Shirts, shorts, jeans. Shoes? Red cowboy boots, trainers, pumps, flats. They all stood on the shelves in his shoe cupboard, along with her sparkly silver sandals. Rowan bit her lip as she traced the design on the front of one shoe; she loved these shoes but she wouldn’t take them. Like the coral dress, like Seb, she had to leave them behind.
The box containing her netsukes sat on an open shelf above the shoes and Rowan stretched up and pulled it down. She lifted the lid and furiously unwrapped the little statues until she found the one she was looking for—the one of the Laughing Buddha with mischief in his eyes.
She wouldn’t be selling this one—wouldn’t take it with her. This was Seb’s—her gift to him. She’d planned on keeping it herself but, like her, he’d fallen in love with it the first time he’d held it. It didn’t matter that it was probably the oldest and most valuable of the collection. Nothing much mattered now. She placed it on the shelf next to a pile of his T-shirts, where she knew he would see it.
She was leaving and she had a new life to make. Her mum was right. They would eventually decimate each other. While she had the right to take chances with her own heart, she didn’t have the right to play fast and loose with his. With anyone’s. It was better to be on her own, responsible for only herself...
No risk of being hurt. Of hurting him.
‘Running again, Brat?’
Rowan turned and looked at Seb, who had one shoulder plastered against the wall, his eyes shuttered.
‘Packing.’ Rowan kept her voice even. ‘We both knew that I’d be leaving once I saw my folks.’
‘Yeah, but neither of us thought that we’d be burning up the sheets a day later. That changes things, Rowan.’
‘It’s just sex, Seb. You can find it anywhere.’
Rowan yelped when Seb streaked across the room, gripped her arms and glared at her.
‘It is not just sex! Get it?’
‘Then what is it?’ Rowan demanded. ‘And let me go. You’re hurting me.’
Tell me. Tell me that you need me to stay. Give me something to work with, to take a risk on.
Seb dropped his hands and then threw them up. ‘It’s something! I don’t know what it is, exactly, but we’ll never find out if you don’t stop running!’
Something? Something wasn’t enough. Not nearly enough.
‘I’m leaving. I’m not running!’ Rowan shouted. ‘And I never said I’d stay! Besides, what would I be staying for? Another couple of months of sex? What do you want from me, Seb? Can you tell me?’
Seb raked his hand through his hair. ‘No. Maybe. Not yet. I haven’t thought it through.’
‘You see, that’s the essential difference between you and me. It has to make intellectual sense to you and it just has to feel right to me.’ Rowan sat on the edge of the bed.
‘Does it feel right for you to stay?’ Seb asked quietly.
‘Yes! But the problem is...’
Rowan lifted pain-saturated eyes to his. ‘This time I know that it’s smart to leave. That, no matter how right it feels to stay, I have to listen to my brain. Because this time I can’t trust my heart.’
‘Because you’ll break it. And I’ll break yours. We have the ability to do that to each other,’ Rowan said in a quiet, determined voice. ‘If I walk—run—leave now, we can avoid that. You can’t give me enough of what I need for me to consider staying. I don’t want to hurt you, and God knows I don’t want you to hurt me. Let me go, Seb, please. It’s for the best. You know it is.’
‘All I know—feel, dammit!—is that you are running as fast and as far away from me as possible. But I’ve never begged a woman for anything in my life and I’m not going to start now.’
Seb walked over to his desk, shoved the chair so hard that it skidded across the floor and bent over his computer. His fingers skipped over the keys and ten minutes later—the longest ten minutes of her life—he turned back to face her.
His face and voice were completely devoid of emotion. ‘I’ve booked you on a flight to London, leaving tonight. I’ve ordered you a taxi. It will be here in an hour. I’m sure you won’t mind spending the afternoon in the airport. It’s what you do, isn’t it?’
‘Seb, I’m doing what I think is best for us,’ Rowan protested, trying once more to get him to understand.
‘And where does what I want, what I need, what I think is best, come into it? All I’m asking is for some time, Rowan! A slice of your time so that we can work out what we want to do. We’ve been together for nearly three weeks! We’re adults. Adults don’t make snap decisions about the rest of their lives, about whether they’re going to get hurt or not. I want time with you—time that you seem to be able to give to mountains and monasteries, temples, sights and cities but not to me!’ Seb roared. ‘So, really, take your excuses about doing what is best for us and get the hell out of my life.’