Slowly, the casket was lowered into the ground. Scarlett’s handkerchief couldn’t keep up with the tears, so she just allowed them to flow down her cheeks, ignoring the wetness as she tried to deal with the pain of losing the man who had become her second father.
She hated cancer! She hated the fact that it had taken yet another victim. Its merciless clutches were pulling yet another innocent, kind-hearted soul away from people who needed him.
Uncle Charles didn’t deserve this! He shouldn’t be dead! He should be right here next to her, next to all of them, threatening something horrible if… She had no idea what he might be saying and she was too sad, too grief-stricken to even think of something.
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” the minister said. She was motioned forward, handed a rose from one of the arrangements. Scarlett knew she should toss the flower onto the coffin, but she couldn’t do it. She couldn’t say this final goodbye.
Oh goodness! She’d thought she had said goodbye at the hospital just before he’d died but obviously, she hadn’t finished.
“It’s okay, love,” Grayson said, his deep voice reverberating through her body with reassurance. His strong arm wrapped around her shoulders. That touch, that gentle reassurance, gave her the strength to release the flower. She watched it flutter into the hole, landing silently on the casket. Grayson’s rose came next and they both moved on, allowing others to do the same. One by one, the mourners filed past, adding their flowers, their thoughts and prayers, silently saying their goodbyes.
When everyone had finally paid their respects, Scarlett stood there, surrounded by the numerous students who had been touched by this man’s life as headmaster. So many people, so many lives changed because of this man’s bountiful care. Uncle Charles had always been stern with discipline and demanding of excellence, but equally generous with his praise. He’d been headmaster of the boarding school for decades, constantly leading boys through a challenging and exciting time in their lives. But none were as affected as the five men who were lined up behind her.
Without Charles’ intervention, she wasn’t sure what might have happened to them. One was a British aristocrat, another a powerful sheik. The other three were extremely powerful in their own right. But one of them, the man with his arm around her shoulders, the man she…well, he might have ended up in prison if it hadn’t been for Uncle Charles.
“You okay?” Grayson asked gently.
Scarlett looked up at Grayson, wishing she could simply lay her head against his broad, muscular chest. But that wasn’t…they didn’t…
She sighed. Grayson wasn’t hers. Not in that way. No matter how much she might wish it.
Nodding, she accepted that this was the end of Uncle Charles’ life. This was the final goodbye. Uncle Charles, the man who had dropped everything to come get her after her parent’s tragic car accident, was now gone from this life.
Reaching out, she felt for Grayson’s hand. She needed his strength now and he never failed to provide exactly what she needed. No matter what she asked, Grayson was always there for her. She moved slightly closer, just wanting to feel the heat emanating from his large, muscular body. Grayson’s warmth and strength surrounded her cold hand, just as it always had. She wanted to lean into him, but she stood tall, trying to be strong for the others.
But as she looked around, Scarlett remembered that the other four all had their wives! Damon, Stefan, Harrison…even Malik had a beautiful wife standing beside him.
She had Grayson. Sort of.
She loved this man more than anything. She’d loved him since she was twelve years old. Maybe even longer. There had always been something about him that had drawn her to him. The other guys, yes, they were wonderful. All of them were tall, strong, powerful and wealthy. Every one of them would drop whatever was happening in his life if she needed help. But they were like her big brothers. They were big and tall and normally annoying, but also sweet and kind and shockingly generous. Oh, and she definitely needed to add that they were overly protective. To the point that they drove her nuts at times.
Grayson…he wasn’t. He wasn’t her brother. Not at all! He was big and tall and super powerful as well but he was…different. She didn’t think of him in the same way as the others even though she’d grown up surrounded by all of them. And she could never think of the enormous brute as a brother. That special something about him called to her, made her whole body tingle with excitement whenever he stepped into a room.
Damn him! Why did he have to be so wonderful? So perfect! He was always there for her! When she was scared, she called him. When he had a success in business, she ran to him, eager to celebrate with him. When he bought a new house or penthouse apartment, she decorated it for him. She loved him. Every part of him, every emotion, every obnoxious, irritating, heavenly part of him.
But did he return those feelings? No! He thought of her as his baby sister, just like all the other guys. Well, she wasn’t his baby sister! She was a grown woman with wants and needs!
From the moment Uncle Charles had revealed that he had cancer, all six of them, plus their wives now, had surrounded the man. Each of them, with their unimaginable wealth, had tried to save him, come up with a cure for the cancer that slowly taken his life away.
But none could save the dying man.
And now he was gone. His body was down in the cold earth and she wanted to scream at the injustice of it all. Grayson’s hand slid under her hair, holding her head close as the grief shook her body. Well, at least she had this, she told herself.
Back at her house, Scarlett walked in and looked around, not sure what to do. She struggled to find something to say, some way to help each of these men. Damon, Harrison, Stefan and Malik all moved into the living room, holding their wives close. These men, including Grayson who stood aside, his hands in his pockets as he stared at the floor, had been like sons to Uncle Charles. The man had been the headmaster at their boarding school, had never given up on any of them even when they’d all deserved to be expelled for their constant, vicious fighting. It wasn’t until Scarlett had shown up that the five of them had stopped fighting. Uncle Charles had said that Scarlett had saved their lives that day. But she’d been just five years old. She’d come from her parent’s funeral and walked in to find the five of them fighting, all of them just a pile of swinging fists and flying feet. With her presence, they’d stopped the fighting. And with Scarlett’s presence and the uniting force that it produced, the six of them had become best friends.