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LISA grimaced when the couple on the television screen started ripping each other's clothes off.
"As if people really act like that,'she muttered as she reached for the remote.
If there was one thing Lisa couldn't stand it was over-the-top love scenes in movies. As much as she appreciated she might not be a typical viewer, Lisa felt pretty sure sex was never the way it was portrayed in Hollywood.
She literally cringed when the man lifted the by now half-naked woman onto the kitchen counter and thrust into her. Or pretended to. The camera was on their faces. When the grunting and groaning started, Lisa pressed her finger firmly on the off button. She'd had enough of watching such ridiculous goings-on, thank you very much. Time to go upstairs and make sure Cory was asleep. It was after nine o'clock and tomorrow was a school day.
Lisa was halfway up the stairs when the phone rang. Darn, she thought as she hurried on up the stairs and turned left, popping her head into Cory's bedroom on the way to her own bedroom.
Good, he was asleep.
Once in her bedroom, she closed the door behind her—so as not to risk waking her son—and picked up the cordless phone.
"Hello,'she said, fully expecting it to be her mother at this hour. All her girlfriends were married with children and were too busy each evening for gossipy chats.
"It's Gail, Lisa," a woman's voice said down the line. "Gail Robinson."
Lisa decided she'd best sit down. When one of her employees rang her on her personal line on a week night, it usually meant there was some problem or other.
"Hi, Gail. What's up?" 'I've sprained my ankle," Gail said dispiritedly. "Slipped down that rotten steep driveway of ours. I've been sitting here with my foot in a bucket of iced water for ages but it's still up like a balloon. There's no way I can do Jack Cassidy's place tomorrow."
Lisa frowned. Jack Cassidy was one of her newer clients. Sandra—her assistant-cum-bookkeeper—had signed him up whilst Lisa was away with Cory on a week's cruise of the South Pacific during the recent school holidays. A bachelor, Mr Cassidy owned a penthouse apartment in Terrigal which apparently had acres of tiled floors and took ages to clean. He also liked his sheets and towels changed and his weekly linen washed, dried and put away, not something her cleaners usually did. Their standard service lasted four hours and covered cleaning all floors, bathrooms and kitchens, not doing laundry or windows. Laundry could be very time-consuming and windows dangerous.
But he'd apparently talked Sandra into finding someone who would do the extra.
Gail took five hours to do everything, for which Clean-in-a-Day was paid one hundred and fifty dollars, with Gail's cut being one hundred and twenty. Their rates were very competitive.
"I'm really sorry to let you down at the last minute," Gail said unhappily.
"That's all right. I'll get someone else." 'On a Friday?"
Lisa knew why Gail sounded sceptical. Friday was the busiest day for housecleaning. Everyone wanted their homes to be clean for the weekend. Clean in a Day was fully booked on Fridays. Lisa had a couple of names she could ring if she was really desperate, but they were women who had not been through her rigorous training course and might not clean as thoroughly as she liked.
"Don't worry," she said briskly. "I'll do it myself. And Gail..."
"Yes?" 'Don't stress about the money. You'll still get paid." 'Are you serious?" 'I'm well aware how tight things are for you at the moment."
Gail's husband had been made redundant a few weeks earlier. She really needed her cleaning money.
"That's very good of you," she choked out.
Lisa winced. Dear heaven, please don't let her start crying.
"Will you be up at the school tomorrow afternoon to pick up the kids?" she asked quickly. "Yes." 'I'll give you your money then." 'Gosh, I don't know what to say." 'Don't say a word. Especially not to the other girls. Can't have my sergeant-major reputation tarnished. They'll think I've become a soft touch and start taking advantage."
Gail laughed. "I can't see that happening. You have a very formidable air about you, you know."
"So I'm told." 'You always look so perfect as well. That's rather intimidating."
"It's just the way I am," she said defensively.
Lisa had heard such criticisms before. From girlfriends. From her mother. Even her husband. When he'd been alive...
Greg had complained incessantly about her compulsive need to have everything look right all the time. The house. The garden. Herself. The baby. Him.
"Why don't you lighten up a bit?" he'd thrown at her more than once. "You're nothing like your mother. She's so easygoing. I thought daughters were supposed to be like their mothers!"
Lisa shuddered at the thought of being like her mother. Despite Greg's nagging, she held on to the belief he hadn't really wanted her to be like her mother. He'd certainly liked inviting people back to their house, knowing she and it would always be neat and tidy.
"By the way, I don't have keys to Mr Cassidy's place," Gail said, reefing Lisa's mind back to the problem at hand. "He's always home on a Friday. I just press the button for the penthouse at the security entrance and he lets me in."
Lisa's top lip curled. Pity. She hated having a client around when she cleaned.
"He's a writer of some sort," Gail added. "Works from home."
"I see." 'Don't worry. He won't bother you. He stays in his study most of the time. Only comes out to make coffee. Which reminds me. Don't attempt to clean his study. Or even to go in. He made that clear to me on my first day. His study is off limits."
"That's fine by me. One less room to clean." 'That's exactly what I thought." 'Will I have a parking problem?" Lisa asked. Terrigal was the place to live on the Central Coast. Only an hour and a half's drive north from Sydney, it had everything to attract tourists. The prettiest beach. Great shops and cafés. And a five-star hotel, right across from the water.
The only minus was demand for parking spaces. "No worries,'Gail said. "There are several guest bays at the back of the building. You have the address, don't you? It's on the main drag, halfway up the hill, just past the Crowne Plaza."
"I'll find it. Well, I'd better get going, Gail. Have to have everything shipshape tonight if I'm to be out all day tomorrow."
Which she would be. Terrigal Beach was a good fifteen-minute drive from where she lived at Tumbi Umbi. If she dropped Cory off at school at nine, she'd be cleaning by nine-thirty, finished by two-thirty, then back to pick up Cory at three.
"See you at the school around three. Bye." Lisa hung up and hurried back downstairs, making a mental list of jobs-to-do as she went. Load dishwasher. Hang out washing. Wipe over tiles. Iron Cory's uniform. Get both their lunches ready. Decide what to wear.
Loading the dishwasher wasn't exactly rocket science and Lisa found her thoughts drifting to tomorrow.
Penthouses in Terrigal were not cheap. So its owner was probably rich.
A writer, Gail had said. A successful writer, obviously.
No, not necessarily. Jack Cassidy could be a wealthy playboy who'd inherited his money and dabbled in writing as a hobby.
When Lisa started wondering if he was good-looking, she pulled herself up quite sharply. What did she care if he was good-looking or not?
She had no intention of dating, or ever getting married again. She had no reason to. And she had every reason not to.
For once you let a man into your life, sooner or later he would want sex.
The unfortunate truth was Lisa didn't like sex. Never had. Never would. No use pretending.
She found sex yucky. And no pleasure at all. Not quite repulsive, but close to.
She'd suspected this about herself from the moment her mother had told her the facts of life at the age of ten, a suspicion which had grown over her teenage years, then was confirmed, at the age of nineteen, when she'd finally given in and slept with Greg. Though only after they'd got engaged. And only because she'd known she'd lose him if she didn't.
He'd thought she would warm to lovemaking in time. But she never had. Sex during her marriage had been given grudgingly, and increasingly less often with the passing of time, especially after Cory was born. It was not surprising that she hadn't fallen pregnant again.
Lisa had been shattered by her husband's tragic death when she was twenty-five and poor Greg only twenty-eight. She had loved him in her own way. But she never wanted to go there again. Never wanted to feel guilty about something she had no control over.
Lisa knew she could never force herself to like physical intimacy. So the only sensible solution was to remain single and celibate, even if it meant she sometimes felt lonely.
Lately, she'd been feeling very lonely. Which was odd. She was busier than ever with the business. And her son was always on the go. Her leisure hours were filled with taking him to his various school and sporting activities.
It was at night, after Cory had gone to bed, that she felt the loneliest. She missed having someone there to talk to. Or to sit with whilst she watched television.
Her one solace was reading. She loved books, especially thrillers. Loved the way they could take her away from her day-to-day, rather humdrum existence into a world of excitement and suspense. Her current favourites were a series of action novels written by an Australian author, Nick Freeman.
Lisa had never read anything like them. They were simply unputdownable. During the last few months, she'd devoured all five of them.
Unfortunately, she'd finished the last one a few nights back, and passed it on to her mother, as she had the others in the series.
By comparison, the new book by another author that she'd brought home from the library yesterday seemed tame. And boring. Which meant she wasn't looking forward to going to bed tonight, as she had when she knew she was going to be swept away into Hal Hunter's rather wicked but fascinating world.
Whenever Lisa didn't have a good book to read at night, sleep would often elude her. She suspected that tonight would be one such night.
"Cleaning that penthouse tomorrow will do you good, Lisa, my girl," she told herself as she closed the dishwasher door. "Make you really tired."
The thought occurred to her that she should ring Jack Cassidy and let him know of the change in his cleaning arrangements. It could prove awkward, explaining things on his doorstep in the morning.
Lisa turned on the dishwasher and trudged back upstairs, turning right this time and making her way down to the fourth bedroom, which she'd converted into a study soon after starting up her business. It was not a large room, but large enough to house her computer.
It only took her a few seconds to bring up Jack Cassidy's file and to print out his address and phone number.
Lisa picked up her fax-phone, punched in the number, than sank back into her office chair as she waited for her client to answer.
Several rings went by before a deep, gruff voice snapped, "Yep?"
"Mr Cassidy?" she said in her best business voice. "Mr Jack Cassidy?"
"Yeah, that's me. And who might you be?" 'My name is Lisa, Mr Cassidy. Lisa Chapman. I'm from—"