“I don’t know where the reporter could be getting his information,” I say. “Steele hasn’t said yes, but he also hasn’t said no.” I fidget with the newspaper in my lap. “And if this spreads to the rest of the investors …”

I stand, tossing the newspaper onto the coffee table as I do. It lands open to a picture taken at the gala. I’m standing close to Jackson, who has his arm around the exceptional brunette. Seeing them twists something up inside of me, and I bite back a curse.

“Dammit, I handled this whole thing badly,” I say. “Not only did I not manage to lock Steele in last night, but I somehow managed to create a leak.” I look from one man to the other. “I’m sorry.”

The truth is, I don’t actually know where I went wrong, but this project is my responsibility, and if something got fucked up, then I’m the one shouldering the responsibility.

“Did you tell anyone that Steele was our go-to alternative for Glau?” Stark asks.

“Cass and Wyatt,” I say. “But they have no vested interest.”

“And Steele?” Aiden asks.

“Well, of course. But considering I was approaching him, that would have been self-evident anyway.”

One brow quirks up in a way I consider very British, and he glances toward Damien. “Wouldn’t surprise me,” he says.

I turn my attention from one to the other. “Wait a minute. You’re suggesting that Jackson Steele leaked this to a reporter? Why on earth would he do that?”

“I did some digging after he so emphatically turned down my offer to sign on to the Bahamas project,” Damien says. “Turns out that where I’ve had a few deals flourish, he’s had a few go sour.” He meets my eyes. “I knew the odds of getting him on board were slim. It didn’t occur to me he’d set the rumor mill buzzing.”

“I can’t believe it.” I’m not sure if I’m angry or flabbergasted.

I start to tell the men that I absolutely don’t believe that Jackson would do such a thing, but then remember what Jackson said about revenge. If he’s going to mess with me, might as well go all out.

“You gave it your best shot,” Aiden adds, even as my temper is spiking. “And the work you did was first-rate. Get Damien to cut you loose and I’ll give you an office on twenty-seven whenever you want it.”

I manage a smile. Stark Real Estate Development takes up the entire twenty-seventh floor, with thirty-three satellite offices around the globe. But this isn’t about the job, it’s about the project.

A project that Jackson Steele has ripped right out of my hands.

Shit.

I look straight at Damien. “It’s really over, isn’t it?”

“Unless by some miracle Steele says yes, then yeah, I’m afraid it is.” He shifts his attention to Aiden. “We already have the conference call scheduled for Monday, so have the PR department respond with no comment until then. After the call we’ll release a statement. Syl,” he continues, “get me a draft by morning.”

“I’ll get on that now,” I say, grateful for a reason to leave. Right now, all I want to do is get out of that room.

I excuse myself and am stepping out when Damien’s intercom buzzes. Since the door is partially open, I hear Rachel’s voice in stereo. “Mr. Stark, there’s a Jackson Steele here to see you.”

I freeze. Just freeze right there in the doorway, with my arm thrust out in front of me. Then he’s there, taking hold of the door and pulling it open all the way, so I have to either unfreeze or topple over.

I manage to get my act together and stumble back into the room.

“Ms. Brooks.” He takes my hand, but whether it’s in greeting or to steady me, I’m not sure.

After a moment, he releases me, then strides confidently toward Damien. “Mr. Stark,” he says as they shake hands. “How nice to see you again. I’m sorry to come without an appointment, but I wanted to tell you personally how excited I am to be a part of The Resort at Cortez.”

nine

The rest of the meeting is blurred by my fury, though I manage to keep it in check until Jackson and I leave Damien’s office so that he and Aiden can personally call Sykes and the rest of the investors in order to both dispel the rumors and announce Jackson’s participation.

I manage to stay silent until I’ve led him into the single small conference room on this floor. “What the hell?” I snap as soon as the door snicks shut behind me. “What in the goddamn hell did you just do?”

I surge past to the control panel on the nearby credenza and hit the button to close the electronic blinds. I fully intend to scream and rage, and I damn sure don’t want an audience when I do it.


Tags: J. Kenner Stark International Trilogy Romance
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