I got none, and looked back up.
For the first time since I had seen him walk into that room at Phoenix Tech—his presence commanding everyone’s submission in the hotel lobby, the slight amusement he showed in the elevator, and even now, with how professional he was being—he was uncomfortable. There was no outward reaction from him, but as he remained frozen a second, not looking at me, not moving a muscle, I knew that I’d thrown him off balance with that question.
It was my cover.
I didn’t understand why, but then he spoke, low. “There’s going to be a level of curiosity about you because of your cover.” He cleared his throat, returning back to his detached self. “Just remain vigilant in your responses. Since I’m a part of the Francis family, little is known about my past. I intend to keep it that way. Peter, myself, and others felt if we attached you to my family, you’d be questioned less.”
One, I was not shocked. Two, the way he said “Peter” told me so much more. He spoke about my father as if Peter were his father.
“What do they know?”
“My parents died when I was young. I came to live with the Francis family after that. I’ve stayed in touch with family on my father’s side and this was how you and I met.” He added, “We thought this would give you an added layer of protection.”
I frowned. “Protection? Isn’t me being at this estate enough?”
“We’re hoping, yes. But you’ll be staying in my villa on the estates.”
I—Huh? His villa?
“As in…” Alone? Was that what he was saying? “You and me?”
“You are coming to stay in my villa at the Francises’ personal and most secured estate. There will be people curious about you, but you will be asked to remain in the villa as much as possible. You are to keep a low profile. So yes, staying in the home I use when I’m at the Chesapeake estates is ensuring another boundary of privacy.” He paused, looking out the window. “For yourself and for the Francis family.”
For the Francis family. I jerked back against the headrest.
There it was again. I was not a part of this man’s family. He was making it clear.
Anger and hurt were grinding against each other inside, flipping over, squeezing my heart. Pain sliced down the middle of my chest.
I was there for my safety, nothing else. That was being made very clear, and I was starting to want to know my father less and less.
Consider myself checked. I was put in my place.
I was being brought to the estate for one reason only: so I wasn’t kidnapped, so Peter Francis didn’t have a child’s death on his conscience, but I was not one of his children. I was a lie. I was a cover. I was … I was someone that didn’t matter.
“When we get to the estates, you’ll meet Marie. She’s the only other person besides myself and Peter who knows the truth about you. She runs the estate and she’ll be a helpful asset for you. If you need something, you are to go to her. Not myself. Not your father. Marie. Consider her your handler of sorts.”
Kash and Marie, my babysitters, or hostage keepers.
Kash added, pulling out his phone. “Memorize the information. Your cover is the most vital. Matthew is already curious about you.”
My heart flickered. He was?
Kash scrolled over his screen. “He’ll be convinced you and I are having a torrid affair.” His eyes lifted, those eyes pinning me in place again, searing me. “It’s important that you maintain that you and I only have a friendship.”
My chest pinched together. He saw my reaction yesterday. He knew, and he was cementing it down. Got it. Nothing except business.
“Why?” I asked. “You have a girlfriend or something?”
I didn’t care.
Kash looked back to his phone, dismissing me. “If you are introduced as a love interest of mine, Matthew’s curiosity will know no boundaries. As of right now, he keeps to his hotel with his own security team, but trust me when I say that we do not want your half brother wanting to know you. He has a tendency to expose anything he can, if the mood suits him.”
I knew my place.
I was elevator music: annoying and in the background.
The Chesapeake was really Holy Crap City. The place was huge, and I was getting the gist of why Peter Francis had to name his places.
And yeah, I’m not using the d-word or the f-word.
If I was supposed to hide as his illegitimate bastard, well then, so was he. A bastard. And illegitimate to me.
After stopping at a huge security gate, we drove up a long winding driveway that went past two fountains. Not one but two. It was like we were in the middle of a golf course, with those types of fancy water fountains when you first pull up to the main lodge, except this place was bigger than a nine-hole golf course. And I knew that because I had to set up cyber security for Brookley’s golf course back home. Crap pay but they wouldn’t get hacked again. Not that they got hacked in the first place, because, small confession, that’d been me. I needed some quick cash. They needed better security. So I was really helping them out. See. Giver. Me. That was one characteristic they failed to add to my résumé—or so I was assuming. They only gave me a whole file on who I was supposed to be pretending to be.
“Since pulling past the gates, you have sighed, laughed, growled, and now you’re glaring.” Kash raised an eyebrow, looking so cool and collected. “Are you planning someone’s murder?”
“Maybe.” I gave him a meaningful look. “Yours?”
He only grinned back, his eyes dropping to my lips. Lingering. Darkening. “Well, that’ll be fun.”
The buzzing was back.
I ignored it. “So you live here too?”
He nodded. “I have a villa here, yes.”
I raised an eyebrow. “And you’re still not going to tell me what you do for my fa—” Damn. “For Peter Francis?”
His eyebrows dipped at my change. “You’ll find out. Eventually. Until then, just stick to the file. You’ve memorized it already?”
I tapped my head. “Photographic memory up here, Jeeves.”
I waited, but neither of us commented on where that came from. I loved my mom, but she had the opposite of a photographic memory. Show her something to remember and it’s the first thing she forgets.