“You don’t want that attention right now.”

“Try me,” I challenge. “Go ahead.”

His eyes narrow and he seems to sense just how dangerous the ground he walks upon is, and he moves his body from mine. But his hands flatten on the wall beside me, his arms caging me in. But I don’t want to escape. I want to finally face him, and the past that’s haunted me for far too long.

“Why are you here?” I demand. He looks so civilized in his perfectly fitted black suit and deep blue shirt, no doubt chosen to match his eyes, yet he’s such a barbaric asshole.

“I didn’t come to San Francisco to testify against you,” he claims, lying as easily as he has a million times before. “I came here to protect you, since your ‘boyfriend’ can’t seem to get the job done. I’ll be right here in town until the trial is over, no matter how long I have to stay. You can count on it.”

I laugh and I sound a little insane, but it’s controlled insanity. My kind, and I’ll unleash it my way, in my time. “That’s truly priceless, Michael,” I say. “You’ve managed to turn this into a way to get back into my father’s good graces.”

“I didn’t ask to be called into this, but I’m here now, and it’s clear I’m needed.”

He’s so damn believable in the role of Mr. Tall, Dark, and Perfect, that it makes me sick to my stomach, thinking of all the people he takes advantage of. And I was one of them.

“You know what?” I demand. “Fuck you, Michael. Fuck you. Fuck you. And fuck you.” Shock slides over his face, and I revel in it. “If you think hanging around with the threat of butchering me in court is going to scare me into helping you get your job back with my father, you’re wrong. I’m already going to be sliced and diced by the press, so it doesn’t matter what you do.”

There’s a movement to my right, followed by Jacob’s harsh command. “Step. Back.”

Michael’s eyes glint with irritation but he’s smart enough to listen, pushing off the wall. A moment later I have Jacob on one side of me and Kelvin on the other, but Michael’s cold, calculating blue eyes don’t move from me.

“I’ll be at the Fairmont,” he says with barely contained anger. He pauses, for effect no doubt, and adds, “Indefinitely.”

“Go home, Michael,” I bite out. “There’s nothing for you here.”

His lips twist evilly. “I guess we’ll see about that,” he replies, a snide arrogance in his tone that makes me want to slap him, but he’s already turned away. He’s leaving, but he’s not gone. I have failed to get rid of him.

“Are you okay?” Jacob asks. If he’s been in a fight, his perfectly pressed suit and flawless face show no sign of it.

“Did he hurt you?” Kelvin asks, stepping closer, and I realize I’ve never seen him in a suit before. He heads the local Walker Security team, which makes him Jacob’s boss.

“I’m fine,” I assure him, and it’s remarkably true. “And I have Jacob to thank for that. He refused to leave my side even when I was with the detective.”

“Good thing he didn’t,” Kelvin comments. “Michael was supposed to be on a plane out of the city.”

“Apparently his travel plans and departure from his hotel were meant as a distraction,” Jacob says.

“That doesn’t surprise me,” I say, shivering against a gust of cold wind. “Is Chris—”

“On his way to kick my ass for letting this happen,” Jacob assures me, his frustration evident.

“It’s not your fault this happened, Jacob,” I assure him, “and I’ll be the first one to tell Chris that.”

“When I’m protecting you, anything that goes wrong is my fault,” he corrects. “I should have let the detective get his ass kicked.”

The coffee shop doors open beside us, and Corey and Raf are marched out in handcuffs. Kelvin rests a hand on the wall and lifts his chin at Jacob. “What the hell happened in there?”

“The kid, Corey, seems to have the hots for Ava, and apparently called Sara a lying bitch.”

I blanch. “Me? He doesn’t even know me.”

“Out of the mouths of babes,” Kelvin says. “Sounds like he was speaking Ava’s kind of language. How’d that turn into a fight?”

“Raf, who in case it wasn’t explained is technically still Ava’s husband. Sara wasn’t the lying bitch,” Jacob says. “He claimed Ava’s the lying bitch. Then it was all fists.”

I think back to the Chanel store, when Ava took a call from her Raf. “I thought he wanted Ava back?”

“That is not a man who wants his wife back,” Jacob assures me, cutting a look toward the police car as the back doors are closed. “I need to go talk to the detective before he leaves.”

“Go,” Kelvin orders. “I have Sara.”

Jacob takes off in a jog and Kelvin is already herding me toward the gallery, eager to escape reporters. As we walk, a sudden wave of emotion overcomes me. Fortunately, I have the short hike to beat it back down. I won’t let Michael have the power of destruction over me—not even in the form of a few worthless tears.

Once we’re inside the gallery, Ralph darts out of his office. “What happened? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” I say, though the dull throb starting behind my eyes and in my head argues differently. “I handled the detective. But you,” I add, “need to stop letting the police intimidate you. What time is it?”

Tags: Lisa Renee Jones Inside Out Romance
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