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As he listened to the second phone call from his mother, Greg Jenkins noted the increased tremor in her voice.

“Samantha still hasn’t arrived. And she’s still not answering her phone. I’m so worried. Should I call the hospitals? What—”

“Whoa. Slow down, Mum. Don’t stress out. Remember what the doctor said. Don’t worry about Sam. We all know how bad she is with time. She’d be late for her own funeral.” Greg laughed, hoping to ease his mother’s tension.

“Yes, but—”

“Please, Mum, I’m sure you’re worrying unnecessarily. Sam has—”

“Gregory, dear, I wish you wouldn’t call her that. Sam’s a boy’s name.”

“Okay, Mum.” He started again, using the name Sam herself loathed. “Samantha’s a big girl now. I’m sure she’s all right, but just to put your mind at rest I’ll go and check on her. She’s probably so wrapped up in her new man she’s forgotten she was supposed to visit you this weekend.” He laughed again.

“What new man?” The pitch of her voice rose.

Greg could almost see her gripping the phone in both hands as she waited for her eldest child to answer. Silently berating himself for opening his big mouth, he wrestled with what he could say without digging himself into a bigger hole.


“Sorry, Mum, there’s someone at the door. I’ll have to go, but I promise I’ll get Sam… Samantha to phone you as soon as I can. Now don’t get all worked up. There’s nothing to worry about, you’ll see. Bye, Mum.”

He hung up, sucked in a deep breath and slowly released it. There was no one at the door but at short notice, it was the only thing he could think of to get out of what would’ve been the inevitable interrogation. His sister needed her butt kicked for letting down their mother like that. Sam, of all people, knew how over-protective their mother was, more so since Sam divorced her no-hoper of a husband and moved to Melbourne.

Greg picked up the phone again, and pressed the two buttons that would dial his sister’s home phone a suburb away. As he waited for the call to connect, he wandered through the house into the kitchen. The phone started ringing. Cradling it between his chin and shoulder, he filled the kettle. The phone rang out, which was good. It probably meant Sam was en route to their mother’s place. Maybe she’d been unlucky enough to end up with a flat tyre or broken down. It was bound to be something as simple as that.

The kettle boiled as he tried Sam’s mobile number. It too went unanswered, but at least this time Greg was able to leave a message. He looked at his watch. He’d give her half an hour and if she hadn’t called him back by then, he would have to think of what else he could do to try to track her down. Younger sisters, who’d have them?

Twenty minutes later, he’d emptied the coffee pot and finished off the best part of a packet of shortbread biscuits without realising it. His mother’s anxiety had started to rub off on him. He didn’t wait the half hour out. Instead, he reached for the phone and dialled Sam’s mobile first and then her home again, ending up with exactly the same results as before. No answer at either.

Had it been a Freudian slip when he’d inadvertently mentioned the new man in Sam’s life to his mother? Greg knew nothing about the guy except he was, in Sam’s words, “tall, dark, and drop-dead gorgeous.” He didn’t even know the guy’s name. What he did know was that Sam had met him through one of those agencies that specialised in dinner dating. Dinners for the desperate and dateless. He found the whole concept repugnant, but his sister had assured him that all was civilised and above board. He’d taken those assurances at face value, happy she was making an effort to get on with her life.


Megan Brighton peered around the edge of her menu, flinching as her eyes met the ginger-moustached man’s stare across the table. What a sad lot her dinner companions were. Even the strained smiles pasted on the majority of faces at the table did little to lighten the atmosphere.

“So what’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?” asked the man seated on her right, before laughing.

She groaned inwardly. Why’d she allowed herself to be talked into this? She didn’t belong there. She was single because she chose to be. A single, professional career woman. Well, at least that’s what she told anyone who cared to listen, including herself.

“I’m not sure,” she said, her gaze not shifting from her menu. “It’s not quite what I’d imagined.” If it hadn’t been for Brenda, Megan knew she would have scarpered as soon as she caught sight of the ten or so white-tableclothed tables arranged around the room, each set for a dozen diners. From the company’s blurb, she’d been expecting to be one of “twelve carefully matched diners” eating at your standard everyday restaurant with normal people. Where she’d ended up looked more like a function centre, reminiscent of a wedding reception. The only difference was a lack of bride and groom, and the guests weren’t related by blood or marriage. Or at least she hoped not.

A beefy hand cut through her vision. “It’s Wayne, by the way. Wayne McGurk.”

She blinked and forced a smile. “Nice to meet you, Wayne. Megan Brighton.”

“So what do you do?”

“Recruitment consultant. And you?”

Wayne puffed out his chest. “Property entrepreneur. Units, villas, townhouses, duplexes, houses, vacant land, commercial, residential. You name it. Not good to have all your eggs in one basket. The key is to buy well under market price to minimise risk. Instant equity…”

Megan’s gaze swept the table. Next to Mr Ginger Moustache, whose place tag actually named him as Robert, sat Nick, a square-jawed man with dark-rimmed spectacles. Thanks to Brenda switching place tags, Nick had to be content sitting between two males. He was looking off into the distance, his thoughts obviously further afield than the immediate table. Adam, a hollow-cheeked pasty-faced man sporting a dark goatee beard was deep in conversation with Kate who was seated at the end. The boy-girl pattern continued as it was meant to around the table.

“…investment. You have to have the gift.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Megan caught Brenda smirking. Under the cover of the tablecloth, she kicked her foot sideways and connected with her friend’s ankle. Brenda chuckled before wincing in overplayed mock pain and indignation.

A giggle bubbled in Megan’s throat. She swallowed hard. The guy with the spectacles was looking her way, a smile playing on his lips. Heat flooded her face. What the hell was she doing there?

Shielded by her menu, Megan leaned to her left and elbowed Brenda in the ribs. Her so-called best friend had cajoled her into signing up with Dinner for Twelve with the ruse that she needed her support. Had Megan believed her? Of course not. Brenda was the last person who needed any help finding a date. Men literally fell over each other in their efforts to impress her. Discounting the permanent mischievous glint in her eyes, Brenda had the face of an angel and the type of body those tiny midriff tops and low-rise jeans were specifically designed for.

More importantly, she exuded a warmth that men and women alike were drawn to. They’d been friends since high school and Megan, like others, found her hard to resist. So, here she was in a room full of strangers trying to put together an escape strategy that wouldn’t offend her well-intentioned friend.

Oblivious to the elbow jabbed in her ribs, Brenda turned to Megan and grinned. Brenda actually looked like she was enjoying herself. No accounting for some tastes. “Hunk alert at nine o’clock.”


Brenda cupped her hand around the left side of her face. “Over there,” she said, holding a finger close to her cheek, but still managing to indicate the general direction of the door.

Twisting in her seat, Megan watched the man ambling across the room towards the table. At first glance, he reminded her of a younger and darker-haired version of David Bowie. But as he neared the table, she saw he didn’t possess the relaxed raffish air of the singer. Quite the opposite. He looked nervous and unsure of himself, like a five-year-old boy on his first day at school.

He reached the table and, smiling half-heartedly, moved to step around it to one of the two vacant chairs at the back. Megan glanced at the place tag. Lawson. The name appealed to her, but she would’ve expected it to be attached to a man who carried himself with more confidence, arrogance even.

In her peripheral vision, she glimpsed Brenda stretching an arm across the table in the act of swapping her place tag with the one at the still vacant chair, the one next to Lawson.

Fatal Liaison Sample