Chapter Twenty-Eight

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In a barely awake auto-response to the trill of the hotel suite telephone, Mac pushed her arm out through a tiny gap between two over-stuffed pillows, and rummaged blindly for the handset.

She’d slept well, considering. However this didn’t seem to make waking up any easier, physically or metaphorically. If there was even the slightest chance that it would have made everything better, then she would have happily stayed tucked away forever, safe inside the enormous cocoon of bed linen she’d drawn up, around, and over herself in the night like a nest.

“Hello?” she croaked, as she pulled the receiver into her asylum.

“Good Morning, Miss Stephens. This is your six a.m. wake up call,” a bubbly voice at the other end of the line announced.

“Mmm… k, thanks.”

Not bothering to wait for a most likely, equally chipper goodbye, she thrust her hand back into the frigid air of the room and fumbled the phone down into its cradle. God it was cold out there. After weeks of sleeping in the Homestead with only ceiling fans to waft the hot, syrupy thick air around, the hotel was, by comparison, Antarctic.

Pulling the covers tight, Mac closed her eyes and allowed herself just a minute of warmth longer.

Almost immediately, thoughts of waking up at first light beside Felix, his bare skin glossy with sleep sweat, washed over her. Having received an amnesty only whilst she actually slept, the pain of yesterday resumed its vicious stabbing around her heart while anger, both at the situation forcing her to leave, and more so at herself, for letting her imagination carry her so far away last night, kicked at her empty stomach.

She’d been so stupid. Of course he wasn’t going to come after her, not when she’d made it absolutely clear it was more important for her to leave.

So when would she get to see him again?

Probably never, her father’s voice snarled.

No matter which way she ended up choosing to describe it, explain it, justify it, there was no way Mac senior was going to be anything other than furious. The chances of him permitting her to return to Mackinley, even if it was just to pack up and ship out the Stephens’ family valuables, were slim to none at best. She might be thirty years old, but with no job and no income, let alone barely any savings and certainly no collateral, she still needed her father’s support just to survive.

Wow, hadn’t she come a long way in life.

Not wanting to be sucked down into that particularly ugly spiral of self-pity, at least not without a pair of flannelette pyjamas to complete the pathetic picture, Mac snapped her eyes open and forced herself to get up.

#

An enormous breakfast banquet of tropical fruits and pastries, cereals, buttered toast, and the ubiquitous hot sizzling bacon and eggs every which way, didn’t make it anywhere near Mac’s lips, let alone her empty, aching stomach, as after spending far too long, sat staring blankly at the tiles under the warm flow of the shower, there was simply no time left for it. Her pre-arranged taxi arrived, just as Marcus the Concierge had promised, out the front of the hotel at seven-thirty.

The drive back out to the airport went by in much the same way as her very first drive in, the day she’d arrived in the Northern Territory. This time though, the tears that ran softly down her cheeks were not due to the relief of her escape from London, and the grey depression she’d felt there for so many months, but rather from the torture of catching herself looking again, scouring the driver’s side windows of every big dirty Ute that they passed as the taxi sped along the wide, straight road leading out of the city.

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