Authors: Glenna Sinclair
A Billionaire Romance, Part 2 of 3
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. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.
The gray ash faded gently into the tawny sand, and when the wave lapped the shore, I couldn’t tell one from the other, the water darkening them both, making them one.
“Would you like to say something?” Devon asked me, but I couldn’t turn to him, couldn’t look at him. I was mesmerized by the dust blending into the sand.
“It’s all right,” he said after I didn’t answer him. “We don’t really need words, do we? The waves say whatever we need.”
My eyes fluttered closed as the last of the gray became lost in the wet shoreline, and I listened to what Devon was hearing. Every time a wave came ashore and then was sucked back into the ocean, it was like a long sigh. I tried to breathe in time with the movement, tried to let the waves do my breathing for me, say the words I should’ve been able to say, but it was so hard.
Everything was hard.
It had been hard to find Nana on this very beach, dead, smiling at the very wave that moved now.
It had been hard to make a decision about arrangements, much easier to sit back and nod wordlessly as Devon made gentle suggestions.
It had been hard to come back here, at his suggestion, and harder still to open the cap of the urn and let Nana’s ashes vanish into the surf.
“I think she would’ve thought this was right,” Devon said gently, taking the urn from me, recapping it, and slipping his hand into mine. “Nana loved this place.”
I shook my head. This was too hard.
“I can’t do this,” I whispered, my words quieter than the waves that soaked our feet. He heard me anyway.
“That’s fine,” he said. “You don’t have to. Let’s go back to the cottage.”
But the cottage was just as unbearable. I remembered Nana on her last morning here, being sassy and drinking an alcoholic smoothie to help curb her hangover from the night before. I’d been shocked at her behavior, then. It had been completely out of character for her.
Now, though, it was starting to make sense. Maybe Nana just wanted one last hurrah.
“June.” Devon was at my elbow, waiting. Watchful.
“Can we just go somewhere else?” I asked him, still unable to meet his eyes.
“Of course,” he said easily. “Get in the truck.”
He drove and I lost myself in emotions. Losing Nana was like losing my parents and my grandparents all at once. She was all I had. There wasn’t anyone else in the world looking after me, now—even if I’d been the one looking after Nana recently. She had raised me, and I treasured her enough to come to Hawaii with Devon for her—not because I had wanted to.
Then she’d sent us out on errands. The sexual tension that had been building between Devon and me came to a head while we were out, walking around, alone with each other. We’d stolen away from prying eyes and handed ourselves over to blind passion—in an alleyway, of all places.
I felt guilty—and I thought it was reasonable to assume that I’d feel guilty for the rest of my life—that we’d been gone so long. We hadn’t gotten back to the cottage until the afternoon. I wondered whether we would’ve been able to catch Nana before she left the cottage, if only we’d been a little bit earlier in arriving.
She’d sent us away from the cottage just so she could slip off and die.
“June, we’re here.”
I looked over at Devon, who was staring at me expectantly, and I wondered how long the truck had been stopped. I’d had no memory of the directions we’d taken, no knowledge of where we were in this moment.
He got out of the car, purposeful, and I followed, dutiful. That’s all I felt that I could do right now—try to mime the words and actions of a person who wasn’t hurting as badly as I was. I felt as if a limb had been torn from my body. That’s how deeply I felt Nana’s loss.
I followed Devon around the truck and paused for a moment, my breath catching in my throat. He was leading us into a dense forest unlike anything I’d ever seen growing up in Dallas. It was a little daunting to be so small compared to the trees that towered around us, to be willing to toss ourselves into the small path hacked through the encroaching flora.
“What is this place?” I asked, feeling tentative, wondering if maybe I should just force myself to go back to the cottage, ghosts and guilt be damned.
“I came here a couple of times when I was shooting that movie Nana liked so well,” Devon explained. I flinched when he said “Nana.” I wasn’t ready to hear her spoken out loud. “It’s nice and quiet. A good place to get away from things. To clear your mind.”
If only I could escape the fact that Nana was no longer here.
“Are you all right?” Devon was looking at me, his brows drawn together.
“I’m fine.” It was the furthest thing from the truth.
He turned after a moment and led the way into the foliage, holding branches so I could pass by without getting scratched.
We walked for a long time, the only sounds the crunch of the ground beneath our feet, the birds winging from tree to tree overhead. It wasn’t a strenuous path, but I had to concentrate on not tripping over roots and rocks that crossed and dotted the trail. I welcomed it. This kind of focus eliminated all other thoughts, banished my grief through necessity. I didn’t know where we were going, where we would end up, but part of me wished we could walk for the rest of the day, the rest of our lives, even. After a while, all that mattered were my steps, my breathing, and the prickle of sweat across my body. It was an existence boiled down to just the basics of survival, and I found it much preferable than the existence I’d had earlier today, scattering Nana’s ashes at the beach, consumed with sadness.
Devon stopped and I ran into his back.
“This is it,” he said, both of us breathing hard. “Ready?”
I had no idea what he’d planned, or where he’d taken us to, but when I stepped around him, around the branches he was holding back for me, and saw a waterfall thundering down into a pool below, something inside of me broke open.
I cried like I hadn’t before, not at discovering Nana, lifeless on the beach she loved so much, not during all of the preparations and arrangements I’d muddled through, with Devon’s help, and not even this morning, when I’d let Nana go from that urn, leaving her there on the shore forever. I cried at the unexpected beauty of this moment, the way the spray left all the plants around here lush, green, and speckled with dew. I cried for the sole fact that things could still be beautiful without Nana in this world anymore.
Devon simply held the branches back so I could gaze upon this view and cry. It wasn't until I turned to him that he let the plants fall back into place, taking me into his arms, holding me until there were no tears left inside of me.
When I was done, he led me farther down until we were by the pool, our bodies cooling from our long hike thanks to the mist generated by the falls. The water was mesmerizing to watch.
“I can’t begin to tell you how sorry I am, June,” he said after what could’ve been five minutes or five hours. It was so hard to gauge time here. “I feel that Nana’s passing…that’s my fault.”
I looked at him sharply, torn from my meditations on the falling water.
“That’s ridiculous,” I told him. “Why would you think that?”
He shrugged, looking out over the pool. “I was the one who wanted you both to come here. And you know that it was just an excuse to…try to impress you. If I hadn’t been such an asshole, you and Nana would still be in Dallas and she would be okay.”
There were a lot of things going on here. “Nana was never going to be okay,” I informed him. “Her health was worsening all the time, and for every medicine they prescribed her, I sometimes wondered if it was just prolonging her suffering.”
Sitting there beside the majesty of that waterfall, in the middle of the forest, I had a revelation that made Nana’s death not cut so deeply.
“She chose this,” I said. “She was the one who picked a time and a place. She went out on her own terms. She chose the way she wanted to die, at a location that made sense to her. And I guess if we feel anything, it should be admiration. Jealousy, maybe. We don’t all get to pick how we die.”
Devon studied me, those brown eyes shimmering with an emotion I couldn’t put a name to.
But I wasn’t done yet. That was the pleasant part of my revelation. Devon wasn’t off the hook.
“But now that you’ve gotten what you wanted, I should probably go,” I said, eyeing him.
He wrinkled his nose. “What are you talking about? Go where? Back to the cottage?”
“No. I mean I should go back to Dallas. Leave you to it.”
Devon was silent for a while, his nose wrinkled in confusion, trying to figure me out.
“You’re going to have to explain,” he said finally. “I don’t understand what you’re getting at.”
“On the plane,” I sighed. “And right now. You said the only reason you invited me…us…here was to impress me. That you wanted to have sex with me. And now that it’s happened, I figured you’d want to move on to other pursuits. You’re a busy and famous man, and I know I was a just a novelty to you. A curiosity.”
Devon laughed at me. “If you think that I’m that easy to get rid of, then you obviously don’t know me very well.”
“Of course I don’t know you very well,” I said, exasperated. “I just met you, not a week ago, delivering a pizza to your drunk ass.” I was moved to recall that we’d exchanged similar words outside of Nana’s house just days ago, when I’d ended up deleting the terrible picture I’d taken of him in his hotel room. He hadn’t known me very well at that point. He probably knew me now better than I was comfortable with. Tragedy seemed to bring people closer. And Nana’s sudden death, there on that beach, had been the single greatest tragedy of my life.
It had been happenstance that Devon was there with me when I found her. Just a curious little oddity that he’d helped me with the arrangements, the costs incurred, the tasks that I couldn’t seem to do by myself. I appreciated him. I didn’t know what I’d be doing if he had simply washed his hands of me as soon as we’d found Nana there, lifeless in her wheelchair, her face lifted to the sun.
“I have to tell you something, June, and I really hesitate to do so.” Devon looked at me so intently that I glanced away, reminded at once of the beauty we were surrounded by, the thundering waterfall. The man beside me.
“Tell me whatever you think you need to tell me,” I sighed. “I give you permission.”
“It sounds petty,” he said slowly, “but I was still in a twisted-up place when I said that to you on the plane. Yes, I was doing this to impress you. I wanted you to like me. I’m not used to people not liking me. I guess I’m trying to say, as stupid as it sounds, that I got my heart broken. I was still messed up from my breakup. If I’m being completely honest, I guess I still am. It’s just…with your Nana dying, it seems like there should be bigger things to worry about than getting my feelings hurt.”
I wanted to be supportive. I was the one who’d encouraged him to communicate, after all. But Devon was back to sounding entitled. Or maybe I was just feeling jealous. No woman wanted to hear that the man she’d slept with a couple of days ago was still torn up about the previous woman. This was hard to take. Harder, still, without Nana. Her absence gave everything a raw edge.
“I can’t be your rebound, Devon,” I told him. “Maybe I could’ve done that for you before Nana died, but now I just don’t seem to be up for any more bullshit.”
“Am I asking you for that?” He laughed, incredulous, the sound mixing with the tumbling water before us. “That’s not what I’m after, June. Hell, I’m not after anything. I’m as surprised as you are that things have gotten to this level between us.”
“We’ve reached a level?” What was this, a video game?
“I don’t know how to explain it,” he said. “Did I want to sleep with you? Of course I did. I’m a man. You’re beautiful. Anyone would be an ass to squander a chance with you.”
I huffed at him, rolling my eyes. I knew my looks didn’t hold a candle to Hollywood’s definition of even average prettiness.
Suddenly, Devon’s frustration matched my own. He stood and yanked me up with him.
“What are you doing?” I demanded. “Let go of me.”
“Not until you admit something,” he said, practically dragging me over to the water’s edge. He forced me to lean forward, over the pool of water, rippling from the waterfall just upstream.
“What do you want?” I tried to elbow him sharply, tried to get him away from me, but he was insistent.
“Look,” he said, pointing toward the water’s surface. “Look and tell me what you see.”
“Water,” I spat, hating him. Why was he doing this? Nana’s ashes were still roiling in the surf. I wasn’t in the mood for any games.
“Look at your reflection.”
His quiet intensity made me focus on the surface of the water until I discerned the outline of me, and then my features. I relaxed my face immediately. My angry face had always been a little frightening, my brow thunderous.
“Tell me what you see now.” Devon’s grip on me hadn’t loosened one bit.
“Uh-huh. And are you defective in any way?”
Defective? “I don’t understand.”
“Is there something about you that you don’t like? Some kind of defective part that makes you less desirable than any other woman?”