The statement, almost comical after the kitchen standoff, hung in the air, my mind unable to conjure a response. I nodded, a ridiculous movement that didn’t respond to his comment at all, and stood, picking up the coffee tray and exiting his office. I didn’t bother returning it to the kitchen, instead bee-lining for my office and shutting the door. I set the tray on an empty chair and unlocked my computer, trying to focus on anything, everything, but the disaster this day was quickly becoming.

I could physically feel the buzz outside my door. Feel the energy. It fought in the hall and pushed at my closed door. Whispers. Chatter. Gasps and scoffs. The good news is that I wouldn’t have to go around and tell each and every person about the engagement. The bad news is that eventually I would have to leave my office.

Chapter 5

Brad pulled up to the guard gate of his family’s estate, waving to the guards and waiting while they went through the ridiculous procedure of making sure that he wasn’t carrying anything of concern in his trunk or under his car. The iron gates in front of him finally parted, and he pulled in, rounding the curves of the drive until he came to a stop in front of the imposing home.

Oddly, his father opened the door, and Brad glanced around for the staff.

“This needs to be quick, Brad. I have items to attend to.”

Brad nodded, meeting his father’s eyes and walking past him to the formal living room, which had not changed since his childhood. He stopped next to the massive stone fireplace. His father closed the front door, and the room darkened considerably. With his hands in his pockets, he turned to face his father, who eyed him warily, skipping right to the point. “You mentioned a wrinkle in this situation?” his father prompted.

“Yes. Last night I asked Julia for her hand in marriage. She accepted.”

His father’s eyes closed briefly, and he took a few slow steps forward and sat in a cream, wing-backed chair, gripping the arms tightly as he leaned back. “Sit.”

“I don’t have much time. Like you, I have business to attend to.” He sat on the chair across from his father and studied him across the space.

His father sighed, a raspy, exasperated sound. “Is this you being stubborn? I’m assuming this Julia you speak of is the intern who has been so troublesome?”

“Yes, that is Julia. And no, I am not being stubborn. I love her.”

“I thought you were too intelligent to allow love to dictate your life.”

Brad laughed. “It isn’t a dictation. You are thinking in terms of power, which this isn’t about.”

“Isn’t it? You’ve played the only hand that could win this game. And twisted my arm in the process. You’ve won this match, Brad. But signed yourself up for a lifetime of servitude in the process.”

“It’s not a lifetime of servitude.”

The old man laughed sharply, the quick action causing his chest to clench, and he stifled the outburst, coughing and staring grimly at Brad. “Right. Because you can just divorce, right? My son, the king of destroying marriages, of ripping apart families.” He shook his head bitterly. “You disgust me.”

Brad stood, his hands clamped in fists. “Because you are my father, and I still respect the head of this family, I won’t respond to that with what is in my heart. But know that I find it despicable that, of all of your sons, I would be the one that you find shameful. Thank you for reminding me of why I cut off contact with you.”

He strode past the old man’s chair and opened the door, the harsh sun filling the room with light.

♦♦♦

Word jumped, like a bloodthirsty flea, from our wing to the rest of the firm, spreading through the East Wing within five minutes of Beverly leaving the kitchen. By the time Brad stepped off the elevator, there was not a person in Clarke, De Luca, & Burge who hadn’t received word of the train wreck engagement of the fourth floor. He pushed open the heavy door to the East Wing, and silence fell, cloaking the space with thick, palatable tension. He smiled, welcoming the change and what it meant. Julia must have told them. He strode into the lobby, meeting his secretaries’ tense greetings with an easy grin.

He certainly wasn’t new to disdain, gossip, or disapproval. He was expecting that, but—as he walked through the space—this mood felt different. He settled into his office, leaning back in his desk chair, trying to decipher the atmosphere. It was almost hostile, as if from a swarm of irate, overprotective fathers, instead of faithful and loyal staff. Fathers. The oversight hit him squarely, and he sat quickly forward, cursing his lack of attention. Grabbing his phone, he dialed Julia’s extension.

♥♥♥

I exhaled with relief when I saw Brad’s number light up on my phone’s display. Thank God. He was here, and for once, I needed his protective, overbearing self. “Hi,” I whimpered into the phone.

He ignored the pitiful tone of my greeting, barging right into a question. “What’s your father going to think?”

I sat up, my attention refocusing. “My father?”

“Yes. Have you told him?”

“About our engagement?”

“Yes.”

“No. I haven’t told anyone. Other than Beverly and Sheila, who, I assume, have told everyone within a three-mile radius.” I sighed dramatically. “Brad. It’s horrible. They were so mean to me when they found out.”

The infuriated response I expected didn’t come. His storm to my rescue, threats to fire everyone, his mandate that ‘everyone be nice to Julia’ didn’t even enter his thought process. The damn man chuckled. “Babe. You’ve got to have thicker skin than that.”

I frowned into the phone, trying to formulate an appropriate withering response when he spoke again.

“So, you haven’t told your father.”

“No. I just told you that.”

“Okay. Let’s go to Centaur for lunch. We can discuss it then. In the meantime, don’t tell anyone else.”

Like that was a remote possibility. “You act like I’m running around waving a big ass sign! I’m the one who wanted to wait to share the news. Speaking of fathers, did yours take the news well?”

There was a brief moment of silence, which definitely wasn’t a good sign. “He’s fine,” Brad bit out. “You are officially out of danger. But he will want to meet you. He didn’t say so, but he will. Thanksgiving is soon, so you can meet everyone then.”

Meet the entire Magiano line, the family responsible for killing my boss and putting a hit out on my own head? Sounded super fun. “I don’t know if I can take a lunch. This is Burge’s first full day.”

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