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Carefully, fearful of letting my shaking hands spill my coffee, I set my mug down. “The truth. About what?”
Despite his outward calm, I saw a torrent of emotion hiding in his gaze. He looked away, gazing out over the city, sipping his tea, looking casually majestic in his muscular, regal beauty. “You remember what I said to you?”
I swallowed hard. I’d nearly forgotten. “You have a secret that concerns me. ” I sat up straight, prim and proper, a vain effort to keep myself contained. “You said—when you tell me, it would change things. ”
He nodded, finally setting his cup down and looking at me. He rested his calf on his knee, leaning back. “And when you knew, what did I say you would likely do?”
“Walk away. ” It was a whisper.
Guess I won’t be telling him how I feel just yet.
“Yes. ” His Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed. I’d never seen him looking so nervous before. “Before I begin, know this: You are mine. You will always be mine. And I take care of what is mine. So if you do walk away…you will have no worries. Never again, no matter what. Do you understand?”
His gaze demanded an answer, so I nodded. “Yes. I understand. But I don’t get what you could possibly tell me that would change—”
“Just listen. Don’t interrupt. ” He sat forward, elbows on his knees, hands clasped in front of him. “Do you recognize me, Kyrie? Did you, I mean, when you first saw me?”
I frowned. “I—I thought I might have seen you before, but I’ve never been able to place you. Why?”
“I knew your father. You and I…we met before. Briefly. Seven years ago. ”
Realization hit me like a ton of bricks. “My freshman year of college. I was visiting Daddy at his office. ” I thought hard, remembering. “I always just walked into his office when I went to see him. Since my classes were downtown, near his office, I visited him all the time, and I’d just walk in. That time, though, his secretary tried to stop me. I heard voices in his office, angry voices. I went in anyway. Daddy was standing behind his desk, facing the window. And…you. You were there. In a suit and tie. You both looked upset. As soon as Daddy saw me, though, he…changed. Acted like nothing was wrong. And so did you. That was the only time he ever acted like he didn’t have time for me. He—he told me to come back later. ” I paused, the pit of my stomach falling. “Two—two months l-later, the police found him…in a parking garage. Shot dead. They never found out who killed him. ”
I couldn’t breathe as Roth’s eyes, now cold as arctic ice, met mine.
He blinked twice. “I did. ”
My world spun, my vision narrowing to a black tunnel. “Wha—what? What do you mean? You killed him? Why…why would you say something like that, Valentine?” My eyes pricked, my heart pounded, and nausea seized my stomach.
He blinked again, but never looked away from me. “It’s true. I’m sorry, Kyrie. It…it was self-defense. ”
I shook my head. “No. No. That doesn’t make any sense. Self-defense? You mean, like, Daddy tried to kill you? Why? I don’t—I don’t understand what you’re talking about, Valentine. ”
He stood up abruptly, leaned over the railing. “It was a business deal gone wrong. ” His voice was slow, his usually faint English accent now thickening to become noticeable. “I was young then. Just starting out here in New York. I’d had several successful businesses overseas, as I’ve told you. Commercial fishing, real estate, technology companies. And one business that was not…above-board. But it was the one that made me the most money, unfortunately. ”
“Less above-board? Like…drugs?” I had to ask, if only to distract myself from what he’d just admitted to me.
He shook his head. “Arms-dealing. I got into that by accident, really, but I was good at it. It was dangerous, but I was young and arrogant and thought I was invincible. Then a deal went sour on me, and I nearly got killed. So I sold my stock piecemeal and came to New York, determined to get another more legitimate business going. So I did. Real estate again, to establish some capital, and then I bought a tech company that was floundering. Diced that company up and sold it off, and did the same thing again. Made a fortune each time. That became my business. Buy a little company, break it up, and sell it off. A common enough practice, really. Most were going belly-up anyway, so it wasn’t like I was a takeover shark. I was ruthless, but that was business. And I tried to look out for the employees, generous severance packages and the like for those who lost their jobs. Some fought me, of course, thinking they could save their companies on their own.
“Your dad was one of those. He had a successful business supplying auto parts to the Big Three. He had his fingers in other pies, too, of course, things around the city, opportunities here and there. Quite a long reach he had, despite the small outward appearance of his company. All I saw was another opportunity. There were three startups I was going after, and my plan was to merge them all under my umbrella. I’d have made a bundle. Your father was the key to it all. His business was the linchpin to the whole deal. He had the best network of contacts and the strongest line into the Big Three. Without him, the other two companies would just fall apart. I needed him to keep them together. He was a damn savvy businessman, your father. ” Roth paused, his grip on the railing twisting in agitation. “He saw me coming from a mile away and was scrambling to hold me off. He’d built his company from the ground up, and he wasn’t about to lose it, not to a hungry young punk like me. Those were his words, you know. That was what he was yelling at me just before you came in that day. ‘I’ve worked too damn hard for this to lose it to a hungry young punk like you, Roth. ’” He pitched his voice low, and sounded eerily like my dad, down to the slight rasp from his years of smoking before I was born.
Roth continued. “It was just business. Besides, I was planning on leaving him in charge of a much bigger enterprise. Increased pay, better perks, a bigger office. He didn’t want that. He wanted what was his, what he’d worked to build. I respected that, really I did, but I wasn’t about to let it stop me. And I wasn’t above using a few strong-arm tactics to get my way. I’d come from Europe, remember, where bribes and coercion were commonplace, especially in the Eastern Bloc countries where I did the bulk of my arms dealing. ”
He paused again, turning to grab his mug and take sip of what now had to be cold tea. I wanted to stop him, to tell him I didn’t want to hear any more. I didn’t believe him. It wasn’t true. It couldn’t be. The man I loved had murdered my father? No way.
He set his mug down and leaned back against the railing, arms crossed over his powerful chest. “I did some digging. Found out some things about your father that he didn’t want getting out. ” I didn’t want to hear any more, but I was powerless to stop the flood of words from him. “He was a good man, Kyrie. A good father. But he was a ruthless businessman. And he had his hand in some unsavory things. A prostitution ring. High-end escorts in the casinos, that sort of thing. ”
I shook my head, ignoring the what-ifs rebounding in my head. “What? No, Roth. You’re mistaken. My father sold auto parts. He didn’t have anything to do with…prostitution. ”
Roth sighed, not looking away from me, letting me see the sorrowful sincerity in his eyes. “I’m sorry, Kyrie. I’d spare you these revelations if I could. I have proof, if you really demand it. The same proof I used to force your father into selling. He loved you, I know he did. He even loved his wife, in a strange sort of way. He was the kind of man who could compartmentalize the various aspects of his life. No one knew he ran the escort ring. No one. Not even his closest friends and board members. Certainly not his family. ”
I stood up, walked away, anger boiling inside me, confusion blasting me, uncertainty rocking me. “He just ran them, though, right? I mean…. he loved us. Mom and Cal and I. He was…faithful, right?” Why was that even important?