Billionaire Undercover - J. S. Scott
Seven Years Ago…
Every person on Earth was going to experience profound grief at some point in their life.
It was just a fact, unless that person was a sociopath, or so removed from reality that they weren’t capable of feeling any type of emotion.
For some, that event happened early, with the loss of a parent or even both parents, or maybe a very beloved grandparent.
For others, it happened in their adult life, when they completely understood death and dying, and the very real fact that their relationship with that person who was leaving this world would never be there for them again.
Not in this life, anyway.
I just wasn’t sure I was ready for that to happen to me right now.
Not when the elderly man I was looking at in a hospital bed was my entire world.
I didn’t have siblings to lean on, another parent, or any other family who was going to understand how I felt.
It was just me, and Mac Tanaka, the only parent figure or family I’d ever known.
And once he was gone, I’d be completely and utterly alone in the world at the age of twenty-one.
I started to panic as I sat beside Mac’s hospital bed, holding his hand, wondering what in the hell I was going to do without him.
He’d been my father figure, my teacher, my friend, and the only person wise enough, in my opinion, to run to with any problem I had. Mac gave levelheaded advice. I’d always been able to count on that.
Not that the elderly man hadn’t always encouraged me to be free-thinking and independent.
He’d always warned me that I was only going to share a small part of my life with him because he’d been in his seventies when he had taken on the challenging task of raising an eleven-year-old girl.
Now, ten years later, I was feeling robbed because our time together had been way too short.
But dammit! I needed to be strong for him right now since he’d always been there for me.
“I can see that brilliant brain of yours working, and you’re thinking much too hard, Tay,” Mac said in a weak voice, sounding out of breath every time he talked. “You’re ready to tackle the world on your own. You just don’t know it right now. It’s way past time for you to start living your own life, instead of taking care of me.”
There wasn’t a single hint of an accent in Mac’s voice. Even though his parents had been born in Japan, the guy was as American as apple pie.
He drew on his Japanese heritage for wisdom and philosophy, but embraced his position as a first generation American, and this culture, too.
I think that’s something that had always fascinated me about Mac.
“I’ve never minded taking care of you,” I protested.
He smiled weakly, his face pale and wan. His skin was almost the same color as the starkly white sheets and pillowcase. “Maybe not,” he agreed. “But you’ve put off your education for too long.”
I didn’t mind that, either. Yeah, I’d always wanted to go to Stanford to pursue a career in geology, but there had been no question in my mind, when Mac had been diagnosed with cancer three years ago, that I was going to wait.
I’d put my acceptance with the prestigious university on hold, because honestly, I was all Mac had, too.
I’d never once regretted that decision. In the beginning, he’d been able to take care of himself, but over the last year or so, he’d really needed me.
“I’ll get to Stanford someday,” I assured him. “Now just rest, Mac.”
As I watched his eyes flutter shut, I instinctively reached for my necklace Mac had given me, and closed my eyes.
He’d presented the pendant to me on my sixteenth birthday, and I’d rarely taken it off since that day.
It was a fierce dragon with a long cage tail that protected the pearl inside.
Mac had told me to touch it every time I felt nervous, so I’d remember that I was gentle, but also incredibly strong and powerful.
Generally, wrapping my hand around the symbol helped, but I was starting to think I wasn’t as courageous as Mac thought.
Breathe, Tay. Just breathe.
I could hear Mac’s encouraging voice in my head, his younger, stronger tone as he’d taught me to find serenity inside myself, even when my entire world felt like it was in chaos.
I took one deep breath and let it out.
Followed by another.
And then one more.
I can do this. I can keep my shit together for Mac. I