For a moment she didn’t think her mother was going to answer.

“When his parents found out I was pregnant, they told him to choose me or his inheritance,” Lex said. “He didn’t choose me. He didn’t choose us.”

“You don’t think that’s something I might’ve wanted to know?” Payton couldn’t believe she was first finding out about this after all these years. It explained so much.

Her mother turned to her. “Listen, Payton—I know you tune out a lot of what I say, but trust me on this: stay away from him.”

At first Payton thought her mother meant she should stay away from Shane, her father, but then realized she was referring to J.D.

“I don’t even like him, Mom.” Most of the time.

Lex studied her shrewdly. “That’s not how it looked to me.”

“I didn’t realize you could see us through all those witty barbs you were flinging at J.D.’s mother.”

“I saw enough.”

Payton cocked her head, conceding. “The part where he helped me out with my jacket wasn’t half bad.”

“Chivalrous crap.”

“Don’t hold back, Mom. Tell me what you really think.”

Her mother eyed her warily. “I think you’ve gone soft, that’s what I think,” she grumbled.

Payton thought about this. Maybe she had.

Her mother, of all people, had once fallen in love with a high-society rich man. At this point, anything was possible.

Even being civil to J.D.

Maybe.

Seventeen

“SO WAIT—WHERE was this great moment between you and Payton? Did I miss it?”

J.D. shook his head, sighing. Sometimes he really regretted telling Tyler anything.

“I didn’t say we had a ‘moment.’ What I said was, at the restaurant, there was a brief second—”

“—You said a ‘brief moment,’ ” Tyler corrected.

Growing agitated, J.D. sat back in the aged leather nail-head armchair, gesturing distractedly.

“Fine, whatever, maybe I used the word ‘moment,’ but I didn’t mean, you know, ‘moment.’ ” He mockingly emphasized the word, tempted to use finger quotes, but he really hated when people did that.

“What I meant to say was, there was a brief period of time at the restaurant when I thought we were . . .” he searched for the right words “. . . getting along.” He decided that was the safest way to describe his and Payton’s interaction earlier that morning.

He and Tyler were in the cigar bar at Crimson, a private club for Harvard graduates. It was an unofficial tradition they had started several years ago: every Father’s Day evening, J.D. and his friends met here to unwind. Some people, particularly in his social circle, sought out the comfort of their therapists to recover from the stress of family holidays. J.D., not a believer in the whole my-father-never-played-catch-with-me psychoanalytical crap, found that a nice, smooth glass of single-malt Scotch did the trick just as nicely, and for about one-tenth the cost. (Yes, fine, Payton had guessed right in her tirade in the library, he liked to drink Scotch, so sue him.)

Being a private club—although a Harvard degree was the only membership requirement—the bar was small. It had been designed to resemble a private library: warm brown bookshelves lined two walls; the other walls were decorated with paintings boasting various equestrian scenes. Leather armchairs, all of which were taken that evening, had been arranged in intimate groupings throughout the room. J.D. and Tyler had been lucky to score two chairs in the back by the fireplace. Their friends Trey and Connor, who had arrived fifteen minutes later, had not been so lucky and were now part of the seatless masses that lined the main bar.

Somewhere around their second drink, J.D. had found himself mentioning to Tyler that he had run into Payton and her mother at the Park Hyatt hotel. His friend had been on his case ever since.

“You thought you and Payton were ‘getting along,’ ” Tyler repeated.

“Maybe more than that, even.”

“That would be a shock,” Tyler said. “Do you have any support for this claim?”

Holding his glass by the stem, J.D. gave the Scotch a swirl, watching the legs run down the side of the crystal. “I don’t know. I thought I saw something different in her look.”

“Now there’s hard evidence if I’ve ever heard it.”

J.D. folded his arms behind his head contentedly. Tyler’s quips had no effect on him today. “Ah . . . my droll friend, I guess you just had to be there.”

Tyler looked him over. “You’re in an awfully good mood for having spent the day with your father. Is there more to this story with Payton than what you’re telling me?”

J.D. shook his head matter-of-factly. “Nope.”

“Then I want to make sure I understand the scene correctly: there was this alleged nebulous look that took place during these couple of minutes at the Park Hyatt hotel where you two somehow miraculously managed to string a few polite sentences together.”

“I think it was a bit more than that,” J.D. said.

“Do tell. Because this is really steamy stuff. What happens next?”

J.D. grinned. “That’s the interesting part—I don’t know.”

“Well, I hate to be the one to point this out, but whatever is going on, the fun’s about to end. Because you and Payton have all of about, oh”—Tyler checked the date on his watch—“less than two weeks left before the firm makes one of you partner and the other of you . . . well, you know.”


Tags: Julie James Romance
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