The way you look tonight, p.28
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       The Way You Look Tonight, p.28

         Part #10 of The Sullivans series by Bella Andre
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Page 28

  Author: Bella Andre

  He grabbed his jeans from the chair in the corner of Brooke’s bedroom, and his cell fell onto the carpet. Ben’s name staring up at him from the screen froze Rafe in place. If there hadn’t been anything of note to report, his colleague would have sent an email or left a voice mail.

  Clearly, five calls in a row meant Ben needed to reach Rafe immediately.

  "Rafe?" Brooke was sitting up in bed now, the covers bunched up around her waist, her hair tangled from their lovemaking. "Is it your family? Is everything okay?"

  "It’s the office. I’ll take the call out in the living room so that you can get back to sleep. " Before he left, he gave her one more lingering kiss, one that stunned him all over again with its sweetness.

  Her eyes were hazy with more than sleepiness by the time he made himself move away from the bed. He yanked on his jeans and closed the bedroom door behind him.

  His gut twisted tight as he dialed Ben back. Was this how his clients felt when they saw his name come up on their phones, calling with the bad news they’d been praying he wouldn’t give them? He’d always tried to be sensitive about it, but now he wondered if he’d ever been anywhere close to sensitive enough.

  When Ben picked up, Rafe said, "I want to know what you’ve got on Delacorte, but—" He lowered his voice and moved farther from the bedroom. "—I already know everything I need to know about Brooke. You can shred whatever you’ve got on her. "

  He knew now that there wasn’t a damn thing she could have done to make him stop loving her. He’d been crazy to tell Ben to do a background on her in the first place, almost as if he’d been looking for a way to sabotage his own happiness.

  "I’ve already emailed you the document I put together, so if you don’t want to read the background on Brooke, you should skip page ten," Ben told him. "I’ll take care of destroying the hard copies here. "

  "Good. Now tell me what you found on her partner. "

  Ben quickly outlined the details of what he’d learned about Cord Delacorte. Rafe cursed. It wasn’t good. He badly wanted to get on his Ducati, blast into Seattle, and tear the guy’s heart out with his bare hands. Later, Rafe promised himself, he’d do exactly that. But first he’d need to give Brooke the bad news, and console her over it.

  After thanking his colleague for doing excellent work, there was one more thing Rafe needed to take care of. "I want you to become a full partner in the firm, Ben. How does that sound to you?"

  "Good. Really good. "

  "I do have one condition, though, and it’s an important one. " It was funny how clear it all was now. "I don’t want us investigating anymore cheaters. I know it’s a huge part of our business and we do help people who need it, but I think it’s time we let our competitors in on those cases. "

  "You’ve got my complete agreement on that," Ben said, and then, "Getting away for a while has been good, hasn’t it?"

  Getting away had definitely been good, but falling in love with Brooke had been what made him see things in a new light. Light he hadn’t been able to see in a very long time.

  "Everything’s going well here. No rush coming back, boss. "

  "Partner," he reminded Ben with a grin as he hung up.

  Unfortunately, his smile fell away as soon as he downloaded the information Ben had emailed onto his cell phone. Rafe had just finished reading through the first nine pages when Brooke emerged from the bedroom.

  She was gorgeous in a silky blue robe that barely skimmed her thighs. "You should still be in bed sleeping," he told her.

  Of course, he loved the way she walked straight into his arms and lifted her mouth to his for a kiss. It would be so easy to celebrate what they’d found with each other and forget for a little while longer what Ben had told him about her business partner. But Rafe didn’t want any darkness in her life at all, which meant he needed her to know what was going on. As soon as he reassured her that everything was going to be okay, he would head out to rectify the situation with her soon-to-be ex-partner. And he wouldn’t feel the least bit bad about using his fists for at least part of the "rectifying. "

  "As soon as you left the room, Cord called," she told him, and he realized she had her own phone in her hand. "Looks like I’ll need to head back into Seattle today for what is evidently a really important last-minute meeting with the neighborhood retail association. Is everything okay at your office? Do they need you back in the city today, too?"

  It was hard to keep his fury in check as he sat on the couch with her cradled on his lap, and stroked her cheek with the back of one hand. "Actually, your partner is the reason my colleague Ben called. " Knowing it was best just to spit it out, he said, "I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but Cord is stealing from you. "

  She blinked at Rafe with that look of shock on her face that made him hate days like this in the office so much. God, he hated giving bad news to people. Especially to a woman like Brooke, who saw the good in everyone and everything.

  He prayed this one incident wouldn’t steal away her optimism.

  Her soft hair floated around her shoulders and breasts as she shook her head in confusion. "I don’t understand what makes you think Cord is stealing from me. "

  Just hearing her partner’s name made Rafe’s hands curl into fists. He wanted to take out his fury with every cheating, scheming, stealing asshole in the world on the guy’s too-pretty face.

  "As soon as we started spending time together and you told me about your new business partnership, even knowing you must have done your own background checks on the guy, I did one, too. That way, if there were any red flags, you could get out before you were pulled in too deep. Unfortunately, my team found one hell of a red flag. "

  Shock mingled with deep disappointment in her beautiful eyes. "You investigated Cord?"

  Rafe suddenly felt like he was fumbling. Instead of being angry with Delacorte, she seemed upset with him.

  "He withdrew money from the trust account your grandparents set up for you—the one you’ve barely touched since they passed away—and used it to pay for an extremely expensive fertility treatment. I’m absolutely sure their doctor will immediately refund the money as soon as we inform them of what happened. "

  "I don’t want the fertility clinic to refund my money. " By the time she’d finished her sentence, she was off his lap and standing in the middle of the living room staring at him as if she’d never seen him before.

  Rafe stood, too. "I know he took you in, convinced you he’s someone he’s not. But he stole from you, and you’re going to get every penny back from him and then some. "

  "No," she said with a firm shake of her head, "he’s not the one who convinced me he’s someone he isn’t. " Her words had a horribly ominous tone. "At this point, I’m not even sure you deserve to hear the truth, but if I don’t tell you, I’m guessing you’ll just keep poking around in everyone’s background without permission until you can find a way to prove that you’re right. "

  "I’ve just told you the truth, Brooke. "

  "No," she said in a harder voice than he ever thought he’d hear from her, "you’ve just given me your sneaky, twisted, cynical version of what happened. " She turned her face away as if she couldn’t stand to look at him. "After our meetings in Seattle were through this week, I asked Cord and his wife to have a quick drink with me. Despite everything going well with our business, I could tell how down he was, and it wasn’t hard to guess why. Their fertility doctor had just told them they had one more round of IVF left before it was time to give up trying to have a baby, but it had to be done right away or the clock would have run down too far for his wife, who is several years older than he is. They’ve already run through their available cash, and the rest is tied up in our business. I told them I wanted to help, but they wouldn’t take my money. But because we’re friends—real friends who talk about our feelings and dre
ams—I know how badly they want to have a baby and how hard it’s been on them to fail to conceive. I gave his doctor my trust account information for direct billing. That way, the money was already spent, and he and his wife, who is also now a friend of mine, had to take it. "

  Fuck. He couldn’t believe how badly he’d gotten things wrong. And yet, she had to understand why he’d done it, didn’t she?

  "I can’t tell you how glad I am to hear that he wasn’t stealing from you, but…"

  The rest of his sentence fell away as he looked into her eyes and finally realized what heartbreak—and betrayal—looked like.

  "Can’t you see that by checking up on my business partner like this, especially after I’d already told you that I’d done my research, you’ve treated me exactly like my parents always have—as if I’m not capable of making savvy business decisions? How could you, Rafe? Especially when you just told me last night that you see the real me. "

  "I do see you," he swore to her. "But you don’t know what else I’ve seen. Not just men cheating on their wives. Not just wives cheating on their husbands. But people planning horrible things. Extortion. Blackmail. Kidnappings. And worse. You have no idea what people are capable of, but I know exactly what could have been in that report Ben emailed me. Can’t you understand, Brooke? I needed to be sure. Completely sure. "

  * * *

  Brooke felt everything that wasn’t already breaking inside of her start to shatter at his words.

  "I needed to be sure. "

  "What else did you need to be sure about?" she asked in a soft voice. "Just my business decisions. . . or me, too?"

  He reached for her. "Brooke—"

  She took one step away from him, and then another. "I get that you don’t trust people. I even mostly understand your reasons. That’s why I said you could ask me anything. Anything. But instead of asking me what you wanted to know about my past—" She worked to stay strong enough, steady enough, but she had to ask. "Did you do a background check on me?"

  Unfortunately, she could read the answer on his face even before he said, "I swear I haven’t read it and I’m not going to. "

  Suddenly, she could hardly breathe. But it wasn’t the wonderful kind of breathlessness that took her over when he was kissing her. No, this was a horrible, terrible pain that resonated deep in her chest.

  "It was one thing for you to investigate Cord, and I can almost forgive you for thinking that being overprotective means you’re taking care of me. But how could you possibly justify running a background check on me? Don’t you know me at all after the past week? Or how about after we practically grew up together?" He’d just told her he loved her for the first time hours ago. But how could he love her if he’d done this? "You told me you would never forgive yourself if we slept together in the heat of the moment and I woke up the next morning and decided it was a mistake. But I knew that would never happen. Because you could never be a mistake. " The pain beneath her breastbone intensified as she said, "I can’t believe I was wrong. "

  "You’re not wrong, Brooke. I’m not a mistake. We’re not a mistake. " He started to reach for her again, but when she flinched, he dropped his hand. "I’m sure about loving you. Absolutely, one hundred percent sure. I think I always was, right from the start, but with everything moving so fast it was easier to tell myself that I didn’t know where my head was than to admit that I had fallen in love with you this fast. This hard. This deep. " His breath came fast, as if he’d been running a race. "I know I screwed up big time with this report—"
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