The room is a mess. Papers scattered everywhere, boxes tilted on their side, and I cannot tell if this is the chaos of moving or if Jackson has done a number on the room himself.

I suspect the latter, and that only rekindles my temper and fears about that memory card.

“I should have known.” My voice is harsh yet controlled. Too controlled. “You told me. You told me this was about revenge. I thought you meant me. But all this time, you’re trying to get back at Damien?”

He lifts a finger, and holds it toward me, his face so tight that I know he is fighting not to explode. Frankly, I know the feeling.

“Do not start with me,” he says. “Don’t you burst in here and tell me that you believe what that son of a bitch is saying.”

“Goddammit, I trusted you. Desperately. Intimately. You can’t fuck with trust like that, Jackson. You just can’t.”

For a moment, I think I see hurt flash in his eyes. Then there is only cold calculation. “What exactly do you think you know?”

“The memory disk? That bullshit about a screen saver. You used me.” I feel my eyes burn, and for the first time in my life I’m grateful that I cannot burst into tears. “You fucking used me. And why? So you can make Damien look bad?”

“You have no idea what you’re talking about,” Jackson says very slowly. “And as for trust, I’m not seeing a lot of it from you, either.”

I take a deep breath and try to calm my temper. “Fine. Okay. Fine.” I drag my fingers through my hair and try to regroup. “Do you know Jeremiah Stark?”

“Stark’s father?”

“Damien thinks that his father may be behind some sabotage at the company.”

I try to read Jackson’s face, searching for knowledge, but I see nothing but confusion, and I’m relieved.

“Why?”

“It’s happened before. I can’t get into the details, but I’ve seen a lot, and I’ve seen that man do some pretty reprehensible things, and the fact that Damien’s his son only makes it worse. I mean, fathers should protect their kids, not use them.”

Jackson takes a step toward me, but right then, I do not want his compassion. I’ve let my own shit slide into this conversation, and that is not somewhere I need to go.

I lift my head, steeling my resolve, and ask him point-blank, “Are you working with Jeremiah Stark?”

He stops cold, and the gentleness I saw in him a moment ago vanishes. “Are you fucking kidding me?”

“Stark was at your documentary,” I say. “I saw him. And now I want an answer. Do you know him? Are you working with him?”

“I am absolutely not working with Jeremiah Stark,” he says, and I believe him.

I still don’t know what to think, though. I know what I saw with the memory disk. I remember what Trent told me about Jackson researching the island before he was even offered the project.

I think about all that—and I don’t know what it means.

“So what’s going on here?” Jackson says. “Is your boss firing me?”

I shake my head. “No. There’s no proof.” I meet his eyes. “Damien doesn’t know you took the memory disk.”

“I took the disk because I wanted a picture of us. I already told you that.”

“Yeah,” I say. “That’s what you said. You also said you wanted revenge.” I draw in a breath. “The truth is, I don’t know what’s going on, Jackson. But the bottom line is that I’m not letting you fuck up my resort because of some vendetta you have against Damien for some land deal that happened five years ago.”

“I guess you know what you know,” he says coldly.

“I know I need to be careful,” I say. “I know I need to be smart.” I’m afraid, so very afraid, that I’ve opened myself too much to this man. That I know better than to let myself trust. And that now I am paying the price.

“Then be smart,” he says. “Because if you use your head, you know that I would never, ever put this project in jeopardy. My reputation means too much to me. You mean too much to me. Everything you’ve told me? Every part of yourself that you’ve given me? Do you really believe I would violate that trust?”

“I don’t know,” I admit, and feel as though my heart is breaking. “I just don’t know.”

“No? Well, you should.”

“Jackson.”

“Go,” he says.

“Jackson, dammit, we need to—”

“Right now, Sylvia, I need you to leave.”

twenty-one

Right now, Sylvia, I need you to leave.


Tags: J. Kenner Stark International Trilogy Romance
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