Second Chance at Whisper Creek (ebook)
Second Chance at Whisper Creek (ebook)
A woman who values her independence. A playboy who wants to make amends for past mistakes. A trust that has to be earned…
James Mackenzie is tired of his shallow lifestyle and wants a family. But before he begins his new life he needs to salve his conscience by making sure the future is secure for the woman he wronged ten years earlier.
The last thing Susie Henderson needs is her ex buying the winery in which she works and threatening her independence. She’s worked hard to get where she is and she has no intention of making herself vulnerable again.
But the deep love and affection they felt for each other hasn’t gone away. So Susie has to figure out how to trust someone who betrayed her, someone who has lost his way and no longer believes in himself…
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 because these macho 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!
Note: This book was previously published as The Playboy’s Redemption. This new edition contains no profanity and mild sexual content only.
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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“Susannah! Where are you?”
Susie looked from under the pipe she was fixing, to a pair of roman sandals that hopped impatiently from side to side. “Under here! What is it?” She continued to tighten the bolt with the spanner.
“Pete’s here and he’s got someone with him. He wants you.”
“Pete?” Susie frowned but continued to work the spanner. “He’s meant to be on his way to Christchurch.”
“He will be later on today. But he’s here now, and he wants to see you.” The sandals were joined by a concerned-looking face framed with corkscrew curls, as Jorja, the winery receptionist, knelt down and peered at Susie. “It looks serious. Pete’s all dressed up in a suit and so is this other guy.” She gave a long, low whistle of approval.
Susie closed her eyes and sighed. A suit, a stranger? Pete never wore suits and certainly no one ever came to the winery in suits. Shorts, jandals, backpacks, yes, but suits? No way. It could only mean one thing. Pete had sold the winery. He’d been looking for a buyer for months. It must have happened while he was in the South Island, because she had no clue anyone was interested. Susie gave the bolt a final, unnecessary, twist.
“Okay, I’m coming.”
She wriggled out from under the pipe work and brushed herself down, managing to smear oil down her shorts as she did so. Jorja eyed her up and down nervously. “You’d better get changed. This looks serious.”
“No way. This is a working winery. Whoever this guy is will have to take me as I am.”
“They’re in the boardroom,” Jorja whispered, opening the door.
Susie followed Jorja out to the small reception area, where she heard the low murmur of male voices. “Boardroom? Since when have we had a boardroom?”
“Since Pete wanted to impress someone. I even had to photocopy papers for you. They looked really official.”
Susie’s heart sank. Her first guess must have been correct. “I suppose it had to happen.”
Jorja smiled sympathetically. “It’ll probably carry on as before. Why else would anyone buy the winery? They must have fallen in love with it like we have.”
“Let’s hope so.” She walked into the high-ceilinged room, more often used for wine tasting than meetings, and looked around. Pete was standing, alone, beside the open ranch sliders.
“Susannah!” He grinned and walked quickly over and planted a friendly kiss on the side of her cheek. And, for the umpteenth time, Susie wondered why she couldn’t feel anything more than friendship for this wonderful man.
“Hey, you! I thought you were on your way to Christchurch?”
“I’m still going. I’m leaving in an hour. It’s just a flying visit. For me, at least.”
Susie frowned. “What do you mean?”
“You’ll never believe it.” His mouth twisted as he tried, in vain, to suppress a grin.
“You’ve sold up?” She said mournfully, helping herself to a handful of raw nuts that Jorja had tipped into a wooden bowl.
“Yep! Out of blue.”
“How come you didn’t tell me?”
“I tried to contact you.”
“Ah… I was camping, with Tom. I didn’t take my cell phone.”
“Anyway, I knew you’d be happy. It’s what we’ve both been wanting—an investor who doesn’t want to close us down or amalgamate with another winery. It’s perfect.”
“Okay, slow down. How did it happen?”
“I was down in Shelter Springs—”
She raised an eyebrow. “With the lovely Lizzi at The Lakehouse Café, so I hear.”
“How did you know?”
“It’s a small place.”
He shrugged. “Anyway, it was through her that I found him.”
Susie looked up suddenly. “Found who?”
Pete thrust his hands in his pockets and rolled back onto his heels, a self-satisfied smile on his face. “The new owner of Whisper Creek winery.”
Suddenly Susie became aware of voices on the terrace. Jorja had moved outside and her soft lilting Scots accent drifted in through the open window. But now another voice had joined hers—deep, masculine, and as seductive and warming as the soft afternoon breeze. Her mouth went dry as a sickening jolt of visceral recognition gripped her. She knew that voice. She might not have heard it in ten years, but it was as familiar to her as her own. But her mind refused to believe what her body was telling her. She turned slowly to Pete, who was uncorking a bottle of wine, and tried to speak but no sound emerged. She swallowed. “Who is it?”
The disembodied voice stopped at what sounded like the punch line to a joke and Jorja’s flirtatious laughter followed. Susie shook her head, as if to rid it of an unwelcome echo. But, even though she could no longer hear it, the voice filled her senses.
Pete pulled the cork out with a pop and turned to her. “Who is what?”
“The new owner, Pete. Who is the new owner?”
“JM Investments.” He sniffed the wine appreciatively. “It’s a holding company which owns several wineries including one in Napa Valley.”
He poured the wine into three burgundy glasses and she inhaled a deep breath as she automatically took the glass Pete offered her. “And it’s owned by?”
The afternoon sun suddenly shadowed as someone stood in the doorway.
“James—” Pete began.
“Mackenzie,” the voice interrupted. She looked up at the man whose shadow reached over the clay-tiled floor and touched her. His dark silhouette was outlined by the late sun and she couldn’t see his features clearly. But she would have known his voice anywhere, known the man, from how his gaze made her feel.
Then he stepped towards her into the light. She knew the lines of his face like she knew her own. It was at once familiar and yet also strange. The familiar lines—the shape of his face, his nose, cheekbones— had morphed from a fun-loving, good-looking teen into an unfamiliar figure—an immaculately dressed, devastatingly handsome man. But the humor in his eyes was still there and the smile on his lips was the same as he extended his hand towards hers.
Pete cleared his throat and shifted his feet. “Susannah?” He laughed uncomfortably. “James, this is Susannah Henderson, who’s not normally at a loss for words.”
“It seems I’ve made her speechless.” Her heart beat loudly in her ears as he reached further for her hand and shook it. “Hello, Susannah.” He stressed her name, giving it a faint question mark. Of course, he’d never called her by that name before.
She tried to contain the jolt of recognition as his hand gripped hers in a handshake that he seemed in no hurry to break. She looked down, embarrassed by the flare of heat she knew had flooded her pale skin.
Susie opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out at first. She gulped in a deep breath. “James… Mackenzie.”
He smiled. “Correct. But the names are usually run on together, without the long pause in the middle.”
“I know how the name is pronounced.”
She looked down at their hands, which were still joined in a handshake. James slowly relaxed his grip and she let her hand fall and turned away.
Pete hadn’t seemed to notice the awkward moment as he passed James a glass of wine. “Susannah’s my right-hand woman. Runs the place really. She does everything, even helping the wine-maker who we share with a couple of other local wineries. Been with me the past eight years, haven’t you?” He pulled her to him and gave her a brotherly hug. “What Susannah doesn’t know about the place, isn’t worth knowing.”
“Then we’ll have a lot to discuss over the next week.”
Her blood pressure skyrocketed as she felt the full blast of James’s gaze and words. She swallowed a gasp and turned away.
“A week?” Her voice emerged as a husky whisper that Pete didn’t hear.
Pete held up the wine to the light. “This is the top of our line. You tasted last year’s vintage in the South Island. This one”—he held up the ruby red wine, now enflamed by the late sun—“is five years old and sells at our premium price.”
James reached over and tapped his glass against hers and then Pete’s. “Here’s to your future, Pete. All the best.”
She tried to speak but couldn’t. Beads of sweat prickled her brow.
“The future!” Pete grinned and turned to Susie. “Are you okay?”
“Just hot.” She placed the glass on the table and pushed open a window, taking in a gulp of the warm salty air. She half-listened to Pete talking about the wine, about the island, about the future of the winery. Her future. Alone. Or it had been up until now. His words flowed and settled around her like oil on water, covering her confusion but not resolving it.
She took a deep breath and slowly turned back around. Pete was holding up the glass of wine to the light and describing its qualities, but James? James remained standing where he’d stood before, his eyes still on her. Except the smile was no longer there, it was replaced by a look she didn’t recognize and couldn’t read. Their wordless gaze was interrupted by the entrance of other winery staff.
“James, let me introduce you to the rest of our team.” Pete glanced at his watch. “We’ve got just under an hour before I leave. Sorry to rush away.”
“No problem. With so little notice, I appreciate you coming here at all.”
Susie sat down at the opposite end of the table and glanced through the business papers Pete had distributed, barely aware of the ebb and flow of conversation. She was aware only of James’s physical presence and the whirling mix of contradictory emotions—confusion, excitement, fear and something else she refused to contemplate. No, she wasn’t going there. There was only one thing she needed to know—what the hell he was doing here, after all these years. Because of him, her and her family’s lives had been destroyed ten years before. She’d made a new life for herself through sheer hard work but her father had died a broken man, his livelihood and dreams, shattered. Had James bought the winery to rob her of her dreams once more? To take her hard-earned position with the company away from her?
She watched as he leaned back in his chair—totally at ease, as he charmed both men and women alike—and his hand absent-mindedly smoothed the highly polished desk, as if reveling in its silky texture. A forgotten memory of how he’d enjoyed working with wood as a young boy, flashed into her mind. It had been a part of him then, something real but, no doubt, long forgotten—the only remnant being his sensual response to the wood. She doubted he was even aware of the sensuality of his action. Everything had always been instinctive with James. Including seducing her.
“Don’t we, Susannah?”
Startled, Susie turned quickly to Pete. He’d been speaking and she’d missed the question entirely.
“Sorry, what were you saying?”
Pete gave an uncomfortable laugh. “I was just saying how well we work as a team.” He glanced at James. “Susannah’s usually extremely focused, able to give you facts and figures off the top of her head. The winery wouldn’t be what it is without her.”
“So I hear.” James’s seductive voice snaked its way around and through her body, stimulating her senses like the soft trail of a finger along delicate skin. His softened tone forced her to look up. He was still looking directly at her, just as he had when he’d entered the room.
She couldn’t let him get to her. She had to play it cool. His money might be Pete’s ticket off Waiheke, but she needed to find out what he wanted before his money destroyed her. She cleared her throat. “Pete and I have worked as a team up till now, with the help of a local winemaker. But I’m more than happy, capable, of running the business on my own. Could you tell me, Mr. Mackenzie—”
“Mr. Mackenzie,” she repeated firmly. “What it is you expect in return for your investment?”
There was a deafening, surprised, silence. James leaned forward across the desk, his hand loosely clasped before him, his shoulders relaxed, his eyes amused, a slight smile playing on his lips. “What do I expect? Are you concerned that I expect too much?”
He’d understood what she’d meant. She could see it in his narrowed, knowing gaze. He sat back in his chair, the smile now gone. “I expect a well-run business. I expect a return on my investment. I expect, Mrs Henderson, it is Mrs, isn’t it?”
“I expect to work closely with the management team to achieve these things.”
“Um.” Susie pressed her lips together in disapproval. “Interesting list. It could be applied to a manufacturer of just about anything.”
A fidgety hand was placed on her arm. She glanced at Pete’s frowning face. “Susannah.” His tone held a warning.
She turned back to James. “We make wines.”
“That hadn’t escaped my notice. But thank you for the reminder.”
“We’re a boutique winery, we’re individual, we’re not a mass market winery that will add significantly to your bottom line.”
Pete’s grip on her arm tightened. “Susannah!” The warning was stronger this time.
“Pete, it’s fine,” James reassured. “It’s best to be clear about my intentions from the beginning. That way no one is under any illusions.” James looked at Susie once more. “I have extensive wine holdings and an investment in a small up-and-coming vineyard fits into our plans.”
“Why? What are your plans?”
“That, Mrs Henderson, I believe is my business.” James’s voice was quiet but firm. The humor had dropped from his eyes and they now held only challenge. “Suffice to say, I’m very aware of what Whisper Creek has to offer and have no intention of changing its strengths and brand.”
Susie sat back in the hard, oak-backed chair, only partially reassured.
“But,” James continued, “I have every intention of building on them and making it the profitable company I believe it could be.”
“Perfect!” Pete jumped up, obviously anxious to avoid any further tension. “So, if everyone’s happy?” Pete gave Susie a warning glance. “Let’s move on to the serious business of eating and drinking. Time’s slipping by and I’ll need to leave soon to catch the ferry.”
She nodded hesitantly. The buy-out was a fantastic windfall for Pete and it should be a fantastic opportunity for her. It would ensure the future of the winery. It would ensure her future. But it was Mac. Her nickname for him popped up into her mind, driven deep through years of heartache. But it had survived. What else had survived of their relationship? Was it really business, or was there something personal behind the investment? She didn’t trust him. She had no reason to trust him.
She gave the pen a twirl on the desk, before suddenly grabbing it. She clasped it in her hand and brought it up in front of her face, clenching it lightly. She grimaced. “I’m sorry, something’s bothering me, something’s not quite right here.”
She heard Pete groan but she couldn’t go back now.
She looked directly at Mac. This was between him and her. It had nothing to do with Pete. “Something’s…not right…Mr. Mackenzie,” she repeated softly.
He remained motionless, his white shirt, open-necked under his exquisitely cut silk suit. Tanned, blue, blue eyes and dark hair. How could anyone be so handsome? How could a man be so handsome, when she was so plain? How could she have allowed herself to feel—to have felt, she reminded herself—so much for someone who had always been so patently out of her league?
His eyes were intense as they stared back at her, his brows knitted together in a slight frown as if trying to understand something. “Is that so? And what can I do to persuade you that everything is absolutely right, that everything is just as it should be?”
She focused on her breathing as she tried to control her instinctive reaction to him. She cleared her throat and tried to pull her eyes away from Mac’s face, but they only shifted down to his hands, loosely steepled on the table, as if the tension between them didn’t exist. Or perhaps, unlike her, he felt it but was capable of dealing with it.
“Susannah.” Pete’s voice was strained as he tried not to overrule her in public. She held up her hand to him.
“It’s my future, Pete, I need to know what’s going on.” Her eyes flicked up to Mac’s eyes once more. “How can you persuade me that everything’s as it should be? By being honest with what you want from this arrangement. We’re a small company, insignificant by your standards. What can we possibly offer you?”
She could see in his eyes that he knew what she was really asking.
“An opportunity to get back to basics. To start afresh. One doesn’t often get given that opportunity—to create something new. Is that honest enough for you, Susie?”
The name by which he’d always called her, slipped out and surprised everyone, breaking the spell, confounding and deepening the atmosphere.
Pete looked from one to the other. “So… do you two… know each other?”
“Yes. Coincidence, isn’t it?” Susie addressed her remark to James, not Pete.
“Coincidence?” James paused. “No, not really.”
“Care to elaborate?” Susie heard the chill in her voice.
James turned to Pete. “My sister-in-law, Gemma, passed on your brochure and DVD which Lizzi, at the Lakehouse Café, had given her.” He turned back to Susie. “I watched the video and I saw… a familiar face. Not”—he inclined his head to Susie—“a familiar name.” He turned to Pete. “I knew Susie as Susie Shaw, not Susannah Henderson.”
“Henderson is my married name.”
“Anyway.” He shrugged. “One look at the video and I was hooked.”
Susie ground her teeth. Damn that video. She knew she should never have done it. It wasn’t her thing, but Pete had persuaded her because no one knew the winery better than she did.
Pete nodded. “Ah, well, that explains it. So, shall we have a quick tour of the winery before we leave?”
“Perfect.” James’s gaze returned to Susie, having barely glanced at Pete.
Pete opened the door and James rose with his usual graceful ease and walked out into the lobby with Pete. He’d always been aware of his body, and how to use it. Instinctively she brushed down her work shorts, conscious of the difference in their appearance. It made her feel at a disadvantage and she made a mental note that this would be the last time she felt like that.
She glanced around and saw James had left some papers on the table. Just at that moment he returned, by himself.
She picked up the papers and held them out to him. “Grown forgetful?”
He shook his head, no sign of a smile now. “No. I remember everything.”
“And you still choose to come here and buy a company I’m involved with? I’m surprised.”
“Are you? Why?” Again, he was being deliberately obtuse.
“Oh, I don’t know,” she said, layering the sarcasm thickly. “Perhaps because ten years ago I told you I never wanted to see you again?” She could see she’d hit a raw nerve by the tension in the fine lines around his eyes that she hadn’t noticed before. His face was immobile and, for the first time, serious.
“Ten years is a long time.”
“Not so long when the facts remain the same, when the feelings remain the same. When nothing’s changed.”
“And that’s where you’re wrong.”
“No, I’m not. You were a bastard then, and I’m sure you’re a bastard now.”
He shrugged. “A bastard maybe, but I’m also the owner of this winery.” He tapped the papers he was still holding, onto the table between them. “Signed and sealed. Everything has changed.”
She felt as if she’d been struck, winded. She sucked in a deep breath, desperately trying to regain her sense of self-possession. She never lost it. She was always in control, always in charge, since James had left, anyway.
“Everything? You want to change the winery?”
“That depends on what I find.”
Susie looked at James, acutely aware of the warning in his answer. “And what is it you’re looking for?” The shadow of sorrow she’d seen in his eyes earlier, deepened, casting a corresponding shadow on her own soul, like it or not.
“What I’m always looking for, Susie.”
“Entertainment? Bored are we?”
He was standing too close to her now and she smelt his aftershave, subtle and potent. “I’m after satisfaction.” His breath was warm against her skin, which prickled with awareness. She struggled to keep her breathing even.
“Satisfaction for a spoiled, bored womanizer with more money than he knows what to do with?”
She was irritated to note that, rather than being offended, a smile tugged at his lips. “You have been following me then. I’m flattered.”
“Don’t be. It’s hard not to come across someone whose every move is recorded faithfully in the tabloids.” She shrugged deliberately but it was too stiff to be convincing. “You’ve been everywhere, with everyone and you’re bored. But you won’t find satisfaction here. You’ll need all the time in the world to get that. You won’t get it from investing funds in a small winery. You won’t get it from one week on Waiheke Island.”
“Really? Then perhaps I should stay longer.”
Susie’s heart sank. “No way.” She shook her head.
“No need to panic. I’m kidding. One week is all I have left.”
“All you have left? I’d have thought someone with your money would be free to do whatever you liked.”
“Not after next week.”
She frowned, but before she could respond, Pete walked quickly into the room. “Time’s slipping by, James. Would you like a quick tour before you go?”
“Sure.” He turned abruptly to Pete and smiled. “And then perhaps dinner tonight with Susie and a longer tour tomorrow.”
“Great idea.” Pete looked from one to the other. “If that’s okay with you, Susannah? It won’t interfere with any arrangements with Tom, will it?”
Susie shook her head, wishing Tom hadn’t been mentioned. The tension that had gripped her from the moment she’d heard James’s voice, gripped her more tightly still. The thud of her heart competed with the precise tick of the second hand from the antique clock in reception. She turned to James suddenly. “One week?”
“Just a week. To check things out. To make sure things are as they should be, and then I’ll be off.”
She nodded slowly. He’d be going. It would only be for one week. She’d spent ten years without him, growing stronger with each passing day. She could do this. Besides, what was the alternative—a winery owned by someone whose heart lay elsewhere?
“Okay.” She’d manage to evade him over the weekend somehow. “I’ll meet you at the cafe at seven. If you’re sure you won’t be bored.”
Pete nodded approvingly and stepped aside for James to leave first. But James didn’t move straight away. He held her gaze but she refused to look away, despite the blush she could feel rising until her cheeks stung.
“Oh, I doubt we’ll be bored. In fact, I’ll make sure we won’t be.”
James only half-listened to Pete as a furiously blushing Susie, muttering excuses, squeezed past them into the winery. He smiled as the smell of machinery oil and lemons wafted over to him. Who’d have thought it could have a stronger effect on his body than the most expensive perfumes? He sighed, glanced briefly at Pete who was giving some last-minute instruction to one of the staff, and then shifted his hungry gaze from Susie’s t-shirt, tight over tense shoulders, to her shorts. There, his eyes lingered, admiring her perfectly formed behind. The shorts had definitely seen better days, for which James thanked God. They’d been washed to within an inch of their life and fell in soft folds around her curves. He suddenly had a vivid, visceral recollection of their one night together as lovers. Of how his hands, tentatively at first, had explored her body as their relationship had changed from best friends to lovers.
It hadn’t been his first time with a woman, but it might as well have been because the experience had been as different to anything he’d experienced, as winter was to summer. The heat of her skin beneath his fingers had seared deep inside of him, consuming him. He’d felt, what she’d felt; he tasted her as she’d tasted him, they’d become one—complete.
And seeing her now, after all this time, he realized nothing had changed. He still wanted her.
No, there were many words that could describe the next few days but “boring” wouldn’t be one of them.