Seducing Phoebe - Book cover

Seducing Phoebe

Nicole Flockton

Chapter 2

“Are you telling me you’re having an affair? That you’ve been cheating on me?” He asked the questions so quietly. She’d expected an explosion to come out of him; she wouldn’t have blamed him if he had torn her to shreds. But an unnatural calmness seemed to have taken hold of him. Just like in the restaurant, he showed no emotion. It was more frightening than the explosion she’d expected. At least she could deal with anger.

“No, nothing like that.”

“Well, what is it exactly? You say that there’s someone else, but you’re not having an affair.”

“It’s complicated.” Oh God, could she sound any lamer? She usually had a comeback for everything. Tonight she was acting like a waffling wallflower. “I’m not seeing anyone, but someone from my past has come back.”

She could see the wheels turning in his mind, processing what she was telling him. He was a successful architect; he hadn’t gotten that way by not being able to understand what the client was trying to say and then bring their vision to life. Marco knew all about her past with John; he’d seen them together before, at Alex and Sophie’s large wedding, the one that had taken place after their quiet civil ceremony.

On her second date with Marco, she’d blurted out how John had dumped her and run from her as if his heels were on fire. So many people had warned her John was a player, and she had been so confident that she would be able to keep their relationship casual. A bit of fun where real emotions didn’t get involved. But after seeing Sophie and Alex fall in love, she’d convinced herself that the same thing could happen to her and John. Yeah, she’d been totally wrong there.

“Are you telling me that you’re calling off our wedding for the sake of John Allen?

The same man who all but used you? I didn’t expect you to be so short-sighted, Phoebe.”

Hearing the words from Marco made her sound like she was too stupid to live. That she would willingly risk a guaranteed future with a man who would provide for her and make her feel secure, for the unknown with a man who’d already run—without a backward glance—when another opportunity had presented itself to him.

A part of her still wondered if there was more to John’s recent declaration; if she was just a convenient warm body in his life and bed until he found his next adventure, something more exciting than a future with her, to move on to. She knew she had to stop ignoring him. She had to decide once and for all what she wanted from her life, whether she wanted a future with Marco, or to try again with John. But she couldn’t make that decision while engaged to Marco—it wouldn’t be fair. By making a clean break she would have the space to think, and perhaps she could meet up with John again. Talk to him. See if there was still something between them.

No! Breaking up with Marco is the worst thing you could do, a little voice inside of her head said. ~John’s dumped you once; he could do it again with no qualms. Marco would never hurt you. He cherishes you.~

She told the voice to shut up. That was the little part of her who still believed in fairy- tale romances and love. She couldn’t trust that voice.

“It’s not like that,” she said, responding to Marco’s question about her leaving him for John.

“Well then, what is it like?” He paused. “Oh, I get it, he told you he loved you and had made a mistake.”

Phoebe was grateful Marco couldn’t see her face. She could feel the heat rising from the base of her neck to the top of her head. She knew deep down she was being silly to believe what John was saying. But his return brought the doubts she hadn’t realized were inside of her to the surface. She had thought she could have a marriage based on companionship; now she wasn’t too sure. She wanted what Sophie and Alex, and her other friend Dawn, who had just fallen in love with her former sweetheart Andrew, had. That once-in-a-lifetime type of love which Hollywood turned into blockbuster movies. You only had to look at those two couples to know that any one of them would do anything for the other person. She wanted that, and she wasn’t sure she was going to receive it with Marco.

Dedication, respect, and affection? Yes.

Love? No.

Forever? Maybe, maybe not.

“It doesn’t matter what he may or may not have said. What matters is that right at this moment, I think marrying you would be a mistake.”

“Why? Why is marrying me such a mistake when, until John Allen turned up again, you were keen to marry me?”

She sighed. This was getting harder and harder. “Marco, you asked me to marry you after we’d had the most amazing sex. I was as caught up as you and said yes, and then everything snowballed. John coming back has made me look at our relationship. What if we’re confusing lust with something more meaningful? What if six months down the track you grow tired of me?”

“That won’t happen. I will never tire of you.”

He said the words so confidently she wished she felt the same way.

When in doubt, don’t. One of Mrs. White’s adages floated across her mind. She grabbed at it and clung on. She couldn’t in good conscience go into a marriage with doubts. She needed to have a clear mind. She knew she could be throwing away the best thing that ever happened to her, but somehow she didn’t think she was. Somehow she knew she would come out of this a better person.

“It wouldn’t be fair to enter into a marriage with you while I have these doubts.” Phoebe reached for the beautiful diamond ring that encircled her finger. She twisted it off and held it in her hand, giving it one last look. It hurt, but giving it back was the right thing to do. “I’m sorry, Marco, but you need to take this back.” She extended her arm, willing him to reach out and take it from her. But he made no move, other than to stick his hands in his pants pockets.

They stood there like that, not saying anything, for a few moments. She couldn’t stand it any longer, so she took a step forward, reached out, and slipped the ring into the top pocket of his jacket. “There’s nothing more to say. Will you take me home now? Please.”

He gave a short nod and started towards his car. He’d taken two steps before he stopped under the glow of a streetlight and turned to look at her. For the first time since she’d blurted out that she wanted to break off their engagement at the restaurant, emotion showed on his face. The power of it hit her in the stomach. He looked haunted, and her heart wept at the knowledge that she’d caused him so much pain.

“Just answer me this one thing,” he said. “Have you seen him? Spoken to him?”

“Yes,” she whispered, unable to lie to him.

“It was the day I didn’t meet you for lunch, wasn’t it?” She nodded, her throat tight, no words able to push past it. “Will you make arrangements to see him now?”

There was a world of pain in those words. “I don’t know.” She gave a short shrug of her shoulders. “I’m not sure what I’m going to do. I may go away somewhere. Some place where I can think and sort out what I want.”

Marco didn’t say anything else, just walked to his car. Phoebe followed a few paces behind, wondering what the hell she was going to do and, if she went away, where she was going to stay.

The drive back to her place passed in a tense silence. She was eternally grateful when Marco finally pulled up to her house. She released her seatbelt and twisted to look at him.

“You don’t have to walk me to the door.” The last thing she wanted was to prolong the pain for him, and for her.

“Yes I do.” His tone brokered no argument, so she waited as he got out of the car and opened the door for her. He was always a gentleman. It had taken a while to get used to that sort of action. None of her dates had ever opened her door for her, not even John.

She got out of the car and tried not to shiver as Marco’s hand touched the small of her back. She fumbled in her bag for her keys. When they reached her front door, she unlocked and opened it, she didn’t know what to do. It seemed silly to hold her hand out for a handshake. Secretly, she wanted one last kiss. One last taste. One last touch. As if he read her mind he leaned in and placed the softest of soft kisses on her mouth. For endless moments they stood there, only their lips touching, as they gently tasted each other. It was like the sweetest goodbye. When they broke apart, she felt breathless.

“This is not over, Phoebe. Not by a long shot.”

He gave her no chance to counter what he said. He turned and headed back down the path. She watched, wondering if he’d turn around for one last look, her heart aching with every foot of distance that grew between them. He didn’t turn back, he got into his car and started it.

I’m doing the right thing. I’m doing the right thing. ~I’m doing the right thing.~

If she chanted it often enough, maybe she could convince herself it was true. But right at that moment her thoughts were jumbled and she hated it. All her life she’d known the right decisions to make—she’d had to if she’d wanted to survive. She knew what to do at her job—how to make the patients forget their injuries for a few minutes. She’d used her humor not only to help them, but also to boost her confidence. She liked the buzz she received when people appreciated her light-heartedness. Yet, when it came to her love life, she’d realized that life wasn’t a party.

How many times in her life had it been proven to her that love hurt? That you couldn’t rely on love to keep people by your side. She’d be better off remaining single.

Phoebe went to close her door when she realized that Marco had gone and she was staring into space.

“Don’t close it yet.”

She let out a little scream, clutching her keys against her chest. A figure walked out of the shadows and stepped onto her path.

“Stop, don’t come any closer.” She held out her hand as if trying to ward off a bad spirit from entering her house. But it wasn’t a bad spirit—it was John, the man who was causing all her turmoil, standing in front of her. She could see the devil-may-care attitude about him—the same attitude that had lured her in the first time.

“Aww come on, Phoebs, let me in,” he said with a grin that at one time had her hanging onto his every word. Her heart gave a little stutter in response, before picking up its regular beat. Suddenly he didn’t seem to be as special as she remembered.

“What do you want, John?”

“I just want to talk.” He took a couple of steps closer. “Please, you owe me that much.

Didn’t you get my flowers and card with my invitation? We were supposed to meet up tonight.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t owe you anything,” she said, unexpected anger starting to build up inside of her. If she should be angry with anyone, it should be herself for what she’d done that evening. “Yes I got the flowers and invite, but I had dinner plans already. And I also happened to think the idea sucked. You should leave now.”

“You broke off your engagement, didn’t you?” His self-assured question came out of the blue. “Was it because of me?”

“I don’t think that’s any of your business,” she said after a moment. “Besides, what makes you think I’ve broken my engagement?”

“Let’s see.” Smugness colored his voice as he tapped his finger against his temple. “You’re not wearing your engagement ring, and your fiancé left here in a mighty big hurry and his last words to you were It’s not over.”

Phoebe tried to keep the shock off her face. It was creepy that he knew so much. He had to have been watching her and Marco together. Her earlier thoughts of him stalking her returned. “It doesn’t matter what you think you know. Your opinion doesn’t concern me.”

“I think you’re protesting too much.” He went to touch her cheek but she took a step back, effectively putting her out of his reach. “Are you going to invite me in now that you’re a single woman again? We can pick up where we left off.”

Phoebe looked at the man standing in front of her. How on earth had she ever been attracted to him? It was like he was a completely different person than the person he’d been when they had been dating. And the person that had sat down at her table two weeks ago. Maybe this was the real John—and if it was, she didn’t want to have anything to do with him.

It seemed like he’d fooled her once again. He hadn’t sounded that way when they’d first spoken after his return. He’d sounded heartbroken, as if his life was over and only she could make it better.

“You’re just looking for a fling, aren’t you?” she demanded. “What happened to your declarations of making a mistake by breaking up with me? You now sound like the high school jock who thinks he is better than the rest and all the girls will fall at his feet with just a wave of his hand.”

She straightened her spine as John came closer to her. This time he moved quicker and reached out a hand to stroke her hair. It was an action he’d done many times before, a gesture she had taken as him caring for her. She’d always melted against him when he’d done it. Now she felt nothing. No warming of her skin. No rapid beating of her heart. His touch now left her cold.

“Oh, Phoebe, what’s happened to the girl who only wanted to have fun? Who would joke and not take life too seriously?”

She was shocked at his impression of her. His words had made her seem so shallow. Had she been that way? Yes, with him she had, although it still hadn’t stopped her from giving more of herself to him than he had ever given to her.

“Life isn’t all fun and games, you know,” she said. Yet she’d thought she wanted more “fun” in her relationship with Marco.

He laughed at her words, as if she’d said the most hilarious joke. “It can be if you want it to be. Come on, Phoebs, you can’t deny that when we went out, we spent half the time laughing. I bet with the stuffed suit you’ve been seeing life has been rather boring. It’s just as well I came back and saved you from him.”

Words escaped her. She didn’t think she could possibly respond to that. There was a bit of truth in what he was saying. The events she’d been to with Marco had been all business, and she hadn’t been able to joke around. Nor could she talk about her job. The people attending the parties were from the upper echelons of Perth society. They might think her job admirable, but they certainly wouldn’t want to hear about the nitty-gritty of the ER. Some had even sneered when she’d said she was a nurse. It hadn’t mattered; she had been proud to be his partner. He was well respected and he was extremely creative with his architectural designs. There was one place he was anything but a stuffed shirt— that was in their bed. It was the only place where she had felt truly connected to Marco.

Fatigue warred with her frazzled emotions. All she wanted to do was go inside and crawl into her bed, close her eyes, and wish things were different. She wished she knew Marco loved her and wasn’t just settling. Wished she could trust herself to love again instead of being scared to take that risk because of the man standing in front of her.

She wished John had just stayed away; then everything would be fine. Or would it? John’s appearance had caused her to look deep inside and find that the relationship she had with Marco wasn’t the type she truly wanted. She did know one thing though. If the man standing in front of her was the “real” John, she didn’t want anything to do with him.

“I want you to leave,” she said tiredly. “Just go away. I don’t want anything to do with you.”

For a few minutes Phoebe thought he wasn’t going to pay any attention to her words and he was going to demand his way into her house to continue their conversation. She wouldn’t put it past him to do that, considering the way he’d acted throughout their entire little chat. Relief swept through her when he gave a small nod.

“Well that’s what you say now. I understand you don’t want to admit that you’ve broken off your engagement because of me.”

Why couldn’t he just walk away and leave her alone?

She didn’t need him standing on her doorstep trying to convince her it was him she wanted. Had always wanted.

“John, will you just go? Just leave me alone. Please don’t text or call me anymore.

There’s no point—things have changed. I’ve changed. You went off chasing your adventure and you left me behind. It’s over.”

“Fine, I’ll go. And you’re right. Things have changed. If they hadn’t, you wouldn’t be standing here having this talk with me. You’d be getting all cozy with your fiancé.”

He went to lean in and give her a kiss, but she took a step to the side. He sent a wry grin her way. At one time she’d found it endearing. Now it was plain annoying. “I’ll see you later, Phoebe, trust me on that.”

For the second time that night she watched a man walk down her front path, away from her. This time, however, her heart wasn’t aching and she wasn’t wishing that the man leaving would turn around and come back for her.


Phoebe gripped her morning coffee in both hands, hoping the warmth from the cup would take away the chill she had woken up with. For a few minutes after she’d woken, she’d forgotten all that had happened the day before. The moment she’d lifted her left hand and noticed it was bare, everything had come rushing back in all its Technicolor glory.

The ringing of her landline caused her to jump and spill her coffee over her hand. She swore as the hot liquid hit her flesh. She grabbed a nearby cloth and wiped her hand clean. There was no way she was going to pick up the phone. She wasn’t ready to talk to Marco. She gave a short laugh—why had Marco been the first person she thought would be calling her? She’d dumped him the night before. The incessant ringing stopped and she let herself relax.

Her cell phone began to ring. Whoever it was, they were persistent. She walked over to her handbag and pulled her phone out. Sophie’s name flashed up on the screen.

Phoebe slid her finger across the screen, connecting the call. “Hi, I’m fine.”

Sophie’s laughter drifted down the line. “No you’re not. But I’m not going to argue with you about that.”

“You’re all heart.” Sarcasm dripped from every word. “What do you want to know?”

The pause on the other end of the phone lengthened and Phoebe wondered what was taking Sophie so long to answer the question. “Marco was here first thing this morning. He looked like shit.”

Phoebe pulled the phone away from her ear and looked at it, surprised by Sophie’s language—it was so unlike her. She put the phone back to her ear, tightening her hold. “Oh.” She couldn’t say anything else. She didn’t know what she should say.

“I still think you’re making a mistake,” Sophie said quietly. “But I’m not going to force you into something you’re not ready for.”

“I saw John last night,” Phoebe blurted out. She hadn’t planned on letting Sophie know about his little visit, but the words wouldn’t be held back.

“What? Again? Are you serious? Are you mad? Where? When?”

Phoebe could’ve laughed at the comical nature of the questions firing from Sophie.

But she was afraid that if she did start laughing, her laughter would soon turn to sobs. She took a deep breath before answering her friend. “He was waiting for me after Marco left last night.”

“What did he want? You didn’t do anything with him, did you?”

“No, I didn’t do anything with him. He wanted to talk. I told him to go away.”

“Does that mean you’ve changed your mind? That you’re going to go ahead and marry Marco?”

That was the big question and Phoebe didn’t know the answer to it. She knew she didn’t want to be with John after the way he’d acted last night. She didn’t believe his declarations of love were sincere or meaningful. They were empty words, just like their relationship had been. She’d been a fool to be taken in by the texts he’d sent. A fool to believe that the grass was greener on the other side of the fence.

But even so, in some part of her mind she was glad that John had turned back up in her life. What his presence and messages had done was highlight the holes in her relationship with Marco. She realized she didn’t want to settle for a marriage without a semblance of love in the relationship. The only thing was, she wasn’t sure Marco could give her the love she now so desperately desired. And if she wanted to be loved unconditionally, it was only reasonable that Marco should expect that from her. Could she give it to him?

What exactly did she feel for him? Was it love or was lust coloring her thinking? If what she felt for him was a forever type of love—and she couldn’t be sure that it was—could she trust that he wouldn’t take her love and then stomp all over it before discarding it?

“Phoebe, are you going to marry Marco now?”

“No, I’m not.” She paused, taking a deep breath to build up the courage to tell Sophie the truth about her relationship with Marco. “Soph, I want a marriage based on love and, well, I know Marco cares deeply, but I’m not sure he truly loves me unconditionally.”

“That’s complete and utter rubbish. The man who turned up at the crack of dawn on my doorstep this morning didn’t look like a man not in love with his fiancée. He looked absolutely devastated. I’ve never seen him look that way, and neither has Alex.”

“I find that hard to believe.” Phoebe ran a hand down her face. “All I know is I can’t go through with this. I can’t—no, I won’t—marry a man who doesn’t love me.”

“I still don’t understand why you think Marco doesn’t love you. I’ve seen the way he looks at you, watches you. That man is clearly devoted to you. Tell me that’s not a man in love.”

“He’s never said the words to me,” Phoebe whispered. “We’ve never said them to each other.”

A gasp sounded in Phoebe’s ear; clearly she’d surprised her friend with her declaration.

“But you’re engaged! Why on earth haven’t you said ‘I love you’ to each other?” “When did Alex finally tell you he loved you, Soph? When he thought he was going to lose you. Just like you’d never said it to him even though you’d told me that Alex was the love of your life.”

“You’re right. I can see your point.”

“Thank you.” Phoebe hoped that would be the end of the conversation about love Somehow she didn’t think it would be though.

“Do you know what this sounds like? It sounds like you and Marco need to sit down and talk about your feelings. A simple discussion and everything will be sorted.”

“If only it were that simple. But it’s not.” “Why isn’t it?”

Phoebe could hear the frustration in her friend’s voice. For the first time in her life, she didn’t know who she was. Over the last year she’d had so many changes and had lost her identity. She’d seen two of her good friends find love and marry. She’d been so caught up in the heady excitement of weddings and babies that she’d grasped at it, even though she hadn’t really been ready for it. The breakup with John had been quickly followed by the death of Mrs. White, the woman who had been her mentor and surrogate mother. For a while there, Marco had been able to make her forget those things. She now needed to deal with all that had happened in her life. Once she had, then she could decide what her future held and if Marco was going to be part of that future or not.

“Because I’ve lost myself, Soph. You said yesterday at your place that when I’m with Marco, I’m different. Which means I’m not being me. I don’t know who I am anymore. I’m not the carefree, good-time girl I used to be. I need to find me, before I can let anyone into my life and be an ~us~.”

Phoebe wasn’t surprised by her friend’s silence. She’d just laid quite a bit of information and inner feelings out there.

Finally Sophie responded. “What do you want to do?”

“I’m going to go away. Somewhere I can be alone with myself and work out what I really want out of life.”

“Do you want to borrow my dad’s house on the coast? I know no one’s there right now, and he’d be more than happy to let you use it.”

The idea of staying at Sophie’s father’s house was appealing. She’d been there a couple of times and knew it backed onto the beach. Walks along the shore would be the perfect way to get her thoughts in order.

“If I say yes, will you promise not to tell Marco where I am if he asks?”

Once again, silence met her request. She could almost hear the inner struggle in Sophie’s mind. “I promise.”

“Fine.” She nodded her head even though her friend couldn’t see her. “I’d like that.

Do you think I can come by in a couple of hours and get the key from you?” “Sure, I’ll call Dad and let him know.”

“Thanks, Soph, I appreciate it.”

“Not a problem—just promise me one thing. You won’t give up on the possibility of getting back together with Marco. I know you don’t see it, but there is something between the two of you. Something so much stronger than what you and John had. I know in my heart he’s the man for you.”

“I’m not going to promise something I’m not sure I can keep. But trust me when I say that I will be doing a lot of soul searching.”

“That’s all I can ask for. I’ll see you soon, Phoebs. Bye.” “Bye.”

Phoebe disconnected the call and put her phone down by her now cold cup of coffee. She had a lot to do if she was going to go away. Fortunately she’d had so much annual leave accrued at the hospital that she had the next two months off. Of course they had been for last minute wedding preparations and a honeymoon, but it didn’t matter what she used the time for now.

She grabbed the cup and threw the contents down the sink. She had a bag to pack and a relaxing time by the beach to look forward to. But before she could do anything she had to send a couple of texts, and it wasn’t going to be a pleasant experience. She quickly typed out a short message to the wedding planner, advising her to cancel the arrangements. When Marco had insisted on her using a planner, she’d initially balked at the idea. Now she was glad. She didn’t fancy ringing all the vendors to cancel orders or bookings. The next text she sent was one of the hardest one she’d ever sent in her life:

Hi Marco,

I wanted to let you know that I’ve contacted the wedding planner and instructed her to cancel all the wedding arrangements. I’m going away for a few days to sort things out.

I’m sorry. Phoebe


Marco looked at the text message for about the tenth time in the space of an hour. He was tempted to throw the phone at the wall, but that wouldn’t achieve anything. It wouldn’t allay the anger that was his constant companion now. Instead he placed it on the table and walked towards the double glass doors leading out to his balcony. He opened the doors and gazed at the ocean view.

He felt slightly better than he had when he’d knocked on Alex and Sophie’s door a few hours ago. He’d worked out his frustration on the tennis court, beating Alex quite convincingly. His friend had tried to engage him in conversation, but he’d just glared and Alex had known not to push the subject. Sophie had taken one look at him and had given him a hug. No words needed; he knew that he had both their support. And if he needed anything they would be there for him.

He looked back inside, at the phone on the table, and wondered where Phoebe was headed. He could try and call Sophie to see if she knew but he didn’t want to jeopardize their friendship. He walked back into the house and picked up his phone. His fingers moved across the screen and he pulled up the app that would show him where Phoebe was. He was hoping she’d forgotten about the app they’d both downloaded on their phones so they could see where the other person was. It worked well when she had been doing a late shift; he had always felt relieved when he knew she was safely ensconced inside her home. He waited while the program pulled up the map. He could see the little dot on the screen. It showed that she was travelling down the highway. She hadn’t reached her destination yet.

He would give her a couple more hours before checking again. Once he knew where she was, he would give her two days and then he would go after her. As he played his tennis game with Alex he’d come to the conclusion he didn’t want to lose Phoebe. He would do whatever it took to convince her they were meant for each other. Even if it meant opening up and sharing the one secret he’d hidden so far down in him in an effort to pretend that it didn’t exist. But it did exist, and it had to be shared with Phoebe if he wanted any hope of a future with her. If he wanted her to be totally open and honest with him, he had to be open and honest with her. It was hypocritical of him to expect it to be one-sided.

When the time was right he would tell her all about Veronika’s betrayal.

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