Australia is a land of mystery to us here in the States—cool in June and hot in January, filled with things that bite and sting, and jaunty accents we couldn’t imitate if our life depended on it. But there’s one thing that crosses borders seamlessly with no need for translation: romance.
Check out an excerpt of one of our very favorite imports—Jessie L. Star’s fabulous stories featuring Aussie boys. This is a selection from The Do-Gooder.
Chapter 1 – Rules
‘Stop fidgeting, girls prefer men who don’t look like they have a bladder infection.’
I slicked yet another coat of vibrant red gloss across my lips, grimacing as the chemicals made my mouth feel dry. I hopped off the counter I was sharing with the sink and landed in front of the nervous redhead pressed into the small bathroom with me. He was now holding himself so still he looked like he’d crack from the strain. Rolling my eyes, I grabbed him by the collar and dragged him down to plant a huge, sticky kiss on the corner of his mouth. Leaning back to admire my work, I was pleased to see the distinct outline of my lips on his face
I ruffled his hair and then bunched my fists into his shirt, tugging and pulling until it was rumpled and creased, then I took him by the shoulders and turned him to face the mirror.
‘I call this look “recent debauchery”,’ I announced. ‘And it’s always in season.’
‘I don’t know, Lara.’ Gavin started shifting around again as he eyed his newly dishevelled reflection. ‘It’s just not really me.’
‘Exactly the point.’ I smeared the edge of the lipstick mark on his cheek. Seeing that he still wasn’t convinced, I sighed and turned him back around to face me. ‘Look, Gav, you know the saying “Fake it till you make it”? Well, this is your “fake”. You said that you spend all your time at parties convinced that people are looking at you and thinking, “What a loser.” Well, now you have a chance to take that neuroticism and use it to your advantage.’
I considered his crotch for a moment and then reached down and undid his fly just a bit. Sticking my hand near his privates did at least get him to stop jiggling about again, although the look of abject terror on his face didn’t exactly fit the cocky image I’d created for him.
‘You need to get it into your head that people are looking at you and thinking, “Goddamn, that guy just got dragged into the toilet by some random girl who proceeded to have raunchy sex with him. Seriously, his dick must be enormous.” Maybe they’ll think you’re kind of gross and slutty, maybe they’ll think you’re some massive player – whatever. “Loser” won’t come into it.’
He cut a quick look back across at the mirror, straightened out his shoulders and gave a little nod. ‘Raunchy sex, enormous dick,’ he repeated. ‘Okay.’
‘There you go.’ I clapped him on the back. ‘You’ll do fine.’
For the first time since he’d sidled up to me at the cafeteria and stammered out a request for one of my good deeds, Gav met my gaze squarely. ‘Thanks, Lara. For all your help . . . I wouldn’t have . . . Just seriously, thank you.’
I closed my eyes for a split second and felt the buzz of valida- tion tingle all the way down to my toes.
‘Get out there.’ Riding high on my hit, the instruction came out alarmingly soppy, so I made a conscious effort to harden my tone as I added, ‘If I hear this was a waste of my night, you’re in trouble.’
I gave him a little shove and he obediently started toward the door before stopping and fishing his wallet out of his pocket.
‘For the goodwill pot,’ he said, passing over twenty dollars, which I tucked inside my bra. I’d kissed a boy and received money in return – my mother would be so proud.
‘Thank you, now rack off.’
And finally he did, walking out of the bathroom with as much nonchalance as an incredibly nervous guy faking a post party– hookup attitude can muster. He wasn’t going to win Australia’s Hottest Bachelor of the Year any time soon, but he’d do.
I shut the door quickly behind him, not wanting anyone to catch sight of me. Not that I’d be embarrassed by anyone thinking I’d been Gav’s random skank. Frankly, in the eyes of some, random skank would’ve been a definite step up for me. It was perhaps a little egotistical to say that every person out there knew of me, either as a boyfriend-stealing slut, or as Bay Uni’s official do-gooder, but a number of them did. I didn’t particularly resent my dichotomous reputations – they were both true – but they did mean I usually ended up skulking around in the background. Or, in this case, escaping out the bathroom window in a dress way too short for such an activity.
Still, needs must, so with my heels dangling from my fingers and an elbow propping up the window, I managed to wriggle forward until I was straddling the wooden ledge. My tight jersey dress rode up my hips, but it appeared that the coast was clear and the drop absolutely manageable. I swung myself round until I was dangling from my fingers and then let go, landing with a solid thump on the hard pavement.
As I straightened, a glow in the darkness caught my eye. A guy was standing to one side of the window I’d just jumped out of, cigarette paused on the way to his mouth, his eyes wide.
Calmly pushing my dress down and slipping on my shoes, I met his stare coolly.
‘Smoking’ll kill you,’ I said, blowing him a quick kiss and marching off into the night.
Stares warmed the back of my neck, but I was used to it. The attention I was getting meant that anyone who needed to findme would only have to follow the glares, but also, it made the time I spent coordinating my outfit incredibly worthwhile. With my laptop before me, I was content sitting as a centrepiece in the food hall, typing away at an email.
I felt a presence at my elbow and glanced up. Skater dress– wearing, dimple-bearing Merry Hawthorn, my most persistent hanger-on, was grinning down at me, her solid hunk of a boyfriend scowling beside her. He was Fletcher’s best mate, so his frosty attitude was to be expected.
‘Hey Daz,’ I purred, rewarding his bad attitude by leaning forward ever so slightly and cocking my head in a way I knew would make his gaze follow the long line of my neck down to my cleavage. There is absolutely nothing more entertaining than making guys who don’t like you accidentally check you out. Sure enough, his eyes slid down and then snapped back up, and his glower deepened.
‘Oh, stop it, the pair of you.’ Merry threw herself into the seat opposite me and flapped her hand at Daz dismissively. ‘Bugger off, sweetie. I’ll catch up with you later.’
Daz made it clear that he wasn’t particularly happy about being waved away, but after one last filthy look at me, he obediently trundled off to a large table near the window, where Fletch was sitting with another of their mates. I’d been purposefully avoiding looking in that direction for the past half-hour.
‘Let me guess, you’re writing to the Spanish government to request that the running of the bulls goes through our campus this year because some guy thought it’d be dope.’
‘No,’ I said. ‘I’m emailing the CEO of some obscure Hungarian soft drink company to see if he’ll ship me a bottle.’
‘Because some guy thought it’d be dope?’
No, because a girl had asked if it was possible to get some for her dad’s sixtieth birthday, as he’d loved the stuff as a kid growing up in Hungary. I told Merry more than most about my ‘good deeds’, but this one wasn’t something she needed to know about, so I shrugged. ‘Yeah, sure.’
‘So, I did a recon mission for you last night,’ Merry commented as she dug into her lunch. Picking up the plastic fork that had come with my own food, I stirred my salad around a bit and waited for her to expand.
‘So, that Gavin guy, he went into the bathroom with you all hunched and pathetic and then you pulled your fairy godmother stunt and he got swagger.’ Merry was managing to grin, eat, wave at someone across the room and not get to the point all at the same time.
I’d been suspicious when this Shirley Temple in adult form had first ambushed me in our first year and suggested helping me out, but had been thoroughly rewarded for going against my instinct when she took it upon herself to review the outcomes of my completed deeds. She’d been one of the first people to respond to my flyers advertising my offer to help people out and had, appar- ently, been so fascinated by the process that she’d found a way to make herself if not intrinsic to the process then at least a worth- while addition. She was a one-woman walking social network, best friend and confidante of the masses, and, as word spread and I took on more and more deeds, was easily able to follow up with people when I just didn’t have time. The sense of satisfaction from a deed gone well was not as pure when passed on by Merry, but was better than nothing. So I kept her up to date with the deeds that I couldn’t follow-up, while ensuring that the more sensitive cases were kept from her prying.
I toyed with my wilted lettuce and idly tapped away at my laptop. It was silly, really – Merry knew what I got from her debriefs, and the lack of interest was just a front – but then, I also knew that Merry’s desire to gossip would always trump her desire to watch me squirm, and today was no exception.
‘Seriously, La-La, he bloody rocked it!’ she exclaimed, her blonde curls bouncing. ‘I mean, he didn’t do anything particu- larly, you know – that would’ve been too weird for him. He just sort of leaned against the wall and looked all cool and stuff and it totally worked. Everyone was asking who he was, what had happened, and who he’d been with – it was like being in high school again.’
Only Merry would reference high school scandals with such genuine fondness.
‘And, oh my god, I haven’t even told you my favourite bit yet!’ She slapped my laptop shut just as I sent off the email.
‘Yes, all right, your favourite bit?’ I prompted as her pause for dramatic effect became unbearable.
‘People were asking him what had happened, and he wiped the lip gloss away when someone pointed it out, but he didn’t say anything!’
I waited to see if there was going to be more, but Merry just looked at me expectantly.
‘So he did okay, then?’ I felt another little buzz, a smaller one than last night, but still worthwhile.
‘He did great.’ Merry shoved a large forkful of pasta salad into her mouth and then spoke through her food. ‘Hey, why don’t you switch to that full time? You know, sexy makeovers for the socially awkward?’
I wiped a fleck of Merry’s lunch off my shoulder and grimaced. ‘If you want to start creating gossip fodder, that’s your business, but leave me out of it.’
‘Your loss.’ Merry scraped up the last of her meal, something behind me catching her eye. ‘Oh, look out, looks like you’ve got another customer.’
I turned to see a mousy girl hovering by my shoulder. I nodded to let her know I’d be right with her and then looked back at Merry, who was packing up her stuff.
‘Right, well, let me know when you want to pretend you don’t need me again, you big, bad bitch of good you.’ She smirked to show she wasn’t fooled for a second, reached over to give my ponytail a cheeky tug, and then was gone.
I flattened my lips to hide my smile, but the problem with Merry was that she could sense good humour a mile off and knew I didn’t find her as irritating as I tried to make out. Turning my attention to the other girl, I waved her forward.
‘Are you Lara?’ the newcomer asked breathlessly. ‘The girl who does nice things?’
‘Good things,’ I corrected her, pulling Big Blue out of my bag.
Big Blue was the massive binder that held my life. It was tattered and scarred and the most important thing to me. There was a page-a-day calendar at the front that was lightly peppered with class schedules and the few social commitments I wasn’t able to get out of, and packed with good-deed engagements. Each deed I was currently managing had a page or two set aside in the section that came after the calendar.
‘And you are . . . ?’ ‘Livvy.’
I scribbled her name down on a fresh page in Big Blue. ‘Okay, Livvy. What can I do for you?’
Livvy blinked blue china-doll eyes at me and sat back in her chair. ‘It’s as simple as that?’
I pushed my sad salad to one side and gave her a firm look. I hated the explanation stuff, but it was a necessary evil. ‘Right, rules are, one good deed per person, so pick carefully. Also, if I do it or not is completely at my discretion. Other than that, you tell me what good deed you’d like done and I try and find a way to make it happen. I don’t charge, but some people like to contribute a bit of money toward the goodwill pot that I use if I need to for another person’s deed.’ I tapped my pen against Big Blue. ‘Any questions?’
For a moment it looked like Livvy, with her puff of light brown hair, was going to shake her head, but then she blurted, ‘Why do you do it?’
That surprised a bleak little laugh out of me. ‘You must be new.’ When she looked confused, I waved a hand dismissively, unwill- ing to get into the specifics of Salida’s accusation three years ago and the various ways I’d tried to make it untrue. ‘Let’s just say I’m atoning for past sins. So, what do you want?’
My question provoked a furious red blush to flame unattrac- tively up her pale neck and over her cheeks. Well, that could only bode well.
‘I have a boyfriend,’ she started before stopping and beginning to pick at the skin around her nails.
‘Good for you.’ I looked at my watch then back at the – I assumed – first year before me. ‘And?’
‘And I went to an all girls’ school.’ ‘A fun mix. So, are you pregnant?’
‘What? No! We haven’t . . . I haven’t . . . I’m a virgin.’ She lowered her voice and looked around anxiously. Seeing that, as always, people were looking, she slid down lower in her seat as she said, ‘I don’t even know what, you know, a guy’s thing looks like.’
‘Penis?’ When she nodded, I shrugged. ‘Nasty-looking little buggers, but they get the job done. If you’re just after a visual, the internet’s great for that. Or, you know, you could just get your boy to drop his dacks and let you have a look.’
‘No! We’re not at that stage yet, and I don’t want to get freaked out by stuff on the web.’
I could see her point on the latter score, but felt a burning little twist in my stomach at how differently she was viewing the whole thing compared to how I had at her age. In my first year of uni, I’d had sex with just about any bloke I could lay my hands on. I was pathetically striving to give my reputation some credence and shake the feel of Fletch off at the same time, I suppose, although I’d tried not to give the whys of it much thought. It’d been doomed to failure anyway, as the hassle of obtaining a new guy each time became more trouble than it was worth. Considering the decided lack of action I’d had since, I reckoned I was close to qualifying for a spot at a nunnery.
I suppose some of my surprise showed on my face, as Livvy continued, ‘All I got at school was a quick look at a plastic model of a womb, and I know there’s more to it than that.’
A sudden vision of Fletch, the muscles on his chest contort- ing, his fingers tightening on my hips, flashed through my brain, and I had to lick my suddenly dry lips before I could respond. ‘Oh yeah, there’s definitely more.’
‘I really like my boyfriend, and I know we’re heading in that direction. I just . . . I don’t like to go into things unprepared. I know it’s weird to ask a stranger about it, but people were talking, and they said that you helped people out and that—’ The table suddenly became fascinating to her.
I understood. Word of mouth was a well-recognised form of advertising, and one that my good-deed services made signifi- cant use of, but you could never control what words were leaving whose mouths.
‘And that I would know plenty about the male form?’ I suggested. ‘A spade’s a spade, a slut’s a slut. It’s all right, Livvy, you can name it.’ ‘I don’t like that word. I wouldn’t call anyone that.’ Her voice was still quiet, so it took me a moment to process what she’d said.
When I did, I felt the hair rise along my arms.
‘Fair enough.’ I briskly waved aside the feeling of being chas- tised and focused on Big Blue. ‘So, sex education for Livvy.’ I wrote it down and then reached into my bag to throw my mobile across at her. ‘Name and number in there, please.’ I scratched out a few preliminary ideas, time-lining a rough lesson plan and plotting out my approach. ‘What’re you studying?’
Of course. She had ‘able to quote Pride and Prejudice cover to cover’ written all over her.
‘Right, here’s what I want you to do: shelve the Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre sexually repressed longing rubbish. Your home- work is to get yourself a feminist-raving, man-bashing, “Here’s my vagina, hear it roar” eye-smarter of a book.’ When she looked a little alarmed, I said, ‘My deed, my way.’
I slammed Big Blue shut and stood, slinging my bag over my shoulder with one hand and snatching my binder up with the other. ‘I’m off. I’ll text you the wheres and whens soon.’
Livvy seemed a bit shell-shocked at my sudden departure, but managed a feeble wave as I sailed past her and a quiet, ‘Oh, okay, thanks.’
It wasn’t that I was late for my next lecture, far from it, but I’d found over the years that leaving early and therefore arriving at my next destination early was an excellent time-management strategy. The five or so minutes I scored to myself before the start of a lecture was invaluable planning time, given I was usually handling more than twenty deeds at a time.
I enjoyed the sharp click of my high-heeled boots on the pavement as I stalked across the wintry campus; to me it was the sound of confidence. I couldn’t understand the girls who slumped around with nothing but the soft thump of sensible shoes or, even worse, the flip-flopping of thongs. I couldn’t wait to finish up my degree in public relations and head out into a world that understood the power of the pump.
As if cruel fate had been listening to my thoughts, my enjoy- ment was interrupted before I’d gone too far by the very slapping, scraping sound that I so despised. It was Fletcher Townsend – shoulders as broad, teeth a white, and feet as inappropriately clad in thongs as ever.
Seriously, just once I’d like to find him unattractive. I’m sure there were some people who found the little scar that punched a dent by his left eye a detraction, or thought that his hazel eyes were too nondescript, or his dark hair cropped too short. But not me – oh no, I found every last molecule of him funda- mentally appealing, just as I had since I’d first met him at fourteen.
‘Gavin Wyley, right?’ he asked, forgoing any niceties.
His voice made my toes curl in my boots and my grip tighten on Big Blue, but those were the only reactions I allowed myself.
‘No,’ I replied crisply. ‘Lara Montgomery. Honestly, Fletch, how insulting that you’d forgotten.’
‘You set Gav up last night.’ His expression was neutral, but I heard the disapproval lacing his words.
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
‘A guy with absolutely zero sex appeal hooks up at Sloane’s party and you have nothing to do with it? Come on, Lara, nobody at this place suddenly makes a fool out of themselves without you having something to do with it.’
My grip on Big Blue became even tighter, although this time it had more to do with how much I wanted to crunch my heavy binder into his face. Why did he always feel the need to do this? To track me down and tell me that he’d seen a deed of mine and didn’t approve? I didn’t know what he got out of these little tête-à- têtes, considering I invariably won them.
‘You saw Gav at the party, then?’ I asked. ‘Hard to miss him.’
‘So he was noticeable?’ ‘Like I said.’
‘Then it sounds like a guy with concerns about fading into the background had a good night.’ I sent him a triumphant look. He was unimpressed, however, rolling his painfully familiar eyes as he leaned back to hold the Commerce building door open for me.
He waited until I was forced to press in close against him to get past before he replied, ‘Maybe that’s what it sounds like, but trust me, it looked like yet another poor sucker was making an idiot of himself in your messed-up quest for redemption.’
I pulled away sharply. It was stupid still feeling betrayed by the things Fletch said, but even after years of hearing the same stuff, I did.
‘So pleasant, these conversations we have, Fletch,’ I said. ‘I’m so glad you take time out of your no doubt busy schedule to come and have a go at me to my face.’
‘I’m not “having a go”,’ he said quietly.
‘Yeah, you are,’ I said, making to march off, but he wrapped a hand gently around my arm, holding me in place. I knew he wanted me to look at him, but I refused.
‘When’s it going to stop, Lara? When are you going to let it go? Donny—’
My heart started to pound. I wrenched my arm from his grasp. ‘What is wrong with you?’
He’d crossed a line, and he knew it. ‘This is your last semester, babe. Your last thirteen weeks surrounded by anyone who gives any sort of a damn about what we did in high school. Leave it here, yeah?’
He walked away, leaving me, as always, wondering why he was the only one who saw something so bad in me trying to do good.
Fletcher fumed. Here he was again, on the wrong bloody side of campus, his hand buzzing from its brief contact with Lara’s arm, his head cloudy from her perfume, and, as always, he’d come out of it the bad guy. His life was nothing if not predictable.
‘Well, that went well.’ Merry separated herself from a chatter- ing group of her friends and came up alongside him. Her eyebrows were raised – she’d clearly seen the whole thing with Lara. ‘Have you ever considered just not getting up into Lara’s face every chance you get?’
‘What’s it to you?’ He shook his head, both at her hypocrisy and how much she sounded like Lara. He’d known Merry since their first semester, when his best mate had taken one look at her and pretty much handed his heart and soul over with no ques- tions asked. Fletch got along all right with her, but boundaries really weren’t her thing.
Luckily, though, neither was taking offence, and she remained her usual upbeat self as she replied, ‘Lara’s my friend.’
‘Does she know that?’
‘Course she does.’ Her lips twitched and she added, ‘Deep down.’
They shared a quick smirk, and he’d just started to feel his guard lower when she went on, ‘You can’t, though, can you? Leave her alone, I mean.’
The sharp June wind blew Merry’s curls across her earnest face and he sighed. ‘Can you?’
‘Nope,’ she said without a hint of embarrassment. ‘I don’t want to. I like her, she makes me laugh, and she’s more interesting than the rest of this campus put together.’
‘And the way she speaks to Daz doesn’t bother you?’
‘Daz is a big boy – he can take care of himself,’ Merry said dismissively before they started up the incline toward Marine Sciences. ‘Can you slow down a bit?’
Reluctantly, he did as she asked so her shorter legs could keep up.
‘I don’t see what your problem is. Lara works hard. She gives me glimpses into what she’s got written in Big Blue so I can follow up on some of her deeds for her, and it’s crazy how much time and effort she’s putting into other people.’
Fletch had no idea how someone who claimed to be Lara’s friend didn’t see that that was the problem, but he was hardly going to get into it with her right then and there.
‘Big Blue?’ he asked instead. ‘Don’t tell me she’s named that folder she’s always carrying around?’
She snuck him a quick guilty look and nodded. ‘But don’t tell her I told you.’
‘Not much risk of that,’ he said flatly. ‘You saw how our conver- sations usually go down.’
‘And yet you keep insisting on having them,’ she said. ‘Oh, there’s Dermott, I need to talk to him about something from last week.’
She didn’t say it explicitly, but he knew she meant about a deed.
She said a cheerful goodbye and he watched her go, ignoring the tiny part of him that wanted to call her back and actually explain what she’d seen between him and Lara. Because it hadn’t been what she’d thought – what Lara had thought – it was. He was on her side . . . the side she refused to admit she had.
Well, whatever. He’d tried again; she’d thrown it back in his face again. Job done.
Gavin Wyley, though. An image of the sticky lip print on his cheek and his mussed clothing was lodged in Fletch’s mind and there was no getting it out. He knew it’d been fake, but that didn’t stop it being Lara’s lips that had been on Gav, lips that had been firmly off-limits to Fletch for three years.
Damn. Three years since he’d buried his fingers in the heavy softness of her hair, pushed into her at that party and broken all the rules.
Three years since he’d cheated on his girlfriend and screwed his mate’s sister.
Three years since he’d fallen completely and irrevocably in lust with a girl he’d known was just using him to forget.