“I told you he’d give you a good price.”
“Yes,” I said faintly.
He could’ve cheated me. He knew it. I wouldn’t have been allowed to sell to anyone other than him, but this number, it was at least double what I could’ve gotten from someone else.
“Just sign here.” Tanner showed me all the places.
There was a lot of paper, a lot of different holdings Kai was taking over. I began signing.
“Are you sure you don’t want a lawyer to look everything over?” he asked.
I paused, shooting him a look.
“Right.” He laughed. “I got it.” He nodded, stepping back. “Sign away. Do you want coffee? I was going to grab a cup while you’re doing all that.”
I shook my head. “No, thank you.” I hadn’t had coffee for three months, at least.
“I’ll be back.”
I was nearly done signing when a soft knock sounded at the door. My realtor came in, flashing me a smile. “Hi! I called your butler, and he said you were in here for the day. Hope it’s okay I came? I wanted to tell you in person.”
“Yes. Of course.” I sat back, surprised. “What are you doing here?”
Shannon Caldriss, mid-thirties. She was someone Claude said he trusted, so I’d been working with her over the last couple months to methodically price and sell every house my father owned. I wanted all of them gone quickly, and to her credit, most of them were. There were three left to go: the main home, a cabin my father owned in Colorado, and a lake cabin north of Duluth. I hadn’t traveled to either of the last two, mainly because of Kai’s no-leaving-Milwaukee clause, but she had. She walked me through them on her phone, so I felt familiar enough to know that I didn’t want to stay in either place. There’d been talk that maybe I would keep one for myself. It was looking more like I would sell all three, though.
She shut the door, folding into one of the chairs, her eyes lit up. “So.” A bright wide smile. “I have good news. No.” She held her hands out, shaking them in excitement. “I have great news, actually! Phenomenal news. A buyer approached us and offered on both homes.”
“The Colorado one and the Minnesota one.”
“What is it?”
“I’ve talked it over with both other realtors, and we all feel it’s a really good deal. They want to offer ten million, so basically five for each home. There might be some back and forth with the agencies because the Colorado team is already vying, saying it’s fifty-fifty, so that means more of a commission to them than they normally would get, but that’s between us. We’ll figure it out. It’s not something for you to worry about.”
Her eyes darted down to where I was sitting in the chair before looking back up. She folded her hands together, her elbows on the table, and almost danced in her seat. “That’s a great price, especially for both of them. The Colorado one was priced at 3.8 and the North Shore was at 6.4. This is just under our asking, which doesn’t happen all the time. We all recommend you take it.”
“What are the stipulations? How quick to close?”
“Oh yes! I forgot that. Thirty-day close, cash offer, and you leave all the furniture behind. That’s it. This is a dream offer. Dream, Riley.”
I was in a daze.
I agreed and Shannon left, promising to send over the paperwork. That left me one more home to sell—the hardest one yet because when this house was sold, all the employees were without a job. Initially I’d had it in the paperwork that the new homebuyer needed to take on the staff, but after the first home was purchased and the staff was fired about a week after closing, I knew I was foolish to keep that in. I’d never met the staff for the other homes anyway, but in the main house, I had grown up with some of those people.
They had fed me, raised me, cared for me when my mother hadn’t been able to.
They were family to me, in a small way.
“You almost done?” Tanner had returned, coffee in hand. He took Shannon’s chair. Putting his coffee on the table, he yawned, stretching. “Man, I’m tired. Lot of traveling over the last few months.”
I eyed him, returning to my signing. “Really?”
I didn’t want to hear.
I didn’t want to hear how Kai had him going everywhere.
I didn’t want to hear about Kai at all.
The burn was less than it had been two months ago, mostly because I was distracted, but it was there. I tried not to think about him, about anything really, but I knew all those emotions were still locked up inside of me. They were still churning away, just waiting for me to lift the floodgates and let them spread.
I was determined not to do that. I didn’t think I could handle it if they did. I had other things going on, other people who were depending on me.
Tanner nodded, finishing his yawn and pressing a closed fist to his mouth. “I have to head to Vancouver after this. I’ll probably sleep the whole way.”
A noncommittal “hmmm” from me.
I had five more sheets to go.
I tensed, feeling him starting to focus on me. He’d been distracted before, but I heard in the way he spoke that word that he was zooming in. I realized then, feeling a shiver go down my back, that he was the same as his brother. I could sense their shifts in a single word.
I hated that I knew that.
I shouldn’t know that. I didn’t want to carry that knowledge.
“How’ve you been, Riley?” Softly worded. Almost like he cared.
I knew better. “I’m fine.” I felt tense all over, just wanting this to be done.
He lifted the cup. I heard him take a sip, placing it back down. “You look…like you’ve lost more weight.”
I heard his disapproval.
Fuck his disapproval.
I looked up, knowing my eyes were heated. “I said I’m fine.” I gritted my teeth.
He bit the inside of his cheek. “He still cares about you, you kno—”
I had enough.
A storm was stirring in me, and I shot Tanner a glare. “What do you think I’m doing here, Tanner? Huh?” I motioned to the pile of papers. “I am trying to get my life back. I am trying to get out from under your brother’s hold. I am trying to be myself, just myself. Not Riley Bello. Not a 411 Operative. Not Kai Bennett’s lover. And definitely not a Bennett’s asset, because that’s what I am to your family right now. An asset. A thing, place, or person of value that you can use. I want out. So stop trying to tell me he gives a shit, because he doesn’t. I might’ve been stupid enough to fall for his trick, but I’m not anymore. He doesn’t give one shit about me, so do us both a favor and shut the fuck up while I’m finishing here.”
I scrawled my name with an extra flourish on the third sheet.
Two more to go.
Tanner was quiet. For a second. “I get that you want out. But he does care.”
I ignored him. I ignored how I wanted to throw up. Again.
“I know he wouldn’t want me to tell you that, but I don’t care. He loves you.”
I finished the last one just as he said that, and I locked my emotions down.
Shoving back my chair, my arms shook with my need to get out of here.
I was opening the door when he stopped me.
“You can sell all your homes. You can sell all your father’s holdings, but you’ll never be free of him.”
I paused, my heart filling my throat.
I heard Tanner stand up, the chair being moved back. “He loves you, Riley. That means he’s always going to know where you are, and he’s always going to make sure you’re safe. It’s what he does for the rest of us.”
My hand formed into a fist, pressing over my stomach.
I was tempted to tell him he was wrong, that Kai didn’t love me, that Kai didn’t love anyone. He only loved power. But then all the planning I’d done over the last few months would be in vain. Because no matter what, Tanner was still enslaved to his family name and to Kai.
So without responding, I left. One chapter of my life was officially closed.
? ? ?
Two weeks later, I was on the phone with Blade.
“Are you ready?” I asked.
“Yeah. We’re ready to go. Are you?”
I looked at everything before me.
I’d sold the main house two days ago. The papers were signed. The new owners were excited. Every member of my father’s house staff was unemployed, but they would get a surprise in the mail in a few days. The car was packed. Every item I wanted to take with me was in there, which wasn’t a lot. I should’ve wept. I should’ve had more than that to show for a lifetime of memories, but I didn’t. I looked at this as finally getting the clean break I should’ve had when I was fifteen.
I was ready. I was beyond ready.
My hand fell to my stomach, and picking up my last bag, I said into the phone, “I’m ready. I’ll see you there.”
“Will do. Official lockdown commencing: now.”