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‘I think you’re making too much of it. Think! You were with an attractive man. He found you attractive, too. He kissed you, then remembered you were both supposed to be pretending, and a kiss wasn’t part of the deal. How do you think he’d feel?’

Cleo flinched. She hadn’t considered it from Will’s point of view. What if Ailsa was right? Then common sense reasserted itself. No, she couldn’t be. Will Rankin would never be interested in a woman like her.

‘I should go.’ Ailsa rose as a large group of women arrived in the café. ‘But don’t forget what I said.’

Cleo said goodbye and picked up their empty cups. Her day had begun.

Sunday was normally one of the busiest days in the café and this Sunday was no exception. But, from time to time, in the odd lull between customers, Cleo remembered Ailsa’s words. What if she was right? What if Will thought he’d offended her in some way? And if so, how was she going to find out?

The café was emptying, and Cleo was looking forward to getting home and putting her feet up. Hannah had promised to drop round for dinner, and Cleo wanted to have a rest and freshen up before she arrived. If she took home some leftover cakes, it would save her having to make dessert, and she knew her daughter loved Ruby’s cakes.

Cleo was checking in the fridge to see what she could find, when she heard someone in the café proper. She headed out, ready to tell them the café was closed, only to see Will Rankin standing there.

Nineteen

‘What are you doing here?’ Cleo’s heart began to race. The sight of him standing in the café she considered to beherterritory was a shock. Her eyes flickered across his face then down to his board shorts and tee-shirt with the logoBay Surf School. His hair was tied back in an untidy ponytail. He looked as if he’d just come from the beach which, she realised, he probably had. He worked weekends, too. What was so important he’d come straight here, that he’d come here at all?

Hannah. Had something happened to Hannah?

‘Hannah’s fine, she’s not why I’m here.’

Had she said her daughter’s name aloud?

Cleo exhaled.

‘Let me take that before you drop it.’ Will stepped forward to take the plate containing the pieces of lemon cheesecake Cleo had been planning to take home.

She had forgotten she was still holding it.

‘I need to talk with you, and I thought…’ He dragged a hand through his hair, making it more untidy than ever. ‘Is this a good time?’

‘No…yes…I…’

Will placed the plate on a table, pulled out a chair and gestured for Cleo to sit.

In a daze she did as he indicated then took a deep breath. She opened her mouth to speak, to tell him it was over, to tell him this empty façade had to end.

Will held up a hand. ‘Let me speak first. I want to apologise. I was out of order. I can understand you would feel upset. I shouldn’t have kissed you. I realise it wasn’t part of the deal we had, but…’ he gave a lopsided grin, ‘…I guess I was carried away by the moonlight and… you looked so lovely, standing there, your face raised to the sky. It would have taken a stronger man than I am to resist you.’

‘It wasn’t… you didn’t…’ Cleo had no idea what she was trying to say, no idea what she was thinking.

‘And there was a moment when you did appear to be enjoying it.’ He grinned.

Cleo blushed. This wasn’t going the way she’d planned. ‘I wasn’t upset,’ she managed to say.Had Will really said she was lovely, and he couldn’t resist her?‘You apologised last night.’

‘I did?’ Will scratched his head. ‘I suppose I did. It was because I thought… hell, I don’t know what I was thinking. Can we start again?’

Cleo looked down at her hands which were clasped tightly together on the table, then up into Will’s eyes, eyes so blue she could drown in them. Her stomach lurched. She could see he was sincere, but… ‘What do you mean?’

‘Start over, forget about this mad plan of Ailsa’s that we pretend to be a couple, and start over for real. You and me. See each other. Discover if we do like each other, if… Heck, I don’t know how to do this. I played around a lot when I was a teenager, then I met Dee. Since then, I haven’t looked at another woman until now. But you, Cleo… I’d like to get to know you better. Can we start with that?’

Cleo suddenly realised that, while Will had been talking, she had automatically started playing with her hair, coiling the loose strands which had escaped from her bun around one finger, something she did when she was embarrassed or worried. She stopped, smoothed back the stray ends and clasped her hands again. ‘You mean date… like a regular couple?’

‘Yeah.’

Cleo considered what it would mean. Would it be so different from what they were already doing? They were already a couple in the eyes of most of the town, of everyone who had seen them at the surf club and the gallery opening. The difference would be forthem. Was she ready to go into another relationship, a relationship in which she risked being hurt, with a man about whom she knew very little? Apart, she reminded herself, from the way his kiss had turned her legs to jelly.

She felt a surge of an emotion she couldn’t identify. Was it fear or anticipation? She inhaled, all her previous good intentions flying out the window. ‘Okay.’

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