I walk to the suitcase I’d stashed in the closet the night before and bend down, unzipping it and digging into a pocket. My hand closes around Rebecca’s journal and I pull it out, staring down at the red leather cover. “I need to do this,” I whisper, squeezing my eyes shut against the ache in my heart. “So I can’t hurt her like I did you.”
Standing, I seek out Crystal and find her with her back to me as she fills a cup with coffee. A knock sounds on the door and I grimace, certain it’s Jacob with really bad timing. Crystal turns and smiles when she sees me, but it fades as she notes my solemn expression. Her gaze drops to the journal she’d once opened and begun reading, mistaking it for something I’d left for her. She swallows hard and sets her cup down. “What are you doing?”
Another knock sounds and I ignore it, walking to the island separating us and setting the journal down. “I need you to read this.”
Shock rolls over her face. “Why? Those are her private thoughts.”
“I was a bastard to her, Crystal. You need to know who I am capable of being. But I have to warn you, she details the sex. And it was all about sex and dominance. It’s not an easy read, even for me—and I lived it.”
She inhales, straightening her spine. “When I was fifteen, I rebelled against all the protectiveness of my father and brothers. I think I also secretly wanted them to prove that they loved me unconditionally. I skipped school, got horrible grades, and shoplifted even though I had all the money a girl could want. My father put me in counseling and private school, and the counselor and I connected, which was good. But even more, I knew my home wasn’t temporary.
“My point is that I am not that girl now, so I don’t need to read the journal.” She rounds the island and wraps her arms around me, tilting her chin up to look at me. “I know who you are with me, and who you are with your family. And I like that man. I love that man.”
My cell phone starts ringing, and now there’s pounding on the door. A second later, Crystal’s cell phone starts buzzing on the counter.
“We’re scaring Jacob,” she murmurs, “but you don’t scare me.”
As I bring her mouth to mine, the distant sound of the front door opening is followed by Jacob shouting, “Crystal!”
“Security must have let him in,” she says, and calls out, “In here!”
Footsteps pound, and Crystal and I face the doorway as Jacob bursts through with his gun drawn.
Blake Walker, whose long, dark hair spills out of the tie at his nape, follows, using his gun to scan the room. “What the fuck is going on?”
“Coffee for the road, anyone?” Crystal asks, walking around the island to pick up the pot.
* * *
Blake Walker throws so many F-bombs you’d think he was going for the New York record, which has steep competition. Crystal laughs every time I grimace, and I’m damn glad when we arrive at Riptide.
Crystal exits and I follow, my hand going to her back to urge her toward the roped-off security area.
Jacob and another security guard frame us, protecting us from a few piranha reporters. We’ve just entered the security area when I hear “Mr. Compton.”
I glance in the direction of the guard who called my name, going downright icy when I see the familiar man next to him.
“Any idea why Ryan’s here?” Jacob asks suspiciously.
“I don’t care why he’s here,” I reply. “He’s leaving.” I walk toward Ryan, Jacob keeping pace with me, and I’m aware of Blake hurrying in our direction. Apparently they aren’t sure I won’t kill the man. I’m not, either.
I step close to him, my voice low, tight. “What are you doing here?”
“We need to talk.”
“No. We don’t.”
“Is everything okay?” Crystal asks, coming to my side.
Ryan’s eyes light on her, his lips twisting evilly. “Crystal Smith.”
It’s a seductive threat I don’t miss. “Escort Ms. Smith inside, Jacob.”
There’s amusement in Ryan’s blue stare. Jacob steps between him and Crystal, obviously understanding why the hell I want her out of here. Blake steps to my side. “Shall I drag him out of here by his attitude or his ass, Mr. Compton?” he asks, leaving no doubt he witnessed Ryan’s short address to Crystal.
“We have business,” Ryan snaps. “Are we doing this out here, or inside?”
“We aren’t doing anything at all.” I lift a hand toward Blake. “Escort him by whatever you wish.” I head for the door.
“Someone dirtied up my financials,” Ryan calls out loudly. “Do you want me to tell the press who I think did it?”
I pause but don’t turn, my lips curving into a brutal twist. “If you want to announce the mismanagement of your business in the financial capital of the world, enjoy yourself.” I enter the building, where Crystal is waiting for me.
She looks at my face and shakes her head. “Oh, no. What did you do, Mark?”
“Not enough. But I’m about to.” Knowing Crystal’s determination for answers, I grab her arms and carefully set her aside, and I head toward the conference room.
All three of the Walker brothers are tall, dark, and in my face from the moment they enter the Riptide conference room. I swiftly dismiss their questions about Ryan and everything else until we are all seated, and I’m in full command of the room. I claim the head of the rectangular table, and Royce and Blake are quick to claim the seats to either side of me. Luke sits next to Blake and Jacob next to Royce.