Olivia Clarke’s fall from pretty, perfect and popular happened in an instant. With her life in tatters, she impulsively accepts a teaching job in the small city of Lazhou, China. Three months in, she’s ready to admit she made a huge mistake. She doesn’t speak Mandarin, the teachers at her school refuse to include her in anything, and she spends her nights watching counterfeit DVDs in her twin bed. Alone.
Jarek McLean is a loner. He’s not looking for friends, and he’s definitely not looking for love. The former army interrogator works as a carpenter for a small construction company rebuilding a travel office in Lazhou. When he meets Olivia he knows immediately she’s too wholesome to be his type, but when he discovers the pretty kindergarten teacher is hiding a secret, his inquisitive side rears its nosy head and demands answers.
Olivia isn’t interested in a one-sided interrogation, and makes her position clear: if Jarek wants to ask questions, he’ll have to answer some, too. Jarek’s never let anyone in—not into his apartment, not into his life, certainly not into his heart. But the closer he gets to Olivia, the more he falls for her, and suddenly the man who doesn’t do relationships finds himself in a most unexpected one. When he reluctantly admits that this could be love, he’s faced with the most terrifying question of all: What the hell does he do now?
The wooden door swung open, leaving them with the outer door, composed of a series of thick metal bars, between them. Olivia wore sweatpants, wool socks, and a threadbare white T-shirt with a high school logo straining across her breasts. Her blond hair was pulled up in a messy bun, and she wore no makeup. She looked him up and down, gaze lingering on his peace offering, then she took a deep breath. “What’s this?” she asked.
“Let me in.” Jarek tilted his head so rain water dripped off the ends of his curly hair.
“What do you want?”
“Ritchie told me about your accident.”
“Just open the door.”
She looked ready to argue, then her eyes flitted back to the bags in his hands and she reached gingerly for the keys on the table inside the door, selecting one and twisting it in the lock. She stepped back as he entered, closing the doors behind him, and he stepped out of his shoes and hung his wet coat on a chair.
“It’s fucking pouring,” he said, for lack of anything better. “Where’s your bathroom?”
The apartment was small, just four rooms leading immediately off the main entrance area, and he could see into three of them from where he stood—bedroom, office, and kitchen—so he went into the fourth, found a hand towel, and dried his face and hair. When he emerged, Olivia was peeking into the bags.
“I brought you dinner, in case you hadn’t eaten.”
“What were you doing?”
“Getting ready to watch a movie.”
“Want to eat first?”
She looked him over strangely. “Sure.”
There were only two chairs at the small table, so she took one and he took the other, peering around the sterile room. White tile floors, white-painted plaster walls, neon tube lights on the ceiling. A few handmade posters with English and Chinese words written on them.
“Do those help?” Jarek asked, nodding at the posters as he twisted the caps off the bottles of Sprite.
Olivia peered into both takeout containers. “As much as knowing the word for ‘nose’ can, I suppose. What is this?”
He leaned forward to study the contents of one container; he had ordered it based on the picture, but couldn’t possibly identify it now. “I’m not sure.”
The second dish was the one they’d had the first night, so Olivia took that and he ate the mystery meal, which wasn’t bad. They barely spoke and she avoided his gaze, though she didn’t look angry. Tired, maybe. But not angry.
When half her food was gone, Olivia polished off the Sprite and pushed her container away. “Do you want this? I’m full.”
He’d finished his own meal. “No. I’m good.”
She stood and took the carton to the narrow fridge that stood in the corner of the room, its only furniture apart from the table. When she closed the door, he was standing behind her. She jumped and clasped a hand to her chest. “What are you doing?”
“Don’t take this the wrong way,” he began, “but take off your shirt.”
Julianna Keyes is a Canadian writer who has lived on both coasts and several places in between. She’s been skydiving, bungee jumping, and white water rafting, but nothing thrills—or terrifies—her as much as the blank page. She has volunteered in Zambia, taught English in China, and dreams of seeing pink dolphins in the Amazon. This is her second book