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Authors: Joss Wood

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It Was Only a Kiss (14 page)

BOOK: It Was Only a Kiss
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‘Well, we did, and I knew that I’d regret it!’

Luke’s eyes were a deep green and as hard as granite. He was slipping further and further away from her to a place where she wouldn’t be able to reach him.

‘Luke, please don’t do this...’ Jess’s anger faded and she put her hand out to him. She winced when Luke jerked away from her touch. He was gone, slipped over. She’d lost him...

Jess felt her heart crack. ‘Why are you deliberately misconstruing my actions?’ she demanded. ‘I tried to give you a heads-up eight years ago about St Sylve and you tore me apart. I believe that you need to know that your mum loved you—adored you—but I’m being told that I’m an overbearing, interfering, controlling witch.’

Jess heard her voice grow stronger and she squared her shoulders and looked Luke in the eye.

‘And the icing on the cake? You slept with me because I was
? Nice, Luke.’ Jess scrubbed her hands over her face. This day had gone to hell in a handbag... Her voice vibrated with emotion when she spoke again. ‘I thought you were
, Luke.’


‘The person I wanted to be with for the rest of my life. It just goes to show how utterly stupid I can be on occasion.’ Jess’s voice broke. ‘But you know what? I deserve more and I definitely deserve better. There were kinder ways to get rid of me, Luke.’

She took her keys out of her back pocket and played with them, fighting back tears. She looked around the room.

‘Please ask Angel to pack up my stuff. I’ll pay her to do it. I’ll send a courier company to pick it up. I can’t be here another second. Consider me history, Luke.’

When she was at the door she thought she heard him say her name, softly and laced with pain. But when she turned around Luke was still sitting on the edge of his bed, staring down at the carpet between his legs. It was just her active imagination, conjuring up scenes and possibilities that were impossible.

Walking away from him, from the place—the person—she considered her home took more courage than she’d known she had.

* * *

It was two-forty a.m. and Luke couldn’t sleep. Instead he lay on the leather couch in front of his flat-screen, watching the final advert for St Sylve for the... He’d forgotten how many times he’d watched it. He watched Jess jump into his arms, felt his heart clench each time she did it.

The rain hammered down outside, as it had done for the past week. He’d spent the day placing sandbags next to the stream that ran past the eastern vineyard. The stream was pumping, and more rain upstream would cause it to break its banks and flood the vineyard. He recalled his grandfather talking about that same stream bursting its banks in fifty-eight and washing away a good portion of the vines.

He had no problem learning from his forefathers’ mistakes.

It was learning from his own that he was having problems with.

Earlier tonight, unable to sleep, he’d reopened the envelope Jess had left behind and properly read the papers inside. The contents of which he was still trying to process...

According to the notes Jess had jotted down, his aunt had died shortly after his father passed away, but her daughter, who now lived in the cottage, had kept her mother’s papers and knew about Katelyn.

Long story short: his mum hadn’t left him. According to the daughter, his mother had left him at St Sylve for a couple of days while she sorted out a house to rent close to her sister. She’d already moved the bulk of his toys and clothes and his father had known that she was leaving.

He’d been an
—a very welcome mistake for his mother, a way to be trapped into marriage for his father. They’d married, and the relationship had always been stormy. His father’s affairs and his inability to share his time, his money and St Sylve with her had led to her decision to leave.

She’d been on her way to collect him when she’d died. Subsequently his father had refused his aunt permission to see him or to have anything to do with him. She’d sent letters and birthday presents every year. When Luke had left school his aunt’s health had been failing and she’d decided to let fate run its course. If he chose to seek her out then so be it.

He might have decided to track her down...if he’d known about her. Naturally he’d never seen the letters or the presents. How typical of his father, he thought. He hadn’t wanted his mother, but her leaving St Sylve should have been on
terms, not hers, and he’d been left with a reminder that she’d left without permission: Luke himself.

Luke tucked a pillow behind his head. He now realised—could finally accept—that Jess had done this for
. She knew that there was a festering ulcer buried deep in his heart. She’d lanced it by tracking down his cousin—had started the process of healing by bringing him these papers. She knew it was necessary for him and also knew that he probably wouldn’t have done it without her pushing.

The folder of papers she’d left signified a particular type of freedom: the knowledge that he’d been wanted—loved. If he’d left with his mother he wouldn’t have had the material benefits his father had given him...but he would have been happier. Settled, not so neurotic about relationships.

Thanks, Dad.

Some time earlier, while reading the papers, he’d finally admitted that he was utterly in love with Jess.

Quickly following that thought had come acceptance that he
a ‘chicken-crap coward’—that he’d been scared of loving Jess in case he lost her, terrified of facing and dealing with the pain...and guess what? He
lost her. She was gone.

He missed her...and he felt sick every time he remembered that she wasn’t part of his life any more. Life together. It was what he wanted. She was the other chamber of his heart—the reason the sun came up in the morning. He could see her ripe with life, carrying his child. She would be the most fantastic mother—the glue that would hold his family together. He felt settled with her—calm, in control. Nothing much was wrong with his world if he could see her smile first thing in the morning.

He finally understood what love felt like...

Just Jess.

They were meant to be together; they would be together. He just had to find a way to make that happen.

Logistically, it was a nightmare. Her home, her life, was in Sandton. His was here at St Sylve. How much could he give up for her and, more importantly, would she even have him?

If he had to he would leave St Sylve. It would be a wrench, but if there was a choice between St Sylve and Jess, being with Jess would win. St Sylve was his heritage but Jess was his soul.

Luke rolled over, pointed the remote and switched the TV off. As soon as it was light he’d head for the airport, catch the first plane he could find and go to Jess.

He’d go to her because wherever she was, simply, was where he wanted—needed—to be.

* * *

Jess paced her mother’s kitchen, a glass of red wine in her hand, her thoughts a million miles away. Her father sat at the kitchen table, sketching, and her mother was making an apple crumble that Jess knew, from thirty-odd years of eating her mother’s food, would taste like cardboard.

When she refused to eat some she would only be telling the truth when she explained that along with destroying her heart Luke had also taken her appetite.

Clem stood at the stove, and Nick was somewhere in the house fixing something. He and Clem were in town for a couple of days to give Clem her ‘city fix’. It amused Jess that Clem’s need for a city fix always seemed to coincide with something that needed to be done at her parents’ house. It was, Jess knew, Clem’s very clever way of re-establishing and cementing Nick’s relationship with his parents after years of little or no communication.

Clem walked over to her and put her hand on her shoulder. ‘Oh, Jess, I
know what you’re going through. The month I spent without Nick was the loneliest, hardest of my life.’

Jess rested her head on Clem’s shoulder, dry-eyed but exhausted. ‘It’s been a week and my heart is shutting down...I never knew it could hurt this much.’

‘I have to tell you that your brothers are making plans to go down there and beat the snot out of him,’ Clem informed her. ‘There have been mutters about broken knees and cracked heads.’

Jess looked horrified. ‘They can’t! Honestly, why can’t they mind their own business?’

‘Because you
our business, Jessica Claire,’ her father said, his eyes focused on his sketch. ‘But I have faith in that young man. He just needs to get his head around the fact that he’s loved and in love.’

‘You don’t know Luke, Dad. He’s stubborn...’

‘But I know young men. I raised four and I was young myself once. Every one of your brothers took some time to shake off their...
...attachment to their bachelor lifestyle, to their freedom. I did the same.’

‘David cried and squealed like a girl when I told him I wouldn’t put up with him seeing other girls and that getting stoned regularly was not an option,’ Liza informed them crisply.

Her comment made Clem laugh, and Jess just managed a smile. She pulled out a chair and slumped into it. She wished she could tell them Luke’s reluctance to get involved wasn’t a normal man’s fear of commitment, that it was rooted in his childhood, in his mother’s death, his father’s lack of love.

Jess looked up at Clem. ‘You were right, Clem. Heck,
was right... I shouldn’t have interfered.’

Clem shrugged. ‘He’ll come to realise that you did it out of love and he’ll forgive you.’

‘I doubt it,’ Jess replied.

David looked up from his sketch of Clem. ‘Did his cousin say anything about Katelyn’s paintings?’

‘Apparently they are all in the attic at her cottage. Janet didn’t realise that Katelyn was such an important artist.’

‘Is she going to sell them?’ Liza asked.

‘No, she said they are Luke’s, and she’ll leave them where they are until he decides what to do with them. If he decides to do anything with them,’ Jess muttered darkly. ‘The list of paintings was in the envelope with the rest of the documents.’

‘I’d love to see them,’ David said reverentially.

Jess picked up a fork and traced patterns in the bright tablecloth with its tines. ‘You and me both. But there is no chance of that, Dad.’

‘Keep the faith, darling.’ David patted her hand. ‘And if nothing happens with Luke, just remember that your mother has the numbers of at least three young men who’d like to meet you.’

Jess couldn’t smile at his joke. She doubted she’d ever date again. That was the trouble with meeting your soul mate—it was difficult to imagine, comprehend being with another man. Even if said soul mate wanted nothing to do with her.

Liza saw something in her face that made her step forward and run a hand over her head. ‘Forget your brothers. I have a good mind to beat him up myself.’

Jess looked up into her mum’s sympathetic face. ‘It just hurts so much, Mum.’

Liza wrapped her arms around Jess’s neck and Jess rested her cheek on her stomach. ‘I know, baby girl. I know it does.’

* * *

Later on that afternoon, not knowing that he’d missed Jess by a couple of minutes, Luke stood at her parents’ front door and met Nick’s cold grey eyes. He thought that the possibility of Nick’s fist rocketing into his jaw was quite high. Jess’s brother scowled at him, and the muscles in his forearms bulged when he folded his arms and widened his stance. Luke thought he could take him, if he had to, but if Nick punched him he wouldn’t retaliate. He deserved the punch and more.

‘You have five seconds to state your case before I rip your head off,’ Nick snarled, his grey eyes thunderous.

Luke thought fast and decided to keep it simple. ‘I love her and I want to marry her.’

Nick stared at him and Luke braced himself. Nobody was more surprised when Nick’s face cleared, his arms dropped and a huge smile split his face. ‘Cool. C’mon in. Jess isn’t here, though.’

Luke stayed where he was. ‘You’re not going to hit me?’

Nick looked amused. ‘Do you want me to?’

‘No, I’ll pass. But...why not?’

Nick swung the front door open. ‘You took nearly a week to realise that you are an idiot. I took a month. The point is you got there, and you are doing something about it. You
doing something about it?’ he asked.

‘Of course I am,’ Luke replied irritably.

‘Then why are you here and not at her place, grovelling?’

‘I’m not quite ready to see Jess yet. Well, I am—but there’s something I have to do first and I need help.’

Nick clapped a hand on his shoulder. ‘I’m your man. I can’t wait to watch the merry dance my sister leads you for the rest of your life, mate.’

As long as she’s dancing with me, I don’t give a damn,
Luke thought. ‘I need you and at least one other of your brothers to help me transport something...’

* * *

Jess was at home and wishing she could stop waiting for Luke to call. She propped her feet up on the coffee table and sighed. She had a huge, Luke-sized hole in her life and a smaller St Sylve hole next to it. She kept telling herself that life had a funny way of sorting itself out, but the words weren’t sinking in. She had loved and lost. Millions had, and it wasn’t the end of the just felt like it.

Jess sat up, hearing a key in her front door lock, and turned around to see the door opening. ‘For crying in a bucket, Patrick! Hold it up!’

She heard another couple of muffled swear words from...
? Looking towards the front door, she saw three pairs of feet: trainers, loafers and—oh, God—scuffed work boots. And three pairs of legs behind a massive brown-paper-wrapped frame.

Jess stood up, her hand to her heart as the frame wobbled and Luke cursed. ‘Damn! Be careful. Okay, lower it against the couch. Slowly... This was not the greatest idea I’ve ever had.’

Jess had no words so she just stared at them, watching as Nick glared at Luke across the top of the painting. ‘I said that, Sherlock.’

BOOK: It Was Only a Kiss
8.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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