Endeared (The Accidental Billionaires #5) - J. S. Scott



Over ten years ago . . .

“I’m really glad we could meet up,” I told my best friend, Owen Sinclair, earnestly. “It seems like you’ve been avoiding me for the last few weeks.”

I put my foot on the ground and pushed the playground swing I was sitting in to make it start moving again. Owen was gently swaying back and forth right next to me.

I wasn’t sure how we’d gotten into the habit of meeting up at the local park after dark, but it had been our hideout for a couple of years now. There wasn’t another soul around in this area after the sun went down in Citrus Beach, so it made sense. We definitely had our privacy here, so Owen and I talked about anything and everything while we mindlessly kept our swings in motion the entire time.

“I wasn’t avoiding you, exactly,” Owen said hesitantly. “I’ve just been busy.”

I turned my head, but I couldn’t really see his eyes. I could only make out his body and face in the moonlight.

I sighed as I gripped the metal chain on the swing. “I know. It’s crazy. We’re actually graduating in a few months, and you and Andie will be off to Boston for college.”

My heart clenched at the thought of not seeing Owen and Andie every day. The three of us had been tightly bonded like we were superglued together all through high school. I had other friends, but none of them could replace the two who were leaving Citrus Beach for college on the East Coast. Unfortunately, Boston wasn’t in my plans.

“I wish you were coming, too,” Owen answered in a grim tone.

I smiled. He sounded so grown up for a guy who was just finishing high school, but Owen had always been ultraresponsible, even at the beginning of our journey through high school.

Although I had to admit, he was a goofball sometimes. If things got too heavy, he’d be the first one to try to lighten the conversation or make me smile.

“I can’t,” I told him, my heart aching. I didn’t have the funds to finance school out of state. Owen had gotten some large scholarships, which were well deserved, and he had family willing to help as much as they could. Andie had absolutely no shortage of funds, so she could well afford to go to school wherever she wanted.

I had . . . nobody.

Even if I got the scholarship I was hoping to be awarded, it would still make more sense for me to stay in California to lessen the financial burden.

“We can still talk,” Owen commented. “Sometimes I wish I had stayed here for at least a bachelor’s degree. It would probably be cheaper.”

I snorted. “No, it wouldn’t. You got good scholarships, and you need the prestige of graduating top of your class from a good school so you can get accepted to med school.”

I knew Owen was worried about money. My situation had never been as dire as his was, but sometimes I wished I had his tight-knit family.

Owen released a long breath. “I guess I just feel guilty. My brothers and sisters have already done so much for me. Noah, Aiden, and Seth kept our whole family together. Noah took on the responsibility of raising us when he was barely older than I am. He should be free of that burden now, but he isn’t. My sisters are still in college, and I’m just starting. I’ll pay him back for all this once I’m a doctor, but that isn’t going to help his financial squeeze over the next several years.”

I didn’t know Owen’s brothers all that well. I wasn’t as free to hang out at Owen’s house as Andie was, but I knew Noah well enough to realize he wanted his younger brother to go to college. He’d be damn proud to see Owen become a physician. “He wants this for you,” I said emphatically. “Your whole family is cheering you on. You know that.”

“I know. I just wish I didn’t feel so damn guilty about being the youngest and wanting to go to med school,” he said, sounding frustrated.

“It will be okay, Owen,” I said softly.

He chuckled. “What will I do without you to keep my spirits up, Layla?”

“You’ll survive,” I teased. “I think you’re already practicing a life without me as your friend, since I hardly see you anymore.”

I was joking, but in a way, I wasn’t. I had to admit that it hurt that Owen had kind of been avoiding