“See you later, Syn,” Eliza called out from the back door of the kitchen as her mother yelled for her to hurry up and peel the carrots. She quickly vanished inside, and I smirked to myself.
For the past week, I seemed to have fallen into a comfortable routine which I had absolutely embraced.
My life had never been dull. It had always come at me with the force of a storm, ripping me apart and reminding me that I just didn’t fit in anywhere.
Well, until now, that was.
The sun beat down on my shoulders, birds sang from the palm tree branches, and the salty smell of the sea was a constant reminder that I lived on a dream island. Sure, my home was with three dangerous alphas who killed for a living, but I never said anyone was perfect. And definitely not me.
But damn it, I deserved happiness too. I would never wish my old life upon anyone, and now I just hoped the bad shit that seemed to follow me disappeared.
I strolled away from the back door of the mansion, following a small path through the lush jungle of the island. Greenery everywhere, and the sound of the lapping waves on the shore in the distance kept me company.
It wasn’t long on my walk when a faint whistle caught my attention from my left, and past the trees and shrubs, I spotted someone in the distance.
I stepped aside to get a better look at who was deep in the forest, whistling while looking like they were digging something up.
The mansion lay behind me, and up ahead were some of the huts where the locals lived. But for some reason, I couldn’t stop watching this man with chestnut brown hair fluttering in the breeze. There was something familiar about him. It was only when he pulled up and wiped his brow with the back of his hand that I caught a glimpse of his face.
He stood at least fifty feet away, but I’d recognize him anywhere. Curiosity burrowed through my chest to work out what he was doing out there all by himself.
Without thinking, I found myself traipsing off the beaten track and into the woods, trampling over the foliage. I sidestepped a huge palm tree and kept my attention on River.
He didn’t seem to notice my approach, or at least pretended not to as he kept working, and it was only as I moved closer that it became apparent he was digging a hole in the ground.
My chest squeezed.
Wait! Had he just killed someone? The memory of him shooting Joe, the gardener who’d turned out to be a psychopath, flashed vividly in my mind. I’d witnessed the horrific event, and my stomach clenched just thinking about it.
So who had River killed now? Was there another crazy person on the island they had to eliminate? A shiver wormed down my spine as Eliza’s warning from the other night came to light.
You shouldn’t be wandering out of your room.
It’s how people get hurt.
I shook her words from the forefront of my mind since her examples of those injured sounded more like accidents rather than someone intentionally hurting others.
Still moving forward, I became adamant to find out the truth and not be kept in the dark. River had been acting distant with me ever since I arrived back to the island. I’d like some answers for that as well.
He lifted his head in my direction before I reached him, but I wasn’t exactly trying to conceal my approach either.
“Syn,” he said promptly, and I felt the sting of displeasure in his voice.
“Am I interrupting you?” I said lightly. It wasn’t like I could accuse him up front of burying his latest victim, but his standoffish welcome had me rearing my shoulders back and wanting to grill him.
He returned to digging the hole, not responding right away. He wore a checkered shirt with sleeves rolled up to his elbows and dirty blue jeans, easily reminding me of a lumberjack or cowboy. Everything screamed handsome, and my mind ran even more with questions on why he was pulling away from me.
Once I stepped closer and onto the patch of open land where he worked, I noticed the large round hole, deciding it didn’t resemble a grave.
“How about you give me a helping hand?” he asked, gesturing to a potted frangipani tree blossoming with beautiful white flowers sprouting large petals I hadn’t noticed a few feet away. Its roots were wrapped up in a plastic bag.
“Oh, you’re planting a tree?” I said, which gained me a laugh from him, so I took that as a positive step forward.
“Why? Did you think I was going to bury someone?”
I walked over to him and helped him carry the tree over to the hole. “It crossed my mind.”
River crouched down and, with his switchblade, slashed at the plastic bag, wrestling to remove it from around the tree roots. I jumped in and helped him.
“It’s a fair assumption to make, all things considered,” he responded, and his laid-back response reminded me why I should be cautious around him. He was unpredictable.
“I’m going to place the tree into the hole, and I need you to hold onto the trunk to ensure it doesn’t snap as I lower it down.”
“Okay. I’ve got this.” Down on my knees across from him, I followed his instructions, watching him the whole time. How meticulously he focused on the job, and how he didn’t once lift his gaze toward me. How part of me wished he’d just look at me with a smile on his lips.
“Why are you out here? Surely there’s someone else who can plant trees?” I asked.
“I enjoy getting my hands dirty. Besides, trees don’t give me shit or try to kill me if they disagree with what I do.” Despite his attempt at being funny, he wasn’t exactly smiling.
Once we put the tree into the hole, I sat back on my heels, while he pushed the loose dirt around the tree and began patting down the earth.
“I find this therapeutic,” he admitted out of the blue, grabbing the watering can and spraying the soil. He began to whistle again, and it was a strange feeling to be with someone, yet feel like you weren’t really there with them at all.
“River, is something wrong, you know, between us?” I asked, hating how much my chest clenched.
The bluest eyes raised to meet mine with a tight pinch across the bridge of his nose. “Not at all.”
He was back to his calm exterior self, while my own insecurities were going off the charts. I liked River, more than liked him, and having him pretend all was okay when it clearly wasn’t, hurt me.
Swallowing the thickness in my throat, I went for it. “You’ve been distant since I returned.” I wanted to be honest and not play games. The feelings I held for him were real. “I just thought you cared for me like I do you, but maybe I was just imagining it.” I licked my dry lips nervously, wishing I could desperately retract those last words back into myself.