“Geesh, Tay, aren’t you even going to wait until I have a chance to unpack a racket?” Gracie asked me as she set down her bag and unzipped the compartment with her favorite rackets. She kept them lined up in order of string tension and practiced with a different racket each day to gradually break them all in. By the time she got to a tournament, most of the rackets in her bag were optimized.
“No,” I grumbled. “Stay over here. I don’t want to hit you.”
“Okaaay…” She wisely slipped behind me and to the side, keeping a wide berth.
I tossed the next ball into the air and smacked it as hard as I could, not caring whether the serve was accurate. This wasn’t practice for me; it was blowing off steam, shaking off the aggression in my heart. Every ball I hit I imagined Kade’s smirk and I just wanted to smack him. Punch him. Hit him. Each ball had his face.
Then I realized his face was my face. Hating him was hurting us both. I screamed and almost smashed my racket against the court. Thankfully I kept my temper at bay.
“Hey.” Gracie’s soft voice was closer than I was expecting. She was brave to come this close to a guy who was a hair away from losing his temper. That woke me up. “You want to talk about it?”
“Not really.” I lowered my racket and let my arms go slack at my sides.
“I take it Kade moving in with you guys wasn’t your idea?” Her compassion was undeserved especially when I responded with sarcasm.
“Gee, what makes you think that?”
She didn’t answer, just pursed her lips and lifted her chin. Her long blonde hair pulled into a ponytail fell down her back.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to be a prick.”
“Do you remember the first day we came here to the tennis courts two years ago?” she asked.
“Of course.” I knew where she was going with this. “I watched you from my bedroom window as you stormed out of your house carrying your tennis bag and wiping tears from your face.”
“And do you remember why I was crying and storming from my house?”
“Because your parents were fighting again.”
“And what did you do?” she asked.
“I followed you here like a stalker.” I chuckled and she joined in, breaking the tension.
“You listened,” she said. “Even though we barely knew each other, and I was a blubbering mess, we sat here on the court and you listened as I told you about my horrible day.”
“And you smiled afterward.”
“And then we played tennis together for an hour,” she said.
“And I was terrible.”
“You had room for improvement.” She raised her eyebrows. I knew she wasn’t just talking about tennis anymore.
“He’s a jerk, okay? I don’t want him living with me because he’s gonna ruin my life again when I finally have normal friends and a normal house and a normal life, and I don’t want his drama.”
“See, don’t you feel better now, getting that off your chest?” She raised her eyebrows. “If I know anything about my best friend it’s that you won’t let some jerk ruin your life.”
“Easier said than done when the jerk is family,” I grumbled.
“I’m never going to choose him over you, if that’s what you’re worried about. One date with your cousin isn’t going to change the friendship you and I share.”
“Unless you fall in love, grow up and get married.” I was trying to make a joke but the thought of them together that way was revolting. She deserved a guy better than him.
“Well, if that were the case, I’d have the best cousin-in-law ever.”
I almost corrected her that she’d have the best brother-in-law ever, but I kept myself in check. I held up my racket. “You ready to beat the crap out of me?”
“Definitely.” Before heading over to the other side of the court, Gracie tucked herself into my arms and we held each other in a comfortable hug for a long moment.
I wished she could be in my arms every day and go on dates with me, not my twin brother. But she didn’t like me that way, and I could understand why. I was boring and normal. Kade was a sexy, brooding bad boy with the potential to be a rock star someday. If he hadn’t gotten into trouble when he did, he’d probably already be a rock star. With our dad and his connections, Kade could pick his venue.
No girl would choose me over him, not even my best friend. I pulled back and handed her the ball I’d had in my hand. “You can serve first.”
Taylor’s face lit up with a smile and his little sister clamored to extricate herself from his arms when she saw me.
“Gracie!” Little Reina scrambled off the bed and ran across the spacious room, jumping into my arms. I laughed as she wrapped her arms around my neck.
“Didn’t know I was missing a concert,” I said, leaning against the doorway of Taylor’s bedroom. I shifted the heavy five-year-old onto my hip.
The music stopped and Kade placed his hand across the strings of the guitar he was holding, silencing the reverb.
I’d let myself into Taylor’s back door through the kitchen like I always did and heard loud music from upstairs. No one was on the main level of the house. That was because they were all right here gathered around Kade.
“Did you know Kade is here?” Reina asked, as if Kade wasn’t right in front of me. “I haven’t seen him in years!”
“It’s only been a few months since you saw me, Ray.” Kade switched off the amp to stop the sound altogether.
“Don’t let me stop you from playing,” I said. “Nice to see that guitar getting some use. Tay never plays it.”
I carried Reina across the room and sat on Taylor’s bed next to where his older brother, Sean, sat on the floor leaning his back against the bed. Their younger brother, Clay, sat on the floor at Kade’s feet as if he idolized his cousin.
“Hey, that thing’s a collector’s item,” Taylor defended. “It’s going to be worth something someday.”
“It’s worth something now, idiot.” Sean turned around and shoved his brother playfully. “How many people in this world own a Paul Reed Smith signed by Ian Taylor?”
“Not many, I’m sure.” I glanced up at the poster above Taylor’s bed and his eyes followed mine. “How did you manage to get that guitar, anyway?”
“When Ian found out I was named after him, he gave it to me as a birthday present,” Taylor said, still gazing at the poster where the rock band, Buxton Peak stood in a pose worthy of a ninety’s boy band with a hint of rock god thrown in. They were a little younger in the photo then they were now, but it was a great poster. They’d had it matted and framed.
For the first time I realized the poster wasn’t just signed by the band members, it had personalized autographs written to Taylor. Dang. I set Reina on the bed and rose to get a closer look.
Happy birthday, little Tay. Love, Andy Smith. That was signed next the band’s bassist. Tay, thanks for screaming at our concert. Gonna git you some headphones! Love, Nathanial Jackson. That was next to their drummer. Love you, Tay. Happy first birthday. That was scrawled next to the band’s lead guitarist, Kai Burton. And last was a larger signature next to their front man, Ian Taylor, who must have been the guy who gifted the poster along with the guitar. So cool that your parents named you after me, Little Tay. Love you, buddy. -Ian Taylor
“A guitar is a pretty expensive first birthday gift,” I said, turning back to Taylor.
“Ian’s a billionaire,” Taylor dismissed my concern. “He can afford it.”
“It was probably a tax write-off.” Sean chuckled.
“Wanna hear me play it?” Kade asked me but looked to Taylor almost as if getting his permission. They glared at each other for a moment and I sensed more tension between the two of them.
“Whatever,” Taylor mumbled and looked away. He laid down on his bed and tossed a tennis ball in the air, letting it fall back into his hand. I wanted to comfort him but decided he and I could talk later when we could be alone. My best friend was having a tough day and I needed to find out why. As he continued tossing the ball in the air, I turned back to Kade.
“I’d love to hear you play.”
No one else seemed to notice the tension between Taylor and their cousin. We all settled into our spots and Kade turned the amplifier back on.
Without thinking about it I leaned back against Taylor’s headboard and pulled my feet up on the bed.
Taylor stilled for a second in response to me practically cuddled up by his side. He leaned his shoulder against my leg and glanced up at me, vulnerability in his eyes. I wondered if the tension between him and his cousin had anything to do with Kade flirting with me. Interesting.
I winked at Taylor then faced Kade as the sound of reverb filled the room. Taylor resumed throwing his ball.
Kade was seriously talented on the guitar. No wonder the family was gathered around to listen. I was caught up in the music as he played songs from Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Chuck Barry, Eddie Van Halen, Guns ‘N Roses, Carlos Santana, and Buxton Peak. He played Kai Burton’s solo from their most popular song, Passing through Eternity, so well that I’d swear I was listening to a recording.
That was Taylor’s favorite song, so he listened to it a lot. I guess if I were named after a rock star, his band would become my favorite band also.
After a little while of listening, a door slammed downstairs and Rhonda called up to us, “Kids, I brought pizza.”
“Pizza!” Clay hopped off the floor and headed out of the room. Sixteen-year-old boys were perpetually hungry.
“Pizza, pizza, pizza!” Reina slid down from the bed and followed her brother.
“Dang, you’d think they’d never been fed before.” Nineteen-year-old Sean hoisted himself off the plush carpet and brushed himself off.
As Kade turned off the amp and put the guitar in its stand, I caught Taylor’s tennis ball mid-throw.
“Wanna go hit some balls after dinner?” I asked Taylor quietly, speaking to just him.
“I would love that.” Taylor glanced up at me, his brown eyes smoldering. Dang, I wish he liked me as more than a friend. When Kade cleared his throat from across the room, Taylor sat up and pointed at him. “Don’t even think about it. You can have your date with Gracie another day. Tennis is our thing.”
“Yeah, tennis is our thing,” I teased as Taylor sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. I stood to get out of his way, helping him to his feet.
“Hey, have you figured out who you’re going to set me up with yet?” Taylor asked.
“Yes!” I realized I hadn’t told him the reason I came over. “My friend Hannah from the community center. She said she’s free on Friday night if you’re both up for some mini golf?”
“Whoever isn’t up for mini golf?” Kade asked with false enthusiasm. I wondered if his idea of fun on a Friday night involved something stronger than put-put golf. Something more like a rave party or rock concert. Something with scantily clad girls hanging on him. What had I gotten myself into?
“Yes, Friday sounds perfect.” Taylor put his hand on the small of my back, leading me out into the hallway. “Let’s eat some pizza and then head over to the courts, okay?”
Taylor was looking at me so intensely, like he was trying to communicate something he didn’t want to say in front of his cousin. This wasn’t like Taylor, and I hoped he would be willing to open up when we got to the courts.
“Whenever you’re ready Tay,” I responded, looking him straight in the eyes for several seconds, hoping to convey the message that I was ready to listen as soon as he was ready to talk.
Kade coughed from the doorway to Taylor’s bedroom. “So, gorgeous, I mean Gracie, I hear we have chemistry class together.” Kade’s emphasis on chemistry was purposely provocative.
Through nearly clenched teeth Taylor said to me, “I went ahead and shared our schedules with Kade.”
“That was very thoughtful of you, Tay.” I patted Taylor on the shoulder. “I’ll make sure Kade has a great first day at his new school.”
“I bet you will.” Kade’s suggestive comment earned him a punch in the arm from his cousin.
As I skipped down the stairs, I could hear Kade and Taylor talking aggressively to each other under their breaths. Maybe they weren’t working on their friendship.
When I walked into the kitchen, Rhonda offered me a slice of pizza, which I gladly accepted. She looked tired, and I marveled at how brave she was to take on one more mouth to feed when she was already raising four kids as a single mom.
There was a possibility that my mom might soon know how that felt and I wasn’t ready. My parents hadn’t officially split up yet, but the threat hung over our family like an ominous cloud. At least my best friend would be able to comfort me through my parents’ divorce, if it came down to that.
I didn’t want it to come down to that.
Book Club Discussion Question: What message do you think Taylor's trying to convey to Gracie? Please discuss in the comments.
“What the heck was that all about?” I smacked Kade on the arm. We’d barely stepped off the porch at Gracie’s and I was ready to have a throw-down fight with my twin. “You promised you weren’t going to flirt with Gracie.”
“I said I would try not to flirt with her.” Kade smacked me back. “There’s a difference.”
“Whatever. I knew it was a bad idea having you come live here.” We’d crossed the yards between Gracie’s house and ours, and I opened the screen door letting it fall closed behind me.
“Where would you want me to live?” Kade asked, not calling me out for the door hitting his shoulder.
“I don’t know,” I said. “With dad, maybe?”
“That’s where I got in trouble in the first place. Do you want me around my old friends?”
“You choose who to hang out with.” I bypassed the kitchen, knowing mom was bringing home food in an hour. I didn’t want to disturb her spotless masterpiece she paid a cleaning lady to maintain as if she weren’t raising five children.
“Well, I choose to hang out with you. My brother.” Kade followed me, relentless to worm his way back into my otherwise perfect new life.
“Don’t call me that.” I turned on him. “You’re my cousin, remember?”
“Right, because I’m just supposed to forget about the first fifteen years of my life when I was your twin brother, and the past two years while I was in juvie and you barely came to visit me.”
“I’ve moved on with my life.” I made my point by continuing down the hall to the staircase.
“Yeah, well, you’re going to have to fit me back in to your new life.” He continued following me.
“You can start by wearing nicer clothes and cutting your hair,” I suggested.
“Then people really will think we’re twins.” He had a point.
“Fine, keep your ripped jeans and leave your hair long like a rock star.” I took the stairs two at a time, but he was relentless in his pursuit.
“I love rock stars. Speaking of which, can I play your PRS? I miss that little baby.” Kade bypassed his own bedroom, which already had his personal items organized exactly how mom thought he would want them.
“Do you even remember how to play?” I entered my own bedroom resigned that I would get zero privacy for the next two years of my life as my twin attempted to make up for lost time together.
“Just like riding a bike.” Kade strode over to the guitar stand in the corner of my room and picked up the top shelf Paul Reed Smith electric guitar signed by Ian Taylor, himself, the guy I was named after.
My mom always said my dad loved Ian and his rock band more than he loved her. Guess that’s why they lived in separate homes now. Mom got tired of always being second choice. They could use Grandma Kendrick, and her heart attack as the excuse. But none of the kids believed that. At least our mom and dad were still married, and still crazy about each other even if they no longer lived together.
I laid down on my bed and grabbed a tennis ball, throwing it toward the ceiling and watching it fall neatly back into my hand, over and over.
Kade plugged in the amp and let the reverb fill my spacious bedroom. My eyes closed involuntarily. I may not have my brother’s talent, but I could appreciate listening to him play. Took me back to a simpler time in my life.
Within a few minutes, our older brother, Sean, entered my room and sat on the floor, leaning his back against my bed. Next came sixteen-year-old Clay, who sat at Kade’s feet gazing up at him with hero worship in his eyes. Lastly, little Reina skipped into the room, climbed onto my bed and snuggled into my arms. Her hand reached close to her face, the thumb twitching to her mouth.
I grunted at her, reminding her subtly to remember her age. “Kindergarteners don’t suck their thumbs.”
“I know that.” Reina pulled her hand away from her face and tucked it behind her back.
For a few moments we all just sort of listened while our brother played guitar.
Until suddenly another face appeared in the doorway to my bedroom. I sat up in surprise. “Gracie, what are you doing here?”
Book Club Discussion Question: Who else here is a Buxton Peak fan?? Why do you think these guys love Buxton Peak so much??
“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?
They planned the wedding in Dubai, at the Cohen’s largest newly acquired resort so Adele’s friends and family members could come down to attend the wedding. After months of hiding, there was no hint that anyone was searching for the person or persons who had been responsible for Landon’s death.
While in Jerusalem, Nick helped his father quietly sell most of his land holdings and business ventures. They made preparations to leave Israel, presumably forever. Nick knew his father was working on other business ventures in Dubai, but he was unwilling to even ask until after returning from his honeymoon.
Nick had one thing on his mind; planning a wedding so he could be with Adele forever. His older brothers teased him mercilessly about his unwillingness to be alone with his bride until after the wedding. He wasn’t taking any chances. He was already tempted nearly beyond restraint by the woman he’d loved since they were teenagers.
Adele planned a simple wedding that got out of hand. A girl could not marry the son of a billionaire and avoid having dignitaries from all over the world invited. The guest list was beyond their control, but she insisted on simplicity in her dress and flowers and pageantry, and a meal without drinking and partying. Nick was completely fine with that. He didn’t want anything—or anyone—ruining her special day.
The wedding party was nearly identical to that of his brother and Adele’s sister. The biggest change was the order of the lineup, and one additional brother: Nick’s best friend, Prince Marcos Sayid of Madain Saleh. The simple crown he wore was tucked within purposely shaggy hair, grown out just a little for the occasion. In his sorry attempt to conceal his royalty, Prince Marcos instead took on the appearance of a rock star in a tux with a crown. Every eligible woman in the room batted her eyelashes.
The large garden to the back of the resort, where Adele had first told Nick she loved him on the night before their siblings’ wedding, was the perfect location for her to walk down the cobblestone path to meet her groom.
Nick waited in anticipation, his brothers by his side, his father and very pregnant mother sitting in the first row of seats, and his friends and family nearby, for his bride to descend the path and come join her life to his.
The music shifted and Ruth began her descent, followed by Rachel, then Miriam, her dress altered to beautifully showcase her growing belly, and last was Leanne.
Again, there was a change in the tune emanating from the grand piano that had been carefully transported and placed in the garden, and the members of the audience stood. Nick wished they hadn’t. His view was impeded. He broke from his place of honor and stepped to his right, standing instead directly before the aisle where Adele would appear at the head of the path. He wanted to be the first to view the elegant woman who would descend unto him.
Tears ran unabashedly down his cheeks as Adele appeared on the arm of her father, Daniel Ashish. He held back his desire to run to her, sweep her into his arms and carry her the rest of the way, demanding the officiator hurry with their vows so he could be forevermore her husband.
Painstakingly slow she walked forward, cobblestone step by step by step, until she stood by his side and Daniel handed over his daughter for safekeeping to the man he had forbade enter his home a few short months prior.
Nick broke his gaze from his bride for a few brief seconds to look his new father-in-law in the eye, man to man, conveying with every fiber of his being that he would protect and cherish this woman whom they both loved.
With no further fanfare, Daniel released Adele’s hand and placed it into Nick’s, then ducked away to go and sit beside his wife in the front row.
“Can I kiss you now?” Nick whispered, gazing into Adele’s eyes.
“Nope,” she whispered back and winked at him. “Marry me first.”
He gently pulled her forward, never releasing her gaze and stood before the man who prompted their vows and rituals that would bind them together legally.
Nick barely registered the words he repeated, yet felt them to his core. He was promising everything to Adele and more. He was promising forever, if that existed.
As hurried as he’d been to get to this moment, when the officiator pronounced them husband and wife, time slowed. He closed the distance between them and lifted her face delicately, lowering his while maintaining eye contact until the last possible second. He hesitated and hovered inches from a kiss and waited for her to lift onto her toes and meet his lips, sealing their love for one another.
This was only their second real kiss as adults, and might as well have been their first with how sacred this felt.
When they pulled apart an inch or two, Nick pressed his forehead to Adele’s and whispered, “Thank you.”
Adele threw her arms around Nick’s neck and kissed him again, a combination of humor and passion, then pulled away and laughed lightly. “I love you!”
“I love you too.” Nick laughed along with her, lifting her off her feet playfully. Setting her back down he whispered for her ears only, “Am I allowed to admit I’m terrified right now?”
“Good, I’m not the only one.” She giggled. “How about this? Let’s go eat a little food, dance the obligatory number of dances, then go upstairs.”
“Sounds good to me,” Nick said a little louder than he should have.
Adele grabbed Nick’s hand and held it up triumphantly, calling out to the crowd, “Finally!”
Everyone laughed as Adele playfully tugged her groom up the cobblestone steps to the grand ballroom inside. Nick allowed himself to be pulled along, unable to deny his new wife one moment of this new excitement.
Nick had no idea how long it took the rest of the wedding party to ascend the path from the garden, but by the time anyone else arrived in the ballroom where the tables were situated around a small dancefloor, awaiting the meal, he and Adele were alone on the dancefloor holding one another close, swaying to dinner music played softly by the string quartet in the corner.
They eventually allowed others to pull them apart just far enough to sit at the head table and eat a little food. They were dragged around the room greeting the myriad of guests, dancing and dancing and dancing, cutting cake, posing for a million photographs, and hugging many friends and family.
“Look at Sam and Leanne,” Adele said from where they stood on the other side of the ballroom. Nick glanced over to the dancefloor where she pointed, and his heart warmed. They were dancing together, cheek to cheek, both of their eyes closed in a bliss he understood all too well.
“Reminds me of a few months ago when you and I held each other the same way at Lyle and Miriam’s wedding,” Nick said, pulling Adele closer. “Maybe a few months from now we’ll be celebrating another wedding.”
“If he can get her out of the library long enough to date,” Adele said. “Maybe we should warn him about the uphill battle he’ll fight.”
“Nah, I don’t want anything interrupting this moment. I remember what that was like.” Nick kissed the top of her head. “Besides there are a few other things I’d like to do right this minute.”
“Yeah?” Adele turned away from watching the dance and Nick caught her in his arms, loving the silky fabric of her wedding dress beneath his hands. “Do any of those things involve you finally taking me up to your suite?”
“Our suite,” Nick whispered. “From now until forever, what’s mine is yours.”
“All I’ve ever wanted from you was your heart.” Adele gazed into his eyes, passion replacing humor.
“You have my heart.” Nick pulled her closer and his breathing increased. “Would it be okay if I give you the rest of me too?”
“Only if I can give you the rest of me,” Adele whispered.
The purr that emanated from somewhere inside him came out as a soft growl. “Mrs. Cohen, I would very much like to escort you upstairs to our suite.”
“I’ll follow you anywhere, Mr. Cohen.”
With no other formal invitation or goodbye to friends and family, they ducked out the nearest door and Nick swept Adele into his arms, carrying her up the stairs.
Book Club Discussion Question: Well, what did you think? Are you ready to read Sam's story next? or perhaps skip over to Prince Marcos' story?
“I need to see Adele,” Nick told the receptionist at the emergency room entrance. He was breathless after rushing in from the limo.
“Are you family?” the annoyed receptionist asked.
“I’m her fiancé,” Nick said.
“I wasn’t aware Adele was engaged.” The woman crossed her arms and sat back in her chair.
“I’m not sure she’s aware either.” Nick chuckled.
The woman didn’t look amused and didn’t make a move to let him in the door.
“Could you please just call back there and let her know I’m here?” Nick asked. “Please, I’m desperate.”
She picked up the phone to make the call and then raised her eyebrow. “Whom should I say is here to see her?”
“Tell her a cocky, prideful, son-of-a-billionaire is here to see her, she’ll know exactly who you’re talking about.” He was certain his playful grin was a bit smug, but he didn’t care. He was going to see Adele in less than a minute.
“Hi, it’s Judith at the triage desk. Could you tell Adele that her fiancé is here to see her?” She paused while listening to whoever was on the other end of the call. “Yeah, I didn’t know either. Mm hm, okay, I’ll tell him to wait a while. Thank you.” Judith hung up the phone.
“Well?” Nick raised his eyebrows.
“She’ll be out after she gets done inserting an IV into the arm of some guy who has such a bad migraine that he won’t stop puking.”
“Sounds lovely.” Nick wrinkled his nose and walked over to have a seat beside his brother but kept eagle eyes on the door to the emergency room.
After what seemed like hours, Adele exited the ER, her curls slipping from her hair clip and her shoulders slumped. Nick rushed up to her but stopped short of pulling her into his arms. She crossed her arms over her chest.
Nick pulled out his brand-new cell phone and held it up for her to see. “Do you know what this is?”
“Next year’s model of the iPhone, which won’t be available to us commoners for another eight months?” She sneered.
“The make and model are not important,” Nick said, not denying her observation. “What’s important is that it’s replacing my old phone. The phone I’ve had for years. The one with all my contacts inside.”
Adele’s facial expressions softened but her eyes remained hard.
“I have been trying to figure out how to get in touch with you for weeks. I finally just hopped on a jet and flew up here. But then your dad wouldn’t let you see me, so I figured the hospital would be the next most likely place to find you.”
“So that’s why you didn’t call?” she asked, lowering her gaze. “I thought you wanted nothing to do with me.”
“I want everything to do with you. I love everything about you,” Nick said, leaning closer. “I can’t think, I can’t work, I can’t breathe without you.”
“I miss you too.” Her whisper was barely a squeak. “But Nick, I’m not sure you can change. You’re too perfect. You think everyone should follow your example and live their lives the way you do.”
“But I have changed,” Nick said, pleading with his eyes. “I took to heart what you said about my pride and I think I understand. I’ve followed my dad’s example all my life and he’s so smart and confident and such a good man that he seems cocky sometimes.
“I’m not as smart as my father is and when I try to emulate him, I become cocky and prideful. I’m trying to be more humble… and I could learn a lot from you.”
“We come from separate worlds, Nick.” Adele was grasping, still fighting to find a reason to push him away.
“We’re not so different, Adele.” Nick chuckled and shook his head. “We’re both rich kids trying to make a positive difference in the world. You’re so intelligent that you intimidate me. But… I’m almost as smart.”
“Five points less smart.” She tried to hide a grin but failed miserably. That gave Nick the little bit of confidence he needed to finish his passionate apology.
Nick knelt on one knee, right there in the waiting room of the emergency department and held out a small black box containing a simple diamond engagement ring. “Adele, I’m sorry to ask you to give up your life in order to follow the fugitive son of a billionaire, but would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?”
“Yes,” she said without hesitation. “Nick, I will follow you anywhere. I would be honored to be your wife.”
Nick hopped to his feet, forgetting he was supposed to put the ring on her finger first, and wrapped his arms around her. He whispered over and over. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
“You have a lifetime to keep apologizing.” She laughed.
“I’ll never stop,” he said, then pressed his lips to hers, sealing his promise.
Book Club Discussion Question: what do you think's next for Nick and Adele? The wedding of the century? Another disaster or scandal like at Lyle and Miriam's wedding? A double wedding with some of their other siblings? The return of a certain prince? Answer in the comments below!
“Ruth, this is Nick,” he spoke into a recorded message. This was the fifth time he’d left a voicemail asking to speak to Adele. “Please, I’m desperate. Please help me get in touch with Adele. Call me.”
He received a text within a few minutes.
Look, I don’t know who you are or why you keep leaving me voicemails. I don’t know who Ruth is, and I don’t know who Adele is, and I don’t know anyone who lives in Dubai. If you don’t stop calling me, I’m going to block this number. I might just do that anyway. Goodbye, Nick. Good luck finding your girlfriend.
“It’s the wrong number,” Nick whispered, then turned and called out to his brother, Sam. “He gave me the wrong phone number.”
“What?” Sam trudged out of his suite with a towel around his neck as if he’d been working out.
“Prince Jared gave his brother the wrong number for Ruth and that’s why I can’t get a hold of Adele.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Sam turned to head back into his suite.
“Wait,” Nick called after him. “I need you to go with me to Jerusalem.”
By nightfall their private jet had landed at a little airport outside Jerusalem within a few miles of Daniel’s estate. They called for a limo, and Nick bit his fingernails all the way up their drive.
He ran up the porch steps to the elaborately carved front door, Sam trailing behind. A doorman let them in, and Daniel soon joined them in the grand foyer. Nick remembered Adele’s comment about being a simple girl from Jerusalem and chuckled. Her family was almost as rich as his.
“What is it you want?” Daniel asked, folding his arms across his chest. His brawn was intimidating but Nick didn’t back down.
“I need to see Adele,” Nick pleaded. “Please, sir.”
“Your family has done quite enough, thank you very much,” Daniel said, then turned to walk away. “You’re not welcome here.”
“Adele!” Nick called as loud as he could, hoping the sound would reverberate in this vast space and reach her in the far corners of the mansion. “Please, Adele, I just need to speak with you!”
“Nick,” Daniel looked back at him. “Go home to whatever resort your vagabond family is living in these days. Leave my family alone.”
Nick’s shoulders slumped in defeat as Daniel turned and walked away, leaving him standing there by the entrance to the estate.
“She’s not here.” A small voice spoke from beside them. Leanne stood there, tucked into one of the alcoves in the foyer, her arms crossed and a sad smile on her face. “Hey, Sam.”
“Hey,” Sam answered, shuffling his feet and sticking his hands in his pockets.
“Do you know where she is?” Nick asked, grasping Leanne’s shoulders.
“She’s working second shift at the hospital this evening.”
“Oh, thank goodness.” Nick turned to the door. Sam didn’t follow. “Come on, man.”
“Gimme a minute,” Sam said. “I’ll meet you at the car.”
“Come on—” Nick spoke through gritted teeth.
Sam pulled him aside and whispered harshly. “If this were Adele standing here, and I was rushing you out the door, how would you feel?”
“Take as long as you need,” Nick mumbled and left the house, trudging down the stone stairs to the waiting limo.
True to his word, Sam was out the door in barely a minute, and traipsed down the stairs, looking down at his phone. He tucked himself into the car and pulled the door closed, then held up his screen for Nick to see. “Got one of Daniel’s daughters’ phone numbers anyway.”
“Good for you, man.” Nick patted his brother on the shoulder. “Now let’s go find another one.”
Book Club Discussion Question: What do you think Adele will have to say when Nick shows up at her work?
“I still can’t find my cell phone.” Nick was ready to pull his hair out. He hadn’t seen it since the day before when they were getting into their tuxes.
The day had not started well. He awoke to discover Daniel had left with his daughters, claiming he didn’t want any more of Levi’s sons to corrupt them. Nick was devastated. Until he found his phone, he wouldn’t be able to call or text Adele. He couldn’t remember her phone number. He had relied too much on the technology of his contacts list.
As brother of the groom, his job was far from over. He was expected to greet the guests as they were leaving the resort, thanking them for coming and wishing them well on their travels.
Prince Marcos was the first person to razz Nick about making out with Adele on the dance floor. “I knew when I met her that she was smitten with you.”
“That’s all fine and good if I could get in touch with her,” Nick said.
“Let me ask my brother, Jared.” Marcos patted Nick on the shoulder. “It’s a long shot, but maybe in all his conversations with Ruth, he obtained her sister’s number.”
“I’m not holding out any hope,” Nick said.
The young prince pulled his cell phone from his jacket pocket and called Jared. Nick hung on his every word, waiting impatiently while Marcos explained to his brother that, no, Ruth was not interested in dating again. Marcos thanked him as he wrote down a phone number then said goodbye to his brother. He handed the piece of paper like a lifeline.
“Don’t get too excited,” Marcos said. “It’s Ruth’s phone number. Jared assumes she would be able to get in touch with her own sister.”
“Thank you, Your Highness,” Nick said with complete sincerity. “I owe you my gratitude.”
“Now there you go again, throwing around my title like name dropping is going to get you anywhere.”
“It got me a phone number.” Nick shrugged and chuckled.
“Eh, it’s been so good to see you again, my friend.” Marcos reached and wrapped Nick in a hug.
“You as well, Marcos.” Nick pulled away from their hug. “Now I just gotta go buy myself a new phone.”
“Good luck to you,” Marcos said, turning to walk away.
“Let me know if you need anything,” Nick called after him. “Like a new kingdom, or something.”
“You’re one to talk.” Marcos turned but kept walking backward. “An exiled murderer running from the law.”
“And a prince without a throne. We’re quite the pair.”
“Goodbye, Nick,” Marcos called.
“Fair thee well, my prince!” Nick turned and walked the other direction toward the front desk of the resort lobby. “Where can I buy a new phone?”
Book Club Discussion Topic: Do you think Ruth will give Nick Adelle's phone number? Why or why not?
The great thing about being in a wedding party was that a guy didn’t have to worry about asking a girl to dance. It was expected.
After the bride and groom had their obligatory first dance, Nick led Adele onto the floor and confidently pulled her into his arms. She didn’t resist.
This was the first time Nick had ever held her that firmly. While in their youth, they held hands and kissed a few times, but never with any passion. Theirs had been an innocent young love affair complete with constant chaperones and strict warnings about right and wrong.
Nick had never been the kind of man to covet a woman’s body or be motivated by physical attraction, but the magnetic force holding Adele’s body close to his was powerful.
The people and tables and elegance around them faded into a distant space beyond his mind. The music was the pulsing beat of his heart.
Adele’s strawberry blonde hair fell in wisps from the clips and flowers that had hours ago failed to hold it in place. Her crystal blue eyes held his as if he were the only person in the room. The only person in the world.
He released his hands from her waist and reached to caress her face, allowing one hand to follow the line of her jaw, the other to brush his thumb across her lips, which she parted with a sigh of invitation.
Nick raised Adele’s chin gently and lowered his face to hers. She lifted onto her toes to meet him halfway, closing the distance and sealing the kiss he’d longed for since the day he’d chanced to meet her in the hospital emergency room a few months before.
How lucky that his brothers had dragged him to go skydiving.
How unfortunate that Liam and Rachel stumbled onto the dancefloor, waking Nick and Adele from their trance.
The couples on the dancefloor stopped and took a step back as Liam pulled Rachel close, dancing provocatively. His bowtie was hanging around his neck and his shirt was untucked. Rachel’s dress was askew, and her hair had been completely pulled from the clips that had once held it in place.
Within thirty seconds of them entering the dancefloor, Nick had Liam by one arm and Sam held the other in an attempt to escort him from the room.
“Let go of me,” Liam slurred, trying to twist his way out of his brothers’ captivity. “I was dancing with my date.”
“I think you’ve had enough for one night,” Nick growled.
“Come on, man,” Sam said. “This is not cool. You need to sober up.”
“I am plenty sober,” Liam said, finally breaking free. “I am going to dance with my Rachel.”
Suddenly Levi stood in his way and demanded that Liam leave immediately and stop disrupting his brother’s wedding reception. Liam could fight with his brothers, but he would not directly disobey his father, at least not to his face.
Nick and Sam took the advantage of the distraction to escort their oldest brother from the grand hall. Liam cursed and argued and stumbled all the way up the elevator to his suite, insisting he was fine. It took them hours to get him calmed, and he finally passed out.
By the time Nick made his way back down to the grand hall, the reception had ended and only an empty dancefloor remained of the magic he’d shared with Adele.
Miriam floated down the aisle, a vision of elegance, and not a sign to indicate there was any reason to question the sanctity of her white dress. Lyle stood beside his brothers, with a gleam in his eye. He was either a very good actor or was truly excited to have Miriam for his wife.
Nick hoped it was the latter.
He glanced across at where Adele stood beside her older sisters. Ruth, the maid of honor, had walked alone ahead of Miriam. Liam had escorted Rachel, Sam had escorted Leanne, and Nick had the good fortune to escort his former sweetheart and the woman he wished could become his bride.
As if sensing his gaze, Adele lifted her eyes, and a tiny smile pulled at her mouth before she forced it away and looked back to her sister.
Warmth spread in Nick’s heart, together with hope. He would be patient. There was no one else but her, and she had admitted there was no one else but him.
Lyle and Miriam committed their life to one another and seemed genuinely happy to have been forced into this union. They exchanged rings, and vows, and a kiss that made the old ladies in the room blush crimson.
Nick had to look away and chuckled to meet Adele’s gaze across the aisle again. He raised his eyebrows at her provocatively and smirked.
Adele’s jaw dropped, and she looked away but not before she bit her lower lip to force away a smile.
After a million photographs, the wedding party was led into a grand reception hall where they were welcomed with applause as the DJ introduced Mr. and Mrs. Lyle and Miriam Cohen.
They were expected to interact with the guests as they made their way across the large room full of tables before reaching the wedding party’s table where they would be seated and treated to a dinner befitting a king, or a billionaire in this case.
Liam managed to find champagne, within seconds of walking into the hall, but dinner wasn’t for another forty-five minutes. By the time they reached their table, he was stumbling and hanging on his date. Rachel didn’t seem to mind and had already drank a few too many as well.
“They need food,” Nick said to Adele. “Now.”
“Follow me.” Adele didn’t wait for Nick to answer, just held his hand as she led him over to a man in a suit who seemed in charge. She didn’t bother with pleasantries. “Get the bridal party plates of food immediately.”
“Yes, ma’am.” The man turned and stepped through a door. By the time Nick and Adele had corralled their brothers and sisters into the waiting chairs, servers were delivering elegant platters to their table.
Thankfully, Liam dug in with gusto, and Nick breathed a sigh of relief. The last thing he needed was for Liam to make a fool of himself at their brother’s wedding.
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.
Nick attended more parties that week than ever in his life. Each time more dignitaries arrived, the champagne flowed, and Nick relished the opportunity to have Adele by his side. He was almost distracted enough to forget about Landon’s murder. Almost.
Thankfully, Prince Marcos was often pulled away for diplomatic appearances and side meetings. That meant he didn’t have time to flirt with Adele. At the moment he was surrounded by two businessmen and one of the Saudi princes. Neither of them wore any adornments setting them apart as royalty and yet even at a party as large as this gathering, they stood out.
“I don’t envy him.” Adele spoke so casually that Nick was taken aback. They’d been standing together all week, and she’d barely acknowledged him, yet she now commented on Nick’s old friend as if Nick were her confidant.
He hadn’t realized they’d both been observing the young prince from across the room until that moment. Nick didn’t want to question her sudden change, so he just as casually responded. “Why’s that?”
“His life is not his own. He doesn’t get to choose who to talk to, where to stand, what to do. He goes and does what he’s told.”
“What? Not interested in accompanying him?” Nick shifted his gaze to the beautiful woman by his side. “I’m sure you could liven up the party for him if he had you on his arm.”
“Please.” Adele rolled her eyes. “I was only flirting with him to make you jealous.”
“Really?” Hope swelled in Nick’s chest.
“Did it work?”
Nick guffawed. “Uh, yeah.”
“Don’t you know?” Adele asked in a low voice. “There’s never been anyone but you.”
“There’s never been anyone but you either,” Nick whispered.
“I wish we could go back in time and pretend the past four years never happened.” Adele met Nick’s gaze, with longing.
“We could start over.” Nick turned to face her and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear.
“No, I’m afraid we can’t,” Adele said. “You ignored me for four years, then insulted and offended me. I’m only here because my parents forced me to come.”
“I’m truly sorry about everything. Please, let me make it up to you.”
“It’s too late, Nick. But thank you.” She turned but stopped before walking away. “I’ll see you at the wedding tomorrow.”
Planning a wedding, even on short notice, isn’t difficult when funds are unlimited. Dubai was an elegant location, and Levi spared no expense. He lavished gifts and praise and affection on Daniel’s daughters as if they were his own.
Miriam was elegant, and Lyle was the perfect gentleman, and everyone pretended there wasn’t a proverbial shotgun to his head.
To Nick, the fortunate benefit of having his brother marry Adele’s sister was that they were forced to spend time together. There were formal brunches, photo shoots, and receptions as Levi’s newly acquired resort welcomed dignitaries from across the globe. Nick was surprised how quickly Daniel and Levi were able to gather friends.
The person Nick was most excited to see was the young Prince Marcos from the tiny kingdom of Madain Saleh. He arrived amid much fanfare, in place of the Crown Prince, Jared, whose absence was as much a snub to Daniel’s family as it was a recognition of Ruth’s refusal from the previous year.
Nick confidently approached the third prince in line for the throne in his tiny kingdom, with whom he’d spent many days causing trouble during prep school in their early teens.
“Your Highness,” Nick acknowledged Prince Marcos with a slight bow of his head and a smirk.
“Don’t insult me by throwing around my title, Nick. We’ve known each other since we were in primary school.”
“Only in public, Marcos.” Nick kept his voice low. “I love how you’re trying to disguise your accent.”
“I’m planning a holiday to the States in a few months and desire to assimilate.”
“Good luck with that.” Nick chuckled. “You are royalty, through and through.”
“For now,” Marcos grumbled under his breath.
“What do you mean by that?” Nick was genuinely concerned.
“My country is in turmoil,” Marcos said. “A civil war is brewing. My brother and I are concerned.”
“I’m truly sorry to hear that,” Nick said. “If there’s anything I can do to help, allow me to offer my service.”
“Possibly asylum,” Marcos murmured.
“Looking for that myself,” Nick replied just as discretely as Marcos had. “I may or may not be running from the law because I may or may not have murdered someone, but you didn’t hear that from me.”
Marcos stopped short when Adele and Ruth came around the corner to the lobby. Adele narrowed her eyes at Nick, and Ruth halted and folded her arms across her chest.
Nick lifted his hand as if presenting a prize on a game show. “Adele, Ruth, may I present Prince Marcos Sayid of Madain Saleh.”
“We’ve met,” Ruth said, not releasing her arms from their closed position.
“Your Highness.” Adele offered a slight bow of her head and hint of a smile. Was she flirting with him? Great. Just what Nick needed.
“A pleasure to finally make your acquaintance, Adele.” Marcos reached out his hand, inviting Adele to offer hers.
“Likewise, Your Highness.” Adele slipped her hand into his as Marcos leaned down to place a kiss on the back of her hand.
Marcos turned to Ruth. “Lovely to see you again, Ruth.”
“Whatever.” Ruth turned on her heel and walked back the way she’d come.
“What did your brother do to offend her so thoroughly?” Nick asked.
“Assumed a betrothal without proper courtship,” Marcos said.
“Gee, I can’t imagine anyone doing such a thing,” Adele said, turning to Nick. “Can you, Nick?”
“Thank you, Adele, for pointing out my errors in judgement,” Nick said.
“Were you intended?” Marcos glanced sidelong at Nick but kept Adele’s hand in his.
“No,” Adele said. At the same time, Nick mumbled, “I wish.”
“I’m famished from my journey,” Marcos said, speaking directly to Adele. “Would you kindly show me the way to the dining quarters?” He lifted his arm in invitation to Adele.
“I’d be honored, Your Highness.”
“Please, Adele, call me Marcos.” He took her arm in his. “Tell me, how does a beautiful woman such as yourself occupy her time?”
“I’m an ER nurse, and working my way through graduate school,” she said as they started down the hall. “How about you?”
“Well, since I’m third in line to the throne, I basically have zero purpose in this life.”
“You’re so funny, Marcos.” Adele tucked her hand more firmly into the crook of Marcos’s arm as they walked toward the private dining room.
Nick followed quickly behind, not willing to let the two of them out of his sight.
“Which daughter?” Liam asked. He gulped and glanced at Lyle.
“How many of them are you concerned about… Liam?” Levi’s menacing whisper was fiercer than his shout.
“Uh… well, uh.”
“I’ll put you out of your misery, son,” Levi said. “Miriam’s eight weeks pregnant.”
Lyle whimpered and lowered his head into his hands. All eyes shifted to the second oldest.
Nick couldn’t fathom how his brother must be feeling right now. He would never put himself in that position. He would never put a lady in that position. He would never put his mother and father in that position.
He glanced at his mother, whose head was held high despite the tears gathering at the corners of her eyes. Her hand rested on her baby, due to be born in four months.
“I guess we’ll go tomorrow to get you fitted for a tux.” Levi glared at Lyle as he stabbed his fork into the filet on the plate in front of him. He picked up his steak knife and calmly sliced a thin piece and lifted the fork to his mouth. He hesitated as Lyle spoke.
“A tux?” Lyle sounded as if he was choking or fighting tears maybe.
“Daniel and I always hoped one of my sons would marry one of his daughters. Kinda thought it would be Nick and Adele for a while there.” Levi glanced at Nick, with a pointed expression. “This wasn’t exactly what we had envisioned, but Daniel and his family will be here by the end of the week.”
“The end of the week?” Lyle’s voice squeaked.
“Do you have a problem with that, son?” They didn’t exactly live in a society of arranged marriages, but sometimes when two patriarchs insisted on certain standards, their adult children were expected to follow them.
“No, sir.” Lyle stood and pushed back his chair. “If you’ll excuse me. I need a moment.” Before leaving the room, Lyle stopped at the beverage cart and lifted a decanter of bourbon. He didn’t bother with a glass.
Nick didn’t see him again for two days.
“You shouldn’t be taking a phone call at the dinner table,” Sarah mumbled under her breath. Not that Levi could hear her since he was already having an animated conversation with whoever was on the phone.
“Mom, maybe this is an important call.” Nick gulped and awaited his fate. After eight weeks of hiding in Dubai they still had not heard anything. The threat of a murder accusation loomed over everything he did. From his dad’s angry expression, he was sure this was the call.
“How am I supposed to raise my boys up right when their father isn’t setting a good example?” Sarah asked
“We’re all adults, mother.” Liam lifted his glass of wine in a solemn toast. No one else returned the sentiment.
“Not Jacob,” Sarah said, turning to their younger brother. At seventeen, he definitely looked like a boy. “And not little Joseph.” She rested her hand on top of her growing belly. At five months gestation, she was just starting to pop out.
“And how is this my problem?” Levi asked into the phone, anger creeping into his voice. “I see.”
Levi raised his head and narrowed his eyes, glancing around at each of his sons.
“What do you suggest we do about this?” Levi paused with a scowl as he listened to whomever was on the other end of the phone. Everyone at the dinner table waited silently, and Nick felt his heart pound. “I agree. Uh huh. Yep. I’ll get right on that. You’ll be hearing from me soon.”
Levi tapped the screen of his phone to end the call and took a long, calculated breath before raising his gaze and looking around at each of his sons in turn.
“Which one of you got Daniel’s daughter pregnant?”
“Nick killed Landon,” Lyle blurted as soon as he stumbled into their father’s home office.
“As in… killed, killed?” Levi sat back in his fine leather chair and folded his arms across his middle.
“Knocked him over the head with a beer bottle,” Sam confirmed. His eyes had cleared; a testament that he hadn’t drunk nearly as much as the other two.
“He was trying to kill Liam,” Nick said, his heart in panic mode. “What was I supposed to do?”
“Why were you drinking beer, Nick?” Levi asked. He creased his brow.
“Dad, you know me better than that. Do you honestly think I would drink beer?”
“It was my beer.” Zach stepped forward.
“Zach”—Levi nodded regally— “How’s the resort?”
“Much better now that we’re not in bankruptcy, sir. Thank you again for the bailout.”
“I’m not sure that’s how Landon saw the buyout,” Levi said.
“Yeah… he still pretty much hates you.”
“Not anymore.” Lyle snickered, and Liam joined him. “Because he’s dead.”
“They’re going to regret this conversation when they’ve sobered up,” Nick said.
“They probably won’t remember this conversation when they’ve sobered up.” Levi shook his head.
“Dad, what do I do?” Nick lowered his voice and pleaded with his eyes. Somehow asking his dad to help with this made him feel like a little boy. “I don’t want to go to jail.”
“How about you go back to Dubai?” Levi rubbed his chin in contemplation. “I need you there, anyway. I’ll see what I can do to make this incident disappear. After all, you were only defending your brother.”
“Yeah,” Liam said, wrapping his arm around Nick’s shoulders and breathing stale beer in his face. “It’s better that one horrible man should perish than your loving brother.”
“How about if you go sleep it off, Liam?” Nick ducked out from under Liam’s arm.
“You can sleep on the plane.” Levi stood and picked up his cell phone. “I’ll have Petrus bring the helicopter around and tell Gregory to have the jet ready within the hour.”
“Just like that?” Zach asked. “You just snap your fingers and a helicopter and private jet appear out of thin air?”
“No.” Levi held up his cell phone. “It requires my fingers to text, not snap.”
All three of Nick’s brothers snickered and even Zach chuckled. Nick just shook his head and started to walk from the room. “I’m going to pack an overnight bag.”
“You might want to pack for more than just overnight,” Levi called after him. “You’re going to be there awhile.”
“This is what I get for saving someone’s life.” Nick dragged his feet up the stairs, planning to head back to Dubai for the second time that day.
As he was walking up the stairs, Nick sent a quick text to Adele. I’m flying back to Dubai tonight.
She never returned his text.
They walked toward the door of the nightclub.
“Well, if it isn’t Jerusalem’s royal family,” a booming voice slurred from the shadows near where they parked the SUV. No one was around to hear their arch nemesis hurl the mocking salutation. “What’chu doin’ slummin’ it with us common folk?”
“Greetings to you as well, Landon,” Liam said, sauntering toward him. “How’s the upgrade to your resort?”
“You mean yer daddy’s resort?” Landon stepped right up to Liam, toe to toe.
“He bought you out fair and square,” Liam said, not flinching.
“For pennies.” Landon spit the words at Liam, who finally flinched and wiped his face with his sleeve.
“He saved you from financial ruin, and you know it,” Liam said. “How about if I buy you a conciliatory drink?” Liam reached out to drape his arm around Landon’s shoulder, but Landon sucker punched Liam in the ribs.
While he doubled over in pain, Lyle caught Landon’s jaw with a right hook.
Nick watched from a distance as Landon returned Lyle’s punch before shoving Sam out of the way. Nick was determined not to get involved.
“I’m tired of you spoiled kids getting whatever you want,” Landon growled.
“We’re hardly kids,” Sam said.
“Dude, what’s going on?” Zach, Landon’s friend and business partner stepped over to the group, with two beers in his hands. “Well… if it isn’t the golden boys.”
“We are not boys,” Sam insisted again. “We’re grown men.”
“Shut up, kid,” Landon said. “You don’t know nothin’ about bein’ a grown man. Grown men don’t let their daddy take care of them.”
“He took care of you,” Liam said, still holding his side.
“I’ll show you who takes care of me,” Landon grabbed Liam from behind and wrapped his arm around their older brother’s neck. Suddenly everyone was involved. Zach tried to reason with Landon. Sam clawed at Landon’s arms, trying to free Liam. Lyle punched Landon, to get him to let go, and Liam gagged and choked as he worked at freeing himself.
Nick didn’t think. He grabbed one of the beer bottles from Zach’s hand and broke the bottle over Landon’s head. He dropped to the pavement, releasing Liam, who gasped for air and stepped away. Everyone gathered around Landon, who wasn’t moving.
“Nick, what did you do?” Zach asked.
“I had to do something.” Nick took a step back and laced his hands into his thick hair, pulling in frustration. “He was trying to kill my brother!”
“Well, I think you killed him.”
“I doubt it,” Sam said, poking Landon with the toe of his loafer. “He’s probably just knocked out.”
Zach crouched beside his business partner, held up his wrist, and then shook his head. “He’s got no pulse.”
“Are you sure you’re doin’ it right?” Sam said, pushing Zach out of the way. Sam poked around at the large man. “He’s not breathin’.”
“We’ve got to get out of here.” Lyle looked around frantically, his inebriated state exasperating his panic.
“No one saw what happened,” Liam said, still breathing heavy. “There’s no way anyone could pin this on one of us.”
“All anyone else knows is that there’s a man on the ground and five of his friends are standing over him,” Sam said.
“None of us are his friends,” Nick said, shuddering at the thought. Then he looked up at Zach. “Except you.”
“I’d hardly call him my friend.” Zach snorted. “More like partners in crime, I mean, business.”
“You have to come with us,” Liam insisted. “At least until we learn whether or not anyone saw what happened.”
“Shouldn’t we be calling an ambulance?” Zach asked, his words slurring almost as much as Nick’s brothers’.
“Someone else can call an ambulance,” Lyle said. “We gotta get out of here.”
“I feel bad just leaving him here,” Sam said. “Does he have any family?”
“Nope,” Zach said. “As his business partner, I’m pretty much all he’s got.”
All four brothers stared at Zach, and Nick gulped.
“That’s motive…” Liam let his statement hang in the air.
“I didn’t kill him!” Zach cried and then pointed. “Nick did!”
“I didn’t kill him. It was an accident.” Nick was shaking.
“It’s your word against ours,” Liam said.
“And there are four of us.” Lyle raised his eyebrows.
Liam repeated his earlier statement. “You have to come with us.”
“Maybe Father can give us some advice on what to do,” Nick said. He held up the keys to Liam’s Mercedes. “Let’s go.”
“You just gonna let daddy take care of everything?” Zach asked.
“You got a better idea?” Nick asked.
“Fine, I’ll come with you.” Zach started to set his unopened beer bottle on the ground next to Landon’s body.
“Dude, that’s got your fingerprints all over it,” Sam said. “Don’t leave it here.”
“Here, I’ll take care of that for you,” Liam said, reaching for the bottle and twisting off the cap.
“You’re such a class act, Liam.” Lyle teased. “Takin’ beer from a dead guy.”
“You know, this could have all been avoided if we’d have just stayed home and hung out at the pool.”
“Shut up, Nick,” all three or his brothers said at once. It was a somber drive back to the estate.
“I think I’m gonna be sick,” Leanne groaned from the middle seat of the luxury SUV. Nick slammed on the brakes so she could let herself out of the car.
Sam climbed down from the passenger seat to help her. Liam and Rachel barely paused making out, and Nick didn’t even want to think about what Lyle and Miriam were doing in the third-row seat.
Getting roped into being the designated driver made Nick wish he’d taken just a sip of something that involved alcohol, so they’d have an excuse to pay a driver to get them downtown and back.
There was always the likelihood that his brothers would ignore the need for a driver and get behind the wheel themselves. That alone was motivation to maintain his sobriety in hopes of keeping his brothers out of jail, or worse. Not that their dad didn’t have enough money to bail them out of whatever scrape necessary. Still, better to avoid the need.
“Can we take a detour and drop Leanne off at home?” Sam poked his head in the open window of the car.
“Uh… yeah. I think that was decided about the time she puked on the side of the road,” Nick said.
“I’m feeling a little better now,” Leanne said, taking a water bottle and swishing out her mouth.
“Too bad,” Nick grumbled. “I’m taking you home.”
Nick pulled out his cell phone and composed a text to Adele. Your sisters are drunk. I’m bringing them home.
You let my sisters get drunk?!? Adele’s text came back almost immediately.
I was upstairs nursing a broken heart. You’re the one who left them here.
Whatever. Just bring them home, and I’ll deal with it. I’m better at nursing drunk people than nursing broken hearts.
Both scenarios are unfortunate. I’ll see you in a few minutes.
Nick tucked his phone into his jacket pocket and waited while Sam and Leanne got situated. He handed her a trash can just in case.
Daniel’s estate was only ten minutes further and none too soon. Leanne threw up again as soon as she stumbled away from the vehicle.
Liam and Rachel helped Leanne up to the house and handed her off to Adele.
“Why are we stopping again?” Miriam asked from the backseat, her voice slurred and sleepy.
“We’re home,” Nick said. “Time to come up for air.”
“When will I see you again?” Miriam whispered to Lyle.
“Dunno,” Lyle said. “I’ll call you.”
“What a load of crap,” Nick mumbled low enough so they wouldn’t hear from the backseat. Never had Lyle called a woman. It would be against his modus operando.
Nick kept his eyes trained away from the rearview mirror to avoid seeing any body parts as clothing was returned to the proper positions.
Miriam gave Lyle one last, lingering kiss before slipping out of the backseat. Lyle pulled himself over the seatback into the middle seat just as Liam returned to the car.
Liam opened the passenger door and demanded that Sam let him have the front. Sam reluctantly moved to the middle seat to sit next to Lyle.
“All right,” Liam said with a grin. “Let’s get downtown.”
“We’re still going to Pergamon?” Nick asked as he shifted into drive. “I thought we were only going there because Rachel wanted vegetarian food.”
“They also have the best beer selection,” Liam said.
“I am not interested in drinking beer.”
“You’re the designated driver, so it doesn’t matter what you want.” Liam punched Nick’s arm. “Now drive.”
Nick sat on the balcony overlooking the pool party, which had shifted gradually into his brothers and Adele’s sisters getting plastered drunk together. Most of them anyway.
While Nick excused himself to remove his soaked business suit, Ruth had driven Adele home, leaving Rachel, Miriam, and Leanne with Liam, Lyle, and Sam.
Hmm… well, Lyle and Miriam seemed to be missing, Liam and Rachel were making out on one of the lounge chairs, and Leanne was drinking a wine cooler way too fast and laughing at everything Sam said.
Nick didn’t want to watch anymore. He stepped through the sliding glass door and flopped onto the leather sofa in his spacious office. There was nothing he wanted to work on, nothing he wanted to watch on television, no business or political websites he wanted to peruse.
He missed Adele immensely. This had been his one chance to reunite with her, and he’d blown it. How could he miss someone he hadn’t seen in four years anyway?
Maybe he’d been so excited to see her this morning that the letdown of having her leave so suddenly was a jolt to his system.
She’d seen right through him, seen his jealousy and root of his anger. He was the jerk in the equation. What was he thinking, asking her to marry him? As if she’d ever agree to that. What an idiot he was.
“We need a designated driver, little brother,” Liam said, barging into Nick’s office.
“Where are you going?” Nick mumbled without looking at his brother.
“We,” Liam corrected. “We are going underground, and we need you to drive.”
“Rachel wants good vegetarian food.” Liam turned to Rachel. “Right?”
“Pergamon’s the best place in town for vegetarian food,” Rachel said.
“You heard the lady,” Liam said. “Pergamon it is.”
Sam stood beside Liam, holding Leanne in a standing position, barely. They all seemed to be holding in laughter.
“Where are Lyle and Miriam?” Nick wanted to refuse Liam’s demand but didn’t want any of his brothers driving themselves in their condition, so he hoisted himself off the sofa and reached for his wallet, which was still soaking wet from taking a dip in the pool.
“My keys are… somewhere.” Liam reached for Rachel’s hand and headed down the hall to the grand staircase, laughing at some private joke. They didn’t even look back to see if everyone else was following them.
Sam helped Leanne stumble down the hallway, where she sat on the top step and leaned against the railing.
“Don’t you have an elevator somewhere in this mansion?” Leanne slurred.
“Somewhere, I think,” Sam said. “Come downstairs, and I’ll show you our library.”
“I like libraries.” Leanne allowed Sam to help her to a somewhat standing position.
Nick didn’t wait to see if she got down the stairs safely. He traipsed over to Liam’s immaculate bedroom suite and reached above the vanity in his bathroom where he knew the housekeepers kept a spare key to Liam’s Mercedes. On nights like this his key could be anywhere on the grounds of the estate.
As he passed by Lyle’s suite, he heard voices inside the closed door. Typical that Lyle had a woman in his suite. Frustrating that the woman was Adele’s sister. Nick rapped his knuckles on the mahogany and called through the door. “Let’s go, guys. We’re heading downtown to Pergamon.”
“Excellent,” Lyle said as he opened the door. He tucked in his shirt with one hand and slipped his wallet into his designer jeans with the other. “I’m starving.”
“Me too,” Miriam called from where she sat on the settee buckling a pair of strappy heels. Nick had to turn away to avoid seeing up her short skirt.
“What is it with Daniel’s daughters not wearing enough clothing,” Nick mumbled as he turned away.
“It’s a beautiful thing, little brother,” Lyle whispered as he draped his arm around Nick’s shoulders. “Embrace the beauty of a woman’s body.”
“The perfume you’re wearing tells me you’ve embraced a little too much of a woman’s body this evening.” Nick ducked out from under his brother’s arm. “Let’s go. Everyone else is in the car already.”
“Sorry we kept you waiting.” Miriam giggled as she snuck out the door to Lyle’s suite.
“Not sorry,” Lyle said, then pressed her up against the wall and captured her mouth in a passionate kiss.
“Gross,” Nick mumbled, quickly excusing himself. “I’ll meet you downstairs.”
“I see you started partying without me,” Nick said, setting down his overnight bag just inside the sliding glass door and sauntering over to the patio. Adele’s sisters were in or near the pool with Nick’s brothers. Adele and her oldest sister, Ruth, were lying facedown on lounge chairs wearing skimpy bikini swimsuits.
Nick did a double take and quickly averted his eyes. Ruth’s bikini top was untied, presumably to avoid tan lines. She was at least thirty by now, not exactly a temptation for a twenty-two-year-old guy, but still. Awkward.
Thankfully, Adele was mostly covered when she raised her head and glanced at him through her dark sunglasses. “Hey there, handsome.”
He pulled up a lounge chair and kicked off his dress shoes. Before leaning back to be closer to Adele, Nick pulled his socks off and rolled up his slacks.
“Feeling better?” Adele asked in a playful tone.
“Not exactly,” Nick admitted. “I may have to go change.”
“How was your flight?” Adele’s asked.
“Not long enough for the nap I need.”
“Wow, you’re in a great mood this afternoon.” Adele sat up and swung her legs over the side of her lounge chair to face him.
“Oh… my… gosh.” Nick turned completely away from Adele, overwhelmed by the lack of fabric covering the woman who had replaced the girl he once loved.
“What’s the matter?” She reached her hand out and touched his arm. “Are you okay?”
“Nope.” He kept his eyes squeezed shut and shook his head. “Not even a little bit.”
“Did something go wrong with your business deal in Dubai?” Her voice was laced with concern.
“Dubai was fine. We destroyed my friend’s life with the stroke of a pen.”
“Babe, I’m gonna need you to put on a cover-up or sweatshirt or something in order for me to concentrate.”
“You’re such a prude, Nick.” Adele chuckled but rummaged through her bag. He sensed rather than saw her wrap a chemise around her shoulders. “Better?”
He peeked open one eye and breathed a sigh of relief to see her fully covered. “Much better.”
“Now, what were we talking about?” Adele asked. “Something happened in Dubai?”
“We’re just a little bit wealthier than we were yesterday, that’s all.”
“Oh, is that all?” She leaned her head back and laughed playfully.
“Will you marry me?” Nick asked.
“My dad wants me to get married, and you’re the only girl I’ve ever loved, so I figured, why not you?”
“Why not me?” Adele’s jaw dropped, and she lowered her sunglasses. “You run into me out of the blue after not calling me for four years and suddenly think we should get married?”
“It’s only logical,” Nick said.
“Logical? You think marriage is logical? Is this just because you saw me in a swimsuit?”
“I’ve seen you in a swimsuit,” he said. “Not quite as filled out as you are now.”
“How dare you!” Adele stood suddenly. All conversation stopped around them. “Four years, Nick. You haven’t spoken to me in four years!”
“You’re the one who ran off to college, not me.” Nick rose to meet her heated gaze. “The phone works both ways, darling.”
“You’re still jealous that I got to go to college, aren’t you?” She balled her hands into fists.
“Why would I be jealous? You were crammed into a dormitory the size of my walk-in closet while I flew around the world in my private jet, getting real-world experience that can’t be duplicated in your ivory towers.”
“You pompous, self-righteous jerk!” Adele pushed him backward, and he waved his arms in a circle to right himself. “This is about my graduation speech still, isn’t it?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Nick lied.
Adele laughed heartily. “You’re jealous that my college entrance exams were higher—”
“Barely,” he coughed into his hand.
“—and I got to give the graduation commencement address.”
“Five points, Adele. Five. That’s it. Yours were five points higher than mine.”
“And you couldn’t have just been proud of me?” She pushed him again.
“I was proud of you.” Nick scrambled to maintain balance. “I’m still proud of you.”
“Proud?” She stepped closer.
“Yes.” He relaxed his shoulders,
“And jealous?” she asked.
“You’re an idiot, Nick.” With one little nudge, Adele pushed Nick backward into the pool.
“Come to Dubai with me, son!” Levi swept into Nick’s office with an air of excitement. He couldn’t help laughing and smiling along with his dad.
“Good morning to you as well, father,” Nick said, sauntering around the side of his desk to give his dad a hug. Then he gestured to one of the executive leather chairs placed in front of his desk where he could sit across from a guest or business partner and offer them a brandy or cup of coffee.
At only twenty-two years of age and having seen his older brothers make fools of themselves while drinking, Nick had no use for the fowl smelling liquor. He knew his father never drank alcohol either and he certainly didn’t need any caffeine this morning.
“What is all this talk about going to Dubai?” Nick asked, lowering himself into the chair beside his father. He purposely leaned forward so that his head and gaze were lower than his dad’s. He was sure his father wouldn’t understand the gesture but might feel just a little more in control of the situation than he would feel otherwise if Nick were even in height. “What’s in Dubai?”
“Possibility,” Levi drawled.
“Whose failing business are you snatching up for pennies on the dollar?”
“Natan Netanel,” he spoke low as if saying the name loud would enable someone else to swoop in and purchase the property before they had the chance.
“Aw man, dad.” Nick sat back and crossed his leg. “I know Nathan, he’s a great guy.” He also knew that Nathan preferred the more westernized version of his given name.
“But a terrible businessman,” Levi said. “His yacht manufacturing company is failing.”
“You’re a real estate developer. What on earth are you going to do with yacht manufacturing company?”
“I plan to put your design skills to good use, my son.” Levi patted Nick on the knee.
“M-my design skills?” Nick pulled back from his father. “I’ve never built a ship.”
“You don’t need to know how to build a ship. You just need to have an eye for detail. And you have that. You can work together with Natan and pull his company out of bankruptcy. All he needs is a mentor.”
“Dad, he’s like, ten years older than me,” Nick said. “And he prefers to be called Nathan.”
“Perfect,” Levi said. “You’re already on a first-name basis.”
Nick sighed. “I’m not going to be able to talk you out of this, am I?”
“Not likely.” Levi stood and patted Nick on the shoulder. “Wheels up in an hour. I have Gregory preparing our private jet as we speak.”
“Wait, you want to leave today?” Nick sprang to his feet. “I have a date tomorrow afternoon.”
“We should be home by then.” Levi shrugged. “If all goes well.”
“Fine, have Pierre pack me an overnight bag. I know how you get when you attend these mergers and acquisitions meetings.”
“Glad to have you on board, son. You’ll be just what we need to soften up this Nathan kid.”
“He’s hardly a kid,” Nick grumbled.
“When you get to be as old as me, you’ll understand.” Levi headed toward the door but turned back around as if just remembering one more thing he needed to tell his son. “Oh, and your mother’s pregnant again.”
“What?” Nick’s jaw dropped. “She’s, what? Forty-five years old?”
“Forty-six, actually,” Levi said then stepped back to pat Nick on the shoulder again. “You forget, we married very young. Your old man’s still got it in me.”
“Oh my gosh, Dad, that’s gross.”
“Nah, being as old as you are and not married yet, that’s gross.”
“Exactly,” Levi said, opening the door to Nick’s office. “Get on it, son.”
“Hard to accomplish when my date is in Jerusalem and I am in Dubai,” Nick grumbled.
“You’ll work it out,” Levi called from down the hall. “I have faith in you, my son.”
“Glad one of us does,” Nick said under his breath. He pulled out his cell phone and sent a quick text to Adele.
Might be a little late for our pool party tomorrow afternoon. I’m flying to Dubai
“We’re coming, and you’re going to insist she bring her older sisters.” Liam’s statement was so matter-of-fact Nick couldn’t help chuckle.
“You probably don’t even remember their names.” Nick cautiously climbed into the backseat, trying not to jostle his arm too much.
“Miriam,” Lyle said.
“Leanne,” Sam added.
“I don’t remember what the older girl’s name is, but the one who’s my age is Rachel, and she’s smokin’ hot, so you’re inviting her.” Liam shifted the SUV into reverse and backed out of the relatively normal parking spot he’d chosen in the hospital parking lot.
“They’re probably all married by now,” Nick said.
“No way. We would have received invitations. Our dads have been best friends since before any of us were born,” Liam said.
“Besides, you owe us for having to sit in that horrible waiting room for an hour while you were flirting with Adele,” Lyle added.
“Whose idea was it to go skydiving again?” Nick sighed and rested his head against the window and closed his eyes.
“It was your idea, Nick, don’t you remember?” Liam asked.
“No, definitely not my idea.” Why could he be so confident and mature in front of Adele and then let his brothers walk all over him. He’d have to think about that. For now, he had a date to plan. And a throbbing arm. He moaned. He wasn’t sure if the words he murmured were loud enough for anyone to hear. “How about a pool party? Would it be too forward to invite them out to the estate?”
“See, you do come up with good ideas.” Lyle reached behind and smacked Nick on his leg.
They were quiet for most of the ride home and his brothers scattered to their various suites when they got into the compound.
Nick trudged up the grand staircase toward his suite, wishing he’d taken the elevator when feeling the weight of the day’s events; barreling through the open sky strapped to an instructor, crashing to the ground and having his arm torn up, then being tortured by the most beautiful nurse in the greater Jerusalem area.
After he kicked off his shoes and slid into the middle of his king-sized bed, Nick pulled out his phone and sent Adele a quick text.
Meds wore off. What did you do to me? I’m dizzy and throbbing in pain.
Sorry about that, her text came back right away. It was just a few stitches.
Stiches?? He looked down at his arm that was still wrapped in gauze. When did you give me stiches?
While you were bragging about how you’d soon be a billionaire and best-selling novelist. It’s amazing what a girl can get away with when she’s distracting a hot guy by making him feel like a peacock.
My brothers want you and your sisters to come over for a pool party this weekend…
You’re not supposed to be getting your arm wet.
I’ll sit on a lounge chair and watch the rest of you play in the pool.
I’d rather sit with you if that’s okay, her text read.
I would love that. Would he ever.
Then it’s a date.
My arm hurts, he typed. Can you come nurse me back to health?
“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?”