He arches a brow. “You’ll tolerate me?”

“That’s right.” I feel steadier now, already recovering from my flash down memory lane. “Though I’ll need a big pink bottle of Pepto in my desk drawer, and some wine by my bedside.” I snatch up my purse, tote bag, and coat from a chair on my way to the door. “She’ll be out in half an hour. I’m going to work.”


I head down the hall to the private elevators the staff has us use to avoid the press. After slipping on my coat and replacing my heels with snow boots from my oversized tote bag, I punch the call button for the car. He’s such a complete jerk—the kind only a foolish woman would pine for. Maybe I have more of my biological mother in me than I thought.

The doors open and to my unwelcome surprise, Jacob is standing before me, looking all G.I. Joe with his buzz cut and hard-set jaw. Edginess radiates off him, the way I’m certain that anger must be bristling off of me.

“Crystal,” he says, punching the button to hold the door as I enter. “Is Mr. Compton here?”

My brows dip. “Aren’t you his bodyguard?”

“Exactly.” His jaw clenches as he seems to clamp down on something he’s about to say. “Is he here?”

“Yes. Don’t worry. His mother’s in treatment, and your client is safely tucked away in her private room.”

A hint of relief flashes in his eyes before they go hard and focused again. “And you’re going where?” he asks, a demand in his voice that I really don’t need right now.

“To work,” I say, stepping into the elevator.

“I’ll ride back down with you.” He lets go of the button and I turn to face him as he does the same with me. “We’re arranging to have security around the clock for you,” he informs me. “I’ll wait downstairs with you until my backup arrives, then he’ll accompany you to work.”

“What? No, that’s not necessary. No one has bothered me; I don’t want or need a shadow.”

“Now that Mark’s here, that will change. The press will chase him down and do what they can to twist him in the headlines.”

“No,” I repeat as the elevator opens, and go down the hall to sign out at the guard desk. Jacob does the same as I head for the back door.

But Jacob is on my heels. “Mr. Compton wants this to happen.”

I turn to face him. “He doesn’t control my private time. And he said nothing to me upstairs about it.”

“I’m sure he has his mother on his mind. He told me to handle it. Think about this, Crystal. You’re close to the family, and that means you’re a target. He just wants you to be safe.”

I tamp down my anger at his calm words, and think about why this is all happening. Someone is dead. People have committed crimes, and it’s not the first time the harshness of jealousy has hit this close to home. I know what it makes people capable of.

I briefly close my eyes. Damn it. I’m making rash decisions about my safety, which could affect other people’s safety. The fact that Mark Compton rattles me into this state of illogical thought reignites my anger, but I’m not a fool. And I have a bad feeling that there’s a lot more going on with Mark, and this investigation, than I know about.

With a deep breath, I say, “I’ll provide my own security. My family has its own service. I’ll get it in place right away.”

As usual, he doesn’t react. “I’d feel better if we did the job, so we know you’re safe.”

“My father is a perfectionist. He hires people that you’ll approve of.”

His jaw clenches just enough to give away his displeasure. “I’ll talk to Mr. Compton. In the meantime, we’ll cover you. My backup should be here any minute, then you can leave.”

“I have a critically important eleven o’clock meeting that I can’t miss.”

“Crystal—”

“As in many millions of dollars at stake for Riptide. Go take care of the Compton family. I’ll take the subway—busy trains with lots of cameras.”

“I can’t let you go without coverage.”

I recite my route, and what stop I’m exiting. “Have one of your people meet me on the street if you really think it’s necessary. I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”

“No subway. I’ll put you in a cab, then have one of my men at Riptide meet you at the curb.”

“You saw the weather and the traffic. I can’t be late—and time is ticking as we argue.”

“I need you to take a cab,” he insists. “Even if you’re late.”

“It’s millions.”

“I heard you.”

I frown, uneasiness sliding down my spine. “What the heck is going on, Jacob?”

He pauses for a few moments. “Mark didn’t push the security issue before you left because he didn’t think it was a real issue until his presence in the city was known. I got a call as I was walking inside. The press is all over Riptide. Somehow they heard Mark is in town.”

I press my fingers to my temple. “This is a billionaire client I’m meeting, and he’s threatening to pull his auction items because of the scandal now waiting to greet him at our door.”

“Our team is clearing them out, and it’s close to being under control, from what I hear. But I don’t want to risk you being ambushed. Try to push your meeting back an hour.”

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