Yours Forever (ebook)
Yours Forever (ebook)
A second chance at love…
Ten years ago, Rob Connelly’s mother died, and he turned to his girlfriend, Flo Pelletier, for love and emotional support which she hadn’t been able to give him. So he’d looked elsewhere for comfort. A one-night stand had turned into a commitment which had exiled him from both his home and his happiness. But now he’s back and Flo doesn’t want anything to do with him.
Rob’s apparent rejection of Flo had only confirmed what she’d always felt at a fundamental level—she can’t trust in love and can rely only on herself. From her hippy parents to her boyfriend, everyone she loves leaves her. So, what choice does she have but to keep her heart armor plated, and her affections solely focused on her home, friends and paying guests?
But with a house as shaky as her finances, Flo has no option but to accept Rob’s offer to renovate the house to keep her business afloat. But will their relationship heal, or will it founder amid Flo’s insecurities, Rob’s new responsibilities and secrets which literally emerge out of the woodwork?
- Yours to Give
- Yours to Treasure
- Yours to Cherish
- Yours to Keep
- Yours Forever
- Yours to Love
- A Place Called Home
- Secrets at Parata Bay
- Escape to Shelter Springs
- What You See in the Stars
- Second Chance at Whisper Creek
- Summer at the Lakehouse Café
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Twenty-four hours later, Flo sat back on her haunches and looked around at the scraps of wallpaper which were all she had to show for hours of scraping away at the walls in her meeting room. Although much of the beautiful, flowered wallpaper had come away from the seams after twenty years of clinging to the walls, the rest had proved positively unwilling to leave its long-time home.
She was relieved to hear the latch on the garden gate clatter. It meant she could have a break. She got up, stretched, and went to the window. Despite the heavy rain which appeared to have settled in for the day, it was easy to identify the person running up the garden path. The brilliant red hair would have been clue enough that it was Amber, her other best friend. But the bright yellow raincoat with rainbow motif confirmed it, as did the sunny smile she shot at Flo through the window.
Flo went to the door to meet her. Amber just dodged the steady rivulet of rain which now streamed through the rusting holes on the porch roof.
“Why didn’t you come round the back?”
“I couldn’t reach the back door without getting my feet wet. Looks like the creek will overflow later. It’s covering your path already.” Amber shivered as some cold water found its way down the back of her coat. She looked up. “You should get this porch fixed.”
“I should get a lot of things fixed,” said Flo wearily, as she stood aside to let Amber in. Behind Amber, the lights, left over from Christmas eight months earlier, brightened the afternoon gloom. Flo glanced across her garden to the road along which only a few people walked in the rain. One of them was a middle-aged man who was looking directly at her. They stared at each other for a moment before he hurried on, disappearing round a corner. Flo frowned as she closed the door.
“Did someone bring you?” she asked Amber.
“No! David thinks I came by car, but you know how much I love walking in the rain.” She shrugged off her coat and draped it onto a hook on the old-fashioned coat stand, so the drips would catch in the umbrella drip pan. She turned to Flo and gave her a big hug. “Now, let’s see what we can do with your dining room.”
“Meeting room,” Flo mumbled. Maybe she’d give up on that.
She followed Amber down the impressive hallway, with its carved kauri pillars and archway, opened the door and switched on the lights. There was a fraction of a second delay between the moment she depressed the Bakelite switch and the lights turning on. The electrics were also on her ‘to do’ list.
“Apart from the kitchen, this is my favorite room in the house,” said Flo, automatically drawn to the French windows which opened out onto the large front garden. She glanced out, but the street was empty, and the rain was falling heavier now.
“I love it, too, just as it is.”
Flo sighed and turned to Amber. “Unfortunately, we’re in the minority. Everyone else seems to want perfection.” She adjusted one of the oil paintings which hung from the wooden picture rail that ran around the room. “They want electronics, rather than character; modern rather than old. I need help, Amber. I’m out of my depth here. I know what I like. Trouble is, no one else seems to like it.” She smiled at her best friend. “Except you, that is.”
“And I’m not sure I’m going to be of much help. Maybe you should ask Rachel or Lizzi what to do. They’re far more sophisticated than me.”
“Your sisters’ tastes are unquestionable. But I need something which is still me, if you know what I mean.”
Amber shot Flo one of her big smiles. “I know exactly what you mean. And I feel honored you should choose me to help you be you.”
Flo smiled at the very Amber-like response but also felt a wobble of nerves. “But maybe no rainbows. Less of the hippy vibe and more of the welcoming, homely yet still historic vibe. No offense.”
“None taken.” Amber opened up the shopping bags she’d brought with her and withdrew some swatches and wallpaper books. “I was talking to David, as he deals in heritage buildings, and he gave me these to be going on with. I will temper my hippy vibe with his sophisticated, knowledgeable vibe.”
Flo’s nerves vanished instantly. “And that, my friend, sounds pretty perfect to me.”
“I also brought this,” said Amber, pulling a wallpaper steamer from yet another bag. “David says it’ll make things easier. You know he’d happily come around after work and help you, too.”
Flo looked away. “I know. But he’s working with Rob and I don’t want your brother involved. Anyway,” she said, avoiding Amber’s gaze. She really didn’t want to talk with Amber about her big brother, Rob, again. “If you want to get the steamer going, I’ll keep working with the scraper.” She gave Amber a quick hug, as much to apologize for her comment about Rob as anything else. “Thank you so much. I really appreciate your help.”
“It’s no problem. You know I’d do anything for you. But I still wish—”
Flo stepped away and held up her hand. “No talk of your big brother, please. Let’s just get on with this.” She pushed a lock of hair, which had escaped her ponytail, behind her ear and scanned the walls. “We have a lot to do.”
Flo picked up her scraper once more and pulled a long piece away from the wall, revealing yet another layer of wallpaper.
“Oh, my goodness!” said Amber, as Flo peeled away the second layer to reveal a third.
“I know. My ancestors certainly loved their wallpaper.”
“And so do I,” said Amber. “Once we get this lot off, we can replace it with a design from those books I brought.”
Flo looked doubtfully at the wallpaper books Amber had brought with her. “They look expensive.”
“Don’t worry about that. David said he’d get you whatever you wanted.”
“I can’t accept that! It must cost a fortune.”
“You won’t be getting it for nothing! He knew you’d say that, and he especially asked for regular deliveries of your food. You know what my cooking’s like.”
Flo did, and she completely understood David’s request.
“Consider it a deal.”
They were soon busy peeling away wallpaper, with folk music providing a backdrop to the quiet scraping sounds and Amber’s chatter. Flo found it a relief to get her teeth into something—something physical she could do while she tried to figure out how she could afford the technical things which Charlotte had requested. At least if the room looked good, she reasoned, she’d be more than halfway there. And this wouldn’t cost her anything—only her and Amber’s time.
It was Amber’s silence which alerted Flo that something had happened. Amber’s talk had been a soothing antidote to Flo’s thoughts.
She looked across the room to see Amber had stopped working and was peering beneath a long strip of wallpaper.
“I’m not sure,” said Amber. “There seems to be something behind this wallpaper.”
“Very funny.” Amber put down the steamer, took a metal scraper and tapped the edge against the wall. A sharp metallic sound rang out. Flo frowned and jumped up, joining Amber as she pulled off a long strip of wallpaper, revealing the edge of something which was lodged in the wall.
Flo ran her finger along the side and found some heavy-duty hinges. “That’s weird. What on earth is it?”
“I don’t know. But, whatever it is, it was placed here after the other layers of wallpaper, and before this last one.”
“It was last wallpapered in the late 1990s, I think.”
Flo peeled back the remaining layers and scraped around the object until it was clear. They both stood back. “It’s a funny place to have a safe. Behind wallpaper.” Flo gnawed her lip and frowned, completely puzzled by the find. “I didn’t know we ever had a safe.”
“It’s really weird that it’s been wallpapered over.”
“Who did the wallpapering?”
“It would have been Gran because I’m pretty sure it was done after Grandad died.”
“So… if your Gran wallpapered over it, she knew it was there,” said Amber.
“And she wanted it hidden,” said Flo slowly, as she fingered the gunmetal gray surface, before resting her finger on the lock. There was no handle, only a lock. “Why on earth would she have wanted to do that?”
Amber shrugged. “I guess you’ll only know for sure when you find out what’s inside.”
Sometimes Amber could surprise Flo by showing a display of flawless logic.
“I wonder where the key is.”
“It would only be in one place.”
“Not one of the key rings?”
Flo nodded. Her friends teased her about the old iron circular key rings, from which hung all shapes and sizes of keys, most of which looked as if they were over a hundred years old. They hung on a hook in the kitchen, just as they always had in her grandmother’s time. “I don’t know what locks half of them are for. But I haven’t had the heart to ditch any, in case I ever discover a lock without a key.”
For a moment they looked at each other and it wasn’t excitement, but a sense of nervous tension which hung in the air between them.
“But what if it’s something secret? Something which your Gran wanted to hide from everyone?”
The same thought had occurred to Flo. It made her feel queasy. What could her grandmother have possibly wanted to hide from the world? Whatever it was, it couldn’t be good news. And she really didn’t want to receive any more bad news. She was sick of bad news.
“I don’t know,” she whispered. Silence fell between them. Only the steady patter of rain on the window and the surge of waves pounding on the shore out the back of the house filled the silence.
Suddenly, there was a banging on the door. They both jumped, and Amber shrieked. Flo recovered first, shaking her head at how carried away she’d been by Amber’s imagination and her own fears. “It’s only the door.”
Amber gave an uncertain laugh. “David’s always saying I let my imagination run away with me.” She shrugged nervously. “For a moment, I imagined it was an avenging angel or something.”
“I’ll face the avenging angel. Although why they didn’t just enter, I don’t know. Everyone else does.” Except, she thought, going along the darkening hallway to the front door, Charlotte Kincaid. God, she hoped it wasn’t her again. Perhaps Amber was on to something. Perhaps it was an avenging angel come to pay a visit.
Flo flung the door open and her thoughts were confirmed. It was an avenging angel, just a different one to the one she’d imagined. Outside, under the decrepit porch, stood Rob Connelly, someone she wanted to see even less than Charlotte.
“Rob!” she said, annoyed that despite her wish to avoid her ex-boyfriend, there was a note of excitement in her voice. She immediately tamped it down. “What are you doing here?” She was pleased she sounded annoyed.
“Good to see you, too, Flo,” said Rob with his usual low rumble. His voice had always got to her, its vibrations traveling deep inside of her, making a connection she no longer wanted. He was wearing a bushman’s oiled jacket left open, with worn jeans and a black t-shirt underneath. He was broader, more muscled than he’d been when he’d left Flo and New Zealand all those years ago—a period of time which she thought of as forever. He was, not to put too fine a point on it, even more sexy than before.
Flo forced herself to ignore her instinctive reaction, which was to jump into his arms and allow him to carry her off. She’d done that years ago and look how that had ended. She couldn’t even allow herself to give her usual warm welcome to visitors, because Rob was different. Rob was the man who’d hurt her beyond pain itself.
“I guess you’re here to see your little sister?” One thing was certain, Rob wouldn’t have come to see Flo. When they’d last met, she’d made it clear she wanted nothing to do with him.
“Yep. Mind if I come in?” He glanced up at the leaking roof through which rain now ran in thick, rope-like cords. “I would have come to the back door as usual, but the path by the beach is impassable now. You really should—”
“Get that seen to,” she interrupted. “I know, and I will.”
Flo opened the door wide, and he stepped into the hallway. She suddenly remembered how he used to call and see her and her grandmother, his tall frame filling the hallway in a way which neither she, nor her grandmother, had ever done. He had a presence, and she’d forgotten about it. The appearance of Amber in the hallway, all large eyes and ethereal beauty, brought her back to the present.
“Rob! What are you doing here?” asked Amber.
Rob shook his head. “Not you, too.” He sighed. “I’m here because David asked me to come.”
“Yes, David. Your husband.”
Amber looked like she’d recovered. “I know who David is! What’s happened? Is everything all right?”
“He’s fine. He’s still in Shelter Springs.” His usual kind voice replaced the cool tone he’d used with Flo. He’d always been close to his youngest sister, and he obviously wanted to reassure her. “He says to tell you that Aimee sends her love.”
“Aw, I miss my darling niece. Like you must miss your—”
“But he asked if I’d pick you up,” interrupted Rob quickly.
Flo frowned. Rob might be a cheating bastard to her, but he was the kindest brother, and she’d never heard him interrupt Amber before. Not even when Amber was at her wackiest.
“What were you going to say, Amber?” asked Flo. “Rob might miss what?” Or who, she thought to herself.
Amber blushed and looked nervously at Rob. She shook her head.
“David reckoned you’d have walked to Flo’s,” continued Rob, as if Flo hadn’t spoken. “And the storm is only going to worsen.”
Amber smiled at the thought of her doting husband. “How come my husband knows so much about me?”
“I don’t know,” said Rob with a smile. “It’s almost as if he loves you or something.”
Amber beamed. “Yes, he does.”
Flo’s heart tweaked a little, and she looked away. So much love and none of it for her. “Well, you’d best get going then.” She gave Amber a quick hug. “Thanks for coming and getting me started.”
“I’ll be back when I can. And Maddy and Gabe will, too. We’ll all pitch in and help.” Amber turned to her brother. “Won’t we, Rob?”
Rob raised his eyebrow in question at Flo. “That’s up to Flo.”
Amber turned to Flo. “You will accept Rob’s help, won’t you?”
Flo shot Amber a dark look. Amber knew full well that Rob was the last person she’d accept help from. They both knew. “No. But thank you all the same,” she added. She might hate the man who’d broken her heart so many years before, but she could be polite and grown up about it.
“Why not?” asked Amber.
Flo lost control of the tumult of emotions which surged through her whenever Rob was around. “Because I don’t want him around.” Her heart pounded, and she regretted the words as soon as they’d escaped, like steam, relieving the pressure but scalding everyone in sight.
Rob sucked in a sharp breath. “Right, I guess that’s our cue to leave. Amber? You ready?”
Amber was looking worriedly from Flo to Rob and then back to Flo again.
Rob disappeared outside onto the porch.
Amber ignored Rob’s question and gave Flo a hug and held on tight. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.
“It’s okay. I shouldn’t have said that, but I feel you guys are pressuring me to do something I don’t want. Amber, after what happened, I don’t want anything from your brother.”
“I just want the people I love to love each other.”
“That only happens in fairy tales.”
“No, no, it doesn’t. I won’t believe it. I won’t let it be like that.”
“Please, Amber, just leave me be. I know what I’m doing.” And right there was the biggest lie of all.
While Amber went to collect her things, Flo was drawn to the porch, her eyes fixed on the dark shape of Rob’s back. She knew her words had hurt him. And she felt guilty, despite the pain which she still nurtured and kept close—because how else could she protect herself?
“I’m sorry, Rob. That came out harsher than I meant it to.”
His shoulders relaxed a little, and he turned slightly and looked over his shoulder at her. The dim yellow light of the outside light caught his face. It made his gaze warmer somehow. She swallowed.
“It’s okay. I only hope that one day you’ll forgive me.”
Amber’s arrival on the porch, carrying too many bags, saved Flo from answering. Amber juggled the bags as she tried to pull on her raincoat. Flo avoided Rob’s eyes, but could feel his gaze on her as if it were a physical thing. It had always been like that. Some things, it seemed, never changed.
Amber yelped as a drip turned into a river of water as it broke through the rust in the porch roof. Was it Flo’s imagination or was there more rain gushing through the holes in the porch? Amber put up her umbrella and grinned at Flo. “I’ll be around again as soon as I can. But we’ve made a start.” She gripped Flo’s arm. “And don’t forget to look for the key for the—”
A tearing sound from above interrupted Amber. Rob and Amber looked up. With one quick movement, Rob pushed Amber back into the hall, where she stumbled into Flo’s arms as the porch roof came crashing down, along with a waterfall of rain.
Without a thought, Flo rushed out into the pouring rain and grabbed Rob’s arm as he threw aside a rusting piece of corrugated iron, which had narrowly missed his head. He pointed to it, his eyes ablaze.
“Are you okay?” shouted Flo above the sound of the thundering rain. She could hardly see him in the gloom, as the porch light had gone the same way as the roof. All she could see were angry eyes and rain-slicked hair and body.
“Amber could have been killed, Flo! Amber or you! This has got to stop right now!”
She released her grip on his arm and stepped away. “I guess you are okay.”
“Come in, you two!” shouted Amber from the hall. “You’re both going to get soaked.”
“Too late for that,” said Flo, relieved to release Rob’s angry gaze and step back into the house. She busied herself taking off her over-shirt and tossing it into the tray meant for umbrellas. She kept her gaze averted for a moment as she tried to slow her pounding heart. Rob was right, but she’d be damned if she’d admit it. Suddenly, she felt the tight grip of Rob’s hand on her shoulder.
“Don’t turn away from me again, Flo. This time it’s serious. This place is a death trap, and it’s about time you did something about it.”
She lifted her chin angrily. “Don’t you think I’m trying?” She took his hand and pulled it from her shoulder. “Don’t you think I work every moment of every day to earn money to keep me, my house, my garden afloat?”
“It’s sinking now,” murmured Amber after peering out at the soggy lawn. She shot Flo an apologetic look. But Flo’s gaze was firmly on Rob, who held up his hand to pacify her.
“Don’t you hold up your hand to me, Robert Connelly, as if I’m some kind of mad dog that needs calming down!”
“He’s only trying to help, Flo,” said Amber, looking anxiously from one to the other. Flo sighed, exasperated. She knew Amber hated scenes, especially scenes between people she loved. Which meant virtually everyone in Amber’s world.
“I know, but I don’t need help.” She turned away because she didn’t want either of them to see she was lying or to see that her eyes were filled with tears. She waited for one of them to contradict the lie. But neither said anything. It was up to her. She looked up to the ornate plaster ceiling and blinked, willing the tears to disappear. She’d read somewhere that you couldn’t cry if you looked up. She turned to them slowly and gave them a weak, rueful smile.
“Perhaps it would be more accurate to say I don’t want help.”
“No one wants help, Flo,” said Rob, in a deep soothing voice which made a small place, deep inside of her, melt a little. “But sometimes you have to take it. You give to people all the time. It’s about time you accepted something from them.”
Damn. She couldn’t stop her lips from trembling. She didn’t trust herself to speak. All she could do was nod, as she thought about all the work which needed doing on the house.
She sniffed and cleared her throat. “Well, I guess the porch…” She trailed off as her voice threatened to break.
“The porch, yes,” said Amber, gamely poking her head out the open door. “That would be an excellent start. Very good indeed. Yes.” She nodded, over-keen to get this scene over and move things onto a pleasanter footing.
Flo couldn’t help smiling, understanding exactly what Amber was doing, and caught Rob’s answering smile. “It would be a good start,” she said to Rob.
For a moment, that little place inside of her which had melted at his voice, melted a little more under the tender gaze of his eyes. Then Amber moved, and the spell was broken.
“Brilliant!” said Amber.
Rob looked from Amber to Flo once more. “I’ll be back in the morning to assess the damage. We’ll have it fixed in no time.”
“But I can’t—”
“I don’t want money. Actually, you’ll be doing me a favor. I have skilled men waiting to begin work on a project in Christchurch. They can work here until the next project is ready.”
He stepped away and turned to look outside. “Let’s get going, Amber. I’ll see you tomorrow, Flo. Bright and early.”
“Right,” Flo said. “And thank you!” she called out to Rob and Amber’s receding backs as they ran across the soggy lawn toward the front gate where Rob’s four-wheel drive was waiting. Rob waved a hand in acknowledgement before opening the gate for Amber.
Flo watched them leave. Then she glanced across at where she’d seen the stranger earlier and briefly wondered whether he’d been looking at her, the house or whether it had been a random moment. Random, she decided, as she looked up to the open sky where once the porch roof had been. The entire structure had twisted off its steel supports.
Rob had been right. It could have been very serious if he hadn’t had pushed Amber out of the way. She shuddered at the thought of Amber being hurt. She would never have forgiven herself. And if Rob had been standing slightly to the left… She closed her eyes with a gasp as she felt the pain which he would have felt. It sliced inside her, and in that moment she knew she’d never be free of Rob Connelly. Whether she liked it or not, and she didn’t, he occupied a place in her heart which would be forever his.
But that didn’t mean she’d risk the pain of rejection again. Guilt motivated Rob—that much was clear. If he’d left her once for another woman, he could do it again. And that would kill her.
Bright and early, she thought, as she gave one last sweeping glance around the garden, which was being hammered by the rain. In the meantime, she thought, as she closed the door on the wet night, she had work to do. She had guests to feed, rooms to clean, baking for the café to do. And then, tomorrow, there was the decorating, the accounts, potting the plants she sold at the weekend market and a repeat of today’s chores—the list was endless. She felt as if she were treading water with one arm tied behind her back and she was slowly—inch by inch—slipping under.
Bright and early. She repeated Rob’s words. Despite her initial determination to keep Rob Connelly out of her life, she felt relieved. Maybe, just maybe, he’d thrown her a lifeline.