Happy Holiday season! If you hopped over from Petit Fours and Hot Tamales blog, below is the rest of The Final Gift. If you like to read the full version, go over to my For Readers page.
Marco wrapped his knuckles against the front door of the seaside cottage until they turned numb. No answer. Had something happened to Sarah? Wouldn’t Olivia know to phone him? He’d called her yesterday after he’d landed in New York, so she had his telephone number. She’d reported that Sarah seemed stronger after a good night’s sleep. He should’ve left a security detail with them. Then there’d be no doubt as to where they were.
Leaning in front of the lace-covered window, he peered into the living room. Sarah struggled to push herself up from the giant recliner. He knocked on the window and waved. Relief filled him as she smiled.
“Marco, is that you?”
“Yes, Sarah, it’s me. Where’s Olivia?”
“Come in. Use the key under the mat.”
He lifted the rubber mat and scraped up the shiny, silver key. Using it, he turned the lock.
Dread tightened Olivia’s gut. Even before Gran’s echoed ‘Is that you Marco?’ Olivia knew it was him, yet she didn’t expect him this soon. After she and Gran had heard about his pending engagement last night, Olivia thought she’d have more time to tame her emotions.
She wanted to ignore his pounding. Just as she wanted to ignore the way her heart leapt and stuttered. Time to face reality. Time to protect her heart. Time to say good-bye.
Olivia slid the glass door along its rail and stuck her head into the small living room. Marco had already entered the house and was facing Gran, all smiles. He turned toward the noise the door made, toward her. The golden-brown of his irises blazed with anger, but then it was gone. Faded into nothing, like turning off a gas burner on the stove. The house key clasped between his index finger and thumb, his expression controlled, he dropped the metal key in a glass candy bowl on the coffee table. The clanking sound echoed in the sudden silence.
Why should he be angry? She was the one who’d been deceived. Sweet, naïve, simple Olivia. “I’ll give you a few minutes to visit, then we must go. Gran has an appointment.”
“Doctor?” Concern etched Marco’s face.
“Hair,” Olivia lied. Next thing she knew, she’d be turning down Gran’s hearing aid, so she couldn’t hear when Marco knocked.
Olivia closed the door on Gran’s, “Oh, I thought my hair appointment was Friday.”
Olivia hurried down to the dock. She couldn’t stay in a closed-up space where Marco’s mere presence took all the oxygen from the room. To think straight, she needed the openness of the water.
She’d had Gran’s fine example all these years, and still she’d ended up like her parents. Selfish. How humiliating to realize that she’d put her own comfort above Gran’s happiness. Gran loved Marco’s visits.
But how could she encourage him to come back, when she couldn’t control her reaction to his mere presence. She’d sucked it up when her parents had discarded her, ignored that she was alive for years at a time. Why should Marco be any different?
The dock creaked and Olivia turned to see Marco striding toward her.
His eyes sparked bright with anger. “What in hell are you thinking leaving a key under the mat? Anyone could walk in. The lack of security’s appalling.” If there’d been any doubt of his anger earlier, his words confirmed it.
She held onto that anger. It helped hers grow. “I can take care of Gran and myself. Small towns, hardly have any crime. We don’t need security, unlike royalty.” She threw his social status back in his face. “You’re one to talk. As second in line to the throne, shouldn’t you have bodyguards?”
“Been doing some research, have you?”
“Yes. And I don’t see people shadowing you, telling you what to do.”
“They’re close enough.”
“You have bodyguards?” She scanned the shore and the open space next to the cottage.
“I’m not stupid.”
She stood taller. “Meaning I am?” Well, at least she knew his true opinion.
“No,” exasperation coated that single word. His voice became coaxing, “I never said that. I just want you and Sarah safe.”
“As you can see, Gran and I are fine now. Thanks to you. You can leave with a clear conscience.”
“What are you saying, Olivia?”
“While I appreciate all that you’ve done for Gran, I think it’s better if you go back to your world, your country, and forget about us, like Eddie did.”
“Eddie never forgot. My being here is proof of that.” His eyes were clear, open. “Even if I wanted to, I can’t forget.”
“Why?” Her heart beat a little faster, hope rising against her better judgment.
“Duty alone requires–”
A crack fissured in her heart. “I don’t want to be your duty.” She spit the last word out as if it were vile tasting.
He studied her a long moment before he spoke again. “What if I said, it’s more than that?”
“Gran wouldn’t want you considering her a duty either.” Olivia spoke over him, wanting this over with. Rip the bandage off instead of tugging it inch by painful inch.
“I’ve asked Sarah to come to Dominagual for a visit, and she’s agreed.”
“What?” She started to pace the length of the dock. Pivoted and shouted, “How could you?”
He strode toward her, reaching out.
But she didn’t want the concern she saw in his eyes. Couldn’t handle his touch.
As she’d been taught in her self-defense class, she ducked to the right, stuck her foot out, and pushed.
Unmasked shock stared at her as he started to fall.
He reached out, grabbing the closest thing to steady himself, and fastened into her arm.
The force had her falling with him, and they both went over the side of the dock. Water closed over her head before she kicked upward and broke the surface.
“What the hell?” he shouted.
“I told you I could take care of myself.” She swam toward the shore until the water lapped at her waist.
Marco followed, clasping his hand around her wrist as she started for the bank. “Why are you so angry, Olivia?”
“You kissed me.”
“Yes,” he grinned. “And we both enjoyed it.”
His head snapped back. “How could you possibily know?”
Olivia tried to smile, but couldn’t quite manage it. “On one of the TV shows you ordered. Your high-handedness came back to bite you.” She tested his hold.
He didn’t release her. “I never announced it.”
Was he one of those diplomats that twisted the truth to suit themselves? Her hands fisted. “Were you officially engaged or not?”
The louder her voice became, the softer his turned. “Papers were signed by my father when I turned ten.”
An arrow of hurt pierced her heart. “That sounds official to me.”
“I never made that commitment.” Certainty shone bright in his eyes.
But what did he mean? If she went to Dominagual and everyone believed he was engaged, she’d be a fool. “I won’t be some royal plaything. Even Eddie had more respect for Gran than to make her his mistress.”
“I never asked you to become my mistress. But if you want the job–”
“I didn’t mean it that way.” She shook her wrist, trying to get loose, but he wouldn’t let go. “I’m confused.”
“That makes two of us.” Using the buoyancy of the water, he pulled her closer. “I had every intention of announcing my engagement in New York, making it binding. A little side trip to a quaint town on the Chesapeake Bay to finish my grandfather’s business, and I’d start a new chapter of my life. Only nothing turned out the way I expected.”
A strand of hair plastered across Olivia’s cheek. With his index finger, he pushed the wet, sable tress behind her ear. She stood still at his gentle touch.
“I saw you. I met Sarah.” He tugged again, until the current’s rhythm had her legs tapping against his. “Come to Dominagual with me.”
“What?” Was he crazy? She barely knew him.
“I promise to take care of Sarah if you want a break, but she’d be happier with you there. So would I.”
“I’m going to talk to Gran. All of her doctor’s are here.”
“The Royal doctors have trained at the finest hospitals in the world.” He kissed her temple. His hot breath caressing along the side of her face until he reached her ear. “I broke my arranged engagement last night.”
She leaned back staring into his gaze and saw the truth.
Hope you enjoyed Marco and Olivia’s short story, my holiday gift to you. Remember to leave a comment on PFHT to be eligible to win several prizes. Good luck and happy reading.