‘No, I didn’t know.’
Rowan moved a pile of plates from one stack to another, dumped the cutlery in an oven pan. ‘Well, if that’s not a huge bloody clue that they no longer consider me a part of this family then I don’t know what is. I never thought it could still hurt this much.’
‘Knowing that I am, categorically, on my own,’ Rowan whispered.
She’d always had this little dream—one she took out only occasionally and let it fly—that she was the beloved daughter, the fun sister, that she would have a relationship with her mother that was normal, loving...involved.
Well, their prosaic announcement earlier had detonated that fantasy into a million bloody shards. Every one of which was embedded in her heart.
‘You’re not on your own. You’re part of us. You’ve always been part of us,’ Seb stated, his voice calm and reasonable. Steady.
God, she wished she could climb into his steady and rest awhile. But she couldn’t—wouldn’t. Whatever they’d had was at an end. Her ties were cut with her parents and she should cut them with Seb as well. While she could.
They would be friends, would some day look back on the madness that had been their affair and smile, knowing that it had been a marvellous interlude in time that was pure fantasy.
‘You are part of us,’ Seb repeated.
Rowan shook her head. She wasn’t—couldn’t be. If she couldn’t be accepted by her own family, how could she expect to be part of theirs? Especially after being away for so long. And what would that mean while she was on the road? The occasional call to Seb? To Patch? E-mails? Facebook?
It didn’t work. She knew this.
Seb’s hand drifted over her hair, a touch of pure comfort, and she jerked her head away. She had to start stepping back, start preparing herself to leave.
Practically she needed to get London to sell the netsukes, to bolster her bank account. To repay Seb.
Emotionally she had to pull away, to put some distance between them before he did. She couldn’t bear it if he rejected her too—and he would. He’d made it very clear that what they had was a brief fling. He’d said nothing to make her believe that he wanted her to stay.
The realisation that a big part of her really wanted to stay terrified her.
‘Oh, I took a call for you earlier, while you were in the shower,’ Seb said, stepping away from her and leaning against the opposite kitchen counter.
‘That’s it. She said that you spoke to her the other day about organising her wedding?’ Seb picked up an orange from the fruit basket and dug his fingers into the skin, pulling the peel away.
‘She’s Annie’s niece and she wants a Moroccan-themed wedding. Since I’ve been to Morocco, Annie thought I could do it.’ Rowan closed her eyes. ‘I’d love to do it; I have all these ideas running through my head.’
‘When is it?’ Seb made a pile of peel on the dining room table.
‘Three months’ time.’
‘So do it,’ he suggested blandly.
Rowan blinked as she tried to process his words. Stay here for another three months? Was he insane? ‘What are you suggesting?’
‘Stay here with me. Do the wedding.’ Seb pulled a segment from the orange and popped it into his mouth.
‘Are you mad? That’s the most illogical, impractical, stupid suggestion you have ever made!’ Rowan’s voice climbed with every decibel. ‘I have to get to London to sell the netsukes!’
‘Planes go both ways,’ Seb pointed out in his cool, practical voice. ‘Go to London. Come back.’
‘I need to travel,—to keep moving, Sebastian. To be free!’ Rowan shouted. ‘I can’t stay here.’
‘Have I put a ring on your finger? Asked you to stay for ever? No. I’ve suggested that you stay for another three months, to do something you obviously want to do and obviously enjoy. I thought that you could stay here with me, which you seem to enjoy as well. Or am I wrong about that?’
‘I thought that this was a fling...’
‘And I thought you were good at change!’ Seb snapped back. ‘If you were anywhere else in the world would you stay?’
‘Then why can’t you stay here? For a little while longer?’
‘Because you haven’t thought this out! Because you’re feeling sorry for me, wanting to protect me, wanting to help me out of another jam! This is an impulsive offer that you are going to regret when you’ve thought it through and you’ll wish that you’d never opened your big mouth. I don’t want to be something you regret, Seb!’