Authors: Piper Hayes
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His to Keep
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 Piper Hayes
“Did you call him?” Blake asks as I step into the loft. His voice echoes off the bare walls. He’s standing in the middle of the room. Save for two filing cabinets, the entire place has been cleared out. Even the walls are bare. Every familiar item is gone. The old futon, the mismatched furniture collected over years, the paperback books. The snapshot of the person Blake was when he first moved to the city. It is all gone. Not long ago, Blake had brought me here to show me his only link to his past, and now it was gone.
“Yeah,” I tell him. “Ben said he’d be here in five. Are you redecorating?”
Blake cracks a smile. “You wanted me to give up my past,” he says. “This is my past.” He raps his knuckles against the side of a filing cabinet. I already know what’s inside. In one cabinet, he has records of every questionable transaction from my father’s old company, and in the other he has a paper trail leading straight to the man he’s been hiding from for years.
So this is Blake’s plan. He’s going to turn in all the evidence he has against my father. He’s going to give Ben everything he wants
. I don’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed. The doubt in the back of my mind surprises me. I pushed him to do this. I wanted him to rid himself of this, and, now that he’s doing it, I want him to do something different. But what? I guess I want him to fight. I want him to be the cocky guy who gets his way no matter what anyone else wants. I want him to win and walk away at the same time.
“We don’t have much time. I need you to do something for me,” he says. He pulls a key out of his pocket and opens up one of the cabinets. The drawer makes a hollow sound as he pulls it out. It’s almost empty. He reaches in and pulls out a flash drive. “A while back, I asked you to hold onto a key for me. Now I need you to hold onto this.”
“What is it?” I ask.
“My freedom,” he says. “Damien cleared this place out overnight. He took the hard copies of every record I have, but I want you to keep this. It has all the digital copies of the files. It’s the last piece of leverage I have against your father.” He places the flash drive in my hand.
“Is this what you wanted to show me?” I ask him. “Did you want my permission?”
“No. I wanted you to see all of this,” he says. “I wanted you to see that I’m letting it all go for you. My past, my anger, every negative thing that’s holding us back. I wanted to show you that it’s more than just words.”
“Are you turning him in?”
“Your father? No,” he says. “I had Damien give him the hard copies of the files as a sign of goodwill.”
“Why?” I ask.
“Because I found a way to get him on my side.”
I step back. A chill runs down my spine. “What did you do?” I ask.
“I sold him a stake in the company,” Blake says. “As of this moment, he’s part owner.”
“How is that even possible?” I ask. It doesn’t even seem real. My father hates Blake. He hates him in a way that transcends self-interest. As far as I can tell, Blake isn’t exactly fond of him either. “Even if the government unfroze his assets, he barely has any money left.”
“He’s the face of a group of investors, all of whom have a vested interest in bringing the Carlisle name back. Your father put up a piece of real estate to cover his portion of the purchase. I did it when you ran away. That’s what I was doing on the phone. I was setting all of this up. I was trying to protect you. He was the one pointing the finger at me, and without him, the FBI has nothing to go on. This has been his play all along, his way of getting back into the game. It’s smarter to pay him off than it is to fight him.”
“But you hate him,” I say.
“It’s business,” Blake says. “And if it means being able to spend time with you instead of going to jail, it’s well worth it.”
“If he’s not cooperating with the FBI, why give yourself up to Ben?” I ask.
“Because there’s always a price, Cat. No matter what I do, someone will always have dirt on me. It doesn’t matter if it’s your father or someone else. I’ve been living a lie, and once you start living a lie, you can’t escape it. It becomes you. It defines you. You worry that someone somehow will expose you. You worry about it constantly. I can’t do that anymore. I can’t give you the fresh start you deserve unless I end all of it. You were right when you said it’s everything or nothing. I love you. I love you in a way I didn’t know was possible, and I want to be everything you deserve.” He steps forward and takes my hand again. “I need you to trust me that I’m doing this for us. Everything is going to work out.”
A car door slams outside. It’s Ben. Blake and I have only seconds left before he gets here. Blake wraps his arms around me and plants a long, firm kiss on my lips.
“You need to talk with your father. He’ll explain the rest to you. You have to trust me that I have a plan, Cat, but it’s important that you’re not involved. It’s the only way to protect you. Your father is coming to the apartment. You need to meet him.”
I have a hundred objections, but I can’t find the words to express any of them. Instead, I clutch myself against Blake. We stand in silence until the door opens behind me. I hear Ben clear his throat. He waits for us to wrap up. I take a step back from Blake and look him in the eye.
“So you’re ready to talk?” Blake says. He wraps his hand around mine and steps next to me. “I want to make a deal. I want you to take down Jacob Fletcher.”
“I’ve looked into Fletcher. He’s dirty, but he’s not related to this in any way.”
“I will make it worth your while,” Blake says. “I’m going to give you someone you thought you couldn’t touch.”
“Richard Carlisle?” Ben asks.
“No,” Blake says. “Me.” He squeezes my hand tighter as if to say,
I do, Blake. I do.
Back at the penthouse, I try to sort through everything that just happened.
Blake went behind my back to make a deal with my father. Is that a betrayal? I don’t even know. I went behind Blake’s back to Ben in an attempt to help, but this is different, isn’t it? I go outside and pace back and forth across the terrace, but the sound of the city below keeps intruding on my thoughts. I head inside and start pacing all over again. I’m pacing back and forth, trying to think of what to say to Blake when the elevator dings. The doors open, and my father steps forward.
Well, my father doesn’t step out of the elevator. He struts. The weariness around his eyes is gone. He walks right past me and heads to the window, looking out over the city. He looks triumphant, like he’s just won a battle he’s been fighting for years. The only question is who he beat.
“I’ve missed you,” he says. I don’t know if he’s talking to me or the city.
“What’s going on?” I ask him.
“I’ve come to make amends,” he says. He keeps staring out the window.
“I have not been the best father,” my father says. “After your brother died, I did not handle things well. I drank heavily. I blamed a lot of people for what happened, and I allowed myself to lose sight of what really matters. After the company collapsed, I blamed myself. I pitied myself, and then I hit bottom. I decided to pick myself back up. I decided to do whatever it took to make it back to the top.”
“Is this an apology or a monologue?” I ask. I also wonder if he thinks he’s back at the top or if this is just one step on his climb.
My father turns around and looks at me. “You’ve grown up so much over the past few months. You must realize that, but I don’t think I did. You’re not a child anymore, and I’ve decided it’s time to treat you like an adult.” Given my father’s recent behavior this sounds more like a threat than an apology. He reaches into the breast pocket of his jacket and pulls out a white envelope. He holds it out. It’s got some weight to it. It isn’t sealed. “It doesn’t make up for the things I’ve done, but I’m hoping it’s a start.”
“What is it?” I ask. I’m almost afraid to take the envelope. I’m already imagining what kind of damning evidence it contains when he places it in my hand.
“It’s a chance to reconnect,” he says. “This is yours without strings attached. I was foolish in the past to lavish you with money, but this is different. This isn’t money. It’s responsibility.”
I look at him with a blank stare. I have no idea what the hell he’s talking about.
“Catherine, I’m giving you a portion of my ownership stake in Blake’s company,” he says.
“Why?” I ask. Not long ago, my father was berating me for acting like a child. Suddenly he thinks I deserve to become part owner of a hedge fund? Even I know I don’t deserve a tenth of that responsibility.
“It’s a chance to work together. You’ve been adrift since you finished school, Catherine. You need a job, and it’s time for you to put your education to good use.”
“This isn’t exactly a job,” I tell him. “Do you really want me to believe that there are no strings attached? You’re asking me to get involved in whatever is going on between you and Blake. Well, I guess I’m already involved, but you want to pull me even deeper into this? How in the world is that a good idea?”
I’m already thinking of the different reasons he has for doing this. Of course, he could be sincere, but even if he is, he has to have an ulterior motive. If I own part of the company, I’d be a buffer between him and Blake. Or they’ll try to use me against each other.
“This has been my job since I was your age. I’m hoping you’ll be able to learn from my mistakes. Either way, it ensures that I pass on more than just a name and a pile of regrets to you. All you have to do is sign that document, and you’ll own a minority stake in Blake’s company. It’s worth a few million dollars. You won’t have to depend on me or Blake for anything. You’ll have your independence.”
“Is there anything independent about having a portion of my father’s stake in my boyfriend’s company?” I ask.
“It’s a peace offering,” he says. “As part of the deal, I negotiated two seats on the board of directors. I want you to have an ownership stake and the second seat. I think it would be a good thing for you.” He looks at me and shakes his head.
“What did I do now?”
“Nothing,” he says. You just look more like your mother every day. You can take the offer or leave it, but you can’t say I haven’t tried.” He sighs and turns his gaze back toward the city. “This is what I know, Catherine. Now I have to make up for lost time.”
I’m still not sure if he’s talking to me or the city, but when he presses the button for the elevator, he takes a long look at me. “Your brother’s gone. Your mother’s off in Europe. You’re all I have left,” he says. “I want to prove to you that I’m serious about changing things, but you have to let me.” He steps into the elevator and like that he’s gone.
I sit down and read over the contract my father handed me.
More promises. Exactly what I need
Blake gets back late in the afternoon. His collar is undone, and he looks tired. Despite this, his eyes light up when he sees me.
“Are you ok?” I ask. I hadn’t been sure he’d even be coming home today, and now he’s here. I fold the contract shut and turn my full attention to Blake. It’s been hours since my father left, and I’ve run through a hundred different scenarios. I’m not any closer to making a decision. Part of me wants to tell him that I can take care of myself. Another part thinks this might be my best chance to help Blake. “I put your flash drive in my nightstand, by the way. Did you want me to get it for you?”