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Kissing Cousins [MultiFormat]
eBook by Sally Odgers

eBook Category: Romance
eBook Description: When Trina Garland fled Melbourne for Tasmania, she planned to spend a few stress-free weeks away from her possessive ex-boyfriend, relaxing at her Aunt Jenny's farm. The last thing she wanted was to find herself sharing her aunt's farmhouse with a tall, dark, handsome stranger--even one as charming as her new-found cousin, Alister McKenzie. Although Trina kept trying to leave, fate seemed determined to keep her at Glen Heather. Against her will, Trina found herself falling into an adventure of the heart that would not end until both Alister McKenzie and Tasmania won her heart.

eBook Publisher: The Fiction Works, Published: http://www.fictionworks.com, 2004
Fictionwise Release Date: August 2004


16 Reader Ratings:
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Chapter 1

Oh! Beware, My Lord, of jealousy

Spring came reluctantly that year, with the last of the yellow wattle blossom torn and scattered from the trees along Cumberland Drive by thin-lipped September winds. The sky frowned, as if displeased to look down at this not-so-welcoming face of the city of Melbourne. Planes swooping in to land at Tullarmarine Airport shone sullenly silver in the dull light. Their long-nosed faces looked insufferably superior, as if, given a very little encouragement, they might quickly turn, wheel again and fly off to more sunlit climes.

Trina Garland's red MG seemed buffeted by the same winds as she drove home at seven o'clock that Friday evening. Cautiously, she turned into Koala Court--a grave misnomer as there hadn't been koalas in the area for more than a hundred years--and peered ahead through the dusk. Her roommate's parking space was empty, but she'd expected that. Bev and Jason would have left already on the three-hour drive to Cameron where they would be spending their long weekend with Bev's married sister.

Far more importantly, Trevor's Volvo was not in sight. Thank God and little chickens for that, thought Trina, parking in her usual spot under the street light. She switched off the engine. Suddenly it seemed too much of an effort to get out of the car, so she sat slumped over the wheel for a few moments letting the frustrations of the day drain out through her fingertips. Yoga, she thought. I ought to do some yoga. Or some tai chi. Or some other kind of Oriental tension-disperser. If only she had the energy to learn it.

Well--maybe tomorrow. Or next week, next month.

In a while she'd go inside. For now, it was enough to be sitting here in silence, her jangled nerves slowly relaxing. She was sure she'd never felt so exhausted in her life. Her natural vivacity seemed to have seeped away like water through cupped hands. And she hadn't got much else. Fair coloring, fair hair and eyelashes that needed to be enhanced with make-up just as her slight figure needed enhancing with the right kind of clothes. It all added up to no more than a pretty package--unless lit by that glow from inside.

It was strange, now she had the leisure to think about it, that having been attracted initially by that same glowing vitality, Trevor should have made it his goal to squelch it. Now, after months of dedicated effort on his part, nothing much remained of their relationship but the shell. She was tired of fighting. She was tired, period.

Suicide, she thought dreamily, had never seemed so attractive. It was not that she was actively despairing, she was just so damned tired, with a gray, draining exhaustion that clung to her all the time. Death would mean rest. Was this how it started, then? This chill, drab dread of the future?

She smiled wryly. She hadn't the energy to plan her own demise. Maybe tomorrow. Or next week. But her evasive tactics had worked today, and in a minute or two she'd go into the flat, lock the door behind her and settle down to a quiet evening, free from the hassles and recriminations which had lately become so much a part of her life. A microwaved pizza and green salad would do for her dinner, perhaps with a glass or two of white wine, and an hour of undemanding comedy on the TV. Then in the morning she could either stay quietly at home with the door locked and the phone off the hook, or visit her cousin Mariel again.

Mariel might think it a little odd, since she had already spent nearly two hours there today, but she wouldn't say anything. Kind hearted, that was Mariel, and in any case the Garlands were a casually hospitable family.

She gasped as a hand wrenched open her car door.

"And about time too!" rasped a familiar voice.

She looked up in dismay at the long-jawed face that loomed over her.

"Hello, Trevor," she said nervously. "I-I wasn't expecting you tonight."

"That's bloody well obvious!" said Trevor Goodwin. "What was it this time, Trina? The hairdresser? Working late? Or did you have another engagement?"

She licked her lips, assessing Trevor's mood. "I've been round at Mariel's," she said truthfully. "And I'm tired. I just want a quiet night at home, if you don't mind."

From the look on Trevor's face, he obviously did mind.

She picked up her bag and stepped up out of the car, tall in her pencil skirt and slender, high heeled shoes. Hoping a show of assertiveness would work, she stepped quietly past him and put her hand on the gate.

"Just a livin' minute! You don't push past me like that!" Trevor jerked her round to face him. "With Mariel, were you?" he said heavily. "I'll bet!"

"I was," she said. "You can check if you like."

"Who else did you see?"

"Just Mariel and the baby--and Robbie, of course."

Trevor looked down at her with narrowed eyes, and Trina looked back, willing him to believe her, to go round to Mariel's--to go anywhere and leave her alone. She was too tired for Trevor-style histrionics tonight.

"So you're all dressed up like the dog's dinner for your cousin Mariel, are you? Or was it for her husband's benefit? Little wog bastard."

Her head was beginning to throb. "Don't be silly, Trevor. This is the skirt I wore to work. Why don't you just go on home? I'm tired and all I want is to get something to eat and go to bed, alone."

"That's your story," grumbled Trevor, but perhaps her drawn face upheld her words, for he dropped his hand as if convinced that she meant what she said.

She shivered as the wind gusted down the court. "I'm going in," she said. "I'll see you next week."

"Tomorrow," said Trevor stubbornly, his jaw jutting like an axe blade.

"Not tomorrow," said Trina. Why did the man have to turn every conversation into a confrontation?

"What have you got on tomorrow?" he demanded jealously.

"I'm going to be busy all weekend. I'll give you a ring as soon as I'm free, okay?"

But it wasn't okay. Trevor demanded to know where she was going, what she was doing and with whom.

"I'm not sure where I'll be," she said. "I'm going round to Mariel's again in the morning and then Lenice said something about an exhibition. I might go to that. I'll be busy, that's all. Now, for heavens sake, let me get inside. I'm freezing."

She slipped past him and hurried up the path, fumbling for her key and half-expecting him to follow. If he did, she'd start screaming at him and damn the consequences.

The key turned smoothly and she was inside, alone.

The flat was chill and empty. Shivering, Trina switched on the heating and the television and flopped into a chair, kicking off her shoes as warm air began to sigh into the room.

The evening news was just coming to an end when the weather girl smiled out from the screen and began to talk about low pressure areas and a trough moving towards the Great Australian Bight.

Trina's eyes were on the screen, but her mind circled uselessly like a goldfish in a bucket. Koala Court had been empty when she arrived, she was sure of that. Trevor must have deliberately parked around the corner and waited for her to come home. Surely that kind of behavior was irrational, particularly since she had never given him cause to be so suspicious. At least, she didn't think she had. She was learning from painful experience that constant accusations had the effect of making her feel guilty.

Classic textbook behavior, she supposed, but what the heck. It probably proved she was normal.

The weather report finished and in the quiet she heard a car engine sputter into silence. She cocked her head, listening, but it did not restart. She stole over to the window and peered between the curtains.

The car was parked just behind her own. In the washed-out light she couldn't be sure of the color, but it looked like Trevor's Volvo. As she gazed, a match flared and a cigarette end glowed, but the driver made no attempt to get out.

What was he waiting for?

Resolutely, she returned to her chair.

Three times during the next half-hour she crept to the window to check that the car was still there. It was.

He couldn't be planning to stay there all bloody night! That would be going too far, even for Trevor.

She had met him nine months before at a party, and had been much struck by his dark hollow good looks and his air of strung-up melancholy. He had seemed equally taken with her, and had immediately asked her out. Trina had agreed light-heartedly, and so it had begun with frequent outings, phone calls and a romantic gift for her birthday.

They had been going out for some three months when Trevor suggested they should move in together. Her refusal touched off a spark that had been smoldering ever since. The irony was that her refusal hadn't been anything to do with Trevor on a personal basis, only her distaste for the whole idea of living with a man.

She'd seen what happened to her friends. Moving in was the beginning of the end. It might begin as an equal partnership, but soon the girl would be doing the washing and cooking while her boyfriend ran a vacuum cleaner over the carpet once a week if she was lucky. So many men paid lip service to equality, while still secretly believing it was Woman's Destiny to ply broom and mop while Man plied the lawn mower. A lawn needed mowing far less often than a floor needed sweeping, and the cooking consumed far more time over a week than an hour or so's digging in the garden or repainting the windowsills. Housework had the habit of stretching, amoebae-like, yeast-like, to fill all available space. Nature abhorred a vacuum.

So she refused Trevor with no regret at all, but from then on, she noticed the first symptoms of possessiveness creeping into his manner. If they went to a party or a Garland family gathering, she had to be careful not to talk too much to any other male--even her cousins' husbands. She must keep her eyes to herself and not glance sideways at men in the street.

At first, she found this evidence of Trevor's insecurities flattering, even mildly endearing, but soon the scowls and sulks gave way to innuendo and questioning, and then to angry scenes and accusations.

When Trevor began to object to her clothes and accuse her of flaunting herself before other men, Trina had had enough. Either Trevor was crazy or she was, and it was time to end this relationship before she began to wonder if it was her. Besides, she could no longer respond to him with any pleasure at all. He repelled her.

She knew well enough how to go about ending it. She had ended many associations in the past, and she assumed this one would be no different. One evening she took Trevor's hands and told him she was sorry, but she thought they shouldn't see each another any more.

"I'm not really right for you, Trev," she said, according to the script laid out for her by custom and intuition. "You need somebody quiet, a bit of a homebody."

Liar. What he needed was a slave to lick his boots.

She might have escaped if Trevor had thrown himself into a jealous rage, but instead he collapsed, admitting to his faults and begging for another chance. He even cried.

Some men could weep with dignity, but Trina couldn't cope with a soggy Trevor. She relented, but although he assured her she would never regret it, it soon began again--the questions, the sulks when she spoke to other men, the objections to any activity which took her away from him.

One by one, she gave up her hobbies and other friends.

She resigned from the Red Room Theatre because Trevor objected to her leading role in an avant-garde romance. She gave up her evening class in car maintenance. She put a new dress she liked away at the back of her wardrobe, because Trevor regarded it in some obscure way as evidence of her untrustworthiness.

As the winter dragged to a close, she found herself permanently miserable and on edge. It was time to break off the relationship for good. Only this time, she'd do it gradually, easing out as she might have eased out of too-tight shoes.

She began refusing some of Trevor's invitations, inventing excuses to stay at home and allowing her roommate to answer their phone.

And behind it all she stared at herself in astonishment and dread.

What sort of wan shadow had she become? Where was her assertiveness, her independence, her determination?

She was scarcely a child, and she'd certainly had plenty of experience in ridding herself of unwanted possessive admirers in the past. So why couldn't she get rid of Trevor? Why couldn't she simply tell him, kindly but firmly, that his jealousy had ruined their relationship and she wouldn't put up with it--or him--any longer?

Because he'd leached her confidence and broken her spirit.

Because she was stuck in a real-life victim's role scripted by some dreary playwright. The cosmic scriptwriter was to blame. He, she or it had developed a jaundiced view of men and women and was foisting that view onto Trina. She ought to go on strike for creative control, or at least creative input.

She frowned unseeingly at the television as if the cosmic scriptwriter might be lurking behind the screen. Then she checked the window again. Trevor's car was still there, his cigarette end glowing relentlessly in the dark like some malevolent cat's eye.

If only Bev hadn't gone away.

Trina hated being alone. She wished she could have had a pet of some kind. She loved animals, but had never owned one. Her father had always been allergic to cats and dogs, and the landlord here was so strict he had even tossed out Bev's talking teddy--Joke, but she couldn't crack a smile.

She shivered. It was horrible sitting here alone. Why shouldn't she go out? It was eight o'clock, not too late to visit on a Friday night. But if she went to Mariel's, Lenice's or her parents' house she would have to use her car, then Trevor would certainly accost her and demand to know where she was going.

Maybe she should call the police.

She pictured that, but it came up like a scene from a farce. If she phoned the police and said she wanted to report a prowler, there would be questions. She could just imagine their soothing efficiency--and their reactions to her answers.

No, the man had not threatened her in any way.

No, he had not attempted to break in.

All he had done was sit in his car outside her flat for half an hour.

Yes, she knew his name. He was Trevor Goodwin, a respected local accountant.

Yes, actually, she had been going out with him for nine months. Oh, she'd sound just great telling the police that one. They'd write her off as some kind of nut. In their view, it would be purely a domestic incident and not a very convincing one at that. Not a mark on her. No raised voices. He wasn't drunk or abusive. He was just there.

Well, maybe she could telephone and ask someone to come and stay with her. Her mother or one of her cousins would be a comfort.

She found herself biting her fingernail and dragged it away from her mouth. If she delayed much longer she'd end up in a screaming heap.

Her parents were away, so she dialed Mariel's number. Mariel answered on the fifth ring.

"Hello?"

"Hi, it's me. Trina. You know, your long lost coz?" Trina's voice echoed falsely in her own ears.

"Oh, hi." Mariel sounded puzzled. "What can I do for you?"

A loud wail in the background meant that Mariel's baby was crying again, as it had been doing on and off all day. Her husband could be heard crooning some lullaby in the distance.

"I was just wondering--"

"Yes?" Mariel sounded a little impatient.

Trina couldn't ask. It was too embarrassing.

"Oh, nothing, really. I thought I'd left something at your place, but I can see it over by the window. Sorry to trouble you! Goodnight."

"Goodnight," said Mariel with puzzled relief.

Trina replaced the receiver.

If Trevor was still outside in the morning she'd go right out in the street and tell him clearly and plainly that it was over. Finished. Kaput. There was nothing to be afraid of, no matter how uneasy his presence was making her. He couldn't possibly get in. And what could he do tomorrow when she faced him? Cry again?

She slept poorly that night, and when she woke her first act was to check the quiet court outside.

He'd given up, at least for now. With grim amusement she wondered just what time it had been when he left, and whether it was cold or boredom that drove him away.

Because he might come back at any minute, she made a decision. She would do just as she had told Trevor and go out for the day. Now, and quickly!

She made a cup of coffee, then showered and dressed while it cooled. It was still barely eight o'clock when she locked the door behind her. Inside the flat, the telephone began to ring but she ignored it. Ten minutes later she was parking the MG outside Mariel's house.

Her cousin greeted her in some concern. "I just had Trevor on the phone wanting to know if you were here. I told him you weren't, and that I wasn't expecting you. If I'd known you were coming round I wouldn't have put him off."

"That's all right," said Trina.

"Look, do you want to ring him? It sounded pretty urgent."

"No, no thanks. I'll catch up with him later."

She hoped that would be the end of it, but during the morning no fewer than three of their cousins telephoned to say that Trina's Trevor was looking for her, that it sounded important, and did Mariel know where Trina was?

The Garland family grapevine was living up to its name and reputation.

"I don't want to pry," said Mariel eventually, "but is there anything wrong between you and Trevor, love?"

Trina shrugged with pretended unconcern. "Oh, you know how it is with men. After a while they start to think they own you."

Mariel, who had married her first serious boyfriend and been blissfully happy ever since, patently did not know how it was, but she nodded anyway.

"So if he rings again I'll tell him you're not here," Mariel said.

"No. Yes. Oh, I don't know! Look, Mariel, could I possibly stay the night with you?"

"Something is wrong. He hasn't been threatening you, has he?"

"No, of course not, but Bev's away and I don't really like being on my own."

"Any other time I'd say yes, of course, but Mama Cellini is coming with the girls and we'll be all full up. How about going to your mum's? She's always glad to see you. Or Auntie Val's?"

"Oh, never mind," said Trina. She was suddenly weary at the idea of explaining the shameful problem to anyone else.

An angry tattoo on the door made them jump and exchange glances.

"Robbie, would you get that, please?" called Mariel.

When Roberto opened the door, Trina's spirits sank as she heard Trevor's unmistakable voice.

"Yes, she's here now," said Roberto. "I'll see if she wants--Hey, steady on, mate! Watch out!"

Trevor pushed rudely past Roberto, stamped into the house and confronted Trina.

"You were here all along!" he accused.

"I told you I'd be out today," she said defensively. "There was no need to go telephoning everyone like that. You've embarrassed me, Trevor."

"I want to talk to you," he said heavily. "Come on."

"Just a minute," said Roberto, his normally good-humored face watchful. "We haven't had lunch yet."

"She's having lunch with me," said Trevor. "Come on, Trina."

"Look, love," said Roberto. "You don't have to go if you don't want to." He put a supportive arm round Trina's shoulder.

Trevor bristled and Trina recognized the warning signs. Suddenly she wanted to get him away from Roberto and Mariel before he disgraced both himself and her. He was out of place in their calm household, and out of place in her life.

"It's all right," she said quickly. "I'll go with him. Come on, Trevor."

"We'll leave your car here," decided Trevor when they got outside. He handed her into his Volvo like a jailer. "I've got things to say to you."

She buckled her seat belt apprehensively. She had a feeling she was in for a rough ride.

She was right. Before the Volvo had gone a hundred meters Trevor was demanding with gritted teeth just what right Roberto Cellini had to call her love.

"That's just his way. You know what Roberto's like. He's everyone's big brother."

"Bloody wog! Well I won't have him pawing you, you hear?" snapped Trevor.

"He was only being friendly! He's like that with everyone."

"He's a bloody sight too friendly! Not that you don't ask for it in those tight skirts. Where were you this morning when I rang?"

"Mariel's."

"No you weren't," insisted Trevor. "I tried first off and you weren't there. Where were you?"

"I went straight from home to Mariel's and I've been there ever since. You must have rung while I was in between. Oh, for heaven's sake, Trevor!" She heard her voice becoming shrill and drew a deep breath. "There's absolutely no need for the third degree! You don't own me, and you never did. You're the one who's out of line, not me."

Trevor took a corner with more anger than care. A car coming from the opposite direction swerved to avoid the Volvo, and she cried out for Trevor to stop. She had not much hope that he'd obey her, but the near miss must have shaken him too, for he pulled into the nearest parking space and jerked on the handbrake.

"Listen," said Trina, taking a shaky breath. "That was much too close and this has gone too far. It's going to stop right now."

"What the shit do you mean?"

"I mean I've had enough. I don't know what's wrong with you. Maybe you're insecure or something, but whatever it is I can't take it any more. All this constantly wanting to know where I go and who I'm with."

"I've a right to know!"

"Not any more, Trevor. We're finished."

His hands shot out and seized her by the upper arms. "There's someone else!" he said slowly, his fingers hurting. "Who is it? Tell me, or by God I'll..."

"You'll what?" asked Trina with distaste. "There's nobody else, but from now on I'm a free agent. I'm going to live the way I want and see whom I please without your ridiculous jealousy. Understand? I don't want to see you again."

"There is someone else. I know it," insisted Trevor, glaring at her. "A woman like you never lets go unless she's got someone else in her sights."

Trina glared back, refusing to justify herself. This wasn't her fault.

"Well?" demanded Trevor.

"Think what you like! You will anyway. You're sick, Trevor."

Trevor's hand caught her cheek in a stinging blow, shocking him almost as much as it did her. He let her go, his face blanching.

"I--I'm sorry," he muttered. "I hope you're proud of yourself. I've never hit a woman before."

"You'll never get a chance to hit this woman again!" spat Trina. Clasping her cheek in one hand she unbuckled her seatbelt and opened the door.

"Where the shit do you think you're going?"

"Away from you," she said disdainfully. "I'm going to sue you for assault."

"You can't get out here! It's raining!"

"So what!" She scrambled away from him and out of the car.

"Look--I'll drive you home. We can talk about this."

"Drive yourself home. Get out of my life, Trevor, and stay out. I don't want to see you again! Do you want that in writing?"

She banged the door of the Volvo and stalked away, heading instinctively for the busiest street. Trevor followed her for a short distance in the car, expostulating, ordering, and finally pleading with her, but people were staring at them openly now, and eventually he drove away, obviously angry.

"That's that!" remarked Trina aloud. "I hope you're satisfied!" she added to the invisible cosmic scriptwriter.

She felt her cheek, which stung. A black eye would be embarrassing, but convincing. It might even convince her, tomorrow, that she'd really done the right thing. The adrenaline was oozing away by now, and she wanted to lie down somewhere in the dark. Instead, she concentrated on setting one foot in front of the other, stepping out to the accompaniment of her pounding head.


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