Oak trees cast a net of shadows on the paved path as I walk faster to beat the tears threatening to fall. Who ever decided flowers were the symbol of grief was a genius. The sadness lurking in the petals of fresh flowers adorning the graves is immeasurable. People can’t let go. I can’t, as I trudge through the vast grounds, carrying my goodbye in my pocket, to the plot now laid with fresh grass.
Crouching down, I peel back the corner and slip a birthday card underneath the sod. So many things left unsaid. So many wrongs never righted. They will be, though. If I have to say yes to Gabriel Prince, so be it.
As I sit and stare at the marble marker, time passes without understanding my world will never be the same.
“Clem,” a familiar voice calls out behind me. The prodigal Prince has returned. Should’ve known Ronin would show up today. He wasn’t sitting with the family, so he must’ve been on the fringes like me.
From my spot on the ground, I peer over my shoulder at the diluted version of Gabriel I haven’t seen in years. The brothers have the same dark eyes, but everything else is different. Where Gabriel is control, Ronin is chaos. Slightly mussed hair, scruffy jaw, and a perpetual pout all make the expensive suit he’s wearing seem like he’s playing dress up.
He steps closer and glances down at the marker.
“Fuck,” he mutters, sliding his hands in the pockets of his slacks. “I didn’t know your sister died.”
There’s a lot of things he doesn’t know. No one knows. And I’ll make sure they never find out.
There isn’t a problem in the world I can’t solve by throwing a little money at it. Embargoes, frivolous lawsuits, and any other problem I’ve ever had. But, this is not one of those times. I can’t pay off someone to bring Joseph back from the dead and ask him what the hell he’s trying to do, so I glare down at the carved Italian-bone casket with my grandfather’s frail body resting inside and give him one final farewell. One to carry with him into the fiery depths below. Let’s face it, there’s no pearly gates where this man is headed. I’m sure he’ll have Satan ousted in record time.
When I step away, I don’t see Clementine’s frost-filled amber eyes in the crowd. Across the graveyard, I spot the one person I did not expect to see today.
My brother. Ronin.
He strides toward the plots on the East side of the cemetery, and I ignore the sympathetic stares being tossed my way to follow him. My shoulders relax the more distance I put behind me and the puppets whose strings are still attached to my grandfather. Until I reach Ronin, with his lazy smile and wasted dreams, standing next to my soon-to-be bride.
A heated rush of jealousy singes its way through my system. Not because I care that Ronin may be interested in Clementine—no—because he may be interested in something that’s mine. Because she is, in every sense of the word, mine.
She may not realize it yet, but the moment my grandfather served us both our death sentences, it made her the property of Gabriel Prince. And I don’t like Ronin touching what’s mine.
I stalk through the fresh cut grass. “Ronin,” I call out, “I see you decided to take time out of your busy partying schedule to be here today.” His eyes pan over to me, and I never break eye contact as I close the distance. Not even to give a single glance to Clementine, who stands at the grave of her sister, Savannah—my grandfather’s nurse.
“Can we not?” he drawls out with a furrowed brow, as if he actually cares about the girl lying beneath the dirt.
“You really need to invest in some cemetery etiquette lessons,” Clementine adds.
My gaze meets her bloodshot eyes. She’s been crying, and I don’t know what to do with fucking tears. I didn’t know either girl very well growing up, and only learned of Savannah’s death after the fact, but I’m not a complete asshole.
I stop in front of Ronin. He doesn’t extend his hand for me to shake, and good thing, because I wouldn’t.
For years, I’ve watched my grandfather clean up his messes. For years, I’ve handled the Prince companies, while my grandfather coddled my older brother with money, teaching him nothing except the coffers are never empty. He skates through life on my grandfather’s fortune, now my fortune, thinking the hand that feeds him is forever full.
Oh, big brother, how times have changed.
“Why are you here?” I ask.
“I thought I’d pay my respects.”
“And now you have.” I give a little head nod, hoping Ronin catches my drift and leaves.
“I thought I’d just catch up. Maybe stay in town for a few days.”