One Real Man

By: Coleen Kwan



“I took a taxi.”

His green eyes widened incredulously. “From where? Not all the way from Sydney?”

Situated in the rolling green hills of the Southern Highlands, Burronga was a two-hour drive from Sydney. If she’d hired a taxi for the journey, it would have cost her hundreds of dollars.

“No,” she said. “I got the taxi from the train station.”

Still the disbelief shone from his eyes. “You caught the train? You?”

The base of her neck grew warm. “Oh, lay off the sarcasm, will you? Yes, I came down from Sydney on the train.”

Her flight from London had landed in the afternoon. From the airport, she’d caught the train to Central Station, then changed to the Southern Highlands line. She had arrived here exhausted and jet-lagged, dragging two bulging suitcases, her only possessions in this world. The spare key unlocked the outer doors of the conservatory. As soon as she’d seen the cool, inviting waters of the pool, she’d stripped off and dived in, seeking to wash away her tiredness and worries.

“You didn’t tell your parents you were coming here?” Owen studied her with frank curiosity.

“They’re used to me coming and going when I please.” She faked a lackadaisical shrug. “I don’t need to tell them every single detail of my life.” Like the fact that she was flat broke, or that her life was a mess and the thought of having to start all over again made her break out in a cold sweat. She didn’t need to tell her parents any of that. Especially not her mother.

Owen leaned back in his chair, stroking his chin. His hands were broad and tanned, the backs flecked with light hairs, the fingernails square-cut and blunt. Worker’s hands.

“Where’s that husband of yours?”

Her lungs constricted in a sudden spasm. She’d anticipated his question, yet still it affected her, much to her disgust. “Ex-husband, you mean,” she retorted.

His hands dropped to the tabletop. His thick dark eyebrows shot up. “Since when?”

“Since I divorced him, what else?”

He let out a soft whistle. “You can’t have been married more than a year. I never thought you’d be the type for a quickie marriage.” He paused, and for the first time that night, a sheepish look came over him. “Uh, sorry. That was tactless.”

Maybe, but he was only voicing what other people thought. Owen had never been the courteous type. He didn’t mince words, and strangely she didn’t mind on this occasion.

“No need to apologize.” She laced her fingers together, keeping her tone even. “Seth and I were married for a year before we separated, so I’m not quite up there with Kim Kardashian.”

“Seth…” Owen mused, rubbing his chin once more. “Seth Bailey, right? Yeah, I remember reading about your wedding extravaganza in some women’s magazine while I was waiting in a checkout line. You had a huge marquee on the front lawn of this house.”

Paige felt her lips thinning at the mention of her “wedding extravaganza.” Was it really less than two years since that event? How worked up she’d been as the big day drew near. Her mother’s celebrity status had meant a glossy magazine was willing to pay for exclusive rights to the wedding. She’d hesitated, not wanting her day to be turned into a circus, but her mother had persuaded her to agree. After all, Paige was a minor celebrity in her own small way, after her half dozen appearances on Crystal’s show chatting about the goings-on of the Sydney social scene. As part of her PR and marketing job, Paige attended plenty of parties, and her boss was happy for the extra TV exposure.

Paige had been secretly terrified that something would go awry with the wedding. Just a couple of weeks before the big day, she’d discovered that Seth had kept a secret from her. He’d been previously engaged, to a local girl from Burronga no less, and had jilted her on their wedding day. That should have been enough warning that Seth Bailey wasn’t the right man for her. But she’d pushed aside her worries, partly because she believed Seth genuinely loved her, partly because, after all the hoopla, canceling her wedding at such short notice was unimaginable.

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