Henley sat at a small, window-side table in McCallan Point’s only café and glared at the screen of his laptop. The reports staring back at him couldn’t be right. He would’ve sworn he’d dumped far more money into his offshore account than that. Just in case. Fuck, this was his just in case, and now it was worse than he’d already believed!
His fists clenched under the table and he counted down from a hundred, combating the urge to throw his laptop across the room. What the fuck was he going to do? He’d lost everything overnight. Every business, every penny and worse, every ounce of respect his name had commanded for years. Over two decades, he’d busted his ass building an empire and with one blind spot, it had all come crumbling down. It killed him that it had been someone he’d spent half his life thinking of as a brother. His best friend. The one who’d been with him through it all. To be betrayed by the only person he’d ever trusted enough to divulge all of his secrets to, was beyond crushing. It was a living hell. A nightmare Henley simply couldn’t see a way out of. He was in ruins. Even if he could start over, take what little capital he had left and rebuild, his name was dirt. Vic hadn’t been satisfied with just ripping his wealth away from him, he’d made sure Henley couldn’t even get a fucking loan!
Nobody trusted the Crane name now. That was the worst of it. The hilt of the knife Vic had stabbed him in the back with. The salt he’d maliciously scoured into the open wounds. How had he not seen the signs? Henley prided himself on his ability to read people better than he let on. He’d always known who his enemies were, both socially and professionally. Vic had never made a blip on his radar. They’d done everything together; college, startups, women. There had been nothing secret between them and nothing they hadn’t shared. That kind of bond, that level of trust…
Henley’s thoughts were just as jarred as the bells hanging over the café door, when it was thrust open and a woman tripped inside with a shocked expression on her face. Though, that was mostly covered by stylish sunglasses. Embarrassment reddened her cheeks until they almost matched her gaping lips, and Henley felt a dangerous, familiar stir low in his gut. It was a good look on a woman. One he’d personally triggered countless times.
“Wow, I’m so sorry.” She recovered quickly, turning to apologize to the baristas behind the counter. “I had no idea it would open that easily, that is…really light.”
Henley nearly sneered at the dimwitted remark and drank in her tall, statuesque form from behind. Designer jeans hugged slender legs under the pale gray sweater that draped over her ass with a rounded hem. Even from twenty yards, he knew it was cashmere. Just like he knew her over-sized, deer hide handbag was real and carried a price tag in the thousands. Her hair was layers of golden browns and blonds, salon produced, not natural and pulled into a fashionable ponytail at the back of her head. The sunglasses she perched atop her perfectly styled hair couldn’t be found in any store in America. They’d undoubtedly been shipped directly to her doorstep, along with other accessories some Italian designer wanted to impress her with. Anything to have their brand advertised on the most effective billboards in existence: famous people.
But who was she? Henley couldn’t draw a name, not that he always expected to. Contrary to popular belief, not all rich people knew each other. There were still cliques among the elite, and they rarely overlapped. He’d spent all of his time rubbing elbows with other wealthy businessmen and women, networking among the corporate moguls and Fortune 500 tycoons. He hadn’t dabbled in the realm of celebrities, and the only time he’d entertained conversation with a trust-fund kid, was when they were actually in the game, getting ready to take their place as a rightful heir to a throne within his world. More than her name, though, Henley wanted to know why she was there. A sudden feeling of distrust settled atop the other nonsense he was struggling with. McCallan Point wasn’t a tourist destination for the wealthy. It was better known for local artists, crabbing, fishing, boating and people who just wanted to be left the hell alone. Like Henley. That’s why he’d chosen it. So, why was someone from his old life there and why so soon? He hadn’t even had the chance to lick his wounds yet.
With half an ear, he listened to her order some fancy latte to go. The moment she asked for directions, she had his undivided attention.
“Would you know how to get to White Rock Landing?”
Henley rolled his eyes to the ceiling and barely managed to keep his groan checked. She had to be joking. It was just more cruel punishment to dump on the head of someone already down and bleeding. Because fate hadn’t gotten its rocks off yet, or what? Fuck.
“Yeah, of course, I do, I mean sure.” The teenage, pimple-faced boy behind the counter grinned, causing Henley to smack his lips dryly.
Keep dreaming, kid.
Torn between prolonging his misery and just getting it the hell over with, it took Henley a few minutes to shut down his laptop and polish off the rest of his coffee. Now that he knew his nest egg was more the size of a chicken’s than an ostrich’s, it would undoubtedly be the last espresso he’d be splurging on for awhile. After standing and shoving his laptop into its carrying case, he scraped the chair in with enough noise to get everyone’s attention. He hadn’t been prepared, when the woman turned and their gazes collided. Her eyes were as undecided as a storm cloud, hovering somewhere between gray and blue. Too light to be called slate, too dark to be anything else. Her stunning features were mostly sharp, yet delicate. It was her mouth Henley was instantly drawn to. Lush and glossed with that wet sheen women knew how to use to their advantage, her top lip was a little more pronounced than her bottom. It gave her the sexy parted lip look used in almost every commercial and magazine ad, except she wasn’t posing. She was just staring at him.
“I’m headed that way. You can follow me.”
Something shifted almost imperceptibly in her eyes, but she quickly smiled to cover it up. “You sure?” she asked with fake politeness, obviously not expecting him to retract the offer, since she didn’t wait for an actual confirmation. “You’re a lifesaver, thank you.”
Henley didn’t respond. He slipped his own sunglasses into place and stalked out the door, letting her scramble to catch up. Exactly when he’d turned the proverbial whip on himself and became the masochist, he couldn’t say, but apparently he felt the need to be punished for that joke of an offshore account. With a single glance at the pretend, beaming smile molding the sexiest set of lips he’d ever seen, Henley had to admit his own sadism was outlandishly worse than he’d ever believed possible.