“The castle is twenty-thousand square feet, which is why the business offices are run from inside as well. As for Brody, he felt like he would never be king of the castle, as he likes to call it. He wanted to prove he was his own man.”
She studies me a moment and looks away, but not before I see the flash of emotion in her eyes. She relates to Brody. I think she’s really seriously thought about leaving the hotel chain. “How old are your brothers? Or—” She looks at me. “Jax—”
“It’s okay. Brody is thirty-two, and Hunter was thirty-six when he died.”
“So Hunter grabbed the throne, while Brody pushed away. Meanwhile, you were boxing. That’s a big leap from Whiskey. Why? The same reason as Brody? To find your own space?”
“I had some anger issues,” I admit.
She finishes off a slice as I do the same. “You?” she asks. “You seem very much in control, cool and calculated.”
“Which I learned from boxing. You don’t beat an opponent by charging. You beat them with strategy.”
“How old were you and how long did you box? Semi-pro is pretty high up the chain, isn’t it?”
“College. And yes, I had a shot at going pro, but I blew out a knee. I just wasn’t the same after that.”
“That must have been devastating.”
“At the time, yes,” I admit, “but it helped me become me. We grow with every mountain we climbed. Even the ones that we fall down.”
“Even those we fall down,” she says softly, almost to herself. She flicks me a look. “I think falling is better than not climbing.” I want to ask her about that comment, but she doesn’t give me a chance. “You speak of your mother very past tense. I wanted to ask about her before, but you didn’t seem to want to talk about her and if you don’t now, I get it, and we’ll move on, but is she alive?”
“I have no fucking clue. She left when I was thirteen, divorced my father, took a chunk of change, and never looked back.”
“I haven’t spoken to her since she left.”
“Even when your brother died?”
“Not a word, but my father was killed in a skiing accident six months earlier. If anyone knew how to reach her, he would have, but he was gone.”
“Was she the root of your anger issues?” she smartly queries.
“Yes,” I say, no hesitation to that reply. I know my demons, perhaps a little too well. “I was getting into fights and my father had enough. He took me to a gym and told them to knock some sense into me. It worked.” I think back to that first day in the ring, to getting punched and pissed off, and standing up and screaming, “More! Do it again!”
“Where are you right now?” Emma asks, nudging me with her arm.
“Remembering that first day in the gym.” My lips turn up in a wry smile. “My father was smart to drop me there. He was a good man.”
“I wish I could say that about mine.” She shakes her head. “Why did I go there? Let’s skip that topic. Did your father remarry?”
“No,” I say, letting the topic of her father go, when I’d rather not, but her loss is fresh. I get that. “He didn’t remarry,” I add. “I don’t think he had it in him to love again. He loved the hell out my mother. Passionately. Intensely. I didn’t have to be an adult to see or know that he got hurt. My tough as nails father was shredded inside, but stayed strong for his boys.”
“No wonder you’re thirty-four, marriage material, and still single.” She holds up a hand. “Not that I’m contemplating marrying you. We’re the worst match ever. Our families hate each other.” She curls her legs in front of her and I finish off a slice and catch her leg, turning her to face me, sliding my arm under her knees. “We are whatever we decide we are.”
“I’m never going to be a relationship girl again, so you know I’m safe.” She cuts her stare.
I catch her chin and turn her gaze back to mine. “I’m not him.”
“Stop saying that. Leave him outside of us.”
“Fair enough,” I concede. “I won’t say that again.”
“And even so, no you’re not him, but you do want something from me.”
“I started out wanting something from you. Now I want you, Emma.”
“But you do want more. Please don’t pretend otherwise.”
“I don’t want my brother to be my father, Jax,” she says, in what might appear as a dramatic change of topic but it’s not. She’s telling me she feels like I’m going to take him from her, the way that journal took her father from her. “He can’t be,” she adds. “We’re close. He has to be on our side. I can’t lose him, too.”