Wednesday 18 October 2023


 Read the entire first chapter right here of the standalone sequel to High Country Daddies then jump over to Amazon and grab your copy or read it in KU!

Catherine Richardson paused, her eyes glued to the show-jumping footage of the Olympic hopefuls showing on the telly, her spoon of ice cream halfway to her mouth. Jason! Even without his name in big, bold letters printed across the bottom of the screen, she would recognise him anywhere. His face was etched so indelibly into her brain, she could never forget him. He’d been everything to her, once. Back when they were young and carefree, with the whole world at their fingertips, they’d been inseparable.

She sucked the salted caramel decadence off the back of the spoon and shook her head sadly. Sure, they’d been inseparable once, but that was a long time ago . A lot had happened since then: his Olympic dream. Her life in the city, marriage and subsequent divorce. Water under the bridge; a lot of it.

The camera zoomed in on his face as he rode flawlessly over the jumps and her heart skipped a beat. He still looked exactly the same. Older now, but still just as handsome. The crows’ feet at the edges of his eyes and lines where his mouth crinkled up at the corners where he smiled made him look distinguished. The focus in his eyes, the determination written all over his face as he looked ahead to the next jump was just the same. The camera panned out and he reached forward to rub the sleek neck of his chestnut horse, shiny with sweat. His lips were moving, presumably talking to his horse, and she heard his voice in her head, whispering her name just as he used to do, the deep timbre of his voice a gentle caress.

“So you’re off to the Olympics again, huh?” she said to the telly, dipping her spoon back into the ice cream tub again. “Living the dream. Just as you always wanted.” She tried to smile. She wanted to be happy for him, she really did, but it was impossible. While he was living his dream, her life was falling apart.

A lone tear trickled down her face and she reached up and brushed it away. She’d never felt more alone. Or more worthless. She felt like a failure. Jason was about to compete in the Olympics again, representing New Zealand in what he did best and what was she doing? Sitting on her couch in her dingy rented flat wearing ice cream-stained pyjamas that she hadn’t changed in days, with her stringy, unwashed hair tangled over her shoulders. Empty wine bottles, dirty glasses, McDonald’s wrappers and empty ice cream tubs littered the table and floor near where she sat. She was a mess. A total mess. Was this what all women did on the other side of divorce? Fall apart?

Without thinking, she picked up her phone and googled his name. His Olympics profile, sponsor list and media contacts was the first page to come up, and then further down was his horse training business and riding school website, which she instantly clicked on. Browsing through it brought back so many memories. Good ones, mostly. For years, the riding school had been her second home. It had been her escape. She’d learned to ride there, spent much of her teens there, fallen in love there.

She smiled sadly and kept scrolling, flicking through the photos, the reviews, the endorsements. Under the “contact us” section was a phone number and an email address. She ran her fingers over the thumbnail photo beside his name, remembering the way he used to look at her. Jason@...... She didn’t know what the rest of it was, but it lodged itself right there in her email app that had opened automatically when she’d touched the screen.

Should I or shouldn’t I? Common sense and curiosity warred within her. Why would you even want to contact him? He’s already broken your heart once, why you would want to contact him again? And it’s not like he’s even going to remember you.

“Screw it,” she said out loud to her empty apartment. “It’s not like I’ve got anything to lose. I can’t fall much further.” Typing quickly, her thumbs flying over the little keypad, she rattled off an email.


To: Jason Oliver

From: Catherine Richardson

Date: 8 January 2020 8.20 PM

Subject: Hello!


Hi Jason

I’m going to hazard a guess that you don’t remember me.... You were my first love, 14 years ago.

I just saw you on TV - congratulations! I know representing NZ in the Olympics was always your dream. So cool to see you achieving it yet again!

If you remember me, feel free to write back :)

From Catherine Richardson


Catherine Richardson…. It felt strange to call herself that again after so many years of using her husband’s name. Another bolt of emotion ripped through her. Divorce had stolen so much – even her identity. The name she’d used for a decade was no longer hers. The home she’d lived in, the restaurant she’d run… all of it. She’d devoted her entire being to it, and divorce had cruelly snatched it away.

She dug her spoon back into the tub of ice cream and shovelled it into her mouth absently, settling back on the couch to watch the telly, trying to push thoughts of Jason from her mind. He was unlikely to reply to her email, so it was pointless to get her hopes up. She was better off to just forget about him. Reaching forward, she refilled her glass with cheap plonk – a chardonnay that had been on clearance at the supermarket. It tasted revolting, but it numbed her enough that she didn’t burst into tears thinking of what might have been. So many wasted years…. Don’t think about that, she told herself sternly. Instead, she took a sip of the cheap wine, pulling a face at the pungent aftertaste but swallowing more anyway. Cheap and nasty or not, alcohol was alcohol, and it dulled her senses. Right now, that was what she needed.

The news segment where they’d shown Jason in the show-jumping ring – along with the other contenders for the Olympics - had finished, and her favourite gameshow was just about to start. She liked gameshows. Trying to answer the questions before the contestants did was a welcome distraction from the self-destructive thoughts that usually plagued her, and getting the answers right always gave her a little thrill. Proof that she wasn’t the stupid, crazy idiot her ex had constantly told her she was.

The shrill beep of her phone on the coffee table in front of her made her jump. For a second she didn’t know what it was. It made the same sound as an incoming text, but she knew it wouldn’t be. Nobody texted her these days. She had no friends left from her single days, she’d lost touch with them all. And all the friends she’d had as half of a couple with Steve had sided with Steve. Or distanced themselves from her, at any rate. “Some friends they were,” she mumbled bitterly.

But still, she reached out and picked up her phone. “May as well see who it is,” she told the telly.

She touched the screen, the blackness lighting up, showing not a text message, but an email. Jason? She didn’t dare hope…. Crossing her fingers for luck, she held her breath and tapped the screen, opening the email app.


To: Catherine Richardson

From: Jason Oliver

Date: 8 January 2020 8.46 PM

Subject: Re: Hello!


Hi Catherine,

Good to hear from you. Are you kidding? Of course I remember you! You were the first woman I ever truly loved, how could I ever forget you? How are you?

Jason xx


Catherine gasped and read the words over and over in her head. He remembers me? Slowly, she smiled.

Downing the remaining wine in her glass in one go, for courage, she told herself, she sent off a reply:


To: Jason Oliver

From: Catherine Richardson

Date: 8 January 2020 8.54 PM

Subject: Re: Hello!


I’m thrilled that you remember me! I’m good. Actually that’s rubbish. I’ve just come out of the other side of a nasty divorce and I’m a mess. Every day, I was told I was crazy, sworn at and told that I suck. It takes a while to come back from that. But as this is just an innocent, friendly email, you don’t need to know any of that. Instead, tell me about you.




As soon as she sent it, she wished she could take it back. This was a mistake, all of it. Contacting him in the first place, replying, and most of all, telling him about her divorce. Why would he care about that? A lot had happened in 14 years. Both for her and, she assumed, for him. Aside from what she already knew about his representing New Zealand at the Olympics twice already, she assumed he was married and probably had a family. At the very least, he would have moved a long way on from her.

You’re an idiot, Catherine, she told herself. Why are you opening yourself up to rejection and heartbreak yet again?

She refilled her wine glass, dug her spoon back into the tub of ice cream, and turned her attention back to the telly. “Australia!” she answered the question before the presenter had even finished reading it out and sat there staring at the screen, waiting impatiently for the contestant to figure it out. “Australia you idiot!” she told the contestant, as though the woman on the screen could actually hear her. “The answer is Australia!”

Look how far you’ve fallen, she thought. You’ve gone from owning one of the most popular bars in Christchurch to yelling at the telly.

Finally the contestant answered the question correctly and Catherine refilled her glass and raised the nasty chardonnay high. “Cheers,” she toasted the contestant, taking another long swallow. It didn’t taste as bad now that she had a bit more alcohol running through her veins, or maybe it was the ice cream that was disguising the taste. Whatever it was, the wine was easier to drink now, and went down easily when she tilted her head back and sculled the remainder of the glass.

Her phone dinged again and she reached for it, a little bit excited, a little bit nervous. It was Jason; it had to be.


To: Catherine Richardson

From: Jason Oliver

Date: 8 January 2020 9.03 PM

Subject: Re: Hello!


Hi Catherine

Thrilled is an overstatement, I’m sure. I could never forget you. How could I? I was crazy about you! I wish I could turn back the clock – I would never have let you go.

At our ages, I don’t think either of us can claim to be innocent ;)

I wish I could say I’m sorry to hear about your divorce, but I’m not. Nobody deserves to be spoken to like that, and I’m very happy that you’re single.

Just so you know, women who suck are worth their weight in gold :p

Jason xx


She smiled, giggling a bit at the cheekiness of his words. “You haven’t changed, have you Jase? Still the flirt,” she announced to her ice cream. “And I’m perfectly innocent, thank you!” She put her spoon down and held her phone tighter, reading his words over and over again, allowing them to cheer her up and fight through the fog that constantly surrounded her. Her smile widened. Basic flirting was doing for her what copious amounts of ice cream and cheap wine had failed to do: made her feel like a woman again. Even better, a potentially desirable one.

Another email came through.


To: Catherine Richardson

From: Jason Oliver

Date: 8 January 2020 9.07 PM

Subject: Re: Hello!


There’s nothing to tell about me. Same old, same old. I’m still single, still living for horses and chasing the Olympic dream. Are you taking care of yourself? Where are you living these days?

J xx


He seemed genuinely curious, and a warmth spread through her, heat settling in her core. He was single? How? Semi-recent photos showed him to be even more attractive  than she remembered. He was perhaps at his physical peak now, his shoulders much bigger than they’d been then, his muscles toned and firm. Age had weathered his face a bit, with light crows’ feet around his eyes and little smile lines at the corners of his mouth adding to his rugged appeal. She wondered what he looked like in the flesh. It was inconceivable that a man so good looking, ambitious, kind and successful hadn’t found a woman to share his life with.

Without thinking too much, she typed out a response. She knew if she hesitated, she wouldn’t do it. Years of emotional abuse would come to the fore. She’d remember his cutting words. You’re a worthless, crazy bitch. She’d heard them often enough, Steve had spat them at her almost daily. If she thought about those words, she wouldn’t have the courage to send it. So she typed quickly, while the alcohol was making her brave.


To: Jason Oliver

From: Catherine Richardson

Date: 8 January 2020 9.11 PM

Subject: Re: Hello!


Yes, I’m taking care of myself. Well I’m still alive, anyway, which is probably surprising if you consider my diet recently. I’m even clothed, if pyjamas that I’ve worn for several days straight counts as clothes. I’m in Christchurch still, on the outskirts of the city in a manky flat that probably should have fallen down in the earthquake. But at least I’m smiling now, thanks to you :)




She hit send straight away, before she chickened out. The contestant on the telly didn’t even get a chance to answer the next question before his reply arrived:


To: Catherine Richardson

From: Jason Oliver

Date: 8 January 2020 9.15 PM

Subject: Re: Hello!


Catherine, I’m glad you’re smiling. But it doesn’t sound like you’re taking very good care of yourself at all. Being alive is not really the benchmark for taking care of yourself, is it? And no, dirty pyjamas don’t count as clothes. You’re going to have to do better than that if you’re going to claim you’re taking care of yourself.

What do you do for work?

J xx



“I’m taking care of myself just fine,” she insisted to her phone. “Bossy man.” But inside, she was turning flips with excitement. His bossiness had been evident even way back when they were young, when he’d been issuing orders at the riding school and taking charge on their dates. Back then, she’d both loved it and hated it. His exacting standards had infuriated her at times. Now, it was exactly what she craved.


To: Jason Oliver

From: Catherine Richardson

Date: 8 January 2020 9.21 PM

Subject: Re: Hello!


I don’t work. Not these days. I can barely even drag myself out of bed and put clothes on; I definitely couldn’t handle a job.

Not very long ago, I was co-owner of one of the most successful bars/restaurants in Christchurch. Now I spend my days moping and chewing through my share of the proceeds from the divorce. Sad, huh?



She felt a bit silly admitting that to him, but it was the truth. She’d fallen so far, and right now, she couldn’t even see a way back up.

His reply was immediate. Was he sitting on his couch holding his phone with bated breath, waiting for her response, just as she was for him?


To: Catherine Richardson

From: Jason Oliver

Date: 8 January 2020 9.24 PM

Subject: Re: Hello!


That doesn’t sound very health,, little girl. It definitely doesn’t sound like you’re taking care of yourself at all!



Immediately, she went on the defensive. She was pathetic – she knew it – but she didn’t need that truth pointed out to her. She’d heard enough criticism to last her a lifetime.

She quickly typed out a reply:


To: Jason Oliver

From: Catherine Richardson

Date: 8 January 2020 9.27 PM

Subject: Re: Hello!


Yeah, well. I’m trying but it’s hard. Every day he swore at me. Told me I was crazy – a ‘psycho’ was the word he liked to use. A loser. A bitch. And lots of other delightful names like that. So I may as well make that be true, right?



Even as she sent it, she knew she was making a mistake. Why was she telling him that? She hadn’t spoken to the man in more than a decade and now here she was, pouring her heart out to him in an email already. What was wrong with her? Maybe Steve was right. Maybe she was crazy.

His reply was almost instantaneous.


To: Catherine Richardson

From: Jason Oliver

Date: 8 January 2020 9.32 PM

Subject: Re: Hello!


I think we’re going to need to meet up. How do you feel about that?



It was his voice she heard in her head as she read his words. Sparks shot up her spine and her heart skipped a beat in a moment of shock. He wanted to meet her? Really? Even after everything she’d just told him?

Another email came through before she had a chance to reply.



To: Catherine Richardson

From: Jason Oliver

Date: 8 January 2020 9.33 PM

Subject: Re: Hello!


Because someone needs to set you on the straight and narrow and I can’t do that over email.



The sparks shooting up her spine were replaced with chills. Good chills. Not of dread, but anticipation. Shyly, she responded, her fingers trembling on the little phone keyboard.


To: Jason Oliver

From: Catherine Richardson

Date: 8 January 2020 9.37 PM

Subject: Re: Hello!


I’d like that.



But as soon as she sent it, she was plagued with doubt. Did she really want to meet him? She’d changed so much, she was no longer the fun-loving, carefree girl he once knew. Now she was broken, a mere shell of her former self.

You weren’t good enough for him when you weren’t broken, her cynical inner voice reminded her. What is he going to want with you now? After everything she’d been through, she wasn’t sure that she could take his rejection again.

Too late. Her phone dinged again, signalling that he’d replied.


To: Catherine Richardson

From: Jason Oliver

Date: 8 January 2020 9.41 PM

Subject: Re: Hello!


Great! We’ll arrange something soon. In the meantime, I want you to go to bed and get some sleep. Right now. In the morning, I want you to get up, have a shower, wash your hair, put on some clean clothes, then email me and we will talk.

Sweet dreams :)

J xx



Her tummy flipped reading those words, his dominance setting off a little spark of arousal. The casual way he issued commands made her pulse race and heat shoot through her, straight to her core. What was it about alpha men that affected her so?

She grinned cheekily as she typed her reply.


To: Jason Oliver

From: Catherine Richardson

Date: 8 January 2020 9.42 PM

Subject: Re: Hello!


And if I don’t?


She hit SEND as the air thickened, making her fight to drag it into her lungs. How would he respond? Would he respond?

Almost instantly, her notifications dinged.

Clearly, he would.


To: Catherine Richardson

From: Jason Oliver

Date: 8 January 2020 9.43 PM

Subject: Go to bed!


Go to bed! That’s an order. Unless you want to find out what happens to naughty girls who disobey?



It was his stern voice she could hear in her head as she read his words, his commanding tone sending a shiver down her spine. She thought back to years ago, when they’d been together, and grinned as she remembered. Remembered the threat of it, anyway. He’d thrown threats around like nobody’s business, promising to slap her ass for every little thing. He’d never done it though. Not for disobedience, anyway. And certainly not properly. The few playful swats he’d given her here and there had done nothing more than leave her breathless and wanting.



To: Jason Oliver

From: Catherine Richardson

Date: 8 January 2020 9.45 PM

Subject: Re: Go to bed!


Tell me. What *does* happen to naughty girls who disobey?



The reply was almost instantaneous.


To: Catherine Richardson

From: Jason Oliver

Date: 8 January 2020 9.46 PM

Subject: Re: Go to bed!


They get their bottoms smacked :p




Mischief took over, and her bratty side that hadn’t surfaced in years came to the fore. She giggled as she typed up a response, wishing she was close enough to see the expression on his face as he read it.


To: Jason Oliver

From: Catherine Richardson

Date: 8 January 2020 9.48 PM

Subject: Re: Go to bed!


Is that supposed to be a deterrent? Because it’s not ;p


She was still giggling as she imagined his reaction, when his response came through.


To: Catherine Richardson

From: Jason Oliver

Date: 8 January 2020 9.49 PM

Subject: Re: Go to bed!


I’m confident that it will be, once you’ve been across my knee getting your bare bottom warmed.


Catherine swore her heart stopped, just for a second or two. The heat that his emails had ignited in her core completely engulfed her now, and a blazing inferno erupted inside her, making her gasp for air and fan her face with an empty McDonald’s bag. Throwing the bag down, her fingers flew over the little keys and she banged out a response, unwilling to let this flirtatious email stream go.



To: Jason Oliver

From: Catherine Richardson

Date: 8 January 2020 9.53 PM

Subject: Misplaced confidence


You seem to have a lot of confidence in your spanking ability, Mr Oliver. Are you sure it’s not misplaced?


 She waited with bated breath, hoping against hope that she hadn’t chased him away. “It’s just starting to get good!” she announced to her ice cream, before returning the tub to the freezer. She didn’t need it anymore. Jason’s emails were making her far happier than any amount of ice cream ever could.

With perfect timing, her phone dinged just as she sat back down again.



To: Catherine Richardson

From: Jason Oliver

Date: 8 January 2020 9.55 PM

Subject: Very well-placed confidence


My confidence in my spanking ability is most definitely not misplaced, Ms. Richardson. My hands are flexing right now, in preparation.


 How on earth was she supposed to respond to that? Her brain was heady with arousal and she couldn’t find the right words. She didn’t want to be too forward, but neither did she want to be too shy. Not now that she’d pushed through her insecurities and opened herself up to him.

The back and forth banter felt so easy, so comfortable, so right. They’d slipped back into familiar territory so quickly, it was easy for her to forget they’d even been apart.

“Steve had been flirty and sweet once, too,” she reminded herself out loud. “And look how he ended up.”

The sharp jolt back to reality hurt. She’d enjoyed getting lost in the fantasy with Jason, enjoyed smiling again. Forcing the painful last few years out of her mind and concentrating instead on the present, had been refreshing. But the truth of the matter was: Steve hadn’t always been an abusive asshole. And Jason had already broken her heart once.

Leaning forward, she picked up the wine bottle and emptied the last of the dregs into her glass, adding the now empty bottle to the pile next to her feet.

“What would he think if he could see you now, you wino?” she asked herself, disgusted. “Hanky-spanky would be the last thing on his mind.”

Her phone dinged, interrupting her disparaging thoughts.



To: Catherine Richardson

From: Jason Oliver

Date: 8 January 2020 10.06 PM

Subject: Go to bed!!!


Three exclamation marks, because I’m very serious. Goodnight Catherine. Sleep well. Email me tomorrow morning, when you’ve done as I asked: shower, wash your hair, dress in clean clothes. I’d like to hear from you by 8am. Oh, and make sure you eat breakfast. Something healthy. Ice cream doesn’t count!

J xx


“You’re so certain I’m going to follow your orders, aren’t you?” she asked her phone, slurring her words just slightly. She scarfed back the last of the wine and left the empty glass on the coffee table. “But I will go to bed,” she conceded. “Not because you told me to, but because I’m tired.”


To: Jason Oliver

From: Catherine Richardson

Date: 8 January 2020 10.11 PM

Subject: I’m in bed!!!


Three exclamation marks because I’m very obedient ;p

Good night Jase, chat tomorrow.

C x





Jason chuckled as he read her last email, before putting his phone down and switching off his bedside light. From memory, there wasn’t an obedient bone in Catherine’s body. She’d been sassy, bratty, impulsive, and fun. But not obedient. Never obedient. Oh, she’d followed instructions okay, if he’d kept on her case. But that was it. Mostly, she’d done whatever she wanted. After reading her emails, he reckoned she was still the same. A free spirit.

He tossed and turned for much of the night, remembering. Her. Them.

There had been no messy break-up, no drama, they’d just drifted apart as their lives had gone in different directions. She’d had her life in the city and he’d been focused on the Olympics. His dream. The Olympics had been what he’d lived and breathed. The idea of representing his country on horseback had consumed him. It still did. The gold that was his ultimate dream had eluded him, so far. His Olympics dream had been the most important thing in his life. More important than her. Was it still? He swallowed hard, trying to answer the question honestly. The truth was, he didn’t know. The thought of the gold medal – standing on the Olympic podium representing his country, feeling the weight of the gold medal hanging around his neck…. That was the dream.

He’d never stopped caring about her, though, and still had a photo of her buried under a pile of books on his nightstand. Horse training books, mostly. Magazines and hard-covers both, the pages filled with new-fangled training techniques and advertisements for horse nutrition. Full-page colour ads of him modelling riding clothes – the sponsorship deals he relied on to fund his Olympic campaign. Books he’d never found the time to read, and probably never would.

Smiling, he rolled over, switched the light back on, fished the photo out and looked at it, tracing the contours of her face with his fingers. Wishing he could touch her for real. She was so young there, just twenty years old. So full of life, hope and happiness had danced in her eyes. It had been taken two months before she’d moved away.

Looking at the photo now, he remembered the way the sunlight had sparkled in her golden hair, the wind lifting it gently, as she rode. He remembered the way they’d walked hand in hand, his long strides automatically shortening to match hers.

Why had she contacted him now? She needed him, he could tell that much. She needed him to steady her, to comfort her, to be her rock, just as he’d used to be. He remembered all the times she’d come to the stables upset, crying against his chest before she saddled up her horse. He didn’t know much about it, she never said a lot, but he knew her childhood had not been a happy one. The stables had been her escape. And now, by the sounds of things, she’d been through the wringer again.

He sighed deeply, wishing he’d contacted her years ago. He could have saved her so much heartache and pain. He’d certainly thought about her enough, off and on, but he’d never reached out. Partly because he figured she’d be married with a family by now; she’d made no secret of the fact she wanted kids. But partly, he’d been afraid. The Olympics had been the most important thing to him and she’d had to take second place. He’d known that if he’d gotten in touch, she would have had to come first. And he would’ve had to give up on his dream. So he’d tried to forget her, tried to move on, but he’d never been able to. There were just too many shared memories for him to erase her from his mind completely. How did you ever forget the first woman you gave your heart to?

So now she was back in his life and there was no way he could let her go again. He didn’t know if he could be what she needed, but he wanted to try. And he knew, if he ever met the bastard who had caused her so much pain, he would kill him.



Monday 16 October 2023

The Daddy She Needs


Journey into heartland New Zealand back to Ryan's Peak Station in this standalone sequel to High Country Daddies.
The Daddy She Needs is a second chance romance with broken characters, a touch of the paranormal, and a stern, spanky, loving Daddy-dom.

Jason Oliver once broke Catherine Richardson's heart to chase his Olympic dreams, but when her life falls apart her first love doesn't just sympathize, he makes it clear that things are going to change. From now on, she'll be taking better care of herself or he'll be taking her over his knee.

Though a single stinging swat over her jeans is enough to show her that he means business, it isn't long before she's blushing crimson as her bottom is bared for a sound spanking on the side of the road, and when he throws her over a haybale he finds her soaking wet and ready for him.

But when he brings her to a desperate, quivering climax, she won't just be screaming his name.

She'll be calling him daddy.

Monday 18 September 2023

Holiday Romance Sneak Peek - Read the entire first chapter!


Her Fake Fiance - by Kelly Dawson

Chapter One

I hung up the phone from talking to Grandma and looked around at my friends in despair. “What am I going to do?” I asked them. “You heard Grandma – she’s not going to take no for an answer. Her exact words were: ‘make sure he’s there. No excuses.’ She was very emphatic. She might be old, but she’s stubborn!”

Mild panic overtook me as I shook my head slightly, wondering how on earth I was going to get out of this one. Hopefully, one of my friends would be able to come up with a miracle idea. After all, these were the girls I’d grown up with, gone to school with, played pranks with, made up convoluted stories to get out of trouble with… Surely, between our genius mischievous minds, we’d be able to come up with something.

Cassie’s shoulders shook with silent laughter. “You mean to tell me that you made up this fake boyfriend purely for your Grandma’s benefit, and now she wants you to bring him to the family Christmas do?” Despite my friend’s best efforts, raucous laughter escaped her and she clapped her hands. “Oh my god Lissa, that’s priceless!

I shot her a glare. “Yeah thanks Cas, huge help. As always.” At my death glare, Cassie got control of her laughter, then I filled her in on the rest of the information. “Except he’s not just my boyfriend. I told her I’ve got a fiancé.”

That small, but vitally important detail, set her off again and she rocked back and forth in her seat, snorting with laughter. “Holy hell Lissa, whatever possessed you to do such a thing? How do you intend to get out of this one?”

This time it wasn’t just me who glared at Cassie, it was all of us.

“Shut up Cas, not helping,” Sharon scolded. Although I noticed that she, too, was struggling to contain her laughter. She just had better self-control than Cassie did.

“Why don’t you tell her you broke up?” Laura, ever the logical one, suggested.

I shook my head. “Breaking off an engagement right before Christmas? No. She’ll be so disappointed. I’m the last granddaughter to get married. Grandma’s terrified I’m going to be left on the shelf. You have no idea how proud and excited she was when I told her about my fiancé. I can’t do that to her. It would ruin her whole Christmas. And I don’t know how many more she’s got left.”

Laura raised a perfectly manicured brow. “Well how disappointed do you think she’s going to be when she finds out you lied?”

I looked at her as if she was a bit daft. “I’ll just have to make sure she doesn’t find out,” I said, stating the obvious. Of course Grandma would be heartbroken if she knew the truth. I would have to keep that from her at all costs.

“Well can you just not go, then?” Laura suggested.

Again, I shook my head. Although Laura’s suggestions were perfectly reasonable, they weren’t going to work here. Grandma was old and she loved Christmas. It was the one time of the year when the whole family gathered together in the one place. The entire extended family came – all the aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters… all of us. And Grandma, the matriarch of the family, was in her element.

“No. Not an option. It’s the highlight of Grandma’s year. I couldn’t disappoint her like that.”

Sharon topped up my wine glass. Good old Shazza. She lived by the adage that wine fixes everything. She put the bottle back down on the table a little too hard, then steepled her fingers under her chin.

“Well that leaves bribing someone, or hiring someone,” she announced, clearly pleased with her idea. “Because realistically, finding a real fiancé in two weeks is pretty slim.”

My mouth fell open in shock, my jaw almost hitting the floor.

“I’m not hiring a fiancé!” I exclaimed a little too loudly, the bar’s other patrons all turning in their chairs to look at me. “I mean seriously. Using a male escort? I can’t go there.” And I couldn’t. The idea of buying sex, or in this case a fiancé, just didn’t sit right with me.

“Bribery it is, then. I can chip in ten bucks,” Sharon announced.

“Me too.” A chorus went up around the table as my friends fished in their purses for some cash.

“I don’t suppose you told her your fiance’s name?” Michelle piped up. “I mean, I could do it. Just tell her you’re a lesbian? I’ve got no plans for that weekend.”

Laughter erupted out of my friends at this genius idea, but I just shook my head. Grandma was progressive for an oldie and wouldn’t be at all bothered by that, except that I’d told her my fiancé was a man called Zane. And he was a lawyer. No blue-collar worker for me. I wanted a fancy man, one who drove a Mercedes convertible with the top down and lived in a swanky inner-city apartment with a gorgeous ocean view.

“Yeah nice try, but no. I named him Zane. He’s a lawyer.” I grinned sheepishly.

“You wanted a rich man, huh?” Michelle winked. “Can’t say I blame ya. If he’s fictional, might as well make him how you want him.”

It wasn’t just the money that I wanted in my pretend fiancé. It was status. Power. Dominance. All the things that lawyers oozed. Well they did in my head, anyway. I didn’t actually know very many lawyers, but the one I’d invented had all those things in spades.

“So who do we know that we can bribe?” Cassie asked.

We all racked our brains and spent the next several minutes listing off on our fingers, the names of all the single males that we knew, that could possibly be bribed into doing the job. There weren’t very many of them. The ones that I’d known forever were automatically ruled out, because they knew members of my extended family. And as I thought about it, I disregarded the idea completely. It was one thing telling my best girlfriends about the fix I was in. It was totally another to admit it to a man we knew, then beg and bribe him to be my pretend fiancé. That would just be too embarrassing. How would I ever live it down?

“Aha! I’ve got it!” Michelle yelled, attracting the attention of all the bar patrons yet again.

“Quiet!” I hissed, really not loving all this attention. I could feel my face flaming at the snickers from the tables around us. We’d obviously been talking louder than I realised.

“I’ve got this cousin who’s just got home from overseas. He’s the black sheep of the family but I think you’ll like him. He’s in his early thirties, I’m pretty sure he’s single, and his name is Zane. He’s not a lawyer, but his name really is Zane.”

“But can he keep a secret?” I asked. “Because that’s really important. This can NOT get out. Nobody can know about this. I mean, your mum knows my mum. They talk. What if they…” I rested my head on my forearms on the edge of the table and banged lightly in frustration. Then I looked up at my friends. “I really don’t think bribing someone we know is going to work. It’s too risky.”

Michelle waved her hand airily, acting like my very valid concerns were nothing. “Oh you don’t know Zane,” she said. “He’s the black sheep of the family for a reason – he doesn’t get on with any of us. I talk to him on Facebook a bit but that’s it. I don’t think he speaks to anyone else. My mum will never find out.”

I looked at her, incredulous. “What makes you think he’ll do this, then?”

Michelle grinned. “He’ll find your predicament absolutely hilarious, and he’ll want to be a part of it. He’ll help, I can almost guarantee it.”

“So he’s a sadist, then?” I groaned. “Great.”

Michelle pretended to look hurt. “You got yourself into this mess. Do you want my help or not?”

I looked around the table at the rest of my friends.

“Can’t hurt,” Sharon said.

“Yeah, may as well give it a go,” Cassie agreed.

Laura pursed her lips in disapproval. “Well you know what I think,” she grumbled. “But if you’re intent on going through with this harebrained scheme, this cousin of Michelle’s is probably as good as anyone else. And bound to be cheaper than an escort.”

“It’s settled then!” Michelle clapped her hands. “I’ll send him a message now.”

Butterflies welled up in the pit of my stomach as I watched my friend type frantically on her phone, her thumbs flying over the little keys. I couldn’t believe I was doing this, I really couldn’t. This was the sort of thing that only happened in movies. Or other people’s lives. It didn’t happen in mine. Except that it was. And it was my own fault. But really, I attempted to justify my position in my head, how was I to know Grandma would insist on me inviting this fiancé she’d never met, to the family Christmas? My siblings and cousins hadn’t brought theirs until they’d actually walked down the aisle. Until there’s a ring, they’re not family. That’s what Uncle Peter always said, and I’d kinda counted on his logic when I’d ran with my lies. That had backfired majorly.

Michelle giggled as she typed more, obviously giving this Zane guy more details. Embarrassing details, most likely. She looked up at me, grinned, then typed some more, waited, then gave me a thumbs up.

“He’ll do it,” she said. “There’s a few details that will need to be worked through, but I’ve found your fake fiancé. Zane Miller. You’ll be able to meet him next week.”

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