Page 14

“You always do.” Parker grinned.

I stepped into the elevator just as the doors started to close again. Parker joined me, but my attention was on Jax, our gazes locked together. His hands were fisted at his sides, his jaw tense and determined. But his eyes...those deep, dark eyes...they made the same promises they always had. I believed them now. I had the proof.

Parker faced me as the car began its descent, smiling. “How are you, Gianna?”

“I’ve been better. How about you?”

“You make it awkward to say it’s been a good day so far.”

My mouth curved. “And a good day for your friend Ian, too.”

“Ah.” His eyes brightened with amusement. “Please don’t hold that against Jackson.”

I shrugged. “It’s just business, right?”

“You’re a very practical woman. Certainly one of the many reasons why he’s so taken with you. Speaking of which...” He rocked back on his heels. “I’d like to get to know you better, Gianna. Would you and Jax come to dinner with my wife and me? Something quiet at our house in the Hamptons, maybe?”

“I’d like that.” I’d like anything that would let me get a better handle on Jax.

“Good. I’ll let Regina know.” His smile faded a little. “Don’t let Jackson talk you out of it. He wants to keep you all to himself.”

“Does he?”

Parker sobered further. “He’s very protective.”

“Is he? What would he have to protect me from?”

“We’re men, Gianna,” he drawled. “We’re not always rational when it comes to women.”

I nodded, gathering that Parker was as much of an enigma as his son. It seemed Rutledges were just naturally inclined to be hard to read and cryptic.

The elevator doors opened into the lobby and we stepped out into a meticulously restored pre-war space that exuded luxury and privilege.

“I have a car waiting,” he said. “Can I give you a ride?”

“Thank you but no.” I didn’t even want to contemplate the look on Parker’s face if he saw where I lived. Compared to the marble-lined lobby of Jax’s building, complete with concierge and doorman, my place would look...not so hot. I wasn’t embarrassed by the loft or my family, but I thought it might be wise to not trigger suspicions of gold digging until the Rutledges got to know me better.

“All right, then, if you’re sure.” Parker hesitated, as if waiting for me to change my mind. When I didn’t, he said, “I’ll let Jax know the day and time for dinner. I’m looking forward to it, Gianna.”

I thought of the man upstairs, high in his tower, a stranger in so many ways and yet one who knew me inside and out. “I am, too.”

* * *

I HEARD MUSIC blaring in the loft before the freight elevator clanked to a stop on our floor. As I got closer, I recognized the vintage Guns N’ Roses riff. “Welcome to the Jungle.” Considering my evening with the Rutledges, I found it fitting.

Sliding the door open, I was hit with the full force of Vincent’s rocking sound system and the sight of him doing pull-up crunches via a metal pole he’d mounted between two supporting pillars. He was drenched with sweat and gritting his teeth, the slabs of muscle on his stomach tightening as he brought his knees up to his chest. He wore his hair shorter than my other brothers, nearly a crew cut, and it suited his classically Italian features.

I’d read books that compared the hero to a face on a Roman coin, but I guarantee none of them had anything on Vincent. Shirtless, shoeless and wearing only running shorts, he was the stuff other women’s dreams were made of. Unlike Nico, Vincent was a serial boyfriend. He had no problem committing, but he never stayed off the market for longer than several months at a time.

“Hey!” he protested, when I turned the volume down.

“You still talk to Deanna?” I asked, referring to the reporter he used to date.

“Yeah.” He dropped to the hardwood floor and snatched up the towel waiting there alongside a bottle of water. “Why?”

I set my purse down on the bench by the door and kicked off my shoes. “I need someone to catch me up on the Rutledges.”

Vincent scrubbed at his hair, scowling. “The guy’s a douche. He doesn’t deserve you.”

“I won’t argue with that.” I sprawled across the couch and stared up at the exposed pipes and beamed ceiling. “But that doesn’t mean he can’t be redeemed.”

“Forget the rehab. Find a guy who’s smart enough to know what he has from the get-go.”

I glanced at him, watching his throat work as he chugged the entire bottle of water. “You telling me you never screwed up with a girl and wanted a second chance?”

“Doesn’t count. You’re a Rossi. There’s no excuse for him screwing up besides being stupid,” he said.

“Will you ask her?”

“Fine.” He headed toward the kitchen, adding, “Only because I hope she digs up something that convinces you he’s bad news.”

“Thank you.”

“Don’t think you’re getting the favor for a simple thanks.” He tossed his towel over his shoulder and washed his hands. The kitchen was the most finished part of the apartment, with brand-new stainless-steel appliances, chef’s cooktop, double wall ovens and a massive workstation island with sink. “I’ve got a basket of laundry that needs washing.”

I sat up. “Are you kidding me?”

“Nope. Better hurry.” He grinned. “I’m out of Rossi’s T-shirts and my shift starts in two hours.”

* * *

I’D JUST CLOSED the louvered doors that concealed the washer and dryer when I heard my smartphone ringing. I ran to my bedroom to grab it, but missed the call. Didn’t matter, though, because it immediately started ringing again.

It was Jax.

Taking a deep breath, I touched Answer on the screen and said, “Hey.”

“You were supposed to call,” he accused.

“So were you,” I retorted. “Took you two years to get around to it.”

“Jesus.” He exhaled harshly. “Why did you leave?”

“It was time. Your dad invited us to dinner.”

“We’re not going.”

I shrugged. “I’ll go without you.”

“The hell you will! Damn it, Gia. You’re swimming with sharks and acting like you’re on vacation.”

“I’m definitely seeing things I’ve never seen before. Like those pictures you’ve got framed in your pad. How long have you been following me? Creepy, by the way.”

He cursed. “You’re fucking a Rutledge. Surveillance and invasion of privacy come with the territory.”

“I wasn’t fucking you at the time that picture in your office was taken.”

“You were in my office? What the hell, Gia?”

My mouth curved grimly at his inadvertent admission that there were more photos I hadn’t found. “I’m going to be in every aspect of your life—get used to it.”

Jax was silent for a long minute, then quietly asked, “What do you think you’re doing?”

“I’m processing the fact that you’re in love with me, Jax.” I heard his breath catch and felt a surge of pleasured triumph. “Still, you bailed on me. And now you’re sabotaging my work and your own chances with me.”


“I’m on to you, Jackson Rutledge.” My voice was low and hard, unwavering. “I’m going to figure you out.”

“I’m an open book,” he retorted.

“You’re a head trip.” I ignored the waiting suitcase on my bed and sat at my desk instead. I woke my computer with a shake of the mouse. “And your mystery-man days are numbered.”

I hung up, shut off the ringer and started my research.