“Our brand has been with your hotels for as long as I remember,” he says. “It seems reasonable that my father might have one.” He goes back to what he was doing, unaffected by this discovery but I’m not. I’m bothered by it. I’m bothered in a big way and I don’t know why. Something is clawing at my mind, some realization, not quite formed. But it’s there, desperate to be found. And it feels important.
Emma and I spend the afternoon at the beach house in front of the fireplace in the living room, working, drinking coffee, and sharing conversation, laughs, and remarkably comfortable silence. I spend most of that time doing my work, but I find myself listening to Emma’s conversations, learning how she works with her team. The answer is with a gentle charm that still manages to be authoritative. A skill Jill is missing, and I decide that’s part of my problem with Jill. Her style doesn’t match mine or my father’s. Hunter was always the harder North brother, but he was still our father’s son. More and more, I see Jill as the square with a round hole, that doesn’t fit.
We’re about two hours into our work when the calls start coming in from the clients Emma’s father had blackmailed with York’s help. All of them confirm that is exactly what happened.
I’m three calls in when Emma says, “It’s certain then. My father was blackmailing your clients to stop doing business with you.”
“It does indeed appear that way,” I say, watching her sip her coffee, her expression etched in disappointment and I believe fear of where this leads. The answer is nowhere good. Of that I’m certain.
“All to get the castle,” she says. “Does that even make any sense to you? The more I think about it, the more it doesn’t at all. What are we missing?”
She doesn’t expect me to have that answer but I do. What we’re missing is something big enough for someone to justify murder. And statistically, that means this is about money or sex. Or both.
That sand hourglass weighs on me off and on all afternoon, feeling like a piece of a puzzle that might lead further back in time, to the generation before us; to our parents. But as the day goes on and I find myself enthralled by the conversations Jax has about the stock market, where he’s heavily invested, per his own definition. He’s smart. He’s diverse. The whiskey operation like our hotel operation that is all we do, is a small part of Jax’s portfolio. A strategy he confesses Hunter never approved of and why his personal investments outweigh that of the company. I begin to wonder what these two brothers did agree on, and how, if at all, that fits into any of this.
By evening Jax and I plan our trip to Germany while eating a delicious meal delivered by the castle’s chef, Melanie. Eventually, we end up in Jax’s bedroom, and I fully unpack and even hang up my clothes in the closet with Jax’s clothes. My toiletries even get a spot next to his and rather than feeling weird, it feels thrilling. By the time we actually climb into bed together, naked at Jax’s insistence, that sense of it being our bedroom one day soon, sending a heatwave of awareness through the room.
“Come here,” Jax murmurs, folding me in close to him and there’s a rush of awareness, deep intense awareness like I have never felt with any other human being. “Do you feel it?” He doesn’t wait for a reply. He says, “You belong here. You belong with me, Emma.” His lips brush mine, his tongue a tease against my tongue, a feather-light connection that I feel in every part of me. I feel him in every part of me.
What follows is not sex. It’s making love. We touch. We kiss. We laugh. We talk. And we most definitely moan. That moment when he presses inside me, I wouldn’t breathe if it wasn’t with him. When we finally lay together, the room dark, me curled to his side, his heart thrumming beneath my palm, I whisper, “I feel it.” And then we drift off to sleep, the fireplace flickering on the wall but it’s the man holding me that keeps me warm.
I wake with Jax still holding me, sunlight beaming in from the windows and it’s not long before we’re dressed and taking a run on the beach. “I think you need a dog to run with,” I comment as we cool off.
“We need a dog?” he challenges.
My cheeks flush and I start running toward the house, only to have Jax catch me, throw me over his shoulder and carry me inside and straight toward the bathroom. A hot shower session later, we’re dressed in jeans and T-shirts when we raid the castle kitchen and score cinnamon rolls and donuts that Chef Melanie is eager for us to try.