Authors: J.L. Weil
Rose delicately dabbed a napkin on her mouth. “It’s not polite to stare, Piper.”
“I lack more than just manners,” I grumbled.
If she heard me, she ignored the comment. “Did you not find the salad to your liking?”
“Who is that?” I asked, unable to help myself. My curiosity was beyond piqued. It was bordering stalker.
She didn’t look pleased, but on Rose, frown lines didn’t make her look any older. “That would be Roarke Hunter’s second oldest, Zane. He works down at the docks,” she informed in a way that said Zane was beneath her class. “And he is trouble.”
Good thing I liked trouble. A lot.
TJ saw the glint that sprang in my eyes, the one that made me want to do something just because someone told me not to. I had plenty of those looks lately. “I think you dropped something, Pipe,” he said.
“Your standards,” he sneered.
“Funny, douche—” I stopped myself before I called my brother a douchebag in front of Rose, in a sophisticated club nonetheless. This fine establishment probably had rules about having a potty mouth. Now that I knew what the club
had to offer, I didn’t want to risk getting kicked out. One day I would learn to control my tongue.
TJ laughed at my blunder.
Once Rose noticed my distraction with the boat staff, she hurried lunch along. We left the club shortly after. She had her driver take us around the island, showing us the hot spots. It was only about seventeen miles, not a lot to see, especially when there was only one thing on my mind.
How was I going to finagle a meet and greet without looking like a total dork? Asking Rose for an intro was about as lame as you could get. Not an option. Especially, since Rose had made it perfectly clear she didn’t approve. I was not to associate with club employees. I was on a members-only social restriction.
What did I have in common with rich girls and trust funds? I’ll tell you. Nada. Zilch. But a guy who worked for his money,
I understood. Whether Rose liked it or not, she couldn’t dictate who my friends were, and I was going to be spending a lot more time at the club than I had planned. Like every day. Tennis lessons might just be added to my summer to-do list.
By the time Rolo parked the town car in front of Raven Manor, I realized I hadn’t
seen a single sight in Raven Hallow. My mind was so awestruck by the bluest eyes I’d ever seen that I hadn’t been able to focus on anything else. His perfectly sculpted cheekbones. That I-just-woke-up messy hair. Those kissable lips that hinted of mystery. He had rough edges that only drew me in more. It wasn’t likely a face I would ever forget. Zane defied the laws of nature.
I was acting like I’d never seen the opposite sex before. Okay, so I’d never actually had a boyfriend. Parker didn’t count. We’d never hooked up or even kissed, but I guess he was sort of more than just a friend. At least, there had been a time when I considered things moving into more of a boyfriend/girlfriend status, but that had been before
. Before my life took a sharp turn in the wrong direction.
Alone in my room, I stared into thin air, thinking of Parker. His light brown hair, coffee-colored eyes, and boy next door smile, which was funny, because Parker had been the boy next door. He lived in one of the condos on the floor below mine. I was determined to return to my former life—to my best friend, but a little summer distraction couldn’t hurt.
Parker had always been there for me. From before kindergarten, he had been in my life. Just as I couldn’t imagine a world without my mom, I couldn’t imagine my world without Parker. He was steady, dependable, caring, considerate, and funny. We had completely opposite taste in just about everything, but our friendship worked. He listened to country. I loved Paramore (girl bands are the shiznit). He liked Italian food. I craved Chinese. He was the yin to my yang.
I missed the crap out of him, and it hadn’t been a full day since I’d been gone.
Rolling over, I plopped on my stomach, immediately falling in love all over again with the softness of the mattress. Before I completely forgot, because my mind decided to start planning my wedding to Zane, I picked up my cell phone and hit Parker’s name.
It rang twice before he picked up. His familiar voice washed over me, causing me to miss home more than I thought possible. “Pipes.”
My heart thumped. I savored the sound of my name a moment before I responded. “Hey.”
“Summer is going to suck without you.”
The corners of my mouth turned up. It was the same phrase we had rehashed over and over since I had found out I was leaving. “How’s everything?”
“The same. And don’t worry. I won’t forget to feed your Venus flytrap.” I could picture him in his bedroom, staring at his ever-growing superhero collection. While I dragged Parker to underground dance clubs, he lugged me to every single Marvel movie made, sometimes more than once.
“Parrrker,” I elongated his name. “You have got to give me something, anything. Even the most mundane dirt.” I wanted just the smallest connection to home.
“Well,” he drew out, thinking. “Mrs. Youleg locked herself out of her apartment again.”
I laughed, my feet dangling in the air. “I bet the super had a conniption. That’s like the third time in the last month.”
Sounds of the TV came through the other end of the phone. He was probably watching reruns of
, our favorite show. He liked the gory creatures, and I liked the eye candy. It was a win-win. “So what’s
like?” he asked.
I sighed. “Rose is…” I started, not because she didn’t want to be called Grandma, but because I refused to acknowledge that she was family. “…classy, elegant, and eccentric. Everything I’m not.” Or would ever be.
“You don’t give yourself enough credit, Pipes.” His voice was disapproving.
“Everything is different here.”
“Good or bad?”
“I can’t decide,” I admitted, drawing lazy circles on the bedding, “Sure, it looks like paradise, and I’m living in a palace bigger than the White House, but it’s too much. None of it feels real. I keep thinking that any minute I am going to wake up in
“You might get used to all that luxury and not come back,” he said.
“Never,” I vowed, but my mind immediately went to Zane.
“Thank God,” he exhaled in relief. “Because I’d come get your ass and drag you home.”
I smiled into the phone. “It’s so good to hear your voice, Park. I really miss you.”
“Maybe I could visit,” he fished, hoping for an invitation.
For some reason the idea of Parker in Raven Hallow didn’t thrill me as much as it should. I hesitated. “Maybe.”
“Or not,” he added, sensing my lack of enthusiasm.
It had not been my intention to hurt his feelings, because I did really want to see him. The crappy part was, I couldn’t rationalize why I didn’t think it was a good idea. Something about this place, this island… “Whatever. Don’t be like that. You’d hate it here,” I said, trying to lighten the suddenly serious mood.
There was a bit of a pause. “Not if it’s where you are.”
I swallowed. There it was, the inkling that Parker liked me more than just a friend. He had been patient with me, not pushing, but lately he had been dropping not-so-subtle hints. I was still not ready to take that huge step. Parker was important to me—he was family. If we crossed that line and it went sour, I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if I lost him. Selfish, but I needed Parker in my life, and I was taking the safe path for now—friends.
“It’s just three months,” I reasoned. “Ninety days. I should be able to survive without ending up in juvie or on Google’s homepage.”
“Not funny,” he moped.
“Tough crowd tonight,” I mumbled. “I should go. It’s getting late. Text me later?”
“Ditto.” His voice was laced with concern.
. There went home.
I had expected the ache in my chest to lessen after talking to Parker. Sadly, that was not the case.
I’ll admit. Life was better in flip-flops. And with a maid. And a chef.
But that’s where better ended.
Rose spent every second she could criticizing my wardrobe, clucking her tongue at my hairstyle, and picking apart my mannerisms. Or more appropriately, lack of. She wanted to mold me into a miniature, younger version of herself. Christ. No wonder my mom had skedaddled the first chance she had gotten. Rose was smothering. It could be she was trying to make up for the last seventeen years, but if I had to hear her say one more time, “Piper Brennan, that’s not how a lady acts,” I was going to clobber her. Old woman or not, I could only bite my tongue for so long. And this was most definitely the longest I’d gone without lashing back.
I was having sarcasm withdrawals.
The use of my full name brought painful memories of my mom. They shared the same eerie tone and disapproving glare. The only consolation…she adored TJ, and he seemed genuinely happier here than he had in months. At least a change in scenery had done one of us some good. I, on the other hand, suffered, missing her more that we were so far away from the only place I’d ever lived. There was not a single piece of Mom inside this museum.
The longer I stayed locked behind the walls of my room, the more I seemed to gasp for air. Too much space. Unfamiliar surroundings. Too much time alone with my thoughts. I needed to get out of here. Pronto.
Throwing on a pair of shredded jean shorts and a black tank, I headed out onto the balcony. How freaking convenient was it that my bedroom had its own entrance? As I raced down the stairs, I sent TJ a text, letting him know I had gone out, not to worry, blah, blah, blah.
Warm sunlight kissed my skin as I tucked my phone into my back pocket and flipped a pair of sunglasses over my eyes. The heat felt good after being inside the air conditioning all day. I lifted my face, letting the balmy breeze whisk over me. Ducking under the security gate, I set forth on foot toward the boardwalk, remembering a glimpse of shops.
They lined both sides of the wooden walkway—ice cream, souvenirs, seafood grills, and a giant Ferris wheel that overlooked the entire island. You name it, they had it. People strolled up and down, meandering in and out of the local vendors. With nothing but my cell phone and a debit card with less than a hundred bucks in my back pocket, I began my mission.
There were so many things I didn’t know. Living here for just a few days, I realized there was a part of my mom’s life I knew nothing about. Raven Hallow was her hometown. Where she had grown up. I wanted to experience the island as she had, on my own terms, and if I could unearth any information about Rose or my mom, that would just be a bonus.
The island wares were tempting. New England at its finest, and so different than the shops in my neighborhood, but I could see little elements I never realized my mom had brought into our home. I was drawn to the glitz of a jewelry vendor, the gold and silver sparkling in the setting sun. Beside me, a guy dribbled mustard down the front of his white polo shirt. Oh man, that sucked. I bit back a smile, eyeing the felt displays of handmade jewelry. With a gentle touch, I ran my hand along the delicate silver chain of a necklace, trailing to a teardrop pendant. It looked much like the one I wore. Where mine had a white stone in the center, this one was light green.
A spark of electricity shot through my fingers, traveling up my arm. I jerked my hand away, taken by surprise.
What the hell?
The bohemian lady behind the counter watched me intently, her long dishwater hair flowing past her waist in silky strands. Hair like hers took serious dedication. I never would have had the patience.
“You have her eyes,” the woman spoke. She had a husky quality to her voice, and as she looked at me, it felt as if her gaze pierced my soul.
She suddenly had my full attention. I placed the tips of my fingers on the edge of her booth, leaning forward. “You knew my mom?”
A flicker of sympathy crossed her gray eyes. “Aye, I did, but that was not who I meant. It’s the White Raven I speak of.”
“Uh.” Okay. It was official. The woman was off her rocker.
Just move on
, I told myself.
But it was the first time all day anyone had said more than two words to me. I got the feeling everyone knew who I was and avoided me. “White Raven?” I echoed.
“The winds whisper about you, a warning you would be wise not to ignore.” The skin around her eyes seemed to darken.
I squinted, leaning forward and thinking the light must be playing tricks on my eyes. A hundred questions tumbled through my head, and as I tried to sort out which to ask first, a lyrical voice came from behind me.
“You’re Rose’s granddaughter.” There was a hint of old Irish or something close like welsh. Honestly, I couldn’t tell the difference. It was very light, but beautiful all the same.
I spun around, startled that someone recognized me, and was momentarily robbed of speech. Wow. She was gorgeous in an intimidating way. Striking black hair, ocean blue-green eyes, and dark tan legs that went on forever. Not much younger than me, it was her friendly smile that set me at ease. “Yep. The one and only,” I replied with a touch of sarcasm.
She giggled. “Why do you sound like you’re not thrilled about being related to Her Highness?”
My eyes popped out. “You call her Your Highness?”
She scrunched her button nose. “Not to her face.”
I could see an instant friendship forming. Anyone who wasn’t kissing Rose’s feet was a friend of mine. “How did she earn such a prestigious nickname?” I assumed it was because she had money pouring from her ta-tas.
Eyes glittering, she said, “It’s pretty obvious. If I owned an island, I’d consider myself royalty.”
Jaw dropped, I was dumbfounded. “The whole island?”
“Yep.” A shopping bag dangled from her fingers. “That makes you royalty, Princess. I’m Zoe, by the way.”
“Piper.” Now it was my turn to screw up my face, but I did so less cutely. “And there is nothing royal about me.”
She smiled. “I sensed that about you.”
“Do you live on the island?”
A flicker of wistfulness and sadness crossed her eyes. “Born and bred. My family owns The Black Crow.”
Ah. The country club. “I was there yesterday.”
Like we’d been old acquaintances, she looped her arm through mine. “I heard.”
I groaned. “What did you hear?”
“Your arrival has the whole island in an uproar, Rose’s heir.”
My face paled. I never thought about that. And Zoe never did tell me exactly what was being said about me. So what if I was someday to inherit Rose’s wealth? It’s not like she was on her deathbed. The woman was as fit as a fiddle, for Christ’s sake.
“Do you want to go to a bonfire?” Zoe sprung on me. My expression must have showed my hesitation, because she added, “Come on. It will be fun. I’ll introduce you to everyone. I know they would love to meet you. You’re all anyone around here has talked about for weeks, the arrival of Rose’s only granddaughter.”
I scoffed, thinking this small town needed more interesting things to gossip about than me, but then again, my mom’s death had probably been headline news. “Will there be hot guys there?”
Particularly one with dark hair and icicle eyes
, I added in my head.
She made a funny face. “
might think so, but I’ve known them my whole life, so the idea just grosses me out. However, you never know, there might be a few newbies vacationing.”
Hell, why not? What else did I have to do? “I guess I could.”
“I have a feeling about you, Piper,” she said, grinning. “We’re going to be fast friends.”
Fingers flying over the buttons on my phone, I sent TJ a text, letting him know I was going to be gone a few more hours. Not that I expected him to care. It was habit. I was sure he and Rose wouldn’t even miss me.
Zoe and I walked down the beach less than a quarter mile when I started to see the smoke billow from the fire. Around a bluff, the orangey flames came into focus, popping against the blue and yellow horizon where day and night meet. It was awe-inspiring. Waves lapped, rising and falling in a lulling melody, mixing with the snapping of firewood and Brantley Gilbert’s smooth, crooning voice singing about kicking it in the sticks. Sand squished over my flip-flops, wedging between my toes as we approached a group. Bottles of beer and wine coolers were being passed around. The chatter and laughter of carefree youth filled the air. It was hard to deny this place was close to paradise.
And I was about to trip into utopia, figuratively. A tingle skipped down my spine. My gaze scanned the many faces, flames from the fire shadowing their inquisitiveness. Who could blame them? I was the shiny new toy.
A hasty chill blew in from the ocean, and I rubbed my hands down my arms. Lifting my head, my eyes clashed in a sea of blue, and suddenly I was drowning. I swore a symphony of violins played in perfect harmony in my head. Even my soul sighed.
I bit my tongue to keep from moaning. It was Zane, the hose-me-down hot guy from the club yesterday. He was here. Activate internal girly scream.
Holy crap, Piper. Get a hold of yourself. He is just a guy. No need to freak out.