The second drawer had a few old T-shirts, none of them ironed, only one or two folded haphazardly. A sweater was stuffed to one side, one of its exposed elbows showing a gaping hole.
Jeans were in the third drawer, only two pairs, both of them ragged and torn. She couldn’t help a tiny smile. Both her sisters insisted on buying torn and ragged jeans; it was the fashion and they paid dearly for it, insisting they would die if anyone saw them in anything else.
She pushed against the drawer to shut it but it snagged and wouldn’t close properly. She gave it another little shove but it refused to budge. She bent down and peered into the space between the second and third drawers but it was hard to see in the half light. She straightened and tugged the drawer right out of the chest in order to reinsert it, to check if anything was stuck behind.
A small package fell to the floor at her feet and, carefully sliding the drawer back into place, she bent down to retrieve it…
IT WAS an envelope, the edges well-worn as if it had been handled too many times. Ashleigh opened the flap and drew out the small wad of photographs it contained, her breath stalling in her throat as the first one appeared.
It was Jake as a small toddler and he looked exactly like Lachlan at the same age.
‘I thought I told you this room was out of bounds.’
Ashleigh spun around so quickly she dropped the photographs, each of them fluttering to the floor around her quaking legs and feet.
‘I…I…’ She gave up on trying to apologise, knowing it was going to be impossible to get the words past the choking lump in her throat.
Jake moved into the room and she watched in a shocked silence as he retrieved the scattered photographs off the floor, slipping them back inside the old envelope and putting them to one side.
‘There is nothing of value in this room.’ He gave the room a sweeping scathing glance before his eyes turned back to hers. ‘I told you before.’
She moistened her mouth, shifting from foot to foot, knowing he had every right to be angry with her for stepping across the boundary he had set down.
‘You always were the curious little cat, weren’t you?’ he said, stepping towards her.
Ashleigh felt her breath hitch as he stopped just in front of her, not quite touching but close enough for her to feel the warmth of his body. It came towards her in waves, carrying with it the subtle scent of his essential maleness, his lemon-scented aftershave unable to totally disguise the fact that he’d been physically active at some point that morning. It was an intoxicating smell, suggestive of full-blooded male in his prime, testosterone pumped and charged, ready for action.
‘The door…it wasn’t locked…’
‘It usually is, but I decided to trust you,’ he said. ‘But it seems I can no longer do so.’
She didn’t know what to make of his expression. She didn’t think he was angry with her but there was a hint of something indefinable in his gaze that unnerved her all the same.
‘I was just checking…’ she said lamely.
He gave a little snort of cynicism. ‘I just bet you were.’
‘I was!’ she insisted. ‘Was it my fault you left the door unlocked?’
‘You didn’t have to search through my things,’ he pointed out.
‘You haven’t lived in this house for something like eighteen years,’ she said. ‘I’m surprised anything of yours is still here.’
He gave her an unreadable look. ‘Quite frankly, so am I.’
She frowned at his words, her brain grappling with why his father had left things as they were. The room looked as if Jake had walked out of it all those years ago and yet it seemed as if nothing had been removed or changed since.
‘Maybe he missed you,’ she offered into the lengthy silence.
Jake’s dark eyes hardened as they pinned hers. ‘Yes, I suppose he did.’
She ached to ask why but the expression on his face warned her against it. Anger had suddenly tightened his jaw, sent fire to his eyes and tension to his hands as they fisted by his sides.
She couldn’t hold his look. She turned and found herself looking at her own reflection in the cracked mirror on the wall. It was like looking at a stranger. Her blue eyes looked wild and agitated, her hair falling from the neat knot she had tied it in that morning, her cheeks flushed, her mouth trembling slightly.
She could see him just behind her. If she stepped back even half a step she would come into contact with the hard warmth of his very male body. Her workout in the gym that morning made her aware of her body in a way she had not been in years. She felt every used muscle, every single contraction reminding her of how she used to feel in his arms. Making love with Jake had been just like a heavy workout. He had been demanding and daring, taking her to the very limits of consciousness time after time until she hadn’t known what was right and decent any more.