A clever, heartfelt romantic comedy about a charming family who live in the most romantic place on earth but can’t catch a break when it comes to love. For fans of Marian Keyes, Star-Crossed and Offspring.
When a romantically challenged family gather at their Whitsundays resort for their first wedding in decades, Amy ‘stuck in the friend zone’ Lowery realises that her single tango-dancing mum and besotted groom-to-be dad have hotter love lives than she does.
But when she locks eyes with an alluring stranger, The Pull in her chest is undeniable. And the look in Josh Brennan’s eyes definitely says ‘more than friends’ – but not in the way she hopes.
Loner Josh is ecstatic to meet his witty stepsister-to-be and stoked that the union of their two dads comes with the lively (if chaotic) family he’s always wanted. No way will he admit to an inconvenient attraction to his insta-sister – not even to himself.
Elsewhere on the island, resident nice guy Harry is absolutely not going to fall for smart and sexy jilted bride Sophia, who is locked in the honeymoon villa trying to kickstart Operation Get Your Life Together. But a harmless flirtation never hurt anyone – right?
Throw in some sharp-witted siblings, a bevy of naval officers and a meddlesome gran determined to see at least one of her descendants happily wed, and the scene is set for a perfect storm that will leave no heart unscathed…
So much about this was wrong. Wrong because Amy Lowery’s date to her dad’s upcoming wedding was her mum. Wrong because Amy’s black-on-black-on-black Melbourne wardrobe was perfectly unsuited to her grandmother’s Whitsundays resort—even now, at eight in the evening, she could swear steam was rising from her jeans. But mostly wrong because she and her mum were perched at the bar swooning over the man her dad was about to marry.
‘Mum, as unlikely as this sounds,’ Amy said, as the lovely Sanjay’s laugh rumbled all the way from the dance floor like a seismic event, ‘this time in six days, you will no longer be my hottest parent.’
‘It wasn’t my plan,’ Rosa replied. ‘When you got a gorgeous new stepfather, he was supposed to be my husband. There’s one!’ she added suddenly, pointing a baby-pink fingernail across the busy pavilion to the dimly lit deck, as if they were engaged in a game of spot-the-dolphin rather than spot-the-eligible-hetero-man. ‘That guy outside, on his phone. Blue T-shirt. He’s straight.’
Amy swatted her mother’s finger down. ‘Mum, you’re shouting.’ Rosa had many excellent qualities, but subtlety was not one of them. The guy was maybe mid-thirties, with the hair, body and tan of someone who’d been surfing as long as he’d been walking. ‘You know him?’
‘No, but I can tell these things.’
Amy switched her focus to her dad, who was reining Sanjay in by his purple paper lei. ‘Evidence would suggest otherwise. My existence would suggest otherwise.’ She straightened so her jeans didn’t sit so tightly around her waist. She must have retained water on the plane. She should probably switch from vodka to coconut water. Or a coconut water/vodka cocktail? Hey …
‘I’ve been schooled by bitter experience,’ Rosa said, rolling back her shoulders as if subconsciously consoling herself. Her shoulders—a dancer’s shoulders—were the envy of the family, and she brought them out as often as possible, tonight in a turquoise halter-neck top. ‘Oh, would you look at that,’ she added in a tone somewhere between resentment and awe as Sanjay pulled Amy’s father in for a kiss. Geoff’s moon face was crimson from dancing and his half-untucked shirt clung to his back sweat. He trailed a finger from Sanjay’s temple to his lips, gazing at him like, well, like Amy and her mother were gazing at him. At least they could all agree on one thing.
Rosa absentmindedly traced a path around the base of her wine glass. ‘He used to do that to me.’
Amy stared at her mother staring at her father. Wait—Rosa wasn’t ogling Sanjay. She was ogling Geoff. ‘Uh, Mum?’ Amy said with a touch of panic. ‘Are you still in love with Dad?’
Rosa made a face. ‘Don’t be silly.’
Amy swivelled on her bar stool to face her mother. ‘Tell me you don’t get The Pull in your heart when you look at him.’
‘I really don’t. Can’t say I ever did.’
‘You must have, at some point.’
‘Geoff and I were always best friends. Still are. But I was way too young to realise that there should be more to it than that, and he was confused about who he was, so …’ Rosa shrugged, like marrying a man who turned out to be gay was as big a life event as buying a dress in a no-returns sale and later deciding it was the wrong colour (which never happened when you wore only black). ‘But it’s not good for the self-esteem to fly solo at your ex’s wedding.’
‘I guess not.’ No one wanted to go solo to any wedding, let alone an ex’s. Here was Amy feeling sorry for her dateless twenty-seven-year-old self, but she hadn’t stopped to think about her mother. Maybe, for once, it was a good thing Amy was single yet again. She could heroically be there in Rosa’s hour of need. ‘So, offering to host the wedding here—what kind of self-flagellation was that?’
Rosa groaned. ‘It seemed so symbolic, bringing Geoff back to where we were married to give us both a blessing to move on. Acknowledging the past as a foundation for the future. I think I actually used the words “circle of life”. Or was it “cycle”? Which one even is it? Anyway, how could I say no? He’s still the most wonderful man I’ve ever known, and it’s the most beautiful thing to see him so happy.’ She slugged her pinot gris, a gulp or two more than was socially acceptable to sink at once, not that Amy was judging.
‘Mum, if any of us deserves to break the family love curse, it’s you.’
‘And how’s your progress on that front? Anyone crossed over from the Friend Zone?’
Amy screwed up her face. She hadn’t even bothered to tell her mother about her latest (imploded) relationship, if she could even claim it as a relationship. ‘There are no crossings. That bridge is out. Detonated. Ka-boom. And the river is festering with crocodiles and piranhas and freaking cholera and— it’s not funny, Mum!’
Rosa choked as another mouthful of wine got stuck somewhere between a laugh and a cough. Amy whacked her on the back a smidgeon harder than the emergency necessitated, though at least her misfortune had brightened her mother’s mood.
‘Maybe it’s time you moved up here,’ Rosa said. ‘We always laugh more when you’re around. You could try for a research grant? Plenty of interesting weather to study. More by the day.’
‘You know Nan’s rules. I’m not allowed to move up unless I import a partner.’ Amy mimicked her grandmother’s brisk tone from their brief chat (read: love-life interrogation) that afternoon as she’d stepped onto the blessed blond-sand crescent of Curlew Bay. ‘It would be so nice to have you on the island permanently, my love, if I didn’t already have three daughters and eight grandchildren here to marry off. You have no idea how hard it is to find that many suitable prospects. And she has a point, seeing as at least eighty percent of the permanent inhabitants of this place are related to me.’
‘Did you know she’s taken to hiring staff purely for their potential as family marriage prospects?’
‘Is that legal?’
‘You should hear some of the questions she asks in interviews. I have to keep talking over her. And she tries to sneak the words “must be single” into job ads. She doesn’t want to even look at a resume unless the candidate can feasibly be paired off with one of us. Can you believe my mother is still trying to marry me off, at my age?’ Rosa pointed at Amy’s nose. ‘Maybe you do need to stay out in the big bad world a little longer. You’re the only one of us who hasn’t returned a failure at love. And you don’t want to be subjected to Nan’s matchmaking.’
‘As pleased as I would be to lift the curse, it’s not a decision I can make unilaterally.’
Rosa frowned. ‘You always seem so casual about your boyfriends, like you can take them or leave them. Are you talking about someone in particular?’
‘Oh, only every guy I’ve been in love with who hasn’t felt the same, which is—let me count—all of them. It’s them who are casual about me.’
‘But you’ve always been surrounded by guys, ever since you were a kid. They clearly all adore you. I don’t get why things never seem to go beyond that.’
‘Mum, not only do I have our family curse, I also have the friend curse. Guys don’t see me as girlfriend material. They lock me into the friend box—or worse, the friends-with-benefits box, but not literally because that sounds serial-killer creepy—and won’t let me out until I’ve set them up with my hot girlfriends. That’s never changed, right through school, uni, work …’
‘I don’t understand it,’ Rosa said. ‘I don’t understand them.’
‘That’s because you were in the hot-friend category. Still are.’ It was like explaining snow to a crocodile. Amy was pretty sure no straight man had ever wanted to be ‘just good friends’ with her mother. Hell, a gay man had been confused for a while. ‘Why didn’t I get that gene?’
‘Just because some women get more male attention, it doesn’t mean it’s the right kind. In fact, it’s usually not.’
Amy pressed a hand to her heart. ‘Let me try to feel the sympathy…’ She winced, looking up at a fan suspended from the pavilion’s cathedral ceiling. ‘Sorry, nothing.’
Rosa laughed, but there was a note of sympathy in it. ‘It’s a compliment that men want you for a friend—women too. You’ve never been short of friends. People feel comfortable around you. You’re like your dad in that way.’
Amy grunted. Could she not swap just a little friend-magnetism for babe-magnetism? She inhaled, welcoming the warm salty breeze into her airways, letting it scour away the self-doubt that had been gumming up her brain for weeks. One good reason not to move here—this place was her escape from all that. And escape she would, for an entire glorious week. Swimming, scuba diving, reading, happy hour on the deck with her sister and the cousins, cuddles with her niece … The whole island was like a wireless charger for her soul. And as much as she loved small doses of her family, she was in no hurry to live in the staff compound with all her maternal relatives in shouting distance. If men were easily deterred now …
‘Fortunately for both of us,’ Rosa said, leaning back on the bar, her shoulders shimmering under the warm lights, ‘there’s a new bloke fresh off the boat every few hours.’ The guy in the blue T-shirt had wandered inside through the open bifold doors and was chatting with Sanjay, their heads bowed close. Someone had forced a green lei on him. Amy’s money was on Geoff, who’d bought the monstrosities in bulk from a dollar store in Fitzroy last week. ‘Where did they find these guys?’
‘Rainbow Casting Central?’ Amy offered. ‘Hire-a-Hottie? At least it’s victimless gawking. It’s like having a celebrity crush. It’s a hundred percent safe because nothing can ever come of it.’
‘Twenty bucks says that one’s straight.’ Rosa nodded toward Blue T-shirt Guy.
‘You’re on,’ Amy said, taking the excuse for a perusal. ‘But you’re wrong. What percentage of straight men get their eyebrows groomed? And his hair is so salty and now in that fresh-from-the-beach way, even though we know he’s just arrived. That look of effortlessness takes a lot of effort. Definitely gay, and I’ll allow you to pay me in overpriced vodka on Sanjay’s tab.’
The guy looked up, straight at them, as Sanjay spoke into his ear. His brow creased in a do-I-know-you? way.
Amy grabbed Rosa’s forearm, spinning their stools to face each other. ‘Please tell me we didn’t both just get caught leering at him.’
Rosa grimaced. Amy risked a glance at the dance floor, where Sanjay slapped the guy on his shoulder and pushed him toward the bar, winking at Amy.
Amy went hot and cold at once. Who knew that was even possible? ‘Don’t look now but he’s coming this way.’
So of course Rosa looked. ‘Could be a set-up, Aims. Sit straight. You got this.’
Amy surreptitiously pulled a few strands down from her (very) messy updo. Why oh why hadn’t she scraped up some cash to redo the blonde highlights in her brown hair? And would it have killed her to have spent five minutes blow-drying after her swim that afternoon? Nerves rolled up from her stomach and into her throat as he approached, looking taller, hotter and more weather-beaten with each step. Maybe early forties rather than mid-thirties, but what did age matter when it came to love?
Amy gulped her vodka, leaving herself with a mouthful of liquid as he reached them. Genius move. She swallowed too quickly, swivelled to one side and coughed a little. Like mother, like daughter.
‘How did you two manage to escape wearing one of these things?’ he said, lifting his lei over his head. He lowered it onto Rosa’s shoulders like he was anointing her. ‘Will you please do this sambo or mamba or whatever it is with me? Geoff’s insisting that this is his party and we have to dance his new steps tonight, and Sanjay says you’re an excellent teacher.’
‘Me? Uh … uh …’ Rosa sent Amy a panicked look.
‘Yes,’ Amy said, blinking away the tears that had sprung up during her coughing fit. Sanjay was setting the guy up with Rosa, not her. And somehow that came as a relief. ‘She absolutely will dance with you.’
‘You will,’ Amy said firmly.
‘O-kay, good,’ the guy said with a bemused grin. He held out a hand and Rosa let him pull her up. ‘I’m Viggo, by the way.’
Amy had heard that name but couldn’t immediately place it. Rosa glanced at her with a look of are-you-sure-you’re-okay-with-this? Amy gave a tiny nod. She’d had a nervous moment but it was just panic. He was hot, sure, but she hadn’t felt any pull for him, and certainly not The Pull. And her mum was well overdue some fun and flirting.
Still, Amy’s smile became forced as they walked away. Because now she was sitting alone, even more overheated, and ogling not one but two stepfather-figures.
Amy was chasing the last of the ice around her glass and thinking about walking straight out onto the deck and into the pool fully dressed when her sister walked in. In a sleek blue-grey jumpsuit, her dark hair pulled into a glossy ponytail, and wearing the signature red lipstick that might as well be tattooed on, Carmen looked simultaneously hot and cool. How was it that Amy had inherited their father’s trunk legs and even his boobs, and Carmen had Rosa’s heart-shaped face and Scarlett O’Hara waist that you had the urge to close your hands around just to see if you could?
Carmen spotted Amy and sidestepped her way through the dance floor, where Rosa was nailing the tango (of course) and her partner was evidently impressed (of course). ‘I see Mum’s getting along well with Viggo,’ Carmen said as she reached the bar.
‘You know him? The silver surfer?’
‘Sanjay’s business partner. I met him this arvo.’
‘Ah, that guy. The one who always cancels at the last minute because he’s got somewhere more important to be.’
Carmen pulled herself onto a bar stool. ‘Don’t let that beach-bum look fool you. Apparently, he’s as loaded as Sanjay.’ On the dance floor, Rosa broke off from Viggo and hugged Geoff, who whispered something in her ear that made her giggle. ‘Oh, they are so sweet. If they were still together, they’d be embarrassing.’
Carmen waved to their cousin Harry, who was serving at the other end of the bar. He raised his chin in response. Unshaven and with his thick dark hair even scruffier than usual, he looked like he’d been fished out of the ocean and dumped straight into bar duty. And he probably had—when Amy had passed him on the path up from the ferry that afternoon, he’d been heading to his boat.
As he neared, Carmen stretched up and peered over the bar. ‘Would it kill you to wear shoes?’ she called. ‘You’re an OH&S nightmare.’
He grinned. ‘Probably not but why risk it? What can I get you, little cousies?’
Before Amy could ask for a vodka, Carmen ordered two Sazeracs.
Harry held up his palms. ‘My skills are limited to pouring tap beer and reading wine labels but tell me what’s in it and I’ll give it a crack. If it sucks, it’s on the house.’
‘So generous,’ Carmen said. As hospitality and events manager, she was the house. She filled him in, and he started gathering ingredients. ‘How about we find you a silver surfer, Aims?’ she said. ‘Nan instructed Sanjay to import spares, though I suspect she forgot to specify sexual orientation.’
‘I thought you were dating your workmate at the uni,’ Harry said, scooping ice. ‘The one with the motorbike. What happened to him?’
‘Rode off into the sunset with one of my students after begging to switch tutorial groups with me. And I’d just asked him to be my wedding date.’
‘Loser,’ Harry said. ‘Him, not you. I thought you guys were getting on well.’
‘Too well. He became my gay BFF, except most definitely not gay. And don’t say, “He didn’t deserve you.”’
‘Okay,’ said Harry, turning around to grab the Cognac. ‘But he didn’t,’ he called back.
Amy’s eye roll went to waste.
‘See?’ Carmen said, having said the same thing when Amy had reported in about the implosion. ‘Let’s find you someone this week. All the villas will be full, and most of the apartments, and a lot of them are wedding guests from Melbourne.’
‘You know what?’ Amy said to Carmen, linking her fingers together on the bar. ‘I think I need a break from all that. Maybe I’m better off with nothing than the wrong thing, coz it turns out losing the wrong thing can mess you up just as bad as losing the right thing.’
‘Unless you know it’s the wrong thing to begin with, and then you’re good.’
Amy did a slow blink. ‘Run that by me in the morning when I’m sober. No joke—I will break if I get hung up over one more guy who says, “It’s so cool to have a girl friend (but not girlfriend, ha ha!) who gets me and, hey, if I don’t find someone else tonight, wanna go back to my place?”’ Carmen reached over and squeezed her hand. Amy had meant to sound offhand and funny, but her sister was a tough crowd to fool. ‘And if you ever again hear me say anything along the lines of, “Yeah, we’re kinda sorta dating and I’m positive that he’s developing true feelings for me, despite what he says, and any day he’ll realise it …”’
‘I’ll stage an intervention,’ Carmen declared. ‘The cousins and I will fly the helicopter to Melbourne, rappel down and yank you out. And we’ll lock you in the spider shed while you man-detox.’
Amy shuddered. As kids, the cousins had repeatedly dared each other to spend a night in their long-gone grandfather’s fishing shed near the island’s mangroves. She was pretty sure that even the boys had never gone through with it. ‘I’ll settle for a driftwood hut on Stingray Island, a case of wine and a book.’
‘I’ll join you,’ Carmen said. ‘Seriously, though, you need to start asking for more and stop settling for less.’
Says the sister with the hotness gene. ‘You say that like I’m making a conscious choice.’
‘A choice, yes. Conscious? Maybe not. Either way, stop going down that path. It doesn’t have to be friends-with-benefits or nothing.’
‘It’s not like either of those options is my choice. It’s just what I end up with.’
‘Maybe that wouldn’t happen if you stopped expecting it to happen.’
‘Carmen, if you use the word “manifest”, I’m swimming back to Melbourne.’
‘You keep your expectations low so you don’t get disappointed. Maybe try setting the bar higher.’
‘Yeah, perhaps you’re right,’ Amy said, but only to shut Carmen up. It wasn’t that she settled for less. Less was the only thing ever on offer.
‘Beware of falling coconuts!’ Carmen cried, her spine snapping rigid.
Amy reflexively looked up. ‘Uh, we’re inside?’
‘No! It’s this parable I read on a blog. If a coconut falls on your head, well, that’s wrong place, wrong time, right? Simple bad luck.
But if it happens twice, you’re just plain careless and bringing it on yourself and it’s you who needs to change and not the coconuts. And if it happens more than twice?’
‘Uh, we put up warning signs? And pay a guy to take the coconuts down?’
‘But don’t you see? You’ve got to stop letting the coconuts fall on your head! Stop taking naps under coconut palms!’
As Amy gaped at this baffling guru incarnation of her sister, Harry—blessedly—served their cocktails with a flourish and moved along the bar. Would it be a bad look if Amy scooped out a few ice cubes and shoved them down her jean legs? She’d spent much of her life holidaying here, but it was hard to conceive of heat while packing during a Melbourne winter, like your body had lost its memory of the tropics and your brain refused to accept that it was possible to go straight from winter to summer within a few hours.
She settled for sucking up an ice cube from the cocktail and clacking it around her mouth. Harry had gone strong on the bitters but the Sazerac was sweet and tangy with a welcome bite. She spun back to face the dance floor, where her parents and their partners were rumba-ing to the Strictly Ballroom soundtrack. ‘I want a guy to look at me the way Sanjay looks at Dad,’ she mumbled to Carmen. ‘He feels The Pull for Dad, you can see it.’
‘I can’t figure that out. I mean, Dad’s the best, but he’s not … I mean, look at …’ Their father attempted a shimmy, his belly jiggling against his shirt, and they both groaned. ‘But Sanjay gazes at him like he’s Chris Hemsworth.’
‘If he were the one with the money, I’d assume that’s why Sanjay’s into him. But Sanjay really loves him for him. For what’s on the inside. Can you imagine?’ If Amy was in a position to raise her standards, that was what she wanted. A man who knew his world was richer with you in it, in a way it wouldn’t be with anyone else.
‘Imagine what family Christmases will be like if Sanjay’s with Dad, and Mum’s hooked up with the silver surfer.’
‘I’ll have to volunteer at a soup kitchen all day. It’ll be the full Hallmark movie. Sanjay in the morning over pancakes, the silver surfer in the evening over cocktails. I’d need counselling for the whole of January.’
‘That’s your Christmas present sorted for the next decade or two.’ Carmen threw up the hand that wasn’t holding her drink, forcing Amy into evasive action. ‘Oh my stars, would you look at that? There’s another one.’
The sliding doors from reception were closing behind a guy about their age. He lowered a backpack to the floorboards, looking around. His hair was thick, jet black and just long enough that he’d have to flick it out of his eyes occasionally. Amy’s favourite kind. Sanjay strode off the dance floor with his arms open wide and they full-on guy-hugged, all shoulder knocking and backslapping. Sanjay stepped back and gripped either side of the new guy’s head, looking for a second like he might kiss him.
‘Just when you thought this room couldn’t improve on tall, dark and gay, the late boat docks,’ Carmen said.
‘You think he’s gay?’ Amy couldn’t keep the disappointment from her tone. What was with that? Literally five minutes ago she’d sworn off men. Well, she’d sworn to take a break from them. She wasn’t ready to join a convent just yet, or to move up here, which was almost the same thing, romantically speaking.
‘Oooh. You think he’s hot.’
‘It’s hardly a groundless accusation.’ The guy carried off a grey marl T-shirt and faded jeans with the panache of James Bond in a tuxedo. And he appeared to be attending a wedding alone, which was something you avoided unless you were incurably single.
‘Not my type,’ Carmen said.
Amy snorted. ‘Your type doesn’t exist.’
‘What does that mean?’
‘I mean that your type is “perfect”. No guy is ever going to be as perfect as you.’
‘Nothing wrong with setting your sights high,’ Carmen said imperiously, though her jaw twitched as it fought off a grin. No one was allowed to tease Carmen like Amy was allowed to tease Carmen, and vice versa. ‘Especially when you have a small child to think of.’
‘True.’ Amy’s gaze turned back to the hot stranger. She inhaled like she could smell him from there but caught body odour instead. Possibly her dad’s. ‘Nothing wrong with that at all.’
‘He’ll come along, Aims, for both of us. But hopefully not the same guy.’
‘Don’t tempt the universe. We already have enough factors working against us.’
Rosa stopped dancing so Sanjay could introduce the newcomer, and hugged him. ‘The brazen hussy,’ Amy murmured to Carmen, who laughed, seeing as their mother was nothing of the sort. Viggo left his arm slung around Rosa’s lower back, like they came as a pair. Geoff pointed out his daughters at the bar and the new guy looked straight at them.
Amy and Carmen both swore.
‘Were you looking?’ Amy said, still looking.
Amy groaned. Twice in one night.
Geoff set out for the bar, beckoning the new guy to follow, but he was waylaid by a rumba-ing footy teammate. He gestured at the guy to keep going.
‘Uh-oh,’ Carmen said. ‘Is Tall, Dark and Hopefully Straight coming to us?’
‘It does appear that way.’ For no good reason, Amy stood. There was something about this guy. And now she couldn’t sit again without it looking awkward. ‘Does he look familiar to you?’
‘Only in the way models in magazines look familiar because they look like all the other models in all the other magazines.’
As he drew closer, the details came into focus. His eyes were dazzling—light green or maybe hazel—but he didn’t quite pull off smouldering because his smile was a little too open. No big mysteries. No secrets. An endearing goofiness, even. Amy laid a palm on her chest. Suddenly, the oxygen had thinned.
Carmen stared at Amy’s hand like it had sprouted green fur. ‘Seriously?’
‘Like you would not believe.’
Carmen raised her chin. ‘Are you sure that’s the best way to judge a potential boyfriend?’
‘Yes, I am.’
‘And how has that worked out for you so far?’
A circling waiter—a ring-in from Airlie Beach—offered the stranger some bruschetta from a tray, and he paused to grab a couple, giving Amy a chance to remember how to breathe. How could she put this in a way Carmen could understand? ‘Remember Ricky Galanos from uni?’ she said.
‘You had The Pull for Ricky? He was my boyfriend.’
‘No, I didn’t get The Pull for him, and neither did you, and that’s my point. You spent way too long trying to talk yourself into being attracted to him because he was such a “nice guy” and everyone said you were perfect for each other, and he worshipped you. But no matter how hard you tried, it was attraction-factor zero and after way too much wasted time you broke the poor guy’s heart.’
Carmen pursed her lips. ‘We all make mistakes. Well, I don’t, not usually. Okay, maybe one or two significant ones. But I don’t get how that is at all—’
‘You can’t fake attraction. You can’t manufacture it. Other problems are fixable, but not that.’ Amy lowered her voice and sped up as Please Don’t Be Gay resumed walking. ‘If it’s not there, it’s not there. Attraction is fundamental to the survival of the human race.’
‘And if you have this infallible hardwired alert system to identify Mr Right, why are you just as single as I am?’ Carmen hissed.
‘Not by choice, as previously established.’ Carmen went to object, but Amy ploughed on. ‘Admit it, you felt The Pull with your baby daddy.’
‘You know I did, but it may well have been the alcohol. I didn’t even know his surname and, besides, do you see him here now?’
‘But you felt it.’
‘Well, yes there was a strong attraction, but that’s—’
The new guy’s eyes narrowed in scrutiny as he took a last slow step toward them.
Amy smiled. Please be single and straight. Please don’t look at me and think, ‘friend’.
‘Carmen?’ he said, holding his arms wide, palms up. Amy suppressed a groan. Of course he’d make a beeline for Carmen—their mother was currently taken. He leaned forward and attempted a hug but the angles were all wrong and it was like watching two triangles embrace. He stepped back and pivoted so he was looking down at Amy. Her breath caught. He was the perfect height—she’d have to tiptoe to kiss him. ‘Which means you must be the Amy I’ve heard so much about.’
He had? Amy went to offer her hand but suddenly he was hugging her, her cheek squashed against a solid shoulder covered by soft cotton. No incompatibility in those angles, possibly because she didn’t have angles. She filled spaces like a liquid. He smelled sweet and woody, a rumpled end-of-the-day scent like he’d spritzed with an earthy cologne before disembarking at the jetty. She went ahead and shamelessly inhaled.
‘Stoked to meet you at last,’ he said, his deep voice rumbling against her ear.
He released her and stood back, looking from sister to sister as
if he couldn’t believe his luck. Carmen shot Amy a what-is-
this-guy-on? look. Amy shot back with I-have-no-idea-but-
Starting as she meant to continue, Amy assumed her best, I’m-not-just-a-good-friend posture. Whatever that was. A little fluid, a little casual. Chest forward, head tilted? One hand on the bar stool, leaning over slightly?
‘Oh man,’ he said, running both hands through that glorious hair and hooking them there, ‘you have no idea who I am. I’ve just come in from Melbourne after a double shift, which means I’ve been up since approximately three days ago.’
Carmen raised her eyebrows at Amy. He lived in Melbourne. Too perfect. Amy was a second away from figuring out the catch.
Up close, his jaw was dusted with an eight o’clock shadow that roughed him up just right. His eyes were hazel or light brown rather than green, but she’d need to do far more study in various lighting conditions to establish the exact shade.
‘I’m Josh,’ he said, as if that would clear everything up. He slung an arm around Amy’s shoulder and pulled her in beside him, upsetting her precarious balance and forcing her into tricky footwork to stay upright. He looked at her with an expression of wonder—the way men looked at women who weren’t her. Yeesh. The Pull. It was like having sea legs. In a minute she would fall right over, or at least collide with his chest.
And would that be so bad?
‘I’m Sanjay’s son,’ he said. ‘Your new brother.’
He squeezed her shoulder and, with a hot jolt, she saw the embrace for what it was. A brotherly hug. Josh. Joshua Brennan, Sanjay’s son, who’d just moved from Perth.
His grin widened. ‘I’ve always wanted a little sister.’