His father really had been blind. What he and Slade had discovered in River Run was real kindness and affection for the first time in their lives.
“Marnie says her cabbage won first place at the fair this year.” Slade smiled as he spoke of the woman who had met them at the airstrip that first day. Marnie ran the local tavern and knew how to handle roughnecks with ease. She’d also known how to deal with two scared boys.
He wondered if she would have any advice for one conflicted man.
Gavin turned away, staring out at the landscape. Honestly, he had no reason to be conflicted.
He was realistic. The past had proven to him, in the ugliest way possible, that he couldn’t put anyone fragile in his hands. He was too broken to care for Hannah like she deserved. Getting aroused by watching his brothers touch her pussy and bring her to orgasm didn’t mean anything except he was male and healthy.
“You and Dex have barely said two words to each other.”
Gavin realized that, but at least Dex had gotten on the plane with him. “Dex was far too busy with Hannah to speak to me. And we shouldn’t pretend like he isn’t here listening to every word we say.”
Slade waved off that thought. “He’s the soundest sleeper I know. A nuclear bomb could go off, and Dex would sleep through it. He told me that he grew up in some of the loudest homes imaginable, and he had to train himself to sleep through anything.” Gavin hadn’t heard the stories, but he’d read the files the private investigator had compiled.
Dex had grown up rough. His mother had been one of Stuart James’s many girlfriends. She’d been a stripper. When she’d turned up pregnant, he’d given Roxanne Townsend a check for ten thousand dollars and told her to get an abortion. Roxanne had ignored the orders, but she’d died in a car accident when Dex was seven. He’d spent the next ten years in and out of foster homes until the day Gavin and Slade had found him.
“He looks up to you,” Slade said.
Gavin doubted that. “He sees me as his boss.”
Slade’s head shook. “That’s not true. He’s only closer to me because we went to college together. Dad had just died. You were twenty-two, and you had to take the reins of a multi-billion-dollar company.”
“And deal with a hostile takeover.” A group of board members had tried to wrest control, thinking that Gavin was just a kid. He’d proven then that he could swim with the sharks.
Now he made sure they damn well knew he could lead them, as well.
“And Nikki died just a few months after that.” The soft words landed with a thud Slade couldn’t possibly have intended.
Gavin felt his whole body go cold. “We’re not talking about that.”
“Maybe we should. She’s been a ghost in your life all this time, holding you back. You have to move on. You loved her, and she died. You can’t blame yourself. Gavin, wouldn’t she have wanted you to be happy? What happened was tragic, but not your fault.” Except it had been his fault, and it had cost far more of his soul than Slade could possibly know to keep that fact from everyone. But you also kept all the nasty stuff out of the papers. You protected the family’s good name. Too bad that was all you protected.
He could still feel the cold air of the coroner’s office as he received the news. Sometimes he had nightmares about that cramped, foul-smelling room. If he’d never gone, if he’d never known, would he have been able to move on? Could he have forgiven himself if it had only been Nikki he’d killed with his neglect?
“Clearly, you’re under some misconception that I’m hung up on a sad event that happened a decade ago.” Now wasn’t the time to trot out the truth.
Slade sat back, obviously disappointed. “I hate it when you lie to me. But I appreciate your help convincing Hannah of our sincerity earlier. She needed to hear that Dex and I are serious about her.”
He’d ached to include himself in that statement he’d made to Hannah about his brothers’
intentions. That had scared him more than anything. “I know you care about her.”
“I love her.”
Gavin envied the unrelenting sureness of Slade’s statement, but he knew he’d never be able to give his whole heart to another person now. “She seems to feel the same way about you two.
Be gentle with her.”
Slade’s lips slid into a grin. “You think the spanking was a little rough?” He’d thought the spanking was absolute perfection. “It seemed to please her.” One eyebrow crept up on Slade’s face as he stared at Gavin. “But it did nothing for you?”
“It relieved me to see that she handled it well.” She’d been sweet and submissive and graceful. So unlike his typical women these days.
Sex had become an exchange for Gavin. He kept a companion, paid for her condo, and gave her an allowance. In exchange, she was his partner in social occasions and sex until he deemed otherwise.
The arrangement was good enough. It was all he deserved.
Slade’s eyes narrowed, and Gavin was deathly afraid that Slade meant to continue this little interrogation. “How is Kristin doing?”
Kristin? He hadn’t talked to her in over a year. “I think she got married, actually.” Slade’s fingers drummed along the arm rest. “That’s right. You’ve moved on to Tiffany.
She’s your latest…girlfriend?”
He said girlfriend in a halting way, as though he knew the words didn’t fit, but couldn’t come up with anything better. Gavin could. “She was my mistress, Slade. And she’s no longer with me, either.”
His current mistress, Brooke, was exactly like Tiffany, and the sort of woman he needed—
cold, skilled, and efficient.
Slade rolled his blue eyes. “Mistress. That makes you sound like some freaking nineteenth-century lord. No one has mistresses these days.”
“It’s the perfect accessory for the modern-day CEO.”
“You’re more than a CEO, Gavin. I wish you would understand that there’s more to life than work.” Slade’s eyes drifted to the woman at his side. She twisted in her sleep, and her head rolled from Dex’s shoulder to Slade’s. His brother cupped her cheek and kissed the top of her head, practically sighing at the contact. “There’s a lot more.” Resentment bubbled up in Gavin. Of course Slade thought there was more to life than work.
He’d been in college when their world had nearly been ripped out from under them. Gavin was the one who had to deal with the fallout of their father’s untimely demise. Slade had been in college, and Dex had followed him there for fraternity fun and games. Given the fact that Slade and Dex were only a few months apart in age, it was no surprise they had fallen in together. By the time Gavin had been able to come up for air, Slade and Dex had bonded, and Gavin was on the outside.
In the years that had passed, nothing had changed
“How about you work on your little engineering projects, and I’ll run the company.” Slade frowned. “My ‘little engineering projects?’ You mean like the project that found a huge reserve in the middle of the Gulf? That billion-dollar project?” Gavin was saved by the trill of his cell phone. He looked down at the caller ID. Burke Lenox.
The man worked fast. He stared for a moment wondering what he wanted from this call. If the Lenox brothers had solved the crime already, then he and his brothers could turn right around and take Hannah home. Or he could leave and let her, Dex, and Slade have a romantic getaway.
He didn’t want to leave. He wanted more. Damn it, he was tired of being on the outside.
But it wasn’t going to change.
“You’re right. I’m sorry about the engineering crack,” Gavin said shortly. If he wanted to get back in good with his brothers, he needed to stop being such an asshole. He slid the answer button on the phone, and was surprised at how fast his heart was beating. “Lenox? What have you got for me?”
Burke’s smooth voice came over the line. “Not much yet. Cole is going over the tapes. I think you’re definitely right. This is an insider.”
He’d known that. Part of him relaxed. He didn’t have to decide yet what to do next. But Hannah was still in danger. “Run deep background checks on everyone. Human Resources would have done some of the legwork, but you have resources they don’t.”
“I’ll start with anyone who has daily dealings with Hannah. This is a big company we’re talking about, James. It could take awhile.”
“I understand. I want you to be very thorough. Start with Scott in IT. The way I see it, he might be hung up on Hannah in a dangerous sort of way if he’s suddenly demanding to have an important lunch with her. There’s nothing so critical about the project she’s coordinating that should require her to spend her lunch hour with him. And our CIO, Preston Ward III. He and Hannah had an…altercation recently.”
“Funny that you mention him. The other reason I called you was to let you know you’ve got trouble up there in Alaska.”
“Yes, there were some minor computer issues. It made a decent cover for us leaving, but it’s nothing we’re too concerned about.”
There was a long pause. “I was in your office this afternoon. Apparently, your minor trouble became something major. I overheard Ward saying that River Run is in serious trouble, and he’s headed up there himself with a couple of techs to fix it. You’re going to love this. One of the techs is Scott. The other is the head of your help desk, Lyle.” Gavin didn’t love it. It was the worst news possible. Preston was on his way down with two techs, and all three men were on Gavin’s list of suspects. Any of them could be Hannah’s stalker.
Son of a bitch.
While in Alaska, Gavin had imagined that he could go fishing with his brothers in an attempt to reconnect, but maybe a good old-fashioned ass-kicking was the ultimate bonding experience.
Because by the time the trio got here in the morning, he hoped they’d figured out the identity of Hannah’s stalker. The asshole was going to have a welcome party he would never forget.
“Thank you, Burke. Could you find out what flight they’re on? One of the admins should know. I want to be prepared.”
“I just sent you an e-mail with that information. I’ll keep digging, focusing first on the men you’ve mentioned. But something is off here; I feel it. Watch your back, James. I’ll call back when I know more.”
The line went dead, and Gavin immediately opened his e-mail.
“What’s going on?” The expression on Slade’s face told Gavin he’d figured out something was up, but he couldn’t move because Hannah’s head was on his chest. Otherwise, they might be wrestling over the phone. “What did he find out?”
Gavin scanned the e-mail. It was a copy of the incoming employees’ itinerary. Preston hadn’t wasted a minute. He and two others were coming in on the redeye to Anchorage, followed by a puddle-jumper they’d hired to get them to River Run. First Class for Preston, but he’d shoved the techs into coach. Douche bag.
“It looks like we’re going to have company. Have you checked your cell lately?” Slade flushed slightly. “I turned it off while we were in the air. I haven’t turned it back on.” Because he was far too busy with Hannah. Work was going to come second for Slade from now on. Gavin could deal with that. He scanned through his e-mail, reading a group of them from the foreman at River Run, which had started minutes after Gavin’s plane had taken off.
“Don’t feel too bad. I just started mine again. There was a system failure at the facility. They got it under control, but it needs to be looked at by an expert.”
“I can be there in an hour,” Slade said.
“A computer expert. It isn’t an engineering problem. The system crashed, and now that it’s back online, it’s giving off some strange numbers. Ben Kunayak, the IT guy who runs our facility up here, thinks the system has been hacked. Preston decided it was serious enough to investigate in person. Scott and Lyle apparently volunteered to come with him.”
“What the fuck?” Slade’s voice boomed through the car. “How convenient.”
* * * *
When they reached the house, Slade caught him up on the Lenox brothers’ call. Dex thought seriously about putting his fist through another wall. “That fucker is going to be here in the morning?”
Gavin nodded from his seat on the couch. Dex couldn’t sit. All he could do was think about the fact that Preston Ward III had followed Hannah to Alaska.
“We can’t say anything to Hannah until we know for sure, but he’s not coming anywhere near her.”
“Agreed.” Slade walked in from the hallway that led back to the bedrooms. “I settled her in.
She’s not particularly happy that she lost her cell phone.”
Gavin eyed Slade. “Lost?”
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