I didn’t answer. I couldn’t. My mind was reeling. Was he trying to break my heart all over again? He had a knack for finding new and surprising ways to do it. Not only had I been miserable without his love, now I had to feel guilt that he was sad without my friendship.
“I would have called you if I knew that you wanted to talk to me,” I told him. I realized, with a burst of bravado, that I wanted to stay in contact with him, wanted to be friends again, no matter how much it broke my heart.
“Oh, Lana.” His voice was an anguished whisper against my hair. “You’re breaking my heart, baby. How I must have hurt you, to have you thinking that I didn’t want contact for all of these years. How could you ever think that?”
Our food arrived, the waitress nodding politely, but retreating quickly. We had to be an uncomfortable sight, me cuddled on his lap with tears in my eyes. It was two heaping plates of sausage and peppers rustica, with liberal portions of thick-crusted bread on the side.
“You never called me, either,” I told him quietly.
He began to prepare a small bite for me, holding it up to my mouth, feeding me like a child. “I was the bastard who violated you, and then embarrassed you. And I know you overheard that unfortunate conversation I had with Milena. You had a good reason to hate me, so I did the only decent thing I could, and waited for you to contact me again when you were ready. I hated my birthdays every year after you left, because I always thought you’d call me. You used to make such a fuss over my birthdays, and some part of me just always hoped you’d soften towards me a little on that day. But I was so disappointed every time, even though I had no right to expect you to forgive me.”
I was crying silently by the time he finished speaking, tears running liberally down my cheeks. I had hated his birthdays too, after I left. I had hated mine, as well. I always took a few days off for both of the dates, needing to be alone for the dark depression that always seemed to overtake me then.
Akira tore off a tiny piece of bread, holding it up to my mouth. I took the bite and chewed it, making myself eat, even though my appetite was nonexistent just then.
“I could never hate you, Akira. I could never even stay mad at you for more than a day, if you recall. Even when I tried very hard to.”
He kissed my head, feeding me a tiny bite of sausage. “It warms my heart to hear that, Lana.”
He fed me nearly half of the oversized plate before I cried uncle, and he let up on hand feeding me. He began to polish off the rest. I tried to move to the other chair so he could get better access to the food. The man had an unbelievable appetite. He always had. I wasn’t about to get between him and his meal.
But his arm just tightened around my waist, holding me to him while he polished off everything left on the table with astonishing speed. He left no crust of bread uneaten.
I was giggling by the time he ate the last scrap of bread, dragging it around one of the plates, getting every last bit of pasta sauce. “I see you still eat a ridiculous amount of food.”
He just grunted, tugging softly on a lock of my hair. “I’m three times the size of most people. Why shouldn’t I eat accordingly?”
“Hmm, that’s true. You wouldn’t want that perfect bod to get scrawny.”
“Are you making fun of me?” he asked, a smile in his voice.
I hadn’t been, but his smile made me smile, and I suddenly did want to tease him. He had always been the best one to tease. Mari, Tutu, my brother Camden, and I had made a game out of it, and I’d always wanted to be the first one to make his mean face crack into a smile. And I usually had. “Of course not. Anything less than four thousand calories a day and you’d lose your position on the Swole Patrol. How embarrassing that would be for you.”
He tickled me until I giggled helplessly. I saw heads turning to watch us out of the corner of my eye as we made a spectacle of ourselves. I couldn’t summon up the will to care if we were making a scene. This felt like old times, happy times, and I was determined to savor it.
“Are you up for a trip to the beach?” he asked me suddenly, his tone serious. “We’ll surf another day, when you’re feeling better. I just want to watch the ocean with you.”
I sighed, knowing I should stay at the hotel and work. And I should have been wary of the beach, considering the night I’d had, but I just couldn’t turn down the chance to spend time with him. I’d never had that ability. And there was nothing in the world I’d rather do, than watch the ocean with Akira. “I’d love to.”
We thanked the restaurant staff and left. I was walking on my own at that point, but Akira quickly took my arm hostage as we walked to his car.
Curiously, my hair came loose as we walked, and I glanced behind my shoulder, wondering how it had happened. I sent Akira a suspicious glare. He gave me a toothy white grin, holding up my hair tie without remorse. I elbowed him in the stomach. I thought it hurt my elbow more than it hurt his stomach, but he still threw me over his shoulder for the jab, smacking me soundly on the ass.
We were still in the hotel for that little spectacle, and I still couldn’t bring myself to care, cursing him colorfully as I swatted at his back. He threw his head back and laughed at all of the things I came up with to call him. He brought my tirade to an abrupt end as I resorted to calling his mother nasty names. “I’m telling Tutu,” he said quietly, a smile still strong in his voice. It shut me up, though. It wasn’t smart to mess with Tutu. If you started a fight with Tutu, you lost. It was a well-known fact to the locals.
“I’ll tell you what. If you promise to go surfing with me in the morning, I won’t tell Tutu what you called her.”
He dangled me farther down on his back as he spoke, tormenting me just because he could. It brought me into reach of his ass, so I didn’t mind, smacking it as hard as I could. It hurt my palm, and he just spanked me right back. I spanked him again, softer this time, studying that perfect ass. I was convinced he had the best ass in the world. No one could convince me otherwise. It was perfectly shaped, and, well, perky. He had a perfectly rounded, perky butt. I squeezed it with both hands, and he pulled me higher, squeezing my own ass with one of his hands, in revenge.
“Deal. I’m not stupid enough to mess with Tutu. Now, put me down!”
He just laughed again. It was an evil sound.
“At least let me squeeze your butt some more, if you won’t put me down,” I teased.
He set me down then, but I saw that it was because we’d reached his car. He opened the door for me, and I bounced inside, feeling happier than I had in so long…
I cursed suddenly as I realized I’d forgotten my purse. It was still back in the office. I told Akira so.
He just shrugged. “I’ll have one of my cousins bring it by when they get off work.” Akira had about a million cousins, and many of them worked for our resort. I’d almost forgotten that, for some odd reason. I had been too long from the island.
Akira was quiet in the car, just shooting me occasional, concerned glances.
We had been driving for about ten minutes when I realized that we weren’t headed to his house.
“What beach are we going to?” I asked him.
He sent me a small, happy smile. “Guess.”
It didn’t take me long to guess, since I remembered the island well, and I couldn’t help but see exactly where he was going. “Oh, we can’t, Akira. I don’t even know if anyone’s been taking care of the house. The yard is probably so overgrown that we won’t even be able to navigate through it to get to the water.”
His smile got bigger and wider, flashing me straight white teeth. “I’ve been taking care of it. It’s as beautiful as ever.”
I studied him, not sure what to think. “Has my father been making you? You know you don’t have to do everything he asks.”
He shook his head. “No, he never asked me to. I’ve just been doing it. I enjoy it, and I have cleaners come in every week to do the cleaning.”
“You’ve been doing that this whole time?”
He nodded, taking a deep breath. “Ever since you left.”
“I told you, I enjoy it. But also, I guess it was always just wishful thinking. I never wanted to lose hope that you would come back, and when you did, I wanted your little slice of paradise to stay just how you remembered it.”
I had to look away, touched to the point of tears by his actions.
He gripped my hand in his. It was so warm, and I clutched it tight.
We arrived at the long, private drive that led to my family’s island estate. I’d known that I missed the place, but as we approached the house, it was driven home to me just how much. As a kid, I’d thought I’d be living here forever. If anyone would have suggested otherwise, I’d have been baffled, and possibly burst into tears. This was home. This island and this house.
The house was a colossal, modern villa, with pale stone built into clean lines, and huge windows showcasing the glory of the nature surrounding it.
We went through the house to get to the backyard. We didn’t linger in the house long, but everything looked to be how I’d left it. It even smelled of plumerias, as I remembered.
“Oh, hey, hold up,” Akira said as I pushed the button that opened a huge panel at the back of the house up to the elements.
I glanced back at him. He held up a tiny island dress, bikini, and flip-flops that he had clutched in one hand. I’d seen him ruffling through the back of his SUV when we’d arrived, but I hadn’t seen what he was grabbing.
I smiled at him. “Thanks.” I grabbed them from him, heading past him to the nearest room to change in.
He grabbed my arm, grinning. “It’s just the two of us, Lana. Do you really need privacy?”
I raised my brows at his about-face. Taking his question as a challenge, I stepped out of my shoes, unzipping my skirt to let it drop around my ankles. I unbuttoned my shirt, and had my bra unclasped before he could do more than stare. I’d never been shy with my body. Growing up on the island, spending every day in a bikini, it had never even occurred me to cover up. And frankly, I knew his reaction to my stripping would be gratifying. I was not disappointed. His jaw dropped as I got out of my clothes in record time.
I got dressed nearly as quickly, slipping on the bikini, shrugging into the dress, and slipping into the flip-flops while he just watched me, looking hot and flustered, which was how I liked him best of all.
I gave him a radiant smile. “Ready.” I grabbed his hand, tugging him with me outside. He didn’t resist.
I didn’t even pause at the pool, going directly for the long trail that led into the lush green forest and to our private beach.
Akira stopped me at the forest line, reaching to pluck a white plumeria from one of many trees that dotted our property. He smiled as he tucked into my left ear, then started walking again.
“Wrong side,” I told him, feeling silly. Of course he knew that a plumeria over the left ear meant I was taken, and one on the right meant I was looking. Mari had been the one to teach me, years ago.