The eighth book in the Hope Cove series will be available from the 30th of September 2021. Scroll down for a sneak peek…
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He almost walked straight past her. If it hadn’t been for the sun dazzling him, he might never have turned in her direction. Pulling his sunglasses down from the top of his head, Fraser spotted the girl sitting on a bench, who was grinning as though she was the happiest person in the world.
“You’ve dropped something,” she shouted.
It took him a second to realise she was talking to him. The rolled-up University of Exeter brochure had slipped from his back pocket.
“Thanks,” he called as he scooped it up. “Are you thinking of studying here?”
“Maybe.” She closed her eyes and lifted her chin to the sun, radiating joy.
Fraser looked ahead to the car park, then back at her. Taking advantage of the fact that she had her eyes closed, he let his gaze travel over her black leggings and blue T-shirt dress that came to the middle of her thighs. Her long brown hair was tucked behind her ears. There was nothing particularly striking about her. She had that girl next door thing going on, but it was the joy on her face that was mesmerising.
“Are you lost?” she asked, opening her eyes and catching him staring.
“I … erm … no … I was just …” Crap. Pretty girls didn’t usually turn him into a jabbering idiot. “You’ve got a nice sunny spot.” He indicated the bench. “Do you mind if I join you?”
Her shoulders twitched. “I don’t own the bench. It belongs to the university.”
“Right.” He sat beside her. “What do you think of the campus?”
“I like it. And they have the course I want to take. I’ve already been offered a place. As long as I get the A-levels I need.”
“English with Creative Writing.”
“Do you want to be a writer?”
“I am a writer.” The corners of her mouth twitched upwards. “I’ve written two novels and I’m in the middle of a third.”
He nodded approvingly. “So you want to make a living from that?”
As she shifted to look at him, a ray of sunlight caught the piercing below her bottom lip, making the red stud sparkle. “I’m going to publish my books one day. I also plan on having my own publishing company to publish books for other authors.”
“I know.” Her eyes sparkled. “I’m going to do it though. I can do anything I want.”
“It’s really cool that you know what you want to do.”
“Yes. It’s very cool,” she agreed.
Her confidence was unnerving, and for once Fraser found himself struggling for conversation. Casually, he pulled off his sunglasses and hooked them into the neck of his shirt. Then he ran a hand through his hair. Women always loved his thick blond hair, which fell in a soft wave.
“Does that annoy you?” she asked, staring at his hairline.
“The way your hair falls forward. It would drive me crazy.”
“Most people like my hair,” he said, wriggling his eyebrows. “I get a lot of compliments for it.”
After staring at his hair for a moment, she gave a small shake of the head and looked away.
“The sports facilities here are impressive.” He cleared his throat when his voice came out a pitch too high. “The gym’s brand new.”
“The library’s new too.”
Racking his brain for something intelligent to say, he came up blank. “Do you live far away?”
She looked thoughtful. Was he coming across as such a weirdo that she was worried about disclosing where she lived?
“I live in Hope Cove,” she finally said.
“It’s beautiful there. We used to go for day trips when I was a kid.”
“It’s a nice place.” She checked her watch. “I have to drive back there now.”
“Maybe I’ll see you in September. Are you definitely coming to Exeter? Or do you have other offers too?”
“I only applied to Exeter.”
“Cool. We’ll probably bump into each other then.” Except he wasn’t even planning on accepting his offer at Exeter. He was going to university in Manchester with his two best friends, so he had no idea why he’d said that.
“I doubt it.” She ran a finger over a groove in the wood of the bench. “One day I’ll study here, but not in September.”
“I thought you’d got a place?”
“I’m going to turn it down.”
He opened his mouth to speak but struggled to find words. “I don’t understand.”
“I don’t have the money for the tuition fees.” A breeze dragged strands of hair across her face and she swept them aside.
“Get a student loan,” he said, confused.
She shook her head. “I can’t. I’m not eligible because my parents can afford to pay. But they won’t.”
“They won’t pay for you to go to uni?”
She looked at him impatiently. “That’s what I just said.”
“They don’t think I should go.” Her gaze was fixed on the gravel under her shoes, but he caught the flash of sadness in her eyes.
“I’ll work for a year and save up. One day I’ll get a degree and then I’ll start a publishing company. I’m definitely going to do it.”
“Can’t you tell the loan company that your parents refuse to pay? Surely there’s a way around it.”
“No. I emailed and asked.” She closed her eyes again, bathing her face in the sun’s warm rays. With her features relaxed, she had that look again, as though she didn’t have a care in the world. Which was impressive considering it obviously wasn’t true.
“That doesn’t seem fair,” he said. “Is there really no other way to get the loan?”
“Not unless I get married. But that’s pretty unlikely since I don’t even have a boyfriend.”
He blinked a few times in quick succession. “If you were married, you could get a loan?”
“If you’re married, the loan company looks at the income of you and your spouse rather than your parents. It’s a bad system if you ask me.” She stood and picked up her bag.
“Do you want to get a coffee or something?” he asked quickly. “My treat.”
“I have to leave before rush hour. I don’t like driving in traffic.”
She didn’t look at him as she called goodbye over her shoulder. Automatically, he shot off the bench and hurried to catch up. When his brain failed him and he lost the power of speech, she cast him a suspicious sideways glance.
“Are you following me?”
“No.” He pointed ahead. “My car’s parked over here.”
When she quickened her pace he matched it and made an inane comment about the weather. She didn’t reply and only looked at him again when she reached her car – an old blue Micra.
“It was nice to meet you.” She looked around. “Where’s your car?”
He raised his chin as he looked across the car park in the direction of his prized possession. The silver Audi had been a gift from his parents for his eighteenth birthday. Pulling the fob from his pocket, he pressed the button, making the lock pip and the lights flash.
She didn’t even look, just climbed into her car. Standing taller, Fraser raked his fingers through his hair again, but apparently she was swoon-proof and only rolled her eyes slightly as she reached to close the car door.
Instinctively, he put a hand on it to stop her. “What’s your name?”
“Scarlett Mercer,” she said, looking uneasily at his hand.
He smiled at the way she said it so formally. “I’m Fraser Graham.”
“Goodbye, Fraser Graham.” She reached for the door handle.
“Do you want to swap phone numbers?” he asked, tilting his head and raising an eyebrow in a way that usually made women flutter their eyelashes and giggle.
He looked blankly down at her. Occasionally, if it seemed as though a woman might not fall for his charms, he acted completely indifferent. It always got their attention. Now he had the feeling he was being played at his own game.
“I don’t know.” He wasn’t usually so tongue-tied. “Maybe we could be friends?”
“I’ve got two friends already,” she said confidently. When he laughed, she looked at him with an intensity that made his smile fall away. “Can you please let go of the door, Fraser Graham? I need to go.”
He removed his hand. “We should swap numbers anyway,” he said, the words tumbling out as she pulled on the door. “You might not need a friend but you said you’re in the market for a husband.” His eyes widened. Where the hell had that come from?
The car door stopped just before it closed. “Pardon?”
“You need a husband, right? We could get married. Then you could get a loan and accept your place on the course.”
She tapped on the steering wheel and stared straight ahead. “You’re offering to marry me?”
“Well …” That did seem to be the case. It wasn’t as though he was actually going to marry her. He just wanted her phone number. No one ever turned him down when he asked for their number. “Marriage is just a piece of paper, right? At least let’s swap numbers. We can think it over, then get together and chat it through.”
The silence that followed felt like torture. He’d offered to marry her and solve all her problems and she was casually mulling over the proposition as though it was the sort of offer she got all the time. She should have snatched his hand off so fast that he got scared and ran away. Or maybe she knew that was what would happen. Maybe he’d met his nemesis when it came to playing hard to get. And it was bloody working because he was fairly sure he’d resort to begging for her number if she didn’t give it to him soon.
She thrust her phone at him. “Put your number in there, Fraser Graham.”
He tapped away. “I don’t know if getting married would really be a possibility, or if you could actually get a loan that way, but we should get together for a drink sometime and chat it over.”
When he handed the phone back, he swept his hair aside and gave her his most dazzling smile. She rolled her eyes again and closed the door with a bang.
Watching her drive away, he had a sinking feeling that she wasn’t going to call.