–Three years ago
Dane Pryce entered a sterile private room at the hospital. The air was comfortably warm, the light semi-dim. He inhaled sharply. All the disinfectant and flowers in the world couldn’t disguise the cloying scent of the dying.
In the center of the bed lay his grandmother—Shirley Pryce, the matriarch of the family. Her body seemed to have shrunk since the last time he’d seen her, the thin white skin hanging over her protruding bones like a cheap tent. Even her hair, usually the color of polished steel, looked dull. Tubes and wires covered her, monitoring her condition and giving her the fluids and medicines she needed to stay alive.
The doctor had said she’d had two cardiac arrests. Given her advanced age and generally poor health, she wasn’t going to last long. Dane clenched his hands. If it weren’t for the beeps from the machines, he might have thought she’d passed away already.
Why didn’t anybody contact me after her first heart attack?
He stood by the door, unable to take another step. He didn’t know how to behave before death. And he didn’t know if he could get through it without breaking down.
Shirley was the only one he cared about. The only person from his family who’d ever given a damn about him.
“Dane…” came a whispery voice.
He stepped over and carefully, gently took her brittle hand in his. “Grandma.”
Her murky eyes turned to him, and she gave him a soft smile. “They said you were busy in London…but I knew you’d
“Of course.” He kissed her knuckles, ruthlessly reining in his fury at whichever bastard had told her he was too busy. That was for later. “Of course I came. Where is everyone?”
Didn’t his family think she deserved that much? Fucking assholes. The fact that they could be this unfeeling stunned him. She wasn’t even inconveniencing them by dying in some foreign city. He knew first-hand how something like that could get in the way of his family’s “caring.” He’d experienced it when he’d been in a car wreck in Paris and the only people who’d visited him were Shirley and the lawyers the family had sent over to deal with the matter.
Sick as she was, a glimmer of fire appeared in her eye. “I told them to get out. Useless bunch, all of them.” She coughed weakly. “Geraldine’s still stuck at the airport. Some mechanical delay.”
Geraldine was Shirley’s favorite child.
Dane swallowed an unfamiliar lump in his throat. “I’ll send my jet immediately. She’ll be here soon, so just…hang in there.”
Her fingers tightened around his. “You’re such a good boy. Always were.” She wheezed, the sound sending a ripple of terror through his heart. “Don’t be sad. It’s only natural that an old woman like me die. It’s what the Lord intended.”
“Don’t say that.” The skin around Dane’s eyes grew hot, and he blinked rapidly. The last thing his grandmother needed was his tears. “You’re going to outlive us all.”
She chuckled weakly. “No woman wants to outlive her grandchildren.”
“Well, then live as long as I do at least. I’m your favorite anyway.”
“Wishful and fanciful. Always are. Doesn’t work that way.” She squeezed his hand with surprising strength. “Now, promise me something.”
“Don’t marry someone like your mother. She never had the courage. Never deserved Salazar.” Shirley’s thin mouth twisted into a scornful line. “Although he isn’t any better, letting his emotions rule his head. Don’t be like him. Weak. Pathetic. He let her use him, and for what? I taught him better, but the moment he saw her…”
“Still, he’s your father—save him from himself if you can. I’ve done what I could, but… I’m afraid he won’t know what to do with himself after I’m gone.”
“You’re not going anywhere. But I’ll keep an eye on him.”
“Your siblings, too. They aren’t strong like you. Especially Shane, that poor child. So needy.”
Shirley drew in a labored breath. “Be kind to Geraldine. She has no one. Those children of hers…horribly misguided. Worthless…every single one of them.”
His throat tightened. He rasped, “I will.”
“And one last thing.”
“Anything,” he said, putting both of his hands around hers. If he held on tight, maybe she would stay, at least until he was ready to accept the inevitable.