“Do you have a plan to protect yourself?” Eric asks.
“Not one that doesn’t burn Emma, and that’s not acceptable. I’m open to suggestions.”
“Don’t get dirty because he gets dirty,” Grayson suggests. “He wants to be a part of the consortium. I’ll let him know his membership is going to vote and the decision must be unanimous. That means he needs your vote. I’ll let him know you’re willing to give it to him. You’re officially invited to join us, by the way, thus my assumption of your vote,” he adds. “I’ve looked through your portfolio. You’re a savvy investor, well-packaged beyond whiskey. You understand diversity equals success and security.”
I down the contents of my glass, thinking of the mother who taught me to never count on anything lasting. A philosophy that’s worked in my investment strategies. “I’m honored to join the consortium. As for that plan working with Chance, that might have the opposite planned effect. It might just motivate him to burn me before I can burn him.”
“Does he not give a shit about his sister?” Eric asks.
“Not that I’ve seen thus far,” I say. “Maybe she has a different father too because she really doesn’t fit that family at all.”
“Too?” Eric asks.
“Hunter wasn’t my father’s son. He was her father’s son.”
That bomb earns me dropped jaws and a refilled glass. “Holy hell,” Eric says.
“Holy hell is right,” Grayson agrees.
Eric downs his whiskey. “And I thought my family was a soap opera.”
And I thought my family was perfect, I think, even after my mother left, right up until I found out it wasn’t. Obviously, I wasn’t looking hard enough at the truth. I wasn’t present enough inside my own life and family. It’s not a mistake I plan to make with Emma. I left her behind today when I felt like I shouldn’t have left her behind. “If you’ll excuse me, gentlemen, I have a beautiful woman waiting on me, back at the castle. I need to be there now.”
A few minutes, later I’m in the back of a Walker-driven SUV when I dial Emma, and her cell goes straight to voicemail. I try again. And again. A bad feeling claws at me and I dial Savage. “Check on Emma now.”
“We have eyes and cameras—”
“No, Savage,” I snap. “Physically go see her now and call me back. Now.”
He doesn’t argue this time. He hangs up. I dial Emma again. Voicemail again. I text her: Call me. I’m worried. I need you to call me, baby.
I wait five minutes and repeat with the same results. I then try Savage and end up with his voicemail. “Try Savage,” I call out to the driver, a guy named Nathan, who works for Savage.
He tries. He ends up with voicemail as well, giving me a grim shake of his head, after a few more tries.
The next fifteen minutes, in the back of that SUV, prove to be the most brutal ride of my life. By the time I’m at the castle, I’m coming undone, when I find my front door open. I walk into the foyer by the elevator and start shouting. “Emma! Emma!”
Savage is waiting for me at the top of the stairs. “She’s gone. Her purse. Her suitcase. Everything.”
A million knives stab me in the heart. “No. No, she wouldn’t leave. And how the hell would you not know she left?”
“We’re trying to figure that out.”
I take a step in his direction, ready to punch him but I stop myself. “Try harder,” I say, still charging toward him but he backs up and gives me room to get by. I walk through the kitchen, where Emma’s coffee mug still sits, her cup newly filled. She was drinking coffee about to go watch Hallmark movies. She didn’t just up and leave.
Picking up the cup, I hold it the way she was holding it, replaying our earlier conversation this very night. “I’m not letting you go,” I’d said. “That’s not happening.”
“Remember that,” she’d whispered. “Whatever happens. Remember that.”
I’m not sure if she was trying to tell me she was being blackmailed or if that statement was simply about the war our two families were enduring, but it doesn’t matter. I said that I’m not letting her go and I’m not. I walk into the bedroom, pack a duffle bag and head back to the kitchen.
Savage meets me there again. “Where are we going?” he asks.
“We are not going anywhere. I’m going to San Francisco. Stay here. Find out how she left and you didn’t know it.” I walk around him and head for the door. I’ve barely stepped outside when Savage is beside me. “My men can figure out the puzzle here. I’m going with you.”
I don’t fight him. Because if anything happens to Emma, someone is going to need to keep me from committing murder.