Friday, March 1, 2013

Flashback Friday

Shadows Over Taralon by Jacquelyn Webb

Young Adult

Jenny Fleming prides herself on being the perfect temporary employee who works at Taralon to do bookkeeping and light housework, however Taralon represents a challenge. Why is the prosperous-looking property running at a loss? Before she can find any answers someone tries to murder her, and she is suspected of doping a racehorse.

Wayne Paterson has to discover where his new employee fits into Taralon and if the racehorse doping and the cattle stealing was really her fault. The only thing he is sure of is that she has stolen his heart with her courage and her sweet smile. How can Wayne trust her again if she truly is guilty?

And if she’s innocent, how can she prove it?

Chapter One
The countryside was flat and monotonous and Jenny stifled
a yawn. They had been driving since early morning and now,
several silent hours later, she regretted her impulsive action in
taking on the temporary live-­‐‑in position of bookkeeping and light
housekeeping. The arrogance of the man interviewing her had got
under her skin, so she had jumped in feet first.

“If you are sick of being cooped up after your last job, it
might be a break from office work,” the girl from the Agency had

Jenny had grinned at that. She had just got back from her
first free morning at the beach when the Agency had rung to ask if
she was interested in an immediate position of temporary
employee at a country property.

“A bit of paperwork and some light housekeeping, until the
permanent recovers from her accident, or whatever, and he’ll want
to leave six tomorrow morning. Can you make the interview by

Jenny had been offered quite a few permanent jobs but, after
two years with the Agency, she wasn’t interested in a permanent
position. She liked the challenge of different jobs, and prided
herself on her ability to cope with whatever came up.

She had left straight away, arriving punctually on the stroke
of four at the foyer of the city hotel. However, the man who had
moved forward to introduce himself as Wayne Paterson examined
her doubtfully, a scowl knotting the black brows in a bar above his
cool grey eyes.

“Miss Jenny Fleming?” he asked, and from then on the
interview had gone straight downhill, and ended up to be more of
a headlong confrontation than an interview. “I was expecting
someone older. You look too young for what is required.”
Jenny had taken a deep breath, deciding that this job
wouldn’t really suit her at all. She wasn’t into chauvinistic,
patronizing employers. She plunged into battle.

“I’m twenty-­‐‑two. They didn’t specify you wanted to see a
birth certificate.”

“I wanted someone responsible.”

“I’m even responsible,” Jenny returned smoothly.

The anger had started to build. How dare he be so rude? She
hadn’t had time to change and had left home straight away, so she
was still in her beach wear: sundress, flat-­‐‑heeled sandals and the
wide brimmed sun hat tilted over the two plaits over her shoulders.
The grey eyes of her would-­‐‑be employer became even
frostier at her reply. Jenny got the message: he wasn’t used to
anyone answering him back. He stood up to indicate the interview
had been terminated.

“There are three children to be supervised, as well as the
bookwork, and it is important to have someone with sufficient
experience and stamina to cope.”

Jenny stood up. She didn’t want the position anyway, but
temper and her stubborn streak pushed her into recklessness. Her
would-­‐‑be employer was arrogant and judgmental, making
sweeping assessments about her competence on a single meeting.
What right did he think he had to flick his eyes over her so

“My references should speak for themselves and, despite
your personal views, I do have enough stamina and experience to
cope with children.” She let an acid note creep into her voice. “As
you will find it difficult to get anyone else with my qualifications at
such short notice, and for such a temporary period, I suggest you
live dangerously and accept the Agency recommendation to
employ me.”

That had stung, she thought triumphantly, as she watched
the ugly red flood into his cheeks.

He glared back down at her. His grey eyes were outlined
with black lashes that gave a smoldering intensity to his gaze. She
wondered if he was going to erupt in temper, and stepped out of
reach as she gave him a dimpled smile and took over firmly. “I look
forward to meeting you back here at six tomorrow morning then.”
She gave a gracious nod as though she assumed consent. She
had glanced around as she marched away, and now felt those grey
eyes boring into her back, but he had only given an ironic salute
before turning and striding back into the hotel.

The next morning his aloof courtesy was all that could be
desired as he put her case in the boot and opened the door of the
big car. Jenny fastened her seat belt. She’d tucked her hair in a tight
chignon, and wore a tailored grey slacks suit and shoes with
sensible heels. She had an instant flash of satisfaction when she first
arrived, realizing that he hadn’t recognized her behind her
sunglasses until she spoke. Then there was a look of startled
awareness, and he retreated behind his silence.

Her reluctant employer looked less overpowering this
morning in casual slacks and long-­‐‑sleeved shirt. The breadth of his
shoulders under his light-­‐‑colored shirt made his height less
noticeable, but he was still a tall man. He had jet-­‐‑black hair, and
this morning the black bars of his eyebrows were raised into an
arch over alert grey eyes.

Jenny studied his profile out of the corner of her eyes as he
drove skillfully through the city traffic and along the freeway. He
had regular features, high cheekbones, a fairly prominent nose and
a determined jaw. His mouth was firm and well shaped, and there
were laughter lines around the corners.

Jenny revised her estimate of his age. Without the
unpleasantly grim mouth and the tension, he looked to be in his
early thirties. His firm mouth quirked upwards into a wry grin as
he became aware of her scrutiny.

“It’s a long drive,” he advised. “Make yourself comfortable.”
They were the last words he spoke for several hours. Jenny
spent her time regretting her impulsive action in forcing him to
accept her as the only candidate for the position. The job would,
without a doubt, be unpleasant and boring, and the only thing
going for it was the fact that it was temporary.

He spoke suddenly, breaking the silence. “I’ll stop for lunch
soon,” he promised. “Are you hungry?”

“Yes,” she admitted.

That was the extent of their conversation. At the next
country town, the car purred to a stop in front of the old-­‐‑fashioned
hotel. Wayne Paterson got out and escorted Jenny up the steps and
through to the dining room. She sniffed at the aroma of roasting
beef and steamed vegetables and decided she was very hungry.
Breakfast had been a sketchy tea and toast.

Jenny didn’t let the silence of her employer prevent her from
enjoying her roast dinner and sweets. Her companion seemed less
interested in his food, and pushed away his plate without finishing.
He waited until she had finished a second cup of coffee before
ushering her back to the car, glancing at his watch with a worried

“Are we behind schedule?” Jenny demanded. “You didn’t
really have to wait for me to have two cups of coffee.”
“I am anxious to get back,” Wayne admitted. “The children
need constant supervision at the moment.”

“Your children?” Jenny asked.

“My sister’s,” he said flatly. The countryside was
undulating. His eyes watched the road as sit unwound ahead of
them. A tic twitched at the side of his face. “She was killed last
month in a car accident.”

Jenny was too shocked to risk saying anything. She revised
her opinion of the tall man with the worried eyes and the tense
lines around his mouth. It sounded like a pretty traumatic scene to
be involved in. No wonder he was so uptight at the interview!
“Marise, her assistant, was thrown clear and escaped with a
few broken ribs and a broken ankle.”

“And I’m relieving until Marise is well enough to return to
work?” Jenny guessed.

“The kids have been a bit of a handful,” he muttered.
“I like kids. How old are they?”

She was rewarded with a quick glance. “Well, that’s
something,” he said drily.

Jenny repressed her quick retort. Wayne Paterson’s tension
and irritability were suddenly understandable, and made him seem
more human and somehow vulnerable.

“Tell me about them?” she coaxed. “It will be less difficult to
step in and take over if I know something about them.”

His face softened and his mouth curved up into a proper
smile. Jenny felt herself warming to that smile. It altered his entire
face. The cold aloofness and arrogance was gone completely. It was
obvious that he was a doting uncle to his sister’s children.
The car purred along the endless winding road and the
afternoon sun slanted lower. Wayne Patterson’s nephews, John and
Allan Williams, were twelve and ten and caught a bus to school.
Meredith, nearly five, was still home all day. The property was
called Taralon, and mainly ran beef cattle, horses and some sheep.
“Gwenda’s death seems to have traumatized her husband,
Bill,” he explained flatly. “So the kids aren’t settling down at all.
I’ve been staying to help but, sooner or later, I have to get back to
my own place. The housekeeper, Mrs. Harris, has got enough to do
without having to do the books and keep an eye on Merry. Which
is why I needed someone to fill in until things settled down.”
“No one can replace your sister, or familiar faces around the
place, but I will try my best to be of assistance,” Jenny said quietly.

“It sounds as if it has been a dreadful few weeks.”

“Yes,” he said flatly.

It was now dark and the headlights probed onwards
through the darkness. It was only a short time later that the car
slowed down and turned through an ornate set of gates.
Jenny sat up. This would be the entrance to Taralon! Half an
hour of winding narrow track and then over a steep hill before they
arrived. The moon was high in the sky and, on the other side of the
hill, Jenny looked down into a cleared valley. A cluster of buildings
and the lights of a sprawling house beckoned through the darkness.
Wayne slowed and then stopped the car in the front of the
house. He tooted the horn. Three children burst from the house and
came tumbling down the steps of the veranda. The small girl
reached the car first, and flung herself into her uncle’s arms as he
stepped from the car.

“Uncle Wayne,” she shrieked.

The two boys reached him and clung to him. Jenny
stretched, opened the door and stood waiting. A stooped figure
had followed the children down the steps, and also waited. Wayne
put the little girl down, and disentangled himself from the clutches
of the two boys.

“Jenny Fleming, please meet Bill Williams and, of course,
Merry, John and Allan.”

“Pleased to meet you Miss Fleming,” the other man said

“It’s Jenny,” she smiled, holding out her hand.

“Yes,” the man said absently, not seeming to notice her
outstretched hand. “Mrs. Harris has kept dinner. Do come in.”

“I’ll put the car away, and bring up your case,” Wayne

He got back into the car with the three children and drove it
around the house. Jenny followed the stooped figure up the steps,
across the wide veranda, and through a screen door that led into a
large kitchen.

She stood blinking in the light for a few seconds. Behind his
bent and weary frame she could see that Bill Williams had graying
tousled hair and a gaunt hollow-­‐‑cheeked face with pale blinking
eyes. The kitchen seemed huge, with a large center table, benches
around the wall, and a couch along the window with a girl sitting
on it. A stoutly built woman by the table turned with a smile as
they came in.

“Miss Jenny Fleming,” Bill Williams introduced as he pulled
out a chair for her and rested a hand on the back of it. She saw it
was shaking a little. “Meet Mrs. Harris.”

“Welcome to Taralon, Jenny,” Mrs. Harris said with a smile.
The other door opened. Wayne Paterson came in quietly
with the children following him. Jenny smiled at them but they
ignored her, hovering closely around Wayne.

A husky chuckle came from the couch. Jenny directed her
attention to the girl on the couch, a plaster cast on one long leg, and
crutches leaning against the wall. Her first impression was one of
dazzle, of white teeth, of gleaming eyes and shining blonde hair.

“Hello, Marise,” Wayne said. “Back are you? Have you met
Jenny Fleming?”

The girl had hazel eyes under the shining fringe of hair. She
inspected Jenny, and her red lips curled up in a mocking smile.
Jenny met her gaze steadily, but she felt the hackles on the back of
her neck rise at the contemptuous look. Was her brown hair that
untidy and her grey slacks suit that shoddy looking?

“Hello, Jenny Wren,” Marise said with a smile, but her eyes
were wary and watchful. “Where did Wayne find you, I wonder?”
“An employment agency, Marise,” Jenny returned smoothly.

Marise lost her mocking, amused smile. She leaned back on
the couch and gave Jenny a long, venomous look. Jenny pretended
not to see, but her heart sank.

She was going to have to look after three children who
stared at her with wary hostility. Her actual employer was the
distracted, stooped man who didn’t seem to see her properly and,
to cap it off, she had just acquired the inexplicable enmity of the
girl she was relieving, the beautiful Marise.

This particular temporary job was certainly going to
represent a challenge for her competence and ability! Just what had
she let herself in for this time?