The room was made of fuzzy gray shapes and indistinguishable shadows. My breath came in short gasps. I sat up, confused and panicked for a moment before remembering where I was. As soon as I remembered I was sleeping in a billionaire's mansion alongside the Caribbean ocean, I sighed and laughed a little at myself. Leave it to me to freak out about sleeping somewhere too nice.
I tried to lay back down, but just settling back against the perfectly-stuffed pillows made me antsy. The bed was too soft and the blankets too fancy to be comfortable. I didn't deserve three-million thread count sheets or sleeping underneath what I suspected was a Picasso. I was not billionaire material. I wasn't even Chad material.
Besides, I was ready to get started. I needed to show Mr. Belrose that I wasn't just a wanna-be football player who tackled random billionaires taking out the trash. The day was going to be full of exciting work and I didn't want to wait. Not that I could get anything done until Dad woke up, as we had to go over our plan for dividing up the work, but I still couldn't just lay in bed. It was like asking me not to peek out at the tree on Christmas morning.
I padded over to the window, the wood floors cool on my bare feet. My messy reflection greeted me in the glass. Auburn hair all tangled and messy fell over my shoulders and green eyes peered back at me. I frowned and pulled my red hair back into a untidy pony-tail to deal with later. Dawn was on her way, with the gray skyline lightening and heralding her impending arrival. The clouds were tinged with pink and reflecting in the quiet ocean waves.
I remembered how good the water had felt around my legs last night and grinned. Sunrise with my feet in the ocean was the perfect way to start a day. If the water had been beautiful in the moonlight, I could only imagine how amazing it would be in the first golden rays of the day.
I hurried down the stairs and out onto the wooden deck, pausing for a moment before going outside. I was only wearing a thin, white, jersey-knit t-shirt and a pair of old blue boxers covered in pale pink hearts that were once part of a pajama set-- not exactly appropriate attire for company. I peered out the window and didn't see anyone.
I shrugged and stepped out. If anyone saw me this early, they would most likely be in pajamas themselves. Besides, I didn't want to go back up and change and possibly miss the sunrise.
The sand was cool against my feet, but still just as soft. It was colder now that the night had the chance to cool the world, but it was still far warmer than the freezing temperatures of home. I considered getting a light jacket, but that would entail going back upstairs. Instead, I just wrapped my arms around myself and hurried to the water.
The sun wasn't up yet, so the water was dark and colder than last time, but I didn't care. It was still exhilarating. The sky was turning a vibrant shade of pink and every wave was tipped with the warming color. I was in for a magnificent sunrise.
A noise behind me made me turn. Coming down the beach, carrying a long surfboard looking thing and a paddle, was a billionaire. Wearing a skin-tight, full-body wetsuit that showed off just how in shape he was, he looked hotter than the sun that was supposed to come up any moment. His light brown hair was tussled with sleep, but his eyes were bright. And on me.
“Hi,” I stammered as he entered the water, eyes still on me. “Good morning...”
What exactly was one supposed to say when meeting a billionaire in one's pajamas while standing in the ocean at dawn? After trying to tackle him the night before? Not to mention that my very sheer shirt was highlighting just how cold I was. I tightened my arms around my chest, hoping that I had myself appropriately covered.
“I don't usually see anyone out here this early,” he replied, stopping a polite distance away. It was still closer than I felt comfortable with, especially with the wetsuit showing off his broad shoulders and toned ass. The wetsuit, if anything, accented his perfect build rather than hiding it. I almost would have preferred him to be wearing a normal swimsuit because it would have let my imagination stop putting him together. “Are you going to try and take my board again?
“No, not until later,” I replied, blushing straight down to my toes. I wasn't going to let him get to me today, though. I was a strong, independent woman. Or at least I was going to pretend to be one. “I only tackle billionaires at night. I'm actually more of a morning person. I like sunrises, and long walks on the beach.” I didn't mean to quote one of his commercials, but there it was. I really needed to learn to think before I spoke sometimes.
Mr. Belrose's brows raised and his eyes met mine. Butterflies started dancing in my stomach. There was no reason for me to feel this giddy nervousness, but I couldn't help it. For whatever reason, I wanted him to like me and standing out in my pj's quoting his company's commercials sounded incredibly lame. I was an idiot.
He half-grinned, thankfully finding me amusing.
He nodded toward the horizon. “This is a good place for sunrises.” His gaze went past me and up toward the horizon and his grin shifted into an all out smile.
I turned my head from him to see a golden ball of fire rising up over the dark blue water. The sky was awash in blues, pinks, golds, and oranges that stole my breath away. It was possibly the most stunning sunrise I had ever seen.
I glanced over at him again. The sunlight was bathing him in total glory, accenting the strength of his cheekbones and the golds in his hair. His shoulders were relaxed as he soaked in the morning light, absorbing it's radiance. His smile was almost brighter than the sun and just as beautiful. When he smiled, it was better than the sun coming up. It made my heart beat faster and my stomach make strange knots.
I looked away, turning back to watch the bright ball rise further until I couldn't bare to look at it anymore. Feelings of hope and renewal flowed through me. This is the way to start a day, I thought to myself. Almost better than coffee.
After a moment, I shifted my weight in the water, feeling awkward. “So, are the waves any good for surfing?” I asked, looking over at the billionaire and motioning to the board floating in the water beside him.
He looked over at me surprised, as if he had forgotten that I was there. The brilliant smile was gone, but so was the sternness I remembered from the day before. Out here, he looked like a young man excited for the day. Even the scar down his cheek was less pronounced. He was friendly in the morning light, as if he hadn't had time to harden.
“The waves here aren't big enough for surfing,” he patiently explained. “I paddle-board.” He grinned, threatening to reveal that brilliant smile again, as he held up the paddle. “Best way to greet the day.”
I looked at his board. It looked like a surfboard, but just a little different. The fact that he had a long paddle that looked like it belonged more on a kayak also suggested something I wasn't familiar with.
“I've never actually done that,” I said slowly.
“You're welcome to join me,” he offered. “There's extra boards in the shed.”
“I'm not exactly dressed for swimming.” I blushed, looking down at my boxer shorts and seeing the pale pink hearts darkening on the hem from the ocean water. “Is that how you broke your board?
His eyes looked me up and down, taking in my thin pajamas and just how tight I was holding my arms close. I could have sworn his pupils dilated, and just thinking that they did made me blush harder.
“No,” he said shaking his head. “That board got hit by a boat.”
“I hope you weren't on it,” I said when he didn't offer anymore information.
He regarded me quizzically for a moment before shaking his head slightly. “No, I wasn't. I was driving the boat.”
“Oh.” I smiled and nodded, hoping like hell that the pink sunrise was at least partially hiding my blush. It was really hard not to stare at his muscles under his wetsuit. Good lord, he was built. “Then maybe I'll take you up on your offer to paddle-board, but I'll remember not to go out on a boat with you. Or at least not be on a paddle-board when you're sailing.”
I looked up to see the corner of his lips twitched, hinting at his own amusement.
“As long as you don't tackle me again, I promise not to hit you with a boat.” He kept his face straight, but his eyes twinkled. I couldn't help but smile back.
He nodded politely and stepped away. Pulling his board close to him, he then lay down on his stomach and began paddling out into deeper water.
It only took a moment before he rose first to his knees and then up to standing in a graceful motion I knew must have taken months of practice. Even from where I was standing, I could see his abs and arms working with the strength needed to push him through the water. It was easy to see how he stayed in such good shape if he did this every morning. It looked like a full body workout.
I watched him for a moment, enjoying seeing his finesse and strength in the water, until I realized that I was staring again. Somehow I managed to blush even more, especially knowing that I could have happily watched him all day. I was a creep, but at least I knew it.
I shook my head, trying to clear my thoughts. Now that the sun was up, it was warmer but my pajamas were still thin and getting wet. My stomach rumbled, reminding me that dinner had been a long time ago and Charlotte had mentioned something about breakfast in the morning.
Reluctantly, I turned and headed back to shore. At the base of the deck was a little freshwater shower that I used to rinse the sand and salt from my legs before climbing the stairs back inside. I looked out at the water as I finished rinsing, surprised to see Mr. Belrose looking back at me.
He grinned, and the blush that had finally faded came roaring back. I bit my lip, determined not to make a complete fool of myself and hurried inside, nearly colliding with a giant wall of man. Elijah avoided me easily, making sure that I didn't run into him or the door in my attempt to stop the collision. He chuckled, shaking his head.
My face was burning now, knowing that not only was the stealthy body guard chuckling at me, but Mr. Belrose had seen the whole thing. I mumbled an apology and scurried up to my room to put on real clothes and hopefully fade my blush before my skin permanently matched my hair.
I glanced at the map as I hurried through the maze of rooms. I was fairly sure that the kitchen was two more rooms to the right, but every room had the same opulent extravagance. Gilded frames and antique furniture all meshed together until every room looked the same. It was all about the display of wealth. It made it hard to distinguish what room I was in without physically checking the art hanging on the walls. Since the map didn't have that information, I had already gotten turned around once.I finally just followed the smells of cooking and coffee. It was two rooms to the right and one to the left. Once in the kitchen, though, I finally felt like I was where I belonged.The mansion's kitchen felt like it had been decorated by someone else. It's simple, rustic charm didn't match the rest of the house. That isn't to say that it wasn't luxurious, huge, or full of gourmet items, but that it didn't feel pompous or overbearing. Of all the rooms in the giant mansion, the kitchen actuall
Charlotte walked with us out of the kitchen, leading the way to the main foyer. It was there that Dad and I were going to split up and start on our separate rooms. The foyer made a great middle point for us to base our attack around.“Hold on a second kiddo,” Dad said, eying a something along the far wall. “I know this room isn't first on my list, but I have to look at something.”I followed his gaze to see a small table pressed up against the far wall and I instantly knew why he wanted to look at it. It looked like an Alexander Roux piece. He had a definite fondness for the 1800's Rococo Revival style cabinetmaker. When Charlotte had given him the room full of Roux pieces, she had unwittingly given him one of his biggest dreams. The man had a Roux calendar on his wall, for heaven's sakes.“Go for it,” I said, shaking my head and grinning.He nearly ran over to the small table, with me not far behind. Although paintings and art were more my thing, I knew a good piece of furniture when
The room I was starting in was huge, as was everything in the mansion. Three immense paintings dominated the walls surrounded by smaller ones scattered tastefully to complement the larger. It reminded me of an art museum rather than a house, but then I had only ever been in art museums this big, not houses.The room had one window, and if I had been the interior decorator, I would have focused my attention on the view rather than the art. While the art was beautiful, the seascape out the window was more dynamic. Sheer curtains floated over the big window, and I was glad to note that a special film had been placed on it to block the UV light. At least whomever had set up this room had designed it to hold the artwork.I stood for a moment at the window, watching the waves break against the shore and sea birds fly through the air. It reminded me of this morning's sunrise and that made me smile and wonder what Mr. Belrose was up to. I couldn't see him out on the water, which meant that he
I watched the sun rise from it's morning resting place to crest at high noon through a window in the bedroom adjacent to the one my father and Dr. Verner were in. Outside, the world was sunny and bright, full of bright green and cerulean that seemed at utter contradiction with what was going on in my world.Daddy.I had nearly lost him. I still could lose him. The idea of losing both him and my mother was just something I wasn't ready to come to terms with yet.Bastian had helped carry Dad up to his room with the paramedics. He had even sat with me for a little while, but he had a company to run and couldn't sit with us all day. I had replayed it in my head for the past couple of hours.“Are you going to be okay?” Mr. Belrose asked, putting his phone in his pocket and sighing. His eyes watching my face carefully.I looked over at my dad, laying on the bed with the doctor watching the monitors attached to his chest. My soul was shaking.“I'm not sure...” I whispered. “But you should go
I sat at the kitchen table with my computer, tablet, and several maps of the house scattered around me as I worked. A glass of lemonade sat half-full beside me, but I had mostly forgotten about it. I had to come up with a new plan on how to appraise everything in the house on the same timescale, but with my father laid up in bed. It was going to take some doing, but I think I had figured out a way to get it all done.The kitchen light flickered on overhead, making me blink as the light blinded me. The sun must have set at least an hour ago without me noticing the change.“Thank you,” I said, trying to focus on the person joining me in the kitchen. “I didn't realize how dark it had gotten.”Mr. Belrose stood at the light switch. He was wearing a dark blue dress shirt and black dress pants that seemed like they might be a bit much for the tropical heat, even with the air conditioner on in the house. I was almost too warm in my linen pants and a tank top. I had abandoned the light, conse
“Thank you.” I smiled and shrugged, trying not to read too much into flattering words. “It sounds like it could be me, but I still think you might have me confused with someone who wasn't panicking.”He smiled, light shining in his eyes. “What did you think of the sandwich?”I looked down at my empty plate. It had been absolutely fantastic and now that it was gone, I was considering licking my plate to get at the crumbs.“What sandwich?” I asked, trying to look innocent. “Someone must have taken it.”“Well, that is a shame,” he agreed. “I'll just have to make you another.”“You really don't have to do that,” I said quickly, reaching out and grabbing his wrist. He pulled away as if I had shocked him. “I mean, I'm sure you have more important things to do with your time than make me a sandwich.”“Does it look like I'm doing anything else?” he asked tersely.“No,” I admitted, shaking my head.“Then, this is what I'm doing with my time.” He stood from the table and collected my plate befo
I stood at my father's window, looking out at the gleaming ocean and wishing I was out there. No, I chastised myself, I wasn't looking at the beach. I was looking at Bastian.I could see him just coming in off the water, walking across the beach with water dripping from his wetsuit in the morning light. I wished I could have seen that smile light up his face again as he greeted the dawn, but I had work to do. I sighed and he looked up, directly at the window as if he had heard me. I looked away, knowing that it was just coincidence.“Are you listening to me?” Dad asked, cocking his head to the side. He was propped up in the massive four poster bed with more pillows than I think we had in our entire house.“Yes, of course I am,” I responded, pulling away from the window. Bastian was inside now anyway. “You want me to report in every hour. I know how to do this.”Dad frowned. I knew he wanted out of bed and to get to work. This was going to be harder on him than it would be on me. He wa
Despite the myriad of rooms in the mansion, I sat in the first room I had started the appraisal. I liked this one, as it had the most comfortable couch I had found and the Morisot painting. After running around the house taking hundreds of photographs and reporting to Dad, I had taken the room over as my office. Now that daylight was fading, I had retreated to the couch to upload all the images to get them ready for my father to organize and edit.I stood up to stretch as my ancient laptop processed another batch, wandering over to the Morisot picture. The natural light was fading, but the picture was still vibrant. I stared into it, absorbing each brush stroke and imagining myself sitting at a dock along the Seine.“And I find you looking at that picture again,” a voice said from behind me. I spun startled to see Bastian leaning against the door frame. He was still wearing a full button-up dress shirt and slacks, but at least the top button on the shirt was undone. His eyes, blue-gra