“You remember Johanna?” Irene continued. “Of course, now Johanna works for the Stavros Group. When Cinco contacted her about the mysterious recruiter working for Luke Dallas who married him out of the blue, she was happy to look at the Rinaldi Executive Search files to see if there might be anything...untoward...we should know about.” Irene indicated the contract. “That’s what we found.”
“This is a contract to act as a recruiter.” Danica forced the words past her numb lips.
“Read the third paragraph. For a wife. In order to close the Stavros Group acquisition. And it seems one of your candidates was Cinco’s fiancée. Bad luck, that.”
Danica closed her eyes, but it didn’t stop the horrifying visions playing before her. Luke’s integrity questioned, her professional reputation destroyed beyond repair...her parents discovering her marriage had been a sham. “You can’t blame Luke for trying to jump through the ridiculous hoops you set up—”
“Oh, I don’t blame Luke for trying. Nicely done, by the way. Brava.”
Apprehension prickled Danica’s scalp. “What do you want, Irene?”
Irene smiled. It didn’t reach her eyes. “Don’t worry. I told Cinco I set you two up, and it was love at first sight. He’ll find something else to write.”
Irene killed the story? This wasn’t a threat? “I don’t understand.”
“We’re buying Ruby Hawk. We look after our own.” Irene folded her hands on the desk. “And now you know that we know the truth. Consider it a favor saved in the bank. Just in case.”
So it was a threat. “In case of what?”
Irene spread her hands wide. “Luke is happy to acquiesce to us now because of Ruby Hawk, but in the future?” She tapped the folder again. “We have insurance against any future rebellion. I don’t need to tell you how much of a scandal we can spin this to be. But please, understand this isn’t personal. I very much like you.” She smiled, her even white teeth gleaming.
Danica didn’t return it. She had to find Luke and warn him. If he signed the deal, he would be under the Stavros thumb. For good. “Anything else? I have work to do.”
“Oh, yes, ‘work.’” Irene made quote marks in the air with her fingers. “I am sorry, however, that you got dragged into this. You blindly walked into a game you didn’t know you were playing. I blame Luke.” She shrugged. “Desperate times, desperate measures.”
The dry toast Danica choked down for breakfast threatened to make a reappearance. “I married Luke because I care for him.”
Irene’s smile turned into a smirk. “Of course. He’s very attractive, especially in the bank account. And he knows how to use his words to get what he wants. But let’s be honest. There’s a reason why Luke and I aren’t together. He is simply incapable of expressing any emotion that wasn’t plotted on a spreadsheet. I’m sure you noticed that even in bed, he leaves after he gets what he wants. But well done on getting the diamond ring. At least you have something of tangible value in return.”
Irene rose from Danica’s desk. “Now that we’re on the same page, my father wants to meet you. After all, as Luke’s wife, you’ll be spending quite a lot of time with us once Ruby Hawk becomes a Stavros Group subsidiary.”
“You’re wrong about Luke.” Danica kept her chin raised. She wouldn’t let Irene see how well her words hit her target. Luke was indeed good at using his words, and his other skills, to get what he wanted. And now that the acquisition was almost done... The memory of how he’d walked away from her bed, without a backward glance, played behind her eyelids.
“I’m wrong?” Irene tsked. “You’re smarter than this.” She stalked to the door, her long legs making short work of the distance from the desk. “We have a deal to celebrate. Coming?”
Danica could either get her heart rate under control or speak. She couldn’t do both. She followed Irene in silence. At least now she had a chance to tell Luke about Nestor’s and Irene’s machinations, and he would find a way to get out of the deal. He wouldn’t sell to the Stavros Group after hearing how they’d manipulated them both.