Carol was born in England to Scottish parents, which meant many long, happy summer holidays spent in Scotland with her two sisters.
The only thing a secretarial course taught her was that she didn't want to work in an office. Applying to do her nursing training, she was advised to write the entrance test for the three-year State Registered Nurse Course, but at 18, the two-year State Enrolled Nurse program sounded more attractive. Anyway, if she liked it she could always make up the time later, couldn't she? How simple it all sounded.
On completion of her training, she worked for five years in a phenomenally busy Accident and Emergency Department, which she adored. However, itchy feet got the better of her and she headed off for a year in Australia with her younger sister.
Six weeks before she came home Carol met her future husband. Proof, she says, that whirlwind holiday romances can work. An extremely expensive courtship followed. Long letters, longer telephone calls, and even longer air flights, until finally they married and settled in Melbourne, Australia.
Now seemed the perfect time to get her nursing on track, and she applied and was accepted to do her Bachelor of Nursing. However, a vague feeling of nausea on enrollment day was to change all that. Surely she could combine university with one tiny baby, couldn't she? After all, how much work could it be?
Through all of this the desire to write a romance was there and many a night was spent bashing away at the typewriter, and later the computer, but it was so much harder than it first looked and she never managed to quite finish it....
While pregnant with her second child, abrilliantstory line came to her. The first book was unceremoniously shelved and she worked hard on her masterpiece. Finally, she plucked up the courage to submit and smugly awaited its acceptance. Of course, it was rejected and, in truth, it was absolutely awful, but an encouraging letter pointing out where she had gone wrong (it was a long letter) kept the writing bug alive.
Six months after the birth of her third child, the sudden death of her father, and its painful aftermath forced her to reappraise her life's goals. Her father had never been one to waste a moment, and realizing what a precious gift life was and with her husband's encouragement, Carol decided to seize the day. The initial manuscript was taken down, dusted off, revamped, relocated, and rewritten and finally, after the longest time, accepted.
Now she is happy to concentrate mainly on writing, though she will always nurse. The ambition to do a Bachelor of Nursing has been replaced by a desire to do a Bachelor of Midwifery and she is awaiting the implementation of the course in Australia. She remains quietly confident that she can somehow combine family, writing, study, and nursing. After all, how hard could it be?
LUCKY YOU!" Maria shouted, holding the punch bag as Lydia boxed away, repeating the words like some kind of chant as Lydia thumped ever harder.
Lydia's red curls had long since worked their way out of her hair tie, and moved in time as she pounded the punch bag, her pale, slender arms delivering surprisingly strong blows. The rhythmic, vigorous exercise was wonderfully cathartic as, egged on by Maria, Lydia vented some of her anger and frustration.
"Lucky, lucky you! Come on, Lydia. Hit harder!" 'I'm done!" Lydia breathed, shaking her head and resting her gloved hands on her knees. "And lucky certainly isn't how I'd describe myself, being stuck here for the next few nights--I haven't had a day off for weeks!"
Even though the place was deserted, mindful that someone could be listening, Lydia spoke in low tones as she pulled off her gloves and turned the sink taps on full blast to distort their conversation. She needlessly refilled her water bottle and took a few moments to splash her face.
"What are you moaning about? Being joined at the hip with Anton Santini is my idea of an absolute dream job. Imagine how I feel!" Maria grinned, offering Lydia her own water bottle to fill. "Being lumbered playing assistant to his female PA! Why couldn't they have given me Anton Santini to guard?"
Lydia held up a long strand of red curls in answer and gave a wry smile. "I don't somehow think I'd make a very good undercover Italian PA, when the only Italian words I know are the names of pasta!"
"I'd go ginger in a moment if it meant sharing a bedroom with Anton Santini." Maria giggled. "I still can't believe they chose you to pass off as hisgirlfriend!"
If it had been anyone other than Maria saying it Lydia would have thought the comment sounded catty, but Maria was simply speaking the truth--it was unbelievable that she'd been considered the most suitable person to serve as Anton Santini's girlfriend during his whirlwind visit to Australia.
Anton Santini liked his women petite, stylishly groomed and demure.
Lydia was painfully aware that she failed on all three. Although her body was slender and toned, she stood five feet eight without heels--five feet ten if her mass of red curls was running particularly wild! Lydia wore jeans and T-shirts like a second skin, and as for demure--well, it wasn't exactly a prerequisite for a detective. Sure, she refused to buy into the beer-swilling, coarse language world of some of her colleagues, but she wasn't exactly afraid of expressing an opinion...
"Smile, Lydia! You're a real misery this morning," Maria observed. "This is one of the top hotels in Melbourne, we've been given full access to everything, and here you are moaning..." Catching Lydia's frown, Maria looked around and, seeing a yawning man staggering into the massive pool area outside the gymnasium, abruptly ended the conversation.
"Fancy a sauna?" Maria asked, and Lydia was about to shake her head--a sauna was the absolute last thing she fancied at this hour of the morning--but she knew it was the one room in the place where it had been agreed detectives could meet and talk unhindered.
After rolling her eyes in protest, Lydia gave a very sweet, very false smile. "What a great idea!"
"How's Angelina?" Lydia asked, once they were wrapped in white towels with the door safely closed.
"Efficient." Maria rolled her eyes. "And extremely talkative! I can't believe his entire team travels ahead of him to ensure that everything is to his liking!"
"It's just as well that they do," Lydia pointed out. "It's thanks to Angelina's efficiency that we're even aware of the security threat."
"Yeah, but it's not much to go on though,'Maria mused. "A bunch of flowers sent to his hotel room before his arrival--they could just be from an old girlfriend--"
"I doubt it," Lydia interrupted. "Given that on the two previous occasions Santini was sent flowers he was involved in potentially life-threatening incidents! It's a bit of a coincidence, don't you think? Not forgetting all the abusive phone calls Angelina's been fielding. It's right the Feds are taking this seriously. Can you just imagine the negative publicity if something happens to him?"
"I guess.'Maria shrugged. "It just seems a bit over the top--senior detectives acting as bodyguards. They've even got Kevin behind the bar fixing drinks--it just seems so extreme." 'If this deal Santini's looking to sign up goes ahead, then it's going to be such a massive boost for tourism. I'm not surprised that all the stops are being pulled out to protect him!"
Cheerfully ladling water onto the coals and upping the already stifling temperature several degrees, Maria, unlike Lydia, was only too happy to veer off the subject of work. "I love it here," she rattled on happily. "We're going to look fabulous by the time this assignment's over--can you feel your pores unclogging?"
"I can feel my hair frizzing," Lydia replied, sitting down on the bench. Tears were appallingly close, and she wished she could snap out of her morose mood, surprised at how much Maria's 'misery' comment had stung.
Burying her face in the towel for a moment, Lydia closed her eyes and dragged in the stifling air. "I really wanted the next couple of nights off,'she carefully elaborated. "I had things to do."
"What could you possibly have to do?'Maria smiled, her words laced with friendly sarcasm. "You know that a detective's not supposed to have a life."
"I just wanted a couple of days to myself.'Lydia gave a defeated shrug. "You know--listening to music, eating chocolate, feeling sorry for myself..."
Seeing her friend and colleague, usually so assured, so driven and focussed, slumped on a bench with her face hidden by a towel, Maria faded out the wisecracks, and sat down next to her, her voice gentle. "What's going on, Lydia? Is it you and Graham?"
"We broke up." Lydia nodded, finally peeking out from the towel and seeing Maria's shocked expression.
"But you two seemed so happy!" 'We were.'Lydia shrugged. "So long as I didn't mention work.'She took a deep breath and, closing her eyes, shook her head. "And with a job like ours it doesn't exactly leave much else to talk about. I thought Graham was different; I thought the fact we were both detectives meant that he'd understand that I wouldn't be greeting him at the door at the end of a long day all scented and oiled in a strappy little number..."
"Graham didn't want that from you." Maria gave a shocked laugh. "Lydia, he adored you--jeans and all!"
"I thought he did.'Lydia swallowed. "But over the last few weeks he's been acting weird. When I was on that drug stake-out he kept ringing me up about the most ridiculous things--"
"He was worried,'Maria broke in. "That was one hell of a dangerous job, Lydia. I was worried about you too!"
"But you didn't phone me on the hour every hour," Lydia pointed out. "You didn't ring me at two in the morning to ask if I needed someone to feed my goldfish."
"Your goldfish died last year!" 'Exactly," Lydia said dryly. "And then we were going to his mum's for dinner one night and he asked me to dress up a bit..."
"Dress up?" 'It wasn't as if I was in jeans or a tracksuit for heaven's sake. I was wearing a black suit! And then he asked if maybe while we were at his mum's I could try to refrain from mentioning work..." Lydia paused as Maria's lips tightened, watching as her friend struggled to give an objective answer.
"Lydia, it is a dangerous job, and we do see a lot of the more seamy side of life--it must be hard for any man to put up with, let alone someone who knows the full truth about what we do. I know my father and brothers hate my job, and they don't know the half of it! I'm the family shame." Maria nudged Lydia until finally she managed a glimmer of a smile. "So, who finally finished it?"
"Me," Lydia said, chewing on her bottom lip for a moment, not sure whether to reveal her secret--the supposedly good news that had finally brought things between her and Graham to a head. "I'm being considered for a promotion."
Maria's eyes widened and a smile broke out on her face. Because they really were good friends, as well as colleagues, and because they both knew how tough it could be to climb the ladder in what was still very much a man's profession, Maria's smile was completely genuine and her embrace was warm as she hugged her friend. "Inspector Lydia Holmes."
"It's not definite," Lydia quickly pointed out. "But Graham found out, and suddenly all the little niggles, all the little problems we'd been having lately, seemed to magnify."
"Is he jealous?" Maria asked, and Lydia gave a soft, mirthless laugh.
"Apparently not! He insists that he's just worried about me. He says that he's not sure if it's the sort of job he wants his wife doing. He doesn't think--"
"Back up a second." Maria was way too sharp to miss a snippet of conversation as juicy as this! "So you've had an offer of promotion and a proposal?"
"An offer of promotion or a proposal," Lydia corrected. "It would seem I can't have both." 'Oh, Lydia." Maria's groan was sympathetic. The problem was all too usual--one that had been pondered by female detectives the world over. As attractive and as sexy as a kick butt detective might sound to a potential lover, the cruel reality was that she didn't make promising wife material. This didn't matter a scrap, of course--until you met someone you really cared about. "What are you going to do?"
"I've already done it!'Lydia gave a firm nod as Maria winced. "We really are finished."
"Then let's just hope it was worth it. I mean with the promotion coming up and everything--let's just hope you get it."
"It doesn't matter if I get it or not," Lydia said firmly. "It would be nice, but it just wasn't working out between me and Graham. If he can't take me as I am, then it wasn't meant to be."
"Well, at least you get to lick your wounds in style!" Maria said. "Full access to the beauty salon and you've been placed with Anton Santini--you're a single girl now, Lydia. Who better to have a rebound relationship with?"
"Anton Santini doesn't do relationships," Lydia said, a smile finally wobbling on her face. She felt so much better for having opened up to her friend. She gave a tiny shocked laugh. "You haven't read what I read last night--his bio's unbelievable! He's always been a bit of a rake, but this last year I swear the man's been on a mission! His list of ex-girlfriends reads like the top one hundred most beautiful people in the world: actresses, European royalty, supermodels, soccer-players' wives..."
"Who?" Maria asked, agog. "Anyone I know?" 'Yep.'Lydia nodded, but didn't elaborate. "And every last one has ended in tears--for the woman at least."
"Is he really that bad?" 'Worse!" Lydia nodded. "And I'm supposed to be guarding him. God, I hope he behaves himself."
"Well, if he doesn't you can always pass him over to me--I'll entertain him for you!"
"You'd be so much better at this than me,'Lydia happily conceded. "You're way more suited to Anton Santini."
"I'm not sure if that's a compliment." Maria feigned a hurt expression. "If you're implying that just because I once had Botox..."
"I'm implying that you're a born flirt.'Lydia laughed. "I'm implying that you're so gorgeous no one would turn a hair if you were draped over Santini's arm. Whereas I'm going to look so awkward and out of place tagging along beside him..."
"You'll be wonderful," Maria wailed. "You'll look fabulous and you're going to have an absolute ball. Unlike me. Angelina's well over sixty, a confirmed spinster, and tops the scales at one hundred kilos. You'd think someone as divine as Anton would hire a gorgeous assistant. I guess this one must help him keep his mind strictly on business...