“Just sign them,” said Royce. “I’ll go over them with Barry before I countersign.”
“Who’s Barry?” asked Melissa.
“Ryder’s financial VP,” said Jared, and she could feel his hesitation.
“I don’t mind waiting,” she quickly put in as they stepped into an open elevator.
Royce quirked his brows at Jared, and Jared gave a nod. He pressed the button for the lobby. The door closed, and the car whooshed smoothly down twelve floors.
“I won’t be long,” Jared assured her, hand resting lightly on the small of her back as they stepped into the opulent lobby.
She gestured toward the far side of the huge room. “I’ll check out the paintings while I wait.”
He nodded, and left with Royce for the front desk.
It wasn’t much of a hardship to wander through the lobby. Marble walkways, elegant, French-provincial furnishings, magnificent sculpture and glorious flowers combined with the soft lighting to create a serene ambiance. It wasn’t the kind of hotel where Melissa normally stayed. Then again, this wasn’t exactly the kind of week she usually experienced, either.
Her heels clicked as she rounded the fountain, moving toward the main glass doors. There were a couple of furniture groupings that looked inviting. Her new shoes were comfortable, but the heels were high, and her calves were beginning to tighten up. A gold armchair beckoned. It would give her a nice view of the front desk. She could people-watch, while keeping an eye out for Jared.
But then she spotted a man on the sidewalk and halted in her tracks. He was in profile, smoking a cigarette in the muted light outside, but it was definitely Brandon Langard.
Melissa gasped, then whirled around before he could spot her. The rest of a lobby blurred in front of her panicked eyes.
“Melissa?” Her coworker Susan Alaric suddenly appeared in front of her. “Melissa? Oh, my God. You’re back. How’d it go?”
Melissa opened her mouth to speak, but only a squeak emerged.
Susan’s face nearly split with an excited grin. “Seth said you got on the ranch. Did you get the interview? Did Ryder figure out who you were?” She tipped her head back in glee. “Oh, man, Brandon is going to have a cow.”
Melissa grasped Susan’s arm. “Susan…” she rasped, but then her gaze caught Jared’s face over Susan’s shoulder, and her stomach roiled. “The Bizz is going to have the scoop of the year,” Susan finished. “The Bizz?” Jared’s voice and eyes both darkened to thunder.
Susan heard his voice and took in Melissa’s stricken expression. She twisted around to look at Jared. Then she swallowed. She opened her mouth, but gave up before she could find any words.
Royce appeared, taking in the trio. He noted Susan’s camera, then paused on his brother’s expression. “What the hell?”
“Jared…” Melissa began, mind scrambling with panic.
She’d explain it was a good article. It would focus on the most complimentary things. He was successful, hardworking and kind. And his family was wonderful. It wasn’t like they had any skeletons in their closets.
Okay, so there was the thing with his grandfather, but that wasn’t relevant, and she sure wasn’t going to write about that. And everything that had happened between them was way off the record. This wasn’t a tabloid tell-all. It was a serious journalistic piece.
But before she could pull her thoughts together, his hand closed over her arm and he pulled her away from Susan and Royce. “You lied to me.” His graveled voice was harsh in her ear.
She didn’t answer.
“You’re a reporter?” he demanded.
She closed her eyes, but then forced herself to nod the admission. “And I’m your subject.”
“You are going to walk out that door.” He stopped, jerking her to face him. His words were measured, but she was subjected to the full glare of his anger. “You are going to walk out that door. You are going to do it quickly and quietly, and I never want to see you again.”
“Do you understand me?”
“I’m not going-”
“Do you understand me?”
She closed her mouth and nodded, chest tight, throat closing in. She told herself he’d read the article. Eventually he’d know she hadn’t betrayed him.
“Good.” He flicked his hand from her arm, his eyes filled with contempt.
She had to try one more time. “Jared, please let me explain.”
“You already have. I know who you are. And I know what you’ve got.”
“I’m not going to-”
“Know this,” he cut her off, leaning in, lowering his voice to steel. “If you do anything to harm my family, I will destroy you.”