Nick stood in the dark near the entrance to the garden at the back of the resort. Filled with winding stone paths, flowers, shrubs, trees, and little settees, the garden was meant to be a haven from the stress of life in the busy city of Dubai.
There was no haven from the stress of losing Adele, again. Why did he keep offending her? She slipped through his fingers like the sand of the desert.
Nick was drawn forward, down the stone path, holding on to the railing that served as a barrier between the garden and the brackish river flowing beside the path. He contemplated where his life was heading.
Three months ago, he’d been happily working for his father’s empire, helping build their family’s fortune. Now he was pining after his high school sweetheart, who was barely speaking to him. His brother was getting married and having a baby. His mother was having another baby and he’d be gaining another little brother. He’d been uprooted from his home in Jerusalem and was in hiding in Dubai.
Oh, and he’d committed murder.
Nick collapsed onto one of the little stone benches near a beautiful tree at the back of the garden and put his head in his hands.
Normally when he needed to vent, he just wrote a blog post and sent it out into the world. He couldn’t write about this. The only people he could talk to were his family and they were no help. They all wanted him to wait and see if anyone came after him.
He considered going back to Jerusalem and turning himself in, but that wouldn’t help anything either. No one seemed to have missed Landon. No one seemed to be searching for his killer. His death never even made the news. Maybe people just thought he drank himself into a stupor and fell down to die in the streets.
Landon was an arrogant jerk, and no one liked him. But he didn’t deserve to die. Self-defense. Nick couldn’t wrap his brain around that. That wasn’t really self-defense. It was defending his brother. Was that a good enough reason to kill someone?
“Is that a good enough reason to kill someone?” Nick called into the night sky.
“Nick?” Adelle spoke from ten feet down the path. Nick jumped.
“You startled me,” he said, breathing hard. He moved over to make room on the bench. “You can’t just sneak up on a guy like that.”
“Sorry, you walk faster than me, so I couldn’t keep up.”
“You followed me all the way out here?”
“I felt bad about the way I ended things earlier and I wanted to apologize. But now I’m a little bit worried about you.” Nick suspected she was no longer talking about following him to the back of the garden.
He knew why she was worried, and he turned away not wanting her to see the guilt in his eyes.
“So… was that a rhetorical question?” Adele asked, her brow creased. “About killing someone?”
Nick leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees, clasping his hands together as if in prayer and lowering his forehead. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Adele’s hand rested on his back and rubbed circles there. An hour ago, that would have been his undoing. Now, he was too consumed with his own guilt to get distracted by a pretty girl.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“I killed Landon Phillips.” There, he’d said it. He’d admitted out loud to someone outside his immediate family. Her hand stilled for a moment, and then she resumed rubbing circles on his back.
“And you want to know if that was justified?” She didn’t wait for him to answer before she added. “If I know you as well as I think I do, I can’t imagine you doing anything to hurt another human unless there was a darn good reason.”
“He was trying to kill my brother, Liam. Is that a good enough reason?”
“Maybe. Maybe not. Did you have another choice?”
“I hit him over the head with a beer bottle. I just needed him to stop choking my brother. I didn’t mean to kill him.”
“Is that why you left home?”
Nick nodded, without looking up.
“No one’s searching for you, Nick,” Adele said.
“You don’t know that.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“You weren’t exactly taking my phone calls.”
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, her voice trembling.
“Me too,” Nick answered. He didn’t know what else to say.
“Could I ask what Liam did to anger Landon so much that he was choking him?”
“Liam was spouting off at the mouth like he always does. Landon was drunk. They got into a fight. It ended in me hitting Landon over the head with a beer bottle.”
“Wait… does this have any correlation to Zach hanging around your father?” Adele asked. “Weren’t they business partners?”
“Zach came with us when we left Jerusalem,” Nick said. “If the police determined Landon had been murdered, Zach would have been implicated. He had the most to gain from Landon’s death.”
“I guess it’s better this way,” Adele said. “Keep your enemies close.”
“Zach isn’t our enemy. He’s a shrewd businessman, but he’s a decent guy. He sees our vision.”
“What vision?” Adele asked.
“Our path forward, our principles, our company’s mission and business plan. He understands that it’s better to grasp on to the success we’ve proven than to dwindle with Landon and all his darkness. Staying with us will lead him to the life he’s always wanted.”
“You really are full of yourself, aren’t you?” Adele asked.
“What do you mean by that?” Nick lifted his chin, offended by her words.
“You think your father’s company is the best in the world and others will only succeed if they follow your example.”
“I think our success proves the validity.”
“Your pride is going to be your undoing, Nick.” Adele stood and started down the path back toward the resort.
“Wait, don’t go.” Nick reached for her hand, and she stopped.
“Nick, look around you. We live in separate worlds. I’m just a simple girl from Jerusalem and you’re a world-traveled billionaire.”
“Son of a billionaire,” Nick corrected her.
“Same thing.” Adele stepped closer and raised onto her toes, kissing Nick’s cheek softly. “I love you, Nick. But it would never work.”
Adele walked away and Nick once again sat on the stone bench alone.