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The CEO(9)

By´╝ÜVictoria Purman



She steeled herself and ascended the stairs. The smooth silver handrail was cool to the touch, and underfoot the warm-toned timber on the treads softened the sound of her footsteps. With every step the light was brighter and when she reached the top it was as if she’d stepped into the ocean. Honey-coloured floorboards led her eye to enormous floor-to-ceiling windows and to her wonderment, the ocean filled them—cliffs and houses in the distance and treetops and the blue ocean and the still dramatic Sydney sky as far as the eye could see. Her gaze was usually much closer to the ground, focusing up close in the brown dirt and the tropical green humidity of Sydney’s gardens, and the magnificence of the view took her breath away. For a moment, she didn’t move. She fluttered her eyes shut and let herself indulge in the fantasy. What would it be like to walk up those stairs at the end of every day and call out, ‘Honey, I’m home!’? What would it be like to be in his life, as his lover? As his best friend. As the woman he’d chosen to spend his life with. As The One.

Then she opened her eyes and shut all those thoughts away. It hurt too much to realise that dream would never be real.

Ava slipped off her flat shoes, feeling the cool clean of the floor on her bare feet. She walked across the minimally furnished space to the windows and almost pressed her nose up against the glass. It was so quiet. There wasn’t a sound in the house, save for her breathing. Callum had disappeared somewhere and she hoped he stayed that way for a while longer so she could take this all in. While Sydney bustled and bristled twenty-four hours a day, and Bondi did too, none of that could be heard from this eyrie, set into the cliff. The dark clouds that had brought the rain an hour earlier, were now moving off in the distance, and patches of blue were breaking out in the sky above. That blue Sydney sky was as blue as Callum’s eyes, Ava realised.

‘Welcome to my home.’

She hadn’t heard his footsteps. She turned and tried not to stare, as if she was entirely accustomed to seeing Callum walking towards her looking like he’d just got out of bed. He too was barefoot, having changed out of his wet business suit into an old pair of jeans and a soft grey T-shirt. Half of his hair was still standing up on end, as if he’d towel dried it in a hurry. He smelled of soap. He wasn’t looking at the view, but at her.

‘What do you think?’ he asked, nodding to the view.

What did she think? She was standing in what was probably one of Sydney’s best beachside homes and he knew it. ‘It’s nice,’ she answered. Did he want her to be impressed? She didn’t want to be and hid it with a shoulder shrug and a flat expression.

‘Nice?’ He chuckled. ‘I didn’t pay for nice.’

‘No, I’m sure you didn’t.’

The intensity of Callum’s gaze rattled Ava. She’d spent years avoiding his eyes, averting hers whenever he looked her way. She’d been so scared that he’d be able to read her too easily; that he would see the humiliating longing in her eyes that she’d tried so desperately to hide all these years. He was a smart man, as well as a sexy one. Of course, all that hiding hadn’t done a damn thing to change her feelings for him. If anything, they’d grown even more complicated once he and Lulu had broken up. Because now he was no longer married to her sister. Lulu had moved on with Michael and Callum was free. Technically available. She hadn’t seen any gossip in Sydney’s notorious columns about who he might be dating, or if in fact he’d actually been seen with anyone vaguely eligible. There hadn’t even been a whisper or a rumour about a model or a soap star, or a colleague or any other woman, in fact. Not that Ava had paid much attention to such things. Like hell she hadn’t.

But at the end of the day, all that was irrelevant.

He was a man she could never look at in that way because, no matter how hard she tried not to think about it, Callum Malone had hurt her sister and, by extension, her family. He’d callously ended their marriage, eventually lining up with his father who had always believed that a waitress from the wrong side of town would never be good enough for a Malone man.

The eldest of the Malone twins moved next to her to join in admiring the view. They stood side by side, looking through the glass to the sky and the sea. He was so close that his elbow had brushed against her shoulder as he’d crossed his arms. God, they were great arms.

‘Nice,’ he repeated under his breath.

His proximity and the fact that they were all alone made Ava skittish and snarky. That mask she relied on to hide behind had slipped right back over her eyes.

‘C’mon, Callum. You know it’s gorgeous and stunning. Incredible. Enviable. The whole of Sydney is jealous of your view. What other words do you want? I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you how perfect it is.’

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