The Insiders

Page 83

It was his friends first.

Fleur and the third girl in her trio with Victoria were next, though no V.

I figured Victoria was around somewhere.

Torie and Tamara were at the snack table, then at the edge of our circle. They were laughing with Chester and Tony. Torie glanced over at one point, sharing a look with Kash before skimming to me and giving me a smile. She tipped back her champagne glass and turned back to whatever Guy was saying. He had replaced Chester at some point.

The more time passed, like a clock ticking off every second, the more tense I grew. I hadn’t moved out of our spot, but I knew it was coming. Then it came.

Conversations quieted as Peter nodded hello to the outer circle first, moving toward where Matt, Kash, and I stood.

He paused, looking uncertain for the first time. His eyebrows dipped together. He raked a look over Matthew, then Kash, and coming last to me. His lips thinned and he settled his shoulders back. His head rose a centimeter and he cleared his throat.

“Are you ready?”

Matt stepped back, glancing to Kash, who moved forward.

Kash asked, “For what?”

Peter looked to him. “I was going to introduce her to people.” He paused, just the slightest of pauses, dropping his voice low. “You know I have to.”

“You don’t have to do a thing.”

Peter pressed his lips together, the exhaustion coming from him for the first time. I noticed an extra line of bags under his eyes. “I do, actually. It’s the only way to make it right, for her. You want something long-term with her, you know this will make things easier. If I don’t walk around with my daughter, at a party for my daughter, it’ll look like I don’t want them to address her as my daughter.” He kept giving Kash a meaningful look each time he said that phrase.

His head lifted again. “Networking isn’t something I enjoy, and I know you hate it, but it’s a necessity. It might not be for you and where you are going to be in the hierarchy, but Bailey’s not that lucky—or unlucky, however you prefer to see it. If I don’t walk around with her on my arm, she’ll look like an embarrassment and”—his eyes flickered to mine—“she’s anything but an embarrassment.”

Now he turned right to me, focusing on me, only me. “This is overdue. She deserves this respect.”


My throat was swelling up.

This was not boding well for me.

I needed a joke. Stat.

Matt grinned, seeing my predicament, and leaned in. “Yeah, sis. Don’t choke. Suck it down. Be a Quinn.”

Peter threw him a disgusted look, his eyes flaring. “Are you kidding—”

Matt gestured to me with his drink. “It worked.”

A laugh burst from me, and I was coughing, trying to get the rest of those annoying things out of me. I was damn near hacking. Could not process. Could not think, feel. It was robot time.

I touched Kash’s arm, not surprised at how tense he was. “It’s just a roundabout, then I’ll be back.”

His scowl never left his face, but his eyes flashed over my shoulder to Dad. “Don’t introduce me.”

Introduce Kash? Then I saw what he meant.

Peter—I was adjusting here. Dad/Peter … I was going with Peter now—nodded, saying, “Fine.”

My dad/Peter, myself, and Kash behind me.

My dad introduced me to people. Some, I tried not to swoon, because—hello—they were huge names. It was the ones in the tech world that had my knees buckling. A couple government officials and the few celebrities, they had my stomach all fluttering, but they didn’t pack the punch of the cyber conglomerates.

My dad introduced me, drawing me forward to the circles. I shook hands, kept a nice smile on my face, and every second question I was asked, I responded with one in the same vein.

Everyone was nice, but I wasn’t the only reason they had come. As soon as the introduction was done, and sometimes before it even started, their eyes trailed behind my shoulder.

They all wanted to know Kash.

A few tried. The government officials tried to reach out for a handshake, but Peter moved in with a question or a comment and the attention was diverted.

When we were done, I snagged my fifth champagne. I was heading left. Peter grabbed me and veered right, and I heard Matthew snorting somewhere behind me. I tried to throw him a glare, but then Peter was leading me to my absolute nightmare.

I should have been prepared. I was prepared.

I knew this was going to happen, hence the five champagnes, but then everyone was being moved farther down the backyard. Peter was leading me to the top of the patio/deck area, so—gulp—it was like we were on a stage.

This. Right here. Worst nightmare ever.

I so wasn’t prepared.

I was suddenly realizing how much I hated attention—like, dreaded it. Like I made an entire career plan so I wouldn’t get attention. Ever. And here I was. I was also remembering the benefits of not being known as Peter Francis’s daughter. Yeah, yeah. I couldn’t have it both ways, being claimed as his daughter and not getting attention. It was what it was. But I could gripe about it, couldn’t I? So I was griping. Actually, I was drinking. I was almost done with my fifth champagne, and as Peter was talking, a microphone was placed in his hand—did we really need that?—and I was trying to catch the eye of a nearby server. Refills, sir. Refills.

“… are moments in life that we will always remember, and the day I heard I had another daughter was one of them.”

I was clueing in, and I saw how Peter stood to the side, a smile on his face, no sparkle in his eyes, and the microphone in front of his mouth. He was grandstanding. He was making a show here. This was supposed to be just an announcement, just to tell them who I was and how happy he was that I was a part of his life. That wasn’t what he was doing.

He was lying.

He’d been told from the beginning.

My hand clenched my champagne glass and I fought to keep from weaving on my feet, but he was lying. I hated that. Detested it. It wasn’t one of my big rules. I was pretty lenient on the whole being-fake charade. But right now, hearing the father who hadn’t acknowledged me in forever now acting like I was this big, grand surprise to him—I was gritting my teeth.

I wanted to tear into him, rip that mic out of his hands, and tell everyone the truth.

He kept on, so damn smooth. “She wrote to my office, and we didn’t take her seriously.” A har-har-har laugh from him. The crowd joined in, thinking he was hilarious.

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