I’m writing! Well, fixing… but it still counts. And if you’ve been waiting for the next book in the West Family Series and would like a sneak preview, here’s the prologue (which may or may not make the final cut):
Seventeen-year-old Lena West didn’t understand the question. It had something to do with Euler’s formula and complex z but beyond that, Lena had no clue. Groaning, she dropped her pen on top of her grid paper and put her palms to her eyes so that she couldn’t see the sweep of ocean beyond the screen door. Summer and school work never mixed well. Not when there was a beach a few metres from the house and a swell that had seen her older brother take to the water the minute they’d arrived home from school.
It wasn’t fair that Jared could do his maths homework in his head. It didn’t help that her two younger siblings were bona-fide geniuses – one evil and one not – and could have answered question six in under ten seconds. Fourteen-year-old Poppy – who was not evil – would have helped her had she been around, but Poppy had been seconded to the University of Queensland’s mathematical think tank and spent most of her time in Brisbane these days. Thirteen-year-old Damon wasn’t around to ask either. He was pulling yet another after-school detention – his theory being that if he was unruly enough and sneaky enough, he might just manage to avoid the land of secret-squirrel think thanks altogether. Lena applauded Damon’s initiative, even if she didn’t like his chances.
When you were that bright, people noticed.
Not that Lena had anything to worry about there.
Sighing, Lena opened her eyes and picked up her pen. Question six. There it was. Mocking her. One simple little question that everybody else in her freaky family could do in their sleep.
‘Moron,’ she grumbled.
‘Who is?’ said a deliciously deep voice from behind her and Lena nearly slipped her skin because she hadn’t heard anyone come in. She knew the voice though, and her scowl deepened as she turned to glare at Adrian Sinclair, their neighbour from two-doors-down and Jared’s best friend since kindergarten. ‘Don’t you knock?’ she asked grumpily and knew it for a stupid question even as it left her mouth. Adrian didn’t have to knock – he practically lived here.
‘Didn’t want to interrupt your thought flow.’
‘And yet, you did.’
Adrian’s grin kicked sideways. ‘You said “moron”. I thought you were talking to me.’
‘See what I mean?’
Hard not to smile right along with Adrian’s laughing brown eyes. ‘Smiling crooked will get you nowhere.’
‘That’s not always true. Jared around?’
‘Out there.’ Lena nodded towards the Pacific. It was still blue. It was still beckoning. Jared was heading out of the water, board in hand. ‘Why aren’t you out there with him?’
‘Thinking about it,’ said Adrian. ‘Why aren’t you?’
‘I have a mid-semester maths test tomorrow.’ Lena eyed him speculatively. Adrian had chosen the same school subjects that Jared had. Same subjects she’d chosen, give or take a language or two. He and Jared were a year ahead of her in school. ‘What do you know about Euler’s formula and complex planes?’
Adrian moved closer, edging in over her shoulder. ‘Which question’s giving you trouble?’
‘The bonus question? You know you can always leave it?’
‘How about we pretend that’s not an option.’ It wasn’t. Not in this household.
‘All right.’ Adrian reached for her text book and started flipping through it as if he actually knew what he was looking for. Long wrists. Big hands like paddles. Thick, strong fingers with callouses that came of hours spent para surfing. Lena had the insane urge to put her palm against his and take measure, note down exactly how warm and big and rough those hands of his were…
And then the text book thunked down on the table beside her, and Adrian’s chest brushed her shoulder as he pointed to a particular section of text, and… damn but it was getting hot in here.
‘You want a chair?’ she asked, the better to put some breathing distance between them.
‘Been sitting all day. M’good.’
Lena shifted restlessly and got a nose full of Adrian’s body-scent for her trouble. He smelled spicy clean, tantalisingly fine – and this after an afternoon of school sport. As if he’d taken the time to shower before heading over here, which made no sense at all given his tendency to end up in the ocean regardless.
‘So…’ he prompted, his voice gruffer than usual. ‘Question six.’
Right. Question six. Lena dragged her attention back to the matter at hand. No! Not the hands! Question six. ‘So I tried to find a—
‘What’s going on?’ said a voice from the patio doorway, and she knew every nuance of that voice too, no need to look up to know that Jared was standing in the doorway or that he’d be wearing a scowl.
She looked up anyway and met her brother’s narrowed gaze with curiosity. He had unruly black hair – a trait they shared, although hers was considerably longer and considerably more unruly. He had bluer eyes than she did because hers often tended towards grey in the right kind of light. They both had athletic builds. Lena had a yearning for curves, but it wasn’t going to happen. She had a scowl just like the one Jared was wearing. The family resemblance was strong.
‘What’s wrong with you? Not enough Jared West groupies on the beach?’ Jared was a wanted man as far as the girls around here were concerned. Most of those girls made friends with Lena in order to get closer to him, which wasn’t a problem except that Jared changed girlfriends with dazzling speed and not many of them stayed friends with Lena afterwards.
‘Their loss,’ Jared had told her when she’d whinged about her loss of friends, and while his curt words had soothed her ego, the fact remained that Lena was still appallingly low on company because of him. Jared had been more inclined to let her tag around with him after that, probably out of pity.
Lena could have done without the pity, but beggars couldn’t be choosers.
‘I said, what are you doing?’ repeated Jared, heavy on the ice.
‘Trig,’ said Lena, figuring a straight answer might appease him.
Jared’s gaze shifted to Adrian. ‘That what she’s calling you these days?’
Adrian held Jared’s bleak gaze with an enigmatic one of his own. ‘If something’s bothering you, J, spit it out.’
Jared’s gaze shifted between her and Adrian once more. Adrian straightened slowly and some message flashed between him and her brother that Lena didn’t have the cipher for.
‘You know the rules,’ said Jared curtly.
‘Do I know the rules?’ she asked. ‘What rules?’
‘He thought I was hitting on you,’ said Adrian, after another long and loaded silence. ‘It’s not encouraged.’
‘Excuse me?’ said Lena. There were two issues buried in that simple little statement, and while her mind shied away from the implication that Adrian might actually like her enough to hit on her, it had no trouble whatsoever grappling with the second. ‘Jared West, are you scaring away my potential boyfriends? Because it you are… and I find out you are…’ Lena narrowed her gaze. ‘Is this why Ty Chester didn’t ask me to the year eleven dance? Because he was going to—I know he was. And then he didn’t.’
‘Nah, that one was all you,’ said Jared. ‘He probably thought you were going to ask him hang gliding in return. I hear he’s scared of heights.’
‘And kittens,’ added Adrian. ‘Possibly his own shadow.’
‘Maybe I was after a refreshing change,’ she grumbled. ‘Maybe I wanted to see how the quiet, handsome half lived.’ Facts were facts. Ty Chester was uncommonly handsome. Nor would it have killed her to spend some time with people she hadn’t hero-worshipped since birth.
‘You’d have eaten him alive,’ said Jared.
‘Yes, that was the plan. Jared, I swear, if I ever catch you interfering in my love life I will make your love life a living hell. Yours too,’ she told Adrian for good measure.
‘Mine’s already a living hell,’ murmured Adrian and Jared snorted. More silent communication passed between them, effectively cutting her out of the loop. They did it all the time and most of the time it didn’t bother her. Today, it did.
‘Jesus, you two, get a room.’
‘Yeah, Trig,’ said Jared, darkly gleeful. ‘Let’s get a room.’
‘If we go surfing this afternoon, I’m going to drown you,’ said Trig, formerly known as Adrian.
Jared flipped him a friendly finger.
‘Is this foreplay?’ asked Lena. ‘Because if it is, can it happen elsewhere? I’m trying to concentrate on my homework here.’ A valid point as far as she was concerned. Unfortunately, it focussed Jared’s attention back on her books.
‘Since when do you need help with maths homework?’ he asked.
‘Since it got hard. What kind of idiot question is that?’
‘Seriously? You really can’t do basic trigonometry?’
‘This is why I don’t think I’m fully related to any of them,’ Lena told Adrian. ‘I’m the milkman’s baby.’
‘Yeah, baby, but you’ve got a lot of grit,’ offered Adrian. ‘Who cares if it takes you a fraction longer than the rest of them to figure out a trigonometry proof? You’ll still get there.’
‘Yeah, but not fast enough. And then they’ll disown me. That’s what happens to people who can’t keep up.’
‘Since when have you ever not kept up?’ This from Jared who’d never had to work to keep up with anything. He was always out front; always the leader. And Lena had always worked her butt off to make sure that she wasn’t that far behind.
It was costing her, though. More and more, she could feel the gap between what her siblings could do and what she could do widening. It was the curse of being an ordinary person in an extraordinary family.
‘Would you disown me if I did fall behind?’ she asked quietly.
And shocked Jared speechless.
Adrian was looking at her funny – as if he’d known all along that her insecurities were there but he couldn’t quite figure out why she was voicing them now. Lena didn’t know why she was voicing them now either. It was just a maths question.
‘Never mind,’ she said awkwardly.
‘You won’t fall behind.’ Jared had finally found his voice. ‘I won’t let you.’
He just didn’t get it. ‘But what if that’s where I’m meant to be? Water finding its own level, and all that?’
‘No,’ said Jared grimly. ‘The hell with that. That’s just defeatist.’
‘No one’s leaving anyone behind,’ said Adrian soothingly. ‘No one here’s defeated. Jared’s never going to disown you, Lena, that’s not something you ever need worry about. He’s insanely protective of you. Did you not just see him go caveman on my arse for daring to look at you sideways?’
‘Sure I did,’ said Lena. ‘But he’s protecting you, not me.’
‘Maybe I’m protecting you both,’ said Jared. ‘Anyone ever think of that?’
‘Over achiever,’ murmured Lena and Adrian nodded his agreement, and it made Lena laugh and broke the tension and she was all for it staying broken.
‘How about I start this conversation again,’ she offered.
‘Can you do it without the emo infusion?’ asked Jared.
‘You want the bare basics?’ She could do that. She pointed the pen at her chest. ‘Imbecile in need of a little help with her maths homework, before she can go surfing. I’m stuck on question six.’
Which was how Lena scored two maths tutors for the rest of the year and how Adrian Sinclair earned the nickname Trig.
Nothing to do with being trigger happy at all.
Even if he was.