Reunited with the Lassiter Bride(5)

By: Barbara Dunlop



“He assumed we’d be married by the time he died.”

Evan twisted his head to look at her again. “And that makes it better? He sets me up as CEO in order to test your loyalty to him, and then he cuts me loose to do what? Play second fiddle to my own wife at Lassiter?”

She seemed to consider his statement. “Are you saying you’d have a problem working for me? If we were married, I mean?”

“Yes.”

“But you’d have been okay with me working for you?”

He gave a shrug. “It might not be logical or fair. But, yeah, I could live with that.”

“Now who’s living in the 1950s?”

He didn’t disagree. “It’s a moot point. Neither of those things is ever going to happen.”

“Because we’ll never be married.”

“Stating the obvious again, Angie.”

“Angelica.”

“You said I could have one night.” He wheeled the car into a left turn, and down the private road that led to Conrad Norville’s estate.

* * *

They met Conrad in the great room of his oceanfront residence. Even though Angelica had spent years living in the Lassiter mansion, she was taken aback by the size and opulence of the home. The great room was accessed through a massive foyer and a marble pillared hallway decorated in ivory and gold. The room was huge, rectangular, with a thirty-foot ceiling. Its beachside wall was completely made of glass. In the center of the glass wall, several panels were drawn aside, turning the patio into an extension of the house.

The patio itself was beautifully set up for entertaining, with different tiers that held tables, comfortable lounge furniture groupings, and gas fire pits surrounded by padded chairs. The lowest tier jutted out over a cliff, offering a spectacular view of the rocks and waves, while a side area held a swimming pool, complete with a pool house and a massive wet bar.

As Conrad shook her hand in welcome, he gave Angelica’s outfit a critical once over. He didn’t make any comment, and she couldn’t tell what he thought.

“Your family’s been in the news lately,” he stated, giving a signal to a waiting butler who immediately moved forward with a silver tray of drinks.

“Things have stabilized now,” said Angelica, standing next to the open doorways, appreciating the fresh ocean breeze. “I think we’re all ready to move forward on a positive path.”

“You never want to become the story.” Conrad took a crystal glass from the waiter’s tray. It contained a small quantity of amber liquid.

“Being in the media wasn’t something any of us enjoyed,” Angelica agreed.

The butler offered her a drink, and she took it, guessing it was probably single malt, since Conrad owned a distillery in Scotland and often sang its praises. She hated single malt, but she’d drink it if she had to.

“Is your daddy a crazy man?” Conrad asked, studying her expression while he waited for her answer.

Though they’d tried to guard the details of J.D.’s will, with Conrad’s industry and social contacts, he’d likely have learned more than most people outside the family.

Before she could answer, Evan stepped in. “J. D. Lassiter loved his family very much. It’s one of the things I admired most about him.”

“My stepkids are leeches,” said Conrad, switching his piercing attention to Evan. “No good, blood-sucking losers.”

Angelica glanced at Evan, but he didn’t seem to know how to respond to that either.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” she offered into the awkward silence. “Do they live here in Malibu?”

Conrad gave a gruff laugh. “Can’t afford their own houses. At least not the kind of houses they think they deserve.” He upended his glass, swallowing the entire shot.

Angelica took an experimental sip. It was single malt all right—bold, peaty scotch that nearly peeled the skin from her mouth.

Evan finished his in one swallow.

“They’re both in Monaco right now,” said Conrad, signaling the butler to bring another round. “Some fancy car race through the city. Nothing but girls and all-night parties, I’m guessing.”

“Kayla Prince runs an art gallery,” Evan offered. As he spoke, he shifted a little closer to Angelica.

She assumed he was trying to perpetuate the ruse that they were still good friends.

“One of those snooty, high-brow places?” Conrad asked. “Always trying to get me to spend millions on some nouveau crap. Can’t even tell what’s in those pictures. A monkey might have done it for all I can tell.”

“I once bought a water color painted by an elephant,” said Angelica.

Her instinct was to defend Kayla, but she didn’t want to risk an argument with Conrad. She decided it was better to distract him with a new thread of conversation.

Evan gave her a puzzled look, but Conrad jumped right in on the topic.

“Could you tell what it was?”

“Blue and pink lines. The elephant’s name was Sunny. Cost me five hundred dollars.”

That got a grin from Conrad. “The elephant’s probably more talented than that artist, and he charges millions. One of the kids bid at an art auction last month, and I nearly had to mortgage my house.”

She found herself glancing around while she tried to imagine how much you’d have to bid at an auction to warrant a mortgage on this particular house.

The butler returned, and while Conrad was distracted, Evan smoothly switched glasses with Angelica, discreetly downing her drink. She couldn’t help finding the action chivalrous. She attempted to refuse a second drink, but Conrad insisted, so she accepted, declaring the scotch delicious.

“You probably want to see the patio,” Conrad said to Angelica, sounding like he didn’t particularly want to show it to her.

“I would love to see the patio.”

He gestured. “Well, come on outside. Evan here says you’re going to convince me the scandal is over, and it’s safe to be associated with the Lassiters.”

“The scandal is over,” she assured him as they stepped outside.

Soft, recessed lights came on in the perimeter gardens, whether triggered by motion sensor or an alert staff member, Angelica couldn’t tell.

“And you’re at the helm now?” Conrad asked her.

“I am.”

Conrad looked to Evan.

“She’s at the helm,” Evan agreed. “And she’ll do a fantastic job.”

Though she knew he was only playing a part, Evan’s words warmed her.

Conrad got a cagey expression on his face. “Angelica, while I’m deciding whether or not to lend you my mansion, what would you say if I told you Norville Productions had a series we think would be perfect for Lassiter Broadcast System?”

“I’d tell you at LBS we have always created our own programming.”

“And if I reminded you that I have something you seem to want?”

She paused. “I couldn’t offer you quid pro quo, but I can tell you I’ll get your idea in front of an acquiring executive, and we’ll take a look at it.”

“But no promises?”

“We’ll give it full and fair consideration.” She was sincere in that. Just because they’d never commissioned a third-party program for LBS didn’t mean they never would.

“And your brothers?” Conrad took a healthy swallow of his new drink. “Are they aware that the scandal is over?”

“They are. They’re each involved in the corporation in different ways.”

“But not on the media side?”

“Not on a day-to-day basis,” said Angelica. “But the family it united.” It was a bit of a stretch. There were certainly some fences left to mend, but Angelica was confident her brothers wouldn’t say anything publicly that would disparage her father or the family.

“And Jack Reed?” Conrad asked, giving yet another nod to the butler.

Angelica hadn’t even touched her second drink. Luckily, while Conrad momentarily turned away, Evan once again deftly switched glasses with her, drinking it himself.

“Jack is completely out of the picture,” she said. “There was some confusion about his role at first, but he was also acting on my father’s wishes.”

Conrad arched a bushy brow. “Your father wanted his company to be taken over and split apart?”

The butler returned, and they all exchanged their empty glasses for fresh drinks.

“My father,” Angelica admitted with frank honesty, “set it up to test how I would react if that became a possibility.”

Conrad cracked a grin. “A wily old coot, was he?”

“I would say so.”

Evan joined in. “Everyone passed the test with flying colors. The family pulled together, and Lassiter Media is going to thrive.”

“They didn’t pull together right away,” Conrad noted.

Evan gave a shrug and took a hearty swallow of what was now his fifth glass of scotch. “Nobody does the right thing right away.”

Conrad gave a wheezing laugh at that.

“First we look at the angles,” Evan continued. “Then we decide what we want. Then we decide what’s best. But the last decision is the only one that counts.”

Angelica forced herself to take a sip of her drink. She wished the glass contained a liquor she enjoyed. She needed something to counteract her burgeoning appreciation of Evan. He sounded quite sincere in his defense of her behavior.

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