The snow sparkled pure white in a solid, unbroken blanket over the ground, the trees, and rooftops. In the frosty wonderland, it was quiet, and nothing stirred.
She hated school, hated that she was still in school. What had she been thinking going to graduate school? Who needed a Master's degree anyway? And in psychology of all things. Not her. No way. Except that she was in graduate school for her Master's in psychology because she'd wanted to be.
"Did anyone hold a gun to your head, you idiot, and tell you that you had to go to grad school?" she muttered to herself as she trudged the distance from the driveway to her tiny house. "Of course not. You did this to yourself, Gennie." And she'd have to deal with the fact that she wished that she could just forget about being a professional anything and just stay home. Preferably under the covers. "Ha. Fat chance."
When she pushed open the door, a comfortably fat, ginger-colored cat sauntered down the hall from the kitchen and purred loudly.
"Luna, not now. Mommy's exhausted." But she bent and picked the cat up anyway as she headed towards the kitchen. At this point in her life, Luna was one of the truest friends she had. She put up with her owner's antics, whether it was the frustrated textbook-throwing at three in the morning or the times when she got drunk alone and danced to everything from Madonna to Jay-Z. Luna was very good at tuning these times out.
When the phone rang, she answered after suppressing a groan. "Hello?"
One overly caffeinated best friend bubbled over at the other end. "Gennie! What are you up to? Are you back from class yet? I was thinking about going out tonight. You just have to come with me! Say yes, okay?"
"Chloe. Of course, I'm back from class. Didn't I just pick up the phone at my house?" she asked, rolling her eyes at Luna. The cat just blinked, unperturbed.
Chloe giggled. "Whoops! Sorry. I thought I called your cell. Anyway, you're coming with me, right? I was thinking we'd get all prettied up, go to dinner, then head to that new club on Seventh. What was it called? Sapphire! I've got this awesome pair of heels that I'm dying to try out with a killer skirt I found today. So, get dolled up, Gennie!"
Sometimes, she really wondered if Chloe was actually twenty-six or if she was really a seventeen year old trapped in the twenty-six year old's body. "Chloe, I'm really tired. I had a ton of research subjects to work with today, and there's a large stack of undergrad papers that need to be graded."
"Oh, come on, Gen. You're only young once. Come out and play. Live a little!"
"That's what David thought, too," she murmured and immediately berated herself for thinking of him.
Chloe huffed out an impatient breath. "Gennie. David's not here, now, is he?"
She nearly dropped the phone. "Chloe." It was a horrified whisper.
"I'm sorry. Gennie, that was terrible of me. I'm so sorry for saying that." Chloe apologized sincerely. "I just want to get you out of that house more often. I don't want you to lose touch with everyone. I mean, after David's accident, you just shut yourself off to anything and anyone except school."
She hated knowing her friend had a point. "I'm still talking to you, aren't I?"
"And Brian. I know. I worry about you, you know that." But Chloe knew when she'd lost. "Okay, Gen, you win tonight. But, this weekend, we're going to do something fun. Just you and me. Is that okay?"
"Yeah." She rested her forehead against the fridge and wished desperately for her dead fiancé. "That's fine. Thanks, Chloe."
"No problem. I love you, Geneva Kessler. Don't forget it."
Geneva had to smile. "Yeah, yeah. I love you, too. Have fun tonight."
When she'd hung up, she took a deep breath before getting Luna her cat food. Once her cat was happily chowing down, she opened her refrigerator and the cupboards to see what she had by way of food. All she found after a five minute search was a can of tomato soup.
"Better than nothing," she mumbled and set about heating it up. While she waited for it to warm, thoughts of a long bubble bath waltzed temptingly through her head. It would definitely help with all the knotted muscles she had in her back and neck. Stress was a real pain in the ass most of the time, and, between research and being a TA for undergraduate psychology classes, she was maxed out on stress. Coffee wasn't even putting a bounce in her step anymore.
Impulsively, she turned off the stove beneath the soup and made her way up the steps to the second floor. She stripped off her sweater and jeans in her bedroom and walked into the bathroom to turn on the tap for the bathtub. The giant, claw-footed tub was one of the things she'd fallen in love with in the house when she and David had been home-hunting. After they'd moved in, they'd created very memorable moments in the white ceramic tub.
They'd been perfect together in every possible way. They had leaned on each other to get through the toughest of times, and she wasn't sure she'd be able to go much longer without him. Her fingers absently brushed over the fading red lines on her wrists as she remembered the way his laugh would light up her day. His eyes would, literally, twinkle when he was being mischievous. He'd brought a beautiful light to her life and, once he'd gone, so had the light.
"I still love you, David. Always," she whispered as the water ran.
Because thinking about him still brought tears to her eyes, she blinked them and thoughts of him away. As the tub filled, she tossed in bubble bath cubes and lit the aromatherapy candles she'd indulged in buying. She stepped up to the mirror and studied herself while she loosened the band that bound her dark hair back. There were shadows under her hazel eyes that spelled exhaustion loud and clear. Overwork and insomnia, she knew, were dragging her down. And the darkness. Always the ever-present darkness. Yet, she didn't know how to solve either problem.
When the tub was full, Geneva turned off the water and tugged off her bra and underwear. She lowered one foot into the hot, bubbly water and cursed when the phone rang again. Yanking on her robe, she stalked into the bedroom and grabbed the phone.
"Hello?" She barely stopped herself from snarling the word.
"Hey, did I catch you at a bad time?"
She sighed and settled onto her bed. "It's okay. No big deal."
"You sound unhappy, Geneva." She loved the way he said her full name, the way no one else did.
Leaning back against the pillows, she closed her eyes. "I'm tired. Stressed out. It's nothing new."
"Is that why you're not going out with Chloe tonight?"
Her eyes popped open. "Did she call you and tell you to convince me to go out with her?"
There was a small chuckle at the other end. "Geneva, do I look stupid? I know better than to play messenger or whatever between the two of you. I like my skin the way it is, thanks."
"Oh. Then why'd you call?"
"I wanted to see how one of my good friends was doing." He paused. "It's been a while, Geneva. I wanted to make sure you're doing all right. I don't like hearing that you've shut yourself off from everyone."
Here we go again. "I'm fine, Brian. I haven't shut myself off, I've got school and work. I don't have the luxury of a nine-to-five job like everyone else does. I'm sorry that I haven't seen other people in a while, but, once I've got my degree, I'll have all the time in the world to spend with everyone. Is that okay?" She knew she sounded testy but couldn't help it. Their well-meaning remarks were driving her up the wall.
"Did you have dinner?" he asked after a few moments.
She blinked at the change in subject. "Uh, not yet."
"What were you planning on having?"
"Why do you care?"
She could practically hear him smiling. "Just wondering. Can't I inquire as to the nutritional well-being of my friend?"
"Shut it, Brian. It's just tomato soup."
There was a pause, then, "I'm coming over in an hour."
"I'll see you soon. Bye!"
"Brian Thomas-" But her words were cut off by the dial tone. She gaped at the phone and wondered how he'd maneuvered that one. "Well, damn it. So much for the two hour long bubble bath."
She was on the beach, walking on the wet sand. She liked the way it squished between her toes—her perfectly tanned toes that went with her perfectly tanned body. For the first time in her life, she actually enjoyed wearing a bikini. Even though she'd always been on the lean side, she'd always felt ridiculously overexposed wearing less than a one-piece. But not today. Today, she loved it.
The sky was a gorgeous blue, bluer than she'd ever seen it in Kentucky. The warm air blew off the water and lifted her straight fall of dark hair while the sun warmed her face. This, she thought, this was heaven. There were no cranky research subjects and no whiny undergrads to teach. She could sleep in the sun or swim in the warm water without any obligations preventing her from doing so.
Life was good.
"Not now," she murmured, heading towards a hut that advertised the best smoothies on the boardwalk.
"Come on, Geneva."
She shook her head and tried to shrug off the hand on her shoulder. "No. Leave me alone."
Suddenly, she found herself beneath the water, unable to suck in oxygen, and, just as suddenly, she could breathe again. She took deep, gasping breaths and dragged her wet hair out of her eyes and blinked, confused, at Brian.
"Shit, shit, shit! Brian!" Geneva scrambled to slide lower under the cover of bubbles in the tub. She must have fallen asleep, but still… "What the hell are you doing in my bathroom?"
He leaned against the doorway, a safe distance away, and grinned. She looked so flustered and pretty sitting in her bathtub, half-covered with frothy bubbles. "You didn't answer the doorbell, so I used the spare key under that flowerpot. I went searching for you, and here you are."
"Here I am," she repeated. "It still doesn't mean you can stand here and, and…Oh, jeez."
Brian couldn't help it, he had to laugh at the red creeping up her neck and onto her face. "Relax, Geneva. I didn't see anything I haven't seen before. You were properly covered. I had to dunk you to wake you up, though. You were dead to the world, it seemed like."
"Yeah, well." She pointed to the towel on a rack near him. "Hand me that, would you? It's the least you could do after destroying my lovely dream about no work, no stress."
He handed her the towel and watched as she held it up as a curtain before climbing out of the tub and wrapping it more fully around her. God, she was adorable. "Where were you?"
"On a beach. Definitely not Kentucky, though. Anywhere but here with the snow and cold." Geneva ducked into the walk-in closet at one end of the bathroom. "I think the cold stresses me out, too."
"Then we'll get you warmed up, so you won't be as stressed." He turned to head to the kitchen. "I'll meet you downstairs in the kitchen."
He heard her muttered assent and smiled to himself. She was one of the smartest women he knew, but she was definitely not smart when it came to taking care of herself. He'd known her for years and had always worried that she'd fall flat on her face one day. When she'd met David, he'd been relieved because it meant that there would be someone around to prevent her from crashing.
But David was gone, and Geneva was alone. Too alone.
Brian dumped out the pot of soup he'd found on the stove and shook his head. That was no meal for a woman who was constantly on the go. Honestly, he thought, she needed a keeper. That was reaffirmed when he found the cupboards empty—except for a box of raisins.
"Geneva, what the hell is wrong with you? Raisins and tomato soup?" He sighed before turning to unwrap what he'd brought with him. "We'll have to go grocery shopping to get you real food. Not rabbit food."
She'd lost weight, too, he remembered. Three months ago, she'd weighed at least fifteen pounds more, and she certainly couldn't afford to take off any more pounds. Heck, the woman had always been ridiculously thin. "Genetics," she'd always told everyone, which was true. But still.
Now that he was back in town, he was going to drag her out of the pit she'd dug herself into. Even if he had to tie her down to make her eat and sleep.
Then again, the beach didn't sound like such a bad idea, either. Setting the silverware he held onto the table, he stared out the window with a small smile on his face and wondered.
Geneva followed the smell from the top of the stairs to the kitchen. It was definitely not tomato soup. Whatever it was, though, had her stomach growling loudly. Embarrassed, she clapped her hands over her belly in a feeble attempt to shut it up. Of course, it didn't work.
She found Brian standing next to her kitchen table. Her very full kitchen table.
"What's all this?"
"Hmm?" He turned to her, nearly forgetting that he'd been standing in her kitchen. "Feeling better?"
She rubbed her fingers over her wet hair and shrugged. "Better. But I'm wondering what all of this is."
She was watching him with those big eyes, he thought, as if she were trying to solve a puzzle. She'd always been good at those, but not this time, he mused. Still, Geneva was cute to look at, now, as she stood wearing a shirt that hung to her knees, sweatpants, and large fuzzy socks. "You look good, Geneva."
"That's not the answer I'm looking for."
Brian pulled out a chair. "It's the only one you're going to get. Take it or leave it. But you will sit and eat."
"I don't like you very much." But she sat anyway.
He'd brought over Chinese food from her favorite restaurant and fully intended to shove it down her throat if she didn't do it herself. Everything from pot stickers, to dumplings and lo mein decorated her kitchen table. She studied it, as though it were an experiment, he thought. Why that fascinated him, he didn't know.
He was perverse like that.
Minutes later, she scooped up sticky rice and chicken with chopsticks and glanced over at him as he poked at a dumpling. "Is there something wrong with it?"
"It's rubbery. Dumplings should not jiggle like that. Where do they come off calling this Chinese?" He frowned and stabbed the chopsticks through the dumpling.
Geneva couldn't control the laughter. "Brian, darling. You've been spending too much time living the high life, haven't you? You're turning into a snob." She grinned at his sound of protest. "Besides, food in China is obviously going to be better than what they make here. But at least they're trying."
He glared at her then shrugged. "It's okay. I'll just try something else."
"You're just too cute."
"I prefer the term handsome to cute. I'm a grown man, thank you very much." He grabbed the box of noodles.
She supposed it had been good of him to come over tonight. Who knows what she might have been doing if he hadn't decided to distract her? She would probably have graded papers and gone to bed. It was nearly crunch time with finals, and she really did need to hand back papers and such. There were a hundred lab reports and thirty extra credit papers. If she spent three hours on the papers and three on the lab reports, she could…
She blinked. She shouldn't be thinking about work when Brian had shown up on her doorstep after months of being away. This was quality time to spend with him.
"So, how's work going?" she asked.
Brian shrugged. "It's going. Construction on the resort in Athens is almost done, which is why I can actually sit here in front of you. I didn't need to be there anymore." He smiled. "You should come see it some time. It's gorgeous, grand, and feels like a palace."
"Don't all Watson hotels and resorts?" she wondered but smiled slightly. "Maybe. One day."
"Winter break's coming up," he reminded her. "You could come with me."
She set her empty plate down. "You're going back so soon?"
"For the opening. There's going to be a huge party, and all of the famous Greek personalities are going to be there. Plus, I think there should be a few American ones there, too. Come with me, Geneva." He put on a big, convincing smile.
She shook her head. "You sound like Chloe. Brian, I'm okay here. I'm doing work that I love even when it drives me crazy. I've got Luna and my students. I'm not shutting myself off."
"You're not living either." His eyes were a deep, serious blue. "David wouldn't want this for you."
David. His ghost was one she lived with everyday. "Sometimes, I wish I'd been in the car with him," she murmured.
"We'd be together if I'd gone with him to the club instead of insisting that I needed to do work. I would have been there when the car went off the cliff." Geneva didn't know why she was telling him this, but she couldn't seem to stop. "Some days, I think…"
"What? What do you think?" His voice wavered, but she didn't take notice. He clenched his hands together under the table until his knuckles were white.
She sighed and looked into his concerned face. "Sometimes, the work gets to be too much, the teaching gets tiresome. I hate being the one who has to have all the right answers. I don't want the responsibility of knowing everything. Sometimes, I can hear myself screaming inside, wanting it to just all be over." She had to look away from that gut-wrenching worried gaze. "I'm scared, Brian."
He wanted to hold her. Just grab onto her and hold on. Never let go. "What are you scared of, baby?" he asked softly.
"Failing. I can't fail, Bri, but I get closer to that edge every day. I couldn't bear it if I failed." She shut her eyes. "I don't feel that passion I used to for my work. I don't care if one of my students asks me a question that I can't answer. I just don't care. Period."
They lapsed into a silence for a few moments. Brian took one steadying breath, then another. She'd had such passion for her work on toddlers' cognition and would talk about it at any given moment. Her interest had stemmed from her mother's family's history of childhood depression. Geneva had managed to escape the debilitating effects of that problem, but now…
She was nowhere near as okay as he'd thought she would be. He hadn't realized how truly on the edge David's death had pushed her. He knew Chloe, being Chloe, wouldn't have recognized the deep, desperate darkness that Geneva had fallen into. And he'd left her alone. He'd left one of his dearest friends alone to fight her demons on her own. In his mind's eye, he could practically see her standing, teetering on a cliff. And it was suddenly too much for him.
"Geneva." His hand brushed over her cheek gently, as though he were afraid she would break. "I can't see you like this. I can't see you not believing in yourself. It hurts."
Her eyes opened and pain-filled hazel eyes met his worried ones. "I don't know how to believe in myself or anything anymore, Brian. I just want to let the darkness take over. Just slide into the deep oblivion of nothingness."
Swallowing hard, he reached out and gripped her hands in his. "Geneva, I believe in you. When the darkness starts to move in, remember that. I believe in you."
She nodded and let her eyes shut again. She was tired, oh so tired. It felt as though she hadn't slept in years, instead of hours. "Bri, I'm tired. I think I just want to go to bed."
"Then I'll help you up and tuck you in," he said gently, brushing hair off her forehead. Not waiting for her response, he scooped her off her feet and carried her up to her bedroom.
Tugging aside the sheets and blankets, he laid her down gently and watched as her eyes fluttered as she fought to stay awake. "Brian, I can't sleep yet. I've got dozens of things to grade. I can't waste time sleeping."
Brian knelt next to the bed and took her hand in his, twining their fingers together. "Turn it off for one night, baby. It'll wait until tomorrow. Just…turn it off."
Her eyelids flickered again before they opened once more to lock eyes with his. "Brian."
"Geneva." He pressed his lips to her palm. "Close your eyes and dream."
"Stay," she whispered. "Stay for a while." When she moved further away from the edge to make space for him. "I don't want to be alone."
If it was in his power, he vowed as he climbed into her bed, she'd never be alone again. "You're not alone, Geneva. Never." His arms slid around her and brought her close. Her breathing was already slowing.
"Because you're here," she whispered sleepily.
Brian's arms tightened before he let them relax. "No, baby," he murmured to the quiet room. She was asleep. "It's because I love you."
"Gennie! What's Athens like?" Chloe's excited voice chirped in her ear.
Geneva turned to stare out the window at the wide expanse of pure white beach and the bodies that lounged on it. Brian had been right about his Athens resort being incredible. It was more than she'd ever thought it would be. But then, it was a Watson resort, so it was meant to be that way.
Just like Brian.
"It's beautiful, Chloe. I'm sorry you couldn't come out with us." She turned to study herself in the mirror. She'd chopped off the long hair, so it sat on her shoulders now. It made her face seem less gaunt. In fact, everything about her seemed less gaunt. She'd been eating again, and, somehow, she'd started gaining weight. No, she corrected herself. Not somehow.
Because of Brian.
"It's okay. I'll live vicariously through the pictures and stories you and Brian bring back for me." Chloe hoped they'd be incredible. Geneva deserved some of the incredible, and, if Brian's feelings were any indication, she'd have more of incredible than she could handle. Soon. "Anyway, I have to get to work. It's eight in the morning here, so I figure it's, what, three in the afternoon there?"
"Yeah, it is."
"Great! There's still time for you to go and hang out on the beach. Go pick up some beautiful Greek beach hunks. They'll never know what hit them!"
Geneva laughed, meaning it. "Thanks, Chloe. Maybe I will. I'll see you when we get back."
Once she'd hung up, she stood and watched the beautiful people on the beautiful beach and decided to stay out of the way. She pushed open the door to her balcony and stepped onto it. The warm air hit her, and she breathed it in. It was perfect. Everything here was perfect.
Brian had made her dream come true. And, she thought, sinking into a wrought-iron chair, he'd made so much of her life better. It had begun the night she'd inadvertently spilled her feelings to him. He'd stayed with her through the night and the following weeks. During finals week, he'd stuck by her side, as close as possible, to make certain she wasn't stressing too much. And she hadn't. He hadn't let her.
Just as he hadn't let her slide into the looming pit of dark despair. "I believe in you" he'd told her. And he'd stuck to that promise until she believed it, too.
"This is a pretty sight."
Geneva turned toward the door and found the man who'd been occupying her mind. He leaned against the door and smiled at her. His dark blond curls shone in the slivers of sunlight that fell on it. She wanted to trace the smattering of crinkles around his eyes, and her breath caught as she truly saw how beautiful he was.
Everything in her stretched and longed for more.
"Everything here is a pretty sight," she replied and held out a hand in invitation. When he took it and sat, she smiled at him. "So, how's the work of the resort owner going?"
He squeezed her hand and wished he could tell her what he was feeling. "There have been no problems so far. Except that it appears all hell has broken loose in preparation for the opening gala tonight."
"So how are you sitting up here, unaffected?"
Brian lifted a shoulder. "I've got very competent managers. I know exactly what's going on downstairs and have left it in their hands. If there's a problem, I'll know."
"Wow. You're a pretty powerful man, Brian Watson." Geneva grinned and patted his cheek. "I'm proud of you for pulling this one off on your own."
He was proud of himself, too. It was the first resort he'd worked on without the help of his father. All of the decisions had been made by him, and the biggest reward, he decided, that he could've received was her approval.
"Are you ready for tonight?" he asked.
"I guess you'll see for yourself in a couple of hours," she replied with a mischievous smile.
His brow rose. "Should I be afraid?"
"Prepare to be knocked off your feet."
I already am. But he couldn't say it. Not yet.
She wore green, not because it complemented her eyes, but because it was the color of beginnings. This trip was a new beginning for her, for her life. She'd fallen prey to the depression that rampaged through her mother's family, and, being a psychology student, she'd ignored the symptoms. Now, though, she was making a new start, even if it meant taking the annoying little pills every day.
She clipped the clusters of pure white pearls to her ears and stepped onto the terrace again. The night sky over Greece was just as spectacular as the day had been. Stars shone brilliantly, and the full ball of the moon reigned over them majestically. Geneva breathed it in and lifted her face to feel the breeze stroke over it and through her hair. She could feel every worry, every anxiety she'd had in the months since David's death sliding away.
"I won't forget you," she whispered. "I love you, and you'll always be a part of me."
The sound of the waves peacefully lapping the beach was her response. Taking it as a sign, she moved back into the room to find her shoes before she could head down to the gala. Brian would be too busy to come up for her, and she needed to steady herself before she could see him again. There were feelings bubbling in her that were so strong so fast that she couldn't be sure, not yet, that they were real.
The grand ballroom of the resort was magnificent. Chandeliers dripped crystals overhead while some of the wealthiest and most famous people in the world mingled in the lights they cast. One curving wall of the room was all doors that stood wide open and let in the warm, fragrant night air. Geneva stood at the top of the curving staircase and watched it all. What was she doing here? She didn't belong among the wealthy and extravagantly beautiful. She'd been made for teaching and studying. Not for this.
Through the crush of the people surrounding him, her eyes met Brian's as he watched her. He knew, she thought suddenly. He knew that she was standing there debating whether or not to stay. The challenge in his eyes was clear. Stay or run.
And she knew that if she ran, everything he'd helped her achieve would be a loss.
Brian watched her step down the stairs and thought she looked like Cinderella entering the ball. She looked a little hesitant, a little wary, and a lot nervous. Almost like a lamb being led to the slaughter.
Oh God, she was beautiful.
The dress she wore was the color of emeralds and swept from the swell of her breasts to nip in at her tiny waist and flowed down to her knees. Pearls winked at her ears and around her neck. Combs sparkled in her hair as it was pulled back at the sides and the rest was left in a straight fall to her shoulders. Her very pretty, very smooth shoulders. He fought off the urge to just drag her off to his suite and drown himself in her. Instead, he forced himself to look away and focus on what those around him were saying.
His resort was a success and, for its opening week, had pulled in dozens of celebrities and wealthy patrons. Customers, Brian mused, well-paying customers. They looked for luxury, beauty, and entertainment when they went on a vacation, and his resort provided all of that for them. He was damn proud of it. The fact that he'd built this one on his own, without his father's help or instructions, was only icing on the cake.
Once he was sure the last of the guests had arrived, his event coordinator nodded to him from across the room. Brian made his way over to the small stage that had been set up at one end of the ballroom and climbed it. Lifting the microphone, he grinned at the audience and welcomed them to his place.
Geneva watched him from where she stood and discovered that she was so proud of him for all the hard work he'd put in on it. He'd come up with the idea as he'd been sitting at her kitchen table just months before David's death. Then, after the accident and funeral, he'd enlisted her help in drafting the plans, sketches. At a time when she'd found it ridiculously insensitive, Brian had ignored her protests and asked her about what sorts of things she'd want to do at a resort in Greece. In order to keep her mind occupied, she now realized. He'd been doing it all along, helping her stay strong and keep moving. How had she missed what he'd done?
She applauded enthusiastically when the speech was over and thought of how this resort was partly hers, too. It had been her grudging answers that had inspired so much of what she'd seen on her tour of the enormous vacation spot. Brian Watson had done it again, and she couldn't be more pleased.
Brian found her in an intent conversation with two of his cousins, who'd flown in for the opening. She was sipping from a flute of champagne, and her smile was quiet and pretty. He wanted to run his lips over the curve of her neck and stopped himself from reaching out and touching her.
"Kevin, Alex." He clapped a hand on their shoulders and grinned. "What do you think?"
Kevin, a tall, dark, and definitely handsome man, smiled back, his green eyes twinkling. "I think you've outdone all of the other Watson hotels. It's incredible."
"So are the people," Alex chimed in. He ran a hand over his short, dark hair as his deep brown eyes scanned the guests who chatted and danced to the music of a string orchestra. "You keep pulling in people who are wealthy along with the ordinary folk, this place is going to turn you a gorgeous penny." He tapped his glass with the one Brian carried. "Congratulations."
Geneva watched the three men talk business, but her attention was distracted by the breeze floating in through the open doors. She moved over to lean against the doorframe and found she could smell the strong, sweet scents of the flowers that speared up in the flowerbeds and in the large urns that were set in strategic locations along lamplit pathways.
"Geneva?" A hand touched her shoulder lightly, and, when she turned, she found Brian studying her with a small smile playing on his lips. "You haven't told me what you think."
She took his hand in hers and squeezed lightly. "It's perfect. All those ideas you had months ago, I can just see them going up all over the place. Brian, I'm proud of you."
"Thanks. Thank you for coming," he replied sincerely, though he found himself shaken with the knowledge that she had such a store of pride in him. He wondered if she had come to believe that he felt that way about her, too. "It meant a lot to me that you would be here."
"Of course, I would. You've been such a good friend, Brian. Especially the last month or so. I don't know what I would've done without you." She leaned up and brushed her lips over his cheek. "I'm glad I came, though. This country is beautiful, and you've added to its beauty."
So have you. "Will you dance with me?" He gestured to the couples swaying behind them. "Please?"
When she was in his arms, he could feel every muscle in him relax. She felt so perfect against him, and he realized that they fit. Every curve, every angle of their bodies fit together, and they moved in rhythm with each other. What did that say about them? he wondered, then shook it off. He didn't want to overanalyze it to death. It was enough to just be with her.
Geneva Kessler had come into his life when they'd been nine years old. She'd been the skinny girl with braces and glasses. The one with brains. The other girls would tease her mercilessly, and he hadn't really noticed until he saw her crying behind a tree during recess. His parents had always taught him to stand up for himself and others that were being hurt. God was always watching and would reward those who helped others, and Brian was a big believer in God.
He'd marched over to the not-so-skinny girls, who considered themselves popular, and gave them a piece of his mind. The fact that he was part of their "popular" clique and still yelled at them was shocking. They'd definitely left Geneva alone after that, but Brian hadn't. He'd started hanging out with her and stuck with her and Chloe even when, in high school, they'd been part of very different groups of people. Now, over fifteen years later, look where they were.
"What's so funny?" Geneva leaned back in his arms and studied him curiously when he chuckled quietly.
Brian shook his head. "I was just remembering the day we first met. The first time I really talked to you. Do you remember Missy Burns and Glenna Stevens?"
"God, how could I forget?" She rolled her eyes. "They made my life a living hell all through elementary school. I wonder where they are now?"
He grinned. "My sources say that Missy's currently on husband number three and has two kids. She's got a degree in education but doesn't do anything with it. Glenna's married, too, and I think she's the librarian at our elementary school now."
"Wow. A librarian, huh? The tables have surely turned." She pressed her cheek to his. "And here I am, in Athens, at a party with Hollywood actors and actresses and Greece's elite. And you."
"And me," he repeated then stepped away until his hands linked with hers. "Walk with me."
She frowned. "What? Where?"
Brian gestured to the doors and the balmy, enchanting Grecian night. "Walk with me, Geneva Kessler. I need to get out of here."
"Aren't they going to wonder where you are?" she asked as he tugged her towards the exit.
He shook his head. "My staff knows what to do. Besides, I don't need to do anything else. Except mingle. I'd rather mingle with you than with some of these amazingly superficial people. So, walk with me."
And he drew her out into the moonlit night.
I never believed in dreaming
It never got me very far
I never believed that love could find me
Like an arrow through the heart
I never believed in miracles
Or building castles in the air
Not until that day I found you
I turned around and you were there
She couldn't help but find it all so romantic. Here they were, walking in the moonlight along the beach. The stars shone brightly, the fragrance of flowers wafted over them, and the sounds of music and people were quickly quieting as they wandered aimlessly down the stone path on the beach. It was the kind of night, the kind of moment, she thought, on which dreams were built. On which they lasted.
Brian was trying to figure out how best to say what he needed to say. He could barely breathe because he was afraid that, if he did, she'd disappear. The moment would shatter, and he would be left with the remnants of the dream he'd had since they were sixteen. In all the years in between, he'd stood back and watched her live her life. He hadn't told her of his feelings, thinking that they would scare her. Once she was with David and engaged, he'd given up and tried to throw away his feelings.
But those feelings were fickle, flighty. They'd come back triple time when he'd found himself taking care of her. Now, now he was sure he'd burst if he kept them inside. But he wasn't sure if he could tell her. Was she ready to hear them? Was it too soon after her fiancé's death? David had been his friend, too, and to move in on his friend's fiancée only a year after his death felt wrong. Maybe, maybe she would just crumble if he put the weight of his feelings on her. After all, she'd just been through a rough year and was still recovering.
God, he thought miserably, help me.
He looked over at the woman occupying his thoughts. "Isn't it gorgeous out here?" He spread his arms out as if to encompass the scene around them. "I don't know why I'd ever go back to Kentucky after being here."
"What?" Was he planning on staying here, she wondered. If he did, she'd be lost, so lost without him. With all the new feelings that were jumbling through her, she didn't think it was going to be all right for her if he stayed and she went. "You're staying here?"
Brian stopped walking and studied her, frowning. "Why would you say that? I just said I love it here, but Lexington's home, Geneva. Of course I'm not going to live here. As much as I'd love to, it's not home."
"Oh." Her heart rate leveled.
"Geneva." His hand rested on her arm gently. "How could you think I'd leave you and everyone I love? I love Greece, but I need Kentucky."
"Even with the cold?" she teased, trying to lighten the suddenly serious mood.
He huffed jokingly. "Maybe we'll just vacation here during the winters."
We? "Maybe," she replied just as lightly, though her mind was racing. Had he really meant the two of them? Was it possible, at all possible, that he felt a little of what she was feeling, too? Or was it just one-sided? No, she decided after a moment, it was just one-sided. It had to be because this was Brian, for crying out loud. He was her best friend, nothing more.
From the day you came you gave me
A whole new point of view
I've been touched by an angel
It's impossible, but true
They began to walk again, and he reached out to link fingers with her. "So, how have you been feeling?"
Her gaze met his and, in the moonlight, saw the concern he didn't voice as strongly. "I love the warm weather. It's as though the darkness can't touch me when it's warm. But that's silly," she said after a moment. "Because, ever since you came back and got me on track, the darkness is practically gone. I can breathe again." She let go of his hand and spun in a giddy circle. "For the first time in months, I can breathe again, and I love it!"
Brian watched her laugh and, in the moonlight, her beauty hit him like a fist. "If I can give you the warm, Geneva, then my life's work will be complete."
She slid her hand into his again as they moved forward. "I really don't know how to repay you for everything you've done for me, Brian. I know you're my friend, but none of the others bothered to dig in and pull me out. I need you to know that it means the world to me that you would do that. That you took the time out of your busy life to help."
He stopped her then took her other hand in his and met her gaze. "Don't thank me, Geneva. I'd do just about anything for you, and that's a promise. I'm not going to back down, not going to let you suffer if I can help it. So get used to it. I've been here for you for fifteen years. God willing, I'll always be there when you need me."
When her arms came around him, tight, he blinked then rested his hands on her waist.
You made me a believer
You made me trust again
You showed me there's a pot of gold
At every rainbow's end
"I know that. I know, and I love it," she murmured before she leaned back to look into his eyes. "Brian, I-"
He saw what was in her eyes, and his heart stumbled. He took a steadying breath and looked over her shoulder. "Geneva, look."
He turned her gently until they watched it together. A small ray of golden light shot across the sky and faded out near the horizon. She shut her eyes and wished. This time, she thought, this time, her wish would come true. It had to.
"What did you wish for?" he asked as the path began to wind its way back towards the hotel.
Geneva grinned. "If I tell you, it won't come true."
"That's just superstition," he informed her, flicking a finger over her nose affectionately.
She rolled her eyes. "Brian, if you think that's superstition, why did you wish on the falling star? It's superstition, too, isn't it?"
"Got me there," he said after a moment. "I bought a house today," he added after a minute of silence passed between them.
"What? I thought you didn't want to live here," she began, confused.
He shook his head. "I'm going to need to come back here every so often to check on the resort. It's my baby, so I feel very personally invested in this. More than the other hotels. Anyway, I just want a place to stay that's not the hotel. Why take up space that could be given to another guest, right?"
"Yeah," she murmured. "What's the house like?"
"It's a house. Kinda big for just one person, I guess." He shrugged. "It's the white stucco material that's big around here and looks like all the other houses around it. It's just a house, though. Not a home. You're the one with the home, Geneva."
A lump formed in her throat. "It does have a lot of life, a lot of love in it, doesn't it?"
"I don't mean to make you sad," Brian said gently and rubbed a hand down her arm, comforting.
"I'm not. Or maybe I am," she corrected. "David and I poured a lot of love into our home, but he's gone. I stood on the balcony in my room before coming down to the gala tonight. And do you know what I thought, Brian?" When he shook his head slightly, she squeezed his fingers. "I thought about how I can let him go without feeling guilty about doing so. I can go on with my life and be happy because he would've wanted that for me. So that's what I'm going to do."
He smiled. "Good. I'm happy that you feel better for it. That's all I really want, Geneva. I just want you happy."
The blazing lights and sounds from the gala were getting stronger, brighter. Brian stopped her and tugged her onto a pretty, carved bench. When she looked at him curiously, he shrugged. "I'm not ready to go back in there yet."
"Brian," she began after a few moments of studying him. "You spent so much time wondering, worrying, and caring about me and my happiness, but what about you? I never thought to ask if you're happy."
He patted her hand. "Don't worry about me, baby. I'm fine."
"That's not happy," she reminded him and leaned towards him. Was it her imagination or did he shrink back ever so slightly? "Tell me what would make you happy."
You. Brian nearly said it out loud this time and bit his tongue. She was so, so close. "Being with the people I care about and making them happy makes me happy."
"And if I said I wasn't happy, would you help me do whatever it takes to be happy?" She was positive he was moving ever so slowly away. She could nearly see the nerves in his eyes. It was a powerful feeling, she realized.
Was she trying to kill him? He couldn't breathe with her practically crawling into his lap. "Uh, yeah. Of course. It's why I'm here."
"Good." And she pressed her lips to his.
I never believed in fairy tales
Though sometime I wish I could
I never believed that golden slippers
Could ever find the perfect foot
I never believed in magic
Or that wishes could come true
But your very first kiss changed all this
Something only you could do
He absorbed the feel of her in his arms, the sweetness of her on his lips, his tongue. Years of waiting hadn't prepared him for what it would be like to finally be with her in this way. And he couldn't believe, not for sure, that it was happening.
"What's wrong?" she wondered, a little dazed, when he peeled her off and set her on the bench a safe distance from him before he stood to pace.
Brian ran his fingers through his hair in a gesture she recognized as agitated, frustrated. "I don't know. This, you and me. Geneva. This is so sudden. I don't know what to believe."
"Brian. Do you remember what you told me almost two months ago?" When he shook his head and continued to pace, she clutched her hands together. "You told me you believed in me. You told me and proved to me that you believed in me. But, you know what the funny thing is, Brian? You've made me believe in you, too. And I do. I believe in you."
He stopped pacing and stared at her, stunned. "I'm in love with you," he said after a long moment.
When she flew into his arms and buried her face against his neck, he smiled and stroked a hand down her back. "How long?" she asked.
"How long have you been in love with me?" Geneva framed his face in her hands.
He smiled. "You wouldn't believe me."
"I wanted to ask you to junior prom," he said after a moment. "When Dan Grant asked you, I thought I'd die of jealousy and go straight to hell. I think I had an inkling then."
She smiled back and brushed her lips over his. "I told you I believe in you. I believe you." She rested her head against his shoulder. "It's what makes this all so magical."
"If I were struck by lightning at this moment," he said quietly, his fingers tangling in her hair. "I think I'd die happy."
Geneva's arms tightened around him. "Don't. Don't talk about dying. I couldn't bear it if you left me, too."
"Baby, I told you the truth. I'll always be there for you," Brian said quietly, drawing her back to gently brush his fingers over her cheekbone.
Her smile was brilliant. "I love you, too."
When his lips found hers and joined them, she could hear the song of the sea, the scent of tropical flowers, and feel the magic of the moonlight. But the strongest, she'd come to discover, was the sight, the sound, the feeling of love. It destroyed the darkness, brought in the light, and vanquished every doubt and fear. It was all there was.
Only love sets you free
And if its up to fate
Then you're my destiny
Now I know, now I see
Anything can happen
If you just believe
I believe in you
I swear that forever from today
No one will ever take your place
I believe in you
And I believe our love will last always
Lyrics from Joe and N Sync "I Believe in You"
AN: So, this is one of my much older stories that I actually converted from fanfiction to original...or attempted to anyway. It's ridiculously fluffy, but I hope you enjoyed it anyway!