Frustrated, Brent surged forward and knocked on the door loudly and persistently. His mind wasn’t focused. It was all a mad, desperate rush to get her back. It was like he was working on instinct, an animal caught in a trap, and he needed to get relief.

Finally, Jessica’s voice, wavering and small, sounded on the other side of the door. “Brent, don’t do this.”

“If it’s my dad… I told him to go to hell. Cara and I are moving permanently into the penthouse. He’ll never be around either of you again.”

“I can’t… Brent, please, just go home.”

“Jessica, you have to hear me out.”

“I did. Twice. Now leave before I call the police, and you know you don’t need that kind of press. I just can’t do this anymore. I’m taking a break from school and getting out of San Diego. Please, if you really love me, you’ll leave me alone.”

He leaned against the door, pressing his head against the cool wood. “Please, I need you.”

“But it’s too dangerous for me to need you, for me to be near the shadier, nastier parts of your family. Please, go.”

Brent lifted his hand to knock on the door again, but then he heard a small, strangled cry on the other side. It hit him like a sledgehammer to the gut. She was in pain, and he was the one causing it now. He’d promised himself he loved her, that he’d protect her. Brent couldn’t bear to be the source of her agony.

There had to be another way to win her back.

He just had to find it.

Chapter Sixteen


His day went from bad to worse. Brent started by trying to get through a litany of inane conference calls and budget checks at his office. He had a 1:00 p.m. meeting with Allen, which he was both dreading and resolute about. Brent didn’t relish telling one of his closest friends what was going on, how he’d violated Allen’s trust with Jessica. At the same time, he knew now that he couldn’t live without the vivacious woman in his life. He needed her.

More importantly, Cara needed her.

If he was against a wall trying to figure out how to win Jessica back and stop her from leaving town, then he needed to talk to Allen, come clean and find a way to patch everything back together. Fuck his father for doing this and, yeah, Brent needed to be socked in the face a few times himself for ever falling so steadily under his father’s command. He’d believed, foolishly that his daughter needed her grandfather. But she never had.

No one needed a rancid monster like that in their lives. He was certain of that.

As Allen approached, Brent set the massive pile of work he hadn’t finished aside. But Allen didn’t just walk into the office like usual. Oh no. He ran into the office like the hounds of hell were after him and slugged Brent across the jaw. Brent jumped to his feet and was barely following anything going on in the office when Allen punched him again.

This time, Brent spit blood.

The third blow was an uppercut aimed for his nose. Brent dodged that and grabbed Allen by the elbow and twisted the arm up against his back.

“What the hell, Allen?”

“You think I don’t know finally what you’ve been doing?” His partner and friend – was Allen still his friend? – fought against the hold. His skin was turning purple fast from his agitation. “You’ve been having sex with Jessica.”

Brent tried to swallow, but his throat tasted like ash. Still, he held his firm grip on Allen’s arm. He had a few meetings to still make today, and he had no time for the ER. Also, he’d rather not have a broken nose, even if after last night he probably deserved it. “I’m going to let you go.”

“Are you? Then great. I’m going to pound you into the concrete you goddamned son of a bitch!”

He twisted Allen’s arm a bit more, letting the pressure spread up his elbow. His friend yowled with pain. Brent shook his head. “I’m going to let you go now, and you need to not punch me. I can keep you pinned tighter and longer, but I don’t want to hurt your arm. Now, can you be reasonable or do I have to call security?”

Allen’s breathing was ragged and exhausted. “Fine, but I still might kick you in the balls, you ass.”

Taking the chance, Brent dropped Allen’s arm and quickly made sure his desk was squarely between them. “Now, can we talk like rational adults?”

A vein in Allen’s forehead was pulsating, and it looked like being rational was the absolute last thing on his (former) friend’s mind. “I don’t know, Brent. If in ten years someone in this office was having an affair with Cara, could you keep a civil tongue?”

Brent’s own heart raced at the thought of his precious girl, even a decade from now, being pawed at by one of the production assistants or vice location scouts. He’d hate it. Hell, he’d lock that man up in a room – no, a dungeon – and never let the bastard out again.