Blue-Eyed Devil Page 87

My brother shook his head, his dark eyes cold. And he said three words in a tone that left no room for negotiation. "Pack your things."

I spent the rest of the afternoon with Jack, explaining how Vanessa had tried to bully and gaslight me, and that she was now likely doing the same thing with Samantha. By the time I had finished, Jack had stopped shaking his head and swearing, and simply looked sick.

"Sweet Jesus, Haven . . . why didn't you say anything to me before now?"

"I didn't want to be a prima donna. I wanted what was best for the company, and I knew she'd done good work for you in the past."

"Fuck the company," he said. "People matter more than business. I don't care how good the manager is if she behaves like a damn terrorist behind the scenes."

"At first I hoped Vanessa would get better over time, or that we'd work out some kind of system we could both live with. But I've come to realize that kind never gets better. There's no working things out. She's like Nick. A malignant narcissist. She doesn't feel any more remorse over hurting a fellow human being than you or I might feel about stepping on an ant."

Jack's mouth was set in a grim slash. "You meet a lot of that type in the business world. And although I hate to say it, some of that behavior . . . being ambitious and ruthless and selfish . . . can get you pretty far in some companies. But not mine."

"Are you really going to get rid of her?"

He nodded at once. "She's gone. I'll have to replace her now." A meaningful pause. "Any ideas?"

"I can do it," I said readily. "I'm not saying I'll be perfect. I'll make mistakes. But I know I can handle the responsibility."

A smile spread across my brother's face. "You're singing a different tune than when you started."

My answering smile was wry. "I've been on a fast learning curve lately."

We discussed the office situation a while longer, and then the conversation turned to personal matters. I couldn't help telling Jack about my falling-out with Dad. About T.J. and Hardy, and the lease deal.

Jack was satisfyingly irate about the whole thing, saying they were all ass**les. He also agreed with me that I needed to get to the bottom of Hardy's behavior, because it didn't make sense. "T.J.'s got some prime property," he said, "but he's not the only game in town. And your boy Hardy can go shopping anywhere he wants. He may want those leases, but he doesn't need 'em. So I'd say this is Cates's way of breaking up with you. He's done something he knows will force you to call it off."

"The passive-aggressive jerk," I said. "If he wants to break up with me, he'll have to do it face-to-face."

Jack grinned. "I almost pity the bastard. Okay — you handle Cates, and I'll set Dad straight on a few things."

"No," I said automatically, "don't do anything about Dad. You can't fix my relationship with him."

"I can block or run interference."

"Thanks, Jack, but I don't need blocking, and I really don't need any more interference."

He looked annoyed. "Well, why did you waste all that time complaining to me if you didn't want me to do something about it?"

"I don't want you to fix my problems. I just wanted you to listen."

"Hang it all, Haven, talk to a girlfriend if all you want is a pair of ears. Guys hate it when you give us a problem and then don't let us do something about it. It makes us feel bad. And then the only way to make ourselves feel better is to rip a phone book in two or blow something up. So let's get this straight — I'm not a good listener. I'm a guy."

"Yes you are." I stood and smiled. "Want to buy me a drink at an after work bar?"

"Now you're talking," my brother said, and we left the office.

It was early evening when I returned to my apartment. I felt better after a drink and a couple of hours in Jack's easygoing presence. The thing that surprised me was his lack of condemnation for Hardy, especially given his earlier stance on the subject.

"I'm not for or against him," Jack had informed me, tilting back a long-necked beer. "Here's how I'm looking at this deal with T.J.: Hardy's either done the wrong thing for the wrong reason . . . " Another big swallow. "Or the wrong thing for the right reason."

"How could there possibly be a right reason for what he did?"

"Hell, I don't know. Give him a chance to explain himself, is all I'm saying."

"Todd thinks Hardy is conniving and twisted," I'd said morosely.

For some reason that had made Jack laugh. "Well, you oughta be used to that, coming from the Travis family. There's not a one of us — with the exception of Gage — who isn't as twisted as a duck's dick. And the same goes for Todd."

"You're scaring me," I said, but I hadn't been able to restrain a rueful smile.

I continued to smile as I went into my apartment, but I was nervous, thinking about seeing Hardy. As I saw the continuous blinking of the answering machine, my heart gave a little jolt. I went to the machine and pressed a button to hear the message.

Hardy's voice. "I need to see you. Please call me when you get in tonight."

"Okay," I whispered, closing my eyes briefly. But I opened them right away, because something had caught my attention. A glitter and gleam next to the phone base. Perplexed, I reached out for the object, and was astonished to discover it was a charm bracelet. Aunt Gretchen's. But how had it gotten there? It had been in Nick's possession. Nick —

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