A Pretty Mess
by Carla Caruso
GENRE: contemporary romance
Sometimes, to come clean, you’ve got to get your hands dirty … The first in the Astonvale series.
Celeste Pretty, a self-confessed neat freak, has found the job she was born to do: a professional organiser, de-cluttering people’s homes and workplaces. Her new business gets off to a cracking start when she lands her first client, health and fitness guru Natalia Samphire, in the well-heeled suburb of Astonvale. But things get messy at Natalia’s mansion when Celeste finds a blackmail note and other mysterious items. And then there’s Lenny Muscat, the sexy builder renovating the place, whose constant presence is muddling Celeste’s usually organised brain.
When things get decidedly suspicious at the mansion, she and Lenny have to team up to investigate. But will Celeste emerge with her heart and professional reputation unscathed?
A feminine-sounding cough echoed off the walls. Another interruption. Great. Didn’t people know how many bricks he had to lay, tradespeople to organise? Working on the second storey — enlarging a bathroom and fixing a guest room — couldn’t come soon enough. Turning, he felt something ripple through his stomach upon laying his eyes on his next visitor. Amusement perhaps? A smidgeon of attraction definitely. It was Celeste, the professional organiser from yesterday. He’d been wondering how soon they’d cross paths again.
She looked so prim and proper, too, all he could imagine was unfastening her top button and watching her shake out her hair, like in some kind of naughty-librarian fantasy. He was a clichéd male, yes. But, to be fair, he had dated a librarian once. Okay, not dated, just slept with. Several times. It’d been fun, like all his dalliances. He couldn’t call any of them relationships, of course.
‘I brought you something,’ Celeste said by way of hello, plunging a hand into her bag. She pulled out some worn-looking, leather item.
He furrowed his brow. ‘Something for me?’
‘Yes, it’s an old tool-belt of my dad’s. I thought it might come in handy after you misplaced your tape measure yesterday.’ The professional organiser stepped closer, her lavender smell cutting through the dust and debris, and pressed the item into his hands. Up-close, her violet shirt seemed to bring out the grey-blue of her eyes.
Drawing in a breath, he turned the multi-pocketed belt — chocolate in hue — over in his hands. As nice a thought as it was, it was still an impractical gift. ‘Brilliant craftsmanship, but unfortunately I’m not a carpenter. This’ll just weigh me down and get in my way. Sorry. But thanks for thinking of me.’
He extended the belt towards her again, but she ignored it, jutting up her chin. ‘You don’t have to wear it. You could just put it in a corner someplace, where you’ll know where to find . It’ll save you time instead of always having to search for things.’ Determination flashed in her eyes, which made him only want to defy her further. Strangely, it also excited him.
‘I have a toolbox,’ he ground out. ‘I haven’t exactly been in this game for two minutes. Besides, your dad’ll be looking for it.’
‘He has plenty of stuff,’ she murmured, averting her gaze. ‘He won’t miss it.’
Hang on a sec. She was blushing now. Maybe she genuinely thought she was being helpful. Which made him feel a bit like the type of utensil that went in such a belt.
‘I guess I could give it a go …’ he mumbled reluctantly, dropping his hand with the belt to his side.
Celeste’s smile was back in place. ‘I promise you won’t regret it.’
In the doorway, behind Celeste, a leggy brunette — way too young for Lenny’s tastes — suddenly appeared, a mobile in one hand. He gestured with his chin at the girl for Celeste’s benefit. ‘Babysitting?’
Celeste frowned — quite a sexy look on her — before whirling around. ‘Flip, you’re here! At long last. Although I’m not sure those denim shorts would pass any occupational safety tests, but I guess they’ll have to do.’
The girl managed a saunter in black Chuck Taylor All Star high-tops on the way to Celeste’s side. Celeste’s gaze rested on Lenny again. ‘Uh, this is Filippa Belmont, my … my assistant. She’s also family. And Filippa, this is Lenny Muscat, the builder who’s helping to renovate Natalia’s home.’
The girl pushed long, dark strands out of her eyes with her mobile-free hand and smiled winningly at him. ‘You can just call me “Flip”, like all my good friends do. I’m studying architecture, by the way. Could come in handy knowing a builder.’
Charming little manipulator. He bet she was used to having guys wrapped around her little finger. Unfortunately for her, he wasn’t so pliable. And Celeste looked none too impressed either.
‘Good on you with your studies. Though I would have thought you’d know better in how to dress for a worksite.’ Lenny reached behind him for an old navy-blue work shirt lying on some scaffolding and thrust it at the girl with a wink. ‘This’ll help you cover up in the meantime. Wouldn’t want your clothes getting dirty. Your boss had a rather unfortunate incident herself yesterday.’
Celeste narrowed her eyes at him, while Flip held the shirt extended between her thumb and forefinger, distaste overtaking her dark gaze. Imagine if she knew he’d actually been using the shirt as a rag, not work-wear, since his company’s logo had been updated.
‘Awesome, thanks,’ Flip said, the uttered adjective defying her expression.
Lenny turned back to the doorway he was bricking up for the second time that morning. Working near this lot, he decided, could almost be fun.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Carla Caruso was born in Adelaide, grew up amid a boisterous extended Italian family – yet somehow managed to become a bookworm…
Carla always wanted to be a novelist, annoying the kindergarten teachers by dictating long, detailed stories to them. It just took her a while to realise her childhood dream – journalism seemed a more practical course. Her media career has included stints as a newspaper and magazine journalist, government PR and fashion stylist. These days, she works as a freelance journalist and copywriter. She began seriously writing fiction three years ago when she went freelance full-time.
The romance genre appeals as she is a sucker for rom-coms (especially if Channing Tatum is in the mix) and likes to think her Italian ancestry means she lives with passion. Hobbies include watching trashy TV shows, fashion (her mum named her after Carla Zampatti!), astrology and running.
Carla will be awarding an eCopy of A Pretty Mess to 3 randomly drawn winners via rafflecopter during the tour, and choice of 5 digital books from the Impulse line to a randomly drawn host.