“Where do you think you’ll go after you leave New Zealand? The States? Or Europe or Asia?” Mum asks Dylan moments after we’ve sat down to dinner.
“Europe, then Asia. It makes sense to travel through Asia later since it’s closer to home.”
Dylan is sitting opposite me and I can hear the enthusiasm in his voice. However, I can’t bring myself to look at him or make a comment for fear of sounding like a wet blanket.
Sure, travelling would be fun, but it simply doesn’t make sense to spend money on travel when it could be put into real estate instead. Real estate doesn’t just provide security, it’s an investment. Travelling is frivolous fun that will result in a lack of funds. If Dylan ever does come home, he’ll probably have burned through his savings and he’ll be starting again from scratch.
Not that his finances are any of my concern. He isn’t my boyfriend and he may not even come home.
The thought makes my already small appetite disappear completely.
“There’s some amazing countryside to be seen in the UK,” Mum says.
“I’ve heard that. I’ve also heard one shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to go to Italy.”
“You have to go to France,” Mum says. “Of course, my favourite place is Tahiti. It’s the most incredible place on earth.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
I push my vegetables around on my plate and try not to look as unhappy as I feel. It’s great that Dylan is pursuing his dream, but I can’t understand why he wants to leave so badly. Australia isn’t a bad place to live and there are so many wonderful sights to see right here in our homeland. Of course, Dylan has already travelled through most of Australia, so now he wants greener pastures and bigger adventures.
He’s not the kind of guy who wants to be contained. He’s too restless. Too adventurous. Which is why he’s the perfect man to spend time with during the timeout from my list.
“I’ve always told Claire that she should travel before she buys her first house,” Mum says. “Not that she’ll listen to me.”
“I have no desire to travel, Mum.”
“I know, I know. But if you don’t do it now, then it won’t happen until you retire.”
“Then I won’t travel until I’m sixty-five. It’s not on my list of priorities.”
“No, driving yourself into an early grave is the priority, instead.”
I let my fork fall to my plate, the loud clatter communicating my irritation with the current conversation. “You know, I’m not really that hungry.”
“I’m sorry,” Mum says. “I told myself before you got here that I wouldn’t say anything, but you know I worry.”
“I’m fine, Mum.”
No matter how different we are, I know my mother loves me. It’s why I’m here. Mum is worried I’m not eating enough. I agreed to come to dinner tonight to ease her concerns.
“Just what every mother wants to hear: that her daughter is ‘fine’.”
“Well, I am fine.”
“You know I’d be content just to hear that you’re happy.”
“I might have been a little down in the dumps lately, but I’m taking steps to remedy that.”
My cheeks heat as the admission slips past my lips. I keep my eyes on my plate so that I don’t look at Dylan. The last thing I want is for Mum to realise Dylan is part of my plan.
“You are?” she asks.
“Yes. So you can relax, okay?”
“As long as it doesn’t involve you working longer or harder, I’ll do my best.”
“This was excellent as usual, thank you, Diana,” Dylan says, carefully putting down his knife and fork on his plate.
Dinner is a much safer subject than the one we were just discussing, and I’m grateful for the change of topic.
“Did you have enough to eat?” Mum asks Dylan. “There’s more if you want it.”
“I’m good, thanks.”
“I hope you have enough room left for dessert. I made Claire’s favourite.”
“I always have room for dessert,” Dylan says smoothly.
Mum immediately stands and gestures for him to pass her his plate. “I’ll be right back.”
As soon as she leaves the room, I give in to the urge to look at the man who rocked my world last night. Without the buffer of my mother sitting with us, my palms begin to sweat again and my heart thumps as our eyes meet across the table.
“I’m thinking about following you home after this,” he says.
I’m all for that. “Okay.”
My voice is more than a little husky in response, and when his pupils dilate right in front of me, the coil of desire pulls tight in my belly. The way he looked at me when he drove us both to ecstasy last night is front and centre in my mind. Slick heat gathers between my thighs as I remember the feel of his body sliding into mine. The need to feel him again – to have him again – is almost enough to make me lunge across the table and start things right now.
“That sounds really good,” I tell him.
It’s as if I’ve dropped a bucket of ice over his head. His expression cools and there seems to be more distance between us than just the depth of the table.
“Claire, I think we need to talk.”
A sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach replaces the curl of desire that was there a moment ago.
“You’re not going to try and blow me off again, I hope?”
It was supposed to sound like a joke, but I sound as serious as I am. Dylan shifts in his chair as he plays with a scrunched-up serviette. Hurt slices through me, cutting me to the core. Dylan must have slept with more than a hundred women. For all I know, it could be two or three times that many. I really have no idea. What I do know is that I’ve never seen him wear the same regretful expression with them that he’s wearing now after sleeping with me.
Did I fail his stupid test last night? Did I disappoint him in bed? Or is this because he’s feeling disloyal to Austin and Mum? Maybe it’s a combination of all three.
“I don’t think we thought things through very well last night, Claire.”
After he rejected me last night at the bar, I told him I wasn’t going to give him the chance to make a fool of me a third time, and yet here I am, feeling more than a little foolish. I’m over it. Over the push-pull dynamic between us, as well as over the easy way he dismisses our desire for one another.
I push my plate away. “I’m done. And I’m not just referring to dinner.”
“We still need to talk about it.”
“Thanks, but I’m only really interested in one thing from you,” I say, smiling coldly as I push my chair back and stand. “And it’s not talking.”
His gaze hardens on mine, and I immediately regret my harsh words. I’ve never said anything as rude or as hurtful to anyone before, and Dylan probably doesn’t deserve it. Still, I can’t bring myself to take it back. I don’t want to hear his excuses for breaking our arrangement. Nor do I want to hear him apologise or express regret for sleeping with me. I dared to hope that he’d gotten over seeing me as Austin’s little sister last night. But I was wrong. And it hurts a hell of a lot more than it should.
“If that’s how you feel,” he says stiffly.
“Don’t worry about how I feel, Dylan. Just forget it,” I demand. “Just forget the whole damn thing.”
It’s the perfect exit line and there’s nothing I want more than to escape right now, but Mum walks back into the dining room holding a tray with three mugs of steaming hot coffee, as well as dessert; homemade apple and rhubarb pie.
“What did I miss?” she asks, her gaze flicking between Dylan and me.
“I’m not feeling so great,” I tell her. “I’m thinking I might head home.”
“You can’t leave yet. I made this pie especially for you.”
“I’m sorry, Mum. I’m really not hungry.”
“Then I’ll make you a cup of peppermint tea. That always makes you feel better.”
“Thanks, but I don’t need a cup of peppermint tea. I should go home and get some sleep. Stupidly, I had a very late night last night.”
I hope the real meaning behind my words isn’t lost on Dylan.
“I don’t want you driving home when you’re unwell. Come into the kitchen and talk to me while I make you something else to drink,” Mum insists, turning around before I can argue with her.
Knowing she’s about to grill me about the sudden tension between Dylan and me, I reluctantly follow my mother into the kitchen. I could have put up more of a fight, but right now, getting away from Dylan is a priority.
“What happened between you and Dylan a moment ago?” Mum asks as soon as I enter the kitchen.
“Nothing.” I sigh and cross my arms over my chest. “Dylan is just pulling his usual big brother act.”
It isn’t really that far from the truth. And after Dylan acted all regretful, I acted like an outright cow. And now I’m probably going to spend the next three months doing my best to avoid him. A fantastic Sunday night, all in all.
“He cares about you, Claire.”
I don’t doubt Dylan cares about me, but he doesn’t care about me the way I want him to, and he never will. To him, I’m Austin’s little sister and I always will be. There is still nothing to guarantee that he didn’t sleep with me to ‘protect’ me from other big, bad, dangerous men.
If that’s all last night was to him, I will never forgive him.
“I’m tired,” I say. “It’s been a big week and I really don’t understand why he had to be here tonight.”
“I asked him to stay so he could talk to you about his trip.”
“Because I know you well enough to realise that his leaving is going to be hard on you.”
I scoff. “Hard? With Dylan gone, I only have to worry about one over-protective brother.”
“Claire.” Mum’s voice is both gentle yet chiding. “You think I don’t see the way you look at him when you think I’m not looking? You think I’m oblivious to how you feel about him?”
There is no way I’m going to ask Mum to elaborate on that. Kara’s assessment of my feelings for Dylan is still ringing in my head, and I don’t need to hear my mother chime in with similar ideas. They are both wrong. Just like Kara, Mum is seeing things that aren’t there.
And yet, the fact that Kara and my mother both believe I feel so much for the man sitting in the living room right now means that I’ve never successfully convinced anyone other than myself that I hate Dylan James. If the subject was anything other than Dylan, my propensity for self-deception would be concerning, but a little self-deception when it comes to the man in question is necessary.
Realising that Mum is watching me carefully, I shake my head. “You’re wrong about how I feel, Mum.”
Her eyes never leave mine. “I have no desire to argue with you, baby girl. But you said you don’t know why he had to be here and I’m telling you, I wanted you to hear it now so that you can get used to the idea of him being gone. There’s no telling when he’ll be back and-”
“Yep, I got it. Don’t know when he’ll be back. Maybe he’ll never come back.”
My response is so quick and sharp that there’s no mistaking the idea of him being out of the country indefinitely bothers me, but I don’t want to think about it or talk about it anymore.
“Thanks for the tea,” I say, hurrying my mother along after hearing the jug shut off.
Mum pours boiling water into the waiting mug and hands it to me.
“I’m going to drink it in here.”
In my rush to down the tea, I blow on it and take a sip. The liquid is still hot and it burns the whole way down. I try to hide my wince but don’t manage it.
“Silly girl,” my mother clucks. “Come into the living room. Finish your tea, and then go home and get some sleep.” I’m torn between arguing that I’ll stay in the kitchen to finish my drink and being grateful that my mother will excuse me easily enough if I just drink my tea in the living room. Eventually, the desire to leave my mother’s house as quickly as possible wins out and I follow her back into the living room.
A/N: Thanks for reading! 🙂 Please like, share or leave a comment if you enjoyed the chapter, or please just keep reading.