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  • Published: 13 November 2017
  • ISBN: 9781760143862
  • Imprint: Penguin eBooks
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 288

Two Weeks 'til Christmas

Extract

PROLOGUE

On the rare occasions Claire allowed herself a stroll down memory lane, Scotty Shannon was always her destination. She would find him in the recesses of her mind, waiting for her, still wearing the crooked smile that always surprised her because it made his serious face look so different. She would visit with him for a while, deep inside the thoughts she kept hidden away for safekeeping: those brittle moments whose replays she rationed for fear of wearing them out and losing them forever.

Claire always took care to return to one of the happy days. Sometimes it was the first time Scotty told her he loved her, in the grotty kitchen of the dilapidated house he shared with three other veterinary science students. Sometimes it was earlier than that, the night of the beer-soaked O-Week party, the first time she’d seen him in the three years since she’d left Bindallarah. He’d walked into the bar, wearing a Santa hat even though it was almost Easter, and a tiny voice inside her head had exhaled and said, It’s you. At last.

But most often she went back to Bindallarah and back to the start. Back to the Shannon family’s property, Cape Ashe Stud. Back to the stable roof late one Christmas Eve, when she was fifteen and Scotty was sixteen and their futures seemed as infinite and unknowable as the velvet blackness above them.

They often climbed up there after one of the many dinners Claire shared with the Shannons that year, when the atmosphere in her own home grew so thick with tension that choking down a meal was impossible. They would lie on their backs, side by side but not quite touching, and listen to the mares nickering and stomping in their pens below. They’d stay there for hours, talking and laughing and watching the moon trace its languid arc across the sky, drunk on the heavy summer heat and the intoxicating nearness of each other.

And then on Christmas Eve he kissed her. From the corner of her eye, Claire had seen her friend make the decision; watched him resolve that it was now or never. Scotty had a terrible poker face. His thoughts played out in his expression, scudding across his features like summer storm clouds. Then he was resolute and his frown relaxed. He had always been that way: most at ease when he knew his purpose.

The sharp angles that made the other girls at school look past him softened. His hooded moss-green eyes widened. He raised himself up on his right elbow and looked down at her. He saw her. He saw through her protective layer to the very core of her.

He lowered his face to hers and when their lips met she felt known. It wasn’t her first kiss, or his, but it was theirs, and its effect on her body was powerful. All of her senses intensified until she was thrumming with energy – and desire. Suddenly she could hear the waves crashing on Bindallarah Beach, five kilometres away. She could smell the spicy scent of the massive pine tree the Shannons festooned with fairy lights every Christmas. As they relaxed into the kiss, she felt the shape of him, felt herself curve to fit. She kept her eyes open, watched his fingers twist through her tawny curls, and knew with certainty that she would never, ever forget this moment.

Claire rolled the memories of Scotty around in her head like boiled sweets on her tongue. He was a treat, her guilty pleasure. She savoured them, tried to make them last, tried to resist biting and shattering. She strove to be gentle with them, because she hadn’t been gentle with him.

Other memories bubbled to the surface, but she pushed them back down. The look on Scotty’s face when she left Bindallarah for boarding school a month after their kiss. Or the day, five years later, when he offered her everything and she threw it all back at him.

No, when she wanted to remember, Claire cherry-picked the moments that captured the best of Scotty – the best of her. She chose the snapshots that comforted her unquiet soul. It wasn’t that she still loved Scotty – she would hardly know what to say to him if she ever saw him again – but he soothed her somehow. On days like today, when her heart felt heavy, she wrapped the ghost of him around her like a security blanket.

But even the memory of Scotty, even recalling the way every cell once burned for him, wasn’t doing anything for her mood tonight. The two glasses of wine weren’t helping either.

Claire took another deep gulp of her shiraz as she toggled irritably between social media sites on her tablet. It was all babies, birthdays and bleating about the state of the world by people who were doing absolutely nothing to try to change it. Minutiae. None of it was important, not really. It was hardly life and death. None of her virtual friends or acquaintances was making hard decisions, taking big risks. Not one of them knew what it was like to bet it all – and lose.

Claire sighed and scrolled through the recent posts in one of the equine vets groups she was a member of. She toyed with the idea of making a post herself. Maybe one of her esteemed colleagues could explain to her how she’d managed to lose a champion three-year-old thoroughbred to supporting limb laminitis when her surgical repair of his initial fracture just a week ago had been flawless and his recovery seemed to be textbook perfect. She sure as hell didn’t have any idea, and the not knowing was eating her up.

She clicked on the search field and typed ‘laminitis’. A list of previous posts on the topic unfurled on her screen. Quickly, Claire scanned them, her blue eyes flicking over the names of the posters – mostly colleagues she knew well and some she didn’t know at all.

And then a name she’d said more often than she’d uttered her own appeared.

Claire froze. It couldn’t be him. She had searched for him before – more than once – but aside from a couple of years-old mentions in the university alumni magazine, Scotty didn’t seem to have any kind of online footprint.

But how many Australian equine vets called Scotty Shannon could there possibly be? Perhaps she could imagine there were two Scott Shannons in their field. But Scotty? It had to be him. Her Scotty.

She clicked on the name and the mystery doctor’s profile filled the screen. The profile picture was a stallion in full flight – handsome, but of no use to her whatsoever. There were no other photographs. She clicked on the ‘About’ tab.

Hometown: Bindallarah, New South Wales.

Claire’s mouth went dry.

It was Scotty. Right here, right in front of her. Eight years since they’d had any contact and he was in her living room, uninvited and undoing her the way he always had.

Her stomach twisted uncomfortably. How long had he been using the site? Had he looked for her? Seen her profile?

Her index finger hovered over the ‘Add friend’ icon.

Why hasn’t he reached out?

Claire swallowed another mouthful of wine. She knew why. She had asked him to stay away. Told him she couldn’t be in his life any more.

She had begged him to forget about her and Scotty had obliged.

But everything had been different then. They were so young. She was only twenty; Scotty was twenty-one. They hadn’t even finished university. Her life, as ever, was in chaos, while he was diligently carving out the path he had long intended to tread. He had been devastated when she turned their world on its head. But they had grown up since then. Maybe now he would understand. Maybe he would even be happy to hear from her after all this time.

Claire’s index finger trembled. She tipped her wineglass to her lips once more. If Scotty was still angry with her, she thought she could bear it; she deserved it. But if he really had forgotten her? She couldn’t decide which was worse.

She took a deep breath and tapped the button.


Two Weeks 'til Christmas Laura Greaves

A festive and charming Christmas romance - perfect summer escapism!

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Buy now

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