“You look stunning,” he said, reaching a hand toward me.
My heart gave a little flutter at his words, but there was something stiff and mechanical about the way he spoke. Like he had something else on his mind.
Which he will tell you about as soon as he’s ready, a little voice in my head reminded me.
We’d shared a lot lately, and I wasn’t about to add to his burden by pressuring him again.
“Thank you,” I murmured. “Shall we get going?”
He offered me his arm, and I took it after locking the brownstone behind me. Together, we clambered into the back of the limo as soft music floated through the speakers. It was a chilly night and I hadn’t worn a jacket, so I rubbed my arms casually while I studied Gavin’s profile.
I could tell he was trying to remain impassive, but it wasn’t working. His jaw was locked tight, and the second the car pulled onto the street, he reached for the wine bottle in the chiller and poured himself a glass.
“Would you like one?” he offered.
I shook my head, banishing every one of my inner warnings. “I’m worried about you,” I said baldly. “I want to know what’s going on. You’re acting weird, and you didn’t answer my texts.”
“Right.” Gavin took a sip of his wine and replaced the bottle. “Well, I thought it would be better to tell you all this in person. Things at work have been strained lately.”
“I can imagine.”
“Sonja leaving was a big blow to the company—”
“That’s funny, considering that’s exactly what she’d been hoping for,” I mumbled under my breath, unable to withhold my anger at the woman.
Gavin just gave me a dead stare and continued. “Whatever the case, she played an integral role, and we’re scrambling a bit without her.”
“Are you telling me you’re hiring her back?” Anger rose in my chest at the thought, but Gavin gave me a decisive shake of his head.
“No, God, no. It’s just that between the Sonja issue and the media storm, we can’t be fighting with each other too. I need everyone to get along so we can work together and move forward as a unit.”
“Okay.” I frowned. “So, something’s wrong between you and your brothers? Did I come between you and Cooper again?”
“We had a minor disagreement, but no. That’s not it. It’s . . .” Gavin stopped and swirled the wine in his glass as I tried to read his expression.
“Quinn doesn’t like me? Is that what this is about? I mean, if it’s not you and it’s not Cooper?”
Hurt and confusion coalesced into a nauseating brew in my stomach. I’d barely spoken to Quinn . . . how could he not like me? And how was I supposed to face him tonight, knowing how he felt? I opened my mouth to ask Gavin why he’d put me in that position without even letting me know until it was too late, but he shook his head again.
“It’s not that Quinn doesn’t like you. He barely even knows you. He just doesn’t like me . . . with you.”
Not better. Not even a little, but I nodded slowly, my throat aching with unshed tears. “I see.” My chest suddenly felt heavy, and now I saw that I had every right to be nervous about this dinner.
“I just wanted you to be prepared because things have been a little tense.”
“But you’re hoping once Quinn gets to know me, he’ll see what all the fuss is about? Is that it?” I raised my eyebrows.
“Yes, that’s exactly it,” Gavin said with a wry grin that almost reached his eyes. “I always said you were a fast learner. Now, come on. I don’t want to be late.”
Looking around, I realized with a start that we’d pulled up alongside a ritzy glass building. Gavin helped me from the car, and a nicely dressed doorman was waiting with the door open as we approached. I smiled and thanked him as Gavin ushered me to the elevator.
With every passing floor, my blood pressure ratcheted up another notch. By the time the doors finally opened directly into the penthouse apartment on the top floor, my knees were shaking.
Almost immediately, my senses were flooded by the smell of rosemary, thyme, and lemon. I took in a deep breath, wanting the homey smell to ease my frazzled nerves.
The place was stunning. Modern, but also masculine and comfortable at the same time. The floors were a striking bamboo in a worn grayish hue that made the place feel welcoming and lived-in, and the furniture was oversized and meant for comfort.
Gavin led me inside and nodded at Cooper, who sat at the dining room table, sipping a glass of red wine. He looked as casual and easygoing as ever, though the skin around his left eye was shaded with a faint purplish color that looked suspiciously like the remnants of a black eye.
“Hi, Cooper.” I smiled politely at him.
“Hello, princess.” He smiled back, giving me that full-on tilted grin I loved on him.
“What happened?” I pointed to his eye with a frown.
This, apparently, was the exact wrong thing to say. Quinn grimaced at me as he walked into the room in the middle of my sentence, carrying roasted chicken on a platter.
My cheeks flushed as it hit me all at once. Gavin had hit Cooper. A minor disagreement, indeed. I was going to kill him for putting me in this position. If I survived tonight, that is.
Cooper, however, shrugged it off. “Just clumsy, princess. Nothing to worry about. Can I get you some wine?”
I nodded, knowing I’d need something to do with my hands. Clutching the stem of a wineglass seemed just the thing.
Seeing that I was in good hands, seated at the table opposite Cooper, Gavin peeked into the pristine white kitchen through the wide door connecting it to the large dining room where we sat. “Need a hand with anything? What are we having?” he asked Quinn.
“Roast chicken, mashed potatoes, and carrots. Family-style,” Quinn said, emphasis on the word family.
So that explained it. This was meant to be one big kiss-and-make-up session. I just hoped that Quinn was willing to accept me and allow me into the fold.
“Perfect,” Gavin said, and my stomach rumbled in agreement as he took a seat next to me.
“Can I help with anything?” I offered, but Quinn waved me off as he padded back into the kitchen.
“No, no, I’ve got it all under control.”
I took a sip of the wine Cooper had poured for me, watching as Quinn came out a few seconds later bearing a steaming bowl of butter-glossed mashed potatoes in one hand and a serving dish of perfectly glazed roasted carrots in the other.
“You guys must have been spoiled with Quinn cooking like this while you were growing up,” I said.
Quinn joined us at the table, shaking his head. “It took a long time to develop my culinary skills,” he said with a low chuckle. “They’re more familiar with Velveeta than camembert, I think.”
I smiled. “Well, everything looks wonderful.”
Everyone murmured their agreement before we passed trays around, all serving ourselves until our plates were laden with food. Or, in Cooper’s case, swimming in gravy.
Together, we dug into dinner, talking as we did. The conversation was stiff and forced at first, but something about the scents of succulent chicken and tender roasted carrots set you at ease. Soon, we were bantering back and forth easily, chatting about work, the library, and current events.
“Did you catch the news last night?” Cooper asked no one in particular, scooping another forkful of gravy-smothered chicken into his mouth. “Talk about a shit show.” He shook his head in amusement. “I don’t know what’s more entertaining, listening to the newscasters fumble through the current events, or scanning the headlines for typos. I’m telling you, the local Boston news is really falling apart.”
Gavin took a long sip of his drink and raised a quizzical eyebrow. “You’re just pissed because that weather girl turned you down last year when you invited her to the trustees’ dinner,” he quipped, cocking his head to the side.
Quinn smiled, and I struggled to suppress a snort.
Cooper shot me a goofy grin before nodding in Gavin’s direction. “And he’s just pissed because the guys on their morning news team are some of our mouthiest clients. Mr. Serenity over here almost popped one of them in the mouth—at their own studio, no less.”