Rafe frowned as he bit into his burger. “I don’t understand. Are you saying she dumped you?”
“I didn’t say that,” Michael said. “She just wanted something I couldn’t give her.”
“Hmm,” Rafe said and continued to eat his meal. “This is a great burger, by the way. I haven’t had one in a week. So what did Bella want? A house in the South of France?”
Michael shook his head. “No. It wasn’t anything like that. Nothing material. She just wanted me to have feelings for her that I’m not capable of.”
“Oh,” Rafe said. “You mean love.”
Michael felt as if his brother had pointed a gun at his heart. “Yeah. I told her at the beginning, but things changed.”
“You don’t look too happy about it,” Rafe said.
“I’m not, but there’s nothing I can do about it.”
“Do you love her?”
“I don’t believe in love for myself. For other people, it’s fine. It’s not for me.”
“Chicken,” Rafe said in a matter-of-fact voice and lifted his hand before Michael could reply. “Hey, I was there, too. You think Damien wasn’t? With our background, we keep our hearts under lock and key. Too much damage already done. Don’t want to lose anymore. Trouble is, if you don’t let the right one into the vault, you lose even more.”
Michael couldn’t listen to his brother’s advice right now. He was still miserable about losing Bella. “Okay, thanks for the lecture. Can we change the subject?”
“Sure,” Rafe said. “But it won’t change that wretched feeling of loss in your gut.”
“Thanks again,” Michael said. “How’s the yacht business?”
He listened to the news of Rafe’s latest business ventures and shared some of his.
“Have you gotten any more news from your P.I. about Leo?”
“Just what I told you last week. What a roller-coaster ride. Last week, the PI tells me maybe he’s alive but it will take longer to find him.” He shook his head. “I don’t know what to make of it.”
“Me, either,” Rafe said.
“I’m not giving up,” Michael said.
“I wouldn’t expect you to give up,” Rafe said. “I need to go,” Rafe said, rising. “Thanks for the meal. That burger was better than gourmet food for me.”
“Glad I could do it,” Michael said, joining his brother as he made his way to the door. “Tell Nicole to hang in there and give Joel a hug.”
“Will do,” Rafe said, then paused. “If you’re this unhappy over Bella being gone, you might want to rethink your anti-love theory.”
Michael shook his head. “No.”
“Well, it looks to me like that ship has sailed. Maybe you’ve already fallen in love.” Rafe lifted his hand and squeezed his shoulder. “Call me if you need me.”
Two weeks later, Bella drove to the courthouse for Charlotte’s wedding. Her aunt—dressed in an ivory and red silk suit and top—paced just outside the office of the justice of the peace.“Are you okay?” Bella asked.
“Yeah, just a little edgy,” Charlotte said. “Do you think I’m making a big mistake?”
“Do you love him?” Bella asked.
“Does he make you happy?” Bella asked.
Charlotte’s expression softened. “Oh, yeah.”
“I think you’ve answered your own question,” Bella said, still devastated from her breakup with Michael.
“Okay,” Charlotte said, glancing at her watch. “I think it’s time.”
Bella walked inside the office with her aunt. She looked up to find Michael standing beside Fred. She flashed a look of desperation at her aunt.
Charlotte mouthed the word sorry and turned her attention to her groom. Bella took a deep breath and focused on Charlotte. She absolutely couldn’t think about Michael.
After Charlotte and her groom made their vows, the justice of the peace pronounced them husband and wife. Bella couldn’t keep tears from her eyes.
“We’ll see you at the house,” Charlotte said then lowered her voice and kissed Bella. “Don’t be too mad at me.”
Charlotte and her new husband swept out of the courthouse, leaving Bella to face Michael.
“They look happy,” Michael said.
“Yes, they do,” she said, not wanting to meet his gaze. “I hope they will always be happy.” She bit her lip. “I should leave. They’re having a reception at Charlotte’s house.”
“Bella,” he said, his voice causing her to stop in her tracks. “Charlotte called and told me you would be here.”