Reunited with the Lassiter Bride(6)By: Barbara Dunlop
“And what about you two?” Conrad asked, glancing from one to the other.
“We’re friends now,” Evan offered simply.
“No, you’re not,” Conrad countered with conviction, his bushy brows coming together, creasing his forehead.
Angelica stilled, worried they were caught.
“In a relationship like yours,” he continued, “you either love each other or you hate each other. There’s nothing in between.”
“You can’t believe what you read in the tabloids,” said Evan.
“It’s not what I read. It’s what I see. Picture after picture tells me you two had it bad.” His wrinkled hand gestured back and forth between the two of them. “I’m no fool. You’re makin’ nice now, but it’ll go off the rails in the blink of an eye. The story will hit the tabloids, and this wedding and my mansion will be smack dab in the middle of a scandal.”
“You’re right,” said Evan, and Angelica shot him a look of amazement. But then his hand closed around hers with a reassuring squeeze. “Truth is, we’ve been thinking about getting back together.”
He raised her hand to his lips and gently kissed her knuckles. A familiar buzz of awareness traveled along her arm to her heart, and she had to struggle to mask her reaction.
“You have not,” said Conrad. “Nobody keeps a secret like that in this town.”
“We do,” said Evan, sounding completely convincing. “Look at her, Conrad. I’d have to be a blind fool to give her up.”
Conrad’s gaze took in every facet of Angelica’s appearance. She told herself to hold still and try to look like some kind of 1950s dream girl, the kind you forgave, took back and married, even when she messed up your life.
Conrad finished his drink, and Evan followed suit.
“You’ve got me there,” said Conrad.
“I think you’ve had enough to drink, sweetheart.” Evan lifted the glass from her hand and drank it himself.
Angelica focused on looking calm, serene and in love.
“I’ll be damned,” said Conrad, his expression relaxing for the first time since they’d arrived.
“I’m no fool,” said Evan.
“I guess you’re not. So, you’re telling me I don’t need to worry about wading into a scandal?”
“I’m assuring you this won’t blow up in your face.”
“What was that date again?”
“Last weekend of the month.”
“I realize it’s short notice. I told you about the fire at the Emerald?”
“We’d need extra staff and security,” said Conrad.
“We’ll take care of all the details,” Evan assured him.
Angelica held her breath.
Conrad nodded his head. “I’ll leave the details to you.”
“Thank you so much,” Angelica reflexively gushed, reaching out to shake Conrad’s hand with both of hers. “Kayla will be so excited.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Conrad gruffly brushed away the thanks and seemed to mentally withdraw.
“We’ve imposed on you long enough,” said Evan polishing off the last drink. “Thank you for this, sir. Is there a staff member we can contact?”
“Albert will bring you a business card.”
The butler, who had remained nearby, came forward to give the card to Evan.
“Goodnight, Conrad.” Evan tucked the card into his suit pocket and shook Conrad’s hand.
Conrad gave Angelica a parting smile. “I guess I’ll be seeing you again soon.”
“You will,” Angelica agreed. “I’ll look forward to it.”
Evan put his hand at the small of her back and guided her back through the great room toward the hallway. As soon as the front door was closed behind them, he leaned down to whisper. “You were amazing.”
“Are you okay?”
“How do you mean?”
“You drank six single malts.”
“Oh, that. Getting him a little drunk seemed like a good strategy, and I couldn’t very well throw you to the wolves.” Evan blew out a breath as they approached the car. “But I am a little woozy. I think you’d better drive.”
He walked her to the driver’s side door, extracting the keys. “Do you know how to drive a stick?”
“I can manage.”
“She’s peppy,” he warned.
Angelica’s back was to the car door, and she couldn’t help smiling at the warning. “I’ll be fine.”
Then he went silent, and she suddenly realized just how close to her he was standing. The warmth of his body swirled out to meet her skin. She picked up his familiar scent on the breeze. He smelled good, so good, and she felt herself sway involuntarily toward him. Her hormonal reaction to Evan hadn’t changed one bit.
That was bad.
“I mean it,” he said in a gravelly voice. “You did great in there.”
“So did you,” she told him sincerely.
He inched ever so slightly closer. “We make a good team—you and me.”
“You’re drunk, Evan.”
“Maybe a little.”
“Your judgment is impaired.”
“My judgment is perfect. You’re incredible, Angie. And I wanted you just as badly sober as I do now.”
Before she realized what was happening, his lips were on hers. Magic exploded inside her brain, colors flashing, music playing, the taste of Evan overwhelming her senses. The kiss went on for long minutes before he finally pulled back.
She was breathless, and not nearly as horrified as she ought to have been. She had to get it together here.
“That did not demonstrate good judgment, Evan,” she told him tartly, holding out her hand for the car keys.
He just grinned and dropped the keys into her palm. “Sure it did.”
* * *
The Lassiter Media building’s twenty-seventh floor patio, with its adjacent café, was normally open to all the company executives. But today, it was closed for Angelica’s private meeting with her brothers and cousin. Together, the four controlled the broader Lassiter conglomerate group.
At her request, they’d agreed to coordinate trips to L.A. Chance and Sage were in from Wyoming, where Chance ran the family’s Big Blue ranch and Sage took care of his own business interests. Dylan managed the Lassiter Grill Group.
They were at a dining table beside the fountain as Dylan popped the cork on a bottle of Chateau Montegro, a signature wine of Lassiter Grill. Chance was telling Sage about the adventures of a couple of the ranch cowboys.
Feeling like she needed to clear the air, Angelica broke into the lighthearted story. “Before we go any further, can you please let me apologize?”
They all looked at her, falling silent.
“This isn’t a celebration,” she reminded Dylan.
She forced herself to look at each of them in turn, Chance with his strong face and ranch-weathered complexion, Dylan with his ready smile and compassionate eyes, Sage with his closed expression and tight rein on his feelings.
“Please let me get this out. I am so profoundly and incredibly sorry for putting you all through this.”
Dylan was quick to speak up. “It isn’t your fault.”
“But it is.” She wasn’t going to back away from this.
“You got the short end of the stick,” said Chance. “The will took us all by surprise. I can’t honestly say what I would have done if I’d been shafted like that.”
“You’d have walked away,” Angelica told her cousin with conviction. She glanced at her brothers as well. “All of you. If J.D. had left you out of his will, you’d have accepted it and walked away.”
Sage spoke up. “That’s because we wouldn’t have been surprised. His relationship with us was a lot more strained than his relationship with you.”
“You mean he spoiled me.” She was determined to be completely honest here.
“He loved you,” said Dylan. “He loved you and you expected, you knew, you always knew above everything else that he’d take care of you. And he didn’t. Or it looked like he didn’t.”
“Ultimately, it was his choice,” said Angelica. “It was his money, his companies. He was free to leave them to whomever he pleased.” She swallowed a catch in her throat. “I should have accepted his decision right away.”
Sage reached out and put a hand on her shoulder. “Don’t beat yourself up, little sister.”
The unexpected endearment made her tear up. Sage wasn’t one to demonstrate emotion. “I’m so sorry,” she managed.
“Okay,” said Dylan, raising the bottle of Chateau Montegro. “You’re sorry. It’s done. We accept your apology.”
Both Sage and Chance nodded with conviction.
“We’re family,” said Chance. “It’s up to us to stick together now.”
The obvious love in their expressions made the weight slowly lift from Angelica’s shoulders. Her tears dried, and she managed a weak smile.
Dylan began pouring the wine.
“I don’t know why he even left me the twenty-five percent of Lassiter Media,” Sage said to Angelica. “I’m busy running Spence Enterprises. I’ll sign the shares over to you anytime you want.”
She shook her head. “No, you won’t. I’m through second-guessing our father. You’re a significant shareholder in Lassiter Media, and you’re staying that way. If I had to guess, I’d say he wanted to make sure you felt like part of this family. Besides, I want to be able to come to you for advice.”