By Kelly Rimmer
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Format:Trade Paperback $16.99 $22.99 CAD
Fans of Colleen Hoover and Mia Sheridan will fall hard for this New York Times bestselling author's stunning, unforgettable story of how love can break your heart—and heal it.
Callum Roberts isn’t looking for love when he sees a beautiful—and barefoot—woman on the local ferry. But as they banter over the waves, sparks fly, and Callum falls hard.
Little does he know that Lilah MacDonald has a secret, and she doesn’t plan on returning his feelings anytime soon. But Callum isn’t easy to resist, and soon, she can’t imagine life without him. Until it becomes impossible to keep the truth from him any longer, and Lilah is faced with a tough decision: let Callum go or hold on to him for what time she has left.
Soon, Callum and Lilah discover what it means to love—and what lengths they’ll go to keep it, even when it tears their world in two.
It was absolutely not love at first sight.
I saw a filthy bare foot out of the corner of my eye. I tried not to look, but facts are facts—bare feet in public places are inexcusable, and at that point I hadn't realised what the body the foot was attached to was like. I'm sure I grimaced, but I did try to keep my eyes on the laptop I was working on. Evidently I failed because she caught me staring.
'My eyes are up here,' she said, but she sounded amused and I glanced up to see if I'd misread the tone.
That's how we made eye contact. And that's when I fell in love with her—so maybe it was actually love at second sight.
Lilah was all kinds of wonderful, in ways words could never quite capture. She was barely five feet tall and so skinny it seemed she'd break if you held her too tightly. That day, her deep auburn hair was in a glossy bun without a single flyaway and I remember thinking of the joke I'd heard about corporate types thinking hair that moved was a sign of weakness. Lilah somehow knew how to wear a plum suit with chunky wooden accessories and still appear flawlessly professional.
There was something so wrong with the polished top half of her image juxtaposing the homeless-esque foot situation. Although I was embarrassed to have been caught staring, I just had to ask.
'Why aren't you wearing shoes?'
'Listen, buddy. I stood for eight hours today. In stilettos,' she informed me. She gave the women around her a can you believe this guy? glance.
'That's no reason to be barefoot now. Anyway, if you'd worn more sensible shoes, you would still have clean feet.'
'Oh, so that's the answer.' The sarcasm was softened by a laugh. 'Tomorrow when I walk into court and the judge asks me why I'm wearing my runners, I'll tell him some guy on a ferry told me to.'
'One of the many, many things that completely baffle me about women is what you'll put yourselves through for rules that only women care about.' I'd had the argument with nearly every woman I knew at some point. It never ended well.
'Rules only women care about?! I once got fired because I refused to wear make-up to work,' the woman beside Lilah chimed in. Almost before she'd finished the sentence, Lilah had passed her a business card.
'You should call my firm. We can help you with that,' she said, but her attention was back to me in an instant. 'Are you seriously suggesting to me that the reason women dress professionally for work is to impress other women?'
'I'm all for professionalism. You can see I'm wearing a suit, and I do every day I'm in the office. But if someone suggested to me directly or indirectly that I had to wear nipple clamps to get ahead in my career, I'd see through it. If your shoes hurt your feet, wear less elaborate shoes. Simple.'
It was at this point, possibly belatedly, that I realised I had about ten sets of angry female eyes pointed in my direction. I twisted my neck to see how far away Manly Wharf was.
'Thinking about swimming away from the argument?' Lilah asked.
'I know I can't win. Men aren't allowed to challenge the institution of womanhood.'
'Mate, if you're going to challenge the institution of womanhood,' the man beside me muttered, 'don't do it on a boat at sea against a lawyer who just spent eight hours standing in high heels.'
'Wise words,' Lilah agreed.
'I'm not wanting to be argumentative,' I said, although clearly I was. 'I genuinely don't understand why women feel they have to put themselves through pain to look good. You're a beautiful lady, Miss...?'
'Ms.—and it's none of your business.'
'Ms. None of My Business,' I repeated. 'You'd be equally as beautiful and professional in a pair of flat leather shoes as you were today in your stilettos.'
'Thank you for your kind, if somewhat patronising, words.'
The interaction was probably drawing to a close, but there was no way I was going to get off that ferry without finding out who she was. I had been waiting a very long time to feel as fascinated by someone as I was by this mysterious lawyer, even with her filthy bare feet.
'And what area of law do you practise in?'
'Oh.' I'd done a few law subjects at uni, but it felt like centuries ago, rather than decades. 'Corporate?'
I looked at her again. Something about her outfit suggested she fit ever-so-slightly out of the ordinary corporate grind.
'Ah. It's got to be family law.'
'No!' She laughed again. Her laugh was delicate and musical—exactly the sound you'd think a woman as beautiful as Lilah should make when she laughed.
'What other areas are there?'
'Only the most important and dynamic.'
She looked at me suspiciously.
'Are you in the entertainment industry, sir?'
It was my turn to laugh.
'Even worse. I can see that, with that capitalist head on your shoulders, you're not even going to spare a thought for the planet that supports you. Typical.'
The penny dropped.
'You're an environmental lawyer, out to save the world.'
'Sorry to be obtuse. I just thought environmental lawyers wore hemp T-shirts and had dreadlocks, but now that you mention it, the bare feet should have given it away.'
'I can't help but wonder…' she said, but stopped midsentence as if she'd thought better of whatever she was about to say. In hindsight, knowing Lilah, it was probably a ploy to test my interest level, rather than an actual hesitation.
'Yes?' I prompted. The truth was, I was hanging on her every syllable.
'Oh, nothing.' She flashed me a smile and my cliché of a stomach did a flip-flop. 'Just wondering how you're going to turn this banter on its head and ask me out for dinner.'
'I was just wondering if he was going to make you go home and put sensible shoes on first,' the lady next to her laughed.
'I'm wondering if you should invite the rest of us as backup—I think you might be outwitted,' the man beside me said under his breath. There was general chuckling from the area around us, but Lilah and I had locked gazes, and the sound washed over me like the canned laughter of a sitcom.
'Tonight?' I asked.
'I don't go on dates with marketing guys.' Her tone was playful and I knew she would.
'I have an herb garden on my kitchen windowsill.' It was a total lie, of course—I didn't even have a window sill at that point, given that I'd torn out most of the kitchen during a renovation I'd never quite gotten around to finishing. It didn't matter—my desperate pitch inspired further laughter from our audience, and Lilah grinned at me.
'Oh, well, in that case…'
We stepped off the ferry together, as the crowd began dissipating into the mild Manly twilight. Lilah had an oversized handbag on her shoulder that I could see held a laptop, and I had several hours' work that I had planned to finish before morning. I didn't believe in destiny—I still don't—but somehow I knew to pay attention to the moment, as if I had just started a once-in-a-lifetime journey.
'So, you're an evil marketing genius,' she prompted. We were waiting to cross the road to the Manly Corso and the late peak-hour traffic was still heavy.
'Something like that. I did spend today planning ways to trick children into buying poison.'
'Lace it with sugar.'
'We've been doing that for years. My new technique is to lace it with sugar and cocaine—I'm always thinking of new ways to keep them addicted.'
The joke fell a little flat. She gave me half a smile out of pity.
'Why anything?' I shrugged. 'I like the challenge of changing people's minds.'
The light turned amber and the flow of traffic slowed, then stopped. We surged forward automatically with the crowd to the Corso, because that's what people in Manly seemed to do. The Corso was lined with stores and restaurants, and the other end of the street opened up literally on the sand. Day or night, summer or winter, there was always a stream of bodies being funnelled along the Corso, drawn by the pull of the beach.
'Did you fit these torturous stilettos into that handbag somewhere?' I asked. I was hesitant to mention her bare feet again, but I couldn't imagine any restaurateur being pleased with a barefoot patron, even though we were only a few hundred metres from the ocean.
'Nope, they're safely under my desk at work, resting up preparing for more torture tomorrow. How about I show you my favourite place?' she suggested. Then, reading my mind, 'There are places in Manly that don't mind that I'm a filthy hippy.'
'You run around barefoot often enough to know that?' I asked.
'Life is too short to be uncomfortable. If my feet hurt, I take my shoes off. If my bun annoys me, I pull it out. Which reminds me.'
She stepped against the shop to her right and passed me the oversized handbag, which I took mutely. It felt a little bit like she was so magical that any move she made was going to startle and amaze me, and my senses were on high alert. I watched as she removed several pins from her bun and unwound her hair down past her shoulders. It sprang and bounced with the movement of her hands and fell near her waist. The tight bun had shaped it into loose waves. She shook her head to loosen it further and then smiled at me. 'That's better.'
I still wish I could have stopped at that very moment and taken a photo of her on my phone. Darkness was falling and the artificial glow of the shop we stood beside illuminated the shroud-like fall of her hair. Her blue eyes sparkled like the ocean off Manly on a sunny day and a soft smile was on her lips. I amused her.
'Ready?' she prompted. Had I been staring? I wasn't sure. The whole encounter was beginning to feel surreal. A fleeting thought breezed past my consciousness. Had I ever fallen in love? Was this what it felt like?
'Let's go,' I said. I was achingly conscious of the pounding of my own blood in my ears. As I turned away from her to continue our walk towards the beach, she laughed again.
'My handbag really suits you. Do you think sometime soon we should swap names?'
I passed her back her handbag and hoped she didn't notice the warm flush creeping up my neck.
'I'm Callum. Callum Roberts.'
'Well, hi, Callum-who-lets-barefoot-strangers-pick-him-up-on-the-ferry,' she grinned. 'I'm Lilah Owens.'
'I picked you up,' I protested.
She grinned again. 'Sure you did. Whatever makes you feel comfortable.'
Lilah. The name seemed perfect for her. I tried it on in my mind—Lilah Roberts—then mentally shook myself, horrified. I didn't want to get married, ever; it wasn't in the game plan. My parents had taught me a lot of things about love and marriage—the most important lesson being that those things were not for me.
'Where are we going?' I asked, to distract myself from the uncomfortable train of thought my mind had taken. I had a sudden urge to take charge. I'd been everywhere worth eating at in Manly, and I tried to figure out somewhere suitable. It needed to be informal because of the feet situation, but romantic—dim lighting? A decent wine list? Some mood music perhaps? 'Turners?'
'Eww,' she grimaced, clearly not impressed with my suggestion of the reputed best gourmet restaurant in the suburb. 'No, we're going to Giovanni On the Seaside.'
'The pizza place?' I was confused. We'd crossed the road and were walking side by side along the Corso now, towards the beachside road that housed Giovanni On the Seaside. It was a casual pizza place, with outdated décor, a low price menu and only a few tables—most of the business was takeaway.
'Not highbrow enough for you?' She was teasing me—or maybe testing me.
'It's absolutely fine.' It was also kind of near my apartment, which seemed a bonus. 'I didn't pick you for a pizza girl.' Mainly because she looked like she'd never eaten a mouthful of junk food in her life.
'Doesn't everyone love pizza?'
'I suppose they do. What's the case you're working on?'
'Well, today I was in court, trying to get an injunction granted to stop the development of a new mine.'
'Why is the mine a bad thing?'
'Most mines are bad things.' Anyone else using that tone would have seemed arrogant. Lilah just seemed confident. 'This one is supposed to sit just beyond a national park. There are three endangered species with habitats within a few kilometres of the site. It's just too risky.'
'Will you win?'
Good thing I wasn't the judge. I'd never have a hope in hell of concentrating on detail if she was arguing before me.
'And what do you do in your spare time, Captain Planet?'
'I cook a little. But mostly, I knit.'
I couldn't tell if she was joking or not.
'Booties, mostly. For the babies I'm going to have.'
'I'll bet you have a nursery set up and everything.'
'Two, in case I have twins.'
'Are you going to deflect every question I ask you?'
'Are you going to ask me stupid first-date questions all night?'
'If you were stuck on a desert island, what three things would you take?'
'A GPS, a satellite phone and my laptop.'
I could smell the ocean, and the hint of pizza on the breeze. Giovanni On the Seaside was there before us, but suddenly I was hesitant. As Lilah moved to step inside, I gently caught her by the elbow and turned her back towards me. She raised an eyebrow.
'I'm not sure I can take you to this casual little pizza place for our first date.'
'And why is that?'
'I think you deserve better.'
'Well, aren't you sweet?' The bravado actually softened a little bit and she gave me her first genuine smile of the night. 'But trust me, Callum, I'm a fussy eater, and there's a dish here I just adore.'
The gentle breeze stirred her hair, and a lock fell over her eye. I reached down and tucked it behind her ear and saw her swallow. It was a strange chemistry that hummed between us—uncomfortably intense, but somehow innocent and pure in spite of the river of sexual undertone. I wanted to kiss her already, and I knew she wanted me to. For the first time in my entire life though, I wanted to savour every second and prolong each step of the journey.
'Sounds like a meal I can't afford to miss.'
The cheeky grin was back, and the moment ended. Lilah pulled away and stepped inside.
The restaurant was half empty but the menu was packed. I'd been there before but hadn't found any particular dish worth braving the exhaustive menu for. Lilah knew exactly what she wanted though.
'The vegan thin crust, please.'
'It means no meat, no egg, no dairy. No animal products at all,' the helpful waiter informed me. I was genuinely confused.
'How does that work in a pizza?'
'Cashew cheese is bloody amazing,' Lilah informed me.
'Cashew cheese?' I winced. 'How is that even a thing?'
'I think we better share the large vegan thin crust,' Lilah said, taking my menu from me.
'But I was going to order the extra meaty meat lovers, with extra meat, and a side of meat.'
Her gaze challenged me.
'I'm not an evangelistic vegan by any means. But if you've never even heard of cashew cheese, don't you think the least you should do is give it a chance?'
She could have suggested we share a plate of dirt and, with a flutter of those eyelashes, I'd have asked for a sprinkling of gravel on top.
'I can always swing by the steakhouse shop on the way home,' I muttered.
'So, you aren't above flirting with a stranger in public but you are scared of a meal without a dead animal in it.'
'Multiple dead animals. I'm an overachiever.'
'You live near here?'
'My apartment is back a few blocks.'
In other circumstances, I'd surely have missed the subtle way her eyebrows rose or the gentle curve of her lips. She was thinking about coming home with me. We locked gazes again for just a moment before she corrected her posture and tossed her hair away from her face.
'I love Manly,' she said. 'I love the scent of the ocean on the night air, the delight on the backpackers' faces when they get off the bus, and most of all, the fact that the CBD is in another universe.'
'I actually have a very unhealthy love affair with Sydney itself,' I admitted. 'I lived in the CBD until last year. The energy fuels me.' More than that; the energy had fuelled my creativity, and I felt somehow that it was the city that had inspired me to work as hard as I had over the years. The city, and the feeling that my career really was the sum total of my life's worth, so I had better make it count.
'So why did you move?'
'I started to suspect that you can't be on all of the time,' I said. 'It was wearing me thin, the constant bustle. I didn't want to move too far away, and the idea of jogging on the beach before work then catching a lazy ferry across the harbour was enticing.'
'Do you jog on the beach before work?'
'Not as often as I thought I would.'
'And you catch the fast ferry.'
'If you can afford to buy property in Manly, you don't have time to catch the slow ferry,' I sighed.
'That's very sad—but I suppose it's true.'
I'd never understood what it was like to be so enchanted by someone that I could genuinely not tear my gaze from them. I'm sure I'm an appalling listener—I'm invariably self-absorbed, a reality I'm sure my many exes would attest to. But with Lilah, I didn't want to miss a word.
'I inherited my grandmother's house when she passed away,' she said quietly. 'I went into commercial law first, made a bucketload of money, and thought I could quell my do-gooder leanings with some half-arsed tending to the enormous garden my grandparents cultivated when they were alive. It's a few acres of fruit trees, right near the ocean at Gosford, the most beautiful place I've ever been—but within a few months I'd just about destroyed it.' She laughed. 'I had no bloody idea what I was doing, but the very idea had just seemed so… romantic.'
'Reality versus expectation,' I surmised.
'Exactly. Now the older couple across the road tend the orchard, and they've planted a substantial market garden too, and in exchange for caring for it properly for me they sell the produce at farmers' markets on the weekends. And I visit every now and again and gorge myself on fresh fruit and veg. The only way the dream worked was to let go of the expectation.'
'I think that's what I've done with my Manly move, actually.' I surprised myself with the depth of the realisation even as I said the words. 'It is what it is. Even if it's not the leisurely life I'd imagined, that's okay.'
'Did you grow up in the city?' she asked.
'Cronulla. How about you?'
'Oh, we lived all over the place.'
'Do you have family in Sydney now?'
'Mum has a place at Gosford. Dad passed away a while ago.'
'I'm sorry,' I hesitated. 'My parents are both gone too.'
'I have a theory that even if you are ninety when your parent dies, it must still make you feel like a child all over again.'
'I think you're right.' I hated—still hate—talking about my parents' deaths, especially to women, and most of all to women I was interested in. It was just such a tale of wonder and love, and they always got this miserable look of longing on their faces. By the time I reached the depressing end of the tale, I either felt like I was breaking their hearts or that they'd missed the point and only saw it as entirely romantic, which annoyed me even more.
'Have yours been gone for long?' she asked.
'It's a bit of a long story.' I wasn't fobbing her off, not exactly. This just wasn't the sort of tone I wanted to set for the meal. Before I could figure out how to change the subject, she rested her elbow on the table, her chin on the back of her hand, and she flashed me a soft smile.
'I'm not in any rush.'
Maybe three times I'd talked about my parents with women I'd been seeing, and maybe three times I'd walked away from the conversation feeling irritated. Once upon a time I'd asked out a woman I met at the gym, and when the conversation turned around to our parents and I told her about mine, she'd actually cried. I'd wrapped up dinner early and gone home alone. I remember resisting the urge to snap at her, to point out what should have been obvious—there was no happy ending to the tale.
I suspected Lilah might have a different reaction to the story—I'm not sure why, maybe it was an instinct. I started talking about it before I even decided to.
'Mum was American. She and Dad met in New York. He was twenty-one, and a few years into his career as a journalist. He took an extended break to go looking for adventure, and somehow he wound up over there. They bumped into each other in a supermarket, the canned vegetable aisle I believe, and were inseparable from that moment on. Mum used to say that they literally didn't have a moment apart until he went back to work a few months later. She followed him back here, they were married within a few weeks, set up a house and just generally got on with being blissfully happy.'
'A fairy tale.' Lilah didn't look impressed. 'Where's the wicked witch? There's always a wicked witch.'
'A hippy and a realist. I like it.'
'I want to be optimistic and believe in the good of the human race, but the reality is, as a species, we suck. So where did it sour. Divorce? Infidelity?'
'Oh no, they really were blissfully happy for forty years. I was born, my twin brothers, numerous cherished dogs and cats came and went, they bought and paid off their home, took fabulous holidays quite regularly and flourished in their careers until they retired at a sensible time—and, worst of all, I never once saw them speak a single disrespectful word to one another. It was an unbelievably stable family—I had literally only had one bedroom until I moved out when I went to uni.'
'What a frightful fucking childhood.' She raised an eyebrow at me. 'You poor thing.'
'Don't worry, it did sour.' It always felt like a thunderstorm rolling in, remembering the loss. I tried to keep it light. 'Mum died of a stroke, very suddenly when she was sixty. She was as fit as an ox, and then a minute later, she was gone. A week later, Dad dropped dead too. They said it was a heart attack.'
'But you know it wasn't.'
Her words caught me by surprise.
'Yeah, I know it wasn't. There was nothing suspicious about his death—he just stopped living. They'd built their whole lives around each other—when Mum went, Dad had nothing left. Hell, I'm surprised he lasted a week. That's the problem with fairy-tale love—and there's your wicked witch. True love is just a synonym for desperate dependency.'
'I don't even believe in true love—what utter bullshit that concept is. And your story isn't sour—it's beautiful. They had forty years of happiness, and a great life together. Your mum went quickly, and your dad subconsciously chose to follow. I'm sure it was horrendous to lose them both like that, but at the end of the day, just like your move to Manly, it is what it is. Besides which, you and your brothers are the product of their relationship, so in a sense, their union lives on.'
- "Fans of Jodi Picoult and Kristin Hannah now have a new go-to author."—Sally Hepworth, New York Times bestselling author
- "Kelly Rimmer always delivers a poignant story with real characters who lodge themselves in your heart."—Madeline Martin, New York Times bestselling author
- On Sale
- Oct 10, 2023
- Page Count
- 352 pages