For the Sake of His Heir(3)

By: Joanne Rock

Brianne took a turn kissing the boy’s head, too, as she’d become good buddies with the little one over the last ten months. “How are you today, cutie?” she asked him, her heart melting when Jason gave her a drooly grin. She spotted one of his toys on the counter—a fat green dinosaur—and perched it on the edge of his lunch tray, hopping it closer to him.

“There’s something for you, Brianne.” Gabe plucked a small envelope off the stack of letters Camille had handed him before setting the rest of the resort’s mail in a wooden tray near the door. “Looks like it’s from home.”

“Thanks.” She saw the return address in Nana’s familiar handwriting and hoped everything was okay with her grandmother. Distracted, she forgot about her dinosaur game with Jason until the boy poked at the toy.

Dutifully, she made the figure hop around his lunch tray while she considered the letter from her grandmother.

“And sorry to spring it on you like this that I’m leaving.” Gabe reached into the kitchen’s stainless-steel refrigerator and withdrew two bottles of water, passing one to her. “That’s why I’m handing off some of the projects to a local contractor. I need to finish up a few more of the bungalows to accommodate the increase in visitors, but I’m taking Jason to New York and I’m not sure when we’ll return.”

“You’re leaving?” She squeezed the water bottle without opening it, the cold condensation chilling her palms while a wave of disappointment washed over her.

Old crush on Gabe aside, she liked him. Considered him her best friend. He’d given her an amazing opportunity when he’d hired her to design the gardens at the Birdsong, a long-term project that gave her stability and allowed her to be creative. It was a far better job than the temporary gigs she’d been hired for prior to this. She’d met him while helping another landscaper revamp the historic gardens at McNeill Meadows plantation home. Gabe had been building an arbor for his family’s expansive compound in Le François. He’d been planning his wedding back then, so she’d ignored the attraction and concentrated on impressing him professionally.

“Yes. I’m going to New York to spend some time with my grandfather.” Gabe rifled through a kitchen drawer and pulled out a small sheet of paper, then he ambled over to the round table in the breakfast nook with a view of the ocean. “Have a seat, Brianne.”

He pulled out a curved wicker chair for her near the open French doors that led to a side patio shaded by a tall acacia tree. The temperature in Martinique didn’t vary much, but on a February day like this, it was less humid and there was a breeze off the water. Brianne never tired of the beautiful weather here after the cold, desperate winters of her childhood in Brooklyn.

“Your grandfather. You mean Malcolm McNeill?” She’d followed news about his wealthy family online, from the disappearance of his sister-in-law, heiress Caroline Degraff, to the revelation that he had a connection to McNeill Resorts’ wealthy owner, Malcolm McNeill. Gabe’s mother had been Liam McNeill’s mistress. Liam had fathered three children by her but then abandoned them when Gabe was just eleven years old. Liam had been married to someone else at that time, and had three legitimate sons based in Manhattan.

“That’s right.” Gabe drew Jason’s high chair closer to the table, earning more gummy grins from his son and another round of spoon banging. “I have a good life here and I’m happiest working on the Birdsong, but I keep thinking it’s not fair to limit Jason’s future to this place when he’s an heir to the McNeill legacy.”

The thought of her world without Gabe in it unsettled her. She liked working with him. For him. She didn’t want to think about how empty the Birdsong would be without him. And Jason. Her gaze went to the boy, as she thought about all the impromptu lunches they’d had together.

“Are you moving there permanently?” She tried not to let the unexpected swell of emotions show in her voice.

Gabe gave his son a sectioned tray with some sliced-up toast pieces and carrots. Withdrawing the toy dinosaur so as not to distract the baby from his lunch, Brianne clutched it tighter.

“No.” He swung into the chair next to her, keeping Jason between them. “Just until I can learn more about the McNeill holdings and convince my grandfather that the terms of his will are prehistoric.”

“What do you mean?”

“He’s stipulated that all his heirs need to be married for at least a year in order to inherit their share of the fortune.” He set down the sheet of paper he’d retrieved from the kitchen drawer; she could see it was a sketch of the bungalow that she’d inquired about earlier, a project that couldn’t be further from her mind now. “I don’t know if the guy is going senile or what, but my personal experience makes me an excellent case study for why marriage is a bad idea.”

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