The Billionaire's Embrace Page 39

“Do they really meow?” I asked.

“Oh, the stories I could tell you,” she said.

At the end of the night, I walked her out to her waiting cab and bent to kiss her on the cheek. “I truly enjoyed myself tonight,” I said. “This is going to sound horrible, but I’d like to be friends, if you’re interested.”

“That does sound horrible,” she said, smiling up at me. “Men always say that, and they never mean it.”

“I mean it, though,” I said. “Give me a call sometime, if you’d like. Carolina can give you my number.”

“I’ll keep it in mind,” she said. She winked at me and climbed into the cab.

I waited until she had pulled away from the curb, then sighed and pulled out my phone to call Henry. No more blind dates for me, no matter how much Carolina thought it was a good idea. I felt terrible for wasting Jenna’s time.

When Henry arrived, I asked him to take me to the office. I could already tell that I wasn’t going to get much sleep, so I might as well get some work done. I checked my email on my phone as we headed south. My inbox was full, as usual, and I idly scrolled through, looking for anything that needed immediate attention.

One message caught my eye. It was from Richard Hackett, the fraudster I’d spent the last year trying to catch doing something incriminating.

He wanted to meet at the Silver Cross on Sunday night, to discuss some business.

Reading his email, I took a deep breath and then slowly exhaled until my lungs were empty. I had promised myself that I would stay away from Regan, in an effort to give us both the space that we needed, and showing up at her workplace would directly violate that vow. But if Hackett wanted to talk, I couldn’t let that opportunity pass by.

I would just have to hope that Regan wouldn’t be working on Sunday.

Chapter 13

Sunday night at the Silver Cross was in full swing by the time I arrived around 8:00, but the hostess recognized me and sat me at a small table near the stage. I ordered a Scotch and watched the dancer gyrate around the pole, contorting herself into positions that broke at least three laws of physics. Blondes weren’t my type, but I couldn’t deny that she was incredibly attractive. Of course, Germaine ran a tight ship, and wouldn’t hire a girl who was anything less than jaw-dropping.

I looked around the room, noting a handful of familiar faces, customers and servers alike.

Christ. I should admit it to myself: I was looking for Regan. Hackett was the ostensible reason I had come here tonight, but the real reason was Regan.

Obviously a stupid decision. I had promised myself that I wouldn’t come looking for her, and yet here I was, pathetically looking over my shoulder as though she would materialize and beg me to take her back.

If I hadn’t told Hackett that I would meet with him, I would have left right then. I should have left anyway, and sent him an apologetic email claiming that something came up at the office. Hackett, for all his many faults, was a businessman at heart; he would understand that the demands of my company took precedence over everything else.

Well. Almost everything.

I had halfway talked myself into abandoning the meeting when I saw Hackett approaching me. Too late, then. I discreetly checked that my wire was still in place. If I couldn’t get Hackett on tape, it didn’t matter what he said to me: it would be my word against his, and the prosecutors would never be able to get the charges to stick.

I knew Hackett through my father. He had been something of a protégé, at one point, before my father realized that Hackett lacked a moral compass and had no compunctions about doing whatever it took to turn a profit. There was no overt falling out, but my father had subtly distanced himself from Hackett, and instead of becoming a VP at Sutton Industries like everyone expected, Hackett had gone to work for a hedge fund.

All of this happened before I was old enough to understand the details, but I still had enough of an association with Hackett that federal prosecutors had approached me for assistance with building a case against the man. That had been one of the strangest meetings of my life: two men in dark suits talking in circles until I finally figured out what they were asking me to do. I understood that they needed to make certain I wouldn’t go running straight to Hackett, but it was incredibly difficult to agree to covert observation when nobody was willing to outright state that they wanted me to perform said observation.

At first, I had felt a little like James Bond, wearing a wire to Hackett’s favorite sex club and doing my best to entrap him into revealing sensitive information. As the months wore on, though, the novelty wore off. I had been inviting Hackett to private parties at the club for a solid year, and he had shown every inclination to take advantage of the nude dancers and no inclination whatsoever to tell me the details of his ongoing securities fraud.

Also, I despised the man. He had no respect for women, and it gave me the creeps.

I stood up as he approached the table, and held out my hand for him to shake. His palm was clammy, and he looked, as always, both sweaty and excessively pale. He was pudgy in the way that settled on men as they approached middle age, unless they made concerted efforts to avoid it; and Hackett spent most of his time sitting behind a desk, eating greasy takeout. He was good at what he did, and one of the hardest workers I knew, but he had gotten greedy and succumbed to the timeless allure of insider trading and Ponzi schemes.

“Good to see you, Carter,” he said. “Jesus, what a day I’ve had.” He slumped down into an empty chair and rested his elbows on the table. “Thanks for meeting with me.”

“You don’t have to thank me,” I said. “I’m always happy to see an old friend.” The words tasted sour in my mouth. I didn’t enjoy lying, even when it served the greater good.

“Good man, Sutton,” he said. A waitress approached our table, and Hackett ordered a martini, extra dry, because he was evidently determined to be a walking stereotype. As soon the waitress walked away, he turned to me and said, “Business first, and then let’s party.”

“Sure,” I said. “Whatever you want.” I had little hope that tonight would be the night he finally spilled something worth listening to, but the FBI agent who was primary contact had told me again and again that my most important duty was cultivating a friendly relationship with Hackett. Spend enough time making nice, the idea was, and eventually he would let something slip.

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