Good news! The Unforgettable Ex is coming on the 26th of February! Yup, that’s less than a handful of days from now. I’m excited!
For today, it’s time to share with you the first chapter of Gavin and Natasha’s story. I’ve enjoyed writing about these two and I hope you fall in love with them just as I have. Enjoy! 🙂
The Unforgettable Ex: Chapter One
“Everyone, thank you all for coming.”
“Can’t wait to get rid of us, hey, Brad?” Natasha Garrett teased, pointing her phone at Bradley Mead and Erin Baker. She just had to take another snap of the happy couple.
“Well,” Brad said, cuddling his new fiancée as they smiled for the camera, “Erin and I just don’t want you guys to feel that you need to hang around for longer than you intended because our housewarming celebration has turned into an engagement party.”
“I think my brother-in-law wants to practice making babies,” Rick Donnelly quipped. “We should go home and do that too, honey,” he said to Brad’s sister.
“Practice?” Lexie asked her husband with a grin. “I wouldn’t mind making babies for real.”
“Hey, babe,” Lucas Renner-Bilton said to his wife. “Since we were the first among us to get married, shouldn’t we be the first to have babies?”
Jade laughed. “I’m ready whenever you are.”
“There you go,” Brad said, rubbing his hands. “Like I said, thank you all for coming.”
Everyone laughed, and Natasha sculled the last drops of the excellent white wine she’d been enjoying. She didn’t mind leaving now even though she’d been having a ball spending a perfect Sydney autumn day with great buddies and delicious food. But it was time to extricate her date, Leo Palmer, from the clutches of her unrelenting friend, Gavin Redford. She mentally shook her head as she approached the two men, glaring at Gavin, who’d chosen to ignore her questions and warning glances all day.
Gavin looked relaxed as he continued to chat with the handsome blond-haired, blue-eyed builder she’d been going out with for almost three months. But while the two men’s conversation seemed to be casual and friendly, Gavin’s brown eyes had been squinting in a manner that had raised her suspicion that this was no ordinary conversation. Poor Leo seemed none the wiser though, appearing happy to prattle along.
It didn’t surprise her that her date was oblivious to being interrogated. Gavin was great at hiding his motivations when he didn’t want people to notice, having honed specialist skills from previously working as an undercover cop, and now as a private detective. He was brilliant at what he did, and it wasn’t surprising that, at just thirty-one, Gavin had already grown his private investigation and security consultancy firm into one of Australia’s most trusted.
But she could read him. Not always, but often enough. Gavin and her older brother Carter had been best friends for as long as she could remember. Plus, she’d dated this extremely good-looking, dark-haired hunk for ten months five years ago. And those ten months had been incredibly happy, until…
She suppressed a sigh, pushing away memories that still had the capacity to overwhelm her if she allowed them to resurface. Hadn’t she promised to finally—finally—stop her silent waiting for Gavin? Five years with no signs of Gavin wanting to be more than friends again was long enough.
Fortunately, the both of them had become very good at pretending that their almost year-long romance didn’t exist in their history. Despite the fact that he’d broken her heart to pieces, Gavin remained one of her best and most trusted friends. Still, it hurt to remember the past.
Good thing she now had Leo. While she was nowhere near falling for the man, Leo’s unwavering persistence impressed her enough to want to give him a chance.
But what was it about Leo that interested Gavin so much? They were still chatting!
Hm. Had Carter asked Gavin to scrutinise Leo? Her undercover cop brother had admitted that something about Leo had rung a warning bell for him, and Gavin was someone Carter trusted to help with these things. But hadn’t Carter already satisfied himself that Leo wasn’t the suspicious person he’d thought he was? Ah, she would just have to ask Gavin about this again later.
“Hey, guys, time to go,” she said, interrupting the two.
“Sure,” Leo said, smiling as he stood up. “I’m ready when you are.”
“Excuse me, peeps,” Marilyn Grant said loudly from beside Brad and Erin. “I have permission to say something before we leave the lovebirds alone.”
Natasha grinned, turning to face the beautiful Marilyn. No prizes for guessing what the charity organiser queen of their group had in mind.
“Since Brad surprised Erin—and all of us—with a wonderful marriage proposal,” Marilyn said, “we need to start a new round of our Captured by Love game. Remember, it’s for charity, so I encourage everyone to join. So before you go, let me know who you’ll be betting on and the amount you want to pledge, okay?”
“What’s this about?” Leo whispered in Natasha’s ear.
“Aha, Leo,” Marilyn called out. “I see the question on your face. It’s a really simple game. We bet on who we think will be the next bachelor in our midst to be captured by looove. Then all the money pledged by those who chose the wrong guy will go to the charity selected by the winner, or winners.”
“Interesting,” Leo said.
“By the way, everyone,” Marilyn said. “As you know, our winning trigger is a marriage proposal because our previous bachelors had set that precedent. So I’m thinking, why don’t we allow betting on guys who are already dating, as long as they’re not yet engaged? I’m worried that we might not have a new winner for years, and we don’t want our game not to generate money for charity for an unacceptably long period. Is that cool with all of you?”
Natasha voiced out her agreement, along with everyone else. Frankly, she didn’t care who won, as long as their little game continued contributing to worthwhile causes.
“Great! Do you have any other questions, Leo?” Marilyn queried.
Leo shook his head. “It all sounds good. And since I don’t know the other guys well enough yet, how about I bet on myself?”
A chorus of “oohs” went around, with everyone’s eyes turning to Natasha.
Natasha felt herself go red. Geez, couldn’t people tell that Leo was just being nice in wanting to join the game? There was no way he was insinuating he was considering getting engaged soon, much less to her, since they’d only been going out for less than three months. Besides, they hadn’t even slept together yet!
“Wow,” Marilyn said, her eyes wide. “We haven’t had a guy bet on himself before. In fact, every single contestant we’ve had previously had staunchly denied wanting to get hitched. Four of them had to eat their words, of course,” she said, looking pointedly at Brad, then at Carter, Rick and Lucas—the four who’d fallen so far.
“Well, it’s good to be confident of my chances, I think,” Leo said, giving Natasha a sideways glance.
Natasha’s face burned further. How dare Leo feed their misconception!
“You’re making my sister blush,” Carter said lightly. “Is there something you two are not telling me?”
“No,” Natasha said hastily.
“Well, I know who I’m putting money on to be the next one to fall,” Brad said.
“Who?” Marilyn asked.
Gavin snorted. “Me?”
“Yup. I have a feeling it’s your turn, dude,” Brad said, grinning.
“Hey, I’m betting on my boss too,” Cassie said.
Natasha’s brows rose at her former flatmate and future sister-in-law’s declaration. With Cassie working at Gavin’s company as a financial controller, did Cassie know something that she hadn’t shared with her?
“Come on, babe,” Carter said to Cassie in disbelief. “You can’t be serious.”
Gavin laughed out loud, amused.
“Who are you betting on, Tash?” Cassie asked.
Natasha smiled and patted Leo’s arm to lessen the sting he might feel with what she had to say. “Since Leo and I haven’t been together for that long, and so as not to give you guys any ideas, I’m gonna bet on someone else.” She scanned the faces of the other guests, trying to spot an eligible bachelor who inspired winning confidence. Unfortunately, none of them did. And she was so not going to encourage Leo. “You know what?” she said, making an impromptu decision. “I think I’d bet on Gavin too.”
“Really now?” Gavin said, raising an eyebrow.
“Yeah. Why not?” She was prepared to lose some money. It was for charity anyway.
“Well,” Gavin drawled, one corner of his mouth tugging up, “I’m betting on myself too.”
Her mouth dropped open. What?
Marilyn snickered. “You’re kidding, right, Gavin? You’re really not telling me to put your name against your name on my betting list, are you?”
“Hey, none of those guys thought they’d be bitten by the love bug,” Gavin said, indicating the four now-permanently-attached former bachelors.
“Are you saying you have been bitten by the love bug?” Marilyn asked, her eyes round. “And are you gonna tell us who she is?”
Gavin smiled mysteriously. “Not yet. But soon.”
Natasha’s breath hitched in disbelief while their friends expressed their shock with surprised laughs and incredulous cries. She was aware that Gavin had casual dates here and there, but she didn’t know he was seeing someone he was already serious with. Why else would he mention it in front of everyone if it wasn’t serious?
To her consternation, her eyes started to pool. Blinking to force her emotions back down, she sat on a chair and watched numbly as the others placed their bets with Marilyn.
All this time, she believed that Gavin still held a torch for his ex-girlfriend Amber who, tragically, had gone missing five years ago. That belief was the only reason she’d held back on letting Gavin know that she still had feelings for him. She didn’t want to exacerbate her heartbreak when she was sure Gavin would just reject her again.
Had Gavin moved on from Amber and her terrible disappearance? Maybe time had healed Gavin’s wounds. As his friend, she should rejoice in that, even if her own wounds hadn’t completely healed yet. Gavin had been through enough hell.
Bull, Natasha. You still want to be the woman to replace Amber in Gavin’s heart despite your repeated insistence you’re ready to move on.
Ah, hell. She swallowed repeatedly to stop her emotions from showing on her face as her traitor mind played a scene she never wanted to remember—Gavin telling her out of the blue that they couldn’t go on because Amber had gone missing, and that he wanted to put as much time and energy as he could on finding her.
She’d been so shocked at his news about Amber. And she’d never been more devastated to learn that Gavin’s heart had never belonged to her. She’d really thought they’d been happy together. Having that illusion shattered with no warning whatsoever had scarred her considerably.
Good thing her desire to be a supportive friend to Gavin at a difficult time in his life, and her consideration for Carter and Gavin’s brotherly bond, were incentive enough for her to rise above what was still the most hurtful experience she’d had in all of her twenty-seven years in existence.
But pain had its advantages. It had forced her to learn how to ignore her feelings for Gavin so that they were able to continue their almost lifelong friendship. But, heck, right now she wasn’t doing a good job of ignoring. She could only hope her face wasn’t telling the story of what was going on inside her chest.
Leo joined her on the seat and placed an arm around her shoulders. She flushed with guilt. How could she be thinking of her feelings for another man when she was here with Leo? Even though she’d made it clear that she was far from being serious with him, she had promised Leo she’d give him and their fledgling relationship a chance.
Well, now she had every reason to put in more effort into falling for this guy sitting next to her. Gavin might be moving on from Amber, but clearly, it wasn’t with her.
Gavin ordered himself not to glare at Leo for putting his arm around Natasha’s shoulders. Instead, he ambled towards Brad and Erin to say his goodbyes.
He really had to keep his emotions in check. He’d already taken risks by chatting with Leo for an inordinately long time, but he had to take the opportunity while he had it. Fortunately, the more they’d talked, the more his suspicions had lessened. He was glad. Even though watching Natasha date this man was like having a fork raked against the open wound in his heart, he’d rather Leo was innocent than Natasha in danger.
“Hey,” Carter said in a low voice, approaching him from behind and getting into step with him. “Did you find out anything new?”
“No. As you said, he doesn’t seem connected to Biggs at all,” he murmured, looking around to make sure nobody was within hearing distance. He caught Natasha looking at his direction, before she turned those beautiful blue eyes of hers towards Leo, who caressed a strand of lustrous chocolate-coloured hair off her forehead. Ah, damn.
“She’s been wondering why you were interrogating her boyfriend today,” Carter said of his sister.
“Don’t worry, I’ll put her mind at ease.”
“I was surprised you still decided to quiz Leo after I’d already cleared him. Besides, if he was sent by Biggs, he wouldn’t have exposed himself to you.”
“I know. I was trying to read his body language to figure out if he was hiding something. But everything about him suggests he’s innocent. Anyway, have you heard about how Biggs’ recent victim is doing?”
“She’s still in intensive care,” Carter answered. “She was lucky an ambulance was making its way back to headquarters and chanced upon the accident, or she’d be dead by now. It’s clear from the investigations that her brakes had been tampered with, and her husband confirmed that he’d received a message from Biggs saying that he could blame himself for what happened to his wife. Now the husband is scared for the rest of his family and has asked his lawyers if he could retract his witness testimony that helped put Biggs’ wife in jail. It’s too late for that, of course. All we can do is assure him we’re doing everything we can to catch Biggs.”
Gavin shook his head, trying to erase the picture of something horrific happening to Natasha if Biggs ever found out about her.
“Anyway, back to Leo… I think you’re jealous of him,” Carter said.
He snickered. “What? Why do you think that?”
“Because he’s the first boyfriend Tash has introduced to us since you guys broke up. And considering she took him to this important party…”
“I was just following my gut, which originally told me that your sister’s date might be shady. Thankfully, looks like I’m wrong.”
“Five years is a long time,” Carter said with sympathy. “And we thought we’d only need a few months to resolve everything, then you could get back together with Tash. I feel for you, bro.”
His chest tightened and he put on an unconcerned face to cover up his inner turmoil. “I thought it was a good move betting on myself for Marilyn’s game, don’t you think?” he said nonchalantly.
“I guess might as well start the ball rolling with this undercover work. If the operation goes according to plan, we’ll soon have Cameron Biggs under lock and key, then you’ll be free to tell Tash everything,” Carter said optimistically.
His lips curved up without cheer. “If she’s keen on Leo, I don’t want to mess with her happiness,” he said quietly. “I already did that five years ago. I’m sure she won’t appreciate me doing it again.”
“You had a bloody good reason why you did what you did. It was the only acceptable choice. And you got hurt just as much as she did—if not more.”
“I don’t have any regrets lying to her about it,” he murmured. “The important thing is she continues to be safe.”
“Yeah, I know,” Carter said softly, clasping his shoulder before walking off to Cassie.
Gavin inhaled deeply, shaking his head at his situation. His very best friend was the blood sibling of the woman he had to pretend he didn’t love, but who meant the whole world to him. Even when they finally caught Cameron Biggs, the illegal drug manufacturer who’d vowed to make his life miserable by threatening the life of any woman he was involved with, that time could still be too late. Natasha could very well fall in love with Leo or some other guy—maybe even get married and have babies. He’d be forced to watch, unable to hide or escape because of his tight bond with Carter. Ugh.
If only there had been another way to ensure Natasha’s safety while still being in a relationship with her. But he’d had no choice. To this day, Biggs still blamed him for his wife getting caught in the first place.
With plenty of dirty money to buy people’s silence, and ways to permanently shut witnesses up, the dangerous couple had been slippery, to say the least. It had only been a sheer stroke of luck that Gavin had spotted Biggs’ wife at a pharmacy, where they hadn’t expected her to be. So he’d called the police and helped finally capture the other half of the Biggs power duo.
Since then Cameron Biggs had been intent on revenge.
He exhaled slowly through his mouth as he remembered the handwritten note from Biggs that he’d received in the mail. His life had turned upside down the day he’d read it.
Fuck you to hell, Gavin Redford. You’re the reason my wife’s in jail. I could kill you, but that would be way too easy. So instead, I promise you’re going to suffer the same fate of not being with Amber or any other woman you ever love from here on in, dickhead. I’ll pluck them from your life, torture them, then kill them so you’ll never see them ever again. Oh, yes, I’m gonna make you suffer so bad, worse than I’m suffering.
Your worst nightmare,
P.S. Do you know I hate you more than I hate the police?
Who would have thought that such a heartless, hardened criminal could be so enamoured with his wife?
And how could such a shrewd crook be fooled by what he’d seen on Facebook into kidnapping the wrong girl?
Amber had been putting pictures of her and Gavin on her Facebook profile, hoping for a reconciliation and believing that some of their happy memories would get his attention. Unfortunately for Amber, she’d caught Biggs’ attention instead.
Much as he’d felt guilty over Amber’s disappearance, Gavin was still grateful that Biggs had no idea that he’d gotten the wrong woman. Fortunately, he and Natasha had agreed to keep their relationship a secret from everybody until their first-year anniversary. They’d wanted to give their love a chance to develop in private without the pressure and attention of their families and friends, and he still was grateful every day for that decision. It had shielded Tash from Biggs.
Involuntarily, he touched his chest and rubbed the region of his heart. It still cut him that he’d abruptly ended his relationship with Tash. His own heart had shattered when he’d broken hers, but he’d had to ensure that she’d move away from him for her own safety. The priority was for Biggs’ interest not to be drawn to Natasha in any way. Warnings from the bastard were still coming regularly, even now.
His heart skipped at the voice of the woman he’d been pondering about.
“Can I talk to you for a sec?”
Natasha glanced at Leo, who was busy saying goodbye to the other guests. “Do you think Leo’s involved in something shady?” she asked in a low voice.
“So why were you grilling him?”
“Grilling him? I thought we were only having a nice, friendly chat.”
Natasha narrowed her eyes. “He spent more time with you today than he did with me.”
“Oh, were you jealous?” he asked lightly, smiling at her cuteness even as she was strangling his heart.
“Gavin, come on. I know your talk wasn’t as innocent as you make it out to be. Did Carter ask you to do it? And if Leo’s shady, then don’t I have the right to know?”
“If he were shady, don’t you think Carter and I would have dragged him away from you already?”
“Okay, good. I didn’t think he’d be part of anything underhanded, but you made me worry when you interrogated him for hours even after Carter’s already done the checks. Did you tell him what you do for a living?”
“I told him I’m a corporate security consultant. I hope it’s okay with you that I didn’t tell him everything about my work.”
“Of course not. Secrecy is important for you. I haven’t told him yet either that Carter’s an undercover cop. Maybe I should soon.”
Ouch. “So you really like him, huh?” he asked, ensuring he sounded genuinely teasing. Carter’s real job was not something they openly shared with anyone due to the sensitive nature of his work. For most people, Carter was an electrician working in their family’s electrical services company.
“I’m really keen for this to work out,” Natasha answered.
His heart twisted in jealousy. God, he could only take so much in a day. He had to leave now. “Well, we better go and give Brad and Erin their alone time.” He gave her the usual goodbye kiss on the cheek and walked away.
“Hey,” Natasha called out.
“Who’s your new girl?”
“You’ll know soon enough,” he answered, faking a bright grin.
“Well, I can’t wait to meet her—whoever she is,” Natasha said softly.
All he could do was smile, when what he wanted was to take Natasha in his arms and tell her that even after all these years, there was no one else but her. But, damn it, he couldn’t do that yet. When? He didn’t know.
And it seemed that his fear that it was already too late for him and Tash was all too real.
***End of Chapter One***
That’s all for today. You’ll get to read Chapter Two tomorrow 🙂 .
Until then, have a good day/evening!