One Real Man

By: Coleen Kwan

He hurled the puffy cushion away from him. That’s what he should have done with Paige’s expensive luggage. Chucked the suitcases out of the house, followed by Paige, her ash-blond hair flying all over her pale, supercilious face.

Once a pool boy, always a pool boy.

Even when she was down and out, Paige knew just how to needle him.

Well, dammit, he wasn’t her pool boy anymore. He was a partner in a thriving company, making more money than he knew what to do with. And he was back here in Burronga to make an impact. When his real estate agent had told him the Kerrigan place was up for rent, he couldn’t believe his luck. He’d snapped it up, undeterred by the outrageous rent. Not that he’d been plotting his revenge on the Kerrigan family like some twisted villain, but there’d always been a festering rawness when he remembered his time here, so when the opportunity came, he’d reacted instinctively.

Only, he hadn’t experienced much satisfaction since moving in last week. Wandering around the mansion had brought back painful reminders of his late father. Unlike Owen, Derek Bellamy had never resented the Kerrigans. The car accident that had claimed his wife had left him with permanent brain trauma. Unable to return to his carpentry business, he’d been grateful for the caretaker’s job that Edward Kerrigan, Paige’s father, had offered him. But then, he’d never been the same after that car accident, never fully recovered his memories of the wife he’d loved, the family they’d had.

Owen remembered everything—his mother laughing, his father telling silly jokes, his baby sister Natasha gurgling and clapping her hands. They had been an ordinary, happy family until the day his dad had flipped his truck driving Owen’s mother to work in a hurry because he had an urgent job waiting. At least Natasha had been too young to remember those hard times. Now she was growing up fast, almost sixteen, the same age Owen had been when they’d moved into the caretaker’s cottage on the Kerrigan estate.

Tormented by his memories, Owen quit the den to prowl restlessly around the house. As if they had a mind of their own, his legs took him to the conservatory, where he circled the pool.

Here, many years ago, Paige and her school friends had giggled and gossiped and cast sly looks at him as he cleaned the pool. It seemed they always appeared when he had to check the chlorine levels, skim leaves out of the water dropped by the golden trumpet vine, or untangle the suction cleaner. He would try to ignore Paige and her clique, but without much luck. From the very beginning, her ice-maiden beauty had mesmerized him, tormented him. And she had known about his tongue-tied admiration and used it to torture him.

While he worked on the pool, Paige would saunter about the conservatory, her bikini-clad arse wiggling at him, causing him to choke. She’d seldom speak to him except to ask him to open the windows or fetch her a clean towel, always in that cool, don’t-give-a-damn, upper-class voice of hers.

Here, in a corner of the conservatory, were the potted ferns where one day, driven half mad by her flaunting and teasing and his surging adolescent hormones, he’d grabbed her by the wrist, drawn her into the foliage, and kissed her. Hard. She’d pulled free and slapped him across the face, her cheeks burning with outrage, before stalking off. But she hadn’t told her parents, and for a second or two during that stolen, outrageous kiss, he could have sworn her lips had responded to his.

What followed had been the strangest two weeks of his life. Two weeks he’d regretted ever since. Two weeks that had ended in total humiliation at the hands of Paige Kerrigan.

But now things were different. Now the tables were turned. Now he had the opportunity for a little payback. They said revenge was a dish best served cold. Well, his dish had been cooling for fourteen years.

Early the next morning, Paige slowly drifted back to consciousness. Cocooned by luxurious sheets and pillows, she felt cozy, safe, and comfortable. But a second later, everything came howling back, and the warmth ebbed away to be replaced by dull nausea in the hollow of her stomach.

She was trespassing in her own home, and she’d have to leave today. With a groan, she pulled the sheet over her head. Where could she go? Perhaps she’d risk her chances with Great-Aunt Lucinda. Did the carping relative know her parents had been forced to rent out their home?

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