And just like that, she loses me. Is she crying over losing him or losing his money? “Money isn’t love, Jill. Take December off with pay. It’s the slow season. That’s an order.” I reach for the door, and I’m about to open it when she says, “Brody is at the brunch.”
I whirl on her. “What the hell, Jill? I just told you that he tried to push Emma the landing, and you didn’t tell me that he was here?”
“I’m telling you now.”
“After Emma has been out there alone for an extra five minutes.”
“And he wasn’t going to push her. He told me he just wanted to scare her away.”
“You knew? You acted like you didn’t know.”
“I knew, but hearing you describe it wasn’t like hearing him describe it.”
I grimace and exit the office with one goal: find Emma.
The same room where the tasting was held is now setup with desserts and a bar, but the brunch is actually being held in the center of the castle. I treat myself to a delicious mini chocolate croissant and then walk through the giant archway to the main event, where people chitchat in small groups and waiters walk around with trays filled with yummy food. There are tables with more yummy food. Another bar. And more people.
My gaze lifts and scans the high stone walls and the arched cutouts above, with paintings inside them, only to find myself staring at the woman in red. Well, a painting of the woman in red. It’s mesmerizing, and I wonder why I never fear seeing her when I’m here. Perhaps because she’s at peace here, and despite all the reasons I should not be, I am, too. I feel like I belong here, or more it could be, that I simply belong with Jax.
I maneuver through a few small high tables meant for snacking and standing, but stop dead in my tracks when I spy Kent Sawyer talking with a woman I don’t know. He is, as I’ve noted in past, rare in-person brushes, dressed impeccably in a gray suit. He’s tall, on the thin side, his face handsome but a bit gaunt. His thick salt and pepper hair reflecting his age, which I estimate to be mid-fifties.
He must feel me watching him because, abruptly, his gaze lifts and rockets to mine. I don’t look away. I’m really of the mindset, right now, that avoidance gets me nowhere but ignored. I did a lot of that with my father. So here we are. He’s looking at me. I’m looking at him. He’s waiting on my next move. I decide my next move is to stop standing in the shadows.
Boldly, at least it’s bold to me, I cross the room and make a beeline for him. The minute I’m in front of him, he murmurs to the woman beside us. “We need a moment.”
The woman never even looks at me. She simply steps away, while I simply offer Sawyer my hand. “I’m sorry for whatever nasty thing my father did to you.”
His eyes narrow sharply, and he takes my hand but doesn’t let it go. “What nasty thing do you think your father did to me?”
“I don’t know, but you hate us with such viciousness, that it must have been pretty bad. And I know now what I didn’t know when he was alive. He was not a kind person.”
A waiter appears with a tray of whiskey cocktails. He releases my hand and takes one. I wave the waiter off. Now is not the time to get hazy minded. Sawyer sips his whiskey, studying me with a keen eye. “You expect me to believe that you didn’t know your father was an asshole?”
“I’m not proud of that fact, but it’s true. He was an asshole to me, but I stupidly believed he reserved that treatment just for me. He was quite good at making me see my flaws so that I didn’t see his. But I’m not him.”
He sips his whiskey. “The North family does know how to make a fine whiskey,” he comments dryly. “You’re dating Jax North, I hear.”
“I am. I hope that you won’t hold that against him. Mr. Sawyer—”
“Kent. Call me Kent.”
“Kent. I’m not my father,” I repeat, “and I’d like to think my brother isn’t either. I want to find a way to make peace with you but I guess that means I should ask a difficult question. My brother has never done anything to burn you, has he?”
“Your brother has always been an extension of your father.”
“Are you telling me he’s like my father?”
“You don’t know?”
“I don’t believe that he is, but I just want you to tell me that you feel the same. I need to know you know I’m sincere in my apology. That would be hard for you to accept if you felt my brother to be your enemy.”