Authors: Helen J. Rolfe
What Rosie Found Next
Helen J. Rolfe
Copyright © 2015 Helen J. Rolfe
Published by Fabrian Books
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner without the express written permission of the publisher.
Helen J Rolfe asserts the right to be identified as the author of this book. All the characters and events in this book are fictional. Any resemblance to individuals is entirely coincidental.
To all the volunteers with the CFA (Country Fire Authority) in Australia…you do an amazing job.
Rosie sat bolt upright and told herself the noises were all in her imagination. It had to be the unfamiliar surroundings of Magnolia Creek playing tricks on her in the middle of the night.
In an ideal world she wouldn’t be doing this house-sit at all. She’d be happily settled with her boyfriend, Adam, in a home of their own. But their plans had been put on hold when he’d got a job overseas a year ago, and she started house-sitting in order to save as much money as possible. She was determined to realise the dream of having their own place one day, the security and stability she’d always wanted.
She reached out for the glass of water that had turned tepid in the November heat. The only sound she could hear now was the rustling of leaves on the trees outside her open window, and her heartbeat steadied. All the doors were locked. She’d triple checked them last night. There was no way anybody could get in to number twenty-seven Lakeside Lane, the luxurious six-bedroom home that was by far the biggest she’d ever looked after and its location the most remote. She was used to the sounds of the city – a car alarm in the middle of the night, bin men starting their early morning collections, the sound of passers-by returning home after a night on the tiles. The solitude of the Dandenong Ranges bordering Magnolia Creek in the state of Victoria was something else.
A scratching noise against the window sent her mind into overdrive and had her envisaging a pyromaniac in this bushfire-prone area, rubbing sticks together to get the first flames going. Fire had ruined her life once before. She couldn’t let it happen again, not ever.
She shook her head at her own paranoia. This was ridiculous. The country was bound to sound totally different to the city and the suburbs of Melbourne. Of course it was.
She pulled the sheet over herself and relaxed her head into the plump pillow, but as she watched the shadows of the trees dance against the wall of the bedroom that would be hers for the next couple of months, there it was again … the same noise. And this time, she knew she hadn’t imagined it. She knew exactly what it was. It was the garage door shutting.
The door creaked its way down and finished with a thud. And then, silence. Her breath caught in her throat as she reached for her phone on the bedside table before the intruder broke down the internal door to give them access to the house, access to her, all alone.
She froze. She could picture her phone – downstairs on the kitchen bench along with her iPad. Last night after the owners, Jane and Michael Harrison, left for the UK, she’d relaxed with her dinner and a glass of wine, buzzy sensations pervading her body at being part of this new world that wasn’t really hers. She hadn’t thought to find out where the landline was in the house, but now she really wished she had.
As calmly as she could, Rosie tiptoed over to her bedroom door and opened it slowly. Whoever was downstairs wasn’t sneaking around at all. The internal door connecting the garage to the house clunked shut and heavy footsteps clomped down the hall towards the kitchen. She’d locked that door, so whoever was down there was either a professional burglar with their own tools to pick a lock, or they had a key.
She hovered against the doorjamb, afraid to move for fear the intruder would hear her, and when the kitchen lights flicked on, illuminating the hallway, her heart galloped as she shrunk away from the light.
It couldn’t be the owners – they’d emailed from Singapore’s Changi Airport when they realised they’d forgotten to give Rosie the vet’s contact details should anything happen to George, the cat, who Rosie was in charge of for the eight week house-sit.
Whoever it was knew the place well and didn’t care whether they woke anybody. Rosie’s independent, determined streak kicked in. She wasn’t about to hang around to find out whether the intruder would show mercy to an innocent twenty-something. She crept down the stairs one at a time, winding her way down to the wooden floor of the hallway below, praying she wouldn’t find the creaky step this time. She wished she’d taken more notice of exactly where it had been last night.
She froze at the bottom, turned to the left and reached for her car keys from the hook on the wall. She removed them as carefully as if she was playing a game of Operation
anxious not to let the metal keys ting against each other and announce her presence. All she had to do was get out of the front door and leap into her car sitting down the side of the house. Perhaps if she’d parked it out front instead, it would’ve deterred whoever was in the house now. When she’d arrived yesterday, George the cat had been sprawled out on the driveway, basking in the sun, and she hadn’t had the heart to make him move.
Rosie crept to the front door, but as she lifted her keys to the locked door that stood between her captivity and her freedom, she saw a figure in the corner of her eye.
She screamed, panicked, tried desperately to slot the key into the lock, but it was as though it’d grown ten sizes too big.
A man dressed in leathers and wearing a helmet filled the kitchen doorway. Rosie’s whole body shook when he glared at her from behind his visor and boomed, ‘Who the hell are you?’
She turned and with a last-ditch effort managed to push the key into the lock. She pulled the door open to the darkness of the night, but before she had a chance to make a run for it, a hand landed on the bare skin of her arm. She froze.
The man towered over her. ‘Now where do you think you’re going at this time of night, little lady?’
‘Let me go!’ the girl screamed at him.
She didn’t have a bag with the family jewels in it, she didn’t even look like a thief. But the fact remained. She was an intruder. She kicked out her leg to make contact with his shins, but his reflexes were good and he jumped back, still holding her at arm’s length.
‘What do you want from me?’ she yelled.
He flipped up his visor. ‘I might ask you the same question.’ Her attempts to hurt him as she struggled were laughable. He was way too strong and had no problem keeping a grip on her. ‘What are you doing here in my parents’ house?’
When she stopped wrestling he released her from his grip.
‘Your parents’ house?’ she demanded.
The girl stepped back when he made no move to widen the gap between them.
‘Yes, that’s what I said. I’m Owen Harrison. Who the hell are you?’
She ignored him. ‘You’re not supposed to be here. This is my house-sit.’ Her hands planted firmly on her hips and it made him smile all the more. She really didn’t realise what good entertainment she was at four o’clock in the morning, did she?
‘I come and go all the time.’ He pulled off his helmet, turned and walked into the kitchen. This was his house more than hers. Where had his parents found this girl anyway? He tugged off his leather biker jacket and slung it on top of the kitchen bench.
‘Close to your parents, are you?’ She’d followed him into the kitchen.
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
She snatched up her iPhone from its position on the bench. ‘If you were close to your parents, then you’d know they’ve gone to the UK and asked me to house-sit. We have a contract.’
He pulled a face. ‘Sounds formal.’
‘It is. I can show you if you need me to.’
Damn. He hadn’t expected his mum to find a bona fide house-sitter. He’d expected her to ask her best friend Bella to see to the cat. His mum had called him a couple of weeks ago when they’d had word from London to say his Auntie Sarah had died. His parents were heading over for the funeral and staying for a couple of months so they could sort out his Auntie’s affairs. Owen had considered going for the funeral, but he barely knew his mum’s sister. They’d only spoken at Christmases and birthdays, and Auntie Sarah had only visited Australia a couple of times since she’d emigrated when he was still a young boy.
When his mum had told him the news, he’d been knee-deep in renovation plans at his property on the Mornington Peninsula, preparing for tenants to move in, and he saw the opportunity for what it was: a time to search the house good and proper with his parents out of the country for a while.
He ran a hand across his jaw as he watched this girl. He wondered whether her hands were permanently glued to her hips or whether she actually thought her stance would scare him away. Well it wouldn’t. He wasn’t going anywhere. He needed to be here, he needed answers.
Ignoring the girl, he stood at the kitchen sink and pumped soap into the palm of his hand. Despite the shower before he’d come to the house, his fingernails were still grubby and he used the small brush kept beneath the sink to attack them some more. He took his time, amused by her reflection in the glass-fronted cabinet above the sink, arms now folded across her chest instead. He wondered how long he could keep her standing there like that.
He dried his hands and pulled open the fridge, parched. He pulled out a carton of apple juice and glugged it straight from the spout.
‘I’m sorry, did you want some?’ He offered her the carton but she was too stunned to say anything, and he glugged the rest before dumping the empty vessel beside the sink.
When he lolloped onto the sofa and locked his hands behind his head, he caught her looking at the tail of the tattoo poking out of the sleeve of his marl-grey T-shirt.
‘Are you wondering whether I’ve got any more?’ he asked.
‘No,’ she answered quickly, but he knew her mind was ticking, wondering where any others may be on his body. He watched her fidget beneath his gaze, her hands moving to an odd-looking necklace fastened around her neck.
‘Is the pink car that glows in the dark yours?’ He’d had enough of teasing her about checking out his tattoo. ‘I saw it through the window in the laundry when the outside light came on. I’ll bet you could see it from outer space it’s so bright.’ He laughed, but her mouth was set in the same hard line. ‘Oh relax, I don’t bite.’
She looked unsure.
‘So come on, what’s your name?’ he asked. Whatever it was, he had no intention of moving on. He wasn’t going to be the one to go. She could.
‘Rosie.’ She stayed behind the safety of the kitchen bench.
Pretty name. Pretty girl too, but she still had to leave. This was his place for the next eight weeks, and he needed that time to turn the house upside down.
He jumped up, suddenly ravenous, and went over to the pantry. He noticed Rosie edge away from him as he pulled out a loaf of bread followed by the butter from the fridge. Judging by her face, he was eating her food and she wasn’t happy about it. He carried on and pushed two slices of bread into the toaster. Perhaps if he riled her enough, she’d run away from this house-sit and it would be at least one problem solved.
Her hands were back on her hips. ‘You want me out of here, right?’ he asked.
‘As I said before, I have a contract to house-sit.’
He looked at the clock. Almost four thirty in the morning. He was bloody exhausted and all he wanted to do was eat his toast and crash out upstairs. Her leaving was preferable, but he wasn’t enough of an arsehole to see a pretty young thing chucked out in the middle of the night.
‘Look,’ he said, ‘my mugshot’s on the wall over there and you know who I am, so would you mind if we sort this out in the morning?’ His toast popped up and he buttered it roughly, too hungry to care. He tore a hole in it with his teeth.
‘You don’t expect me to sleep here with you in the house, do you?’
‘You’re free to leave any time.’
‘I’m not leaving,’ she said.
He tore off the corner of the second piece of toast. ‘Neither am I.’
She stood glaring at him for a minute or two. He was too tired to even try to give her the death stare back.
‘We’ll talk in the morning,’ she said. And with that she turned and took the stairs up a lot noisier than she’d come down them.
‘See you in the morning,’ he called when their eyes met briefly over the top of the bannisters.
Owen pushed a third slice of bread into the toaster. He hadn’t banked on anyone being here, at least not on a live-in basis. And as gorgeous as this girl was, he needed her to leave.
He pulled out his phone and checked his email again, and sure enough, when he reread the one from his mum he realised he’d been so preoccupied by the renovation project at the time that he hadn’t scrolled all the way to the bottom. The last paragraph told him not to worry about being unable to look after the house and the cat because she’d found someone to do it officially. It made sense; they were away for a while, and in bushfire season it was good to have the house occupied in case emergency procedures had to be implemented. His mum had even made a point of saying that he wouldn’t be able to come to the house like he usually did.
Owen scraped butter across the third slice of toast. He’d be back down to the Mornington Peninsula in a few days to finish the reno job by putting up the garden shed he’d promised his new tenants, then he’d collect his pickup he used to transport all his tools and usually the Ducati. But right now, as soon as he’d answered his stomach’s distress calls with this last slice of toast, he’d head up to bed before he fell asleep curled up on the floor.
When he heard a sound from upstairs, a dragging sound as though Rosie was rearranging her bedroom furniture, he hoped that by morning they could sort this mess out. He needed to take this opportunity to find out what was going on, what his parents were hiding, and having her in the house wasn’t going to help. The conversation he’d overheard between his mum and dad was the reason he was here now, and the reason Rosie couldn’t be.
About a month ago he’d been staying here at his parents’ place for a stint, and one morning he pulled out one of the many travel books from the top bookshelf in the lounge area to read during breakfast. He’d picked a book about Europe and read up on London, a place he very much hoped to visit one day.
He finished his cereal and flicked the kettle on for a coffee, but as he returned the book to its place and took out another, this time on Italy, two pieces of paper floated down from the very same shelf, landing on the floor. He stooped to pick them up. This house was immaculate, always had been, so leaving loose pages around was never an option. But he’d only read the title of what seemed to be a magazine article before his mum appeared behind him and snatched the papers away.
‘Hey, I was reading that,’ he protested.
She balled up the pages. ‘It’s really old, I’ll throw it.’
‘But it was to do with property, I’m interested.’
Jane Harrison was already cutting through the kitchen towards the laundry.
‘It must’ve been from when we were looking to buy a holiday house. Old news now.’
Owen poured a cup of coffee. ‘So what was it doing up there?’ He heard the laundry door open, the bin lid lift, and then Jane was back in the house.
‘No idea,’ she said.
He shrugged and wondered why she’d turned the same white as the milk he’d just used to top up his coffee.
Enticed by the freshly baked cinnamon buns his mum pulled from the oven, Owen forgot all about the article, and with a second cinnamon bun, he sat at the kitchen table doing his accounts as his mum went out to tend those blessed rose bushes again. Owen and his brothers often joked she was more enamoured by those rose bushes than she was by them. And sometimes, Owen was inclined to think it was actually true.
He forgot all about the peculiar behaviour and his mum’s refusal to let him see the magazine pages he’d found, until the middle of the night. He woke around two a.m. thirsty as hell and crept downstairs for a glass of water. Back upstairs he stooped down to fuss George, curled up outside his parents’ bedroom, and he heard crying coming from the other side of the door. And then he heard voices.
‘Owen had the article right there in his hands, Michael.’
‘But he had no idea what it was.’ His dad’s voice was soothing.
Between sobs Jane said, ‘The internet is powerful. What if he’d searched the name, the business, and worked out who the article was about? Who knows what damage it could’ve done.’
‘You know, he’s stronger than you think. Maybe it’s time we told him everything.’
Jane’s voice rose an octave in the still of the night. ‘My son’s whole world would come crashing down if we told him the truth now! No, I can’t let it happen. I won’t let it happen. I’ve hidden everything and there’s no way he’ll find it. He must never know the truth.’
The sobs continued as Owen stole back to his room, heart pounding. He waited almost an hour and then he crept downstairs again, sure his parents were by now asleep. He opened the door which led from the laundry to the side of the house and in bare feet tiptoed outside and over to the recycling bin. He expected the magazine article to be lying right there on top but it wasn’t. He went back into the laundry, grabbed a torch and then back outside he slowly but surely took everything out of the blue-topped wheelie bin until there was nothing left. He went through all the paper recycling as it came out and he went through it all as it went back in. But he found nothing.
He leant against the kitchen bench top now as he ate his toast. He was content moving from one place to another and dossing down in Magnolia Creek whenever it suited because he loved this town. Tonight’s ninety minute journey, zigzagging his way to Lakeside Lane on his Ducati, revelling in the sense of freedom, had cleared his head and he’d felt ready to tackle the challenge of finding out exactly what it was his parents were keeping from him. He needed to know. He wanted answers. The time had come to get to the bottom of why he’d never felt good enough in his mother’s eyes no matter what he did, how much he pushed himself, how successful he was.
He retrieved the key to the study from above the fuse box and pocketed it. Tomorrow, he’d have a good look through all the personal papers his parents kept in there.
He thought about the girl upstairs: the girl with the none-too-subtle pink car tucked down the side of the house; the girl with trusting brown eyes, a button nose and straight copper hair that grazed the middle of her back. He thought about the slight gap between her front teeth that made her look innocent and the odd necklace she wore that looked like a body with no head, legs astride, hands on hips. He knew he hadn’t made a very good first impression with his rudeness, snatching supplies from the fridge and pantry she had most likely filled herself, but her presence had thrown him.
He climbed the stairs to head to the room at the farthest end of the house. At the top of the stairs, George was curled up neatly in his usual position against the bannisters, although instead of being outside Owen’s room or his parents’, he was outside Rosie’s.
‘So she’s won you over already, has she?’ He crouched down and stroked George from head to tail. ‘Maybe you could let me in on your secret.’ He rubbed his fingers beneath George’s chin and the cat purred and dribbled contentedly.