When Tom meets the enticing Ryl Skipton, he knows right away that she’s trouble. Not only is she full of magic, but she’s not his age, his type or even his kind. Moreover, a misstep in his recent past makes him doubt his trustworthiness.
Ryl has set her heart on him, and she comes up with a proposal that might get them through the next 744 days.
“A kissing ring? I’ve never heard of such a thing.”
“I suppose you haven’t. I don’t think humans have them.”
Tasmania: Mid-March 1985
“I don’t know if Mum will let me.”
Not quite the words a man wants to hear from his girlfriend’s candy-pink lips.
Still, Tom knew the score. He was just twenty-one and Mish, for all her ripe curves and sexy ways, wouldn’t be eighteen for another month.
“If you leave it till after my birthday, Mum won’t have any say in it,” Mish coaxed.
“This is Si’s trip. Besides, I’ll be back at work.”
“For your dad.”
Tom pushed his fingers through his floppy hair. He knew exactly what Mish was doing. It was a power play. She wanted to make him choose her over his fledgling position with Merriweather and Associates. Not that she wanted him to lose his job. She just didn’t see the problem.
“Your dad’s cool. He’ll give you a few more days off.”
“Probably. But Si’s all set for that weekend.”
Mish tilted her head and swished her hair, releasing a waft of a perfume she said was called Candy-Pash. Tom wasn’t fond of it, but he was fond of Mish, and he did want to take her camping. They’d been going together for three months, and as far as Tom could see, there were only two drawbacks to the relationship. One was her age. The other was her mother. One would shortly resolve itself. The other…not so much. Annabel was friendly enough, and not unreasonable. She seldom put her foot down, but at the back of his mind he knew it came down to the fact that Mish wasn’t earning, Annabel was supporting her, and, well, Tom didn’t see how he could support her either. Not just yet. Annabel was—dammit, the truth was, Annabel made him uncomfortable.
New Year’s Eve: 1984
He first met Mish when she hit on him at a New Year’s Eve party. She was on the loose because her escort, whom she dismissed offhandedly as my fucking stupid cousin Dougie, tried to drown himself in the tequila. Tom was on his own since his flatmate didn’t know the host and said he was busy anyway. He was happy to join forces with a friendly girl. Mish was very friendly and, unlike most of the others at the party, she didn’t reek of cigarettes. They had a good time, dancing to Madonna and Phil Collins and putting the world to rights.
They sang the new year in, linking arms to Old Lang Syne, and when she said she’d have to call a cab because her wanker of a cousin was under the table, or possibly halfway down the toilet, he’d offered his services as a driver.
“How many have you had?”
“Two beers.” It was true. He had to be at his parents’ place in the morning and puking his guts up wasn’t an option. He liked to think of himself as a moderate man and with his flatmate doing pre-med and showing him ghastly pictures of diseased livers, he’d become more moderate still.
“And this is a ride home, no strings?” Mish enquired.
“No strings,” he assured her.
She grinned. “Pity.”
“If you want strings, there will be strings. Let’s see, is this a leer?” He screwed his face up and twirled an imaginary moustache.
“You look as if you’ve got a bellyache. Anyway, I don’t have sex on a first date. Just so’s you know.”
Technically, it wasn’t a date at all, but he caught her drift.
“You’re safe with me.”
“Yeah, right.” She gave him a big smooch, flavoured with raspberry sherbet. “The question is, are you safe with me?”
“I hope not.”
He drove her home. It was after one o’clock, so he supposed he’d drop her at her flat and watch to see she got in safely. Or maybe he’d go in with her. It was her call. It was a bit of a surprise when she directed him to what his dad called Million Dollar Mansions. They weren’t, of course, but that was certainly an upmarket part of the town.
“I didn’t know there were flats here.”
“There aren’t. I live with my mum.”
“She’s not filthy rich or anything. We’re here caretaking while the owner’s overseas.”
She paused for a beat, then continued, “The owner’s my grandad.”
“You’ve got a key then? I’ll walk you to the door.”
“Thanks. Mum’ll let me in.”
That was weird, and Tom’s nebulous plans for deepening his acquaintance with the delectable Mish faded. “I’ll still walk you to the door.”
He got out of his panel van and went around to let her out, a necessity since the passenger door was wired shut to keep it from flying open on sharp bends. Mish reached up to kiss him and turned it into another long smooch with plenty of tongue.
Tom felt his knees going liquid, but she broke away, took his hand and towed him to the door where she rang the bell.
Footsteps sounded, and then the sound of a chain being hooked up and at least two deadbolts being undone.
“You okay now?” he asked.
“Sure. Thanks for tonight, Tom. It was fun. Here, I’ll give you my number.” She pulled a pen out of her shoulder bag, took his hand and wrote her number on his wrist. “Call me. If I’m not here, you can leave a message on the answering machine.”
“I will.” He smiled down at her, then turned to retreat, just as the door opened as far as the chain allowed.
“Michelle? What time do you call this? And where’s Doug?”
“Come on, Mum. The party didn’t kick off until nine, and you couldn’t expect me to leave before the big eight-five came in. Doug’s—”
The door came the rest of the way open, letting out a stream of light that hit Tom on the side of the face.