She’d thought they’d shared an unbreakable bond. But whatever did or didn’t exist had ended when he went to Hong Kong. Laney’s move proved, once and for all, David would never belong to Vivi.
Blinking back tears, she resented the inability to mourn the loss of her dream. Here she’d be forced to bury her disappointment under false laughter while interacting with him and his lover. No ice cream overload, no chick flicks, no tissues. Could there be a worse nightmare?
Paging Tim Burton.
The burn of the sun’s scorching glare was nothing compared to the shattering pain inside. Watching the waves collide against the rocky outcroppings in the sea, she conceded the scenery in her personal hell was magnificent.
David released the breath he’d pent up since he’d first laid eyes on Vivi. He hadn’t wanted her to learn about Laney that way. But, except for a flash of surprise, her periwinkle eyes had sparkled like always.
Her diminutive appearance wasn’t as elfin as he’d remembered, despite her pleasantly upturned little nose and gap-toothed smile. She’d matured and grown into her huge eyes and expressive mouth. Though not voluptuous, she filled out her swimsuit and wasn’t shy about putting her lithe body on display for Hank. Not that she’d ever been very shy.
Generous Vivi had arrived brimming with energy, as always. Her presence never failed to infuse a room, or its occupants, with warm vitality—in his opinion, anyway. Proximity roused the familiar pull of their seasoned friendship, though the ties were now as fragile as the threads of a spiderweb.
He hadn’t seen her since his mother’s funeral. Her tearstained cheeks had mirrored his own grief that day, although he’d tried to conceal his shattered state. It was the only time she’d ever behaved with uncertainty around him, as if she’d known he’d been utterly broken.
What she hadn’t known—what no one knew—was how he’d effectively lost his mother and father at that funeral. David’s discovery of the torrid affair his once-beloved dad had been carrying on while his mom had battled cancer had demolished his illusions of his father, his family, and love.
The hole his mother left behind had been magnified by the deathbed promise she’d extracted from him for the sake of keeping her family united after she passed. Honoring her plea to keep the affair a secret had conflicted with David’s yearning to expose his father, so he’d secured a transfer to his firm’s Hong Kong office to escape temptation.
Unfortunately, time away hadn’t diminished his anguish, thanks, in part, to his father’s unrepentant attitude. Worse, David’s retreat and secrecy had screwed up his relationship with Cat and Jackson, and probably Vivi, too. If he couldn’t somehow mend fences with his father, he feared permanent estrangement from all of them.
If only they knew the truth.
“Lighten up, David. We’re on vacation. Leave the office behind for one week.”
Laney’s voice interrupted the bleak direction of his thoughts. She sauntered into the kitchen looking like a trophy girlfriend, wearing a wide-brimmed sun hat, a beach cover-up with a gold-sequined border, and a designer gold-lamé bathing suit. Holding Armani sunglasses in her hand, she tipped her head and stared at him.
He knew she hadn’t the slightest idea what he’d been contemplating. He’d never confided in her. Laney was sexy and whip-smart, but theirs was not a love affair. United by common interests and careers, they’d fallen into a comfortable relationship of compatibility and mutual respect, which he now valued over unreliable emotions like love. In this regard, they were well matched.
“Nice bathing suit.” He flashed a brief smile. “Looks good.”
He had no doubt she’d dropped a few hundred dollars on the racy bikini peeking out from under her glittering wrap.
She grinned and kissed him. “Well, that’s better.” Glancing around the empty kitchen, she asked, “Where is everyone?”
“Cat’s downstairs talking on the phone. Jackson, Hank, and Vivi went to the beach.”
“Cat’s best friend since middle school.” He hid the grin that formed upon recalling the first time he’d met her, pink hair and all. “You’ll like her. She’s fun, creative.” And a whole lot more.
Vivi had turned into a flirt, but not with him—not any longer. Her infatuation had never embarrassed him, despite Jackson’s goading. If anything, David had admired her courage. Unlike him, she freely exposed her vulnerabilities. It provoked his protective instincts, although she’d probably never needed him as her champion. Vivi had always been brave.
He’d greedily absorbed her fawning. Looking back, perhaps he’d unintentionally treated her like a beloved family pet, doling out playful attention while assuming she’d always wait for his return with open arms. Apparently her arms got tired.
“Oh, so we’ve got even numbers now.” She cocked her head. “Have Vivi and Jackson ever dated? He’s fun and creative, too, in his design-build kind of way.”
“No.” Frowning, David waved his hand dismissively. “She’s like a sister to him.”
He’d never considered his brother’s compatibility with Vivi, although he’d known they were close. Despite acknowledging their history and shared traits, the idea of pairing his brother with Vivi agitated David.
Straightening his shoulders, he twisted his neck to dispel his disquieting reaction.
“Let’s go.” He reached for Laney’s hand before striding toward the back door.
When they arrived at the beach, they found Jackson seated near the cooler drinking a cold beer. Hank and Vivi strolled along the rocky edge of the water fifty yards away, then stopped and leaned in toward each other to inspect whatever she was holding in her hands. The dramatic effect of the cliffs rising up from the sand created a disturbingly romantic picture.
“Where are they going?” David squinted while peering down the beach.
“Vivi wanted to explore.” Jackson closed his eyes and rested his head against his reclined beach chair. “Hank volunteered to wade through the surf with her.”
“They look cute together despite the height difference.” Laney studied them. “Their hair is even an identical color. Maybe they’ll hit it off. He seems like a nice guy.”
“What’s hair color got to do with anything? You’ve got red hair and mine is black. Is there some special meaning in that?” David snapped, surprising himself with his terse tone before he tore his gaze away from Hank and Vivi.