Unable to hold her tongue any longer, Keisha slapped her palm against the desk. “I won’t stand here and let you spread lies.”
Gabe ignored her comment, reaching into his jacket pocket and pulling out a sheaf of legal papers. He dropped them into her dad’s lap. “Sign on the dotted line, and you don’t ever have to hear me say another word again.”
Blood pounded in Keisha’s ears, her pulse driven into overdrive by Gabe’s misplaced sense of revenge. She straightened her shoulders and moved to stand between her dad and Gabe. “Forget it. This is a family company. Only a Jacobs will ever run it.”
That got Gabe’s attention off her dad. When his head snapped up to look at her, every bit of the Gabe she’d met last night had disappeared into a black hole as if he’d never existed. “You’re making a big mistake.”
“You’ll understand if I ignore anything that comes out of your mouth,” she snapped.
“I’m beginning to think you have an obsession with my mouth.”
“Only smacking it shut.”
Last night, his words would have been flirty, making her stomach do the loop-de-loop. Today they were laced with fury and stung her skin as if he’d slapped her. But something else had changed over the past few hours. She’d stopped giving a damn.
Her dad’s calloused hand wrapped around hers, reminding her of what was at stake. She still gave a damn about what all of this would do to him.
“What will it take to make you leave us alone?” her father asked. His voice had regained some of its natural orneriness. The shock of Gabe’s accusation must have worn off.
“You losing everything, just like my father did.”
“And you think you’re the man to make that happen?” A crafty gleam sparkled in her father’s eyes.
“Absolutely.” Not a note of doubt colored Gabe’s curt answer.
Why should it? The rich prick was obviously used to getting his way. Still, she knew what that tone meant coming from her dad. Trouble.
“So you’re willing to put it all on the line?” her dad asked.
“What’s your game?” Hesitancy bobbled in Gabe’s voice.
She knew the feeling.
“Not a game.” Her dad shrugged. “Just a challenge.”
“What, like the best piece of furniture wins?” Gabe asked.
Her dad nodded his head. “Sounds like a good bet, after all, I just read a story in the papers about your furniture-making hobby.”
It seemed like Keisha was trapped in the room with two crazy people. He had to be joking to think of leveraging everything he’d built on a stupid bet. She dropped down to her haunches to better look her dad in the face, but it wasn’t lunacy she saw in his eyes. It was confidence.
“Pops! You can’t risk the company like this. So what if we lost our biggest client. We’ll find a new one. Someone better. We’ll find a way to cover the loan payment. I can sell my Thunderbird. This asshole isn’t worth it.”
“Trust me, Baby Girl. I know what I’m doing.” Her dad patted her hand as if she was mumbling nonsense and kept his focus locked on the threat to their family’s survival. “You heard my daughter. She doesn’t think you’re much of a challenge. Is that true?”
“Like you’d know the truth from a table saw,” Gabe growled.
“What’s wrong rich boy, can’t take a little manual labor?” Her dad pricked at the other man like a rancher with a cattle prod.
“Name the terms, old man.”
“You and Keisha each make a piece of furniture. The best piece wins.”
That’s it. Her dad was unhinged. She needed to call in the big guns—her mom—before everything blew up in all their faces. She stood and grabbed the phone.
Gabe smiled, looking for all intents and purposes like a cat toying with a doomed mouse. “And I suppose you’d be the judge?”
“Nah. Baby Girl here knows how particular I can be. You’d both probably lose.” Her dad rubbed his chin. “There’s a local family moving into a Habitat for Humanity house in two days. You can each make a piece to welcome them home. They’ll vote for their favorite. Winner takes all.”
The phone dangled in her hand as her fingers hovered over the buttons. This was beyond any bit of reasonableness.
“Have you both lost your ever-loving minds?” She dropped the receiver onto its cradle. “I won’t be a part of this craziness. He can’t force us to do anything, Pops.”
Her dad looked up at her, hope shining in his eyes. “You know the doc said my hands were too shaky to use the equipment anymore. Your mama would be right pissed if I came home with two less fingers because the jigsaw got away from me. She likes to hold hands when we go to the movies.”
Torn between the look on her father’s face and sanity, Keisha hesitated.
“See, old man, even your own daughter knows you’re bound to lose.” Gabe withdrew a pen from his jacket pocket. “Make it easier on yourself, and sign the company over to me.”
Anger shot through her veins like a thunderbolt, singing her skin and leaving a trail of goose bumps in its wake. It was one thing for her to question her own family loyalty, but a whole other thing for Gabe to do it. That shit did not fly.
She rounded on Gabe, the urge to slap the arrogant look right off his face making her palm itch. “Excuse me?”
“You’re our best hope, Keisha Louise,” her dad said, his voice pulling her back from the edge. “Say you’ll do it.”
Her father’s soft plea did more to make up her mind than the mocking self-satisfaction written all over Gabe’s handsome face.
“Yes.” The affirmation came out stronger than she thought possible with her jangly nerves.
“That’s my girl.” Her dad squeezed her hand. “How about you, Campos?”
Gabe regarded them both with heavy suspicion. “I win, and you sign the papers? You sell the company to me for one dollar, knowing I’m going to padlock the place as soon as the ink dries?”
Her dad nodded. “And when you lose, you do whatever it takes to get the Barrington Inn and all the other clients we lost to sign exclusive contracts with us, and you stop sniffing after the company like a bored hound dog.”
Keisha held her breath. If Jacobs Fine Furnishings was going to make it, they had to get Gabe to leave them alone and get the hotel chain’s business back. A furniture making bet wasn’t her ideal method of accomplishing either, but if it got the job done, she’d learn to live with it—and she’d find a way to win it.