Even as I say it, I know that there are things that may not be fixable. This isn’t a secret that I can keep—and that, of course, is another reason Jackson kept it to himself. Because this secret affects my boss, and their father is a man who just may be screwing with Stark International.

Damien has to know the truth—and when he does, I’m not sure if Jackson will still have the project.

For that matter, when I think about the breadth and scope of Damien’s temper, I’m not sure that I will, either.

But I can deal with that. So long as I’ve got Jackson, we can figure out the rest together.

“Is he on the boat? Did he say?”

An odd expression flits across Cass’s face. “Um, listen. I should tell you something first.”

I say nothing, but my stomach is twisting. Because Cass is nervous—and that’s just not typical Cassidy behavior.

She clears her throat. “Right. So, when we talked, I realized you hadn’t told him about Robert Cabot Reed. And I thought he needed to understand why you were so freaked out in the first place. I mean, it wasn’t really the best time for you to learn about a secret.”

“So he knows?” I feel anger spiking, and I want to make sure I’m absolutely clear on my facts this time. “He knows that I came face-to-face with the man who repeatedly raped me for over a year and yet he didn’t come to me? Call me? Do any goddamn thing other than nurse his wounds because I walked away from him at the Getty Center?”

I’d seen confusion bloom on Cass’s face when I’d raised my voice. Now I watch it clear, only to be replaced with something I can only describe as trepidation.

“What?” I demand. “What the hell is going on?”

She reaches for the section of newspaper that sits on the coffee table, then flips it over, revealing an image of a handcuffed Jackson standing beside a uniformed officer.

“Jackson beat the shit out of Reed,” Cass says. “He’s been arrested for assault.”

I pace the length of my condo, from patio to door, then back again, waiting for Jackson to show up, or Charles to call, or anything at all to happen so that I know what is going on.

I’d called the police station as soon as Cass had told me about the arrest, but since it’s Sunday I was told that bail wasn’t an option.

I’ve worked for Damien Stark long enough to realize that there are times when “not an option” means “not an option without money or power,” and so I gave Charles Maynard a call and begged his help.

Fortunately, he was home.

Also fortunately, I’ve gotten to know him well enough over the years that he was willing to give up a few hours on a Sunday.

Charles told me to go home, and that, assuming he was able to get Jackson released on bail today, he would drop him by my place rather than the boat.

So far, no Jackson.

I pull out my phone, pull up Charles’s number, and for the eight millionth time that day, force myself not to dial. He will call when he has news. That is my new mantra.

I hate my new mantra.

I pace three more lengths, and am about to just say “fuck it” and go to the station myself, when I hear the knock at my door.

I practically fall over myself getting there, and when I yank open the door and see Jackson standing there, his hair mussed, his beard scruffy, and his face battered and bruised, I am certain that I have never seen anything more beautiful.

I practically yank him into my apartment, then wrap my arms around him and we both sink to the floor.

“Sylvia. Oh, god, Sylvia.” He repeats my name over and over, and I am lost in the sound of it, holding him tight, rocking him. “I’m so sorry. I should have told you who I was.”

“No.” I stroke his hair. “I was being bitchy and selfish. I don’t have a right to your secrets, Jackson. And I did more than just get my feelings hurt. I threw a tantrum, and I’m so, so sorry.”

He lifts his head and kisses me. “I’m the one that’s sorry. You were confused and hurting and I didn’t even see it. I had to find out from Cass, and all this time that son of a bitch has been the man who’s been crawling up my ass, too.”

“You shouldn’t have gone after him,” I say softly. “But, Jackson, I’m really glad you did.”

He meets my eyes, and I see relief in his.

“Did you think I would be angry?”

“Not exactly the civilized approach to problem-solving,” he says with a wry grin.

“No. Not at all. Why did you do it?”

“You know why.”

“Tell me.”

“Because of what that bastard did to you. Because he stole from you. Because he used you and he hurt you. And because I will always protect you.”


Tags: J. Kenner Stark International Trilogy Romance
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