“Sit down, Kam,” Ian repeated more succinctly.

“I said I’m not in the mood,” Kam repeated through a clenched jaw. “I’m not in the mood for any of this crap,” he said, waving in a frustrated manner around the luxurious, crowded coffeehouse.


Ian stood, his mouth set in a hard line. “Will you just sit down and talk to me for five minutes? Is it really that hard?”

“No, it’s not that hard,” Kam snarled. “I just don’t want to fucking do it.” Ian glanced aside and Kam noticed several people looking their way. They’d both raised their voices.

“Just for a moment?” Ian persisted in a level but determined tone. “Please?”

Kam sat, feeling cornered. He didn’t feel like being still. He had a wild urge to go back to the gym at his hotel and punish his body with a rigorous workout, or maybe go running for miles and miles on the lakefront—

“Did something happen with the Gersbachs?” Ian began, brows slanted dangerously.

“No.”

“Everything seemed to be going well. Francesca said everyone seemed mellow during the showing. From the little I glimpsed as you left the restaurant, I’d say Otto looked pleased. I thought you seemed all right as well. Lin certainly seemed happy. She must have gotten sick soon after that.”

Kam just stared at his brother, all signs of irritation gone from his face, all traces of anything vanished. Ian looked down at the coffee table between them and idly began flipping a sugar packet with his long fingers.

“I’m going to try to be careful about saying this, Kam. I hope you understand that I’m coming from a . . . sensitive place?” Kam didn’t reply, but he grew tenser in his chair. “Lin isn’t just an invaluable member of my staff. She’s a very good friend. I’ve known her since she was seventeen years old, you know.”

It wasn’t really a question, so Kam still didn’t reply.

“Lin hasn’t been all that fortunate with the men she’s dated in the past.”

He sensed the electrical thread in Ian’s seemingly neutral comment. He leaned forward in his chair. “What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked, gaze narrowing.

“Just that. Very few men seem to have the ability to appreciate her character. Her refinements. Her sensitivities.”

“You make her sound like some kind of inbred show poodle,” Kam stated bluntly. He glanced impatiently around the confines of the coffeehouse, despising walls at that moment. “She’s a lot hardier than you make her out to be. Maybe you don’t know her all that well.”

“And you do?” Ian challenged, his quiet voice like steel. “Because I’d hate to see you put Lin in the same category as say . . . some of those hardy women you kept company with at Aurore, for instance.”

Kam’s gaze zoomed to meet his brother’s. Ian’s stare didn’t waver.

“Don’t get all holier-than-thou with me,” Kam seethed, shocked and infuriated at Ian’s reference. His brother had accidentally walked in on Kam engaging in the midst of some spontaneous recreation with two women last summer at Aurore. Ian had been circumspect enough not to mention the uncomfortable moment. That he brought it up now in association with Lin pissed off Kam royally. “Don’t try to convince me you led a monk’s existence before you met Francesca, because that’s just offensive. And Lin doesn’t have anything, whatsoever to do with that situation,” he emphasized by aggressively tapping his fingertips on the tabletop.

Ian’s gaze narrowed. Kam glared back. Finally, Ian exhaled.

“I’m glad to hear it,” he said frankly.

Kam took his fisted hand off the table. Merde. He really didn’t want to fight with Ian. But dammit, why did he have to be so smug at times?

Because he usually knows exactly what he’s talking about, that’s why. He’s never given me bad advice before, and for whatever fucked-up reason, he seems to actually care.

And if he were in Ian’s shoes, wouldn’t he think of warning a guy like himself away from Lin? It was just common sense, wasn’t it? A woman like Lin would never find much worth for a man like Kam except for sex, and after tonight, she probably was second-guessing even that.

Kam heaved a sigh as well, feeling defeated, but not by Ian. The mounting tension between them had broken, although Kam wasn’t sure exactly why.

“Don’t bring Lin into this. It’s my fault. I’m the one that’s struggling with being here . . . this whole damn thing,” he mumbled, sinking back in his chair. “I’m a fish out of water.”

“If this particular line of business is unsuited to you, Kam, that’s something we can deal with,” Ian said quietly. “I don’t want that to be your sole focus here. This is your first visit to the States—to the city where Lucien and I have made our homes. Let’s make that the focus.”

Kam transferred his gaze to Francesca as she approached the table, giving him a bright smile. He tried to smile back, but his muscles twisted uncooperatively. He suspected he grimaced instead. “Why don’t you come to the penthouse right now for a cup of tea or something,” Ian said.

“Wonderful idea,” Francesca said, hearing the last as she arrived.

“Come on,” Ian urged. “We’ll have a talk. About whatever you want,” he added when he saw Kam’s hesitance. He certainly didn’t want to have any more incendiary conversations about Lin or Kam’s sex life. “It’s a beautiful night. We can turn on the fire pit up on the deck and sit under the stars.”

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