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Her Charming Heartbreaker – Chapter One
Theo Kendrick had come too far to let a missed dart throw get in his way.
While his life didn’t exactly flash before his eyes, he did entertain a few stray thoughts. Most of them about pleasure. The pleasure of waking up with a woman in his arms. The pleasure of enjoying that first sip of freshly brewed coffee in the morning. He even thought about the pleasure of finishing a satisfying meal.
Strangely, he also thought about being more impulsive. Having a one night stand with a stranger came to mind and that could present a problem because he’d never experienced anything he didn’t want more of.
Forty eight-hours before, he’d geared himself into needs must action, dropping everything, hopping on a plane and flying from one side of the world to the other.
He was calling it a mercy mission.
In reality, it felt more like a fool’s errand. Nevertheless, here he was, and with the final leg of his trip in sight, he’d shaken off the weariness of his long flight and had emerged from his rental car, his eyes narrowing slightly as he’d made a beeline toward the small town pub, his attention straying at the last minute to study the oddity of a ship’s figurehead, a blonde haired siren swathed in white and blue, hanging next to the main entrance of The Gloriana.
When he’d pushed the door open, he remembered his stomach had grumbled, protesting the fact he’d missed several meals during the flight from L.A. to Melbourne. He’d promised himself a rewarding feast, but only after he’d settled in and took care of recharging his cell phone.
Then the dart had speared past him missing him by a hairsbreadth.
He needed to snap out of it.
Theo knew he should have moved, or at the very least, flinched. And it would have been a good idea to tune in and listen to the heated debate raging inside his head between his resident fools and angels, but instead he cleared his throat and said, “I’m here about a room. I have a booking.”
Even as he spoke, he sensed the precise measuring of intention, the forward and backward motion of the dart thrower’s wrist, and then, he’d swear on his life, he heard the distinct sound of a dart swishing through the air.
It hit a bullseye.
Another one followed, hitting its target.
The combination of a mishit, a couple of bullseyes and a flaming red-headed dart thrower should have triggered alarm bells or at least prompted Theo Kendrick into reassessing the scene he’d walked into, but if he did that, he risked setting off a snowball of rethinking every decision he’d made in the last few days.
Turning his attention to the woman who’d mistaken him for the target, he smiled and hoped it didn’t convey the weariness still crawling around his body.
“I emailed three days ago.”
She lifted an eyebrow and he imagined her thinking, “I nearly killed you and that’s all you have to say?”
Theo had plenty more to say, but she was still holding a dart in her hand.
He took in her long legs and subtle curves, her jeans hanging low on her hips with a western style shirt tucked neatly into it. Her face looked pale but the lift of her chin told him she’d stand by her dart throw, no matter what.
She didn’t look old enough to be Claire Muldoon. At a guess, he’d say his assailant was in her late twenties and, despite the deep swallow she took and the slight trembling he noted in her hand as she reached to tuck a lock of hair behind her ear, she didn’t look as if she was in a hurry to leash her attitude.
Whipping a dishtowel off her shoulder, she rocked on her heels and sent her large brown eyes skipping around his body. “We’re fully booked.” Then, with a shrug of indifference, she turned toward the bar and proceeded to ignore him by giving the counter a brisk wipe.
Theo’s resting heart rate twitched giving his ego a light wake-up nudge. But this wasn’t about him.
Again he thought about how far he’d travelled. And this was only the half way mark.
If the circumstances that had brought him here hadn’t been dire, he’d suspect someone had engineered an elaborate hoax. Everything looked so contrived, even the woman with the attitude…
He knew several people who could pull off a customized version of a flashmob, something to disrupt the steady course he’d mapped out. If he didn’t know better, he’d even point the finger at his own father…
Approaching the bar, he leaned against the counter facing her, and searched his jetlagged mind for a contact name. “I have a confirmation email. Eddie. Eddie Faydon sent it to me.”
Her large brown eyes held his but didn’t register any interest.
Drawing in a breath, he scratched around for some charm, but found none. “I’ve had a long drive and an even longer flight before that, so I wouldn’t mind—”
“Just a sec,” she said turning her attention to pouring a draft beer. After serving it to her customer, she strode back, the edge of her lip lifted forming a dimple on her cheek. “I flew once. It took days before I got my hearing back.” Her voice took on a teasing tone. “Maybe you’ve got a case of blocked ears.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my hearing.”
Her eyes danced around his face. “Are you sure you have the right place? The roads around here can be tricky. You might have taken a wrong turn.”
“I entered the directions in my GPS—”
She shook her head, her eyes showing a spark of amusement. “Those things aren’t always reliable.”
“This is a state of the art one.” Courtesy of his luxury rental car. “Then there’s the email Eddie sent me. He gave me clear directions. I set my mental compass to them.”
She chuckled. “Aha, that’s where you went wrong. It’s the roads in these parts. They play havoc with mental compasses and make you do crazy things like pointing your car in the wrong direction.”
It took all his effort to relax his jaw. “There’s nothing wrong with my aim.”
A flush of red swept up to her cheeks, a hint she might not be entirely comfortable with the way the conversation was going.
The last few days had been a whirl of activity, worrying, and waiting. He hadn’t actually slept on the flight over. However, he could still engage his senses long enough to sniff out a hint of desperation. She didn’t want him here. And she seemed desperate to try anything she could to get rid of him. Theo almost wished he could accommodate her…
The tune that had been playing on the jukebox came to an end. A few people shuffled around, probably making themselves more comfortable.
She tilted her head and her smile turned impish. “I can’t pinpoint your accent. It’s American, but with a difference.”
Anglophile-American, his father called it whenever he regretted funding Theo’s Ivy League education—in his opinion, a dead-end indulgence.
“I’m from California.”
“I bet you favor British spelling.”
More often than not, yes. Two of his degrees were from Oxford, and years of living and studying in England had been habit forming. But that was all beside the point… “About that room…”
She bit the edge of her lip and for a moment she appeared to waver, her eyes skipping around his face.
“Like I said, we’re fully booked.”
“No, we’re not.”
In the blink of an eye, her gaze shifted to deer caught in headlights. The reaction lasted only long enough for the man who’d spoken to reach her side and stand close enough for her to elbow him in the ribs.
He matched Theo in height but his survival instincts were sharper. Stepping back, he leaned against the opposite counter, his hand giving his rib a discreet rub.
“You must be Theo Kendrick. I took your booking.”
Theo felt his relief in the next breath he took. “You must be Eddie.”
“No, that’s my sister here. She usually takes care of all the admin stuff. It was her day off.”
Eddie? “I guess that explains the mix-up.”
“I’m Matthew Faydon, welcome to Eden.”
“Good to know I’ve landed in the right place. There was some confusion about it.”
“Well, it’s all cleared up now.” Turning to his sister, he put his hands on her shoulders. A sensible precaution, Theo thought. “I’ll look after the bar while you show Mr. Kendrick to his room.”
* * *
Eddie ducked into the small office next to the bar. She didn’t have a suitcase, but she could use her backpack and stuff all her essential belongings inside and… and leave.
Pushing out a breath, she sank against the edge of her desk and buried her face in her hands.
“You’re twenty-nine years old, not six.” She straightened and looked around her.
Leaving was no longer an option the way it had been when she’d dragged out her bubblegum pink school bag and had threatened to follow the yellow brick road because anything was better than living with selfish, insensitive little toads. Her threats to leave had been a constant source of amusement to her brothers who’d followed several steps behind her, making sure she didn’t stray too far. They’d always managed to entice her back home with underhanded tactics and pretend acts of contrition, giving her sweets and ice cream…
She should have learned by now. Men were not to be trusted.
Pushing off the desk, she snatched a key for a room furthest away from the residential side of the building, and returned to the bar where she found her brother deep in conversation with their new guest.
She knew she needed to apologize to Theo Kendrick, but then she’d have to explain what had happened…
“This way,” she threw over her shoulder as she turned toward the stairs.
If she hadn’t done a last millisecond adjustment on her shot to avert certain disaster, he’d be on his way to hospital instead of following two steps behind her. As wrong as it was to wish anyone ill, anything would be better than having him stay.
Anything, Eddie? How about facing jail time for attempted maiming?
He hadn’t made a fuss. But that didn’t get her off the hook. She had to apologize.
Eddie drew in a shaky breath. She’d never live this down. Everyone knew better than to start discussing it in front of her, but now that she’d left the bar, that’s precisely what they were doing, putting their heads together like the worst type of sewing circle. And once word got out, the day’s takings would soar with people piling in to gawk at the one-woman freak show she’d become.
How could she have lost it? It had only been a split second. Long enough for her to imagine Adam had changed his mind.
Fool. Did she think he’d walk straight into the pub, make a public declaration, and sweep her off her feet like in An Officer and a Gentleman?
It was all she’d been thinking about for the past week. This would never have happened if she hadn’t had so many bees buzzing in her ear urging her on, like her own personal cheering squad.
Put it out there. Rah, rah, rah.
You’ve got nothing to lose. Rah, rah, rah.
Eddie squared her shoulders. Even if Adam did change his mind, she wouldn’t spare him a second look. She still had some pride left. Not much since she now had another Eddie Faydon embarrassing moment to live with. That near miss had cost her another layer of pride. She never missed her target. Not even on a bad day.
It wouldn’t take a mathematical genius to add two and two together and come up with the answer burning on everyone’s lips. She’d mistaken Theo Kendrick for Adam.
At first glance, they might have looked the same. But on closer inspection, she realized the resemblance was less than vague. If she’d spared him more than a brief glance, she might have noticed everything that set him apart from everyone else—the expensive clothes and haircut, the square jaw, the chin with a dimple in the middle, and eyes that looked like the deepest part of the ocean.
“Does anyone call you Theodore?”
“My mother. But not often.”
She pushed the door to his room open. “This is it. There’s no room service. If you want something to eat, you’ll either have to go down to the pub or find your way to the local café. We have a cleaning service, which starts at ten sharp, so try to be out of the room by then. If you can’t manage it, put a sock on the doorknob. Otherwise, Dani will barge right in.” She folded her arms across her chest and leaned against the doorframe. “You’re not blinking. Is something wrong?”
“I’m… savoring the unique flavor of local hospitality.”
She shrugged. “There’s a bed and breakfast just outside of town. It caters to your type.” Making it worse, Eddie? Yeah, sure. Why not?
“What type might that be?”
He wore a Tattersall check shirt and tweed sports jacket matched with equally expensive looking pants and Oxford brogues. The guy looked like he was headed to a wild game shooting party. While no one in their right mind would label her a fashion expert, she recognized the country squire look because Charles Granger had introduced locals to the style when he’d settled in Eden a dozen years before to open his deer farm, complete with a replica of the manor house he’d left behind in England.
“The afternoon tea with dainty finger food type. You know, tally-ho.” Although, to be fair to him, he wouldn’t look out of place watching a football game while tossing back a few beers.
“I think I’ll pass. I don’t mind roughing it for a while. And as the saying goes, what doesn’t kill you, only gives you more stories to tell back home.”
Just great. Her pitiful life was about to go international.
“The bathroom is across the hallway.” She couldn’t help lifting an eyebrow. She might not be well traveled, but she suspected people like him liked their convenient bathroom facilities. “You’ll be sharing.”
“Not a problem.”
“Sharing with other people. Strangers…”
He drew in a breath that appeared to call for calm. “If royal visitors to Buckingham Palace can put up with the inconvenience of having to share bathrooms down the hallway, then who am I to complain?”
“You’re pulling my leg.”
He shook his head. “My in-flight reading material was trite. Okay, truth be told, I enjoy my share of trivia. The magazine I read had an interview with Crown Prince—” he shrugged.
“You’d be a perfect trivia night partner.”
He looked inside the room and then back at her. “I’m only here for a few days.”
She couldn’t help wondering how much more trouble she could get into during that time…
“Well, I suppose you want to get on with whatever business brought you here, so I’ll leave you to it.” Handing him the room key, she strode away, her focus on making her legs work.
She drew in a breath and tried to relax the tightness that returned to her chest. Somehow, she had to get through the rest of the day. From experience, she knew it was always better to get it over and done with and dive headlong into the deep end.
You stuffed up, you face the consequences, she told herself.
Bracing for the moment, she started down the stairs. Even with the heavy thump of her boots echoing in the stairwell, she could still hear the buzz of conversation coming from the bar.
Her last birthday had brought her a year closer to thirty. People were starting to notice. People were starting to think she was getting desperate. Never mind that she’d given them reason to think that after the stunt she’d pulled with Adam…
A new face in town should have created a timely diversion, giving everyone something else to talk about. Instead, she’d single-handedly stoked the fire…
Belatedly, Eddie realized she’d forgotten to apologize to Theo Kendrick.
Copyright ©2015 Sonia Parin/All Rights Reserved
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