The horizon is glowing with a faint pink hue as I step through the patio doors and take in the view of the Manhattan skyline, my eyes still half-closed thanks to terrible jet lag. It’s promising another stifling hot day. “Record-breaking,” according to the news. Thankfully, we missed the worst of it yesterday, our flight from France not arriving at the airfield until late in the evening.
I stroll around the rooftop pool—pristinely clean and so inviting—to the lounge chair where Henry is stretched out, wearing only his briefs, a glass of Scotch in hand, the half-finished bottle sitting on the concrete next to him. “Come to bed,” I say softly, perching on the edge of the chair. “Get a few hours of sleep before the day has to start.” It’s 5:00 a.m. Henry has a meeting with the funeral director at ten to discuss arrangements for his father.
And he’s drunk.
It’s a long moment before his steely blue eyes break their lock on the sky to regard me, slowly drifting over the silky white sheet that I hug to my naked body. There’s no hunger in that gaze though. “He was supposed to die of cancer, not while fucking a twenty-five-year-old,” he murmurs, his attention drifting away again, to the city skyline this time.
When Henry shared the details about the cause of William Wolf’s heart attack, I hadn’t known what to say. It still feels like an awkward topic. “Did he have heart issues?”
“He had blood pressure problems, but he was taking medication for that. It was under control.”
“And he was still feeling well?”
“As far as I know. He hadn’t mentioned anything otherwise to me. And Scott said he hadn’t talked to him all week.”
I smooth my hand up and down Henry’s muscular arm soothingly, fighting the natural urge for my fingers to wander over his bare flesh, memorizing each perfect curve. “Life isn’t always fair.”
“Don’t get me wrong, of all the ways to go.... Just not yet,” he mutters bitterly.
“How is the girl?” I can’t even imagine what it’d be like to have the man you’re having sex with die in the middle of it.
“Hysterical that night, but I’m sure she’ll be fine.”
“Did she know him well?”
Henry chuckles darkly. “Depends on your definition of ‘well.’ He’d been fucking her for a few weeks. She thought she was in love. Scott says she wasn’t the brightest light bulb in the pack.” He takes a sip. “Good for my dad.”
“How old was he, again?”
“Sixty-three.” He says that with a slight slur. I’ve never heard Henry slur, but then again he did crack this bottle of Scotch the second we walked through the door.
“He looked good for sixty-three.” And dying of cancer. Granted, I only met him that one time, in Alaska for the grand opening of the Wolf hotel in Wolf Cove, and that was months ago.
Henry sighs. “When he told me about the diagnosis, he said he couldn’t really complain, considering all the luck he’d been born into. He was bound to come up short somewhere. That was his logic.”
All that luck he’d been born into.... A gold mine and the luxurious global Wolf hotel chain that has made Henry’s family more money than they know what to do with. “It sounds like he had made peace with it, at least.”
“He did. And I was getting there. I thought I had another few years with him. And then this happens.” Henry’s voice turns husky. “First my grandparents. Now him. He was all I had left and he’s gone, just like that.”
There’s no point reminding Henry that he still has a brother, because Scott Wolf is a lecherous snake and not someone either of us wants around. And then there’s his mother, but Henry’s been estranged from her for almost twenty years, and it doesn’t sound like there’s any desire to reconcile there.
I swallow the lump in my throat. “You have me. I know it’s not the same, but I’m here, whenever you need me. However you need me.” I slide the glass out of his hand. “And maybe we should ease up on the Scotch for now.”
Henry gives me one of those hard, unreadable stares for one... two... three seconds, and my stomach instinctively tightens, afraid of what dark thoughts might be churning inside that head of his.
And then he chuckles. It’s a bitter sound. “You’re right. I should save some for you. You’ll be needing it more than I will....”
That’s not the first time he’s made comments about how the next few days will be an ordeal for me, which makes me more than a little nervous. I’ve already met—and now hate—his brother, who played a role in breaking us up with his lies and manipulation. But that was back when I was Henry’s assistant and we had to hide our relationship from everyone, including Henry’s father.
I no longer work for Wolf Hotels, and William Wolf is dead.
Abruptly, Henry leans in to grip the back of my head and plant a hard kiss on my mouth, the sweet, smoky taste of liquor on his breath. I half expect him to yank off my sheet and take me right here under the morning sky, but he pulls away just as quickly. Climbing out of the chair, he throws his arms above his head in a stretch. And then pushes his briefs off his hips, letting them tumble to the concrete. He’s a little unsteady on his feet as he stalks to the edge of the pool, without so much as a glance around for onlookers. We’re some eighty stories up in the Wolf Tower penthouse and it’s still early enough that there likely aren’t spectators in the few equally tall buildings around.
Not that Henry would give a damn if there were.
He smoothly dives in, sending a small splash in the air before emerging on the opposite side of the pool to grip the edge while thrusting a hand through his wavy chestnut-brown hair, pushing it back off his face. I consider dropping my sheet and climbing in after him, but then he begins swimming laps, his sculpted body moving swiftly and powerfully through the water.
And so I sit and quietly admire the indomitable Henry Wolf as the sun climbs the horizon beyond.
Wondering what fresh hell the next few days will bring.
~ ~ ~
I try not to fuss with the hemline of my dress as we step through the main doors of the funeral home. It’s a modest black shift dress that I picked up at Saks yesterday, thinking it would be appropriate for the visitation. It, along with a pair of classic black pumps with a price tag that made me choke, complete the understated look I was going for. Still, I tried my best to look like I belong next to Henry, fussing with my makeup and hair for almost two hours.
Meanwhile Henry stands tall and sharply dressed—as usual—in a tailored black suit and tie. And matching socks, that I chose for him while he showered. “Ready?”
“Are you?” I peer up at his handsome face—a face that ensnares females of all ages instantly, I know because I’ve watched it happen from the sidelines countless times—and take in the steely mask. It’s been firmly affixed since he swam some fifty laps in his pool and sobered up. That was the only time I’ve seen him let go of control. Since then, he’s been in and out of the penthouse, but mostly out, splitting his time between the Wolf head office and making arrangements for his dad’s burial. All business as usual, his emotions hidden from everyone.
But I haven’t pushed him to talk. I figure he’ll talk when he’s ready.
He slides a hand over the small of my back. I can feel the heat of it through the light material of my dress. With a heavy swallow, he leads me down the hall of the opulent funeral home in the heart of Manhattan.
Visitation hours don’t begin for another twenty minutes, and yet there is already a stream of people of all ages milling about the entrance doors to Promenade Hall, where William Wolf’s body awaits. I shouldn’t be surprised. News of his sudden death made the New York Times.
Countless eyes veer our way as we approach, and my stomach twists with nerves. Most are watching the powerful mogul beside me, but more than a few curious onlookers are sizing me up.
“He knew a lot of people,” I murmur, just loud enough for Henry to hear, as my cheeks begin to burn from the attention.
“There will be a lot of Wolf employees here today to pay their respects. Plus business associates and media.” Henry offers a reserved smile and nod to a middle-aged couple closest to us as we pass.
“What do you want me to say if they ask how I knew your father?” A question I should have asked him before climbing out of the limo.
“The truth. That you didn’t know him at all, but you know his son very well.”
“Is that a good idea?”
“Of course it is.” Henry looks down at me, his eyebrow spiking with annoyance that I’m even questioning him.
“I’m just not sure you’ve thought this through.” While we haven’t been hiding our relationship, we have been keeping it low-key. But with a room full of Wolf employees, plus media, news of the woman striding in with “one of the world’s most eligible bachelors,” according to many—his ex-assistant—will spread like wildfire. Is Henry ready for that?
“I’m quite sure that I have.” The slightest smirk touches Henry’s lips as he slips his strong, calloused hand into mine and leads me through the throng of watchful gazes to the set of heavy oak doors being manned by a solemn attendant.
I can’t help the giddiness that surges through my limbs with this simple action, despite our surroundings. I know Henry. He wouldn’t have done that if he didn’t have serious intentions about me.
The doors close behind us with an ominous thud, sealing us inside the hall with William Wolf’s body.
And Scott Wolf.
My tiny thrill vanishes instantly as I spot Henry’s older brother standing at the far end of the cavernous room, where an elaborately carved wood coffin sits on a brass stand, surrounded by at least fifty elaborate bouquets—everything from the typical funeral white lilies to arrays of colorful sunflowers.
I fully expected Scott to be here and yet I can’t help the visceral reaction at the sight of him. I haven’t seen him in months, since the day he stormed out of Penthouse One at Wolf Cove, bleeding from several well-deserved punches delivered by Henry’s fist.
Scott turns to watch us approach now, his gray-blue eyes widening at the sight of me by Henry’s side.
“Huh,” Henry murmurs.
“I was sure he would have heard about you by now.” There’s amusement in his tone.
Unfortunately I can’t match his joy as I watch Scott’s face—not nearly as chiseled or handsome as Henry’s—harden with the knowledge that he was duped.
Henry must sense my trepidation. He hand squeezes mine once in a sign of comfort. “Scott, you remember Abbi Mitchell.”
“How could I forget?” An easy—fake—smile curls Scott’s thin lips. “You’re a better liar than I gave you credit for, Abigail.”
I’m assuming he’s talking about the day he cornered me in an elevator and tried to manipulate me into admitting that Henry was screwing me, his assistant, in the midst of legal issues over screwing his last assistant. While he failed at that, he did manage to plant such toxic seeds of doubt and outright lies about Henry that I convinced myself that Henry was sleeping with other women. It was without doubt the worst day of my life. A thousand times worse than the day I walked in on Jed cheating on me.
I clear my throat. There are so many things I’d like to say to this asshole—hell, I’d like to pick up that giant bouquet of white roses behind him and smash the heavy-looking white clay vase over his head—but this is not the time or place for vengeance. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
His eyes shift to Henry. He isn’t so adept at hiding the anger in them as his brother. “You son of a bitch.”
“You have the nerve to bring your whore to his funeral?”
All amusement slips from Henry’s face. “Call her that again, and you’ll be joining Dad in that box,” he warns, ice in his tone.
But Scott isn’t so easily deterred. “You lied right to his face about fucking her.”
“I told him about Abbi before he died. My conscience is clean. How’s yours?”
I feel my own eyes widen with surprise now, as my attention veers to the left, to where the distinguished man lies. Still regal, even as a corpse. I didn’t know Henry had told his dad about us.
Scott’s eyes narrow as he regards his brother for a long moment, as if trying to read something between his words. “You lied right to Dad’s face and yet I’m the one who took all the heat.”
Henry releases my hand and steps forward. He’s easily six inches taller than his brother, and now he towers over him. “You took heat from Dad because you tried to have me framed for rape so you could take over Wolf Hotels,” he hisses through gritted teeth, his fists clenched at his side, looking ready to punch Scott again.
“I was just making sure Dad knew what kind of man his precious boy really is,” Scott throws back, puffing out his chest to compensate for their size difference.
“A man who will run the family business with integrity?” Henry takes a step forward until they’re toe-to-toe. Scott refuses to give ground. “Who has no problems keeping the women in his life satisfied? Who’s always honest with them?”
The two Wolf men have somehow managed to fill this cavernous hall with tension. I’m torn between jumping between them to stall the explosion, and hiding behind the casket to avoid the shrapnel.
The door behind us creaks open and a man in a suit passes through. “Excuse me, but the crowd outside is quite large. Would you mind if we begin moving people in now to help clear the lobby? If everyone is ready?” He sounds skeptical. He must sense the impending doom in the air.
“Yes, we’re ready. Thank you.” Henry takes a deep breath and then two steps back, muttering under his breath to Scott, “Stay the fuck away from us.”
I breathe a sigh of relief. Belinda, Wolf Cove’s general manager and a woman who seems to know the Wolf men well, once commented on how Henry and Scott can’t be in a room for more than five minutes without erupting.
Now I understand.
It’s going to be a long three hours.
~ ~ ~
I settle a hand on Henry’s shoulder, grabbing his attention before the next well-wisher steps up. “I’m going to get you water. I’ll be back in a sec.” We’ve been standing in this same spot, to the left of the casket, for two and a half hours now, greeting countless people. All strangers to me, though I smile and accept their condolences as if I’m a part of the family, because what else am I supposed to do, standing next to Henry?
“Thank you,” he answers, his voice hoarse from talking.
I edge my way through the crowd, happy to be moving my legs, though my feet throb from these heels. Thankfully, Scott has stayed on the other side of William Wolf’s body, some distance away and suitably occupied by visitors and unable to cause more problems. Right now he’s consoling a sobbing Becky, the woman William was with the night he died. The woman is everything I would expect of a rich older man like William, and yet at the same time not. She’s stunningly beautiful and young, with evenly tanned skin, plump red lips and high cheekbones, and an hourglass figure. I’m 90 percent certain her waist-length platinum blonde hair is the result of high-end extensions.
She is the reason William apparently took a Viagra pill the night he died, something the preliminary autopsy report revealed. Henry threw a glass across the living room to hit the wall and shatter into a hundred pieces when he found out. William knew he couldn’t take those pills because of his blood pressure issues, Henry said. But he must have taken one anyway, the need to enjoy his twenty-five-year-old plaything outweighing the dangers. He obviously didn’t expect the consequences to be so severe.
I find a service area outside the hall, near the lobby, stocked with carafes of hot coffee and tea, along with a fridge full of cold beverages. I fish out two bottles of cold water, cracking one for myself and taking a big gulp.
“Is working for Mr.Wolf always so chaotic?” Miles asks from behind me, making me jump.
I offer Henry’s assistant a sympathetic smile through my swallow. “Yes. It is.”
He heaves a sigh and takes a sip of water from his own bottle, only to catch a dribble as it escapes his mouth and runs down his chin. “You’d think he’d slow down, with all this going on.” He gestures toward the visitation room. “But the guy’s actually working harder.”
“It’s just his way of coping. He’ll ease up soon.” I think. Henry has been sliding into bed after I’ve drifted off every night, and is either sweating his tension out in his home gym, or on the phone when I wake. The only proof I’ve had that he’s actually slept is his gold watch sitting on the nightstand and the delicious smell of his cologne on his pillow.
We’ve shared nothing more than tender kisses since France.
For Henry to go four days without sex, with me ready and willing to give him whatever he wants?
Miles runs a hand through his mop of curly brown hair. “He asked me to do, like, a thousand things and now I have a thousand follow-ups for him. I don’t want to bug him, but at the same time, I know he’s going to ask for a status update as soon as he walks into the office and expect it to be taken care of, and I’m not going to have any answers for him and he’s going to think I’m an idiot and fire my ass. I don’t want to get fired. I like working for him!” His face is pinched with stress.
I remember this feeling too well, back when I didn’t think I could do anything right where Henry was concerned. “I’ll ask him to carve out some time for you as soon as he’s ready, so you two can sort out any questions you might have.”
Miles sighs with relief. “Thank you. I guess it must have been a lot different for you, working for him. You know, because you two were....” His gaze drops to my ample chest, which, while it’s well-covered by this shift dress, is still noticeable. “I mean, because he obviously had a hard on for you so.... No, wait! I mean....” His face screws up.
I can’t help but laugh. I’ve only ever talked to Miles when he’s confirming Henry’s schedule or booking flights for me. On email and text, Miles seems so professional and smart. I wonder if he’s always so frazzled in person, or if it’s just because of the current situation. Something tells me it’s the latter, because Henry wouldn’t tolerate a bumbling fool assistant for long.
He gives me a sheepish smile. “I think it’s cool. You know, that Wolf would fall for you. He could have anyone he wanted. Gorgeous women are throwing themselves at him all the time, but he’s completely into you. I mean, not that you’re not gorgeous, because you are, too. Like, really hot. But you’re different than all the others. You’re normal. Fuck, I need to stop talking. Please don’t tell him I said anything. He’ll fire me.”
I giggle. “He won’t hear it from me.”
Miles sighs. “Fuck, I’m going back to the office. He can find me there.”
I watch the tall, lanky guy speed away, amusement on my face.
“He’s certainly in a rush.”
I turn to find an attractive older woman—mid-fifties, maybe—filling a mug with coffee beside me. She’s dressed in a well-cut black pantsuit, emphasizing a trim waist and appealing curves. Her hair, the color of spun gold, settles on her shoulders in a sleek bob.
“He’s just a bit overwhelmed right now. He’s Henry Wolf’s assistant.” I don’t know why I add that last part.
The woman’s piercing blue eyes flash with recognition. “He’s not going to last long working for a Wolf if he can’t find some decorum.”
Something about her is so familiar, but I can’t peg it. “Do you work for Wolf Hotels?”
“I used to, for a short time. A very long time ago, now.” She chuckles as she stirs the sugar through her coffee, the metal spoon clanging softly against porcelain. “And you? Do you work there?”
“I used to. Also for a short time.”
“Well, it’s nice of you to pay your respects. Did you know William?”
“No. I mean, I met him once but I didn’t know him. I know his son. Henry. I know him well.” I stumble over the answer Henry prescribed earlier. I haven’t had to use it yet.
The woman pauses in her stirring, her curious gaze skating over my features, as if really taking me in for the first time. “And how is Henry taking his father’s passing?”
“As well as can be expected.”
“Working a lot?”
“Day and night.” I frown slightly. “Do you know Henry?”
“Not really.” She smiles sadly. “I’m guessing he’s a lot like his father, though.”
“So I’ve heard.” The water bottles are beginning to sweat within my grasp. I’ve been gone too long. “Speaking of Henry, I need to get this to him before he loses his voice.” Somehow, “enjoy the visitation” doesn’t sound right. So I simply hold up the water for emphasis and then, with a smile, I turn and head back toward the room.
The crowd has thinned out somewhat, with only half an hour left before the room closes to visitors. I weave through the staggered groups of two and three until I reach Henry’s side to wordlessly hand him his bottle and set a hand on his bicep in comfort.
He abruptly stops talking. And suddenly I feel like I’m interrupting a private conversation.
When I turn to take in the woman’s face, I’m sure I’ve interrupted a private conversation.
Whoever she is, she’s stunning. Her long brunette hair hangs like sheets of silk over her shoulders to reach halfway down her back. Her eyes remind me of cat’s eyes—wide, almond-shaped, and bright green. And her legs... they’re obscenely long. Like, unnaturally so.
And the way she’s looking at me from beneath that thick fringe of eyelashes, the corners of her full mouth turned downward with a hint of distaste? She’s sizing me up as competition that she can easily squash.
Henry clears his throat. “Abbi... this is Kiera. Kiera... Abbi Mitchell.”
My chest tightens.
This is Kiera? The Kiera. Henry’s ex-assistant. The one who he had an affair with. The one who falsely accused him of rape. The one who is obviously still madly in love with him, by the look in her eyes.
My fingers dig into Henry’s bulging muscle. “You have a lot of nerve,” I begin in a whispered hiss.
“Abbi... remember where we are,” Henry warns softly.
Right. At his father’s visitation. Slapping her across her pouty face—as much as she deserves it, as badly as I want to do it—is the wrong thing to do.
So instead of that, I press into Henry’s hard body and force a wide, fake smile. “Hello, Kiera. It’s so nice to finally meet you.” I sound like Tillie, the catty southern bell from Wolf Cove who is masterful at delivering sweet words laced with cutting bitterness. I release Henry’s arm long enough to offer my hand.
She responds with a limp shake—which I squeeze—and a tight smile behind her wince. I notice there isn’t a wedding band on her left ring finger. I guess her husband didn’t stick around after finding out the sexual relationship she’d had with her boss was 100 percent consensual.
“Let me know if you think that could work,” she purrs, her eyes locked on Henry, ignoring me.
“Thank you for coming,” he answers smoothly, seemingly unperturbed by her presence.
Henry may be mine, but I still feel like vomiting as I watch her turn and stroll away, her mile-long legs emphasized by the tight black skirt. “I’ll bet she can’t even find pants for those things,” I mutter.
Henry chuckles. “Don’t be petty.”
I sigh, reminding myself that Henry’s not attracted to insecurity. “What does she need your help with?”
He cracks open his water and takes a swig. The line to pay condolences has dwindled, and he has a break finally. “She wants to work for me again.”
My mouth drops open. “For Wolf Hotels?”
He pauses, as if deciding what to say. “For me. As my assistant.”
“Are you fucking kidding me? The nerve!” I blurt out, a touch too loud. “Well... you have Miles, so... you’re good. You don’t need another assistant.” The last thing I care about right now is Miles’s job. I don’t want that woman anywhere near Henry.
“I do have Miles,” Henry agrees, taking another long sip. I can’t read his tone, and that makes my paranoia begin to grow.
I drop my voice to remind him, “And she accused you of rape.”
“She did,” he says too calmly.
He turns to cup my cheek with his warm palm, his crystal blue eyes locking with mine. “I don’t need a new assistant, and she accused me of rape, and I know you wouldn’t be okay with it, so, no, there’s no way in hell Kiera’s coming back to Wolf in any capacity.”
“Oh.” I breathe a sigh of relief. “You handled her well.”
“I humored her to get her the hell away from me. I wasn’t going to cause a scene here.” His lips curve into a sexy curve. “You, on the other hand.... I thought you were going to claw her eyes out.”
I offer a sheepish smile. “Sorry, I saw red. I wasn’t thinking.”
His hand settles on the small of my back. “That’s okay. I think I liked it.” His fingertips slide down to trace the elastic waistband of my panties through my dress. “My money’d be on you, too.”
I clear my throat and give him a cautionary look. There are undoubtedly people watching. “By the way, you need to make some time for Miles.”
Henry’s brow rises in question.
“I ran into him in the lobby. He looked overwhelmed.”
He sighs. “I’ve probably been overworking him.”
“You’ve been overworking, period.”
Another sigh. “I don’t want him quitting on me. He’s good.”
I wonder what Henry would say if I repeated Miles’s words. Either laugh it off or fire him. There’s rarely an in-between with this man. “Just give him some of your time so he can ask his questions and do his job. Let him know that you appreciate him, and he won’t be going anywhere. For some strange reason, he likes working for you,” I add wryly.
Henry grins, the first real amusement I’ve seen on his face in days. “You sure you don’t want your job back?”
“I’m positive. The boss can be a real tyrant.”
“A tyrant.” He leans in closer to me, and drops his voice. “Tell me... what kinds of things did he make you do?”
This is so inappropriate, but I’m guessing Henry needs this bit of reprieve. I bite my bottom lip in thought. “Well, there was this one time he tied my hands up and....” I sense a figure hovering, waiting for us to break our conversation. My mouth clamps shut and my cheeks burn, embarrassed at the prospect of being overheard, especially given our surroundings.
It’s the woman I met at the service area earlier.
Henry leans into my ear and whispers playfully, “I remember that day. We’ll have to reenact it later.” But when he turns to greet his latest visitor, his entire body stiffens.
“Hello, Henry,” the woman croons in that same soft voice. She’s an inch or so shorter than I am, and is forced to tilt her head to peer up at him.
He doesn’t answer for a few beats. When he finally does, his voice is curt. “Thank you for coming.”
I feel Scott’s beady eyes on us, but I’m unable to peel my attention away from this uneasy exchange.
She offers a wide smile, as if nothing is wrong. “How have you been?”
“Good. Well, I was hoping you’d be here.”
“Of course I’m here. It’s my father’s visitation.”
“Yes, I realize that. But I was hoping we could talk.”
“So talk.” Nothing about Henry’s tone invites conversation.
After a moment of awkwardness, she turns to me and holds a hand out. “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name earlier.”
“Um....” I glance at Henry’s stony face. “It’s Abbi Mitchell.”
“Hi Abbi. I’m Crystal McGuire.” She meets Henry’s gaze. “I’m Henry’s mother.”