With a manicured hand, Timothy set his glass on a nearby tray.
Hannah glanced over her shoulder to see Herb walking toward them. She couldn’t picture him getting a manicure or standing for a custom suit fitting. She turned back to Timothy.
He checked the time on his watch. “Oh, look at the time. I’d better go. You’ve put in your obligatory time. You should feel free to leave, too. Honestly, I can’t believe you showed up. You are far too classy for a place like this.”
“I’m glad I had the chance to see the famous Carnival.” Plus, invitations from important clients were obligatory. She smiled, but the muscles of her face felt tight. Timothy made her sound as snobbish and uptight as him. Was she? She hadn’t come from his upper-crust background. She was a military brat. She wore expensive clothes, but only because that was what was expected in her profession. A corporate attorney had to look successful to attract clients. The first thing she did when she went home was change into her oldest jeans. She couldn’t do anything about the tension in her posture. That was both inborn and ingrained. Being raised by a decorated army ranger and colonel left its mark.
“Hello, beautiful,” a voice said over her shoulder.
Hannah turned. Herb Fletcher, CEO of Fletcher Properties, grinned over a glass of whiskey. Despite his unassuming attire, or maybe because of it, the sixty-year-old pulled off gray hair and blue eyes with Paul Newman appeal. “Staying for the samba competition, Tim?”
“No, I’m sorry. I was just leaving,” Timothy said. “Perhaps we’ll see each other on another deal.”
“I’m sure we will.” Herb sipped his drink. His eyes went cold. He knew exactly where he stood with the British investor: good enough for his money but not his social circle.
Timothy turned to Hannah. “Royce said you’re going to London next?”
“After a short vacation, yes,” she said. Though her firm was based in New York City, Hannah spent very little time there. She traveled from one deal to another in a seemingly endless tour of international cities. After she was made a full-equity partner, her salary would justify the expense of a Manhattan apartment. “I expect to be there for three to four weeks.”
Timothy nodded. “I have another deal under consideration. E-mail me when you get in so we can discuss it.”
“I’ll do that,” Hannah said. She scanned the room. The crowd was starting to thin.
“It was a pleasure working with you.” Timothy held out a hand.
She shook it. “Thank you. Likewise.”
With a bow, he headed for the door, stopping to say good-bye to a few other guests on the way out.
“Tim made a quick exit.” Wickedness glinted in Herb’s clear blue eyes. “Why were you wasting your time with him when you could have any man in this room?”
Hannah wasn’t going anywhere near that loaded question. They were both her clients. “The party is fabulous, Herb, and your club is spectacular.”
“You should enjoy some of it.” He leaned in and dropped his voice. “I’ve been watching you. Any of these men would run to you at the snap of your fingers, but here you are, all alone.”
Herb didn’t spend much time alone. He usually had one of his very young dancers hanging off his arm. But then alpha males didn’t play by the same rules as the rest of humanity. They’d followed their own code since they’d emerged from their caves. Sometimes it seemed like that happened yesterday. Raised with three brothers by the Colonel, Hannah knew all about dominant men. Though when compared to the men in her family, Herb’s moral bar hung much lower.
“I don’t like to mix business with pleasure,” Hannah said.
“That’s no fun, because I suspect you work most of the time. You’re young. You need to enjoy life.” His hand swept through the air. “Look at all those people down there, blowing off steam.”
“They do appear to be having a good time.” The wistfulness in her tone embarrassed her.
“Other people like to have fun. You should try it sometime.” He lifted a flute of champagne from the tray of a passing waitress and handed the glass to her. As the girl passed, Herb gave her butt a quick squeeze. She shot him a flirty smile over her shoulder. “You should drink a bottle of champagne and samba all night.”
Herb had never acted inappropriately with Hannah, and she couldn’t help but appreciate his brass and style. At the same time, the way he treated his female employees made her uncomfortable. Hannah twirled her glass by the stem without drinking, exhaustion sliding over her body in a sudden wave. The whole obligatory corporate party thing felt old. Hannah could never let down her guard for fear that someone like Herb would get the wrong idea. Being a successful woman required above-reproach behavior 24/7.
He raised a laughing brow over his tumbler. “You seem distracted tonight.”
Hannah checked her watch. “I have a red-eye to catch.”
“More work?” Herb frowned. “Already? Surely, even you will take a few days off after a project of this duration.”
“No work. Vacation. I’m going home to see my family.” She didn’t mention that her vacation would include checking in with the prosecutor who was preparing for the murder trial of her brother and sister-in-law’s killer. Lee and Kate had been dead for eight months. Some days she forgot they were gone. She wondered if her brothers had those moments, when work was humming along and they suddenly remembered. Guilt weighted her shoulders. How could she forget, even for a second, that Lee was dead? Grief clutched her heart, its sharp nails digging in with determination.
How appropriate that this deal had been concluded in Vegas. Under the bright lights, revelry, and glitter, a thick layer of darkness spread, like the sadness that lurked under her success. Would making equity partner make her happy? Because since Lee’s death, all her professional successes felt hollow in a way she couldn’t explain. Her brother was gone, and his absence was a wound that would never heal. There was a giant hole inside her, and trying to fill it was like pouring sand through a sieve.
“Hannah?” Herb’s brow wrinkled. “Are you OK?”
She smoothed her expression, but her smile felt empty, too. “I’m fine.”
“Great party, Herb.” Her boss, Royce Black, one of the three founding cousins of Black Associates, appeared at her side.
“Thanks, Royce. They all worked hard and deserve some playtime.” Herb waved a hand over a group of sloppy drunks heading for the door to the main floor. His hand stopped, the fingers pointing at Hannah. “Even your hardest-working staff.”
“Well, we certainly appreciate your generosity.” Royce signaled the waitress and ordered a Glenlivet. “But I can’t allow you to monopolize my star junior partner.” He wrapped an arm around Hannah’s shoulders and gave her a friendly squeeze.
Hannah stiffened. The impromptu hug was not Royce’s style. He was acting strangely. Was it the liquor? Normally, he was a conservative drinker. She scanned his face. He didn’t appear intoxicated. Trouble with his new girlfriend maybe.
Her evening bag vibrated, the alarm signaling it was time for her to leave for the airport. She slid out from under Royce’s arm. “I have a flight to catch. I’d better go.”
“Thanks for making an appearance.” He followed her to the door of the box. “Call me when you get to London.”
“Of course,” Hannah said.
He scuffed a foot on the floor. He looked like he wanted to say something else, but didn’t.
“Is something wrong, Royce?”
“No. It’s just been a long couple of weeks.” He nodded. “Have a nice visit with your family. Safe trip home.”
“Thanks. Talk to you next week.” Just thinking she had to be in London in ten days sent another wave of fatigue through Hannah. She would have rather taken a nap than gone to this party. The door closed with a firm click. Hannah sighed. The corridor was blissfully quiet. She could still feel the beat thumping through the soles of her shoes. But she was free.
Her luggage was in the trunk of her rental car out in the lot. In a couple of hours, she’d be in the sky on her way home. Her heels were silent on the carpet as she made her way down the corridor toward the elevator bank. She pressed the down button. While she waited, she fished her phone from her purse and checked her e-mail and the status of her flight. On time.
She opened a message from her brother Grant. Why was he up? It was three a.m. on the East Coast. An extreme close-up of her niece, Faith, popped onto the screen. The accompanying message read: you’re coming to my party, right? Faith’s first birthday was Saturday.
Hannah smiled at the photo and typed: wouldn’t miss it. leaving for the airport now. is Faith having a tough night?
Grant messaged: she’s cutting molars. text me when you’re close.
K, she typed.
With a hollow ache in her chest, she typed u2 and pressed send. Part of her wanted to see them with a frightening intensity. The other was terrified of the hold she felt on her heart every time she went home. If Hannah closed her eyes, she could smell baby shampoo. She’d only have a long weekend with them this trip. Four days seemed simultaneously like too much and not nearly enough time. Grant, who’d left the military to raise Lee’s kids, was taking them to Disney World, and Hannah had promised to dog- and house-sit. It was the least she could do. Grant let her use his house as her permanent address.
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