“How about you take her for a burger, and Mad and I will pick her up and take her to the movies afterward?” I suggested. “It’ll soften the blow.”
Julian’s head snapped up. “You still seeing her?”
“Platonically.” I spat out the word like it was profanity. It seemed acutely unfair to get shoved into the friend zone like a pair of dirty socks after I’d given her enough orgasms to light up a refinery. I shrugged as if I didn’t care. I did care. “Her funeral.”
“Speaking of funerals.” Julian took a greedy breath, avoiding eye contact as he picked up a batch of black Post-it Notes from my desk and began thumbing them nervously. “Telling everyone about Ronan . . . that was horrendous. I apologized to him. Assured him I won’t be dipping my toe into the CEO scheme anytime soon. Just thought you should know.”
I said nothing. Understandably, I was suspicious. He threw his head back, staring at the ceiling with a sigh.
“I just wanted something of my own.”
“You had something of your own. A wife. A daughter. A good career.”
“A wife who hated me despite my trying to please her in every way. A wife whom I’d promised would become a CEO’s wife and, when it appeared that my promise was not going to get fulfilled, constantly threatened to leave me. I wanted the chief executive position because I thought it meant keeping Amber. She and Clemmy were the only things I had that you didn’t. In trying to keep them, I neglected them, spending all my time at work. And now I’m getting a divorce.” He threw his arms in the air, laughing bitterly. “Irony is a bitch.”
“You can still have Clemmy. All she knows is you as her dad. As for Amber, I can sincerely say shoving your dick into a paper straw will give you more satisfaction than being with a woman who only wants you for your wallet and status. Even you can do better than that.” I wasn’t prepared to console my brousin after eating shit from him for three consecutive years, but kicking someone while they were down wasn’t my style.
“Anyway.” I arched an eyebrow when it became clear Julian wasn’t going to move an inch until I kicked him out. “I have work to do. Text me where to pick Booger Face up.”
He got up, looking around him like he was forgetting something. Maybe his manners. He should’ve knocked. He also should have apologized for the past three years. Being remorseful meant jack shit without an official admission.
“You know, Chase, you’re not so bad.” He stopped at my door.
I stared at him blankly. “Thanks for the lukewarm endorsement. Isn’t not so bad synonymous with I’ve met bigger shitheads?”
He snorted out a laugh. “See? That’s what I mean. I always thought you had no heart, which made villainizing you easier. You seem so detached from everything around you. You walk around with this broody dark halo around you. Almost like the devil.” He frowned. A shiver ran down my spine. That was how Madison referred to me. I’d thought she was joking. I didn’t think so now. “But I realized it was just you being you. And that you are capable of caring for people. You care about Lori and Ronan, Katie and Clemmy.”
And Madison. I cared about Madison too.
In fact, a part of me wasn’t so sure I was vastly different from my ex-girlfriend. In some ways, I, too, went out of my way to please the people I cared about. That was why I put so much on the line for Dad. But unlike Madison, my people-pleasing tendency had made my mouth write a check my ass couldn’t cash. I’d promised Amber marriage. And gotten slapped in the face with her betrayal.
But I was still a sucker for those I loved.
I would always have my family’s back.
Julian sent me a hopeful glance. Oh, for fuck’s sake. Just when I thought we were treading carefully out of Jerry Springer territory, he went and got all Brady Bunch on my ass. I couldn’t catch a break. I took a deep breath.
It’s going to taste like turd, but you need to say it.
He is family.
“I care about you too.” I tried not to grit my teeth too much around the sentence. Julian’s eyes lit up. I got it. In his mind, we’d been fucking him over, giving him the Black name without the perks, so he’d rebelled. It wasn’t an excuse for his shitty behavior, but it was the incentive.
“That so?” he asked.
“Seems that way.”
“Does that mean I get to keep my CIO role?”
Or maybe he just wants to cover his ass and secure his job.
“Too soon,” I warned.
“Thanks, bro.” He gave me a wink.
I waited until he got out of my office, then gagged.
I made a stop at Croquis to pick Mad up. Sven was by the elevator bank, rubbing an employee’s pregnant belly like it was a crystal ball and gushing about babies. I gave him a nod, passing by him. A semifamiliar girl with Khaleesi-blonde hair cornered me, chasing me the length of the studio.
“Mr. Black, wait! I just wanted to thank you again for convincing Sven to give me another chance. I don’t know if you saw my two emails . . . or flowers. I want you to know I don’t take it lightly at all, and I’m not going to blow my second chance.”
I hmm-hmmed. I had no idea who she was or what she wanted from me. My eyes were laser focused on my target—Madison Goldbloom, sitting at her station in a powder-blue dress with white swans printed on it.
“Maddie and I are totally bonding. We went to lunch the other day. I don’t know if she told you. We’re cool with each other.”
Now she was physically standing in my way, so I guessed I had to address her.
“Nadia, right?” I asked.
“Nina.” She smiled brightly. “Maddie said you guys are no longer together. I’m so sorry.” She put her hand to her heart. Yeah. She seemed about as sorry as Daisy after trying to impregnate poor Frank. “If you ever need anyone to talk to . . .”
I’ll seek professional help from someone who doesn’t want my cock in her mouth, I was tempted to finish for her, but I knew Mad would call me a jerk, and I really, really didn’t want her to see me as the devil incarnate anymore.
“Appreciate it.” I bypassed her, going straight to Madison, who was frowning at her phone. She looked up when she noticed me, grabbed her jacket, and gave me a distracted kiss on the cheek that almost made my fucking heart explode.