“I need you to load all the files in my car,” I instruct Kurt, “including all security footage.”
Kurt stops in front of the desk. “Is this a precaution, or should I expect a search warrant to follow?”
“Both.” I fill him in on the details of what’s happened with Ava.
“What a little bitch,” he says when I finish. “Isn’t killing Rebecca punishment enough? She has to shred your life and anyone else who’s in it? I suppose she’s going to claim insanity.”
“She’s in a psych ward for evaluation, but I think that’s more due to her calculation and manipulation than losing her mind.”
“I knew enough of those kind of people in the Navy to know that spells trouble.”
And he’s done a damn good job of heading off trouble here the past few years. “I’m going to draw up papers to put you in control of the club. It will shield the members, and I need to focus on my family until my mother is well.”
“You want me to take over the club? As in ownership, not just management?”
“For now. There will be a hefty compensation package, and a time limit before it transfers back to me. My attorney will get in touch with you, to review the documents and give you the chance to accept or decline. But I’ll need to know quickly.”
The phone on my desk rings and I punch the Speaker button. “Mr. Compton?” an attendant asks.
“Yes. I’m here.”
“There’s a Ms. Smith at the gate asking to see you.”
Adrenaline rushes through me and I clench my jaw. What the f**k is Crystal doing here? How does she even know this place exists? I’m not sure if I should be worried or pissed. All I know is that I don’t have the files yet and I can’t leave without them, and she’s too stubborn to leave without me.
I release the button on the intercom and glance at Kurt. “How long do you need to load my car?”
“Half an hour to download the security feed. Who the hell is she?”
“The acting manager of Riptide while my mother is on the mend.”
“And she knows about the club?”
“I’m guessing Ava got to her?”
“That’s a good question.” I punch the Intercom button again. “Have someone go to the gate and ensure she comes in alone. Then keep her at her car until I come outside.” I round the desk. “Call me when the files are ready.”
“Should I have security on standby?”
“You should always have security on standby. But for the next few weeks, I want them on eggshells.”
I find Crystal at the side of her car, arms crossed in front of her, trepidation in her stare as she watches me exit the house. Just seeing her long blond hair lifting in the breeze, around the trench coat she’d worn last night, reminds me of spreading her wide on that bathroom sink. This doesn’t please me, nor does the jolt of white hot need that lights a fire in my body.
Her gaze tracks my path down the stairs, and if she’s attempting to hide the unbridled admiration or the worry in her stare, she’s failed. The combination of these things is an uncomfortable mix of desire dashed with ice water. I don’t know why she’s here, but I’m doubly certain now that I’m not going to like it.
Once I hit the sidewalk, she rounds the car and races toward me. “Mark, I—”
My hand comes down on her arm and I pull her hard against my body, trying not to think about how soft and feminine she feels against me, lowering my voice for her ears only. “How did you find this place?”
“There was a detective at the gallery. I was flustered when we hung up, and he told me I could find you here.”
The detective. I should have known. “I told you to wait at my house.”
“I know, but I couldn’t wait. My father’s pilot needs to know within the hour if I’m using him tonight or in the morning. He takes contract jobs, and he has one he’ll cancel for us.”
My anger is instant, but not directed at her. Sending her here is a message from the detective, punishment for my attorney’s refusing to allow me to meet with Ava. And a promise he will make my life hell if I don’t cooperate. I wouldn’t be surprised if he created whatever emergency that seems to have Crystal chartering private planes and jumping through hoops to see me. He knows she works with my family, and I’m sure he assumes I don’t want my parents to know about this place.
Well, the detective has underestimated me. I do not take punishment lightly, and I won’t be manipulated. I’m calling his bluff.
I’m finding out now if Crystal can hang tough, no matter what the next few months throw at her. I just hope my parents don’t have to try.
“Mark,” Crystal says, and her fingers curl on my jaw, drawing my attention.
Aware of us being watched, I reach for her hand, pulling it between us, and I fight the sweet sensation of her touch, when I never ever let anyone touch me. “Do you know what this place is?”
“He said it was part of your offices.”
“No. It’s not. We’re going inside and you are not to look at anyone, talk to anyone, or do anything unless I say you do it. I own you when you’re here, no matter how much you might not like it. Understood?”
“This is not a place where you disobey me. This isn’t about your job. You are not my employee here. So you follow the rules, or you can get back in your car and I’ll meet you at my house.”