“Nice to meet you, Kade.” I was beyond excited to meet Taylor’s cousin. I knew very little about his family for as close as we were. We’d been best friends for two years, but he didn’t talk about anyone other than his immediate household.
“Likewise,” said Kade. “I’ve heard a lot about you.” Taylor elbowed him in the side and Kade let out a nervous laugh.
“I’m sorry I didn’t make it to your tennis match this morning,” Taylor said, shuffling his feet in the driveway and shoving his hands into the pockets of his cargo shorts.
Taylor seemed nervous and more apologetic than he normally would when he misses one of my matches. I mean, I was sad he wasn’t there, but I understand when people have something come up, especially something as exciting as seeing a cousin for the first time in years.
“That’s okay,” I said with a wave of my hand. “I’m so excited you were able to go to the airport and get your cousin. I can totally tell that you guys are cousins, you look exactly alike.” I mean I looked a lot like my cousin Veronica, but the resemblance between these two was on a whole new level.
“Told you,” Kade said. His smoldering eyes, so similar to Taylor’s, hid beneath disheveled brown curls that brushed just below his jawline.
“Nah,” Taylor answered, snapping me back to reality. “I would never wear my hair that long.”
“And you don’t dress all in black either.” I looked Kade up and down. He wore dark, ripped jeans with an incredibly tight Buxton Peak shirt that emphasized his muscles in an all too tempting way.
“See, she knows me.” Taylor raised his eyebrows at his cousin as if telling him I told you so.
“Well, I can’t wait for her to get to know me.” Although Kade spoke to his cousin, his message was clearly directed my way. A smile spread across Kade’s face as he brushed his thick brown curls out of his eyes. As he moved, a hint of his cologne washed over at me and he gave me a wink. I could have melted.
Their clothing choices seemed to match their personalities. My classy best friend, Taylor, was more preppy with his collared shirt and cargo shorts. His clean-cut hair had a side part and the thick locks shone in the sunshine. He belonged at a country club on the golf course with high-end clubs and his own caddy.
“You didn’t tell me how hot your cousin is,” I said to Taylor, glancing back and forth between the two of them. Maybe it was a bit bold, and definitely not my normal go to, but there was something about this Kade and Taylor combo that was throwing me off balance.
“Well, gee, if he’s hot and we look just alike does that mean you think that I’m hot, too?”
“Oh please, you’re my best friend. I could never think that you were hot.” I jostled his shoulder playfully. The disappointment on Taylor’s face was evident that he was offended by my statement. I needed to soften the blow. “But now that I know how hot your cousin is, I might have to take a closer look at you.”
I used my hands to make a finger frame focusing on his face as I pretended to zoom in and out. We both chuckled, and the tension in the air was gone almost as quickly as it arrived.
“Yeah right, like you and I could ever go out. Not.” Something about him saying that made me wish we could go out. I tried not to think of him that way. It would hurt too much if he didn’t like me back.
“Well, I’m totally going to have to set you up with one of my friends so that the four of us can go on a double date.” Someone should be able to enjoy how amazing I already know he is. Besides, that would give me an excuse to go out with Kade.
“Does that mean you want to go on a date with me?” Kade asked.
“Gee, I should probably wait for you to ask me that huh?” I bit me lower lip, pretending to be coy.
“Gracie, would you like to go on a date with me?”
“Yes!” I cleared my throat. “I mean that would be lovely, thank you.”
Taylor grumbled something under his breath as he rolled his eyes. I would have to ask him about what his deal was later.
“What’s your favorite restaurant?” Kade’s sultry voice gave me butterflies. Okay, cue the melting again.
“Oh, I’m not sure if I’m ready for a restaurant date. Maybe like mini golf or hiking.”
“Maybe you should figure out which one of your friends you’re going to set me up with before you decide where we’re going on our double date,” Taylor suggested. “She might not be into hiking.”
“True. Okay, I’ll have to think about that. What color hair should the girl have? Should she be an athlete? Or should she be an artsy type?”
“I guess, hair like yours.” He reached out and brushed a piece of my hair behind my ear. I held my breath as his fingertips felt like electricity on my cheek.
A slow smile crept across Taylor’s face as if he was deep in thought. He slowly pulled his hand back and said, “And for the rest of it, surprise me. If she’s anything like you I’m sure we’ll get along just fine.”
There was awkward silence for a few seconds before Kade said, “It was nice to meet you, gorgeous, I mean Gracie, but we should probably get going to help Aunt Rhonda with dinner. I look forward to our date once we find a hottie for my cousin.” Kade swung his arm around Taylor’s shoulders and Taylor grimaced before forcing a smile and stepping aside so Kade was no longer touching him.
Taylor glanced over at me and said, “Let me know if you find a friend willing to go out with me.”
“Very funny,” I responded and blew him a kiss. We waved goodbye as they walked back across the lawn to Taylor’s house.
As soon as they went inside, I whipped out my phone to text my best girlfriend Maddie. You are never going to believe this! How is this even happening right now? Tay’s cousin came to live with him and he is totally hottt!!! And get this, he asked me out! I already thought I was lucky having the hottest guy in school for my neighbor and best friend, but now I also get to be around his equally hot cousin? Thank you, universe, for blessing me this fine afternoon!
I slid the phone back into my pocket and hurried to my room, jumping onto my bed to stare at the Buxton Peak poster on my ceiling. I usually did my best thinking when I was looking at that poster because it reminded me of Taylor. Him taking me to their concert for my seventeenth birthday had been the highlight of my summer last year.
There was something off about Taylor today and I could tell the reason had to do with Kade. They seemed very different. Not seeing each other very often certainly can’t be good for a friendship, cousins or not. I wondered if maybe they just needed some time to get to know each other better.
“My new goal is to help them become best friends!” I declared to the Buxton Peak rock stars on my ceiling. I imagined them cheering me on in this endeavor and it gave me courage to make a plan the next time I saw Taylor and Kade.
Book Club Discussion Question: What kinds of challenges do you think Gracie will face trying to repair the broken friendship between Taylor and Kade? (Please discuss in the comments below.)
“Seriously, bro, hook me up.” Kade punched my shoulder as if that would make me change my mind.
“Dude, she’s my best friend.” I punched him back. “I wouldn’t set you up with her if you were the last two humans on earth.” Stepping down the front porch stairs of our modest home. I dreaded having to introduce my long-estranged twin brother to my next-door neighbor, the sweetest girl I’d ever met. This town had been my refuge from the life we’d known back in Nashville. Two years without drama and now, in the spring of my senior year, he comes waltzing back into my life as if nothing ever happened.
“When are you gonna forgive me, Tay?” Kade asked, remorse and hurt creeping into his otherwise cocky demeanor. “Seriously, haven’t I done my time?”
“Kade, I’m not sure I can ever forgive you.” I kept walking away, knowing he’d follow whether I wanted him to or not.
“Taylor,” he called to me when I’d only made it four feet down the driveway. He meant business if he hauled out the big guns and called me by given name. Nobody called me Taylor. I’d been Tay since I could remember. “Don’t do this, man. We’ve been apart long enough, don’t you think?”
“Kade, I finally have real friends who don’t know you exist. I’ve never told any of these guys about you. I don’t want you screwing up my life again.”
“That’s harsh.” Kade scuffed his foot on the sidewalk. Here in Grand Haven nobody had ever judged me because I was Kade’s brother. I turned to confront him.
“Can’t we just stick to the plan, call you my cousin who came to live with us because your parents are going through a divorce?”
“Do you honestly think people are going to believe that?” Kade raised his eyebrows. “We may be fraternal, but we still look like twins.”
“No, Kade, we don’t. I would never wear my hair that long.” I lifted one of his rock star wannabe shaggy curls, then glanced at his upper arm. “I don’t dress in black clothes and I can’t imagine getting a tattoo.”
“Don’t dis the tat. This baby’s a work of art.” Kade lifted the sleeve of his faded Buxton Peak concert T-shirt to reveal a tattoo of their logo. Obsessed much?
“How did you even get that?” I asked. “We’re not eighteen yet.”
“I got a fake ID, bro.” Of course, he did. Why was I even surprised?
“See and that is why I will never let you date my best friend.” I started checking off indiscretions on my fingers. “Dishonesty, theft, selling drugs, using drugs—”
He cut me off. “I have been clean for two years.”
“Only because you’ve been locked up,” I said, stepping closer and getting in his face. “Now that you’re out, who’s to say you aren’t going right back into your old ways?”
“I’ll prove it to you,” Kade said. “I won’t let you down this time.”
“Prove it by pretending to be my cousin and don’t screw up my life again.”
“Now who’s being dishonest?” Dang, he had me.
“In this case, it’s justifiable.”
“Yeah, well, mine was too.” His gaze lowered again. “You don’t know the whole story. And if you did, you’d be thanking me.”
“I doubt that,” I grumbled. I understood that he deserved a second chance. But not at the expense of my best friend. “I’ll try to forgive you. But I’m not setting you up with Gracie.”
“Whatever, Cuz.” Kade bumped his shoulder against mine. “Introduce me to your best friend and I will try not to flirt with her.”
“Thank you.” I led him next door and knocked on the screen.
She bounded down the hall, squealing with excitement. “He’s here, he’s here, he’s here!”
“You told her I was coming?” Kade asked.
“I had to have an excuse why I missed her tennis match this morning.”
“Do you attend all her tennis matches?”
“And you claim you’re just friends?”
“Best friends,” I corrected him. “There’s a difference.”
“Right, we’ll go with that.”
Gracie swung open the door with enthusiasm, a grin spread across her face.
“Hello, gorgeous.” Apparently, Kade had a nonexistent short-term memory because he forgot about the promise he’d just made not to flirt with her. She giggled in response.
“Gracie, this is my cousin, Kade.” I cringed as the lie fell from my lips. “Kade, this is my best friend, Gracie.”
Book Club Discussion Question: How quickly do you think Gracie will figure out that Tay and Kade are twin brothers instead of cousins?
Good news! Billionaire's Sons is now available on Amazon!
Good news! Billionaire's Sons is now available on Amazon!
“I can’t believe I let them talk me into that,” Nick mumbled to himself while he sat on the raised bed in the partitioned emergency room, with blood dripping from the gash on his left arm, waiting to find out if he’d need stitches or an amputation. He chuckled at his own joke and waited for someone to come check on his arm.
“Well, look who dropped by to mingle with us commoners.” A beautiful, freckled nurse with long, strawberry blonde curls walked up, with a clipboard in her hands and a barely contained smirk on her lips.
“Adele?” Nick gaped. “What are you doing here?”
“I’ll be your nurse this afternoon.” She chuckled and then leaned closer and stage whispered. “I get to be the one to torture you.”
“You’ve been torturing me since we were in diapers.” Nick cringed as she lifted his arm to assess the damage.
“Does that hurt?”
“Do you seriously have to ask?” Nick raised his eyebrows.
“Let’s get you a shot of painkiller and get that wound cleared of gravel,” Adele said in a cheerful voice.
After multiple pokes and prods and blood draws and papers to be signed, they were finally alone again, with a basin of some sort of foul-smelling liquid antiseptic and a variety of tools designed to frighten patients.
“So… whatch’u been up to, Nick?” Adele asked as she more closely evaluated the gash he’d received while landing with his tandem instructor.
The last time Nick had seen Adele in person was when they graduated from prep school, number one and number two in their class, sitting side by side, always competing for the top spot. He still resented her giving that valedictorian speech even though his college entrance exams had only been five points lower than hers.
“I went skydiving. You?”
“I got accepted in the master’s program here at Hadassah University Hospital.”
“Wow, in what?”
“Nurse practitioner.” She included an underlying duh with her declaration.
“Congratulations,” Nick said, in awe of her accomplishments. He’d lost touch with her since they’d separated for college.
“What about you?” She dipped his whole elbow and wrist into the basin the triage nurse had provided. The shot of painkiller they’d injected into him was finally working. He barely felt a thing.
“Still helping run my dad’s companies,” Nick answered.
“You a billionaire yet?”
“Not yet, but I’m working on it.” He was vaguely aware of her picking little pieces of gravel from his arm.
“You’ll get there.”
“I’m glad you have faith in me.” Did his voice get husky? How embarrassing.
“How are your mom and dad?” she asked, pausing her work.
“Fine, I guess. I see my dad more than my mom since we work together.”
“You need to spend more time with your mother, Nick.” She looked sternly into his eyes.
“How about if you come with me,” he asked.
“If I did that, she’d get the wrong idea and think we’d gotten back together.” Her voice was lowered, and she resumed picking gravel out of his arm.
“Would that be such a bad thing?” Nick boldly raised his free hand and lifted her chin gently.
“You don’t even know me anymore,” Adele said, not distracted by his gesture. “How do you know I’m not dating someone else?”
“Are you?” Nick asked. She didn’t answer, just kept her tweezers moving. “That’s what I thought.”
“I follow your blog.” Interesting change of subject.
“You do?” He couldn’t hide his smile.
“You have interesting philosophical insights into the world.”
“Thank you,” he said. “I’m flattered.”
“You should quit working for your dad and be a writer,” she said.
“I was thinking about writing a novel, actually.”
“Really?” Adele’s smile lit her face.
“Ah, dang, you keep smiling at me like that and I’m for sure going to write a novel.”
“You know how much I love your stories.” She set down the tweezers and reached for some other torture instrument. He decided not to watch. “Which one are you going to write first? The dystopian one? Or the spiritual one?”
“Probably dystopian,” he said. Was he really considering his youthful dreams? This was crazy. He runs into his childhood sweetheart and he’s suddenly contemplating a career change? “Spiritual crap doesn’t sell all that well.”
“You’d be surprised.” She finished by taping some gauze in place with sterile strips. “Do you promise to keep that clean and dry?”
“If you’ll promise to come check on me in a day or two, like, say, at dinnertime tomorrow.” Nick raised his eyebrows.
“I don’t date my patients.” The gleam in her eyes told him he wasn’t her usual patient. He’d held her in his arms on the dance floor under twinkling lights in the gymnasium. He’d been her first kiss, and she’d been his only kiss.
“Do you ever wonder what might have happened if we’d stayed together?”
“We’ve moved on, Nick.” Adele stepped over to the nearby counter and jotted something on the paperwork there. “The nursing assistant will bring you some discharge papers. Here are some additional instructions.”
As she handed Nick the sheet of paper she’d removed from her clipboard, she finally looked him in the eye.
“It was really nice to see you again, Nick.” She quickly walked away. He looked down at the slip of paper.
Clean and wrap your arm daily, no more skydiving, and call me if you need anything. She’d included her personal cell phone number.
“You’re seriously going skydiving?” Nick asked.
“Yes, and you are coming with us, little brother.” Liam laid his hand on Nick’s shoulder, with a smirk. At six foot one, and twenty-two years old, Nick was hardly little. But his older brothers were similar in height and bossed him around as if they were still in their teens.
“Have you forgotten that we all have jobs? We have responsibilities. We can’t just take off a whole day to do something reckless and dangerous.”
“When your daddy is your boss, you can get away with just about anything,” Liam said. His job was more public relations anyway. Liam was little more than a figurehead at their father’s business. The oldest son in the Cohen Empire, he was the guy who attended the black-tie social events, writing checks to whatever charitable organizations their father, Levi, believed in that month.
They were the richest family in the greater Jerusalem area, controlled a dozen of the finest resort hotels in Israel—holdings in every natural resource in the Arab region—and owned more land than God. Everyone either loved the Cohens or hated them, depending on whether their father had bought out their company at a fair price or held out as his toughest competition.
Nothing seemed to faze Levi Cohen. He expected great things from his sons but left them on too long a leash. Nick’s older brothers often took advantage of their father’s generosity and trust.
“Besides, you’re not going to rat us out, are you?” Lyle, the second oldest brother, stepped just a little bit closer, almost towering over him. The effect was mildly threatening, but Nick held his chin high. Always in their oldest brother’s shadow, Lyle wasn’t good for much in the way of business and usually just schmoozed the daughters and wives of whatever dignitary Liam needed distracted.
“There’s nothing you can do to talk us out of it,” Sam said. As the third oldest brother, he usually sided with Liam and Lyle. More responsible than the other two, he was actually quite intelligent with regards to their natural resource holdings, like petroleum and potash.
“I could encourage father to disown you and cut you out of his will,” Nick replied. They all started laughing at his matter-of-fact statement, which was an empty threat. Nick had very little control over what their father did, even though increasing responsibility seemed to fall on his shoulders as far as the acquisitions side of the business.
Nick was usually the responsible son. Why he was letting his brothers talk him into this was beyond him. Skydiving. The thought sent a little thrill up his spine. This was so unlike him.
The speed Liam drove down Route Six was almost as dangerous as jumping out of the plane. He thought he was invincible and lived his life as such. They weaved in and out of traffic in Liam’s custom-built Mercedes G-63.
In this beast, Nick didn’t fear for his own life; more for the innocent drivers all around them. He ground his teeth and clung to the grab handle as his brothers whooped out the open windows.
Liam slammed on the brakes and cranked the wheel before they could fly past SkyDef and slid into his own self-proclaimed parking spot in a cloud of dust.
Nick wanted to kiss the ground after he stumbled from the backseat but then realized the air around the vehicle was so full of sand he needn’t bother. He reached back inside for his water bottle and rinsed his mouth, spitting into the dirt beside the car.
“Liam, I’m pretty sure this is not an actual parking lot,” Nick said.
“I tip well,” Liam said. “They won’t care. Here, keep track of these.” He tossed Nick the keys to the car.
“Gladly.” Nick caught the little key fob and tucked it in his pocket. Maybe Liam would let him drive home. He watched as Liam slipped a silver flask from his jacket pocket and took a long pull and then handed it to Lyle. Nick grumbled under his breath. “Yep, I’m definitely driving home.”
“Let’s do this!” Lyle called into the air and then took another swig and blew a misty fountain of Bourbon that rained down, drenching them in alcohol.
“Cut it out,” Sam said, brushing off his arms and face. He’d gotten the brunt of mist because he stood beside Lyle. “They’re not gonna let us get on that plane if we reek of alcohol.”
“I told you, little brother”—Liam leaned closer to Sam— “I tip well. They let me do pretty much anything I want.”
The owner of SkyDef, a guy not much older than Liam, met them in the makeshift parking lot and welcomed them.
“Aharon, my man.” Liam clasped the guy’s hand in a half hug, patting him on the back.
“You finally made it down to my fine establishment,” Aharon said.
“I promised I would take my little brothers skydiving.” Liam wrapped his arm around his friend’s shoulder and turned him to face them. “This is Lyle, Sam, and our younger brother, Nick.”
“I thought you had four brothers.” Aharon crinkled his brow.
“Jacob’s only seventeen, we’ll bring him in a few years, if we still live around here.”
Huh? What did he mean by that?
“Planning a move anytime soon?” Aharon asked.
“Oh, ya know, nothing set in stone or anything.”
“What’s he talking about?” Nick asked Sam.
“No idea, bro.”
“Lyle, do you know?” Nick pulled on his brother’s sleeve.
“Not really.” Lyle shrugged. “Dad’s talking about some industry down in Dubai that he’s trying to take over.”
“Take over?” Nick raised his eyebrows. “You mean swoop in when the guy is at rock bottom and about to file bankruptcy so dad can buy the business below market?”
“Is there any other way to do business, little brother?” Lyle smirked and patted Nick on the shoulder. “Relax, Dad knows what he’s doing.”
Nick stopped short, and his two oldest brothers kept walking. “Yeah, but I usually know what Dad’s doing also.”
Sam paused and turned around. “I’m sure he’ll tell you about it when he’s ready.”
“This makes me nervous.” Nick resumed walking toward the building.
“What makes you nervous?” Sam asked, falling into step. “Skydiving? Or Dad not keeping you in the loop?”
“Both,” Nick admitted.
“Relax,” Sam said. “Dad’s a visionary man. He always seems to know where the market is heading.”
“True.” Nick paused to open the door to the comfortably air-conditioned building. “He knows I’ll go where he wants me to go and do what he wants me to do.”
“Your blind faith is noble, my little brother,” Sam said. “Now, let’s strap you onto a tandem instructor and hurl you out of a moving airplane and see if you come out unscathed.”
“Who in their right mind wants to jump out of a perfectly good airplane?” Nick grumbled.
“Let’s go find out.” Sam hurried ahead to join their brothers.
“What have I gotten myself into?”