In the southernmost part of Florida, Olivia Harding is born privileged. Her father gives her endless love. The silver knife in her back is courtesy of her mother, whose cruel torture plagues Olivia and shatters her mind.
She survives her childhood and strives for a normal life: college, a job, and a thrilling romance. But it’s all a lie. There’s nothing normal about Olivia—so much she can’t explain away. Like going to bed after drinking nothing stronger than tea only to wake vomiting what reeks of alcohol, and smelling of cigarettes and floral perfume.
After a late-season hurricane threatens the city, Olivia is charged with murder. In jeopardy of losing what’s left of her sanity, the man she loves, and possibly her life, she’ll have to share her secrets. But to what end?
It seemed like minutes before the new day shadowed the room, causing Olivia to push from her bed. After brushing her teeth, and hair, she dressed in soft and easy pink French terry pants and a zip sweatshirt, before heading to the kitchen.
“Thought I heard you moving around up there,” Maria said. “I made you some coffee, and was hoping to hear about the fundraiser.”
“Thank you,” Olivia said, accepting the warm mug. She’d expected to be alone, needed to be, yet realized the concern in Maria’s eyes was genuine and offered a smile. “It was successful. I’m still processing it all. A walk should help.”
She kept the mug and padded for the water. Nanny had always told her she was a true Floridian since she did her best thinking when her feet were buried in wet sand. The thought made her grin.
The overcast, dark and drab February day sent a breeze from the water, pitching her long hair about her face. She trudged along, the weight of her thoughts slowing her stride. For too long she’d allowed herself to credit her medications for the list of mysteries occurring in her life. Olivia knew the assumption was wrong. She knew something was wrong with her.
She’d hoped to keep her staff from getting suspicious, including the Garcia’s, by dismissing them at night. Somehow it calmed her to have Maria and Christian locked away in the Carriage House, and not underfoot witnessing the secret, her secret.
Given her lifelong disdain for doctors, the thought of trusting one terrified her. And no matter how small her role at Harding Enterprises, as sole heiress, a kink in her armor would crash their stock and hurt innocent people. No doubt she would require more than an antibiotic. Her revelations could ruin all her father had worked for and had given her to protect.
“What do I do now?” Olivia yelled into the surging water. Acknowledging a problem of this magnitude and admitting it to anyone, felt close to paralyzing. Who should she confide in? Her grandmother loved her dearly, but Olivia would never put her heart at risk. Gretchen would surely understand before her loyalty brought her back to Catherine. She thought of Ben, briefly, but her trust in him didn’t run deep enough––not just yet. Jill and Melody accepted her unconditionally and had known her since grade-school. Having hidden her shame for so long, she’d need time and strength before letting go of her secrets. Sighing deeply, with her feet buried deep in the sand, she felt like her head was in there too.
She pulled the hair from her face turning back towards home. When close enough to view the outline of Casa Nonna on the horizon, she spotted a figure approaching along the water’s edge. Male, shoeless, the sleeves of his dress shirt and the cuffs of his pants rolled. When the confident gate became familiar, she smiled.
With the rising sun at his back, he hovered close. “There are documents in need of your signature. I went by your office. They were all raving about the success of your luncheon, so I took it upon myself to come and congratulate you in person,” Ben rambled. “That sounded better when I practiced it on the drive over. I even brought your favorite ice cream––moose tracks, right?”
She breathed in his scent, all male while regarding him with a somber curiosity. “My favorite ice cream flavor is in my file? You must have gotten that tidbit from Jonathan Tate. Either way, I thank you. You aren’t exactly dressed for it, but would you like to walk?”
“Sure. It’s beautiful out here. You’re a lucky girl. Funny, I hadn’t noticed the sprinkling of freckles crossing your nose before.”
They walked with their feet bathed in the cool waters of the Atlantic. Even though Ben used his words for a living, Olivia found he was struggling to string enough together to form a sentence, but as he relaxed their conversation soon took on an easy cadence. Before long, she too was rambling on about the luncheon, and how much she loved working for Gretchen.
“What about that ice cream you promised me?” Olivia asked.
“The very serious looking woman who answered the door took it from me. She said something about you needing solid food first, and that I could find you on the beach. Is there a chance I can entice you to have lunch with me?”
“I would love to if you can be patient while I change.”
“Don’t change for me. I like you just the way you are.” His brandy-smooth voice crooned in her ear as he linked his arm through hers.
Olivia rolled her eyes. “Has that lame line ever worked on another woman, Ben?”
“Surprisingly, it has.”
She was mindful of the tremor in her hands as she dressed. A cursory tour of Casa Nonna culminated in the cavernous two-story garage, where she tossed him the keys to the Ferrari.
“You’re going to let me drive her?” Ben said, holding his hand over his heart.
“Well, since I’m still not sure which one of us you’re here to see, I thought I’d give her equal time.”
Olivia beamed hearing the engine purr to life. Her smile faded to a grimace when the strains of heavy metal rang out from the radio. The gas light, glowing from the dashboard, tightened her chest, making it hard to swallow around the lump that had formed in her throat since she remembered filling the tank the day before.
Ben located the nearest station and gassed up the tank. She thought he would’ve happily driven to the moon if required. He seemed exhilarated, sporting a joyful grin, charming her out of the funk she’d fallen into.
“I noticed a sandwich shop not far from here. Have you been there?” Ben asked.
“You must mean Vinnie’s. Love that place––great pickles.”
They agreed on the corner table. Ben ordered a roast beef sandwich while Olivia stayed with her usual chicken salad. He remembered to get the pickles. He talked about his day in court and made her laugh.
Twilight concealed Casa Nonna in its shadows as they returned, rendering an eerie silence. In the dimly-lit foyer, as Ben placed the keys in her palm, a slight tremble shook her hand. When he swept her into his arms, kissing the tip of her freckled nose, before claiming her lips, a need hotter than a summer wind moved through her. Breathless, she pulled away.
He let out a long sigh. “In all honesty, I didn’t think that through, knowing the extent of your trust issues. But patience has never been my strong suit, other than in baseball or chess.”
She braced herself against the window, her eyes on his back as he turned and walked away. Her lips still tasted of his kiss.
The speed of his exit increased the potency of his words. Yes, she had trust issues, reiterated by her grandmother, and then Jonathan Tate and her best friends, Jill and Melody. The warning was clear. You’re an heiress; people will take advantage of you. But this was more. What she feared ran deeper. She couldn’t have Ben learn her secrets. He’d run for his life.
OLIVIA HARDING is born privileged. She’s a lovely girl, tall and willowy with nut-brown hair and grey eyes. Her father, ALEXANDER, adores her, and like him, she is blessed with a superior IQ. With so much wealth and attention, Olivia craves a normal life.
The silver knife in Olivia’s back is curtesy of her mother, blonde haired, blue eyed, ELIZABETH HARDING. She detests her child for glomming all of Alexander’s time and ruining her perfect body with childbirth. Cruel abuse at her hands plagues Olivia’s childhood and shatters her mind.
Sparks fly when BENNETT THORNTON takes over as the family attorney. Tall, dark, charming, and Harvard educated, Ben entwines them in a sweet romance despite Olivia’s plan to stay emotionally distant in fear of exposing her secrets.
DELILA JENNINGS knows all of Olivia’s secrets. Her earnings as an escort affords her a high-rise apartment she treasures allowing her the freedom she craves. Aqua-blue eyes and short, spiky hair assure a steady clientele.