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The CEO(3)

By´╝ÜVictoria Purman


Ava flicked a look down at her sodden shoes, as if she was checking that he was being facetious, and then to his face. ‘Thank you.’

She did look well, he thought, always had. There was a deep tan on her strong arms and on her face, and her long legs were bare and honey coloured. She’d always had a body that would attract a man’s attention, he remembered that much, but she had an attitude that would surely drive them away. How had Lulu always described her older sister? ‘Funny, smart, talented and dedicated.’

All he’d ever seen was the bug wedged firmly up her ass.

‘Thank you for coming.’ Callum said, louder now. ‘My brothers and I appreciate it.’

‘It was a lovely service.’ And then, with barely a glance at him, Ava took a surreptitious step in the opposite direction. Her disdain was still so robust that she couldn’t even manage to say his name.

Chris and Ellie, Lulu and Michael all turned as one to look over their shoulders. When Ava realised she was the focus of their attention, her mouth fell open on an unspoken word. Soaked to the skin, her eyes wide and her lashes wet with the rain, she looked at Callum with something he didn’t recognise. Something new. For the first time since he’d known her, the expression on her face was something other than her stock-standard contempt.

Her shoulders rose and fell on a deep sigh and she didn’t say another word before her eyes dropped to her shoes.

‘Sorry about that everyone. I had to take that call.’ Cooper had joined them, and all the attention was drawn away from the sullen Ava Gibson to the youngest Malone brother. Callum noticed the look of sheer relief that skittered across her face.

But Callum didn’t turn to his brother when everyone else did. He listened to the greetings and the sad voices, but his eyes were still on Ava. There had been a moment when their eyes had met, and held, a gaze under the sodden wet umbrellas and the heavy, purple sky, that had him thinking about her later that night.

He was sure of it: her eyes had been wet with tears, not rain.

*

Ava Gibson should have trusted her gut, which had been telling her for days that there was no way on earth she should go to William Malone’s funeral. She’d read all about it, his death featured on the front page of Sydney’s main newspaper and covered on the television news that night. She’d wondered what the Malone brothers were going through, not only having to face the publicity but their own, private grief as well, and she’d been overcome by an overwhelming sadness for them all now that both their parents were gone. Even though they were all adults—and capable, determined men—she knew they would feel the loss as any siblings would.

But when Lulu had pleaded, saying that she was obliged to pay her respects to her ex-husband and her former brothers-in-law, but needed her big sister there if she was to face Callum again, Ava had reluctantly succumbed. She’d searched her wardrobe for something black and respectful and had been by her sister’s side, as she’d promised.

And she’d hated every minute of it.

Ava was a sentimental fool. Her father had always teased her about it, dubbing her the biggest sooky la la in the family. She would be the one on the sofa crying at cheesy scenes in movies, trying to hide her tears with a strategically placed pillow. She had smudged her mascara at friends’ weddings all over Sydney; in cinemas big and small; reading romantic novels and, God forbid, don’t even mention all those puppies on Facebook that need adopting.

Ava couldn’t drive past a funeral cortege without feeling terribly sad for the loss of someone else’s loved one, and today she was intensely feeling the pain and grief of the Malone brothers. Tears had welled in her eyes from the minute she’d slipped into her dress earlier that morning, and during the church service and the trip to the cemetery in Michael’s tiny hatchback they’d flowed in earnest.

And now, standing around in the rain at the cemetery, trying desperately not to look at Callum Malone, her former brother-in-law, her sadness about a death was compounded by the exact kind of agony she’d been studiously avoiding for years.

She didn’t even know the Malones’ father, other than through headlines and rumour, which flowed like beer in a city like Sydney; had never even met him, in fact.

But she knew his middle son. Oh boy, did she know him. She knew Callum more than she had a right to. More than she should have, if she was in any mind to preserve her sanity and her heart.

She’d imprinted on her memory exactly how much taller he was than her (half a head, well, perhaps a whole head because she’d been wearing heels that time he’d reluctantly kissed her happy birthday). She’d memorised the curve of his muscled arms and the width and strength of his shoulders (a beach party one warm night just after Callum and Lulu had become engaged). She would know his beaming smile anywhere (she’d seen it a hundred times, although it had never been directed at her). She heard his laugh in her sleep (although she’d never tried to make him laugh, not even once) and she checked the finance pages in the newspaper every day purely on the off chance that a photograph of him might appear. He looked entirely beautiful in jeans and a polo shirt and hotter than hot in his sailing gear, but she didn’t know what he looked like in a tuxedo because, although he’d worn one when he’d married Lulu, Ava had completely blocked that out of her memory. The whole day was gone, lost in an abyss of her broken heart and her shame and humiliation. She was glad not to remember her bridesmaid’s dress, which she was certain would have been tasteful because Lulu had picked it out, because it would always be a reminder to Ava that her younger sister had found the perfect man.

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