Beneath These Scars (Page 66)

“Get out,” I said, my voice low and quiet. “Get the hell out.”

The back door opened, and footsteps approached. “Yve, is everything—oh, Colson, I didn’t realize you had business here.” Jerome sounded honestly confused by the man’s presence.

“Just leaving. Good to see you, Jerome.” Colson turned and strode out, the chimes jingling in his wake.

I could feel Jerome’s gaze on me. “What’s wrong, my dear? You look unwell. Did he say something to upset you?”

I lifted my head and studied the old man. He’d known Lucas longer than anyone, except Levi. I decided to toss my pride to the wind and ask a question I wasn’t sure I wanted an answer to.

“Has Lucas set his sights on Valentina Noble?”

Jerome cleared his throat, his attention darting to the clock above my head. “Well, it’s not really my place to—”

“Come on. Don’t give me that excuse. Just tell me.”

He shifted his weight and crossed his arms. “Before he met you, I thought it was a good chance that she was someone I’d be seeing more of. But as far as I know, he hasn’t had any interaction with her since.”

I hated the spike of jealousy stabbing through me. This was Valentina, someone I liked and respected; I shouldn’t hate this so much. But my stomach still rebelled at the thought of Lucas and her together—the gorgeous black-haired man and the raven-haired beauty.

“What do you know about him buying a condo?”

Jerome shook his head. “Mr. Titan often buys investment properties. That wouldn’t be unusual at all.”

The deed had been in the name of one of Lucas’s companies. Was Colson trying to twist this all around? But what was his angle? Some kind of messed-up revenge because I’d shot him down so hard?

But how did that explain the agreement about Dirty Dog? Lucas had sworn he’d stay out of it and let me decide how I wanted to handle it. Had that all been lip service? I didn’t know what to believe.

The old me yelled, Go back to the house, get your stuff, and get the hell out. You don’t need someone trying to buy you. But the new me that had seen more than one side of Lucas hesitated to jump to conclusions.

Look who’s finally becoming an adult.

I decided that Lucas and I were long overdue for a chat about what the hell was going on, and I’d be sure to offer my opinion that he should fire Colson simply for being a dick.

When I wasn’t in the middle of a knee-jerk reaction, I could think more clearly. I didn’t believe Lucas was trying to set me up as his mistress. He’d made no bones about the fact that he expected me to fuck him for free.

This leap of faith might come back to bite me in the ass, but I was going to take it anyway.

I STARED AT THE E-MAIL from my secretary. It was the third of its kind relating a phone message from Judge Harold Noble, wanting to know when I was going to get off my ass and start courting his daughter. Courting. Was that a Southern thing?

We’d been out once, to a single society function where Valentina had proven she was charming, smart, and a perfectly pedigreed companion. She’d reminded me of Vanessa Frost—or at least the woman I’d thought Vanessa Frost was. I’d subsequently been proven wrong. Maybe I was wrong about Valentina as well.

Objectively, dating Valentina would be a good business move, and my interest had been marginally piqued—after all, she was a black-haired, gray-eyed stunner. But I had Yve in my bed, and thoughts of any other woman paled sharply in comparison.

Yve, who came from a long line of mistresses . . . It was still hard to believe, but then again, this was New Orleans. Stranger family traditions had to exist.

She was not a good business move. Everything I’d done since I was eighteen years old had been to build my empire—and I’d been ruthless about it. Sacrifices were made, both people and relationships, all for the good of the company. There was no upside to me being with Yve except for my own goddamn personal satisfaction, which I rarely indulged.

And now it seemed I was indulging myself on both business and personal fronts. My pet project that had been slated to earn billions was morphing into a resource suck unless I gave in to Haines; without his support, no one would touch it. And then there was Yve.

I was losing my edge. I clicked on the e-mail from my secretary again. I’d never lost my edge before. And getting it back would mean both giving in to Haines and calling Valentina.

My desk phone rang, and I picked it up. “Titan.”

“Hell of a greeting, Titan. I think it’s time you and I had another talk.”

The man had eerie timing, given my thoughts just now.

Haines continued. “You don’t want to agree to an open-ended favor? Well, I’ve got a real specific one that I hear you might be able to help me with, at least if the gossips have it right.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“Something that needs discussing in person. Meet me this evening. Seven o’clock.” Haines rattled off an address I wasn’t familiar with, but it couldn’t be far. “If you don’t show, I’ll know you’re not serious about making this happen.”

“Guess we’ll see then,” I said, and hung up without warning.

I really, really hated politicians, and I hated ultimatums even more. Curiosity and distaste filled me in equal measure. Whatever he was going to ask for, I had a feeling it wouldn’t be good.

But what wouldn’t I do to prove my father wrong? I guess we’d see.

“HEY!” JP GREETED ME AS I returned to Dirty Dog with lunch for the two of us. Jerome had plans to meet an old military buddy, and had tried to cancel due to babysitting duties, but I hadn’t let him. JP and I would be fine for a couple of hours on our own.