The Best Goodbye(Rosemary Beach #13)(8) by Abbi Glines
If he was recognizing my laugh, I needed to be more careful. I wasn’t ready to come clean with him yet. He’d shown some kindness, and for a moment, I’d seen the boy I once knew under that cold exterior. But it wasn’t enough for me to allow him into Franny’s life.
Elle’s glare whenever she looked my way reminded me of what I would not let into my daughter’s life. If Elle was an example of the kind of woman River kept around in his life, he wasn’t good enough for Franny. Simple fact was, I didn’t trust him.
“You headed home?” Brad asked me just as I reached my car. I had been so lost in thought I hadn’t heard him walk up behind me.
“Yeah, my daughter will be waiting for me,” I said with a smile. I recognized the flirty attitude I was getting from him. I’d dealt with this from many men over the years. Sometimes I dated, but it never lasted, because men couldn’t deal with the fact that Franny came first. I was a mother before all else.
“Would you and Franny be interested in joining me for pizza on the beach?”
His question surprised me, and I looked up from my search for the car keys in my purse. “What?” I asked, even though I’d heard him.
He grinned, and there was almost a dimple in his left cheek. His teeth were nice and white, too. He had a good smile. “I know I prepare gourmet meals as a profession, but I enjoy a good cheesy pizza as much as the next guy. There’s a place I go to in Grayton Beach that’s right on the water.”
I stared up at him in shock. No one had ever asked me and Franny out. Most of the time, when guys found out about Franny, they made excuses and backed off. Brad, however, seemed completely cool with the fact that I had a nine-year-old daughter.
“Uh, well . . . yeah, sure. Franny loves pizza.” I heard the surprise in my voice.
Brad chuckled again and nodded toward a white Ford truck. “I’ll follow you home, and we can get Franny.”
He seemed so pleased. I simply nodded again.
Brad was probably two years older than me, and he was tall, with dark hair and hazel eyes. He was built like someone who spent quality time at the gym. There were seven female servers in the restaurant who were young, single, and gorgeous. Why was he pursuing me? I knew two of those girls had a crush on him—they were always making up reasons to go to the kitchen to talk to him. He was polite and took it in stride, but he never encouraged them. Not that it stopped them from trying again. But I had assumed that meant he was attached. Maybe a girlfriend or a fiancée. It wasn’t my business, so I didn’t ask.
“I’ll see you in a few,” he said now with a wink, then turned to head over to his truck.
OK, so maybe this was a friend kind of thing. I mean, he invited Franny without blinking an eye. And we had enjoyed each other’s company the few days that River had put us together in preparation for the grand opening.
Finally, my fingers landed on the key ring at the bottom of my purse. I had unlocked the door and started to get in when I saw something in the corner of my eye. Glancing back, I saw that River was walking out the door with Elle. She had her arms wrapped around his waist, and his hand rested on her hip. I could see her laughing up at him.
That wasn’t my River. The more I was around him, the more my heart mourned the boy I’d loved. Something had turned him into this man. A beautiful, detached, hard man. I didn’t want my mood to plummet. I drove away without looking back once.
Thirteen years ago
“Where’s Addy?” River asked his mother. I could hear him from the closet I was locked in. It was dark, and I really had to use the bathroom, but I knew not to knock or make a sound. She’d leave me in here longer.
“Addison is being punished. Go wash up for dinner. Daddy will be here tonight. He called and promised to be home. We can have a family meal.” Her overexcited voice made me cringe. I was terrified of that voice.
“Why is Addy being punished? Where is she, Mom?” River sounded angry.
His mother sighed loudly. “That is not your business. You go wash up like a good boy.”
“I’m thirteen years old. Don’t talk to me like I’m five. I’m grown-up, Mom. Now, tell me where you put Addy. Now!” He roared the last bit, and I squeezed my eyes tight, praying she wouldn’t hit him. He wouldn’t hit her back. He never did. He just let her hit him until she was over it. Then she would run off to her room, and he would find me.
“Her name is Addison. Addy sounds ridiculous. And do not yell at me,” she said, still sounding way too happy. “Your father will be here any minute. Let’s not fight. With her out of the way, we can enjoy our meal.”
I heard a loud crash, and I jumped back against the wall. “If you don’t tell me where she is, I’m going to throw every damn dish in this kitchen against the wall.” River’s voice sounded so much older than a thirteen-year-old boy’s.
“Please, God, don’t let her hit him,” I whispered, wondering if God would listen if I prayed for someone else. I knew praying for myself didn’t work; I’d tried that.
A loud, high-pitched squeal made my heart clench. “Let go of my arm!”
“No. I’m not letting you hit me, and I’m not letting you lock her up. Where. Is. She.”
“Please, please, please, God,” I begged quietly in the dark. He was pushing her too far.
“Ow!” she screamed. “You’re hurting my wrist.”
“Then tell me where Addy is!”