Bachelor Unbound

Chapter 1

Los Angeles, California

“Where the hell are you, Z?”

Zion Blackstone waited in Baggage Claim for his luggage to appear on the conveyor belt. Once his flight from Rome had landed, getting through Customs had been a monumental nightmare. “I’m in the States.”

“I know that. But where?” York Ellis asked in a tone that suggested he had every right to know Zion’s whereabouts.

“Just landed in LA and I’m still at the airport,” Zion said, glancing around at all the travelers hurrying to and fro.

“What are you doing in Los Angeles?”

Zion could easily tell York that he’d gotten one question answered and not to try his luck for two, but figured it wouldn’t do any good. He had five godbrothers, and Zion was used to them trying to keep up with him. That was the price you paid when you were the youngest in the group.

Most of his friends knew the story of how over forty years ago, while attending college at Morehouse in Atlanta, six guys had become best friends. On graduation day they had made a pact to stay in touch by becoming godfathers to each other’s children, and that the firstborn sons’ names would start with the letters U through Z. And that was how Uriel Lassiter, Virgil Bougard, Winston Coltrane, Xavier Kane, York Ellis and Zion Blackstone had come to have their names and their connections. From the time they were babies it had been drilled into them that as godbrothers they were to have each other’s backs.

York was an ex-cop turned high-tech security expert and was programmed to ask a lot of questions. And unfortunately for Zion, York was the most overly protective of the godbrothers. Zion recalled that when he’d made the decision to travel abroad for a year, it had been York who’d taken it upon himself to join him. At the time both Zion and York had demons to fight, and instead of staying put and dealing with them, they’d hauled ass. After that year York had returned to the States ready to get his shit together and conquer his demons, but Zion wasn’t ready. Now, eight years later, he still wasn’t ready.

“Z?”

Zion figured if he didn’t answer York, he would eventually get calls from U, V, W and X, namely Uriel, Virgil, Winston and Xavier. Over the years, he and his godbrothers had shortened their names for each other to just the first letter. Whenever they used the full first name it was a strong indication they were getting annoyed or already there.

“The reason I’m in LA, York, is because I’m on my way to the home of Levy Michaels.”

“Levy Michaels, the actor?”

“Yes.” And because he knew what York’s next question would be, he said, “He’s commissioned me to design a unique set of jewelry for his daughter’s twenty-fifth birthday.”

“Celine Michaels?”

“Yes.”

Zion wasn’t surprised York knew the name of Levy’s daughter when her face was so often plastered across magazines and tabloids. Some referred to her as the “jet-setting queen.”

Whenever Zion was commissioned to make personal jewelry pieces, he liked getting to know the individual and determining his or her personality, in order to make that piece of jewelry unique. It was his way of offering his clients the opportunity to provide input on the style or stone they preferred, and any specific elements they wanted included in the design. In the end, what they got was a Zion original, a distinctively created piece of jewelry representing his finest custom work.

“Do you plan to return to the States next month and stay through the holidays?” York asked.

In the past, during the holidays he would return to the States from Rome so the six of them could get together at a designated location. Uriel, Virgil and Xavier lived in Charlotte, North Carolina. Winston was presently living in Australia, and York made his home in New York. A lot had changed over the past few years. His godbrothers were no longer happy-go-lucky, never-intending-to-marry bachelors. U, V, W, X and Y were now all married men.

Zion was the lone bachelor left of the Bachelors in Demand Guarded Hearts Club, a club they’d founded a few years ago. At the time all six godbrothers had been going through their own personal hell with women and had made a pledge to remain single forever, referring to themselves as bachelors in demand. They were in demand of their futures without a permanent woman in it. Definitely never a wife. Now five had defected and Zion was determined to keep the club going, no matter what. He’d met a few single men who expressed interest, but as of yet, no one had submitted membership applications.

“Z? You still there?”

York’s question grabbed Zion’s attention again. “Yes, I’m still here, and no, I won’t be joining you guys for the holidays this year. I’ll be busy working on the Michaels jewelry.”

“When is his daughter’s birthday?”

“April.”

“This is October. You have plenty of time.”

“What I’ll be designing is jewelry made of a very unique gemstone just for her. Although I’m skipping the holidays this year, I plan to return for W’s homecoming party in February.” Winston, a marine biologist, and his wife, Ainsley, had been living in Australia for the past three years while Winston worked on some special project dealing with sea turtles.

“You’d better be there. It’s time you stopped acting like a recluse.”

Zion didn’t mind acting like a recluse. In fact, he rather enjoyed it and preferred living a quiet life and not being in the limelight. He’d become an overnight sensation after being selected as the former First Lady’s personal jeweler. The next thing he knew, his face was appearing on the covers of notable magazines and his privacy was invaded in a way that was unacceptable to him. He figured others might like getting such publicity, but not him. He liked his privacy and had no problem being referred to as a loner or, like Y had said, even a recluse.

When Zion saw his luggage, he said, “Okay, Y, I see my bags. I’m sure I’ll be talking to you again before I return to Rome.”

“You can’t run forever, Z.”

Zion drew in a deep breath. Leave it to York to come out and say what the others were thinking. But then, Uriel had expressed that same sentiment a few years ago. Zion had denied it then and he would deny it now. “I’m no longer running, York. I just prefer simplicity to chaos. Truth to lies. Honesty to deception.”

“Then maybe it’s time for you to find out what’s the truth and what’s a lie.”

More than once he’d told himself it was time. Then he would quickly decide to just leave well enough alone. “I got to go, York.”

“I’ll let the others know I talked to you so they won’t call and pester you,” York said.

“Like you’re doing?”

“Hey, I don’t pester,” his godbrother exclaimed.

“Whatever. How’s Darcy?” York had called everyone a couple of months ago to announce that he and Darcy were expecting. Xavier and his wife, Farrah, had had their second child earlier that year. Marriage and then babies, Zion thought. What a vicious cycle.

“Darcy is doing fine now that morning sickness has passed. We’re counting the days until the baby gets here.”

Zion shook his head. It was hard to believe that five of what used to be die-hard bachelors had fallen in love and fallen hard. That was the bad thing. The good thing was that Zion thought the women they’d fallen in love with were ultra-special. He couldn’t help but love them for making his godbrothers happy. “Give her my love. Now let me go grab my bags. I’ll talk to you later.”

He clicked off the phone and headed toward the conveyor belt.

* * *

“You can be a little more appreciative, you know.”

Celine Michaels glanced up from her breakfast plate and met her father’s gaze. He was annoyed with her. What else was new? They rarely saw eye to eye on anything. He didn’t understand her, and quite frankly, most of the time she didn’t understand him. “I am appreciative, Dad, but...”

“But what?”

She would try to explain, although she knew it really was no use. They’d had this conversation, or ones pretty similar, plenty of times. “With the money you’re spending on jewelry for my birthday, just think of all the homeless people that could be clothed, fed and housed.”

She watched him roll his eyes. “Not my problem and neither is it yours. If they’re out there on the streets that means they want to be out there.”

“That’s not true,” she said, placing her fork down. She always got annoyed with his I-don’t-give-a-damn attitude. “Anyone can fall on hard times.”

“True, and anyone can pull themselves up by the bootstraps, too. I wasn’t born rich, you know, but I worked my tail off to get what I have, what I can give to you, my only child. My concern is not about the person out there looking for a handout.”

He might not be concerned, but she was. That was one of the reasons, while still in college, she’d founded Second Chances, without his knowledge. He would flip if he knew she was CEO of one of the most notable charities in the city, and that she had used a lot of his money to do it. It was money he thought he was giving her to jet all over the world or do something equally as frivolous, like spend a day shopping on Rodeo Drive. Even though she was nearing twenty-five, he still gave her a generous monthly allowance. Then there was the trust fund from her maternal grandparents that she’d received at age twenty-two. Those monies, along with the funds her father had frequently sent her while she attended college, had fed and bedded a lot of homeless people.

“Forget I suggested it,” she said, picking up her fork again.

“I will. In fact, I’ve forgotten already.”

Celine narrowed her eyes at her father, glad most people would tell her that she’d gotten her ways from her mother and not him. She would admit he looked good for his age. He was almost sixty and could pass for a man ten years younger. He carried his age well, and on top of that, he was physically fit. No reason he shouldn’t be, when he had a private gym in their home and a personal trainer who came practically every day.

She knew his story, since she’d heard it a number of times. He had arrived in Hollywood over thirty years ago, right out of college. While working at a men’s clothing store he’d been discovered by some director looking for a handsome face to be an extra in a movie, and thought he fit the bill. Now, over twenty movies later, her dad was trying his hand at producing.

“Now that we have that cleared up, let’s get back to your birthday gift. He will be arriving today and staying with us for the weekend.”

She lifted a brow. “Who?” She hoped not Nikon Anastas, Hollywood’s latest heartthrob. For months he’d been connecting his name with hers for a publicity stunt, with her father’s blessing. She’d gone along with it just to get her dad off her back.

“Zion Blackstone, the jewelry designer,” he said, before taking a sip of his coffee.

Celine didn’t say anything for a minute. No matter how many times she’d told her father not to waste his money on her, he refused to listen. “Why is he coming here?” she asked. From what she’d heard, the man was practically a recluse, preferring to stay out of the limelight to design all that jewelry that had made him rich and famous.

“He wants to get to know you.”

She lifted a brow again. “Why?”

Her father served himself another helping of the delicious meal their cook had prepared. “He needs to know your taste, to make sure he designs the jewelry pieces right.”

“Is all this necessary?”

“For the amount of money I’m paying him, it is. I want to make sure it’s something you like.”

And something flashy that could be seen. There was no doubt in her mind that her father had things all planned. Certain members of the media would be invited to her party to make sure they captured the moment she opened her gift from him. Jewelry by Zion was all the rave, and for publicity, Levy Michaels would do just about anything. Her father loved being in the limelight. Always had, and she figured he always would.

“I won’t be here. I’m spending the weekend with Desha,” she said. She and Desha had been best friends since junior high school. Desha had gotten a finance degree and was CEO of her own investment firm. Thanks to Desha, Celine’s money had grown more than she could have hoped.

Levy frowned. “You need to change those plans. Blackstone will only be here for this weekend.”

She started to say that Zion Blackstone could design the jewelry without her input, but she’d decided long ago to pick her battles when it came to her father. “Fine. I will be here,” she finally said, rising to her feet. “Now if you will excuse me, I need to call Desha, to let her know of the change in our plans.”

Celine walked out the room, thinking that one of these days her father would push her a little too far and she would push back more than she’d ever done. And as for Mr. Zion Blackstone, she wasn’t looking forward to spending time with a man who was probably utterly boring. Thanks to him her weekend would be ruined.