Authors: Kira Sinclair
Tags: #Island Nights
Lena looked at him, the pleasant buzz that had entered her blood lessening just a little. Was he right?
“You’re upset because things didn’t work out the way you wanted them to. Maybe you’re even embarrassed that it fell apart in front of so many people.” Colt paused. “But you aren’t heartbroken.”
He was wrong. Wasn’t he? “How is heartbroken supposed to look, Colt? Am I supposed to be inconsolable? Sobbing in my bed surrounded by spent tissues? Please. I’ve seen that scene before, more times than I care to count.”
Her tongue felt loose, unhinged. Even as she said the words, she realized she was sharing more with him than she meant to. More than she’d ever said before. To anyone. “Do you know how often I scraped together the pieces of my mother and tried to put them back together? How many times I had to beg and plead with her just to get out of bed? After every man—there were plenty and they all left—she’d spend days, weeks, sometimes months inconsolable and incapable of doing anything. Especially taking care of a child.”
She glared across at him, years of conviction radiating from her eyes. “I refuse to be like her. I will not let a relationship devastate or control me like that. So, yes, I’m upset. Wyn and I were supposed to have a life together. He betrayed me in the worst possible way. With my cousin. Excuse me if I’m not handling the situation the way you expected me to.”
Colt’s eyes were round with shock. His silence slammed down between them and the minute it did Lena regretted her words. It was obvious that he’d gotten way more than he’d bargained for.
Their food hadn’t even arrived, but that didn’t matter. Lena wasn’t hungry anymore. In fact, she needed to get out of there before she said even more. Lena scraped her chair against the stone floor and walked toward the exit.
Colt called her name. The photographer cursed.
She ignored them both.
COLT HEARD THE MAN CURSE, too, and couldn’t have agreed more. How was he to know his question would hit a sore spot? They were supposed to be friends, right?
Lena had seen him at his absolute worst. When he’d crashed his car, she’d been the one to sit by him in the hospital. He’d told her things about his life that he’d never shared with anyone else. She’d seen him cry, moan with pain and had supported him even when she thought he was making unwise decisions.
How could there be part of her life he knew nothing about? Why had she never told him how bad her mother had been?
Thinking back on those months she’d lived next door, he realized they’d rarely gone to her house. When he’d asked, she’d almost always had an excuse. Sure, he’d only been ten, but why hadn’t he picked up on that? And why, in all the times that they’d talked since then, had she not shared her pain? Heaven knew he’d dumped plenty of his own worries on her small, capable shoulders.
The table teetered, silverware, china and glass clinking ominously, as he bolted after her.
Tropical heat and guilt slapped him in the face as he pushed outside. Colt ripped at the buttons on his shirt, trying to release the noose that had apparently slipped around his throat.
He found her halfway across the resort, standing alone on the deserted beach. Moonlight streamed over her, making her look fragile. Her body curved in on itself, her arms hugging her waist. She shouldn’t be sad. Not here. Not because of him. This was a place for fun and adventure. For laughter and the excitement of discovering something new.
He touched her arm, and she turned around, looking up at him with sad eyes that glistened with unshed tears. Another shock of guilt kicked through his system.
He hadn’t meant to make her cry.
With a sigh, Colt gathered her into his arms and pulled her tight against him. Something deep inside him stirred at the press of her soft curves into his hard body. He ignored it.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered into the crown of her hair.
Her body was stiff, her muscles tight. After several minutes, she relaxed. The emotion that had been swirling within her subsided, he could feel it slip away.
Melting into him, Lena let him take the weight of her body. His own muscles relaxed, the tension that had whipped through him easing as he realized she wouldn’t hold his careless comments against him.
After several minutes she pulled away and Colt let her. She looked up at him again, calm and collected, the Lena he recognized and remembered. He was glad to see the sadness gone.
“It’s not your fault,” she said.
“Maybe not, but I didn’t help.”
Lena’s lips twisted. “No, but I can’t fault you for telling the truth. I knew something was wrong. Deep down, I knew. I just didn’t want to admit it. Everyone was so excited. Jealous. Everyone told me how perfect Wyn was. What a wonderful husband he’d be. How lucky I was to find a great man who just happened to be heir to a fortune.”
“But it didn’t feel right.”
Lena turned away. Reaching down, she flicked off the sandals protecting her feet. They fell to the sand with a muted plop. She walked a few steps barefoot. Colt did the same, letting his own shoes topple crookedly beside hers.
The sound of crashing waves shushed gently between them. In the distance Colt could hear the rumblings of laughter and dance music from somewhere on the island. Sometimes, like now, it was hard to remember they weren’t the only people here.
“It felt right at first,” she finally responded. “Wyn was sweet. We worked together for at least six months before he asked me out. I’d look up from my notes during company meetings to find him watching me instead of paying attention.”
“You don’t have to toe the line when daddy’s in charge.”
Lena reached over and shoved him. The unexpected reaction had him teetering sideways for a moment before regaining his balance.
“That isn’t nice, Colt. Wyn’s very good at his job.”
“Yeah, so good he managed to weasel his way into a free vacation with a client.”
“I was flattered.”
“You were hunted, like a lion stalks an antelope. I only met the man a few times, but it was enough to realize he was charming and focused and untrustworthy.”
Lena twisted, the heel of her foot grinding into the sand with the force of her motion. “Why the hell didn’t you say anything?”
“Because it wasn’t my place.” Colt had thought about it, once, but realized he had nothing to back up his gut instinct. “I thought maybe you’d just think I was being overprotective. Playing the big-brother card or something.”
A strangled sound that could have been anything from incredulity to embarrassment burst from Lena’s mouth. “You’re hardly my big brother.”
“True. You were serious about Wyn though, and I figured he must have some qualities I couldn’t see. If he’d loved you, I could have lived with it.”
“But, obviously, he didn’t.”
The question he still had was whether she’d ever loved Wyn. Colt didn’t think so, but he wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice, so he wouldn’t ask again.
“So, yes, in the beginning it felt right. And by the time it didn’t I was in too deep. The wedding was months away and I convinced myself that it was just jitters.”
Silence stretched between them. Colt had no idea what the right response was and he was afraid to say the wrong thing again.
After a few minutes Lena said, “Jeez, we’re a pair. I stay in a relationship I shouldn’t, and you can’t stay in one more than five minutes.”
“Hey, I last a hell of a lot longer than five minutes,” he joked. “But I don’t want to have a relationship longer than two weeks,” he argued. “Too much work. Besides, I like variety in my life.”
Lena grimaced. “So try a different cereal in the morning. Seriously, Colt, you need to grow up.”
“When did this turn into a discussion of my shortcomings?”
“I like talking about yours better than analyzing mine.”
Silence stretched between them, only this time there was comfort and familiarity to it. Colt reached for her again, wrapping his arm around her shoulders and pulling her into his body. Together they stared out across the Caribbean Sea.
The jungle far behind them rustled. An animal howled in the distance. And Lena groaned quietly. “What does it say about me that I’m more upset at losing my job than my fiancé?”
“It says that you’re practical,” Colt said, unable to hold back a smile. Because that described Lena to a T.
“I actually think it says I’m a coward. But, dammit, I liked my job. I was good at it and I put several hard years in at Rand Marketing.”
“You are good at your job, which is why you’ll be able to find something else. Graphic designers are in demand. You’ll land on your feet.”
“I’m pissed that I have to land at all.”
“Think of it as an opportunity then. To find something better. Or maybe to work on your jewelry for a while.”
He’d been upset when she’d told him she’d given up her craft. Especially because that decision had come months after she’d started dating Wyn, and Colt couldn’t help but think the man was partly responsible for Lena’s decision. He couldn’t remember how many nights he’d watched her string together beads, bend gold wire and produce the most breathtaking and original pieces.
“You know, my sister-in-law still tells me that the earrings I gave her are the best birthday present she’s ever gotten. She wears them all the time.”
“I’m glad she likes them.”
Colt stared up into the night sky. Stars twinkled down on them, so bright and yet too far away to touch. This conversation was beginning to feel the same way. They’d had it before, but nothing ever changed. “You’re an artist, Lena, don’t you long for an outlet?”
“I have an outlet. Graphic design is art.”
Colt held in a snort. Maybe, but it wasn’t her passion. He dropped the subject though because he knew it wouldn’t get him anywhere.
“The sand’s still warm.” Lena looked down at her feet, wiggling her toes in deeper. Her dark red toenails peeked out, making him want to join her in the childish gesture. Playing in the sand was something he hadn’t done in a very long time. Not since his parents had died five years ago and he’d stopped joining his brother’s family at the beach house.
At first, the memories had been too painful. And then it had just gotten easier to make excuses. He was out of the country. Working. Tired. Standing there with his feet pressed deep into the sand, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d actually seen his brother, sister-in-law and niece. He talked to them on the phone occasionally, but he was slowly coming to realize that might not be enough.
Even the few days or weeks he’d managed to see Lena over the past couple of years had left chinks in their relationship he hadn’t even been aware of. If he’d been home more, seen what was happening with Wyn, maybe he could have helped Lena avoid this mistake.
She looked over at him, a calculating expression on her face. Her eyes narrowed, and for a second he thought she was going to bring up something else he wouldn’t like. Instead, she said, “Wanna race?”
He blinked, his mind trying to swiftly change gears.
Without waiting for his answer, Lena bolted for the edge of the water, leaving nothing but a spray of sand in her wake. Her happy chuckle as the waves rolled across her toes was a heck of a lot better than the sadness she’d been fighting a little while ago.
Walking slowly behind her, Colt enjoyed watching as she played in the surf. Wispy clouds passed slowly across the moon, playing peek-a-boo with the light. She twirled, her dress floating out around her body and a spray of water splashing across his face.
He thought it was an accident—until she did it again. And he couldn’t let that go without retaliation. High-stepping out into the surf, Colt scooped water with both hands and threw it in her direction.
He could hear her sharp intake of breath as it rained over her. Her dress was quickly soaked, sticking to her skin. Colt had seen her body before. She’d lain out in the sun at his pool. Often enough for him to know she preferred bikinis to anything else. He’d always known she was beautiful.
But tonight, she was more than that. She was sensual and seductive without even realizing it. Her eyes sparkled. Her skin glowed. She darted in and out of the surf, taunting him, the only problem was the game he suddenly wanted to play with her had nothing to do with innocent fun.
Her foot twisted on something beneath the surface of the water. Colt watched as the expression on her face went from pleasure to panic in the space of a heartbeat. Lunging forward, he caught her, picking her up and turning toward shore.