Seb pulled a face. ‘Ugh. Come on, Ro, let me take you shopping. One dress, one pair of shoes... Consider it as nine years’ worth of Christmas and birthday presents I never got to buy.’

He needs to do this, Rowan realised. He needs to spoil me—wants to do something for me that is outside of the crazy little deals we’ve struck to work around my pride and independence. Could she allow him to do that, or would her stiff neck and habitual self-reliance spoil it for him?

It was hard. She couldn’t lie. But seeing the pleasure on his face when she finally nodded her agreement was worth the risk.

He scooted up, dropped a kiss on her nose and grabbed her hand. ‘Okay, let’s go. Now.’

‘Good grief, Hollis, I’m still half naked!’ Rowan protested. ‘Pass me my clothes, Einstein.’

Seb picked up her pink T-shirt from the floor next to his foot and Rowan saw that he did it with great reluctance. His eyes were firmly on her breasts.

She grabbed his chin and forced him to look in her eyes. ‘Get your head out of bed, Seb. We’re going shopping. For a dress. And shoes. Cocktail dresses and shoes are expensive, by the way.’

Seb grinned. ‘I’m pretty sure my credit card can stand it.’

Rowan let him go, stepped away and picked up her shorts. She pulled them up, zipped, and placed her hands on her hips. ‘Seb?’

‘Yeah?’

‘Your mum’s failings are hers, not yours. You didn’t do or say anything that made her leave. That was on her and not on you.’

Seb pulled her close and buried his face in her hair. Just stood with her in his arms. She didn’t know where those words had come from. She just knew, soul-deep, that he’d needed to hear them.

Just as she knew that all she had to do right then was hold him.

And when he pulled away to let go she pretended that the moment hadn’t been charged with all those pesky emotions he tried so damn hard to ignore.

She did it because quite simply he needed her to.

* * *

‘I need an ice cream,’ Seb whined theatrically, and Rowan rolled her eyes at him.

What a lightweight, she thought. They’d only done one level of the mall and there were three more to go. She still hadn’t found a dress that was both within the budget she’d set in her head—she didn’t care how flexible Seb’s credit card was; she was not going to pay a fortune for a dress she’d only wear once!—and nice enough to wear.

‘Or a beer. Actually, I definitely need a beer,’ Seb added as she pulled him into a tiny boutique that looked interesting.

‘This was your idea,’ Rowan told him, unsympathetic, and headed for a rail of dresses at the back of the shop.

Black, black, red... She pulled a coral chiffon cocktail dress off a hanger and held it up to look at it. Oh, it was pretty, she admitted as she held it against her and looked in the full-length mirror against the wall. It was sleeveless with a dropped waist and a multi-tiered skirt that fell to mid-thigh.

Take me home, it whispered urgently.

‘That’s the one,’ Seb stated, jamming his hands into the pockets of his shorts while Rowan looked for a price tag. ‘Go try it on.’

No tag, Rowan thought, and knew that it would cost a bomb. She had an eye for picking out quality. She sighed. In clothes and in objets d’art.

Rowan shook her head and replaced the hanger on the rail. ‘We’ll look for something else.’

Seb tugged it off the rail and thrust it at her. ‘Try it on.’

‘It’s the perfect colour for you,’ the shop assistant stated, and Rowan narrowed her eyes at her.

‘Stop being stubborn and try the bloody thing on.’ Seb pushed her towards the discreet dressing room. He turned to the shop assistant. ‘Shoes?’

‘Silver diamante sandals. I have the perfect pair. Size seven?’

‘Of course you do,’ Rowan muttered as she stepped into the dressing room. She raised her voice so that it could be heard above the partition. ‘Size six.’

Rowan slipped her clothes off, carefully undid the discreet zip and slid the dress over her head. Yeah, this is the dress, she thought; it was a pity she couldn’t have it.

‘Does it fit?’ Seb demanded.

‘Yes. Beautifully. It’s a fairytale dress.’

And she was living in a fairytale at the moment. She had the run of a gorgeous house she’d always loved and was sleeping with a super-hot, sometimes not-so-charming prince.

She was loving every second of it.

But it wasn’t real life, Rowan reminded herself. She—no, they were both enthralled by their sexual chemistry, and it was colouring how they saw each other. When the dust settled, they’d start to argue, and then they’d start to fight, and soon—as per usual—they wouldn’t be able to stand each other.

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