The Pryce Family, Book 5
Billionaire Dane Pryce has spent the last three years keeping a promise to his dying grandmother — to take care of the family. However, the reappearance of an unforgettable blonde from three years ago changes everything…especially since his father wants to marry her.
Former skating star Sophia Reed is broke and running out of options fast. While seeking help from a distant relative, she runs smack into the one-night stand she had three years ago. She never forgot the magnetic, magical Dane, but their reunion is nothing like she imagined. Dane is now cold and unapproachable, and he’s determined to get rid of her.
When the Pryce family’s ugly secret explodes, it shatters their world. If Dane and Sophia can’t overcome their past pain, they may never have a future…
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 come.”
“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.
“Let it go.”
She dragged in air, the sound loud and shuddery. “I know you think about Paris. Stop it. Get rid of that damn Lamborghini. That whole thing is in the past, and we took care of it.”
Dane almost froze.
The incident didn’t plague him the way it used to, but he still thought of it from time to time. It had been his fault—he’d caused the crash due to carelessness. He’d never told anybody how he’d felt, not even his best friend. Still, he should’ve guessed Shirley would know. She seemed to know everything about him.
“Not your fault…just bad luck. Five million dollars is more than enough to make up for it.”
Dane recoiled, his heart thudding. He’d never asked the lawyers how much the accident had cost. Money had never been an object in his family, but five million? What the hell could have happened to the other party? The family lawyers were ruthless, and would never have allowed that kind of payout unless there was no other way to reduce the damage.
Shirley squeezed his hand again. This time, her grip was so feeble he could barely breathe. “You’re the best thing that’s happened to this family. Don’t ever forget it.”
She was the only one who thought that, his stern but loving grandmother. Everyone else in his family probably wished he’d never been born. He knew his parents did.
She let out a soft sigh, her grip loosening. And then Shirley Pryce was no more.
Dane swallowed hard, his eyes burning with unshed tears.
Intellectually he knew Shirley was old and had lived a full life, but emotionally…
He looked around. If he hadn’t made it in time, she would’ve died alone.
He fell to his knees and pressed his forehead against her papery knuckles. If he stayed like this she might just reach over and caress his head, tell him everything was going to be fine the way she’d done so many times when he’d been a child.
A soft touch on his shoulder startled him. He blinked.
“Sir, are you all right?” the nurse asked again.
“I’m fine,” he answered automatically. His legs felt rubbery, but he stood up anyway.
The grandson that Shirley Pryce had been so proud of would never show vulnerability to another.
His family dutifully showed up at the funeral, even though the weather sucked—skies the color of granite and rain, the bane of all Californians. Stoic and serious in their black suits and dresses, they stood under umbrellas in the drizzle like so many mushrooms.
Dane curled his lip at how ridiculous they sounded as they read scripted eulogies. His mother even held a pristine silk handkerchief in her perfectly manicured hand…as though she were actually planning to cry at some point.
When it was his turn, he got behind the microphone and looked at the small crowd for a few moments. Then he said, “Shirley Price had more balls than all of you put together, and I can never hope to meet the high expectations she set for me.”
Gasps could be heard over the rain. His mother turned pale with embarrassment. She was always embarrassed about him for not being the kind of son she’d needed to keep his father from straying.
When the funeral ended, a few sycophants came over to say a few words of faux condolence. But not one of them had felt anything for Shirley. How dare they show their faces?
“You know I’m here for you,” one of them said.
It was all he could do to not spit on the man. “Fuck off,” he snarled.
Dane spun on his heel and walked away fast, away from the farce before he did something he might regret later. He dug his phone out of his pocket and dialed his office.
“Cancel all my appointments for the next three weeks.”
There was an infinitesimal pause. “Understood,” his assistant said. “Where can—”
He hung up and turned off the phone. He was finished.
Sophia Reed drew warm, salty air into her lungs. The pristine beach called out to her, its waves gentle and edged with light white foam.
Still, the knot in her chest wouldn’t ease.
“You okay, champ?” came a low, gruff male voice.
She forced a smile. “Fine, Chad. I’m just enjoying being here again. It’s nice to escape the cold.” Mexico was where she’d come to recuperate after the accident a few years before. “Why don’t you go on ahead? I know you’re tired from the flight. I’ll take a short walk and then head back.”
Her bodyguard-slash-chaperone looked around, brows furrowing. Sunlight reflected off his head, which was as dark and as shiny as a bowling ball. “You shouldn’t be out here alone.”
“You think my stalkers are hiding behind there,”—she gestured at a nearby palm tree—“waiting to pounce?” She’d been having stalker issues for years. “I doubt they’re still interested now that I’m too…” She waved a hand, unwilling to say the rest—too damaged to be in the spotlight.
“Not just the stalkers. You’ve been kind of blue lately.”
She forced a carefree laugh. Sweet of him to be concerned, and most people wouldn’t have unexpected it from a man built like a tank. A couple of long, jagged scars marred his left cheek. She was sure they were from a knife or something, even though he hadn’t ever talked about it. Too rough a story for a pretty girl like you, he’d said.
“I’m not going to swim out to sea if that’s what you’re worried about,” she said.
He pursed his mouth, and she knew what he was thinking: It should’ve been me.
He’d said that to her when she’d opened her eyes in the hospital, and every time the doctors had wheeled her into surgery to put her back together. He’d only stopped because she’d asked him to.
It shouldn’t have been anybody.
But she could tell he was still feeling it from the way his eyes darkened every time he thought she wasn’t looking. She gave him a serene smile and made a gentle shooing motion.
“All right,” he finally said. “But if you’re not back in an hour, I’m coming looking for you.”
“I promise.” She watched until he vanished into the vacation rental, then started walking down the beach. Sun-warmed sand tickled her toes. She took off her flat, sling-back sandals and carried them in one hand.
The sea-salted air was refreshing, but the change of scenery hadn’t eased the pain in her heart. Four years. Everyone had told her that was enough time to accept the possibility of never achieving her dream, but they weren’t the ones who’d worked tirelessly since the age of five. Fourteen years of relentless, bone-cracking work, and then an accident at nineteen had derailed everything she’d been working for.
Life isn’t fair. She’d heard that a lot as well.
The knot in her chest grew bigger.
She’d sought out the best surgeons in the world, done all the rehab. She’d pushed herself hard, determined to get back on the ice, healthier and stronger than ever before. Kept her weight under control; every extra ounce helped gravity pull her down. Only the most nutritious food, carefully calibrated to create optimal health and an optimal bodyweight for figure skating, ended up in her belly.
Twenty-three wasn’t young in her sport. Actually it was sort of on the old side, what with new teenage sensations popping up every season, but she knew she could do it if her shoulder and hip would just cooperate.
She closed her eyes. It’d been so long, but her muscles still remembered what it was like to fly across a rink at full speed. She didn’t believe in slowing down or hesitating before executing her elements: a powerful takeoff on the outside edge as her free foot’s toe-pick hit the ice, pulling in her limbs and rotating in the air: one…two…three. Then a perfect landing on one foot for a split-second as she launched herself into the air again for a triple loop—three tight revolutions. And before she knew it her blade would be gliding across the ice again, creating a smooth, clean line, the combination jump completed as she transitioned into another element of her program.
But now…now her reality was different. Her body might remember, but it could no longer perform any of her key jumps with the consistency she needed. She could deal with the aching shoulder, but her hip couldn’t seem to handle loops at all. The surgeries and endless physical therapy just hadn’t been able to fix all the damage.
And there was absolutely no one she could talk to. Her father didn’t really understand what it meant to her, even though he’d had no problem forking over the money for her training, and her mother was too busy being a trophy wife. Her figure skating friends were single-mindedly focused on getting ready for the Olympic season. They were also avoiding her—she could tell. Not that she blamed them. Athletes were superstitious, and it probably made them feel uncomfortable to be around her, a former star who was now just a has-been. She would’ve felt the same if the situation had been reversed.
And Libby Grudin… Her best friend commiserated, but she also saw the accident as an opportunity for Sophia to live her life.
“There’s something so…cloistered about being twenty-three and never having been on a date,” Libby had said. “Look at you. You’re gorgeous! It’s about time you get out and experience the world. Do the kind of stuff women our age do.”
Sophia sighed and resumed her walk. Maybe Libby had a point. On the other hand, nothing had made Sophia feel alive like being on the ice. Every beat and strain of the music would reverberate through her, and it was like her soul was free.
To be free again like that…
She stopped walking and leaped vertically in the air, rotated a couple of times and landed on one foot, her arms outstretched and her free leg raised behind her. So long as she landed on her uninjured side it wasn’t so bad…except that wasn’t her landing foot. She dropped her shoes and tried it again. Then again. And again. Sweat beaded on her skin, blood pumping through her body.
She tried a small, single-rotation jump on her bad side, keeping it low. No problem.
Encouraged, she tried for a double, getting some air under her. When she came down, a numbing pain shot from her hip through her entire body. The sand seemed to shift underneath, and she crumpled with a cry.
Until a strong hand caught her.
She gasped, clutching at the hard, muscled arm and trying to get her balance. Then looked up at the owner of the heroic limb. He stared back at her, his eyes hidden behind a pair of reflective sunglasses.
Her skin tingled like she was only a second away from competing, her heart knocking against her ribs. She licked her lips and studied the stranger. A few days’ growth of beard couldn’t hide the clean, bold lines of a face that ought to be on glossy magazine covers. The clothes on him had exceptional stitching and material, although they weren’t fresh. She could tell that the body was lean under the shirt, his shoulders broad and hips narrow. The rolled up sleeves revealed forearms carved with muscle.
“Who are you?” she rasped, her throat dry. “Are you lost?” This was a private beach. The real estate agent had sworn she’d be the only one there.
“Lost…?” He rolled the word on his tongue.
She frowned. Maybe he didn’t speak English. After all, they were in Mexico…
“Um, no español,” she said, suddenly flustered.
“‘No español’ is fine. I’m not lost,” he said in perfect English, his diction precise.
His deep voice washed over her like the summer sun, and she leaned a tiny bit closer. Maybe…just maybe the warmth it generated could thaw the cold knot in her chest.
Suddenly he shook his head and gave a short laugh. There was a hint of harsh derision underneath. “Or maybe I am. I walked for quite a while.”
Embarrassed, she pulled away from him. As he dropped his hand, cold seeped through her despite the tropical sun. She shivered and cleared her throat. “Thanks for the help.”
Then it finally registered in her frazzled brain that he smelled like alcohol. For the first time she noticed a half-full bottle clutched in his other hand.
She tilted her head. Being short, she was used to looking up at people, but for some reason, he seemed taller than most. “Have you been drinking?” she asked almost stupidly. She’d never seen anybody indulge this early. Her parents might’ve had their issues, but substance abuse wasn’t one of them.
He cocked an eyebrow, and she got an impression of arrogance. “What if I have?”
“Just…” She frowned, not sure what to say or why she felt so defensive. Even though they weren’t standing close, the skin around her spine was prickling like tiny needles were being pressed against her. “Isn’t it a little early?”
“It’s never too early to drink when the occasion calls for it.” He flashed her a roguish smile, a dimple popping on his cheek.
She blinked at how unexpected that was. How could a hard and unyielding man like him have something as innocuous as a dimple?
“You should try it some time. In fact, why not now?” He shoved the bottle at her. “Here.”
“Uh…” She stared, unsure what to do with it. People never offered her drinks. They gave her water, tonics and smoothies and various green concoctions—things designed to make her body healthy.
He smirked. “Are you underage? Worried about what your parents might say?”
That stung, especially the crack about her parents. She could shoot heroin and they wouldn’t say anything. They’d just give more money to Chad and ask him to deal with it.
“No and no. I’m twenty-three.” Far too old to care about what her parents would think anymore.
She took the bottle from him. She’d never, ever touched alcohol—¬¬it wasn’t good for performance—but what the heck. It’s just a sip. She would never compete again. Why should she sacrifice anymore? Why should she be this perfect girl who did everything she was supposed to do?
She took a fast swig. Fire exploded in her nose and mouth. She choked, her eyes watering, her throat hot and smoky.
He laughed, and she frowned at him. “Ugh! What is this stuff?”
“Scotch. First time drinking it?”
She nodded before she could catch herself.
“Figures.” He chuckled.
There was something bleak in his laugh. Nothing about him indicated he was a bum or an alcoholic. The watch on his wrist was fairly new and expensive, and there was a vitality to him that said he didn’t indulge in vices that could hurt his health. So what could make somebody like him drink so early?
Probably something as bad as what she was going through.
His belly growled, dragging her attention back to the present.
“When was the last time you ate?” she asked.
He shrugged. “Don’t remember. It’s not important.”
Not important? Hunger was a nasty companion, always gnawing at your gut. She knew because she’d been hungry for years in order to keep her weight down. She ate better during the off-season, but even then she’d never allowed herself to really cut loose. “Can you make it back to your hotel?”
His eyes swept around their surroundings. “Probably.”
She worried her lower lip. “Want to have dinner at my place?” She almost smacked herself as soon as she asked. It wasn’t like her to be so impulsive, especially with men she didn’t know very well.
That wasn’t the response she’d expected. “On what?”
“On whether you’re going to serve rabbit food.”
She choked back a laugh. The stuff she generally ate would probably be considered rabbit food by this man’s standards. But why should she continue to live on salads? Her competitive career was officially over. She didn’t have to diet anymore.
“No,” she said, making up her mind. “No rabbit food.” She could do whatever she wanted.
“Well then.” His dimple showed again. “I’ll take you up on it.”
She nodded, picking up her shoes. “I’m Sophia.”
“There is a depth in this book that is often missing in billionaire stories…5 Stars for Nadia Lee making me love Dane too.” — PW Reader
“I could not put this book down, and it has cured me of the book funk I’ve been in for the past 2 weeks.” — Lady Romance
“I absolutely love Nadia Lee! The Pryce Family books have been wonderful to read. Each getting better and better. Her next books promise to be just as amazing as these. Quick reads, beautiful men and women. Complex characters and interwoven stories. Simply a wonderful read!” — N. Murphy
“This is one of those rare series where everything is done right, and you just want more of this family. Every book in this series is five star worthy and held my attention all the way. Great job, Nadia Lee!” — L. J. Young
“It was so amazing.” — Maureen Acquaye
“FINALLY Dane’s book arrived and it was so worth the wait!” — K. Dow
“A must read. Nadia Lee does not disappoint!” — Rebecca Foster