More than need you, p.20
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       More Than Need You, p.20

         Part #2 of More Than Words series by Shayla Black
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  nearly two months.

  “This is ridiculous. It… I can’t. No. You and I aren’t—”

  “Those are your choices,” I remind her. “I don’t know what you’re worried about. Since you threw away your stack of bridal magazines earlier, I’m assuming that means the wedding is already planned. If you love each other and you hate my guts, what could you possibly have to worry about?”

  “You dug through my trash?”

  How interesting that’s the first topic she addresses, rather than her feelings for me. Not confirming that she hates me is almost an admission that she doesn’t.

  “It made a lot of noise. I couldn’t help but notice. It’s great that you’ve got the ceremony and the reception all nailed down. You always were organized, but wow. I have to congratulate you for—”

  “Stop it. I threw them away because Makaio wants a traditional Hawaiian wedding, and he’s asked me if his mother can plan it on our behalf. She really wants to.”

  Is she fucking kidding? Her fiancé cares more about his mommy’s feelings than his bride’s? It’s cute, I guess. Well, it would be if he were Jamie’s age. But any idiot knows that most women have been dreaming of their wedding since childhood. And Makaio doesn’t seem to be thinking twice about taking that from Britta. All her planning, all her careful consideration, everything she’s yearned for…all flushed down the toilet because he’s a mama’s boy.

  I stalk my way to the counter and flip open the first magazine, riffling through until I come to a flagged page. She’s circled a bouquet of tropical flowers. Another page has a margin note about bridesmaids’ dresses in a color called cornflower. No idea what that looks like… Toward the back, I see she’s starred an ad for a company that prints custom invitations quickly, themed for the perfect wedding. She’s jotted down notes about timeframes and prices. I’ll bet the rest of the magazines have more of her choices lovingly selected.

  In fact, I’ll bet Britta has already planned the perfect wedding in her head. Makaio stole her joy.


  I hurt for her. I’m angry for her, too. But I don’t let on. “Well, that saves you a lot of trouble, right? Much easier for you, less stressful.”

  “That seems to be the prevailing sentiment.” She sounds pissed.

  I can only imagine that’s how Makaio pitched the idea of his mother planning their wedding. If he thought for one second that would make Britta’s life better, he doesn’t know my color-coding, calendar-keeping, deeply organized angel like he should if he intends to marry her.

  I grin.

  “Since you don’t have to worry about that now, let’s talk about our next eight weeks. I’ve already found a place for us. We’ll take care of the childproofing tomorrow evening. Do you need help packing? I can come to the house right now and—”

  “I’ve got it,” she snaps out. “Griff, this arrangement is ridiculous and will never accomplish anything.”

  As far as I’m concerned, she’s totally wrong. “Well, then you shouldn’t have a care in the world. Be ready after work. We’ll pick up Jamie and move into our temporary home together.”

  The following day turns into hell. On the one hand, it works well that Britta and I are too busy to say much. Her response to my morning greeting was grudging and chilly. I feel hostility simmering under her skin. It’s fine. I’m prepared for the fact that she’ll send more my way before I break through the fortress around her heart.

  I’m trying to shove all that out of my head when Maxon and I meet the representative for our potential mystery buyer at the Stowe estate promptly at ten a.m. She’s a petite Asian woman who’s got the stature of a domestic kitten but the bite of a shark. She gives nothing away regarding the identity of her client or even her feelings about the property. She simply takes snapshots and asks questions.

  “The price tag seems a little steep,” Lian comments. “When the estate last sold three years ago, it fetched just over ten million. I’m hard-pressed to imagine the value has tripled since then.”

  Our pricing was aggressive. Maxon and I both agreed to a listing amount on the high side that allowed for more negotiating room for one simple reason.

  “There’s nothing else on the island like it,” Maxon supplies. “The acreage and expansiveness of the water views alone command a hefty price. But add in the fact that the previous owner significantly remodeled and updated the estate, that every room overlooks the ocean…”

  I add to his argument. “The square footage of the outdoor spaces equal those of the interior. There are four infinity-edge pools, all on different levels of the property, connected via waterfalls. So no matter which you decide to swim in, you’ll have the illusion of your water stretching out to the ocean. The estate has a chef’s kitchen, detached ohana for guests or rental property, and flexible space for an exercise or media room, whatever your client wants to use it for. The grounds are impeccable. This is really the premiere property in Maui.”

  “But I can find most of these features elsewhere in Hawaii for less money.”

  “Not with this kind of privacy,” I argue. “It’s gated and it has a guard post in case your client would like the estate’s security manned. There are no visible neighbors. Even the beach is private. Those factors, in some ways, make this place both unique and priceless.”

  She cocks her head like she’s considering. “I’m going to walk the property again. You don’t need to escort me, thank you.”

  Nearly two hours later, I’m guessing Lian has inspected every inch of the place once more when she finally saunters onto the lanai off the family room.

  “Any questions for us?” Maxon asks, rising from a comfy chair.

  I let him be the polite one. I’m not feeling terribly sociable. I’m itching to get back to Britta now, and have to bite my tongue from pointing out the mystery buyer is either interested in seeing the property for himself or he’s not.

  “No, but I need a moment to confer with my client.” Lian excuses herself to make a call in the dedicated office space with stunning views of both the Pacific lining the front and the tropical gardens behind. Maxon paces between the kitchen and the family room, looking anxious.

  I probably should be, too. Instead, I use the opportunity to walk the interior of the house again. I’ve seen it a couple of times, but I’ve looked at it from a Realtor’s perspective, not a tenant’s. Not as someone who will spend nights and weekends with his family here.

  The bedroom on the top floor is an elaborate master suite with full ocean views from the bedroom, bathroom, and attached sitting area, the latter of which can be closed off from the rest of the room with an ornate pocket door. The remainder of the bedrooms are scattered around the property, mostly upstairs, on the far side of the floor from this amazing retreat.

  For my purposes, the layout is perfect.

  When I hear the opening of a door and the clacking of heels, I dash back down. Lian is clasping her phone and looking resolute. “My client would like to offer you twenty-four million. All cash. He insists on closing in exactly seventy-five days. Yes, that’s a Sunday, but I trust you can make that happen. For this price, he also expects the estate to come furnished.”

  I somehow keep my jaw from dropping. Doesn’t the client want to see it for himself? Sometimes investors don’t, which I always think is a mistake. But I’m not about to blurt my opinion and throw a wrench into this offer.

  Maxon and I exchange a glance, then fall back into old patterns. He talks. I evaluate our position. We’ll compare notes before anything is signed.

  “It absolutely comes furnished,” my brother assures. “The current owners have already taken everything from the premises they want, so what you see comes included.”

  “Excellent. Have the papers drawn up. My client will sign. Once you present the offer to your sellers, they have twenty-four hours to respond.”

  At that point, Lian is clearly done. After a crisp thanks, she turns and leaves the premises. Because she insisted on coming i
n her own vehicle, she jumps into a sleek white Jaguar and departs. Maxon and I watch. As soon as the automatic gate closes behind her and she rounds the bend, he and I turn to each other and shout like rowdy teenagers.

  Chest bumping and high-fiving aside, we scram back to the office to ready all the forms. Britta faxes them to Lian, seeming as shocked by the swiftness of this deal as we are. Maxon calls the Stowes. To say they’re thrilled is an understatement.

  This deal, if it goes through, is a sudden blessing. It’s also a bit of a curse.

  I thought I’d have more time to spend with Maxon before we had to decide whether to keep our respective businesses separate or merge again. But in less than two weeks, it looks as if we may have sold the biggest estate of our careers.

  Decision time is upon us.

  Maxon strolls in, wearing a smile. “I think twenty-five and a half is their bottom line, so if Lian’s guy will come up another one-point-five, this is done.”

  The Stowes will make a huge chunk of cash off this transaction. The buyer will have an amazing home for himself and whomever he wants to share it with, along with all the privacy he can imagine. Maxon and I will both have money to spare and a basis to discuss our professional future. Best of all, Britta and I will have someplace to be with Jamie as a family virtually without interruption for the duration of our agreement.

  The counteroffers fly back and forth, Lian signing with legal authority on behalf of the buyer’s corporation. The Stowes push for a sooner close. After all, a bunch of their inheritance is tied up in this place until it’s officially sold and money changes hands. But the mystery buyer is firm. On May seventh, he will close. That’s nonnegotiable. In exchange, he agrees, after a lot of haggling, to come up to twenty-five-point-eight million. Not a penny more. At four p.m. Hawaii time, which I know is six hours later in Vermont, the deal is finally done.

  “Let’s go out for a drink!” Maxon says about three seconds later. “I’ll call Keeley. We should raise a glass or two. This is great money we didn’t have to work terribly hard for.”

  “Amen.” I slap him on the back.

  Rob is definitely in. If it involves quitting early and imbibing, he’s all for it. “Where to?”

  Only Britta demurs. “Thanks for the offer. I’d rather use this time at home to—”

  “Nope.” My brother isn’t having any of her excuses. Good. I’m not, either. Maxon protesting thankfully saves me from being the bad guy today. “You’re part of the team. We celebrate together.”

  Despite my silence, she shoots me a glare—about the hundredth for the day. I do my best to ignore it, hiking back to my desk to grab my car keys and shut down my computer. Through the internal window, I see Britta grab Maxon by the elbow and drag him into his office.

  I can write the script on this conversation. I’m forcing her to move in with me. She already has to put up with me in the office all day and now under one roof all night. She doesn’t want to socialize with the same rat bastard who will only end up fucking up her life seven ways from Sunday again, etc.

  This is when it pays to know my brother. He can be both persuasive and stubborn. In less than two minutes, he’s shaking his head, patting her shoulder, and leaving his office. Britta stomps out, looking ready to take off someone’s head, preferably mine.

  “Ready, angel?” By the front door, I toss my keys up and catch them as if I don’t have a care in the world. “Let’s get your suitcases and boxes into my Escalade.”

  Yes, I drove it today. I also installed a snazzy new car seat in the backseat early this morning. I’m a dad now. Jamie is going to be spending plenty of time with me. We’ll be going on adventures. We’re going to be close. I’ll damn well work hard to be the dad he needs.

  And I know Britta. Wherever Jamie is…she won’t be far behind.

  She insists on taking her own car. Fine. If it makes her feel more in control of the situation, I have no problem with that.

  We all arrive at a nearby bar/restaurant on the ocean that serves greasy food and good times. Best of all, it’s less than half a mile from Jamie’s daycare.

  Rob’s live-in girlfriend, Alania, joins us. She’s quiet and pretty, a good foil for the brash asshole we share an office with. Maxon arrives a few minutes later since he had to pick up Keeley to bring her over. They come in hand in hand, looking ridiculously in love. Their smiles are contagious. A ghost of something soft and envious plays at Britta’s mouth.

  I rise to hug my bestie. “Hey, gorgeous.”

  “Get the fuck away from my girl,” Maxon grouses.

  We laugh as Keeley hugs me back, then whispers in my ear. “You all right? Britta looks like she wants to kill me right now.”

  “She’s right, bro. It’s going to take a lot of fast-talking to keep you from crashing and burning with her.”

  I pull back and fist-bump my brother, glad my angel can only see my back. “It will be a bumpy ride for a while, but I’ll work it out.” Then I turn back to Keeley. “I need to talk to you when Britta isn’t around. I need a huge favor.”

  Keeley smiles. “You got it.”

  We break apart and sit at a couple of small tables Rob pushed together. Maxon and I maneuver Keeley and Britta beside one another and exchange a glance. We’re both hoping like hell that they become friends. Britta and Tiffanii barely tolerated each other, and that made for an uncomfortable Super Bowl party, tense cookouts, and a really crappy Fourth of July.

  Everyone orders a drink and some appetizers. The place isn’t crowded since it isn’t yet five o’clock, so the silence, other than Rob speculating about the buyer’s identity, is telling. Britta looks so taut, glancing at her phone and completely ignoring everyone, especially Keeley and me.

  As soon as the waitress sets down our first round, Keeley swallows back some of her Crown and Coke, then shifts to face Britta head on. “I’ve never slept with Griff. I don’t have any interest in hitting the sheets with him, either. Never have. You don’t have anything to worry about from me.”

  I look over Britta’s head at my bestie and I have to restrain a laugh. Well, that’s one way to break the ice.

  “I never said I…” Britta shakes her head. “What you and my ex have or haven’t done doesn’t make any difference to me.”

  I sense Keeley resisting the urge to give my angel a disapproving frown. She’s pretty good at spotting lies, and I personally think this one is a whopper. If the tables were turned and Keeley was talking to me, she would give me a thorough dressing down. But I respect that she’s not completely jumping on Britta all at once. Her opening maneuver probably feels like a headlock, but at least she didn’t go for the body slam, too.

  Keeley raises a dubious brow at Britta. “Did you know that I first met him because he was seeing a psychotherapist to try to work through his problems? He was a real mess.”

  Oh, shit. I didn’t want her to spring that on Britta.

  “What?” Britta turns to me with a frown. “You?”

  I’m sure it’s a shock that I was volunteering to talk about my feelings—or even admit I had them.

  “Briefly. I only saw Dr. Wilson for a couple of weeks.” I shift uncomfortably in my seat. This is not how I wanted to start my first evening with Britta.

  “His stint in her office wasn’t brief because Griff didn’t need more therapy,” Keeley clarifies. “He totally did. When he first arrived in the office, he’d barely slept in four months. His focus was shot and—”

  “It was a patch of stress. That’s all. I got over it without Dr. Wilson’s ‘help,’” I cut in before Keeley makes me sound any more like a head case.

  “You’re a liar. Zip it. This is my story,” she scolds, then turns back to Britta. “Griff was suffering from way more than stress, and he was an absolute asshole.”

  Britta’s face tightens with an acid smile. “That I can believe. Some things never change.”

  “He used to storm out of his therapy sessions because Dr. Wilson was too clinical and—”

nbsp; “She had the compassion of a steaming pile of shit,” I set the record straight.

  “I’ll give you that,” Keeley murmurs with a nod. “Anyway, I overheard in his sessions that he was also suffering from an erratic heartbeat and what he called ‘periods of anxiousness.’ He was working twenty hours a day and picking up a new bed partner every three or four days, so I—”

  Britta chokes on her wine, then shoots a stunned look over her shoulder at me. Her expression says that I’m the devil. “Are you serious?”

  I glare at Keeley, silently asking what the hell kind of friend are you? “You’re distressing Britta.”

  She gives me her most innocent expression. It’s utter bullshit. She knows exactly what she’s doing.

  Of course, I plan to tell Britta everything about our time apart, including my “number,” but not until she’s ready to know. When she finally asks, I’ll make it clear that every single one of those women meant nothing to me. It’s the truth. But until then,
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