Authors: Leah Ashton
The tycoon she never forgot...
Mila Molyneux had always harboured a secret crush on her childhood friend Sebastian Fyfeâuntil he married another woman. She buried her feelings and moved on, knowing it was best for everyone...
Meeting Seb years laterânow widowed and still gorgeousâtheir long-lost connection is as deep as ever. Only now difficult emotions challenge not only Seb but Mila, as well. Dare she hope they can now find happinessâif she can confront the hold this brooding tycoon still has over her?
There wasn't much space between them. A meter, maybe a little less.
Mila still held his gaze. He wished hers was unreadable, but it wasn't, not anymore. He was sure his wasn't, either.
All he had to do was reach for her...
And that would be it.
And it would change everything. Their friendshipâthe friendship that was so important to him, that he needed so badlyâit would be altered forever.
Was this really what she wanted?
“I just want tonight,” Mila whispered, reading his mind.
And with that, he was losing himself in those eyes, falling into their depths.
He needed to touch her. He needed Mila. There was no going back.
Next year will be my twenty-year high school reunion (how did this happen?), and I'm lucky to still be very close to two of my friends from high school.
Through interstate and overseas moves, marriage and children, our friendships have shifted over the years. Right now, we catch up with a backdrop of exuberant children, orâeven betterâover a glass of wine. Quite the contrast to the nights we wore satin trousers, midriff tops (it was the '90s!) and drank cheap sparkling wine as we tottered about Fremantle! While I'm glad
days are behind us, much of our friendship remains unchanged. We still talk for hours, we still support each other unconditionally and we still laugh and sigh at rom coms at the local cinema.
I've always thought there's something special about childhood friendships that endure, and that's where Mila and Seb's story came from. Mila and Seb's friendship has drifted, but a tragedy brings them back togetherâuntil a long-forgotten attraction makes things very complicated!
I hope you enjoy Mila and Seb's journey as the boyâand girlânext door discover that their childhood connection has become so much more.
THE BILLIONAIRE FROM HER PAST
RITAÂ® Awardâwinning author
never expected to write books. She grew up reading everything she could lay her hands onâfrom pony books to the back of cereal boxes at breakfast. One day she discovered the page-turning, happy-sigh-inducing world of romance novels...and one day, much later, wondered if maybe she could write one, too.
Leah now lives in Perth, Western Australia, and writes happy-ever-afters for heroines who definitely
need saving. She has a gorgeous husband, two amazing daughters and the best intentions to meal plan and maintain an effortlessly tidy home. When she's not writing, Leah loves all-day breakfast, rambling conversations and laughing until she cries. She really hates cucumber. And scary movies.
Books by Leah Ashton
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For my dad, Jeff.
Whether it be for a tennis match, dressage test, job interview or career decision, you have always supported me with your wisdom, your positivity, your loveâand your ability to reverse a horse float. Thank you for always being there for me. I love you. Go Freo!
That was what Mila Molyneux remembered.
And bubblegum-pink. Crocodile-green. Little-boy-blue.
So many colours: primary and pastels, and in stripes and polka dots. Everywhere. On party dresses, balloons and pointed party hats. Or scrunched and forgotten in the mountains of desperately ripped and dismissed wrapping paper that wafted across the lawn.
A rainbow of happy, excited eight-year-olds beneath a perfect Perth sky.
But Stephanie had definitely worn purple to her birthday party all those years ago. Purple tights, purple dress and glittering purple cowboy boots.
Mila remembered how excited her best friend had been that day. She remembered how excited she'd been, tooâwhat eight-year-old girl wasn't excited by a birthday party? It had been years before their dreary Gothic black high school days, so Mila guessed she'd been wearing some shade of redâher favourite colourâbut that detail of her memories had faded. As had the memory of what Seb had worn, but he'd been there, too. Three friends, neighbours all in a row, although back then Seb had most definitely still had âboy germs'.
But that had changed later.
As had Stephanie's backyard.
Today there were no balloons in Mr and Mrs van Berlo's garden. No patchwork of forgotten wrapping paper. No mountain of presents or shrieking of excited children.
And definitely no purple, nor even the tiniest hint of a rainbow.
Instead the guests wore black as they mingled amongst tall tables topped with elegant white flower arrangements. In this same garden, where Stephanie and Mila had played hide and seek hundreds of times, it just didn't seem real. Didn't seem possible.
But thenânone of this did, did it?
âIf anyone else tells me how lucky we are to have such
weather today I'm going toâ'
Sebastian Fyfe stood beside her, staring out at the monochrome guests beneath the unseasonably perfect winter sky. His voice was strong and deep, as it always was.
It had been years since they'd spoken face to face. Almost as long since their emails and social media messages had dribbled out into nothing.
âIf anyone else tells you how lucky we are to have such
weather today you're going to nod politelyâbecause you get how no one has a clue what to say to a man at his wife's funeral,' Mila finished for him.
Seb raised his untouched beer in Mila's direction. âCorrect,' he conceded. His tone was as tired as his grey-blue eyes. â
don't know what to say at my wife's funeral either. Maybe I should steal their material and start the weather conversation myself.'
Mila managed a small smile. âDo whatever you have to do to get through this,' she said. âPersonally, I'm just not talking to anybody.'
Even her mother and two sisters were giving her the space she needed. But they stood nearby, in a neat half-circle, just in case she changed her mind.
âIs Ben here?' Seb asked, not really looking at her.
Mila shook her head. âNo,' she said. âWe broke up.'
A few months ago now. Steph had known, but obviously she hadn't passed on the news to Seb. Not that long ago Mila would've told Seb herselfâbut things had changed.
For a long while they just stood together silently, Seb was tall and stiff and stoic in his perfectly tailored suit, looking like the successful businessman he wasâbut it was impossible to ignore the flatness of his expression and the emptiness in his eyes. His dark hair was rumpledâit always wasâbut today it looked too long, as if he'd missed a haircut. Or two.
A waitress offered canapÃ©s, which they both refused. Mila swirled her remaining Shiraz in its glass, but didn't drink.
She desperately wanted to say something. To ask how Seb wasâhow he
was. To wrap her arms around him and hold on tight. To cry tears for Stephanie that only Seb could understand. But it had been too long since their friendship had been like that.
It had been six years since Seb and Stephanie had moved to London, and maybe they should have expected things to change with so much distance between them.
âDid Stephâ?' Seb began, then stopped.
âDid she what?'
He turned to meet Mila's gaze. âDid you know?' he said. âWhat she was doing?'
Did you know about the drugs?
Mila shook her head. âNo,' she said.
Something shifted in his eyes. Relief?
âMe either,' he said. âI hate myself every day for not knowing. But it helpsâin a wayâthat she hid it from you, too.'
Mila blinked, confused. âI wouldn't say she
it from me, Seb,' she said gently, not really wanting to disagree with him on a day like today, but also knowing he deserved her honesty. âThe last time I spoke to Steph was her birthday.' Almost six months ago. âAnd we weren't really talking regularly before that. Not for a long time.'
Seb's expression hardened. âBut you're her best friend.'
Mila nodded. âOf course. It's just...'
âYou should've been there for her.'
His words were clipped and brutal. His abrupt angerâevident in every line of his face and postureâshocked her.
âSeb, Steph always knew I was there for her, but our lives were so different. We were both busy...'
It sounded as awful and lame an excuse as it was. Mila knew it. Seb knew it.
Maybe everything had changed when they'd moved to London. Maybe it had been earlier. Not that it
mattered. No matter how rarely they'd spoken recently, Stephanie had been her Best Friend. A proper noun, with capital letters. Always and for ever.
Until death do us part.
Tears prickled, threatened.
She looked at Seb through blurry eyes. The sunlight was still inappropriately glorious, dappling Seb's shoulders through the trees. He was angry, but not with her. Or at least not
with her. She knew him well enough, even now, to know that he was simply
. With everything.
So she wasn't going to try to defend herself with words she didn't even believe. Instead she could only attempt to turn back the clockâto be the type of friend none of them had been to each other for this past half decade and more.
She reached for him, laying her hand on his arm. âSebâif I can do anything...'
He shrugged, dislodging her hand. His gaze remained unyielding. âNow you just sound like all the others. You've just skipped the bit about the weather.'
And as he walked away her tears trickled free.
Eighteen months later
step backwards and crossed her arms as she surveyed the sea of figurines before her.
Fresh from the kiln, the small army of dragons and other mythical creatures stood in neat rows, their colourful glazes reflecting the last of the sun filtering through the single window in the back room of Mila's pottery workshop.
There was a red dragon with only three legs. A beautifully wonky centaur. A winged beast with dramatically disproportionate wings.
Plus many other creations that Mila now knew she must wait for the children in her class to describe.
It had only taken one offended ten-year-old for Mila to learn that it was best
to mention the name of the creation she was complimenting. Now she went with,
That is amazing!
What an amazing tiger!
Because, as it turned out, sometimes what appeared to be a
was actually a zebra.
But here she was, surveying the results of her beginners' class for primary school age childrenâa new venture for Mila's Nest
and, to her, the table of imperfect sculptures was absolutely beautiful. She couldn't wait for the kids' reactions when they saw their creatures dressed in their brilliant glazesâsuch a change from the muted colours they'd worn prior to being fired in the kiln.
A tinkling bell signalled that someone had entered the shop. Mila's gaze darted to the oversized clock on the wallâit was well after five, but she'd forgotten to put up her
With a sigh, Mila stepped out of her workshop. Mila's Nest was one of a small group of four double-storey terrace-style shops on a busy Claremont Street, each with living accommodation upstairs. Mila had split the downstairs area into two: a small shop near the street, and a larger workshop behind, where she ran her pottery classes.
The shop displayed Mila's own work, which tended towards usable objectsâvases, platters, bowls, jugs and the like. Mila had always been interested in making the functional beautiful and the mundane unique.
The man who'd entered her shop stood with his back towards her, perusing the display in her shop window. He was tall, and dressed as if he'd just walked off a building site, with steel-capped boots, sturdy-looking knee-length shorts and a plaster-dusted shirt covering his broad shoulders.
He must have come from the shop next door. Vacant for years, it had been on the verge of collapse, and Mila had been seriously relieved when its renovation had begun only a week or so ago. Even teaching above the shriek of power tools, hammering and banging had been preferable to the potential risk of her own little shop being damaged by its derelict neighbour.
The man picked up a small decorative bowl, cradling it carefully in the palm of one large hand.
âThat piece has a lustre glaze,' Mila said, stepping closer so she could trace a finger across the layered metallic design. âIf you're after something larger, I haveâ'
But by now Mila's gaze had travelled from the workman's strong hands to his face. His extremely familiar and completely unexpected face.
âSeb!' she said on a gasp, her hands flying to her mouth in surprise.
Unfortunately her fingers momentarily caught on the rim of the tiny bowl and it crashed to the jarrah floor, immediately shattering into a myriad of blue and silver pieces.
* * *
âDammit!' Mila said, dropping to her knees.
Seb swore under his breath, and dropped to his haunches beside her. âSorry,' he said, inadequately.
This wasn't the way he'd planned for things to go.
Mila looked up, meeting his gaze through her brunette curls. Her hair was shorter than it had been at the funeral and it suited her, making her big blue eyes appear even larger and highlighting the famous cheekbones she'd inherited from her movie star father.
âIt wasn't your fault,' she said. âYou just surprised me'.
She piled the largest pieces of the bowl into a small heap, then stood and strode over to the shop's front door, flipping the red and white sign to
. When she turned back to face him she'd crossed her arms in front of the paint-splattered apron she wore.
Her expression had shifted, too. He'd thought, just for a second, that maybe she was glad to see him. But, no, that moment had gone.
âYes?' she prompted.
He had a speech planned, of sorts. An explanation of why he'd hadn't returned her many phone calls, or her emails, or her social media messages in the months after Steph's funeralâbefore she'd clearly given up on ever receiving a response.
It wasn't a very good speech, or a good explanation.
Explaining something that he didn't really understand was difficult, he'd discovered.
âI stuffed up,' he said, finally. Short and to the point.
Mila raised her eyebrows, but he could see some of the tension leave her shoulders. Not all of it, though.
âI wasn't contacting you to make myself feel better, like you said,' Mila said. âOr out of guilt.' Another pause. âI was worried about you.'
Ah. Yes, he had replied to one email. He remembered typing it, with angry, careless keystrokes. He didn't remember the contentâhe didn't want to. It wouldn't have been nice. It would have been cruel.
âI wasn't in a good place,' he said.
Mila nodded. âI know. I wish you'd let me be there for you. Steph was my best friend, but she was your
. I can't imagine how difficult this has been for you.'
She stepped towards him now, reaching out a hand before letting it drop away against her hip, not having touched him at all. He realised, belatedly, that she wasn't angry with him. That he'd misinterpreted the narrowing of her eyes, the tension in her muscles...
She was guarded, not angry. As if she was protecting herself.
He'd known he'd hurt her at the funeral. Not straight awayâit had taken months for his brain to function properly againâbut eventually. And she was still hurt, now.
That was difficult for Seb to acknowledge. The Mila he knew was always so together. So tough. So assured. She didn't sweat the small things. Didn't put up with nonsense.
But he'd hurt herâand he was supposed to be her friend. Once he'd been one of her closest friendsâand the last person in the world who would want to cause her pain. And yet he had. He didn't like that at all.
âYou didn't stuff up,' she said after a long silence. âI mean, I don't think there are really rules in this situation. When a man loses his wife. But I think lashing out occasionally is allowed.' She shrugged. âI'm a big girl. I can deal with it.'
She was being too kind, too understanding. âI can still apologise,' he said. âThat's why I'm here. To say sorry. For what I said at the funeral and for everything afterwards. We both lost Steph. I should've been there for you, too. I should've been a better friend.'
He could see her ready to argue again, to attempt to absolve him of all guiltâbut he didn't want that. And maybe she understood.
But he could see she wasn't entirely comfortable.
âI accept your apology. But only if you promise not to send any more mean emails. Deal?'
There it wasâthe spark in her gaze. The sparkle he remembered from the strong, cheeky, stubborn teenage version of Mila. And the strong, cheeky, stubborn early-twenty-something version, too.
âDeal,' he said, with a relieved smile.
She was twenty-nine, now. A year younger than Seb. She'd matured and lost that lanky teenage look, but she was still very much the Mila Molyneux who featured in so many of his childhood memories. He'd lived two houses down from her in their exclusive Peppermint Grove neighbourhoodâalthough at first they'd had no idea of their privileged upbringing. All the three of themâSteph, Mila and Sebâhad cared about was their next adventure. Building forts, riding their bikes, clandestine trips to the shops for overstuffed bags of lollies... And then, once they were older, they'd somehow maintained their friendship despite being split into separate gender-specific high schools. All three had studied together, hung out together. Had fun.
Mila had even been the first girl he'd kissed.
He hadn't thought about that in years. It had, it turned out, been a disaster. He'd misread the situation, embarrassed them both.
Mila was looking at him curiously.
âSo, any chance of a tour?' he asked, dragging himself back into the present.
Mila shook her head firmly. âNot until you tell me why on earth you're wearing
,' she said, with a pointed look at his work clothes.
Seb grinned. âAh,' he said. âLong story. How about you give me the tour of your shop first? Then I'll give you a tour of next door and explain.'
âNope,' Mila said firmly. âYou're giving me your tour firstâbecause I
to find out how an international IT consultant has ended up renovating the shop next door.'
âWell,' Seb said, smiling fully now, âthat's kind of all your fault, Mila.'
fault?' Mila said, tapping her chest as if to confirm who he was referring to.
âMost definitely,' he said. Then he grabbed her hand and tugged her towards her front door. âCome on, then.'
And, for one of the very few times he could remember, Mila Molyneux looked less than in control of a situation.
Seb decided he liked that.