Tuesday, January 22, 2013

First Chapters: Secondhand Sweetheart by Madeleine Torr

Secondhand Sweetheart is Madeleine Torr's first full-length romance. Set in both contemporary Melbourne and Tasmania, Australia, it is the tale of betrayal, recovery and how not everything is as it seems.

When Lisa Montgomery resigns her job as a flight attendant so she can mend her relationship with her long-time boyfriend, Duncan Holland, the last thing she expects is to have to face the prospect of a future with another man. Photographed in a compromising situation with one of the airline directors, and then compromised a second time by the same photographer, Lisa’s future looks bleak, until she decides to take control and see what she can do to repair her tarnished reputation.

Secondhand Sweetheart is available from Smashwords, Kobo, Kindle, and CreateSpace.

Chapter 1: Nightmare Flight

Lisa knew she shouldn’t have gone to work with a headache—but the flight wasn’t that long—just Perth to Melbourne. Besides she’d rather work it than sit and endure the mindless hours of travel from a passenger’s seat. It would help her stretch her last pay packet, too.
Before working for the airline, Lisa had trained as a secretary, and still had references from the temping agency she had worked for in Brisbane. She knew she would be able to find work; she just didn’t know when. Lisa sighed. She was going to miss being a flight attendant. It wasn’t just the travel, it was the variety of passengers she met, as well as the people she worked with, who made the job worthwhile. She didn’t mind working in an office, but she’d rather walk a flight to Perth or San Francisco than drive a desk all day.
None of this mattered, of course. It was her relationship with Duncan Holland that mattered—and if that was ever to have the chance it deserved, then she had to stay in one place for a while. Duncan’s distraction over the past few weeks was proof enough of that. Promising career or not, Lisa knew where her priorities lay, and a life with Duncan was more important than serving the jet set crowd at thirty thousand feet or more.
This afternoon would see her walk off the plane in her flight attendant’s uniform for the last time. She wondered how Duncan would take it. He’d be over the moon, probably. No more trips away, with him complaining of loneliness until she got back, and using her absence to excuse the most outrageous behavior.
Nadine, who often flew with Lisa, had said she’d seen him dancing the night away with a striking brunette the last time Lisa had taken the Perth flight. And when Lisa had questioned him about it, Duncan had denied it. That is, he’d denied it until she’d said who’d seen him.
“That lying bitch!” he’d exclaimed viciously, and had been about to embark on a tirade when Nadine’s voice had entered, sugar-sweet, into the conversation. “Would you like to see the photos, Dunky?”
Faced with the proof on Nadine’s mobile phone, Duncan had been forced to admit that he had, indeed, been out with another girl, “but it meant nothing,” he’d said. “It never means anything unless it’s with you.”
Nadine had rolled her eyes before snapping the mobile closed and walking away. It was, after all, Lisa’s decision to make. They both already knew Nadine’s opinion on what should be done. Lisa didn’t agree, and the two friends avoided any discussion of ‘The Duncan Problem’ unless one, or the other, of them thought it important enough to bring up.
Lisa breathed a sigh of relief. At least Nadine wasn’t on this flight, and they’d probably not see each other too often after it, given that ‘The Duncan Problem’ was the reason Lisa was quitting, and that this had been the cause of one of the few arguments between the two friends. Lisa expected they’d meet for coffee once or twice on the next few occasions Nadine touched down in Melbourne, but then they’d finally drift far enough apart to not see each other anymore. It would be a pity, but that was the way life sometimes went.
She stowed her cabin luggage in one of the forward compartments, and turned, smiling pleasantly, to greet the passengers as they boarded. All the time, the dagger-like pain in her temples continued to build until, by the time the doors had been armed and cross-checked, she was wondering if she would make it to the end of the flight. She hadn’t had a headache like this for ages!
Turning, Lisa disappeared into the crew’s compartment and took a couple of painkillers. There, that should take the edge off it for a while. She gathered the safety gear, and went out to give ‘The Talk’ to the first-class passengers. Brenda caught her by the arm as she reached the door. “Are you alright? You’re looking a bit pale.”
Lisa managed a comforting smile. “I’m fine, just a bit tired. It’s been a long week.”
The other girl nodded sympathetically. “Of course. Big decision and all. You’re sure you’re doing the right thing?”
Did everybody know? Lisa turned up the wattage of her smile: “Of course I’m sure. This relationship is worth it. I’d be silly not to give it the best chance I could.” Not wanting to hear any more negative comments about Duncan, she stepped out into the passenger aisle before the words forming on Brenda’s lips could be spoken. The dark-haired financier was the best thing to happen to her in a long time, and she wasn’t about to throw it all away because her job kept her from him. There were other jobs she could take that would let her stay by his side.
It wasn’t until she was serving drinks later in the flight that her comment about the relationship being worth it came back to haunt her, and with it, her headache. Promising to become a full-blown migraine, it struck without warning, a sharp, stabbing pain that obscured her vision for a few seconds. With an effort, she suppressed a gasp and held her smile in place. “There you go, sir,” she said, hiding her pain and handing the man his coffee-nothing-stronger-thanks.
He smiled back, and then frowned with concern as he looked at her. “Are you all right, Miss?” he asked. “You’ve gone as white as a sheet.”
“Oh, yes, fine thanks,” Lisa replied, feeling as though she was smiling from behind a curtain of fuzz. “I’m completely fine.” As she said it, the pain faded to a tolerable level, and the fuzz cleared.
It wasn’t true, of course. Lisa felt far from fine. As well as the dull ache that the headache had become, she was beginning to feel mildly nauseous. She hoped she didn’t commit the cardinal sin of throwing up on a passenger. Handing him the sugar he’d asked for, she moved on to the next person. Studiously ignoring the concerned look from her colleague, she continued to work. “Would you like anything to drink, ma’am?”
Somehow she got through the first half of the flight, but she hadn’t realized how much it would take out of her. I must be coming down with something, Lisa thought. I feel exhausted.
Concern about her deteriorating health was interspersed with worry about Duncan. She’d been away on flights for the past week now, with no time between them to really go out and be with him. He’d said it was okay, that some project at the office was taking a large amount of his time, and that she wasn’t to worry—they’d make up for the lost time when she touched down for a break. Lisa only hoped that the project he was working on had more to do with finances and accounting, than someone with a pretty face and nice legs. Surely he wouldn’t betray her again?
Lisa scowled. She hadn’t told him this would be her last flight, or that she’d be moving in with him once the lease on her flat ran out. She’d wanted it to be a surprise. Now she was beginning to doubt her wisdom. Surely he wouldn’t have found someone else since she and Nadine had caught him out the last time. She was hoping she meant more to him than that. With an effort, she pushed aside the thought that there’d been another betrayal before the last, and maybe there had been others. That possibility didn’t bear thinking about.
And besides, it was her own fault. She’d known he needed companionship. It was what had attracted her to him in the first place, and what had made her hold off telling him what she did for a living. When she had finally revealed her job, he hadn’t seemed to be too worried. That had come later, the first time she’d been away for three days in a row.
He’d been sweet about it then, she realized, concealing his concerns behind phone calls every night, and ensuring there were flowers waiting for her at each airport. It had almost been embarrassing to have someone cling to her like that. After a while, he had seemed to grow used to it. The phone calls still came—that was natural in any relationship—and the flowers still waited for her, although not at every airport, just her end destination. It was still sweet, and not as clingy. A more mature approach, she’d decided, and one that boded well for the relationship. Lately, though, Duncan’s attitude had appeared to change.
He had seemed distracted when they were together, and the flowers no longer waited to meet her when she reached the flight attendants’ lounge. He’d stopped calling her when she was away saying, in spite of her protests, that he thought he was still being too clingy, and smiling apologetically when she mentioned it. He blamed it on a busy patch at work, but then there had been the red-head, and now there’d been the brunette. Could it be that she was doing too little, too late? Had she already lost him, and he just hadn’t gotten around to telling her yet?
Lisa hoped not. She had just sacrificed a promising career to give their relationship the chance it would have had, if she’d had a normal job in the same city as her boyfriend. Of course, it had also meant that she might need to give up her flat until her new career path was established, but Lisa didn’t think Duncan would mind. He’d probably appreciate the excuse to have her nearby, and he’d love the fact that she would be there every night to keep him company. At least, she hoped he would.
Masking these concerns with a smile that didn’t quite warm her eyes, and pushing down a rebellious wave of nausea, Lisa stepped out into the cabin to serve the first in-flight meal. The painkillers had taken the edge off her headache, and the short respite had allowed her stomach to settle—although how much of the nausea was from the headache and her fear of appearing less than well to the passengers, and how much was worrying over her errant boyfriend was something Lisa didn’t want to think about. If she was very lucky, she’d make it to the end of the flight, call Duncan, and be able to collapse in the car as he drove her home.
Disaster struck when she was about half-way down the aisle. She’d been distracted by that male passenger again. The other attendants had already commented on how good-looking he was, and they were right. His hair was so dark it was almost black, and his eyes were that deep, solemn blue of summer skies. What was even cuter was the light sprinkling of freckles across his nose and cheeks. She noticed, also, that the suit he wore was cut by an Italian designer, and his shoes were Italian as well. Whoever he was, he was one of the wealthy elite, like many of those who traveled first class. Even the subtle scent of his cologne reeked of expense.
Lisa suppressed her body’s spark of interest with a snort of derision. He probably knew just how gorgeous he was as well and, judging from the contemplative frown on his face, he still thought there was something wrong with her. She knew the type, though. Once you’d gained their attention, they’d stare at you as though you were something unpleasant found on the bottom of their shoe, while contemplating if you’d agree to help them become a member of the Mile High Club. No doubt he’d be overjoyed if she made a mistake—and the way she was feeling now, she was bound to.
The thought had no sooner crossed her mind than the headache returned with a vengeance. The cabin spun as Lisa turned to give the meal—a creamy chicken and mushroom paella—to her next passenger. She was aware of a startled shriek of horror, and of the tray and her world tilting sideways, as everything went grey, and the headache whited out all other sound.
When her vision had cleared, and she could see again, Lisa found she had not quite fainted, but neither had she imagined things tilting. The contents of the tray were spread from the crown of the female passenger’s head, to the expensive silk skirt covering her lap. “I am so sorry,” Lisa mumbled, clutching the back of the seat for support. “Let me get something to clean you up.”
“No, let me help you to a seat.”
Lisa startled. That masculine rumble had come from right behind her! She turned to face the source of it, and the world spun again. There was a surprised oath, and she was aware of the world graying out as strong hands caught her and drew her into the supportive circle of a set of stronger arms. Her last thought before the world went completely dark was of the cleaning bill for the silk suit she had just ruined—and how the airline would never have her back, even if things went bad with Duncan and she changed her mind. Interwoven amongst it all was the alluring scent of an expensive cologne…

Mitchell Davidson looked down at the crumpled form in his arms and bit back the urge to swear. Although she weighed no more than a feather, she was awkward to hold, and he was embarrassingly aware that all eyes in the first-class section were on him.
Wisps of chestnut hair had escaped the French plait the attendant wore and her face was as pale as spilt milk.
“I’m going to sue you for every penny you’re worth.” The female voice came from the passenger that had been covered in paella.
Mitchell suppressed a sigh and glanced up at her.
“Now, Cassy, you and I both know the airline is not responsible.” He held up a hand to still her protest. “However, as a personal expression of regret, I will help you replace your suit.”
“You do know it’s a designer one-off, don’t you?” Cassidy Lawrence’s voice held a hint of triumph.
Mitchell could have argued that, with a sick woman in his arms, he didn’t care if the suit had been unearthed from the most exotic tomb of a lost civilization, but he bit his tongue just in time. Cassidy didn’t need the incentive to take him for all he was worth. Besides, flattery would do far more to smooth her ruffled feathers than sarcasm, no matter how well deserved.
“I could tell,” he said, “but I’ll equal its value, when you find another you like.”
There was an intake of breath from more than one passenger at his offer. He decided to sweeten the deal, hoping he wouldn’t regret his generosity later.
“And I’ll take you to dinner.”
“You know where…” Cassidy taunted him.
Mitchell managed a smile designed to charm.
“I know where. Call me to organize when.”
Looking like a cat that had caught a canary and managed to cover it in cream, Cassidy succumbed to another flight attendant’s offer of assistance. Mitchell watched as she was led off to get cleaned up in private, before returning his attention to the woman in his arms. Even with the pallor of illness, she was beautiful, and he felt his heart lurch.
“Can I help you, sir?” The blonde flight attendant who had been hovering on the edge of his vision leant towards him.
Juggling her unconscious colleague in his arms, Mitchell fumbled for his wallet and took out a card.
“If you would let me use the telephone in the staff kitchen,” he said, “I’d be grateful.”
The attendant glanced at the card and paled.
“I’ll need to confirm, sir,” she said. “It shouldn’t take too long.”
Mitchell nodded, then focused on the task of lifting his burden clear of the aisle and settling her into the empty seat beside his own. Helping himself to a pillow and blanket from the overhead locker, he made her as comfortable as he could and waited for her colleague to return. 
All the while, he was wondering exactly what he’d done, and what on earth he was going to do next.


Should you want to read more, Secondhand Sweetheart is available from Smashwords, Kobo, Kindle, and CreateSpace.

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