If you haven’t read the Prologue, check it out now.
Eighteen Years Later
“Happy New Year, Zandra. Do you want to come to Aunt Jennie?”
“Don’t encourage her,” Griffin said when he walked into the living room on New Year’s Day.
Jennie had lived on Amore Island for around six months now. After all these years, she’d finally found her brother again.
She’d taken that step to find him. Not the other way around. He’d said he’d always be there for her, but he wasn’t.
She didn’t hold it against him. Or at least she didn’t think she did. Not after worrying he’d died when she found no trace of him months after they were placed in separate foster homes.
He’d graduated from high school, left her a note that he was going away, but saying he’d be back when he could. That he was going to try to build a life for them.
She believed him, but he never came back.
It wasn’t until earlier in the year she realized he’d enlisted in the service and was there until about eight years ago.
If she was pissed he didn’t seek her out then, she’d voiced it a few times since they reconnected but realized that Griffin had a lot more demons than she did.
No, actually he didn’t. His were just different.
But Griffin had a family now. One he made for himself with the Bond family—his employers—and then now with his fiancée, Penelope, and daughter, Alexandra.
“I like Zandra,” Jennie said, winking at her future sister-in-law.
“See, Griffin,” Penelope said. “It’s got a nice ring to it. Zandra Zale.”
Her big brother took his daughter out of her hands, kissed her and said, “Alexa Zale or Lexa. Or, I don’t know,” Griffin said, “how about her name, Alexandra, which Penelope chose. Now I’m starting to realize it was only to shorten it on me.”
Jennie reached for her niece again. It did her heart good to see her brother more lighthearted than she ever remembered before.
Griffin had always been intense as a kid. She supposed they didn’t have much of a choice in their household.
She’d noticed it more when she sought him out earlier last year, but now he was just a different person.
One that was turning back into the overprotective brother she remembered before with a side of sweetheart mixed in.
He listened now when he didn’t years ago. She felt like she was heard, but it was like taking a stick and beating it into the rock of his head more than she wanted.
“You’re so much fun to bust on,” Penelope said. “Right, Jennie?”
“If you say so,” she said.
She didn’t remember ever busting on Griffin much. There wasn’t a lot of laughter or joking in their house.
She’d fought hard to move past that and felt she’d gotten to that point.
Sometimes she got sucked back in, but it was getting better. She hoped.
Hard not to when she lived on this small island off the coast of Massachusetts. She had a job she loved and always dreamed of. For the Bond family. And hadn’t been thrilled when that happened and was positive Griffin had something to do with it, but she told herself she had to let it go.
She was working her butt off to prove she could do the job.
Like she worked her butt off to get her degree and make something of her life. The easy way would have been to get a job after she turned eighteen. To share an apartment with people and live paycheck to paycheck.
Instead, she was lucky enough that the last foster family she ended up with helped her. They guided her.
They wanted her to make something of herself.
She worked hard in school, she got a lot of aid and scholarships and didn’t have a ton of student loans. Not as much as many did in her situation.
She had a job and an apartment in college with other students and was able to live there when school was out and work more.
Paycheck to paycheck had been her world until about four years ago.
She finally felt like she was on her feet some more, money was in the bank, her debt manageable.
Then Griffin stepped in without talking to her and wiped it all out.
Looking back, she knew he was making up for the promise of being there for her. Come to find out, he’d had his eye on her for years but she’d hadn’t known. He did not want her to know.
She was still pissed about that too. Him taking it upon himself to decide if she could handle him in her life again.
That he didn’t want to disrupt what she made of herself.
She’d had it. No more with people telling her what to do.
“Penelope says a lot,” Griffin said. “I’ve learned not to argue either.”
“I need your secret,” she said to Penelope. “It seems all Griffin and I do is argue.”
Jennie was grinning but noticed the pained look on her brother’s face. “I’m trying,” he said.
“I know,” she said, sighing. “I appreciate everything you’ve done this year. I really do. I owe you for a lot and I’m not used to owing anyone anything.”
“You don’t owe me a thing,” Griffin said. “Never.”
“Here we go again,” Penelope said, snatching her daughter away. “You two are going to have to figure this out. Jennie, we are thrilled you are here. I’m so glad Griffin has you in his life. He needs you as much as you need him. He was wrong to be gone as long as he was and he’s trying to make it up to you. Trust me, I’ve lectured him enough about it.”
“She has,” Griffin said. “I’m ganged up on here.”
Jennie grinned. “I don’t want you to feel that way. I love being here. I love that you made it happen. I’m not used to anything like that in my life. Not working for billionaires. Not knowing my brother is best friends with one and even owns some of a freaking casino.”
Her brother’s best friend was Eli Bond. Griffin confessed to her months ago that he owned five percent of the casino when she was arguing about him buying her a house. She’d said no way. She was fine with her apartment. The one her employers, Drew and Bode Bond, owned and squeezed her in before others on a waiting list.
She worked for Bond Realty and needed a place to stay. She’d been making do at Atlantic Rise for months until the apartment became available.
Since Penelope owned Atlantic Rise Hotel with her sister, Emily, they wouldn’t let her pay to stay in one of the suites. Another thing handed to her and this time she had to argue with not only Griffin but Penelope too.
She’d lost there.
“I’d hardly say you’re ganged up on,” she said, laughing. “You’re bigger and stronger than all of us.”
“I’m not so sure about that,” Griffin said sarcastically.
She laughed, as she’d only been joking. Jennie was pretty stubborn herself. She had to be. There’d been no one watching out for her for years.
“Penelope, is there anything I can do?”
“Nope,” Penelope said. “Relax. Emily will be here soon with Crew and my parents. I don’t often get to cook holiday dinners and offered this year. It’s cold and blustery out and I don’t want to bring the baby out in it.”
Her niece was barely two months old at this point. Cute as a button and the apple of her brother’s eye. She also knew that once the rest of the family got here, she’d be fighting for a chance to hold her niece, which was why she came early.
“Does Alexa need a bottle soon?” she asked, looking over to see her brother wink at her. She wasn’t sure she’d ever seen him do that before.
“She does. Griffin can get it for her while I check on the snacks in the oven. Everyone will be here soon and I’ll have it all ready.”
She walked over and sat in the rocking chair and heard her brother and Penelope talking quietly in the kitchen. She could almost see them, but they were at the far end and not facing her.
When they returned together, Griffin handing her the bottle to give her niece, and Penelope sitting down, she knew something was on their minds.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“Why do you ask that?” Penelope asked when Griffin sat next to her.
“Because I can feel it in the air. You two want to talk to me about something. Just say it.”
“It’s not me,” Penelope said. “It’s your brother. I told him if he was going to do it, he better do it now before everyone got here.”
Her shoulders dropped. “What are you going to try to do for me now?”
Penelope grinned. “Told you,” she said to Griffin.
“I don’t care,” Griffin said. “Hear me out before you say no or freak out.”
She didn’t like the sound of that. It was bad enough Griffin paid her student loans and car off on her before she moved here, but then he paid all her moving expenses and had her fly with her stuff on the Bond private jet. Talk about overkill.
“You’re only doing this now because I’ve got your daughter in my arms and you know I won’t yell.”
“She’s got you there,” Penelope said.
“I bought a house,” Griffin said.
“Okay. Good for you. Is that for when Penelope is ticked off and it’s bigger than a doghouse to go to?”
Penelope giggled. “He’s still got his apartment on the penthouse floor of the casino for that.”
“I won’t need it,” Griffin said. “Penelope loves me too much to make me stay there. She wants me in bed at some point each night.”
“Don’t let Griffin kid you,” Penelope said. “He likes to cuddle in the guise of hogging the bed. But he’s the one that wants me in it with him.”
“Aren’t you two just so cute,” she said, shaking her head.
“If my fiancée is done cracking jokes like she always does, I’ll tell you I bought the house not far from here. It’s not big. It’s a cottage. Three beds, two baths. About eighteen hundred square feet. If I tell you I bought it for you, you’ll flip out.”
“Damn straight,” Jennie said. “Sorry. Darn straight. I don’t need you buying me a house.”
They’d been around this block enough, and she’d thought she’d finally gotten through to him.
“It’s mine. Not yours. However, I’ll rent it to you for what you are paying for your apartment,” he said.
“Which is a fraction of what you can get for rent on this island and you know it,” she said.
It wasn’t cheap to live here. Older homes that needed a ton of work were still hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“It’s closer to your job. It’s closer to us. You can come visit Alexa anytime you want. Maybe babysit?” he said, smiling.
“Oh, now I see how it is,” she said with a small grin.
“Jennie,” Penelope said. “This was the best compromise I could get out of him. I’m on your team. You know as well as I do, Drew and Bode need the apartment for the workers for the retirement community.”
She did know that. She was a financial analyst for Bond Realty and her main job was attached to the retirement community.
The townhouses were all up with residents in them. They were privately owned with just monthly HOA fees for the grounds and other services that would be provided in the future.
But the apartments were still a ways from being completed.
By the end of summer, the goal was half of the one hundred apartments would have residents in them on one side of the building while the remaining half were worked on over the next winter. This was easily a two- to three-year project.
Other buildings needed to be completed this summer too. The rec center, a gym, a cafeteria and more. All that was going to be done so that those fifty filled apartments had things to do and services provided for them.
It would still grow for years, but they were getting there.
And the sooner it filled up, the busier she’d be also. She had some time on her hands work wise and Drew had her doing other work for the business and filling in as needed where things tied together. She didn’t care and only wanted to prove her worth.
“You’re hitting low,” she said. “Did you get that from Griffin?”
“She’s sneaky,” Griffin said.
“That is what you love about me,” Penelope said. “I had to be sneaky to get you. I wore you down without you even knowing.”
“Yeah,” Griffin said. “Like a tick under my skin and by the time I realized you were there I was already infected.”
Jennie snorted. “That’s kind of gross but probably accurate too.”
“Very much so,” Penelope said.
“Back to the house,” Griffin said. “I’m closing on it in a few weeks. Then we can go in and make any changes to it.”
“I don’t need to make changes,” she said. “It’s your house. You can rent it and make more money since workers need to be on the island.”
“You know that isn’t what he wanted or needed,” Penelope said. “Your apartment would be part of Drew and Bode’s benefits package for their workers. It’s one bedroom, but they’d still get two beds in there, if not a sleeper sofa too.”
She sighed. Penelope was right. She knew those things because it was part of her job. And if two to three men could live in her place and not take the ferry back and forth, they could work more because they wouldn’t be handcuffed to the limited transportation to and from the island with the tighter ferry schedule in the winter months.
“I’ll think about it,” she said. “But I’m not making any changes to it. Or if I want that, I’ll do it. No more money, Griffin.”
“It was updated in the past seven years. It’s not huge, but a lot more space than you’ve got. Penelope will show you the pictures of it online.”
Penelope stood up and got her iPad, then brought it over and started to swipe through while Alexa was still drinking her bottle.
She saw Penelope try to swipe fast past the price, but she’d caught it and bit her tongue. It wasn’t her money and she had to get over the fact that her brother was worth more millions than she could ever imagine. That didn’t take into account that he was marrying into the Bond family who had wealth like in fairytales.
She was making more at her job than she’d thought she would and figured they’d paid her that because of her relation to Griffin. Then she realized it had more to do with the cost to live on the island. She’d seen the salaries of others in the company and realized what she was making was generous but fair with the company and not any kind of special treatment.
“The place doesn’t need any work,” she said.
“The paint colors are ugly,” Penelope said. “Don’t you think?”
“They are,” she said. “And if I decide to move there, I’ll paint it myself. But it’s livable. Trust me, I’ve lived in a lot of places. That’s the nicest and you know it, Griffin.”
“I know,” he said. “There were others I looked at, but this is a nice small home that doesn’t need work. Yep, I can rent it out and make money, but I didn’t buy it for that reason.”
“You bought it for me,” she said. “Regardless of whose name is on the title. Let’s not kid ourselves.”
“Fine. I bought it for you. You can pay me rent. I know what you’re paying now. I asked Drew. You can have more than double the space and your own place. You’ve never had that before. I want you to. Please, Jennie. I’m not going to say I owe it to you. I owe it to me. I was wrong for what I did. I made a promise to you and I’m going to keep it. I said I’d always be there and I am. I was absent for years, but I’m not now.”
She looked at her brother. The words hitting home. A reminder of what he’d said to her on the worst day of her life.
Those words were the truth. He’d been absent for years, but he was trying now. She had to give in and try with him.
“Fine. It’s a lovely place. I’d be thrilled to live there. But no more, Griffin. This is it. Do you hear me?”
He got up and walked over to kiss her on the cheek. “I hear you. As a thank you, you can babysit your niece one day this week too so I can have a date night.”
“Of course,” she said. “Anytime and you know it.”
The door opened a few minutes later, Emily and Crew’s voices coming down the hall. “Perfect timing,” Penelope said. “Griffin broke the news and he won. Mark your calendars on that one.”
All she could do was shake her head. Her brother really thought she was going to say no when she’d be crazy to.
She only had to remind herself to not get too used to this, as she’d seen how quickly her life could change.