I glanced over my shoulder at Preston. “Why didn’t you go to the reunion?”
“Because it’s not his family,” Charlie quipped.
“My, my you’re a beautiful young lady,” John cut in, once again ignoring Charlie’s comments and changing the subject. He held me back with a firm grip on my shoulders to examine me.
I was so lost. John didn’t seem to have a mean bone in his body, he also didn’t seem to acknowledge the fact that there was a serious rift between the Strauss sons. And what was that about not being Preston’s family? Obviously Preston was John’s son, so was Junior over there just saying stupid things and being a douche for the hell of it?
“Beautiful?” Charlie’s gaze openly slid down my body and I felt the instant need to shower.
Preston stepped toward his brother, shoulders square, a brick tower closing in on an anthill.
“That’s enough,” John snapped, than instantly returned his attention back to me. “Where are you from, dear?” I looked at Preston with what had to be horror because what the hell was happening? This was the worst conversation ever, if it could even be called that. It felt more like a string of insults laced with a question here and there.
When Preston’s death stare finally turned from Charlie and found mine, I watched his chest rise on a deep breath. The look on his face was that of a man who mastered control and obviously practiced in letting certain things go. Vulnerability and raw animosity warred over his expression, and the look broke something in my heart.
I stepped away from John and back toward Preston. Lacing my fingers through his, I gripped his hand and smiled up at him. I didn’t know what the issues were, but fake fiancé or not, as long as I was there, he wouldn’t face it alone.
“I’m from Illinois,” I said, facing John once more. “I grew up on the outskirts of Chicago.”
“Beautiful city,” John said. He seemed like such a sweet, genuine man and I couldn’t help but like him immediately. Preston gave a gentle squeeze and my muscles eased a bit and a touch of relaxation spread through me.
“Well, this is just wonderful news. Why don’t we all grab a bite and get caught up,” John said.
“Father, we came here for a board meeting. That’s it,” Charlie grated.
“Megan was just on her way out. She has a doctor’s appointment,” Preston said. He unwound his fingers from mine. A streak of loss and sadness was quickly replaced when I felt that same hand once again find the small of my back and rest there.
“Nothing serious I hope?” John asked.
“Oh, no.” I smiled. Not unless you count marrying your son and gathering proof you’re not going to entrap him with a child “serious.”
Preston leaned in so his lips were by my ear and whispered so only I could hear, “Get me those medical records and we’ll sign the paperwork tonight.” His breath against my neck made my knees weak for the millionth time that hour. At this rate, I’d never stand straight in Preston’s presence.
He pulled back, his voice a normal pitch. “I’ll let Brooke know about your appointment. See you tonight, sweetheart.” With that, he slapped my ass.
I stood and gaped at him. He just smiled and John was going to burst with beaming happiness. Junior looked about ready to birth a littler of swamp rats.
“Okay, bye,” I said and took a stuttered step toward the exit.
“Nice meeting you, dear,” John called.
“You too, sir.”
Preston led them in the opposite direction to what, I could only assume, was the board meeting Charlie spoke of.
My heels took a few unsteady clacks against marble as I walked to the front doors. I glanced at Brooke behind the desk. She was silently sending me strength. The woman probably thought I’d just been sacked, instead of sacking the boss.
God, what have I gotten myself into?
I sat in the back of the town car and stared out the window. New York really was beautiful. It had been a long day, but after being poked, prodded and examined, Preston’s driver picked me up and was en route back to the hotel.
When I left, I hadn’t even the time to get my arm up for a taxi before Preston’s driver pulled up with strict orders to take me to Preston’s personal doctor. Lots of personal stuff was going on and apparently all the arrangements had been made, without me, while I was on the way there.
My phone buzzed and I pulled it out of my purse. It was Kate.
“How’s Miss Big City doing?” Kate asked.
I missed her the moment I heard her voice. We talked almost every day but it was still a hard adjustment. We’d lived together since college and had been best friends even longer. Leaving her behind had been difficult, but after she and Adam got engaged, I knew it was only a matter of time before she moved out anyway.
“Chicago was a big city,” I defended.
“Yeah, but it’s not the same thing as New York.”
That was true.
“I miss you so much, Meg! Everyone is leaving for spring break and I have nothing to grade and no lectures to give and I just…I miss you.”
My heart sank a little. “I miss you too.” But miss didn’t begin to describe it. The last several months had changed my life in such a fundamental way, it was hard to say what I was truly lacking and what I was really aching for.
There was a distance in everything I once held close. Kate was the one person who knew everything about me, the one person I confided in, but after things fell apart and Tim went to jail, I couldn’t bring myself to tell her about my parents’ involvement, or that all of their money was gone.
Call it shame or pride, I took the best job I could get, determined to fix it on my own. Kate had already been through enough in her life. She would have felt terrible if she knew her uncle cheated my parents. She would have set to make it right. But that was my job, and one I took seriously. Still, keeping pieces of my life secret from the ones I cared about most was tough.
“You can’t be too upset about spring break. You have Adam to occupy you,” I said, going for a lighter conversation.
She giggled a little. A true, honest sound of bliss. I was so happy for her that she found someone as amazing as Adam. They both had issues to overcome but I’d never met two people more perfect for each other.
“That’s true. Speaking of Adam, it looks like his firm has a job opening—”
“Kate, I can’t. We’ve been over this. I learned the hard way that working for family is not a good idea. You and I are family.”