I’m up extra early this morning to stop by the Scott-Palmers holiday cottage on the Cornish coast, in the hope of snatching a private word with Theo, the novel’s nineteen-year-old love interest. I find him seated alone at a table on the terrace, pencil in hand, a sketchpad open in front of him. I pull out the chair beside his and sit down.
ME: You’re up early. Things on your mind?
THEO: (with a wry twist to his mouth) You could say that.
ME: About your breakup?
THEO: I’d rather not talk about that, if you don’t mind.
ME: That’s why you’re here though, right? Why you packed up your stuff as soon as uni ended for the summer and buried yourself in the countryside? Because of what happened with—
THEO: (face hardening) Seriously, I don’t want to talk about it.
ME: OK, sorry. (shifting to peer at the sketchpad) What’re you drawing?
THEO: Oh, it’s nothing. Just doodles.
ME: Wow, that’s really good. You have a talent.
THEO: (smile returning) Thanks.
ME: Hang on. Isn’t that Luke?
THEO: (blushing) Like I said, just doodles.
ME: Hardly. (glancing up at the window of the bedroom where Luke is still asleep beside Zara, then back at the beautifully detailed sketch) You like him, don’t you?
THEO: Of course I like him. He’s a decent guy, funny and smart and nice to talk to.
ME: No, I mean you really like him.
THEO: What? No, not like that. He’s off limits, forbidden. I mean, Zara’s my cousin. We’ve grown up together. I care about her. Lusting after her boyfriend… Well, I just can’t.
ME: All the same, you do like him.
THEO: (looking away, toying with his pencil) Even if I did, it doesn’t matter. It isn’t as if I can do anything about it.
ME: I don’t blame you. I can see why you might have fallen for Luke—the lazy charm, that rugby-player body…God, and that smile!
THEO: (dropping his head in his hands with a groan) Don’t.
ME: Plus, I’m guessing he must be completely different from other boys you’ve dated. He hasn’t had anything like the privileges you’ve been brought up with.
THEO: Luke’s background doesn’t matter to me, any more than it does to Zara.
ME: Still, perhaps that’s part of the reason you like him so much: because he’s so different. For one thing, I bet he’s nothing like your ex.
THEO: I told you, I don’t want to talk about that. (Pushing back his chair, he snatches up his sketchpad and disappears into the cottage)