We started chatting a bit; he asked me the same sort of questions his wife had, but William said nothing. He leaned against the wall with his arms folded, looking disturbed.
What am I going to tell Jessica?
Mr. Pardini wasn’t selling the shares out of greed, as I previously assumed. He was following a principle that they were only entitled to the amount of money and work they had put into the family’s advancement. And frankly, it seemed fair. Then I thought of Luke, who had been disappointed by his father’s will—and now his uncle was, in his eyes, giving him a meager amount for his shares.
“Well, it was nice meeting you, Natalie.”
“Yes, Mr. Pardini.” I leaned forward and shook his hand, Will watching me out of the corner of his eyes.
That was my cue to leave. I walked out of his office and wiped my hands on my jeans.
“That wasn’t so bad.”
Will scoffed as we ascended the staircase back to the room. He opened the door for me and I walked in, startled by the violent look on his face.
“What the hell am I going to tell my cousin?” he yelled when the door was closed.
I lifted my shoulders helplessly. “Honestly, what can you do? Your dad has all the power and his argument made a lot of sense.”
He paced the room like a caged animal. “I should be able to do more. He’s one of us. He deserves what’s owed to him. God, this family is so fucked. This is going to ruin us.” Will sank to the bed and stared at the floor.
An odd feeling swept through me. Why was he so upset over this? Was this really about Luke anymore? “When I first met you, you were thrilled that Luke’s dad was dead because he was out of the running for CEO. Now, you’re getting upset because he’s not inheriting his millions?”
A pained look crossed over his face. “I feel guilty about it. He’s getting completely screwed over.”
I bent down until he was forced to meet my gaze. “You can’t control your dad’s actions anymore than you could control the accident.”
William’s eyes were livid. “Please, don’t.”
His hands gripped the edge of the bed, whitened with panic, and I dropped my gaze.
I swear to God, if you ignore another one of my emails, I will start calling you. You’re really acting like a bitch. I’ve been nothing but nice to you. I don’t deserve to be treated like garbage—
I deleted the email before I finished it, my heart pounding with poison. It coursed through my veins, spreading a sick feeling. The phone trembled against my ear.
“I’m starting to get really freaked out by Ben’s emails. He has never called me names like this.”
Jessica sighed on the other line. “I think it’s best you ignore them, like Will said.” She paused for a moment. “He’s been over here a couple times, looking for you. He still has a key, you know.”
“What? He went into our apartment?”
Will’s head jerked up from his arms and looked at me, fury etched all over his olive-skinned face. I waved him away.
“Yeah, but don’t worry. I got a locksmith to change the locks. He just wanted to know where you were…and he wanted to know about Will. I’ve never seen him so agitated.”
“I don’t know what’s gotten into him. It’s weird.”
“Well, anyways. Tell Will thanks for trying. I’m sure Luke appreciates it. How are you doing?”
I shook my head. “Fine, I guess. This whole thing with Ben is really stressing me out. I think I need to tell him that it’s over, ‘cause he obviously isn’t getting the message.”
I glanced at the article splashed across the website: Will Pardini Spotted with Petite Beauty. My ears burned whenever I read the title. Underneath was a photo of us kissing at O’Hare. That was only half an hour ago.
I hated this. All of these photographs and articles would only incense Ben further. I wished it would stop.
Suddenly, the jet engine roared to life. “I’ve got to go. Plane’s taking off.”
“Okay, we’ll catch up when you come home.”
I ended the phone call, refusing to acknowledge William’s presence one foot away from me, but he would not be ignored. He tapped impatiently on the desk with his fingers. I shut my laptop and finally looked at him.
“You should file a restraining order against Ben."
I laughed at him, looking up at his furious face and swallowing my laughter. "No."
"I'm serious, Natalie. He's crossed the line by visiting your home without your permission."
"Maybe, but I don't want to escalate things. Ben would never hurt me. He's not dangerous, he's just being a bit pathetic because his heart’s been broken.”
“He's had nine months to get over his broken heart."
I bit my lip so hard that I drew blood. “Maybe I'll send him an email warning him."
He sat down across from me and gave a slight shrug. “Do what you have to do, but don't expect it to work." He grasped my hand. “I don’t have a good feeling about this guy. He reeks of desperation."
I felt a rush of affection for my dark-haired paramour. He was so concerned with my safety. It was cute and touching at the same time. I squeezed his hand and leaned over the table to kiss him.
"I guess I'm lucky that I have you to protect me,” I said, an inch away from his lips.
I felt his smile against my lips and he grabbed my head, deepening the kiss.
Whatever I said, I was worried about Ben. The thought of returning home without Will made my insides churn, but I really wanted to get back to see Jessica.
“You should stay with me tonight,” he said in a low voice.
My skin was tingling all over at the thought of being alone with Will in his apartment.
“I’ll come over tomorrow. I have a lot of things to do. I still haven’t finished those newsletters, and I know I’ll be too distracted at your place.” I winked at him and he smiled.
* * *
His throaty voice echoed inside my head as I bounded up the stairs to my apartment. I had only been away from Will for a few hours and I felt myself shaking, as though I were suffering from a fever. I barely stepped three feet into the apartment before Jessica threw her arms around my neck, nearly knocking me over.
Strangely enough, I felt relieved to be back. There was nothing like coming home after a long trip, even if home was a two-bedroom apartment with wall-to-wall carpeting that was slowly rotting away.