Archer Flett brandished his number-one-selling surfboard wax at his younger brother, Travis, who grinned and snatched the wax out of his hand.
'Resist all you like, bro, you know you're fighting a losing battle.' Trav smirked and rubbed a spot he'd missed on his prized board.
When it came to his family it always felt as if Archer was fighting a losing battle.
Despite making inroads with his brothers Tom and Trav, nothing had changed with his parents over the yearshis dad in particular. That was why coming home for his yearly obligatory Christmas visit set him on edge. And why he rarely stuck around more than a few days.
This year would be no exception, despite Travis turning into a romantic schmuck.
'What were you thinking?' Archer stuck his board vertically in the sand and leaned on it. 'A Christmas wedding? Could you get any cheesier?'
His brother's eyes glazed over and Archer braced for some more claptrap involving his fiancée. 'Shelly wanted to be a Christmas bride and we saw no point in waiting.'
Archer placed his thumb in the middle of Trav's forehead and pushed. 'You're under this already. You know that, right?'
'We're in love.'
As if that excused his brother's sappy behaviour.
The Fletts were third-generation Torquay inhabitants, so he could just imagine the shindig his parents would throw for the wedding. The entire town would turn up.
Christmas and a wedding at home. A combination guaranteed to make him run as soon as the cake had been cut.
'You're too young to get married.' Archer glared at the sibling who'd tagged after him for years, pestering him to surf.
He'd spent the bulk of the last eight years away from home and in that time Travis had morphed from gangly kid to lean and mean. Heavy on the lean, light on the mean. Trav didn't have a nasty bone in his body, and the fact he was marrying at twenty-two didn't surprise Archer.
Trav was a marshmallow, and while Shelly seemed like a nice girl he couldn't imagine anything worse than being shackled to one person at such a young age.
Hell, at twenty-two he 'd been travelling the world, surfing the hotspots, dating extensively and trying to put his folks' deception out of his mind.
A memory he'd long suppressed shimmered into his subconscious. South coast of Italy. Capri. Long hot nights filled with laughter and passion and heat.
Annoyingly, whenever anyone he knew was loco enough to tie the knot his mind drifted to Callie.
'So who're you bringing to the wedding?' Travis wrinkled his nose. 'Another of those high-maintenance city chicks you always bring home at Christmas?'
Archer chose those dates for a reason: women who demanded all his attention, so he didn't have time left over to spend one-on-one with his folks.
He'd honed avoidance to an art, ensuring he didn't say things he might regret. Like why the hell they hadn't trusted him to rally around all those years ago.
He wasn't the flighty, carefree surfer dude they'd assumed him to be and he'd prove it this trip. He hoped the surf school he'd developed would show them the type of guy he wasthe type of guy he wanted to be.
'Leave my date to me.' He wriggled his board out of the sand and tucked it under his arm. 'Planning on standing here all day, gossiping like an old woman? Or are you going to back up some of your big talk by showing me a few moves out there?'
Trav cocked his thumb and forefinger and fired at him. 'I'm going to surf your show-pony ass into oblivion.'
'Like to see you try, pretty boy.'
Archer took off at a run, enjoying the hot sand beneath his feet, the wind buffeting his face, before he hit the water's edge. He lay prone on his board, the icy chill of Bell's Beach washing over him as the lure of the waves took hold. He'd never felt so alive. When he was in the ocean he came home.
The ocean was reliable and constanttwo things he valued. Two things his parents didn't credit him as being.
He paddled harder, wishing he could leave the demons of his past behind, knowing he should confront them over the next few days.
He'd made amends with his brothers four years ago, at a time when Tom had needed his support. His relationship with his mum had thawed too, considering he didn't blame her for what happened; she'd do anything for Frank.
But things were still rough with his dad. He'd wanted to make peace many times but a healthy dose of pride, an enforced physical distance and the passing of time had put paid to that fantasy.
He'd tried making small efforts to broach the distance between them, but the residual awkwardness lingered, reinforcing his choice to stay away.
Maybe, if he was lucky, this visit home would be different.
Callie went into overdrive as an Argentinian tango blared from her surround sound.
She bounced around her lounge room, swivelling her hips and striding across the floor with arm extended and head tilted, a fake rose between her teeth.
She'd cleaned her apartment for the last two hours, increasing the volume of the music as her scrubbing, polishing and vacuuming frenzy did little to obliterate what she'd confront this afternoon.
A face-to-face meeting with her number one client.
The client her beloved CJU Designs couldn't afford to lose.
The client who might well fire her lying butt when he discovered her identity.
Archer Flett didn't do commitment. He'd made that perfectly clear in Capri eight years ago. So how would he feel when he learned he'd committed his new mega campaign to a woman he'd deliberately walked away from because they'd been getting too close.
She stubbed her toe on a wrought-iron table and swore, kicking the ornate leg again for good measure.
She was furious with herself for not confronting this issue sooner. What had she expected? Never to cross paths with Archer physically again?
Yep, that was exactly what she'd expected.
It had been three years since she'd tendered for the lucrative Torquay Tan account, completely unaware the company was owned and run by the surf world's golden boy.
It had come as a double surprise discovering the laid-back charmer she'd met eight years ago had the business nous to own a mega corporation, let alone run it. It looked as if the guy she'd once been foolish enough to fall for was full of surprises.
Now she had a chance to take on her biggest account yet: the launch of Archer's surf school in Torquay, his home town. To do it she had to meet with the man himself.
She should have bowed out gracefully, been content to be his online marketing manager for lesser accounts.
But she needed the money. Desperately.
Her mum depended on her.
The music swelled, filling her head with memories and her heart with longing. She loved the passion of Latin American musicthe distinct rhythms, the sultry songs.
They reminded her of a time gone by. A time when she'd danced all night with the stars overhead and the sand under her feet. A time when she'd existed on rich pasta and cheap Chianti and whispered words of her first love.
The music faded, along with the sentimental rubbish infiltrating her long-established common sense.
These days she didn't waste time reminiscing. She'd given up on great loves and foolish dreams.
Watching her mum go through hell had seen to that.
She was like her hot-blooded Italian father, apparently: they shared starry-eyed optimism, their impulsiveness, their passion for food and fashion and flirting. She'd considered those admirable qualities until she'd witnessed first-hand what happened when impulsive passions turned sourher dad's selfishness knew no bounds.
And just like that she'd given up on being like her dad. She didn't give in to grand passion or fall foolhardily in love. Not any more.
Sure, she dated. She liked it. Just not enough to let anyone get too close.
As close as Archer had once been.
'Damn Archer Flett,' she muttered, kicking the table a third time for good measure.
Housework might not have worked off steam but she'd do the next best thing to prepare for this meeting.
Choose a killer business suit, blow-dry her hair and apply immaculate make-up.
Time to show Mr Hot Surfer Dude he didn't affect her after all these years.
Not much anyway.
The tiny hole-in-the-wall office of CJU Designs didn't surprise Archer. Tech geeks didn't need much space.
What did surprise him were the profuse splashes of colour adorning the walls. Slashes of magenta and crimson and turquoise against white block canvases drew his eye and brightened an otherwise nondescript space.
Small glass-topped desk, ergonomic chair, hardbacked wooden guest chair opposite. Exceedingly dullexcept for that startling colour.
Almost as if the computer geek was trying to break out of a mould, trying to prove something to herself and her clients.
Well, all CJ had to prove to him was that she could handle the mega-launch he had planned for his pet project and she could hang the moon on her wall for all he cared.
He glanced around for a picture. Not for the first time he was curious about his online marketing manager.
He'd internet-searched CJU Designs extensively before hiring their services and had come up with nothing but positive PR and high praise from clients, including many sportspeople.
So he'd hired CJ, beyond impressed with her work. Crisp, clear, punctual, she always delivered on time, creating the perfect slogans, pitches and launches for any product he'd put his name to.
Trailing a finger along the dust-free desk, he wondered how she'd cope with a campaign of this size. Launching the first Flett Surf School for teens had to succeed. It was a prototype for what he planned in th...