by AC Arthur
Book 5 in the Donovan Dynasty
Accept the unexpected…
With her great-aunt in a coma and the rest of the family spiraling out of control as they fight to hold onto their wealth and reputation, the last thing Suri Donovan needed was to be inextricably drawn to this man who is unlike anyone she’d ever met.
Break all the rules…
She’s related to one of his closet friends. She’s involved in his biggest crime syndicate case. And she despises him. So why can’t he get through one night without dreaming of the sexy little spitfire? Why can’t he stop wanting her…needing her, like he needs air?
Special Agent Pierce Rawlings may not have all the answers, but when Suri goes missing, he’ll move heaven and earth to get her back.
Book 5 in the Donovan Dynasty
In all these years nighttime was still the same. Dark. Which was comforting, but too damn quiet. Her thoughts were loudest at night. Persistent, unrelenting, and downright annoying as hell.
With a huff, Birdie grabbed the edge of the sheet and duvet and pushed them back from her body. It wasn’t hot in here like it was last night when she’d had to go into Suri’s bedroom and demand she turn down the heat in the flat they shared. No, tonight she was more irritated than anything. Felt like the weight of the world was on her shoulders and the extra pressure of the bed coverings wasn’t helping.
She blinked rapidly into the darkness knowing the action would do nothing to clear the thoughts dancing through her mind but feeling like she needed to try anyway. Something was about to happen. Something bad. She knew it. Could feel it in the ache at the back of her neck and heaviness in her chest that none of the doctors Suri, Ridge and Roark had insisted she see, could diagnose, or treat.
They were the same foreboding signs that plagued her some years back when she got the call from her nephew, Henry, that there was a secret Donovan son making noise around the family business. That incident had brought death to a few people and heartache to her nephews and their families, but luckily hadn’t hurt the family business. In fact, having Bernard, one of her brother Ike’s six boys, accept his lapse in judgment and the child that was conceived because of it, and welcoming Dane into the fold, had turned out to be a godsend for the family business. Dane’s business expertise—which had come naturally through the Donovan bloodline—had started the next family venture into clean air and fostering sustainable cities with the creation of Donovan Oilwell International, or D-International, which the family had taken to calling it. Her great nephews, Roark and Dane ran the new company now, while Roark’s younger brother, Ridge was at the helm of Donovan UK. Henry, Everette, and Al, more of Ike’s boys, still ran Donovan Oilwell in the States.
Still, the debacle with Dane’s mother had caused a blemish on the family name in the media, something that had bothered Birdie and brought her from her lifestyle of travel and leisure to check in on the start of that new business when Dane had come to the UK to meet with Roark, Ridge and Suri five years ago.
Lifting one arm slowly, much slower than she recalled ever moving in her life, Birdie pressed her fingers to her temple and rubbed. These thoughts had become more persistent, adding throbbing headaches at night and annoying fatigue during the day to the other aches and pains she was feeling.
“Worrying will wear down your body and your spirit,” Gran used to say. “That’s why you gotta release all the things you can’t control. Let go and let God handle it. Even if it’s a mess you created.”
That last part was specifically directed at Birdie. She was certain her grandmother, Gertrude Donovan, believed that Birdie was the only one of her grandchildren who ever messed up in life. Birdie’s lips trembled slightly before moving upward in what she suspected would look like a small smile. “If Gran only knew,” she whispered into the quiet of her room.
With that thought, Birdie sat up in the bed. Again, every part of her felt sluggish, as if the world was just trudging along on some damaged movie reel. She turned so that her legs were dangling off the bed. For endless moments she just sat there, hands in her lap, nightgown twisted around her upper thighs and bare feet resting on the plush beige carpet. Her eyes blinked as if trying to focus, attempting to see what, she had no clue, because it was so dark in the room. Or perhaps it wasn’t quite that dark. The automatic blinds on the two windows across the room had been lowered as they always were around six in the evening. But sometimes when the moon was at its brightest, slashes of light would seep inside to cut across the floor. She didn’t see any tonight. She did, however, see the dim glow on the floor that came from her ensuite bathroom.
“Suri,” she murmured.
That girl had decided Birdie needed a nightlight, as if she were a toddler who was afraid of the dark. In protest, Birdie closed the bathroom door every night after she went in for the last time before she climbed into bed. She didn’t need a nightlight. She knew where the bathroom was and how to get there. How dare that little spitfire of a great-niece think otherwise.
But Suri was a good girl. She’d been taking care of Birdie for the three years since Maxine’s death. Birdie had called herself sticking around to help her nephew, Gabe’s kids after they’d lost their mother. Since Gabe and Maxine had been the only members of the family to venture over the pond, and start their lives here in London, once the two of them were gone, the kids would’ve been all alone. Sure, they were all adults, getting older every day and starting their own families now—with the exception of Suri, because that girl still needed to find her way—but Birdie had felt like they needed her. Turns out, she’d needed them right back. Not that she was going to tell any of them that.
Especially not now.
She shook her head at the heavy thoughts that always found their way back to the forefront of her mind. In the last year or two, it was like they’d been pushing their way to the front of the line. Yelling in her head that they would not be silenced. Not this time.
“Dammit,” she muttered and closed her eyes.
It was three years ago when she and Suri had ended up in the Cotswolds at Donovan Manor, because some lunatic had tried to burn down the flat where she and Suri had been staying, with the two of them still inside. Roark and Tamika, who he wasn’t married to at the time, had been staying at the manor as well. Just another time that things had started to go haywire in her family. A couple years before that, Dane’s wife, Zera, had gotten herself and subsequently, them into a dangerous bind when she was trying to find her sister. And then the mess with a man from Tamika’s parents’ past had kicked off. At the time, Birdie had been frustrated because Gabe’s kids were already dealing with grief, they didn’t need anything else, especially not someone trying to kill them. But such was life at that time.
She hadn’t expected to see him at the manor. Hadn’t thought about that name in a very long time. But there he was, with eyes that sparked quick memories in Birdie’s mind. Memories that, as always, she’d dashed away. Now, though, as she sat on that bed with tears burning her eyes, she realized she should’ve paid more attention three years ago. She should’ve done something she’d sworn she would never do. Maybe then all that was happening to her family now, wouldn’t be happening.
It was the morning after the incident at the flat and her legs still ached a little from the fast moving she’d had to do to get out of the building after the explosion. Somebody had screamed something about structural damage and fire spreading. Who the hell knew? Suri had come in there yipping and yelling and she’d just had enough time to grab the bag she always kept ready and get to moving.
Now, she was hungry. She went directly to the seat at the head of the table and sat down like she belonged there. Well, as the oldest living member of their family here at the moment, she did belong at the head of the table.
“Now this is more like it,” she said as she took the white linen napkin from the table, snapped it open and set it in her lap.
Moments after everyone was seated, the housekeeper she’d been introduced to last night, named Dorianne, came in to announce, “The buffet is open.”
Birdie’s frown was immediate as she clamped her lips closed tight and rolled her eyes. She hated a damn buffet.
“I’ll fix your plate,” Roark said to her and Birdie rolled her eyes because he knew exactly what she was thinking.
“Thank you,” she said, pursing her lips. “Don’t skimp on the bacon. I’m not one of those ones with a sudden affliction to swine. And scones, I love vanilla scones.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Roark said and stood from his seat.
One of her other great-nephews, Cadence, came into the room then. A tall dark-skinned man was right behind him. A good-looking fella with broad shoulders and a stern mouth. In her day, Birdie had loved a man with a stern mouth. Meant he knew how to use it to make a woman melt in his arms. She wondered if this man had any women melting against him.
But then her other great-nephew came in and she forced her mind back to family. Ridgley was a handsome man too. Had grown up to be just as opinionated and cocky as his daddy had been. Made Birdie proud most days, and on others, made her shake her head to keep from smacking him upside the back of his.
“Oh, well, the gang is really and truly all here,” Ridge quipped not bothering to hide his annoyance.
“Cade called me this morning, but I’m wondering why neither my brother nor sister thought about picking up their phone last night,” Ridge continued.
Ignoring her brother’s obvious ire, Suri forked a chunk of French toast dripping with maple syrup into her mouth.
“I’ll make the introductions, and then we can go into the parlor to talk,” Roark stated.
Cadence had already walked past him. “And after we talk, I’m having breakfast.” He stopped at the head of the table and bent to kiss her. “Aunt Birdie, my love. It’s good to see you as always.”
She lifted a hand to his cheek and offered a half smile to her great-nephew. He was actually her cousin Charles’s son, which probably made him her cousin or something like that if they were being technical. But since he was around the same age as her other great-nephews, that’s what she’d decided to classify him as.
“Always the fresh one,” she said. “Good morning, Cadence.”
Birdie liked to call everyone by their given names, even though she’d always gone by her nickname. She never liked that her parents and brothers had decided to call her something based on her thin frame and the way she used to pick at the food on her plate that she didn’t like. But, hell, the name had stuck until even her teachers were calling her that, so she’d just given in and let it be. But she’d sworn no other Donovan child would fall to that fate if she could help it. And nobody in the family dared to question her when she called them by their given names.
“We should talk. Now,” the handsome dark-skinned man said. “Introductions can come later.”
“And who exactly are you?” she asked staring directly at him as she waited for his gaze to shift to her.
He stood straighter and cleared his throat. “I’m Agent Pierce Rawlings, ma’am. I work with Cade.”
So, he was an FBI profiler. Cadence had been the only one of the family to go into law enforcement and his mother, Brenda, hated it. Of course, Charles had been intent on letting his children find their own way instead of making sure his only son, at least, would find his way into the family business. But that was neither here nor there, Birdie had long since stopped trying to tell her family members what to do with their kids. None of them ever listened anyway, citing that she had no idea what it was like to have and raise children.
“I see,” she replied with a curt nod. “Stop frowning and talking with all that base in your voice so early in the morning. I’m trying to enjoy my breakfast.”
He lifted a hand to smooth down the navy blue tie he wore and gave her a slow nod. “Pardon me, ma’am.”
He had manners at least, probably from a good upbringing. Parents these days didn’t pay much attention to teaching their kids good manners which is why most of them were running amuck now. Anyway, he had nice hands too. This Pierce fella. When he looked away from her, he’d run a hand over his bearded chin before glancing at Roark. There was no wedding ring to be seen on Agent Pierce Rawlings. She liked to make sure of that whenever she was checking a man out. No ring and no tan line where the ring that was probably stuffed in his pocket should be.
And while she was definitely checking out the especially delectable hunk of dark chocolate, she had no delusions that he’d be making her melt in his arms. Hell, she almost laughed at that thought. She was long past needing a man to satisfy her sexual needs. Her ninety-two-year-old body wasn’t sure what sexual needs were these days, but her memory was still fresh. And so, she could look at this man as much as she wanted and wonder if those hands of his that were as large as they were nice, meant what was between his legs was the same.
“Yeah, now,” Ridgely added in response to Pierce’s statement about them needing to talk, without bothering to speak to her with his grouchy self.
They’d all walked out of the room then and Birdie had busied herself eating the food from the plate that Roark had brought to her before he’d left. She knew they were in the parlor talking about what had happened last night and whatever it was they thought was going on and while she wanted all the details, she was hungry and still a little achy. So, she’d taken her own good time eating and drinking the cup of coffee Suri had gotten up to fix her. When she was finished, she wiped her mouth with the napkin and excused herself from the table.
“You got one hard ass head.” A smile ghosted her face at the memory of more of her grandmother’s words to her. She walked toward the parlor. “You’ll go out and make the same mistake over and over again, never learning the lesson that was intended for you to learn the first time.”
Birdie had never said to her grandmother what had always come to her mind as a response, “Well, if it were meant for me to learn it the first time, I would’ve.” She wasn’t as foolish as the old woman thought. Backtalking only ended one way, with a slap across her face or a broom to the back of her legs if she tried to run out of the room before Gran could catch her.
Still, she’d decided as she approached the doorway and could hear the deep timbre of the men’s voices from inside, that she wasn’t going to eavesdrop this time. She’d done that many times in her younger life, with the last time proving to get her into more trouble than she ever could’ve bargained for. No, she walked intentionally, stopping abruptly in the doorway and said loudly, “Cadence, the food is getting cold.”
The four men who’d looked like an ad for smartly dressed drop-dead gorgeous Black men, turned to look at her.
“Uh, yes, ma’am. I’m coming now,” Cadence replied and then turned to glance at Roark and Ridgley. “We’re on top of this. All you need to do is keep your security detail, Pierce and I will work out the rest.”
Pierce nodded. “Right. I’m circling back to the MPD now to speak with the Chief Detective about last night’s developments. I’ll touch base with you later today, Cade. Since you’ve got to go eat your breakfast.” The sarcasm was thick in Pierce’s tone.
Cadence gave that grin that Birdie recalled was adorably cute when he was a youngster but was now no doubt considered sexy to the few women he chose to give his time. “No shame in my game,” Cadence quipped and turned to walk toward her.
Pierce had moved faster, easing around her as he left before Cadence. In addition to being handsome and having big hands, Pierce smelled good and was very tall. She loved a tall man.
“Sir,” another man said to Roark. “Dorianne informed me earlier this morning that we had more guests. Is there anything else I can get for you or them?”
His voice was deep like the rest of the men but when she’d tried to turn away from this newcomer, she couldn’t. There wasn’t anything spectacular about him. Unlike Pierce this man wasn’t built. Instead, he had a lanky frame, the plain black suit, white shirt and black bowtie, only adding to his non-descript appearance. He had a boxy face, a rectangular shaped hairline that came down too far on his forehead and pecan skin tone.
“No, Geoff, thank you,” Roark replied. “We’re okay for now.”
“You work here too?” she asked him, still unable to look away. Roark must’ve thought she was going to say something snippy to him, like he’d accused her of doing to his new woman, but Birdie ignored him, just as she had when he’d expressed his dislike. Nobody had ever been able to tell her what to say or when to say, at least not in this generation of Donovans.
Her parents and Gran were long gone and they’d always been the only ones who’d ever been able to control something she did or didn’t do. And after a while, that had barely held true.
Still, she continued to eye this man named Geoff, while waiting for his response.
“I do,” Geoff said as he turned to face her and then bowed as if she were wearing a diamond tiara and had a title other than Ms. in front of her name. “I’m Geoffrey Ewing, Concierge of Donovan Manor, and I’m at your service.”
She continued to stare at him. His eyes especially. They weren’t any specific shade of brown, but that’s not what made them stand out. It was the little sparkle of mischief she’d glimpsed in their depths even while he stood and spoke so stoically. “I knew a man named Ewing once,” she said quietly.
That had been a long time ago. Another time and another life, one she’d long since packed away. With that reminder, she waved Geoff away and walked back toward the dining room.
“Geoff,” she whispered his name now. “Geoffrey Ewing.”
A hand went to her chest at the echo of that name in her mind. For so many years she’d refused to say the name, to even think it, and now, in the past months, it had been heavy on her mind. Especially after hearing it during the conversation she and the family had the morning after Ridge and Talaya were in a car accident.
She’d almost passed out when she heard Pierce say the name of the only man who’d ever held her heart—Eddie Ewing. While she was certain Pierce and the others were referring to Eddie’s son and grandson. Her Eddie—Edward DeWayne Ewing, Sr.—had immediately come to mind.
Birdie stood now shaking her head in the hope that the thoughts would go away. She still didn’t want to think about Eddie, didn’t want to contemplate whether he, or his family now, since he’d died a long time ago, was in any way involved in what was happening to her family. The car that had almost run Ridgley and Talaya off the road, the disturbing calls Talaya had been receiving, the car with a dead man inside that had crashed through the ballroom of the event center where they’d had the first fundraising gala for Ridgely’s foundation.
Whatever the threat to her family was now, Birdie vowed to help as she’d always done in the past. But not if it involved Eddie Ewing. That was a battle she’d lost long ago.
She just needed something to drink. Some water or juice. Both would make her have to pee but at least her mouth wouldn’t feel so dry. And if she had to get up again to go to the bathroom, the effort would at least keep her limbs moving, and hopefully get rid of the heaviness she felt in them now as she attempted to walk out of the room.
Her left leg was moving fine, still not ready to run a marathon or anything like that, but it was moving. It was just her right leg now, that seemed to take a lot of concentration to move. And her head still throbbed. Hurt so bad now that she was up and moving that she wanted to scream out in agony. But she didn’t. Instead, she focused on the door that was partially opened and willed her legs to move her in that direction. But they didn’t. She stood still, her eyes focusing on the man now stepping through the door.
Her mouth opened, but no sound came out. Words tumbled in her mind, but they were hampered by the pain, until she couldn’t tell what it was she was thinking or what she actually wanted to say. But her heart hammered and her eyes remained trained on the man, the tall, umber complected man with the snowy white beard and mischievous dark brown eyes.
“Hello, lewa,” he said, his arms outstretched. “I’ve been waiting for you to come back to me.”
Birdie couldn’t respond. She couldn’t tell him to get out, that she was never going anywhere with him again. She couldn’t tell him to stop calling her that stupid nickname he’d given her that meant beautiful in Yoruba. She couldn’t cry out that he couldn’t be here, he shouldn’t be here because he was no longer her man…no longer alive.
All she could manage was what she thought was a whisper even though she hadn’t felt her lips move. “Eddie.”
The name echoed in her mind as the world that she’d just moments ago thought was slowing down to a snail’s pace, went completely black, and she collapsed to the floor.