But he didn’t return the sentiment. In fact, he didn’t say anything else for several long moments while the deafening silence in the room settled around us until my skin felt itchy and tight.
“Come here. Let me hold you,” he breathed against my hair, and I took a deep breath and let him fold me into his arms.
I hated his stony silence, hated the question mark lingering between us, but I couldn’t bring myself to regret telling him. I did love him. So much it hurt.
A short time later, I woke alone in bed. Gavin’s side of the bed was cool, and missing his body heat, the need to go hunt for him was a necessity. I knew I wouldn’t be able to fall back asleep without his firm, muscled body next to mine.
Dressed in Gavin’s discarded button-down shirt, I made my way from the bedroom in search of him. The soft glow of lamplight drew me to his office. I leaned against the doorway, my shirt unbuttoned, hoping I could tempt him back to bed.
“Everything okay?” I asked.
When his weary eyes lifted to meet mine, I didn’t like the stress I saw there, the worry. Unsure what was on his mind, I crossed the room and knelt at his feet. My king.
He reached for my cheek and offered me a sad smile. “Everything’s fine,” he assured me.
I didn’t believe him. “Tell me, Gavin. Please. You can trust me.” I leaned into his touch as my stomach tensed, hoping that my declaration earlier hadn’t freaked him out. Please, God, don’t let it be that.
He petted my hair. “I know I can. But honestly, it’s nothing I want you to worry over. We’re just under a bit of pressure to hire a replacement for Sonja.”
While that was probably true, I doubted that was what had pushed him out of bed in the middle of the night.
“Can I help? Get your mind off things, I mean?”
He didn’t respond, just tilted his head as he watched me. I placed my hand over the bulge in his black boxer briefs, stroking him softly until I coaxed his manhood awake.
Gavin turned his chair from the desk to face me, tugging his boxers down just enough to free himself, but didn’t say a word.
I soothed him the only way I knew he’d allow. Afterward, he laced our fingers together and led me back to bed.
I pulled the copy of the subpoena from my briefcase and slid it across the desk to my stern-faced lawyer. So far, he was the only person I’d managed to bring myself to tell. Not my brothers.
Not even Emma.
He perched a pair of thick-framed glasses on the edge of his nose and his eyes zoomed back and forth, reading the words I now knew by heart.
“I don’t understand. It’s been two years,” I muttered under my breath.
He held up a finger as he finished reading the last page, and sat the papers down before folding his hands on his desk. “Mr. Kingsley, I’m going to be blunt. This is a cash grab, and frankly, I’m not surprised. Your company has been in the papers for a couple of weeks now, and the value of it has been printed in every newspaper in North America.”
“So? Anyone with a Forbes magazine or an Internet browser could’ve learned that.”
His salt-and-pepper mustache twitched, and he let out a long, slow sigh. “Yes, and once they did, they decided to come after you.”
I glanced at the document between us. “Their daughter died years ago.”
He shook his head. “Exactly. It’s likely they had no idea how much you were worth back then. And you and I both know that number has increased tenfold in the interim.”
“But the statute of limitations—”
“Is six years in civil cases like this. If Ashley’s family can prove, as they assert, that you were the cause of leading their daughter down a path to drugs and debauchery, they can still find you liable.”
“That’s so wrong.” I’d spent every day since her death blaming myself. And now, just when I was finally ready to move on with my life, to let love in and forgive myself? This happened.
“It is, and they’ll never win.” He spread his hands wide. “But they don’t need to. All they have to do is sit down with the press and add to your troubles. This story getting out, with the finger pointed at you as the cause, would be the death blow for your business. They expect you to settle. Pay to make the problem go away.”
I’d only met her parents once—her mom was a gold-digging drunk, and her father was a heartless businessman. That had been my impression at the time, and now it seemed I was correct. They’d fostered her as a teen, adopting her officially right before her eighteenth birthday. I knew Ashley didn’t love them. And somehow, I knew they didn’t love her. They saw her as some project, a charity case they could flaunt to their socialite inner circle and then pat themselves on the back.
With every word, my temper was rising. I could hardly believe it when I’d first gotten the documents with the news that Ashley’s family was suing me for her wrongful death. It made no sense.
I wasn’t her drug dealer. I wasn’t her doctor.
I was her boyfriend.
And as far as I could tell, I’d been the only person she’d had in the world.
No one but me had cared that Ashley was suffering, that she needed help. I was the one who stood by her, who paid for her treatment. And in the end, I was the one who paid for her funeral.
Even then, on that rainy, terrible day, they did what they’d always done when she was alive—nothing. They simply stood by her graveside, watching as she was lowered into the plot they hadn’t paid for, both of them dry-eyed.
“You have a choice to make, Mr. Kingsley. You can try to fight this, or you can settle and get it over with. But I would advise you to consider how it will affect your business and your livelihood if you go to court. The bad press would almost certainly be the final nail in your coffin.”
I swallowed the rage threatening to choke me. He wasn’t saying anything I hadn’t already considered in the days since this letter had come. Still, to hear it out loud . . .
“So, you think I should settle?” I asked.
He shrugged. “I think you should do what’s best for you and your company. If I were you, I would settle. But again, I’m not you.”
“Thank you. I’ll think it over and will give you a call.”
The lawyer nodded, and I shook his hand before heading back onto the city streets and gulping down a deep breath of air.
Slowly, I reached for my cell phone and turned it to silent, needing a break from the world around me, a chance to clear my head. Because, truth be told, I knew he was right. If I let this case go to trial, it could ruin me. Could ruin everyone and everything.
Quinn. Cooper. Our employees. And the fragile new start I’d forged with Emma.
God, she’d said she loved me. Her words spoken with such conviction had gutted me, had sliced right through my heart. And while I hadn’t returned her words, the possibility of it had been weighing on my mind.
I headed back to my apartment, changed clothes, and went to the nearest park. With the wind on my face and the sun in my eyes, it was easier to breathe, to think. To ignore the steady heartbeat of fury at the people who had denied Ashley and now were trying to ruin me, all for trying my damnedest to save a girl who hadn’t wanted to be saved.
Closing my eyes for a second, I relished the cool wind on my skin as I reached the cobblestone path and broke into an easy run.
What kind of man would I be to settle, though? What would it say to the world if I gave Ashley’s parents all that money, effectively admitting that I was in the wrong? I would look like a murderer, at worst, and an abuser at best.
I couldn’t allow it. My lawyer wanted me to focus on not ruining the company, but having someone at the helm who’d practically admitted to murder would surely ruin the company if the press got wind of it.
Which meant I was going to fight.
And at the end of it all?
I was going to win.
I had to, or it might cost me everything. Including my sweet, precious Emma, and there was no way I was giving up the best thing in my life without a fight. Somehow, I knew—she’d never hurt me, never cheat, never disappoint. Never let me go. I just knew. Or, at least, I prayed it to be true. I wasn’t a religious man, but in that moment, I wanted to be.