‘A tender second-chance romance. Rachel Armstrong has a fresh, unique voice.’ – USA Today bestselling author Alyssa J. Montgomery
Amidst pristine beaches, gorgeous hikes and breathtaking sunsets in the Whitsundays, can Mirabella convince the man she’s always loved to open his heart to her and her child?
All Mirabella Goldring wants is a family. So when she falls pregnant to her boyfriend of six months, it’s not the end of the world. Until she arrives in Sydney to surprise him and is met by his wife. Pregnant, alone, and facing her biggest fear-becoming a single mother-Mirabella heads back to the airport to return home to Melbourne. The last person she expects to encounter is her high school sweetheart, now millionaire CEO, Lincoln Crawford.
Lincoln is also down on his luck. Recently separated from his wife, he has given up his dreams of a family and is ready to live a life of solo adventure; starting with a trip to the Whitsundays originally planned for two. But when he runs into the girl he let get away ten years ago, he impulsively invites her to come with him. A tropical vacation with an old friend who looks like she needs cheering up sounds perfect.
When sparks start to fly, both Mirabella and Lincoln wonder if this might be something more. But there’s one problem: After his own cold childhood living with a stepfather who didn’t love him, Lincoln swore he would never adopt another man’s child … and Mirabella is now a package deal.
Get rid of it.
The words still haunted Mirabella Goldring hours after her boyfriend had uttered them. That’s all he’d said. Get rid of it. Then he’d slammed the door in her face.
It hadn’t been the reaction she’d expected when telling her boyfriend he was about to become a father. Then again, none of this morning’s events came close to anything she’d imagined.
Mirabella gritted her teeth and sank into a chair in the bustling food court at Sydney Airport. She twisted the lid off her Diet Coke and took a long drink, the fizzy liquid cooling her aching throat. Tears brewed, but she wouldn’t cry. Instead, anger coursed through her veins, which was strange as sadness was her go-to emotion. But she had every right to be angry. The past forty-eight hours had been a whirlwind.
Paralysing fear had consumed her when she’d realised her period was late. With nerves prickling her skin, she’d raced to the closest store for a pregnancy test. She’d peed on the stick while her heart hammered inside her chest. And at the sight of those two blue lines, she’d erupted into tears.
Yep, she was pregnant. Pregnant to a man she’d only dated for six months. That definitely hadn’t been in her plans. That wasn’t how she’d pictured becoming a mother. She was supposed to be in love, maybe married, and be bubbling with excitement.
But after she had comforted herself with a one-off Kit Kat bar—which should come free with all pregnancy tests—Mirabella’s excitement had grown. She was going to have a baby! She’d always wanted children. So what if it was unplanned? Maybe Marc would finally commit. He might leave his secondment to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney and move to Melbourne where he belonged. With her.
But Marc didn’t want a baby. Or her. And why would he? As it turned out, he already had a wife and two children in Sydney.
A fist clenched around Mirabella’s heart and she blinked back more tears. She should have known better, but Marc had been so convincing. Yes, he worked for a Sydney museum, but he’d spent the past six months in Melbourne curating an art exhibit, which was how they’d met. The moment she’d laid eyes on him at the gallery’s gala, Marc had captured her heart. And he certainly hadn’t acted like a married man. He had approached her with the champagne. He’d asked her to dinner. In less than two weeks, they’d been sleeping together.
How could she have known?
Mirabella pressed her hand to her mouth as air caught in her throat. Good God, what was she going to do? The last thing she wanted was to be a single mother. She wanted to marry and have a brood of rowdy kids. To fill her heart with love and laughter. She didn’t just want it—she needed it. To replace all that she’d lost at the tender age of eight when a car accident had claimed the lives of her father and little brother. Mirabella remembered what it was like to be part of a family and she wanted that for herself.
She and her mother had managed to go on living after the accident and had survived their grief. There had never been a day when Mirabella had felt unloved. After losing one child, her mother had almost spoiled her with love, affection, and a touch of overprotectiveness.
But Mirabella had seen how lonely her mother had been. She’d never remarried. And Mirabella knew how difficult it was to raise a child on one income. She’d been that child. And now, she would be that mother.
She placed her elbows on the table and dropped her face into her hands. She wouldn’t have the big family. It would just be her, the baby, and the dog. Her heart raced as the fear of single motherhood loomed.
Get rid of it.
Her stomach clenched. Maybe Marc was right. Maybe she should consider her options. She wasn’t sure what she thought about abortion, but then again, she’d never needed to consider it before.
She squeezed her eyes closed and placed her hand over her flat belly. She took a deep breath. Blew it out slowly. Then drew in another.
She fully believed in a woman’s right to choose, and right now she was grateful for that choice. She was single. She didn’t have a steady income as an artist and she lived in a one-bedroom apartment with hardly enough room for herself and her chihuahua, let alone a baby. But the bottom line was, she was going to be a single mother. She’d be devoting her whole life to just her child. Was she ready for that? What about her dream of a sketching holiday in Tuscany? What about the international artist-in-residencies she planned to apply for?
And what about Marc? She couldn’t cut him out of their lives completely, even if he didn’t want the baby.
But after the way his eyes had narrowed and he’d looked at her like she was the scum of the earth … After the way he’d hissed those words and slammed the door … Did she want a man like that in her child’s life?
Not really. So, she was grateful for her ‘right to choose’.
Except she couldn’t make that decision right now. Mirabella relaxed into her chair and took another swig of Diet Coke. She needed to get home, then she could think. And make the toughest decision of her life.
Jolted out of her thoughts by the deep voice, Mirabella glanced up. And almost choked on her drink. A man stood on the other side of the table, a paper food bag clenched in one hand and a satchel hanging off his other shoulder. He was taller and broader than she remembered, but Mirabella would recognise that lush dark hair and those dreamy chocolate eyes anywhere.
She hastily swallowed and coughed out a reply. ‘Lincoln? Oh my God! Hi!’
As she stood and returned his smile, he held open his arms and they fell into an embrace like it was the most natural thing in the world. The warm paper bag pressed against her shoulder and her stomach rumbled as she inhaled. She hadn’t eaten since the light breakfast on her six o’clock flight, and Lincoln’s food smelled good.
But not as good as Lincoln himself. Whatever cologne he wore—citrus with a mix of spice—was intoxicating.
Mirabella pulled away, shaking her head in disbelief. ‘Wow. How long has it been?’ He shrugged, his shoulders wide beneath his tight red polo shirt. ‘Not since high school. You didn’t come to the reunion last year.’
‘No …’ Mainly because she’d known she’d run into Lincoln. That and the fact that she hadn’t seen the need to catch up with people she hadn’t seen in ten years. ‘I’d have loved to go, but I had an exhibition on that weekend.’
‘I hope it went well.’
‘It did, actually.’
Lincoln gestured towards a chair. ‘Do you mind?’
‘Not at all.’
They sat and regarded each other across the table. Mirabella couldn’t stop smiling and didn’t know what to make of the fluttering inside her chest as Lincoln withdrew a box of fries from the paper bag. He offered them to her, but she shook her head. She was hungry, but didn’t think she could stomach food at the moment. Instead, she sipped her drink and studied the man across from her. The man who, in high school, she’d thought was the love of her life.
But, unfortunately, her dream of becoming an artist had outweighed her teenage love when she’d been accepted into university in Melbourne. She’d have been a fool to turn down the best art school in the country. Meanwhile, Lincoln had followed in his mother’s and grandfather’s footsteps by studying business at the University of Sydney as a step towards taking over his family’s property development company.
While it’d been a heartbreaking decision, she’d done the sensible thing and left. She hadn’t regretted it. Not really. After all, no one found their true love in high school. Right?
They’d gone their separate ways but had remained connected on social media. On occasion, she’d noticed what Lincoln had been up to as she scrolled through her news feed, but she never ‘liked’. Never commented. And she’d wept like a baby over his wedding photos two years ago.
‘Where are you off to?’ Lincoln asked, munching on his fries.
Mirabella shrugged and twisted the lid onto her drink. ‘Back to Melbourne, hopefully. I’m waiting for them to put me on a flight.’
Lincoln winced. ‘Yeah, it’s busy today, being Saturday and Grand Final weekend and all.’
Mirabella nodded as she eyed a group of young men walking by in Sydney Swans football jerseys. The Aussie rules grand final kicked off in Melbourne that afternoon, making it impossible to get a flight until after lunch. And since Mirabella hadn’t expected Marc’s wife to answer the door, she didn’t have a return flight booked until Monday.
‘Yep,’ she said. ‘And the rugby league grand final tomorrow. Pity about your Sydney Roosters. They almost made it.’
‘Yeah, we were robbed,’ Lincoln said with a shrug. ‘But there’s always next year.’
‘True. So, where are you going?’
She grinned, her heart swooning inside her chest. ‘That sounds amazing. Business or …?’
Mirabella frowned. Where was Lincoln’s wife? And Hamilton Island in the tropical Whitsundays? That was hardly the place for business.
Lincoln sighed and dropped his gaze to his fries, his shoulders slouching. ‘It was supposed to be for pleasure, except … it’s a long story. Jenny and I have separated.’
An unusual warm sensation filled Mirabella’s chest. Empathy? God, she hoped so. ‘I’m sorry to hear it.’
Lincoln tapped a fry on the edge of the cardboard container. ‘Thanks. It ended two months ago because … well, I won’t bore you with the details. It can’t be fixed and is for the best. But we’d already booked this trip and as of yesterday, she was going to come. Just asfriends, you know? So, I checked us both in online. Then she called last night and said she couldn’t do it.’
Mirabella raised her eyebrows. ‘So, you’re going by yourself?’
‘Yep. But that’s all right.’ He shrugged again. ‘It’s paid for, so it’d be a waste to cancel now. Besides, two weeks on Hamilton Island will do me good. Work’s been stressful and I could use a holiday.’
She smiled wryly. ‘I think we all could.’
‘I’ll just explain at the gate that Jenny’s not coming. It would’ve been too much of a hassle to cancel her ticket. I’d have had to cancel mine too and rebook.’
‘That’s true. Good thing you can do that, I suppose.’ With online check-in and auto bag drop, no one even needed to show ID to board domestic flights in Australia.
‘Yeah, I guess. So, were you in Sydney visiting your mum? How is she, anyway?’
‘No, I wasn’t visiting Mum. She’s good though.’ And she’d be thrilled to know that Mirabella had run into Lincoln. Her mother had adored him. Probably cared about him a little too much considering his own mother had died when he was ten. Her mum had thought someone needed to nurture and care for the young man. ‘No, I was here to see my boyfriend. He lives here, but he’s been working four days a week in Melbourne. It was meant to be a surprise.’
‘A surprise that didn’t go well, I take it?’
‘Not really, given that his wife answered the door with a baby on her hip.’ Lincoln winced. He reached across the table and placed his hand over hers.
Mirabella’s skin warmed at his touch. ‘I’m sorry.’
She shrugged, ignoring the anger that surged through her. ‘Yeah, it wasn’t what I’d expected.’
Plus, I’m pregnant … But she didn’t want to tell Lincoln that. There had once been a time when she’d told him everything, but almost eleven years had passed since high school and Lincoln Crawford didn’t need to know how badly she’d screwed up her life. Not only had she failed to realise her dream of becoming an international artist—even though she’d achieved some great work during her artist-in-residency in New York—but she’d also wound up pregnant and alone.
Mirabella swallowed the bile that filled her mouth as she withdrew her hand and picked up her drink.
Lincoln cleared his throat and resumed eating his fries. ‘Had you been together long?’
Mirabella shook her head. ‘Six months. But it’s all right. It wasn’t serious …’
Not until yesterday, anyway.
‘At least that’s something.’
‘Yeah …’ A tightness formed in her chest and Mirabella hastily changed the subject.
‘So, how’s work?’
Lincoln finished his fries and stuffed the box back into the brown paper bag. ‘Good. Busy, and I’ve probably overworked since Jenny left … but, anyway. I’m an executive now, although I still work under my stepfather. The plan is for me to take over when I turn thirty.’
‘Wow. That’s less than a year away.’
‘Yeah. The transition should go smoothly at the end of this financial year. The staff
are prepared for it and despite being young, I’ve worked hard to gain their respect.’
‘You do own the company, after all.’
At the age of fifteen, Lincoln had inherited Jacobs Property Group when his grandfather had died. But as he’d been too young to legally own the company, it had been held in trust with his stepfather at the helm.
‘That I do. But for now, I have an office overlooking George Street and an assistant I couldn’t survive without. Eva’s a godsend.’
Mirabella smiled. ‘I’m glad it’s all worked out for you.’
‘Yeah. And things seem to be going well for you too. We’ve both got to where we wanted to be. I’m an executive and you’re an artist.’
And an unwed single mother-to-be …
Mirabella brushed that thought away and nodded, forcing cheer into her voice. ‘Yep. I guess we have.’
The sacrifice they’d made at eighteen in giving each other up to pursue their dreams seemed to have paid off in spades. So why did her heart turn to lead when Lincoln glanced at his watch?
‘Well, Bella, it was great seeing you.’
‘You too.’ She pushed to her feet as he did, hoping for another hug. She wasn’t disappointed. As Lincoln wrapped his strong arms around her, she breathed in his scent. Committed it to memory.
‘Have a great time on Hamilton Island,’ she said as an announcement called his flight to board.
‘I will. And I hope you make it home soon.’
Mirabella smiled. ‘Fingers crossed.’
Lincoln lifted his hand in farewell as he stepped away. ‘Take care, Bella.’
She waved. He turned and crossed the food court. Mirabella didn’t watch him leave as she slipped back into her chair with a sigh. She really could do with some food.
But before she could stand again, Lincoln was back at her side.
‘Bella, come to Hamilton Island with me.’
On sale: 01.03.2022