“She told me she had brothers.” Jared coughed out a flat chuckle. “I was afraid they might come after me.”
“For defiling their sister?”
“I think about Stephanie sometimes…”
Royce stood and picked up the empty glasses. “Someday, some guy’s going to sleep with Stephanie.”
“He better be in love with her.”
“He’d better be married to her.” Royce poured a refill for each of them. This time, he added ice, then he wandered back to the opposite armchair.
“So what does she know?” he asked.
Jared slouched back, loosening his tie and flicking his top shirt button open. “The ranch, Stephanie’s jumping, you, Anthony, the Genevieve Fund.”
“What you look like naked,” Royce put in.
Jared waved a dismissive hand. “It’s not like we took pictures.”
“Good to know.”
Jared gazed out the wide window, letting his vision go soft on the city lights. He’d expected the night to turn out very differently. Even now, even knowing Melissa was a traitor, on some level he wished she was lying in the king-size bed, sexy, naked, waiting for him to join her.
“What’s she got?” Royce asked quietly.
Jared blinked his attention back to his brother.
He had to tell him. There was no way around it.
He’d been colossally stupid to share it with a perfect stranger.
“Gramps,” he said. Then he tugged off his tie, tossing it on the table.
Royce’s eyes narrowed.
“He told me something. Right before he died.” Jared drew a breath. “He told me Dad killed Frank Stanton.”
The room went completely silent.
Jared dared to flick a glance at Royce.
His brother was still, eyes unblinking, hands loose on the padded arms of the chair. “I know.”
Jared drew back. “What?”
Royce took a sip of his drink. “I’ve always known.”
Jared took a second to process the information. Royce knew? He’d kept silent all these years?
“I don’t understand,” said Jared.
Royce came to his feet, then carried his drink across the room, turning when he came to the window. “The day it happened. The day they died. I found a letter Mom had written to Dad. It was half-finished. It said she loved Frank. It said she was leaving Dad. She was leaving us.” He took another sip. “You didn’t tell me?”
His brother was silent for a long moment. “You know, sometimes, when you have to keep a secret? The only person who can know is you. The second-” he snapped his fingers “-the second you let that knowledge out of your brain, you put it at risk. I knew that. Even at thirteen years old.”
Jared couldn’t believe his brother hadn’t trusted him. “I would never have-”
“Our father was a murderer. Our mother was unfaithful. And Stephanie was two years old.”
“You should have-”
“No. I shouldn’t have. I didn’t. And I was right.” Royce paused. “I didn’t know Gramps knew.”
“He threw the gun in the river,” said Jared.
Royce gave a half smile. “Good for him.”
“He got rid of the gun before they found Mom and Dad. He thought Dad would go on trial for murder.”
“Yeah.” Royce returned to his chair. “Well, what do you do? He protected his son. Who are we to decide how far a man goes?”
“Do you kill your wife’s lover?” The question had been nagging at Jared for weeks now. He couldn’t help picturing Melissa. And he couldn’t stop the cold rage that boiled up inside him at the thought of another man.
“I don’t have a wife,” said Royce. “I don’t have to make that decision.”
Jared nodded. “Simpler that way.”
“It is,” Royce agreed. He sat back down. “Do we tell Stephanie?”
Jared hated the thought of hurting his sister. But if the story came out in the article, she needed to be prepared. He hoped it wouldn’t come to that, but he feared it might.
“Not yet,” he answered Royce.
The Bizz was a monthly magazine. He’d have at least a few days to think about solutions.
So far, all he’d come up with was a plan to kidnap Melissa and lock her up in a tower in Tasmania or Madagascar with no telephone or Internet. Unfortunately his mind kept putting himself in the tower with her, in a big bed, where they’d make love until he tired of her. Which, if his wayward imagination was anything to go by, would take a very, very long time.
From the moment Melissa clicked the send button, she feared she’d made a mistake. While she certainly had the legal right to file her story on Jared, she wasn’t so sure she had the moral right to do it.