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I expected to find my dad nursing another glass of whiskey, staring broodingly into the amber liquid as he sometimes did when I acted out or he couldn’t shed the memory of mum.
That wasn’t the case tonight.
I slammed to a stop.
He’s laughing with a complete stranger.
My dad sat on a bar stool with his feet tucked on the chrome foot rest, a glass of whiskey (like I predicted) resting in his hands, but forgotten. His face was alive, eyes unguarded and crinkled in mirth. I hadn’t seen him so animated in years.
It warmed me and worried me in equal measure.
I looked at the man he was with. The guy had his back to me but the cut of his suit was impeccable; his body toned and slim, his hair dark and thick.
From where I stood, a couple shielded me like a living wall but I was close enough to hear my father say, “Well, that sounds fantastic. You really should meet her.”
Fantastic? What was fantastic?
I sucked in a breath as the stranger laughed. “It would be an honour to meet her. I’m sure she’s as wonderful as you describe.”
Are they talking about me?
The couple hiding me moved, leaving me exposed. I should walk forward and introduce myself. I should stop eavesdropping on a private conversation and act professional. But something about the way my father and this stranger spoke sent my hackles bristling.
Staying behind milling people with an array of alcohol gripped in tight fingers, I slowly inched closer to the two men at the bar, straining with every step to hear.
“My daughter is very accomplished.” My dad’s tone billowed with pride. “But you sound rather successful yourself so that shouldn’t be a problem.”
“Problem?” The man took a sip of his drink. “I assure you, I’ve never had a problem with women before.”
Oh, the arrogance.
My dad chuckled. “I wasn’t saying she’d be a problem. More like you shouldn’t find her power off-putting if you have success of your own.”
Oh, my God, what is he talking about?
Where had my business focused father gone? When had he turned into this hearts and flowers romantic, trying to match me off to any man who passed his strange interview?
The stranger nodded. “I can understand how a woman with a high corporate job and wealth can be terrifying for most.” He leaned forward. “However, I can assure you, that won’t be the case with me.”
He spoke as if my father had handed me over to be bedded and wedded.
My teeth ground together as my dad said, “I must admit, I haven’t heard of you before. Are you new to New York?”
The man swirled his glass. “Yes. Arrived a few months ago. Unfortunately, my benefactor was not well and we needed treatment that was only available here as a trial.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
My hands balled as my father gave this total stranger such sympathy. “And you’re single then? You’re planning on staying in town?”
Holy crap, the embarrassment level just erupted into volcanic proportions.
“Yes. Customarily, I don’t date. But now my benefactor is on the mend, I can indulge in playing the field.”
Indulge? Play the field? My hands curled with indignation. Who was this man?
“My daughter isn’t a conquest, Mr. Everett. If I do introduce you, you must give me your word you won’t use her.”
This had gone on long enough. I had to do something. Namely throwing my drink into Mr. Everett’s face.
“Believe me. I have no doubt one look at your daughter and I’ll be quite happy to remain committed until she gets to know me.” The man raised his glass again, giving me a side profile glimpse of elegant cheekbones and handsome jaw.
I stiffened. He spoke as if I was a sure thing. That he could make me fall for him just by being alive.
I wanted to kill him.
But then I wanted to kill my father more as he smiled. “I’m sure you’ll like Elle. She’s beautiful and insanely intelligent.”
Mr. Everett chuckled. “I’m fairly sure I can make your daughter like me in return. I have a knack you see.”
“A knack?” My father’s face tightened, finally taking note of the cocky confidence. “What sort of knack?”
“A knack for women who can’t stand the opposite sex. A way of convincing them to give up control and relax for once.”
I didn’t often swear but holy shit, shit, shit.
This guy…there was no words for his arrogance.
My dad glanced at his untouched whiskey. “I admit Elle doesn’t seem to like the prospects I put in front of her.” His face fell. “I only want her to be happy. To have someone to shoulder the burden of her company with. To laugh occasionally with.” His voice softened with sadness. “She hasn’t laughed in so long. I’m worried about her.”
If I wasn’t so angry, I would’ve suffocated under a fresh wave of guilt. I moved forward a step, breaking my cover, swirling with mixed emotions.
Although, Mr. Everett ensured I’d never feel guilt again as he said, “Introduce me to your daughter, Mr. Charlston, and I promise you I’ll make her—”
“Make me do what?” I stomped forward in my heels, crossing my arms. My heart whirled wild while my breathing threatened to show how annoyed and hurt I was.
I glowered at the two men. My father shrunk, knowing he’d screwed up. But the stranger merely pinned me with piercing eyes and sent a chill down my spine.
Tearing my gaze away, I hugged my anger and spat. “You sit here planning my future like you have control over me. What? You think you can make me fall in love with you? Get on my knees for you? Do whatever you tell me to, oh master?” I snorted. “The flat out disgusting nerve of you!”
Mr. Everett rubbed his bottom lip where a droplet of liquor glistened. “If you give me time, I’ll prove I can make you do all those things…and more.”