luciaNeve swallowed another groan, pushing the wheelbarrow across the rocky terrain. “Come on, Pops… Why are you doing this now?” He frowned over at his father bent over a patch of overgrown weeds.

“It’s only a question. No need for the tantrum,” Francis murmured, slapping the dirt from the gloves onto his pant leg. He squinted up at his son and clucked his tongue. “Why is it so hard for you to answer me?”

The younger man leaned the wheelbarrow, pausing to wipe his perspiring brow. “Because your question is… unfounded.” He frowned, crouching beside his father to start pulling out the troublesome plants.

“Unfounded?” Francis raised a brow and chuckled. “Since when do you start using words like that here? Don’t cover your real feelings with scientific words.”

“It’s not scientific, Father,” Neve muttered, holding back his rising frustration, tossing the uprooted plant in the wheelbarrow. “And my real feeling is exactly what I said before. If Gene wants Mr. Boudain, she’ll say so.” He frowned, imagining the tall and balding actuary with the vibrant and flippant Genevieve. For the life of him, he couldn’t wrap his mind around the reality of Genevieve as Mrs. Boudain or anyone else’s bride for that matter. “I doubt she’ll agree to him but in the end, it’s her decision.”

Francis snorted darkly. “Why will she not agree? Stefan Boudain is a fine man. Responsible and he is fond of her. He will be good for her.”

Neve rolled his eyes, tugging at another stubborn weed. “This is not the dark ages, Pops. You can’t just go matching two people together because you and some of the other town biddies think he’ll be good to her. That isn’t hard to do. What is this really about?” He tossed the weed over his shoulder.

Francis sat back on his heels and watched his son work, taking note of his clenched jaw and his furrowed brow. “What is this…?”

“What?”

“Your disapproval of Boudain….”

Neve tore the weed out of the ground, scowling at his father. “I’m not disapproving of Boudain as a man.”

“But as Genevieve’s future, you are.”

“That’s ridiculous…” Neve muttered under his breath as he turned his head to throw the sprigs into the barrow. “It’s not my business about who Genevieve’s future is.”

“Isn’t it?”

Neve stalled, staring over the mountain of weeds toward the sea, his frown deepening as his father’s words echoed in his ears and his heart.

The party started later than Neve expected but then again, his people were notorious for showing up to places whenever they saw fit. He’d been in Maui long enough to now know this habit of theirs wasn’t polite or appropriate. He shrugged his shoulders and turned to look across the room where his father, clad in a simple black suit with a country flower pinned to his lapel, stood grinning from ear to ear. The older man greeted his straggling guests at the door and Neve realized that it didn’t matter what he thought of their late arrival; the celebrant, his father didn’t mind too much about punctuality.

Refraining from glancing down at his watch, Neve scanned the room with a smirk on his lips as he took in the older women and men standing in clusters around the room. Their smiles were a welcome change from the solemn expressions drawn on their faces as they stood around the grave of Mrs. Faluna days prior. Just like after every storm that ravaged their town, his people held onto hope and community to dispel the despair and were now celebrating his father’s retirement as the Chief Superintendent of the police force.

His gaze fell on another set of people standing by the punch bowl and his smile waned, immediately recognizing the tall and lithe man with his balding head shining from the disco ball spinning slowly above him. As his father’s pointed words drifted in his ear, Neve narrowed his gaze at the unassuming man. His broad shoulders were bowed, his gait awkward in his middle-aged body and his narrow face strained with a smile.

Good for Gene, my left foot. Neve rolled his eyes in disgust. One hour with Genevieve and this reclusive man would sprint out the room and never look back. He meant no offense to the man but he knew Genevieve all too well. She was a more than any sensible man could handle; her fiery temper and sharp tongue could drive any man insane. He could bet a year’s salary that the town actuary wouldn’t last a day much less a lifetime with her.

Pulling his bored gaze from Mr. Boudain and his companions, Neve shifted his eyes to the next corner of the room and his brow furrowed deeply, feeling his heart slam hard against his ribs.

Three people had just stepped into the hall, pausing at the door to congratulate his father. He tried not to glare at the tall Caucasian man that flanked both women, Jonathan Harris. Neve refrained from staring at Ameya who wore a soft yellow dress that flowed like the wind. His heart twisted as she gave his father that gentle smile of hers and pulled the older man in a quick embrace. Swallowing hard, he pulled his eyes to the woman beside her.

Genevieve wearing a simple gray dress stood beside Ameya, waiting her turn to congratulate the retired chief. Neve realized that he couldn’t stop staring at her. That restrained smile of hers nudged at him as if he recognized that she wasn’t in the mood to be here but had to come. For propriety’s sake, no doubt.

Genevieve refrained from sighing as Chief Francis shifted his eyes to her. “Congratulations…” she said, allowing herself to be embraced. The steady warmth from the retired police commissioner probed at the space she’d contained her tears. She bit her bottom lip, spreading a smile on her face when he pulled her back to gaze at her.

“Thank you for coming…” Francis said gently before peering over her head at Jonathan. “Even my friend all the way from America. Thank you.”

Jonathan’s chuckle pushed her tears back and Genevieve swallowed a sigh even as Ameya drew her away from the host toward the food table. “I’m fine,” she assured Ameya as they crossed the room. “I just wish everyone stopped looking at me like that…” she mumbled, reaching for a paper cup.

“They’re just worried about you,” Ameya whispered gently, reaching for a cup of her own. Her eyes glanced up to see Neve who quickly looked away, preoccupying himself with adjusting a tablecloth beside him. Sighing, she stepped away from the table. “I’ll be right back.”

“Hmm,” Genevieve mumbled distractedly, pouring some juice into her clear cup, not noticing that Ameya had stepped around the shy Mr. Boudain to approach the evasive Neve. Lifting the cup to her lips, she paused once she spotted the tall and reserved actuary standing at the end of the table. Swallowing a groan, Genevieve shifted her gaze away. She was not in the mood for this, especially not today.

“Good evening, Mademoiselle Faluna,” the man said with his accented English. He’d lived in South France all of his life and had moved to Vieux Forte about a year ago.

“Good evening…” Genevieve answered stiffly, straining not to step back as he moved closer to her.

“Didn’t think I would get to see you here. You look lovely.”

Genevieve bit back a whine when her body itched at his hovering. Why wasn’t he getting the hint?

 —

Why wasn’t this dolt getting the hint? Neve frowned over Ameya’s head at the tall man standing beside Genevieve, taking note of the woman’s stiffened shoulders and averted face.

“Neville,” Ameya nudged him. “Did you hear a word I just said?”

Neve dragged his gaze back to Ameya’s face, marveling at how he’d once melted at her expressive brown eyes. Now she was only in his way and he was not in the mood to face her now. “Can’t this wait?”

Ameya raised a shapely brow. “What, are you busy?”

“Yes.” He pulled his gaze back over her head to where Mr. Boudain was speaking in hushed tones to Genevieve who merely nodded stiffly, her lips drawn in a thin line. It was clear Genevieve was not in the mood either. “We’ll talk later, Ameya.”

He stepped around her and crossed the room to Genevieve’s side.  “Mr. Boudain, good evening…” His hand slipped around Genevieve’s waist and pulled her toward him. Smiling as he heard the gentle intake of breath escape her lips, Neve peered up at the perturbed man. “If you don’t mind, I’ll need to steal Gene for a moment.”

Genevieve choked on an incredulous laugh as Neve pulled her toward the open door and led her out to the courtyard that faced the ocean.

<<Part 3 || Part 5>>

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