‘And no boyfriend?’
‘Not in real life,’ she tried to joke.
‘No time for that either?’
Exactly. But, in truth, Dan wasn’t the only reason why she kept her heart free. ‘You don’t want to inherit your birth mother’s addiction—I don’t want to inherit my mother’s problems either,’ she said.
‘What’s her problem?’
‘She’s dependent on men.’ She cleared her throat. ‘She couldn’t bear to be alone after my father died. She remarried a few months later. When that didn’t work out she remarried again. Within a few months.’
And didn’t give a damn about what her kids thought of it.
Dan had buried himself in his sport—pushing himself further and faster until his whole identity had been bound up in being a great athlete. So when the illness had robbed him of that he’d felt he was nothing. Had nothing to offer.
Stephanie had buried herself in her blog—hiding out in her room and dreaming up all kinds of daft lists… entertaining herself, her friends, and eventually a whole bunch of strangers. But she’d decided not to be her mother ever—not to have that inability to stand on her own, to be that infatuated.
‘She chose a man over her kids,’ she said crisply. ‘Any man rather than be alone.’
Sure, it hadn’t been as if they were little kids. Both had finished school. But then her brother had become an invalid.
‘So you’ve opted for the “nothing” rather than the “all”?’ Jack asked.
‘I’m very busy with my blog.’
‘But you have needs, Steffi Leigh.’
He dived in and swam underwater to surface right beside her.
‘You’ve not seen my list for “A Single Girl’s Satisfaction”.’
‘What does it say?’
‘It gives the five best “personal products” for the single woman.’
He laughed. ‘I’d better go read that blog when we get back to the city.’
‘I’m sure you’ll find it informative.’ She smiled.
He pulled her towards him, holding her so she couldn’t float away. ‘You must have had a boyfriend in the past, though. Right?’
His eyes were very navy now. So watchful.
‘At university, sure.’ But there’d been only the one.
‘What was he like?’
She’d been a late bloomer—she’d been at an all-girls school, giggling her way through the years with Tara at her side. Tara had been the one who’d attracted the guys in those years. Stephanie’s mum had been the one out dating.
‘He wanted more than I was willing to give.’
She’d finally agreed to go out with a guy in her history class. He’d been asking her for ages and he was a nice guy. She’d thought she could handle it—not fall too deep. And she hadn’t.
She was not going to be the kind of woman who abandoned her children, her career, her country to follow her latest great passion. She’d stay and see to her responsibilities.
In the end her boyfriend had said she was too distant. That she didn’t give him what he needed. That she always put him last.
She probably had.
‘What didn’t you want to give?’ Jack asked.
She shook her head.
After it had ended she’d focused on building her blog. Taking photos for it, dreaming up ridiculous list topics and then talking them up in the vlogs. And now, after Dan’s illness, there was no time, no occasion to meet men.
‘What about you? Millions of girlfriends, I bet.’ She batted her lashes at him, hoping he’d drop the subject.
‘Holiday flings,’ he corrected. ‘Never anything long-term or serious. Work always comes first for me.’
‘Ditto.’ She blinked at him again, so very Steffi Leigh.
She was tempted to tell him all about Dan. But her mother was so needy. Her brother was so needy. She didn’t want to be like that. Didn’t want to dump on him. Besides, despite how strong he appeared, he had his own anxiety—she’d seen it before that first meeting.
That stark loneliness?
It had almost hurt her with its intensity. She wasn’t adding to his burden.
She wasn’t doing to him—or to anyone—what her brother had done to her. And her mother.
‘Come on, you’ve had way too long in the sun. There’s a bed just here. Let’s make love al fresco again.’
‘We’re not making love—we’re having sex.’ And she was reminding herself of that more than anything.
He frowned. ‘We’re making nice.’
She chuckled. ‘Okay, we’re making good.’