Now available at: Amazon.com / Amazon.com.au / Amazon.co.UK
Her Perfect Mismatch – Chapter One
When Elizabeth Charles spotted the sign on the store window, she knew her bold move was about to be tested. If she passed, she’d embrace her new life in Eden. If she failed, she’d return to Melbourne with her tail tucked shamefully between her legs.
“No one said this would be easy.”
Over the last twenty-four hours, she’d made three major decisions that would impact the rest of her life. Each one had been validated by no less than ten solid reasons to justify her leap of faith, and as she’d agonized over each one, she’d felt a massive weight lifting off her shoulders.
She had to do this for herself. No excuses, no apologies because the alternative meant sticking around until she was replaced by a newer, much younger model. Younger than twenty-seven?
“It’s a sign,” she insisted as she drove around the block. Turning into the main street again, she slowed down and stopped behind a car that appeared to be idling. Before she could think better of it, she steered her car, front first, into a parking spot, killed the engine and leaped out onto the sidewalk, her focus on the quaint store window that beckoned her in.
This wasn’t just a test of her commitment to moving on. This new life she craved demanded the ultimate act of defiance.
Elizabeth didn’t care if they were only a poor imitation of the famous croissant like donuts she’d heard so much about. She was beyond reason now. A couple of years before she’d lived across the road from the New York bakery which had first introduced the delightful pastries to the world, but she hadn’t been allowed to indulge because she’d been on a tight leash…
That was then, this is now.
Her stomach perked awake with the sort of demanding growl that refused to be pacified by brandishing a stick of celery under her nose.
“If you’re serious about doing this—”
She was. Absolutely. And, yes, she’d do it. She would shed the last soul wrenching vestiges of her previous life with an overdose of sugar and never look back again.
* * *
“Girls, zip it for a moment and listen up. There’s a right way and a wrong way of doing this.” Mitch Faydon smiled at the twins sitting in the back seat of their mother’s people mover.
Cocooned in safety features, he thought wondering if his reputation could withstand the damage. When Miriam Stewart had called that morning to ask a favor, she’d known Mitch couldn’t say no. The women of Eden had him eating out of their hands. Well, he had news for them. As of last night, he’d sworn off the lot of them and the sooner they realized that, the better. But that was neither here, nor there. Right now, he needed to focus on the twins. “You’re never too young to learn, girls. Make sure your car is in the right position, then check your mirrors, look over your shoulder and slowly reverse—” Mitch slammed his foot on the break, his eyes narrowing on the car that had come from out of nowhere and was now occupying his parking space. He growled under his breath. “Girls, cover your ears.”
“Why?” twelve-year-old Aimee asked.
“Just do it.”
“Are you going to swear because that lady took your parking space?” her sister Belle asked.
“You were dawdling. Mom says never to do that. In life, you have to be decisive,” Aimee said.
Mitch unclenched his jaw. “We’ll find another parking space.”
“That’s called a strategic retreat. Our dad is very good at it,” Belle said.
“I’m too hungry to go searching for the culprit. Even if she was in the wrong. And she was.” It just wasn’t worth it. This wasn’t about backing down. This was about giving himself some breathing space. He’d chill out for a while. Hang out with the boys. Leave the women of Eden to their own devices. Everyone knew him as the go-to-guy for a fun time. Well, no more…
As he drove around the block, Mitch couldn’t help thinking he was going about this the wrong way. Why should he stop enjoying—
He brushed his hand across his face.
He was the injured party. He’d been used. He’d been cheated on…
The words felt like canon shots in his mind. It was now or never. He had to fire up his determination. Stick to his guns. But first, he’d regroup. He might even redefine himself. He’d never set out to become the bad boy of Eden—
“The other parking spot was right outside the café,” Aimee complained.
“Don’t be such a wimp. It’s only a short walk. We can work on our appetites. Come on, I promised your mother I’d feed you breakfast.” He took hold of their hands and tugged them along the main street and toward Joyce’s Café.
Everyone had made an early start getting into town, making the best of the last days of summer. Heads turned. People smiled and greeted them. More heads turned. Someone had the gall to stare at him with her mouth gaping open and he was sure he saw a cell phone pointed in their direction.
Yes, time to show the women of Eden there was more to him than met the eye. The local high school English teacher had gone to Melbourne for the day to visit her mother in hospital and she’d entrusted Eden’s bad boy with her precious twin daughters for the day. The news would spread in no time. And he might as well cash in. Parade the twins from one end of the main street to the other, let the whole world see he could be a regular guy too.
“Look! That’s her,” Aimee said and pointed toward the café. “The parking thief. Are you going to tell her off?”
Mitch swallowed back the growl he felt swirling in his throat and propelled the girls inside the crowded café. As they strode in, he sent his gaze toward the offender. She sat with her back to the door, her strawberry blonde locks tied into a knot at the nape of her neck, her long fingers tapping on the table. She looked to be on the verge of making a major decision. Either that or she wore her guilt with frustration.
“Take a good look at her, girls. She’s the type who gives all women a bad name.”
“Are you sure you want to have breakfast here, Mitch?” Belle’s big brown eyes filled with empathy. “She pierced your male ego.”
Her sister Aimee rolled her eyes. “Mom’s been listening to one of her audio books in the car and Belle’s picking up all this nonsense, well, that’s what dad calls it, right before he disappears into his man cave. Do you have a man cave, Mitch?”
“It’s not nonsense. Men are complex, multi-layered, sensitive—” he tugged on their hands. “Come on, let’s order some Puffy Donuts,” he said hoping to steer their attention away from him.
“Puff not puffy. And what exactly are they?” Aimee asked.
He wasn’t sure but if Joyce had gone to the trouble of advertising them, they’d have to be good.
“Mom will get cranky if she knows we didn’t have a proper breakfast,” sensible Belle said.
Aimee broke free of his hold and made a beeline for a table by the window. Right next to the parking snatcher.
Mitch set his jaw into a tight clench and headed toward the opposite side of the café but couldn’t see a single vacant spot. Slanting his gaze down at Belle, he caught her raised eyebrow look.
“All right, come on.” As they wove their way around the tables, he nodded hello to a few people but didn’t stop to chat. Reaching the table Aimee had settled at, he pulled out a chair for Belle and then sat next to her.
“Just the man I wanted to see,” Joyce, the café owner, said as she approached. “I have a bone to pick with you.”
“Take a number… Get in line. Or better still, put it in writing.” He motioned to the twins. “We’re here for breakfast and some of those Puffy Donuts.”
A moan or a sigh, he wasn’t sure which, came from the other table. It was followed by a whimper.
Mitch shook his head. “Um. Breakfast. A pile of everything for me, something healthy for the girls and three Puffy Donuts.”
“You sound grumpy,” Joyce said. “What’s up with that? Never mind, I know all about it. News is travelling at the usual speed. And my problem can’t wait. Ever since you took breakfast off the pub’s menu people have been coming here and I’m run off my feet.”
“And how is that my problem?”
“When Eddie moved out of the pub and set up house with Theo, you and your brothers lost the plot. You need to either hire another cook or sweet talk Eddie into multi-tasking.”
He patted his stomach. “I’m running on empty here. Sorry, I still can’t join the dots.”
“Look around you.”
“I’m guessing these people are here for those Puffy Donuts you’ve been advertising all week.”
“Puff not puffy.”
Another moan, only this time, the woman’s shoulders shook.
He motioned for Joyce to lean in. “I think you have a disgruntled customer.”
Joyce straightened, drew in a deep breath, and strode over to her. Before he could stop them, the girls joined her. Mitch watched them, his exasperation growing as they all huddled together around the woman and talked in quick succession. Then some sort of agreement was reached and they all turned to look at him.
* * *
“I’ll be fine… really. I’m…” Elizabeth looked down at the delectable treat. Her mouth was a sea of drool. One bite and years of being shackled would be over and done with. “It’s to do with years of conditioning, that’s all.” Putting her hands to her cheeks, she stifled another moan. The smell of sugary sweetness was making her head spin. “It’s been so long—” She knew she was rambling so she stopped before she spilled her guts and told these complete strangers her entire life story.
“Is there someone we can call? You look pale.”
She gave the waitress a confident nod. “I only need one bite, but it’s… it’s overwhelmingly big.”
“Maybe you should try one of our button muffins. They’re tiny morsels—”
“No.” Elizabeth’s hands flew to the dainty plate. “It has to be the Puff Donut.” She shook her head. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to put on a display or draw attention to myself.” These people must think she was a raving lunatic, or a runaway from some weird sugar-free cult.
Not exactly the best first impression to make. She had her heart set on making a new life in Eden. Growing up, she’d heard so much about the town. Her friend Tash Knightly had been born and raised in Eden and she’d always looked so happy. In fact, Elizabeth had been in awe of her joie de vivre and had always aspired to be a little bit like her.
“Maybe it’s like fear of flying. We could distract you.”
She smiled at the little girl.
“Mitch should come over. He can talk anyone under the table. He can help us. I’m Belle, by the way, and this is my sister, Aimee.”
“And I’m Joyce, the owner, but you would have guessed it because the place is called Joyce’s Café. Although, when I first moved here it was part of Joe’s Garage. I considered keeping the name because it would have been quirky to set up a café and name it Joe’s Garage. Instead, I subdivided and sold off the other half, but the new owners weren’t interested in keeping the name, so I guess I could still use it. In fact, the place next door is coming up for sale, so I might buy it again. At this rate, I’m going to have to seriously think about expanding…”
“Is it working?” one of the twins asked.
Elizabeth sighed. Now her head was spinning for entirely different reasons.
“I’ll go get Mitch. My mom always says he’s a sweet talker and can convince anyone into doing anything, even if they don’t want to, or shouldn’t want to.”
Before she could stop her, the girl swirled away.
This Mitch person sounded like a manipulative—
“I’ll go help Belle,” Joyce offered. “I suspect Mitch might need some gentle coercing. He’s… shy.”
Moments later, Elizabeth heard a muffled exchange followed by the sound of a chair scraping behind her, and a gruff voice.
“Hello. I’m Mitch Faydon.”
Elizabeth sprung upright in her chair and lifted her gaze. He had an unshaven face, an easy smile, and eyes that spoke of mischief.
“Girls, run along. Joyce needs help behind the counter.”
He waited for the twins to trot off, and then asked if he could join her. He sounded polite enough, in a firm, yet playful sort of way.
Elizabeth nudged the plate closer to her. Not even her embarrassment could counteract her need to sink her teeth into what promised to be her first step toward freedom.
Standing up, Mitch Faydon had loomed over her. Sitting down he lost none of his imposing presence.
“Blink twice if you’d rather I go away. Joyce is watching, so I’m going to keep smiling and nodding.”
“Was that one or two blinks?”
“I’m sorry, this is all very…”
“I was going to say embarrassing.”
“You must be new to Eden. Actually, I’m sure you are because I’ve never seen you around.” He folded his arms on the table and leaned closer. “Here’s the thing, Joyce has a lot riding on these donuts and you sitting there staring at the thing and moaning is making people wary.”
“I’m…” She buried her face in her hands.
“Do you suffer from some sort of eating disorder? Is that it?”
Her hands dropped down. “Absolutely not.”
“That’s a hearty protest. Are you sure? You look… excessively trim.”
Trim… The fact he’d noticed made her even more determined to shake off the look fashioned by her calorie counting, portion obsessed boyfriend—
She lifted her chin. “My pride… my entire future is on the line. I need to do this for me.”
He looked down at her plate. “And that donut is the key?”
She gave a small nod.
“So what’s stopping you?” He studied her, holding her gaze as if trying to see deep inside her.
Yes, she was afraid.
“How about I take a bite. Show you it’s harmless—”
“All right. Let’s calm down. Take a deep breath. No one’s going to take your Puff Donut away from you.” He sighed, looked around the café, and then he settled his bright eyes on her again. “I don’t want to pressure you, but if you don’t do this, Joyce is never going to pull up her polka dot socks and get my breakfast.”
In hindsight, Elizabeth wished she’d asked for a take out bag. She could’ve been sitting in the privacy of her car, enjoying the moment without any distractions. She’d already made her decision, now she only wanted to focus her attention on the experience. To savor every second of it.
“Why don’t we start with your name?”
She swallowed past the tightness in her throat. “Elizabeth… Charles.” She wondered if he worked for the local law enforcement. He sounded as if he had experience talking desperate people off ledges. Or maybe he was a horse whisperer…
“Do you need some water, Elizabeth?”
“I’m fine.” She took a sip. “Just give me a moment.”
“Take your time. Focus on what you want.”
She nodded and scooped in a big breath.
This was it…
Her fingertips grazed the edge of the donut. Pushing out a quivery breath, she lifted the pastry and drew it toward her mouth. Her lips trembled. Her eyes watered. She tensed against the need to look over her shoulder. Andrew was a continent away on his business trip. Yet the compulsion to check and make sure he wasn’t hovering nearby ready to snatch the donut away from her—
Elizabeth sunk her teeth in and tore off a mouthful.
Not a dainty bite, but rather enough to fill her entire mouth with layers of crisp croissant like pastry and lemony cream and, oooh… chocolate. A symphony sprung up in her mouth, the music resonating throughout her body as she began chewing, the pastry releasing a powerful surge of—
“Take it easy. You don’t want to rush it.”
Oh yes, she did. Focusing on swallowing, she closed her eyes and would swear she saw lights dancing behind her eyelids, sparkling brighter and brighter…
Something was happening. Her skin tingled, her stomach quivered.
“You should have some water now.”
She shook her head. “Coffee would be good.”
She kept her eyes closed. A moment later, her nose tingled as the aroma of freshly ground coffee wafted around her.
“Yes, please.” Gauging her body’s response, she decided she could handle some more. This time, she took a more sensible bite.
“How many lumps?”
She nodded three times.
Feeling something warm touch her lips, she knew he was holding a cup up to her mouth. Elizabeth took a sip. And moaned. “Oh, that’s good.”
Somehow, she managed to open her eyes. He was smiling at her. Not with his mouth, but rather with his eyes.
“Why are you doing this?”
He shrugged. “I have a certain skill set and Joyce knows how to exploit it. She wanted a quick solution, and like I said, I just want my breakfast.”
“Thank you. I’d shake your hand but I’m all sticky.” She slid the tip of her tongue along her lip. Oh, God. She could still taste the combination of chocolate and lemon… She dropped her gaze to his lips.
“No, there’s no need for that.” He pushed back his chair and surged to his feet. “I guess I’ve done my job. Here comes my breakfast. Try to take it easy and enjoy the rest of your stay in Eden.”
Don’t call us, we’ll call you?
One sweep of her eyes and she’d gone from demented, sugar deprived public nuisance to floozy. The man had his children in tow… Did he honestly think…
She wouldn’t beat herself up about it.
Whatever magic Joyce had employed to persuade Mitch Faydon into intervening had clearly lost its fizz.
Elizabeth looked down at her half eaten Puff Donut.
Maybe another bite, she thought. This had only been the first step. Now she had to face the rest…
Copyright ©2015 Sonia Parin/All Rights Reserved