A Place Called Home (ebook)
A Place Called Home (ebook)
An art restorer looking for a home. A commitment-phobe running from his emotions. A painting which brings them together but which reveals a mysterious past from which neither can escape…
After an itinerant and lonely childhood, art restorer Lucia yearns for what other people have—a home, husband and children. There is no way she’s going to get involved with a commitment-phobe again. Guy takes the concept of a commitment-phobe to a whole new level—but with good reason. He’s been running from his emotions since his wife’s death. But their lives become entwined when Lucia proves his ‘forgery’ is genuine and reveals a mysterious past from which neither can escape…
This emotional and suspenseful women’s fiction book will give you all the feels. Sit back, put your feet up and prepare to go on a journey with the Mackenzie brothers and their close friends as they fall in love. But don’t expect an easy road to their happy ever afters! There are intense emotions and unexpected twists and turns as these men fall for strong women with minds of their own! If you love women's fiction with no explicit sex scenes, The Mackenzies series is a great fit for you!
A Place Called Home
Secrets at Parata Bay
Escape to Shelter Springs
What you See in the Stars
Second Chance at Whisper Creek
Summer at the Lakehouse Café
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Lucia scanned the museum’s function room—from the elaborate contemporary Maori carvings to the impressive stained-glass wall in all shades and hues of the sky—but she couldn’t find who she was looking for. Then she looked at the stage where a TV crew was preparing for the cookery demonstration, and she saw him.
Standing with his back to her, mingling with Wellington’s wealthiest and most influential citizens, was her ex-boyfriend.
She nudged her best friend, Rachel, who was waiting for her TV crew to finish their preparations, before taking the stage. “You see, right there, that is what I’m talking about.” She sighed and sipped her champagne.
Rachel followed Lucia’s gaze to Dallas Mackenzie, who was enjoying the company of not one, but two glamorous women. “So?”
“We only stopped dating a few weeks ago, and he’s already moved on!”
“And so should you,” commented Rachel, as she nodded to the TV crew who were readying themselves to record her regular cookery show, live in front of a high-paying audience. “Look, Lu, forget him.”
“Oh, I have. It’s just…” Lucia shook her head, as she tried to put into words her frustration at not finding the right man. “It’s just disappointing, I guess.”
“Doesn’t sound like it was love, then.”
“No. Just as well. But he’s a nice man. A good man.”
“Just not the man for you.”
“Then stop watching him and go mingle. Dallas is the only man you’ve dated since you arrived in New Zealand. There are plenty more out there, you know.” The TV producer winked at Rachel and Rachel winked back.
Lucia shook her head. “I think you’re dating all the eligible ones.”
Rachel glanced at her watch. “Anyway, can’t stop and talk men. I have to go and do what Dallas has asked me to do.”
“Show wealthy women how to create complicated desserts which they’ll never make?”
“Yeah, ironic really. These women hire companies like mine to cater their dinner parties.”
“I guess it doesn’t matter. The money they’ve paid to come here tonight will go to one of Dallas’s charities.” She sighed again at the thought of Dallas’s good heart, of which few people were aware.
“Move on, girl!” Rachel took a deep breath and turned on a smile. “Okay, I’m ready. Show time! Catch you later, Lu.”
Lucia watched Rachel move toward the stage prepared with the tools of Rachel’s trade—mixers, chopping board, bowls, small oven—all beautifully co-ordinated with Rachel’s trademark duck-egg blue range of kitchen equipment and accessories. The cameras flashed, and Rachel assumed her role of sexy celebrity chef with apparent ease.
The crowds moved in front of Lucia, and she could only hear Rachel now—the sexy voice, the banter. She was a real entertainer. But Lucia wasn’t in the mood for entertainment. She glanced toward the doors which led out onto a deck which overlooked the harbor. No, she was in the mood for escape.
It was the perfect early spring evening in Wellington, Lucia thought as she walked onto the terrace that perched above the harbor. The city was still bathed in warm sunshine. The eastern hills, which lay across the water were now tinged with the warmer orange glow that showed night wasn’t far away. She’d been in New Zealand for a full year now, and she still couldn’t get over the difference between this friendly, compact city—where everybody seemed to know everyone else—and Shanghai, where she’d lived since she was seventeen. And she relished every detail of that difference.
Relished everything except one. She glanced inside. The sight of Dallas talking to a beautiful brunette underscored her sense of loneliness, despite all her new friends. And to top it all, he wanted to introduce her to someone. She refused to be palmed off onto some friend of her ex and had avoided him all evening. No, she was better off out here, alone.
Alone. It wasn’t what Lucia wanted, and she hoped it wasn’t her destiny. But after a couple of relationships in Shanghai which had gone nowhere, she was beginning to wonder. She shivered at the thought and crossed her arms.
“It’s not that cold, is it?”
She turned to see the owner of the voice leaning against the far end of the wall, half-hidden by a pillar: his tux slung over the balustrade, the dark silk dangling carelessly over the blue water. He was tall, but not overly so, with his white shirt fitting snugly over the strong, broad build of a rugby player. Not her type, of course, but still, a girl couldn’t help noticing.
She shook her head. “No, not really. Just a stray thought.”
“Well, if you’re going to have stray thoughts, this is the place to have them. The breeze will blow them away.”
She smiled at the notion and looked at him with renewed interest. “Is that why you’re here?”
“No. I’m here because I have no interest in cooking. Or parties come to that. Guess you don’t either?”
“No, I like cooking, and I like parties. Usually. It’s just…” She sighed, trying to figure out the source of her disengagement. “Just that I’m tired, I guess.”
“And that stray thought didn’t help.”
Her gaze lingered on him a little longer, as she suddenly wondered if he knew about her and Dallas. But he didn’t look familiar. “No, it didn’t.”
He pushed himself off the wall and walked toward her. He slipped his hands into the pockets of his trousers, narrowed his eyes and cocked his head to one side, as if trying to gain her measure. She looked out to the water. She didn’t want him to gain her measure. Because, contrary to Rachel’s suggestion, she had no interest in finding a man. She was feeling battle-weary and right at this moment reckoned “lonely” might be preferable to being hurt. Again.
“So,” he said gently, as if somehow understanding her fears, “did it drift off on the breeze? That stray thought?”
She shook her head. “No, the wind’s not strong enough.”
“You should come in the winter then. The Wellington winds are enough to drive anything away.”
“I have come here in winter.”
“Yes, I work in the city art gallery as an art restorer. I’m usually stuck inside, staring at tiny flakes of paint, so I like to walk across to Te Papa and come out here after I’ve gone through the museum.”
He turned to look across the harbor, toward the hills, echoing her stance. “I can’t imagine doing something like that all day. Concentrating on one small thing for hours on end.”
“When it’s going well I get lost in it and forget where I am. And then I surface and find I’ve hardly moved all day. So I come here.”
“Especially in winter. The southerly winds just miss this balcony. It’s wonderful. Like being on the prow of a boat on a stormy sea.”
He leaned against the balcony next to her. “A woman after my own heart. Nothing better than being on a boat. Do you fish?”
She grimaced. “No. I only like the thought of sailing. The closest I’ve come is friends’ motor boats, watching fireworks in the harbor.”
She noted the disappointed tone. “You?”
“Yeah,” he said with renewed enthusiasm. “When I’m in New Zealand, I’m out on my boat every chance I get. And then, when I’m not fishing, I’m in the hills, hunting. You see the range of hills over here? On the other side of Tara Harbor? That’s where I go.” He pointed to the other side of the harbor where lights were beginning to brighten as the day faded.
She frowned. “Tara Harbor? You mean Wellington Harbor?”
He grinned. “It’s Maori name is Te Whanganui a Tara, or The Great Harbor of Tara. My Maori ancestors were of the Ngai Tara tribe and my grandmother used to insist we call it that.” He shrugged. “When I fly into the airport, as soon as I see the lights of Tara Harbor I know I’m home.”
Home. The word struck a painful chord. It was what she’d come here to find but which remained elusive. She cleared her throat and forced a smile. “So… what is it you hunt?”
“Wild pig or deer.”
“Oh, right.” She wished she hadn’t asked. The sense of distaste at the thought of killing something was arrested by the sight of his lightly clasped hands on the balustrade. She suddenly imagined those thick long fingers touching her, brushing her skin, discovering her… She swallowed and looked away, lifting her face to the breeze, willing it to cool the heat that had instantly ignited at the thought of his skin against hers.
“Don’t suppose you hunt?” he asked.
“Do women hunt?”
“Now that’s a sexist remark, which surprises me,” he said in a teasing tone. “I know a lot of women who hunt.”
“Well, not me. I’m a vegetarian. And, well, I don’t often leave the city. Apart from my early years in Italy, I was raised in cities and feel at home in them.”
He sighed and looked at the view. “Right.” A small grin played on his lips as he inclined his head to hers. “Do you think we have anything in common?”
She laughed and shook her head. “Doesn’t look like it.”
He stepped away with a sigh. “It’s not going to stop me from asking you out. Maybe we can use it as an opportunity to see if there are any interests—anything—we share.”
Just in that direct approach she sincerely doubted it. The majority of men she knew were sophisticated men who rarely said anything with this man’s degree of directness. He wasn’t anything like the men she usually dated which, she reflected, was probably a good reason to agree.
“I don’t know your name.”
“Guy.” He stuck out his large, capable hand. “Guy Martin.”
She lifted her hand, and it was engulfed in his. His hand was warm, the pads on his palm slightly calloused—its abrasion against her sensitive hands, more used to the fine control of brushes, scrapers and cotton balls, sent shivers of electricity running through her arm. His eyes narrowed at the same time she felt the attraction zap through her, before it came to rest low in her stomach, where it remained.
“Lucia,” she whispered, struggling to find her voice. “Lucia Rossi.”
“Lucia,” he repeated. “Beautiful. Your name sounds like the whisper of the wind in the trees.”
“It’s… it’s the way I say it. The Italian way. My father was Italian,” she added unnecessarily. What was this man about? A rugby-playing hunter with the soul of a poet? She must have looked startled because he smiled and the tension was broken.
“So, can I take you out and we can discover what else we don’t have in common?”
She really shouldn’t. But then, she would be safe. There wouldn’t be any future in it, no risk to her emotions. He appeared to be the total opposite to her in every way.
“Sure. That would be nice. When and where?”
“How about now? Let’s escape, get a drink and something to eat?”
Lucia felt a rush of excitement. She felt like a kid, enticed to play truant. She glanced inside. Dallas was still there, surrounded by a group of beautiful people, his usual distant self, but apparently enjoying the attention of one woman in particular.
“Sure. Why not? I’ll fetch my jacket.”
“I’ll meet you by the exit.”
She re-entered the reception feeling a different person. As she walked past Dallas, she no longer felt the sting of rejection. She ignored him and the simpering woman who was desperately trying to entertain him with some anecdote. Good luck with that, she thought, smiling to herself as she caught Dallas sighing with boredom. The man still made her laugh. His impatience and short temper were legendary, but he had a really good heart. Shame it wasn’t meant for her.
He didn’t notice her pass by and Rachel was still the center of attention and wouldn’t be concerned by her absence. Besides, they were neighbors and would catch up for breakfast before work the following morning. She slipped into the cloakroom and retrieved her jacket. From there, she made her way toward the exit, where Guy was waiting for her.
He grinned as she approached and opened the door wide. “You came.”
She stepped through the door. “I said I would.”
“Yes, but I thought you might have had a change of heart after considering how little we had in common.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Maybe it’s exactly that which makes this so appealing right now.”
They stepped out onto the broad concourse that linked the museum and the sea to the city. “You mean, it’s not my good looks or charm?”
“No. Nor your modesty either.”
He laughed. “In which case, I’m pleased to be very unlike you, at this moment, if that’s all I have going for me.”
Despite the lack of common ground, they talked easily as they walked away from the waterfront and into the city. Lucia wondered where they were going as they passed the smart bars and restaurants she usually frequented. But, she reminded herself, it was different she’d wanted. And it looked like different was what she was going to get.
She began to have second thoughts as they walked past the busy downtown district and proceeded to a seedier part of Wellington she rarely visited. Where on earth was he taking her?
“It’s here,” he said, stopping beside an open door either side of which were graffitied walls and layers of bill posters. A discreet sign proclaimed it to be Kostas, whatever that was, and a red light glowed invitingly from within the red-tiled Victorian porch, revealing a flight of stairs leading downwards.
She smiled unsurely. “Are you sure? This looks like a strip joint.”
“That’s probably because it used to be.”
“But it’s not now?” she asked doubtfully, looking around at the peeling paint and scuffed skirting boards. “Are you sure you’re not taking me to someplace where I’ll be drugged and shipped off to a slave trade?”
“No, but if that’s the kind of nightlife you’re used to,” he said, stepping away, “I’m sure I can find something along those lines.”
She laughed. “I wouldn’t want to put you to all that bother. This looks fine.”
“Seriously, Lucia, it’s more than fine; it’s the best Greek restaurant I know. Friends of mine run it.”
“Really? It just doesn’t look…” How could she tell him that his friends ran the seediest dive she’d ever seen?
“Don’t be put off by looks. There’s always more to something than meets the eye.”
She looked at him sharply. Wasn’t that what her work was about—revealing the treasure which lay beneath the grime? “You got me there. Okay, I’m game,” she said, as she took tentative steps down the wooden stairs which were worn in the center.
He pushed open another door at the bottom of the stairs, and Lucia was immediately assailed by the wonderful aroma of spices and herbs. Inside, the restaurant glowed with the rich colors of kilim rugs, strewn over the floor and seats. Above low tables, ornate copper and glass chandeliers hung, casting intimate pools of soft amber light. The whole impression was slightly chaotic, warm and inviting.
“Guy!” The owner came into the room, wiping his hands on a towel, before giving Guy a big hug. The two men laughed and exchanged insults before they were shown to a corner table. Then he looked appreciatively at Lucia.
“And what is Guy doing with such a classy lady as yourself?”
“The wind blew her to me,” said Guy, before she could reply. Apparently satisfied, Kostas laughed, thumped Guy on the back, and left.
Startled, she looked into his warm eyes. There it was again, that romanticism, so at odds with everything else about him. She looked away, equally abruptly, as she tried to marry these two images in her head.
She still hadn’t managed it when the first dishes were set before her.
“But we haven’t ordered.”
Guy laughed. “You don’t order here. You get what’s been made, and is the freshest.”
“Is there meat?” she asked tentatively, exploring the dish with her fork.
“Not for you. I told him you were a vegetarian, he grumbled a bit, but said he’d put something together for you.” He leaned forward. “See, there’s no trace of meat in that dish.” He helped her to some. “Try some.”
She did and she immediately closed her eyes with pleasure as the flavors blended and dissolved on her tongue. She picked up her fork with renewed interest. “That was wonderful!”
“See! What did I tell you?”
Dish after dish of equally delicious food emerged from the kitchen and were quickly devoured by them both. Lucia hadn’t realized how hungry she was. They were joined by other late diners, many of whom Guy knew, and the wine and conversation flowed.
As the restaurant was closing, Kostas and his chef came by with bottles of liquor. As Lucia nursed her cup of black coffee, she watched Guy exchange anecdotes with Kostas. The mischief they’d got into as university students had formed a bond between the two which obviously ran deep. There was something reassuring about seeing the affection and high esteem Guy’s old friends held him in.
She wasn’t sure whether it was the wine, her strong physical attraction to him, or the lure of original artwork, but, by the end of the evening, she’d agreed to visit Guy in his country home the following weekend to check out his family’s collection of paintings by New Zealand artists.
She was still wondering if she hadn’t been a bit rash when they emerged from the café into the Wellington streets where a light rain was falling. But any lingering doubts vanished when Guy put his jacket around her and somehow left his arm around her, too. It felt good, she thought as she drew closer. And he smelled good. Pure man with an edge of sandalwood. It made her mouth water just as much, if not more than, at dinner.
“Care for a nightcap? I know a good bar around the corner.”
“Absolutely. If your taste in restaurants is anything to go by, I want to check it out.”
“It’s not so off the grid as the restaurant. In fact, it’s here.” He held open a door.
She was vaguely disappointed. She’d been here before, many times, some of them with Dallas. “Oh, sure.”
“We can go somewhere else, if you prefer? Another ‘seedy’ backstreet, I think you called it?”
“Here’s fine.” She laughed as she stepped inside the bar. It was packed as usual, and they had to squeeze in.
Guy grabbed a stool. “Here, you take that, and I’ll go and get us a couple of drinks. Brandy?”
She nodded. “Small one, please.”
She watched him walk away, his shirt plastered wetly against his body, revealing his muscled arms and broad shoulders. She had a sudden vision of him without a shirt, his skin slick with sweat from the heat of a day’s hunt. The image refused to leave.
She watched as he leaned in to shout his order to the barman, barely heard above the laughter and talk in the room, which was without the sound-absorbing furnishings that made conversation so easy in the Greek restaurant. His hair was cropped short, in a no-nonsense style, that showed his lack of interest in his appearance, but suited him. It revealed the strong shape of his head, and, as he turned to one side, the overhead bar light caught the side of his face. Her stomach did a flip of desire. His jaw formed a clear, strong line which revealed more to her than anything he could have said. It showed a stubbornness of purpose and strength which was infinitely appealing to her. She’d been drifting emotionally for so long that the thought of reaching out and clinging to something—someone—so strong and safe was very seductive. They might not share the same interests but she’d always been drawn to strong characters. A small warning bell rang.
She looked away, through the rain-streaked window out to Courtenay Place, still busy with theatergoers emerging from the theater opposite. She was strong and stubborn, too. Strong plus strong didn’t go smoothly, she reminded herself.
She turned abruptly at the sound of her name. She knew that voice. And she was right. Walking up to her was Dallas Mackenzie, the man she’d been avoiding all night.
“Dallas.” She rose in greeting, and he kissed her cheek.
“You left early, Lucia,” he said reproachfully. “Why’s that?”
“You know why, Dallas.”
He sighed. “I’m sorry, Lucia, but it’s for the best. I don’t do love, and you need it. But not with me.”
She bit her lip and half-nodded. She’d held such high hopes for Dallas Mackenzie—handsome, charismatic, with high morals and a strong connection to both the sophistication of the city and his family—but it had come to nothing. He was a serial dater, and had made it crystal clear that he wouldn’t settle with one woman, ever. “Sure. It’s just”—she shrugged—“it was fun.”
“And we’ll still see each other. Often. Just not in the same way as we have been.” He lifted her chin so she was forced to look up to him. “Okay?”
“Of course.” She smiled.
“You deserve the best in life. The best kind of future. And I can’t give you any of that.”
“No buts. I’m right, and deep down you know it.”
He was right. And she did know it, particularly after spending the evening with Guy. “Okay, you’ve got me there. You are right. I know you’re right. So… did you stay long?”
“Only long enough to make sure everyone had a good time.”
“Yourself included,” she said, unable to stop herself from having a dig at the way women flocked around him.
“What?” He looked genuinely puzzled.
She sighed. “Never mind.” He was hopeless. He had the ability to ignore anything or anyone who didn’t interest him. And obviously, the woman who’d been talking to him, who’d thought she’d got his attention, had been discarded with total ease.
“Hey, look, there’s Guy!” Dallas turned to greet Guy and then faced Lucia. “I wanted to introduce you, but you disappeared, and then I couldn’t find Guy.”
Lucia frowned. Guy grinned at Lucia but didn’t say anything.
“Lucia, this is Guy Martin. Just returned from overseas, and he’s single.”
Lucia’s heart fell.
“Guy, this is Lucia Rossi. A very special lady who also happens to be single.”
Guy laughed. “Still haven’t figured out how to hide your intentions, have you, Dallas?”
“What’s the point?”
Guy shrugged. “Maybe in case it has the opposite effect. Lucia doesn’t look too happy about the ‘you’re both single’ line.”
Dallas glanced sharply at Lucia. “Why not? It’s a fact. You are both single. And I reckon you’d get along.”
Lucia was incensed. No sooner had Dallas broken up with her then he was pushing her toward the first single man who came to mind. It showed how little he thought of her. “I don’t need setting up, Dallas!”
“It’s not a setup! Think of it as an introduction. That’s all it is.”
“I don’t need introductions.” She glanced at Guy and felt the anger disappear. He was grinning at her and she suddenly saw the funny side. “I don’t need introductions,” she repeated, more quietly, “because I can tell what people are like from one glance.”
“Yeah, right.” Dallas took a sip of his drink. “So tell me about Guy.”
Lucia narrowed her gaze, pretending to inspect Guy and nodded slowly. “He’s a man of the outdoors—loves nothing more than to hunt or fish. And… I think… yes, it’s a contrast to his world of business which I sense is something in the legal field. Something which takes him all around the world. I think he returns quite often to New Zealand, but not for very long at a time. And, yes, I do believe he’s taken a break from his legal work to attend to his family’s business.”
Dallas frowned and looked from one to the other.
“And,” continued Lucia, “his passion is rugby.” She looked at Dallas. “How did I do?”
“You’ve met him already.” He glanced at the two drinks which Guy held, one of which he now passed to Lucia. “So what do you think of my best buddy?”
It was Lucia’s turn to frown. “Best buddy?”
“Yeah, you didn’t think I was going to introduce you to anyone I didn’t know well, did you? He’s been my best mate since university, and he’s the person I’d trust with my life.” He turned to Guy. “And I have more than once, eh Guy?”
“Yeah, and if you don’t do it again, that would be good.”
“No worries on that score. I keep well away from trouble these days. And you always have, eh Guy?” Dallas turned to Lucia. “Guy’s not like me, he’s always wanted a family.” He turned to Guy. “Was it ten kids you used to say you wanted?”
Guy’s smile had unaccountably vanished. “That was then, not now, not anymore, Dallas. That family thing isn’t for me.”
Dallas looked vaguely uncomfortable, which must have been a first for him, Lucia thought, before he changed the subject.
Lucia tuned out as Dallas and Guy reminisced about the last time Guy had apparently stepped in and rescued Dallas from a mess of his own making. All she could think of was that she’d thought Guy was different. But he wasn’t. For all the outward differences between him and Dallas, it seemed they both wanted the same thing—to remain single.
If she’d known that Guy was in any way connected to Dallas, she’d have run a mile. Because she didn’t want another Dallas. She couldn’t risk her heart with another Dallas. But she’d committed herself to visiting Guy’s home to look at his paintings and there was no way she could get out of it without appearing rude.
Dallas and Guy burst out laughing as they continued to reminisce. But Lucia wasn’t laughing. She’d ended up intrigued by a man just like Dallas. And that meant their relationship was doomed even before it had begun.