Home, sweet home.
I stood at the window in my brand new office, looking out over the business district and beyond it toward the area I would be redeveloping soon. Movers and decorators did their thing behind me, but I ignored them all, focusing instead on where I was.
I never thought I’d be back here for good. Eight years ago after high school, I left for college and I’d thought that was it. That I’d done my time here and was moving on. And I did move on.
For eight long years, I moved on. I made my home someplace else, got a degree in business, ended up in real estate, and started my own company.
But now, I’m back.
That damn word kept bouncing around in my head, not quite sticking but not quite leaving either. It was too weird for me to get my head wrapped around it. A foreign concept that I’d never expected would apply to me again.
Life had happened while I was making other plans. There was no way to get around the truth of the old saying. I hadn’t planned on coming back here, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t excited as fuck about it.
Anticipation shot hot and heavy through my veins. From my window thirty stories up, I could make out the edge of the area that would soon look very different—the area that had brought me home.
And once I turned those ugly-ass apartment buildings into some high-quality, nice-looking condos interspersed with parks and green spaces, the entire district would be unrecognizable. I would improve the city that raised me, and I was looking forward to that.
People would actually want to live there once I was done, and the condos would bring in a lot more money, too. This project would take years to complete, but it was the biggest thing I’d ever done.
When I was approached with the contract to do it, I didn’t think twice before I signed on the dotted line. The opportunity to completely redevelop three city blocks didn’t come knocking every day, and although it meant moving back here, I didn’t hesitate.
Fuck that. I never hesitate. I might not have expected to move home, but I was nothing if not adaptable. Plus, the money I’d be getting out of it made it more than worth my while to yank up the roots of the company and move it all down south.
So here we are. Back where it all started. Back home.
The low hum of the work continuing behind me made another thrill shoot through me. Before the end of business today, we’d be all moved in, occupying the top story of a building that made me feel like the king of the castle, able to look out over the unsuspecting masses who had no idea yet that I was coming for them.
But I was. And soon.
I grinned, tempted to rub my palms together like an evil villain, even though I wasn’t one. Frankly, these people were lucky I was here. The district I would be getting stuck into as of tomorrow morning was a blight on the city. It was run down, old, and in desperate need of a revamp.
As I stood there looking out over what would soon be my kingdom and my legacy, my gaze drifted further afield to another part of the city. The part where I used to live.
I couldn’t see my old house or school from here, but I knew exactly where they were. My parents had lived there until they’d retired to Montana, and a bunch of the people I’d known once upon a time still lived there. So much had changed, but they hadn’t. Or at least, I didn’t think they had. As far as I knew, the others who had never left this city were still exactly the same.
Most notably among them was Tristan Hayes, who was, strangely, still my best friend. We hadn’t seen each other much in person since I’d left, but we still talked a lot. When I’d gone off to college, I’d reconciled myself with the eventuality that we would lose touch. But it just never happened.
We had promised to talk at least once a month, and somehow, we’d kept the damn promise. Still did. Even after all these years, I’d never met someone who’d taken his place in my life. I had other friends, sure, a lot of them, but Tristan was like a brother to me. We’d grown up together and our bond was as undeniable as it was unbreakable.
Well, almost unbreakable. There was one thing that would tear us apart faster than a rip in the earth during a massive earthquake. One thing that he’d never forgive me for, regardless of all the transgressions he’d pardoned me for in the past. One thing Tristan Hayes could never, ever find out about me or I’d lose the only brother I’d ever had.
And that one thing had a name. Tessa.
Tessa Hayes, to be exact. She was his sister, and not just any sister. His twin sister. The guy was worse than a bull in a China shop about her. He’d burn the world to the ground if he thought someone had wronged her. Hurt her.
And while I hadn’t done either of those things, I had fucked her. Which, in his eyes, would be just as bad. The unforgivable sin. The ultimate act of betrayal.
Back in high school, we’d literally beat up a guy just for asking her out. Tristan had been convinced the guy wanted into her pants—and I’d agreed—but before he’d even gotten near her, Tristan caught wind of his intention to ask Tessa to the school dance, and he’d lost his shit.
All of it.
Shoot first and ask questions later. That was how he was about her. A fucking beast. A force to be reckoned with. And I didn’t blame him.
As soon as her tits had come in, the girl had become a magnet for guys. With her curvy figure, strawberry blonde hair, and bright blue eyes, she’d been little at five-foot-five, but she’d been fierce—and hot as hell.
She probably still was. It had been a deadly combination, and one that had made a lot of heads turn her way.
I hadn’t seen her in eight years. Not since the night before I’d left. The night I’d finally given in to what I’d wanted since my balls had dropped and those curves had appeared. The night I’d become the cliché, the quintessential high school graduate who’d felt like the world would end if I didn’t have her before I left for college.
I fucked my best friend’s sister and took the virginity that she’d willingly and happily handed to me on a silver fucking platter.
While I had plans to meet up with Tristan soon, I hadn’t so much as spoken to her since that night. I’d barely even talked about her with Tristan. I didn’t know how she was doing, what she was doing, or what the hell was happening in her life.
Tristan mentioned her occasionally when we spoke, so I knew she was still in town, but that was about it. After that night, I’d shut her out.
Out of my head.
Out of my life.
I’d had to. I hadn’t been in love with her or anything—at least I didn’t think I had been—but at that point, I’d been crushing on her a long time.
It hadn’t just gone away after we’d slept together. If anything, it got worse. My feelings for her had gotten out of control with one simple thrust of my hips, and I’d known that if anything or anyone had the power to derail the plans I’d had for my future, it had been her.
As I looked out over the neighborhood where I used to live, I wondered if she was still there. Now that I was back in town, I also wondered if we’d catch up sometime. It’d be good to see her. The one I’d left behind.
I wasn’t still carrying a torch for her or anything quite as juvenile as that, but she’d been my friend once, too. With Tristan and I being as close as we had been and them having been as close as only two people who’d once shared a womb could be, my friendship with Tessa had been an inevitability.
According to Tristan, we’d been a tripod. Imagine his surprise if he ever finds out that the sight of his sister in a bikini had turned me into a fucking tripod.
All those summer days we’d spent swimming together at their house had been my own personal hell. Torture in the shape of a sparkling blue bikini. God, I’d jerked off to her so much back then, there had been times I’d thought I was about to rip my dick clean off if I did it again.
Obviously, I didn’t rip it off, but fuck, I’d spent all those summer days hard as a fucking rock and terrified that Tristan would find out why. When he’d noticed the bulge in my pants—and he had, often—I’d laughed it off. Pretended it was nothing more than the unwanted erections of a teenage boy who hadn’t learned to control it yet.
Miraculously, it had worked. He’d bought it and my secret had remained intact. Even if I’d sometimes wondered if he’d really believed me or if he’d simply chosen not to question me because he hadn’t wanted to know.
“Dawson?” Conrad’s voice piped up behind me, and I wiped the smile brought on by all these memories off my face.
As soon as I turned to face my right-hand man and chief operations officer, my mind was clear. It would be interesting to see the Hayes twins again, but right then I had bigger, more important fish to fry.
“What is it?” I asked, blinking in surprise when I realized my office was practically ready to go. All I had to do was plug in the computer and I’d be able to start working.
Holy shit. All this just while I was zoned out? I was impressed. The furnishings were modern and expensive, befitting of the kind of project we’d be running here for the next few years.
As he waited for the last of the interior decorators to leave my office once she’d straightened a potted fern in the corner, Conrad’s dark eyes caught on mine. As soon as she was gone, he shut the door and marched over to my glass-topped desk and dropped into the comfortable-looking armchair across from it.
“I just got off the phone with our lawyers,” he said, his tone brisk. “Our legal issues are coming. They’re going to start sending out the notices soon, so we need to be prepared for any backlash that might come our way once people find out they’re being evicted.”
I nodded, shaking off the last lingering thoughts of the past and focusing completely on the issue at hand as I sat down behind my desk for the first time. “What do we know about their leases?”
“Most are on month-to-month, so all we have to do is give thirty days’ notice that we’re not renewing, which is what the lawyers are about to start doing. The ones on long-term leases might present a little more of a challenge, though. Those are the people the lawyers are worried about.”
My eyes narrowed as I considered what he’d said. “Well, we knew this coming. The lawyers should be ready for it. Are they? Because if not, we might need to get rid of them and hire a new firm.”
“Let’s not pull the trigger on any decisions like that yet,” he said confidently. “I’m certain we’ll be able to find a way to get the longer-term tenants out early. All they need to do is find a new place to live, right? It can’t be that fucking hard.”
I arched a brow at him, sighing as I tilted my head. “You’d think, but it won’t be quite that simple. To be honest, I’m expecting a fight, which is why I need you back on the phone with the lawyers as soon as we’re done here. Make sure they’re ready before they even start printing those damn notices. Once they do, I have a feeling all hell is going to break loose and we won’t be able to put the genie back in the bottle. Whatever comes our way, we need to be prepared for it before we do anything we can’t take back.”
He rose immediately, ready as always to carry out my instructions as soon as I issued them. “I’ll get them on the line. Any particular reason you’re worried?”
I looked directly into his eyes as I tried to give a voice to the feeling in my gut. “We just need to be ready, is all. As necessary as they are, there’s always some pushback to projects like this. I won’t be caught on the back foot or with my fucking pants down. Just make sure our ducks are in a row before someone starts shooting them down one by one.”
“Aye, aye, Captain.” He nodded before turning on his heel and pulling his phone out before he even reached the door.
As I watched him go, I leaned back in my chair, wondering if Conrad had any idea about the storm that was likely about to hit us. As confident as he was that people would simply find new housing, I wasn’t so sure. Because it wasn’t that simple.
A lot of people would likely have nowhere easy to go once we started knocking down those buildings, and they wouldn’t give up the roofs they could afford over their heads just like that. We were in for a fight. I just didn’t know who it would be against quite yet.