The Villain

Page 15

Clearly, his fortunes had changed if he was flying first class these days.

“You’d be surprised to hear I am.” He grinned big, his chest swelling with pride. “Bought a house there last month. I’m getting back to my roots. To where I came from.”

He came from Back Bay, the rich pricks’ area, but I didn’t give him the pleasure of showing him I remembered.

“Just took a job with Green Living. You’re looking at their newest chief executive officer.”

Green Living was a nonprofit environmental organization that was seen as Greenpeace’s more violent, more daring sibling. There weren’t many companies that hated Royal Pipelines more than Green Living did, and there weren’t many men who loathed me as much as Andrew Arrowsmith.

This, in and of itself, wasn’t news. I could count on one hand the people who knew me and didn’t actively dislike me. What made Andrew dangerous was that he knew my secret.

The one thing I’d kept safely locked away since boarding school.

Since Evon.

Now that was a game changer.

“That’s cute,” I said dryly. “Do they know you’re about as competent as a napkin?”

That wasn’t true. I’d kept tabs on him over the years and knew that not only was he a successful attorney with a flair for ecology and environmental issues, but that he was also the morning shows and CNN darling. Every time climate change popped into the news, he was there with a microphone, either leading a mass demonstration, chaining himself to a goddamn tree, or talking about it on prime-time TV.

Andrew had interfered with Royal Pipelines’ business many times along his career. He bullied advertising companies from working with us, had a gaming company drop their partnership with us, and wrote a best-selling book about petroleum lords, essentially blaming companies like mine for giving people cancer.

He had fans, groupies, and Facebook groups dedicated to him, and I wouldn’t be surprised to know there was a dildo with his face on it.

“Oh, they know my capabilities, Fitzpatrick.” He plucked a flute of champagne from a stewardess’s tray. “Let’s not pretend we haven’t been keeping tabs on each other. You know my credentials. My victories. My agenda. I let my principles guide me just like my old man.”

His old man had been fired by my old man when we were both boys, thrusting the Arrowsmith family into a life of poverty. Before that, our families had been close, and Andrew and I had been best friends. The Arrowsmiths never forgave the Fitzpatricks for the betrayal even though Athair had a solid reason to fire Andrew Senior—the accountant had dipped his hand into the company’s honey jar.

“How’s your old man doing?” I asked.

“He passed away three years ago.”

“Not terribly good then.”

“I see being an asshole still runs in your blood.” He downed the champagne.

“Can’t fight my DNA,” I said bluntly. “Now, people who are out for my blood are another thing. I can fight them tooth and nail.”

“How ’bout Gerald? Still hanging in there?” Andrew ignored my thinly veiled threat.

“You know Gerry. He can survive anything short of a nuclear blast.”

“Speaking of soon-to-be dead things, I hear Daddy gave you the keys to Royal Pipelines since he had to step down because of… what was it?” He snapped his fingers, frowning. “Type 2 diabetes? Gluttony always ran in your family. How is he handling his health issues?”

“Wiping his tears with hundred-dollar bills.” I let loose a wolfish smirk. Arrowsmith tried to offend my delicate sensibilities, forgetting I had none.

We were still standing in the aisle when the new reality settled in, trickling into my bloodstream like poison.

Marrying was no longer an option.

It was a necessity to secure my position as Royal Pipelines CEO.

Andrew Arrowsmith was headed back to Boston to bring me down, taking over a company that put ruining Royal Pipelines on its flag.

He had leverage, an appetite for revenge, and was privy to my darkest secret.

I wasn’t losing the company, and I definitely wasn’t losing my wealth to Hunter and Aisling’s future kids.

“Are you going to skip to the good part, Andrew?” I made a show of yawning.

“No part of me believes we bumped into each other accidentally.”

“Always such a straight shooter.” Andrew leaned forward, dropping his voice low as he went in for the kill. “I may or may not have taken the job to settle an old score. The minute I heard you were on the throne, the temptation to behead the king became too much.” His breath fanned the side of my face. “Killing you and your father financially would be easy. With Gerald weak and out of the loop, and you vulnerable after years of bad press, I am going for your throat, Fitzpatrick. The media darling versus the press villain. Let the best man win.”

Sauntering back to my seat and making myself comfortable there, I flipped a page of the contract I was working on.

“You always were a silly boy,” I mused, flipping another page of the contract I was holding nonchalantly. “I will strip you of all the things you’ve managed to achieve since I’ve last seen you. Take whatever is near and dear to you, and watch you pay. Oh, and Andrew?” I looked up, flashing him a smirk. “Let me assure you, I am still the same resilient bastard you left behind.”

He went back to his family. I felt his gaze on the back of my head the entire flight.

I needed a bride, and quick.

Someone media-friendly to balance out who I was.

What I represented.

I knew just the person.

Days dragged like a nail over a blackboard.

I was on edge. Jumpy, cranky, and incapable of taking deep, satisfying breaths.

Ever since I returned from Cillian’s office empty-handed, I couldn’t stomach anything—be it food, coffee, water, or the sight of myself in the mirror.

My mind constantly drifted to a mental video of Byrne and Kaminski throwing my lifeless body into the Charles River. About Cillian’s rejection. The unbearable sting of it.

I’d forgotten the words to all the songs during circle time in class, almost fed Reid, who was lactose intolerant, Dahlia’s mac and cheese, and mixed kinetic sand with the real one, making a huge mess I had to stay late to clean up afterward.

Gray clouds swollen with rain hovered over me as I headed home, jogging from my bike to my entryway, clutching my shoulder bag in a vise grip. I reminded myself I had both pepper spray and a Taser, and that there was zero percent chance Byrne and Kaminski would kill me at my doorstep.

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