Authors: Ashlyn Brady
(The First Novella)
Published by Ashlyn Brady
Copyright © 2016 Ashlyn Brady
Cover design © Amygdala Design
First electronic publication: August 2016
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems – except in the case of brief quotations embodied in articles or reviews – without written permission from the author. The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
To my daughters who encouraged me to keep writing this story and not give up.
Perth, Western Australia
The reflection of Kyra’s sad face in the taxi window wasn’t the look of a chief bridesmaid on her way to her best friend’s hen party. It was an awful reminder of her failures—a stalled career and no man in her life.
Her twenties had raced by so fast. She touched a finger to her cheek remembering her last relationship with Trent. They’d started living together with high expectations for the future. Months later, the relationship was split apart by lies.
She couldn’t find a decent guy who valued honesty and love. She didn’t know how other women found the right man to marry. Her bestie, Elin, had fallen in love with Marco quickly and refused to have a long engagement. She was having fun and racing to the marriage altar.
The taxi slowed to make a turn onto the quiet suburban street. There was a beep on her smartphone. Elin had sent a text message,
Hurry up, chick. The hen party is starting and I’m missing you.
She wrote back,
It’s a busy Friday night for the taxis. I’m coming. See you soon.
Elin sent a smiley face reply.
Kyra slipped her phone inside her handbag. She still couldn’t shake her reservations about Elin’s hasty wedding that was to take place the following weekend. Six months of dating didn’t seem like enough time to get to know a man before committing her life to him forever.
If trouble loomed ahead for Elin, then it must be in Kyra’s imagination, because Elin was totally fearless about giving up the single life. What could possibly go wrong for the happy couple anyway? They had love, their health, good jobs, and Marco Tisci had money to spare. It was a near-perfect start to becoming husband and wife.
Kyra caught sight of the brick hotel, the venue for the hen party. She placed a palm against the window. A hint of coolness touched her skin from the spring night air. She was going to find a way to pull her life out of a rut. Maybe she could write a new to-do list and freshen up her goals. Live a little before succumbing to the robotic routine of work, shower, eat, rest, work…
The taxi pulled up alongside the curb. She snatched her hand back from the glass and dropped it onto her lap. Elin didn’t want a grouch at her girls’ night out, spoiling all the fun. Kyra didn’t want to be a cynical friend either. She took comfort from the knowledge that her closest friend was a true believer in love, but Kyra wasn’t living Elin’s life.
She fiddled with the clasp on her purse.
If only Kyra could ignore the voice in her head telling her that a man’s love was a fickle thing. He came, conquered, and then left to find another woman to seduce.
She attempted a smile, and it held. Thinking positive thoughts about the girls’ night out wasn’t such a hard task after all, but now there were butterflies doing gymnastics in her stomach. From gloom and doom to nerves, she was freaking out.
She had a half-hearted laugh about her sorry state of bachelorette-hood, or else she would tear up.
The driver tugged on the hand-brake. “Here’s the Ainslie Hotel, miss.”
“Wonderful.” She passed across the thirty-dollar fare and opened the backseat door to climb out. The soles of her red high-heels touched down on the road.
“Nice shoes, luv.” She let go of another chuckle.
She stood up tall and smoothed the wrinkles in the stylish red and purple cocktail dress she’d picked off a bargain rack with last season’s price tag. After a slow, deep inhale, she was looking good, feeling feminine, and mentally ready to celebrate Elin’s success in the love stakes.
Hey you, ladettes, great to see you all again!
She clutched her handbag to her chest at the ridiculous party greeting that would sink like a brick with Elin’s other loud-mouthed girlfriends.
She gazed at the suburban hotel. The building was a colonial monolith. The top story had wrap-around verandahs decorated with iron lace panels and corner brackets on the posts. There was also an eccentric turret carved into the middle of the roofline.
Elin had said it was the perfect out-of-the-way place to host a celebration. Kyra raised her eyebrows. Period style, wooden homes lined the street. Yes, the thoroughfare traffic had been diverted to the freeway, and the neighborhood did seem peaceful-looking. It wouldn’t stay that way much longer with the Henriettas visiting.
The brochure she’d read claimed that the Ainslie Hotel had once been a community hub for the settler farmers of the Swan Valley to gather, talk and drink. The property was set against the backdrop of the Perth hills.
Nowadays, the pub was advertised as a meeting place for sportsmen. At the rear of the brick building there was a grass field that could be marked up for local football or soccer games, depending on the sporting season.
She stepped onto the footpath. An upmarket bistro would have been her choice of venue for Elin’s girlie get-together. She’d have been happy to save up the money to celebrate a special night in Elin’s life with good quality food, buckets of champagne on ice, and bowls of halved strawberries on the table.
It didn’t surprise her that Elin’s sporting girlfriends, the Henriettas, had influenced her decision as to where to hold the party. Kyra walked across the footpath thinking about the infamous Henrietta Field Hockey Team. The spring in her step petered out before she reached the front door of the Ainslie.
Now she would have to face Elin’s hockey buddies. The hen party was about Elin, not those troublemakers. Kyra couldn’t change what the Henriettas thought about her. She wasn’t one of their ‘kind’. She wasn’t sporty, nor was she a raunchy, heavy-drinker like most of them. She was career-focused. She used her brain to earn a living at Tisci Smallgoods Limited, makers of traditional Italian meat products. Not that her grey matter was making much of an impact on the plunging sales figures.
She ignored the bleats from her internal prophet of doom and kept walking. She pushed open the saloon-style double doors of the hotel and stepped into the front bar.
The room was packed with noisy people. The air rushed out of her lungs at the sight of wall-to-wall men of all ages. There were tanned and fit-looking guys wearing jeans and T-shirts, gym wear and football shirts. Hipsters with neatly trimmed beards were sprinkled through the crowd. There was the odd guy dressed in black jeans and a shirt, maybe a motorbike rider. Then she spotted some average-looking men who wore trousers, white shirts and dull-colored ties.
Elin had said the entrance to the lounge area was through the public bar at the front of the hotel. She shifted on her feet, peering around bodies and over heads. She didn’t know which direction to weave a path through the crowd.
She spotted a plain, paneled door with a mirrored glass sign showing a silhouetted lady’s face and the word
written in old script. She’d have to cut through the jungle of men to reach the far wall. Squeeze behind the guys leaning on the counter, then around the blokes standing near the high tables.
She took her first steps, and her sandals struck a staccato beat across the bare floorboards.
The boisterous conversations softened.
“Gawd, here comes another one for the chook party,” a man called out. “Cluck, cluck, cluck,” he warbled. “Over here chook, pull up a stool and have a beer with me.”
She searched but couldn’t find the owner of the tipsy voice because numerous heads had swung in her direction and startled her.
“She’s better looking than the last ones,” another man called.
A sea of masculine eyes fixed on her. There were drunken eyes, happy eyes, excited eyes, and bored eyes. Her face flushed, probably turning the same color as her shoes.
“How many birds are in the coop next door?” This time she spotted the heavy-jawed man who’d asked the question. He was built like a tank. Not tall, but his hips and shoulders were square and solid. He had a glimmer in his eyes.
She inhaled a deep lungful of air that reeked of beer and strong spirits. Aftershave, body odor and whiffs of tobacco wafted around her. She rubbed her fingers across the bridge of her nose instead of looking obvious, and pinching her nostrils shut against the not-so-nice smells from the group of males packed tightly together in one room.
It’s none of your business.
She glared at the heavy guy so he got the message—he could forget any ideas about crashing Elin’s party.
As she worked her way deeper into the room, another, slightly better looking man tried to make eye contact with her. She took quick, evasive steps to the side and pulled up short before knocking into another guy sitting on a barstool.
Her only available sideways step brought her up in front of a huge, muscly man with peroxide blond hair. He became a human barricade that she couldn’t see under, over, or around. She was hemmed in on all sides by furniture and men.
She lowered her gaze to the fluorescent green and black gym shirt stretched across the stranger’s broad chest. The blondie was packed with way too much muscle. His body was incredibly hulk-ish, as if he’d spent too many hours in the gym.
Kyra was swamped by an overload of testosterone and felt as though she’d shrunk to the size of tiny Thumbelina from the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. In that moment she’d become a small woman who dare not tell him to stop standing over her, and lacked the courage to ask him to step aside so she could continue her walk to the lounge.
Drawing on her reserves of estrogen, she said, “Hello there,”
she wanted to say next, but being rude never helped anyone. That’s what her mother told her.
Only her Mum was at home, safe and comfortable, sitting on the sofa watching television with Gran.
It was doubtful good manners would shift the lump of intimidating brawn that had invaded Kyra’s personal space.
She bundled up her hair and lifted it off her warm neck. He was asking for it, and she was going to give him a mouthful of attitude he deserved and send him on his way.
* * *
Jovanni Tisci heard the distinctive sound of a woman’s high heels enter the bar, and then the echoing taps suddenly stopped. Was he hearing things? Or was he ready to admit that he was doing a lousy job at picking out Elin’s bridesmaids from the procession of females who’d walked through the bar room on their way to the party next door?
The women were nameless faces wearing mostly unflattering clothes. Where was the elusive chief bridesmaid he’d been waiting to lay eyes on? Kyra Jamieson was a wedding party VIP and also the Sales and Marketing Manager of the Western Australian branch of the family business.
He shook his head. He didn’t know much about the bride and her number one bridesmaid. That’s how Marco preferred to run the Perth operations. Keep Jovanni far, far away at the Sydney headquarters, and busy writing queries all over the profit and loss statements. They were the very same questions about the under-performance of Marco’s management team that he avoided answering.
The mushroom treatment ended tonight. Soon, Jovanni would make a strategic move and start to unravel Marco’s misadventures in the west of the country.
Surprise was his chosen tactic to catch Marco out on his excuses. Jovanni was going to fix the damage that had been done, before it was too late and the western business went under. Marco was too busy parachuting into marriage with his Warehouse Supervisor to focus on the problems.
No one in the family had ever heard of Elin Carey before. It was natural that suspicions were high over their rushed love affair. Someone had to find out if it was Marco’s personal wealth that was the main attraction for his wife-to-be.
So where were Kyra, the brunette, and Elin, the short blond? There were so many women with natural or dyed blond hair that he’d failed to identify Elin from her friends. From what he’d seen of the party guests so far, there were any number of women who’d fit the generalized descriptions that Marco had dropped into their short, taciturn conversations.
He’d wait a bit longer, but his patience was running out.
He chomped down a handful of peanuts. His memory of a hurried breakfast felt like yesterday instead of this morning. He’d skipped the airplane lunch, but an afternoon of coffee refills powered him on. Not good. No wonder his stomach growled, in need of a hearty meal. Later, once his stress levels wound down, he’d find some tasty food to satisfy his hunger.
A new commotion stirred around him. There was a group of young bucks in the room who weren’t holding back their groans of frustration at the parade of women. Seats shifted as the hard-up fellas adjusted the itches in their jocks. Well, that was the polite version of the primitive mood taking over the guys in the pub.
After the last group of four cleavage-bearing ladies breezed through the room in a halo of perfume, he’d heard rebellious mutterings among the young bucks. They wanted to join Elin Carey’s bachelorette party in the hope of getting lucky. That damn lounge door needed a security guard to stop a breakout of Friday night desperadoes on the prowl for sex.
Before he went anywhere, Jovanni was going to organize a bouncer to stand at the lounge door, even if he had to personally pay to protect Marco’s bride from these hopeful, but confused, bros who thought they had a chance at scoring a weekend girlfriend.