I haven’t been intimate with a man since my last relationship, and that was a few years ago. After Fredrick broke up with me, I was left confused. He was the person I’d planned to spend the rest of my life with. We’d met when I bought my bakery, and he’d helped me get my loan.
He was so funny; he had the ability to make me laugh at nothing. He was not much taller than I am and cute in that nerdy-guy kind of way. He was soft-spoken and gentle, and he said all the right things. After six months of dating, he asked me to marry him. I, of course, said yes. Our wedding was set for the fall, and we were planning on having a baby right away, hopefully with conception occurring during the honeymoon. Everything was perfect. I was getting the one thing I had craved since moving away from home: a family of my own, people who loved me, and somewhere I belonged.
Then, like everything in my life, it came crashing down around me.
Fredrick had been away for a week at a conference, and when he arrived back in Seattle, he asked me to meet him for dinner. I got dressed up, packed an overnight bag, and met him at one of my favorite seafood restaurants.
The moment I saw him, I knew something was off. He didn’t greet me with his normal hug and kiss. He took my hand and helped me sit down across from him. Without a word from him, I knew we were over. I remember sitting there, looking at him sitting across from me, wondering, Why? That’s when he told me that he believed our lives were going in two different directions and he wasn’t ready to settle down.
I told him that I would wait for him, that we didn’t need to get married, that we could put off the wedding until he was ready, and that was when it seemed like I was begging to be with him. That was the moment I realized he didn’t love me the way I loved him, so I lifted my chin, scooted the chair away from the table, and walked out of the restaurant, never looking back.
I loved him, but there was no way I would ever feel like I was begging someone to be with me again. I wouldn’t ever let someone have that much power over me.
I come out of my thoughts when the sound of seagulls fills my ears. I lift my face towards the sun, letting the rays warm my skin for a moment before turning and heading to the house to get ready.
“Let’s go.” I look at Kai, who is leaning against the side of a black convertible, dressed more casually than I have ever seen him.
Even when he comes to breakfast in the morning, he is normally wearing a suit, so seeing him in a pair of khaki shorts and a white, linen shirt with the top two buttons undone and the sleeves rolled up—showing off a tattoo I never noticed before that wraps around his forearm—has stunned me.
I start down the steps, my eyes meeting his, and my step falters slightly when his eyes sweep me from top to toe before locking on mine.
“You look nice,” I say, immediately feeling like a fool when he gives me a slight smile and opens the door to the car without telling me something relatively the same.
I know this isn’t a date, but I took extra care in getting ready. I have no idea where we are going, but I wanted to make sure I looked nice. I chose a dress I had gotten from one of the few shops in town. The strapless, cotton dress covered in bright, tropical flowers looks nice against the creamy color of my skin, and the sandals I chose are black and wrapped around my big toes then up and around my ankles. I thought I looked attractive, but as Kai gets behind the driver’s seat, I’m beginning to have doubts about my choice.
“It’s about an hour drive,” he mutters as the car roars to life.
I nod then realize he can’t see me, so I clear my throat and murmur a quiet, “Okay,” as we pull away from the house. “Is Pika okay?” I ask, wanting to fill the silence. I turn my head to look at Kai.
His eyes come to me for a moment before he focuses on the road again. “He’s fine. He has a bump, but he’s had worse.”
“Oh,” I mutter as my eyes drop to my lap, and I begin to turn my ring around on my finger, watching as the light bounces of the diamonds. “Why did you have him working with Thad?” I ask when he doesn’t say anything else.
“Your father was a very good friend to my dad.” He lets out a breath, and his hand wrings the steering wheel. “Before your father passed away, he told mine his plan for keeping you safe.” He pulls his sunglasses over his eyes, turns his head, and looks at me before turning towards the road. “Your father asked mine to help keep an eye on you. He knew that, even with everyone believing you had also been killed, there would still be some who would be looking for you.”
“What do you mean they believed I was killed?” I whisper.
“Your parents’ remains and the remains of a child were found after they put out a fire in your parents’ home,” he says, and I turn my head to look out the window as a loan tear slides down my cheek.
I have small memories of my real parents. Every time I pull a batch of snickerdoodles out of the oven and the smell of vanilla, cinnamon, and sugar hits my nose, I think of my mom. I can remember her baking them often when I was little and the way she would yell at my dad when he came into the kitchen to steal them off the counter when they were fresh out of the oven. I can remember laughing when he would quiet my mom with soft words and a few kisses before leaving and going back to his office.
I remember the way my dad was so large and everyone seemed so afraid of him, but to me, he was so gentle. He always smelled like mint, and if I were around, he would pull me up against his chest and kiss my hair no matter what he was doing.
I know that my mom and I were his whole world. Even if I can’t remember much from my childhood, the memories of my parents always bring me comfort. So even though I have known for years that they are gone, hearing that their bodies were found has the already-shattered pieces of my heart crumbling a little bit more.
“Who was the child?” I wonder out loud as I watch a group of seagulls fly off in the distance.
“I would guess they got a body from a morgue,” he says easily, and my stomach turns as I wonder what kind of people would do something like that.
“My dad was a bad guy, right?” I ask as some puzzle pieces begin to fit together.
The car slows down suddenly and veers off to the side of the road. My head turns and I look over at Kai, who now has his sunglasses up on top of his head and his eyes on me.
“Your father was a good man. He was a man of honor and a man who loved his only child enough to make sure she’d have a future. He may not have been a man who lived on the right side of the law, but he was not a bad man,” he says firmly, making me feel instantly relieved.