The Brave Billionaire (Clean Billionaire Beach Club Romance Book 11)

One

The wind picked up as Maizee Phelps came up over the rise of the hill, the beautiful Umauma Waterfall spreading out before her. With her breathing coming quickly, Maizee felt a rush of accomplishment.

She liked nothing better than being outside, among the trees and foliage of Hawaii, the wide, blue sky above her.

Except today, the weather wasn’t exactly friendly. With Tropical Storm Eric on the horizon, Maizee supposed she should’ve been at her new apartment, making sure she had enough groceries for the next few days, and hunkering down.

But she’d just arrived in Getaway Bay three days ago, and she didn’t want to spend her weekend before starting at the bank indoors. No, if she could, she’d be out in a kayak, exploring this island she’d only visited as a tourist in the past.

Her calves tightened, but she kept walking until she found the perfect sketching spot. To her left, she could see the falls, and to her right, the horizon showed the edge of the island and then the gorgeous Pacific Ocean. And way out where the sea kissed the sky, the darkness indicated Eric was indeed alive and well.

The storm wasn’t set to hit the island for another day, at least, and Maizee wasn’t worried. As a Hawaii native from the island of Lanai, she’d weathered plenty of storms. Too bad she wasn’t as good at surviving the relationship disasters in her life.

She sighed as she swung the backpack off her shoulders and set it at her feet. “And you thought Winn was the one.” She shook her head, wishing she was brave enough to stay at the same branch as him, face him everyday, and just carry on with her life.

Maybe find someone new, fall madly in love, and show him that he hadn’t affected her all that much.

Unfortunately, he had become her whole world over the past five years—one of which where she wore his diamond ring—and she didn’t have the stomach to see him each day at work and not go home with him at night.

At least he’d broken things off before she’d booked a wedding venue. She did, however, have a white gown that she now had no use for. She’d asked her mother if she could store it in her childhood closet, and that was where it cuurently hung.

Maizee figured she’d try to sell it one day, perhaps when the memories containing Winn didn’t make her chest pinch and her whole countenance sad.

She unzipped her pack and pulled out her sketchpad before tipping her chin toward the sky. She rolled her shoulders and took a long drink of water from her bottle, moving through her muscles as they started to cool.

Once she had relaxed, she reached back into her pack and found the box of black crayons she took everywhere with her.

She didn’t care that Winn had labeled her art “colorless” and “kind of weird.” Maizee loved the way crayon could be sharp and thin, or thick, jagged lines, with no defined edges. She felt like the black crayon, sometimes with every piece of jewelry and strand of hair in the exact right place, and sometimes with her hair in a messy bun and more pizza sauce on her T-shirt and fingers than on the actual pie.

“Sit down, Roger,” she told her little dog, and the long-haired Jack Russell terrier complied, his tongue hanging out of his mouth. She poured him a bit of water into a collapsible bowl, and the dog lapped at it without standing up.

Maizee drained the rest of the water bottle, hoping she’d make it back to the trailhead before she had to use the restroom, and set the sketchpad on her knees. She always started with the sharpest crayons, and she roughed in the falls, the trees, and the horizon beyond them before switching to a duller one to add in the softer parts of the picture.

She realized how whippy the wind had become when she shivered, the sweat on her neck and forehead chilly now. Glancing up, she found the sky darkening, clouds rolling in from the black spot on the horizon.

Startled, Maizee dropped the crayon she’d been using to add in the finer details. Her heart thumped a bit painfully in her chest. This storm had blown in quickly, and she hadn’t even seen it coming.

It certainly wasn’t Eric, but she still didn’t want to be on this unfamiliar trail in the dark or the rain. She took a few precious seconds to make sure she had everything she’d brought, including every last crayon shaving. Then she shouldered her pack and clipped Roger to the carabiner on her strap, saying, “Let’s go, boy.”

She cast one last look at the falls she’d been drawing before starting down the path she’d come up. It was only a mile and a half, but she hadn’t been in a hurry on the way up. She was now, and the stormclouds continued to steal the light from the day with every step she took.

She estimated she was about halfway down when the first drops of rain splashed against her face. Pausing, she swung her backpack off and dug around inside it for the emergency poncho she never left home without. It was clear, but it would keep her dry, and Maizee knew better than most that it was astronomically better to be dry than it was to be wet. Especially with the wind as strong as it was.

“Come on,” she said to the little dog, using him to keep herself centered. She couldn’t panic, as that had never helped, and she needed a cool head if she was going to make it back to her car in one piece.

“It’s just a little rain, Roger. We’ll be okay.” But she wasn’t comforted by the little rivulets of mud racing down the side of the path with her. She kept to the rockier parts of the trail, thinking the stones would give her the traction she needed as the rain really started to drive down now.

Maizee could barely see in front of her, but she didn’t want to slow down. Gravity seemed to pull on her, helping her get down the trail to the parking lot. She felt near panic, but she just kept moving.

One more step, she thought, her breath sticking somewhere inside her chest. Over and over, she thought it. Kept breathing. She may have offered up a prayer.

And then her one more step went awry, and her ankle twisted painfully. She yelped, threw her arms out in front of her as if there would be something for her to grab onto, and realized she was going down.

She landed on the ground on her hands and knees and quickly rolled onto her backside. The rain made such a ruckus against the plastic poncho, and Roger yowled too.

“Roger,” she said, barely able to see the dog. He limped over to her, and a sense of helplessness that felt bottomless filled her. She cradled the little dog while she tried to catch her breath.

Once she did, she tried to look at her ankle, but everything was coated in mud. Pain thrummed through her foot and leg with every beat of her heart, and she had no idea what to do.

“Get up,” she told herself through gritted teeth. “You can’t lie here in the mud and wait for someone to find you.”

There was no one to find her. She hadn’t passed a single person going up or down to the falls, and while Maizee had felt utterly alone before, this was a whole new level of isolation. Tears sprang to her eyes, but she refused to let them out. Crying never helped anything. It didn’t get her job back. Didn’t help get her boyfriend back. Didn’t make her boss do much of anything but transfer her to a new branch on a different island in the hopes that “a fresh start” would be what she needed.

But right now, she needed the rain to stop and the sun to come back out. She needed a warm bath and then a warmer blanket.

Roger barked, a high-pitched yelp that Maizee imagined meant, “Help!” in canine. He squirmed away from her and trotted away until the leash tightened. He barked again, facing down the path instead of up toward the falls the way Maizee was.

“I can get up,” she told him, but he continued to yap like his life depended on it. Maizee braced both hands against the slick mud and pushed herself over onto her knees. Now, she just needed to get her feet under her, and she’d get back to her car and assess the damage from there.

Balanced on her hands and knees, she put her weight on her good foot, and pushed. As pressure came down on her injured ankle, it buckled again. She cried out, which sent Roger into a tizzy, and sank back to the earth.

She let a few tears out now, mostly because of the white-hot pain in her foot, but also because she couldn’t see an acceptable way out of this dilemma. No one even knew where she was. No one in her neighborhood even knew her name. She’d spent the three days she’d been on this island getting her house set up and filling it with food and basic home goods.

Her new job started on Monday, and she’d been looking forward to a relaxing weekend before her real life had to start again.

No one would see the tears among the rain anyway. There wasn’t anyone to see anything.

And yet, Roger barked like he was sending a message to someone, somewhere. Maizee tried to shush him, but he would not be silenced. So she ignored him while she took off her pack and started rummaging around inside. Maybe she could make something that would support her ankle enough to get her off this trail.

She took a couple of painkillers, and the simple nature of the action calmed her a little. Taking a deep breath, she pulled out her first aid kit, wishing she’d had the foresight to put a brace inside. But all she had were Bandaids, moleskin, gauze and medical tape, and hand sanitizer. She had the sketchpad and the crayons, as well as a length of rope, a pair of nail clippers, and a bag of the peppermint mints she liked to suck on while she hiked.

And a tall Gatorade bottle.

She pulled it out and grabbed the medical tape. She couldn’t fit the bottle down into her shoe, but she turned it upside down so the narrower end was at her heel and she taped the bottle to her ankle and leg, the pressure painful until she moved up higher on her calf.

“All right,” she said, once again praying her makeshift brace would help. She zipped everything back inside her pack and tried to stand again. She got to her feet this time, but stood on the path, the toe on her injured foot barely touching the ground as she balanced on her other foot.

She didn’t see how she could take a step on her injured leg, Gatorade bottle or not. She took a deep breath and prepared herself to fall again when she heard a distinct voice calling through the rain.

“Hello? Is anyone there?”

“I’m here,” she yelled, her voice more shrill than she liked. But at this point, she couldn’t care. “Up here. I’m up here!”

A figure came through the rain, becoming more and more defined with every step up the trail he took.

He was a tall man, wearing a hooded jacket and a pair of jeans. At least he wore a decent pair of shoes as he came closer and closer.

“I did hear a dog,” he said as Roger jumped up on him, marring his pants with mud. Maizee should’ve corrected her animal, but she honestly couldn’t look away from the man who’d miraculously showed up to save her.

She knew him. Lawrence Gladstone—the owner of the bank where she’d worked for the past nineteen years.

No, they had never met in person—she would’ve remembered that. But everyone who worked at Gladstone Financial knew who Lawrence was.

“Are you okay?” His dark, dreamy eyes ran from her foot to her face and back again. “You have a bottle taped to your leg.” He had to shout to be heard over the rain, but that only ensured that Maizee could hear the bass quality of his voice.

“I fell down,” she said, wondering why he could look like male perfection in a rainstorm while she surely looked like a drowned rat. “Twisted my ankle.”

“Can you walk?”

“I don’t think so. I just barely managed to get up.” She tugged on Roger’s leash to get him to settle down, but the dog seemed as anxious to get off this trail as Maizee was.

“Well, let’s see what we can do.” He stepped to her side, and she admired the neat beard and mustache he wore. “I’m going to put my arm around you.” He did, and she lifted hers over his shoulders with a groan.

“Okay, let’s try.” He stepped and she tried, but her ankle was not accepting any weight and she almost pulled them both to the ground.

Lawrence grunted and steadied her before taking a step back. “All right, so that’s out.” He glanced around. “We better find somewhere to ride out this storm. Then I can make a call.”

Of course he could. She was surprised he hadn’t already, that the Coast Guard, all the officers at the naval base on the island, and every local cop, paramedic, and firefighter weren’t already on their way here.

Instead of saying anything, she just nodded as if she knew a good spot where they could ride out the storm. But she didn’t.