by Maggie Brown
Hollywood star and the nation’s favorite daughter, Eleanor Godwin wants nothing more than time by herself, especially from the persistent press. What better place to recuperate after a particularly gruelling round of interviews than a picture-perfect exclusive island resort in the Great Barrier Reef?
Political reporter Sophie Marsh is used to digging up dirt. When her editor underhandedly snags her the position as Eleanor’s housekeeper for two months, she reluctantly agrees to spy on the star. After all, her hard-won position at the paper is on the line.
Against the background of the breathtaking island, passions run high. As secrets are revealed, the assignment becomes Sophie’s worst nightmare—write the article or lose her job. She knows that succumbing to temptation can’t be an option. But tell that to her heart…
Lex’s Reviews - The characters in this book were great. It wasn’t just the two mains, but the supporting cast was well done too. Everyone was fleshed out and you remembered all of their names even if they didn’t play a huge roll. Brown definitely writes characters well. This is a book that is easy to recommend to romance fans. I really enjoyed this and expect others will too.
Pin's Reviews - We already know what to expect when a relationship starts with lies and deception. The question is only when and how it will crash. The author made a pretty good story with that "when and how" with a solid plot and nice epilogue. I liked the protagonists and the setting, and there were a few good supporting characters. Overall a good, well-written and enjoyable book.
The Morning Globe pressroom buzzed with frantic activity. It was nothing new. Before an edition went to print, the chaotic last-minute scramble was a matter of course.
Sophie Marsh loved it all: the adrenaline rush, the smell of percolating burnt coffee, the tinge of panic in the air. It was her battlefield. Today, though, she wasn’t amongst it. She sat in her editor’s office, engaged in a different war. A verbal one.
“You’ve been assigned the job so dig up some dirt,” Owen Cameron said flatly.
“I don’t want any further argument, Marsh.”
She ignored the urge to sweep from the room in a grand gesture of defiance, but instead, hunched into her chair. Her dreams scurried further into the background at his words. Was this what the iconic Brisbane publication had become, a tabloid? But in today’s world of social media, it was harder to find a story that wasn’t old hat by the time the edition hit the streets. The Globe, like many papers, was struggling.
Silently, she watched him pop the antacid tablet into his mouth and chew it distastefully. A film of white frothed across his bottom lip. After a convulsive swallow, he wiped his mouth before he threw the manila folder across the table. The chief editor of the paper for over twenty years, Owen was a wiry, balding, acerbic man with little sense of humour and gastric reflux. A tough boss most of the time, he could be downright scathing when rattled.
He leaned across the desk with a glare. “What don’t you understand about this? All you have to do is live in the house with the woman and find out what makes her tick. It isn’t hard, so what’s the goddamn problem? Anyone in the office would jump at the chance to be with Eleanor Godwin on a tropical island for a week, let alone two months. I want a story that unmasks that reclusive goodie two-shoes. No one is that perfect. You find out exactly what rocks her boat. What she likes, what she does for kicks, her vices, and most of all, who she screws.”
“What about the State election? I’ve some important interviews lined up.”
“Yeah…and that sells papers, does it? People are sick of politics. Look, my hands are tied. She specifically asked for an unattached woman in her late twenties or thirties. I didn’t have a choice. It was either you or Brie.”
“Then why can’t Brie do it?” Her inner voice yelped don’t whine. Sophie ignored it. “She’ll jump at the chance—she is the social reporter, after all. You’ll be handing her the Holy Grail.”
A snort erupted. “Brie hardly fits the mould. Can you honestly visualize her as a domestic? Besides, I don’t want to know who designed her dress, the colour of her lipstick, or how high her fucking heels are. I want something that sells papers.” He scratched the side of his nose irritably. “I had to call in favours to get you a fine set of references.”
“You actually sent a false CV to an employment agency? That’s not right.”
“So?” he said with an unconcerned shrug. “Lots of résumés have some misleading information. And it’s not as though I forced them to take you. I sent it in and they picked you out of the pile. It was a long shot but it worked. The Fates are on your side.”
“Why didn’t they interview me?”
“Apparently, Godwin’s mother did the hiring and insisted she wanted you when she was sent the short list. I fail to see why you’re bellyaching anyhow. You’re going to be paid by her as well as the paper. It’s a windfall for you.”
Though she welcomed the extra money, Sophie felt a moment of real disquiet. Eleanor Godwin would probably be within her rights to sue the paper when the article came out. Sophie hoped Owen had some contingency plan for that. She didn’t want to be a sacrificial lamb in the pursuit of a scandal. “It’s not ethical to spy on people in their own home,” she ventured in a small voice.
“Then make sure you fulfil the terms of your employment. Do whatever the woman asks and do it properly.” He squinted at her. “You know how to cook, don’t you?”
“I’m half Italian…of course I do. I love it. Food’s an art form in my family.”
“Good. We’ll cover your arse when the story’s written.”
Sophie picked up the folder, careful not to aggravate him further and retired sulkily to tidy her desk. An assignment of this length was a lifetime in this cutthroat business. The only hope to retain her edge would be to unearth something juicy about the film star, though the likelihood of that was slim. Eleanor Godwin was not only an excellent actor but also seemingly above reproach. She was one of the nation’s favourite daughters, crème de la crème, a national treasure.
At this particular moment though, Sophie was not one of her adoring fans. Her ambition to be a top political reporter was disappearing—two months in domestic servitude sounded like a jail sentence. “A general dog’s body” was the expression Owen had used. She appreciated what a coup getting the job must have been, for Eleanor was known to value her privacy, but why did she have to be the one to go? Sophie knew she hadn’t a hope in Hades of wriggling out of this one.
Curious, she flipped open the folder. By nominating the age bracket, it was apparent Eleanor wanted a companion as well as help. She eyed the company logo on the front page. The employment agency was expensive and discreet, used exclusively by the rich and famous. Her enclosed application form contained a glowing manufactured curriculum vitae, with three very important referees. She recognised the names immediately—Owen’s fishing cronies.
At least her alias, Sophie Ryan, was not known to the upmarket set, so she was able to keep her first name. Her photograph was flattering, though she had no idea when it was taken or by whom. It would have had to been airbrushed, for she didn’t look half that good. Wincing, she scrolled down the employment criteria: house duties, gardening, cooking, pleasant-natured, a keen reader, a good sense of humour.
The damn woman wanted Mary Poppins.
She moved to Owen’s notes on Eleanor. Born in Australia, the star had settled permanently in Hollywood after her career took off. Four years ago at the age of thirty, she had won an Oscar for her role in the acclaimed Wings of the Hawk, a period drama set in the American War of Independence. This year it was rumoured she would score another nomination for the grittier role of a lesbian drug addict, with a very good chance of taking out the coveted award once more.
Her working history read like a thespian Mother Teresa. She was cooperative with her fellow cast members, hardworking, never late on set and a role model for aspiring actors. Not only was she a stunning beauty, she had other starring qualities, being a noted philanthropist and humanitarian. Her personal life, however, was shrouded in mystery. Occasionally a man escorted her to a function or a show, but she had not formed any lasting attachments. She had never been seen drinking late at nightclubs or displaying herself badly in public in any way. In fact, she was always the model of decorum.
Sophie made a disparaging snort. Owen was right—no one could be that damn perfect. Everyone had a skeleton in a cupboard somewhere.
She flipped through to the site of her assignment. She’d never heard of the place. Eurydice was a small tropical island in the Whitsunday group in the Great Barrier Reef, a very exclusive destination with twenty-two guest villas, three privately owned. When she scanned the prices, Sophie gave an involuntary whistle. Wow! That was what you had to pay for complete privacy. No wonder it wasn’t on the radar. Only the filthy rich would consider it. If Eleanor was hiring a live-in help, then it was a probability she was in one of the private ones. Now that would take some serious money. Given the location and the fact that there was the only one accessible point to land a boat on the island, the paparazzi wouldn’t have a chance of sneaking in undetected.
At the sound of clicking heels in the corridor, she jammed the folder shut. Brie Simmons appeared around the door in an outfit that definitely did not come from Big W. Dressed in bottom-hugging pants, a low-cut top and knee-high soft leather boots she oozed panache. Her usual white smile was missing as she reached for the folder.
Sophie pulled it out of reach. “Ah, ha. No, you don’t. This is mine.”
“Is it true you’re going to interview a movie star?” Brie screwed up her face into a frown of disapproval. “I’m the social reporter. Why was this given to you of all people?”
Sophie raised her eyebrows; the walls obviously had ears. “The news spread fast. It’s not exactly an interview, per se. And,” she said with a waggle of her finger, “it’s a secret assignment, so I can’t tell you any details, so don’t ask. Besides,” she added offhandedly, “the actor is nobody of importance.”
“If it’s no one famous, then why are you so tight-lipped about it? Now you’ve got me really curious.”
“You’ll just have to wear it.”
“Surely you can give me a hint.”
Sophie smiled at her fondly. Although totally absorbed in her appearance, Brie was warm and generous, and one of her best friends. With her elegant slim body and a passion for clothing that screamed haute couture, there was no way she would be a suitable candidate. “My lips are sealed. And what did you mean by that remark… you of all people?”
“Soph, have you looked in the mirror lately?”
“You’ve let yourself go. Your hair badly needs a trim, your eyebrows need work, and,” she sniffed, “you have to get out of those baggy clothes you always insist on wearing. They look like they’ve come from Vinnies.”
“For shit sake, I’m a reporter, not a model.”
A slim hand reached over to finger Sophie’s unruly curls. “At least take a trip to the hairdresser.”
“I intend to.” Sophie pulled the hand away and studied Brie’s sparkling blue nails. “Manicure Monday this week?”
“Great aren’t they?”
“It looks like you’re cyanosed.”
Brie snorted. “And you’d be the fashion expert? So…back to this film star. What did you mean it’s not exactly an interview?”
“More like a position.”
“What! Why did Owen give you that assignment?”
“He must think a lot of my reporting skills. Now no more prodding.”
“Okay, but you can tell me how long you’ll be away, can’t you.”
“I guess. It’s for two months.”
Brie stared at her, bug-eyed. “But that’s a lifetime in this job.”
“I know. But he gave me no choice. So much for my career as a political reporter. If I miss this election, I’ve lost any credibility,” Sophie said bitterly.
Brie gave her arm an affectionate squeeze. “Chin up. No one can hold a candle to you, and the others will do a crap job, pissing off the readers and the pollies. Owen will welcome you back with open arms.”
“I hope so.”
“Well, I’m going to miss that big ol’ cheery face of yours. What say I take you to the hairdresser in the morning for a new style, and then we’ll buy you some clothes at that new boutique I found in Rosalie? Afterward, we’ll hit the bar with the girls for a farewell drink.”
Sophie hesitated before she nodded reluctantly. Brie’s idea of a hairstyle was far different from hers, but from the determined look on her friend’s face, she wasn’t going to wriggle out of it. And she was right about the need for a shopping expedition, though Sophie was a bit dubious that her credit card could handle the prices of any shop Brie recommended. However, if she were going to an exclusive resort, she’d need some decent gear. Most of her clothes were begging to be put out of their misery.
* * *
At the hairdresser, the trim morphed into a mod pixie look: layered at the back and short one side, while the other side feathered forward over her forehead. Sophie watched nervously as her dark curls were cut ruthlessly, while Brie directed the proceedings. Her protests were sternly ignored as the scissors snipped on. Afterward, she yelped as her eyebrows were ripped into shape with hot wax.
“There,” Brie said triumphantly as they both stared into the mirror. “Isn’t that simply fabulous? Wow, the style really made a difference. You look…well…rather striking now. I never realized you had such a perfectly adorable oval face. Now if you’ll stop scowling at me, I might buy you lunch.”
Sophie critically assessed her hair. Brie could talk rubbish sometimes, but she had to admit the style did flatter her face. Her cheekbones were accentuated, her lips fuller and her jaw not so prominent. Her brown eyes, compliments of her mother’s Italian heritage, appeared as large dark pools. Who would have thought a haircut could make such an improvement?
Then it was off to the shops. She arrived home laden with parcels, with only a little time to finish packing and grab a snack before the cab arrived. Brie was already waiting at the entrance to the bar when her taxi pulled up.
Sophie self-consciously flipped back a stray bang as she trailed behind her to join the three women who sat in a corner booth. The cocktail bar was their favourite watering hole: a classic old-world bar with a warm and cosy atmosphere, subdued lighting and a dark sexy decor. It was busy with the usual professional crowd, some still in suits although it was nearly eight.
“Well, well, the Globe gals have arrived,” murmured a petite auburn-haired woman, who moved up to make room in the booth.
“Hi, Janet,” said Brie as she gracefully spread her very slim body along the padded chair. Somehow, she made it a statement of elegance. She nodded to the other two women. “Hello, Alice. Vera darling, where did you get those perfectly awesome earrings?” As Sophie plopped in beside her, Brie waggled a blue nail at her head. “What do you think of the hair?”
After accepting the A1 approval ratings with a smug nod, Brie touched Sophie’s knee. “Get the drinks will you, Soph.”
Used to being the gopher, Sophie went off to the bar without a word. Once settled back in her seat, she relished the sweet tang of the Moscow Mule. She tuned out as the others chatted on, lost in her own thoughts. Fashion didn’t particularly interest her, nor did discussing the attributes of the males in proximity strike any chord in her breast.
After a while, she was dragged from her musings by Brie’s strident voice. “Sometimes I despair about you, Sophie. You seem oblivious of every guy in the room. Haven’t you noticed that gorgeous hunk at the bar has been staring at you for simply ages?”
Sophie glanced over and wished she could sink into anonymity. The hunk had a muscular physique, a tanned complexion that probably came from a spray can, and looked half-tanked. And he was eyeing her as if she was his next meal. She pulled up her low-cut dress self-consciously, wondering why she had allowed Brie to talk her into buying it for tonight. Too much cleavage. It was so low she had been forced to resort to a roll of boob tape to defy gravity. She ignored his wink and pressed her lips together in disapproval. “As if. He’s not my type.”
“He looks familiar,” said Vera. “Where have I seen him?”
They stared with renewed interest towards the bar. “I think he’s a football commentator,” offered Janet.
“Which program?” asked Sophie.
“Don’t ask me,” replied Janet. “I’m not interested in watching Neanderthal men tackle each other. I prefer the intellectual type.”
“Well, I’m not a footy fan either, but he can put his shoes under my bed any day,” said Alice drolly.
Sophie rolled her eyes. The poor bastard would get more than he bargained for with Alice. The solicitor was a real ball-buster.
“Well, I’m not interested. I like taller men,” Sophie stated firmly.
“For Pete’s sake,” hissed Brie, “why are you always so effing fussy?”
“Let her alone,” interrupted Janet, a thirtyish orthodontist who was newly divorced and revelling in her freedom. “She doesn’t need a man in her life to enjoy herself.”
Sophie smiled at her gratefully. “That’s right. Anyhow, with my workload I haven’t time for romance. Besides, I’m off for two months tomorrow.” She caught Vera’s sympathetic gaze. The quiet accountant was one of her best friends.
A “humph” sizzled out of Brie, but thankfully she went on to another subject.
Sophie knew she would have to come clean soon—her friends were getting impatient with her. She was sure Vera had already guessed, and it was only a matter of time before the others did as well. The day was coming when she would have to crawl out of the closet. But not tonight—she wanted a few drinks without drama before she headed off. Not that she was particularly worried about their reactions. They would probably find it amusing that she was no longer quite so boring and predictable. That wasn’t the problem. Once it was out of the bag, there was no way her family wouldn’t hear. She shut her eyes and shuddered, visualizing the news galloping like a bush fire through her myriad of relations.
Aunt Angie, the undisputed godmother of the clan, would not be amused. If only Sophie had someone special by her side to help announce her secret. Time was marching on—she would be thirty just after she got back from this wretched assignment. But it was a catch-22. No one wanted to go out with her seriously while she was hiding in there. Her love life sucked. Why was it so damn complicated?
As she was polishing off her second drink, the TV on the wall opposite caught her eye. Eleanor Godwin was being interviewed by the Channel Nine reporter, Merilee Watts. Sophie leaned forward to hear. The others stopped gossiping to follow her gaze.
“Oh, it’s that gorgeous Eleanor Godwin,” exclaimed Vera.
“Merilee looks smug about something,” said Janet. “I can’t stand the witch.”
Alice sniggered. “Don’t worry. Next to Godwin, she looks like a horse.”
“I read Eleanor’s going to be back in Australia for a few months,” said Janet.
A gasp rippled into Sophie’s ear. She snapped her head around to be pinned by two very angry eyes. “She’s your assignment, isn’t she?” growled Brie.
Sophie dropped her voice to a frantic whisper. “Shush! The boss will kill me if this gets out.”
Brie gave her a withering look. “Okay. My lips are sealed, but I’ll never forgive you. You know that, don’t you?”
Sophie groaned. But if Brie thought she was going to get an argument tonight, she was sorely mistaken. “I know. Now I’m going to the bar to get myself a drink.”
“Good. Don’t come back for a while.”
Sophie hoisted herself onto a stool and studied the shot list above the bar. Her favourite, Kick in the Crotch, was purple, sweet, and simple, but a wee bit too tame for her present mood. The Slippery Nipple didn’t have enough bite. She needed something with extra fire tonight. “Two Kamikaze shots, please.”
She watched silently as the liquor splashed into the glasses, then picked one up and began singing, “Just a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down…”
The makeup artist pointed to a high-backed chair in front of the long mirror. “Take a seat, please, Ms. Godwin.”
Eleanor glanced at the nametag and said softly, “Thank you, Candice. You’ll have to work a minor miracle, I’m afraid. I had to lose quite a few kilos for my last film, which left me looking rather washed out. And please call me Eleanor.”
The woman smiled shyly. “I don’t think you need worry…um…Eleanor. You have wonderful facial bone structure. You should see some of the people I have to work with.”
Eleanor closed her eyes, letting her mind drift as the artist worked on her face with assured hands. She hadn’t been exaggerating about the weight loss. The addict role had required her to look gaunt, which she had achieved with determined dieting. But it had come at a cost, damaging her health in the process. She was worn out, exhausted, and her thyroid levels were out of whack.
Her doctor had sternly ordered her to take a long holiday to recuperate, and after this week, she knew she had to. All she wanted to do was to go to bed and not surface for a week. Thankfully, her mother had employed a home-help for her.
Unfortunately, she had to do one last interview to promote the film before she left for the island, something she needed like a hole in the head. But she had no hope of worming out of this contractual arrangement with the television station. And it wasn’t going to be easy—Merilee Watts was a notorious bitch.
Some minutes later, Candice swivelled the chair around to face the mirror. “There, that should do it.”
Eleanor had to admire the woman’s talent. All traces of the last strenuous months had disappeared. Her face looked fuller, her eyes brighter. “Lovely work. Now I’d better enter the lion’s den.”
“Don’t let her get the better of you,” murmured Candice as Eleanor rose from the chair.
“I won’t,” she replied with a wink.
Before she stepped through the door, she plastered on a confident smile. Two lounge chairs faced each other on the studio floor, with a host of cameras and bright lights surrounding the setting. Merilee rose to shake her hand with a murmured, “Hello, Ms. Godwin,” and indicated the seat opposite.
Eleanor sat down gingerly, with legs crossed to assume a relaxed pose. She studied the reporter who fiddled with her notes. Watts was perfectly groomed, dressed in a navy blue suit that fitted snugly over her tall frame. Though her face was far too long and lips too thin to be considered attractive, she did have a commanding presence.
The interview started innocuously enough. Merilee was extra pleasant, and three-quarters of the allotted time went by with no disturbing questions. In fact, the reporter had been surprisingly lighthearted as they bantered about life as a movie star. Eleanor began to relax when the director signalled five minutes to go. But then there was an imperceptible change in Merilee’s demeanour and a calculating expression flickered across her face. The hairs on the back of Eleanor’s neck twitched upright.
“So you play a lesbian in your latest film, On the Edge of Life?” asked Merilee.
“Yes, though the addiction is the main aspect of the plot.”
“But a lesbian, nevertheless.”
“That’s right. A lesbian drug addict.”
Merilee lowered her voice as if they were sharing secrets. “I understand in a former interview some years ago, you told a reporter you once…ah…had feelings for a woman.” She drew out a long sighing breath before she announced, “And not platonic ones.”
Eleanor paused as if testing the validity of the question before she gave a teasing laugh. “What a relief. I thought you were going to ask me if I’ve ever taken drugs.”
“No. So there is truth in…”
“That I’ve taken drugs?”
“Come now, Merilee. If I play a blood-sucking vampire, it doesn’t mean I am one. So, if I play a drug addict, it doesn’t mean I am one, now does it?”
“I’m not talking about drugs, I’m asking about being a les…”
Eleanor gave her a stern frown as she interjected. “Well, you should be. Drugs are a real problem in the world today. My charity supports rehabilitation programs which…” she droned on, adroitly giving no opportunity for the reporter to interrupt until, with relief, the director sliced his hand in the air.
Merilee leaned forward, her voice brittle. “I’m afraid time’s up. Eleanor Godwin…many thanks from Channel Nine for sharing your thoughts with us tonight.”
“My pleasure, Merilee.”
Anxious not to be cornered, Eleanor rose abruptly from her chair as soon as the cameras stopped rolling. With a wave to the crew and the producer, she hurried out of the studio. When she reached the side exit door, she looked back to see Merilee leave the set with a determined expression. With a burst of speed, Eleanor walked quickly out into the laneway to her waiting limo and tumbled in.
“Drive,” she ordered. As the luxury car moved off, she turned to peep out the back window. Merilee stood with her hands on her hips on the footpath outside the studio. Her body language was plain—she looked thoroughly miffed. Eleanor sank back into the leather seat with a sigh. Running away like that was not one of her finest moments. Would they never forget that dreadful interview, one of her few indiscreet moments in the last ten years? Given Merilee’s reputation for hard-nosed interviews, she thought the reporter probably would bring it up, but all the same, her audacity to poke into Eleanor’s personal life had hit a nerve.
Eleanor accepted that as an actor she was public property. Privacy wasn’t something she could cling to, but she hated how the press invaded her life without regard. Fame had long since lost its appeal. Had it ever seduced her? Maybe when she was younger, but not now. Thank heavens she was going to the seclusion of Eurydice where no newspaper hound or paparazzi could get close. One thing was certain—if any of them did, then she wasn’t going to take it lying down.
As the city whizzed by in a blur of colour, she began to feel fragile. Her mood sank lower, precarious enough to shatter by the time she reached her hotel. The feeling of displacement was acute today—it was as if she belonged nowhere. Her home was in America, yet lately she yearned to be back with her roots. Born in Brisbane, she had lived there with her parents until she finished high school and then moved to Sydney to study at the National Institute of Dramatic Art. Having to shift to the US to further her career was a wrench, though in time she came to love her life there. Now back in Brisbane, her hometown, she found she could no longer relate to the city—she had been away too many years.
Moisture welled over her eyelids and she sagged against the seat with an effort to contain the tears. Reason told her that the irrational emotions were a result of exhaustion and that her thyroid hormones were haywire, but it didn’t stop the despair gnawing at her. If only she had someone to come home to, instead of having to face another night alone in a hotel room. Her life was a conundrum—the more adoring her fans, the lonelier she felt.
Her spirits lifted out of the doldrums when she found a bunch of flowers and a dinner invitation on the coffee table in the suite. Eleanor smiled as she read the scrawled handwriting. Blade Weatherly, her old friend from NIDA days, would be a pleasant distraction for the night. Although his career hadn’t taken off like hers, they had remained good friends and he always made a point of asking her to dinner when she came home. A perennial bachelor, the handsome charmer was good for a laugh, never offended by her good-natured rebuffs of his advances. She guessed it a force of habit with him. He thought she expected him to flirt.
After she swallowed her thyroxin tablet, she opened her laptop. She scrolled down to her mother’s email.
Here are the particulars of your hired help, dear. A friend recommended this agency.
Eleanor clicked open the attachment, chuckling as she perused the employment criteria. Her mother had been way over the top. It read as if she wanted a superwoman rather than a simple housekeeper. Apart from that, the documentation was sketchy. No photo or particulars of the successful applicant were included, except her name, Sophie Ryan. Not that it really mattered. Help was help—domestic duties weren’t rocket science. But all the same, a feeling of disquiet lingered, for the forwarded information was too bald. Her mother was holding something back.
She prayed the woman didn’t look like Nanny McPhee.
She snapped down the computer lid and headed to the shower to prepare for her date. Tonight she would make a special effort with Blade even though she was tired. A good-looking man as her escort would take the heat off that ghastly interview.
It was to be televised tonight.