“So. What’s the meaning of your text?” he demands.
I prop my butt against the edge of my desk. “Watch your back. I think he’s up to something.”
“Who knows? He’s a rat.”
“Yeah, but he won’t jeopardize what he has by trying to fuck with us. He got away, stealing from us, and he knows the only reason he’s able to continue is because we never pursued the matter. Nobody wants a money guy with even a hint of embezzlement attached to his name.”
“Maybe not. Still, he blames me for stealing ‘his’ millions.”
Keith raged at me when I confronted him. Face mottled, he yelled, “You fucking bastard, you have no idea what you’re doing. It’s not stealing if you plan to pay it back!”
Sort of like it’s not shoplifting if you plan to give it back. That logic didn’t fly with me, and I didn’t like the way he set his assistant up to take the fall that should have been his. By the time the forensic accountants were through, I had all the evidence I needed, but our business mentor and advisor Marlin thought it would be better if we just moved on, and Lucas agreed.
After all, Keith didn’t get the millions of dollars he would’ve received if he’d been honest, and that would have more than made up for the money he stole. He was a small-thinking rat back then too, only helping himself to a few tens of thousands here and there. Then again, if he hadn’t had such tiny balls, he would’ve been caught much faster.
“You’re being paranoid,” Lucas says. “He knows you have evidence of his embezzlement. He wouldn’t want to provoke you into releasing that and killing what he’s managed to build since then.”
I sigh. What Lucas is saying makes sense, but still… “He’s approached my wife.” Admittedly, not directly…but then that isn’t his MO. He needs a fall guy.
“He probably wants to use her to get something. I just don’t know what.”
“Maybe he’s going to convince her to divorce you and take you to the cleaners.”
I shake my head. “Not possible. Prenup.”
“They can be gotten around. You saw what happened to Ryder’s uncle, right? That prenup was supposed to be unbreakable.”
Shit. That’s true enough. I heard some whispers about that from a few people, mostly those whose sole purpose in life is to keep track of juicy gossip. But Belle doesn’t seem like the type to do something like that. It’s just…low and not like her. If she were, she wouldn’t have been cleaning toilets for a living. “I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around it,” I say finally.
“Well, get your mind-wrapper fixed. ASAP. You know how people can be when there’s a lot of money involved,” Lucas says, his voice quiet. “I’m not the one who discovered the embezzlement. Keith blames you more than me for the fallout. So be careful, Elliot.” He hangs up.
I grind my teeth. Suddenly everything about life is pissing me off. I have an old enemy making a move against me…and a wife I crave but can’t trust. Whenever I think of the times she told me she loved me, my skin crawls. I can’t help but wonder if it was genuine or attempted manipulation, and then I feel hollow inside because I want her love to be real.
I grip my phone hard. It’s that or hurl it against the wall, and I’m likely to regret the latter.
I march to the kitchen. It’s a quarter after twelve, so Belle should be downstairs, about to have lunch.
I don’t want to eat. I don’t want her to eat. I want to hash it out, yell at her, have her scream at me—
The kitchen’s empty.
The fridge has a note stuck to it.
I’m going out. I won’t be home for lunch, and I may be out for too long to get something for you on the way back. So you’ll have to fend for yourself. See you later today.
The note deflates me, and I don’t know why. I’m not not angry. But I assumed she would be around, waiting for me.
To do what?
I sit at the counter and stare at the note, running my forefinger along her neat handwriting. She’s smart enough to know I’m still upset and that lunch with me would be unbearable. Who could blame her?
I raise my eyes from the note, gazing around the penthouse. The silence practically screams at me, and I can’t help but think that the place looks cavernously empty somehow.
* * *
Elliot’s in his office when I come back from my lunch with Traci. Without saying anything to let him know I’m back, I change into a T-shirt and denim skirt and go drop my dress off at the dry cleaner, which, unfortunately, can’t guarantee anything about the giant coffee stain. But if they can’t clean the dress, I’ll just throw it out. I’m not calling this Shellington guy to demand that he replace it when I have so many clothes in my closet. I need an awkward conversation with a stranger like a restaurant needs a rat in its kitchen.
When I return, Elliot’s in the kitchen getting another coffee. I say, “Hi.”
He merely nods.
“There’s something I want to talk about.”
He raises an eyebrow and waits.
The silent treatment. Fine. I don’t let it get to me. If he expects me to cringe or something, he has another think coming. “I met Traci today for lunch, and she said there’s a temporary opening at OWM. I thought maybe I should take it.”
A small muscle in his jaw flexes, and he breathes audibly through his mouth. “I’ll take care of the money you owe Grayson.”
“It’s not really about the money. I don’t think this is a well-paying job, given that it’s a junior assistant position.” When he merely stares at me, I fidget. “Like I said before, I want something to occupy my time.” Especially if you’re going to treat me like this. “Besides, it’ll be good for me. Something to put on my résumé, plus it’ll get me out of the house…maybe make some new friends.”
“Then you should take the job.”
The lack of inflection in his voice twists me inside out. He used to be so animated, eyes bright and words full of emotion, even when he was trying rather crudely to proposition me. I’d rather have that than this.