mine and she moved ahead of me, one step. “We’re going to release that, but whatever it is; you’re on there. Aren’t you?”

His gaze switched to his daughter’s. He didn’t reply. Another moment passed before he nodded, slowly. It was like he was surrendering to us with that motion. “It’s the blackmail list, if it is what I think it is.”

“Blackmail?”

“For The Network.”

“The fuck?” Sam’s eyebrows lifted high.

I hid a grin, feeling she channeled Logan with that question.

“The Network. That’s the name. It’s not original, but that’s the point. If you’re in it, you’re in it. If you want out—” He nodded at the flash drive. “—they use whatever’s on there against you.” He was dead serious. He asked us, “Do you have any idea how bad this is for you two? Whoever gave that to you was handling dynamite. Who was it?”

“No way.” Sam shook her head. “You’re not getting that from us.”

“Samantha.” A warning growl came from her father.

I moved forward, urging Sam back a step. She was going to take this down a different path. Her ‘fuck you’ attitude about Garrett was close to the surface. She was going to make it about that, but he was right. Whatever The Network was, they were dangerous. We needed to keep it about that, not making it personal between father and daughter.

I gestured to the flash drive. “Will you help us?”

A second growl emanated from him. It was cut short, but he wasn’t happy. “You guys are nuts. You can’t take The Network on—”

“It’s because of Park Sebastian.” I stopped him. My own anger was starting to simmer under the surface. “We didn’t come to you to get lectures. You’re not the adult to treat us like we’re children in over our heads. We didn’t want anything to do with this. Our fight isn’t The Network. It’s Park Sebastian.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Sebastian wanted something from me last year. He never outright said what it was, but I knew he wanted to manipulate me and use me. I’ve been around enough people trying to use me to know what it feels like. I might not have reacted the right way, but I wanted nothing to do with him. That pissed him off.”

Garrett grunted, shoving his hands into his jeans’ pockets. “I’m not surprised. I love my godson, but he does have an ego on him.”

He loved him? That hit a nerve. I shared a look with Sam. She told me Garrett was like family to them, but he loved his godson? That shut it down. I shook my head and moved back. “Never mind. This isn’t going to work.”

“What?” His hands came out of his pockets. He gripped the couch in front of him. “What are you talking about? What just happened?”

I said to Sam, “He’s too close to them.”

She darted forward, grabbing the flash drive before Garrett could, but her biological father never tried. His jaw was set forward, and he wore a deep frown. He asked, “What did you just decide about me?”

“Nothing.” Sam answered for me. Her hand closed over the flash drive, and she backed up to stand next to me. Her shoulder hit my chest. Her hand lifted, and I took the flash drive from her. “It’s nothing…Dad.”

His eyes sharpened on her. To my knowledge, it was the first time she called him that. She was manipulating him. He was the enemy, and he knew we had something on his side, on The Network.

“Whatever you guys are going to do, fill me in on it. You’re my daughter, Sam. Please let me in. Please.” He was pleading.

She bit down on her lip. If she could have stepped backward, she would’ve. She was plastered against me, leaning her whole body on me so I was supporting her as she was staring at her father. I felt the struggle inside of her. She told me about her little sister. Sam was going to love that little girl. She already did, but our next move could sever that tie between her and her sister. Garrett was on the flash drive. He was going to be hurt by it, and now he knew that we would be behind it. He knew Sam was behind it. It would be up to him, with what he decided to do afterward.

He could take her sister away from her.

I asked, “You want to be in Samantha’s life?”

“You know I do.”

“Then prove it.” Sam stepped forward, straightening from me. “This information is going to come out. When it does, have our backs.”

“You guys have no idea what you’re about to do, do you?”

“No.” I clipped my head to the side. “We’re not little kids. We’re not teenagers. Fuck. We’re not even regular college students. Fighting. Battling. Waging wars—this is what we do. The Network, or whatever the hell you guys call your group of people, it doesn’t matter how connected you are, it’s always the same thing. Someone comes at us, we go back at them. As for how we do it, a little faith here. It’ll come out, but you’re the only one who will know it came from us.” I waited a second, then added, “I guess Sam will have her answer with how you handle that information.”

He didn’t said a word.

His head lowered a little bit. He stared at Samantha for another full minute before he finally just turned and left. I waited for a breakdown or an explosion, but nothing came. It was going to hurt her. There was no way around that. Whatever Garrett did afterward, if he exposed us or if he kept quiet, I still knew that his reaction in the hotel room struck Sam deep.

“You okay?” I asked her later in bed.

She nodded. “Same shit, different day.”

Brushing back her hair, I tucked it behind her ear and my hand lingered, cupping the side of her face. “I’m sorry about Garrett.”

“Don’t be.” She took my hand in hers and then lifted both of them to my face. She cupped the side of my face instead and smiled at me. There were shadows in her eyes, but there was love. So goddamn much love. She added, simply, “I don’t need him. I have David back in my life. I have Malinda. I even have a brother in Mark, but more importantly, I have you and Logan. I have you.” She pressed our hands more firmly against my face. “I need you. That’s all I need.”

A tear welled up on the inside of her eyelid. It stayed there. She didn’t shed it, and her eyes gleamed bright, promising to me. “You are all I need.”

I lifted up with my other hand and touched the side of her eyelid. The tear slipped, falling onto my hand. “You’ll know your sister. We won’t let him keep her away.”

“I know.”

That was it. That was all she said. We were one unit again.

SAMANTHA

The party wasn’t what I expected. I’d assumed to see boozing, beer pong, chugging contests, and half-naked chicks running around the lawn. When I pulled past the opened gate at the end of the driveway, I felt like I was driving into the Fallen Crest Country Club.

Maseratis, Corvettes, Ferraris, BMWs, Rolls-Royces—those were among the cars in the parking lot. As an attendant waved me to the house, I saw there was valet parking.

Well, shit.

Park Sebastian really did own his own country club.

“Ma’am.” The attendant held his hand out, looking younger than me.

I sighed and handed over the keys. My little Corolla had been with me since the beginning. I patted the front as I rounded the car and said, “Be nice to her. She’s revved up for the evening. She might be a little tense.”

He frowned, pausing, and then he rounded the opened door right before he got behind the wheel. I felt his eyes on me. I ignored them and headed inside, but I stopped as soon as I passed the threshold. A large chandelier hung from the ceiling.

A waiter greeted me right away. He offered a tray of champagne. I was tempted to take the whole thing.

Shaking my head, I murmured, “No, thank you.”

He didn’t seem to care, extending it to a group of people before me. They, however, didn’t hesitate. The tray was empty within seconds, and the waiter tucked the tray under his arm, bending his head down. He slipped away. Another waiter appeared, as if magically summoned. He held a tray of ch

ampagne as well, but a second waiter was beside him. That one was filled with chocolate-covered strawberries along with some other crepe-looking desserts. It was all very fancy.

I skimmed an eye over the group still in front of me. They hadn’t moved forward, so neither had I. The entire foyer was packed with people, and all of them were dressed to go along with the fancy theme.

Some women wore dresses. One was a sequin dress even. The men were dressed for a casual business dinner, with a few wearing dinner jackets. The whole country club vibe was resounding loud and clear to me.

I was in jeans and a white shirt. I looked down at my V-neck. It was nicer than I normally wore—thanks to Malinda, who updated my wardrobe—but it was plain, compared to the dresses the others were wearing. Not to mention, I was the youngest in the foyer. Everywhere I looked, they were middle-aged and older. No, wait. I saw a couple of others who looked like they were my age, but they were standing next to the older people. They looked like parents or even grandparents.

What the fuck?

What kind of party is this?

“Samantha.” Sebastian waved from a side room. He grinned at me above all the heads and shouldered his way to me. “I’m so glad you came.”

I was in a twilight zone. That was the only explanation. He helped beat Logan down. Mason told him to fuck off in the board meeting. Now, we were chums now?

My jaw wanted to fall to the floor, but I just nodded, flashing him a grin. “Uh-huh. Yeah. How are you?”

“I’m better. I’m better.”

He reached for my hand, but I stepped back, knocking into people behind me. A woman sucked in her breath, indignant, and a few others protested. I ignored them all, only staring at Sebastian, who stilled when he saw my reaction. I swallowed. I couldn’t look away.

How would he react?

He didn’t. His mouth froze but twitched into another grin. He cleared his throat, gesturing where he came from. “I’d like to show you around, if that’s okay with you?”

It wasn’t. I went anyway.

Sebastian didn’t touch me, only kept looking back to make sure I was following. He led the way through a living room and then a second living room. A dining room. A second dining room. We were in a third sitting area, but it was smaller than the other two. This place was ridiculous.

Finally, he stopped and looked back. His smile seemed more genuine, growing, as he gestured to another room. “In here.”

I craned my neck, trying to see beyond him. I only saw people. Everywhere.

I shrugged and shoved past some ladies wearing too much makeup. They were weighed down by their jewelry and clutching drinks that—I caught a whiff—weren’t champagne. Sebastian was standing next to an older guy. Two other men were there, but they left as I approached.

Sebastian was almost beaming. “Samantha, I wanted you to meet my grandfather.”

My hand had been reaching for him but stopped. Grandfather? “Uh…” This was a party for The Network. Dread was starting to line my veins, plunging through my body. My father would be here. Garrett was here…and he knew. He could stop this whole thing even before it came out.

I cleared my throat. “Is my—is Garrett here?”

“I don’t believe he is. Park?”

“No,” Sebastian said. “He called from the house. Sharon wasn’t feeling well. They were going to head back to Boston, I believe.”

“Ah. Well, there you have it, but no worries.” The older man raised a weathered hand. “Your father isn’t here, but your grandfather is, and you can call me Gerald.”

My eyes shot to Sebastian’s grandfather. “What?”

“Garrett’s father,” Sebastian explained, frowning slightly. “Isn’t that why you came today?”

I couldn’t look away from his grandfather. I had my own grandfather. Somewhere, that would make sense but not with my life.

“Sam?”

The corners of Gerald’s eyes turned down, and his head cocked to the side. He murmured, “You didn’t know about your grandfather?”

I found myself shaking my head.

Gerald glanced at Sebastian. “You were supposed to tell her.” His tone was disapproving.

Sebastian flushed, tugging at the collar of his shirt. He sent me a furtive look under his eyelids before lifting his shoulders high. “I thought Garrett had. He said he was going to see his daughter last night. Plus, I told you there were other issues going on.”

“You’re talking about James Kade’s boys?” his grandfather barked back. If he’d been patient, it was all used up. Sharp impatience flared up in his face, and he was almost glaring at his grandson. “I told you to deal with all that nonsense long ago. I want James Kade in. Are you telling me that you haven’t dealt with that?”

“Well…” Sebastian sent me another quick look. “I…no, I haven’t. James Kade’s sons hate me. I thought you knew that. They wouldn’t want to come in anyway—because of me.”

“James Kade was approved to come in long ago.”

“Grandpa,” Sebastian started.

“No, I don’t want to hear it. I’ll be talking to your father, but you are not above the board’s decisions.”

“I’m your grandson. They hate me, literally hate me. Mason’s the one who burned my house down last year.”

“Good.”

I stumbled back a step.

The force of that word spoke volumes. Gerald Sebastian commanded authority, and judging from this sharp exchange, he wasn’t used to not having someone do as he told.

Gerald stabbed his finger in the air, snapping at Sebastian. “That means he has initiative, and he’s someone we want in the organization. You were given an order. You have failed with that order.”

His voice kept rising in anger, but no one came to see what the problem was. Conversations quieted. People were looking over, now watching, but no one seemed surprised.

“She’s here.” Sebastian flung his arm out toward me. “I brought Ben’s granddaughter into the fold.”

“Bullshit,” Gerald grunted. “You’ve been using your sister this entire time. Don’t try to pull one over on me.”

“But—”

“Your job was to bring Mason Kade in. Through him, we were going to bring James Kade into the fold.”

Sebastian looked away, but he folded his hands together in front of him. He slightly turned away as one foot shifted backward. “Grandpa,” he said again, his lips pressed tightly together, “I think it’s a mistake. James Kade doesn’t need to be brought in. He’s attached to Analise Strattan, and everyone knows her background. She can’t be given the support The Network would be handing to her. She’s been watched. We’re all aware of how she’s acted throughout her life.”

“Don’t you dare try to tell me what to decide. You’re in the wrong, Park. The decision was made long ago. Ben wasn’t aware of Analise’s deception when she and Garrett were in college. All these years, he’s been cheated from knowing his granddaughter. I won’t stand for it any longer. Now,” Gerald gestured to me with the same stabbing motion, “take her to the meeting room and fill her in on everything. I want the Kade boys here within the hour, too.” He turned to me, gentling his tone a little bit. “When this boy is done, you come and find me. I’ll personally introduce you to your grandfather.”

I didn’t know what to say, so I nodded, feeling dazed.

“Good.” He clapped Sebastian on the shoulder. “Go on. Fill her in, and drop whatever silly issues are going on between you and her boyfriend.” He moved his head up and down in a slow and exaggerated motion. “You know what to do.”

Sebastian’s shoulders dropped an inch, and he nodded back, his head hanging down. “Yes, sir.” Everything about him was submissive.

I was holding my breath. The exchange I’d just witnessed was overloading my senses.

Sebastian’s gaze found mine when his grandfather left the room. He nodded behind me. “It’s down that hallway.”

“Sebastian, what’s going on?”

“I’ll explain everything.” He moved around a couple. “Just follow me.”

We went through the kitchen and out to another hallway that led to an adjoined building.

As we moved past a pair of French doors that opened outside, I asked, “I need to know where we’re going. Enough of this crap. Start filling me in on something, or I’m not going anywhere with you.”

Tijan Books | Romance Books | Fallen Crest High Series Books
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