Had she been going along with him simply because of her need to sell the blog? She’d said what had happened between them personally wasn’t to be related to the deal, but how could it not be? Had she given herself to him because she’d thought she had to?
Had he abused her in that way?
He’d thought she was strong. But now he thought back to her bitten fingernails. Her nerves. Her lack of sophistication once that make-up had been washed off her face. And all the while he’d been sure she was still holding something back from him.
He checked his phone and saw he’d missed a bunch of calls. And then, even as he was staring at it, it vibrated in his hand. He didn’t recognise the number. Which was weird, because his PA never gave his number out.
‘Hello?’ he answered brusquely, still not walking towards Stephanie in the car.
‘Is that Jack Wolfe?’
‘This is Tara.’
‘Tara?’ Steffi Leigh’s sidekick—the make-up diva who liked hand cream?
‘I’m trying to get hold of Steffi—is she still with you?
‘She’s just in the car.’ His bloodless heart began to hammer. ‘Can I help?’
There was a problem with her kitten? ‘What’s wrong with him?’
‘I can’t get hold of him. I knocked on the door ‘til my knuckles bled but he didn’t answer. I left my key there yesterday, when I had a go at him, and now I can’t get in.’
Jack was momentarily confused. ‘How’s a cat going to answer the door?’
‘Cat? I’m talking about Dan. Her brother.’
The sports star? Jack frowned. Wasn’t he off at college on a scholarship or something?
‘I’m sure he’s in there—he never leaves,’ Tara added. ‘God, I’m so worried—’
‘Slow down, Tara, and tell it to me slowly.’ His brain was already scrambled and he wasn’t making sense of this.
‘I thought it would do him good to tough it out for a couple days. He takes such advantage of her. I thought some time out might help him appreciate all she does.’
In what way did her brother take advantage of her?
‘She’s basically been a house hostage for a year and a half. You take her away for two days and he does this. It’s awful.’
‘Tara, stop babbling and tell me what the problem is.’
‘I had a go at him for being so hard on her and then I left him to it. And now he’s not answering the door. Or the phone. And I’m scared.’
‘And you’re worried he’s done something?’
‘Yeah. Should I call the police? An ambulance?’
‘What’s wrong with him?’
‘She didn’t tell you?’ Tara drew in a sharp breath. ‘Now she’s going to kill me.’
He tried to speak calmly. ‘She’s not going to kill you.’
‘I can’t believe she didn’t tell you…’ Tara was speaking breathlessly again. ‘Actually, I can. God, she’s so pigheaded.’
‘Tara!’ he snapped. ‘What the hell is wrong with him?’
There was a split second of utter silence. Then he heard her take a breath.
‘Dan got meningitis about eighteen months ago,’ Tara said dully. ‘He had an arm and a leg amputated. He should be managing better now, but he lives like an invalid and is totally dependent on Steffi. And now he’s not answering the phone or the door.’
‘Where’s her apartment?’ Jack snapped.
He rapidly searched on his phone when Tara gave him the address, frowning when he realised it was in a housing block on the edge of an industrial development. Hardly the chic city apartment you’d think Steffi Leigh would have.
‘We can be there quickly. We’re not that far from there now.’
He listened as Tara gave him more detailed directions. But he was so shocked he could hardly think.
‘So that’s why she wants to sell the blog,’ he muttered, more to himself than to Tara, as he started striding towards the car. ‘Of course. She’s slaving for her brother, who just sits on the sofa making constant demands on her. She has no life. Limited money. I mean, she gets some income from ads, but she won’t sell out and do full-on product placement, and it’s not like she can eat the beauty samples she gets sent…’
So with an invalid brother she had to take care of there was no way Stephanie would have said no to Jack.
He felt sick.
He understood it all now. The reason for her determination to smile, no matter how snarky he’d got when they’d first met. The reason she’d been so afraid his finding out that she had assistance would put him off any kind of purchase.