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OKH ENTERPRISES

SUCCESSION PROVISO
April 3, 1985
Upon owner and president Oliver Lake Hilliards
death, OKH Enterprises (hereinafter referred to as
the Company) shall be managed by a chief executive
officer appointed by the Board of Directors at will
and whenever the need arises. The Company shall
then revert to the full control and ownership of
F. Knox Oliver Hilliard on December 27, 2008, his
fortieth birthday, provided he has married and
produced an heir.

Oliver Lake Delano Hilliard

Kansas City, Missouri


4/3/85

August 2004
I AM GOING TO fuck him if its the last thing I do.

Justice McKinley looked down at her notebook, feeling violated by the woman in
the row behind her. Justice thought shed missed all that queen bee mean girl business, but apparently, law school was not without its share.
Queen Bee Sherry was beautiful, with glossy black hair and a slender figure
dressed to perfectionand she knew it. She stood out in the lecture hall full of students who were introducing themselves and listening to their substitute professor,
Chouteau County prosecutor Knox Hilliard.
Sherrys worker bees laughed and slid comments back and forth about Sherrys
tastes, which Justice did not want to hear and she tossed an irritated glance over her
shoulder. Immediately, the back of her chair was kicked, startling her. Another irritated glance. Another kick, harder this time.
Sherry, Worker Bee Number One whispered, stop it. Shes gonna get mad.
Whats she going to do, read me Bible stories? Look at her! Shes drooling all
over her pretty little dress. She wouldnt know what to do with him if she had him.
Justice swallowed at the cruelty in the girls voice, the nanny-nanny-booboo singsong now close to her ear. I bet she wants to fuck Dr. Hilliard as much as I do. Pay
attention, little girl.
It was a good thing Justice was in front of Sherry because her face flooded with
color. She averted her gaze from the professor and tried to cool the rage and mortification that welled up inside her. It wouldnt have bothered her if Sherry hadnt seen
Justice stop cold to stare at Dr. Hilliard when she came through the door.
Ms Quails, Dr. Hilliard said, his rich voice resonating from the dais all the way
up to the cheap seats. Your turn. What kind of law do you want to practice?
Corporate, she said shortly, but what I really want to talk about is what youre
doing this weekend? All weekend?
The room held its collective breath at her brazenness, and Dr. Hilliard gaped at
her. Then a smile, quick and blinding, flashed across his face. Justice stared at him in
awe, as she had the entire time shed been in this class. If Justice had ever needed to
see an example of male beauty and masculine grace, Dr. Hilliard was it.
He smirked as he came closer to Sherry and therefore, closer to Justice. See me
after class and Ill see what I can arrange, he murmured, his predatory tone matching Sherrys perfectly.

THE PROVISO

Certainly Knox.
He continued with the next person down the row, but Justice spaced out, ignoring Sherry and her friends, ignoring Dr. Hilliard because after that Thank God
the regular prof would be back Friday. And what about you, Ms McKinley?
Justice, startled, looked up to see him watching her expectantly. Her face burned.
She cleared her throat. Her nerves were pinging and she was slightly nauseated. I
I want to be a prosecutor, she said and then, to her horror, she added, like you.
Sherry and her friends snickered openly.
Surprise flickered in his ice blue eyes and he smiled in kind bemusement. Why?
Justice swallowed again. She felt as if she were on trial, as if her answer would determine her whole future. In three years, half the people in this classroom would be
competing for a coveted position in the Chouteau County prosecutors office specifically to be trained as litigators by Dr. Hilliard. Yes, her answer today would determine her whole future.
I I want to help people, she began, too caught up in his eyes to care about
Sherry anymore. I think that criminals that they have too many rights. Its too
easy to hurt others for fun and profit. She went on, gaining confidence in her opinion and strength in her voice as she always did when she spoke on this topic.
Theres no sense of right and wrong anymore. Um, personal property rights
meaning oneself and ones belongingswere meant to be held sacred. Thats what
the Founding Fathers wanted. Life and valuables are cheap now, partly, um, because
of the eroding family base and partly because the legal system doesnt punish real
criminals well enough and petty crimes too much. I want to help make the law a deterrent againto, oh, legally avenge those whose lives are violated by someone else.
Silence reigned throughout the lecture hall, and because Justice couldnt quite
meet Dr. Hilliards probing gaze, she looked at his collar and tried to hold back tears
of frustration and embarrassment.
Then Sherry laughed. Her friends laughed. The room exploded in laughter
raucous, jeering guffaws aimed at Justice, who was only now aware that she had displayed an appalling navet.
This was going to be a long three years.
ENOUGH!
The roar echoed off the walls and immediately silenced the room. Justices head
snapped up to see Dr. Hilliard leisurely strolling away from her, his hands in the
pockets of his fine gray suit.
How dare you, he growled. His lazy syntax and rural twang were gone, replaced
by crisp upper-class hauteur. His affable manner had turned hard in the blink of an
eye and Justice watched him, confused. His outrage had been so immediate, so effortless. For her?

MORIAH JOVAN

How dare you denigrate the career goals of a fellow student. I daresay none of you
has thought that deeply about what you want and why you want it. None of you has
expressed yourselves so passionately that the room was enthralled with what you said.
None of you was courageous enough to say what you really thought. How dare you sit
on your pretentiously cynical asses and laugh at idealism. Idealism is what created this
country; its what drives it; its what allows you to be here on daddys money.
He pointed to different sections of the room in turn. You. You. You. He began
the slow trek back across the platform toward Justice. She caught the faintest whiff
of an elegant cologne as he leaned alongside her toward Sherry. And you, Ms
Quails, he purred. It was not a nice purr.
Justice was very glad not to be on the receiving end of that.
You can go fuck yourself, because I certainly wont.
There was a collective gasp and Sherry squeaked. Dr. Hilliards expression softened when it settled upon Justice who, with tears of mixed gratitude and mortification, looked away from his large harshness and golden darkness.
Fingertips under her chin gently forced her face around and up. She blinked to
get rid of her tears before he saw them.
Do you believe in vigilante justice, Justice?
No, she croaked.
What about theft versus crimes against the body?
She cleared her throat and said in a stronger voice, Property is to be held as sacred as the body and vice versa.
Revenge?
Law.
Black and white?
Right and wrong.
Justice followed his line of reasoning without effort because she knew these things,
believed these things, believed in the brilliance and genius of the Founding Fathers.
They had touched, somehow, an experienced attorney somewhere in his midthirties and Justice, a twenty-two-year-old law student whod been in classes for a
whole week.
His thumb drifted across her cheekbone as he stood looking down at her. Justice
was only vaguely aware of the profound silence around her. His mind was connecting
with hers the way his fingertips were connecting with her skin.
Very good, Justice, he murmured.
She stared up into Dr. Hilliards gorgeous blue eyes and fell in love.
GISELLE STOOD AT THE door to the lecture hall collecting the students assignment as

THE PROVISO

they filed out quietly, either carefully avoiding Dr. Hilliard or giving him the side-eye.
Justice McKinley lingered for a bit, waiting, hoping he would speak to her, but he was
looking down at the front table sorting through papers and ignoring everyone, especially
Justice. She finally gave up and left, handing her assignment to Giselle without a word.
Giselle stuffed the papers in her bag and rushed out into the hall to catch up with
her, reaching out to brush her on the shoulder. She started, turned, nearly cowered,
her amber eyes wide. Um hi, Dr. Cox. Did I Did I forget something?
Ill let you know, Giselle said quietly, aware of the wary glances cast their way
because she got attention wherever she went whether she wanted it or not. Today,
she wanted it. No one who knew any better would bother Justice now that Giselle
had marked her just by talking to her. You were very good in there.
Justice looked at her warily, as if she were making fun of her. Uh I dont
know I mean She stammered nonsense words Giselle ignored while taking
inventory. Justice was taller than Giselle by at least three or four inches, and because
she was wearing a chintz shirtwaist dress straight out of the 80s, Giselle couldnt
even begin to guess what was under it. If her legs were anything to go by, she had a
lot of potential.
Her dull mahogany hair was in a thick, waist-length braid limned in frizz that
caught the sunlight and made it look more out of control than it was. Her face was
odd, with a thick coating of foundation as if she were trying to hide acne, but it was
smooth, so she must be hiding freckles. Thatd go with the hair. Too bad, too, because she had exquisite bone structure.
Giselle was tempted to take the girl for a makeover just because shed been so
fabulous in class, but letting that butterfly loose would unleash a hurricane all over
Dr. Hilliards already chaotic life.
The last thing he needed was more chaos, especially considering what had happened in class. Propositioning Sherry wouldnt get him in trouble because hed saved
face for her. Later, hed have read her the riot act in private, which everyone but the
first-year students would know. It was what hed said later that would get him fired
or sued or both. The f-bomb used sexually in class toward a student! And then hed
touched another student!
Way to go, Dr. Dumbass.
No, better Justice look like this for as long as possible in case he was tempted to
do something even more stupid.
Justice continued to mumble things Giselle couldnt hear. Then, over Justices
shoulder, Giselle saw Dr. Dumbass in the stairwell staring at her. She tilted her head
in question because she wasnt his TA. He slid a cold glance over to Sherry and her
outraged brood. Giselle looked at them, looked back at him and raised an eyebrow.
He nodded and disappeared.

MORIAH JOVAN

Still muttering, dammit. Giselle wished she didnt have to talk to the top of the
girls frizzy red head.
Justice, Giselle murmured, leaning over to look up into the girls eyes. Nil carborundum illegitimi. Justice blinked and slowly raised her head. There you go,
Giselle murmured with a smile. Take heart. You impressed the only person you
needed to impress, just by being yourself. Keep doing that. After casting Justice
another encouraging smile, Giselle left the building.
To lie in wait.
Sherry! Giselle chirped as she came around a corner. Can I, uh, talk to you a
minute?
Sure, Dr. Cox! she called with a bright, slightly predatory smile, and Giselle
almost rolled her eyes at the girls delight at having finally caught her attention.
Giselle, ten years older than most of the other students, was a third-year student
on the five-year plan. It was an odd position to be in because she already had a PhD,
had owned her own business for several years, and wasnt afraid to fight with Dr.
Hilliard publicly, loudly, and often. But PhDs in English lit only went so far with
ones law professors. The only people who called her Dr. Cox were Dr. Dumbass,
who publicly mocked her with it, students in the classes she TAd, and anybody else
who wanted something from her.
Sherry had been trying to get something from Giselle for a weekand it wasnt a
good grade.
So she followed Giselle eagerly to an out-of-the-way spot in a thick stand of
trees. Giselle turned only to find the girl backed up to a big oak, preening for her.
Giselle smiled seductively and approached her slowly with a swing in her hips.
You got my attention, Sherry, she murmured.
Finally, she purred.
Going after Knox like that was pretty ballsy.
You think? she asked coyly.
Oh, yes, Giselle cooed, caressing Sherrys cheek, then trailing her fingertips
down her neck.
Sherry gurgled when her head was snapped back against the tree, Giselles hand
clamped around her throat. And stupid, Giselle whispered in Sherrys ear. Im
going to tell you this once and I want you to make sure it gets spread around.
LeaveJusticeMcKinleyalone. If I hear even a suggestion of a rumor that you,
your skank patrol, or anyone else not even associated with you are giving her a hard
time, youll regret it. The last place anybody wants to be is on Knoxs shit list, but you
made it. With a sneer, she let Sherry go.
Sherry clutched her throat and, panting, bent at the waist to catch her breath, but
Giselle grabbed a handful of her hair and jerked her head up. The only shit list worse

THE PROVISO

than Knoxs is mine because I can get to you in places he cant and Im not an instructor.
This is fucking law school, and I am not going to tolerate playground bullying.
No, no, she whimpered. Im sorry. Please let me go. Please.
She let Sherry run crying to her friends, but no one approached her with accusations of what had happened in the glade. Giselle went back to her soul-crushing
grind. Justice went about campus as if everyone were out to get her. Dr. Dumbass
went back to his day job and his Tuesday-Thursday evening class.
Until his fiance was murdered four weeks later.

1: THE FIRST WIFE


September 2004
THE KANSAS CITY CRIME scene unit had had to dredge Leah Wincotts body from

a pond, so the casket remained closed. There was only one reason any bride of Knox
Hilliardespecially one who had a childwould turn up dead.
Bryce knew he should be more mindful of his friend and client lying at the front
of the chapel garnering her due respects. Leahs death had too many implications for
him to allow himself to be distracted, but hed taken one look across the room and
now he could think of nothing but the woman whod caught his eye.
She was sitting in a dark corner alone, her body slumped down in the chair, her
stilettos hanging on the rung of the folding chair in front of her, her arms folded
across her chest, her left hand holding a paper cup. He could only see her in profile,
straight nose, full mouth, high cheekbones, all framed by dull blonde curls that
dripped over her shoulders. She took a sip from her cup, then scowled down into it.
Bryce didnt know who she was or what kind of a relationship she had had with
Leah, but usually people didnt reach the anger stage of grief until after the funeral, so
what intrigued him even more than her beauty was her anger.
She raised a hand to plow her fingers through her curls in a futile attempt to
keep them out of her eyes. She huffed, set her cup down on the chair next to her,
reached up, and began to braid it.
Bryce sighed. He wished she hadnt done that.
The black velvet of her short bodice shimmered subtle gold and stretched over
her breasts. He wanted to reach out, cup one in his hand, flick her nipple with his
thumb, bend down and suck it into his mouth.
Her knee-length silk-and-chiffon skirt inched up her thigh until the hem caught
on something distinctly out of place. It took him out of the moment of sexual fantasy
and into the realm of curiosity as to why shed have a wide black strap around her
thigh. He couldnt think of a reason at the moment, but it didnt matter. Shed finished braiding and returned to slouching and scowling.
An older woman passed behind her, pulled her fingertips lightly across her back
in a loving caress, and said something to her when she looked up.
Oh, he breathed, captivated by her face. Hed seen her face before, in a

THE PROVISO

Pre-Raphaelite painting he remembered studying in freshman humanities more than


twenty years before. Lilith, Adams first wife, who demanded equality with Adam
and left Eden in a snit when he refused.
Bryce had never forgotten that tale, nor the painting. The concept that Adam
had had a wife before Eve had shocked the hell out of him. Further, the particular
point of Liliths complaint against Adam had aroused Bryce painfully. As he watched
the real-life Lilith across the room from him, he didnt have to wonder if shed demand to be on top.
He wondered how shed go about demanding it.
The older woman had stopped speaking and waited for Liliths response. Her
mouth tightened and she looked away, off into nothing, thinking. Finally, she
glanced back up at the woman, nodded, and spoke.
Okay, Mom.
The mother walked away with a pat on Liliths shoulder. As she arose, her full
skirt caught again, on the chair this time. He blinked and looked again. Was that a
gun strapped to her thigh? The delicate black lace of the top of her stocking juxtaposed against the cold, deadly steel aroused him further.
This Lilith had him harder than Colliers painting.
Dammit, she mouthed as she swept her hand down her body to straighten her
dress and cover the gun. The black-and-gold fabrics flared and shimmered when she
turned away from him. Her stilettos forced the muscles of her legs into sharp relief
and he sighed when she strutted away into the dark recesses of the funeral home.
He hung back, loath to follow her. He raised his left hand to feel his face, the
burn scars that disfigured him, mocked him, kept him from approaching women
because he hated the flinching, the fake politeness.
My God, what a monster. Youd have to turn the lights out.
Long ago, when the scars were still relatively fresh, hed overheard a woman
whisper that to her friend. Though it didnt make him angry anymore, it did serve to
remind him of his sin, the punishment for his sin.
An image seeped into his mind of that woman, Lilith, dangerous, muscular, on
her knees in front of him, her mouth around him and his hand clutching her hair.
His feet took it upon themselves to trace her path, his nose following a scent that
would belong to a Lilith: fruit and flowers and almond with a hint of sex. Far away
from the chapel, toward a small, dimly lit room at the other end of the building, he
rounded a corner and heard a delicate female voice.
He stopped, ducked back a bit, listened.
Say it, Knox, she demanded angrily.
A whoosh of air. Okay, okay, the deceaseds significant other said wearily. You
were right. Im sorry, Giselle. You dont know how sorry I am.

MORIAH JOVAN

She-SELL.
Not Lilith.
Bryces disappointment was deep and sharp.
Oh, Im sorry, too, Knox, she whispered with sorrow and regret. I shouldnt
have said that.
There was a pause, then the sound of rustling fabric. Bryce risked a peek around
the corner and saw her engulfed in Hilliards arms, his face in the crook of her neck,
her arms wound around his shoulders and her fingers in his hair.
Bryces heart thundering in his chest, he pulled himself away from the tableau in
front of him and dropped back against the wall. The silence lengthened, only to be
pierced with the soft sounds of kissing.
Come home with me tonight, Hilliard murmured. Please. I need you.
Immediately nauseated, pissed off, he pushed away from the wall and stalked out
of the funeral home.
Leah Wincott, Bryces friend and client, had died for the sake of a man who had
a mistress.
Bryce had a hard-on for a woman he didnt know, who wouldnt be interested in
him anyway, who was the mistress of Leahs fianc. Lilith, succubus.
That the man between Lilith and Leah was Knox Hilliard
Bryce took a deep, shuddering breath.
He felt thoroughly betrayed.
Again.

2: ROMEO & JULIET


ONE NIGHT, KNOX whispered into her mouth as their kiss softened.

Giselle jerked away from him, scowling, now madder than she already was. Seriously? she gritted, trying to keep her temper under control. It wasnt about her right
now. It wasnt her lover of five years whod been kidnapped and brutally murdered
twenty minutes before saying I do.
She studied Knoxs tanned, ruggedly handsome face and looked into his ice blue
eyes, for the first time noticing how he had aged under the weight of constant stress.
Thirty-five going on forty-five. All you want is comfort sex and I deserve more, especially from you.
He sighed and stepped away from her, rubbing his mouth.
Besides, what about last month?
His eyes narrowed. What about last month?
I was there, remember? You were a goner the minute she opened her mouth.
I am not going to discuss that with you right now. Maybe not ever.
Giselle watched Knox pace in utter turmoil, but her conscience was equally tormented because she could have prevented Leahs death if shed followed her gut.
Honey, thank you, but I dont need a bodyguard. Im the most high-profile woman in the
country right now and Fen wouldnt dare have me killed. Once Im married to Knox, Fen wont
have any reason to try to kill you again.
Leah, I dont have a good feeling.
Giselle! Put that gun away and stop pacing. If you cant do that, leave. Im about to get
married in front of five hundred people. I dont need your fidgets on top of mine.
But
Out!
Okay, you know what? Im going to go get Knox.
You do that.
Leahs rich south Texas drawl still echoed in her head. Knox had been in love
with Leah for the entire five years theyd been together and had been eager to marry
her. But his guilt over having taken Leahs side of the argument, leaving her alone
and unprotected, was exponentially worse:
Now youre stuck with the added guilt of falling in love with a different woman

MORIAH JOVAN

11

a month before your wedding.


He grimaced.
And you want me to kiss your wittow owwie and make it all better.
Yes, I do, he shot back, jerking her into his arms and kissing her with the worn
familiarity of thirty years of history.
She needed somebody, too, but it certainly wasnt Knox. It never had been. It
wasnt anybody, because she couldnt find the kind of man she wanted, and was about
to stop looking. Thirty-four and at the breaking point of her quest for celibacy, finally giving in and making love with the man whod spent a third of his life being her
occasional faux boyfriend would be convenient, an elegant solution to every issue that
surrounded them.
It was tempting, but only in the way doing something quickly and half-assed to
be able to mark it off the to-do list was tempting, and doing that always came back on
Giselle.
Now, see, thats the answer to the problem right there.
The kiss ended abruptly, and she wheeled away.
Fuck you, Knox snapped at the man whod appeared in the doorway.
No, fuck her, Sebastian drawled. Marry her. Knock her up. I dont care in
which order that happens.
Dude, I do not need this right now. Im burying my wife.
Yeah, and were going to be burying you next since Giselle refuses to die.
That was possible, if not probable, so Giselle said nothing. Knox, too, remained
silent.
She looked at her cousin out of the corner of her eye as he glanced between her
and Knox with his trademark scowl. Sebastian, at thirty-eight, was six-feet-two of
classic black Irish, his face sinister even without the glower.
Wed kill each other before a year was out, Knox muttered.
Why? You two have been together on and off since before you knew what
tongues were for.
No, we havent been together, Giselle said with a huff. Weve never been together.
Call it whatever you want, Sebastian said archly, but lots of people get married
with less than what you two have. You dont have to live together. He pointed at
Giselle. Fen is never going to believe you wont marry Knox just to take OKH away
from him. You will have a price on your head unless or until you marry somebody
else, and the odds of that happening are nil. Marry Knox and voil, youve got the
protection of the entire KCPD and the FBI. Everybodys safe and happy until Knox
inherits OKH.
Giselle wrapped her arms around herself, chilled to her soul, and murmured,
The goal is for Knox to fulfill the terms of his inheritance. Marriage and a child.

12

THE PROVISO

Leah was perfect because she already had one.


Yeah, okay. You both want kids, so
Sebastian! You are asking me to have a child! Knoxs child. For what? Money.
Noooo, Sebastian drawled. To destroy Fen.
I can deal with him without whoring out my uterus, she sneered.
Youre not using it for anything else! She looked at him stonily. Thats what
adoptions for.
So its totally okay with you that an innocent human being gets dragged into this
just so Knox can inherit. What, a child is just a tool to you? A working part?
He bowed his head and rubbed the back of his neck. No, he said low. Thats
not what I meant.
I know, she drawled sarcastically. Thats my point.
He shot a glare at her. Then make Fen go away.
Her mouth tightened. Fantasizing about murdering the man who wanted to
keep her from facilitating Knoxs inheritance was one thing. Doing it was another
thing entirely.
You know what? Knox said. Forget OKH. I dont want it.
Giselle whirled, her jaw on the floor, and Sebastian asked slowly, What do you
mean, you dont want it?
I have no interest in it and its not worth the price.
Uh, Sebastian said after a moment of stunned silence, youve spent your entire
life preparing to take over that company when you turn forty. When, exactly, did
you have this change of heart?
The minute I became the Chouteau County prosecutor, Knox snapped. I cant
manage shit. I put people in jail and I teach. Thats all Im good at.
That was eight years ago. Could you not have told us this sooner?
He groaned. I didnt know how much I dreaded it until I was waiting for the
wedding to start, having to take a job Im not suited for and dont know how to do.
There are exactly two immediate solutions to the problem, neither of which you
or Giselle are willing to do. So, of course its up to me to bail your ass out.
Nobody asked you to! Knox nearly roared. Youve got your own agenda, which is
to take Fen down, not to help me. My agenda is not to have to deal with it at all.
Sebastian stared at him in stony silence. Giselle watched. Waited.
Two people are dead, Sebastian said low in his throat, your father and your
wife. Fen has taken out two hits on Giselle and shes walking around with blood on
her hands, looking over her shoulder. And you want to cut and run?
That found its target.
Youll take a serial killer out to save people you dont know, but you wont do it
again to avenge and save the people you love. Nice.

MORIAH JOVAN

13

Thats not fair, Giselle interjected. He and Leah were twenty minutes away
from solving the problem. In the last two weeks hes been frantically looking for her,
watching her get pulled out of a pond, and identifying her body. Then, while hes
making funeral arrangements, he has to deal with federal agents wanting to charge
him with her murder. Have a little empathy for once in your fucking life, and give
him time and space to grieve and get his head together.
Sebastian said nothing, but he was angry. With whom or what, exactly, she
wasnt sure, but he looked away first.
Thank you, Knox croaked.
Im not finished, she said, looking at Knox now. He was adrift, needing to be told
what to do and it was her job to get him anchored. It always had been. Go back to
your crooked little outfit up there in Chouteau County and think about your options for
justice. Knoxs nostrils flared and his face hardened to a glare. The only way youre
going to get out from under OKH is by being dead. You, she said, pointing at Sebastian, business as usual. Any which way this turns out, you win, so stop whining. You
wouldve done this a long time ago if Knox had come to his epiphany earlier.
You do remember Congress wants my head, right?
Stop it. Theres not enough brawn back there to string you up, much less brains.
If you do get called up, youll find the whole thing a lark. Giselle strode toward the
door, expecting Sebastian to move out of her way. Now. Ive had enough talking. All
we do is talk.
And what are you going to do then, my lovely?
You dont need to know.
DONT MOVE.

The distinguished silver-haired gentleman halted at the cold round pressure at


the back of his head. He stiffened when Giselle wrapped her hand around his throat,
thumb and middle finger pressed into his carotids to keep him still.
She leaned forward so that her mouth brushed his ear.
You are alive by the grace of Knox Hilliard, who has requested in good faith
that I not kill you, she whispered conversationally. If you try to have me killed
again, if you attempt to kill Knox at all, if you pull any more stunts like killing any
future brides, Ill consider that a breach of good faith on your part. I should blow
your head off for murdering Leah.
Consider: I didnt die in the fire your goons set. I didnt die when your goons
shot me. Im alive and both of your goons are dead and barbecuedand the prosecutor was happy I did him the favor of cleaning up after him. So instead of being in the
ground, Im here. With you. Your security hasnt a clue and the only thing keeping

14

THE PROVISO

me from putting a bullet in your head right now is Knox. Have you learned nothing
about me over the last thirty years? Do you really think you can take me on and win?
She felt his Adams apple bob against her fingertips.
I didnt think so. Have a nice evening, Unk. She paused. Oh, I almost forgot.
Mom said to tell you Thanksgiving dinnerll be at her house this year, two oclock
sharp, as usual.

3: READY-MIXED CONCRETE
COMPANY, 1935
BRYCE, ARE YOU OKAY?

Bryce sat in his leather chair looking out over the city. High up in One KC Place,
corner office, all glass, he could see for milesso very propos for a pit bull of a trial
lawyer.
He pursed his lips as he held his fingers steepled under his chin, feeling more like
a teenager with his first crush than a thirty-eight-year-old mover and shaker.
Lilith.
Im fine, he muttered, lying to his assistant without a thought.
Arlene snorted. Fine, my ass. Normally that wouldve pulled a grin out of him.
Today no.
Giselle.
Hed spent the last two nights googling that damned painting, studying it, rereading its history and provenance and myth, comparing it to the woman whod
made him fantasize about things he hadnt bothered to fantasize about in five years.
The work was part of the permanent collection in a gallery in England; he knew he
had no hope of buying it, but hed sent an email of inquiry anyway. Just in case. No
one had responded.
Knox Hilliards lover.
Heres your Wall Street Journal. Leahs all over it.
Bryce spun around and snatched it out of her hand, then snapped it open.
OKHE bride murdered, groom suspected

He skimmed the first couple of paragraphs until his attention caught:


Fen Hilliard, current CEO of OKH Enterprises, was questioned in the matter of
Wincotts death, but released after several hours. No evidence has been found to connect either F Hilliard or Knox Hilliard to her murder, but investigations of both continue in light of K Hilliards reputation and F Hilliards apparent motive.

Bryces lip curled with cynical resentment. Fen should not have been released so
easily from questioning since he had so much to gain from Leahs death. When

16

THE PROVISO

Bryces wife and four children had burned to death, the police had been waiting for
him to be discharged from the hospital to arrest him for their murders because hed
had so much to gain. Hed been charged, spent weeks in jail, and his criminal trial
begun before the fire investigator had come back with the evidence that cleared him.
There were still people around town who thought Bryce really had murdered his
wife and kids, and bought his way out from under the charge.
I think Knox did it, Arlene offered.
Bryce grunted. He had no reason to, he murmured, but Fen sure as hell did.
Fen Hilliard would never do something like that, Arlene growled. He looked
up, puzzled by her anger. He signs the paychecks of half my family. He rescued
OKH when we thought it was going to go under and he saved us. Hes a good man,
a generous man.
Ah, yes. J. Fenimore Hilliard, a modern, moral version of Boss Tom Pendergast,
straight out of 1930s Kansas City, its industrial knight in shining armor. Unlike
Pendergast, however, Fen didnt have a monopoly on government concrete contracts,
nor could he use the Kansas City police department as his personal messenger service, nor did he have enough political power to put a man in the Senate.
He didnt need it. He was on the right side of the law, his business acumen was
unquestionably sharp, his philanthropy was sincere, and he employed a thousand
people he paid very well. It was enough to make people forget hed taken OKH over
completely after his brother Oliver died, then married the widow, Trudy, a month
after the funeral.
Bryce shouldnt have been surprised at Arlenes vehemence. She idolized Boss
Tom, too.
By comparison, Knox, Oliver and Trudys son and the heir to OKH, was hardly
a model citizen. As the elected prosecutor of a neighboring county, he did have political power Fen didnt have. Furthermore, his office was corrupt and hed murdered a
man in an act of vigilantism that kept him in power.
Those were the rumors, anyway. Hed been brought in for questioning, but the
investigation had stalled out and no charges were ever brought. It wasnt difficult for
anyone to believe he was capable of murdering his bride, even if he did have everything to lose by doing so.
And, she added, I would think you of all people would know better than to assume someones guilty just because everything points in his direction.
His eyebrow rose at that, just enough to let her know shed gone too far. Her
mouth tightened and she turned to walk out of his office. He wouldve fired anyone
else for saying that, true or not.
He went back to his paper.

MORIAH JOVAN

17

According to the terms of the proviso Oliver Hilliard approved and slipped into
the corporate charter just days before his death, K Hilliards inheritance of OKH Enterprises is guaranteed so long as he is married and has a child by his 40th birthday.
When WSJ asked F Hilliard what these terms meant for his leadership, he said,
Its my great pleasure to safeguard my nephews inheritance for him. Im looking
forward to the handoff so I can pursue other opportunities and maybe go fishing.
There is some concern that F Hilliards decision to take the company public
some years ago has actually made an end run around the proviso, but legal experts who
have studied the clause have come to the consensus that K Hilliard will be entitled to
the majority shares the company holds for itself and will be its de facto CEO at that
point, and that his claim would hold up in court if challenged.
However, if K Hilliard does not fulfill the terms of the proviso, F Hilliard will
remain at its helm indefinitely.
To complicate matters, K Hilliards cousin, financier Sebastian Taight, suddenly
began to acquire OKHE stock at a steady pace two years ago. Taight is known across
the country for his Fix-or-Raid protocol with regard to troubled companies that hire
his consulting services. What he plans to do with OKH Enterprises, whether K Hilliard
inherits or not, is unknown and Taight has refused to comment.
To date, K Hilliards wedding and announcement of a birth are the most anticipated events in the manufacturing and financial sectors, especially as the deadline
looms. If he fulfills the terms of the proviso within the next four years, his net worth
could increase by as much as a half billion dollars.

Bryce wasnt going to argue Knoxs worthiness to inherit OKH or ability to run
it, but Fen wasnt all rainbows and unicorns, and Knox did have his selling points, to
wit: He was one of the best white-collar prosecutors in the country. His true talent,
though, lay in turning baby lawyers into courtroom lions. His name on an attorneys
CV guaranteed a stellar career path. Under Knoxs leadership, the Chouteau County
prosecutors office had evolved into a residency program for litigators whose tales of
corruption and dirty money had yet to be substantiated by the FBI.
Not that it didnt try. Every lawyer in town joked that the FBI had been back
and forth to Knoxs office so many times, the Missouri Department of Transportation had to repave that section of highway every six months.
In a sidebar:
Yesterday, OKHE stock price plummeted in the wake of another of Sebastian
Taights mass buys. The SEC is expected to disallow any more buys by Taight if he
does not account for his voting record as a majority shareholder. In addition, there are
some murmurings on Capitol Hill about the legitimacy and legality of Taights past
raids.
Senator Roger Oth (R-Penn.), Taights most vocal opponent, said today, He and
businessmen like him need to be brought to heel by someone with some power. As far
as I can see, Congress is the only entity with that kind of power. Before being elected
to office, Senator Oth was the CEO of Jep Industries, a company Taight dismantled after having been hired to restructure and streamline its operations. Taight would give no
reason for his decision to break Jep Industries, nor has he answered questions as to his
motive for pursuing OKH Enterprises.

And Sebastian Taight was the monkey wrench in the power play between
OKHs CEO and its heir. Venture capitalist Taight had his fingers in so many pies

18

THE PROVISO

nobody could keep track of them all; he even speculated heavily in art. Though scrupulously honest, he had a reputation for taking any leverage where he could get it,
being completely ruthless about it, destroying anyone who even marginally pissed
him off, and remaining silent to the press.
He had a lot of bitter enemies in Congress who wanted to get their hands on
him, so the drumbeats on Capitol Hill calling for his head got a little louder every
time he thumbed his nose at the SEC, every time he refused to explain his Fix-orRaid policy. His aggressive takeover of OKH had made it worse: the Senate was
agitating to haul him before a panel hearing.
But even with Congress against him, Taight had the power to crush both Fen
and Knox Hilliard. Until the night of Leahs visitation, Bryce, along with the rest of
the financial industry, had assumed Taight to be on the warpath with both Hilliards,
but now
Before LilithGisellehad caught his eye, Bryce had noted Taight shouldering
up with Knox, giving him support, not leaving him to face the cream of society and
bona fide mourners alone. The men were cousins, but they had acted more like
brothers, which only left the question of why he wanted OKH so badly he was willing to destroy it to get it away from both Fen and Knoxand why Knox treated
him like a brother anyway.
Fen Hilliard, Sebastian Taight, and Knox Hilliard, three of the most brilliant
men in the country, were a family very publicly at war.
Bryces email dinged and he glanced at it to see if it required immediate attention.
The art gallery that had Lilith. Heart pounding, he clicked on the subject line.
Subject: Lilith
Dear Mr. Kenard,
Thank you for your inquiry regarding Lilith by the Hon. John Collier.
We regret to inform you that the painting is not for sale. Please let
us know if there is anything else we may be able to help you with.
M. Stevens,
Curator

Though Bryce knew he wouldnt have been able to have it at any price, disappointment stabbed at him anyway. He pulled up Lilith, and as he stared at her, he
wondered what it would take to possess the real one, the one in the little black dress
who answered to the name of Giselle.

4: NO STATIC AT ALL
October 2004
JUSTICE BOUNCED ALONG the rutted driveway toward the farmhouse, her old

cars struts unable to absorb the shocks. She had no idea how much longer it could
take the three-day-a-week eighty-four-mile round-trip from her village of River Glen
to the University of Missouri at Kansas City. If she believed in a god at all, shed be
on her knees the other four days begging for its longevity, at least for the six semesters until she graduated from law school. With any luck, shed continue to be able to
arrange her schedule as well as she had this semester
even if that meant she wouldnt have Dr. Hilliard, who, she had learned, mostly taught Tuesday and Thursday evening classes, if he taught at all. She needed those
two days during the week to work the farm, to the point that it was non-negotiable.
Once she had parked in her usual spot, she sat for a moment, taking in her lifelong home as if she had never seen it before, trying desperately not to compare and
contrast it to the homes in the fine old neighborhoods surrounding UMKC. She
pointedly ignored the relatively new subdivisions as she drove into Kansas City, fine
new houses she would never live in. Neighborhoods with rich grass and trees and
flowers and sidewalks and friendly dogs. Where people mowed lawns on Saturday,
barbecue was always on the menu, and children screamed and laughed and played.
Loudly.
She shook her head, upset with her fantasies because they made her hurt for a
life she would never have.
The dilapidated farmhouse, indistinguishable from any other plain dirty-whiteclapboard-clad gothic farmhouse across the Midwest, listed on one corner. That
could never be repaired without shoring up the foundation and it wasnt worth the
money. The yard was barren, packed dirt bisected by a poorly maintained gravel
drive. It was used to park worn out and rusting farm machinery. The corrugated
steel barn to the east of the house displayed a lace of rust. The abandoned chicken
coop hadnt housed chickens in four years.
The wheat crop would be poor. Justice had wanted to plant corn, but her father
had overruled her. The fields were worn out, but her father also wouldnt hear of
letting her turn the cattle out into them. Certainly, it would be more economical to

20

THE PROVISO

let them eat it than pay for harvesting.


Very good, Justice.
She bit her lip, looked at the ragged wheat, at the thin cattle grazing on tufts, and
made an executive decision. Then she mentally scoured the list of other things she
had to do that afternoon and evening. She closed her eyes and sighed, seeing her
future in her past, while desperately hoping her future would be a tad brighter once
she graduated from law school and had a regular income.
Justice got out of her car and walked into the house, hearing the familiar squeaks
in the bare floorboards all the way to the tiny kitchen that hadnt changed since the
Depression. There was a bare bulb hanging from the ceiling, an ancient stove and
refrigerator, a sink she couldnt get clean, and an even more ancient refrigerator dedicated to her fathers beer. The windows were open and ratty curtains were blowing.
She shouldnt complain. There were lots of people who had less than she did.
She knew. She drove through those inner-city neighborhoods to get to school.
She flipped on the light and looked around. It was filthy, even though shed
cleaned it two days ago, but she didnt have time to clean it again. She didnt want to
fix her dinner in a filthy kitchen, but she was hungry and she had chores that had to
be done before the sun set. Then she had to do schoolwork and write blog posts. She
sighed heavily as she looked around. There was no time to clean. If she managed to
make her bed and dust mop her room, it was an accomplishment.
Justice.
Startled, she jumped and looked over her shoulder at her father, standing in the
doorway of the kitchen in worn overalls. What.
Your student loan come in?
Its a student loan, Dad. I spent it.
His eyebrows shot into his hairline. All of it?
Yes, she lied without a hitch. There were no student loans. Shed paid for her
BS with grants and scholarships. She was paying for her JD the same way. The farm
hadnt turned a profit for years and now it wasnt even breaking even, so those funds
kept the farm limping along, too. Her next scholarship goal was to get enough for a
new car, but that would take a couple of years.
She was very proud of herself. She had to be.
No one else would be.
The tractor needs to be repaired or we cant harvest the wheat.
The wheats useless, she said flatly, dumping her stuff on the floor and jerking
open the refrigerator. Im turning the cattle out into it.
To her shock, he didnt argue.
Why dont you fix the tractor? You can do it as well as I can and youre here all day.
I got other things to do.

MORIAH JOVAN

21

Like what? She almost asked, but didnt have the energy for the argument that
would ensue.
Bossy needs milkin.
Bossys milked out, she said wearily. Has been for a month. Which he
wouldve known if hed gotten out of bed to milk her in the mornings.
Justice! he barked, startling her again. You got your goddamned college degree.
Put away that law school bullshit and get back to work here! This is our business.
More her business than his, since she did the majority of the work. She had to get
this farm profitable before she graduated because the free funds would only last so
long. You do understand I can make more money as a lawyer than I can as a farmer,
right? she asked blithely as she pulled out fixings for a sandwich.
Fat lotta good thatll do when were starving by the time you get a job.
Justice had no intention of allowing herself to starve, but she was almost out of
beef and she didnt have any animals worth butchering. Shed have to go hunting this
winter. She was ambivalent about the chore itself, but she resented having to do it,
because she wouldnt have to do if her father pulled his weight. She slid him and his
paunch a look. You got beer, dont you?
Dont you talk to me like that.
She didnt bother to ask Or what? because there was no or what. There was only
Justice going out to take care of the farm, then working till midnight, then getting up
in the morning to work on it some more.
Not for the first time, Justice wished she had siblings. Several. If she ever had a
family, shed have lots of children so none of them would be lonely.
Munching on her sandwich, she trudged through the wheat to the pasture beyond to let the cattle into the grain. That done, she headed to the barn and stopped
at her mothers old tape deck, beside which was a box filled with cassette tapes her
mother had stashed in the attic before she died. It was in those boxes Justice had
found the music of her heart: Rush. Nugent. U2. And the music of her memories of
her mother: Earth Wind & Fire, Carole King, Doobie Brothers.
Bossy, if she had any milk left, would only cooperate if Justices mothers favorite
music was playing.
What do you want to listen to this evening, Bossy? Justice asked vaguely as she
clicked through the plastic cases. She was greeted with a snort and a huff. Bitch,
Justice muttered. She and Bossy didnt get along very well.
She picked one, pressed play, and heard Bette Midlers voice.
Some say love
Justice hid in the endless shadows, listening to her mother sing while she milked cow
number two. If her mother knew she was there, she would be embarrassed and stop singing,

22

THE PROVISO

and Justice did so love to hear her mother sing.


This song was new. love is only for the lucky and the strong Justice bit her lip
at the words, feeling sadness and despair flowing out of her mother, but where had it come
from? Her mother was never sad. Always light, always smiling, Libby McKinley was the
prettiest, most wonderful mother in the world.
Suddenly she stopped singing and muttered, Where is that girl? Its gone five.
Here, Mama, Justice said, stepping into the barn proper as though she had just come
from the house. Im sorry Im late.
A smile, quick and warm, lit her face. Good morning, Iustitia. Will you turn on the
radio, please?
Her mother didnt want the radio. She wanted whatever was in the tape player, which
happened to be Hall & Oates.
Thank you, baby. Cows three and four need to be milked yet.
Libby didnt see any reason to name any animal that provided food, money, or clothes.
The dogs had names because Justices father had insisted, but the barn cats didnt.
A week after Justice had heard her mother singing sad songs in the barn, she was in
bed and had almost tumbled over into sleep when she felt the familiar depression next to
her. Her mother snuggled up to Justice and it seemed to her that her mother had been sleeping with her a lot more lately.
Iustitia, whispered her mother, her body warm and soft against her, you have no
idea how badly I want you off this farm.
What? She loved the farm, the work, the chores, even the animals, though her mother
didnt know she thought of some of them as pets. Why?
Because this is not the place for you, mindless, endless chores. Youll be old before your
time. But I dont know how
What do you mean?
I dont want you to get stuck like me. Do you know how old I am?
Um twenty-five.
Yes. Do you know how old your father is?
Forty-three.
Youre nine. Do the math, Iustitia. How old was I when you were born?
It took Justice a few minutes because she wasnt sure of the answer. Sixteen?
Thats right. I dont want that for you.
Sixteen was old enough to drive a car and get a job, so Justice didnt know what the
problem was.
If you get pregnant like I did, youll spend your life like this. I want you to get out.
Find a way to get out. I wish I could help you, but I cant. Promise me youll try. Youre a
smart girl. You could think of a way.
Her sense of urgency was making Justice nervous. Something bad was going on.

MORIAH JOVAN

23

What is it, Mama? Whats happening?


I just I dont feel well. I need you to promise me you wont be stupid like I was and
let a man sucker you. Thats a trap and I got caught. You dont belong here. I dont belong
here. If I had listened to my father, I might not
The most horrible thing occurred to Justice and she spoke before she thought. Do you
wish I hadnt been born?
No! Libby breathed. No. You were the best thing thats ever happened to me. I love
you so much.
Even Justice, as young as she was, knew there was no good answer to that question. I
love you, too, Mama.
Libby had never looked prettier as she did lying in her casket two years later. The doctors said she had a heart attack, but Justice didnt believe that. Twenty-seven-year-old
mothers didnt have heart attacks!
They do if they were born with a heart problem, cant afford medical care, and work
as a farm hand eighteen hours a day, seven days a week, the emergency room doctor told
her bluntly when she had screamed at him and called him a liar.
She was standing there with tears slowly tracking down her cheeks, looking down at
her sleeping mother. An old man she had never met came to stand beside her. Justice didnt
care enough to move, but after a while, he spoke. Hello, Iustitia.
She gasped and stepped away from him so fast she tripped over her feet. Only her parents knew her real name and her father insisted she be called Justice because Iustitia was
too hoity-toity.
Who are you? she squeaked.
Your grandfather. Libertasser, your mothers father.
I dont know you.
No, but you will. Perhaps I can give you something to make up for what you and your
mother really needed.
He steered her away from the casket and into the shadows. They sat together in a corner talking. Well, not conversing: Her grandfather speaking, Justice listening. Absorbing
the things he said, understanding more of what her mother had tried to warn her about.
When her father noticed, he made a scene, yelling and screaming about what her
grandfather had done to him, and he better stay away from Justice or else.
But Justice found comfort in her grandfathers presence, in his faith that she could do
what her mother had asked her to do, despite the fact that she didnt go to school. Her
mother had taught her to read and do basic arithmetic, but that was as far as her father allowed her to go. Her grandfather was appalled, so she did chores in the barn until he arrived in the early evenings to teach her: Math and English. Social studies, geography,
history, economics. Logic, critical thinking, and research. The barn became Justices classroom and her grandfather her professor.

24

THE PROVISO

Then he, too, died and left her with no one but her father, who didnt know what she
did when he wasnt looking and didnt careas long as she wasnt messing around with
books, because books dont do nothin but put ideas in your head. This is your home and
youre going to stay here and take care of me.
But Im starting college in the fall, she whispered as he walked away, seeing all her
mothers and grandfathers hopes burn off like an early-morning fog in ten oclock sunshine.
Thats enough of you, Justice muttered as she finished milking the old cow. She
was shocked she got a full pail of milk, but now shed have to
She dropped her face in her palm when Bossy kicked it. She hadnt given milk in
a month and the first time she didbecause Libbys favorite song was playingshe
kicked it as soon as the song was over.
All right, Bossy, Justice said heavily as she arose, put the stool and pail away,
unclipped the cow from her stall. Ill let you out in the field tonight.
Bette Midler was singing Bossy out the door, but Justice only cared about that one
song. She had to push the eject button on the tape deck several times before it would
open, and her already bad mood worsened each time it refused. She had very little patience with the tape player, but it was one of few precious links to her mother.
Years ago, with her mothers hopes and grandfathers admonitions ringing in her
ears, Justice had finally worked out a simple plan and with some trepidation, informed her father of it: 1 Work the farm, get a bachelors degree. 2 Work the
farm, get a law degree. 3 Get a job, work the farm. 4 Work, work, work. As
long as the farm came first, hed decided to be satisfied with taking potshots at her
and taunting her with imminent failure.
From the moment her grandfather told her to become a prosecutor, shed been
looking forward to a steady paycheck and health insurance. But in order to do that
and work the farm, she only had three counties to choose from: Chouteau and Buchanan and Clinton. The Clay and Jackson County seats were too far to drive every
day. She had always figured this into her plan with no knowledge of the Chouteau
County prosecutor until that day two months ago, when he had defended her, validated her, touched her. If he wouldnt hire her, shed work in legal aid just to have
contact with him.
I daresay none of you has thought that deeply about what you want and why you want it.
She swept her fingertips across her chin where Dr. Hilliard had touched her so
gently, smiling dreamily as she went back to the house to get another Red Bull and
sandwich, then look at the days mail.
The latest National Review had arrived. Oh! She flipped through the pages
quickly to find the article she had written and submitted because a well-respected
man who didnt know her had found value in her opinions.

MORIAH JOVAN

25

She had never expected it to be published.


She had never expected to be paid.
She had also never expected to be asked to write more.
With a wistful smile, she looked up and out the window at the cattle that were
chewing their cud and lowing. There was Bossy chowing down. Justice hit speed dial.
Yeah, hey, its Justice. Can you send a truck out here tomorrow? I have a cow
ready to butcher.
Her phone chimed, but she ignored it while she made arrangements to put Bossy
in her freezer. Then she hung up and read her email.

Subject: Come aboard!


Reply-to: hhew@townsquared.org
Justice,
Weve been following your comments for a while and we just read
your piece in the National Review. We think you have a lot of potential as a columnist and wed like to invite you to become a permanent contributor at TownSquared.
Let us know!
Cheers,
The TownSquared Crew

She gasped. Giggled. Squealed, even. TownSquared was the biggest conservative
blog on the internet and they wanted her to write for them?
Very good, Justice.

5: HOT, LOOSE & CLEAN


April 2005
GISELLE PUT HER BACKPACK on a remote corner of her desk, careful not to dis-

lodge piles of papers and microcassette tapes. She sighed, wishing people would respect her clearly marked IN box and stopped cluttering up her space.
She hated clutter.
After collecting a bottle of water from the fridge, she began putting her nights
work in order and checked the server for dictation. It looked to be a light night. If
she finished early, she could go home and sleep.
It was 4:00 p.m. when Giselle put the buds in her ears and began to type. Briefs,
pleadings, letters, contractsshe could do them all by heart. One day, very soon, she
would be the one dictating and not the one transcribing. She couldnt wait to get the
hell out of this cubicle, which she resented all the more after having built a business
and nurtured it for so many years, only to watch it burn to the ground.
Starting over again at her age and with her background really sucked.
Thanks a bunch, Uncle Fen.
Since it was still a half hour before the end of the workday, the office was bustling with secretaries, paralegals, and lawyers going this way and that. Giselle sat off
the beaten path, but that didnt stop many attorneys from making pointed detours to
her desk to drop off work, to chat, and every so often, in the case of the more persistent, to ask her out.
Shed typed for three or four hours before she caught sight of a particularly persistent attorney heading her way.
Geez, she muttered. She had politely declined his numerous invitations, but that
didnt stop him from pursuing her anyway and making himself a general pain in her ass.
Ralph (who insisted everyone pronounce it Rafe) propped his hip on her desk
and waited for her to finish typing a phrase. Though she would like to ignore him,
she couldnt. If the attorneys wanted to monopolize her time with chitchat, they
could, even though it threw her off her self-imposed schedule. It was now eight
oclock. She wanted to leave by eleven.
She clicked the Dictaphone off and asked politely, What can I do for you, Rafe?
Go to the Ford exhibit at the Kemper Gallery with me on Saturday?

MORIAH JOVAN

27

She shook her head. Study groups.


Fords an artist. Have you ever seen his art? he asked slyly.
She sighed. Rafe, you know Im trying to get through law school, but even if I
werent, which I have explained to you before, I dont date outside my faith. That
was her standard lie.
Right. How could I forget all about you nice little Mormon girls? It was nothing she hadnt heard before, with the same contempt, and from more interesting men
than Ralph. I think thats just a bullshit excuse.
Oh? So are you assuming Im using it as an excuse not to go out with you?
His face hardened just a bit. She knew mens moods, so she didnt miss the
change in his demeanor. Ralph had always seemed relatively harmless, but now her
annoyance turned to wariness. She kept her face carefully blank until
He leaned into her personal space and murmured, I could make things very difficult for you here.
She stared at him a few seconds before she burst out laughing. Is that the best
you can do?
Ralph drew back at that, surprised. His lips thinned and he struggled to come up
with a reply.
Giselle chuckled. I thought so. If you have work for me, please drop it in my box
and Ill have it done by the time you come in in the morning.
His nostrils flared at having been dismissed. I dont think you want to cross me,
Ms Cox.
Ralph, she said slowly, pronouncing the lph sound with great precision. Rising from her chair, she closed the gap between them until her nose nearly touched
his. I am not going to fuck you. Her husky whisper made him breathe a little harder. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not in a thousand lifetimes. Threaten me. Try to
intimidate me. I dare you to go to Hale and make up some story you think will get
me fired.
She rocked back on her heel and crossed her arms over her chest, one eyebrow
raised. He attempted to salvage his ego: Youre going to be very sorry about this.
Ralph.
Giselle and Ralph both started at the deep, hoarse, cold male voice behind them
and turned.
Her breath caught in her throat.
Occasionally, Giselles eye was caught by a man so captivating, her chest ached
with desire. It wasnt simple lust. It was a craving for the whole package, and she was
far more susceptible to a mans presence, his charisma, than she was his looks. She
wanted him to notice her and pursue her, but he never did, and she never made herself known because she didnt want to be sneered at or rejected.

28

THE PROVISO

The man in front of her was one of those men, and she had never seen a more
disfigured person in her life. It took her two seconds to assess him thoroughly: Burn
scars matted the left half of his face and disappeared down into his collar. He was
tall, with broad, strong shoulders and lean torso in perfectly tailored olive silk-andwool blend. He had vivid green eyes and short black hair. He smelled divine. His left
hand was just as scarred as his face, but he wasnt wearing a wedding ring. He had a
light tan that made pinpointing his ethnicity impossible.
He was as exotic as he was disfigured.
He was also pissed off.
Hey, buddy! Ralph said with nervous cheer. Giselle looked over her shoulder to
see her coworkers face pale.
When youre feeling froggy, the man rumbled, you just go ahead and jump.
Aw, man. He forced a laugh. Its just a little running gag Giselle and I have.
Right, Giselle?
She rolled her eyes. Nice try.
Pack up your desk.
You dont work here, Ralph whined.
No, but I dont think your bossll mind that Ive invited you to hand in your resignation.
Giselle took the opportunity to stare at the stranger shamelessly, wondering
what lay beneath all that finely tailored silk, wool, and cotton Wondering how
long shed remain a good little Mormon girl if that man had the good sense to ask
her out, because she was about to brave her shyness.
Your office better be cleaned out when I leave here tonight.
Ralph tried again, as any decent lawyer should. You cant prove anything.
The man crossed his massive arms over his broad chest and drawled, Does it
matter?
Giselle almost melted and she was sure the stars in her eyes could be seen from
space.
Thanks, Giselle, Ralph snarled as he stalked away.
Anytime! she trilled over her shoulder, then looked back at her rescuer. Thank
you! she said in her most cheerful voice with her most charming smile. She looked
at him wide-eyed, wantingbegginghim to invite her to something. Dinner,
maybe. Ballet-theater-symphony-opera, preferably. She would love to dress up for
this man. I was afraid Id have to take him out to the woodshed.
Youre welcome, he said tersely without laughing at her dumb joke. He turned
to go.
Damn!
Well, wait, she said, scurrying after him. She couldnt bear to let another one of

MORIAH JOVAN

29

those men go and she needed to stall him long enough to figure out how to keep his
attention now that she had it. But her flirting lacked finesse because she was too direct,
too open, too unpracticed. She offered her hand and announced, Im Giselle Cox.
He glanced down at her hand. He didnt take it. Ms Cox, he murmured, looking her up and down with a slight sneer. Then he walked away.
She felt like shed caught a fist in her breastbone, and she could only stare after
him, stunned, speechless, about to cry.
Oh, so I guess I did something to deserve that? she demanded.
He stopped short.
Turning halfway, he pinned her with those eyes and his expression was stony.
Im sure, he replied, his tone measured and precise, that you think youre entirely
blameless.
Her eyes widened and her nostrils flared. Oh, no. No. Men did not talk to her
like that. The stars in her eyes were gone. Fuck you, she snarled. You dont know
me from Eve.
His eyebrow rose at that. Lilith, rather.
With that, he continued on his way, leaving her dumbfounded, nauseated, and
sick at heart.
WHAT THE HELL had made him say that?

Shock.
Shock at seeing her, of actually meeting her. Here. In his own lawyers office.
Working as a second-shift transcriptionist.
It hadnt occurred to him that Knoxs lover might have to work for a living. Knox
always took care of his women well; he could afford to with all the untraceable money that ran through his office. Certainly, Leah had had the best of everything and had
only worked because her vocation as a dietitian had been a source of joy to her.
Bryce fought the urge to turn around and walk backward just so he could stare at
Lilith longer. Her rich golden-red hairwhy had he thought it dull blonde?was in
a ponytail bound with a pert yellow ribbon and dripping large, loose corkscrews to
her nape. She was wearing faded Levis, white tee shirt, flamboyant vest that looked
like a refugee from a Mardi Gras rag bag, and moccasins.
If only he didnt know that she wore a gun under cocktail dresses at funerals.
If only he hadnt heard her say I am not going to fuck you with the bored amusement of a woman who knew what to do with a man who couldnt understand the
word no.
If only she hadnt turned on the charm and looked at Bryce like that.
He groaned softly.

30

THE PROVISO

Bryce knew when a woman found him physically attractive, but it hadnt happened since his fire. Hed been intimidating before his fire, with his big body and
dark summer tan, but it had always been mitigated by his attractiveness. With his
body intact but his beauty long gone, he was terrifying. More than one woman whod
found his wallet intriguing had spoken to his necktie in an effort to avoid looking at
his face, and even then they could barely hide their disgust. Most children scrambled
to stay away from him, whispering monster to their mothers.
He was used to scaring people, to having to work for their trust, to walking into a
courtroom knowing hed have to charm people into forgetting what he looked like, to
get them to hear the care and concern in his shredded voice.
Giselle Cox, a woman whod tormented him for the last six months, a woman he
had never expected to meet, a woman he couldnt begin to hope would find him attractive did.
Or did she?
Was he imagining things?
Wishful thinking?
But no. She couldnt be faking it. She was too earnest. Too clumsy. Too obvious
about what she wanted from him and it wasnt his money.
Or was it an act?
That was very possible. Looking into his face without flinching wasnt evidence
of anything. Polite and very well-socialized people could do that.
But what if ?
What if ?
Deep breath. He held it, then puffed it out again in a whoosh.
All the way through the meeting with his attorney he felt distracted, scattered.
Bryce? You with me?
He shook his head to clear it. That typist you have out therethe redhead?
Giselle?
It was all wrong, the way Ralph and Geoff pronounced her name, ja-ZELL. I
think so?
What about her?
Your idiot attorney Ralph Call Me Rafe was hitting on her as I was walking in.
Threatened to get her fired if she didnt go out with him. He was a little too pushy
for my comfort, so I suggested he have his office cleaned out by the time I left. I hope
you dont mind me stepping into your business like that.
Geoff blinked. Uh oh. Good. Thank you. He was a problem child anyway.
He turned to his computer for a moment and as he typed, he muttered, Good thing
he hit on Giselle instead of anybody else, though.
Mmm? Bryce kept his voice casual to invite more comment.

MORIAH JOVAN

31

He shrugged. Giselles quiet. Keeps to herself.


Its always the quiet ones, Bryce said with just the right amount of disinterested
amusement.
Yep. But when somebody gets in her face, she takes no prisoners.
Fuck you. Bryces heart was racing. He wouldve fired anyone who said that to a
client, but he had no intention of relaying that conversation. You tolerate that from
a typist?
Shes not a typist, Geoff retorted. At least, not for long. Brilliant woman. Working her way through law school on the five-year program and shes interning for me this
summer. Bryce hid his shock. I cannot wait to throw her in a courtroom. Enough ego
and charm to pull anything off and the brains and balls to back it up.
Fuck you. Now Bryce was wondering if Hale wouldnt simply find it funny.
Is she married?
Hale started to laugh. I forgot to mention that shes rather attractive, he
drawled smugly, but I see you noticed that.
Bryce kept his expression carefully blank. Ill take that as a no.
He shrugged. Dont know, but I can put a bug in her ear if youre interested.
Not on the market, Bryce murmured, frustrated with himself for going too far.
Hale was no fool, but he said no more about Giselle Cox, and for that, Bryce was
grateful.
Oh, by the way, Hale said as he shook Bryces hand at the office door once their
annual meeting had come to a close, my condolences on your client. Leah Wincott,
was it?
Yeah, he muttered. Very nice lady.
I wish I could believe Knox killed her, Hale said, but hes got too much to lose.
Fens the most likely suspect, but nobodyd believe it.
Agreed, Bryce said, then started. Hey, isnt Fen your client?
Oh, no, Hale returned. I havent met a Hilliard yet that I liked and that includes
the old man. My wifes been bitching about Trudy Hilliard for years, then Fen and I
had a couple of meetings before I decided I didnt want to do business with him.
Why not?
Dont know. Hes honest. Smart. Hes good to the community, good to his employees. Theres just something. Id trust Knox before Id trust Fen because you
know exactly what youre getting. And that proviso? Taight? That whole situations a
nasty tangle.
And your brilliant budding litigator is intimately mixed up in it.
Bryce kept what he knew to himself because mentioning Ms Coxs relationship
with Knox would get her fired. He didnt generally volunteer information at all, but
that was three times now hed felt the need to protect her. Why?

32

THE PROVISO

Im going home, Hale said on a yawn. What time is it anyway?


Bryce looked at his watch. Little after midnight. Geez, Geoff, Im sorry.
He waved a hand. No need to apologize. Itll be in your statement at the end of
the month.
As Bryce walked to the elevator, he couldnt help but cast a look toward Liliths
tidy, empty cube. Disappointment settled in his chest, but he only sighed and continued on his way
then stopped cold when he got to the parking garage and stared at the occupant of the only other car in the lot besides his.
She couldnt see him from where she sat in her older model generic Chevy. The
windows were open and from the way her head tilted back against the seat rest, she
might be asleep or she might be hurt.
On impulse, he walked across the lot, noting how the April breeze teased her
ponytail and the ends of the ribbon. She was dozing, a thick textbook open and lying
face down on her chest. Her head lolled to the right exposing the underside of her
jaw and throat.
He imagined all the things he wanted to do to that throat; remembered her as
she had been that night six months ago with her skirt pulled up enough for him to
see the top of her black stocking; wanted to see the rest of her body, naked, underneath his.
But right now he needed to find out if she was faking her attraction.
Bryce squatted down beside the car and watched her for a few more seconds. Ms
Cox, he murmured, then found himself with the barrel of that gun bored right in the
middle of his forehead.
She immediately flipped it up and away from him once recognition dawned, but
her face still held that tense, wild look of someone startled out of her wits.
I am so sorry, she murmured, her delicate voice husky with sleep. His cock
strained at his fly. She rubbed her eyes, shoved her gun in the waistband of her jeans,
put the textbook in the backpack next to her, then stretched as far as she could within the confines of her car. Her nipples hardened in the cool night air, through her
thin white tee shirt and the nearly-nothing bra underneath it.
Bryce released a strangled breath. Hed never wanted a woman so badly in his life.
She came down from her stretch with a hard glint in her eyes, an ice blue that
could sear a man in half. He had the oddest feeling that he had seen those eyes
somewhere before.
What do you want. Clipped, hostile. Not a question.
I wanted to tell you how foolish it is to sleep in an empty Plaza parking garage in
the middle of the night with your windows rolled down, but I see its occurred to you.
Yeah, I totally meant to fall asleep here, she sneered. Anything else?

MORIAH JOVAN

33

She was pulsing with rage and contempt, and he wasnt imagining that. He
shouldnt be surprised. That bridges ashes were already scattered in the wind.
Actually, yes, he said, shocking himself. I wanted to know if youd like a late
dinner.
She blinked. Scuse me?
Hed boxed himself in well. Dinner. Or breakfast. Whatever.
Oh, I dont think so, she snarled. She shoved her car key into the ignition and
turned the engine over.
I got Ralph off your back. Lame. True, but lame.
Lame! she snapped. I dont know who you are or who you think you are, but I
assure you: You have never met a woman like me, and you never will again.
So saying, she reached over and grabbed the knot of his necktie to jerk him to
her. Surprised, he didnt fight, but when her lips touched his and her tongue swept
his mouth, he took over, wrapping his hand around the back of her head and crushing her to him.
He directed it.
He deepened it.
He lengthened it.
He opened his eyes to watch her. Her face was a study in desire, her eyes closed,
her breath ragged, her tongue matching his stroke for stroke, shift for shift. She
sighed into his mouth and released his tie to caress his neck, the scars there, her
thumb stroking his jaw line while their tongues mated.
No, she wasnt faking it.
Which made him harder.
Suddenly she gasped and her eyes popped open, staring at him as if shed lost
herself somewhere inside him. She had. Hed surprised her, taken the power position
away from her and she didnt know how to take it back.
She jerked away from him, her breathing heavy and her eyes wide. You She
stopped. Swallowed. I Bit her lip. Fumbled for the gear shift.
Bryce stood, then wrapped his hand tightly around her chin. He tilted her head
up, forcing her to look at him, an odd mixture of panic and passion in her expression.
Now what was he supposed to do?
Be careful what you wish for, Ms Cox, he purred with a small, victorious smile.
You might get it. Then he turned and strode toward his own car without looking
back, wondering what shed make of that.

6: ENERGIZER RABBIT
August 2005
AH, SUNDAY AGAIN, Sebastian intoned when Giselle opened her bedroom door.

He was on the couch watching a movie and drinking a bottle of wine. I dont even
know why you bother going to church. Youre not the most sterling example of
Mormon womanhood ever.
Technically, I am, she protested as she went into the kitchen to scrounge for
lunch before going to church.
With your mouth? And your body count?
She went into the living room to eat and Sebastian put the movie on pause. Sebastian wanted to talk? She looked at the coffee table. His bottle of wine was almost empty and he wasnt using a glass. He must have as much on his mind as she
had on hers.
My vocabulary and the souls I have shuffled off this mortal coil wouldnt keep
me from being able to go to the temple if I wanted to.
Killing a man in cold blood would get you that excommunication youve been
bucking for for the last couple of years.
I thought thats what you wanted me to do.
Id settle for quadriplegia so you wont go to hell.
How magnanimous of you. I threatened him. Doesnt count.
Have you ever made a threat you havent carried out?
Okay, look. Say I go to the bishop and say, Ready to go to the temple and he
whips out the list of questions. I can answer every single one honestly. I pay my tithing. I dont drink, dont smoke, dont do drugs. Im honest, I believe in the atonement
of Christ Sebastian snorted. I pay all my child support and dont batter my
spouse He laughed. and I uphold the priesthood and the prophet of God. Im
thirty-five and still a virgin. Guess what? Instant temple recommend. And there I go,
off to St. Louis or Nauvoo or wherever and demonstrate my obedience to the Lords
commandments. Except for the husband and kids part, but I cant do anything about
that. My mom would be happy. She thinks itll keep me out of trouble.
If you do, youll have to trade in your Victorias Secret for magic underwear. Bye
bye Daisy Dukes, hello board shorts.

MORIAH JOVAN

35

Giselle glared at him. Cut it out.


And you forgot that general and all-encompassing unresolved issues question.
I have no unresolved issues. Just because Im not exactly leadership material
doesnt mean I dont qualify as a good Mormon girl. And what do you mean, bucking
for an excommunication?
You know exactly what I mean. Your opinionsll get you in trouble faster than
murdering Fen will.
That wasnt true, but hed made his point. Giselle had always been different; she
knew it, everybody at church knew it. She garnered respect and friendly acquaintances across various social strata in her ward, but everyone knew shed eventually say or
do something scandalous because she managed to do it with amazing regularity
usually without meaning to.
I dont spout false doctrine and I dont foment apostasy. Not conforming to tradition and culture and unwritten rules might irritate people but it doesnt get you exd.
Neither does having unpopular politics. Besides, my bishop thinks Im very entertaining.
Sebastian grunted. Your real problem is youre as attracted to the profane as you
are the sacred. You cant bring yourself to pick one and stick with it, so you straddle
the fence between them.
That fence had a lot of splinters, too.
As far as I can see, theres no reward in sticking with the churchs idea of sacred.
So tell me something: Would you tell your bishop why all the double-A batteries in
this house disappear so fast?
She flushed. Digital camera, asshole.
Sebastian smirked. So technically, you arent following all the official rules. Hed
laugh you out of his office with a Stop doing that and come back to see me again in
six months.
Three, she muttered.
He burst out laughing. Standards are slipping, I see. Speaking of that, buy your
own batteries or get yourself off the old fashioned way cause Im not supporting
your habit anymore. And oh, lets not forget your pice de rsistance. Would you tell
him about that?
Something had changed inside Giselle once shed turned that corner into territory almost no one at church would understand: She had killed and she felt absolutely
no remorse.
No, she admitted. Self-defense is fine, but hes no dummy. Hed ask me if I
had anything to do with Knoxs faux pas and then Id have to lie to him.
Faux pas.
What am I going to say? He needed killin?

36

THE PROVISO

I think your exact words were He needed to die.


She sniffed. No remorse, nothing to resolve.
Giz, he said with some exasperation, do you really plan on going to the temple?
She hesitated. I dont want to go alone, no. Ive been hoping to meet a member
Sebastian snorted. You arent going to find Hank Rearden at church. Hank
Rearden, a fictional narrator of a political fable by a fringe political philosopher, his
name mere shorthand for a characteristic that defied description.
Patheticpatheticpathetic.
Point taken. But Im not cluttering up my life with a string of almosts and maybes and potentials, and Im not cut out for random fucking. If I cant have exactly
what I want, Ill go without. She paused when she caught his look and slid down
into the upholstery. Mostly, she grumbled.
If your collection of erotica is anything to go by, you dont know what the hell
you want. Some of that shits not so fun and the rest of its not worth the trouble.
And I highly doubt your bishop knows what you read.
She was too old and too honest with herself to say that she was still technically a
virgin because it was what shed been taught all her life: No sex before marriage.
Dont put oneself in temptations way. Avoid the appearance of evil. Marriage to a
worthy member of the priesthood in the temple, where the words till death do you
part were not part of the ceremony. Marriage was for eternity.
Shed prepared, been obedient, but her childbearing years were fading fast, even
as her libido ramped up on her way from thirty-five to forty, and for her, the pool of
desirable Mormon men had dried up ten years ago. She personally knew seven other
never-married women her age and unless she ran into some smart, educated, divorced man or widower (probably looking for a mother for his kids) who was truthful about his life, who might not be thoroughly disgusted by what shed ask for in
bed, she was shit out of luck.
Youre not going to find Rearden outside the church, either. Quit waiting for
He waved a hand. fantasy man and let me fix you up with somebody. I know half
a dozen CEOs whod love a woman like you. Theyd respect you, treat you well. So
they arent members of the church, but theyre good men. If you want to get married
and have kids before your eggs dry up, youre going to have to figure out what youll
give up for it. Forget the temple marriage and settle for walking down the aisle like
normal people.
Truth be told, shed rather walk down the aisle in a killer dress than pop into the
temple for a fifteen-minute ritual in a plain white dress with a low-key cake-andpunch reception in the church gym afterward. If she married a non-Mormon, which
wasnt prohibited nor especially looked down upon, she could have a big ceremony
and reception.

MORIAH JOVAN

37

But the simple temple ritual was the goal, had been the goal since she was born,
and she was uncomfortable giving up that goal. It was a marker, a signifier of tribal
conformity, a rite of passage. It was also very inexpensive, most brides paid most of a
weddings expenses, and Giselle would never be able to afford the kind of lavish wedding and reception shed want.
Was giving up the goal worse than growing older, alone, and more tired?
Tired of going to church every Sunday and hearing about how to be a better wife
and mother, being asked to take on extra tasks because she didnt have a family to
take up her time, feeling the outsider not because she had unorthodox opinions, but
because she was a thirty-something single woman in a church that was all about family. She hadnt been to church on Mothers Day in fifteen years.
Celibacys not natural at our age, Giz. Weve had this conversation before.
Tired of not having a warm, breathing, naked man in bed with her every night, a
man who would understand her and love her in spite of the sharp edges she didnt
want dulled, a man who would make all these years of celibacy worth the wait.
The only guys who ask me out are ones I have zero interest in, so its a moot
point. Besides which, Im one of those girls wholl fall in love with the first guy she
has sex with and I dont want to get my heart broken.
But it was too late to keep her heart uncracked and she hadnt had to date or
have sex to get it that way. She looked down at her scarlet linen skirt and felt her eyes
sting. If she started crying, shed have to explain and then fix her makeup, which
would make her late for church.
Okay, out with it. Who is he?
Damn Sebastian and his eye for detail. But why not tell him? She didnt have anybody else to talk to.
I dont know his name, she admitted.
What did he do to you?
He stole my soul.
She picked at a piece of nonexistent lint. He was contemptuous of me, she muttered wearily. I dont know why. It made me mad and then we had an argument and
then I We kissed.
There were several seconds of silence before he slowly said, You let a man you
just met, whose name you dont know, in your personal space, long enough for him
to kiss you, after he insulted you?
She could feel the flush creep back up her face. She cleared her throat. Um, well,
I I, uh Actually, I kissed him and he kissed me back. Sebastian gaped at her
as she haltingly told him what happened, his astonishment growing with each word.
When did this happen? he asked when she finished.
In April. At work. Hales client.

38

THE PROVISO

So thats why youve been moping around like a kicked puppy. She said nothing. He was contemptuous of you but he wants to fuck you.
Her brow wrinkled. Maybe? Yes? I dont understand.
So find out who he is from your boss and ask him.
Her head snapped up, her eyes wide in horror. Oh, I dont think so. His suit
and shoes were bespoke.
Sebastian would empathize with any man of wealth beset by women whose interest in him was driven solely by his net worth. But he wants you too, so that
doesnt follow. What makes you think hes a Rearden?
Hes a warrior. You can tell. Hes bigger than you. Hes She stopped and
thought. It was the way he looked at me, like he wanted to do what Rearden did
to Dagny.
Sebastian pursed his lips. You better be careful with that, Giz. Not many men
could throw a woman at a bed, fuck her until she cant walk, make her do exactly
what he wants her to do and then not carry that outside the bedroom. Bigger than
me, huh? I can pick you up and toss you over my shoulder.
Yeah, a lot of guys could do that. No ones ever had the balls to try. Thats my
point.
No, no Mormon man has ever had the balls to try. You havent given anyone else
half a chance.
She said nothing else for a moment. There was that other thing
He, um He called me Lilith.
So he knows his art well enough to catch the resemblance.
It wasnt a compliment.
He gave a Gallic shrug. That only means he wants to fuck you and hes pissed
about it.
But why? I have never seen him before in my life. He acted like Id wronged him
sometime in the past. She huffed. Explain this to me.
I dont know, but whatever it is, it doesnt have anything to do with you personally, especially since he kissed you back and took control.
Doesnt matter, she mumbled. Im not going to throw myself at a rich man,
much less one who doesnt like me, and theres no way I could work that out without
looking like a whore. Especially with that face, which must make it exponentially
more difficult for him. Or desperate.
Would you fuck him if he came after you?
She looked at her cousin without seeing him, her tongue running over her teeth
in thought. Finally, she drew in a deep breath and whispered, Yes.
Sebastian squinted at her. Didnt you just tell me you didnt want to get your
heart broken by a guy who only wanted to get you in bed?

MORIAH JOVAN

39

Generally, yes. But sometimes, a guy will catch my eye. And keep it. And I want
to talk to him, but I never do.
So you are willing to gamble on a guy youre really attracted to whos attracted to
you too and he doesnt have to be a member of the church after all.
She sniffled. Maybe so. A guy I want who wants me enough to pursue me.
He cant pursue you if he hasnt seen you, doesnt know you exist. You have to
get his attention and give him the opportunity.
I know, but I dont want to be sneered at.
He thought about that for a second, then grimaced. And the first man whose
attention you tried for sneered at you.
She was silent for a moment. Not the first one, she said low. And that one
sure as hell didnt sneer at me.
What?
She pursed her lips. When I was at BYU, she began contemplatively. Shed
never told anyone this story, and had, in fact, forgotten it in the intervening years.
The beginning of my junior year. I was at Knoxs house tutoring one of my karate
students. A guy came in the front door, the kind that gets my attention. He was
gorgeous. After all these years, that memory still hurt. So there I am in my gi, all
nasty, hair frizzed out, face red as a beet because Id been working out for hours,
right? Glasses. Braces. Took a quick glance, died a little inside, and went on with
what I was doing.
I thought you said you tried for his attention.
Oh, I got his attention, all right. She took a deep breath. He noticed me. He
looked at me like he wanted to drag me off to bed and there I was, all sticky and
stinky and gross and a walking advertisement for a before pic at Glamour Shots.
He blinked. Really?
Giselle nodded sadly.
So ?
He was married.
Sebastian groaned.
Yeah. Now she was completely choked up. I forgot about it after a while, but it
kind of set the stage, you know?
Then this guy sneered at you but took everything you gave him anyway.
Yes. I hadnt given any of this too much thought before that happened. Too
much to do, too much stress, too much drama. But its been all I can think about
since I kissed him. She looked up at her cousin and blurted, I havent gone to the
temple by myself because if I do, I feel like Ill be admitting that Im not wanted.
That I gave up. But Im at the end of my rope and I dont know what to do.
Give up your virginity instead.

40

THE PROVISO

I dont want to screw up, she protested. I dont want to feel used or stupid or
conned. Vulnerable. Weak. Out of control. Caught somewhere between the church
and my feminism, between my personality and what I want that I cant get.
He took a deep breath. Youre gonna make mistakes in choosing your partners.
Everybody does. But think about this: Would you rather be sitting here thinking
about that kiss, crying over that guy, knowing that somewhere in the city is a man
you want, who really wants you in spite of himself, whom you do have access toor
would you rather it hadnt happened at all?
Giselle opened her mouth to answer that, but slowly closed it again.
Mmm hm.
Giselle had nothing to say to that, and apparently, Sebastian had said all he intended to. He slid down into his chair and lapsed into brooding. She waited for him
to say something, but his sullen silence was starting to worry her.
I just tore all my old wounds open and you didnt throw salt in them. Whats
your problem?
Sebastians mouth twitched in thought and he still wouldnt look at her. He
tipped the bottle up. Same as yours, he said after a long swallow and smack of the
lips. I want a family. A wife, kids.
That startled her. Wheres this coming from? Youve been a libertine since you
decided proselytizing was for the birds halfway through your mission.
I havent fucked a woman since Vanessa left. Three years ago.
You were with her in New York last week.
That was a mistake I would prefer to forget.
Why?
He took a deep breath. Im there in bed with her. Shes asleep. The sex was
good. It always is with her. But Im lonely. Shes just getting started on her life and
Im doing the same thing Ive been doing for years and I have no one to share it with.
He was truly miserable. Giselle could hear it in his voice.
Im almost forty. Id like to have someone at my funeral besides you and Knox,
provided Fen hasnt managed to kill either of you by then. I dont know. Im too old
to be playing frat boy, plus I think I maxed out my condom budget.
Giselle chuckled. When you were with her last week, did you feel like you want
it to be permanent now?
No.
And thats whats bothering you.
Yes.
Giselle didnt say anything.
What am I missing? he burst out. Im not hideous. Im semi-literate. I have a
fairly decent job and I can pay my bills.

MORIAH JOVAN

41

She rolled her eyes. How many times do I have to tell you this? For you, its all
about the clothes. You go around in your cutoff jeans seven-eighths nekkid, strutting
around like a Parisian peacock without a dime to your name, youre relaxed, funny,
having a good time. It rains women. Ive seen you break out that freight train mojo,
go heavy on the French accent, and what would get any other man arrested for assault works like a charm. So you pick one or two, fuck em, send em home, and everybody had a good time.
But then you put on a suit or a tux, you turn into cool King Midas and everything is serious business. You dont smile or laugh. You rarely speak. Youre totally
unapproachable. The minute you put on that black suit women become the enemy
and Versace is your suit of armor.
Thats not fair. I never wear Versace.
All you have to do is wear your yacht clothes and be you. Interact like normal
people without worrying about sex or money.
In case youve never met me before, money and sex are the only things I think
about, but they dont coexist in my brain. Its either one or the other and society is all
about money. And Im sure as hell not thinking about money when Im drowning in
burnt umber and beautiful women.
She rolled her eyes. Youre stuck in a rut. Have you ever approached a woman
because she was interesting and you wanted to talk to her?
He gave her a stony look.
I mean, after you graduated.
His mouth flattened. Tried here and there, he muttered. Didnt go well.
What were you wearing?
Yacht clothes, he sneered.
Were they pitying or creeped out?
Pitying.
I can work with that. Giselle thought for a few seconds. What about one of
your clients? Dont tell me youve not run across one tall, rubenesque blonde highlevel executive somewhere out there? You can talk to them in that setting, let them
get to know you, get to know them and then you wont be so awkward.
Im Satan, remember? The minute a CEO figures out she has to call me to come
bail her out, my chances are reduced to less than nil. Shes embarrassed, pissed off,
and feeling insecure. Not much I can do to spin that.
She sighed. If that reputation bothers you so much, stop being so subtle. Stop
coddling people, letting them think theyre doing all the work and all youre there to
do is milk their bank accounts. Every time you go into a company, they see what they
want to seeand you let them. You lead them gently to their enlightenment, you
dont force them to face their weaknesses head-on, then they think they did it all

42

THE PROVISO

themselves. Youd never let me get away with that. All I ever hear is suck it up, princess.
Well, of course. I dont have time to be your invisible hand. Besides, people who
cant face their weaknesses are boring and I refuse to live with a boring woman. He
paused. So are you going to church today or not?
She glanced at the clock and saw that she should have left fifteen minutes ago.
Apparently not. I wasnt sure I wanted to go today anyway, so I got Sister Evans to
teach the lesson.
Why? You like to teach.
Giselle pursed her lips. This weeks topic is the law of chastity. Sebastian gaped
at her for a split-second before he burst out laughing. She scowled at him. Shut up.
Its not funny.
Yes it is. He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his palms, still laughing. Okay,
well. Since youre not going to church, come play tennis with me. Thatll make us
both feel better.
All right, but wear yacht clothes so you can at least try to strike up a conversation with somebody. Ill chat you up or something. Oh, and you have to smile. He
sighed heavily. We can get cheesecake, too. More opportunities. If you get an impromptu snack date, Ill disappear.
Cheesecake?
They have a low-carb version.
Fine, he grumbled. Now youll find out why I go out looking like a Parisian
peacock when I want to get laid.
Suck it up, princess.

7: WHOSOEVER LOOKETH
ON A WOMAN
WHEN IS THIS GOING TO END?

Bryce looked at his watch. Ten more minutes of home and family. Why had he
come to church today?
To purge Giselle Cox.
He closed his eyes and swallowed. He was hoping the subject of chastity
wouldnt rear its ugly head, but the second it crossed his mind, the speaker referenced cleaving unto ones wife. He hadnt cleaved any woman in years.
An ache grew like a cancer behind Bryces breastbone.
Chastity was relatively easy, self-stimulation notwithstanding, when a man had a
burnt-to-a-crisp face that made women flinch.
Until her, the Chouteau County prosecutors lover.
Brains. Muscle. Weaponry.
That kiss, the one shed initiated, the one hed taken away from her, the one she
couldnt control or take back.
That look.
Bryce always knew what he wanted from a woman, but he hadnt accepted it until
two-thirds of the way through his marriage. Meryl wasnt going to give him what he
wanted, but he didnt want it from her anyway. She didnt mind; she found plenty of
men who would cater to her kink, because Bryce sure as hell wasnt going to.
He looked around at the chapel, the same one he and his family had attended when
they lived in Mission Hills, just a couple of miles away across the Missouri-Kansas
state line. Fundamentally identical to any Mormon church building, it was comfortable
and spartan in its bland dcor with no crosses or crucifixes. No distractions.
Bryce had only set foot in this building a few times since the fire. Had he expected anything to change in the past five years?
He bowed his head for the closing prayer, feeling nothing but bitterness and anger at the abandonment of the God hed served so faithfully for over three decades.
Hed subverted his nature and quelled his base desires.
Hed followed church teachings to the best of his ability, all the while ignoring
philosophies that called to his intellect.

44

THE PROVISO

Hed fulfilled his fathers expectations as a good and righteous priesthood holder
in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
and spent every day of it in absolute misery.
He should have listened to his best friend, his college roommate, the only person
who had ever told him the truth.
You dont want Meryl! Youre marrying her because your father bought her act and
youre going along with his program as usual.
You just hate my dad.
I hate TYRANTS. I hate that you do whatever he wants you to do whether its the
right thing to do or not.
You can talk. You hop when your uncle snaps his fingers.
One He doesnt micromanage. Two Remember why I have to do that and keep
your apples out of my oranges. Three Im nineteen and I was emancipated three years
ago and I do my own taxes. Youre twenty-three and a returned missionary, but your dads
still claiming you as a dependent on his ten-forty.
Bryce flushed.
Meryl is not who your dad thinks she is. Shes not sweet and quiet. Shes not going to
calm you down. Shes a promiscuous, manipulative, deceitful cunt.
Shes not a Thats not true.
Cunt, Bryce. Say it. For once in your life, call it what it is. Cunt.
Bryce said nothing because he was too nauseated hearing that word from his best friend
about his fiance.
Oh snap! I just called your future wife a cunt and you didnt punch me in the face.
Youre not even mad.
He couldnt listen to this anymore.
Dont you walk away from me. Someone has to be the bad guy, so Im volunteering.
You are not going to be happy with someone quiet and demure, even if Meryl were, which
she is not. You play football like a savage. No one on campus will play racquetball with you
anymore. Youve publicly humiliated more than one of your professors and then forced
them to defend the grades they gave you in retaliation. Why the hell cant you stand up to
your dad?!
Were talking about your life here! Kids! Youre going to let your dad make the most
important decision of your life because he doesnt like who you are? There is nothing wrong
with you or what you want. Do you even know what you want?
Oh, Bryce knew, but what he wanted was certainly not part of being a pure and righteous priesthood holder.
Well, okay then. You may not know what you want, but I do. You want a woman
whos smart. Edgy. Petite, muscular, nice rack. You want a woman you can talk to, have

MORIAH JOVAN

45

deep discussions with, then take home and slam up against a wall and fuck. And shell love
everything you give her, beg for more, because thats who she is and thats what she wants
and thats what you want to give her.
Bryce couldnt breathe. How had he known? He fought those graphic images constantly, put there by exactly that type of woman almost twice his age. Hed tried to forget. Heaven knew, hed tried.
And how do I know this? Because every woman youve dated has come to me crying
about why you dumped her because she didnt understand. You know what I say? He really likes you and he wants to fuck you in the worst way, but hes a good Mormon boy and
his daddys got his balls in a vise.
Bryce groaned.
They dont know whether to kiss you or kill you, but at least they know its not on
them. The kind of women you liketheyre in the church, but you have to get east of the
Rockies and pay attention. You can have what you want. You can be who you are. You
can still go to church and be a good person. The church doesnt care how you like sex as
long as youre faithful to your wife. Be yourself. Find a woman who wants the same things
you do. Youll be fine. There is no sin in that.
No, I Thats not me. Thats not who I want to be.
Youre never going to be your dad! Fuck him if he cant appreciate you for who you
are.
Bryces jaw ground and his hands clenched as he fought the urge to plow his fist in his
roommates face.
Gah. Fine. Whatever. Go ahead and marry Meryl. Ill support you, Ill be your best
man, and Ill never speak of it again once the vows are said. But Im telling you now,
youre lying to yourself. Even if Meryl isnt what I think she is and you have a nice, quiet
little life together, itll still be the worst mistake you ever makeand youll live with it every single miserable day, wondering what else you couldve had if youd had an ounce of
common sense and half that much courage.
Bryce bent over and buried his head in his hands, shuddering from the agony of
that conversation ringing through his head even after twenty years. Hed remembered it the day after Leahs funeral, and hadnt been able to forget it.
Now, on top of everything else, he lived with the anger and bitterness of a disillusioned zealot: the irreconcilable differences between what he wanted and what his
father had expected of him; Meryls private infidelity and public piety; her war of
manipulation and deceit against which he had no defenses; and most especially the
deaths of his four children and in such a catastrophic manner.
Bryce had no place in these pews.
Yet

46

THE PROVISO

This was his cultural identity, a good portion of his own identity and what made
him him. This church, this lifestyle, was all hed ever known, all hed ever wanted to
know. Hed done everything asked of him, but now he felt empty, abandoned, unlovedand had since the week after hed walked out of the San Diego temple at
twenty-four a married man.
Bryce skipped gospel doctrine and priesthood, and went home after sacrament
meeting, unable to stomach any more.
Nobody had approached him to say hello. Hed attracted some glances, but
mostly of the preoccupied type, as if everyone had so much on their minds that they
didnt see him. He understood that. He remembered those days, his years as a lay
clergyman on the fast track to bishop, when Sunday meant meetings from dawn
until dusk, when he had too much to think about to welcome new people. He didnt
want to have to re-introduce himself to people who already knew him and forgotten
him and wouldnt recognize him if they did remember. He didnt want to have to
talk about where his family went, what happened to his face.
As for the people who had noticed him and shied away, he couldnt judge them
any more harshly than anybody else, since he had that effect on everybody.
Except one.
Giselle Cox.
Knox Hilliards lover.
Who had made herself very clear about what she wanted from him, what she
knew he could give her.
Hed never known temptation like her. He lusted after her and his breath shortened at the thought of her body under his, what he wanted to do to her, what he
wanted her to do to him.
He wondered if could bury his pride enough to pursue her, to seduce her away
from her lover. The only thing keeping him from doing so was the knowledge she
was with Knox Hilliard, because he did not want to go where Hilliard had been.

8: GREEDY ENEMY OF THE STATE


November 2005
GISELLE AND SEBASTIAN sat at the conference table, Giselle studying and Sebastian

tapping away on his laptop. Fox News was on in the background. Knox came
through the front door and up the four steps to the conference room, dumping his
briefcase and computer on the table. He too sat down to work without a word.
How expensive did your little temper tantrum turn out to be? Giselle asked.
Exponentially more expensive with a gag order and refusal to apologize.
They didnt fight for the apology?
They decided they didnt want to go up against my bank account, with three insurance companies and Sebastian to back it up. Seven figures to people who were not
personally involved goes a long way toward keeping their mouths shut while they
tend their proxy butthurt.
Giselle snorted a laugh. Who negotiated that for you?
Eric. She shouldve known. There was a reason Knoxs executive assistant prosecutor was also his personal attorney. He can be a mean little shit when he has to be.
Im so proud of that kid.
What are you two talking about? Sebastian said.
Knox popped off in class a little too un-Title-Nine-ishly last year and got his ass
sued.
Were you there? Sebastian asked her.
Sadly. Giselle slid Knox a glance. His glower was all the warning she needed to
keep her mouth shut about the catalyst. An entitled special snowflake mean girl
thought she was going to be cute and propositioned him in class. Instead of saying,
Get out like a non-dumbass wouldve, he decided to one-up her. Hard. She didnt
sue him, but a whole bunch of other entitled special snowflakes did.
Why didnt she sue him?
I dunno, she said airily, then blew on her fingernails and buffed them on her
shirt. She dropped out the week after.
Uh huh, he drawled wryly, then looked at Knox. You didnt get fired?
I pointed out to the dean that there isnt another white-collar crime instructor
wholl do Tuesday and Thursday evening classes until next year. And I paid the

48

THE PROVISO

schools settlement, too. No taxpayer money was expended, plaintiffs cant talk about
it, Sherrys gonethank youUMKC doesnt have to put out a statement, and all
the people who were there will be perpetuating an urban legend that makes me even
more evil. Everybodys happy.
All that and youd do it again, Giselle said dryly.
Hell, yes, I would, he said with great satisfaction. I get tired of those little
bitches and there are half a dozen in every class. It was bad enough getting obliquely
propositioned in private, then it happens in public? That was the last straw. Worth
every penny because I am not going to have that problem anymore.
Giselle raised her eyebrow at him, and he scowled again. No, he wasnt going to
have that problem anymore, but he still had his Justice McKinley problem.
They went back to working quietly for a while until
Breaking news this afternoon from Kansas City, Missouri. OKH Enterprises CEO Fen
Hilliard has announced the formation of an exploratory committee for a possible run for
the Senate seat that will be vacated at the end of this term
All three of them turned toward the TV and gaped. Giselle felt the blood drain
from her face. Knox dropped his head in his hands with a groan.
You have got to be kidding me, Sebastian whispered. SHIT! he roared,
slamming his hands on the table as he got up and started to pace, his hand rubbing
his mouth. I gotta go make some calls, he muttered finally, his long legs eating up
the distance from the dining room to his office. Giselle winced when the door
slammed.
She and Knox traded sober glances. Fen had put Sebastian in check brilliantly, thus
setting Knox and Giselle back in play if he decided to call Giselles bluff. Giselle never
bluffed. Though she dreaded the consequences of taking Fens life, she would do it.
Murder doesnt wash clean, Giselle, Knox offered softly.
She looked away, biting her bottom lip, nauseated.
Should Democrat Fen Hilliard win the seat, he will tip the balance of power in the
Senate. Some on Wall Street speculate that he would bring the necessary leverage to pass
legislation that would force his nephew, financier Sebastian Taight, to cease his takeover of
OKH Enterprises. How such legislation might impact the financial landscape is unknown
at this time.
Taight, infamous for his Fix-or-Raid policy, has been accused by various corporate
executives and members of Congress of deliberately sabotaging companies that have hired
his services. Though no fault has been found in various audits across the spectrum of companies Taight has taken over, a Hilliard win in the Senate could trigger long-anticipated

MORIAH JOVAN

49

hearings on Capitol Hill to call Taight to answer these allegations and account for his business practices.
On a related note, another of Hilliards nephews, Knox Hilliard, Chouteau County,
Missouri prosecutor and heir to OKH Enterprises, was only recently cleared of last years
murder of his bride. No other suspects are in custody at this time, but investigations into the
allegations of corruption in his office are ongoing.
Well, thats a relief, Knox muttered. Wish the FBI would inform me when
they decide I didnt do something.
The office door flew open and Sebastian was even more angry. Gets worse, he
snapped, leaning over the table toward Knox. Kenards on the guest list for the
fundraiser next month.
Knox paled underneath his perpetual tan and he wiped his hand down his face.
This is whats going to happen, Sebastian said. He took up pacing again, his
hands on his hips and the expression he got when he had to churn through thousands of possibilities to deal with a problem. You Giselle She started, but he
went on. You are going to go to that fundraiser with me next month and if Kenard
shows up, you are going to keep him away from Fen. Ill attempt to keep Fen away
from Kenard.
Are you out of your fucking mind? Knox demanded.
Sebastian stopped and stared at him, an eyebrow cocked wickedly. Are you concerned for Fens life, his war chest, or thatBonus!Kenard will love her?
Knox looked at him stonily.
Sebastian smirked. Thats what I thought.
Wait, Giselle said. Who is this person and what am I supposed to do with him
and why am I doing it and why doesnt Knox want me to?
Bryce Kenard, Sebastian explained, is one of the most powerful tort lawyers in
the country. Hes filthy richlike, maybe he has a couple bucks more or less than I
doand he has influence. He keeps his politics to himself, and for Fen to court him
means that he cant come up with enough campaign money from amongst his cronies. Kenards support could be the difference between his running for Senate and
not, and he has a personal reason to
Knox growled, and Giselle glanced at him.
Giselle, Sebastian continued, his tone urgent, it is imperative that you keep him
away from Fen. If Fen doesnt get Kenards support that night, hell have to work
that much harder to drum up the kind of cash Kenard could give him.
That makes no sense. Why couldnt he get it any other time?
Kenard gives people one chance to pitch ideas at him. If they dont get him in
the first thirty seconds, they dont get him at all. You know Fen likes to put on a

50

THE PROVISO

show and hell think thatll impress the hell out of him without having to say a word.
Okay. What am I supposed to do with him?
All you have to do is be yourself, Knox mumbled. Hes brilliant and he likes
nothing more than erudite conversation.
Your job is to lead him away from Fenpreferably out of sight and as far away
from the party as possibleand fuck his mind. Hell forget everything else but you
and Fen will know that he was singularly unimpressed.
I dont like this idea, Knox pronounced.
Of course you dont, Sebastian snapped. Pee on her leg before she leaves for
the party, whydontcha?
Why is Knox being pissy?
Sebastian looked at Knox and smirked. Ask him. If he tells you the truth, Ill
give you three months rent free.
Knox sat stone-faced.
Well?
He whipped out his checkbook and wrote a check to Sebastian for three months
of her rent. Sebastian howled and Giselle decided she didnt care why Knox was upset; shed take the money and keep her curiosity to herself.
Once Sebastian had calmed down enough to get back to business, he leaned
across the table and got right in her face. This is very important. You must have
scared Fen enough to get him to back off you two, but now hes coming after me.
Theres just too much anti-Taight sentiment on Capitol Hill, especially after the way
we conned the Department of Justice. He could easily get me shut downand hed
most definitely be able to haul my ass in front of the Senate. Wouldnt Fen love to
have me and Knox sitting at a table in front of him and the nation, grilling us like we
were kids again. He dug a credit card out of his wallet and flipped it at her. Go get a
dress. Make sure you have cleavage.

9: MARGARETHA ZELLE
December 2005
VERY NICE, SEBASTIAN drawled with appreciation when Giselle emerged from

her bedroom on the evening of Fens exploratory fundraiser.


The strapless dress, reminiscent of 1950s Hollywood glamor, had two layers.
The pencil underskirt of white brocade was beaded and sequined along the edges of
its floral motif and the hem just kissed the toes of her white sling-back heels. A long
slit up the right side allowed Giselle her full stride and relatively quick access to her
gun without marring the skirts narrow lines.
The full black silk taffeta overskirt had a slight train. The front of it parted in an
A shape from waist to floor and flared out like a cape when she walked, framing the
white underskirt with stark elegance. Above her skirts, a lightly silver-embroidered
and jet-beaded black velvet corset hugged her torso well enough to guarantee that
just the right amount of bosom blossomed over its top, enough to tease without being vulgar.
Shed dressed her hair in Gibson-girl style. A diamond and ruby bracelet, borrowed from Sebastians mother, sparkled loosely on her wrist and Giselles own diamond earrings dangled from her earlobes.
Do you have red earrings? Sebastian asked once hed carefully assessed the details of her presentation. At her nod, he said, Wear those. The flashier the better.
Are you sure about going strapless?
Giselle glanced down at the puckered indentation in the soft hollow just under
her left shoulder. Fen needs to see it so he can commence kissing my ass.
Make sure you dont let Kenard wheedle the story out of you.
Pffftt.
Ive heard hes clever like that.
Once shed swapped her demure diamond drops for garnet waterfall earrings, Sebastian held out a white mink bolero jacket for her, also borrowed from his mother.
This is what you need to know, Sebastian told her in the limo on their way to
the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Kenards a widower. Hes an honorable man
and a consummate gentleman. Hes also a member of the church
Really?! Giselle perked up, suddenly a lot more interested in this project.

52

THE PROVISO

Dont. Hes apparently one of those super-strict letter-of-the-law Pharisee types,


and he was on the fast track to bishop before his wife died. He wont appreciate any
seriously heavy flirtingnot that you know how to do that anyway. Talk about philosophy, art, literature, music. If you end up talking about the church, keep your
heresies and sacrilege to yourself. No profanity, no off-color jokes. Whatever you do,
do not talk about politics. Dont give him any reason to ditch you and go back to the
party. If he shows up, its because he thinks Fen is an honorable man and hes seen
no evidence to the contrary. Dont begrudge him that.
Whats Knoxs problem with him?
Sebastian slid her a look. He paid your rent, so he must not want you to know.
Yeah, that was his transaction. This is yours. Two completely different obligations.
Sebastian laughed. I really am a bad influence on you. Knox and Kenard have
history that involves Kenards late wife and they havent spoken in ten, twelve years.
Something like that. Either Kenard didnt want to face reality or he didnt get the
memo about Knoxs taste in women.
Which does not include married ones.
Better. Young married anorexic blonde ones.
Ooh. Four strikes, hes out.
Considering he thinks Knox was fucking his wife, its possible hed throw money
at Fen just to stick it to Knox. He may already have, for all we know, or he may not
want to talk to you. If he takes the bait, keep your mouth shut about Knox. I dont
know anything other than what Ive told you, but theres a lot more to the story. Hes
pretty tight-lipped about him.
No wonder Knox had reacted so vehemently to this little scheme. There were
few things he wouldnt share with her, but if he didnt, it had hurt badly enough that
hed buried it. Once he buried his pain, he didnt dig it up if he could help it.
I havent felt inclined to socialize or do any business with Kenard because of
that. Ive seen him around here and there, but Ive never met him.
She looked out the window, her fist clenched between her mouth and the cold
glass.
Hey, Giz. Sebastian snapped his fingers in front of her face. Do what I told
you to do and dont let your outrage on Knoxs behalf get in the way. Shit, I
shouldnt have said anything at all, cause now youll wear it on your sleeve and fuck it
all up.
She sighed, unable to deny that. Ill try.
The limousine came to a halt in front of the art gallerys great wrought iron doors
festooned with enormous lit Christmas wreaths, the windows aglow with the lights
of a grand party. Sebastian swept her into the building and checked her jacket.

MORIAH JOVAN

53

Kirkwood Hall, the heart of the gallery, was marble-clad, four stories high, and
punctuated by twelve enormous marble columns. In the center of the hall stood a
twenty-foot Christmas tree decorated with white lights, enormous silver and gold
glass balls, and red velveteen ribbon. To their right was the Rozzelle Court restaurant, a faithful replica of a fifteenth century Italian villa courtyard, full of tables laden
with hors duvres. In the open gallery above the courtyard, a chamber orchestra
played Christmas carols.
Many important people milled about, all dressed in high fashion, all vying for attention, but Giselle wasnt particularly impressed, considering she had arrived with
King Midas. The place echoed with the sounds of titters and guffaws, murmurs and
bluster, and the click-clack of womens heels.
So, where is he?
I dont see him. Its possible he wont show.
There are too many variables for this to work, yanno. Im just here for the
clothes.
Im out of ideas, Giselle, he said impatiently. And when I said A dress, I didnt
mean a whole new wardrobe.
You are asking me to keep a man I dont know in my personal space and talking
for three hours. Youre going to pay for that.
I created a monster, he grumbled. Lets go find Fen, and make nice. You hurt
his feelings at Thanksgiving, ignoring him like you did. You were downright rude
about it, too.
Oh, fuck him. I havent heard any apologies coming my way, and until I do, hes
not funny. After wandering a bit, they found him almost where they came in, going
from one cluster of chatting people to the next, shaking hands, laughing, introducing
Trudy. Fen was a very handsome man, as tall as Knox, his near-white hair coiffed
with refined elegance, his face pleasingly carved, his nose perfectly straight and patrician. Incredibly fit, he wore his tuxedo with aplomb. Charismatic, generous, and
blessed with a silver tongue, he was the perfect picture of a senatorial candidate and
cameras adored him. He turned the heads of women a fraction his age.
Knox would look exactly like Fen in twenty years, a true Hilliard but for the
blond hair and blue eyes Trudy had given him. Not for the first time, Giselle wondered if Fen was Knoxs father, but the family had worn that topic out years ago.
Knoxs mother was exquisitely made up and coifed as usual (if it were still 1985),
her blonde hair swept up in a chic knot and her slim figure wrapped in a mint silk
ruched gown that had a few too many ruffles for Giselles taste. She resisted the urge
to rip one or two of them off to streamline the damn thing, but as she and Sebastian
drew closer to Fen and Trudy, she contented herself with one contemptuous glance
up and down her aunts body.

54

THE PROVISO

Trudy clenched one fist at her side, as if she wanted to hit Giselle. It wasnt as if
she hadnt before, but now Giselle wasnt an awkward thirteen-year-old slavishly
devoted to earning the approval of her beautiful aunt. Nor was she a fourteen-yearold unwittingly blowing the lid off Trudys affair with Fen.
Giselle raised an eyebrow, daring her to say a word, and smirked when Trudy
looked away.
Ah, Sebastian, Giselle. Fen greeted them expansively, as if he hadnt tried to kill
Giselle twice and threatened Sebastian with a seat in front of a Senate panel. So glad to
see you here. I didnt realize you would be interested or I would have invited you myself.
Im always intrigued when the CEO of a company I have a controlling interest
in decides to run for Congress.
Come, come, Sebastian. Im sure nothing will change for you when I get to
Congress. Giselle, he murmured, taking her hand and kissing it. How are you?
Im just fine, thanks; havent seen any goons lurking around corners lately. She
smiled sweetly.
Fen leaned toward her. You just cant help it, can you? he gritted, his mouth
locked into a grin. One of these days, Im going to slap the teeth right out of your
smart mouth, little girl.
She turned her head so that she could whisper in his ear. Aw, I did hurt your
wittow feewings.
He drew away from her slowly, still in candidate mode, still smiling. When his
gaze caught on her shoulder, his smile faded and his mouth tightened the slightest
bit. Giselle snickered and a faint flush rose in his cheeks.
Is that remorse I see, Unk? Sebastian drawled. And you didnt even send her a
get-well card.
Fens jaw clenched behind his smile. Move along, children. I dont want to
babysit you all night. Id prefer you leave altogether.
No can do, Sebastian replied smugly. Were just here to eat your food, drink
your booze, and be a general pain in your ass.
As usual.
They left him there fuming. Giselle was still amused, but Sebastian was tense
and his muscular arm felt like wool-and-silk-covered cast iron under her hand. He
picked up a glass of champagne from a passing waiters tray and downed it in one
swallow.
I gotta figure out how to get out from under Fens thumb, he muttered. Remember when he caught us blowing up frogs with the bike pump when we were
kids? And threatened to tell my dad? I feel like that right now.
Ive been thinking about this since he announced last month, Giselle murmured, disengaging from him to snag a waiter for ice water. Sebastian looked down

MORIAH JOVAN

55

at her, his eyebrow cocked, waiting. Its a threefer. First, you need to block as much
of Fens fundraising as possible, like tonight. Im sure all your friends feel just as
threatened by whatever Fen plans to do to you.
Already done. Next?
You need a Truman.
He looked upward. Hmmm. Raise up a rival candidate. Senator from Taight.
Wouldnt that be hilarious? Rather not back a Democrat if I can avoid it, though.
The Jackson County prosecutor. Kevin Oakley.
Sebastian started. Isnt he the guy who decided youd done him a favor by taking
out the assholes who shot you?
Yes, he is and there are rumors around school hes itching to get on with the
next step in his career. He and Knox are friends, so theres your in with him.
Sebastian rocked back on his heels, his hands behind his back, and stared off into
the distance.
And did you read the National Review article I left on the conference table? At
his absent nod, she said, The one on intellectual property rights? Byline Justice
McKinley?
I googled her, read some of the stuff shes been writing on some of the smaller
conservative blogs. Shes like a baby Thomas Sowell.
Babys about right. Shes twenty-three.
That actually shocked Sebastian. How do you know?
I go to school with her, thats how I know. Giselle kept the other little piece of
information concerning Justice McKinley to herself. Shes a regular little political
prodigy, all strict constructionist pro-life atheist. Shes tying the religious right up in
knots, which is always fun to watch.
Shit. I could barely spell my name when I was twenty-three, but now that you
mention it, she is a bit irrationally exuberant.
Giselle laughed, then continued, If she and Kevin click, they may be able to help
each other further their own careers.
Sebastian pursed his lips. Even if he wins, hell be powerless to help me. Fen has
no such problems because he wants my head more than the rest of the looters and
hes the only one who can actually deliver it via the SEC. Hell have instant clout.
All Oakley needs to do is give Fen a good fight. The Senates not going to want
to yank your chain too soon and show its hand if theres a good chance Fenll lose the
election. Itll buy you enough time to get through the transfer or takeover of OKH.
After that, if you do end up sitting in front of Fen and his newfound senatorial
friends, itll be a whole different fight that you can win on your terms without the
distraction of OKH or the threat of the SEC, especially considering your attorney
you know, that poor young man who was cheated of his rightful inheritance on his

56

THE PROVISO

wedding day when his bride-equipped-with-child was tragically and mysteriously


murdered. That evil Fen Hilliard, just like OJ Simpson. Ya know he did it, but the
glove doesnt fit.
Sebastian actually smiled in public, which made Giselle blink. Go on, Giz, he
muttered over another glass of champagne. Ive always admired your deadpan delivery.
Third. When reporters start calling you for comments on Senator Oths antiTaight bitterness, refer them to unions PR departments. They can hem and haw
now, yall know this is off the record, mindmumble a few things about how they
doan know nuttin bout nuttin, but seems to them maybe Oth either wasnt a very
good businessmanand what does that say about his leadership in the Senate?or
Taight caught him with his hand in his employees cookie jar. Oopsie. Jep employees
lost their jobs, yeah, but that Taight, you know, he made sure they got to take their
IRAs with em and then his good buddy Mitch Hollander hired em all. That rabid
skunkll back off fast. Youll end up looking like a martyr saint. Bonus! If the DoJ
tries to get in bed with Fen now, the unions will kick its ass for you. There are going
to be a lot of strange bedfellows throwing gold at a candidate who might be able to
keep Fen out of DC.
Sebastian stared at her without speaking for a while.
What? she demanded.
Bless your little politico heart, he said slowly. You do come in handy occasionally.
Surprised, Giselle didnt know whether to preen or break his face. Hrmph. The
only downside of that is if it makes Fen feel totally irrelevantwhich it very well
couldhe may go off his rocker and three years is long enough for him to devolve
back to primordial ooze.
Well, thank you, Giz. Sometimes I forget just how damned smart you are.
Immediately irritated, she said, Thats Dr. Cox to you, asshole.
He grimaced. Sorry. Then he started, his attention caught elsewhere. Oh,
damn. I almost forgot why were here. Theres Kenard, he said, turning toward the
south end of the hall where there were more clusters of people chatting. Hes the
man with the burn scars on the left side of his face.

10: MINE
BRYCE HADNT WANTED to come to this thing, especially considering how he felt

about Fen Hilliard and what he suspected about the mans involvement in Leahs
murder, but curiosity won out. Bryce had spent every weekend the past two months
on the golf course with Fen and various other business leaders from around the
Midwest just to see how he played chess.
Fen had treated Bryce like an old friend without once mentioning his campaign.
He was likable, suave, and not in the least bit slick or smarmy. No hint of good ol
boy politics. Not a whiff of courtship. He had his act down cold and Bryce could
appreciate Fens patience, shrewd strategy, and forethought.
In all that time, however, Bryce hadnt said much, preferring to listen instead, to
observe Fens modus operandi, to wait for the thirty-second pitch that never came.
Even the invitation to this little get-together had no hint of political purpose in it, but
Bryce laughed when the courier delivered it. So. This was the thirty-second pitch.
At least now he knew Fens campaign had nothing to do with political ambition
and everything to do with Taights takeover of OKH. No, Bryce didnt know Sebastian Taight personally and he didnt give a shit about OKH, but he strenuously objected to the witch hunt Fens announcement had triggered. It wouldve happened
eventually, but if Taight went down, half the countrys extraordinarily successful
entrepreneurs and exponentially more small businesses would go down with him.
That didnt bode well for anyone, especially the economy.
Bryce sighed as he returned to nursing his club soda, disengaged from the people
who had clumped around him. The company he kept at these inane functions was
the most amusing he could find, but some evenings, like tonight, that didnt say
much. Bored out of his mind, he wondered if this was preferable to knocking around
in a dark, silent, empty house at Christmastime and nowhere else to be or go.
Absorbed in watching the play of light on the surface of his sparkling water,
Bryce thought he saw a head of honey-colored hair in his periphery and his gut
clenched. He had no reason to think she would be here, but he turned and looked for
her anyway. He froze, shocked, when he saw her on Sebastian Taights arm chatting
amiablyalmost familiarlywith Fen and Trudy Hilliard.
Bryce thought hed had the wind knocked out of him.

58

THE PROVISO

First Knox, then Taight and the rest of the Hilliards. It stood to reason that if
she was fucking Knox, she would know Taight and definitely Knoxs mother, but
what kind of typist and law student had these kinds of connections? He knew no one
in society by the name of Cox or who had ties to a Cox family.
Bryce observed her, taking his time, noticing small details that pleased him but
didnt surprise him. Her black and white dress showed off her pale, exquisitely
carved shoulders and back, and gave her hair a subtle brilliance. Rubies dripped from
her ears and just brushed the pale skin of her neck. The plump of her breasts above
the black corset filled his mind with images of them nude, flushed with passion, nipples begging him to lick and suck. Her legs were hidden by her long skirt and he
found himself hoping she was carrying a gun under all that understated elegance.
Colliers Lilith was delicate.
I assure you: You have never met a woman like me, and you never will again.
Giselle Cox was most definitely not.
Taight led her away from the Hilliards, strolling a bit before coming to an abrupt
halt. She began to talk and gesture, an old-fashioned glass of something clear over ice
in one hand, while Taight listened intently. He sipped at his champagne, never taking his eyes off her, then he grinned at her. She returned it, but began to speak again
and did so at some length. Taights expression gradually transformed from amusement to Respect?
Bryce wondered what she could possibly have to say that would have a notorious
and semi-reclusive billionaires rapt attention. Taight very rarely attended society
events and if he did deign to grace an affair with his presence, he mingled very little.
He rarely spoke and he never showed any emotion.
If someone had told Bryce that Taight would be at a party for a man he had declared war upon, accompanied by a woman, and so much as smirking, hed have
thought it was a joke. Judging by the murmurs behind him, he wasnt the only one.
And her!
He could only see her in profile, but he could read her amazingly expressive face
from where he stood. She wasnt silently fuming. She wasnt overtly angry. She
wasnt being smoothly vicious. She didnt seem to be flirting, clumsily or otherwise.
She wasnt lost in desire. She wasnt flustered and confused. She was smiling mischievously and easily pulling smiles and chuckles out of a man who had no sense of
humor.
Jealousy, hot and vicious, twisted inside Bryce and his lip curled. Knox Hilliard
knew her intimately. Sebastian Taight treated her as an equal, though not as a loverat least, not as Bryce would have treated her if she were his lover.
Who was she? All his adult life, hed known women who craved attention and did
anything they could to get it. He knew when a woman faked obliviousness to attract

MORIAH JOVAN

59

more attention. This woman wasnt faking anything and because of it, she had Bryce
tied in knots, a room full of men watching her with speculation, and a room full of
women studying her as if to learn something.
She laughed, a lovely peal that bounced off the marble walls, and suddenly Bryce
found himself staring into those ice blue eyes that seemed so familiar as to be eerie.
She blinked, and held his gaze. She blinked again, but turned away as if she
hadnt recognized him.
As if he didnt exist.
Regret exploded in his chest. He had ruined any chance he might have had with
her and he flinched at the way he had dismissed her with such finality. All hed had
to do was ask her out when shed begged him tobefore hed pissed her off.
One hand stuffed in his pocket, he looked down at the floor, frustrated, angry,
jealous. That kiss. It tormented him, now months after it had happened, but between Hilliard and Taight, why would she remember him at all?
He thought about going home after all, but that wasnt going to help. His obsession with her had been bubbling for more than a year, and not a day had gone by
since that kiss he hadnt thought of her. Graphically. With his hand around his dick.
Nothing was going to make it go away until he got her attention, talked to her, found
out who she really was.
Made love to her.
Not necessarily in that order.
This hesitance wasnt like him. Hed destroyed the fortunes of a few fairly powerful people and a lot of rich but not so powerful ones. Politicians vied for his endorsement and money. A-list celebrities called him for representation. Incompetent
physicians and their insurance companies cowered at the mention of his name. Hed
shut down more than one medical equipment manufacturer for defective products.
Hed gone after far bigger prey than one petite strawberry blonde who considered a
nine-millimeter a fashion accessory.
One way or another, this was going to endor begintonight.
Bryce looked up just as Taight bent to murmur something in her ear, then strode
away from her. Once she was alone, though, her amusement vanished so suddenly it
was jarring. He continued to watch her, puzzled, as she looked down into her glass.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, slowly in her nose, then out through the
O of her lips. She did that several times, her breasts swelling with each inhalation.
When she finally looked up, she looked straight at him. Deliberately this time,
holding his gaze, not glancing away. Her mouththat cherry-kissed mouth with full
lips that could probably work miracles on a mans anatomytwitched. A corner of it
turned up; not quite a smile, not quite a smirk.
Oh, no. She hadnt forgotten at all.

60

THE PROVISO

Adrenalin shot through him as he raked her from head to toe and back again, deliberately pausing at her breasts before looking back into her eyes. Bryce cocked an
eyebrow at her and she acknowledged him with a minuscule shift of her shoulders
and lowered eyelids.
Ms Giselle Cox, whoever she was, promised the fulfillment of every one of his
long-denied yearnings. She was the most dangerous prey hed ever hunted and hed
give up everything to have her:
His pride.
His net worth.
His salvation.
Taight had just lost his mistress. Hed deal with Knox later.
She put her glass on a passing waiters tray, then turned without warning and
sashayed, not toward him, but across Kirkwood Hall to Sculpture Hall. She disappeared behind the Christmas tree, then reappeared, her steps slow and studied, her
back straight and head high, as if she had all the time in the world and nowhere in
particular to go. He watched her glide across the marble floor, deftly and graciously
weaving through clumps of chatters without fanfare.
He followed her through the grand hall, then through the sculpture room littered with clusters of people chatting. A couple of men started to follow her but
happened to glance up at Bryce, who merely raised an eyebrow. They returned to
their cliques, tails between their legs.
A corner of his mouth turned up, suddenly grateful for the scars on his face.
She reached the staircase that led down to the gallerys addition, and smoothly
descended to the wide landing. But instead of continuing downward, she turned
right to go up to the European exhibits. She unhooked the velvet rope that blocked
off that section of the museum, stopped, rope in hand, and looked over her shoulder
at him, that same not-smile-not-smirk on her face. She raised one eyebrow and deliberately dropped the rope on the floor.
His feet moved of their own accord. He absently excused himself through the
crowd, irresistibly drawn after her as if she were Calypso, ensnaring him with his
own lust
then found himself detained by some policy wonk who not only didnt notice
that Bryce had other plans, but felt entitled to the contents of his brain.
Bryce stood where hed gotten trapped, watching transfixed as she ascended the
staircase step by deliberate step, her white skirt held in her right hand, her hips swaying, the short train of her black skirt slithering behind her, her delicate hand sliding
up the copper banister. Then she disappeared from view behind a waist-high marble
wall.
Shit, he whispered.

MORIAH JOVAN

61

Left or right? A few more of the terminally clueless gathered around him. Which
way would she go and why were all these people suddenly demanding his attention?
How would he find her? His jaw ground at the thought of losing her to the labyrinthine hallways and myriad exhibits because people he didnt know wanted a piece of
him.
Excuse me, he barked, interrupting someone who purposely stood in his way to
get his attention, then plowed his way out of this committee of vultures to catch her.
He got to the floor where shed disappeared, ran to the hallway past the European exhibits, and paused. Left or right?
Then he sniffed.
He went left.

11: GRIMM REALITY


BRYCE FOLLOWED HER sillage, as distinctive as she. He turned to take another set

of stairs, hitting two landings in quick succession. The gallery, immense and dimly
lit, had innumerable nooks and crannies in which to lose oneself by choice or by accident.
As he gained the top step, he turned right to go into the Asian collection, then
left, but stopped. He knew shed passed by here; her scent was lingering and driving
him mad. He would not leave this museum tonight without a piece of her, if not all
of her.
The trail stopped at the immense Chinese Temple room, two stories high, and,
as always, even during exhibition hours, dimly lit. A section at the farthest end of the
room was nearly closed off by a richly carved mahogany wall that looked Moorish in
design. He could see a statue of some sort of god prominently displayed on the back
wall, framed by the opening of the wooden partition. As his eyes adjusted, he saw her
silhouette where she sat on a wide ottoman in front of the statue, very still, her back
to him.
Then she turned her head and spoke over her shoulder. Gorgeous, isnt he?
He started at the sound of her voice, so smooth, so calm, so fragile. How
could a woman who exuded such primitive sexuality have such a delicate voice?
Not sure Id use that term, no, he murmured vaguely as he entered the room.
She chuckled, then looked up at him once he reached the bench. This is my secret place, she said, humor radiating from her like a shimmering silvery heat wave
off hot asphalt, where I come to get away from the world and meditate.
Bryce stepped over the ottoman to sit beside her, glanced at the bodhisattva and
searched for words while feeling her steady gaze. He turned his head and returned
her look, studying her soft face, her full mouth, her patrician nose. Her eyes. He
hooked one heel on the edge of the upholstery and laid his arm over his flexed knee,
leaning into her just enough so that his lapel touched her bare shoulder.
Now that hed run Lilith to ground, he had no idea what to say to her. He resented her for her sexual relationship with Hilliard and possibly Taight, but he still
wanted her for himself.
Behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness.

MORIAH JOVAN

63

Righteousness sure as hell hadnt been a picnic. Wickedness couldnt be any


worse.
Still watching her, daring her to say a word or make a move, he planted his left
hand on the leather behind her and slid his fingers underneath her, his thumb caressing her butt. She purred approvingly, her eyelids shuttering, her butt wiggling slightly against his fingers, her hand rising to his face. The pad of her right thumb brushed
his forehead between his eyebrows, where shed last touched him with cold steel.
The gesture startled him. He wasnt used to a womans touch.
I apologize for nearly killing you, she murmured.
She laid her warm palm flat on the scarred half of his face, nearly covering his
eye, her thumb still stroking that spot on his forehead, and her fingers furrowing into
his hair. He had never received a touch so intimate from any woman.
I was very tired that night and you startled me.
I doubt I was in any imminent danger, he replied calmly as she took her hand
away. He wished she would continue to touch him. He wished she hadnt touched
him at all. You seem to be a woman whos almost always in control.
Ms Cox flashed him a merry smile and her eyes crinkled at the corners. Some
people think thats a bad thing.
I suppose it depends on context.
That comment hung in the air as he continued his inspection of her throat, her
breasts, her
Whats this? He touched a quarter-sized pucker in the skin below her left
shoulder and looked into eyes that had darkened from ice blue to gunmetal gray.
Someone shot you.
She flashed him a wicked grin. Two someones, actually.
He opened his mouth to ask the next logical question, but
Why did you follow me up here? she asked in a rush.
Why did you ask me to?
Her laughter sparkled with so much delight he couldnt resist any longer. He
gripped her chin in his palm and brought her to him. He captured her mouth, startling her into opening for him. Her eyes went wide for a second, then her eyelids
drifted closed. With a sigh, she returned his kiss and caressed his face again.
He felt a metal-hard bulge under her skirt and decided that was the only thing
shed be wearing tonight when he wrapped her legs around him.
KENARDS STRONG HAND, huge, rough, heavily calloused, held her jaw with just

enough force to keep her where he wanted her, and was perilously close to her
throat. But his kiss

64

THE PROVISO

Mmm.
Acute sensation rolled through her when his tongue found hers, and the feel of
his other hand almost right there bordered on sensory overload.
She opened her eyes to find him watching her while he kissed her. With a little
shake of her head, she easily dislodged his hand to wrap her arms around his neck.
With her fingers in his silky hair, she drew him closer and kissed him heatedly, but
she couldnt direct it. He overpowered her too easily.
Giselle sighed when his mouth left hers to explore her cheek, his now-free hand
cupping her breast, his thumb caressing the skin at the top of her corset. The big
hand that teased her butt swept up her back and curled into curve of her waist. As he
kissed, licked, and nipped the column of her neck, he pressed her down into the
bench until she was lying on it.
He was kissing her again before she realized he was kneeling over her, his hands
bracing himself on the upholstery on either side of her face, his knees flanking her
hips.
Bryce Kenard, conquering Lord. Conquering Giselle. On an altar of leather in
front of an ancient symbol of enlightenment.
She closed her eyes again to feel everything he did to her. She wound her hands up
and around his forearms to clutch his large, tight biceps covered by the fine wool-silk
blend of his tux coat. He returned his attention to her neck to tease and nip. She was
panting, her breath ragged, as he slowly worked his way over her collarbone, laved the
indentation in her shoulder, then moved further down to the skin of her chest.
She gasped and arched her back when he tucked his mouth in her cleavage, licking, kissing. She couldnt think, couldnt breathe, then he began to undo the buttons
of her corset with his teeth and tongue.
With the brush of air on her naked, wet breastbone, she was instantly flooded
with embarrassment, embarrassment that she had lost control with a stranger so
completely and voluntarily that she would allow him to undress her. In public.
She made a weak move to dislodge him, but he ignored her. Four, six, eight buttons down, her corset fell open, baring her to the waist. He rose up a bit to stare at
her breasts, his expression full of lust, his chest heaving, his nostrils flaring.
Overwhelmed, saturated with adrenalin and desire, she whispered, Let me go.
Kenards glittering emerald eyes met hers and he cocked an eyebrow. No.
She gaped at him, suddenly not knowing what to do. He wanted her. As much as
she wanted him. But
He took advantage of her confusion and kissed her again, his mouth and tongue
hard, pressing her into the upholstery. His hand swept up her ribs to cup her breast,
his thumb stroking her nipple until she could only think of what he was doing to her,
what else she wanted him to do to her.

MORIAH JOVAN

65

His mouth left hers, left her wanting, only to trace down her jaw and throat and
chest until he was sucking on her nipple. She whimpered with lust, plowing her fingers through his hair and pulling him closer instead of pushing him away as she
should. But he let her nipple go with a broad lick that made her whimper, and returned to her mouth, kissing her, biting her.
Giselle, he whispered harshly, come home with me. Now. Tonight.
If this man was a member of the church, he was most definitely not on the fast
track to bishop. And if she did what she wanted to do, shed be on the fast track to a
shattered heart with nothing to show for it.
Would you fuck him if he came after you?
Yes.
Or not.
She shoved at him, surprising him with her strength and nearly knocking him off
the altar. He struggled for balance long enough for her to roll out from under him,
desperately clutching her corset, and bolt across the room to one of the glass cases.
Her chest, damp from his tongue and brushed by the cool air of the vents overhead,
heaved as she looked at him warily while trying to button herself up and wondering
what the hell had just happened.
She couldnt make her fingers work, she couldnt suck in her breath long enough
to close it all the way, and she couldnt lie down on a different bench to do it because
hed trap her again. He arose from the altar and approached her. She was vaguely
gratified to note that he was breathing as hard and fast as she was.
This is insane, she murmured, watching him warily with her back pressed into
a corner of the pillar behind her, still struggling with her buttons. He stopped when
he was within an arms length and gently brushed her hands aside to button her corset up himself.
I thought this was what you wanted, he muttered hoarsely. Deep breath.
She somehow managed to do that. I But what could she say? That she was
embarrassed at having this sort of intimacy with a stranger, and, moreover, liking it?
That she felt more powerful at this moment than she had in her life, like a goddess
with the world at her feet? That she wanted him to take her home and keep her forever?
That her purpose was to distract him enough to keep him away from Fen, and
therefore, there could never be anything between them because it was all a lie?
I, um, I She cleared her throat. It was more than I expected, I think.
Frankly, it wasnt nearly enough for me.
I dont know you, she whispered.
Ah, but I wasnt the one who issued the invitation, was I?
I think Um I think I need to go home.

66

THE PROVISO

Let me take you there.


That was out of the question. Her nerves couldnt take much more of this without giving him everything he wanted. Now. Tonight. As hed demanded.
He was a stranger.
Shed lied to him.
She did not want him to know where she lived.
I dont think that would be a good idea.
He said nothing for a moment; then, having finished his task with her only
vaguely noticing, he drawled, Not in control now, are you?
Immediately outraged, she gasped, but he shut her up with a harsh kiss, taking
whatever she had to give and a whole lot of what she hadnt intended to give him at
all. It took a few seconds for her to decide whether to break the kiss or not.
Finally, Giselle pulled away from him with some difficulty and only succeeded
because hed once again underestimated her strength. I dont She hesitated and
flinched at how it would sound. She cleared her throat again and said it anyway. Ive
never done this sort of thing before.
His eyebrow rose and he smirked. She flushed, deeply hurt by his expression.
Humiliated, confused, pissed off, and still aroused, she turned and bolted out the
door.
Giselle, wait!
She slipped into a dark nook to take off her shoes. If she could make it out of the
gallery without his catching her, shed be lucky. Whatever of the evening was left,
Sebastian was going to have to do his own distraction because she couldnt take another second of this.
He blew past her nook and she darted out of it the other way, her skirts hiked
over her knees, her Glock and stocking top clearly visible, and headed toward the
closest set of stairs.
Giselle!
Away. She had to get away from that man, away from that room where she could
never go back without memories of being half undressed and so almost taken on a
Barcelona ottoman in an art museum by a stranger, a stranger whod sneered at her
twice already, a stranger who couldve forced her.
No, no force necessary. She had a gun shed completely forgotten about. She
couldve wrapped her legs around his hips with it on and she still wouldnt have remembered she was wearing it.
That was a man whod fuck her the way she wanted and make her beg for more.
Feeling very vulnerable, ashamed of what he thought of her, thus resentful of
what he made her feel, she ran through the European exhibit, down the second staircase and up the third, sprinted straight through Sculpture Hall, then Kirkwood

MORIAH JOVAN

67

Hall. Her stockinged feet slid on the polished stone floor when she took the ninetydegree turn to the north exit, touching the floor with her fingertips to keep both her
speed and her balance. She looked over her shoulder to see him chasing her. She
burst out of the art gallery winded and ran halfway down the drive to the limousine.
The driver recognized her and her distress, and quickly caught up with her. She
didnt give him enough time to get out to open her door; she threw it open and
scrambled in. She may have shut the door on her skirt. Go, go. Go, please!
The limousine had pulled around the horseshoe and down the drive when Kenard burst out of the gallery. She looked at him through the back window. Bent over,
his hands on his knees, his chest heaving and his breath white in the frigid December
air, he watched her leave.

12: CONTRIVED IGNORANCE


January 2006
CHANGED MY FOCUS and didnt get a chance to copy the new text list

Unlike the rest of the class, Justice didnt have any reason to groan at this news.
She never bought textbooks until she knew what was absolutely necessary to her
success in a class, so she had no books to exchange.
Her constitutional law professor droned on and she glanced down at the sheet of
paper, scanning it to calculate an approximate cost. Her eyes widened in shock at one
particular authors name and she swallowed heavily, blinked, looked again. No, that
couldnt be. He would have told her
Wouldnt he?
Juell Pope, SJD, PhD, author of half the textbooks on the list in her hand.
Dr. Popes constitutional theories more in-depth this semester
The lecture went on, but Justice barely heard it for the buzzing in her ears and
the blurring of the titles in front of her.
country lawyer up in River Glen, just north of Chouteau City, but died
about six years ago. One of the greatest legal minds of the twentieth century. Ms
McKinley, something wrong?
She looked up slowly at her professor as if in a daze. No, she croaked, cleared
her throat. No, Im fine.
But she wasnt. Deep betrayal cut through her soul. Why had she had to go to
law school to find out her grandfather had been such a well-respected scholar?
Snatches of her grandfathers lectures flitted through her mind. When her professor asked her a question meant to stump her, she answered it by rote, only vaguely
aware of the semi-tense silence her answer had garnered.
Then, Ms McKinley, how did you know that?
Justice panicked, trying to think of an answer that didnt include because Juell Pope
is my grandfather and he drilled this into me in my barn. Um, I I dont know. I, uh
She cleared her throat. I happened to have read that for an assignment last semester,
is all.
Really! Stay after class, please. Id love to talk to you about it.
Um. Sure. Okay. Uh, no problem.

MORIAH JOVAN

69

Her after-class interview with her professor went more smoothly than she had
expected, given her state of total shock and her instinct to keep her identity and accomplishments separate from her grandfathers. The professor seemed impressed
with Justices answers and requested that she email that particular assignment to her
as soon as possible. With a lump in her throat, Justice agreed, though the assignment
didnt exist and it was just another fire to put out, albeit more emergent than the rest:
Around campus, where everyone had laptops and every square inch was hot, ASAP
meant by the time I get back to my office.
She did have a marginally related paper shed written long ago under her grandfathers direction. Hed decreed it adequate but certainly not up to her capabilities.
It would have to do.
Justice trudged out into the bitter January air in the direction of the student union to eat and get the books on her list. She drew wary glances and whispers as she
passed clusters of law students here and there, but no one spoke to her. Mindful of
the attention, she clutched her backpack straps more closely in front of her and pretended not to see.
At least no one mocked her to her face as Sherry had, and shed disappeared
from campus soon after the incident. The whispers Justice caught here and there
contained no ridicule of her.
It was almost as if people were afraid to speak to her, but she had no idea
why. Justice wasnt shy; she spoke in class, but took care not to dominate the discussions. She didnt sit on the front row and she made sure to make herself as inconspicuously conspicuous as possible. She thought she successfully projected the image
of ambitious law student without being completely obnoxious about it.
But the fact was that she had no one to talk to. She couldnt even consider Dr.
Cox, who flew from classes to study groups to the cafeteria and back again before she
left campus around three, and hadnt been Justices TA since that first semester. Justice was completely alone and except for the occasional murmured comment or question in class, and no-nonsense discussion in her study groups, almost no one had
spoken to her in three semesters. She didnt figure this one would be any different
and if anyone had connected her physical presence on campus with Justice McKinley, political commentator, she didnt know it.
She bowed her head, as much to shelter herself from others observation and lack
of camaraderie as from the sharp wind. Not for the first time, she wished she could
do this law school thing online, where she felt safe, comfortable, confident, where no
one could watch her and point at her and whisper about her.
What hurt the most was that she hadnt had these problems during her undergrad. She didnt feel suffocated or shunned. Didnt have to put forward a certain type
of image. She hadnt had any friends, but shed been able to laugh and joke with her

70

THE PROVISO

classmates, walk to class together and chat, gather for lunch, trade notes and pointers
and gripe about instructors, do some tutoring on the side for extra cash.
Shed been able to ask for help in her humanities classes without feeling stupid
because all she had to say was, Im an econ major. She got instant assistance by
someone who needed to feel superior. Justice only needed an A, and she very quickly
learned how to make her tutor feel like the most brilliant person ever. The tutor got
her ego stroked. Justice got her A.
Law school, on the other hand
She sighed.
She had never seen behavior like Sherrys before. She hadnt gone to school, and
the people in River Glen, especially the guys at the locker and auto parts store,
seemed to like her okay. They all got along, laughed and joked, gossiped and snarked.
Shed never seen it during her undergrad years. She had no reason to expect it in law
school, much less be the target of it. It had shaken her up so badly shed never gotten
her social equilibrium back. Was it that different from college to grad school for everyone, or was it just her? She didnt know because she had no one to ask, and no one
from her undergrad classes had continued to law school at UMKC.
In lieu of her undergrad experience, then, and to go where she felt appreciated,
shed taken refuge in the internet. Shed found amusement there once upon a time.
Now she lived there.
Once in the warmth of the cafeteria, she fumbled with her burdens in front of
the microwave, found a secluded spot after shed sufficiently nuked her food, opened
her laptop, and sent the paper her professor had requested. She dug into her roast
Bossy and began to cruise her blogs.
It had only taken three months as a daily blogger at TownSquared for her to
come to some national attention, augmented by the two articles shed published in
National Review; because of that exposure, other blog owners had reached out to her,
requesting columns here and there, then more regularly. The blogging position at
TownSquared overflowed her schedule, but with each new request came an offer of
payment and that she wouldnt refuse.
Conversation swirled around her as she began to write a new article. Her sudden
brush with her grandfathers greatness not an hour ago still rattled her, but as she
thought about it, ideas for future blog posts inundated her. Her fingers burned
through the keys as she typed, vaguely aware that the din and crush of lunchtime
diners was swelling.
Hilliards not teaching in the fall.
Justice stopped typing immediately, but attempted to disguise the fact that shed
begun to eavesdrop on the conversation behind her.
I heard hes taking a sabbatical for the next three, four semesters. Something

MORIAH JOVAN

71

about a huge embezzlement case.


Shit.
No kidding.
I needed him for my white-collar crime section, too.
The irony. It burns.
Well, now at least Justice wouldnt have to agonize over how to take one of his
classes, losing two full days of farm work while hoping her car didnt simply expire
on the highway somewhere. It didnt matter anyway; Justice had a plan and she had
no doubt that her CV would get his attention and earn her a coveted position in the
Chouteau County prosecutors office.
Never had him, never will. Dont like him, dont like his opinions, dont like his
politics or the way he runs that county up there.
You believe all that bullshit?
Look, where theres smoke theres fire. Therere plenty of lawyers coming out of
that office talking about the mysterious cash that gets passed around. If one person
calls you an ass, you figure theyre having a bad day. If three people do it, buy a saddle.
Justices breath caught in her throat.
Shed heard the rumors, of course. Of that and other things, but she actively
avoided such nonsense because, in her opinion, if he were guilty, he would have been
arrested and put in prison. That was the way the system worked.
Fucking Republicans. The only reason he keeps getting elected is because he
murdered that guy.
Justice choked.
Bullshit again. He wasnt even charged for that, much less convicted.
Its a racket. Hes a racket. One big conspiracy and all the rednecks up there love
him for it.
So do the women.
Its that bad-boy bullshit they like. Leaves us nice guys out in the cold.
Justice shoved her earbuds in her ears and cranked up the tunesshe didnt care
whatunable to listen to such gossip one minute longer.
So do the women.
And how well did she know that! Half the women who walked around the law
school halls bemoaned the fact that they hadnt been quick enough during registration to get in his class this semester. Justice couldnt stand to hear that many smart
grown women squee like prepubescent girls over a boy band and she refused to play
the adolescent games, even in private. No googling, no listening to gossip, and, since
no one talked to her, no contributing to gossip, either.
Justices grandfather had taught her the value of dignity and in her opinion, that

72

THE PROVISO

extended to the collecting of information about the object of ones affections. It


should happen organically, over time, with exposure.
Not with Google.
There was nothing anyone could say that would diminish the impact Knox Hilliard had made on her that day almost a year and a half before, but she didnt want to
take the chance. Plenty enough time to get to know him after shed acquired the job
that would give her daily access to him.
Her email chimed. The professor who had requested the paper her grandfather
had thought merely average:
Justice, please come to my office at your earliest convenience. I
would like you to submit this to the law review. Dr. Smythe

Justice gaped, unable to believe the words in front of her, but her attention caught
when the diners around her stirred a bit. She looked to the door to see Dr. Cox walk
instrut, more likewith an older law student she ate lunch with every day.
Justice wasnt the best judge of appearance, but it seemed to her that Giselle was
average. If that. Curly dark blonde hair usually in a ponytail, light eyes, pale skin,
orthodontic-perfect teeth, and today, glasses. Short, compact body dressed in the
same sorts of things everyone else wore: faded jeans, a heavy yellow sweater, hiking
boots. Really the woman was wholly unremarkable to Justices eye, except for a mysterious something that made people notice her and defer to her. It wasnt just
her age or level of education, although Justice figured that contributed to it; no, it
was something more nebulous, some sort of intense energy.
Half the people Giselle and her friend passed stared at them openly, but neither
noticed as they continued to talk and laugh on their way to get food.
Justice sighed, pulled the earbuds out of her ears, and began to shut down her
laptop. Shed eaten well, written well, and generally done well today, not to mention
the fact that she had learned she carried the DNA of one of the greatest legal minds
of the twentieth century. It might take her a while to get used to the idea, to get over
being angry with her grandfather for keeping that from her, but it would help if she
knew why. Hed never pulled his punches with her, even when it hurt.
Occams Razor, Iustitia! Think!
She thought. The simplest explanation was that Justice had been too young to
understand. Or location? Access? Hed been stuck way up in River Glen, an old
man out of touch in legal circles. It was possible he may not have known how highly he was regarded. He was barely scraping by in a house no better than hers when
he died, he had nothing in his accounts, and he had an outstanding account at River Glens microscopic grocery store-slash-gas station. Hed had to be buried in a

MORIAH JOVAN

73

paupers grave. If he was getting paid royalties, they werent much, and the textbooks on the list were very expensive.
Hmmmm.
Justice decided to look into that and woe be to the publishing company whod
cheated her beloved grandfather and mentor.
I wouldnt touch Giselle Cox with my ten-inch pole and I dont care how cute
she is, came the voice of one of the men behind her, startling her out of her burgeoning battle plans. Shed kick my ass.
Nil carborundum illegitimi.
You know, replied his companion, its not like shes hot or anything, because
shes not, but theres something about her.
Its the guns. You cant see em, but you know shes got em.
Naw, thats not it. Power. Its like shes got some I dont know. Powers not
the right word.
Maybe not. I know what you mean, though, and its better than anything I could
come up with.
Justice watched Giselle across the massive cafeteria, where she sat studying with
her friend.
Power.
How Giselle got it, who gave it to her, why she deserved to have it, Justice didnt
understand, but she wanted to.
She just had to figure out how to get some of it.

13: FRIENDS IN LOW PLACES


March 2006

MEET ME AT TASSOS TONIGHT AT 9:30


THE TERSE EMAIL from Bryces best friendthe one whod pegged him so neatly so

long ago, the one he hadnt considered any kind of a friend for over a decade now
danced in front of his minds eye like the snowflakes under the street light in front of
him. As he sat in his car in the restaurants parking lot, his vision blurred by the lateseason sleet collecting on his windshield, he didnt have to wonder why hed actually
shown up.
Giselle.
Naturally, she would have told Knox what had happened three months ago, and
Knox wanted to stake his claim.
It was 9:39 p.m. and he was still debating whether to go in. The pain of betrayal
had lessened with time, distance, and doubt, but had stabbed him again over a year
ago at Leahs visitation.
He braved the wind and ice to get to the door of the restaurant, his collar up and
his scarf around his face. He didnt really want to be seen with the Chouteau County
prosecutor, but this was a good place to meet: dark and neutral. Plus, he loved Greek
food, which was probably why Knox had picked it in the first place. Knox would
have remembered that. Knox remembered everything.
Small lanterns on the tables in their private cubbyholes punctuated the dim interior. A floor show of belly dancers was in full swing and the waitstaff yelled enthusiastically back and forth at each other. Bryce knew no patrons would notice or
identify him, but the staff here knew him all too well.
Hi, Bryce, said the hostess. Come with me. It vaguely disturbed him that she
knew who was waiting for him. She led him to a dark corner. He didnt sit.
Youre late.
Im always late.
I hate late, Knox snapped, glaring up at him. I dont know what species of
thorn is in your paw this time, but its affecting me, so Im here to pull it out.
Bryce hesitated because Knox only got that sarcastic when he was mocking

MORIAH JOVAN

75

someone for bone-headed assumptions.


Well? Sit your ass down and get it off your chest so I can go home because I am
not here to make you feel better.
Resigned to staying confused for a while, Bryce cast a glance askance at a carafe
of orange juice and signaled a waitress. Sandra, take this back, he muttered, swiping
it off the table and ignoring Knoxs protests. For him, a steak and salad, rare, bleu
cheese, and milk if you have it. The usual for me with a big bowl of tzatziki. Water.
Lots of it. Please.
Thank you, Mother, Knox said snidely once shed left.
Bryce ignored that and slid into the seat across from Knox. As it happens, you
are the thorn in my paw, and I dont need you passing out before you answer all my
questions.
I dont owe you anything, because I havent done anything to be the thorn in your
paw, and I certainly did not do that cunt you married, which you know and always have.
Bryces jaw worked in thought and he stared down at the table, suddenly realizing this wasnt just about Giselle. Why had he thought it would be?
It was easier for you to blame me than your own shitty judgment in women
especially considering the fact that I hated her and I specifically told you not to marry her. And on top of all that, she was a blonde and skinny as a rail.
Youre right, Bryce admitted with a heavy sigh. I knew. I didnt want to disbelieve her and Im sorry.
Thats a helluva way to split that hair! Do you actually know how many other
men she was sleeping with?
So far as I could gather, she didnt actually have sex very often. That wasnt her
thing. Knox looked suddenly confused, and Bryce took a deep breath. She got involved with men who would submit and craved punishment.
Knox started to laugh. I knew it! he crowed. If I couldve proven it to you,
would youve listened to me?
Bryce looked off toward the belly dancers without seeing anything at all. I
wouldnt have understood what it was, he muttered bitterly. And I was too invested
in maintaining my virtue to be willing to sit through an explanation.
Knox grunted. Virtues overrated. And so ? I mean, you had four kids.
I dont know which ones are mine. Emme, probably. Luke and Andrea, I dont
know. Randy, definitely not. Every time Meryl did want to have sex, she turned up
pregnant, so
Knoxs mouth flattened, but he clearly wasnt shocked. That didnt bother you?
Bryce shrugged. Occasionally, but did it matter? I loved them. I was their daddy,
they thought I walked on water, and they counted on me to protect them from her.
They didnt know better and if they did, they wouldnt care.

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THE PROVISO

Knox sighed heavily. Sorry, pal, he muttered. That bites.


They sat in companionable silence for a long while, their friendship having begun
in college and never really ending except for Bryces determination to be angry with
Knox for something he hadnt done. And, as he always had, Knox promptly forgave
and forgot.
You and Taight are related to Giselle, Bryce finally said.
Knox barked a laugh. Its the eyes, right?
Im going to assume, he muttered wearily, rubbing his forehead, for the sake of
my own sanity, that neither of you is her brother.
Cousin, he confirmed with alacrity. But why do you care and whats your sanity got to do with anything?
Again Bryce hesitated. Knox didnt mean to tell Bryce to back off? Leahs visitation. I overheard you ask Giselle to go home with you.
Knoxs jaw hit the table. You know, he gritted once he collected himself, youve
always been stupid about women, whereas I am not. First of all, if you were eavesdropping, you deserve what you hear. Second of all, if youre going to eavesdrop, you
could have the courtesy to stick around for the whole conversation. Third, didnt you
learn your lesson about believing the worst about me the first time I was accused of
banging a woman you thought belonged to you? He threw his napkin on the table
and started to rise. You know what, Bryce? Fuck you. Im tired of being the one
getting the shaft when a womans got you in knots.
Siddown, Bryce growled and wasnt surprised when Knox looked at him expectantly, waiting. It was a familiar exchange. Im sorry, he muttered when he
looked down at his plate, thoroughly abashed. Again.
It took a moment before he heard Knox settle back into his seat. Yeah, I asked
her to go home with me, he said, his voice unusually raspy. Dont tell me youve
never needed to hold on to somebody when your lifes been ripped out from under
your feet.
Bryce swallowed.
But I forgot, he continued viciously. You dont have anybody like that. Youve
never had anybody like that.
Bryce closed his eyes against the sudden pain and looked away.
She said no, Knox muttered. Actually, she damn near bashed my head in for
asking. That would have been an epic mistake.
Because shes your cousin, Bryce shot back.
Knox squinted at him. Youre a medical malpractice lawyer. Call one of your expert geneticists. See what he says.
Knox didnt make claims he couldnt back up, but Bryce made a note to do just
that.

MORIAH JOVAN

77

Well, this is fucking hilarious. You showed up to get me out of your way so you
can sleep with Giselle.
I dont want to sleep with her, Bryce found himself replying. Knoxs expression
went from smug to confused. I want to fuck her.
Knox gaped at him and Bryce thoroughly enjoyed his shock. Consider me never
having been in your way, he finally said. Happy now?
Ive never been happy, Bryce shot back.
Knox stared at him for a few seconds, then murmured, I know.
One moment of pity was bad enough. Two was What, no I told you so?
Knox gestured to his face. I dont need to.
Bryce looked away.
Conversation didnt resume until after their food arrived. Knoxs grumpy mood
improved markedly once he got some real food in him and the sugar wore off. Itd
always been that way, and now they were just taking up where they left off twelve
years ago.
Before we get to Giselle, Bryce finally said, I want to know about Leah.
Well, I didnt kill her, if thats what youre thinking.
I never thought you did.
Knoxs fork stopped halfway to his mouth as he stared at Bryce. You didnt?
Nooo, Bryce drawled warily. Fens the only likely candidate.
What do you know? he demanded.
I dont know anything, Bryce returned, irritated. Youve got no reason to kill
her. Hes got every reason in the world, and I dont know anyone who really thinks
you killed her. Your problem is your track record and his lack of one. After a minute, he gestured at Knox with his fork. Im listening.
He took a deep breath. Backstory. Fen killed my father. Insulin overdose. Obviously looks like natural causes for a diabetic with heart disease.
Bryces eyebrow rose.
Remember I told you my mom kicked me out of the house when I was fifteen
because I accused her of having an affair with Fen? And I went to live with my aunt
and cousin?
Bryce nodded, recalling his shock over finding out that his roommate was the
heir to a fortune and how that had come about
Giselle was the cousin. The provisos dated just about a week after Trudy kicked
me out, and then my dad died the week after that. I tell you what. That things been
the bane of my existence, stuck in professional limbo, marking time, never feeling like
I had a place in life until I turned forty. And hell, when I was fifteen, forty-year-olds
were on their deathbeds.
and all the sleepless nights when the nineteen-year-old heir had paced their

78

THE PROVISO

dorm room trying to figure out how to pass the next twenty years or how to weasel
out of the course his uncle had set for him.
What was your father thinking?
Knox sighed. I dont know.
So how do you know Fen murdered your father and why havent you had
him investigated?
Bout four years ago, Giselle and I were over at the estate clearing out my childhood. My mother was out of town. Fen didnt know we were there. We went to his
library to ask him something and overheard him confessing to his bishop in a very
roundabout and non-incriminating way.
So this war is a relatively recent development.
Knox nodded.
Did you confront him?
Yes. All but dared me to prove it. Ive had him under investigation ever since.
Short of exhuming my fatherand insulin is a perfect weapon, so I havent botheredI cant find anything.
Why hasnt he come after you?
He likes me and hed rather not kill me. First, Im the heir. Besides the fact that
it looks bad, hell know I have a dead mans switch and that I keep the FBIs attention for a reason. Second, with my track record Bryce snickered. hes not sure
I wouldnt murder him. Fen doesnt have the balls to come after me, vicariously or
otherwise. Third, hes squeamish and he has a tendency toward half-assed contrition.
He wont dirty his own hands, and hell kinda-sorta confess to the bishop and leave
the church, but he wont give any of it up.
That confused Bryce. I thought he was training you to be able to take over when
you turned forty. Didnt he tell you he wasnt going to let you be a trust fund frat boy
and you were going to work?
Knox shrugged. Somewhere in there he decided he didnt want to let it go. And
you know what? I dont blame him. My dad had a little machine shop that grew beyond his managerial capabilities, so he hired Fen. Fen was the one who turned it into
a billion-dollar corporation.
Didnt he take your trust away from you when you decided not to work for him
and took the job with Chouteau County instead?
Knox shook his head. He wanted me to get some job experience in a different
corporate environment. He wasnt particular until he found out Nocek was courting
me, then he went ballistic. I thought he was exaggerating, telling me shit straight out
of some southern gothic crooked-sheriff movie. But I was young and dumb. Flattered. Took the bait. Fen cut me off because he knew Nocek was dirty, and he knew
every dime I had access to would somehow end up in Noceks bank account. I was

MORIAH JOVAN

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pissed at first, but once I got in there and saw he hadnt been exaggerating, I was
really glad, because it gave me an iron-clad out.
Bryce could remember how tense Knox had grown, how closed-mouthed he had
been about his new job and boss. That bad, eh?
Worse. The sheriffs office was Noceks personal thug patrol and they were
running a protection racket, which Nocek got a cut of. He was even running unstamped cigarettes, moonshine, and marijuana. M&Ms, he called it. Bryce laughed.
Nocek made his money fixing cases, so when he informed me he expected me to
contribute to the widownorphan fund, I quit. He then informed me I wouldnt
make it past the county line if I tried to leave, and backed it up by having a couple of
deputies escort me back to my desk.
Bryces mouth dropped open.
So I bided my time till I could figure out what to do, cut my teeth on the hardest cases they could foist off on me, and found out I really liked the job. There was
one veteran attorney who wasnt on the take, but he was so subtle, Nocek didnt notice. I latched on to him, but I wasnt very successful at hiding my winning streak and
Nocek rode my ass constantly to bring money into the office. Then after I was alleged
to have murdered Tom Parley
Heh.
and that circus died down, Nocek was happy Id gilded his lily and he left me
alone for another couple of months. It was too late for him, though. Id had enough
of his bullshit, so I forced him to resign and name me as his successor.
And the untouchable Knox Hilliard was born, all with the tacit approval of the
federal prosecutor.
Well, you know. A prosecutor turns vigilante
Twice.
and you get the undying loyalty of every decent cop in the state. I couldnt get
rid of the sheriff himself, elected position, too many good ol boys, but I could call in
the state troopers to clean out my sheriffs department. That made the governor get
off my back and Fen released my trust to me with a big grin and a slap on the back.
So two wrongs really do make a right.
Knox laughed. Yeah, I guess so. He took a bite. Thing is, Im happy with what
I do. Im not cut out to be a CEO of anything, and I dont even manage my own staff;
my executive AP does that. I dont know how I got anything accomplished before he
came to work for me. Im just a redneck lawyer in a backwater of a county thats still
a cesspool. And I like it that way.
A redneck lawyer who teaches law classes and writes textbooks, Bryce drawled.
Everybody needs a hobby.
Bryce chuckled.

80

THE PROVISO

The irony is, if Fen had asked me if I wanted it before I found out he killed my
dad, Id have sent him an invoice for a few million dollars and thatd be that. Now
Im stuck in limbo again, between the terms of the proviso and Sebastians hostile
takeover. I cant have any kind of relationship before Im forty because Fens going to
go after whoever Im with. Sebastians getting blocked at every turn so his takeovers
stalling out.
So just wait until youre forty.
Ha! You might be used to being alone and celibate, but I am not. I want the
same thing Ive wanted since I was nineteen years old. Wife, family. Cant do that
while my uncles killing off all my women.
Bryces brow wrinkled. Thereve been others?
Not since Leah, no, Knox grumbled and went back to his meal. But Fen thinks
Giselle is my trump card, so hes been trying to get rid of her in case she and I get
married at the eleventh hour and have a kid waiting in the wings somewhere.
Bryce stared at Knox for a few seconds, trying to work through that. Get rid of
her? he asked carefully.
Hes tried to kill her twice.
Bryces heart stopped. Uh
Knox rolled his eyes and drawled, Yes. Really. The first time, he had her
bookstore burned down. She got out with her purse and her laptop, but that was
only because she couldnt sleep that night.
Bryces heart had stopped at the word burned, the memory of his nine-year-old
daughter disappearing into a burning pit screaming Daddy!
Knox looked up then and said, Oh, dude, I am so sorry. I didnt think.
He shook his head to clear it. I Its an excruciating way to die, he croaked,
trying to stave off hyperventilation. He knew Knox was watching him carefully, but
he didnt care. Of all the people in the world he could trust to see his weakness, it
was Knox. Bryce didnt speak again until he had recovered himself, cleared his throat,
and said, Go on.
He didnt. You okay? Youre white as a sheet.
Bryce cleared his throat. Ill be all right. Thanks. Giselles bookstore burned
down and ?
Knox decided to go with it. Then Fen sent two thugs after her.
That explains the bullet hole, Bryce muttered.
Holes. They had to dig the other one out of her hip. But shes alive and they
arent. He paused. I will never forget that night. They came charging across the
street at her, and she nailed em both before they could aim right. One gun in each
hand. No hesitation, no remorse.
It was just so wrong that Bryce found that arousing.

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81

Then Fen had Leah killed. Giselle hunted him down, put a gun to his head, told
him if he pulled any more stunts like that, shed kill him.
The gun strapped around her thigh under a cocktail dress. The bulge pressing
against his thigh through the thick layers of her evening gown.
Bryce didnt know what to do, what to think. The only thing he did know was
that he was very, very hard.
I dont know if hell be willing to test the limits of Giselles patience, but I
wouldnt put it past him to try if he manages to cozy up to her again.
Bryces brow wrinkled.
Giselle is to Fen as a queen bee mean girl is to her bitchy gay best friend, Knox
said blithely. They amuse the hell out of each other. Or, did. Theyd sit around and
snark at each other and everybody else, playing off each other like two insult comics
at a roast, and they were hilarious when they got rolling, but
And he tried to assassinate her? Bryce demanded.
Its not personal, Knox said. Its business. She is a convenient way for me to
fulfill the terms of the proviso, and he is trying to close all avenues down. And this is
why Im sleeping alone, which I loathe.
It was odd to hear Knox speak this way. The Knox he knew from college and law
school was a good Mormon kid in control of his sex drive with an iron will to keep
himself chaste until marriage. This one
You became Don Juan all of a sudden, he grumbled, envious Knox had been
able to turn that corner so easily.
You cannot half-ass sin, my friend, Knox said archly. Bryce barked a surprised
laugh and then Knox joined in. It was good to laugh with an old friend, the way they
had when they were in college, hanging out, studying, going to church, shooting the
breeze after shooting the curls. Im not, he finally said amiably. Don Juan, that is. I
havent slept with that many women and sex isnt as important to me as companionship with a woman I love. Its the icing on the cake, but I made sure I was damned
good icing.
The two of them ate and reminisced, relaxing again into the rhythm of the
friendship of young men. It was only after Bryce was fully relaxed did he feel ready to
continue the conversation.
I understood that Leah didnt want to get married, Bryce finally said.
Right. She didnt want her daughter to have squatters rights to OKH, and I
didnt either, so we were on the same page.
Why the change of heart?
To keep Fen off Giselles back. Leah was postmenopausal and Fen didnt know
she had a daughter. Giselle was more of a threat because shes of childbearing age and
has a long history of doing things specifically designed to tell Fen to go fuck himself.

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Bryces snorted wryly.


I, Knox continued, being more than a little pissed off he killed my dad, have a
huge motive to tell Fen to go fuck himself. So he does have a legitimate reason to
believe wed do it just to piss him off. We wont, but he wouldnt believe it if we told
him straight up. Leah and I couldnt have a small wedding because Fen needed to be
informed that the Giselle option was off the table. But when the financial press got
hold of our wedding plans, it went digging and found Rachel.
Bryce sighed. Leah had lived her life as a sacrificial lamb, and died as one.
Giselle was so nervous before the wedding she was radioactive, so Leah told me
to make her go away. Stupid shit that I am, I decided that Leah should have her way
on her wedding day.
Is that why she was so mad at Leahs funeral?
That and a shitload of guilt for not following her gut regardless of what Leah
wanted. I should have trusted her instincts, but I didnt want to upset Leah. If
Giselle had been with her My fault. All my fault. His voice, now heavy with regret, trailed off. He reached for a napkin and blew his nose.
Who can blame a guy for taking his wifes side over everybody elses? Bryce
asked blithely. Thats what good men do, isnt it?
Knox stilled, then sighed heavily. All right. You made your point. They were silent while Knox collected himself. Anyway, he continued, his voice still low and
hoarse, my plan to remain unattached until I turn forty isnt working out very well,
particularly since I somehow moved from the May end of the spectrum to the December end.
Bryce was surprised. What?
Knox didnt say anything for a while. I met somebody, he said low. Shes twenty-three.
Whats so special about her that youd go from Mrs. Robinson to Lolita?
You ever heard the name Justice McKinley?
Sounds familiar. He searched his mind. High-profile conservative blogger,
right? Still in law school?
That one. I was subbing for a friend for one class period and there she was, right
in front of me. And dont think that doesnt give me the willies because thats the
kind of bullshit my colleagues indulge in. Once this semester ends, I wont teach any
more classes until she graduates. After I turn forty, Ill go find her and hope like hell
shes not attached.
Have you?
Oh, hell no! She has a crush on me and no idea I have one on her. At least, he
grumbled, I hope thats what it is. Maybe itll go away in the next three years. His
forehead dropped on the table with a thunk. Make it go away.

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Bryce had no idea what to say to that. Itd been twelve years. So much had happened to both of them, so much about each of them had changed that Bryce had the
vague sensation of starting over as freshmen roomies meeting for the first time.
Midlife crisis, Knox said, his voice muffled. Has to be. How long do these
last?
Bryce made a noise of commiseration. He certainly wasnt one to scoff at a midlife crisis. He sighed. Moving along. Sebastian and OKH.
Knox sat up and shrugged. Not that much to tell. Standard hostile takeover
with the added benefit of being able to personally threaten the CEO with dismemberment of his company. Every last employee, every last nut, bolt, and washer. Sebastian has OKHs parted-out resale value calculated to within ten bucks.
He wouldnt. Hundreds of people?
No, he wouldnt, Knox drawled. But he has to think like he will, act like he
will, because he bluffs and Fen knows that.
Whats his problem with Fen?
Putting those hits out on Giselle. You fuck around with her, expect Sebastian to
hand you your ass in the most painful way possible.
That made sense. Bryce gestured for Knox to continue.
Sebastians been able to buy enough OKH stock to have a voting bloc that hes
used to shit-can major business decisions. Everybody on Wall Streets selling OKH
short, the SEC is about to cut Sebastian off, and Congress is generally pissy about
Sebastians inability to keep his mitts off people he doesnt like. The Department of
Justices antitrust division wants our heads because we pulled a fast one on them
when Sebastian took over Roger Oths company
Jep Industries?
Knox nodded. So weve got the DoJ, the SEC, Roger Oth and six other senators
on our backs. But Oths the only one with a semi-legitimate reason to whine about
Sebastian taking his company, the DoJ cant get to us legally, the SECs just following protocol, and Congress has bigger priorities.
Bryce had started to nod halfway through. That explains Fens run for the Senate.
Right. J.I.s a non-issue at this point, but where Fen goes, OKH goes and Sebastian would have to account for it. Making the DoJ our bitch, deliberately crashing
stock prices, and threatening to lay off a thousand workers in a right-to-work state
arent exactly ways to win friends and influence politicians.
Mmm hm. So whats the plan now?
Knox paused for a moment as if trying to decide how to articulate it. This threw
Sebastian for a loop. He doesnt think politically because hes never had to, and hes
got the attention span of a hyperactive five-year-old. I engineered the J.I. takeover

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because it was one giant fucking mess he wasnt equipped to deal with by himself.
Furthermore, my cousin Morgan
Ashworth? Short list for Fed Chair or Treasure Secretary?
Yes.
I didnt know you were related to him.
Very few people do. Or did. They do now because he trashed his career to get
J.I. folded into Hollander Steelworks to keep the production lines open. He was
laundering those transactions while we were in court slugging it out with Fen, because he sued us on an antitrust claim to get my cousins IP rights. We were losing.
The DoJ came in on a white charger and won it for usthen they found out what
Morgan and Hollander were doing and went apeshit.
But now the DoJ cant come after you for antitrust violations because precedents been established.
Exactly. Then Hollander refused to sell his steel to Fen, so the other mills
jacked their prices up and Fen had to pay premium prices because there is no way
hed ever buy inferior steel from China. From the outside, it looks like Sebastian
started the OKH takeover for no reason. Fens fighting back, but that fights affecting the entire manufacturing sector and spreading to Wall Street. We exhausted
every trick, favor, and ally we had to get that done, and we thought we had him cornered. So when we heard Fen decided to run for Senate Knox groaned. Shit.
The only thing we could do was try to block Fens fundraising efforts as much as
possible.
Thats weak.
Yep.
So you have no plan.
We do now. Blocking Fens access to money is the first part. Second part: A
very quiet PR campaign against Oth thats gathering steam, implicating him as the
real villain at Jep Industries, and the unions are talking Sebastian and Hollander up
as the white knights because they know exactly who saved those jobs. Oth backed
off, but Fens looking more and more like a victim and has enough political allies to
both slap Sebastian down and sponsor anti-dog-eat-dog legislation.
If hes elected.
Part three. Were putting up the Jackson County prosecutor, Kevin Oakley,
against him. Hes building his war chest right now.
Clever, but can he win?
He doesnt have to win. We just need a wall between us and Congress until after
my fortieth birthday when Sebastians restored OKH to its former glory and hes
found someone to run it. After that, Sebastian can recruit new allies to help him
fight any future anti-Taight legislation on his terms instead of trying to do it alone

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under the Senates terms. Nobody can help him while OKH is in the mix, but they
can contribute to Oakleys campaign.
Bryce chuckled. What do you mean, Taight doesnt think politically? Thats
brilliant.
Knox looked up at him sharply. He didnt come up with this. This is Giselles
brain child.
Bryce stilled, then slowly closed his eyes and sat back, taking a deep breath. He
could feel every last drop of blood in his heart and lungs head south. He didnt even
care enough to keep his reaction from Knox and he figured he deserved it when
Knox started to laugh at him.
Heh. She just gave your IQ a blow job and shes not even here. Priceless!
Bryce couldnt deny that. He took another deep breath. Okay, so you can cross
me off your list of people you need to convince to stay away from Fen.
Knox suddenly grimaced. Yeah. About that. You got crossed off the list at Fens
fundraising party. Thats why youre here wanting to know if Giselle and I are lovers.
It took him a couple of seconds before he understood, before anger exploded in
his gut. His jaw clenched. His nostrils flared.
Oh, simmer down, Knox drawled. I told you J.I. wrung us dry. It was the only
idea Sebastian could come up with on short notice. All he knew was he had to keep
your money and Fen separated. I didnt think youd take a call from me and youd be
suspicious of Sebastian calling out of the blue and we were worried youd donate to
Fen just because you were pissed off at me.
Bryce flinched. It had never even occurred to him to do that, and the fact that
Knox thought he would He sighed.
He sent Giselle in to get you the hell away from Fen and fuck your mind. She
didnt know your name and we didnt know shed met you before. Sebastian said you
followed her like a wolf in heat and a half hour later, she came flying through the
gallery looking like shed been thoroughly fucked. You ran after her, missed her, and
went back in so pissed that you sucker-punched him when he wouldnt tell you
where she went. Since she didnt shoot you, we figured there was something else
going on.
What we do know is that something happened between you, whata year
ago?you kissed her or something? And she was fidgety for months. Weve never
seen her like that before. When she came home alone from the Nelson that night,
she was a hot mess, and shes been a hot mess ever since.
Bryce thought about that, thought about how fidgety hed been after that kiss in
the parking lot, the mess hed been when hed gotten home from the gallery.
Thought about the fact that she wanted him as badly as he wanted her and had from

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the moment theyd met at Hales.


But he needed some clarification, because he wasnt about to assume anything
else.
Okay, I can buy that you needed a pity fuck at Leahs visitation and were willing
to take what you could get, but I saw you two kissing, and that was a lovers kiss.
Knox looked at him speculatively and waved his fork, not answering Bryces
question. I might have turned into Don Juan, but what happened to you? Youre
dropping the f-bomb like its the word of the day and you took Giselle on and won,
which is amazing, especially for the Bryce Kenard I knew way back when.
Bryce grunted. I dont know why you have to ask. Meryl. Then it was the fire
and my kids dying.
That cant be the only thing.
Bryce paused for a long time, then said, I dont know. I lost some memories after
the fire, dont know if it was the fire or the coma. I think something happened early
in my marriage and I think it was significant. He shrugged. Then I read Atlas
Shrugged.
Knox burst out laughing and he laughed until he was coughing and wiping tears
from his eyes. Oh, damn. Thats our family manifesto. If Id known you were going
to go that nuts, Id have shoved it in your hands in college. You were a downright
prude.
I wouldve been horrified. Attracted, but horrified. Now He shrugged.
What can I say? You were right.
Knox, still chuckling, said, Congratulations on getting in touch with your dark
side and for picking the right woman.
I didnt pick her, Bryce grumbled. She picked me and she made sure I knew it.
Now explain that kiss and dont skimp on the details.
Were only a year and a half apart, he said amiably enough, and we grew up together under siege from my mother, so we were already emotionally attached by the
time I went to live with her. We taught each other to kiss so that when The One
came along, wed know what we were doing. Then at BYU, neither of us could get
dates, so we went out and did stuff and let people think we were together because it
allowed us to pretend we werent total losers. We He stopped to think. We
survive together.
Again Bryce felt as if he were meeting someone he knew nothing about. Why
werent you dating? You did just fine in LA.
I didnt go on a mission.
That explained it. Knox had always wanted to marry a nice Mormon girl, which
was why hed gone to law school at BYU, in defiance of Fens orders to capitalize on
his degree in accounting and get an MBA at an Ivy. But nice Mormon girls were

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scarce on the ground for guys who hadnt served a mission. It was a marker, a signifier of tribal conformity, a rite of passage for Mormon men. Whered you serve your mission? It was the first thing a girl asked a guy who was interested in her. Even though
Bryce had gotten married before he went to law school, he knew the drill.
And Giselle? he asked low. Shes gorgeous.
Shes cute, Knox shot back. And back then, she was chubby and her self-esteem
was in the tank. You get it? Convenience. Desperation. Call it what you want, but sex
is not part of our dynamic. She goes to church, works out, reads stuff Im pretty sure
her bishop would frown upon, and pulls forty-hour workweeks while going to law
school. Thats her life, and there is no way in hell shes going to waste her virginity on
me.
Virginity? Bryce asked, shocked. And shes how old?
Thirty-six next month.
Bryce raised an eyebrow.
Knox stuck his tongue in his cheek. Shes not sexually nave. She cant be, with
all the shit she reads, and her taste runs to kinky. He grimaced. But for a woman
her age with raging hormones, shes holding out as well as can be expected. She is
also very shy, so whatever happened at the gallery with you was completely out of
character for her and shes a mess. Sebastians tired of it, so he told me to deal with
it.
Ive never done this sort of thing before.
Not only had Bryce not believed her, hed thrown it back in her face for daring to
say it. No wonder shed looked so horrified. So betrayed. He bowed his head and
rubbed his eyebrows as if that would alleviate some of his guilt and regret.
Are you done with the church?
The question jolted Bryce out of his thoughts. Um, maybe, he said slowly. I
think so. I dont fit. I never did. Knox sighed, but said nothing. He didnt have to;
Bryce knew his opinion and it wouldnt have changed in twenty years.
At the gallery, he began slowly, she and I What did he really want to
know? She hasnt been shy with me, he said in a rush. Far from it.
Knox shrugged. Shes been waiting for someone to sweep her off her feet, and
your timing and approach seem to have hit all her buttons just right. He waved a
hand. Congratulations.
I hope shes not expecting a righteous priesthood holder wholl take her to the
temple, Bryce muttered as if it made any difference now.
She knew you were a member before she met you. She went in thinking shed
get a nice evening of philosophical discourse with a well-educated but unthreatening
male about her age she could relate to on a cultural level. As for good Knox
shrugged helplessly. I cant say. I dont know what shes willing to compromise for a

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relationship with a man who wants her and loves her. You got to her, yeah, but she
probably doesnt know what to do with you. She may use your current attitude
about the church as an excuse to keep you away from her.
Bryce sighed wearily. He wasnt going back. Not for her, not for anybody. So be
it, he muttered to himself, then looked up at Knox. We were all at BYU at the
same time?
Knox nodded. She was a junior our first year of law school.
Why didnt I ever meet her?
Knox abruptly stopped chewing and stared at him for a moment with an expression Bryce couldnt decipher, which was rare enough that it made him uncomfortable. Huh, he said after another few seconds. Um
Bryce scowled. What arent you telling me?
You were married, he burst out. Why in hell would I introduce you to her
when I knew she would fall for you? That wouldve been cruel. Especially, he continued, when I know you well enough to know youd have fallen in love with her
too.
Bryce felt like his chest had been kicked in. All those years of agony, four dead
children
Knox glared at him. Shes exactly what youve always liked in women, hard-ass
on the outside, submissive on the inside. Brilliant, well educated. Petite, muscular,
nice rack. Not nearly as attractive as what you preferred or were used to, but Giselles
very charming when she wants to be. I may block out a lot of noise, but I know people, especially the ones I love. And oh, look, I was right. Again. Because its almost
twenty years later and shes moping around about you and youre here ready to kill
me in a jealous rage over her. You werent ready for each other then and it would
have been a train wreck. I saved her a broken heart and you a lifetime of guilt and
now that the times right, you found each other anyway without me sticking my nose
in it. Youre welcome.
Youre the only person in my life who knows me that well, Bryce grumbled.
And I hate that.
No, what you hate is that you were a coward and followed your dads instructions instead of growing a pair and doing what you knew you shouldve done. I just
happened to be the Whatd he call me? snot-nosed trust fund brat with no
respect for priesthood authority who cared enough to go to bat for you, get in his
face, and try to get you to follow your gut.
That found its mark and Bryces mouth tightened with guilt and regret, which
seemed to just keep coming and coming and coming He looked at the tablecloth
and fiddled with a fork. Im sorry, he said for the umpteenth time tonight, not
knowing how he could really make it right.

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89

Look, Know finally said. Its done, gone, kaput. Ding dong the bitch is dead.
Now, what are you going to do about Giselle?
He rubbed the bridge of his nose. I blew it, he muttered wearily. Twice.
Knox grunted. You probably shouldnt assume that. Whatever you did, which I
dont want to know, it wasnt enough for her to write you off or she wouldnt still be
moping. You want her. She wants you. I think youre perfect for each other. So if
you have an ounce of common sense and half that much courage, youll find a way to
get to her.

14: LITANIE DES SAINTS


IT WAS EARLY MORNING when Bryce got home and stepped into a very hot show-

er. He leaned on the wall, took his dick in hand, and thought about Giselle, that
night in front of the bodhisattva, what hed wanted to do to her then, what he still
wanted to do to her.
This is Giselles brain child.
His head back, hot water streamed down his face as he thought about her.
One gun in each hand. No hesitation. No remorse They had to dig the other one out of
her hip.
His breath came harder, faster.
She just gave your IQ a blow job and shes not even here.
He wanted that woman across a dinner table from him. He wanted access to her
mind, her expressive face, her gestures and the humor that radiated from her body
like her sweet perfume.
Talking to him.
Making him laugh.
Fucking his mind.
She put a gun to his head
He wanted that woman, her warriors soul, her fearlessness, her ferocity, in bed
and underneath him.
In front of him.
On her knees.
Sucking his cock.
The way hed fantasized the first time hed seen her.
He sagged against the shower wall, his head low and his chest heaving, his orgasm having left him drained.
This wasnt going to work anymore. It wasnt enough. It had never been enough
and masturbation definitely didnt qualify as virtuous.
Then again, Bryce had no reason to care.
In that entire conversation, Bryce had learned only four things that actually
meant anything to him: Giselle had very little experience with men; she had a brilliant mind; she had a dark soul like his; and

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I knew she would fall for you.


Bryce couldnt think, could barely move, and only did so enough to slide down
the wall and sit on the floor of the shower, knees bent, legs spread, arms crossed over
them, head back against the wall. He stayed in the shower until the hot water ran
out, then let the cool water sluice over him.
Shes not sexually nave. She cant be, with all the shit she reads, and her taste runs to kinky.
He took a deep, shuddering breath and released it with a groan.
He didnt care about Fen Hilliard. Didnt care about Knoxs predicament
tragic, but oh well. Didnt care about Taights war or that Bryce had nearly broken
the mans jaw. He didnt care about anything in that whole saga except Giselleand
he didnt even know why.
One overheard proposition and the glimpse of a nine-millimeter strapped around
Liliths thigh; one kiss in a parking lot; one rendezvous on an ottoman at an art gallery: Why? Why had those few moments been so profound and why did he keep
churning them over in his mind now eighteen months later?
Shes been waiting for someone to sweep her off her feet Congratulations.
Bryce snorted.
Giselle had grown up in the church and still attended regularly. She knew Bryce
was a member of the church, so since hed undressed her and propositioned her,
shed probably figured out where he was spiritually.
At least he wouldnt have to explain anything to her, nor she him. The goal of
any dating relationship in the church was marriage; one didnt waste time dating for
any other reason, especially not at their ages. Chaste, thus rapid, courtship, then
marriage in the temple for eternity. They could both recite the drill by rote, and in
that context, her inexperience didnt surprise him in the least.
But he hadnt been lying about walking away if she wanted a temple marriage.
Bryce had mentally broken his covenants time and time again throughout his mission and marriage, and since hed come home from the hospital alone, without his
children, without his face. But without his face, hed had no chance of finding a
woman fascinating enough to break them in deed. He didnt know how to charm,
how to seduce, how to do what ordinary-looking men knew how to do. Hed never
had to learn.
Shit, Bryce, have you ever had to work to get a girl you wanted to go out with you?
No. His face had done all the work for him. After hed come home from his mission and gone north to UCLA, hed had his pick of the most beautiful women in
southern California. There was no shortage of beautiful women in Kansas City, either, so the invitations hadnt stopped just because he wore a wedding band.
Monster.
He could let his wallet do the work for him now, he supposed, but that was no

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better than paying for sex and that


Well, hed thought about it, and according to Knox, an expensive call girl was a
surefire way to become damned good icing. But hed never gotten over his distaste
for the idea.
hard-ass on the outside, submissive on the inside Brilliant, well educated. Petite, muscular, nice rack.
Yes, he whispered, craving her power, her submission. Yes.
Eventually, Bryce arose, turned off the water and stepped out of the shower. He
roamed naked through his bedroom, nearly oblivious to the cold, and rummaged
around for his wallet. Then, with it in hand, he went downstairs to the kitchen. Over
the sink, he unfolded the leather and retrieved a small piece of paper that proclaimed
him a church member in good standing: His temple recommend, his pass to the Holy of Holies, the House of the Lord, the Temple of God. It had expired years ago,
but no matter.
He searched for and found an ancient box of matches. He lit one corner of the
paper and held it while he watched the flame catch and flare.

15: THE ISLAND


OF THE DAY BEFORE
May 2006
GISELLE WALKED OUT of the law building into the gorgeous May Friday after shed
finished her last final, headed for her car, breathing a sigh of relief. She clutched her
books to her chest, and as she walked, she wondered how shed survived the semester.
It was irritating enough that she had to listen to people wax poetic about Dr. Hilliards
brilliance and marvel in scandalized whispers about his reputation up in Chouteau
County for murder and corruption. Amongst Giselles study buddies, the inexplicable
hostilities between her and Dr. Dumbass had turned into a running joke. But then
Like a new word that shed learned and kept hearing in conversation, Bryce Kenards name had haunted her all semester. Snatches of overheard conversation here.
Classroom examples of clever courtroom strategy there. One professor had even
made him the subject of an assignment, which had required an unbelievable amount
of research.
Before it had come out of Sebastians mouth in November, Giselle didnt remember hearing his name at all. Now she knew almost every professional thing there
was to know about the man.
Kenard was practically a god at the UMKC School of Law, a god shed experienced intimately, a god who wanted her. A god who would take everything she let
him have but sneer at her while doing it.
With every mention of his name, with every telling of the tales of his genius, his
cunning, his ruthlessness, she felt a dagger slicing through her soul.
Giselle Come home with me. Now. Tonight.
She wished she had; shed have something of him to keep in her heart.
She was glad she hadnt; she couldnt bear any more of his contempt.
It had occurred to her (mostly only every other day) to go to his office and explain that she hadnt wanted to run away from him, to explain why she had shown
up at the gallery, apologize for lying to him, rip him apart for assuming things about
her, then walk out and never think about him again.
That wouldnt be the end of it, though. At least, not for her.

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By the time shed finished her Bryce Kenard malpractice assignment in late
March and had almost grown used to hearing his name wherever she went, her mind
started playing tricks on her. She saw him everywhere, usually at the courthouse. Just
glimpses of tall and dark, nothing solid. One day she could swear he was trying to
catch up with her to speak with her, only to be waylaid by people needing his attention. The next day she would chastise herself for being such a tween. Why did she
think he would come to her? Why did she hope? She had run away from him; no
man with an IQ point to call his own would pursue a woman after that. No woman
with a decent self-esteem would accept his attention.
She swallowed the misery collecting in her throat.
The bottom of her world had dropped out and she didnt even know why. What
was it about him that made her do crazy, risky things shed never considered doing
before? And with a stranger?
At church, she had learned not to put herself in temptations way, so she hadnt.
At karate, she had learned not to put herself in dangers way, so she hadnt.
Then a man she didnt know had hurt her feelings, so shed kissed him in retaliation and then shed put herself at the mercy of the same man, with little more information than shed had before
except that he knew the rules of engagement for faithful members of the
church as well as she did. Clearly he had left the church behind, and she couldnt say
she didnt want to follow him right out the door and into bed, whether it would reinforce his opinion of her or not.
She was so conflicted, it scared her to death.
First rule of karate, she affirmed to herself as if it would help. Dont be stupid.
She reached her car and sagged against it, her eyes closed, to relive that night: his
tongue sliding against hers, his mouth on her breasts, his lips surrounding the hole in
her shoulder, his voice in her earhot, insistent, demanding.
Not in control now, are you?
His sardonic challenges of her power. She could feel her bodys arousal at the
thought of how brazen it had been to take him up the stairs and lie under him half
naked in a public place: how wonderfully, deliciously wicked.
Shesell!
She gasped and whirled, embarrassed that whoever had said her name right could
read her mind, see her arousal. The wind whipped her hair across her face, but when
she pulled it aside, her eyes widened.
She backed up, closer to her car, even though he kept a respectful distance between them and she wasnt physically afraid of him.
Shame. For his undeserved judgment of her and that, instead of simply telling
him who she was and explaining the situation up front, shed gone ahead with the

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plan to deceive him. The femme fatale shed summoned to lure him up the stairs
wasnt her, and shed been so uncomfortable with it, so aware shed be destroying any
opportunity to have something real with him, it couldnt be anything but a big con.
She wasnt what he thought she was, but shed certainly acted like it. What else
was he supposed to think?
Giselle, I
Giselle couldnt read the expression on his face. A hodgepodge of things flitted
across his scarred features that she didnt understand.
I I, um Please go away, she blurted. It was a mistake; Im sorry.
Dont cry. Dont cry dontcry dontcrydontcry
He looked at her with that same unreadable expression and spoke carefully.
Sorry for what?
Frustrated, she let out a whoosh. Just Everything, okay? Im sorry I yelled at
you, sorry I put a gun to your head, sorry I led you up the stairs and gave you the
wrong idea about me.
What idea do I have?
You think Im a slut.
She gritted her teeth to keep the tears at bay and snapped, Didnt anybody ever
tell you it was rude to answer a question with a question? She turned and opened
the door, threw her books and her purse across to the passenger seat, and dropped
behind the steering wheel.
Giselle, please wait.
I cant, she answered as she started her car and put it in reverse, though she
didnt lift her foot off the clutch enough to actually move. What was she waiting for?
Please have lunch with me. Talk with me. Thats all. Please.
And have him yell at her in the middle of a restaurant? No thanks.
I cant, she said again, too ashamed now to even look at him. I I have plans.
After that, he caught her when he saw her; not often, usually at the courthouse
and apparently only when he had a free moment. He knew where she worked, but
now she was interning during business hours. Unless he had her surveilled, he
wouldnt know where else to find her or when.
Giselle, please, he said every time. One meal, please. I just want to talk. Thats
all. He didnt bother to hide the pleading in his voice and it broke her heart, made
her breathless at what she had done to a god.
To herself.
In late June, he found her at the library, standing in the fiction stacks, perusing
Umberto Eco. Incredibly intimidated, achingly aroused, still embarrassed and hurting more than she thought possible, she let her anger take over and snapped, Stalking me?

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His nostrils flared and his eyes blazed. Without saying a word, he turned on a
heel and left.
She stepped out into the aisle to watch him walk away, anger in every long step,
in his back, in the shake of his head, in the violent punch of the elevator button. He
looked back at her then and glared at her until the elevator arrived, his mouth tight,
his jaw clenched, his gaze hard.
Ducking back into the stacks, she put her forehead down on the bookshelf to cry.

16: RECOVERING BITCH


August 2006
GOOD LUCK, SAID Miss Logans attorney as he squeezed her upper arm lightly,

then disappeared through a set of courtroom doors to give her a moment to prepare.
She glanced in a mirror that complemented the dcor of the quaint midnineteenth century American county courthouse, and sighed at her reflection. Taken
as a whole, she was entirely underwhelming. Taken in parts, she was even less interesting than that.
Her hair: Dirty-dishwater blonde in a tight French twist.
Her eyes: Brown.
Her face: Plain, though perhaps sporting a little too much makeup.
Her body: Tall, big boned, nearly five feet eleven inches barefoot. She was decidedly less than svelte. Her DD breasts were nicely shaped, but they were still too
large. Her belly protruded enough to make her look about six weeks pregnant, but all
her attempts at flattening it failed. Her hips matched her breasts.
Her outfit was utterly ridiculous. She was no Audrey Hepburn or Jackie O., and
she didnt carry classic Chanel well at all. The color, dusty pink, would have washed
her out but for her makeup. Sensible low black pumps did nothing for her feet or
calves.
She had crafted every detail of what she saw in the mirror, so her sudden melancholy over it irked her. What she looked like at home, in private, shopping, traveling,
attending the occasional new artist debut or gallery openingwell. She did the best
she could with what she had, which, honestly, wasnt much.
As she intended, the world took her at face value. She relied on her talent and
her comportment to carry her through her workday and to garner the respect she
required to do business. Once she got into character each morning, she could rely on
her persona to keep her on the cutting edge of her industry.
She had done this for twelve years. She had the act down cold.
Now she was loitering in the foyer of the Chouteau County courthouse waiting
to hear her fate, as decided by the Chouteau County prosecutor.
She turned and gracefully sat on a bench by the courtroom doors, as ladylike as
ever. She stared across the foyer to the grand walnut staircase, lost in her thoughts.

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Miss Logan?
She turned, startled, and saw the almost ridiculously young underling sent to
fetch her. The time had come. She arose from the bench. Slow. Easy. As if she were
the most gracious hostess of the most magnificent mansion on Ward Parkway.
She stepped through the door he held open for her and murmured, Thank you,
in her perfectly modulated tone. Thank God, no trembles and no squeaks, though her
lifes work hung in the balance.
Her heart was racing. Her throat was parched. Her stomach was queasy with
fear as she took measured steps through the almost-empty courtroom toward the
prosecutor and the judge.
Calm, poised, gracious as always, she stood at the defense table by her chair, but
she did not sit. It finally occurred to her attorney, who should have figured this out
by now, to arise and pull it out for her. She nodded her thanks as she sat.
It never failed to surprise men when she refused to pull out her own chair. Most
had forgotten what a real lady was, if they ever knew in the first place, the etiquette
lost to history. She used that to her advantage, without fail and without mercy.
Thank you for joining us, Miss Logan, Judge Wilson began. Lets recap for the
court reporter, shall we?
No, lets not.
He looked down at the papers in front of him.
You are the founder and CEO of Human Resource Prerogatives, an outsourcing payroll and employee benefits administration company.
In May of 1999, you hired David Webster to be the chief financial officer. You
and he never had any relationship other than work until you were in New York on a
business trip on September 11, 2001. You witnessed the planes crashing into the
World Trade Center, and under the stress of that, you married him. During your
marriage, you were raped and beaten, but his behavior at home was so at odds with
his behavior at work you became suspicious of him.
He should have won an Oscar.
Then you realized he had been embezzling from you his entire tenure at your
company. You felt the only way you could prove it was to stay in the marriage.
Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.
Judge Wilson looked over his spectacles at her. You shouldve called the police.
Pigs. Too stupid to understand the scheme.
He had access to your cash reserves and set up offshore accounts to receive the
transfer of your employees IRA funds, which you found out only an hour before all
the transactions were to go through. You hacked into your own computer system
from a remote location and killed the pension transactions, but he did manage to
take your reserves and left your company deeply in debt.

MORIAH JOVAN

99

He paused and still she remained silent, impassive.


You realize, of course, any other prosecutor in the metro wouldve charged you
as well.
Your Honor, Knox Hilliard said with a bit of impatience, she doesnt need to
be sent to her room to think about what she did or didnt do.
The judge glared at the prosecutor. One more crack like that and Ill send you to
your room to think about a contempt citation.
Hilliards cough didnt quite disguise his laugh.
Miss Logan, Mr. Hilliard has a proposition I hope youll be agreeable to.
She had no choice and the implication that she did was insulting, but this proposal was coming from a man shed learned to trust. During the three years of investigation into Davids embezzlement schemes, hours of testimony prep, and a yearlong trial, the prosecutor had never treated her with anything but genuine courtesy, if
not downright compassion. She counted him a friend, and she didnt have any of
those.
Eilis, he addressed her then, respectfully and, as always, pronouncing her name
correctly: eye-lish. He had used it from the very first, never asking her her preference.
Such behavior by any other man would have warranted a cold, ladylike set-down, but
not for a man significant to her in ways he would never know. After the stress of her
four-year journey with him, his saying her name had become a comfort to her.
Until today.
This was the tone one took to fire an employee as gently as possible.
I would like to propose putting HR Prerogatives in receivership.
Receivership! No, she didnt like being herded into this, but it might give her
some protection from her enemies, depending on whom he appointed as her trustee.
That was a double-edged sword.
He went on. I think you know me well enough by now to know I am not out to
punish or destroy you. That was reassuring. Should you agree to receivership, your
appointed trustee will be Sebastian Taight.
She kept her composurebut she fought for it. Her attorney nodded sagely.
King Midas. An eccentric, obscure, unpredictable venture capitalist, corporate
raider, and institutional hammer.
Sebastian Taight in charge of her company frightened her. Knoxs motives for
choosing his enemy to restructure her company terrified her. Did this mean Knox
had found out about her connection to OKH Enterprises and really did want to
punish her?
Or did it mean Knox and Taight were not at war? She didnt know how that
could be, considering Taight was in the process of taking Knoxs inheritance away
from him.

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But did it matter? The familiar sensation of abandonment trickled through her
chest, because the only friend she had in the world had just turned into her enemy.
No, Knox wasnt her friend. He had never been her friend and she shouldnt
have given in to the illusion that he was just because shed allowed herself to think she
needed one.
She spoke finally. Is that the best offer I can expect?
The prosecutor nodded solemnly. Yes.
The judge broke into her silence and said, not unkindly, Mr. Taight has never
before agreed to be the trustee for a receivership and Id take it if I were you. You
couldnt be in better hands.
Still silent, Eilis studied the worn tabletop. She finally nodded because she had
no choice.
That would be acceptable. Thank you.

17: BRASS IN POCKET


KING MIDAS WALKED in like a medieval marauder, his stride long and arrogant. He

had nothing with him: no legal pad, no briefcase, no laptop, no manpurse. With every step, he looked around, taking inventory of her company as if it were about to become his.
She hated him for that.
Eilis had never met him, never seen him. No one, woman or man, had ever told her
how tall, lean, and achingly, heart-stoppingly handsome he was. Because shed only heard
the horror stories, she had visualized him as an aged Quasimodo with a god complex.
His slightly salted raven hair gleamed and his ice blue eyes shimmered so light
against his hair and his suit, she could see them from a distance. He was classic black
Irish and made her immediately, unexpectedly, shockingly breathless on first sight.
She hated herself for that.
She still had no idea what to expect, but corralled as she was by the Chouteau
County prosecutor, the Midwests most notorious financial guru, and the CEO of
OKH Enterprises, it didnt matter.
The news reports of the OKH Proviso Instrument were vague enough that no
one knew quite how, other than being related, the three players were allied. Monday,
she could have drawn no conclusions other than the one everyone drew: Sebastian
Taight, Fen Hilliard, and Knox Hilliard were in a three-way war to determine whod
own OKH Enterprises on Knoxs fortieth birthday. Now, after three days of googling, library research, making spreadsheets, and building flow charts to see if she
could make a connection, she didnt know what to think.
She didnt want to hate King Midas in the abstract or otherwise. She had observed the OKH debacle silently from afar ever since the man had begun his hostile
takeover. Knoxs announcement of his engagement to Leah Wincott meant nothing
because she was significantly older than Knox and had no children.
But then it came out that Leah did have a child and everyone who had a vested
interest in Knox inheriting breathed a sigh of relief. Taights takeover became pointless, the stock price went back up, and the manufacturing sector leveled out. The
brides murderon her wedding day, yet!shocked the financial and manufacturing
community to its core. The Street rumbled and cracked with theories as to who was

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THE PROVISO

behind her murder. Knox had become irrelevant again, collateral damage unless he
could scrounge up a woman brave or desperate enough to take those odds, especially
with a child in the mix.
So Taights war on Fen had become important to Eilis. She had needed him to take
OKH away from Fen. Now Well, now she was also at Taights mercy. The irony
was too rich to stomach.
Scylla, meet Charybdis.
From where she stood behind the all-glass walls of her mezzanine office suite,
she could look down into the labyrinth of cubicles filled with people whose livelihoods depended on her. For now.
Taight walked down the main aisle alone and unnoticed, though how such a man
could go unnoticed was beyond her. If he looked up, he would see her there, but he
didnt. His initial inspection over with, he stared straight ahead, his long-legged gait
eating up the yards between them as if he knew exactly where he was going.
He disappeared underneath her feet, and it wasnt long before she heard him
coming up the stairs. She watched his reflection in the glass as he passed through the
floors lobby, the reception area, into her office suite, and toward her. He stopped
beside her, slid his hands in his pockets, and looked down at the patchwork of cubicles without speaking. She was far too aware of his presence, his fragrance, his
height, for her peace of mind.
Youre not a good gambler, he said after a while, immediately irritating her.
I built this company, she asked, her voice, as always, perfectly modulated. How
do you suppose I did that?
And you lost it. How do you think you did that?
I made one bad hiring decision, she answered calmly, based on a fraudulent
identity and references. Anybody could have made that mistake. Senator Oth did.
Roger Oth, he returned, is an idiot and Jep Industries isnt a company whose
raison dtre is hiring the right people. Your mistake is inexcusable.
Yet I found my snake, got him out, and saved my company.
And here I am, to finish the job for you.
I could have done it myself had Mr. Hilliard given me a chance.
Mmm hm.
Of course he didnt believe her. Why would he? He got called into companies all
the time whose CEOs thought they could dig themselves out of their holes. But Eilis
had pulled herself most of the way out and what remained to be done was the easy
stuff, albeit long and tedious. There was no reason for this receivership, so she found
herself even more angry with Knox and feeling even more abandoned. Didnt he
know her better than that?
No, Eilis was an excellent gambler.

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When backed into an emotional corner, however, she invariably zigged when she
should have zagged.
Believe it or not, Knox did you a favor, Taight added, as if for good measure.
Im quite sure you would both like to think that.
He slid a glance at her. I dont have to do this, Mrs. Webster. I can find someone else to do it if youd like.
Would it make any difference? she asked coolly.
You know better than that.
Eilis said nothing. She was struggling to keep her faade intact because her Inner
Bitch was knocking on her skull, wanting attention.
Eilis had begun her career as hard and ruthlessly as shed gone through her
childhood and adolescence, but as her reputation grew, her enemies used it to sabotage her business deals. Forced to abandon that approach, she had concocted Miss
Logan, splendidly, flawlessly ladylike.
She hated it, but it worked exponentially better than she could have ever
dreamed. The intimidation and discomfort men felt when she forced them to pay
her homage as a lady never went away and its element of surprise was ever present.
Oh, yes, it was a power play of immense proportions, but it had taken a heavy
toll on her over the years, and now Eilis was about to hit the wall. That was always
when her mask started slipping, when her Inner Bitch came up for air. Shed been
getting louder and louder over the last couple of years, trying to shout over the Chanel and pancake makeup and impeccable manners.
As hammers went, King Midas was one of the best in the country. If he had no
ulterior motive, he would do a good job with fairness and honesty. If his track record
held, she would have her company back sooner than the three years the receivership
was slated to run, unless he chose to buy her out. He could do anything he wanted
with her as long as the bills got paid.
Mrs. Webster
I dont use that name, she murmured. Miss Logan, if you please.
Miss Logan. He complied so easily. Why did that irritate her? Shall we get
started?
MISS LOGANS CHILLINESS annoyed the hell out of Sebastian, but he hadnt ex-

pected anything less. Being considered a villain on first sight was so common as to be
a clich. The frigid beginning of this relationship was mild compared to the rest, and
she had more reason than anyone else in the world to hate him. It wasnt as if she had
called him to come rescue her, and she was right about Senator Oth falling prey to
his CFO.

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THE PROVISO

Of course, Oth hadnt married his CFO, either.


He had walked in irritated about being here. Now he was unreasonably aggravated because hed taken one look at the CEO and wanted to drag her off to bed.
Her dress and makeup were almost a caricature, but he was gifted at seeing
through costumes. She couldnt hide that aristocratically sculpted face, the nose that
had been badly broken and never set straight, high cheekbones, fine forehead, and
strong but not masculine jaw. Her mouth was full, though she wore a color of lipstick designed to hide that fact. She was wearing brown contact lenseswhy?and
there was something under all that foundation that looked like a thin scar running
from eyebrow to jaw.
And her body The badly fitting Chanel emphasized her breasts and hips, but
in a way she intended to be unflattering. Her legs were long and strong, her sensible
low-heeled pumps also designed to show them at their worst. Sebastian didnt fall for
optical illusions, and he could see exactly what was under her costume. She was tall
and lush, a fertility goddess, a Viking queen.
She was perfect.
Damn Knox for badgering him into being this womans trustee, and damn that
judge for being such a good friend to Knox that hed ordered it. In Sebastians opinion, his relationship to Knox made this whole thing one big fat conflict of interest,
and if he thought he had a chance with Miss Logan any other way, hed tell Knox to
find someone else.
If it makes you feel any better, he heard himself saying as, together, they moved
away from the glass toward her private office, I dont want to do this any more than
you want it done. I do have better things to do with my time than rescue a company
that doesnt interest me.
I see.
Stifling a sigh, he went through her office to her desk, sat in her chair, in front of
her computer, to gain access to her companys records. He did this every time he went
into a company, to establish who was in charge without having to say a word.
He was surprised when she spoke again, her voice still measured and perfect. Im
curious, Mr. Taight. If this is such a burden to you, why did you accept?
He grunted. Knox flexed his muscles.
She showed no emotion at that and, unsatisfied that she hadnt cracked, he started clicking through her computer files. He made note of spreadsheets and databases,
mentally mapping out matrices and indices to begin his work, all too aware she stood
only two feet from him, watching. Silent, relaxed. With dignity. Smelling of a generic
soap.
Hed never before been a trustee for a company in receivership, but he had
hauled enough companies out of bankruptcy by a breath to know what he needed to

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do and what to look for without preparation.


Eilis Logans company was very well positioned for salvation. It surprised him
that Knox hadnt talked to her before putting her in receivership and Sebastian was
curious as to why. He probably had other, more sinister ulterior motives, which he
would find out eventually because Knox never did things the easy way.
Sebastian happened across a file of digitized documents that hadnt been in the
paperwork hed been given and saw at least one reason why Knox had told him to do
this. He sent a text: FOUND THE ART. THX.
Mr. Taight
Sebastian, please.
Mr. Taight, she went on in that passionless, ladylike moderation that grated on
his nerves. It appears you wont need me here while you do your work, in which
case, I would like to take a vacation.
Sebastian stilled and looked up at her, seizing the opportunity to get a good eyeful. Unlike all the women Sebastian had found attractive enough to approach at society or business functions, Eilis Logan wasnt afraid of him. She looked him straight
in the eye, unintimidated by his cold detachment.
She hadnt requested a vacation. Shed told him to go fuck himself.
He would rather she fuck him, but he had learned through the years that he
couldnt seduce any woman when he was thinking in dollar signs. Unless a woman
was thoroughly entranced by a discussion of the inflation-proof bond, nothing would
happen while he was in a suit.
Hed tried that. It had gone very badlyseveral times.
With every minute that ticked by, his odds of getting a date with Miss Logan decreased. And hed only been here fifteen minutes.
I would prefer you stay involved in the process, Miss Logan, he said slowly, not
really sure how to deal with the request itself, because no one hed worked with had
ever made such an outrageous one before. Your employees will need you here to give
them confidence and you might learn something you could use in the future. Ill also
need your input and assistance with things I cant know.
I have a cell phone, she said levelly.
He didnt know if that was a bluff or not, which irritated him further. Okay, he
said flatly, if thats how you want to play it, the answers no. Im not going to let you
walk off the field just because Im the one quarterbacking now.
Mr. Taight, she said patiently, folding her hands in front of her as if she were a
kindergarten teacher and he was five, Ive been kicked off the team. The team I own.
And replaced by ringers. Ringers I dont need.
He stared at her, his aggravation turning to anger. This was not normal. Whether
they liked it or not, his clients listened to him because theyd hired him to tell them

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what to do. Eilis had a point.


No, he snapped. If this is going to be a problem for you, take it up with Knox.
And dont even think about calling in sick.
That got a reaction. Her nostrils flared a tad and her jaw clenched only the
slightest bit. Well, in for a penny, in for a pound.
One of the things Im going to do, he continued in a heartless tone that should
tell her his patience had run out, is sell off every piece of art this corporation owns.
Im requesting, nicely, that you hand them over so that I can start building your cash
reserves. Your collection is worth tens of millions of dollars, which will be a good
head start.
Her silent stoicism told him everything he needed to know. She had expected
this; she had probably even thought of doing that herself and hadnt been able to
bring herself to. The vacation was probably to avoid watching her art sold out from
under her.
If you had done that six months ago, I wouldnt be here, he said, now thoroughly pissed off that she hadnt blinked an eye. Taunting a client was uncharacteristic for him and he didnt like the fact that he wanted to get a reaction from her so
badly that he was willing to shove her face in it. Itd be nice if you coughed up your
personal art collection, too.
He saw a split-second flash of heartbreak in her face that must have been extreme to be seen through her mask of makeup. She turned away. Finally, she said,
May I keep one of the Ford pieces? Its not on the books.
Does the corporation own it?
Yes.
For reasons he didnt understand, instead of the same no hed given her about a
vacation, he asked, Which one is it?
Morning in Bed.
He almost choked. You own Morning in Bed?
Yes.
How long have you had it?
I bought it three days after its debut.
Sebastian took a shuddering breath and looked away, rubbing his mouth and
chin, thinking. He knew how much it had sold for and he had a pretty good idea
how much it would fetch now.
But that painting What were the odds?
He hesitated. Let me think about it. In the meantime, I would like you to go to
the Ford exhibit with me tomorrow evening so that you can see for yourself the value
of letting them all go.
Thank you, she said smoothly, but I cant. I have other plans.

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107

Anger and adrenalin shot through Sebastian so fast he was nauseated. A woman
who owned nine Ford paintings, including the most notorious one, would not miss
the unveiling of a new one in her own city. It wasnt the first time a woman had lied to
him to refuse an invitation, but it had always been because she was afraid of him.
Unnerved by him. Unable to distinguish sinister from shy. Hed finally stopped asking because it was so discouraging.
Eilis hadnt declined. Shed said, May your ass get reamed by a thousand barbed penises
without lube.
He inclined his head. As you wish.

18: CLINICAL,
INTELLECTUAL, CYNICAL
GISELLE SAT ON A picnic table by Brush Creek just off campus, feeding the ducks,

trying to meditate. She hadnt been back to the bodhisattva to meditate since Fens
fundraising party. Bryce Kenard had seeped into every cell of her brain, every minute
of her life, every corner of her spaces.
She couldnt take it anymore.
Sebastian was mad at her and accused her of moping around the house like an
emo sixteen-year-old girl for the last seven months.
Knox was furious because she had successfully avoided him for weeks, not returning his texts, emails, phone calls, or answering his knocks on her bedroom door
(which she kept locked so he couldnt barge in). Fortunately, he didnt have any classes to teach, he had a heavy case load, and he wouldnt dare show up at her work.
She hadnt returned her mothers phone calls or emails in two weeks and Lilly
had resorted to hounding both Sebastian and Knox as to Giselles state of mind,
which made them both even madder.
She hadnt shown up at any of her extended familys frequent functions because
she couldnt take Fen on any level after hed called her to yell at her for going to his
party armed.
All she wanted was to be left alone with no one jabbering in her ears, questioning
her moods, making demands, lecturing her on propriety, threatening her life and
livelihood and grades, shaming her for running a con, or sneering at her.
She knew Kenards office address: downtown, in a prestigious skyscraper convenient to the Jackson County Courthouse. She still had no idea what to do with it.
Boy, you just dont know a good thing when it steps right in front of you, do you?
Go away, she muttered, irritated because Knox had to have put an APB out on
her to find her. Dont you have fathers and wives to avenge, women to marry, and
children to sire?
Youre a hot mess. Move over.
She did and he climbed up onto the table beside her.
He leaned in to kiss her and she leaned away from him. No more. Im done with this.
Done with what?

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109

Done with you and the Shakespearean tragedy that is your life. Done with
OKH. I want No, I need a resolution.
He handed her a bottle of cold water, which she took. Im sorry, he said.
I know, she replied with a sigh. Me too.
He surprised her by kissing her anyway. She closed her eyes and found herself
comparing him unfavorably to Bryce Kenard, so that was yet another thing that had
been taken from her.
Cut it out, she grumbled, shoving him away from her. What if somebody saw us?
Itd just give your reputation another layer of mystique.
Pffftt. Dr. Hilliard is pissing me off.
Dr. Cox yanks my chain plenty, too.
She sighed. You know when to leave me alone, so Im guessing Sebastian told
you to do something.
Nope. Your mom dropped by last night to interrogate me. She thinks I know all
your little hiding places.
Well, you dont.
Youre right about that. Ive been to every shoe store in town.
She cracked a reluctant smile.
Lets talk about Bryce Kenard.
Lets not.
He waited.
He waited a long time.
I dont know what to do! she finally burst out. He, um At the gallery, he
She stopped. Took a deep breath. He wanted He asked me to go home with him
and Um, and I wanted to, but I was there to trick him. I mean, I couldnt Not
on a lie.
Is that what this is about?
That and the fact that he thinks Im a slut, she said in a rush. Im mortified.
Its not about the church?
She sneered at him. If it were, I wouldnt have considered going home with him,
would I?
He said nothing for a moment. Then, So tell him the truth. Throw yourself on
his mercy. Youve got nothing to lose.
Like I want to invite someone to flog me?
Thats a dodge. He intimidates you and you dont like it.
Oh, fuck you! she screeched, immediately pissed off. You did hear the part
where he thinks a thirty-six-year-old virgin is a slut, right? I spend all these years
keeping myself in check and for what?! I do have some pride.
Giselle

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Shut up! I am the only one of us with no investment in OKH, but I am the one
sacrificing my life for your inheritance. No, Im not dead, but years of my life are gone
with nothing to show for it. I get my lifes work stolen from me, I almost die in a fire, I
go bankrupt, I end up with a string of shitty jobs when I have a PhD and had my
own business I cant rebuild because your stepfather just couldn't resist making it look
like arson, I land back in school for a law degree I dont want, I get shot and arrested
for homicide, Im fucking broke! and Sebastian still makes me pay rent, and I finally
meet a guy I might have been able to have a relationship with and he all but calls me
a whore for reasons I dont know so he feels free to proposition me.
And neither of you gives a shit! You just tell me what to do, I do it, and then
what? My life falls apart and you dont even notice. Intimidated and I dont like it?
Fuck you! I approached Kenard. I kissed him first. Which is probably why he thinks
Im a slut. So fuck you again! I better get a good chunk of OKHs cash reservesand a
fucking job!on your birthday because Ive earned it. If Im going to be a whore, Im
going to be a very expensive one.
He grimaced. Yeah, okay, I see your point. Ill pay your rent.
And while youre at it! Pay my bookstore debt and my student loans and put me
through school, get my bankruptcy discharged, and find an insurance company
wholl cover me for any retail establishment! Im also going to give Sebastian an invoice for consulting fees, and you better make him pay it!
Okay.
That surprised her, but shed take it and be grateful. That was a lot of money, but
they could afford it and they owed her.
Cant promise anything on coverage, though.
Oh! she barked, now remembering her biggest beef with Knox personally. Also! Change my grades.
I cant do that, he said tightly.
Wont. You have damaged my GPA for no reason other than to poke at me.
That is not true and you know it, he snapped back. You arent working up to
your capabilities. Ive told you that before.
That pissed her off even more. I dont give a shit about my capabilities! Unlike
everybody else, law school is for me a fucking trade school! It is tedious and timeconsuming and a pain in my ass, but it is not difficult! I want a fucking job that does not
involve transcription, minimum wage retail, teaching English at a shit-paying junior
college or with awesome hazard pay in the Kansas City School District, or becoming
a plumber!
His jaw tightened and his nostrils flared. You wont even need a job after I pay
your bills and Sebastian pays your invoice, which, I assume, will be six figures.
Seven! But thats totally irrelevant. I am not asking you for special favors. Im

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demanding you give me what I earned, which you should have done in the first place.
If I have to sue you, I will. Discovery will be a barrel of laughs, wont it?
His mouth tightened. Fine, he muttered. Is that all?
For now. Dont expect me to thank you. She pulled her tank top up to mop her
now-wet face on the hem, and sniffled. She took the handkerchief Knox offered her
and blew her nose.
Why didnt you want me to go to the Nelson that night? she muttered as she
cleaned herself up.
Kenards your romance-novel hero come to life, he said promptly, and I suspected youd fall for him, but under those circumstances, itd be a big train wreck.
And I was right. But I also thought youd come to me before it got this far.
Sebastian said you two were on the outs and you dont meddle under any circumstances, so I didnt bother.
Knox grunted. You want me to, uh ?
No, she muttered. I dont know. Maybe. Hes been trying to catch me since
March, asks me to lunch, but I finally told him to fuck off. That was a little over a
month ago.
Aaaand youre still moping after successfully shooting him down.
She didnt say anything.
Look, Giselle, you generally do your own dirty work, so Ill stay out of it. But all
you really need is one long conversation, which it sounds like hes been trying to
make happen. Grovel for not telling him up front what Sebastian wanted, although I
dont think you have anything to apologize for, or hand him his head for being an ass
or both or give him sad puppy-dog eyes across a crowded courtroom, but at least
start the conversation. If nothing else, youll get closure.
She hiccupped, took a deep breath, released it long and slow, sniffled and hiccupped again.
In the silence that fell, he took some of her cracked corn to throw to the ducks.
They both did that for a long time, then he muttered, I need to ask you something.
That day in class, the day I subbed for Grady. With Justice.
Disoriented by the abrupt change of topic, it took Giselle a little bit to shift mental gears. I thought you didnt want to discuss her?
I do now.
She waited.
She waited a long time.
On the scale of evil, he mused, where is it that I want a second chance with
her, when meeting her, being that affected by her, is tainted because I was with another woman at the time? Should I just let it go?
She wondered how long it would take him to ask her this. You want me to tell

112

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you it wasnt cheating on Leah and you should get a mulligan.


Yeah. Thats the only thing I regret about that day. I went home feeling like the
worst bastard who ever lived. I could barely look at Leah, I was so ashamed.
And what happened in that month between Justice and the wedding?
He shrugged. Lavished attention on Leah, listened to her Bridezilla rants
She really had been. Giselle thought it was adorable. did what she told me to do.
So I was fine by the wedding. But then she died and I keep going back to that moment and wondering if taking the chance I wasnt going to take the first time is
She waited for him to finish the thought, but after a while, she said, You have to
figure out if its really her or if shes just the fish that got away. I have one of those.
Yeah?
She told him about the guy at BYU, the one shed seen in the doorway of his
house. Does that make me bad, still carrying a married man around when Im in
love with someone else?
Again he was silent. Then, Huh. Thats interesting. Why didnt you ever tell
me that?
Same reason it took you two years to talk to me about this. I buried myself in
school and work, but when I was quiet, Id fantasize about the wife kicking the bucket and having a rom-com meet-cute with him, and of course, I would be looking fabulous when that happened. But after a while, I forgot about it. She paused. What
bugs me is that it resurfaced when I met Bryce. Why now?
What if the wife had kicked the bucket and you met him now, in spite of Bryce?
Bryce is alive. Leah isnt. Lots of men marry very soon after their wives die.
Sometimes they rediscover a high school sweetheart. Men dont do well without a
woman in his life, and you certainly never have, wanting to snuggle up with me when
youre between women, which is another shitty thing you do. Between you and Sebastian, Im about ready to go move in with Morgan.
He had the grace to look ashamed. Are we really that bad?
Yeah, she drawled. Youre both on my shit list.
He sighed heavily. Im sorry.
They were silent for a while, listening to the hum of peoples conversations, the
buzz of traffic, the flow of water down Brush Creek, the rustle of the leaves.
Did you bail on OKH because of Justice? she asked quietly.
No. He shrugged indifferently. I realized at Leahs funeral, if I really wanted it,
Id have married her straight out of the gate, worked Rachel out of any claim on
OKH, and none of this would ever have happened, including your bookstore fire.
Which is why Im going to pay all your bills. He paused, then muttered, Wish I
could bring Leah back that easily.
Giselle started when a duck nipped at her toes. Worse than toddlers, she

MORIAH JOVAN

113

muttered and threw some more corn. And that adds to your guilt. When he
didnt reply, she said, Well, I see your point about OKH. And I agree with it. But
this really is your fight and Sebastian has a right to resent that you gave up and left
him holding the bag. You loved Leah. Still do, I think?
He nodded.
Shes been gone for two years now and youve respected her memory. What you
want is no different from any other widower who loops around to a former love. In
this case, you already know theres an available woman out there whos head over
heels in love with you.
He scoffed. She thinks shes in love with me. Shes not old enough to know what
she wants or what love is.
That got Giselles back up, considering her own situation. I dont think thats
fair. If I were her, Id want to know that the man I wanted actually wanted me too. I
wouldnt want to live my life wondering and dreaming and wishing. I knew that man
wanted me. Is it awful? Yes. But I do have the chance with Bryce. The balls in my
court. My decision. She cant make that decision with you, so seek her out and tell
her how you feel, lay it all out for her, and let her decide whether she wants to be
with you or not. You dont have to marry her or have a child. You just have to see if
itd work and if it does, wait until after your birthday to get married.
No, you dont get it. I cant tell her the problem. Hi, will you go out with me? If
we get together, my uncle will try to kill you. But Im really good in bed so itll be
worth it. Giselle chuckled. Shed agree on the spot, with some romantic notion
that love can conquer all, and it wouldnt matter if we got married or not because, as
you should know by now, Fen makes preemptive strikes. That was a good point. I
just need to keep her attention for the next two and a half years.
The way youre doing it right now isnt going to work that long.
He cast her a worried glance. You dont think?
No, especially if she runs into somebody who takes her in hand, because the
second the world finds out shes as gorgeous as she is entertaining, shell be on Fox
News. New York. Bright lights. Huge audience. Big salary. Lots of men just as smart
and handsome as you. Younger. Politically simpatico. Wining and dining. She could
decide Dr. Hilliards a lost cause and move on while youre walking your high wire.
Shit, he whispered, rubbing his mouth.
Knox, shes got a lot of growing up to do. She didnt get it in college. Shes not
going to get it in law school. Shes not shy at all, but she doesnt have enough life experience to cop an attitude and plow her way through being socially ostracized. Shes
all wit, no spine, but she thinks she wants to be a prosecutor instead of writing amicus briefs at a chichi think tank at ten times what the county pays. So give her what
she wants. Recruit her.

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THE PROVISO

Dont have to. Her CV is on my desk.


She came to you? Giselle gasped, shocked. He nodded morosely. Already?
She got permission to take the bar exam early. Im debating whether to have Eric
interview her because hell send her packing, which will give me plausible deniability.
It took a lot to impress Giselle. That did. Theres only one place she could get a
backbone in a matter of weeks instead of years, only one person who could turn her
into the badass she wants to be. Thing is, you have to keep your hands and thoughts
to yourself. You get to see her every day for two years. She gets her mind fucked the
way she likes. You can keep tabs on her dating and adjust your strategy. Then, on
your fortieth birthday, you can ask her if she wants to have cake and ice cream with
you. Win-win.
No, he muttered. My world would crush her. I would crush her.
Youre afraid that once she sees you in your natural habitat she wont look at
you the same way she did that day and you dont want to watch her get disillusioned
with you.
I find it inconvenient that you can read my mind.
That made Giselle laugh. Master of the overstated understatement.
He flashed her a grin. Did you like that?
You dumbass, she said and pushed him off the table.
That made him laugh in turn and he hopped back up on the table. He sobered then.
I just want to see her again, let her go, and I can go find her when this is all over with.
And if you meet somebody else?
Ive got the exact same problem, so why bother? Im fucked until my fortieth
birthday. Or not fucked, which is the problem.
Giselle sighed. Oh, Fen. You assclown.
Mmm hm. I agree she needs to spend some time in the trenches, but not in my
office. I dont want her anywhere near me before my birthday.
That is a helluva pickle, she said slowly, looking off into the distance and
throwing more corn at her demanding duck. Well, she concluded without concluding anything at all, I can appreciate that you want to take the high road, so Ill not
argue with you about it.
Giselle, do you know why Im so good at what I do?
Not really, no. I dont think of you that way.
Huh. Well, Ill tell you why. Its my memory. So this is what I have to say to
you: If it were me, Id want to know that the man I wanted actually wanted me, too.
I wouldnt want to live my life wondering and dreaming and wishing. I do have the
chance. The balls in my court. My decision.
Bastard, she grumbled.
Coward.

19: FENEMIES
GISELLE LAY AWAKE all night with Knoxs parting shot ringing in her ears.

Coward.
Her situation and his werent perfectly analogous, but he wasnt wrong. An hour
after she left the park, he showed up at her and Sebastians house with barbecue as a
peace offering. Then he promptly tattled on her to Sebastian, who said, If Kenard
hadnt been interested in talking to you, hed have let you know. If he hadnt wanted
you, he wouldnt have followed you. If he only wanted to fuck you, he wouldnt be
prostrating himself to get you to listen to him.
Knox agreed.
Thats a dodge. He intimidates you and you dont like it.
Kenard was her romance-novel hero come to life and yes, that intimidated her,
but it wasnt why she was keeping the man at bay. She didnt want to be thought of
or treated like a liar or a whore, and she wasnt going to give him the opportunity to
accuse her of things that werent true. What about that made her a coward?
Youre afraid of getting your feelings hurt, Sebastian answered her. Suck it up
and find out what he has to say. You can always walk away if he starts being an asshole. But dont talk to him before you get the monkey off your back. He doesnt need
to be dragged into OKH.
Knox agreed with that, too, and since they so rarely agreed on anything, she supposed she should take their advice.
As she lay there in the dark, she realized Sebastian was right about how badly
Kenard wanted to talk to her, and from what shed read, he wasnt a man to beg. She
could be wrong about what he wanted to talk about.
I wouldnt want to live my life wondering and dreaming and wishing.
She called in sick the next morning, dressed carefully, and drove straight to
OKH. She ignored the front lobby receptionist who demanded she sign in. She ignored the guards who were scrambling to keep her from going any farther into the
building.
Stand down, gentlemen, boomed a deep voice from the mezzanine above the
massive terrazzo-and-maple lobby. Everythings fine. My wayward niece just wants
to throw a little tantrum at me.

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THE PROVISO

Protests followed her as she took the stairs of the grand staircase two at a time,
her strong legs eating up the distance between him and her.
Giselle had a strange balance of power with her uncle shed had since she was a child.
Yes, hed tried to kill her twice, which had bankrupted her and obliged her to
undergo emergency surgery, respectively.
Yes, shed calmly and deliberately threatened to kill him, a hand on his throat
and a gun to his head.
Yes, he felt as free to dress her down as any of her other aunts and uncles and yes,
theyd had a good time together once upon a time.
Fen was part of her earliest memories, good ones, far more so than her Uncle Oliver, whom she never knew very well because he was always at church or Scouts. Fen
had teased her, pushed her to dream big and strive harder, and made her sharpen her
wits on his. And since her and Sebastians adventures kept her in funds, she was free
to refuse Fens offers of help and money.
I know you like him, Giz, but keep him out of your business. You let him start paying for
stuff and hell expect you to obey the way Knox does.
And she certainly did not want that. It was this that gave her the upper hand
with Fen. It was what enabled her to see Fens motives and still enjoy sitting on the
sidelines of life with him, pointing out the ridiculous, mercilessly mocking him and
others, constantly trying to one-up him with clever insults and acerbic quips.
But then hed killed Leah.
Come in, Giselle, come in, Fen said graciously. He held the door to his office
suite open and guided her through the floor of assistants desks arranged as if it were
a bank lobby. They all looked at her warily, this sacrilegious woman appearing at the
CEOs office wearing tight leathers and boots, with a Glock stuck in the back of her
waistband. She smiled slightly at one young man who couldnt take his eyes off her.
She winked at him and he blushed.
Stop flirting with my people, Fen hissed once he had ushered her into his private office and closed the doors behind them. You dare come to me armed?
Pffftt. Id be a fool not to.
I wouldnt be stupid enough to kill you here, Giselle.
There is that. You dont have the balls to do it yourself.
He ignored that and rocked back on a heel to rake her with a glance and gesture
at her clothes. Andand this, he sneered. You couldnt have dressed properly?
You couldve at least worn a thicker shirt and a goddamned bra. You disrespect me
in my own house?
Do you mean the house that Uncle Oliver built?
His jaw clenched. Oliver built a shack. I razed it and plowed the fields and built
a plantation.

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117

Wasnt the only field of his you plowed, was it?


He slapped her. She retaliated immediately with the back of her fist. He stumbled backward, holding his nose as blood gushed from it. Fen was as big as Knox, but
he wasnt as strong as Giselle.
Panting, she watched him warily in case he decided to finally show a little courage, but the flow of blood from his nose kept him occupied. Now that the niceties
are out of the way, Ill state my business.
He stared at her stonily, pressing a handkerchief to his nose. Make it snappy. I
dont have time for your little-girl shenanigans.
My shenanigans?! You burned down my fucking store!
You have been sulking about that for years, so stop it. It annoys me when you
sulk.
Any other time, she would have pursued that, but not today. I want to go about
my merry business without having to look over my shoulder. You leave me be. Today. Forever.
Fens expression turned speculative. Kenard.
Shocked, she drew back. How did you know that?
Please. After you pulled a Cinderella and he rearranged Sebastians face? Half of
Kansas Citys moneyed thinks Bryce Kenard is fucking Sebastian Taights mistress,
and isnt that deliciously scandalous. I was wondering if youd go down that road
with him, because you dont seem terribly invested in a temple marriage anymore and
he is completely disillusioned with the church. So since youre here, Im going to
assume youre not sleeping with him. Yet.
No and I dont know if Ill ever get to, considering why I was at your party that
night.
You dont have anything to worry about, he murmured. Deceits not your
style.
Huh. He doesnt know me, so thats not the way hes going to see it.
Suddenly, Fen laughed. Believe me, hell forgive you for it. Seductions not your
style, either, though you did display amazing potential. I knew the minute you led
him up the stairs you werent playing any game at all, much less the one Sebastian
wanted you to play.
Giselle huffed. Look, Fen, I dont want you wrapped up in any relationship I
might have with him. You and I are not a package deal and I want your word.
If I honor your request and if he doesnt work out the way you hope, then you
decide to marry Knox just to flip me off All bets are off. Ill go back to seeing if
you can be killed. Color me curious.
She looked at him for a bit and decided to let him think shed marry Knox at the
last minute in case Knox got to Justice McKinley before his fortieth birthday. Giselle

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nodded. Ill agree to those terms. But. What I told you after you killed Leah still
stands. Any more of Knoxs women die, you die. And oh, in case you are elected
not likelyand the ATF or whoever pulls a Waco on Knox and he dies ever so conveniently? Being a senator wont protect you from me.
He held his nose and stared at her, not speaking for a long time. She waited for
him to close the deal, but he didnt.
Why, he finally said, slowly, couldnt you have been my daughter?
Giselles breath caught in her throat and her eyes widened. What?!
Fen gestured to one of the wing-back chairs in front of his desk. He sat in the
other once she took the seat he offered.
Didnt you ever wonder why I took such an interest in your life?
I thought you just wanted to boss me around the way you bossed Knox around.
Fen grunted. No. I wanted to be the father of a girl who took life by the throat
and throttled the hell out of it.
I had a father.
Who was my best friend, remember.
Augh! Fen! I am not here to have a bonding moment or fulfill your paternal fantasies. You are standing between me and Bryce Kenard and I want you out of my
way.
Well, now thats the problem, isnt it? I dont trust you.
Really, she said flatly. You went there. Murderer. Adulterer. Liar. Did I miss anything?
I prefer rascal if you must get nasty about it. Let me rephrase: I wont trust you
until youve got a ring on your finger. Youll do a whole lot of things to get in my
way, but one thing you wont do is cheat on your man. And Kenard is not a man to
tolerate split loyalties.
You wrote the book on split loyalties.
He gave her an odd look. What makes you say that?
Me versus Trudy. She cant be happy about my relationship with you.
Friends close, enemies closer, although she is quite angry about the fact that
youre still gracing the planet.
Im flattered. Delighted! She paused, then decided to go for broke. Speaking of
her, Im curious. How long have you two been lovers?
Oh. Since sixty-four. He said it so forthrightly it shocked her. Oliver was gone
to Nam. She was lonely. I was available and all too willing to climb in bed with a
beautiful woman who wanted me there. Then I went in sixty-seven and that was
about the time Oliver came home.
So, Knox ?
Not my son. Wasnt possible because I was in Vietnam then. Came home. She

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and I took up where we left off.


But She looked at him, confused. Whyd you have to murder him?
Fen looked straight at her and said, very deliberately, Giselle, there comes a time
in a mans life when he has to protect the people he loves. You of all people should
know how that feels. I know youre not wearing a wire, but if you ever repeat what
Im about to tell you, Ill put you in the ground myself.
Giselle smirked suddenly. Yeah, okay.
Fen ignored that. Oliver had fists like hams and he used them.
Giselles mouth dropped open, but once she recovered from her shock, she
snapped, I dont believe that. Knox wouldve said something and he certainly
wouldnt have been practically worshipping him.
Olivers rage was directed solely at Trudy, in private. No mans going to risk
having a willful son turn on him for beating his mother, and for all Knox was well
behaved, he would stand up to what he saw as wrong, no matter the cost. Even to his
dad. Fen leveled her a stony glance. Even to the point of murder. And if you think I
dont know who cleaned up after his little foray into vigilantism, youre not as smart
as your PhD looks.
Giselle pursed her lips.
Uh huh. The fact is, Trudy was terrified.
Trudy. Giselles mouth flattened. That explained everything. Did you see this
for yourself? she asked carefully. Bruises?
Bruises, yes. Black eyes.
Trudy was a magician with makeup, but Giselle didnt dare accuse her of gaslighting Fen into getting rid of her husband. Oh, she finally said because she had to
say something. I didnt know.
No one does. Killing Oliver wasnt about my affair with Trudy and it wasnt about
OKH. It was about keeping Trudy safe and, considering Knox and Olivers relationship, I didnt feel Knox needed to know what his father was doing to his mother.
When she kicked him out of the house, it was to protect him in case Oliver got it into
his head that Knox was my son. There were no DNA tests at that time, remember.
Giselles eyes narrowed. Fen, you know thats bullshit. Shes always thought of
Knox as an occasionally useful nuisance.
He shrugged. Okay, point taken. But, he added, spearing her with a glance, if
youd kept your mouth shut Giselle felt the color drain from her face. it
wouldve ended with just Oliver dead, no one the wiser, Trudy and Knox safe, and
no proviso to fight over.
Suddenly dizzy, Giselle closed her eyes and put her face in her palm because that
was absolutely true. Shed spent the last two decades carrying the guilt of a fourteenyear-old girls mistake, but shed never thought Fen would throw it at her like that.

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Fen began to laugh. Ah. I see youve been flagellating yourself for this entire fiasco. Good. Keep at it.
Intellectually, she knew she wasnt responsible for any of it. Shed even discussed
it with her bishop. But the day she walked in on Trudy fucking Fen was indelibly
etched in her mind, and if she justhadntsaidanything
Why didnt you tell us this when we confronted you? she asked wearily, rubbing her forehead.
By then it was irrelevant. I didnt feel guilty for killing Oliver and I didnt kill
him for OKH. In fact, I didnt even find out about the proviso until after the funeral.
He was overwhelmed, didnt want it anymore, and knew I was planning to buy it
from him. But then he slipped that damned proviso in when I wasnt looking.
She looked up at him, puzzled. Why would he do that?
I have no idea! I was furious because he made an end run around me for no good
reason, and I felt guilty for resenting a fifteen-year-old kid for something that wasnt
his fault. I always loved Knox. He was a good kid, easygoing, did what he was told,
and I daresay that provisos been as burdensome to him as it is to me. I didnt want
to make his life miserable, and he was happier living with you anyway. It was easy to
be kind to him and support him when I never had to look at him.
Well, okay, I get all that. But you didnt feel guilty enough to give it up, and now
youve sunk to the level of murder to keep it. Theres no honor in that.
True. He rose then, which cued her to do the same. Its a deal, Giselle, he
said, offering his hand for her to shake and she did, firmly. As long as you and Kenard are engaging in some sort of mating ritual. The second you get married to anybody but Knox, Ill get out of your hair for good. If not
If not, I will put you out of my misery.
Pistols at dawn, eh? Fine. One other thing. Keep your mouth shut about Oliver.
I think youve learned your lesson about speaking out of school.
Her mouth tightened. Done. She turned to go.
Giselle? She looked over her shoulder to see his stone-cold expression. Dont
ever come back here armed, and next time wear a damned dress. A modest one.
She flashed him a wicked smile, winked, and walked out, unwilling to let him see
how shaken up she was. Fen was right; shed definitely learned her lesson about
keeping her mouth shut.

20: MISFIT SO ALONE


ONCE GISELLE TOLD Bryces frigid assistant her name, she warmed instantly, eager

to tell her where he could be found. Giselle smiled in spite of herself, then blushed
when the woman gave her a conspiratorial wink.
At the courthouse, Giselle patiently subjected herself to being searched, dug her
permit out, and surrendered her weapon. After being frisked, wanded, and all but
tossed on the x-ray conveyor belt, she was finally allowed in.
All the way through the building, up stairs and through doors, she garnered
stares. Some of these people knew her from law school and gaped at her. Kevin Oakley saw her, tried to catch her attention, but she ignored him. Though she hadnt
spoken with him since the day hed declined to charge her with homicide, he could
wait. Politics could wait.
She got to the right division before she slowed at all. Her heart pounding and her
mouth dry, she ducked into the restroom to calm herself a bit before getting on with
her business here. Leaning back against the wall, she bent over and took some deep
breaths, not thinking about what she intended to do. If she thought about it at all,
she knew shed change her mind and then shed regret it for the rest of her life.
She looked in a mirror once her breathing had slowed and she felt more capable
of acting like a civilized human being. Her face was red, as she had expected, thus hid
any marks Fens hand might have made. She bent down to splash cold water on her
face and gargle some of it to ease the dryness of her mouth.
The restroom door opened suddenly and though Giselle took no real notice, a
flash of dull, frizzy, indeterminate red did catch in her periphery and she looked up.
There, Justice McKinley staring at her in the mirror, frightened determination written all over her face.
Ill be damned.
She wondered if Justice knew or suspected what Giselle had done for her, or if
she knew about her connection to Knox, because she couldnt think of any other
reason the girl would detain her, now of all times and here of all places.
Um Dr. Cox? May I, um, have a sec? Not about grades, she tacked on hurriedly.
Sure, Giselle said, trying to hide her impatience. Couldnt she have done this at
school, when she had unlimited access and time? Only a sec, though.

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Justice, looking very young and nave, swallowed a bit. I I want She
pursed her lips and looked away, shaking her head. Never mind. Its stupid.
Giselle turned, leaned back against the sink, and crossed her arms over her chest.
Say whatever you have to say to me, Justice, she demanded not so gently this time.
Clocks ticking.
She started and opened her mouth. I want to be like you, she blurted.
Giselle blinked, surprised. Why?
You Youre powerful and She looked at the floor and whispered, I want
to learn that.
Giselle watched her for several long seconds before Justice raised her eyelashes. I
cant teach you how to be that, she said abruptly. You have to come to it on your
own, through hardship and fear. You have to know who you are and what you believe and you have to take stock of that every day. You have to walk barefoot through
fire on broken glass. You have to stand up to people who frighten you under conditions that terrify you. You have to be honest with yourself about what you really
want. You have to be willing to fail.
Power is acquired, earned. Youll have many opportunities in your life to earn
bits and pieces of it. Youll make bad choices; learn from them and do the best you
can with them. Do not, under any circumstances, dither over what the right choice
might be every single time youre presented with one. It wont teach you anything
and youll be a bore at cocktail parties.
Justices hazel eyes were suspiciously moist and Giselle smiled, reaching out to
rub her shoulder, surprising both of them. Giselle almost never touched people she
didnt know, or allowed them to touch her. But shed touched this girl once and at
that moment had become vested in keeping her safe, in smoothing her road for her,
in helping her travel the path that led to Knox.
Youll do fine. Now, she said briskly, turning away from Justice and back to the
mirror to do some last-minute primping, I need to go take some of my own advice.
She caught Justices look of confusion when she turned to walk toward the door. She
opened it a crack and then looked back over her shoulder. Acquiring power is a never-ending process. Every day you have to wake up and prove to the world all over
again that you deserve it. There should never come a day when you wake up and say,
Okay, Im powerful now; Im done. Never.
With that, she left the restroom and found the correct set of courtroom doors.
She opened one quietly, tiptoed in, and stood silently against the back wall to watch
Kenard do what he did that made him the god of the UMKC School of Law.
BRYCE HAD USED the architecture of this closing argument so often he could recite

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it in his sleep. It wasnt that he didnt believe itno, he believed every word of what
he said and because of that, he could sell it to the jury. Every time. Sadly, he had too
many cases that required this closing argument; thus, he had to deliver his closing by
rote. Otherwise, he could make himself insane with the grief of his own loss.
This trial is not and never was an issue of suing a poor, hapless doctor who tried
his best yet lost the struggle between life and death. Its about a little girl who had a
bad doctor and died as a direct result of his incompetence. His client had bowed her
head and her tears fell slowly and silently. That wasnt an act on her part, and he felt
her pain acutely for a moment before forcing himself to shake it off.
Ladies and gentlemen, he said as he placed his hands on the jury box and leaned
into them, making sure they could all see his scars up close and personal. The medical community saved my life; Im grateful every day that I have my life because of a
team of brilliant surgeons, specialists, nurses, and therapists. Im immensely grateful
that my caretakers are so competent and dedicated to their art and their patients.
Im not here to ask you for money for my client. Im not asking you to pass
judgment on the medical community. Im not even asking you to send a message to it
that it should police its own so that people like us, you and me, dont have to. Im just
asking you to help me clean it up one incompetent doctor at a time, and maybe, just
maybe, let Melissa Hawthornes mother sleep a little better at night.
He nodded his thanks to the jury and walked to his chair. There werent that
many people in the gallery, so the woman who stood against the back wall was hard
to miss. He stared for a couple of seconds, unable to believe what he was seeing, then
turned to sit. His heart thundered in his chest, and it seemed like an eternity before
court was adjourned for the weekend. He arose and clutched his sobbing client to his
chest.
Bryce released her after a while so she could leave, and turned back to the table to
gather his papers and laptop and phone, to put his briefcase back together before he
confronted Giselle. He talked to his interns, piled his things into the box one of
them carried, and gave them instructions.
He took his time, sorting through the remnants of his closing argument, feeling
his clients grief and his own wrapped up in it, but now
Stalker, he muttered, still feeling the sting of her parting shot at the library.
Hed be damned if he appeared too eager to talk to her after that.
Even though he was.
She awaited him patiently as he dawdled. Then, when they were the only two
people left in the courtroom, he strolled up the aisle toward her, taking his time,
blatantly looking her up and down.
Tight oxblood leather pants clung to her legs like a second skin. She had heavy
Doc Martens on her feet. A voluminous but thin white cotton blouse floated around

124

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her torso. The ties that held the front together were undone, leaving it to drape open
a little and she wasnt wearing a bra. Her honey corkscrews fell past her shoulders
and a wide fringed-and-beaded black scarf from her forehead to her crown held her
hair away from her face. A small dog couldve jumped through the golden hoops that
hung from her ears. Her face was slightly flushed and the heavy black eye makeup
enhanced her exotic look. The thought crossed his mind that he could certainly
stand to look at her for the rest of his life.
He stopped and glared at her. Stalking me? he snapped.
She pursed her lips You tell me. Your admin all but drew me a map when I told
her my name.
His jaw clenched. Of course shed have noticed that.
I want to talk to you, she continued breathily. Ive needed to since December
and I I just havent been able to.
So say it.
Mmmm, thats going to take a while. Tell you what, she said, pushing herself
off the wall. How about you meet me at Kauffman Garden at six?
He considered. Finally, he figured that if this was all he would ever get from her,
hed take it and tuck it away in his memory.
Fine. Unwilling to leave her but needing to make his point, he walked away and
didnt look back.

21: NO ONE BRIGHTER THAN YOU


GISELLE STOOD IN THE V between her open car door and her car, facing west and

watching the sun on its course toward the horizon. Waiting.


She had dressed carefully in a sundress of navy linen with white polka dots. The
modest bustline fit closely without a hint of cleavage between the triple spaghetti
straps, covered by a light white short-sleeved shrug. The full skirt fell from the empire waistline to her knees. Navy high-heeled sandals boosted her height and her
courage.
Shed replaced her black hair scarf with a white one. Shed removed the kohl and
kept the makeup to a minimum. Shed changed out her gold hoops for pearl studs.
This was her Sunday best.
Six oclock came and went. Her pinging nerves settled into disappointment so
acute she was nauseated. So. He decided to get back at her for calling him a stalker
by standing her up. She couldnt say she blamed him for that. Stalker had baggage.
But twenty minutes later, she was still standing there because she didnt know what
else to do, where else to go. If he had been trying to punish her, hed chosen the perfect weapon.
Her nose started to sting and she blinked back tears. She chewed on the inside of
her bottom lip. She heard several cars turn in the lot, but she had her back to the
drive so she didnt know when he drove in and parked. She only knew that by six
forty-five, when he approached from behind her and leaned against her car, she was
such a jumble of emotion it was a miracle she hadnt already broken down sobbing.
She didnt turn to face him because the reckoning had come after shed let down her
guard, forgot her speech, and her defenses had crumbled under her hurt.
You rang? he said after a moment.
Her heart was racing and she was trying not to sniffle, but there was nothing to
be done except say what she needed to say so she could leave. ASAP. I lied to you.
She felt his body shift against the car as if she had startled him. He said nothing
for a long time. You said you gave me the wrong idea about you. Is that what you
mean? he asked, his voice grainy and hoarse.
She blinked. I guess you could look at it like that.
Is that why youve been brushing me off?

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Mmm
Another few seconds ticked by in silence. Silence was good. Wasnt it? He hadnt
asked her what shed lied about. She didnt know what that meant, either.
She glanced over her shoulder at him. He was wearing the same clothes hed had
on in court today, with the exception of his suit coat and tie. The sleeves of his white
dress shirt were folded and bunched at his elbows and the two top buttons at his
neck were undone.
What happened between June and today that made you finally willing to talk to
me?
She paused to choose her words carefully. I had to tie up some loose ends.
I see, he said, though clearly he didnt. Have we talked enough for you to lie to me?
It wasnt what I said. Its what I did.
Okay. Sotalk.
And there it was. Her gut clenched and she felt as if she had jumped out of a
plane without a parachute. I went to Fens party specifically to keep you engaged
and occupied so Fen couldnt find you to beg for money. I She stopped and took
a deep breath. I didnt know who you were. Bryce Kenard was just a name to me. It
was a favor for people who respect you enough to want to protect you. Then I saw
you and
You did it anyway.
Yes.
The benchwas that part of your master plan with this guy?
Hardly. My master plan was to bump into him and say something appropriately
bitchy about all the guests coming straight out of Monty Python, which would hopefully spark a lively conversation that would last until the party wrapped up and we
went our separate ways.
He laughed, surprised. And if youd been there for any other reason, would you
and I have ended up on that bench anyway?
Um Would they? Finally, she shrugged helplessly. I Something
wouldve happened, I suppose.
Okay. So whats the problem?
What do you mean, Whats the problem?
I mean, a year and a half ago, we met at Hales, I insulted you, you put a gun to my
head and told me I was six kinds of a bastard, then I kissed you. And you ran away.
I kissed you and I did not run away, she corrected calmly, though her heart was
pounding.
Eight months after that, he continued right over her as if she hadnt made a
sound, not only were you not mad at me, you lured me to a dark and quiet place
where I had my way with you. And you ran away.

MORIAH JOVAN

127

She had run away that time.


Ive tried to talk to you several times since March. And youve run away.
Augh! I was not running away!
Was there more that happened any of those times that I didnt notice or dont
remember?
He knew. He knew what he did to her, taking her on and making her back down.
He wanted her to acknowledge it, give it words, make it real.
I just wanted to talk to you, Giselle, he finished wearily. I thought I made that
perfectly clear.
His suddenly resigned tone caught her off guard. I was ashamed.
He looked at her sharply. Why?
Because that woman who lured you to the dark and quiet place is not me. I dont
know where that came from, so if thats what youre expecting, youre not going to get it.
We already had something between us. Why didnt you just come over and tell
me the problem up front?
That wasnt the point!
The point is that you wouldnt have done that with anyone else, and I didnt do
anything to you that I wouldnt have done anyway. She went hot as he held her
stare, one eyebrow cocked at her as if daring her to comment. Does your boss know
youre Knoxs cousin?
Giselles mind went blank. Excuse me?
He grinned suddenly, wickedly, his teeth flashing white, pretty against his dark
face. Giselles heart picked up its pace. Ill take that as a no.
Its the eyes, right?
He barked a genuinely amused laugh and wiped a hand over his mouth, but his
amusement slowly faded. After a very long silence, he murmured, I have my own
confession to make. He took a deep breath, stuffed his hands in his pockets, and
bowed his head. I saw you at Leahs visitation. I overheard Knox ask you to go home
with him.
Her heart cracked further. Oh, she croaked. Thats why you were angry with me.
Yes.
I havent I didnt
He held up a hand. You dont owe me an explanation for anything, Giselle. I
was wrong and I was wrong to take it out on you.
Did you think She didnt want to know. I just found out everybody in society thinks Im Sebastians mistress. Did you?
His hesitation was all the answer she needed and tears stung her eyes. Well, he
began doubtfully, I wasnt sure. You didnt act like lovers and hes not known for his
prowess with women, so it was shocking that he showed up with any woman at all.

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I knew that was what you thought of me, but I thought it was because I kissed
you and then because of what I did with you at Christmas.
Thats really why you were avoiding me, isnt it? he asked quietly. You didnt
think Id believe you.
Her mouth dropped open. The hell?! You sneered at me! Twice! Why would I
think youd believe me?
He took a deep breath. Um yeah. The look on your face was
heartbreaking. Giselle pulled her lips between her teeth. When you ran out on me,
I didnt know what to think. I didnt care who you were sleeping with, Taight or
whoever or how manyit was that it was Knox.
She was still hurt, but now also completely confused. What?
Knox is my best friend from UCLA, he said flatly. We were roommates. Giselle
was so shocked she squeaked. A couple of years after my wife and I moved here, she
told me shed been having an affair with him and I didnt know what to believe.
That wasnt what she expected. Did you sneer at him too?
I dont remember, he snapped, but then he took a deep breath and said with
forced calm, He walked away.
Well, gee, do you blame him?
But after Fens party, he continued, ignoring her jab, Knox summoned me and
told me the whole shebang. Fen, the proviso, Taight.
When did this happen?
In March.
That explained that. If you were so mad at him and you thought I was a
whore He flinched. why did you bother going?
He sighed heavily. You. I needed to know what I was missing. He knows my
taste in women and he knew Id be stewing about it. He gave me the answers but he
refused to give me your phone number, tell me where you live, set up a date. Nothing. He said he wasnt going to make it easy for me and I needed to pay penance for
being a bastard to you both. That I needed to work for it so Id value it. He paused.
Hence, stalking. I knew where you worked, but Geoff told me to back off because if
I hadnt gotten your phone number by then, you must have your reasons. I knew you
were in law school, so
She wrapped her arms around herself, even though she had no reason to be cold.
Im assuming Knox did tell you what he and I havent done?
Yes. He was very clear on that point.
So now I dont know if you were chasing me because Knox redeemed your low
opinion of me or if you want me in spite of your low opinion of me. Dammit. She
really was going to cry. Thats just so flattering. I shouldve got a clue when you
called me Lilith.

MORIAH JOVAN

129

He sighed. When I first saw you, before I overheard your conversation You
look like a woman in a painting I saw once.
So Ive been told. But usually people arent calling me a slut. Is that why you
asked me to go home with you that night, thinking I was sleeping with Knox and
Sebastian? To get back at Knox? Getting laid by someone who wanted you for something other than your money was a bonus?
His protest was purely defensive. It wasnt like that. I wanted to stake my claim.
Take you away from whoever. Keep you.
Keep me? she squeaked. Like a hunting trophy?
He groaned and dropped his face into his hand, rubbed the bridge of his nose.
Giselle, I wanted you. I was pissed off you werent mine and Ive been pissed off
about it for two years. I really didnt think about it too much. He turned his head to
look at her without raising his head. It was the heat of the moment. Im a guy. We
arent that complicated.
And this? she asked quietly, his I wanted you whispering to her, his keep you softening her. Youre a trial lawyer. Think deeper and explain it to me.
He shrugged helplessly. Giselle, Im sorry. Is there anything I can do or say so
youll give me a chance?
She hooted. I came here thinking you were going to truss me up like a Christmas goose for conning you and send me packing. Now Im pissed off and youre the
one begging forgiveness. What am I supposed to say?
The silence fell between them. She was dizzy, spinning between anger and giddiness. She was sixteen again, and her crush had just asked her to dancebut only
because he thought she was an easy lay.
Oh, yeah. That. Im a virgin.
I know, he said low.
And I dont like people in my personal space. Even men I find attractive.
He tensed. Um then why did you haul me into your car that night?
Because you hurt my feelings, she snapped. Anger was so much easier. She
could hide her bruised infatuation behind it. Would you rather I have slugged you?
I have a hell of a right cross.
His mouth quirked then and she suddenly saw the humor in what shed said. He
slid her a wry look. Do you kiss every strange man who hurts your feelings?
That pulled a puff of wry laughter out of her and her smile came with a blush.
Well. She ducked her head and cleared her throat.
So your feelings are hurt again, right?
She glared at him from under her brow. Dont even.
He grinned and pushed himself away from her car, striding around the back to
the passenger side. We have to hash this out and Im not going to do it in this heat

130

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on an empty stomach, he said. Find us a place to eat.


It occurred to her to protest his abrupt command, but she figured this was a battle best left un-picked. She dropped into the drivers seat and watched him fold his
big body into her little car. Once hed settled and returned her look, he did a double
take. Who hit you? he demanded.
Now Fens handprint decided to show up. A chuckle escaped her, then it turned
into a rolling laugh. The other guy looks worse.
He reached up and lightly caressed that cheek with his knuckles, melting her.
She wanted to close her eyes and press her cheek into his hand.
Im so sorry, Giselle, he whispered. All of it, everything. And Im sorry for being late; I had an appointment I forgot about and I didnt know how to get in touch
with you. I was so glad to see you He took a deep breath. Can we start over?
Where we shouldve started a year and a half ago if I hadnt been an ass? Please?
Id like that, she said softly.
He flashed that pretty smile for her again and said, So are you going to drive or
are you going to let me starve?
She laughed then. Now, you know Im going to pick the most expensive restaurant in town, right?
I was counting on it.
Still chuckling, she started the car, then drove them to a steakhouse on the
Country Club Plaza. Although it was only a mile away from Kauffman Garden, the
silence during the drive made her even more nervous than she already was. She was a
wreck by the time she found a parking spot.
She turned off the engine and bolted out of the car as fast as she could, needing
to get away from his raw sexuality so she could breathe again. She sensed him coming up behind her, and when he splayed his large hand across her back, it was all she
could do not to lean back against his body.
His momentum took him around her. She looked up just in time to close her
eyes as he kissed her. Softly at first, and then a little deeper. Her hands She didnt
know what to do with her hands and her arms, and she oh, so wanted to touch him.
Hesitantly, lightly, she furrowed her left hand in his hair and laid her right hand on
his chest, her thumb on the little nub of nipple through the fabric of his dress shirt
and undershirt. He pulled her breath from her, and she stopped thinking, stopped
caring about everything as his tongue found hers.
They kissed. Long, slow, lazy. Giselle hummed into his mouth.
He pulled away from her finally and she opened her eyes to again find his vivid
green eyes studying her. Im hungry, he repeated softly, though this time the words
held so much, much more. Come eat with me. Talk with me. Laugh with me.

22: COCKED & LOCKED


WHILE AWAITING A table, the conversation turned awkward, as Giselle was unsure

what this evening would bring. Eating with himkissing himhad not been on her
short list of possible endings to her quasi-confessional. Hearing his confession
She was nervous. Fidgety. Upset. He must have known that because though he
was still in her personal space, he wasnt crowding her. He was trying to put her at
ease by asking good questions, listening to her halting answers, and gently encouraging her into talking more. When the matre d led them to their table, Bryce followed
Giselle closely, his big hand in the small of her back.
She did not mind that one bit.
It was a gesture of intimacy that said were together, and she had never been together
with a man in her life. It was heady, having his hand on her back, knowing that anybody who noticed would know they were together.
How did you come to work for Geoff? he asked after hed seated her.
Um This was where the talking started, laying the groundwork for the inevitable. She busied herself with her napkin. Answered an ad. Its good for law school
and I needed the money. Transcribing has always turned out to be my fallback position. Im ambivalent about the work itself, but its a good job and I like him. And no, he
doesnt know about Knox, so Id appreciate it if you kept it to yourself.
I couldve busted you out on that that night if I felt like getting you fired, and
the fuck you was the cherry.
Her head snapped up and she glared at him. Dont expect me to thank you for
sneering at me.
He took a deep breath and looked away. Point taken. Can we ?
Ive been mad at you for almost a year and a half, Giselle gritted out, on the
verge of tears yet again, and with good reason. Im trying.
He nodded slowly and murmured, So am I.
They were silent as the bread was put on the table, and he nudged the basket toward her. No, thanks, she muttered absently. I dont eat bread.
He paused. Okay.
A litmus test! Exactly what she needed. Knoxs wife was a dietitian. Did you
know that?

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THE PROVISO

Yes.
Ive always been fat, she said matter-of-factly.
Oh?
She nodded. I was starving myself but gaining weight. Leah came along and figured out my problem the first time she saw me eat. She wrote up an eating plan for
me and sent me to a trainer she worked with and She spread her hands a little.
Im not fat anymore and I dont have to starve to stay that way.
He looked around. You chose a steakhouse, so low-carb? Youre a weightlifter, right?
She blinked at his interested tone, his lack of judgment, and his knowledgeable
question. Yes. How ?
He shrugged. I have a racquetball partner who does that. He puffed a little
laugh. Actually, she told me the same thing, almost verbatim. Starving herself, lots
of carbs, low fat, gaining weight. Shes sixty. Looks better, younger, than Ive ever
seen her and Ive known her for fifteen years. Right now her goal is to beat me on the
court. He chuckled. Shes beaten me in court a couple of times.
Giselle bit her lip, her eyes wide, because she hadnt known how much of a litmus
test that was until hed answered her so very perfectly.
Speaking of Leah, he said abruptly, Knox said you felt guilty for her death.
Why? It was her decision to go without a bodyguard and he backed her up.
She wasnt expecting that turn of the conversation, either. Oh. Because my gut
told me what to do and my gut has saved my life twice. Sadness and guilt trickled
through her as it always did when she thought about Leah. I loved her. I miss her.
She was the best thing that ever happened to me and I shouldve listened.
Im sorry, he murmured, but Giselle didnt respond. Thank you was so inadequate, but then so was Im sorry. It was just something to say when it was uncomfortable to say nothing. Giselle didnt need to speak. Apparently, he didnt either because
they were both silent while their salads were put in front of them.
For the record, he said, gesturing to the chef salad she was digging into, I do
like to see a woman eat.
That caught her off guard, and she froze, her fork halfway to her mouth.
I didnt mean to step on your toes, he said quickly. I mean, I really do like it.
He laughed wryly and rubbed his mouth. Its been so long since Ive been on a date I
forgot how to talk to a woman.
She saw a little flush under his dark tan, and decided to take him at face value.
She saluted him with her fork and said, Then youre going to like me a lot because I
eat a lot.
I already like you a lot.
You dont know me well enough to like me, she said dryly.

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133

He tilted his head a little. Thats why were here tonight, right? Figure out if we
can get along?
Yeah, she agreed with a smile she couldnt quell. To see if they could get along.
It was all the clarification she needed to relax. Whered you go on your mission?
He burst out laughing. The first thing a Mormon girl asks.
She groaned good-naturedly. Oh, my bob! How predictable am I? Sebastian
told me you were on the fast track to bishop, so I assumed a couple of things. One
was that you were a returned missionary, but then you undressed me in public and
propositioned me.
I dont know how to talk to women, remember?
That started a giggle out of her, but she put her hand over her mouth.
His green eyes sparkled. Scotland. Did you go on one?
No. But I did go to Europe one summer between my junior and senior years at
BYU. Sebastian lived in Paris, and he took me everywhere.
What else did you assume?
That you are no longer interested in the church.
You didnt seem to care in December.
I wasnt thinking with my head, she drawled.
And now that you are?
She took a deep breath. Um, I care. She paused, looking down. If I didnt, I
wouldve gone home with you. She sensed his surprise. Well, she said, feeling defensive. She wanted to explain, but not sure why or how to say it. Ive waited a long
time, but I feel like She raised her eyes to his. He was watching her with patient
interest. She bit the inside of her cheek. I feel like its my time, she blurted. I mean,
like it doesnt apply to me anymore. Not Augh! She huffed. Im thirty-six. Ive
done things the women at church who get married when theyre barely out of their
teens cant possibly imagine. The only thing theyve done that I havent is have sex.
She put her hand to her chest and leaned forward. And yet Im the little girl, like its
the only rite of passage to becoming a real woman that means anything.
She snapped her mouth shut, leaned back, and looked away, embarrassed by her
outburst. She didnt know where that had come from and it was far too telling. I
guess I dont know how to talk to my dates, either, she muttered. Im sorry. That
wasnt directed at you.
Giselle. She peeked at him cautiously only to see him watching her with a
warm, gentle smile. Its okay, he said softly. I grew up the same way you did. I get
it.
Their entres arrived just as the conversation was starting to stall out. It wasnt
the kind where neither had anything more to say; it was the kind where they had so
much more to say they didnt know where to go next.

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That looks wonderful, Giselle murmured as she took her time cutting into her
enormous steak. The silence was uncomfortable, but not. The conversation needed
to rest. She needed to rest. Her mind and soul were too ragged to continue. Hungrier than I thought, she muttered.
He hummed in agreement, and after a few bites that took the edge off her nerves,
she said, You say my name right. Thank you.
Youre welcome, he said huskily. Whats your middle name?
That got a laugh out of her. Giselle.
Okay. Whats your first name?
Celia. My mother insisted I be named after my four-greats grandmotherbut
so were my mother, all eight of my aunts, and six of my cousins. We all go by our
middle names.
His eyebrow rose. Theres a story behind that, I bet.
Giselle nodded. Family lore has it that she was a privateer captain in the American Revolution who reported directly to George Washington.
Bryce laughed wryly. Your grandmother? Why doesnt that surprise me?
Giselle grinned. We know for sure our grandfather from that time was an English earl. Elliott Raxham. Earl Tavendish.
Tavendish? He looked surprised. Thats in Northumberland, Berwick-uponTweed, about two miles from the Scottish border. Its an old name, back to Hastings.
You know it? she asked eagerly, leaning forward, her eyes wide, her heart racing
now for an entirely different reason.
His mouth quirked. I did some genealogy while I was there. My people are from
the highlands, but I talked to the locals wherever we went. Drove my companions
nuts.
We think Tavendish was a pirate.
Bryce shook his head. The title didnt die out until World War I. Revolutionary
War? No, he wouldnt have been able to pull that off without killing it and getting
the rest of his family thrown out into the streets to starve.
Giselle knew that, but her sense of disappointment was so visceral it shocked her.
It Its a thing with us, she said quietly, being descended from a pirate earl and
an American privateer.
Ah Bryce ventured, I wasnt trying to rain on your parade. Im sure theres a
way it could have been done, but
She rolled her eyes. Fantasy. Where were we? Oh. Yes. Whats your middle
name?
Duncan.
Youre a Scot through and through, arent you?
Not quite. My mother was one-quarter Apache.

MORIAH JOVAN

135

That explains the tan, she said and he laughed.


He asked her little questions until he got her talking about herself again, which
she hardly ever got to do, so it was nice for someone to be interested in her.
They traded opinions of music, and found out they both loved heavy metal. I
listen to a lot of classical music, though, she said.
I have a huge jazz collection, he replied.
Ballet? Symphony? Opera?
Symphony, absolutely. Ballet, yes. Opera, definitely not.
They traded opinions of movies, and found out they both loved Quentin Tarantino. You know, somehow that doesnt surprise me, he drawled with a wicked
grin. You classify your taste by director, too?
Not always. You?
Im a Kubrick fan. I bet you dont like rom-coms.
Ha! Howd you know? I dont know why, though. Im a romantic at heart.
Neither of those surprises me, he said with a mischievous smile.
They traded opinions of books, and found out he read nonfiction almost exclusively and she read fiction almost exclusively. Romance, right?
Giselle pulled her lips between her teeth. Yes, she said in a small voice, trying
not to laugh. I havent read for pleasure since I started law school, she said matterof-factly while he chuckled. I read a lot of science fiction, mainstream stuff. Those
big, thick, soap opera books. I just want to be entertained. What was the last book
you read?
A physicians memoir. His protg was a drug addict.
She blinked and started to laugh. Of course it was. And then you tracked down
the author for more details?
He grinned. Thats why I read it.
They traded their preferred sports. I dont play anything, she admitted. Winning doesnt do anything for me, but Im a sore loser.
Meh. Other than racquetball, I play golf and occasionally a pickup game of basketball. Ones for business. The others for letting off steam.
They went from one topic to the next seamlessly, with deepening intellectual exploration and increasing laughter, from the sacred to the profane, from topics achingly tender to bitingly sarcastic.
He was trying to make her comfortable, but he wasnt quite sure how to do that
and was a bit clumsy about it. She was so touched and charmed, she made an effort
to lean toward him, to let him know she appreciated it and would try to meet him
halfway. She was a bit clumsy about it. They were both relaxing, trying to get over
the last year and a half of anger and longing, immersing themselves in each others
company.

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THE PROVISO

She was almost floating at being here, being together with a man she wanted so
very badly, knowing he wanted her just as much, talking with him, laughing with
him, eating with him.
Eating with a man, especially if you let him feed you, let him watch you savor the flavors, is
like making love in public. I seduced my husband that way. Her cousin Victorias matterof-fact lecture vaguely flitted through her brain. Feed him. Let him feed you. In, out. Its a
promise more binding than kissing.
Giselle had read it in many books, too, but shed never believed it
You wont understand until you see food as something other than the enemy, eating as more
than a chore. Sex makes life. Food sustains life. You can see them as chores or you can find joy in
them. Thats the choice you make.
until Bryce offered her a bit of his lobster, letting her eat off his fork. Her
heart thundering, trying to be more like her unfettered cousin, she held his gaze and
closed her mouth over the fork slowly. His eyelids shuttered and retrieved his fork
just as slowly.
Good? he asked with that low, smoke-damaged rasp.
She felt drugged. Uh huh.
His chuckle wasnt audible, but she felt it vibrating the air around her.
And that was as much as she could manage before she was too far out of her
comfort zone, so she sat back, breaking the spell, to take a deep breath, look at some
point over his head, and try to think in words and find a way back from the edge.
You said you and your wife moved here, she finally said. Where are you from
originally?
San Diego, he replied huskily. She met his eyes then and he smiled wryly, going
with her, coddling her through this mating ritual. I met Knox at UCLA after my
mission; we were roommates in the freshman dorm. He and I got along. I got married right after we graduated, then we both went to BYU for law school. I got a good
job offer here straight out of law school, liked it, and stayed. Ive lived here since
ninety-three and I have no plans to move back to California.
Surely you had job offers elsewhere?
None where I had friends who could introduce me to the city.
What was your major?
Finance.
She paused for a second. We were at BYU at the same time, werent we? she
asked, confused. I practically lived at Knoxs house. Im surprised I didnt meet you
then.
He looked at her strangely for a moment, then blinked and shook his head. I
was married. Meeting then would not have been a good thing. He paused for a long
time, studying his plate, then he looked up. What was your major?

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137

English lit, she said with a roll of her eyes.


He chuckled.
And if that werent useless enough, I came home and promptly got a PhD in
eighteenth-century British literature.
His bottom lip dropped open a little. Really! So law school is ?
Did Knox tell you I owned a bookstore and what happened to it? When he
nodded, she went on. I shared space with a patisserie on one side of me and a confectionery on the other. Maisy and Coco werent my business partners, exactly; we
just figured if we knocked down our walls, unified our dcor, and put up some tables,
wed all make more money and it worked.
How long were you in business?
Seven, eight years, and growing.
An indie bookstores risky, with the discounters and big boys. Im impressed you
kept it open that long.
She waved a hand. Decadence wasnt a bookstore with food. It was a destination.
I stocked romance novels of all kinds, religious to erotica. Couple that with Maisys
gourmet chocolates and wine, and Cocos pastries, the events we put on every weekend, the book clubs we hosted, wine tastings and readings I was doing well; we all
were. I was never going to be independently wealthy, but I made a good living doing
something I loved.
Decadence? he purred.
She could feel herself flush with the innuendo, but her smile was slight and sad.
His smirk faded. Wine, chocolate, sex. Then she laughed outright. We had PMS
survival kits. Better than Midol. Men came in specifically for those.
He burst out laughing, and she smiled again, genuinely happy to have made him
laugh. She hadnt noticed how tense and guarded he was until he laughed. His
smile was so pretty, so warm and free. His green eyes sparkled and his face relaxed.
But when his amusement faded, his face and body would tense up again, like it was
doing right then.
Then Fen burned it down, he murmured finally.
Giselle nodded, her melancholy creeping back. Bankrupted all of us. Wed taken
on new debt to expand and the insurance wouldnt pay out because it was ruled arson. At the time, we were just happy not to be suspects, but then we couldnt get
insurance, so we couldnt have started over even if we had the cash. Theres not much
else out there for an English degree that I wanted to do and certainly nothing that
makes any money. I dont want to get caught up in university politics, either; Id rather teach than publish and thats a no-no. After Id spent about six months curled
up in bed, Knox and Sebastian kicked my ass to do something and I decided to be a
bit more practical in my education than I had before.

138

THE PROVISO

His brow wrinkled in slight confusion. So do you want to be a lawyer?


Ehhh She grimaced a little. The only thing I ever wanted to do was have a
bookstore. I got a PhD to see if I could and to give me a little educational credibility.
I had no backup plan. Being a lawyer was as good as anything else and at least I could
call it a career instead of a job. When he opened his mouth to ask the next of about a
dozen logical questions, she murmured, You know, um Im still grieving and Im
overwhelmed with law school and working, neither of which are very fun, so if you
dont mind, Id rather not reminisce about my murdered dreams anymore.
Uh, okay. Im sorry.
Tell me about your family, she said lightly, to let him know she wasnt upset.
He waved a fork. Im the youngest child of three in a family with not too many
people in it to begin with. My sister, the sibling right before me, is fifteen years older
than I am. My brother is almost twenty years older than I am. My mother had cancer and died about six years ago and my father died soon after that. I was in the hospital then and didnt know for a while.
Thats horrible.
He shrugged. My mother was forty-five, my dad fifty-five, when I was born
and I wasnt a welcome surprise. They thought they were finished. My dad had
climbed pretty high up in the church hierarchy and he wasnt prepared for another
child. I didnt see him much because he was always at church meetings, so he didnt
get to know me as well as he did my siblings. And I always knew my parents
wouldnt be around as long as other peoples.
Do you talk to your siblings at all?
No. I never really got to know them and I never will because theyre thousands
of miles away and a generation older than I am. I might as well not have any family
for how much we interact.
Giselle was appalled, but he must have known what she was thinking because he
shrugged and said, Doesnt bother me.
What about your wife and kids?
He hesitated and his face tightened even more. My marriage was hell and my
kids are dead, he said flatly.
She bit her lip. She hadnt actually connected My wife said she was having an affair
to my marriage was hell, although she should have. It was her turn to murmur, Im
sorry.
Giselle, he said lightly, we have a lot of ground to cover. Lets save the difficult
stuff for later.
That surprised her into a laugh. Okay.
What about yours?
My father was killed in Vietnam, so my mothers had a hard life, being a young

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139

widow with nothing. I dont have any brothers or sisters, but I have lots of cousins so
it feels like I do.
Knox used to say your family was a hundred people looking for any reason to
have a party.
She grinned. Yeah. We all interact in some way. Im kind of the go-to person for
everybody.
Like?
She thought for a moment. She helped so many family members she didnt keep
track. Well, my cousin tienne and his wife, Tess, are having some problems.
Theyve been married twenty years. Five kids. Multimillion-dollar business. If they
go kaput But Tess is the one whos getting the brunt of it. She paused, then
shrugged. Im kind of the family nurturer. Im involved in almost everybodys drama,
and not because I want to be.
And no one helps you out.
Giselle looked away. My mom lets me cry on her shoulder, she muttered. but
you know, there are some things you dont tell your mother.
He chuckled.
Shes retired and doesnt have any drama. But shes not physically capable of
helping out the way I can. And she and Sebastians mom live so far away from the
rest of us, up by the airport, by Knox. Its difficult.
I see, he murmured. And where do you live now?
He didnt push. Giselle was so, so happy hed decided to move on, but he seemed
sensitive to those things.
With Sebastian. A few blocks from here. The look of shock on his face made
her laugh, if a bit shakily.
How did that happen?
He came and got me the night my bookstore burned down and I just never
moved out.
Why dont you live with your mom?
My life and most of my family is down here, and my car cant take the punishment of the commute. I can walk to school and work if I want or need to. Shed rather I live with her because she thinks Sebastians a bad influence on me.
Is he? A bad influence on you?
Hed corrupted me by the time I was six. Now pulled out of her melancholy,
she grinned at the confused look on his face. We grew up together, in the ghetto.
My mom and I lived across the alley and up three doors from Sebastian and his parents. Ive been his sidekick since before I could walk. He taught me how to use a gun,
how to spin cash out of thin air and run a business.
His eyebrow rose. Oh? What business?

140

THE PROVISO

Giselle dipped her head and said coyly, Lets just say it involved baseball bats
and kneecaps.
He made his money loan sharking? Bryce asked, shocked.
She flashed him a mischievous grin. And bookmaking. Just seed money, really,
but hell tell you its because hes never borrowed money in his life.
Good point.
Once he started making serious money, he needed someone at his back he could
trust. Knox was too busy squiring debutantes on Trudys command and being her
perfect country club trophy son to be available when Sebastian needed him to be.
That left me. So my family thinks that Sebastian taking me in hand so early has
left me completely unmarriageable. Im the hmm, feral old maid.
He grinned. And then, he said slyly, you went from being his collections sidekick
to his political consultant. Senator Oth and his cronies are noticeably backing off.
Giselle laughed. Knox told you about that.
That was brilliant. Im very impressed.
She waved a hand. Dont be too impressed. I wasnt sure any of the parties
would react the way I hoped and too much depended on decisions other people had
to make.
Whens Kevin going to announce?
Not sure. September, possibly October. Id rather he wait until he finds out
whether Justice McKinley will endorse him or not. Id also like to know how Fens
fundraisings been going. I know hes spent quite a bit of money, but not as much as I
wanted him to by now.
Justice McKinleyshes the girl Knox has a crush on.
Giselle laughed. Thats a good way to put it. Poor girls a mess, though.
What do you mean?
She Giselle looked up and gestured with her fork. Well, first of all, she
needs a makeover.
He looked Giselle up and down, but not in a suggestive way. Why dont you
give her one?
Because shes gorgeous and if I did that, all the guys on campus would notice.
His expression cleared in understanding. Ah. Keeping her hidden until Knox
can get his hands on her.
Right, and you probably know Knox isnt particularly choosy with regard to a
womans looks.
True. He doesnt notice, as long as shes got red hair and an IQ higher than his.
She nodded. He wouldnt have noticed Justice, either, except she opened her
mouth and got him where he lives.
Huh?

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141

Giselle told the story, and by the end of it, Bryce was laughing, his elbows on the
table, the back of his hand under his nose and his fork dangling from his fingers.
Thats hilarious.
Well, it wasnt at the time! she objected good-naturedly. Shes still traumatized. Then she continued, leaning toward him and putting her elbows on the
table to tell him what Justice had done just hours ago. teach her how to be powerful. So I said
Bryces smile faded when she finished. Thats what you told her?
Giselle nodded, wondering where his humor went and feeling insecure.
That was a profound bit of philosophy, he murmured. Off the cuff, too, right?
She blinked and sat back, warmth suffusing her because he wasnt mocking her.
She nodded.
Im even more impressed.
She bit her lip, and she had to scramble to think of something else, something
that wouldnt make her start to cry.
Hey, I didnt mean to make you cry, he said softly, leaning over to dab at her
cheeks.
She brushed his hand away, embarrassed. I Thank you. I didnt mean to cry,
either. Its just I dont get Um. Hm.
You dont get many compliments, he said low.
She shook her head and tried to blow her nose discreetly. Knox grades me more
harshly than he does everyone else, which has tanked my GPA and Well, not
tanked it. But its not reflective of what Ive done.
Grades rarely ever are, he said soothingly. But you have a PhD, so
In underwater basketweaving, she said sarcastically.
Thats more than most people can do, and youre almost through with law
school. So your family holds you to a higher standard and nobody says anything
when you hit it?
She nodded, still trying to get the moisture out of her eyelashes without smearing
her eyeliner. Or even if I hit it. Im just In my family, Im just the heavy. The
brawn, not the brains.
And the forklift. And the nurturer.
She didnt answer that.
Giselle, he said quietly, and she looked up at him. His expression was intense,
but she couldnt read it. That plan you came up with Knox acted like that was
par for your course.
Giselle shrugged a little, warmed in spite of herself. He says he grades me like
that because Im not working up to my capabilities, but
There was a little silence when she didnt finish the thought.

142

THE PROVISO

From what Ive been told and what Ive seen, he murmured, I think youre extraordinary.
The smile and blush appeared by themselves, and she ducked her head again.
You strike me as a sensitive woman, so I can see you as a nurturer. But, he added, I do find it disturbing that the men in your family depend on you to protect them.
Thats not the way its supposed to be.
Giselles brow wrinkled. She liked being needed. Liked being important to her
family. She had always taken pride in that, taken pride in being the heavy as well as
the go-to girlright up to the point someone had expressed appreciation for her
brain, too.
Knox said Sebastian ordered you to fuck my mind.
She nodded absently.
How many women does he know to whom he could say, Go fascinate a man
without once doubting she could?
She shrugged helplessly, now completely embarrassed she was breaking down in
front of him on their first date, exposing all her insecurities. Itd be a miracle if they
had a second date, she had so much baggage.
He leaned across the table and took her hand. Look at me, he whispered, caressing her knuckles with his thumb. That big hand, scarred, dark, warm surrounding her small, flawless, pale one.
Her eyelashes fluttered up. You know who I am, he murmured, what I do,
how well I do it. Fucking my mind is a very difficult thing to do. They know that, so
what does it say that they assumed you would succeed? Right now, youre fucking my
mind very well, and youre not even trying.
Giselle couldnt look away from his beautiful green eyes, watching her intently,
then looking at her mouth. He lifted her hand and pressed his mouth to it, meeting
her eyes again while he did it. Her bottom lip fell open a little and her breath caught.
They broke apart when the waiter came to clear their table, inquire about coffee
and dessert, both of which they declined, and requested more water for Giselle and
more Coke for Bryce.
Who slapped you? Bryce asked quietly.
She rolled her eyes, and huffed. Fen.
Why?
She shrugged. I insulted my aunt. Thats his tipping point.
Why were you there?
He was one of the loose ends I had to tie up before I sought you out.
Ah. He wasnt going to press the point. What was with the leathers?
Thats my kickin-ass-and-takin-names outfit. Fen hates it when Im not perfectly coiffed and attired for the occasion, so I wore it to annoy him.

MORIAH JOVAN

143

You said he looked worse.


I broke his nose.
Bryce burst out laughing then and all the people at the tables around them
looked up to see what was so funny. He sat back and gave her a lopsided grin. Knox
said you find him amusing.
Fen and I have the same twisted sense of humor. In my mind, I know he wasnt
playing when he put out those hits on meIll assume you know how I got shot
He nodded. but it felt like he was, because my Uncle Fen would not do that to me
unless he was just trying to one-up me. She noted his skepticism. It started when I
was a teenager, when I wouldnt do what he told me to do. As long as Fen was paying
Knoxs bills, Knox did what he was told. I didnt let Fen pay my bills at all so he
wouldnt have anything to hold over my head. It was a competition. A battle of wills.
Big game of chicken. See what I mean?
He grunted. Leah wasnt a chicken.
Her mouth tightened immediately and she growled, Thats when it sunk in that
he wasnt playing, so I made sure he knew I wasnt playing anymore, either.
His eyebrow rose. But does he believe it?
Giselle looked at Bryce steadily. If you watched me, she said softly, kill two
men youd paid to kill me, wouldnt you believe it?
His mouth twitched with a hint of amusement. Excellent point.
And today, she said smoothly, running her finger gently around the rim of her
water glass, it finally sunk into his thick skull that I dont need a gun to kill him.
Are you armed? Bryce rumbled. Right now?
Startled by the question and his tone, she watched him warily and asked slowly,
Do you want me to be?
Yes.
Giselles heart began to race and she suddenly couldnt breathe. Im always
armed.
Again he reached across the table to touch her, to softly cup her chin in his hand,
his thumb drawing lightly across her bottom lip. Her body responded to his caress,
as light as a feather. He was devastating the last of her defenses, shattering her world,
snatching her soul and wringing it out. Making her like it.
Want me. Need me. Love me. Beg me.
A Cheap Trick song started playing in her head, and she knew shed fallen in
lovebut not tonight. Long ago, that night in the parking lot, when he took her kiss
away from her and turned it on her.
She was captivated by his eyes, his touch, and wanted to lick his thumb. So she
did, lightly, tasting the salt and watching him. His eyelids shuttered, and the corner
of his mouth twitched.

144

THE PROVISO

Why does your mother think youre unmarriageable? he asked quietly, sitting
back once again. She wished he hadnt touched her. She wished hed kept touching
her.
Nobody ever asked me to marry him, she replied vaguely, trying to make her
brain work enough to move her vocal cords. By definition, thats unmarriageable.
Dumb question, okay. Theres no reason you shouldnt be. Youre smart, attractive, well educated, well dressed, and put together. He paused and whispered, Passionate.
She paused, arousal flaring through her midsection while her mind flashed back
to the things shed told Sebastian so long ago, but she wasnt going to admit to him
that he was the first man whose attention shed worked up the courage to catch
and then only because he was so compelling she couldnt control herself. The way
she couldnt control herself on the bench. Or here. Tonight, licking his thumb.
She took a drink because her mouth was unbearably dry. She cleared her throat.
Took another drink. I, um, dont know how much you paid attention because you
were already married by the time you got to BYU, but if a womans goal is to get
married in the temple, and she leaves BYU without getting her MRS, shes pretty
much shit out of luck.
He scratched his jaw. But that wasnt your goal.
Jerked out of her haze, she barked an unamused laugh. Of course it was my goal,
but I wasnt physically attractive back then and I was looking for a certain kind of
man. Generally, they arent in the church. So here I am, hanging onto a relic of another dead dream and She bowed her head and watched her hands mangle her
napkin. Giving God an ultimatum.
Is it still your goal? he asked warily.
No, she muttered. I gave up. The relic isnt going to get me what I want and it
never was.
When? he asked softly.
She raised her eyes slowly to his and said, When what?
When did you give up the relic?
Giselle bit her lip and shifted her gaze to his scarred jaw. When I kissed you.
She heard his slight inhalation. What kind of man, he asked slowly, were you
looking for that you gave up your goal when I kissed you?
She looked up at the ceiling in thought and breathed out a little. He was never
going to understand the reference, but she had no other way to describe it because on
paper, it was a normal, ordinary wishlist:
Brilliant, capable of long, deep, erudite conversations. Engaged with a profession
or hobby he had a passion for and expertise at. Charismatic, knowing how to dress
and carry himself like he owned the world no matter how tight his budget was. Dirty

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145

and dominant, taking her and making her like it. Chivalrous, fucking her in the bedroom but treating her like a queen outside of it. She wasnt looking for wealth, power, or good looks; he simply needed to be a smart, educated, passionate, fun
companion who loved her.
Lots of men were like that. Her list was normal. It was that indefinable something,
and the only thing that was remotely relatable was a character from a book he may or
may not have read. Likely not.
She sighed in resignation and muttered, Hank Rearden.
Really, he purred.
She blinked and looked at him. You know what I mean, then?
Yes, I do. The question is, do you?
Of course I do.
No you dont, he retorted even more hoarsely. You just told me everything I
need to know about who you are and what you want.
And Im the man whos going to give it to you.
It hung in the air as heavily as if itd been said and again Giselle felt shot up with
adrenalin and lust. Her heart thundered with anticipation, with want. She remained
silent for a moment because she didnt want him to know how deeply that touched
her, how much she needed to hear that from a man she wanted, too.
When? her eyes asked.
Tonight, his answered.
It was inevitable. Theyd been walking this path together for the last year and a
half. She just hadnt expected it to happen so soonbut then hed fed her.
What about your temple covenants? she murmured. You cant just throw
them aside like it was a coat you were trying on.
A coat I wore until it was burned into my skin, he snarled suddenly, startling
her. Literally. I spent my entire life doing what I was supposed to do, what I was told
would make me blessed and happy. Not only was my marriage hell, I wasnt even
blessed enough to keep my children. I hated my life, hated myself for trying to be
exactly what I wasnt, then got caught in a blazing inferno. I have nothing to lose and
everything to gain, where everything means you.
That hit her so hard it almost hurt.
Bryce said nothing for a long, long while and when finally she raised her gaze, she
found him staring at her speculatively. He sat relaxed, his elbow on the arm of his
chair, his cheek resting on his fingertips.
Desire surged in her belly, the same desire shed had when she had lain on the ottoman under him and at his mercy. She bit her lip and continued to stare at him. She
was going where shed never gone, trying to flirt without getting in over her head. But
she was already in over her head. Shed fallen in the minute she looked in his eyes.

146

THE PROVISO

I am not a Rearden, he said flatly. Im a Galt. The man who is proudly certain
of his own value will want the highest type of woman he can find, the woman he
admires, the strongest, the hardest to conquerbecause only the possession of a
heroine will give him the sense of an achievement.
She gulped.
Thats how I see you, Giselle, he murmured, seducing her with his opinion of
her cleverness, with his words, using the soft pronunciation of her name to help him
do it, watching her with those brilliant green eyes.
She forgot what she wanted to say because she was remembering the feel of his
mouth on her neck, her shoulder, down her arms, around her nipple. She was imagining how hed feel inside her, stroking her.
Bryce spoke again, his voice growing so hoarse he couldnt vocalize some syllables. Tell me what a man finds sexually attractive and I will tell you his entire philosophy of life. Show me the woman he sleeps with and I will tell you his valuation of
himself.
Giselle said the only thing she could think of. It came out in a whisper. I never
cared for Galt.
Why not?
He was perfect.
Exactly. He was superior to Rearden in every way, and I dont take second place
to anybody. Bryce didnt smile, didnt drop his gaze, didnt do anything else while he
watched her struggle with how powerless she felt. How much she liked feeling powerless.
I
I what?
His eyebrow rose, but she shrugged helplessly.
Suddenly, he threw his napkin down on the table and stood, growling, Lets go.
Once hed dropped a pile of cash on the table, he held his hand out to her.
Giselle looked at his hand.
She didnt know how to flirt or seduce a man. It was her nature to want a man to
pursue her until he wore her down, and Bryce had done it. It was her nature to want
to be seduced, without having to be suggestive or risking rejection, and Bryce was
seducing her. It was her nature to want to be dominated sexually, and Bryce had just
told her he would.
All she had to do was let him.
She placed her hand in his and let him draw her to her feet.
She let him twine his fingers with hers and lead her out of the air-conditioned
restaurant together into oppressive heat and humidity. Here, there was no cooling off
once the sun went down, such as shed come to appreciate when living in the heart of

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147

the Rocky Mountains. The air here didnt wash clean and crisp at night as it did in
Provo Canyon and Utah Valley; instead, it was moist, heavy, ripe, fecund.
Like Giselle.
He let go of her hand and said nothing as he kept pace with her, away from her
car, toward home. He was still seducing her, but now by giving her the opportunity
to think and say no.
She halted him once so she could balance herself on his arm to slip off her heels
and loop them in her fingers. It was a convenient excuse to touch him, to feel his
strength under her hand, to have an intimacy with a man who didnt seem to mind
her baggage.
Giselle shouldnt have hesitated to say no thanks. Itd been drilled into her from
puberty that one didnt put oneself in situations where temptation could take hold.
He knew that as well as she did. Yet it was her time.
No. It was this man. This man made it her time.
Everything shed ever wanted had come true for her: The shared faith, culture,
language of Mormonism. The shared philosophies of Rand, of excellence, money,
sex. The shared political ideals and common goals and higher education. Her desire
for a man who wanted her enough to pursue her.
He met all of the qualifications on her list including the nebulous one, the indescribable.
Yes, he was a stranger and her black belt was screaming at her for being stupid,
but Knox had vouched for him. Even if she couldnt trust her IQ, she knew she could
trust him.
It took a long two blocks of silence before Bryces patience ran out. He stopped
abruptly, gripped her arm, and yanked her around tight to his big body, his mouth in
her ear, hot, raspy, pounding:
I want to fuck you, Giselle. Hard and fast. Once, twice, a thousand times. I
wanted to fuck you at Leahs funeral. I wanted to fuck you the night we met. I wanted to fuck you at the museum. For two years I havent thought of anything but fucking you. Do you understand me?

to be continued

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