As Deep as the Ocean (Blue Penguin Bay Book 1)

By: Serenity Woods

When Mac asks Fred to marry him, he tells her it’s strictly business, just a way to access her father’s inheritance so they can save the vineyard. But what will happen when they fall in love?





Chapter One


They were late.

It didn’t help Mac’s mood. At two o’clock, he’d been prepared. He’d practiced his speech a hundred times, asked and answered dozens of questions in his head, and promised himself that if he was honest and open, everything would be okay.

By four o’clock, when the car finally appeared at the end of the long drive, his stomach was a bag of bees, and he’d convinced himself they were going to throw him out on his ear.

He stood by the fence surrounding the complex of buildings at the head of the vineyard, and jammed his hands into the pockets of his jeans as he waited for the car to arrive. His German Shepherd dog, Scully, sat beside him. She’d been subdued all day, presumably picking up on his mood.

He glanced to his right. The vineyard sloped down toward Blue Penguin Bay—a small crescent of golden sand inaccessible by land, and visited only by the occasional boat and the birds that gave the bay its name. The Pacific Ocean beyond sparkled in the afternoon sunshine. Boats headed out from the town of Russell farther up the coast, some ferrying foot passengers over to Paihia, others taking tourists to the Hole in the Rock or to watch the dolphins that would be playing in the deep water.

It was an idyllic scene, but it felt all wrong. There should have been a storm, with thunder rolling around the hills, and the sky gray with rain. Something should have been happening to mark the end of his world, but even though his emotions raged inside him, the sun continued to shine, warming the grapes in the vineyard and turning the terracotta roofs of the stone buildings behind him to a deep, earthy red.

The car—a taxi, he could see now—wound along the drive and pulled up in front of him. Scully stood, and he put a hand on her collar. Not everyone liked dogs, and some people found Scully’s size intimidating. They didn’t know that if you unzipped her fur coat, there was a teddy bear inside.

He saw movement in the car, watched the person sitting in the front passenger seat pay the driver, and then three doors of the taxi opened.

He’d been in contact via email with a guy called Fred, but three women got out of the car. Damn it, he’d assumed these were the Cartwrights, but presumably they were late visitors to the Cellar Door. He’d have to turn them away—he didn’t want visitors here when the Cartwrights arrived.

To his surprise, though, two of the women began retrieving a set of cases from the car, while the third crossed the gravel toward him. Were they all sisters? Two of them bore the same color hair, blonde that shone with a reddish sheen like copper in the sunlight—strawberry blonde, wasn’t it called?

The third woman stopped before him, and they appraised each other silently for a moment. She ran her gaze down him, as if sizing him up, so he took the opportunity to do the same. Above average height, five-nine, maybe, or even five-ten considering she wore Converses. Slim without being slender, curves in the right places, long legs. Her hair—darker than her sisters and a pretty chestnut color—was twisted up with a clip, untidily, with little care, lots of long strands blowing around her temples and neck. She wore dark-blue jeans and a stone-colored tee. No jewelry he could see, no earrings or necklace, no rings on her fingers. His gaze returned to her face, and he looked into a pair of shrewd hazel eyes. Fine lines touched the outside—no blushing eighteen-year-old here—he’d put her at late twenties, maybe a year or two younger than he was.

“Mac?” She raised her eyebrows.

He gave a short nod.

“Sorry to be so informal,” she continued, “but you didn’t put your full name on any of your emails.” Her tone was vaguely accusatory. “I’m Winifred Cartwright.” She held out a hand. She had an English accent, not quite Cockney, but definitely south-eastern.

Winifred. “Fred?” he queried.

“Yes.”

He grasped her hand and shook it, his head spinning. The guy he’d been dealing with was a girl? He’d made all kinds of assumptions from those emails—had pictured Fred Cartwright as an acerbic Englishman, a fast-talking accountant or lawyer who’d confuse him with jargon and smart words. He felt a brief flash of indignation that she’d been purposely obtuse, then remembered that she was right—he hadn’t included his full name in their correspondence either. It hadn’t occurred to him.

“I’m sorry about the informality,” he said, “but we tend to be that way in New Zealand. I’m Eamon MacDonald.”

“As in e-i-e-i-o?” She didn’t smile.

“Er, yes. But everyone calls me Mac.”

“Even your mother?”

“Yep.” Her words were at odds with her tone, which was faintly hostile.

She held his gaze. Her eyes searched him like a flashlight, poking into all his dark corners, illuminating every single inch of his soul in a way he’d not felt for… years, maybe. Inside him, something stirred and stretched, like a hibernating bear sensing the arrival of spring.