Eight

Crystal . . .


I’m still shaking when Jacob and I reach the garage, and I keep telling myself to hold it together until I’m home. Jacob opens the door to the Escalade and I slide inside. I’ve never had a man affect me like this before. Never.

Fortunately, Jacob senses how ready to blow I am and we remain silent for the drive to One Beacon Circle, the high-rise where I live. Once there, he insists on escorting me to my fiftieth-floor apartment, which my father had purchased with the insistence that he wanted me safe, and that it fit his portfolio. I’d agreed on the condition that we bought a small unit and I made the payments—payments that, thanks to Dana and Riptide, I’ve been doubling for six months straight.

I’m ready to go inside when he stops me by handing me a business card. “Obviously you know you have top-notch security here in the building. But if you need to leave, even for a soda from the corner store, call this number.”

Glancing down at the card, I read the name Kara Walker and give him a curious look. “I thought you were remaining my point person?”

“I’m still available, but after some internal discussions with my team, we’ve decided a woman might make it more comfortable for you to be shadowed.”

My jaw sets. “She’s Blake’s wife, isn’t she?”

He grimaces. “You sure picked up on that quickly. Yes. She’s Blake’s wife.”

“I can’t help you with Mark,” I tell him. “We’re done. I’m done. So if Kara has bigger fish to fry, let her at them. Don’t pull her off a job for me, or keep her from being in San Francisco with Blake.”

“Blake wanted her with you. And no matter what, you’re in close contact with the Compton family, able to stop a potential problem before anyone else.”

He’s right, and I nod. “Fine. I’ve got her card.”

“And you have my number, too.”

“And Royce’s and Blake’s. Why don’t you give me Luke Walker’s? Then my phone can have a Walker family reunion.” I hold up my hand. “I’m sorry. I’m feeling suffocated and not myself.”

“No apology needed. I think anyone would be overwhelmed under the circumstances, and far more so than you’ve been. I’d suggest you call Kara tomorrow and go over your schedule for the next few days, or weeks. It might help you to feel you’re not constantly reporting to someone. Then she can discreetly be available when you need her.”

“I will. Thanks, Jacob. I really appreciate all you’ve done, and I know Mark does, too.”

He gives me a mock salute and starts down the hall. I shut the door and lock it, then lean against it and shut my eyes. I remind myself yet again that I’m caught up in the emotions of everyone around me, Mark especially. What I feel for him is not what I think I feel. He’s simply a smoking-hot man who grabbed my attention. The man oozes sex when he walks into a room. Our sexual chemistry is off the charts and I want him. Or I did, when it was simply sex, not some kind of control game. I do not love Mark Compton. The ache in my belly is about pain and loss, some mine, some that of those around me who need me to carry some of the burden for them. I do not feel anything else.

* * *

At nearly midnight, I’m sitting in my bedroom by a huge window overlooking the lights of a never-sleeping Manhattan; I’m still in my black skirt and red shirt, with piles of paperwork in my lap. I’m exhausted from working through the details of next weekend’s auction. I’ve pushed myself to keep working, trying and failing to prove that Mark cannot invade my thoughts. Nor can I get rid of the fear that I’ll never overcome what is between us, and how it will affect me and Dana.

Smelling like Mark, all musky and deliciously male, isn’t helping me forget having his hard body pressed against mine, or his declaring in quite graphic terms his desire to “fuck me.” My nipples tighten and ache in frustration. The man is an asshole who used me and then, instead of owning up to it, offered me a contract he knew I wouldn’t take.

Running a hand through my hair, I head to the bathroom and turn on the water in my giant oval tub, pouring in my favorite jasmine-scented bubbles to wash away all evidence of him. Stripping off my clothes, I let them pool on the gray tiled floor and walk to the granite counter to put my hair into a ponytail. But for a moment I stare at myself, my chest clenching as I see my biological mother in the mirror. She died at twenty-eight, the same age I am now—and I was only nine when I leaned over her and begged her to get up.

Nausea churns in my belly, but I tell myself not to shove aside the brutality of the memories that have been fighting their way to the surface due to my fear of losing Dana, too. I need to remember the poison of blind love. My hand goes to my throat. Love. Where did that word come from? I’m not in love.

I turn away from the mirror, afraid of what I might discover. No smart woman falls in love with a man who’s grieving for another woman. A woman who has every right to be grieved, and missed.

I turn off the water, and I’m preparing to step into the tub when my doorbell rings. My heart lurches with fear and dread. No one can get to my apartment but the security staff or someone I’ve approved to come up. No one would be at my door at this hour if something wasn’t wrong, and the possibilities race through my mind. Dana is worse. Ava’s been found. The press is doing who knows what.

I grab my hot pink silk robe from a wall hook and tie it around me, worried about what awaits me at the door. Rushing from the bedroom, I flip on a light and speed toward the door. “Who is it?” I call.

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