From the author of some of my favourite romances ever—King of Hearts, Hearts of Blue, and Showmance, just to name a few—comes a brand new duet I am ridiculously EXCITED about, and I have a sneak peek for you. The first book releases on 30 Jan 2018, and the conclusion to the duet on 6 Feb 2018.
“Need any help?” came a familiar voice and I glanced up.
Dylan stood just a few feet away, dressed casually in jeans and a T-shirt. The golden tones in his hair twinkled under the sun. I was more than a little surprised to see him, especially considering it had been a week since I stormed out of his flat. We hadn’t talked at all since then, so his appearance made me feel a touch awkward. I was also miffed that Conor never bothered to show, even with the prospect of bumping into Yvonne to lure him.
“Uh, yes, sure. Let me go grab you a pair of gloves,” I replied casually. I wouldn’t let him know that each day he didn’t try to make amends burned a new hole in my chest. It was unnerving how much I thought about him, given how little time we’d been acquainted.
“You’re Tommy O’Dea’s young lad, aren’t you?” said Mrs O’Flaherty, glancing at Dylan from under her sun hat.
“That’s right,” Dylan replied.
“How is he these days? Still not gone back to driving his taxi yet?”
“No, not yet.” Dylan’s posture stiffened.
“Oh, well, I’m sorry to hear that. Some people just aren’t great at sticking with jobs, but do give him my best,” she went on, a touch of haughtiness to her tone.
“I will.” Dylan spoke quietly, firmly.
I cut Mrs O’Flaherty a sharp look, mostly because I took issue with people who hadn’t worked a day in their lives condescendingly asking after other people’s employment status. She had one son, Seamus’s father, and she’d been a lady of leisure ever since he fled the nest a good twenty-five years ago, living off her late husband’s pension and life assurance. Also, because she talked so much, I knew that her other grandson, Seamus’s brother, was a twenty-three-year-old layabout with a bad marijuana habit, who spent most of his time in his bedroom playing the drums.
“Speaking of which,” I said to Seamus, “how’s your brother doing?”
Mrs O’Flaherty visibly stilled, her lips flattening into a thin line of displeasure as she dug her trowel into some soil.
Seamus let out a heavy sigh. “Still smoking weed. Still as lazy as ever.”
I eyed Mrs O’ Flaherty pointedly in quiet defence of Dylan, letting her know that he wasn’t the only one with weak spots. I wasn’t even sure why I did it, because it wasn’t like Dylan and I were buddies. In fact, I wasn’t sure if we were on speaking terms yet. I just didn’t like people looking down on others, no matter the situation. I guess I knew what it felt like. Gossip abounded after Mam left me with Yvonne so she could swan off to London.
I walked to the other end of the allotment and Dylan followed behind.
“Sorry about her,” I said once we were out of earshot. “She can be a bit of a snob sometimes.”
Dylan shrugged. “No worries.”
“Though why anyone who lives in the Villas thinks they have a right to snobbery is beyond me,” I went on and Dylan showed the barest hint of a smile before clearing his throat.
“So, uh, I wanted to apologise for last week. You were right. I was an arsehole, and I’m sorry for that.”
“Here, put these on. They might be a bit of a tight fit, but they’re all I have right now,” I said, uncomfortable with apologies.
Dylan appeared perplexed at my offering of girl-sized gloves. “That’s okay. I’ll bring my own next time. So, is my apology accepted or . . .?”
I shrugged. “You probably don’t need them anyway. I’m clipping these echinacea flowers this morning. And yes, apology accepted.”
“Good,” Dylan murmured, his gaze sharpening on the small mole just under my jaw. “Because I’ve missed you.”
A rush of air claimed my lungs at his statement. I tried to play it cool, while on the inside my heart raced. “You hardly know me.”
“That’s not true. I’ve known you for years.”
I didn’t know what to make of that, though in a way he was right. We’d been aware of each other’s existence for years, we’d just never actually exchanged words. I eyed him for a second. “You’re very honest.”
“To a fault sometimes.”
“I don’t see how honesty can ever be a fault, not in the grand scheme of things.”
“Oh, believe me, it can. Kind of like how I depress people with my doom and gloom, I also drive people away with my honesty. Most of us just want pleasant lies.”
“Hmm,” I said, pondering it. “You have a point. I’d much rather be told my arse looks good in jeans than fat.”
Dylan absentmindedly took the clippers from me and carefully snipped a flower. “I never understood why women consider a fat arse a bad thing.”
I grinned at that and Dylan brought the flower to his nose to breathe in. I’d almost forgotten about his preternatural sense of smell. “Sweet,” he murmured, and I suppressed a swell of attraction at the way he inhaled so intently.
“Echinacea has a lot of medicinal properties. You can dry it and turn it into a tea, or you can simply eat them like this,” I said, pulling off a petal and sticking it in my mouth. “Although, personally, I think the flowers are too pretty not to put in a vase and admire, at least for a little while.”
Dylan watched me curiously while I chewed the petal, his eyebrows rising ever so slightly. “Has anyone ever told you you’re a little odd?”
“This coming from the king of gloom.”
“That must be why I don’t scare you. Your oddness counteracts my gloominess.”
“Speaking of odd, have you ever heard of miracle berries?”
Dylan let out a chuckle. “You see. You are odd, Evelyn Flynn. If I’m the king of gloom, you’re the queen of randomness.”
I smiled at that. He really was incredibly gorgeous, especially when he chuckled. He said he’d missed me. Dylan O’Dea had missed me. Berries. I was talking about berries.
“No seriously, I just read about them the other day. They’re this small red fruit from Africa, and after you eat them they make sour foods taste sweet.”
“So, I could eat a lemon and it’d taste like an orange?”
“Exactly. I’ve been dying to find some to see if they work, but I don’t think you can buy them here.”
Dylan chuckled again before he clipped a few more flowers. I admired the way the muscles in his arms moved as he did so.
“Other girls your age dream about getting the latest shade of lipstick, or tickets to a Justin Timberlake concert. You dream about finding miracle berries for sale at the local supermarket.”
I gave him a light shove and defended, “I just want to get my hands on those elusive fruits, okay?” Dylan shook his head and I bit my lip as I studied him. “By the way, how’s your dad been?”
His brows started to furrow. “He’s fine. Why?”
“I was just thinking about what he said about feeling unwell. You shouldn’t be so dismissive. He could actually be sick, you know.”
Dylan’s expression turned weary. “He’s not sick. Well, not physically anyway. My dad’s got depression, it makes him sort of fixate on things.”
“Oh,” I said. “Sorry. I didn’t know.”
“Don’t apologise. He’s always been prone to bouts of sadness, but after Mam passed away it got worse. Like, if there are kids hanging around outside the flat, he’ll immediately think they’re up to no good, trying to rob the place or something. Give him a situation and he’ll always think the worst.”
“That must be hard to live with sometimes,” I said, feeling sad for him. I couldn’t imagine what it must be like to have your parent constantly worrying. Yvonne and I were pretty similar in the sense that we always tried to look on the bright side. It was why living together was so easy.
Dylan nodded and went quiet then, just looking at me. I tucked some hair behind my ear, self-conscious as I asked, “What?”
He made a low hum and his eyes traced my features. “Just mentally berating myself for not befriending you sooner.”
What the . . . what? My chest fluttered at the way he looked at me, so focused, so sincere.
“Is that what you’re doing? Befriending me?”
His expression turned thoughtful, those handsome brows of his drawing together. “I think so.”
We worked in quiet for a minute as I let that sink in. I was incredibly flattered that he wanted to know me. It wasn’t often that you met someone and just clicked with them like I had with Dylan. I was also relieved that he seemed to accept there was no judgement on my part regarding his dad. I had enjoyed meeting him, and even though I felt sad for them both in different ways, I was fairly certain Dylan hadn’t felt as though I’d judged him. How could I? I knew what it was like to lose someone I loved. Or be abandoned. At least Dylan’s mam hadn’t left him by choice.
A pang of hurt seized me, but I tried to ignore it as I gathered some flowers in a bunch and asked, “I don’t suppose you’re going to the school dance tonight?”
Every year in late September, the school put on an informal dance for students. Dylan disliked discos, so he probably wouldn’t be attending. Sam and I always went, even if it was only to sit in a corner and gossip about people while commenting on their fashion choices.
Dylan’s expression turned frustrated. “Conor wants to go. He’s sort of holding me and Amy to ransom over it.”
“How so?” I asked, curious.
“We both owe him one, since he went to a My Chemical Romance concert with Amy last month, and he’s tutoring me in French this year. It’s my worst subject.”
“So, he’s cashing in on the debt. I like his style,” I said, smiling. “I think it’d be good for you and Amy to socialise like normal teenagers. You stick to your little trio too much.”
“Coming from the girl who’s rarely away from her best friend’s side,” Dylan countered.
“That’s different. Sam and I are soulmates. There’s no hope tearing us apart.”
He appeared amused by this. “Well, anyway, to answer your question. Yes, I’m going, though if I had my way there’d be several miles and a body of water between me and any variety of organised fun.”
“Man, you really are a grump,” I said, teasing.
There was the barest flash of a twinkle in his eye. “The grumpiest.”
We stared at each other, both smiling, and a warmth spread through my chest.
“Evelyn, could we get your help down here for a minute?” Mrs O’Flaherty called, interrupting our moment.
“Sure,” I responded, then to Dylan, “be back in a second.”