Destiny of a Donovan
Book 15 in the Donovans Series
Fighting for everything…
Brynne Donovan has been in one battle after another—with obesity, drowning in her big sister’s shadow and now finding out that her father had a secret son. She’s reached her breaking point and decides to recuperate from her weight loss surgery in private. It’s well past time for her to take control of her life and to live the way she wants without her family name dictating her choices. Accepting the invitation of a friend, Brynne decides that her new life will begin at the end of her stay at a vineyard in Napa Valley. She could not have selected a better place to convalesce, especially since her friend’s older brother was very easy on the eyes and as charming as any storybook prince. He was everything her family would disapprove of—older, richer and of a different race. But Brynne doesn’t care, the passion between them overrules everything and everyone else, until her new big brother shows up and threatens everything Brynne has fought so hard to find.
…and determined to hold on to it all.
Wade Basset Banks, III is a third generation billionaire, who’s known in the business arena for his tenacity and killer smile. When his sister introduces him to her college friend, it doesn’t take Wade long to decide he wants her. It’s then that he recognizes her name and recalls meeting other members of this illustrious family. Wade knows all about the Donovans and from what’s been reported in the media, he knows about the drama surrounding them. But none of that matters, all Wade wants is Brynne happy and safe in his life. Even if that means protecting her from people in his past.
In the midst of relationship turmoil, Brynne and Wade will soon find themselves in the middle of a media firestorm and nothing either of them have ever experienced prepares them for the moment Roslyn Ausby plays her final hand.
**AUTHOR’S NOTE: This book is #15 in a series. While it may not be necessary to read each book that has come before this one, it is highly recommended that HEART OF A DONOVAN, EMBRACED BY A DONOVAN, WRAPPED IN A DONOVAN, IN THE ARMS OF A DONOVAN, THE DONOVANS UNCOVERED and FALLING FOR A DONOVAN be read before reading this book, as there is a continuing plot in each of these stories.
The print version of this book is available in the Donovans Volume IV anthology.
Destiny of a Donovan
Book 15 in the Donovans Series
Destiny of a Donovan
Ten Weeks after Falling For A Donovan
“It’s a girl!”
Brandon could hardly contain his excitement as he came bursting through the waiting room door, reporting the glorious news to his family.
Albert jumped up out of his seat, moving quickly to wrap his arms around his son. He clapped his hands against Brandon’s back and whispered, “Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Jesus!”
“She’s beautiful, dad,” Brandon said as he and his father pulled away from each other. “She has the plumpest cheeks. They look like little peaches and they’re so soft.”
He was gushing and it was perfect, Bailey thought as she watched with excitement from where she now stood beside her brother.
“Ten fingers and ten toes, right?” Brock asked.
Brandon nodded and grinned in their brother’s direction. “Right! She’s just perfect. Her hair is glossy and black, just like Bailey’s looked in her infant photo. She opened her eyes for a few moments and stared right at me and Amber, and I swear I lost my breath.”
“Yeah,” Albert said with a nod. “That’s what they do to you. They reach right inside of you and take everything you have, everything you are. Your life won’t be the same, son. Not from this moment on, it won’t. She’s going to be your entire world.”
Bailey ignored her chance to give Brandon a hug and moved to stand by her father instead. She took Albert’s hand in hers and squeezed it gently. He looked at her with somber dark brown eyes just lightly sheened with tears.
“What’s her name?” Noelle asked after she hugged Brandon tightly. “I know you and Amber have been trying to keep it a secret all this time. But she’s here now and we can’t keep calling her “Baby”.”
Brock and Noelle had arrived at the new house Brandon bought for Amber, three days ago. Some of the other Donovan family members had come to Houston to attend Amber’s baby shower a few days ago as well. Brock and Noelle had decided to make their trip a vacation and spend a little time with Albert, who was staying with Brandon and Amber because he hadn’t decided yet whether he would ever return to the house he’d once shared with his wife and family. Bailey had been happy to hear that her father was going to be staying with Brandon and Amber because she knew that Amber would keep a close eye on Albert and his health.
As for Bailey, she and Devlin had been in Houston twice since putting one of her kidnappers, Orin Weatherby, behind bars. All of the statements and reports that were finalized after Bailey and Devlin had returned from Michigan, and witnessing the birth of Keysa’s little girl, had led to Orin facing federal charges. He was now being held at an undisclosed facility in Virginia because that’s where Cade had requested he go. The FBI had lots of questions for Orin about his dealings with Roslyn Ausby.
Bailey had loved seeing her father while she was in Michigan and Devlin—bless, his still thawing heart—must have known that, because the minute they were back in Connecticut he suggested that they both take some time off from work after all they’d been through. That time off had started with a trip to Houston for two weeks. After that they’d gone to L.A. to see Tia and Trent. And by the time Bailey started to think of heading back to her job at D&D Investigations, Brandon was calling her asking for help with the shower for Amber. Since Amber’s sisters were in Chicago, they needed someone in Houston to finalize the plans they’d attempted to make long distance. Bailey had gladly returned to Houston to help, and now…now, her brother was a father and she was an aunt.
“Yeah man, you’re gonna have to tell us the name now,” Brock was saying. “I can’t call everyone in the family and brag about my gorgeous niece without knowing her name.”
Brandon shook his head as he grinned. “I know, I know. Okay, we decided to name our five pound nine ounce baby girl, Serene Darla Donovan.”
“Oh, that’s so pretty,” Noelle said.
Brock nodded. “It is,” he added in a voice that cracked just a bit.
“Mama would have loved it,” Bailey told Brandon. “It’s a beautiful name and she would have been so very proud of you.”
“Of you too,” Brandon said as he touched a hand to Bailey’s cheek. “She would have been proud of all us for staying together, no matter the adversity.”
“He’s right,” Albert said to his children. “We’re still sticking together and even bringing new Donovans into the fold. We’re doing what we’ve always done—persevered. Darla’s smiling down on each of you right now.”
Bailey shook her head. “No, she’s smiling down on Serene. She’s happy and she’s proud of her granddaughter and she’s probably whispering in the baby’s little ear that she’ll always be there with her. Just like she used to do with us.”
Tears came next, along with more hugs, until eventually Bailey was wrapped tightly in Devlin’s arms. There she felt an amazing warmth and comfort that she’d never expected. She and Devlin weren’t expected. That’s why what they had was so special. Continuing in their own way, they hadn’t made any concrete commitments to each other, such as an engagement or even an official statement that they were going to live together. They were simply taking things one day at a time. She suspected, however, that Devlin was going to follow her lead as far as where she would go from here. In his line of work, he could have a home base anywhere he wanted. And while a part of her had come to covet her privacy and independence in Connecticut, in the last year, Bailey had wanted to be closer to her family in Houston.
When things happened, she thought she was too far away. Then again, it hadn’t mattered where she was when Roslyn had decided to strike against her. It hadn’t mattered where any of them were when that woman had decided to strike.
“Something’s wrong,” Devlin whispered to Bailey the next day when they were once again at the hospital to visit Amber and Serene.
“What are you talking about?” Bailey asked, but Devlin had already taken her by the arm and was pulling her through an exit door.
They were standing in the stairwell when she opened her mouth to ask him again. He touched two fingers to her lips and stared at her intently.
“While you were in the room with Amber, I walked the hallway and checked the stairwells,” he began.
Bailey watched him closely while he spoke. His thick brows were drawn, dark eyes serious.
“Everything looked fine, but I had a feeling,” he told her.
And now, so did she.
It had been weeks—ten to be exact—since Uncle Henry had told them about his phone call with Roslyn and her declaration that it was over. Her uncle had desperately wanted to believe Roslyn’s words and so had the rest of them. Each day that passed and nothing had happened, they’d all begun to relax a bit more, to hope…
“When you came out, pushing Amber in the wheelchair, I figured you were heading to the NICU to see the baby. So I followed you.”
Bailey nodded slightly as she remembered seeing Devlin come from around the corner when she had pushed Amber out of her room. He hadn’t spoken a word, but she knew he would follow her. Security was first with him now, even moreso than before. He always kept her within his sight, or even when out of sight, he remained close by should she need him he could be there quickly. Bailey had wondered how long they were going to be able to live this way but she knew he was smart for being diligent. No matter what Roslyn may have said to Uncle Henry, as long as she was alive and walking the streets freely, she was a threat to them.
“And what happened?” she asked, unable to keep quiet any longer.
Devlin moved his hand slowly away from her mouth.
“You and Amber were in there for a half hour,” he said. “Then you went back to the room. Brandon and your dad came in so I figured it was fine to do another walk around the hospital. This time I went outside and then came back in. I stopped at the NICU before coming back to the room.”
Bailey’s stomach plummeted, her fingers clenched at her sides. “Devlin,” she said in a low whisper.
“Serene is fine,” he told her, grabbing her hand at the same time. “But she left this.”
He stuffed a piece of paper into Bailey’s hand. She’d been still struggling to breathe normally. The thought of something happening to her niece had come quickly and had taken away every ounce of composure she’d had in the same amount of time. But Devlin said she was fine. Of course she was, Bailey thought with a slow shake of her head. The NICU was a secure facility. Amber had to have one of the bracelets on her arm scanned by a nurse before they’d even allowed her inside. And the only reason that Bailey had been able to go in was because Amber was with her. Only the parents of the baby could go into the rooms where the incubators and babies were housed.
Bailey looked down at the paper then. She took a deep breath before opening it and looking at the two pictures on the plain white sheet. One picture was of a baby with a darker complexion, wrapped in a white blanket and a light blue cap on its head. The next baby’s picture showed a child with a head full of black curls peeking from beneath a pink cap, the blanket wrapped tightly around it was blue, white and pink striped. Beneath the pictures were five words typed in bold letters.
Time is ticking by
Basset Banks Vineyards
Napa Valley, California
She would never get tired of this sight.
Part of the sky was a royal blue shade interrupted by a thick carpet of puffy clouds. The other half was golden yellow resting warmly over the mountain tops in the distance. Hills rolled up and down in layers of lush green while just bloomed daffodils announced that spring was on its way. In the time that Brynne had been at the vineyard, she’d learned a lot about the wine making process. Enough to notice the cover crops between the rows of vines had begun to grow and brilliant yellow mustard flowers provided a splash of color. The air was crisp, clean and mixed with the calming silence around her, had become addictive.
Brynne walked slowly along the same path she’d been using every morning at dawn for the past four months. The movement had been great for her new exercise regimen, adding to her goal of twelve thousand steps per day. But this walk meant more than that to Brynne. It was living, she thought as she glanced up at the sky, watching as the golden hue began to dominate, pushing through the blue left over from the night before.
She was pushing through as well. This past year, that’s precisely what she had been doing, pushing past the life she’d felt trapped in before and reaching desperately for the new life she knew she needed to pursue. Everything she’d done—the surgery, the therapy, the discipline, the exercise, the introspection, and yes, leaving her family behind—it was all for one purpose. It was all leading toward one goal. The new Brynne Nicole Donovan. The one with confidence inside and out. The one with a college degree in Art History and a prosperous career at the Lakefield Galleries. The one who could stand in the middle of a room and smile genuinely because she was happy and proud of all her accomplishments.
She could do it.
She would do it.
And then what?
An early morning breeze picked up and Brynne lifted her hand to push the curly strands of hair from her face. She also looked at the fitness bracelet on her wrist to see how many steps she’d already amassed. With a small smile of encouragement she continued walking, this time moving down the side of the road that lead to more hills and a lovely oak tree where she liked to sit and collect her thoughts.
This morning there were lots of thoughts running through her mind. First and foremost was the phone call from her mother last night. It had been two months since Brynne had finally given in to her cousin, Bailey’s urgings and called her mother. Jocelyn had been relieved to finally hear from Brynne after months of wondering where her only daughter was and if she was safe. The first few minutes of that conversation consisted of Jocelyn admonishing Brynne for being selfish and careless for not contacting her. It was one of the few things her mother said that Brynne happened to agree with. She’d known her decision to come to California and have the gastric bypass surgery alone was a self-serving one. It was also self-preserving. Brynne really hadn’t thought of how her parents or any other members of her family would feel about her decision. She could admit that fact and only felt a minor twinge of guilt as a result. In January of last year, just a week after her father and his brothers had announced their duplicity and the result of which being a secret son and a crazy-ex, Brynne had received more disturbing news from her doctor. It was time for her to make drastic changes, her life depended on it.
“I’m going to divorce your father,” Jocelyn had said last night, the minute the pleasantries of the conversation were over.
“Are you sure?” had been Brynne’s response.
She wasn’t actually surprised. In fact, Brynne wondered what had taken her mother so long to finally come to this conclusion. There was a pretense that Bernard Donovan liked to keep alive and well. Not the one where he was a successful businessman and a great upstanding guy from an affluent family. No, it was the other one, the loving husband and the doting father. That had been reserved for the first wife and daughter. Jocelyn and Brynne were on the receiving end of an entirely different brand of treatment from him.
“I’m positive,” Jocelyn had replied. “I’ve lived in the shadow of his first wife. I watched him favor his first child over my own. And now this. Now, he has another child and another baby mama to deal with. This one happens to be out of her damn mind. No, I’m not dealing with any of this.”
Brynne had nodded while she listened, hating the parts of her that she knew sounded exactly like her mother. Brynne had it bad on both fronts. Her father was a controlling egomaniac and her mother was a manipulative narcissist. Okay, that was probably being harsh and she knew she was wrong for that, but they were both screwed up. Bernard and Jocelyn Donovan were both living in denial and had been for a very long time. Brynne was the smart and usually cheerful daughter who was shafted because of them.
She’d come to all these conclusions in her counseling sessions as she’d tried to weed out why food had long ago become her refuge. It was because she desperately wanted to be validated by her parents, who were totally clueless to that fact. She shouldn’t blame them. They’d done their best. But, she was older and wiser now, so she would act accordingly.
“It happened before he even knew you,” she reminded her mother.
“But he lied.”
“Not necessarily,” Brynne had said, wondering why she was defending her father if she was, in fact, angry with him as well. “You never asked him if he had any other children besides Keysa. And I’m sure neither of you ran down a list of all your past lovers when you met.”
“Don’t talk to me like that,” Jocelyn had said in her best motherly tone.
Brynne hadn’t cringed the way she might have a year ago. Instead, she’d taken a deep breath and let it out slowly.
“You called me to talk about an adult issue between you and your husband. I’m responding the way I would to any other adult. You can’t say he lied to you if you never asked the question. Should he have confided in you that he slept with his brother’s ex-girlfriend? I’m not sure about that one. My guess is that he probably shouldn’t have slept with his brother’s ex-girlfriend in the first place. And to be quite honest, mama, I don’t know that he’s not feeling a world of guilt and regret about that fact himself.”
“Brynne,” Jocelyn had warned.
“Listen, I’m on your side,” she’d admitted finally. “If you feel like you’re finished with the marriage, you should go.”
“He lied to both of us,” her mother said after a few moments of silence.
“I can’t change anything that happened,” Brynne had said. “Nothing you or I can do now will change the past.”
She’d come to that conclusion in counseling as well.
“I’m sorry I can’t be more compassionate,” Brynne added. Because she really was. She knew that she should be gentler with her mother, that she probably should have stayed in Seattle to help her mother cope with what had actually been a nightmare for them both.
But she couldn’t.
Brynne’s sanity and her health had depended on her making the decision that she had. For her, survival meant breaking free.
Jocelyn hadn’t accepted Brynne’s apology, but she had gotten off the phone with the promise to keep Brynne updated on the divorce process. Her mother had sounded as tired of Brynne as she was of her husband. It didn’t matter. Brynne had been tired of both of them for quite some time now.
So she sighed heavily as she eased herself down to sit with her back against the trunk of the oak tree. All these things came so clearly to her now. She wished she’d had the guts to go to therapy years before. Truth be told, it wasn’t all about the therapy. It was everything that had happened in the past year. The surgery, the reinvention of herself, the truths she’d accepted and this place. She loved it here at the Basset Banks Vineyard and she loved her best friend Lauren for inviting her to stay on this gorgeous estate with her.
“You left without me this morning,” a smooth and familiar voice said breaking through Brynne’s thoughts.
She looked up knowing that Wade Basset Banks’ crisp blue eyes would be staring down at her. A light beard covered his strong jaw, but not enough to completely hide the sexy cleft in his chin. His hair was dark against his olive complexion, his dress shirt buttoned up to his neck. The gray tie he wore may have seemed plain but Brynne was certain it was silk and most likely expensive, just like his tailored black suit. Black wingtips rounded off the package and as it had done on numerous occasions when she was in his company, Brynne’s heart did a stagger, start and stop before she was able to speak.
“I thought you were out of town,” she replied.
He knelt down beside her, lifting a hand to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear. “I took the red-eye flight from Portland specifically so I wouldn’t miss our morning walk.”
Our morning walk. Brynne hadn’t thought of them that way even though she was certain that if she’d been keeping tabs it would have been easy to tabulate that Wade had accompanied her on the majority of her walks since they’d begun. Of course, that could be attributed to the fact that this was his land. These hills and vines, the flowers, the majestic trees, that great main house, the guest house down the road, the winery and the money that came in because of all of the above, were his.
He was the president and chief executive officer of Basset Banks Vineyard. He was also a very attractive man with a breathtaking smile and a penchant for strawberries and whipped cream. Brynne knew this because they’d shared this dessert on about as many occasions as they had this morning walk. Her, eating more of the strawberries and him, enjoying the whipped cream.
“You’re not the one who needs these walks each morning,” she told him.
When she thought he would have had a quick retort, Wade simply stared at her. The same fingers that had touched her hair now ran along his jaw as he shook his head slowly.
“I don’t know how accurate that statement is,” he eventually replied.
Well what did that mean?
Brynne had no idea and she wasn’t really in the mood to try and figure it out. There were so many other decisions she needed to make today, or this week. She didn’t have time to try and figure out what Wade Banks was saying and she didn’t even know if it made a difference. Her time in Napa Valley was almost up anyway.
“I should get back to the house,” Brynne said and came to her feet.
Wade stood as well, leaving only a couple of feet between them. “Do you have an appointment to get to?” he asked her.
She didn’t and try as she might she couldn’t find it in herself to lie to him. He’d been one of the few people Brynne had found easy to be honest with. While she did have some calls to make today, none of them needed to be made right at this moment.
“No,” she said and then felt her heart flutter at the way his eyes lit up.
He seemed happy, much more so then normal and she wondered if her simple response was totally responsible for that reaction.
“Then walk with me,” he said and surprised her once again by reaching out and taking her hand in his. “Perez tells me the pruning was completed last week and I want to take a look to make sure we’re in good shape.”
She’d been staring down at his hand as he talked. He had long fingers, like someone who might play the piano. His nails were filed to a blunt tip that may have given the impression that he was inclined to pampering and no manual labor, but Brynne knew better. Three weeks ago when she recalled seeing him out in these very fields doing some of the pruning that he now wished to check on. He’d worn work boots and faded jeans that day, the long sleeves to his plaid shirt were rolled up to the thick curve of his biceps, and a black cap had been pulled down tightly on his head. He’d worked for hours that day and Brynne had no idea why she’d not only kept count, but remembered the day as if it were yesterday.
“Um, you know I don’t know anything about pruning or plucking grapes,” she said, dragging her gaze away from his hand. “I only know that you’re a damn fine vintner because Basset Banks’ merlot is the best I’ve ever had.”
He smiled and lifted the hand he was holding up to his lips before dropping a loud kiss on her knuckles. She couldn’t have pulled away if she wanted to, and a part of Brynne was screaming that she should. This was so silly. This guy was her best friend’s brother. He was nine years older than her and no doubt more experienced in matters between men and women than she was. She felt her lips forming a shaky smile as she willed herself to get it together. There was nothing here, absolutely nothing at all.
“I knew you were a woman of good taste the moment I met you.”
“I will agree that I know good wine,” Brynne replied as she fell into step beside him.
“And you don’t like to accept compliments.” He concluded.
“No,” she began. “It’s not that. I just…well…I mean, I was just saying that the wine is good. That’s all.”
He nodded and let out a little chuckle. “And I agree, our merlot is the best, coming in second only to our cabernet franc. But walking with you is better than knowing our vineyards are one of the top three in Napa Valley.”
He’d squeezed her hand tighter after speaking, just before lifting it to his lips and dropping a soft kiss against her knuckles.
Brynne didn’t know how to reply to that, and she didn’t know how to keep her knees from threatening to give out at that moment.
Wade wished it had been her lips. He’d dreamed of kissing her on so many occasions, he’d lost count.
It was insane. He knew that. He told himself every day since the day he’d come home—to the Big House, which was what he and Lauren had always called the main house on the vineyard’s land. She’d been different then, he recalled as they walked. Very, very different.
And Wade wasn’t just thinking along the physical lines when he thought about that day. Sure, she’d weighed more then, but her physical appearance hadn’t been all that had drawn him to her. It was last June and he’d just returned from Villa Donati, his great-grandmother’s estate in Tuscany. In the seventeen days he was there Wade had read contracts, negotiated terms and visualized how the hundred and fifty year old villa could be renovated and brought back to life. In the ten minutes he’d stood in the main dining room of the Big House just a few feet away from Brynne Donovan he’d evaluated his age, checked his instant arousal and attempted to tamp down on the immediate intrigue he felt as he stared at her.
“Brynne, this is my brother Wade,” Lauren had said by way of introduction. “You remember I told you about him…and the night I had alcohol poisoning.”
His sister had grinned at that statement, while Wade had a flashback of the night he’d received a call from the LAPD telling him that they were transporting his underage sister to the hospital. They’d picked her up in a raid of a club that Lauren had gained access into via a fake ID. It had taken Wade and the attorneys that made a small fortune from representing their family, to get her out of that trouble.
“It’s nice to meet you, Wade,” Brynne had said.
Her hair—springy looking black curls—was pulled back from a round and pretty face with high cheekbones and lovely brown eyes. She’d given him a cordial smile, her plump lips coated lightly with peach gloss. She wore a cream colored blouse and a long skirt with different shades of orange in a paisley print. Her toes had been painted a festive yellow color that was visible through the strappy nude sandals she wore.
“Brynne,” he’d said slowly. “That’s a very pretty name.”
“Thank you,” she replied. “I was just telling Lauren that you have a beautiful home here.”
Wade had nodded. “Thank you. My mother and Mrs. Ramsey are really responsible for that. And, now, of course, Lauren is adding her own touches. It’s our family home and we’re proud of it and our company.”
And he was rambling. Standing there in front of her feeling like an inexperienced school boy instead of a man who had just turned thirty-eight years old.
The next day when Wade and Lauren had met to discuss vineyard business, his sister shared the real reason Brynne Donovan was staying with them.
“She’s recovering from weight loss surgery. Her doctor is in L.A. and she wanted to remain close for routine check-ups,” Lauren had told him.
“Where’s her family?” he’d asked.
Lauren and a few cousins in Tuscany were the only family Wade had left. Still, he’d made a valiant effort to keep in touch with them, hence the reason he was so dedicated to reviving the villa in Italy. He wanted there to be something of their heritage left, something for the next generation of Donatis and Banks to share and be proud of.
“Her parents are in Seattle and she has other family around the world, but they don’t know what she’s going through.” Before he could say another word, Lauren had held up a hand to stop him. “I don’t agree either, but it’s not my call. I’ve known Brynne since college so I know how determined she can be. When she told me she was having this surgery and she wasn’t telling her family I knew I had no choice but to be there for her. So I have, for the past eight weeks we stayed in a townhouse she’d rented in L.A. You were in Paris and then Milan. Then you called to say you would be heading to New York and then to Tuscany. That meant I needed to get back to the office. So I bought Brynne here. Between me and Mrs. Ramsey, we’ve been helping her with her new diet and exercise regimen.”
He’d listened to his sister, seeing Brynne’s smiling face in his mind and wondering why. She looked just fine to him, but Wade knew that what he saw in people wasn’t always what the world saw. He knew firsthand about people who struggled with their physical appearance, their weight and body shaming. That was the reason he and Lauren had decided that in addition to their family vineyards, that the Basset Banks name needed to stand for something else. It needed to represent something supportive and long lasting, to do what nobody had bothered to do for their mother.
“Why didn’t you send her to the center?” he asked.
Lauren had finished drinking her orange juice. She’d set the glass down slowly before looking at Wade once more. “Brynne knows about The Lily Center. She knows why starting a treatment facility that specializes in eating disorders and weight management therapy was important to me. She’s a good friend and she’s always supported everything that I do, but she’s from a high-profile family and she didn’t want them or anyone else to know what she was going through.”
Wade nodded because he knew the pressure of being in a high-profile family. He knew it just as his mother had and just as Lauren did. There were different rules for them, limitations and struggles that couldn’t be imagined. So he’d accepted Lauren’s explanation and he’d felt compassion for Brynne, a woman who had decided to take control of her own situation in the best way she knew how. He was also proud of his sister, who had struggled with anorexia for most of her teenage years, for being such a loyal and devoted friend.
Later that same week was the first time Wade had seen Brynne walking. He’d always loved walking in the early morning, surveying the vines and simply using the fresh morning air to organize his thoughts. Imagine his surprise when this captivating woman shared that she liked to do the same and his elation when it turned out that he really liked spending that time with her.
“You should see the sunrise in Tuscany,” Wade said when his thoughts returned to the present and he realized that not only was he walking with Brynne, but that for the first time, her hand was in his.
There was warmth as his fingers entwined with hers. A steady flow that eased from the palm of his hand, up his arm and was now spreading slowly throughout his chest. Today she wore navy blue work-out pants, the fitted ones. She had on a white t-shirt, of which he could only see the bottom because the jacket that matched the pants that she wore half-way zipped, covered the rest. Her hair which always seemed unruly, yet alluring, was held back from her face with a white band. There was no make-up on her face and yet her eyelashes were still long and curving over dark brown eyes that were always alert and assessing.
“I’ll bet it’s amazing,” she replied. “When I was a young girl I used to have contests comparing the sunrise to the sunset, wondering which one was more breathtaking.”
“I’d say sunrise. Because when you wake up in the morning it’s with great expectation. People, things, situations, none of them have had an opportunity to interfere with your thoughts or actions at this point. Your mind is fresh and open to the revelations of the day. The sunrise is there to assist in replenishing and restoring. It’s your energy for the day.”
“Hmmm,” she added as they came closer to the part of land that led towards the rows and rows of vines that would be this year’s harvest.
“I can see that. I know I’m always invigorated by the sunrise. What happens after that, well, let’s just say I try to be prepared for any and everything.”
Wade smiled as she’d chuckled after saying those words. Each time he saw her she was always easy to smile or to laugh at something he said or something she was doing. She had a pleasant attitude which Wade knew could sometimes mask emotional issues. His mother had been loving and joyous with him as he’d grown up and when she’d been pregnant with Lauren, Liliana Donati Banks had been glowing. Yes, even as a young boy he’d seen the difference in his mother when she was pregnant and when she’d had his sister. He’d only had three more years with his mother after Lauren’s arrival, but those—in Wade’s young mind—had been the happiest three years of Lily Banks’s life. Later he would learn how wrong he was.
“We can’t always be prepared,” he said, thinking once again how he hadn’t been prepared for her or what she was doing to him.
“I guess that’s true,” she replied after a few moments.
They walked a little further in silence until Brynne’s ringing cell phone interrupted.
“Excuse me,” she said. “I think I have to take this.”
Wade released her hand and gave her the courtesy of moving a few steps away. She turned her back to him then and he couldn’t help but admire the view. She was a very attractive woman, every curve of her body enticing to him.
“No!” she yelled into the phone and then ran the fingers of her free hand through her hair.
“You cannot order me around. I’m an adult. And furthermore, all of the nonsense that’s going on is your fault. Not mine,” she said.
Wade slipped his hands into his pockets and turned only partially away from her. He looked up at the sky, to the brilliant golden rays and then down to the ground and the lush grass beneath his feet.
“What? Is she okay? I’m calling Keysa right now. No. I am not coming home! And I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”
Wade could see her pressing her finger against the phone with unnecessary force to disconnect the call. He waited for her to turn back to him. When she did, Brynne took a deep breath. She closed her eyes momentarily as she let the breath out slowly. Then he watched as her lips moved and she appeared to be counting quietly. He continued to wait until she opened her eyes again.
When she was looking at him Wade knew that the smile and jovial attitude was a cover and he felt both sorry and angry for her. He’d watched what she’d gone through these past months and couldn’t help but think that she deserved better. Her family should have been with her during this time. She shouldn’t have had to feel like she was alone, or in the company of strangers. They should have been supporting her, not upsetting her. But what did he really know? Wade had no idea about the problems between her and her family. He did, however, know about the problems the Donovan family in general were having. It was in the tabloids and on the news. That ultimately meant that he couldn’t be sure of what was true and what wasn’t. Still, he knew that some of what was being reported was true. His business dealings with Amber McNair and meeting her fiancé Brandon Donovan, had given him some insight into that situation.
“Have dinner with me tonight,” Wade said before she could finish thinking of what she would say next.
He suspected she wanted to apologize for the interruption, or possibly offer an explanation for the half sided conversation she knew he’d heard. Wade didn’t want her to do either.
“Just you and me. A nice, quiet dinner on the deck. Mrs. Ramsey already knows your favorites so I’ll have her prepare them for you. Seven o’clock. Afterwards, we’ll taste our newest batch to make sure its ready for production,” he said and then simply waited.
Her head fell then and for a second Wade wondered if he should go to her. While on the long plane ride he’d thought about what his next steps should be. Should he tell her up front that he wanted them to get to know each other on a more personal level? He’d concluded that wasn’t a good idea, for one because he had no idea about her romantic background or how she would even react to a man his age being attracted to her. Not that Wade wasn’t confident, because that had never been a question. He was proud of who and what he was. He’d been in relationships before and had even thought he’d been in love. Some of those experiences ended amicably, others didn’t. But Wade didn’t harbor any ill feelings and he looked forward to every new opportunity to try again.
That’s what this was. Right at this moment, he was trying again. So Brynne’s silence was just a little nerve-wracking.
“Or a nice restaurant, if you’d prefer,” he offered when she was still looking down at her feet, her hands clasped in front of her.
“You want to have dinner with me?” she asked as she’d lifted her head slowly. “Just me?”
“Yes,” he replied. “Just you.”
Her smile was slow coming this time and it drew him instantly. Wade was closing the space between them before she could say another word.
“And Brynne,” he said when he was standing directly in front of her. “I want to kiss…just you.”
When she only stared up at him in shock, Wade lowered his head and touched his lips to hers.
So much for whether or not he should go slow.