Playing for Keeps (Heartbreaker Bay #7)(8)

“I know you?” Naoki asked, his voice tremulous with age.

Caleb nodded. Once upon a time, Naoki had saved his life. Actually, he’d saved Caleb’s life many times over if he was keeping count. And Caleb always kept count.

“You have some of the same tattoos as I do,” Naoki said.


“You’re . . .” The old man’s eyes crinkled with a smile. “You’re the boy who ran into my dojo because other boys, bigger and meaner boys, were chasing him.”

Hating the memory, Caleb nodded.

“You were beat all to shit,” Naoki remembered. “You had no idea how to defend yourself.”

Caleb nodded again. “Beat all to shit” was putting it mildly given that he’d had a broken arm, a battered face, and a concussion—that time.

“I taught you to fight,” Naoki said.

“You did. It took a while.” He’d been small. And asthmatic. And weak.

“You’re big and strong now,” Naoki said, eyeing Caleb’s build. “I bet no one messes with you anymore.” He seemed pleased by this. “What became of you? I never saw you again.”

This wasn’t true. Caleb had gone to that dojo every single day that year. And the next year. And the year after that. He’d learned discipline, he’d learned self-control, he’d learned so damn much from this very small, very frail man that it hurt his heart to be here.

But he came anyway. Because once upon a time, this man had been everything in Caleb’s small life, and now for the rest of his, he’d want for nothing. “Do you need another blanket?” Caleb asked. “Are you warm enough?”

Naoki waved this off. “Tell me about my dojo. No one here can tell me anything about my life, and—” He shook his head. “I can’t remember. The dojo’s still there, yes?”

“Yes, and it’s very successful.” Only a partial lie. Naoki had been forced to sell the dojo back when Caleb had been seventeen due to financial problems in a downturned market and shitty economy. The place had been turned into a gym and gone through many owners before Caleb had been able to buy it back almost a decade ago.

Naoki yawned. His eyes drifted shut and his head fell forward.

Caleb watched him sleep for a few minutes and then stood up to help him into bed. The minute he moved, Naoki’s eyes flew open and once again narrowed on him.

“Who are you and what do you want?” he demanded.

A nurse entered the room before Caleb could speak. Naoki pointed at him. “I told you, no male nurses!”

She smiled easily at Naoki. “I’m sorry, sir, but he’s not—”

“No worries.” Caleb moved to the door. “I’ll leave you in good hands. Sleep well.” He paused in the hallway, reminding himself he’d gotten a good five minutes this time. It was more than he’d had in months.

Not ready to go home, he ended up at his offices, which occupied a ten-story building in the financial district. All was quiet and mostly dark. He encouraged his employees to go home after eight hours. It had nothing to do with paying overtime and everything to do with making sure his entire team had a life, which was hopefully made easier by generous benefits packages, including paid leave for philanthropy efforts.

His office was on the tenth floor. He went straight to the tall windows overlooking the city and wondered where Sadie and Lollipop were now. Were they dry and fed?

And why did he care?

He was rubbing his aching forehead when he heard someone come into his office.

“You look exhausted.”

He turned to face his oldest sister, Sienne, who was his right hand when it came to work.

And his left. “I’m fine,” he said, wondering how many times a day he told that to one sister or another. “And busy,” he said pointedly.

She snorted and came in. “You’d say you were fine even if you had a limb falling off. When you were little and bullied all the way home from school, you’d stagger into the house bleeding at seven years old and say you were ‘fine.’ When you were so sick you couldn’t get enough air in your lungs, leaving you with black circles under your eyes and perpetually short of breath, you were ‘fine.’ And now, these days, with your world worth so much and a billion balls in the air at all times, you’re still ‘fine.’”

“And I’m neither bleeding nor wheezing for breath,” he said.

“I’ll call Mom if I have to.”

He dropped his head and laughed while rubbing the back of his neck. “I’m thirty-two and you’re forty, and you’re really going to call Mom and tattle on me?”

“Hey,” Sienne said, “I’m thirty-nine for two more months and you know it, so say forty again and die. And yeah, I’d call Mom. She’s the only one who could ever talk any sense into you.”

“Mom’s on that cruise in Greece, the first vacation we’ve talked her into ever. Leave her out of this.”

“You talked her into it by buying her the ticket and guilting her into going by saying you didn’t want the money to go to waste.” Sienne gave him a reluctant smile. “Which was incredibly deceptive of you. I feel so proud. It was also sweet, given that you spend a fortune supporting all of us these days.”

“You earn your keep,” Caleb said. “But even if you weren’t, it’s my turn, remember? I was a hell of a burden on you guys.” For years. And he could say they’d all moved on without being scarred, but he’d be lying. He knew this was where his inability to accept help or let anyone take care of him in any way came from. He took care of himself these days, thank you very much. “I’ll never forget all you did for me.”

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