Know Your Heart – Chapter 1

 

“I know who you are. What do you want?”

Savannah Payne blinked at the scruffy man in blue jeans filling up the front door of her hideaway house in Bounty Bay.

Granted, she hadn’t expected a warm Far North welcome, considering she planned to kick him off her property. She’d had an a-ha moment back home in Auckland yesterday as she packed her suitcases. Her cousin, Nate, had called a month ago when she was on location in the States, asking if an old university friend could stay in her house for six weeks to write his book. She’d agreed with a mi casa es su casa sort of thing, impatient to get back to filming the movie that would catapult her into the limelight once again.

But now, at twenty-seven years old, she found herself facing potential unemployment. And Nate’s friend was in her house.

A house she desperately wanted to curl up in and hide from the paparazzi who’d love the chance to snap a photo of Savannah Payne, failing actress.

Is there any truth to the rumors about the last years of your marriage? And Savannah, Savannah! How do you feel about being kicked out of your comeback movie role by an actress five years younger and twenty-five pounds lighter?

Karma, maybe?

Cue slathering on the charm, in order to get Nate’s friend out.

“Oh.” She slid up the oversized sunglasses onto her head and bared her teeth in what she hoped was an irresistible smile with enough wattage to turn the man’s frown upside down. “I’d like to have a little chat with you—I’m the owner of this property.”

“As I said, Savannah, I know who and what you are.” The man lounged in the doorway, making no move to invite her in or to come out to talk with her.

His pale-blue gaze skipped coolly up her length, from the tips of her suede boots to the long hair spilling over her silk shirt. Good thing after her latest humiliation she hadn’t succumbed to the ranks of the Sweatpants Brigade. Yet. Peering in the rear-view mirror a few minutes ago she’d taken the time to apply another coat of mascara and fluff up her travel-weary hair. If you look confident, her mother’s voice instructed in Sav’s inner ear, you’ll be confident—and when you were about to evict a stranger from your house, it seemed imperative to use every weapon at your disposal.

“So, Nate told you I owned the place?”

“Yeah.” Muscles flexed beneath his long-sleeved, grey Henley as he pushed his glasses up his nose.

The muscles were a surprise, but the tortoiseshell, hipster-style glasses on a guy supposedly writing a book? Please. What a stereotype.

“You’re friends from university days, aren’t you?” She kept her voice light and easy. Adopted a determined but pleasant we’re having a nice, friendly conversation kind of tone. “Nate and I spent a lot of time together back then, but I don’t remember you.”

Three years younger than her cousin, Savannah had still been in high school while Nate was off slogging away at his journalism degree. She’d often hung with him and his mates at his student flat. She caught another quick peek of impressive biceps as the man folded his arms. Wouldn’t she remember such a hottie amongst Nate’s friends?

“Why would you?” He huffed out a sigh. “Look, I’m right in the middle of something, so can we skip the school days memories?”

Behind her, in the thousands of acres of native bush surrounding the house, wind soughed through the trees, bringing with it the kiss of rain. She shivered in the spring air. She should’ve brought her coat from her hired four-wheel-drive, since apparently this guy had the manners of a man raised by jackals.

Savannah’s smile wavered. “Can I at least come inside? Gavin, isn’t it?”

A long pause. “Glen. Glen Cooper. And no, I’d rather talk to you out here.”

“But it’s my house.”

“Yep, it is.”

Yep? Yep, with folded arms and a thousand-yard stare? Surely, a guy supposedly writing a book could be a little more verbally forthcoming. “I’d like it back. My house, that is.”

“You’re asking me to leave?”

He had a voice like melted chocolate, the expensive Swiss kind. Rich, sinful, and liable to make a woman forget she was on a diet. She mentally shook her head. Nope. Not this woman anyway.

Obviously, she’d have to spell it out. “Yes. I’m asking you—very nicely, very politely—to leave my house. I need it.”

“Don’t you have a house in Auckland?”

“I’ve just had a hellish five-hour drive north to get away from it. I want to stay here.”

“I see. Unfortunately, there’s a problem with what you want. I’m legally your tenant.”

“Legally?” Oh, hell. What had Nate agreed to? “What are you, a lawyer?”

He quirked an eyebrow. “Yes, as a matter of fact.”

It figured. Just as she figured most female clients would simper at his pretty baby blues and sexily tousled brown hair and concede to whatever up-tight lawyerly demands he’d have in the courtroom…or in the bedroom.

 “I drew up a fixed-term tenancy agreement with Nate before I moved in a week ago,” he said.

Spots of rain peppered her head, splattered the deck around her. Sav inched a step toward the door then froze at the nearness of Glen’s bulk. She crossed her arms over her breasts, her nipples tightening to tiny dart points as the spots turned into cold drips.

 “You did what?”

Nate hadn’t mentioned that on the phone. Or maybe he had, and Sav hadn’t paid attention…

“Nate thought it was a practical thing to do, as he was acting on your behalf.”

All very thoughtful of her cousin, but what did it mean in the scheme of getting Glen out of her house? “And this agreement states what?”

“That I am leasing your house for six weeks. According to the law, both parties must agree if they wish to terminate the contract. I don’t agree; therefore, you have a problem.”

Sav uncrossed her arms and fisted her hands on her hips. The man was turning out to be a giant pain in the backside. “You’re refusing to leave?”

“I’m refusing to leave before the date specified on the contract.”

He uncoiled from the casual lean and braced both hands high on either side of the doorframe, all refined power in strong, toned limbs. Sav backed up a step, heels clicking hollowly on the deck. Then she stiffened her spine. No man would make her cower again.

“I want you out of my house.”

“Not happening. I’ll leave on October eighteenth and not a day before. If you want to check the contract, Nate has a copy.”

Blood surged up her neck in a scalding tide, the now-steady patter of rain dribbling through her hair, soaking through her thin shirt and doing nothing to cool her down. “I’m calling my lawyer.”

“Try the front of the deck; it’s the only place to get cell coverage.”

When she clenched her jaw and fought not to snarl, his stubble-surrounded mouth peeled back in a grin full of straight white teeth.

Breathe. Focus. Switch tactics.

Sav donned her patented Savannah Payne smile again, complete with two cute-as-a-button dimples. “Maybe we got off on the wrong foot.”

“Maybe we did.” He slid the glasses off his nose, folded the arms in carefully and hooked them over the Henley’s pocket.

 There—his tone sounded a lot more reasonable. She smoothed her damp shirt over her hips, and his hooded gaze tracked her movements. Like a big, blue-eyed cat about to pounce on an unsuspecting mouse. Hah. She was no timid mousy.

“Can’t we work out a reasonable solution? You’re paying rent, of course.”

“Four hundred a week, plus two weeks in advance.”

A bargain. Nate had nearly sold the property to a developer who’d planned to turn the house overlooking Bounty Bay into a celebrity resort. If that had happened, they probably would’ve charged at least four hundred a night to stay there. Then Nate had fallen in love with Lauren Taylor who owned the land next door. Nate had decided to sell the house to Savannah and keep the love of his life.

“I’ll refund everything you’ve paid. I can transfer the money right now.” Sav tossed her hair over her shoulder. It hit the back of her shirt with a wet slap. She swiped at her face again, and her fingers came away with black smears. Non-waterproof mascara—bane of her existence. So much for deciding she wouldn’t need the waterproof kind, thinking her tears, after slinking back to New Zealand, were all over.

“You’ll transfer the money, and I’ll just pack my bag and vacate the premises?”

“Most guys travel light.”

“True. I’ve barely unpacked.”

“Wonderful. I’ll pay for you to stay at the Sea Mist Resort in Bounty Bay tonight—with dinner at Kai Moana thrown in.”

He dropped his hands from the doorframe and stepped forward. Skin prickling, boots glued to the decking, Sav tilted up her chin to counteract the height difference.

“Sea Mist Resort, you say? Fancy.”

“Four stars.” The scent of him—warm male with the slightest hint of some spicy, exotic cologne—drifted into her nose. “Being still off season, I’m sure it won’t be busy.”

He smiled again, and her pulse danced a jig. Nate’s old buddy really did have a gorgeous smile. Not that she was noticing. His gaze swept down the length of her once more, but there was nothing heated or sensual in his examination. It was the indifferent study of a doctor—no, a surgeon—who’d seen women of countless shapes and sizes, and nothing about her slightly hourglass figure elicited an excited response.

He dragged two fingers and a thumb up and down his scruffy jaw. “You really don’t look like a movie star.”

“Because I’m standing in the rain, freezing.”

“Guess under these circumstances, you’d usually have some poor sap holding an umbrella over your head?”

“In these circumstances, I’d expect a man to have some manners and invite a lady in out of the rain.” She passed an irritated hand over her hair, which instead of being its usual bouncy, toffee-colored self, now had the texture of wet string.

“Used to men saying yes to you, aren’t you, Savannah Payne?”

Something in Glen’s edgy tone lifted the fine hairs on her nape. What, exactly, did that mean? People often assumed they knew her from the big screen—and now, because of her debut in the New Zealand TV drama, High Rollers, people assumed they knew her intimately, as if the small screen made her that much more accessible. People would be wrong.

Blue eyes drilled into her, the mocking angle of his jaw eliciting a flicker of…something…? She searched her memory. Had she met him before? A blur of faces from school days rattled through her mind. Buff, brown-haired guy with hipster glasses definitely didn’t ring any of her bells. She must be getting paranoid.

Savannah cocked her head. “I’m trying to negotiate a deal.”

“There’s no deal to be negotiated. I’m not one of your yes-men.” He made the words yes-men sound as if they were interchangeable with the words man-whores. “And since you were so generous with your offer of a night at Sea Mist, I’ll give you some legal advice. On the house. Unless you want to drag this through the Tenancy Tribunal court, by which time the fixed-term agreement will already be over, your best bet is to turn around and go back to the city. I’m not leaving until the eighteenth.”

Then he sauntered back inside, flicking a hand behind him to slam shut the door.

 

***

 

Sav stared at the door of her house and smothered the urge to stamp her foot. The rude, overbearing, arrogant son-of-a—she stalked off the deck, boot heels tapping out an echoing staccato beat. She strode across the gravel driveway to her car.

“Not leaving? We’ll see about that, Mr. Stuck-Up Lawyer.”

She made the drive to Nate and Lauren’s place in record time. Six months ago, Sav had spent a blissful week adding the finishing touches to the interior of her house, with an open invitation to Lauren’s for dinner each night. Just as well, because Sav’s cooking skills were better suited to throwing together a mixed green salad. And if she’d stuck to eating salad instead of dining out with her High Roller co-stars almost every night, she may’ve lost those pounds that had cost her the role of a drug-addicted, teenage mom.

Her hand clenched pale-knuckled around the parking brake. Squinting out at the grass between her car and Lauren and Nate’s deck, she flexed her fingers. Their house was nestled in front of a hill of native bush, with Sav’s property a short drive in one direction and Lauren’s brother, Todd, and his family also close by. The little, two-story house blazed with welcoming warmth and light.

A French door opened and a dark shape barreled onto the deck, barking like Armageddon had arrived, until Nate appeared. He laid a hand on the Rottweiler’s broad shoulders and peered at her rain-drenched windshield.

She waved and he grinned, holding up an index finger. He disappeared back inside the house, reappearing a moment later with a huge umbrella. The sight of the blue-and-white striped umbrella as Nate crossed the grass made her stomach churn.

Some sap holding an umbrella for you, Glen had said. As if she were a femme-fatale with men catering to her every need and want. Divorced for nearly a year now, she wasn’t in a hurry to let a man get close enough to hold an umbrella for her, let alone touch her.

She popped open the door and climbed out. Wet grass, under-laid with mud, squelched beneath her boot soles. Ugh. Should’ve worn her brand-new gumboots instead of packing them in the trunk. She couldn’t say she hadn’t been warned about the conditions in New Zealand’s Far North. Gorgeous blue skies one day, torrential, sub-tropical rainstorm the next, and up here in the hills above Bounty Bay, the weather changed even faster.

Nate reached her side, angling the umbrella over her head. “What are you doing here?”

“It’s meant to be a surprise visit.” She had to raise her voice above the pitter-patter of rain on nylon.

“Come on then, let’s get out of the rain. You already look like a drowned rat.” He slammed shut her car door and she followed him onto the deck.

She stopped to pet Java, since the dog was canny enough to stay under cover. He swiped his tongue along her wrist—at least he seemed pleased to see her.

Nate led her to the sheltered back door and toed off his giant gumboots, gesturing for her to go inside. “Drew and Lauren are away at a school camp for the week. They’ll be happy to see you when they get home—Drew, especially. He still talks about playing Superman and Catwoman with you.”

Sav smiled, peeling off her boots in the pretty, brick-and-wood-lined kitchen-dining room. “Your boy’s a five-year-old heart-breaker in the making.”

In bare feet, she moved farther into the room and crouched beside the fireplace, warming her hands in front of the crackling flames.

“Wait there,” Nate ordered and moved through the brick archway that led to the large family room.

Footsteps thudded overhead and then came the sound of drawers opening and closing. Sav let the fire’s warmth soothe the ropes of tension encircling her muscles, a small smile teasing her mouth as she remembered Lauren’s recollection of her first meeting with Nate.

Sav opened her eyes. Nate had returned to the room with a dark-green towel and a hoodie with a university logo draped over his arm.

“Aren’t you a little long in the tooth for that?” She nodded toward the sweatshirt.

He arched an eyebrow. “Someone stole the original ten years ago.” He handed over the towel and threw the hoodie on the couch arm. “It’s a loaner.”

“That’s what you think.”

Nate sprawled on one of the couches, propping up his feet on the coffee table. She roughly dried her hair and then lowered the towel from her face, giving the smears of mascara on the fluffy pile a guilty grimace.

Sav stood, unbuttoning her shirt. “Eyes left.”

Nate turned his face to the window where Java sat with his nose fogging up the glass. “Your vehicle I heard going past before?”

“Yeah. I’d planned on staying at my house for a while.”

“A while? But you were—oh. Oh, yeah. Sorry, Savvy. The movie.”

She stripped off cold, wet silk and tugged the baggy sweatshirt on over her head. The soft, brushed fleece against her skin had a sedative effect, dampening the sting of Nate’s reminder.

“One of those things, it goes with the job. The powers that be always have the final say. But the director has pulled some strings with a buddy who’s a casting director for a new sitcom.”

“And High Rollers? You’ll just dump it?”

She hid her fingers up inside the long sleeves of Nate’s sweatshirt, dropping her gaze. “My character is currently in a coma after a dramatic car crash in the season finale. The writers can kill her off, no problem.” A dry ache in her throat made her swallow compulsively. “High Rollers has been good to me, but the show won’t give me a chance to get back onto the big screen.”

“Whereas, this new Hollywood production might be a stepping stone. Hopefully resulting in another Golden Globe nomination?”

She nodded, and her smile felt constructed of razor wire. “A starring role in this sitcom could change everything. It’s been seven years since the best supporting actress nomination. Seven years is a lifetime in Hollywood.” Pushing up the sweatshirt sleeves, she tucked her feet under her on the couch. “That’s why I’m here. Two months to get myself sorted and prepare for the audition.”

“Ah.” Nate scratched his neck and gave her a wry smile. “Only Glen’s in your house, and I’m concluding from your expression that his body is currently in an unmarked grave somewhere in the bush.”

“If I wasn’t convinced your mother could psychically hear me cussing and would turn up with a bar of soap in her handbag, I’d tell you exactly what I think of your friend.”

“What happened?” Nate picked up one of the colorful throw rugs on the edge of the couch and tossed it over.

Sav wrapped it around her knees and briefly told him of the conversation, judiciously omitting the tiny spark of attraction she’d felt as Glen had stood in the doorway of her house. “I offered to put him up at the Sea Mist and buy him dinner. Where’s he from, anyway—Auckland?”

Nate nodded. “He has an apartment in Newmarket, the kind of place Laur and I would worry about taking Drew for fear of him getting grubby fingerprints on something.”

“Ick. Figures.”

She could just imagine it. Minimalist look on steroids, devoid of any of the personality of her little, eclectic, 1930s restored villa. Funny that the man who would live in such prissy surroundings would appear unshaven and dressed in old jeans worn thin on the knees, buttery soft and clinging to his long legs… Sav blinked. She must be coming down with a chill after that arrogant, scruffy man refused to invite her inside.

“I’d never have convinced him to stay in your place if he wasn’t legit.”

“You convinced him?”

Sheepish was the only word to describe Nate’s glance. “He needed the peace and quiet, and as far as I knew, you were meant to be out of the country until the end of the year. He never would’ve agreed to come up if he’d known you’d be around. He was pretty adamant about that.”

“Was he now?”

Nate opened his mouth then snapped it closed, faint spots of color rising above the line of stubble on his jaw. “Look, he’s not a psycho, all right? Trust me. He’s a good guy.”

“Yeah, well, this good guy has gone all lawyerly over this agreement he drew up and refuses to budge.”

Nate ran a hand through his dark hair and offered up a non-committal grunt.

“And don’t tell me I should go home to Auckland, Nate, I can’t. Since the media got wind of Hayley Snow replacing me, I’ve had news vans parked outside 24/7. The day before yesterday, I caught a photographer in my back yard, and my phone’s ringing non-stop. I bought this place off you as a bolt hole, and now I actually need to use it as one.”

“Savvy.” Resigned affection in every nuance of her nickname, Nate sighed. “You should’ve called me; I could’ve gone and talked to him before you drove up.”

“You’ve already done so much for me in the past. I wanted to take care of this myself. Any reasonable person would’ve responded to my polite request—”

“You were polite?” Nate slanted a sly grin in her direction. “Really?”

“Best behavior, I swear. I was positively charming, and it didn’t make one bit of difference. I have to get this part. If I return to the city, I’ll be harassed by the media and tempted to let my friends talk me into going out every night instead of working my tail off on this role. Not to mention Mum hovering, making unhelpful suggestions every five minutes.”

When Nate’s grin widened, Sav bundled up the knee rug and hurled it at his head. “Of all the old uni pals you could’ve picked, you had to plant this butthead in my house.”

He caught the rug with a chuckle and stood. “Boy. Glen made a hell of an impression on you, huh?”

Sav bared her teeth, and Nate held up a palm, backing toward the door.

“Okay, okay. He’s my friend; I got him in there, and I’ll go try to convince him to leave.”

 

***

 

The blank screen mocked Glen, the cursor pulsing in a silent snicker as his fingers remained static on the keyboard. The words had flowed from brain to laptop almost faster than he could type before she showed up.

Glen flexed his fingers and tried again. Tap, tap, tap—freeze. He just couldn’t stop thinking about her. Standing on the deck, with her long hair turning dark in the rain, damp clothes clinging to outrageous curves. A transformation from pissy diva to bedraggled waif in less than five minutes. A beautiful, bedraggled waif, grown into her looks from when he’d last seen her in the flesh as a wild seventeen-year-old—and she’d been stunning even then.

An engine rumbling up the driveway had him slapping the laptop shut. He looked out of the window in the spare room, which currently doubled as his office. The window overlooked a few old gum trees keeping back the sprawl of native bush, and a large clearing of grass. A dirt path at the far end of the lawn led to an old, ramshackle outbuilding. Savannah’s car pulled up to where the grass met the gravel driveway, the wipers sweeping rhythmically back and forth over the windshield. She’d only left half an hour ago. Must’ve decided to try her luck again.

“Good luck with that.” He strode into the hallway as a car door slammed.

He had to admit going another round with Savannah sounded fun. More fun than staring at a blank screen, anyhow. Glen yanked open the front door and poked out his head—the same time Nate stepped onto the deck.

Not the pissed-off diva. She’d sent her bulldog of a cousin, instead.

“You gonna keep me out in the rain too?” his friend said by way of greeting.

Yep. Savannah had run crying to Nate about the mean dude living in her house. Probably pitched a massive tanty and demanded Nate take care of it. He backed away from the entrance and swept a hand inside. “Nope. Come on in.”

“You got beer?” Nate grumbled and stepped out of the rain, shoulders hunched as he swiped a hand over his hair.

Glen led the way to the airy, white-walled kitchen. Little touches of Savannah’s taste had been superimposed over Nate’s choices of wood-paneled flooring and clean white cabinetry. White probably wouldn’t have been Savannah’s decorating choice, as she’d splashed bold, primary-colored canvases on the dining-family room walls. Two couches, angled toward the front deck to get the best views through the glass sliding doors, were covered in brightly patterned cushions. Sunshine normally poured through the kitchen skylight, though with this afternoon’s downpour, shadows dulled the conjoined rooms.

He slapped a switch on the wall as he walked to the stainless steel fridge opposite the brand-spanking-new gas range—Nate had installed the kind of oven Glen’s youngest sister, Grace, would murder to have in her home.

“Have a seat.” He gestured to a bar stool at the center island counter.

Nate slouched onto a stool and selected a banana from the fruit bowl. He stripped down the skin and took a bite, not bothering to ask, same as Glen didn’t bother to offer. Full-service wasn’t a happening thing. Although circumstances meant they didn’t get together often, eleven years of friendship meant Nate could help his own damn self to the fruit bowl or fridge without either one thinking it weird. The only weird thing was Glen didn’t feel the same easiness around his brother, James—or Jamie, as Glen called him, because it pushed his bro’s buttons. After years working in their father’s law firm with his big brother, it literally felt like working with Big Brother, with Glen’s every move analyzed and criticized. Easy wasn’t a word Glen used to describe his relationship with his father and brother.

He opened the fridge. “Steinlager or Export? Or has shacking up with a woman made you start drinking lite?”

“Screw you,” Nate said amicably. “Long as it’s not that fancy designer stuff you keep in your fridge back in Auckland.”

“That’s for Jamie and Dad. A Steinie doesn’t go with their image.”

Nate snorted, polishing off the last chunk of banana. “Their stick-up-the-ass image? I’m surprised they condescend to even drink beer.”

Glen popped the caps off two bottles and handed one to Nate. “Your little cousin sent you to try your luck?”

Nate took a long swallow then set down his beer. Tugged on an earlobe. “Yeah, about that. She wasn’t due to finish filming ‘til summer. I didn’t expect her to just show up out of nowhere.”

“Was a bit of a surprise to find her knocking on my door this afternoon.”

“Disturbed you and your muse, did it?” Nate grinned. “How’s the book going?”

Going great, until Savannah shot his concentration to hell. Just talking to the woman for five minutes had likely destroyed his concentration for the rest of the evening. If he’d believed there’d been a chance Savannah could show up, Nate couldn’t have talked him into renting her house for six weeks, no matter how desperate Glen had been. Considering her movie was filmed on the other side of the planet, being able to avoid her had seemed like a safe bet. The first few days here had made him a little twitchy, but he’d gotten over himself. Pure, unadulterated silence had tamed the unsettling feeling of living in Savannah’s house…of sleeping in her bed.

“It’s going good,” Glen said. “You were right about this place—it’s just what I need to finally quit pissing around and finish it.”

“Twelve years is a long time to be working on the same book.”

“Preaching to the choir, Fraser.”

His gut tightened. Twelve years of squeezing in stolen hours, chiseling away at the story begging to be told, even though the bastard critic clinging to his back kept whispering that it wouldn’t be good enough. That Glen should just quit this stupid daydream like his father suggested and accept that remaining a lawyer was the sensible choice. Glen stopped and started, rewrote and trashed, even hovered his mouse over the files to delete the whole damn thing once not long after Tina had moved out.

Luckily, his muse, which he liked to picture as a Navy SEAL crossed with a ninja but twice as badass, stomped on the bastard critic’s tiny balls and refused to let Glen do it. And when a few months after his thirtieth birthday Grace sent him a link to a reputable New York literary agent’s first three chapters competition, he’d ignored the bastard critic’s eye-rolls and e-mailed off his entry.

Weeks later, the literary agent’s assistant informed him The Last Warlock’s Blade had won the competition. A 4:00 a.m. phone call that had nearly stopped his heart. The five-hundred buck prize money didn’t mean squat, but the agent requesting the rest of his manuscript for consideration? Priceless. Or it would be, assuming he could get the book finished in these next five weeks.

This was his big chance. Like hell would he blow it.

“You’ll make the agent’s deadline?”

“I’d better, or Darth Vader and my brother will never let me hear the end of it.”

“Force be with you, mate.” Nate held out his bottle.

Glen clinked his against it then leaned forward, bracing his forearms on the counter. Time to set the record straight. “I understand this is a shitty position you’re in, but I’m not changing my mind.”

With a huff, Nate sipped his beer. When he set it down, his gaze fixed steadily on Glen. “Aside from the brain-numbing boredom of staring at the same four walls of your townhouse, why is going back to Auckland such a big deal?”

“Do you know how many phone calls I’ve had to take since I arrived last Saturday?”

Nate shook his head.

“None,” said Glen. “Thanks to the God-awful cell phone coverage up here. I can pick and choose whose voicemail to answer. And how many times has someone turned up on my doorstep to bug me?”

“Other than Todd and I scrounging a beer?”

“Yep.”

“I’m guessing zero. Until this afternoon, that is.”

“Precisely. I signed a contract to stay here for six weeks, and once day forty-two arrives, I’ll be gone. Then the diva can have her house back. Until then? Nope. It’s the principle of the thing.”

Frown lines formed on Nate’s brow, but he didn’t argue, just sipped his beer.

Glen hadn’t told Nate everything. Yeah, a tiny part of Glen liked saying no to Savannah. But he had other reasons for staying in Bounty Bay for the next six weeks. Reasons he didn’t feel right about sharing.

Nate took another swallow of beer and put down his half empty bottle. “She’s going through some tough times at the moment.”

Glen dragged a bowl of pistachios across the counter. Selected one and pried his thumb nail between the shells. Tough to open. Tough times. Savannah wasn’t the only one whose life had turned upside down. So had his sister-in-law’s. She’d packed up her three boys and left his brother a week before he’d accepted Nate’s offer to come north. That’d been a shocker—opening his door one evening to Erin’s tears and her confession she had nowhere else to stay.

“Media is all over her, are they?” Glen said. “Kinda goes with the territory of being a big fish in the tiny New Zealand pond.”

“I think it’s more than that.”

Yeah, and he thought it was more than just Erin growing sick of his brother leaving the toilet seat up one too many times. But although he’d willingly put a roof over her head, the idea of sharing his apartment with Erin and Jamie’s fifteen-year-old, eleven-year-old, and newly minted, rowdy four-year-old while trying to write was as appealing as a punctured eardrum.

“You always did worry about Savannah as if she’s made of blown glass. Your cousin’s got a spine of stainless steel.”

He got a speculative glance from Nate over that comment, the tension wiring through his friend’s jaw a good indication Glen was approaching mine-laden territory.

He gentled his voice. “Whatever happened between you and her and the whole Liam-gate saga is none of my business, but it didn’t crumple that steel in her. She’ll cope.”

“Sav’s no one’s victim. But at the moment, she’s…vulnerable. Go easy on her.”

A sharp twinge in his gut made Glen stand up and stretch. Nate had never shared the details of what happened in an Auckland bar last year, but Glen had his suspicions. Hell, he would’ve done the exact same thing if someone had laid a hand on his sister. Didn’t mean he’d give Savannah what she wanted just because she batted her pretty green eyes.

“As I said in the beginning; you’re in a sucky position, and I don’t envy you telling your cousin she’s not getting her way, but I’m staying. The only good thing about practicing law is knowing when I’m on the right side of it.”

Nate grunted and finished his beer. He slid the empty bottle over the counter, so Glen could reach it. “In that case, mate, you’d better give me another beer before I go back. She’s going to be upset.”

Glen shrugged and turned to the fridge, remembering the sexy twitch of her bottom as she stalked away from his deck this afternoon, dripping wet and mad as a cat tossed into a shower. Yep, his friend had earned his second beer, because unknown to Nate, Glen had first-hand knowledge of Savannah Payne’s reaction when she didn’t get what she wanted.

 

(c) Tracey Alvarez 2015 

 

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London Massage