hear your disapproval all the way from Brisbane."
"Kat, I'm not disapproving. But I'm one of the few who know exactly what you've gone through these past few years. The guy deserves to know."
Trust Connor to tell it to her straight. Marco, Connor, Kat and Luke-the Awesome Foursome, they'd called themselves in high school. All so very different in personality and temperament, yet "perfectly awesome together," as Marco had put it. He'd been the cocky one, a skilled charmer, whereas his cousin Luke had had the whole bad-boy thing going on, always in trouble, always on detention. Connor was the devastatingly handsome silent-and-deep one, her unbiased sounding board who always told her the truth, uncolored by hyperbole or emotion. Sometimes it was scary how detached he could actually be, which was, ironically, what made him an exceptional businessman. He never let anyone into his private circle and she was always grateful she'd been allowed entry all those years ago.
"I. just can't tell him," she said now. "I'm already a wreck, and I can't deal with all the emotional baggage, too."
"That's unfair, sweetie. Marco would never do that to you."
She pinched the bridge of her nose and then glanced up as a runner gave her the wind-up signal, indicating she was due on set.
Kat nodded. "Look, I have to go. I'll talk to you later."
Connor sighed. "Stay safe during the storm."
"I will." She hung up, firmly pushed the conversation to one side and made her way to makeup just as her phone rang again.
It was Marco. "I do not want to talk to you," she muttered and slid the phone to Silent.
"Avoiding a call from the boyfriend?"
Kat slid a glance to Grace Callahan, the star of Queensland's number one breakfast chat show, Morning Grace, sitting in the makeup chair, getting her hair done. The woman was forty, only seven years older than Kat, but she had that polished, shiny look of someone who'd not only spent enormous amounts of time and money on her appearance, but was convinced it was the most important thing in her life. Her blond hair was curled into an artful tousle, her fake-tanned skin smooth, her body gym-honed. Yet for all her high-maintenance appearance, she had an addictive personality that attracted people by the bucket load. Which was probably why Marco kept coming back.
Kat glanced at her phone and nodded, unwilling to explain further. "No, just.. a guy."
"Really?" Grace's wide eyes met hers in the mirror. "A real-life guy? Oh, my God, where's my phone? I want to take a picture of this moment."
Despite her mood, Kat smiled. "You make me sound like a nun."
"I was beginning to think you were, hon." She winced as the makeup girl pulled a lock of hair through the curler. "This is exciting-makes a change from all the Cyclone Rory news. Can I put it in the show?"
Kat snorted a laugh. "You know you can't, so stop asking. I'm not newsworthy."
"Are so." Grace waved the girl away and ripped the makeup cape from her shoulders. "You're a celebrity, and celebrities are always news."
"Please, don't remind me. I hate those people who're famous for just being famous."
"Sorry, hon, but your little scandals have fueled the gossip columns for ages. It only takes another to set it off again." She straightened her dress then walked to the door, Kat following.
Kat sighed. It was true. She was nothing particularly special: the daughter of a merchant investment banker and an events planner, a private school student. The gap year she'd spent between high school graduation and university had been twelve months of partying, but just as she was about to begin her journalism degree at Brisbane Uni, she'd been offered a job as society reporter for The Tribune instead. Then, she'd gone spectacularly off the rails a year later, after her mother's death.
"You never did set the record straight about everything, you know," Grace said over her shoulder as they continued down the corridor. "It'd make a fabulous feature." She swept her hands out, indicating a huge headline. "Former It Girl Katerina Jackson finally spills the dirt on her marriages, the seedy side of French football and those scandalous photos."
"Never going to happen, Grace."
"We could start at the beginning, make it a full show. We'd do background, talk about your childhood, your upbringing. How you beat up Marco when you were fourteen-"
"It was a shove, not a hit-"
"-and how you all ended up on detention like some modern-day Breakfast Club scenario-"
"I knew I shouldn't have told you that."
Grace laughed. "I'm not going to say anything, hon, unless you want me to. But I do find it fascinating that your closest friends are a soccer superstar, a billionaire merchant banker and the nephew of a rumored mobster. All hot alpha men. All completely different. And all newsworthy."
Marco, Connor and Luke. Her best friends since high school, since that awkwardly hilarious lunchtime detention had played out like some eighties teenage movie and they'd bonded over their hatred of school and their shared tastes in movies, music and computer games.
"What were you all there for again?" Grace casually asked as they walked to the studio.
"You know full well what."
"You'd decked Marco-"
"A shove, Grace. For showing off in front of his mates and getting all up in my face."
"Why? What did he say?"
"Honestly, I can't even remember." Yeah, she did -a stupid teenage comment about her lack of "womanly attributes" that, to Marco's credit, he'd apologized for later.
"Whatever. Luke had been caught defacing the toilets and What was Connor's crime?"
"Correcting the economics teacher then threatening to bankrupt him."
"That was Southbank Private for you." She shrugged. "All the girls were too intimidated to talk to Luke and Connor. I wasn't. And from there we clicked. It just so happens they're guys."
"And you've never thought about ?" Grace waggled her eyebrows. "You know."
"Not even with Marco?"
Kat threw her an exaggerated eye roll to cover up the warmth in her face. "No, Grace, I haven't," she replied as they walked onto the set. "And I have no intention of giving anyone an exclusive. I'm your research assistant now, that's it." Grace approached a raised yellow couch and coffee table surrounded by a cluster of cameras. The lights streamed down as the set director came over to go through the lineup. "The other stuff is old news. People don't want to hear about it."
"They do. But I'll just keep trying," Grace replied with a smile, taking the glass of water the runner offered.
"Of course you will." Kat accepted her usual green tea from the set assistant as Grace sat on the sofa and began to rearrange the strategically placed props on the table.
"Soooo have you heard from Marco?" Grace asked casually.
"Not yet, no," Kat lied, fiddling with her phone. "He was commentating the Coupe de France, and that was only three days ago."
"I heard he's supposed to be back today." She smoothed her dress down over her artfully crossed legs. "I'm arranging a surprise dinner for later in the week."
"Really?" Kat paused, her insides suddenly tight, and she took a sip of tea to cover up the weird feeling. "Are you two back on again, then?"
Grace laughed. "I don't think we've ever really been off. I've got plans." She took another sip of water. "Let's face it-my body clock's been ticking steadily for years. And now I have an established show and some serious credibility in this industry. It's time I started thinking about having a baby."
Kat choked, tea dribbling down her chin. She swiped at it then stared at Grace. "With Marco?"'
"Of course with Marco!" Grace frowned slightly, eyeing the guy adjusting the lighting. "Is that a problem? I know you and he are close."
"Oh, no. I mean, yes I mean " Kat took a breath, trying to steady her clenching gut. "We're close and share a lot, but we do have one rule-never butt into each other's love life."
"Really?" Grace looked intrigued. "So he's never commented on James or Ezio, not even in passing?"
"And you've never said anything to him about me?"
Kat gave her a look. "No. It's not my business. You want to have babies, it's fine with me." She gave a smile, one she'd learned to adopt out of necessity. A smile designed for intrusive cameras, when they'd been camped outside her door, trailing her on the way to work, shopping, to the gym, interrupting her family and friends and becoming so invasive she'd had to get a court order to put a stop to it.
"You sure?" Grace asked curiously as she gathered up her notes. "I always thought there was some subtle sexual tension going on with you guys, but-"
"Me and Marco? No. No way!" she denied, a little too forcefully. "I mean, he's a great-looking guy and he's my best friend, but he's.. " She groped for a word. "A free spirit."
"I would've said a tart," Grace added with a smile. "And a world-class flirt. A good thing, too-he won't butt into my life and make demands on how I should be raising my child."
What could she say to that? Everything Grace said was true. Marco loved his life and lived it at breakneck speed. He had no room for a permanent partner, let alone a child.
Kat swallowed thickly, watching everyone fuss around Grace as the cameras got into position. For all her confusion, her crazy thoughts and outrageous scenarios she'd gone through these past few days, the choice was simple. He wouldn't want a baby. She most certainly didn't.
Kat adjusted her headset and sidestepped the studio camera as it wheeled toward her, watching Grace smiling into Camera One as she continued with her dialogue.
Grace could be snippy, snarky and demanding, but beneath the polished blond exterior she had a heart of gold. Kat sourced the hard-luck stories and Grace reported them, raising thousands for each charity they publicized. Grace was the public face, the ex-soapie star clawing her way back from alcohol and drugs to become the biggest-rating breakfast talk show in Queensland. Kat preferred it like that, preferred to work behind the scenes. It made a nice change, even though she still fielded a handful of interview requests every day.