Six months was all it took for me to completely lose my shit. I gave it my best shot, but it turned out all the one-night stands and hangovers in the world couldn’t erase the sting of heartbreak and rejection. My brother Gavin had gotten the girl, while I’d retreated alone to the one place that had always felt like home.
While my grandparents were still alive and in my life, they owned a condo in Florida in a development that was little more than a cheap apartment complex with a bunch of gray-haired retirees. But once a year when my mom dropped us off there during spring break, something about the salty ocean air and swaying palm trees felt like heaven. Like I could escape my lonely little world and all my problems while I was there.
Which was why when I fled Boston, I’d gone to the beach house I now owned on Sanibel Island. The two-bedroom cottage felt more like home than my four-thousand-square-foot luxury apartment in the city. Mostly, though, I just wasn’t ready to see Gavin and Emma yet. Wasn’t ready to face seeing them as a couple and pretend to be happy for them. Fuck that.
So I’d spent my time licking my wounds and hitting the gym. Dinner was at my favorite local beach bar, where there was usually a different tourist to take home each night. It wasn’t fulfilling, but it distracted me—at least somewhat—from the heartbreak that threatened to make an appearance every time I thought of my brother with Emma.
What still killed me was that I’d let her see how much she meant to me. I’d been vulnerable with her, asked her to choose me, and yet she hadn’t. That was the most crushing blow.
This mistake wouldn’t be solved by hate-fucking Emma out of my system. No, I was going to have to live with the festering wound of seeing her on my brother’s arm. Live with the knowledge that she’d chosen him and not me. It was the one mistake that couldn’t be fixed in my life—there was no easy solution, no forgetting it and moving on. And that stung like a motherfucker.
Second place was first loser. And I knew that better than anyone.
I was just about to jump in the shower after a day spent surfing when my phone rang. It was my oldest brother, Quinn. Shutting off the water, I grabbed my cell from the counter.
“Wow. He picks up.”
The surprise in Quinn’s voice was annoying. Accurate—because I rarely answered my phone anymore—but annoying.
“What’s up, man?” I tried to keep the irritation out of my voice.
“It’s time you came home.”
I rolled my eyes. We’d had this conversation at least a dozen times. “And why would I do that?”
“To be blunt? Because we’re going to remove you from the payroll and kick you out of the company if you don’t get your ass back to Boston.”
That had my full attention. I could only imagine Gavin pushing for my termination. The prick.
“I hired someone for you,” Quinn said. “It’ll be just what you need to throw yourself back into work, and I think you’ll find Corinne is a huge asset.”
I rolled my eyes. “Fine. I’ll come back.”
“Glad to hear it.” I could hear the smile in Quinn’s voice.
“But I’m not flying commercial. Send the jet.”
Quinn released a long sigh. “Christ. When did you become so demanding?”
I ignored his question. Getting fucked over would do that to a guy. From here on out, I would call the shots. Things would be done according to my terms, or not at all. “See you soon, brother.”
Stripping off my wet swim shorts, I cranked the shower faucet to hot and tried to pretend that things would be fine once I got back to Boston.
They had to be, right?
“Why aren’t you dating anyone yet?” Mauve asked, adjusting the oxygen tubes that rested just below her nostrils.
We’d had this conversation too many times, and it always ended the same way—with me feeling angry at her for prying, and then later guilty about getting mad at a sick old woman who meant well. It was a ridiculous cycle I hoped to one day break.
“You know I can’t do that.”
She scoffed at me. “The hell you can’t.”
I rolled my eyes and stood to help her adjust the knob on the side of her oxygen tank. Mauve was the closest thing I had to a mother, and while I loved her to pieces, when she pried into my personal life, part of me wanted to strangle her with those oxygen tubes.
Mauve pursed her lips, waiting for me to continue the same conversation we’d had a thousand times. But nothing would ever change my mind, could ever, so I flipped open her book to the dog-eared page and took a deep breath.
“Where were we? Gideon was just about to propose, right?” I would never experience the kind of romantic love I read about in these pages, and that was fine by me. It was best left for fiction, and I did love a good romance.
“Wait.” Mauve motioned for me to stop. “Aren’t you going to give me anything at all?”
Since I couldn’t deny an old lady her only source of weekly gossip, I lowered the book to my lap. “I started a new job this week.”
Mauve smiled, her blue eyes crinkling in the corners. “Thank goodness. Tell me all about it.”
Ever since the state lost funding for the inner-city orphanage where I was working, I’d spent the last two months unemployed and barely scraping by. This new job had been a huge blessing. But there was no way in hell I could tell Mauve that I now worked at an escort agency, even if I was just hired to coordinate schedules and maintain the website.
“I’m a coordinator and sit behind a computer all day, nothing too exciting, but it will pay the bills nicely. And better yet, it came with excellent benefits and health insurance.” That last part was critical to me, and why I’d been so picky when job-hunting.
“I’m proud of you, kiddo.”
I smiled at her and the silly nickname she’d given me when I came to live under her care at the age of thirteen. Even if she was a pain in my rear end sometimes, she was one of the few people I cared about on this earth.
“Thanks, Mauve. This week was just getting acquainted and overviews. Monday, I’ll start shadowing one of the women who’s worked there a while, but my new boss will be back in town, so I’m sure things will get more exciting then.”