The day deserved to be escaped. It was dark, dismal, and wet. Storm clouds rolled in from the Pacific Ocean as I rolled out of bed. Waves crashing hard against the sand below the cliffs at Point Conception were muffled only by the wind howling against my window. It reflects how most of us have felt lately. The rough waters my family have faced recently, hasn’t made for a smooth sailing year. But this trip marks the end of the storm and the high seas we’ve weathered. From now on, I hope for smooth sailing and good weather.
The past year we’ve lost so much and gained too little. We lost Adam, Aiden’s father, to his greedy nature. Although none of us can truly say it was a great loss. The selfish bastard was given just enough rope by Grandma and hung himself, so to speak. He’s not dead, not yet. But by the time he finishes serving his time in prison, he just might want to be. I know he’ll never be accepted into this family again. Even Grandma has had enough. That’s saying a lot.
Grandma, Georgia Bradford, is the woman I can only hope to be one day. She’s the matriarch of this family. The backbone, the glue, and the heart of all of us. We wouldn’t be who we are without her. Because of her we managed to save Riley from her dark hole she’d fallen into. But I worry that the price has been too high for her. Grandma hasn’t been herself in the weeks since Riley was brought home. Riley has been different too.
Not that I blame her. Riley hasn’t had an easy time, even when she thought it was getting better, things only turned darker for her. Between the drama of my family and the stress she faced Riley’s been a shell of who she once was. Losing her one constant, her Dad, Ben, it almost broke her. But Grandma has been here for her, she’s helping Riley pick up the pieces and begin the healing process.
We lost Ben because of Adam’s conniving ways. Going to Arizona to pay him off, just because Adam didn’t want Aiden to be with Riley was the most despicable decision. Adam sealed both their fates when he refused to accept Ben’s refusal to be bought. He ended up killing Ben in a car accident and poor Riley was devastated by her loss. We got lucky, she didn’t blame the rest of us. But she’s still grieving and needs this time away to mourn, to get her life back and decide what the future holds. Aiden has his hands full this summer, trying to bring her back to us.
Aiden lost the most. My cousin, who has been more of a brother to me, has had his world torn apart. His Dad will be going to prison-hopefully, for a long time. Riley, his girlfriend, has been lost to her grief, and Aiden’s career has been suspended indefinitely. At least he got the surgery on his shoulder a few weeks ago. He can begin the long road of recovery and hopefully will get to practice at camp in Arizona once football season begins.
I think everyone is grateful he’s going on this trip, hoping it will sweeten his sour mood of late. I can’t blame him. The guy’s in pain -physical and emotional- and almost lost his career. Almost, he’s lucky Matt is the best at what he does. Our uncle was his saving grace. With consistent physical therapy and a lot of hard work, Aiden will be back in the game and work his way to the active squad in Arizona before he can blink.
This trip also marks new beginnings for a lot of us. Sawyer and Aiden graduated last week. Finishing college and moving into the world of adulthood. Sawyer will be moving to New York in the fall and begin work in the Bradford Engineering structural engineering development department. He’s going to be great and we’ll all miss him. But like the rest of the family, he’ll be back for every holiday, birthday and emergency phone call.
Riley has the heaviest choice to make still. Does she stay in California or move back to Arizona and run her Dad’s diner? Matt worked his magic and secured Aiden a position in Arizona, just in case Riley chooses to go. I think she will. Something just tells me, they’ll be gone by fall.
The rest of us have another year. So this summer break is needed, to clear out the past and make way for our future. Whatever that might hold. I need to make a fresh start and focus on myself for a change. After being dragged into so much family drama this year, I’m looking forward to some peace and quiet on the island. Toes in the sand, sun on my face and let the wind blow my troubles away.
As a Bradford, I’m weighted with certain expectations. My father, Blake, was the top quarterback in the league. When he retired and took over Bradford Engineering it was a shock to everyone. My Dad lived to play the game. But Uncle Adam cut his dream short. So Uncle Cade, Matt and Lance are all helping him along. Even Mom is working with him since she heads up Drake Construction now that grandpa Alan has retired.
I chose to go into the advertising field. Believing that the two companies are essentially one anyway, I knew that I wanted to be like my mom and run my own area of the business. I’ve always looked up to her. She’s more like Grandma than anyone else. There’s no one else I’d rather try to be.
After pulling myself together and blocking out the misery of weather facing our travel plans today, I finished packing and dragged my bags downstairs to the front door. Smelling the wonderful scent of bacon frying and the sweet scent of Grandma’s pancakes, I headed for the kitchen where the guy’s were already waiting to eat.
“There she is! Can we eat now?” Sawyer begged, reaching for the platter of eggs.
“No! Touch that and you won’t see another strip of bacon, young man! Where’s Colby and Riley?” Grandma asked, looking around the room at the hungry male faces.
“Riley’s coming she was on the phone with Fran.” Uh oh. Aiden isn’t too happy about that call.
Grandma looks to the doorway and back to the platters of food. Her internal debate over whether to go check on Riley and risk the boys eating everything or manning the food is processing the situation. Mom settled it for her. With a wave to Grandma, she got up and went to see what Riley needed.
We all knew there were problems with the diner. Not just that the location was bad, but they haven’t been making bills lately. Ben kept his financial worries away from Riley. Since his death she’s discovered a lot of issues and now she’s ladened with them. Grandma and Dad have offered to help, but Riley’s politely refused. She doesn’t want to be in debt to anyone.
It’s one of the most annoying and most impressive things about her. As frustrating as it can be, I appreciate that she wants to be independent. Too many times, I’ve been used by girls who wanted a free ride by Aiden or one of the other guys. They’d used me to get to them and it always ended up ugly. Riley did everything she could to not take anything from any of us. I knew by her actions she was a keeper.
The road for Aiden and Riley has been rocky from the beginning, but I’ve never seen Aiden more determined to make it work. He changed for her. When he fell, no other girl existed. He was hers and that was it for Aiden. It gives me hope that someday I might find that too.
My love life is much less exciting. Much less passionate and well, just less. I thought this past spring when Wyatt and I agreed to pretend to be a couple, that there was actually something else there. Boy, was I wrong. He’s just like the rest of the guys I know and only wants to hang out with my family. Not with me, but Aiden, Harper, and Sawyer, Landon, and even Colin and Chase, my twin younger brothers. I’m last on the totem pole again.
Whatever dream I had about Wyatt and I getting together was just that, a dream. I guess the best I can hope for is a friendship with him. He was there for me when I needed to vent and a shoulder to cry on when Grandma had surgery and Adam’s deceit was discovered. I appreciate that he was there for me but when things settled down it all went right back to normal. He’ll never see me as anything more than a sister.
Rushing into the room with Mom on her heels, Riley looks frazzled once again. I have a sneaky suspicion that juggling school and the diner is going to be too much for her. I know she wants to keep the diner for her dad, but she can’t quit school. She’s too close to finishing.
“I’m sorry. Fran was having trouble with the stove and anyway, we’ll get it fixed.” Riley explains as she sits down next to Aiden.
Grandma raises her eyebrows at Mom who turns away from us and whispers something to Grandma. Mom grabs the pitcher of juice and platter of waffles and brings them to the table.
Grandma doesn’t say anything, but I see the look that passes between her and Mom. She wants to help Riley. And knowing Grandma, she’s going to do it right after we get on the plane. My bet is the stove and anything else that needs to be fixed will be taken care of before we get back from our trip.
It took a lot of work to get Riley to agree to come with us. Aiden managed to convince her, telling her it wasn’t going to cost her a thing. We are taking the family jet, so no airfare, we’re staying on the family island, no hotel cost, we already have plenty of food, drink, and entertainment ready to go. It’s a week to just relax at no cost to her, which she desperately needs and deserves. In the end, Riley was hesitantly convinced.
“Let’s eat, so you can get going. I know you guys are excited to get on your trip.” Mom moves the platters to the big butcher block table. Grandma has had this table for as long as I can remember. And every holiday, birthday and family gathering this is where we end up.
Conversation rolls into a rumble of voices over bites of food and guzzling drinks. Excitement over the trip, talk about the summer football camp when we get back, and plans for the summer break, fill our time. Food is devoured, drinks are swallowed and in less than two hours we were piling into the car for the airport.
“Wyatt and the Segler boys will meet you at the plane. Please wait for them this time.” Dad orders us as we hug each of them before climbing in.
“We will, Blake. Thanks for this.” Aiden shakes dad’s hand and gives mom a kiss.
After everything with Adam, Chloe has been keeping her distance from everyone. She was hurt just as badly as Aiden and I think is embarrassed about going along with his scheming against Riley. I don’t think she really feels that Riley is a bad choice for Aiden but that she was afraid of what Adam would have done to her. The whole thing was messed up. Chloe isn’t over it yet and I’m afraid Aiden and Riley still have some convincing to do.
After Adam’s hearing Chloe made an apology to the family and Grandma told her she was family. She wouldn’t turn her back on Chloe as long as she didn’t continue contact with Adam. Chloe’s in a tough position and I wonder what she’s going to do.
Her relationship with Aiden has suffered. Fortunately for Aiden he’s got Mom and Dad. They’ve always been more of parents to him than his own. I know they love him as if Aiden was their own. And Aiden has always been a big brother to me. He’s got a stable family to hold onto when his parents failed him. He’s lucky not everyone has that.
“You keep Riley from worrying about the diner. I’ve got it taken care of.” Grandma whispers to Aiden. “And don’t you tell her a thing, sugar. Beckett will get there today and start working on it. It’ll be good as new by the time she gets there.” Yep! I knew she’d get her way.
“Thanks, Grandma. I know Riley will appreciate it once she gets past her own road blocks. No wild parties while we’re gone. I don’t wanna have to fly back here to post your bail.” His tease makes Grandma laugh.
“Party pooper! I’ll wait until you get back then but I’m having my birthday party! I expect you to be back for it!” She’s been excited for weeks over this birthday.
Grandma doesn’t usually celebrate her birthday but this is a big one for her. Mama said she’s going to be 75 this year and wants to have a big bash for it. I know Laney and Callie have been busy with the plans for it. It’s going to be a party like we’ve never seen.
“Hunter, sugar. You watch out for the others now. I trust you to call me if you need anything.” Grandma always puts me and Aiden in charge.
“I will, Grandma. Love you.” I don’t think there’s a better woman in the world. Giving her a hug, I hold onto her.
“Get Wyatt to look at you, sugar. Don’t take no for an answer this time. That boy needs a wake up call.” Pulling back I open and close my mouth not knowing what to say to her. “As if I don’t know how you feel about him. Please child, nothing gets past me.”
She’s right about that.
Turning around, Dad envelopes me into a big bear hug. Squeezing my inners and making me squeal, just like when I was little. Cupping my face, he kisses both my cheeks and nose. Resting his forehead to mine he holds me for a long moment.
“Love you, pumpkin. Call your Mama when you get there. And if there’s any bad storms, you lock down. The Caribbean is known for its hurricanes.” Dad warns me again about the weather, even though we aren’t going during hurricane season. I know he’s worried.
It’s the first time we’ve gone to the island without him. “I will, Daddy. Love you too.”
“And make sure Wyatt knows I’ll know if he touches you.” Dad warns me, making me pause.
“He’s kidding, Hunter. Have a good time.” Mom wraps around Dad pulling him back.
“I’m not kidding.” Dad protests but Mom kisses him then me. Ending his protest.
“Bye.” I escape as fast as I can. Kissing him and Mom goodbye, I crawl in with the others and grin at my family around me.
It’s going to be the best summer ever.
“Move your ass, Roan! Aiden said the plane is leaving at ten! I’m not missing this trip because of you!” Yelling at my dumbass cousin to hurry up is useless. I swear, he’s stalling just to piss me off.
“I want to go too. You guys are so lucky.” Sarah grinned at me. I wish she was going instead of her brother too. I still don’t know how these two are related, they're nothing alike.
Sarah moved to California this spring and started working for Georgia. Not that Georgia doesn’t already have Laney and Cade’s assistant Callie has been helping her too. I’m sure if Sarah asked Georgia she would have let her come with us. But Sarah is responsible and isn’t going to give up her chance to work out here before school starts in the fall. There’s plenty to keep her busy, that’s for sure.
“You’re so interested in this stupid trip, you go!” Roan gripes as he dumps his bag by the door. If he expects me to carry his crap out to the car he’s lost his marbles.
“You’ve got two hands, you can carry your own shit.” I mutter softly and turn away from Roan before we get into a fight before we even leave.
I still don’t know what Dad and Uncle Reese were thinking about telling Roan he has to come with us. It’s not like he’s friends with the Bradford’s, or that he even wants to come. All he’s been doing since his dad told him about this trip is bitch and moan.
“Wyatt! Try and get along please.” Dad comes out to see us off.
“Why? It’s not like he will. I just want to enjoy this trip with my friends, Dad. Roan doesn’t even like them.” I explain as Mom comes out with Roan.
Putting his bag in the car, Roan gets in without a word to any of them. “He needs you. You were friends once, Wy. Something is wrong with him, I think you’re the one who can help him.” Mom quietly tells me.
“I’m sure you’ll get your alone time with Hunter. Don’t worry, Wyatt.” Dad teases me. Rolling my eyes I walk away from them and to the car. “Have fun!”
“Love you, Wy!” Mom waves curling her arms around Dad’s waist.
Getting into the car, I drive off. Roan puts his earbuds in and crosses his arms over his chest, closes his eyes effectively blocking me out. The guy may have his problems but he has no intention of letting me help him. I’m not spending my entire vacation trying to get him to open up. He screwed up our friendship, it’s his problem.
If he screws up my chance with Hunter, I’m going to kick his ass. No one on that island will stop me either. I’ve finally got an opportunity to get Hunter alone for a while. No press, no family and no distractions. I can finally figure out where I stand with her. He’s not going to ruin it.
I’ve been friends with the Bradford’s since I was a kid. Matt McConnell works with Kayleigh and my family as their sports management center. He’s awesome and has already started looking for a place for me at the end of this next year. But he’s our link.
The Segler’s are to baseball as the Bradford’s are to football. We just aren’t nearly as big, rich, or famous. Uncle Nate’s baseball career ended pretty fast. But he got his name with his baseball camp he started with Mom. Dad’s lasted longer mainly because of Mom. She was his batting coach and helped him get back into the game when he was sure his career was over. Dad ended up getting a great contract with Colorado and ended his career there a few years back.
Uncle Reese is the big guy. He’s the one who had the career. One Roan despises him for. Reese moved away from the family to New York and it ended up being the best decision for him. He and Molly got married a few years later and Reese was at the top of his game when Roan was born. The pressure was put on him after Sarah was born and Reese put Roan into baseball.
The guy has talent. I should know, I’ve been playing with him from the beginning. Every season we were on the same teams, every year Reese and Mom trained us. We couldn’t have asked for better coaches but it was too much for Roan. He couldn’t stand being seen as Reese Tateman’s kid. I was grateful the connection opened doors for me.
Including the one that got me connected to the Bradford’s. I never thought of becoming a football player. I just wanted baseball. But that connection got me into college and on a good team. I was one of the few outside of football allowed to live in the frat house with the Bradford’s. Because of that connection I met Hunter.
She got my attention from the first time I saw her, but she didn’t show me any interest. I could only look from a distance and accepted that I was permanently friend zoned. We were just kids at the time but man I wanted her to see me. It didn’t happen but Aiden and the guys became good friends. Roan had a chip on his shoulders and the guys didn’t like it. He got pushed back while I got pulled in.
I knew where Aiden was going to end up. We all did. He’s a Bradford. But when Hunter went there too. Luck fell my way.
I just happened to end up at the same college as my friends and their family. I applied and hoped, when I was accepted with a baseball scholarship I was thrilled. Roan didn’t qualify, his grades sucked and the wall between him and Reese was getting higher.
Dad talked to Georgia about it and they agreed to try with him. I know he figured I would be able to get through to him but Roan wasn’t the person he was. He’d changed into someone I don’t know or like.
“Don’t expect me to sit around a campfire singing kumbaya with you and your friends. I’m only going because I have to. I won’t be hanging out with you.” Roan mutters, not even looking in my direction.
“Fine with me. I didn’t want you coming anyway. Just stay out of trouble. I don’t want to be embarrassed by your bullshit!” Growling back, I turned onto the freeway.
Roan will do something stupid. He always does. Just like at Georgia’s party, he’ll do whatever he wants and screw anyone else. As long as he steers clear of Hunter we’ll be fine. He doesn’t, then we’re going to have a problem.
I’ve always liked Hunter. She’s one of the few girls who would play ball, football or baseball with us. She wasn’t fussy and girlie like some who just wanted to show off in front of us. She actually played the game. She was fun and sarcastic and man, she could throw a ball.
Pulling up at the airfield, I park my car in the far lot and Roan and I walk out, dragging our bags to the waiting plane just as the black limo pulls up. One by one the Bradford’s get out of the car as the driver and pilot help load the luggage.
Going right to the guy’s, I’m greeted with handshakes and fist bumps while Roan just leaves his bag with the rest and walks onto the plane. No hello’s, no thanks for inviting us, nothing. Unappreciative ass.
“I’m sorry about him. I wasn’t given a choice.” I softly apologize to Aiden.
“Don’t worry about it. His behavior doesn’t reflect on you, Wyatt. We know who you are. He’s the one who has something to prove. Let’s get this party started. I’m ready for vacation.”