“So, who was the girl you were talking to on the beach earlier today?” Dean asked, nursing his beer.
Julian scanned the area around the makeshift dance floor and bar. No Blondie. He knew the moment he walked away he should have asked for where she was staying. But no. He went for the ‘you’re going to miss me when I’m gone’ approach. But it seemed to turn out to be the ‘I’m walking away and I’ll lose you’ goodbye. A move only made by an idiot.
Staring at the bonfire, he pouted. “Just a girl.”
Dean let out a low laugh. “Sure,” he slowly dragged.
“What?” Julian raised a brow.
“Mate, I’ve seen you in clubs and on campus. Never seen you stumble like you did. You’re normally in and out with the phone numbers,” Dean explained.
“Whatever,” Julian sighed, knowing his mistakes. “Have you spoken to Willa?” he asked, trying to change the subject.
From the corner of his eye, he noticed Dean shake his head.
“She’s giving me the silent treatment after our fight. She hasn’t been herself since we got here.”
Turning his head, Julian stared at Dean and smiled at the concerned glint in his eye. “Maybe you should leave the beach party and go home to her?”
“She’ll probably tell me to go away.”
“Trust me, go talk to her,” Julian instructed.
“I don’t think—”
“Don’t think. Do.”
Dean passed Julian his beer and nodded. “Okay. I’ll go see what’s wrong with her.”
Julian didn’t bother to look if Dean was walking back to the villa. He knew deep down that Dean loved Willa just as stupidly. Fools are the ones in love. And love is for the fools.
Fools, fools, fools.
I’m a fool.
Not a ‘love’ fool.
But one of those fools who wait.
“Excuse me, you haven’t seen my friend have you?” her voice asked.
Julian froze and a smile instantly crossed his lips. He quickly turned around to see Stephanie in a white summer dress that hit her knees. She tilted her head and raised a brow at him.
You’re here, Stephanie.
“Your friend?” he asked, his smile not yet disappearing.
She nodded. “Yeah, he’s this annoying idiot. He wouldn’t be hanging out with you. You seem too serious by the way you’re glaring at that fire.”
Pursing his lips, he nodded his head at every word she said. When she stopped talking he let his eyes roam her face. Taking in the glint in her eyes, her cute nose and her plump lips. He kept his stare on her mouth longer than necessary and he knew that.
I’m going to kiss you, Blondie.
I don’t know when.
I don’t know how.
But I will.
His heart twitched at the thought. Friends kissed. He was sure one would be harmless. Clenching his eyelids tight together, Julian ignored the desire in him to want to kiss her right here, right now. It was all superficial. He enjoyed her exterior. The interior, her personality, was one he was going to take his time learning. She had already fascinated him with her book choice and her smart mouth. He wanted to know more.
“Julian,” she said his name so perfectly it was like each letter was voiced carefully.
Once he opened his eyes, he pushed his desired thoughts away. The hesitant look in her eye screamed ‘friends.’ In the end that’s what they’d be. But he’d be damned if he missed out on the knowledge of what her lips were like on his.
Baby steps, Julian.
“I didn’t think you’d come,” he confessed.
Stephanie shrugged. “You wanted me to come for some reason. And well, my roommate booted me out of the room. I don’t know where the other girls are so I thought what the hell.”
“This feels like a booty call. I am offended,” he teased.
She shook her head. “That was lame.”
“Do over?” he asked.
“Not on your life,” she sassed.
Shoulders sagging, Julian spun around and looked back at the fire. “You’re kinda mean, Blondie.”
Seconds passed and she stood next to him, also staring at the flames. “You should be used to it. We’re friends, remember?”
Looking across the dance room, Stevie noticed Rob standing alone by a table. Guilt settled in the pit of her stomach. It was hard for her to let go of her past and be with him. Something about his eyes and his smile reminded her of the man she left behind all those years ago. Being together was meant to make Jewel, the woman from the bar, jealous but somehow Rob fell deeper. And as hard as Stevie tried, she couldn’t make herself to fall in love with Robert Moors.
His name made her flinch. She tried not to remember that name but it had always been hard to. Stevie rubbed the back of her neck at where she had his initial tattooed. It was a spur of the moment decision that he had chosen to do in order to leave her comfort zone. Looking back, she should have had it removed but she couldn’t get herself to do it. Somehow they were the better chapters in her life, even though it was chapters she wished she could just forget. There were days when she wondered if he kept her initial tattooed on his chest. According to him that was where her name belonged. She was foolish to believe him then. They were just a ‘summer fling.’
The times after Thailand had been her darker times. Only her stepbrother, Jarred Harper, brought her back. When she left for London, she vowed to never let her secrets about Julian and Thailand to ever be revealed to Jarred. Sighing, Stevie placed the envelope on the table next to her and glanced back at Rob. It wasn’t something she wanted to do, to tell him it was over, but she couldn’t stay with him. She never had a problem being with men, that she knew well, but Rob was different. Rob was an exception.
If only I met him first, then maybe things could have been different.
Rob had never looked at her the same since she had called it quits. But Stevie knew why he hadn’t. Since he laid eyes on Alison O’Connor, Stevie knew things had changed. No matter how much Rob tried to hide it, she knew he was attracted to the young Sydney socialite. And that secret smile he directed towards Ally as she danced with her little cousin, CeCe, confirmed it.
Shifting her focus back at Noel and Clara dancing, Stevie was envious. Just the way Noel looked at her best friend with such love made her jealous. It was disgusting how jealous she was. She was happy for them but a love like theirs was only for the privileged and the pure. A love like theirs was only for them and no one else. Everyone who watched were intruders. Outsiders looking in.
"It'll happen for you."
Turning her head, she instantly smiled at the man next to her. His freckles had always made her smile. If she ever wanted to make someone proud, it would always be him.
"Big talk for someone who already has it," she said.
Jarred sighed and then gave her a tight smile. "Stevie, don't be so hard on yourself. What they have, what Annie and I have, you'll have it someday. You're a good person that made a mistake. Don't punish yourself for the rest of your life. You deserve love, just don't run or you'll miss out."
I already had it.
I already ran.
I already missed out.
The guilt weighed heavy on her chest and threatened the resurfacing of the memories she had. She had left him. She gave him no reason or chance. She just wanted to vanish.
I was afraid to be in love with him.
I was afraid that maybe he could love me.
It was too spontaneous.
It didn’t make sense.
“I don’t deserve love, Jarred. You were in London. You saw what kind of person I really am. What I’m really capable of,” Stevie said, remembering those nights he had come to rescue her.
“Don’t. You’ve come a long way since then. You were lost. I don’t judge you base on those times. I know what a kind hearted person you are. You are responsible for that,” Jarred said, pointing at Noel as he kissed his wife.
It was the only thing she had ever done right in her life and that was making sure Clara found her way back to Noel. Convincing Liam had been easy. All it took was alcohol to get him to open up. Clara had been a tougher task—she had almost given up her happiness for Liam’s.
“I didn’t do anything. It was all them.”
Jarred snorted. “You were the one to convince Liam to go to Boston. You know Clara is forever grateful to you.”
Stevie focused down at the envelope and then back at her stepbrother. “I’m going to miss her,” she confessed in a small voice.
Placing a hand on her shoulder, Jarred nodded then said, “Me, too. You know, one day, someone is going to want to love you the way Noel loves Clara… maybe even more.”
Stevie’s heart ached. She wanted a love like theirs but she knew she never deserved one. Not when she had it. Not when she decided it was better to walk away than feel it. And after that last morning in Thailand, she had decided she never wanted to feel anything as intense as she did with Julian. No matter how much she had wanted to.
The truth is, Len Webster is a romance-loving Melbournian with dreams of finding her version of ‘The One.’ She calls Australia home, but secretly wishes a man with a beautiful accent would whisk her away. She’s been called a hopeless romantic and a firm believer of happily ever afters, which she doesn’t object to.
Having just completed her Bachelor in Business and Commerce, Len can be found daydreaming of her next Europe adventure or swooning over Mr. Darcy. Her best friends are a hot cup of tea, red velvet cupcakes, a warm jumper and her MacBook, ready to write to her heart’s content.