“I also want to apologize for keeping you stuck in an office, away from the interpersonal workings of the company. I’m pleased to see that your hands-on experience the last few months has vastly improved your people skills. I will feel more comfortable letting you handle some of the face-to-face meetings.”

Tierney rested her elbows on the table. “After what’s happened here? Really? You aren’t afraid that I’ll end up in bed with male clients seeking financing from PFG? Or will you strictly have me dealing with female clients?”

He smiled. Delicately wiped his mouth with the cloth napkin. “I trust your moral character. I’m sure being isolated, out of your social element and in constant contact with Jackson played a part in your intimate involvement with him.”

The bastard was a master at backhanded compliments.

“But I warn you that Jackson has been married before. Twice. Both short-term liaisons, so I fear his affections are easily earned, easily discarded.”

She wasn’t surprised her father knew about Renner’s marriages—he thoroughly investigated any person he intended to do business with. But why did he think she didn’t know? “If multiple marriages are a sign of a lapse in judgment, you’d fall into that same category.”

“But there is a difference.”

“Which is?”

“I didn’t use money, money I hadn’t earned, to set me on the path to success.”

No. You’ve just built your success on the backs of people desperate enough to come to you for a loan. “Cut to the chase. What are your terms?”

“You’ll inform Mr. Jackson you’re returning to Chicago to reclaim your position in the company. But in order to assure there are no ill personal feelings, or any issues with his financial obligation, that PFG is voiding the contract. He’ll own the Split Rock, the land, and the buildings free and clear.”

“And if he refuses?”

“He won’t. If you love him as you say you do, you’ll encourage him to take this deal at face value, so he gets the one thing he wants, which, contrary to your belief, isn’t you, my dear—but this piece of property. Win-win situation for everyone.”

“What if I refuse your terms? For the sake of argument, let’s say I stick around to tie up loose ends. During that time, I have a change of heart and decide to stay at Split Rock with Renner. And we’ll continue to run the resort as we’ve been. What then?”

All humor fled his face. His eyes became black chips of ice. “You really don’t want to push me on this. I’m being more than generous. To you. And to him.”

“That is not an answer.”

“Running the resort as you’ve been won’t last long. Renner Jackson is six weeks and two days out from making his first payment on the loan. In the fine print—and yes, daughter, there is always fine print, you’d be wise to check it—is a clause that states I have the right to demand the loan be paid in full, for any reason, before the first payment is made.”

“What? That’s ridiculous. I’ve never seen that clause. He has five years to make full restitution for the loan amount.”

“No, he does not . . . If I invoke the clause. Nonpayment will put the loan in immediate default, which means PFG would own this property.” He flashed his teeth. “I believe some of my less than PC colleagues call this the ‘by the short hairs’ clause.”

Tierney swallowed, hoping the contents of her stomach wouldn’t come back up onto the table. “You wouldn’t.”

“Oh, I would. And trust me, I wouldn’t lose a single wink of sleep over enforcing it.”

How was she supposed to blithely crush Renner’s dream and destroy him financially?

Stay with Renner and he loses the Split Rock.

Leave the Split Rock and the only thing Renner loses is her.

Pretty cut-and-dried decision.

Where would that leave her? Emotionally decimated. She couldn’t go back to being the person she’d been before Renner came into her life. She didn’t want to.

Why had her father put the decision on her shoulders? Why wouldn’t he engage Renner in this? Threaten or bribe him?

That’s when Tierney understood this was a game. Gene Pratt excelled at playing one side against the other—especially when two sides started out united. Holding this discussion with her was only half his battle plan. Her decision, her verbal confirmation, would give him the tactical advantage of knowing exactly what type of ammunition to use on Renner.

Not this time. She would not allow him to win. This time she intended to win it all. But first she’d have to level the playing field and become as devious as her father. “I’m sorry, it’s just… I’m confused.”

“I know this is hard.” He softened his tone. “I can see your feelings for Jackson are genuine. But because you don’t have much experience with relationships, I believe you’re ignoring the possibility this is just a short-term fling for him.”

Seething, she looked away.

“I don’t enjoy seeing you upset. Which is why I came here. I had to make sure you weren’t making a mistake.”

Tierney met the phony concern in her father’s eyes. “I don’t think I can make a decision one way or another right now.”

That did not please him. Another of Gene Pratt’s strengths? Pushing for a fast decision. But Tierney admitting she was torn seemed to mollify him. “I understand. I’m leaving in the morning, but you can call me anytime. All I’ve ever wanted was what’s best for you.”

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