Treasure MeOlivia Cunning
Kellen watched the heart monitor, his own heart skipping a beat when Sara’s pulse rate unexpectedly jumped dozens of points at once.
He turned his head to look at her and found her brilliant blue eyes open and fixed on him for the first time in days. Her eyes were the only part of her recognizable. Her face had hollowed, lips gone as pale as the sallow skin surrounding them. Her long blond hair had fallen out months ago. But her eyes, her eyes were always the same, even though the morphine keeping her comfortable made them glassy.
“Sara.” Her name erupted as a broken whisper.
“How long have you been sitting there?” she asked. Even her voice was foreign—tired and weak and hoarse—when it had once been so vibrant and passionate, especially when she shared her ardent opinions.
Kellen had been sitting at her bedside for days. Maybe a full week by now—he couldn’t be sure. “It doesn’t matter. How are you feeling?”
“Tired,” she whispered, and her eyelids fluttered. Her wince of pain had his gaze darting to her IV bags to make sure her morphine drip hadn’t gone empty. “It’s almost time for me to go.”
He chuckled and squeezed her frail hand. “You still have a lot more healing to do before they let you out of this place.”
“That’s not what I meant.” Her eyes opened once more and fixed on his. “I’m not getting better.”
He knew that. The doctors knew that. All their friends and family knew she would never leave the sterile hospital alive, but no one ever said it aloud because reality was too fucking depressing to comprehend, much less put into words.
Kellen leaned in to kiss her cheek, the salt of her tears teasing his tongue. It took him a moment to realize that he was the one crying, not her. She’d always been stronger than him.
Her hand moved as if she wanted to touch him, but she gave up the effort after a few seconds. “After I’m gone—”
“No.” If they admitted she was going to die, if they said the words, he’d lose his grip on the thin threads of hope he so desperately clung to. Hope was the only thing he had left. He couldn’t lose that as well.
“Kelly, please listen. I don’t have the strength to argue. I barely have enough to speak.”
“Then stop,” he said. “Save your strength for living.”
“After I’m gone . . .”
He tried to cut her off again, but his throat had closed with anguish, and he couldn’t get another word out.
“. . . I want you to find someone to love you as much as I do.”
He shook his head. “I promised you I’d love you forever, Sara.” He gathered her hand between his, mindful of the IVs pumping fluids and pain relievers and who the hell knew what else into her wasted body. He kissed her knuckles and pressed them to his forehead, squeezing his eyes shut. “I’ll never break my promises to you. Never.”
He’d made many promises to her, and each was deeply carved into his aching heart. Her life might lack permanence, but those promises could be eternal.
“You have to.” He shook his head, but she continued. “I’ll haunt you if you don’t.”
Her soft laugh fluttered through his chest and stole his breath. Oh, how she used to laugh. He should have cherished every one of them when he’d had the opportunity.
“Then you’ll just have to haunt me,” he said, lifting his head to stare into her eyes. “When I said forever, I meant forever. I’ll love you forever, Sara, whether you’re here with me or not.”
“You’re too young to not love again. Too passionate not to share that with another. Promise me you’ll find someone.”
He swallowed and shook his head again. He’d made a lot of promises to Sara in the few short years they’d had together, but replacing her was one he couldn’t make.
“Stubborn,” she said, closing her eyes with a shallow sigh.
It was the last word she ever said to him.
Kellen rubbed at the borrowed watch around his wrist, watching the motion so he’d keep his eyes off the pretty blonde near the back of the bus.
Sara had been haunting Kellen for five years now. Apparently she was better at keeping her promises than he was at keeping his. Even now, when he’d found a woman who might be worth the torment of his soul, Sara watched him. Well, Lindsey—not Sara, he reminded himself for the umpteenth time—was actually watching Owen at the moment, but Kellen could feel Sara’s disdain chewing at his insides.
You broke your promise to me, Kellen. You did it with another woman.
It. Oh, he’d done it all right, and he’d like to do it again, but he wasn’t sure he was capable. Not with her voice flitting through his conscience.
His conscience wasn’t giving him grief about Lindsey. The down-on-her-luck groupie wasn’t carrying Kellen’s child. That was one benefit of being abstinent all those years; no surprise babies showing up on his tour-bus step. His conscience was talking about someone else. Someone spectacular and exciting and . . . well, perfect. He’d done it with a woman he’d just met. A woman who was sitting right beside him. A woman who should have heeded his warning and run far, far away from his messed-up emotional ties. A woman, unlike Sara, who wouldn’t be embarrassed to call it sex or making love or maybe even fucking.
And he was convinced that his broken promise to Sara was why Lindsey was there. He knew in his soul that Sara was there to torment him through Lindsey. Lindsey, so obviously pregnant and resembling Sara so closely . . . He couldn’t even look at her without guilt tearing into his gut.
Any rational man would know that the beautiful young woman couldn’t be a reincarnation of his lost love. Lindsey couldn’t have been born more than a few years after Sara. So even if he had believed in reincarnation, Lindsey couldn’t possibly be his Sara reborn. But Kellen wasn’t feeling rational at the moment. What man could be rational when trapped on a tour bus with the ghost he’d slighted?
Lindsey coughed, and his eyes automatically sought her. A mistake.
God, they looked so much alike. The same angelic blue eyes. The exact same shade of golden-blond hair, long and with just enough waviness to make the bottom edge curl outward. The same heart-shaped face. Same wide mouth. Same skin tone. Same soft jawline. Lindsey’s uncanny resemblance to Sara had Kellen uptight, holding his body so stiff that he ached. And why else would Lindsey-not-Sara show up now, when Kellen had brought a woman on tour with him for the first time? When he’d stuck his dick inside another woman after five years of abstinence? He couldn’t even deny he felt something for Dawn, something deeper than lust. And he’d even come inside her. He hadn’t looked at Dawn when he’d blown his load, and his promises to Sara had echoed through his thoughts the entire time he’d betrayed her, but that didn’t matter. Why else would Lindsey turn up pregnant now—not six months ago? Why now? He knew exactly why.
Sara was there to haunt him and not just in his thoughts this time, but in a physical form. Kellen didn’t believe in coincidence. He believed in fate, in destiny. Lindsey turning up now was not a coincidence. She was a flesh-and-blood reminder of his promises to Sara. Just looking at her ate him alive. And the way she was looking at Owen—the worshipful way Sara had once looked at him—made Kellen want to vomit.
At his side, Dawn lifted Kellen’s hand and kissed his bare wrist. The pulse beneath her soft lips leaped and raced. He forced himself not to pull away, but he watched for Lindsey’s reaction to Dawn’s show of affection. Sara would have been spitting mad and jealous if a woman as beautiful, talented, and accomplished as Dawn O’Reilly had dared to touch him, but Lindsey was too busy trying to catch Owen’s attention to pay Kellen any mind. Owen was the one staring at him with narrowed eyes. Kellen couldn’t
blame him for being pissed off. Kellen had been purposely avoiding him for hours. But his avoidance had very little to do with Owen and even less to do with Dawn. In truth, he was avoiding Lindsey so that he didn’t have to feel so guilty about Sara. For the entire bus ride from Beaumont to New Orleans, Lindsey had been Owen’s shadow. Maybe once they reached their destination, they could get away from the woman for a few minutes. He’d like Dawn to get to know his best friend a little better and for Owen to say more than hello to her, but as long as Lindsey was hanging around the guy, Kellen would maintain his distance.
He gave himself a hard mental shake and turned to Dawn.
“You seem distracted,” she said. She lifted a lock of hair from his bare shoulder and ran it between her thumb and index finger.
“Who, me?” He grinned at her. “Must be your beauty. Totally distracting.”
She rolled her eyes at him. “You seem distracted by Lindsey. Do you have a thing for her in particular or pregnant women in general?”
Gabe, who was sitting across the aisle and reading, snorted. “Jacob is the one with the pregnant-woman fetish.”
Jacob backhanded Gabe, but since Gabe was quick, Jacob caught only Gabe’s arm with his fingertips.
“I don’t have a thing for her,” Kellen said. “She just reminds me of someone.”
“And who would that be?” Dawn asked.
“Sara,” Gabe said, making it impossible for Kellen to avoid addressing her question.
Dawn’s shoulders sagged, and Kellen scooped her into his arms, kissing her passionately. That way everyone—especially Kellen himself—would know that Dawn had his full attention.
“It’s nothing,” he assured her quietly when they drew apart. “I don’t want to talk about Sara.” Or look at her pregnant ghost. But the pregnant ghost waddled by and without an invitation plopped down next to them on the sofa.
“Is your father really Theodore O’Reilly?” Lindsey asked Dawn. “The guy who owns all those tropical resorts?”
Dawn groaned. “And don’t forget his seventeen five-star hotels along both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.” She sounded like a perky salesgirl even when she added, “Because he won’t let you.”
Kellen blinked at her. How had he not made the connection between Dawn and infamous billionaire Theodore O’Reilly? Even Lindsey had figured it out. Dawn had told him that her parents were wealthy, but she was an heiress to a hotel and resort dynasty? No way! She was much too down to earth to be related to that pompous guy.
“When you hinted that you were rich,” Kellen said, “I didn’t realize you were set to inherit millions.”
“Billions,” she corrected with a shrug.
“Billions,” he said flatly.
“Don’t worry yourself about the inheritance tax too much. I’m bound to get myself disowned before he dies,” Dawn said. “He’ll probably leave it all to his beloved wolfhound, T-Rex.” She pursed her lips and rolled her eyes. “Because plain ol’ Rex isn’t a big enough name for his dog.”
Lindsey laughed. “I can’t believe I’m talking to Theodore O’Reilly’s daughter.”
Dawn’s muscles tensed beneath Kellen’s palm.
“You must get to meet lots of famous people!”
“On occasion,” Dawn said vaguely.
“Who is the most famous person you’ve met?” Lindsey asked, looking almost as star struck as she’d looked the night she’d followed Sole Regret’s tour bus up a mountain pass and kept them all warm and entertained throughout the night.
Dawn linked her fingers with Kellen’s and smiled at him. “Mr. Kellen Jamison, guitarist for . . .” She bit her lip, her cheeks flushing. “What was the name of your band again?”
Kellen snorted and couldn’t resist kissing Dawn’s pretty lips. “Sole Regret.”
“Oh, that’s right.”
She winked at him, and he realized she was teasing. She knew exactly what the band was called. She’d scored VIP tickets for their show in Beaumont specifically to confront him for leaving her behind in Galveston with nothing but a stupid Dear Dawn letter to explain his absence.
“So how does a woman like you end up in a shithole like Galveston, Texas?” Jacob asked.
Kellen scowled. He liked Galveston. It wasn’t a tropical paradise or anything, but it was an island and it was Texan, so that made it all right by him.
“I like the ocean,” Dawn said. “It helps me concentrate on composing. The cadence of the waves in Galveston speaks to me for some reason.”
“The rhythm is too slow,” Adam said quietly as he leaned against the sofa arm.
Kellen hadn’t realized he was listening. The guy had been on his phone with his girl, Madison, most of the morning. Kellen suspected they were meeting up in New Orleans for the weekend.
“I don’t compose hard rock.” Dawn squeezed Kellen’s hand. “So the rhythm is perfect for me.”
Kellen’s body flushed when memories of the rhythm they’d found together flooded his thoughts. He’d much rather be in Galveston alone with Dawn, rediscovering their rhythm, than stuck on the tour bus with Sara’s ghost giving poor her the third degree.
“So your father owns a resort in Galveston too?” Lindsey asked.
Dawn snorted so loud, she choked. “Uh, no. The water isn’t pristine enough for one of his resorts.”
Gulf water was gray and murky most days, but Kellen had never minded. The rhythm of the waves there connected with his soul. He was pretty sure that Dawn felt that same connection. But he was also pretty sure that wasn’t why she’d chosen Galveston over the Bahamas, Hawaii, or Tahiti.
“You chose Galveston specifically because he doesn’t own a resort there.” Kellen was already starting to understand how Dawn ticked.
“Exactly. I moved to L.A. for two reasons: to start my career as a Hollywood composer and because my dad didn’t have a hotel there.”
“He doesn’t?” Kellen found that hard to believe. Maybe, like Galveston, the beaches in southern California weren’t exclusive enough for one of his resorts, but that seemed unlikely.
“He didn’t have one there until this January. He even made me attend the ribbon cutting ceremony.” She stuck her tongue out as if she’d just eaten something truly vile.
“I’d be proud of my dad if he was that successful,” Lindsey said.
“He’s proud enough of himself for the both of us,” Dawn muttered.
Kellen and Dawn definitely came from two entirely different worlds—ribbon cutting ceremony. He didn’t have a dad to be proud of, and the one who’d knocked up his mother wasn’t worth his weight in mud, much less gold. But he and Dawn had far more important experiences in common. Music filled his soul and hers, so material differences didn’t matter. Did they? They didn’t matter to him, and it seemed they didn’t matter to her either.
Owen laughed unexpectedly, and Kellen glanced his way to discover that he was on his cellphone again. The obnoxiousness of his laughter meant that he was talking to Caitlyn for the eleventh time that day. Yes, Kellen had counted. He wondered how Caitlyn was dealing with the knowledge that Owen had been volunteered to be a baby daddy, because Kellen wasn’t dealing very well with Owen’s predicament at all. And not only because Lindsey looked so much like Sara. He knew what kind of man his best friend was: too trusting, too giving, too easy to take advantage of. And while Kellen admired Owen’s open mind and gentle spirit, he knew Owen could fall prey to someone with an agenda—like a woman with a baby on the way and apparently no one to help her out.
Then again, if Owen took Lindsey home over the weekend and left her there, Kellen wouldn’t have to spend the rest of the tour watching his every move because he couldn’t shake the feeling that Lindsey and Sara were cosmically linked and that Lindsey had been sent to spy on him and make him feel guilty for liking Dawn so much. For lusting after her.
Kellen’s fingers returned to the silver band of Jacob’s watch, rubbing it absently, as if Sara could hear the apology behind that repetitive motion.
The bus shuddered and the pitch of the engine lowered as the lumbering vehicle slowed to pull off the road.
“Finally,” Adam said. “Is it just me or do these bus rides get longer and longer?”
“It’s just you,” Gabe said. “They just seem longer because you can’t wait to see Madison.”
Adam flushed, but he didn’t refute Gabe’s claim.
“I wonder if I have enough time to rent a bike before I pick her up at the airport,” Adam mused.
Kellen chuckled to himself but didn’t point out the folly of picking up someone at the airport on a motorcycle. Let the dumbass figure out where to store her luggage on his own.
“So do you think you can introduce me to Taylor Swift?” Lindsey asked. She’d been doing some online searching and had found a picture of Dawn with Taylor Swift posted somewhere.
Dawn shifted on Kellen’s lap, straining her neck to peer out the window across the aisle as if she hadn’t heard her.
“You two are friends, right?” Lindsey pressed.
“I’ve met her. That doesn’t make us friends,” Dawn said.