Read an Excerpt
So it had been too good to be true!
Marnie Johnson drove slowly down Beach Road with a sense of mounting unease. The modern apartments and townhouses she had inspected just a couple of weeks ago were slowly giving way to dilapidated renovators' delights with sprawling, overgrown gardens. These were the type of homes that would require a whole lot of TLC for anyone to live comfortably in them-and the one thing Marnie didn't have was time to give a new home a lot of attention.
Almost certain that she had the job of nurse unit manager at the Bayside Hospital on Melbourne's Mornington Peninsula, Marnie had spent the afternoon after her interview looking at suitable homes to rent and had fallen in love with this street in particular. Yes, it was expensive but it was still a lot cheaper than her smart city apartment. She had been taken in by the sun-drenched, sparkling apartments with views that looked out over the bay and the townhouses with their balconies perfectly angled-just right for relaxing after a busy day, and Marnie certainly intended to be busy.
When the job offer had been confirmed Marnie had found herself far more stretched for time than usual, what with finishing up her old role and celebrating her sea change with friends. Yes, it had been a gamble but, after a lengthy conversation with Dave, the real estate agent who had shown her around, she had signed a month's lease on a house unseen, having been told that it was very similar to the ones she had inspected.
The only similarity to the homes Marnie had been shown was that they each had a front door. Not that Marnie could see this particular one-it was obscured by overgrown bushes and trees, and the grass, as Marnie walked up the path, was waist high.
Never trust a real estate agent.
Marnie knew that but had been taken in when Dave had told her that this home had just come on the market and there were no photos yet. She had been so stretched that, for once, the very organised Marnie had taken her eye off the ball.
And look what happened when she did!
Pushing the door open, Marnie stepped inside and it was easily as bad as she had been expecting.
Marnie pulled out her phone and when the real estate agent's receptionist answered she asked to be put through to Dave. Marnie could hear the irritation coming through in her own voice-her usually lilting Irish accent was now sounding a touch brusque and harsh and she fought to check it.
'Dave is at an auction,' the receptionist that Marnie had collected the keys from explained. 'I'm not expecting him to come back to the office today, though I can call him and leave a message asking him to get in touch with you.'
Marnie bit back a smart response-after all, none of this was the young woman's fault. 'Yes, if you could ask him to call me as soon as possible, I'd appreciate it.'
There wasn't a hope that Dave would be calling back today, Marnie just knew it.
Tomorrow was Sunday and on Monday she started her new job and there simply wouldn't be time to arrange more inspections and shift her things again-she made sure that she led by example and she wasn't going to spend the first week in her new role trying to sort out somewhere else to live. She looked around at the grimy beige walls and told herself that once she had washed them down and cleaned the dusty windows, the place might not be so bad after all-though Marnie was sure she was fooling herself. As she wandered from room to room it grew increasingly hard to stay positive. The place didn't even have a bath-just a very mouldy-looking shower that would certainly need a good scrub before she used it. 'What is it with Australians and their showers?' Marnie asked herself out loud-she liked to have a bath in the evening to relax.
Letting out a sigh, she gave up dwelling on it-she'd been through far worse than this.
The removal truck would be arriving with her furniture at eight o'clock tomorrow, along with two of her brothers, Ronan and Brendan.
So she'd better get cleaning!
Marnie tied her thick black hair into a ponytail and headed out to her car to collect the bucket, bleach and vacuum cleaner that she had brought for the job, though she had expected it to be a far easier one. Still, if there was one thing Marnie excelled at it was organisation and cleaning. She'd have this place sorted in no time.
Men! Marnie thought as she lugged in the equipment. They took one look at her china-blue eyes and petite but curvy figure, saw her smiling face, heard her soft accent and thought that they had worked her out.
No one had ever worked her out!
Dave had no idea what he had let himself in for.
She took a call just as she was getting ready to start-it was Matthew, a friend that she went out with now and then.
'How's the new place?' Matthew asked.
'Grand!' Marnie lied. She certainly wasn't about to tell Matthew her mistake. He had thought she had gone a bit crazy when she had announced that she was leaving the city and moving out to the bayside suburb.
'You'll be back,' Matthew had warned. 'You'll soon be bored out of your mind.'
Marnie would like ten minutes to be bored, she thought as she chatted to him for a few moments and then ended the call.
It never entered her mind to ask him to come and help. Matthew was starting to get just a bit too familiar and Marnie didn't like that. She worked very hard at keeping all areas of her life separate. Family, work, social life-all were neatly separated, even her sex life. At thirty-one years old Marnie had long decided this was the way that worked best for her. She was an independent woman and certainly didn't want Matthew coming over to gloat about her real estate mistake and, worse, meet her brothers-that would render her relationship with Matthew far more than it was and Marnie had no intention of that happening.
Marnie opened every window throughout the house to let the sun stream in and then started her cleaning in the kitchen, gradually working her way outwards. She stopped occasionally for a drink and to admire her own handiwork. She was like a mini-tornado once she got going. Rubber gloves on, Marnie washed down the walls and cleaned the windows. The curtains she took down and hung out in the sun and, before putting them back, she vacuumed and mopped the floors, all the while thinking about Monday and the challenges that lay ahead.
She was looking forward to running a department. She had been an associate in a large city hospital for a few years but, realising her senior had no plans to leave and loathing having to answer to anyone, when she had seen the job at Bayside advertised she had taken the plunge. As she worked on, Marnie thought back to her interview. The place needed a strong leader, she had been told-and Marnie was certainly that. Christine, her predecessor, had apparently spent more time in the office than taking care of the department. The off-duty was a joke-the shifts dependent, it would seem, on who had brought Christine the most coffee. For now the place was being run by Cate Nicholls, who had chosen not to take the role permanently as she was soon to be married.
The emergency department was woefully short of doctors, though that, Marnie had been told, was being addressed and there were two new consultants starting soon. Another problem that had been hinted at was that one of the consultants, Harry Worthington, who hadn't been present at Marnie's interviews, was using the nursing staff as a babysitter to his twins.
'Not any more!' had been Marnie's swift response, and she had seen Lillian, the director of nursing, not only give a brief smile but write something on the notes in front of her.
It was then Marnie had known she had the job.
As Lillian had shown her around the department Marnie had learnt a little bit more about the staffing issues and had found out that Harry was a recent widow and single father to four-year-old twins.
Marnie hadn't let on that the name was a familiar one but she had smothered a little smile when she'd thought of the once wild Harry now a consultant and single father.
Who would ever have thought it?
Ready now to tackle the shower, Marnie took down the shower curtain and soaked it with a good measure of bleach then stripped off into her underwear. As she started to scrub the grimy walls she thought about her early student nurse days. She had done the first year of training at Melbourne Central before, for personal reasons, transferring to the Royal to complete her training-it had been at Melbourne Central that their paths had loosely crossed. Loosely because, apart from 'What's his blood pressure doing?' or 'Can you get me his file?' Harry had never so much as spoken directly to her when she had been there, though she had felt the ripple effect when he'd entered the ward or canteen and she had heard an awful lot about him!
As a junior doctor, his wild ways, combined with very good looks, had assured that Harry had never lacked female attention. The mere whisper that Harry would be at a party in the doctors' mess would guarantee that the number of attendees swelled. Marnie had been head over heels with Craig, her first boyfriend, at the time. Living away from home, away from her strict parents and the responsibility of taking care of her younger brothers, Marnie had been too busy embracing her first taste of freedom to give Harry Worthington more than a moment's thought. But, a fair bit older and a whole lot wiser, kneeling back on her heels, Marnie thought about him now.
She remembered that he was tall and very long-limbed. His hair was brown and had always been superbly cut because no matter what the hour, be it nine a.m. and just starting or eight p.m. and just heading for home, it had always fallen into perfect shape. He had surely invented designer stubble and there had often been sniggers in the staff canteen when a nurse had appeared with Harry rash! He had worked hard, partied harder and completely lived up to his decadent rep-utation-though everyone had loved Harry, from porter to consultant, domestic to senior nursing staff, patient to relative, he somehow had charmed them all!
Not her, though.
Now that she thought about it, now that she sat quietly, they'd had one brief conversation away from work.
'Come on, Marnie, stop moping around ' She could hear her flatmates urging her to go out and, even though she hadn't felt like a party, to keep them from nagging, Mar-nie had agreed. She had stood there clutching lemonade and watching the good times unfolding as, unbeknown to her f latmates, Marnie's world fell apart. In the end she had decided to just slip away.
'Leaving so soon?'
Harry had caught her as she'd headed for the door and had offered to get her a drink. Marnie had looked into very green eyes and watched them blink as, completely impervious to his charm, without explanation, she'd simply walked off.
Marnie wondered how the charming Harry would be faring these days! He'd be in his late thirties by now-surely all those years of excess would have caught up with him. Marnie stood and turned on the shower, aiming the water on the walls and laughing to herself at the thought of a ruddy-faced Harry, who surely by now had a paunch.
Oh, and a single father to twins.
There'd been no chance then of him charming her and there'd be even less now-she could truly think of nothing worse than a single father.
Marnie was decidedly free and single and liked her men to be the same.
Selfish, some might think, not that Marnie cared a jot what others thought.
As evening descended, perhaps the light was just being kind but the place looked far nicer than it had when she had arrived. Though Marnie would never admit the same to Dave when she spoke to him about it on Monday, she actually liked the main bedroom-it had high ceilings and a huge bay window, as well as a fireplace, which would surely be gorgeous for snuggling up in bed with a good book or a man in winter.
Not that she would be here in winter, Marnie reminded herself. She would see this lease out, given she had been foolish enough to sign, but she would be finding herself a new home and Dave certainly wouldn't be her agent of choice.
Marnie made her final trip to the car and pulled out her yoga mat, which would serve as her mattress tonight, a duvet and pillow, and a box of personal effects.
Marnie set out her toiletries in the now sparkling bathroom and had a shower then headed to the main bedroom. There she put out her clothes for the morning and set up her bed for the night. Then she put her photos up on the mantelpiece.
First she put up the family favourite-Mar-nie and her parents with her five younger brothers, all together on the day Ronan had graduated.
Ronan, her youngest brother, was unashamedly Marnie's favourite. She had been nearly eleven when he was born and Marnie had had a lot to do with raising him-changing his nappies, getting up to him at night, feeding him before she went to school. It was funny to think of Ronan now at twenty-one- he was a gorgeous geek who loved computers and playing the piano, though not necessarily in that order.
Marnie placed the photo above the fire and took out another. There she was, a fourteen-year-old Marnie with her best friend Siobhan on the day the Johnsons had left Ireland to emigrate to Perth, Australia, and start a new life. Though the two young girls were smiling in the photo, Marnie could see the tears in both their eyes-for Marnie and Siobhan it had been a terribly difficult time. Marnie hadn't wanted to leave her home, her school, her dancing and her friends, especially Siobhan. Still, she had made the best of it and had started to make friends-only then her father's work had dictated that the family again up sticks and move from Perth to Melbourne.
'You'll soon make new friends,' her mother had again insisted.
Yes, Marnie had made new friends but none had come close to Siobhan.
Marnie chose wisely and so when she gave her heart it was for ever and she and Siobhan were still best friends nearly twenty years later. They shared daily emails and video-called often, as well as catching up every couple of years face to face. Marnie smiled as she put out the photo and was still smiling when she pulled out the last one-but maybe it had been a long day, because she felt the sting of tears at the back of her eyes. Marnie cried rarely and she hadn't expected to feel that way today. She was tired, she reasoned, as she gazed on the familiar and much-loved photograph of an eighteen-year-old Marnie holding Declan.
Finally holding Declan.
It was such a bitter-sweet time because until he had been two weeks old Marnie had never got to hold him, though her body had ached to, her breasts leaking as much as her eyes as she'd peered into the incubator and craved the feeling of holding her son in her arms. Until the day of the photo his tiny body had been smothered in tubes and equipment but, when it had been deemed that nothing more could be done for Declan, they had all been taken away. She and Craig had been given a comfortable room away from the hustle and bustle of the neonatal unit and had had a few precious hours alone with him.
Her parents Marnie had allowed in only briefly.
'There will be time for other babies.' No, her mother hadn't been insensitive enough to say it on that day. It had been said when Marnie had first told her she was pregnant- that there would be plenty of time for other babies later down the track had been a large portion of her mother's advice.
No, there would be no other babies.
Declan was her son and he forever had her heart.
Marnie ran her finger over the image and felt not the cold of the glass but the soft warmth of her baby's skin. She looked into his dark blue eyes that were so weary from fighting and, just as she did every night, Mar-nie said goodnight to him.
Setting the photo down, Marnie set her alarm for six and then settled down on her yoga mat to get ready for an uncomfortable night, sleeping on the floor.
Not that she minded.
Yes, Marnie had been through far worse.