Actress Edie Granger is in a spot of trouble. When a big-time producer threatens to ruin her career—and possibly the rest of her life—she flees to her remote hometown in the Snowy Mountains and opens a Little Theatre to put on her comedy whoddunit Who Shot the Producer.
Childhood friend and ex-Commando Ryan Munroe has returned to Swallow’s Fall to see if there’s a future for him and Edie after their disastrous but unforgettable first and only kiss three years ago. She’s still dazzling, still in love with her career and still out of his reach. He’s about to leave town when he learns that Edie might have trouble on her heels.
Struggling with her growing attraction to Ryan, and torn between her career and a rekindled love for her hometown, Edie focuses on generating her cast and crew from the 182 Swallow’s Fall residents, and producing her play. But when elements from the play start happening for real, the comedy turns dangerous.
Edie is suddenly centre stage in the biggest role of her life. Can she pull it off? And can Ryan ensure everyone survives to make it to the curtain call?
The launch of the warm and witty new Daughters of Swallow’s Fall series, from the author of the internationally bestselling The House on Burra Burra Lane.
Enjoy a sample of The House on Jindalee Lane.
It was pretty lonely being this tough on yourself all the time, but Edie Granger had been resilient all her life—in front of a few and in front of hundreds—and wasn’t going to be intimidated by thirteen members of the Swallow’s Fall Community Spirit town committee.
Edie glanced at the woman who’d spoken with such outrage, then stood, knowing she appeared unruffled and at ease even though her heart beat like a tom-tom. Nevertheless, she was a professional and she was used to being a well-known theatre actor, even when off stage, like tonight—no matter how exhausting it was to keep up the charade. ‘It’s not as ridiculous as it sounds,’ she said. The only time she got to be herself was in the shower or when she was asleep. She would enjoy having these few weeks off from all the glamour. Not that there’d been a lot of that recently. Not since Marcus Buchanan starting spreading rumours about her. She’d already been knocked back on two main roles she’d thought were hers, and her agent was making noises about dropping her too. But she wasn’t going to mention Marcus to anybody.
‘A theatre?’ the woman in the purple knitted tassel hat said again. Her name was Ada Ormond, and she’d been called Mrs Ornery behind her back since her arrival fifteen years ago in the new housing estate twenty kilometres out of town.
Edie gave Mrs Ormond her full focus, placatory words on the tip of her tongue—then caught the eye of Ted Tillman sitting next to her, arms folded over his bullfrog chest, mouth closed. Unusual for Ted. He’d retired from the stock feeders he’d owned but not from the Swallow’s Fall town committee. He was still head bullfrog in that department.
His eyes bored into hers and the back of Edie’s neck heated up. He wanted to play the role of detective in the play she was producing for her about-to-be-established Little Theatre. She’d had to let him down kindly, but had offered him the part of the dead body in Act I. Not an inconsiderable part, since he’d have to remain still and silent for nearly twenty minutes. She hoped that wouldn’t be a problem for Ted.
‘Yes,’ she said, shuffling papers on the trestle table in front of her as the evening breeze blew in from the open doors. ‘A theatre.’ She shivered, unsure if it was due to the fingers of the spring wind—Ted didn’t put the heating on in the historic and renovated town hall unless it was for a paid event—or the still-tremulous beating of her heart. Her nerves had never been so stretched as they had been this last month.
She looked up and gave the committee one of her studious smiles, as previously used when she played Ruth in The Normal Conquests. ‘I have the building.’ Well, a huge barn. ‘I have planning permission and I have friends, professional actors, like myself, who are willing to come to town and be part of the first Swallow’s Fall Little Theatre production.’ She spoke enticingly, with an engaging expression.
She’d begged two of her thespian friends to accept, telling them they’d have free board and lodgings at the house her dad gave her when she came home four weeks ago. It had been the housing estate developer who’d built Edie’s Jindalee House, shocking the town with its seven bedrooms. Then he left it, unlived in, and put it up for sale after his wife ran off with a plumber. Since its land backed onto Edie’s parents’ property, they’d bought it and given it to her. They’d decided to give their children their inheritance now instead of leaving it to them later, although Edie was determined to pay them back and show her independence. Her parents deserved to go on a world cruise or something once they retired. If that ever happened.
Anyway, she’d told her actor friends they could stay with her and experience real country living. Rural life at its finest, with cute stores on Main Street and lots and lots of … She hadn’t elaborated because there was hardly anything to do in Swallow’s Fall except eat out at Kookaburra’s hotel or the Chinese takeaway, or buy gourmet food from the boutique grocery store and … Well, that was it. Still. They’d get a true away-from-the-city experience.
‘Can we have a musical?’ someone asked.
Edie re-shuffled her pre-production paperwork. ‘I’m afraid not.’ She’d have to use a bit more firmness in her tone. She was producing the play. She was the boss. ‘We’re doing Who Shot the Producer.’
‘A 1940s-style comedy whodunnit,’ Ethan Granger said. ‘Edie wrote it! Sammy and I saw her in the show in Sydney. She was fantastic.’
Edie pulled a face. Dad, please! I’m a producer in this instance—not your daughter. Producers were smart, entrepreneurial and savvy. Also sometimes scary, when needed.
Edie was sure she could do scary.
She caught the eye of Ryan Munroe, sitting at the back of the town hall, arms crossed, looking bored.
She pulled a face at him too.
He raised an eyebrow—his droll version of pulling a face right back.
Edie swallowed as her heart jumped and gave her chest a kick. After their disastrous kiss three years ago it was unlikely Ryan would ever consider her a soulmate, even though she’d known from the time she met him when she was nearly eleven and he was sixteen that she wanted him for her boyfriend. She still thought of him as the man that got away. Although he’d been more of a big-brother bodyguard back then—on the many occasions he’d come home to Swallow’s Fall before he went into the army—so he hadn’t got away because sadly he’d never been hers.
‘I want a musical,’ Ada Ormond demanded, bringing Edie’s attention back to the task at hand.
‘Oh, yes please,’ Mrs Tam, the librarian, said. ‘The King and I.’
‘I want Wretched,’ Mrs Ornery said, the tassels on her knitted hat bobbing.
Wretched? Edie frowned. ‘Oh,’ she said, amusement relaxing her facial muscles for the first time that night. ‘You mean Wicked.’
‘How about Frozen?’ someone suggested.
‘We can’t get rights for either,’ Edie explained.
‘I was hoping for something gentle, like Bambi,’ Mrs Tam said. ‘Perhaps we could put Bambi to our own music?’
Oh, lord. ‘I’m afraid we can’t.’ Edie employed her most charming tone, as used in her one-woman show, Beatrice: Much Ado About Nothing at a prestigious Melbourne festival, holding the audience of five hundred captive with her monologues.
Why can’t it work with thirteen people on the Swallow’s Fall town committee?
‘We’re having Who Shot the Producer.’ Given the bickering about her innovative idea for sleepy Swallow’s Fall and its quaint old-world charm, she chose to ignore the possible irony.
She had six weeks before curtain up and a heck of a lot to fit into those weeks. Like being extra nice to brooding ex-army commando Ryan Munroe because he’d promised to build her stage—if he stayed in town.
People had started remembering Edie and Ryan’s first and only kiss and making the odd comment about it. No wonder Ryan was a bit moody. She’d accidentally almost knocked him out in front of everybody. He wouldn’t have fond recollections of that.
He’d turned up in town three weeks ago, a week after Edie, and he’d mooched around until his sister, Gemma, said he was getting on her nerves and had given him the role of instructor in her twice-weekly women’s fitness classes—which had doubled in size and was it any surprise? Mr Special Forces’ fitness was a topic of debate among the ladies in town. Speculation abounded about the many ways he’d worked those powerful muscles during overseas raids under extreme conditions.
Then her dad told Ryan he could live in Jindalee House so he could have a bit of freedom from all that sisterly advice. Then Edie had made the decision to open the theatre, and Ryan had said he’d do the stage build to repay the Grangers for getting him out of Gemma’s hair. Obviously, Edie needed to move in too, to oversee it all, but Ryan hadn’t reckoned on this. Ten minutes after she’d surprised him by turning up with her suitcases, he moved into the back room in the barn.
She didn’t know why he didn’t like her idea of opening the theatre. She’d explained how she thought it would benefit the whole town and he’d called her Dazzlepants.
She hated when he called her Dazzlepants.
With a gleam in her eye, she caught his gaze once more and gave a toss of her head, throwing her long hair over her shoulder, then looked away.
‘So,’ she said to the committee, using her producer’s voice. ‘I’m going to talk to the people I have in mind for crewing and cast member roles.’ She kept her eyes off Ted. ‘We’ll take it from there.’
‘Plenty of people will want to help out,’ her father said. ‘Sammy wants to paint the backgrounds.’
‘There’s no need for Mum to get involved in painting scenery flats,’ she told her father. Not when Sammy Granger was an internationally renowned artist and way too busy with Edie’s younger sister, Vivian, who was currently recovering from a heart-wrenching fall from her horse.
She glanced at her sister, sitting in the aisle, in her wheelchair, and smiled.
Viv grinned and gave Edie an encouraging thumbs-up.
Viv was so courageous. Her work as a vet had been cut short for the moment, but when she recovered—please God, she’d walk again—she’d be working with their dad and would eventually take over the practice in the stone built veterinarian surgery on Burra Burra Lane, which was Viv’s inheritance.
Viv was the reason Edie had come home. Mostly the reason. Viv had been thrown when her horse got spooked by a bird flying out of a hedge. It reared, then turned, probably about to run for its life in case the little bird attacked it, and its front hooves came crashing down on both Viv’s lower legs.
Edie felt sick just thinking about it. It was unimaginable that her younger sister, once almost as gregarious as Edie, would be stuck in that wheelchair for the rest of her life.
‘But Mum wants to help with the scenery, Sweetpea.’
Dad! I’m being producer here.
Ex-Sergeant Ryan Munroe yawned and settled his toughened arms more firmly over his broad chest.
Edie groaned. No doubt he’d make some joke later about her being up herself with her big ideas and not having handled the Swallow’s Fall committee very well. What would he know? He’d left town when he was a child and only came back occasionally to visit his sister. He was practically a blow-in. Although he was going to build her stage, and he did have a car so he was handy to have around when she needed to get from one place to another. Plus, he was pretty bloody gorgeous to look at.
‘Shall we move on?’ she said, but nobody heard; they were all busy arguing about Wicked Frozen Bambi—the musical.
She sat at the trestle table and put her chin in her hand.
A warm touch on her shoulder made her look up. ‘I just want to do Who Shot the Producer,’ she told her father. ‘It’ll work here. It’s a whodunnit. They’ll be enthralled.’
Ethan Granger pulled a chair closer to Edie’s and sat. He was going to have one of his father-to-daughter chats, but why he thought he had to keep it quiet and just-between-us she didn’t know. The racket in the town hall as the good people of Swallow’s Fall discussed their ideas, which were in complete opposition to Edie’s, was at OTT decibel level.
‘We gave you the house, Edie. You can do what you like with it. I’m all for a theatre. It’s just that …’ He paused, and Edie saw concern in his blue eyes. ‘Are you sure this is going to keep you artistically happy and occupied for the next however long?’
‘Yes!’ No. But she’d get to be with Viv. And she was doing something worthy for the town; it just took them ages to make a decision and she only had six weeks until curtain up.
‘I want to do something that I’m good at while I’m here,’ she said, feeling like a popped balloon. ‘Since Viv doesn’t think she needs me.’
‘Viv’s fine, Edie. You worry too much.’
Her parents had been saying this the whole time she’d been home. Perhaps they could see cracks in her resolve. Thank God they didn’t know about the other reason she’d come home.
She snuck a look at Viv who was chatting to Mrs Tam, hands waving in explanation about something. Her usual Viv grin was in place, even though she couldn’t walk and was in pain.
Edie felt terrible about saying she’d only put her professional career on hold because of Viv, but it had certainly suited her situation to get away from the city.
‘Edie,’ her father said, making her turn to him. ‘Viv is going to be fine.’ He took a breath and a cautious look crossed his face. ‘This is probably a conversation you’d be better off having with your mum, but since we’re talking about your reasons for coming home and for starting this theatre endeavour, I need to ask if you’re all right.’
‘Of course I am,’ she said breezily.
Her father looked sceptical. ‘Mum and I get the feeling something is bothering you. Or someone?’
‘Not at all.’
‘We felt the same when we came to see you in the play in Sydney a few months back. You were distracted. You weren’t yourself.’
Edie brushed that off with a smile. ‘I was just kind of over the biz. All that glamour.’
Her dad patted her hand. ‘If you’re sure.’
‘Positive. Life’s great. Absolutely the best!’ She halted the over-enthusiasm when her dad frowned his doubt. ‘Well. Better get on with it.’ She turned away from his enquiring eyes and stood up.
‘All right, everyone, meeting’s over!’ she yelled above the chatter. ‘Thank you all for coming and being so generous with your time. Six weeks, folks—let’s get cracking, shall we? I’ll pop into town tomorrow and make arrangements to talk to those who might want to volunteer for a few jobs.’
She was pretty sure they heard most of what she said.
Ryan Munroe looked up at the ceiling and the dull gleam of the unlit glitter ball that had been hanging from the rafters since he was sixteen and Edie just a kid. The glitter ball was only lit for parties or weddings, and Ted Tillman, committee chairman in control of venue hire, charged double the electricity cost if people wanted it lit and twirling.
He glanced around the town hall when people began squabbling over what sort of play they wanted Edie to produce.
He’d never felt more like an outsider.
Leaving the army a couple of months ago had been the biggest modification to his life in his thirty-five years, but he’d known he had to get out before he turned into all the other long-term guys and lost the opportunity for a ‘rest of his life’. He missed those guys. Not that he was unnerved by what the future held—he had a plan, something close to his heart—he just wished the future would hurry up and get here so he could get on with it.
One of his plans had been Edie, but he should have known a relationship wouldn’t work out. Chance had obviously taken a walk through his system.
There was a lot in his life that was up to chance at the moment, yet he’d got himself tangled in one too many problems around town. Edie being the biggest. Unbelievable, since he was used to being the guy issuing orders. He’d been Section Commander for his last four deployments in Afghanistan but here he was taking directions from Glamour-puss-Granger in little old Swallow’s Fall.
Edie was always talking about goals and achieving them, or at least going for them. Ryan had thought one of his goals might be Edie, which is why he’d turned up, seemingly out of the blue, a week after his sister told him Edie was back. But after their calamitous kiss three years ago, which resulted in him having concussion and Edie getting all temperamental about what she called his ‘attitude’, there was unlikely to be another one, given their inability to understand each other.
Why she wanted to open the Little Theatre here, he had no idea. She wouldn’t stick around to keep it going. She’d be off as soon as Viv got better. Back to her theatre mates and after-show parties.
He eyed the committee.
Swallow’s Fall: middle of practically nowhere in the New South Wales Snowy Mountains, population 182. That number still included Ryan who’d moved out two decades ago when his mother left town after his father divorced her. It also included Edie, who’d moved away when she went to drama school and had only come back on the odd fleeting visit. Maybe she felt like an outsider too. But what would he know about what was going on in that head of hers?
He’d agreed to build her stage but hadn’t expected her to move into Jindalee House with him. She arrived with big smiles, her suitcases, all her female paraphernalia and feminine powers, and given his heart a fright. He’d moved into the barn straight away.
The thought of catching a glimpse of her in her dressing gown or tripping out of the bathroom with only a towel wrapped around her disturbed his equilibrium. He liked holding on to his control, and Edie had a way of unbalancing him.
He’d thought it best if he moved on and let someone else build her stage since there was no chance of them getting together romantically, then Ethan Granger took him to one side and told him he thought Edie might be in some sort of trouble and that’s why she’d come home.
Ethan said he knew his daughter and she was covering up something. He had a feeling it might be a man bothering her but he’d only told Ryan—Sammy didn’t know about Ethan’s worry. The thought of a man bothering Edie had all but put Ryan into combat mode. He’d assured Ethan he’d watch out for her and try to figure out what was going on, which had effectively stopped him from leaving.
Ethan was the town’s patriarch and Ryan had a lot of respect for him. So if Ethan thought Edie might be in trouble, Ryan wasn’t going to ignore it. Nothing usually rattled Ethan, and Ryan liked a man who lived life as it happened, without overreacting to adverse conditions. Like Ryan was trying to do with the adverse condition of being attracted to Edie more than he damn well wanted to be.
He had a few mates around town though. He got on well with his sister Gemma’s husband, Josh Rutherford. He also had Nick Barton as a friend. Nick was an ex-navy diver, so they talked forces stuff.
But otherwise, that was it. Unless he counted Ted. More bluff than bite, Ted had been widowed a number of years back and hadn’t really got over it, so Ryan shrugged along with the friendship Ted obviously wanted from him.
He pushed to stand when Edie finished her speech, and grabbed the back of his chair and the empty one next to him. He’d stack the chairs, smile at the committee as they were ushered into the cool September night, help Ted lock up then drive Glam-puss home.
He walked across the room as soon as he’d finished with the chairs. Ted was herding everyone to the doors, making noises about electricity usage nobody was paying for.
Edie was gathering her paperwork and stuffing it into her messenger bag.
‘So how do you think it went?’ he asked.
He didn’t flinch when she tossed her head back. Much as he was loath to acknowledge it, he was bewitched when she did the hair-fling thing. She reminded him of an old movie actress in some black-and-white film he’d watched with her one time. Rita somebody. Sitting at her dressing table. Camera zooms in just as she’s throwing back a head of long, glossy hair. Edie Granger—total pain in his heart and Rita Somebody lookalike.
He stuffed his hands into his jeans pockets. ‘Don’t be deterred, Dazzlepants. You didn’t do too badly. Although I thought at the end there, you didn’t quite have their full attention.’
‘Thanks for noticing,’ she said dryly.
‘You’re welcome.’ He liked seeing her tawny eyes spark and her refined attitude come to the fore. He’d always thought her refined. Even when she was jumping in puddles as a ten-year-old she had something graceful about her. Or maybe it was the pure joy she’d shown the world.
‘But more importantly,’ he said in a serious tone, ‘what’s for dinner and who’s cooking?’
She gave him a dazzling, totally theatrical smile. ‘How about you cook and I tell you all about Who Shot the Producer?’
He stepped back, biting into his own smile. ‘That’s just what I was hoping for,’ he said, and waited for her to do the hair-fling thing.
We hope you enjoyed this sample of The House On Jindalee Lane by Jennie Jones.
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