My anxiety climbed, but I tried not to let it show. Damn, I should have just called Linc. He would have come over and taken care of the girls without asking a single question.
With Arella safe and comfortable, Drake finally took the seat that separated me and Neveah. His big hand caught mine and gave it a reassuring squeeze. He leaned in close and pressed his lips to my ear. “I’m right here, Angel. No matter what, I’m right here.”
I wanted to crawl onto his lap and let him hide me away from the monsters that were coming. Instead I let his strength float from him to me through our joined hands and stiffened my spine as the conference room door opened again. I clenched my jaw as Brenton Goldman entered once more and was quickly followed by a man who looked nothing like me but carried half of the same DNA as me.
Garon was a mixture of his mother and our father. He had Cole’s eyes—just as I did—the same jaw line, the same stubborn tilt to his arrogant head. He was as tall as Cole, but leaner. He had the body of a runner, but no real muscle definition anywhere on his skinny body.
Something he and his mother had in common, I noticed, when Claudia Steel entered the room. No. No, she didn’t just enter the room. She took over the room as soon as her expensively heeled foot stepped inside. She had a presence about her that screamed for anyone within eyeshot to look at her. Claudia was a beautiful woman, still incredibly lovely, and it wasn’t all thanks to a well-paid plastic surgeon, although there was no way a woman her age could have had a face that looked that young without at least a little nip and tuck here and there.
Her blue eyes stayed on her son as she stepped completely into the room, her head held high as she forced us all to look right at her. I couldn’t not look at her, couldn’t keep from comparing this woman to my own mother and finding that they shared odd similarities. Lydia Daniels would have been just like this woman if she were still alive. The same haughty eyes, the same ‘you’re beneath me’ tilt of her lips as she more sneered than smiled at her son.
“Who’s that, Pop-Pop?”
I inwardly groaned as my curious toddler spoke, pulling every eye in the room to her as she sat beside her grandfather with a small bottle of water in her lap that Brenton Goldman had handed over along with Cole’s coffee. Should have called Linc, I thought not for the first time in as many minutes, when I saw my father give his granddaughter a smirk. “That’s the devil’s sister, pretty girl.”
“Oh.” While everyone else’s eyes were on Neveah, her blue-gray gaze was on Claudia Steel. “She’s pretty.”
If I hadn’t glanced at the older woman right then, I might have missed the flash of surprise cross her face. It came and went so quickly that I still wasn’t completely sure it had happened. Was she surprised that my child was so frank? That was just the way Neveah was. She didn’t know how to tell a lie…yet. Everyone around her always spoke the truth as much as possible, so she didn’t even know what a lie really was.
“Only on the outside, pretty girl,” Cole assured her as he took a sip of his coffee. “Only on the outside.”
Ursula stood. “Mrs. Steel.” She greeted the woman with her megawatt, professional smile. “Mr. Steel.” She shook Garon’s hand. “Thank you for joining us today.”
“I’d say it’s a pleasure…” Claudia said in her ultra sophisticated voice as she took a seat across the huge table from me. Her gaze went to Cole for a moment before landing on me. “…But obviously it isn’t.”
Drake’s hold on my hand tightened, telling me that while I might not have been insulted by this woman, he definitely was on my behalf. I squeezed his hand back, letting him know that I was fine. It was time to stop acting like a scared little girl—even if that was how this bitch made me feel—and start acting like the woman I was. “Yes,” I told her, my tone bored. “As you can see, it’s no picnic for us to be here either. So why don’t we cut the pleasantries. They only turn my stomach.”
Garon sat back in his chair and smirked at me. Gods, how I wanted to wipe that fucking smirk off his face. “It’s good to see that you have sense enough to play this right, Lana. I’m sure we can be adults about this and reach an understanding without involving a judge.”
I lifted a brow at the man who was my brother. “Yes. I’m sure we can.” I gave him a smile that was just as fake as his mother’s forehead. “You see, I think you must assume I’m a complete idiot, Garon. I know good and well that there isn’t a judge alive who will take your case seriously. I’m only here because I’d rather not have my girls’ lives disrupted more than needed. Cole agrees with me on that. Right, Dad?”
The temperature in the room dropped a good ten degrees when I called Cole “Dad’. Garon stiffened and Claudia’s face froze with a look that was in no way pretty. “You let her call you ‘Dad’?” Claudia asked with a sneer.
“I’m her father, so of course I let her call me ‘Dad’.” Cole took another swallow of his coffee. “The girl is my family. The only family I seem to have these days.” He gave Garon a cold look. “And she’s right. You don’t have a leg to stand on. I know that you’re both broke as a joke. Just as I know that your production company is about to file bankruptcy if it doesn’t get a quick infusion of cash.”
The room grew even colder and I was sure that Claudia’s face was so hard it might never unfreeze. “Where would you get such an idea?”
“I still have friends in the movie business,” he told her calmly before turning his cold gaze back to his son. “If you’d approached me yourself, I would have gladly backed you, boy. Now you pull this shit, trying to drag Lana through the mud, and expect me to play fair?” He shook his head. “You’re out of luck, kid. Not only will you not get a penny from Lana, but there isn’t a prayer in hell that could get me to loan you fifty bucks, let alone the millions you need.”
Garon crossed his arms over his lean chest. “Why are we here today if you aren’t willing to cooperate?” he demanded, not nearly the block of ice as his mother so obviously was. It was one more thing he took after our father. His temper was a hot one. “Don’t think that I won’t announce to the world who you really are, Lana. What your mother was.” He practically spat my name as he turned those fiery brown eyes on me.
Drake sat a little straighter in his chair. “Say her name like that again, and I’ll show you exactly why I’m here.”
“Gentlemen,” Ursula tried to intervene. “We’re here to discuss everything in a civil manner. “I’m sure we can come to some kind of reasonable understanding.”
“Cole doesn’t understand the meaning of civil,” Claudia said with disdain. “He’s nothing more than a heathen.” She snorted. “Good to see you haven’t changed.”
Cole tipped his cup at her with a smartass grin on his face. “And you, Claudia. Still coldly beautiful. How I’ve missed the frostbite that accompanies you into every room, love.”
“Pop-Pop, can I have an ice cream?”
“Of course you can, pretty girl.” Cole tapped a finger on the tip of Neveah’s nose, making her giggle.
“After dinner,” I was quick to compromise before my daughter started asking for one right then.
“Okay, Momma.” She reached out and took hold of Cole’s hand. “Will you eat dinner with us, Pop-Pop?”
“Anything you want, pretty girl.” He lifted her from her chair and tucked her in his arms.
Watching the two, Garon and Claudia seemed at a loss. Garon’s jaw clenched and I could have sworn there was jealousy in his honey-brown eyes. I nearly laughed at the sight. Really? This grown man was jealous of my little daughter and the relationship she had with her ‘pop-pop’? Seriously, this fucker needed to grow up.
“Perhaps we could get down to the business at hand rather than trading insults?” Brenton Goldman suggested, sounding only slightly bored as he watched our exchange. “I am being paid by the hour, though, so if you would like to keep throwing daggers at each other, I’m okay with that.”
Drake rolled his shoulders back, seemingly to try and get his tensi
on to ease. “The man’s right. We’re here to talk about this idiot trying to sue my wife for a ridiculous amount of money for something that wasn’t her fault.” He lifted my hand and kissed my knuckles, his eyes glowing with love for me for just a moment before they turned icy and he looked back at my brother. “I don’t want her to have to go through the media circus that will become our lives if this gets out. So I’m willing to name a price if it will glue your mouth shut and I’ll never have to see the stress on her beautiful face again.”
I frowned, surprised at what Drake was saying. What was he doing? I’d told him I didn’t want to give in, that I wasn’t willing to pay their prices. It wasn’t like it would hurt us very much if I had to, but I kept my mouth closed, trusting my husband to do what was best for us.
Garon’s eyes narrowed, but I could tell he’d smelled blood. “Let’s hear your offer.”
“My sister has some seriously sick connections in every walk of life, did you know that?” Drake lifted a brow at the other man and I suddenly felt a little sorry for my brother. Just a little. “It just so happens that she has a few people in the movie industry who owe her a favor or three.”
“Who’s your sister?” Claudia asked with a nasty smirk on her beautiful face.
“Emmie Armstrong,” Garon bit out at his mother. Obviously Emmie’s name was pretty powerful in more than just the music world circles.
Had Drake talked to her without telling me?
Claudia’s brows rose toward the ceiling. “Who?”
No one bothered to enlighten her as Drake forced Garon’s attention back on him. “One call and I can make all your business troubles go away. One call and I can have you a contract that will give you all the backing you need. If you’re willing to leave Angel alone. Or…” He shrugged, leaning back as if it didn’t really matter to him. “Refuse and it will only take one call to make them a hundred times worse.”
“What a load of nonsense,” Claudia said with a roll of her blue eyes. “There is no way your…sister”—she made the word sound as insulting as possible—“can make such a thing happen. No one has those kind of friends in any business.”
Garon’s face had gone pale. “Shut up, Mother.”
“What?” She was surprised at his shaky tone biting at her. “Oh, come on, Garon. You can’t possibly believe the man. He’s just playing with you.”
“I said, shut up, Mother,” Garon snapped.
Her mouth closed but she was shooting hard glares at everyone around the table.
My brother clenched his hands into fists on top of the table. “Who would she call?”
Drake’s smile was full of secrets as he spoke a name that had everyone in the room except for Neveah drawing in a harsh breath. Holy shit. With that particular man’s name hanging in the air around us, everyone knew that what Drake had said was true. If Emmie knew the man as well as Drake claimed, one call from her could make or break my brother’s business. I didn’t for a moment doubt that she did know him. Emmie was just as powerful as any of the gods she prayed to.
Why hadn’t he said something to me sooner? I wanted to be mad, but all I felt right then was an intense feeling of relief. Drake was fixing this for me, protecting me. I wanted to climb onto his lap again, but this time I didn’t want him to hide me away. This time I wanted to kiss every part of his delicious body and tell him how much I loved him. Tell my Demon that he was just as much my angel as I was his.
That would have to wait, however; but, as I sat there watching Garon practically stumbling over himself to accept Drake’s terms, I promised myself that I’d make sure he knew before the end of the day.
I’d definitely have to call Linc now. What I wanted to do to my husband right then would not allow our precious angels to be in the house.
“You have a two-thirty with Petrova’s lawyers. A four o’clock with two possible new hires, and a Skype scheduled with Annabelle at five.”
I barely lifted my head as Rachel read off all the things that I needed to be in the office for after lunch. There was no way I could get out of sitting down with Vadik Petrova’s lawyers. He owned the biggest record label in the country, and he wanted a sit-down with me to discuss what it would take to get Demon’s Wings to sign with him. If I blew him off, I knew I’d be making an enemy—one I couldn’t afford to have.
“What did you think when you looked over the two possible hires’ resumes?” I asked my assistant. Over the years, Rachel had become indispensable to me. Without her, I knew I’d be lost, especially with the way Annabelle and I were expanding the business.
“One has some potential,” Rachel said after a moment. “The other…” She grimaced and shrugged. “It’s at least worth a sit-down to see what they have to offer off paper, Emmie.”
I nodded and lowered my head back to the piles of work scattered across my desk. “Good. Push my Skype with Annabelle back to six and call Nik to let him know I’ll be working late tonight.”
Feeling Rachel’s eyes boring down on my head, I finally lifted my gaze again. “What?”
“Shouldn’t you call Nik yourself?”
I clenched my jaw. “No. It’s better for everyone involved that I not speak to my husband right now.”
Her eyes widened. “But…”
“Just tell him, Rachel. I’m not really in the right frame of mind to speak to him.” I dismissed her by turning my full attention back to the work at hand and didn’t lift my head again until I’d heard the door shut behind her.
Tossing my pen aside, I leaned back in my chair and turned to look out the window. I hadn’t talked to Nik in over a week. Hadn’t let him in our room, hadn’t let him touch me, hadn’t so much as kissed him. I worked late to avoid him as much as possible. I was still pissed he’d gone behind my back and helped Dallas drug me.
It didn’t matter that I’d slept for ten hours straight after drinking that nasty-ass tea that they had roofied me with. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t remember dreaming or having a single nightmare during that much needed sleep. I’d woken up feeling refreshed, but more pissed off than I could ever remember being in my life.
Tears burned my eyes and I furiously blinked them back. I couldn’t cry right then. I had shit that needed taken care of. Work didn’t stop simply because I was having marital problems. It didn’t stop for anything or anyone.
Gritting my teeth, I forced myself to get back to work and switched off thoughts of Nik and his betrayal.
The day seemed to go by quickly, but at the same time dragged. I ate dinner at my desk after talking to Annabelle over Skype and then finished up the hundred-plus files cluttering up my desk. The next time I looked at the digital clock on my desk, I saw that it was after eight.
Biting back a curse, I started gathering my things. I’d been late getting home every night that week and I needed to tuck Mia in. Avoiding Nik had a few drawbacks. Like missing out on what was going on in my children’s lives. Blowing out a frustrated breath, I grabbed my bag and headed out.
The entire floor was dimly lit at that time of the evening. Rachel and the rest of my employees had gone for the day. I was probably one of the few people still left in the building. Grimacing, I realized I probably should have called Roger to pick me up, but I’d rather have had him with Mia than myself.
The elevator seemed to be taking forever to arrive and I debated taking the stairs, but my feet were killing me and I was getting one hell of a headache. So I stood there, tapping my foot impatiently as I waited.
There was a slight ping as the elevator finally arrived and I readjusted my bag on my shoulder. The doors opened and I started to step on, only to have all the air knocked out of me when I realized that someone was already inside. I sucked in a harsh breath when my sixth sense went crazy and I glared up at the only man who could trigger it.
Nik’s hands grasped my shoulders and pushed me out. “Were you going to even come home tonight?” he
demanded as he released me, but only long enough to take hold of my hand and pull me down the corridor to my office.
“Where did you think I was going?” I snapped. “I wanted to be home in time to tuck Mia in and kiss Jagger.”
“They’re both spending the night at Jesse’s tonight,” he assured me as he slammed the door to my office and then paused long enough to lock it.
I jerked my hand free and turned to glare up at him, my hands planted firmly on my hips. “Why are you here, Nik?” I’d been avoiding him, but he’d been avoiding me too. Maybe it had been for the best, but it had stung more than a little that he’d gone out of his way to not speak to me, and that he hadn’t even tried to fix things between us like he normally would have after one of our arguments.
He crossed his arms over his hard chest, a mirror of my own furious look on his face. For a split second I couldn’t help but think how sexy that look was on him. And then I realized I was standing there lusting over the man and that just pissed me off even more. “I figured you’ve had enough time to sulk about the sleeping pills. It’s time we had it out, don’t you think?”
“Sulk?” I tossed my bag aside, suddenly more pissed off than I’d ever been with my husband in all the years I’d known him. “You think I’ve been sulking? Feeling betrayed by my husband for drugging me is just sulking? You are such a fucking asshole, Nikolas Armstrong.”
He shrugged. “Yeah, I probably am. And if being an asshole gets you to sleep, and wipes away some of those damned dark circles under your eyes, then I’ll continue to be an asshole until my dying day.”
Gods, I wanted to smack his sexy face.