The Billionaire's Embrace Page 56

I couldn’t think of what she was talking about, and then remembered: I hadn’t spoken to her since I got back in touch with Regan. She must have thought I was still licking my wounds. “No despair,” I said. “So, what’s on your mind?”

Carolina laughed. “No time for chit-chat! All business! Let’s go out tonight. A new club just opened, and I hear only good things about it.”

“Hmm,” I said. “I’m afraid I can’t.” I had plans with Regan: we were going to try a new restaurant she had heard about, on the Lower East Side. I was trying to be more conscientious about avoiding the upscale places that made her nervous, and she, in turn, was exposing me to a side of the city I had never experienced.

“You are seeing someone new,” Carolina said immediately, and I closed my eyes, silently cursing myself. I should have given her a concrete excuse. She knew me too well, and knew that I was at my most vague when I had started seeing someone and wasn’t ready to talk about it.

And if I denied it, she would simply keep prying until I spilled all of the details—or, worse, she would call my mother, and they would both set to work on me. It wasn’t worth the grief. “Fine,” I said. “Yes, okay, I admit it. I’m seeing someone.”

Carolina made a delighted noise. “Who is she? Do I know her? Not Jenna, because you never called her, you bad man—”

“No, you don’t know her,” I said, and sighed, succumbing to the inevitable. “Remember that woman I was seeing back in the fall?”

“Oh, Carter,” Carolina said. “Don’t tell me—”

“Yes, I’m back together with her,” I said. “And it’s going well, and I’m happy, so please don’t spend too much time berating me.”

“Carter, she left you,” Carolina said. “You were so sad for so long. How do you know she won’t leave you again?”

“Don’t you think I’ve already asked myself that question? I’ve decided it’s worth the risk. I spent so long being bitter after I broke things off with Spencer. I don’t want to wake up one day and realize that I’m old and I’ve spent my entire life being afraid to take the chance to let someone in. There’s no point to life without love.”

“Is that what this is?” Carolina asked. “Love?”

I drew in a breath. “I love her,” I said, and as I spoke the words, I knew they were true. I hadn’t admitted it to myself yet, but I did: I loved Regan, whole-heartedly, without reservation, and she was worth it. She was worth the risk.

“Well,” Carolina said. “How can I berate you, then? You are a grown man, I suppose. When do I get to meet this woman?”

“Soon,” I said, smiling. I had a feeling that Regan and Carolina would get along all too well, and that the quantity of female conspiracies centered around me would drastically increase. “I don’t want to scare her off.”

Carolina gasped. “Scare her off? Me? I would never do such a thing!”

We talked for a few more minutes, Carolina telling me all the details of her latest modeling job, and she extracted a promise to have brunch with her that weekend. I ended the conversation with a sense of relief: Carolina wasn’t angry with me for my neglect, and now I could return to my work with a guiltless conscience.

There was still one important thing that needed my attention: the case against Hackett. It had been weeks since I last held a party at the Silver Cross. In part, I felt that it would be disloyal to Regan to return there, as we both knew all too well the sorts of activities that went on behind closed doors. I also, frankly, had lost interest. Although my primary motivation in attending the club had always been to wring information from Hackett, I would be a liar if I claimed that I didn’t enjoy being showered with attention by half-naked women. Although I had never availed myself of the club’s more exclusive services, the idea that I could had been titillating in and of itself.

But now, with Regan, my sexual needs were more than fulfilled, and the thought of watching the dancers rub against Hackett seemed vaguely distasteful. I couldn’t delay it forever, though. My contact at the FBI had called me a few days ago, requesting an update, and I’d been forced to admit my complete lack of progress. It was time to hold another party.

I called Germaine and reserved a room for Thursday evening, and had Nancy call a dozen or so men to extend invitations. The goal of the parties was to put Hackett at ease, lower his inhibitions, and it was important to have enough attendees that he wouldn’t feel singled out. Fortunately, I had enough social cachet, and the club enough mystique, that I never had difficulty attracting guests, even with notice that would otherwise be considered inappropriately short.

That night, as Regan and I rode back to my apartment after dinner, I said, “I’ll be throwing a party at the club later this week.”

“Oh?” she said, looking at me expectantly, her expression one of polite interest.

Cautiously pressing onward, I said, “I still haven’t caught Hackett doing anything incriminating, but it’s important to keep trying. You aren’t bothered?”

“No,” she said, “why would I be? I used to work there, you know.”

“Yes, exactly,” I said. “So you know precisely what sort of debauchery goes on.”

She smiled at me. “Am I supposed to be concerned? Are you planning to take one of the dancers into a back room and have your way with her?”

“Of course not,” I said, mildly offended that she would even consider the possibility.

“Then why would I worry?” she asked. “I trust you.”

She said it so simply, as though she had no idea what those words meant to me. I supposed it was possible that she didn’t. I had decided to trust her, to let her back into my life; and to have that trust returned to me, to have her look at me with those big eyes and tell me that she wasn’t worried, made me feel like the universe was giving me a sign that everything would work out for the best.

My conversation with Carolina was fresh in my mind, but this wasn’t the right time. Instead of saying what was in my heart, I leaned over and kissed Regan deeply, one hand cupping the back of her head, and she returned my kiss so sweetly, my perfect girl, the best of all my angels.

* * *

On Thursday evening, I arrived at the club half an hour before my party was scheduled to begin. I needed time to ascertain that all of the hidden microphones were working. That was the reason I always held my parties in room 4—not, as Regan once suggested to me, as a consequence of any sexual obsession with the number 4. I wore a wire under my shirt as well, but the redundancy ensured that nothing Hackett said would go unrecorded.

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