I weighed his question. Blake meant everything to me, but what good would it do telling Daniel?
“I asked you a question.”
“He’s the only man I’ve ever loved.”
He tensed slightly and looked away.
The truth and his strange reaction made me feel a little bold. “I don’t really have time for these little meetings. Can we get to the point of why I’m here?”
He narrowed his eyes a fraction that reminded me how frightening he could become in an instant. I silently wondered who I got my temper from, though I’d never hold a candle to Daniel in that department.
“I told you I’m taking you to lunch.”
I crossed my arms, making sure I was pressed tightly on the farthest side of the seat. Connor had driven us south of the city, and we passed blocks of row houses until we were driving down the main drag of a small downtown.
“Where are we?”
“The old neighborhood. This is where your grandfather and his father grew up, before being a Fitzgerald meant anything.”
I sat back and took it in. I’d never been to this part of the city. A far cry from the clean tourist-flooded streets of downtown. We weren’t exactly in the safest part of town either. Connor pulled up in front of a tavern on the corner. A worn sign read O’Neill’s.
I followed Daniel out and stood awkwardly beside him as he shook hands with the man who sat on a stool just outside the entrance. He was as broad and muscle bound as Connor, but with jet-black curly hair and dark eyes mostly hidden by the hair and the shade of a tweed cap. He greeted Daniel by name and let us pass.
We entered the dark room of the tavern and took a seat in the far corner. Daniel ordered us beers and a couple burgers. O’Neill’s no doubt had a limited menu so I didn’t argue. That, and I decided to pick my battles with Daniel unless I wanted to get into the habit of covering up bruises. God, was I grateful my mother couldn’t see me now.
“I’d like to talk business,” he began.
I didn’t want to get into that yet. I needed to learn more about him if I was going to find my way out of this mess. “How’s Margo?” I asked, hoping to divert the conversation away from his master plan for my life.
“As well as can be expected.” He downed a good part of his beer. I let mine sit.
“She wants me to stay away from you, you know? At the gala she told me as much. She won’t be happy to see me anywhere close to your campaign or your personal life.”
“She means well, but these decisions aren’t up to her.”
“Won’t it cause tension if I’m blatantly disregarding her wishes?”
“Margo is the least of our concerns.”
“Perhaps you could enlighten me of your concerns. Are threatening to kill Blake and liquidating my business still high on your list of priorities?”
He grinned slowly. “If you think that mouth won’t get you into trouble because we’re in public, you’ve got another thing coming.”
I glanced around quickly. The bar was sparse, and its patrons didn’t seem to be the type of people who would care much about a little lunchtime quarrel. Not to mention Daniel appeared to be a preferred customer here. Maybe these were the people who took care of his wet work, when people like Mark needed to be taken care of.
Daniel was right. Sassing him would probably get me nowhere fast. I sulked back into the seat.
He dropped a thick stack of paper onto the table and pushed it over to me. “Here’s our marketing plan. I don’t have time to read it, and if I did, I’m not sure I’d be able to make much sense of it. I’m told its very general since we’re responding to new political and local developments daily, and all of that varies. We’ll start the hiring process soon to replace the person heading things up now. It’s all for show of course, since you’re the one I’ll be bringing on.”
“What about my business?”
“Landon is out of the picture, and you’ll get your money from me soon enough. Figure out a way for it to run without you, or sell it. I don’t care which.”
“If you gave me more time, I could get in the black on my own, without your help.”
“How much time?”
“A couple months maybe. I’m not sure,” I lied. Realistically, I’d probably need six months or more.
“No, there’s no time for that.”
I leaned in, hoping to persuade him. “Daniel, I could help you find someone for this position. Someone with the same background who can bring the same qualities to the table that I can. I don’t know why—”
“Erica, this isn’t a negotiation.” His voice sharpened enough to attract a couple looks from the bar. “You’ll be working for the campaign. Working for me. I can see now that you’re trying to figure a creative way out of this. As you do, be sure to keep one thing in mind. I don’t care what Landon means to you. He could be the father of your children, and I wouldn’t hesitate to remove him from the equation. Not for a second would I hesitate on that choice. Do you understand? Because I thought I’d made myself pretty clear last time.”
The bartender dropped off our burgers and vanished again without a word. I stared at the plate with no appetite, sickened by the threat.
I closed my eyes and delivered my next words as calmly as I could. “I understand you perfectly. If you’re hiring me to use my brain, however, you might want to tell me at what point I should lie down and let people walk all over me. Or are you the only person who’ll be doing that?”
“This isn’t about you, you little bitch.”
He slammed his hand down on the table, attracting a few bored stares from the bar again. Frightened, I sat back in the seat to gain a few more inches of distance from his anger.
“This is about something far more important and far more successful than you’ll ever be. My family. Our family. We’ve spent generations crawling out of places like this so that we could do something bigger. You’re going to be a part of that now. A small, albeit important, part, and the sooner you realize that, the better off you’ll be. Now eat your burger.”
“I’m not hungry,” I murmured.
His eyes became so cold that I immediately picked up a fry and started eating it. We ate in silence and occasionally our eyes met, cool blue mirrors of each other’s. I’d be lucky to escape his wrath on the drive back. This wasn’t like bickering with Blake or keeping people on the right track at work. I was poking the giant, and he wasn’t sleeping. Daniel might have been proud of my accomplishments, but I didn’t have the luxury of being Daddy’s little girl who could get away with mouthing off to him like that. Not when Blake’s life was at stake. I’d have to somehow learn to shut the hell up or play the game differently, because meeting him head-on wasn’t taking me very far.