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Authors: Fiona McCallum

Paycheque

BOOK: Paycheque
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Paycheque

Fiona McCallum

www.mirabooks.co.uk

About the Author

Fiona McCallum spent her childhood years on the family cereal and wool farm outside a small town on South Australia's Eyre Peninsula. An avid reader and writer, she decided at the age of nine that she wanted to be the next Enid Blyton! She completed her final years of schooling at a private boarding school in Adelaide.

Having returned to her home town to work in the local council office, Fiona maintained her literary interests by writing poetry and short stories, and studying at TAFE via correspondence. Her ability to put into words her observations of country life saw a number of her feature articles published in the now defunct newspaper
SA Statewide
.

When her marriage ended, Fiona moved to Adelaide, eventually found romance, and followed it to Melbourne. She returned to full-time study at the age of twenty-six, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (Professional Writing) from Deakin University. While studying, she found herself drawn to writing fiction where her keen observation of the human condition and everyday situations could be combined with her love of storytelling.

After brief stints in administration, marketing and recruitment, Fiona started Content Solutions, a consultancy providing professional writing and editing services to the corporate sector. Living with a sales and marketing executive and working on high-level business proposals and tenders has given Fiona great insight into vastly different ways of life.

Fiona continued to develop her creative writing skills by reading widely and voraciously, and attending short courses. In 2001 she realised her true passion lay in writing full-length fiction, and in 2002 completed her first manuscript.

In early 2004 Fiona made the difficult decision to return to Adelaide alone in order to achieve a balanced lifestyle and develop a career as a novelist. She successfully re-established her consultancy, and now enjoys the sharp contrast between her corporate work and creative writing.

Paycheque
is Fiona's first novel.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to family, friends and acquaintances that have provided encouragement – you've all played a part in inspiring me.

I am blessed to have a handful of very dear and true friends who have supported me through the many ups and downs of my life, and the pursuit of my dream. Thank you to Calvin McHobbes, Carole and Ken Wetherby, Mel Sabeeney, Arlene Somerville, and the Chiuchiolo family – you all mean the world to me.

Thanks to Andrew Holmes of the Victorian Racing Club and Marilyn Smith of TAFE SA for clarifying some of the technical details of horseracing. Special thanks to Dr Douglas Wilson of the Holistic Veterinary Clinic for being so very generous with his time in providing detailed information around the injury and recovery of my fictitious racehorse. Please go to
www.holisticvetonline.com
to learn more about Dr Wilson's fantastic work. Any errors or inaccuracies are my own or due to taking creative liberties.

I was privileged to have the assistance of a fantastic editor – the very talented Lachlan Jobbins. Thank you for your dedication, attention to detail, and for being so easy to work with.

Thanks to Haylee Kerans for seeing the potential in my manuscript and for making my dream a reality, and to everyone else at Harlequin that I haven't met but who had a hand in turning my loose pages into such a lovely book.

In memory of my father, Tony McCallum,
to whom I owe my courage and tenacity
.

Prologue

Claire woke with a jolt and noticed blue and red lights flickering behind the curtains. She checked the time and realised it was after one o'clock. Keith's side of the bed was still empty.

The doorbell chimed. Alarm gripped her as she dragged her pink towelling dressing gown over her pyjamas. She pounded down the hall, heart racing as scenarios filled her head. It had to be urgent to warrant flashing lights – a break-in, an accident, perhaps a missing child. The poor people; she'd help any way she could.

Claire's heart ached for those who had to deliver the bad news. Beginnings of conversations ran through her mind as she unlocked the main door.

The female half of the uniformed couple spoke.

‘Claire Louise McIntyre?'

‘Yes?'

‘I'm Senior Constable Penny Irving. This is Constable Jason Braxton. Can we come in please?'

Claire swallowed and felt the blood drain from her face as she
nodded, unlocked the screen door and stepped aside. She was dazed, rooted to the floor.

The trio stood awkwardly in the passage, its checked black and white tiles suddenly harsh and busy. The young constable gently closed the heavy wooden door, sending a loud echo reverberating through the hall. Claire pulled the collar of her robe tighter. She knew she should ask what they wanted, why they were there, but also knew she didn't want to know.

The fog of Claire's mind lifted a little as the policewoman suggested they sit. Her arm moved as if unconnected to her and she motioned toward the lounge. The trio walked single file with Claire in between. If they were trying to offer comfort, it wasn't working. Instead she felt like a criminal being prevented from escaping.

Seated, the spacious loungeroom felt a third the size. The policewoman sat next to her, gently wringing her hands in her lap. The male officer remained standing, slightly off to the side, shifting his weight.

‘Jason, perhaps you could make us some tea, with plenty of sugar,' the policewoman whispered. Silently, the uniformed man moved away. Claire might have laughed if they weren't here doing this in her house. Didn't that only happen on
The Bill
?

After a few moments the policewoman took a slightly deeper breath, looked up at Claire and said, ‘I'm afraid I have some terrible news. There's been an accident – a car accident. I'm afraid there was nothing the paramedics could do. Keith...'

Claire frowned, not comprehending when she heard his name. Unable to focus, she suddenly wished she was a child who could go to her room and let the adults deal with this. Whatever
this
was, it was bad.

Her head was fuzzy again. She couldn't grasp exactly what was happening. There had been an accident. Someone had run a red light. Well it wouldn't have been Keith, that's for sure. He's such a careful driver.

‘I'm really sorry. They did everything they could.'

Claire nodded, and looked up as a mug of steaming tea appeared in front of her. She accepted it with two shaking hands and drew it close to her chest. Her bottom lip quivered and tears began to spill down her cheeks.

Looking down into the milky liquid she realised that nothing would be the same again – her life had changed forever.

Chapter One

Claire rolled onto her stomach and peered at the clock radio on what had been Keith's bedside table. She'd woken early, before dawn, and had managed to doze off again. Now she was surprised to find it was after ten. Anyway, it was Sunday: she'd laze about till lunchtime if she wanted.

Even after four months she still found herself aching for Keith's embrace, his sweet musky scent and…

Snippets of dreams came back to her. In one they'd showered together and then made love in the lounge, on the plush rug in front of the gas log fire. It had been beautiful: him tender, giving; she responding, clinging to him.

She'd woken hot and sweating, despite it being chilly outside, instantly feeling embarrassed at her arousal. But it hadn't been Keith's face at all, had it? No, the face had been blank. Who had it been? She shook her head, trying hard to remember. After a few moments she gave up.

In another dream he'd been lying beside her saying he loved her,
that it was okay to move on, that it wouldn't mean she loved him any less. ‘I know you have needs,' he'd said with a wink, before drifting from her slumbering memory.

That had definitely been Keith. His face now came to her clearly: the slightly crooked, cheeky grin; the fringe he insisted on keeping too long to cover the scar above his left eye – apparently the result of a silly, drunken escapade at university. She'd never heard the full story – he'd always managed to sidestep her question with a well-timed hug. Now she'd never know. And she'd never have another of his comforting, bear-like hugs.

A tear escaped and her throat caught on the forming lump. She'd give her life for just one more hug with Keith. Would she ever find anything so comfortable again? Did she even want to look?

‘Oh Keith,' she whispered. If only she'd shown him more affection and not taken their contentment so much for granted.

Claire roughly wiped the tears from her cheeks with the back of her hand, pushed aside her mop of unruly hair, and sat up.

Claire had a quick shower and stood – towel wrapped around her – studying her reflection in the bathroom mirror. Did her hairstyle make her features appear hard? For years she'd been talking about getting her hair cut like Jennifer Aniston's – chipped into so that it wasn't so full down the back and sides – but had never been brave enough to go through with it. She'd always kept it plain, practical – straight across the bottom and in a ponytail to keep it away from her face. It was the way Keith had liked it. She'd never dyed it either – always stuck with her natural medium-brown shade. Bernadette and her hairdresser had both given up trying to talk her around years ago.

Claire held her hair away from her face and turned left and right, examining the effect in the mirror. Did she dare? Keith was no longer there to complain. She let it down again. Bernie was right: short didn't suit her. Anyway, she'd feel too self-conscious. But she could definitely
do with less bulk around her face. She dragged her brush through her hair a couple of times and put it into a ponytail.

BOOK: Paycheque
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