Restaurant Manager Tony Aikawa moved to Charleston, South Carolina, looking for a fresh start for his family. Life after his wife left him with their four children has made him feel bereft. He’s doing the best he can, but it’s hard doing it alone.
Law student Adamaris Hali thought he was human. Or that’s what his father led him to believe. Now his father, a former Guardian of Neptune, has left his family behind to join his mate in the city of Atlantis. Adamaris has learned his mother didn’t just die but was viciously murdered, and he is not human but a merman as well. Now, he has to learn how to embrace the being within.
These two broken men are starting something new. Will it lead to a forever together?
Tony Aikawa checked his reflection in the mirror above the bar, his curly red hair shining perfectly. He’d certainly worked hard enough on it. He’d neatly trimmed his beard as well. He wore a soft green shirt to complement his hazel eyes and a pair of starched black dress pants. He looked the part of a restaurant manager. He felt it, too, even though his nerves overwhelmed him.
He took a few deep breaths to calm himself, grateful for this chance at a new start. Having to move states away from the home he and his ex-wife Julianne shared had broken something inside him, but he and his babies needed a place to begin anew where memories didn’t haunt them anymore.
He’d grown weary of his children looking in spaces their mother haunted, hopeful she would suddenly appear. And they weren’t by themselves. How many times had he prayed for the very same thing?
When he and Julianne married, he believed it was for life. Well, he’d thought he would love her forever, and she would love him. That was what high school sweethearts did. So after struggling to complete his culinary degree at Sullivan University in Louisville, he quit his extra jobs when he found his first dream career position, supporting every dream Julianne owned and ensuring their four kids would live well. No more worries over bills. No more creative dinners to feed hungry bellies.
But it hadn’t turned out that way. With him home more, he could see the woman he fell in love with wasn’t the same person. Julianne hung out with her friends every night and went places that left her coming home early the following day. She’d blamed him for not being happy, insisting he’d been too focused on earning his degree to see that his family needed him at home.
But even with him home every evening, she still did her best to avoid him and their kids. She spent more and more nights away, leaving him scrambling to get the kids to school the following day. He did his best to ensure they were clean and scrubbed before heading to work. With Julianne gone so often, it forced him to hire a sitter for when he was out of the house.
Tony hadn’t wanted his oldest child Riley to think she must be a second mother, but Riley wanted desperately to prove she was a big girl. She resented anyone Tony brought in to help, insisting she could care for him and her younger siblings. But Tony insisted just as strongly that she shouldn’t have to.
He had worked hard to make life easier for his family than what he and Julianne had experienced as children. And when he’d finally reached his goal, Julianne didn’t seem to want them anymore.
Trying to convince his kids that it wasn’t them making Mommy stay away, that they were beautiful and good and kind, hadn’t worked. If anything, they cried more and began crawling into his bed at night, too sad to stay on their own. He held them when they wept and took them out bowling or skating on the weekends, but it was never enough. Buying them things couldn’t make them forget their mother’s absence. He hadn’t thought it would, but he would try anything to ease their pain.
Then one day Tony had come home drained, unsure if he needed to have a meal ready for his kids after the sitter left, to discover Julianne had vanished. She’d taken her clothes and left him and their kids behind.
Tony didn’t understand if it was good or bad at first. Sure, his broken heart torched him inside, but instead of wondering when or if it would happen, asking and pleading for a chance to fix whatever went wrong, it was simply over. Julianne just walked away. When the dust settled, Tony and his babies lived in the shadow of forgotten memories.
Turning over each day in the bed he had shared with Julianne hurt. Getting up every day to fix breakfast, thanking Riley for helping her brother dress, then cleaning up the house as much as he could before he left for work hurt. Receiving papers in the mail asking for a divorce and giving him full custody of the kids hurt. Staying in the same place, wishing and praying for Julianne to walk in the door and remember how much she used to love him and their children hurt.
He needed more. His children needed more. They all needed a change.
So he’d applied for a position almost ten hours away from Louisville that his cousin Jerod told him about, located in a small Charleston, South Carolina community. The job offered a place to live, the entire run of an established restaurant, and a chance to begin again.
He was grateful for Jerod. He was a good guy who looked out for him. As a counselor at a high school, Jerod took mental health seriously and noticed Tony wasn’t doing well. Finally, Tony admitted that his emotional balance had suffered because of his divorce and fear for his kids. Jerod had suggested a change. Tony had agreed.
With a final glance in the mirror, he deemed himself presentable. He turned and examined the decor of Iliana’s Safe Haven as he wiped down the bar. Something about the place spoke to his soul. He had loved the restaurant the moment he’d first stepped inside the spacious sitting area. The stained-glass chandeliers depicted sea animals—sharks and a school of fish. An octopus seemed to be the running metaphor, with dolphins as part of the floor’s inlay. The place was a work of art, and he was proud to be here, to call it home.