“I met the right woman.” Luke’s words were glib. But as they left his mouth, he realized the truth. He did meet the right woman. Danica didn’t have an Ivy League degree or come from generations of money. But she was...
And that was all she needed to be.
The realization sank in, like a stone thrown into a lake. But the ripples it caused weren’t upset or denial. On the contrary. For the first time in weeks he was supremely confident in his insight. Danica was his wife. The only wife he’d ever want.
But did she feel the same way? She didn’t tell him about her brother even though he could have easily helped. Forget money. He had connections all over the world. He could have called in favors.
Nestor cleared his throat, snapping Luke’s attention back to the meeting. “Lost in thoughts of your bride?” A knowing smirk appeared on Nestor’s face. “It’s just the two of us. You can drop the pretense.”
“There’s no pretense.”
“You managed to fall in love and get married in such a hurry? You? A Dallas?” Nestor scoffed. “I admit I was reluctant to buy Ruby Hawk if you came with it. You come from a family that does not honor its obligations and is always chasing the next attractive...deal.” He took a long sip of water from the glass in front of him, regarding Luke coolly over the rim. “My board begged me to walk away. But then Irene suggested the marriage clause. She said if you wanted the acquisition badly enough, you would find a way to make it happen, thus proving you have the drive and commitment we demand. Well done.” He held out his hand to be shook.
Luke didn’t take it. “The marriage clause was a ploy.”
Nestor took his hand back with a small shrug. “I wouldn’t say ploy. Think of it as the big battle before leveling up in a video game. After all, that’s why we’re acquiring Ruby Hawk. To enhance our interactive game technology.” He took another sip. “Few have the persistence to make it this far. Much less get married just to secure the deal. That is the need to succeed at any cost I want in my people.”
The air conditioning in his office must be set below freezing. That had to be why Luke’s lips were numb and his fingers had lost all sensation.
“We have an agreement?” Nestor indicated the papers at Luke’s elbow.
Bile started to rise. Luke pushed it down and drew the stack toward him. “Let me take a final look at the term sheet.”
The offer was a good one. The stock his employees took in lieu of market-rate salaries would pay out at a rate beyond their wildest expectations. They deserved it for all their hard work. For placing their trust in him.
The hollow pit in his stomach grew into a yawning crater.
Nestor handed him a fountain pen, engraved with the date and location. “I had this made for the occasion.” He chuckled. “To celebrate the marriage of our two companies.”
Luke dropped the pen on hearing the word marriage. It rolled off the table and he leaned down to pick it up, but his fingers encountered something flat and circular instead. He pulled the item up, keeping his hand below the table.
It was a poker chip. A five-hundred-dollar poker chip. The one Danica handed to him at the Peninsula Society fund-raiser.
He stared. He’d been carrying it in his wallet ever since that night. It must have fallen out. A vision of Danica, her eyes sparkling as she watched the roulette wheel spin, danced before his eyes.
Nestor tapped the table. “There’s champagne on rapidly melting ice.”
Luke slipped the poker chip into his pocket, picking up his pen with his other hand. He sat up and pulled the stack of papers toward him. It really was an advantageous deal for Ruby Hawk Technologies, one that would ensure Luke’s legacy would thrive and grow beyond what he could accomplish on his own.
His hand hesitated, the pen hovering over the paper.
* * *
Danica did her best to stop gaping like a fish yanked out of the water. “What? I don’t—I mean...” She trailed off, still parsing Irene’s words. She knew? How?
“I believe you wrote this.” Irene took out a piece of paper and showed it to Danica.
It was a printout of her first contract with Luke. The one she created and sent via email the day they met. Danica froze.