The tiny village of Cockington was diametrically opposite to busy, chic, sophisticated Buenos Aires, Zac thought as he steered his rented Benz along the narrow roads. It was quintessentially English, with an overabundance of thatch cottages and old houses. It was also, as he’d expected, raining.
Zac turned up the heat in his car and scowled at the dismal weather. Winter back home could be occasionally cold but they at least, saw the sun most days. Since arriving in this rain-soaked country a week ago, he’d seen nothing but driving rain and the occasional hint of snow. No wonder people battled with Seasonal Affected disorder, if he didn’t see the sun for months at a time he’d also feel moody and depressed.
He consulted his GPS and knew that he was close to Karo’s cottage. On hearing that he was going to London on business, Jada asked him to pick up her leatherbound book of wedding photos from Karo. He’d protested, telling Jada to get it couriered but she’d brushed him off, demanding that he collect it. Jada also needed him to talk Karo into flying into Buenos Aires the weekend after next to document the party to celebrate her and Felipe’s wedding. Nobody but Karo would do. Zac, having seen some of Karo’s photographs, whimsical and wonderful, agreed.
But that could just be his desolate heart talking. Either way, he promised Jada that he’d try…Though, honestly, there was a good chance he would’ve made his way to Devon without an excuse, he didn’t think he was strong enough to stay away. Being away from her made him feel, frankly, dreadful. Lost. For the past three weeks, she was all he thought about, on his mind as soon as his eyes opened, and hers was the face he saw when he finallydrifted off to sleep. He thought about her during intense, complicated negotiations, while he was working out, wondering where she was and what she was doing.
He missed her, this woman who’d dropped into his life and flipped it inside-out. Zac missed her low laugh, the intelligence he saw in her deep green eyes, the way she smiled when her hand skimmed over his body, exploring. And God, he missed sex. No, he missed making love with, and to, her.
He’d tried to throw himself back into dating.. He’d tried to engage but, within a few minutes, started finding fault with the woman. Her laughter was forced, her voice too high, her perfume too strong. He always, always ended the evening alone, unable to accept one of the many, many offers he received.
The truth was, Karo was the only person he wanted, the person he needed.
Zac turned into the gates of what looked to be an enormous estate and pushed a shaky hand through his hair. He didn’t know what he was doing here, only that he had to see her, smell her, be around her. Beyond that, he had no idea what he wanted or expected…
For the first time in his life he had no plan, nothing sketched out. He was winging it here and he was terrified…
Zac saw a thatched cottage on his right and pulled over. He cut the engine and lifted his hand, scowling at his shaky fingers. He was anything but the hardass, always-in-control man he usually was. She made him feel unhinged and off-balance.
Exiting the car, Zac cursed the rain and lifted his collar to stop raindrops rolling down his neck. Running up the path, he ducked under the eve and wiped his wet face, telling his stupid heart to calm the hell down.
She was just a woman, someone he missed.
Zac rested his forehead on the ancient door and finally, finally admitted what he wouldn’t before.
She wasn’t just any woman, someone he could live without. No, she was everything…
Everything that made life worthwhile.
In her studio, Karo looked at her notice board and resisted the urge to turn the back-to-front photograph the right way around. It was a large photo of Zac sitting in the passenger seat of the game viewing vehicle, laughing. She’d captured it shortly after they’d seen a pride of lazy lions, on the second or the third day at Kagiso.
The photograph, when she could bear to look at it, was how she wanted to remember Zac. Eyes and dimples flashing, looking relaxed and completely wonderful. But some days, looking at what she’d lost, what she’d never had, was too hard and it made her too sad.
She’d shed so many tears on what-could-have-been. Karo sighed as she adjusted the contrast filter on her editing program, silently admitting that she’d probably cry a few more.
But, maybe and hopefully, she was feeling a little better. This was the first day she felt the urge to work and she’d asked Ledley and Trina to take Max for the day, given her some time to finish editing this set of portraits. Her client was the local matriarch, a good friend of Trina’s, who wanted Karo to make her look twenty years younger and twenty pounds lighter. Karo wanted to show her the way she was, lovely and light-hearted.
Despite having an empty house and peace, she wasn’t making much progress. Karo sighed at the driving rain, missing the heat of Africa. She’d adored the light in that far off land, and her photos of Jada and Felipe, and their wedding party, were some of the best she’d ever taken. She’d captured their love and their joy and, when she’d sent twenty of so shots via a cloud transfer, Jada and Felipe had raved about her images.
Jada couldn’t wait to see the bulk of the photographs and told her that she couldn’t wait for a courier, that someone from AM Industries would collect the printed wedding book and the flash drive containing all her images. Jada also begged her to fly to Buenos Aires to shoot her second wedding reception, due to be held at the end of next week.
She was tempted to break her rule of allowing clients to jump the queue and fly to South America, needing to lay eyes on Zac. But what good would it do? He wouldn’t change his mind and seeing him and having to leave again would rip her heart in two again.
No, that was stupid thinking and, despite her less than smart decisions lately—sleeping with and then falling in love with an unavailable man!— she wasn’t a complete moron. No, shooting Jada’s second reception wasn’t an option. She wasn’t going to put herself in the position of being rejected twice.
Distracted, Karo erased half of her client’s face, causing her to curse out loud. Maybe she should stop trying to create today and do something that better suited her mood, like paying bills or clearing out her cupboards. Standing back, she tipped her head up to look at the ceiling, knowing she’d do neither. But maybe she could slip into her gumboots, find an umbrella and wander up to the big house to eat lunch with her uncle and aunt and her precious, precious boy.
She might as well, she wasn’t accomplishing anything here.
After wiping her hands, Karo walked into the tiny hallway of her cottage, pulled a raincoat off the rack and jammed a hat on her head. Slipping into her lumo-green gumboots, she grabbed an umbrella and yanked open the door of her cottage only to find herself plastered against the muscular, and damp, frame of her favorite fantasy.
Zac was here, standing in her hallway.
And Karo had zero ideas as to why.
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