‘Sex?’ Seb lifted his glass, drained half its contents and tapped his finger against the crystal. ‘Let’s not make this any more complicated than it has to be. What if we just put that onto the back burner for now and try to be friends?’

Rowan’s smile was wide and true. ‘Okay, let’s try that.’

‘Good.’ Seb placed his hands on the table behind him and leaned back. ‘And, as your friend, I’m going to ask you something.’

Rowan groaned theatrically. ‘Oh, no.’

‘Why haven’t you been home? Why haven’t you popped your head through the fence, looked at your house, walked through the gardens? Said hello to the dogs?’

‘New dogs. They don’t know me.’

‘Hedging, Ro.’

‘The house is occupied, Seb. I can’t just go wandering through.’

‘Hedging. I told the occupiers that you were home and not to worry if they saw you hovering around. They were cool about it. So, again, hedging...’

She was, and she didn’t know what to say. She’d been avoiding going home because that way she could avoid thinking about her parents, about what she’d say to them when she saw them again, what they would say to her. And the truth was seeing the house made her remember how unhappy—no, not unhappy, just how excluded she’d felt from her family. Her parents and brother had been so close, sharing the same interests, the same quest for knowledge and mental improvement.

It made her feel eighteen again and all at sea.

‘Were you so miserable at home, Ro?’

‘Miserable? No.’ Rowan looked around. ‘But I always felt so much more at home here in Awelfor. Here I could dance and sing and laugh loudly...home was so quiet.’

Seb smiled. ‘And you were the most lively child we knew.’

‘I suppose I should take a look at the house... I can’t avoid it for ever.’ Rowan brushed her hair back. ‘I don’t know what I’m going to say to my parents, Seb. Should I apologise for living my own life? For not coming back for so long?’

‘Did you want to?’

Rowan shook her head. ‘No, I wasn’t ready to come home. Didn’t feel strong enough.’

‘Then don’t apologise, Ro.’ Seb leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. ‘I’ve been listening to your folks—mostly your dad—moaning about your travelling for years, but tonight for the first time I looked at it from another angle. Your parents are wealthy enough to travel and you’ve always returned to London. They could’ve met you there, or anywhere else, quite a few times during the last decade.’

‘I’ve thought about that often,’ Rowan admitted in a whisper. ‘Why didn’t they do that?’

‘Because they didn’t want you there; they wanted you here. Because it would have given you their tacit approval of your travelling, for choosing your own way of life, if they did that.’ Seb grimaced. ‘I like your parents, Ro. They were good to me growing up. But I could engage them on an intellectual level. As Patch said, you were always way too emotional for them.’

‘Patch said that? I love that man.’

‘I do too. He’s been the best dad—apart from his habit of dating too-young, too-stupid-to-live gold-diggers.’

Rowan laughed, loosely linked one arm around Seb’s neck and placed her cheek to his. ‘I like this—talking to you. I think it’s the first proper conversation we’ve had.’

‘And I’m pretty sure that it’s snowing in hell.’ Seb ran his hand down Rowan’s back before pulling away. ‘You need to go home, Ro. Take a look. Confront those demons. They aren’t as big as you think. And you need to go to bed—because if you don’t I’m going to become very unfriendly and kiss you stupid.’

Rowan pulled her head back and her eyes were smoky with passion. ‘I was thinking exactly the same thing.’ She stood up and scooted around his legs. ‘Sleep well, Seb.’

‘You too, Brat.’

* * *

Rowan handed out the last goodie bag, ruffled the last head and placed her hands on her hips as she watched the last expensive car—this one was a Bentley—cruise away.

Thank God, thank God, thank God! Rowan felt almost dizzy with relief. Hauling the envelope out of her back pocket, she took out the cash and nearly did a happy dance in the middle of the driveway. Annie’s son and daughter-in-law, although taken aback by their very muddy, very happy boy, had instantly recognised by his jabbering, excited conversation that his party had been a huge success. His father, his neck pulled forward by the rope-thick gold chain around his neck, had added a bonus of five hundred to the highway robbery price Annie had already paid her.

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