“Then don’t call me Bird Dog,” I say, casting him a sideways look. “I hate it.”
“But you love me.”
“Yes. I love you,” I say as we stop at the conference room, “but,” I add as he reaches for the door, “I’m still angry with you right now.”
“For what?” he asks.
“Everything, including the telemarketer that keeps calling my phone.”
He laughs and winks before opening the door. In that moment, he and I feel normal, but deep in my gut, something is off. Really off. I enter the conference room to find Marion sitting on the right side of the long, rectangular table. “Morning,” she says, shutting her MacBook that’s sitting in front of her, her red lipstick matching her red blouse.
“Morning,” I say, and I don’t miss the narrowing of her green eyes on my face, assessing me, gauging my state of mind.
Chance shuts the door and joins me, and she repeats the prior greeting. “Morning.”
“Morning, Marion,” he says, and he and I move forward, toward the table. Chance claims the head of the table while I sit across from Marion.
“Thank you both for making time for me on such short notice,” Marion says. “I wanted to wait a respectable amount of time to broach this subject, and after meeting with Emma two nights ago, I felt now was the time. Your father and I had talked about an expansion of our partnership. I want to talk to you two about it now.”
“What kind of expansion?” I ask cautiously.
“We discussed a cruise line,” she says, “which, as a cross between our travel business and your hotel business, would be a new entity that we would invest and partner in together.”
A cruise line when York runs his “cruises” as he calls his private yacht parties. This is not an accident. This is a warning.
“Ideally” she continues, “we’d have the boats stop at locations with Knight Hotels, which I assume, Emma, would fall under your expertise.”
My fingers curl on my leg under the table. I know what she’s doing. She’s trying to keep me close, keep me under thumb. “This isn’t my expertise at all. And I don’t remember father bringing this up.”
“I’m afraid I know nothing about this type of business either,” Chance agrees. “And I assume this isn’t any further than brainstorming, since I wasn’t privy to any information on this topic. Nor did my father leave anything behind on this topic.”
“We’d started working the numbers,” she says, setting a folder in front of me and Chance. “That has the business proposal inside. It’s an investment, but if we use York’s connections, even bring him into the mix, we can get a steal of a deal on his ships. I propose we start by meeting with him. He set aside lunch if you two can make the time.”
She’s not just trying to control me. She’s trying to use York to control me, too. I open my mouth to reply, but Chance leans forward. “Why exactly did my father talk to you about this, Marion? I’m baffled by my exclusion.”
If I’d believed Chance knew about Marion and our father, that question says he doesn’t. In that, I find comfort.
“This was a bit of a pet project for the two of us.” She smiles. “You know how your father and I loved to game plan taking over the world.”
“No,” Chance says. “Actually, I don’t.”
“This is something our company really wants to do,” she says. “Your father wanted to be our partner hotel. If that doesn’t still align with your company, we need to look at the entire relationship.”
The air around Chance crackles. “I do believe that’s a threat. I don’t do well with threats, Marion.”
“Don’t be silly. It’s not a threat. It’s business.” Her cellphone buzzes and she glances down at the message and then back up. “York’s in the lobby. I asked him to stop by and talk about his role. Unless we’re not moving forward?”
Chance stares at her, seconds ticking by, which should offer more comfort, but there’s something in the air, something between them that I can’t quite name, which sets me on edge. “Emma, give us a few moments alone.” He doesn’t look at me. That sits wrong, too. I know my brother. He knows I know him, and right now, he doesn’t want to meet my stare.
But I don’t argue. I get up and I leave, exiting the conference room and shutting the door. I stand there, drawing a breath. Chance is hiding something. I start walking, but I don’t go to my office. I walk toward my brother’s office.
I didn’t want to leave Emma. I wanted to whisk her away to the airport and get her out of here.
That feeling stays with me as I sit at a café table with Eric Mitchell claiming the seat across from me. “Good news,” he says after ordering a coffee. “I talked to Grayson about your interest in our investment pool.” Grayson being Grayson Bennett, his boss, and best friend. “He’s interested in your joining us but he would like to meet. He said you sent him an invitation to the Harvest. We’re going to join you there.”