“Lecture over yet, Dad?” Cooper asked.
“Long as you two can behave like goddamn adults, yes.”
“You need to ask Gavin about that,” Cooper said, crumpling his water bottle and tossing it across the room in a perfect arch to land in the wastebasket.
I rolled my eyes. Lately I felt like I couldn’t do or say anything without facing their scrutiny. Things weren’t always this way. We used to stay out of each other’s way, and we used to mind our own fucking business.
God, how I missed those days. It seemed like everything had changed, and I was exhausted. Maybe I should take one of those vacations Quinn was always suggesting. Then again, maybe not. Who knew what Cooper would get into while I was gone. Rather not what, but who. That thought shouldn’t bother me so much, yet it undeniably did.
“Just want to be sure you two know what the fuck you’re doing,” Quinn added.
“Everything’s fine, Quinn. No need to pull the concerned-older-brother act.” I forced a grin, but it felt more like a grimace. I wasn’t sure what had me so on edge. Actually, I was one-hundred percent sure her initials were E.B., but I was trying to ignore that fact.
“Good.” Quinn nodded. “I just don’t want anything getting in the way of running the business. We can’t afford mistakes.”
“I quite agree. But, seriously, it’s all good.” Cooper rose to his feet and placed one hand on my shoulder. “Right, brother?”
Our meeting was over, and since I had a client meeting to prepare for, I tried to force all thoughts of Emma out of my brain. It was easier said than done.
Sonja knocked on the frame of my open door. Letting herself inside, she set a stack of manila folders on my desk. “Cooper did very well at the gala. We have three new client requests.”
“That’s great.” I sifted through the folders. A politician, a professional athlete, and some dude I’d never heard of.
“There’s something else . . . and I wasn’t sure how you’d want me to handle it.”
Was that . . . hesitation? Sonja never hesitated. But here she was, biting her bottom lip and looking at me like she had to deliver the world’s worst medical prognosis. She managed the office and handled all client and escort relations.
My curiosity piqued, I slid into my desk chair, watching her. “What is it?”
Sonja lowered herself into the chair in front of me. “A client has requested Emma specifically.”
I shook my head, ignoring the pulse that suddenly jackhammered in my neck. “She’s not even in the database. How’s that possible?”
She cleared her throat. “He met her at the event with Cooper. Wondered if she was available to attend a wedding with him in Scotland next month.”
Ignoring the sudden ache in my temples that meant a headache was coming, I shifted in my seat. “That’s . . . no. The answer is no. She’s not available for hire.”
She nodded. “That’s what I told him. I knew it was some type of private arrangement between you and Cooper, and I don’t mean to pry, but do you really think that’s wise?”
My temples now full-on throbbing, I took a deep breath. “What do you mean?”
“Sir, I hope you forgive me if I’m overstepping, but ever since Emma’s sudden entrance into your lives, things between you and Cooper have been different.”
Fuck. So, it wasn’t just Quinn being an asshole. Sonja had noticed it too.
Trying to maintain my composure, I asked, “What do you mean?”
Again, she hesitated. “If she’s become a distraction, maybe it’s best to let her go.”
I blinked. In all the time Sonja had worked with me, she’d never said a single thing about any of the girls. Not when they failed to show up on dates, not when they quit without notice. Never.
“You were all for hiring her,” I said, tilting my head. “Why the sudden change of heart?”
Why would she care if Cooper and I were having some secret competition with the pretty newcomer?
“I don’t want her to cause any issues between you and Cooper, that’s all. Things have shifted. We can all feel it,” she said, her voice growing softer.
“Sonja, when have you ever known my brother and I to let a woman come between us?”
“There’s a first time for everything.” Sonja raised a perfectly plucked eyebrow at me, and I could have laughed if it weren’t for the serious tone to this conversation.
I reached across the desk and patted the top of her hand. “This is just business. There’s no need to worry.”
“I do worry about you. All of you, but you especially, Gavin. Ever since . . .”
“Don’t,” I warned. The next person to bring up her name was getting throat-punched. I didn’t care that Sonja had a vagina. I’d reached my limit on this personal, prying bullshit today.
She straightened her skirt. “All I’m saying is that if you needed a plus-one for an event, all you had to do was ask.”
I blinked again, for the first time in my life not sure what to say. Finally, I settled on, “I already ask too much of you.”
Watching her sit across from me, I studied Sonja for the first time in a long time—maybe ever. Dressed in a tailored skirt suit, with shoulder-length wavy blond hair, she was an attractive, vibrant woman. I recalled from her birthday earlier this year that she had just recently turned thirty-nine, though she didn’t look it. I couldn’t help but wonder if she’d wasted her prime years working long hours to help my brothers and me get our business off the ground.
If she didn’t work so much, would she be married by now? Maybe even have a little one at home? Probably. I wondered if that was what she wanted. Sonja never talked about her personal life. And despite working long hours beside her, I realized that I didn’t actually know her very well.
“I care about you too much to drag you into my shit,” I said.
“I’m here, and the offer stands. Whatever you need.”
Sonja couldn’t possibly understand my needs. And if she did? she wouldn’t volunteer herself so quickly.
“Besides, Quinn would have my balls if something ever happened between us that made you not want to work here anymore. You’re too valuable to this place. You keep us all sane.”
She smiled and rose to her feet. “Okay.”
I watched her head for the door, hoping I’d merely imagined the odd tension buzzing between us. I had more of that than I could handle already with the distracting Miss Bell.
“As long as you’re good with everything, then so am I.” She turned and shot me a distracted smile. “I’ve got to go. Cooper asked me to send Emma a new dress for the next event, and I don’t want to forget.”
With that, she sailed out of the room leaving me staring after her, irritated and a little proud at the same time. Sonja was smart and savvy enough to see through my ruse, and had let loose one final arrow before parting.
One that landed full-on center mass and stayed lodged there all fucking day as I sat and seethed, imagining the sensual creation Emma would be wearing for my brother.
Son of a bitch.
Another beautiful dress arrived at my front door the following morning, green and lacy and backless. A note attached read:
Princess, you’ll be the most exquisite work of art in the gallery tonight.
Not for the first time, I wondered how he’d felt when he’d seen Gavin and me huddled together outside the office building. Each time I thought of Cooper’s small wave, another roll of guilt took hold of me, and I had to sit down and breathe deeply before I could focus again.
The truth was that neither of these men ought to be attached to me. I shouldn’t be the one worried about whether I was getting between them, because this had been a deal of their own design. If Gavin wanted to do . . . well, all the things he wanted to do to me, it shouldn’t matter to Cooper.
But what if it did?
I could never forgive myself for hurting someone as sweet and charming and nice as Cooper. By rights, he was the sort of man I should have been focused on. And the way he’d kissed me, so tender and delicate? There was a sort of passion there too, wasn’t there?
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