I squeeze my fingers together. “I understand.”

“That’s not my primary concern, though.”

“There’s no policy against intra-office dating, and—”

“Dammit, Sylvia.”

I freeze. “Sir?”

“This isn’t about policy. This is about you.”

I wait, not sure where this is going.

“You’re a good employee, but you’re also a good friend. I understand men like Steele, and I don’t want to see you hurt.”

“I—oh.” I draw in a breath.

“I don’t trust him. I’ve given him the benefit of the doubt about the Sykes footage, but the key word there is doubt.”

“I understand. But I believe him.” The latter is not entirely true. Because right now I’m not sure. I want to believe that Jackson wouldn’t do that—wouldn’t use our time on the island to gain some leverage against the project. Against Stark.

I want to believe it—but there’s the damn memory card filling my head.

That, however, is not something Damien needs to know, and I feel a little sick. Both from my rising anger and worry, and from the simple fact that I’m keeping secrets from my boss.

Damien’s smile is thin. “I know you trust him. And now we’ve circled back to why I’m worried about you.”

He moves his hand in a dismissive gesture. “We’ll drop it now. But, Syl, I’m going to pay attention. And if I think that he’s using you as a way to get to the project—or if he’s doing anything to hurt you—I will destroy him. I protect my employees, Ms. Brooks. And I also watch out for my friends.”

I nod, moved by the words, even though the concern behind them scares me. Because between my knowledge of the memory card and the doubt that Damien has planted, my thoughts are spinning. I rise, ready to get out and get my head clear.

“One more thing before you go. It’s possible my father is part of this.”

“Your father?”

“He’s meddled in my business before, pulled in the gossip rags, manipulated things for his own benefit.”

I nod. I know well enough that what Damien says is true.

“And he’s the type of man who would pull strings from behind the scenes.”

“You think he’s getting information from someone here?” I frown, remembering that Jeremiah Stark had been at the documentary screening. Evelyn said he was on the National Historic and Architectural Conservation Project’s board, just like Michael Prado. Did that mean he knew Jackson? And even if he did, so what?

I start to mention the connection to Damien, but decide against it. The truth is there is no connection—just my mind turning in conspiratorial circles. And until I ask Jackson, there’s no reason to mention a thing—although those damn doubts of mine are now buzzing around like gnats.

“I think it’s something to think about,” he says, “but don’t think too hard. Focus on the work, not the scandal. That’s just noise, Sylvia.”

I nod. From his perspective, he’s right. From mine, I need to ask Jackson about the scandal—and about that goddamn memory disk. And even about Jeremiah Fucking Stark.

“I leave in just a few hours. I don’t like going away when someone is fucking with my company.”

“I know how to reach you if anything else happens,” I say. “Or if we learn anything concrete.”

I manage to remain calm and professional throughout the rest of our meeting, going over travel arrangements with Damien, things that I need to handle for his desk or pass off to Rachel.

By the time I leave, though, I’ve pent up so much worry and fear that I’m about to explode.

“What’s the matter?” Rachel asks, but I wave the question away. I need to update her on a lot of things, but that is just going to have to wait. Right now, I need to talk to Jackson.

I find him on twenty-six, in the corner office which is the only fully finished area on this floor. The rest will be built out over the next few weeks to provide additional workspace for any draftsmen or other staff that Jackson needs to bring in on the project.

There is also a reception desk just outside the office for Jackson’s overprotective secretary. Right now, she’s still in New York, but Jackson has already said that he may bring her out and keep his New York office temporarily dark while he’s on the West Coast.

I remember the way she kept him from me when I tried to make an appointment. This time, there is no dragon to get past, and I shove Jackson’s door open and burst into his office.

He’s standing at a drafting table, and looks up, surprised, when I blow in.

Tags: J. Kenner Stark International Trilogy Romance
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