“No matter how you spin it, you must clean up your act. Play their game. Promote a wholesome, jolly image. The company’s reputation needs to be restored.”
The man had a smooth, English accent. Princely, drenched with entitlement, and dripping authority. He was playfully detached. An enigma. I couldn’t tell if he was a good or bad guy.
“Fine. I’ll kiss a few babies. Sponsor some students. Donate funds to open a new hospital wing.” Cillian leaned back in his seat, his eyes dropping back to the paperwork in front of him.
“I’m afraid we’re quite past the kissing babies stage. It’s time, Kill.”
Cillian looked up, scowling.
“I will not sacrifice my personal life to pacify a few self-righteous, Tesla-driving pricks—”
“Cillian? I mean, Mr. Fitzpatrick?” I cleared my throat, jumping into the conversation before more information that wasn’t meant for my ears was given.
Both men turned to look at me in surprise. With blue eyes charred with gold, a granite jaw, and an elegant nose, the British man was the kind of handsome that should be outlawed.
Cillian…well, he stayed gorgeous in his own go-screw-yourself way.
Kill raised an eyebrow. My appearance in his office didn’t surprise him in the least.
“I didn’t mean to interrupt—”
“Yet you did,” he cut into my words.
“Sorry about that. May I have a word with you?”
“No,” he answered flatly.
“Not to me.” He dropped the documents to his desk, already looking disinterested. “Which Penrose sister are you? The older and loud one, or the young and annoying one?”
After all these years, he still couldn’t tell Emmabelle and me apart. We didn’t even look like one another. Not to mention, he’d seen me naked as the day I was born (also: just as red).
Yet again, I found myself torn between the need to seduce and stab him.
“I’m Persephone.” I balled my hands into fists beside my body, recalling how badly it hurt when he broke my heart. How sublimely idiotic I’d felt after I tried to put that silly spell on him.
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
“Fine,” I bit out. “I’m the annoying one.”
He turned his focus back to the files at his desk, skimming through them. “What do you want?”
“To speak with you in private, please.”
“Barging into my office unannounced is otiose. Expecting me not to kick you out implies you got your degree at the local Sam’s Club. Spill it. Mr. Whitehall is my lawyer.”
“Lawyers are people, too,” I pointed out. My humiliation didn’t need an audience.
“Debatable.” The gorgeous blond man smirked viciously. “And actually …” He pushed up from his seat, glancing back and forth between us with amusement dancing in his marble eyes. “I have better things to do than watch you two engaging in verbal foreplay. Cheers, Kill.”
He gathered his documents, tapped the desk twice, and dashed out. Cillian’s office temperature resembled that of an industrial freezer. Everything was neat, minimal, organized, and silver-chrome. Clinical and deliberately unnerving.
“May I come in?” I wrung my flowery dress. I hadn’t even noticed my dress of choice when I left home this morning, but now, the irony wasn’t lost on me.
He swiveled in his chair to face me, propping one ankle over the other on his desk. His five-piece dark gray suit looked like it had been sewn directly onto his body. Even though my obsession with Cillian Fitzpatrick morphed into resentment over the years, I couldn’t deny he was the type of smoldering that made Michele Morrone look like Steve Buscemi.
“You have exactly ten, no, make it five minutes before I call security.” He flipped an hourglass on his desk. “Give me the elevator pitch, Flower Girl. Make it good.”
“You’re going to call security on me?”
“My to-do list is long, and my patience is short. Four and a half minutes.” He cracked his knuckles.
I rushed through the details so fast, my head spun. I told him about Paxton taking me to the cleaners. About Colin Byrne and Tom Kaminski. About the massive debt. I even told him about Byrne’s promise he would pimp me out or kill me if I didn’t come up with the money. When I was done, all Cillian did was nod.
“You managed to cram all of this in under three minutes. Maybe you’re not completely useless.”
A bang behind us made us twist our heads in unison. Casey was plastered to the glass door, wide-eyed. She pushed it open, baring her fake teeth.
“Gosh, I’m so sorry, Mr. Fitzpatrick. She promised she wouldn’t…”
“Miss Brandt, leave,” Cillian clipped.
“Save it for someone who cares.”
“That someone isn’t me.”
“Sir, I just wanted you to know that—”
“The only thing I know is you failed at your job and will be assessed accordingly. You’re leaving in the next three seconds, either through the door or the window. Friendly advice: choose the door.”
She bolted like the Looney Tunes Road Runner, nearly leaving a cloud of sand in her wake. Cillian turned back to me, ignoring the look of horror smeared on my face.
“You just threatened to throw Barbie out the window.” I jerked my thumb behind me.
“Not threatened, heavily implied,” he corrected. “You have less than two minutes, and I have about five hundred questions.”
My palms dampened despite the temperature in the room.
“One—why me? Why not Hunter, Sailor, or anyone who actually gives half a damn about you, pardon my forwardness?”
I couldn’t tell him about Sailor’s pregnancy. She still hadn’t shared the news with her extended family. Or about my need not to be the loser one out of our group of friends. The one in need of saving.
I settled for half the truth.
“Sailor and Hunter don’t know what Paxton did, and they’re the only people I’m close with who actually have this kind of money. They know Pax left me and took the money we’d saved, but they don’t know about the debt. I don’t want to taint my friendship with my best friend by putting her in this position. I figured you and I share no history, no ties. With us, it will be a business transaction and nothing more.”