Friendship Chronicles, Book 6
Maverick: [noun] an independent person who has ideas or behavior that differs from the norm. Someone brave and impulsive who attacks life their way.
Finding and satisfying one lover is difficult…
Adding a second to the equation is an impossible challenge
Christina: her life is spiraling out of control. Her job, her friends, and her family relationships are slipping through her fingers, leaving her achingly alone and staring into the eyes of the black dog of depression. She claws her way free, and finally, a bright spot—she reconnects with a childhood friend. Not a boyfriend, but wow! That’s the way her mind is marching now, straight to Mr. Sexy Pants.
Gabriel: he’s seeing the success he’s worked for after his parents kicked him from their home for something he didn’t do. Christina’s arrival makes him happy, makes him consider a future, a family, then Aidan arrives home. Off-balance because he has feelings for each of them, Gabriel screws up both relationships. Go him!
Aidan: Tired of traveling and clawing his way to the top, he’s come home to claim Gabriel, the man he has always loved. The only problem—while Aidan was running away, Gabriel has moved on with his life. Prepared to fight, he can’t hate the gorgeous yet troubled Christina as much as he wants.
Three lost lovers battle their way to a committed relationship that shouldn’t be possible but has the potential to cement them into a solid and unconventional team.
Other Books in the Friendship Chronicles series
Read an Excerpt
Christina set her wineglass on the pub table and let memories wash over her. She, Maggie, Connor, Julia, and Susan used to meet here after work. Only two years ago, yet so much had changed. So much. Maggie and Connor had wed. Julia managed a successful burlesque club and had a famous musician husband, while Susan had met and married a farmer-turned-artist. Each of her friends lived in Auckland, but they had busy lives with young families. Getting together had become a logistical nightmare.
She loved her friends, yet sometimes, she felt as if they’d left her behind.
Maggie, Connor, and Julia had canceled earlier in the day, but Susan was still coming.
On cue, her phone rang. “Hey, Susan. I—”
“Christina, I’m so sorry. The kids have been sick and off school this week, and I’ve caught their bugs.” A loud sneeze punctuated her nasal words. “I’ll have to cancel. I don’t want to spread my germs.”
Annoyance flashed through Christina, but she quickly quashed her uncharitable thoughts. Susan sounded miserable. “Don’t be silly. You sound exhausted. Get yourself to bed. Next time, okay?”
“S-sorry.” Susan sneezed again. She sniffed. “Say hi to the others for me.”
“Will do.” Christina forced her tone to remain even. “I’ll ring you next week. Take care.”
“Thanks.” Susan hung up mid-sneeze.
Christina set her phone on the table beside her glass of wine. Tears stung her eyes, and she swallowed hard, her throat tight. Self-pity. A bad precedent. Her friends weren’t trying to hurt her. Each had excellent reasons for canceling this reunion meeting. And it wasn’t their fault her business wasn’t going well because of an economic downturn. That was on her.
Her problem to fix.
Yet none of her rational thoughts stemmed the traitorous tears that spilled free and ran down her cheeks. She reached for her wine and took a huge sip. A sob escaped, and she set down the glass with a trembling hand. Alcohol wasn’t the answer either. She was drinking too much. Acting sorry for herself, and falling into a crumbling, dark pit.
Christina swallowed hard, the blackness reaching for her. She needed to talk to someone—lay out her fears. Her problems. She’d counted on her friends…
A fresh surge of tears blurred her vision, and she fumbled in her handbag for a tissue.
“Boyfriend stood you up, sweet thing?”
Her head jerked up, and she bared her teeth at the smirking businessman. “Piss off!”
“Whoa, no need for attitude. I was trying to be nice. You know, you’d be pretty without the glasses.” He leaned closer as if in concern, but he couldn’t hide his smug confidence. “Revenge fucks are the best way to repair a broken heart.”
Ew! Enraged, Christina surged to her feet, the force of her anger knocking over her glass. The wine splattered across the table and sprayed over the businessman. That killed his smirk.
He sprang away from her table, swiping at the wet patch on his thigh. “Bitch.”
Christina didn’t bother replying. She snatched up her handbag and stormed from the pub. Her determined steps took her along the waterfront and over the footbridge to the bars and restaurants at the Wynyard Quarter. She kept walking and walking, her pace brisk as she dodged between men and women ending their workday with a drink or an early dinner. Not yet six, the day hovered at dusk. Lights cast a sparkle over the city of Auckland, and the promise of spring filled the air.
Her steps slowed as her breathing settled to something resembling normal. Her phone rang again, and she stopped to answer. A glance at the screen told her it was her mother.
“Hi, Mum. All packed for the big trip?”
“I finished my packing last week. Your father, however, is still dithering over which shirts to take.”
Her mother’s exasperated tone lightened Christina’s funk and pulled forth a faint smile. “That’s Dad. Always doing things at the last moment.”
“Yes.” Her mother sniffed. “Why I rang—Bernice has the flu. I spoke to her a few days ago and promised to visit. Time got away on me. Could you check on her? I know you were meeting your friends tonight, but do you have time?”
“Sure,” Christina said. “But that means I can’t see you off at the airport tomorrow morning.”
“You wished us a happy journey on Sunday when you came to lunch,” her mother said. “It’d reduce my stress levels if you visited Bernice.”
Maybe a trip to Waiheke Island and Bernice was the thing to improve her mood. She’d been meaning to visit her godmother for ages. “I’ll pack an overnight bag and catch a ferry over tonight.”
Two hours later, Christina strode onto the Waiheke ferry. An assortment of other passengers boarded with her—workers heading home from the city, tourists, a family group with their dog, and men and women carrying shopping bags. After packing, Christina had stopped at her local supermarket and purchased fruit, vegetables, and a few other supplies, including a packet of biscuits for Toby, her godmother’s dog.
Darkness had set in by the time she disembarked on Waiheke and caught the bus that would take her past her godmother’s. She’d rung Bernice to let her know she was coming and left a message when she didn’t get an answer.
Another twenty minutes passed, and Christina walked up the pathway leading to the front door of her godmother’s cottage. The outside security light lit the garden, and Christina’s brows drew together when she spotted the unkempt lawn and myriad weeds. Oh, well. Plenty to keep her busy. She wouldn’t have time to mull and stay aboard the woe-is-me train.
She tapped on the door and turned the knob, not surprised to find it unlocked. Christina stepped inside to the bark of a dog.
“Toby,” she called. “It’s just me.” A regular visitor during her teenage years, she’d often stayed with her godmother—a family friend—during her school holidays. Once she’d started working, the visits had become less frequent, but she still popped over at least three or four times a year. She set her overnight bag in the passage and dropped her bags of shopping onto the kitchen counter. “Bernice! Are you here?”
Christina walked toward Toby’s barking and entered Bernice’s bedroom. A sour smell filled the air—the stench of vomit—and a wash of unpleasant heat struck her as she stepped closer to the bed.
“Chris?” Her godmother’s eyes fluttered open, her face pale and waxy in the moonlight.
“Bernice!” Christina darted across the remaining distance and placed her hand on her godmother’s forehead. “You’re burning up.”
“It’s the stupid flu.”
“How long have you been sick?”
“Monday,” Bernice’s brow furrowed. “I think. It’s Wednesday today, isn’t it?”
It was Friday. “Let’s get you cleaned up.” Christina’s brow creased as she cracked open a window. Her shoe skidded on something wet and suspicious. “Let me turn on the bedside lamp.”
The increased illumination let her know the worst. Bernice had been too ill to get out of bed to let Toby, her Jack Russell outside. A scan of the dog’s white ribs suggested she hadn’t fed him either.
“I’ll be back in a sec. Come, Toby.” Christina snapped her fingers. In the kitchen, she filled Toby’s water bowl and found a can of dog food in the pantry. She propped open the kitchen door that led outside, so Toby could wander
in the garden when he was ready.
Next, she tackled her godmother. Christina gave her a glass of water and sat Bernice on a comfy chair positioned near the bay window while she stripped the bed, mopped up two Toby puddles, and removed and emptied a vomit bucket.
After giving her godmother a quick wash and changing her nightgown, she settled her back in bed. “Have you seen the doctor?”
“I’ve only been sick for two days,” her godmother grumbled. “It’s the flu. I’ll be fine.”
“It’s Friday today.”
“Yes.” Doctor, tomorrow. Thankfully, she’d met the local doctor several times, and he’d do a house call in these circumstances, even at the weekend. “Could you manage some soup?”
Bernice shuddered. “No.”
“Symptoms? Do you have a headache? Aches and pains?”
“All right. I’ll bring you painkillers.”
“Thank you, dear.”
But when Christina returned with the water, Bernice was asleep. Christina closed the window again, not wanting her godmother to wake up cold during the night. Toby followed Christina to the kitchen and nosed his bowl, his brown ears perking at her. She refilled his water bowl and opened the packet of dog biscuits she’d brought with her. Toby smelled as bad as the sickroom. Despite the late hour, she washed Toby and toweled him dry until his brown-and-white coat started to gleam. She settled him in his basket, checked on Bernice, and made up a bed in the spare room. Exhausted, she slid between the sheets and didn’t wake until Toby nudged her with his wet nose.
When Toby nudged her again, Christina glanced at her watch and bolted upright. Nine o’clock. She jumped out of bed and hustled to check on Bernice. She was asleep but still had a temperature. Christina rang the doctor.
“She needs to go to Auckland hospital,” the doctor stated, five minutes after his arrival. “She requires further treatment, more than we can give her here. A drip, for instance.”
Christina checked her watch. Her parents would be in the air now.
“I’ll call the helicopter to fly her to Auckland,” the doctor said.
“Her illness is that serious?”
“Christina, don’t make me go.” Her godmother sounded tearful. “I’d prefer to stay at home.”
“Bernice, it will be okay. Doctor, she’ll only be there for a couple of days, right?”
“Five days at the most. This bout of flu has done a number on you, Bernice. It will take time to regain your strength.”
“What about Toby and the cottage?” Bernice fretted.
“I’m here,” Christina said. “I’ll look after both for you. Let me see if I can come to the hospital with you. I can catch the ferry back and stay until you’re on the mend.”
“Promise.” Bernice grasped her hands, her grip surprisingly tight given the seriousness of her pneumonia. “Promise you’ll stay and look after things for me.”
“I promise,” Christina said.
When it turned out there wasn’t room for Christina on the helicopter since a pregnant woman needed transport too, she assured her godmother she’d be over to check on her in the afternoon.
As soon as the ambulance left to take her godmother to the helipad, Christina opened the windows to air the bedroom and took Toby for a walk.
The Fletchers were her godmother’s nearest neighbors, and she walked in that direction, enjoying the solitude and the windless, sunny day after weeks of rain. Toby raced along the grass verge, sniffing and investigating the enticing smells.
A plaintive bleat grabbed her attention, and she grinned at a goat and two tiny kids. The Fletchers had farmed cattle, but it appeared they’d diversified as many farmers had these days. Christina rambled aimlessly while she planned her day. She’d check on visiting hours at the hospital and catch an afternoon ferry. She could stay with her godmother for a few hours.
A whistle sounded, and Toby sprinted away. Alarmed, Christina hustled after the Jack Russell.
“Thought you were Bernice.” The tall man with a broad chest, highlighted by his clinging and faded T-shirt, pulled a chord in her memory. A flannel shirt covered his arms, but she’d bet they were as sexy and muscled as the rest of him.
“Gabriel?” Christina asked in surprise, pushing her glasses up her nose to focus better. Wow. His jeans were faded in interesting places and did nothing to hide his powerful thighs and long legs.
The man scrutinized her then, his brown eyes sparkling in recognition. Messy brown hair, just past the cut-now stage curled low on his neck and over his ears while his jaw held the stubble of several days. “Christina! Are you here visiting Bernice?”
“Yes, except she’s not well. The doctor sent her off to the hospital.”
Gabriel straightened to his full height. He’d starred in her teenage dreams, and with maturity, he was even more attractive since he’d grown into his lanky limbs. His tan spoke of days working in the sun. Even his hair held glints of sun-kissed gold. His brow crinkled in concern. “She’ll be okay?”
“I’ll know more once I get to the hospital,” Christina said.
“Should’ve checked on her,” Gabriel said with regret. “Saw her last weekend, but I’ve been busy this week with the cows calving.”
“Do your grandparents still have cattle?”
“These are my cows. I own the land bordering Bernice’s cottage. Run a hundred head of cows and a herd of goats. I make cheese.” He spoke with pride, his gaze attaching to hers in a faint challenge.
“That’s so cool,” Christina said. “Cheese-making is the perfect occupation, given there are so many vineyards on the island. Each time I visit, I’m surprised at the new businesses making gourmet food. I adore wandering the market and tasting the different produce.”
“I have a stall there when I can manage it,” Gabriel said. “One-man band. Can’t always attend if another more important job crops up.”
“I’ll be here for a while because I promised Bernice I’d look after Toby and her cottage. Bernice will be home soon, and I’ll be watching her to makes sure she recuperates.”
“What about your job?”
Christina recoiled, although she was certain Gabriel hadn’t meant the question as a dig at her. The pause lengthened, and she blurted out the truth. “I started a business, working as a personal shopper, and doing makeovers for school leavers and businesswomen. Things were going well until the turndown in the economy. Business is slow at present.” She shrugged, stopping her explanation before she added another truth she hadn’t yet faced. Business hadn’t slowed to a trickle. It had dried up after another younger and more flamboyant woman had used her marketing smarts to annihilate Christina’s business.
“Bernice said you were working in an accountant’s office.”
“I was, but I handed in my notice a year ago. My business exploded, so I took it full-time. In hindsight, I should’ve waited.”
“I sell cheese at the gate. Have plenty of customers but can’t give them my focus because of the cattle and goats, overseeing my cheese production, the other things in my day. Don’t suppose you’d be willing to work in my shop for a few hours each day? Can’t pay you much, but—”
Christina beamed and took half a step toward him, intending to squeeze him in a hug of gratitude before she reconsidered. Although they’d been best of friends as teenagers, and they’d shared a first kiss, she hesitated.
“Are you married?” Christina gulped. Great going!
“No,” he said. “Work long hours, and women hate that. No girlfriend. No wife.” A glint of humor flashed in his eyes. “You?”
She shook her head and sighed for good measure. “Nope. No entanglements.”
“Why not?” Gabriel closed the distance between them and reached out to smooth a lock of hair behind her ear.
The casual gesture—an action from the past that brought a host of memories—had tears stinging her eyes.
“Aw, hell. I’ve upset you.”
Christina gripped his shoulders, drawing him nearer and grabbing his full attention. “No, you haven’t offended me. I’ve been down. Everything sets me off.” She drew in a shuddering breath. “I haven’t met a man to compare with you or with my friends’ husbands. And on that note, I’d better hustle.” She paused. “Depends on what happens with Bernice, but I might have to stay in the city tonight. If I can’t get back, could you feed Toby for me and give him a run?”
“Why don’t I take Toby with me now?” he suggested. “You can collect him when you get back tonight or tomorrow. Toby is used to my dogs. I’ve looked after him before for Bernice.” He pulled out a cell phone. “What’s your phone number?”
“That’s a great idea. Thank you.” Christina rattled off her number.
Gabriel input it, tapped a few more keys and slid his phone back into his pocket. “I’ve sent you a text, so you’ll have my number too.” He whistled, and two exuberant Border Collies bounded from the undergrowth. “If I don’t answer the phone, leave a message, or text me. I’ll make sure I check. I’m turning cheeses this afternoon, so I should hear my phone if you call.”
“Not necessary. Bernice has always spoiled me. This is the least I can do.”
Christina understood this sentiment since Bernice had always been her champion too. She raised her right hand in farewell and turned for the cottage. Ten steps into her homeward journey, she gave in to the instinct to glance over her shoulder. She discovered he was staring. At her backside. Heat rushed into her cheeks when he winked. She gasped and turned back before she stumbled and made an ass out of herself. His soft chuckle carried on the wind, propelling her feet to greater speed.
The dark edges of her thoughts had faded while speaking with Gabriel, and it was with greater confidence that she marched to the cottage. Bernice was in good hands. A hospital stay would sort out her godmother and offer Christina time to make plans. Time to get her life back on track and to halt this slippery slide into wretchedness and misery before it became too late.
As she wiped her feet and entered the cottage, the landline phone started ringing.
“Hello,” Christina said.
“Am I speaking to Christina Kingston?” a mature feminine voice asked.
“Yes, I’m Christina.”
“Normally, we’d do this in person, but I understand you live on Waiheke Island.”
A chill ran down Christina’s spine. “Yes.”
“I am head of ward six,” the woman said. “My name is Muriel Teesdale. I’m afraid I have some bad news.”