She is an award-winning chef and he is the unnervingly attractive lawyer who represented her ex in the break-up of their business.
When Ally French inherits Chaffey’s Island, she’s working and saving to replace the café she lost in a failed romance. She doesn't need or want another romance. But when Chaffey’s Island turns out to be a pub in the Australian outback she’s prepared to do just about anything to keep it. Even when the lawyer handling her godfather’s estate is Edward McGrogan, the same yummy lawyer who took her café away. The problem with her last business was not having a lawyer so at least this time she will have one. Even if it means risking her heart.
Of course there are a few complicating factors such as someone trying to frighten her into selling cheap; her godfather’s sly grog shed out the back; and the growing sizzle between her and her lawyer. When attraction boils over into love and when accusations arise of grievous bodily harm, not to mention dope in the dinner, Ally knows she’s really cooked up some trouble this time and she’ll need a darned good lawyer no matter what she has to do to keep him.
The air whooshed into Ally French’s lungs as the words in the letter sank in.
“What is it?” Mel Harper, her best friend, crossed from the kitchen doorway to where Ally stood. “What’s the matter?”
“I think I’ve inherited an island.” Ally laughed as her eyes scanned the page again.
If it was true, all her troubles could be over.
Holy mackerel. An island.
Islands were real estate. Equity.
She could get Deli-sh back. She could—
Not Deli-sh! her strict voice cut in, shrill with panic. That’s gone.
Okay, not Deli-sh. But another café. A better one.
Whoa, don’t get your hopes up. Don’t.
Deal with the facts.
Where was this island?
It could be some guano-covered rock off Antarctica. It could—
Mel’s hand on her arm steadied her and Ally took a breath.
“Have you ever heard of Chaffey’s Island?” she said.
“No,” Mel said as she leaned in to read over her shoulder. “Who’s this Albert Chaffey?”
“I have no idea.” Ally chewed her lip and handed the letter to Mel. “It’s probably just some guano-covered rock off Antarctica.” It’d be silly to get excited.
Mel laughed. “You glass-half-empty-girl you. Why don’t we Google it?” She crossed to the computer and started tapping keys. “If I’d known this letter was so exciting I’d have put it on your pillow yesterday when it came instead of leaving it out here.”
“I knocked off so late last night I went straight to bed, so I wouldn’t have seen it,” Ally said, coming to stand behind her, a knot of tension forming in her stomach as the green bars gathered at the bottom of the screen. If this inheritance were worth anything there would be no more drudgery in other people’s kitchens. She’d have her own again.
“Looks like we’ve got a live one,” Mel said and clicked on one of the links. Two blond Adonis types popped up sitting at a dingy, old bar, grinning and holding their beers up in a silent toast. Somebody’s holiday pics. The text was in an indecipherable language rich with diphthongs and o’s with slashes through the middle. ‘Chaffey’s Island’ and ‘Australia’ were the only words Ally recognised.
“No guano so far,” Mel said.
Ally managed a laugh. “Good. Sunlounges in the Whitsundays would be better, though. Pina Coladas and warm tropical breezes.”
Careful, her strict voice warned. Don’t get too excited, it only leads to disappointment. Ally sighed and glanced out the window to where traffic hissed past in the drizzle she’d run through to get home. The dreary drizzle that was Sydney in May. She’d rather a tropical dream but she needed to be realistic.
“At least we know you can get a beer there,” Mel said, scrolling back up to the photo of the blond duo. “That’s a start.”
“I guess so.” Where there was beer there was often food. And she was good at food. “Is that the only one Google could find?”
Mel went back to the list and clicked on the only other mention of ‘Chaffey.’ “There was a guy called James Chaffey who went to Indian Island in 1760.” Mel’s lips moved as she read further down the screen. “That’s in Canada. Probably not sunlounge territory.”
“And not Chaffey’s Island.” Ally glanced down at the letter. “It’s definitely called ‘Chaffey’s Island’ and it’s in Australia I think because the letter says ‘under Australian law’ and that first site mentioned Australia too.”
Mel scrolled further down the page. “Nope. Google has nothing more to say on the place.”
Ally straightened. “Maybe I should buy some maps.”
“I think you should ring your mother. She might know all about it. And Albert Chaffey. The guy left you everything, didn’t he?”
“Yes, but I can’t ring Lola. She’s in Bali at that meditation retreat and the number she gave me is strictly for emergencies. I’ll ring the lawyer.”
“Worth a try,” Mel said. “He might not be working on a Saturday, but I’ll make coffee so we’ll be ready to celebrate just in case.”
Ally pushed damp hair out of her eyes and picked up the phone. “Oh no,” she said as her eyes focussed on the letterhead. “The lawyer is Edward McGrogan.”
Mel stuck her head out from the kitchen. “Who?”
“Brad’s lawyer.” This was more elaborate than her ex-boyfriend and ex-business partner’s usual practical joke but Brad was still capable of it. Suddenly the whole thing made sense and she tossed the letter on the coffee table as fury ripped through her.
“I knew it was too good to be true. This whole thing is just a sick joke.” It wasn’t what she would have expected from Edward McGrogan but she’d stuck with Brad for three years, what did she know about judging people?
“Hang on a sec.” Mel came back to peer at the letter again. “No self-respecting lawyer is going to pull something like that on his own letterhead.”
“But Brad would. He could have pinched some of the letterhead.” It felt better to think it was him. The snake. “Maybe that’s why Edward McGrogan came after me this morning.”
Mel’s brows lifted. “Oh really?” Her hands went to her hips. “Do tell.”
Ally took a breath to steady her voice. “It’s nothing. Just that the agency sent me to Deli-sh and I––” She swallowed. “I couldn’t face it.” Working as a kitchen hand because you didn’t have your final certificate was one thing but doing it in what had once been your deli-café was too painful to bear.
Mel’s eyes widened behind her red-framed glasses and her hands dropped from her hips to grab Ally’s shoulders. “Deli-sh? God, Ally, why didn’t you tell them ‘no’?”
“Well, it’s not called Deli-sh anymore, so I didn’t realize until I got there. I thought it was that other new café in Bondi.” Plus her bruised ego had been flattered that ‘Spangles’ had asked for her by name at the temp agency. That was before she caught sight of Brad behind the coffee machine like it was any other day and she’d never been his partner.
That’s when she’d seen red for a second or two. Dammit, Deli-sh had been her idea, not to mention her recipes and her cooking. All he’d put in was the money. And the coffee.
Then you should never have slept with him, her strict voice preached. Sex and business don’t mix.
And wasn’t that so true. If she’d doubted it before, she’d figured it out this morning in that instant of grief and rage. Then through the window she’d locked eyes with Edward McGrogan, Brad’s lawyer, and had another humiliating reaction to the man. Dry mouth and no brain function all over again. Lawyers who had that kind of effect on their clients’ adversaries ought to be struck off.
But she remembered the intensity of his eyes through the café window and the thrill it had sent through her system. The way he’d kept his eyes on her as he’d put his coffee down, the way her breasts had tightened and she’d gone all wet between the legs. That’s when she’d run.
“Oh, honey,” Mel said and pulled her into a hug. “I thought you were over the split with Brad.”
“I am.” Definitely. Brad wasn’t the problem this morning. Her ridiculous crush on his lawyer was.
“That explains why you’re home so early on a Saturday.” She gave Ally a squeeze and pulled back. “Why do you do it? Why do you work for all these other people when you know you should have your own place? People want the food you cook.”
“I can’t afford a new cafe yet. Soon. Give me another year.” Another year as a kitchen hand would be slow torture but it would be worth it if she could have another Deli-sh.
“I wish I could afford to bankroll you,” Mel said with a huff.
“Well you’d be the only partner I’d ever consider after the Brad debacle but I’m determined to go it alone next time. That’s the key to making it.”
“Hmm,” Mel said, not sounding at all convinced. “So what did lawyer boy say when you ran into him? Did he happen to mention dear old Albert Chaffey or this island?”
“I didn’t give him a chance,” Ally said with a mirthless laugh. “I bolted.” She’d all but set a land speed record running for the bus stop.
“Anyway, it’s not the same guy,” Mel said as she picked up the letter again. “The address is Kangaroo Point and that’s in Brisbane. Not Sydney. A whole different state.”
“Look.” Ally pointed to the name above the address. “It says ‘E.G. McGrogan.’ There can’t be that many E. McGrogans around, not both practising law.”
“Okay, but the address is still in Brisbane. Look at the postcode.” Mel tapped the letter one more time for emphasis. “So, unless he’s made a pact with the devil and can be in two places at once, it’s not the same guy. It can’t be. The easiest way to solve it is to go see this E. McGrogan in person.”
“No. You don’t understand.” How could she tell Mel what the man did to her through a café window? Heaven only knew what would happen if she was right up close again. “I can’t.”
“Sure you can,” Mel laughed. “What’s he going to do, bite you?”
Ally had a vivid image of Edward McGrogan leaning in to nibble at her neck and a fresh tingle rippled right through her body. No, no wrong thought. He was tall, lean and darkly alluring but he was far too dangerous to see one on one. Look what happened last time she was in a room with him. Her brain had been so fuddled with attraction for the guy she’d let Brad bully her into selling Deli-sh to dissolve their partnership. She went to stand at the window. “He’s Brad’s lawyer.”
“Look.” Mel was practical as always. “You don’t even know if it’s the same guy. Didn’t you just see him this morning?”
“There you go, so chances are it’s a totally different person. And even if it is him, he will at least tell you where Chaffey’s Island is so you can go there and check it out.”
Good point. Ally watched the traffic cruise by and tried to calculate how much driving to Brisbane would cut into her funds. If the island weren’t worth much, she’d need every cent of her savings for a new café. And thinking about the money kept her mind away from certain sexy solicitors.
“If you wait a couple of weeks I’ll be finished this latest project and could come with you,” Mel said coming to stand beside her. “We could stay with Mum and save on accommodation.” She lifted one of her shoulders. “I think I might be overdue a visit.”
“I need to cook something,” Ally said rather than make a decision then and there. She went into the kitchen and yanked open the fridge.
“I was going to make sandwiches if you’re hungry,” Mel said, trailing in behind her.
“I don’t need to eat. I need to cook.”
“Fine with me.” Mel came to stare into the open fridge too. “How about a chicken terrine?”
Ally slammed the fridge. “Right. A chicken terrine. I’ll need chicken thigh fillets, baby spinach, shitake mushrooms and pine nuts. Oh and a bottle of dry white wine. ” She snatched her keys and purse off the clutter by the coffee table. “I’ll be back,” she said.
She stopped when Mel called out to her. “I hope this doesn’t cost me a terrine. But it might not be your lawyer man who wrote you that letter. In which case you could safely go to Brisbane next week and I could meet you there the week after.”
“He’s not my lawyer,” Ally said. Or her man. “I haven’t got a lawyer. That’s how I lost Deli-sh.”
Edward McGrogan let the door to his apartment close and leaned back on it with relief. After making such a complete and public fool of himself chasing Ally French down Campbell Parade, he was grateful to be alone.
A fool for love, his inner nark quipped. No better than Eddy. No. His father was called Eddy, not him. Although, he’d told himself he wasn’t his father so many times in the last five years it was starting to sound repetitive.
Anyway, if he were no better than Eddy it would be lust. Not love. He pushed away from the door and shrugged out of his coat, lumping it on the hook in the entry and shaking raindrops from his hair.
All he’d wanted to do was make sure Ally French was all right. He’d seen her eyes widen with grief at the sight of her café and he’d wanted desperately to undo his part in the whole sorry mess. But that didn’t mean he was in love with her.
And yet there had been that moment when he’d wanted to undo every bad thing that had ever happened to the woman. What was that about?
He headed for the kitchen to make a coffee to replace the one he’d left behind. Okay, there was no denying the effect Ally French had on him. All those wayward slips of dark hair framing her face. Those big green eyes and the way she bit into her bottom lip when she was agitated. But it was attraction. And that was all it was.
Those snug jeans of hers weren’t hard on the eyes either.
See? his inner nark quipped as he started the coffee. Lust. Just like Eddy.
Edward clenched his teeth. All his life he’d been told how much he resembled his father. And not just in looks. Apparently they had mannerisms in common too. Not an easy comparison to live with when your father was a womanizer. What if it was true?
All the more reason to stay away from Ally French. Right away. She’d been through enough. The decision left him feeling hollow. He carried his coffee into the lounge room, past the picture windows looking out on the beach and the rain and turned on the big, wide-screen TV, pulling up the recording he’d made of last week’s game between Brisbane Lions and West Coast Eagles in Brisbane.
You don’t have to stay away from Ally French, temptation whispered. She’s not with Brad anymore.
But she’d run from him like the devil was on her tail. That was reason enough. That and the Eddy legacy.
To distract himself from thoughts of Ally, he picked up the letter that had come from his father only the day before and sagged back against the caramel leather to read it again, wondering again what had gotten into dear old Dad.
Not a job offer. But a partnership. Just like that. No mention of the blazing row five years before when Edward had slammed out of the office vowing never to return. He took a sip of his coffee, remembering the effort it had taken not to bellow a reminder at Eddy that he was a married man.
Trouble was, he’d fancied the new secretary himself. If she’d slapped the old man for touching her backside he’d have been willing to comfort her. Maybe asked her out.
But she hadn’t slapped Eddy and Edward knew he’d behaved like a spoilt brat in the end for all that his father was in the wrong.
The coffee turned bitter in his mouth. He forced his attention back to the game, the Brisbane Lions looking unstoppable in brilliant sunshine.
He felt a sharp pang of homesickness for the city where he’d been born and spent the first half of his childhood. Brisbane winters were the dry season and nearly always sunny.
But if living there meant working with his father again, it was out of the question.
His mobile phone started to chirp in his pocket and he answered, thinking it was his workaholic boss, Max. Instead it was Max’s daughter, Jacqueline. Brad Wheeler’s old school friend and new business partner.
“Did you catch her?” Jacqueline said after they got through the preliminaries.
Edward looked at the phone, not sure if he’d understood her correctly. “Catch who?”
“Ally French. She was supposed to be the cook for today. I asked for her especially.”
How sensitive. “Brad said you were going to do the cooking.”
“Well yes, fancy cakes and things but I’m not interested in cooking endless plates of eggs Benedict and pancakes which is what all this lot seem to want today.”
“Looks like Ally isn’t interested either. Call the temp agency and get them to send someone else.”
Jacqueline huffed in frustration. “I wanted her because she knows how to cook all the things that Deli-sh was famous for, like the chicken terrine and the Moroccan marinade and those lovely little lime tarts. I wanted to get the recipes.”
Edward rolled his eyes. He’d never tasted Jacqueline’s cooking but he doubted she’d be anywhere near as good as Ally French even with the recipes. Jeez, Deli-sh had won three awards. “Sorry, I can’t help you,” he said as the Brisbane Lions scored and the crowd erupted with a roar.
“Where are you?” Jacqueline said, sounding aggrieved.
“At home. It’s Saturday. The first I’ve had off in months.”
She answered with a ‘tsk’ of disgust and disconnected.
He picked up his coffee again and his thoughts spiralled back to Ally. He should have done more. He should have at least refused to deal with splitting the business until she’d gotten herself a lawyer too. He’d merely suggested it to her when she’d arrived early for that fateful meeting.
He could still picture her uncertain smile for Brad when he arrived, followed by his client’s glib dismissal of the idea that she might need a lawyer of her own.
“This is a friendly split,” Brad had said shooting Edward a warning look. Yeah. Sure. If it was so bloody friendly why didn’t he give her more time to raise the finance to buy him out? But by then Jacqueline was involved and, as his boss Max had pointed out, Brad was the client. Not Ally.
Of course Max could well be prejudiced given he was the one bankrolling his daughter Jacqueline’s share of the takeover of Deli-sh. Some ugly things went on in the law. On the TV, the sun seemed to shine more brilliantly than ever and Edward pushed off the couch to go stand at the window and hook up with reality.
On the beach far below, a couple of hardy surfers struggled with the rain and the waves. Crazy.
Like he’d be to even consider Eddy’s offer. His father wouldn’t touch divorce work.
Besides, he had a good life here in Sydney and a job he loved. For the most part. His boss Max was a workaholic who expected the same level of commitment from all his employees, but over the last five years of working for him Edward had carved out a niche handling all the divorce work. In the process, he’d discovered a natural talent for guiding his mostly female clients through what had to be one of the toughest challenges in life, the breakdown of their marriage.
He’d have to be insane to chuck it all in and move back to Brisbane to work with his father again. But maybe he should see if he could juggle his schedule and take a few days off to head north. That would put an end to the homesickness and maybe while he was there he could make peace with Eddy. He didn’t have to take up the offer to do that.
And maybe Eddy had known that. Maybe the letter was nothing more than Eddy’s version of an olive branch. Either way, he decided, first thing Monday he’d talk to Max about some time off to go see his father. With a bit of luck he might be able to wangle a few extra days to visit his stepbrother in the far west.
His cell phone rang again, but this time Edward checked the caller ID. Jacqueline again. With a snap of irritation, he turned it off and gave his attention back to the game. Jonathon Brown was lining up to score another goal when the landline started to ring. Christ, the woman just didn’t give up.
“What?” he roared but the damn thing kept ringing. He was tempted to ignore it but she was his boss’s daughter, so in the end he snatched it up. “Hello,” he said, not caring that a sharp edge lingered along the word.
“Whoa brother,” Damien said. “Sounds like you’re having a rough morning.”
Edward felt the tension in his shoulders ease at the rumble of his stepbrother’s what’s-the-hurry drawl. “I’ve had better. Just trying to watch the Lions beat the Eagles in last week’s game. Did you see it?”
“Yeah. Can you pause it? We need to talk.”
The hairs on Edward’s neck tingled as he flicked off the TV. “What’s happened? Is Mum okay?”
“Yep, she and Dad should be in Paris by now,” Damien said referring to their respective parents’ dream holiday. “But that’s not why I rang.”
Edward heard his brother hiss in through his teeth the way he did sometimes when he was nervous and the hairs prickled to full attention. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong. Not with Mum and Dad.” Damien paused then chuffed out a breath. “There’s no easy way to say this. Eddy’s dead.”
“What?” A memory of his father laughing and pulling Christmas crackers flashed into Edward’s head as the word reverberated around the room. He turned back to the coffee table where he’d left the letter. “How could he be dead? What happened?”
“Heart attack early this morning,” Damien said. “Trudy rang about half an hour ago,” he went on, referring to Edward’s stepmother. “She was looking for Mum but she got me. You okay?”
“Yeah.” Edward fought for breath and sat back on the couch.
“Looks like the funeral’s on Tuesday. Can you be there?”
All the frustrations of the morning erupted inside Edward. “Of course I can be there. We’re talking about my father here. What do you think I am?”
“Easy man, easy. I just thought that ... well you haven’t had much to do with Eddy the last few years and with Trudy the way she is about you—”
“I can deal with Trudy.” He’d had to learn how to deal with his stepmother at a young age, thanks to access visits with his father. Visits, he remembered now, that his stepmother resented. Normally, what Trudy wanted, Trudy got. But not on this one. He’d hand that much to Eddy. The man had stayed loyal to his son. Edward pinched the bridge of his nose and took in a steadying breath.
“Trudy’s pretty upset about this, as you can imagine,” Damien said. “I got the full waterworks version of it.”
“Yeah. Look, sorry I yelled. How are you doing?”
“Me? I’m fine. I hardly knew Eddy and my Dad’s in the pink of health. Besides, I knew I was ringing with pretty shitty news.”
“You don’t know how shitty,” Edward said and let himself sag back against the cushions. “Just before you called I’d decided to head up to Brisbane and patch things up with him.”
“And now he’s dead.”
“Yep.” Edward pressed his lips together. It had been a long time since he’d felt so close to tears.
“You want me to fly down and pick you up?” ‘Karalinga,’ the family cattle station, was under Damien’s management while his father was away. The place boasted a plane and Damien was the pilot.
“No. But thanks. I can manage. I might even drive. And you don’t need to be there.”
“I’ll be there,” Damien said, cutting off all argument. “But listen, I was thinking of not telling Mum for a few days. Are you okay with that?”
“You mean until after Tuesday?” Edward pursed his lips. “She won’t like it.”
“If we tell her now, she’ll feel she has to come back from Europe for the funeral. And she’s waited too darned long for this trip, especially Paris. I want them to have Paris.”
“Right.” Edward hoped his mother didn’t skin him when she got home.
Once the call ended, he sat staring sightlessly at the grey sky outside. His father was dead. It was a fact he couldn’t quite believe. For all his excesses, Eddy had always been alive.
He turned his attention back to the TV but couldn’t work up the enthusiasm to turn it back on. He had to go out. If he hung around the flat he’d only brood about Eddy and all the squandered opportunities to repair the rift between them.
Maybe he’d go shopping since it was almost midday and he had nothing but coffee and dry crackers in the house.
He’d buy a six-pack of beer, he decided, as he shrugged back into his coat and picked up his keys.
Now that’s like Eddy, his inner nark preached. He always reached for a drink at the first sign of trouble.
“Shut up,” Edward muttered and slammed the door.
Hi I'm Louisa Mack. I live in Brisbane, Australia and I write romance.
I studied Creative Writing at Queensland University of Technology and later completed a Masters by Research in Romance Writing.
I spend my days inventing stories and living in an imaginary world as I write them down. At night I come down to earth and teach pottery.
The idea for Cooking Up Trouble came to me in Betoota in far west Queensland.
The only building in Betoota is the pub but there is an airfield and a racecourse. No kidding! And there really are wild budgies there though sadly, not as many as there used to be.
When I'm not writing I'm teaching pottery in the studio I have under the house.
Cooking Up Trouble is the third full-length novel I've written but the first to be published. There will be more to come. Enjoy.