What if the man you’re falling for is too good to be true?
Cassidy Blaire doesn’t have time for romance. Between caring for her sick father and running the Kettle, a struggling soup kitchen in Adelaide, there’s not much time for herself … or for her to dwell on her sister, who disappeared two years ago. Which is why Cass is more surprised than anyone when she wins the attention of not one, but two handsome admirers.
After saving the life of rich, sophisticated Lyle Fuller in the Adelaide Hills, Cass is overwhelmed by roses, financial donations and romantic dinners. And then there’s rugged builder Darren Travers who has volunteered his skills to help save the Kettle. But why is Lyle so interested in a girl like her, and what are Darren’s motives for offering free labour, especially with his strange attitude towards the homeless community?
Someone isn’t who they seem, and as threats and vandalism escalate to murder, Cass is going to need to work out who to trust … and fast.
A romantic thriller set in the Adelaide Hills about secret identities, hidden agendas and how fate always wins in the end.
The sound knifed through the ancient hills, echoing along the road ahead of her.
Cassidy did her best to ignore it, hoping to recover her sense of peace, the state she often reached when jogging. The cold misty morning, the fresh mountain air spiced with eucalypt, the rhythmic slap of her shoes on the bitumen had all been working their usual magic, and would again if only …
But the intruding sound, whatever it was, just wouldn’t go away. In the narrow pass it seemed to be coming from all around her. The shriek of some maniacal parrot? The squeal of machinery in need of oil? A woman screaming?
Caught by a breeze, the sound gained clarity.
The screech of car tyres.
Cass muttered an oath as she ran. Bloody idiots. Who does burnouts at seven in the morning? And on a steep winding road still slick with rain from the night before. A road edging one of the Adelaide Hills’ many wooded gullies, no less.
Someone with a death wish, that’s who.
The sound was growing steadily louder, approaching from behind, the car clearly on the same road as she was, its hoon driver determined to wake every resident still dozing in the houses fronting the gully.
Reluctant to look away from her footing, Cass dared only a quick look back. And stumbled to a halt.
The car in question—a silver Porsche—burst from the mist. Rocketing at an odd trajectory, it slammed the kerb of the oncoming lane and ricocheted off at a sharp angle. It pinballed across to the other side and, in a shower of sparks, scraped the length of the low brick wall that edged someone’s yard.
It continued to veer from one side of the road to the other, a lethal projectile clearly off course and out of control.
And now heading straight for her.
Like a startled rabbit caught in a spotlight, Cass stood frozen. In the final instant, spring-loaded with a will of their own, her legs shot her backwards onto the shoulder and out of the path of the oncoming missile.
As the car swept past, she caught a glimpse of the driver’s face twisted in fear. Not a reckless P-plater showing off, but a desperate man fighting to slow his descent down a steep incline without benefit of brakes.
Eyes wide, Cass took an unwitting step to follow. The road made a sharp left turn up ahead, nearly a hairpin. At the speed he was going—
She watched in horror as the car vaulted up over the shoulder and vanished into the gully beyond.
By the time she reached the bend in the road, a second vehicle was pulling up. Its elderly driver opened his door and called to her, ‘My god, did you see that?’
Cass turned to peer down the slope. The runaway car had come to rest on its roof at the bottom, half submerged in a swollen creek. Somehow it had managed to miss all the trees and boulders in between, which meant there was a good chance the driver was still alive. Though he wouldn’t be for very much longer with the car rapidly filling with water.
‘Call an ambulance,’ she shouted to the older man and started after the car.
Saplings, brush and rocky outcrops slowed her descent down the embankment. At the bottom she floundered through a stretch of mud before the ground grew solid enough to run on. Bracing herself as she raced towards the creek’s edge, she took a deep breath and ran headlong into the frigid water.
The force of the current knocked her aside, the power of the fast-flowing thigh-deep water even greater than she had anticipated. She found the creek bed with her feet and, using the many rocks for leverage, fought her way across to the overturned vehicle. A passage that seemed to take forever.
The driver hung upside down by his seatbelt, his head and shoulders fully submerged. By his lack of movement she feared she might already be too late. She tried the door but it wouldn’t open.
On her knees, chest deep in the swirling waters, she groped till she found a fist-sized rock, smashed the glass and beat away the remaining shards. She slid her hand up along the seatbelt, found the buckle and released it.
The limp figure crumpled down in a heap. She grabbed him and dragged him through the window.
The current snatched him at once from her grasp. She leapt to snag him, pinning his legs. Helpless, they tumbled along the bottom till the current slammed them against a large rock. She gasped at the pain but managed to keep hold of her prize.
Beyond the rock, the flow got gentler. Cass fought clumsily to her feet, floated the lifeless figure to shore and hauled him onto the muddy bank.
She dropped to her knees, pressed her ear against his chest, her fingers to his icy flesh. Nothing. No pulse, no movement, no breathing. Giving herself not a moment to panic, she arched back his head, pinched his nose and covered his frozen lips with hers.
Five breaths later she moved to straddle him, set to work pumping his heart. Or was
it the other way around? Five compressions to one breath? Oh god, she couldn’t remember!
She paused to evaluate her efforts.
Still no pulse.
She gave his chest a thump with her fist—not because she knew what it did but because she’d seen it once in a movie. Despite her efforts, her panic was winning.
Come on. Come on.
Again she bent to his lips, filled his lungs, watched his chest rise and fall. He wasn’t that old. Ten years her senior at most. Too young to die.
You can do this, mate. Breathe, damn it. Don’t you bloody well—!
A gush of water spewed from his lips. His body, racked by violent coughing, arched beneath her.
As he floundered in the mud, heaving in air, Cass rolled away and collapsed beside him.
Cass sat huddled, wet and shivering, on the police car’s passenger seat, staring out at the passing trees. She’d given her statement, the man she had saved—no-one had told her his name as yet—had been taken to hospital, and now an officer was driving her home.
She felt strangely numbed by the whole affair, both in body and mind. It was all a blur. Everything seemed to have happened so fast. Yet by the dashboard clock, she saw that over an hour had passed since she’d left the house to go for her run. She was going to be bloody late for work.
She stared unseeing out the car’s windscreen. Whether because of the blanket around her, the smell of her wet clothes, or her recent experience, a long-ago memory pushed to the surface, making her smile …
‘You’re making that up. If it was quicksand, how come the cows didn’t get stuck in it?’ The nine-year-old standing in front of the shearing shed glared at her from the edge of a darkly beckoning circle of mud.
‘Fine, go ahead, see what happens. I’m telling you, the second you step in that puddle you’re going to sink in up to your neck. You’ll flop around screaming for help, but you’ll only get sucked down deeper and deeper.’
Yes, she’d been lying. Yes, it was a mean thing to do to a sister, but she hadn’t cared. After spending hours brushing and plaiting Evie’s hair, getting her dressed, she’d have said or done anything to keep the girl clean for the ten minutes until they got in the car.
Evie stuck out her bottom lip. ‘I don’t believe you. You just don’t want me to have any fun.’
‘We’re going to go visit Mum in the hospital. You want to look pretty for her, don’t you?’
‘Who cares about looking pretty.’ The girl turned away, eyeing the puddle. Cass eased closer. ‘Evie, I’m warning you.’ Words their mum had used often enough, but from a twelve-year-old they carried little authority.
Like a diver stepping to the edge of the board, Evie toed the lip of the puddle and prepared to jump. Cassidy swooped.
Despite the shivers that now racked her frame, her smile broadened. To this day she didn’t know if what happened next had been an accident or planned on her sister’s part. But at the last instant, Evie stepped back. And Cass, with a rush of momentum behind her, couldn’t stop her foot sliding from under her.
As she wallowed in the mud, hearing her sister’s peals of laughter, something had snapped. She’d picked up a handful of muck and hurled it, hitting Evie smack in the middle of her pretty pink dress. What had started as a sibling battle of wills had ended with the two of them covered in filth and so helpless with laughter they couldn’t climb out.
‘Hold on to me,’ Cass had said finally as she hauled Evie back onto solid ground. With the long-ago image clear in her mind, her smile faded. She drew the blanket tighter around her and closed her eyes. ‘Why didn’t you keep holding on?’ she whispered.
‘You okay over there?’ the policeman asked from the seat beside her.
‘Yes, I’m fine, thank you.’
The sun had burned away most of the mist by the time they turned up her tree-lined drive. Cockatoos swooped through the lemon-scented gums, their screeching reminiscent of squealing tyres. As the old stone farmhouse came into view, Cass’s heart dropped. Her father’s boots were gone from the verandah.
The driveway curved around in front of the steps. Off to the right, flanked by the much smaller studio shed, a lone figure stood amid rows of neatly tended vegetables. As Cass had feared, her father was out working in the garden. When he spotted the police car pulling up, he dropped his hoe and came rushing over—as fast as he was able these days.
Cass thanked the driver, climbed from the car, and turned to greet him. ‘It’s okay, I’m all right. Everything’s fine.’
‘Cass, what on earth—’
‘There was an accident. I wasn’t involved, I just witnessed it.’
The cop leaned over to peer out at him. ‘Mr Blaire?’
‘Yes. Gavin Blaire.’ He shook the man’s hand. ‘Thank you for bringing her home, officer.’
‘Your girl’s quite the hero. Get her inside before she freezes to death.’
She handed him back the blanket she’d been given at the scene and closed the car door. He waved and continued on around the drive.
Her dad took her arm. ‘What did he mean, you’re quite the—oh, but Cass, you’re all wet! And look how you’re shivering!’ He took off his jacket and wrapped it around her.
‘Come on, let’s get you into the house.’
Showered and dressed twenty minutes later, Cass hurried into the kitchen to be greeted by the smell of freshly brewed coffee. Her father had a plate of buttered toast waiting. She snatched up a piece and took a quick bite as she headed for the door.
‘Sorry, Dad, I have to run. I’m already late and Zoe’s all alone at the Kettle.’
He stepped up to help her put her jacket on. ‘Maybe you should take the day off.’ ‘No need. I told you, I’m perfectly fine.’
‘But when I think what could have happened …’
She turned around and gave him a hug. ‘Nothing would’ve happened to me. The worst is I wouldn’t have managed to save the man. Luckily everything worked out okay.’ She stepped back, took her scarf from a chair, and swung it around her neck.
‘Did the ambos give you any idea of the extent of his injuries? If he’ll be all right?’
‘That’s another reason I have to run. I want to stop off at the hospital on my way into town and see how he’s doing.’ She indicated the three large boxes loaded with vegetables sitting on the end of the table. ‘Is this all that’s going?’
He nodded. ‘Not a lot of carrots at the moment but there should be more soon. Here, let me give you a hand.’
She reached out and stopped him. ‘Dad, please, we’ve talked about this. The doctor said to take it slow. You shouldn’t even be out in the garden yet. It’s too soon.’
‘Oh, the hell with “too soon”.’ He waved a hand. ‘What’s the point of having the treatment if you can’t enjoy the time it’s given you?’
When she looked at him wryly, he cupped her cheek. ‘This isn’t your old man kidding himself; I’m feeling much better, honestly. The nausea’s gone and my strength is returning. See.’ He hefted the smallest box and winked. ‘Best cure for anything in life is gardening.’
Shaking her head, Cass took up the two remaining boxes and followed him from the house. Outside, they slid the groceries onto the back seat of her aging Toyota—a car more mule than luxury vehicle. As she turned to get in behind the wheel, her father surprised her with a sudden fierce hug, breathing his parting words into her hair. ‘You take care. I couldn’t bear losing another daughter.’