Unconditional

9781760300067_Unconditional_cover

“One of the BEST New Adult Coming of Age romance books I’ve read…funny, heartwarming and sexy…” ~ Slick Reads

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ALWAYS Book One

She has a future she can’t escape. He refuses to let her face it alone.

Twenty-one. The age when adult life begins. In my case, it’s the age I learned my future sucked, big time, and there was nothing I could do about it. Every minute of every day I face the fact my life is only going to get worse. Why? Because I have early-onset Parkinson’s Disease. I’m not going to let it get me down, but I also can’t let anyone close. That’s not fair to them, or to me. Trust me. So that means romance is off-limits.

But then I get the chance to travel to Australia on a college scholarship program and life royally screws me over. Again. It was meant to be the most exciting ten weeks of my life. It turns out to be the most nerve wracking.

Raphael Jones is an arrogant Australian celebrity, the hottest guy on campus and a pain in my ass. Worst of all, he makes me ache for a life I’ll never be able to have. Especially when he takes me in his arms and does wicked things to my body.

How do I have a hope of surviving ten weeks in Australia when it’s not just the paparazzi who have me in their sights, but Raph as well? Because Raphael Jones is a man who always gets what he wants. And no matter what I say or do, he refuses to accept what I so painfully know: a life and future with me is no life at all.

*Smokin’ Hot Book Blog says of this powerful Coming of Age fiction: “What an amazing novel! Every time I turned the page, I was flooded with new hilarious situations that made me smile or laugh, swoon worthy moments, toe curling encounters and panty melting events! I can’t even begin to explain how much fun I had while reading Unconditional.”

*Under the Covers Book Blog on Unconditional : “This is a (Coming of Age) story that will touch your heart”

NB: Mature content. Recommended for 17+ due to mature language and adult situations.

CHAPTER ONE

The Arrival

Australia was not what I was expecting. Sure, I hadn’t even made it out of the airport, but still, where were the kangaroos? The koalas? Where were the hot guys walking around in Speedos? Where were the Tim Tams? Didn’t those delicious chocolate cookies fall from the sky over here? I’m sure I’d read that somewhere? Or maybe I’d dreamt it.

I must admit, the second I’d learned I’d won my college’s scholarship to study Environment Studies abroad—and by abroad, I mean a gazillion miles away from Plenty, Ohio, my hometown and the only world I’d ever known—I’d been experiencing weird dreams about Australia.

In one, I was dating a kangaroo that sounded like Chris Hemsworth. I remember waking in the morning stroking my pillow with the words “You had me at g’day,” whispering through my head. In another dream, a shark called Bruce kept trying to take a bath with me.

See what I mean? Weird dreams. I chalked them up to nerves. Winning the scholarship, partly funded by Plenty’s only college, partly funded by the University of Sydney, was a double-edged sword.

On one razor-sharp side there was the awesomeness of winning the scholarship in the first place. Mind you, winning makes it sound like luck had something to do with it, which it didn’t. Hard work, long hours studying, zero time socializing, movies missed, days and days researching, so many days I sometimes forgot what the sun looked like. That’s what earned me the scholarship. That, and my passion for the environment.

I’m what my folks call a tree-hugging greenie. Well, my mom calls me that. My dad—who had grown up in Australia and moved to the US when he met Mom during a vacation in LA—has been dead for over three years now. Killed when a drunk driver ran off the road and struck him and our dog as they were jogging.

I was a tree-hugging greenie wrapped up in the unassuming guise of a twenty-two-year-old hometown girl who still had bangs and wore pigtails on the weekend. Who still ate peanut butter straight from the jar and loved watching Sleepy Hollow and Glee when she wasn’t studying environmental degradation and its impact on wildlife the world over.

On the other even sharper side of the damn blade was the fact I had to fly a whole day to get to Australia. Did I mention I’d never been outside of Plenty? I did mention a drunk driver killed my dad and my dog only a few years ago, right? Leaving my mom a widow?

Did I mention my mom suffers from Parkinson’s disease?

Did I mention I do as well?

No on the last two, huh? Sorry about that.

Yeah, I’m a shaker. But I’ve got it under control. Good meds, meditation, tai chi, and did I mention good meds? Add them together and I’m okay. Mom, however, isn’t. And with me being on the other side of the world, who’s going to help her up when she falls down? Which she does. Often.

She told me to go, that’s why I’m here. She demanded I go. But being this far away from her . . . God, I don’t even . . .

Sorry. Didn’t mean to get maudlin. Long and short of it, Mom has Parkinson’s. She’s alone and I’m here because I’ve never seen her so proud as when I won that scholarship. How could I not go?

But now that I was here—and I was excited to be, I really was—where were the kangaroos? Even a stuffed one on a pedestal or something. And more to the point, where was my passport?

Oh my God, where was my passport? I was about to go through Australian customs in about twenty seconds and I couldn’t find my passport. It was in my bag on the plane. So where was it now?

“Next.”

I started at the deep, authoritarian command, and shot the man behind the counter a harried look.

I shook my head.

He raised his eyebrows and beckoned for me to approach.

I swallowed. Suddenly aware my fingers were shaking, I clenched my fist. Was it nerves? Or—

“Miss?”

The customs official was now frowning at me. A prickling pressure at the back of my neck told me my fellow travelers were probably glaring. Why wouldn’t they be? I’d be glaring too at the idiot who was rooted to the spot and holding up the line that allowed you to enter the country you’d just flown over nineteen hours to get to.

I swallowed again. Cleared my throat. Squeezed my fist—crap, I really was shaking—and stepped forward.

The man behind the counter gave me an expectant look. “Passport?”

During the nineteen-hour flight over, I’d passed the time by imagining my first few moments in Australia. In my admittedly sleep-deprived fantasy, the customs official who granted me access would sound like the kangaroo I dated in my dreams. Yes, I will admit now, I have a thing for Chris Hemsworth. But how could I not? Have you looked at him? Is there a sexier, hotter guy on the planet? No, I don’t think so. Anyway, the customs official of my dreams would smile at me and tell me I looked amazing after such a long flight.

I didn’t, by the way. My hair was flat and greasy, my eyes were scratchy and puffy, and I’d managed to spill most of the coffee the flight attendant had given me somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, somewhere around three am, all over my shirt. Or maybe it had been two pm? Who the hell knew? Helpful tip if you’re planning on any long-haul flights—don’t wear a white T-shirt, no matter how cute you think you look in it. It’s a bad idea.

So, going back to my mid-flight fantasy . . . I’m greeted by a super-hot customs official who tells me I look amazing, just as a camera crew from one of those travel shows runs over and asks me if I mind being interviewed about being an American college student in Australia. Added to that, they also inform me Chris Hemsworth is in the airport and wonder if I’d like to meet him. He’s researching a role in a movie about the plight of the dingo in the outback and has read my paper about the environment and native animals online and wants to talk about it with me.

In that fantasy, I had my passport.

In reality, I had no idea where it was. God, how could I lose it between the plane and—

“Passport, miss?”

I gave the official—who didn’t appear inclined to say anything that sounded like “You look amazing”—a weak smile.

Would they arrest you in Australia for trying to enter the country without a passport? I suspect so. I opened my mouth. A sound that may or may not have been a strangled squeak emitted from my throat.

The official’s frown deepened. I couldn’t help but notice his right hand slipped under the counter.

“I’ve lost my passport,” I said, although I think I may have mouthed it. For some reason, my voice had disappeared. Maybe it was with my errant passport? Perhaps both were on their way to Paris?

The man behind the glass leaned forward. “Please repeat that, miss.”

“I’ve lost my passport,” I said again. Louder this time. With less silent asphyxiation.

His eyebrows shot up. “Since you boarded?”

I nodded.

“What flight?”

My mind went blank. Oh God, I was doing an appalling job of representing the USA at this point in time. “Err,” I said. “Big plane. Had a . . . a kangaroo on the tail.”

The man’s forehead furrowed. “A Qantas plane?”

Relief flooded through me and I nodded, looking, I’m sure, like an unhinged bobble-head. “That’s it. Qantas.”

“So you’ve just disembarked a Qantas flight from . . .”

His silence told me I was meant to supply the answer. “Plenty,” I gushed. “I mean Dallas.”

Tears prickled at the backs of my eyes. I ached for Mom so badly my heart felt like it was being torn out of my chest. What the hell was I doing here? Where was my brain?

“I’m sorry.” I rubbed at my eyes with the backs of my hands. My vision went that special kind of blurry that happens when you put too much pressure on your eyeballs, and I blinked. I needed to get a grip. Or a passport. A passport would be nice.

I wondered for a stupidly surreal moment if the traveler behind me would let me borrow hers. Only until I actually got into Australia. Then she could have it—

“Are you Maci Rowling?”

A deep male voice with an obvious Australian accent caressed my tired, overwrought mind, and I jerked my head around, my heart pounding fast.

An elderly gent, who had to be at least ninety in the shade, was standing at my elbow, holding what looked to be an American passport in one hand. In his other, he held a cane. Truth be told, it was the cane doing most of the holding, keeping the gentleman vertical.

“I found it on the floor in the line a second ago,” he said, a friendly smile on his wrinkled face. “Think it might be yours.”

He was old and feeble and holding a passport.

And if he knew my name, it meant it was my passport.

What else could I do? I threw myself against his frail body in a massive hug.

Knocking him to the ground.

Three hours later, I was allowed into Australia.

It’s insane how long it takes to apologize sufficiently to an elderly gentleman you’ve just injured in your enthusiasm to thank him for finding your passport. Who knew it would be so easy to knock an eighty-two year old to the floor with a hug? I didn’t help that my hug was pretty . . . enthusiastic. Of course, after the poor old guy was taken away in a wheelchair, I received a rather stern lecture about my “enthusiasm” from the airport police. One of whom seriously looked like Russell Crowe. If Russell Crowe was fat. And older. And a woman. And after that I received an even sterner lecture about passport security from the same humorless officials.

Finally, with the public humiliation over and done with, I was allowed into the country.

Only to wait at the luggage carousel, watching it go round and round until I was the only person left, with no sign of my luggage on the conveyor belt.

Thirty minutes later, I accepted the fact that my luggage—with all my clothes, including my Victoria’s Secret bra and panties I’d saved for freaking months to buy just for this trip—wasn’t going to appear through the clear flappy-plastic opening in the wall.

Yay.

I made my way to the service counter only to be informed the airline had no clue as to the current whereabouts of my suitcase.

“I’m very sorry,” the cheery attendant behind the counter said, beaming up at me. “We shall contact you as soon as we locate it. Welcome to Australia.”

Welcome to Australia? Yeah, right.

Suffice to say, I wanted to go home.

There and then.

Badly.

So badly I actually pivoted on my heel to head back toward the customs counters. And then I stopped when I realized I was being silly.

Okay, confession time. I’m not exactly emotionally . . . stable. I mean, I’m not insane or anything. In fact, I’m quite intelligent and at times grounded—Mom’s word, not mine. But more often than not, I’m impulsive. I’m also sensitive, self-conscious, uncertain and . . . well, to put it bluntly—broken.

It happens. When you spend almost ten years of your life watching your mother slowly being devoured by a disease with no known cure, a disease that was robbing her of her ability to smile, her ability to cut her own food, button her own buttons, talk at a normal volume, have normal bowel movements—hell, have any kind of normal movement, even something as simple as blinking and swallowing—and you know one day that disease is going to do all those things to you, you get a little screwed up.

That’s what Parkinson’s disease does. It screws you. Messes with you. That’s what it’d done to my family, at least.

I had to tell people Mom wasn’t drunk at my father’s funeral, that it was just her muscles refusing to allow her to walk without staggering about because her brain was betraying her. That messed with me.

I’d sit opposite her nightly at the dinner table, on edge—terrified even—that her throat muscles would stop working halfway through her eating, causing her to almost choke to death, an event that had happened at least three times.

It was bad enough for me to learn my mom had Parkinson’s when I was twelve. Try being told when you’re twenty-one that you have the same disease.

I’d been living with early-onset Parkinson’s disease for a year now, and it wasn’t getting easier. Twenty-two was not meant to be like this, it was meant to be lived large, partying, meeting new people . . . not new doctors and specialists and medical-insurance representatives.

Jesus, I sound miserable, don’t I?

I’m not. Honest. I try to laugh about it. I tell Mom I’m racing her to complete neural shut-down. Whoever gets there first wins. And what does the winner get?

A complete loss of dignity and—

Holy shit, sorry. I truly didn’t mean to go there. It’s a bleak place, my self-pity, and I hate it. Let’s try not to go there again, okay?

I forced myself to turn back around, hitch my carry-on bag—containing a spare pair of panties, thank freaking God—farther up my shoulder, stride through the last stage of customs. I had no food to declare. No insects, reptiles, items made of wood or animal body parts. I passed over my declarations card to the smiling lady collecting them, and stepped through the gates and into the Sydney International Arrivals terminal, surrounded by excited people waiting for their loved ones.

It was then I realized I needed to pee. I hadn’t peed since somewhere over Hawaii.

Oh boy, did I need to pee.

And the second I acknowledged I needed to pee, the more I needed to go.

Searching frantically for the restroom sign, I spied what I thought was the ladies’ room and ran for it, head down, fist gripping the strap of my bag as if it were a lifeline to bladder relief.

So of course, when I slammed into something rock-solid but warm and firm as well, the first thing I thought was I was going to pee myself. Not, argh, I’ve just run into someone and I need to apologize.

I stumbled back a step, flinging the poor woman in my way a harried glance. And froze when that harried glance found not a poor woman, but a tall, broad-shouldered, stunningly hot—no, change that—stupefyingly hot, gorgeous guy with shaggy dark-brown hair hanging over equally dark-brown eyes so intense and beautiful and sexy and—

He wrapped strong fingers around my upper arms and steadied me before I could fall completely on my ass.

“Hey, I think you’re heading into the wrong loo.”

I gazed up at him and didn’t say a word. I’d liked to have blamed sleep-deprivation and jet lag for my ridiculous silence, but that wasn’t the culprit.

The guy holding my arms, keeping me upright, was stunning. Gorgeous. Hot. Like a brown-haired, brown-eyed version of Chris Hemsworth. Only sexier.

I didn’t think that was even possible, but there you go. Tall, with a crooked grin that made my heart skip a beat and a goddamn divine body, all muscular and sculpted and perfectly proportioned with the broadest of shoulders, all wrapped up tight in a snug white T-shirt and snugger faded jeans.

And he had an Australian accent.

Oh boy.

I gaped at him, my heart thumping in my throat.

“Can you speak?” he asked.

I caught my bottom lip with my teeth and shook my head.

His eyebrows shot up. “You can’t?”

“I can,” I blurted, nodding this time. Talk about being a mess of contradictions. “I’m just . . .” I paused, stopping myself from telling him I was falling in lust with him. Yeah, not exactly cool behavior. Gushing all over a complete stranger on the way to the bathroom? Welcome to Australia.

“I’m just . . . desperate,” I finished, ducking my head. I sounded like an idiot.

He gave a warm, friendly laugh. “To go to the loo?”

I peered up at him through my bangs. “Yeah.”

That crooked grin returned to his face. As before, it made my body do things I wasn’t entirely used to.

“You better go then.” He stepped aside and held an arm out, directing me deeper into the men’s restroom.

Oh my God, was I blushing? I shuffled my feet, frowning.

Devilment danced in his dark-brown eyes. “Something else you’re desperate for?”

Something else? Was he serious? A guy that looked like him, asking me what I wanted? If I were the brave, take-no-prisoners kind of girl, I’d tell him straight up. Something else I’m desperate for? Hell yeah, a kiss from you would be a start. But I wasn’t that kind of girl. I was a sleep-deprived, jet-lagged student with poor social skills and a disease that wasn’t exactly high on the sexy list. Of course, I wasn’t going to ask him for a kiss.

No matter how much the thought made my tummy flutter.

He studied me with a playful grin. “Going to tell me what it is?”

“A kiss.” The word fell past my lips before I could stop it.

My face went cold as the blood drained from it. And then hot as all that blood rushed back into my cheeks just as fast. Holy shit, had I really said that aloud?

“A kiss?” he repeated, lifting an eyebrow.

Oh God, I had said it aloud. I stared at him, once again dumbstruck. What was I doing? Was I really that tired? Had to be. Why else would I say something so . . . so . . . embarrassing? I couldn’t be flirting with him. I wasn’t any good at it. I was an environmentalist dork with Parkinson’s. As if I knew how to flirt.

Was I delusional? Was my brain finally betraying me compl—

Warm lips brushed over mine in a lingering caress of skin on skin. I would have melted on the spot . . . if it wasn’t for the fact I yelped in shocked disbelief and stumbled back a step.

Mr. Broad Shoulders laughed. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to freak you out.”

Just to make it clear before I continue, I’m not a virgin. I lost my virginity four nights after my sixteenth birthday, to my high school boyfriend—the quarterback, no less. How’s that for both an achievement and a cliché? But since I found out I have Parkinson’s, I’ve pretty much shut down any and all notion of romance. Who wants to get romantic with someone who’s going to be a shaky mess in a few years? I can’t imagine there are many guys out there willing to roll with that kind of burden, so I stopped putting myself out there. Which might explain my very active fantasy obsession with a married Australian actor, now that I think about it. Hmmm. Desire the impossible to substitute the denied. Makes sense, right?

I gaped up at my mysterious kisser—again. Heart beating way too fast, I pressed my fingers to my lips. “Why did you do that?”

“You asked.” His grin turned wickedly playful, hinting at a dimple in his right cheek, and he leaned a little closer to me, his brown eyes holding mine. “And you looked so damn sexy with your mussed-up hair and coffee-stained shirt.”

A wave of embarrassment flooded my face. I slapped my hand to my left boob, hurting myself in a rather ridiculous attempt to hide the stain he’d already pointed out. Why do we do that, by the way? Try to conceal something once it’s been pointed out? Like the way mining corporations plant rows of trees around the boundaries of their open-cut mines, as if some greenery will conceal the massive gaping wound gouged into the planet by their machinery.

His low chuckle drew a frown from me. “Are you mocking me?” I asked, a distant part of my mind telling me I still needed to use the bathroom.

“No. Honest. The second you ran into me, I wanted to kiss you.”

It was my turn to cock an eyebrow. I love that I can do that—it speaks volumes. Attitude from your waiter? Cock an eyebrow. Lip from your study partner? Cock an eyebrow. Absurd claim from a stranger in a public restroom? Cock an eyebrow.

“The second?” I echoed.

His lips twitched. Christ, he was hot. “Okay, maybe the second after the second. When you realized who you’d run into.”

Who I’d run into? Didn’t he mean where I’d run into? The men’s toilet rather than the ladies’?

I frowned.

He frowned in return. “You do know who I am, right?” he asked, curious conviction in his deep voice. Have I mentioned the sexy Australian accent? “That’s why you asked for the kiss. Because of the way my sister met the prince?”

My eyebrows shot up my forehead. I’d like to say I had a hand in their journey, but my brain was too busy being stunned by what I’d just heard for any conscious direction to body parts or facial features. What did he just say?

“Prince?” I echoed.

It was obvious I had no freaking clue what he was talking about. Clear enough for him to pull a grimace. A sexy grimace, if that’s possible to visualize.

“You don’t know who I am?”

I shook my head. Deep in the pit of my stomach, a twisting tension curled tighter. A sexual tension. Or maybe it was bladder tension, due to the fact I still hadn’t peed.

He let out an amused sigh, dragging his hands through his dark hair as he did so. “Fuck, ’eh? So you just asked for a kiss because . . .”

The question hung on the air between us, looking for an answer. One I couldn’t provide. What was I going to say? ’Cause you’re really, really hot? Instead, I said, “Who are you?”

He flashed me that lopsided grin again, let out another laugh and ducked his head. “No one important,” he said.

And then, before I could stop him, he closed the small distance between us, lowered his head to mine and kissed me again.

Longer this time.

Holy fuck, did he know how to kiss. He parted his lips, dipped his tongue into my mouth—when had my lips parted, I wonder?—and found mine with wicked ease, teasing it with a slow, lingering stroke.

The heat in the junction of my thighs fluttered and pulsed and throbbed in a way it never had before, and a soft little moan vibrated deep in my chest. Whoa.

And then someone cleared his throat behind us and I let out another yelp of surprise, this one a violent, full-body yelp involving jumping and spinning about.

A massive man wearing a dark blue suit and dark sunglasses was standing a few feet into the bathroom’s entryway looking at Mr. Broad Shoulders. “It’s time, Mr. Jones.”

Behind me, Mr. Broad Shoulders—correct that, Mr. Jones—uttered an almost inaudible “Fuck”.

He slid warm fingers up my arm, making me flinch, and I turned back to face him, completely mystified as to what the hell was going on.

“I have to go,” he said, a grin playing on his lips. Lips that only a second ago had been on mine. “I’ll make sure no one comes into the loo while you’re in there, okay?”

And without another word, he strode past me, past the man in the dark blue suit, and out into the airport terminal.

Leaving me standing in a public restroom that obviously wasn’t the ladies’, with the moisture of his kiss a cool memory on my lips.

I gaped at the man in the suit, waiting for an explanation.

It didn’t come.

The man pivoted on his heel and stood with his back to me, muttering something into his shirt cuff.

If that wasn’t a WTF moment, I don’t know what was.

I blinked. Took a step to follow the now-absent Mr. Jones—could that really be his name?—and was suddenly hit with the need to empty my bladder. Again. With all the force of a wrecking ball hitting an outhouse made of paper.

I let out a little cry, doubled over, rammed my thighs together and did that ridiculous sprint you do when you need to go to the bathroom in a hurry. The one where your knees are stuck together, your jaw is clenched shut and your hands are balled into fists.

I hit the door running, spun 180 degrees, slammed the door shut, locked it, dropped my bag, yanked down my jeans and panties in one go and made it without a second to lose.

If it weren’t for the man in the suit only a few feet away, I would have let out an ahhhh of relief.

But there was a man in a suit only a few feet away. A mysterious man who seemed to be connected to an even more mysterious man who’d kissed me because I’d asked him to.

What the hell was up with that?

A few minutes later, with the sound of the toilet flush a loud roar in the surreal silence, I emerged from the cubicle only to discover I was completely alone.

“Huh. Weird.”

By the time I finished washing my hands, a string of men was pouring into the bathroom. They all balked at the sight of me just as they were about to approach the urinal, hands on flies. No one said anything.

With heat flooding my face yet again, I hightailed it out of there as quickly as I could. I tried not to look around for the mysterious Mr. Jones and the man in the blue suit, but how could I not? There was no sign of them anywhere.

That was probably a good thing. My first few hours in Australia hadn’t exactly gone to plan, and truth be told, if I did see Mr. Jones again, I’d probably make a fool of myself and ask him to kiss me again. It had been that good. I still had the tingles and a fluttering belly to prove it. But whoever he was, he was gone.

Life back to normal for me. Well, as normal as it could be given I was on the other side of the world from everything I knew and loved, in the country of my father’s birth without a single person I could call a friend and—

Okay, let’s stop right there and get off the self-pity bus. I was here, in Australia, about to start the most amazing experience of my student life. No need for dramatics.

Hitching up my bag, I took a deep breath, scanned the crowd one more time for any sight of Mr. Broad Shoulders and then headed out the exit. I had to catch a taxi to Sydney University, my home for the first half of my adventure.

Two steps outside, I was almost knocked over by a man running with a camera in his hand.

“Hey!” I protested, staggering to regain my footing. It was never fun to lose your balance, especially when the disease fighting to control your body liked to throw you off it just for shits and giggles.

The running man didn’t slow down. Nor did the one following him. Or the one after that.

Suddenly, it dawned on me there were lots of hurrying, rushing, sprinting men with cameras, all heading toward a stretch black limousine parked at the curb a few feet away. A limo that Mr. Broad Shoulders, AKA Mr. Jones, AKA my mysterious kisser, was now climbing into, the man in the blue suit guiding his head as he glared at the approaching wave of frenzied photographers.

Confused by it all, I frowned. Who the hell was this guy to deserve so much manic attention?

Camera flashes detonated around the limo. The photographers shouted. Most of the calls sounded like, “Oi, Raphael.” Which couldn’t be right. Who had a name like Raphael these days? The crowd around me surged forward, sirens wailed from somewhere nearby and then, in a moment of surreal calm amongst it all, a gap in the madness formed between me and the limo, and Mr. Broad Shoulders’ stare met mine.

Met.

Melded with.

Fixed on.

Pinned.

Our gazes held, and in that gaze, an entire conversation took place:

I liked kissing you.

I liked being kissed by you.

Shame it had to end.

Ditto.

And then the man in the dark blue suit shoved the photographers backward and slammed the limo door shut, ending my ocular correspondence with Mr. Broad Shoulders, just like that.

I blinked.

The limo engine roared, the man in the blue suit hurled some rather unpleasant words at the horde and then pulled open the front passenger door and disappeared into the cabin.

A chorus of boos rose from the paparazzi—it’s safe to assume that’s what they were—although I still didn’t know who they were photographing. Someone famous, obviously.

Someone famous who’d kissed me. In the men’s restroom, no less.

I tracked the limo’s path as it sped past me and everyone else on the sidewalk, my tummy twisting and knotting and fluttering and generally being all manner of unsettled. It wasn’t until the limousine vanished around the sweeping bend a few yards away that I finally found my brain and grabbed the photographer nearest to me.

“Who was that?” I asked the sneering man trying to disengage my grip on his wrist.

“In the limo?”

“Yes,” I answered, trying not to sound agitated. Who else would I be talking about?

“You don’t know?”

I shook my head.

“That was Raphael Jones.” The man smirked.

“Who—”

But before I could finish asking who Raphael Jones was, the photographer had shaken off my hold and was hurrying away, studying the small screen on the back of his camera.

I stood and watched the dispersing photographers and crowd, racking my brain to find any clue as to why the name should mean anything worthy of such frenzied excitement.

Nothing.

I shrugged. “Must be an Australian celebrity.”

Deciding to google the guy when I finally made it to my campus accommodation (my iPhone wasn’t talking to the Australian network yet, damn it), I headed for the first available cab, climbed into the back and gave the driver the address I’d be staying at while I was a student of the University of Sydney.

The memory of Raphael Jones’s kiss sent a delicious little thrill through me and I wriggled deeper into my seat. So I’d been kissed by an Australian celebrity not even a few hours in the country. Not bad for a college dork from Plenty, Ohio, even if I do say so myself. It kind of made up for the otherwise dismal start to my adventure. Pity I was never going to see him again or I’d show him how an American girl did things.

Okay, maybe not, given how much of a twitchy, emotional wreck I was, but a girl can kick ass in her fantasies, can’t she? It’s not like I was going to see him again. Australia’s a big country, after all.

Right?