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“Where will you stay?”

“Grandfather’s estate.”

I barely move a muscle. “It’s now my estate.”

Ronin laughs, easing into his playful mode. The kind he uses when he’s trying to charm the panties off an unsuspecting heiress or socialite. Trouble is, I won’t be biting.

“I’m just here to meet with the lawyers and get my cut.”

Anger ignites a fuse, that travels through my system, threatening to detonate at any minute.

“Your cut?”

Grandfather’s final words as the oxygen tank filled his lungs with air so he could spend a few more minutes here on this god forsaken earth were pretty clear, “Your brother will have nothing now. Take care of him.”

I nodded, promising my grandfather I would do so, even though I never intended to fulfill his request.

“I think you’re misinformed,” I tell him.

The playfulness leaves his brown eyes. “I need to speak with grandfather’s attorney.”

“That you do, and I need to speak to Clementine—alone.”

“No, you really don’t,” she says. “Seems like you two have some important issues to deal with. Feel free to do it elsewhere.”

He turns to face her. “I’m sorry. It was great seeing you again.” He kisses her cheek, and then brushes past me. “See you soon, little brother.”

When he’s out of range, I focus all my attention on Clementine. “Ten million dollars.”

“I can’t be bought.” Her voice carries across the graveyard. “I’m not a whore.”

“Fuck, Clementine, keep your voice down.”

“Like I said,” she says in a lower voice, “I can’t be bought.”

“Everyone has a price.”

“Not me.” She raises her chin in defiance, stubborn written all over her makeup-free face.

“Meet me at my home tomorrow at noon.” Maybe if I show her some of the benefits of living with extreme wealth, she’ll change her mind.

“I’m not going to your house.”

She moves past me and hurries across the grounds toward the parking lot as if she can escape this situation. She can’t.

I leave the graveyard and pay my death dues all evening.

I loved the manipulating bastard.

I did.

Not the man we buried today, but the grandfather who took in two orphaned grandsons when their parents died.

I have to hand it to him, even after death, Joseph Prince still wants to rule my life.

Of all the people my grandfather could have picked, why Clementine Bright?

She isn’t royalty. She’s not an heiress. She’s nothing.

She’s stunning, though—a natural beauty—with an air of innocence about her petite frame that my grandfather would have pegged for weakness. Is that why he chose her for me? Part of me thinks he fully underestimated her. He always had a weakness for a pretty face. Beautiful women are a dime a dozen, and I’d never fall for a woman like her. Her attitude is one in need of work.

Major work.

The next afternoon, when Clementine doesn’t show, I drive to the outskirts of town, past overgrown lots, to a small house on Pineloch Street. I smile at the potted plants blooming underneath the light blue awnings on each windowsill.

At least she tries.

I ring the bell.

Clementine opens the door, and shocked doesn’t even begin to cover the expression on her face. “What are you doing here?”

“You wouldn’t come to my home, so I decided to come to yours.”

“How did you even know where I lived?” She steps aside, letting me into her quaint cottage.

“I know a lot of things, Miss Bright.”

A small dark-haired child runs up, with his arms outstretched, yelling, “Mommy. Mommy.”

She shuts the door behind me, and already I feel like I can’t breathe. He plows into Clementine, wrapping his arms around her knees as she bends over to hug him.

This, I didn’t know.

Three

Clementine

Tiny humans have strange effects on people. From what I’ve experienced, they either morph into baby-talking personal space invaders or stay-away-from-me kidphobes. By the way he’s staring at the barely over three-foot tall child in front of me, Gabriel falls into the latter category. He looks like he just lost his fortune.

I’ll admit, I’m feeling a little smug. “I’m guessing that proposal doesn’t seem like such a good idea now?”

His dark eyes finally pull away from the little boy checking him out to mine. “Is he yours?”

“Yes.”

“How old is he?”

“Four, and his name is Tennyson.”

“Hi,” Tennyson says, holding up four fingers.

“That’s a big name for such a little guy,” Gabriel tells him.

“What’s your name?” Tennyson asks.

“Gabriel.”

“Want some pizza?” Tennyson asks, trusting like only a child can. “Mommy got half-cheese, half-pepperoni.”

That familiar protective instinct I get when Tennyson darts into a crowd, or does something equally heart attack inducing, emerges likes claws ready to draw blood. This seems like a very teachable moment about the dangers of talking to strangers. If there’s any reason to shove Gabriel out the door, it’s Tennyson.

I’ve been very careful, and now, Gabriel’s grandfather is threatening to blow down my house of cards like the big bad wolf he was before he left this earth to terrorize people on the other side.


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