A hand came to my back. Kash. He slid it up to my nape. “Security will have to be tight.”
Some of the fight left Peter, and he dipped his head in an abrupt nod. He raked a hand through his hair, rubbing it briskly over his face, but his other hand was still in a fist. “Yes. We’ll put together a protocol.” He said to me, “I hope you’re okay with this, but you are my daughter. You have always been my daughter, and it’s time everyone realized how your place is here with us and should’ve always been.” He glowered at Victoria once more, but she had faded from my side, starting to turn so she was hidden behind her friends.
He stalked off after that. Quinn went after him.
My mom faltered, watching me, and I shook my head. I didn’t want to hear whatever she was going to say. My mom always meant well, but maybe she wasn’t always the right person to listen to.
Kash then clipped out, “What did she say to you?”
I was a mess.
The ten days had gone by so fast. So much happened when everyone was getting ready for the party. It was a big to-do. My alerts had been going nuts from people posting about it. Security was going to be insane. They had a helicopter going over the property. I was trying not to focus on all the speculation or how livid Martha had been when Peter told her his plan. He hadn’t cared. He said it was happening and she needed to adjust her plan, so she did. She was proficient, if anyone needed one word to describe her.
The Bonham poisoning affair/pending divorce scandal was nipped in the bud and, instead, glowing stories came out about me. They talked about things I had forgotten had happened, like awards I won in elementary school or how I applied for and won so many Phoenix Tech scholarships when it wasn’t known I was his daughter. I had earned those on my own, and the competition for them had been stiff.
They talked about my photographic memory, the graduate program I was attending, and how even that was prestigious. The wow factor was in full effect. All these people coming to the party were now coming not only because they were nosey a-holes who wanted to see the ins and outs of Peter Francis’s family but also because they were curious about me.
Another person being buzzed about in the papers: Kash’s grandfather. The financial papers reported he was in the United States and traveling to our area.
Camille Story wasn’t the only blog speculating about whether Calhoun Bastian would make a surprise appearance at the party, even though he wasn’t invited, and they were reporting that Kash had brought an order of protection against him. That had been news to me, and since Kash had closed up regarding everything except having sex with me, I hadn’t brought it up.
When I say “closed up,” that wasn’t an exaggeration.
He didn’t talk. Literally.
He was silent. He was tense. And he was affecting everyone.
The tension had been building over the last month, but it was on steroids now. Kash was readying for a fight, and it seemed he thought he was the only one going to handle it. I tried to ask about his grandfather, but he’d just pick me up or kiss me or, well, basically he’d carry me to bed, and what girl could say no to that? One touch and I was a melting puddle for him. The tingles zapped me just by a look from him. But I knew he was worried. There were nights when I woke to find him sitting in the living room, in his office, at his kitchen table, alone and in the dark. Sometimes a glass of bourbon was set in front of him. Other times, it was just him and the darkness.
I’d either fold myself onto his lap or he’d stand and pick me up, taking me back to bed. My questions were hushed by his mouth, and I was exhausted every morning, when I would wake later—much later. We were averaging three hours of sleep per night because of that, and because of my own nerves about myself, knowing that Matt’s uppity friends would be coming to the party, Seraphina’s bully friends, too, and some of Cyclone’s. Quinn just seemed to get frostier and frostier toward me, and my mother hadn’t been much better. I was ready to explode.
Or have a nervous breakdown.
I was secretly hoping for the latter, because that might mean hospital time and—score!—an expensive-as-hell vacation. That’s what those stays were for, right?
Even my humor was slipping. That was lame.
“Are you prepped for the itinerary of the party?”
It was Martha.
I turned, coffee in hand, and wrinkled my nose. She was literally breathing stark professionalism. A headset over her head, a thin mic resting just past her cheek, and a full clipboard in hand, with lists. So many lists. Her phone was in her other hand, and she was dressed to the nines, like always. High heels. A flowing tulle skirt. A sequin top. Her hair wrapped up and twisted all around with flowers and baby’s breath intertwined to make her look like she was an earth goddess.
“You are way too awake for me right now.” I looked away. It was seven in the morning. If she was like this, when had she gotten up? Maybe she didn’t sleep. Or breathe. Maybe she wasn’t even human? That was more like it.
She and Kash were both members of the same species.
Lame. Again. I was being so lame.
Rubbing a hand over my jaw, I bit back a yawn and went for the coffee again. I’d need this in an IV, at this rate.
She stepped next to me, looking at where I was looking, over the yard, where all the chairs and tables were being set up. Theresa manned the kitchen, but today they had brought in extra catering, given how big the crowd was going to be. Security guys had been walking the premises for the last few days, and as we stood there, looking out, three walked past, doing their sweeps.
“This must be overwhelming.”
I glanced sideways at her. She sounded different. More understanding? I didn’t trust it.
I sipped my coffee again.
She added, “You were plucked from one world and put in this one, and it wasn’t by choice. You were forced here. That has to be…” She was studying me now. “I’ve never really thought to consider from your point of view. Are you handling everything okay?”
My coffee was really interesting—like, super interesting. I could taste the texture of it. The way the mug was warming it. I mean—crap. There’s the emotional lump forming again. Why’d she have to go there, look at me like a person?
I sniffed, draining the rest of my coffee, and jerked up a shoulder.
More understanding, more than I was comfortable feeling, had her softening her tone even more. She touched my shoulder, patting there. “Everything will be fine today. Your father wants everyone to take note: you are a Francis now. They will treat you as a Francis after this, and Kash has been working tirelessly with the security. No one is getting in unless they were invited personally. Even the extra catering staff were all checked out. The computer program you wrote helped with all of that, too.”