I start to replay the call I had with her brother after Hunter died, his push to buy the castle from me now that Hunter was gone. Everything about that call had felt wrong, but then I was burning alive with pain and anger over Hunter’s death. I don’t know how objective I really am about Emma’s family. But then, neither was Hunter those last few months. He was secretive and withdrawn. My mind tracks back to two months before he died, to a day that stands out to me and has haunted me for too damn long.
Pulling the black Jag up to the door of the castle, I hand off the keys to Ross, the rapidly graying doorman who has been with the family since I was a child. A man who most likely knows I bought that car six months ago because it was my father’s car. He loved Jags. He loved black Jags to be specific. And I loved my father.
“Is he in?” I ask, and of course, I mean Hunter, the man of the castle since our father died. The bastard of a brother who dodged my calls the entire two weeks I was in Europe, pimping our brand.
“Yes, sir,” Ross replies tightly. “He’s in.”
In the absence of information is information. When Ross is discreet, there’s a reason for his discretion. His response alone tells me there’s a problem, but I don’t press him. This is how he cares for a sick mother, and I don’t pay his check, though, I gladly would. Hunter inherited. Hunter runs this place. Hunter was always dad’s go-to man.
“Thanks, Ross,” I say. “I’ve got this.”
“I hope so, sir,” he replies, that discretion in place, but the message is clear: there’s a problem just as I feared.
The fucking problem, I think, taking the stairs, is that dad’s go-to man won’t go to anyone else for help. Hunter’s shut everyone out, trying to run everything himself when Dad never ran everything himself. I walk through the motions of greeting the security guard at the castle door, his presence necessary, simply because of the business done here in the castle. Once I’m past the dungeon-style doors and inside the foyer, I walk to Jill’s office but stop as I hear, “I did what I could do to help. What more do you want from me?”
I round the corner and appear in her doorway. There’s a flicker of shock on her face that tells me my brother doesn’t want to see me. What the hell is going on? “I’ll call you back,” she says to whoever is on the line, and she hangs up. “Our warehouse manager is a pain in the butt.”
Actually, he’s not, but I don’t want to get into that right now. “Where’s Hunter?”
“His office, but—”
I’m already stepping into the main foyer and heading toward the gateway—the circle of archways leading to different parts of the castle. I head down the hallway to my right and up a set of stairs that walks directly into Hunter’s office. He’s not alone. There’s a man sitting in front of his desk, and Hunter is standing up, leaning on his desk, scowling at him. Hunter’s gaze lifts to mine, and for just a moment, I see anger that isn’t meant for the stranger. The man stands up to face me: tall, fit, salt and pepper hair, less salt than pepper.
“Ah well, there he is. The other brother.”
“Who are you?” I demand.
Emma stirs beside me and turns over, and for reasons I could explain but don’t want to, that memory has me wrapping myself around her and holding her tightly. There are things I haven’t told her. There are things I have to tell her. Things that I set aside as unimportant, but I’m not so sure that’s the case anymore. The problem is that I know a whole lot less than I need to know about those things to ensure they don’t place her in danger. If silence would protect her, I’d stay silent, but in this case, that old saying “what she doesn’t know can’t hurt her” might not be true. That’s not a risk I can take.
At some point, I fall asleep, only to wake to the dawn of a new day teasing the skylight above the bed. My nature alarm clock. I reach for the remote on the nightstand, sealing the skylight as to not wake Emma, but it’s too late for me. I’m awake and my mind is already working, which takes me no place that encourages sleep. The only reason I stay in that bed is because Emma’s snuggled close to me, but she’s also the reason I need to get up. I need to deal with my brother. I nuzzle her hair, drawing in the sweet floral scent that I can’t name, but if I could drown in it and her, I’d die a happy man.