That man just can’t seem to stay out of my head. After I’d come back to my room last night and eaten, I’d tossed and turned for a few hours before sleep finally took me, only for him to find me in my dreams. The man is maddening. And yet a thought kept popping into my head.

If Kenton is just trying to get in my pants because I’d rebuffed him and he sees me as a challenge, maybe I could do the same. Maybe I could find a way to emotionally detach myself so I could use him back. He could be my fling. The thought pushes strong on me. Before Kenton, I couldn’t even bring one person to mind in whom I’d shown even a slight interest. Even the bartender last night when I thought he was flirting with me, it was flattering, but still that spark wasn’t there.

Maybe I’m one of the girls who likes jerks. Just my luck. Grabbing my bag off the bed, I pick up my cell and power it on. The screen lights up, showing twenty voice mail messages and sixty texts. All from my brothers. Might as well do it all at once, so I call the leader of the pack.

Mark picks up before the phone can even ring fully.

“Where are you?” he shouts into the phone in a tone I’ve never heard him use with me before. I freeze for a second and hear him take a depth breath. “Maddie, I mean, are you okay?” His voice softens just a little, but I can tell it’s forced.

“I’m fine. Just like the note said,” I reassure him.

“You can’t just take off like that.”

“Why, Mark? I’m 22 years old.”

He’s silent for a long second, and I can picture him grabbing the bridge of his nose as he usually does when he’s stressed. He’s done it for as long as I can remember, and he does it when any of my brothers are driving him crazy.

“I know,” he finally says on a long breath. “I just worry, Maddie.”

“There is nothing to worry about. I’m fine,” I try to reassure him again, and it’s probably not doing any good.

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“I don’t like not knowing where you are.”

“I’d tell you, but I’m calling your bluff. I think you know right where I am,” I reply. Working in the military, my brothers have friends in high places. Sometimes I think they even do freelance jobs for the military. That’s just a guess. I don’t ask, and they don’t share. If only they could stay out of my business like I stay out of theirs.

He’s silent again.

“Don’t send anyone down.” I make my voice firm, something I never do. Maybe this bikini has special powers, or maybe it’s being out on my own for once. Really out on my own. “I need to do this, Mark. I’ll be back in a week.”

“Fine,” he finally says. “Keep in touch, Maddie.”

I expect him to say something about Kenton, but he doesn’t, and neither do I. Or maybe he thinks he can use Kenton to spy on me. He’s probably already talked to him, or maybe he doesn’t know Kenton owns the place. He might think it’s just some resort, but that’s unlikely. What is likely is he already has a blueprint of the place.

“Okay.”

“I know I’m overbearing. We all are,” he corrects. “But we can’t help it. You might not think it Maddie, but you are the heart of this family, and we can’t lose you like we lost…” His words trail off. He doesn’t have to say it. I know he was going to say, “Mom and Dad.”

“I’ll call you tonight.”

“Have fun, and I love you.”

“I love you, too,” I say, smiling, before I end the call feeling a little bit better. A weight I didn’t know was on my shoulders has been lifted.

I’d never thought of myself as the heart of the family, but maybe I do hold us all together. I’m always the one setting everything up for holidays, making us have family dinners once a week, and so on. I did it to show them how much I appreciated them, but maybe I was doing more than I even knew.

I place my phone back on the charger and pick up the paper that gives me the details of my island kayaking adventures. I double-check the time and location I’m supposed to meet at, slip on my water shoes, and grab a T-shirt. I pull on the long shirt over my swimsuit before heading down to the lobby. Making my way out to the pier, I look for a boat called It Takes Two.

It’s easy to spot as only two boats are docked at the pier. A man who looks to be in his early twenties is standing next to it in swim trunks and no shirt. He spots me and gives me a big smile that lights up his whole face.

“Señorita Madeline?”

I nod, and he holds his hand out to help me get onto the boat and follows behind me.

He grabs the little bridge we just used to get on the boat and starts unstrapping us from the dock. I look around the boat and only see one other person, a young woman who looks a lot like the man who helped me onto the boat.

“I’m Selena.” She gives a little wave, but makes no move to come towards me. She’s more focused on reading a tablet in her hand. “We are going to take you to the south islands. The water there should be perfect for kayaking today,” she tells me, looking up from the tablet before placing it down on the small table.

“I’m going to go below and check a few things, then we’ll be on our way.” She turns, walking down into the cabin of the big boat as the man comes to stand next to me.

“Just us?” I ask, looking around the boat again, which is ridiculous because it’s not like it’s huge or anything. I guess I just thought there would be more people going, like a group excursion.