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Promises (Follow Your Heart Book 3) by Caragh Bell (1)

Chapter 1

The sun dominated the horizon, its fiery rays shooting warm amber colours over the sea’s surface. It went down with the dark silhouette of the palm trees accentuated by the fading light.
Luca took a swig of beer. He lay on the white sand, his shirt open and his bare feet crossed at the ankle. He didn’t know how long he’d be there – he sure as hell didn’t know how many beers he’d had either. It was like every day was rolling into one at this stage: days filled with luau-outs, grass skirts and ukuleles.
His phone buzzed on the sand beside him but he didn’t even check it. He didn’t have to; he knew that it was Charlotte, wondering where he was and what time he’d be back. Could he face another dinner in that cheesy restaurant? Could he drink another cocktail from a hollowed-out pineapple, complete with a crappy pink umbrella and a straw?
He drained his bottle of Bud.
He was sick of Hawaii.
His phone started to ring, its incessant tone disturbing the peace. He had been enjoying the sound of the waves as they crashed on the shore. He liked to watch the sun go down and observe the blackness descending on the island. Now, his cell was obnoxiously ruining all of this.
Wearily, he picked it up. Sure enough it was Charlotte. Her name flashed relentlessly.
‘Hey, babe.’ He sighed.
‘Don’t babe me, Luca. Where are you?’
She sounded annoyed with him. No surprise there.
‘I’m coming now.’
‘I asked where you were.’ Her voice was cold.
‘I said I’m on my way.’ He ended the call.
Pulling himself up, he brushed the sand off his clothes. He could hear the band tuning up in the bar, the discordant twang of guitar strings as they were plucked in sync.
If I have to listen to that frickin’ band once more …
She was sitting at the bar, waiting for him. Her blonde hair was tied in a loose knot and her skin was bronzed from the sun. Dressed uncharacteristically in a bikini and a sarong, she looked relaxed and carefree. It was only her scowl that marred this.
‘I’ve been calling you for hours.’
Her lips pursed unbecomingly: just like Victoria, her mother. He pushed that resemblance from his mind.
‘I was on the beach,’ he said, pulling up a wicker bar stool. ‘Watching the sun go down.’
‘Oh?’ Her eyebrow arched. ‘So, you weren’t with that hula girl again?’ She gulped her cocktail.
‘No, Char. Like I said before, there was never a hula girl. You’re going crazy here.’
‘I saw her, Luca. I saw you two together …’
‘You imagined it.’ He nodded at the barman. ‘A beer, please.’ The small Hawaiian man smiled and started to fill a large glass.
‘More beer?’ she observed disapprovingly. ‘How many do you drink a day?’
‘Not enough,’ he muttered.
His beer was placed in front of him and a long silence ensued. She twiddled with the pink umbrella that was buried in the flesh of the pineapple. He traced the condensation on the outside of his glass, one finger wiping it clean in long systematic strokes.
‘So, I learned to scuba dive earlier,’ she began.
‘That’s cool,’ he said lamely.
‘Miko, my instructor, says I’m really good. He wants to take me to a beach tomorrow where there’s a shipwreck off the rocks.’
‘Cool,’ he repeated, uninterested.
‘Do you want to come?’ Her blue eyes were wide.
‘Nah, you go with Rico and make a day of it.’
‘It’s Miko.’
‘Oh right, Miko.’
A group of British tourists entered the bar, all of them in tearing spirits. The barman scurried over to their table and handed each one a lei. Luca envied their apparent joie de vivre.
‘So, my parents called today.’ Charlotte’s soft voice brought him back to the present.
Luca groaned inwardly. He was still public enemy number one in the du Maurier household.
‘All okay?’ he asked finally, taking a swig of beer.
‘Daddy bought a new car.’
‘That’s great, Char.’ He struggled to focus. Frank du Maurier didn’t interest him.
‘It’s a BMW, just like his last one only bigger. He says it’s really cool.’
He smiled wanly.
‘Momma was wondering if we could spend Thanksgiving with them this year. She wants to book us early.’
Luca shrugged. Women and their plans. He didn’t know what he was doing next week, never mind next November.
‘You got it, babe.’
‘Don’t babe me.’ There was a slight edge to her voice.
He sighed inwardly. ‘Look, I’m going to head back to my room. I want to lie down for a while before dinner.’
‘Your room?’ she said incredulously. ‘We share a goddamn room, Luca. How about I head with you?’
‘Sure, if you want.’ He threw a twenty-dollar bill on the bar. ‘Keep the change!’ he called to the barman.
Charlotte knocked back her cocktail. ‘You shouldn’t waste money like that,’ she berated him, shaking her head. ‘He’ll expect that every time we get a drink.’
Luca closed his eyes. She needed to lighten up. Why did she let these things get to her?
‘Sure, babe. I won’t do it again,’ he said mechanically.
Babe?’ she said sharply.
‘Oh damn, sorry.’ He held out his hand. ‘Are you coming or what?’
She inserted her small hand into his and they walked towards the villas by the beach.

Charlotte walked straight into the bathroom when they reached their room. She banged the door forcibly and Luca could hear the gush of the shower a few seconds later. She sure was angry with him. He didn’t blame her; his mood had been gloomy, to say the least.
The wedding had been a blur; there was no denying it had all passed in a haze. Everyone had been telling him what to do, he had been bombarded with orders and duty. As a result, he hadn’t a chance to think straight. Charlotte had been too busy to talk things through, even though he had asked her a million times. He wanted to tell her the truth; he wanted her to understand that he wasn’t ready. Instead of listening, she had pushed him away. If it wasn’t the dress, it was the hotel. Then she had insisted that they be separated a couple of days before the ceremony. She was so goddamn traditional. As a result, he had been railroaded into everything and it all felt so wrong.
Privately, he suspected her reluctance to engage with him was out of fear that he would break it off. Her main objective was to walk up the aisle, no matter what. In the end, he had accepted it all. It was easier to just go with it; he sure as hell hadn’t the energy to fight anymore.
He laid his head on the cool white pillow and closed his eyes. What was done was done. It was too late to change things now. Anyway, he had nothing to be single for. Lydia didn’t want him; she was gone out of his life forever. He would just have to accept it and be a model husband. Once they got back to New York, things should improve. Mimi’s wedding present of a small apartment overlooking the park was waiting for them. His mom had a big show coming up so he would be real busy with that. Charlotte would go back to the office and immerse herself in work like always.
The sun had almost disappeared and a sombre blackness had descended over the island. He closed his eyes, willing sleep to take over. It was the only time he was free; his dreams were a safe place where he didn’t have to think about reality. Then, for a few blissful moments when he opened his eyes, he would feel happy. Just until he remembered what had happened and the darkness clouded everything again.
Losing her was like a grief; he felt like he was mourning a death. It was well known that time heals everything – he knew that it would all get easier eventually.
It’s just so goddamn hard.
‘Did you see my moisturiser?’ demanded Charlotte, startling him. She stood over the bed, her supple bronzed body wrapped in a fluffy white towel. Her blonde hair was wet from the shower and her smooth shoulders glistened with stray droplets of water.
‘No, Char. Sorry.’
‘I left it on the dresser.’ Her tone was accusatory. ‘It’s Estée Lauder.’
‘Why the fuck would I take it?’ He glared at her.
Charlotte’s eyes widened in shock and he instantly regretted it.
‘Sorry, Char,’ he said genuinely. ‘I’m just tired.’
Her eyes glistened with tears. ‘It’s fine,’ she said in a high voice. ‘Don’t worry about it.’
The bathroom door slammed.

Charlotte rushed to the sink and splashed her hot face with cold water. She willed the tears not to fall. She was tired of crying.
Everything was supposed to work out. Her momma had guaranteed that once the ring was on her finger, things would go back to the way they were before.
She closed her eyes miserably.
Her momma had been wrong.
Luca was different. He looked depressed and was drinking too much. It didn’t take a genius to figure out why. Oh, why did she lie? It felt wrong at the time and now it felt even worse. Every time his phone rang, her heart jumped, terrified that it was Lydia revealing the truth. Sure, she had warned the other girl not to interfere, but she could easily renege on her promise. Luca knew nothing of the alleged pregnancy and she wanted to keep it that way. She had foolishly believed that once Lydia was out of the picture, Luca would lapse back into the man she fell in love with.
A stray tear rolled down her cheek.
Things would never be the same.

After dinner, they went to the bar. The band played the usual music and there was a Yankees game on the big screen. Luca sipped his whiskey and smiled at the barmaid. She was Hawaiian and kept winking at him – with his blond hair he probably looked exotic to her.
Charlotte nodded at the barman. ‘Another sparkling water,’ she said curtly. ‘Luca?’
‘And a whiskey,’ she added.
The barman smiled broadly and set to work. He was a large Hawaiian man with a brightly coloured shirt and a lei around his neck. He was slightly perspiring from the heat as he filled their glasses.
‘I think I’ll call it a night after this,’ she said quietly.
Luca shrugged. ‘I’ll probably stay around for a couple more.’
The barmaid walked past, swaying her hips as she moved. She gave him a hot look as she walked by, her gaze locking with his. Luca looked at her with half-closed eyes.
He was snapped out of it by the sound of sobbing. His head swung around and he saw his new wife was crying uncontrollably at the bar.
‘Char!’ He was by her side in a flash. ‘What’s up? Hey now, come on. Stop crying.’
He pulled her into his strong arms and rubbed her back. Her hair smelt of lavender.
‘This is a disaster, Luca. A total joke.’
‘What? The hotel? I like it.’ He kissed her temple.
‘No,’ she sniffed. ‘Not the hotel, you schmuck! You and me. Our honeymoon. It’s awful, I just hate it.’ She started to sob again, her body heaving as she cried.
‘Come on, Char. Why are you so upset? I’m having a good time.’ He closed his eyes and tried to sound convincing.
‘Don’t talk that way,’ she sobbed. ‘You’re lying, I just know it.’
‘Not even,’ he protested. ‘Come on, I’ll take you back to the villa.’
The barman placed their drinks on the counter at that very moment.
‘Thanks, buddy,’ said Luca.
He stood, picked up his glass and threw back the whiskey.
‘Let’s go, Char,’ he said, reaching out and taking her hand.
They set out for the villa, walking along the beach.
Charlotte pulled herself together. ‘Hey, sorry about that,’ she began, halting their progress.
Luca kissed her lips slowly. He knew exactly why she was crying. It was all his fault. He had been such a terrible husband so far.
‘Hey, now,’ he said softly. ‘I haven’t been great, Char. I know it. I guess it was the stress of the wedding.’
She gazed up at him, her blue eyes wide.
‘I’m sorry. Can we try again?’
She nodded wordlessly.
‘Come on, let’s go back to our room.’ He emphasised the ‘our’.
She wrapped her arm around his waist. ‘You got it.’

Their bed had been dressed while they were out at dinner. The crumpled sheets he had vacated a few hours before were now straight, crisp and clean.
She pulled her dress up over her head and faced him wearing only her panties and bra. Luca took a deep breath. She was so beautiful. Any man would kill to have her. He forced himself to focus and pulled his T-shirt over his head. She lay back on the bed, unhooking her bra slowly.
‘Kiss me,’ she commanded, releasing her blonde hair from its braid.
Closing his eyes, he joined her on the bed and, without thinking, he kissed her passionately. He could feel her naked breasts against his chest and he forced himself to focus on that.
‘Oh, Luca, I need you now!’ she gasped, yanking his shorts down.
Don’t mess this up, he urged himself silently. He could feel his concentration waning.
He pulled at her panties more forcibly than intended and there was a ripping sound. Leaning down, he kissed her again. He needed to stay focused. He needed to do this.
Parting her legs, he entered her without hesitation. Closing his eyes, he began to thrust. Over and over until he could feel his orgasm coming closer.
Keep it going, Jacob. Don’t think. Don’t think.
‘Oh, Luca, keep going, keep going!’ she wailed, scratching his back.
He came at that moment and slumped on her chest. She kissed his forehead and cradled him close.
‘I’ve missed you,’ she crooned, stroking his hair. ‘That was awesome.’
He didn’t reply: he couldn’t. Sex had never been a chore before. Now it felt like a duty – he felt like it was expected.
He could screw any girl better than the next guy – that wasn’t the problem.
He just wished it was Lydia. He wished he was making love to Lydia.