Everyone thinks they’re a hero.
We fantasize about moments of glory—the ones we read about in books and see in movies.
Run into a fiery building to rescue a dog? Sure. Donate a kidney to a friend? No problem. Stand in the way of an armed robbery? Easy.
But the ugly truth is, we don’t know how we’ll react when the moment strikes. Until the gunman has the gun pointed at your temple, and you can smell the metal of the barrel.
Will you be strong enough to do it? To face the gun and say, “Choose me. Shoot me. Kill me.”
When the time comes, what will you choose?
Your life, or theirs?
Like a zombie, I stared at the tabloid on the hospital waiting room table. On the cover, a beautiful, slightly tipsy-looking man stumbled out of a club with a supermodel on either arm, the camera flash reflected off their glittery dresses. His hair hung in his face, covering a pair of ice blue eyes.
Xavier On The Prowl, the title read.
The image was alien to me in the hospital’s fluorescent light. It felt like they were on a different planet.
“Angela,” a nurse interrupted my train of thought, “he’s ready for you.”
I jumped up too quickly and the room began to spin. I was on hour thirty of no sleep.
How could I sleep when my father nearly died last night?
Inside, my father lay unconscious on the hospital bed, with tubes attached to his arms and chest. Machines beeped beside him, and an oxygen mask covered his face. The room was disturbingly sterile.
I squeezed my dad’s hand, my heart in my throat. It hurt to see him like this.
Tears spilled down my cheeks, and I wiped them away for what felt like the thousandth time.
He was a constant in my life. The anchor that kept our family together. A pillar of strength and health.
Lucas, my oldest brother, appeared at the doorway. I walked up and embraced him.
“What did the doctor say?” I asked.
Lucas looked over my shoulder at Dad. “Let’s step out into the hall.”
Nodding, I went to Dad and placed a kiss on his forehead before following Lucas out of the room.
In the fluorescent light of the hospital hallway, I let my gaze run over my brother. Looking at his disheveled hair, unshaven cheeks, and the deep purple circles under his eyes, I knew he’d had a rough day.
“Listen, Angie…” Lucas began. He took my hand in his like he’d done when I was a child and was scared of the dark. “I need you to stay calm, okay? Stay strong. The news…it’s pretty rough.”
I nodded and took a deep breath to steady myself.
“Dad…” Lucas started, then stopped, his gaze going to the ceiling. He cleared his throat. “He had a stroke.”
Fresh tears sprang to my eyes.
“We don’t know how intense it’s affected him yet.”
“What can we do?” I asked, desperation creeping into my voice.
“We get some rest,” Danny, my other brother, said from behind me. He walked up and gave me a hug. “The doctors are still doing some tests.”
My two brothers shared a look, and I knew they weren’t telling me something.
“What?” I demanded. “What is it?”
Lucas shook his head.
“You have an interview coming up, don’t you?” he asked. “Go home and get some sleep. We’ll call you once we know more, alright?”
I sighed. I didn’t want to leave, but I knew my brothers were right. It was important that I got this job.
We said our goodbyes and I walked out into the cold night air. I spied the lights of New York City in the distance, a pit of dread in my stomach.
I felt helpless.
Wasn’t there anything I could do?
When I walked back to my car, the sky was already dark, but the light pollution from the city made it hard to see any stars. I thought back to the people on the tabloid, their carefree faces smiling at the paparazzi. How easy my life would be if I had their money. I could just pay for my father’s treatment and then jet off on a vacation to rest.
I squinted up at the night sky, imagining the stars that were up there, hiding in the night sky. All I saw was the faint blinking of a lone airplane, descending towards JFK Airport. Not exactly a shooting star, but probably the best I was going to get. I closed my eyes, desperate, wishing towards those blinking lights.
I pushed the model’s tits out of my face so I could get a clear view of New York from the window of my private jet. The Big Apple. The City That Never Sleeps.
Goddamn, do I hate this place.
I looked down at the quiet neighborhood below on our final descent towards JFK Airport, the bright lights of a hospital burning in the dark. Was that one of the ones we owned or not? I couldn’t remember.
“Xavier,” the model whined, sliding herself back into my lap. “We still have a couple minutes before we land. We could have a little more fun…”
I held back a sigh as she pressed her lips to my neck, stroking at the bulge in my pants. Two things are guaranteed to turn a girl on: Power, and a fuckload of money.
Good thing I had plenty of both.
I grabbed her ass, pressing my lips to hers as she moaned with pleasure. I tried to lose myself in her body, tried to forget all the reasons I had to fly back to New York.
Forget my responsibilities to a multi-billion dollar company.
Forget that my dad was waiting for me to land, eager to breathe down my neck about how much of a failure I am.
Forget about any cheating fucking whores ~that went behind my back, and—~
We hit a patch of turbulence, causing champagne to spill all over my pants.
“Please buckle up, sir,” the pilot said over the intercom. “We’ll be hitting some turbulence during our descent.”
I looked down at my soaked Armani dress pants. Yeah, no shit.
The model—what was her name again?—gave me a mischievous grin. “I’ll clean that up for you.” She dragged her lips down my shirt, resting on her knees between my legs.
“Didn’t you hear the captain?” I asked as she tugged at my belt. “We’re supposed to buckle up.”
“I’ve never been a fan of buckles,” she said, undoing mine. “I always like my rides a little rough…full of turbulence.”
I leaned back and let her have her fun, hiding my annoyance. I only had to put up with her for a little while longer. I’d kick her out the second the plane landed. I stared out the window as the model entertained herself, looking down at the ugly concrete that was the city.
I just had to humor my dad for his stupid meeting. Then I was getting the hell out of here.
Brad Knight was many things. A genius CEO, a business savant, and the patriarch of his own empire, built from the ground up. He was one of the richest, most powerful men in the entire world.
He was also, unfortunately, my father.
“Public indecency, Xavier?” he asked, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Are you serious?”
I shrugged, lounging on the bench in Central Park. It was the morning after I’d landed. Didn’t even give me any time to settle in before he started berating me. “She was literally begging me for it.”
“You were in the Louvre,” Dad said. “In front of the Mona Lisa!”
“She was a classy girl.” I shrugged again. “Art turned her on.”
Dad shook his head, the disappointment radiating off of him in waves. “Aggravated assault, reckless driving, possession of illicit drugs…you’re out of control, Son.”
“I’m a product of my upbringing.” I glanced around, checking for the hundredth time if anyone realized who I was. I was hiding behind some thick aviators and a baseball hat, but the disguise wouldn’t shake those paparazzi freaks for long. “Do we have to do this here?” I asked.
Dad just patted the bench fondly, and my eyes automatically went to the engraving on it.
For Amelia. Beloved wife and loving mother. 16/10/1962 - 04/04/2011
“I don’t know what to do with you anymore, Xavier. So I need her help.” Dad turned those tortured, anguished eyes at me, and I immediately felt guilty. He hadn’t been the same since Mom died. Neither of us had.
“What to do ~with me?” I lashed out, hiding from the guilt. “How about you just leave me the hell alone? Disown me if you’re so scared of my public image.” The words were out before I could take them back. It would tear me apart to lose my connection with Knight Enterprises. Hell if I’d tell him that, though.~
“You know I don’t want to do that,” Dad said softly. “Xavier. Help me help you.”
“You can help me by not talking to me again.” I stand up, sick of it all. “And I’ll do the same. It’ll be better off that way.” I walk away, leaving him alone on the bench dedicated to Mom. Coming back to New York was a mistake. Better that I take off first thing in the—
I suddenly slam into someone, a flurry of white flower petals scattering in the air. I was about to yell at them to watch where they were going, but the words died on my lips when I saw her.
The most beautiful woman I’d ever seen.
I almost stumbled to the ground, but powerful arms wrapped around my waist, holding me up. I looked up at the man I’d bumped into. He towered over me, most of his face hidden underneath that hat and behind those aviator sunglasses.
“Sorry,” I said, stepping away from him, a blush on my cheeks. Wow, he smelled good. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” he said, his voice deep and sensual. He reached down to pick up the bouquet I’d dropped, handing it to me. “You dropped this.”
“Thank you.” I hesitated, looking up at him. It looked like he wanted to say more. I frowned, tilting my head to the side. “Do I know you? You look kind of familiar.” Something about those wide shoulders and that sharp jawline…
“You’re confusing me for someone else,” he said, stern. He glanced around, then continued on his way down the dappled paths of Central Park.
I frowned at the weird interaction, but shrugged it off and went on my way. I had too many things on my mind to worry about a handsome stranger.
I was on my way back from Em’s flower shop after closing up for the day. I’d tried to lose myself in work, but I was still worried to death for my dad.
I cradled the bouquet of lilies in my arms, taking some comfort in their gentle scent. My heart still ached, but I had to keep it together.
I noticed an older gentleman sitting alone on a bench, his eyes closed in prayer. I don’t know what pulled me towards him, but before I knew it, I was standing next to him. He looked so sad.
“Excuse me?” I asked.
He opened his eyes, blinking in surprise as he looked up at me.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
“I just wanted to ask if you were okay,” I said. “You seemed a little…down.”
He shifted forward on the bench and pointed to a plaque engraved along the back. “I’m just remembering someone important to me,” he said, his voice thick. “Trying to figure out what to do.”
I read the engraving. It was dedicated to a woman named Amelia.
My heart broke.
I handed him my bouquet of lilies, smiling.
“For Amelia,” I offered.
“Thank you.” He reached forward to take the bouquet, his hands shaking. “May I ask for your name?”
“Angela Carson,” I replied. I hesitated, then sat down beside him. “Is there something I can do to help?”
“What a kind soul you are,” he said. He smiled, and it looked like he came to some kind of realization. He looked so hopeful. “You already have, dear. But if you wouldn’t mind doing one other thing? If it isn’t too much trouble.”
“What is it?” I asked, curious.
He looked up from the bench, towards the man I’d bumped into earlier. He was already far down the pathway, walking quickly, as if he couldn’t wait to escape from the scenic views of Central Park.
“I’d like you to meet someone,” the older gentleman said. “Someone that’s hurting more than I am.”
I frown, confused. He wanted me to meet him? “Well, I don’t mind, but what exactly—” My phone buzzed in my pocket, interrupting me.
My heart plummeted straight down to the soles of my feet, worry squeezing my lungs. “I’m so sorry, I’ve got to run,” I said, standing up. “It’s an emergency.”
The man just nodded at me, concerned. Could he tell how panicked I was?
“I hope everything’s okay. I’m sure we’ll meet again, Angela.”
I wave goodbye and rush away, eager to get to the hospital.
I didn’t know it yet, but that small, innocent meeting underneath the dappled paths of Central Park would change my life forever.
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