Olivia: choisie book 2

By: Lori L. Otto

CHAPTER 1





Staring beyond the crowd of family members, the horizon line of trees and stone markers becomes a blur. People talk to one another around me, but my uncle and I stand in silence. He moves his hand up and down my arm. The warmth feels nice in the cool morning breeze, but I still wish I’d brought a jacket. Matty had already offered his, but I declined.

“You should sit up front,” my uncle whispers to me. I shake my head, finally allowing myself to blink. The trees come back into focus, along with the side entrance to the cemetery where I see Jon walking in alone.

I breathe a sigh of relief, the sight of him bringing both a sense of calm and excitement. I need to be comforted by him. I need to be held by him. I want to be loved by him again.

“How much longer until James’s limo gets here?” I ask Matty.

“Jacks says it shouldn’t be too much longer.”

“I’ll be back in a minute.”

“Where are you–” he begins, but stops as I shrug away from him, moving quickly to the south side of the grounds. I don’t look back, hoping that I’m not drawing attention to myself. Jon meets my eyes, and shifts his direction accordingly. We finally meet among a grouping of oak trees, the shade providing privacy that I’d been hoping for.

“You should be with your family, Olivia,” he whispers in my ear as we hold one another tightly. I inhale lofty breaths, taking in his clean scent, finally ridding my nose of the smell of incense from the church service, if only for a few seconds. The odor lingers on my clothes, and the clothes of everyone in my family. “Are you okay?”

He releases his grasp and moves his hands to my bare forearms, feeling the goosebumps that have arisen in the past minute or so. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m cold, or because I’m so happy to see him again. “I’m fine.” I close my eyes and stand on my tiptoes to touch my lips to his. It should have been a sweet, tender kiss, but it’s obvious he’s missed me as much as I’ve missed him. When I pull away, I glance around him to see if my family is watching. I see the limo finally pulling up, giving them all something else to focus on momentarily.

“We should–” Taking advantage of the secluded cover of trees, I interrupt him, kissing him again, this time allowing my hands to tuck beneath his suit jacket. I scrape my nails down his back. “Mmmmm,” he says, unable to speak but letting me know how it feels. The vibration tickles my lips. He moves his hand from my waist and reaches around, stopping me from continuing the motion. “Not here,” he breathes quickly, finally breaking away. I latch my hands together behind him, though, still holding him as close to me as possible. “God, I’ve missed you,” he says after finally catching his breath.

I never thought I’d survive the past five days without him. The conversations we’d had in infrequent moments of privacy were ones I would rather have had face-to-face. “I’ve missed you, too.” I feel his hands move lower down my back, beyond the hem of my short-sleeved sweater and half-way down my satiny skirt. His thumbs move slowly, gently. I love when he touches me in places no one else has. Pulling his head to mine again, we exchange full, slow kisses, ones that are reminiscent of that night. I’m sure he’s remembering it, too.

“Olivia,” he breathes, pushing me away. “We need to meet up with your family, and you’re going to make this very embarrassing for me.”

“They’re not watching,” I tell him, peeking beyond him once more to make sure I’m telling the truth. After James takes his seat, I see my father standing at the front right side of the casket, holding it somberly with five other men I don’t know well. I recognize a few from various charity events we’ve hosted over the years, but I couldn’t put a name with any of them if I tried.

I look away from the scene, not wanting to let my thoughts linger. My eyes settle on a line of photographers just beyond the cemetery gates. The lenses aren’t pointed at the ceremony, though. They’re pointed at Jon and me. “Yeah, we should probably go,” I suggest, not realizing my heart could pound any faster than it had been when we were sharing our intimate moment. Since seeing the unwelcome onlookers, though, I realize how inappropriately we were both behaving. I glance behind me, wondering if anyone saw where his hands had been. I’m only a little relieved to see no one standing near the side entrance.

Jon’s cheeks splotchy, he ducks his head toward the ground, avoiding the stares of anyone we know as we walk toward the crowd gathered graveside. I’m sure he’d be embarrassed to know that anyone saw us, so I don’t bother to tell him–and hope that he doesn’t see the people behind the ceremony on his own.

“Can I have your jacket?” I ask him, feeling the definite chill now that his arms are no longer encircling my body.

“Give me a minute,” he says, squeezing my hand. I grin sheepishly, realizing why he wants me to wait. Glancing back up, I see the photographers still following us with their lenses. I tuck my head into his arm until we finally reach the gathering of my family and Granna’s friends and associates. Jon and I are welcomed into the circle of guests, our backs to the line of cameramen, facing the beautiful mahogany casket covered in hundreds of fresh flowers.

It’s just a box. She’s not in there. Just a wooden box.

Jon finally shrugs out of his coat and helps me to put it on. He slips behind me, draping his arms across my body and holding my hands in his. He rubs the ring he’d given me with his finger. I close my eyes, choosing to tune out the voice of the priest as he leads everyone in prayer, and instead remembering back to the night Jon and I were finally able to express how we really felt about each other.

I’m only brought back to the present, to this somber moment, when I feel the reverberations from Jon’s chest as he responds in kind to the prayers. I don’t want to be here, though. I don’t want to hear my mother’s soft cries, or my dad’s gentle voice as he tries to comfort her. I don’t want to hear Father Appleton speaking about Granna’s illustrious life. I don’t want to hear it, because I don’t want to believe that her life is over.

She’s not gone. I open my eyes, seeing a large picture of her and Nate on an easel next to one of dozens of sprays of flowers. After all she survived in her life, she aged remarkably well. Even though I know the photo is at least sixteen years old, she looks almost like the Granna I’d casually said goodbye to just a few weeks ago after the summer orientation we’d held at the Art Room. The next day, my parents, Trey and I left for England to attend Lexi’s wedding.

Granna was supposed to fly out a few days later, but she’d told us she wasn’t feeling well, and didn’t think she should be traveling on such a long flight. She had promised to work on preparations for the reception Lexi would be having when she returned from her honeymoon, hoping it would take some of the stress off my aunt and uncle.

The wedding celebration is being postponed now, replaced by today’s reception after the funeral that will host many of the same guests.

Lexi chose to cut her honeymoon short, arriving back in the states late last night. I had volunteered to pick up her and Kyle from the airport. I tried to engage her in conversation about the trip, but she was despondent, obviously saddened by Granna’s death. I didn’t think she looked any different, but I thought the way Kyle held her and touched her seemed more intimate.

I wonder if anyone notices that about Jon and me. Feeling the heat rise to my cheeks, I turn around abruptly and hug him, hiding my face in his shirt. “It’s okay,” he whispers to me, rubbing my back.

“I know,” I say, looking up and smiling. He meets my eyes, his expression curious. He obviously thinks I’m upset, but I’m not. I’m just overwhelmed by my feelings and the memories I have of him. “I love you,” I say softly.

He smiles gently. “You, too, baby. Hey,” he says, releasing me. “Your dad wants you.”

I turn around and see my father signaling for me to join him and Mom on the front row as the guests start to form a line. I shrug out of Jon’s coat and hand it back to him. “Come with me?”

“I’ll wait here,” he says.

“Please?” I beg him.

“It’s for family, Liv. I’ll be right here. I’m not going anywhere.”

I nod at him, feeling comforted. “Okay.” I walk past Dad, taking my place on the other side of my mother and holding her hand in mine.

“You okay?” she asks me.

“I’m fine, Mom.” I should ask her how she is doing, but it’s not necessary. She’s been crying for days, and I suspect she’s mourning more than the loss of Granna. She was always her link to her best friend. There’s no one left. I start to get choked up now, feeling empathetic about her loss.

Digging my nails into my palms, I distract myself with pain and stop the tears before they start. I glance once more at the picture of Nate and his mother, remembering the painting I’d abandoned at the loft. Granna had hired me to paint her portrait. She’d given me a few weeks notice at the end of the school year, which was plenty of time for me to complete it. She wanted it to be finished for a fundraiser she was having–she’d made a space for it already in her house–but I’d only just started painting before we left on our trip. She was disappointed, I could tell, but I’d assured her it would be finished a week after my return to the states. My agent, Abram, had even found a place that would custom frame it in 24 hours, just so it would be completed by the time of the gathering.

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