Did she want to keep it? Or could it be—dammit—because she was feeling slightly sentimental? A tad grateful to that tiny little object that it had been the catalyst to her coming home?
Home. There—she’d said it. And it was time she acknowledged that, no matter what had transpired before, this was home. This house,—not the house next door... This was home.
Rowan let out a high-pitched squeal and cannoned into a hard shape as she pushed open the door to Awelfor. Familiar arms grabbed her before she toppled over and her heart steadied as she realised that she’d run into Seb.
‘You scared my breath out of me!’ She wheezed as she placed a hand on her chest. ‘Jeez, Seb!’
Seb flicked on the hall light and Rowan blinked at the brightness. When the black dots receded she turned to Seb, and her smile faded when she saw that he was dressed in jeans and an old T-shirt and held his car keys in his hands.
‘Where are you going at three in morning?’ she asked, puzzled.
‘To bloody look for you!’
Rowan took a step back as his roar washed over her. Then she saw his wild eyes, his dishevelled hair and his inside-out T-shirt. He was in a complete tizzy and it was fairly obvious that she was the cause of it.
‘You said that you would be home around half-twelve!’ Seb paced the hallway, tension bunching every muscle in his body. ‘At twelve-forty-five I was worried. At one-fifteen I was concerned enough to call you on your mobile and I’ve been calling every ten minutes since then. Why don’t you bloody well answer your phone?’
Rowan pulled the mobile out of her bag and checked the display. Oh, yeah... She’d missed more than a couple of calls...like fifteen.... ‘I’d put my mobile on silent...I didn’t think to change it back.’
‘And doesn’t that just explain a whole lot?’ Seb shouted. ‘You don’t think, Rowan. Where on earth have you been?’
Crap. She hadn’t seen Seb this mad since she’d chirped him about his ex-fiancée. And he’d passed that level of anger five minutes ago. ‘I went to a late-night blues café in Simon’s Town.’
Rowan thought that she saw the chandelier tremble. ‘Whoa, hold on a sec! I thought you’d be sleeping—’
‘Like I could sleep until I knew you were home safely!’
‘Seb, the pub is five minutes away.’
‘And I expected you home fifteen minutes or so after the pub closed. And I know it closed at one because I called there too!’ Seb shoved his hands into his hair. ‘I’ve been imagining you stabbed or raped or driven off the road—’
‘Oh, come on, Seb! You’re overreacting!’ Rowan retorted. When his eyes lightened she knew that she’d made an tactical error. His anger had just deepened and his eyes had gone cold.
‘You know, I get that you have this free-spirit, answer-to-no-one gig going on, and I know you well enough to choose my battles with you,’ Seb said, his voice colder than an Arctic breeze. ‘So I’m prepared to let the little things go... But when you roll in at three in the morning, after saying that you’ll be home a lot earlier, I get to yell at you!’
‘I’m not a child, and you’re not allowed to place restrictions on me!’ Rowan snapped, going on the defensive because she suspected that she’d crossed a rather big line.
‘You keep telling me that you’re not a child, but you’re acting like one. A responsible, thoughtful grown-up would’ve picked up the phone and called me, told me not to worry.’
Seb rubbed the back of his neck with his hand. His anger had faded and she could see disappointment and resignation on his face. She could fight anger. The other two were like acid on her soul.
‘Rowan, you’re free to come and go as you please. I can’t and won’t ask you to be something you are not. But I do expect you to think, occasionally, about other people. I was worried. I had a right to be. If not as your lover, then as a man who has known you all your life.’ Seb twisted his lips. ‘And if you can’t see that then you are even more screwed up than any of us thought.’
* * *
Seb’s words hovered in the air as he walked up the stairs and a minute later she heard his bedroom door close. Rowan sank to the third step of the staircase and dropped her head to her knees. He was right and she couldn’t run away from it. She had been selfish and thoughtless and she didn’t like being either.
Why couldn’t people understand—and why couldn’t she explain?—that restrictions felt like chains to her? That rules felt like the bars of that long-ago jail cell and that she couldn’t trust anyone not to change the rules on her to suit their needs better?