"Happy birthday!" she said, laughing as she threw her arms around him. He hugged her hard, blown away by their surprise arrival on the island. He kissed her cheek when she stepped back.
"You guys have been plotting,” Dylan smiled wide and easy. “When did you get here?"
"A few hours ago.” Sophie grinned, her eyes dancing with the thrill of the successful ambush. "We dropped Esther and the kids off at yours as soon as you guys went out."
Lucien unfurled himself from the chair as Kara bent to kiss his cheek then pulled Sophie into an expansive hug and led her away below deck.
Lucien advanced towards Dylan.
"Happy Birthday, bud,” he said, pressing a bottle of Dylan's favourite bourbon into his hands.
Dylan laughed, still a little shell-shocked by the unexpected birthday gathering.
"It's so good to see you, man," he said, pulling Lucien into a bear hug even though he knew his friend wasn't the most tactile of men. "Drink?" he asked, reaching out of habit into a low cupboard to the side of the deck where barware had always been stored in his time. He found a couple of glass tumblers and uncapped the bottle, splashing amber liquid into them.
They stood alongside each other, elbows on the railings and a generous measure of bourbon in their glasses.
"How long are you guys staying?"
"A week or so," Lucien said. "If you can stand it. Oskar’s cutting teeth. We make bad house guests. Trust me, you'll be ready for us to leave."
Dylan grimaced. "Teething, man. Gruesome. Billy screamed for weeks."
They contemplated the sea in silence for a few seconds, both men ruminating on how much had changed since they met.
Lucien and Sophie's family had expanded with the arrival of their son, Oskar, making Tilly a proud and mostly delighted big sister and Lucien an even prouder and more delighted father.
Knight Inc. continued to go from strength to strength, with Lucien on the final countdown to the opening of his eleventh club. The Knight family skipped happily around the globe in his private jet, a tightly knit clan rarely separated for more than a few days.
Kara and Dylan had taken a far more Bohemian approach, and it worked just fine for their relationship. Living together, absorbing Billy into their routine, his long afternoon siestas affording them the opportunity to make the most of each other’s company in all the ways they liked best. Ibiza suited them, and they suited Ibiza, having entrenched themselves firmly amongst the eclectic group of native and part-time residents they now counted as friends.
The Ibizan club had met and then exceeded even Lucien’s expectations under Dylan's expert stewardship, so much so that the venture had expanded this season to launch a luxury weekend party boat, currently the hottest ticket in town in every sense of the word. Kara had flexed her business muscles that summer too, opening a standalone boutique on the neighbouring island of Mallorca.
Kara’s and Sophie’s friendship was stronger and brighter than ever, and their two families grew ever closer, outside of work. They met up as often as their busy schedules would allow; snatched weekends in London, the occasional week soaking up the sun in Ibiza, idyllic Christmastimes in Norway.
It was a good life.
Lucien reached into the battered leather jacket he’d hooked over a chairback, then produced two cigars from the inside pocket. He shrugged, then smiled at Dylan’s surprised look. “It’s your birthday,” he said by way of explanation, coming back to lean beside his friend with a lighter in his hand.
“I haven’t had one of these in years.” Dylan placed the cigar between his lips, then leaned towards the flame that Lucien sparked. Lucien lit his own cigar and blew out a slow stream of smoke.
“My brother was the cigar smoker of the family,” Dylan said, remembering late nights and good times.
Lucien knew from the past tense that Dylan was referring to Billy. He took a deep slug of bourbon, the rich shot of alcohol combining with the taste of the cigar in his mouth. “I never had a brother.”
Dylan huffed lightly. “Yeah, well. Take it from me. It’s not all good news.”
Lucien nodded. From what he’d seen of Dylan’s surviving brother, there wasn’t anything to envy.
In the moments of companionable silence that followed, nostalgic memories of Billy merged with the closeness Dylan felt to the man beside him now.
“I know this kind of talk makes you freak out, but I'm gonna say it anyway,” Dylan said, laughing softly. “I fuckin’ love you, man.”
“Jesus Christ,” Lucien muttered, re-lighting his cigar and holding the flame out to Dylan.
It wasn’t his style to make such expansive comments, but he knew what Dylan meant all the same. Theirs was a friendship that he’d come to value very much in the years since their first encounter. Back then, he’d entrusted Dylan with the responsibility of running his club. These days, their bond ran so much deeper; as close as brothers, the best of friends.
He met Dylan’s eye in a moment of silent acknowledgement, then shuddered despite the warmth of the evening. “And now I feel like we just had sex.” He knocked his bourbon back in one huge slug, and Dylan turned away to hide his smile.
.It was the best of evenings.
A million stars lit the sky above them like an incandescent celestial map. Sophie rested her head back on Lucien’s arm and looked up as one streaked bright and brilliant across the skies over their heads.
“Shooting star,” she said. “Make a wish.”
“Can it involve fucking?” Lucien wasn't at all bothered by the fact that they weren’t alone. Dylan and Kara knew exactly how it was between them.
Sophie laughed, equally unabashed. “You’re getting predictable.”
Lucien shook his head. “I don’t need to make a wish, Princess,” he said, his hand warm on the back of her hair. He glanced around the table. At Dylan and Kara, wrapped up in each other, and then back at Sophie, caught up in him. He loved them all. “It doesn’t get better than this.”
As ever, this book couldn't have happened without the help and support of some very special people.
Thanks first and foremost to Charlie Hobson, editor extraordinaire and word magician.
Also to Angela Oltmann, for being a joy to work with and for a third cover, possibly my favourite ever.
Thank you to my beautiful minxes of romance ~ the best writing buddies and friends this girl could ever wish for. I salute you.
Ditto the gorgeous ladies of Bobland ~ you know I love you all to pieces!
Special, huge thanks have to go to all of the amazing book-bloggers and Facebook groups. You guys work so hard on behalf of the authors, I'm grateful beyond words for your support and encouragement. Extra love to Gitte, Jenny and all the delicious ladies at Totally Booked, you ladies really rock my world.
Also, to all of the ladies who make every day brighter on Facebook and twitter, you are truly my cyber-sisters. Writing can be a lonely profession sometimes, but you all make it less so by being there. You make me laugh, you answer my many random research questions, you hold my hand when I'm nervous, and I've lost count of the number of glasses of wine we've shared along the way! Your support means the world to me.
Behind the scenes, I couldn't do any of this without my own special people ~ my family, my kids, and my beloved Mr.F. Special big-up to Mr.F's emerging talent in the kitchen. Who knew? I'm a lucky lady in every way. x
About the author
Kitty French is the USA Today best selling author of the Knight Trilogy.
She also writes as romantic comedy under the pseudonym Kat French. Her debut novel, Undertaking Love, is out now.