Copyright © 2012 Karen Erickson
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
Stasia watched him eat, afraid to say anything for fear he’d snarl and growl at her again like some sort of feral beast. She’d had no idea the polished, handsome attorney could turn so coarse and rough in such a short amount of time. It had surprised her.
Frowning, she pushed her food around on her plate, her appetite having fled. She didn’t want to fight with Gavin, but she didn’t want him to think so terribly of her either. This driving need to know this other, lost part of her life had nothing to do with money and everything with her half-brothers.
She had six of them. It was crazy to imagine, let alone realize that it was indeed true. Six brothers, every one of them older than her.
And not one of them wanted to be with her. Well, the three she’d been raised with were trapped by the restrictions of their father’s will and their own very busy lives. The other three looked at her as if she were some sort of interloper they wanted no part of.
It hurt, all of it. She’d never felt so exposed, scrubbed so raw. Gavin’s accusations were like salt rubbed into her wounds, stinging and burning until she could hardly concentrate.
She knew Gavin wouldn’t give, though. No he wouldn’t apologize or offer any sort of sympathy, not that she expected him to. This last month she’d learned to harden her heart, not to count on anyone to help her. Everyone in her family had abandoned her, even her mother. She had absolutely no one.
More than anything, she needed to remember that.
“Stasia.” His deep, calm voice broke through her painful thoughts, rippling her nerve endings like a rock skipping across an otherwise smooth pond. “I don’t want to argue with you.”
“Well.” She met his gaze, found herself momentarily lost in that stark green gaze. So stupid. “You must be a mind reader, because I don’t want to fight with you either.”
“Misunderstandings are futile.” He tried to smile, but it wasn’t sincere. It didn’t even reach his eyes. “Perhaps we can start over and discuss the matter in a more…civilized manner.”
She remained quiet, contemplating him. He seemed like a man who preferred polite conversation. Who did everything by the book, never diverting, never daring to break the rules or do something that would damage an attorney/client relationship.
A few minutes in her presence and it was as if he was ready to throw away the veneer of perfection and argue with her until they ran out of breath. She couldn’t wrap her head around it. His reaction to her, their reaction to each other, made no sense.
“I agree,” she finally said, noting the relief softening his otherwise stern expression. “I think we’re both on edge and we’re—taking it out on each other. We need to put that past us and focus on what needs to be done.”
“And what is that exactly, Stasia? Tell me what you want from me, what you want from the Worths.”
“I want a sense of family. I want…” She sighed, the sound so full of wistful longing it sent a pang straight to her vulnerable heart. “I want to belong. To someone, somewhere. I need to.”
Now it was his turn to study her, not saying a word, though she saw the surprise in his gaze. He believed her some sort of she-devil out to take the Worths for everything they had when that wasn’t her intention. Money didn’t matter. A person could have all the wealth in the world, but it still didn’t make them happy.
She’d been happy, once upon a time. Successful at her job, excited to start working on her own jewelry line, and part of a family that had been in the fashion accessory industry for generations. With three brothers who loved her, a father who doted on her and a mother who thought she was completely spoiled.
That had been wiped from her life with her father’s shocking will.
“I think we need to go farther back.” He cleared his throat, his gaze, his face so utterly serious, she leaned toward him, eager to hear what he had to say next. “I think we need to find your mother and talk to her.”
Stasia reared back, emphatically shaking her head. “No. That’s impossible.”
“Why? Why won’t she talk to you? Have you tried?”
“Of course I’ve tried. She refuses to talk to anyone. She’s staying in Italy as if she were exiled.”
“We’ll go see her, then.” He cocked his head to the side. “Don’t you want to learn the truth? The details as to how you…came to be?”
Her chest tightened. What if those revelations, those stories, were too painful for her to endure? Then what? She’d have to live with them the rest of her life. She didn’t know if she was ready for that yet.
Would she settle for the unknown, though? Perhaps it was better, knowing exactly how her mother could betray her “father” so completely.
“Are you afraid, Stasia?” His voice lowered a notch, so husky-deep it seemed to reach inside her and touch her quivery heart. “Is that it? Are you too scared to face the truth?”
“No.” She blew out a harsh breath, hating how her voice trembled. “I refuse to be afraid. Then I’ll turn into my mother, all alone and refusing to talk to anyone.”
“Exactly. You need to be stronger than that. And I know you have it in you.” Gavin then did something so shocking she thought she might jump out of her skin. Reaching across the table, he rested his hand atop hers in what seemed to be a comforting gesture.
He had no idea his touch seemed to reach something dark and forbidden deep within her. Desire swirled, gathered low in her belly when she felt the gentle sweep of his thumb across her sensitive skin.
“Let’s go to Italy and talk to her,” he murmured. “Find out everything she knows before we go to the Worths. It might be smart, strategically. We could fill them in with the details as well. Don’t you believe they’re just as curious?”
Were they? She hadn’t a clue, since they refused to look at her, let alone speak to her. Besides that one moment with Rhett, which felt like a lifetime ago. “What if my mother tells us nothing?”
The smile that curved his generous mouth was a real one this time, and absolutely devastating in its power. It sent a spark of heat whispering over her skin, along her nerve endings. “If we go all that way to question her, I believe you’ll get her to talk.” He removed his hand from hers, leaving her a little lost without his touch.
The relationship she’d shared with her mother prior to her father’s death had always been a little troublesome. She’d always felt as if her mother were the teeniest bit jealous of the closeness Stasia had with her father.
Maybe now she knew why. Did her mother secretly laugh at them, knowing they weren’t bound by blood? Did she think it amusing, nursing such a powerful secret all these years? Had she hoped to get away with it forever?
Stasia didn’t know. But she did know Gavin was right. She needed to find out. Everything.
Taking a deep breath, she exhaled loudly. “When do you want to leave?”
The smile grew, became even more devastating, if that was possible. The man wielded a power he seemed unaware of, which was scary, especially for the well being of her extremely fragile heart. “I can have my assistant make travel arrangements first thing tomorrow. Whenever you can get away, we’ll leave.”
“My schedule is completely clear,” she said wryly. “I have no commitments.”
“Good to know. I have a few, but I can rearrange them. Fortunately, it’s a quiet period for me.”
“My luck, then.” She smiled wanly. “Yours as well, I’m assuming. So. Have you ever been to Italy?”
He shook his head. “I’ve never been to Europe at all.”
That was surprising. He had a sophisticated air, urbane and immaculate in appearance, what with the precisely tailored suits, elegant in cut and style, the perfectly cut dark hair, the expensive watch that circled his wrist. She believed him the typical attorney who had too much money and spent it on luxurious trips across the continent. She’d known quite a few of them. Had dated some as well. Yet every last one of them had been too slick, too shallow for her to consider them long term.
Gavin, though, had that untamed air about him. As if it wouldn’t take much to reveal the real man beneath the smooth mask.
“You have a passport?” she asked.
“Of course.” Ah, there was her irritated lawyer, though he seemed to realize his mistake quickly. His expression smoothed, his voice returned to that calm, modulated tone. “I figure we can leave by Wednesday at the latest.”
“Sounds perfect.” She sipped from her glass of water, refusing to have any more wine. Too much alcohol and this man would be a heady combination, one that might leave her open and vulnerable to just about…anything.
A thought she shouldn’t be having. He was her attorney. She’d hired him to help her discover the truth about her heritage. No way could she entertain thoughts of indulging in some personal time with the deliciously handsome, secretly sexy Gavin Westmore.