But too much independence could work against you.
She’d said she didn’t want to depend on someone too much because she was scared of being like her mum. And scared of being hurt.
He’d never wanted to hurt her. He should have told her that.
How much of her time with him had been a pretence?
Perhaps some of it. Perhaps none.
But he couldn’t live the rest of his life without knowing. The thing was, in order to find out he was going to have to open up again. And, yeah, that thought scared him.
Now he realised he’d been holding back all this time. He’d been living half a life.
But now he wanted it all.
STEPHANIE FROWNED AT the loud knocking on her door. Who was here so crazily early in the morning?
She opened the door and had to count to three before she could think enough to speak.
‘Jack…’ She breathed out. ‘Couldn’t sleep?’
He just looked at her, and that was all it took to make her stupid legs go weak.
‘I thought you’d left Australia,’ she muttered. ‘Days ago.’
‘I had. But I came back.’
He looked exhausted. Back in jeans and tee and two-day-old stubble and totally gorgeous. But she stopped herself from leaning towards him.
‘You mind if I come in for a moment?’ he asked.
‘Sure, if you’d like to.’ She stood back and let him pass.
A small frown flickered over his face before he smoothed it to that bland expression again. She hated the blank look. He was being so polite she wanted to shrivel up and hide behind a rock. There was no warm smile, no wicked look in his eyes. There was no provocative drawl declaring a borderline inappropriate request for a kiss…
He paused just inside the door. ‘Is your brother home?’
She shook her head. ‘He’s away for a couple of days.’
She was so proud of Dan. He was making a push for greater independence and was currently at a clinic, working round the clock with a physio to help him get stronger and feel more comfortable with the prosthetics he’d finally decided to try.
Jack walked a pace behind her to the lounge.
‘What happened to him?’ he asked.
‘Tara didn’t tell you?’ Stephanie chose one of the two wooden dining chairs.
‘Not the whole story,’ he answered, taking a seat on the edge of the sofa. ‘I want you to tell me.’
She hesitated, not really wanting to go there. But not wanting Jack to leave yet either. And maybe she owed him some kind of explanation.
‘We went on a holiday together—in the Northern Territory. All my idea. I booked it. I was so excited, I’d wanted to travel for ages.’
She’d sat on the sidelines at all Dan’s meets. She’d read or sewed or dreamed up lists. And he’d supported her blog, offering the odd lame-ass suggestion when he thought of one. They’d been close.
They’d needed to be.
‘But Dan was tired. He’d had a cold the weekend before, and really he wanted to stay home. But he didn’t want me to go on the trip alone. When we were right in the Outback he got this bad headache. Fever. By the time the rash appeared the situation was dire.’
‘Meningitis?’ Jack said.
Stephanie nodded. ‘He almost died. And they had to amputate his lower arm and lower leg.’
‘Did your mum fly out to be with you?’
She almost choked on a bitter laugh and shook her head. ‘Eventually we flew back to Melbourne—when he was stable enough to make the trip. Mum had avoided the whole drama by having an affair with another new guy. She walked out of her second marriage and straight into the third. She’s gone with him to live in France. An absolute passion, she said. A once-in-a-lifetime love. Again…’
Jack leaned forward, pressing his hands to his knees. She sensed he was restraining himself from pacing.
‘So she’s dependent on a guy… Dan’s dependent on you… Who do you get to depend on?’ he asked.
Her heart pounded harder. ‘I have my friends—Tara is amazing.’
‘But you don’t tell her half your problems, do you? You shut her out because she calls things too bluntly for you.’ He smiled mirthlessly. ‘She’s too good a friend.’
‘I don’t want to bore her. I have other friends. I’m not hopeless. I’m not a pity case.’ Stephanie smarted at his judgement.
‘I never thought you were.’
‘I don’t need anyone to look after me.’ Her anger sparked now.
‘You don’t want to be dependent on anyone.’ He smiled that rueful smile. ‘That’s what I used to think about myself… But I’ve recently decided that I was wrong on that one.’