She’d tried to explain the circumstances, but only her BFF Callie had realised how much it had hurt to have her story about being framed dismissed as a lie, how much it had stung to see the constant disappointment on everyone’s faces. So she’d decided that she might as well be the ultimate party girl rebel—sneaking out, parties, cigarettes, crazy acting out. Anything to live up to the low expectations of her parents—especially her mother—and constantly, constantly planning her escape.
It had come the day after she’d written her final exam to finish her school career. Using cash she’d received from selling the unit trusts her grandmother had bought her every birthday since the day she was born, she’d bought a ticket to Thailand.
Everyone except Callie had been furious, and they’d all expected her to hit the other side, turn tail and run back home. That first year had been tough, lonely, and sometimes downright scary, but she’d survived and then she’d flourished.
And she really didn’t want to go home with her tail tucked between her legs now, broke and recently deported.
She didn’t want to lose her freedom, to step back into her family’s lives, back into her parents’ house, returning as the family screw-up. It didn’t matter that she was asset-rich and cash-poor. She would still, in their eyes, be irresponsible and silly: no better than the confused, mixed-up child who’d left nine years before.
‘So, who are you going to call?’ Cat asked, breaking in on her thoughts.
‘Well, I’ve only got two choices. My mobile’s battery is dead and all my contact numbers are in my phone. I have two numbers in my head: my parents’ home number and my best friend Callie’s home number.’
‘I vote for the best friend.’
‘So would I—except that she doesn’t live there any more. Her older brother does, and he doesn’t like me very much.’
Cat leaned forward, curious. ‘Why not?’
‘Ah, well. Seb and I have always rubbed each other up the wrong way. He’s conservative and studious; I’m wild and rebellious. He’s mega-rich and I’m currently financially challenged—’
‘What does he do?’ Cat asked.
Rowan fiddled with her gold hoop earrings. ‘His family have a shed-load of property in Cape Town and he oversees that. He also does something complicated with computers. He has a company that does...um...internet security? He’s a nice hat... No, that doesn’t sound right.’
Cat sat up suddenly. ‘Do you mean a white hat? A hacker?’
Rowan cocked her finger at her. ‘That’s it. Apparently he’s one of the best in the world.’
‘Holy mackerel...that is so cool! I’m a bit of a comp geek myself.’
‘So is he. He’s a complete nerd and we’ve always clashed. He’s book-smart and I’m street-smart. His and Callie’s house is within spitting distance of my parents’ house and I spent more time there than I did at home. I gave him such a hard time.’
Cat looked intrigued. ‘Why?’
‘Probably because I could never get a reaction out of him. He’d just look at me, shake his head, tell me I was a brat and flip me off. The more I misbehaved, the more he ignored me.’ Rowan wound a black curl around her index finger.
‘Sounds to me like you were craving his attention.’
‘Honey, I craved everyone’s attention,’ Rowan replied.
This was one of the things she loved most about travelling, she thought. Random conversations with strangers who didn’t know her from Adam.
‘Anyway, I could bore you to death, recounting all the arguments I had with Seb.’ Rowan smiled. ‘So let this be a lesson to you, Cat. Remember, always have a stash of cash. Do as I say and not as I do.’
‘Good luck,’ Cat called as she walked towards the bank of public phones against the far wall.
Rowan lifted her hand in acknowledgement. She sure as hell was going to need it.
* * *
Seb Hollis shot up in bed and punched the comforter and the sheets away, unable to bare the constricting fabric against his heated skin. He was conscious of the remnants of a bad dream floating around the periphery of his memory, and as much as he tried to pretend otherwise it wasn’t the cool air colliding with the sweat on his chest and spine that made him shiver. The blame for that could be laid squarely at the door of this now familiar nocturnal visitor. He’d been dreaming the same dream for six days... He was being choked, restrained, hog-tied...yanked up to the altar and forced into marriage.
Balls, was his first thought, closely followed by, Thank God it was only a dream.
Draping one forearm across his bended knees, Seb ran a hand behind his neck. He was sweating like a geyser and his mouth was as dry as the Kalahari Desert. Cursing, he fumbled for the glass of water on the bedside table, grimacing at the handprint his sweat made on the deep black comforter.