Twist of Fate
Wearing nothing but a pair of jeans and a bad ‘tude, Diego Stone lay on the sky bridge of his boat and stared up at the San Francisco sky. It was butt-ass cold, turbulent and moody, all of which suited him just fine.
He had no idea why he’d left sunny, warm, sexy San Diego.
Oh, wait, he did.
He’d received a text asking him to show up for his brother’s important, all-hands-on-deck wedding planning lunch that, as Rocco’s best man, Diego was required to attend. A text. And not from Rocco, but from his fiancé, Tyler.
Hands behind his head, feet crossed, Diego purposely relaxed his body one inch at a time. It was a technique he’d learned early on during a childhood as tempestuous and unstable as the sky above him. A childhood he’d spent right here in San Francisco.
When he cleared his head the best he could, he rose to get things over with. Being back in town for the next week was going to suck hard, but he knew of only one way to get through shit, and that was to plow straight ahead.
As far as command performances went, he could’ve tried a little harder to muster up some enthusiasm, but after ten years of being an island of one, he was out of practice at the whole family thing.
The French House at one p.m., the text had said. And, apparently, his presence was both needed and required. Funny, because once upon a time when Diego had desperately needed and required Rocco’s presence, he hadn’t gotten it.
Damn. And here he’d told himself that he was over the past.
He glanced down. He’d spent the past few years running a small boat charter service for a guy who didn’t like to get his hands wet. Since Diego loved being on the water, the job had been tailor-made for him. He moonlighted as a tattoo artist as well to keep his skills honed, and he loved that gig, too. But in his current lifestyle, dressing up meant tucking a t-shirt into his board shorts.
The French House was a high-end restaurant that he was pretty sure no one in his family had ever been to, but he was willing to bet the place frowned on jeans. Shit. Moving below deck, he stripped and stalked to his closet where he upgraded to black pants and a slate-colored button-down, both of which at least matched his mood. At the last minute, he added a jacket because why get this far, only to get refused at the door.
He borrowed a motorcycle from an old friend and hit the road, still brooding. It’d been a long time since he and Rocco had been in the same room at the same time.
Even longer since they’d been in the same room at the same time without yelling at each other.
When Diego walked into the restaurant, a maître d’ with blue, spiked hair and a bowtie greeted him. “I’m here for the Stone wedding planning lunch,” he said.
The bowtied maître d’, who looked to be around twelve, shook his head. “I don’t see a wedding planning lunch… Oh, but I do see a Stone reservation. This way, sir.” And then he turned and started walking through the restaurant. The place had been built over the pier in such a way that, combined with all the glass walls, it felt like they were walking right on the waves.
For a guy who lived on the water, it was annoying as shit to feel off balance. Oh, wait, that wasn’t the water at all, but the fact that he could see a table nestled in a corner of glass walls just up ahead. A table for four. And three of the seats were occupied. Rocco, his fiancé Tyler, and…a blast from Diego’s past that he had thought to never see again.
He staggered back a step as if he’d been shot. Pierced in the damn heart. He put a hand to his chest, shocked to find that he wasn’t actually bleeding. Could’ve fooled him by the amount of pain he was suddenly in.
The three at the table looked cozy. His brother, the guy’s fiancé, and the woman Diego had once loved more than life itself leaning into each other, speaking quietly but earnestly, smiling easily, laughing…
Diego realized that he’d stopped in his tracks right in the middle of the restaurant. Rocco glanced over and saw him. “Diego,” his brother said, coming to his feet, gesturing him closer.
Diego’s feet took him there, though he couldn’t seem to tear his gaze from Daisy. Ten years. It was almost too much to process. It’d been ten years, and just the sight of her still rocked him off his axis. With immense difficulty, he tore his gaze off her and looked at his brother.
Rocco grinned. “It’s good to see you.”
Diego didn’t smile or speak. Wasn’t even sure he could.
The twelve-year-old-looking maître d’ was trying to get him to sit. He’d pulled out the empty chair and was gesturing to it with a flourish of his hand.
Rocco looked at Diego with a half-smile and some worry in his eyes.
He should be a helluva lot more than worried.
Tyler, who Diego had never met, came out of his chair and moved around the table. And then he wrapped Diego up in a hug. The guy was a foot shorter than Diego, but that didn’t deter him one bit. He just gave Diego a warm squeeze as if they were old friends and then pulled back—leaving his hands on Diego’s arms—as he smiled up into his face. “You’re as gorg as the pics promised,” he said. “Nice to finally meet you. Won’t you sit? We’ve ordered, I hope you don’t mind. But Daisy’s on a lunch break from her office and has limited time today.”
And then, somehow—Diego would never know how—Tyler gently nudged him into his chair, fussing over him a moment and making sure he had his water and napkin.
Tyler then turned and did the same to Rocco, letting his hands linger. “Darling, you too. Let’s sit. Let’s toast. Let’s lunch. Let’s have our little chitchat to clear the air, it’ll all be good.”
Diego’s brother took a deep breath and nodded. Downed a glass of something that was most definitely not champagne. He started to speak but stopped, then swore beneath his breath and rubbed his eyes.
“He’s all verklempt,” Tyler explained to Diego.
Diego nodded. Same. “So…this wasn’t a wedding planning lunch,” he said, wishing he had more than a glass of water in front of him. “It’s what? An intervention?”
Daisy met Diego’s gaze for the first time. Her eyes were still slay-me gray, framed by inky black lashes that drew a man in like she was the only warm haven in a world gone mad. “Diego,” she said softly.
“Daisy.” Hey, look at that. His voice sounded perfectly calm. Casual. Not at all like his heart was about to pound right out of his chest. The heart she’d once slayed.
“Diego.” She didn’t seem surprised to see him. As for what her thoughts might be, she kept them damn well hidden, though her voice when she spoke trembled a bit. “Thanks for coming,” she said, like this was a normal thing and not the first time they’d seen each other in ten years. “We’re all just hoping you and Rocco can talk out any…issues so we can make sure things are smooth for the wedding.”
Her voice was still quiet but husky, just as it used to be, the same tone that had given him more sexual fantasies than any other.
But these days, he no longer thought about her. At least, not that he’d admit. “And you’re here…why?”
“Because I asked her,” Rocco said.
At his older brother’s words, Diego cocked his head but didn’t take his eyes off Daisy. “Because…?”
“She’s our wedding planner,” Tyler said smoothly, waving down a waiter and signaling for more wine. “The best in the business.”
Daisy smiled at Tyler and then turned back to Diego. “It’s nice to see you.”
What the hell? He’d fallen asleep on the boat and was dreaming this, right? Nice to see him? Was she kidding? He’d told her that he loved her, and then she’d left. Moved to New York for college without looking back. He opened his mouth to remind her of that fact, but Rocco stood up and tugged on his arm.
“I think we should talk outside.”
Diego wrenched free without looking at him and turned to Daisy. “I need to talk to you.” He had no idea what game she was playing, but he intended to find out.
Daisy opened her mouth to say something, but before she could, Rocco once again put a hand on him.
Diego looked down at his arm. Rocco was older by two years, but at six foot four, Diego had four inches on his brother—most of them harder and leaner. Rocco with his bulkier mass outweighed Diego and was more badass when it came right down to it, but Diego was working on a lot of resentment and anger, so it’d be a solid match.
And a fight long overdue.
Rocco dropped his hand from Diego and shoved his fingers through his shaggy, black hair that was the same as Diego’s. Apparently, Rocco had learned some restraint over the years, but not too much as he jerked his head to the door and lumbered out.
Diego followed without looking back.
Which wasn’t easy because Daisy had looked…different. Among other things. She’d always been girl-next-door pretty. And part of what Diego had loved about her was that they’d had a lot in common. Both had grown up on the wrong side of the tracks, the poor kids who didn’t have a penny to their name.
She was still girl-next-door pretty, but there was a whole new air about her now, as well. She was dressed in a blue suit dress and matching heels, looking professional, smart, and incredibly sure of herself—which he had to admit, was attractive as hell.
But she also looked like someone he didn’t know. Certainly not the type of woman who’d mesh with a guy who lived on a boat.
“Well,” he heard her say to Tyler as he walked away. “That went about as well as expected.”
In response, Tyler laughed softly, apparently unconcerned that his fiancé was about to get the pretty punched off his face.
Ahead of him, Rocco pushed out the restaurant doors and walked down the pier to a relatively isolated spot. Instead of turning to face Diego, his brother leaned on the piling and let out a whoosh of air.
Diego stood behind him, waiting.
Finally, Rocco straightened and faced him.
“Nice blind side,” Diego said.
Rocco winced. “I knew you’d take it like that, but Tyler thought a neutral spot would be best.”
“Since when is a place like The French House neutral?”
“We both know you wouldn’t have come to Dad’s house or the tat shop, so I don’t know what the hell your problem is.”
“My problem,” Diego said trying to temper himself, “is that you didn’t even try to contact me yourself. And then to sit there like we’re having tea with the queen, only it’s Daisy, my—” He broke off. First love? Hell, first everything. But he wasn’t about to say that. “You could have called me.”
“You wouldn’t have come if I asked.” Rocco shook his head. “I should’ve told you to stay the hell away. Because telling you not to do something makes you do the opposite. You were like that as a kid, too. When Dad told you not to sneak out, you’d do it twice and take pictures.”
True. And besides the point. “I agreed to be your best man,” Diego said. “Why wouldn’t I have come?”
“Because we haven’t gotten along since the day you took off ten years ago.”
“I took off?” Diego repeated in disbelief. “Are you serious? You’re rewriting history to suit yourself now.”
Rocco took a step toward him and poked a finger in Diego’s pec. “You don’t know what it was like here alone after Dad died. You’re my brother, you should’ve—"
Diego stepped into Rocco’s finger so that they were toe-to-toe, effectively cutting off Rocco’s words. “I’m the one who took care of him night and day for two years after his stroke. When he couldn’t talk, couldn’t move, couldn’t care for himself. I was eighteen and in my first semester at college—which I had to junk. Where were you then, brother?”
Rocco didn’t say anything. Diego knew he couldn’t say much since it was all true.
Growing up, Diego and their dad had fought. A lot. Diego got it. He’d been a handful and trouble-bound. Rocco had been just as wild, but he had a way of hiding it, and he’d definitely been the favored son. He and their dad had shared a real relationship that Diego had robbed himself of.
He’d always planned to resolve their issues, he’d just never known how. But time had run out because after their dad’s stroke, the guy had been completely nonverbal, and they couldn’t resolve shit. At the time, Diego had wanted to keep him in hospice because all medical opinions led to one thing—his dad wasn’t going to come back from the stroke. The man had been fiercely proud, and Diego knew that being at home in that condition with his sons having to take care of his personal needs would have killed him even faster. He’d never have wanted to be that helpless in front of them.
But Rocco had disagreed. Vehemently. And one night after Diego had left the hospital, Rocco had checked their dad out. It’d taken him half a day to realize his mistake. That in fact, he wasn’t capable of the level of care their dad required. But by then, the insurance wouldn’t cover the costs of readmittance—not unless their dad ended up back in the ICU.
The next morning, Diego had woken to find Rocco gone. He’d left a note saying that he had to get away.
Leaving Diego alone and in charge.
And Rocco had stayed gone. Turned out he’d been in the Bahamas, falling in love and finding a life thousands of miles away.
Their dad had died two years later. Diego had waited until the funeral, which Rocco had shown up for. He’d handed Rocco a stack of medical bills and the keys to the house and The Canvas Shop—the tattoo parlor that had been their dad’s legacy. “My turn,” he’d said and left town.
That had been a decade ago.
Now, they stared at each other until Diego shook his head. “You wanted me here, and I came. Let’s just do what has to be done.”
That’s when Diego heard the click, click, clicking of high heels coming towards them, loud and clear. Even before the wearer of those shoes came around the corner, he knew who it’d be.
Daisy, with her carefully pinned-up hair that he happened to know felt like silk between his fingers. She’d slipped on sunglasses so he couldn’t see her eyes, but if the grim set of her pretty, lightly glossed lips was anything to go by, she wasn’t nearly as impressed with him as he was with her.
“Look,” she said, stopping a few feet back from him and Rocco. “If I’d wanted to watch two men go at each other, I could be doing it from my couch in my PJs with any of my fave reality shows.”
There she is, Diego thought. The feisty, sassy, sexiest woman he’d ever met.
Rocco started to speak, but Daisy held up a hand. “This is clearly a family affair, so I’m going home. Rocco, I’ll see you tomorrow at the cake testing.”
“Daisy,” Diego said, her name feeling incredibly rusty on his lips.
She hesitated a moment before meeting his gaze, making him wonder if she felt any of what he did. As for what the hell it was that he felt, he couldn’t have put it into words even if someone had a gun to his head. “We need to talk too,” he said.
That got him the barest hint of a smile, one completely devoid of humor. “That’s me,” Daisy quipped lightly. “Always second in the lineup. Why am I not surprised?”
What the hell? He was the injured party here, but she strode away as quickly as she’d arrived, leaving him staring after her, stunned.
“Listen,” Rocco said. “I know we’ve had our differences, but I’m getting married next week, and you’re my only family. I want you by my side, dammit.” He jabbed a thumb toward the restaurant, which thanks to the glass walls, meant they could see inside.
Tyler was still at the corner table, alone now, watching them. When he saw them look his way, he gave a small finger wave and an encouraging smile.
“See that?” Rocco muttered. “He thinks we’re civilized enough to be trusted alone with each other simply because we’re brothers. That’s how his mind works. And I love him ridiculously enough to want him to keep believing that this is going to be okay.”
Diego stared at his brother. He hadn’t taken the time until this very second to really soak in the sight of the man in front of him, the one he hadn’t seen since…well, their dad’s funeral.
Christ, that had been a day.
“Listen,” Rocco said quietly, more seriously, his eyes solemn. “I get it. I shouldn’t have tricked you into coming here, calling the lunch a best man’s thing. But I just…I just wanted to see you, man. I wanted you to be involved this week leading up to the wedding. I wanted… Shit. I wanted it like old times. I was hoping that maybe this could be a chance for us to put our issues aside. Or, hell, maybe we can even figure them out.”
At the unexpected mature side to his brother, Diego took a step back and ran a hand over his face. “When did you grow up?”
Rocco gave a rueful smile. “It started the day I screwed up with you. I’ve had ten years to perfect it.”
Diego drew in a deep breath. “Why is Daisy your wedding planner?”
“She’s one of my best friends.”
This caught Diego by surprise on a day where he’d thought he couldn’t get more surprised. “Since when?”
“Since she came back to the city like five years ago.”
Diego could feel his chest tightening. Maybe it was an impending heart attack, because what the actual hell? Diego and Daisy had been best friends and far more, but they’d not managed to keep in touch once they split. Though somehow, his brother who was the king of not keeping in touch had taken up a relationship with her. It shouldn’t have pissed him off, but it did.
“She’s the best at what she does,” Rocco said. “I need her. But I need you more.”
Diego had no choice here. He wasn’t a complete asshole. And if he were being honest, he’d missed Rocco—much more than he was ready to admit. “Okay. You’ve got me. What do you need?”
Rocco appeared to breathe a sigh of relief. “The first thing is tomorrow’s cake tasting. We’ve had a last-minute change of bakery. Daisy arranged this new one.”
“I don’t know,” Diego said. “If you want this to go smoothly, having me and Daisy in the same room probably isn’t a great idea.”
“I really need you both there, man.”
With a shake of his head, Diego looked out at the water and took a beat to breathe. He was being manipulated, he could feel it. And he hated that. “I’ll need to talk to Daisy first.”
Rocco pulled out his phone and did something, and from within Diego’s pocket, his own cell buzzed. He pulled out the device, eyed the text, and then looked up at his brother.
“Daisy’s address.” Rocco held his gaze.
“She lives in the same building as The Canvas Shop?”
“Yep. Fourth-floor, one-bedroom apartment. Consider the intel a peace treaty. But, uh…” Rocco grimaced. “Maybe lie about how you got it. No sense in her hating both of us, right?”