The Billionaire's Embrace Page 61

I rose from my chair and leaned across the table to give my mother a kiss on the cheek. “Thank you,” I said.

“Just promise me that you won’t let her talk you into moving to some horrid outer borough,” my mother said.

“Brooklyn’s fashionable now,” I said. “Haven’t you heard?”

“Speak not these words!” my mother cried dramatically, clasping at her bosom.

The rest of the evening went smoothly. My mother interrogated me about the company over dessert, and then claimed she was tired of discussing business matters and insisted we have another drink and look at her latest painting. Regan, bless her, commented very appropriately on the unusual use of color. I wondered if she had been reading up on art criticism. It seemed like the sort of thing she would do; I knew how fond she was of her library card.

As we left, my mother shook Regan’s hand again and said, “I think we understand each other now. I intend for us to get along very nicely.”

Regan, looking a bit bemused, said, “I think that can probably happen.”

In the car on the way back to my apartment, I wrapped one arm around her shoulders and planted a kiss on top of her head. “I hope that wasn’t too awful for you.”

“No, it was fine,” she said. “I can’t believe I told her off like that! I was just so mad, and I opened my mouth and heard myself saying all those things—oh, I just wanted to sink into the floor!”

“It was glorious,” I said, and kissed her again. “I don’t think anyone’s spoken to my mother like that in at least a decade. It’s good for her. I was about to have some stern words with her if you hadn’t gotten there first.”

“I was afraid you would be mad,” she said.

“Never,” I said. “Yell at my mother as much as you want. I’ll revel in it. She’s impossible. I adore her, but I’m not blind to her faults.”

“I hope I don’t have to yell at her ever again,” Regan said, looking worried. She leaned her head against my chest and said, “Carter, I need to tell you something.”

My pulse quickened, and my mind leaped instantly to a hundred different terrible conclusions. “What’s that?” I asked, keeping my voice steady. Was the thought of dealing with my mother really so frightening that Regan would rather break up with me again? I told myself that I was being paranoid. Things had been going so well; Regan probably wanted to tell me that she had homework and couldn’t spend the night.

“I love you,” she said.

I wasn’t sure I had heard her correctly, over the sudden ringing in my ears. “What?”

“I know it’s too soon,” she said, “and I know you’re probably still mad at me for breaking up with you, and I don’t blame you if you don’t trust me, but I can’t keep it to myself anymore. I love you so much, and I just—I thought you should know.”

Oh, Regan. Here I had been, fretting over how to tell her, wanting to make it special, and she put me to shame with her bravery. She kept her face turned away, refusing to look up at me, until I tucked one finger beneath her chin and forced her to make eye contact with me.

“Regan, I love you,” I said. “I’ve been trying to think of how to tell you. And I’m not angry with you, and I do trust you. I love you so much that I constantly feel like my heart is about to burst from my chest.”

“I hope it doesn’t, because that sounds really gross,” she said, and then burst into tears.

I turned and wrapped both of my arms around her, holding her against my chest. “What did I say?”

“I’m happy,” she choked out. “Happy tears.”

My Regan. I held her and kissed her forehead and knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she was the last woman I would ever love.

Chapter 20

The next month passed in a wonderful, delirious blur of work and Regan. I woke up one morning and realized it was almost May. Regan and I spent the weekend out on the terrace, basking in the sunlight like oversized lizards. She tanned to a dark caramel color; I burned, and had to listen to her laugh at me while she rubbed aloe on my tender shoulders.

“You just don’t understand the struggle of the white man,” I told her.

She laughed. “I told you to put on more sunblock,” she said. “It’s not my fault you have an inadequate amount of melanin.”

“God save me from your biology factoids,” I said. “Isn’t the semester over yet?”

“Two more weeks,” she said. “Don’t forget that you promised me you’d help me study for my exam.”

“The Golgi apparatus transduces cytoplasm from the vesicles!” I said.

“Oh dear, I’m going to fail,” she said.

Sunburn and biology classes aside, it was a glorious month. I was in love, and when I walked, my feet barely touched the pavement. I practically skipped into work in the mornings, and skipped out again in the evenings. Nothing could ruin the warm glow that had settled in around my breastbone and made a permanent home for itself.

One sunny afternoon in early May, I decided to go out for lunch, and ate a sandwich on a bench near the waterfront, enjoying the weather. When I returned to the office, Nancy was waiting for me.

“You had a call while you were out,” she said, handing me a slip of paper. “A gentleman from the FBI. You haven’t done anything illegal, have you, sir?”

I grinned. “No, not me,” I said. “Butter wouldn’t melt in my mouth.” It must have been Hernandez calling—maybe to tie up some loose ends about Hackett. I went into my office and called the number that Nancy had written down for me.

“Hernandez,” a voice said.

“This is Carter Sutton,” I said. “My secretary said that you called.”

“Sutton! Yes, I did,” Hernandez said. “How’s it going? Business good?”

“As always,” I said. “What can I do for you?”

“Look, I’ll just cut to the chase,” Hernandez said. “We need you to testify before Congress.”

I sat down at my desk, heart sinking. I knew all along that this had been a possibility, but I’d hoped it wouldn’t come to pass. “The investigation turned out well, I take it.”

“Oh yeah,” Hernandez said. “That rabbit hole went pretty deep, it turns out. Hackett’s small fry. Once we started following the Mafia leads, well—let’s just say there are several state legislators and a Senator involved.”

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