“So, this is how the other half lives?”
Gabriel Brooks turned to his right where his best friend, Noah Carter, sat in their limousine. He grinned to hear the awe in Noah’s voice. The nerdy college kid he’d met at Harvard was his right-hand man at a growing biotech company, but he was still a small-town boy at heart. “Not the other half, more like the half percent,” he clarified with a hint of pride.
Billionaires were an oddity, or more precisely, one in 3.7 million, the last time Gabriel had checked. And as one of the world’s youngest billionaires at thirty-five, he was an even rarer find. He ran a hand through his dark hair, feeling the weight of his gold Cartier watch, one of the few items he had splurged on. Having rushed from the office straight to the airport to catch his flight early this morning, he couldn’t wait to change out of his suit and into some comfortable clothes.
“My mind is blown. Seriously.” With his hands on either side of his head, Noah opened his fists and made a whooshing sound. “This is going to be an amazing vacation. I can’t wait to see your new place.”
They were on their way to the estate villa Gabriel had recently purchased on the Big Island of Hawaii. He had been showing Noah pictures of the elaborate resort on his phone as they traveled along Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway. Noah gawked at photo after photo, including one of a lush green golf course flanked by tall, swaying palm trees. Another picture showed off a covered lanai and a private infinity-edged swimming pool with a view of a sparkling blue ocean. The property even had its own tropical floral gardens. Even though Gabriel wasn’t a stranger to such lavishness, the beauty of the place still made his jaw drop. He could only imagine how Noah felt.
“Thanks for asking me to come,” Noah remarked. “You’re sure it’s okay for me to crash your family vacation?”
Gabriel chuckled. “Of course. Laurene actually said she prefers you to me and Devon any day.”
“She said that?”
If Gabriel wasn’t mistaken, Noah’s complexion had reddened at the mention of his sister’s name. “You’re like an honorary brother. Besides, I want you to see this trip as a small token of my appreciation for all you’re doing to help boost the company’s productivity. Bringing you on board was the best business decision I made last year.” He raised the glass of champagne he’d been drinking for a toast. “Here’s to health, happiness, and more groundbreaking medical breakthroughs.”
“I’ll drink to that,” Noah chimed in as he clinked his glass with Gabriel’s then took a sip.
Gabriel leaned back in his plush seat and marveled at how good he had it these days. A practically endless supply of money to pay the bills. His dream car, a sleek jet black Bugati Veyron. A 14,000-square-foot mansion in Atherton, one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the Bay Area. And now a fully staffed and elegantly furnished vacation home.
Life hadn’t always been handed to him on a silver platter though. Up until five years ago, he’d been a researcher at a startup company in Silicon Valley. Little did he know his whole life would change after his father passed and left him, along with his two siblings, a billion dollars each.
The secrets had all come out in an attorney’s office on a summer day much like today. Their father had done well in his lifetime, moving up in the ranks at a tech company until he made it to CFO. Not one to spend money on anything frivolous, he had invested his earnings in real estate then kept the fortune he’d made a secret from the entire family.
Gabriel appreciated how their father had raised them to value education and hard work. Becoming a billionaire hadn’t changed the way he used money; he still counted every penny. The extra zeroes in his portfolio did allow him the freedom, however, to pursue his passions. He’d founded NeoGene Corporation with his brother, Devon, to help further cancer research. He had also started traveling more. Hawaii was just one destination where he frequented, but it was his favorite.
“There’s one more thing we should’ve drank to,” Noah piped up suddenly.
“One more?” Gabriel quirked a brow. “I’m pretty sure I covered all the bases. What else is there?”
“Love.” Crinkles appeared around Noah’s hazel eyes as he smiled. When he spotted Gabriel’s droll expression, he clarified further. “I’m talking about a woman, Gabe. All our Harvard mates except for the two of us are married. We’re officially in our mid-thirties now. It’s time to start thinking about settling down. Don’t you agree?”
“Love?” Gabriel spat out the word as if it were coated with bitterness. Not to mention sprinkled with regret. He’d been burned enough times by women who had dated him only for his money. “I don’t do love. Or marriage. Work keeps me busy enough and satisfied,” he added for good measure. The whole idea of relying on a person for fulfillment sounded desperate and foolish. He was neither. “I have everything I want.”
“Sure, you have everything money can buy. But what about the things you can’t buy, like the support of a strong, faithful woman?”
Gabriel scoffed. “I’ve yet to meet such a woman. If one does exist, I’d be willing to pay money to meet her.”
Their limousine slowed and came to a stop. Gabriel’s shoulders relaxed, relieved to see Noah’s attention shift to the beautiful scenery outside.
Seconds later, their driver opened the door and greeted them with fresh leis as they stepped out. “Aloha, Mr. Brooks, Mr. Carter. Please go ahead. I’ll bring your luggage in for you.”
Gabriel thanked the driver then took a long, deep breath. The sweet scent of plumeria flowers filled his senses, calming him. This vacation was just what he needed. Some time away from the office. Disconnecting from the pressures of board meetings, financial statements, and sales forecasts. Just him, his siblings, and his best friend spending time together in paradise.
A wave of peace washed over him as he began leading Noah up the walkway toward the villa. “Come on, let’s get settled in. Since Laurene and Devon aren’t arriving until tonight, you can have first dibs on any room you want.” He winked at Noah as he opened the front door.
Upon entering, Gabriel’s gaze swept the large sitting room, taking in the familiar vaulted ceiling, stone flooring, and the stunning ocean views from every angle. His eyes stopped, however, when they landed on the one thing—or person rather—that didn’t belong.
A petite blonde woman stood next to a large hand-carved Hawaiian drum, wearing nothing but a white robe. Her face was natural-looking, devoid of any makeup. Other than some dark circles under her eyes, she had a healthy flush to her cheeks. Jaw slack, she gaped at them and shrieked, “Who are you, and what are you doing in my house?”
Heat rushed up Gabriel’s neck as memories from high school suddenly flooded his mind. It’d been over a dozen years since he’d last seen her, but he’d recognize those big blue eyes and pouty lips anywhere. Seraphina James, Ms. Trust Fund Baby herself. What was his high school nemesis doing in his vacation home?