Adam nodded. “As in till death do us part.”

His brother let out a low whistle. “Shit.”

“I’m going to see Ballantine. I can’t go through with this deal.”

Ben shook his head. “I hope she’s worth it.”

“She is.” Worth more than any deal or any contract.

“If we hadn’t landed the Devlin job I might be ready to kick your ass over this.” Ben’s voice lightened, letting Adam know his brother was fine with it.

“So we’re good?”

“We’re fine, man. Just make sure you tell her the truth.”

Adam frowned at his brother. “What?”

“Tell her the truth. Once you’ve talked to Ballantine, you still need to come clean with her.

You might have to do some groveling, but don’t start anything with a lie.”

“I know.” And he did. He was going to tell her everything. She might be pissed but she loved him. She’d have to forgive him.

Fifteen minutes later, he’d made it to the other side of town. Of course he’d hit all the green lights. Normally it took him a solid half an hour to find parking and get to the Ballantine building.

Ms. Priddy looked up as he exited the elevator and greeted him with a warm smile. “Mr.

Marcellus. Wonderful to see you again. He’s expecting you so go right on in.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

Edward looked up as he entered and motioned toward one of the chairs. “Adam, good to see you.

Please take a seat.”

He sat, but couldn’t help but wonder if the older man would be so happy to see him in a few minutes.

Before he could say anything, Edward spoke.

“I assume you’ve been by to see your brother so congratulations are in order. Are you a scotch or whiskey man?”

He cleared his throat. “Nothing for me now, sir. Listen, I need to talk about the Forester deal. I spoke to my brother and we want out.”

Edward’s eyebrows rose, but for some reason, Adam was under the impression that he wasn’t all that surprised by the statement. “Why?”

“I love your daughter, sir.”

The other man was silent for a long beat.

Finally he spoke. “So why don’t you want the Forester deal? We can keep our arrangement between us if you’re serious about her.”

“No. I’m not starting my life with her based on lies.”

“Your life?”

“Yes sir. I’m marrying Izzy.” Technically he hadn’t asked, and the southern part of his upbringing knew he should be asking the other man out of respect, not telling. But he couldn’t bring himself to do it. It wouldn’t be real.

Whether Edward approved or not, Izzy was Adam’s.

“I see. And have you told her about our arrangement?”

“No, sir. But I’m coming clean tonight.”

Maybe he should have told her before he’d gone but he’d wanted everything taken care of so they could start fresh.

“And there’s nothing I can do or say to change your mind?”

“No.” He knew he wasn’t the kind of man Izzy normally dated or even close to being in her league, but he would love her like no one else could.

The other man’s lips tugged up slightly at the corners. Adam didn’t know him well enough to know what that meant, but he braced himself for whatever was to come. Edward started to speak when the door opened up.

Adam turned, expecting to see Ms. Priddy. All the air sucked out of his lungs when he saw Izzy standing in the doorway.

Her mouth opened in shock. A mix of emotions crossed her face almost simultaneously.

Shock, confusion, then raw anger. And it was all directed toward him.

“Isabelle. What are you doing here?” Edward asked nervously.

She ignored her father’s question as her gaze narrowed on Adam’s face. “You know my father?” The question was an accusation.

He nodded. “Yes.”

“How long?”

His vocal cords wouldn’t work.

“How long? ” Her voice raised a few octaves.

“Since before I met you.” The quiet statement dropped with the intensity of a nuclear bomb.

“Bastard.” Her dark eyes narrowed to slits before she turned on her heel and exited the office.

He jumped from his seat and raced after her.

As he sprinted down the hall he saw Ms. Priddy returning from the restroom. Okay, that explained how Izzy had gotten past her. “Izzy, wait!”

With her back to him, she pressed the elevator button but didn’t turn around at his request. He touched her upper arm as he neared her, but she yanked it away as if he were poison.

“Don’t touch me.” Her words were coated in ice, and she refused to look at him.

“Damn it Izzy, will you just let me explain?”

She whirled around, unshed tears filling her beautiful dark eyes. “Did you make some sort of deal with my father?”

“Yes.” Hollowness settled in his gut as she shut down right before his eyes. He could see it in her expression when he said the word.

“Was part of the deal to convince me to move back home?”

“Yes.” What else could he say? He’d wanted to tell her the truth, but not like this.

“What about sleeping with me? Was that part of the deal too?”

“No! Izzy, everything between us is real.”

She swallowed and turned as the elevator dinged. “I don’t want to see you again, Adam.”

“Izzy, just let me explain everything.” He could hear the desperation in his voice and didn’t care if he had to get on his knees and beg. He couldn’t let her walk away.

She stepped into the elevator and shoved at his chest when he tried to follow. “My name is Isabelle. Only friends get to call me Izzy, and you’re… I don’t know what you are, but you’re not my friend. You’re nothing but a lie.” She moved back as the doors swished shut.

He felt as if there were a vise around his heart.

Each breath he took, it tightened with excruciating intensity.

Adam jumped when a hand landed on his shoulder.

“You feel like a drink now?” Edward Ballantine’s lips were pulled into a thin line and his eyes were filled with misery. Good.  The other man couldn’t possibly feel as bad as Adam, but if he was going to be dying inside, he wanted company.

Chapter Fourteen

4 Weeks Later

In a red-and-black matching bra and panty set, Izzy stared at her closet in despair. If she didn’t hurry, she was going to be late. Not exactly the kind of impression she wanted to make on her first day at work. Especially since she was the boss’s daughter.

Finally she pulled out a sleek black single- button jacket to go over a black pencil skirt and simple white blouse. Safe outfit and safe colors.

Not exactly her style so she slipped on a pair of red peep toe sling back pumps. Just a splash of color.

Her cell phone rang just as she grabbed her purse and was headed out the door. “Hi, Dad.”

“I hope you’re already on your way. Don’t want to be late today.”

“Haven’t we talked about this already?”

He chuckled. “I know. I’m just giving you a hard time. I, uh, I’m not meddling, but I wondered if you’d finally decided to listen to Adam.”

She cringed as she hit the elevator button.

Adam had called, sent flowers, emails, letters and even an annoying singing telegram. Talking to Adam or even about him was too painful and if she was honest, she still held a little resentment toward her father. He’d apologized and she knew he meant well, but her broken heart was barely hanging on. Knowing she’d soon be busy with a new job was the only thing saving her sanity. If she was busy, she couldn’t dwell on the man who’d broken her trust and her heart. “Dad, I don’t have time right now.”

“Damn it Izzy, you  know he tried to turn down the Forester deal.”

Yeah, because her father had only reminded her a hundred times. She didn’t care.

Adam was still a liar. “So what?”

“He loves you. Why can’t you just listen to him?”

She steeled herself against her father’s words.

“That doesn’t change a thing. He lied to me. For all I know, everything he told me was a lie.

Besides, why is he still on the job if he supposedly planned to back out of it?”

“I’ve already told you I threatened to sue him for backing out of the contract and tie him up in court for years. Quit coming up with bogus reasons not to listen.”

“You wouldn’t have sued him.” Her father might be a lot of things, but he wouldn’t do that to Adam. Not that she cared either way. Or at least that’s what she tried to convince herself of.

“Of course not, but he’s a good man and I wasn’t going to let him pass up a lucrative contract because of a mistake I made. I never should have roped him into my little charade.”

“I’m over him anyway. In the future, I’d rather not talk about him if you don’t mind.” Even to her own ears, this sounded like a blatant lie.

“Whatever helps you sleep better at night.” Her father’s condescending tone grated against her ears and on her nerves.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she snapped.

Man, she did not need this on her first day.

“Nothing. You told me to butt out of your personal life so I am. That’s the last time I’m bringing Adam up. I’ll probably come by and take you and Larry out for lunch today.”

She tossed her phone into her purse after they disconnected and took a few deep breaths. She was totally over Adam so it didn’t matter that he’d planned to back out of a multi-million-dollar deal for her or if he sent her a thousand bouquets of flowers. She was over him.

Adam stared at his computer screen as it shut down. Today had been another long one and he was about to fall over on his feet. He’d met with two new potential clients but he’d been distracted to the point of being rude. All he could think about was Izzy. For the past month her face had haunted his dreams with increasing frequency.