Prince albert, p.49
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       Prince Albert, p.49

         Part #4 of A Step Brother Romance series by Sabrina Paige
 

  And I can't face Gaige, either.

  How can things go from being so high to crashing down so low in a matter of minutes? Last night with Gaige, I was happy. I was deliriously, irrepressibly, recklessly happy. A part of me knew it wouldn't last, just like part of me this morning longs to go to Gaige, to tell him that it doesn't matter, that we shouldn't give a shit what anyone else thinks.

  Except it's Gaige, the guy who doesn't spend time with women outside the bedroom. The guy who doesn't date. Perpetual manwhore, always risk-taking, never-going-to-grow-up Gaige. And the most important part – my step-brother. What the hell would I say to him?

  I think I might love you.

  The realization nearly takes my breath away.

  Then I know what I have to do.

  GAIGE

  I listen to the clerk at the front desk relay the message, and I can hear the words, but I don't want to believe them. Delaney couldn't have just left Tokyo without saying anything. She wouldn't.

  I'm angry at her for running away. I'm angry at her for being so fucking juvenile that she's taken an earlier flight just hours before our scheduled one so she doesn't have to be on the same flight as me.

  I hope that she's on her way back to Dallas to talk to Beau, and not going straight to her mother's house in New York. Not that I expect she'll stick around in Dallas, after how embarrassed she was at being discovered.

  Goddamn it, how am I the one who's behaving rationally? How am I the one acting like an adult here? Yes, the deal with Akira is off, but that's not the worst thing in the world. And the step-sibling relationship…I want to grab Delaney by the arms and shake her, to tell her that it's really not that big of a deal. We're not actually related. Our parents met when we were basically adults.

  During the long flight, I think about what I want to say to Delaney. I also think about what I already said to her father in the email. I meant every word.

  I'm just hoping that she'll be there so I can say the same thing in person.

  I'm also hoping her father doesn't point a shotgun at me when I show up.

  CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

  DELANEY

  "You dirty skanky ho." Daniel's voice on the other end of the phone is the first thing I hear as I debark the plane.

  "Oh God," I say. "How did you find out?"

  "Gossip site," he says. "I'm so proud of you."

  "What?" I can't process what he's saying. I'm just thinking about the fact that this has gone public, before I can even talk to my father. Before I can do damage control. I'm very close to bursting into tears. "I don't know what to do –"

  "Oh, shit," Daniel says, his voice concerned. "Oh, sweetie, are you crying? I didn't mean you were a skanky ho for real. You're totally not. I'm jealous that you hooked up with Gaige. Why the fuck didn't you tell me? When did it happen?"

  I'm choking back tears as I walk through the airport, following the signs for baggage claim. "I don't know what I'm going to do."

  "Where are you? Are you in Dallas yet? Have you seen your father?" He peppers me with questions. "Please don't cry. It's not terrible. There's nothing wrong with it, doll. Nothing. You're adults. And you're not related. And Gaige is gorgeous. Was the sex good? I know it was good, you don't even have to tell me."

  I don't know which of his thousand questions to answer first. The sex was great. The sex was amazing. "We were out, and my feet were hurting, and Gaige carried me for like two blocks through the city and back to the hotel room. And we ran into Chelsea and I left Japan, and I haven't talked to Gaige and he probably thinks that I hate him and –" I stop, partly because I'm a runaway train and partly because I don't know what else to say.

  Daniel is quiet on the other end of the phone. "Did you hang up?" I ask.

  "Oh my God," he says. "You love him."

  "What?" I shake my head. "No. It's not possible. I'm not even sure I like him." That's a lie and I know it is. The words ring false even as I speak them out loud.

  "Do you want me to meet you at your dad's house?" Daniel asks. "You know if you need a place to stay, the door is open."

  "I'll let you know after the conversation with my father," I say. "If I'm still alive."

  I'm so distracted by looking for my bags that I answer the phone when it rings again without looking at the screen, thinking it's Daniel. "If you're calling back to get all the juicy details, I won't – "

  "What the hell were you thinking?" My mother's voice is shrill. Shit. I wrestle my suitcase off the conveyer belt in baggage claim, regretting not looking before I answered the phone. In my frustration, I yank the suitcase so hard that it lands on the floor with a loud thud and the person beside me stares.

  "I don't know what you're talking about, mother," I lie. It hasn't even been twenty-four hours, damn it. How could she have found out?

  She unleashes a barrage at me over the phone, her voice going higher and higher the more she talks. "I knew it was a bad idea to let you go to your father's house," she yells. "With that washed-up model wife of his and that filthy son. I just didn't expect you to behave like a stupid little slut."

  "Don't talk about them that way." My voice sounds small, my protest meager, and the room feels like it's spinning. I watch as people pass by me, walking quickly to wherever they're going. They're meeting loved ones, having joyful reunions, and I suddenly miss Gaige.

  Why did I just leave? I could have gone to him and told him how I felt. I could have told him how I feel – present tense. Or how I think I feel.

  The thing is that I'm not sure about anything, and Gaige most of all. And I'm definitely not sure Gaige feels the same way about me.

  "You will get on the next flight back to Manhattan," my mother says. "I've hired someone who fixes these things, someone who will do damage control. You're ill and you're going to rehab. And you're never going back to your father's place again. You will not see that boy again. Do you hear me?"

  I can't help but hear her. Her voice sounds unreasonably loud on the phone, ringing in my ear as I stand there motionless. A couple passes me, the man and woman holding their young daughter's hands. "That's not going to happen, mother," I say. "I'm not coming back to Manhattan. I'm not going to rehab. And I'll see whoever I want."

  My mother screeches and I hang up the phone, feeling strangely disconnected from everything, as if I'm having an out-of-body experience. In the cab on the way to my father's house, I feel oddly numb as I watch the scenery fly by in a blur.

  When we arrive at the house, I don't even register the location for a moment. I'm tempted to tell the driver to leave the car running, because I may be back out the door in a few minutes. Fired and probably disowned.

  But I don't. I walk numbly down the hallway, and one of the housekeepers greets me with a terse look. "Ms. Marlowe," she says. "We weren't expecting you until tomorrow morning."

  "I'm back early," I say. As if that offers an explanation for everything. "Is my father here, or at the office?"

  Teresa shakes her head. "It's not so good," she says. "He's in the study, but you shouldn't - "

  Crap. So he's heard, and if the staff already knows, that means it's even worse than I thought. I smooth the fabric of my skirt as if doing so will make me somehow presentable and professional.

  As if that will somehow erase everything that's happened.

  I walk down the hallway to my father's study, resigned to my fate, and knock on the door.

  "Come in," he says, and I can tell his voice is strained even before I pull open the door. He's sitting in the corner of the room in his leather armchair, drinking a glass of scotch. Just sitting there. No work, no book, no computer, nothing.

  My heart sinks. This is a lot worse than I thought.

  "Delaney," he says. The way he looks at me, disappointment and pain in his eyes, makes my heart break. I've never seen him look at me like this.

  "I know you've heard what happened, but I can explain," I say, my voice rushed and rambling as I step inside the office. As soon as I open my mout
h, my words gather momentum, spiraling out of control. "Chelsea set us up, told Akira-san something, I don't know what, that we were sick maybe, because she wanted a job with him, I think? I'm not sure. She hates me. She's hated me since the beginning and I didn't want to say anything because I wanted to stand on my own at Marlowe. Even if it's your company, and you're my father. And then we walked off the elevator and Chelsea and Akira were right there and it was –"

  My father holds up his hand, halting me. "I know," he says. "Gaige told me the whole story already. He explained everything."

  "He did?" I ask. "But – I don't understand. He's still in Tokyo. Or…on a flight. I came back early."

  "He sent an email," he says. "It was all in the email."

  "Do you hate me?" I ask. "You hate me, right? You hate Gaige."

  Beau sighs. "Of course I don't hate you."

  "But you're – you're sitting here in the office, with the lights out, drinking scotch, and you're – not happy, obviously."

  Beau looks at me as he takes another sip of his scotch, his face tired. "Anja left," he says. "We're divorcing. I finally told her to leave."

  "Oh my God." I stand there, motionless, my heart pounding in my chest. Shit. It's our fault. "Because of Gaige and I?"

  My father's brow furrows. "What? You and Gaige?" he asks. "Don't be ridiculous."

  "But – it's not because of us."

  He waves his hand dismissively. "She left last night," he says. "I didn't even read Gaige's email until this morning."

  "But…what happened?"

  Beau looks at me, his head cocked to the side. "It was obvious, wasn't it? It's been coming for a long time. She was an alcoholic, and…well, not a very good person at all, as it turns out. She'd been cheating on me. With the yoga instructor. Who's twenty-three."

  My hand flies to my mouth. "Dad. I'm so sorry."

  Beau smiles sadly. "I sure can pick 'em, can't I?"

  "Dad, I – I don't know what to say."

  He clears his throat and shakes his head, standing up to set his empty glass down at the bar, before walking over to me and drawing me into a hug. I stand here, my head against his chest for a moment, feeling like a kid again. Then, his big hands on my arms, he pushes me back and takes a long look at me. "My problems are not your problems," he says. "Your mother called here, by the way."

  I exhale forcefully. "I know," I say. "I got her phone call."

  "I tried to make her see reason," he says. "But you know how she is. I can only imagine what that call was like for you."

  "I don't know if we're speaking anymore," I say. "Dad, I ruined everything. How can you not be angry?"

  He waves his hand. "Akira Ito can pull out of the deal if he wants to," he says, shrugging. "There's a morality clause Gaige very well could have broken all on his own anyway. There will be other sponsors."

  "You're not mad about the deal," I say.

  My father walks over to his bar and takes out a cigar. He clips the end of it slowly, looks at me like he's about to impart the most profound wisdom ever. But he just shrugs. "You win some, you lose some."

  "That's it?" I ask. "It's millions of dollars."

  "Honey, there will always be more money to make. It's replaceable. Besides," he says, with a sly smile, "I had an insurance policy on Akira-san. And your boss Chelsea won't find she has the employment opportunities she thinks she has."

  "What?" They sell insurance for this kind of thing? My father is having Chelsea black-balled?

  "Not literal insurance," he says. "I had a back-up sponsor, someone waiting in the wings. Just in case. It's Gaige we're talking about here."

  "But Gaige and I –" I start. "It's all over the news, the tabloids, supposedly. You're not upset?"

  "I'm going to smoke this," he says, holding up his cigar and pointedly ignoring my question. "Come out onto the terrace with me."

  I follow him outside and stand with him on the terrace that overlooks the grounds, while he lights his cigar, slowly and methodically, like some kind of ritual. He takes his time with it, and I wonder if he's even going to answer me. Finally he turns. "I've not been so lucky in the love department, you know."

  "Dad, I – " I start, but he puts up his hand.

  "Hush," he says. "I'm not asking you to reassure your father, or some such nonsense. I'm just stating the facts. My point is that I'm in no position to judge anyone else's relationship."

  "We're not in a…" Relationship, I start to say. "Wait. So you don't care?"

  Beau puffs on the cigar and then looks at me. "Let's not go that far," he says. "You're my only daughter. I'm not going to shoot off Gaige's kneecaps when he walks in the door, if that's what you're asking. Even though I could."

  Relief washes over me, and I can barely suppress my giggle. Okay, that might have been exactly what I was thinking. "I'm glad you're not going to murder him," I say.

  "Are you happy?" he asks.

  "I think so," I say, nodding. "Yeah. I'm happy. Or, I was happy. I don't even know if we're anything, or – I mean, Gaige is Gaige. I'm not sure he even feels the same about me, or –"

  "The printout of the email is on the desk," Beau says. "I'm going to finish my cigar. Take it with you, and then you can decide."

  "Are you sure everything's –"

  "Go," he says. "It's on the desk. Read it. I didn't peg Gaige for being so goddamned sappy, but if that's what you like…"

  Sappy? I think. Gaige is anything but sappy. "Thank you, dad."

  "And Delaney?" He calls my name, his back facing me as he blows smoke out away from the terrace.

  "Yeah, dad?"

  "I'm still your goddamned father," he says. "You should make sure to let him know that if he breaks your heart, I've got multiple shotguns and access to a great defense attorney."

  I choke back a laugh, but mostly because I'm not sure my father is joking. "Thanks, dad."

  "Now, get out of here and leave me in peace," he says. His words are gruff, but his tone is playful. "And for Christ's sake, try to stay out of the tabloids, will you?"

  I carry the email up to my room, but I don't look at it until I've closed the door. When I scan it, my hands are shaking. I'm not sure if I'm even supposed to be reading it.

  But when I do, everything in the email blurs together, the words fading into the background while the three most important ones seem to jump off the page.

  I love her.

  Gaige told my father he loves me. And I left him sitting at the hotel in Tokyo.

  CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

  GAIGE

  A nearly thirteen hour flight back to Dallas and I've been on an internet blackout, one of my own choosing. Before I even left Narita airport in Tokyo, my phone had been buzzing with text after text from people who'd seen the stupid story about Delaney and me on some gossip website. I'm sure that was all Chelsea's doing; the first call she probably made after quitting Marlowe Oil was a tabloid.

  When I started getting texts before boarding the plane, I read the first message, a "holy shit" text from one of the guys on my team, followed by a snarky one from an old booty call. Then I shut off my phone and spent the entire flight not checking my email and not logging into the internet. Instead, I alternated between lying in my seat not sleeping and thinking of Delaney and watching shitty movies and thinking about Delaney.

  Beau hadn't responded to my email when I woke up this morning. So when I get to Delaney's house, I could very well be walking into a fucking war zone.

 
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