He could see her biting back her curiosity. Couldn’t help answering the unspoken questions in her eyes even though it wasn’t something he ever usually discussed.
‘She was very young when she had me. She’d run away from home… She met my parents while she was travelling. They travelled together and they helped her straighten out for the pregnancy. At the time Irene and Ed—my parents—didn’t think they could have children. My birth mother—Lisa—tried initially to keep me, but she couldn’t give me what she knew they could. So she gave me to them.’
He tightened his grip on the steering wheel.
‘She visited often… but in the end she couldn’t control the demons hounding her…’ He shrugged. Eventually she’d relapsed and unintentionally overdosed. ‘I was very lucky to have two mothers who loved me. That’s more than many people get.’
Stephanie was silent. But it was an easy silence, not awkward. And somehow he ended up telling her more.
‘And, as sometimes happens, only a few months after adopting me my adoptive mom got pregnant. Twins. My brothers are amazing. James does urban search and rescue. He’s a total hero. And George… he’s crazy. He invests in things. He’s a lot of fun.’
‘They didn’t want to work in the company?’
He shook his head. ‘Both wanted to do their own thing. Mum and Dad supported them in that.’
‘But you wanted to go into the family business?’
‘I guess I got the travel gene from my birth mother. Working for Wolfe Guides ensures plenty of travel.’
He pulled up in front of the apartment, feeling more exposed than her—which was crazy, given she was only a scrap of fabric away from total nudity.
Finally he gave himself permission to turn and look at her square-on.
She was watching him, her eyes big and soft and caring, and so much more than Steffi Leigh he almost couldn’t bear to look into them.
‘Do you feel like you owe them?’ Stephanie waited half a beat before apologising. ‘Sorry, that was a stupid question.’
How could she possibly think she could understand any of the complex relationships this man had?
‘No. It’s okay. I do. Sure I do. But they don’t expect me to work for them or anything.’ He smiled.
Maybe some of the reason why he worked so hard was out of a sense of duty. She could respect that. She could understand that.
‘It’s okay—I know you didn’t mean it that way.’ He leaned towards her. ‘You thinking of putting clothes on any time soon?’
Laughing, she shook her head.
It didn’t help her like him less. She was so crushing on him now. Like every other woman they’d seen today. They’d all taken one look and fallen under his spell.
As for that image of him standing cuddling that tiny echidna so carefully…? It was seared on her eyeballs. At the time her ovaries had all but exploded. His affinity with and protectiveness for the vulnerable spoke volumes about him.
And it contrasted with the all-business, tolerate-no-frippery stern man who’d introduced himself in the hotel foyer. Ruthless, bossy—sure. And he was totally used to getting his own way. To being the most powerful person in the room.
But he could be tender too.
Shame that the guy lived on the other side of the world. That he wasn’t interested in anything more than a fling.
She’d seen all those people today, running to do as he’d bid. The thing was, even if he hadn’t been wealthy they’d have still done anything and everything for him. He just had that presence. Charisma. So striking.
And, yes, the undeniable aura of power.
And the life he led… Donating to charity here and there, dining at fine restaurants every night, staying in exclusive invitation-only resorts…
He was in the top one per cent of the world. Utterly elite in every way. And so totally out of her league.
Good thing she was going home tomorrow. Back to reality. Back to Dan.
‘I have a brother,’ she said softly, thinking aloud as she shrugged her arms back through the pyjama jacket and got out of the car.
‘Yeah? What’s he like?’ Jack asked, walking round to meet her.
Stephanie hesitated, swaying towards telling him the truth. That her brother was broken and she didn’t know how she could make him whole again. That yet again she wasn’t able to be all that a person needed.
But Jack clearly had a couple of issues of his own and he’d worked through them. He was determined to be master of his own destiny. That kind of coping was something she ought to emulate. He didn’t need a self-indulgent sob-story from her. So she thought back to what Dan had been like—before the illness.