Without forethought, he descended the steps to apologize in private. Even in the crisp night air, being near her felt like standing under the sun. Warmth seeped from her body and flowed along the ground, like a river of heat seeking to penetrate the frozen places inside his chest.
Her abundant, wavy locks fanned out around her head and cascaded over her shoulders. The seductively tangled mess differed from the shorter, asymmetrical styles she’d always favored. Silvery moonlight slipped through the clouds, illuminating her paper-thin, sheer white tank top.
Abruptly, an erotic vision of climbing on top of her and cupping the heavy weight of her breast as it strained against her shirt aroused him. Startled by his desire, he backed up to steady his racing pulse.
What the hell?
They could never be more than friends.
As a friend he could manage the highs and lows of her volatile emotions and turbulent lifestyle. As a lover it might be overwhelming.
Much more importantly, even if an inevitable breakup didn’t hurt Vivi, it could jeopardize her relationship with others in his family, and that would kill her. He’d never forgive himself if that happened, and besides, he’d miss their friendship if it ended.
And now he had Laney in his life. Although he’d voiced apprehension over her decision to move to New York, he hadn’t strongly discouraged her, either. He’d made no promises or commitments, but she was sharing his bed.
Why was he even thinking about this? A romance with Vivi required too much risk. Yet, in this instant, he selfishly wished to share a passionate encounter with the girl who’d long ago claimed an essential place in his life.
Shaking his head, he returned to reality and leaned over to touch her shoulder.
Her eyelids flew open. She crawled backward on her hands and feet, like a crab.
Avoiding eye contact, she stood and removed her earbuds.
“I’m going to bed. Good night, David.” She dashed toward the door.
“Vivi, wait. Let me apologize. I’m just . . . struggling with memories. I’m so sorry.” David held his breath.
“Fine.” She slowed without facing him. “Good night.”
Unwilling to let her escape, he lunged to grasp her elbow. Her tension jettisoned along his arm.
“Look at me, please.” His fingers clung to her while he fought against encircling his arms around her. “I also want to thank you for lying to protect me from Cat.”
“I lied to protect Cat, not you,” she said. “She doesn’t need anyone else upsetting her this week.”
He grimaced in the face of her pronouncement. “Vivi, I shouldn’t have taken my grief out on you. I’m sorry. Do you forgive me?”
She refused to answer.
“Come on. The old Vivi would forgive me for anything,” he teased.
His joke seemed to enrage her. She met his eyes with her own steely gaze. “The old David was never cruel and thoughtless.”
Her rebuke sliced through him. When he clasped her hand, she jerked it away.
“Vivi, please. You know I didn’t mean what I said. I’d never hurt you.” He produced a weak smile. Instead of offering absolution, she stared straight through him.
“As a lawyer, you choose words carefully for a living. You couldn’t have said that if you hadn’t thought it first.”
Seeing tears pool in her eyes twisted his gut.
She blinked them back before speaking in strained tones. “I’m fine now. And you don’t have to worry about upsetting me again. I came here to have fun, and that’s exactly what I plan to do. So I’ll be sure to keep out of your way as much as possible this week.”
Before he could plead his case further, she turned on her heel and strode inside.
Silently, he stared at the door she’d closed in his face.
Dammit. Being kept at arm’s length all day had been unpleasant. Now he faced a complete shutout. How’d he get here?
And how in the hell could he get back to the way things used to be?
The sound of the ocean had blown through the open window all night, lulling Vivi to sleep. Too bad the luxury carried a steep price, namely the predawn screech of seagulls’ cries. As Cat’s gentle snore filled the room, Vivi marveled at her friend’s ability to sleep through the noise.
She bit back a whimper as she nearly peeled away her corneas trying to open her dry eyes. After several painful blinks, she tiptoed to the window and slid it shut before collapsing back into bed. Although exhausted, she couldn’t fall back asleep.
Instead, she reanalyzed David’s uncharacteristic meltdown and subsequent apology. Unfortunately, his remorse didn’t erase the pain etched in her heart.
As his final letter from Hong Kong had predicted, he had changed, and not for the better. His words drifted through her memory.
I can’t share the reasons behind my withdrawal other than to say the lens through which I view the world has been shattered. I need to be alone to pick up those pieces and fit them together again.
Lately I worry my former outlook might never be fully restored. If I return home one day a different man, I hope you’ll still be my friend, as I will always be yours.
Yesterday she’d seen only traces of the sensitive man he’d always been. Of course, that should make it easier to let go of what his homecoming might have meant for them. Either way, it sucked.
Still, Vivi would muddle through the week without doing anything to widen the rift between the alienated siblings. Besides, she’d be better off using this time to extricate Cat from Justin’s clutches once and for all. That relationship had only made Cat more distant and defensive with each passing month.
Heaving a loud sigh, she stared across the room at her friend. As if having sensed Vivi’s scrutiny, Cat popped one eye open.
“Go back to sleep, freak.” Cat flaunted a sleepy grin and rolled onto her side. “I hate how you always wake up so early.”
“Ah, insomnia.” Vivi propped herself up on her elbow, grinning. “One of my many flaws.”
Cat groaned, then reached for her phone. After scrolling through her messages, she typed a short text, huffing aloud. Vivi noticed a satisfied gleam in her eyes.
“I take it you heard from Justin again?”
“He’s not happy I came here without him.” Cat’s brows lowered for a second. “I half expect him to show up this week, but he may not want to risk a confrontation with David and Jackson.”