Holding on tighter, p.25
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       Holding on Tighter, p.25

         Part #12 of Wicked Lovers series by Shayla Black

  “To gamble for the money to finance your expansion?” He sent her a glower. “I don’t—”

  “No. I don’t like to play games when the odds are stacked against me.” She dragged in a breath for courage. “We both know what we want out of our future. I could already be pregnant. I was just thinking . . . Why wait?”

  She saw the moment understanding lit his face. He grinned. “Do you think Elvis would marry us?”


  WHO knew a week could change his whole life?

  Last Monday, Heath had begun a new but temporary job. The following Monday, he was beginning a completely different life as a married man. His wife of twelve hours slept beside him on the plane, her head propped on his shoulder.

  He stared at their matching bands, purchased hastily when they’d reached Vegas Sunday afternoon. They’d found the county clerk’s office, applied for a license, and been married by someone who looked like a medieval bishop in a fairy-tale ballroom. She’d worn a white summer dress she’d found at the back of her closet. He’d scrounged up a suit. They’d told no one what they planned and taken only a handful of pictures. This wedding had been purely for them.

  This time when he spoke his vows, the words held far more meaning. Exchanging them with Anna had been easy. While standing in a field of flowers surrounded by their family and friends, he’d never believed that he would have to put those vows to the test so soon, especially the bit about death parting them. Speaking similar words with Jolie filled him with gravity, with love. Neither of them knew what tomorrow would bring but he was damn determined that he would hold on to her, be her faithful protector. Because he would never speak these vows again. They were forever.

  Now satisfaction buzzed through his veins. He couldn’t be happier that this amazing, talented, acerbic, complicated woman was his.

  While she dozed—they hadn’t bothered much with sleep—he scanned the dossier Karis had composed on him. Decent job for an amateur. She had included all the highlights, even learning about a school prank or two he’d all but forgotten. Cursory information about his parents, his sister, and his first marriage was tucked inside. Then onto Anna’s death. She’d rightly pegged Garbanov as the one who’d executed the attack that resulted in Anna’s fiery murder. Karis was also a bit of a conspiracy theorist because she felt sure that no one could pull off a public attack of that magnitude and manage never to be caught without help on the inside.

  Heath had wondered about that himself. He and Myles had even speculated once or twice that, given the intel at their fingertips and the ensuing manhunt, catching the culprit should have been much simpler. Identifying the mastermind and bringing him to justice should never have proven impossible.

  Karis went on to speculate that Kensforth may have had a hand in the murders of Anna and the other innocents, like Lucy, that day. He’d never been implicated, of course. He’d been too well connected. But a year after Anna’s murder, he had died in a mysterious single-car crash, seemingly a million pounds richer than he had previously been.

  Heath frowned. He’d heard about Kensforth’s passing, had always thought the prick was the sort who cut corners and took shortcuts a bit too much because he was a sacred cow no one would ever sack. Had Kensforth taken money from Garbanov or the drug lords who employed him to look the other way? To destroy evidence and provide bureaucratic red tape? Had someone eliminated him because he’d suddenly grown a conscience . . . or because his usefulness had come to an end?

  Either way, if that were the case, whoever had orchestrated the attack was still at large.

  With a frown, Heath tucked his phone away.

  After their flight landed, they swung by Axel’s house to shower before heading to the office. Jolie had texted Karis earlier to say she’d be there shortly to explain.

  While his new wife cleaned up, Heath called his parents to give them the news of his marriage. They might be a bit disappointed that he hadn’t waited for them to attend the ceremony, but overall they were delighted and couldn’t wait to meet Jolie.

  Then he turned his mobile over in his hands a few times before finally deciding to call Myles.

  “Fancy hearing from you twice in the same week,” his old mate said by way of greeting. “How are things?”

  “Quite well, actually.”

  “That sounds promising. Do tell.”

  “Well, I took your advice,” Heath began, then spilled his happy news. “It feels great.”

  “Married? That’s fantastic! I’m so thrilled for you. I’d like to meet her.”

  “I’m hoping to drag her away from the office during the holidays and pop over for a week or so, introduce her to my parents and all that. We’ll have to make plans then.”

  “Absolutely! Couldn’t be happier for you.”

  “Thanks.” Heath fell quiet and paused, listening for the sounds of the water pipes to ensure Jolie was still in the shower. He didn’t want to worry her unnecessarily if Karis’s theory had no merit . . . or involve her if it did. “What do you know about Kensforth’s death?”

  “That old bastard? God, I haven’t thought about him in five years. Shady prick. Supposedly died in a single-vehicle crash.”

  “I heard. Maybe I’m being sentimental or I’ve realized that I need closure, but I want to solve our first wives’ murders. It won’t bring Anna and Lucy back, I know, but you must have felt as if you failed them. I struggle with having let Anna down every day. Don’t you want to know why it happened?”

  “I won’t deny that the past has been difficult.” Myles choked up. “It’s been a hard road to accept that I don’t have any answers—and I may never. I don’t have any new theories. I’ve come to realize that sometimes old regrets are best forgotten.”

  Heath didn’t see it that way. “It’s not possible to forget something that terrible. You were always a relentless bloke in chasing down the bad guys. We should solve this once and for all. I’ve always wondered if Kensforth was somehow involved or simply let it happen—for a price. To this day we don’t know who perpetrated it or even why. Random violence doesn’t make sense. The event was too well orchestrated.”

  “I suspect whoever planned the terrible deed had some drug-related murder in mind but he died in the fiery hail of gunfire, too. No one left to take responsibility. You eliminating Garbanov tied up the last of the loose ends.”

  And that seemed logical, given the players involved. Almost too logical. He and Myles had discussed this theory in the past. Then, like now, it didn’t sit well in his gut. “Did you know Kensforth died with far more money in his bank account than he could possibly have made in his position while affording that nice West End place of his?”

  “I’d heard some rumor to that effect. But didn’t his wife come from money?”

  “That’s possible,” Heath conceded. He hadn’t known much about the bastard’s personal life. It wasn’t as if they’d been good mates. “I’ll look into it and let you know what I find.”

  “Leave it. Please,” Myles asked softly. “You want to understand that terrible day and don’t mind rehashing it. I know I have no right to ask this of you but . . . stop. I can’t relive that again. Hell, I can’t go to that part of town without breaking into a fit of rage. Or depression. I love Camille and I’m grateful for her every day. But I can only be with her because I’ve made the choice to lock the past behind closed doors and toss the key in the recesses of my mind. I’ve said my last good-bye to Lucy and the child we never had. Don’t dig this up and make me deal with that hell again.”

  Heath sat in stunned silence, feeling guilty as the devil. He’d assumed the closure he sought would benefit Myles, too. So they could both know they had found all the missing pieces of the past, put them together, then taped shut the boxes filled with tragedy. Hell, maybe he simply needed to understand so he could process what he’d done wrong and finally deal with his failure to protect Anna.

  Never in a million years had Heath imagined that his best mate from those days would
have such a different way of dealing with the trauma. He respected Myles’s perspective, even if he didn’t subscribe to it. But Heath couldn’t simply let this go.

  “Of course. I’m sorry. I had no idea . . .”

  “Isn’t that one of the reasons you left home? The constant memories? The seeing a familiar restaurant or person or even a bottle of wine that reminded you of her?”

  He was right, and Myles hadn’t been able to simply walk away from his job, his surroundings, his home. The man had always been the backbone of his family, supporting ailing parents and a freeloading brother. Heath winced, wishing he’d been more compassionate. “They’re haunting, I know.”

  “And you know well that I can’t leave. Camille and I have a comfortable life now. Things are coming together. It’s hard but I accept that I lost Lucy to a senseless act of violence. Even if I knew the ultimate who and why, I’d never understand her death. So is there really any point in knowing who to hate?”

  “It’s different for you. I see. I won’t bring it up again.”

  “That phrase ‘let sleeping dogs lie’? Let them,” he implored. “All the years I tried in vain to process what happened only led to struggles with depression and alcohol. So I’ve had to relegate that terrible day to the distant past and move on.”

  Heath stared out Axel’s window into the blinding sunshine, blinking against a sudden onslaught of tears. He wasn’t sure why precisely. He mourned Anna. He ached for the years of grief he and Myles had both endured very differently. He hurt for the loss of the friendship that seemed forever diminished by an act neither of them had perpetrated.

  “Consider the subject closed.”

  Myles breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you.”

  They rang off, and Jolie entered the room, putting on her simple diamond studs and elegant watch. Her wedding band winked in the light. “All okay?”

  “Of course, love. I’ve called my parents. They’re expecting us to spend Christmas in Liverpool now, mind you.” He forced a smile. “You and Mum will get on well.”

  “I’m looking forward to meeting them. They weren’t angry?”

  “That I’d married without them there? They never expected me to marry again at all, so they’re thrilled to bits.” He rose and kissed her gently. “I’ll take a quick shower and we’ll be off.”

  Jolie grabbed his arm. “You seem a little quiet. Are you having second thoughts?”

  Heath softened. He couldn’t let his own regrets and worries about the past affect his rapport with Jolie. Maybe in some ways Myles was right. They had too many wonderful reasons to look forward for him to dwell in the past.

  “Not at all. Make yourself some coffee, then we’ll head to the office and surprise everyone.”

  Chapter Thirteen

  Rule for success number thirteen:

  Sometimes you’ll get lucky . . . sometimes you won’t.

  Plan for both possibilities.

  JOLIE jangled her keys nervously in her hands as she and Heath walked into Betti’s suite, glancing around for her sister.

  Rohan tapped away on the plug-in for the new website. Gerard looked positively inspired as he sketched in short, brisk strokes across the pad with an array of colors that made her heart happy. Wisteria smiled, inhaling the pungent bouquet of blooms on her desk, which told Jolie that her receptionist and the on-again-off-again man in her life were in another idyllic phase, which she hoped for their sake finally lasted. Arthur slapped papers on his desk in short jerks as he shifted through a stack of invoices.

  Jolie frowned. No sign of Karis.

  “Hi, everyone. Where’s my sister?”

  They all looked up when she walked in, then glanced at one another as if someone must know the answer but the question hadn’t actually occurred to any of them.

  Well, everyone except Arthur. “She went to an early lunch. Her bodyguard tagged along.”

  And her grumbling accountant didn’t sound happy. Was he having a crappy Monday? Jolie shrugged and let out a sigh.

  The buildup to telling her sister about her nuptials had been nerve-racking. The letdown now that Karis wasn’t here seemed every bit as arduous. And she couldn’t very well tell the rest of the office before she told her own family. So it would have to wait.

  “Thanks. If anyone needs me, I’ll be at my desk.”

  Jolie shut herself in her domain and sat, not certain where to start. So much had changed over the weekend, yet the problems here remained the same. Messages littered her desk. Gerard had left a few promising sketches. A tap on her computer revealed a bursting inbox. But nothing was more important than getting a new investor. She needed one and she needed the cash now. After her crazy, romantic, pleasure-filled weekend with Heath, she had to come down from her personal cloud nine to face reality again. And the truth was, Betti could well be a memory if she didn’t find someone wealthy to believe in her vision and the bravery to stand back and let her fulfill it.

  When she picked up her phone to start making phone calls, the stutter dial tone told her she had a voicemail. Hoping for good news, she punched in the code and listened.

  “Jolie, it’s Carrington. Your father. I’d like to schedule lunch next Tuesday to start discussing the terms of my takeover. I’m prepared to be generous and reward your hard work. Don’t have your dippy receptionist call me to negotiate a time and location. I won’t deal with small people simply because you’d like to avoid me or this inconvenient reality. Swallow your pride—it’s a valuable skill to have in business—and call me personally. You need my help too badly to risk pissing me off.”

  Was he serious? She slammed the phone down so hard, Heath—and half the office—came running. Her glower sent all but her husband scampering off again.

  “What is it?” he asked.

  “The sperm donor wants to play hardball. Fine. There’s no way I’m calling him to set up a lunch meeting so he can crush my dream. I told him before that he could go fuck himself. Now I think I’ll hire a skywriter to make sure he gets the message.”

  Heath shut the door, enclosing them in her office together. He looked as if he had something to say, then shook his head. “You’re smart and determined. This will work out.”

  As agitated as Jolie felt, she had to give thanks for the blessings Heath had brought to her life. Her father had been absent, her mother more concerned with her various romances than her eldest daughter’s accomplishments, her younger siblings had needed her guidance . . . She’d never had anyone in her corner simply because they believed in her.

  “Thank you.” She rose and wrapped her arms around him. “It means the world to me.”

  “You’re welcome. Hungry?”

  She opened her mouth to say that she was famished when the sunlight reflected off moving metal in her peripheral vision. Jolie turned to see Karis’s car pulling into the lot. She drew in a shaking breath, not even sure why she was so nervous. Actually, she was. As much as she’d chastised her sister for her impulsive love life, Jolie felt pretty sure that Karis would have a few words for her in return. Hell, she probably deserved them. She’d jumped into marriage because it felt right.

  How often had she heard her mother say that?

  Even worse, after the divorces her mom would finally realize her most recent ex-husband had never loved her.

  Jolie shook her head . . . until she realized she’d pledged her life to a man who’d never once said those words.

  Had they jumped too fast, motivated by the intense experience of baby Asher’s birth and their own emotional coupling? God, she hated second-guessing herself. She rarely did but business was far more cut-and-dried than matters of the heart.

  “I think we should . . . I don’t know, talk.”

  “All right.” He frowned. “About what?”

  Did she really doubt his commitment? His heart? No. Just because he hadn’t said three little words was hardly proof he didn’t feel the sentiment. She’d never known a better man than Heath Powell and refused to let a single mome
nt of doubt derail her. She needed to get her head together, stop rethinking what was already done, and focus on Betti.

  “On second thought, I’m just tired and a little nervous about Karis’s reaction. I wish we didn’t have to tell her our news in the office, but the longer I put this off, the more upset she’ll be. Once I’ve advised her, I can call my mother.” Because if she’d called her mom first, Diana would have called Karis immediately and spilled everything. “Gee, maybe if I tell my dad, he’ll throw in a toaster with the screwing he’s trying to give me.”

  Heath laughed. “You don’t need his toaster.”

  “Damn right, I don’t.” She sighed and took his hand. “Shall we?”

  “Absolutely. Karis will be happy for us. Don’t worry.”

  Jolie sincerely hoped so.

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