Authors: Mia Sheridan
"Get it fixed. Go now."
"Shur look it. I'm gona head on." Rory rushed from the room, not looking back. My gaze returned to Brogan, taking him in. He wore black suit pants and a gray shirt, open at the collar and the sleeves rolled up to show strong, tanned forearms, those same forearms I used to stare at as he worked in my yard.
"Hi, Brogan," I said softly, unmoving. Emotions were assaulting me, so fast and furious I hardly had time to analyze them. They overlapped, swirling together to form a ball of nerves in my stomach, a tightening in my chest. Something seemed to flutter through my veins.
"Lydia, it's been a long time. How can I help you?" His voice was deep, smooth, completely unaffected. Bored even.
I stiffened. "You don't know why I'm here?"
He paused and then turned, heading back into the room from which he'd emerged. "Would you care to sit down?"
I followed him into what I saw was his office. He tossed his glasses onto the top of a large, black desk in the center of the room and sat down in the chair behind it. I hesitated momentarily before taking a seat in the chair across from him.
been a long time," I said, replying to the comment he'd made a few moments before. "I'm glad to see you're well, Brogan." I cleared my throat. "What exactly is this business?" I asked, sweeping my hand around, indicating the building as a whole.
"I'm in life insurance." There was some kind of amused gleam in his eye I had no idea how to interpret. I noted he no longer had any trace of an accent. I wondered if that had come naturally, or if he'd worked to rid himself of it. Either way, it seemed a shame. I'd always loved the lilting sound of his speech, the way he sometimes threw in Irish slang that I had no idea how to interpret. The way the boy, Rory, had just done. I remembered laughing and asking him what certain sayings meant. I'd known a few . . . long ago. Sometimes they still came back to me, unexpectedly.
He'd called dandelions piss-in-the-bed. What are you doing down there? I'm clearing out the piss-in-the-bed.
I cleared my throat again. "Insurance. Oh. Okay. Well, good. Obviously you're very successful."
Brogan tapped his fingers on his desk as if impatient. "As to your previous question," he went on, apparently ignoring what I'd just said, "yes, I do know why you're here. I imagine it's because your brother is still a coward and a moron. Sending his sister to do his bidding? To clean up his mess?"
I swallowed, heat flooding my face. Outside thunder rumbled. "He didn't send me. I insisted on coming. But yes, I am here to clean up his mess." I licked my lips nervously.
"And how exactly are you going to do that? Are you offering to purchase the company back? There'll be a surcharge now, of course."
"I . . . I can't. We don't have the capital to do that. I'm hoping we can come up with some other arrangement."
He lifted one dark brow. "And what did you have in mind?"
I looked to the side and then back to him. Truthfully, I hadn't arrived at a plan before rushing over here to beg Brogan for mercy. And now I saw the folly in that. "We were friends once, Brogan. I'm hoping you'll—"
He suddenly slammed his fist down on his desk, his face contorting into a mask of fury. "We were never friends. You tricked me and lied to me. You cost my father his job. You have no idea what you cost my family."
I swallowed heavily, shaking my head. "I . . . I know. I did trick you. It was an awful, selfish thing to do. I've wanted to apologize for so long, I even—"
"I have no need of your apology, Lydia."
"All the same, Brogan—"
"No," he gritted out harshly. Rain began pelting against the windows. "You don't get to throw a sorry at me in order to assuage your own guilt. I don't want it. Keep it for yourself,
." He added the old nickname mockingly.
My God. He hated me vehemently. After all this time.
I studied his face, hard and set in his anger. "Stuart was right. You did this on purpose. You
it. You tricked him into losing the company to you."
"Tricked him? Hardly. Your brother's problems are of his own making."
"I know that, Brogan. Believe me, I do. I'm under no illusion as to my brother's weaknesses, his vices. But please, we employ so many people. They all depend on us for their livelihoods."
"Ah, now you care about peoples' livelihoods? How refreshing."
I opened my mouth to respond, but he interrupted me, plowing ahead. "Anyway, what makes you think I'd put anyone out of work? Except, of course, you and your brother. As the new owner, I've taken it upon myself to look into De Havilland Enterprises. At first glance, it appears things could be turned around if it was being run by someone who wasn't a gambler, a drug user, and a fucking self-serving waste of oxygen."
My heart dropped. He might not take the company apart, but the business my father had worked his fingers to the bone for would no longer be in our family. It would have broken his heart to know . . .
And all because of something
foolishly did seven years ago.
I pulled in a lungful of air, a lump forming in my throat. Whether Brogan agreed or not, I
thought we’d been friends . . . once, long ago.
I searched his face for the kind, sensitive boy he'd once been, but saw nothing of him in the hard lines of this man's face. I didn't know him anymore. This man was a callous stranger.
"There's nothing I can do, is there?" I asked. I licked my lips, pulling the bottom one between my teeth.
Brogan studied me, his gaze skittering to my mouth and back to my eyes. Tapping on his desk again, he appeared to be weighing something, some decision. "How much do you want ownership of De Havilland Enterprises back, Lydia?"
My throat went dry. "I . . . I'll do anything, Brogan. Anything." My face flooded with hot shame. But it was true. In that moment, I would go to any lengths to fix this mess. For my father, for his dream, I'd do anything. It was his legacy, the only part of him I could still care for in this physical world.
Brogan chuckled, a sound filled with disdain. He rubbed the edge of the leather inset on his desk with his index finger, my eyes following the movement for a moment. He'd always been such a sensual person, always touching something, his hands lingering, caressing, seemingly entranced by textures . . . He had covered his accent, but not that. I grasped onto it—finally recognizing something in this man that had also been in the boy. "Anything? Would you beg for it? Would you get down on your knees and beg?"
I froze, my heart seeming to stop before it picked up an erratic beat, my gaze meeting his. "Is that what you want me to do? Is that what this comes down to? A payback of some sort?"
"Actually, Lydia, some interest has accrued since
was asked to beg. If we're considering a payback, your begging would have to be on a much larger scale. Grand even."
"What does that even mean?"
Brogan looked off to the side, seeming to be considering something. Moments ticked by before he finally looked back to me, his light blue eyes a soft and startlingly beautiful contrast to the harsh expression he wore. "Here's my offer: Come work at my home as I used to work at yours. Do as I ask you to do and every day, you will beg me for your company back. If you do it well enough, I'll consider your request."
I gaped. "Are you out of your mind?" I hissed.
He shrugged nonchalantly, his face impassive now. "It's been said."
"Said? Said by whom? Because I'd be inclined to agree. It's a disgusting offer. You're a pig."
"That's been said as well." Brogan chuckled, leaning back in his chair again, flashing me an arrogant smirk. I blinked. I'd never seen Brogan smile that way before. I remembered a different smile—sweet and slightly shy.
smile used to make my heart flutter.
smile used to make me giddy with desire. One of his front teeth overlapped the other just a tiny bit and I'd noticed the way he'd run his tongue over it when he seemed to feel unsure. When I had kissed him, I'd run my tongue over it, too, and it had thrilled me in some way I hadn't been able to explain—even to myself. I swallowed at the memory, not allowing myself to think any more about it. Because while it was true that his smile had filled me with want once upon a time, when he'd smiled at me all those years ago, his eyes had been warm and full of affection, full of yearning. Not now. Not anymore. He shrugged. "The operative word is
. You're free to accept or decline. But it's the only offer I'll give you—the only chance you'll get."
"And what type of
would I be doing at your home exactly,
?" I asked tightly.
He steepled his fingers. "I'm not sure yet,
. All kinds of things probably. I guess ya could consider it a jack-of-all-trades position of sorts. Or would the expression be
-of-all-trades?" He smiled again as I simply stared.
His phone buzzed, and he pulled it toward him, glancing at it quickly. "I'll have to wrap this up. I have more important things to attend to. Consider my offer," he shrugged, "or not. Either way. I'm assumin' ya have my card since ya found me."
I was still staring at him, my teeth clenched together, disbelievingly. It didn't escape my notice that his accent had emerged during those final sentences. I stood up and, without another word, left Brogan Ramsay's office, slamming his door behind me.
I attempted to control my breathing. Lydia De Havilland had just slammed out of my office, and I still couldn't catch my breath. The fact made me want to hit something.
I'd seen her from afar several times, even followed her home a couple of days before for some reason I still couldn't explain. Gathering information on the De Havilland family, I'd told myself. All the better to know how to proceed with the acquisition I'd planned of their company. But that was flimsy at best, and I bloody well knew it. And even though I'd seen her from across a party, and across a street, I hadn't been prepared for the impact of her right in front of me. I hadn't needed Rory to tell me her name so I'd
her. I'd just wanted to be
. But I hadn't gotten that, and the entire time she'd been in my office, it had felt as if the ground was rolling beneath me.
Lydia had matured into a stunning woman—even more beautiful than I'd remembered. And
, she'd had the power to steal my breath right from my lungs.
Her golden hair was shorter than it'd been, shoulder length now, but it still looked as soft and lustrous as I remembered it. I rubbed my fingertips together as if the gesture itself would conjure up the feel of the blonde strands on my skin. I longed to touch her hair again, and that small longing alone filled me with impotent rage. Her face had lost the roundness of youth, highlighting her delicate bone structure, and those beautiful, almond-shaped blue-green eyes. I put my head in my hands and massaged my temples and then raked my hands through my hair. Just sitting in the same room as her made me
in that same desperate way I'd felt when I could never get enough food, never feel the satisfaction of a full belly. Only it was worse because this hunger would never be satisfied, nor would I let it.
When she'd walked into my office, I'd had the urge to lean toward her to catch her fragrance. That had shocked me. I was used to unconsciously leaning
from people when they got too near, or holding my breath as they passed. I didn't enjoy the smell of others for the most part—and I could detect too much. It felt like an intimacy, and most often, it was an intimacy I didn't care to partake in. But it'd always been different with Lydia. She had
appealed to me in a way no one else had. Chemical makeup didn't change, I supposed. Pity for me.
My mind went back to a summer evening seven years ago, the night my mind wouldn't let go of for some insane reason. I could still feel Lydia in my arms, could still recall her delicate scent, the flavor of her mouth, the sound of her sigh as I'd pushed into her tight body.
Why was I still so damned affected by her? I'd been a boy the last time I'd seen her. I was a man now. A man who'd been with women who had much more sexual prowess. Beautiful women who knew tricks in bed that would make an innocent princess like Lydia De Havilland go scarlet. I'd had experience far beyond the teenage fumbling I'd known with her. My time with Lydia had been but a moment.
And yet . . .
I shook my head of the memories and forced myself to move past the brief moments in her arms to the one that had come next.
The humiliation. The rage. The hopelessness. The grief.
The memory of what she'd done still pulled tight like an internal scar every time I thought about it. Not just what she'd done, but what she
done. She hadn't defended me. She'd basically stood by while her brother shamed me and made me beg. I hated her for manipulating me, for making me
and for the weakness I’d felt
And I couldn't forgive her for it. I wouldn't
forgive her for it.
And that was it. If I exacted the revenge I'd been imagining for so long, I'd be free of her. Exorcised of her ghost, the one that had been haunting me for seven years. Of
, of the memories, of the shame that still burned deep in my gut. I'd finally be able to let her go. Because I'd succeeded in turning everything around—now she was the one who needed
Now she was the one begging.
"Well, what's the craic?"
I raised my head as the door swung open. Sitting up, I attempted to smooth my ravaged hair. Fionn eyed me as he dropped into the chair Lydia had occupied only a few minutes before, his big body sprawling. His shirt was wet from the rain. "Not much." I answered.
Fionn whistled, leaning forward. "That Irish accent says otherwise, mo chara." He laughed softly, and I gave him a glare that only made him laugh harder and pretend to shiver. How in the hell had he detected my accent? I'd only uttered two words. "What a fiendish glare. Is that supposed to work on me?"
I sat back, leaning my head on my chair and staring up at the ceiling for a minute. "Lydia De Havilland came here."
"Yeah, ah." I raised my head and looked at him. His expression held sympathy and the vague hint of worry.
He raised his eyebrows. "Well, now I understand the state of ya. Did she offer to buy her company back?"
"She can't. She doesn't have the funds."
Which I'd already known.
Fionn shrugged. "Well, that's that, then. She'll have to find a new job. Good luck to her."
I felt a tick start up in my jaw. Fionn narrowed his eyes and inclined his head. "What's that look?" he asked.
"I told her she could come work at my home and serve me and beg for her company back every day, and I might show mercy."
Fionn gaped at me for a moment, then reclined back in the chair, his arm hung leisurely over the back, studying me. "That's a fret."
"You could say that."
"What were ya thinkin'?"
I gritted my teeth. "I was thinking," I said slowly, enunciating each word, "that it's her turn to get down on her knees and beg
, that's what I was thinking."
to beg ya? Ya haven't left her much choice, have ya? Is that what ya really want?"
I shrugged nonchalantly. "We'll see."
"And do ya have any intention at all of returnin' her company?"
Fionn was quiet for a moment. "This is all gona go arseways, ya do know that, yeah?"
"No. I have it under control."
"What's the plan, then? And what's the time limit on this bloody madness?"
I shrugged. "I'll make it up as I go along. I'll see what pleases me."
Fionn chuckled. "What
ya. Aye. Because ya already look so
." He sighed. "Completely arseways. It doesn’t even make any sense. Why do this to yourself, mo chara?" he asked softly.
Peace. Payback. Revenge. A cleansing.
A hundred reasons and I didn't even need one. I was the one who held all the power now.
"Aye, if ya say so. But I helped ya because I thought takin' the company from Lydia's brother was what was gona bring ya satisfaction. I gotta say, ya look many things, but satisfied ain't one of them."
I shrugged. "Another opportunity presented itself. I decided to take advantage of it. Why are you here?"
He sat up and sighed. "I work here, remember?" He raised a brow. "And now that ya have your archenemy by what I can only assume is a very pretty throat, we have some actual business to attend to." I narrowed my eyes at his mocking archenemy comment, but he only grinned in that disarming Fionn way—the way that had gotten us out of some scrape or another more than once. "And
we're gona go get ourselves good and ossified and find us some women of questionable moral attributes."
I stared at him for a minute, but then chuckled. I could never stay annoyed with Fionn for long. And truthfully, getting good and drunk could be a good thing. I sat back as he went over the jobs we had going on that week.
Fionn had been by my side practically since the day we'd left Greenwich and moved to a small rat-hole in the Bronx. I'd had less than a month left of high school, but had never graduated, instead scrounging for every side job I could get to support my family. My father had looked for work but sunk into a deep depression when he didn't find any. Then his drinking had only increased, until he was drunk more often than he was sober. Which left me in charge of Eileen's care. And so I'd done what I had to do, some of which would sadly follow me for the rest of my days. All because of what had happened that evening in the back room of Lydia's stable. All because of
But I'd had a trusted friend in Fionn—at least I'd had that. A scrappy kid a year younger than me who'd moved with his parents to New York City from a town very near where I was from in Ireland. His parents died in a horrific car accident, and as they didn't have any close family left in Ireland, he'd had nowhere to go other than the streets. But one thing you could say for the Irish, we took care of our own. People did what they could for us, sharing their food no matter how little they had, hiring us to do odd jobs. But for me, it hadn't been enough. Because Eileen had needed more, and I'd vowed never to let her down. I was all she had.
And I dreamed that one day I wouldn't have to scrape and do without, I wouldn't have to check my pride at the door, make sacrifices I didn't want to make, do things I cringed while participating in. I dreamed that one day I'd make my own rules. I dreamed that one day I'd feel
. One day I'd be at peace. And I'd finally achieved my goals. I'd finally arrived at a place where I could turn my attention away from merely surviving to making the people who'd torn my world apart pay.
I didn't know exactly what I wanted from Lydia. But I wasn't overly worried. If her presence became bothersome to me in some way or another, I'd simply tell her to leave,
I'd keep her damn company. No matter
much she begged. I'd add it to my empire. I didn't need the money, but I'd make it successful; I'd make it my own, and I'd find satisfaction in that alone.
A small feeling of guilt niggled at me, but I squashed it down. Taking the De Havilland company meant I'd be taking it out of the family. And Lydia's father, Edward, had been a decent man who had been proud of what he'd built from the ground up. In actuality, I'd respected him more than I'd respected my own father. And he'd always been fair to me, more than fair—he'd been kind. I'd heard that he'd passed four years before and I'd gone to his funeral, standing at the back of the cemetery so I wouldn't be seen. But I'd seen
My eyes hadn't seemed to be able to look away as she'd mourned in her black suit, a pair of sunglasses on, and her hair held back in a black headband. And then her brother had come up and put his arm around her, pulling her close and comforting her. And she'd let him. And why shouldn't she? He was her brother. And I still couldn’t figure out exactly why watching them together had felt like another betrayal. Was she supposed to have banished him from her life after what he'd done to me?
hadn't even cared enough to come after me. To expect anything at all from her was ridiculous. And yet it had
I hated them—hated the whole lot of them. And now they'd pay. And I'd enjoy every minute of it. I wouldn't allow anything less.