The third and final piece in the Stanton puzzle
Joshua and Natasha are finally as one, so in love like never before.
But how dark are the secrets and how deep are the lies?
And when is all said and done, are their lives and love Completely safe?
SEVEN DAYS EARLIER
Light bulb moments
In what state does the subconscious mind need to be for one to be able to experience an awakening like this?
Is it the conscious mind? Does it need to be openly receptive to the information it had before? And why now? Why only now does this make sense? Why does it seem so real that it can’t possibly be true?
I knew Joshua Stanton was wealthy. The houses, the lifestyle, the security.
Why the hell am I sitting here dumbstruck, peering out of the car like a child in a chocolate factory movie?
My name is Natasha Marx, I have thirty million dollars in my bank account.
I am in love with a billionaire.
And my life will never be the same.
The car slowly pulls into the driveway and tall black metal gates block the entrance. We are at the Kamala house in Thailand. The driver enters a code into the pinpad and I watch them slowly open. My stomach drops at the sight of the huge stone fence surrounding the
property and Joshua picks up my hand and kisses it as he smirks at my bewildered face.
“This is it? This is your house?” I ask.
“Yes.” He smiles softly.
Holy crap. The large lawn is at street level but I can see it drops off to a cliff at the back of the property, and cobblestones line the driveway which winds its way through the tropical oasis. I can’t see what’s ahead and I crane my neck as excitement fills me. We drive past a waterfall, through the gardens to a circular bay. “This is your house?” I repeat again as I frown. The main house is in front of us with driveways to the other houses on the property veering off to the side.
He leans over and kisses me gently as if sensing my inner freak-out mode. The car comes to a stop and parks in the undercover area and other cars pull in behind us. My eyes explore the opulence surrounding me.
“Holy shit!” Abbie yells and I smile as I nod my head in agreement.
“Is this a house?” Bridget gasps. My god, I did not expect this. I expected a holiday shack on the hill, this is over the top frigging… I don’t even know what… ridiculously extravagant money. Five men in traditional Thai dress come out of the house to the left, stand in a line and then simultaneously put their hands together, as if to pray, and bow.
“Sawas Dee Krab.” Joshua smiles as he and the boys bow their heads in reply. Oh shit, I didn’t know about the bowing head and my eyes flick around to the others and I quickly bow my head to try not to be rude.
“Sawas Dee Krab, Joshua,” they all say and then burst into conversation.
Joshua and Cameron instantly reply in fluent Thai. Joshua then turns and pulls me by the hand to the front of the men. “This is Natasha.” He smiles as he picks up my hand and kisses it. They all smile and laugh at something he has said and then bow their head at me again. What… he can speak Thai? Oh jeez, I’m so punching above my weight here. Joshua smiles warmly. “Boys, can you show the girls to their house.” He grabs my hand and pulls me up the steps towards the house through two oversized carved timber doors.
“Oh my god!” I hear the girls scream excitedly as they disappear up the path to go next door and I shake my head in disbelief as Joshua pulls me into the house.
“Joshua,” I whisper as I stop dead in my tracks.
“Welcome to our home, my precious girl.” He bends and kisses me gently.
I’m overwhelmed, this is bullshit. High carved timber cathedral ceilings adorn the large room, the walls are rendered in a cream colour, and dark timber floors are throughout. A wall of glass looks out to sea over the massive infinity pool and the backyards of the four properties are fenced individually for privacy. An island in the middle of the pool has a circular cabana, a thatched roof and lounge chairs are surrounding a fire pit. My eyes flick to Joshua. This is a visual sensation if ever I saw one.
“Are you serious?” I raise my eyebrows in question.
“Do you like it?” he asks.
I frown. “Ahuh,” I whisper as I put my hands on top of my head. I walk through the room and around to the left to an extravagant kitchen with every luxury appliance known to man. In front of it is a sixteen-seat dining table.
“How have you been happy to stay stuck in my tiny dump for the last month?” I frown. “This kitchen and dining area is the size of my whole apartment.” I shake my head in disbelief.
He pulls me into an embrace. “I love your apartment. I feel more at home there than I do in my own home,” he whispers into my forehead. “Money doesn’t make you happy Natasha, I know that first hand.”
We continue up the hall and through another set of double doors and my stomach drops. Dear god. A huge all-white bedroom with a massive four-poster bed in the centre, fine white mosquito netting adorning it, and with yet another glass wall looking out to sea.
I burst out laughing. “This is the fucking bedroom?” I gasp. “Are you serious?”
He smiles broadly. “Look around while I go and get our bags.” He leaves and I walk over to the window and put my hand on the glass as I stare out to sea. This place is unbelievable. Over to the left is another set of doors. I investigate and my eyes widen again. A white marble bathroom with a ridiculously large white stone bath sits in the centre with a triple shower to the right. Bloody hell, Joshua Stanton, you are a mind fuck. I walk back out to the bedroom and run my hand up the beautiful thick timber of the post on the bed and stare up at the delicate netting. This is the most beautiful place I have ever been in. Stupid crazy rich. My eyes roam over to the bedside table and my heart stops… tears instantly fill my eyes. One lone white photo frame sits on the side table, a photo of Joshua and me. A selfie that he took of us on the beach one day all those years ago. We look so young. I am laughing at the camera and he is kissing my cheek. We look so happy… so in love. I have never seen this photo before and I instantly pick it up as a lump of emotion forms in my throat. I turn to see Joshua standing in the doorway watching me silently.
“I love you,” I whisper.
He nods as his eyes search mine.
“I’m so sorry,” I whisper. How could I have put him through all this nonsense?
He nods again, unwilling to speak.
“I’m here now.” I smile softly.
He nods again.
“I’m not leaving again, I promise you,” I whisper.
He drops the bags and rushes to me, burying his head into my shoulder and I smile. I’ve died and gone to heaven. I am in the most beautiful place on earth with the most beautiful man on earth. And he loves me—he’s always loved me.
“The wait is going to be worth it baby.” I smile into the top of his head. “I am going to make you so happy.” I start to shower his forehead with kisses.
He pulls back to look at me with darkened eyes. “Good.” He smirks.
I smile broadly. “Good?’ I question.
He smiles and nods again. “Because I am about ten minutes off blowing in your mouth, my beautiful slut.”
I laugh out loud and run into the bathroom. “You will have to catch me first,” I squeal.
“One-way ticket,” he growls as he runs into the bathroom and tackles me so that I fall onto the huge mat on the floor.
“You’re going to pound town.”
The flicker of the flames shadows my face as I stare into the fire. It’s 10 pm and we are sitting outside on the lounges surrounding the fire pit. Joshua showed me around this afternoon. This place is beyond heavenly. We went to the beach for a swim and his chef has just cooked us an amazing dinner. The others have headed off out on the town for a night of partying. I could think of nothing worse. How times change, I smile to myself. I am seated on one end of the long bench seat with my feet up on the ottoman and Joshua has his head on my lap and is fast asleep. He’s exhausted. He didn’t sleep last night because of the break-in at my apartment. I run my fingers continually over the top of his head and down his arm as I sit deep in thought watching the flames flicker. Who broke into my apartment? And what was the significance of my vibrator? I know I should believe that it’s Coby Allender, but I don’t. I think that was just a stupid coincidence that he mentioned it. It has something to do with Joshua, but what? My mind goes back to when it was taken—when was that? I rub my forehead as I think. It was when he came back to Australia and we were breaking up, not long after the hit on him. What was that hit about anyway? Was it an attempted hit or just a scare tactic? Somebody is trying to scare us. You don’t steal a vibrator in a robbery and then return it unless you are specifically trying to scare the shit out of someone. It worked. I had
the first nightmare I have had in weeks last night. I run my hands over the top of Joshua’s head as he sleeps on my lap. He’s different here. The security has been dismissed. Max is staying in the last house on the block with the other guards and he has chosen not to go out tonight, although Joshua wouldn’t have cared if he had wanted to. It’s weird having all this privacy.
My mind goes to Margaret and the horrible secret I am keeping. What a nightmare that situation is. Now that I know how Joshua has felt about me all along I am riddled with guilt. He doesn’t deserve to be deceived by the two people he cares about the most. I’m as bad as Margaret and I make myself sick. I’ve made the decision to tell him as soon as we get back to LA. It’s going to be hard but I have to do it because this guilt is eating me alive.
Joshua stirs, slowly wakes and sleepily smiles up at me. The honesty in his eyes cuts through me like a knife.
“Time for bed?” I smile softly.
He nods as he slowly stands. “Bedtime presh,” he murmurs huskily as he grabs my hand and leads me to our bedroom. “I will be asleep before I hit the pillow,” he sighs.
“Same,” I murmur, but my mind is far from a restful sleep. I’m preoccupied with betrayal and paternity and vibrator-stealing thieves and wondering if the man I love more than life itself will ever forgive me for keeping this secret and deceiving him.
It’s our second morning in Kamala, the boys are in the gym at the end house and the girls and I are making breakfast. Actually, let me rephrase that. I am making Spanish omelette while the lazy girls watch. Abbie is lying on the kitchen bench and Didge is sitting on a stool at the island bench. Apparently they went to a karaoke bar last night and embarrassed themselves. What a surprise.
“I saw you on the dance floor, Bridget. Don’t try and deny it.”
Abbie raises her eyebrows in question.
I look up from the frying pan. “Saw what?” I ask.
“Ben and Bridget had a moment.”
“Did not!” Bridget snaps.
I frown as I continue to flip the omelette. “Do you like him Didge? You can tell me you know, I don’t care.”
Bridget bites her bottom lip as she thinks and shrugs her shoulders. “Not really,” she mutters under her breath.
“Oh please.” Abbie rolls her eyes. “You are so into him.”
“He’s just a nice guy that’s all. I like spending time with him but it’s not romantically charged.”
“Oh my fuck, did you just say it’s not romantically charged?” Abbie frowns in horror.
I smile broadly and Bridget shakes her head as she smirks.
“It’s sexually charged imbecile, not romantically charged.” Abbie scoffs. “If you are waiting for an attraction to be romantically charged you are going to be waiting for a lifetime. Shit doesn’t happen like that.”
“Does too.” Bridget widens her eyes at Abbie to accentuate her point.
I nod as I agree. “It does Abbie. With nice guys it happens.” I start to lay out the cutlery and hand the bottle of juice to Bridget who starts to fill the glasses on the table.
“Blah, blah, blah, nice guys are boring. I want a bad boy to bend me over and I want sexually charged. Bang the romance shit you two go on about,” Abbie replies.
“Nice guys bend you over,” I mutter.
“Really?” Joshua coos from his spot at the doorway. I throw him a smirk. How long has he been standing there listening?
“You are a nice guy and yes I am bent over regularly.” My eyes hold his and he smiles sexily. He walks around behind me and kisses my temple as he wraps his arms around me.
“Stop it. You’re all sweaty.” I swish him away.
“You like sweat,” he whispers darkly
“Eww, yuk, stop it,” Bridget frowns. “You two are gross,” she adds.
Joshua picks up an apple and takes a bite. “My house.” His eyes dare her to reply.
She whips him with the tea towel and shakes her head. “I’m having a shower.” Joshua kisses me gently on the lips and disappears out of the room.
My eyes flick to the two girls as their eyes meet.
“What?” I ask.
“You two are really happy.” Bridget shakes her head in disbelief. “I never thought I would see the day.”
I smile warmly and nod. “Yes we are.” I have never been more in love with my beautiful man. Here he is how I imagined he would be if we hadn’t had to put up with all of the crap in our lives. We are in a love bubble, one I don’t want to pop.
“Who would have ever thought you would fall in love with a guy who is this rich?”
Abbie mutters as she takes a sip of her juice. “This whole resort thing going on here.” She gestures around the room at our surroundings with her glass. “Could be half yours.”
“It’s Joshua’s,” I frown.
Her eyes hold mine. “Semantics.”
“Anyway, so what happened last night?” I turn my attention back to Bridget to change the subject.
“Ben and I were dancing,” she answers.
“Yes.” I take a sip of my juice.
“And then the song changed so we were slow dancing.”
“Ahuh.” I turn and start to butter the toast. “Then what?”
She goes silent and my eyes flick up to her from my buttering toast duties to see Ben standing at the door. Oh shit, did he hear us?
“Breakfast will be about five minutes Ben.” I smile.
Ben’s eyes hold Bridget’s and she smiles softly at him. Oh, she does like him. I have seen that look before.
“Ok, thanks,” he answers in his husky South African accent.
“Shall we go and wait on the deck?” Bridget smiles up at him.
He nods and smiles back gently. Oh, he likes her too. This is so frigging cute and I feel my heart flutter a little as they leave the room.
Abbie gets up and walks over next to me. “This is stupid—how can she date Joshua’s bodyguard?” she whispers.
I frown. “What do you mean?” I ask.
“Think about it. Every time Joshua needs him to go out at night, Bridget is going to want him to go out with her.”
I frown as I start to dish out the omelette. “Not necessarily.”
“Oh bullshit,” she snaps. “Get a reality check.”
“Just shut up and dish out the food Abbs and keep that opinion to yourself. Don’t say anything to Didge. She can like who she wants. I like Ben,” I reply.
“Get this. She kissed him last night on the lips on the dancefloor and then he broke away.”
I frown. “What… tongue kiss?”
“No, like a peck. But there was probably more that I missed.”
“And he pulled away?” I frown.
“Yep, totally.” She nods. “But then he was looking at her all doe-eyed all night, like he wanted more to happen but he didn’t make a move.”
“Hmm, I will ask Josh about it later,” I whisper as Adrian walks into the room.
“Morning ladies.” He smiles.
I smile broadly at someone who is fast-tracking his way to being one of my favourite people. “Morning, Mr Murphy, how was the gym?” I ask as Cameron walks in and takes a seat at the table.
“Yeah ok.” He flicks on the coffee machine.
“Go ask him now,” Abbie whispers over the bean grinder.
“Shhh,” I whisper. “Abbie, you are so punishing.”
“That’s why you love me,” She replies.
Joshua returns from his shower and the seven of us all take a seat. I place the large Spanish omelette in the middle of the table with the fruit and toast I have prepared, and everybody starts to tuck in. Joshua is sitting opposite me.
“What’s on the agenda today?” I ask.
Joshua swallows his food. “I thought we would go down and get you a motorbike licence.”
I look at him in horror across the table. “Why?” I answer.
“So we can go riding together,” he states matter-of-factly. I screw up my face. “Ah, no, not happening. I could think of nothing worse.”
Joshua smirks. “What now? Why wouldn’t you want to ride a motorbike?”
“Because I hate them and these roads here are frigging dangerous. I don’t normally like to get killed on holidays,” I mutter as I bite into my toast.
Abbie, Bridget and Adrian smile.
“Wouldn’t you rather die doing something you love?” Joshua frowns.
“Exactly.” I point my fork at him and he smirks as he takes another bite of his food.
“How would you want to die then?” He raises his eyebrows.
I shrug. “So doing something I love right?” I question.
He nods as he continues eating.
I think for a moment. “I would like to die in my sleep or eating a Big Mac.”
Joshua screws up his face in disgust.
“I would like to die getting a head job,” Cameron interjects. “What a way to go.” He shovels more food into his mouth.
Ben laughs and Adrian rolls his eyes.
“I would like to die in Paris,” Bridget says, smiling. “Underneath the Eiffel Tower.”
Ben smiles warmly at Bridget and I drop my head to hide my smile at their interaction.
“What about you Josh—where would be your favourite place to die?” I ask.
“Next to you,” he replies quietly. I smile broadly and take his hand in mine over the table as I melt. The rest of the table breaks into moans of disgust at his gushy reply.
“What about you Murph? Where would be your favourite place to die?” Joshua asks.
He shrugs and takes a sip of his coffee. “I don’t know. I don’t think I have a favourite place.” He frowns. “Maybe here.”
“Don’t dare fucking die in my house.” Joshua shakes his head in disgust.
“That could be arranged you know,” Cameron says matter-offactly. “Ben and I could knock you off in your sleep.” He drinks his coffee.
Adrian fakes a smile at Cameron.
“Can I get a motorbike licence Josh?” Abbie asks.
“Yes, of course. All three of you girls can. It will be fun and then we can ride around the island today.” He smiles.
My stomach drops in fear. This is going to end badly. I just know it.
Turns out I was right. I told them to listen to me. After taking three hours to get my motorbike licence Joshua was so appalled at my lack of prowess he wouldn’t let me drive one anyway. So I spent the afternoon on the back of his bike while everyone else had their own. We did have fun exploring the island—what a beautiful place it is… and the food is magnificent.
It’s now 6 pm. We have stopped at Kamala beach and have been tubing for the last hour. Tubing. Being towed behind a boat on a huge inflatable tube, now this is what I call enjoyment. I keep falling off and have to be dragged into the boat by the poor workers. Joshua has even pushed me off a few times. It’s every man for himself on this thing. The boys are doing everything in their power to push each other off at full speed. My stomach is sore from laughing, and I can’t remember having this much fun. The boat drivers are getting in on it and doing zig zags in the water to try and throw us off. Abbie’s bikini top even came off, much to Cameron’s delight. The boat slowly pulls in and we swim slowly to shore.
“Hold onto my back presh,” Joshua whispers as he goes under water.
“I can swim Joshua,” I splutter.
His eyes dance mischievously in the water.
“I know.” He smiles as he grabs me and pulls me onto his back, and the others all continue to swim into the shore. He grabs my legs and wraps them around his body.
“Let’s fuck,” he whispers over his shoulder.
I laugh out loud. “Let’s not.” I pick up a handful of water and splash him in the face.
“Did you just splash me?” he asks, affronted.
“No, it was a wave,” I squeal as I start to make a dash for the shore.
Joshua grabs my ankle and pulls me back to him and dunks me hard.
I squeal with laughter as he continues to drown me. “I see nothing’s changed.” I giggle.
“What do you mean?” He laughs as he chases me through the water.
I cough and splutter as I laugh. “You used to try and drown me back in the day, remember? You are still a behemoth.”
He raises his eyebrows as he smiles broadly. “Behemoth hey? I think I need to fill that smart mouth of yours with my dick to shut it up.” He splashes me in the face.
“This doesn’t happen in my romance novels.” I laugh as I splutter and go under, his warm arms then go around me and instantly I can feel his arousal. The mood instantly changes and we are both brought to silence.
“Is this more like your romance novels?” he asks as his lips drop to my neck and his hips grind into mine.
I nod and kiss him gently on the lips. “Yes.”
He smiles broadly. “Nice try Marx.” He dunks me hard again and swims to the shore.
“Watch out for sharks,” he yells over his shoulder. Oh, of all the nerve.
“You are going to cop it later, Stanton,” I yell after him.
“Promises, promises,” he replies as he swims off in the distance.
It is true, this doesn’t happen in my romance novels… and you know what? This is life exactly how I want it.
“Shit, look at the bruises on your body,” Cameron gasps
I look down at myself. We are on Adrian’s pool deck. Adrian is in a deckchair on the right and then Joshua, me, Bridget and Abbie are lying on towels and Cameron is on a deckchair on the other side to the left. I’m not sure where Ben is.
“I know, all Joshua’s fault pushing me off that tube of death yesterday.” I smile with my eyes closed and my face tilted to the sun.
Joshua leans up on his elbow to inspect the bruises on the insides of my arms. “It looks like fingerprints.” He frowns.
Cameron sits up and takes a closer look. “Yeah, that would be where they were pulling her back onto the boat.”
“Oh right,” Joshua answers. “Look at your hipbones for Pete’s sake.”
I smile again with my eyes closed. “I didn’t even feel it. Hey, take a photo on my phone so I can send it to Mum.” I hand Joshua my phone and he starts to take photos of the bruising.
“I think I can safely say I won the tubing challenge presh.” He gives me a smirk and a wink.
“Haha so funny,” I mutter. “Name the photo ‘Joshua’s trophies’.”
He smiles broadly and texts it in.
“How did you go last night Cam?” Joshua asks as he lies back down next to me.
“No good,” Cameron replies with his eyes closed. What are they talking about? Oh right, they are talking about picking up.
“Do you like Thai girls Cam?” I ask.
“Ahuh.” he answers, still with his eyes closed.
“What is it you specifically like about them?” Abbie asks as she raises the back of her forearm over her face to shield it from the sun.
“I don’t know, the natural thing,” he replies.
“Natural?” Bridget repeats.
“Yeah, you know, the carpet matches the curtains.”
“The carpet matches the curtains.” I giggle as I decipher that mentally.
Abbie screws up her face in disgust.
Joshua smiles and starts to slowly rub my oil sunscreen into my hipbones. He discreetly pulls me closer. I smirk—he loves my hipbones.
“Oh, dear god, Cameron, please tell me you don’t date girls who have a carpet?” Adrian murmurs as he screws his face up in disgust.
Cameron smiles with his eyes closed. “Yeah, I can work with a sixties vibe,” he replies.
“Oh gross,” Bridget sighs.
“Yuck. I definitely don’t work with carpet,” Abbie groans. “In fact, sixties vibe carpet is a deal breaker.”
“Yeah, especially shag pile.” Bridget giggles and I laugh.
“How about you Tash, does the carpet match the curtains?” Cameron asks as he leans up on his elbow to see my face.
“Fuck off,” Joshua snaps. “Get your filthy mind off Natasha’s carpet.”
I giggle. “I’m right here, you know.”
“Market research,” Cameron mutters as he lies back.
“Not on the fucking market,” Joshua snaps. Adrian laughs as his phone starts to vibrate.
He answers. “Murphy.” He listens and then stands up in a rush, and we all fall silent.
“Don’t you fucking dare!” he sneers. Joshua sits up immediately at the tone of Adrian’s voice. Who the hell is on the other end of the phone? The girls and I glance at each other and frown.
“Don’t bother,” he snaps. “I’m not listening.” He narrows his eyes in contempt as he shakes his head in anger.
“Don’t call me, don’t email me and stay the hell out of my life Nicholas. We are done.” He listens again. “Too little, too late.” He hangs up the phone and throws it on the deckchair with such force that it bounces and flies straight into the pool. Cameron immediately dives in after it and Adrian storms inside. Joshua’s eyes meet mine. I wait five minutes to see how the boys handle this. They all lie still and start to chatter as if nothing happened and nobody is going after him. Men are hopeless. I tentatively stand and walk inside where I find Adrian lying on his bed. I slowly lie down behind him and cuddle his back.
“Tash.” He shakes his head as his anger steals his ability to speak.
“I don’t want to say anything. I just want to lie with you,” I reply quietly.
He lies silent and still while I troll my brain for the right thing to say. What did Nicholas say to upset him this much? He was only with him for a month… who am I kidding? I was only with Joshua for a month when we first got together and I have been fucked over ever since. A lot of love can happen in a month.
“I want to go home,” Adrian sighs.
I nod. “Ok,” I answer. “We can go early. We are due to go in three days anyway.”
Adrian shakes his head sadly as he rolls onto his back and puts his arm under my head. I gently kiss his chest.
“It will be ok Adrian,” I whisper. I know how a broken heart feels… it’s lonely.
“I want to go home,” he replies.
I nod and squeeze him that little bit harder. “Do you live near Josh?”
“No. I want to go to my parents’ house,” he replies.
My heart drops and my eyes close. I know both his parents are dead.
“I want to be depressed at my mother’s house and have her fuss over me and make me fattening food and my father to tell me that Nicholas didn’t deserve me in the first place. But no. They had to die, didn’t they?”
He’s angry that they died. It’s a natural progression in the grieving process. I am still angry with my father for leaving me. I can’t even imagine the pain of losing both parents at the same time.
“They would be here if they could honey, you know that. It was a terrible accident, Adrian. They didn’t want to die,” I whisper as I kiss his chest again. He pulls me closer but doesn’t answer. We lie still for another 15 minutes both lost in our own thoughts. Joshua walks in and sits at the end of the bed and grabs Adrian’s foot.
“Want a drink? I’m making cocktails,” he asks Adrian as he twists his foot.
“No,” he replies flatly as he yanks his foot from his grip.
“Want to beat up Cam?” Joshua asks as he raises his eyebrows in question.
Adrian smirks. “Possibly,” he replies.
“Get up and stop carrying on. If you want him back, go and fucking get him.” Joshua stands and holds Adrian’s gaze for a moment and then leaves the room. I smile at Adrian.
“Jeez, he has so much empathy,” I smirk.
Adrian shakes his head. “That was Joshua being empathetic. Cameron is the soft one.” I smile. My man is probably the worse communicator in the human world with me. It never once occurred to me that he is like it with everyone. And I didn’t ever imagine that Cameron would be a soft-hearted communicator. I really am learning something every day about these complicated men that have come into my life.