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“Did you pay off Albert?” I asked.
Roth shook his head. “No. I never contacted Albert. He was on retainer for your father, just in case. Albert wasn’t involved in Nicholas’ day-to-day affairs. I know he helped you, though. ”
I nodded. “He was invaluable in those early days after Dad’s death. I didn’t know what I was doing. He helped me figure out a whole bunch of things. ” I let out a breath. “What about the house? Did you have a hand in getting it sold?”
Roth shrugged. “Yes, of course. The seller’s market was positively horrendous at that time. You would never have sold it. So I purchased it. Through a series of fronts, of course. ”
I blinked at him in shock. “You bought it?” You wouldn’t have thought I could be any more surprised at that point, but the shocks just kept coming.
“Yes. And then resold it for a ridiculously low price to an employee of mine. ” Roth slumped back into the chair. “Are those details really important right now, Kyrie?”
I shook my head and paced away, folding my arms over my stomach. I felt numb. Shocked. I wasn’t sure what to believe, what to think. Could I even believe him? My gut said he was telling the truth. But what did that mean for me?
“So that’s why you were watching me?” I said, after a long silence. It was the only thing I could think to ask. Too many thoughts were competing for space in my head.
“Yes. I couldn’t get you out of my head. After I smoothed out your financial situation, I came back to New York and went about my business. I’d done what I could, and more than anyone could expect, probably. But I couldn’t stop thinking about you. So I checked on you a few times. You seemed to be doing okay, figuring things out. That’s all it was at first: checking up on you. That’s all I ever meant it to be. And then I hired Harris. Things were really picking up for me here, my business getting bigger and bigger, so I really didn’t have the time anymore to go personally to Detroit and check on you. So I sent Harris. Told him no contact under any circumstances, and to make sure you never suspected you were being watched. I didn’t want to creep you out, but I felt responsible for you. It was my fault, your father’s death, and all the consequences of that. I couldn’t just leave you to your own devices. But I knew if you knew…who I was, what I’d done…that you would never have spoken to me. And I just didn’t know how to fake a casual meeting. As the years passed, it became…a bit of an obsession, I suppose. Making sure you were okay. Keeping you safe. But I wouldn’t let myself interfere too much. I told Harris to keep his eye on you, to keep you safe. And he did. Once a month, he’d travel to Detroit and spend a week following you, checking on your affairs, making sure you were okay. ” He swallowed, staring out at the skyline.
“Then the insurance money ran out, and I wasn’t sure what to do. I’d hoped you would be okay on your own. Because…I knew if you got into too much trouble, I’d be compelled to help. You’d taken so much time off school to just take care of Cal, working during the day to supplement your insurance money, and taking care of your mother…taking care of everyone except yourself. You should have a career by now. A family, maybe. But you don’t, because of me. It was an accident, and I know that, but if I hadn’t tried to force your dad’s hand…. ” He shook his head. “I changed my tactics after that. Shifted to building up my technologies business, plus investments and venture capital and the like. I never took over another company after that. Not like I had done, anyway. I still buy out companies, and do mergers, but only when the deal happens…naturally. ”
“So then my life got desperate…. ” I prompted. I needed to know how I’d gotten here. What his…angle was. What he’d wanted from me.
He nodded. “Then your life got desperate. I stayed out as long as I could. But it became clear that you were on the ropes, so to speak, and I’d discovered through various sources that you were about to be let go…I thought about just making them give you a job, but that would only have fixed things temporarily. So I sent you the first check. I hoped…stupidly, perhaps, that you would just…somehow be okay. But you weren’t. Things were piling too high, and you couldn’t ever seem to get ahead. And even if you ever did accomplish your career goals, it wouldn’t solve your financial problems. So I kept sending checks. And the more I watched you, the more I flipped through the photos Harris was sending me…the more I felt like I just…had to know you. I had to. I couldn’t pretend like I was just helping out anymore. So I sent Harris to—”
“Collect me,” I finished for him.
He nodded, fingertips pressed together in front of his face. “And I always knew this day would come. That I’d have to tell you. And now I have. ”
I blinked hard. The numbness was wearing off, and the reality was hitting me: Roth was responsible for Daddy’s death. I’d suffered for years just to survive, because of him. Because of a business deal. I’d nearly starved, and he’d just sat by, hoping I’d “be okay on my own. ”
He’d killed my father.
Roth killed my father. An accident. Self-defense. Dad was still dead, and Roth had, accidentally or intentionally, caused his death.
“I need to—I need to think. I need space. ” I turned toward Roth, tugging the ends of my robe together, struggling to keep from totally losing it. “I don’t know anything anymore. This…it changes everything. Just like you said it would. ”
Roth took a step toward me, and then another, close enough that I could smell our sex on him still, smell me on him as I looked up into his tumultuous blue eyes, his chest a hard wall in front of me, his hands on my waist. “Kyrie…. ”
I slammed my fist on his chest, pushing myself away from him. “You killed him. ”
“No. It was an accident,” he insisted calmly.
“You killed him!” I screamed, backing away. “He’s still dead, and it’s still your fault!”
He didn’t flinch. “Yes. ”
“How did…how did we get here? Why did you bring me here? Why this game? Why…. ” I shook my head. Everything inside me was twisted and shaken up and confused. My feelings for him remained, but they were now competing with a thousand other emotions I couldn’t begin to sort out yet. “Why, Roth? Why? Why couldn’t you have just…left me alone? Let me starve? Let me fumble along in my shitty little life? I would never have known. I wouldn’t have known you…none of this” —I gestured at the bedroom— “would have happened. I’m so…so f**king confused, Roth!”
He stepped toward me. “Kyrie, please. I brought you here because…I wanted you. I had to know you. I told myself that it would just be for a little while. Just to…see how things went. I had you blindfolded so you wouldn’t recognize me, so we could establish a connection before you put things together. And then…the first time I saw you, standing there in my foyer, afraid but so courageous, determined. Fiery. And I knew, right then, that you were mine. I didn’t mean for any of this to happen. ”
“Any of what?” I glanced up at him. I was seconds from bolting, but I had to know what he meant.
“Any of that. ” He pointed at the bed, as I had. “That was something…beautiful. Something miraculous and incredible. I never expected that. ” He cupped my face. Hands rough, eyes blazing. Body close and hard and huge. “I never expected to fall for you, Kyrie St. Claire. But I have. ”
I ripped myself from his grip, stumbling backward, tears falling now. “Goddammit, Valentine! Now you tell me? Now that…god, Jesus. FUCK!” I spun in circles, emotions at a boil, lust for Roth competing with love for Valentine, both at war with my anger for the man who’d killed my father, however accidentally, and confusion over what to do, what to think, what to say, what to feel, where to go. “I’ve got…I’ve got to get out of here. I can’t look at you or be around you. Not and think straight. ”
“You’re leaving, then?” Roth asked.
I choked on a sob “You killed my father, Roth! How am I supposed