“Can you take me to the airport Wednesday evening?” Bella asked. At least her flight wasn’t a lie, or the fact that she was flying to Liam. To Scotland. She twisted her hands together. “I need to be there at nine.”
This was worse than the time her family had been caught giving out Bibles in Turkey, and had been called in for questioning by the authorities. Or maybe it had seemed that way because her dad had been the one in charge. His calm assurance had always given her a sense of peace and safety. As did her faith. No matter how she felt about herself right now, she knew she was loved.
But not by the baby’s father.
“Yes.” Gabriel nodded. “I’ll have Carlos do the presentation instead.”
The phone rang. Gabriel excused himself from the room, leaving her alone with Summer. She and Gabriel hadn’t been married very long, but had been in love with each other since they were practically kids. Their journey had been tough, harder than what Bella faced now. And if she kept that in the back of her mind, that even couples with a history like her brother and Summer could finally come together in love, then surely, she and Liam could find a way to reach a compromise.
Only problem, she didn’t want a compromise. She wanted love. She wanted a father for her baby, a husband for herself… someone to share her life with.
“I wasn’t drunk, like I told you. I didn’t have too much to drink. I was completely sober,” Bella blurted. “I fully made the decision to do something stupid, and now look how I’ve ended up.”
Summer stood, crossing the room to kneel in front of Bella. The woman’s brown eyes assessed her. Bella almost looked away from her knowing gaze. Summer was a beautiful woman. A woman you could look at for hours and never find a flaw, like a diamond. For a long time, Summer was exactly like a diamond—hard and cold—on the outside, anyway.
But now… Summer took Bella’s hand. “Love always wins in the end, you know.”
“Liam and I,” Bella licked her lips. “He doesn’t love me, and I was caught up in something that didn’t exist.”
Confidence radiated in her sister-in-law’s face as she replied, “The fact that you were caught up in it at all means something.”
Bella shook her head. “But not to him. I’m just one more responsibility.”
“I wouldn’t be too sure about that.”
“Never argue with a Holland woman,” Bella said ruefully.
“There is that, but more importantly, never give up on love. If you want something with Liam, then make it happen. This time, catch him up in your love. Show him what it means to be loved,” Summer said gently. “Your brother did that for me.”
Holding up her free hand, Bella blew out a breath. “I knew him for two days. Two. It wasn’t love.”
“So you say, but I remember what Azalea told your mother about the man you would marry. You were there.” With that reminder, Summer let go of her hand and rose to her feet. “I’ll check on Gabriel while you think about what I said.”
Bella didn’t have to think about what her sister-in-law said. She’d been eleven or twelve at the time, and had come to Strawberry Grove with her mother. Summer’s mother, Azalea, had taken one look at her and informed Bella’s mother that her daughter was destined for a fairy tale. That the man she would fall in love with would be from poor origins, and live in a castle in a faraway place. That he’d be the one to rescue her from danger when all the odd were against her survival.
That man couldn’t be Liam—the only part of him that fit the description was the faraway place. But she could have said the same of Peter. His family wasn’t from here, and his dad had started from nothing. Though he’d never rescued her from anything.
Except, maybe, a miserable marriage to him.
In any case, Azalea Holland, as well as all the Holland women, had a reputation for knowing exactly who belonged with whom. Then again, they also had a reputation that wasn’t so nice, and Bella knew for a fact it wasn’t true.
She dropped her head to her hands.
Once she believed in fairy tales, but not anymore. Reality had made sure of that.
Liam flung the papers away, and crossed his arms, glaring at his best mate, Sebastian Romanov. “I bloody well know what the terms are, but I refuse to give in to something so archaic. Marriage and an heir?” His jaw tightened. “What was my grandfather thinking?”
“I never met the man, so I’ve no idea. But if I were the one to think of this, then it would be to make sure that my heir is responsible enough to fulfill his duties and not piss my money away,” Sebastian said with a familiar smirk.
Liam shook his head. “Oh yeah, it’s all great fun now, when you’re not the one in desperate circumstances.”
Sebastian bowed his head slightly. “I do apologize for that, Your Grace.”
The title made Liam’s hands clench into fists. He hated the title, the privilege… everything that went along with it. He didn’t want it, but he had no choice, not if he were to save his family and all the people his estate employed. It wasn’t their faults his grandfather was mad.
“Stop calling me that.” He unclenched his fists, uncrossed his arms, and then picked up his glass of scotch. “Jesus, Bastian.”
“I’d forgotten what a proper arse you can be,” Sebastian said, but Liam didn’t miss the subtle twitching at the corner of his mouth. Daisy’s influence, no doubt.
Liam tossed back the remainder of the golden liquid, then set his glass down on the table between the two of them. “Shouldn’t you be hovering about Daisy?”
For a moment, panic flared in Sebastian’s eyes, and then dissipated. “I don’t hover. Besides, she’s upstairs at the moment, napping. Said she needed the afternoon to rest.”
Liam snorted as Daisy appeared in the doorway and held up one finger to her lips. Ivan, her constant bodyguard, stood right behind her. She smiled and waved, before leaving. “Of course. Bless her.”
Sebastian’s lips thinned in annoyance. “In any case, this is about you, not me. The best thing about your grandfather’s will is that there’s no timeline. Which is the absolute worse thing about you. You need prompting.”
“I’ll be broke before the year is out. How is that for prompting?” Liam shot back, and then wanted to kick himself. He’d been holding on by his fingertips for years now, always experiencing a windfall at just the opportune moment. Only, none of those had ever quite put them in the black.