Ever Since April: Part 2 of 5

april 3d

Chapter 7

“Ahhh!” Mandy screamed in excitement, gripping both of April’s hands and jigging a little happy dance with her. Jason had just driven away to go and pack his things. Mandy turned April around to face the open door. “See that guy?”

“What guy?”

“The one who just drove away and will be back soon to stay with you while cheater what’s-his-face is away. That guy…”

“Yes. What about him?” April asked, playing along.

“Three things about him,” Mandy declared. “One: he once wrote you love letters… Two: he’s smoking hot, and don’t bother denying it… And three: he isn’t wearing a wedding ring.”

“But I’m wearing one, and he must have a girlfriend,” April replied, moping a little.

“Pft! Details… There was sparks flying! That guy is more like it. That’s what you need, April. You need a man who walks in and takes control like that. Plus with that dreamy smile and ruffled hair—one like that too.”

“I want to kiss him again,” April said. What, am I a frigging teenager? She was blushing like one, her belly doing flip-flops. “I can’t believe he said he would stay—no questions asked.”

Mandy had an arm around her, her head upon April’s shoulder. “This is all kinds of wonderful,” she said dreamily. “How perfect that your ex is overseas right now. If that’s not fate…”

“He’s not an ex, Mandy.”

“I know. But tell me he’s going to be?”

“It’s not that simple. You don’t just end things without even discussing it. Eric deserves better than that.”

Mandy sighed. “I guess… I suppose that’s something only you could know.”

“That’s right,” April said, smiling. She tickled Mandy’s ribs, making her squeal. “You naughty little matchmaker!” She had hold of her cousin, digging her fingers into her sides and rubbing her bones until she was curled up in a ball on the floor begging for no more. “Alright… Come and help me make up his room, then,” she said, pulling the girl to her feet. “I bet you anything he’s in a happy, long-term relationship, anyway.”

“Oh, no he’s not—judging by the way he was looking at you, he’s not,” Mandy said, and she ran squealing before April could grab her again.

They made up the spare room next to April’s own. Mandy had to leave. April waited at the dining table, watching out the window for the big gold car.  She had no idea what she was doing. Eric would freak if he knew she had invited a man to stay in their home, but she decided it was more information than he needed. The car pulled into the driveway. Jason had taken less than half an hour to return.

“Hi,” April said, holding the door open while he carried a big sports bag in. She led the way, wringing her hands. “Just through here.”

He didn’t seem interested in his room. He dropped his bag on the floor at the end of the bed and turned to meet April’s eyes. She was trying not to blush but her heart thumped. Mandy was right—he did have a nice smile and sexy ruffled hair. He also needed a shave and his eyes were intelligent. She remembered that from when they were kids. His eyes were the reason she liked him.

He shrugged. “Do we catch up first or go look at your granddad’s stuff?”

“Let’s catch up later.” April was wearing a wedding ring. There were photos around the house. She wasn’t overly keen to get into all of that. She wondered if Jason knew about Heather. She had received his love letters when she was pregnant and alone, and had not answered because she didn’t want him to know.

Jason opened the passenger door of his big car for April. She climbed in and got comfy pretty easily in the soft leather seat.

“We just have to pick up my eight kids and hitch on the cow trailer I parked out of town,” he said.

“That’s fine,” she tossed back instantly. “I like kids and cows.”

Jason chuckled. April smiled without meeting his glance.

“You can’t see a damn thing trying to drive these days with all these big buses everywhere. They’re so huge and you can’t see over or through them. Have to risk your life pulling out if one parks next to you.”

“I’ve got a Mazda 3. It’s the same size as your car,” he returned easily. “This belongs to my boss.”

He didn’t meet her glance that time. “Good,” she said. “Can I also tell you what I think about our government’s approach to addressing climate change, or maybe what I think of the Japanese whale hunting in the Antarctic?”

She really liked his smile.

“Maybe after we catch up,” he offered. “But I get to tell you all about my vintage model car collection… Did you know that’s a 1976 XB Falcon ute right there? It’s got the old 250 cubic inch engine—4.1 litre.”

“Oh really?” April asked, mocking excited interest. “And the transmission?”

“I’m guessing 3 speed column shift.”

“Hmm—and I’m guessing it pre-dates any pollution control equipment.”

“Afraid so…”

They had stopped in front of her grandfather’s house. April turned to address Jason, without the banter. “Sorry I screamed at you before. I’d just gotten off the phone with someone and was fired up.”

“It’s alright, April. I used to like that about you back in school—the way you never took any crap from anyone. I’m glad you haven’t changed.”

April nodded. “I’m glad you haven’t changed either, Jason.”

She got out of the car and waited for him. He was looking back across the road as he approached.

“That’s the house where Grace McKenna lived. It looks different.”

“Yes. The people who live there now did it up recently. They built on there in front and repainted. We should do something with Granddad’s house. It looks old now. The rest of the street is more modern.”

“How old do you think the area is, April? How long has your granddad lived here?”

“He built his house when he and Grandma got married. It was apparently a new subdivision in the ‘50s.” April opened the door to thick, stale air. “Yuck! Let’s open everything! What are we looking for, anyway?”

“We want to know why your granddad was so interested in that particular woman. We’re looking for anything to do with that. Photos are usually a good place to start.”

There were framed photos all over the walls. A lot were of boats and ocean views.

“Hey, that’s you,” Jason said, checking out a huge portrait above the mantle in the dining room. “I remember you,” he added, grinning back at April as she approached.

“I was fourteen there.”

“It’s black and white… They’re all black and white.”

“Yeah, Granddad never used colour. There was no such thing when he started, and he didn’t want to change—so he always said.”

“And this is where the girl was apparently killed.” Jason walked into the kitchen. It was a simple three bedroom suburban home. Built before open-plan, the rooms were all separate and small, the kitchen cramped. There were timber cupboards and a single stainless steel sink with an old fashioned brass tap that only supplied cold water, the floor an ugly green linoleum.

“Uncle had it professionally cleaned after the police were finished,” April explained. “It still creeps me out, but Granddad wants to come back here. He wouldn’t let us sell the place or even rent it out for him.”

They opened the kitchen window and the back door then worked their way through the house opening it up completely.

“I wonder if that was her bedroom there,” Jason mused, peering out the main bedroom window.

“Here’s a whole suitcase full of old photos,” April said. She knew of the big leather case under the bed. She had sifted through it plenty of times as a kid. She thumbed the latches, making them spring back with a familiar clack that would hurt if you got your finger in the way of it. She opened the warped lid to the smell of her childhood.

“That’s a lot of photos,” Jason suggested. “All black and white too.”

“Every one of them,” April said, picking one off the top of an elastic bound stack. “That was my grandmother. She looks nothing like Grace McKenna.”

“True. Not similar at all. How old was she when she died?”

“Twenty-seven… Sad, huh?”

“It is… And Granddad never remarried?”

“No. He never even dated that I know of. He just fished and drank. He always had men staying in these other rooms. Sometimes for the night, other times they’d live here for a while… The next bedroom window looks across at that house too.”

“No, I wasn’t thinking of Granddad perving on her through her bedroom window. I was thinking of her teasing him—flirting—flashing… A lonely old man being toyed with.”

“Oh… That’s possible,” April replied. Had she ever considered that? She couldn’t recall. “Would that explain spying on her over her fence?”

“Sure—if he was drunk.”

“Okay. But how would we prove that?”

“I don’t know about proving it to the police, but if it was the case, we could prove it to the town if we could find a photo with her posing for him. Would he often carry his camera around?”

“Yes. Often!” April declared. It was true—her granddad always had his camera handy. He would be distracted by a bird or a boat or something and start snapping shot after shot.

“Okay, so we’re looking for a picture of Grace McKenna posing or for one of a woman who looks like her. That’s two possible motives for Granddad’s fascination with her—so far.”

“So far?” April enquired. She loved that they were investigating like this. It was about time someone did. She noticed Jason had begun referring to her grandfather as simply Granddad. The notion of that was nice.

“Yes—so far,” Jason said. “We need to keep an open mind, but those two possibilities are a good start… I’m going to check out the spare bedrooms where those drifters used to stay.”

He left April with the photographs. There were thousands of them, all bound in stacks with a random assortment. She found some she recognised from her youth with others taken years before she was born. She remembered the photos used to be loose in the case. It was as if Granddad had just bought a box of elastic bands and bound them in stacks as he picked them up. By the time Jason returned, April had found a few with women in them who slightly resembled Grace McKenna.

“Anything?” Jason asked, leaning on the door frame.

“Nope. Not really… Are you getting hungry?”

He nodded. “I was just thinking that.”

“Feel like a meat pie?”

He nodded again. “Or two.”

“These are big.” April led the way. “Come on.”

“Should we lock the house?”

“No—it’s only down the street.”

They strolled side-by-side. April felt radiant.

“What’s the go with the neighbours?” Jason asked. “That’s the third one looking out a window at us.”

April chuckled. “Well, since you’re a strange man in town, it could be my teenage reputation as a slut coming to the fore. Or it could be that we just came from the house of the town murderer who will be released from prison soon—much to everyone’s dismay.”

The ‘slut’ reference had been overly blunt, April realised too late. Jason didn’t respond.

“Did you know I had a baby when I was sixteen?” she blurted. He said he liked me as I am.

“I didn’t know,” he replied quietly.

“Do you remember Michael?”

“Yeah. You guys were together.”

“He skipped town when I told him. I never saw or heard from him again.”

“Humph—figures.”

“It does… Heather, by the way. I never had a regret once she was born. She’s studying medicine in Melbourne now.”

Jason chuckled. “So, she got your brains.”

April laughed. “She’s smarter than me. She’d never fall for a Michael.”

“He matured early—had stubble and muscles. That’s all you teen girls wanted back then.”

“That’s true,” April admitted. “Shallow, huh?”

“Not at all. Us guys were all about short uniforms and boobs… And nothing has changed with the times. My boy Micky is only twelve but he’s started to notice girls. He’s already teasing his older sister.”

April blushed. “So—two children? Or was it eight?”

“Just two. But that’s complicated.” There was a pause. April waited for the guy to continue. “They are my children in as much as I have raised them and love them, but I’m actually a stepdad.”

“Makes no difference, Jason. I know plenty of patchwork families around town. Kids just need to be loved.”

“Yes, but I’ve just now become the ex-stepdad, which puts me under a different roof and feels weird. Plus there’s another guy, and that’s just complicated… Not that I’m stressed about him and her—just about how the kids are going to handle it.”

Jason had blurted all of that out, seemingly as reluctant as April felt about mentioning Eric. She didn’t have any worthwhile advice to offer. They had arrived at the bakery in the shopping centre. “These are good,” she said, indicating the meat pies behind the glass. “My shout… Coffee?”

“Flat white, no sugar, please?”

“Grab the table before someone else does,” April told Jason. It was difficult to get a spot there in the food court at lunchtime. She ordered and waited for the coffees. She needed to change the subject. Telling him about being married could wait. The fact he was just ending a relationship was interesting. She had no idea what she wanted to do with it, but it was an exciting piece of information.

No! Forget it, April. You’re not getting any rebound sex. He’s the one likely to be rebounding, and you’re not available.

April felt like she was entitled to be rebounding. She had argued with Eric on the phone that morning. She had done it deliberately because she felt like being angry with him after telling Mandy he had cheated that time. She couldn’t genuinely feel angry because it never hurt… She needed some form of passion in her day.

 

Chapter 8

Anastasia Fontaine finished weeding the begonias and moved on to the boxed pink and orange petunias she had bordering the length of the children’s playground. She was using her gardening fork to aerate the sandy soil after all the rain lately. The timber box the flowers were planted in afforded her a seat while she worked. At seventy-two years of age she couldn’t spend too long bent over anymore. She loved her garden, though, and the squeals of the children climbing, swinging and running around—like the rumble of the waves onto the beach beyond the playground—soothed her.

Anastasia had arrived on Lorton Island in the summer of 1969 after hitchhiking across Australia from the far west coast with her girlfriend Veronica Lehman. Veronica had remained in Sydney with the Trelor Sect members, and was killed in 1972. Anastasia had avoided the group and sought the small community on Lorton Island in an attempt to locate her children.

That was 40 years ago—her life now her garden and her shell trinkets. She made and sold the trinkets out of her home on the far side of the island. For a few hours each day, she tended her garden at the Lorton Island Resort. It was a full service four star holiday destination off the south-east coast of Australia. Her nephew worked in customer service. He sat down beside her. It wasn’t time for him to drive her home yet.

“These have come up bright after the rain, Aunty.”

“It’s the spring sun, Alec. Winter’s passed again.”

“Again? Yeah, I guess it does about this time every year, Aunty.” Alec had a cheeky grin. It was his natural disposition. He still looked like the teenage boy sent to the island ten years ago. He had been getting into drugs, and his mother, Anastasia’s niece, had hoped the change would straighten him out. He was a nice boy at heart, Anastasia found. He took good care of her, running her back and forth to the other side of the island since her legs were too weary to make the long walk these days.

“I was just thinking about all the winters I’ve been here on the island, Alec. I had a dream about Veronica Lehman last night—the young girl I came across the desert with back in the 1960s.”

Alec was poking the sand with a stick. “And I know why, Aunty. Like you always say about the spirits watching for us and that… I heard some news from the mainland today, about that nurse who was killed down in Everly Cove—the one you wanted to know about.”

“Grace McKenna?” Anastasia turned from her gardening to face her young nephew.

“Yep… They found her remains. She was buried at a soccer field.”

“And her killer?”

“Don’t know.” Alec was being called by his boss. He checked his watch. “That’s all I heard, Aunty. Back in half an hour, okay?”

Anastasia left her gardening and walked across the grass to the beach. She looked out at the expanse of ocean, in the direction of the mainland just beyond the horizon. It was an hour ferry ride across, then a two hour journey down the coast to Everly Cove. Anastasia had travelled there once, twenty years ago. She had read a name in a newspaper that made her skin crawl, but she had been compelled to go there—to do anything that might lead her to knowledge of what had happened to her children. She had lost her babies to the religious sect she had been involved with when she was young. The best information she had was that they were buried somewhere there on Lorton Island.

For the half hour until her nephew returned, she stood staring out at the ocean—at the past. Alec drove her in an open Jeep belonging to the resort. He was on his afternoon break, it being only a ten minute run over the forested hill in the centre of the small island. He dropped Anastasia at the top of a long trail down to her house on an old pier. The trail had been carved out of rock, with mossy steps that required her to cling to a handrail and negotiate sideways.

Sand Maxwell, her neighbour of forty years, was puffing his pipe on his veranda. Ethel James lifted her head and waved a hello. She was even more weathered and sun-browned than Anastasia, and perhaps ten years older, though she would never say. There were six small timber shacks amongst the trees, all housing aged residents who were the remnants of a peaceful nature group that dated back to the early 1960s and had links with the Daisy Meadow commune on the far west coast, where Anastasia had come from.

Anastasia’s house was open. She had no locks on her doors. She walked in through her shopfront to her rooms in back. She only had the one photograph of her children: Clay at four cuddling Summer, aged two. She picked up the picture from the mantle above the fireplace and wiped the glass window with her apron. A tear rolled down her cheek as she took a breath.

On the floor beside her blanketed lounge chair was a polished wooden box, which she opened as she sat down. She removed a folded baby blanket. It was yellow and blue, knitted by her own hands. She held it to her face and drew in the scent she believed it still held. She rested back, her hand dropping into the box, her gnarled old fingers clutching a scrolled sheet of paper tied with a pink satin ribbon. She placed the blanket on her lap and pulled the tie, opening the page to reveal two sets of footprints, one from each of her children, marked in pink and blue paint and taken from the day of each child’s first steps.

Anastasia’s head rocked back to rest against her pillow. Forty years of torment welled up within her as tears streamed down her deeply lined face. The image of a young man haunted her. He used to pass himself off as a man of God, but he was evil, she knew. His name: Clive Petrov.

 

Chapter 9

April held the screen door open while Jason lugged the heavy suitcase into the house. He placed it on the lounge room floor, laid it on its base and opened it. He guessed there would have been a couple of thousand photos. He again looked through the ones April had separated. She returned from the kitchen with a beer for each of them. She was sipping hers. He twisted the top off his and gulped thirstily. It was a warm spring afternoon.

“I don’t know about any of these,” Jason said. “Maybe this one. It looks a bit like her.”

“I know… I’ve only looked through these,” April replied, taking four packages from the edge of the case.

She started on another stack. Jason did also. He was sitting with his back against a recliner. April sat in front of the lounge with her bare legs swayed to one side. She had on denim shorts. Her legs were toned and tanned, her body slender and in good physical shape, he noticed. He had been noticing all day.

She held up another photograph.

“In the looks like pile,” he suggested.

“Here’s one from when they were building the new marina.” She held up another, passing it to Jason as he leaned across the case. It was difficult to date the photos. They were all printed on the same paper and had no markings on them. There had been a darkroom at the back of the house where Lester developed his own prints. It seemed he had taken all the photos between about 1950 and 1985, but the only way to distinguish the approximate year was to identify landmarks. The new marina was built between ‘84 and ‘86.

“Is that you?” Jason asked, flashing a photo of two girls walking along a pier.

“Yes, that’s me and my girlfriend Lainy. We would have been about 13, I guess.”

Jason looked from the photo to April. “What happened to your hair?”

“What? I was trying a new style.”

She tried to grab the photo. Jason held it away.

“Is that spiked?”

“No! That’s the wind.”

“It looks spiked. Was this at Halloween?”

She laughed. “What happened to your hair? Looks like you just woke up.”

Jason patted down his scruffy mane.

“Plus you need a shave,” she added, resuming her search through the photos.

Jason hadn’t shaved that morning and had a stubbly growth he was rubbing as he watched April’s face. She glanced and grinned subtly. He wondered what was going on right then and how long ago he had kissed those lips—been kissed by them… It was like he could still remember the taste of her.

She held up another photo. He squinted to focus from the metre distance. “That’s interesting. Is that her house?”

“Yes. It’s the laneway beside her fence, but she’s not posing. She’s looking over the other fence—possibly talking to someone.”

Jason crawled around for a closer look. It was definitely Grace McKenna. “Is there any more in that pile?”

They looked through the rest together but found no others. Jason remained there beside April. He noticed her legs swaying toward him now. She had shifted when he moved closer. He could smell the fragrance of her hair, the scent of her skin. They sorted through more stacks of photos, putting a few others in the looks like pile.

“Are you getting hungry?” April asked.

Jason nodded.

“I’m a lousy cook… Pizza do?”

“I love pizza.”

She smiled. “Another beer?”

“Yes, please.”

She tossed him the phone on the way to the kitchen. “Number three on speed dial. I like Hawaiian.”

“What’s the address?” he called out to her when she had disappeared. The phone was ringing.

“They get it off your number. Just tell them what we want,” she called back.

Jason ordered a Hawaiian and a meat lover’s. April handed him his fresh beer, and when he had twisted the cap off, she took it from him and gave him the other one. Their fingers brushed. He was lying propped on an elbow. She sat, extending her legs that time, with one scissored across the other. He put down the phone.

She was blushing slightly. She spoke without looking at him. “It doesn’t feel right to talk about Eric. Not with you.”

Jason took that in. Eric had not yet been mentioned, but there was a photo on the bureau across the room and April was wearing a wedding ring. “Your husband?” Jason asked quietly.

April nodded. “He’s in France, visiting his family.”

A rush of tingles attacked Jason, heating his neck and face. He suddenly didn’t care, though. “Seems there’s always another dude when I bump into you, April.”

Her mouth opened but she didn’t speak. She half smiled, shaking her head. Her eyes turned upon him. “I wish there wasn’t.”

Jason nodded, biting his grin. “Hmm—that’s um… That’s…” He couldn’t find a word to describe what that was.

“Too much information?” April asked.

He shook his head. “No…”

Her smile broadened. She almost said something but seemed to change her mind. “So, you and your wife were married how long?”

“We never married. We were together ten years.”

“And you’ve always been a private investigator? How did you get into that?”

“No, I was a cop for a while, then a security guard—which was boring as… Then I got into this through my boss, Jack Baine, who I worked with in the force. This is mostly pretty mundane work too, but occasionally something interesting pops up.”

“This is interesting?” April asked, sipping her beer.

“Very much so. If this was a police investigation I wouldn’t get anywhere near it. I’d be sitting on a speed trap or doing crowd control or something… How about you, April—what do you do for a living?”

“Pastry cook. I manage the Woolworths bakery at the centre.”

“Oh cool! Thought you said you couldn’t cook?”

“I can’t. Not regular food. Chinese is number four on speed dial, and I virtually have my own table at the Bar & Grill.”

“Yeah, I had a few beers and watched karaoke there last night.” Jason looked up deliberately. “Thanks for inviting me to stay, April. It was nice of you.”

Her blush fired up. “I wasn’t being nice. I don’t know what I was being.”

Jason again looked up from peeling his beer bottle label. “I had it pretty bad for you, you know?”

April nodded. “It was lovely—those few times together.”

“Did you really keep my letters?”

“They’re here somewhere. I’d have to search for them.”

Jason chuckled. “No! Please don’t!”

“Why? They were cute.”

He took out his wallet and handed her the photograph he had kept. She just looked at it. “It’s silly—I know,” he said. “I was thinking about this driving here yesterday—wondering if I might be able to find out what became of you… We were kids. I was a kid! It couldn’t have been real, but I honestly can’t get there again.”

“Get where?” She peered at him intently.

“Was that love? Was I in love with you? I haven’t felt that rush of absolute fear and excitement with anyone since then… That’s crazy, right? That’s just silly.”

April shook her head. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt that. My ditsy cousin—the one from earlier…”

“Mandy?” Jason asked.

“Yes—Mandy. Looking at her right now—in love with this new guy—I’ve never been like that. I’ve never been head over heels.”

April looked at the photo again, shaking her head. She peered up with her eyes watering. “I can’t believe you kept this,” she said, chuckling, a little painfully, it seemed. “What happened to Michael? You cut him out.”

Jason grinned.

“It’s a terrible photo. I hated that bikini.”

He stuck out his hand for her to return it. “I like it.”

She gave it back. “There’s plenty here for you to choose from.”

“I like this one…” He returned it to his wallet, holding her calculating gaze. He didn’t know what was going through her mind, but she was figuring out something.

“I lied,” she stated simply.

“About what?”

She continued to study him, not answering immediately. “I know exactly where your letters are, Jason.”

His neck and face heated again. That swarm of tingles was back.

“They’re in my jewellery box, in a secret compartment… It would be testing my memory now, but during those first few years, I could easily recite them.” She glanced away, her eyes watering up to the point of tears. “I received them when I was pregnant with Heather.” She rubbed at her cheeks, sniffling. “It was silly… We were just fun to me at the time. I wasn’t even sad when you left—which is a horrible thing to say, I know. But it’s true. I was a shallow little bitch and got what I deserved… And I realized that when I was sitting there pregnant and alone, and bawling my frigging eyes out reading your stupid love letters.”

April finished up giggling. Jason had a laugh too.

“I told you they were stupid.”

“No, they’re corny,” she corrected herself. “Corny and cute and really sweet. And you have less chance of getting them back than I do of getting back that picture and burning it.”

Jason lay back on the floor looking up at the ceiling and resting his beer on his chest. “So, what happened to Meatloaf?”

April got up and went to the entertainment unit. “I lost the cassette.” She put a CD in the player, and as she sat back down, the intro to Bat Out of Hell blasted from the surround speakers. She pointed the remote and reduced the volume.

Jason turned his head to face her. He had another moment of abandon. “We kissed to this music last time.”

April’s eyebrows lifted. She held up her left hand and jiggled her wedding rings.

Jason rolled his eyes. “Sorry!”

She lay down on the floor too, propped on her elbows, her face—her lips—dangerously close. “After we do this private eye thingy, you’re not going to disappear on me again, are you?”

Jason shook his head.

“Good,” she went on, and she touched his chin with a finger, turning his face away as she softly kissed his cheek. “It’s nice to see you again, Jason.”

He wanted to stroke her hair. The compulsion to touch her face right then was almost overwhelming. He looked at her lips, her eyes. He took a breath. Her teeth raked her lower lip, her eyes sparkling with the remnants of her tears from a moment ago—or were there new ones welling up? He touched her arm, stroking with a finger.

There was a loud knock at the door. Jason lingered. April held his gaze. He went and paid for the pizzas. When he turned back, April was standing, wringing her hands and just looking at him. “Let’s eat,” he suggested. She nodded.

They pushed the case of photos aside and pulled a small glass-top coffee table in front of the lounge, sitting either side of it on the floor.

“I probably shouldn’t be here,” Jason admitted. He knew he shouldn’t be in another man’s house, feeling the way he did about the wife.

“I don’t want you to go,” April said.

“But I might grab you if I stay much longer.”

“Don’t do that,” she uttered, picking at a slice of pizza.

“That wasn’t very convincing.”

She glanced up, blushing a little.

He chuckled. “So, I have to maintain self-control, eh?”

She grinned, nodding some more. “I need what you want but I’m not allowed to have it.” Her sideways look was full of tease.

“So, if I do grab you after pizza, you won’t be able to resist?” He could tease too.

She shook her head.

He nodded acknowledgment. For all her fire she struck him as sweetly feminine right then. This was an irresistible combination of traits in a woman. Not only was Jason’s heart feeling light and alive, he also sported an erection as she continued to toss demure little glances across at him.

He had a trait or two himself. One was cutting through bullshit and asking the inappropriate yet pertinent question. “Why didn’t you go to France too?”

She grinned. “Good question… I don’t think you would need three guesses.”

Jason chuckled. “Good answer… Why was Mandy so keen to dob you in over keeping my letters?”

“No way! It’s my turn… When did you first realize I was married—before or after you decided to stay here with me?”

That was an easy one. “To be honest, I was shocked to get invited. I noticed your wedding rings when you were yelling at me in the car park.”

She laughed. “You noticed I was married when I was yelling at you?”

“I noticed your butt too, when you were walking away.”

Her pretty eyes widened. “Scumbag! I was angry with you!”

“You’re hot when you’re angry. You always were.”

“Hmm—Mr Smooth… Maybe no girl would be safe inviting you home to stay.” She took a bite of a sagging slice of pizza, eating it and washing it down with a swig of beer. “I checked for a wedding ring when I first saw you at the house.”

Jason smiled at that little piece of information. “I remember Mandy as a little kid. She seems to have not changed at all—very sweet and genuine.”

“Yes, she is that,” April agreed quietly. “Another beer?”

“I’ll get it,” Jason offered. “Where’s the gent’s?”

“Past your room, next on the left.”

The few minutes of sobering chat had alleviated the erection issue, enabling Jason to stand without risk of embarrassment. He freshened up his face in the bathroom—ruffled his hair, feeling cheeky. He needed to calm down, though. He had to restrain himself here. The prompting from Mandy had told him April was probably unhappy. The absence of the husband, overseas alone while she was on holidays from work, said that her marriage was likely not going well. She had skilfully brushed his question about that, her integrity making her even more alluring. Jason knew if he grabbed her he could taste her lips again. He wanted to do that badly but needed to resist the urge.

He twisted the top off April’s beer and handed it to her, meeting her smile. “I’m just going to sit over here and behave myself,” he announced.

“Me too,” she replied. “Over here where it’s safe.”

She was a horrible tease. She hadn’t changed a bit since high school.

“I’m going to check some more photos,” he said, pointing.

“I need to wash my hands first.” She took the pizza boxes and stepped across Jason’s legs, flashing more tease back over her shoulder as she went into the kitchen.

***

April put the boxes on the counter and wiped her greasy fingers with a tea towel. She tugged at her top and brushed her shorts down. Oh my god—what am I doing?

She rinsed her hands in the sink and plucked at her hair, using her reflection in the window. It was almost dark out.

“Hey, April, have a look at these!” Jason called out.

April took a breath, glaring at her guilty self, admonishing her wickedness. Jason waved a handful of photos as she returned to him sitting there on her floor. She sat beside him. She was the worst kind of flirt.

“Look—she’s in all of these,” he said. “Here sitting on her steps. Here posing on a car.” The girl was lying across the hood, bare legs swished together, head tossed back.

“That’s some pose,” April pointed out. “That’s sexy!”

“And here hanging towels in a bikini. She’s definitely looking at the camera, and she isn’t unhappy.”

“That car’s an older style. Are you sure that one is her?”

“Yes, that’s the back of that car there where she’s hanging the towels. It’s a 1954 FJ Holden. I’ve got a model of the 56 utility. It’s a popular classic. Looks immaculate there. Maybe the boyfriend’s project.” He sorted through the pile. The girl was in all of them. “Here’s one at the pier with a Valliant wagon. That was the one Granddad drove back then, and she’s leaning against it. She’s definitely there with him.”

“Yes, but apparently she did accept his friendship initially, and later she reported him for peeping and stalking her. Some of these could have been taken before she changed her mind about him.”

“Oh, I see… Never the less, we’ll keep these aside. We can look for more later if we need them.”

Bat Out of Hell was still playing. April bound the small stack of photos they were keeping separate. She put that aside and closed the lid of the old suitcase.

“Eric cheated on me last time he was in France. I think I’m hoping he does it again,” she blurted. “But it isn’t his fault. It’s pretty chilly here. It has been for a long time. And that’s not him—it’s me.”

Jason nodded. “I know what you mean. It has been like that between Raelene and me these past few years. I’ve only been hanging in because of the kids. I was happy for her when I noticed she started dressing differently and doing herself up, obviously for another guy. That’s when we split rooms. It was only a matter of time from there.”

April toyed with the hair on Jason’s shin. “I don’t want to cheat on him.”

There was no response forthcoming. She glanced to find Jason rubbing at the label on his beer bottle. “I wouldn’t want to play around with you, April. I don’t think I could take it so lightly.”

She blushed.

He glanced up, meeting her eyes. “I don’t want to be the other guy again. That hurt too much last time.”

She nodded, accepting that. “So, what do you want?”

He shrugged, offering a grin. “To work out who killed this nurse chick and clear your granddad’s name.”

April smiled.

“With you,” Jason added.

She lay down on the floor on her back with her head resting upon his thigh. “As old school friends?”

“Yep—old school friends… We can do that.”

“Perfect,” April agreed.

 

Chapter 10

Jason tossed and turned a bit through the night. He had a grip, but this woman, whom the mere idea of all these years had made him suddenly want to star gaze—well, she was asleep just the other side of the wall. He had caught a glimpse of her in pyjamas when she popped her head in to say goodnight. They were short summer ones and looked cute.

He rolled over, pulling the pillow around his head. Sleep eventually came.

Breakfast the following morning was a stack of pancakes with lemon and sugar. Jason kept eating them as fast as they were being fried up.

“So, you’re a big-shot private eye and you don’t even have a boat license. What if you have to go investigate something on one of the zillion islands off the coast and there’s no public transport? Do you tell your client—sorry, can’t help ya?”

Jason folded a pancake in half then folded it again. He stabbed it with his fork and opened wide to fit the whole thing in his mouth. “These are good,” he mumbled.

April’s eyes rolled. She cut a small slice off the one she was eating. “Do you want more?”

“Yes, please.”

She poured another batch of three into the pan. “We need to take sandwiches. It’s about a three hour trip each way. The resort on the island is only open to guests.”

“I can make sandwiches.”

“Well, go on, then. There’s shaved ham and tomatoes in the fridge.”

April had been to the bakery that morning while Jason showered and shaved. She had on a short floral print skirt and leather sandals. Her lace-trim tank top offered cleavage that Jason’s eyes kept wandering to as he worked on the other side of the counter. There was the string of a pink and white bikini top haltered around her neck. He wondered if swimmers were needed—perhaps they would get wet from the sea spray on the boat April had organized. He had on dress shorts and a polo shirt with a pair of leather loafers. He needed to maintain at least a smart casual appearance while working.

They drove to the marina in his 4WD. It was a small half cabin sports cruiser they were to be sailing in. The cove looked choppy. Jason had never been much for boating. His stomach didn’t handle the swell of the ocean so well when he was a kid. It had been that long, though, and as April took them out between the towering headlands that sheltered the cove, the ocean calmed, and Jason felt fine.

He had a seat beside his old school friend. The wind was blowing her long dark curls back, exposing a slender, soft looking neck. “So, tell me about some of your other cases?” she asked, and the conversation to follow filled a couple of hours, in which they told each other everything about their respective jobs, places they had been on holidays and about their families, and April brought Jason up to date with all the gossip about friends they’d had in school.

Lorton Island loomed on the horizon a short while after the mainland sank away completely. April guided their boat in close to shore where there were jet skiers and board riders, and parasails up in the sky. Rounding a small rocky outcrop brought them to a marina and large glass and chrome building sprawling back into the trees.

“We’re around the other side of the island,” April informed.

“It looks nice here, though… We can’t stop in for a swim and an umbrella drink?”

“Maybe next time, if we book.”

Jason held up his phone, turning it this way and that.

“Good luck getting service over here.” April sped the boat back up again when they had cleared the traffic around the marina. Ten minutes later they arrived at a tiny wooden jetty with a shack built on the end of it.

An old woman was rocking in a chair, watching them as they moored the boat to a post. Jason stepped onto the jetty and took April’s hand. She smiled at him and stepped up beside. He held her hand for maybe a second longer than he needed to and got a flash of curiosity from her eyes.

The old woman had knitting. Her silver hair was in a plait that was so long it rested upon her lap. She squinted at them and offered something of a smile.

Jason didn’t know the name of the woman they were looking for. “G’day, ma’am. My name is Jason Ford. This is April Anderson. We’re making enquiries relating to the death some years ago of a woman named Grace McKenna.” He opened his wallet to show his P.I. registration card.

The woman put on half frame silver glasses and looked closely at it. “You’re not with the cops?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Who you working for?”

“My uncle,” April said. “My grandfather is Lester Barrett. We’re trying to clear his name.”

The old woman nodded, taking them both in. She stood and motioned for them to follow, leading through a rustic gift shop with glass cases filled with shell ornaments and trinkets. Jason was taken aback by what he saw. “Wow, that’s an impressive display, ma’am.”

April’s mouth was hanging open, her eyes wide as she peered around. Jason joined her looking in one cabinet at several necklaces made from the tiniest shells threaded like beads. “Oh my god, look at those. That’s amazing,” she cried.

“Look at the fisherman,” Jason commented. There was a polished slice of tree trunk with a scene mounted on it of a man fishing in a pond. The water was crushed glass, the man made from shells. He had a sad face. The piece stood waist height.

“Would you young folks like a cup of tea?” the old woman asked.

“Yes, please,” April replied.

“That would be nice,” Jason added.

“Wait… Can I have that, please?” April asked, pointing to one of the shell necklaces. “Do you have a twenty on you?” she asked Jason. “I’ll pay you back.”

The old woman took the necklace from the cabinet and gave it to April. Jason paid her then helped April clip the necklace on. April modelled it in a mirror on the wall.

“Please, come in?” The old woman held back a beaded curtain for them to enter her home. She took them through a cluttered sitting room with a huge lounge chair and into a small kitchen where she had the makings of tea ready on a wooden table.

Jason sat with April, facing the old woman. She poured them a cup each. “I heard tell of them finding the girl’s body… My young fellow said they dug her up in a field.”

Jason sipped his tea. It was strong—twanged in his throat. “That’s right, ma’am.”

“They said she was buried at sea back when it happened,” the woman went on, her old eyes sharp and focused intently. “Are the cops going to open their investigation again—figure out what really happened this time?”

“I don’t think they will… Do you have any idea what really happened?” Jason asked. “I’m sorry, ma’am, may I ask your name, please?”

“Anastasia Fontaine. You can call me Anastasia since we’re going to be having business dealings you and I.”

“Business dealings?”

She nodded. “You want something. I want something.”

“What do you want?” April asked curiously. “You were at my grandfather’s house once… That was you?”

“Yes. I travelled there once… I needed something but didn’t find it. There was a name in the newspaper: Clive Petrov.”

April cleared her throat. “Who is Clive Petrov, Anastasia? That name is not familiar to me.”

“How about The Pastor—that one ring any bells?” the old woman asked in reply.

They both nodded. “What about him?” Jason asked. He had jotted the name in his notebook.

Anastasia Fontaine sighed. “What about him indeed…” She stirred her tea and took a moment before going on. “What about him is what I would like you to tell me,” she went on resolutely. “You have channels? You have ways of finding people?”

“Yes, ma’am. I have ways of finding almost anyone.”

“Good. Then, when you’ve finished that cup of tea—you go find him.” She was poking the table with a gnarled old finger, the long nail tapping the surface loudly. “You go find him and come back and tell me where he is or that he’s burning in hell, and I’ll tell you what you want to know about your granddaddy not killing that young nurse.”

“You know he didn’t do it?” April implored, her eyes welling with tears.

“Of course he didn’t do it… Find Petrov!”

“Who is Petrov?” Jason asked quietly. “What did he do, ma’am?”

The old woman looked from one of them to the other. Her sharp old eyes settled on Jason. “I’ll answer whatever questions you have about him after you do as I have asked… If you find him you will probably find everything you need to know, anyway…” Her face softened. Anger turned to sorrow and her voice broke from venom to a plea. “Please come back and tell me anything you find? Please?”

“We will, ma’am,” Jason assured, covering her hand with his. “Do you have any idea what became of him after the murder of that nurse?”

She shook her head. The sharpness in her eyes had given way to pain.

Jason drank the last of his syrupy tea and motioned to April that they should leave. “We’ll be in touch,” he said to the old woman in parting. He left her a business card. “Have your young fellow call me if you need to, or if you can think of anything to help.”

*

They cruised from the small inlet, with an old man having joined Anastasia to watch from the jetty. “What do you think he did to her?” April asked. “I thought he was nice.”

“I don’t want to imagine. That was painful for her. I felt so sorry.”

April looked at Jason. “We have to help her.”

“Of course! We’ll do what we can. We’ll soon track that preacher guy down… Can you take us into the resort marina?”

“Sure, but why?”

“I want to give my boss a call. He has contacts. He’ll have everything there is on Petrov within 24 hours—any criminal record and any address he’s ever had. That’s where we’ll pick up tomorrow. When we get back to The Cove we need to have a look what’s in his old caravan. When was the last time he was there, do you think?”

“I’m not sure… He came back a few times. I think the last time I saw him was only a couple of years after Granddad went to prison.”

“I might have to follow his trail. If he had other addresses registered, I’ll need to go check them out.”

“You? You mean we will have to go check them out… You’re not getting rid of me that easily, partner.”

Jason chuckled. “You remind me of my partner. You two would get on well.”

“You have a female partner?”

“Yep. She’s great.”

“Humph—now I’m jealous.”

“You should be… She’s hot.”

April pouted. “So, this is nothing special for you, while for me it’s like the biggest excitement I’ve had in forever?”

Jason shrugged. “She’s even married like you are. And her husband’s this big wrestler dude who’d squash me if I got too cheeky with his woman.”

“Oh… Well, that’s alright, then,” April said.

Jason just smiled while meeting her teasing eyes that time. “Plus I haven’t got it near as bad for her, so that’s different too,” he said.

April took that bit of banter without flinching also. “So, you’ve got it bad for me, huh?”

Jason gave her a quick up and down. “Aw yeah—getting worse by the hour.”

She smiled. “Good.”

“Bet there’s half a dozen guys at your work and another bunch around town I could get in line with on having it bad for you, April.”

She steered into the marina. “I don’t know, Jason. I’m having difficulty thinking of any other guys today.” She tossed him a glance. “I find myself quite distracted.”

She powered back and pulled the boat gently to rest. An attendant tied it to the mooring and moved on to another boat pulling in. Jason swivelled his seat to face April. She slipped from hers and approached him, her gaze lowered, but she lifted her head and tossed her hair back. He smoothed it from her face. She snuggled his hand, taking hold of his arm and tugging him from his seat as she turned to walk away. He pulled her back and caught her around the waist. She was facing him again, her eyes lowered. He looked down at her face. “Can I kiss you?” Why am I asking her?

She shook her head, no—her eyes still downcast.

“Do you want me to kiss you?”

She peered up, her lips slightly parted. He met them, pressing his to them and insisting her mouth open more. It did, and her eyes closed as he drew in her sweet essence, their lips mashing together, the kiss becoming moist and vocal as she moaned into his mouth.

Her arms went around his neck. She leaned into him and he cuddled her. A long moment passed. She lifted her head again, her eyes soft, her lips opening to meet his more willingly that time. His heart thumped. His skin tingled. He met her tongue with his, crushing her to his body as he made love to her mouth.

She submitted to him, her body relaxed as he took more kisses. He lowered her to a soft cushioned bench seat on the side of the boat and had her head tilted back while he stroked her hair and ravaged her lips. He relented when he had taken his fill for the moment.

She was plucking at his shirt, her eyes again downcast. “This is bad,” she uttered. “This is worse than sex—this level of cheating.” She peered up. “Kissing is bad.”

Jason nodded. He kissed her lips again, softly.

She frowned. It seemed she had woken from the trance of a moment ago. She poked his chest. “You’re bad,” she said.

He rolled his eyes, grinning. “I don’t see how kisses are worse than sex… They feel very nice.”

“Really?” she asked. “How long since you last had sex with your ex?”

“Um… About six months ago.”

“And how long since you kissed her like you just kissed me?”

Jason’s face heated guiltily. When had he last kissed Raelene like that?

“See—you can’t even remember, can you?”

“No. Maybe earlier on.”

“Same here,” April said. “That kind of kissing is very bad.” She was smiling now. She took Jason’s hand and pulled him up.

“Bad, but good too,” he tried as he followed her.

She tossed a frown back over her shoulder. He caught up and tried to grab her hand but she pushed him away, giggling. “Cut it out, you!”

Jason cut it out. He couldn’t get the grin off his face, though, and he was brimming with power and pride—not any kind of guilt or regret. April smoothed her hand down over her bottom, glancing back from her shoulder and catching him checking her out. There was still the little frown, but a grin too—in her eyes.

There was a bank of payphones in the foyer of the resort. April headed to the ladies room. Jason called Jack Baine.

“G’day, Jack, it’s Jason. I’ve got a couple of names… Need criminal records and any past addresses you can find.”

“Shoot.”

Jason read from his notebook. “Clive Petrov—Everly Cove 1985. He was in his 30s or 40s at that time. And Anastasia Fontaine of Lorton Island. That’s current. She’d be around 70, I guess.”

“Got it. How soon?”

“Tomorrow will do… If Marcy could email what you find?”

“Sure. We’ll get onto it… How’s it going? Getting any golf in?”

Jason chuckled. “No, Boss. Turns out they want a new investigation… Not as simple as you thought, eh?”

“Nah—I had a feeling… You’ll do alright though, kid. Keep at it. Call if you need anything.”

“Thanks, Boss. Catch you later.”

There was a man working the front desk. He smiled over. Jason approached.

“Good afternoon, sir.”

“G’day,” Jason returned, his mind ticking over the fact he had a fair bit of annual leave to use up. The boss had been on his case about it lately, but life had been so depressing, work was the best place to be. Maybe not so now… “We were just passing and pulled in to use the phone,” he told the maroon coated service manager. He had a gold name tag with his title on it. “So, it doesn’t look so busy here… Would you have any vacancies over the next few weeks? I’d like to book a holiday.”

“Certainly, sir.” The hotelier scrolled with his mouse. “A standard room?”

“Yes. Just for myself.”

“We have a standard room available from the 17th of next month. How long would you like to stay, sir?”

April approached beside Jason. “What’s happening?”

“I’m booking a holiday… How about two weeks?” he asked in reply to the service manager’s question.

The man nodded agreeably. “Name, address?”

Jason produced his driver’s licence and credit card. The booking was complete within a few minutes. “Thanks, Peter,” he said to the guy, reading off his name tag. “So, like I said, we were just passing… We have a picnic lunch. Would it be okay if we used one of the tables out by the pools?”

“Of course, Mr Ford. You and your lady friend are most welcome to spend the afternoon. We look forward to welcoming you properly next time.”

“Oh my god!” April cried excitedly as they strolled back outside. “You scumbag. You can’t do that!”

“What? I deserve a holiday.”

She pouted. “But it’s cruel telling me about it. Now I’m going to know you’re here.”

They collected their lunch from the boat. Jason checked around and quickly dropped his shorts. He had swimmers bundled up in the Australian flag beach towel they had brought.

“What are you doing?” April asked, glaring at him and checking around also.

He had his back to her, pulling his board shorts up and tying them. “I’m going for a swim. Aren’t you?”

“But are we supposed to?”

“That guy said we were welcome. It’s not exactly crowded in the pools. I don’t see the problem.”

“Okay, but before we eat. You’re not supposed to swim after eating.”

They set up at a table beside the largest of the pools. There were a dozen people around, a couple swimming and others sunbathing. There was another pool with a diving tower and spring board, and another with kids playing.

Jason dived in and surfaced to watch April undress. He was right in his suspicions. She had a fantastic body. She was slender and well-toned from her painted toenails to her wavy brunette hair. Her hips were womanly, her breasts filling her string bikini top and swaying gently as she applied suntan lotion then walked to the edge of the pool. She dived in and surfaced a good distance from where Jason stood chest deep in the cool water. It was a good thing she didn’t pop up within his reach.

They swam for a while. April pulled one of the floating chairs from the edge of the pool and got in that, paddling around with her feet dangling and her bottom in the water, her pretty hair strewn over the side of her inflated headrest. Jason floated leisurely. He spun April around a couple of times when they were passing and exchanging smiles. She splashed him when he did it.

She got out first and used their towel to dry off before handing it to him. They sat opposite sides of the table and started on lunch. April poured the cola they had brought into plastic cups. “So, what did your boss say?”

“Nothing much yet. I gave him the names of the old lady and that preacher dude. He’ll get back to us by tomorrow with any info.”

“What kind of info—previous addresses and that, like you said?”

“Police records, any criminal convictions… He’ll check their previous work and home addresses with the tax office. He’s got a contact there. I don’t know how he does it. He’ll email us everything there is to know about them—easy as.”

“That old woman made it sound like The Pastor was either a killer or a rapist. She seemed shattered by something he had done.”

“Yeah—she obviously thinks he killed the nurse.”

“What do you think that would mean for Granddad? Would the police do anything if we found enough evidence about the guy?”

“I think the best we could hope for is his conviction overturned and his record cleared. I don’t think there would be much point going after them for a wrongful conviction and incarceration. It would go back to his confession, which would be a false statement and his own fault.”

“We only want the truth known,” April said. “We want to know what really happened, and for Granddad’s name to be cleared if he didn’t do it… He just wants to come home.”

Jason took that in. He detected the tiny bit of doubt in April. She didn’t know whether her grandfather was innocent—not for certain. This investigation was first about establishing the facts for her, and no doubt for the guy’s son.

“Let’s assume this preacher dude is the killer,” Jason started in reply to April’s plea. “We will need to find enough evidence for the police to become interested. They will if we make a compelling enough argument. As much as they don’t want to waste resources on an old case, they also don’t like killers running around the countryside.”

“Okay… Good,” April said. “If we track the guy down, we might find something—right?”

“Yep. That’s what we’re going to try for… But the other thing we need is for Granddad to take back his confession. We need to work on him—find out what his issue is here—why he’s been happy to sit in prison for twenty years if he’s not guilty… That’s where I think the real mystery lies. I’ve a feeling there’s more to those photos than a girl changing her mind and suddenly rejecting his interest.”

“Well, what do you think happened with her?”

“I don’t know, April. I just have a hunch what you and your uncle need to know is right there in that suitcase full of photos.” Jason brushed off his sandwich crumbs. “But let’s start with The Pastor,” he said grinning and getting up to face the pool.

“You can’t dive in with a full stomach!” April scolded.

Jason slipped easily into the water and swished back from the edge to float in the middle. “Come on, you can dangle your legs, or get back in your bum chair.”

April frowned at him. “It’s not a bum chair.”

“Sure it is. You get a wet bum sitting in it, don’t you?”

She shook her head, blushing, and sat on the edge of the pool dangling her legs. He restrained himself from commenting on how good her bum looked, and how he thought about pinching it once or twice earlier. Maybe such was being transmitted telepathically, as she kept smiling yet glaring at him. He gave her a splash.

“Wait till I get you back in that boat… See how many waves I can find to test out your queasy stomach.”

Jason chuckled. “Will you take care of me if I get sea sick?”

“No.”

“Make me lie down? Stroke my head upon your lap?” he tried, grinning cheekily. “I think I’m feeling unwell already.”

“I’ll drop you off at the hospital,” April tossed back at him. “Then I’ll go down to The Grill for band night tonight and see if there’s any real men who want to dance with me.”

“Band night?”

“Uh huh… But if you’re going to be sick in the tummy…”

Jason was at April’s knees. She pressed her feet against his chest as he held her legs. “I’m actually feeling fine,” he said. “What kind of band?”

“It’s a local rock band. They’re pretty good.”

He nodded, holding her gaze. “You coming back in?”

She shook her head. “It’s not safe.”

“After eating?”

She shook her head again. “It just isn’t.”

He smiled. “That’s true.”

“Come on, let’s go. It’s getting late, and I want to get back before dark.”

 

Chapter 11

April steered the little cruiser in through the headlands just on dusk. The cove was quiet. The fleet of fishing boats were all moored for the night—a few whiskered, leathery-skinned men finishing up their final jobs ready to head over to the pub or home to their families.

April pulled back on the throttle, and Jason jumped onto the pier and tied down their boat. He still had on board shorts and no shirt. His lithe body, six-pack and muscular shoulders made April feel even more guilty than she deserved. Eric had aged kind of flabby and soft, not at all athletic. He was also plain featured with a receding hairline and burgeoning double chin, while Jason was cute and square jawed—his stubble yesterday had made him look rugged, not untidy. April wasn’t going to say anything next time he forgot to shave. He had even felt whiskery when he kissed her earlier—whiskery and strong.

“What?” he asked, grinning down at her and offering a hand to help her up onto the pier.

She peeled her eyes off his torso and took his hand. “Nothing! Are you sure you don’t want to check that old caravan? It’s still light enough.”

“There’s no rush. It’s been abandoned for fifteen years. The morning will do… Feels like knock-off time today.”

“Knock-off time? Like you’d know what it’s like to do a real day’s work.”

Jason chuckled. “Yeah, that’s quite true. It’s been a while since I had to punch a time card.”

He pulled on his shirt. April didn’t. She was still in her bikini top and shorts. His eyes were all over her, and she didn’t feel inclined to discourage him. She worked hard to maintain her shape and was proud of it, in spite of the few kilos she couldn’t seem to work off her bum and thighs lately, which her shorts hid quite effectively.

April always dressed for a bit of attention when she went out at night, which was often with Mandy and her brother, David, who was a great character and a lot of fun to party with. She called her cousin as soon as she got home.

“What are you doing tonight, Mandy? Are you going down for band night?”

“I don’t know. David and Clair will be. We’re undecided.”

“Well, you have to,” April commanded. “I’m bringing Jason, and I don’t know Clair well enough yet. You have to come.”

“Oh really? Who are you bringing?”

“Jason.”

“Who?” Mandy giggled.

“Shut up! It’s not like that.”

“What are you wearing?” her inexorable cousin asked.

“A potato sack. See you in an hour. You’d better be there!”

“Oh, I wouldn’t miss this. I’ll be there waiting for you both.”

April just shook her head. She blushed into the phone. “He kissed me, by the way.”

There was a short pause before, “Oh boy!”

Oh boy is right.”

“What kind of kiss? Just one?”

“Um… I don’t remember if it was just one or more than one. It kind of went for a while, and I’m not sure I didn’t dream some of it.”

“Oh—one of those kind of kisses.”

“Yes. And I’m married. And going to hell,” April declared.

“Hmm… Actually, that’s true on paper, but I don’t believe it necessarily stacks up in time.”

“Meaning?”

“Well, it depends on what happens next—whether or not you got kissed by your future husband.”

“Future husband? Are you mad, woman? He’s been here 24 hours. We’re virtual strangers.”

“No, you’re not. You were his first love. You were together before you even met Eric.”

April flopped in a lounge chair. Jason was in the shower. She would have a quick one and put on something in a minute.

“You shouldn’t be kissing him if it’s not going to amount to anything, April. That would be wrong, if you did that.”

“So, you’re saying that if it turns into a relationship, it’s not wrong?”

“Not just any relationship,” Mandy corrected. “It’s hard to say getting with another guy when you’re married is not a ticket to hell, but what if you end up happily ever after with the other guy? What if it’s not just a relationship but a loving relationship? Which you can’t have two of at one time—so, if you can start a new one, you weren’t in one.”

“I’m not in one,” April said emphatically. “If I didn’t know that yesterday, I certainly know it today.”

“Oh really?” her cousin sang. “And how is it that you suddenly know all about being in love? You didn’t have a clue the other morning when I was asking you about it.”

That was a good question—one April had no ready answer for.

“I see,” her cousin went on. “We’ll talk about that later… Now, what are you wearing tonight?”

Jason’s shower had been turned off. April dispensed with Mandy’s matchmaking antics for the moment and had a quick shower herself. She double-checked her bum in a new pair of jeans and chose a short lacy top that showed her toned belly but no cleavage—a smear of lipstick and a wisp of perfume, and she was ready.

She suddenly liked the big, exorbitant car, enjoying the thrill of being driven around in luxury. Jason was also in jeans, with a dark collared shirt. His hair was tussled sexily, and he hadn’t shaved again, that whiskery shade to his face making him look just a little bit rugged.

They were chatting about the changes to town over the years. April’s mouth was watering as she watched Jason’s lips. Was she going to be kissed again tonight? She shouldn’t be wanting that, but as they strolled through the car park, the thought swirled around her. She edged close, their arms brushing and lighting her skin with tingles. He could have stopped and pulled her into his arms right then. Instead, he ushered her through the door of the Bar & Grill with his hand touching her lower back, and it remained lightly resting upon her hip as he asked for a table.

Jason pulled April’s chair and waited while she sat. His head was at her shoulder right then. She wasn’t game to look at him and give herself away. He took his seat and met her eyes. “I’m thinking, a big, juicy steak.”

“The steak is good.”

He nodded slowly, his eyes lifting. “You have pretty hair.”

“Thanks.”

He glanced down at her mouth. She bit her lip.

“I might try the baked potato.”

“Those are good too,” she said.

April never noticed what the waiter taking their order looked like. She introduced Mandy’s boyfriend, Brent, and her cousin David and his girlfriend, Clair, when they stopped by, but she did so in a bit of a daze, just watching Jason eat and smile up at everyone.

Later, she was dragged onto the dance floor by the other girls while the guys shot some pool. The band only played a few sets of rock before quietening down and blending into the background quite early on a weeknight.

The girls ended up at a table together. It looked like the guys were involved in a competition with some other men. April was caught looking over again.

“Looks like she has it bad,” Clair suggested to Mandy. Clair was new in town, having recently opened a florist business. She was between Mandy’s and April’s age and very pretty with blond hair she had just trimmed quite short.

April shook her head. “I don’t know what’s gotten into me. I can’t keep my frigging eyes off him.”

“So, you used to know him in school?” Clair asked.

“Yeah—we hung out a couple of times. Then he moved away. But he wasn’t this cute back then.”

“He is that,” Clair agreed, looking over.

“I’ve been thinking about having his babies all afternoon,” April blurted.

Mandy’s mouth opened but no sound came out.

“I know! You were only joking about that the other day, but I’ve seriously been thinking about it for ages. It’s that stupid empty nest syndrome. Ever since Heather moved away it’s like—okay, what now? What am I supposed to do with the rest of my life when I’m only thirty-five?”

Mandy was blushing now, her smile in her eyes, which were misting up. “I think you should have babies,” she said simply.

“What does Eric think?” Clair asked. The little April knew about her was her tendency to be straight forward and practical.

“He’d think I was nuts if I tried to tell him. He had children before we met, who are all grown up now, and with Heather moving away, it’s like he has his long awaited freedom… He’s forty-five. That’s reasonable.”

“So, if you wanted to have a family, you would have to leave him,” Clair pointed out, and sipped her drink. “Do you love him?”

“Who—Eric?”

Both other girls giggled. “Yes—Eric,” Mandy clarified, squeezing April’s hand under the table.

April huffed. “I don’t know. What is that, anyway?”

“It’s when you’re sitting there staring at some guy with the dumb look you’ve had on your face all night,” Mandy explained.

April frowned at her young cousin. “And what are you wearing, anyway? Where’d you get that dress? Careful your boobs don’t fall out the top.”

Mandy was sipping from her straw. She pointed at Clair. “She made me buy it.”

“Made you?” Clair scoffed. “She said Brent goes crazy when she wears boob dresses. She bought like, four of them.”

Mandy giggled. “Well, he does! He gets jealous of other guys looking and goes all macho when we get home. But he gave me the money to go shopping, and he knew I was going with Clair, so…”

They all laughed. Clair’s dress was cut as low as Mandy’s, but hers always were. She had been a stripper in her previous job and seemed quite relaxed about showing skin. She had certainly changed Mandy’s attitude toward her choice of fashion, but they both looked classy, and April usually showed a bit more than she was tonight. She would rarely wear jeans out with the girls.

Brent came back and took Mandy for a slow dance. Clair had had a difficult life and impressed April with her maturity and plain common sense in conversation. There was an affinity building in the new friendship, which April liked.

“I don’t even know if it’s Jason or just someone—anyone!” she shared quietly.

Clair shook her head. “Well, I had no idea what being in love was until I met David. And even then I didn’t know what I was feeling until later… I’ve always had all my own answers. He has made me realize I was the only one asking questions… His questions are much more exciting than my own.”

“So, you lost control—to him?”

“Yep. In a nutshell. I’m feeling stuff way out of control. He just kind of gathers it in and makes me feel safe… It’s the being out of control that is so exciting.”

April frowned. She got that. It made sense. “But wouldn’t you feel like that with any new and exciting guy—that ‘out-of-control’ thing? I think I’ve been tempted to go there a lot lately, just more so with Jason because… I don’t know—because the opportunity is right here in front of me.”

“Hey, I’m no expert,” Clair said, chuckling. “If you had have asked me what being in love was a couple of months ago I would have said, ‘no such thing’.” She paused, pondering more of that thought, it seemed. “But you’re right. I’ve had that exciting rush with guys before, feeling all out of control and that. But it’s different this time. It was different afterward—after I kind of pushed David away, I realized this wasn’t the same as with anyone else… I needed him.”

April huffed. “This isn’t helping.” She giggled. “I feel like a frigging teenager again.”

“Do you want another drink?” Clair asked.

“No—I want one of those slow dances Mandy’s getting. I can at least have one of those, can’t I?”

“We can do that,” Clair said, and she got up and walked over to the guys. April watched her grab David’s hand. He was dancing with her whether he wanted to or not, it seemed. She led him past where Jason stood chatting with another guy, and April blushed as Clair lifted close and whispered in Jason’s ear.

April turned away as Jason immediately looked over. She refused to turn back until he was right there beside her, grinning.

“That girl called me a Wally and said I should be asking you to dance.”

April shrugged innocently. “Maybe she’s right.”

Jason extended a hand. “May I have the pleasure?”

April blushed some more. She almost called him smooth again, but words didn’t feel appropriate. She placed her hand in his and allowed him to lead her to the dance floor. Mandy was smiling her head off. Clair was peering up into David’s eyes, looking just like April felt. April was taken into Jason’s arms and held close as they swayed to the soft music. She dared not look up at him, rather kept her head against his shoulder. There were others dancing and watching who knew her and knew she was married. She didn’t care.

The next song was the last for the night. April was held and gently cuddled through it. A half hour later she was unlocking her front door, with Jason at her shoulder, closer than he was supposed to be. She fumbled the door open and he followed inside. She closed the door and turned to take hold of his shirt with both hands. He pulled her to him. She looked up into his eyes. “I can’t, Jason.”

He looked at her lips then met her eyes again. He held her hips, their bodies pressed together. He glanced down, then his gaze returned to hers. He nodded. A little grin curved his lips. “That just makes you the more attractive.”

She laid her head upon his shoulder again. He touched her hair. He had done that while dancing too. “Sorry,” she said.

“Don’t be… You’re a beautiful, married woman, April. I’m going to be more respectful… Starting tomorrow,” he added with a chuckle.

April giggled. “And I’ll behave myself too… Starting tomorrow.”

“Okay,” Jason said. He was still holding her. He rested back on the arm of the lounge, keeping her hands. Their fingers intertwined.

April leaned forward between his thighs, her resolve not very strong. He looked up at her. She chewed on her lower lip, rocking forward, closer still. He lifted his chin, his lips parting as she pressed hers to them softly, his jaw moving and her heart fluttering as the kiss deepened and reached down inside of her.

She broke it off. With a final look into his eyes, she turned and left him there, closing her bedroom door and slumping back against it.

Her hand was over her mouth. Oh boy!……………………

Part 3 coming soon – full novel will be available to read free through January.

From the back cover:

Jason Ford is back in town after twenty years to investigate remains of a young woman unearthed at the local soccer field. April Anderson still has his unanswered schoolboy love letters hidden in the bottom of her jewellery box. Her hubby is overseas visiting his parents. Surely it’s okay to offer an old friend the spare room… Nothing problematic in that, right?

Wrong! All kinds of wrong. All levels of it… But will it ultimately be wrong if it turns out to be a new happily-ever-after?

Both times Jason has encountered April there’s been another dude with a claim. This one is overseas and out of the picture for the next few weeks. And April isn’t happy in her relationship. Not that that should be any of Jason’s business… Except there’s the tiny detail that Jason actually did see and develop feelings for April before this current guy did – back when they were at high school together… Surely that gives him some small level of entitlement, doesn’t it?

Happy reading, G.S.Bailey

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