‘You won’t even be here! I saw that notice on the fridge for a trail run you’re doing on Saturday!’ Rowan protested.

‘Rowan, you’ve been in the country two days and you’ve already managed to meet someone who can give you a job. How is that possible? And how do you know she’s not a con?’

‘Oh, maybe because she’ll pay me sixty per cent of the fee up front,’ Rowan whipped back. ‘Yes or no, Seb? If it’s no I need to go to Plan B.’

‘Do you have a Plan B?’ Seb asked, curious. Patch leaned over to yank his mobile out of his hand and he jerked away.

‘No, but I will have to find one if you say no. Please don’t say no.’

‘Why do I suspect that you’ve already told her that you can host the party at Awelfor?’

‘Because I have,’ Rowan said in a small voice. ‘Sorry. But I’ll make another plan if you really mean no.’

He wasn’t even surprised or, come to think of it, that upset. If anyone else took such liberties with his house and his property he’d have a fit of incredible proportions, but Rowan had been such a part of Awelfor for so long that it wasn’t that much of an intrusion or an imposition. Weird, but true.

‘Okay, knock yourself out. However, when you agree to house a shedload of monkeys, or a circus comprising of Eastern European acrobats, run it by me first, okay? Got to go.’ Seb disconnected and shoved his mobile away before Patch could yank it away. He’d lost two mobiles to Patch’s strict rule about ‘disturbing the peace’.

‘I’m going to ban you from joining my tours,’ Patch complained.

‘Sorry,’ Seb replied, and picked up his paddle again and pulled it through the water.

They rowed for a while in companionable silence until Patch spoke again.

‘So, what’s Ro done this time?’ Patch asked.

Seb explained and Patch laughed.

‘Life certainly has been less...colourful without her presence.’

‘But a great deal more sensible.’

‘Sensible...pshaw! I had coffee with her this afternoon. It’s lovely to have her home,’ Patch said. ‘I’ve always loved that girl.’

Seb sent him a measuring look. ‘I know you did when she was a kid, but...’

Patch pointed out a seal to his group, exchanged some banter with them and turned back to Seb. ‘But?’

‘Doesn’t she remind you of...Mum?’

Patch was silent for a minute and then shook his head. ‘The only commonality between the two is that they both like to travel. No, Seb. Ro is nothing like Laura. Ro would never leave her kids—leave the people she loved and never make contact again.’

‘She did for a couple of months,’ Seb pointed out.

Why was he pushing this? What did he hope his father would say? Yes, she’s exactly like Laura and that he should run as if his tail was on his fire? Would that make his big brain override his little one and cancel out all the X-rated visions he was having about her?

Patch’s slow, measured words pulled him back into the conversation.

‘Everyone seems to have forgotten that Ro sent Callie regular e-mails, asking her to tell Stan and Heidi and us that she was fine. She was a little lost and she was trying to find herself. When she had enough distance from her parents she made contact again. Ro didn’t have it easy at home, Sebastian.’

‘They loved her, Dad,’ Seb protested.

‘As much as they could. But she needed so much more. She wouldn’t have run if she’d felt loved. They didn’t understand her, and sometimes I think that’s worse. Don’t get me wrong—I like Stan and Heidi—but I think Peter fulfilled all their requirements for a child. Studious, quiet, introverted, brilliant and unemotional. Having to deal with an emotional hurricane like Rowan rocked their world.’

‘Maybe. And she is an emotional hurricane.’ And, because he could really talk to his dad, he cursed and muttered. ‘And she’s freakin’ hot.’

Patch pursed his lips but his eyes danced with mischief. ‘I might date younger women, but I’d never look at my second daughter and think she’s hot. But I can see why my healthy son would think so. He might notice that she’s grown up very well and has a killer bod.’

Seb twisted his lips. ‘And I have a killer hard-on for her.’

Patch let out a low, rumbling laugh. ‘Oh, geez, this is not going to end well. Especially since your modus is to bag her, tag her, and send her on her way when you’re done with her. Isn’t that the way you roll?’

Crude, but true.

‘And if you hurt her I’ll kick your ass,’ Patch added.

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