New Year’s Promise (Escape Publishing – due for release on 22 November, 2014)
They’ve been colleagues, allies and best friends forever, but he wants more — and he’s not above using the magic of the Christmas season to get it.
When Business Development Executive Ellie Halligan is offered the job of a lifetime in Paris, it seems her chance to live a fairytale adventure has finally arrived. Her only hurdle is convincing legal eagle Justin Murphy — her boss and friend since childhood — to wave his boss’s wand and waive her four-week resignation period so that she can start her adventure by Christmas.
But Justin proves to be a demanding fairy godmother. He’ll let her go early, but not unless she spends time with him over the festive season up until New Year.
Ellie doesn’t know what to do. Is Justin finally looking at her romantically after all these years, or are far more threatening dynamics at play? Justin has a secret, and he seems to want to pull her back into a past she’d rather forget. But delving into that old pain might be the only way to move forward — and for Justin to finally be free.
Will doing this for Justin become Ellie’s final gift of love as she loses him forever?
Scene setting: Ellie Halligan, all dressed up as Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, is about to give her boss, Justin Murphy, a ‘Great Gatsby’ haircut for the vintage clothing party he’s agreed to take her to that night. But for the secret promise he recently made to Ellie’s big brother that he’d keep her in the country until New Year, he would never have risked such close physical proximity between them. For despite his simmering feelings for her, Justin had resolved a long time ago that the likes of Ellie Halligan had no place in his future – not when he could never give her the one thing she would come to want more than anything else.
“With the snap of a switch the hairdressing salon Justin was standing in filled with light, its polished white stone and chrome surfaces gleaming in a bath of sudden brilliance.
‘Come here and sit down — if you dare,’ Ellie coaxed with a teasing grin, whipping a cape off the nearby counter and mimicking a Spanish bullfighter with an irresistible red capote at her hip. With some trepidation Justin strolled towards the cutting chair and sat down.
‘This has got be the most surreal evening of my life,’ he muttered in disbelief. ‘Having my hair cut in an empty hairdressing salon by a Holly Golightly look-a-like who-.’ But Justin couldn’t go on, his last breath trapped deep down inside his lungs. For Ellie Halligan, his childhood friend and the woman he’d long ago relegated to off-limits with all the other “at-risk” women in his life, had just plunged her hands into his hair with such casual, maddening intimacy it was as though she did it every day of her life.
‘It’s pretty long,’ she mused, gathering his hair at the back of his neck and pulling it back into a short ponytail. Meanwhile, her long fingernails were creating therapeutic bliss, trailing across the very spot at the back of his neck where the eye of his headache storm had been radiating pain for hours; that headache was fast dissolving.
‘Do you like it like that?’ she asked innocently, oblivious to the restless stirring that had begun deep and low inside him.
‘Are you kidding? I’m loving it!’ Justin almost blurted. Thankfully he stopped himself just in time and replied instead, ‘I don’t like it this long but I haven’t had a chance to get it cut.’
‘I could take some length off the back,’ she suggested in a matter-of-fact voice, scooping up the hair above and behind his ears and trailing its stubborn waves through her fingertips. ‘I could trim the top as well,’ she added, lifting her arm to run her fingers up and over his forehead before sinking them into the mane he swept back from his eyes about a thousand times a day. ‘Justin, are you listening to me? If you don’t answer you might end up with a crew cut.’
‘Whatever you think,’ he croaked. ‘But better be quick, eh?’
‘Perhaps I should shampoo your hair first?’ she proposed. ‘I’ll be able to give you a better cut if it’s wet.’
‘No!’ Justin barked. Realising how abrupt he’d sounded he took charge of his voice and lowered it. ‘No shampoo Ellie. That will be more than I…more than necessary.’
‘Okay. Have it your way.’ Ellie shrugged and then taking several steps backwards, withdrew from the shawl of intimate closeness she’d thrown around the two of them. Thankfully, when she returned to his side, she had a comb in one hand, a pair of scissors in the other, and a mission on her mind.
Justin watched in fascination as she combed and snipped, as expertly as any barber he’d been to. She didn’t have any interest in chatting. Instead she hummed her way through a medley of tunes that he couldn’t identify. He’d noticed long ago that humming was a habit of hers when she was concentrating; it always made her unreadable. And at that moment he was in some danger around an Ellie Halligan who was unreadable. He was also wishing that he could share her cool nonchalance about their close physical proximity, but he couldn’t. Instead he was wondering what the hell he’d been thinking when he’d proposed they “hang out together” until New Year. It had to be the guilt over what he was doing to her for Harry’s sake that had made him suggest it; that, and those dewy dark eyes gazing up at him as she’d confessed her dread of another lonely Christmas and New Year. Before he’d thought it through they were striking their deal to throw mutual lifebuoys at each other for the duration of the festive season.
‘Harry, I just hope you know what you’re doing,’ Justin murmured, watching Ellie as she wandered off in search of something.
‘What did you say?’ she asked as she approached him again. Perching on a swivel stool she manoeuvred herself into a position where she was facing him from the front.
‘Nothing, never mind,’ he said, bracing himself as she squeezed hair-mousse the size of planet Mars onto her palm. ‘What the hell are you doing with that?’
‘It’s the Gatsby thing,’ she explained with a laugh that accentuated those dimples of hers. ‘Don’t you want me to use it?’
‘Are you going to run that through my hair? Now!’
‘Yes, what’s wrong? Don’t tell me you’ve never used mousse before?’
‘No…yes. I mean…Jesus! I don’t know what I mean. Maybe I should skip it.’
‘Sure, if you’re not comfortable?’ she replied in visible confusion.
‘No, I am comfortable. Go ahead. But for God’s sake, be quick!’
She was quick.
Within sixty seconds she’d run the product through his hair and combed it into a twenties style. But none of her leaning movements towards him in that glove-like dress were fleeting enough to stop him groaning inwardly, the silky expanse of olive skin across her throat and chest setting off every exploratory male instinct he possessed.
‘There we are! Done!’ she declared in satisfaction, pushing her stool back and swinging his chair around so that he could look at himself in the mirror. ‘What do you think?’ she asked with a satisfied grin.
‘It looks great, really.’
‘You don’t look very happy,’ she said. She looked endearingly uncertain all of a sudden as she got up from her stool. ‘Are you sure you like it?’
‘What can I say? It’s perfect. It’s all perfect,’ he added in a voice that was low and hoarse.
In heavy silence he watched Ellie pack her cutting instruments back into their storage case before snapping the lid closed. That was the moment he resolved to do the same snap-closed thing on whatever had tripped his body into full throttle over a girl for whom he’d managed to keep a whole swag bag of male impulses in check for more than two years.
He couldn’t afford to become distracted by her now, not when he had to fulfil his promise to Harry: watching over his mate’s little sister and betraying her trust with his web of lies. But more important than that, he would never let himself forget again that Ellie Halligan would only become the woman she needed to become if he was not the endgame in her life.
Falling for the Lawyer (Escape Publishing – 1 March, 2013) Adam’s Boys (Escape Publishing – 1 September, 2013)
Anna Clifton is a lawyer by trade and a mother to several children and a couple of cats. Her husband is not quite sure how her compulsive writing squeezes itself into the family schedule, but knows better than to stand in the way of the woman he loves on a mission. Anna lives in Sydney but escapes with her family as often as possible to Far North Queensland. While there, she loves to sit with a glass of wine and watch her husband do the thing she dreads doing most — cooking!