Housekeeper Jo Anderson gets the shock of her life when she meets her new boss! Six months ago millionaire Mac MacCallum was a charismatic celebrity chefnow he's scarred and reclusive
The last thing Mac wants is a woman determined to make him confront his demonsespecially when Jo clearly has her own! Why else would someone so full of beauty and zest for life feel like the plainest woman in Australia? Maybe it's time Mac helped her realize just how special she really is
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Mac pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes and counted to five before pulling them away and focussing on the computer screen again. He reread what he'd written of the recipe so far and fisted his hands. What came next?
This steamed mussels dish was complicated, but he must have made it a hundred times. He ground his teeth together. The words blurred and danced across the screen. Why couldn't he remember what came next?
Was it coconut milk?
He shook his head. That came later.
With a curse, he leapt up, paced across the room and tried to imagine making the dish. He visualised himself in a kitchen, with all the ingredients arrayed around him. He imagined speaking directly to a rolling camera to explain what he was doingthe necessity of each ingredient and the importance of the sequence. His chest swelled and then cramped. He dragged a hand back through his hair. To be cooking to be back at work A black well of longing rose through him, drowning him with a need so great he thought the darkness would swallow him whole.
It'd be a blessing if it did.
Except he had work to do.
He kicked out at a pile of dirty washing bunched in the corner of the room before striding back to his desk and reaching for the bottle of bourbon on the floor beside it. It helped to blunt the pain. For a little while. He lifted it to his mouth and then halted. The heavy curtains drawn at the full-length windows blocked the sunlight from the room, and while his body had no ideait was in a seemingly permanent state ofjet laghis brain told him it was morning.
Grinding his teeth, he screwed the cap back on the bottle.
Finish the damn recipe. Then you can drink yourself into oblivion and sleep.
Finish the recipe? That was what he had to do, but he couldn't seem to turn from where he stood, staring at the closed curtains, picturing the day just beyond them, the sun and the light and the cool of the fresh air the smell of the sea.
He kept himself shut away from all that temptation.
But it didn't stop him from being able to imagine it.
A ping from his computer broke the spell. Dragging a hand down his face, he turned back to the desk and forced himself into the chair.
A message. From Russ. Of course. It was always Russ. Just for a moment he rested his head in his hands.
Hey Bro, don't forget Jo arrives today.
He swore. He didn't need a housekeeper. He needed peace and quiet so he could finish this damn cookbook.
If the rotten woman hadn't saved his brother's life he'd send her off with a flea in her ear.
Scrubbing a hand through his hair, he shook that thought off. He understood the need to retreat from the world. He wouldn't begrudge that to someone else. He and this housekeeperthey wouldn't have to spend any time in each other's company. In fact they wouldn't even need to come face to face. He'd left her a set of written instructions on the kitchen table. As for the rest she could please herself.
He planted himself more solidly in his chair, switched off his internet connection, and shut the siren call of sunshine, fresh air and living from his mind. He stared at the screen.
Add the chilli purée and clam broth and reduce by a half. Then add
What the hell came next?
* * *
Jo pushed out of her car and tried to decide what to look at firstthe view or the house. She'd had to negotiate for two rather hairy minutes over a deeply rutted driveway. It had made her grateful that her car was a four-wheel drive, equipped to deal with rough terrain, rather than the sports car her soul secretly hungered for. After five hours on the road she was glad to have reached her destination. Still, five hours in a sports car would have been more fun.
She shook out her arms and legs. 'You can't put her in that! She's too big-boned.' Her great-aunt's voice sounded through her mind. She half laughed. True, she'd probably look ridiculous in a sport car. Besides, what were the odds that she wouldn't even fit into one? As ever, though, her grandmother's voice piped up. 'I think she looks pretty and I don't care what anyone else thinks.'
With a shake of her head, Jo shut out the duelling voices. She'd work out a plan of attack for Grandma and Great-Aunt Edith later. Instead, she moved out further onto the bluff to stare at the view. In front of her the land descended sharply to a grassy field that levelled out before coming to a halt at low, flower-covered sand dunes. Beyond that stretched a long crescent of deserted beach, glittering white-gold in the mild winter sunlight.
A sigh eased out of her. There must be at least six or seven kilometres of ittwo to the left and four or five to the rightand not a soul to be seen. All the way along it perfect blue-green breakers rolled up to the shore in a froth of white.
She sucked a breath of salt-laced air into her lungs and some of the tension slipped out of her. With such a vast expanse of ocean in front of her, her own troubles seemed suddenly less significant. Not that she had troubles as such. Just a few things she needed to sort out.
She dragged in another breath. The rhythmic whooshing of the waves and the cries of two seagulls cruising overhead eased the knots five hours in the car had conspired to create. The green of each wave as it crested made her inhalations come more easily, as if the push and pull of the Pacific Ocean had attuned her breathing to a more natural pattern.
The breeze held a chill she found cleansing. Last week the weather would have been warm enough to swim, and maybe it'd be warm enough for that again next week. Having spent the last eight years working in the Outback, she hadn't realised how much she'd missed the coast and the beach.
She finally turned to survey the house. A two-storey weatherboard with a deep veranda and an upstairs balcony greeted her. A lovely breezy home that
She frowned at all the closed windows and drawn curtains, the shut front door. Heavens, Mac Mac-Callum was still here, wasn't he? Russ would have told her if his brother had returned to the city.
She sucked her bottom lip into her mouth and then folded her arms. Mac would be in there. Russ had warned her that his brother might prove difficult. He'd also had no doubt in her ability to handle difficult.
'Jeez, you save someone's life and suddenly they think you're Superwoman.'
But she'd smiled as she'd said itthough whether in affection at her dear friend and former boss, or at the thought of wearing a superhero outfit she wasn't sure. Though if she burst in wearing a spangly leotard and cape it might make Mac reconsider the soundness of locking himself away like this.
She planted her hands on her hips.
Painted a sleek grey, each weatherboard sat in perfect alignment with its neighbourand, considering the battering the place must take from sand, salt, sun and wind, that was a testament to the superior materials used and to whoever had built it. The best that money could buy, no doubt. The galvanised tin roof shone in the sunlight. There was even a chimney, which must mean there was an open fire. Nice! Winter might be relatively mild here on the mid-north coast of New South Wales, but she didn't doubt the nights could be chilly.
She pulled her cardigan about her more tightly. Still, shut up as it was, the house looked cold and unwelcoming even in all this glorious sunshine.
There's only one way to change that.
Casting a final longing glance back behind her, she set her shoulders and strode towards the house, mounting the six steps to the veranda two at a time.
A piece of paper, stark white against the grey wood, was taped to the door with 'Ms Anderson' slashed across it in a dark felt-tipped pen. Jo peeled the note away. Was Mac out? And was he going to insist on the formality of 'Ms Anderson' and 'Mr MacCallum'?
I don't like to be disturbed while I'm working so let yourself in. Your room is on the ground floor beyond the kitchen. There should be absolutely no need for you to venture up onto the first floor.
She let out a low laugh. Oh, so that was what he thought, huh?
He finished with:
I eat at seven. Please leave a tray on the table at the bottom of the stairs and I'll collect it when I take a break from my work.
She folded the note and shoved it in her pocket. She opened the front door and propped a cast-iron rooster that she assumed to be the doorstop against it, and then latched the screen door back against the house before going to the car and collecting her cases. And then she strode into the house as if she owned ithead high, shoulders back, spine straight.
Malcolm 'Mac' MacCallum had another think coming if he thought they were going to spend the next two months or so communicating via notes.
She dropped her suitcases in the hallway, wrinkling her nose at the musty scent of old air and neglect. A large reception room lay to her right. She strode in and flung open the curtains at the three large windows to let light spill into the room. She turned and blew out a breath.
Look at all this gorgeous furniture.
Antiques mingled with newer pieces, creating an elegant warmth that reminded her again of Mac's success. She glared at a gorgeous leather chair. What use was success if it made you forget the people who loved you? Mac hadn't visited Russ once since Russ's heart attack. She transferred her glare to the ceiling, before shaking herself and glancing around the room again. It was all in serious need of spit and polish.
She grimaced. Tomorrow.
She turned her back on it to open the windows. The sound of the sea entered first, and then its scent. She straightened. That was better.
She found her room at the back of the house. Someone had made a half-hearted effort at cleaning it. Mac, she supposed. According to Russ, the last cleaning lady had left over a month ago. It would do for now. She'd tackle that tomorrow as well.
Her window looked out over an unkempt lawn to a garage. She lifted the window higher. She might not have a room with a view, but she could still hear the ocean. She leant against the windowsill, reaching out to touch a banksia flower on the nearby tree.
A moment later she drew her hand back, a breath shuddering out of her as she thought back to that stupid note stuck to the door. Perhaps this wasn't such a good idea. Turning her life upside down like this was probably foolhardy, irresponsibleeven insane. After all, geology wasn't so bad and
It's not so good either.
She bit her lip and then straightened. She'd gone into geology to please her father. For all the good it had done her. She wasn't concerned with pleasing him any longer.
She'd remained in the field to keep the peace. She didn't want just to keep the peace any moreshe wanted to create a new world where peace reigned at least in her little part of it. She'd stayed where she was because she was frightened of change. Well, Russ's heart attack had taught her that there were worse things than fear of change.
Fear of regret and fear of wasting her life were two of those things. She couldn't afford to lose heart now. She wanted a future she could look forward to. She wanted a future that would make her proud. She wanted a future that mattered. That was what she was doing here. That wasn't foolhardy, irresponsible or insane. On the contrary.
But what about Mac? What was she going to do? Follow instructions today and then try to corner him tomorrow? Or?
Her phone buzzed in her pocket. She glanced at the caller ID before lifting it to her ear. 'Hey, Russ.'
'Are you there yet?'
She swallowed. Or not follow instructions?
'I've only just this very minute arrived, so I haven't clapped eyes on him yet, but let me tell you the view here is amazing. Your brother has found the perfect place to '
What? Recuperate? He'd had enough time to recuperate. Work without distractions? Hole up?
'The perfect place to hide away from the world.' Russell sighed.
Russ was fifty-two and recovering from a heart attack. He was scheduled for bypass surgery in a few weeks. She wasn't adding to his stress if she could help it.
'The perfect place for inspiration,' she countered. 'The scenery is gorgeous. Wait until you see it and then you'll know what I mean. I'll send you photos.'
'Does a body need inspiration to write a cookbook?'