Publish Date: 2 November 2012
SHIRLEY ‘Shiloh’ MARR spent her entire childhood making up to her single-mother for all the changes she had to make in her life when Shirley came along. When her mother was killed in a road accident at 14, Shirley set about honouring her memory by completing her ‘bucket list’ — the list of things her mother had wanted to do before she died.
HAYDEN TENNANT was a philosophy student of Mrs Marr and the original champion of the list. But in the ten years that followed, he didn’t do a single item on it. Shirley tracks Hayden down and challenges him to explain why he’s done nothing. She hasn’t seen him since she was 14 but sparks fly between the adult Hayden and herself. He’s just as brilliant and clever as he ever was but also damaged and brooding now. She challenges him to do the list with her and they undertake a series of adventures, neither one of them wanting to be outdone by the other.
The list–and just being together–challenges them both to put the past behind them and risk looking to the future. But love, like the lists, has a use-by date and their legitimate reasons for being together is rapidly approaching…
Copyright © 2011 by Nikki Logan. Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A.
Once a Rebel….
‘PLEASE be a stripper.’
His voice was thick and groggy, as though she’d just roused him from sleep. Maybe she had, it was a gently warm and breezeless day and Hayden Tennant looked like he’d been lying in that longish grass at the base of the slope behind his cottage for quite some time.
Shirley found some air and forced it past a larynx choked with nerves. This suddenly seemed like a spectacularly bad idea.
‘Were you expecting one?’ she breathed.
He scrutinised her from behind expensive sunglasses. ‘No. But I’ve learned never to question the benevolence of the universe.’
Still so fast with a comeback. The man in front of her might have matured in ways she hadn’t anticipated but he was still Hayden inside.
She straightened and worked hard not to pluck at her black dress. It was the tamest thing in her wardrobe. ‘I’m not a stripper.’
His head flopped back down onto the earth and his eyes closed again. ‘That’s disappointing.’
She stood her ground, and channelled her inner Shiloh. She wouldn’t let his obvious dismissal rile her. Silent minutes ticked by. His long body sprawled comfortably where he lay. She took the opportunity to look him over. Still lean, still all legs. A tiny, tidy strip of facial hair above his lip and on his chin. Barely there but properly manicured. It only half-covered the scar she knew marred his upper lip.
The biggest difference was his hair. Shorter now than when he’d been at Uni and a darker blonde. It looked like someone who knew what they were doing had cut it originally, but she guessed they hadn’t had a chance to provide any maintenance recently.
She pressed her lips together and glared pointlessly at him as the silence continued. Had he fallen back to sleep?
‘I can do this all day,’ he murmured, eyes still closed. ‘I have nowhere to be.’
She spread her weight more evenly on her knee-high boots and appreciated every extra inch they gave her. ‘Me too.’
He lifted his head again and cracked his eyes open.
‘If you’re not here to give me a lap dance, what do you want?’
Charming. ‘To ask you some questions.’
He went dangerously still. Even the grass seemed to stop its swaying. ‘Are you a journalist?’
‘It’s a yes/no question.’
‘I write for an online blog.’ Understatement. ‘But I’m not here in that capacity.’
He pulled himself up and braced himself with one strong arm in the turf behind him. Did that mean she had his attention?
‘How did you find me?’
He frowned and lifted his sunglasses to get a better look at her. His eyes were exactly as blue and exactly as intense as she remembered. She snuck in a quick, extra breath.
‘My office wouldn’t have given you this address.’
No. Not even face-to-face.
‘I researched it.’ Code for I stalked your offices.
It took a few visits to the coffee shop over the road to spot what messenger company they used most regularly. A man at the head of a corporation he didn’t visit had to get documents delivered to wherever he was, right? For signatures at least. Sadly for them if Hayden ever found out, the courier company were only too obliging when a woman purporting to be from Molon Labe called to verify the most recent details of one of their most common delivery addresses.
His eyes narrowed. ‘But you’re not here in a journalistic capacity?’
‘I’m not a journalist.’
‘Or a stripper, apparently.’ He glanced over her from foot to head. ‘Though that seems wasted.’
She forced herself not to react. She’d chosen this particular outfit carefully—knee high boots, black scoop neck dress cinched at the waist and falling to her knees—but she’d been going more for “I am woman” and less for “pole dancer”.
‘You used to say sarcasm was the lowest form of wit,’ she murmured.
One eye narrowed, but he gave no other sign of having been surprised that she already knew him. ‘Actually someone else did. I just borrowed it. I’ve come to be quite fond of sarcasm in the years since…?’ He left it open for her to finish the sentence.
He didn’t recognise her.
Not entirely surprising given how different she must have looked when he last saw her. Fourteen, stick-insect-thin, mousy, uninspired hair. A kid. She hadn’t discovered fashion—and her particular brand of fashion—until she was sixteen and her curves busted out.
‘You knew my mother,’ she offered, carefully.
The eyes narrowed again and he pushed himself to his feet. Now it was his turn to tower over her. It gave him a great view down her scoop neck and he took full advantage. His eyes eventually came back to hers.
‘I may have been an early starter but I think it’s a stretch to suggest I could be your father, don’t you?’
‘Carol-Anne Marr,’ she persisted, the name itself an accusation.
Was it wrong that she took pleasure from the flash of pain he wasn’t quite fast enough to disguise? That she grasped so gratefully at any hint of a sign that he hadn’t forgotten her mother the moment she was in the ground. That he wasn’t quite as faithless as she feared.
‘Shirley?’ he whispered.
And it had to be wrong how deeply satisfied she felt that he even knew her name. Hayden Tennant wasn’t a god; if he ever had been he was well and truly fallen now. But still her skin tingled.
She kicked up her chin. ‘Shiloh.’
His eyes narrowed. ‘Shiloh?’
‘It’s what I go by now.’
The blue in his eyes greyed over with disdain. ‘I’m not calling you Shiloh. What’s wrong with Shirley, not hip enough for you?’
It killed her that he was still astute enough to immediately put himself in the vicinity of the secret truth. And that she was still foolish enough to admire that. ‘I preferred something that was more…me.’
‘Shirley means “bright meadow”.’
Exactly. And she with her raven hair and kohl-smudged eyes was neither bright or meadow-ly. ‘Shiloh means gift. Why can’t it be a gift to myself?’
‘Because your mother already gifted you a name. Changing it dishonours her.’
Tendrils of unexpected hurt twisted in her gut and rolled into a tight, cold ball and pushed up through her ribcage. But she swallowed it back and chose her words super carefully. ‘You’re criticising me for not honouring her?’
Surprise and something else flooded his expression. Was that regret? Guilt? Confusion? None of those things looked right on a face normally filled with arrogant confidence. But it didn’t stay long; he replaced it with a careless disinterest. ‘Something you want to say, Shirley?’
Suddenly presented with the perfect opportunity to close that chapter on her life, she found herself speechless. She glared at him instead.
He shook his head. ‘For someone who doesn’t know me, you don’t like me very much.’
‘I know you. Very well.’
He narrowed one eye. ‘We’ve never met.’
Actually they had, but clearly it wasn’t memorable. Plus she’d participated secretly in every gathering her mother had hosted in their home. Saturday extra credit for enthusiastic students. Hayden Tennant was at every one.
‘I know you through my mother.’
His lush lips tightened. She’d always wondered if her own fixation with Lord Byron had something to do with the fact he shared Hayden’s features. Full lips, broad forehead, intense eyes under a serious brow… Byron may have preceded him in history but Hayden came first in her history.
‘If you’re suggesting your mother didn’t like me I’m going to have to respectfully disagree.’
‘She adored you.’ So did her daughter, but that’s beside the point. She took a deep breath. ‘That makes what you’ve done doubly awful.’
His dark brows drew down. ‘What I’ve done?’
‘Or what you haven’t done.’ She stared, waiting for the penny-drop that never came. For such a bright man he’d become very obtuse. ‘Does RememberMrsMarr.com ring any bells?’
His face hardened. ‘The list.’
‘Your IP address. I get statistics from that website. I wondered who it was visiting so often.’
‘I…’ How had this suddenly become about her? And why was he monitoring visitation on a website he’d lost interest in almost immediately he set it up? It didn’t fit with the man she visualised who had blown the list off by the time the funeral bill came in.
‘I visit often,’ she said.
‘I know. At least three times a week. What are you waiting for?’
She sucked in a huge breath and ignored the flick of his eye down to her rising cleavage. ‘I’m waiting for you to tick something.’
Eternity passed as he stared at her, the sharp curiosity he’d always had for everything in life dulling down to a careful nothing. ‘Is that why you’re here? To find out why I haven’t ticked some box?’
Pressing her lips together flared her nostrils. ‘Not just some box. Her box. My mother’s dying wishes. The things you were supposed to finish for her.’
His eyes dropped away for a moment and when they lifted again they were softer. Kinder. So much worse. ‘Shirley, look—‘
‘Shirley. There’s a whole bunch of reasons I haven’t been able to progress your mother’s list.’
‘ “Progress” suggests you’ve actually started.’ Okay, now she was being as rude as he’d been on her arrival. Her high moral ground was crumbling. She lifted her chin. ‘I came because I wanted to know what happened. You were so gutted at the funeral, how could you have followed through on none of them?’
He shrugged. ‘Real life got in the way.’
Funny. Losing your mother at fourteen had felt pretty real to her. ‘For ten years?’
His eyes darkened. ‘I don’t owe you any explanation, Shirley.’
‘You owe her. And I’m here in her place.’
‘The teacher I knew never would have asked anyone to justify themselves.’
He pushed past her and headed for his house. She turned her head back over her shoulder. ‘Was she so easily forgotten, Hayden?’
Behind her, his crunching footfalls on the path paused. His voice, when it came, was frosty. ‘Go home, Shirley. Take your high expectations and your bruised feelings and your do-me boots and get back in your car. There’s nothing for you here.’
She stood on the spot until she heard the front door to his little cottage slam shut. Disappointment washed through her. Then she spun and marched up the path toward her car, dress swishing.
But as she got to the place that the path forked, her steps faltered.
Go home was not an answer. And she’d come for answers. She owed it to her mother to at least try and find out what happened. To put this particular demon to rest. She stared at the path. Right led to the street and her beat-up old Karmann Ghia. Left led to the front door of Hayden’s secluded cottage.
Where she and her opinions weren’t welcome.
Then again, she’d made rather a life specialty out of unpopular opinions. Why stop now?
She turned left.