The minute you hit February, the world went to sickly sweet, heart-shaped hell.
Just walking through Edgeware's offices, far too many computer screens showed suspicious pink-and-red glimmerings that morphed into more serious backgrounds as people saw him coming.
Rafe didn't know what bothered him more—the way even his most serious employees succumbed to the Valentine Virus, or the way they tried to hide it.
Somehow the whole of Edgeware knew he hated this pointless, commercial waste of time and money called Valentine’s Day. Last year, his assistant suggested he go on vacation and leave everyone to enjoy it properly, and the head of marketing actually called him a Valentine's Day Scrooge.
Well, this year they would get their wish, though not through any choice of his own.
If Josh wasn't his best friend and co-founder of his multibillion-dollar data security company, he would have weathered this ridiculous week the way he always did—by hunkering down in his office until the pink-and-red cloud lifted. Instead, he was halfway around the world at Josh’s parents’ home in southern California, about to be subjected to the purgatorial experience of being best man for him on Valentine's Day.
And the crowning glory to this purgatory—Juliet Walsh.
And there she was, standing with Josh on the veranda. She was smiling, her head tilted back, her honey-brown waves vivid against the green of her dress, as though part of the vineyards beyond.
She would be thirty-one now, and a university lecturer, according to Josh. She was doing well. He was happy for her. Really, he was…if he ignored the tightness in his chest.
Take a breath. Get this over with.
But with each step, time peeled away, memories rising through everything that had happened since.
He’d flown in for a business meeting when Josh had pleaded with him to save him from his family and attend his dad’s fiftieth birthday celebrations at the weekend. He'd walked out onto the same veranda, seen Juli standing there, and within seconds she'd scrambled all his clear-cut priorities.
Her hair had been longer, tangling in the breeze, and she’d been pushing it back when her eyes found him. She’d frozen, fingers deep in her hair, and he’d lost sight of his intent. He'd planned on finding Josh and his parents to say a quick hello before hitting his room to freshen up. Instead he’d gone to her.
'You must be Rafe.’ He'd been surprised as much by her English accent standing out like his own in the Southern Californian setting as by the peculiar sensations her golden eyes had sparked. Then she’d released her hair to hold out her hand, her smile widening and encompassing him whole. ‘I'm Juliet—Juli, Josh’s cousin…from England.'
He had taken her hand and fallen—really, truly. The only thing he could compare it to was bungee jumping off a bridge. The sudden and utter loss of weight, the terrified denial, his heart ricocheting in his chest.
Later she’d told him she hadn't seen any of that—that she’d been too flustered by her own reaction to notice anything except his determined politeness.
But that was a decade ago now…
Josh waved as he noticed him approach, and Juli turned, her eyes widening—he saw recognition, wariness, but nothing else…not a thing.
‘Hello, Rafe.’ Her voice was deeper than he remembered, but immediately recognizable—and it could still strum through him like a cello. ‘Elise mentioned something about your flight being delayed. I hope it wasn't too unpleasant.’
His lips quirked. So Little Miss Perfect is determined to be polite?
‘Transatlantic flights are never pleasant, with or without delays.’ He turned to Josh, to safer territory. 'Where's Elise?'
'Resting, I hope.’ He shook his head. ‘Everything that could go wrong with the rehearsal did. I think she’s now considering we elope.’
'Nonsense.’ Juli laughed. ‘She's loving every minute of it, even the disasters. It’ll just take her a few months to realize it.'
Her smile was like the sun bursting from behind a bank of clouds—abrupt, blinding. He wished he hadn’t looked, wished he’d never come over, wished he’d stayed on the other side of the world.
Too late now…
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