‘Seb?’

‘Yeah?’

‘That last fight we had about Bronwyn...’

It took him a moment to work out what she was talking about, to remember her stupid, childish gesture from nearly a decade ago.

‘The one where you presumed to tell me how and what to do with my life?’

‘Well, I was going to apologise—’

‘That would be a first.’

‘But you can shove it! And you, as you well know, have told me what to do my entire life! I might have voiced some comments about your girlfriend, but I didn’t leave a mate to rot in jail,’ Rowan countered, her voice heating again.

‘We were never mates, and it was a weekend—not a lifetime! And you bloody well deserved it.’

‘It was still mean and...’

Seb rolled his eyes and made a noise that he hoped sounded like a bad connection. ‘Sorry, you’re breaking up...’

‘We’re on a landline, you dipstick!’ Rowan shouted above the noise he was making.

Smart girl, he thought as he slammed the handset back into its cradle. She’d always been smart, he remembered. And feisty.

It seemed that calling her Brat was still appropriate. Some things simply never changed.

TWO

Six hours later and it was another airport, another set of officials, another city and she was beyond exhausted. Sweaty, grumpy and... Damn it. Rowan pushed her fist into her sternum. She was nervous.

Scared spitless.

It could be worse, she told herself as she slid onto a stool in the busy bar, her luggage at her feet. She could be standing at Arrivals flicking over faces and looking for her parents. She could easily admit that Seb was the lesser of two evils—that she’d been relieved when her parents hadn’t answered her call, that she wasn’t remotely sure of their reaction to her coming home.

Apart from the occasional grumble about her lack of education they’d never expressed any wish for her to return to the family fold. They might—and she stressed might—be vaguely excited to see her again, but within a day they’d look at her with exasperation, deeply puzzled by the choices she’d made and the lifestyle she’d chosen.

‘So different from her sibling,’ her mother would mutter. ‘Always flying too close to the sun. Our changeling child, our rebel, always trying to break out and away.’

Maybe if they hadn’t wrapped her in cotton wool and smothered her in a blanket of protectiveness she’d be more...normal, Rowan thought. A little more open to putting down roots, to having relationships that lasted longer than a season, furniture that she owned rather than temporarily used.

She’d caused them a lot of grief, she admitted. She’d been a colicky baby, a hell-on-wheels toddler, and then she’d contracted meningitis at four and been in ICU for two weeks, fighting for her life. After the meningitis her family had been so scared for her, so terrified that something bad would happen to her—again—that they hadn’t let her experience life at all. All three of them—parents and her much older brother—had hovered over her: her own phalanx of attack helicopters, constantly scanning the environment for trouble.

The weird thing was that while she’d always felt protected she hadn’t always felt cherished. Would her life have taken a different turn if she had felt treasured, loved, not on the outside looking in?

It hadn’t helped that she’d been a fiery personality born into a family of quiet, brilliant, introverts. Two professors—one in music, the other in theoretical science—and her brother had a PhD in electrical engineering. She’d skipped university in order to go travelling—an unforgivable sin in the Dunn household.

The over-protectiveness had been tedious at ten, irritating at fourteen, frustrating at sixteen. At seventeen it had become intolerable, and by the time she was nearly eighteen she’d been kicking and screaming against the silken threads of parental paranoia that had kept her prisoner.

After spending that weekend in jail she’d realised that to save herself and her relationship with her family she had to run far away as fast as she could. She couldn’t be the tame, studious, quiet daughter they needed her to be, and they couldn’t accept her strong-willed adventurous spirit.

Running away had, strangely enough, saved her relationship with her parents. Through e-mail, social media and rare, quick phone calls they’d managed to find a balance that worked for them. They could pretend that she wasn’t gallivanting around the world, and she could pretend that they supported her quest to do more, see more, experience more.

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