I’m listening to her tell a story when awareness grabs me, my gaze lifting and scanning for a source. My eyes cut through a gap between bodies to collide with that of the man standing at the railing some distance away. I jolt with awareness, my heart instantly skipping a beat. Jax. Jax is here and not only is the boat suddenly warmer, I decide right then that the only person on planet earth that looks better in a tux than my brother is this man. I have to force myself to remember that he and Randall had an interaction that made me question his agenda. I have to force myself to remember that there is a price for being vulnerable which I’ve learned the hard way, too hard to forget now.
“You know Jax North?” Chance asks, leaning in close.
I tear my gaze from Jax’s and focus on my brother. “We met last night.”
“And you obviously made an impression,” he states. “Interesting.”
My brows furrow. “What does that mean?”
“He won’t even talk to me or Randall,” Chance informs me.
“He spoke to Randall last night,” I correct. “They had words. Not good ones either.”
“Holy fuck,” he grumbles. “Why the hell did they have words?”
“Jax overhead him being a jerk to me. Jax came to my defense and Randall, in turn, was a jerk to Jax. Randall threatened to pull his business.”
“Damn it to hell. Randall, you little prick,” he mumbles under his breath before he motions to the blonde we’ve been talking to. “Let me find you in a few minutes, okay?”
She nods and walks away while Chance turns to face me. “Randall knows I’m trying to connect with Jax.”
“What’s the deal here, Chance? Isn’t Jax a vendor? Why are you trying to connect with him? And why not just walk over to him and talk to him now?”
“Dad wanted to buy their property to convert it into a bed and breakfast. It was a passion project of his. I have no idea why, but it was.”
“I’m the one who does property development. Why don’t I know about this?” My gut twists. “Never mind. I know why. He didn’t trust me.”
“He didn’t trust me either. This was some personal thing to him. I want to know why but we never will. Hell, I’d like to make this happen, in dad’s honor, you know?”
“Why didn’t you talk to me about this?”
“I haven’t given it a lot of thought until now. I tried to call Jax and he blew me off. Maybe you can talk to him. Maybe we could make this happen in dad’s memory.”
I’m not big on anything to honor dad’s memory, but that’s not where my head is right now. Suddenly, Jax isn’t the one who wants something from me. We’re the ones who want something from Jax and I now wonder if I’d considered the Norths as source material for my dad’s journal for a reason. Is there something I know that I don’t realize I know or something I read that triggered that thought? “Emma?”
I blink Chance back into view. “Sorry. If the opportunity arises, I’ll talk to Jax, but Randall really pissed him off last night.” And I blew him off with the assumption that he was the one with the agenda. “Talk to your pretty blonde. You don’t date enough. I like her.”
“She’s too nice for me,” he says, winking. “I’ll find you soon.” He disappears into the crowd and I hunt for a visual of Jax I can’t find, and really, do I want to approach him with my own agenda? I don’t. I hate when people do that to me.
I decide to head downstairs and check out the food tables.
A plan that works well right up until I walk straight into Marion’s path. She’s in a silver, low-cut gown I’m certain my father would appreciate and his words play in my head: The women in my life are many, too many, but only one really matters. I wonder if she’s the one who mattered?
“There you are,” she greets. “I need to run to chat with a client, but I have a surprise for you.” She squeezes my arm. “I’ll find you in a few minutes.” She steps away from me and unease rolls through me, a foreboding sensation that might be me working myself up over the journal. Or maybe it’s the journal making me aware of just how good this woman does bad.
My heart is racing and I yank my coat tighter around me, hurrying down the steps. A waiter passes with glasses of champagne I’d passed on earlier. I accept one, down it, and offer him my glass, which I replace with a full glass. I then walk straight through the crowd and exit to the outdoor balcony, which the cold night has left empty, and the boat isn’t even moving. Good. I need the alone time when ironically, I’d hated being alone just this morning.