What was going on here?
He was kind, then kind again, attentive even, and now this? I was not following a thing, not at all. Nothing was making sense to me.
My blood was starting to simmer.
His eyes hardened, seeing my confusion, but he kept his voice so light and happy. How did he do that?
He was saying, turning back to the crowd behind him, “And then we realized that she truly was my daughter, and no one could imagine the whirlwind that happened after that.”
Damn, he was good. He almost sounded sincere.
The simmering was moving to the next stage.
His voice was low, husky even. “We had hoped for some privacy while we got to know each other, but it’s time now.” He turned, facing everyone, his free hand holding up his champagne. “Join with me as I toast, as the entire Francis family now has one more member, my daughter.” He turned back, his eyes warming, now being genuine, and he blinked back a tear. His voice broke into the microphone, but it only added to a swoon effect. I saw some of the women wiping away tears of their own.
I shot past the boiling stage. There were flames.
“Welcome, Bailey. I want the world to know about you. I want the world to love you as much as I already do.” And then he couldn’t say any more. A second tear was sliding down his face, and his Adam’s apple was bobbing up and down as he tried to control his emotions.
He just stopped.
He sighed, raised his glass up, everyone else raising their own, and he was beaming at me as he took a drink.
Lies. All the fucking lies. I was sick of them.
A cheer rose up from below us, then Peter was moving toward me. He wrapped me in his arms, hugging me, and he whispered into my ear, out of everyone’s sight, “I had to keep with the script our publicist gave me, but I meant every word. I already do love you, and I am so happy that you came to us, even if it was in an unorthodox way.” He pressed a hand to the back of my head as I resisted, but shit. I was weak.
I hugged him back.
I felt the emotion rippling through him, and damn if that didn’t do something to me. I was melting, so I pulled back. “Thank you.” It was all I could get out.
He blinked away a tear, then someone called his name and he stepped away.
“You were supposed to never be a problem.”
A chill went down my back and I turned. I was standing on the back patio, a bit of food in my stomach, so the full buzz I’d felt earlier was just a nice, small tickle. We were into the night hours, though I’d lost track of time. Everyone was having a good time, myself included. It wasn’t something I’d expected, but I wasn’t stopping it, either. The publicists’ lying speech aside, I’d been moved by how moved Peter had been at the end, and that feeling stuck.
And I let it.
Cyclone was still running loose with his friends. I saw Seraphina giggling with her friends. I still wanted to look into them, but she seemed happy that night. Chrissy was in full flirt mode, an older man and her had been sitting at the same table for the last hour. I’d never seen her laugh so much, so I was enjoying it.
Kash even relaxed.
Matt’s group had gone inside for a while but then returned a half hour ago. They took up residence around the same bonfire as earlier. All were sitting, lounging. The fire was going, the flames licking over the crystal rocks inside. Drinks had been flowing. Laughter as well. A few of the girls were around. I recognized Fleur, sitting on Matt’s lap, leaning back, with his arm around her hip to anchor her in. She kept sneaking glances at Kash, though. The third friend was on Chester’s lap. Torie and Tamara had taken off, saying their good-byes to me before letting me know they were heading to Naveah, and the rest talked about ending the night at the club, if I wanted to join.
To say that I was surprised Quinn was the one approaching me would have been an understatement, but then I clued in to her words and all that died down. Yeah. Not so surprised now.
She was stepping out of the open patio doors, still looking amazing. Her hair was swept up, pinned to the top of her head in a form of hair crown. Loose tendrils fell down, framing her face. Her makeup didn’t look smudged at all. With her blond hair, the light blue of her dress, she was giving me an ice queen look, and that chill just doubled when I saw the calculation in her eyes.
She wasn’t drunk at all. Oh no. Those eyes were alert, sober, and there were plans, so many plans in them.
I glanced over, reassuring myself that Kash was within shouting distance. She couldn’t do anything to me, not here, not with everyone so close—though the sounds of the party were still loud. The DJ had been playing for the last two hours, and trailing my gaze past her and into the house, I saw that the inside was empty for the moment.
“I wasn’t supposed to be a problem?” I needed a drink. Right? Maybe not. Maybe I needed to have as much of my faculties as possible for this conversation, because I was feeling it wasn’t going to go well.
“No.” She stopped next to me, turning to take in the entire backyard behind us. She lifted her head, drawing in a good breath of air, and her eyes closed for a moment. Opening them, her head held high, she turned to face me. Her side rested just so slightly against the railing behind us. Her lips tugged up, that small grin not inviting at all, and she moved even closer, dropping her voice even though no one was near enough to overhear. “Peter and I have had problems since the beginning.”
I relaxed, slightly.
She was confiding in me. Opening up. That was a good sign, right?
But my gut was still tightening up, and my instincts were telling me to get away from her. Instead, I reached for the railing and held on, my hands wrapping around it.
A soft laugh from her, and she dipped her head down. “Peter’s a cheater. Always has been, even with his first wife. Colleen wasn’t even that bad of a wife, but it didn’t matter to your father. He was an up-and-coming tech genius. Everyone in Silicon Valley wanted a part of him. Then his mother back in Saint Louis fell ill and, well, you know what happened after that. He and Colleen hadn’t ended things, but it was in the works. It was a matter of time.”
She stopped, a hard glint coming back to her eyes. Her mouth pursed together, pinching.
A rougher note fused with her tone. “Peter loved his mother. It devastated him when she took her last turn for the worse, and he wanted to spend more time with her. Said he’d just be out there for the time being, that nothing would change. He was going to leave Colleen.”