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Authors: Karly Lane

Burnt (6 page)

BOOK: Burnt
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‘Mrs McDonald –'

‘Roma. You're a grown woman now, Rebecca. Makes me feel so old to hear you call me Mrs McDonald now,' she teased lightly.

Calling her best friend's mother by her first name was not something that Rebecca's upbringing allowed her to do easily, and just thinking of it made her feel as though her mother would appear at any moment with a horrified frown. ‘I'm so sorry it's taken me so long to do this. I can't imagine how ridiculous you must think I am.'

‘I heard you were back in town,' Roma said as she pushed the coffee plunger down, sending the rich aroma of roasted beans through the room. ‘I knew you'd be around in your own good time.'

‘I've tried a lot of times. Over the years, I've snuck away while we were visiting Mum and Dad to drop by but I never seemed to make it past the turnoff to your street,' she admitted, staring into the cup that Roma placed before her.

‘Everyone deals with it in their own way. Don't be too hard on yourself, Becca.'

‘How's Mr – John,' she corrected quickly, as the older woman lifted an amused eyebrow.

‘He's well. Out playing golf, as usual. I'm afraid, since he retired last year, he's found a brand new passion in golf. I think he'd sleep out there on the golf course if they let him.' She spoke with the long-suffering tolerance of a woman secure in the knowledge that her husband of over forty years loved and cherished her.

‘And the boys?' Rebecca asked.

A proud smile broke out across Roma's face as she filled Rebecca in on her two eldest children's families and the grandchildren she now had.

Rebecca bit her lip hard to keep her emotions under wraps – she'd fallen apart enough in front of this poor woman to do it again – but Roma tilted her head slightly to one side and watched her closely.

‘What is it, dear?' she asked softly.

Rebecca shook her head, and forced the worst of the tears away.

‘How many children do you have?'

With a smile, she took a shaky breath. ‘Two girls.'

‘I'd love to meet them. Will you bring them over for afternoon tea one day?'

‘I'd like that.'

‘Good.' She looked out the window with a view over the backyard and the farmland below, her gaze softening. ‘I still feel her around me, you know,' she almost whispered, then lifted her eyes to meet Rebecca's slowly. ‘I'd never tell John, of course – he'd think I was losing my mind – but I do.'

Rebecca found it difficult to swallow past the constriction in her throat. ‘I wish I did. I miss her so much, Roma.'

‘You two were so close, more like sisters than best friends. I know you must miss her, but I can see she still lives through you. Maybe it's selfish of me, but I was so hoping you'd eventually visit. I knew when I heard about your life and your children and all the things you've been doing, I'd feel somehow connected to her again.'

‘I've never been able to stop feeling guilty. When I had Natalie, I cried for a week,' she admitted. She'd been an emotional wreck. Matthew had been almost beside himself, juggling a hysterical wife and a newborn baby. The doctors had put it down to hormones and maybe it had been in part, but deep down she knew it was because every time she looked down into that precious little wrinkled face all she could think was Reggie. Reggie, who would never have the chance to be a mother. Never get to give her mum a houseful of grandbabies to spoil. Never see them grow up and get married … Reggie was gone forever.

Every major life event since the accident had been the same. She almost couldn't go through with her wedding day and had had a panic attack at the door of the church as the same regrets rose in her mind. Reggie should have been down at the front of the church, waiting with the other bridesmaids and giving her the thumbs up – and she wasn't.

‘Reggie would be the first one to tell you to get
it, already,' Roma said, smiling to soften her words.

A small chuckle caught Rebecca unaware and she sniffed, reaching for a tissue from the middle of the table. ‘Yeah, she would.'

‘So. You bring those babies of yours over for me to spoil and I'll forgive you for keeping me waiting eighteen years to clear the air.'

The afternoon passed in a long trip down memory lane and Rebecca was surprised to find she actually enjoyed it. Far from being the morbid visit she'd been dreading, seeing Roma lifted a huge weight from her heavy heart and freed her of the burden of guilt she'd been harbouring for so long.

An image of Seb crossed her mind and she wondered how she'd be able to get him to come and meet with Roma and John, to ease a little of the guilt that he kept strapped firmly around him too. It'd take more than an afternoon over coffee and shared memories to penetrate that fortress of misery, though: Rebecca's guilt was born from having her best friend taken from her too early – Seb's guilt stemmed from the fact that he was driving the car she was killed in.

Rebecca glanced up as she sat at the nurses' station writing up her notes at the end of her shift, and felt as though the air had been sucked from her lungs. Seb stood there, resting his folded arms on the top of the tall front desk, waiting silently for her to acknowledge him.

‘Seb. Hi. What are you doing here?'

‘I'm about to head down to my physio appointment and thought I'd better report in, you know, so you don't go calling my boss and getting me in trouble,' he said with a straight face.

‘Well it's nice to see there's at least one person who can put the fear of god into you still,' she muttered dryly.

‘Yeah, there's one or two who can still do that.'

A buzzer went off behind her and automatically Rebecca turned to check the bed number. ‘I have to go. I'm glad you've decided to keep up with your rehab, though. Now I won't have to drive out there and harass you any more.'

‘I think Dad was counting on it. He's never gone out and bought
special biscuits for afternoon tea.'

Rebecca's forehead crinkled. ‘Then maybe you should use this time to get to know him again.'

She saw a guarded expression creep back into his eyes as he straightened and moved away from the desk. ‘I'll see you around, Bec.'

Rebecca gave a slight nod, and watched his broad back as it disappeared down the long corridor. He held himself upright and stiff, a combination of pain and training and, she suspected, more than a hint of irritation.

Seb and his father had never had a close relationship. Having watched them butt heads when Seb was a hot-headed teenager, Rebecca realised now that she'd never really understood the dynamics of their relationship. Time seemed to have mellowed them both and she hoped that Seb would be able to let down his guard long enough for his father to see the man his son had grown into. Maybe they could try to mend a few of those fences that continued to hold them both back.

The sound of the buzzer once more claimed her attention and she hurried to answer the call. For now, Sebastian Taylor would have to sort out his own problems; it was nothing to do with her. He'd made that perfectly clear eighteen years ago.

Chapter 7

Seb walked into the co-op feed store to buy some pesticides to spray the Parramatta grass that was running the risk of taking over the once lush paddocks. If it was left any longer, he'd have no hope of getting it back under control. He'd put the trip off as long as he could – preferring not to be in town at all if he could help it – but his father hadn't seemed keen on heading into town either, so it was up to him.

The street hadn't changed since the early twentieth century, preserved thanks to a lot of hard work from the local community and historical society. Bowraville was reclaiming its heritage and really did look like you'd stepped back in time. Seb noticed the new shops that had opened in the main street, and the renovated pubs that were cashing in on the yuppie factor, drawing weekend tourists in with coffee shops and restaurants offering a blend of good wholesome pub food and urban ‘fusion' cooking. It appeared they were succeeding in snagging a trendier clientele to the area, helped by the renovation of the theatre and the regular movies and plays that were performed there.

As he paid for the drums of chemicals, he felt someone watching him. He glanced up to survey his surroundings, more out of reflex than actual caution, and spotted a guy across the store watching him with a sullen glare. Heading out to the car, Seb was careful to keep a well-trained eye on the man back in the feed store, casually observing him in his peripheral vision, his body automatically loosening into a deceptively relaxed stance, ready to spring into action at a moment's notice if required.

In the window's reflection, he saw the stranger fall into step behind him and his irritation raised a notch.
What was this bloke's problem?
His shoulder was killing him today, he'd hardly slept the night before, and this was pretty much the icing on the cake. Turning quickly, he surprised the man, who looked to be in his mid twenties. Taking a menacing step towards him, blocking his retreat, Seb gave him the thunderous glare he knew had made more than a few new recruits quietly shit themselves. ‘What the fuck is your problem, mate?' he said, keeping his voice low and controlled.

For a minute the guy didn't answer, his mouth opening and closing like a goldfish's, but after a few seconds he seemed to recover his wits and a burning hatred flared into his eyes.

The sudden change surprised Seb, but he continued to stare down the smaller man.

‘You don't remember me, do you?' the guy snarled.

‘Should I?' Seb snarled in reply.

The guy's lip curled in a sneer and Seb's eyes narrowed further. There was something about him that nudged the edge of his memory. Something that was making him recoil in warning.

‘You sure you don't know me,
Mr Army Jerk

Was the guy insane? Who the hell riled up a guy who was twice his bloody size and already pissed off?

‘Why? Did we date once?' Seb said sarcastically.

The guy took a step closer, bringing him too far into Seb's personal space for comfort, before yelling, ‘Murderer!'

With a shove to the shoulder, Seb pushed him aside and walked back to his car. He saw people poking their heads out the doors of shops to see what was causing the commotion, but he didn't meet anyone else's gaze, slamming the door of his four-wheel drive behind him loudly. Turning the ignition, he pulled away from the curb.

He went numb as the adrenaline subsided, and his fingers began to tingle as though they'd fallen asleep. Nausea rose in his stomach and he forced it down. The urge to run – to just point the car in the opposite direction and drive away – was so strong that he didn't realise he was actually heading into Macksville until he came to the railway line.
What was he doing?
He drove through town and down towards the river, parking by the water and easing his frame out of the car stiffly.

Seb went to the river bank to stand and stare down into the rocks and watch the water lap against the sides. They'd done the place up a bit since he'd last been here. He took a deep breath and could smell the salty tang of the brackish water. The creek at his father's property was all fresh water, but the river was pretty much salt. It was only another few kilometres from here that the river met the ocean at Nambucca.

Something caught his eye as he stared out over the water, scanning the surface more thoroughly. A sleek body rose from the water in a graceful arc and he caught his breath as it went back under again. Dolphins. How many times had he and Bec stood on the river bank and watched for them? He continued to follow their progress now; at least four of the big, smooth-skinned creatures swam past before the sound of happy squealing children coming from the other side of the river caught his attention. As he focused on the trio, he saw Bec rise gracefully from the sand and follow two little girls into the water.

On a whim, and against his better judgement, he walked across the bridge that separated South and North Macksville to the little manmade beach, complete with white sand and a boat-mooring pontoon.

He sat on a big log under the shade of the gum trees and simply enjoyed watching mother and daughters frolic. Her hair was loose and flowing to her shoulders. She wore an Australian flag–patterned bikini top with matching board shorts – and the flag had never looked so damn good.

He dragged his gaze from Bec to the kids and couldn't help the smile that formed on his lips. They were clones of their mother, except one had a darker shade of hair like her mum and the other was blonde. They looked … happy.

He let his mind drift to the land of make-believe – where, if things had been different – they might have been his kids. Clenching his jaw against that stupid fantasy, he stood to walk away. Thinking those kinds of thoughts, he would wind up in all kinds of trouble he didn't need.


He froze. When he recovered enough to turn, he saw Bec walking uncertainly from the river towards him. Water streamed from her body, her wet hair sleek against her head, and her dark eyes, framed by even darker lashes, were bright and wide. As she neared, he caught the smell of coconut and sun cream, his eyes straying to where the water had beaded into a million tiny droplets across her shoulders and arms. She stopped in front of him.


He felt as though his tongue was glued to the top of his mouth.
Speak, fool!
the rational side of his brain yelled. ‘Hey.'

A small smile touched her soft lips and he felt his eyes lock onto her mouth with a longing that bordered on irrational.

‘What are you up to?' she asked, gathering her hair in one hand to squeeze the excess water from its length. The strands of hair separated into a sexy mass of tangles that almost begged him to run his fingers through and –

BOOK: Burnt
9.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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