He gave her a small smile. “Did you really want to be?”

She blew out a breath. “No.”

His smile widened, and he gently tugged at a loose strand of her hair. “Come play piano anytime you want. You’ll make bank in tips.” He looked at her. “Breathe, Becca.”

She sucked in a few breaths. “I’m not ready for that.”

His eyes were warm and understanding. “When you are then.”

She laughed softly, unable to imagine when that might be. “Thanks, Jax.”

“You going to be okay?” he asked.

A lot of people asked that question, but few really wanted to hear an honest answer. She could tell Jax genuinely did. But being okay was her motto, so she mustered a smile. “Always,” she said.

She walked home, let herself into her building, and then stopped short when she realized that the middle apartment, the one next to hers, was open. The front door was thrown wide, and from inside came a bunch of colorful swearing in a frustrated female voice.

Becca tiptoed past her own door and peeked inside the middle unit. There were lights blaring, boxes stacked everywhere, and in the center of the mess stood a young woman about her own age, hands on hips, surveying the chaos.

“Hi,” Becca said, knocking on the doorjamb. “You okay?”

The woman whipped around to face Becca, a baseball bat in her hands before Becca could so much as blink. She took one look at Becca, let out a short breath, and lowered the bat. “Who are you?” she demanded.

Becca let out her own shaky breath. She was good with a bat, too, but it was one thing to have it in your hands, say at a softball game. It was another thing entirely to be in danger of having it wielded at your head. “I’m Becca Thorpe,” she said. “Your neighbor. And I recognize you. You were working at the vintage store where I spent a fortune the other day.”

“Oh. Yeah.” The woman grimaced and set the bat aside. She was petite, with dark hair and dark eyes. Caucasian features but she looked somehow exotic as well. Beautiful. And wary. She was wearing low-slung jeans, a halter top, and a bad attitude as she dropped the bat. “Sorry if I woke you.”

“You didn’t,” Becca said. “I’m just getting home from being fired from my first day on the job at the bar.” She smiled, thinking that she would get one in return, but she didn’t.

“Olivia Bentley,” the woman said. “Sorry about the job, I’ll try to keep it down in here.”

“It’s okay. I just moved in, too. Need some help?”


“You sure?” Becca asked. “Because I—”

“No,” Olivia repeated, and then sighed. “But thank you,” she added as she moved toward the door in a not-so-subtle invite for Becca to leave.

“Okay then.” Becca took one step backward, out of the doorway and into the hall. “Well, good—”

The door shut on her face.

“—Night,” she finished. Apparently, she wasn’t the only one having a rough day.

Sam told himself he was too busy to be curious about Becca over the next few days. He and the guys took a client for an overnight deep-sea fishing trip. They also had two scuba trips. They were running ragged, but that was the nature of the beast for the summer season.

Not much of a sleeper, he tended to stay up late, which is when he did the paperwork required for the business, and his boatbuilding. He liked to do both alone. In fact, he liked to be alone.

He’d noticed that there were now curtains on the lower windows of the building kitty-corner to his. And that sometimes, he could hear the strains of a piano playing. The classical music wasn’t something he’d have thought was his type, but he found himself keeping his own music off in order to hear more of it.

He also noted that when he ate at the bar and grill, there were no pretty, curvy, charismatic brunette waitresses spilling beer and mixing up orders.

Telling himself to stop noticing such things at all, he was in the office of his shop working on his laptop on finances. His own, and the few others he took care of. One of those very people walked in about an hour later.

Amelia Donovan had her latest investment statements in hand.

“I need an English translation,” she said, and tossed the statements onto his desk.

Amelia was Cole’s mom. And in some ways, maybe the best of ways, she was also Sam’s. He’d landed with her one of the times that his dad had screwed up enough that social services had stepped in. Once Amelia had gotten him, she’d made sure she was his only foster care after that, which meant that for most of Sam’s trouble-filled teenage years, he’d seesawed between his dad’s place and Cole’s.

Sam hadn’t been easy.

Actually, he’d been the opposite of easy.

But Amelia had accepted him in her house without fuss up until age seventeen, when he’d left to go work on the rigs in the Gulf. She’d even forgiven him when Cole had given up a promising college baseball career to follow him. She was a born caretaker, handling her large family with the perfect mixture of drill-sergeant and mama-bear instincts. She easily kept track of everyone, from their birthdays, to their coming and goings, to whom they were dating. She always knew if her little chicks were bored, happy, upset, or hurting.

What she couldn’t ever seem to do was balance her own checkbook.

Cole’s dad had passed away the previous year from a heart attack, and Sam had been doing the banking for Amelia, handling all her other finances as well. But the reality was, he’d been doing that for years anyway. She’d retired from her high school teaching job and was still doing okay, a feat she attributed entirely to Sam, always saying that she owed him.