For the Sake of His Heir(7)

By: Joanne Rock

“Good.” He nodded, already making a mental to-do list, starting with booking the plane and contacting the nanny who would be making the trip with them. “I’ll let you know when I’ve got our flight time confirmed. After we land, we can share a car from the airport, so count on me to bring you straight to your grandmother’s doorstep.”

“Fine.” Her jaw tightened. “That is, thank you.”

As she retreated, he wanted to offer more. To suggest additional ways he could help out since she might be facing more medical bills and travel arrangements where her grandmother was concerned. But he didn’t want to push his luck with his proud and prickly landscape designer. He had a whole plane ride to talk to her and convince her to let him give her a hand moving her beloved relative back to Martinique. He and Brianne made such a good team at work. Why couldn’t they carry that into their personal lives, especially when they were both going through some tough transitions?

The idea held a whole lot of appeal. Maybe that should have troubled him given that he’d just emerged from a disastrous marriage and divorce. Instead, he felt an undeniable pull of awareness that had been absent from his life ever since his wife was two months pregnant and had announced she was leaving him.


Brianne paced outside her cabin in front of the huge strangler fig that listed to one side after years of leaning with the prevailing winds. Suitcase haphazardly packed and ready to go on her tiny wooden porch, she forced herself to take a deep breath while she waited for Gabe to pick her up. Dusk was just settling over the island, casting the resort in shades of pink and peach. Her cabin was already dark from the shadows cast by the wide branches of the tree.

Kneeling down, she scraped a few leaves off the plaque she’d placed there last fall, a final gift bequeathed to her from Nana’s friend Carol, who had brought Brianne to this place fourteen years ago as a smart-mouthed preteen. Carol had run out of her retirement funds by the end, her final years in a nursing home having depleted her account. But she’d left the plaque for Brianne, a wrought-iron piece with a Chinese proverb in raised letters reading, “When the root is deep, there is no reason to fear the wind.”

Brianne had understood the message—that she needed to rely on the roots Carol had helped her to set down in Martinique, and the values that Nana had tried to impart before Brianne’s world imploded with family drama. It didn’t matter that Brianne’s mom had been a junkie who deserted the family when her dealer moved to Miami, leaving eight-year-old Brianne with a father who was allergic to work but not women. Even then, Brianne had felt like the adult in the house, forging her father’s signature on papers from school, instinctively guessing her troubles would multiply if anyone found out how often she went unsupervised.

At the time, she couldn’t have known how much worse off she’d be once her dad’s girlfriend moved in with them, bringing kids from previous relationships and a surprise half sibling, whose combined support cost far more than the toxic couple could afford. If not for free school lunches, Brianne didn’t know how she would have survived those lonely years, where no one remembered to feed her let alone buy her new shoes or check her homework. But when puberty hit, delivering feminine assets no eleven-year-old should have to contend with, she suddenly had all the wrong kinds of attention.

She shuddered at the memories, grateful to hear Gabe’s SUV tires crunch the gravel on the far side of the cabin. He’d texted her two hours ago that they could leave at 7:00 p.m., and now here he was—as promised—fifteen minutes before their scheduled departure. Because apparently on a private jet they could take off almost as soon as they buckled into the seats.

Somehow, that kind of favor seemed far more generous than the extra hours she occasionally put in at the Birdsong carefully training a vine over an arbor or watering a temperamental new planting. But for Nana’s sake, she sure wasn’t going to argue with Gabe about a lift to New York on such short notice. With her bank account, she’d be hard-pressed to afford the rest of the trip and relocating her grandmother, let alone a plane ticket. Still, although she understood the McNeill family could easily afford this kind of travel, she was touched that he wanted to bring her. That was a dangerous feeling to have about her boss, who already appealed to her on far too many levels.

Wheeling her battered duffel bag around to the driveway behind the cabin, she got there in time to see Gabe open the liftgate on the back of the dark gray Mercedes SUV. In a nod to traveling with her employer, she’d dressed in her best dark jeans and a flowy, floral blouse in bright tangerine and yellow that slid off her shoulders and made her feel pretty. Gabe, on the other hand, looked ready to escort an A-list actress to an Oscars after-party, his jacket and slim-fitting navy pants the sort of clothes that came from a tailor and not the department-store racks. Even his shirt, open at the neck, was beautiful—it was snowy white and embroidered with extra white stitching around the placket. The dark tasseled loafers were, she supposed, his effort to keep things less formal.

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