Authors: LAYNE MACADAM
Table of Contents
OBSESSION DOWN UNDER
SOUL MATE PUBLISHING
OBSESSION DOWN UNDER
Cover Design by Syneca Featherstone.
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, business establishments, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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Published in the United States of America by
Soul Mate Publishing
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Obsession Down Under
is dedicated to my husband.
Thank you for your unfailing support
and wonderful words of encouragement
and for putting up with the countless hours
I spent at the computer
when I know you would rather
that we were out doing something else.
I love you, hon.
A special thank you to Anita and Kate, you guys rock!! Your encouragement and belief in me from the very beginning has been amazing. I would also like to thank the team at Soul Mate Publishing for their support, and in particular my editors, Debby Gilbert and Erika Cooper.
Jessica Butler-Reid was seated at her computer, agonizing over her manuscript, when the telephone shrilled. It was mid-afternoon and she was having a mental block so welcomed the interruption.
“Hey, stranger, where have you been hiding? You haven’t called in over a week,” her best friend, Trish, accused.
“Yeah, I’m sorry. I know I promised to phone, but I’ve been so busy trying to write this darn book and I’m bombing out. My work’s crap, Trish. I think I’m just not cut out to be a writer after all. I may as well just toss it in.”
“Stop being a drama queen, put on your ‘big girl’ panties, and snap out of it,” Trish replied, mixing the idioms in a typical Trish fashion.
“Thanks, I can always rely on you for reassurance and sympathy.” Jessica rubbed her temple and bit her lower lip.
“Don’t mention it. Are you up for Italian tonight? My treat.”
Trish had dangled the bait guaranteed to hook and reel her in. Good food she didn’t have to cook or clean up afterward was very tempting. Besides, some fresh air and bright conversation might just clear the cobwebs and get her creative juices flowing again. “Love to, but I do believe it’s my turn to buy.”
“Okay, if you insist, but wait till I tell you who I ran into today: Sharon Stuart. You remember her from school? My God, hasn’t she changed for the better?”
Jessica found herself distracted by the e-mail alert that popped up in the right-hand corner of the computer screen. A casual glance at the sender ID revealed it was from her Australian friend Whip, and her excitement bloomed. They’d met on a military forum and had been corresponding for close to a year now. Their relationship was of a special kind—close and kinky. She juggled the phone and accessed her inbox.
It’s two in the morning, the sheets are cold, and I’m lonely and blue. Not by design, you understand, but by choice. I was hit on by a woman at the bar tonight, cute enough, but when it came to the crunch I turned down her offer. Call me crazy, but I felt like I’d be cheating on you! The hour
drive back home to Highland Glen gave me plenty of time to think, and the long and the short of it is—I want to meet you. This might sound left field, but hey, we know each other pretty damn well, and it’s not just the sex talk. So how about it, Jessie Rose? Fancy a two-week all-expenses-paid trip to the land Down Under? Don’t say no straight up. Think it over.
Jessica leaned back in her chair. His proposal was insane. Wasn’t it? She couldn’t just hop a plane from New York City to the other side of the world on a whim. Could she?
“Are you listening to me, Jessica, or am I just talking to hear the sound of my own voice?”
Trish’s tone was sharp, snapping Jessica out of her daydream.
“Sorry, Trish. It’s just you’re never going to believe this. I’ve just received an e-mail from Whip, inviting me on an all-expenses-paid trip to Australia.”
tell me you are even considering going?”
“Well, what if I am
“I can’t talk about it now. You book Gerrardi’s, I’ll meet you there at seven, and we can discuss it then, okay?”
“Fine, but I’m warning you, be prepared for an argument.”
Jessica put the phone back on its cradle and re-read Whip’s e-mail. Should she accept his offer? What would her parents say? Should she even tell them?
What did she really know about the guy anyway, other than what he’d told her? He could be an axe murderer or some other kind of weirdo, but heck, he could also be the man of her dreams.
A help request posted on an Internet forum had brought them together. Technical issues in her book were giving her grief. The protagonist was a military man, so she’d thought who better to ask for advice than military personnel. Whip McGregor had answered the call.
The months peeled back to their earliest e-mails. Courteous, knowledgeable, and most obliging, his answers had been purely professional, and then their e-mails took a turn toward personal.
Snippets of private information filtered through and amusing anecdotes about their lives were exchanged. Their friendship blossomed, filling a void in her life. Ex-army officer turned cattle rancher, Whip had a brashness about him that lured her like a moth to a flame, and she’d found his way of life intriguing. He’d started addressing her as
. As a rule, she hated having her name shortened to Jessie, but when he called her
Jessie Rose, it sent goose bumps rippling along her skin and wicked thoughts into her mind.
The intimate talk was guarded at first, but then one night, depressed, lonely, and high on champagne, she’d e-mailed the direct question that changed their whole relationship.
Thongs or panties,
prefer? Please explain! :)
The sexual flirtation was out of character. The following morning, and with more than a slight hangover, she’d re-read her infamous e-mail. It was such a shock; she remembered her eyes popping wide and her face heating. She must have been really drunk to have been so bold. Her stomach had knotted. Would Whip think her vulgar and crass and not reply or would he answer her question? When she’d opened his e-mail later that day, his response had her turning ten shades of crimson.
She wasn’t a prude and liked sex as much as the next person. Had read her fair share of erotic romances, but typing the words and sending them to a real live person was just too brazen, wasn’t it?
Although she wasn’t a virgin, she’d only had a few partners, and never talked dirty with any of them.
Fingers going to her mouth, she’d chewed her nails to the quick. To stop e-mailing Whip held no joy, but she’d opened a Pandora’s Box with
e-mail. The way she’d seen it then, there were three choices—stop communicating altogether, write and say it was all a big mistake, or take a deep breath and go with the flow.
She’d mulled over the alternatives for a full two minutes. To cut ties with Whip was out of the question. Option Two held no appeal either. In the end, she convinced herself that Option Three was like doing practical research for her book. It was writing after all, and although raunchy, they were just words, and it wasn’t as though she’d ever run into him on the street or anything. Yep, Option Three was it. She’d giggled, having made her decision, then winced and headed for the Tylenol.
After that, the sex talk snowballed. Her words were hot and saucy, but the steamy phrases were cool in comparison to what Whip would fire back. His vivid imagination translated into words so hot they sizzled on the screen,
and she’d found herself wishing for the real deal. And now here it was, handed to her on a plate.
His invitation could be the chance of a lifetime. Except for the few short-term relationships, her life up until now had been uneventful, predictable. Boring would be a more apt description.
The only offspring of an aging minister and his very conservative wife, her life had been mapped out from day one. A childhood and teenage years crammed full of scripture classes, choir practice, and church fetes, she could see her adult life heading downhill in the same miserable direction. One of the reasons why she’d moved from Alabama to New York. Another, for some excitement.
She was no spring chicken. Thirty-six and not an ounce of excitement to brag about, so what the heck was she waiting for? Her spirit of adventure that had been lying dormant all these years kicked in, and her decision was made. Worst-case scenario—she’d come home disappointed, but at least she’d have been to Australia, the one place in the world she’d always longed to visit.
Her pulse raced as she cruised the airline websites. After finding the cheapest return airfare, she composed an e-mail to Whip, outlining the details and accepting his generous offer.
In an ideal world she’d have paid her own way. But short on funds right now, she could see no alternative other than to borrow from her parents, and that would just open up a whole new can of worms. With the e-mail sent, she checked her watch. Yep, just enough time to freshen-up before breaking the news to Trish at dinner.
Trish was seated at their usual table when Jessica made an appearance.
“About time you showed up. I was beginning to think you’d hopped a plane to Australia.”
Though meant as a joke, Jessica could hear the angst in her friend’s tone. She’d wanted dinner over with before broaching the subject of Whip’s invitation, but since Trish had already brought it up, like they say in the burbs, there’s no time like the present. “As a matter of fact, I’m a little late because I was checking flights.”
“Please tell me you’re joking?”
“Can’t do that, because if all goes to plan, I fly out in ten days. I’ve already e-mailed Whip, accepting his awesome offer.” Jessica felt her lips curve upward and her eyes crinkle as excitement raced along her veins. She wanted to shout with glee but somehow managed to contain her enthusiasm.
“That’s what I like about you, Jessica. You’re so levelheaded. I’m glad you took your time and put a lot of thought into this and didn’t make any hasty decisions.”
“Before you lecture me, hear me out. I owe this to myself, Trish. I know what you’re going to say. I’ve already said it all to myself this afternoon, but this is something I’ve got to do.”
“Oh right, well that’s different. I hadn’t realized it was something you’ve
to do.” Trish did that annoying two-fingered air quote thingy as she spoke. Jessica rolled her eyes but stayed silent. “Silly me, I thought you had a choice in the matter.”
“If I don’t do this, I might regret it for the rest of my life,” she said, desperate for Trish to be in her corner.
“Yes, that’s a possibility, but what if he’s . . .”
“A crazed lunatic? Of course I’ve thought about that, and I’m willing to take my chances.”
Lips pursed, Trish lifted her sculpted brow and tapped her cheek with her index finger. “Butt ugly is what I was going to say.”
Jessica’s mouth dropped open. For a full five seconds she groped for words before letting loose with a soft chuckle. Trish’s laughter was less discreet.
“I hadn’t given that a thought. Being a realist, I’m guessing he’s just an average Joe, nothing special. But when I read
e-mails, I imagine someone tall and buff, sexy and virile, a gorgeous heart-stopping hunk. Mmm, someone to die for.” Jessica wrapped her arms around her body in a self-hug. “Sheesh, what if you’re right?”
“Don’t stress it. They’re all the same in the dark, sweetheart, and if he’s that ugly in broad daylight you can always put a paper bag over his head.” Trish winked and flashed a grin, but then her face changed and the joviality of the moment vanished. “But seriously girl he really could be a creep so keep your guard up.”
“How comforting. I can always rely on you to put a downer on things.” Jessica crinkled her nose.
“I just want you to be safe. You’ll be a long way from home and all alone.”
“I know you do, but he seems like a normal guy.”
Trish’s comments, though, sent her mind racing. What if he was a creep? What if he was sexually unattractive? Where would that leave her? It was a foregone conclusion he’d expect them to do the wild thing, as did she. The sexual chemistry was there and that was a fact, but what if he smelled like cattle and was allergic to soap and water? She crinkled her nose again, but as quickly as the thought entered her mind she dismissed it. Whip really did come across as a normal guy, and if he wasn’t, then she’d just have to cross that bridge when she came to it.
e-mails, when you started this torrid little affair, I seem to remember you saying, and I’m paraphrasing here, ‘It’s not like we’ll ever bump into each other.’ So how are you going to handle coming face-to-face with your cyber lover?”
“Of course I’m not forgetting that, but I figure it works both ways. I might be awfully embarrassed, but I wasn’t in this, um, relationship, alone. Whip did his fair share of hot and spicy, so I’ve decided not to panic.”
“O-kay, kind of logical, I’ll admit, but now for the next big hurdle: What do you think the Rev and the oh-so-pious Mrs. Butler-Reid will say, Dorothy, when you tell them you’re off to the Land of Oz to meet your Internet lover?”
Jessica gnawed on her bottom lip. What her parents thought shouldn’t be an issue, but their ideas on sex and marriage were so antiquated that if they knew their only child was jet setting off to the other side of the planet to spend time with her online lover, they’d both pitch a fit.
“I’ll tell them that Book Browsers is looking to expand their business globally, and they’re sending me to Australia for two weeks to research suitable locations.” As part of her subterfuge, the lie included the company where she worked as a salesgirl. It was the best she could come up with on short notice.
“Oh yeah, because that’s so believable.”
“It does sound kind of lame, doesn’t it?” Jessica chewed her lip again. “I suppose I could say it’s an experiment. The floor staff are hands on, they know what works with the customers and what doesn’t, so management have selected a team of the top sales staff from each store and are sending them to Australia to research the market.”
“Bad things happen to girls who tell lies, Jessica.”
“Don’t quote my mother at me. I feel guilty enough as it is. Mom’s health hasn’t been the best, so I can’t very well tell them the truth. Besides, life is supposed to be an adventure. I’m thirty-six flipping years old, Trish, and the most exciting thing I’ve ever done besides moving out of home was getting that tattoo six months ago. When I’m dead and buried, I don’t want my tombstone to read,
She lived, she died, and oh yeah, she got a tattoo
. I want the journey. Heck, I deserve the journey.”