Enjoy a special romantic short story to celebrate Valentine’s Day from Mills & Boon author Melanie Milburne. Originally published in The Mercury on 09.02.2020.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you haven’t got a partner on St Valentine’s Day, then you’re a loser—or at least it is in the circles I move in. And speaking of losing…that’s exactly what I did a few months back—I lost my ex to my best friend Ava. If only losing weight was as easy as losing a boyfriend. But I’m not bitter. Nope. I haven’t got a bitter bone in my body. In fact, I’m so determined to show how happy I am for Ava and Tim, I’m bridesmaid at their wedding tomorrow. On St Valentine’s Day. In Tasmania. Go me.
I love being a bridesmaid. I’ve done it heaps of times. Nine times and still counting. What’s not to love? The clothes, the shoes, the makeovers, the photoshoots where instead of looking plain girl-next-door with a couple of hideous acne scars, I look like a supermodel. Well, okay then—a heavily airbrushed supermodel. I’m not worried about that old saying ‘Three times a bridesmaid never the bride’ because I’m not one bit superstitious. Although, it’s kind of weird that ever since I adopted my black cat Cinders early last year, things haven’t been going so well for me. Within the space of weeks, my parents divorced after thirty years together, my ex told me he didn’t see a future with me and my car died. Actually, that was the hardest hit of all. I really loved my car. It used to be my eighty-three-year-old granny’s and I could still smell her in it. Not in a bad way, I mean, she didn’t die in there or anything. She’s alive and well and currently running marathons for Masters Athletics and totally smashing the records.
But I digress…
The wedding. In Tassie. I love destination weddings, especially to places I’ve never been before. I’m not sure why I haven’t been to Tassie until now. I mean, it’s still part of Australia, right? I know it gets left off the map occasionally, which must be pretty annoying, especially when it’s so beautiful and pristine. I’ve never breathed in fresher air. I want to bottle it and sell it back on the mainland.
The wedding is at this really fancy hotel on the Freycinet Peninsular. My room overlooks the Hazards Mountains and Great Oyster Bay, and they are nothing short of breathtaking. Tall, dark, forbidding and mysterious—kind of like the best man.
Did I mention my ex’s older stepbrother Niall Wright? Be still my heart, my pulse and my feminine juices. That man should come with a warning. Not that he would ever notice me, other than to tell me I have parsley in my teeth or chocolate on my chin. Oh, and how unsuitable I was for his brother. Sheesh, the hide of the man. I think he’s secretly in love with Ava. Everyone looks at Ava. Let me put it this way—she definitely doesn’t need airbrushing.
Too bad, Niall, she’s marrying your stepbrother tomorrow.
I’m trying not to stare at him now as he swims back and forth along Honeymoon Bay. Cool name for a beach, huh? Niall is a Tasmanian native, hence the swimming in the ocean without a wetsuit. I put one toe in earlier and decided I’d better stick to the spa.
I walk along the white sand, pretending to be beachcombing, but really I’m dying for a glimpse of Niall’s washboard abs. I reckon he lifts granite boulders in the gym. My abs? Don’t ask.
Suddenly, I see a pod of dolphins swimming by and I squeal and jump up and down in excitement. I’ve never seen dolphins in the wild before. Niall must have heard me—I am considered in my family an Olympic-standard screamer but before you get all excited, it has absolutely nothing to do with sex. I have arachnophobia, so my vocal cords have been in serious training since I was four years old.
Niall approaches me, dripping wet and glistening. Yes, I checked out his abs and I reckon you could shuck oysters on them.
‘Did you see them?’ I ask.
Niall smiles. He actually smiles! First time for everything, right? His eyes are the colour of the ocean—deep blue with fragments of green and gold, kind of like a complex kaleidoscope. ‘Hey, Ruby. Where’s your swimming costume?’ His voice is like rich dark honey poured over gravel.
I shift my weight from foot to foot, trying not to stare at his mouth. ‘I’m more of a hot spa person. You’d be amazed at how many laps I can do without getting dizzy.’
He stands so close to me I can smell the cool saltwater on his skin and I can see the dark shadow of regrowth peppered over his jaw. And my heart starts flapping like a loose sail in a stiff breeze. His smile has faded, his expression as sombre as the Hazards Mountains providing a stunning backdrop to our little tableau. Our little tableau. Listen to me. Anyone would think I was expecting him to kiss me or something. Dream on, Rubes.
‘Are you going to be okay with Tim and Ava’s wedding tomorrow?’ His voice has a note of concern I find strangely touching. Speaking of touching… His hand reaches out and gently strokes a strand of wind-whipped hair away from my face. Oh jeez, I’ve been waiting my whole life for a guy to do that to me. Why did it have to be Niall, who doesn’t even approve of me?
‘Sure,’ I say, chin up. ‘How about you?’
‘Me?’ A frown pulls at his forehead. ‘I’m not the one who’s still in love with my stepbrother. That would be you.’
‘Not true.’ I give him a look that would have frozen mercury. ‘But I’ve seen the way you look at Ava. You’re secretly in love with her, aren’t you?’
His frown fades and he rocks back his head and laughs. But then he looks back down at me, his expression serious once more. ‘Oh, Ruby, you’re priceless. It’s you. It’s always been you.’
‘Me?’ My voice comes out sounding like someone just stepped on the tail of a mouse.
He smiles and takes both my hands in his. ‘The reason I kept telling you Tim wasn’t right for you was because I wanted you for myself.’
I swallow, not able to find my voice for a moment. ‘Oh wow…’
Niall’s head comes down and his lips brush mine in a kiss as light as a summer breeze. Just enough to send a shiver through me and ignite my desire for more. Then he kisses me again—harder, firmer, deeper—and I wind my arms around his toned body and wish we were alone on the beach. But hey, this is Tassie. We are alone on the beach.