Now Sloan needed something more than camaraderie. His thoughts must have shown, because Patrick flashed a rueful grin. “Do-or-die time, huh?” he said.

Sloan didn’t disappoint. “Yep.”

With a gesture Patrick directed them to his office. As Ziara moved into the space, she gasped. Sloan watched with a warm feeling in his chest as an almost childlike excitement burst over her face. He certainly understood.

The room was completely out of character with the rest of the house except for the pale walls and arches over the double windows. Otherwise, overflowing bookshelves lined every other wall, with more shelves jutting out to create aisles and hidden nooks. There were several oversize leather chairs with huge ottomans and a table-style desk supported by intertwined pieces of wood that formed the legs. It was slick, modern, but washed with an antique feel. An incredible contrast that Ziara obviously loved.

“This is so unique,” she breathed.

“Patrick would live in here if everyone would leave him alone,” Sloan said, earning a sucker punch in his upper arm.

“Would not.”

“Would, too, you little recluse.”

Ziara looked back at them in surprise, then glanced at the door separating them from the party.

“That’s right, Ziara. Sloan calls me a recluse, but look at the parties I put on. He’s clearly delusional. As is perfectly evident by his insistence that I join him in this crazy designing venture.”

“I’m not giving up, Patrick. You have to give me an honest chance at talking you into this.”

His friend waved toward the closed door, and the lavish house and glittering guests beyond it. “Why would I want to leave all this?”

“You know you get bored easily. This is just an opportunity for a new challenge.” He might as well start off simple.

“You think working with fifty cast members and a demanding director isn’t challenging?”

“How about—to teach an old nemesis she doesn’t know what’s best?”

Sloan noticed Ziara stiffen out of the corner of his eyes. Though her back was turned politely to them as she perused a nearby bookshelf, he still couldn’t dismiss the connection he had to her every emotion.

His jaw tightened as he remembered seeing her fight off that drunk. Granted, the guy wouldn’t get too far in a crowded party, but something about the practiced way Ziara had handled him made Sloan uneasy. What had happened to her that she needed to know how to defend herself? Classes at the Y, his ass!

He forced his attention back to Patrick. “Look, it’s time to step up to the plate, buddy. We’re leaving tomorrow. Are you following me or not?”

“I’d have to be crazy to sign on to pull together a show in less than three months.”

Sloan grinned. “But think of the thrill.”

“Vivian is not going to like this,” Patrick said with a careful glance at Ziara. “The last time I did something she didn’t like, she threatened to have me arrested.”

Ziara gasped. “What did you do?” she asked.

Patrick had the grace to look away. “Well, we snuck into the liquor cabinet when she wasn’t home and guzzled half the bottles down.”

Ziara frowned.

“Give us a break,” Sloan said. “We were only nineteen at the time. And how were we to know she had guests coming over for drinks the next day?”

Both men laughed, which felt good to Sloan. He missed those simpler times, when his struggles with Vivian only impacted himself and sometimes Patrick instead of the livelihood of close to a hundred people.

“It made an impression, that’s for sure,” Patrick said with a shudder. “Her expression...”

Sloan tried again. “So view this as the chance to show Vivian you’ve grown up from a spoiled little rich boy to an extremely talented designer.”

“Flattery will get you everywhere,” Patrick said. He rocked back on his heels, indicating to Sloan he was finally considering his offer without saying a word.

“I’m serious,” Sloan said, stepping forward. “You don’t need flattery. You know what you’re capable of. You work on these live shows because it gives you something to do and an excuse to be here. Just give it a shot. If nothing else, just get me through this show.”

This time Patrick leaned forward to meet him head-on. “I want final say on all designs.”

Sloan shook his head. “Robert and Anthony would come unglued. They’ve been there forever. It wouldn’t be right, Patrick. Besides, you would only be tweaking the main line with modern elements, not actually designing the clothes completely.”

But Patrick wasn’t swayed. “This isn’t a power trip, Sloan. It’s the only way I can have two lines finalized by fashion week.” He glanced carefully around the room. “You do want the lingerie line ready for the show, too?”