Unforgettable

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“Unforgettable lives up to its name as this is a book I am not likely to forget ever; the masterful storytelling will stick with me, the characters have my heart…” ~ FIVE STARS, Slick Reads Reviews

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ALWAYS Book Two

Sometimes being an optimist is hard work.

My name is Brendon Osmond. I’m a 25 year old post-graduate student who knows three things with absolute conviction. I know damn near everything there is to know about keeping in peak physical shape. I have a plan to make a lot of money from that knowledge. I’m an optimist who’s not easily rattled. But then the girl I fell in love with almost two years ago texts me out of the blue and everything I know is thrown out the window.
Am I rattled?
No.
Not until I fly to the other side of the world and discover the girl I fell for has kept a very big secret from me.
A secret that mocks all my knowledge of the human body and how to keep it healthy.
A secret that shatters my plans for my own personal training business.
A secret with my eyes.
A secret who needs me more than I can comprehend.
Ask me again if I’m rattled.
Now ask me if I’m still in love.

*Perfect for fans of The Fault in Our Stars and Nicholas Sparks, Unforgettable is the second book in the Always series that began with Unconditional.

CHAPTER ONE

Borderline Insane

If you’re looking for a tragic, traumatic backstory, I’m going to disappoint you, I’m afraid. I’m not that guy. I laugh easy, joke often, and pretty much see the joy in almost everything around me. I know, unbearable, right? Sorry.

I’ve been this way forever. Honest, I can’t think of a time when I wasn’t the “glass is half full” person in the room. When I was a kid most of my friends thought I was weird. Or fake. A lot of them tried their best to drag out the emo in me. To mess with me enough to see me snap or crumble. I found out when I was seventeen that my best mate had bet a hundred bucks he’d be able to make me lose my temper enough that I would get suspended from school for a week before we graduated.

He lost.

Can you see what I’m saying? I’m a nice guy. I’m not a prick. I’m not a jerk. I enjoy hanging out with the guys, have a few “friends with benefits” on a semi-regular rotation, take a lot of pride in being healthy and enjoy my job as the Sydney University’s gym manager and personal trainer. I’ve got a Bachelor’s degree in Applied Science (Exercise and Sport Science) – those parentheses are important, as is the word Honors that goes with it – and six months left before I finish my Master’s in Exercise Physiology. I recently bought a betta fish that I call No Direction. I’ve got plans to open my own personal trainer business one day soon – Push It P/T – and spent a total of nine hours last week with a very helpful bank manager discussing loans, long-term business structures, future staff and, eventually, how I could help her lose the excess weight she’d been carrying since the birth of her twins eight months previously.

I can say with all truthfulness that I’ve only fallen in love twice. The last time I ended up on television and almost in jail after an American student, Maci Rowling became the target of the paparazzi due to the fact she was also involved with one of our local celebrities. (Just to fill you in, she didn’t choose me. She went with Raphael Jones. I still give her shit about that.)

The first time I fell in love . . .

Man, I don’t really want to talk about the first time. Of course, what we want and what we get isn’t always the same thing, right? Hell, I wanted the world to shake when I kissed Maci that time in my living room. I wanted her to say “Raph who?” when questioned by the media. That didn’t happen.

What did happen was I accepted we weren’t meant to be, put my “just friends” hat firmly in place and let it go. Got on with living.

That’s what it’s all about. Living. Enjoying every minute of every day we have. Not wasting it with second-guessing, regret, hoping in vain, wishful thinking or moping. Yeah, those things aren’t really in my vocabulary.

As I’ve said before, this attitude seems to irritate a lot of people, which I always find puzzling. Why would a happy person with no baggage piss someone off? Is it because I make them feel . . . less in some way? Less successful? Less complete? I don’t mean it to. Honest.

Life is about being in the moment. The present. And the present is pretty damn perfect. Except . . .

Okay, I can’t skirt around it any more. My brain keeps coming back to something I’d rather it didn’t. Actually, not something, but someone.

That “first” I mentioned earlier. The one that “got away”.

Yeah, that’s a lot of quotation marks there, isn’t it?

I just . . . I don’t . . .

Damn it, let’s start this again.

G’day. I’m Brendon Osmond. I’m a twenty-five-year-old post-graduate student at Sydney University. Most of my friends call me The Biceps, I suspect because I give Chris Hemsworth in Thor-mode a run for his money. I have big plans, big goals and a ridiculously positive outlook on life. Nothing fazes me. Nothing unsettles me.

Until the morning I woke to a text message from someone I didn’t expect to hear from again.

Someone. Okay, not just someone . . . that one. She of the quotation marks.

It was a simple text but one that shook me a little.

Thinking of you.

That’s it. Who sends a text like that after over two and a half years of no contact whatsoever? I mean, I followed this girl to the States, I opened my damn chest, took out my heart and gave it to her, and she gave it back. Told me we had no hope. And now she sends me this text? Without any follow-up? No text to let me know she’d sent that message to the wrong person. No apologies for the utterly random contact. No LOL Psyche! complete with a winking smiley face emoticon just to highlight the joke of it all.

Who does that?

Apparently Amanda Sinclair.

Amanda Sinclair, the American girl who made it clear we didn’t have a “relationship” because she “wasn’t for me”. Because she couldn’t “be what I wanted”. See? More of those damn quotation marks. I don’t think I’ve ever had the need to use quotation marks until Amanda Sinclair entered my life. Amanda Sinclair, the American college student I met almost three years ago during an amateur snowboarding competition down in Thredbo (that’s the main ski slopes in Australia, if you don’t know) and who I then proceeded to spend the rest of the comp in bed with.

We both lost our respective rounds, but we didn’t mind. Not at all. Holy fuck, did we . . . well, fuck. It was the most mind-blowing sex, the most intense, perfect, sublime sex I’ve ever had.

After the snowboarding competition finished, she followed me back to Sydney and crashed in my one-room apartment. We spent most of the days in bed. Most of the nights as well. We laughed a lot. She had the same approach to life I did: live it, don’t dwell on it, regret is just wasted energy, exist for the now. We occasionally went out, caught a movie or two. I once smuggled her into my Biomechanical Analysis of Movement lecture. We sat up the back of the lecture hall, where my professor – who wore glasses with the thickest lenses ever – couldn’t see us, and made out. And by make out, I mean Amanda went down on me while I was trying to take notes.

Six weeks after we first met, she realized she’d overstayed her visitor’s visa by a week. By that stage I was in love with her. That simple. I have no problems admitting that. If I’m going to spill it all, the whole sordid, woeful story, I may as well go the whole hog and leave nothing out. I was in love with her. And she was in love with me.

Of course, being in love doesn’t suddenly change geography. She was from the US and I was Australian. We both had studies to complete, families to think about. So she went back to the States the next day, back to San Diego where she was studying to be a high school English teacher at San Diego State University, and I stayed in Sydney. For three days.

Three days.

Long enough for me to finish my mid-semester thesis (Carb Depletion and its Impact on Muscle Regeneration), submit it to my professor, bring the assistant manager up to speed at the university gym, and buy a one-way plane ticket to San Diego.

One week later, I flew back to Australia. Alone.

The crib notes version of that week goes like this:

  • I arrive in San Diego.
  • Amanda collects me at the airport.
  • We spend five incredible days rarely leaving her dorm room.
  • I meet her family in the flesh three times.
  • I eat with them twice.
  • I tell her I love her on the fifth night.
  • Amanda tells me on the sixth day she’s bored with us, that there is no us.
  • I fly back to Sydney on the seventh day.
  • Not a word from her since.

That’s twenty-seven months and three days of silence (yes, I’ve kept track, which is pathetic I know) and now this text.

Suffice to say, the guy that’s never rattled was feeling . . . shaken. But not rattled. I refuse to be rattled.

I won’t lie though. When I finally replied to her text I had to type Hi eight times before I got it right.

An hour later, I sent her another one. I tried not to, but I did.

Thinking of you as well.

For the next sixty minutes I checked my phone every minute. Not a single response.

I calculated the time difference between San Diego and Sydney. Seventeen hours. It was almost seven am on Wednesday over there. I downloaded a World Clock app just in case my math skills were as dubious as my math teacher suggested they were back when I was only fifteen.

As it turns out, my math skills were holding steady.

If Amanda was in San Diego – and as I pointed out, it had been over two years since we last spoke, so really I was only guessing that’s where she was – she should at least be awake. Maybe eating breakfast somewhere.

Sixty minutes of obsessive-compulsive phone stalking later, I sent off my third text.

What’s up?

I’d like to say she replied a short time after that. Instead, twenty-four hours passed. Have you ever spent a day, a whole day, waiting on a text? The text tone on my phone is the main chorus from “Eye of the Tiger”. I know it’s corny but that song from the seventies pumps me up when I’m working out.

I grew to loathe that song in that twenty-four hour period.

Every time I heard Survivor sing that damn chorus my heart went into overdrive, my pulse smashed into my throat and my gut clenched. Every time I looked at my phone and saw the sender wasn’t Amanda Sinclair, I wanted to scream.

Go ahead, you can say it. I was rattled.

But that was nothing – the pounding heart, the choking pulse, the churning gut – nothing, compared to my body’s response when Amanda’s reply can through at two am, Friday morning.

I need you.

She didn’t answer when I called. That may have been a good thing. To be honest, I’m not sure what I was going to say to her. What she did do was call me an hour later – when I was in the shower, of course, trying to get myself sorted out under a punishing stream of cold water.

I came out to find the 1 New Voicemail message notification on my screen. Throat tight, I played the message.

“Hi Brendon,” Amanda’s voice messed with my sanity, her subtle American accent as sexy as ever. “I know . . . I mean . . .” A shaky sigh came through the phone. I don’t remember Amanda ever making such a noise before. “This is going to make no sense, and I know I’m asking a lot, but can you come to San Diego ASAP? Please? I’ll . . . I’ll explain everything when you get here.”

The message ended. I played it again. And again. And again. I rang her three times. She didn’t answer. Rather than try a fourth time, I opened my laptop and bought a one-way ticket on the first flight I found – Premium Economy. Sydney to LAX. Qantas. 6:40am. My credit card balance was not going to like me, and my bank manager was going to have some kind of conniption, but I didn’t care. I’d heard Amanda’s voice. I was essentially screwed, but in a good way. Life had presented me something, and I was taking that something. Live in the present, remember? The second I bought the ticket, all sense of being rattled and flustered vanished.

Despite the fact it was only 3:45 am on a Friday, I rang Heather Renner.

Now Heather had swooped into my life like a ADHD tornado a few years ago, starting our relationship as just a student who worked out in the uni gym before becoming an acquaintance I enjoyed talking with. We hung out occasionally before the whole Maci/Raph/Brendon situation (or as media called it The American Love Triangle), and it was during that time she morphed into one of my closest mates. Heather was Maci’s best friend while Maci was in Australia, and she somehow insinuated herself into my daily life after Maci went back to the States. I’m not complaining. Heather – who has only two speeds: on and hyper-on – is funny, infectious and almost impossible to say no to. Once upon a time she had a thing for me. Now she has a thing for her ethics professor, a fact I give her a hard time about constantly. Heather is like the sister I never had, and as such, I had no problem calling her at quarter to four in the morning.

She answered on the second ring. There wasn’t a hint of sleep-slurred confusion in her voice.

“I’ve told you before, Biceps,” she chirped, her normal exuberance somehow dialed up to fifty, “I will not go for a jog around Bondi with you.”

Heather has tried to convince me more than once she wasn’t responsible for the nickname “The Biceps” on campus. One of these days I may believe her.

Gaze fixed on my laptop screen and its ticket-purchase confirmation, I grinned. “Not even if I buy you breakfast at Triptych after?” I asked, completing the telephone conversation routine that had developed between us over the last few months.

She laughed. “Not even then. Now tell me what’s wrong. There’s no way you’d ring at this time unless there was a problem. Is it Maci? Is she okay? I was only talking to her yesterday and she sounded great. What’s happened? Is it Raph? It’s not Raph, is it? He was flying back from seeing his mum and dad when I was talking to her. Mid-flight in fact. It’s not his plane, is it? Tell me his plane hasn’t crashed and there’s no sign of the bodies. Jesus, how long will it take us to get to—”

“Heather,” I cut her off with a chuckle. See what I mean about only two speeds? “Maci and Raph are fine. At least, I assume they are. I haven’t spoken to either of them for a few weeks.”

A relieved sigh burst through the phone connection. Followed by an angry grunt. “Then why the hell did you let me think they weren’t? That’s not nice, Osmond. Not nice at—”

“Heather,” I repeated her name, firmer this time. If I’d been in her company I’d have grabbed her by the shoulders to hold her still. At times she was like a wriggling puppy. A wriggling puppy with an IQ of 128. “I need you to feed No Direction for a while.”

Silence came from the other end. I couldn’t help but lick my index finger and make an invisible stroke in the air. Chalk one up for The Biceps.

“I’m heading to the States,” I continued, “and I need you to feed my fish while I’m gone.”

Silence. Still.

I frowned. “Heather?”

“You’re not going over to try to break up Maci and Raph, are you?”

I burst out laughing.

“I take it that’s a no?” Wary confusion filled Heather’s voice.

“That’s a big no,” I answered, pushing myself up from my desk to make my way to my bedroom. I had a suitcase in the cupboard somewhere, I think. “A friend over there needs my help.”

At the word friend my chest constricted and my balls tightened. It was an odd sensation. Part nerves, part anticipation. All unfamiliar to me.

“A friend?” Curiosity had replaced Heather’s confusion. I could almost see her squirming about on the neon-pink shag-fabric swivel chair that held pride of place in her dorm room. “More details, please. If I’m going to be looking after your cherished pet, I need more than just a friend. Is this the friend you followed to the US a few years ago?”

“I’ll leave the spare key to my apartment in my letterbox,” I plowed on as I shoved aside a pile of sweatpants from the bottom of my closet, searching for my suitcase. Nope. Not there. “Just three pieces of food once a day. Don’t believe him if he makes out he’s still hungry after that.”

“Are you really going to the States, Brendon?”

I stopped my hunt for the elusive suitcase. In my chest, my heart was thumping faster than normal. Heather rarely called me Brendon. It meant she was serious. Heather rarely did serious. I owed her an explanation.

“Yes, I’m really going,” I said, closing my eyes for a moment. An image of Amanda filled my head straight away. Amanda smiling at me, a promise in her eyes I’d stopped believing in a long time ago. “And yes, it is the friend I followed to the States a few years ago. Amanda Sinclair.”

“Amanda,” Heather repeated, something akin to aggression in her voice. I don’t know why. Sometimes I have no clue the whys of the female mind. “That’s it. So, she wants to have another go at you, does she?”

The censure in her voice threw me. And the venom.

“I take it you don’t approve?”

A soft noise sounded through the connection. “I don’t. You may not remember what you were like when you came back from chasing after her the last time, but I do. And since then, you’ve become my friend. And I don’t like it when my friends are hurt.”

I swallowed. My throat felt thick. Like someone had stuffed it full of sand.

“I’m not going to get hurt, Heather. I’ve moved on from Amanda. Tried to get Maci in the sack, remember?”

Heather grunted. “Fine. I’ll feed your fish. But if you come back all gray and limp and broken and mopey like you did the last time, I’m going to beat the crap out of you and take No Direction away. Do you understand?”

“Deal,” I answered.

There was no way I was coming back from the US in that state. I had moved on. The only reason I was rushing to see Amanda was because we’d once shared something amazing and she clearly needed my help now. I was happy to give her that help. It didn’t mean I was expecting her to give me my heart back while I was there. I wasn’t even after her heart. She was the past. She wasn’t a part of my plan for the future.

Sure, I hear you say, that’s why you just maxed out your credit card with a plane fare your bank manager wouldn’t approve of.

“Okay.” Heather didn’t sound convinced. “When’s your flight? Do you need a lift to the airport?”

I glanced at the radio alarm clock on my bedside table. “Flight’s in three hours.”

Peals of laughter followed the statement. “Oh man,” Heather cackled. “Yeah, sure, you’ve moved on.”

“For that, you can drive me to the airport,” I said, returning to the search for my suitcase. “I’ll see you in twenty minutes.”

Twenty minutes later, after sending Amanda a text informing her of my flight details and staring at my phone for a reply that never came, I climbed into Heather’s beat-up, dubiously reliable hatchback. My passport pressed to my butt as I settled into the front passenger seat. In the boot was my gym bag, crammed full of whatever clean clothes I had at hand. My suitcase, it seemed, was AWOL.

Heather took one look at me and rolled her eyes. “You are so going to get your heart handed to you again, you know that, right?”

“Shut up, Heather.” I buckled in, wriggling into the seat – I wasn’t built for such a small car – and pointed at the dawn-tainted road ahead of us. “Drive.”

She drilled me the whole way. It wasn’t until I said, “I don’t know” for the umpteenth time that I realized just how out of character I was behaving, how many of my own questions were unanswered. Questions I hadn’t been able to ask because I hadn’t been able to talk to Amanda.

Holy crap, I was flying to American without actually talking to the person I was heading over to see. What the—

“We’re here.”

I blinked myself back into the interior of Heather’s car. Or rather, the exterior. Huh. Between all the I don’t knows to Heather’s interrogation, we’d arrived at Sydney International.

My heart slammed into my throat, a place it never ventured. The only real time my heart made itself known to me was when I was doing fifty-calorie-burn sprints on the assault bike. Going to see Amanda was nowhere near as grueling as that.

Drawing in a slow breath, I waited for Heather to pull to a halt outside the Departure terminal. “Thanks.” Before I could open the door, she grabbed my wrist. Hard. Man, I really needed to reassess her upper-body workouts.

“Listen, Osmond,” she said, fixing me with a steady stare. Heather and steady weren’t usually a thing. It was both jarring and oddly sweet. “I know you’re this big strong guy who prides himself on rolling with life and not letting anything bring you down, and to be honest, you’re pretty much the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a person living in perfect peace with himself, which is incredible.”

I grinned at her compliment.

She didn’t grin back. In fact, her grip on my wrist tightened. “But I wasn’t kidding when I said I’d beat the crap out of you if you come back broken. I will. If you let Amanda screw you up like she did the last time, I’ll kick your arse. Then I’ll fly to the States and kick her arse, and you don’t want to be responsible for America declaring war on Australia, do you? I mean, you’re already on Delvania’s watchlist after beating the hell out of their princess’s bodyguard, you don’t want to be added to the American list for inciting a hyperactive Aussie going thermo on one of their citizens, do you?”

A warm fuzziness bloomed in my chest. The realization you have friends who care about your emotional state and kind of take it personally can blow you away. That kind of friendship is a powerful thing, and for the first time since knowing her I recognized how significant Heather was to me, and me to her. We’d been through some slightly weird stuff together – the whole Maci/Raph/Delvania Royal bodyguard/paparazzi riot just to name one – and come out the other side closer. That she was ready to start an international situation over the state of my heart proved it. I leaned across the center console and kissed her on the cheek.

Two things happened. One, she let out a gasp I could only called surprised. And two, she followed that gasp with a melodramatic Ewww, gross, and shoved me away.

I laughed. She did the same, rolling her eyes. “Time for you to get out of my car, Biceps,” she ordered with mock command. “Let me know how it’s going while you’re over there, okay?”

“Will do.”

It wasn’t until her car turned out of the drop-off bay and disappeared from sight that I realized I had a lump in my throat. When the hell had I become so schmaltzy?

Hitching my gym bag up on my shoulder and patting my butt to make sure my passport was still there, I pivoted on my heel and fixed the automatic doors of the Departure terminal with a steady stare.

You may have gathered by now I don’t live life the way it’s expected of me. When I decided to apply for a Bachelor of Applied Science my school careers advisor advised me I was making a mistake. She told me I should concentrate on a job less cerebral in nature. Laborer was her suggestion. When I was offered a position playing professional football for the Balmain Tigers at the age of eighteen – complete with a six-figure deal sweeter than any junior football player had ever seen – I turned it down. When I was being threatened by a dick bodyguard bigger than me with a Glock permanently under his arm, I punched him in the face and broke his jaw.

Life is to be lived to the fullest, and I lived it that way. But even I had to admit, standing there on the footpath outside the Sydney International Departure Terminal, that dropping everything to fly to the States to see a girl who’d rejected me almost three years ago, without even speaking to her was . . . well, borderline insane.

So why was I doing it? Because I was still hung up on Amanda? Because she still made me horny? Because I wanted to prove to her – and myself – that she didn’t have the power to render me defenseless against her any more, and the moment I saw her in the States I’d know a hundred percent it was over?

No. I was doing it because a person once very important to me had asked me to. There was no other reason than that. And life was to be lived. And experienced. And if I didn’t do this, I wasn’t experiencing it, was I?

How’s that for a reason? And a life philosophy?

I refused to think about it any longer. Actually, refused is the wrong term. I chose not to think about it any more. This was one of those situations that didn’t require thinking.

I strode into the terminal, checked in, watched my overstuffed gym bag disappear on the luggage conveyor belt, and then made my way to the appropriate gate.

Halfway there, I stopped at an Australian souvenir shop that charged ridiculous prices for stuff I could have bought at a discount shop for less than five bucks. For reasons I didn’t question, or think about – remember, I’d put my brain into neutral – I bought a soft toy koala infused with eucalyptus oil, a soft toy kookaburra that laughed when you squeezed it, and a jar of Vegemite. I don’t know why. Amanda’s younger sister didn’t really like me, and a soft toy wasn’t going to change that. I bought them anyway.

It was then I realized I hadn’t brought along an on-flight bag. I had a thirteen-hour flight ahead of me, and I hadn’t brought anything with me apart from my wallet, iPhone and passport. Not even a book. Or a toothbrush and deodorant.

I wasn’t new to traveling (Hello? Previous trip to the US), so the fact I was an hour away from climbing onto a plane bound for the other side of the world, without any of the things that would make that trip bearable, hit me hard.

It took me forty minutes – and further credit card abuse – to procure everything I needed: small backpack, travel toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, new charger for my phone (superfluous and expensive given I already have three at home), new noise-canceling earphones (went the cheap route with those, but still, ouch), and travel pillow (Master’s of Exercise Physiology, remember? I know the importance of muscular comfort and posture and there was no way those airline–supplied pillows do anything but give you a stiff neck). I even splashed out and bought a pair of loose, long-legged PJ pants to change into come sleep time. Comfort is your friend on long-haul flights.

I also exchanged every Australian note I had in my wallet for US dollars which gave me a grand total of a hundred and thirteen dollars US.

After logging into my iTunes account on my phone and downloading my music library, along with a biography on Arnold Schwarzenegger in case the inflight movies sucked, I stuffed everything into my new backpack, the soft-toy kookaburra laughing constantly as I did. A part of me wondered if it was trying to tell me something. The rest of me ignored it. What the hell does a soft-toy kookaburra know?

As it turned out, I probably should have listened to it. Sometimes living life in the present takes you by the short-and-curlies and you’re left wondering what the hell happened.

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