Her eyes go wide. “Are we that formal now?” She laughs uncomfortably. “We’re nearly family.”

“So is everyone who works here. I’m sure you can understand where I’m going with this.”

“I know you see them as family,” she replies primly. “But the festival brings in a huge influx of clients. We need them to be greeted with formality. That was an issue last year with the Miller Restaurants.”

“If the Millers don’t like our family, and our staff is our family, they’re free to find another whiskey to serve. Which I’m certain is what my bother would have told him.”

“He did,” she concedes, “but with the loss of your father and Hunter, too, we have questions and concerns coming at us from all directions.”

“That I’ve handled.”

“I handle a lot of things to protect you.”

That gives me pause, a muscle in my jaw twitching of its own accord. “What exactly are you referencing?”

She folds her arms in front of her in what I read to be a protective stance. No, defensive. She’s defensive. “Nothing that’s not handled,” she snaps.

“I need details.”

“You don’t trust me?” she challenges.

“You needed me here,” I remind her. “I’m here. You communicated. I listened. Now I’m asking you to do the same with me.”

She cuts her stare, but not before I see the flicker of anger in her eyes. Her gaze shoots back to mine, and she snaps. “And you brought her with you. Hunter spent time with her father before he died.”

“I’m aware of that.”

“Hunter changed after he came around,” she says, her voice low, her finger jagging in the air.

“I’m aware of that as well.” My reply is low, calm, an attempt to keep her calm.

“If you go next, there’s only Brody.”

I arch a brow. “Are you planning my funeral?”

“Is she?” Jill snaps back. “Hunter would want me to ask that.”

That envelope with Emma’s name on it flashes in my mind and mixed with the red dress and all the times she’s hit on me, I can’t get to a good place with her comment or her. But she was engaged to my brother. She lost him. Who am I to judge how she expresses her grief? With that in mind, I force myself to think of Hunter, and I address her as a sister who might have been, not an outsider. “She’s the woman I choose. She’s by my side to stay. This isn’t a game I’m playing. This isn’t a game she’s playing. She matters to me. And that would matter to my brother.”

“You mattered to your brother.”

“Exactly,” I say. “And he mattered to both of us. Hunter operated the way my father operated. No blame. No games. Family first and a belief that all of us here are family. And so I’m asking you now, to manage with those words. We are all family.”

“Family,” she whispers, nodding, her voice cracking with emotion, a sign that the ice princess, isn’t all ice.

That’s either progress or manipulation. I keep returning to manipulation with her. I turn away and start walking toward the library, and she calls out. “The dress isn’t about what he hated if that’s what you think. I saw you looking at it.”

Surprised, yet again, she has my attention, which is what she wants. I halt, turn and face her. “Then what is it about?”

“He lost her. I lost him. It’s my funeral dress.”

A link to my mother, that my brother hated, is her funeral dress. I’m not sure what to do with that statement. It’s just another thing that hits me wrong, but I remind myself, once again, that I’m not a grief counselor. I’ve also had my own fucked up ways of dealing with my grief. My intentions toward the North family, with the man waiting on me in the library, is living proof.

“I need to deal with Sawyer,” I say, turning away from Jill, saving anything more she and I need to address for later.

Right now, Kent Sawyer is on my mind, and with him, Savage’s words replay in my head: You don’t know everything you need to know about Kent Sawyer. Be careful or you’ll lose more than Emma.

I walk up a short concrete-encased stairwell to the double doors and pause. If my enemy’s enemy is my friend, and Sawyer is Emma’s enemy, he’s not my friend anymore. He’s my enemy. I open the doors to what is one of my favorite rooms in the castle, a room with a high ceiling and four towering windows directly in front of me now. A fireplace to my left. Rich black and red furnishings around it. Books lining every inch of the wall that can hold a shelf.

Kent Sawyer is sitting in a chair, by the fireplace, talking on the phone. The instant he spots me, he disconnects and stands up, sliding his cell into the pocket of his custom gray suit. We meet in the middle of the room, standing toe-to-toe, me the new king of my empire, while he’s the long-standing king of his. He refused to do business with my father, so long as he did business with Emma’s family, who he hates.


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