“But I am a reasonable man.”
“You always have been with me,” Piper agreed with a smile.
“Of course you would say that,” Art sneered. “You two are obviously having an affair.”
“We are engaged to be married,” Zephyr said in dangerous tones the other man would do well not to ignore, “not having an affair.”
“Well, congratulations.” Sarcasm dripped from every syllable.
“Thank you.” Zephyr did sardonic truth up there with the best of them. “That happy news aside, I did not express my less than favorable opinion of your unimaginative and overpriced design firm for Piper’s sake.”
“Right,” Art said sarcastically.
“Had you not done your level best to destroy not only your marriage, but also any hope of ongoing friendship with Piper as well, she probably would never have left New York.”
“That’s true,” Piper added with a look that could only be termed sentimental.
Zephyr smiled at her. “I’m glad you came to Seattle.”
Art made a disgusted sound. “And you’re trying to say you did not destroy my company because of her.”
“Only indirectly. I demand the best, isn’t that right, yineka mou?”
Piper nodded, looking no less perplexed. “Yes.”
“You are the best.”
“Thank you.” Her lovely blue eyes began to gleam with understanding.
“If I had gone with the recommendation of one of my colleagues based on things he had heard as a result of Arthur Bellingham’s very real smear campaign against you in New York, I would not have hired you for that first job.”
“But you didn’t.”
“No, I spoke to local clients you had worked with and visited properties you’d finished, but most importantly, I liked the proposal you gave me for my own project better than anyone else’s,” Zephyr disclosed.
“So, what was the problem?” Art demanded, showing a real lack of understanding his offense, even after Zephyr explained it.
“Your lies almost cost me the work of a fantastic designer.”
“So, you decided to destroy my business?”
“Are you an idiot? I did not destroy your business. I merely helped you along in the process.” But would Piper see it that way, as well?
“You utterly ruthless bastard!” Art rasped in a low voice.
He could not deny it. He was ruthless and he was a bastard. His only real concern was how his new fiancée responded to this particular truth. “At least I’m an honest one. Unlike your creative dealing with the truth, I never once said something about your firm that wasn’t true. I wouldn’t hire Très Bon for one of my properties. You are overextended financially and have been for years. Your designs are unimaginative. And you do have a reputation for finishing a project over budget and late.”
Art sniffed superiorly, an effort that was completely wasted on his audience. “That has never bothered my clients in the past.”
“You mean they tolerated your shoddy business practices in order to attach the name of Très Bon to their buildings.”
“It was a name worth having before you set out to destroy it.”
“Your uncle and grandfather ran a decent, if conservative design firm. You’ve been doing your best to destroy their work with bad business decisions since taking over ten years ago.”
“Don’t you care about the people that are going to be out of work when Très Bon folds?” the other man asked, appealing to Piper, rather than Zephyr.
But it was Zephyr who answered. “Did you care about Piper having to leave New York, her career in tatters?”
“She’s just one person!”
Yes, definitely an idiot. “And you lied about her.”
“I knew it was about Pip.”
Zephyr winced at the name and looked at Piper. “Do you like that ridiculous nickname?”
“No. I already told him not use it, but as usual with Art, he didn’t listen to me.” She sounded mildly annoyed, but it was the lack of expression on her face that concerned Zephyr.
“If he had, his business might not be in trouble right now.”
“She left, not me!”
Piper frowned at her ex, but no real anger shined in her eyes. “I left because you cheated on me and then fired me when I filed for divorce.” There was no real heat in her words, just a weary-sounding truth.
Art’s glare wasn’t so insouciant. “You didn’t used to be vindictive.”
“I’m not vindictive now.”
“Then get him to stop.” Art contrived to sound desperate and pleading. He even said, “Please.”