Worth the Wait (St. James #1)(4)

by Jamie Beck

Vivi needed to get over David, and she needed to do it now. It took her a minute to find her voice. “Who’s Hank?”

Once again, she noticed Cat bristle at his name.

“A finish carpenter who works for Jackson. He seems like a decent guy.” David glanced at Vivi in his rearview mirror. “You’ve never met him?”

“No. Jackson had been fairly tied up with Alison these past two years. Hank wasn’t with him on the few occasions I saw him.”

David’s brows lowered. “Don’t mention Alison unless you want to set Jackson off. Whatever happened between them must’ve been extremely unpleasant.” He glanced at Cat. “You know anything?”

She shook her head.

Vivi sat back, unsettled. While David and Cat chatted in the front seat, she contemplated her new reality. David had brought a woman halfway around the world to be with him. He had fallen in love, just not with Vivi.

Nausea returned and climbed up her throat. She swallowed her bile, hoping no one detected her disappointment.

Stifling a laugh, she considered the folly of envisioning a special reunion with David. Apparently, even at twenty-six, she’d still wanted to believe in fairy tales.

An hour ago she couldn’t wait to arrive, but now she was the island’s captive. Nowhere to run. Carrying out a charade seemed her only viable option. Too bad her open-book face diminished her chances of success.

She squeezed her eyes shut in a childlike attempt to disappear. When she opened them, she shifted her attention to the rolling green hills. They ascended the island road, whizzing past gray and brown cedar shingle houses, which were partly obscured by tall, dry grasses and overgrown shrubbery. Sadly, the abundant sunshine and long-range views—normally a welcome change from New York—failed to lift her spirits.

However, the breathtaking vista surrounding the St. James family’s house forced a grin. Perched atop the two-hundred-foot-high cliffs, it enjoyed 180-degree ocean views.

Vivi turned her back on the bluffs and looked at the three-story house, which was surrounded by mammoth blue hydrangea. The main living area was located on the middle level, with guest bedrooms on the ground level and a master suite on the top level.

She squinted in the sunlight at the picnic table parked on the flagstone patio at the side of the house. Fleeting images of Frisbee games, candlelight conversations, and body-surfing contests passed through her mind.

A light prickling sensation swept over her scalp and down her shoulders. Those trips had provided temporary escape from her unhappy life with her father. She’d had high hopes for this trip, too, but they’d all died at the harbor.

The sounds of the seagulls and ocean brought her back to the present. Vivi inhaled the briny sea air and waved off David’s assistance as she lugged her bag out of the backseat. Her momentum sent her stumbling backward into the cute blue convertible parked in the driveway.

“Whose Mini Cooper?” she asked.

“Laney’s.”

Cat scrunched her nose. Vivi thought it was a great car, especially compared to the rental car she and Cat had driven to the island.

At that moment, Jackson scrambled down the front steps and jogged toward them. He snatched both girls up into a bear hug. Although two inches shy of six feet tall, his solid frame towered over Vivi. In his arms, her toes lifted off the ground.

He’d always been the devil-may-care St. James sibling. She’d thought of him as a big brother forever. Fortunately, Cat didn’t mind sharing. Vivi squeezed him with all one hundred pounds of her might until he set her down.

“V, what a great surprise!” He ruffled her hair. “Now I know we’ll have some fun this week.”

“It’s great to be back here, and I can’t wait to meet Hank.”

Jackson’s gaze flitted between David and Vivi. He tilted his head and grinned. “Are you on the market?”

“Yep.” She didn’t dare look at David. “How about you?”

“No time for a commitment.” Jackson’s glib tone failed to conceal the ache that flickered across his cognac-colored eyes. “But a fling would be nice.”

“I’ll be sure to warn the natives.” Vivi winked. Jackson laughed, revealing his deep dimples. His presence provided a much-needed comfort from her distress over David and Laney.

“So, rocks or sand today?” she asked while they strolled toward the house, with David and Cat trailing along somewhere behind them.

Jackson rubbed his hands together and flashed another grin.

“Sand. Of course, if a big storm passes through, the beach could get rocky again.”

“Then let’s take advantage of the good conditions now.” She lightly brushed a Persian blue hydrangea bloom with her open palm. Her artist’s eye noted the blossom’s variegated shades of blue and purple—the colors of her bruised heart.

Once inside, she followed Cat downstairs while David and Jackson trotted up the half flight to the main living area. David’s temporary departure came as a relief. A new experience for her.

After hoisting her luggage onto one of the twin beds in Cat’s room, she tossed her clothes randomly across the pastel-pink coverlet. An indigo-colored tankini swimsuit, comprised of snug boy shorts and an underwire halter, landed on top of the pile. She grabbed it and changed her clothes.

She tugged the wheat-colored, windblown rat’s nest some might call hair through the back opening of her worn Yankees baseball cap, shoved her feet into orange drugstore flip-flops, and grabbed her yellow beach towel. The outfit was inelegant, but she loved wearing bright colors, especially when her mood needed a boost.

Grinning, she spun toward Cat. “All set.”

Only then did she notice Cat sitting on her bed, fully dressed and cross-legged, reading her phone with her brows tightly drawn together.

“Justin?” Vivi sighed aloud. Cat’s preoccupation with her roller-coaster romance seriously interfered with their friendship these days. Worse, the unstable relationship made Cat edgier and more impatient. One way or another, Vivi planned to uncover the reason behind all the melodrama during this trip.

“Go ahead.” Without looking up, Cat mumbled, “I’ll catch up in a bit.”

“Don’t sit around waiting for his calls. Being too available for a man never served me well.” Vivi snickered at herself. “One of us should learn from my mistakes.”

“Ha, ha.” Cat rolled her eyes and waved off her friend.

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