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'I realise it's a little unusual, conducting this kind of business in the middle of a lake.' Cameron Travers' mouth turned up with a hint of self-directed humour before he shrugged broad shoulders in the misty Adelaide morning air. 'When I started wondering about this scene idea, and I knew I'd need a second pair of hands to test it out, I decided to combine our interview with some research. I hope you don't mind too much.'
'It's a nice setting for a job interview, Mr Travers, even if it is unusual. I'm more than happy to oblige.' If the man needed to row a boat around a lake at dawn to research for his crime-thriller writing, then Lally Douglas could work with that. She offered what she hoped appeared to be a completely relaxed smile because, yes, she did have a little bout of nerves going on. After all, she'd never had a 'real' job-interview before, let alone with a millionaire property-developer and world-famous crime-thriller author!
Cameron's attractive mouth curved. 'I appreciate your willing attitude. I could really do with some help for a while with the basics of day to day life so I can focus my energy on the property development I'm undertaking here in Adelaide, and to crack the challenges I'm having with writing my current book.'
The words somehow let her in. His smile let her in further. How could a simple, wry grin all but stop a girl's breath? Lally searched for the answer in deep-green eyes fringed with curly black lashes, in a lean face that was all interesting angles and planes in the early-morning light. In the charming sense of welcome and acceptance that seemed to radiate from him.
She'd sensed he was a nice man when they'd spoken on the phone to arrange this interview. They'd both approached a local job-agency and got an almost immediate match. And now again when they met up here in this leafy Adelaide suburban park to conduct his research experiment, and her job interview.
He was quiet, thoughtful even, and, from the depths Lally discerned in his eyes, he seemed to be a man who kept his share of things to himself. He also had a lovely way of making others feel somehow welcomed by him. 'I'd love to be able to help you so you could concentrate more of your efforts on your work.'
'Having someone to handle housekeeping and some general secretarial work for mevery basic stuffwill free up enough of my time so I can really do that.' Cameron Travers continued to row their small boat out towards the middle of the lake.
Not with muscle-bound arms, Lally. You're not even noticing the muscles in his arms. You're focused on this interview.
Eight weeks of employment as his temporary housekeeper with a little secretarial work thrown in as and when needed: that was what was on offer if she landed the job. Such a period of time in her life would be a mere blip, really.
'Did the agency explain what I'd want from you?'
Cameron asked the question as he rowed. 'I gave them a list of specifics when I lodged my request.'
'I'd have the option of living in or arriving each morning. I'd cook, clean, take phone messages, maybe do a little clerical work, and generally keep things in order for you.'
Lally had no trouble parroting the work conditions. And, feeling that openness was the best policy from the start, she said, 'I would prefer to live in. It would be cheaper than staying with Mum and Dad and travelling across the city each day to get to work.' Well, if she had to take a job outside the family, the least she could do was choose something she felt would be interesting and make herself comfortable in it.
'You have a good understanding of my requirements. I've always done everything for myself.' His brows drew together. 'But time is ticking away. My agent is getting twitchy. I need to hone my focus on the book and the property development and nothing else. I'm sure taking this step will be all I need to get past the writer's block that's been plaguing me.'
Lally didn't know how long it took to write a top-selling novel in a crime-thriller series, but she imagined it would be quite stressful not to be able to get the story moving while the days rushed by towards a deadline.
And, for Lally, she needed to work to put some money in the coffers. When the job ended she would dig back into her usual place among her relatives and continue to look after them through a variety of gainful employment opportunities.
For their sake. Lally worked for their sake. And it didn't mean there was anything wrong just because she'd been obliged to get out into the real workforce at this time either. No one in the entire mix-and-match brood happened to need her just at the moment. That was all.
Lally tipped her chin up into the air, drew a deep breath and forced her attention to their surroundings; South Australia in November. It was cool and misty over the lake this morning, but that was only because the park was shaded, leafy, the lake substantial and the hour still early. Later it would get quite warm.
'It is certainly mood-inducing weather,' Lally said. 'For this kind of research.'
'Yes, and the burst of rain last night has resulted in a nice mist effect here this morning.' He glanced about them.
Lally was too interested in the man, not the scenery. She admitted this, though she rather wished she hadn't noticed him quite so particularly. She usually worked very hard to avoid noticing men. She'd been there and made a mess of it. She still carried the guilt of the fallout. What had happened had been so awful
Lally pushed the thoughts away and turned her attention to the dip of the oars through the water, turned her attention back to Cameron Travers, which was where it needed to be. Just not with quite so much consciousness of him as a man. She trailed her fingers through the water for a moment and quickly withdrew them.
'You said on the phone yesterday that you have plenty of experience in housekeeping?' The corners of Cameron's eyes crinkled as he studied her.
Lally nodded. 'I've worked in a housekeeping role more than once. I'm a confident cook, and I know how to efficiently organise my time and my surroundings. I'm a quick learner, and used to being thrown in the deep end to deal with an array of tasks. I see new challenges as fun.'
'That sounds like what I need.' His voice held approval, and for some silly reason her heart pattered once again as she registered this fact.
'I hope so.' Lally glanced away and blabbed out the first thing that came to her mind. 'Well, it may be November, but trailing my fingers through that water made it clear it's still quite chilly. I wouldn't want to fall in.'
'Or dip your hand into water that might be hiding a submerged crocodile.' Cameron eased back on the oars a little. 'Wrong end of Australia for that, of course.'
'I've spent time in the Northern Territory and the Torres Strait islands. I have relatives up that way, on my mother's side of the family, but I've never seen a crocodile close up.' Lally suppressed a shudder. 'I don't want to.'
Lally didn't want to fall into awareness of her potential new boss, eithernot that she was comparing him to a dangerous crocodile. And not that she was falling into awareness.
Cameron gave a thoughtful look as he continued to ply the oars until they reached the centre of the lake. Once there, he let the boat drift. 'It looks quite deep out here. I suspect the water would stay cold even in mid-summer.'
In keeping with the cool of the morning, he wore a cream sweater and blue jeans. The casual clothes accentuated his musculature and highlighted the green of his eyes.
Lally glanced at her own clothing of tan trousers and black turtleneck top. She needed to take a leaf out of her dress-mode book and be sensible about this interview, instead of being distracted by the instigator of it. She drew a steadying breath and gestured to the package in the bottom of the boat. 'You said we'd be tossing that overboard?'
He'd told her that much about his morning's mission when they'd met where the boat had been moored, at a very small-scale jetty at the edge of the lake.
'Yes. It's only a bundle of sand in a bio-friendly wrapping. I'll be using my imagination for the rest.' His gaze narrowed as he took careful note of their surroundings. 'I need to get the combination of atmosphere and mechanics properly balanced in my mind. How much of a splash would there be? How much sound? How far out would the water ripple? The dumping would need to build tension without the reader figuring out what's going on, so I'm after atmosphere as well.'
'Ooh. You could throw a body over.' Lally paused to think. 'Well, no, the sand isn't heavy enough for that. What are you throwing in the storya weapon? Part of a body?'
'Do I detect a hint of blood-thirsty imagination there?' He laughed, perhaps at the caught-out expression that must have crossed her face.
'Oh, no. Well, I guess maybe I was being bloodthirsty a little.' Lally drew a breath and returned his smile. 'You must have a lot of fun writing your stories.'
'Usually I do.' His gaze stilled on her mouth and he appeared arrested for a very brief moment before he blinked. Whatever expression she'd glimpsed in his eyes disappeared.
'If you take me on as your housekeeper, I'll do everything I can to help you.' When she'd applied for this job Lally had only had two criteria in her mind: it had to be temporary, and she had to feel she could do the required work. Now she realised this truly could be interesting as well, even perhaps a little exciting; there was also plenty of room for a sense of achievement and to know that she had truly helped someone.
She might only be the housekeeper, but she'd be housekeeping for a crime writer on a deadline!
If it occurred to Lally that she had been a little short on excitement for a while, she immediately pushed that thought aside.
Lally shifted on her bench seat and quickly stilled the motion. She didn't want to rock the boatliterally. 'I haven't read anything suspenseful for a while. I usually save that for watching movies, but a good crime novel, curled up on a sofa ' She drew a breath. 'I'll try not to badger you with questions while you're plotting and writing. Well, that is, if you end up employing me.'
'I doubt it would bother me if you asked questions.' He smiled. 'Provided they don't start or end with the words "How many pages have you written today?"'
'I think I could manage not to ask that.' That would be like her mum painting, or Auntie Edie working with her pottery, and Lally demanding an account of the time they'd spent.
Lally cast another glance at Cameron Travers. He shared her dark hair, though his was short and didn't grow in waves, unlike her own corkscrew curls that flowed halfway down her back.
He had lightly tanned skin, and 'come lose yourself in me' eyes; now that she looked closely she saw very permanent-looking smudges beneath those beautiful eyes.
So, the man had a flaw in his appeal. He wasn't totally stunning and irresistible to look at.
If you could call looking weary a flaw. 'Will I be helping you to get more rest?' That hadn't exactly come out as she'd intended. 'That is, I don't mean to suggest I'll be boring you to sleep at the dinner table or something.' He probably had a girlfriend to fuss over him anyway. Or maybe one tucked in every port, just like Sam had.
Well, Sam had had a wife. And Lally.
She was not going there.
Sam was a topic Lally rarely allowed to climb all the way to the surface of her thoughts. It annoyed her that it had happened nowtwice, really, if she counted that earlier memory of the mess she'd made of her life, and several others in the process.
Lally stiffened her spine and firmed her full lips into what she hoped was a very businesslike expression. 'I'll help you in any way that I can. It's just that you look a bit exhausted. That's why I asked the question.'
'Your help would allow me to focus my energy where I need to.' His gaze searched hers. 'That would be as good as helping me to get more rest. I don't sleep much.
'Now, are you ready to toss the sand-bundle overboard for me? It's quite a few kilos in weight. I do need a woman to throw it, as the "passenger" in the boat, but I hadn't stopped to think ' He hesitated and his gaze took in Lally's slender frame.
'I can manage it.' Lally flicked her hair over her shoulder where it wouldn't get in her way.
She might be slender but she was five-foot-seven inches in height and she had plenty of strength. If she could lift her nieces, nephews and little cousins of various sizes and ages, she could toss a packet of sand. 'Any time you're ready. Shall I stand and drop it like a bombhurl it from a sitting position? Do you want a plop or a splash, water spraying back into the boat?'
'Hurling would be fine, thank you. Preferably far enough out that we don't get drenched in the process.' Did Cameron's lips go from a twitch to a half-concealed grin? 'I think you should be able to throw the packet from a standing position, if we're careful. I do want to try that.'
He clasped her hand to help her come upright, and there went her resolve not to notice him in the slide of warm, dry skin over her palm, in the clasp of strong fingers curled around her hand.
Lally braced her feet and gave a slight cough. 'I'm, eh, I'm fine now, thanks. I have my balance. You can let go.'
He did so and she stifled a reaction that felt as much like disappointment as relief. It was neither, of course, because she wasn't fazed one way or the other by his touch.
Really, how could the clasp of a hand for a couple of seconds, a down-bent gaze as he helped her up, a curve of a male cheek and the view of a dark-haired head, make her heart beat faster?
How could his gaze looking right into her eyes, and his expression focusing with utter totality on her for one brief blink in time, make her feel attractive to him, for Pete's sake?
Trust me, Lally, you are not necessary to his very ability to breathe. You're looking like a solid possibility as a temporary employee, maybe, but the rest?