Whitney gave up on her attempt to read the latest issue of Cosmopolitan
and tossed the magazine to the end table. Spotting the relationship quiz
on how to tell if your man is cheating caused her stomach to twist in knots.
She had been in LA for three weeks, and though she lived with Chad, she
hardly saw him. They slept in the same bed, but all they did was sleep.
She moved to California to be with him, but she was spending all her time
Fox. The nervous feeling from before was probably guilt. She was getting way too close to her LA host, and denying her attraction to him was getting harder and harder to do. Especially when they shared dances like the sensual dance they shared the beach club last night. Whitney’s face burned hot, just like her body in Fox’s arms. The shrill sound of her cell phone ringing startled her from her lascivious thoughts. She answered on the third ring. “Hello.”
“Hello, Whitney. It’s Julian Crane.”
His voice was the last one she expected to hear on the other end of her phone, but she was still glad to hear it. Unlike her father and Fox, she actually liked Julian. “Mr. Crane. This is a surprise.” Especially considering the way she was just thinking about his son. “How are you?”
“I’m fine,” was his cheerful reply. “What about yourself?”
Whitney tucked her legs underneath her body, as she curled into a corner on the couch. “I can’t say I’m as happy as you sound, but I’m pretty good.”
“He’s working hard,” she stated right to the point before changing the subject. “What’s got you in such high spirits?”
Julian laughed. “Actually, that’s why I’m calling. I have a favor to ask of you.”
“Ask away. After you saved my life in that elevator, I’ll be owing you forever.”
“You don’t owe me anything. I only did what anyone in a similar situation would have.”
She smiled. “If you say so. What’s this favor?”
“Yes, that.” He cleared his throat. “I should have called you before now, but everything happened so fast, and I…well--”
“Mr. Crane, what is it?”
“I’m getting married this Saturday.”
“Congratulations. No wonder you’re so thrilled.”
“Yes, I’m very thrilled.” He paused for a moment before continuing. “Whitney, I’ve come to think of you as a friend. As such, you are on the top of a short list of people that I really want to be present at this ceremony. It would absolutely mean the world to me if you were there.”
“You want me to come to your wedding?”
“Yes, very much. It’s being held at the estate at five-thirty.”
Whitney closed her eyes, thinking. She and Julian had formed an unlikely friendship, but going back to Harmony with the potential of coming face to face with the hurt and sadness she last saw in her father’s eyes was not something she relished. “Mr. Crane, I….”
“These formalities, Whitney. Please, call me Julian.”
“Julian, I would love to come….”
Whitney shook her head. She hated to disappoint him. “You didn’t let me finish. I would love to come, but I didn’t leave Harmony on the best of terms with my father. Coming back, specifically for your wedding, when he never wanted me to leave in the first place, would be like tossing salt on an open wound.”
“I can understand your thinking, Whitney, but I’m pretty sure you won’t see you father at my wedding. I really, really, want you to be there. It would mean so much to me.”
The underlying pleading in his voice surprised her. “Why is it so important that I be there?”
“Besides wanting to share this wonderful occasion with you, my bride would really want you there.”
“Rebecca? We’re not even passing acquaintances.”
“Just trust me, you’ll truly be missed if you’re not there. Please, Whitney. If you never do anything else in this world for me, please, do this.”
Whitney sighed deeply. “I hope this doesn’t end up biting me on the butt,” she grumbled under her breath. “Okay, Julian. If it means that much to you, I’ll come.”
“Thank you. Thank you, Whitney. You’ve just made me very happy. I’ll send the jet for you. When do you want to fly in?”
“The jet?” she repeated. He was so blasé about it. Like he just offered her a piece of gum instead of access to a multi-million dollar aircraft.
“I want you to be comfortable. And since I’m asking you to come as a favor to me, you shouldn’t have to dole out your own money. Let me do this for you, okay?”
Whitney was blown away. “F--fine. I guess I can force myself to fly back to Harmony on the Crane Jet.”
“Very good. Just tell me when you want to leave, and I’ll set up everything.”
“What is he up to?” Fox mumbled to himself upon reading the news of
his father’s upcoming nuptials. He would never understand his family, especially
his father. Julian had kinky fun with Rebecca, but he didn’t have to marry
her to get that. Fox closed the lid on the laptop and sat back in his chair,
trying to make sense of this new turn of events.
Fox was certain his father shared a past and present with Dr. Eve Russell. He’d seen them in questionable moments more than once, but spotting them in a passionate clinch at the Lobster Shack sealed it for him. When Fox intimated that Julian was the father of the child Eve lost years before and that he was previously and still in love with the very married physician, his father lost it. Selling the Blue Note to Liz only made matters worse. Julian demanded Fox leave Harmony forever, with threats of bodily harm and financial downfall if his son chose to defy him. A chill ran down his spine at the memory of his old man’s rage. What was the extent of Julian’s connection to Eve, and how did Liz and this upcoming wedding to Rebecca fit into that?
The sound of Whitney’s laughter pushed his swirling thoughts to the backburner. A grin tickled the corners of his mouth. Whitney? Besides Harmony, his father demanded he stay away from the young beauty, too. Fox grunted. No way was that happening. Julian would have a cow if he learned they were living in the same apartment, but Fox didn’t care. Whitney was in his blood, and someway, somehow, she was going to be his.
He made his way into the living room to find her in an animated phone conversation. Her beaming face was like sunshine on a cloudy day. Just seeing her smile made him feel happy and helped him remember that even with his rotten family, there was still some goodness in the world. Whitney was so beautiful. She had this wonderful innocence about her, but after last night’s dance, Fox knew there was a bit of devil in her, too. His loins stirred at the erotic memory. The way she moved against him. The way their bodies swayed together in perfect rhythm. He slept in his clothes from last night, just to keep the light floral scent of her perfume close to his skin. He woke up that morning with the feel of her kisses on his lips. It felt so real; he could swear it was actually happening. But as always, it was just another extremely vivid dream. Fox closed his eyes, sighing. God, how he loved her. Soon, these dreams would become realities, and his daily cold showers would become a thing of the past.
“It was great hearing from you, too. I’ll see you this weekend. Goodbye.”
The softness of Whitney’s laughter drew Fox from his wistful thoughts. “I see you enjoyed that phone call. Was it Theresa?”
“No, actually, it was your father.” She grabbed a throw pillow and held it against her chest. “Why didn’t you tell me he was getting married on Saturday?”
“Maybe because I only found out this morning from an online news article.”
Whitney lowered her head. “Oh, I’m sorry.”
Fox shrugged. “It’s okay,” he said, joining her on the couch. “I’m used to my father slighting me. Why did he call you?”
“He wants me at his wedding. He even offered to fly me in on the Crane jet.”
His eyes stretched. “What?”
Nervous fluttering filled his stomach when she covered his hand with hers. “I’m as surprised as you.” He met her gaze, seeing the endless possibilities for their future in her shimmering brown pools. “Why don’t you fly in with me? I’m sure Julian would love for you to be there.”
Just like that, the spell was broken. Fox shook his head, but allowed his hand to stay in the comfort of hers. “I have to disagree with you on that. If my father wanted me there, he would have asked me.” His eyes narrowed. “No offense, but why does he want you there?”
She giggled. Fox was disappointed when she returned her hand to the pillow. “No offense taken. I asked him the same thing. He said it was important to him that I be there, and that Rebecca would want me there.”
“His words. His bride would want me there. Maybe he told her about our time together in the elevator.” Fox frowned. She gave his forearm a little jiggle. “Julian really is a nice man, Fox. He can be a little abrasive, but he’s a businessman. You have to have an edge in Corporate America, right?”
“Yeah, but when your Corporate America abrasion extends to every aspect of your life, it’s no longer an edge, it’s your personality. And it’s not a very receptive one.”
Whitney scoffed. “I wish you could see the side of your father that I know.”
“Me, too, but it’s not gonna happen because I don’t think you saw the side of my father that you think you know. You had to be too afraid in that elevator to see anything clearly.”
She opened her mouth to speak, but he pressed his finger to her lips to silence her. He ached to place his mouth where his finger lingered. Whitney gasped, and he quickly moved his hand and shrugged off his hidden desire. “I’m sorry. I’ve had enough talking about Julian for now. I’m starving. Have you eaten this morning?”
Her tongue moistened her full lips. A surge raced through his body at the simple act. He was so far gone.
“Just a couple of grapes,” she answered, her voice whispery soft.
“Could I interest you in some brunch?”
“Brunch?” she repeated, slight hesitation in her voice.
“Yes, it’s that meal you can have between breakfast and lunch. You must be hungry. A few grapes wouldn’t fill a three-year-old with the munchies. C’mon, Whit. I’ll even let you twist my arm into attending my father’s wedding,” he said with a smile, using his considerable Crane charm to his advantage.
Whitney nodded and stood from the couch. Her beaming smile was back. “Okay, I’ll come. Only because I am very hungry and I really think you should come to this wedding.”
“I haven’t said yes yet,” Fox reminded her.
“By the time I’m done with you, you’ll be screaming yes.”
His heart pounded in his chest at the images that statement conjured in his mind and stirred in his starving libido. “I just bet you will.”
Their gazes met for several intense moments. She cleared her throat
and grabbed her purse from the couch. “Let’s go eat.”
TC paced alongside the pool, checking his watched for what seemed like the thousandth time. “Where the hell is she?”
“Maybe she’s out somewhere with Chad,” Eve answered, trying to get comfortable on the chaise. “We didn’t tell her we were coming.”
“If she’s not back here in ten minutes, she’ll have to hear the news when it’s not news anymore. I’m not gonna wait around for her.”
“Would you relax? Our flight doesn’t leave for hours, and I’m not leaving here until I talk to my daughter. I want her to understand about this divorce, and know that it’s not her fault. Maybe she can help Simone.”
“Help Simone? Simone isn’t even speaking to Whitney, because of that damn street punk.” TC’s nostrils flared as he looked down at her. “And you. You giving your blessing to Whitney to move here in the first place didn’t help. Not that any of that matters now. The only right thing you’ve said so far is this divorce isn’t Whitney’s fault. It’s all yours.”
Just as expected, TC was placing blame at her feet. Eve couldn’t wait to be free of him. She found herself checking her own watch. “I do wonder where Whitney is.”
“She’s right here,” Whitney said, from behind Eve. “This a wonderful surprise.”
“What the hell?!!!” TC raged.
Eve turned to Whitney to see Fox standing with her. That explained TC’s increased anger. What was he doing here, and why was he with Whitney? Julian didn’t mention Fox was in California. She wondered if he knew.
“Mr. Russell, Dr. Russell, it’s good to see you again,” Fox said, nervously. He brushed his hands against his faded jeans. “Uh, I think you all will be more comfortable inside.” He placed his hand on Whitney’s shoulder and gave it a little squeeze. “I’ll go hang out at the beach club for a while. I’ll see you later.”
Whitney nodded. “Okay.”
“Dr. Russell, Mr. Russell, always a pleasure,” Fox said, before leaving the family alone.
“Are you living with him?!” TC blared, the question more an accusation.
“Chad and I are staying with Fox. He offered to let us stay at the Crane apartment while Chad saves enough money for our own place. He’s been really wonderful. With Chad working all the time, it’s good to have someone from home to talk to.”
“A friend,” Whitney returned. “Let’s go inside.”
TC folded his arms across his rapidly rising and falling chest. Eve shook her head in disgust. He was so angry. “I’m not stepping into any house where a Crane lives.”
“Fine, we can stay out here.” Whitney smiled from Eve to TC. “It’s so good to see you both. I’ve really missed you.” She wrapped her arms around TC, but he barely returned her hug. Whitney pulled away. Sadness invaded her once happy eyes. “I guess you’re still upset with me.”
Eve wrapped her arm around Whitney’s shoulder and kissed her cheek. “Don’t worry, honey. Your father just needs more time.”
TC shot a hateful look her way. “I don’t need you speaking for me, Eve.” He turned to Whitney. “Look, we’re not here to pay a social call. I’m still not happy with the fact that you moved 3000 miles away to live with a street punk, and I’m sure as hell not happy that you’re living under the same roof as a Crane. That is the very last thing I need to hear on this trip. Damn it! Seems like every time I turn around there’s a damn Crane in my face.”
“I’m sorry you’re still upset, Daddy, but I’m still happy to see you and Mom together.”
“We’re not together,” TC ground out.
“What?” she whispered.
Eve rubbed Whitney’s shoulder and led her to the row of lounge chairs. They sat. “Whitney, your father and I are here in California as a stop off before we go to the Dominican Republic.”
“The Dominican Republic? Isn’t that where people go to….” Whitney shook her head. Tears filled her eyes. “Please, tell me you guys are going to the Caribbean for a romantic getaway.”
“Not even close,” TC remarked.
Eve closed her hand around Whitney’s shaky one. Tears streamed down
the younger woman’s cheeks. “Sweetie, your father and I came here to tell
you that we…we are getting a divorce.”