By: Brenda Jackson

Bane paused before adding somberly, “If nothing else, Coop’s death showed me how fragile life is. You can be here today and gone tomorrow.”

Dillon would never know that Bane wasn’t just referring to Coop’s life, but also how close he’d come to losing his own more than a few times.

Bane watched as Dillon came around and sat on the edge of his desk to face him, unsure of how his brother had taken what he’d just said about finding Crystal. Especially since she was the main reason Dillon, and the rest of Bane’s family, had supported his decision to join the navy. During their teen years, Bane and Crystal had been obsessive about each other in a way that had driven her family, as well as his, out of their wits.

“Like I told you when you came home for Jason’s wedding...” Dillon said. “When the Newsomes moved away they didn’t leave a forwarding address. I think their main objective was to put as much distance between you and Crystal as they could.” He paused, then said, “But after your inquiry, I hired a private investigator to locate their whereabouts, and I’m not sure if you know it but Carl Newsome passed away.”

Bane shook his head. Although he definitely hadn’t been Mr. Newsome’s favorite person, the man had been Crystal’s father. She and her dad hadn’t always seen eye to eye, but Crystal had loved him nonetheless. “No, I didn’t know he had died.”

Dillon nodded. “I called and spoke to Emily Newsome, who told me about Carl’s death from lung cancer. After offering my condolences, I asked about Crystal. She said Crystal was doing fine, working on her master’s degree at Harvard with plans to get a PhD in biochemistry from there, as well.”

Bane tipped his head to the side. “That doesn’t surprise me. Crystal was pretty smart. If you recall she was two grades ahead and was set to graduate from high school at sixteen.”

What he wouldn’t bring up was that she would have done just that if she hadn’t missed so many days of school playing hooky with him. That was something everyone, especially the Newsomes, blamed him for. Whenever Crystal had attended school steadily she’d made good grades. There was no doubt in his mind she would have graduated at the top of her class. That was one of the reasons he hadn’t tried to find her for all these years. He’d wanted her to reach her full potential. He’d owed her that much.

“So you haven’t seen or heard from Crystal since that day Carl sent her to live with some aunt?”

“No, I haven’t seen her. You were right at the time. I didn’t have anything to offer Crystal. I was a hothead and Trouble was my middle name. She deserved better and I was willing to make something of myself to give her better.”

Dillon just stared at him for a long moment in silence, as if contemplating whether or not he should tell him something. Bane suddenly felt uneasy. Had something happened to Crystal that he didn’t know about?

“Is there something else, Dil?”

“I don’t want to hurt or upset you Bane, but I want to give you food for thought. You’re planning to find Crystal, but you don’t know what her feelings are for you now. The two of you were young. First love doesn’t always mean last love. Although you might still care about her, for all you know she might have moved on, gotten on with her life without you. It’s been five years. Have you considered that she might be involved with someone else?”

Bane leaned back in his chair, considering Dillon’s words. “I don’t believe that. Crystal and I had an understanding. We have an unbreakable bond.”

“But that was years ago,” Dillon stressed. “You just said you haven’t seen her since that day Carl sent her away. For all you know she could be married by now.”

Bane shook his head. “Crystal wouldn’t marry anyone else.”

Dillon lifted a brow. “And how can you be so sure of that?”

Bane held his brother’s stare. “Because she’s already married, Dil. Crystal is married to me and I think it’s time to go claim my wife.”

* * *

Dillon was on his feet in a flash. “Married? You? Crystal? B-but how? When?”