Seb swore, low and slow. ‘I swear I’m going to rearrange his face.’

‘I’m over it—over him. I really am.’ Rowan managed a small smile. ‘But it wasn’t the best night of my life. I was reeling. I’d had my heart kicked around by the boy who had just taken me to bed—the whole experience of which, sadly, was not nearly as brilliant as I thought it would be—’

‘Bad?’

Trust a man to get distracted by sex, Rowan thought as she rocked her hand in the air. ‘Meh...’

‘Meh?’

‘Not good, not bad—and I am not discussing my first sexual experience with you, Hollis. Jeez! Do you want to hear this or not?’

‘Keep your panties on... So you went off to jail...’

‘I had been there for a day or so and I was so scared, terrified. Another young girl had been arrested for something—I can’t remember what. Her mother came to the jail, and when they wouldn’t release this girl her mother came into the cell with her and just held her until she could be released. I wanted that like I’ve never wanted anything in my life.’

Rowan swallowed and took a deep slug of her wine.

‘I just wanted my mother to love me, to support me, to hold me while I sat in that corner. And I knew that she wouldn’t. Ever. That hurt more than anything else. So when I got home I thought I would test my theory; how far could I push her until I got a reaction out of her? I never got much of one. My dad screamed and raged and tried to lay down the law but my mum switched off. Until the day I wrote my finals. I came home and she and I had a...discussion.’

‘About...?’

Okay, so this was something that she’d never told anybody. Not even Callie. ‘My life, my plans. I told her I wanted to go overseas and she immediately agreed. Said it was the first sensible sentence I’d uttered all year.’

‘What the...?’

‘She said that it would be good for all of us—mainly her, I think—that I went. I heard the subtext in her speech; she’d had enough of me and her life would be that much easier if I were out of her face. So I packed my stuff, took the money she offered—she was the one who cashed in those unit trusts of my grandmother’s—and caught the first plane I could.’

‘God, Ro...’

Seb ran his hand over his face and felt sick. They’d all known that Ro and her mum bumped heads, known that Peter was her obvious favourite, but they’d never believed—not for a second—that their relationship had been that broken. Okay, his mother wasn’t a saint, and she’d left and it sucked, but she hadn’t constantly been there, physically present but emotionally unavailable.

Rowan’s staying away from Cape Town made a lot more sense now.

‘I’m so sorry,’ he muttered, knowing his words were inadequate and stupid after so much time.

But he didn’t know what else to say—how to convey how angry and...sad he felt. Because, unlike him, Rowan had needed to be nurtured and shown affection, to be bolstered and boosted. She’d needed affection and love and affirmation.

Bile roiled in his stomach as the waitress placed their burgers in front of them. ‘I should take you home...let me take you home.’

Then he felt Rowan’s hand cover his, her touch comforting him when he should be comforting her.

‘Your mind is going into overdrive, Seb. I’m fine now and I’ve learnt to live with it. I’m way over Joe Clark and him screwing me—figuratively and literally. As for my mum...she is what she is. I’ve grown up...’

‘But you’d still like a relationship with her?’

‘I’d love a relationship with her. So I’ll see her, say my sorrys if that’s what she needs to hear, and try again.’

He turned and stared down into her face. Oh, dear God, he could fall for her; tumble for this brave, beautiful woman with midnight in her eyes.

Seb shook his head, trying to replace emotion with rational thought. He was just feeling sorry for her, feeling guilty because he hadn’t pushed hard enough, dug deep enough to find out the truth about her before this. He’d always known that there was more to Rowan’s story, more to Rowan.

Besides she was leaving...soon. And he had no intention of letting anyone else leave with his heart again.

Mothers...jeez. The million and two ways they could screw you up.

Rowan popped a chip in her mouth and chewed thoughtfully. ‘I really want to go to that antiques market, Seb.’

Seb picked up his knife and fork, looked at his food, and put them down again. He really didn’t feel like eating.

‘What?’ he asked, his mind still reeling. He digested her words, understood them and frowned. ‘Are you playing me?’ he demanded, innately suspicious of her cajoling face. ‘Are you making me feel sorry for you to get what you want?’

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