“I get that,” he says, his fingers tightening on my elbow where he has yet to let me go. “But your brother—”
“Was supposed to be here instead of me. He’s not here. He was supposed to be here, not me, but it’s me who’s here. Me who’s facing this, so don’t start lecturing me.”
Surprise flickers in his eyes at my unexpected pushback which of course, is because I don’t push back; not against my father, and all orders from my brother and even Randall, were always from my father, but that is no more. My need to please him even in his death changed two weeks back when I discovered things I wish I didn’t know. “Where is your head right now?” he demands, leaning in closer, sniffing my direction. “You smell like whiskey. Drinking at a public event-”
“Stop, Randall. Stop now. I’m not a child.” I’m a lot of things he and my family don’t know or understand. A lot of things I became to cope with this life.
His jaw sets hard. “I’m worried about you. It’s not like you to run off like this.”
“My father died a month ago,” I hiss. “What is normal for a month after my father died? Please tell me because I don’t know.”
“There she is! Emma!”
At the sound of Marion Roger’s voice, I squeeze my eyes shut because of course, I can’t ignore one of the owners of Breeze Airlines, the hotel’s largest corporate client. But God knows, her connection to a past I’ve buried is bad enough. Now, knowing what I know of her and my father, avoidance might be smarter than looking her in the eyes and tempting myself to tell her that I know everything. A temptation, if realized, could well be dangerous and I suspect that she knows I know this. I suspect she knows that I will do almost anything to keep what is buried, buried.
Randall gives my arm a squeeze, a warning—no, a demand that I perform right here, right now. This from a man who wants in my bed and in my life, a man who obviously can’t see the many reasons that has never happened. I turn to greet Marion and her husband, Monroe Roger, both of whom are not more than ten years my senior, which places them just under forty. My father was fifty-five. My mother is only forty-nine, a stunning, well-aged forty-nine, that obviously, considering Marion, was still too old to please my father.
“Nice of you to attend tonight,” Randall greets them, offering Monroe his hand and leaving me to come toe to toe with Marion, her bouncing red curls and piercing green eyes beam with fake affection.
“How are you, honey?” she asks, pulling me into a suffocating hug and I swear she’s wearing the jasmine perfume my mother favors.
“I’m fine,” I reply tightly, pulling back. “I’m fine.”
“You’re not,” she says, brushing my cheek in a far too intimate gesture, intimate in ways that suggests something more than friendship. An advance of sorts, one that I understand. I know how sex is used as a manipulation tool. I know in ways that no one in my family knows I understand, but they created. I don’t welcome this woman in my life in any way, shape, or form. I don’t plan to replace my father in her bed but that’s her family’s way. Fuck whoever and however you can for money and power. “You’re not okay.”
I fold my arms in front of me. “I’m fine.”
“Why don’t we sit and have a drink?” Monroe suggests.
“I’m rather tired,” I say, welcoming the escape.
“Just one drink,” Monroe pushes.
“We can do one, right, Emma?” Randall suggests. “A nightcap to help you rest?”
My lips tighten and I think of the hell I will receive later if I decline, which motivates my agreement. “One. Yes. Of course.”
Monroe motions to a table in the center of the room and the four of us claim our seats. The waiter is on top of us almost instantly and as everyone places their orders, heat burns my neck, drawing my gaze directly forward, landing on Jax. I ‘m now sitting across from his booth and he never pulled the curtain shut again. We stare at each other and when the waiter stops next to me and says, “Ma’am? What would you like?”
“Irish coffee,” I say. “North Whiskey.”
I feel the jab of Randall’s attention on me, but I ignore him. The waiter bows his head, “Of course,” and then walks away.
“I hear you’re scouting a location in Germany,” Monroe says, the comment directed at me, with reason. My role at the Knight Hotel empire is to scout and develop new locations.
“I am,” I say. “I leave in two weeks for Berlin. It will be my first time in Germany.”
This launches the table into sharing all their experiences in Germany, which was my intent. I wanted them talking about themselves, about their experiences, rather than asking questions about me. I don’t look at Jax again. I don’t dare for fear I’ll make my interest obvious, but he looks at me. I feel his attention, a heavy blanket that warms me far more than the coffee and the whiskey. I down my drink and order another, while no one at the table seems to even notice. Another for a lightweight like me proves a mistake. Halfway down the glass, and my head spins, while my stomach churns with an emptiness that hasn’t been properly filled in weeks.