Searing heat radiated from the asphalt, smacking Danika in the face within seconds of alighting in her hometown. Perspiration oozed from every pore as she ambled toward the airport lounge where the automatic doors welcomed her into the arctic air-conditioning. Once inside, she took a moment to relish the climate control before scanning the crowd. She spotted her parents waving excitedly and picked up the pace.
Her father, Sterling, pulled her in for a fierce hug. ‘Hey there, Twinkle Toes. How’s our UCL graduate?’
Danika laughed. ‘Hey, Dad. I’m okay. A bit tired from the flight.’
‘I bet you are.’ He squeezed her tighter. ‘I’m so damn proud of you! Your thesis on Ultra-High Energy Neutrinos was incredible. I can’t wait to pick your brain on this stuff.’
‘I look forward to sharing theories, after a nice long shower.’ She glanced at her beaming mother and moved into the woman’s arms.
‘Welcome home, sweetie.’ Estelle’s lavender scent enveloped Danika, soothing the last of her landing jitters.
Stepping back, Danika tugged at the t-shirt that clung to her sweat-soaked stomach, catching a whiff of her own foul odour. ‘I sure don’t miss these Australian summers.’
Sterling, chuckled. ‘You’ve been spoiled by four years of London life.’
Estelle sighed. ‘I think we all have. I’ll miss having an excuse for another white Christmas this year.’
Sterling grabbed Danika’s suitcase from the luggage carousel. ‘Come on. Let’s get out of here.’ After loading up the Astra, he peered into the sky and smiled. ‘Looks like we’ll have a clear night.’ He looked at Danika. ‘Wanna take the telescope out tonight?’
‘For the love of God, sweetheart, can’t you see the girl’s exhausted?’ Estelle chided.
He cast pleading eyes in Danika’s direction.
Danika shrugged. ‘I should be fine after a shower and afternoon nap. Why don’t we have a picnic dinner under the stars?’
Sterling clapped his hands together. ‘That’s a stellar idea.’
Groaning at the pun, Danika sank into the backseat of her dad’s sedan.
‘Ah shoot!’ Sterling slapped the steering wheel. ‘I just remembered the bung headlight. Better get it fixed on the way home if we are going out tonight.’
‘Good point,’ agreed Estelle. Pivoting in her seat, she glanced back at Danika. ‘Sorry hun, but we need to make a pit stop first.’
She offered her mother half a smile. ‘It’s okay.’ Familiar landmarks interspersed with new sights whizzed by as she stared out the window. So much had changed in four years. Thinking of her old school friends, she wondered who remained. Will I get to see any of them soon?
As the car pulled into the mechanic’s lot, Danika’s eyes locked with a pair of dark, deadly orbs. Malik. She sucked in a breath while giving him the once over. Where Danika had been the queen of her own private college, Malik ruled over their rivals at the neighbouring public school. Slouching against a Monaro, he wiped his hands on an old rag while maintaining eye contact. Lifting his black singlet, he broke their stare to wipe his brow, revealing toned, toffee-coloured abs. Try as she might, Danika could not resist ogling his rock-hard muscles. Dropping the garment, Malik caught her gawking and his lips curled into sly grin. She jerked her gaze away with a huff. I am so not going there! Malik was everything she despised in a man: cruel, crooked, arrogant, and domineering. Instead, she focussed intently on the park across the road, suddenly fascinated by the birds fighting over scraps of food on the lawn.
A loud thud jolted Danika out of her reverie. Turning back, she found Malik leaning against the car, glaring at her, while her parents were in the office. Ignoring him, she returned her attention to the sparrows for all of two seconds before he tapped on the glass. The knocking persisted until she lowered the window. ‘What?’
‘Welcome back, Princess Brainiac. I see four years of university didn’t mellow that temper of yours.’
She glowered. ‘Well it looks like you haven’t changed at all either.’ Except that he had. Malik had grown into a man, looking hotter and tougher than ever.
‘You’d be surprised.’ He ran a greasy hand along the window frame. ‘Your folks will be a while, so you might want to get out of the car before the heat fries some of those precious brain cells.’
Frowning, she glanced at her parents. ‘I thought they were just replacing a headlight?’
‘Chris noticed a nasty noise coming from the engine when you guys rocked up. He wants to check it out before letting you go.’ Malik nodded toward the middle-aged man who had just popped the Astra’s hood.
‘Fine! Whatever.’ Danika leaped out of the car, bringing her face-to-chest with Malik who was leering at her breasts. Horrified, she realised that her light-pink t-shirt had become transparent with her body’s moisture.
‘Cute bra.’ Malik smirked; eyes still glued to her pink, strawberry patterned brassiere.
‘Ugh. You’re such a disgusting pervert!’
His heated gaze shifted back up to her own and he leaned in close to her ear. ‘Like you can talk.’ Hot breath struck her neck as he spoke—like the air of a blast furnace—eliciting goosebumps along every inch of her flesh.
She tried to step around him, but he blocked her path. Shifting to the left, she made another attempt to escape his unwanted company, but the stubborn mule continued to thwart her. ‘Do you mind?’
‘Do I mind what? Taunting you? Not at all.’ Crossing his arms, he gave her a smug grin.
‘Move!’ she demanded.
A low growl travelled up from her diaphragm and escaped her lips. ‘Move, please!’
‘Hmm, no. That sounded more like a command than a plea.’
Her jaw stiffened and her fists clenched. ‘I’m too tired for this shit. Just get out of my way before I make you regret messing with my jetlagged arse.’
‘How, pray tell, are you gonna do that? Your crew has scattered to the far corners of the Earth, while my gang has grown bigger and stronger. You gave up your throne, so I rule this town now. You’d be wise to remember that.’
With hands on her hips, Danika puffed her chest out, no longer caring that her bra was on display. ‘I still have some loyal subjects and that crown you’re wearing was on loan in my absence. I’ll be taking it back now because the Queen has returned.’ Pushing past him, she strode off toward the office with a confident sway in her hips.
‘See you ’round, then, Strawberry Shortcake,’ Malik called out after her.
© 2020 L. STARLA
Stay tuned for Season 2, coming July 2022.
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