For the Sake of His Heir(4)

By: Joanne Rock

His expression darkened, the way it always did when he referred to his ex-wife. It upset Brianne to think Theresa had skewed Gabe’s view of love forever.

“You wouldn’t be eligible to inherit because you weren’t married long enough.” She couldn’t envision Gabe living in Manhattan or moving in that high-powered business world, but that was probably naive of her. He was a major owner of Transparent, the new social-media software-integration giant run by his brother Damon that seemed to be in the news daily.

“Right.” Gabe took a long swig from his water bottle. “I’ll never marry again, but does that mean Jason shouldn’t inherit? It’s not fair to an innocent kid. So I’m going to visit the family in New York and convince Gramps to tweak the will to ensure his great grandson has a fair share of the legacy.” He ruffled his son’s dark wispy baby curls. “Who could resist this little guy?”

Jason kicked the tray with his bare toes, sending carrots jumping on his plate. The movement preoccupied him, and the baby became fixated with studying the bright orange bits.

“You have a point.” Smiling, Brianne reached over to give the baby’s feet a fond squeeze, her heart warming at the sight of the two McNeills, one so adorable and the other so…off-limits.

Damn it.

No matter how appealing Gabe might be, he wasn’t in any position to start a relationship in the wake of his unhappy marriage. Brianne knew it was too soon to get involved with a man nursing a broken heart. And now? She might never have the chance to be more than a friend.

“So Jason and I are going to spend some time in Manhattan. A few months at least.” He tipped back in his chair and reached behind him to drag the baby’s sippy cup off the granite kitchen counter. “I’ve been making drawings of the next few units for you so you can see the changes I’m going to ask the contractor to implement.” As he passed her the sketch, his hand stalled on the envelope from Nana. “Should you read this?” he asked, handing it to her a second time. “Your grandmother doesn’t write you very often.”

As her gaze returned to the shaky scrawl on the outside of the note, a pang of worry pierced through the knot of unhappy emotions she felt over Gabe’s departure. How disloyal of her it was to put her life in Martinique—her complicated feelings for Gabe—in front of her own family.

“You’re right.” Brianne slid a finger under the envelope flap and raked it open. “I know she doesn’t write as much lately because her arthritis has gotten worse.”

“All the more reason it might be important if she took the time and effort to write to you now,” Gabe added, standing up to grab a damp dishrag from the sink.

He used the cloth to clean up some stray carrots on the tray while Brianne read the brief letter. The scrawl was shaky. Nana took a couple of paragraphs to talk about the failed effort to get a rooftop communal garden in her building, something she’d been excited about. Brianne scanned the rest quickly, thinking she’d take her time to read more closely later. The last paragraph jumped out at her.

I had a little run-in with a mugger yesterday—your standard local junkie, nothing personal. I’m fine. Just a bit sore. It’s not a problem really, but makes getting to the market harder. If the offer is still open to have some groceries delivered, your Nana might just take you up on it. I’ve got plenty to get me through this week, though, so don’t you worry.

Love you, child.

“Oh, my God.” Brianne’s heart was in total free fall.

Her grandmother, the most important person in her whole world, was hurt and alone this week while Brianne had been planting beautiful flowers, living in a Caribbean paradise and mooning over an impossible man. The knowledge sliced right through her.

“What’s wrong?” Gabe was by her side instantly, a hand on her shoulder.

“I need to go home.” Shakily, she tried to stand, her knees feeling unsteady. “Now.”

* * *

“Whoa. Wait.” Gabe half caught Brianne in his arms, something that at any other time would have brought with it a forbidden pleasure he’d enjoy even though he didn’t deserve to.

Today, however, she was clearly distressed. Pale and shaking. What the hell was in that letter?

“I need to go home, Gabe. She’s hurt.” The broken sound of Brianne’s voice stunned him.

He’d seen this woman heft twenty-five-pound bags of dirt under one slender arm and collar snakes with lightning-fast reflexes so she could “relocate” them. He would have never imagined her in tears, but her dark brown eyes were unnaturally bright with them.

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