The Billionaire's Embrace Page 57

I didn’t expect him to say anything of interest, though. I had essentially given up on the idea that this investigation would bear fruit. Perhaps it was time to tender my resignation to the FBI. Although I was initially happy to provide whatever assistance I could, the shine wore off as the months wore on with no results, and I didn’t want to spend the next decade of my life visiting the Silver Cross on a regular basis and hoping that Hackett would give me a few crumbs of information.

It was different when I was still single, but now, with Regan, I wanted to spend my evenings with her, not watching grown men embarrass themselves over women who were paid to feign interest.

Standing on a chair on tiptoes to check a mic in the ceiling, I decided: I would go through with tonight’s party, but that was it. No more. I would call my contact and tell him I’d had enough.

But first, to survive the evening.

All of the mics were in place, and still working properly. With ten minutes to go, I went out to the bar and fetched the server Germaine had assigned to me. She was a new girl, one I didn’t recognize—Regan’s replacement, maybe—but pretty enough, and conservatively dressed, which would keep her safe from any wandering hands. If she knew who I was, she gave no indication. I asked her to bring a few bottles of Scotch, and she set out glasses and pitchers of water, and fluffed all of the cushions on the couches.

Exactly at 7:00, the first guest arrived: an older man named Johnson, who seemed to find the club amusing, and never stayed for more than an hour and a few drinks. He worked for an investment bank, and I suspected that he attended my parties primarily as a way to sniff out my latest investment strategy. I appreciated his mercenary approach, and greeted him warmly.

Sure enough, he said, “Evening, Sutton. I’m hoping you’ll give me your opinion about an investment I’m considering.”

“I’d be happy to,” I said, entertained by his predictability, and by the time the next guest arrived, we were already deep in a conversation about the relative merits of REITs.

Hackett showed up late, but not exceptionally so—half an hour, more or less. He was often late; for all his faults, he had an impressive work ethic, and had never fully abandoned the long hours he must have kept as a first-year analyst. I gave him a friendly nod as he settled on the couch across from me, but immediately returned to my conversation with Johnson. It was a delicate balance: show interest, but not too much; keep him interested, but don’t spook him. Even though I intended to jump ship after tonight, I had no desire to ruin the investigation.

Shortly after Hackett arrived, the dancers came in: three of them, wearing seductive scraps of clothing that they quickly shed as they moved among the guests, shimmying and seducing, sitting on laps and then sliding off again, elusive as snakes. I sipped my Scotch and watched as Hackett lured one of the dancers toward him and began kissing her neck and groping her breasts, her nipples hardening between his fingers. Good: he wouldn’t be leaving soon.

The evening dragged on interminably. If I had been at home, I would be curled on the sofa with Regan, eating ice cream and laughing at one of the terrible reality shows she was so addicted to; and then going to bed early to take my time with her, exploring her body, pretending that neither of us had to work the next day, that the world outside my apartment had ceased to exist, that nothing was more important than the way we fit together beneath the sheets.

That was what I wanted. Not to be here, feigning interest in the dancers and the conversations taking place around me: wives, mistresses, ungrateful children, mortgages, car leases, all the mundane parts of life that felt as far away from me as Jupiter. What did I care about mortgage refinancing? I was in love.

I wanted to tell her. I didn’t want to wait. I wanted to go outside and call her, listen to her voice on the other end of the line, and tell her that I loved her and never wanted to be apart.

Christ. I had to get my head on straight. I wasn’t here to daydream about Regan like a schoolgirl.

I excused myself and headed for the restroom, intending give myself a stern talking-to in the mirror, maybe splash a bit of water on my face. The club was relatively quiet, and the restroom was mercifully empty. I took a seat on one of the incongruous velvet couches just inside the entrance and checked my email on my phone. Nothing that couldn’t wait until the morning. I sent a quick text to Regan: Dull night at the club, wish you were here.

She replied immediately, which made me suspect she’d had her phone at her side, waiting to hear from me. The thought pleased me more than it should have. Mister are you propositioning me?

I grinned, and was halfway through my reply when the door opened.

I looked up. It was Hackett.

“Good, I hoped I’d find you here,” he said. “Can we talk?”

I put my phone away, keeping my expression carefully neutral. “Here?”

“Yeah,” he said. He sat down on the other couch, hunched over, hands dangling between his knees. “Too many people in that room. It’s... this is sort of delicate. Confidential, you know?”

Somewhere in my head, a siren went off, blaring loudly: This is it. I tried to silence it. Hackett had faked me out before, made me think he was about to spill everything and instead unburdened himself of some type of marital distress that he evidently thought would be beneficial to share with me. I didn’t want to get too excited over nothing.

“Confidential, sure,” I said, voice light. “Something on your mind? Problems at work?”

“You could say that,” he said. He was, I realized, sweating profusely. He raised one hand to wipe across his forehead. “I’m—look, Sutton, this could ruin me if it gets out, okay? But your dad was like family to me, and I trust you. You wouldn’t betray something told to you in confidence, would you?” He gave me a sharp look.

“Of course not,” I said, lying through my teeth and hating myself for it. Hackett was slime, but I prided myself on being a man who kept his word. “But I can’t imagine it’s that bad, Richard—”

“Oh, it is,” he said. “Look, it was all a big mistake, okay? I was desperate, and the investment seemed too good to be true, and by the time I woke up and realized it was too good to be true, it was too late. And then I thought, why stop now? I’m already fucked, so why not run with it? So I did, and now—Christ. I think I’ve got the feds after me, Carter. I think they’re tapping my phone.”

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